A Cold Wind Blows

It is cold here this Sukkot in Jerusalem. The fan in the corner of this brightly lit sukkah lies still. The makeshift green plastic window flaps, cut last year to alleviate the heat, this year shudder in the heavy winds. Instead of the fan, the space heater is on, giving off that faint burning smell, the way Israeli heaters always do. Although it is bigger than the adjacent apartment, this porch sukkah structure certainly feels temporary — and tropical, with wild palm tree fronds covering the top just enough to see the stars, although in this case only the moon peeks through the clouds.

It is colder this Sukkot, certainly colder than last year, but not much is different this year in Jerusalem. And still the festival is celebrated around the city.

During the intermediary days, thousands gather at the Western Wall to make the priestly blessing. The crowd of black in the white morning sun is peppered by the green lulav stalks in front of the Kotel.

Many people who leave the Western Wall plaza are American students heading to their yeshivas nearby. Here for the year, or maybe for two, they come to the Wall at Sukkot for one of the must-sees of the Israel experience. Others are religious tourists who come most years for the holidays. Perhaps they haven’t been in the last two years — but now they’re back, mostly. They trek back to their hotels, all pretty full.

At the King David Hotel, a group of 100 neoconservatives gather for the Jerusalem Summit, a conference aimed at organizing and galvanizing right-wing thinkers, media and activists. Conferees draft an agenda to halt the peace process and provide alternate solutions ranging from enforcing President Bush’s June 24 speech, to calling for Jordan to be the Palestinian state. The summit aims to be for Israeli politics what Fox is to news.

As the wind blows the temperate day into night, I find myself on a bus. Although I’d promised countless people that I’d be careful here in Israel, and that of course I wouldn’t take a bus, here I am, waiting to head toward the bus station. The bus is empty for the most part, except for a soldier in civvies. He shows the driver his ID card, and he gets on for free.

The Israel Defense Forces has forbidden hitchhiking, so all soldiers now ride free. Not many people are on the bus. Me, the soldier, two Russian ladies, an Ethiopian and an old Moroccan man talking loudly on his cell phone. I head to the entrance of Jerusalem, at the international Conference Center, where some 5,000 Christians gather at to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This annual International nondenominational gathering takes place every Sukkot, when believers from some 80 countries meet in Israel for a week to celebrate the holiday, show support for Israel and learn about the land where their Lord was born, the land to which he will return in the End of Days.

Standing onstage under bright lights before this massive two-tiered theater, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has probably never received such an enthusiastic reception, as people crammed the aisles craning for a view like he was a rock star. And they are stomping feet, clapping wildly, waving flags and giving a good old Midwestern welcome.

"Dear Friends," the prime minister began, his speech punctuated by a roar, "you are here because your hearts and souls brought you here to the land of the Bible. Thank you so much for coming here to show solidarity. Your friendship is very important to us."

Sharon squinted as he looked into the audience and told them how much he enjoyed their support. "I’m sorry but I cannot see you, but I can hear you."

Is it important to see who is supporting you? Does it matter?

The only visitors I have seen this Sukkot week in Jerusalem are Christians, yeshiva students and neoconservatives. It seems that the only people to come are those with convictions strong enough to disregard the changing weather of politics and world affairs. Will they be the only foreigners to shore up the country? Will they be the only ones to influence the final say?

We’ll just have to see how the wind blows.

Israel: Independence and Remembrance

Events remembering Israel’s fallen soldiers, on May 6, and celebrating the nation’s founding, officially May 7, include two local benefits to address gaping needs of Israelis.

Yom Yisrael at Eilat will treat religious school students at Mission Viejo’s Congregation Eilat to a simulated Israel trip on May 4 , 9 a.m. at 22081 Hidalgo Road. Activity stations include a kibbutz, a Western Wall, archaeological dig, flag factory, army training, shuk (marketplace), Bedouin tent and Israeli dancing. For more information, call (949) 770-9606 ext. 13.

The 40-member Israel scout troop, established earlier this year at Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, intend to ignite a fire sign on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. to honor Yom HaZikaron, the remembrance day for Israel’s soldiers. The scouts haven’t settled on what the canvas-wrapped sign will say, but it is to be lit somewhere outside the upper campus, said Eyal Giladi, a parent organizer.

Singer Igal Bashan will perform May 10 at 8:30 p.m. Tarbut V’ Torah’s lower school in Irvine in a benefit concert marking Israel’s 55th anniversary. A student dance group and choir will also perform at the joint Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO)-Jewish Community Center event.

Proceeds from the $36, $50 and $180 tickets will help fight growing child poverty in Israel by providing foodstuffs to day-care providers. One in four Israeli children are below the poverty line, according to annual census figures released in March, said Michal Kropitzer, who heads a local WIZO chapter.

“It’s hard to face, but this is the reality,” she said, adding that in the past six months WIZO started providing meals at schools for hungry students. Her goal is $20,000. For more information, call (714) 731-9254.

Anaheim’s Temple Beth Emet will celebrate Israel’s birthday on May 18 at 1 p.m. with wine, hors d’oeuvres, candlelighting and music sung by a student in USC’s opera program. Held at the shul, 1770 West Cerritos Ave., the $55 per person event will in part fund emergency kits needed by Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency response, ambulance and blood service. For more information, call (714) 772-4720.

A Lesson from the Maccabees

The news from Israel these days takes me back to 165 BCE. We all know the story: The Maccabees, a small band of Jewish rebels, fight the mighty Syrians who rule the land and have desecrated the Temple. Judah and his insurgent band hide in the mountains and caves around Jerusalem and attack the superpower with rocks, arrows, and whatever other weapons they can find.

The ironic hand of history has reversed the Chanukah story today. It’s Israel who is now portrayed as the conquering and insensitive superpower. It’s the Palestinians who are defending their avowed claim to the land with rocks and stones. The Temple Mount has again become the setting for violence.

We have only our imaginations with which to draw portraits of the Maccabees. But we have videotapes and long-lens cameras that have captured front-page pictures of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy collapsing against his father, or of an Israeli soldier being thrown out a window into a lynch mob. How do I explain such pictures to my children? What can I — should I — teach my children about power and powerlessness?

My 9-year-old daughter Shoshana says that in her Jewish day school last year she learned that a lot of people are getting hurt on all sides. Many of her classmates saw the violent images and wanted to discuss what was happening. Her teacher suggested that in their moments of daily silent prayer, the children could add their own prayers for peace in Israel.

"Is it good to be strong?" I ask Shoshana. "Yes," she nods. "It helps Israel." "Can you ever be too strong?" I persist. She cites her vast experience on the subject from a "Hey Arnold" television episode. "Arnold’s grandmother taught him karate. Then Arnold met a guy, and he thought he was going to be mean, so before hearing what the guy wanted, Arnold punched him," Shoshana remembers. "The guy just wanted to know where the bus stop was."

Of course, the crisis in Israel goes way beyond karate chops and bus stops, beyond big bullies beating up on little kids with pebbles. But it is about strength and how to use it; it is about listening, about perceptions, misconceptions and alternatives to violence. As peace becomes more and more elusive, Israel is caught in the horrendous vise of using just enough power to defend itself without exceeding limits.

The critical question of our time is how to exert power with restraint, says Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, founder of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and president of the Jewish Life Network, which supports Jewish social and educational programs. "The use of force is legitimate in the name of defense. But anytime you use force, even if you exercise restraint, innocent people will suffer. That’s part of the complexity of real life."

The great evolution of the Jewish people, Greenberg continues, is that we’ve given up powerlessness. "That’s healthy. Powerless people cannot exist anymore, so Israel could not exist if it were powerless. But the stronger you are, the harder you have to work at controlling yourself and admitting mistakes."

Greenberg points out that the warm, fuzzy Chanukah story with its happy ending is not true to history. The Syrians, and the Hellenist Jews who supported them, didn’t accept the Maccabees’ victory as final. For 20 years, the two sides continued to battle each other. The Maccabees suffered a major defeat until they eventually triumphed and achieved both religious and political independence; Judah was killed in the process.

"People love a happy ending," Greenberg explains. "The romantic version of the story has been told through 2,000 years of exile and powerlessness. Now it should be told in the context of the real world. The Jewish people won sovereignty — but in a painful way. They had to learn to fight. There are very few simple military solutions. After you’ve won, you have to negotiate your place in the world."

The analogy to the crisis in Israel today is obvious. But there are also many practical applications to our children’s lives. The real Chanukah story can teach children to absorb defeat and rebound from setbacks. They have to continue rededicating themselves to their goals, because obstacles beset them every day. "Growing up means persisting until you’re fully accepted," Greenberg says. "That’s how you earn the label of maturity."

Our children’s lives don’t always follow the patterns they’d like. Accepting that certain problems may not have solutions — or, at least, the solutions they’d prefer — is probably one of the hardest lessons to learn. Shoshana prefaces every recollection about a family situation with what I like to call the B.D.-A.D. question: Did that happen "Before the Divorce," or "After the Divorce?" I imagine it’s her way of putting her life in context.

It’s important to talk to children from an early age about what it means to be strong, says Zina Rutkin, a psychologist in Great Neck, N.Y. Give children a broad definition, she says. "Strength doesn’t simply imply muscle or exerting your will over someone else’s. Being strong means using our brains and viewing situations from multiple perspectives. That’s what sets us aside as humans."

Even preschoolers have a level of empathy, she says, and can turn that understanding of others’ feelings into better playground politics. For older kids, popularity equals power. Encourage them to define power in terms other than force, she says: Power can mean including someone who is being ostracized or left out. In public school districts throughout Long Island, where I live, a special bully-prevention program teaches fourth- and fifth-graders to put themselves in others’ shoes. Rather than focus exclusively on the bully or the bullied, the program targets the 80 percent in the middle, who constitute a silent majority.

It’s not always clear who is the bully and who is being bullied. To try to protect themselves, victims often become aggressors, Rutkin explains. Teach kids alternatives early, she recommends, so they can express themselves through words instead of fists. Suggest that they ignore the aggressor. Nothing gets a child madder, she says; the lack of a reaction is the opposite of what they expect. Ask children to think about what’s behind the taunting and bullying: not real power, but insecurity.

As with most things in life, the answer to the power dilemma seems to lie in achieving balance. Don’t be a victim — but don’t abuse your strength. Stand up for your beliefs when you think you are being treated unfairly, but do so with maturity. That’s a challenge for adults, not just for children. How much more so for entire nations.

"Life is unfair," Rutkin states. "All of us have to come to terms with that. We often teach kids they deserve everything instead of being able to tolerate minor injustices that are just life." When something is important enough to protest, she encourages her children to do so in a nonhysterical, cogent way. Her daughter Ariela and her friends, for instance, started a petition when they felt the paraprofessionals on the school playground were consistently assigning the girls a smaller soccer field than the one the boys used. All the girls in the grade signed the petition, and the situation changed.

If the use and misuse of power are inescapable aspects of life, so, too, are hope and despair. As we celebrate the heroism of the Maccabees, let’s focus on the hope. Maybe the words of Zechariah we recite in the haftarah for Shabbat Chanukah will inspire a miraculous peace, both in Israel and in our own lives: "Not by might and not by power, but by My spirit, said the Lord."

Celebrating Israel’s 50th

The “America Salutes Israel at 50” show at the Shrine Auditoriumis hardly the only celebration in and around Los Angeles planned tocommemorate Israel’s jubilee year. Here is a list of some other localevents.

April 26 — South Bay Israeli Festival at the TorranceCivic Center, sponsored by the Federation South Bay Council and SouthBay synagogues.

April 26-May 10 — Community Yom Ha’atzmaut mission toIsrael, led by Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance President Arthur andMady Jablon.

April 30 — Yom Ha’atzmaut Celebration, sponsored by theConsulate General of Israel.

May 3 — Los Angeles Israeli Festival at Pan Pacific Park,sponsored by the Jewish Federation and the Council of IsraeliOrganizations.

Oct. 22 — United Jewish Fund benefit concert at the1,800-seat Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, sponsored by the ValleyAlliance and produced by Canto Chayim Frankel.

The Schoolmaster

RabbiLaurence Scheindlin, pictured with (seated, from left), Gail Nussen,Sheila Leibovic and Debi Ben Aharon, dinner co-chairs. Standing fromleft, Rose Derhy, Jacki Ahdout, Jory Goldman and Lise Applebaum,auction co-chairs.

Not long ago, at a playground near the Venice canals, a group ofyoung parents were debating the merits of local private schools. “Wepulled our son out of that school,” said a father. “I didn’tlike the principal.”

“Oh, come on,” countered a mother. “How important is a principal?”

People at Sinai Akiba Academy could answer that question with adate: Jan. 24. That’s when the school is celebrating its 30thanniversary at a dinner honoring Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin, theschool’s headmaster.

In 1977, Scheindlin left a pulpit job and moved out West to headup what was then the 181-pupil Akiba Academy, the first ConservativeJewish day school in Los Angeles. Twenty-one years later, Sinai AkibaAcademy (the school merged with Sinai Temple in 1987) has 512students in grades kindergarten through 8, and has been consistentlyrecognized as one of the finest schools on the West Coast.Scheindlin’s guiding principle: “We really want kids to besuccessful, and we really want them to have strong Jewish values. Wewant compassionate, caring winners.”

He has joined that philosophy to a seemingly tireless enthusiasm.Donning a hard hat, he marches a visitor through Sinai Akiba’s $25million expansion, as proud of the cavernous parking garage as he isof the new, wider hallways and playing field.

“He has an open mind and a generous spirit,” said Janet Rosenblum,a school parent. According to Julie Platt, chair of the Sinai AkibaAcademy Committee, Scheindlin has helped the school “set newstandards” in Jewish education.

Those standards include a first-rate general education wedded tointensive Jewish studies. As parents have increasingly chosen Jewishday schools as an alternative to unsatisfactory public schooling andas a way to ensure their children’s Jewish identity, schools such asSinai Akiba have flourished. Four Westside schools — WilshireBoulevard Temple, Beth Am, the Milken Community High School and SinaiAkiba — have invested more than $100 million over the past fiveyears to expand their day-school programs.

Of course, success has brought a new set of challenges.Scheindlin, 53 and a father of three Sinai Akiba graduates, has seentuition rise from about $1,700 in 1977 to $7,000 today, a sum out ofreach to many families.

And, in the push for higher and higher academic achievement,Scheindlin said he hopes that schools pay attention to the spirituallife of their children. “Traditionally, elementary schools have notdone a great job at that,” he said.

But Scheindlin expects to continue at Sinai Akiba to see thesechallenges through. “It’s a bull market for Jewish day schools,” hesaid. “I’m optimistic.”

For more information on Sinai Akiba’s 30th Anniversary Dinner,call (310) 475-6401 — Staff Report

Cemetery Has

New Buyer

Anew potential buyer for the bankrupt Hollywood Memorial Park,which includes Beth Olam Cemetery, has come forward, after theprevious bidder, Callanan Mortuary, dropped out.

He is Tyler Cassity, a St. Louis cemetery operator who has put upa $75,000 non-refundable deposit. Tyler has until March 16 tofinalize the sale, and a new court hearing has been set for March 20.

The cemetery will remain open for visits and burials, but willhave to cut back on ground maintenance, said David Isenberg, attorneyfor the bankruptcy trustee. — Staff Report

UJ’s Shechter Is Arts Programming Dean

Dr. Jack Shechter

Dr. Jack Shechter, who has served as dean of the University ofJudaism’s department of continuing education for 21 years, was nameddean of the school’s arts programming division by universityPresident Dr. Robert Wexler.

Shechter will oversee the school’s performing arts series,Elderhostel cultural arts programming, the Platt Gallery and theSmalley Sculpture Garden. He also will be responsible for expandingan already extensive array of instructional arts classes at the UJ.

An ordained rabbi, Shechter is a graduate of Yeshiva Universityand the Jewish Theological Seminary. He earned his doctorate inbiblical studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Before coming tothe University of Judaism in 1976, he was rabbi at Congregation B’naiIsrael in Pittsburgh for 10 years.

Federation Raises $42.4 Million

Despite worries that the religious pluralism debate and stalledpeace process in Israel would hurt the Jewish Federation’s 1997fund-raising efforts, the organization raised $42.4 million for itsUnited Jewish Fund, surpassing its goal for the year.

Bill Bernstein, Federation associate executive vice president anddirector of the fund, said the total was “within range of where wehoped we would be.” He called it a “great achievement” for the LosAngeles community in a difficult year. “I think we helped donors torealize that it would be a wrong decision to penalize thebeneficiaries of the United Jewish Fund by withdrawing theircontributions, since it would hurt those people who need the dollarsmost,” Bernstein said. He credited UJF 1997 general chair Todd Morganand Carol Katzman, chair of the Women’s Division, for their”phenomenal” leadership.

Sources close to the campaign said that possibly an additional $1million to $1.5 million would have been pledged if not for donordissatisfaction over the pluralism issue.

In 1998, the Federation has set a lofty goal of raising $50million, a number that coincides — not by accident — with Israel’s50th anniversary. Reaching that figure will be “a stretch,” Bernsteinadmitted, but isn’t impossible. Contributions hit the $50 millionmark in 1989.

To sweeten the appeal for donations this Super Sunday (Feb. 22),phone volunteers will for the first time be offering bonus miles onAmerican Airlines. Other federations and the Jewish Home for theAging have used the mileage incentives with good results, said SusanBender, special assistant to Executive Vice President John Fishel.The mileage is given, however, only when the pledge is actually paid.— Ruth Stroud

A Day for Learning

More than 1,000 Jewish learners descended on Taft High School inWoodland Hills recently to attend Yom Limud, a community-wide all-dayevent that was the Bureau of Jewish Education’s way of celebratingits 60th year in Southern California.

About half the participants were teachers from religious schoolsand day schools across the Southland. But lay people, too, turned outin droves to hear the intellectual stars of our community –professors, rabbis and lecturers from all the Jewish movements –explore Judaism from many angles.

Attendees could choose an Orthodox rabbi’s take on women’sopportunities in traditional Judaism; a college professor’s analysisof the golden age of Spanish Jewry; a Talmud-based discussion on theJewish educator’s right to strike; an introduction to Jewishcyberspace; or a Yiddish sing-along. Virtually every session wasstanding-room-only.

A particularly engaging discussion was provoked by Rabbi LauraGeller, who examined the legacy of two 20th-century giants: the Rev.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Gellerdisclosed how her own youthful passion for civil rights in the wakeof King’s assassination ultimately put her on a path to therabbinate.

Quoting extensively from both leaders, she noted how much theSouthern Baptist minister and the Warsaw-born rabbi had in common,despite their vastly different backgrounds. For both, a Bible-basedtheology, heavily flavored by the book of Exodus, led inexorably to acall for social justice.

As Geller’s listeners began asking questions, the session movedinto a probing consideration of how institutionalized Judaism hasfailed to heed Heschel’s message that “prayer is meaningless unlessit is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and ruin the pyramidsof callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods.” Why do most Jewsturn a deaf ear to Heschel’s bold imperatives? In Geller’s words,”People come to synagogue — when they come — because they’relooking for comfort.” They may be persuaded to turn inward and findspiritual renewal, but they’re not ready to be forced into action onbehalf of the world’s oppressed peoples. — Beverly Gray

‘Family Stories’ at the Skirball

JoyceDallal’s “It is a Tree of Life to Those that Hold Fast to it,” at theSanta Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Drop into the Skirball Cultural Center this week, and you’ll findwork by artists Jewish and Japanese and Native American.

You’ll find the same six artists exhibited side by side at theJapanese American National Museum and the Santa Barbara Museum ofNatural History. It’s all part of “Finding Family Stories,” athree-year project that aims to create multicultural dialogue in LosAngeles. “All the artists deal with issues of family, so we’re hopingthe people of Southern California will see a bit of themselves in thework,” says the Japanese American National Museum’s Cynthia Endo.

This is the first time the Skirball is participating in theproject, and the first time the show has included Jewish artists.Joyce Dallal’s installation piece, “Finding Home,” for example,describes the struggle of her Iraqi-Jewish father to emigrate to theStates.

There are works by Eddy Kurushima, a Japanese-American artist whoendured the internment camps of World War II. Painter Judith Lowrydepicts a lost friend, a powwow dancer comatose since a car accident,dancing with an angelic figure in “Rolling Thunder, Dancing AcrossAmerica.”

Mixed-media artist Aaron Glass, meanwhile, recalls a childhoodmemory in “Aronit Ha’Zikharon (Little Cabinet of Memory),” abirch ark adorned with images of an unusual family heirloom. Thepiece recalls how, at the age of 8, Glass first saw a large fabricthat had been discovered in a suitcase under his grand-mother’s bed.The fabric turned out to be an 18th-century German Torah curtain, theproperty of forebears descended from Glass’s blue-blooded Jewishancestor, Jacob Bassevi von Treuenberg, the first ennobled Jew inGermany, the artist says.

A panel discussion with the artists will take place on March13, at 7 p.m., at Self-Help Graphics in Los Angeles. Choreographerssuch as Naomi Goldberg and Hiroki Hojo will explore “Dance asDialogue” in a Skirball workshop on March 15, at 2 p.m. Forreservations, call (213) 660-8587. — Naomi Pfefferman,Senior Writer.

Children of Chernobyl

The children come from cities such as Gomel, Mozyr, Berdichev andBobrusk, in the shadow of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. Since1990, Chabad has airlifted 1,527 of them to Israel, to escape thedeadly radiation poisoning that accumulates with each breath of airor sip of contaminated milk.

Now, Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program has been honored witha new Israeli postal stamp — a rare Postal Authority tribute to aprivate organization — that was recently unveiled in the Knesset.The colorful NIS 2.10 stamp depicts smiling children disembarkingfrom an airplane in Israel. Twenty-one other countries unveiled theirown stamps honoring the program at a United Nations ceremony inApril.

When the Chernobyl meltdown unleashed 90 times the radiation ofthe Hiroshima bomb in April 1986, several hundred thousand Jews livedin the surrounding area — the eastern edge of what once was theJewish Pale of Settlement. Thousands of Jewish children begansuffering neurological, respiratory and digestive ailments, whilethyroid cancer increased 200-fold. Milk and food were contaminated,and medical care was poor or nonexistent.

Chabad has responded by evacuating at-risk children on 32 flightsso far; in Israel, the children are whisked to doctors and housed inthe Kfar Chabad complex until their parents arrive in the Jewishstate. Immune systems are strengthened, and enlarged thyroid glandsare closely monitored for signs of malignancy.

Yula, 12, is one of the lucky ones. Her mother wrote to her fromback in Gomel: “Many children are sick. Like you, they have somethinggrowing in their throats. They’re getting sicker, while you’regetting better.” — Naomi Pfefferman