Shoah, McCain, Ziman vs. Lee, Obama, Pope

Tinseltown and Shoah

I was disappointed to see in the review of “Imaginary Witness” the old stereotype of Jewish moguls as cackling Shylocks counting their money from the German market, while their co-religionists were being murdered by Hitler (“How Tinseltown Shaped the Worldview of the Holocaust,” April 4).

The myth about the moguls can be traced to a story Joseph Mankiewicz made up about L.B. Mayer and “Three Comrades,” an anti-Nazi film Mankiewicz produced for MGM that was shorn of references to Nazism after strident lobbying by the Breen Office, the studios’ own censor. Stung when the screenwriter, F. Scott Fitzgerald bad-mouthed him around town for the usual reasons writers bad-mouth producers, Mankiewicz invented the tale that Mayer was in the habit of personally screening films for the German consul to cleanse them of anti-Nazi sentiments and Jewish names, so as not to lose a pfennig of those precious German revenues.

As I recall, “Imaginary Witness” is a bit more nuanced in its treatment of the subject than many standard references on Jews in American cinema, but such is the power of Mankiewicz’s bizarre tale that the makers of the documentary didn’t bother to look more deeply into the story of Hollywood’s attempts to get on the screen the story about what was happening to Jews in Europe, which was known in both Hollywood and Washington by 1942.

That’s a shame, because it’s a fascinating story, which has the additional virtue — unlike so many “personal reminiscences” about the film business — of being true.

Bill Krohn
L.A. Correspondent
Cahiers du Cinema

John McCain

I confess to being distressed by The Jewish Journal cover photo of John McCain, suspecting that Rob Eshman’s article would encourage readers to support the senator (“20 Questions With John McCain,” April 4).

I apologize for jumping to conclusions and admit to being pleasantly surprised by Eshman’s final paragraph: “So for the Jews, or at least for those of us who think that war, and the region … is still issue No. 1, the ball is in Obama’s and Clinton’s court.”

Yes, Sen. McCain is an affable, media-accessible and sometime straight talker. However, he has a greater than 80 percent voting record approval rating by the conservative wing of his party and, courting right-wing evangelicals, has flip-flopped on some of his best, former bipartisan positions: campaign fundraising reform and observance of U.S. military law and the Geneva Conventions regarding torture of war prisoners.

Yes, he was a prisoner of war for six years during the Vietnam War. Despite, or perhaps because of that and his family’s military background, Greenberg’s cartoon speaks volumes: McCain is shown embracing a U.S. Iraq War soldier with the face of George W. Bush; the caption: “John McCain already has a running mate.”

Rachel Galperin

I am writing in response to your article in which you stated that the Rev. John Hagee staunchly opposed Israel giving up territory or compromising the status of Jerusalem in support of any peace agreement.

When it comes to the issue of land for peace, it is true that Hagee and many other Christian Zionists have grown skeptical of territorial concessions after watching the results of Israel’s withdrawals from southern Lebanon and Gaza. However, Christians United for Israel’s (CUFI) fundamental philosophy from day one has been that Israelis, and Israelis alone, have the right to make the existential decisions about land and peace.

To the extent that CUFI has taken concrete action in connection with the peace process, it has at all times been limited to asking the White House not to pressure Israel into making territorial concessions that she herself does not wish to make. CUFI and Hagee simply do not, and would not, seek to tell the Israelis what to do.

Peggy Ann Torney
New York, N.Y.

Heschel West Day School

This was a very well written story by Jane Ulman on a difficult subject (“Heschel West School Gets OK, Future Still Clouded,” Feb. 29).

The Heschel West Day school site has not been exhaustively tested. The Heschel property is within around 0.6 of a mile from the unlined border of the Class I Calabasas Landfill. This site does indeed need to be tested to protect the health of any future schoolchildren.

Save Open Space (SOS) is concerned about the public health and safety of the children going to a school so near the unlined section of this former Class I landfill. In addition, the school will “reduce the functionality of the wildlife corridor” per the National Park Service.

SOS would support Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in helping get L.A. County and state wildlife corridor park bond money to pay Heschel fair market value for this site. Then that money can go toward a new school in a safer site.

SOS has some possible alternative sites to add. Excellent alternatives include two Conejo Valley Thousand Oaks elementary schools that will be closed because of declining enrollment. Another alternative is the Four Square Church property in Agoura Hills that has hosted a Jewish camp in the past.

Mary E. Wiesbrock
Chair SOS
California Clinical Laboratory Scientist

Song of David

This Shabbat a friend of mine mentioned that he thought of me, as he had just read an article in The Jewish Journal stating that Oded Turgeman was “the first Orthodox Jew ever to enroll” at the American Film Institute here in Los Angeles (“David’s the Singer, He’s the Rapper,” April 4).

Apparently, the author of the article, Matthue Roth, didn’t do his research. You see, I graduated AFI back in 2004. I have the diploma to prove it, and the student loans. In fact, a large part of my admissions essay when I first applied to AFI back in 2002 centered on the fact that I was and am an Orthodox Jew trying to make it in the film world.

I may not have produced a controversial movie, but I was the first student to introduce Orthodox Judaism to the school while successfully completing the producing program. To quote Roth, there are a number of us who “struggle to be good Jew(s) and good artist(s).” And we are not unknown at AFI.

Election coverage, CAMERA, illegals, Goldberg, Spinka, Auschwitz

Election Coverage

That old joke has no place in your paper (Cover, Feb. 1). Jews, like everyone else, should be voting for who is best for the country; not who is best for the Jews.

In addition to being wrong, it is grist for the mill of anti-Semites.
What is good for the country is good for everyone, including the Jews.

Milt Waxman
Los Angeles


It is important that you printed Andrea Levin’s (of CAMERA) piece clarifying the dangerous illusions of Rob Eshman’s take on Sabeel, Ateek and All Saints Church (“CAMERA, Sabeel and The Jewish Journal,” Feb. 1). Could we get Ms. Levin to take over the job of Editor of the Journal? It would definitely be an act of pikuach nefesh [preservation of life], big time.

J. Sand
Los Angeles

I was away and just got around to reading your Jan. 25-31 issue (“Butt Out”). I believe it deserves a Pulitzer Prize. Eshman’s gutsy editorial, Gorenberg’s golden words and an array of fabulous articles by authors who represent a broad scope of Jewish and non-Jewish thoughts and actions that impact local and global issues. Great job!

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village

I write to thank Rob Eshman for your “Butt Out” editorial in the Jan. 25 edition of The Journal.

As you have on many occasions before, you have made an eloquent pitch for engaging in dialogue with those with whom we disagree. Sabeel, and the North American Friends of Sabeel may stand for many things that are controversial in the Jewish community, but surely it is the prerogative of All Saints Church to host them and enable us to know — rather than speculate on — their position.

The question that is tougher for me is: am I also obligated to listen to the views of CAMERA?

Claire Gorfinkel

So here we have it. Two blatant Israel bashers (if not outright anti-Semites) are getting together, and Eshman — being the watchdog of free speech he is — orders the Jews to “butt out” for daring to speak up! Those pesky CAMERA Jews should shut up, unless of course, they agree with Eshman’s worldviews.

I’m ashamed to admit that under the cover of the night, and away from the watchful eyes of The Jewish Journal, I sometimes read CAMERA’s forbidden stuff. Please, Mr. Eshman, don’t be angry with me.

Come to think of it, CAMERA is terribly needed in here, perhaps now more than ever.

Avi Zirler
La Canada Flintridge

As you note, there is a threat to Christians in the Middle East from Islamic attacks against them. Downplaying this threat as a Christian problem misses the point that neither Jews nor Christians are acceptable for some in the Islamic world. Ateek and Sabeel are so consumed with their anti-Judaism that they do not see that the seeds of their own destruction are sown with the potential destruction of Israel. Criticizing Israel without criticizing the Palestinians is at the root of CAMERA’s objections to the efforts of the liberal churches sponsoring Sabeel.

Samuel M. Edelman
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
The American Jewish University

Heavy Lifting

Illegal aliens are tax consumers (“Immigration: Time to Share the Heavy Lifting,” Feb. 1). According to a recent report by State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, member of the California Budget Commission, it costs Californians $10.5 billion a year to educate, medicate and incarcerate illegal aliens.

Aiding and abetting, hiring and exploiting illegal aliens is a federal offense punished by a fine of $3,000 per illegal and six months in prison.

Haydee Pavia
Laguna Woods

Having spent years living and working in Mexico and witnessing first-hand how they treat strangers, travelers and “illegal aliens” that just happen to make it to the northern border region, and that includes the vast majority of the civilian population, I have no sympathy with their so-called plight here in the U.S. The “good” rabbi may want to rethink his position regarding his desire to play with the American people under the guise of Judaism.

Dr. Leonard I. Antick
Via e-mail

I disagree with the notion that we should find a sensible way to give the illegals citizenship. The ones that snuck across our border will have to go home or be sent home. The ones that overstayed their visas will have to come forward and be checked out, fingerprinted, DNA, and made sure [they] haven’t committed a crime here, then possibly pay a fine and go to the back of the line.

Howard Poffinbarger
Via e-mail

Should Israel Care?

While it is Israel’s prerogative to negotiate Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, Diaspora Jewry should have a right to veto any proposal to relinquish places at the core of Jewish history, namely the Old City, archaeological City of David and Temple Mount (“Why Should Israel Care What We Think About Jerusalem,” Jan. 25).

First, if Israel surrendered security control over the Temple Mount, it would leave the safety of visitors there or to the adjoining Western Wall to the mercy of Palestinians who, in the past, have bombarded Jewish worshippers with rocks and boulders at the slightest pretext.

Second, it would undermine the very reason for having a Jewish state in the Middle East. The Temple Mount is not only the holiest site in the world for Jews, but also a singular national symbol and a testament to Israel’s historical right to exist.

Finally, it would invite an irreparable archaeological crime and an assault on history itself. Archaeologist Eilat Mazar has reportedly uncovered the foundations of King David’s royal palace in the City of David, and the Temple Mount may contain not only the remains of the temples, but also biblical-era archives, temple artifacts, and perhaps even the Ark.

These are not just Israeli concerns — they are concerns for all Jews.


Ugly Neighborhood

Without reading a word of the inside article, I write because I am distressed about the depiction on the front page (“An Ugly Day in the Neighborhood,” March 3).

I am all too familiar with many issues that cause divisiveness among Jews, secular, religious, somewhat religious, etc. Those issues merit addressing and solving. But the image on the front page of physical violence gives us Jews a face we do not want or deserve.

I grew up in the neighborhood and have always known the problems of the shul on Highland Avenue and the neighbors…. They are serious and need to be solved.

No one I know who is involved is violent and abusive in the manner your cover depicts. We divide ourselves quite well, thank you…. We don’t need false images like this to add to the problem.

Pearl Taylor
Sherman Oaks

Your March 3 edition was superb. Many very interesting stories and an excellent in-depth, seemingly unbiased article on “An Ugly Day in the Neighborhood” that even an Orthodox Jew like myself found very informative. Keep on writing more detailed articles.

Robert Rosenberg
Los Angeles

Ilan Halimi

Time after time we hear and say, “Never again,” when referring to World War II and the Holocaust (“French Rally Against Jew’s Torture Death,” March 3). As the warning signals around the world multiply and Jews continue to leave France in droves, we have reached the breaking point.

What does it mean when Muslims gather around the world, create havoc and receive in-depth media coverage over a newspaper cartoon? We, on the other hand, witness for the first time in decades the cold-blooded, brutal slaying of a Jew in a modern democracy, simply because he is a Jew, and nobody seems to care. Rather chilling, wouldn’t you say?

Tyla Hamburg Bohbot
Via e-mail

As the associate director of the American Jewish Congress, Western Region, and a former program director of, none of what is happening in France today regarding anti-Semitism surprises me.

When the burning of the synagogues started more than three years ago in France, I and other members of the community picketed outside of the French consulate. We spoke to the consulate general, who at that time told us “there is no anti-Semitism in France,” repeatedly.

Had he or the French government acknowledged our concerns, perhaps Ilan Halimi would still be alive. I only hope that the French government realizes the depth of its problems, addresses them and corrects them immediately.

We can not allow any more of our Jewish family to die burned, tortured and dumped out like garbage. No more excuses; no more blaming “hooligans,” and no more capitulation to being politically correct.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Associate Director
American Jewish Congress

Off Key

I am writing in response to Erin Aubry Kaplan’s article, “A.M.E., Rhythm and Jews” (Feb. 24). I am a member of the Temple Emanuel Choir and participated in the evening in question, where our choir and that of Bryant Temple A.M.E. Church joined to sing in a Shabbat service. I am very glad Kaplan took the time to attend, but I differ from her on several points.

She suggests that the Bryant choir felt awkward about the way “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” was performed. I certainly did not detect that, either in the performance or rehearsal.

She objects when an usher assumes she is with the visiting choir simply because she is black. This is a valid point.

However, it is undermined when she goes on to stereotype what the response should be by a cantor to a powerful gospel number. Apparently for cantors, no physical expression of emotion is allowed.

I am glad to be participating in a dialogue between two congregations and communities in Los Angeles, and I am proud to be part of a choir where the uplifting power of music can be freely expressed. I look forward to being able to welcome Erin Aubry Kaplan to a future event.

Patric Kuh
Los Angeles

A Dying Language

I would like to applaud Hannah Pollin, who is doing a terrific job teaching Yiddish to high school students (“A Dying Language Comes to Life,” Feb. 24). I have visited one of her classes at the New Community Jewish High School and was enormously impressed with this remarkable young teacher and her eager, dedicated students.

However, I must point out that The Journal is not doing enough to assist in the revival of Yiddish as the living, vibrant language it should be. I’d like to offer a couple of suggestions.

First, that The Journal periodically list the various locations where groups of people come together regularly just to speak Yiddish. I belong to three such groups, and we all have lots of fun, and our command of the language, which ranges from paltry to fluent, improves steadily.

Also, that it introduce a regular column, written in transliterated Yiddish. I am confident that many Angelenos would like to contribute stories of recollection, either dramatic or hilarious. Other readers would probably like to write notes, commenting on the stories or correcting somebody’s grammar or simply adding stories of their own.

The Jewish Journal is an excellent periodical, and here is an opportunity to make it even better. Ich hof az ihr vett meine forschlagen oifnemmen.

Lou Charloff

Ugly Day

As a Chicagoan with L.A. ties (my daughter lives in Hancock Park), I could not help but be disgusted with the anti-Orthodox slanted piece written by Julie Gruenbaum Fax (“Ugly Day in the Neighborhood,” March 3).

I call it an anti-Orthodox piece because of not only the digs interspersed throughout the piece (“those Orthodox sure have lousy aesthetic taste”) but also because of the seeming equivalency of disparate claims (for example, anti-Semitism, fraudulent organizations created on the day of voting, etc., to “line jumping” and holding parking spaces for allies).

And how the writer praises a particular zoning proponent as being “blunt,” “resolute” and “doesn’t mince words” and yet leaves unchallenged highly illogical and farfetched explanations of her blunt words, calling the other side “bad guys” and “bogeymen” or disparate treatment of the writer explaining the pain felt by Jews on one side being called anti-Semitic and failing to explore the pain or anger felt by the other side being called bad guys and bogeymen.

However, another major deficiency of the article is its further failure to inform the reader about the genesis of the dispute, as well as of the details of some of the actual disputes themselves.

No explanation is given as to why the Orthodox may feel a shul might be necessary in an area where the nearest shuls are a 20-25-minute walk away. Or what is so terrible about the synagogue’s architecture, where just across the street a house sits that looks abandoned or, frankly, how it could not take away from the suburban look of the neighborhood, when both Third Street and Highland Avenue are major vehicular thoroughfares to the extent that children have to be very careful crossing the street, and that it is almost impossible to either park on the street (for fear of being hit by other racing cars) or to back into it.

Or what is the objection to an eight-foot security fence around a parochial school in this age of AMBER alerts, when there is another school on the very next corner that seems to have a 10-15-foot chain-link security fence covered with eyesore green tarpaulin? Or what is the background for Yavneh having a limited-use permit on a site where there has always been a school and where another public school is next door?

Maybe if the writer had spent more time in outlining the source of the problem — or at least the Orthodox perception to the problem that these questions answer — then the readers could better understand the dispute.

Harold Moskowitz

Hamas Victory

Are Bushra Jawabri and Michael Bergman that naive as to think a Hamas-run government will be any different than the Hamas terror organization? (“Opportunities Exist in Hamas Victory,” Feb. 24)

Hamas is only maintaining its temporary truce with Israel to buy enough time to solidify its power, build and import weapons and ally itself with like-minded neighboring countries. When they feel the time is ripe and Israel has increased its vulnerability by giving away more land, Hamas will drop the truce like a bomb, literally, and will probably be accompanied by the full military force of its allies, Iran and Syria.

Remember, Hitler laid out his intentions in “Mein Kampf” long before he was democratically elected. It took several years after he took office, however, before the Nazis implemented The Final Solution.

Like Hitler, Hamas made their intentions clear early on and have backed them up with deadly actions. Pie-in-the-sky liberals who sang the praises of Oslo, while Yasser Arafat was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, think they can eliminate evil by offering land, a la Neville Chamberlain.

They need to learn from history and face the grim truth. Truces and land giveaways just delay the inevitable. Evil neither civilizes nor fades away. It must be defeated.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

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Holy Moly! Robertson Apologizes

The Rev. Pat Robertson has long preached as though God is on his side — including when he recently cast the stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as God’s punishment for “dividing” the Holy Land by pulling Israel out of Gaza.

But last week, Robertson apparently decided that he’d better have the government of Israel on his side, too, especially if he wants to build a sprawling evangelical center on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

In a letter to Sharon’s sons, Robertson asked forgiveness for his comments.

“My zeal, my love of Israel, and my concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father’s illness,” Robertson wrote.

He also mentioned his concern over the danger to Israel posed by two terrorist groups — Hamas and Hezbollah — as well as by Iran and international anti-Semitism.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said he believed that Robertson had taken to heart the outrage over his comments.

“I felt he was very sincere. He is a great friend of Israel,” Ayalon said.

Ayalon added that he expected that Robertson will again be allowed to participate in the evangelical project. Plans for the site include an auditorium, a broadcast center and a chapel, as well as paths to connect holy sites, according to the Associated Press.

Robertson’s contrition did not arrive in time to head off a rebuke by David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

“Robertson’s comment,” he said, “reflects the height of insensitivity and is also a perfect example of what happens when theological fanaticism clouds good judgment.”

And there was this from fellow evangelical Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: “I am both stunned and appalled that Pat Robertson would claim to know the mind of God concerning whether particular tragic events, such as former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, were the judgments of God.”

On the other hand, the episode does suggest a name for Robertson’s proposed theme park: Holier-Than-Thou Land.


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.'”


After the Miscarriage

When my doctor informed me, in the seventh week of my first pregnancy, that I had miscarried, he accompanied the news with what he surely thought was a comforting idea.

He told me that God wanted perfect children, and this was His way of making it happen.

It was the first of several inappropriate and unhelpful comments that people would offer me. I drove off from the appointment sobbing, ran a red light and smashed my car.

The pain and anguish of infertility has been passed down from matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel to women today. But while our traditions have given us words to say and ways to act during other lifecycle events — death, birth, marriage — there is little guidance for how to help a friend or loved one deal with the loss of a pregnancy or the pain and despair of infertility.

When, after a second miscarriage, my husband and I reached out for support to friends and family — many of them in the happy throes of birthing and raising their own families — we were surprised by some of the comments we got in return.

On several occasions, friends advised, “Perhaps reducing stress by relaxing more could be helpful,” implying that stress had caused these miscarriages.

“I know so many people who have adopted and then gotten pregnant.”

Uh, OK. This helps me how?

Then there was this chestnut: “Covering your hair leads to healthy babies” — except, of course, for the countless healthy children born daily to those with uncovered hair.

From others I got: “It was meant to be,” or “it will work next time” or “at least it happened early.”

Everyone surely intended to be helpful, but they missed the mark.

What I really needed were people who were there just to listen, and fortunately I had friends and family members who understood this. Some realized the importance of calling to say hi, perhaps while their children were napping, rather than when they were crying or playing in the background. I appreciated the friends who would call on a spur of the moment and invite me to coffee, just the two of us, knowing I still found larger groups somewhat intimidating.

Miscarriage and infertility can be as isolating as they are painful.

Raising a family has always been a desire and priority of mine. After my first miscarriage, I picked myself up and quickly regained hope. I knew that this was quite common. Surely this was just a small bump in the road, and nothing to be too concerned about.

After a couple months of healing, physically and emotionally, I became pregnant again. My husband and I were filled with renewed hope and joy. But my new doctor informed me that a certain hormone level of mine, one that is a good indicator of a healthy pregnancy, was lower than normal.

I was convinced that this pregnancy would be strong and there was just something that seemed right about it, but after several week I miscarried again.

This time I was overcome with a grief that lingered. For a long time, I would cry for no apparent reason. I had trouble facing my friends, walking into my synagogue or being around pregnant women. I felt scared, ashamed, lonely and angry. I wondered whether I had done something wrong, been a bad person or perhaps had been lacking in faith.

Throughout this time, many of my friends were announcing their pregnancies, having children and announcing second pregnancies. Pregnancy and motherhood began to dominate the conversation. I felt as though I had been excluded from a club that all my friends were joining.

Pregnancy began to take over my thoughts. I felt as though this aspect of life was becoming unattainable.

Yet time has a way of healing wounds. Slowly, my husband and I have picked ourselves up and prepared for the process once again. Sure, there have been times that I retreat, avoiding contact with my peers and preferring to stay home alone. But we are now seeing a fertility specialist, and while it adds to our stress and poses different problems, we are optimistic.

If you have friends or family members in my situation, you can provide solace and support. Don’t blatantly avoid the topic, which just makes it the elephant in the room. Don’t play the cause-and-effect game (i.e., “Perhaps if you just relax and let things happen it will work out”). And don’t make empty promises: “It will all turn out OK.”

But absolutely do call periodically just to say hi and chat. And look for ways to hang out one-on-one or in small groups (e.g., coffee, dinner). And you can say things like: “I know it’s been hard lately. Please don’t hesitate to ask if I can help in any way.” By saying this, you already have.

Infertility and miscarriages remain largely taboo within the Jewish world, but there are ways that you can help a loved one through those difficult times.

Andrea Lesch Weiss is a social worker who lives in Los Angeles with her husband Jonathan. She can be reached at


A New Blend of Chick-Lit Sleuth


“Sex, Murder and a Double Latte” (Red Dress Ink, $17.95)

Like her protagonist Sophie Katz, Kyra Davis has skin the color of a “well-brewed latte.” That’s why she has spent a large portion of her life fielding comments about her ethnicity.

There was her supervisor at a clothing store, for example, who asked about her Star of David necklace, since how could Davis be Jewish when she looks black? Or all the times people have assumed she’s Puerto Rican and lecture her on taking pride in one’s heritage when they discover she can’t speak Spanish.

“Occasionally, when people ask me where I’m from, I’ll make up some country in Africa and act really offended if they say they never heard of it,” Davis said.

Growing up black and Jewish has paid off for the 32-year-old Davis, whose debut novel, “Sex, Murder and a Double Latte,” manages to address issues of race and religion while blurring the lines between mystery and chick-lit fiction. “So many books with ethnic characters don’t make it in the mainstream,” said Davis, who will be reading at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Sunday, April 24. “But here, I’ve got this biracial protagonist and I’m thrilled that publishers are opening their minds. Of course, Sophie is both Jewish and black, so I guess she’s doubled her market.”

Davis, who signed a four-book deal with her publisher, joins a small-yet-growing group of new chick-lit authors like Laurie Gwen Shapiro (“The Matzo Ball Heiress”) and Elise Abrams Miller (“Star Craving Mad”), who write about distinctly Jewish characters. Due out next month, Davis’ novel stars mystery writer and frappuccino addict Sophie Katz, who’s convinced that someone wants to kill her by re-enacting scenes from one of her books. To complicate matters, she’s dating one of her murder suspects — a dashing Russian Israeli who likes making l’chaim toasts in bars. And, of course, Sophie’s mother piles on plenty of Jewish guilt as her daughter plays sleuth. “What is this, you’re discovering bodies now? Why can’t you live a nice, normal life like your sister?”

Margaret Marbury, executive editor of MIRA Books and Red Dress Ink, says she had been searching for the “perfect chick-lit mystery but most I saw either had too much mystery and too little girl stuff or vice versa. Kyra’s book has the perfect balance.”

Marbury, who rejects most of the hundreds of manuscripts she reads every year, adds that she’s “really picky about female protagonists. But the major draw of Kyra’s book was her main character, Sophie. She’s real, multidimensional, sympathetic and incredibly funny.”

In a telephone interview from her San Francisco home, Davis, gregarious and effusive, describes a rags-to-riches saga that bears some striking similarities to J.K. Rowling of “Harry Potter” fame. Like Rowling, Davis was a single mother with a precarious financial situation when she began writing her novel.

“My life was falling apart and I wanted to get lost in a fictional world,” she says.

Born to a black father and a Jewish mother, Davis primarily grew up in Santa Cruz. Raised by her mother and maternal grandparents, “we were a High Holidays kind of family,” she says. “But I’ve always felt at home in the Jewish community.”

Though her grandmother always thought that her granddaughter should be a writer, Davis originally wanted to be an actress. After graduating high school, she opted to pursue fashion marketing and merchandising and spent some time in New York before returning to San Francisco to study business and humanities at Golden Gate University. She married, had a son and found a job as a marketing manager of an upscale sports club.

In 2001, Davis filed for divorce and felt her life had “become a Woody Allen joke. I had all these plans and none of them worked out,” she says. “I was a single mother afraid of losing the house my grandfather built.”

When Davis began to write, she knew she wanted to create “escapist fiction” but considering her state of affairs, “definitely not romance. I had all this anxiety and that lent itself to writing a murder mystery,” she says. “Just take all your pent-up stuff and kill people off on the page.”

Davis consulted a few books on fiction writing, worked during her lunch hours and late at night and after two years of labor, had a completed manuscript. Her mother covered the expense for a writing conference and Davis traveled there to pitch her book. Davis soon found an agent who swiftly secured a deal at Red Dress Ink.

“It’s an American dream story,” Davis says. “But it never would have happened if I hadn’t gone through all these challenges. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t have written this manuscript if my life was going well.”

Now that she no longer needs a day job, Davis plans to write two novels a year and stay home with her 5-year-old son Isaac.

While she of course hopes that her books will be successful, more importantly “this whole experience has taught me that I have the strength and ability to get through some really bad stuff,” she says. “I can pursue my passions and dreams and demonstrate it for my son so that one day, he can do it, too.”

Kyra Davis will be at Borders-Brentano’s booth No. 201 on Sunday, April 24, at noon, at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. For more information, visit or


Mom and Dementia

My mother sounded upset when she called the other day. "What’s wrong, Ma?" I asked. "I don’t know what’s going on or where I am she said. "Who are these people with me?"

I reminded Mom of her move to Los Angeles three years ago, and her life at a San Fernando Valley board and care.

She sighed and said, "Ellie, I’m losing my marbles."

