Advice to grads: Go forth and create a masterpiece

Having recently attended the college graduation of our youngest child, I could not stop thinking about what I might say if given the opportunity to offer the commencement address. Five thoughts come to mind:  

Continue to learn and teach: At the moment you were born — whether conscience of it or not — all of you have been students. All of you were constantly learning from others, patterning and comparing yourselves to the world around you.

At the same time, you have always been teachers. Beginning with infancy, you taught your parents and family about the preciousness of life and the awe-inspiring responsibility of raising a child simply by your being born.  You’ve taught them about themselves, as they observed and raised you.

As you leave the womb that is the college environment, all of you become teachers. If not literal credentialed teachers, figuratively so. You are now college graduates. Teach and share what you’ve learned over the past four years. Don’t gloat over your degree or your school’s namesake.

Develop and maintain a humble soul: All of you feel a great sense of accomplishment; you’ve worked hard. But it’s expected that you worked hard and made sacrifices while in college. College is not summer camp. If anything, being in college is a supreme gift. Metaphorically, all of you stand on the shoulders of the generations that have come before you. All of you have benefited from those who built and maintained your school.

By now you should also know some students wishing to attend particular schools have been turned down for inexplicable reasons. Some students get accepted for reasons equally inexplicable.

A humble soul knows and a prudent mind understands that some things in life come about due to luck or randomness. Even if you worked diligently through grade school and did well on college entrance exams and got accepted to the school of your choice, you’re lucky to have had other things given to you allowing you to succeed. So, keep a humble perspective about what you’ve accomplished. You have been given at least as much.


Include God/godliness in your life: College is a secular institution — it is not a seminary where you’d expect to grapple with such ideas. But with a notion of the transcendent, and the discipline of healthy religion, you will live a more balanced and enriched life.  You will handle failures better and you will understand and appreciate success more. With all the questions you posed while in college, ponder this:  The most important question one can possibly ask is whether God exists.

Don’t be fearful: Go out and take some risks. There is an obsession in our day with health and safety. You’ve been told to fear changes in the environment, certain types of food, strangers, and the economy to name a few. Enough! Go live. Some parents think their duty is to raise children.  That’s only partially correct.  The duty of parents is to raise adults.  So, become adults.

Arguably, you are at a point in your life where you are the most resilient. Take some chances — don’t be fearful. Learn how to fail and you’ll learn how to succeed. A successful person has failed many more times than one deemed a failure.  If not now, when?

Enjoy the journey: Life goes fast.  Notice I said life goes fast, not time. Time is a human convention. We’ve invented and formatted time to help us function and “navigate” through life. There is no such thing as time, per se. A waste of time is, more emphatically, a waste of life.

Don’t think of life only in terms of goals to be met, quotas to be filled and appointments to be kept. In your haste to get a job, choose a spouse, pay off a debt (including student loans), take a breath and reorient yourself; savor the journey as much as, if not more than, the goals you set out to achieve.

One last thought: Sadly, for many of you, college will be the high point of your life — I sincerely hope it is not. Like the Bible’s portrayal of the Seraphs wielding fiery batons at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, preventing man and woman from ever returning, you too can never return to your undergraduate days.  Don’t fret; that’s a good thing. 

The biblical depiction is an allegorical way of saying, “Get going — don’t even think of coming back.” And so it is with all of you — it’s now time to move on, to get going. 

Contrary to popular opinion, which holds college life is not indicative of the real world,  every occurrence we encounter is real. Life, wherever and however lived, is not an illusion. But college is only a few years in a lifetime of accumulated experiences, ongoing challenges and adventures.  So, go out and continue to learn and teach; develop a humble soul; include God; don’t be fearful; enjoy the journey, and in the process, make your life a masterpiece. 

11 observations on life and living

1. We just want someone to listen to us.

My mother broke her hip, she’s in rehab, she wants to get out but, imprisoned, she needs someone to listen to her story. I’m providing that service.

That’s what we all want. Someone we don’t have to be our best self with. Someone we can reveal our inadequacies and frustrations to. Someone who will patiently listen and won’t give us unwanted advice. We usually don’t want any advice, we just want to be heard. A great listener possesses the key to friendship. Someone who listens will have more friends than any world-beater. People are complicated and flawed. Don’t berate them for opening up, embrace them.

2. Don’t do all the talking.

That doesn’t mean in one or another conversation you can’t dominate, but if you can’t ask how the other person is doing, if you can’t interact in a way that evidences you’re listening, you may think you’re winning, but you’re not. Life is about giving. If you’re always taking, it’s going to get very lonely.

3. Business books are b.s.

Because even if the advice is good, it’s not particularized to you. I’m not saying you can’t gain insight, but the people you’re reading about don’t resemble you, and too often the writers are doing it to make money and burnish their careers as opposed to genuinely trying to help you. Sure, it’s great to identify with what a writer says, but don’t overinvest; you’ve got to find your own path.

4. You can’t tell people what to do.

They’ve got to find out for themselves. When you’re listening to them, it’s about being heard, as stated above; it’s not about you dropping pearls of wisdom that they can follow. Furthermore, if you do manage to help them out once, they’re still gonna be flummoxed soon. Life is about experience. It’s a long ride we’ve all got to take. You’ve got to find your own way. It’s great if you can find a mentor, but I’ve never encountered one. But the main point is people don’t really want advice, no matter how much they say they do. Tell them the truth and you’ll be in trouble — they’ll start explaining why you’re wrong. It’s human nature.

5. Don’t evidence weakness.

I know this sounds contradictory, but my main point is don’t always be the person who got the raw deal, who the world is against. Life is tough for everybody. Sure, complain. But be joyful sometimes, too. Otherwise, everybody’s gonna run from you.

6. Life is not always up. 

If you haven’t experienced downs, you haven’t taken any risk or you’re so rich you’ve never engaged. Life is about losses even more than victories. Lick your wounds, but then lift yourself back up, however slowly, and get back in the game. Learn from what happened, but do your best not to be burdened by it.

7. Everybody’s got an interior life.

When they reveal it to you, you bond. Most people don’t feel safe enough to tell you their truth. But when they do, it’s a magic moment for both of you, the teller feels exhilarated and alive, finally able to relax in his skin, and the listener starts to tingle, stunned that the teller trusts him that much.

8. It’s not what you own, but who you are.

But you don’t realize this until you’re close to 60. The young kids have little wisdom and all the strength and synapses. The old people have all the wisdom, but failing bodies. So you’ve got young people doing stupid things, not realizing how long life truly is, and you’ve got old people driving around in the sports cars they can finally afford. It would be better if the young people had wisdom and Ferraris, that they could truly enjoy, when they’re truly meaningful, and the oldsters could drive Priuses and Fusions yet have no aches and pains.

9. No one remembers history. 

They’re doomed to repeat it. It’s the way of the world, the same way people repeat the same relationship until they finally wake up and realize their choices are bad, what they think they want is actually no good for them.

10. Trustworthiness is more important than excitement.

11. We want people we can count on. 

Who will take us to the hospital. Who will go out of their way to help us just because they’re our friend. We all know these special people, who live to serve, despite being neither rich nor famous, they’re our society’s secret savers. If you don’t have one of these people in your life, someone not related to you, start looking, now. And once again, you get them by giving more than taking.

Bob Lefsetz is the author of the e-mail newsletter The Lefsetz Letter, where this column originally appeared.

My Single Peeps: Lisa B.

Here are 13 things about Lisa she wants you to know:

1. I am a huge astronomy lover and own the original Chicago Tribune when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, July 20, 1969. 

2. I have revised this list 9 times. Niiinnnee timmmess. 

3. I have severe disdain toward shorthand for IM/e-mail. y? u ask. bc it iz goin to ruin the english language, lik u no? 

4. I have been told I am psychic.  

5. I have lived in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. I actually hated living in N.Y., and Chicago is a mixed bag, but I love L.A. What can I say? I like to drive and be as far away from the family as possible. 

6. I am very picky with people but will eat any kind of food. 

7. Even though I want to be in a relationship, I really do enjoy spending time alone, and 93 percent of people bug the f—- out of me. The other 7 percent are my friends. 

8. I am a computer/technology geek. I have built PCs, taken apart my Mac mini to install more RAM and love anything computer/tech related. 

9. Being pregnant doesn’t interest me, but adoption does. If I ever have a child, I would prefer a boy and name him Ceven (like the number — with a twist) I thought of this prior to “Seinfeld”!

10. I think that Phoebe, Monica and Rachel from “Friends” are all inside of me: spiritual ditz, a chef who can be anal, and a “JAP” with a horrible romantic life.

11. I consider dancing around my apartment in 10-minute spurts a valid form of exercise. 

12. Even though I am a chef, I have the worst eating habits. I have been eating Filet-o-Fish from Mickey D’s with chocolate milk for over 28 years. I think I could eat anything with tartar sauce. In fact, I think I could live on sauces in general. 

13. I wish I didn’t have freckles or beauty marks, but I’m sure as s—- glad I had a nose job!

I have been told that although I look like I am high maintenance, I am really low maintenance. 

Here are three things about Lisa I would like you to know:

1. I didn’t ask Lisa to make this list; she did it on her own. So the fact that she added a bonus track to an arbitrary number says something about how deep her anal-retentiveness goes.
2. When I asked her about being psychic, she told me that she can’t predict anything like an earthquake or tsunami. But when asked the temperature of water in a pot and later a random guy’s astrological sign, she was correct both times. I’m not sure that qualifies her as psychic, but if she is, it’s the equivalent of being able to bend your thumb back to your wrist — interesting to look at but of no use to anyone.
3. She’ll sooner sleep with you than cook for you. She views her kitchen the way a surgeon views the operating room:  “It’s my job, and a healthy amount of stress accompanies it.”  So when she does it for free, you’ll know you’ve won her heart. So don’t break it.

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to {encode=”” title=””}, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site,, and meet even more single peeps by visiting his website

ANALYSIS: Who advises McCain and Obama?

WASHINGTON (JTA) — When the question of recognizing Israel landed on President Harry Truman’s desk in May 1948, he had to balance the advice of his old friend, Clark Clifford, against the general he deeply admired, George Marshall.

In the end Truman went with his friend, recognizing the new Jewish state.

It may be easy to read too much into who a candidate’s advisers are during an election campaign, but it’s also risky to avoid the tea leaves.

Obama’s Advisers

In sizing up the candidates’ advisers, most of the scrutiny in the Jewish community has been on Barack Obama — in part because of his inexperience on the national stage and in part because of Republican campaign tactics.

The Republican Jewish Coalition has issued a string of statements and ” title=”Dennis Ross”>Dennis Ross, who played a lead role in peace talks during the first Bush and Clinton presidencies. Ross is now at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he is joined by a staff that has leaned more toward neo-conservatism — and Republicans — than he has. Ross’ position at the institute is a testament to his ability to cross the aisle — an approach that jibes with Obama’s insistence that he will be a bipartisan president.

Ross is widely respected in the Jewish community but has been criticized in more conservative circles for what critics say was his failure to hold Yasser Arafat accountable for failing to live up to Palestinian commitments.

In his 2004 book, Ross made it eminently clear that at times he found then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be untrustworthy. But Ross also has insisted that the United States and Israel should have done more to hold the Palestinians to their agreements — and has consistently blamed Arafat for the failure to reach a final settlement at the end of the Clinton administration.

Ross has criticized the Bush administration for not being engaged enough in peace talks — but also for announcing unrealistic goals for achieving a two-state solution.

By contrast, he told JTA, an Obama admnistration would play a more hands-on role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking — but also steer clear of any “artificial” timelines. He says the creation of a Palestinian state is impossible so long as Hamas controls Gaza.

For these reasons, Ross has suggested, Obama’s emphasis would be more on Iran. Ross is one of the principle architects of Obama’s Iran policy: engagement induced through tough sanctions. His laundry list of possible new sanctions aimed at getting Iran to stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program — the re-insurance industry, refined petrol exporters, central bank — echoes exactly those of Israel and the pro-Israel lobby.

Obama’s other key advisers include:

  • Anthony Lake, Clinton’s first national security adviser and an early Obama backer, apparently hopes to return the post. A relatively recent convert to Judaism, Lake has said that rallying the international community to further isolate Iran would be Obama’s first foreign policy priority.
  • Mara Rudman, a deputy on the Clinton national security team, also could end up in an Obama administration. Since leaving government, she served as a deputy to Lawrence Eagleberger, the former secretary of state, during his chairmanship of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims. Last year, she helped launch Middle East Progress, a group that puts out a thrice-weekly e-mail bulletin partly to counter the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization’s influential Daily Bulletin, which has been accused of having a sharp neo-conservative tilt.
  • Dan Shapiro and Eric Lynn are two Obama campaign officials who straddle the policy and politics arms of the campaign. Lynn is Shapiro’s deputy. Both help shape policy — Shapiro is said to be the lead writer on Obama’s Middle East speeches — and both spend a lot of time campaigning in the Jewish community. Both also have Florida connections and can boast of insider status in the pro-Israel community. Lynn was an intern at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 1998; Shapiro played a major role in drafting the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, that year’s marquee victory for AIPAC.
  • Daniel Kurtzer joined the Obama camp during the primaries. President Clinton made him the first Jewish U.S. ambassador to Egypt, and the current President Bush went one better, making him the first Orthodox Jewish U.S. ambassador to Israel. Kurtzer, who left the diplomatic corps in 2005 after his Israel stint for a teaching job at Princeton University, may have the most dovish views on the foreign policy team.

    Prior to joining the campaign this year, Kurtzer co-authored a U.S. Institute of Peace tract that advocated equal pressure on Israel and the Palestinians. While he was ambassador to Israel, the Zionist Organization of America pressed Bush to fire him. But Kurtzer’s Jewish street cred has helped alleviate concern in many pro-Israel circles — in addition to his stint in Israel, Kurtzer is a product of Yeshiva University and trains kids for bar mitzvah.

  • The word from Obama circles is that two Republican senators — Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who is retiring and whose wife has endorsed Obama, and Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — could end up in an Obama administration.

    Both men have shared Obama’s concerns about the conduct of the Iraq war. Of the two Republicans, Hagel is the more problematic for the pro-Israel community. He didn’t make friends last year when he told an Arab American Institute dinner that his support for Israel was not “automatic.” Lugar has not made such missteps, but his willingness to criticize Israeli policies in Senate hearings and his advocacy of direct dialogue with Iran have raised eyebrows.

McCain’s Advisers

” title=”self-described Independent Democrat”>self-described Independent Democrat for secretary of state. Lieberman’s longstanding friendship with McCain and a shared commitment to a tough interventionist neo-conservative foreign policy led to an endorsement a year ago that helped McCain resuscitate his campaign in New Hampshire.
  • James Woolsey, like Lieberman, is one of a small army of “Scoop” Jackson Democrats at the core of the McCain campaign: Like their late idol Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.), who ran a couple of abortive presidential campaigns in the 1970s, they are domestic liberals who have set aside social differences to join conservatives in pressing what they consider the more urgent matter: American preeminence overseas.

    Woolsey, a Clinton administration CIA director, is a tough-minded environmentalist: According to Mother Jones, a Web site devoted to investigative journalism, Woolsey drives a hybrid car plastered with the sticker “Bin Laden Hates This Car.” Early on he pressed for the Iraq war, and he is notorious for being among the first to blame Iraq — erroneously — for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He also exemplifies how the McCain campaign talks tough about confronting Iran while emphasizing behind-the-scenes that the military option should be a last resort.

  • Randy Scheunemann, like Shapiro in the Obama campaign, straddles policy and politics in the McCain campaign. A veteran of years on Capitol Hill who worked principally for former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and an icon among neo-conservatives, Scheunemann has shaped some of the toughest campaign attacks on Obama, including those related to Obama’s stated willingness to sit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Scheunemann also led efforts to pitch the Iraq war to the American public prior to the invasion.

    In recent years, Scheunemann has lobbied for a number of nations seeking membership in NATO. His expertise on Georgia helped McCain gain the upper hand over a flustered Obama during the crisis over the summer when Russia invaded Georgia.

    Scheunemann is also close to the pro-Israel community. Working with Lott, he authored the 1995 legislation that would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; a year later, Scheunemann’s advice led Bob Dole — the Republican presidential candidate that year — to pledge to do so. This year, McCain has picked up that pledge.

  • Max Boot is too young to have been an architect of neo-conservatism; at times he embraces the term and at times he chafes at it.

    A historian who is probably the McCain adviser most steeped in theory and least steeped in policy-making, Boot wrote the definitive article arguing for the expansion of American power in the wake of 9/11. At a recent retreat organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Boot said a McCain administration would de-emphasize Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian talks to an even greater degree than the Bush administration (though McCain and his running mate both have suggested that the Arab-Israeli peace process would be a top priority). Boot, currently a Council on Foreign Relations fellow, says the late push by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is regrettable.

  • Richard Williamson is President Bush’s special envoy to Sudan. His work pressing the regime to end the genocide in its Darfur region have deepened his ties with the Jewish community, which date back to Williamson’s time as a member of the Reagan administration’s U.N. team.

    Williamson’s pre-campaign writings are very much in the realist camp. A veteran of disarmament talks, he wrote an article in 2003 for the Chicago Journal of International Law praising the efficacy of multilateral treaties, a bugbear of neo-conservatives. But Williamson’s shift at the recent Washington Institute retreat to neo-conservative talking points could be a signal of how much McCain has invested in that camp.

    At the retreat, Williamson suggested that a McCain administration would not avidly pursue Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace, and he touted McCain’s proposal for a “league of democracies,” a repudiation of conventional thinking on multilateralism.

    Life lessons from the trenches of cancer survival

    On my neck there’s a large, upside-down L-shaped scar. One leg of the L runs from my right shoulder blade upward to just below my right ear; the other leg takes a 90-degree turn, following the jaw line to my chin. The right side of my neck — the inside of the L — looks as if it’s had glands, cartilage and muscle scooped out, leaving a tough, bumpy, uneven cavity. After the surgery, a friend joked that I should put Silly Putty on my neck.

    No Silly Putty, no cosmetic surgery. My neck has remained exactly as it was after the operation. It’s a souvenir of squamous cell carcinoma — cancer — which started in the right tonsil and metastasized to the lymph nodes, diagnosed and treated 15 years ago.

    The day I was told that I had throat cancer, I was furious. There was no logic to it. I’d never smoked, didn’t drink, hadn’t eaten red meat in more than 25 years. So why me?

    There was only one way to deal with my fury. I went out and had a real hot dog with sauerkraut. Much better than those meat-free — and taste-free — soy dogs I’d eaten for so long. With each bite, I looked up at the heavens and shook my fist: There! Take that!

    In fact, it’s that semidefiant attitude that helped me get through the punishing treatment: massive amounts of throat radiation followed by a radical neck dissection.

    Bernie Siegel — the oncologist whose tapes I’d listen to in the car while going back and forth to the hospital — says that one should be a “good-bad patient”: question everything and demand honesty and clear explanations from health-care professionals.

    But, Siegel stresses, once you decide on a treatment, stick with it.

    Here’s something that helped me: Although I was optimistic, I didn’t see treatment as an attempt to “beat” cancer. Right from the beginning I thought of cancer as my teacher, an experience I was going to learn from.

    What did I learn? For one thing, when you accept help from others — which was hard for me — it not only makes you feel better, it also makes the person helping you feel better. When I started treatment, my older son, Rafi, was just finishing his freshman year at an Ivy League school. He took a year off to help me. He didn’t think of it this way at the time, but when he looks back on it now, he says that he cherishes that year.

    After I was diagnosed, I was called and visited by many well-meaning people who suggested alternative treatments: from special diets to fasting to massive doses of vitamins. I listened politely and then plunged full bore into the most up-to-date medical treatment available. Oh, I used some unconventional techniques to complement treatment, but not as a substitute for Western medicine.

    While going through radiation treatment, I meditated every day. This involved breath control and visualization until I’d reach a state of self-hypnosis. While in a trance, I’d imagine a kind of Pac-Man figure entering my body and eating my cancer cells.

    Did it help? Who knows? It felt good, and that’s what counts. Meditation — or prayer or yoga — certainly can’t hurt, so long as it’s not used in place of standard treatment.

    While you’re going through treatment, be easy on yourself. If you want to be alone, then be alone. If you don’t want to talk to anyone, then don’t. Recognize your limits, and don’t let anyone talk you out of them. If, however, you want to interact with family and friends, then by all means do so. And when you’re tired, kick them out. Be strict about this.

    The medical facility where I received treatment is one of the most prestigious in the world, but some staff members had a lousy bedside manner. One resident — I thought of him as Dr. Worst-Case-Scenario — would always give me his gloomiest predictions.

    I never let it affect me. The way I look at it, the job of any medical facility is to provide the most skilled, cutting-edge treatment, and that’s it. But that’s more than enough. If you need happy talk and hand-holding, that’s what family and friends are for.

    How can you find the right medical center for you? Ask others in your area who have gone through similar treatment. Talk to your family physician. Consult magazines that rate hospitals and treatment centers. One source is the annual issue of U.S. News & World Report that lists each medical specialty and ranks facilities throughout the country. You can access last year’s rankings via its Web site or at your local library.

    Some years back, Norman Cousins wrote about the healing power of laughter. It worked for me. Forget subtle humor. You want the fall-on-the-floor-bust-a-gut-roaring kind: early Woody Allen movies or Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. There are times, though, when other types of movies work, too. During the worst moment of treatment, my pain was eased by watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers glide across the dance floor.

    Make no mistake: Cancer — and its treatment — can be horrendous. I wasn’t able to eat, I had no energy. Every day I was faced with my own mortality. But that helped me put priorities in place: seize the day and all that.

    Once I recuperated from treatment, I made my own bucket list. After having lived what I felt had been a self-indulgent life, I was now determined to try something different. So I worked for the Shoah Foundation, which assures that Holocaust survivors’ testimonies become a permanent record.

    I joined groups that explore life; reconnected with friends and family; published many articles — and a book — on topics close to my heart; volunteered as a writing coach for inner-city kids. And I’ve been a mentor for others going through cancer treatment, sharing what I learned, trying to make a difficult journey a little easier.

    Nowadays when I look at my neck — at the scar, bumps and cavities — I feel nothing but gratitude: It’s a reminder of the treatment that saved my life.

    And it’s a reminder that having gotten cancer in the first place also saved my life.

    Settle down

    When it comes to dating, even Tobey Maguire is interested in the concept of settling.

    Now, I have no idea about Spidey’s love life — last I heard he was with Lois Lane, wait, no, that’s Superman, not Spider-Man, and this just in — the real Maguire is married and expecting his second child.

    But I don’t want to talk about his personal life, I want to talk about his professional one.

    Maguire has just signed on to develop a feature film from essayist and occasional Jewish Journal columnist Lori Gottlieb’s “Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.”

    In a 5,500-word piece published in March in the Atlantic Monthly, Gottlieb, a 40-year-old single mother who chose to have a baby on her own asked a poignant question: “Is it better to be alone, or to settle?”

    I’m not giving anything away by saying that Gottlieb quickly answers her own question:

    “My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling ‘Bravo!’ in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year.”

    Gottlieb’s stance caused quite a brouhaha on the blogosphere (read: rantosphere), where people called her everything from “immature” to “desperate” to “tragic” to “crazy,” labeling her a narcissist, anti-feminist, crackpot journalist. She has also been told “she needs a shrink, pronto.”

    Gottlieb tells me she was a bit taken aback by the harsh reaction, but said that in addition to the 700 letters of support she also received, a number of rabbis have used her piece in their sermons. (She even spoke last month at Sinai Temple.)

    I’m not surprised by the rabbis’ support. Gottlieb’s message is something I’ve heard many, many times before. Since the beginning of my illustrious dating career at age 19 (for marriage purposes!), rabbis, educators, teachers and other religious married people have been telling me the same thing: Find someone with shared values, someone you respect, someone you can build a life with. A good husband, a good father, a good partner.

    Nothing new here.

    In traditional Jewish communities, the notion of “Hollywood Love,” of “Love at First Sight,” of a “Love of Everlasting Passion,” has long been viewed as a myth. The problem in those communities is not whether or not to believe Hollywood love myth, it’s whether to believe love and attraction should play any part at all in the choice of a mate.

    That was the message I got, anyway.

    When I was in my early 20s, I went to dozens of weddings (to this day, the words “bridal shower” make me break out in hives). The ceremonies were solemn and the parties leibadik (festive), and the “salmon-chicken-or-prime rib” menus were delectable, if indiscernible, but to me it seemed like something essential was lacking: love. Back then, in my world, it seemed people settled too easily. They married — young — to have a partner, to not be alone, to fit into the community, to have kids, to be part of what Gottlieb calls “a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane and often boring nonprofit business.”

    If one could chart my own “why isn’t she married?” trajectory (and believe me, there are many who do) it might be the result of this kind of advice: I’ve seen too many loveless marriages hastily entered into for anything but love.

    Now, of course, Gottlieb isn’t advocating marrying a man who repulses you or puts you to sleep every time he answers the question, “How was your day, dear?”

    But it would seem that once you enter the slippery slope of settling, it would be hard to know when to stop. What exactly is the right thing to compromise on? If he is a nice guy, but he goes on and on at dinner parties until you hope someone will drop a plate of hot soup on his lap, is that settling?

    See, the other side of the “too picky” see-saw is the “not selective enough” category. Most (married) people who watch their friends/children/congregants date are not familiar with this second category until it’s too late. For example, if a single person regales a married person about her date, saying, “he made me pick up the tab and then just hopped in a cab home!” the married friend will reply, “Well, maybe he’s just low on cash this week and got an emergency call, and you should really give him another chance.”

    No, the message to Jewish singles is and always has been Gottlieb’s message: Why can’t you all just settle down?

    Now that I’m in my 30s, I wonder if there is something in between musical chairs (grabbing the last man standing) and “The Notebook” (holding out for perfection).

    And I suppose that is the beauty of a different kind of Judaism, one that mingles with the mainstream world — even Hollywood, believe it or not. Yes, there should be sparks and chemistry and love and happiness and laughter — together with shared values, common goals and mutual interests.

    Because if I’ve learned anything from 15 years (!!!) of dating, it’s that whether you run into a marriage with someone you don’t love, or you hold out for a hero who never comes, either way, you’ll end up all alone.

    Leave the house

    There’s nothing more smug and insidious than a girl who has finally fallen in love and thinks she now has all the answers. She can save you from your sad, pathetic, damaged love life and cure you of your nasty man-repellant habits. No matter what condescending tip she’s giving you, it always drips with the self-satisfied knowledge that the spinster bullet she so artfully dodged is headed straight for you.

    I hate that girl.

    I can’t turn into her, and maybe that’s why I haven’t written for the past nine months, since I met and fell in love with the first man I’ve ever been sure about. When it finally happened, it felt much more like dumb luck than brilliant man maneuvering. More dice than poker. I can’t be gloating all the way to the altar because the fact is, I’m just a girl who left the house one Saturday night to have dinner with her girlfriends, saw a cute guy across the room and hit the jackpot.

    The only magical insight I can share with you has to do with the leaving the house part. Even Eli Manning can’t throw a touchdown if he doesn’t break out of the huddle. That’s really all I can tell you for sure.

    There’s always been a special place in my grudge greenhouse for those who peddle the idea that finding love is a skill that can be graphed, taught and sold. Books about love seem like a whole lot of mess to me, written largely by groovy grifters.

    Take for example author John Gray — you know, the “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” guy? The guy who has sold more than 30 million books doling out relationship advice? Well, he married fellow self-help writer Barbara De Angelis, who penned “Secrets About Men Every Woman Should Know.”

    Between the two of them, you have to imagine this was the most blissful, evolved marriage ever. Too bad they’re divorced. Yet somehow, both still hawk their wares. A special hats off to Gray for combining two brilliant swindles in his latest work, “The Mars & Venus Diet & Exercise Solution.” I couldn’t make up tripe like that.

    So, when I ask myself how I finally stopped screwing up my love life, the only answer that comes to mind is the same one famously used by one of Ernest Hemingway’s characters to explain how he went bankrupt: “Two ways, first gradually then suddenly.”

    The gradual part was the usual therapy in Tarzana with a nice lady who lets me joke about the therapist next door, Dr. Harsher. Seriously, that’s his name. The suddenly part was meeting a guy who is so boundlessly good-natured and patient that he makes me want to bake him cakes and write syrupy e-mails. For the most part, I stopped being a subpar girlfriend and self-involved jerk, first gradually then suddenly.

    In any case, I could have had all of the personal epiphanies in the world and still turned up snake eyes. Some of the most together people I know are alone, and some of the real doozies are paired up. It really does come down mainly to luck. Luck and leaving the house.

    Aside from being self-conscious that I would come across unctuous and all-knowing about falling in love, there’s another reason that for the first time in 10 years I haven’t written a darn thing.

    I’m … happy? And happy people can be a bit dull, or at least that’s the notion that’s been dogging me. I introduced this concept out in Tarzana.

    My Therapist: “Not all happy people are boring.”

    Me: “Name one happy person who isn’t boring.”

    My Therapist: “The Dalai Lama.”

    Me: “Really? Have you read ‘The Art of Happiness?'”

    My Therapist: “You got me there.”

    Perhaps she should have suggested I set up a session with Dr. Harsher.

    Since falling in love and losing what I perceive to be my “edge,” I sometimes worry about being one quaint, self-deprecating tale away from being Erma Bombeck, and I loved Erma, but you know what I mean.

    Oddly enough, the answer came from a co-worker. He told me that I was so deeply troubled that even if one part of my life was gelling, the nuttiness runs deep. He said I was like Mike Tyson, I wouldn’t run out of crazy. And that was comforting, and the fact that it was a salve proved it true. I’ve got a backup generator of crazy in case the mishegoss goes out.

    So, hopefully, despite the fact that I’m not suffocatingly lonely or in a relationship laced with toxic levels of resentment, I still have a fertile patch of pain from which insights can grow, like that brilliant one I had earlier about leaving the house. What a relief.

    Teresa Strasser is co-host of “The Adam Carolla Show,” on KLSX-FM. Three days after writing this column, she got engaged. She is very happy — hopefully, not too happy. Her book, “101 Ways to Win a Coin Toss,” will be out this fall.

    Eight ways to give a great toast

    Making a toast at an event is a touching way to let friends and family know how much you value them and wish them well. I still get misty-eyed when I think of the beautiful toast that my brother-in-law gave at my wedding welcoming me to the family. But public speaking doesn’t come easily to everyone. We’ve all been to big affairs where the toasts were embarrassing and in bad taste, leaving a pall over the entire day — and beyond.

    I think often of my friend Cathy’s wedding reception, where her mother decided to give an impromptu toast. Raising her glass high, she looked at the happy couple and said, “We wish the best for our children, but sometimes you just have to take what comes along.” The next sound heard in the hall was the crash of our collective jaws falling to the floor.

    Want to make sure your next toast is memorable for all the right reasons?

    1. Prepare
    Don’t try to wing it. If you need inspiration, look at photos of the person to be honored to jog your memory. Think of your shared history, what you admire most, the person’s endearing quirks or accomplishments. Flip through some quotation collections. Even if you don’t find just the right quote, it may help you figure out what it is you want to say. “It helps if you pick a theme. Words of advice for the bride and groom or what you’ve learned after 35 years of marriage will quickly draw your audience in,” said Tom Haibeck, author of “The Wedding MC.”

    2. Get personal
    People love funny or touching anecdotes. If you have any doubt about how a story will be received, however, err on the side of caution and delete it. (For the record — need I say this? — stories that involve inebriation, nudity, former spouses or significant others are never a good idea!)

    3. Write it down and practice
    Either script it out or use highlighted notes, whichever feels most comfortable to you. Practice so that you become familiar enough with it to be able to make eye contact with your audience and aren’t just reading out loud. Speak slowly, clearly, audibly and with expression. (If you can rehearse in the actual room where the toast will be given, so much the better.)

    4. Keep it short and simple
    A few simple words, ending with a hoisted glass, are all that’s necessary. If you want to say more, keep it to less than five minutes so as not to strain your audience’s patience. (Time yourself beforehand.)

    5. Use humor, if you can
    Remember that the first rule of comedy is that the joke you tell on yourself is always the funniest. Laugh at your own foibles before tweaking someone else. Stay away from long, complicated jokes and stick with short, humorous anecdotes. “Forget the ‘in’ jokes where only three people laugh because they are the only ones who get it, and avoid off-color jokes that might offend. You want to be as inclusive as possible,” said Sherri Wood of Toastmasters International. If you are not a naturally funny person, don’t feel you have to force the yuks.

    6. Don’t try to be someone you’re not
    This is not the time for grandiloquent speeches, full of high-flown quotes and flowery flourishes. Nor is it your moment to launch your stand-up comedy career. Just speak simply and sincerely from your heart.

    7. Stay away from alcohol
    We’ve all been to parties where someone who was drunk tried to give a speech and ended up embarrassing himself and everyone else. If you need something to calm your jitters, Haibeck recommends a good exercise workout prior to the occasion, a lot of rehearsal and taking deep breaths prior to speaking. If you have to give your toast from a podium, practice standing at it for awhile beforehand so you get the feel of it. “Remember that if you stumble a bit, your audience will be sympathetic. They want you to succeed,” Wood said.

    8. End with a bang
    Give your audience a call to action — to either stand or raise their cups. (Make sure you have your glass with you.) Look directly at the person being toasted and ask the guests to join you in honoring him. Thank everyone and sit down.

    If you are asking someone to give a toast at a specific occasion, make sure you give guidelines:

    • Suggested length
    • Important points to hit
    • Important people in the audience to acknowledge
    • Sensitive topics to avoid

    Beth Levine is a writer whose essays have appeared in Redbook, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, the Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend and Newsday.

    Research and references are the key to selecting assisted living facility

    Many potential residents pin their hopes on assisted living and its menu of services as a means to keep them independent for as long as possible. Seniors who require help and support in managing their daily activities, but who don’t need medical oversight or intense supervision, are the best candidates for assisted living. They may select from a range of possible services, including meals, laundry, cleaning, bathing, dressing, toileting and other personal care, albeit for additional fees.

    The following advice can help you find the right assisted-living facility to meet your individual needs and to empower you to make sure that what is required by law and promised by the assisted-living facility is, in fact, delivered.

    Differences Between Facilities

    It is said that if you’ve seen one assisted living facility, you’ve seen one assisted-living facility.

    An assisted-living unit may be as grand as a small apartment with a tiny kitchen in a large complex or as modest as a shared room with little more than a bed and dresser for each resident. One can find an assisted-living facility housing 100 residents and providing onsite nursing care two blocks away from another facility that houses six residents and employs a staff with no health care expertise at all.

    Such disparities exist because assisted-living law in most states is loosely regulated. In an atmosphere of looseness, many assisted-living owners are only inclined to provide high-quality care under pressure.

    Locate the Place That’s Right for You

    Matching an individual’s specific needs (physical, emotional and social) to an appropriate assisted-living setting is a tricky endeavor, because there are so many differences between facilities. There are no shortcuts to finding the most suitable facility, but the following tips have helped others in their search for the right place:

    Gather Personal Recommendations

    Seeking a referral from any of the following sources make for a good first step:

    • Friends, co-workers and acquaintances.
    • A social worker or geriatric care manager.
    • A physician who specializes in geriatrics.
    • Home health caregivers or hospice workers whose clients live in assisted-living facilities
    • A hospital discharge planner (be aware that their recommendations may not always be based on the patient’s best interests, because in many hospitals, discharge planners are pressured to get patients out the door as soon as possible, which may distort their advice.)

    Take the Formal Tour

    When your initial research narrows the candidates to a handful of facilities, it’s time for onsite visits. Above all, trust your senses and intuition. Does the assisted-living facility feel good, smell good and appear clean and bright? When you visit, remember to do the following:

    • Talk to facility employees. Questions can be addressed to the admissions coordinator or administrator, as well as employees more directly involved in resident care. Potential residents or family members should ask questions that matter to them, with as much specificity as possible. For example, the potential resident who has concerns about falling should ask about the amount of available hands-on assistance, as well as the facility’s fall prevention policies.

      The tone of the answers is as important as the content. It’s a bad sign if employees seem resistant or evasive when asked to consider a potential resident’s individual concerns.

    • Talk to residents and family members. Current residents and their family members and other visitors know a facility’s strengths and weaknesses better than anyone. Conversations with residents and their loved ones should take place without a staff member present. This is another opportunity to gauge a facility’s attitude. If the facility staff seems perfectly comfortable with private conversations between current and potential residents, the facility is more likely to be a good place to live.

    Consider the Location

    The best assisted-living facility in the world isn’t much good if it’s too far away for family and friends to drop by or too difficult to get to because of traffic patterns or lack of public transportation.

    • Older adults, whose friends and relatives visit frequently, tend to keep their spirits up and feel less lonely.
    • Family members who visit often tend to develop a relationship with various staff members, which benefits everyone, including relatives, staff members and residents.

    Look Out for Yourself or Your Loved One

    The following situations are common in assisted-living facilities. Asking the suggested questions will help you to determine whether the facility is the right one to meet you or your loved one’s current and future needs:

    • It’s unclear how much control residents have over their day-to-day life in the facility. Are there meal choices? Is there a range of daily activities to choose from? Are residents free to wake up and go to bed whenever they wish? Are there any restrictions on a resident’s right to see visitors (e.g., time and place)? Are rooms private or shared? Once a resident is settled in, does the room become permanent, or can he or she be forced to move to a different room?
    • A staff member tells you that residents’ care is planned, but you don’t know what that means. What kind of care and level of supervision is provided? Is the facility licensed? (Most states require a license, which means that specific regulations set the minimal standard of care that must be provided.)
    • You are uncertain of the cost. What exactly is included? How many meals? Are the bedrooms and bathrooms cleaned or just the community areas? How often? Does the cost vary with the amount of care required by the resident? If so, how? How frequently has the cost been increased in the past?

      (Be aware that Medicare doesn’t pay for assisted-living arrangements. Most tenants pay out of their own pockets. Even when long-term-care insurance policies pay, they may allow only a specified amount of money to cover assisted living, after which no insurance funds are left should nursing home care be necessary.)

    • You worry about whether or not there will be someone on duty if you or your loved one needs assistance. What is the ratio of direct-care staff to residents during the day? During the evening and overnight? How many staff members are on duty at night? What is the staff’s health care expertise? Are the services of a nurse available?
    • It is unclear how medication is administered. Who administers medication? How much training does that person have?

    • You worry that care needs may become too much for the facility to handle. What would happen if the resident got increasingly weaker and needed a two-person assist to get out of bed or required insulin injections for diabetes?

    (Be aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits a business from discriminating based on a person’s medical condition and requires a business to modify its procedures reasonably to accommodate a person with a disability.)

    • You don’t know whether your loved one’s safety is a priority. Are residents regularly checked on? How frequently during the day, in the evening and through the night are they checked? Does the facility have a sprinkler system to prevent fires?
    • You don’t know whether residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia-related symptoms receive special services. What procedures and policies does the facility follow for residents suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementing illnesses? Does the facility have a system to prevent confused residents from wandering away?

    Dr. Rachelle Zukerman is professor emeritus of social welfare at UCLA, a gerontologist and author of the book, “Eldercare for Dummies.” She can be reached at

    Five ways to find your purpose after 50 or 60 or 70 or . . .

    Most people can now expect to live longer. Those extra years are a great gift. But they can be an albatross if people don’t know what to do with them. A minority of people like to stay the course, whatever it is. But most people find they need to dig down to their core selves and find new goals and purposes that touch something deep inside — the kind that get them out of bed in the morning.

    But how does one find a new mission at age 50 or 60 or 80? A growing array of books, courses, programs and now Web sites exist to provide suggestions, and many of them offer valuable detailed guidance, worksheets and resources. Working your way through them all can be a chore. But identifying your new purpose doesn’t have to be so major an undertaking that you never do it.

    There are core ideas and principles you can use to find your purpose after 50.

    Here are five tools.

    Get Into Neutral

    This is crucial when you leave a career. Resist the temptation to leap into the next phase of your life. Sit still. Take a timeout. Give yourself permission to decompress. The neutral zone is kind of a moratorium on old habits and thoughts. Experiencing such a “white space” can be scary. If we submit to it, however, new thoughts and fresh possibilities will emerge. It will help you redefine who you are now, not what you were. Neutral also helps give you closure on the end of your primary career, and the purposes and relationships they held for you.

    Retell Your Life Story

    Stories reveal things your rational minds (and resumes) can miss. If writing is hard for you, imagine you’re writing a letter to a friend or speak into a recording device. Recap in brief, or in outline style, the story of your life. As you organize the “facts” of your life, hundreds of images, thoughts, recollections and memories will begin to cross your mind. Sift and distill these for central themes, interests, activities and relationships that matter most and express who you are. Use old photos or letters. Pull out your report cards. Read what your teacher wrote about you, and not just your grades. Don’t judge. Generate data. There are clues in your past.

    Use Your Verbs

    This technique works throughout the assessment process. The pressures of social status make you think about yourself in nouns — the titles, labels, roles and affiliations, usually of your career. But nouns close doors. They peg people. Strip them away and get to your verbs. The challenge now is to dream not about what you want to be but what you want to do. Verbs are active and dynamic. What were you doing when you felt excited or fulfilled? Find several examples and then look for patterns in your skills and experience. That will help you redefine what you want to do now.

    Write a Personal Mission Statement

    Companies and organizations have these. Why not individuals? Consider writing a statement reflecting your life vision or mission. Skip tangible goals or specific projects and make a list of the values, beliefs and interests you care about the most — the motivators that guide you, fire you up and draw out your best contribution. Only when you have a strong interior sense of these broader life goals can you find the real-time contexts, life opportunities and markets in which to apply them.

    Involve Others

    A trusted circle of advisers can be of immense help as you seek new paths. Put friends, present or former work colleagues and family members on these personal sounding boards. Those who know you well and who are stakeholders in your success can hold up mirrors to reflect back things about you that you can’t see yourself. Such groups know collectively of more possibilities than any one person could summon. It can be a formal or highly informal group. To get a sense of how a personal board can help, gather three to four friends for personal brainstorming sessions. Open the floor to insights and possibilities with no judgments allowed. The goal is simply to turn up opportunities and use the feedback to improve your exploration of new directions in your life.

    These steps are only a beginning. But they may put you on a path to a post-career life purpose that can dramatically reduce the chance of being bored in retirement.

    David Corbett is the founder of New Directions, Inc., in Boston, and author of “Portfolio Life: the New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion After 50” (Jossey Bass). Visit him online at or

    Six-pointed plan for victory

    Last week, Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush’s election victories, offered Barack Obama free advice on how to defeat Hillary Clinton.

    In that spirit, I’d like to offer you my six-pointed plan on how to win the Jewish vote in ’08.

    What makes me such an expert? I’m no Karl Rove, true, but I did successfully pick the winner in two out of the last four presidential races. That’s a 50 percent success rate — compared to Bob Schrum, the pro behind the Dukakis, Gore and Kerry (Bob and John) campaigns, I’m a certified genius.

    The Jewish vote is important. Although Jews comprise barely 2 percent of the population, they make up a statistically larger voting bloc, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. Moreover, by some estimates, 30 percent of all campaign contributors are Jewish. And they get involved early. And their fundraisers have good hors d’oeuvres, not just cocktails.

    You and I both know the Republicans have been trying to woo Jews for years now. There have been flashes of passion: Jews gave Ronald Reagan 39 percent of their vote, a record for any Republican president. But since then, the numbers have only stayed flat or gone downhill.

    In the last midterm elections, the Democrats received a whopping 88 percent of the Jewish vote. There are Arab dictators who would kill for that kind of majority. In fact, Arab dictators do kill for that kind of majority.

    If you, as a Republican candidate, want to do better, allow me to offer six pieces of free advice.

    1) When it comes to Israel, pander.

    This is my only glib, tongue-in-cheek point, but it seems to work for the Democrats. Whatever you do, don’t stand up before Jewish voters and say the truth about what you, as president, will one day have to help Israel do — make tough concessions in another round of Middle East peace talks.

    Sen. Clinton can declare that Jerusalem must remain the indivisible capital of Israel all she wants — but she knows she’ll eventually have to help Israel figure out a way to share it with the Arabs. President Bush’s Jewish supporters had long defended him as the most pro-Israel president in history — until they turned on him for starting a process in Annapolis that looked a lot like what Bill Clinton did at Camp David. But those worries are a good many years off. In the meantime, do what they all do — pander.

    2) Offer one good way to reduce our dependence on oil.

    This is an issue that Jews of all stripes can agree upon. America’s unwillingness to become more fuel efficient and find alternatives to oil turns our country into one big ATM for dictatorial, terror-supporting regimes around the world.

    3) Be a Nixon environmentalist.

    Jews were not big fans of Richard Nixon, who, we found out later from his tapes, wasn’t a big fan of Jews himself. But every conversation about Nixon inevitably gets around to: “Hey, he was good on the environment.” Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the Endangered Species Act. If you can convince voters you’ll follow in that Republican tradition, that’s good for a few percentage points. And by the way, Nixon also pushed for universal health care. Just an idea.

    4) Ix-nay on the esus-Jay.

    Confessions of faith are fine when they come from preachers and missionaries, but not when they come from presidential candidates — especially when those candidates are ex-preachers and ex-missionaries.

    Former governor Mitt Romney, during his “Yes-I’m-Mormon” speech at the George H.W. Bush Library last week, nailed one important thesis to the door.

    “We separate church and state affairs in this country,” he intoned, “and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state, nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion.”

    That was just what we like to hear, but then he went one step further, not just embracing people of all faiths, but demeaning people who don’t believe at all.

    “But in recent years,” he went on, “the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism. They are wrong.”

    Jews have a long history of abhorring religion in the public square. After centuries of being persecuted for our religion by political leaders, we have developed a canine ability to hear frequencies of prejudice the average WASP couldn’t detect with Dennis Kucinich’s ears.

    When the left denounces “Israel,” we hear “Jew.” And when the right denounces “secularism,” we hear “Jew.”

    And who is this “they” of whom Romney speaks? To my canine ears, “they” sound awfully like people I know on the Upper West Side of New York and the Westside of Los Angeles.

    I know God-talk helps with the evangelicals, but you’ll have to tone it down to appeal to Jews. Look: Joe Lieberman’s religiosity made Jews nervous — and he’s Jewish.

    5) Don’t hate government; hate bad government.

    Some Republicans assume that Jews vote Democrat not out of conviction but out of habit. Dennis Prager, Los Angeles’ most voluble Republican Jew, is fond of saying that Jews are still voting for FDR. But he’s wrong: What they’re still voting for is a belief in government that works, that protects the most vulnerable, that fights for freedom abroad and at home, that offers opportunity to all. To the extent Franklin Roosevelt embodied those beliefs, yes, call Jews silly nostalgics. But you can’t win a single Jewish vote by promising to weaken government that works. Just ask the Jews rebuilding their synagogue in New Orleans.

    6) Finally, take the Iranian nuclear threat seriously.

    That doesn’t mean you have to be the first to promise to bomb Iran, nor that you shouldn’t pursue diplomatic initiatives. But Jews have to choose sides between our government’s National Intelligence Estimate, which concludes that Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons program, and an Israeli intelligence network that insists Iran is intent on developing those weapons, even as the Iranian president threatens to wipe Israel off the map. With history as our guide, and without any margin for error, I think American Jews will rightly tend to believe the Israelis.You should, too.

    Raising pint-sized ‘People of the Book’

    To harried modern parents, few things sound more luxurious than a quiet weekend away — no cell phones, no televisions — with a pile of unread books. To the vast majority of their children, few things sound more torturous. It’s not that modern-day kids don’t enjoy reading. Most do. It’s just that an abyss of high-tech alternatives and jam-packed daily schedules have left them unlikely to discover that reading offers a world of excitement that could put their Xbox 360 to shame.

    Nevertheless, as academic demands become increasingly grueling and college admission requirements increasingly stringent, strong reading skills might be more important to kids today than ever before. Studies consistently show better readers get better grades. Reading is, after all, the very heart of education. Reading enriches the imagination, builds vocabulary, teaches grammar and makes students better spellers and writers. If our kids are going to thrive and succeed in our fast-paced, achievement-oriented society, they need to be proficient readers.

    So what’s a 21st-century parent to do? Pile on the after-school tutoring? Threaten that the kids will lose their instant messaging privileges if they don’t finish their reading assignments?

    Perhaps the philosopher Epictetus put it best: “If you wish to be a good reader, read.”

    There never was and never will be any other way.

    In celebration of Jewish Book Month, here are some suggestions for fostering critical literacy skills and igniting a lifelong love of reading in your child:

    Give Reading a Prime-time Slot

    Regardless of how much kids like to read, they won’t read if they haven’t any time to do so. By setting aside twenty minutes or so every day (right before bedtime usually works well), we provide our kids ample reading opportunity while sending the message that it’s an activity worthy of their precious time.

    Check the Reading Level

    When children take on books beyond their proficiency level, they can become rapidly disheartened. To determine whether a book is too hard for your child, have her read the first page aloud to you.0 If she stumbles over more than five words, put it back on the shelf and help her make another selection.

    Enlist Hollywood

    Seeing a story on the big screen (or a small one) can provide just the spark kids need to pick up the book version. Flicks like “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” “Harry Potter,” “Harriet the Spy” and “Stuart Little” are sure to have your little stars hitting the library in no time.

    Entice Them With Glossy Pages

    Kids needn’t peruse classics to reap the benefits of reading. Magazines that zero -in on children’s passions — from skateboarding to fashion- – can inspire even the most reluctant readers to start flipping pages. Techno-savvy kids can pull up favorite magazines online at sites like Sports Illustrated Kids and Time for Kids.

    Create a Library on Wheels

    Propensity toward carsickness aside, keeping a supply of books in the car will turn all those idle hours in traffic into valuable reading time.

    Turn Them on to Books on Tape

    Listening to a book on tape while following along in the real thing gives struggling readers (or those who simply want to tackle a book that’s beyond their reading level) an opportunity to enjoy the story without getting bogged down by difficult words.

    Money Talks

    In addition to your child’s regular allowance, provide a small allotment exclusively for reading material. Even if all your kid can afford is a paperback book or magazine, you’ve helped your cause.

    Start a Parent/Child Book Club

    This hot new trend in book clubs offers benefits galore, ranging from heightened reading skills to multigenerational bonding.

    It’s in the Bag

    Stash some books in a tote bag and pull them out whenever you and your kids get caught in a holding pattern. Whether waiting at the doctor’s office or a restaurant, your children will be thankful to have books to bust their boredom.

    Add ‘Book Night’ to Your Chanukah Traditions

    Reserve one night of your Festival of Lights this year for family members to exchange hot reads. Spend the rest of the evening enjoying your new books together. Make your gift last all year long by tapping Family Reading Night as a weekly tradition.

    Read to Your Kids

    For kids who are learning to read — and even those who are old pros! — it’s always a treat to listen to a book. Use expression and intonation as you read to encourage your kids to do so on their own.

    For more information, visit
    Sports Illustrated Kids: ” target=”_blank”>
    Find out everything you need to know about organizing your own parent/child book group at:

    Dear Abby of Cyberspace

    For a while this past year, several thousand girls between the ages of 10 and 14 read my words every day by logging on to, an Internet site for “‘tween” girls that provides a safe alternative to MySpace and Facebook.

    They wrote to me about their parents’ divorce or their fear of seventh grade or their little eating disorder they hoped no one else would know about.

    For several months, I became the “Dear Abby of Cyberspace,” the friendly counselor whose open door was only a cursor away, the virtual adult who answered a teen girl’s question when the actual adult in her life couldn’t even be asked.

    When I was brought on to the Allykatzz staff, I expected that my blogging ‘tweeners would grapple with the same issues as I hear of in person from my at-risk adolescent clients: sex, drugs, and — rock ‘n’ roll not withstanding — anger, anxiety and despair. Although the emotional outpouring was similar to that of the kids I work with daily, some of the stories I was told by my nameless readers astonished me:

    There was the girl who was raped when she was 8 and, at 14, wanted to know how to keep it a secret until she got to college; the girl who was born with a deformed limb and wanted to cut it out of her body; the girl whose father just died of brain cancer and who wanted to hypnotize herself out of grieving.

    I tried to answer all of them, often urging them to advocate for themselves by seeking out counseling or a support group or by expressing their feelings in a positive, healing way. I made it a point to let each of them know they are cherished, unique young women and that, whatever confronts them, this too shall pass.

    On a lighter note, the most frequent issue of all seemed to be the one I call the BFF Dilemma. For those of you who are ignorant of cyber-speak, a BFF is a Best Friend Forever. The problem for many of my bloggers was that, alas, the BFF actually shouldn’t be forever. Here is a typical (if not actual) letter:

    “So, Leda, like HELP me!!!! My BFF who I no since we wuz in frst grade has gotten so ANNOYING!!! She IMs me all the time and talks about nothing! She even makes fun of me in front of other grls! She told one really cool popular grl my name is Jade and it is SO not Jade! She was OK til 7 grade and then she got WEIRD. My mom sez 2 ignore her but I cant! What to do?”

    There were so many BFF Dilemma letters that they took on a weight equal to that of my occasional clinically depressed teen. Although a few of the girls face horrific problems, most of them were dealing with the simple process of being. I am constantly reminded in my work that an adolescent’s struggle to forge a mature identity can be a lonely one, as singular and as difficult as a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

    Part of that transformation is in deciding who will be compassionate and trustworthy enough to make the passage with them. When I was a teenager, I would become baffled and angry when my normally very progressive Jewish parents, who had a reputation among my friends for being especially hospitable, would shake their heads in wonderment and disapproval at some of my peers. “Di vos vaksn nit, vern kleyner,” my Yiddishkeit, immigrant father would tell me: Those who do not grow, grow smaller.

    He was right.

    BFFs, BBs (blog buddies) and BFs (boyfriends) will come and go, despite the best of intentions, simply because the level of maturity between adolescents is so uneven. Hopefully, for my readers, there will be new and better friends and perhaps a sympathetic adult or two on the road ahead as they travel from girlhood through adolescence into adulthood. It is my wish that I can be one of those adult voices who can support and cajole a young woman forward.

    I am reminded of another bit of Yiddish wisdom: Each child carries his or her own blessing into the world. So far, I have been blessed many times over, and I am both grateful for and honored by them all.

    Leda Siskind is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles who works with adolescents, young adults and families. She can be reached at (323) 824-0551.

    Flower choices can make your simcha a blooming success

    You may not wear white for your wedding or hold your ceremony in a synagogue, but chances are you’ll incorporate flowers into your day somehow, whether it’s with an extravagant bouquet or a simple hair accessory. Here’s what to consider when choosing your blooms:

    First Things First
    Don’t even think about visiting a florist until you’ve chosen what both you and your bridesmaids will be wearing for the ceremony. Your gown style and the colors of your bridesmaids’ dresses will help your florist get a sense of your personal style and enable her to create bouquets and arrangements that will enhance, rather than detract, from the main event — you.
    Collect magazine photos of images you like and don’t like, and show them to your wedding/floral consultant, said Jennifer McGarigle, owner of FloralArt in Venice. She’ll be able to help translate your personal style into the visual and experiential vision you have for your wedding.

    Color Clues
    We’ve come a long way from traditional white wedding bouquets. Nowadays, anything goes, from bright orange to deep red to dramatic purple. Monochromatic or tone-on-tone combinations are a big trend right now, McGarigle said. (Think pale pink hydrangeas paired with deeper pink roses and bright pink asters.)
    “Purple is a big hit … but be careful how you use it,” she said. “It works best when there are bleeding shades of purple — from lavender, to purple, to violet. Use crisp white, soft gray or celery green as a contrasting accent.”
    Remember that color can come from more than just the flowers themselves. Incorporate accent colors with ribbon or beaded wire in your bouquet and with vases and tablecloths for your table arrangements.
    “My favorite combination right now is monochromatic white with antique gold and beige or chocolate brown accents,” McGarigle said. “The gold can come from either the fabric of the containers or linens, like a gold matte satin cloth.”

    Let’s Get Practical
    Choose flowers carefully if you or other members of your party are prone to allergies, said Judith Sherven, co-author of “The Smart Couple’s Guide to the Wedding of Your Dreams” (New World Library, 2005). Gardenias and some lilies, for example, are very pungent and can cause headaches or other symptoms, even for your guests, she said.
    You’ll also want to be sure that your blooms will hold up for the duration of your event and be easy to transport if you’ll be reusing ceremony arrangements for the reception (a great way to save money). Sharing your wedding day itinerary with your florist will help her in guiding your floral choices.

    Money Matters
    Be up-front with your florist about your budget, McGarigle said, and always get a proposal that itemizes and describes each area of décor. If you’re on a budget, prioritize, she said. “Choose the areas you do and do them well.”
    If you have your heart set on pricier flowers, like orchids or calla lilies but can’t afford to use them in large quantities, think in terms of simple, elegant arrangements, Sherven said. Use your most expensive flowers in your hair and bouquet (where they’ll be front and center in photos and during the ceremony) and less costly blooms for site decoration. You can also use potted plants and flowers from friends’ gardens to expand on your use of florist arrangements, she said.

    Style and Shape
    “The biggest trends in flowers right now are modern but not minimalist arrangements,” McGarigle said, “meaning the lines of floral decor are clean and streamlined but lush in color, texture and abundance.
    “Mix vases and other containers in varying shapes and sizes for a more eclectic, interesting look,” she said, “but create unity with common shapes, whether round or square. A centerpiece grouping, for example, could combine vases of varying heights in round and cylindrical shapes. For flower combinations, three- to five-bloom variations that complement one another make for cleaner looking arrangements with impact.”

    Be Size Wise With the Bouquet
    Don’t get stuck carting a bouquet that’s heavy or awkward. It may not seem unwieldy at first, but keep in mind that you’ll be holding it for the duration of your ceremony and through all your pictures. Keep both your body shape and dress style in mind when choosing your blossoms. The three main types of bridal bouquets are:

    • Round posy — either hand-tied (stems are bound and tied with ribbon) or wired (stems are removed to eliminate bulk). Hand-tied bouquets are versatile and work well with all types of dresses. Wired posies make for lighter bouquets and are a good choice for petite-size brides.
    • Trailing/shower. Elongated bouquets like cascades/showers (which resemble waterfalls) and trailing bouquets (which are full at the top, then taper to form a tail at the bottom) are good choices for fuller skirts and/or taller brides.
    • Overarm. Long-stemmed flowers (roses, orchids or calla lilies are popular choices) are tied with a ribbon and held along the inner crook of your elbow. This style suits a modern, slim dress and draws attention to an ornamented bodice.

    Peak timing
    Choosing in-season blooms will keep prices down, as will steering clear of red roses if you’ll be tying the knot close to Valentine’s Day.

    Location, Location
    Try to avoid competing with your environment, whether it’s indoors or out. Small bouquets can seem insignificant in large spaces, and extravagant blooms ostentatious for intimate backyard gatherings. Also take note of the floor and wall colors, and the type of decorations already on site. You may be able to save money by making use of in-house plants and archways.

    Make It Meaningful
    Many flowers have meanings associated with them, for example:

    Rose: love, beauty.
    Sunflowe: adoration.
    Gardenia: joy.
    Orchid: delicate beauty.
    Lily of the valley: happiness.
    Sweet pea: lasting pleasure.
    Peony: bashfulness.
    Stephanotis: marital happiness.

    But what really matters is choosing flowers you love. You can also pick blossoms based on those that have meant something to you and your fiancé as a couple — pink roses for the first bouquet he gave you or lilacs for the bush in your friend’s backyard where he proposed.

    The bottom line? “Surround yourself with flowers that bring you pleasure and joy,” Sherven said. They’ll set the tone for your wedding and be a constant reminder of your blossoming love.

    Jenny Stamos writes about health, nutrition, psychology, work, money and love for magazines such as Self, Shape, Glamour, Women’s Health, Prevention and Woman’s Day.

    Listen, kids, and you shall hear — it ain’t gonna be easy

    Listen my children, and you shall hear
    The bar mitzvah course that we shall steer.

    The purpose of this speech is to prepare you for your bar mitzvah. And to let you know — as Noah thought when he received the blueprints from the Master Shipbuilder — this ain’t gonna be easy.

    First, you must memorize this sentence so it’s clearly engraved on your heart and head: “It ain’t gonna be easy.” You can either write it 500 times in your notebook or pronounce it slowly and with passion before thou riseth up and before thou goeth out. Say it out loud: “It ain’t gonna be easy.” (Don’t say it in front of your sixth-grade English teacher. If you do, don’t tell her you learned it from me.)

    Nothing you have accomplished so far in your 12 years of life has demanded the hard work and dedication this task will require, unless your name is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who gave up soccer for symphonies at 6 years of age.

    I don’t want to exaggerate the difficulty. Your bar mitzvah will not demand months of constant hard work — just a little time daily, like 30 minutes. It’s always better to overestimate an assignment. If you like to wade streams, don’t assume it’s two feet deep if, in fact, it’s six feet.

    You are both lucky and unlucky to be approaching the age of 13 in the 21st century. You’re as fortunate as David the shepherd boy, who with one great pitch dusted brawny Goliath and made the biblical big leagues. You’re lucky because friends and relatives will shower you with gift cards, iPods and digital cameras.

    The bad news is that had you approached the age of 13, say a few-hundred years ago, you’d have received a free pass to adulthood in the Jewish community — no speeches, no haftorah. Nothing. Of course, “nothing in, nothing out,” as the computer folks say. No speeches, no presents.

    Isaiah, who would have had no trouble with his haftorah, was never a bar mitzvah celebrant. At least there was never a formal ceremony. And neither Miriam nor Deborah celebrated a bat mitzvah. Isaiah never had a decent wallet or a fountain pen — no ceremony, no presents. And Deborah grew up — believe it or not — without a subscription to CosmoGIRL!

    Times were hard. I think the worst of all times was the Great Depression, when all the bar mitzvah requirements were in force, but generosity was not yet in style. It was the fountain pen era, and if your speech was sparkling and your haftorah rang the rafters, you got 27 fountain pens.

    One other topic: For some reason, 12-year-olds specialize in losing b’nai mitzvah materials, like the copy of their haftorah and the audiotapes we’ll be working with. This is a great mystery, like why you can’t talk when you’re face to face with the prettiest girl or most handsome boy in the sixth grade. Kids have a burning, irresistible compulsion to lose this material.

    Once or twice is OK. But after the third, there’ll be a penalty. Twenty bucks, which I’ll donate to my favorite charity: the old broken-down bar mitzvah teacher’s retirement fund.

    You’re a lucky boy or girl. We don’t have to whisper our haftorah. We don’t need a sentry by the synagogue door on the lookout for the mob, the hoodlums, the anti-Semites. The bar mitzvah boy — your predecessor — in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and other dark times studied in stealth and recited his lessons in fear. But you can shout.

    Our Pesach hagaddah tells us, “Now we are slaves; next year may we be free men.” Well, today we are free — free to sing your haftorah with passion, like David, the sweet singer of Israel. Surrounding you are the less-fortunate bar mitzvah children of yesteryear. Sing for them.

    Ted Roberts, a longtime b’nai mitzvah teacher, is also a Jewish humorist and commentator whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Disney Magazine and Hadassah.

    Brotherly Advice

    In the last year, my younger brother has been asking for and taking my dating advice on an almost daily basis. It’s a fact that continues to astound me. This isn’t to say I don’t have anything worthwhile to say on the topic, despite the fact that I’m married now and raising two kids. It’s more that I’ve simply never had this kind of relationship with him before.

    My brother and I were born two years apart. We shared a room growing up, played with “Star Wars” action figures together and coordinated plans to torture our younger sister, but around high school our paths split. He was into extreme sports and living life on a razor’s edge, whereas I was content lounging around the house reading and going with friends to places like Gorky’s to get into philosophical conversations.

    The one thing we still had in common was our appreciation for women, but even there we differed. He liked the adventurous party girl, while I was drawn to the moody intellectual type. He ended up converting at age 16 to Catholicism after dating a Catholic girl, while one of my love interests led me to get serious about my Judaism and attend Shabbat services at CSUN Hillel.

    My brother and I eventually found ourselves in completely different cities, and our phone calls went from weekly to monthly. As time went on, I was surprised if I heard from him more than a few times a year. We saw each other for the first time in eight years when I flew out to the Midwest to be a groomsman at his wedding in 1999. And I realized how far our paths had diverged when he proudly showed off the printed wedding blessing his in-laws secured from Pope John Paul II.

    Like many men, my brother and I relied too much on our spouses, and we willingly sacrificed our male friendships on the pyre of our turbulent marriages. I was left with one close friend when my first marriage crumbled three years later. In 2004, when my brother’s marriage and business were falling apart, he couldn’t name any guy whom he could count as a reliable friend.

