The Pearl Fellow

Ramy was my first Syrian.

We didn’t meet cute, as people do in the movies. We met awkward.

Ramy Mansour came to The Journal offices last week as a Daniel Pearl Fellow. As part of its effort to increase understanding between Islam and the West, the Foundation, named after the slain American journalist, brings Muslim reporters to work at major American newspapers like The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal for up to six months. As part of their fellowship, the journalists agree to spend a few days or more at The Jewish Journal.

Over the past few years, we’ve hosted many of these journalists, from Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, even Yemen. For most of them, The Journal is their first exposure to Judaism and Jewish life outside media images in their home country.

For us, it’s an opportunity to learn about a distant country without the media filter, as seen through the eyes of a native journalist — someone who is both a participant and very often a critical observer of his society.

Then there was Ramy.

The other journalists showed up for the first day punctually, dressed in a coat and tie. I had to rouse Ramy from bed where he was staying. He came out in shirt and jeans, a cigarette in his hands. The other journalists had a jaundiced eye toward their governments and media, fully aware that news controlled by the state might not be entirely trustworthy. Ramy almost immediately began presenting the Syrian government view of the recent suspected Israeli bombing of a Syrian nuclear facility.

“It was nothing,” he said. “I can assure you they missed.”

“And Bashir Assad, do people like him?”

“Very much,” said Ramy.

The other journalists could argue in fluent, Oxford-inflected English. Ramy’s English was much better than my Arabic, which is no big compliment.

I figured I was in for a long week.

At first, our guest lived up to expectations. Ramy is the opinion page editor of a 30,000-circulation daily in Damascus, al-Watan. He said it was the first independent newspaper in Syria. I asked him if he believed it was truly independent.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“Could you print an editorial saying something good about Israel?”

“No,” he said.

“Well, why not?”

“Because,” Ramy said, “There’s nothing good to say about Israel.”

All our political discussions ended that way: my question, his categorical answers, then he would rush downstairs and outside for a smoke. Ramy reminded me of someone, I just couldn’t figure out whom.

“We have nothing against the Jewish,” he would say firmly. “Our problem is with Israel. Even the Jewish in Syria hate Israel.”

I only wished I was as certain of anything as Ramy was of everything.

The next day when I logged on to my e-mail, I saw a message: “Ramy Mansour added you as a friend on Facebook.” That’s when it clicked: I had been going about this all wrong. Ramy’s Facebook page featured a dozen beautiful women, almost all Syrian, and many successful-looking and handsome men.

They were all young and chic and vital-looking. And here I was trying to pigeonhole him into long political arguments over cups of lukewarm office coffee.

So last Thursday after work, I took him to Luna Park for a beer. As the bar filled up with the young and chic, he told me about the bars and discos where he and his friends hang out at until 4 a.m. About the way they hate the religious fundamentalists — and how much they like Assad for oppressing the Islamists. About their love lives and how they dance and drink and smoke.

About how they love watching “Oprah” and “Law and Order” and, until Israel Channel 2 TV stopped broadcasting it in Arabic, “Baywatch.”

But, he said, what he and his Syrian friends most love to do is simple.

“Facebook,” he said. “Facebook is huge.”

It was reading Ramy’s Facebook page that rocked my world. Because the truth is, if he came to us with prejudices and certainties, I also had more than my share. I figured Syria for a dark, oppressive society. In all the time I’ve spent in Israel, the truth is, I’ve never read or heard a positive thing about the people or the country. Every Israeli tour guide I’ve ever had has relished telling stories of how the Syrians treat captured Israeli soldiers the worst.

That’s what I knew about Syria.

Ramy told me that, like all Syrian men, he spent two years in the army.

“Did you like it?” I asked.

“Does anyone like the army?”

Ramy told me he dreams of being a documentary filmmaker in Syria — he was looking for an American university that offers an online course in the subject. The next day I took him to Beverly Hills to see the exhibition on Middle Eastern Media at the Paley Center for Media. The show interested him less than the huge houses and Ferrari-choked streets.

“This is the best,” he said. “I like this.”

He didn’t even mind when I told him there was no smoking anywhere in Beverly Hills, and that the mayor is a Persian Jew.

“Really?” he said, then, despite the smoking ban, he lit up a cigarette, his dark eyes squinting as he took a welcome drag. And that’s when it struck me.

“Ramy,” I said, “All this time you’ve reminded me of someone, and I finally figured out who it is — you remind me of almost every Israeli I know. They like to have fun, to stay out late, to convince you how right they are. And your name is Ramy, for God’s sake. You could drop into Israel tomorrow and feel at home. Ramy, you’re an Israeli.”

On the way back to the office, in the car, Ramy was quiet.

Next time, I’ll try the pre-nup

Separated is a vague and unpleasant term.

It’s the state of being in flux — the gray area between no longer married but not yet divorced. A divorce decree gives you back your life as a single person, but being separated keeps you in love limbo.

Many guys I’ve gone out with since I separated from my husband have asked about it. They want to know if the ex is really an “ex.” And despite their interest, most of them never bothered to ask me out a second time.

Until Ted.

Mutual friends fixed us up. Ted divorced nine years ago, has a kid and recently made partner at his firm. We talked on the phone several times and exchanged photos via e-mail. He had a dynamic voice and I enjoyed our conversations, so I agreed to a date.

We met for dinner at the Urth Cafe one chilly Friday evening. While seated on the patio, we explored our similarities (age, height, taste in music) and talked about our kids, including what it’s like to have youngsters who were becoming teenagers.

When we moved inside to sit by the fireplace, we leaned in closer as we talked and held hands. The conversation grew more personal by the hour, and before long he asked me what was the biggest lesson I had taken from my marriage.

“I would have gotten a prenup,” I said.

When I asked him the same question, he said he would have never stopped communicating.

With kids at home and a baby sitter on the clock, I told Ted I was nearing my midnight curfew. And like two nervous teenagers, our date ended with a hug goodbye and a short kiss.

In the run-up to our next date he sent me endearing text messages and we talked on the phone daily. During one conversation he casually but directly asked, “When will your divorce be final?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer. The dissolution papers were being prepared, but hadn’t been filed yet.

“Hopefully soon,” I responded after a long pause on my end. I immediately filed for divorce, hoping to truly begin the next chapter of my life.

Ted and I began dating exclusively and we seemed to be at the beginning of a beautiful relationship. We hit the hot spots, he introduced me to his entire family and I attended his daughter’s bat mitzvah. We were even there for each other in the off times — I kept him company while he had oral surgery, and he gave advice on handling a problematic house leak.

One weekend, Ted and I went to Catalina as a special treat. As we strolled hand-in-hand along Crescent Avenue, newlyweds in a golf cart honked as they passed us. Ted caught sight of the words “just married” on the cart, stopped in his tracks, dropped my hand and said, “You’re still married.”

My heart skipped a beat. I had no idea it bothered him so deeply.

“Only on paper,” I said, a knot forming in my stomach.

Ted implied that he was looking to get married — and fast.

As we continued to date, he would bring up my pending divorce and separation at odd times. He’d ask about the court hearings and then declare that delays were bound to crop up. He insisted my divorce would take longer than six months.

I agonized over how long the divorce was taking.

Ted eventually told me about his time frame for relationships. He said he generally gave women a six-month window, but because I was “separated” he was willing to “extend” it for me.

A time frame? Six months?

I asked Ted if he could just enjoy our time together and let our relationship blossom. While he got my hopes up when he said yes, his actions told a different story. I discovered he was actively pursuing other women behind my back.

Ted’s intense marriage pressure might have been honest or it might have been a cover. My pending divorce could have been a convenient excuse, a way to keep a good thing going for a while. Whatever the reason, he wasn’t discussing his true feelings with me. It all seemed to boil down to his relationship Achilles’ heel — communication.

While I cursed it in the beginning, I thank the California court system for my “separated” status. The cooling-off period that follows a divorce filing kept me levelheaded enough to eventually recognize what was happening. What if I had been single and available? I cringe at the thought of what would have happened had Ted and I actually married.

I should have known better.

I should have seen the red flags, which rarely ever change color. My heart didn’t hear what my head was trying to tell me.

Next time I’m taking my own advice: I need a relationship prenup.

I plan to lay out all the issues and clearly define boundaries before dating reaches the relationship stage, let alone before there’s any talk of marriage.

Unromantic? Maybe. But there is nothing quite as ugly as love turned to acrimony. The more candid each person is, the fewer surprises there will be down the road. Be honest and tell me what you want. After that, time, circumstance and intuition will guide the rest.

Now please initial here, here and here, and sign on the dotted line.

Heather Moss is a corporate communications professional and the mother of three children. She can be reached at

What do men want?

In April 1994, at a Hillel lecture in Westwood, the topic was: “The Relationship Between Jewish Men & Jewish Women: Love or War?” On the “war” side of that discussion was Dr. Herb Goldberg, a practicing psychologist, professor and writer.

Goldberg told the 500 or so people in that hall that he had “worked in therapy with numerous Jewish men … who had never married. While most of them wanted to have a relationship with a Jewish woman, the relationships many did manage to sustain were often with non-Jewish women, the ‘Shiksa Goddess,’ or ‘Gentile Queen.'”

Goldberg said that the Jewish male gravitated to the ‘Shiksa Goddess’ because “she rarely, if ever, made him feel guilty, did not pressure him for marriage and was not preoccupied with status. For the Jewish male … this was a relationship of instant gratification and low stress, compared to his experiences with Jewish women.”

Interviewed recently at his home in Mount Washington, Goldberg says that he thought that the Hillel evening was “going to be great, we were going to have a great dialogue.”

Instead, it got very quiet.

“What I felt was a hush,” Goldberg says. “The reception got very cold. I felt that they [saw] me as very critical of Jewish men and women, what they would call a ‘self-hating Jew.'”

Even though his lecture was an attempt to “make sense of the underpinnings of the Jewish male/female relationship,” the issues he presented were those he’s grappled with all his adult life: Why do men and women — of any ethnicity or religion — have so much trouble relating to one another? Why are the results so often toxic and frustrating, ending in rage, bitter divorces and custody battles?


Herb Goldberg earned his doctorate in psychology at Adelphi University and until his recent retirement was a professor at California State University, Los Angeles. He’s written a number of books about what he calls the “gender undertow,” the unconscious elements that underlie men’s and women’s opposite reactions. His books have sold well, gone through many printings and been translated into various languages, including Hebrew.

Goldberg has now returned to his lifelong themes in the recently published, “What Men Still Don’t Know About Women, Relationships, and Love” (Barricade Books, 2007).

Over the years Goldberg has developed a vocabulary with which to understand relationships. “Content” is what takes place on the surface — our actions and words. “Process” is what’s really going on underneath. Your process is not perceptible to you because “it’s within your defense system, so you don’t see it in yourself.”

And here’s the key point: “If you look at pure process on the masculine and feminine level, men and women have two absolutely different ways of perceiving the world.”

To demonstrate the polarized ways that men and women see reality, as well as the contrast between content and process, Goldberg uses the example of the romantic date: “When a couple go on a date, the man is the actor: He makes the phone call, drives the car, chooses the restaurant, pays for dinner, makes the sexual advance … while the woman simply reacts to the man’s actions. If the movie is lousy, if the food is bad at the restaurant … if the sexual advance is poorly timed — who’s responsible? The man. Because he made all the decisions.”

So whatever happens, the man ends up feeling guilty. That is his process. And the woman? Because she makes no decisions and suspends her ego, she feels controlled by the man. She may not acknowledge it, but her unconscious process is that she feels angry.

“The actor/reactor dynamic, which characterizes the majority of romantic, intimate male-female interactions,” Goldberg writes, “is as entrenched as ever and is at the heart of the dysfunctional, painful experience of relationships.”

In spite of the changes that have taken place over the last 40 years, this dynamic is still in control. On the content level, both men and women have — for the most part — become liberated and aware of sexism and of the need for gender equality. So one would think that the experiences between men and women would be good.

“But what actually happens,” Goldberg says, “is exactly the opposite.”

Goldberg says that the actor/reactor dynamic exists even when — on the content level — the roles are reversed. “It doesn’t matter if the woman is a CEO and the man is a kindergarten teacher or a poet. It’s the how of the relationship, not the what, that creates its deeper dynamic.” Which is why one of the stages — sometimes the “endpoint” — of many relationships is an “angry, blaming woman and a guilt-ridden, self-hating man.”

Is there any way out of this scenario? Goldberg writes that it requires hard work. Most men still see the world as “a competitive jungle,” so they have to be willing to overcome their fear that change will lead to “humiliation [and] vulnerability.” Since women still see connection and closeness as the path to fulfillment, they need to overcome their fear that change will lead to “a loss of safety [and] security.”

“What Men Still Don’t Know” also has a lot to say about parenting. Goldberg writes about “mechanical fathers” who, on the content level, are actively involved in their child’s life but are seen — by the child — as being out of touch; and mothers whose content is selfless devotion but whose process stymies their child’s development.

Which brings us back to Goldberg’s 1994 Hillel lecture. He told an audience that was already “cold” to him that in many ways the Jewish woman is the psychological clone of the classic Jewish mother: “engulfing, monitoring, guilt-making, blaming, sexless and angry.” Is it any wonder that Jewish men “look elsewhere … for comfort and happiness?”

“It’s a very hard topic to talk about without … stepping on land mines,” Goldberg says. “I wish I could do it over again.” His wistful reflection seems to have deeper currents than the Hillel event.

Women: Put down your swords!

“I let men be men, and I give up the right to castrate men forever.”

Do I really have to say this? I wondered to myself as I tried my best to participate without skepticism in a relationships seminar I’d signed up for not long ago.

Do I really “castrate” men? Do I expect them to behave more like women and as a result emasculate them? Do I not understand the differences between men and women in relationships, and is that one source of my dating woes?

I didn’t have time to think too deeply about these questions, because I was immediately instructed, along with some 100 other women in the room, to stand up and recite this mantra. And I did. Some women started crying in bouts of catharsis. I didn’t really feel anything when I said it, except a little wonder at myself for joining the chorus.

The mantra had jump-started the two-day workshop for women titled “Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women,” which I attended not long ago at a conference room in a hotel near LAX. The program was created by a woman named Allison Armstrong, a self-professed expert on men, and it promised to foster better communication, understanding and respect between the sexes.

The session leader admitted that the language of the mantra was purposefully hyperbolic, but said that one point of the seminar was to allow us to embrace male characteristics that might fluster women, but which are an indelible part of the male psyche. This may seem like an anti-feminist lesson to some, but it is by empowering men, the workshop taught, that we actually empower ourselves. By “putting down our sword” and letting men be the best men they can be, women can begin to view men not as antagonists, but as partners.

I had decided to sign up for this workshop after attending the introductory preview course, “Making Sense of Men,” which outlined some “secrets” of male attraction to women. I’d heard about it on the radio and it was free, so why not? It turned out to be pretty enlightening, making the point that confidence, a passionate interest and authenticity are among the specific qualities in a woman that can tip a man’s attraction from purely physical to enchantingly spiritual.

The two-day workshop was less enlightening. The first day felt like a recap of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” It outlined differences between the sexes, some of which are already common knowledge to many women, like: men are single-focused; men act from reason before emotion; and, most of all, men like to be the providers.

At the start of the second day, we were given a formula with specific phrasing on how to ask men for what we need. The point of some of the phraseology is to cater to a man’s instinct to provide and feel appreciated for what he has done in the past. It all seemed contrived. The instructions actually made me more confused, and little time was left open for questions throughout the seminar.

I wondered if I should drop out and ask for my money back, which was quite a nice sum: about $400.

I stayed because the end promised to tie everything together: a panel of men who would field our questions about men.

But when we were prohibited from asking the men questions about sex — of course, the most alluring topic — I decided to head out. The topic of sex was reserved for a different, equally expensive workshop, titled “Celebrating Men in Sex.” Then came the live advertisements: If you sign up today, you get a discount.

It all seemed a little exploitative to me. Women are so vulnerable when it comes to relationships that they’ll spend a lot of money when someone promises them insights into positively transforming how they interact with men. Perhaps some women need the live oration of this kind of seminar, where they actively recite phrases and perform exercises. As for me, I’d rather read a good book that costs about 20 bucks and includes critical research, detailed examples, back-up and references.

When I told the workshop manager that I wasn’t satisfied and wanted a refund, she was very kind and understanding, giving me the best advice of the day: It’s important for women to do what’s true for them and to be themselves with men.

Although I missed the men’s panel, I decided to create my own. Given my confusion about the workshop lessons, I checked the premises and prescriptions of the seminar with my male friends and even with men I’ve dated. How do you feel about women making the first move? What qualities do you like in a woman? Do men really need a woman to completely zip up when they talk? How should a woman ask a man for what she needs?

It was amazing to discover how receptive and talkative these men became when I asked them about what makes the male species tick. Their answers actually validated many of the ideas I’d learned in the seminar, while challenging others.

That’s when I realized the best workshop I could ever attend is the workshop of my own life. By communicating openly, honestly and freely with the opposite sex — platonic or romantic — is how we all, men and women alike, put down our swords. And it’s free.

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at

I heart Hollywood endings

I met “Mr. Nice Guy” more than three years ago, and I cherish our special connection — he’s affectionate, understanding, a good listener, open-minded, practical …

I could go on and on. I felt fortunate that we found each other, and he indicated the same. We both want the best things life has to offer. At this time in my life he’s the kind of partner I’m looking for. With his work schedule and other commitments, I knew from the get-go I would have to be kind and very flexible. That’s not an issue for me.

“Mr. Nice Guy” said more than once, “I’ll always be your friend.” Now I’m puzzled and confused because I’ve received an e-mail from him saying, “I met someone.” What does that mean? Does it mean what I think it means? He seems to have an odd definition of friendship. I thought I misinterpreted the message, so I asked him to meet me for a face-to-face conversation. I received a reply that he had no problem with that idea and would e-mail me when he got back from his business trip. Well, I’m still waiting.

Our friendship has been somewhat nontraditional and had a life of its own. I’m guessing that this could be the end of “Mr. Nice Guy.” I cannot tell a lie; I’m very hurt — devastated. I feel as if I have been pushed off a cliff (while he was proclaiming friendship), landed on jagged rocks and broken glass and got bruised from head to toe. I lost 10 pounds (not from dieting). You may be asking what his issues are. I really don’t know. I feel I had a secret trial, was found guilty, convicted and sentenced.

In hindsight, I feel I was used and discarded like an old Costco catalogue. Apparently, I’m still naive and too trusting of people when they act sincere. I take people at their word. I don’t take friendship lightly; it’s serious to me. Friendship is a long-term commitment that has meaning; it’s being loyal and accepting the other person as is, the good parts along with the blemishes. Occasionally he mentioned our differences, but when I asked for specifics, I never got a direct response. I pointed out that differences add spice to a friendship.

The other side of it is, we both know we have many things in common. I suggested we focus on the things in common. Over the years, we have shared many things about ourselves and our families. We have traditional values, and family is important to both of us. However, I now have learned a lot about “Mr. Nice Guy’s” character. He’s good at hiding behind e-mail.

I believe our paths crossed for a reason — to bring both of us joy and happiness, not to bring me heartbreak and grief. Like everyone else, we both need to be needed and want to be wanted. Yet I think now it may be time for me to take the advice of a close friend: “Walk away. He’s not worth it.” However, my emotional side is a little slow at catching up with my intellectual side.

These days I’m getting my accolades from doing stand-up comedy. All my tears and pain provide lots of comic material. I’m definitely unique and have a niche. If someone had told me a few years ago that I would be doing stand-up, writing my own material and enjoying it, I never would have believed it. I’m starting to pinch myself occasionally — just to be sure this is really happening. I’m enjoying my new-found skin; however, inside I’m still the same down-to-earth, sensitive, friendly and generous person I’ve always been. I’m playful, fun to be with and funny — that’s all part of my charm and likeability.

And I’m an equal-opportunity offender: people I meet never know when they might become a one-liner in my routine. My friends think this is great — spunky and gutsy of me. They admit they couldn’t do it, and they are supportive.

I love the attention that the laughs and the applause bring. All friends (new and old) are welcome to come along on my journey — it’s an E-ticket ride, an unpredictable adventure, and I know my sons, their families, and my other relatives are proud of me and my many accomplishments. But in private I’m still a romantic, a daydreamer — and I still believe in the old notion of boy chases girl, boy catches girl. I guess that, despite the fact that I’m making my way in the modern world, I still want the old-fashioned, happy Hollywood ending.

Esther W. Hersh can be reached at

A physician examines his profession’s blind spots

Jerome Groopman is a physician and clinical scientist at Harvard University, a specialist in AIDS and cancer. He’s also a writer for The New Yorker, with a successful and thought-provoking series of books on such topics as the intersection of spirituality and medicine and the importance of a physician’s intuition. His new book, “How Doctors Think,” asks the question: Why do doctors make mistakes and how can we keep them from happening?

Zachary Sholem Berger: How can patient and doctor better understand each other?

Jerome Groopman: Language is still the bedrock of medicine, despite all the great technology we have. I have a great doctor who listens very carefully, lets me tell my story; sometimes he interrupts to guide me. He is an active listener, explaining how he understood what I said and then explaining his thinking to me.

I’ve tried to make myself a better doctor. Like most medical students, I was not educated in thinking about thinking. At least I’ve become much more self-aware. Hopefully through the process of writing this book, I’ll think better for my patients.

ZSB: How can a doctor retrain himself or herself in order to listen more, be open to more diagnostic possibilities?

JG: By and large, we do a good job as doctors. We’re right about 80 percent of the time — our misdiagnosis rate is 15 percent to 20 percent, which is remarkable. But in about half of misdiagnoses, there is serious harm to the patient. My hope is that people in charge of medical education will seriously look at this and ask how can we do better in terms of educating doctors to think about their thinking and avoiding pitfalls.

This concern comes out of the experience of the patient. Because we doctors see so many people, thinking in the moment, we have to use shortcuts. If lay people become educated about how we think, with a few appropriate and directed questions, they could help us think better.

They should ask, “Could this be anything else?” or “I’m worried this is something serious.”

That is the genuine partnership.

ZSB: Could it be that the issue is not only thinking, but that doctor and patient need to understand how the other feels?

JG: There’s an integration of thinking and feeling; our emotions color our thought processes. In the real world, pitfalls in thinking are also influenced by our emotions. So you have to recognize feelings — to be self-aware and know there are going to be patients that you adore. That can impair your judgment, as well. The flip side is there are patients we don’t like, that we find irritating or provocative.

ZSB: Do patients have to recognize feelings, as well?

JG: It’s much harder to be a patient than a doctor. Research I mention in the book shows that patients pick up accurately if doctors like them or don’t like them. Patients need to defuse such a situation or open it up. There are patients who have said to me, “I can feel how devoted you are to me. I don’t want you to hold back.” If [on the other hand] you feel like the doctor’s irritating you, as I experienced myself as a patient, that’s a red flag.

ZSB: What does the Jewish tradition mean to you?

JG: I feel its importance very deeply. There is room in it for doubt and skepticism and questioning, not a sense of infallibility. There’s also extraordinary psychological insight with regard to motivation and character. For example, Maimonides talks about magical thinking, and the Torah talks about not believing in sorcery — often patients do have magical thinking, believing that they will be saved.

ZSB: Doctors, too — magical thinking guards us against admitting our ignorance.

JG: That’s right! So we should be challenging ourselves. Judaism impels you to challenge yourself. In the greatest debates in Talmud, you are able to challenge the greatest authorities.

ZSB: Do you feel recourse to spirituality, to God?

JG: As much as I wish there were miracles — boom, my hand’s fixed — those are fantasies. What Judaism teaches us is the knowledge that we’re created with reservoirs of resilience. We are created with the capacity of wisdom, which means judgment — not just knowledge, but the ability to assess and weigh that knowledge to make choices. Very integral in Judaism is the sense of hope. There is capacity to improve. What it takes is drawing on gifts of science with mobilization of the spirit.

ZSB: How do you mobilize the patient’s spirit?

JG: I try to draw from them wellsprings of their resilience, to lift them up as best I can. The diseases I deal with are serious ones. The confrontation with those kinds of realities requires energy and commitment and determination on the part of a patient.

ZSB: Is the spirituality you’ve talked about just a fancy name for trying to inject religion?

JG: I don’t think you need to be religious to have a sense of awe or to look within yourself or around you for nonreligious sources of strength, whether they be family, friends or therapists. I care for many people who are atheist and agnostic, and I certainly don’t have the hubris of imposing any religious sensibility on them. My job as a physician is to help them find that core of strength and focus.

Zackary Sholem Berger, a frequent Forward contributor, is a medical resident in the primary care program at New York University.

Let’s get personal

People say they don’t really know me.

That’s what the last guy I dated said.

It seems that in the process of revealing myself on the page to total strangers, I’ve lost the ability to communicate myself in person to those who want to get to know me. Read all about it, is maybe what I should say. The last guy — well, I don’t really want to talk about him because that would be too personal — never read up on me until after his father, a big fan, told him about me. But by then it was too late. I hadn’t shared myself with him, we didn’t really connect, and it was over six weeks after it began so promisingly.

Look, I’m not taking all the blame for this one. My experience in the dating world — and if I have anything, it’s experience — tells me that the coming together of two people, or the failure of their coming together, is two-sided. He, being a never-married man of advanced age, probably has issues up the wazoo — commitment, attachment, abandonment — who knows? I wasn’t there long enough to figure them out. So it can’t be all me. It probably wasn’t even mostly me.

But still, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had been more communicative.
“You’re pretty much a mystery girl,” he said to me a number of times while we were dating.
I couldn’t understand this at the time, because I feel like an open book.

“Ask me anything, and I’ll tell you the answer,” I said, but that wasn’t his point.
He felt like he shouldn’t have to ask, that I should have volunteered the information as it came up.

Not everyone’s a busybody journalist like myself, who peppers people with questions, questions, questions.

“Sometimes I feel like you’re interviewing me,” he said, also more than once.

I wasn’t interviewing him. I don’t think I was interviewing him. OK, I was interviewing him for the position of my boyfriend (he didn’t get the job), but have I really so confused my job with my personality that I don’t know how to get to know someone without putting on the reporter’s mask?

I am starting to worry about myself. Now that the smoke has cleared from the sadness of the end — yes, I always get sad in the end, no matter how brief, how inappropriate, how missed the connection was — I can see what transpired. And I’m worried I have become my persona, a facsimile of myself.

“You talk a lot but you don’t reveal much,” a new-ish friend of mine recently said while we were having a girls’ lunch. True, she’s not my best friend and probably never will be, but it was interesting to hear this point of view.

“Do you mean I’m full of it?” I wanted to know.

“No, not at all,” she said, “but I don’t really know what’s going on with you — which is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s better than a person who tells everything to everyone.”

It’s funny, because I thought I was that person. I thought I was the person who wears her heart on her sleeve — her heart on the page, in my case. But the other woman at lunch, whom I consider a good friend, said the same thing.

“You keep things pretty close to the chest,” she said.

Doesn’t everyone do this? Doesn’t everyone have a very, very select group of people to whom they will cry, worry, rant, rave? Is it just that I have a wider circle of people, professional and personal, who are not in this select circle? Or, in my quest for privacy in a public world, have I become inscrutable?

What really plagues me in the early morning hours — reveal: I have sporadic insomnia — is what would have happened with this guy if I’d shared more of myself? Would we still be together? I’m guessing not. I’m guessing there was something in me that sensed he wasn’t the one for me, so I didn’t open up.

But now I wonder if I’ve got it all backward. Maybe I don’t need to see if someone is right for me to be myself.

Because in the end, after six weeks of a relationship that didn’t work out, maybe I saved myself a tear or two — after all, I console myself, we didn’t really connect, he didn’t really know me — but … he didn’t really know me. And this, this guy, these dates, is less about him than about me.

What it’s about — not only the endgame of finding a life partner, but the entire process of dating, meeting, connecting — is to be yourself.




Closing the curtain

In March, I had the privilege of co-starring in the Jerusalem premiere of Neil LaBute’s play “Some Girl(s)” at the Center Stage Theater at Merkaz Hamagshimim
Hadassah. The play follows Guy, an about-to-be-married 33-year-old American writer, as he tracks down his ex-flames to “right some wrongs” so he can begin his new life with a clean slate … or so it seems.

I was cast as Reggie, a character LaBute added between the London and New York performances but who had her debut in Israel. Reggie is the sister of Guy’s childhood best friend. She and Guy meet 15 years after Guy kissed Reggie in a not-so-appropriate way at her 12th birthday party. Understandably, the incident profoundly affected Reggie into adulthood. My scene captured her quest for closure.

To get into character, I decided to draw from my own life. The question was: Could a relationship I’d had with an Israeli serve as a model for a play that dissects the relationship habits of a “jerky” American? I asked LaBute by e-mail if Guy’s behavior is categorically American, to which he replied: “I don’t think American men corner the market on being jerks, but we certainly know how to make the market work for us. American men are usually better at ‘smoothing over’ their jerky side ….”

Indeed, looking back at my relationship with one Israeli man, there had been no “smoothing over” of anything. The closure was raw and real, just like the life-altering experience that had troubled me for so long.

Reggie “never spoke to anybody about it,” and I, too, had kept silent. While our encounters were very different, both had aroused hurt, shame and confusion. By writing now about the experience, I’m acting out one of Reggie’s fantasies. Also a journalist, Reggie comments: “This would make a hell of an article.”

I met Israel, not his real name, at a karaoke bar in Tel Aviv. At the time, I was questioning my modern Orthodox lifestyle — and I was vulnerable, curious, and, yes, hormonal. Israel was handsome, charming, muscular — the picture-perfect, macho Israeli. He even worked as a manual laborer — how sexy.

I invited him to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv for our second date, and I kept telling him I couldn’t understand why I liked him — he wasn’t this great intellect I had imagined I’d fall for. Needless to say, he was offended, and he began to toy with me, to tease me about being a virgin, to tell me about the wonders of sex. Talk about torture.

After a long, demented courtship, we did it. The act wasn’t so tender or loving. He didn’t stay the night. I didn’t really care — I was too physically relieved. I called him a few days later to see “what was up,” and he just made crude jokes. Immediately, my self-assured satisfaction turned into upset and confusion — and I balled him out for being so insensitive. I didn’t see him again after that, and I decided to process this loss of innocence on my own, just like Reggie.

She held onto the memory of her first adolescent kiss and let it influence who she became. I can sympathize with her description of how she turned out: “smart, cute, hardworking … sexually appropriate at a pretty early age, just making it some days, and other times off-the-charts and laser sharp.”

As a reaction to sexual encounters we experience before we are truly ripe we often become more self-aware and more sexually active as a means to take back control of our identity and sexuality.

Back in Israel, four years later, I called Israel to, as Reggie put it, “clear the slate … see if we could, I dunno, sort it out somehow.”

We met at a coffee shop in Tel Aviv. I wore black slacks and an elegant, burgundy angora V-neck (a top I tried on as a costume) to assert my new, sophisticated, wiser self. Israel was still handsome, but shorter than I remembered, less muscular.

He told me he’d become a Scientologist. No matter what people say of Scientology, his new religion had definitely made him a better person. Sitting across from me was an emotionally intelligent, highly communicative and honest man.

The pace of our conversation perfectly mimicked that of the Reggie scene. I didn’t bring up the looming “subject” right away, getting through small talk and memories before the conversation turned intense and tearful. Israel listened deeply and admitted to taking advantage of me, to avenging my snobbery and to fulfilling his thrill of “popping a cherry.”

He eventually said “I’m sorry,” which are also among Guy’s last words to Reggie. Yet Israel was more forthright than Guy, and since I had been an adult at the time of our earlier encounter, he was able to press me to recognize my own failings in my dealings with him — and with myself.

I left feeling exhilarated and gratified, almost as if I’d gotten my virginity back. Two-sided closure is wonderful.

Our reunion took place about six years ago, and while I am now completely at peace with what happened, and Israel and I are friends, I didn’t stop making some bad relationship choices. There are still some men with whom I wouldn’t mind having a long chat, but I doubt they could achieve Israel’s level of sincerity. There are times when that notorious Israeli bluntness is a blessing. Ultimately, however, as Reggie suggests toward the end of the play, closure begins with taking responsibility for our own choices.

For now, I’ll take my performance and the reflection it triggered as my vicarious, catch-all closure, and I’ll be satisfied with that.

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at

A match made in D.C.?

One of the primary reasons many groups give for the limited availability of premarital counseling programming is the lack of available funding.

However, millions of dollars are spent every year in divorce proceedings, legal fees and mediation and, with that in mind, the federal government offers grants through the Administration for Children and Families’ Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood program, established under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.

The initiative provides $100 million in grants for faith-based groups and individuals to administer programs that fall under at least one of the following eight categories:

  • Public advertising campaigns on the value of marriage and the skills needed to increase marital stability and health.
  • Education in high schools on the value of marriage, relationship skills and budgeting.
  • Marriage education, marriage skills, and relationship skills programs — which may include parenting skills, financial management, conflict resolution and job and career advancement — for non-married pregnant women and non-married expectant fathers.
  • Premarital education and marriage skills for engaged couples and for couples or individuals interested in marriage.
  • Marriage enhancement and marriage skills programs for married couples.
  • Divorce-reduction programs that teach relationship skills.
  • Marriage mentoring programs that use married couples as role models and mentors in at-risk communities.
  • Programs to reduce the disincentives to marriage in means-tested aid programs, if offered in conjunction with any activity described above.

In addition to information about the type of training an agency or synagogue intends to provide and their target audience, applicants must describe how issues of domestic violence will be addressed, and show that program participation is voluntary. The funding is available through 2010.

Many Jewish groups have yet to tap into these resources, because “they see it as a ‘Christian’ project” and might not agree with the government guidelines toward marriage and family, psychologist and author Dr. Joel Crohn said.

Those who oppose the federal grants argue that government-sponsored marriage promotion could encourage women to stay in abusive relationships by discouraging leaving a spouse in cases of domestic violence.

Proponents, however, say the programs can improve relationships by getting to the root of problems and encouraging couples to communicate, thereby reducing the incidence of domestic violence.

For more information, visit

Progressive values propel Daniel Sokatch’s rising star

When Daniel Sokatch enrolled in rabbinical school in Israel in 1994, he had visions of becoming a religious leader dedicated to social justice, much in the vein of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But Sokatch, now 38, quickly realized that the rabbinical program at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Jerusalem was committed to training rabbis and not activists. So after eight months, he decided to quit.

Sokatch met with the school’s dean at the time to break the news, telling him that he planned to get a law degree, study international relations and work in the Jewish community, pursuing social justice in some capacity. The dean looked at Sokatch, paused, and shocked him by promising to forgive the thousands of dollars in loans Sokatch had racked up for school tuition.

“I believe you’ll do everything you say you’re going to do,” he said.
And so he has. Sokatch is the founding executive director of Los Angeles-based Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a nondenominational group dedicated, in his words, to “connecting Jews to the critical social justice issues facing our city, such as criminal and economic justice and interfaith dialogue. ”

Under Sokatch’s seven-year tenure, PJA’s membership has reached 4,000. In May 2005, the nonprofit opened a second office in San Francisco.

The Forward has twice named Sokatch to the “Forward 50,” a listing of the most influential Jews in America.

“He has kept a steady focus on labor and immigrant issues, leading efforts for Muslim-Jewish dialogue and helping patch up labor disputes,” the newspaper said.

PJA has played an important role in the enactment of anti-sweatshop legislation in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berkeley, reflecting Sokatch’s belief that “kosher should be about more than the way food’s prepared; it should be about the way people are treated who work with us.” PJA has also successfully lobbied on behalf of Los Angeles hotel workers to increase their wages. In 2002, PJA created a mediation program for nonviolent juvenile offenders that offers an alternative to incarceration. The program has a recidivism rate of less than 20 percent.

“I think Daniel is a rising star in the Jewish professional constellation of this city,” said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “He’s smart, charismatic and effective.”

PJA has also taken controversial steps to keep alive communication between local Muslims and Jews. Early next month, the PJA and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) are expected to unveil NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, a program designed to foster greater interfaith dialogue and cooperation. (See related story on page 14.)

Sokatch, as he promised the HUC-JIR dean all those years ago, did become a lawyer. But it is his Jewish values that most define him. He steeps PJA’s efforts in Jewish tradition and in tikkun olam (heal the world), giving political and social action a religious basis. His single-minded commitment often drives him to put in 70-hour work weeks and push until some measure of justice is done.

“If you are Jewish, whether secular or religious, whether ethnically or culturally, atheist or Orthodox, there is a central animating principle to being Jewish, which is repair the world,” Sokatch said. “That is the prophetic mission and the rabbinic imperative.”

Sokatch and his younger brother, Andrew, now an expert in educational reform and child welfare, grew up in Cheshire, Conn., in a “good, Jewish liberal home.” His father, Sy, worked as the director of human resources at Yale University. His mother, Ann, studied counseling psychology at Southern Connecticut State College. From his parents, he said he learned “the importance of the warmth and love of family and the need to work hard.”

But it was a trio of older relatives in New York City, he said, who shaped his views on civic engagement. His aunt, Lottie Gold, served as New York state’s first female deputy secretary of state in the 1950s. Sydney Gold, his uncle, and Irving Stillerman, his maternal grandfather, were New York City judges.

“What I got from these people was a deep, deep sense of patriotism and a love of country,” Sokatch said. “They taught me that service to the community at large was something we just did, both as Jews and as Americans.”

Judaism was another major influence. Raised Reform, Sokatch attended Jewish summer camps and went to Hebrew school throughout high school.

“I loved all aspects of Judaism, the traditions, the holidays, the story of Israel,” he said. “It always felt natural to me. It felt like breathing.”
At 11, his family moved from liberal New England to conservative Cincinnati, where Sokatch spent nearly a decade. It was there, Sokatch said, where he learned that “there is no us or them, blue states or red states; we’re all Americans who share the same goals of a better world.”

Sokatch spent his junior year of college in Ireland, studying the Irish conflict. He later earned a master’s degree in international affairs at the prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University near Boston, further deepening his empathy for and appreciation of different cultures.

“He’s a 21st-century prophet,” said the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, who calls himself a “soul” friend of Sokatch. “By that, I mean Daniel knows that God is for all people and cares about the happiness and healing of everyone.”

Sokatch’s even-keeled temperament and unfailing graciousness have won him plaudits from many in the Jewish community who do not always share his political views. Gary Ratner, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, Western Region, said he considers Sokatch an “excellent, excellent, fine young man” with a deep commitment to making the world better, this despite the fact, Ratner said, that “we certainly have many disagreements about what those problems are and how to fix them.”

However, Ratner and other Jewish leaders are troubled by Sokatch’s willingness to work with MPAC, which they consider a radical, anti-Israel organization.

Online social scene clicks with younger set

OK, admit it. You’ve breathed a guilty sigh of relief that your kids are still too young to have been bitten by the MySpace bug. You’ve relished the reprieve (if only temporary) from the mounting worries of parents of virtual-social-networking-obsessed middle and high schoolers.

But just because your child is still a few years short of acne and raging hormones doesn’t mean he or she isn’t involved with online social networking. In fact, tens of millions of elementary-age kids (6-years-old and up) have posted personal pages on Web sites that are — for all intents and purposes — mini-MySpace.coms.

On the wildly popular ‘ target=’_blank’> (as in General Mills cereals), kids create cartoon-like “buddies” and custom-built homes, and then meander around town socializing with Millsberry’s bottomless bowlful of citizens.

On ‘ target=’_blank’> members build Lego self-representations and then schmooze to their heart’s content about the plastic interlocking cubes.

Inching closer to prime-time MySpace in terms of logistics and curb appeal, At Party Time: Candy is dandy — charity is sweeter

Letters to Mom

Dear Mother,

Here we are again on the plains of Bethel. We’re in the 10th month of our 10th year in Canaan. Sorry I haven’t written. There were
so many things happening, but none of them so important to justify my negligence. The famine, Pharaoh, Avimelech, the war — they all came and went and I remained the same. I wanted to believe that this move to Canaan would open a new chapter in my life, but boy was I disappointed.

You remember the day of my wedding? Such joy! Such innocence! I thought it would be only a matter of time before I became a mother. But with every year that passed, the dream seemed more remote and unreachable. Everyone was celebrating motherhood and parenthood, the little voices of children filling their homes with joy and happiness. And me? Nothing. I felt alienated and rejected. I felt their furtive glances as I was passing by, as if I was carrying a curse, a terrible disease.

You were the only one who understood, but there was nothing you could do. God alone can count the tears I shed, day after day, year after year, praying, yearning for a child that will redeem me from my solitude, from my agony and my shame. Oh, was I glad to go when the Divine order came to leave Haran. Just go away and leave behind me all the pitying, mercy filled, hypocrite faces. Yes, it was difficult to go and leave you and Dad behind, but I did it not just to fulfill the Divine commandment and follow my husband, but also because I secretly hoped that the move will bring a change, a blessing. But this was not what God wanted.

Abram says that I am a righteous woman and that God enjoys my prayers and supplications. I appreciate that, but enough is enough, we’ve spent 10 years in Canaan and nada. I want to have a child. I want to have a child!


Dear Mother,

Sorry it’s been a couple months since I last wrote you. We’re at the Oaks of Mamre, and I’ve figured out a solution. It’s painful, but I can live with it. I will have Abram marry my maidservant Hagar (remember, the Egyptian girl?). She will be the surrogate mother of my child. Don’t try to dissuade me. I’ve made up my mind, and I know of several respectful families who have gone through this process successfully.


Dear Mother,

It’s over; she’s gone. We don’t know where or when, but she has disappeared from Be’er Sheva. I should be happy, I should be celebrating, but I’m not. I feel terrible. I didn’t mean it to happen like that. All I wanted was to have a child we could call our own, but things got out of hand.

This tricky, treacherous, no-good maid knew very well how to rub it in. “I’m tired,” “I’m nauseated,” “I feel so hungry,” “I crave this” and “Sorry, I can’t bend down to bring you that, Sarai.” All very subtle; not the kind of things a man would notice.

Don’t get me wrong, Ma, I love and respect Abram. But why is his quest of justice reserved only for foreigners? Sodom and Gomorra deserve justice, with all their sins. Meanwhile, I’m abused daily by this Hagar. Do I not deserve justice? These things pass right over his head.

That’s why I blew up. Justice is all I want! He should give me the same treatment he gave Sodom. He stood up to defend those sinners, why not me? And all he said to me was: “Well, what do you want from me? She is your maid. Do whatever you want with her.” And, believe me, I did just that; I didn’t give her a free moment.

But now she’s gone, and I feel miserable. It all swelled up in me — all the anger and frustration, years of sterility, endless nights of crying and, worst of all, the notion that my husband doesn’t understand me. So I took it all on her and I am not so sure I did the right thing.


P.S.: Last night I had a terrible dream, my descendants were persecuted by hers, tortured and expelled, and that voice kept echoing in my mind: “See what you’ve done. See what you’ve done!”

These letters were not unearthed in the hills of Canaan, but they offer a possible interpretation of the events in this week’s parsha.

Rabbi Moshe Ben Nahman, however, does suggest that Sarah should not have tortured Hagar, and that the persecution of Jews by Muslims in the 11th and 12th century is a direct consequence of that behavior. The message that no action goes unnoticed or unaccounted for and that communication is essential to a healthy family and society reverberates to this day.

We can only imagine how different things would be if the protagonists in the story would talk with one another, try to define the problems and solve them, instead of being swept away by emotions. How often do we channel anger and frustration at the wrong people? Did you ever interpret someone’s action in a certain way and gave them no chance to explain before attacking?
By telling us the story with all its intricate human relationships and the tragic outcome, the Torah teaches us an important lesson about our daily interaction with the people surrounding us. And this lesson is as applicable in American suburbia as it was at the hilltops of Canaan.

Haim Ovadia is rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation, a Sephardic congregation in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at

Jews join the quest for space commerce

In the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a commercial Pan Am Space Clipper flight carries civilians to the wheel-shaped Space Station V, which features a Hilton Hotel and a Howard Johnson’s. Naturally, the calls to Earth via videophone are handled by AT&T’s forerunner Bell, and the charges for the call go on American Express.

While the film’s rampant commercialism was more social commentary than foresight, recent technological advances have boosted private enterprise into a field once considered government’s exclusive domain.

Commercial space interests are now playing a critical role in the dawn of the second space age — one built on business ventures and international cooperation. Instead of Hilton and Pan Am, the corporate names associated with the commercialization of space include Budget Suites and Virgin.

A new space race by corporate interests is being fueled by the dreams — and wallets — of prosperous entrepreneurs. Their investments are leading to the kind of technological developments that seemed like science fiction a decade ago. And Jews are represented in all aspects of the field, from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to former NASA director turned consultant Dan Goldin.
“It’s at every level. You see Jews in leadership positions as well as rank-and-file engineers and lawyers,” said Mike Gold, a Brandeis graduate who serves as corporate counsel for Bigelow Aerospace, a commercial spacecraft and space habitat company founded by Budget Suites mogul Robert Bigelow. “It’s part of the dream that a lot of people share.”

The tantalizing prospect of manned space travel was first realized by Yuri Gagarin’s flight aboard the Soviet-made Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961, which was followed by the U.S. team of Alan Shepard and John Glenn in NASA’s Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962.
Immediately after the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1968, air carriers Pan Am and TWA started taking reservations for future flights to the moon; Pan Am logged more than 90,000 reservations.

The Reagan administration provided the legal framework for private space travel in 1984 with the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Act. Under government regulations, the FAA’s Office for Commercial Space Transportation oversees private space launches, while the Office of Space Commercialization, part of the NOAA Satellite and Information Service, coordinates space-related issues, programs and initiatives within the Department of Commerce.

But space tourism continued to be viewed as the stuff of “2001” until former JPL scientist Dennis Tito paid $20 million to U.S.-based Space Adventures to visit the International Space Station on April 28, 2001, with the assistance of Russia’s federal space agency. His seven-day space holiday, and that of three other space tourists, has brought the dream of civilian space flight another step closer.

But the reality on the ground is that the industry carries tremendous pressures, especially to build successful business strategies that don’t rely on a few wealthy entrepreneurs’ bank accounts.

“One of the reasons why there hasn’t been a lot of truly commercial ventures in the space industry to date are the large upfront capital requirements,” said Lawrence Williams, vice president for international and government affairs at SpaceX, who is Jewish and came to the industry through communications work for the Clinton administration and Bill Gates’ satellite project Teledesics. “That’s why typically it’s only been governments that have been involved in this.”

The first private space flight took place on June 21, 2004, when the commercial suborbital craft, SpaceShipOne, reached a point more than 100 kilometers above the earth. The estimated $25 million cost of developing SpaceShipOne, which was built by Scaled Composites and went on to capture the $10 million Ansari X Prize on Oct. 4, was underwritten exclusively by Microsoft’s Allen.
His Mojave Aerospace is now licensing the technology to VirginGalactic, which plans to send up 500 people annually on a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo ships starting in 2008. The reservation list currently stands at about 65,000 people, with suborbital trips costing $208,000 per passenger.

Companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, Space Island Group and Bigelow Aerospace know that establishing a profitable presence in space must be based on more than just enabling passengers to experience seven minutes of weightlessness or allowing private citizens to live aboard an orbiting space hotel for a week. Industry experts say the only proven revenue stream thus far has been satellite development and satellite launches.

Alon Gany, head of the Fine Rocket Propulsion Center at Technion–Israel’s Institute of Technology, said that space investment from Israel’s private sector is tied almost exclusively to satellite technologies.

“One of the main efforts is the improvement of communication satellites. The other thing is developing specific components that are necessary for advanced satellites, like high-resolution cameras and cameras in different wavelengths, like infrared,” he said.
Risk-averse firms are looking to opportunities that can turn a profit — from satellites launches and NASA supply contracts to unique research and development in a zero-gravity environment.

“There’s all sorts of new drug treatments and biotech development that you can do in microgravity that you can’t do on Earth. It’s like opening up a whole new laboratory where all the rules are different because everything reacts differently,” Bigelow Aerospace counsel Gold said.

Gold, 33, said his work for Bigelow Aerospace is the fulfillment of a longstanding dream fed by the first space age.

“I grew up a ‘Star Trek’ fan, my grandfather worked on the Apollo missions, and I always had a huge interest in space.

Unfortunately, my interest was directly proportional to my lack of skill in the sciences, which is why I had to find my way to it via law,” he said.

Gold says that while space travel carries inherent dangers, private industry stands to lose more from a catastrophic loss than the federal government.

“Even without government regulation, we’re already highly incentivized. If we want to have industry here, customers and participants need to have a safe, reliable and affordable system in place,” he said.

As private industry prepares to stake claims in space following government’s Lewis-and-Clark-like exploration of the final frontier, many experts believe that a side benefit of putting more civilians in orbit will be a greater push for peace on Earth, especially in hot spots like the Middle East.

No Vacation

The Israeli woman in the hot tub was feeling terrible.

She saw me wearing a T-shirt with Hebrew writing, and I heard her speaking to her daughter inHebrew, so naturally, amid the hundreds of sunbathers crowding the pool area of the Squaw Valley Resort, we found each other.

“It feels good to find someone to talk to about it,” she said.

By “it” she meant the situation her parents and extended family, who live on a kibbutz in the middle of the country, are facing.

The snow-capped Sierras jutted into a deeply blue sky. The hot tub bubbled away.”Israelis don’t want to run away when there’s a war,” the woman explained. “We want to run home.”

The night before, a relative from a northern kibbutz had e-mailed her a slide show of the after-effects of a Hezbollah rocket attack, and she had stayed awake playing it over and over in her hotel room.

All around us kids splashed, adults sipped pastel-colored rum drinks, the sunlight bounced off distant glaciers — and the Israeli woman told me she couldn’t relax.

What a week to vacation.

My wife and kids and I drove up U.S. Highway 395, crossed the Monitor Pass through a remote and perfect alpine landscape. But I am a subscriber to Sirius satellite radio, so as we descended through Markleeville, population 52, we heard CNN’s report on Israel’s gathering momentum for a ground invasion of Lebanon.

There was no cell phone reception at our little rented cabin near the west shore of Lake Tahoe, no Internet hot spots. But DISH network saucers grew at the base of the tall pines like forest mushrooms. By day we joined vacationers in serious pursuit of escape — tubing down the Truckee River, leaping off the dock into the deep, cold lake. At night, we watched missiles rain down on northern Israel and air strikes in Beirut. I turned away from the TV after realizing I was spending more time with CNN correspondent John Roberts, “reporting from the Israel-Lebanon border” than I was with my kids.

But the news kept coming. After a day at Sugar Pine Point State Park, an idyllic spot where Isaiah W. Hellman built a fine mansion on a quiet stretch of beach, I logged on to my e-mail to find that a deranged man had shot his way into the Seattle Federation building, killing Pamela Waechter, 58, and wounding four others.

At the gym at Squaw Creek, two men argued over Israel’s new war.

“At least we’re out of this one,” said one.

“Are you kidding?” his friend countered.

On cue, images of demonstrators in the streets of Beirut filled the flat screen mounted to his Stairmaster. “We get blamed for everything Israel does.”It’s a truism that technology has shrunk the globe and brought the tribulations of distant lands to our doorstep, or to our vacations. As much as we try to pretend there’s a faraway “they” and a safe and sheltered “we,” there are precious few places left to hide for long.

That goes double, triple for Jews. History has shown that world events have a way of catching up to Jews to us quickly, sometimes brutally. Until they do, each one of us chooses our place on the sliding scale from they to we. We can luxuriate in selecting the extent of our identity, the depth of our involvement — until we can’t.

The we-ness of our world came home to me as we dropped our son off for a stay at Camp Tawonga, a venerable Jewish camp tucked into a Tuolumne River valley. I noticed the roster listed several campers from towns in northern Israel — Kiryat Shemona, Metulla.

Camp director Ann B. Gonski told me that, for several years now, Tawonga has hosted Israeli children and counselors from northern Israel — Kiryat Shemona is a sister city to San Francisco’s Jewish community. This year there are 34 Israelis at the camp, sponsored largely by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation.

For these kids, Gonski said, camp will be a special respite from the violence. In the past the rules were one phone call home per week per Israeli.”This year,” she said, “we’re open to a lot more communication”As for counselors, Gonski said the Americans have received special training to deal with their Israeli counterparts: “We’ve told them, remember that your colleagues are really stressed. Be there for them, they’re a long way from home.”

As for my wife, daughter and me, we drove home, straight into the brouhaha about Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant. Now firmly ensconced behind my desk, I asked my friend Bryan, a television director, what accounted for the public silence from so many Hollywood Jews. Where was the sense of identity, of a communal fate that transcends business? Can’t they see a direct correction between those who hate Jews and those, like the Seattle shooter, who act on their hatred? Why don’t they choose to identify, like the people in Camp Tawonga, with a larger, communal need?

“Everybody has their head in the Garden of Finzi Contini and wants this all to go away,” Bryan said, citing the movie about Italian Jews oblivious to the impending Holocaust. “It’s actually the Garden of Malibu Contini — everybody’s playing tennis and golf and refusing to accept that hatred of this magnitude exists at the exclusive sushi table next to them.”

That is, until the vacation is over.

The Circuit

Good as Guild

Lunch and laughter was on the menu when The Beverly Hills Theatre Guild honored two pioneer workers for their service to the Guild and the community. Civic leaders Sooky Goldman, founding president, and Janet Salter, president for the past 10 years, were recipients of the Spotlight Award for their years of service. Goldman’s award was presented by actress Anne Jeffreys Sterling and show biz legend Jayne Meadows presented Salter’s award.

Host extraordinaire Monty Hall, served as emcee, presenting a program featuring Jack Carter, Norm Crosby, Sally Struthers, Pepper Edmiston and Stan Freberg. Hall and Rabbi Jacob Pressman did their version of vaudevillians Gallagher and Sheen, as a humorous tribute to the honorees.

Also on the program were the recipients of the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild/Julie Harris Playwright Award, presented by Fay Kanin. The Janet & Maxwell Salter first prize went to David Hoag; second prize, by the Salters, was given to Hugh O’Neill; and the Dr. Henry and Lilian Nesburn third prize was awarded to Philip Ardell. The Irma and Louis Colen Musical Theatre Award went to Robert Freedman and Steve Lutvak, accompanied by a performance of one of the songs by Lutvak.

Proceeds from the event will enhance and enrich theatrical experiences for children and seniors in the community.

Techy Talk

Martin Kellner, past president of the American Technion Society (ATS) national board introduces incoming ATS national president Joan Seidel. The announcement took place at an ATS Einstein Circle dinner held at the Four Seasons Hotel on Feb. 8.

The Candidate

Community activist Rona Ram became the first female and youngest Iranian Jewish candidate to run for this summer’s World Zionist Congress international conference being held in Jerusalem.

Ram, 22, a former UCLA Hillel student leader and activist for Israeli soldiers, said she decided to run on the Dor Zion party’s slate in order to represent the nearly 30,000 Iranian Jews living in Southern California who have rarely been politically active in the past.

“To me the World Zionist Congress is an embodiment of a shift — it’s a realization that with our success as Persian Jews comes a recognition and responsibility, that we are key players in an international world,” Ram said.

For nearly two months, Ram and her siblings have tried to energize younger Iranian Jews in the community to register online as members of World Zionist Congress and vote for her. Other Iranian Jewish candidates running for spots on the Dor Zion slate include local attorneys David Nahai and Simon Pouretehad. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

At the Mic

USC graduate student Debra Marisa Greene received the Radio Television News Association Jim Zaillian Memorial Scholarship on Jan. 21 at the Universal Hilton. Nearly 400 journalists were present for the ceremonies, which featured the 56th Annual Golden Mike Awards. KTLA news director Jeff Wald and KTLA nighttime news anchor Hal Fishman were Golden Mike winners.

Greene, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from UCLA, is currently a master’s student at the Annenberg School for Communication at USC. She is pursuing a career in both broadcast and print journalism. The Jim Zaillian Memorial Scholarship was named for the late KNX-AM radio news director who had a special interest in the education of broadcast journalism students.

Girardi’s Friends

Celebrated trial attorney Thomas Girardi was honored by American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU) for his outstanding legal and philanthropic work. The AFHU, which provides support for The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, bestowed Girardi with the Harvey L. Silbert Torch of Learning Award at its annual Law Society Dinner.

“It is extraordinary to receive an award named after someone who has done so much. I only hope I can do a small percentage of what he did,” Girardi said.

Nationally syndicated radio host Larry Elder emceed the event at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

The Torch of Learning Award was named in honor of Harvey Silbert, an acclaimed humanitarian, who sustained a long-standing involvement in regional, national, and international philanthropic causes until his death in September 2002.

Girardi is the president of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers.

Going to Bat

Eighty-year-old Dorothy Delmonte, who also serves as the local head of the Red Hat Society, which celebrates women 50 and over who embrace age with “enthusiasm, verve and humor,” was recently bat mitzvahed. Rabbi William Gordon performed the rarely seen service at The Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging/Eisenberg Village. Delmonte said her goal in being bat mitzvahed was “to be closer to God.”


Nonverbal Baby Talk a Sign of the Times

While other infants and young toddlers let out a howl when they are hungry, 14-month-old Emmet Weisz simply brings his hands together at the heel and rotates the right hand over the left, making the hand-sign for his favorite food: cheese.

“He has a great love for dairy,” laughed Emmet’s mother, Rabbi Debra Orenstein, who lives in the Pico-Robertson area. “If I say it’s time for lunch or let’s go to the kitchen, he’ll sign ‘cheese.'”

Rather than waiting for her son to express himself verbally, Orenstein, like many Southland parents, decided to enhance Emmet’s language skills by taking baby sign-language classes. Teaching sign-language to preverbal hearing babies is one of the fastest-growing parenting trends in North America.

“Imagine that your baby is crying at night and you have to play the guessing game as to what the baby wants. Baby sign-language makes it so easy because they tell you exactly what they want,” said Etel Leit, founder of SignShine, a West L.A.-based company that offers American Sign-Language (ASL) workshops and classes for parents, caregivers and children.

Teaching her 19-month-old daughter, Zoë, more than 100 signs has quelled those late-night brainteasers. In addition, sign-language has become a unifying language in the family’s bilingual household.

While signing has only recently become popular for nondisabled children, it has been used to help special-needs children communicate for decades. At the UCLA Intervention Program, a program for infants and toddlers with a variety of disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, sign-language is one of the typical means used to help children with language delays.

The recent popularity of baby signing is a comfort to many families with special needs children.

“It’s nice that [signing] has become mainstream,” said executive director Kit Kehr. “It helps the families in our program feel like it’s not an odd thing they’re doing.”

Research shows that sign-language reduces frustration between parent and child, helps accelerate verbal language development, can serve as a bridge between English and non-English speakers and may increase a child’s IQ.

Not everyone agrees. Critics of the trend feel that teaching babies to sign is a symptom of an overachieving parent. Other naysayers fear that parents will depend on sign-language and abandon the spoken word.

“I don’t think parents should ever use [sign-language] as a substitute for speech or as a way to teach children to develop language faster,” said Deena Bernstein, professor and chairman of the department of speech-language-hearing sciences at City University of New York’s Lehman College in the Bronx. “I think children are born to talk and some believe they are pre-programmed physiologically to do so.”

Leit, however, has seen the benefits firsthand.

In her Sign, Sing and Play classes, parents and/or caregivers and their children attend six one-hour classes consisting of interactive games, music, singing and storytelling. By the end of the series, parents and children are exposed to over 100 signs focusing on topics like mealtime, bathtime, clothing, bedtime, animals, family, colors, emotions and playtime. Students take home supplementary materials and are told to practice throughout the week.

Babies are ready to learn sign-language when they can point and clap their hands. Leit suggests that anywhere from 4 to 6 months is a good starting point and she claims that it’s never too late to learn.

Children who already speak can also benefit from sign-language because it enhances their vocabulary. At age 2, babies who sign have more than a three-month advantage over nonsigners in the area of speech; at age 3 they often speak at a nearly 4-year-old level, according to a National Institute of Health study conducted by Dr. Linda Acredolo, a professor of psychology at UC Davis, and Dr. Susan Goodwyn, professor of psychology at California State University Stanislaus.

West Hollywood resident Revital Goodman signs with her 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Abigail.

“We use it when we’re at the park,” Goodman said. “Instead of yelling for her to come here or to come eat, we sign.”

Abigail, who is already bilingual, constantly asks her mother how to sign new words.

Dimple Tyler, a stay-at-home mom from Los Angeles, believes in the benefits of signing. After several classes, her 8-month-old son, Jonathan, is showing his first indication of interest in sign-language: a smile.

“Watching me sign is a game to him and it engages him,” Tyler said. “I can tell he’s learning the concept.”

Amusement is often the first stage for babies learning sign-language. Recognition, imitation and the baby’s first sign follow.

As a language teacher, Leit feels that her Judaism and Israeli roots have influenced her outlook on communication.

“People who know more languages are more open-minded,” she said. “Instead of looking at a deaf person or a person who speaks Hebrew or Farsi and saying how different they are, we realize how similar we all are.”

For information on SignShine classes, call (310) 613-3900 or visit


Unmarried Counseling

My neurosis is like a Ferrari. I can go from 0 to 60 in under four seconds.

One second, I’m nervous I may have said the wrong thing in a meeting; the next I’m convinced that the best way to deal with how horribly I’ve botched the situation is to toss myself off the Staten Island Ferry like Spalding Gray and be done with the whole mess.

Because of my superior emotional acceleration, I can’t take my mind to just any mechanic; I need someone good. And I need regularly scheduled maintenance and premium fuel. But to put the brakes on this metaphor and get to the point: I love therapy.

I’ve been to a baby-faced cognitive behavior specialist on New York’s Upper East Side (where they keep all the best therapists and where a Jew with a few problems can feel at home), a Buddhist in San Francisco got me through my early 20s without any felonies or lasting venereal diseases or suicide attempts. I’ve been to a “science of mind” practitioner in the Hollywood Hills who only takes referrals and once taught me how to buy a used car. I even went to a child psychologist when I was 8 and saw my cousin nearly drown. She was pulled out of the pool and revived, but I was traumatized. Thus began my trips to Lucy, a kindly older woman with a vaguely European accent who let me play with blocks and listened to me yammer. When it comes to head shrinking, I say, if you need it, go early and often.

Yet only now, after countless billable hours of therapy and multiple broken relationships, have I finally combined my two interests — men and mental health. Consider me officially “in couples counseling.”

That’s right, I’m not married, I’ve never been married, and yet I’m forking over $100 a week to sit on a nice woman’s worn leather couch in Tarzana and see if my relationship can be fixed.

I’ve only been twice but I’m already a fan. I’m not sure it’s going to patch up this particular relationship, but if it’s going to end, why not orchestrate a mature, gentle, thoughtful exit that doesn’t involve tossing someone’s belongings on the lawn and saying “good day.”

The truth is there are only so many perfectly good guys I can dispense with the second they bother me, annoy me, bore me, aggravate me or hurt me. I’m already on my zillionth serious relationship in life. Yeah, yeah, my parents had a scorched-earth divorce and historic custody battle, but if I want to figure out how to have some sort of “life partner,” I better get over it and figure out how to sustain the bad times without bailing. Because as it turns out, there will always be bad times, especially for me.

“You’re going to have these problems no matter what relationship you’re in,” said our new therapist, one of my best ever.

I suspected this, but she was so matter-of-fact about it, as if she were saying something as obvious as “the magazines in the waiting room are three months old.”

She also told us that when we fight, he’s a 12-year-old and I’m a 5-year-old, so it’s no wonder I feel bullied and he seems juvenile. This may shed some light on the fights we have, where he snaps at me and I cry for a couple hours, but the damage may be irreversible. When I sat next to him on the couch, I experienced the kind of rage that makes you light-headed, like you’re going to faint, or punch a wall, or roll your eyes right out of your head.

She zeroed right in on the problem, which is part of the spooky magic of therapy: “You’re confused. You don’t know how much is too much to put up with, what pain is from the past and has nothing to do with him.”

Isn’t this always the question? When is it time to go?

In my case, the answer has always been to run at the first sign of distress. I leave men, I leave jobs and I leave cities. I take my hand out of the fire before it burns, because that’s all I know. Now I have to figure out what happens if I leave it there.

“He isn’t a bad guy or I would tell you to leave and we’d have a separation discussion,” said the therapist, legs crossed, leaning back in her chair. “He just has terrible communication skills.”

After our first therapy session, we drove home feeling relieved, hopeful. Less than an hour later, we had a petty fight when he snapped at me for asking him twice whether he wanted a roll with dinner. There went the fantasy of the quick fix. Pass the butter and a whole new helping of resentment.

It’s normal for things to get worse right before they get better, according to the shrink. Of course, things also get worse right before you break up.

Teresa Strasser ( is an Emmy Award- and Los Angeles Press Club-winning writer. She will be appearing at the University of Judaism as part of “The Gender Smackdown” on Sunday, Dec. 4. For information or to R.S.V.P., call (310) 476-9777, ext. 473.


Balancing Tikkun Olam and Self-Interest

I’m reluctant to draw lessons from the hurricane, even if the High Holidays are a time of stock taking, and even if Jewish tradition suggests that calamities are “heavenly alarms” meant to arouse repentance. If God is speaking to us through Katrina, he might want to brush up on His communication skills.

Besides, there is a fine line between taking personal and communal lessons from calamity, and exploiting a tragedy to score political and theological points.

That being said, the hurricane and its aftermath afford a moment to consider Jewish communal priorities, and especially a moment to ask where our commitments to our own communities end and where our responsibilities to a wider world begin.

In Ian McEwan’s riveting new novel, “Saturday” (Nan A. Talese) a London brain surgeon is pondering how human beings give themselves license to kill and eat other animals, even as evidence mounts that they too feel pain.

“The key to human success and domination is to be selective in your mercies,” the surgeon concludes.

I don’t know about the success and domination part, but if it weren’t for our abilities to be selective in our mercies, I think we’d all go mad. The panorama of human suffering that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is almost too great to absorb.

We’ve all probably played out in our minds the dark fantasy of what we’d do if we had to start from scratch — no home, little money, plunked down in a far-off city. For most American Jews, the immigration era ended around 1925. For 12,000 New Orleans Jews, it began two weeks ago.

But there I go, being selective in my mercies. There’s no doubt that the human toll of the disaster fell most heavily on the poor, the black, the indigent elderly. The mostly middle-class Jews of the Gulf states fell back on friends and communities in Houston and Atlanta and Dallas, or made it to hotels where they could sit out the worst of the storm before returning to reclaim or rebuild their flooded homes.

To pity Chabad or the Jewish federations and synagogues seems almost indulgent when viewed this way, a real-life twist on the famous joke about the Jewish newspaper announcing the apocalypse: “World to end tomorrow; Jews to suffer the most.”

Tribalism does become obscene when carried to extremes. Take a recent decision by Israel’s Defense Ministry. After a Jewish gunman shot up a bus in the Galilee town of Shfaram, the Defense Ministry declared that the Israeli-Arab families of those killed were not considered terrorism victims under Israeli law. Why? Because their killer was Jewish.

Apparently, Israeli law defines terrorist acts as those carried out by “enemies of Israel.” That didn’t go down well with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who earlier had denounced the shootings in Shfaram as “a sinful act by a bloodthirsty terrorist.”

Sharon directed the Justice Ministry to amend the law so that the families could receive the same government aid accorded to victims of Palestinian violence. Call him a bleeding heart, but Sharon understands that to define terrorism as an attack by Arabs on Jews is to take tribalism to its extreme.

And yet, we need the tribal impulse if we are to cope with tragedies like Katrina, because it reduces a vast, impossible-to-grasp event to a human scale. As Primo Levi famously put it, a “single Anne Frank excites more emotion than the myriad who suffered as she did, but whose image has remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is necessary that it can be so. If we had to and were able to suffer the sufferings of everyone, we could not live.”

So we focus on the pain of those most like us, and trust that other communities of faith and feeling are doing the same for their own.

But if “we could not live” without a focus for our pain, we could not live with ourselves if we addressed only our own people’s suffering. So nearly all of the Jewish organizations accepting donations for hurricane relief — B’nai B’rith, United Jewish Communities, the Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, American Jewish Committee, Mazon — are also pledging to aid non-Jewish victims of the deluge, even as they help restore synagogues and other Jewish institutions lost under the waters.

A cynic will say we do this out of self-interest — that if gentiles see us supporting them in their time of need, they’ll also support us in ours. And community relations is a time-honored Jewish practice. But self-interest doesn’t account for an equally strong tradition of Jewish universalism, a strain that transformed the highly esoteric kabalistic concept of tikkun olam (heal the world) into a synonym for global action.

That impulse — particularizing the universal, universalizing the particular — is another gift of the Jews to the wider world. From our place as a tiny minority, we understand well what it means to be at the mercy of tragedies natural and man made. In lean times, we turn inward, emphasizing our tribal concerns over those of others. In times of plenty, we allow ourselves to reach out.

In times like these, the key to human success is remembering that we are all created in God’s image, and compelled to do the good and right thing.

Andrew Silow-Carroll is the editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.


Mama Said…

Taking relationship advice from your Jewish mother is like heeding a shiksa friend’s advice about curly hair gel. It’s not their area.

Besides, your mom has an agenda: to get you married. Sure, she wants you to be happy. But in her mind, the two may or may not coincide. Consider the following well-meaning but misguided maternal advice:

You Can’t Love Somebody Else Until You Love Yourself. Of course you can! Granted, you may not love the person in a healthy, much less reciprocal way. But you’ll think you’re in love, and the power of a delusional mind and desperate heart are a formidable combination. Besides, love and hate are far enough apart on the scale of emotions that they come full circle and become the same thing. Your self-loathing turns into other-loving, so that the more you hate yourself, the more you love the other person. Don’t wait for self-esteem to kick in before pursuing romance. That could take years of therapy and remember, you’re not getting any younger.

If You Marry for Money, You’ll Pay the Price. Not really. Money’s good and, the fact is, no matter whom you’re with, you’re bound to be disappointed eventually. Wouldn’t you rather be disappointed and rich than disappointed and broke? Think of it this way: You can be disappointed on an estate in Malibu or disappointed in a crappy, roach-infested studio apartment in Reseda. Besides, what better way to drown your disappointment than in a shopping addiction?

You Won’t Meet Anyone by Sitting Home Alone in Front of Your Computer. Actually, I’ve never met more people more quickly than by sitting home alone in front of my computer. It’s like being at a fabulous party, but looking my best (courtesy of a JDate photo taken three years ago) and not having to deal with freeway traffic or second-hand smoke. In fact, my fondest dating encounters recently have taken place from the comfort of my Aeron chair.

Just Be Yourself. Do our mothers really expect us to get to a second date by being ourselves? Will any guy show interest in a judgmental intellectual snob who visibly rolls her eyes when her date says he doesn’t know who Thomas Friedman is? On the other hand, most guys will go ga-ga over a woman who says, “No way! Me, too!” when her date declares that “Tommy Boy” is his all-time favorite movie. So if your date thinks David Spade is an underrated genius and you think David Spade is a moron, feel free to borrow your date’s opinions. If he gushes about Aqualung, gush back for the sake of simpatico. (“Aqualung? Yeah, I love Aqualung!” — even if you’ve never heard of Aqualung.) If he says his favorite movies are “A Clockwork Orange” and “Raging Bull,” there’s no need to mention that yours are “Amelie” and “Lost in Translation.” If he says he’s a vegan who doesn’t eat junk food, stop yourself from talking about your love of Big Macs and Cold Stone chocolate sundaes. (The implication being: We both like healthy food, therefore we like each other.) It’s advisable to take on alternate personalities as we try to guess what type of person might appeal to the object of our affection. Be yourself, on the other hand, and you’ll be by yourself.

If He Can Have the Milk for Free, He Won’t Buy the Cow. Our moms clearly forgot about the sexual revolution. Nowadays, no guy will marry you just for the nooky. So if you’re going to be manipulative, choose something else to withhold. Like the truth about who you really are. Because if you give him that, he’ll probably want to trade you in for a less dysfunctional cow.

Put on Some Lipstick, Mascara and a Cute Outfit When You Go Out for Your Morning Coffee — You Never Know Who You Might Run Into. Nobody wears makeup and a matching Juicy Couture get-up when they roll out of bed on Sunday mornings unless they’re Britney Spears or the Hilton sisters. If I’m all dolled up in the Peet’s line, it doesn’t matter who I run into — guys will be running away from me.

Honest Communication Is Key. Both honesty and communication can wreck an otherwise peaceful courtship. Nothing ends a relationship faster than getting the truthful answer to “What are you thinking about, sweetie?” and having him reply, “I was thinking about what the 19-year-old college student who works at Kinko’s looks like naked.”

Act Uninterested — It’s a Turn-on. A turn-on to whom? We’ve all had our objects of infatuation act uninterested, and it didn’t make us like them more — it just made us like ourselves less.

No disrespect to our mothers, but courtship rituals have changed since they were dating. So forget all their antiquated rules. Except the one about never criticizing your boyfriend’s mother, no matter what. If he secretly hates his mother, he’ll end up hating you instead for merely broaching the subject. In fact, he’ll probably accuse you of hating his mother, and say that he can’t love anyone who hates his mother, even though in truth he loves you and hates his mother. Or else he loves his mother so much that he hates you for demanding a portion of that love. Either way, you lose.

So shut up about his mother. Because this is one area Mom knows something about.

Lori Gottlieb, a commentator for NPR, is the author of “Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self.” Her Web site is


The Digital Lives of Kids: What Parents Need to Know

Chapter 1: A Real, Live IM Chat

Have you noticed more and more lately that your child is engrossed in a constant, beeping dialogue with her computer? Does she brag about a buddy list with hundreds of names, most of which you’ve never heard before? Does she protectively minimize or shield the screen any time you walk by or quickly type in POS (parent over shoulder)? If you’re wondering what all the secrecy is about, come join me in an instant message — I mean, IM — conversation with my 14-year-old daughter, Emma.

drmogel: Sup, Em? [Translation: What’s up, Emma?]

iluvjohnnyD: NO!!! uh, mom, u DON’T put capital letters for names or places…that’s just so…loser-ish. u can do all-caps to make a point, but otherwise, just don’t.

Note her tone of superiority and impatience. Although this tone is not unfamiliar, it is not her characteristic style of communication with me. It is, I will soon learn, the emboldened attitude of instant message interactions.

iluvjohnnyD: try again

drmogel: sup em?

iluvjohnnyD: nmu?

drmogel: nmu?

I know that nmu [“nothing much, you?”] follows ‘sup’ as Exodus follows Genesis.

iluvjohnnyD: NO!!!! why would u ask me how i was when u just said “sup”? that’s repetitive. u want to just say “nm”

I thought cyberspace was as unrestricted as the Wild West, but there are, apparently, many conventions — strict ones at that — that govern communication here.

drmogel: hey em what should parents know about their kids im life?

iluvjohnnyD: it’s IM, mom. it’s the best way to keep in touch with ppl [people] and it’s a better babysitter than the TV.

drmogel: what about kids saying mean things about other kids?

IluvjohnnyD: u have to accept that when u are online people are talking about u behind ur back but we don’t mainly use the internet to dis people.

drmogel: Judaism teaches us about the dangers of gossip. remember the story of the pillow and the feathers, isn’t IM’ing a gigantic duvet?

iluvjohnnyD: idk [I don’t know]. what are u talking about?? all that money towards religious school and i’m still lost.

drmogel: LASHON HARA! The evil tongue. It’s the story of a boy who loved to gossip. The rabbi asked him to bring his pillow to the top of the mountain, cut it open and let the feathers fly in the wind. Then the rabbi said, “Now gather all the feathers and put them back in the pillow. When the boy cried out, “But I won’t be able to find them!” the rabbi said, “It’s the same with gossip. You can never take back your words.”

iluvjohnnyD: whatever. mom, teenagers are supposed to gossip. it’s our job!

drmogel: tell the readers about making connections with friends you meet at a bar mitzvah. that seems cool.

iluvjohnnyD: hahaha u have no right to say *that seems cool* ur 53. and about the bar mitzvahs? I LOVE being able to instantly [hence the title ‘INSTANT message’] IM someone who lives far away. For example at ben’s bar mitzvah in Indianapolis I met some kids and five minutes after I got home I was asking them if it was still snowing there. It’s nice to be able to have such an easy connection to someone less accessible than a next-door neighbor.

drmogel: talk to parents worried about cyberpredators.

iluvjohnnyD: all right, Parents Worried About Cyberpredators…PWAC! here’s what happens…ur innocent little 11 year old sarah wants a boyfriend (gasp) and so she starts talking to some hairy 47-year-old she met in the SoccerFanz chat room or whatever…but he says his name is ryan and he is blonde and cute and has a six pack … pulls her in, right? just WARN HER not to do this. and NEVER to make plans to meet people. it’s just stupid.

drmogel: what about the buddy list names popping up when you are supposed to be doing homework?

iluvjohnnyD: hehe…. um … then u stop doing ur homework for a minute…. idk some kids can control it. some get too involved.

drmogel: doesn’t it interrupt your concentration?

iluvjohnnyD: yes. too bad. g2g [got to go].

Chapter 2: Why You Should Not Worry

Talking to strangers, being rude to friends and family, wasting acres of time, eschewing capitalization and proper punctuation. Why let your child do this?

Because these kids spend long hours in school and in adult-supervised after- school activities. Because they work hard, possibly harder than any kids in history. Because they are generally polite to adults and are required to follow a lot of rules all day long, every day. And because the new SAT requires a tightly written five-paragraph essay: intro, three deft points and a snappy wrap-up.

Our children’s lives are not like ours were. They’re not free to hang out at the corner drugstore or on the stoop or in a vacant lot. They have little privacy or downtime. They are scrutinized, measured and cloistered. But teenagers need to communicate and connect and express themselves freely. They need privacy and risk. They even need to make a few cheap mistakes before they go off to college. The Internet and instant messages provide rich opportunities for them to do all these things.

If you’re curious about the content of these messages and Web sites, go to, a Web log (blog) so popular that it currently has more than 2.5 million active users and gets 23,000 postings an hour. It is mostly popular with teenage girls, and yes, it features plenty of sad, provocative communities (been_abused, 2sexy4u). But if you leave your prejudices at the door you can find a world unique, unifying and thrilling in its diversity.

Try it. Be a cultural anthropologist. Type the word Jewish in the “interest” box on the LiveJournal home page and you will get a list of 195 communities. Most are lively and challenging; some are wacky. For example:

Japs and We Love It!

Chk4Life (Camp Hess Kramer alums)





In our paranoid, fragmented world we all need community. In our wildly competitive, nervous world we need to express ourselves. Online communities are one way to belong. And IMing is an opportunity for warm, casual connection with friends from camp, a boy you met at a dance or even your parent in the next room.

Chapter 3: Why You Should Worry.

Still want to worry some? Here’s what you should worry about.

1. Distraction. Note how Emma equivocated above when I asked her about IMing during homework. (IluvjohnnyD: hehe….um… then you stop doing your homework for a minute…) The primary danger to young teens online is not cyberpredators, although lonely, socially isolated kids are at risk. The greatest hazard is that your child won’t finish her homework in a timely fashion.

Although our children may be masters of multitasking, the steady blip, blip, blip (hey em, sup?) of instant messages from pinacolada15 or mybootay or any of the other friends and acquaintances on their buddy lists may be far more alluring than completing a book report. These interruptions can create pseudo-attention deficit disorder even in children not predisposed to it. So consider you own child’s disposition and decide how much he or she can handle. Some kids can work with music and phone calls and the intrusion of instant messages, and others can’t. You provide the parameters.

2. Catching a virus. When they download music, they get viruses. Even if they tell you they know for sure the source is safe, it isn’t. If the family computers are plagued by viruses, a likely culprit is Kazaa (or another free music file-sharing service). You may need to institute appropriate consequences.

3. Overexposure to inappropriate images. These sexual, violent or hateful images can never be erased from the hard drive of your child’s mind. The adolescent prefrontal cortex is not fully developed, which means that their judgment is not yet as discriminating as yours. Even if they can convincingly argue that they’re mature enough to monitor themselves or to handle anything they see, don’t believe them.

Cyberfreedom is a privilege, not an entitlement. You would not let your kids drive without a license, so even though I’m advocating online freedom and even some risk, it needs to be titrated in doses appropriate to your child’s demonstrated level of maturity and good judgment in other areas. Does he meet his homework and test preparation obligations independently, without your prompting him? Is she responsible about her about health, hygiene and chores? What do his teachers say about him? Are your children respectful to adults and compassionate toward their peers?

Listen to your gut. How would your 13-year-old react to a pornographic image or to footage of an Islamic terrorist beheading a hostage? Everything is accessible on the Web. So until your children are ready to roam freely, use a filter even if they tell you that no one else’s parents do and that they absolutely cannot do their homework without unfettered access to the Internet.

4. Cyberaddiction. There is no question that cruising the Internet and chatting endlessly to one’s buddies can become addictive to some kids. Without adult intervention, some (not all) children may neglect other activities that are generally considered to be useful to the well-rounded human being — for example, reading for pleasure, playing outdoors and visiting with friends in person. If your child spends two hours a day at the computer on non-homework-related pursuits, that may be too much. If he has a computer in his room you’ll have to make regular check-ins to assess this.

Chapter 4: Educate Thyself

Everyone loves to scare parents about the dangers of the Internet. It’s juicy newspaper copy. But as with so many aspects of parenting, there is no clear-cut way to navigate the hazards. If we say yes to everything, we risk putting our children in harm’s way. If we say no, we risk depriving them.

The real danger of the Internet lies not in what’s available out there, but in being uninformed. Educate yourself, so when your child says she’s ready for access, you can allow it — while still maintaining some oversight. And don’t forget to ask her to show you her favorite sites. I am a great fan of, introduced to me by my daughters. You may learn things about her and our planet that will entertain you, educate and impress you. In the words of the late Lubovitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, “Do not fear the Internet, it will knit the world together.”


Principal for a Day, Lesson for a Lifetime


This Wednesday dawns as another tough, typical grind for the principal of the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies (SOCES). There’s the 7:15 a.m. arrival and the 10 p.m. departure. Then there’s the picket line set up by half the teaching staff. And later, the little problem of not having eye washes in science classrooms in case experiments go dangerously wrong.

It’s a lot more than Kenn Phillips could have bargained for when he accepted this gig as principal. Lucky for him, he doesn’t have to come back tomorrow.

That’s because Phillips isn’t the real principal, but merely principal for a day. Phillips is among more than 200 professionals who arranged to shadow principals as part of a Los Angeles Unified School District effort to create alliances between businesses and schools. Phillips is getting an early start with his mid-March stint. Nearly all of the other short-timers are serving on Tuesday, March 29.

At the Center for Enriched Studies, the Principal-for-a-Day ritual has a distinctly Jewish cast. Phillips, a 46-year-old businessman, is Jewish, and so is the actual principal, 56-year-old Robert Weinberg. SOCES, as the school is called, has a sizable contingent of Jewish students, an estimated 20 percent. He considers character education, often expressed through religious traditions, to be at the core of developing responsible young adults. His sign-off after announcements wishes students a good day and reminds them “character counts.”

SOCES, in Tarzana, is not a district trouble spot by any measure. Its test scores are among Los Angeles’ best; its students almost universally attend college. But that doesn’t make the principal’s job easy, as Phillips learns.

Not that Weinberg is complaining. He’s entirely immersed in his role.

“Most people, when they come to this school,” Weinberg says, “find it’s a magical kind of place.”

OK, it’s not so magical to find 35 teachers picketing, but they’re not mad at the principal, only upset over several years without pay raises. And the cause of the 10 p.m. departure is a concert, a special event that Weinberg is pleased lose sleep for. As for the eye washes — Weinberg can handle that, too. By day’s end, he decides to spend grant money to buy them. He’s got plenty of other potential uses for those funds, but safety, he concludes, has to come first.

Phillips’ visit quickly becomes an exchange of ideas, a sharing of experiences. Phillips has shadowed a principal seven times: “It’s important that I understand what Bob, the teachers and students are thinking, because when I meet with people at a very high level, they don’t know the pulse of what’s going on,” said Phillips, a director at the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley.

So, at 10:15 a.m., when Weinberg grabs his walkie-talkie and heads outside, Phillips, mobile phone strapped to his belt, follows. Phillips is dressed smartly, sleekly, in a business suit and gleaming blue tie. Weinberg, by contrast, is large — 6-foot-8 — and more rumpled. He’s known for occasionally dressing up as “Bob the Builder.”

Weinberg leans against a railing at the center of campus, while teachers and many of the school’s 1,750 students stream by. SOCES is known for a student body that ranges in age from 10 to 18. Little girls, dressed in pink, snack on bagels, while a high school couple walks past with arms draped around one another. A teenage boy sitting on a bench plays guitar.

“What are we doing?” Phillips asks.

“We’re doing supervision,” Weinberg answers. “If kids want to talk to me, they have access.”

“Hey, Mr. Weinberg,” says a redheaded sprout. “Have a peanut M&M. I bought them, so you could have one.”

Weinberg obliges.

The bell sounds and students dart in every direction. Weinberg stays in place, issuing tardy slips.

But he’s not just giving a demonstration in school administration. He wants to hear Phillips’ ideas on education. Businesses need students with better communication and teamwork skills, Phillips says, and with a stronger commitment to ethics. During part of the day, he will share these beliefs with a class of high schoolers.

Weinberg leads Phillips down a hallway, explaining that advanced students can take classes at Pierce College in Woodland Hills.

“Have you thought about adding a bungalow here, so that instead of kids going to Pierce, you’d have [the instructors] come here?” Phillips asks.

“No, but that’d be great,” Weinberg says.

As they walk through an outdoor cafeteria, Phillips asks, “Do you have an active PTA?”

Weinberg, in his fifth year here, says the school has no PTA at all, but he’d like to establish one.

“If you need help, I’ll see if we can make that work for you,” Phillips says.

He explains that a president of the association sits on his company’s board.

The two step into an auditorium blaring with music, where orchestra students rehearse for the evening’s concert. Weinberg points out how he renovated the place with contributions from corporate sponsors.

When it’s time for the two to part, Weinberg lumbers through one door to “do supervision,” while Phillips glides through a different one to return to his world of business.

Before he leaves, Phillips asked: “If you had all the money in the world, what would you do?”

Weinberg says he would reduce class sizes, add more time to the school year and get every teacher to believe that any student can learn.

If Phillips and his corporate associates could help accomplish those things, he’d be welcome to stand in as principal any day.


Stay Tuned


Last October, a man called with a complaint. Before I could ask what was the matter, he launched into a tirade about a biased and

inaccurate article. He said he couldn’t believe a serious newspaper would print such lies. He was so angry, he was this close to canceling his subscription.

I wasn’t sure which article he was referring to, so I gently asked him to be more specific. He went on to describe a piece I had absolutely no memory of.

“Are you sure you read this in The Jewish Journal?”

“The Journal?” he said. “No! This was in The Los Angeles Times.”

“The Times?” I said. “So why are you calling me?”

“Because they won’t pick up the phone!”

I tell the story often, because among other things, it says a lot about the role of community journalism. We are the paper that responds. We are the paper that can’t help but listen attentively to its readers. We are the paper that picks up the phone. My hope is that readers will keep this in mind as The Journal embarks on a new business model that is, as far as we know, unprecedented for a Jewish newspaper.

Starting Jan. 1, Journal readers who received their weekly newspaper by donating to The Jewish Federation will still be able to get it, but not as part of their Federation donation. For 18 years, The Federation purchased annual Journal subscriptions for its donors. Last year, it purchased about 20,000 of the 60,000 papers The Journal distributed each week. Beginning next week, it will no longer do so.

Readers will be able to subscribe directly to The Journal for home delivery or pick it up for free at distribution sites around Los Angeles (subscriptions and a list of sites are available at

When we announced this new arrangement earlier this year, many people approached me with their condolences, as if we had been consigned to our doom. But the impetus for this change came from us — yes, from us — and I believe it is a big step forward for the paper and the community.

Granted, of the 135 Jewish community papers in North America, none has a distribution plan like ours. But Los Angeles is a Jewish community like no other, and our new model will serve it well. Most importantly, it will enable us to reach the greatest number of readers across a vast and diverse landscape. Under the previous arrangement, postal regulations limited the number of papers we could distribute for free. But free distribution has been a boon to us — bringing the paper to readers who might otherwise have no connection to Jewish life, increasing our visibility to advertisers and giving us an audience far more diverse in terms of age and background than that of almost any Jewish institution I know of.

Our goal is to reach every possible reader we can (thereby becoming, not incidentally, the largest circulation mainstream Jewish weekly in the country), and this step takes us leaps and bounds closer to achieving it.

The move also establishes The Journal as one of a handful of truly independent community Jewish newspapers. About 85 percent of Jewish papers are either owned by or sell thousands of subscriptions to federations or other major Jewish philanthropies. These arrangements provide a cushion of guaranteed income.

But even when there is little question of outside editorial influence, as at the superb New York Jewish Week or at this paper, the arrangement is less than ideal. It diverts Federation dollars from urgent philanthropy, it involves a charitable organization in a business where it has little expertise and it creates a temptation for either censorship or self-censorship, which isn’t healthy for the Jewish community.

If a Jewish paper can survive economically free of one organization or the other, it should make every attempt to do so.

Jewish newspapers have played an important role in Jewish life since the very first one was published just 70 years after the printing press was invented. As Jews dispersed, they no sooner established mikvahs and cemeteries as they did newspapers. There is no community without communication, and these papers have functioned over the centuries to deliver important news, to serve as a kind of communal bulletin board, to broadcast the teachings and values of Judaism itself.

Is the form antiquated? If anything, I believe a Jewish paper, whether delivered on newsprint or by Internet, is more important than ever.

We are a far-flung community, spread out from the South Bay to the East Valley to Thousand Oaks. We contain multitudes of different backgrounds, practices and beliefs. And The Journal is one place where we can meet each week, if only virtually, to engage in a common discussion on the things that matter so much to us. That conversation needn’t be parochial — it mustn’t be.

The crisis in Sudan and the disaster in Southeast Asia may not have a “Jewish angle,” but they do implore a Jewish response, which can be called forth and described in the pages of the Jewish press.

Since we announced our change in the business model several months ago, the response from current subscribers has been heartening. Far more Federation subscribers than we expected to took out new subscriptions. Of course, if you haven’t already done so, I hope you will, too.

But in any case, I hope you keep reading. We are heading into uncharted waters here, but we are doing so with a terrific group of journalists, sales personnel, office staff and board of directors. We also do so with a community we are so proud to be a part of, and so excited to continue serving.


Iceberg Sinks ‘Race’ Menches

Eleven teams. Thirty days. One-million dollars. Zero bagels. That is what 32-year-olds Avi Scheier and Joe Rashbaum tried to face as one of the teams on the sixth season of the around-the-world reality show “The Amazing Race.”

“Race” teams are given clues telling them where to go and what tasks they must perform. At the end of each episode, the last team to reach the “pit stop” is eliminated — the first team to cross the finish line at the end wins $1 million.

This season, Rashbaum had a goal beyond the money — he planned to be the first kosher guy in reality TV history: “I’m committed to staying kosher even in these foreign lands under these extreme conditions.”

Scheier, who teaches in Brooklyn, and Rashbaum, an ad man who lives in Ventura, have similar upbringings, brains, logic and physical ability. The makings of a great team.

Unfortunately, Rashbaum will never find out if kugel is served in Karachi — the “high school buddies” were eliminated in the first leg (which took teams from Chicago to Iceland) after choosing to search a 7 miles of icebergs for a small buoy and getting turned around on the way to the pit stop.

One team that chose the other option — scaling a wall of ice — were L.A. personal trainers Adam Malis, 27, and Rebecca Cardon, 29, who landed in seventh place.

The formerly dating couple met at a spinning class (she thought he was gay) and say they are complete opposites. While Cardon is social, outgoing and spontaneous, Malis, who sported a faded Jewish singles cruise T-shirt in the first episode, isn’t.

“My biggest fear is that Adam and I will kill each other and will not be able to finish the race because we will be dead,” Cardon said.

Let’s hope this team doesn’t need to communicate with the natives too much.

“[I speak] a little Hebrew, but somehow I don’t think that will come in very handy on this race,” Cardon said.

“The Amazing Race” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.

A Roll in the Snow

The central theme of "Yossi & Jagger" is a love affair between two gay Israeli officers, but — straights please note — the film’s impact goes well beyond the sexual motif.

Seldom has the boredom, tension and camaraderie of men and women at war been portrayed more realistically and economically than in this film, which has been a surprise hit among Israeli moviegoers, soldiers and civilians.

Strikingly, the film takes place not in Israel’s hot, humid coastal plane, but entirely on a freezing, snow-covered mountaintop on the Israeli-Lebanese border, where a small IDF unit mans an isolated outpost against unseen infiltrators and terrorists.

Commander of the unit is Yossi (Ohad Knoller), a career soldier. His lieutenant is Jagger, so nicknamed because his buddies see in him the aura of a rock star. Jagger is played by Yehuda Levi, billed as the "Israeli Tom Cruise" and the nation’s number-one heartthrob.

Carrying on their secret affair in the macho and privacy-deprived confines of their platoon, Yossi and Jagger are limited to an emotional — but sensitively depicted — roll in the snow.

The situation is complicated by the arrival of a colonel, accompanied by two attractive female communication operators, one of whom falls hopelessly in love with Jagger.

The overbearing colonel (Sharon Reginiano) pulls his rank for sex with the other girl and to send the exhausted soldiers on a night ambush, despite Yossi’s protests.

Director Eytan Fox, who said the film was based on an actual incident, made "Yossi & Jagger" for an astonishingly low $200,000, barely enough to pay for a wrap party at a Hollywood studio.

Fox is a native of New York City and joins other American-born directors who have created some of the most challenging films to come out of Israel, including Joseph Cedar’s "Time of Favor" and, currently, "The Holy Land" by Eitan Gorlin.

"Yossi & Jagger" opens Oct. 24 at the Laemmle Fairfax Cinema in Los Angeles (323) 655-4010 and the Town Center in Encino (818) 981-9811. For more about the film, visit — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Communities Find Light in Darkness

It was Thursday afternoon, three days before 1,800 Jewish kids were to arrive for the final week of the JCC Maccabi games, and 40 delegation leaders were ironing out the logistics at a New Jersey hotel.

That’s when the lights and the air conditioning went dead, and the room quickly became hot and sticky.

But the organizers kept planning, hardly skipping a beat.

"I gotta tell you," said Lenny Silberman, North American continental director of the JCC Maccabi Games, "doing this for the games for 20 years and working with those communities, the potential for a big balagan [brouhaha] was definitely there."

But "it was amazing," he said Monday from his cell phone at the site of the games, the Jewish Community Center on the Palisades.

Thanks to the organizers’ calm, the blackout didn’t create even "an ounce" of anxiety — and all the athletes, hosted by local families, arrived in time for Sunday’s opening ceremonies.

"We knew there was no power, but we also knew that we had 1,800 kids that are depending on us on Sunday, so we had to do what we had to do," Silberman said.

A mix of determination and calm was found in Jewish communities across the Northeast that were impacted Aug. 14 by the massive blackout, the largest in the nation’s history.

Jewish communities also mirrored the mood of the population at large, which was relieved to learn that the outage was the result of a system overload, not terrorism.

Yet the incident highlighted Jewish organizations’ lack of preparedness for an emergency situation.

David Gad-Harf, executive director of Detroit’s Jewish Community Council, praised the spirit of communal cooperation — people took to the streets for block parties, cooking steaks that had defrosted in their freezers — but called the power failure a "wake-up call not only for the Jewish community, but for America as a whole."

Without an "old-fashioned" non-electric phone on hand, Gad-Harf said, the agency was unable to contact local federation leaders or other Jewish agencies.

"We realized that we were really not prepared for a crisis of this kind," he said.

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella organization for local federation community-relations councils, agreed.

"We learned how completely dependent on electricity we are," she said, noting that even the organization’s national contingency plan is dispatched through computers.

The alternative plan is to use telephones — which, if they were typical office phones, depend on electricity and didn’t work in the blackout — followed by cell phones, whose networks quickly were overloaded.

"None of those three plans worked for us," she said.

A new backup system has been in the works, Rosenthal said, explaining that a computer motherboard located in the Midwest could release information remotely.

But even that wouldn’t have helped last week, as parts of the Midwest went as black as Manhattan. As a result, every Jewish agency had to fend for itself in the blackout — without the national mobilizations or alerts that are customary in emergencies.

"[There was] not the time or the communications capacity to mobilize," said John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York. "Our first responsibility was to deal with the safety and security of our people.

"Every agency with whom I’ve spoken was better prepared and had a better system in place than we did on Sept. 11, and yet there are times when you still need to call audibles," he said, using a term for football plays that are improvised in response to unexpected circumstances.

While commending the efforts of his federation’s social service agencies, Ruskay noted that Jewish agencies realized they must establish more effective backup modes of communication.

Despite the enormity of the power failure, Jewish communities across the country took it in stride and were only minimally hindered.

The Jewish contingent of an interfaith mission from Akron, Ohio, to Washington was about to fly home when they heard about the blackout.

"I checked the Internet from my cell phone, and as soon as I found out what the situation was, I just knew that we were not going to be able to fly into Cleveland," said Michael Wise, chief executive officer of the Jewish Community Board of Akron, which sponsored the trip.

His instincts proved right: As one of six major airports that bore the brunt of the power outage, Cleveland’s airport was without power for the next 15 hours.

The group — which included state representatives, judges, media professionals, clergy and school and business leaders — arrived in Akron at 1 a.m., only five hours later than planned.

"Everyone from our group was incredibly cooperative and understanding," Wise said. "They all said this was a trip they will definitely never forget."

Others found a type of reprieve in the electric jolt.

"In a way it was magic," said Naomi Rose, executive director of the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto, which closed early on Thursday.

"We got to see the stars," which usually are obliterated by the city lights, she said.

"People sort of felt reasonably positive about it," viewing it as a "pause in their hurried lives," she said.

The wedding of Eli and Debbie Savage, a young Orthodox couple in Toronto, was due to begin Thursday evening soon after the lights went out. It went ahead as scheduled. Some 350 wedding guests ate a festive meal warmed on gas stoves, and danced to music played on a grand piano that had been wheeled into the banquet hall. A hotel generator supplied a bit of backup lighting and air conditioning, as well as temporary power for a video camera. Some guests arrived as much as two hours late because of gridlocked traffic in the streets. But most stayed late, realizing it made more sense to enjoy the celebration rather than struggle to get home.

"When they were there, they really couldn’t go anywhere," Savage said. "So people were thinking that they might as well just stay and enjoy. I’ve never seen so much spirit and electricity in the room."

After a night of dancing, the newlyweds were obliged to climb 10 flights of stairs to their honeymoon suite with candles in hand.

A candlelit photo of the Savages appeared on the front page of The Globe and Mail’s Saturday edition under the headlines "With Glowing Hearts" and "How the wedding sparks flew against a backdrop of darkness."

Guests commented that it had been one of the best weddings they had ever attended.

JTA correspondent Bill Gladstone in Toronto contributed to this story. Material also came from the Akron Jewish News and the Detroit Jewish News.

Majority Report

As America sets out on its most fateful hour of Middle East diplomacy and decision-making in a decade, American Jews are sending two clear messages to Washington.

Unfortunately, the messages conflict.

One group is saying, "We support Israel, so we don’t support the ‘road map.’"

The other group’s message is, "We support Israel, so we do support the road map."

First, let’s focus on the area of agreement.

The last several weeks in Los Angeles leave no doubt about the intensity of the Jewish community’s support for Israel. A nonstop schedule of lectures, meetings, receptions and banquets have filled the communal calendar on either side of Israel Independence Day. The events ranged from well-attended Yom HaAtzmaut parties to a series of talks by the Israeli journalist David Landau to memorial services for Israel’s fallen soldiers to a rally against media bias at National Public Radio to visits by Israeli officials like MK Natan Sharansky and MK Matan Vilnai.

The range of attendees demonstrated the breadth and depth of concern. There were packed meetings held just for the Persian Jewish community, expatriate Israelis, Century City lawyers, Hollywood insiders, UCLA students, single professionals, area rabbis, wealthy donors and grass-roots activists.

People who, a year ago, were lamenting the seeming apathy of the Jewish community toward Israel were amazed by the turnouts.

At the Israeli Consulate’s birthday bash for Israel, held annually at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Yariv Ovadia, consul for communication and public affairs, gazed out at the huge crowd, a mix of wealthy activists, politicians and diplomats, and said that the pro-Israel spirit has reawakened in Los Angeles.

"It took a while for the situation to sink in," he said, "but it took a while in Israel, too."

A suspicious package left at the front desk led to a bomb scare and a one-hour lockdown, but didn’t faze the guests, who kept chatting even as the package was exploded in a bomb-squad container outside.

Concerns over terror didn’t keep the crowds away from last Sunday’s Israel Festival, which drew 35,000 people to Woodley Park. It was an enormous and spirited turnout, demonstrating both the coming of age of Los Angeles’ Israeli Jewish community, which spearheaded the event, and the across-the-board support Israel enjoys.

On her recent visit to Israel, Managing Editor Amy Klein interviewed Tahg Adler, an Angeleno who recently immigrated to Israel.

"World Jewry is the body," Adler said, "and Israel is the heart. You need a strong heart to keep the body going."

The aptness of the metaphor was apparent over these past weeks. Our identity as Jews, the very strength of the community, is bound up in the fate of the Jewish nation. You can’t underestimate the power of Israel to shape the Jewish community here. Israel is the issue that even roused the latent activism — the latent Jewishness — of Hollywood Jewry. It wasn’t a sense of social action or kabbalah that prompted their activity, it was a sense of Israel in crisis.

Now for the disagreement. While our support for Israel is deep and growing, the consensus on what to do in the face of the crisis is fractured.

Those who oppose the "road map to peace" that President George W. Bush has proposed for the Israelis and the Palestinians say it endangers Israel’s security and rewards two years of Palestinian terror with a place at the negotiating table. "The U.S. is back in the mode of pressuring Israel for real concessions or the Palestinians for phony promises," a message from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs read.

Those who support it say the road map is calibrated to Palestinian rejection of terror — if terror continues, the process stops — and provides the best way out of a dire situation.

There are strong ideological and religious arguments on the left and the right. But the greatest argument for those of us in the center isn’t a matter of ideology, religion or politics. It’s a matter of third-grade math.

This week, Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Aharanot, reported on recent figures released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics ( on the population of greater Israel, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: West Bank Arabs — 2.2 million; Gaza Arabs — 1.3 million; non-Arab Christians — 0.3 million; Israeli Arabs — 1.3 million; Jews — 5.1 million.

Numbers never tell the whole story, but these come close. By retaining control of the West Bank, Gaza and the Palestinian populations therein, Israel will either cease to be a primarily Jewish State, or will become an undemocratic one, where a Jewish minority rules an Arab majority.

"The Jews, therefore, are barely 50 percent of the empire," wrote the (centrist) editors of Yediot. "This was the last Independence Day when we could try to breathe the fragrance of a Jewish majority. Starting next week — we’re the minority."

The road map is not the perfect way out of this looming disaster, but it is the best option available, put forward by a president who is one of Israel’s staunchest supporters.

That’s a message that I, for one, hope Washington hears.

Don’t Judge aBook by Its Cover

The media has been busy for months with “One People, Two
Worlds” (Schocken Books, 2002), the book I co-authored with Ammie
Hirsch, and the promotional tour from which I withdrew after
two appearances in deference to the Council of Torah Sages. Now that the dust
has settled somewhat, I would like to add a few remarks and observations of my

A few weeks ago, upon his return from his now-solo
appearances on the tour, Ammi wrote an article (“Two Authors, One Book Tour,”
Jan. 3) in which he lamented the missed opportunity for the Orthodox. He had
met “thousands of Jews. Precisely the people Rabbi Reinman wanted to reach —
mostly non-Orthodox Jews eager to learn more about Torah and the Orthodox world.”

It was indeed a missed opportunity. My message resonated
well with the people during the first two appearances — in the “State of World
Jewry” forum at the 92nd Street Y and at a book fair in Indianapolis —
despite my long caftan, beard and peyot. After the presentations, many people
approached me with comments, questions and an overwhelming curiosity. We also
connected on a personal level, and I loved it and them. By withdrawing from the
tour, I had to forego meeting hundreds of people under similar circumstances. A
great loss.

So why did I withdraw? And even more important, why was this
opportunity for an Orthodox rabbi to meet non-Orthodox people such a rare

Ammi offers the answer. “The Jewish world needs you,” he
calls out to the Orthodox, “to bring your love of Torah, discipline,
commitment, knowledge and passion to the Jewish world…. The enemy is not
Reform Judaism. The enemy is apathy, assimilation and ignorance. We should see
ourselves as allies in our common struggle to sustain and ensure Jewish

You see? There are strings attached to these wonderful
opportunities. So Reform laypeople want to hear and learn from Orthodox rabbis?
Fine, but only if those Orthodox rabbis acknowledge Reform rabbis as allies. It
is like a parent using the children as pawns in a marital struggle. If the
Orthodox rabbi stands on the stage side by side with a Reform rabbi, then he
can speak to the people. Otherwise, no visitation.

But Reform rabbis are not our colleagues in the work of
perpetuating Jewish continuity. Reform ideology embraces moral relativism,
denies the divine authorship of the Torah, denies the divine covenant, denies
the binding nature of halacha and, by doing so, rejects the Judaism of our
ancestors. Reform laypeople know this full well, and that is why they are so
eager to learn about Orthodoxy, the religion of their ancestors. They don’t
display the same interest in Conservatism and Reconstructionism, which are just
different flavors of the liberal stream.

During these last few months, I have met and heard from
numerous non-Orthodox people yearning for a stronger Jewish identity, and I
wondered what motivated them to set themselves apart from American society.
Then it struck me that the laypeople have never let go of the religion of their
ancestors, that the national memory of Sinai is still etched into their
chromosomes, that deep down they know the divine covenant between the Creator
and His people is real.

Fifty years ago, a group of leading Orthodox sages erected a
firewall between the Orthodox rabbinate and the Reform rabbinate, forbidding
any official contact whatsoever between the two. The sages felt that sharing
common platforms with movements so antithetical to the religion of our
ancestors would give them an aura of legitimacy they did not deserve. They
placed no restrictions, however, on contact with Reform Jews as individuals.

Since then, Orthodoxy has flourished, but the lines of
communication with our non-Orthodox brothers and sisters have been shut down.
Their rabbis have told them that the Orthodox hate them and do not consider
them authentic Jews — absolute lies — and they have stood guard over the people
to make sure that no Orthodox rabbi speaks to them unattended.

So why did I co-write the book when I knew that our revered
sages disapproved of sharing platforms with Reform rabbis? Was I breaking away
and setting out in a new direction? Heaven forbid.

There is a deep sense of desperation in the Orthodox
community at the disintegration of the non-Orthodox world. There is a feeling
that time is running out and something must be done. The rabbis who authorized
and supported this project decided, based on several fine distinctions, that it
was an exception to the rule. To mention just one of these distinctions, since
I am an independent scholar and writer rather than a member of the rabbinate,
my participation was considered “individual” rather than “official” contact; I
mention this distinction in the book several times. We felt we could thus
circumvent the rabbinate and speak directly to the people.

We were wrong. The media completely ignored my explicit
distinctions and depicted the exchange as a breakthrough, a breach in the
Orthodox wall of rejection, which it was never meant to be. Most did not even
bother to read the book. They just looked at the cover and, to my horror,
painted me as the Rosa Parks of interdenominational dialogue. I have yet to see
one serious, in-depth review of the book.

The declaration of the Council of Sages simply reaffirmed
what we already knew — that the distinctions had failed to register with all
those people eager to portray the book in a light that suited them better.
Under these circumstances, the tour would just compound the error.

What could I say? They were right. And so, I withdrew.
Unfortunately, the media ridiculed the Council of Sages as beady-eyed
ayatollahs issuing fatwas against me and my family and bans of excommunication
against anyone who dared pick up the book. This was all nonsense.

The members of the council are wise, intelligent, highly
principled people, most of whom I have known for years. Two of them paid their
respects when I was sitting shiva for my father recently. The sages just set
policy; they never tell individuals what to do, and they certainly never threatened
me in any way whatsoever. Their declaration treated me with kindness and
respect, and when I issued my brief statement of acceptance and withdrew from
the tour, they were surprised and responded with a nice complimentary
statement. I have only good things to say about them.

In retrospect, the premise of the book was a mistake, but
what is done is done. The book has taken on a life of its own, and I hope and
pray that it does only good and no harm. Ultimately, the book will stand as
convincing evidence that Orthodoxy is intellectually sophisticated and
compelling, that our rejection of dialogue does not stem from fear and that our
expressions of love for all Jews are genuine and sincere.

In the meantime, I urge all my Jewish brothers and sisters not
to allow your rabbis to hold you hostage. If they do not allow you to meet
Orthodox rabbis, read the books I mention in the afterword. If you need more
guidance, write to me at the e-mail address that appears there.

As Ammi mentioned, when we were at the 92nd Street Y, the
moderator asked me, “If someone has a choice between watching ‘The Sopranos’
and learning Talmud with a Reform rabbi, what would you advise him to do?”

Things had been going so well, and now this bomb. I tried to
wiggle out, but the moderator pinned me down. What could I do?

So I took a deep breath and said, “He should watch ‘The

There was an audible gasp from the audience.

I was mortified.

Afterward, Richard Curtis, my wise friend and agent, told
me, “Don’t worry. People will respect your intellectual honesty. And besides,
many people will go home wondering, ‘What is so bad about learning Talmud with
a Reform rabbi? Why would he say something like that?'”

Why, indeed.

Article reprinted courtesy The New York Jewish Week. Â

Yosef Reinman is an Orthodox writer, historian and scholar living in Lakewood, N.J.

Money Talks

We live in the age of full disclosure. In this era of creepy stalkers, emotional maniacs and frightening venereal diseases, you can’t be too careful, so singles have learned to utilize romantic phrases such as, “Have you been tested for AIDS lately?” as casually as one used to suggest, “Shall I pick you up at 8?”

As my romances blossom, I learn about my boyfriends’ health records, former lovers, stints in therapy, trips to rehab and devastating childhood traumas. Is nothing sacred?

Well, yes, there is one thing that should never, ever, ever be discussed. One subject so taboo that if you even begin to flirt with the notion of dancing around the subject, you’re considered wildly offensive. I’m talking about money, honey.

Last summer, I was joyriding around in my boyfriend’s new convertible. We were testing out the acceleration, battling with the CD player and speculating whether the GPS could talk in Spanish. Although I had asked my guy about 25 thoughtful car-related questions (not an easy task for a girly girl like me), I then stumbled upon the one mortally inappropriate one.

“So, how much did this bad boy run you?”

My guy looked at me like I had just suggested we go spin doughnuts in a school-zone. He sneered and asked, “Why on earth would you even ask a question like that?”

I tried to quickly recover. “Um … I was thinking of buying a new car.” He looked unconvinced and completely offended.

“If the price is that important to you, I am sure you can find it on the Internet,” he replied tersely.

I was going to let it rest, but I was upset. “Did you tell your friend how much it cost?” I asked. He said yes. “Did the co-worker that took you to the dealer know how much it cost”? He said yes. “So why,” I asked, “am I not allowed to ask such a question?”

“With you,” he said, “it’s different.”


Some guys protect their financial information as gravely as those soccer players who grab their crotches during penalty kicks. Now, the car-guy had shared family secrets, confidential work information and a frighteningly precise sexual history with me, yet the sticker price of his stupid car (which was the new convertible BMW M3 — look it up if you’re curious) was a sticking point.

I believe that men who won’t talk about their cash think that we’re after it. With that one simple question, I am perceived as a little money-grubber.

What is it about money? Does the unfortunate characterization of the “greedy Jew” make us hesitant to discuss money for fear of reinforcing the stereotype? Yet protectiveness of cash transcends social and religious barriers. A WASPy friend of mine explained that he was raised never to discuss money, which, like politics and religion, was considered offensive dinner-party conversation. Even in the secular American workplace, income is kept secret.

And for romantically involved men or women, the subject is even stickier. Maybe men worry that they make too little money and their masculinity or “breadwinner” potential will be called into question. There are also high-earning, professionally successful guys who wonder if women are pursuing them for their hearts and minds, instead of the Rolex on their wrist.

Are we women simply supposed to wait around until the “I do” to find out if we are going to be paying off some guy’s old college loans? And is it fair for us to wonder? Society’s answer: an emphatic no!

A week ago, my new (and improved) beau asked me to help him shop for a new apartment, explaining that his current floor plan was huge, and the monthly rent obnoxiously high.

“What do you want to spend?” I asked.

“Less than I do now,” he answered cryptically.

“What do you pay now?”

He looked pained. He searched his mind, and finally settled on an overly diplomatic answer: “The current market price for a two-bedroom in Brentwood is anywhere from $1,800 to $2,600 per month.”

I groaned inwardly, thinking, “here we go again.” But I didn’t learn from my past, deciding to let ‘er rip.

“Look,” I began, “I don’t care how much you spend, or how much you make. But if you want my help, then you should give me a hint at a budget. And I am so sick of guys being anal and assuming we’re after your money. It’s not that I am dying to know your financial situation, but we have gotten naked, met each other’s parents and you even let me drive your truck, so you know, as far as your rent is concerned, you can trust me.”

He smiled, and then he let it rip. He told me his salary, his savings, about financial windfalls and losses and, yes, his rent. True, he did make a lot of money — but that only made me feel more materialistic for bringing it up. After I heard it all, I realized that he hadn’t been hiding anything from me; but he thought it was too early in our relationship to discuss money — and he was right.

I was embarrassed. Even though we had seen each others’ bodies, families and motor vehicles, even though we knew about past lovers, sexual history and psychiatric evaluations, somehow, when he laid it all out before me so precisely, it was all too much. I wished I lived, not in the age of full disclosure, but the age of mystery, when all your suitor asked you was, “Shall I pick you up at 8?”

Lilla Zuckerman is the author of “Tangle in Tijuana” (Fireside, May 2003),
the first book in the “Miss Adventures” series. She can be reached at

Show Me the Way

Not long ago, a friend of mine called me and said, "Naomi, I need your help.

I want you to teach me how to pray to God." She told me whenever she goes to shul, she tries to sing along, but she feels nothing. Just words. She said she’s been trying to meditate in a quiet spot, hoping for some kind of communication with God, but she feels nothing. Just silence. My friend’s problem is a familiar one. So many of us sit in shul on Yom Kippur feeling lost or bored. We want to pray, but we don’t know how.

The Shabbat that falls between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuva, because on it we read the haftorah that begins with the moving words of the prophet Hosea: "Shuva Yisrael" — "Return, Israel, to the Lord your God." But returning to God is no simple matter. How can we return to God when we don’t know how to reach God? Like my friend, so many of us long to feel God’s presence in our lives, but we feel cutoff from God. We don’t know where to find God.

In our Haftorah, Hosea offers us a path to God. The prophet says, "Take words with you and come back to God." I told my friend, "This problem you’re having, tell it to God, and you’ll be praying." There are many forms of prayer we can learn, but the one we can all start with is the prayer of our souls. We don’t have to introduce ourselves to God; God already knows us. Notice that Hosea doesn’t say, "Come to God." He says, "Come back to God." We aren’t strangers to God. We don’t need to begin a relationship with God. God is already in a relationship with us, God already loves us. Every day, God is waiting for us, calling out to us: "Return to Me." We don’t have to say anything profound; we don’t have to sound smart. God doesn’t care. We don’t have to be sitting quietly in a state of prayerful devotion; whenever we speak, God listens.

Many people tell me that they feel overwhelmed by the depiction of God on Yom Kippur. They are frightened to approach a mighty King on a throne who sits in judgment over us, who knows all our misdeeds and decides who shall live and who shall die. But our haftorah this Shabbat offers a much more intimate picture of God. God is the One searching for us. God is lonely without us.

When we return to God, our lives start to open up. Answers start to appear. We begin seeing things we never noticed before. Days that used to feel empty are suddenly infused with meaning. Anxiety gives way to calm, despair gives way to hope, fear gives way to faith, frustration gives way to peace, sadness gives way to joy. Most of all, through prayer our indifference gives way to action.

Prayer reminds us that we are connected through God to one another, to all those longing for our help. Our souls are tied to the souls of all people. Our souls are tied to the souls of all those who have come before us. We are not alone. We are not cut off. We have not been forgotten: God is with us. God has filled us with enormous potential. But God has given us only limited days. God is praying for us, hoping we will learn how to take care of one another. The world is waiting for us to bless it.

Each of us has a prayer in our hearts, a prayer of singular importance. Chances are, we will find it only by opening our hearts and speaking it directly to God. This Yom Kippur, as you are sitting in shul, when the moment is right, close your eyes. Take a deep breath in and, as you breathe out, relax. Without censoring or editing, look inside yourself. Look deep down inside. Find the prayer of your soul. Find it and speak it to God. Tell God your pain, your hope, your joy. Share your deepest longing. Express your anger. Ask for God’s help. Tell God your secret. Thank God for your blessings. Shout, sing, whisper, talk to God. And listen closely for a reply.

May you receive an answer that will bring you joy and peace. May God be with you, may health and strength sustain you, may nothing harm you, may wisdom and kindness enrich you, may you be a blessing to this world, and may blessings surround you now and always.

May this be a sweet year filled with health, joy, blessings and peace. Amen.

Education Briefs

New Yeshiva for Learning Disabled and GiftedStudents

Rashi Hebrew Academy, a new yeshiva for learning disabled and gifted children, will open Sept. 3 at Congregation Shaarei Tefila on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. The school is accepting students from different backgrounds, but is maintained within an Orthodox framework. “We are targeting children that are going to public schools or are in yeshiva schools and cannot completely cope with the rigors of the regular yeshiva day school because of a variety of learning disabilities,” says Jack Rose, administrative director and gifted program coordinator. “They deserve a Jewish education.” The new school is open to both boys and girls ages 8 to 12 and will offer full general studies and religious studies programs. The yeshiva is also sponsoring an after-school homework help program, which will be open to students from other schools, called the Rashi Hebrew Academy Homework Center. For more information on Rashi Hebrew Academy, call (323) 938-1251.

Parents, Schools Communicate WithPACE

A number of local Jewish day schools have begun using Partnership for Academic and Community Excellence (PACE), a new school-to-home communication system, which allows administrators to pass on urgent school-related messages to parents more quickly than ever. For over a year, PACE, a Westwood-based company, has enabled school principals to create personalized recorded announcements that are transferred to all parents, if needed, by telephone.

Schools have used the service in a variety of capacities: to remind parents of upcoming events, to track attendance, to communicate school closings and to report emergency information.

“More schools are using it for safety purposes like a flu epidemic, updating your emergency contact information,” says John Gamba, PACE’s director and co-founder. Some day schools are using the system to reach the temple community to give High Holy Day information, bereavement reminders and information on upcoming rallies.

While the service is available nationwide, most PACE customers are in Southern California. Eileen Horowitz, the head of Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School, says the system has made a difference in event attendance.

Jewish Youths Find Common Ground

During the new school year, four L.A.-area synagogues will work together for the second year in a row in a program called OLAM Shel Machar (formerly Machar). Eleventh- and 12-graders from B’nai David-Judea (Orthodox), Temple Emanuel (Conservative), Temple Beth Am (Reform) and Temple Israel of Hollywood (Reform) will meet for two weekend retreats to discuss issues of faith and their perceptions of God. Because the teens are coming from different movements, the hope is that they will find commonalities in their Judaism. The program, which is in its second year, is currently being funded in part by David Suissa, founder and editor of OLAM magazine.

HUC-JIR Selects Four Teachers for NewProgram

The Rhea Hirsch School of Education of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion has selected four religious schools to participate in a new program called Creating Teaching Excellence in Congregational Education. The initiative is designed to retain teachers and improve their skills. This summer, exceptional educators from Congregation Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, Temple Israel of Hollywood and Temple Judea in Tarzana joined together to become mentors to colleagues at their respective religious schools. Mentor teachers learn what is “good teaching,” the importance of reflection, how to teach adult learning and why teachers are resistant to change.

Professor Sara Lee, director of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education, believes that supplementary schools generally suffer from lack of a skilled and effective faculty. The solution, she feels, is to “strengthen the teaching capacity for people teaching at our schools,” she said. There is turnover, because these people don’t feel well-equipped. Let’s work with the people we have and help them be better equipped. The notion of working within the school site is the heart of this project.”

Briefs compiled by Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer.