Theo for Jews in Poland, Italian seder, HIBM awareness

Theodore Bikel Plugs Jewish Life in Poland

Passionately devoted to the resurgence of Jewish life in Poland, entertainer Theodore Bikel, accompanied by Tamara Brooks, performed an hour-long private concert of Yiddish, English and Hebrew songs to benefit the nonprofit Friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland.

More than 70 people attended the fundraiser, held in the Brentwood home of art collectors Elyse and Stanley Grinstein. They included Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev and Barbara Yaroslavsky; Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California; professor David Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies; Polish Consul General Paulina Kapuscinska; and Jewish Federation COO Ken Krug and Andrea Scharf.

Hosting the event was Severyn Ashkenazy, Friends of Jewish Renewal board member and co-founder of Beit Warszawa, Warsaw’s first progressive synagogue since World War II, headed by American Reform rabbi Burt Schuman and assisted by Russian-born Israeli Reform rabbi Tanya Segal.

“Don’t let anybody tell you Poland is a graveyard,” Bikel said. “It’s a place of living, breathing Jews today.”

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Italian Seder Sizzles at Skirball

Traditional Passover seders are on their way out, and specialized seders are this year’s hot ticket. April is loaded with various options, including intercultural, interfaith, alternative and sober seders, where ancient traditions meet modern sensibilities.

Recalling the fare of Jewish ghettos in ancient Rome, the Skirball Cultural Center kicked off the seder season with its delizioso Italian Seder, a tribute to the history of Jewish Italian cuisine.

The idea may sound puzzling, given the Italians’ overwhelming penchant for pork meatballs and shellfish, but chef Sean Sheridan placated the discriminating palate with a six-course feast: Charoset Italiano with figs, dates and oranges; branzino grilled with leeks, parsely and lemon; sfoglietti with chicken soup and herbs; and osso buco of veal with gremolata and garlic spinach.

But the meal was not enough to distract the table from delving into divisive political conversation, and by dessert, improptu Democratic debates overshadowed the sweetness of the kosher wine.

ARM-ing for a Cure

ARM emcee Cara Yar Khan and ARM volunteer Mansour Pouretehad. Photo by Karmel Melamed

Medical researchers were honored for their work by the Advancement of Research for Myopathies (ARM) at a gala event on March 16 held at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott.

Nearly 600 guests from various countries and backgrounds gathered to help raise funds for additional research on a cure for hereditary inclusion body myopathy (HIBM), a progressive and debilitating genetic muscle disease. While it’s possible to inherit the disease from parents of Asian or European ancestry, HIBM primarily affects Jews of Middle Eastern ancestry, including some Iranian Jews.

One of the organization’s founders, Dr. Babak Darvish said over the years ARM has battled to remove the stigma the Iranian Jewish community has feared in publicly acknowledging family members with HIBM.

“My brother and I are both physicians, we were both affected by this disease — so we felt we had to take action and we founded ARM in 1997 in our living room,” Darvish said.

ARM co-founder and president Dr. Babak Darvish.Photo by Karmel Melamed

“Now the organization has gone international to help everyone, not just Iranian Jews, with this disease.”

While the genetic variation for HIBM has been located, an effective treatment for the disease has not been created, Darvish pointed out.

For more photos from this event, visit the Iranian American Jews Blog at

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Where Is Home? U.S. or Israel?

One, two, tree.”

“No, dad! It’s one, two, thhhhreeee.”

Growing up with Israeli parents in Los Angeles was often uncomfortable. I never felt completely at home. My parents were not locals, yet I was. They pronounced things differently with heavy accents: “Thhhhreeee,” not, “tree!”

It was funny, but awkward. Here I was correcting my father’s English. I got a real kick out of it, but deep inside I was confused. Where was home?

Every summer we would visit Israel, yet I did not feel entirely at home there either. I was a spoiled kid from ritzy Los Angeles who found Tel Aviv dirty and hot. I loved spending time with my cousins at Gordon Beach and hiking around the Negev with local Israeli summer camps. Nevertheless, during these visits, I was convinced that home was a plane ride away. Home was in Encino or Santa Monica, even LAX. Back in Los Angeles, though, the same sense of uncertainty waited for me patiently at the terminal.

My Israeli background did not usually serve as a source of pride, but rather a cause of confusion and even embarrassment. I even refused to speak Hebrew with my parents, answering in English whenever I was asked something in this foreign tongue.

Trying to blossom without roots can be very frustrating, and I would often be angry with my parents: Why were my roots so far and distant from me? In Los Angeles I lacked that deep connection to place, people and heritage. My parents sent my brothers and me to Hebrew school and surrounded us with their Israeli friends and their kids. But these efforts to create a Jewish/Israeli identity always seemed forced and unnatural to me — as if we were trying to import roots from Israel and plant them in foreign soil.

When I turned 15, my family and I moved to Israel. The first years were hell. I didn’t understand the language and even failed many of my classes. I felt frustrated and alone. How could my parents do this to me? Right when high school was getting exciting we move to this crazy country where I wake up in the night to the sound of the neighboring Arab village’s misgad (mosque). In the morning, I would wake up to the sound of a donkey — where the hell was I?

In the army, my connection with the land, the people and the country began to flourish. I was forced to question why I lived in Israel, why I served in the army — why was I ready to die for this country? Over time, a strong sense of belonging and identity grew within me. I began to feel passionate about Israel, and six years, later I left the army as a captain commander, after stressing to hundreds of soldiers that Israel is our home and that we must fight day and night to protect her.

Now I study at Columbia University. Is it hypocritical to educate soldiers to serve their country and then get on a plane to NYC for four years? Today, I know it is not. Growing up in Los Angeles and studying in New York has broadened my mind. I am able to appreciate what other Israelis often neglect, and I don’t take Israel for granted. I’ve worked hard to build my sense of home and reconnect to my roots, similar to the way my people have, after thousands of years, built their home and reconnected to their ancient roots in Israel. Now that I have such a connection, I am able to derive strength from it, regardless of my physical location.

It brings me both pain and joy to see Israelis in the United States searching for stability and identity, as I once did. Many are driven by economic goals and dreams; others arrive because they are sick and tired of a country that is so complex and intense.

Through my experiences, I was forced to search for the roots I felt I was lacking. Maybe other Israelis in America and other Americans in Israel are experiencing something similar. Whether I choose to live here, there, or in both countries, one thing I’ve learned for sure is that the search never ends.

Edoe Cohen is studying political science and economics at Columbia University, and modern Jewish thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary.