Shabbat libations cause for concern

When a group of men can be so drunk that one of them knocks over a toddler into the middle of a busy street and falls flat on his face, it’s time to reassess the impact excessive alcohol consumption is having on our communities. 

Every year, in preparation for the Purim holiday, a festival when drinking alcohol is not just condoned but encouraged, rabbis and Jewish organizations issue warnings about the dangers of binge drinking. Unfortunately, as anyone who has come into contact with the “Kiddush clubs” that exist in many Modern Orthodox synagogues knows too well, the problem isn’t confined to one raucous holiday. 

These groups of congregants — almost all of them men — typically leave a Shabbat service before its end and retreat to some other location where they drink hard liquor, all too often to excess. 

My community is no exception. Leaving shul a few weeks ago, my family and I walked past a group of about eight men and their children. One of the men, clearly inebriated, swayed uncontrollably and fell on top of my 3-year-old daughter, pushing her into the street as he landed face-first in the middle of the heavily trafficked boulevard.  I quickly swept my daughter up and looked back to see this grown man splayed on the asphalt like a chalk-outlined corpse. 

Neither he nor his equally drunk buddy, who was reaching down to help him up off the ground, seemed embarrassed by the scene they had just made. Instead, laughing, they patted each other on the back, each holding the other up as they clumsily shuffled down the busy thoroughfare. The rest of their Kiddush pals had already continued on in the other direction, never realizing what had just happened.

Community leaders and organizations have tried to restrict the growth of Kiddush clubs, with little success. In 2005, when the Orthodox Union (OU) called on synagogues to eliminate the groups, it described its action as the beginning of “a long and complex battle, which will entail the use of community resources, parent education, special programs in schools and a change in the cultural climate of our synagogues and homes.” My synagogue, Young Israel of Century City, which is a member of the OU, heeded the call, eliminating Kiddush clubs and prohibiting any alcohol from being served on the premises.  

Fast-forward nine years, and instead of correcting the issue, this “prohibition” has given rise to the mobile Kiddush club, gatherings that can take place anywhere from a nearby private home to the alley behind the synagogue. 

It was just such a gathering that my children and I encountered. Ushering them away from the scene, I could sense their uneasiness and confusion at what had transpired. Their questions — Why had this man collapsed? Shouldn’t we stop to help him? — hung in the air, and I felt the need to clarify. 

“That man wasn’t tripped,” I told them. “He didn’t collapse because he was hurt. His friend needed to lift him up off the street because he drank too much alcohol and didn’t act responsibly as an adult.”

My 3-year-old calmed down, and the others accepted my explanation, but when I recounted the story to some of my friends later that day, they chuckled as they imagined the pitiful scene. I was advised not to get involved in other people’s decisions, to “live and let live.”

I could not agree less. The Kiddush club, whether at shul or home, makes a mockery out of Shabbat and shows the children of our community that a shot of scotch with friends is more valued than a heartfelt Shabbat experience. A wife should be able to tell her drunken husband that he is not welcome at the family Shabbat table without being labeled prudish. We must compel those who define Shabbat by their liquor quota to question their conduct and call them out for what they are doing: endangering our youth. 

The unique nature of our tight-knit community is meant to afford me the protection of raising my children among those with like-minded values. But how can we, as a community, even ask why our children are at risk when we ourselves laugh off such risky behavior?  

I wonder about the drunken men who stumbled down the main street that Shabbat. What will it take to wake them up? Does the community, God forbid, need a major accident or a fatal overdose to recognize that we have let this go on too long? Would meals need to be prepared for the shivah house of this or that man’s wife and children in order for people to acknowledge that alcohol consumption in our community oftentimes goes beyond acceptable recreational levels? 

Almost a decade has passed since the OU first waged war on Kiddush clubs, and, in many communities, the problem has only grown. The reality is that change will not come to our shuls and schools simply because a large organization decides it is time.  Change in our community will only happen when we collectively refuse to accept drunken excess as tolerable behavior.  

The consequences for continuing to ignore this conduct will be great. Impressionable children look on — they watch, they learn and are at higher risk for replicating this behavior. For the sake of our future health and prosperity together, let us hope that we are sober enough to hear this wake-up call.

Alison Steinlauf Anziska is a website product manager, the mother of four children, and a native of Los Angeles.

Schools caution on alcohol during Simchat Torah

Dozens of men sit around a few tables, humming a soft Chasidic niggun (tune), swaying slowly back and forth, noshing on cold cuts, salads and light snacks. Some are sipping on small cups of vodka. Most wear white dress shirts, black dress pants and a long black coat. 

This is a Chabad-Lubavitch farbrengen, and save for the brand-name foods and Styrofoam plates, it’s a scene that has been re-created countless times for centuries around the world. Yiddish for “joyous gathering,” this particular farbrengen took place after Shabbat morning services earlier this summer at Congregation Levi Yitzchok in Hancock Park.

“Think of it as a Kiddush, a sit-down Kiddush,” albeit one with its own unique Chasidic twist, said Rabbi Gershon Schusterman, a regular at Levi Yitzchok.

Farbrengens, conducted thousands of times per year at Chabad houses across the world, are one of the movement’s favorite methods for transmitting wisdom — through Chasidic stories, personal experiences and teachings from previous leaders (rebbes) of the Chabad movement. Every element of the celebration is meant to encourage one thing, according to Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum, a Levi Yitzchok attendee: “to inspire one in the service of HaShem.”

Alcohol appears in moderation, he said, to assist attendees find inspiration that may help them improve their connection to God and Judaism.

“Alcohol is not the driving factor of the farbrengen. You can have a wonderful farbrengen without any alcohol,” Greenbaum said. “At times the function of a little bit of alcohol will help them rise past their certain inhibitions or challenges or be able to help them in the process.” 

In Shusterman’s words, alcohol can help people be more “receptive” to the ideas being discussed.

A normal farbrengen, part of holidays and lifecycle celebrations, is low-key, with drinking ranging from none to at most a few l’chaims and quiet tunes sung with everyone seated. Come Simchat Torah, though, that all changes. 

At Levi Yitzchok and dozens of other congregations across Los Angeles, the alcohol will be flowing, food will be piled high, feet will be sore from dancing, and most, if not all, the tunes will be sung loudly. In fact, the partying at Levi Yitzchok will begin the night before Simchat Torah, on the evening of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, when the congregation will perform hakafot (reading prayers while carrying a Torah around the bimah) and eat a festive meal under the sukkah

Save for sleeping, eating and some occasional traditional praying, the beginning of Shemini Atzeret until the end of Simchat Torah is, according to Greenbaum, an “ongoing farbrengen for 48 hours.”

As a preemptive caution for parents heading into the holiday, heads of school from four local Orthodox high schools (YULA Boys, YULA Girls, Shalhevet and Valley Torah) wrote an e-mail to parents to look after their children on Simchat Torah. 

In a phone conversation with the Journal, the head of school of Shalhevet, Rabbi Ari Segal, said that while its nice “when a shul can have alcoholic beverages served in a responsible way,” he hopes that parents and community members model “normal alcoholic consumption” for area youths.

“We are not waiting until someone ends up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning,” Segal said. “They [minors] are kind of trying to imitate the adult behavior I see, but without the level of responsibility and care.”

Rabbi Dov Emerson, the head of school of YULA Boys, wrote to the Journal in an e-mail that the high school plans to host about 150 students, parents, rabbis and relatives for hakafot and a holiday meal on Simchat Torah evening that he said would be safe and uplifting.

At Levi Yitzchok, Greenbaum said that a few hundred men will gather on Sept. 27 at the close of Simchat Torah to sing melodies that have passed down through Chabad over hundreds of years. With a packed house and an intensely celebratory holiday winding down, it won’t resemble in style Levi Yitzchok’s typical, laid back Shabbat farbrengen. But its purpose — to help people overcome their spiritual and religious challenges by bringing together Jews to eat and sing — will be exactly the same.

“It’s easier to battle the yetzer hara [evil inclination] when you have a few yetzer tovs [good inclinations] working together,” Greenbaum said.

Amy Winehouse died of bulimia, not drugs or alcohol, says her brother

While the “Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait” exhibit, opening soon at London’s Jewish Museum, will show the public a different version of the singer’s life than the one we saw in the tabloids, her brother has just come forward with a new angle on how she died.

While he doesn’t deny her very struggle with drugs and alcohol, that isn’t what killed her, says Alex Winehouse. Instead, he claims, it was bulimia that actually led to his sister’s death. (The coroner’s inquest listed alcohol poisoning as the cause of death).

“She would have died eventually, the way she was going, but what really killed her was the bulimia,” he told The Observer. “Had she not have had an eating disorder, she would have been physically stronger.”

According to Winehouse, she developed bulimia in her late teens, when all of her friends were doing it. “They’d put loads of rich sauces on their food, scarf it down and throw it up. They stopped doing it, but Amy never really stopped. We all knew she was doing it but it’s almost impossible [to tackle], especially if you’re not talking about it.”

Winehouse died in 2011 at age 27. Tragic, no matter how exactly it happened.

Pesach without wine

How can we have Passover without wine? This is a question that is asked of me each year as Passover approaches. I always answer that the blessing is over the fruit of the vine and grape juice is perfectly acceptable. I then ask a different set of questions.

Passover is the celebration of our leaving Egypt. It is not a historical event. Yet too many of us consider the Passover seder as a recollection of an historical event. We need to go back to the intent and direction of our haggadah to see ourselves as if we, too, were brought out of Egypt. We have to ask ourselves, “What is the Egypt/Narrow Place I have to leave this year?” All of us have these, be they substances like drugs and alcohol, behaviors like eating disorders, compulsive gambling, etc. We also get stuck in the narrow places of despair, hopelessness, why bother, etc. And we can get stuck in the narrow places of comparing and competing with others, basing our self-worth on our net worth and/or seeking to feel good from outside validation, like lists, who we hang with, etc. 

These are the Egypts that wine could come to blur for us during Passover. I would suggest that everyone abstain from wine and drink grape juice instead this year. I am asking you all to make this an Alcohol-Free Seder so that every person will:

• Look inside themselves and see the narrow places that are keeping them stuck in old thoughts and behaviors.

• Tell the story of their enslavements to others at the seder, and ask for help in getting out and staying out of these narrow places. 

• Offer suggestions to others to help them out of their narrow places. 

• Write down on a piece of paper what the narrow place is, and make these your korban Pesach, your Pesach sacrifice, and burn them all together so that you release your need to run back to Egypt.

• Be present and see how we can work together to get out our comfortable slaveries.

• Make a commitment to be of service to others who are still enslaved and look for the similarities in others. 

In doing this, we will make the seder relevant and we will build stronger relationships through transparency and authenticity. 

It will allow all of us to break our addiction to perfection. We Jews have been telling our story for thousands of years; this year let us make it our story so next year we will be free

Rabbi Mark Borovitz is the senior rabbi and spiritual leader of the Beit T’Shuvah recovery program and Congregation Beit T’Shuvah.

Winehouse died from too much alcohol, second inquest confirms

Grammy Award-winning singer Amy Winehouse died of consuming too much alcohol, a second inquest into her death confirmed.

Results of the second inquest provided Tuesday by the coroner, Dr. Shirley Radcliffe, matched those of the original in October 2011.

The second inquest was required because the deputy coroner in the first investigation lacked the required experience. The evidence presented in the second hearing was the same as in the first, according to the BBC.

Winehouse, who was Jewish, died in July 2011 in her London home.

The coroner's report said that Winehouse, 27, died with five times the legal British drunk driving limit in her bloodstream. The official cause of death was from “alcohol toxicity,” according to Radcliffe.

Winehouse reportedly had struggled with alcohol addiction, which persisted even after she stopped using illicit drugs in 2008.

The singer's physician, Dr. Christina Romete, said Winehouse also suffered from an eating disorder.

Slice of Life: Cider recipes for adults

When my boys were younger we had hot cider for them and the neighborhood kids after a hard day playing in the leaves. Now that my kids are out of the house and all I’m doing  all the raking (yeah, right) I’ve decided to invite other “parents of children too old to do the chores we don’t want to do” over to share stores of epic piles of laundry that engendered shock and awe to all that beheld them. I felt that the appropriate fall beverage to serve would be cider, but cider with a twist and a kick.
All of the following recipes are rated ADULTS ONLY as alcohol as a key component. While they are perfect for keeping the cold at bay after a hard day with the leaf blower they are also wonderful for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.


  • 1 granny smith apple
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced
  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • Pinch grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup rum
  • Cinnamon sticks, garnish
Push the cloves into the apple and place it in a saucepan. Add the sliced orange, apple cider, brown sugar, allspice and nutmeg. Whisk to combine and bring to a boil and then immediately reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the apple. Add the rum and whisk to combine. Ladle into 6 to 8 mugs and garnish with a cinnamon stick. Serve hot.
Serves 6 to 8
Recipe modified from one by Emeril Lagasse, 2002


  • 1 oz. orange, lemon or plain vodka
  • 6 oz. apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • ground cinnamon
  • powdered sugar
  • 1 apple
  • caramel apple dipping sauce (optional)
  • ice
In a microwave bowl combine the vodka, water and apple cider. Add one dash of ground cinnamon and whisk to combine. Microwave until hot about 30 seconds but do not boil. Dip the rim of a hot beverage glass with powdered sugar then ladle the warm cider into the rimmed glass. Dip a slice of the apple in the caramel dipping sauce and use it, with a dash of cinnamon as a garnish.
Serves 1. This recipe can be doubled
Modified from a recipe by Michael Snyder

CIDER PUNCH (pareve)

  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 1 dash of nutmeg
  • Dried apple slices
In a tea strainer combine all the spices. In a large saucepan, combine apple cider, sugar and salt. Add spices. Bring slowly to a boil. About 20 minutes. Turn down the heat to a simmer for 20 minutes. Discard spices. Add cinnamon stick and dried apple to each mug. This can be made ahead of time and reheated when needed, but don’t boil.
Serves 8
Modified from


  • 1 ounce vodka (you can use flavored)
  • 1 ounce apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon sweetened whipped cream
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon
In a 2 ounce shot glass, combine vodka and apple cider. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and a pinch of cinnamon.
Serves 1
My files, source unknown


  • 1 pint vodka
  • 1 pint apple liquor
  • 2 bottles sparkling apple cider
  • red apple slices
Into each glass, pour 1 tablespoon vodka and 1 tablespoon Calvados over ice. Add sparkling cider to fill and a red apple slice. 
Serves 30.
From Health DECEMBER 2008

Why I voted against the tobacco tax

A few weeks ago, California voters narrowly rejected another tax increase not only on cigarettes, but also on those mass murderers — cigar and pipe smokers. As expected, proponents of Proposition 29 blame its defeat on all the money tobacco companies spent on ads against the proposition. Whenever a candidate or vote supported by progressives is defeated, the loss is attributed to money. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was not recalled? This, too, was explained by money, not by the widespread taxpayer revulsion with public employee unions helping to bankrupt states (like California).

On the other hand, in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama became the first major-party candidate to reject public campaign funding and raised more than $740 million in private money, outspending Republican John McCain nearly 4-to-1, no progressives complained that the Obama win was due to money. Nor, it should be noted, did conservatives.

Those who complain about tobacco companies spending against Proposition 29 also ignore the many hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-tobacco ads spent by the state of California and by anti-smoking organizations over the last decades. Not to mention the anti-tobacco messages drummed into young people from first grade through high school.

This California voter saw a total of one anti-Proposition 29 ad and voted against the proposition for many reasons. I suspect that most other Californians who voted against the proposition — the vast majority of whom, like me, do not smoke cigarettes, know how unhealthy they are and are repelled by their smell — did so for similar reasons.

(Full disclosure: I have smoked cigars and a pipe since I was a teenager; my father, 93 years old, has smoked cigars nearly every day for about 70 years, and my sons and I have some of our most wonderful father-son talks over cigars.)

Many of us reject the notion that people — especially poor people, who make up the bulk of cigarette smokers — should have their hard-earned money taken from them at astronomical rates just because they engage in what is a potentially lethal activity.

This will stun anti-tobacco zealots, but given a choice between avoiding health risks and taking away individual liberty, many Americans actually come down on the side of liberty. Moreover, it is, to put it mildly, a morally confused society that uses public funds to pay perfectly healthy women to destroy perfectly healthy human fetuses/babies, but takes away huge amounts of people’s money for engaging in an act that adversely affects only them. (Readers who believe the made-up statistic that 50,000 Americans die each year from secondhand smoke, but who prefer science to propaganda, might wish to read, among many other studies and articles, two that are linked to in the online version of this story. One, on the Your Doctor’s Orders Web site, discusses the myth of secondhand smoke. The other is a National Institutes of Health report on the same topic.)

I warned 20 years ago that the war against tobacco was morally misguided. If morality was the animating impulse, why was there no similar war against alcohol, attempting to tax it out of existence, banning its ads, etc.? Cigarette smokers can hurt themselves, but alcohol is frequently involved in murder and other cases of violent crime, particularly sexual assault; drunken drivers kill and maim tens of thousands of Americans each year; and most child and spousal abuse is accompanied by alcohol. No one rapes, drives into vehicles filled with families, or abuses a spouse because of having smoked a cigarette or cigar.

Too much alcohol impairs the ability of the conscience to function properly. Too many cigarettes or cigars have no impact on the conscience.

If no American drank alcohol, virtually no one in America would die or be maimed at the hands of drunken drivers; child and spousal abuse would be reduced by an incredible two-thirds; murders of strangers would be reduced by about a third; the incidence of rape and other sexual assaults would be significantly reduced; and millions of children would not have the permanent disability of having grown up with an alcoholic parent. (A link to Bureau of Justice statistics can be found in the online version of this story.)

On the other hand, if no American smoked — or, for that matter, if all Americans smoked — it would have no effect on the number of Americans killed or maimed by other drivers; the number of children, spouses or other intimates abused: and no adverse effect on children’s psyches.

What is mind-blowing is that none of these facts matter to the anti-smoking and other health fanatics.

I also warned that, following tobacco, other unhealthy products would be banned or unfairly taxed. Sure enough, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed that the city ban servings of sugar-based sodas in cups larger than 16 ounces.

Having not drunk a sugared beverage since childhood, I think any overweight person who drinks regular soda is making a big mistake. But I would prefer to live in a country of obese citizens who are free than in a country of thin citizens who are not.

There are now calls for banning the sale of popcorn at movie theaters. Eventually, citizens will have to carry calorie cards that limit how much an individual will be allowed to consume in any given day. If health trumps liberty, why not?

When one adds the virtual certitude that most funds from yet another tax would be squandered by the state, there was no good or moral reason to have voted for Proposition 29.

Had the tax passed, many, if not most, of the cigar stores in California would have gone out of business. In addition to costing our beleaguered state more jobs, that would have broken my heart. When I visit one of my favorite places in Los Angeles, Fat Stogies on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, I sit and shmooze with other guys — most recently an Orthodox Jew, an Armenian, a black and one or both of the Arab brothers who own the store — and thank God for an America where men from such diverse backgrounds can so enjoy each other. And I thank my dad for introducing me to the joy of cigars. So, please leave us alone. We’re not hurting anyone.

For two articles on secondhand smoke and a link to Bureau of Justice statistics on alcohol and violence, visit:

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (

Tigers’ Young returns to field, says he’s sorry for rant

Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young apologized for his anti-Semitic rant and attack in New York following the lifting of his weeklong suspension.

During a pregame interview with reporters on May 5, Young apologized to his teammates, the Tigers organization, the victim’s family, Major League Baseball, friends, family and fans, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Saying he had a “lapse in judgment,” Young added that “I just want to let everybody know that I’m not anti-Semitic. I wasn’t raised that way, came from a good family, and we weren’t taught any of that, especially growing up in a diverse area.”

Young said the incident occurred because he had too much to drink and that he was enrolled in an alcohol treatment program.

He is facing a misdemeanor aggravated harassment hate crime charge stemming from the April 27 incident outside the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, where the Tigers were staying before the start of a series with the Yankees that night. Young is scheduled to appear in court in New York on May 29 and faces up to a year in jail if convicted. He had been suspended by Major League Baseball.

According to reports, a group of tourists staying at the hotel were approached by a panhandler wearing a yarmulke and Young yelled anti-Semitic epithets at the group. Young also reportedly shoved one of the men, who sustained minor injuries.

Rack ‘em up

A mural of shadowy black silhouettes covers the wall with just one splash of color: a solitary red man. As the jazz-era-style mural stretches along the length of the restaurant, it follows the red man as he meets a lone red woman, and they end up sharing a table … and a drink. The painted walls illustrate the overall theme of The Rack, an eclectic Woodland Hills eatery designed with the kind of intimate atmosphere that makes it an ideal meeting place.

The Rack opened on Topanga Boulevard in late 2005 as a family-run business. Originally from Ramat Gan, Israel, owner Yossi Kviatkovsky began formulating the idea for a high-end pool hall while making pool tables in Gardena. Admiring the craftsmanship of the hand-made tables, but disliking what he calls the “Sopranos”-type roughness of most pool halls, Kviatkovsky wanted to create a more sophisticated space in which to enjoy the pastime.

“Notice there are no Budweiser signs,” Kviatkovsky said of the low-lit area that houses 14 carved-wood pool tables, which cost $16 per hour to play.

Between the red-felt-topped tables, communal dining table and the bar, guests are given an easy opportunity to meet one another, while the couple on a first date has ample excuses to get close as they assist each other’s game. The Rack’s menu of fun, flavorful cocktails — with sometimes scandalous names (see sidebar) — tasty entrees and satisfying bar snacks also makes it an ideal nightspot for a get-together with friends. And during football season, the place is transformed into a roaring sports bar. Normally hidden from view, 15 projector screens — six of them 112 inches — descend to display the action. The pool tables get covered up and surrounded with chairs as the space’s typically classy atmosphere is put on hold to make room for about 300 cheering fans.

The Chosen Drink

Four bartenders pooled their expertise and their imaginations to create The Rack’s inventive cocktail menu, which features wild drinks such as Sex With an Alligator, The Heretic and Blue Balls. Nick the bartender decided to stray briefly from his go-to recommendation, the Lemon Drop Martini (made from real muddled lemon rather than sweet-and-sour mix), to concoct something special just for TRIBE. Nick adapted a fresh mint — nana in Hebrew — mojito to include a fruit that holds much meaning in Jewish circles, the pomegranate, and a very Tribe-friendly alcohol: vodka.

