Cantor Jay Frailich retiring after 40 years at University Synagogue in Brentwood


After 1,565 b’nai mitzvah, many  more Shabbat services and commissioning 32 major liturgical compositions during 40 years at University Synagogue in Brentwood, Cantor Jay Frailich is retiring. 

Frailich, 67, has been with the Reform congregation on Sunset Boulevard since 1974, immediately following his investiture by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Sacred Music in New York. A Friday-night service was held June 13 to mark the end of his time at the temple and to honor his work. 

Originally from Minneapolis, Frailich came to Los Angeles excited and ready to accomplish his dream of commissioning composers. Four decades later, he has achieved that and more by establishing connections with his congregation and significant composers. 

Past musical partners include Craig Taubman, Maurice Goldman, Aminadav Aloni and Michael Isaacson, whose “To Recreate the World” was jointly commissioned by a consortium of dozens of congregations from across the continent under Frailich’s leadership. First performed in 2000, the piece represents the largest commission of Jewish liturgical music in history, according to Frailich.

“That was absolutely thrilling for me, to work with those [composers], also in the sense to guide them to what I wanted,” Frailich said. “But it was also challenging.” 

Aside from his work at the synagogue of about 500 member families — where Cantor Kerith Spencer-Shapiro will begin working in July — Frailich is a professor of liturgical studies at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. 

Roughly 600 people gathered to celebrate the local cantor at the service earlier this month, including his two daughters, Lonee and Reena, four grandchildren and wife Sandy. 

Lonee Frailich, currently cantor of Temple Akiba in Culver City, grew up admiring her father’s “soulful” singing every Shabbat. She recalls his leadership in the Jewish community and the extended list of works he has commissioned. 

“The reason that I am who I am today is because of my father. He was always so happy and fulfilled in his calling as [a] cantor,” she said. “I watched throughout the years as he brought a passion for Judaism, a sense of spirituality and so much love to the thousands of congregants he served in his 40 years at University Synagogue.” 

Jay Frailich now looks to his daughter, who has followed in his footsteps, and is equally proud of her. 

“It’s pretty exciting when you have your daughter to pass the torch to,” he said. 

At the service, father and daughter sang together. Later, his colleagues added to the praise about his dedication and enthusiasm for the congregation. 

“Jay has been the heart and soul of our warm and engaging congregation for 40 years,” Rabbi Morley Feinstein said. “His love of Judaism and Jewish music has been infectious. His students have gone on to become rabbis, cantors and synagogue presidents. And his humor has kept us all smiling.”

Members of the congregation in attendance were indeed all smiles to greet and congratulate their longtime cantor at the end of the service, but sad to see him depart from his role. Joy Cohen, a member of University Synagogue for 35 years, has thoroughly enjoyed his presence. 

“He really does care about people. He knows how to keep a secret. I know people who have been helped by him. I will definitely miss him,” Cohen said. “After 35 years, it’s hard to know that you’re no longer going to hear his voice — it’s a part of services.” 

Written remarks from Mayor Eric Garcetti, and U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) about Frailich’s career were shared with the congregation.

Frailich said that, among the many compositions that he has been involved with, a couple of his favorites are “Crown of Torah” by Ben Steinberg, a Canadian composer, and Isaacson’s “To Recreate the World,” a response to the secular millennium and the changing environment. 

Recounting these experiences and more, Frailich said he leaves happy and fulfilled. 

“Whether we have prayed together, sung together, learned together, celebrated together or cried together, it has been my privilege to do these things with you,” he said during the service. “As I end the active phase of my career and transition to emeritus, my retirement should not be thought of as goodbye — I’m not going anywhere.”

The psychology of repentance


In addition to his vast experience as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst treating survivors of childhood and adult trauma, Dr. Stephen Marmer is known by many of his patients as someone who has a positive view of the role religion can play in one’s psyche and happiness. 

Marmer serves on the faculty of UCLA’s medical school and has a private practice in Brentwood, and his patients have come from almost every large faith tradition, including Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto. Speaking both as a professional and as a self-described “serious-minded” Jew, Marmer recently talked with the Journal about the intersection of the psyche and religion with regard to some of Yom Kippur’s main themes — forgiveness, repentance and God. The following is an edited version of that discussion.

Jewish Journal: From a psychoanalytic perspective, what does Yom Kippur mean?

Stephen Marmer: It’s an opportunity to take a compassionate but searching inventory of who you are and how you’ve acted, and to know that if you make a sincere effort to improve you will be written in the Book of Life. 

JJ: What does that mean — to be written into the Book of Life?

SM: Not necessarily for more years, but for more richness in your life. It’s an opportunity, through honest reflection, to reduce shame and guilt and to add to growth.

JJ: How can examining your past actions lead to growth?

SM: You see your strengths, you see your weaknesses, you see the people whom you care about and whether you’ve lived up to your ideals in the way you treat them. It’s also a reminder that we don’t have forever to improve. Hillel’s third saying, “If not now, when?” really makes sense on Yom Kippur.

JJ: Where in the Torah does the theme of forgiveness appear?

SM: The most dramatic moment of forgiveness in the Torah comes after the sin of the golden calf, when God says to Moses that He’s so angry that He wants to destroy the entire people. Moses uses every wording that he can to persuade God not to do that and to forgive the people.

JJ: Can you talk about the themes of repentance and forgiveness that run through Yom Kippur?

SM: Forgiveness and repentance are two sides of the same coin. If you repent, you will earn forgiveness. If you forgive, you will reinforce others’ repentance. It’s obligatory to forgive those who make true repentance — it frees you of corrosive grudges. If you repent, it frees you from destructive shame and guilt. 

JJ: Are there different levels of forgiveness?

SM: Yes. The first and most complete type of forgiveness is exoneration, in which you completely wipe the slate clean and restore a person to a full standard of trust.

In the second kind of forgiveness, which I call forbearance, you know that you can’t wipe the slate clean because the other individual hasn’t fully repented. But the relationship is still important, and you don’t want it to be destroyed by grudges. So you exercise forbearance to maintain the relationship while still keeping a watchful eye. This is very close to the concept of “forgive but don’t forget” or “trust but verify.”

The third level of forgiveness applies when the other individual is either no longer alive or has no intention of making any kind of reparation. But the preoccupation with what they’ve done to you is eating away at you, and for that you need to release. You don’t have to exonerate, and you don’t have to have forbearance. But, for your own sake, you have to let it go.

JJ: Which level of forgiveness did God exercise at Sinai?

SM: I think He exercised forbearance. I think He knew that we were very flawed, but He loved us and it was still important to Him to maintain that relationship.

JJ: Is there a proper way to apologize to someone whom you’ve hurt?

SM: You take responsibility and you don’t push it off on the other person. You have to try to give them reason to believe that you sincerely will put forth the effort to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. 

JJ: Is an apology that is mixed with an excuse truly an apology?

SM: Try not to blend your apology with accusations. You make your apology based on your actions. It’s OK to give context if you are asking for forgiveness. It’s OK to try to explain what was going on that prompted you to do these missteps. But try not to do it in a way that puts blame on the other person for provoking you.  

JJ: But what if the other person really did do something that, in a way, provoked your hurtful action?

SM: If there’s another issue about how they provoked you, then that’s an additional conversation for which they may want to ask for your forgiveness. If that’s a matter of concern, you need to make that a separate type of interaction. 

JJ: Should someone hurt by a loved one give the person who hurt him or her opportunities to forgive?  

SM: I like to say that it takes a little while for ink to dry. Before it completely dries, you can wipe the slate clean. What I mean is that if I say something, and I observe that it’s hurtful to the person whom I said it to, I want them to give me a minute or two in which I can recognize what I said, come to my senses and then retract what I said. 

And I would like to grant that same privilege to anyone who hurts my feelings. If you leave a little bit of space to allow a person to retract a misstep, you are going to have fewer hurt feelings. It’s much harder to reverse something once the ink has dried.

JJ: What impact does holding a grudge have on someone?

SM: First, it diverts a lot of energy from living your life. Second, it’s a constant preoccupation — you are letting the other person and the way they hurt you live rent free in your mind. And third, whenever you think about it, you go back and relive the hurt. All three of those things take away from productivity and happiness.

JJ: What does a refusal to apologize suggest about someone?

SM: It risks losing the relationship. It keeps you in a state of uncertainty and guilt and shame. It deprives you of the joy of healing. Some people think that an apology or repentance or reparation is too humiliating. But usually we have the choice of “being right” or “being friends.” In almost every case, it’s more important to choose being friends.

JJ: Is it ever appropriate for a third party to offer forgiveness on a victim’s behalf?

SM: For really serious matters, only the person who is hurt can offer forgiveness. I can’t forgive you for something you did to somebody else. I can only forgive you for what you did to me. When the pastor in Columbine said that he forgave the shooters for the murders of those kids, I thought, “You don’t have a right to forgive the murderers for the murders of those kids. Only the kids who were murdered have a right to forgive.” Only the victim can forgive for what was done to them. 

JJ: In the Hebrew month of Elul and in the days around the High Holy Days, do you do anything personally in terms of seeking forgiveness?

SM: I have a personal tradition with my two daughters (ages 28 and 31). We use the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to sit down, one on one, and I start by telling them all of the things that I regretted that I had done to them in the preceding year. Then I ask them if there was anything that upset them that I left out. I ask them for forgiveness and understanding.

JJ: And do they ask for your forgiveness?

SM: I say, “Is there anything that you want to say to me?” referring to things they may have done that hurt me. 

JJ: For how long has your family had this tradition?

SM: We’ve been doing this for over 25 years. 

JJ: Have Jewish teachings or wisdom helped you in your career in terms of how you counsel people?

SM: Yes. The whole general outlook of Judaism is very much like my psychiatric perspective. We have a yetzer hatov (good inclination) and a yetzer hara (evil inclination), which is very consistent with my view of human nature from a psychiatric perspective. 

JJ: From a psychological perspective, which Torah characters stand out to you as particularly interesting?

SM: For a long time I’ve wanted to write about how people changed in the Torah. And the character who changes the most is Joseph. I want to write about what religious and psychological forces helped turn Joseph from a bratty, spoiled, over-indulged, entitled teenager to a noble, wise, loving and generous brother and leader.

JJ: What transformed him?

SM: He acquired humility in jail. He was a big shot in his family, since he was Jacob’s main connection to Rachel. And he lorded over his brothers. Even when he went to Egypt he was a big shot in the Potiphar household. 

JJ: And what happened to him in jail?

SM: He was not bitter, he was not resentful, and he rose to the occasion. He behaved in such an exemplary way that the head jailer gave him additional responsibilities. A few years later, Joseph is summoned to Pharaoh, and instead of being angry at the wine steward for letting him languish in jail, he shows no grudge. His bad experiences cured his entitlement and his arrogance, and they made him gracious and humble.

JJ: And when does he show humility?

SM: When Pharaoh praises him for all kinds of wisdom, Joseph says humbly, “It’s not me, it’s God.”

JJ: Tell me about your relationship with Judaism.

SM: I am the gabbai of our Shabbat morning minyan at Stephen S. Wise Temple. I blow the shofar at the main sanctuary services on Rosh Hashanah. I have the great honor and responsibility of sometimes singing the afternoon service on Yom Kippur to give the cantor a rest.

JJ: Do you study Jewish texts?

SM: I am always studying. I’ve written an 180,000-word Torah commentary that I’m in the middle of revising now. 

JJ: Do you identify with any denomination?

SM: I consider myself a post-denominational, serious-minded Jew. I don’t find that any of the denominations quite fit my ideas or my level of practice.

JJ: Have you counseled victims of immense cruelty whose relationships with God have been damaged or severed due to what they experienced?

SM: Yes.

JJ: Can you tell me about any of those instances?

SM: Holocaust survivors are the most dramatic example, although I’ve had a number of patients who were severely abused or tortured as children. They just cannot accept that God would permit a world in which cruelty of that magnitude would be possible.

JJ: And how does that manifest itself in terms of their belief in God?

SM: Some of them hold a grudge against God, and some of them reject God. I don’t even try to challenge them on that. I don’t challenge them on theological grounds. I just try to help them live as good a life as they can live. The only thing that I would try to help move them toward is release. What happened to them should not be something that they think about every minute.

JJ: Do you discuss forgiveness toward God with them?

SM: It’s not anywhere near the top of my agenda. If it comes up in context I will, but it’s not something that I push.

JJ: Why not?

SM: Because I can’t speak for God. I can’t blame them for their anger and disappointment. I am not a direct party to their relationship with God. It’s an issue between them and God. I’m a psychiatrist, not a rabbi.

JJ: Is there anything you’d like to add?

SM: No, I think we’ve covered enough for a New Yorker profile.  Thank you and have a meaningful and easy fast.

Three L.A. teens win Tikkun Olam awards


Three Los Angeles-area teens each were awarded $36,000 grants from The Helen Diller Family Foundation as part of the annual Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards.

The awards, now in their sixth year, are given annually to five Jewish 13- to 19-year-olds in California with extraordinary social action service records. This year’s winners were announced June 28.

Celine Yousefzadeh, 19, initially founded Fashion with Compassion at Milken Community High School to help victims of rocket fire in the Israeli town of Sderot, which borders the Gaza Strip.

In 2008, Yousefzadeh organized a committee of her fellow students at Milken to help put on a fashion runway show fundraiser. Local and national clothing vendors worked with students to create outfits that students modeled during the show, after which vendors made the outfits available to audience members, with Fashion with Compassion receiving 20 percent of the revenue raised.

After the first fashion show raised $5,000, the project expanded from 25 student models to 38 in 2009 and raised $6,000 — this time for Israel’s Atidim, which helps provide scholarships for underprivileged students. The following year, the show raised $10,000 for Save a Child’s Heart, which helps cover medical expenses for life-saving operations in Israel.

Yousefzadeh, who just finished her first year at Bentley University in Massachusetts, said the next step is bringing the concept to other schools.

“This [project] encourages a sense of entrepreneurship, and I’d like to continue to bring more of this spirit,” she said.

Adam Weinstein, 18, a recent graduate of Brentwood School, is a math and science enthusiast who wants to help foster a new generation of students to share his passion.

Archimedes Learning, an after-school program Weinstein developed in the spring of his junior year of high school, aims to enrich the education of underprivileged students with math and science activities.

“It’s not a tutoring service,” he said. “The purpose is to teach and expand the knowledge of underprivileged students.”

After creating the curriculum, Weinstein started running weekly hour-long after-school sessions with fifth-graders at Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary School. A typical session includes an introduction to a science or math concept, group work and a hands-on activity.

This past year, Archimedes Learning expanded to two other elementary schools and added three other student volunteers, whom Weinstein trained.

Weinstein says he hopes to expand the program further. He will enter Princeton University this fall.

Zak Kukoff, 17, was shocked by the ignorance typical students have about their autistic peers, particularly so following the diagnosis of one of his relatives with the developmental disorder. He founded Autism Ambassadors, a now-international program that aims to help integrate autistic students at regular schools with their classmates. Volunteers make a one-year commitment and learn from over 1,000 lesson plans.

“People just didn’t get autism,” Kukoff said. “They didn’t know how to make friends with them and how to include them.”

Autism Ambassadors follows a technique called applied behavioral analysis, where volunteers use Kukoff’s lesson plans for role-playing engagement with autistic students. Kukoff, who will begin his final year at Westlake High School this fall, attributes his motivation to start Autism Ambassadors to a drive to uphold Jewish values.

This year’s five winners will be honored at a ceremony in San Francisco on Aug. 20.

For more information or to nominate a teen for next year’s Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.jewishfed.org/diller/teenawards

Opinion: Truth be told


Just because the truth is difficult to ascertain, does that mean it doesn’t exist? Is it as simple as saying that, in any debate, we each own a piece of the truth, but no one actually owns the whole truth? And is that a cop-out?

Those questions will be on my mind over the next week as I participate in two events where the search for an elusive truth will take center stage. The first is a screening of a provocative documentary that challenges the conventional wisdom on the O.J. Simpson murder case, and the second is a debate between Peter Beinart and myself on the current state of Zionism. Both events promise to be lively and controversial; both will present a difficult struggle to arrive at some kind of truth.

