High Holy Days: Working for happiness


Did you know that many people actually find free time more difficult to enjoy than work? Although many people also find their work stressful, boring or meaningless, success doesn’t make people happy either. 

“More than a decade of groundbreaking research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience has proven in no uncertain terms that the relationship between success and happiness works the other way around,” writes Shawn Achor, one of the designers and teachers of Harvard’s famous Happiness course, in “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.” Research shows that happiness is the precursor to success, not the result, and that, together with optimism, it fuel success. This is what Achor means by the competitive edge he calls the “happiness advantage.” 

But can unhappy people – or even mildly content people – become happy? If so, how? And is it possible to be happy even at work?

Achor believes so. As the CEO of Good Think Inc., a global positive-psychology consulting company, Achor uses the latest in research to give practical steps to increase happiness in our daily lives. His TED talks on the subject have garnered millions of views. 

The Texan got a taste of happiness when he unexpectedly got into Harvard after applying on a dare. He then stayed in the dorms for the next 12 years, first as an undergraduate, then a graduate student and live-in resident to help students with academic and personal success. There he witnessed a pattern of students getting worried, overwhelmed, depressed and even failing. 

It was only after he went to visit a shantytown school in Soweto, South Africa, that he began to understand the answer. When he asked the kids if they like to do schoolwork,  most of the kids raised their hands. And they weren’t lying. A CEO from South Africa told him, “They see schoolwork as a privilege, one their parents did not have.”

When he returned to Harvard and saw people complaining about the very thing Soweto students saw as a privilege, “I started to realize just how much our interpretation of reality changes our experience of that reality.” Students who saw learning as a chore missed out on the opportunities in front of them, but those who saw Harvard as an opportunity shined.

The seven principles in “The Happiness Advantage” are not about putting on a happy face, Achor believes. It’s not about using positive thinking to pretend problems don’t exist, or that everything will always be great. It’s about harnessing our neuroplasticity, our brain’s ability to change and rewire itself. 

“The hardest part about happiness is remembering that we can choose it,” he says. 

Achor talked about the seven principles of “The Happiness Advantage.”

Principle No. 1 The Happiness Advantage Happiness, Achor says, is “the joy we feel striving toward our potential.” This definition links positive emotion with a cognitive awareness of growth. Positive emotion without growth is pleasure, which is fleeting. Growth without positive emotion is equally short-lived and leads to depression.

“Your brain works significantly better at positive than it does when neutral or negative,” Achor says, noting that when positive, the brain has triple the creativity, 31 percent higher levels of productivity, 23 percent fewer fatigue-related symptoms, 37 percent higher levels of sales — all resulting in higher profit and lower burnout. 

Principle No. 2: The Fulcrum and the Lever Achor learned at an early age that our brain can be thought of as “single processors capable of devoting only a finite amount of resources to experiencing the world.” You can use those resources to see the world through a lens of negativity, stress, pain and uncertainty, he says, or through a lens of gratitude, hope, resilience and optimism. 

“Happiness is not about lying to ourselves, or turning a blind eye to the negative, but about adjusting our brain so that we see the ways to rise above our circumstances.”

According to Yale psychologist Amy Wrzeniewski, a crucial part in work satisfaction is whether you view your work as a job (a means to a paycheck), a career (necessary to advance and succeed) or a calling (work as an end in itself contributing to a greater good). It doesn’t matter the work one does, it can always  be connected to one’s higher calling, Achor says. 

Principle No. 3 The Tetris Effect 

The brains of people who repeatedly play video games (like Tetris, where blocks have to fit geometrically) became stuck in a ‘cognitive after-image,’ which causes them to see the game wherever they go. People can also get stuck that way, especially accountants, lawyers and other professionals trained to be critical. Lawyers depose their children while accountants make spreadsheets of their wives’ faults. 

But you can create a ‘Positive Tetris Effect,’ i.e. train your brain to get stuck in a positive afterimage using happiness, gratitude and optimism. Make a list of three positive things at the end of the day, and your brain will have to scan for positive events. 

“This trains the brain to become more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them,” he says. 

Principle No. 4 Falling Up 

The human brain has been wired to create mental maps to survive and navigate the world. After a failure, we create a map with three possible outcomes:  1. Circling in the same spot.  2.  Getting further lost (going down a more negative path).  3.  Getting to a place stronger than before.

The third way “is the difference between those who are crippled by failure and those who rise above it.” After repeated setbacks, some people learn helplessness and believe their actions are futile, while others have what psychologists call “adversarial growth” success after traumas or failures because of their positive mindset. 

Principle No. 5 The Zorro Circle 

Before he could become a hero, the fictional character Zorro had to learn to control his impulsiveness and master his skills one by one, first within a small circle. Often, Achor says, we feel out of control, especially when we try to tackle too many things at once. In a study of 7,400 employees published in The Lancet in 2007, people who felt they had little control over their deadlines had a 50 percent higher risk of heart disease. 

In times of stress, Achor says, it’s important to identify your feelings (whether in writing or in words), find out which parts of the situation you can control, then try to accomplish one small goal. Then another, and another. 

Principle No. 6: The 20-Second Rule

Neuroplasticity tells us that we can change our brains: bad habits wire them that way as do good habits. Achor works with people to replace a negative habit with a positive one “so that the brain’s resources are being allocated appropriately” toward change, he says. 

But to form a new habit, you have to create the path of least resistance (i.e., it needs to be easy). Achor found that committing to playing the guitar every day wasn’t enough when his guitar was stored in the closet. Once he moved it outside (“lower the barrier”), he incorporated guitar playing into his daily routine. 

Principle No. 7 Social Investment

In times of stress and crisis, many people retreat into their shells and cut off communication with their friends and loved ones. But happy, successful people do the opposite. “Instead of turning inward, they actually hold tighter to their social circle,” Achor says. Forming social bonds increases Oxytocin, reducing anxiety and improving concentration and focus.

In the end, Achor believes we can always be happy at work by creating positive habits and sticking with them. “But if you feel like you could grow more in another job, then optimism should fuel the belief that you can make that change successfully,” he says. But if change is not possible for some reason, “making the best of the current situation only makes good sense.”

Hebrew U. scores in academia survey on best places to work


A survey of the best places to work in academia ranked Jerusalem’s Hebrew University as the second-best place to work outside of the United States.

The school ranked ninth overall, according to the Jerusalem Post. It was the only Israeli school in the top 25 in the Scientist magazine rankings, which were based on answers to a survey submitted by more than 1,000 researchers in the life sciences.

“This demonstrates that a community in which it is pleasant to work is also one in which one sees outstanding academic achievements,” Hebrew University President Menachem Ben-Sasson said, according to the Post.

Finishing ahead of Hebrew U. outside the U.S. in the rankings was the Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna.

Overall, The J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco was ranked first.

The many hats of Mayim Bialik


Mayim Bialik’s career has gone through several phases since she burst onto the pop culture radar as the lead of the 1990s NBC-TV series “Blossom.”

After the show wrapped, she earned her doctorate in neuroscience at UCLA while marrying and becoming the mother to two sons. Now she has returned to the small screen as a regular on the CBS series “The Big Bang Theory.”

If the task of transitioning from child star to working adult actor wasn’t time consuming enough, she also blogs regularly at the Jewish parenting site Kveller.

And she’s added yet another title: social justice activist. On Dec. 19, Bialik will host a fundraiser for Rabbis for Human Rights of North America that will honor clergy members who have stood out for their devotion to justice. Rabbi Israel Dresner, the “most arrested rabbi in America,” is among the honorees.

Bialik acknowledges that she was unfamiliar with RHR until she was contacted by Executive Director Rabbi Jill Jacobs about emceeing the event. Yet after a little online investigation, she discovered that she was already connected to RHR.

“I went to the website and saw that my rabbi from UCLA, Chaim Seidler-Feller, was there,” Bialik told JTA. That sealed the deal.

“We were looking for someone who is known for being deeply committed to Judaism and deeply committed to justice,” Jacobs said.

Bialik credits her Jewish upbringing with her lifelong devotion to performing good works.

“I was raised in a very vibrant Reform community in Los Angeles,” she said. Temple Israel, the synagogue she attended as a youth, was “very tikkun olam based.”

As an adult, Bialik has worked with the Jewish Free Loan Association, helping to found a branch of the organization aimed at encouraging young professionals in Los Angeles to become involved in philanthropy.

“It’s a cause close to my heart,” she said. Yet her involvement has shown her just how difficult it is to get that demographic to participate. “People think, ‘When I’m older I will donate,’” she observed.

In addition to her work in social justice, Bialik also has become something of a spokeswoman for a more observant lifestyle. As a student at UCLA, she began moving toward greater Jewish ritual observance, including an increased emphasis on kosher (not too hard for the mostly vegan actress), Sabbath and modest dress. She explores these topics and others with candor on her Kveller blog.

For religious reasons, Bialik primarily wears skirts, which hasn’t been hard to manage in her current role since her character wears loose-fitting skirts and layers.

“I could’ve been cast as many things in this incarnation of my career. I happen to play a character that producers like to dress modestly,” she said of the bookish Amy Farrah Fowler, who is the love interest of Emmy winner Jim Parsons’ Sheldon Cooper. “Thus far I have not been in a miniskirt.”

Yet despite hewing ever more closely to religious law in her personal life, Bialik refuses to identify fully with Orthodoxy. She has written forthrightly about having to work on Jewish holidays. And a future role might demand a more immodest wardrobe.

Yet when she can, Bialik goes to great lengths—quite literally—to observe. She agonized over her choice of Emmy dress—on her Kveller blog, she described her mission as “Operation Hot and Holy”—before settling on one that met most of her modesty requirements: covered arms and knees, with a hint of collarbone and cleavage.

She felt validated when she later saw Paris Hilton in the same dress in People magazine, with the suggestion that “you don’t have to show tons of skin to be sexy.”

Perhaps the editors at the celebrity magazine have been reading Bialik’s Kveller articles. Or maybe, in addition to being a mom, actor, scientist and activist, she has discovered one more hat to wear: fashion trendsetter.

Shmuley Update 2008: Now he’s fixing the ‘Broken Male’


The American male is broken and the only way to fix him is to redefine what makes him a success, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says, adding that the American male is made to feel like a failure and always in competition with those around him.

“You’re trained to look behind you to see who’s gaining on you, and sideways to see who’s caught up to you,” Boteach said in a phone interview. “The dehumanization of the American male is destroying him. He’s made to feel like he’s a not a human being; he’s a human doing, and he’s only valued for what he produces.”

Boteach first wrote on the topic in a column three years ago, and after syndication carried it to about 70 newspapers he received more than 5,000 e-mails. As he filmed his TLC show, “Shalom in the Home,” he says the subject of the dysfunctional male kept reappearing as he traveled from home to home across America. Finally, he decided to put together all his thoughts on the subject in a new book.

But while men are the focus of Boteach’s “The Broken American Male and How to Fix Him” (St. Martin’s Press), women don’t escape unscathed.

More than half of the divorces in America are initiated by women, he said, because their husbands have become intolerable. When men see themselves as losers, he went on, they view a woman who would marry them as twice a loser, and women don’t want to be married to men who feel that way.

“The broken American male, through his own state of brokenness, creates a feeling in women that they’re inadequate,” Boteach said. “He comes home, he turns on the TV; he doesn’t talk. He’s not passionate. So you start blaming yourself. Your reaction becomes, ‘It must be me.'”

Rather than turning to their wives and families, he says, the American male has a slew of other escapes, from sports to alcohol to television.

“Men don’t follow sports, they’re fanatical about sports,” Boteach said. “The reason is if you feel like a failure, you try to live vicariously through your team.”

So how do we fix the problem? According to Boteach, the solution begins at home with the next generation.

“We have to raise our boys to stress their emotions more,” Boteach said. “We are much tougher on our sons in the belief that the world is going to be tougher on them, and we don’t show them their emotions matter.”

The next step, he says, is to change what drives a man. If a man lives to work, he becomes burned out or overly focused on his work to the exclusion of his family. To spur this change in focus, Boteach has created a new definition of success by rearranging a man’s priorities.

“We have to stop giving men a career and start giving them a calling,” the rabbi said.

Focusing so much on advancing one’s own situation instills fear and insecurity and makes a man self-absorbed, he explained. A calling, however, focuses a man on maximizing his potential for his own betterment, rather than trying to get ahead of others.

“A calling gives you a unique sense of purpose,” he said.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Dennis Prager will discuss “Are the Modern Men Broken? If So, Are They Fixable?” March 6, 8 p.m. $30-$60. Nessah Synagogue, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400.

Workmen’s Circle celebrates 100 years; Progressives fight for what’s Left


Workmen’s Circle Celebrates 100

It’s not every centenarian who can celebrate his birthday with full-throated songs and Yiddish jokes, but the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring did just that in marking its 100th anniversary year in California with high good humor, leavened with a bit of nostalgia.

Performers and speakers intermingled Yiddish with English at the centennial gala and awards celebration on Jan. 9 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

There were gags about davening parrots, a parody on health care debates to the tune of “California, Here I Come,” rousing songs by the Voices of Conscience and Mit Gezang choruses, a raft of standup routines and closing duets by Yale Strom and Elizabeth Schwartz.

Among the honorees were KPFK-FM’s “Access Unlimited” program on people with disabilities, and Ruth Judkowitz and Eric A. Gordon, “chairmentsh” and director, respectively, of the Workmen’s Circle Southern California district.

It was left to veteran actor Ed Asner, a Workmen’s Circle member himself, to honor the group’s history as a pioneer fighter for union, housing, health care and education rights. He concluded with a stemwinder lauding the politics of the left, a term rarely heard in polite conversation these days.

“What a pitiful society we have become in losing so many ideals of the left,” Asner said. “But these ideals of a community in which no one is excluded from the human family will never die. If they seem dead at times, they will be born again.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Push to Make Social Justice a Priority Righteous Indignation
And speaking of the left, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), American Jewish World Service, Jewish Funds for Justice and other forward-looking organizations recently celebrated the new anthology, “Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice,” at the home of PJA President Daniel Sokatch.

