Meant2Be: Barking up the right (family) tree


My whole married life I wanted a dog, but my husband and I always rented places that had “no pet” policies — not that it would deter me from constantly asking him for one. I was mostly joking, but secretly hoping he’d surprise me and bring one home from work someday. 

After all, he works at the Pasadena Humane Society & Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a bit of a tease for me. He would always reply with a kind “no,” and remind me of the no pet policy. However, he promised that once we moved to a place that allowed pets, we would adopt a dog. 

Just two weeks after moving into a new place earlier this year, that day came. 

The actual process of finding a dog was a little like internet dating. I browsed the Humane Society’s “Available Pets” page every day looking for a match, until I came across a pint-size, tri-color, female Chihuahua/papillon mix named Chalupa. I had been asking my husband about a number of dogs before coming across Chalupa — who looked like she was wearing boots with her white paws and brown legs — but many already had long waiting lists of other potential adopters. 

She was found as a stray and was adopted, but then quickly returned. We felt bad that she had to start the shelter process again, so we started the adoption process that day. Two days later — March 4 — she was in her new forever home with us.

” target=”_blank”>HolaSara.com and on social media

A pawsitive impact: bar mitzvah project aims to help families in need


Alex Michaels will tell you that his dog, Frisco, is no ordinary household pet.

As a trained therapy and service dog, the 2 1/2-year-old poodle is a primary comfort-giver and companion to Alex’s mom, Marlene Michaels, who is fighting stage 4 lung cancer. He stays by her side during the day when Alex; his older brother, Stephen; and his dad, Randy, are out. Frisco patiently accompanies Marlene to all her doctor appointments and the hospital for treatments. And he is a source of love and emotional support to the entire Michaels family as they struggle to cope with Marlene’s illness.

So when Alex, 13, of Westlake Village, considered what to do for his mitzvah project this year, he and his parents knew they wanted to help other families experience the joy that Frisco has given them. Alex, who celebrated his bar mitzvah on March 28 at Camp Ramah in Ojai, set up an online campaign to raise $5,000 to help pay the cost of training a service or therapy dog for other families. As of May 6, he’d raised more than half of his goal.

“I want to raise money to help more people,” said Alex, who attends the Conservative Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills. “I hope it’ll make them feel happy.”

His own family first thought about looking for a service dog for themselves in late 2012, shortly after Marlene was diagnosed. Randy said the family felt that having a dog would provide some relief from the constant focus on his wife’s cancer. 

A friend put them in touch with Jill Breitner, a service and therapy dog trainer who until recently was based in the Los Angeles area and now lives in Northern California. Breitner said she knew of a puppy that would be perfect for them, and the family arranged to meet her and Frisco at a park in Encino.

“It was love at first sight,” Randy said. “He really took not only to the boys but also was so warm and loving toward Marlene, which is a really good sign for a service dog.”

Over the next few months, Breitner trained Frisco, who lived with a breeder. By April 2013, Frisco was ready to begin life in his new home. Marlene said she was worried at first that having both a dog and children in the house would be too chaotic, but Frisco soon proved to be an uplifting and well-behaved member of the family.

“It’s like having a little friend. It’s like mental comfort,” said Marlene, who explained Frisco wears a service dog jacket that allows him to go everywhere with her, including medical facilities. “Wherever I go, he just comes with me. … He keeps me company, and he’s just very easy.” 

“I want to raise money to help more people. I hope it’ll make them feel happy.” — Alex Michaels

When it came time to begin his mitzvah project, Alex had a plan. He called his fundraising campaign “Pi for Pets”  (youcaring.com/piforpets) because, as he writes on his campaign page: “my birthday is 3.14, I love my Frisco to infinity and WHO DOESN’T LOVE PIE!!!!!”

Randy said the family has already identified one person in need and is working with the cancer treatment center City of Hope in Duarte to find others. He said the full cost of training a service dog can range between $5,000 and $10,000, so it won’t be possible to pay the full amount, but Alex plans to help offset about $750 for each family, depending on need. 

Breitner said she was impressed when Alex first talked about doing the project, which she said he did soon after his family got Frisco.

“I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what an incredible thing for an 11-year-old to think about doing,’ ” she said. “I think it’s awesome; I think it’s incredible. It’s a testament to the family in how they’ve raised this little munchkin who’s turning into being a wonderful young man.”

Breitner said the definition of service dogs has expanded greatly since the days when they were used primarily as visual aids for the blind. Today, service dogs are used to help people who have various disabilities, and they can perform tasks such as helping people open doors, pick things up, press buttons and carry groceries. Therapy dogs, which are different from service dogs, provide comfort and cheer to people with cancer and other illnesses, she said. Frisco is trained as both a therapy and a service dog, although he is being used as a therapy dog.

Randy said his family is excited to introduce more families to the benefits of having a well-trained service or therapy dog.

“I don’t think we ever imagined [Frisco] would make as much of an impact as he has on our lives,” he said. “It’s just really important for us to raise awareness for service animals to be trained properly and matched up with the right family.”

European rabbis: Shechitah could come under legislative attack in EU


A prominent European rabbinical group has warned that kosher slaughter could come under further attack this year in European Union countries.

“Many European Jewish communities are not aware that shechitah could be put in danger,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, wrote Tuesday in an email sent to multiple recipients.

The danger, he wrote, stems from governments’ reliance “on deeply flawed, agenda-led research when making policy.”

Goldschmidt pointed out that EU member countries are required to replace domestic laws on religious slaughter by January 2013 with European Regulation 1099, a set of new regulations meant to ensure animals do not experience “unnecessary suffering” at or near the time of the slaughter.

While the regulations allow exception for religious slaughter, they also allow “a certain level of subsidiarity,” or discretion, to each member state.

Goldschmidt noted the planned change in Estonia’s laws on ritual slaughter.

Last week an Estonian government official told JTA that Estonia would change its current laws on religious slaughter because the rituals “do not take new scientific knowledge into account.” There was no plan to ban the practice, she said.

The official added the change would be based on the EU-funded DialRel report of 2010, which states that kosher slaughter, or shechitah, causes higher risk, pain and suffering in animals than methods that involve stunning. Jewish religious law requires animals to be conscious when their necks are cut.

“European governments are increasingly making reference to the DialRel project as part of their implementation of European Regulation 1099,” Goldschmidt said. “Faith communities rejected the methodology and findings of DialRel in 2010 when it failed to properly engage with them.”

The report “was mentioned in the context” of the Dutch Parliament’s 2011 vote to ban shechitah, Goldschmidt noted. The Dutch Senate scrapped the measure in June.

Shechitah is banned in Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. Along with Estonia, countries that impose post-cut stunning include Finland, Denmark and Austria.

Calif. synagogue holding animal blessing


A Southern California synagogue is having its third annual “blessing of the animals.”

Congregation Dor Hadash in San Diego holds the event in honor of Tu b’Shevat, the 15th day of Nissan, which this year falls on Jan. 20.

Pet owners are invited to bring their pets to the Reconstructionist shul by noon Sunday, Jan. 9, where they will be blessed by Rabbi Yael Ridburg. Furred, winged and swimming creatures are all welcome—from cats to turtles.

Tu b’Shevat is known as the new year of trees, and is one of four “new year” celebrations on the Jewish calendar. Some Jews expand the holiday to include blessings for all living things produced by the earth, including plants and animals.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, last year’s blessing ceremony included the audience responding: “May they never suffer from ick, and may their fins and scales always sparkle in the light of your sunshine.”

But Is It Kosher?


In September 2003, Whole Foods quietly removed one brand of kosher chicken from its shelves and replaced it with a different brand.

The switch received little notice — outside of a Jewish Journal article — but it caught my eye. A representative for Whole Foods claimed the previous chicken brand didn’t meet the chain’s standard; its feed was not organic, and the chickens weren’t raised and slaughtered in the most humane way possible.

Up until then I’d assumed that kosher meant, well, kosher. It surprised me that a company well-known for its concern for animal well-being and food safety would deem anything kosher treif, or unfit. Long before Whole Foods was even a glimmer in the eye of the Prius-tocracy, hadn’t we Jews been telling ourselves and others that we were practicing humane slaughter and thoughtful animal husbandry — embodied in the very laws of kashrut? What did Whole Foods know that I didn’t?

It turns out Whole Foods was on to something seriously wrong with the kosher food industry, and the industry is due for a change.

I grew up eating meat of all kinds. One afternoon during my sophomore year at college, I found myself on an idyllic Maine isle, plunging a live lobster into a pot of boiling water. By dusk I was a vegetarian, and I stayed that way for the next 14 years. I wasn’t squeamish: I’d fished my whole life, and even hunted. As a cook in various restaurants, I’d gutted shoals of fish, whacked through sides of beef and deconstructed flocks of poultry. But at that moment I figured, if I could survive without taking another life, so much the better.

Then I met my wife, Naomi Levy, rabbi and carnivore.

I loved the woman very much, so I had to come to terms with two of her seemingly contradictory traits: She loved meat, and she didn’t cook. I still love her; she still loves meat, and she still doesn’t cook.

The thought of cooking two entrees a night for the rest of our lives didn’t appeal to me. I compromised and began eating fish. Then came the first of many Friday night meals together. I put a piece of grilled salmon on the Sabbath table, and Naomi put on her best game face: What’s Sabbath without roasted chicken? So I started eating chicken. And then came her pregnancies, when she expressed numerous times that a) she would kill for a big juicy grilled steak and b) she was carrying our baby.

So there was the occasional steak.

All along, I rationalized the meat on our table by its kosher pedigree. In my mind, and in the minds of most Jews, the meaning of “kosher” had long swelled beyond its strict Levitical denotation of permitted and forbidden animals and their prescribed method of slaughter. I believed that “kosher” meant a higher concern for cleanliness, for the health and welfare of the animals, for the sanctity of Creation.

And it wasn’t just me. The dictionary definition of “kosher” includes “genuine and legitimate.” If I had to kill to eat, at least the meat was kosher.

But the alarm bell that Whole Food rang was soon followed by a cacophony of criticism and investigation.

In December 2004, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released an undercover video taken at the AgriProcessors Inc. plant, a kosher beef abattoir in Postville, Iowa. The plant supplies kosher beef for the Aaron’s Best/Rubashkin brand. The tape showed practices that were obviously cruel and created a firestorm of criticism and countercharges. The Orthodox Union, which overseas the kashrut of the plant, said the offending practices would be corrected — they have been — and accused PETA of launching an assault on the institution of shechitah (kosher slaughter) itself.

The made-for-media PETA fracas birthed a larger, more thoughtful crossdenominational concern over current kosher slaughter practices. Earlier this year, Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the best-selling novel “Everything Is Illuminated” (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) and last year’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (Houghton Mifflin), released a PETA-produced video over the Internet that condemned modern kosher slaughter practices, calling them anathema to the spirit of the kosher laws.

The author’s calm, well-reasoned arguments are buttressed by on-camera interviews with Rabbi David Wolpe of the Conservative Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, the Orthodox founder of CLAL — The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

The video, titled “If This Is Kosher …,” is available for download at www.HumaneKosher.com. It interweaves Foer’s and the rabbis’ comments with footage from the AgriProccessors plant and from kosher egg and meat suppliers in Israel. In one scene, egg industry workers fill a plastic-lined, 55-gallon garbage can with live male chicks, superfluous to the process. In another shot, the bags are sealed and dumped.

“To be Jewish,” Foer says in the video, “is to strive to make the world less cruel and more just — not only for oneself and not only for one’s people but for everyone. One doesn’t have to consider animals as equal to humans — I don’t — to give them a place in this inspiring idea.”

Wolpe and Greenberg — both vegetarians — signed on to a letter, along with dozens of rabbis, calling on the Orthodox Union to do more to promote humane treatment of animals in the kosher facilities it oversees.

In the midst of these criticisms came the results of another investigation by The Forward newspaper last month charging the Rubashkin factory with unfair labor practices, unsafe working conditions and labor intimidation. “AgriProcessors’ final product — sold under the nationally popular Aaron’s Best brand — is priced significantly higher than standard meat,” reporter Nathaniel Popper wrote. “Its kosher seal gives it a seeming moral imprimatur in an industry known for harsh working conditions. But even in the unhappy world of meatpacking, people with comparative knowledge of AgriProcessors and other plants — including local religious leaders, professors, and union organizers — say that AgriProcessors stands out for its poor treatment of workers.”

The manager of the plant, Sholom Rubashkin, denied the charges, but the plant has been subject to half the violations in all Iowa meatpacking plants so far this year, according to The Forward’s analysis of OSHA statistics.

“The bottom line here is that I’m not sure these devout Jews are using Jewish ethics to treat their workers,” one critic said.

I don’t know if Rubashkin is the exception or the rule in an industry that is increasingly concentrated in a few large hands, and whose imprimatur of kashrut comes from a handful of rabbinic authorities.

But I do know my definition of kosher is now much more narrow. In marketing terms, the brand has been tarnished. Kosher is not necessarily clean, or humane, or just. Long synonymous in our hearts and minds with good and pure, kosher is in danger of meaning just one small group’s interpretation of what’s legal.

What happened?

The purveyors of kosher goods became prey to the same market forces that have undermined the integrity of the entire American food chain. The food industry has fed America’s insatiable appetite by disregarding health concerns and riding roughshod over animal welfare and environmental welfare.

The demand for meat has led to the industrialization of farming, to feedlots holding up to 100,000 cattle, to the rapid and often sloppy dispatch of thousands of animals per day.

Kosher slaughterers piggyback — so to speak — on this industry by sending rabbis into nonkosher slaughterhouses to kill selected animals. Rubashkin itself noted that it slaughtered 18,000 cows in a seven-week period, which it said inevitably leads to error.

Kosher food, which we had always taken to stand apart from and above from the larger culture, has acquiesced to some of the industry’s worst practices.

Strictly speaking, the laws of kashrut do not address issues of responsible, ethical food production and healthful eating.

“The nature of kashrut is thus at once mysterious and obvious,” scholar Meir Soloveichik wrote in a penetrating essay in the journal Azure’s winter issue. “While God does not explain the importance of cud-chewing or leaping, of split hooves or scales, the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.”

The exact meaning of these laws may remain obscure, but they are clearly meant to set us apart and elevate our souls.

For someone who loves both to pet animals and to eat them, the laws of kashrut speak to the tension between our higher and lower impulses, between the hunter Esau and the shepherd Jacob; between the carnivore wife and the conflicted husband.

Perhaps no religion better understands this eternal and inherent contradiction than Judaism. The laws of kashrut help us shuttle between our hungry selves and our compassionate ones, between the sanctity of all God’s creatures and their deliciousness.

If the kosher food industry is interested in retaining the deeper meaning of the label it bestows, its manufacturers and rabbis must figure out how to restore the spirit of kashrut to kashrut. The Jewish teaching of tza’ar ba’alei chayim — forbidding cruelty to animals because they are part of God’s creation — is the obvious place to start.

Kosher certifiers should cooperate with organizations like Animal Compassion Foundation, founded with a grant from Whole Foods, which are in the vanguard of conscientious animal husbandry and slaughter. The kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.

 

For the Kids


November Madness

In Old English, the month of November was called "blood month." It was a month of animal sacrifices that took place to prepare for the long winter. But what is the etymology of the word "November?"

Here’s a hint: The Roman calendar began in March (similar to the Jewish calendar, which begins in Nissan, around Passover). Send in the answer for a prize.

Autumn Arrives

Joshua Goldberg, 12, wrote this poem for his history class at A.J. Heschel Day School:

I peer out of my window to gaze at the autumn sky.

The wind whispers

through the trees.

A scent of roses fills my nose.

Leaves fall on to my windowsill — how I long to feel their smoothness.

It starts to drizzle and I can taste the little droplets on my tongue.

The feeling of autumn surrounds me, now it’s time to embrace it’s presence…

For the Kids


Nuturing Nature

Last week, we learned not to cut down the fruit trees of our enemies in times of war because, as the Torah says, the trees are “not our enemy.”

In this week’s parshah, Ki Tetze, the Torah continues its compassionate attitude toward nature’s creatures: Do not pull a baby bird out of its nest when its mother is around. If you have to do it (because you need to eat) do it when the mother is away from the nest.

It also reminds us to help — not ignore — an animal that has fallen down in the road. The Torah says to always be considerate and think about how your actions will affect the people and creatures around you.

Poetry Corner

Liat Chesed, 71¼2, of Los Angeles, writes:

I like to grow trees.

They’re beautiful and so green.

I plant and I plant.

I feel like a tree.

A Yiddle Riddle

Rabbi Levy was getting ready for synagogue in the month of Elul. All of a sudden, he heard a car honking its horn. He looked outside and there was a limousine with a driver parked outside his house. He realized that his students had misunderstood his request.

What had the rabbi asked for and what did his students bring him instead? (Hint: Two similar words — one in Hebrew and one in English.)

Send your answer to kids@jewishjournal.com .

The winner will receive a gift certificate to Baskin-Robbins.

News That’s Fit to Paw Print


In 1999, Lori Golden left a 25-year career in freelance television production when she found industry changes and “ageism” working against her. Struggling to make ends meet, Golden taught herself desktop publishing and, soon after, The Pet Press was born.

The paper’s primary goals are the promotion of animal adoption and rescue from overcrowded shelters, spaying/neutering and responsible pet care. Each issue spotlights a personality involved in some form of animal welfare work.

“Just because a person loves her dog or cat doesn’t mean she rates a cover story,” Golden said. Celebrity activists that have been featured include Betty White, Bea Arthur, Richard Pryor, Buddy Hackett, Ed Asner, James Cromwell, Shannon Elizabeth and Mary Tyler Moore with her dog, Shana Meydela.

Golden attributes her inspiration for The Pet Press to her own dog, Maxx, whom she rescued from an L.A. shelter. “She was dedicated, loving and loyal, and always by my side in good times and bad. I thought about all of the other wonderful dogs just like Maxx who were lying in animal shelters in Southern California,” she said.

I quickly discovered the phenomenal benefits of the barter system,” Golden said.

“It was a struggle, but because of a lot of chutzpah, and my father’s fantastic support and belief in me, the paper is now doing just fine.”

The free monthly paper, headquartered in Northridge, reaches more than 95,000 readers throughout greater Los Angeles and has grown from 20 pages to 40.

“The Pet Press is distributed to pet-related venues and many other places, including libraries, car washes and my favorite locations — Jewish delicatessens from Calabasas to Long Beach … and all points in between,” Golden said.

Although Golden admits she only attends services once a year for the High Holidays, in keeping true to her profession she makes The Pet Press available for the animal lovers who attend.

“Although I miss the excitement of entertainment,” she said, “I take great pride and satisfaction in knowing that my efforts are appreciated, and that I’m helping to save the lives of countless numbers of cats and dogs.”

For more information, visit

Wild Lessons


In Parshat Shemini, we learn which animals are kosher. Why did God create both kosher and non-kosher animals? The Talmud sages say that there is something we can learn from every animal.

We can learn to be industrious and honest from an ant. Ants are hardworking and they don’t steal from each other.
King David tried to fathom the meaning behind each animal, but he couldn’t figure out the spider. So, God showed King David how the spider could save a life.

When running for his life from King Saul, David hid in a cave. King Saul and his soldiers were searching everywhere. God sent a spider to spin a web over the opening of the cave in which David was hiding. When the soldiers came to his cave and saw it was covered with a spider’s web, they moved straight past, not imagining that the web was freshly made.

Did You Know?

The word for lovingkindness in Hebrew is chesed. The Hebrew word for stork that we find in the Bible is chasida. The rabbis say that the stork was given this name because this bird is very kind and generous with its food and shares with other birds.

What is Your Name?


God created the animals and brought them, one by one, before man to see what he would name them. Man examined the essence of each creature and assigned its name. So teaches Genesis.

The midrash goes farther: When all the animals had been named, God asked man, “What is your name?” And he said, “Adam.” Then God asked, “And what is my name?” And he answered, “Adonai, the Eternal.”

We spend a lifetime learning the names of everything around us. We acquire the survival skills of our culture — social codes, business skills, street smarts. We master the science of our generation. We earn creden-tials and degrees. We amass great quantities of knowledge and then discover that we’ve never learned the answer to the one real question — What is your name? Who are you? What are you made of?

It is a question each one of us must face. But it is unanswerable. At no point are we ever finished, at no point is our story ever complete. “You cannot measure a living tree,” wrote Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser, “only a fallen tree. A living tree is in a state of growth, and we cannot assess its stature. What it is at the moment is transitory, and it gives way to the tree’s continuous unfolding. And so it is with people.” The meaning of today is determined by tomorrow. The meaning of one’s life is held in the hands of others.

I stand before a bar mitzvah to offer him the responsibilities and blessings of Jewish adulthood. But before I begin to speak, I catch a glimpse of his grandparents sitting in the first row. They are survivors — the holy remnant of European Jewry. Their eyes have seen what no eyes ever should see. These people, who stood at the gates of hell, in the presence of Mengele himself, today sit here to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of a grandson. Suddenly, the moment takes on a new meaning.

Has this boy in his shiny new Bar Mitzvah suit any clue what torturous choices had to be faced, what perilous risks confronted, what agonies endured so that he could stand here today? Should he? Does he recognize his own role in this? He is, after all, the reason they lived. It was for him that they persevered. His life — the choices he makes — either justifies their courage or throws it into absurdity. Surely it is unfair to lay upon his delicate shoulders such a burden. But it is a reality he must grow to understand. And one day, he may find dignity and courage, purpose and vision in upholding this legacy.

Kohelet, the author of the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes, found bitter irony in this: “I loathe all that I had toiled for under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will succeed me — and who knows whether he will be wise or foolish? And he will control all I toiled for under the sun … that too is futile!”

No, not futile. This is faith. We can never answer God’s question because the answer is always beyond us. We entrust the answer — our identity and eternity — to the hands of others.

Even God knows this. “What is My name?” God asks us. What will you call Me? What will you make of My name in your world, your life? The fate of God lies in our hands. “Where in the universe does God dwell?” asked the Kotzker Rebbe. And then he answered his own question: “Wherever we let God in.”

“I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make myself known to them by My name”(Exodus 6:2). So begins this week’s Torah portion. Then God reveals the Name. But though the letters are spelled out, the name cannot be pronounced. In Judaism, God’s name cannot be uttered. Because God is never finished. We’re never finished. Our story, our history isn’t over. We worship a God whose name we cannot articulate. Ours is a God who offers a future eternally open, a future of infinite possibilities and promise. Ours is a future whose name cannot be pronounced.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Service for the Dogs and Cats


The rabbi wore a pooch-print tie.

The rebbetzin sported a pussycat brooch and a doggy bone pin “to give equal time” to man’s best friends. The congregants arrived two by two, with canines and felines in tow.

On the occasion of Parshat Noach – the yearly Torah reading of the Noah’s Ark story – some 40 members of B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester gathered for their fourth annual “Celebration of the Animals” on the shul’s cement courtyard. Rabbi Michael Beals’ collie, Yofi (“Beautiful” in Hebrew), shook paws to the command of “Shalom.” A 100-pound great Pyrenees named Romeo nonchalantly sat in his own chair. Westchester United Methodist Rev. John W. Mills, Jr. fussed over his feisty Jack Russell terrier as someone introduced a 13-year-old mixed-breed named Bubbie. There were chows and West Highland terriers, tabbies and mutts, meowing and yapping along with the animal-related readings. The unique program just won an award of excellence in the ritual category of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Beals noted over the cheerful din. “There’s never been an event like this in Conservative Judaism, or any Judaism,” he said, cradling his blue-eyed ragdoll cat, Shovav (“Naughty”).It all began while Beals was finishing up at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, when his veterinarian wife, Elissa, noted the line that stretched all the way down Amsterdam Avenue the day the local Episcopal cathedral offered its “Blessing of the Animals.” “She came home, all excited, and said, ‘We should do this,'” Beals recalls. “And I said, ‘Uh, well…'”

A “Celebration of the Animals” would be liturgically correct, Beals discovered, after finding myriad animal references in classic Jewish texts. Moses, for example, gets the OK to lead the Jewish “flock” after he’s concerned enough to search the desert for a lost sheep.

At the B’nai Tikvah celebration, participants shared shaggy dog stories in between readings from Talmud and the Tur (a medieval Jewish commentary). Richard Seigel, 9, described how his beagle-mix, Jazzy, was rescued from an abandoned trailer; the mutt’s since been known to bury bagels in the backyard. A mom spoke of how her golden lab, Lady, previously a breeding female, had never lived in a house and was scared of TV when she was adopted by the family. Now the pooch is helping her 5-year-old daughter to sleep in her own bed.

The owner of a couple of Australian blue shepherds confided that “Celebration of the Animals” brought him to shul for the first time ever. “An event like this helps get people through the door to encounter their Judaism,” concurs Beals, who hopes other temples will follow suit.

“We want lots of copycats,” he quips.

People interested in organizing “Celebration of the Animals” at their own shuls can call Rabbi Beals for information at (310) 645-6262.

Operation: GobbleCrying ‘fowl’ on Thanksgiving by feeding, not eating, a turkey.


Judaism commands us to be kind to animals.

Thus I don’t eat them and I don’t keep them as pets. But this Thanksgiving, I’ve gone a step further. I’ve rescued one.

“Oh great, you adopted some foul fowl,” my husband, Larry, says.

“Not any old fowl,” I answer, “but Pumpkin, a 40-pound domestic white turkey who was found abandoned at a hatchery loading dock. I saved her life.”

Indeed, Pumpkin will be served a scrumptious Thanksgiving feast instead of being served as one.She will dine on cranberries, grapes, lettuce, popcorn and pumpkin pie with her fellow feathered friends at a farm sanctuary in upstate New York.

“But you can’t have Thanksgiving without the turkey,” my three omnivorous sons, aged 16, 13 and 11, protest. “It’s tradition.”

Even the 9-year-old vegetarian, who won’t share a tube of toothpaste with his meat-eating brothers, chimes in. “It’s tradition. Like when you make latkes for Chanukah, you have to kill some potatoes.”

But, ironically, turkey, by most accounts, was conspicuously absent from the first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621.

The feast, most likely a customary fall harvest festival for both cultures, consisted of foods such as cornmeal mush, nuts, fruits, popcorn and breadstuffs. Meat, if there was any, was probably some deer meat and game birds. Or perhaps some fish.

Turkeys came later. As did the actual holiday, which was not officially proclaimed and uniformly celebrated until Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, designated the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.

And 11 years later, the first Thanksgiving Day football game was played, introducing yet another tradition popular in my testosterone-heavy household.

But, for me, Thanksgiving has become less about calorie consumption and combat and more about compassion.

For it was 10 years ago, while preparing one of Pumpkin’s predecessors, that I became acutely aware that the poor bird, never mind that it could drown itself if it looked up during a rainstorm, was once a living creature. On the spot, I became a vegetarian.

But it was thousands of years ago that the Torah taught us the mitzvah of tza’ar ba’alei chayim (not causing pain to animals). Maimonides, the medieval sage, traces this command back to Numbers 22:32, where the angel of the Lord says to Balaam, “Why have you beaten your ass these three times?”

Other biblical laws involving compassion toward animals abound. Deuteronomy 11:15, “I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle – and thus you shall eat your fill,” has been interpreted by the Talmudic rabbis to mean that a person should not eat or drink before providing for his animals. And Deuteronomy 22:10 states, “You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together.”

Judaism, however, clearly differentiates human life from animal life, always stressing the unique value of humans. But the two are not unrelated. As Maimonides says, “If the law provides that such grief should not be caused to cattle or birds, how much more careful must we be not to cause grief to our fellow man.”

Plus, it’s not by chance that some of America’s most notorious mass murderers, including Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler,” and Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibalistic murderer, tortured and killed small animals as children.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of a Nobel Prize in literature and dedicated vegetarian, once said, “How can we pray to God for mercy if we ourselves have no mercy?” He added, “I personally believe that as long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace.”

But life is full of compromises. After the flood, for example, during a period of declining moral standards, of men eating limbs torn from living animals, God concedes to man the right to eat meat. He stipulates in Genesis 9:4, however, that “flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat,” meaning that the animal must be killed and the blood, synonymous with life, removed.

And I’ve conceded to my family the right to eat turkey at our Thanksgiving feast. Though this year, in an acknowledgment of what she calls my “increased evangelicalism,” my mother has willingly agreed to cook a free-range turkey, one not genetically engineered nor inhumanely raised under “factory farm” conditions. “Besides,” she says, “it tastes better.”

For my part, I will be bringing the traditional carrot pudding and the increasingly traditional vegetarian nut loaf. I will also be bringing, with the hope of inaugurating a new Thanksgiving custom and instilling an increased awareness of the sanctity of all life, a framed photograph of my adopted turkey, Pumpkin.

What to Do With Your Kids

Saturday, Nov. 18:

Santa Monica Public Library hosts a Children’s Book Festival, featuring storytellers, crafts, a puppet show, and authors and illustrators, including Sid Fleischman and Karen Winnick. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 1343 Sixth St., Santa Monica. For more information, call (310) 458-8600.

Sunday, Nov. 19:

Singer, songwriter and children’s author Barney Salzberg will perform and sign copies of his books following the Children’s Book Fair at B’nai Tikvah Congregation. $7. Performance at 1 p.m.; book fair 9 a.m.-1 p.m. 5820 W. Manchester Ave., Westchester. For more information, call (310) 649-4051.

Sunday, Nov. 19:

The Shirettes, featuring Pearl B., Sue Epstein, Judy Farber, Cindy Paley and Ditza Zakay sing in a Jewish Children’s Concert at Adat Ari El. $5. 11 a.m. 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. For more information, call (818) 766-9426 ext. 652.

Let’s Hear It for the Ram


Sunset on Sunday. As Rosh Hashanah was ending, the local Chabad rabbi and a friend were walking down the hillside outside my home carrying rams’ horns.

“Hey Marlene, have you heard the shofar yet?” the young rabbi inquired. Of course I had, but it was wonderful to be asked. The sight of two men wearing fringes and yarmulkes walking around Malibu blowing ancient shepherd’s horns filled me with a bizarre delight. Not one-quarter mile from the set of “Baywatch,” we began a conversation about that morning’s Torah portion, the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. The sparing of Abraham’s son is regarded by the rabbis as the first act of moral grandeur separating Jews from the heathens that surrounded them. Here we were: A woman (me) and two Chabadniks debating the meaning of Judaism’s fundamental text! Perhaps the millennium is at hand.

But the whimsy of the moment soon wafted away. What they shared with me had extraordinary currency and, in fact, had been on my mind all week. Was Abraham, the first Jew, justified in bringing his son Isaac to the sacrificial pyre, regardless that he claimed to hear the voice of God?

“The answer is in the donkey,” the rabbi told me. “The Torah says that before Abraham ties up Isaac, he restrains his donkey. Why the donkey?”

So I knew what the rabbi was saying: All of nature was appalled by the offering of Isaac; even the lowly donkey that carried the sacrificial wood had to be restrained, or it would bolt in fury as Abraham’s son was being slaughtered.

But what about the ram caught in the thicket? Was it right to substitute the ram for the son? My very own prayer book had suggested as much that very morning.

“The hero of the Akedah is the ram,” one commentator said. “The innocent ram who gave up his life.”

This question — about the relative value of animals and humans, and who among us is expendable — is the core of the most incendiary philosophical work of our time: the ideas of Peter Singer. The Australian thinker, whom the New Yorker calls the most influential philosopher alive today, this month has taken up a tenured faculty position at Princeton. His views defending abortion, euthanasia and animal rights are so extreme that his appointment led to the biggest protests (especially from the physically disabled) seen on the New Jersey campus since the arrival of the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell, some 50 years ago.

The truth is that I agree with Singer on almost everything. If I have a hard time defending late-term abortions once the fetus is viable, I can understand why Singer insists that we’re talking only about degrees of consciousness. When he argues in favor of the “infanticide” of a deformed or hemophiliac child, it’s not because he’s a child-killer, but to make the larger point that unnecessary suffering must be avoided. When he supports Jack Kevorkian’s attempts to help people die (though Singer personally has a team of home health-care workers for his own aged mother, who has Alzheimer’s), because he knows that once full life is over, it’s a living hell.

But what drives me bonkers about Singer is his view on animals. Here, when we part company, it’s because I am a Jew. (He’s Jewish too, but says it didn’t take.) Judaism says it’s better to be a human than an animal; that creativity and utility are our obligation, and that when there’s a choice between man and animal, choose the man. Moreover, Judaism holds (through Martin Buber) that the relationship with God begins with the spoken word and is defined by the human ability to engage in dialogue with a creator. And, as Heschel has written, Jews do not worship nature and do not find all life equal. There is an order and priority in the universe: a boy and a ram are not equal.

Singer’s work, especially the book “Animal Liberation,” directly challenges all this.

He holds no truck with the greater sanctity of human life.

As Michael Specter reports in a lengthy New Yorker profile, Singer believes that a person who would hold out greater concern for people than animals is a “speciest,” and the harm done to animals is equal to “the centuries of tyranny by white humans over blacks humans.” For him, the substitution of a ram for a child in the Akedah was no great step for mankind.