The painful truth is she’s right. Mom’s dementia impacts so much in her life. Once an avid reader, she can’t remember the plot of a book after the first page. Eventually, she stopped trying. Reading her short articles in the newspaper holds her attention for a while, but since she doesn’t know what’s going on in the world, most news means little to her. Mom and the other women in her residential care home occassionally watch CNN. It’s hard to tell if any of them really know what’s going on. Like my mother, their intelligence is intact, but for most their short-term memory is gone.

Recently when I was there, we watched images from a terrible suicide bombing in northern Iraq. My mother was horrified. I reminded her about Bush and the war in Iraq and she made some disparaging comments about Bush’s intelligence. Fifteen minutes later, my sister called from North Carolina. I leaned close to the phone at Mom’s ear so I could listen. After the usual chatter about the weather, the dogs and my mother’s digestion, my sister said, "Isn’t what’s happening in Iraq just horrible?"

Mom said, "It certainly is."

Then she covered the phone and whispered to me, "What happened in Iraq?"

She sounded concerned and looked anxious, like she should know. But any memory of what she’d just seen on the news was gone.

Though much of what’s happening to my mother’s mind is painful, there are moments of levity caused by her dementia. In fact, Mom is very often amused by her own forgetfulness. While her short-term memory is gone, her wonderful, slightly sick sense of humor is intact.

Last year, my mother and I went to my Uncle Bob’s funeral. We were escorted to front-row seats at the graveside and after a moment my mother looked at the casket and loudly said, "Who died?"

Heads around us turned. Mom looked at me, her embarrassment quickly shifting to amusement and she started to giggle. Then I started to giggle. I was reminded of Friday night services years ago, when my mother would start to sing, very off-key, and we’d both end up with tears rolling down our face from trying to swallow our laughter.

After Uncle Bob’s funeral, Mom and I were sitting on the sofa at the reception, enjoying a sandwich and a little wine. Mom stopped chewing suddenly. "Where are we?" she asked me.

"Carole and Bob’s house," I responded.

She glanced around the room, then said, "Where’s Bob?"

I almost choked. I looked at her and whispered, "We just buried him."

She looked completely confused, then we both burst out laughing. We got a number of suspicious looks from people around the room who probably thought we’d had too much wine.

Then there was the morning after the Queen Mother died. My mom was living at her former board and care, and during breakfast another resident, Sally, was reading the newspaper. She suddenly said, "The Queen Mother died."

My mother looked up from her oatmeal and asked, "Really, how old was she?"

"Let me look," Sally said. "She was 102."

My mother responded, "Isn’t that wonderful!" Moments passed. Then Sally, still reading the paper, said, "Did you know the Queen Mother just died?"

My mother replied, "No. How old was she?"

Sally read further, then said, "She was 102."

"Imagine. Isn’t that wonderful!" exclaimed my mother. This same conversation apparently repeated for 10 minutes, both women enjoying their exchange over and over again.

Maybe this is the upside of my mother’s dementia. Each moment is totally new. In fact, for her, each moment is all there is. While most of us agonize over the future or analyze and regret the past, my mother — having lost track of the past and lacking the ability to imagine the future — lives wholly in the present.

Ellie Kahn is a family historian, journalist and documentary filmmaker.
She can be reached at

Where You Stand

We are standing before God and God is standing before us — especially during this particular time, when certain fundamental liberties are being denied individuals and when justice is being withheld from specific groups — all in the name of "homeland security." This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, comes to teach us — all of us without exception — that we are obligated to build a just society not only for ourselves but for all people.

Thus, our reading, studying and thinking about the essential lessons found in Shoftim are of great importance right now.

Meanwhile, this parsha reminds me of a very strange personal experience that occurred many years ago. It’s one that I’ll never forget.

While I was away from University Synagogue one afternoon, visiting a hospitalized congregant, a very well-known Catholic priest called me. When he realized that I wasn’t there, he left a message on my voice mail asking that I contact him as soon as possible, because a situation required an immediate collaborative interfaith response.

For reasons that I can’t technologically explain — but it may have been God’s handiwork — something extraordinary happened: Although my caller terminated his call, my message device recorded what happened next.

Once he hung up, he telephoned a prominent rabbinic colleague of mine. During their ensuing conversation, the non-Jewish leader indicated that he had tried to reach me, found that I was away from my desk, left a message asking that I contact him without delay and he said that he was certain that he’d hear from me as soon as I learned that he had reached out to me.

In turn, the rabbi expressed his doubts about my dependability and without hesitation he conveyed his feelings of disdain toward me by using that occasion to utter some very derogatory comments.

These unflattering remarks were instantly rebuffed by the priest, but they lingered in the air nevertheless.

Naturally, when I listened to their recorded discussion, I was deeply hurt and terribly confused because I couldn’t recall any incident that would have inflamed the rabbi’s emotions and cemented his negative opinions about me. And throughout the years we have worked together in the community, he had never led me to believe that we were anything but the best of friends.

A few days later, he and I happened to see one another at a public gathering where he greeted me with a bright smile, open arms and some affectionate remark.

"Oh," I thought to myself, "if he only knew that I was aware of his genuine feelings about me, which make this display of supposed fondness reek of hypocrisy."

As a result of a mechanical error — or did God provide me with an opportunity to hear words that would never have been uttered in my presence by someone who posed as a friend? — I had a chance to encounter the authentic nature of a relationship instead depending on some false pretense.

Now, what has all of this to do with our reading five particular chapters found in the Book of Deuteronomy this Shabbat?

Within Shoftim, we are instructed: "Zedek, zedek tirdof" ("justice, justice shall you pursue").

When we dig deeply into the parsha, we come to realize that not only are sacred and secular laws to be faultlessly carried out by government officials and interpreted by appointed and elected judges — all of them are expected to be unrelentingly fair and impartial — but you and I are instructed to treat everyone we encounter in our own lives in a similar fashion.

You see, it is not only justice that keeps chaos away and society afloat, but it is steadfast righteousness that should be ever-present in every interpersonal relationship we have — be it a casual contact or one which is intimate and enduring .

This is why Rashi taught: "Consider what you do and conduct yourself in every judgment as if the Holy One, Blessed be He, were standing before you."

Had the rabbi known that I would hear his candid opinion of me, or had he imagined that God was standing in front of him when he spoke in such a hateful way about me in one instance, and then so lovingly in my presence very soon thereafter, to what extent would he had been anxious to render harsh judgment?

And, that prompts me to ask: Do any of us have the right to be judgmental? Maimonides didn’t think so, because he observed that all of us are obligated (actually, he wrote: "commanded") to give each person the benefit of the doubt.

So, as we demand that ours must always be a "just society," and when we attempt to individually "pursue justice," it is necessary that we also rely upon that same concept to temper our own words and actions.

Much will be accomplished individually and collectively when we remember this lesson at all times, because we do stand before God and God stands before us. Under these circumstances, there simply is no room for injustice in any of its many forms — be it in our society at large or in the way we relate to one another.

Allen I. Freehling served as University Synagogue’s senior rabbi for 30 years before becoming that congregation’s first rabbi emeritus a year ago. He is now serving as the executive director of the Human Relations Commission of the City of Los Angeles.

Anti-Semitism Stirs Aliyah

Whether or not the French ambassador to England called Israel “that sh*tty little country” is almost beside the point.

Ambassador Daniel Bernard allegedly made the comment at a dinner party two weeks ago in London.

“Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?” Bernard was quoted as saying.

At first, Bernard’s people denied that he even made the remark. A spokesman for the French Embassy later said Bernard had been misquoted. “The ambassador referred to ‘little Israel’ in the sense that it is geographically small,” spokesman Yves Charpentier told reporters. “He was saying that the problem was incredibly limited geographically but that nevertheless the repercussions around the world are tremendous.”

In whatever context Bernard made his comments, the fact that they might have been made surprised no one; France is considered one of the countries most critical of Israel, even in Europe, which many consider to have a pro-Arab and anti-Israel bias.

In Europe, anti-Semitic incidents are at such a high level — the highest since World War II — that some have stopped counting, said an Israeli official who is spearheading a new worldwide forum to fight anti-Semitism. Examples are many: in Prague, two shuls were evacuated because of bomb threats; in Brussels, the chief rabbi was attacked by five Arab men; in England, Selfridges department store is boycotting goods made in the West Bank and Golan Heights.

In the post-Sept 11 world, with racial tensions high and economies falling, Jews around the world are taking a new look at their native cities — from Los Angeles, to Beunos Aires, to Paris to Belgium — and deciding that the time has come to leave for Israel. This week more than 60 Argentines arrived in Israel following the recent economic unrest there (see Page 12).

“The number of candidates for aliyah [in France] is growing,” Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, said of the movement to return to Israel. “France has always been the largest reservoir for aliyah — 2,000 Jews each year for the last 10 years.” Cwajgenbaum said there are no official figures yet, but the increase is due to the situation, which he terms “several hundred” anti-Semitic incidents over the last year.

Here in Los Angeles, while some are motivated to make aliyah because of the economic climate (see sidebar) concern is growing over the situation abroad.

“France, a senior partner in the European Union, has been bending over backward to show their support for the Palestinian cause to the Arab world,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “The French government has refused to acknowledge that there is a problem or do anything about it. French authorities are scared themselves, because so many of the younger Muslims have embraced this radical version of Islam. To the young, poor, alienated second generation, Osama bin Laden is a hero.”

Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, has decided to do something about it. Last week he announced the formation of the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism, to be primarily comprised of international non-Jewish dignitaries intent on fighting against injustice and for human rights. “The new anti-Semitism, which is based on the old one, is in a disguise and is very, very serious,” Melchior told The Journal over the phone from Jerusalem. “Anti-Semitism is not only a threat to Jews but a threat to the decency of democracy and any society.”

On Jan. 6 they will announce the members of the forum,
which will work closely with other organizations that have been working in the
field already, such as the EJC and the Anti-Defamation League. The forum’s
mission will be to deal with public opinion, education, and the police and
judicial system in each country. Their Web site, , will catalog reported incidents around the world.

Melchior said that the countries most plagued by anti-Semitism are those with strong Arab populations, mentioning France, Belgium and Hungary. But to blame the atmosphere on the current situation in the Middle East is myopic, he said.

“To say that because of Israel there is anti-Semitism is to say that because of Jews there is anti-Semitism,” he said. “Anti-Semites have found the central nerve of the Jewish people — now Zionism and the State of Israel is the nerve, now Israel is the ‘Jew’ of the nations.”

Melchior was quick to downplay the connection between rising anti-Semitism in countries like France or economic woes of countries like Argentina and the rise of Aliyah. “I don’t think that anti-Semitism is affecting aliyah that much,” he insisted, expressing the hope that people would come for positive reasons, rather than negative, like the economic crisis in Argentina. “I would like people to come…. Because it has an exciting message to their lives, because Israel is an exciting venture.”

But Israel may once again become the haven it was in its foundation. “I don’t exclude that there could be a situation in the future where Israel has to be place of refuge for Jews,” Melchior said. “Of course we are there, that’s OK. But God Forbid that we should need it.”

Staff Writer Mike Levy contributed to this report.

Out of Bounds

A New York Knicks basketball player has more to worry about this week than his team’s current opponent in the NBA playoffs — despite his apology.

The American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) is calling on Katherine Harris, Florida’s secretary of state, to bench point guard Charlie Ward as the official spokesman for a state reading program after Ward was quoted in the April 22 edition of the New York Times Magazine as saying that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.

In an article on the Knicks, Ward also was quoted as saying that Jews are persecuting Christians "every day."

Ward’s "comments are hurtful, and he needs to be responsible for them. The state needs to be responsible by not associating with him," said Jack Karako, the executive director of the AJCongress’ Southeast region.

If Ward is allowed to continue in his role for the "Born to Read" program, it would be "as if the state is endorsing his comments," Karako added.

Harris, who made headlines during last fall’s Florida vote-recount battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush, has yet to respond to the AJCongress’ request.

After he was publicly reprimanded by NBA Commissioner David Stern, Ward apologized in a statement released by the Knicks.

"I want to truly apologize to everybody who was offended by the New York Times Magazine story. I will say again that I would never condemn or criticize any group or religion," the statement said.

Ward also agreed to engage in a dialogue with Yechiel Eckstein, the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, "in an effort to heal the wounds of the last few days."

Despite the apology, the AJCongress’ Karako said Tuesday that his group is still calling for Ward to be replaced on the state reading program. He added that his group would wait to make its next move until after Ward and Eckstein meet.

After the initial comments were published, Ward told reporters that if they want to know the context for his statements, they should read the Bible. He added that his best friend — Jesus — is Jewish.

He further clarified his comments by saying that when he talked about Jews persecuting Christians, he was referring to Jews who denounce family members who convert to Christianity.

The AJCongress isn’t the only Jewish group criticizing Ward.

Ward’s published comments revive the "historic myths that have been the source of anti-Semitism for centuries," the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said in a statement.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman accepted Ward’s appology.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has invited the Knicks to visit the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

In the Times article, teammate Allan Houston was quoted as defending Ward’s statement, while a third teammate suggested the Jewish writer join Jews for Jesus.

Despite the reprimand, Stern said he did not fine Ward — as was done in other incidents in which players, coaches and broadcasters made inappropriate remarks — because the commissioner "did not wish to enhance his sense of martyrdom."

Stern added that Ward "will have to accept the reactions and judgments of fans and all fair-minded people who have been offended."

Knicks fans booed when Ward took the court for a Sunday playoff game against the Toronto Raptors. But by the end of the game, they were cheering Ward, who helped the Knicks win. — Peter Ephross Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Grammar Police

My name is Teresa Strasser and I’ve made grammatical errors.

My story begins with a piece I wrote several months ago. Give me a second, I need to compose myself.

It’s hard to admit this, even to a group as supportive and nurturing as you. Let me just take a deep breath. Okay, here goes. I used the phrase "My mother and I" when I should have said, "My mother and me." I’ll be honest; I did this not once but twice in one column.

I can’t tell you what a shame spiral I’m in. Did I just end that sentence with a preposition? Will I ever learn?

Numerous readers have sent me notes, admonishing me, chiding me, circling those two errors with red pens before stuffing the offending articles in envelopes with nasty notes.

It’s not bad enough that I have to deal with the disappointment of my friends and family, my own searing sense of total inadequacy for making such obvious mistakes. Now, the Grammar Police are after me. We’ve all had our tangles with the Grammar Police, those rock-bottom moments when we’ve been busted, when we lose our great battle with the rules of the English language.

"Please review the rules of grammar. These errors are quite egregious," wrote one woman from Studio City, her anger manifest in her slashy handwriting.

It’s been far too long since I’ve consulted the Good Book. And by that I mean Strunk and White’s "The Elements of Style." I’ve gone renegade and now I’m paying the price. Shut-ins all over this town are taking time out from entering sweepstakes and filing coupons alpha-numerically to inform me of my shortcomings.

I know it’s for my own good. I understand that proper grammar only helps us to communicate our ideas more precisely, to preserve the integrity of our language.

Still, I must confess something to you here and now. I dislike the Grammar Police. I loathe their letters with the unbridled intensity of an angry poet on open mic night.

When you think about it, what is a grammar-corrector really saying? It all boils down to one simple insight: "I’m smarter than you!" I know we Jews are the People of the Book, but does that mean we have to keep throwing it at one another?

The Grammar Police deliver their little corrections with such glee. (My apologies for the qualifier, as Strunk and White call qualifiers such as "little" and "rather" the leeches that "infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.")

Maybe I’m sliding in my grammar recovery if I say this, but I feel I must. Don’t these people ever make mistakes? Are they so perfect? Let he who has never dangled a participle throw the first stone!

I’d be remiss if at this point I didn’t point out the difference between the casual corrector and the hardcore grammarian who takes the time to write. Let’s face it, my fans aren’t out there circling and sending. I get the sneaking suspicion that those who find fault with my grammar really just can’t stand me. They’re picking on my subject/verb agreement when the real problem runs much deeper.

It’s like when your relationship is ending, and you can’t stand your mate, but all that comes out is your over-wrought reaction to his parking, the soap he picked out, his loud chewing. You’re nit-picking when what you should really do is break up.

When this most recent flood of letters came in, perhaps my anger was not so much at my own grammatical shortcomings, but at the subtext of the corrections. If you hate me, just feel free to lash out at me directly. I can take it. Okay, maybe not. Feeling the Grammar Police’s disapproval of me, not just of my pronouns, I phoned a friend to vent.

"The Grammar Police won’t leave me alone," I wailed. "They don’t read my column for content. They read my column just hoping for a mistake so they can circle it and send it to me. It’s like they’re laying in wait."

He paused and said just one thing.

"That’s ‘lying’ in wait."