The notion of truth was a complicated mess in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which kept Los Angeles and much of America spellbound as it unfolded more than a decade ago. Most people didn’t believe the jury’s verdict of not guilty — and I count myself in that group.

Needless to say, I was highly skeptical when my friend Howard Barrett, producer of the documentary “Overlooked Suspect: What if O.J. Simpson Didn’t Do It?” came to The Journal’s offices a few weeks ago and told me: “David, you have to see this film. It will change your mind about the case.”

I did see the film, several times. I arranged private screenings for Hollywood producers, friends, criminal attorneys and colleagues, and, each time, the response was the same: “Wow.” It turned the truth we thought we knew upside down. So, I thought: Why not give everyone a chance to see the film and judge for themselves?

You’ll have that chance on Saturday night, May 12, at The Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, when we will screen the film, followed by a panel that I will moderate with criminal defense attorney James Blatt, Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson and the private investigator featured in the film, William Dear.

Dear is the man responsible for the pursuit of truth chronicled in the film. This is not some grand philosophical search; it’s a tedious, methodical, dogged pursuit that has lasted more than 15 years and has introduced plenty of reasonable doubt for those who believe O.J. is guilty.

“It didn’t smell right to me from the start,” Dear told me over the phone last week. “There were too many holes.”

By picking apart the prosecution’s case, Dear, an award-winning private investigator from Texas, was able to identify an “overlooked suspect,” which he describes in the film in detailed and dramatic fashion.

Does Dear’s skepticism warrant some skepticism of its own? Yes, according to Jackson, who, true to form, was able to punch a few holes in Dear’s theory when I showed him the film. You will hear from both sides after the screening. 

Rabbi David Baron, whose Temple of the Arts is co-sponsoring the screening, explained his interest in the film this way: “The pursuit of truth and justice are supreme Jewish values, and anything that advances those values should be a Jewish interest. While the film may not bring us a final truth, it does bring us a little closer.”

I hope to get closer to some truths in my debate with Peter Beinart, the author of the much-discussed book, “The Crisis of Zionism.”

Beinart takes a highly critical view of Israel’s inability to end the “occupation” of the West Bank, which he considers “non-democratic Israel.” His alarmism is at full tilt: If Israel doesn’t end the occupation soon, the Zionist dream of a Jewish and democratic state will die.

This line of argument is hardly new; Zionist critics of Israel have been making it for decades. What makes Beinart’s book stand out, beyond his alarmism, is that he connects Israel’s failures to failures in American Judaism. He chastises, for example, the American Jewish establishment for blindly supporting Israeli government policy and then blames that approach for alienating from Israel a new generation of American liberal Jews.

I think Beinart’s conclusions, while dramatic, are full of holes. I also think his call to boycott settlements is counterproductive and that his overall approach will not bring the parties closer to peace. When we debate on the evening of May 16 at Temple Israel of Hollywood, I will make sure to mention all of that.

But here’s the bigger question: Will our debate bring us closer to some kind of truth, or will it simply bring each of us closer to the truth we already believe? Can any debate bring us closer to the truth, and how would we know if that happened?

And what role does emotion play? If I’m offended, for example, by the way Beinart brazenly criticizes Israel, does that represent a worthy truth in itself, or is it a useless emotion that has no place in a rigorous debate?

I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of emotion at both events — and little agreement on what constitutes the truth. There’s something reassuring about the absence of certainty, but I’m still tantalized by the possibility that an absolute truth exists out there, somewhere, and none of us knows for sure who has it.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart dies unexpectedly at 43 of natural causes


Conservative blogger ” title=”BigJournalism.com” target=”_blank”>BigJournalism.com and ” title=”here” target=”_blank”>here.

 

Hernias difficult to diagnose in women


Martine Ehrenclou, 51, first noticed her lower abdomen pain in January 2010. She experienced severe discomfort if she sat at her desk for even 15 minutes, when she drove her car or any time that she pitched forward. Ehrenclou, who lives in Brentwood, describes the pain as “brutal.”

“I would have stabbing, sharp pain right in the center of where my C[aesarean]-section scar is,” she said. “It would start right above the scar, and it felt like it went very deep internally, and once that would happen, it would kick off a spasm that would radiate to every part of my pelvic area.”

Eventually, she said, the spasms happened every day, and she finally visited her doctor. But instead of a straightforward diagnosis, the visit marked the beginning of what would prove to be a year-and-a-half-long search for a cure.

“I saw 12 doctors of differing specialties, I underwent 15 tests and procedures, and I was put on 22 medications,” Ehrenclou said of the grueling road to a diagnosis.

It wasn’t until reading a newspaper article that Ehrenclou finally realized what she might have: a hernia. “I could not believe what I was reading,” she said; the complications that the woman in the article described matched Ehrenclou’s almost precisely.

Armed with this new information, Ehrenclou made an appointment with Dr. Shirin Towfigh, a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center who specializes in treating women with hernias. After performing an MRI, Towfigh gave Ehrenclou the final verdict: two small belly button hernias and another one protruding through a muscle tear at the site of her C-section. One was pinching a nerve, likely causing the majority of Ehrenclou’s excruciating pain.

Towfigh performed a simple surgery on Ehrenclou, which, she said, is the only surefire way to treat a hernia. Within a few days, Ehrenclou was back on her feet, feeling “elated and grateful” that the pain she had been living with for so long was finally gone.

But unfortunately, Ehrenclou’s story is not uncommon.

Hernias, which occur when part of an internal organ or fatty tissue pushes through a hole in a muscle, are far more common in men than in women. As a result, many doctors don’t consider a hernia diagnosis when faced with a female patient.

“Hernias in women are not on the radar for most doctors,” Towfigh said, “and so many don’t ask the right questions to narrow it down.”

Adding to the problem, the most common type of hernia is in the groin area, and their symptoms mirror other pelvic problems that tend to plague women.

“Women have many more organs in that region than men do,” Towfigh said. “So when they come in with lower groin pain, it’s often mistaken for pelvic pain.”

Women with hernias may be misdiagnosed as having ovary-related problems, such as cysts or ruptures; complications from prior pelvic surgeries, such as Caesarean sections; endometriosis; or fibroids.

In Ehrenclou’s case, her incorrect diagnoses included interstitial cystitis, fibroids and neuropathy. But worse than the frustration of not knowing what was wrong, she said, were the invasive and sometimes painful tests and treatments she endured in the name of the wrong problem.

One such treatment involved painful steroid injections to her pelvic area. Another required her to be put under general anesthesia, injected with needles in her lower back, and then brought out of the anesthesia to have them electronically stimulated in order to isolate the origination point of the pain. 

“All these doctors did not have hernia in their purview,” she said.

Adding to the difficulty of diagnosing hernias in women, Towfigh says, is that they are often smaller than those seen in men. When a man with a hernia lies down, for instance, the hernia can generally be seen in the form of a bulge. But because of the differences in women’s bodies, a hernia may not be as prominent or even visible at all.

“Women’s pelvises are broader, and so the distribution where the hernias occur and how they present is a little different,” Towfigh said. “In men it protrudes, but in women it’s not as large, so it’s not commonly felt as a bulge.”

Because of the likelihood of confusion and misdiagnoses, Towfigh adds that the more information a patient has and the more forthcoming the patient is with that information, the more easily the diagnosis can be made. With Ehrenclou, for instance, her symptoms lined up clearly with those of hernia.

“Women will commonly tell you that they’re doing daily activities, like washing dishes or brushing their teeth, and it hurts them,” Towfigh said, “or anything that closes off that area, like coughing, sneezing or bending over.”

For her part, Ehrenclou encourages other women in her situation to be tenacious in seeking a cure. As difficult as it was, she says, she never stopped pushing for a diagnosis. If she had given up halfway through, “I probably would still be in pain.”

Sitcom superstars, sultry songstresses, literary diamonds


Saturday

Bob Saget will forever be remembered as Danny Tanner from “Full House.” Now, instead of guiding the household with his wise advice and calm demeanor, Saget is exposing the sitcom family’s sexual exploits on cable television. “Bob Saget: That Ain’t Right” was taped in front of a packed audience at New York University and will debut on HBO tonight. His wildly inappropriate stand-up comedy routine covers such dirty ground as animal sex, snuff videos, prison and the personal sex lives of his former “House” mates. Although his sense of humor might make your rabbi blush, word on the street is that he is very entertaining. And a mensch.

10-11 p.m. Also, Aug. 30, Aug. 31, Sept. 4, Sept. 7, Sept. 10 and Sept. 20.

Sunday

You’ve heard of Christmas in July … now you can have Chanukah in August! Grab your gelt and head to Thousand Oaks to take part in the creation of a real holiday treat cooked up by Harvey Shield, Richard Jarboe and Chayim Ben Ze’ev. “Maccabeat!” is a rockin’ musical take on the story of Judah the Maccabee and his cooler-than-thou Greek rivals. Forbidden lovers Judah and Allura force two different cultures to confront and learn from one another. A heated battle ensues and, well, you already know the rest of this tale. Hebrew hotties, Jerusalem Valley girls and a biblical boy band — it’s the Chanukkah story like you’ve never seen it before!

Part of the Thousand Oaks Festival of New Musicals, Aug. 25-26. 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. $24 (two-day pass includes admission to all four staged readings plus workshops, discussions and a festival party.) Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. For tickets call Ticketmaster, (213) 480-3232. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Sophie Millman” >

Sophie Millman’s golden blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes and delicate facial features recall the old days of Hollywood glamour. But this 24-year-old Russian Israeli Canadian beauty is no aspiring actress. She’s a jazz singer with a dark chocolate voice that’s set to take the U.S. by storm. Millman is touring New York and California in support of her new album, “Make Someone Happy,” and the predictions from jazz critics are that she’ll be making lots of music lovers very happy. Swoon to this chanteuse’s infectious crooning in “Rocket Love,” “Fever” and the particularly meaningful “Eli, Eli,” written by the Jewish Hungarian poet Hannah Senesh, who sacrificed her life to save her family from the Nazis.

8:30 p.m. $15. Catalina Jazz Club, 6725 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-2210. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Edward Schwarzschild’ >
“The Family Diamond” is a collection of jewels. Literary gems, that is. Early reviews for Edward Schwarzschild’s second novel, comprised of nine short stories, have been sparkling: “each story is as satisfying as a full moon,” writes one author. “An achingly beautiful collection,” writes another. To see the value of the diamonds with your own eyes, visit Dutton’s tonight and meet the author, his wife and maybe the rest of his family too.

7 p.m. Free. Dutton’s Brentwood Books, 11975 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-6263. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Dinah Berland”

If you’re a (Jewish) bookworm, this is your week! Not one, but two more book readings are taking place tonight. In Pasadena, teenybopper idol turned television director Robby Benson reads and discusses “Who Stole the Funny?” The satirical novel parodies the world of sitcoms and gives a behind-the-scenes look at the ditsy stars, meddling money-men and sexual escapades that Benson witnessed firsthand while directing more than 100 episodes of “Ellen,” “Friends,” “Dharma & Greg” and other hit shows. Back at Dutton’s, Dinah Berland covers a very different Jewish topic: prayers. She’ll be signing “Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women,” a restoration of a cherished 19th century prayer book.

Benson: 7 p.m. Free. Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Clare Burson” >

Awarded one of 12 Six Points Fellowships for Emerging Jewish Artists in April, Tennessee native Clare Burson is hard at work on “Invisible Ink,” a 10-song album of original Jewish music infused with Southern Americana. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t diligently promoting her recent release “Thieves,” which showcases her warm voice and songwriting talents. She’ll be hitting up all the big towns, including ours, this summer and fall.

8 p.m. $8. Tangiers, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 666-8666.

Two Tickets to ‘Paradise’


 

There was a time in the 1930s and ’40s when Los Angeles, until then considered a barbarian desert outpost by effete Eastern snobs, became the European culture capital in exile.

An influx of the greatest Jewish artists from Berlin, Vienna and Budapest, fleeing Nazi persecution, settled in Brentwood and Santa Monica, attracted equally by employment in the movie industry and the balmy (smog-free) climate.

The journeys of 11 of the brightest names who left the Old for the New World are chronicled and visualized in the Skirball Cultural Center exhibit, “Driven Into Paradise.”

Represented are filmmakers Billy Wilder and Michael Curtiz; composers Arnold Schoenberg and Ernst Toch; writers Vicki Baum, Lion Feuchtwanger, Salka Viertel and Franz Werfel; and artists Otto and Gertrud Natzler and Emilie “Galka” Scheyer.

Through interactive graphic panels displaying musical scores, manuscripts, novels, letters, photographs and film and music clips, curator Tal Gozani encapsulates the cultural ferment of the decades and the émigrés’ contributions to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

It boggles the mind to recall that one ex-Hungarian, Michael Curtiz, directed such classics as “Casablanca,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “White Christmas,” while Austrian-born Billy (Samuel) Wilder created “The Lost Weekend,” “Double Indemnity,” “Stalag 17,” “The Apartment,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “Some Like It Hot.”

While the works of authors Baum (“Grand Hotel”) and Werfel (“The Song of Bernadette”) became hit movies, other artists were too avant-garde for their time and place.

“Driven Into Paradise,” an expression coined by Schoenberg, is being shown in tandem with the Skirball’s “Einstein” exhibit, a tribute to the most famous refugee of all and an occasional Southern Californian.

The émigré exhibit is complemented by special programs, including “Kaffee und Kultur” (March 20), “Memories of Jewish Refugee Women” (May 1), the “Paradise Found Film Series” (March 22-April 19) and the six-session course “I’m Not From Here: Creative Encounters for Newcomers to Los Angeles” (April 4-May 23).

“Driven Into Paradise” runs through May 8 in the Skirball’s Ruby Gallery. Admission is free. For information, call (310) 440-4500, or visit www.skirball.org.

 

Billion-Dollar Plan on Line in Fight for 11th


 

Quick geography quiz: In the past half century, which region has seen only a handful of leaders, and today is focused on a controversial multibillion-dollar reconstruction project?

No, it’s not Iraq. Welcome to the Westside — or more specifically, the 11th City Council District.

In March, City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski will be termed out of office. Two well-connected front-runners, Bill Rosendahl and Flora Gil Krisiloff, are already battling for the prize of representing the quarter-million people — including the sizable Jewish communities in places like Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.

From the LAX expansion to the Skirball and the Getty, from the Pacific to the Ballona Wetlands, there is a lot at stake, and both candidates know it. At first glance, they actually seem to have a lot in common.

Both are tired of gridlock, especially near the airport. Both want more responsible development. Both are longtime L.A. residents with a passion for public policy. And neither has ever been a politician.

“The transportation traffic headaches have turned into gridlock. Regional issues haven’t been worked on regionally,” Rosendahl said in an appeal to Southern California unity. “The 88 cities in L.A. County have to work together to solve these problems. An L.A. problem is also a Santa Monica problem, a West Hollywood and a Culver City problem.”

Rosendahl said he would push for a regional summit on transportation and a light rail line from downtown to the coast.

On the issue of gridlock, Krisiloff notes one of her proudest accomplishments: The work of the San Vicente Design Review Board. “That’s a four-lane highway that’s ended up being very pedestrian friendly,” Krisiloff told The Journal. “We were ahead of the curve 20 years ago in having a vision for that street.”

Crucially, both Krisiloff and Rosendahl also oppose Miscikowski’s deal with Mayor James Hahn on the expansion of LAX — a plan that calls for a major overhaul, including moving passenger check-in to a new structure in Manchester Square and tearing down three existing terminals at a cost of $11 billion.

Rosendahl, in his usual style, advocates the regional approach. “When I looked at LAX, I thought of the three airports that serve the New York area. But for some reason in Los Angeles, it’s all at LAX on the Westside,” he said.

He said he would support modernization of LAX, but only up to the 78 million-passengers-per-year mark (the current promised expansion limit). He said Los Angeles needs to provide incentives for airlines to fly nonstop from Ontario Airport to take the pressure off of LAX and the Westside.

Krisiloff bristles at the thought of another broken LAX promise. “With the [Miscikowski] LAX master plan, there’s no constraint that will honor what all the mayoral candidates pledged three years ago that growth would be held at 78 million passengers per year.”

“It’s all about trust,” Krisiloff said. She spoke of the hazards of unchecked LAX expansion for the communities in that area in terms of rising health risks and traffic.

But, similar policies aside, Krisiloff and Rosendahl have very different perspectives on how politics work.

Rosendahl has a background in media, and mass communication is his metaphor. “We are a megalopolis of some 15 [million] to 18 million people that has no center pulling together the community,” he said. “Our television and our radios and our newspapers are the way that people interact.” Rosendahl used his media expertise to produce numerous public-affairs TV shows on issues ranging from Los Angeles politics to the Middle East peace process, including an interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Even today he educates others as a professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, teaching such courses as Media & Politics and Public Affairs Television.

But despite his laudable emphasis on public awareness through the media, he still faces association with his maligned former employer: Adelphia Communications. That fraud-ridden media corporation has no part in any politician’s ideal resume.

“I’m a victim of Adelphia’s corruption,” Rosendahl explained. “I lost my job in a layoff, I lost all my stock value.”

“I’m not a yes man, and I stood up to these corporate people,” Rosendahl said of his campaign to increase wages for his workers while at Adelphia. “In my last two years at Adelphia, I produced my [public-affairs] shows and had no operating responsibilities,” he added.

Krisiloff’s background is rooted in the nonprofit and community organizations of West Los Angeles, such as the Los Angeles West Area Planning Commission and the Brentwood Community Council.

“I come from the neighborhoods, the community, from the trenches,” Krisiloff said.

She said her experience with West Los Angeles has taught her to take the public’s concerns on development especially seriously. One of Krisiloff’s best known battles took place in Washington, D.C., as she lobbied to save the Veterans Administration buildings near Brentwood from commercial development.

“I was working with [Rep. Henry] Waxman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Barbara Boxer, with the mayor, with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky,” Krisiloff said. “The process was really flawed and I demanded a new master plan. They told me it would never happen. Well, a couple months ago we were told by the secretary of Veteran’s Affairs that we will get it.”

On the question of garnering Jewish support, Rosendahl has more well-known ties to the community, including friend Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the American Jewish Committee. One of his many television programs, “Mideast Perspective,” was focused on that most emotional of issues to many American Jews.

Rosendahl’s base of support, as a matter of fact, is its own unique story. Candidates in Los Angeles must disclose their campaign contributors. Rosendahl has been funded by such varied figures as Peter Camejo (Ralph Nader’s 2004 vice presidential running mate), Bush/Cheney 2004 Jewish liaison Bruce Bialosky, California Democratic Party Chair Art Torres and, perhaps expectedly, the Adelphia Political Action Committee.

Those names certainly give merit to Rosendahl’s claim of bringing together people of all political inclinations, a skill he says he learned from hosting guests on public-affairs TV.

But Krisiloff is not worried. “I always say the difference is not what we’re promising or what we’re identifying now as problems, because in the end we’re all going to sound alike in terms of the rhetoric,” she said. “So how do you differentiate? I have a 20-year track record of leadership in West Los Angeles.”

Clearly, the fight for the 11th has been a long time coming. It promises not to disappoint in 2005.

 

Goodbye, Rabbi


A chapter is about to close for the Reform movement. After 30 years, Rabbi Allen Freehling is retiring from University Synagogue. As of June 30, Freehling, 70, will turn over the Brentwood synagogue’s spiritual leadership to incoming Rabbi Morley Feinstein from Temple Beth El in South Bend, Ind.

"I will miss the ongoing relationship with the children and the adults," Freehling told The Journal, "simply because the nature of my rabbinate was to be as intensely involved as possible."

Following his graduation from the University of Miami, Freehling spent a decade working as an executive in South Florida before entering the rabbinate at age 30. The ordained Freehling joined the struggling University Synagogue in 1972. Freehling, with Cantor Jay Frailich, soon reversed the course of the near-bankrupt synagogue, which had less than 200 households, into a thriving 900-family congregation today with an annual budget exceeding $2.2 million.

"He’s given his last 30 years to this synagogue and taken us from near extinction to the thriving institution we are today," said University Synagogue President Alan Goldman.

"He’s been in the forefront of a lot of social action issues," said Jerry Krautman, executive director of University Synagogue. "AIDS, helping the homeless, Mitzvah Day. He has always tried to raise the level of interest at the congregation to those issues."

In the process of pursuing social action endeavors, Freehling raised University Synagogue’s profile through his involvement. One area where Freehling has tried to raise the bar is with dialogue between American Jews and Muslims. In a post-Sept. 11 world, where anti-Arab sentiment is high, Freehling has always set out to "regard individuals, rather than make blanket statements about groups."

"I simply disagree with that opinion to think of a group as a monolith, when our own people’s history is filled with tragedy because other people scapegoat us," he said.

The fight for tolerance was a hallmark of Freehling’s career. He was one of the first rabbis to embrace gays as part of mainstream Judaism.

Another career milestone occurred in 1998, when the rabbi led an interfaith pilgrimage to the Vatican to discuss the fine points of Jewish history and anti-Semitism with Pope John Paul II.

Contrary to popular belief, Freehling does not believe that Reform Judaism has skewed more to the center — not entirely, anyway.

"From a standpoint of religious ceremony — yes," he said. "Theologically and socially — not."

On April 23, the synagogue honored Freehling’s career with a gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel served as the evening’s keynote speaker. Introducing Wiesel was "Friends" star David Schwimmer.

"This was the temple I grew up with," said Schwimmer. Both he and his sister were b’nai mitzvahed there. "He’s worked very hard to benefit lives, not only in the congregation, but he’s fought social injustice here and abroad."

Schwimmer family members are not the only congregants who have come to know and admire Freehling. Fifteen years ago, Freehling officiated at the wedding of Steffanie and Geoffrey Gee.

"I liked the fact that he practiced what he preached," said Geoffrey Gee, a past president of the synagogue who co-chaired the April 23 tribute with his wife.

"He’s not afraid to go out on a limb," added Steffanie Gee.

If Freehling feels any disappointment, it is with his younger peers, of whom he says are not as involved in social justice as their predecessors. "I find that to be sad and alarming, because congregations look to rabbis to take the lead," Freehling said.

For those who believe that Freehling will follow the end of his tenure with a vacation, guess again. As rabbi emeritus, Freehling will remain connected to University Synagogue, and he will establish the Center for Social Justice in Action, a nonprofit dedicated to community building on the platform of human rights and civil liberties. Freehling will also author a book on American Jewish-Muslim relations.

"As of July 1, I hope to be gainfully employed somewhere else," Freehling said. "I am not tired. I have a lot of creative energy, and I want to use that energy for the betterment of the community."

Funding Jerusalem


So what does it take to get a charity started in Los Angeles? How can a project be incubated just enough to get people excited so that they will one day open their checkbooks and start signing?

This was the question that was seeking an answer recently in Brentwood, where the ever-affable nonprofit marketer Gary Wexler had assembled 30 of his colleagues in an effort to begin an L.A. chapter of Friends of the Jerusalem Foundation. The Jerusalem Foundation is a large and successful nonprofit, nonreligious and apolitical fund that was started by Teddy Kollek in 1966 and has since grown to be the open purse strings behind over 2,000 social welfare and cultural projects in Jerusalem. It has provided the money and the concepts for everything from free medical clinics to cinemas, schools and a zoo. Everyone who visits or lives in Jerusalem, it seems, is in some way a beneficiary of the largesse of the Jerusalem Foundation.

Since its inception, the Jerusalem Foundation has been a fundraising machine, raising over $550 million. Most of the fundraising that was done in America came from the East Coast, which was why Wexler was brought in, so that he could start garnering West Coast support. This was the mission, and the pitch that Wexler made to get these people in the room came in the form of a three-page letter.

"Folks, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing," Wexler wrote. "As a marketing person, I couldn’t ask for a better product or cause to ‘sell’ than the city of Jerusalem."

A number of people here are Wexler’s colleagues from the Wexner Fellowship, an elite Jewish leadership training program, while others are his business associates or personal friends. Later, it is announced that there are lawyers, doctors and members of the film industry in the room. First, Wexler hands out copies of Yehuda Amichai’s poems on Jerusalem, and different people read them aloud. The words are melodic enough to set the mood, and together with the crackling fire, the atmosphere is primed for warm and fuzzy goodwill.

Next step in Wexler’s plan is bonding; a charity can’t be built by appeals alone. The way to get people hooked is not to talk at them, but to include them in the conversation. So around the room they go, with everyone saying their name and their connection to Jerusalem. As the discussion continues, the anecdotes become more animated and heartfelt. "Jerusalem is my heart, my soul, my life," says one woman.

By the time Alan Freeman, the director for overseas coordination for the Jerusalem Foundation, stands up to tell everyone why he thinks the foundation is so imperative to the survival of the city, people want to hear what he has to say.

Freeman’s speech is sobering — he tells the story of a friend of his daughters who was severely wounded in a terrorist attack while she was walking down the street. He tells everyone what good work the Jerusalem Foundation does — he describes the building of the Cinemateque and the restoration of the Via Del Rosa — and explains why support is still needed, especially now that tourism is down and the city is besieged by terrorist attacks.

Then Wexler takes the floor again and talks about his vision of building a community and matching people up with their professional counterparts in Jerusalem. "[I want to] build an emotional organization that people feel like they are participating in," Wexler says. Afterward, people seem eager for the next step, signing their names in a guest book and talking among themselves about how much they liked the evening. "I was so inspired — I think that I am going to get involved," says Cindy Steinschreiber from the Pico-Robertson area.

The evening is only the first stage of a long process. In an e-mail that is sent out to all those who attended the next day, Wexler outlines the strategy: the plan is to have Los Angeles residents work on projects for the Jerusalem Foundation, to connect them with their Jerusalem counterparts and to build the community of Jews and Christians around the issues of Jerusalem. Only once all this has happened, can the next step, which is the serious fundraising, begin.

Wexler is banking on his different approach to spell success for the Los Angeles Friends of the Jerusalem Foundation. "People have not been creating organizations that really reach out. They keep reaching in to the same pot of 300 to 400 people," Wexler says. "So my goal in this is to reach out even further. The fact of the matter is that not a lot of organizations are offering a lot of hands-on involvement. They are just raising money for people the whole time, rather than allowing them to bond and create community and fulfill their depth, their spiritual needs."

The Jerusalem Foundation’s first local event is a discussion with a prominent Jerusalem Jewish, Muslim and Christian speakers. The event will be held June 19 at a venue still to be determined. For more information, call (213) 624-0612.