Well, I’ll make this clear. I am no member of PETA and if I had a good mink I would wear one. I just bought a new purse that is not only leather, but leather-lined! I like it that rats get a chance to try out new vaccines before they’re inoculated on me. And when your father holds a knife over your head, you’ll substitute anything quick. If that makes me a speciest, well, OK.

What a strange era we are living in. At the Passover seder, we spill drops of blood for the harm caused innocent Egyptians. Now here, if Singer has his way, next year we’ll be reading the Binding of Isaac, happy that the boy went free, but grieving for the ram.

Oh, puh-leese.



Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, is author of “A Woman’s Voice: Reflections on Love, Death, Faith, Food & Family Life” (On The Way Press.) Join Marlene Adler Marks on Sunday, Sept. 26, at 11 a.m., when her Conversations series resumes at the Skirball Cultural Center. Her topic: “Jewish Women and Hollywood.”

Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.

Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.

Jerusalem’s Catwoman


Gotham City had its Catwoman. Now Jerusalem has one of its own. Only this one isn’t causing chaos for our Caped Crusaders. Quite the contrary.

Recently, American-raised Tova Saul, who made aliyah 17 years ago, has become something of a folk hero in the streets of the Old City, especially among its population of stray cats. An observant Jew and an avid cat lover, Saul has dedicated her existence to saving felines from an uncertain fate on the Jewish Quarter’s mean streets. Working closely with sympathetic vets, Saul is bringing these unwanted animals back to health, and her current goal is to have every female cat in the Old City spayed before spring.

Saul is not without her helpers. Moslems, Christians and Jews all bring her rescued kittens, injured animals and leftover food for her efforts. And Angeleno Lili Feingold has brought over 16 cats from Israel, with the intention of placing them in fine homes. The animals arrive with a certificate of health and vaccination record from a Jerusalem vet.

Saul and Feingold are currently looking for Angelenos to help the cause. Anyone interested in adopting an Israeli kitten or helping transport cats from Israel can contact Lili at her e-mail address: Lilush14@aol.com. The pets now available have been checked by Shendandoah Animal Clinic. And, jokes Feingold, “all the cats understand English!” — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor


TR>

Up Front


Illustration by Shelley Adler

Cat-Aid

Yes, Israel has bigger problems than its cats anddogs. But, as the cliché goes — we think it was original whenGeorge Bernard Shaw said it — the truest measure of a society’sadvancement is how it treats its animals.

According to the people behind the Cat WelfareSociety, Israel’s got a ways to go. “Most Israelis generally dislikecats,” says Donna Pallas, a Los Angeles-based friend of thesociety.

Pallas was visiting Israel last December when shefound an abandoned kitten on the grounds of her hotel. Looking forhelp, she came across the society, based at Moshav Gan Haim.

She also discovered along the way that 90 percentof all pets in Israel are eventually abandoned, according to theJerusalem Post. The problem takes a tragic toll: Three Israelis diedlast year after contacting rabies, which spreads quickly throughstray populations.

The nonprofit society has a hospital, clinic andcat runs. Since its founding in 1990, it has neutered 3,500 cats andcared for more than 10,000, housing 300 at a time. The society reliesalmost completely on donations to continue its work. For moreinformation, call them in Israel at 011-972-9-902491 or write the CatWelfare Society, at Moshav Gan Haim 44910, Israel. — Staff Report

Cupful of Spirituality

Next month,Starbucks’ customers will be able to order up spirituality with theirdouble latte.

Copies of the paperback edition of “InvisibleLines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary,” by RabbiLawrence Kushner (Jewish Lights), will be on sale in more than 400Starbucks shops around the country, including Los Angeleslocations.

A spokesperson for Starbucks in Seattle confirmedthat this is the first Jewish-oriented title the chain has offered.The book — a collection of stories written in a style described byNew York Jewish Week as “somewhere between vignette, personal essayand prayer” — is part of Starbucks’ newest book promotion, whichties in with the spring holiday season. “Pat the Bunny,” a populargift book, is also part of the promotion.

“It just struck me as a book full of verymeaningful little epiphanies about life, about people’s lives today,”said the spokesperson, who selected “Invisible Lines of Connection.”He praised Kushner’s “down-to-earth style and openheartedapproach.”

Stuart Matlins, president of Jewish Lights, pointsout that the book “appeals to people of all faiths.” He believes thatKushner’s brief inspirational stories are “the perfect thing to readover a cup of coffee.”

For Matlins, whose innovative, small publishingcompany is based in Woodstock, Vt. (where there are no Starbucksshops), the Starbucks connection is a dream come true. “Our wholefantasy since the beginning of Jewish Lights [in 1990] has been toreach out to Jews where they go, which all too often is not thesynagogue, and show them the relevance of Jewish life.”– Sandee Brawarsky

The Painting Party

Racial segregation is anathema to American life,but age segregation is still an accepted fact of it. The people atthe Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda have set out to change that,operating on the belief that youth and age have much to offer eachother. We agree. That’s why, on Sunday, March 1, you’ll find Up Frontat JHA’s Multi-Generational Tile Painting Party, to be held from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. at JHA’s Grancell Village, 7150 Tampa Blvd.

At the party, children can paint tiles howeverthey wish. The finished glazed tiles will be mounted on the walls ofthe JHA’s garden to create a colorful backdrop. It is “a bridgebetween generations,” said Cynthia Seider, the event chair.

Adults can help paint too, of course, and there’llbe clowns, music, food, face painting and other activities for thechildren.

The event is sponsored by the Los AngelesSephardic Home for the Aging, which raises funds for the Jewish Homeand provides elderly outreach.

Organizers say they need 10,000 tiles for thewall. Donations to purchase the tiles begin at $20. For moreinformation, call (818) 774-3330. — StaffReport

Olympic Memories

His performance wasn’t golden in Nagano, but histallitwas.

Figure skater Misha Shmerkin, Israel’s first-everathlete to enter the Winter Olympics — he was 16th at Lillehammer,Norway, in 1992 — finished 18th out of 29 in the men’s competitionthis week in Japan. Israel’s other Winter Olympians, ice dancersGalit Chait and Sergei Saknovsky, finished 14th out of 24 in theirfirst Olympic appearance.

Two known Jewish members of the U.S. Olympic teamearned medals. Goaltender Sara De Costa took gold with the women’shockey team. Luger Gordy Sheer won silver with partner ChrisThorpe.

The performance of the Israeli skaters was a “giftto our state,” said delegation head Yossi Goldberg. “They representedthe best of Israel and the Jewish nation.”

Shmerkin, a 27-year-old Odessa native, skated hisprograms to a medley of Middle Eastern and Ashkenazic music,including “Hava Nagila.” His costume in the short program featured agold shirt with a menorah embroidered on the back, and a gold tallit.For the free program, he donned an outfit of black, green and redthat was patterned after the typical clothing of immigrants fromEastern Europe.

“It was my idea. [Everything] is a symbol ofJews,” Shmerkin said. “I want to say thank you to Israel.”

Chait and Saknovsky, whose musical accompanimentof traditional Jewish music included “Bei Mir Bist Du Shein,” worequasi-Chassidic costumes: Hers was a long dress, his a vest and darkslacks.

Chait, 22, of Paramus, N.J., said that a highlightfor her and Saknovsky, also 22, from Moscow, was the raising of theIsraeli flag in the Olympic Village. Japanese children sang”Hatikvah” and other Israeli songs. “It was an unbelievableexperience,” she said.

The pair plans to enter the 2002 Olympics in SaltLake City, Utah. — SteveLipman, JTA


Reviving a Shul, One Goat at a Time


Note to future rabbis: If you want to make a lasting firstimpression with your congregants, nothing beats farm animals on thebimah. Just ask anyone at Temple Adat Shalom in West LosAngeles. It’s been almost four months since Michael Resnick took overthere, and they’re still talking about his goats.

Mort Schrag, the congregation’s president, put it succinctly: “Hereally has a lot of unique approaches.”

Resnick trotted the two goats out in front of the congregationduring his sermon on Yom Kippur. Earlier that week, he was driving tohis parents’home in Northridge, wondering how he could bring thebiblical concept of the scapegoat — recounted in the holiday’s Torahportion — alive for his congregants. He passed a petting zoo thatadvertised animal rentals.

Fast-forward to Yom Kippur. Resnick lays out a waterproof tarp onthe bimah — one of the goats is called Tinkle, a name based purelyon reputation. The rabbi takes a long dagger from his lectern andthen, in accordance with the biblical narrative, draws lots todetermine which goat will be slaughtered for the sins of thecongregation, and which will be set free. Amid nervous laughter andrapt silence, some 700 congregants watch the tall, commanding40-year-old grasp the doomed goat, raise its neck, and draw the bladeacross its throat.

“Don’t worry,” says the rabbi, patting the animal’s head andputting aside the dagger, which is just a letter opener. “We’re notgoing to hurt this little goat.” The point of the exercise, he tellsthe assembly, is that “no one can make atonement for ourtransgressions but ourselves.”

Whether the congregation took the sermon to heart is hard to tell– until next Yom Kippur. But there is no question that the new rabbigot congregants’ attention. And that, as any rabbi in the late 20thcentury will tell you, is at least half the battle.

“Whatever I can do to make the traditions come alive and berelevant,” Resnick says during an interview in his office, “I’lltry.”

The creative approach seems to fit the youthful, energetic rabbi.A native of Sepulveda, he attended Har Zion Synagogue (it has sincemerged with Temple Ramat Zion) but stopped his Jewish education atage 13. After graduating from Cal State Northridge, he embarked on acareer in advertising. But a visit to Israel during the Gulf Warinspired him to change course. He attended the Pardes Institutethere, then returned to the States to study and receive hisordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

He took the pulpit of Adat Shalom in August, replacing therecently retired Rabbi Morton Wallach, who served there for 24 years.Demographic shifts had been tough on the 50-year-old Conservativeshul, whose modern structure sits on a prime block of Westside realestate across from Trader Joe’s market on National Boulevard. AdatShalom has been losing members for the past six years. About 250families and individuals belong to the congregation now, down from apeak of 450. The decline also plunged the shul into a series offinancial crises. “We need to energize the congregation and attractyoung families,” said Schrag.

Resnick, then, seems the perfect fit. In his final year at JTS, heserved as rabbi to the Jewish Home for the Aged in Manhattan. “Therewere 500 people over 90 years old. I did 150 funerals,” he says. Buthe also learned to lead inspiring, song-filled services, based, inpart, on his experience at such lively New York congregations asB’nai Jeshurun, which draws hundreds of young people to Shabbatservices.

The rabbi is working to create some of that same magic on theWestside. “When Judaism is made relevant and alive and exciting,people respond. People are looking for a sense of belonging, arelationship with their tradition,” he said.

Along with a new rabbi, the synagogue also hired a new cantor,Ralph Resnick. The two are not related, but members have startedreferring to their shul as Resnick & Resnick.

On Sukkot, both rabbi and cantor joined with a klezmer band tolead congregants in the procession with the Torah, and provided icecream sundaes for the children. The issue of whether to have music inConservative ceremonies is a touchy one, but Rabbi Resnick sees thevalue in raising it. “I want people to wrestle with what it means tobe a Jew. I can’t force anyone to keep kosher, but I can challengethem.”

Resnick also wants to create social-action programs and developbonds with local non-Jewish congregations. He hopes to create ascholar-in-residence program and build up the temple’s preschool andreligious school, which now have about 80 children.

“I want Judaism to be surprising,” says the rabbi.

Chabad’s Shofar Factory…



Chabad’s Shofar Factory…

It’s a Blast

Thousands of Los Angeles-area youngsters participate inhands-on workshops

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

<

Quick, what’s a kosher animal with horns that can be used to makea shofar?

Uh, well, everyone knows the answer to that. A ram, right?

OK. Right. But name another kosher animal with horns good formaking a shofar.

Bzzzzzz! Your time is up.

But the several thousand Los Angeles-area day- and Hebrew-schoolchildren participating in Chabad’s Traveling Shofar Factory know theanswer: The long, spiraling horns of the male kudu, a type of Africanantelope, are often used to make the shofarim employed in Sephardicsynagogues.

The shofar workshops, at which each class cooperates in theprocess of sawing, sanding, shellacking and, of course, testing, havebeen proceeding for the past few weeks, leading up to the HighHolidays, with little fanfare (except of the musical variety) butplenty of bad puns.

“Shofar so good!” the green sign blinked for correct answersduring last Sunday’s game-show-like quiz at Temple Akiba in CulverCity. The game followed a presentation on the relative merits anddemerits of various horned animals in shofar making. With more than60 fourth- through seventh-graders, plus several parents andteachers, in attendance, Rabbi Simcha Backman, using a long, thinhorn as a pointer, explained how the pronged horns of “Danny theDeer,” who was on loan from the Museum of Natural History, would notdo, even though Danny was kosher. “Rabon the Ram,” though alsomounted, looked happier than sad-eyed Danny. After all, his horns,which never fall off and are not pronged, are just right for making ashofar.

An elephant, the rabbi said, isn’t kosher, because it doesn’t havehooves or chew its cud. Even if it were kosher, its tusks are teeth,not horns. A giraffe, on the other hand, is kosher, but the knobs ontop of its head don’t qualify as horns. Now, the enormous, curvedhorns of the cape buffalo — a sample of which was passed around –look perfect for an oversized shofar, and the animal is kosher. Butthey can’t be used, because the buffalo is related to the cow.

“Many thousands of years ago, when the Jews came out of Egypt,they made a mistake — they built a golden calf,” Backman said. “Wecan’t use the cape buffalo, because it might remind God of the Jews’mistake.”

