All That Glitters


My friend had somehow convinced me to get my makeup done. “It brings out your features so stunningly,” she continued, as we
exited the Barney’s cosmetics department. “Don’t you see how people are looking at you? You’re gorgeous!”

“I feel like I’m wearing a mask,” I retorted.

She shrugged with resignation. “You’re ridiculous,” she said.

I do realize that my tendency toward diminishing rather than accentuating my appearance diverges from the mainstream, particularly in Los Angeles, a city consumed with “looking good.” I’ve become something of a renegade in my propensity toward subtlety rather than flash. The notion of attending to my superficial appearance feels dangerously hypocritical: a submission to the insatiable ego, rather than an allegiance with the soul.

I have seen the pain caused by worshipping material: people’s futile attempts to hide feelings of fear, disconnection and inadequacy behind sexy outfits, fancy cars, strong drinks and flashy jewelry.

What good has come from it? The brighter their stuff shines, the more they dread exposure of the shadows hiding behind it. They grow increasingly isolated from one another — terrified that their shortcomings will be revealed if not for their shiny, glamorous armor. Lost in the abyss of separation, they disconnect from God — for the Divine is the Light of Unity, whose brilliance is eclipsed by the lesser glow of gold.

This is the story of the golden calf created from the Israelites’ jewelry in Ki Tisa.

Moses had become the physical representative of God in whom they placed their faith; with his lingering absence on Mount Sinai, they assumed that the Divine presence they could not see was gone as well.

To placate their fears, they fashioned an idol — a visible, material symbol of power — to worship. While today we would likely pool our resources for a golden Rolls convertible to venerate rather than a statue of a bull, the fact remains: idolatry is the ego — based allegiance to material value in the stead of loyalty to the intangible One.

Idolatry is inspired by a belief that fear, insecurity and disconnect are alleviated by attachments to tangible, perceptible objects, which ironically intensifies experiences of separation in a vicious cycle. When we empower any thing to be greater than Everything, we sell our souls to that substance. In the Israelites’ case, the repercussions were drastically immediate: 3,000 people killed for loyalty to gold over God.

So why should I wear more makeup? My muted appearance makes the unintimidating statement that the beauty of the spirit is far more valuable than external attractiveness.

Except…

As the parsha continues, my boycott against lip-gloss becomes questionable, and my ego literally becomes involved: in Ki Tisa, my name appears. The passage uses the word Keren three times, describing the radiating light of God’s physical presence shining from Moses’ face upon his second descent from the mountain (its root, k-r-n, also translates as “animal horn,” an ancient emblem of military power, but I’d rather be light). Moses had not realized that the “skin of his face shown” when he spoke to the people, until he saw that they “were afraid to come near him”; his light was too great. So he covered his glow with a veil/mask, which he maintained thereafter when he was among them. This got me to thinking: If the most egoless of biblical prophets needed to put on his face before going out into public, who was I to deny the benefits of a little powder … maybe even some eyeliner.

The portion reminded me that half the gift of being on earth is our human experience.

We are not meant to concentrate solely on the Light of the Divine; in fact, if we did, we would “surely die.” God gave us the pleasure of our separateness and our senses in order to apprehend the beauty glowing within all things … so long as we value them in appropriate proportion. God understood that Her greatness was too much for us to take in, but requested that we acknowledge it as the source for the manifold manifestations of His light.

Only in our capacity to maintain blind faith did God underestimate us; we seem to have an urgent need for seeing to maintain our believing. The brilliance of Moses’ face became the visible, tangible affirmation of Divine presence that the Israelites sought to generate with their golden calf (even according to its other translation, Moses’ horns would certainly be more awesome than a little bull’s); they had simply misplaced their faith on the object rather than its Source.

In the parsha’s conclusion, God instructs them to behave as they had in the beginning: donating their precious gold toward the creation of a physical object. But rather than a molten idol, they build the tabernacle to house the Divine presence, with their contributions invited only if their “hearts moved them”; their free will inspired their creation, rather than the creation overpowering their will.

To beautify, adorn and celebrate the physical proves to be a sacred act — with the right intention. So long as we understand that our flashy exteriors are the way in which we humbly diminish our own glory in reverence of a Light too great too look upon, we can draw closer to one another in admiration and inspiration of each individual’s beautiful expression.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, [but rather] that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

May it be God’s will that we shadow our light rather than lighten our shadows; with a little mascara, I am now prepared to accept the compliment I would give to Moses: “You look beautiful, Karen.”

Rabbi Karen Deitsch works as a freelance officant and lecturer in Los Angeles. She will be teaching several classes for the University of Judaism’s adult studies department during the spring semester, including a workshop on the mind, body and spirit of Pesach on March 29. She can be reached at karendeitsch@yahoo.com.

Fibber Seeks Same


If there’s any truth to the Yiddish proverb “a half truth is a whole lie,” then there is a whole lotta lyin’ going

on in the Jewish dating scene. It’s time to start telling the truth about who’s not telling the truth in the world of Internet dating.

Let’s look at one site that caters to Jews, which shall remain nameless. With 20 “Body Styles” (Is it just me, or is “Body Style” more akin to a car chassis than a person’s physique?) to choose from, how is it that “voluptuous” really means zaftig, “firm and toned” means the person goes to the gym but doesn’t necessarily see results and “ripped” just means narcissistic?

A picture is worth a thousand words in the land of half-truths. Ladies, he’s wearing that baseball cap to cover up a receding hairline, not express his unshakable love of the Dodgers! Men, she may have only posted photos shot from the waist up so you can’t see where all the lokshen kugel went. And, does anyone ever look bad in a professional headshot? Visual half-truths, if you will.

There are gender-specific white lies: Men tend to lie about their height; women tend to lie about their weight — little, well-intentioned untruths that we hope our future date will overlook once they get to know us.

Some people fib about their profession. One date was a bit vague about his job in the “travel industry.” A Google search revealed that he specialized in porn travel. (Porn travel is like going to baseball fantasy camp with porn stars, which gives new meaning to making it to third base.) Who knew that such a travel category existed, let alone that nice Jewish boys participated? My date didn’t exactly lie about the porn part; he just forgot to tell me about it.

Don’t get me started on the essays. Do men really believe that going for a long walk on the beach is the perfect first date, or are they just telling us what they think we want to hear?

Are you truly funny if the funniest thing you can think of saying in your profile is, “I have a great sense of humor and like going to comedy clubs?”

Although I have no statistics to back this up, lying about one’s age is probably the most prevalent untruth among the 35-plus set. Both genders lie, but in my biased opinion, women have greater reason to fib. How can we not, when 30-something men set a “Desired Age Range” capping out at 26, and 40-somethings cut us off at age 35? My informal sampling shows that men who have never been married have a greater propensity to lie about their age. And why shouldn’t they when we ask, “What’s wrong with him — 48 and never been married?”

An honorable mention is in order for my last boyfriend, an irresistible yet geographically undesirable, vertically challenged, older lothario sans college degree. He managed to lie about his place of residence, height, age and education, all in the interest of scoring dates with the cream of the crop. Bravo! Would he have shown up on my Internet radar screen had he been truthful? Absolutely not. Was he worth dating and getting to know? Absolutely. He considered his half-truths to be rock-solid marketing techniques. Besides, he outed his white-lying self on our first date.

What if dating Web sites verified all personal information? Wouldn’t it be nice to know your date’s actual age, height, marital status, education, place of residence and relationship history before meeting? Perhaps the Web could level the playing field by sending someone out to take members’ photos, kind of like The Recycler or AutoTrader does with cars? That way you could see if the “body style” was to your liking before taking him or her out for a spin.

On the other hand, learning about what someone chooses to fib about and how a person portrays him or herself in photos and writing can give you insight into that person’s personality and insecurities. One of my guy friends thinks it all comes down to self-image — “This is the me I know I can be, so I want you to see me the way I see myself. My potential.”

If you can get beyond it, fibbing can actually pave the way for some truthful interaction.

Be honest, fellow Internet daters — isn’t there something in your profile that could be a slight misrepresentation? So, lighten up and overlook the occasional white lie. Can’t we all just get along?

Go ahead and say you live in Los Angeles when you really live in Rancho Cucamonga. It may be the only way to get the babes in Santa Monica to click on your scintillating online profile. But, consider coming clean over the phone before you meet.

I hate to hoist my own petard, but after several years of holding steady at a sub-chronological age, my profile now reflects my actual age. And the whole truth feels better than the half-lies.

Andrea Gappell is a freelance food-stylist and marketing consultant based in Los Angeles. She can be reached at andreagap@sbcglobal.net.

Look Who’s Talking


Spiritualists, Dead Sea scholars and psychoanalysts are but a sampling of the varied menu of Jewish speakers that are to make scheduled appearances in Orange County over the next few months.

One of the better known but controversial figures is Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, speaking Oct. 3 and 4 at Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel. Reb Zalman, as he’s known, is a Chabad renegade who founded the Jewish Renewal movement in the 1960s. Its tenets are a contemporary take on the central teachings from Hasidism and Jewish mysticism.

The area is awash in opportunities for intellectual enrichment, such as:

  • One-time events like "Dinner with a Scholar," a fundraiser Nov. 9 for the Bureau of Jewish Education where the nine-scholar menu ranges from psychoanalysis to Uganda. Or Larry Schiffman, a Dead Sea Scrolls expert, in residence Nov. 7-8 at Yorba Linda’s North County Chabad Center.
  • Academia-length commitments, such as the Bureau of Jewish Education’s new offering, an October-May exploration of Talmud and Midrash in "Scholars and Sages," or Chabad’s Jewish Learning Institute, which offers three eight-week classes over nine months. Its first is Talmudic ethics.
  • The ever expanding portfolio of the O.C. Community Scholar Program, which continues to lure high-profile authorities on Jewish topics.

"It’s gone from a one-month program to a gap-filler," said the program’s chairman, Arie Katz, a Newport Beach attorney. "I’m not trying to supplant anyone by bringing programs that are controversial or otherwise not offered. It’s meant to challenge people, to take people out of their comfort zone."

How to Fly if you look Middle Eastern


Sam Kermanian has drawn our attention to a list of travel tips for Iranian Jews and others of “Middle Eastern” appearance, who might be fingered as potential Arab hijackers by nervous airline passengers.

Short of “bleaching our faces and dyeing our hair blond,” the president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation advises:

  • Get your seat as far back as you can on the airplane. Being close to the cockpit is a bad sign. This means forget about first and business class. You can’t impress them by your money anymore.

  • When you go to the washroom, always go toward the rear toilets. Moving forward toward the cockpit can be misinterpreted.

  • Do not travel with other Middle Eastern-looking people on the same flight. Any assembly of more than one person can be misinterpreted by other passengers.

  • Forget about stretching and walking the aisles on long flights. Just sit down and do not get up, unless it’s urgent.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, Jerry Snyder, said that his agency has not issued advisories for any special ethnic group. However, general tips for airline passengers are available at the FAA Web site

www.faa.gov/apa/traveler.htm.