One warning: Beware how many you knock down — as with all fruity drinks, this one will sneak up on you!


2 ounces Mojito Libre mojito mix
1 1/2 ounces pomegranate juice
1 1/4 ounces Grey Goose L’Orange vodka
1/2 ounce Agavero orange liqueur
5 to 6 fresh mint leaves, muddled
1 fresh-squeezed orange wedge
Soda water
Splash of cranberry juice

In a tall glass, combine all ingredients except cranberry juice. Mix well, then add cranberry juice and a few ice cubes.

Order this exclusive drink at The Rack, or make The TRIBE at your next holiday party!

The triple threat of the venue — good entertainment, good drinks and good food — is carried out by the collaboration of CFO Kviatkovsky; his wife, Robin; and sons Rami and Elon, who serve as general manager and executive chef, respectively.

Aside from writing witty drink descriptions for the cocktail menu, Rami, who is in charge of the bar, regularly alternates four craft beers of his choice while maintaining a great selection of 10 more draft beers, including the Sam Adams brew of the season. In addition, there is a full bar stocked with Rami’s own collection of scotches. The wide-ranging drink choices are paired with an extensive menu of freshly prepared items.

“Everything is made in-house,” Kviatkovsky said. “Nothing is canned or bottled,” including salad dressings, pasta sauces and pizza toppings.

Patrons can enjoy all the kitchen has to offer right up until the lounge closes, which is as late as midnight on weekends. The menu features everything from an artful caprese salad to jumbo chicken wings, and it got an extra boost in September — a long list of pizzas was added to the menu when The Rack merged with nearby restaurant/rock museum Rock & Roll Pizza. Now the enclosed front patio houses a treasure trove of rocker memorabilia as well as live shows throughout the week.

In a space plastered with posters of bands like The Beatles and The Clash, accented by electric guitars and lit by snare drums artfully repurposed into lamps, Kviatkovksy works with former Rock & Roll Pizza owner Dave Vieira to create authentic NewYork-style thin-crust pizza. The dough is shipped in twice a week from New York, and the cheese is purchased from Wisconsin.

The Rack expands its repertoire even further during the holidays. Every year, 150 pounds of potatoes are ordered for making in-house latkes from scratch.

“No latke’s good without a couple of knuckles in it,” Yossi joked.

For New Year’s Eve 2012, the stage that is regularly brought out four nights a week will feature live performances from different bands. A dinner special that evening will be followed by a free champagne toast at midnight.

Whether it’s a special event, a special someone or a special love of stripes and solids that brings you out this holiday season in the 818, The Rack is a sure bet to meet those you know, and those you’ll soon get to know.

The Rack, featuring Rock & Roll Pizza, 6100 Topanga Canyon Blvd., No. 215, Woodland Hills (in the Westfield Promenade Mall, next to the AMC movie theaters). (818) 716-0123.

Camarillo Chabad awarded $635,000 to fight drug abuse

Chabad of Camarillo, located just outside the planned senior community of Leisure Village, is receiving a federal grant of $625,000 to prevent teen drug abuse in Ventura County. It will also receive $10,000 in county funds to focus specifically on prescription drug abuse.

Rabbi Aryeh Lang is leading a coalition of local law enforcement officials, educators and civic organizations in an effort he calls Saving Lives. His team is sponsored by the Drug Free Communities Support Program in conjunction with the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Mental Health Services Administration.

The loan, which will be distributed in yearly increments of $125,000 for five years, has been awarded to coalitions around the country since the late 1990s. Chabad of Camarillo was one of 169 groups awarded the loan out of more than 500 that applied this year.

“It’s not just the government giving money,” Lang said. “We will be raising money to match those funds locally and independently.”

“We like to fund groups that are motivated, organized and enthusiastic,” said Dan Hicks, prevention services manager of Ventura County’s Alcohol and Drug Program, which is administering the county’s $10,000 reimbursement loan to the rabbi’s coalition. The county will hold the coalition accountable by requiring substantiating documentation of spending, according to Hicks.

Chabad runs a drug rehabilitation center in Los Angeles and other cities, and Lang said he received training at the Los Angeles center.

Referring to his group’s mission and challenge, Lang said, “The real power relies on the group’s ability to mobilize people.”

He said his coalition will work to curtail the overuse of prescription drugs, including those in the average home’s medicine cabinet, and teen abuse of alcohol and marijuana.

Dos Equis’ pitchman is Jewish actor living in Marina del Rey

“He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels. He lives vicariously through himself,” a disembodied voice states.

“He is the Most Interesting Man in the World.”

Seated at a table, surrounded by beautiful women, a bearded man with salt-and-pepper hair looks into the camera: “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Stay thirsty, my friends.”

At a time when many viewers use DVRs to skip over TV commercials, Dos Equis gets people to stop and watch its ads for their potent blend of machismo and absurdist humor. The debonair Latin pitchman, a creation of Euro RSCG, appears one part Earnest Hemingway, one part Baron Munchausen. We learn his “beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body.”

But the actor who portrays the Most Interesting Man in the World is more likely to attend a bar mitzvah than a Quinceañera. Jonathan Goldsmith, 72, whose face and voice are now inexorably linked with one of Mexico’s top-selling beers, is a New York-born Jew who lives with his wife on a 50-foot Beneteau sailboat in Marina del Rey.

“It’s 47.3 feet,” he corrected during a recent phone interview. “It had a bris … it was 53 feet.”

Story continues after the jump.

Goldsmith says he had a nice career as a character actor before his Dos Equis stint, which began in 2007. He appeared in films, like “Go Tell the Spartans,” and television shows such as “The A-Team,” “Knight Rider” and “MacGyver.” “But I’ve never gotten the accolades that I’ve gotten since this wonderful campaign started,” he said. 

Given the campaign’s popularity, Goldsmith says he can’t venture outside without being recognized.

“I was sitting with my wife in a little Mexican restaurant that we love to go to for breakfast. A fellow came over and said … ‘I was speaking with my little boy yesterday, who is 7, and I asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. Unhesitatingly, he said, “I want to be the Most Interesting Man in the World.” ’ And on the other end of the spectrum, we were on a bus, and an elderly gentleman on a cane came over and said, ‘When I come back, I want to be like you.’ ”

When he auditioned for the Dos Equis role, Goldsmith said he drew inspiration from a renowned Argentine actor.

“I immediately thought of my friend, Fernando Lamas, who was a great raconteur and a sailing buddy of mine. … That was the first thing that came to my mind, and it stuck with me after that,” Goldsmith said.

Despite the grandiosity of the Dos Equis character, separating the actor from his Latin alter ego is not as easy as it might seem. Goldsmith has yet to arm-wrestle Fidel Castro, but he has led an interesting life that includes saving two people from certain death and rescuing tigers.

Born in New York to a gym teacher father and a mother who modeled, Goldsmith was brought up in a family with religious grandparents and a great-grandfather who founded a Brooklyn yeshiva. He attended Hebrew school and became bar mitzvah, but these days he keeps his observance to High Holy Day services.

“Wherever the tickets are less than flying to Paris, we’ll drop by,” he said.

Goldsmith is a vocal proponent for the S.A.B.R.E. Foundation, a tiger rescue organization in Nevada. He traces his love for the animal to a toy tiger he carried around during his early childhood.

“I just fell absolutely in love with it,” he said. “My zayde used to take me to The Central Park Zoo to [visit] the lions and tigers. Those were wonderful, wonderful days.”

Goldsmith met Peter Renzo of S.A.B.R.E. while living in Nevada City, Calif. At the time, he was introduced to two 30-pound tiger cubs. Several years later, after S.A.B.R.E. moved outside of Fernley, Nev., Goldsmith paid a return visit and found the cuddly cubs had become 700-pound adults. Renzo invited Goldsmith to step into the cage to feed one of the tigers by hand, and Goldsmith said the big cat wasn’t exactly intimidated by the Most Interesting Man in the World.

“He handled it very well,” Goldsmith joked. “I was a little bit nervous, but he looked like a Landsman, so it was alright.”

Among Goldsmith’s other charitable causes are Free Arts for Abused Children, which pairs artists with children in protective custody, and the Stella Link Foundation, a group calling attention to child sex trafficking in Cambodia.

In addition to helping children and animals in need, Goldsmith has rescued people from deadly situations on two separate occasions. Once, while hiking during a snowstorm, he found a man stricken with hypothermia and cared for him overnight until help could arrive the next morning.

The second incident occurred at Malibu Lagoon. 

“I noticed one girl who was in trouble right in front of everybody. I got her just as she went down. If I wasn’t there, she would have drowned 10 feet from her parents. It was just fortunate,” he said.

And while the Most Interesting Man in the World is portrayed with a Superman-like invulnerability, Goldsmith says he knows a thing or two about dying in front of the camera. During a career that spans more than 50 years, he has been drawn-and-quartered, shot, electrocuted and drowned, and Marshal Matt Dylan killed him on five separate occasions on the TV show “Gunsmoke.” But Goldsmith’s favorite death sequence was a public hanging in a movie of the week—the 1969 Western “Cutter’s Trail.”

“It was dawn in Kanab, Utah, and there were hundreds of extras. There was a long drum roll and a pronouncement. I had this long walk to the gallows, and then made some last-minute speech of defiance,” he said. “That was one of my favorite ways that I passed on.”

Sinai Temple puts its food where its ‘moral diet’ is

“What’s this? Kale or chard?”

“Oh look, little red onions.”

“Here, taste these peas. They are so sweet.”

Farmer Phil McGrath had just made his inaugural delivery of 25 boxes of fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables to Sinai Temple, where organizers of the synagogue’s new CSA (community supported agriculture) venture stood admiring and even sampling the boxes’ contents.

“This is a pretty monumental day for McGrath Family Farm,” said McGrath, 55, whose farm, in business in Camarillo since 1871, was participating in its first CSA, a partnership in which a group of people sign up in advance to receive a weekly allotment of fresh fruits and vegetables from a local organic grower. The participants essentially become shareholders in the farm’s harvest, assuming both the risks and rewards.

It was also a monumental day for Sinai Temple, where CSA organizers, under the direction of site coordinator Lisa Rose, stacked the cardboard boxes in the shade, set out the sign-in sheet and weekly newsletter and prepared for participants arriving on the synagogue’s Holmby Avenue side.

People started showing up almost immediately. Some came to pick up their boxes; others considering signing up or just curious about CSAs.

Sinai Akiba parent Lisa Lainer had learned about the CSA only the day before. “I don’t have time to go to a farmers market. It has to come to me,” she said.

Another temple member, Sandy Croll, came to fetch her box, which she is sharing with some friends. “I think it’s a good cause, but I just want some recipes. I’ve never made a beet in my life,” she said.

Sinai Temple first committed itself to starting a CSA in response to a Jewish Journal editorial about ethical eating by Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman (“Moral Diet,” Jan. 5, 2006). In a letter to the editor, Senior Rabbi David Wolpe wrote, “This kashrut initiative expresses that holy purpose of taking care of God’s gift.”

The initiative was put into action when Rabbi Ahud Sela joined the synagogue last July. He was familiar with Hazon, the New York-based community organization committed to sustainable farming and eating, and its Tuv Ha’Aretz CSA program, from his days at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He also discovered McGrath at the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

Sela hopes the CSA will educate participants about organic farming and instill a relationship to the land. “We have only a historical connection, because the agricultural component seems so irrelevant to our culture,” he said.