The high point, of course, was making a shofar. The process soundssimple, but it isn’t. Thankfully, the messiest part is accomplishedbefore the children ever got started. The horns, which come fromslaughterhouses (the meat is used for food, since, in Jewish law, theanimal can’t be wasted), are first boiled all day in water, and thecartilage is removed, explained Chaim Cunin, public relationsdirector for West Coast Chabad, which is orchestrating the travelingshofar factory’s busy Los Angeles schedule. “It smells pretty awful.”

At Temple Akiba, groups of children crowded around tables in thesynagogue’s auditorium as Backman and several other Chabad rabbis andrabbinical students circulated, pitching in when needed. First, thechildren, fitted with goggles, took turns sawing off the ends of thehollowed-out ram’s horns, which were secured in metal vices. “Itsmells, but it’s fun,” said teacher’s assistant Lauren Brody,wrinkling her nose.

After taking turns sanding down the horns’ rough, mottledexteriors with sandpaper, they handed them over to Backman and MendelZacklikovsky for further sanding on a machine. The process was usedto form a pointed mouthpiece, into which the hole was widened andshaped, then tested by the children.

Twelve-year-old Josh Salz, in a purple Lakers shirt and red cap,brought forth a startling blast as everyone clapped. “He’s anatural!” Backman said.

Shellacked with polyurethane, the shofarim were fitted ontoredwood plaques for classroom display, and accompanied bycertificates of authenticity.

For several hours after the Hebrew-school children had departed,individual families gathered around tables, making their own shofarimfor an extra fee. More than 100 children participated in all, saidMiriam Hamrell, director of religious education at Temple Akiba.Cunin estimated that close to 8,000 Jewish youngsters will take partin the workshops at synagogues, day schools and Jewish communitycenters, from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay, by the end ofthe month.

“We were searching for a creative way to get kids involved in theHigh Holidays — something more exciting than baking honey cake,”Cunin said. “If you want to take one thing that represents RoshHashanah, that represents tradition and heritage, it’s the shofar.”

For Chabad educational programs, call (310) 208-7511, ext.202.

At Chabad’s Traveling Shofar Factory, students saw, sand and doa sound check on their own shofarim. Pictured are students fromTemple Beth Am’s Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy in Los Angeles. Thelarge horn (left) is from a Cape buffalo and can’t be used to make ashofar.

Chabad’s Shofar Factory…It’s a Blast


Thousands of Los Angeles-area youngsters participate inhands-on workshops

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

Quick, what’s a kosher animal with horns that can be used to makea shofar?

Uh, well, everyone knows the answer to that. A ram, right?

OK. Right. But name another kosher animal with horns good formaking a shofar.

Bzzzzzz! Your time is up.

But the several thousand Los Angeles-area day- and Hebrew-schoolchildren participating in Chabad’s Traveling Shofar Factory know theanswer: The long, spiraling horns of the male kudu, a type of Africanantelope, are often used to make the shofarim employed in Sephardicsynagogues.

The shofar workshops, at which each class cooperates in theprocess of sawing, sanding, shellacking and, of course, testing, havebeen proceeding for the past few weeks, leading up to the HighHolidays, with little fanfare (except of the musical variety) butplenty of bad puns.

“Shofar so good!” the green sign blinked for correct answersduring last Sunday’s game-show-like quiz at Temple Akiba in CulverCity. The game followed a presentation on the relative merits anddemerits of various horned animals in shofar making. With more than60 fourth- through seventh-graders, plus several parents andteachers, in attendance, Rabbi Simcha Backman, using a long, thinhorn as a pointer, explained how the pronged horns of “Danny theDeer,” who was on loan from the Museum of Natural History, would notdo, even though Danny was kosher. “Rabon the Ram,” though alsomounted, looked happier than sad-eyed Danny. After all, his horns,which never fall off and are not pronged, are just right for making ashofar.

An elephant, the rabbi said, isn’t kosher, because it doesn’t havehooves or chew its cud. Even if it were kosher, its tusks are teeth,not horns. A giraffe, on the other hand, is kosher, but the knobs ontop of its head don’t qualify as horns. Now, the enormous, curvedhorns of the cape buffalo — a sample of which was passed around –look perfect for an oversized shofar, and the animal is kosher. Butthey can’t be used, because the buffalo is related to the cow.

“Many thousands of years ago, when the Jews came out of Egypt,they made a mistake — they built a golden calf,” Backman said. “Wecan’t use the cape buffalo, because it might remind God of the Jews’mistake.”

The high point, of course, was making a shofar. The process soundssimple, but it isn’t. Thankfully, the messiest part is accomplishedbefore the children ever got started. The horns, which come fromslaughterhouses (the meat is used for food, since, in Jewish law, theanimal can’t be wasted), are first boiled all day in water, and thecartilage is removed, explained Chaim Cunin, public relationsdirector for West Coast Chabad, which is orchestrating the travelingshofar factory’s busy Los Angeles schedule. “It smells pretty awful.”

At Temple Akiba, groups of children crowded around tables in thesynagogue’s auditorium as Backman and several other Chabad rabbis andrabbinical students circulated, pitching in when needed. First, thechildren, fitted with goggles, took turns sawing off the ends of thehollowed-out ram’s horns, which were secured in metal vices. “Itsmells, but it’s fun,” said teacher’s assistant Lauren Brody,wrinkling her nose.

After taking turns sanding down the horns’ rough, mottledexteriors with sandpaper, they handed them over to Backman and MendelZacklikovsky for further sanding on a machine. The process was usedto form a pointed mouthpiece, into which the hole was widened andshaped, then tested by the children.

Twelve-year-old Josh Salz, in a purple Lakers shirt and red cap,brought forth a startling blast as everyone clapped. “He’s anatural!” Backman said.

Shellacked with polyurethane, the shofarim were fitted ontoredwood plaques for classroom display, and accompanied bycertificates of authenticity.

For several hours after the Hebrew-school children had departed,individual families gathered around tables, making their own shofarimfor an extra fee. More than 100 children participated in all, saidMiriam Hamrell, director of religious education at Temple Akiba.Cunin estimated that close to 8,000 Jewish youngsters will take partin the workshops at synagogues, day schools and Jewish communitycenters, from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay, by the end ofthe month.

“We were searching for a creative way to get kids involved in theHigh Holidays — something more exciting than baking honey cake,”Cunin said. “If you want to take one thing that represents RoshHashanah, that represents tradition and heritage, it’s the shofar.”

For Chabad educational programs, call (310) 208-7511, ext.202.

At Chabad’s Traveling Shofar Factory, students saw, sand and doa sound check on their own shofarim. Pictured are students fromTemple Beth Am’s Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy in Los Angeles. Thelarge horn (left) is from a Cape buffalo and can’t be used to make ashofar.