    Throughout his contentious divorce, we still barely talked. I wasn’t sure what help I could offer him or whether he’d want it. But when he finally opened up to me a few months later about how he wanted to find love again, I couldn’t hold my tongue.

    I told him to focus his time and energy on rebuilding his life and his self-esteem. He couldn’t offer stability to anyone, and he needed time to find himself outside of the context of a relationship.

    “Date,” I said, “there’s no reason to get serious about anyone.”

    Naturally, he didn’t listen. He moved in with a new girlfriend who had a tattoo emblazoned provocatively across her chest and observed a three-drink minimum when she visited with our family.

    It wasn’t long before my brother started calling me with his doubts and anxieties. She was still chummy with her ex, he said. After he found multiple calls on her cell phone to her former beau, he wasn’t convinced everything was kosher, especially because their love life had hit a rough patch.

    “She must have girlfriends to run to for advice,” I said. “Assume she isn’t just ‘talking,’ and tell her to drop him as a friend or you’re moving out.”

    And to my surprise he did it. He moved out.

    When he got his own place, I told him not to invite women over. He didn’t believe me at first. When he found two women he’d dated staking out his home at different times to see if he was bringing anyone else over, it dawned on him the advice might exist to protect him.

    When he blew some first dates by talking too much, my advice was to keep his mouth shut, start listening and asking questions, but without turning it into an interview.

    “Women want men to be enigmatic,” I said. “They’ll project what they want onto you. Don’t let your reality interfere with their fantasy.”

    The guy who almost always wanted to talk about himself suddenly started taking the back seat in our conversations and shocked me by asking about my life.

    After months of living on his own, my brother eventually reached a point where he told me he didn’t want or need a relationship. It amused him to no end that even though he was forward with women about not wanting a commitment, they still pursued him with a dream of getting to see his home — and with the hope of eventually moving in.

    My brother has since been called a player — as well as many other names that can’t be printed in a family newspaper — but he learned quickly that many women will keep calling even after they’ve sworn off of him for good. It was a liberating revelation for him, because he saw that he didn’t have to become someone he wasn’t in order to attract a woman.

    He’s even started to explore his Jewish heritage. He calls me frequently from the road as he’s on his way to use the gym at his local JCC, asking my advice about how he should handle his evening. And after joining a Jewish dating site, he asked me to recommend a synagogue for him to try on for size. Needless to say, Mom is kvelling.

    I’m just excited that he’s also sought out his old friends, reserving a few days each month to play poker or get together for dinner. He tells me that they trade dating advice as they sit around the table, sharing what works and what doesn’t.

    Although I’m about 1,600 miles away from him, I’m always by the phone, ready with some advice when my brother needs me. And I’m glad to know that even if I can’t join him at the table with his buddies, at least he’s regularly offering me a seat as one of the important men in his life.

    Briefs: Peres elected President of Israel; Oprah criticized for pro-Israel stance

    Peres Elected President of Israel

    Shimon Peres became Israel’s ninth president. In parliamentary votingWednesday, the longtime leader defeated rival Knesset members Reuven Rivlinand Colette Avital. Rivlin and Avital dropped out after the first round,having received 37 and 21 votes respectively, the Jerusalem Post reported.In the second round 86 Knesset members supported Peres, the only remainingcandidate, and 23 opposed him.

    “I have been in the Knesset for 48 years and not for one moment have I lostfaith or hope in Israel,” Peres said in his acceptance speech. “What Israelhas achieved in 60 years, no other country has been able to achieve. I hopeI can represent our faith not because there are no problems but because weall want to overcome them.”

    Peres, 83, will assume the presidency, a largely ceremonial post, on July 15for a seven-year term. The presidency will cap a six-decade career in whichPeres has served in virtually every top civilian post in Israel. In 1993 hewon the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

    Oprah Criticized for Pro-Israel Stance

    Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), a partnership between the East Jerusalem YMCA and the YWCA of Palestine, said in a June 8 letter that Oprah Winfrey’s willingness to visit Israel was “very shocking” considering her image as someone who “stands with oppressed, marginalized people, fights racism, and works for justice and human rights.”

    The letter was apparently a response to the talk show host’s declaration last month that she sympathized with the suffering of Israelis and would accept an invitation from Elie Wiesel to visit the Jewish state. Calling Israel’s policies a violation of international law, the JAI invited Winfrey to visit Palestinian areas and “witness firsthand the refugee camps, Apartheid Wall, movement restrictions and ghettos.”

    Health Care Tops Poll for Jewish Progressives

    An online poll conducted by progressive Jewish Web sites showed health care to be the top domestic political priority. The poll, coordinated by Jewish Funds for Justice, listed 10 issues and asked respondents to pick the five most important. The top five were, in order: health care, the environment, education, civil rights and wages. The other issues, not in order, were seniors, immigration, housing, child-care and hurricane devastation. Each issue was framed in progressive terminology.

    The poll got more than 8,600 responses through participating Web sites, including the Shalom Center, Jewcy and the National Council for Jewish Women. Polling experts believe online polls are suggestive at best, as participants are self-selective.

    Grinspoon Offers $300,000 for Youth Philanthropy

    The Harold Grinspoon Foundation will award $30,000 to each of 10 communities to start a B’nai Tezedek program, which asks teens to contribute a minimum of $125 of their bar or bat mitzvah money to an individual endowment fund. The foundation matches the contribution to help the teens establish a fund of at least $500, from which they make allocations every year. The program, which started in Western Massachusetts, where the foundation is based, is already up and running in 37 communities. The grants will be given on a first come, first serve basis, the foundation announced in a press release.

    “It is essential to the future of Jewish society that we get our teens involved in giving to charity in a personally engaging way, and equip them with the tools to become financially intelligent donors,” said Harold Grinspoon, founder and chair of the foundation.

    Rabbi Offers Online Advice for Interfaith Weddings, a support and resource center for intermarried families, has hired Rabbi Lev Baesh as its first Rabbinic Circle director. The 1994 graduate of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion begins work July 9. Baesh’s main tasks will be referring interfaith couples to rabbis who will officiate at their wedding and running a listserv for rabbis to discuss the issue and share practical tips. President Ed Case, who said he receives about 60 requests a month from interfaith couples looking for officiating rabbis. Case says this service differs from the “rent-a-rabbi” phenomenon because the rabbis on Baesh’s list are all carefully vetted, and couples will be steered toward their local synagogues. “Our intention is not to tell rabbis that they should officiate, or pressure them to do so,” Case said.

    The Reform movement’s rabbinic association officially discourages intermarriage, but leaves it to the discretion of individual rabbis whether or not to officiate at interfaith weddings. Conservative and Orthodox rabbis are barred from doing so.

    Shalit’s Mother Assails Government

    The mother of an Israeli soldier held hostage by Palestinians assailed the government for not doing more to recover him. Aviva Shalit, whose son Gilad was abducted to the Gaza Strip by Hamas-led gunmen last June, broke her silence in a newspaper interview published Monday. Previous public comments on the family’s ordeal have been made by Shalit’s husband, Noam.

    “All year I hoped that the repeated promises to do everything for Gilad’s release would bear fruit, but this hope is also beginning to wane,” Aviva Shalit told Yediot Achronot. “My strong feeling is that not enough has been done, because if had they really done everything, Gilad would be home, and so would the other two kidnapped soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev,” Shalit said, referring to troops held by Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon since last July.

    Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top terrorists, in exchange for Shalit, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled this out for fear of encouraging further kidnappings.

    Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegrapic Agency

    Happiness — maybe it’s not ‘out there’

    It all started with the phone call from my Jewish mother in the Philadelphia suburbs about five years ago: “My friend’s son is moving to L.A. I think he has an on-again-off-again girlfriend. But, he’s cute and nice. Anyway, he’s going to call you for coffee.” Innocent enough, or so I thought. Then, as the hours flew by and the age of 28 approached from around the corner, a cold sweat bathed my East Coast family. My 24-year-old first cousin announced her engagement to a nice lawyer from George Washington University.

    Here I was across the country, no family, in grad school, living on loans, virtually dateless and in emotional recovery from a Beverly Hills player who thought marriage proposals were a game.

    We were entering the danger zone, ladies and gentleman.

    It was time to call in the big guns. The yentas held a conference, and mission “marry my Jewish daughter before age 30” began. My cousin’s friend, the pediatrician, was going to call; my dad paid for me to go wine tasting in Malibu; and my Pilates teacher knew a great single Jewish tow-truck driver.

    That was around the time I had a nervous breakdown. I knew I didn’t need any help or handouts. I was a smart, attractive, independent woman, and I knew I could find my true love online in a week if I were really serious about it. I posted a profile.

    The concept that even Frankenstein got married would often dance through my sleepless head after each grueling online date or night out at a bar. When the 5-foot-tall doctor who had posted a picture of his 6-foot-tall brother asked me to split the bill for coffee, I knew it was time to take a break. Why was there so much pressure? Thirty is just a number. Who really cares? Madonna had kids in her 40s, and look at Demi Moore.

    My friends and therapist told me it was “them,” not me. There was nothing wrong with me. I just needed to get out there. That was when it dawned on me, after a yoga class, that maybe “out there” was really just a reflection of what was “in here.” Maybe my frenetic coffee shop drive-bys, obsessively long elliptical workouts by my gym’s basketball court and late-night strolls down the produce aisle weren’t going to help me find what I was searching for “out there.”

    That was when something miraculous happened.

    Nope. I’m not going to tell some Pollyanna story about how I stopped looking and then found my soul mate at the gas station. The truth is simple. I gave up searching outside myself and committed to my passion.

    It was like I had some sort of biblical experience. I was on the plane returning to Los Angeles when it hit me. I knew exactly what I had to do. I was just a couple classes shy of my master’s degree in psychology and had been counseling individuals and couples in a local Jewish agency for about a year.

    I had been on more than 200 first dates in Los Angeles.

    I’d learned exactly what I was not looking for.

    My experience skimming through online profiles helped me master the art and science of weeding out Mr. Wrong with one questionable sentence or phone message. I helped a bunch of my guy friends write profiles and watched as they single-handedly, consistently met girls and got engaged.

    All my friends already had been calling me for relationship advice every day since high school. With my background in psychology and the positive growth I saw from working with my clients, I realized that I had what it took to help singles out there save their Jewish mothers from the schpilkes that kept mine up at night. I focused on helping other singles in my psychotherapy practice.

    Over the years I have helped young, shy guys find their inner chutzpah, those with poor self-images gain the self confidence to write delete-proof profiles, and I realized that so many of us just want to find the same thing, but our own fear and self-doubt makes us question the ones who see our true inner beauty. As I have helped my clients get past their emotional blocks, I have seen them find what they want. It was like clockwork.

    I began to wake up each morning like a woman in love.

    That was when the words my grandmother always spoke came true. Yup. This one annoying doctor who kept calling finally met me for coffee one morning. My grandmother said I’d find him when I was not looking. I couldn’t stand this guy over the phone, and I had little to no faith in online matchmaking. But something magical happened that day as our morning coffee turned into a ride up the coast and a lovely dinner in Malibu.

    I was skeptical when he told me at the end of the night that he had a feeling we would be spending a lot of time together. Yet, somehow we have been talking every day since. And the love I sought from outside for so long, grew and grew as my commitment to my own success and joy filled up any emptiness or lacking.

    Yes, I found my soul mate when I fell in love with my own life – although it happened several months after turning 30.

    The moral of my story can best be summed up in my yoga revelation. Stop looking “out there” for the life you want. The happiness you seek is already “in here.”

    Live passionately while you are single and life will have a funny way of delivering your heart’s desire – when your heart is already full.

    Alisa Ruby is a psychotherapist, a part-time school counselor at Malibu High School and a freelance writer.

    Note to new grads: it’s just the beginning!

    College graduation: the distinctive rite of passage that marks a child as an adult. Adorned in ceremonious celebration and family gathering, it is an event that simultaneously acknowledges our accomplishments and introduces us to the possibilities — and realities — of our futures, where success is not measured in grades but in self-sufficiency.

    My first act as a graduate two years ago was choosing to skip my commencement ceremony. Reluctant to put closure on four enriching years at the University of Florida, I turned in my final paper on “Trash Cinema” and bolted to the Florida Turnpike, figuring I had at least five hours to ruminate before life began.

    Two years, four cities and more jobs than can fit on a resume later, I’ve been thinking about graduating (and not just because the Gators have won three NCAA Championship titles since).

    As proof that destiny is not without a sense of humor, I recently found myself back at my alma mater saluting my little sister at her college graduation.

    Watching her walk across the stage and knowing the immense journey ahead, I felt compelled to share what I’ve learned with her. With two fast but full years under my belt and scrolls of solicited wisdom from my esteemed elders, I’ve discovered how meaningful it is to throw your cap into the air.

    But strip away the hype, the elaborate weekends steeped in family ritual and celebratory dining, how many graduates take their passage seriously? Aside from announcements that serve as financial solicitations to our nearest and dearest nowadays, how can graduates show they’re prepared for the next phase of life?

    How does an individual prepare for the lifelong transition of becoming who they are meant to be?

    In retrospect, I realize I wasn’t ready to graduate — from college, from parental support, from the carelessness of youth in which I considered myself quite skilled. My peers avoided this precipice similarly. Many blindly went from one institution to another, finishing undergrad and matriculating to graduate school. True, graduate study is an unparalleled opportunity for furthering passions or professional goals, but I found it odd, and even humorous, that so many of my peers immediately wound up in law school, yet I can’t remember many of my childhood friends broadcasting dreams of becoming lawyers.

    Perhaps the naked confrontation with infinite possibility is too frightening, and many feel that arming themselves with fancy degrees will better equip them for the demands of the adult world. But everyone faces reality eventually, and a degree is simply a piece of paper until a person parlays it into a satisfying life.

    Despite my absence from the ceremony, graduating was a cumulative process and not a single event; a period fraught with growth, change, struggle, new experiences and, finally, commitment to a pursuit. For me, that decision necessitated a move away from home, which truly signified my entry into an adult brand of independence.

    This is what I learned during my graduation:

    • Don’t rush. The imminent grind of capitalism is yours for the taking — for the rest of your life — so ignore the ubiquitous pressure to become a millionaire before you turn 30, because if we all made our millions by then, a bunch of celebrity-obsessed, party-going 20-somethings would dominate the world’s largest economy. Secondly, it is more important and more rewarding to enjoy the fabric of the journey than to cross the finish line. After all, what would college graduation be if not for all those years we spent indulging in studenthood? What kind of adults might we be if not for our equal and opposite experience as children?
    • Experiment and expand. When you are young, every possibility is open to you. The ability to be malleable and reinvent yourself is a treasure of youth that disappears when permanent responsibilities like mortgage payments, tuition and (heaven forbid!) children of your own enter the scene. It is only later in life that you will understand how the various dots of your existence connect into a cohesive, logical framework.
    • Take risks. Safe choices are, at best, safe. But what makes life interesting and exciting are the unexpected adventures and opportunities that throw us off one course and onto another that is beyond our wildest dreams. Don’t be afraid to do something that scares you. Never miss an opportunity to make yourself a more interesting person.
    • Believe in yourself. People who believe in themselves cannot be hindered. Those are the people who change the world. They are the revolutionaries and visionaries with implacable dreams. They may not have a perfect plan, but they possess passion and conviction, and those qualities will fill the depths of your soul in ways a resume can never explain or encompass.

    Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

    Like you, I am working hard to make that true.

    Battle of the sexes along the Y-Divide

    “Ladies and gentlemen, Rabbi Aryeh Pamensky holds the secret to your incredible, unbelievable and unparalleled happiness,” announces the emcee in a dimly lit nightspot where hundreds of Jews are gathered, each hoping to attain what half of Americans find unattainable: a happy marriage.”

    A happy wife is a happy life,” the rabbi says, and so begins the popular one-man interactive show, “Pamensky Live,” which makes its rounds throughout the United States and Canada.

    Pamensky spoke to a reporter in Philadelphia after one of his shows.

    Pamensky believes he can eradicate divorce and is on a mission to prove he can make marriage into a heaven on earth for both genders. To that end he has created “Y-Divide Marriage Kit,” which includes a DVD and six CDs.

    And he has written two books: “Marrying The Y-Divide: Bridging the Gender Gap” and “Ten Top Amazing Marriage Tips.” He is also on the road throughout the year, garnering rave reviews at scores of comedy clubs and other trendy locales. It is not just the married folks he addresses; the 42-year old South African native raised in Toronto targets single audiences nationwide for comparable dating seminars, though his advice differs pre- and post-marriage.

    “Pamensky Live,” known as the Jewish version of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” gives the men in the crowd a job. Recognizing that men are not innately what he terms “relationship beings,” Pamensky offers a job description for men looking to transform their existing relationship into one that fulfills their every dream. In an entertaining presentation, the rabbi assures men that they will not have to go through massive personal and interpersonal changes: “I say, ‘You’re a guy and you don’t have to change. Who you are right now can satisfy your wife,’ and they feel a weight lifted off their shoulders.”

    According to Pamensky, their eyes open wide and they are baffled that he is not urging them to become sensitive, communicative beings.

    Pamensky responds, “If you become that, your wife won’t be happy anyway. She wants to be married to you as a man. So now, you, as a man, can fulfill her. I have tools to teach you how to make it work where you’re at. Now this is how you do it….”

    Pamesky believes women are incredibly complicated, but they all need the three As: attention, affection and appreciation, and once they receive this from their husbands, they channel their energy into creating a loving and adventurous affair with their spouse. On this premise, as a woman grows more content and pleased in her marital relationship, her reservations melt away and she opens herself up to pampering her husband. Pamensky’s presentation humorously depicts just what kind of attention and affection he is referring to.

    He advises the men to drop whatever they are doing and give their wives undivided attention.

    “Don’t tune out,” he warns, recommending eye contact and attentively listening to everything she is saying. By affection, the rabbi is referring to affectionate tones and nonsexual touch. Appreciation generally speaks for itself.

    Addressing the women, Pamensky says, “Take a look at your man now, and you will forever look at him entirely different. He is a huge ego with legs. When he does his job [making you happy], stroke his ego over the top. Men live for this. The greatest way to bolster his ego is letting him know how his gestures made you feel for the good.”

    He jokes, “We always hear about it for the bad.”

    “The Amazing Marriage Seminar,” portions of which are included in the “Live” performance, is the culmination of many years of rabbinical study of the Torah and other Jewish texts, in conjunction with Pamensky’s work as a marriage counselor and personal coach.

    “The self-help business is a gazillion dollar business, and so many people who attend are Jewish, so I always wondered, ‘Why don’t they go to Judaism for this stuff?'” he said. “I always had a dream of taking the wisdom of Judaism and putting it in self-help language that is palatable to people who don’t have access to the texts themselves. There is a tremendous 3,500-year-old tradition that’s been passed down concerning wisdom for understanding marriage.”

    According to the Pamensky plan, “make your wife feel that she is the most important person in your life; that nothing going on in your life is more important than her.”

    In a tone that implies, “Hey, I’m one of you, just a regular guy,” he cautions, “Gentlemen, you’ve got to appreciate that every time you make your wife feel less important than something else in your life, be it work, children, sports, parents, television or hobbies, that thing becomes a mistress, and your wife will fight you on everything that has to do with that mistress.”

    At each performance, Pamensky reminds men that their wives will support them on their every endeavor so long as she feels she is more important than any other person or thing.

    For singles, he takes a different approach.

    “Dating sets you up for a bad marriage,” Pamensky said at one of his packed singles events, which was sponsored by Discovery Productions, a New York-based nonprofit Jewish outreach organization. The dynamic is all faulty from the get-go, he maintains, since dating is always on a man’s terms. “That’s how you begin the relationship, and women think that once they get married, it is going to switch, but you have already set precedents. The skill set for dating,” he continues, “when applied to marriage causes bad marriages.”

    “Most of marriage is about fulfilling the other person’s needs, and this is why dating is not a good training ground for marriage,” Pamensky says. He adds that since there is no alternative, “you just need to learn how to date smart.”

    He says one of his most rewarding moments came when a woman ran up to him in gratitude after one of his performances, tearfully exclaiming, “How do I thank the man who saved my life?”

    With a chuckle, Pamensky says, “You see, that’s how women speak about relationships!”

    For more information, visit

    B’nai Mitzvah: Ten ways to slash the cost of a big party

    Do you have to spend a king’s ransom to have a fabulous bar or bat mitzvah for your child? Absolutely not, but remember that not all money-saving tips are created equal. This one — which I’ve read in several places — wins my top prize as the silliest: Have your party on a Monday and you’ll get a slightly better price from the caterer.

    That’s true. In fact you’ll save a fortune, because no one will be able to come! How expensive could it be to feed six people?

    In an effort to be Coco Chanel, I have coined an expression: If you have taste, you don’t need a lot of money, and if you don’t have taste, money isn’t going to help. Good taste and style are timeless and transcend matters of price. The simplest table decoration — if rendered with sincerity and a bit of aesthetic charm — is as authentic an expression of chic as the most expensive Paris couture.

    The biggest unavoidable costs of a large party are food and music. We’re not even going to discuss music because the role of the music leader — as the person who runs your party — is so important that I wouldn’t recommend economizing there.

    The following, though, are some great ideas that will save you money — even if you have more than six people:

    1. Host a Joint Party

    If your child has close friends who share the same social circle, organize the parents to throw one big party for all the bar/bat mitzvah kids. Then you can afford the best DJ, the best everything. On your child’s actual bar/bat mitzvah day, have a modest party that includes your child’s closest friends.

    2. Pick a Hall That Doesn’t Have an ‘Approved Caterer’

    Many synagogues require you to choose from a list of approved caterers if you want to use their hall for an event. If your budget is modest and the list doesn’t include a vendor who will work within it, you’ll be forced to spend more if you want to use that room. Some communities don’t have a lot of options, but think creatively and look around — you just need a big room somewhere. If you really want to have your party in your own synagogue and there’s no budget-friendly option in caterers, organize like-minded congregants to talk to the administrators about adding a caterer who will enthusiastically work with modest budgets. Or perhaps even change the policy to let you bring in your own food.

    3. Organize Your Own Food

    The least expensive caterer I know in my area charges a minimum of about $35 a person for a sit-down meal. Imagine how much great take-out food you could buy each person for that. Order trays from all the local restaurants: sushi, Chinese dumplings, gourmet pizza. Hire some college kids and/or local moms to take care of heating and serving the food.

    4. Keep It Simple and, Perhaps, Exotic

    Keep the menu simple. Have meatless dishes — you may save a little and you’ll please all the vegetarians and people who observe religious restrictions. Have a different (less expensive but still quality) menu for the kids. Serve inexpensive and unusual ethnic foods. It will be a culinary adventure and no one will be able to determine if the food is cheap or not.

    5. Let Them Eat Cake

    Shop for a cake at your neighborhood bakery, not the local “bakers to the stars.” They may have very nice designs but no budget to advertise them. If you’re buying a cake, tell the caterer you don’t want dessert — it’s often served before the cake and the cake then goes uneaten. Best idea of all: buy pretty individual cakes and use them as the centerpieces — the culinary equivalent of “multitasking.”

    6. Buy Co-Op China

    Every parent planning a bar or bat mitzvah knows several other parents who are doing the same, so this is easily arranged. If you’re planning to cater your own party, you’ll need china, utensils and glassware. These are usually supplied by the caterer and can be costly to rent. Far better: get a group of parents together to buy one big set of china from a restaurant supplier and take turns using it. Buy extra –there will be breakage along the way.

    7. Buy Your Own Liquor

    There are many options in how you handle drinks at your party. You can have a simple wine, juice and soda bar or an expanded version where you have the setups and alcohol for the six to 10 most popular mixed drinks. You do not need to offer a full-service bar to be considered a good host. Hire your own server. See if the wine vendor delivers, if he includes the use of wineglasses and if he will allow you to return unopened bottles for a refund.

    8. Make Decorations and Party Favors Yourself

    Get your friends to help you — you’ll have so much fun! Don’t worry that they won’t then be surprised by the décor when they come to the party. The thrill of an opening night is never diminished for the actors just because they’ve rehearsed it a zillion times.

    9. Having Flowers? Arrange Them Yourself

    If you have a good eye, buy flowers in bulk and make the arrangements yourself. If you don’t have a good eye, get potted flowering plants or get large bunches of one beautiful flower and place them in simple pots. Make simple topiaries by bunching one kind of long-stemmed flower together and tying raffia around the “trunk” of stalks to keep them upright. Jam the bottoms into wet floral foam in a pot and cover foam with moss.

    10. Make Entertainers Do Double-Duty

    If you’re hiring entertainment in addition to the music, get someone who will create a giveaway, thereby eliminating the need for a separate party favor. At this writing, some of the hot entertainment/giveaway-producing ideas are the classic photo-booth buttons and photo strips, magnets and magazine covers; or a tape of the guest singing karaoke or doing “Dance Heads.”

    Gail Greenberg is the author of “MitzvahChic, How to Host a Meaningful, Fun, Drop-Dead Gorgeous Bar or Bat Mitzvah.” For more great ideas, free planning e-mails and other fabulous services for b’nai mitzvah families, visit Tyler Joseph Carl

    Let’s confront, I mean, let’s talk

    Men will do anything — and I mean anything, from changing their phones, emails and even primary residences, to joining the army during wartime — rather than
    confront a woman. By “confront,” I mean, “talk directly to.” They just don’t like it.  

    R.E. Hard Crash? Soft Landing? Bursting Balloon? Leaking Balloon?

    Mark Cohen thinks those doomsday scenarios about an impending Southland housing crash miss the mark. And the founder and president of Beverly Hills-based Cohen Financial Group has learned a thing or two about real estate over the last 20 years.

    With an MBA from USC and a law degree from Loyola Law School, the 47-year-old mortgage broker helped secure nearly $1.1 billion in home loans last year, making him the No. 1 individual mortgage loan originator in the country, according to Mortgage Originator Magazine.

    When not spending time with his three children and wife Laurie, Cohen has been involved in the local Jewish community.

    A member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Real Estate and Construction Division, Cohen has also played an active role at Sinai Temple for more than two decades. He and his wife have long supported ATID (which translates as future in Hebrew), a Sinai program that trains future Jewish leaders. They also recently contributed funds toward the writing of a new Torah.

    The Jewish Journal spoke to Cohen about the recent reversal in the local housing market.

    Jewish Journal: Why has the housing market slowed in Southern California?

    Mark Cohen: Southern California is a great place to live, which is why so many people want to live here. However, that also means the supply of apartments, houses and condos is limited. Over time, this supply-and-demand situation in housing has pushed prices up dramatically, pricing many people completely out of the market. Added to this are the interest-rate hikes by the Fed. Rates have increased by about 2 1/2 percent over the past few years, and that has made the cost of borrowing more expensive, closing the door on even more potential homeowners.

    JJ: If the Fed raises interest rates to keep inflation in check, will that help or hurt the market?

    MC: The jury is still out on whether or not the Fed will continue to raise rates. It all depends on whether or not they can keep inflation under control. If there are more rate increases in the near future, they will likely have a negative effect on the market in the short term. However, if the Fed is successful in keeping inflation in check, they can keep the door open for future rate cuts should there be a slowdown in the economy. Recent economic reports are showing that inflation has moderated for the time being, which means the Fed’s tightening cycle may be over. And that would have a positive impact on the real estate market.

    JJ: What areas of the Southland are most at risk of having the bottom drop out? Why?

    MC: It’s difficult to single out specific areas in Southern California that have the most risk. However, right now, San Diego seems to have an oversupply of new condominiums on the market due to all the speculation that occurred over the past few years. There’s also usually a deeper correction in areas where there has been excess in new construction. Palm Springs is an example of this. On the other side of the coin, the Westside, South Bay and San Fernando Valley will likely fare better during a slowdown because of the lack of new construction, limited supply of homes and desirability.

    All in all, Southern California is a great place to live and historically, over time, real estate here has proven to be a great investment.

    JJ: Do you anticipate a hard or soft landing locally?

    MC: A soft lading will depend on several factors. First, the direction of interest rates will have a big impact, as will the strength of the local economy. As long as jobs are being created and the economy stays at its current growth levels, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll experience a hard landing.

    Obviously, the actions by the Fed in the next few months will affect the local real estate market for the foreseeable future.

    JJ: How long do you expect the market to remain soft?

    MC: It really depends on the economy. If we have continued job creation and continued economic growth, the market will recover more quickly. Fewer jobs created and slower growth will mean a longer slowdown. The real driving force behind the real estate market isn’t interest rates; it’s the economy. That’s because even though fixed-interest rates have risen recently, they are still at manageable levels.

    JJ: How is this housing market of today different from the boom-and-bust cycle of the late 1980s and early 1990s?

    MC: This is a very different market from the one we saw in the late 1980s or early 1990s, primarily because the Southern California economy is now much more diverse. During that period, the economy here was based on the aerospace, defense and entertainment industries. Today our economy is much more diverse, with financial services, technology, biotechnology and other industries playing major roles on the region’s vitality. A more diverse economy means the chances of a hard economic landing are reduced, and this, in turn, helps to support the housing market.

    JJ: What kind of industries might suffer in a soft housing market, and how could that impact the entire local economy?

    MC: The real estate industry has a large effect on the Southern California economy, because there are so many people employed in it either directly or indirectly, including lenders, title companies, escrow agents, real estate sales agents, contractors, and developers, This means that a prolonged slowdown would hurt the folks employed in these industries and the overall local economy as well.

    JJ: How much do you expect housing in Southern California to drop in the next year? What price ranges will be hit hardest?

    MC: I don’t expect prices will fall more than 5 percent to 10 percent from the market highs of a couple years ago, with the hardest hit homes being those in the mid-level price range between $1 million to $3 million.

    JJ: What advice would you give to someone who is considering buying or selling a home in Los Angeles?

    MC: I’m a big proponent of home ownership. Don’t we all work hard so we can eventually own our own home? My advice is for people to feel comfortable living in a new home for at least five years so interest rates and real-estate-cycle influences are reduced. I don’t think we’re in a market that allows for short-term housing speculation, since the market is extremely volatile.

    Jewish Journal September 1, 2006 43


    Advice and Reality Face a Moment of Truth in Israel

    “Just don’t take the bus.”

    As I left on a trip to Israel a couple months ago, this was the advice I got from everyone. Even then, a time of relative peace, the
    ersatz front-page pictures of terror-torn Israeli commuter buses surrounded by wounded people being moved to ambulances were still too fresh. Suicide bombers, not rockets, were foremost in our minds. And we all know that suicide bombers target buses and cafes — public places where innocent people gather.

    So as I took off in late spring, leaving behind my young daughter and husband, I thought about this simple panacea — “Avoiding buses and cafes, how hard is that?” Did I expect to see buses blowing up all around me as I stayed safely on the sidewalks? Not really. But traveling to a land that has been beset by terrorists carries with it added anxieties, so why take chances?

    Then I arrived in Jerusalem.

    My first instinct in any new city is to mingle. I like to walk the streets, stop into ordinary shops — grocery stores and electronic shops, not just the Judaica stores or Dead Sea skin care outlets for tourists. I like to take public transportation.

    My instincts set in. I wanted to see what it is like to live in Jerusalem. So first thing, instead of a taxi, I took a shared cab from the airport to my hotel — an amazing ride where everyone made friends during our 40 minutes together. A psychologist from San Diego was chatting with an ecologist who split her time among Israel, the United States and Latin America. The clearly religious were giving advice to the traveling bohemians. Lively chatter among complete strangers filled the minivan, and when I arrived at my hotel without the exact fare — upsetting the cab driver — someone I’d never met before paid my part without a question.

    “Just being in Israel replenishes my soul,” the woman who’d just spent $10 on me told me as I took off gratefully with her card so I could send her money back.
    It was dusk, and darkness was falling over the city. I asked at the hotel’s front desk whether it was all right to walk in the neighborhood to find a place to eat; the manager assured me it was. Out I went, jet-lagged but invigorated, into the heart of Jerusalem. And even at 9 p.m., many many people — young and old — were walking everywhere. I was especially struck by the women alone on the streets. I’m used to Los Angeles, where first, no one walks, and second, no one walks alone. At night, Jerusalem seemed so safe.

    I saw buses drive by filled with commuters. I wondered.

    A mini town square, Ben Yehuda lies at the heart of the tourist district and at the heart of where young Israelis hang out. In the course of the 10 days I was in Israel, I went there many times — for a falafel on my first night, to shop for souvenirs on another, for a late-night dinner after Shabbat. For several blocks the street is cordoned off from cars, like Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, so vendors and performers fill the public spaces.

    It was an easy walk from my hotel.

    The question of the bus came up really only on my third day in Israel. I’d made a commitment to meet a friend in Tel Aviv, and I was not about to pay $60 to $70 each way to take a taxi there. I rose early on Sunday morning, a regular workday in Israel, and set off for the bus station, where I’d been told I could catch a gesher — a shared cab or minivan available to all, much like the one I’d taken from the airport. I walked to the bus station, a longer hike than I’d expected, because I wanted to get a glimpse of a different part of Jerusalem, particularly the regular, working-class neighborhoods.

    Getting where you want to go is easy, because everyone helps anyone asking directions, even when you speak only English. However, having misjudged the distance, I made my way to the bus station with little time to spare. And then I couldn’t find where the geshers were stationed. And no one knew enough English to know what I was asking about. I was really in Israel now. Suddenly, I was in line to go through the metal detectors to enter the terminal, and once inside, even with my limited Hebrew, I could easily see that a bus was leaving for Tel Aviv in just a few moments.

    I stepped up to the ticket line. Flashes of my daughter went through my mind. I pushed away thoughts of the final blackout scene in the Oscar-nominated Palestinian film “Paradise Now.” I accused myself of being ridiculous and went up and bought my ticket — $3.50 for a ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv on the bus. Door 15 the ticket seller told me.

    I was taking the bus.

    Not so easy, I soon saw. So was everyone else. The bus hadn’t arrived and dozens — maybe even a hundred — Israelis were pushing toward the doorway to be first in line. The danger now, I realized, was getting crushed. My New York bus instincts began to take over. My Los Angeles freeway driver gusto came into play, too. I was going to get on that bus.

    As it turned out, I did. One of the last to get a seat, I sat next to a gun-toting soldier returning to his base who had two cellphones ringing constantly, which he could only answer after removing his iPod earphones, which were already projecting loud enough for me to share his music. In the aisle next to us, a mother with her two young girls sat on the floor. The bus was packed with what looked like workaday commuters. We arrived in Tel Aviv on time and without incident.

    When I was returning to Jerusalem later that day, my friend escorted me to the gesher, and I sort of regretted getting the help. I e-mailed my husband that night that I’d done exactly what everyone told me not to do and was none the worse for wear. He was shocked. I was proud. It was such a simple thing.

    Maybe, sometimes, overcoming your fears and joining in is an accomplishment. I say this as many of my friends are considering whether to travel to Israel right now. Maybe it’s important to go, now more than ever. To be with the Israelis who are continuing their daily lives there, despite the threats. Maybe sometimes taking the bus is the best way to go.

    Schools Give Prum-Hess High Marks

    Last year, two Los Angeles schools applied for and won MATCH grants, which are awarded each year by a consortium of Jewish education foundations that reward day schools for cultivating new donors. The grants brought in more than $100,000.

    This spring, 13 day schools were awarded the same grant, bringing in $1.5 million.

    What changed?

    Miriam Prum-Hess, director of day school operations for the Bureau of Jewish Education, entered the Los Angeles Jewish day school picture, and she alerted schools to the opportunity and guided them through the process.

    Prum-Hess, an experienced and admired Federation executive, took on a new role working on behalf of day schools last year, an effort to increase the level of professionalism and efficiency in all nonacademic areas. She has become the central address for day schools looking for expertise on operational issues — fundraising strategies, legal advice, business decisions, purchasing, and human resources. During the past 18 months she has examined the big picture of what the city’s 37 days schools — of all denominations — need, and has run seminars, consulted with the school administrators and lay leaders and opened up new resources to meet those needs.

    Since Los Angeles’ Federation is the first to fund such a position, national Jewish leaders have trained their eyes here to see how things turn out.

    “The whole model that undergirds Miriam’s position, which is that a central agency should have a professional dedicated to helping day schools build their capacities, is from our perspective just 100 percent sound,” said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Boston-based Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), which works off a similar model on a national scale. “It is a very important strategy in enabling day schools to grow themselves from the inside by focusing on all the things they need to be strong.”

    Local educators have welcomed Prum-Hess, who visited all of Los Angeles’ Jewish schools in her first few months on the job, which she started in December 2004.

    “I have been involved with the Bureau [of Jewish Education] as a head of school here for 20 years, and for me adding Miriam was the most significant change in the entire time I’ve been here,” says Lana Marcus, head of school at Adat Ari El, a Conservative kindergarten through eighth grade day school in Valley Village. Marcus credits Prum-Hess for enabling her to win a MATCH grant worth $275,000.

    One of Prum-Hess’s primary goals is to bring more money into the schools to bring relief both to parents struggling to pay tuition and administrators struggling to make the budget. She is working with The Federation, the Jewish Community Foundation and BJE Executive Director Gil Graff to set up a $20 million community endowment fund.

    But while that is in the works, she is helping schools tap into government and foundation money they can access immediately.

    To qualify for the MATCH grants, funded by a consortium of foundations under the leadership of PEJE, the Jewish Funders Network and the Avi Chai Foundation, schools had to generate gifts of at least $25,000 from donors who had not previously given a major gift to a day school.

    A BJE-sponsored seminar in November 2005 helped schools gain enough confidence and expertise to approach new donors. Twenty-three schools attended, and more than half of those received one-on-one coaching as a follow-up.

    Thirteen schools — of all denominations and sizes — were able to raise a combined $1 million, and the foundations matched 50 cents to the dollar.

    In addition, 12 schools this year brought in more than $1 million in grants from the Department of Homeland Security.

    Schools credit the BJE-sponsored seminars for giving them the information and know-how to pursue these opportunities.

    “It forced a lot of the schools to go outside of their comfort zones and look for new donors or push people they were working with before to go above and beyond what they were doing,” said Alain R’bibo, a lay leader at Or Hachaim Academy, a 3-year-old Sephardic elementary school in North Hollywood. The school, affiliated with Adat Yeshurun Congregation, qualified for the MATCH grants. “Miriam reaches out to make sure we get information and find out about what programs are available.”

    In December 2004, the Federation transferred Prum-Hess, then vice president of planning and allocations, into the BJE, where she took on the newly created portfolio of Day School Capacity Building to deal with operational issues for 37 schools, which have a combined budget of $138 million. The Federation funded her salary for two years and BJE funded her expenses such as office support and travel. A Jewish Community Foundation grant of $50,000 provided much of the programming fund.

    Federation President John Fishel said that senior Federation leadership has asked the planning and allocation committee to continue funding Prum-Hess’s position past the initial two-year commitment.

    “Her work is extremely important and she’s making a difference in the day schools,” Fishel said. “She has accomplished more in a year and a half then I would have anticipated. It’s very impressive.”

    Prum-Hess says that every one of the day schools in the L.A. area has participated in at least one of her programs over the past year, most of them in more than one.

    “The really exciting thing for me is how open and hungry for this the schools are,” said Prum-Hess, who herself has two kids in day school.

    The BJE has hosted seminars on board development, fundraising, legal and tax issues, management training and grant-getting. All of these came with follow-up one-on-one consulting, providing the schools enough expert guidance to implement what they learned at the seminars.

    Prum-Hess has also negotiated joint purchasing for items such as copier contracts — a huge budget item for schools — and is looking into jointly purchasing employee benefits. A consortium of lawyers specializing in school issues is now available at a minimal cost.

    She has launched a marketing campaign, starting with research aimed at decoding why so many parents who send their little ones to Jewish preschool pull them out for grade school.

    These are questions that all Jewish schools share, and Prum-Hess is happy to be there to answer. For the first time, principals and directors say, they feel like they know whom to call with questions unrelated to pedagogy or curriculum. They know they have someone who can take a step-back and evaluate objectively.

    “What she has done in 15 months for a system with 37 schools is remarkable,” PEJE’s Elkin said. “At PEJE we see this as one of the really outstanding models for helping to grow and sustain strong and excellent Jewish day schools in North America.”


    Dating by Committee

    My guy Scott and I talked every night — until last night. He flew to San Francisco to hear a friend’s band play and I never heard from him. I left a message, he left me hanging. I know. He calls me, he calls me not, is nothing new. But it’s new to me. I’m too cute to be blown off. No seriously — way too cute.

    And yet, I haven’t heard from him. I’ve been dating for more than a decade. I should know what this means, but I don’t. I’m Jewish. What do I know from a silent night? So I do what any woman in my sitch would do: I pick up the phone and call — don’t say him. Please, that’d be too logical. I call my girlfriends — ‘cuz women date by committee. When faced with a new crush, a dating dilemma or a relationship 911, we dial our friends and ask for advice.

    “I’m gonna be honest, you’re in trouble,” said Amanda, who’s currently juggling two men. “It’s not good. It’s gotta be another girl.”

    Scott and I have been linked for awhile. He’s a great guy, an honest guy; he’d never make a behind-my-back pass at another woman. So it’s gotta be — “you,” said Ann, who often goes three dates and out. “You’re probably pressuring him, he wants some space.”

    Space? He spent the night in Northern California. That’s unofficially another state.

    “If he can’t handle calling you, he can’t handle dating you,” pipes in newlywed Rachel. “What happens if you two get married and have kids? Your son is sick at school, and since Scott’s closer, you call and ask him to pick Morty up. But Scott doesn’t call you back and sick little Morty’s left waiting all alone on the playground. In the rain. Is that what you want?”

    I know I don’t want to name my son Morty.

    Men don’t do this. Men don’t overanalyze their relationships with their buddies. They don’t compare and contrast their girl’s behavior with that of their friend’s ex. They don’t do a play-by-play analysis of their last date. They don’t discuss. But girls always move in packs. We shop together, workout together, hit the ladies room together — in fact, we do everything in groups, except the one thing men wish we did in groups.

    When it comes to relationships, girls are all about group think. We poll all our friends; we share all the evidence. We dissect voicemails men leave on friends’ phones. We decode text messages guys send to friends’ cells. We decipher e-mails that our friends forward in their entirety. My girls and I break down what a guy says, why he says it and why he didn’t say more. We analyze and scrutinize and interpret and debate. We’re like the great talmudic sages poring over a single phrase of the Torah. But hotter.

    “Don’t worry. He’s just having fun with his friends. He’ll call when he gets back,” my college friend Kim said. “It’s not a big deal.” She’s right. She has to be right, because I so want her to be right.

    See, women don’t really call friends for advice, we call for backup. In times of crisis and indecision, we call friend after friend after friend until we find one who agrees with us, someone who tells us what we’ve already told ourselves, someone who tells us what we want to hear.

    It’s like the french fry phenomenon. When girls grab lunch we’re faced with the “Sophie’s Choice” of fruit or fries with that. We all want fries, we all get fruit. But if one girl admits she’s considering fries, there’s a frenzied chorus of “If you get them, I’ll get them.” Suddenly we’re all eating fries. And Macho Nachos. And we go to town on an Awesome Blossom. Girls are always looking for friends to second our motion. Or order seconds. Or dessert. We’re not looking for opinions, we’re looking for confirmation. We want to find someone who interprets a situation the same way we do.

    All I want is someone to tell me that I shouldn’t be nervous. That I’m right to believe one unreturned phone call is just that — an unreturned call. Not a bad sign … or a meltdown … or the Love Boat sinking.

    But while my friends might be “dating mayvens,” the truth is: No one knows a relationship like the two people who are in it. Sometimes, we shouldn’t let our clique convince us that all is good when it’s going down fast. Or buy in when they say a good relationship’s going bad. We should listen to our gut — or in this case, the message, which Scott left while I was overanalyzing with the girls.

    “Hey Carin, it’s Scott. Sorry I didn’t call last night. We were out late. I didn’t want to wake you. But my flight lands around 5. Thought maybe we’d grab Thai food together. Miss you.”

    Hmm. All in favor of me meeting Scott for dinner say “aye.” All against say … actually on this one, the only vote that counts is mine.

    Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at


    Could You Help Me Find My Uncle?

    Dear President Ahmadinejad:

    Allow me to introduce myself to you. My name is Robert Stevens, and I am a 27-year-old child of Holocaust survivors. The purpose of my letter is not to criticize you for being anti-Semitic or for wanting to wipe Israel off the face of the earth or for making an international statement defaming the legitimacy of the Holocaust by calling it a myth. Instead, I just wanted to share with you a little glimpse into my life and actually ask you for some advice.

    This past Saturday evening, before I left my apartment with my fiancee to celebrate a friend’s birthday party in New York City, I remembered that it coincidentally was also my uncle’s birthday — my father’s brother. My uncle’s name is Boroch Jeszyja Miedzinski. Indeed, it is certainly a Jewish name. His first name, Boroch, means “blessed” in Hebrew, and Jeszyja, which is another form of the name Josiah, means “fire of God,” also in Hebrew.

    I really wanted to reach out to my uncle to wish him a happy birthday, but I didn’t have his phone number or his address. If I did, I’d certainly call him or visit him, and certainly I would have mailed him a card. To be honest, I am embarrassed to admit this, but I actually don’t know where he really is now, and perhaps you could help me find him.

    I tried looking up his address throughout the United States, Israel, Poland, Germany, Russia, France, England and other countries in Europe, but I just couldn’t find his address or phone number. Various organizations wrote me informing me that they never even heard of him. I used the Google search engine to try and find him or something about him but to no avail.

    My father died 10 years ago and, unfortunately, he hadn’t seen his brother in many years, so he also didn’t leave me with any contact information for his brother.

    Thankfully, because you have pointed out to the world that the Holocaust is a myth — that the Nazis could not have killed him because such killings were just Zionist propaganda to get world support for Israel — you have renewed my hope that he may still be alive, and that I can find him.

    I guess I can admit that I feel a little silly, too. I mean, I used to think that perhaps the Nazis killed him, but if the Holocaust never happened, he must be alive, or he’s just a myth that existed to bring about sympathy for Jews. My father, however, was pretty darn convincing when he told me that I reminded him of his brother because we both had the same squint and intense look in our eyes.

    Before I give up, though, I do have the following information, which perhaps a man of your power and influence could use to help me find him.

    My uncle was born on Jan. 28, 1931, in Lodz, Poland, to my grandfather and grandmother, Pinkus and Tauba Miedzinski. He was the youngest of four children, with my father, David, the eldest.

    I have a copy of a photograph of him that I can send to you, if you think it will aid your search. The photograph was taken presumably by the Germans or the Judenrat, and was affixed to a Lodz Ghetto ID card. I know this because you can see that the corner of the photo was stamped with “Litzmanstadt.” If you weren’t already aware, Litzmanstadt was the name Germans gave to Lodz when they took it over and formed a ghetto for the Jews.

    The remaining information I have for you about my uncle is that sometime after his bar mitzvah, when he was 13 years old, he was presented with a train ticket — perhaps as a bar mitzvah present from nice German soldiers — to catch a ride out of the Lodz Ghetto.

    His travel information, which is the only information I have about him, might be the missing link to help you locate him for me. The Germans, as you know, were great record keepers.

    According to a chronicle kept by Jews of Lodz, June 26 was also apparently a popular day for travel for the youths of Lodz. Of the 912 total people who had the same train tickets as my uncle, the majority were teens and younger children.

    The German records state that my uncle was last seen boarding the Cattle Car Express, Transport No. 867 under Record No. 611. One-way ticket, Lodz Ghetto to Gan Eden — or what historians whom you might consider misguided refer to as the Chelmno extermination camp.

    President Ahmadinejad, any assistance you could offer in helping to locate my uncle would be appreciated. I would love to meet him. He just turned 75.

    I’m definitely going to bust his chops for being an actor in this silly Holocaust charade. In the meantime, for his birthday, I will resort to lighting a candle for him next to the only photo I have of him, taken when he was just a little boy in the Lodz Ghetto. The birthday candle, which I lit this past Saturday night, on Jan. 28, is actually what Jews call a yahrtzeit candle.

    And when the flame of the yahrtzeit candle glows brightly, it symbolizes an eternal fire from God that will always and forever burn, representing the sacred souls of my beloved uncle and all my other 6 million Jewish ancestors and declaring that despite any of your endeavors, their memory will be for a blessing, not a myth.

    Kind Regards,
    Robert Stevens
    Courtesy New Jersey Jewish News.

    Robert Stevens resides in New Jersey. He dedicates this letter in honor of his parents. He can be reached at:

    Wandering Jew – Music to My Ears

    “In syngagyng a sangasongue … ” — James Joyce, “Finnegans Wake.”

    Singing in synagogue is something I wish I were better at doing or at least less embarrassed about doing full-throated. At the Synagogue for the Performing Arts, the congregation doesn’t have that problem. They have David Coury.

    A voice expert known for coaching singers and nonsingers, and working with deaf and autistic students and contestants for TV shows like “Extreme Makeover” and “American Idol,” Coury is unique and considered “revolutionary.”

    When I heard about his “So You Always Wanted to Sing!” seminar, I knew it was time to put my mouth where my … or my money where my … whatever. Who isn’t a wannabe chazan from way back?

    The Sunday afternoon workshop was held at the Howard Fine Acting Studios on Las Palmas Avenue, off a stretch of Sunset Boulevard east of Highland Avenue near Buckbuster (“Less Than $1 Many Items Sell For”) and the Hollywood Center Motel (“Electrical Heat”), which looks like an abandoned set from “L.A. Confidential.”

    A few dozen singees sat nervously in the studio theater. Lee Miller, television director and president of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts, introduced Coury. The syagogue bills itself as “L.A.’s original entertainment congregation.”

    “Isn’t there another shul like this in New York or Branson?” I asked.

    Miller shook his head.

    “We’re it,” he said. Coury chanted “Kol Nidre” last fall with Synagogue for the Performing Arts’ cantor, Judy Fox, and, Miller said, “a lotta jaws dropped.”

    I was skeptical at first, hearing how Coury’s accompanist on piano had just got the day off from studio work “with Natalie Cole.” Coury had that hipster headset and two bottles of Sparkletts at the ready, high energy that got me wondering: How will I know if he’s the real laryngo-glottal guru? This is Hollywood, after all. If you can fake it here you can fake it anywhere, right?

    “How brave you are,” Coury butters up the attendees — each paid $75, which goes to Synagogue for the Performing Arts. The teacher is trim and dark in black sweatshirt, khaki slacks, sneakers.

    “It’s a long road from the shower to the stage,” he says, rolling up his sleeves and diving right in. “I like to just get to things,” he tells us. “There’s no revving up.”

    A fellow named Sky is the first actor ready for his voice-up.

    Our music man’s method? It’s all about the mask.

    “That’s where you sing from,” Coury says, gripping his face as we model him. But wait. What? No up from the diaphragm and below bellowing?

    “That’s an old wives’ tale,” explains Coury. “A cave has resonance and an ant hole depth. You’ve got to use your mouth.”

    Alternately praised and nudged, each vocalist eventually expresses more than he or she thought they ever could. Whatever their issue, Coury calms them into laughter or steers them back to the mask. Soon they’re singing “Moon River” like Mandy Patinkin or “People” like Barbra Streisand, bounding off stage to high-fives or applause.

    OK, not like Streisand, obviously. But it is amazing to observe. Coury has no tricks or even a warm-up technique.

    He can explain “pre-frontal rostrum medial cortex” like a speech therapist, but something else is at work, too. When Serena forgets her lyric and goes off into just sounds, Coury is laudatory toward her. “She has reached Yummyville,” he says, “where it feels good, and there are no nerves anymore.”

    “Willingness and desire are everything,” he teaches. “So the challenge is just the nerves. Put yourself in my hands and meet me halfway.”

    And darned if it doesn’t happen right before our ears.

    A good listener with a wicked laugh, Coury stops one singer as soon as she starts.

    “Favorite food, Denise?” he asks.

    “Clam Chowder,” she replies, smiling.

    “See how we light up when we talk about food?” he says with a laugh. “Singing and speaking are very oral. Singing equals speaking equals singing … the voice should be musical, symphonic.”

    Powerful medicine.

    “You can’t fake a blush,” he says to a woman named Stephanie. “You’ve had a transformation.”

    Already full of fabulous pipes, Stephanie wants a “a fuller belt.”

    In moments, Coury releases her “Tiger Song” from “Les Miz” out into the wilds of Sunset Boulevard somewhere. Teary-eyed, she thanks him.

    And I know it may sound silly, but he’s got us all belting words like “I” and “you” over and over. No kidding. Love should be sung as “lahhv,” you know, and pronounced as in “va va voom.” The expert lets us in on the ins and outs of “eees” and “ooos” and how “eh” is a vowel, but they don’t teach you that.”

    Well, that’s one way to praise Yahweh. But how does he get us to do it?

    “You must risk three things,” Coury says. “Sounding weird, looking bad and being disliked.”

    Um, do we have to? Why?

    “Because the world worships the original. Take these tools and risk it.”

    The tools are learned through little inspirationals, like the one he gives a lusty singer named Shelley, who gets up and growls, “Rock me, baby, like my back ain’t got no bone.”

    Coury wants more.

    “Be like a dog to a steak,” he tells the loungey bombshell. “Bite into it. Not with your voice, with your mouth.”

    And for guys like Phil, afraid he can only drone a tone deaf “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Coury teaches: “There’s no such thing as fearless. There’s being afraid and doing it anyway — that’s being extraordinary.”

    So after hiding out fearfully as long as possible, I climb on stage. After a taste of Perry Como (“Just in Time,” a song I want to sing at my wedding), I’m convinced I’m no crooner.

    But with the coach’s encouragement, I go for something even higher, recalled from the car radio while driving Sunset Boulevard to get here. It’s a ballad from a lame top-40 band, Foreigner. “I’ve been waaaaiting for a girl like you, to come into my liiife….”

    I tell him I had my tonsils out when I was 10, but Coury takes no lip.

    “Listening to yourself is not going to allow the magic,” he says. “Looking directionally at me will bring it. Use the human in the room. You’ll find your humanity immediately at play.”

    Suddenly something comes out that I’ve never felt, not even while alone with the windows up and stereo blaring. I’m exhilarated. Euphoric.

    He shakes my hand and I bounce off stage, hearing his final instructions to all of us:

    “Dare to be heard. In this world of communication, you have to speak out to be heard. You can literally touch somebody with your voice. Who knows who’s there? And that’s magic.

    “Do! Sing! Big! Not big voice, big mouth. It’s not the singing; it’s the learning. Your voice is greater than any song you’ve ever sung, if you’re working on your voice. So keep your yapper open.”

    Sound advice. What else did I learn?

    Singers should keep their eyes open and it’s quite all right to lick your lips. Pronouncing is what gives life. And when you run out of breath? Breathe. Listen for me next Friday night and Shabbat shalom, Los Angeles.

    Synagogue for the Performing Arts has another seminar, “Journey Into Self-Discovery,” taught by Howard Fine, Feb. 17-19. For more information call (310) 472-3500 or go to www.

    Hank Rosenfeld is a storyteller for “Weekend America,” heard on public radio stations every Saturday, including KPCC-FM 89.3 in Los Angeles.


    Boutique Teaches Brides Love Lessons

    Where there’s a bride to be, there’s a bachelorette party. And for many Los Angeles women, that party means just one thing: The Love Boutique. For 25 years, the shop has entertained and educated parties of women about sexuality and sensuality. The Love Boutique parties are like Tupperware parties, but instead of selling kitchenware and sharing recipes, the consultants are selling romance gear and exchanging advice on how to heat things up in the bedroom.

    “We provide women with an honest, authentic sexual education,” Love Boutique founder Judy Levy said. “We teach women everything their mothers didn’t and discuss everything that women are afraid to talk about.”

    Levy, who describes herself as a nice Jewish mother, wasn’t always in the sexuality business. A graduate of Palisades High, this former B’nai B’rith Girls chapter president spent 15 years as a schoolteacher. While teaching in Europe, she was inspired by stores that sold sexual goods in a traditional retail environment. In January 1981, she brought her version of that liberal European attitude to the Los Angeles area, opening The Love Boutique in Tarzana and hosting home parties. Levy, who celebrated the shop’s 25th anniversary with a charity gala on Feb. 2, has since opened a second shop in Santa Monica and now hosts more than 100 parties each month.

    The Love Boutique sells everything from massage oils to lingerie and romantic board games to self-help books. In keeping with the store’s philosophy, these items are merely tools to help women feel elegant, sexy and self-confident.

    “The nighties are just the wrapping paper, you are the gift inside,” said Love Boutique party consultant Sophia Silver, who attends Stephen S. Wise. “We want to help women feel good about themselves and their relationships.”

    But Levy’s Love Boutique parties aren’t promoting promiscuity or suggesting that women play the field.

    “When women understand and respect their bodies, they will find partners who honor, appreciate and respect them,” Levy said. “Only men who understand this will get to be with us.”

    Love Boutique consultants teach that sexuality is normal, healthy and fun. They explain that women will feel more powerful, creative and happy when they are comfortable with their sexuality, and that this sexual knowledge will lead to more successful relationships.

    While Love Boutique’s parties and shops will have its detractors, Levy believes this education is important for all women, but especially young brides.

    “Girls tend to focus on their wedding and forget about their wedding night and the nights after that,” said Levy, who was a virgin bride at 21. “It’s important that women think about how they’ll keep up that connection in their relationship.”

    That’s where the Love Boutique’s bachelorette parties come in. The parties teach women to open up lines of communication and be proactive in their requests for what they want emotionally and physically. And attendees say they’re just plain fun. Hostesses invite 25 to 30 friends (over the age of 18) for lots of giggly, girly bonding and what else — shopping.

    A love consultant arrives at the hostess’ home with a tablecloth, products and goodies. The party opens with a sexuality quiz. From there, the consultant opens up the conversation, allowing women to share stories and ask questions in a comfortable environment. The consultant leads the guests in games and discussions that help women learn about their own romantic needs. Then she walks the guests through the products available at Love Boutique.

    The goods range from aphrodisiac candles to edible body frosting and some items that made this reporter blush to witness, let alone write about. Party consultants are aware that hostesses’ comfort levels may vary, and they will work with the hostess before the party to find a tone that works for her and her guests. At the end of the party, the consultant discretely meets with each guest individually to take orders to ensure that each remains private. The bachelorette receives a free hostess gift and a gift certificate valued at 10 percent of the party’s total sales.

    Levy, who participates with ORT and Hadassah, believes her business meshes well with her Jewish beliefs. Many of her party consultants and hostesses are Jewish, and she says her work helps Jewish couples fulfill a Shabbat mitzvah.

    “Every Friday night, my husband and I light Shabbat candles and stay home together,” said Levy, who belongs to Makom Ohr Shalom in Tarzana.

    For Levy, who recently spent two weeks in Israel, tikkun olam (healing the world) is personal passion. The Love Boutique’s recent 25th anniversary party at the Jewish-owned Erotic Museum in Hollywood doubled as a benefit for Children of the Night, which rescues children from prostitution. During the month of February, 2 percent of all party, online and Love Boutique sales will go to the nonprofit.

    Levy is thrilled to be helping the community at large and Jewish couples in particular through her business.

    “We’re helping couples connect emotionally and physically, and it’s that connection that sustains a marriage,” she said.

    To book a Love Boutique bachelorette party, call (310) 586-0902 or visit

    A Line Drive Down Jewish History

    “Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports,” by Jeffrey Gurock (Indiana University Press, $29.95).

    In an oft-repeated anecdote dating back to the early 1910s, Rabbi Solomon Schechter, head of the Jewish Theological Seminary, told Louis Finkelstein, then a young rabbinical student, “Remember, unless you play baseball, you will never get to be a rabbi in America.”

    Finkelstein went on to have an illustrious career, eventually heading the seminary, and never learned much about American sports. But Schechter’s advice reflected a sensibility that knowledge of sports would help rabbis relate to young congregants, that sprinkling sermons with sports metaphors would engage their parents.

    Yeshiva University professor Jeffrey Gurock tells this story in his new book, “Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports.” This is not the usual book about Jews and sports — it’s not an album of Jewish sports figures and their accomplishments. Gurock, a historian and avid sportsman, uses sports as a lens for viewing American Jewish history. He shows how athletics have played out in Jewish life — how, through sports, generations of immigrants and their descendants became acculturated, accepted into the mainstream and even embraced.

    “The right to play on a team — what did we say as kids, the chance to be ‘chosen in’ — is among the surest signs of an individual’s or group’s acceptance in a society,” Gurock writes.

    He also chronicles how sports have been a source of conflict between generations and between religious and secular values. With its own obligations, rules, traditions and sacred time, sports, as Gurock explains, can be seen as a competing religion. Since the game clock is often out of sync with the clock and calendar of Jewish life, some have feared that interest and participation in athletics could lead to religious nonobservance.

    “The athleticism valued in the world of sports was not honored in the 19th century shtetl. Reverence and concern for the head, for the intellect, far more than the cultivation of the body, was where these Jews’ emphasis lay,” he writes.

    On the Lower East Side where many immigrants settled, clashes arose between parents and youth, who learned the values of sports and physical fitness in settlement houses and also honed their skills on the streets. The older generation’s attitude toward the gym, as the author quotes Irving Howe, was “suspicion of the physical, fear of hurt, anxiety over the sheer ‘pointlessness’ of play: All this went deep into the recesses of the Jewish psyche.”

    Gurock goes on to describe how rabbis and Jewish leaders sought to attract Jews to religious institutions by creating gym facilities within — “shuls with pools.” The hope was that “those who initially came to a shul’s gym to play might be convinced to repair to its sanctuary to pray.” Questions then arose about how synagogues and community centers would deal with the use of their facilities on Shabbat.

    In an interview, Gurock, a New York City-area resident, says that this is a book he has been thinking about for almost his entire adult life and spent the last five years working on. His passion for the subject is clear.

    Gurock is a good storyteller, and within these pages he unfolds many true tales that may be surprising for readers. Sports metaphors come up often in his prose; when he describes two Orthodox worlds clashing, he speaks of one contingent as retreating to a clearly marked sideline.

    “They could build it, but almost no one came,” he writes of efforts in 1897 to establish a new rabbinical school.

    He writes extensively about yeshiva high school basketball, and how issues were resolved about which schools had teams, who they played against and how religious studies and sports activities coexisted.

    The author or editor of 13 previous books, Gurock describes the introduction of cheerleaders to the yeshiva basketball scene in 1951 (the first squad, at Ramaz, wore longish skirts, which by 1954 had gotten shorter) and their ultimate disbanding by all the schools by 1991. The cheerleaders’ role in Gurock’s narrative has less to do with their gymnastic prowess and original songs, than questions of modesty and differing outlooks among the leaders of Orthodox day schools.

    He analyzes more recent sports stories like the basketball career of Tamir Goodman, the Baltimore yeshiva basketball player who was recruited in 1999 to play on a college team with the understanding that he would not play ball on Shabbat; and the 1996 decision of the Metropolitan Yeshiva High School League (the name had been changed from “Jewish” to “Yeshiva”) to refuse to allow the Conservative Schechter schools to play in their league.

    The book also has autobiographical threads. Gurock has been an athlete all his life, playing a variety of sports as a kid. At City College, he played on the lacrosse team.

    When I tried to reach him at home one evening, he was coaching basketball at Yeshiva University. In fact, he has served there as assistant men’s basketball coach for the last 25 years. Whenever he visits other universities to lecture, he tries to also go to basketball practice and meet the coaches. These days he’s a runner, and although he spent Marathon Sunday this year giving a talk in Syracuse, he has run the New York City Marathon 12 times. Having just turned 56, he figures that since age 40 he has run 23,000 miles. In two years, when he expects to reach 25,000 miles — the distance around the world — he’s planning a big celebration, inviting all his running partners.

    “Like most highly dedicated sports people of my generation, I value competition to the core of my being and am blessed, as a middle-aged man, to be battling still for playing position,” he writes.

    Sports are in his genes: His father, Jack Gurock, was an amateur wrestler who — fearing his immigrant parents’ disapproval of the sport — adopted the name Jack Austin for his competitions. A photo of him along with his 1936 wrestling team at the 92nd Street Y appears on the book jacket. As an adult, the author’s father played handball and softball. His mother was proud of her claim that as a girl in the Bronx, she played handball with Hank Greenberg.

    For Gurock, playing sports brings him close to God.

    “My marathon experience has a certain spiritual dimension,” he says. “When you run a marathon, you are testing yourself, your own personal limits, your ability to run 26 miles. You need something to motivate you. To feel that God is pushing you along makes me feel closer to the Almighty.”

    He adds, “Before every marathon, I say a prayer that God should be with me.”