Sinai Temple’s CSA is the first in Southern California affiliated with Tuv Ha’Aretz, which is the first Jewish CSA program in the United States. Tuv Ha’Aretz, which has a double meaning, “good for the land” and “best of the land,” began with one CSA in New York City in 2004 and now has 16 in the United States, as well as two in Canada and one in Israel.

Tuv Ha’Aretz works like other CSAs but incorporates Jewish learning and leadership opportunities. The organization provides participating synagogues and Jewish community centers with a comprehensive instruction manual, training at its annual food conference in December (scheduled December 2009 at Pacific Grove’s Asilomar Conference Grounds) and ongoing support and networking.

Sinai Temple participants, who do not have to be synagogue members, must commit for one growing season, from April through December. The cost is $1,600, or about $40 a week, and boxes can be shared. Sign-ups remain open until early May.

But the program is more than a food delivery service.

Participants must volunteer to oversee two pickup shifts on Thursday afternoons from 2:30 to 5 during the season. In addition, they are required to volunteer at least once at either SOVA Food Pantry or Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition. Sinai Temple is the only Tuv Ha’Aretz CSA that requires this work commitment.

“We’re concerned not only about the food going into our mouths but about feeding others also,” Sela said.

Boxes that are not claimed are delivered to Liberty House, a sober-living facility in nearby Century City for people recovering from alcohol or drug addiction.

Additionally, there is an educational component headed by Sinai member Veronica Nessim, who is planning a field trip to the McGrath Family Farm on Monday, May 26.

“We want to show the families where the food comes from,” she said. She is also distributing recipes and planning cooking classes because, she explained, not everyone knows how to steam an artichoke.

Other Southern California synagogues are looking into Tuv Ha’Aretz’s CSA program, including Temple Isaiah, which is “exploring the possibility,” according to Rabbi Dara Frimmer.

Meanwhile, the Westside JCC is celebrating the one-year anniversary in May of its CSA, run by the Tierra Miguel Foundation in San Diego County. About 12 to 15 families receive a box of organic fruits and vegetables on an annual or seasonal basis, costing about $40 a week, according to Brian Greene, JCC executive director.

But for all CSA shareholders and growers alike, the goals are similar.

“The whole thing about community supported agriculture is against globalization and fast foods,” McGrath said. “This is what your grandfathers and my grandfather used to do. We’re going back to our roots. No pun intended.”

To become a shareholder or to obtain more information about Sinai Temple’s CSA, contact Lisa Rose at

To become a shareholder in the Westside JCC’s CSA, call (323) 938-2531.

Tuv Ha’Aretz:’Aretz.html

McGrath Family Farms:

Tierra Miguel Foundation:

Drug abuse debate: Legalization, medication or therapy?

On a wall at Beit T’Shuvah’s sanctuary there are plaques with the names of those connected with Beit T’Shuvah who have passed away. One of those names is that of Josh Lowenthal, a former resident who died on June 11, 1995.

The Jewish Journal recently ran a story about “One-Way Ticket,” Rita Lowenthal’s memoir about her son, Josh, who was addicted to heroin from the age of 13 until his death from a self-administered overdose 25 years later. Lowenthal’s moving account of her son’s life punctures the myth that addiction can’t happen to Jews. It can, and it does.

Another myth that Lowenthal would like to puncture is that if addicts only had enough willpower, they could kick the habit — that only weak-willed people can’t pull themselves out of the addiction abyss.

A recent Newsweek cover story is called, “The Hunt for an Addiction Vaccine.” The article says that science views addiction not as a failure of willpower, but as a “chronic, relapsing brain disorder to be managed with all the tools at medicine’s disposal,” and that the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) is developing and testing compounds that could prevent or treat addiction.

NIDA scientists have concluded that there are three kinds of self-control: putting off present gratification for a later reward, processing sufficient information before making a decision and being able to change responses that have become automatic.

It should come as no surprise that addicts score poorly in all these categories. In other words, addicts’ brains are wired to opt for immediate rewards, to leap before they look, and to keep repeating accustomed behavior in a rote manner. The medicines in development would change the addict’s responses in all three areas.

Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, has a different focus: He objects to what he calls the massive failure of the global war on drugs. Like a growing number of responsible voices, Nadelmann argues for drug legalization, or at least decriminalization.

In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, Nadelmann makes the case that the war on drugs cannot be won — he cites “mountains of evidence documenting its moral and ideological bankruptcy.” He writes that U.S. administrations have let rhetoric and ideology drive policy, and that in countries that have adopted a different way of dealing with drugs and addicts — Britain, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland — the result has been “a reduction in drug-related harms without increasing drug use.”

When asked about this, Beit T’Shuvah staff and residents uniformly say that legalization and pharmacological addiction treatments are beside the point. Their attitude is that addiction — defined in their Web site as the “obsessive pursuit of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, money, property and/or prestige” — is not about drugs, it’s about the issues that lead to drug use, issues that also lead to other self-destructive behavior.

One long-time Beit T’Shuvah resident, a middle-age man with an MBA and a background in the entertainment industry, said that “you can solve your drug problem and still not be any closer to an effective life. The point is to find out what the problems underneath are: not living your life effectively, not living it with truth. The problem is not the drugs.

“You can legalize drugs, you can find chemical ways of neutralizing the effects of drugs, but the end result will be the same: the root problem will still be there, and the person who has that problem will suffer in a different way. If it’s not drug addiction, if it’s not incarceration, it’ll be family dysfunction or abuse or other issues. These are all manifestations of a deeper problem, just as drug addiction or alcoholism is a manifestation of a deeper problem. And it’s that deeper problem that has to be treated.”

Lowenthal agrees that addiction’s deeper problems should be addressed: “Anyone who has been shamed and punished for addiction needs understanding and support.” But she points out that the situation with illegal drugs, as opposed to alcohol or prescription drugs, makes users subject to the law: Her son was in and out of San Quentin and other prisons because he stole in order to maintain his addiction. “Try getting a student loan, a job, or sympathetic in-laws after serving time in prison,” Lowenthal says.

If her son had lived in a society where heroin use is not a crime and where it’s cheaply available, then he probably wouldn’t have stolen, she believes. He probably wouldn’t have gone to prison over and over, and he might not have chosen to take his own life at the age of 38.

One day at a time, one person at a time

A life-size soft sculpture of a cleaning woman scrubbing the floor marks the entrance to the office of Harriett Rossetto, founder and executive director of Beit T’Shuvah, and serves as a metaphor for Rossetto’s vision: to give addicts a chance to scrub their souls and rejoin the world of “normies” — what addicts and alcoholics call normal people.

A social worker, in 1984 Rossetto took a job doing outreach to Jews in prison. “I was very captivated by the prisoners I met,” she says.

In response to those experiences, Rossetto founded Beit T’Shuvah in 1987, and in 1999 moved the Jewish rehab center into its large, current quarters in Culver City. At any time, the place is home to between 110 and 120 addicts and alcoholics, men and women of all ages, nearly all of them Jewish. It feeds and houses them, and it provides spiritual, therapeutic and rehab groups that are also attended by outpatients.

The rules are strict at Beit T’Shuvah: no drugs or alcohol, no computers or cellphones during the first few months. And how and when one can leave the facility is regulated. Residents, particularly the newly arrived, are separated from the world that led them to addiction and prison.

Nevertheless, each resident is treated according to his or her unique needs. “We individualize everyone’s program,” Rossetto says. “The bureaucratic notion that what we do for one we have to do for everybody always infuriated me. This place runs on the idea: ‘Let’s find out who you are.’ Mark [Borovitz] would call that ‘What is your soul that is different from everyone else’s soul?'”

“Mark was an inmate in state prison when we first met. He wasn’t a rabbi at that time. I had just started Beit T’Shuvah, and one way or another we hooked up and we’ve grown this place together — and we’re married to one another. He does the spiritual part, and I do the psychological part, but we don’t really distinguish those things. Judaism is a path of healing here; the interpretations of the prayers and the Torah are related to one’s inner life and to recovery.”

“There’s nothing ethereal about what we do,” adds Borovitz, “nothing philosophical. It’s all about: How do I live as a decent human being? How do I live not giving in to my thoughts and desires and feelings? How do I instead choose the high road and live a life of purpose, meaning and decency? And we use Judaism as a basis for that.”

“No one is exempt from addiction,” Rossetto says. “Addiction happens regardless of money, religion, class, social status, education or any other factor. It’s the great equalizer. The people here, [nearly] all of them being Jewish, are in a community where the similarities outweigh the differences. What happens is that people come here and they connect. They connect in a way that would not happen in the outside world.”

“Addiction is a condition in which there is chronic relapse,” Rossetto says. “It’s very difficult to give up the thing that makes you feel the best in the world. And a different way of living is very challenging. Untreated, the success rate is about 15 percent. Here, we have a success rate of between 60 percent and 70 percent.” The figure is based on surveys carried out by Beit T’Shuvah.

Rossetto is fond of the Talmudic saying that if you save one person, you’ve saved the world. “The reason we’ve been successful,” Borovitz adds, “is because it’s not just treatment. It’s also a spiritual path and a community. People come back and take cakes for sobriety anniversaries, they have baby-namings here, weddings — we do it all.”

“There is no other place like this in the world,” Rossetto says.

Briefs: Palestinians riot near Jerusalem dig; Brandeis threatened with loss of donations

Palestinians Riot Around Jerusalem

Palestinians rioted at entry points to Jerusalem to protest a ban stemming from previous riots over an Old City dig. Police banned Palestinian males under age 50 from attending Friday prayer services at mosques on the Temple Mount, and extended a ban on Raed Salah, leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement. Police arrested 15 people in scuffles in and around the city. Worshipers have rioted in recent weeks to protest a construction project near the Temple Mount.

Israeli authorities say the renovation of a staircase leading to the Temple Mount does not threaten the integrity of the site, but Salah, who has frequently concocted imaginary Jewish plots against the Temple Mount to incite his public against Israel, has led protests at the site and scuffled with police officers. Last Friday, he called for a Muslim intifada to “save” the mosque from the Jews. The Israelis “want to build their Temple while our blood is on their clothing, on their doorposts, in their food and in their water,” Salah said.

Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter asked the attorney general to investigate whether Salah’s comments constitute incitement and sedition.

Brandeis Threatened With Loss of Donations

Mideast scholar Daniel Pipes called on donors to reconsider their support of Brandeis University. In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Brandeis student newspaper, The Justice, Pipes claimed that his planned appearance at the university had been put on hold pending approval from a new committee created to vet potential speakers on the Middle East.

The committee also reportedly is holding up an appearance by Norman Finkelstein, a noted critic of Israeli policy who has argued that the Jewish state exploits the Holocaust for political purposes. Evidence that pressure on the university may be intensifying came from a report Friday in the New York Jewish Week that “more than a handful” of major donors told Brandeis they would no longer contribute following a recent controversial visit by former President Carter, who discussed his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” which is harshly critical of Israel. A Brandeis spokeswoman told the Jewish Week that she wasn’t aware of any communication from donors.

Hezbollah Seen Expanding Arsenal

Hezbollah aims to stockpile more weapons than it had before last year’s war with Israel, a top Israeli intelligence analyst said.

Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, chief of research in Israel’s Military Intelligence, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in a briefing Monday that the Lebanese terrorist group was smuggling in rockets to replace the thousands it lost fighting Israel during the summer war. Once it receives new shipments from neighboring Syria, Baidatz said, Hezbollah will have a larger rocket arsenal than it did before the war.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz interjected that this should not be a gauge of the threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah. Peretz noted that Hezbollah deprived of its border positions was in far less of a position to launch attacks.

Hezbollah admitted it has resumed stockpiling arms on Lebanon’s frontier with Israel.

“We can reveal that we have arms, and of all kinds,” Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said last Friday in a speech. “We move them covertly, and Israel does not know about it.”

Nasrallah said the smuggling would continue in defiance of Israel, foreign peacekeepers and the Lebanese army, which deployed in southern Lebanon as part of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended last year’s war.

“We are not a burden to the Lebanese army but rather a supporter of its mission,” Nasrallah said.

Iran Defies U.N. Demands

Iran signaled that it will not honor a demand by the United Nations to halt sensitive nuclear projects. The Foreign Ministry in Tehran announced Sunday that Iran has no intention of meeting a Feb. 21 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council for suspending uranium enrichment. Under Security Council Resolution 1737, which was passed in late December, Iran was subjected to limited international sanctions that could be expanded if it defied the 60-day deadline on uranium enrichment, a key potential process for making nuclear bombs.

While China and Russia surprised other Security Council members by backing the original resolution, it was unclear whether they would support further sanctions given their robust trade ties with Tehran and public skepticism over whether the Iranians are seeking nuclear weapons.

Feinstein Reintroduces Cluster Bomb Bill

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein cited Israeli cluster bombs left behind in Lebanon in introducing legislation to restrict the sale of the devices.

“What gives rise, in part, to my bill are recent developments in Lebanon over alleged use of cluster bombs by Israel,” Feinstein, a Jewish Democrat who is seen as strongly pro-Israel, said last week in introducing the legislation with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Israel dropped some 4 million bomblets in southern Lebanon during last summer’s war with Hezbollah, and 1 million failed to explode, she said.

“As Lebanese children and families have returned to their homes and begin to rebuild, they have been exposed to the danger of these unexploded bomblets lying in the rubble. Twenty-two people, including six children have been killed and 133, including 47 children, injured.”

Israel said it used the weapons in areas where civilians had already fled, and says the postwar casualty rate is due to U.S.-made bombs that have a high rate of delayed explosion.

Human-rights groups have noted that Hezbollah also used cluster bombs during the war, firing them directly into Israeli cities. Feinstein and Leahy introduced similar legislation immediately following the war, but it failed.

Jerusalem Opens Alcohol-Free Bar

An alcohol-free bar opened in Jerusalem with municipal funding. Lugar opened its doors in central Jerusalem on Monday with a teetotaling format geared toward minors.

The initiative was conceived by Mayor Uri Lupolianski following growing evidence that youths in Jerusalem, including many foreigners on study visits, were increasingly abusing lax controls on alcohol consumption in public places.

Lupolianski said he hoped other cities in Israel would emulate the Lugar pilot.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Hush Falls Over Jewish Hollywood Post-‘Mad Mel’

Mel GibsonHollywood’s top guns have been quick to answer a vicious anti-Semitic slur, attributed to actor-director Mel Gibson — by staying mostly mute.

Gibson, the director of the controversial “The Passion of the Christ,” was pulled over in the early hours of July 28 while speeding along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and booked on suspicion of drunk driving.

In the original report filed by the arresting officer, Gibson was described as belligerent and cursing the “F*****g Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”

He then asked Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Mee, “Are you a Jew?” (According to an Associate Press interview with the deputy, Mee is Jewish.)In a contrite apology Tuesday to “everyone in the Jewish community,” Gibson admitted his anti-Semitic slur and asked to meet with Jewish leaders “with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.”

Gibson added in his statement that “There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.”

Prior to this statement, attempts to elicit reactions from some 15 leading Jewish producers, directors, actors and writers proved fruitless. A remarkable number were said to be on vacation or out of the country, others did not return phone requests.

Even Alan Nierob, who is Gibson’s official spokesman and Jewish, was said by his office to be on a two-week vacation, although he did make statements to other news outlets.

Well-connected entertainment industry journalists ran into the same shyness. Michael Speier, managing editor of the trade publication Variety, explained the reluctance to speak out in this way: “In Hollywood, you can never help yourself by saying something critical on the record. You don’t want to piss anyone off because you never know when you might need him later on. Who knows, in a few years Gibson might be a changed man and give $10 million to the Anti-Defamation League.”

Bernie Brillstein, a veteran talent agent, manager and resident iconoclast, said, “Hollywood is a small company town and you figure everyone is entitled to his position. Anyway, everybody takes it for granted that Gibson is an anti-Semite, so people say, ‘Well, he did it again.'”

However, he added, “if Gibson’s statement, if true, had been anti-gay or anti-black, there would be an uprising in Hollywood like you’ve never seen before.”

One widely admired exception to the general public silence was talent agent Ari Emanuel, the model for agent Ari Gold in the HBO series “Entourage” and brother of Illinois Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel.

In a widely circulated statement to The Huffington Post blog, Emanuel said, in part:

“At a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements. When ‘The Passion of the Christ’ came out, Gibson was quoted as categorically denying any anti-Semitism attributed to him…”Now we know the truth…. People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line. There are times in history when standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money.”

Emanuel declined to elaborate on his statement.

While many in Hollywood have privately praised Emanuel’s gutsiness, hardly any are willing to emulate him. It has been left largely to some outspoken bloggers to hold Gibson to account.

After scourging Hollywood executives and talent for lack of moral courage and putting dollars ahead of principle, commentator and author Arianna Huffington, of the eponymous, urged Disney studios to scrap plans to distribute Gibson’s next film “Apocalypto” and to cancel his miniseries on the Holocaust on ABC-TV. (On Tuesday, the Disney-owned ABC network announced that it canceling the Holocaust series, although Disney itself is going ahead with the film.)

In a phone interview, Huffington said, “With rising anti-Semitism and the situation in the Middle East, [the Gibson incident] is not a minor issue, and not a freedom of speech issue.”

“People in this country are becoming so fearful, and Hollywood is the most fearful of all,” she said. “There is a real unwillingness to say in public what they say in private.”

As to Gibson’s future, “it depends on how much pressure Hollywood people will exert in this case,” she said,Such pressure will have to come mainly from the public, said Meyer Gottlieb, president of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

“Personally, and as a child survivor of the Holocaust, I find Gibson’s statement despicable and unforgivable. But the public generally forgives a celebrity if he shows contrition and apologizes for his trespasses,” Gottlieb said.The day after his arrest, Gibson issued a written apology, blaming his heavy drinking and history of alcoholism for acting “like a person completely out of control…I said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said.”

Huffington expressed skepticism of Gibson’s sincerity and noted that he did not specifically apologize for his anti-Jewish slur.

“What will happen is that he’ll make some even more fulsome apologies and then he’ll write some checks to Jewish charities,” Huffington said.

Some observers have also questioned whether Gibson was so drunk when he was pulled over that he had no idea what he was saying. A field test at the time of his arrest showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent, while the legal limit for driving in California is 0.08 percent,Dr. Joel Geiderman, co-chairman of the UCLA Department of Emergency Medicine, said that a 0.12 percent level is not particularly high, especially for chronic alcoholics, and was equivalent to consuming three drinks in an hour.

Cultural critic and Hollywood historian Neal Gabler, in an analysis on, saw the Gibson incident as a symptom of the “radicalization of America” under the Bush administration, which has “given license to hatemongers… hate does not carry the stigma it once did.”

However, were Disney to back out of distributing Gibson’s next film, or not air his Holocaust miniseries, “Gibson could be screaming that he is once again suffering for his faith and at hands of the infidels,” Gabler said.

Jewish defense organizations, usually quick to respond to anti-Semitic slurs, have also been largely inactive, perhaps preoccupied with the shooting at the Seattle Jewish federation and the Israel-Hezbollah fighting.

But Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a fierce critic of Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” said, “We would hope that Hollywood now would realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from this anti-Semite.”

On Tuesday, after Gibson’s specific apology to the Jewish community, Foxman said that apology “sounds sincere” and that “after [Gibson’s] rehabilitation for alcohol abuse, we will be ready and willing to help him with his second rehabilitation to combat this disease of prejudice.”

David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, also welcomed the apology and said “We look forward … to Gibson matching his contrition with his own deeds.”

Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who were in Israel, urged Gibson “to drop any plans to produce a miniseries on the Nazi Holocaust — [you] do not have the legitimacy to make a film about Jewish martyrdom and suffering during the Nazi era.”

Gibson entered an alcohol rehabilitation center over the weekend and was not available for comment. He is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 28 on the drunk driving charges.


Mighty Glad to See You!

It was great seeing so many of you at the Israel Independence Day Festival on May 7 (we hope you enjoyed the fans). Be sure to check out our yeLAdim page on June 30, as we will be printing many of the essays you wrote for our 20th anniversary!

Kein v’ Lo:

Parental Spying?

There’s been a lot of talk in the news about people listening to other people’s phone calls, and some people say parents need to check what their kids are doing online and who they are chatting with — because not everyone on the Internet is telling the truth. Should parents be allowed to do that?

The Kein Side:

  • A lot of kids don’t talk to their parents, and the parents want to make sure their kids are safe from drugs, alcohol, bullies and other things that can hurt them.
  • It is your parents’ house, and you have to live by their rules — when you have your own house, you can have your own rules.

The Lo Side:

  • Parents need to trust their kids — otherwise how will the kids ever learn to be responsible for themselves?
  • It is invasion of privacy to listen to their phone calls and look at someone’s things when they aren’t there.

We want to know what you think. E-mail your thoughts to, with the subject line: Parents.

We’ll publish your opinions on a future yeLAdim page.

Pages & Picks

This month’s pick is the very cute “Kvetchy Boy” by Anne-Maire Baila Asner — the latest from Matzah Ball Books.

Kvetchy Boy joins his friends Noshy Boy, Shluffy Girl, Klutzy Boy and Shmutzy Girl in bringing Yiddish expressions to young Jews (don’t worry, each book includes a glossary of words) and teaching everyone about being a better person:

Even at his birthday party, Kvetchy Boy kvetched and kvetched.

“This ice cream made my cake soggy. I hate soggy cake,” said Kvetchy Boy.

“But Kvetchy Boy,” said Noshy Boy, who loves to eat. “The cake tastes even better that way.”

Kvetchy Boy didn’t agree.

If you haven’t seen your favorite Yiddish expression yet, don’t worry — there are more books on the way, including some for grown-ups like “Mrs. Mitzvah” and “Bubby” and “Zaida Kvelly.” You can even buy T-shirts with the different characters on them!

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Substance Abuse a Senior Problem, Too


When Amy Kaplan heard about Betty (not her real name), a Jewish Family Service client in her early 70s who said she couldn’t afford all of her medications, Kaplan suspected there was more to the story. Kaplan, a social worker and addiction specialist, visited Betty’s home and confirmed her suspicions: Betty was taking 24 prescription medications, some of which were duplicates or even triplicates. Betty was drowsy, unsteady, financially strapped — and addicted.

“The numbers are astronomical,” Kaplan said. “I’d say 90 percent of our clients are affected by addiction in some way, either themselves or through a family member, a close friend or a neighbor.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, prescription drugs and alcohol abuse among adults 60 and older is one of the fastest growing health problems in the country, affecting up to 17 percent of older adults. With baby boomers beginning to turn 60 this year, the incidence will continue to climb without intervention.

“This is a significant problem which has been underidentified and under-recognized,” said Karen Leaf, director of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ (JFS) Valley Storefront in North Hollywood. “Given the scope of the problem, we decided we needed to be better equipped to deal with it.”

With grants from the Archstone and Jewish Community foundations, JFS instituted the Senior Substance Abuse and Mental Health Initiative last summer. Kaplan, who had previously worked at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, was recruited to develop programs for JFS. The agency’s first priority involved educating and training its own social workers and case managers — who deal with thousands of seniors in the course of a year — to better recognize and assist clients with substance abuse problems.

Kaplan now leads a weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at the Valley Storefront location, and JFS hopes to add more locations in the future. Dr. Alan Schneider, a psychiatrist specializing in the elderly, has given presentations about mental health and medication management during brown-bag lunch sessions at area senior centers. To increase public awareness of the issue, Kaplan and others have made presentations at health fairs, meetings and other community events.

Older adults are usually “accidental addicts,” according to Carol Colleran, director of older adult services at the Hanley Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., and co-author of “Aging and Addiction” (Hazelden, 2002). She said that seniors often develop problems when they continue to take prescription medications that were intended for short-term use. This is common with a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, medications prescribed for insomnia and anxiety. Benzodiazipines, which include Valium and Xanax, are addictive.

Colleran said that late-onset addiction can be triggered by loss, such as the loss of a spouse, a job or a sense of purpose. To cope with these losses, individuals may self-medicate with prescription drugs and alcohol.

Problems are compounded because the body processes alcohol and drugs less efficiently as it ages. Older adults may find that they can no longer tolerate the same amounts of alcohol that they consumed in the past. And alcohol’s effects are intensified when it is mixed with prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

“Safe drinking for older adults is one drink per day,” Colleran noted. One drink equals a 12-ounce beer, 1 1/2 ounces of liquor or 5 ounces of wine.

Underdiagnosis of alcohol and prescription drug abuse among older adults is common because symptoms — including fatigue, depression, irritability, insomnia, frequent falls, chronic pain, impotence and congestive heart failure — are often misinterpreted as signs of other medical conditions. Symptoms may be attributed to dementia, Parkinson’s, depression or simply products of aging.

Addiction is not on the radar screen for most physicians, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). In a CASA physician survey presenting a hypothetical case of a mature woman who showed the typical early symptoms of alcohol and prescription drug abuse, only one percent of the doctors considered substance abuse as a possible diagnosis.

“We need to get the word out about this,” said Colleran, who believes ageism and sexism are additional barriers to recognition of the problem.

On the positive side, she said that older adults have the highest success rate in treatment of any age group.

Jews and Addiction

Although JFS is a nonsectarian organization, addiction specialist Kaplan estimates that 50 percent of the agency’s senior clients who suffer from addiction are Jewish. The perception that Jews don’t drink, she said, is a myth. Further, a 2001 study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases refuted the perception that Jewish alcoholics have lower educational, financial or religious levels.

While the JFS initiative does not incorporate Jewish content, there are programs that address addiction through a Jewish lens. Unlike the JFS initiative, however, they are not targeted exclusively to older adults. New York-based Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others (JACS), which offers numerous resources on its Web site, holds programs in several Los Angeles locations. Beit T’Shuvah, which provides both residential and out-patient treatment, addresses addiction using Jewish spirituality, the 12-Step program originated by Alcoholics Anonymous and psychotherapy.

Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas has offered a variety of programs addressing addiction, including Madraygot (Steps), a monthly program that looks at the intersection of Judaism and the 12-Step program. The synagogue commissioned a rabbinic intern, Rebecca Hoffman, to develop a curriculum designed for congregations to offer their own Jewish 12-Step program.

“I’ve worked at three Los Angeles area synagogues, and the minute I started talking about addiction, people started coming out of the woodwork,” Or Ami’s Rabbi Paul Kipnes said. “My goal is to break down the walls of silence and talk about it ….Individuals who are suffering from addiction have a place in the community and the community needs to respond.”

Signs of a Problem

by Gabriel Meyer

Medicine and alcohol misuse can happen unintentionally. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the following signs may indicate an alcohol or medication-related problem:


• Memory trouble after having a drink or taking medicine


• Loss of coordination (walking unsteadily, frequent falls)


• Changes in sleeping habits


• Unexplained bruises


• Irritability, sadness, depression


• Unexplained chronic pain


• Changes in eating habits


• Desire to stay alone much of the time


• Failure to bathe or keep clean


• Difficulty finishing sentences


• Difficulty concentrating


• Difficulty staying in touch with family or friends


• Lack of interest in usual activities

Orthodox Alcohol, Drug Abuse Rising

Peter Gould had his last drink on Purim night seven years ago — or, more accurately, his last drinks.

“I drank more alcohol in a day than a human body can handle,” he said, relaxing on a puffy couch in Baltimore in jeans, sneakers and a black knit kipah.

At the time, Gould — not his real name — had been a functioning alcoholic for years, and his body could tolerate a lot of booze. He listed the staggering litany of alcoholic beverages he consumed that Purim, a holiday some Jews mark by drinking to excess: Three bottles of amaretto, two bottles of wine, one bottle of champagne, a fifth of Scotch and a fifth of bourbon.

“And then I drove home with my kids in the car,” he recalled.

He made it home fine — after all, he was used to driving drunk.

Gould may be an extreme example, but he isn’t unique. Alcohol and drug addiction exist in every sector of American Jewry, but addiction and recovery specialists say Gould is part of a growing problem in the Orthodox community — a problem that, because of the pressures and particularities of an observant Jewish lifestyle, has hit the Orthodox in different and sometimes more troubling ways than other segments of the Jewish community.

“The Orthodox community really does have a need,” said Adrienne Bannon, executive director of Baltimore’s Jewish Recovery Houses, two centers in suburban Baltimore for recovering Jewish drug addicts and alcoholics. Some residents require kosher food and are placed with local families for Shabbat meals. “I thought most of the addicts and alcoholics filling this house would be long-estranged from religion, but it isn’t true,” she said.

Part of the problem, experts say, is that, for years, people couldn’t and wouldn’t believe that drugs had found their way into Orthodox groups. But they had. They say the emphasis in some ultra religious Orthodox communities on finding marriage matches for young people, coupled with the community’s traditional reluctance to air its dirty laundry, leads families and schools to cover up addictions. They call this “the shanda factor”: Who wants to marry a drug addict or even a drug addict’s sibling?

As a result, addicts often don’t receive treatment until their addictions have reached crisis proportions. Those involved in treating these addicts say that until recently, members of the Orthodox community received treatment on average two years later than addicts in society at large — two years during which their dependencies have time to grow, worsen and become harder to beat.

Solid numbers on addiction in the Orthodox community are hard to come by. In the past five to 10 years, the community has begun to more aggressively and publicly address the issue, but it still elicits silence and shame. Anecdotal evidence suggests the problem is getting worse, experts say.

Some describe a chicken-and-egg question: Is the number of Orthodox addicts growing or — because community efforts have made treatment easier, more available or more acceptable — are a greater number of addicts seeking help?

Experts say both might be true.

“What has opened people’s eyes is that, first of all, there’s been much more talk about the problem,” said Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, founder and medical director emeritus of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, a nonprofit drug and alcohol treatment system in western Pennsylvania. “Unfortunately, there have been several young deaths from overdoses, and these were not covered up and they raised the alert of the community.”

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, an expert in chemical addiction in the Jewish community and author of “Twelve Jewish Steps to Recovery: A Personal Guide to Turning From Alcoholism and Other Addictions” (Jewish Lights, 1991), noted that the Orthodox aren’t the only members of the Jewish community with addiction issues.

“Alcohol and drug abuse is about an issue of individuals feeling an emptiness inside of themselves, and they’re self-medicating, trying to fill that hole and get rid of the pain they feel,” said Olitzky, who also is executive director of the New York-based Jewish Outreach Institute. “Alcohol and drug abuse, for similar reasons, impact upon members of the Jewish community from one side of the spectrum to the other.”

Recovery communities for Jews like those in Baltimore are few and far between, but many communities are making efforts to fight abuse by forming support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous societies, treatment centers and clearing houses for referral services. The religious streams also have made efforts to address the issue and inform their constituents about it.

The number of Jewish addicts is proportionally similar to the rest of America, Olitzky said, but Jews are overrepresented in Gamblers Anonymous, and many suffer from eating disorders.

Insiders say the Orthodox lifestyle offers another gateway into and cover for addiction: the frequent availability and consumption of alcohol at religious life-cycle events. Habits developed at these celebrations can eventually lead to alcoholism, observers say, and statistics show that individuals who abuse alcohol are more likely to use drugs.

A person can drink a l’chaim at a morning bris, or ritual circumcision ceremony, followed by another at an engagement party that evening. Later in the week, there may be a wedding, followed by a sheva brachot ceremony followed on Shabbat by a bar mitzvah — and alcohol often is available at each event.

Then there is the increasing popularity of so-called synagogue Kiddush clubs, which offer shulgoers schnapps, whiskey and other types of alcohol during and after services.

“Substance abuse is masked by religious practice,” said Rabbi Joel Dinnerstein, founder and director of Ohr Ki Tov: Center for Growth and Transformation, which runs Florida’s Jewish Alcoholism and Addiction Counseling Services. “See who goes for the herring and who goes for the schnapps — you don’t have to be an expert to see right in front of you.”

Gould went for the schnapps. And the whiskey. And the beer. And the champagne.

He spent his bar mitzvah party vomiting in a bathroom after drinking too much alcohol-spiked punch. By the time he was 31, Gould’s doctor told him that his liver “was reaching irreversible damage levels.”

The physician suggested that the test results may have been skewed by consumption of alcohol shortly before the test. He suggested that Gould not drink for two weeks and then return for another test. So he stopped drinking for a few days — until his brother-in-law got engaged and they headed out for a l’chaim; the cycle began again.

Veronica Rose, whose parents are affiliated with a Chabad synagogue, said that an abusive boyfriend drove her to drug abuse.

Rose, a pseudonym, started using cocaine five years ago in what she said was an effort to self-medicate her clinical depression. What started as recreational use soon became a full-blown addiction.

“I spent all of my bubbe’s inheritance on drugs,” said Rose, whose brother is an alcoholic.

When she took up with an abusive man, she turned even more frequently to drugs — cocaine to dull the pain, followed by marijuana or Ativan to come down from the high.

She began to think about cleaning up. Today she’s a resident at Tovah House, the women’s recovery home in Baltimore. She has been clean since Dec. 12.

Observers say it has become increasingly easy for youngsters to obtain drugs, even Orthodox ones.

“The problem in the yeshivas is the same problem as in the public schools,” said Daniel Vitow, headmaster of the North Shore Hebrew Academy High School on New York’s Long Island. “Our kids live in the same society and the same culture as everyone else.”

