Happiness is a moral obligation


Readers who think I am preoccupied with political issues may find it interesting to learn that I lecture on the subject of happiness more than any other single topic. And, every Friday for the past 12 years, I have devoted an hour of my radio show to this subject.

I do so because I have concluded that the happy make the world better, and the unhappy make the world worse. Therefore, happiness is a moral obligation.

For the first half of my life, like most people, I regarded happiness as essentially a feeling – “I feel happy,” “I feel unhappy.” I regarded the pursuit of happiness as a selfish endeavor.

I was very wrong. Happiness — or to be more precise, a happy disposition — is actually a moral virtue. Whenever I meet an individual with a cheerful disposition, I admire that person. I have come to regard people who maintain cheerful dispositions in the same way I regard those are kind, honest, etc.

If you want to understand why happiness is a moral virtue that we are obliged to pursue, ask anyone raised by an unhappy parent — or who is married to an unhappy spouse, or who has an unhappy child — what that is like.

The unhappy — or those who act unhappy, such as the moody, the chronic complainers, the drama kings and queens — frequently ruin the lives of those around them. They cast a pall over their son or daughter’s childhood, they ruin their marriages, and they can make their parents despondent.

And that’s only the damage they do in the micro realm. In the macro realm, the unhappy often do even more damage. Those who became Nazis or communists were not happy people. Happy Muslims don’t become suicide bombers — the very fact that they want to murder and die in order to be rewarded in the afterlife is a testament to how little joy they experience in this life.

Given, then, how much damage they do, why do the moody and miserable act this way?

One reason is that they believe that they have suffered more than those who act happy.

But this is false. Most of those who walk around with a cheerful disposition have suffered at least as much as have the moody and miserable. There is rarely a correlation between suffering and disposition.

Another is that often they have been rewarded for their chronic complaining and bad moods. This typically begins in childhood, during which the moody child gets more attention than the easygoing child. And it continues into adulthood – the moody are often placated, and others frequently try to “make” the unhappy happy. So why change, when your miserable moods have only been rewarded?

People should regard bad moods in the same way they regard bad breath or bad body odor: Inflicting bad moods on others is just as obnoxious as inflicting bad breath or body odor on others. Just as we try to brush away bad breath and wash away body odor, we should try to brush and wash away bad moods.

A third reason is that we live in the Age of Feelings. Feelings have replaced standards (for example, “How do you feel about it?” has replaced “Is it right or wrong?”), and feelings have been elevated above behavior. The idea that one should not act in accord with one’s feelings, or, heaven forbid, not express one’s feelings is regarded as sinful.

Young people in particular recoil at the thought of acting contrary to how they feel. It is “inauthentic,” they say. But, of course, nice-smelling breath and bodies are also inauthentic. What is authentic about mouthwash or deodorant?

The fact is that we owe it to everyone with whom we come into contact to act in as upbeat a manner as possible. I suspect that more marriages survive a spouse’s infidelity than survive a spouse’s chronic bad moods. Indeed, regularly inflicting bad moods on a spouse should be regarded as a form of spousal abuse.

This rule applies everywhere. As one who flies hundreds of times a year, I can testify to how much more pleasant a flight is when the flight attendant is a cheerful person rather than a dour one. And in the workplace, it is simply vital. The constant good humor of my engineer, Sean McConnell, has had a measurable impact on the quality of my show.

And acting happy not only affects everyone in our lives; it affects us just as much. Our own behavior changes us. As the 12-step programs — perhaps the wisest programs in our society — put it: “Fake it till you make it.” Act happy, and you’ll be happier.

None of this suggests that we should hide our unhappy feelings from our closest friends, one of whom, hopefully, is our spouse. But it does mean that whatever we are feeling, we still need to try to be, or at least to act, happy. That is certainly the message of Judaism, from which I learned this insight. Even during the week following the death of an immediate family member, we are forbidden to mourn when Shabbat comes.

Behavior over feelings is one of Judaism’s greatest teachings.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

‘Teenism’ gives young adults an undeserved rep


Teenagers. The word strikes fear into the hearts of most parents and adults. I bet you get shivers down your spine as you’re reading this. Though most teenagers are perceived as reckless, raucous, recalcitrant, rowdy and riotous, the truth is that for the most part, teenagers exercise a natural responsibility that is occasionally eclipsed by their more immature moments. It is because their wild outbursts draw more attention that they are blown out of proportion and overshadow the maturity that teenagers portray most of the time. While the adult perception of youthful rebellion may seem justified, it can be damaging and hurtful to those who pride themselves on being as mature as any adult.

Nowadays, biases against blacks or homosexuals are tiptoed around, while biases against teenagers are left unchecked, proliferating everywhere, because hardly anyone gets taken to court for discriminating against a teen. Since every adult has been a teen once in their lives, they believe they’ve had enough personal experience to speak about all teenagers, when really they are merely projecting their own past onto all teenagers. Parents who went wild in their youth will watch their children like a hawk, never trusting them, accusing them of being disrespectful not because of hard evidence, but because that’s how they were when they were young. Often young adults are given a blanket diagnosis of being stuck-up and caustic, anti-parent, anti-school, anti-everything. From parenting magazines to primetime television, teens are portrayed as a pack of self-centered ingrates who let their emotions run wild with abandon, and it’s time someone said something about it.

Are teenagers reckless? Of course. That is, some of the time. But in our modern world, applying ideas that are true “some of the time” to every case is no longer acceptable, even in as small a way as believing all teenagers are rebels.

Of course, other discriminations are much more pressing in nature. Racism has more dire consequences than believing that your teenager is hot-blooded, when he is not. But discriminations against teens still deserve attention because of the simple fact of how many people are being discriminated against. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 20.2 million people in America aged 15 to 19, and they are 7 percent of the population. So be careful what statements you make, or what biases you might allow yourself to believe. Your ideas about teens will reflect greatly in your treatment of them, and the consequences of this (whether good or bad) could be much more far-reaching than you realize.

Almost as much as people falsely believe teenagers are terrible, people falsely believe that adolescence (and especially childhood) is the best time of a person’s life, when worries are few and far between. But this just isn’t true. In 1998, about a third of all victims of violent crime were ages 12 to 19, and almost half of all victims of violence were under age 25 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice). In addition, one in eight teenagers suffers from depression, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. (And, sadly, the sixth leading cause of death for people aged 5 to 14). As Bill Watterson (of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame) once said: “People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.”

Adolescents face almost all the same problems that adults do and engage in the same unhealthy quick fixes, but it is only young adults who must handle these things sans experience. Without the bedrock of age and wisdom to tread on, high schoolers are left to trail-blaze through their lives haplessly, like the first pioneers of the American West.

A massive leap has occurred in our modern world, far wider than generation gaps of old. The epidemic of multitaskism, the intensity of grade-amassing and the all-around increase in schoolwork has created a miasma of anxiety for the American student, making all previous generations of schooling look like cakewalks in comparison. Those who want to answer the clarion call of college must prepare themselves for an Olympic level of competitiveness. A few examples: Yale’s acceptance rate this year was 9 percent, down from 11 percent in 2006, while Stanford’s rate reached the lowest in it’s history at 9.5 percent. In addition, tuition for four-year colleges has gone up 35 percent in the past six years, making the fight for financial aid all the more arduous.

Obviously, there isn’t much we can do to alleviate this situation. It is the face of our modern reality, for better or for worse. But there is something that can be done.

As with a lot of things, the most helpful solution is a simple change of attitude. Life for teens will always be a little on the rough side, but perhaps treating them with less pigeon-holing and more empathy is all that’s need it to smooth it out.

Justin Morris is in the 10th grade at Shalhevet School and a columnist for the Boiling Point newspaper.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the June issue is May 15; deadline for the July issue is June 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Don’t hold your breath on plans for baby


Nothing is more exciting than finding out that you’re having a baby. The moment I found out I was expecting, I began making grand plans. I read the books, spoke to pregnant friends and questioned all the new mommies I knew. Then I made some big decisions.

Disposable diapers were clogging the landfills — I would use cloth. Baby foods had preservatives — I would puree my own. Cavities begin before teeth appear — no bottles in bed.

There would be no junk food, no TV, no yelling, no spanking, no spoiling, no bribing. I would provide only classical music and educational toys. I would never use food for reward or punishment. My baby would never use a pacifier or learn to suck his thumb. The list went on and on, and then our precious son was born.

Shortly after we came home, our son started an interesting habit. When upset, he would cry very hard, turn blue around the lips and make no sound. Then the bluish color would spread until he hysterically gasped for air and turned pink again. I got somewhat used to this routine until he progressed to the point of passing out.

“He’s a breath holder,” the pediatrician said calmly.

“The books said nothing about breath holders,” I wailed.

“It’s not very common, but it happens,” he said. “Don’t worry. He’ll start breathing again as soon as he passes out. Just don’t blow in his face.”

“What?”

“They used to say that if you blow in the baby’s face, he’ll catch his breath,” the pediatrician said. “But it really doesn’t work; it just makes him madder.”

He paused right before administering the vaccination.

“When I give him his shot, he’ll probably start crying,” the pediatrician said as he stabbed the needle into my baby’s thigh.

Sure enough, the crying began, the lips went blue, the face grew ashen and my baby passed out. It happened again with another shot in the other thigh.

As I packed up the diaper bag, sniffling back my own tears, the pediatrician warned me: “Don’t let him manipulate you, or he’ll use breath-holding to get what wants. He’ll grow out of it eventually. See you next month.”

From that moment on, my grand promises were cast aside. Attempting to avoid crying and fainting episodes, I broke my own rules. I kept pacifiers everywhere and shoved one in his mouth at the smallest whimper. When he tired of pacifiers, I taught him how to suck his thumb. When he wanted up, I picked him up.

Diaper changing was a particularly tricky time. He’d be happy and bubbly for the first 30 seconds or so, but if it took any longer than that, he would become frustrated at being on his back and begin to cry. Since I could change disposable more quickly than cloth, I fired the diaper service. Once I had crossed the diaper line, it was easy to give in on anything.

I developed a do-what-works attitude. Why be so rigid? Jar food was just fine. In fact, he ate so much that I switched from organic to whatever was on sale. I used generic wipes on his tender tush.
One time, I found the dog licking his face after a messy spaghetti meal. My son loved it. From then on, I sat him on the kitchen floor and let the dog clean him up after he ate. A mother must find clever ways to make her job easier.

As the doctor predicted, the breath-holding eventually subsided. By the time my second son came along, my child-rearing methods had evolved considerably.

Potty training? M”&”Ms for a tinkle in the toilet. Television? How did we grow up without videos? Spanking? Watch your toddler dash into oncoming traffic and then tell me you never spank. Yelling? Ever seen a cheesecake after 10 minutes in the microwave? Bribery? Try taking two toddlers to the market and see how long it takes before you say: “If you’re good, mommy will buy you….”

That breath-holding baby is now 16 years old. A few thousand dollars in orthodontia fixed the overbite that the thumb caused. He regularly uses the potty without expecting M”&”Ms. The last time he had a shot, he hardly let out a peep.

The only time he holds his breath is when he’s swimming, and the bribery item of choice has progressed from cookies to car keys. He does, however, still eat his way through the grocery store.

So, have your baby, make your plans, set your limits, follow your rules. And when things don’t go the way you expected and the mess is just too big and you feel like crying until you pass out, do what I did — put the baby on the floor and let the dog clean up.

Alter Kayakers make waves in Newport Bay


Every Thursday morning, 11 supremely fit old men come thundering into Newport Bay, rounding up all the good rental kayaks on the Balboa Peninsula and singing at the top of their lungs.

Most are major fundraisers for Heritage Pointe, Orange County’s Home for the Jewish Aging, and they call themselves the Alter Kayakers.

The name was a natural, said Stan Sackler, 70, of Newport Beach, a retired fuel dealer, who was already a member of a Jewish cycling group in Fullerton called Shlemiels on Wheels.

Sackler and Steve Fienberg, 67, of Irvine assembled the group four years ago, and let Howard Weinstein, 72, of Corona del Mar coin the name. They’ve never had a slow moment since.

“I look forward to this all week,” Weinstein said. “I can’t wait for Thursday.”
Not that Weinstein, or any of the other Alter Kayakers, lives in the slow lane the rest of the week.

Weinstein hiked and rode horseback through Patagonia for 18 days last fall. He plays tennis four times a week, works out with a personal trainer twice a week and he’ll have to miss the Alter Kayakers’ February cruise to Mexico because he’ll be in Botswana.

“I figure that if I stay active when I’m 72, I’ll still have a life when I’m 92,” Weinstein said.

The Alter Kayakers stand out for their awesome endurance and robust bearing, and they cram their days with endless bicycling, hiking, tennis, martial arts and river rafting. But no one has to quit when his abilities falter.

Seymour Lobel, 77, a retired auto financier from Corona del Mar, for example, has lost much of his vision. Other members of the Alter Kayakers drive him to Newport Bay each week, and in the water, someone always keeps an eye on his kayak.

Members love to reminisce about their Kern River rafting trip last September, when the raft overturned and all the members were dumped into the churning river’s Class 4 rapids. Stronger members helped stragglers get back onto the raft, and the team spirit that prevailed made even these tough men of steel mist up for a moment.

Two seconds of sober reminiscence passed, and then Weinstein said, “Stan Sackler, wearing a hearing aid, came damn close to getting electrocuted.”

Ephie Beard, 75, a Newport Beach resident of 13 years who owned car auction businesses in Anaheim and Fontana, introduced the Alter Kayakers to whitewater rafting.

“I’d been doing it for 21 years,” he said. But the day the raft flipped, he said, “it was pretty scary for some of those guys.”

But all this running around without performing a few mitzvot is against Alter Kayaker rules.

“We all try to do something for the Jewish community,” said David Stoll, who owns a boat engine business in Newport Beach. “Most of us are Diamond Donors to Heritage Pointe in Mission Viejo. My personal feeling is that you have to pay your Jewish dues. If you don’t pay the community back, it really gets on our nerves.”

Two of the Alter Kayakers aren’t Jewish, but they’re treated like Members of the Tribe. Stan Angermeir, 67, a nursing home operator who lives on Lido Isle, belongs to Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana with his Jewish wife. Wayne Harmon, 69, of Corona del Mar, the other non-Jew in the group, has a serious relationship with a Jewish woman.

“Believe it or not,” joked Stoll, 68, “we made Wayne our treasurer.”

“But we don’t have anything in the treasury,” added Stackler, a former director of the Orange County Jewish Federation.

Every year, the Alter Kayakers hold an awards ceremony.

“Everyone wins first place in something,” Stoll said. “Wayne Harmon won first prize for looking the least Jewish.”

Most of the Alter Kayakers are retired or semiretired professionals or businessmen.

Arthur Friedman, 71, of Balboa was a dermatologist. Sid Field, 77, who lives in Newport Coast, was a dentist. Robert Baker, 64, of Newport Beach and Fienberg were lawyers.

Weinstein was a pharmacist who became a pharmaceutical manufacturer. Harmon was an executive with J.C. Penney. The rest were entrepreneurs.

When they gather, they are sure to sing “Kayakers’ Spirit,” their own anthem, sung to the tune of the “Illini Fight Song.” Field, a University of Illinois alum, wrote the words. The anthem concludes their weekly Thursday ritual, which starts with a 4-mile, one-hour kayak expedition into Newport Bay and progresses to lunch at Newport Landing Restaurant.
“Same seats or we forget the name of the guy next to us,” Sackler explained.

Same menu, too, it turns out: A half portion of Caesar, Cobb or chicken avocado salad. Ironmen feasting on salad fragments?

“Some members are on diets or too cheap to buy a whole salad,” Weinstein said. “One member who shall remain nameless orders a sandwich off the menu, and he is penalized by getting a separate check.”

The Alter Kayakers say they don’t accept new members.

“Our membership is now closed because the group has such good chemistry, and we don’t want to tamper with it,” Fienberg said. “Also, the place we rent kayaks from only has about 11 good kayaks, and more than 11 for lunch is a bit much.”

They also discourage lunch guests.

“You must be mishpachah,” Weinstein said. “You can be a ninth cousin, but you have to be in the family.”

All but one of the Alter Kayakers are married, nearly all to their first wives — Stoll for 42 years, Baker for 41.

“My wife loves it,” Weinstein said. “It gives me an opportunity to socialize with the boys and to go out and exercise.”

There are no greens fees or memberships to eat away at the family budget; it costs $10 to rent a kayak.

So far none of the Alter Kayakers’ wives has taken to renting a kayak of her own.
“My wife came out with me in a tandem in Newport once,” Sackler said, “and loved it as long as I did the paddling.”

Films: The trials and tribulations of fathers and sons


For so many Jewish men, it always comes back to fathers and sons, despite what Philip Roth might think.
Look at the films of Daniel Burman, the rising young star of the New Argentine Cinema. “Waiting for the Messiah,” “Lost Embrace” and his latest, “Family Law,” which all revolve around a slightly feckless but well-meaning young man, played in all three by Daniel Hendler, and his relationship with an absent or soon-to-be-absent father.

Burman, 33, is a slender, good-looking brunette with long, arching, graceful fingers that he uses to adjust a cup of coffee on its saucer as he sits in the bar/lounge of a hip downtown New York hotel, answering questions for a parade of journalists. He smiles easily, if somewhat shyly, but carries himself with an earnestness that belies the wittiness of his films.

“We’re kind of shy in my family,” he explains through an interpreter when asked about his father’s reaction to the new film, which centers even more than its predecessors on the father-son relationship. “We react with understatement to everything. But when my father saw the film at the Berlin festival, he seemed pleased.”

Burman comes from a family full of lawyers, including his father. Like the father-and-son lawyers who are at the heart of “Family Law,” he worked in his father’s office, and he did go to law school briefly, but abandoned that career after less than a year.

“My family was very supportive of my career choice,” he says. “After all, I was already earning a living from film.”

One way he paid back his family’s support is in the affectionate portrait of Perelman, Sr. (Arturo Goetz) in “Family Law,” which he readily acknowledges was based largely on his father.

Does that mean that Hendler has been Burman’s alter ego through the unofficial trilogy of films on which they have collaborated?

“It’s hard to say,” he says with a slight wince. “There are some things we have in common. But we don’t share the same ego.”

His next project, a comedy about an older married couple who are struggling with the “empty nest” syndrome, will take him away from the trilogy, but he readily acknowledges that he will probably come back to Hendler and to his own growth in a few years, “maybe five, maybe 10.”

It’s an actor-character-director relationship that echoes the odd triangulation of Francois Truffaut, Jean-Pierre Leaud and the fictional Antoine Doinel, the Truffaut-like protagonist of “The 400 Blows,” “Stolen Kisses” and “Bed and Board” among others.

That comparison tickles Burman immensely.

“I like Truffaut very much,” he says, beaming.

He is less sanguine about the frequent comparisons between his work and that of Woody Allen.
“It certainly doesn’t offend me,” he says. “A dream of mine is to present Woody Allen with DVDs of my films. But it’s not a fair comparison. We’re very different filmmakers.”

Certainly Burman’s characters are much less conflicted about their Jewish identity. They wear it with a casualness that is, quite frankly, alien to Jewish-American film.

“I think my parents taught me to enjoy being Jewish,” he says. “It’s not just about following rules or singing songs. It’s not as easy as just not eating ham. In the United States people seem to take a defensive attitude about being Jewish. For me it’s so intimate that I don’t need to express it all the time. It’s not damaged by the banality of daily life.”

Indeed, one might say that by its very nature, Jewish observance is defined by — and defines — daily life. Appropriately, that focus on daily life in all its ordinariness is a large part of Burman’s films, and that points up another place where he parts company with Americans.

“It seems contradictory, but the banality of daily life makes the dramatic incidents invisible,” he opines. “Life is not like it is in most American films, where something dramatic happens every few minutes. [In real life] the big existential themes express themselves in the everyday.”

Burman says that his writing is an outgrowth of that condition.

“When I write I don’t think about those things. It’s reflected in the mirror of the characters.”
“Family Law” opens Friday, Dec. 22 at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 and Laemmle Town Center 5.

Alys Willman-Navarro assisted in this article by translating during the interview.

Chanukah holds important lesson for all faiths


Chanukah is popularized by a rabbinic myth — one that embodies a story told of a container of oil lasting seven days beyond its expected usage.

The story appears only in the Talmud, not
the Bible or even the Apocrypha literature.

In fact, the primary lesson of Chanukah has nothing to do with oil at all.

If anything, the eight-day festival serves to remind Jew and non-Jew alike that religious identity is assured and assimilation stemmed only when religion develops out of an environment based on love and celebration, intelligent debate and conviction.

During the brief rule of Alexander the Great (336-323 B.C.E.), countless Jews adopted Greek culture and thought — Hellenism as it became known. Within the Jewish community living in Israel, the Greek ruler became so popular, newborn babies were often named after him. To express their allegiance to Greek ways of life, scores of Jewish men went so far as to undergo painful operations to diminish and remove the indelible mark of circumcision.

What differentiated Alexander the Great — and ultimately endeared him to the Jewish community — was his lack of religious oppression. His theological openness and acceptance gave rise to the first translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek: the Septuagint.

His unmanipulative religious attitude embodied 18th century Enlightenment thinking thousands of years before its time. Ironically, had Alexander’s policy of noncoercive religious debate and acceptance continued, the Jews and Judaism might have simply assimilated away, never again to exist.

One hundred and fifty years after Alexander’s death, the Greek Syrian ruler, Antiochus IV, Epiphanies — god incarnate — as he referred to himself, instituted policies that were completely opposite of Alexander’s.

Religious coercion, bullying and violence exemplified Antiochus’ methodologies. Under Antiochus, Jewish practice was outlawed, and the religious nerve center for the Jews, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, was ransacked and rendered invalid for priestly ritual use.

So oppressive was Antiochus, a Jewish civil war erupted. Using guerrilla tactics, a group called the Maccabees waged battle against the strong-armed methods instituted by Antiochus and the Greek-Syrians. But the Maccabees didn’t stop there. They also fought against fellow Jews who openly adopted Greek culture and philosophical thought.

Yes, the Maccabees fought for religious tolerance, so long as it was in compliance with their religious understanding and application. While their military goals were different, functionally the Maccabees were very similar to the Greek-Syrian conquerors. Neither the Greek-Syrians nor the Maccabees embraced the open, noncoercive atmosphere created by Alexander the Great; neither position allowed for a middle ground.

Theologically, Chanukah is insignificant, yet its historical lesson is of great importance to all religious faiths. When more deeply understood, the eight-day holiday challenges all of us who take religion seriously to continually provide open forums where level-headed discussion and theological diversity is encouraged.

I know as a Jew and as a rabbi, if we cannot provide sufficient reasons for Jews to maintain their religious identity, then it is we who are at fault, not the countervailing ideas and popular trends, be they religious or secular.

For all spiritual seekers, threats of assimilation are scary and profoundly challenging precisely because it makes them look within; it makes them scrutinize their own religious beliefs and practices.

It is far easier to live cloistered away, removed from the temptation of secular life and the challenges that come from meaningful religious interaction and questioning. It is far more difficult and infinitely more problematic when religiously observant people are asked to address the shortcomings found in their own faith system.

Chanukah, which is celebrated ritually by lighting candles on an eight-branched candelabra, teaches that religious seekers need not surrender to the darkness found in the world. For certain, healthy religion can bring much needed light to an otherwise sterile universe.

But it can only do so when presented in a manner that is open to diverse opinion and debate, much like that which was encouraged and fostered during the brief, historic reign of Alexander the Great some 2,300 years ago.

Partners in Creation


Roger Gottlieb makes the case in his book, “A Greener Faith,” that we are in need of an ecotheology — to view the Earth in a more divine and holy way. He writes that
we have so separated ourselves from nature we don’t actually feel our interconnectedness with it; rather, we value the Earth only for what we can take from it. In order to have a meaningful teshuvah from the sins of taking the Earth’s resources for granted, we need a positive outlook with forward vision and hope.

Jews, it can be argued, already have an ecotheology. The Torah is clear when it discusses our relationship to the Earth.

This week, in Genesis, we are told, “God took the first human being, Adam, and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to watch it” (Genesis 2:15). Yet, a misinterpretation of an earlier verse has guided our human relationship to the Earth for too long. In the first chapter of the Torah, God says: “….Fill the Earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:27-28).

Dominion is too often read as “mastery over,” freedom to control and use at will, which easily leads to exploitation. However, there are many commentators who understand the word “dominion” as correlating to “uniqueness.” In this reading, humans have the unique responsibility to care for the Earth and its inhabitants. Rather than dominate, humans are called upon to make moral choices on behalf of the Earth, for we are the only creatures that God created with the capacity to reason and with the gift of free will; we alone have the capacity to destroy or protect the planet.

Gottlieb writes that we are not concerned by the signs of global warming, or in developing widespread renewable energy sources, or in how our progress has affected the planet’s ecosystem because we see ourselves as outside of nature, rather than integral to it. We substitute “environment” for “nature.”

Through semantics, nature has become an “issue,” something we can be involved in or not. Our sense of being unaffected by nature, as superior to nature, is a danger — indeed an idol — that the Torah warns us against. We must return to viewing ourselves as a part of nature.

Dr. Nathan Lewis, one of my congregants, a Caltech professor and expert in climate change, stated bluntly to me, “The next 10 years will determine what kind of planet we will live in; if we keep on this same path, we will leave our children a planet unlike the one we received.”

Lewis is most concerned about the irreversibility of our actions, even as he acknowledges that science cannot prove definitively what will happen. He argues that we shouldn’t be betting against the indicators that imply what can happen. Waiting to find out will be too late.

Many rabbinic texts detail our long tradition of ecotheology, explicitly supporting the idea that caring for the Earth is a distinctly religious imperative. Long before we started talking about fuel emissions, the rabbis of the Talmud prohibited inefficient use of fuels, saying: “Whoever covers an oil lamp [so that it burns less efficiently], transgresses the mitzvah of ba’al tashchit, do not destroy” (Shabbat 67a).

Long before recycling was the norm, the 16th century manual Sefer HaHinuch taught that “tzadikkim, righteous people, waste not even a mustard seed in this world; they use their strength to conserve everything possible.” These texts illustrate that our ancestors recognized our responsibility to nature, and that our actions must be directed by the holiness of mitzvot.

We created this problem, intentionally or unintentionally; we are responsible for fixing it.

Lewis told me that we get more energy from the sun in one hour than all the energy consumed in one year. Using God’s resources and our brains, we can solve the challenges we face.

California is poised to become the environmental leader in our country. And religious groups around the country are joining its efforts. The Reform movement has a nationwide campaign for “greening” its institutions. The Pacific Southwest Region of Conservative Judaism continues to back its Green Sanctuaries campaign, partnering with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California is expanding that campaign to all synagogues that wish to participate.

We each can make a difference. I challenge us to try some, if not all, of the following:

  • Raise or lower the thermostat in your homes by two degrees;
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs in your home;
  • Carpool, walk or ride a bike once weekly;
  • Invest in fuel-efficient transportation;
  • Reduce waste and recycle seriously;
  • Visit the COEJL Web site for more information and ideas.

Every change has an impact. We are called by God to live in consort with the Earth, as God gave us the awesome responsibility to be partners in creation. Let us strive to live up to that divine gift. As Pirke Avot teaches, “It is not up to us to finish the work, but neither are we free to ever stop trying.”

Now more than ever, we need this attitude toward our Earth.

This d’var Torah is an adaptation of Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater’s Yom Kippur sermon. To read the sermon in its entirety, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.coejl.org
Green Sanctuaries:

Skateboard Creator Builds Business on Performance


Don Tashman doesn’t look like a skater boy, not with his scraggly, brown hair and three-day-old unshaven stubble that’s yet to materialize into a beard.

This religious boy from Beverlywood doesn’t even look like a surfer boy — which he is, as these things usually go hand in hand, along with snowboarding. Tashman certainly doesn’t look like the creator and owner of Loaded Boards and Pigeons Inc., the hip skateboarding company that has brought performance boards back to the industry.

No, 31-year-old Tashman doesn’t look like a dude, not with his short-sleeved, button-down shirt, untucked over loose, brandless blue jeans, but that’s OK, because his co-workers do. The long, lean, sun-kissed blond boys stack skateboards according to styles (Fish, Hammerhead, Pintail, Vanguard) or sit on yoga stability balls at computers, looking like they’re playing video games or designing specs — something that makes them almost as happy as riding a board — any board: skate, surf, snow.

Tashman doesn’t need to look the part of the people he designs skateboards for, because he’s got the attitude, for sure — laid back, imperturbable, chill.
These are the qualities that have gotten Loaded a reputation for authenticity in a world clannishly obsessed with it. It’s been four years since he founded the company, and Tashman said he can’t keep up with demand (he declines to give actual figures) and will be forced to move offices soon from mid-Wilshire, where he shares space with his father and brothers, who work in real estate and futures exchange.

Skateboarding runs in the Tashman family, although not on the paternal side. His mother, who also grew up religious, skateboarded when she was a kid. She was sponsored by a local Velcro company. “She took her old roller skates and nailed them to a two-by-four for her first skateboards,” Tashman said. Since he was 3 years old, “she would attach me to my skateboard and pull me down hills and our neighbor’s empty swimming pool,” he said. “She always wanted me to be a cantor, though.”

Tashman didn’t become a cantor. He grew up Orthodox, attended Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YOLA) and then moved to New York to become an English major at Columbia University in 1994.

“I was short-boarding and couldn’t get around,” Tashman said, referring to the shorter boards in vogue then, which were hard to maneuver around the streets of Manhattan. He started developing his own boards for his own use. After he finished college in 1999, he went to study at a yeshiva in Israel. After a few months there, someone convinced him to work as a traveling salesman for an Israeli technology company. He spent a year at that, then, in his wise and quiet way, Tashman cashed out his stock options two weeks before the market crashed in April 2000.

With about $150,000, Tashman spent the next two years developing the boards he’d begun designing at Columbia. Performance was key but so was finding environmentally friendly materials, like bamboo instead of oak.

Tashman said that because he surfed here growing up, he became interested in making the environment better.

“Surfing in L.A. water is to feel the toxicity — people aren’t even aware of it,” he said. Although Tashman’s is a small company, he believes that if other small companies like his and big ones like GE are more environmentally conscious, “I think we can inspire people to be aware of what they consume, what they use and how they can live more sustainable lives.”

In the end, the company created longer, high-performance skateboards, tailored for hills or parks or streets or long distances. The skateboards were unlike the other black-topped, fancy logo boards.

“We had no graphics,” Tashman said. “It was the ride first and foremost. Most boards were driven by graphics, and we wanted to separate ourselves.”

Separate the company he has, with clean, bamboo long boards that appeal to 20- to 40-year-olds, as opposed to the “17-year-old male from the O.C.,” Tashman said. The boards sell for $215 to $300 and are sold in about 350 stores nationwide and have been featured in men’s magazines like FHM and Maxim. Loaded is looking into expanding into apparel as well as snowboards, and the prototypes are laying around the office. But the company will always focus on skateboards, Tashman said.

Now that he has established the company for performance-driven boards, Loaded is adding graphics in the form of a bird — a kite to be precise, a kind of a sparrow drawn sparingly in white and gold on the undercarriage of the Vanguard.
“We’re seeing what we can get away with, and where we can go with it,” Tashman said.

Imagine standing on a high wire, suspended midair and bouncing on it. That’s the experience of being on the Vanguard, a long and flexible skateboard designed for stability. There’s a sensation of coiled-up energy, as if the rider is a spring ready to be sprung, an arrow ready to be shot — loaded, like the company name.
For Tashman and his five full-time employees, the key to the business is having fun.

“Stoke ’em,” is part of the company motto, which, Tashman explains, means, “We’re here to get people excited about the underlying excitement, to promote the visceral experience of the flow.”

The flow.

Some people talk about finding meaning in life, and others talk about religion, but for adrenaline junkies, flow is the buzzword. “There is a spiritual thing [about skateboarding] — the flow, the pure exhilaration of the experience.”
Tashman also finds inspiration in Los Angeles’ Jewish community.

“It’s an exciting time to be Jewish in L.A. Jewish culture seems very vibrant — people are excited about their heritage; it’s starting to filter out from New York, and it’s like it never was when I was growing up.”

Tashman admitted it’s unusual to be a religious skateboarder, but he finds similarities between the two worlds.

“My religiosity has existed synergistically with my skateboarding. The visceral sense of flow, the intense personal engagement and the stoke it has generated and allowed me to pass on are enriching. Skateboarding culture has historically exhibited a strong sense of community. Like Judaism, I find that it promotes personal development and environmental awareness,” he said.

Aren’t they so different, these two separate worlds of Jewish life and skateboarding?

“They go hand in hand — a big part of skateboarding is how you present yourself,” he said. In the skateboarding industry there’s always the question of authenticity, whether you’re a “core” company — the rap equivalent of street cred — or an outsider trying to make a buck.

“I’ve always skirted the issue. If I can make people excited, great; if not, OK, I don’t need to classify myself in a group to achieve that,” Tashman said.
And that’s how he feels about religion. He said he’s “traditional, shomer Shabbat” but doesn’t define himself as Orthodox. “I do the things I find meaning in, and I don’t do things I don’t.”

“Both worlds can be alienating, in that myopic, or xenophobic tendencies, tend to miss the broader universalist picture,” he said. “In my opinion, the need to promote in-group behavior at the expense of creativity and exploration is sad. I can’t really be bothered by those approaches — there’s too much fun to be had.”

10 Ideas For Creating Meaningful Volunteer Assignments


Any organization’s program and operational decisions should stem from the philosophy, beliefs and vision that are its reasons for being in the first place. These basic values, however, are often assumed, yet rarely articulated.

It is a worthwhile exercise to identify the values about volunteering in your organization. This helps executives, frontline employees and volunteers themselves think about why volunteers are involved at all. It also helps to create meaningful volunteer assignments, providing a framework for staff and volunteers to work together.

Discussing values about volunteering also puts civic engagement into a broader social context. It’s easy to get so caught up in the daily how-tos of managing a volunteer program that we lose sight of the fact that volunteering is bigger than our one setting, or even this one point in time.

1. Participation by citizens is vital to making democratic communities work

Participatory democracy is based on the value that it is a good thing for citizens to participate in running their communities and in making sure that things happen the way they want. This is the heart of volunteerism and is why, in a free society, volunteering is a right, not a privilege. (This is not to be confused with the parallel right of any agency or individual to refuse the services of a prospective volunteer.)

Volunteering generates a sense of ownership. People who get involved feel connected to others and affected by the outcome of their “sweat equity.” It’s the complete opposite of the attitude “that doesn’t concern me.”

2. Volunteers are more than free labor

First, volunteers are not “free.” There are costs to an agency for their support and tools, as well as out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the individuals donating time.

Most important, when placed in the right positions, volunteers bring a value-added component that actually changes or is lost when a paid employee does the same work. For example, legislators and funders are more receptive to the advocacy of someone not on the organization’s payroll — the perception of credibility that comes from lack of self-interest.

Similarly, some clients, such as children or probationers, may feel that paid workers see them as “just someone on their caseload,” while a volunteer is a “friend.”

The point is not that volunteers are better than employees. It’s that sometimes their status as volunteers can provide a useful difference. Therefore, volunteers can be vital to an organization and an asset even aside from the financial concerns of staffing.

3. Equal respect is due to work that is volunteered and work that is paid

Regardless of the perceptions just discussed, the value of work is determined by its intrinsic quality and impact. Work done by employees does not automatically have a higher value than that done by volunteers (and is also not of lesser value). The contributions of paid and volunteer workers are compatible, collaborative, and integrated.

Even more important, the skills and dedication of the person doing the work are not determined by the presence or absence of a paycheck. There are extraordinary volunteers and extraordinary employees. The potential for excellence always exists.

4. Volunteer involvement is a balance of three sets of rights: those of the client/recipient; those of the volunteer; and those of the agency

Despite wrangling over employee and volunteer points of view, each situation defines which perspective takes precedence. In most cases, the bottom line should be what is best for the recipient of service. But there are also agency and other long-term considerations. The key is not to presuppose that one perspective always outweighs the others.

5. Volunteers, as citizens of a free society, have the right to be mavericks

The way that genuine social change occurs is that a few pioneering volunteers are willing to be ostracized (even jailed) for their actions. While an agency has the right to refuse a placement to a volunteer, that individual has the right to continue to pursue the cause or issue as a private citizen. In fact, that’s exactly what leads to the founding of new organizations and institutions, changes in the law, and even changes in cultural mores (just consider how MADD transformed attitudes about drinking and driving).

This right to see things differently also raises an ethical consideration in how we develop assignments for volunteers within our agencies. Do we expect to keep volunteers always “under control?”

6. Volunteering is a neutral act — a strategy for getting things done

Volunteering is not inherently on the side of the angels, nor is it an end unto itself. It is a means to accomplishing a goal and is done by people on both sides of an issue. Volunteering is a method that allows people to stand up for their beliefs.

7. The best volunteering is an exchange in which the giver and the recipient both benefit

Volunteering should not be confused with charity or noblesse oblige — those who have so much, give to those who have so little. Because volunteering puts the time donor directly into the service delivered, the impact of the activity reverberates back to the volunteer in ways much more complex than writing a donation check. Further, when volunteers also benefit from their service, they have even more motivation to do a good job, which means better service to the recipient, and an upward spiral of reinforcement.

8. Volunteering empowers the people who do it

Volunteering empowers volunteers, both personally and politically. On the personal level, volunteering contributes to individual growth, self-esteem, sense of control, and ability to make a contribution to society. At the community level, the collective action of volunteers who share a commitment to a cause is extremely powerful — real clout for real change.

9. Volunteering is an equalizer

When people volunteer, it is often more important who they are as human beings than what they are on their resumes. In a volunteer role, people can rise to the level of their abilities regardless of their formal qualifications: teenagers can do adult-level work, those with life experience can contribute to client service without a master’s degree, etc. Similarly, when running in a fundraising marathon, the corporate CEO and the school custodian are indistinguishable, as are all members of a nonprofit board of directors who share the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of this position whether they are employed in professional capacities or represent grassroots perspectives.

10. Volunteering is inherently optimistic and future-oriented

No one gives time to a cause they feel will fail. In fact, the whole rationale for volunteering is to assure the success of a cause. So, while people may take a paying job that is relatively meaningless if the salary is enticing, the reward for volunteered service is accomplishment.

This also means that people volunteer with a vision of the future, often in hopes of a better future in which a problem or disease will be conquered, communities will be safe and inclusive, and the world will be in harmony. This may sound terribly mushy (which may be why such a value is not expressed every day), but it is ultimately true.

Susan J. Ellis is president of Energize, a training, publishing and consulting firm specializing in volunteerism. Her Web site is

Conservatives Focus on Intermarrieds


Stephen Lachter didn’t know what to expect when a friend dragged him to a men’s club meeting at his Conservative synagogue five years ago.

“My father was in a men’s club, and to me, it was guys sitting around playing pinochle and volunteer ushering,” he admitted.

Instead, Lachter was surprised to see “interesting people having serious discussions,” and he “fell into a session on kiruv,” or outreach, to intermarried families. “I said to myself, this is something shuls need to be talking about.”

Today, Lachter is a kiruv consultant, a lay leader trained to reach out to intermarried families in his Washington congregation. He’s part of a nationwide program run by the Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, which is aimed at making Conservative synagogues more welcoming to their non-Jewish members.

The initiative comes at a time when the Conservative movement is concerned about declining numbers. The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs has consistently been ahead of the Conservative movement in reaching out to the intermarried.

That groundwork is bearing fruit. Last December at its biennial convention, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism announced its own kiruv initiative, advocating a more open attitude toward members’ non-Jewish spouses, while still holding conversion as the preferred goal.

The document, which has been distributed to Conservative congregations around the country, doesn’t go as far as the Men’s Club kiruv initiative, but it’s a big step in the right direction, said Rabbi Chuck Simon, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.

“Four years ago, we set our goal to put kiruv on the Conservative movement agenda within five years. We did it in three and a half,” he said.

In the past three years, the Men’s Club organization has held seven training seminars for lay leaders and now has close to 40 kiruv consultants working in Conservative congregations around the country. The consultants set up kiruv committees at their synagogues and organize discussion groups with intermarried couples, their parents and grandparents.

At Kiruv consultant Lachter’s congregation, “people have come out of the woodwork,” he said. “How do you talk to your child who is interdating? We don’t have that language. How do grandparents deal with their grandchildren, teaching them what Judaism is without treading on toes?”

The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs also has organized rabbinic seminars for interested Conservative rabbis on the assumption that kiruv consultants have to work closely with their rabbis to be effective. More than 120 rabbis have taken part in such seminars, including about 30 at a gathering held recently at Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom.

In its April 2006 edition, the federation’s Kiruv Initiative states its position as “in favor of conversion if possible,” while recognizing that many non-Jewish spouses “lead Jewish lives and raise Jewish families” even if they don’t convert themselves.

“The [federation] favors meeting these people where they are and assisting them in making Jewish choices,” the document concludes.

That’s a subtle distinction from the United Synagogue position. Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the United Synagogue’s executive vice president, spoke diplomatically about the federation approach.

“Anything one can do to encourage people to identify more clearly as Jews is good,” he said. “It’s not the approach we’re using, but it’s hard to be against an attempt to reach out to people.”

Rabbinic and lay training seminars are planned for Cincinnati and Anaheim in November, with more to follow next spring. This winter, the federation will begin an online evaluation of cultural change in the congregations taking part in the program.

At the Berkeley gathering, some of the rabbis, including Netivot Shalom’s Rabbi Stuart Kelman, were part of the Tiferet Project, a four-year effort that culminated with last year’s publication of “A Place in the Tent,” a booklet that urges the Conservative movement to adopt a more welcoming attitude toward intermarried families.

“For me, it’s not even a question,” Kelman said of the kiruv consultant idea. “One of the reasons there’s no bimah in my congregation is I’m trying to create a congregation that is accessible. I don’t think the rabbis can do it themselves; the best way to create cultural change is to empower lay people.”

Many of the rabbis have practical concerns: Their members are intermarrying, and they don’t want to lose them.

Rabbi Chai Levy of Marin County’s Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon noted that the most recent statistics in the county show that 90 percent of children ages 2-5 in families that identify as Jewish have a non-Jewish parent.

“The future of my congregation is, obviously, intermarried couples,” she said. “I have to think seriously about these people.”

 

Shlub to Hero: Film Sketches Gehry Life


“He starts out with that,” says Barry Diller, alluding to a squiggle-like drawing in the new documentary, “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” and “he ends up with this,” pointing to a model of the InterActive Corp. (IAC) Building, currently under construction in Manhattan. Although made completely of glass, a material that likes to be flat, Gehry has molded the glass walls to resemble a row of sailboats billowing in the wind.

Even to the architect’s detractors — and there are many — buildings like the IAC offer something new and unexpected, even if a lot of looking is needed sometimes to wrap one’s mind around these edifices. In short, the IAC Building aspires to be a work of architecture that is simultaneously and unapologetically a work of art.

There’s an implicit question in the comments of Diller, the chairman of Expedia and Gehry’s client for the IAC Building: How did that blankety-blank squiggle turn into a really good building?

The film, a rare departure into documentary by Sidney Pollack, director of “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa,” assays the mystery of Gehry, an outwardly aw-shucks guy, who regularly produces some of the world’s most aggressive and attention-getting buildings.

While it is interesting to hear Gehry, 77, describe his formative influences — building blocks during childhood, the images of fish, the architecture of Finnish master Alvar Aalto — this kind of museum-docent talk does not bring us close to the core of Gehry’s creativity. Pollack’s film is strongest when filling in the human, rather than theoretical, background.

The real question here is: How did this lower-middle-class Jew from Toronto become the most celebrated architect in the world, and one of the rare people in the profession, outside of Frank Lloyd Wright, to become a household name? (What other architect is well-known enough to be spoofed on “The Simpsons”?)

Pollack, with his skill in developing character, locates the Freudian threads in Gehry’s life story. A Canadian in Southern California, the young Gehry, then known as Goldberg, struggled in architecture school, believing himself victimized by anti-Semitism in a largely all-WASP profession.

He has the outsider’s simultaneous rejection of, and reverence for, authority, here symbolized by the architectural profession, with its weighty baggage of uptight, exclusionary, backward-looking rules. The young Gehry wonders why architecture must be so authoritarian and rule-bound, as opposed to something akin to the delight he experienced as a child, building imaginary cities on the floor of his aunt’s apartment.

Gehry’s creative solution — his psychoanalytic victory — was to embrace the delight of free-form design, while making sure that his buildings met the needs of his clients. His freedom in designing what appear to be purely sculptural objects that subsequently win rapturous praise must make him the envy of all architects who secretly wish they could find such willing clients. Gehry seems to embody the myth of the artist-hero, a symbol of personal attainment and untrammeled freedom of expression.

Yet self-doubt remains. On the eve of his greatest popular triumph, the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, five years ago, the architect recalls walking around the spectacular complex, shortly to become the most photographed and discussed building of the past 50 years, asking himself, “What have I done?” It is the most touching moment in the film.

That kind of vulnerability and introspection makes “Sketches of Frank Gehry” at times resemble a Woody Allen movie. The plotline certainly sounds a lot like Allen: A sad sack, Jewish shlub who feels excluded from the country club set of architects, turns out to be the designer of amazing buildings that turn the world of architecture on its ear. Meanwhile, the hero, in all innocence, says things like, “Gee, did I really do that?”

Adding to the Allen-like texture of the film is a series of celebrity talking heads — Diller, ex-Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, actor Dennis Hopper, rock musician Bob Geldof, ex-talent agency director Michael Ovitz, artist Julian Schnabel, the late architect Philip Johnson — each expressing his admiration for cher maitre.

And in the archetypally Allen moment, we meet Gehry’s psychoanalyst of 35 years, who acknowledges with a coy smile that “Frank has made me famous,” while adding that he refuses services to other architects seeking to emulate Gehry’s inner transformation. (Question for Gideon Kanner: Is there a statute of limitations on physician confidentiality?)

This enjoyable, undemanding film from the hand of a master director holds no terrors for nonarchitects and others who feel flummoxed by the mystique and technical complexity of the profession. This very much reflects the attitude of Gehry, who seems intent on puncturing a certain kind of architectural snobbery.

What the film does not do is help us understand the process through which a scribbled drawing turns into a finished building. For all the accessibility of Gehry the man, Gehry the creative personality remains a mystery.

Europe’s Jews Caught in Cartoon Furor


European Jews have expressed a mixture of anger and frustration as the furor over a Muslim cartoon erupted into violence in Europe and the Middle East.

As frequent targets of anti-Semitic cartoons — many of them in the Arab press — Jews on one hand sympathized with the Muslim outrage over depictions of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, which is considered by Muslims to be blasphemous.

But Jews joined many others in expressing shock at the level of violence the controversy sparked.

“Of course, we condemn all forms of propaganda that carry prejudice toward any faith. But people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, the secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress.

In Denmark, Jews felt solidarity with their country as it came under attack after a Danish newspaper printed the controversial cartoons, including one that depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed as wearing a turban shaped as a bomb.

“Usually the Jews are always in the center of things, but here we feel we are part of the Danish population,” said Rabbi Bent Lexner, Denmark’s chief rabbi.

Other newspapers across the world — in France, in Australia and in the United States — printed one or more of the cartoons. In France, the editorial director of France Soir, was fired after running at least one of the cartoons. At least one Israeli paper, the Jerusalem Post, also reprinted the cartoons. A German Jewish Web site, haGalil, was hacked after it posted some of the Danish cartoons.

The fallout took on specific Jewish overtones as the Muslim reaction intensified. As Muslims rioted across the Middle East, the Web site of the Arab European League printed anti-Semitic cartoons and Iran’s largest newspaper requested cartoon submissions that question the Holocaust.

“The cartoon was made by a Danish newspaper, not a Jewish one. But once again, someone does something and we as Jews are guilty,” said Petr Kadlcek, the head of Poland’s Union of Religious Jewish Communities.

Most European Jews, led by France’s chief rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, saw the original cartoons as a needless provocation.

Following a meeting with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Sitruk said, “We win nothing by disparaging religions, humiliating them by making caricatures of them.”

Jews are no strangers to racism dressed up as humor, said David Ruzie, a French university professor and international law specialist.

“There is humor, and there is humor,” Ruzie said. “It was through derision that Germany, and in France as well, before World War II, began to attack Jews.”

There was widespread condemnation of the Muslim reaction, which in addition to the anti-Semitic cartoons, included Muslim violence, throwing rocks at Danish and other European institutions abroad and, in some cases, setting buildings ablaze.

“I don’t believe in absolute freedom of expression,” said journalist Jean-Claude Baboulin, writing in Guysen Israel News, a news service, “but I certainly don’t defend the Muslims who believe they have a right to forbid others what their religion forbids them,” he wrote, referring to the Muslim prohibition to depict Mohammed.

This is not the first example of religious slander in the European media, but the reactions are exaggerated, said Jean-Michel Rosenfeld, a Paris official.

“There is something to be angry over, just like when Catholics were furious over caricatures of the Holy Trinity in the French press,” he said, “but the Catholics did not go out and burn buildings.”

Others reacted with more equanimity.

People of all faiths must work to defuse the situation, said Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, complementing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her call “for prudence and de-escalation.”

For some elderly Danish Jews, the violence brought back some historical nightmares, said Lexner, the Danish chief rabbi.

“I think that there are some kinds of fear, especially of those people who have seen this burning of flags and violence in the many countries, and they compare” that to the 1940s, fretting that “things are repeating themselves,” he said.

In England, both lawmakers and Muslim leaders condemned a demonstration last Friday in front of the country’s largest mosque, during which some Muslims threatened terrorism and another “7/7,” referring to the July subway and bus bombings that left 56 dead.

Most Muslim protests in Europe were peaceful, however.

Many European and American Jewish observers noted the irony of Muslims and Arabs objecting to an offensive characterization of Mohammed when anti-Jewish characterizations are rampant in the Arab world.

Some in the secular French Jewish community revealed bitterness at the anger expressed against France, particularly concerning demonstrations that took place in Gaza.

Ruzie wrote on the Web site desinfos.com: “The traditionally welcoming attitude of France toward the Palestinians” has not exactly “paid off.”

Underlying much of the reaction was an anger that efforts at tolerance and dialogue could now be jeopardized.

“Some people have worked for trying to integrate the Muslim community in the Danish society, and I think that, in that way, many years of work were destroyed,” Lexner said.

JTA staff writer Chanan Tigay in New York and correspondents Dinah A. Spritzer in Prague, Lauren Elkin and Brett Kline in Paris and Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.

 

Sondheim Knows How to Book ‘Em


Some people begin collecting because they’ve coveted certain objects for as long as they can remember. Others collect as an investment. And, of course, there are poseurs who hire prestige dealers to buy them trendy art because they want to be viewed as taste mavens.

Harry Sondheim, a retired criminal prosecutor for the L.A. County D.A.’s office, started to collect Judaica for none of those reasons. He was traveling in Holland when he simply noticed an artifact that appealed to him: “They had a museum, Der Weg, which means the Weighing House. They had an artist named Bicart. I bought some postcards with depictions of Jewish ceremonies on them. You can’t buy those postcards any longer.”

Reflecting his legal training, Sondheim answers questions methodically. Even his decision to focus on rare books, as opposed to art, shows a judicious attitude.

“It’s pretty hard to falsify a book,” he said, adding, “they’re not as likely to be stolen. If you have a thief in the house, they’re more likely to steal a silver menorah.”

Maybe it matters, too, that Sondheim attended the University of Chicago in the era when that institution still featured the Great Books courses.

Sondheim will be speaking at the 39th California International Antiquarian Book Fair’s “Collecting Your Roots” panel on Sunday, Feb. 19.

He especially likes rare manuscripts that include illustrations or, as he says, “depictions” of Jewish ceremonies and customs.

Sondheim has never taken a vacation specifically to collect books, but has purchased manuscripts at synagogues, museums and bookstores around the world, including Germany, where he can trace his genealogy back to around 1760. His family fled Germany in 1938, several months before Kristallnacht. The tomes he favors are typically printed in German, their existence all the more remarkable because of the Nazis’ program of burning Jewish books.

The best deal he ever got was a work by Arthur Szyk, a Polish Jewish artist from the first half of the 20th century who specialized in political caricatures and miniature painting. Given Sondheim’s background in the law, it is not surprising that he bought the “Statut of Kalisz.” The book is Szyk’s interpretation of a 13th-century manuscript that has been called the “Jewish Magna Carta,” a decree by which a Polish king gave Jews civil rights. Szyk illustrated the manuscript while also relating the statute to some other events in Jewish history.

“One page shows different occupations a Jew might have had, weaving, baking, a cobbler,” Sondheim said. “I acquired that at a reasonable price, around $17,000. Someone else’s copy was recently auctioned off for $64,000.”

Sondheim does not use eBay though he’ll search through an auction house’s Web site, which he calls “the equivalent of having their catalog.”

Collecting, he says, is “a sort of continuum. There are pictures of chuppahs from hundreds of years ago, and you have chuppahs today. You live the present through the past.”

The 39th California International Antiquarian Book Fair will be held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel, 2025 Avenue of the Stars, from Friday, Feb. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 19. Harry Sondheim will speak at the “Collecting Your Roots” panel, a free seminar, on Sunday at 2 p.m. For information, call (800) 454-6401.

 

Letters


Orthodoxy’s Role

I was disappointed but not surprised with Rabbi Tzvi Hersch Weinreb’s and the Orthodox Union’s flat rejection of Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky’s suggestion that the Orthodox community move beyond “traditional parameters” in its discourse with other denominations (Letters, Dec. 23). As an Orthodox participant in Rabbi Kanefsky’s interdenominational study groups, I have yet to find that these interactions blur denominational boundaries or threaten belief in Torah Min HaShamayim. In addition to creating a positive forum for the mutual desire to promote communal Jewish unity, they foster mutual understanding as well as respectful disagreement on fundamental matters of faith.

Rabbi Weinreb refers to Havdalah, where we delineate the distinction between Israel and the nations of the world. I doubt that being Mavdil between Jewish denominations is the intent of the prayer, unless one considers non-Orthodox denominations theologically equivalent to non-Jewish religions. Who can claim the moral authority to distinguish holiness among Jews? Historically our enemies have not been so discerning.

Gil Melmed
Los Angeles

The letter from the Orthodox Union (OU) spurning Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky’s well-reasoned argument in favor of increasing dialogue with the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism (“Orthodoxy Has Chance to Reshape Role,” Dec. 9) is worse than small-minded. It slanders and betrays some of the greatest leaders of both Orthodox and North American Jewry — who, fortunately, had both the good sense and remarkable ability to step forward for the benefit of Klal Yisrael.

One does not have to think back too far to recall Rabbi Israel Miller, who was active until the day of his death in 2002, as chairman of the Material Claims Conference, after holding the highest Jewish offices, including chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and an officer of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Zionist Organization and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In all these roles, Miller, a senior vice president of Yeshiva University, worked closely and with mutual respect with Conservative and Reform rabbinic counterparts, who consistently responded to his wisdom, guidance and dedication by repeatedly electing him to represent them all.

In Canada, a similar role was played by Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, a past president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, who founded the Toronto Rabbinical Fellowship together with Rabbis Gunther Plaut and Stuart Rosenberg, representing the Reform and Conservative streams respectively. Sadly, today, the Toronto Board of Rabbis is bereft of Orthodox members.

Ironically, one of the most popular and dynamic leaders of Orthodox Jewry at this moment, Richard Joel, was appointed president of Yeshiva University precisely because of the reputation he gained as the director of a revitalized Hillel Foundation — and as a direct result of his working primarily with Conservative and Reform rabbis, men and women, who served as directors of campus Hillels across the country.

Tragically, the attitude of today’s OU leadership will ensure that Modern Orthodoxy will be marginalized, to the detriment of its own movement and future generations of American Jewry.

Buzzy Gordon
Los Angeles

Slop Sink

I am responding to Rob Eshman’s editorial “The Slop Sink” (Dec. 31) as one who has been married for 40 wonderful years to an immigrant from Russia and has devoted an entire career to working at an institution that is staffed by beautiful souls from every corner of the globe. It is true that some of our society’s most vital institutions would not last even one day without foreign-born labor. We owe these people extreme gratitude and reverence.

However, we are sobered by two realities: 1) There is a difference between immigration and human trafficking. We have crossed that line. 2) Our society simply cannot absorb everyone who wants to be here. Greedy capitalists who thirst for cheap labor and twisted leftists who think that Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming are “occupied territory” have come together to become very strange bedfellows.

Unenforced immigration law threatens to become the most defining issue of the coming years unless common sense prevails.

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Van Nuys

‘Munich’ Message

The recent venom against Steven Spielberg surrounding “Munich” frightens me (“‘Munich’: The Missing Conversation,” Dec. 23). Artists like Spielberg profoundly influence culture without bullets and bombs. Surely he is not anti-Israel. He is pro-peace and has a deep passion, I’m sure, for his Jewish heritage and surely for human suffering.

Rick Lippin
Southampton, Pa

 

Punk Princesses: Jews With Attitude


There were always Jews in punk, even before there was punk.

“It really begins with Lenny Bruce,” says Steven Beeber, whose new book “The Heebie Jeebies at CBGBs: A Secret History of Jewish Punk,” will be published next year by A Capella Books. “Bruce sort of epitomizes the attitude, the whole smart-ass, clever truth-telling.”

In fact, the punk attitude is also a Jewish attitude that begins with the midrash, in which Abram smashes all but one of his father’s household idols and blames the sole survivor for the wreckage.

In its early days, punk was not only a form of music but also a philosophy, a way of looking at the world. And for three Jewish women musicians, it still is all that and more.

Jewlia Eisenberg, the founder and leader of Charming Hostess, a constantly mutating musical aggregation from the Bay Area, embraces the label “Jewish punk diva” with glee.

“Punk is a form of opposition,” Eisenberg wrote in an e-mail interview. “Real punks are radical in politics and culture. Punk is about screaming and dancing your way out of the margins. Punk is anti-materialist, DIY, direct, and in your face. Punk is a point of view; it’s a site of resistance, it’s a community…. And I can get with all that.”

But if you listen to records made by Charming Hostess — or Annette Ezekiel’s band Golem or Sophie Solomon’s Oi Va Voi — and expect shrieking three-chord rock played at the speed of light and the threshold of permanent hearing damage, you will be surprised. And if you are looking for torn T-shirts, safety pins and Doc Martens … well that’s so 1970s.

Or as Eisenberg dryly observes, “[Punk] is not defined simply by its symbols, which indeed are used to commodify punk and the energy it represents.”

Although the original spirit of punk was a kind of working-class outrage, expressed through a do-it-yourself homemade aesthetic, Eisenberg, Ezekiel and Solomon are university-educated, trained musicians. Of course, punk itself moved beyond three chords and inchoate snarls almost immediately, but the music of Charming Hostess, Golem and Oi Va Voi is stunning in its complexity.

Which is not to say you can’t dance to it.

When Golem played a couple of weddings during their West Coast tour this fall, there were horas and mosh pits side by side.

“Oh, yeah, that was our moshiest tour so far,” Ezekiel says with a grin.

So is Golem punk?

“It’s hard to label our music,” Ezekiel says. “I’m doing straight-up Yiddish music with a punk or rock attitude, but it’s not something you can see from the music.”

Heeb Magazine thinks they are punk, so much so that they won the award as “best punk band” at the publication’s first Jewish Music Awards. Reminded of this, Ezekiel laughed a little then noted that a friend of the late Joey Ramone, who was given a posthumous lifetime achievement award at the same ceremony, came up to her after hearing Golem and said approvingly, “You are so punk!”

For Ezekiel, too, it’s a question of attitude. She compares Golem’s approach to that of some of the more tradition-bound klezmer revival bands.

“I know deep down that we are punk, that we are a wild, edgy band,” she says. “I love the klezmer revival, but sometimes it’s missing the visceral energy, and everyone is playing the same material.”

By contrast, Golem leans more heavily on songs from Yiddish theater, perhaps not in a style that Molly Picon or Seymour Rechseit would recognize.

“People are always asking us why we don’t play more originals,” Ezekiel says. “I have no interest in writing songs. The research is what I love, and we reinterpret the songs we find by adding new elements.”

By contrast, much of Charming Hostess’s material is written by Eisenberg, although she draws on a bewildering variety of texts for her lyrics, ranging from the correspondence and diaries of Walter Benjamin to the verse of Bosnian poet Sem Mehmedinovic. She runs them through her own cerebral Mixmaster and creates delirious music for three female voices and occasional instrumental accompaniment. The result is best described by Ari Davidow, proprietor of the splendid KlezmerShack Web site (www.klezmershack.com) as “what Sweet Honey in the Rock might sound like if they had a bit more punk sensibility and broadened their range to include Balkan Ladino and Jewish campfire tunes.”

Eisenberg herself describes Charming Hostess’ music as “nerdy-sexy-commie-girlie,” and can number Ezekiel as one her most enthusiastic fans. Golem and Charming Hostess played a number of concerts together in California last fall, each described the experience as a joy.

“We even did some tunes together, which was great fun,” Eisenberg notes.

“I’ve never been so happy with a double bill before,” Ezekiel says. “We’re both really into the background and research and culture behind the music we perform, but we’re not bogged down by it.”

“I was talking to Annette today,” Eisenberg wrote, “and I told her why I think the … music of Charming Hostess and the raucous klezmer of Golem are a good double bill; Charming Hostess does avant music framed by a folk sensibility and Golem does folk music framed by an avant sensibility.”

Sophie Solomon, like Eisenberg and Ezekiel, was trained as a classical musician. Her own sensibility is certainly avant, although she would probably opt for hip-hop rather than punk as a label, and Oi Va Voi’s wildly energetic mix of Yiddish, Balkan, Roma, rock and rap undoubtedly draws on as wide a range of folk musics as Hostess or Golem.

Asked about Solomon, Ezekiel exclaims, “Yeah! She’s taking the old stuff and making it sexy, wild and contemporarily relevant. Totally!”

Solomon’s own musical background includes stints as a DJ at clubs and raves in her native England, and she is probably as well-known here for her collaboration with Josh Dolgin, better known as Socalled, on the “Hip-Hop Khasene,” a spirited meeting of Jewish wedding, turntablism, sampling and rap, as for her frenetic fiddle playing with Oi Va Voi. Coincidentally, Golem was also part of a highly publicized musical spoof of Jewish wedding traditions, “Golem Gets Married,” featuring a cross-dressing bride and groom and the band’s spirited musical readings of traditional tunes.

“Hip-Hop Khasene” is a project that speaks directly to Solomon’s own interests and underlines her affinities with Eisenberg and Ezekiel.

“I want to evoke the Jewish musical experience of the past two centuries,” she says, discussing the live version of “Khasene.” “You hear a sample from Naftule Brandwein at the same time that [80-year-old] Elaine Hoffman Watts is playing onstage with David Krakauer and me.”

Socalled’s sampling magic and breakbeat manipulation speak directly to Solomon’s desire to combine Jewish music cross-generationally and her own cross-cultural influences.

“The collage nature of what Josh does is particularly interesting to me,” she says. “I wanted to do something that is authentic — these are real, living wedding traditions — and the concert is like a wedding from beginning to end, the wedding ceremony from ‘Dobriden’ to ‘Zay Gezunt.’ But I also wanted to do something that raises questions about what ‘authentic’ is. This isn’t 19th-century Eastern Europe.”

In a way, Solomon’s remark about authenticity sums up the distance that punk has traveled from the Sex Pistols, the Dictators and the Ramones through the hip-hop world and into the contemporary Jewish music world inhabited by Charming Hostess, Golem and Oi Va Voi. As Steven Beeber says, “Hip-hop is the new punk, and has been for a long time.”

So are these women Jewish punk divas or Jewish hip-hop divas or what?

Ari Davidow, a particularly astute observer of everything klezmer and beyond, remarks, “The issue … is less punk than mash-up — the incredible variety of sounds you get when people who have grown up part of the rich tapestry of musical heritages now care enough about Jewish sources to do a Jewish remix.”

Charming Hostess’s most recent album is “Sarajevo Blues,” on the Tzadik label. They will probably be performing in Los Angeles in February. Golem’s most recent CD is “Homesick Songs” on Aeronaut Records. Oi Va Voi’s most recent recording, “Laughter Through Tears,” is on the Outcaste label, and “Hip-Hop Khasene” by Solomon and Socalled is widely available.

George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week; his new book, “Essential Torah,” will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.

 

After the Ashes


 

On a rabbinic mission to Israel in 1998, Natan Sharansky, then Israel’s minister of industry and trade, addressed our group.

Sharansky recounted to us how he was invited to visit Russia a year after his election to the Knesset. It was the first time in history that a past prisoner of the Russian government returned as a leader in the free world. Sharansky told of other unique aspects of his trip.

“I was the first state guest who insisted not on going to the Russian Ballet,” he said. “But rather I wanted to visit the former KGB prison where I was incarcerated.”

The Russians were baffled by this unusual request. It actually took a good deal of time for Moscow to agree, and the trip was delayed until consent was granted. The Russians meticulously prepared for the visit.

Sharansky said, “It was so clean that it almost looked like the Ballet Theater. Of course they cleaned it up in my honor, and I thanked them for their kindness.”

As Sharansky and his wife, Avital, toured the prison, he asked his hosts, “Please show me the punishment cell.”

The officials didn’t know what to do. They were not prepared for this request, and obviously it wasn’t on the official itinerary. Furthermore, they wanted to deny that there was such a room.

“They showed me a regular cell and said it was the punishment cell,” he said. “I told them that if there is one thing they cannot deceive me about, it is Russian prisons.

“So they finally consented and showed me a punishment cell that was empty. I then asked to be left alone with my wife for 15 minutes.”

When the Sharanskys reappeared, the journalists asked why he insisted on such a visit. They wanted to know if this was an act of masochism.

“‘On the contrary, it was the most inspiring moment of my life,'” Sharansky responded. “‘When I was a prisoner of the Soviet Union, my jailers tortured and taunted me and told me that world Jewry had betrayed me and that I would never leave the prison alive.’

“Today, the KGB does not exist, the Soviet Union does not exist, and 1 million Jews have left the punishment cell called the Soviet Union. This is what I went back to see. This is what I am thankful for.”

Sharansky’s attitude is as old as the Bible. This week’s Torah portion began with a description of the olah, the obligatory burnt offering that was brought twice a day — morning and afternoon — to the Holy Temple.

Strangely, the description starts with four verses devoted to the laws about removing the ashes of the sacrifice that was consumed throughout the previous night. Only with verse five do we find the laws pertaining to the sacrifice itself.

Rabbi Chayim ben Attar, the 18th-century Moroccan kabbalist and commentator, suggested that this order was replete with a moral message. In his biblical commentary, the Or HaChayim, he argued that it depicted Jewish history in which suffering seems to dominate, but in the end victory will reign.

“This is the teaching of the burnt offering: It is the burnt offering on the firewood….”

Our history has been “the offering on the firewood,” that consumed so many Jews, he notes in Or HaChayim. When one reads Jewish history it appears like a gigantic furnace devouring so many of our people.

The fire of anti-Semitism burned throughout a long, dark night that seems to have no end. The Torah, however, tells us that this is not our destiny; rather, “the Kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning … you shall not extinguish it.”

We, the generation after the Holocaust, the generation of the establishment of the State of Israel, the generation of the freedom of Soviet Jewry and the generation of the ingathering of Ethiopian Jewry, know the truth of this message.

Jewish history is not only fire and ashes; it is the promise of a glorious destiny. Our job is to make that destiny happen sooner rather than later.

Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

 

Our Future Lies Rooted in Ourselves


The last time my name appeared in The Jewish Journal, I had just been dubbed the “Milken Idol” for winning a public-speaking contest with what

The Journal termed a “stirring pro-Israel speech” that called for “Zionist solidarity.”

In that speech, I said that “there are no more excuses for apathy, complacency or passivity” and spoke of how we must empower Israel to stop a “sick, repulsive enemy.” Looking back more than half a year later, I do not know if I truly understood how significant and imperative my message was.

Since making that speech, I have traveled to Poland with March of the Living and visited Israel three times. I now understand.

This past weekend Duke allowed the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) to hold its annual conference on campus. When it became clear to me that the president of the university thought hosting a group that would not condemn terrorism affirmed the value of free speech and “dialogue,” I struggled with how I would react.

I found an apologetic attitude toward terrorism on campus. The editorial in our school paper supported the PSM’s decision to not condemn terrorism by ludicrously explaining that “if the PSM were to take a stance on the legitimacy of suicide bombings and other militant acts as a means for a solution, it might alienate a segment of its members.”

I stayed in contact with members of the American Jewish Congress and StandWithUs, joined Duke Friends of Israel, became active with the Freeman Center for Jewish Life, helped the Joint Israel Initiative with ads for the school paper and joined the Duke Conservative Union, the only non-Jewish student group that condemned and protested the school’s decision to host the conference.

I engaged anyone and everyone in debate and tried to contend with the widespread mentality that believes supporting the underdog is an “educated” point of view. I was invigorated in my outrage when I walked by signs telling me that by virtue of being a Zionist I supported ethnic cleansing.

In the week before the conference, faced with a campus rife with ignorance and no strong collective Jewish voice, I still did not know exactly how I wanted to respond.

I decided to attend a PSM workshop, spend some time at the Freeman Center and then join the protest against the hatefest on its final day.

At the conference, I found the group’s messages abhorrent and reprehensible. It was also painful it was to see some PSM organizers wearing Magen Davids and sporting anti-Israel T-shirts and passing out materials with anti-Semitic slogans. When a Jewish PSM organizer with a chai around her neck walked into the room and stood next to me, I was so repulsed that I had to leave the conference.

I’m a product of Los Angeles Jewish schooling, yet by some divine error I ended up at a campus that was not only devoid of any Jewish identity, but also hosting a divestment campaign.

Yet I keep thinking back to the girl with the chai as a lucid reason of why I ended up here. The image makes clear to me that my role as a Jew in a world that is growing more and more anti-Semitic is not to try and eradicate hatred of Jews from the earth.

My role is to help my Jewish peers be proud and knowledgeable members of this community, so that I never again have to attend an anti-Semitic campaign organized by Jews.

Our survival boils down to one thing: our peoplehood. It is the intangible quality of Judaism that made two Australian girls invite me to Shabbat dinner on the first day of school, even though nothing I was wearing would have identified me as Jewish.

That quality is the thing that allows for Sinai Temple to have a successful program helping our fellow Jews in Argentina and for Milken to have an exchange program with Jewish Mexicans. It is the thing that empties out dozens of El Al jets so that under the cover of night, persecuted Ethiopian Jews can become Israelis. It is the raid on Entebbe. And it is the indescribably beautiful thing that makes Israel an open country to any and every Jew.

The PSM has reinforced the sense of urgency I expressed seven months ago. Anti-Semitism is not the stuff of the 1930s we read about in our history textbooks. It is the story of my past weekend, it is in this morning’s newspaper, it is the truth of many world leaders, and it is not going away.

The PSM showed me once again why the future of the Jewish people does not rest with converting uneducated hypocrites into reasonable human beings.

Our future rests with ourselves — a future rooted in the Jewish people, a future where we continue to be the people God chose and blessed from all others, a future where every Jew recognizes Israel as the physical manifestation of their religion, and a future in which we continue to disappoint every person who dreams of our end by continuing to be the most educated, charitable, successful and cohesive group of people in the world.

The Mickey Rule


My brother Mickey works with teens and adults as a mental health counselor. Mickey began his counseling career while he was a teenager. Like many talented people who begin their careers with a significant bang, he gave me advice on teenage dating that was so profound, so far-reaching, that only in my 40s, as a divorced man, did I realize its importance.

Had I diligently followed what I call, "The Mickey Rule," my life and certainly my postdivorce dating would have taken a different path. When I was in my tender teen years, Mickey said, "Do you want to be happy? Then don’t sleep with anyone crazier than you."

For those separated or newly divorced, truer words were never spoken. For many of my friends, and even me, the crazy time of divorce attracts those equally crazy or worse.

There seems to be an unwritten rule that states: "If you are going through a convulsive experience, you ought to be open to those with equally or more compelling issues." Whatever happened to: "Put your own mask on first, then, tighten the straps before you try to assist others"?

Still, way too many of us violate the Mickey Rule. Following my separation, I began dating someone who initially met four criteria her predecessor lacked, and so happy was I at getting those four met, I forgot about the other 20 criteria that also mattered. 1) She was an out-of-stater, and only in my world on my per-incident invitation. 2) She had a quality I so admire in a woman: a lot of interest in me. 3) She possessed an attitude toward sexuality I had previously only seen on Animal Planet. 4) She was cute. I mean really cute.

What I didn’t initially realize was that she was also certifiably nuts. Not eccentric, not wacky. I’m talking her own, personal DSM-IV classification. She probably thought "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" was a documentary.

Her out-of-town status gave her time to straighten up for my short visits. Her profound interest in me masked a pathological unwillingness to attend to her own needs. Her libido, well, that would later prove to not be worth the cost of entry. If she had been local, her tenure in my life would have lasted about as long as your average JDate drive-by coffee meeting. But she lasted longer. In fact, the break up took longer than the actual relationship. I was low-hanging fruit in this experience, but I was a volunteer in the orchard.

Why do we go for insane people?

There are many answers, and in the name of service, let me offer some tips. First a disclaimer: I have been divorced for almost nine years. Today, I am in a loving relationship with a woman who is my peer, my passion and one of my heroes. I had several postdivorce relationships (you know the score, first you get appointed, and then you get disappointed) and I enjoy a great collaborative relationship with my former spouse, whom I respect. I am a lucky man. Now, let’s return to our regular programming.

We go for crazy people because we don’t understand our criteria in a partner. I think women are generally clearer on what they are looking for than us men. Some guys like an organic approach to defining wants (e.g., "I’ll learn on the job"). Others just pick a single quality and hone in on that item. Once, following a relationship with an esthetician, I temporarily only picked JDate women with great eyebrows. I wouldn’t recommend that one as criteria. I could see it leading to the "Crazy Person’s Full Employment Act."

We attract where we are at. You see it in spades among folks searching for a financial/emotional/spiritual rescue. Instead of attracting someone to rescue them, they seem to only pull in people who also need rescuing. So, before you look at a person, look in the mirror. Ask yourself if their tsuris is drowning out your ability to deal with your own stuff. Or what is it about you that really attracts them?

We often don’t understand the risks of physical chemistry. Physical chemistry is like Botox — a little of it smoothes wrinkles and a lot of it paralyzes you. Don’t get me wrong, I admire physical beauty (hell, my partner is downright yummy) and I understand why supermodels get paid big bucks. But physical chem ain’t enough, not even here in Los Angeles. Here’s a little test to see if you are misaligned on the importance of physical beauty: Close your eyes and listen to the object of your affection talk for a minimum of two paragraphs. If their personal stock price drops while your eyes are closed, you may have a problem.

Chemistry is not correlated with human goodness. Remind yourself often that you can have great chem with some very wrong people. But remember, it’s not your job to judge your exes. That’s the responsibility of the criminal justice system.

If you think being in a relationship with a crazy person is bad, wait till you break up with them. Welcome to "bunny boiling." The key to avoiding a category-five hurricane is to do something I once failed to do: effective pre-breakup planning. Remember to remove all personal possessions from their home before the announcement. The key is denying the loon a huge number of opportunities to hijack the normal exchange of personal possessions and turn it into a series of bad Tennessee Williams dramas.

Applying the Mickey Rule. Is there hope once you embrace the Mickey Rule? Despite the mourning that we all go through after one of these experiences, most everyone winds up being loved better than they were before.

For me, it was simply a matter of becoming the person I wanted to attract. I did it a little later in life, but nevertheless, just in time.

Thanks, Mick.


Sam Shmikler is a writer living in Los Angeles. He can be contacted at sam@shmikler.com.

Jewish + Humor = ‘Jumor’


Groucho Marx once said that there’s no such thing as an old joke if you’ve never heard it before.
And maybe two young Jewish filmmakers heard that maxim and decided they’d find fresh material for their 45-minute
documentary, “Jumor: A Journey Through Jewish Humor.”
Laguna Beach local Aaron Krinsky, with co-director and his Yale University pal Scott Kirschenbaum, explored their
Jewish humor heritage by interviewing more than 30 Jewish elderly residents at 14 Jewish nursing homes, including Heritage
Pointe in Mission Viejo. On Sunday, Sept. 5, the Jewish Community Center 532-seat theater will showcase the
Krinsky-Kirschenbaum saga, a 18,000-mile, six-week summer trip before their junior year.

“‘Jumor’ is a look into our own culture through our elderly community,” Krinsky said. “The more homes we visited,
the more we realized we were interested in the stories itself, not the comics who told them.”

The directors, inspired by the humor of other great 20th century comedians, delved further into the gift of
laughter in their own culture. They found through reflections by the film’s subjects that life in a shtetl, faith
and use of Yiddish serve as a basis for Jewish humor.

“Years ago, Jewish young men and women did not have the same opportunity as non-Jews to create their own
[opportunity],” said Lillian from Miami. “When they met each other they did not say, ‘Oy vey, this is going on
and that is going on,’ they said humorous stories. They had to learn how to laugh at themselves otherwise they
would be crying all the time.”

Film subjects included a 106-year-old woman from Los Angeles and a vibrant 102-year-old, Sylvia Harmatz., who
appears to have a great memory for a good joke.
“The residents were thrilled to have the two young men come to perform and speak with them about the topic of Jewish
humor,” said Rena Loveless, director of Mission
Viejo’s assisted-living facility Heritage Pointe. “There was a warm reception to the film when it was shown at the
facility. The residents were happy to be apart of this project.”

The duo’s filmmaking technique is unorthodox. To establish rapport with their subjects, Kirschenbaum performs a
stand-up act based on the stories and jokes of their generation of comedians, while Krinsky is in the sidelines
filming the reaction of the crowd. After the show, each home’s directors select a handful of the most articulate
residents to deliver their own wisecracks.

speaking on similar subjects creates momentum for the topics and shows the stories coming directly from the people who lived them.

“We used the editing process to create a sense of fabric, of knowledge coming directly from the people’s mouths to establish
an attitude and tone in the film,” Krinsky said. “This film is about more than Jewish humor, it is a generation talking and telling
a story.”
Along their voyage, the filmmakers start sensing parallels between their own impressions of Jewish culture and those of their elderly
subjects. Each day was a new exploration of both the subject and the subject’s cultural history, and how a sense of humor binds Jews
together.

“It is not just about our culture and ‘Jumor,'” Krinsky said. “This movie slowly became more about them [the elderly residents]
and us [filmmakers], where you do not laugh at the participants, but with them.”

Join one of the filmmakers for the 45-minute viewing of “Jumor,” followed by a talk on the documentary in the JCC theater, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 5, One Federation Way, Irvine. Requested donation $5 (general), $3 (seniors, children). For information, call (949) 435-3400.

Frum Frenzy


Visitors trolling for casual sex on Craigslist.org last week were left scratching their heads over an unfamiliar reference that has surfaced in a flurry of recent postings.

"I keep seeing this term ‘Frum.’ Can somebody please clue me into what the hell that is?" wrote Jeff, a 30-year-old regular on the site.

"OK, I give up … what does ‘frum’ mean?" huffed another.

To the posters’ disappointment, frum (pronounced "froom") is not shorthand for a kinky new posture or adventurous attitude. It’s a Yiddish word that technically means "religiously observant," but for all intents and purposes is used by men and women who identify themselves as Orthodox Jews.

Jeff, an events planner who grew up Catholic in the Midwest, said he kept seeing requests from frum men and women seeking frum sexual partners.

"The only thing that was in my mind was ‘fru-strated, m-arried?’ I had no clue what it was," he said. "I didn’t realize it was an Orthodox Jewish person. From what I understand, they’re supposed to put a sheet between them when they have sex."

It turns out that the deeply religious have sexual tastes as mundane as the rest of us:

"Single frum guy for single frum girl for fun!" one 24-year-old wrote. "Married, frum guy looking for a frum girl (married or unmarried) for some NSA [no strings attached] fun. We can have good time ‘learning’ together," a 31-year-old posted.

"Frum married guy looking for frum guy to explore," wrote another, continuing: "I am a frum married 28-year-old guy … during the summer my wife will be upstate and I am looking to explore having sex with a man … please be frum."

That’s not to say that this frum frenzy hasn’t ushered in a whole range of heretofore unimaginable caveats such as "We could do as little as you want," written by a gentle soul seeking a frum woman, and "No Chasidish," written by a 24-year-old married Manhattanite, referring to the ultra-Orthodox denomination whose members wear black hats and suits and sport long sidelocks.

Or, less chastely, a poster seeking "Frum girls gone wild" for an orgy in Brooklyn, or another one advertising a Yahoo group for married frumsters seeking "extracurricular fun."

Though the posters are seeking members of their observant sects to romp in the sack with, none seem to be under the illusion that this is, well, kosher.

"Frum guy seeks frum girl for not such frum fun!" a 32-year-old wrote. And one might question whether picking someone from the notoriously tight-knit community would be a discreet move.

In case there were any doubts, Orthodox Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, confirmed that Jewish law prohibits such shenanigans — either in the form of extramarital affairs or premarital sexual contact.

"Rabbis have taught that there is a prohibition of all contact of a sexual nature between male and female prior to marriage," he said, referring to Maimonides’ encyclopedic code of Jewish law. "But we’re not talking here about a man and a woman who are emotionally bonded and have difficulty with a specific Jewish law. We’re talking about people who are completely disconnected and lonely. It’s sad; it reflects the reality of our time."

Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, director of organizational development for the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, added that while traditional Judaism discourages sexual relations outside of marriage, "Historically some were permitted if the relationship was ongoing and committed" in the case of concubines.

"I assure you, they know very well that society doesn’t approve it — that’s why they’re going to the Net," he added. "If they belong to parts of a classically frum society, they can’t exactly go to a party and say, ‘Do you want to come back to my place?’"

"That’s so funny," said Jessica Ressler, 26, a Modern Orthodox divorce lawyer. "I just posted an ad on there for a nanny. I didn’t know they went on there for that."

Of course, it was only a matter of time before a class of frum frauds emerged on Craigslist. But if the missives from Orthodox neighborhoods are to be believed, where there are frum, there is desire.

"Are there any frum men here that want to meet for real?" one single gal wrote. "I am sick and tired of all the fakes here."

Article reprinted courtesy The New York Observer.


Anna Schneider-Mayerson is a writer living in New York City.

Do Not Abandon the Jews of France


As the old song goes: "I love Paris in the springtime. I love Paris in the fall." But for many Jews, Paris, and all of France, is not at the top of their visitor’s hit parade, because of the anti-Semitic activities that have plagued that country in recent times.

Currently, there are 60 million residents of France, of which 600,000 are Jewish, while the Muslin population is now at 6 million or 10 percent of the country. Suffice it to say, this last statistic has been offered as one of the main factors in the increase of anti-Semitic activities in the past few years, this, plus the fact that there is an inordinately high unemployment rate among the Muslim population (18 percent).

Also, the reality of anti-Israel sentiments of nearly all believers in Allah combine to make this a very difficult period for our French Jewish brothers and sisters.

When Carol and I decided to go to Paris on vacation this summer, many congregants and colleagues reacted quite negatively. "Why to a place where Jews are treated so badly?" some asked. Others cited the newspaper articles declaring that many French Jews were contemplating aliyah, a permanent move to Israel.

Now, after having spent a week in Paris and returning home, I can declare to you that the worst thing we can do to show our loyalty to the Jews of France is to not go and visit them.

Carol and I attended and I spoke at Sabbath services at one of Paris’ four Reform synagogues. The 40 or so members present were grateful for our attendance and wanted me to know without hesitation that the French government is not anti-Semitic, and that most of the anti-Jewish problems are being caused by the Muslim population, specifically.

"Do not abandon us," is what I heard over and over from the folks I spoke with on that Sabbath eve in Paris. And frankly, it doesn’t make sense to shun or disconnect from our fellow Jews at a time when they truly need us.

We arrived in Paris at the moment when news of a terrible anti-Semitic incident became known. A 23-year-old woman and her baby were attacked with knives and injured at a train station on the outskirts of Paris. The media covered the story extensively. The government spoke out against the attack. The official Jewish community decried it as one in a series of atrocities.

This event happened on a Thursday. By the following Wednesday, it was announced in the press that the woman, not a Jew, had fabricated the entire beating and had a long history of bringing attention to herself through such fantasies. But the damage was already done, and the situation of the Jews in France was further degraded.

The bottom line: The Jews of France are undergoing an upsurge of anti-Semitism. The causes are complex: unemployed Muslim immigrants, the anti-Israel attitude of so many that is transferred to the Jew on the street and the traditional dislike of Jews that has gone on for thousands of years.

However, the French government is not the main culprit. I met with the emissary of the French government to the Jews of France. He has the rank of "ambassador" and is very sophisticated and sympathetic vis-a-vis the problems of the Jews in France.

I was impressed with him, and he plans to visit Southern California in the fall. I think we should return the favor and not paint all the French with the same brush.

Lawrence Goldmark is the rabbi at Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada.

Commitment’s Price


These days, many women complain about the epidemic of males who run in terror from the thought of a committed relationship.

But there are plenty of guys out there who are eager to commit. I know, since I just found one.

Like many people searching for love, I found Ken through an online matchmaking service. As soon as I clicked on his profile and photo, I knew that any guy with a face that honest and eyes that sincere wouldn’t steer me wrong.

After a bit of research, I had it on good authority that Ken didn’t smoke, drink, bet the mortgage at the racetrack or chase women. He didn’t care if a woman looked like Jennifer Lopez or Kathy Bates. He was just a sincere guy looking for a little honest love in his life.

There was only one thorny issue: What would my husband say about all this?

Clandestinely, I offered to meet Ken. We took a walk around the neighborhood and hit it off. I invited him home to meet the family, but warned him that my husband might not go for this arrangement.

I realized that Ken’s manners could appear a little crude and urged him to be on his best behavior. Yet despite my admonitions, Ken behaved badly during his trial run with the family. It did not help that one of his first acts as a guest in our home was to appear in the living room, chewing on a pair of underwear that he had lifted from the laundry.

“He’s just nervous,” I said, trying to excuse the inexcusable. “Besides, he’s an orphan. It’s not his fault that he didn’t have anyone to teach him the finer points of social etiquette.”

“Next thing you know, he’ll be chewing up the furniture,” my husband said. “Let’s send him back.”

“No!” the children shouted in unison.

This was the only thing they had all agreed on since the night I suggested they eat Corn Pops for dinner. They thought Ken’s manners were charming, probably because he made their own behavior look classy in comparison.

We overruled my husband, but our victory came at a price. As Ken began to feel more comfortable, he revealed a kinkiness that I would never have imagined.

He lapped water from the toilet, filched snacks from the garbage, including things too repulsive to mention, and jumped on the kitchen table when our backs were turned and ate all the cheese off our just-delivered pizza. These boorish behaviors made a black mark on Ken’s record.

“I’m sure he’ll learn to behave eventually,” I said, doubting whether this was really true.

Ken may have been cute, but based on what we could glean of his intelligence, he was unlikely to ever qualify as a Fullbright scholar. One day, I came home to find that my husband’s prediction had come true: Ken had tunneled through one of the living room couches, his face still full of couch stuffing. I wondered: Could this relationship be saved?

Reprimands did no good. If we shouted, “Ken, drop that calzone, right now!” or “No making woo woo in the shoe!” he seemed genuinely contrite, if not a little confused. His expression seemed to ask, “Did you think I’d sit here reading the Wall Street Journal? I’m just a beagle, for God’s sake!”

This explains why for years I flatly refused my kids’ pleadings to acquire a canine companion. I envisioned cleaning up messes throughout the house, pitching good shoes into the trash that the puppy had chewed and trying to stop his insane barking at the mailman.

Essentially, I envisioned the very life I am living now. We’ve had fish and turtles and still have a hamster that has enjoyed surprising longevity, given our previous adventures in pet ownership. However, I fear that one day soon we will arrive home to discover the hamster has died of a heart attack while running on his wheel, terrorized by our new puppy, who thinks the rodent is lunch.

Under the force of my kids’ grinding, incessant pleas (a specialty of the house), I buckled. In a moment of insanity, I agreed to hunt with my youngest son on the Internet, clicking on dozens of doggie profiles. We immediately had to dismiss several inappropriate candidates.

“Hairball came to us with a bit of an attitude problem, but with a lot of work, he’s sure to become a reasonably lovable companion,” was one honest description of a terrier. Just what I needed: another personality with attitude.

One handsome lab came with this caveat, “Shaquille is recovering from a mastectomy and is fearful of children. Takes antidepressants daily. Would do best in a quiet, adult-only home.”

Most of these darling doggies were not destined for our family, including a skateboard-riding Lhasa Apso that nipped at young children; Leroy and Estelle, a pair of yappy Chihuahuas that had to be placed together or they would commit suicide, and an aged rottweiler named Boo recovering from a broken leg. All things considered, Ken seemed the best of the bunch.

True, since he joined the family we are down by one couch, three shoes, two pizzas and an unquantifiable pair of socks and underwear.

But at least he wasn’t afraid to commit.


Judy Gruen writes the popular “Off My Noodle” humor column, available on her
Web site, www.judygruen.com. She is also
a columnist for Religion News Service.

Hostility to Jews Permeates New Iraq


Last August, when Imam Mahdi al Jumeili of the small Hudheifa Mosque in Baghdad’s Shurti neighborhood met three American officers to resolve a dispute over soldiers entering the grounds of his mosque, his first question was: "Are any of you Jews?"

When he was satisfied that none were, he allowed the meeting to proceed. Prior to the Americans’ arrival, he had voiced his views about them.

"We are sure they came here to steal the country and protect Israel," he said, adding that "Judaism and Masonism are at war with Islam."

Such views are common in Iraq, where al Yahud (the Jews) are everywhere. Purportedly serious works about the Jewish threat, including Arabic editions of the notorious czarist forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," are available in every book market.

The widespread acceptance of outlandish fantasies about Jewish infiltration and manipulation demonstrates the degree to which Iraqis, whose views were shaped by years of authoritarian control, misunderstand and fear the outside world. The anti-Semitic paranoia is one measure of how difficult the transition to liberal democracy will be.

For a journalist, not a day goes by without mention of Jews and Israel. "We are Muslims!" a taxi driver declared proudly during an evening ride to a hotel. "And Jews come to our land?"

When asked to whom he was referring, he said: "They are all Jews. The Americans are all Jews and mercenaries. We know their religion."

Another taxi driver explained that "America and the Jews are one. We know this from their interests, their relationships and America’s defense of the Jews…. America and Jews are the same because they have the same goals and the same faith."

An angry man in the market of Abu Ghraib, a town west of Baghdad, explained that "the Americans are Jews. Their work is Jewish. Nobody accepts them."

Last summer and fall, signs on the walls of the Abu Hanifa mosque warned Iraqis that Jews had come to the Ekal Hotel and planned to purchase land, just as they did in Palestine, to drive Iraqis out of their country. "Do not stab your fellow Iraqis in the heart" by selling land to the Jews, the signs exhorted. A visit to the Ekal Hotel proved that it was closed for renovations and had no guests.

In November, at the Rahman Mosque in Baghdad’s Mansour district, faithful Shiites heard Sheikh Ali al Ibrahimi condemn a decision by the Iraqi Governing Council to let certain non-Iraqis obtain Iraqi citizenship. Ibrahimi warned that "if Jews reside in Iraq, then they will become Iraqi citizens, and they will own Iraq, and we will be their guests."

The widespread Iraqi hostility toward Jews stands in contrast to a more ambivalent Muslim tradition. Although the Quran frequently condemns Jews, it mandates a modus vivendi with them, relegating them to an inferior but protected status.

Historically, the Muslim attitude toward Jews lacked the racial element of European anti-Semitism, holding that if a Jew converted, he was to be treated like any other Muslim. But the conflict over Palestine, the creation of Israel and its defeat of Arabs and occupation of their land, intensified anti-Jewish feeling. Arab and Muslim authors began to adopt European racist and anti-Semitic theories about Jewish conspiracies to explain Israel’s existence, strength and American support.

Those seeking to give these theories religious legitimacy have little trouble finding support in the Quran, a sprawling work with many passages that are open to interpretation. "Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and pagans," instructs Verse 5:85, implying that Jews and pagans are of equal stature as enemies of Muslims and God.

The Quran describes Jews as disobedient and treacherous unbelievers, rejecting God and His messengers. The Jewish worship of the golden calf after God made a covenant with them (2:92-3) and their recurring violations of pacts made with the Prophet Mohammed (8:56-8) show they are not to be trusted.

According to the "cow" chapter (2:88), "God’s curse is on them for their blasphemy. Little is it they believe." Other verses imply that Jews "shall be the companions of hell fire" (4:86), describe them as bragging about killing Jesus (4:157) and call their deeds "evil" (4:79-80). Thus the basis exists, for those who choose to use it, to promote the hostility and palpable fear of Jews that confront journalists in Iraq on a daily basis.

Iraqi newspapers have helped spread the panic about a Jewish invasion. Last summer, the independent Sunni Al-Saah warned Iraqis to check Chinese-made appliances for concealed Stars of David, because the Israelis would be surreptitiously selling their products in Iraq. The independent Iraqi daily, Al-Yawm Al-Aakher, reported that "the frantic campaign to resettle the Jews [in Iraq] has aroused the annoyance of Iraqis, particularly the clerics."

On July 10, Al-Adala, a newspaper published by the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, warned that "a number of Jews are attempting to purchase factories in Baghdad." Dar Al-Salam, a newspaper owned by the Iraqi Islamic Party, reported on the same day that Mosul’s association of clerics issued an edict prohibiting the sale of land to non-Iraqis, lest it end up in the hands of Jews.

Such accounts are taken quite seriously. It seems nearly everyone in Baghdad has a friend or relative who has seen Jews buying land.

A version of this article originally appeared in Reason magainze.

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.

It’s Not Our Right to Challenge Israel


I grew up in Australia in the 1960s and well remember, as a child, sitting by the radio or television anxiously awaiting developments during the Six-Day War.

I vividly recall scouring the paper for details of troop movements during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and remember being unable to sleep at night for fear that Israel might not exist when I awoke the following morning.

But I also remember a more powerful lesson from childhood. My Jewish day school education left me with the enduring belief that decisions regarding the security interests of the State of Israel were best left in the hands of those whose sons and daughters were asked to fight its battles.

Whatever our opinions about Israel’s claim on the territories, its attitude to Palestinian nationalism or its rights to self-defense, no one was asking us to risk our lives for Israel’s sake.

I had neither the right nor privilege to challenge the government of Israel’s decisions on how to protect its citizens. If I did so, I was in some way undermining that government and endangering Israel’s existence in a hostile world.

In a cynical age such as ours, this parochial attitude might seem charmingly out of date. And yet, this central tenet of a Zionist education remained embedded in my consciousness throughout high school, through my student leadership days and even into my 30s, when I had to make strenuous efforts to channel my bitter opposition to the Oslo process into nonpublic activism.

I resisted and continue to resist attacking a democratically elected government of Israel. I remain committed to the notion that short of living full time in the Jewish State, the policies of Israel, for better or worse, deserve to be publicly respected.

The wisdom of this approach is often challenged, particularly within my own ideological circle. My usual response to such criticism is that the State of Israel will always have far greater enemies than its own government, and that these enemies are much worthier of challenge.

Maybe that is why I am so angered by advertisements and articles in our local papers that claim that alternative voices are being muffled in the community. By "alternative," they, of course, mean opposition to the Israeli government.

When I read the most recent lachrymose statement on the back page of The Jewish Journal, my first reaction was a sense of irony. How often during the long years of Oslo, when many in my own circle felt that Oslo was a deathtrap leading Israel not to peace but war, did we feel like pariahs, with no audience or forum to hear our perspective? Yet, I still can’t remember anyone suggesting that we buy advertising space proclaiming our sense of exclusion. Despite our worst fears, we knew that time would prove us tragically right.

My second reaction was more pointed. What does this self-described loyal opposition really want?

For two years, Israel had a national unity government composed of left and right — a government that achieved a record 70 percent approval rating.

It was a government in which the prime minister’s own right-wing party was in the minority. It was a government whose leader had expressed support for the creation of a Palestinian state. It was a government that had laid down a clear agenda for negotiations, had accepted many American proposals from Mitchell to Tenet to Zinni. It was a government attempting to extricate Israel from one of the most difficult security situations it has ever encountered.

While Israelis are dying in their dozens, for no other reason than that they are Jews in the wrong place at the wrong time, who are we to tell the Israeli government how they can best be protected? Maybe this unity government doesn’t have all the answers, but surely it is better equipped than any of us to under take the necessary problem-solving.

Finally, I thought of the many community forums in which I have participated or which I have attended. In these community gatherings, there has almost always been another spokesman with an alternative point of view.

No one that I am aware of has ever been ejected from a forum for challenging anyone’s right-wing perspective. Even this very paper, which represents itself as the voice of the community, has, to its credit, pains over the course of the past two years to achieve a balance between competing points of vie .

It is said that when truth becomes apparent, it blazes so intensely that the unprepared must shield their eyes. That certain members of our community remain blind to realities in the Middle East can be debated.

But whatever we believe to be the solution to the Middle East conflict, there is no advantage to either Israel or ourselves in denouncing the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel.

We are outsiders. It is not our democratic right or even our Jewish right to voice opposition to Israeli policies, anymore than it is Israel’s right to voice opposition to American social policies.

If you want that right, then live in Israel and become a citizen. In the meantime, we should allow those who must contend with daily risks to their own and their childrens’ lives to make their own security decisions entirely free from our unwanted interference.


Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies and senior editorial columnist for www.Jewsweek.com.

From L.A. to Tel Aviv —


An Israeli girl and a Los Angeles girl celebrate their bat mitzvahs together in Tel Aviv. Two Holocaust survivors from the same European town rediscover each other during an intercontinental videoconference call. Financial experts from Los Angeles assist their Tel Aviv counterparts to float Israel’s first municipal bond issue. A Tel Aviv fusion theater production of “The Dybbuk” as a Japanese Noh play debuts in Los Angeles. Israeli and Los Angeles experts start cleaning up Tel Aviv’s polluted HaYarkon River.

The scope and effect of projects in Israel funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have always been broad. But the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, with its specialization in hands-on, people-to-people programming seeks to transcend mere philanthropy in order to change the attitudes of Jews in both cities and create a mutual stake in each other’s Jewish life.

Most Federation philanthropic money raised for Israel in Los Angeles is still entrusted to the Jewish Agency for disbursement, while some of it goes directly to fund specific pluralism and security-related Jews in Crisis projects in Israel (see sidebars). Programs undertaken through the partnership program, however, are different — partly staffed from Los Angeles, planned and managed jointly with personnel in Tel Aviv and often including exchanges of staff and students.

The result, say organizers, participants and even occasional Federation critics, is a remarkably successful program that may change the nature of Israel-Diaspora relations — for the better.

History

The partnership, with its education, health, human services, culture and economic projects, harks back to Project Renewal, a 1980s Jewish Agency program for funding urban renewal projects in selected Israeli neighborhoods. Under Project Renewal, the Israeli government provided infrastructure and housing, while Diaspora communities underwrote such capital projects as community and child-development centers.

Even then, North American federations, including Los Angeles, began to insist that social renewal was a necessary part of urban renewal. They also demanded oversight of social projects and the inclusion of local residents in decision-making and managing.

Los Angeles’ renewal projects thus included drug rehabilitation, as well as community centers in a poor Jerusalem area neighborhood; big brother-sister and tutoring projects, rebuilding of an ancient Roman amphitheater in the development town of Beit Shean, and clinics and school projects in Ajami-Lev Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish area in Tel Aviv.

While meeting some of Israel’s needs, Project Renewal partly failed to satisfy Los Angeles planners’ and contributors’ growing preference for more directed giving and hands-on programming. “It was a colonial, lady bountiful approach, recalled Dr. Gerry Bubis, a Federation veteran.

In the mid-1990s, as the renewal projects were being absorbed by local Israeli municipalities, the Los Angeles Federation established a think tank, composed of both Federation personnel and Los Angeles immigrants in Israel, to consider how to use the skills and creativity of the Los Angeles community for future projects in the Jewish State. The old philanthropic model — “build us a park or a hospital and we’ll run it” — no longer seemed quite right.

When in 1998, Israel’s 50th anniversary year, the Jewish Agency announced its Partnership 2000 program, an umbrella under which Diaspora communities were called on to fund regional development projects in Israel, Los Angeles said yes — but no. The Federation insisted on being twinned not with a development town but with Tel Aviv, a metropolis whose sophistication and skills would match its own city.

And if the mercantile and cultural capital of the Pacific Coast was going to collaborate with the most sophisticated city in Israel, it wanted to do it partly on its own terms, establishing a peer relationship that would include professional, institutional and personal interactions and joint programming in the areas of the Federation’s priorities and expertise, especially education and social services. Cultural affairs and economic initiatives were added to the partnership later.

The idea was to affect the culture of both Jewish Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, to make the buzzwords “Israel-Diaspora relations” refer to something real.

The Jewish Agency objected to the loss of control over funds flowing through its pipeline, but The Federation persevered. After then-mayor of Tel Aviv Roni Milo appointed a committee to work with Los Angeles, the agency eventually gave its blessing.

From the first, the partnership’s steering committee of 15 lay and professional leaders from each side confronted significant differences in cultural expectations, organizational needs, basic assumptions and personal styles. The Tel Aviv people, explained Bubis, who currently serves on two partnership committees, were civil servants, unaware of the committee-consensus model by which The Federation makes decisions, while the Los Angeles contingent, as volunteers and professionals working for private agencies, had no idea how the Tel Aviv municipality operated.

One key element determined at those first meetings, at the insistence of Los Angeles, was that the partnership should include a Jewish-Israel component. Part of Los Angeles’ aim was “to make a relationship that would strengthen Jewish identity in both communities,” recalled Fredi Rembaum, who, as The Federation’s director of Israel-overseas relations for eight years, was instrumental in developing programming for the partnership.

The curriculum was designed to make Israel a more defined part of Jewish identity for Jewish students in Los Angeles, while being Jewish would be a component of Israeli identity for the Tel Aviv participants.

Semiannual steering committee meetings, alternating between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, as well as a communications network that includes videoconferencing and visits to each other’s communities continue to guide the partnership, whose main component areas are described below.

Education

Education, with many projects planned and run through the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles, is the oldest and most developed component of the partnership. The most visible and probably the most successful of the partnership projects — what Ed Robbins, an initiator of the partnership, calls education’s flagship — is the twinning of 12 schools in Los Angeles with schools in Tel Aviv for programs that include organized, ongoing communication and student exchanges.

The twinned schools include many day schools in the Los Angeles area, as well as the public Calabasas High School, whose student population is two-thirds Jewish. At Calabasas, the focus is not on Jewish peoplehood but on Israel’s relationship to the United States.

Student exchanges have slowed because of the security situation in Israel, but joint programming in the schools continues to address the subject of Israel-Diaspora relations and Jewish identity. Los Angeles day school teachers continue to meet with their peers in Israel to develop joint curriculum.

It is noteworthy that the Israeli schools, backing away from the classic Zionist view that the Diaspora exists to provide money and immigrants for Israel, have been extremely eager to pursue the twinning relationship. In fact, Marty Karp, who directs The Federation’s Israel office, suggested this may be the first time that pedagogical issues relating to Jewish peoplehood are being worked out between a Diaspora and an Israeli community.

A related project that predated the school twinning, Distant Friends, began with a film in which Los Angeles high school students discuss Jewish life in their city and their own sense of Jewish identity. The film, with an accompanying curriculum on U.S. Jewish life and Israel-Diaspora relations, has been used in approximately 70 Tel Aviv high schools. The project is currently being turned around — a film about Tel Aviv students and their lives as Israelis and Jews will be included in the curriculum of Los Angeles Jewish schools.

In Tel Aviv, a high school forum brings 40 students from 12 Tel Aviv schools together weekly to discuss issues of Jewish identity and Israeli-Diaspora relationships. The program will be broadened with a counterpart group established in Los Angeles, leading to exchanges and communication between the groups.

In addition, the partnership sends shlichim (student ambassadors — most of them young men and women just past their army service) to be counselors at Los Angeles Jewish summer camps.

The work-study Teach and Study Program (TASP) offers university graduates the opportunity to teach English for two years in Tel Aviv schools, while earning a master’s degree from Tel Aviv University in teaching language, especially English as a second language. Each of the 14 current TASP interns — their numbers down from 27 last year due to the security situation — is responsible for the English-language development of a group of 15 Israeli children.

A joint UCLA-Tel Aviv University course in Jewish studies brings students together through videoconferencing.

Health and Human Services

The partnership’s health and human services committee brought together Los Angeles’ Jewish Family Service and Tel Aviv’s Department of Human Services to jointly identify target areas for social welfare projects, particularly family violence, emergency personnel management and services for seniors and Holocaust survivors. The collaboration has allowed professionals in both cities to learn and adapt models from the each other’s care and delivery systems.

Cafe Europa, a social and support program for Holocaust survivors developed in Los Angeles, has been adopted and adapted by Tel Aviv, where an average of 150 survivors now are drawn weekly to two sites for socializing and programs. The project also includes videoconferencing between survivors in both cities.

In one of the most moving moments of the partnership connection, two Holocaust survivors — one in Los Angeles and the other in Tel Aviv — both from the same town in Eastern Europe discovered each other during a group videoconference.

Another import from Los Angeles is the Wellness Community, which offers support groups, lectures, social and health-enhancing events to hundreds of cancer patients and their families in the Tel Aviv area. Using a Los Angeles model, a Wellness Community hospice has been established in Tel Aviv.

The Zug or Peret Marriage Project, based on the Making Marriage Work course at Los Angeles’ University of Judaism, has been set up in Tel Aviv.

The Sandwich Generation Women, offering support and empowerment for midlife women, now reaches approximately 3,000 in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area.

The Beit Alochem center in Tel Aviv runs extensive social, cultural and psychological programming for disabled war veterans. It has now been expanded to include terror victims.

The Yad al Hadofek (friends to the elderly and homebound) program, modeled after a similar program run by Jewish Family Service, develops a cadre of volunteers who maintain regular contact with the elderly and homebound.

The Life Stories project uses tape, film and writing to document individual, family, neighborhood and community stories and trains individuals to handle the information gathering. The curriculum was developed in Tel Aviv and will soon be transferred for use in Los Angeles.

The Family Friends projects encourages senior citizen volunteers to adopt families with a disabled child. Other projects target domestic violence and violence against people with disabilities through educational programs in Tel Aviv workplaces.

Culture

As a center for the performing arts, Los Angeles has mounted a wide range of cultural collaborations and exchanges of artists with Tel Aviv, including performance projects and discussions in schools in both cities. The Inbal Ethnic Theater and Los Angeles’ Keshet Haim dance group collaborated on a project, as did the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and the Tel Aviv University School of Music, among others.

The production of S. Ansky’s “The Dybbuk” in Japanese Noh style, featuring Tel Aviv actors, was directed by a Tel Aviv University professor, adapted by an expert on Japanese theater at UCLA, staged in Tel Aviv and then imported on video for showing in Los Angeles.

Curators from museums in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, have been linked for joint programming and institutional exchanges.

A master class workshop in filmmaking, staffed from Los Angeles and presented at Tel Aviv University, has also brought some young Tel Aviv filmmakers to Los Angeles on internships in the film industry (see page 12).

Economic Initiatives

Economic initiatives, the most recent addition to the partnership, includes many projects that are still in the evaluation and planning stage that is expected to continue through 2003.

However, one project already under way, using financial expertise developed in Los Angeles, is helping Tel Aviv float the first municipal bond offering in Israel. The money will be used to create underground parking to relieve the city’s clogged thoroughfares.

Another ongoing project is a collaboration between businesspeople and environmentalists to clean up Tel Aviv’s badly polluted HaYarkon River.

A third large enterprise now being studied involves neighborhood revitalization in the Jaffa flea market area. Based on the model used in Los Angeles after the riots in the early 1990s, the Tel Aviv Genesis projects would combine urban investment and real estate development with community organizing, social welfare programs and small-business development.

About $1 million now flows from The Federation into the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, double the amount allocated in partnership’s first full year in 1998. The Federation anticipates increasing partnership allocations, however, the amount has not been revealed.

The partnership allocations comprise about 10 percent of The Federation’s funds earmarked for overseas use. Although there is perennial tension between overseas needs and local Jewish needs, no complaints have arisen about the allocations to the partnership. In fact, as Rembaum put it, a subsidiary goal of the partnership is to “blur the line” between support for Israel and support for the local community by doing both at the same time.

Has the Partnership Worked?

Federation personnel involved in the partnership seem convinced that it has been a great success. “Everyone is delighted where we’ve got to,” Federation President John Fishel proclaimed after an eight-hour steering committee evaluation meeting in Tel Aviv in October.

Yes, there are problems, Fishel acknowledged, naming “a certain fragmentation,” — too many small programs not connected to the mainstream partnership relationship. But even these, he insisted, putting a positive spin on it, merely indicate “opportunities for greater synergy.”

Lois Weinsaft, The Federation’s vice president for international planning, echoed Fishel, explaining that the partnership expects to “move away from smaller programs in order to concentrate money, energy and impact.”

On-the-ground appraisals from partnership personnel range from the evaluation by David Gill, the partnership’s Los Angeles chairman, that “everything worked” to first partnership chairman Herb Glazer’s acknowledgement, leavened with high grades overall, that some projects — he named several performance exchanges — simply “flopped.”

Meanwhile, even such critics of Federation programs and priorities as demographer Pini Herman voiced no criticism of the partnership in general. However, he did say that The Federation remains out of touch with local needs, while funding programs like the partnership, which provide overseas junkets for Federation executives and managers.

But Herman’s is a lone voice. Bubis, the founding director of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Relgion’s School of Jewish Communal Service and a Federation veteran who has sometimes voiced criticism of Federation programming, called the partnership “nothing short of spectacular — the leveraging of a relatively small amount of money for a remarkable payoff.”

In Tel Aviv, Los Angeles’ contribution has been warmly praised by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. “I’ve seen how much it contributes to the city, how much impact it has,” Huldai said, naming summer camps, day-care centers, projects for the elderly. “We feel we have partners.”

The fact is that the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership is young and still developing. It may simply be too soon to know what works well or what the long-range effects of partnership will be. One major success, observers said, is not programmatic but the promotion of volunteerism and layperson involvement on the Tel Aviv side.

As for the success of the specific programs, themselves, most have not yet been officially evaluated — a deficiency that The Federation is aware needs to be remedied — and many programs will require long-range follow-up to determine their effect on individuals and the two communities.

Meanwhile, Fishel is full of ideas for future partnering: extended-day kindergartens in Tel Aviv, a Tel Aviv spinoff of Los Angeles’ Mommy and Me programs; sending graduate business students to Tel Aviv to help on economic projects; broadening the school exchanges and finding ways for engaging youth groups on both sides; increasing the scope of joint curriculums, and consulting with other federations to learn what they are doing in their partnerships.

Partnership is “infinite in its possibilities,” Fishel enthused. “The more you’re working together, the more opportunities for collaboration.”

With the sense of connection to Israel decreasing measurably in the U.S. Jewish community, the collaborative framework appears to offer a possibility for reconnection, as people on both sides go beyond philanthropy to work together on Jewish issues and communal problems.

David Margolis, who lives in a small village in the
Judean hills, can be reached through his Web site, www.davidmargolis.com .


Federation Directs Funds Overseas

Currently, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles allocates about $11.5 million of the approximately $40 million it collects annually to overseas projects. Most of the overseas funds — some $9.5 million — are funneled through the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of North American federations, which divides the money between the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee on a 3-1 ratio.

Directed funds for "pluralism" programs amount to about $425,000. Funds for Jews in Crisis projects, which were raised in a separate one-time campaign, are funneled to projects in Israel without any administrative or fundraising costs deducted, a Federation spokesman said.

The Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership — allocations for which have doubled since its first budget year in 1998 — currently receives about $900,000 with an additional $300,000 earmarked for joint projects in Israel that are outside its formal structure. Another $100,000 goes to the partnership for administrative and programming needs from the Jewish Agency and the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, respectively.

The Lure of Extremism


As these words are written, Irv Rubin, the national chairman of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) lies in a coma, the apparent victim of self-inflicted wounds.

Having known Irv and the activities of the local JDL for over a quarter-century, it is an appropriate time to reflect on what animated someone like Irv to expend his prodigious energies in what were often pointless and counterproductive activities. For a man who was rational, and with whom one could discuss cause and effect and the logic of doing things one way (the non-inflammatory way) as opposed to another, it always amazed me how he would invariably choose the wrong path.

Whether choosing to picket the home of Tom Metzger in rural Fallbrook, when Metzger was a candidate for Congress in the early 1980s or choosing to defy the desires of the local community (Jews and non-Jews) by physically confronting a march of the pathetic remnant of the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho in the mid-90s, Irv was usually less concerned about the effect of what he did than the act of doing it and the publicity that ensued.

In following that modus operandi, Irv betrayed an attitude and world view that could only be described as extremist. Irv felt good picketing in front of Metzger’s home and got attention; Metzger was, after all, a bigot and head of the California Ku Klux Klan. But, as I remember asking Irv at the time, in trying to dissuade him from demonstrating, how many votes did he think that his presence would generate for Metzger? A 6-foot-plus Jewish militant coming down from Los Angeles and harassing a neighbor was hardly a political adviser’s recommendation on how to defeat Metzger’s bid in rural north San Diego County.

Irv understood — but he went and did his thing anyway. He had a different agenda than actually impacting the vote in the Metzger election. That same conflicted set of priorities played itself out time and time again.

In the days after Buford Furrow’s attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center and his murder of Joseph Ileto, there was an unprecedented rally against hate attended by thousands of Angelenos. Then-Attorney General Janet Reno, Gov. Gray Davis, former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan and representatives of virtually every ethnic, racial and religious community were there. The only disruptive voice was Irv’s. He screamed and yelled while the governor and attorney general spoke, complaining about gun control legislation. How ironic that in a setting of unity and harmony — and in the wake of profound tragedy — his would be the lone voice of disharmony.

A review of Irv’s public life reflects his inability to free himself from the lure of extremism and the attention that it generates. Other than a brief period two decades ago when he ran for the Republican nomination for the Assembly and thought that, with some moderation, he might actually get elected, his career was one that had a disturbing symbiosis with extremism.

In every group, perhaps minority groups more than others because of the legitimate grievances that they often have, there is a constituency for a leader that brooks no compromise and offers "in your face" rhetoric to the rest of the world.

Whether Louis Farrakhan for the African American community, Meir Kahane and Irv for the Jews or the leaders of the hate-filled Nation of Aztlan in the Latino community, there is a small-but-solid core of folks who relish a militant leader who tells them, "I’m standing up for you and I don’t give a damn what they think." The "they" changes, but the tone, intensity and message don’t.

Irv played to that constituency in the Jewish community with occasional success. To the extent that other organizations in the Jewish community were seen as vocal — even militant — and effective, it cut into his audience. No wonder that he spent a significant amount of his energy attacking Jewish defense organizations — he had to discredit his perceived competition.

As Irv’s constituency got smaller, his need to act out and demonstrate his continued vitality and usefulness became even greater. No wonder that the crime of which he recently stood accused happened at the end of his career when his following was, literally, microscopic. He desperately needed to prove his relevance, no matter the manner.

The tragedy of Irv’s career is that his energy could have been put to useful purpose. The hours of picketing and harassing and the thought given to one enterprise after another might have borne fruit had they been directed toward positive ends. Perhaps a lesson for us all.

The Friends of Irv Rubin are organizing a prayer vigil for him at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17, at County-USC Medical Center, 1200 N. State St., Los Angeles. Those coming should bring a candle.


David A. Lehrer is president of Community Advocates Inc., a newly formed human relations organization in Los Angeles with former L.A. Mayor Richard J. Riordan as its chairman and Joe R. Hicks as its vice president.

The Journey Within


Three in five adults report that their level of Jewish involvement has changed substantially over the course of their adult lives. Remarkably, their involvement is nearly as likely to have increased as to have declined.What’s constant is change. American Jews continually adapt and reinvent their identities throughout their adult lives.

Those are the most important findings in “Connections and Journeys,” a landmark study of Jewish identity scheduled for release next week by UJA-Federation of New York. Four years in the making, it’s one of the most complex looks ever at how American Jews form and re-form their Jewish identities.”The perspective taken in this study is that identity is the result of an ongoing process, rather than an entity that is fully acquired at some point in a person’s lifetime,” writes the author, Brandeis University social psychologist Bethamie Horowitz.

The study suggests that Jewish attachment is subject to many influences, from family attitudes to Jewish schooling, teenage programs and adult relationships. One of the most important, startlingly, is family stability; strained childhood relations with parents point strongly to declining adult Jewish attachment.Some of Horowitz’s findings will cause fireworks. Only 5 percent of respondents report being positively influenced by rabbis; 10 percent say rabbis have turned them off. As for Jewish schooling, it’s decisive only among Orthodox Jews. For others, crucial influences come later: youth groups, Israel visits, relationships, childbirth.

Most troubling, increases are mainly in feelings of Jewish attachment. What’s declining is Jewish practice. For traditionalists, at least, that’s what counts.

But most of all, Jews are in continual flux. “A person constructs a sense of Jewishness from his/her own mix of experiences, engagements, interactions and contexts,” Horowitz writes. “We see evidence of a more pliable, ‘personalized’ Jewish identity, which for many has more to do with personal meaning and expression than with communal expression.” A useful metaphor, she suggests, is “a salad bar.”To capture that dynamism, the study works in two dimensions. First, it “explores people’s current connections to Jewishness,” including what they do and how they feel. Second, it “examines people’s journeys – how people’s Jewish identities change and are influenced throughout the life course.”The study combined telephone surveys with one-on-one interviews and focus groups. In all, 1,504 subjects were included, all born in America after World War II. Ages ranged from 22 to 52.

All lived in the New York area, which could skew the findings. As a metropolitan area that’s fully 13 percent Jewish – and home to one-fourth of all American Jews – New York, Horowitz writes, “can serve as both an exception and a rule about American Jewish identity.”

Horowitz begins by dividing her subjects into three basic “modes” of Jewish identity: assimilated (she politely calls them “Otherwise Engaged”), “Intensively Engaged,” and “Mixed Engagement.” Each “mode” comprises almost exactly one-third of the population.

Divisions are based on survey responses in three categories: “Subjective Jewish Centrality” (pride in Jewishness, sense of belonging); “Ritual Practice” (candle-lighting, separate dishes), and “Cultural-Communal Behavior” (owning Jewish books, attending Jewish lectures).

What Horowitz does next is one of her most important innovations. She divides her three “identity modes” into seven subgroups, a Jewish equivalent of market segments. These become the building blocks for all that follows.

The “Otherwise Engaged” subdivide into “Really Indifferent” (nine percent of the total population, mainly young, male and single) and those “With Some Jewish Interest” (24 percent). Both show low involvement by every measure. The “Intensively Engaged” break down into Orthodox (16 percent) and Non-Orthodox (18 percent, mainly Conservative).

The “Mixed” group divides in three: “Subjectively Engaged” (7 percent), “Tradition-Oriented” (18 percent) and “Cultural-Communal Involvement” (14 percent). Each combines a high score in one engagement type – subjective feeling, ritual or cultural-communal activity – with a low score in other areas.Some subdivisions were a surprise, Horowitz writes. The Tradition-Oriented, with high ritual involvement, tend to be young, fourth-generation Americans. This suggests a quiet resurgence of religiosity.Then again, the most assimilated had been expected to subdivide into a group that was “outright hostile” and another that was essentially passive. Instead, Horowitz found, only 1 percent showed outright hostility, while fully 63 percent were “very positive.” Hence the division into “Really Indifferent” and “Some Interest.”

This led to one of her most important conclusions about contemporary Jewish identity: In contrast to past generations, “the range of emotion about being Jewish has shifted, from acceptance versus rejection to meaningfulness versus indifference.” Jews aren’t running away anymore. They just aren’t being drawn in.

Horowitz’s most ingenious advance, and her riskiest, is her analysis of types of changes Jews undergo. Using survey data asking how subjects acted and felt in childhood, she picks two indicators – Sabbath candle-lighting and Jewish pride – to compare individual Jewish “journeys.”

If the subjects’ memories are to be trusted, two-fifths haven’t changed much since they were 12. One-fifth maintain a “steady, low-intensity Jewish involvement” in attitude and behavior. Another fifth show a “steady, high-intensity” involvement.

The other 60 percent show clear movement. For one-sixth, 17 percent, involvement “lapses or decreases” in at least one dimension, with the other either lapsing or low. Another 10 percent show increasing involvement in one measure, with the other high or increasing.The largest group, one-third of the population, showed an “Interior” journey: rising subjective Jewish involvement, coupled with low or declining ritual practice.

Journeys were closely linked to Jewish denomination. Three-fourths of those raised Orthodox followed Steady-High or Increasing Journeys. Among those raised Conservative, one-fourth had High or Increasing journeys, while 44 percent were Interior. Among Reform Jews, one-tenth had High or Increasing journeys, 36 percent Interior and 55 percent Steady-Low or Lapsing journeys.This is risky stuff. We could be looking at nothing more than Jews who have stopped lighting Sabbath candles but think it’s O.K. Pessimists will look at this and see confirmation of a disintegrating Jewish community.

But Horowitz could be onto something big. Fully 70 percent of her subjects report low or declining ritual observance. Yet nearly as many, 63 percent, report high or increasing levels of subjective Jewish attachment. American Jewish identity “isn’t necessarily declining,” Horowitz writes. But it is changing, becoming more personal, more, well, Interior.

The challenge for the Jewish community is to begin understanding those market segments, to find ways of helping Jews grow. “Although people have journeys which can be very idiosyncratic,” Horowitz writes, “the Jewish community can develop pathways to help bolster people along the way.”

Dialogue in Distress


There’s good news and bad news in Catholic-Jewish relations. The good news is, relations between Catholics and Jews have never been better. The bad news is, relations between the Vatican and world Jewry have gotten so bad that the Vatican has severed its formal diplomatic link to the Jewish people.

What’s worse, most Jews don’t even know there is a formal diplomatic link between the Vatican and the Jewish people. That’s one reason the Vatican is so upset.

To see how far we’ve come, consider ABC News’ “Nightline” from last Dec. 25. The subject was Steven Dubner, the Catholic-born author whose book “Turbulent Souls” chronicles his spiritual quest for his parents’ Jewish roots.

The program’s most arresting moment came when New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor described Dubner coming to him for guidance in his quest. O’Connor recalled counseling Dubner to follow his instincts and embrace Judaism.

Coming from a prince of the church, this is a bombshell. It wasn’t that long ago that the Catholic Church was burning Jews alive for that very offense: returning to their Jewish roots. They called it the Inquisition.

Now we’ve got cardinals acting like Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street,” advising restless parishioners to try Judaism. The pope encourages this. He reversed 2,000 years of church teaching by formally declaring in 1986 that Judaism was a legitimate pathway to heaven.

The change is part of an ongoing Catholic process of looking inward and reaching out, begun at the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

Right now, it’s in trouble. Last February, the Vatican’s chief liaison to the Jewish community declared that worldwide Catholic-Jewish relations were in a state of emergency, verging on rupture.

“I am becoming concerned that some of the good work that has been done is under threat,” said the cleric, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.

The problem is that Catholics are fed up. For all the progress in Catholic attitudes, Jewish attitudes toward Catholicism remain hostile and suspicious. “Jewish responses to what we seek to do to improve our relationship are often so negative that some now hesitate to do anything at all for fear of making the situation worse,” Cassidy said.

Things are so bad, Cassidy said, that the Vatican’s three-decade dialogue with an international coalition of Jewish organizations, the heart of its ongoing re-examination, is at a dead end. He said the coalition, the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, or IJCIC, is “no longer in existence.”

And he charged that one of IJCIC’s largest members “is involved in a systematic campaign to denigrate the Catholic Church.” He meant the World Jewish Congress, aides said.

From a Catholic point of view, this is a watershed. Cassidy’s commission, an outgrowth of the Second Vatican Council, exists solely to maintain a dialogue with the Jewish people. The Jewish partner has always been IJCIC. Breaking that link — that’s what Cassidy meant when he called IJCIC “no longer in existence,” aides say — amounts to severing the Vatican’s official channel to world Jewry.

The step follows a decade of mounting frustration. Catholics involved in Catholic-Jewish reconciliation have long complained that, despite all their work to change church teachings on Judaism, Jewish teaching about Catholicism mostly ends with the Spanish Inquisition.

“That’s not the whole story of Catholic-Jewish relations,” says Eugene Fisher, of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Church leaders say their Jewish dialogue partners, instead of telling their fellow Jews the good news about Catholic progress, have spent the last decade in endless Holocaust-related recriminations: a convent at Auschwitz, a papal audience for ex-Nazi Kurt Waldheim, a disappointing Vatican statement on the Holocaust, the canonization of Jewish-born nun Edith Stein, debates over Pope Pius XII, the opening of the Vatican’s wartime archives, more crosses at Auschwitz.

The Vatican was prepared to wait until the winds shifted, officials say. But last fall, their patience ran out. The reason: a series of research papers published by the Jerusalem office of the World Jewish Congress that linked the various Holocaust disputes into a single theory which sees the church trying to “Christianize” the memory of the Holocaust.

Catholics are furious. “This conspiracy theory is utter nonsense,” says Father John Pawlikowski, a University of Chicago theologian and member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. “The publications have greatly distressed the Vatican, and have raised serious questions about the Vatican’s ability to work constructively with the World Jewish Congress.”

That’s why Cassidy went public, aides agree. He might have merely targeted the WJC and ignored IJCIC. But the WJC runs IJCIC. Breaking with the WJC, therefore, meant dumping IJCIC.

It was a long time coming. IJCIC was originally run by the Synagogue Council of America, a coalition of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox groups. But the Synagogue Council collapsed in 1995, a victim of interdenominational feuding. The secretariat of IJCIC was then transferred to the World Jewish Congress. In Vatican eyes, it’s been downhill ever since.

Blaming the World Jewish Congress is a mistake, though. It has flaws, but inability to manage a religious dialogue isn’t one of them. It wasn’t set up for that. It was created to pick fights with anti-Semites. That’s what it does.

No, the problem is with all the other Jewish organizations under the IJCIC umbrella — religious movements, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League — that saw the train wreck coming and didn’t bother to act.

Why didn’t they? Mainly because of American Jews’ congenital inability to understand what a representative Jewish body is. Blessed with dozens of independent Jewish agencies, each claiming to speak for Jews, American Jews simply can’t grasp the notion of a central agency speaking for all of them. IJCIC seemed foreign. They were happy to leave it to the WJC.

In fact, most Jewish interfaith affairs experts say they’re not worried by the Cassidy blowup. Vatican-IJCIC dialogue, they say, is just one of many Catholic-Jewish encounters that go on all the time, worldwide. “When the American Jewish Committee has a conference with the pope at the Vatican, I consider that a dialogue,” said the AJC’s interfaith affairs director, Rabbi A. James Rudin.

Rudin says that he’s called a meeting of Jewish interfaith specialists for April 15 to consider Cassidy’s complaint, but it’s not clear what they’ll be discussing. “IJCIC is not going to be on trial,” he says.

As for the Vatican, it’s waiting for the Jews to get it. They’d like a functioning dialogue partner. “It’s not up to us to construct Jewish partners,” says Father Remi Hoeckman, secretary of Cassidy’s commission, but they’d like it to be “representative of world Jewry,” and “ready to share with us in a common religious agenda.”

And, he says, “it will not be with IJCIC. We don’t consider that a valid partner anymore.”


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.