Communities can use High Holy Days to help ease economic angst


With the start of the High Holy Days, the pace of communal life starts to change, and our focus is on reflection, reconciliation, repentance and the annual response to new beginnings.

For too many in our community, however, this season will hold more angst than joy.

The economic situation in our country presents us with challenges unseen for nearly a generation. Too many will sit in synagogues through this season and be equally concerned with their own economic situation as they will the state of their soul. Increasingly, senior citizens on fixed or limited incomes are seeing their resources challenged. Young adults are concerned about job security. Too many of our people of all ages have lost jobs, been downsized or live on the edge of job and financial uncertainty.

This reality presents our community with a unique and necessary opportunity to become an even more meaningful “caring community.” This is a time when no one should be left to feel that they are “l’vado” (alone). This is a time for community and relationships to be enhanced and expanded, so that our congregations can be seen as responsive to and involved with those who are hurting.

In every community are untapped human resources: people who may have some time to give, who have experienced life and, if asked, might be willing to assist leadership in developing support systems for individuals and families in need. At the least, a call can be made to members who have experience in the workplace, who have counseled people in job changes and career moves.

Establishing a congregational or communal service corps with members willing to give advice and direction — or just lend a sympathetic ear to those who might be searching for new directions — is one possible course of action.

During a similar economic downturn in the early 1980s, I worked in Philadelphia and was involved in helping congregations create a communitywide job bank. It had some success helping people in our community get back to work. We simply polled the members of the community’s congregations for possible job openings and advertised those openings throughout the area so members could see what was available from those within their own community.

This could be done again. Synagogues can join other local organizations, JCCs, Jewish Family Service and others to broaden the base of opportunities to search. Even in this day of electronic and Internet job searches, personal networking and relationships go a long way in opening doors.

A difficulty in some of this may be the unwillingness on the part of many to come forward. So often we face this challenge of having people admit they may need some assistance, guidance or help in establishing goals. Transitions are tough and filled with fear. But let us not forget the power of the pulpit. The simple act of the rabbi offering a sermon on the need for this type of caring “inreach” can help worshipers see their congregation as more than a life-cycle institution.

The High Holy Days are a perfect example of a moment in time when Jews attend synagogue. Why not take a few moments at each service to launch this internal support network? Why not have in each prayer book a form that someone can fill out who has a job opening or position request, or has a willingness to give time to counsel or advise a fellow congregant on career change and possibilities?

Use your caring community committee to organize these forms and launch, right after Yom Kippur, a Sukkot of Transition so that all can feel the possibility of a “sukkat shalom.”

We soon will enter our season of possibilities. In each of our communities there are those we need to support and those with the ability to create that sense of support and caring. All we need to do is ask.

Rabbi Richard F. Address is the director of Union for Reform Judaism’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns (www.urj.org/jfc).

Article courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency


Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore


Cult filmmaker Sarah Jacobson can one-up any L.A. Jewish reader who felt like an outcast in high school.

Her small-town Minnesota classmates told her she was going to burn in hell. “Everyone was really blond,” adds Jacobson, now 27. “It was like L.A., except in Minnesota, people are born that way.”

At Jacobson’s synagogue, meanwhile, “people were totally materialistic.”

And so, alienated from both sides of the mainstream, the honor student gravitated toward the fringe, driving her mom’s station wagon into Minneapolis to hang around the punk rock scene.

The filmmaker describes her teen angst in “Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore,” her gritty, ultra-low budget, sexually explicit film about a smart, suburban young Jewish woman in search of cool punk friends (and good sex) at the local B-movie theater.

Ranked by Spin magazine as one of the “50 Biggest Influences on Girl Culture,” the movie is not Jacobson’s first foray into guerrilla cinema. Inspired by her mentor, George Kuchar, “the King of trash filmmaking,” Jacobson scraped together $1,600 to make the half-hour “I was a Teenage Serial Killer,” when she was just 19. Film Threat magazine named the movie, about “a woman who kills dumb men,” one of the “Top 25 Underground Films You Must See.”

An unexpected business partner — her own mom — helped Jacobson raise the $50,000 required for “Mary Jane.” Unfazed by the flick’s mohawk-sporting stars, Ruth Jacobson moved to San Francisco and began sending postcards to strangers, asking for money. “My mom wanted me to have all the opportunities she never had for herself,” explains Sarah, who, in turn, offered her previously conventional Jewish mother a whole new career.

After “Mary Jane” played at Sundance in 1997, Sarah hauled the film to festivals around the country while mom worked on distribution.

Next up for mother and daughter: Sarah’s new movie, “Sleaze,” about “an all-girl band on tour in Missoula, Mont., who hook up with the town geek.” The name of the Jacobson’s production company: Station Wagon Productions.

“Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore” plays at the Nuart March 12-18.