Where the problem is more acute, some schools have instituted drug testing for students. Some yeshivas eventually expel problem students, who are sent from school to school, their problems left untreated, chalked up simply to hanging out with the wrong group of friends.

“I think that the Jewish community has grown a great deal in its sophistication with regard to its acknowledgment of Jews and alcoholism and Jews as drug addicts, and there are some institutions that have been built,” Olitzky said.

But, he noted, “We still have a long way to go before we are fully prepared to wrestle with the challenges.”

Local Treatment Centers

David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

The Jewish community has two addiction treatment centers in Southern California

Beit T’Shuvah
8831 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles
(310) 204-5200

Beit T’Shuvah is unique among addiction treatment centers nationally, because it requires its residents to use Jewish spirituality and teachings as part of their recovery. The coed, 120-bed facility usually is filled with residents on short-term recovery or long-term treatment programs lasting beyond 30 days.

Chabad Residential Treatment Center
5675 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles
(323) 965-1365

The 44-bed, male-only Chabad Residential Treatment Center close to the Pico-Robertson district uses general Torah teachings and principles to anchor its 12-step approach to addiction treatment, but the approach is broad enough for the facility’s Jewish and non-Jewish residents. A separate, second-phase “sober-living” building adjacent to the main center has room for another 25 patients.


The plan was innocuous enough: Meet up with some Jewish Journal colleagues for Oktoberfest at The Phoenix Club, a German cultural center in Anaheim that features a banquet hall, a restaurant and bar, as well as country club-like grounds. We were looking for something truly authentic — a slice of Munich in the Southland.

I guess we should have been careful what we wished for.

It was a Saturday evening and there were 10 of us sitting together on the edge of the biergarten, which held about 2,000 people. An opulent, modern white tent covered a patio area lined with picnic tables, which were getting snatched up quickly around us. With the heat on to find a place to sit, an older couple and their adult child with Down’s syndrome joined us at our table.

Oktoberfest is a two-week celebration held in Munich, Germany, during late September and early October. Beer, food and music are the cornerstones of what is the world’s largest festival, drawing 6 million tourists to the city annually. Cities around the world hold their own Oktoberfests, typically modeled after the Munich event.

We’d hoped for more colleagues from The Journal, but the distance put off some, and others seemed disinclined because Jews and plans based on Munich and beer historically don’t mix well.

At the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, men were walking around in lederhosen and liking it. (However, the only dirndln — full-skirted dresses with gathered waists and closefitting bodices — were ultrashort and being sported by women carrying trays of Jagger shots.) Young families with children mixed with a predominantly senior crowd. The food was mostly authentic — weisswurst, bratwurst, porkshanks — so most of The Journal’s crowd stuck with the potato pancakes and Bavarian pretzels.

After a second round of the chicken dance, the bandleader from Munich held up his stein to lead a beer chant. We shot back with our own Yiddishly tweaked version: “zicke zacke, zicke zacke, oy oy oy.”

And then it happened. We saw a dozen skinheads gathering at the edge of the biergarten, looking for a table.

One of them wore a T-shirt that read: “My boss is an Austrian painter.” I doubted it was a reference to Gustav Klimt.

Orange County is known for having a few enclaves of neo-Nazis, and, I suppose, we shouldn’t have been surprised that they, too, would seek out an Oktoberfest.

And there we were: a table full of Jews; a Catholic of mixed German, Irish and Mexican heritage, and someone with a visible handicap.

As the skinheads approached our table, they stopped to eye its lack of Aryan homogeneity and then moved on. While the skinheads didn’t hang around to intimidate us, their actively growing numbers on the sidelines left some of us with the distinct feeling that safety could become an issue. We joked that we should have worn our Jewish Journal T-shirts, but we were just looking to cover up our discomfort.

We cleared our table and left shortly thereafter. One couple from our group stayed behind, but even the couple with the Down’s syndrome child decided it was time to leave, even though it was only 9 p.m., which is usually when Oktoberfest is just starting to come to life.

Despite the fact that there was a security presence, I couldn’t shake the feeling that no one would come to help us if were attacked. There was that moment of doubt, that feeling of being alone in a sea of thousands.

Joyce Greenspan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Orange County, said that neo-Nazis showing up at Oktoberfests has been a problem for some time, but that organizers can take steps to limit their entrance if they wanted to.

“It’s not a public event. They can certainly control who can come into their event,” she said.

Phoenix Club Vice President Hans Holste told me later that the board and the membership don’t want skinheads anywhere near their 45-year-old facility.

“If we would disallow them to come in, there may be more problems than we wish for,” he said.

Instead, the Phoenix’s approach has been to kick them out only of they’re being disruptive. A T-shirt extolling Adolph Hitler, apparently, does not cross that subjective line.

The Phoenix Club wants to keep a safe, family-friendly environment. But how can a family possibly feel safe with neo-Nazis milling about almost every weekend of the festival?

Following The Journal’s inquiry, Holste said The Phoenix Club was bringing off-duty police officers onto their security team during Sunday nights and would post rules of conduct at entrances.

Still, ignoring hate groups and hoping they’ll behave or go away may send the wrong message. For one thing, it suggests that tolerance applies foremost to the intolerant, such as neo-Nazis, at the expense of the victims of their hate speech or worse.

Thus far the club has addressed the problems in-house. They have not consulted with organizations such as the ADL or the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which are adept in dealing with such situations. That’s a shame because the accumulated knowledge and experience of Jewish organizations has much to offer a local German group that wants to show that it, too, believes in “never again.”


Enemy Ties


I hadn’t been to a Tel Aviv bar for a while, and I was craving one. I had recently returned from a vacation to Los Angeles, where there were no worthwhile singles bars. Last call for alcohol in Los Angeles is 2 a.m., and a good Jewish girl like me prefers to pick up and be picked up by Jewish men.

That’s why Eliezer, a new bar on Ben Yehuda Street, was a relief for me and also for my friend, Tali, who had just returned from her native Melbourne. Inhaling the smoky air and swaying to the rock music, we reveled in the dozens of masculine men around us.

“Welcome to Israel,” we proudly toasted. “Where you know the men in the bars are Jewish.”

A beer and two vodka shots later, I let my guard down and scoped the scene, looking for hot prospects. Gradually a group of short, stubby men surrounded us. I sighed. None of them had been on my radar, but, nevertheless, we all danced and laughed and flirted.

Suddenly, a man in a gray shirt and gray tie walked in. I was not particularly attracted to him, but I noticed that his tie was practically strangling him. I gestured to him to take it off. We were in a bar, not a conference room.

Tali and I continued to dance and flirt, and the man in the tie passed us by, stiff-necked. I motioned to him again to take the thing off.

Finally, we headed out to go salsa dancing, and I noticed the man in the tie had taken it off and began waving it like a flag, signaling me over.

“Congratulations,” I said. “That’s much better.”

“Where are you from?” he said in an unidentifiable accent.

“I’m from Israel, but originally from L.A.,” I said. “Where are you from?”

“I’m Palestinian.”

“Oh,” I said. “Palestinian.”

No wonder he wore a tie to a bar. Israelis just don’t do that.

“Are you Jewish?” he asked.

“I’m very Jewish,” I said proudly.

There I was. Face to face with the enemy, in a Tel Aviv bar. I immediately recalled the Stage nightclub bombing in Tel Aviv a week earlier, and I looked for a backpack strapped to his waist, but he was strapless. I was safe, but I couldn’t help but provoke confrontation. I wasn’t about to be fake or polite or cordial just because he was Palestinian. A Tel Aviv bar, to me, did not provide sanctuary.

“You know, I’m very right wing,” I said.

I didn’t think he understood what I said or what I meant, or maybe he didn’t want a bar brawl, because he ignored my comment and instead asked me where I lived.

I almost made myself more explicit by adding: “If I were a soldier with a gun, and this were a battle line, I would shoot you. By the way, I entertain the idea of transfer.”

But I stopped myself. This was a bar, I reasoned. He wasn’t the enemy, he was a descendant of Abraham who wanted to break Islamic law and have a drink. I had to respect him for that. So I dropped the politics and told him I lived in Tel Aviv.

“Israeli women are hotter than Palestinian women, aren’t they?” I said, trying to find some common ground.

“No, no.”

“Why, do you like it when they are covered from head to toe, with those veils?”

“Well, women in Ramallah are not so hot. Yes, Israelians are hot,” he said awkwardly.

It seemed like that was the first time he used “hot” in that context.

I told him I had to go, and he presented his tie and said: “For you.”

“What?” I said. “I can’t take this.”

At first, I felt bad. It looked expensive, and don’t most Palestinians live in dire poverty?

Then I thought about the implications: I take this tie, and my hands are tied. I’d forever have to remember that one night a Palestinian gave me an expensive tie, and that he was nice to me. I’d have to question all my stereotypes and generalizations, and recognize that there are good, normal, generous Palestinians who just want peace, who just want to be my friend, who just want some fun.

I couldn’t take the tie.

But then I looked down at its elegant striped pattern. It would look smashing with a white tank and hip hugging jeans, I thought. He insisted, so I gracefully accepted.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling, and blew him a kiss.

As we sauntered out, Tali, a pro-peace activist, said, “You see, they’re not all bad. You’ll switch sides.”

“Hmm,” I said. “Maybe.”

As long as I felt good and stylish with the tie on, I couldn’t resent the fashion benefactor or his people.

I woke up the next morning, both me and the tie hungover in bed, alone.

I glared at it, frightened. Is this the first step toward my own private reconciliation with the Palestinians? If I keep it, is it a personal symbol of possible peace? Or should I just burn the thing?

Eventually, I hung it in my closet as the accessory that will forever go down in my wardrobe as “the tie the Palestinian gave me.” It’s not an enemy tie I’m ready to make, but it’s an enemy tie I’m ready to wear.

A friend told me that wearing a tie is a proven pick-up technique. It worked well for Abbas. Maybe it’ll work for me.

I’ll wear it next time I go to a bar. And when I do, I’ll use it to pick up and tie up a hot Jewish Israeli man, and I’ll have a Palestinian to thank for it.

Maybe then we could start talking about reconciliation.

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Israel.


Just Say No, Even on Purim

One is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until one cannot distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai” (Talmud, Megillah 7b).

Purim is like the Jewish topsy-turvy day.

Unlike many Jewish holidays, which are marked by serious and meaningful customs like lighting the menorah or holding a seder, Purim’s main edict seems to be: have fun.

On the holiday that celebrates the downfall of the evil Haman and the saving of the Jewish people from destruction, adults and children alike dress up in costumes, put on satirical spiels and conclude the holiday by eating a festive meal — and getting drunk.

Now, concern over the rise in teenage alcoholism in the Orthodox community has led some rabbis and organizations to protest this last custom.

This year, the Orthodox Union (OU) and the National Council for Synagogue Youth (NCSY) have produced a brochure aimed specifically at teenagers to combat the issue of drinking on Purim.

The brochure is being distributed to some 10,000 OU synagogues and NCSY chapters throughout the country and can also be downloaded from the NCSY Web site (

The two-page pamphlet features cute diagrams printed in wine-colored text. It explodes the idea that you’re “supposed” to drink on Purim, and has catchy headlines that include “Breaking News: A nonalcoholic version of wine is now widely available! It’s called grape juice.”

“Purim in general is an amazing wonderful holiday but a lot of kids take it to excess,” said Rabbi Steven Burg, national director of NCSY. “It’s important to send a message in this brochure that this is not carte blanche. It’s not a Jewish frat party where it’s OK to get trashed in this 24-hour period.”

Burg said that Purim was chosen to launch the pamphlet because it’s a major holiday in the Orthodox community.

“Over the years drinking on the holiday has been taken to excess and I don’t even think we realize it,” he said.

But combating drinking on Purim is not the end goal of course; it’s putting an end to teenage alcoholism and all forms of substance abuse — a trend that’s on the rise, say those who work with teenagers.

Some current events have made the problem more pressing. In November 2004, 42 high school kids were arrested for drug and alcohol abuse at a party of a Livingston, N.J., yeshiva student. And, just last month, an Encino boy died from a drug overdose while in yeshiva in Israel, while four others were arrested there on drug dealing charges.

Many in the Orthodox community have recently demanded some institutionwide action against an often hidden problem among kids. And Purim — along with other religious events that encourage drinking — has also come under fire.

Last month, the OU called for an end to Kiddush Clubs — an ever-popular Shabbat morning custom where some synagogue congregants leave services during the haftarah reading for bite to eat and a drink or two.

Despite protests from congregants, some synagogues have taken action. Young Israel of Century City was among the first, sending out a letter to its members to say that a Kiddush Club “sets an inappropriate example for our children,” and citing a young man who said the beginning of his substance abuse began as a child with alcohol at his shul’s Kiddush Club every Shabbat morning.

Certainly, the rise in substance abuse among teens is not confined to the Orthodox community, but the OU’s new task force signifies that the religious community is taking notice.

The whole community is in denial, said Rabbi Mark Borowitz, the founder and director of Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish rehabilitation house who himself is a recovering alcoholic.

“None of us have wanted to face this problem,” he said. “And the OU should really be commended for saying OK, we have this issue and we’re not just going to sit around and do nothing.'”

Borowitz says teenage alcoholism is on the rise across the board.

“Kids are looking for something to get out of themselves and that’s always problematic,” he said. “As things get worse in the world there’s more hopelessness and there’s more need to escape.”

Burg said that the community’s denial of the problem is melting — and that the OU’s new anti-drug task force will help. Under the banner of “Safe Homes, Safe Shuls, Safe Schools,” the new program will hold meetings, provide educational material and guest speakers throughout the country. In addition, NCSY has posted materials on its Web site discussing the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. There is also a sign-up list for kids to publicly promise to avoid taking drugs and alcohol.

“We want our kids to have a clean, moral life,” Burg said. “And we need to bring a heightened awareness to parents to keep their eyes open. Teenagers are not adults. They still need love and a hug and understanding.”

Burg, who is hosting 150 teenagers this year at his house, will lead by example: this year he will only serve grape juice.

Alcohol Aftermath

On Purim, the Talmud commands us to drink until we "don’t know the difference between ‘Blessed be Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed be Haman.’"

Obviously, the talmudic rabbis never heard of "Just say no."

But the commandment to drink till we’re drunk is problematic, especially in a holiday that, some critics say, already celebrates sexual subjugation, murder and intermarriage.

It is problematic in a religion that advocates, as the Apocrypha states, "Moderation in all things."

And it is problematic in a society in which 10 percent of the population, Jews included, suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction or both.

Drinking permeates the Purim story: from the beginning, where King Ahasuerus hosts a weeklong feast for his officials and servants with "royal wine in abundance," (Megillah 1:7) to the end, where the Jews celebrate their victory and proclaim the 14th of Adar as an annual "day of feasting and gladness." (Megillah 9:17) A declaration that, according to some rabbis, prompted the talmudic dictate to drink to excess.

"I would argue that in this day and age, the commandment to drink till we’re blitzed ceases to have the force of mitzvah," says Rabbi Paul Kipnes, who leads Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, and who runs a program in the Los Angeles area for Jews in recovery from alcohol, drugs and other addictions.

But with or without the force of mitzvah, intemperate drinking is an accepted part of the Purim celebration and, many would argue, warranted. After all, without the two wine feasts arranged by Queen Esther and attended by King Ahasuerus and Haman, the miracle of Purim would never have happened.

At the first wine feast, Esther lays a trap for Haman by extravagantly flattering him. At the second, she reveals Haman’s plot to kill the Jews to King Ahasuerus. The king then orders Haman to be hanged on the gallows that Haman originally built for Mordechai.

Conversely, others would argue, myself included, that drinking triggers all the trouble in the first place.

After the week of feasting, when "the heart of the king was merry with wine" (Megillah 1:10), Ahasuerus orders his queen, Vashti, to parade naked, wearing only her crown, before him and his guests so he can show off her beauty. Vashti refuses and is banished, or, according to some sources, executed. This precipitates an all-points bulletin inviting beautiful young maidens to "audition" for the suddenly vacant position of queen — and makes way for Esther’s entrance.

It is also wine that later solemnizes the plot, when King Ahasuerus and Haman sit down to drink (Megillah 3:15) to seal the decree ordering the annihilation of the Jews.

"There is nothing wrong with drinking," Kipnes explains, "except when it becomes a raison d’etre or leads to people getting hurt."

"But," he adds, "Purim is one of three occasions where Jews who have gone down the path of alcoholism admit to getting drunk for the first time. The other two are Passover and b’nai mitzvah."

That’s not surprising as drinking pervades the Jewish calendar year — from multiple cups at Purim to four cups at Passover to one cup every Shabbat. It’s also present at Jewish life-cycle events — including wine given to anesthetize babies at the brit milah.

But ironically and erroneously, we Jews have a reputation for not getting drunk. In the 18th century, the philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that Jews don’t get drunk because they "are exposed through their eccentricity and alleged chosenness to relax in their self-control." This is reinforced by the well-known Yiddish proverb, "The shikker is a goy."

Additionally, we Jews have a propensity for denial, for refraining from airing our dirty laundry in public, thereby serving to mask the addiction problem both in our homes and in our communities.

But the problem exists. And for us parents, license to drink heavily, even once a year, is not a message we want to give our children.

Not when, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, boys first try alcohol, on average, at age 11 and girls at 13.

Not when half of all teenage deaths result from driving under the influence of alcohol and about half of all teenage suicides involve alcohol use.

And not when the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reports that binge drinking is the number one substance-abuse problem on today’s college campuses, leading also to an increase in AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, date rape and other assaults.

Purim, this ostensibly frivolous and farcical holiday, celebrates the triumph of good over evil. But it does so by giving the message that drinking is the way to have fun, and by espousing behavior that is dangerous, demeaning and contrary to Judaism’s commandment of shmirat haguf, preventing bodily harm.

And there’s nothing good about that.

Mourning an Alcoholic Father

According to myth, Jews don’t drink. This is false.

According to the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful. This is true. Otherwise, why would my father choose to move in 1991 to Portland, Oregon, to live alone with his Dalmatian and begin drinking after 18 years of sobriety?

Yes, my father chose booze over me. Even more distressing, he chose booze over my four sons, whom he barely knew.

And on Feb. 6 of this year, alcohol killed my father, at 78.

“Dad died,” my sister informed me by telephone.

“How?” I asked.

But I already knew. I knew with the specially tuned antennae of a child who has grown up with an alcoholic — always watching for that slurred word or that lock of hair curled on the forehead that presaged an evening of hateful insults and humiliation, an evening that could escalate into ear-piercing screaming, an evening that invariably ended in tears, in wishing life were different, in a legacy of lifelong shame.

I knew with the certainty that alcoholism is a progressive disease that inevitably leads to insanity or death. Or “multi-organ failure,” as the doctor euphemistically said.

And so, on Feb. 6, I began officially mourning for a man for whom I had been grieving a good part of my life.

I mourned for a man with the soul of a poet. A man full of charm and curiosity and humor, who appreciated life’s intricacies and oddities. Who loved writers Albert Camus and Bernard Malamud. And poets Maya Angelou, Constantine Cavafy and Karl Shapiro. Who composed his own poems. Who once dreamed of becoming an English professor.

I mourned for a man with the heart of an idealist. An idealist whose nearsightedness would have disqualified him from joining the United States Army during World War II. Instead, in 1942, at age 20, he stole and memorized an eye chart, ensuring induction. He was stationed in the Far East where, as a radio operator, he flew an incredible 105 missions over the Himalayas, between India and China. He returned home a decorated war hero, a “golden boy,” my mother said.

This same idealist moved our entire family from Davenport, Iowa, to Israel in 1962. Just as the Zionists dreamed of building a successful and solid Jewish state, so my father dreamed of providing his family with a life chock-full of substance and adventure.

And I mourned for a man who was disconnected from his family, his religion and himself. Who lived in secrecy and sarcasm. Who drank himself to death.

The writer Sylvia Fraser said, “All of us are born into the second act of a tragedy-in-progress. We then spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what went wrong in the first act.”

I know the external facts of my father’s childhood, but will never know the internal dynamics and personal pain.

And I’ll never know whether alcoholism was the cause or the result of my father’s troubles.

I do know that the Shechina, God’s very presence, went out of my father as clearly as if departed from the Temple in Jerusalem when it was destroyed in 70 C.E.

The Talmud says, “As long as a person breathes, that person should not lose hope.”

I believe my father lost hope a long time ago.

But in spite of the fact that my father and I had a strained and sometimes estranged relationship, I never gave up hope that he might change. I’d seen it happen before, in 1974, when he quit drinking and worked a strong Alcoholics Anonymous program. For over two years, he was an affectionate father and comforting confidante. But he moved away from his AA group and lived a white-knuckled sobriety, as a dry alcoholic, until his cravings consumed him — and compelled him to resume drinking.

Underneath my father’s iconoclastic and often cavalier facade, however, I remembered a patient and loving man who taught me how to ice skate and throw a softball. A man who was my adored companion at the annual Girl Scout Dad-Daughter Date Night. A generous man who wholeheartedly believed that you would never go broke taking someone out to dinner — or sending his daughter to summer camp or college.

Alcoholism is a disease of denial, a characteristic especially prevalent in the Jewish community, where we hide our shandas, our embarrassing family secrets, from friends, neighbors and even our own relatives. This is perhaps why people say there are no Jewish alcoholics.

But according to Rabbi Paul Kipnes of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, who runs a program for Jews in recovery in the Los Angeles area, 10 percent of all Jews have an alcohol or drug problem. This is the same percentage as in the general population. And alcoholic Jews run the gamut — from ultra-Orthodox to self-hating and secular.

Alcoholics, according to the founders and sober members of AA, are powerless over their disease. That’s why, in Step Three of this 12-step program, they make a decision to turn their life and their will over to the care of God.

As the daughter of an alcoholic, I was also powerless. I could no more make my father stop drinking than I could make the Messiah materialize.

My father once wrote:


Past is

Guilt and the

Future is fear

“Now” is all I have

But in the “now”

To dwell is

Mostly Hell!

My father has been released from his pain — and I from my hope.

At the memorial service a week after my father’s death, lead by Cantor Jay Frailich of University Synagogue, I performed keriah, the symbolic ripping of my clothing. And I recited the words, “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, the True Judge.”

Jane Ulman writes a bimonthly column for The Jewish Journal. She lives in Encino with her husband and four sons.