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.

No.

Matter.

What.

How a Yid from Chicago became the Judio next door


Ron Cohen — a tough-talking, barrel-chested, Chicago-born 57-year-old — said that he regularly crosses the border from El Centro on Fridays to spend Shabbat with the Medrano family in Mexicali.

“I was the one who got many of these people together,” said Cohen, whose wife is Mexican. “A couple of years ago, I was here in Mexicali and walked into Alfredo Medrano’s digital editing lab just by chance. And I see a menorah there.”

“So I say, ‘Why do you have that?’ And he’s a little wary: ‘Why do you want to know?’ So I show him this,” Cohen said, displaying his Magen David necklace.

“And I tell him, ‘Cause I’m a Jew.’ So then I went about linking up the Medranos with Jose Orozco and all the others.

“That’s the meaning of my life, connecting people,” he said. “I find out that someone wants to practice Judaism, or at least know more about it, and I put them in touch with others already on that path. That’s how this community has grown.”

“Look, this is a congregation looking for a home, looking for someone to minister to them. Wouldn’t it be great if someone up in the States donated money for them so they could have their own shul? I mean, even a small one, where they could have a Torah and the place would become the social and cultural center of this community,” Cohen stressed.

“I’m always thinking about what can be done to raise money for this group,” he continued. “I mean, even if it’s just enough to get prayer books in Spanish and Hebrew. If we could get 30 or 40 siddurim to start out with, it would be terrific. I’ve got some ideas on how to raise money. Here’s one: For Purim we can make Mexican-style pinatas that represent Haman. Fill them with candies. I know we could make a few bucks on that idea.”

Social justice moves to front of some congregational agendas


Three state Assembly members and a lone county supervisor were no match this week for 500 Jews demanding more money for health care.
“We meet tonight to ensure health-care coverage for all county residents,” said Rabbi Joel Fleekop of Congregation Shir Hadash of Los Gatos, host of the Feb. 12 event in that Silicon Valley town.

Invoking Judaism’s exhortation “to care for the widow and the orphan,” Fleekop and a dozen other speakers presented universal health care as a God-given right. If funding is not forthcoming, they warned the four elected officials, more than 300,000 children in California will be uninsured by 2012.

“As people of faith, we won’t stand for it,” one speaker declared.
It was hardly a fair fight. But that’s how it usually goes at such events, whispered Simon Greer, president of Jewish Funds for Justice, which had bused in more than 200 participants for the meeting from its national conference, “Holy Congregations, Just Communities,” in nearby Santa Clara.

These congregations were following a model of congregation-based community organizing put forward by Jewish Funds for Justice five years ago.

By joining with like-minded churches and civic groups in large, regional interfaith networks, Greer said, these synagogues are multiplying their strength and enhancing their effectiveness.
Participants from around the country said they are helping to transform their congregations into more caring, connected communities.

On the social action front, they are moving beyond once-a-year “mitzvah days” to become effective agents for social change in housing, education, crime prevention and health care. They are helping to push through laws and policies at local and state levels that they never could have alone.

The model is proving to be popular. In 2002, when the Jewish Funds initiative began, 20 synagogues signed on. Today that number has climbed to 70. Staffers hope it will move past 100 by the end of the year.

Nearly 300 Jewish clergy, rabbinical students and lay leaders, representing 63 of those 70 congregations, spent three days this week at the group’s second national gathering devoted to the issue.

Forty-four rabbinical students, from Reform to Orthodox, have taken the group’s semester-long course in leadership development and community organizing. It is required of all second-year students at the Modern Orthodox seminary Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York.

Synagogues engaged in the work are reporting success.

A congregation near Chicago, working in concert with other faith-based groups, shut down one of its neighborhood’s main suppliers of guns.Another congregation in Columbus, Ohio, secured $1 million to expand community health-care centers to serve an additional 3,500 people.A third, in Northern California, convinced county officials to set aside $18 million for affordable housing. And a fourth, in Maryland, doubled the number of taxis so local seniors could get around.

There are bigger victories as well. Rabbi Jonah Pesner spearheaded a successful organizing initiative at Temple Israel in Boston before being hired by the Reform movement to head its national “Just Congregations” project. He said the statewide health-care reform in Massachusetts passed last March because of the efforts of the 55 churches, synagogues and civic groups in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization.

Beyond the tangible victories, those involved in this work say it has transformed their synagogues into communities where the people know and care about each other. In making the world a little better, they are making their congregations more warm, friendly and caring.

“My relationships with people are deeper, stronger,” said Rick Zinman of Temple Beth El in Aptos, Calif.

The process itself is important, say participants. Instead of having the rabbi or social action committee decide which projects to work on, congregants sit down with each other to talk about who they are, what they care about and why, to hone in on the issues they want to focus on.

Kehilat Shalom in Montgomery Village, Md., decided to work for affordable housing because many of its members’ children couldn’t afford to buy homes in the area.

“My empty nesters said, ‘Our kids are moving out, we want to be near our grandchildren,'” Rabbi Mark Raphael said.

Kehilat Shalom joined Action in Montgomery, a group of 31 local churches committed to social action, and together they got the county to earmark $140 million for affordable housing on public land.
The congregation still collects clothes for the homeless and holds its annual mitzvah day.

The process is time consuming. Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco held 150 one-to-one meetings over the course of a year before joining the San Francisco Organizing Project, an interfaith network, to work for health-care reform.

“There was a lot of hesitancy in the synagogue,” congregant Susan Lubeck said. “The idea of being the only Jews in a Christian context was unnerving.”

It turns out that the churches had been seeking a way to draw synagogues into their social justice work, said Erika Katske, associate director of the San Francisco Organizing Project, just at the time that synagogues nationwide were becoming more interested.

Last June, Sha’ar Zahav hosted its first meeting with city officials to push for health-care reform. Rabbi Camille Angel watched as her congregants stood up and, one by one, told their stories: One had AIDS, another couldn’t afford medical insurance.

The politicos voted unanimously, and San Francisco became one of the first cities to pledge universal health-care coverage.

“I saw my congregants become leaders,” Angel said. “It was one of the most religious moments I’d ever seen in my sanctuary.”

Single, 60, and invisible no more


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can I say but the beat goes on.

He’s a nice person with a good heart.

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

Cantor Steven Puzarne of Breeyah.


Carole Levine had been a member of Temple Israel of Hollywood for 28 years. During that time, she attended temple only during the High Holidays. Recently, Levine has started going to temple more often. As a flautist for The Chai Tones, a 10-piece temple band, Levine finds herself at the temple now at least once a month, playing jazzed-up versions of the regular synagogue melodies.

“I’ve felt more connected to the temple since I started playing there,” said Levine, a professional musician. “I know all the songs now and I know all the prayers I didn’t know before.”

To counter declining attendance during regular services, several temples are regularly holding arts-enhanced services — such as The Chai Tones at Temple Israel, Friday Night Live at Sinai Temple in Westwood, Shabbos Fest at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and services at Temple Shalom for the Arts — to get the crowds in the door. Typically, these services increase the temple attendance by at least 25 percent and, for many, they facilitate an entree into synagogue life that they might not have experienced before.

“Friday Night Live [FNL] has made a tremendous difference,” said Rabbi David Wolpe, who started FNL with musician Craig Taubman as a way of appealing to the single and childless post-college population to attend temple. With its mixture of live music, Israeli dancing, singing and speakers, FNL now draws about 1,500 people to Sinai Temple once a month.

“It gives a lot of people the chance to be part of our community, and most come to other events at the temple as well,” Wolpe said.

“[These programs] attract people who are peripheral members of the temples, Jews-by-choice, people on their way to conversion as well as active members,” said Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom of Temple Israel of Hollywood.

In fact, these ventures have been so successful that there are two Los Angeles synagogue revitalization organizations — Synagogue 2000 and Breeyah — that are devoted to helping synagogues and temples develop arts-based services. Synagogue 2000 has already consulted with 95 synagogues in Los Angeles and 23 in other cities, and they use the arts as one of the ways to help synagogues give their congregants a more authentic spiritual experience. Breeyah, which was started by Cantor Steven Puzarne, has already assisted in the creation of 10 temple bands around the country.

“We have a theory that every synagogue should be a Jewish arts center,” said Puzarne, whose experiences at Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica — where only 30 people would attend regular services, but 300 came to the musical services — led him to start the organization. “The synagogue should be an extremely creative place that uses the arts as the center of that activity…. Every cantor should be the artist-in-residence.”

Arts-based services tend to be held in Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues. Although halachic restrictions prevent Orthodox synagogues from having live music, the success of congregations like The Happy Minyan in Pico-Robertson, where standing-room-only crowds regularly enjoy the extended singing and dancing, suggests that there is a place for a less traditional service in the Orthodox world as well.

“A lot of artists are soul-searchers and dreamers, and so, too, are people on a religious path,” said Rabbi Zoe« Klein of Temple Isaiah. “There are lots of different windows into the soul, and one of them is creativity.”

For more information on Synagogue 2000, visit www.s2k.org. For more information on Breeyah, contact (310) 572-7969. The organization’s Web site,
www.breeyah.org, will be up in mid-May.

Food for Thought


Maybe you’ve noticed that many of the bagel chains today are named after some of the most influential Jewish figures in history — Einstein, Noah. But have you ever stopped to think that maybe it’s the bagels that spurred all of this insight?

Well, the creators of TheBagel.org, a new Web site connecting and inspiring college students in Southern California, seem to think so.

Launched in November 2002, TheBagel.org is an online meeting place where young adults can interact and explore a wide range of topics that are relevant to their lives — as college students and as Jews. Sponsored by Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary, The Jewish Community Foundation and The Jewish Federation’s Israel Experience Program, the colorful site offers financial aid and internship directories, buddy chat and a college prep section for high school students. There is even an Ask the Rabbi column where students can get advice from an array of rabbis on subjects that range from “Why do we eat latkes on Chanukah?” to “I am in a serious relationship with someone who is Catholic, but I am worried that if we marry I will jeopardize my relationship with my Orthodox grandparents.”

But what makes

TheBagel.org stand apart from other Web sites for Jewish college students is that the majority of the content is written by student contributors. Students can review restaurants and movies, share the news on their campuses, keep a campus diary, or write in about anything that is on their minds. Not only does the site encourage creative expression, but it also offers students an opportunity to be published.

As for the mascot, creators believe that “the bagel” represents the Jewish, yet nondenominational and limitless nature of the site.

“It is identifiable and memorable. Jewish, but not religious or Zionist. What is perfect about this name is that while it is Jewish, it’s not tied to any specific type of Judaism. There is a large variety and many different types of bagels, just like the Jewish community. But most importantly it resonates with the people we want to reach,” said Meirav Ravid, site editor.

Perhaps there’s even a few young Einsteins or Noahs in the bunch.

Students can e-mail stories to submissions@thebagel.org .