Part call to action, part campaign initiative, the book and its authors want to reclaim the concept tikkun olam (repair the world) to include social justice, as well as social action. The highbrow team of Jewish activists, intellectuals, religious and lay leaders who contributed to the book are gearing up for a vigorous foray into campaign politics, hoping to make social justice a religious priority in the ’08 election.

On the Righteous Indignation Project Web site, co-editor Rabbi Or N. Rose recognizes that “in an era in which the religious right has monopolized the national morality debate, it is critical that religious progressives — Jews and others — articulate alternative visions of faith and public life.”

A formidable group of 70 or so crowded Sokatch’s Westwood home, sipping wine and talking politics at a salon-style gathering, where “small talk” was about changing the world. The implied paradigm shift is this: Feeding the hungry is nice and all, but more pressing is asking ourselves why people are starving to begin with.

“Community service is not enough. We need gemilut chasadim [acts of lovingkindness] and structural change,” said Margie Klein, co-editor, along with Rose and Jo Ellen Green Kaiser.

Rabbi Sharon Brous, who co-authored an essay with Sokatch, warmly introduced three contributors: Dr. Adam Rubin, Rabbi Elliot Dorff and Sokatch, who bandied caveats pertaining to the Iraq War, stem cell research and civil rights. Sokatch implored a turn toward restorative — not retributive — justice, so that all human beings are treated with dignity.

Talk was urgent, political and philosophical. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was quoted. The voice of social justice was heard, and the event concluded with Jewish prayer.

Before the soldiers of peace set out into the night, Klein asked the crowd to commit to three things: Read the book, get involved and, if you can, help fund the growing movement.

Maybe there’s hope for our broken world yet.

SCENE AND HEARD…

Alex Fullman
Going for the Gold: Alex Fullman (photo), 17-year-old student at Harvard-Westlake School, won four gold medals and two silver as a member of the U.S. swim team at the Pan American Maccabi games, which took place last month in Buenos Aires. He is the son of Sandra Kossacoff and Dr. Howard Fullman who, along with his brother, Casey Fullman, attended the December 2007 games.

Banking On Jobs: Apparently the Los Angeles banking industry has one of the highest turnover rates of any job market in the country. Enter Les Biller, former COO of Wells Fargo Bank and the Biller Family Foundation, who, along with a consortium of brand-name banks, created JVS Bankworks, a free career training program to prepare people for entry into the banking industry.

On Jan. 16, they held their graduation ceremony at the Expo Center. Thus far, retention rates are high: Over 80 percent of graduates get hired and 79 percent are still around to move up the ladder six months later. For more information, visit http://www.jvsla.org.

Margy Feldman
It’s a New Day: The state Assembly declared Jan. 14 Big Brothers Big Sisters Day in recognition of the organization’s positive impact on the lives of 10,000 children through its 26 statewide agencies. Margy Feldman, president of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and the 2008-2009 president of the California BBBS State Association, was present to receive the award.

Note to new grads: it’s just the beginning!


College graduation: the distinctive rite of passage that marks a child as an adult. Adorned in ceremonious celebration and family gathering, it is an event that simultaneously acknowledges our accomplishments and introduces us to the possibilities — and realities — of our futures, where success is not measured in grades but in self-sufficiency.

My first act as a graduate two years ago was choosing to skip my commencement ceremony. Reluctant to put closure on four enriching years at the University of Florida, I turned in my final paper on “Trash Cinema” and bolted to the Florida Turnpike, figuring I had at least five hours to ruminate before life began.

Two years, four cities and more jobs than can fit on a resume later, I’ve been thinking about graduating (and not just because the Gators have won three NCAA Championship titles since).

As proof that destiny is not without a sense of humor, I recently found myself back at my alma mater saluting my little sister at her college graduation.

Watching her walk across the stage and knowing the immense journey ahead, I felt compelled to share what I’ve learned with her. With two fast but full years under my belt and scrolls of solicited wisdom from my esteemed elders, I’ve discovered how meaningful it is to throw your cap into the air.

But strip away the hype, the elaborate weekends steeped in family ritual and celebratory dining, how many graduates take their passage seriously? Aside from announcements that serve as financial solicitations to our nearest and dearest nowadays, how can graduates show they’re prepared for the next phase of life?

How does an individual prepare for the lifelong transition of becoming who they are meant to be?

In retrospect, I realize I wasn’t ready to graduate — from college, from parental support, from the carelessness of youth in which I considered myself quite skilled. My peers avoided this precipice similarly. Many blindly went from one institution to another, finishing undergrad and matriculating to graduate school. True, graduate study is an unparalleled opportunity for furthering passions or professional goals, but I found it odd, and even humorous, that so many of my peers immediately wound up in law school, yet I can’t remember many of my childhood friends broadcasting dreams of becoming lawyers.

Perhaps the naked confrontation with infinite possibility is too frightening, and many feel that arming themselves with fancy degrees will better equip them for the demands of the adult world. But everyone faces reality eventually, and a degree is simply a piece of paper until a person parlays it into a satisfying life.

Despite my absence from the ceremony, graduating was a cumulative process and not a single event; a period fraught with growth, change, struggle, new experiences and, finally, commitment to a pursuit. For me, that decision necessitated a move away from home, which truly signified my entry into an adult brand of independence.

This is what I learned during my graduation:

  • Don’t rush. The imminent grind of capitalism is yours for the taking — for the rest of your life — so ignore the ubiquitous pressure to become a millionaire before you turn 30, because if we all made our millions by then, a bunch of celebrity-obsessed, party-going 20-somethings would dominate the world’s largest economy. Secondly, it is more important and more rewarding to enjoy the fabric of the journey than to cross the finish line. After all, what would college graduation be if not for all those years we spent indulging in studenthood? What kind of adults might we be if not for our equal and opposite experience as children?
  • Experiment and expand. When you are young, every possibility is open to you. The ability to be malleable and reinvent yourself is a treasure of youth that disappears when permanent responsibilities like mortgage payments, tuition and (heaven forbid!) children of your own enter the scene. It is only later in life that you will understand how the various dots of your existence connect into a cohesive, logical framework.
  • Take risks. Safe choices are, at best, safe. But what makes life interesting and exciting are the unexpected adventures and opportunities that throw us off one course and onto another that is beyond our wildest dreams. Don’t be afraid to do something that scares you. Never miss an opportunity to make yourself a more interesting person.
  • Believe in yourself. People who believe in themselves cannot be hindered. Those are the people who change the world. They are the revolutionaries and visionaries with implacable dreams. They may not have a perfect plan, but they possess passion and conviction, and those qualities will fill the depths of your soul in ways a resume can never explain or encompass.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Like you, I am working hard to make that true.

A not-so-random sampling of the Class of 2007


Every year when I send out that first e-mail asking educators and leaders from around the city to nominate high school seniors for this “Outstanding Seniors” article, the angst begins. I get the names of dozens of nominees, and through a one-paragraph description I’m supposed to figure out who belongs in this feature.It’s an impossible task, and inevitably I resign myself to the ultimate randomness of this selection — for every teen I pick, 10 others could have filled that spot.

And yet, taken as a whole, this group of teens offers what feels like a pretty accurate cross-section of the leaders of the Class of 2007, and illuminates the concerns that drive them and their cohorts.

What stood out among this group of teens is an eagerness to take responsibility not only for their own futures, but for society.

One student has worked to pass state legislation to improve the lives of teens, and another has published nationally recognized research on AIDS. They have fed the homeless, mentored children, buddied with the disabled, and raised $20,000 for Holocaust survivors. They have founded baseball teams, language clubs, social action groups and astronomy programs. They have spread their love of Judaism to younger children and to peers, and thought deeply about how to improve the world.

So is it random? Maybe. But if this is what a random sampling of the Class of 2007 yields, I’m OK with that.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

It’s All About Student Empowerment

Tess Lerner-Byars
Tess Lerner-ByarsFrom: North Hollywood High School Highly Gifted Magnet and
Wilshire Boulevard Temple Religious School
To: Yale University

While other seniors waited for news of college acceptances, Tess Lerner-Byars was waiting for word from the California Legislature.

As president of the California Association of Student Councils (CASC), Lerner-Byars helped craft a bill, now making its way through the appropriations committee, that would stop the practice of the state docking a school’s per-pupil, per-day funding if a student took off for civic activity or social action projects.

It’s an issue that hits close to home for Lerner-Byars, a senior in the Highly Gifted Magnet at North Hollywood High School, who has accumulated a considerable number of absences this year as she traveled to Sacramento or to Oakland, where CASC is headquartered, to plan conferences and leadership training programs for elementary, middle and high school students.

Lerner-Byars, who also served on her school’s student government, hopes to bring student empowerment closer to home. As an intern in the mayor’s Department of Youth, Children and Their Families this summer, she is planning to hold a conference that will kick off a student policy committee for Los Angeles Unified School District, with a mission similar to CASC’s.

She plans to continue her policy work at Yale next year by joining the Roosevelt Institute, which gives college students a voice in creating national and international policy.

Lerner-Byars is well positioned for advocacy: she placed fourth in the state’s Speech and Debate competition, and was in the top 50 nationally, in the original speech category. She also finished in the top 10 in Duke University’s international law competition.

Lerner-Byars is fluent in Spanish and French, and started her school’s language club. She also played two years of varsity soccer and wrote for the school paper.

With all this, Lerner-Byars still found time to study in religious school at Wilshire Boulevard Temple through her senior year. She is a madricha, a counselor, to eighth graders at the Temple.

“I stayed on primarily because of the sense of community I feel there,” she said.

— JGF

Getting Beyond Small Talk

Ori Kanefsky
Ori Kanefsky

From: YULA Boys School
To: Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshiva University

If you are one of the several-hundred people Ori Kanefsky makes a point of meeting at a youth group convention, your conversation with him may quickly go from “Hey, what’s up?” to “What are your goals in life?” or “What would you do if you found out today you weren’t Jewish?”

Intense and enthusiastic, Kanefsky likes to get beyond small talk and find out what is really going on with people. In one instance, he was even able to talk a peer out of considering suicide.

“I think the idea of religion is that its commandments and rules and opportunities can transform us into an incredibly ethical and moral person who seeks to go out and always do the right thing and make the world as good a place as we can,” said Kanefsky, a YULA senior and the vice president of education for the Southwest Region of the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

Kanefsky is a founder and the president of the Jewish Teen Action Group (J-Tag). The group made and handed out thousands of peanut-butter-and-jelly sack lunches to the homeless in Santa Monica and downtown, and another time made a barbecue for the needy on Venice Beach.

He is a counselor and tutor to younger kids, and a liaison to the Etta Israel Center, rustling volunteers to staff Shabbatons and events for disabled children and adults.

An honors student who loves math, he is chairman of the YULA’s spirit committee, captain of the cross-country team and plays keyboard in a band. He was one of five teens nationwide to be named a Senator Joseph Lieberman Scholar, an Orthodox Union program that educates teens about the leadership and organizational structure of the American Jewish community.

Kanefsky will study at the Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel next year, and then attend Yeshiva University in New York, where he won a full merit scholarship in the school’s honors program. While both are schools his father, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation, attended, he doesn’t think he’ll become a pulpit rabbi. He is toying with the idea of going into engineering or business, or possibly education or psychology — pursuits he already seems to have mastered with his peers.

— JGF

Ms. Morgenstern Goes to Washington

Madeleine Morgenstern

Working Girl


I’m a multitasker. I can type an e-mail and conduct a conference call; I can watch a reel and read a memo. I can rub my tummy and pat my head, or pat your tummy and rub your head — which sounds like a lot more fun.

Point is, I can do two things at once and do them both well. But not everyone thinks so. Last week, my friends and I were downing Thai at Red Corner Asia when my married buddy Marc asked, “Carin, why do you think you’re waiting to get married?”

“Top answer on the board? Can’t marry myself.”

“Well, that. But I thought of you today,” he said. “I read that a lot of women now spend their 20s focused on their career, not on dating. Then they wake up one day to find themselves successful, but alone. It’s a tragedy.”

A tragedy? Come on, “Othello” is a tragedy. My social life? A comedy. Well, maybe more like a one-hour dramedy. Like “Ugly Betty” or “Desperate Housewives” or “Ally McBeal” — except not ugly. Or desperate. Or stick skinny. You’re picturing my tight curves now, aren’t you? Pretty hot, huh? Well stop dreaming and keep reading.

I’m an accomplished exec. I worked hard to get here. I work hard for the money. But work never gets in the way of dating, and dating never gets in the way of work.

Yet suddenly, this working girl feels defensive. If I just happened to still be single, it’s a matter of bad luck, bad timing or bad boys. I’m not to blame. It’s just how life goes on for me. But if I’m still single ‘cuz I focused on my job, then it’s my own fault I’m hauling around that “Miss” before my name.

According to Marc, I could be married by now, if only I’d been a huge failure.

Why, oh why, couldn’t I be a huge failure? Why did I have to be born witty and smart? Graduate Phi Beta Kappa? Earn my VP stripes? Why did I have to be confident, competent and driven? If only I’d remained entry level, I could be happily hitched by now.

Maybe Marc’s right. Maybe I should switch up my focus, take time off of work to concentrate on dating. That’s the ticket. I’ll walk into HR and ask to take my maternity leave early. What? Equal rights — why should some women get a three-month leave and not others? Instead of spending three months playing with a new baby, I’ll spend three months looking for a new man. Miss Hathaway, hold my calls. I won’t be in today, I’m going on a bachelor hunt.

C’mon. My work never stopped me from working it. If anything, men find my success sexy. They like a woman who can pay for her own meal — and kiss like no other. So it’s not that I’ve been waiting to get married; I’ve been waiting for my prince to come. And waiting. And waiting. Still waiting….

Actually, why I am still waiting? Why hasn’t a hot chick like me been swept up? Where are all my sweepers and suitors? And since when do I wait for anything? I’m a skip -to-the-front-of-the-velvet-rope kinda girl.

Maybe there is some truth to Marc’s statement. After all, we are the girl-power generation. We were told we could do anything, achieve everything, and be all that we can be. Where our moms had a wedding and kids right after college, we all got an apartment and a career. We were in no rush to get married. Now I’ve got an office and an assistant, but not a husband and a house. I didn’t intentionally avoid wearing the white dress while I cracked the glass ceiling. I know all work and no play makes me a dull Jew. I’ve dated a lot; I just haven’t closed the deal. I guess I always figured marriage would just kinda happen.

Sure, sometimes I worry that all the good ones have been taken. But I’m not taken, and I’m a good one. I’m a Tony the Tiger grrrreat one. Someone will be lucky to have me. So it’s more a matter of meeting my mensch.

Perhaps I should approach dating like I approach my job. Be a firecracker, be proactive, go after what I want. Start recruiting some fresh candidates, move meeting men to the top of my agenda. It’s nice to be successful; it would be nicer to celebrate that success with someone. To me, being married means being partners. It means supporting each other’s careers. It means sharing the joy of a new job, sharing the letdown of a layoff and sharing most of my new raise.

Life doesn’t have to be an either/or. I can have it all. I can do two things at once.

I can get engaged and get promoted. I can rule in the boardroom and the bedroom. I can take on a relationship and rock my power suit.

Or accept your rock and take off your power suit — which sounds like a lot more fun.

Carin Davis can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com

Some students follow road less traveled to college


The obsession among middle-class Jews about getting into the best possible college is a well-worn stereotype: Parents begin agonizing even before their children are accepted into preschool.

Kids are enrolled in an endless array of extracurriculars — piano lessons, ballet, soccer, sometimes all on the same day — and at the same time they are expected to earn perfect grades and demonstrate their leadership skills and social compassion.

Families shell out money for expensive tutors and test prep classes, as well as private consultants who help lay out the road to that dream university, which will lead to the best graduate program, which will lead to the perfect job, which will lead to an ideal life.

This tired and overplayed stereotype may contain some truth, but the other
parallel reality is that there are also many students who retain enough independent thought to create their own unique paths.

Because in truth, not everyone goes to Harvard, and that’s OK. In fact, not everyone wants to go to Harvard (or Princeton or Yale or Stanford), or even stocks up on enough Advance Placement credits or extracurriculars or unique experiences to get into the Ivy League schools (or UCLA or Michigan or NYU).

“The resume is a reflection of you,” college freshman Alex Popper says. “You shouldn’t be the reflection of resume.”

The Jewish Journal talked to four students who shatter the Jewish college-obsessed stereotype.

Meet Tuvia Korobkin,Tuvia Korobkin who chose yeshiva over college, then got into UCLA Law School. Walla Walla, Wash., was a better choice than Berkeley or Brown for Marnie Burgoyne. It wasn’t until high school that Popper figured out what made him tick academically. And Jessica Tanya Spivak, who took the high school equivalency exam, struggled to achieve mediocre grades until she got to the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University), where last week she graduated summa cum laude.

When it came time for law school, Tuvia Korobkin was in the enviable position of having to choose between UCLA, USC and Georgetown (he got wait-listed at NYU and Penn). So what was his undergraduate experience that so impressed these high-ranking schools?

At Ner Israel in Baltimore, an all-male yeshiva, Korobkin earned a bachelor’s in talmudic law.

While Ner Israel, which is accredited by the state of Maryland, offers the option of — but does not require — taking secular classes at nearby universities, Korobkin chose to focus on his Talmud study and took some summer classes in politics and economics at Santa Monica City College.

Korobkin, who just successfully finished his first year at UCLA Law School, says he and his parents always knew he would go to graduate school. He took an LSAT prep course and aced the test, and that, along with his innate intelligence, was enough to get him into some of the best law schools in the country, even without a conventional undergraduate education.

Korobkin’s childhood education was somewhat fragmented as the family moved to follow his father’s career path (Rabbi Daniel Korobkin is now the spiritual leader at Yavneh Hebrew Academy in Hancock Park). He spent nursery through early elementary school at two San Diego Jewish day schools, then fourth through eighth grade at the Jewish day school in Allentown, Penn., where he was one of four kids in his graduating class.

“I really liked going to school there. I got a lot of personal attention, and it laid a great educational foundation for later years,” says Korobkin, 22, and the oldest of 10 siblings.

In ninth grade, Korobkin boarded with a family to attend a yeshiva in Monsey, N.Y. When his family moved to Los Angeles, Korobkin rejoined them and attended Valley Torah High School for a year and then YULA boys yeshiva high school for a year. Throughout his school career, even with all the movement, both his grades and his behavior were excellent.

Rather than stay in high school for 12th grade, Korobkin took a high school equivalency exam to earn his diploma and spent the next two years at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh in Israel. While he originally intended to attend Yeshiva University in New York, which has a conventional general studies curriculum, he switched to Ner Israel, where his father was ordained.

In addition to taking summer school classes at Santa Monica City College, Korobkin enhanced his college education through a reading list supplied by his grandmother, a former English teacher.

With law school’s formulaic and highly focused material, he says he has no problem keeping up, and his expertise in the legal thinking of Talmud study doesn’t hurt.

Korobkin admits he does occasionally question whether he missed out by not attending a regular college.

“I guess socially it would have been a lot different, and I would have been more well-rounded, as far as my secular education,” he says. “But the path I took was very satisfying. I learned a lot and value the years I had in yeshiva. I made very good friends, I had great rabbis and it really made an impact on my life.”

From Russia, With Bs

Jessica Tanya Spivak never liked school much. She was the first in her Moldovan immigrant family to be born in America, and the language barrier always made school difficult.

Jessica Tanya Spivak
Her parents, who both have advanced degrees from the former Soviet Union, knew that education would get their daughter ahead. She had tutors, they got her into good magnet schools and they had lots of talks trying to figure out why she just wasn’t getting the material.

Spivak went to three elementary schools, finally landing in the gifted magnet program at Wonderland Avenue School in Laurel Canyon and then John Burroughs Magnet School in Hancock Park for middle school.

Some of the time she tried hard; other times she just gave up. She had some teachers who really tried to help her through, and most others who just let her fall through the cracks. For high school, Spivak went to Cleveland High School Humanities Magnet in Reseda, which has an intense, interdisciplinary, writing-heavy curriculum. The school was an hour-and-a-half bus ride from her Hollywood home, and she had to be at the bus stop by 6 a.m. and often stayed up well past midnight studying. All this while she took classes in art, dance, tennis — and kept up active involvement in Temple Israel of Hollywood, where she was an assistant teacher, president of the youth group and often led services or chanted Torah for the whole congregation.

Composer Martin Bresnick’s classically unique style turns 60


Please don’t think that Martin Bresnick is having a “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” moment.
Sure the acclaimed composer and teacher celebrated his 60th birthday last month with a series of concerts and the release of a new CD of his music, “The Essential Martin Bresnick,” performed by a gang of his former students, centered on the Bang on a Can All-Stars and his longtime academic home, the Yale School of Music.

But he’s not the “grand old man” nearing retirement taking a retrospective look back at a parade of his students through a Vaseline-coated lens of memories.

“Well, there is a little bit of that,” Bresnick says, leaning back in the booth in a midtown diner where he has been sampling the apple pie. “But I don’t think of myself in that role. For most of my teaching career I haven’t been that much older than my students. It’s only recently that students stopped calling me Martin. I’m not an authority figure, and our work revolves around a sense of communal discovery.”

Bresnick likes to cite a famous Zen koan about teaching: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

But he is also highly attuned to the teacher-student interplay. He cites as an example his own studies with the great composer Gyorgy Ligeti (coincidentally, also a Jew).

“He was one of the greatest composers of our era,” Bresnick says. “You learn from what he said about things, but also from what he did. I had that as an example. It’s a way of saying, ‘I am a real composer and people who study with me know that.'”

And it is as a composer that Bresnick wants to be known. He doesn’t downplay the importance of teaching. On the contrary, it is an integral part of the ethos in which he was raised by his Yiddishist, socialist family.

“Teaching for me has always had a strong social component,” he says. “It’s part of giving back. I came out of a working-class family in the Bronx and was given a tremendous opportunity by others. I had it ingrained in me that you serve and have to share.”

That’s a lesson he was taught growing up in the Amalgamated Co-ops.

“I had a very devoted secular Jewish upbringing,” Bresnick says. “My family were dedicated Yiddishists, I was sent to the Arbeiter Ring [Workmen’s Circle] elementary school. My family ran the gamut politically from anarchist to liberal Democrats. I can still read Yiddish, and my aunt, Phylis Berk, is a well-known Yiddish singer. My mother, at 85, is still a professional storyteller who travels around the country talking about life in the shtetl.”

It was a wonderful milieu in which to grow up, but not so hot for learning classical music, he admits.

“When I was little, my parents had very few classical records,” Bresnick recalls. “I could memorize very quickly. Somewhere out there is a disk with me singing snippets of ‘Barber of Seville’ and ‘The Nutcracker,’ which were the two classical records they had at first. But they recognized that I had a talent, and they got me a couple of records when they could. The first time I ever heard a woodwind quintet was when I saw one live at the age of 9 on a school trip. I was completely dumbfounded by the bouquet of timbres.”

It was the beginning of a career and a calling.

“I would listen to a Beethoven symphony when I was 7 and feel that I understood what was intended,” he says. “I had some comprehension of the point of [writing] a symphony. And I felt, ‘I can do it too.’ I think I understood that it had something to do with what it means to be a human being.

“Music for many people at that age is a wonderful refuge. It offers them an ordered world. As a composer, you are making a world.”

On the other hand, Bresnick was also participating in the world around him. As a teenager, he played rock guitar, graduated from the High School of Music and Art at 16 “as the youngest beatnik ever,” he adds with a laugh, and was in grad school on the West Coast by 20. He saw Jimi Hendrix live, still admires Cream as “a great chamber-music group” and gigged as a working musician.

Even today, Bresnick “listens to everything,” and his own compositions have a uniquely American eclecticism.

“It’s Ivesian,” he says, citing the great American maverick, Charles Ives, “It’s totally democratic; everybody’s got a right to belly up to the table and contribute.”

Bresnick is a composer who can juxtapose the repetitive structures of minimalism with Stravinskian harmonies, who can use a Willie Dixon blues riff as the jumping-off point for a Brahmsian chamber piece, who can write movingly for marimba and orchestra.

If you ask him if there is any musical style that he would reject out of hand, he smiles and says, “I’m ready to accept almost any influence into my domain. My ‘border guards’ may ask them to show their passport first, though.”

He admits to excluding only one major late-20th-century movement.

“I’m not that interested in conceptual art,” he says. “Most of it has revealed itself to be poorer conceptually than any physically based art. I believe in the line from William Carlos Williams, ‘No ideas but in things.’ I like the pleasures of the physical world, and if I can embody something in the world of music, that’s good enough.”

Above all, he wants to be known as a composer first and foremost.

“No question about it,” he says emphatically. “I’ve never thought of myself any other way. I love teaching and I’m glad to be well-regarded as a teacher, but I have no doubt of my own self-identity.”

Anyone who hears Bresnick’s music, live or on disk, will agree.

“The Essential Martin Bresnick” featuring the Bang on a Can All-Stars, is available on the Cantaloupe Records label.

Sherwood Schwartz — creator of hit TV shows ‘Gilligans Island’ and ‘The Brady Bunch’ — trades sitc


Sherwood Schwartz is not one to complain. Which isn’t to say he has nothing to complain about.

“Right now I have a torn rotator cuff,” he said during an interview at his home in Beverly Hills. “So I guess I could complain about my arm all day. But what the hell?” The three old ladies at center stage in Schwartz’s play “Off Their Rockers,” which will premiere at Theatre West on Nov. 10, are not purveyors of equanimity. Each character, in her own way, makes an art form of complaint.

“I was inspired by a Sholom Aleichem story about how God hears our complaints,” Schwartz said. “God gets pretty tired of it. I can appreciate that.”

Schwartz, who turns 90 this month, has arrived at his career as a playwright comparatively late in life. In earlier decades he made a name for himself by creating “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch.” And in decades even earlier than that, there were gigs as a comedy writer for Red Skelton and Bob Hope.

“I actually started off in pre-med,” he said about his youthful ambitions. “In the 1930s the AMA decided there were too many Jewish doctors, so medical school admissions became tougher for applicants with Jewish-sounding last names. I decided to get a master’s degree in biology from USC to make myself more competitive.”

When he started graduate school, Schwartz moved in with his brother, Al, who was writing for Bob Hope’s radio show.

“It didn’t seem that hard to write a joke,” Schwartz said. “So Al would tell me the topic of the show, and I’d write a couple of pages of jokes.”

The money was good, and Bob Hope wasn’t imposing quotas to keep out talented writers. So in 1939, Schwartz dropped out of USC to start penning comedy.

Schwartz said he has just solved a staging problem that had stymied his idea for a new play based in his experience on “The Red Skelton Show.” The play will tell the story of the three writers — Schwartz, Jesse Goldstein and Dave O’Brien — who wrote most of the material for the show. More specifically, it will deal with the human drama that unfolded around the writers during the six months preceding Goldstein’s death from inoperable cancer in 1959.

“Jesse’s doctor didn’t want to tell Jesse he was going to die, so he told Jesse’s wife instead,” Schwartz said. “Everyone played along, including Jesse. When his pain became acute, his doctor told him he had arthritis in his breastbone, or that one of his lungs had dissociated from his diaphragm.”
Near the end, Goldstein had become so frail that O’Brien had to drive him to work at CBS each day. The three men would talk through the script as a secretary typed, then Goldstein would collapse on a couch in exhaustion. At the end of the day, Dave would take him back home.

“Red Skelton’s show was this hokey-pokey broad comedy,” Schwartz said. “But the drama of life and death was going on in the background. Tragedy occupied the same room as the three of us who were cranking out jokes for one of the most popular programs on TV.”

Schwartz said he realized that he was the solution to his staging problem. As in “Our Town,” a narrator playing Schwartz will occupy a small spotlighted area of the stage, then get off a chair or stool and step into the action.

“It should take me two years to write,” Schwartz said. “Assuming I’ve got two years to write it.”
In the meantime, reading mail from fans watching syndicated reruns of “The Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island” keeps Schwartz busy. He said that on one recent day he received letters from Chile, Sweden and three other countries where the primary language is something other than English. Like many of the fans he hears from, several of the letter writers remarked that the shows were key features of the cultural landscape of their teen years.

“CBS loved the script for ‘ Gilligan’s Island,'” Schwartz said. “Then they tried to unravel it. I had to make a deal with the devil — specifically Jim Aubrey [then the network president of CBS] — to keep my original idea. After they tested the pilot, Aubrey said, ‘I still hate your [expletive] show, but the audiences love it.'”

What does Schwartz make of the enduring popularity of his “tale of a fateful trip”?

“There’s something timeless about a show that follows the story of people who are basically strangers to one another learning how to get along on a desert island,” he said. “The Muslims and the Jews should be so lucky as to figure that out.”

“Gilligan’s Island” as the solution to conflict in the Middle East? Scoff if you will. Richard Taflinger, who teaches mass media criticism and script-writing at Washington State University, is the author of “Sitcom: What It Is, How It Works,” which he describes as a “neo-Artistotelian analysis of television comedy since 1947.”

“‘Gilligan’s Island’ may seem inane or shallow, but the comedy is very human,” he said. “Most sitcoms rely on pop-culture references or send-ups of social norms to get laughs. ‘ Gilligan’s Island’ is different — its humor isn’t dependent on any particular era or culture. Aristophanes would’ve laughed at ‘ Gilligan’s Island.'”

Even if he were so inclined, Schwartz would have a hard time complaining about that.

Collegians ‘Do the Write Thing’


College students are not only attending the General Assembly, they are covering it as well.

This will be the 17th year that a select group of Jewish collegians, as members of the Do the Write Thing team, will have its own prestigious place in the General Assembly.

For this 40-member cadre, most of whom staff their campus Jewish and/or secular newspapers, the GA will be more than a place to learn about and participate in organized Jewish life. They will also have the opportunity to sharpen their journalistic skills while deepening their understanding of what the community does — and how it does it.

Do the Write Thing is sponsored by The Jewish Agency and the Hagshama department of the World Zionist Organization, with some sessions coordinated by the American Jewish Press Association.

Hagshama translates to ‘fulfillment,’ explains New York-based Hagshama emissary Ofer Gutman. “We believe that one way to achieve ‘fulfillment’ and find a personal connection and engagement with the Jewish state is through programs such as this,” he says. “It also helps these students to be better equipped to make Israel’s case on campuses.”

The GA, he adds, “is a great place for these students to meet Jewish leaders, and to establish friendships with each other.”

In addition to being at major GA plenaries and sessions, DTWT participants will attend press conferences with visiting dignitaries and hear, in sessions exclusively for them, from such eminent people as Gary Rosenblatt, publisher and editor of The Jewish Week (New York), and Rob Eshman, editor of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, about “Covering Israel in the American Jewish Press.”

Meetings with Israeli journalists and workshops with members of the American Jewish Press Association also are on the agenda.
For many DTWT alumni, participation proved to be a step toward a professional career. Gil Hoffman and Miriam Saviv are on the staff of the Jerusalem Post. Dan Schifrin is director of literacy programs at the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and Marita Gringaus was press officer at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Rustin Silverstein, who served as press secretary for Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, was also a producer at “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”

“Do the Write Thing,” Silverstein says, “helped me understand the craft of writing from a Jewish perspective.”

As a result of a visit during last year’s DTWT program at the Toronto GA by Laura Kam, director of the Washington-based Media Fellows Program of The Israel Project, participants learned about the project’s fellowship program.

“Several students applied, and two were chosen, ” Kam reports. “They proved to be excellent media fellows,” she says. “They were sincere students who were intent upon pursuing Israel advocacy.”

“I hope to make more connections this year through Do the Write Thing,” Kam says.

Keren Douek, assistant editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light, says DTWT confirmed for her that writing for and about the smaller, more specific and personally relevant Jewish world, was an intriguing concept. “There is nothing like it,” she says.

Single, 60, and invisible no more


I’m over 60, single, considered sexy by some and ignored by others.

My experience is that if you are over 60, single and a woman
you’re somewhat invisible. Unfortunately, we live in a youth-oriented society where emphasis is placed on the young. So I started to make mental notes comparing similarities or differences between the under-60 singles and the over-60 singles.

I’m one of the over 60 “frontier generation” singles, someone who didn’t want to stay in a broken marriage. Before I pursued my new career — acting — I was a domestic engineer and political activist; I’m better educated than my parents’ generation, youthful, independent, in good health, vivacious and financially in a good place. I have a busy and somewhat active life with a small circle of friends. I have some baggage — I’m divorced, have married children who don’t live near me, and grandkids I don’t see very often unless I get on a plane. My youngest son, daughter-in-law and two darling grandchildren will be going to Uganda for two years, leaving early next year, so there is travel in my future. I see myself as somewhat of a risk-taker and adventurous, but I did not know what was awaiting me when I ventured out into the singles world after a long-term marriage, having been taken care of for many years.

All age groups seem to want the same thing: a soulmate, a soft shoulder to lean on occasionally, companionship for dinner in or out, theater, movies, and travel. I still enjoy cooking (and I’m good at it). I’m not too old for cuddling and hugging, and I happen to enjoy it.

I kept hearing about people meeting and connecting online, so I signed up. Well, my experience was like a bad dream, perhaps even a nightmare. Most men live in fantasyland and haven’t looked in the mirror enough to realize they are no longer 30-something. They all seem to be looking for younger women and a lost youth. My question: If these divorced men think they are God’s gift to the world, why are they single now?

One man I spoke to said music was his whole life, and he was looking for someone with the exact same interest and level of knowledge. I appreciate classical music, but that wasn’t good enough. He also had been married four times. Then there was a pharmacist who took me to lunch; he had had four marriages, although he didn’t go into any details — he didn’t want to talk about it. Then there was a widower who’d had a long-term, happy marriage and now wanted to just go out to have fun. Nothing wrong with that. He took me to dinner, a movie and then kept hinting about coming back to my place. Never happened. We couldn’t go back to his place, even if I’d wanted to, because his daughter and family had moved in with him as his caretakers. He’d fallen a few times in his house. We agreed to stay in touch. I haven’t been sitting by the phone waiting.

A date took me to the movies at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and treated me to matzah ball soup at Canter’s. I arranged to meet him in Santa Monica, because he doesn’t like to drive at night. After the movie, we got back about midnight to where my car was parked, when he started to insist I come up to his place for soy ice-cream. Didn’t happen.

Then I met a friendly, interesting lawyer. We enjoyed walking, hiking and talking; occasionally he would take me to lunch. He would eat his lunch and half of my lunch. One evening I invited him to a theater event. He said he was going out of town. That evening he showed up at the event with another woman.
After reading many profiles, I got the impression that many men — and possibly women — are still looking for their Prince/Princess Charming and want to be swept off their feet. Love at first sight.

Realistically, I’m not sure it’s going to happen, since relationships consist of someone else’s mishegoss. I came to realize that I needed to find a nice person with a good heart and to look beneath the surface. Massage the friendship, allow it to grow and develop. I think all of us need to compromise.

I now have an ongoing friendship. The Internet didn’t bring us together. It was an interesting first meeting at Starbucks; he did a reading chart based on my handwriting. He was correct about many things. It certainly caught my attention. He calls me almost daily.

We e-mail, we date occasionally, share a lot about our lives and thoughts. He travels a good deal — it’s part of his job. Recently, his daughter went off to college, so now he’s home alone with his dog.

He’s a few years younger than me, but so what.

What can I say but the beat goes on.

He’s a nice person with a good heart.

Esther W. Hersh is an actress who lives in Los Angeles.

Pro soccer rookie Bornstein gives small goals a big kick


ChivasUSA’s Jonathan Bornstein is the top contender for the 2006 Major League Soccer (MLS) Rookie of the Year award. Not bad for the Los Alamitos native who was not invited to the MLS combine and was chosen in the fourth round (of four) of 2006 MLS SuperDraft (37th pick overall).

“Before the year started, I had small goals, such as getting some playing time on the team, maybe eventually getting a starting position,” said Bornstein, who started 30 games, leads the league in minutes played by a nongoalkeeper (2,698 — he only missed two minutes of the season) and leads MLS rookies in goals scored (six). With his undeniable success, he’s now setting his sights higher.

“To win an MLS cup would be another huge goal of mine,” said Bornstein, who was named MLS player of the month for July. “And to eventually make it to the national team level and represent our country.”

Bornstein, 21, is taking the attention and accolades in stride, determined to take it practice by practice and game by game. A self-proclaimed average guy, he comes home from practice, fixes lunch and settles in with a video game or his new guitar.

“I just went out and bought my guitar once I got my first paycheck. I’m really interested in music,” said Bornstein, who spends the rest of his free time on the golf course, at the beach or with his girlfriend.

Bornstein spent the first half of his college career at Cal Poly Pomona, where he was named California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Freshman of the Year, First Team All-CCAA and Second Team All-Far West Region. He then transferred to UCLA. During his senior year (2005-06) as a Bruin, he started all 20 games, scored five goals, made four assists, received All-Pac 10 honors and was named Met/RX Player of the Week.

Though Bornstein spent his entire amateur career playing forward, ChivasUSA head coach Bob Bradley moved him to fullback at the start of this season. He now clocks most of his time in the backfield, and, on occasion, plays forward or midfield. Bornstein shines in his new versatile role, having scored goals for ChivasUSA from all three positions.

With his transition to defense, new coaches, fresh mentors and the thrill of playing in the MLS, Bornstein has come into his own this year.

“I’ve been learning a lot from my teammates. These guys have so much experience beyond my years, so I just watch how they play and try to mimic them,” said Bornstein, who has four assists this season. “Also, I feel very comfortable here, and I think that has something to do with why I’ve been able to do so well here.”

It’s not surprising Bornstein feels at home on the Carson- based team. He is at home. He’s been playing soccer in the L.A. area since age 3.

“I really like it in Los Angeles. I was born here, I grew up here. I’ve been other places, and they don’t compare,” said Bornstein, who continues to live in Los Alamitos. “Playing in front of my family, my friends, my college buddies — it means the world to me.”

Bornstein also got the opportunity to play in front of an Israeli crowd when he led the United States to a silver medal in the 2005 Maccabiah Games.

“It was amazing. It was great. I loved it. It made me realize how fulfilling and enriched Jewish culture really is,” Bornstein said. “So in the past couple years, I’ve felt more Jewish than ever.”

His father is Jewish and his mother is a non-Jew from Mexico.

Bornstein grew up celebrating Passover and Rosh Hashanah with relatives. He did not have a bar mitzvah, and he doesn’t consider himself observant. The Maccabiah experience was a way for him to connect with Judaism.

“Outside of my UCLA teammate Benny Feilhaber, I never really thought there were other high-class Jewish soccer players out there,” he said. “With the Maccabiah Games, I definitely got the chance to experience a good thing. I realized there are a lot of really cool and really good Jewish athletes.”

Bornstein is hoping that his presence on ChivasUSA will help Los Angeles Jews feel a connection to the team and the sport of soccer.

“I’m hoping they’ll give it a chance — come out to one of the games, experience the atmosphere that comes with sitting in the Home Depot Center,” he said. “I think they would be surprised how much fun it is, how entertaining it is, how much of a real sport it is.”

ChivasUSA is headed to the MLS playoffs for the first time. The team plays Real Salt Lake at 4 p.m. on Oct. 15 at The Home Depot Center.

Chivas USA’s Jonathan Bornstein. Photo by Juan Miranda/Chivas USA


Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com

Spectator – ‘Devil’ Is in the Details


The film adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 New York Times best-selling novel, “The Devil Wears Prada,” which hits theaters on June 30, follows recent college grad Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) as she takes on the dubious job of assistant to the editor-in-chief of the most prominent fashion magazine in New York: Runway. Her job, as it turns out, is not at all about journalism, but rather catering to the boss from hell, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), who makes absurdly vague demands and expects immediate results. After nearly a year, Andy must decide whether succeeding at her career trumps keeping her sanity.

An enjoyable chick-lit book, “The Devil Wears Prada,” in movie form follows the novel’s storyline, with slight modifications to the plot that only enhance our understanding of Andy’s dilemma. And for the fashion buff, the insider’s view of the inner workings of a haute couture, albeit fictional, fashion magazine are amusing.

One dramatic difference, however, is that in the film, Andy is no longer identified as Jewish. Ditto for the Miranda Priestly character, rumored to be based on legendary Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who was born Miriam Princhek into an Orthodox Jewish family. Despite the importance of Judaism to the main characters in the book version, Fox 2000 opted to exclude any religious references.

Hollywood is actually quite adept at changing Jewish literary characters into generic, unaffiliated characters on screen. “In Her Shoes,” for example, a 2005 film based on the book of the same title by author Jennifer Weiner, successfully glossed over the fact that the protagonist and her sister were Jewish. The only glimpse of explicitly Jewish content was the kippot worn at a wedding.

Although unavailable for comment at press time, in a 2005 interview with the Jerusalem Post, Weisberger noted how Jewish characters are a necessary element to her work.

“I can’t imagine constructing a single’s life and her family’s life without them being Jewish,” Weisberger explained.

And despite the producers’ efforts, the on-screen character of Andy Sachs remains true to her roots and comes across as a Jewish girl all the same.

“The Devil Wears Prada” opens this week in theaters.

 

A Young Violinist With a Lot of Pluck


Her name is Camilla Tsiperovich. But, growing up in Azerbaijan, there were times she wasn’t allowed to use it. As a 9-year-old violinist performing for world-renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, she was told to call herself Camilla Gadjieva. Her headmaster at the Azerbaijan Conservatory considered this a more suitable name, one that reflected the Muslim heritage of her country. While representing Azerbaijan in international music competitions and spending her first year of high school at the famed Moscow Conservatory, she always understood that “there was something wrong because you were Jewish.”

Tsiperovich no longer needs to hide who she is. A year ago, her talent was noticed by Anita Hirsh, whose work with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has given her a deep commitment to the Jews of the former Soviet Union. Hirsh, the widow of The Jewish Journal’s late publisher, Stanley Hirsh, sponsored Tsiperovich’s entrance into the Idyllwild Arts Academy. Now, at age 17, Tsiperovich is flourishing as a full-time student who divides her days between academic subjects and an intense focus on her chosen instrument.

Idyllwild Arts Academy, a boarding school nestled in the mountains above Palm Springs, is home to 270 high school students who are preparing for careers as artists, dancers, actors, filmmakers and musicians. The atmosphere is international, with about one-third of the student body hailing from Europe, Asia and Latin America. As an entering student with shaky English skills, Tsiperovich is enrolled in a basic course in English as a Second Language. She introduced herself to her classmates by saying, “I’m from Azerbaijan. None of you know where that is.”

The course has required her to write and speak often about the homeland she’s left behind. Todd Bucklin, the school’s ESL teacher, commends her for being frank and responsive: “It’s great having her strong presence in the class.”

He also admires her social progress. In her dormitory she’s been spotted watching Korean-language movies with her new Asian pals, reading the subtitles to understand what’s going on.

At Idyllwild, all academic classes are held in the morning, to leave afternoons free for lessons, rehearsals and practice sessions. Life is so busy that Tsiperovich finds time to practice her violin only five or six hours a day. Back home, her passion for the instrument led her to practice 12 hours daily. Such devotion had its downside: she was prone to developing injuries in her hands, wrists and feet.

Her family, though always supportive, is not especially musical. In fact, a career in music was completely Tsiperovich’s idea. She was only 3 when she saw a televised concert of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G and became obsessed with learning the violin. She began lessons before she turned 4, and it wasn’t long before she was winning competitions and presenting public recitals. She is also a gifted visual artist, who received her current instrument from an American oil company after it used one of her paintings in an advertising campaign.

Tsiperovich admits that in Azerbaijan it’s almost impossible to follow the rules of religious Judaism (her family’s tiny synagogue is now defunct). Nonetheless, she learned from an early age to respect Jewish tradition. She was active in her local chapter of the World Jewish Agency, also known as Sochnut, an organization that encourages Diaspora Jews to feel connected with the State of Israel. It was Sochnut that paved the way for her to participate in an Israeli music festival, where her violin performance won first prize. Because her stay in Israel coincided with her 13th birthday, she was able to celebrate an impromptu bat mitzvah in a local synagogue. Though her parents were far away, she was by no means lonely.

In Israel, Tsiperovich says in her careful, accented English, “I felt like I am at home. I felt so warm. People were so close to me.”

Now she’s learning to feel at home in the United States. She says Hirsh often acts as “my parent in America” and sees her during holidays. Hirsh took Tsiperovich to Utah over winter break for her first attempt at skiing. Still, it’s hard for her not to miss all that she has left behind. When her school took its spring break in late March, she flew to her home city of Baku, on the Caspian Sea, to reunite with her family for the first time in five months. As luck would have it, she was able to share in the festivities of her favorite holiday, Azerbaijan New Year.

Tsiperovich is determined to follow high school with four years at a major American music conservatory. Because her long-range goal is to forge a career as a soloist, it’s likely she won’t be spending many more New Years in her native land. The life of a professional musician can be heartbreakingly tough, but it offers one great reward.

“When you play music,” Tsiperovich says, “you feel really free.”

 

Another Tendler Steps Down


The longtime principal of one of Los Angeles’ largest Jewish high schools is leaving to start a new school. Rabbi Sholom Tendler resigned last week as Hebrew principal of Yeshiva of Los Angeles (YULA) and as rabbi of Young Israel of North Beverly Hills. He said he plans to open a new yeshiva boys’ high school elsewhere in Los Angeles.

Tendler’s resignation comes shortly after his nephew, Rabbi Aron Tendler, resigned under pressure as rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village. Meanwhile, Tendler’s other nephew, Rabbi Mordechai Tendler was suspended this year by the board of his New York City-area synagogue as a result of longstanding allegations about alleged sexual misconduct.

Sholom Tendler, 61, says his departure is a matter only of his desire to start a new high school.

Sholom Tendler has been YULA’s rosh yeshiva, Hebrew for principal, for the last 26 years, including in 1987, when the school hired attorneys secretly to investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior against Aron Tendler. The internal probe yielded inconclusive results, but Aron Tendler was moved from the girls school to the separate boys school.

“I was aware of that investigation,” Sholom Tendler told The Journal, adding that he recused himself from the situation because his relative was involved.

After news of the investigation came to light in recent months, YULA alums and parents expressed outrage that the school dealt with the matter privately. Some clamored for “accountability.” Sholom Tendler’s resignation, so soon after the disclosures, has inevitably invited speculation that his departure is, in effect, the school’s response to community pressure.

Not so, Sholom Tendler said.

“There is absolutely no connection whatsoever between [what happened with his nephews] and my decision to build this new school,” he said. “It’s unfortunate how unfounded rumors can blacken even the most beautiful of endeavors.”

Sholom Tendler also expressed sympathy for his nephews’ ordeals: “It’s very painful, and I’m supportive of them and their families in this terrible time of agony that they’re going through.”

Aron Tendler has declined interview requests; Mordechai Tendler has been more vocal, denying any wrongdoing.

YULA officials also emphasized that Sholom Tendler’s exit is voluntary.

“He helped create YULA,” said Rabbi Meyer May, the executive director of YULA’s boys division. “He could have stayed at YULA for his entire career.”

So why is Sholom Tendler leaving?

He replied that there is a shortage of yeshiva high schools in Los Angeles.

“Anybody will tell you there are not enough high school desks in Los Angeles. It’s a healthy sign, but a serious problem,” Sholom Tendler said.

His added that his new school will fill a niche for the more “ultra” side of the Orthodox community, while also stressing a serious academic curriculum.

Sholom Tendler is calling his new high school Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok — named for his father, Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler, a rebbe who inspired “a joy of learning,” as Tendler put it. He plans to open in September for about 10 to 15 ninth-graders. He said he is currently scouting for a location in the Pico-Robertson or La Brea area.

The school will provide both serious Torah study and strong secular academics.

“People who are observing the demographics in the Jewish community see that there are a growing number of people who are very serious about religious observance and at the same time want to live in the professional or business world, rather than the rabbinate. We want parents to have the opportunity to prepare their sons for either way of life,” he said.

Because of the labor involved in starting a school, Sholom Tendler also is stepping down from heading Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, where he has served as rabbi almost since its inception 13 years ago. He will stay on until the search committee finds a new rabbi. He said he expects to remain involved in the community, possibly as rabbi emeritus.

 

Elliott Gould Thrives as Work in Progress


Elliott Gould appeared for our interview at the Chabad House near UCLA, his venue of choice, wearing a baseball cap over his unruly salt-and-pepper locks, an open-necked shirt and glasses.

That’s quite a change from the three-piece, pin-striped suit and neatly combed hair he sports as Rufus Van Aldin, the fabulously wealthy American oil magnate in Agatha Christie’s thriller, “The Mystery of the Blue Train.”

The episode, one in the British television series on the adventures of that canny Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot (David Suchet), will air Sunday, Feb. 12, on the Biography Channel at 9 p.m. and again at 1 a.m.

The 67-year-old actor obviously enjoyed the role and the locations in Nice and London.

“The British have always been very supportive of me,” he said, a feeling that goes back to 1963, when he starred in the London production of the musical, “On the Town.”

For the West End stage run, Gould brought along his new bride, the rising young singer Barbra Streisand, and he later spoke frankly of their relationship, which has since filled reams of tabloid columns.

Elliott Goldstein grew up in a two-and-a-half room apartment in a section of Brooklyn populated by Jews, Syrians and Italians, the only child of a garment industry production manager and his wife. Both parents were born in the United States, but his grandparents emigrated from Russia, the Ukraine and Poland.

Gould has total recall of his childhood, a mixed blessing, at best.

“My parents didn’t know how to love each other, and that devastated me,” he reminisced. “I’ve been in shock and denial of this most of my life, and as a boy, I was repressed, inhibited and very withdrawn.”

On Passovers, the Goldstein family visited Uncle Louie, and young Elliott got to ask the Four Questions. The future actor found it “stressful to get it right. I was very sensitive and insecure.”

In 1944, when Elliott was 6, his father was drafted into the Army, became a sharpshooter but broke his ankle just before he was to be shipped overseas. It was a lucky break, since most of his unit was wiped out in the Battle of the Bulge later that year.

Encouraged by his doting mother, Elliott auditioned for a “country-style” TV show, got a part and was told by the producer, “‘From now on your name is Gould,’ and I just accepted it.”

His stage career accelerated at age 12, when he made his debut as a tap dancer at the Palace, and at the same time, he started studying for his bar mitzvah at a Hebrew school. “On my first test, I cheated and got a 100,” he recalled.

At 18, he made it onto the Broadway stage in the chorus line of “Irma La Douce” and supplemented his meager earnings by selling vacuum cleaners, running a hotel elevator and working as a plumber’s helper.

His first breakthrough came as the lead in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale,” the same musical that first brought Streisand to public attention. The two young Jewish actors struck up a romance and married within the year.

The marriage proved difficult almost from the beginning. As his wife rocketed to superstardom, Gould, despite his promising performance in “Wholesale,” had trouble advancing his career.

Snide columnists took delight in referring to Gould as “Mr. Streisand” and in chronicling his real and alleged frustrations, depressions, therapy sessions and nervous breakdowns. Even the birth of their son, Jason Gould, in 1966, couldn’t reverse the downward trajectory of the couple’s marriage, and they were divorced in 1971. Gould also has two children with Jennifer Bogart, whom he married twice, divorced once and from whom he is now separated.

It became obvious during our long interview that Gould’s feelings about his marriage to Streisand are still acute and mixed. Again and again, he interrupted our conversation on other topics to break in with comments, such as:

“It is not true that I was traumatized because Barbra’s career went up and mine didn’t.”

“Barbra and I will always be connected through our son, Jason, but we only communicate when necessary.”

“Life is a challenging and painful journey. Barbra was part of it, and our love has not been destroyed.”

“Barbra will always love me.”

As his marriage gradually unraveled, Gould’s professional fortunes took a sudden turn upward. The breakthrough came in his role as Ted in the 1969 movie, “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” about two sexually liberated but confused couples, which the ’60s generation adopted as the iconic reflection of itself.

Gould, who was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance, was at the time described by The New York Times as “Tall, curly-haired, more homely than handsome, laid back, unconventional, sensitive and unabashedly Jewish.”

Over the following four years, Gould seemed to be everywhere on movie and television screens, and his photo graced the cover of Time magazine as “the star for an uptight age.” He was especially popular among young adults, who identified closely with the often-neurotic anti-hero he depicted.

He scored again as Trapper John in Robert Altman’s black comedy, “M*A*S*H,” and as private eye Philip Marlowe in “The Long Goodbye.”

Then, in the mid-70s, what had been the hottest property in Hollywood went cold. Gould continued to act in movies and television but mostly in forgettable productions and roles.

In the 1990s, he began to regain his reputation as a character actor through frequent appearances on the phenomenally successful TV series, “Friends,” and in the past few years he has been lauded for his movie roles in “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Ocean’s Twelve.”

He remains as unabashedly Jewish as ever, though in his own way.

“I feel connected by the branches of the Jewish family tree,” he observed. “I belong every place where there is one of us…. Not only do I not deny my Judaism, but I am aware how unorthodox and unconventional I have been.”

Although “conditioned to question everything, the concept of faith seems right to me, and I have found my faith,” he added.

At 67, Gould considers himself “still a work in progress,” but he seems to have found a measure of equilibrium in a life during which “I never had problems with drugs, but I’ve had problems with reality.”

He lives in an apartment with a picture of Sigmund Freud on the wall and is re-reading the works of Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud.

“I have nothing more to prove,” he said in concluding our interview. “I now look on myself as a happy and healthy grandfather.”

 

Friedan: Universal Woman, Particular Jew


Betty Friedan was, like most ordinary mortals, a mass of contradictions.

She was loud and sometimes imperious, yet she could be charming, funny, gentle, kind and winsome. A public persona, at times her ego needed massaging, but she remained surprisingly unassuming and unpretentious.

Though she exuded self-confidence, her vulnerabilities were right out there for all to see. She could fix her eyes and set her jaw in a ‘take no prisoners’ position, but she could also listen to opposite views, change her mind, and soften at the distress of others.

Friedan, who died last weekend at age 85 at her home in Washington, D.C., was both universal woman and particular Jew. The word Jewish does not appear at all in “The Feminine Mystique,” her seminal work, yet every heartbeat was a Jewish one. Once, in her 50s, after fame, fortune and independence had filled her life, she asked one favor of friends — to find her a nice Jewish husband.

She wrote about the drudgery and mindlessness of family work, yet her family was the sustained love of her life. She was totally invested in her children and longed for grandchildren well before they came.

This complicated, complex woman changed all of our lives, even those who never read “The Feminine Mystique” or never heard of NOW, the National Organization for Women.

She spawned perhaps the most profound social revolution of the last few centuries without a drop of blood being shed. She will go down in history as one of the great change agents of modern history; and for us, she will be a continuing source of Jewish pride, characterized in our own history books as one of the contributions we made to the world.

How and why was her impact so great? For that matter, how was it that she changed my own life as a Jewish feminist — for I came from a very different place in the 1960s, from a community that offered women great satisfaction and sense of value in their roles as wives and mothers?

Her book seemed to be anti-family, anti-men. Though her chapter “Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available” carried some truths, mostly she managed to put down so many of the great women I knew, full-time homemakers and mothers. Moreover, as the women’s movement got off the ground in the ’60s, building on her book’s steam, it quickly became more radicalized. The rhetoric of family as locus of abuse and man as exploiter grew more shrill. I’d have none of that!

Yet along with the excesses of early feminism was the underlying idea Betty Friedan offered the world: gender equality. This meant much more than the women’s vote. It meant equal access, equal talent and brains, equal dignity of women — and all of it a matter of justice.

For me, she did not adequately answer the question of equal careers and who would make lunch for hungry toddlers, prepare for Shabbat dinner with guests or meet the school bus each afternoon. She could not, because someone had to do the drudgework that accompanied the peaks and joys of raising children and running a Jewish household — and society was not yet organized to split these roles. But once she implanted in our minds and hearts the idea of equality of genders, once she posited this as ethics rather than as a battle between the sexes, each of us would try to work out the details in our own lives.

More than that, she opened the door to broader application of the idea of equal access and dignity to other spheres of life. In 1963, I made no connection between feminism and Jewish religious life, the imbalances in traditional Judaism created by gendered religious roles, the prevailing limitations on women studying Talmud or even the real disabilities in Jewish divorce.

But others did. These were a handful of Jewish women of the 1960s, women of Ezrat Nashim, women of other denominations who were writing about or modeling the new values, women who mediated secular feminism into Jewish feminism. Once these pioneering Jewish feminists established the connections, I could apply them to my own community — not out of a sense of abuse for I still felt none, but out of a sense of ethics, of meeting the original biblical paradigm — male and female created as equals in the image of God.

Friedan taught us several other important lessons. Not content to rest with the mighty power of her pen, she understood the covenantal nature of organizational life: For a job to be done and the work to continue, one needed more than an idea, more than cohorts. One needed organizational structures that would allow others to find an address and to take up the work. Friedan went on to found or co-found NOW, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the First Women’s Bank and Trust Company. She co-organized the first protest march and the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970. In 1969, though already beleaguered by opposition to feminism, she was unafraid to publicly take on the abortion issue, founding NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League.

These organizational models and her writings spawned hundreds of others. A spate of books and periodicals followed hers, and many hundreds of independent feminist organizations were created on these shores and far distant ones. Thus, her work in the world was multiplied in the arenas of politics, domestic life, religion, economics, education and all of the professions. It was, I believe, more than some of her sisters in the movement would acknowledge in later years.

As for her Jewishness, Friedan wore it proudly. In 1975, Rabbi Isaac Trainin and I invited her to join a New York Federation Task force, then called Jewish Women in a Changing Society. She joined in an instant, as if she’d just been waiting for the Jewish community to invite her in.

At her first meeting, she spoke of how Jewish values of justice had influenced her feminism, indeed her entire outlook on life. Later, we would learn that being a smart, Jewish girl growing up in Peoria, Ill., would shape her sensitivities as an outsider and sharpen her abilities to engage confrontation, both of which helped her in the early feminist battles.

She also was concerned specifically about the Jewish family. Once, in the early 1980s, as she, Susan Weidman Schneider and I shared a panel in Chicago on “Feminism and the Jewish Family.” I quipped that I was a slow learner for I had read “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963 while pregnant with my second child but went on to have three more children. (In the book, she caricatures the woman with a vision of five children). Friends though we were by then, she took considerable umbrage at my comment for she disliked being associated with a decline in the Jewish birth rate.

She saw Jewish feminism as a logical extension of secular feminism; the same rubrics applied: access and education; the need for ‘outside’ or public roles as well as inside ones defined as women’s primary space; freedom to control one’s destiny in marriage and divorce.

In those years, the Task Force held conferences on the agunah (the problem of women who have trouble obtaining a Jewish divorce), on infertility, on the Jewish family. Though peripherally involved in those conferences, she remained curious and interested in their outcomes.

Friedan’s greatness also lay in her ability to rethink matters. In publishing “The Second Stage,” she recognized that she had gone too far in “The Feminine Mystique” in denigrating women’s roles in the home. She wrote of transcending the false polarization between feminism and family, between men and women. She addressed the realities of work in the home and the satisfactions of women who chose that as their primary role. She was criticized by some of her more radical counterparts for selling out the original vision, but then, as earlier, she held her ground.

She once acknowledged that some of her writing in “Second Stage” was influenced by her contact with Jewish women of the federation world who successfully put together family and service and who made sequential choices in their lives regarding family and career.

Jewish history is full of flawed models, sometimes more powerful because of their flaws, and certainly more accessible. Betty was straight as a narrow, totally transparent, nothing behind a veil. What you saw was what you got, including anger or bruised ego. But that made the love, the caring, the creative mind, the generous spirit and the passion for justice all the more precious.

Blu Greenberg is founding president of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and founding chair of One Voice: Jewish Women for Israel.

 

Midlife Reinvention Not So Uncommon


John F. Kennedy once said, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”

Life is full of change — in fact, one of the only things we can predict and count on in life is that things won’t stay the same. For many of us, this is exemplified in our work. Indeed, statistics suggest that most adults will experience five to 12 careers or job changes in a lifetime.

An actor may suddenly be seen as “too old.” A mother faces an empty nest and decides to start a new career. A downsize, an illness, an unexpected inheritance, a change of heart about one’s goals — the causes and types of transition are varied. Some are positive, anticipated and exciting; others are sudden, unwanted and the cause of a major crisis.

Jerry Rogoway was a 50-year-old president of a very successful national chain of retail stores. He loved his work and had done great things for the company. But a leveraged buy-out during the recession of the early 1980s led to Rogoway suddenly finding himself out of work.

“I was scared and depressed,” Rogoway recalled. “I didn’t know what to do. Where do you go for work, as an ex- president of a company? I answered ads but everyone said, ‘You’re too qualified.’ They were probably right. But that’s not what you want to hear when you’re desperately looking for work.”

Rogoway would certainly have agreed at the time that he was in a crisis. But, ultimately, after much personal work, career counseling and moral support, he came to see losing his job as a true opportunity, and a chance to reinvent himself.

Most people in transition have experienced some sense of loss. And the loss of a job can impact a person’s financial stability, routines and contacts, self-esteem or self-identity.

“We define ourselves by our work,” said Claudia Finkel, chief operating officer of Jewish Vocational Service (JVS). “If you no longer have that identity and bond, how do you define yourself? You no longer have a sense of self.”

Sylvia Marks-Barnett, now 67, left a successful career as an attorney to become an arbitrator in her late 50s. There were several motivating factors.

“I stopped enjoying the stress of the work; it just got intolerable,” she said. “Also, my son died of cancer, and maybe I was just starting to acquire some wisdom.”

Marks-Barnett says what surprised her when she stopped practicing law was an experience of grief.

“I was grieving the loss of who I was — a lawyer. Part of my self-image was tied up in that,” she said. “I found myself pining for the courthouse and missing all the activities of a law practice, and the rush of being able to accomplish something.”

Finkel suggests that most people, when faced with a crisis, don’t take the time to mourn what is gone.

“We’re in too big a hurry to move on,” she said. “But there’s more to moving through a career transition — reinventing oneself — than just landing a new job.”

The grief, the loss of identity and the chaos of a career transition often can be eased by professional help.

Rogoway’s desperation brought him to JVS, and last May the now-72-year-old Rogoway was honored as the agency’s Employee of the Year, an award that recognizes the accomplishments of local workers who were placed in employment through JVS.

“In career counseling with Bobbie Yanke, she stressed my worth and knowledge and skills,” Rogoway said. “She was more creative than I was, because I was focused on self pity instead of thinking, ‘Now what do I do?’ She encouraged me to make contacts and network with people I knew and who knew what I was about. That led to my next job.”

The loss of what’s familiar and solid in one’s life can leave a gaping hole. It can feel scary and dark. But the emptiness can actually be the opportunity to fill that hole with something new — something unexpected, or a hope never before realized.

Life coaching is another increasingly popular resource for moving through transitions.

In his 50s, Neil Levy made his own transition to doing life-coaching work in Reseda.

“I see my role as helping with the predictable roller-coaster ride through the transition, and then helping the person turn what appears to be a negative into a positive, and turn an ‘ending’ into a beginning,” he said. “I assist my clients in exploring the possibilities that this seemingly bad situation has created, and then take the steps to create something extraordinary that would never have been possible had life gone on as usual.”

Indeed, sometimes a crisis is exactly what it takes to inspire outside-the-box thinking and finding one’s niche.

Vincent Yanniello had worked for 10 years as a stagehand for theater and television when some scenery fell on him, causing a major back injury. Yanniello went to see his family physician.

“I asked him to give me a shot to manage the pain, so I could get back to work. He looked at me and said, ‘You’re not going back to that job — ever.’ Then he said, ‘They’re having law school admission tests next week. You should go to law school. You were born to argue; you argue with me all the time about your health care. You’d make a great lawyer.'”

Three months later, Yanniello started law studies at Loyola. He has spent the last 14 years working as a trial attorney, and still loves it.

“I would never have thought of becoming an attorney. It took someone objectively looking at my skills and talents to direct me into the career that I was truly born to be in,” Yanniello said.

For information on Jewish Vocational Service, call (323) 761-8888.

Ellie Kahn is an oral historian, founder of Living Legacies, at www.livinglegaciesfamilyhistories.com, and president of the nonprofit Living Legacies Historical Foundation. She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net.

 

Not All Wish Sharon Well


Words of concern and sympathy poured in from all over the world after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a major stroke. Especially striking were supportive comments from quarters that had once cast Sharon as an inflexible hawk — or even a war criminal — but who now gave him credit as a force for progress toward peace in the Middle East.

The condolences, however, were not unanimous — and some critics made for odd bedfellows.

Predictably, a barb arrived from new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He’s quickly become the most quotable anti-Semite in office today in the wake of his calls for Israel’s destruction and his questioning of whether the Holocaust occurred.

“Hopefully, the news that the criminal of Sabra and Shatila has joined his ancestors is final,” said Ahmadinejad, as reported by the semiofficial Iranian Student News Agency. Ahmadinejad was referring to the 1982 massacre of Palestinian civilians by a Lebanese Christian militia at two refugee camps.

An Israeli commission of inquiry held Sharon, who was Israel’s defense minister at the time, indirectly responsible for not anticipating the carnage. Sharon was forced to resign, which, at the time, seemed to end his political career.

Ahmadinejad, at least, was referring to events on earth. It was for the Rev. Pat Robertson, the warhorse of America’s religious right, to bring higher powers into his critique.

Speaking on the “700 Club” last week, Robertson suggested that Sharon and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (who was assassinated by an Israeli extremist in 1995) had been treated harshly by God for dividing Israel.

“He was dividing God’s land,” Robertson said. “And I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, ‘This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.'”

 

A Line Drive Down Jewish History


“Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports,” by Jeffrey Gurock (Indiana University Press, $29.95).

In an oft-repeated anecdote dating back to the early 1910s, Rabbi Solomon Schechter, head of the Jewish Theological Seminary, told Louis Finkelstein, then a young rabbinical student, “Remember, unless you play baseball, you will never get to be a rabbi in America.”

Finkelstein went on to have an illustrious career, eventually heading the seminary, and never learned much about American sports. But Schechter’s advice reflected a sensibility that knowledge of sports would help rabbis relate to young congregants, that sprinkling sermons with sports metaphors would engage their parents.

Yeshiva University professor Jeffrey Gurock tells this story in his new book, “Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports.” This is not the usual book about Jews and sports — it’s not an album of Jewish sports figures and their accomplishments. Gurock, a historian and avid sportsman, uses sports as a lens for viewing American Jewish history. He shows how athletics have played out in Jewish life — how, through sports, generations of immigrants and their descendants became acculturated, accepted into the mainstream and even embraced.

“The right to play on a team — what did we say as kids, the chance to be ‘chosen in’ — is among the surest signs of an individual’s or group’s acceptance in a society,” Gurock writes.

He also chronicles how sports have been a source of conflict between generations and between religious and secular values. With its own obligations, rules, traditions and sacred time, sports, as Gurock explains, can be seen as a competing religion. Since the game clock is often out of sync with the clock and calendar of Jewish life, some have feared that interest and participation in athletics could lead to religious nonobservance.

“The athleticism valued in the world of sports was not honored in the 19th century shtetl. Reverence and concern for the head, for the intellect, far more than the cultivation of the body, was where these Jews’ emphasis lay,” he writes.

On the Lower East Side where many immigrants settled, clashes arose between parents and youth, who learned the values of sports and physical fitness in settlement houses and also honed their skills on the streets. The older generation’s attitude toward the gym, as the author quotes Irving Howe, was “suspicion of the physical, fear of hurt, anxiety over the sheer ‘pointlessness’ of play: All this went deep into the recesses of the Jewish psyche.”

Gurock goes on to describe how rabbis and Jewish leaders sought to attract Jews to religious institutions by creating gym facilities within — “shuls with pools.” The hope was that “those who initially came to a shul’s gym to play might be convinced to repair to its sanctuary to pray.” Questions then arose about how synagogues and community centers would deal with the use of their facilities on Shabbat.

In an interview, Gurock, a New York City-area resident, says that this is a book he has been thinking about for almost his entire adult life and spent the last five years working on. His passion for the subject is clear.

Gurock is a good storyteller, and within these pages he unfolds many true tales that may be surprising for readers. Sports metaphors come up often in his prose; when he describes two Orthodox worlds clashing, he speaks of one contingent as retreating to a clearly marked sideline.

“They could build it, but almost no one came,” he writes of efforts in 1897 to establish a new rabbinical school.

He writes extensively about yeshiva high school basketball, and how issues were resolved about which schools had teams, who they played against and how religious studies and sports activities coexisted.

The author or editor of 13 previous books, Gurock describes the introduction of cheerleaders to the yeshiva basketball scene in 1951 (the first squad, at Ramaz, wore longish skirts, which by 1954 had gotten shorter) and their ultimate disbanding by all the schools by 1991. The cheerleaders’ role in Gurock’s narrative has less to do with their gymnastic prowess and original songs, than questions of modesty and differing outlooks among the leaders of Orthodox day schools.

He analyzes more recent sports stories like the basketball career of Tamir Goodman, the Baltimore yeshiva basketball player who was recruited in 1999 to play on a college team with the understanding that he would not play ball on Shabbat; and the 1996 decision of the Metropolitan Yeshiva High School League (the name had been changed from “Jewish” to “Yeshiva”) to refuse to allow the Conservative Schechter schools to play in their league.

The book also has autobiographical threads. Gurock has been an athlete all his life, playing a variety of sports as a kid. At City College, he played on the lacrosse team.

When I tried to reach him at home one evening, he was coaching basketball at Yeshiva University. In fact, he has served there as assistant men’s basketball coach for the last 25 years. Whenever he visits other universities to lecture, he tries to also go to basketball practice and meet the coaches. These days he’s a runner, and although he spent Marathon Sunday this year giving a talk in Syracuse, he has run the New York City Marathon 12 times. Having just turned 56, he figures that since age 40 he has run 23,000 miles. In two years, when he expects to reach 25,000 miles — the distance around the world — he’s planning a big celebration, inviting all his running partners.

“Like most highly dedicated sports people of my generation, I value competition to the core of my being and am blessed, as a middle-aged man, to be battling still for playing position,” he writes.

Sports are in his genes: His father, Jack Gurock, was an amateur wrestler who — fearing his immigrant parents’ disapproval of the sport — adopted the name Jack Austin for his competitions. A photo of him along with his 1936 wrestling team at the 92nd Street Y appears on the book jacket. As an adult, the author’s father played handball and softball. His mother was proud of her claim that as a girl in the Bronx, she played handball with Hank Greenberg.

For Gurock, playing sports brings him close to God.

“My marathon experience has a certain spiritual dimension,” he says. “When you run a marathon, you are testing yourself, your own personal limits, your ability to run 26 miles. You need something to motivate you. To feel that God is pushing you along makes me feel closer to the Almighty.”

He adds, “Before every marathon, I say a prayer that God should be with me.”

 

Written in the Jewish Stars


We’re not saying we believe any of this, mind you, but, yes, Jews, too, like to peek at horoscopes. But up until now, something’s been missing — that Jewish touch. Sure, you could count on Bubbe and Zayde to dispense career advice and to forecast general doom, but that hardly suffices. And, yes, there are always those well-meaning, pushy relatives to talk up eligible singles as the man or woman of your future.

But it’s time for some counsel that’s neutral, detached, learned, authoritative — and perhaps as equally useless but infinitely more entertaining. So, starting Jan. 1, we present for your weekly consideration: Jewish Horoscopes.

They are a Web-only exclusive feature of The Jewish Journal at jewishjournal.com/horoscopes.php — authored by the soon-to-be-famous Minnie Mankowitz.

You’ll have to log on to find out how Karl Marx, Erica Jong and Bob Dylan fit into the picture. Or what to buy or not at Trader Joe’s and IKEA. Or the role of chocolate and romance in the week to come. Should you buy a bra? Whiten your teeth? Go into seclusion?

Log on and start planning your future — before someone else does.

Jews Who Can Hit


The 2006 edition of Jewish baseball cards features “newly discovered” Jewish players and Jewish players from the 1940s women’s league. The set of 55 also includes cards for the 13 Jews who played last year in the major leagues (including former Dodger Shawn Green). The current crop is believed to be the most Jewish players at one time in history. Historically, the best-known Jewish baseballers include Dodger pitching great Sandy Koufax and Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg. A lesser-known notable is journeyman catcher Moe Berg, who had the misfortune to share a first name with the leader of the Three Stooges. Berg, an expert linguist and scholar, was anything but a stooge and began a risk-taking career as a U.S. spy, even while still a ballplayer.

The set costs $36 and is available at ajhs.org or by calling (866) 740-8013.

 

Dancer’s Second Act as Pilates Instructor


Ever since she was a little girl, Danielle Shapiro Friedman had a passion for dance. After training at one of New York’s premier dance schools, Friedman joined a New York repertory company in New York, touring throughout the United States for nearly seven years. She eventually choreographed dances as well.

“When you dance, you have a sense of power and control over your own body,” Friedman said. “There’s almost a quality of being out of this world when you’re in the moment of dance. It’s amazing to work in harmony with other dancers, too. It’s a community within the time span of the performance.”

But her own sense of community was shaken up a decade ago when a series of unfortunate events forced her to make the choice between a career she loved and a spiritual path that helped her feel connected. Over time she’s found a way to bring two seemingly discordant aspects of her life together into a single expression of fitness and faith that is benefiting Jewish women.

As the owner of Studio 613 — located on South Robertson Boulevard, between Olympic and Pico boulevards — Friedman has found her niche. Her women-only Pilates venue is providing a safe space for Jews and others to get in shape while maintaining their modesty.

Friedman left New York for Los Angeles in 1987. After launching her own modern dance company, she toured throughout California; an interactive ensemble piece that she choreographed and produced earned rave reviews in the Los Angeles Times. But slowly, Friedman’s life in the world of dance clashed with her growing awareness of Jewish values.

“I worked on my ensemble piece for more than a year, hoping to move people, and then I went to a rabbi’s class and I was more moved in one hour than after a year of working on this performance,” she said.

The class was Friedman’s first exposure to Orthodox Jewish thought.

“I was shocked that a rabbi with a black hat could be so funny and so real,” she said.

From that first encounter, she became a devotee of weekly Torah classes given by Rabbi Baruch Gradon, and has attended them for eight years.

In 1995, Friedman first walked into an Orthodox shul, and felt an unexpected connection to the Hebrew letters she saw.

“I felt I had come home,” she said. “It was a very emotional experience.”

Shortly after, the brewing conflict between the personal and the professional came to a head. Friedman became uncomfortable performing on Shabbat, and her growing desire to uphold the Torah concept of tzniut (modesty) made the act of dancing in public increasingly difficult.

Several months before her next performance was scheduled to open, three of Friedman’s dancers and the composer quit. Another dancer was injured. Friedman wondered whether God was sending her a message. When the theater brochure was printed with the wrong performance date, Friedman felt the message was as clear. With a heavy heart, she disbanded her dance group.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I began teaching Pilates again,” Friedman said. She started bumping into some of her students in kosher markets and kosher bakeries, and they urged her to open her own studio catering to religious women. Thus, Studio 613 was born.

“I wanted a warm, haimish, friendly place, not a typical impersonal L.A. atmosphere,” Friedman said.

She began with 20 clients, renting space from Congregation B’nai David-Judea, but since the “studio” doubled as the shul’s Shabbat childcare program, Friedman had to move her bulky Pilates equipment each Friday. Within a year, she rented her own studio space a few blocks away. Despite minimal advertising, her client list grew rapidly.

Not all clients at Studio 613 are Jewish, and not all of her Jewish clients are religious. Still, Friedman observes that the religious clientele has had an impact on others: “Sometimes a client who’s Reform will call me and ask, ‘I’m going to an Orthodox wedding. What should I wear?’ Or, ‘What’s Sukkot all about?'”

Friedman says that it’s important to her that in addition to providing quality fitness instruction that she is perceived as a Kiddush HaShem, a role model of Jewish ethics and values. The studio is closed on Shabbat and all Jewish holidays, and Friedman handles all scheduling to avoid the few male clients she has from coming to work out at the same time as the Orthodox women.

Christina Lindeman, who is Catholic, has taught at Studio 613 for four years and admits that certain Yiddishisms have crept into her vernacular. She notes wryly that her boyfriend has also become suspicious of her new habit of tying a scarf around her hair.

Lindeman says that teaching at Studio 613 is more challenging than teaching at other studios because many of the clients only have begun to exercise later in life, making it harder to get into shape. Some also have injuries or other medical conditions that require a greater therapeutic emphasis in the teaching.

“Some Orthodox clients are very particular about what they want to work on, but I think it’s because they simply drive themselves hard and are very eager to see results,” she said.

Some Studio 613 clients are refugees from other gyms or exercise routines.

Gila Balsam had tried aerobics and yoga but explains, “Pilates gets the most done with the least amount of effort. With six kids, I don’t have a lot of time. And after a workout, I still have energy.”

Balsam started Pilates four years ago, when she was pregnant with her sixth child, and credits the routine with making the rest of the pregnancy and recovery easier: “My whole body feels more in tune. If I miss a few weeks, I feel totally out of whack.”

Friedman and her husband are the parents of three young children adopted from Russia, so she shares many of the same time management juggling feats as many of her clients. But she openly admits to missing the freewheeling creativity of her days as a dancer.

“Dance was my whole life for many years, so I still mourn it,” she said. “Though I grapple with the loss, I don’t have regrets. In today’s crazy and unsettled world, it’s my Jewish values and lifestyle that help the world make sense.”

Studio 613 is located at 1101 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 273-2025.

Judy Gruen (www.judygruen.com) is the author of two award-winning humor books, including “Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout” (Champion, 2002).

 

There’s a New Deputy in Town


Competition for postings to Los Angeles is fierce within the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and two young diplomats who made the grade, Yaron Gamburg and Gilad Millo, have joined the staff of the consulate general here.

Gamburg, 34, has taken over the post of deputy consul general, the No. 2 man after Ehud Danoch, and is concentrating on political and security issues, as well as relations with the Latino, Korean, Russian, Israeli and Persian communities.

Born in the Ukrainian city of Zhitomir, the hometown of the great Hebrew poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik and 60 percent Jewish before the Holocaust, Gamburg made aliyah to Israel at age 18.

After earning a master’s degree in political science at the Hebrew University, Gamburg worked on immigrant absorption before joining the Foreign Ministry.

His first major assignment was a three-year stint as spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Moscow, followed, for the last two years, as director of the Foreign Ministry’s cadet course, a kind of basic training for future diplomats.

Reflecting the attractiveness of the career diplomatic service, some 2,500 Israelis apply for jobs each year, of whom only some 20 are accepted, Gamburg said.

Close to 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, like Gamburg himself, have had an enormous impact on Israeli society and the economy. They make up some 40 percent of the work force in Israel’s high-tech sector, outnumbering all past and present Technion graduates.

Gamburg is married to Delphine, a native of France, and their son, Tal, has just celebrated his first birthday.

Gilad Millo, the new consul for communications and public affairs, was literally born into the foreign service. His father, Yehuda Millo, served 37 years as an Israeli diplomat, including as ambassador to Italy, and young Gilad was raised, two or three years at a time, in Bonn, London, New York, Ankara and Jerusalem.

He did not immediately follow in his father’s footsteps, starting off as a singer in the Israeli rock band, White Donkey, and then as a television reporter and editor on the foreign news desk of Israel’s independent Channel 2.

Millo, also 34, joined the Foreign Ministry three years ago, initially serving as its youngest spokesman. During the past two years, he has been the deputy head of the Israeli mission to Kenya and six other African nations.

During his term, he initiated extensive food relief projects for malnourished African children and was the driving force in the formation of the African Women’s Forum for Israel.

Besides media relations, Millo is also responsible for academic and cultural affairs, and he is visibly frustrated that practically all the news headlines about Israel in the United States are about the conflict with the Palestinians and terrorism.

“Media reporting on Israel seems to follow the rule, ‘If it bleeds, it leads,'” he said. “In reality, Israel is a fascinating place. We are leaders in technology and agriculture, we have great universities and wonderful beaches.

“There are stories to be told about our business initiatives, the environment, what we’re doing to help developing countries, how we’ve dealt with masses of immigrants, and so forth,” he emphasized.

Millo met his wife, Hadas, while both were serving in the army, and they have two children, Omer, 6, and 2-year-old Lisa.

The jurisdiction of the Los Angeles-based consulate includes Southern California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

 

Still Smarting


By Sunday evening, single women across America were trying to slit their wrists by inflicting a hundred little paper cuts from the Sunday New York Times Magazine, featuring an article by Maureen Dowd, “What’s a Modern Girl to Do?”

Feminism is over, Dowd writes, men only want to date non-challenging, non-career-oriented women, and women are willingly returning to traditional gender roles.

If “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw were writing this article, she’d type in her familiar courier font: “Sometimes I wonder … are men threatened by smart, successful women?”

But Carrie’s era has ended, apparently, says the real-life (non-sex) op-ed writer Dowd, pictured in the Oct. 30 magazine in an austere black suit paired with fishnet stockings.

“So was the feminist movement some sort of cruel hoax? Do women get less desirable as they get more successful?” she laments.

I felt like I was listening to my father, or my rabbi — if I still had one (a rabbi, not a father) — with this return to men as providers, women as caretakers and never the twain shall meet.

Dowd’s basic theory posits that “The Rules” — that once-silly guidebook on how to entrap a man, which is now read nonironically, as in The Torah of dating — was just the beginning. The end, a decade later, is women in their 20s who go to law school planning to drop out to get married, women who won’t call a guy because men don’t like to be chased and men marrying nurturers like their secretaries because they don’t desire a challenging woman (like “the boss”). Which leaves some smart, successful women wondering, alone, where they went wrong.

It’s not that Dowd said anything particularly new. It’s just that, well, the thing is … a lot of it is true. I wish I could deny it; I wish I could say that feminism is safe and Dowd is bitter. And that the people she quotes are a small random selection; and that plenty of people find an equal partner; and my friends and I will too someday (soon). But I’ve had too many recent experiences that suggest otherwise:

  • At a recent Sukkot meal I met a single guy, an educated artist-intellectual who was becoming religious. What he found lovely about religion was the “traditional roles that people — women — played in terms of family,” he said, before stopping when he saw the look of horror on my face.
  • My friend’s father recently came out to visit from New York. The man’s a professor at a prestigious university and married to a woman who is also a professor at a better university and who makes more money than him. After I spent the whole night trying to charm him silly, he told his son, “She’s going to have trouble meeting a man. She’s too smart.”
  • I was recently rebuffed by a guy who said, “You’re the type of woman I could bring home to my parents, but my problem is I’m only attracted to stupid, simple women — women whom I’d never socialize with or bring home to my parents.”

He’d go out with these bartenders, dancers — secretaries — for a few months till conversation ran dry and he couldn’t stand the sight of them any longer and then flee like an escaped convict to socialize with the likes of me — people in his “class.” It was not a question of looks.

“You’re just too smart for me,” he said sadly.

Look, I’ve tried dating down. My last two boyfriends were by no means my intellectual equals; they weren’t threatened by my brain, but they weren’t particularly interested either. Or interesting, really. I chucked them in hopes of finding my intellectual equal, my soul mate, the man I can ask advice from and discuss everything with — from literature to politics to religion to child rearing, to even this stupid New York Times article.

But I hear that he’s off dating his secretary, his physical therapist, his nanny, his cook — all the nurturers we thought we could hire while we provided the intellectual stimulation, which he apparently prefers to get from “The Daily Show.”

Look, maybe we can’t have it all — the perfect career and the perfect man and the perfect family — and if I could do it all over again, maybe I’d do some things differently: Maybe I wouldn’t have done all that I’ve done if I had known the price for independence is … being alone.

Maybe. But maybe not.

Dating for women of my generation has always been about the conflict of being yourself vs. behaving like someone else in order to get the prized man. But what kind of guy would I get if I behaved like someone else? Who would I be? What kind of we would there be if I weren’t me?

The women of the generations before me, well, maybe they were lucky. Lucky without feminism, lucky to be in the haven of their traditional roles. And maybe that’s the happy fate that also awaits the women of the future.

What is a Modern Girl to do, Ms. Dowd? Sadly enough she doesn’t answer that question, so I guess this is one article I’m going to have to write on my own.

 

Retiring Cal Tech Chief Reflects on Roots


The announcement that David Baltimore will retire next year as president of the California Institute of Technology has been greeted with a rich outpouring of encomiums that go well beyond the mandatory praise on such occasions.

What has not been mentioned is that the career of the brilliant biologist, who won a Nobel Prize at age 37, stands as well for the breadth and social responsibility of an American intellectual rooted in his Jewish heritage.

Such a man of science, like many of his peers, tends to be neither religious nor involved with the organized Jewish community. However, as The Journal reported in an earlier, lengthy interview with Baltimore, he “sees himself now as a secular Jew, but one whose outlook and achievement are rooted in his early Jewish upbringing and family life, and who hopes that he has transmitted the same values to his daughter.”

On another level, Baltimore’s biography represents the familiar success story of the American-born son of struggling immigrant parents ambitious for their children.

His father, Richard, was the only son of a poor, Orthodox family from Lithuania, orphaned at age 14. He worked in the garment industry, never went to college, but taught his two sons that “the most important thing in the world is a book.”

Baltimore’s mother, Gertrude, grew up in the household of a tailor from Ukraine. After her sons were born, she went to college, earned an advanced degree in psychology and at age 62 became a tenured professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

Although Baltimore’s father was a religious Jew and his mother an atheist, they maintained a comfortable relationship with a mutual understanding of their differences.

Young David attended Sunday school at Conservative Temple Israel in Great Neck, N.Y., and celebrated his bar mitzvah there. Hand in hand with the family’s intellectual interest went a humanitarian life view and an “inchoate socialism” that dictated concern for the underprivileged.

During his nine-year tenure as Caltech president, the 67-year old Baltimore translated many of his family’s principles into practice, on top of raising the university’s already elite level of scientific research and education. He showed a keen interest in the quality of student life through improved housing and a multimillion dollar student activities fund, and raised the profile and number of women on the faculty and in the student body.

On the public stage, shunned by more cloistered scientists, Baltimore spoke out freely on controversial issues, an attitude consistent with his family background.

Indeed, he almost lost out on his 1975 Nobel Prize, when, on the cusp of a breakthrough experiment, he shut down his laboratory to protest the U.S. Army’s invasion of Cambodia. An early and insistent advocate for AIDS and stem cell research, Baltimore has not hesitated to criticize President Bush and his administration for endangering the nation’s future scientific strength.

Will there be a future generation of great Jewish scientists whose home environment spurred them on to excellence? Perhaps, but Baltimore is not overly optimistic.

“In my generation, and the one before, the leading scientists have been extraordinarily and prominently Jewish,” he said. They rose to the top because they made “the necessary sacrifices to develop the skills to become great scientists.”

Encouraging and enforcing the needed sacrifices were the Jewish parents, “who exerted, and believed in exerting, the necessary pressure” on their sons and daughters. Today, that pressure is largely absent, not because the parents are less ambitious for their offspring, but “because they believe that their kids should define their own existence,” Baltimore said.

Baltimore is married to Alice Huang, senior councilor for external relations at Caltech and a faculty associate in biology. The couple has one daughter, Teak, who is married and lives in New York.

As for now, the driving ethos of the old Jewish home, he observed, seems to have been taken over by Asian immigrants and their children.

Baltimore will remain at Caltech as professor of biology and focus on his scientific research and teaching.

In June, he received a $13.9 million grant by the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Baltimore’s proposal, “Engineering Immunity Against HIV and Other Dangerous Pathogens,” will address the challenge of creating immunological methods to deal with chronic diseases.

 

Schneider’s Deuce Is Wild Again


In his grossout-doofus comedies, Rob Schneider plays the ultimate schlimazel. He gets pummeled, maced, urinated on and tossed about like a hirsute rag doll. Expect no reprieve when he returns as America’s favorite prosti-dude in “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” the sequel to 1999’s sleeper success, “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.” Besides the requisite physical abuse, the “he-ho” will again service “Janes,” such as a giantess who dresses him in a diaper and an accident victim with a male appendage in lieu of a nose.

It’s the kind of raunch-fest made famous by Schneider’s mentor and producer, Adam Sandler, although Sandler’s persona is more class clown than class wimp. Both performers have been lambasted for their juvenile, belch-ridden films, but Schneider also has been attacked for turning himself into a human punching bag. Yet, like Sandler, he is among a handful of comics (think Mike Myers) who star in their own name-above-the-title films.

As to why he plays a schlimazel, a loser who’s the butt of every joke, the actor — who is half-Jewish and part Filipino — said he relates to the underdog.

“I love how directors used Jimmy Stewart as an Everyman, so I like to play a guy who’s slightly less than the everyman,” he added. “I want viewers to look at me and say, ‘My life’s s–, but that guy’s got real problems.”

He identifies with Deuce because “things just end up happening to him and he thinks it’s going to be great and it’s always horrible,” he said. “He imagines his life would be better if he just had this or that, but the way he tries to get it, he makes his situation way worse, and he has to struggle and scrape to barely get back to where he was in the beginning.”

The self-deprecating, affable Schneider could be describing his own life — at least until “Bigalow” grossed more than $100 million. Even Schneider’s forbears experienced Deuce-worthy humiliation: His maternal grandfather, an Army private, was unceremoniously shipped off to the Philippines after bedding his captain’s wife. There, he married a native woman. Their daughter, Pilar, eventually moved to San Francisco; as president of a club for single parents in 1961, she snatched up and wed the group’s only male member, Marvin Schneider, a real estate broker.

Because Marvin was a secular Jew who loved comedy, the Judaism in Rob’s childhood home focused primarily on humor: Mel Brooks’ comedy albums and joke-telling at Uncle Norm’s.

The Jewish humor provided a survival tool for Rob, an anxious child with a stammer that made the girls snicker.

“One day the kids were laughing at me, and I told a stupid joke but it killed, and I’ve been the funny guy ever since,” he said.

He began performing stand-up at age 15; by 1991, he was a regular on “Saturday Night Live,” although the show’s 100-hour work week and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle almost killed him.

“After four years I found myself in the hospital with kidney stones, a broken ankle, staples in my throat from thyroid surgery and tubes everywhere,” the 40-year-old said. “I had to make sure to get out of bed in time to get into the wheelchair to make it to the toilet.”

Four months later he quit the show; his new work — playing repulsive sidekicks in bad movies — placed him, figuratively, “in the career toilet,” he said.

“I was the least likely person you’d ever expect to become a movie star,” he said.

That was until his “Saturday Night Live” buddy Sandler cast him in nine of his own highly successful films and bankrolled “Deuce” in 1999. The film was inspired by Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo,” wherein supermodel Lauren Hutton hires an escort, “which was ridiculous,” Schneider said. “Any woman can walk into a bar and get a guy. So I thought, ‘If there were women who truly needed gigolos, they’d have gigantic feet or have uncontrollable swearing syndrome, and it would be nice if there was a sweet guy who tried to make them feel good about themselves.”

The sequel takes Deuce to Amsterdam, where prostitution is legal, but all the “high-class” gigolos are being murdered. During production there, Schneider peeled off his magenta threads to visit the Anne Frank house, a sober pilgrimage he makes every time he’s in Amsterdam.

“To me, Anne Frank is the human face of the Holocaust,” he said.

While critics have denounced his films as demeaning of unattractive women, Schneider insists he uses laughter to advocate tolerance.

A Los Angeles Times reviewer agreed in 1999 when he wrote that “Deuce” “encourages adolescents to respect the dignity of all persons, even the height and weight challenged.”

Schneider said his persecuted character couldn’t help but have Jewish blood. He added, laughing: “I know for a fact Deuce Bigalow is circumcised — because I am.” But don’t expect a sequel titled “Deuce Bigalow: Rabbi Gigolo.”

“I wouldn’t want to alienate the goyim,” he said.

The film opens today in Los Angeles.

 

Moving Forward Passover


 

I was sitting at lunch with my best friend the other day discussing life. This is her tsuris at the moment: she is involved with a guy who loves her very much, accepts her unconditionally, is cute, bright, Jewish, healthy, loyal. But she knows that he is not the one. She is so afraid to leave him — because she doesn’t want to hurt him, because she doesn’t want to deal with the pain of loss, because she dreads the feeling of loneliness, because she hates to be single, because she doesn’t know where she will meet someone else, because he is “good on paper” and she is afraid if she leaves him she will end up alone forever — doomed to become a spinster.
Then there is her job. She is headed upward in her field; in three years time, she will be at the top of the totem pole. Yet she finishes every day wishing she didn’t have to go back. She feels disconnected from her peers, tied down to obligations and expectations imposed on her by the higher-ups, creatively unfulfilled. But she is so afraid to quit — because she dreads the feeling of being unemployed, because she has no idea what her true calling is, because she hates the idea of being out of work, because the job will pay off in the long run, because she is afraid if she leaves it will be a mistake — leaving her doomed to become an unemployed spinster.
The list goes on: living situation, health, social life.
I can identify with her kvetching. Let’s face it: life can get pretty unsatisfying at times. The dissatisfaction comes from being stuck, from perceiving ourselves as limited to certain parameters of existence — enslaved by these limitations and by the fear of making a change.
Enter Passover.
Just when we were ready to stuff down our feelings with another double chocolate chip cookie in bed with the TV on, wondering why everyone on “Friends” seems so fulfilled and happy, comes a holiday that says: “Stop! Put down that leavened cookie immediately. Wake up!” It is time to face our circumstances of limitation, entrapment and enslavement and clear them out. Just as we physically left Egypt, so, too, must we emotionally, intellectually and spiritually leave behind us the situation of servitude that we have made our reality. From a place of servitude — of being stuck — we are never going to reach the Promised Land.
Egypt exists beyond its place in the folklore of our history. It also represents any outside force to which we give the power of enslaving us and directing our lives. It is the element that shapes our realities in every moment that we succumb to fear, doubt, laziness and unconsciousness in our daily existences. It is our addictions, our unexpressed emotions, our vanities, our prejudices, our materialism.
As long as we remain constrained in our lives, we only pretend to be living. We choose to exist half-asleep in a futile effort to have stable and safe lives. We define stability by not moving, changing or confronting things that will in any way shake up the tenuous circumstances of our servitude. Eventually, we find ourselves totally stuck: immovable and subjugated by our fear of the unknown. As Rabbi Ted Falcon of Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue in Seattle explains, “The paradox of slavery is that we are safe; there is security in being able to blame the external world for the problems we experience.”
It demands our greatest courage and our strongest faith to choose freedom. With freedom comes true life — a moveable, powerful, transformational state of being. It is freedom from the conviction of our limitations.
Were my friend to give up her enslavement, she would find herself truly alive again. She would exist from a space of courage and power rather than fear, and in this state of freedom, she would have the possibility of creating the perfect relationship and livelihood for herself.
On Passover, we relive the story of our physical liberation. We tell of the gathering of our ancestors in an act of courage and commitment in defiance of the limitations imposed on their lives. We remember how they left their comforts and their attachments behind and marched forth, with the fierce Egyptian army following them, into the Sea of Reeds.
Filled with panic and remorse at the shores of the water, they finally recognize that they will not live if they do not continue to move forward. And so, in the face of a seemingly impossible obstacle, they finally relinquish their hold on the past and the fear of their future and step into the ocean. With the sounds of the Egyptian army quickly approaching, they immerse themselves in courage and faith and nothing else and wade deeper in the water. Washed away of the pretenses of life that defined their servitude, they feel the exhilarating, magical feeling of being truly alive; with the water up to their nostrils they smile in total faith in life, and the waters part. A miracle to greet a miracle.
And while my friend may kvetch and moan on her journey toward completing her limitations, I know that, in the end, she will also walk into the water — with faith and courage and joy — to greet her true life.
May you all be blessed with courage, faith, empowerment and clarity; may you be blessed with freedom.

Karen Dieth is rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge.