Death in the Hood


Laura Gitlin-Petlak was 48 when she died on Feb. 12 at her home in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

The next day, a few blocks from her house, a couple hundredpeople jammed the premises of Aish L.A., an Orthodox synagogue and outreach center, for her memorial service.

A neighbor suggested that I attend the service. I had never met Laura or any member of her family, but they were well-known in the community. The first time I heard her name was on Simchat Torah, when someone mentioned that a group of women from the community brought a sefer Torah to her bedside at her home, where she was recuperating from cancer surgery. In her presence, they sang songs and danced.

When Laura was in the hospital, she had insisted on long, personal visits. Her husband, Shmuel, made sure to schedule the visits so that there would be plenty of time for the kind of engaging talk his wife loved. Laura once noticed that a visitor was sniffling, and she asked if her friend had a cold. When she saw that they were sniffles of sadness, Laura blurted out: “Oh no, I’ll have none of that. Now tell me what’s going on in your life.”

Being a divorce attorney, Laura knew a lot about other people’s lives. In a profession where nasty confrontation is the norm, she fought for collaboration. Sometimes she even fought for peace.

At her memorial service, her husband told the story of a man who had “had it up to here” and wanted a divorce. After listening to his story, Laura calmly explained to the man that he should try to save his marriage by getting household help. It took some coaxing and convincing, but in the end, Laura helped save her client’s marriage.She nurtured her own marriage by working from home, which allowed her to be very involved with raising her two daughters, Alisa, 17, and Miriam, 9.

This is how Alisa describes her mother’s parenting style: “She never told us what to do, but she never allowed us to do the wrong thing.”It has been several days now since Laura’s memorial service, and I’m sharing my thoughts with you because, frankly, I can’t stop thinking about it.

The service was heartfelt, but it was also unsettling. There was a kind of emotional chaos in the air — almost a reluctance to accept that a beautiful life could be taken away from someone so God-fearing and life-giving.

Ever since I moved to this neighborhood, I’ve gotten used to seeing order and structure in the Orthodox community — a sense that life, with all its challenges and with God’s help, is unfolding as it should.

At Laura’s memorial service, you got a strange sense that life had stopped unfolding as it should.

To his credit, the head rabbi of Aish L.A., Rabbi Moshe Cohen, did not try to anaesthetize the pain. He spoke in a quivering, tear-choked voice. He talked about the only three instances in the code of Jewish law where the laws are considered “mitzvot gedolim” (great mitzvahs): To help someone who is destitute, to free a captive and to praise the departed.

He explained that what tied the three mitzvahs together was that they all covered people who couldn’t help themselves.

But it was clear that the rabbi couldn’t help himself either. Even though he ended on a brave note that touched on Laura’s legacy to the community, his body language was saying something else: “How could this be?”

Tragedy has a way of dulling the senses. Lost in a fog of grief, how can anyone see or understand anything? I wasn’t exactly lost, but all I could see was how wrong it was that Laura had died. That made me feel a little helpless, too.

Ironically, on a day when people felt somewhat helpless, they were honoring someone who was all about reaching out to those who needed help, or sometimes just a meal and company. As an example, Rabbi Cohen admitted how “most of us would prefer to choose our guests for Shabbat.” Then he recounted how, over the years, Laura and her family had welcomed hundreds of guests and strangers who didn’t have a place to eat on Shabbat.

Who would feel these strangers’ pain now and welcome them? How could a unique soul like Laura ever be replaced? How could a family’s pain ever heal?

As the rabbi spoke about Laura, I was thinking about how even a strong religious community has moments when it needs to be vulnerable and embrace its limitations. In our zeal to accept all challenges, perhaps the ultimate challenge is to accept that there are holes we can never fill and pains we can never heal.

We are grateful for our religious and communal rituals — the prayers, the sermons, the honoring of the departed, the community support — but deep down, the unspoken truth is that we’re still helpless. The pain of human loss is too deep (as I learned after losing my father).

Rituals can add comfort and legacies can be continued, but they won’t fill the hole or eliminate the pain.

This pain of loss belongs to no religion and no neighborhood.

It is a private, universal pain that speaks to the highest part of our Judaism, the one that cares about every soul in every hood.

Laura Gitlin-Petlak spent a lifetime caring about other people’s pain, and in her own way, she showed us that people can never be replaced, and that there is value in that.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

What’s your Jewish I.Q.?


1. When was Judaism founded?
(a) 1000 C.E.
(b) 5000 B.C.E.
(c) 2000 B.C.E.
(d) 1000 B.C.E.

2. Who was the mother of Moses?

3. Who was born a Moabite, became a Jew and was the great-grandmother of King David?
(a) Rebekkah
(b) Deborah
(c) Lillith
(d) Ruth

4. Complete this line from Exodus 23:9: "You shall not oppress the _______ for you were _________ in the land of Egypt."

5. The Jews received the Torah at _____________ __________. God said there: "You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a ________ __________." (Exodus 19:6)

6. The phrase "Chosen People" refers to:
(a) God chose the Jews to be persecuted.
(b) God entered into a covenant with the Jews.
(c) Only Jews are made in the image of God.

7. The First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C.E. by which power?
(a) Macedonia
(b) Rome
(c) Assyria
(d) Babylonia

8. The tragic last stand of the Jews in their revolt against Rome took place at:
(a) Qumran
(b) Jerusalem
(c) Masada
(d) Hebron

9. The Spanish Jews who chose conversion between 1391-1492 and continued to practice Judaism in secret were called:
(a) Kabbalists
(b) Marranos
(c) Pietists
(d) Sephardim

10. The first Jewish community in North America was established in this settlement by 23 Dutch Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Brazil:
(a) New Amsterdam
(b) Newport
(c) Charleston
(d) Savannah

11. In 1807, __________ freed the Jews from their ghettos, granting them citizenship.

12. The main wave of 2 million Jewish immigrants entered the United States in which period?
(a) 1914-1933
(b) 1860-1870
(c) 1880-1914
(d) 1933-1945

13. What Jewish person won nine Olympic gold medals in swimming and is considered the greatest swimmer in the history of the sport?

14. TRUE OR FALSE? Historians cite three factors that distinguish the Holocaust from other genocides: its cruelty, its scale and its efficiency.

15. During the Holocaust, what three countries resisted the deportation of their Jewish population?

16. "Hear O Israel the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One" is the first line of?:
(a) The Israeli National Anthem
(b) The Shemoneh Esrei
(c) The "Shema"

17. A mitzvah is:
(a) A prayer
(b) A commandment
(c) A sin

18. Where is it written:
(a)"We support the non-Jewish poor together with the Jewish poor, and we visit the non-Jewish sick alongside the Jewish sick, and we bury non-Jewish dead alongside Jewish dead, all for the sake of the ways of peace."
(b)"You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. I am the Lord."

19. Fill in: "On three things does the world stand: Torah, service to God, and acts of ____________" (Pirke Avot).

20. TRUE OR FALSE? The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel offers "Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel" the "full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions."

Click here for the answers.

Test contributors include the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Outreach Institute, www.expertrating.com and The Journal editors.

Advice From an Insider


Flashing lights blind me. I am deafened by the pounding music. I feel lost among the moving bodies. Where am I? At the scene of yet another sensory-overloaded bar mitzvah party.

I am disturbed by the dancing girls dressed in tube tops and thigh-length skirts and people drinking at the “mocktail” bar. What is this supposed to teach a young person about becoming a member of the Jewish community? Why have we adopted this perverse and flashy sense of culture into our religious celebration?

I thought Judaism wasn’t supposed to succumb to the worst in popular culture.

For myself, I decided to opt out of the American b’nai mitzvah scene in favor of a small service in Israel. And while I am not against having a party, if the theme has no correlation with entering the world as a Jewish adult, bar mitzvahs end up making a mockery of our values.

To help ensure that b’nai mitzvah culture reflects Jewish culture, I’m offering the following suggestions:

• Rabbis should ensure that the entertainment and decorations will be appropriate. They should be on-hand at the party to keep track of what is happening.

• Set the bar mitzvah budget, then cut it back by 10 percent and give that amount to charity.

• Consider the message the party is sending. How will people view you afterward? Did you do something to enhance respect for Judaism, or did you create a larger divide between modesty and extravagance? And as the parent of a bar or bat mitzvah, how did you influence them and open their eyes to what’s important?

• Take the emphasis off of the party. Focusing too much attention on the celebration renders the service meaningless. Instead, parents and kids should take the time they would invest in the planning of a lavish party and do something meaningful for the community.

Kayla Greenberg is an eighth-grader at Colina Middle School in Thousand Oaks.

 

Hitler’s Favorite Book Ignites Feud


A mounting Internet feud has led to the expulsion of a public leader of the Holocaust revisionist movement from Amazon.com and triggered a slew of threatening e-mails against a Jewish communal official.

The trouble started soon after Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the Los Angeles office of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), ordered one of Hitler’s favorite books, “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success,” Sept. 10 from a seller on Amazon.com’s marketplace. Only afterward did she find out that she had purchased the book from Holocaust revisionist Michael Santomauro, who runs an e-mail list called, ReportersNotebook, that is dedicated to Holocaust denial, as well as to anti-Jewish and anti-Israel material.

When Amazon banned Santomauro from its marketplace a few weeks later — due to e-mails he had sent to Taylor — he distributed her home address and e-mail account to his thousands of subscribers. Taylor was immediately hit with a barrage of threatening e-mails — one of which led her to contact the Los Angeles police: “Since you support Zionists,” the anonymous e-mailer wrote, “I’m sure you won’t mind having your family members shot and your house bulldozed.”

The Internet has been a boon for Holocaust revisionists, who have found few other mainstream outlets for their ideas and products. Earlier this year, Santomauro began selling “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success” on the Amazon marketplace, which serves as a middle man between Internet buyers and sellers.

The book, which was written by Theodor Fritsch, was first published in 1887 and became one of Hitler’s favorites. In an e-mail to supporters, Santomauro wrote that the book explained how “Judaism is a conspiracy against non-Jews. Its aim is to fulfill the covenant and gain dominion over mankind by controlling wealth.”

He reprinted 1,000 copies of a translation of Fritsch’s book, and by September, he had sold more than 100 of them. Taylor came across the book as part of her work with the AJCongress, where she said she is “in charge of monitoring anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism on high school and college campuses.”

Taylor has posted a number of online reviews of books relating to Israel and Judaism on Amazon.com. In a review of a book edited by prominent left-wing Israeli historian Tom Segev on Israeli political dissent, she wrote, “If you like lies, revisionist history, falsehood and numbers without statistics to back them up, then this is the book for you.”

The same day that Taylor bought “Riddle” from Santomauro, she posted a review of the book. In it, she wrote, “Shame on Amazon and shame on you if you purchase this trash.” Santomauro wrote to Taylor using the e-mail address he had received through the order, and asked her why she had written a bad review before reading the book. (Taylor said that she had read excerpts before purchasing it.)

Amazon prohibits sellers from having any contact with customers that is unrelated to the transaction. Taylor said that soon after, she received two more e-mails from Santomauro’s personal e-mail account, one of which, she said, “talked about Jews masturbating over body parts.” When Amazon asked for a customer review of her experience, she sent along the e-mails from Santomauro.

In an interview with The Forward, Santomauro said he sent the e-mails only after Taylor asked to join his ReportersNotebook e-mail list. Taylor countered that she did request to join his list — for monitoring purposes — but only two days after receiving the first batch of e-mails. Neither claim could be confirmed, because both Santomauro and Taylor told The Forward that they had deleted their e-mails from the relevant time period.

Amazon.com has already taken steps to avoid any possibility of a repeat occurrence, at least one involving Santomauro. Amazon spokesman Craig Berman confirmed that Amazon.com will no longer allow the Holocaust revisionist to sell books through its Internet Marketplace.

The Marketplace allows third parties to sell “new, used, refurbished and collectible items” through Amazon facilities, in exchange for a fee equal to 15 percent of the proceeds.

Santomauro violated his participation agreement with Amazon, which prohibits information about a book buyer from being misused “for sending unsolicited e-mail, harassment, invasion of privacy, or other objectionable conduct,” said Berman.

However, as a basic principle, Berman added, “Amazon believes in providing access to all reading material, however controversial or distasteful. Anything else, we believe, is censorship.”

Santomauro and various pro-Nazi groups have urged their followers to protest Amazon’s alleged censorship in cutting off sales of “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success.” Berman said he had no information on how many protest e-mails Amazon had received.

This is not the first time that his various e-mail lists have gotten crossed. He also runs a roommate-matching service on the Internet and in 2003, was swamped with complaints after his Holocaust revisionist e-mails accidentally were sent out to his real estate clients.

Amazon wrote to him Oct. 11, telling him that he was “no longer able to sell on our site,” because of “inappropriate e-mail contact that originated from your e-mail address.”

Santomauro told a different story in e-mails that he sent out to his supporters after he was banned by Amazon. He immediately wrote to his ReportersNotebook list, proclaiming that he was the target of a “professional campaign to smear booksellers that deal with the ‘Jewish Question.'” He told his readers to protest to Amazon.

Then he sent out a separate e-mail with Taylor’s home and e-mail addresses. Santomauro told The Forward that he sent out Taylor’s personal information to help journalists who wanted to write about the story.

Since then, Taylor said, she has received about 50 threatening e-mails. A friend helped Taylor track down the person who sent the most threatening e-mail, and she reported it to the domestic terrorism unit of the FBI.

While two additional neo-Nazi groups — Mein Kampf and Der Leibstandarte — have joined the campaign against Taylor, she has received no further hate e-mail following the initial flurry, Taylor reported this week.

“Apparently, they have been scared off by learning that the FBI is on the case,” Taylor said.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, citing agency policy, but The Journal has learned that the FBI is actively investigating the threats against Taylor as a domestic terrorism case.

Santomauro said he saw nothing wrong with his decision to publicize her address: “For somebody who is trying to destroy my livelihood, and saying things in derogatory ways — I didn’t see what was wrong to announce her address.”

About the threatening e-mails, Santomauro said, “How do I know it’s not a campaign being fabricated in cahoots with the [Anti-Defamation League]?”

Neo-Nazi Internet magazine National Vanguard picked up Santomauro’s story and reprinted his telling of it, without including a response from Taylor. The magazine identified her as an “alleged operative of the ADL,” because of an e-mail she wrote to one of Santomauro’s supporters, saying she intended to pass along the book to the ADL. An ADL official said that the organization has had no contact with Taylor about the incident.

Taylor has written to Amazon, asking the site’s operators to display prominently the fact that sellers on the site will receive buyers’ contact information.

“Had I known I was giving all my information to Santomauro,” Taylor said, “I would have done things differently.”

Reprinted courtesy of The Forward (

L.A Lobbies to Keep Rotem


Israel’s Consul General Yuval Rotem bade farewell Monday night to the Los Angeles community he has served for nearly five years, but his admirers hope that they can persuade Jerusalem to extend his stay.

In a brief but emotional address at the annual Israel Independence Day reception, Rotem praised the support of the Jewish community and recalled the many friendships he and his family had made.

He also conferred artistically design menorahs as appreciation for their support of Israel on John and Ruth Rauch, founders of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity; Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; and John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, however, influential members of the Los Angeles Jewish community are waging a discreet but persistent campaign to extend the term of a diplomat who has enjoyed an unusually high level of respect among diverse constituencies as Israel’s top representative in Southern California, five southwestern states and Hawaii.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was privately lobbied on the matter by a number of local leaders during his visit to Los Angeles in late March.

"The past two years — as the media turned increasingly against Israel — have demanded extraordinary efforts to reach not only the sub-groups that make up the Jewish community, but Latinos, African Americans, Asians and Christians," said Neil Kadisha, who serves on the executive board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

"Yuval has established warm personal relationships with leaders of all these groups and, as the American elections approach, it is crucial that Israel maintain these relationships," he said. "I understand the foreign ministry’s rotation policy, but it would take a new consul general at least 18 months to gain a real understanding of this complex city and state. We can’t afford that time."

Rotem, a 44-year-old career foreign service officer, was appointed to his present post by then-Foreign Minister Ehud Barak and given the personal rank of ambassador on the recommendation of former Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Fishel described Rotem as "an extraordinary and highly focused diplomat, who has mobilized his staff and with whom we enjoy the closest professional and personal relationship. We need a person like that here, especially at this time."

Fishel said he had talked with Shalom during the latter’s visit, and while the foreign minister publicly acknowledged the vital services of Rotem and the consular staff, he was noncommittal about a possible extension of Rotem’s assignment. Shalom could not be reached in Jerusalem for further comments.

Yehuda Handelsman, immediate past president of the Council of Israeli Communities, said that "Yuval has reconnected Los Angeles and Israel" in general and had greatly strengthened ties between the consulate and the estimated 120,000-160,000 official Israeli expatriates in the city.

Handelsman also noted the connections Rotem had forged with the influential Hollywood community, which hosted Shalom during his visit here.

"I’m really selfish about this, because I am afraid that it would take a new person a long time to become effective," he said. "In difficult times, [foreign ministry] rules should be bent."

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, said that Rotem is "extremely effective and very well-versed in the concerns of our community. It would be a great advantage if he were to stay longer."

Rotem himself said that he was humbled by the extent of community support and had requested a one-year extension of his stay, but that the decision was up to the foreign ministry.

According to the recollections of old timers, the longest-serving consul general here was Benjamin Navon, who held the post for seven years.

Herb Keinon, the veteran political editor of the Jerusalem Post, noted that "Los Angeles is considered a plum foreign service assignment and some heavy hitters inside the ministry are keen on that post."

As an added consideration, Israel’s foreign minister is allowed to make 11 political appointments — outside the career civil service — to foreign diplomatic posts. In general, such political appointments have been reserved for key ambassadorships to Washington, London and Paris, but have gone to the New York consulate general, as well.

A political appointment to Los Angeles would likely stir up considerable resentment among career officers in the foreign ministry.

Yom HaShoah Events


Friday, April 16

Laemmle Theaters: Release of the Academy Award-nominated documentary, "Prisoner of Paradise," about German Jewish actor Kurt Gerron, sent to a concentration camp and forced to write and direct Nazi propaganda. Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills. (310) 274-6869. Laemmle Theatres Town Center, Encino. (818) 981-9811.

Congregation B’nai Emet: 8 p.m. Shabbat and Yom HaShoah service. Dachau survivor Bernie Simon speaks. 4645 Industrial St., Simi Valley. (805) 581-3723.

Saturday, April 17

Adat Ari El: 7 p.m. Mincha and discussion on "Understanding the Shoah and Human Atrocity: Moving Beyond God as Punisher, Enigma or Absentee." 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

Southern California Warsaw Ghetto Anniversary Committee: 7:30 p.m. "A Song to the Unsung: Heroines and Heroes of Resistance." Warsaw Ghetto uprising annual commemoration and tribute to the Holocaust martyrs. In Yiddish and English. Institute of Jewish Education, 8339 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Sunday, April 18

Congregation Mishkon Tephilo: Yom HaShoah Service. 206 Main St., Venice.

(310) 392-3029.

Museum of Tolerance: Screening of "The Long Way Home." 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 553-9036.

Temple Sinai: 10:15 a.m. Yom HaShoah Commemoration. Survivor Robert Geminder speaks. 1212 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale. R.S.V.P., (818) 246-8101.

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary:

11 a.m. Service honoring resistance fighter Hannah Szenes on the 60th anniversary of her death. 6001 Centinela Ave., Los Angeles. (800) 576-1994.

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust/ Jewish Federation/Los Angeles Holocaust Monument/Second Generation: 1:45 p.m. Community Commemoration. See above.

City of West Hollywood: 6:30 p.m. Candle lighting and klezmer music. Writer Suzan Hagstrom speaks. Plummer Park,

7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 848-6307.

B’nai David Judea: 7 p.m. Yom HaShoah Seder. Memories, ritual and song. Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 276-9269.

Colburn School of Performing Arts:

7:30 p.m. "Concert of Remembrance" featuring music by four composers, all survivors or victims of the Holocaust. $15. Herbert Zipper Hall, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 890-0276.

Monday, April 19

Simon Wiesenthal Center: 10:30 a.m. Annual commemoration. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky discusses "The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism Worldwide" and Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Laszlo Kovacs speaks in honor of the 60th anniversary of the deportation of Hungarian Jewry to Auschwitz. Posthumous honor will be given to Abdol Hossein Sardari, whose work as an Iranian diplomat in Paris during World War II saved Iranian Jews from deportaion. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 553-9036.

Thursday, April 22

Adat Ari El: 7:30 p.m. "Commemoration of Our Six Million." "Kaddish," candle lighting, readings and songs . $2-$4. 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 376-1640.

Friday, April 23

Temple Adat Elohim: 7:30 p.m. Shabbat and Yom HaShoah service. Survivor Marthe Cohn speaks. 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101.

Lev Eisha Women Pray Their Own Way


On the first Saturday of each month, while weekly, traditional Shabbat morning services are taking place at Adat Shalom synagogue, another service transpires behind the main sanctuary that is anything but traditional. Women of all ages dance between davening, beat tambourines and sing loudly, and instead of praying silently they share with one another.

They are the women of Adat Shalom’s Lev Eisha (A Woman’s Heart), “a joyous community of Jewish women engaged in prayer, study, spiritual growth and friendship.” Founded by a handful of women in 1999 as an outgrowth of the Wagner Women’s Retreat — an annual retreat at Camp Ramah in Ojai organized through the University of Judaism’s Wagner paraprofessional program — Lev Eisha has grown to average more than 100 women at each service and more than 400 people on its mailing list.

Lev Eisha attracts a diversity of women that ranges from young to old, unaffiliated to observant, and while most are not members of Adat Shalom, they travel from Orange County and the San Fernando Valley to attend the monthly service. While the women of Lev Eisha pride themselves on their diversity, it is a hunger for a spiritual connection that unites them.

“The women that come have a very strong spiritual need and are seeking something in a Jewish context,” said Elaine Craig Segal, Lev Eisha’s president. “You can get meditation and other things, but people looking to find a spiritual connection within their own religion can look to Lev Eisha.”

Lev Eisha offers women an opportunity to express themselves through music.

“In a regular service I don’t find a spiritual connection. The words, to me, don’t go as deep,” said Debbie Juster, a West Los Angeles resident. “Here, the music goes deep inside and I feel a comfort and a spirituality that is connected with music.”

Led by cantor Cindy Paley, the music in the Lev Eisha prayer booklet is a collaborative effort of Paley and Lev Eisha’s Rabbi Toba August, which combines “California style,” a contemporary mode characterized by such musicians as Craig Taubman and Debbie Freidman, and “Jewish Renewal” music, such as musicians Hanna Tiferet and Linda Hirschhorn, which comes out of the Renewal stream of Judaism. Joy Krauthammer, a member of Sarah’s Tent, also volunteers each month to accompany the women with such instruments as bongo drums, xylophones and rainmakers.

“The music cracks open your heart,” said August, who directs Adat Shalom’s religious school in addition to leading Lev Eisha. “It’s the only time I can really pray. The music lets you go in and find God — to find your divine within. It helps you cry and it helps you laugh. It allows people to enter into prayer.”

In addition to the music, the camaraderie and the opportunity to pray with other women keeps women coming back to Lev Eisha.

“When women get together to pray the energy is different. We are not competitive. Our voices can be heard,” said Mollie Wine, a cantorial soloist that helps lead the service. “I often daven with Chabad — with a mechitzah — but once a month I just want to be with the girls.”

The women of Lev Eisha, however, realize that their approach to Judaism does not appeal to everyone.

“There are some women who wouldn’t want to pray this way,” Segal said. “This is not a traditional service, so if you feel you are very traditional in your observance you probably wouldn’t want to do something like this. It doesn’t speak to everyone.”

But for women who it does speak to, it speaks loudly.

Barbara Axelrod, a two-time survivor of breast cancer told The Journal that she discovered Lev Eisha at the time when she needed spirituality the most.

“It really has had a lot to do with my inner healing,” Axelrod said. “When I was laying in bed at the hospital it would give me peace when I would close my eyes and envision being here. It gives me such inner peace and joy.”

Like it has done for Axelrod, August wishes that the Lev Eisha service can offer women hope.

“I want the women to walk out with a faith in God and the understanding that they’re not alone in their lives and that they will be able to cope with whatever their life experience offers them,” August said. “I also hope they gain a deeper appreciation of the joyful moments and a more profound ability to cope with painful illnesses and losses. I pray that they walk out feeling renewed.”

For more information about Lev Eisha, contact leveisha@earthlink.net .

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.

Daniel Lembark


Daniel Lembark died at his home in Los Angeles on Feb. 3, 2003 at the age of 78.

Born in New York City on Sept. 20, 1924, he arrived in Los Angeles with his family in 1927.

In grammar school, Daniel was introduced to the flute, whichwas to play an important role in his life. At Beverly Hills High School (BHHS)he played the flute in the orchestra and band, and served as student directorof both groups in his senior year.

After graduating from BHHS in 1942, Daniel enrolled in UCLAas a music major. He interrupted his education to enlist in the U.S. CoastGuard in February 1943.

Following his discharge in 1946, Daniel returned to UCLA asan accounting major. He became an active member of the Zeta Beta Taufraternity, and served as chapter president in his senior year.

He began his professional career as a CPA with the LosAngeles firm of Zeman, Tuller, Boyer and Goldberg. Shortly after, he wasappointed CFO of Frank Sennes’ Moulin Rouge in Hollywood. He returned to Zeman,Tuller, Boyer and Goldberg in 1962 as a partner, and remained in that positionwhen the firm merged with Laventhol and Horwath. In 1978, he became aprofessional corporate director, serving on multiple boards .

Throughout his professional career, Daniel distinguishedhimself by his extraordinary contributions to the Jewish community of LosAngeles. He served as president of the Cedars-Sinai Hospital Fellowship Counciland the Jewish Family Service. He was chairman of the SOVA Food Pantry ProgramAdvisory Committee until January.

Daniel is survived by his wife Conni;, son, Steven; andsister, Marjorie Jackson. He will be remembered by many devoted friends andadmirers around the country.

The Daniel Lembark Fund has been established for the benefitof the SOVA Food Pantry at the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, 6505Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90048, and those wishing to honor him are invitedto make a contribution.

A tribute to Daniel Lembark’s life will be held at Temple Israelof Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., on Feb. 13 at 4 p.m.

Candles Shine From L.A. to Tel Aviv


The miracle of Chanukah took on a double meaning Dec. 4, when Los Angeles Holocaust survivors participated in a menorah-lighting ceremony with their counterparts in Tel Aviv via videoconferencing.

"We celebrate the miracle of Chanukah, and we also celebrate the miracle that we survived," said Eva David, a survivor originally from Romania-Hungary. "Who would have thought when we were weak and hopeless that we would reach old age"?

The event, which was staged by Cafe Europa, a Jewish Family Service program that serves as a social outlet and offers financial assistance and emotional support to Holocaust survivors, allowed those who shared a common experience to also share the joy of Chanukah with one another. Cafe Europa has served the Los Angeles survivor community for 15 years, but the candle-lighting celebration marked the Tel Aviv group’s first anniversary since its establishment.

"It’s inspiring for me to see how much your group has grown there. I’m kveling right now," Eleanor Marks Gordon, coordinator of Los Angeles Cafe Europa, told the nearly 50 participants in Tel Aviv.

Many Los Angeles residents at the event had friends or relatives in the Tel Aviv group. Lydia Bagdor saw her cousin’s daughter, who, when she last saw her, was 4 years old and is now a young adult. "You are my only cousins from my old family," Bagdor said.

Guta Schulman was able to spend Chanukah with her Auschwitz bunkmate, Chaya Rabinowitz, who had settled in Tel Aviv after the Holocaust. Schulman said that she owes her life to her friend, because Rabinowitz convinced her to leave Auschwitz, although her sister-in-law was not allowed to leave. "I have goose bumps," Schulman said after their emotional conversation.

As the Los Angeles group watched, a survivor lit the candles on the menorah in Tel Aviv. Then all the survivors — in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles — joined in singing "Hatikvah."

Take It to the Church


The church is not a place that one typically associates with Chanukah. But that will change on Dec. 6 when members of Los Angeles’ Jewish and African American communities come together at the West Angeles Cathedral. The Crenshaw District institution — with a new $60 million cathedral that makes it one of the largest African American churches in the western United States — will play host to a joint Chanukah service that will be led by the cathedral’s Bishop Charles Blake and Rabbi David Baron of Temple Shalom for the Arts.

For Blake, the match is a natural one.

"It is a statement of our common humanity and our brotherhood," Blake said. "There has been a historic relationship between blacks and Jews because both races have been historically excluded, discriminated against and persecuted. By celebrating their heritage, in a sense we celebrate our own biblical heritage."

For five years, the 40-member West Angeles Gospel Choir has performed at the temple’s annual "Shared Heritage of Freedom" service. However, this is the first time such an evening will be staged in a cathedral. The final day of Chanukah celebration will include performances by the West Angeles Church of God in Christ Gospel Choir and the Beverly Hills High School choral group, led by Joel Pressman. Singer Nell Carter, star of the popular ’80s sitcom, "Gimme a Break!" will sing "Rock of Ages."

The idea of bringing both communities together is not new for Baron, who started organizing such cultural crossovers 20 years ago, when he and then-Cantor Judy Fox joined H.B. Barnum, composer of "Your Arms Too Short to Box With God," for a program at Westwood’s Wadsworth Theatre. Over the years, relations among various Los Angeles communities have hit some highs and lows, with economic strife and municipal politics often occurring along racial lines.

"While those differences exist, I haven’t sensed any negativity or hostility or pulling away," Baron said. "It’s always been very positive."

Blake is looking forward to the Chanukah program.

"I’m quite excited about it," he said. "We get so bogged down in our own community that we sometimes do not take time to get involved with others. But we are just one community. If we fail to recognize other communities, communication will break down and misunderstandings will occur. I know that it’s going to be the most unusual eighth night of Chanukah I’ve ever seen."

The Chanukah service will take place at 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the West Angeles Cathedral, 3045 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles. Parking is available on site. For more information, call (310) 444-7500.

A Thanksgiving to Fill the Spiritby


On the evening before Thanksgiving, my synagogue, Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, always gets together with a neighboring church, Shepherd of the Hills United Methodist, for an interfaith service. What is remarkable about this joint venture, and other pre-Thanksgiving services like it throughout the United States, is the fact that Jews and Christians can pray together under one roof.

My parents entered a church only for a neighbor’s wedding, funeral or other life-cycle event. On those rare occasions, they were invited guests, not participants.

My grandparents probably never entered a church. When they needed to pass by one, they would usually spit on the ground, and make sure to walk on the opposite side of the street.

My grandparents believed that entering a Christian house of worship contaminated them with bad luck. In addition to their superstition, they feared for their physical well-being. My grandparents knew that they could easily be harmed by church members, who erroneously learned in weekly sermons and in Sunday school lessons that "the Jews killed Christ."

Now, every year, on the evening before the national harvest festival, I take part in an event that my ancestors could never imagine happening: an interfaith service where prayers of friendship and thanksgiving are offered by both Jews and Christians, together as equal participants.

The event joyfully begins when Jewish congregants welcome their Christian neighbors, and sing, in Hebrew, Psalm 133: Hinay mah tov u’mah nayim, shevet achim gam yachad ("How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in harmony"). Church members respond, singing words from their hymn, "We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing…."

The service then proceeds with worshippers reading in unison a number of passages taken from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Talmud (the sacred literature of each faith’s tradition).

A clergy member brings the service to a close with a sermon. This year, when the service takes place at the church, the rabbi will deliver a message. Next year, when the service returns to the synagogue, the pastor will speak.

Many synagogue and church members feel this annual experience is esthetically the most beautiful worship service of the year. On no other occasion, including all of the other national holidays, are the values of democracy, freedom and pluralism more clearly expressed and represented. The service brings spiritual meaning to these values and the holiday, in general, that parades, football games, turkey dinners and even family gatherings do not capture.

The transcendence of history, though, particularly after Sept. 11, is the most impressive feature of the evening. What was a utopian or Messianic idea for my ancestors to contemplate has now become a yearly common occurrence. That transcendence, and the consequent hope it instills for the future, is perhaps the true blessing of Thanksgiving that we should appreciate.

Elliot Fein teaches high school students Jewish studies at Tarbut V’Torah Community School in Irvine.

Orange County County Calendar


September 1-September 7

Heritage Pointe, Mission Viejo Chapter: Sun., Sept. 1, 5 p.m. Bus trip to the Hollywood Bowl to see “New York, New York.” $40 (members), $45 (guests). 27356 Bellogente, Mission Viejo. For more information, call (949) 455-1535.

Jewish Single Parents and Singles Association: Sun., Sept. 1, 7 p.m. Dinner and a movie. Papa Mio’s Italian Grill, 1060 E. Imperial Highway, Brea. For reservations, call (714) 517-0450.

JCC Senior Services Department: Thurs., Sept. 5, 1 p.m. Rosh Hashana concert featuring violinist Mari Haig and accordionist Barry Friedland. Rabbi Alter Tenenbaum will blow the shofar and deliver a Rosh Hashana message. $6.50. Orange County JCC, 250 E. Baker St., Costa Mesa. For more information, call (714) 755-0370, ext. 133.

Rosh Hashana, Thurs., Sept. 6-

Sun., Sept. 8. The holiday begins at sundown. Check with your synagogue for times of services.

Orange County JCC: Fri., Sept. 6,

7:30 p.m. (Also Sept. 7, 15 and 16.) Singles High Holiday Services. Join 400 singles of all ages. Officiated by Cantor Barry Cohen, with music by Eve Michaels. 250 E. Baker St., Costa Mesa. For more information, call (714) 755-0340.

Congregation B’nai Israel: Fri.,

Sept. 6. Marcia Tilchin leads the congregation in High Holiday services as their first full-time cantor.

2111 Bryan Ave., Tustin. For more information, call (714) 730-9693.

September 8-September 14

Chabad of Irvine: Sun., Sept. 8,

5:30 p.m. Mincha and Tashlich ceremony. Adults and children will walk to the Woodbridge North Lake for Tashlich after the Mincha service. 4980 Barranca Parkway, Irvine. For more information, call (949) 786-5000.

Orange County JCC Singles (35-50): Thurs., Sept. 12, 7 p.m. Dessert for 20. Limited to the first 10 women and 10 men. $18 (members), $22 (nonmembers). For reservations, call (714) 755-0340, ext. 135.

University Synagogue: Fri., Sept. 13,

8 p.m. Shabbat Shuva. The service will include meditation, poetry, traditional prayers and discussion and comments about repentance. 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine. For more information, call (949) 553-3535.

Hillel of Greater Long Beach and W. Orange County: Sat., Sept. 14, 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Roshapalooza Party, featuring Los Angeles party band, The Candies, plus pasta and pizza bar. $5 or three cans of food (students), $10 and three cans of food or $15 (general). All profits go to charity. Holiday Inn, 2640 Lakewood Blvd., Long Beach. For more information, call (562) 985-7585.

September 15-September 21

Yom Kippur, Sun., Sept. 15 -Mon., Sept. 16. The holidaybegins at sundown. Check with your synagogue for times of services.

Jewish Single Parents and Singles Association: Mon., Sept. 16, sundown. Break the fast with dinner at Jerry’s Deli. 3210 Park Center Drive, Costa Mesa. For reservations or more information, call (714) 755-0340, ext. 115.

National Council of Jewish Women, Long Beach/Orange County: Tues., Sept. 17, 11:30 a.m. Launch of the 2002/2003 season with lunch and presentation of “The Children of Willesden Lane,” by Mona Golabek. The Reef Restaurant, 880 S. Harbor Scenic Drive, Long Beach. For more information, call (562) 597-2361.

Alpert Jewish Community Center: Wed., Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m. Dr. Lynn Rapaport discusses, “Growing Up Jewish in Post-Holocaust Germany.” Free. 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. For more information, call (526) 426-7601.

Jewish National Fund: Thurs.,

Sept. 19, 6 p.m. (cocktails), 7 p.m. (dinner). Guardians of Israel Award Dinner. Rabbi Sidney and Eleanor Guthman, Joseph and Marjorie Hess, Miles and Esther Sterling and Drs. Michael and Wendy Strauss will be honored. Former Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arens will speak. $180. Hyatt Regency, 200 S. Pine Ave., Long Beach. For reservations or more information, call (714) 957-4540.

University Synagogue: Fri., Sept. 20, 5:30 p.m. Tot Shabbat Sukkot service followed by 6:30 p.m. potluck picnic dinner and 7 p.m. family service for all ages. 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine. For more information, call (949) 553-3535.

Chabad Jewish Center of Mission Viejo: Fri., Sept. 20, 7 p.m. Shabbat and Sukkot evening service. Special children’s program will include games, prizes and stories. Celebrating all the birthdays of the month, so call to have your child’s name added to the birthday cake. 24041 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. For more information, call (949) 770-1270.

Harbor Jewish Singles (55+): Sat., Sept. 21, 6 p.m. Sukkot Party. Catered salmon dinner. $12 (members), $14 (nonmembers). For location and more information, call (714) 939-8540.

September 22-September 30

Congregation B’nai Tzedek: Sun., Sept. 22, 10 a.m.-noon. Sukkot Celebration and Open House. Members of the community are encouraged to attend. 9669 Talbert Ave., Fountain Valley. For more information, call (714) 963-4611.

Chabad Jewish Center of Mission Viejo: Sun., Sept. 22, 12:30 p.m. Sukkah Party for adults and children. 24041 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. For more information, call (949) 770-1270.

Jewish Hikers: Sun., Sept. 22, 2:30 p.m. Hike through Peters Canyon Park’s lakeside trail and up Hamstring Hill. Then enjoy a potluck dinner in a sukkah. For more information, call (714) 838-2836.

Women’s American ORT, Fullerton/ N. Orange County: Mon., Sept. 23,

10 a.m. Paid-Up Membership Party with performance by a member of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. Temple Beth Tikvah, 1600 N. Acacia Ave., Fullerton. For reservations, call(714) 738-1987.

Temple Bat Yahm: Tues., Sept. 24, 10:45 a.m.-1 p.m. Sisterhood Paid-Up Membership Luncheon with music by Opera Pacific resident artist Andrew Fernando. 1011 Camelback St., Newport Beach. For more information, call (949) 644-1999.

Aish SpeedDating (40-55): Tues.,

Sept. 24, 6:30 p.m. Seven minutes per date, seven round-robin dates. Ages 30-45, Wed., Sept. 25, 6:30 p.m. $20. For location and more information, call (310) 278-8672, ext. 401.

ADL Civil Rights Committee/ American Friends of Hebrew University/Community Scholarship Program: Tues., Sept. 24, 7 p.m. Professor Meron Medzinin from the Hebrew University discusses “Anti-Israelism, Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism: A New Jewish Reality.” $12. MJW Fine Art, 209 Marine Ave., Balboa Island. For more information, call (714) 979-4733.

Jewish Single Parents and Singles Association: Tues., Sept. 24, 7 p.m. Balboa Island Walk and Coffee. Meet in front of the fire station. 124 Marine Ave. For more information, call (714) 557-3970.

Chabad Jewish Center of Mission Viejo: Thurs., Sept. 26, 10 a.m. Women’s Chodesh Group. First gathering of the new year. 24041 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. For more information, call (949) 770-1270.

University Synagogue: Fri., Sept. 27,

7 p.m. Simchat Torah service with klezmer band. 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine. For more information, call (949) 553-3535.

Jewish Single Parents and Singles Association: Fri., Sept. 27, 7:45 p.m. Singles Shabbat Service and Social Mixer. B’nai Tikvah Congregation, 5820 W. Manchester Ave., Westchester. For more information, call (714) 755-0340, ext. 115.

Chabad Jewish Center of Mission Viejo: Sat., Sept. 28, 7 p.m. Grand Simchat Torah celebration. Evening service, dancing with the Torah and “Kiddush.” 24041 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. For more information, call (949) 770-1270.

Heritage Pointe, Mission Viejo Chapter: Sun., Sept. 29, 11 a.m. Gala Patron Brunch. Big Canyon Country Club, 1 Big Canyon Drive, Newport Beach. For more information, call (949) 364-9685.

Sept. 11 Events

ADL, Long Beach and Orange County/Jewish Federations of Long Beach and Orange County: Wed., Sept. 11, 6:45-8:45 p.m. Community event in remembrance of Sept. 11. Chief Jerome E. Lance of the Long Beach Police Department and Chief Dave Snowden of the Costa Mesa Police Department will be honored for the extraordinary work of their departments. Panel speakers will discuss the threat of terrorism, the rise of global anti-Semitism and how local law enforcement and community organizations have responded. Alpert Jewish Community Center, E. Willow St., Long Beach. For more information, call (562) 426-7601.

City of Irvine: Wed., Sept. 11, 7-8:30 p.m. “Light of Unity” candlelight vigil and honorary program in remembrance of Sept. 11. Mayor Larry Agran will speak, patriotic music will be played, “Hands of Unity” American flag will be displayed and individuals close to the Sept. 11 events will speak. Heritage Park lagoon, Walnut and Yale avenues, Irvine. For more information, call (949) 724-6884.

Service Oriented


Once again, they are upon us: the High Holidays. For some, the holidays are a time to reconnect with family and friends they haven’t seen in a year. Others look on this as a time of spiritual renewal. And most — whether they like it or not — spend a significant part of the holidays in synagogue.

These days, many congregations cater services to the individual, from special children’s services to services for singles. Whether the point of the service is to make them more comprehensible for a certain age grou, or to provide a warm environment of peers, finding the right service can make all the difference.

For the Kids

At Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana, Rabbi Heidi Cohen leads youth services for grades four to six, an age group that has been “forced into services that didn’t speak to them.” Since 1998, when Rabbi Cohen joined Temple Beth Sholom as assistant rabbi, the youngsters have used a service obtained from a congregation in Boston to have a “separate and much more meaningful experience,” she said. They even touch the Torah while they read the letters and hold the ornaments in a “hand-on experience that’s not just done up there,” Cohen said, referring to the bimah.

“In the main congregation service the liturgy is not on their level, nor should we expect it to be,” Cohen said. “The youth service includes discussions that relate the prayers, blessings and holidays to the kids’ lives.”

For instance, after the “Yotzer Or,” the prayer on creation, the students talk about the blessings in their lives. They also discuss such topics as what it means to atone. After the service the youngsters sit in groups for lunch and relate timely topics to the Torah. Last year, the subject was how Sept. 11 affected people’s lives. Now it may be the healing process and what has changed in a year, Cohen said.

“The youth services are my highlight of the High Holidays, when I’m surrounded by kids and we’re able to pray together in a meaningful way,” Cohen said.

For the Teens

Rabbi Michael Churgel leads separate services for teenagers at Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo, where he serves as assistant rabbi. The 13- to 17-year-olds actually develop their own “teen-friendly” service, according to Youth Director Vicki Cabot. Using the Reform prayerbook, Gates of Repentance, for the High Holidays as a basic structure, the teens develop or incorporate poetry, readings and liturgy set to contemporary music.

Conducted during the same timeframe as adult services, Temple Beth El’s teen service is run by the congregation’s youth group and attended by 150 to 200 teenagers. The 16-member youth group board decides on the contents of the service and gets volunteers to read the parts. After the service, which lasts up to two hours, there is text study related to timely topics.

“Last year’s topic was 9/11, and this year’s is Israel,” Cabot said. “The group incorporates materials as it sees fit. The teens have more control of this than people do of the adult service, so they feel that it’s theirs.”

For Singles

Some adults feel left out of services, too, especially when they are single, and everyone else seems to be part of a family. For that reason the Jewish Community Center (JCC) “wanted to open its doors and make sure that everybody had a place to go,” said Debbie Lux, coordinator of the JCC’s High Holiday services. “The JCC is one of the first agencies people call when they are new in town and don’t know many people,” she adds.

Held at the JCC for the past five years, the services attract about 400 singles of all ages. Barry Cohen, who has been affiliated with JCC Singles for many years, officiates at the services, while Eve Michaels provides the music. Leaders are recognized on the bimah, and babysitting is available. In addition, there are many opportunities to socialize — an Oneg after the Rosh Hashana service, a Tashlich service at the beach and a break-the-fast at a local deli.

Not surprisingly, people meet at services all the time, Lux said. One of the leaders recognized last year met his wife-to-be at the JCC High Holiday services, and a couple that met there two years ago will “tie the knot” in January.

“People come to reconnect with Judaism, to feel like part of an extended family when they don’t have real family in the area and to network with other singles,” Lux said.

Irvine Home to New Shul


Irvine is increasingly becoming Orange County’s Jewish capital, with the establishment of a sixth synagogue, Congregation Kol HaNeshamah, which in Hebrew means “voice of the soul.” The new shul’s rabbi is H. Rafael Goldstein, who also serves as chaplain for the San Diego Jewish Federation and its Jewish Healing Center, a program of San Diego’s Jewish Family Service.

The new congregation’s founding members and its rabbi are expatriates of Congregation Or Ami, another Irvine shul that has apparently disbanded. Or Ami fired Goldstein in December 2000, says Pat Goldman, Kol HaNeshamah’s president. “They couldn’t afford the rabbi and the building. We chose the rabbi,” she says.

The splinter group, reformed in March 2001 as Kol HaNeshamah has applied to affiliate with the Reform movement, but has yet to be accepted. Goldman describes the shul’s approach as Reform/Renewal, where spiritual services involve music and the congregation. Goldstein is unaffiliated with the Orange County Board of Rabbis, says the group’s executive vice president, Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark.

Holiday services will be held in combination with Irvine’s Congregation Kol Simcha, Orange County’s gay, lesbian and bisexual Jewish congregation, which holds itinerant services. These are to take place at University Synagogue, 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine. The congregation expects to add a second class of religious education, which starts Sept. 22 at Irvine’s University Community Park.

For more information about Kol HaNeshamah, call (949)
551-2737 or visit www.voiceofthesoul.org .

Why Us?


I’m sure that most of you have heard about how three synagogues in my hometown of Sacramento were firebombed early Friday morning. And perhaps you have heard about the pain that so many Jews around the country are feeling. And, of course, these feelings run even deeper among those of us who are members of one of the temples.

I have belonged to Congregation B’nai Israel, one of the torched synagogues, for the past 17 years. Celebrating our 150th anniversary, we are the oldest congregation west of the Mississippi River.

All weekend, members of our temple (900 families strong) phoned each other, seeking news about how bad it really was, etc., since we were not allowed anywhere near the site.

We talked about how this could happen in America? What have we done? Why do they (still) hate us so much? Aren’t we good members of the community?

We volunteer for local services and donate funds to good civic causes. All we ask is to be allowed to worship the way we wish and to be allowed to keep our culture alive in our own homes and temples. We don’t seek converts. It is not a “we’re better than you are,” or “God loves us more than you.” All we ask is that we be allowed to live in peace, brotherhood and safety within the dominant Christian community. We don’t want to bother or threaten the dominant community. Just allow us “to be.” Is that so hard?

We heard via our phone tree, as well as the local media, that our weekly Friday Shabbat service would be held in the 2,000-seat Community Theatre.

Since I’m not religious and don’t often go to Friday-night services, I thought simply to pass. But then I thought that someone should be there to “stand up” to the terrorists. I figured that I would lend my presence to the 150 or 250 people who might show up; if nothing else, we would fill a few rows in the huge theater, which has two balconies.

Then I arrived.

Eighteen hundred people from all over our community — Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Hare Krishna’s, and members from every sect of the Protestant community — were there. There were members from black churches, gay churches, Asian churches, as well as atheists, agnostics and some of the followers of New Age spiritual leaders. There were ministers, bishops, city council members, the police chief, the FBI, ATF, and representatives from the state legislature and governor’s office. Never have I seen such an outpouring of grief and concern from the community…for Jews.

Our Friday-night service is a “Celebration of the Sabbath,” when workday thoughts are put aside and the hearts of the parents turn toward the children, and the hearts of the children turn to the parents. We sing, clap hands, say prayers, listen to the rabbi and cantor banter with each other, and, of course, hear a sermon, often filled with humor. It is a happy service…and usually short.

But who could be happy? Our house of worship had been torched. Our entire library of 5,000 books was gone. Yet our rabbi told us that we must persevere and that to not celebrate the Sabbath would be exactly what the terrorists would hope to achieve. And so we went on with our service.

There were a number of speakers from our congregation and the community. All were inspirational and devoid of the kind of sorrow, sadness, grief or anger that you might expect.

Our previous rabbi, now retired, who served us for 22 years, flew in from Phoenix and reminded us that “we are the Jewish people and that we have always survived and we will survive this as well.” And we were putting on a brave front. We laughed, we sang, we applauded, we said the ancient prayers. We held up the best we could.

Then something I will never forget happened.

Seated on the stage (our stand-in bimah) were a number of our temple’s officers, as well as some of the “dignitaries” from the city. There was also an attractive blonde woman whom no one seemed to recognize. I heard the “buzz” around me: “Who is that woman, and why is she there?” Then our rabbi stepped forward and said he wanted to introduce us to the Rev. Faith Whitmore. The blonde rose and went to the podium. I’m not sure if she is the local or regional head of the United Methodist Church, but she spoke briefly at first about how appalled she and her brethren were over the arson bombings. She then reached into her suit coat and took out a piece of paper.

“I want you to know that this afternoon we took a special offering of our members to help you rebuild your temple, and we want you to have this check for $6,000,” she told us. For two seconds, there was absolute dead quiet. We were astounded. Slowly, then building, the hall shook with applause. I’ve never heard applause like that before. It went on for two minutes. And then people broke into tears. Me, included.

As the Rev. Whitmore gave the check to the rabbi and hugged him, it was one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever been witness to. Our congregation, some 1,100 of us, stood with tears in our eyes. The evening closed with a final hymn, and we all went home feeling a bit better.

The other reality did not hit me until the following afternoon, when I saw the charred remains of the library wing. The place was swarming with ATF, FBI and other agents, who were collecting materials for the investigations. One ATF agent said that this is being classified as an “act of domestic terrorism” and has been given the highest priority. When you see the destruction of something that was “yours,” something you helped build, and something you were proud of, it hits you. The depression is overwhelming.

Why here? Why us? Why me? I’m sure there are answers, but I don’t have them at the moment. The only answer I do have is that we must pick ourselves up as a congregation and community and move on. They can’t beat us. We are the Jewish people. We were here 5,000 years ago, and we will be here 5,000 years from today.

I’m going to end by doing something that may upset some of you. I’m going to call in whatever markers I might have. We lost our entire 5,000-volume library. I saw it. It was soot. Not even a page remained. Nothing.

It was a wonderful library of Jewish-oriented books and films. It was a treasure of our congregation, and it was used by hundreds of our members, especially the young people. In our community, mothers took their children to the temple library as much as they took their children to the public library. It was part of “what we do.” Our books and videos were one of the ways we “socialized” our young people into our culture. And it works. We expect a lot from them, and we make sure that they have the tools and opportunities not to disappoint us.

If you could find it in your heart to send a check for a dollar or two ($5, $10, or whatever is in your heart) for our library fund, it would be a mitzvah. I told our rabbi that I would ask every publisher in America for a small contribution.

If this is something you could do, please make out a check to Congregation B’nai Israel and send it to Alan N. Canton at Adams-Blake Publishing, 8041 Sierra St., Fair Oaks, CA 95628. I will see that it gets to the right people.