Briefs: Questions women can’t ask the rabbi, cartoon Torah, parking tickets, Latino Sukkot


You Can’t Ask a Rabbi THAT…

Asking your rabbi a question about your period or your sex life might seem odd, but couples who observe the laws of family purity — where they refrain from sexual contact during and after a woman’s menstrual cycle — occasionally need to provide intimate details to male rabbis.

Questions often involve irregular periods or midcycle staining, which may or may not render a woman a niddah, off limits to her husband. Sometimes, the questions are more emotional, dealing with miscarriage, menopause and infertility.

For the past eight years tens of thousands of women from Israel and the United States have opted to bring these questions to yoatzot (advisers), women trained to either answer the questions or act as a liaison between the women and rabbis.

About 50 women have undertaken two years of study at Nishmat’s Jerusalem Center for Advanced Jewish Study for Women (http://www.nishmat.net), and have answered 70,000 phone calls on a hotline and thousands more questions on a Web site (http://www.yoatzot.org/index.php).

This weekend, Bracha Rutner, a Talmud teacher and yoetzet in Riverdale, N.Y., will be in Los Angeles to talk with girls at YULA and Shalhevet Orthodox high schools, and, on Shabbat, will address the topic of the Jewish view of love and romance at Young Israel of Century City (YICC). She will also join with doctors and other professionals at YICC on Sunday morning to talk about the intersections of Jewish law and women’s health issues, including the use of birth control and hormones.

As demonstrated by Rutner’s topics, the yoatzot have broadened their role beyond dealing with halachic minutiae. Nishmat in Jerusalem and Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center in New York have dispatched the yoatzot to communities across the country to provide proactive education on women’s health issues and open up conversations on women and sexuality. Online courses prepare new brides and refresh long-married couples on the laws and meaning of family purity.

Nishmat also has a Web site (http://www.jewishwomenshealth.org) for medical and halachic professionals.

“These are brilliant women, who are so well trained, and can speak to other women in a way men cannot,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of YICC, where yoatzot have spoken twice before. “The important thing is they encourage women to observe this mitzvah and make them more comfortable with it, because they can explain things and talk to them, woman to woman.”

Bracha Rutner will keynote “Health and Halakha,” Sunday, Nov. 2, at Young Israel of Century City, 9317 W. Pico Blvd, 9 a.m.-noon. Topics include “Hormones, Halakha and Beyond” and “Medicine, Mikvah and Me.” For more information, call (310) 273-6954 or visit http://www.yicc.org.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Outreach Builds Latino and Jewish Bonds

Hundreds of Latino evangelical Christians gathered for Sukkot services at Sinai Temple in Westwood on Oct. 19. The program, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Esencia de Judaismo, drew a similar-sized crowd to the Westwood congregation in 2007.

“Our goal is to bridge cultural and linguistic barriers to develop mutual understanding and respect between the Latino and Jewish communities,” said Randall Brown, AJC’s director of interreligious and Israel affairs.

Esencia de Judaismo, which received a $150,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles in August, is a three-year AJC program that seeks to train 500 Los Angeles-area Latino pastors about Judaism. AJC scholars and Latino rabbis from North and Central America head the effort.

Brown said mutual respect is the key to the program. “We’re not trying to convert anyone; we’re simply educating,” he said.

Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe welcomed participants to this year’s Sukkot serice, which was held on the last night of the holiday. “All of us can join hands and in our own way worship God together,” he said.

Gil Artzyeli, a Israeli deputy consul general in Los Angeles who also served in Bogotá, Mexico City and Madrid, addressed the crowd in fluent Spanish.

“We are all immigrants,” he said. “You’re here for your love of Israel, for your love of God.”

Israel is important to evangelical Christians, said Dr. Manuel Tigerino, president and founder of Latin University of Theology. “Israel is the place especially chosen by God,” he said.

Many of those involved in Esencia de Judaismo are leading Latino pastors within Pentecostalism, a diverse evangelical movement that places special emphasis on speaking in tongues and spiritual healing.

“Latino Pentecostals are the fastest-growing ethnic demographic and have emerged as a major force in the religious and political landscape,” AJC Los Angeles Executive Director Seth Brysk said.

— Lilly Fowler, Contributing Writer

Yom Tov Parking Tickets to Be Reviewed

District 5 City Councilman Jack Weiss has issued an apology to constituents who received parking tickets during the last days of Yom Tov. In September, Weiss’ office had announced efforts to relax enforcement of street cleaning, time limit and preferential parking restrictions for certain neighborhoods during the High Holy Days.

Weiss is instructing people who received citations to e-mail field deputy Maya Zutler at maya.zutler@lacity.org with the citation number, the date of the citation and contact information included.

“The office will then work with the Department of Transportation and the Parking Enforcement Bureau to investigate the citations and cancel the ones that were issued incorrectly,” Zutler said.

Zutler warned that the process could take some time and asked for patience in the matter. “We assure you that these citations will all be investigated,” she said.

— LF

Third and Fairfax Celebrates Diamond Anniversary

The Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles is turning to the public for help in celebrating its 75th anniversary next year.

“We know that tourists and locals alike have great memories of their times at the Market,” said Ilysha Buss, Farmers Market marketing manager. “We have our own extensive archive to draw upon as we prepare to celebrate 75 years in Los Angeles, but we know that many of those who cherish the Market have their own memories, stories, photographs and other memorabilia, too. We are asking one and all to share their memories of the Market with us.”

Couples courting, graduations, novels and screenplays written, it’s all happened at the Famers Market, Buss said.

The market is asking for photographs, stories (no more than 250 words) and other memories to be sent to 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles, 90036 or e-mailed to memories@farmersmarketla.com. Throughout 2009, the Farmers Market will display the public’s contributions on memory boards created specifically for its 75th anniversary year-long celebration and on a special section of their Web site at www.farmersmarketla.com.

— LF

Cartoon Parshat Now on Web


Teens who know little about the Torah can now turn to G-dcast.com, a new weekly Web cartoon about each week’s Torah portion has just launched.

“Each episode features a different celebrated or emerging Jewish voice in the arts or education, and each one has a free curriculum guide for teachers and parents,” said site founder Sarah Lefton, the San Francisco-based entrepreneur behind the clothing company Jewish Fashion Conspiracy.

National Jewish Book Award-winner Dara Horn and Chasidic hip hop artist Y-Love are just a couple of the names that will be featured in the new series. The episodes vary widely and include anything from country songs to hip-hop tracks to “mystical musings on the nature of the universe.”

Each Webcast runs no more than four minutes and is available as a podcast.

Lefton, who grew up in South Carolina, said she started the site because she knows children in certain parts of the United States have little or no access to Jewish education.

“We started G-dcast to try to bring literacy to these populations, ” Lefton said.

— LF

Local Schools Help Sderot Kids Play it Safe

Schools across the country are participating in the Jewish National Fund’s “Let Us Play” campaign to support the construction of Israel’s largest indoor playground in Sderot.

“Our hope is that the children in this country, who live in a much safer world than the children of Sderot, will join together to raise funds through sponsorship and donations to make a safe place for the children in Sderot,” said Bob Levine, JNF Vice President of Education.

JNF’s Education Program Manager Michelle Beller said 127 schools nationwide have opted to participate in the campaign, which will take place on Thursday, Nov. 13. Four L.A.-area Jewish educational organizations — Temple Aliyah Department of Early Childhood Education, Wilshire Boulevard Temple Religious School, Temple Ahavat Shalom Religious School and the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles — are among those participating.

Students at the schools are asking family and friends to sponsor their participation in games, sports and other activities that will be played on the playground.

The money raised will go toward helping build the $5 million, 20,000-square-foot facility in Sderot, complete with an indoor soccer field, basketball and volleyball courts, a rock-climbing wall, and a media center with a movie room and video games. The state-of-the-art facility will also feature three therapy rooms to help children who have experienced trauma.

JNF plans to recognize schools that raise more than $1,800 with a plaque that will be permanently displayed on Sderot’s new playground.

— LF

Noah is full of animal crackers


Animal Crackers

This week’s Torah Portion is Noach. We learn that Noah had to build a massive ark (aka a really BIG boat) because the floods were coming. Two of every animal (one male, one female) had to make it onto the boat, otherwise there would be no more of that animal in the world — the story goes that that’s why we don’t have unicorns today. Pretend you are Noah or his wife and you are making a list of animals. Put what the animal is called in the right blank. To check your answers, visit scroll to the bottom of this page.

1) Male Cat ______
2) Female Cat ______

3) Male Deer ______
4) Female Deer _______

5) Male Fox______
6) Female Fox _______

7) Male Goat _______
8) Female Goat ______

9) Male Horse ______
10) Female Horse ________

11) Male Sheep _____
12) Female Sheep _______

13) Male Swan _____
14) Female Swan _____

Words to choose from:

a) Billy, b) Buck, c) Cob, d) Doe, e) Dog, f) Ewe, g) Mare, h) Nanny, I) Pen, j) Queen, k) Ram, l) Stallion, m) Tom, n) Vixen

Kein v’ Lo:

Ghosts

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. While some Jews do not participate in Halloween because of its Christian and pagan origins, at this time of year it’s hard to ignore that there are a lot of monsters, witches and pumpkins all over town. This month’s Kein v’ Lo looks at ghosts and spirits and examines whether we believe in such things.

The Kein Side:

  • It is believed that the souls of our loved ones continue to watch over us after they have died. This is why sometimes if you go to the home of someone who has died, you can still feel his or her presence.
  • If ghosts and evil spirits weren’t real, then why would some people be so superstitious about protecting themselves from the “evil eye” by wearing a hamsah (amulet), saying “kein ayin hora” or breaking a glass at a wedding to scare off evil spirits?

The Lo Side:

  • When people say they “see” a ghost, that cannot be. It is the soul that is supposed to remain, so there is nothing to see. Basically, ghost sightings have never been proven.
  • Science disputes the existence of ghosts. They are not the spirits of the dead, but traces that have been left behind because of really strong emotional connections.

Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to Kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Answers:

1m, 2j, 3b, 4d, 5e, 6n, 7a, 8h, 9l, 10g, 11k, 12f, 13c, 14i

Have Ark, Will Travel


Rabbi Abner Weiss is looking through the closet that holds his shul. There are two Torah scrolls lying face up on shelves, the gold mechitza curtains are hung against the wall and the mini-weekday ark is facing the closet door.

"’Have ark will travel’ — that’s our motto," Weiss said, and quoted the verse that is used in the Shabbat liturgy when the Torah scroll is removed from the ark in the synagogue: "Vayehi binsoah aron" (and behold the ark was traveling).

Westwood Village Synagogue (WVS) stores its accoutrements in the closet, because there is no permanent place to display them. This small but growing Orthodox congregation currently has its home in the auditorium of the University Religious Conference building at UCLA, a room that is also used for other religious services and folkloric dancing.

But while the ark, mechitza, et al are wheeled out and put away before and after every service, it hasn’t stopped the congregation from feeling that it does have permanence — perhaps not of place but definitely of spirit.

"It’s so much more than a synagogue to me," said Michelle Heilpern, a past president of the congregation and a current member. "I really discovered a family there."

The "family" that Heilpern is referring to is made up of 60 member units, up from 40 the year before. The growth of the congregation, Heilpern said, is due in large part to Weiss’ rabbinate.

"[Weiss has] a natural appeal," Heilpern said. "He has an incredible Torah knowledge, and he inspires us to do all these wonderful things. When you have a spiritual leader, it creates a synergy and an energy that leads you to grow."

A few years ago, Weiss left Beth Jacob Congregation, where he had been rabbi for 15 years, to assume a position in London, reviving the rabbinical school at the London School of Jewish Studies. Weiss was unable to raise sufficient funds in London to keep the school going, so he left the post and returned to Los Angeles in retirement from the rabbinate.

He settled in Westwood and joined WVS as a lay person. But after less than a year, the 10-year-old congregation prevailed on him to be their rabbi, after Rabbi Ben Gottlieb left.

Weiss accepted the part-time position. The shul, whose membership primarily consisted of UCLA professors and doctors, started attracting more locals who were drawn to its nonjudgmental ambience.

The congregation is now looking for a more permanent home in Westwood, somewhere where it won’t have to store the aron kodesh, or ark, in a closet. The congregation would also like more members, but not too many more members, because it wants to retain WVS’s close, extended-family atmosphere.

"We don’t ever want to become a 300-family shul, but we sure want to be a 75-100 family shul," Heilpern said.

But increasing the size of an Orthodox congregation in a largely non-Orthodox neighborhood is a challenge. WVS is not the only Orthodox shul in Westwood. There is also Westwood Kehila and the Southern California Jewish Center, but for the most part, Orthodox Jews on the Westside are concentrated in the Pico-Robertson area.

Westwood, being a college community, has an attraction, but being without day schools, kosher restaurants or a large choice of synagogues, it has never served as a serious alternative to Pico-Robertson in terms of Orthodox growth.

In order to grow and to offer an alternative to the thriving Sinai Tempe and Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, WVS members say it fosters an atmosphere of acceptance and nonjudgementalism. The congregants don’t pry into others’ level of observance — no one asks if fellow congregants drove to shul (an Orthodox violation) or keep kosher homes.

The congregation also considers itself progressive within the confines of Jewish law, when it comes to women’s issues. Members say WVS was the first Orthodox congregation where women carried the Torah on Shabbat. Though there is no women’s prayer group, on Shabbat, women often give divrei Torah (speeches about the Torah portion).

"There is no frummer-than-thou attitude," Weiss said, meaning a more-religious-than-you attitude. "It is just love and acceptance of every Jew."

That "love and acceptance" worked out well for Weiss, who found himself embroiled in a communal that started about five years ago, when he discovered through extensive family research that he was not — as he had always believed — a Cohen (a descendant of the Jewish priest line). Being a Cohen made Weiss eligible to perform certain Jewish rituals, such as the priestly blessings and the pidyon ha-ben (redeeming of the first born)

When he discovered that he was not a Cohen, Weiss wrote to the rabbi at Beth Jacob that the pidyon ha-bens he had performed would need to be redone, upsetting some members in the community. Heilpern said the Cohen affair was not an issue for WVS.

"From our standpoint we feel so blessed to have [Weiss]," Heilpern said. "Here is the man who was the head rabbi in South Africa and the rabbi at Beth Jacob, and now he is with us. It is a gift and a blessing to have such a great scholar as our rabbi."

Westwood Village Synagogue has Shabbat services and weekday morning services at the University Religious Conference building, 900 Hilgard Ave. Westwood. For more information call (310) 208-0852.

Law and Order


In a Sept. 11 New York Times Op-Ed piece by Thomas L. Friedman on the feelings of angst that linger a year after Sept. 11, 2001, the distinguished columnist reports that he turned to Rabbi Tzvi Marx, a teacher in the Netherlands. Here’s what Marx told Friedman:

"To some extent, we feel after Sept. 11 like we have experienced the flood of Noah — as if a flood has inundated our civilization and we are the survivors. What do we do the morning after?

"What was the first thing Noah did when the flood water receded and he got off the ark? He planted a vine, made wine and got drunk.

"But what was God’s reaction to the flood? Just the opposite. God’s reaction was to offer Noah a more detailed set of rules for mankind to live by — rules which we now call the Noahite Laws. God’s first rule was that life is precious, so man should not murder man. [Additionally, put in place were prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, blasphemy and theft.]

"It is as though God said, ‘Now I understand what I’m up against with these humans. I need to set for them some very clear boundaries of behavior, with some every clear values and norms, that they can internalize.’

"God, after the flood, refused to let Noah and his offspring indulge themselves in escapism, but God also refused to give them license to live without moral boundaries, just because humankind up to that point had failed."

It’s so very typical of Friedman to focus on a tragic event and to help lead us out of the darkness of despair not only by means of his own sagacious observations, but with the guidance of a contemporary seer.

While we continue to work ourselves through the grief and shock that Sept. 11 heaved upon our hearts and minds, as that flood of feelings recedes, are we willing to be like Noah or do we have the capacity to emulate God?

Even though Noah is described as a righteous man, the Torah provides us with a caveat; namely, it is written that he was "the most righteous man in his generation." This is hardly a flattering statement!

After all, his peers were constantly disappointing God — to the point that they had to be totally blotted out from existence. So, it’s obvious that Noah was barely better than they were.

Therefore, if a new world and a more reliable set of human beings were to arise out of the ruins of the flood, God had no choice but to reluctantly use Noah as the progenitor, and to add to the mix a plethora of rules and regulations.

Today, we are witnessing a considerable number of men and women who have come away from the tragedy that was wrought upon victims and their survivors in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania — and upon each one of us — acting like Noah. They are so blinded by anger and drunk with power that they want to lash out at the world about them.

Falling prey to stereotyping and scapegoating, they choose to believe that most Muslims, Arabs and non-Jewish residents in or immigrants from the Middle East are either terrorists or advocates of terrorism. They want to settle their differences by trampling upon constitutional guarantees of freedom and due process. They want to unleash the military might of our nation upon its enemies — real and imagined.

Noah-like, we can join their ranks or we can emulate God as depicted in this week’s Torah portion by giving evidence that we are wise and prudent, strong and patient and ever-reliant on laws instead of raw passions.

Certainly, America has its enemies and we need to deal with them in ways in which their threat to our way of life is totally wiped away. But this does not give us license to cast blame on an entire people simply because of their religious affiliation or national origin.

Rather, we must concentrate on those specific individuals who are our antagonists, marginalize them and strip away their power and influence on others.

"Military operations, while necessary, are not sufficient. Building higher walls may feel comfortable, but in today’s interconnected world they’re an illusion," Friedman said. "Our only hope is that people will be restrained by internal walls — norms and values. Visibly imposing them on ourselves, and loudly demanding them from others, is the only survival strategy for our shrinking planet.

"Otherwise, start building an ark."

This is sound advice that we and everyone else better listen to and accept before it’s much too late.

Digging In


When Israeli archeologist Dr. Dan Bahat arrived in the United States early in February for a month of speaking engagements, he planned to talk to audiences about the history of the Temple Mount and the current state of archeological digs nearby. After all, Bahat’s visit was sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism in order to reassure Americans that the many historical sites in Jerusalem are still safe to visit, even with the current violent clashes. Bahat spoke mainly to Christian groups and churches across the country, groups whose “traditional visits to holy sites in Israel have fallen off even more sharply” in recent months than those of Jewish groups, he noted.

So the archeologist found himself quite surprised when his planned talks regularly became question-and-answer sessions about the possible location of the Ark of the Covenant.

Bahat, who for many years has overseen the digging of the tunnel beneath the Western Wall, is, in fact, something of an expert on the Ark. Although its location may be of interest to American fans of Indiana Jones, mainstream archeologists generally agree it is directly beneath the Islamic holy site of the Dome of the Rock. “We are not searching for the Holy of Holies. We know where it is to be found, but we cannot dig there, and that is not our purpose,” he said. “We dig only to know more about the Temple Mount, the many religious landmarks there, its rich, rich history.”

The archeologist first began working on the dig near the Western Wall in the early 1970s, soon after Israel gained control of that part of Jerusalem in the 1967 war. At the time, said Bahat, “There was no archeological supervision of the site. The whole dig was run for political purposes, under the Department of Religious Affairs.” Believing that such work was the job of archeologists, he left the dig and the political maneuvering behind, but returned in 1978 when control of the project was ceded to the Department of Antiquities. In 1985, Bahat became the district archeologist of Jerusalem, a post he kept until 1991, when he left to teach at Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University. He continues there, as senior lecturer, while keeping up his work on the Wall tunnel.

Bahat has nevertheless used the interest expressed in the Ark of the Covenant to engage audiences in the whole fascinating history of religious sites in the area, a technique he learned as a professor. Prior to teaching, he led excavations of Herod’s palace in Jerusalem and at Masada. At the Western Wall tunnel, his work has not been affected by the recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians, he reports, adding that the tunnel remains open to the public.