Jews by Choice bolster ties with first Israel mission


Misty Zollars knew she wanted to be Jewish ever since she was 13, when her best friend invited her to her first Passover seder.

“I found the afikoman, and I knew I was going to be a Jew,” said Zollars, now 28, of Sherman Oaks. “The warmth of the family tradition and the concept of tikkun olam (healing the world) just made sense to me. After I converted, I felt this need to go to Israel, but I discovered there wasn’t really a trip out there for people like me.”

So Zollars helped create one.

Next February, the fashion designer will join a group of converts like herself to take part in a groundbreaking event: the first mission to Israel tailored specifically for so-called “Jews by Choice.” The 12-day trip, led by Rabbis Neal Weinberg and Joel Rembaum, will take up to 40 travelers through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and other locales to help foster a connection with the Jewish homeland that new recruits might not otherwise feel. Organizers say there are still openings for people to sign up before the Oct. 15 application deadline.

“This is a special trip for people who have become Jewish,” said Weinberg, director of the Louis and Judith Miller Introduction to Judaism program at American Jewish University. “There are a lot of people who have converted to Judaism who are 27, 28, 29 years old. They’re too old for [Taglit] Birthright now, and yet they’re young and they’ve never had the experience of going to Israel. To them, Israel is a faraway country. This is a way of making it come closer to them.”

Many of the trip’s participants — who span all ages and are both single and married — are graduates of the Miller Introduction to Judaism program. Having led the program since 1986, Weinberg said he saw a need for more programs geared toward new members of the Jewish community who still had questions after their classes ended.

The trip to Israel is sponsored, in part, by Judaism by Choice Inc., an organization that Weinberg and his wife, Miri, founded in 2005. Its purpose is to aid students seeking inclusion into the community who might feel overwhelmed by the prayers and rituals of a typical Shabbat service.

“There is a lack of programming for this niche in the community — for people who have embraced Judaism,” Weinberg said. “Before you can learn to ride a bicycle, you’ve got to have the training wheels. What we offer is extra support.”

Weinberg appointed Zollars to the board of of Judaism by Choice, which holds Shabbat dinners and Saturday morning services each month at synagogues throughout the L.A. area, including Temple Beth Am, Sinai Temple and Valley Beth Shalom. Zollars had been observing Shabbat and keeping kosher since converting in 2006, but she also sought another, less-accessible part of the Jewish experience — going to Israel.

“I knew that if I was having these frustrations, there would be other people in the community, as well, looking for a trip like this,” she said.

Zollars suggested a mission to Israel to the board of Judaism by Choice, and enthusiasm grew. Jill Sperling, another board member, called Rembaum at Temple Beth Am to help arrange the trip.

“I thought the idea was exciting and important and said I’d love to help,” said Rembaum, who arranged the itinerary earlier this year. “Jews by Choice are wonderful miracles. Their addition to the Jewish community is an amazing thing.”

Visiting Israel is “the big hook” that helps converted Jews relate on a gut level to Jewish history and identity, Rembaum explained.

Just ask Sperling.

“Some of my defining moments as a Jew were in Israel — just to be there and feel that connection and feel accepted,” said the Los Angeles mother of two, who has been to Israel three times in the past five years. “For my family, our connection to Israel has really helped us grow as Jews. Israel is the key that inspires you and excites you. That’s something you can’t get in a classroom.”

Sperling, 44, took Weinberg’s Miller Introduction to Judaism program in 1989 with her husband, Skip Sperling, who is Jewish by birth. The course renewed the couple’s devotion to their religion, and they enrolled both their children — Sofia, 12, and Elliot, 15 — in Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy at Temple Beth Am. Sperling and Sofia just returned in May from a visit to Israel with the Pressman Academy through The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership program.

As an Israel “veteran,” Sperling said she hopes to be a mentor to her fellow Jews by Choice on the February trip. “Because I’ve already been there, I feel like I can support other people while they’re there,” she said. “This will be life-changing for people who have chosen to be Jewish.”

Participants will fly to Tel Aviv and visit Independence Hall, before embarking on a cross-country tour with stops at Masada, Yad Vashem, Safed (the birthplace of kabbalah), the Upper Galilee and the Kotel. Besides exploring popular landmarks, they will also meet with Israeli residents who have converted to Judaism — both those who converted in Israel through the Masorti (Conservative) movement and those who converted outside of the country and made aliyah.

“People often don’t think about the different needs of people who convert to Judaism on a trip to Israel,” Weinberg said. “Most of them are going to see the country for the first time with fresh eyes. They weren’t brought up with an understanding of the centrality of Israel to the Jewish people.”

The program is open to Jews by Choice of all denominations, along with their spouses or significant others. The per-person cost of the trip — $3,000, including the flight — was kept low with support from Judaism by Choice, and scholarship funds are also available through several foundations and individual contributions. Weinberg said he is still seeking donations to further allay the cost for those who might not be able to afford the trip on their own.

Zollars said she is eagerly awaiting the chance to connect with the homeland to which she has always felt drawn.

“It’s almost like a graduation feeling,” she said. “It is, in a way, the last and first step in my journey as a Jew. Being surrounded and embraced by Judaism would make me so happy. It would be like a trip home for me.”

To learn more or sign up for the trip, e-mail MistyZollars@yahoo.com or Sperling@pacbell.net, or call Cori Drasin at Temple Beth Am, (310) 652-7353. The deadline is Oct. 15.

Experience at international camp broadens perspective


As I look at a picture from the summer of 2007, I wish with all of my heart that I could go back and relive it. This picture contains a group of campers, each with a big smile on his or her face, glowing with happiness to be surrounded by their new best friends.

From a distance, these children look so different, as if they were each cut out of a separate magazine to form one colorful collage. Each child comes from a different ethnic background and speaks a different language at home. But here at this camp with their new friends, they have created a temporary home, where it is not necessary to speak a common language.

As a counselor at Camp Kimama in Michmoret, Israel, I learned that the only connection these children from all over the world need is their passion and love for Israel. Camp Kimama is Israel’s first international camp, where Jewish children spend two weeks forming a multicultural group of friends and exploring the different worlds that these friends come from. I spent one month of my summer working at Kimama, every day discovering more about myself and my fellow Israelis, Jews and Zionists.

The first day of the first session of camp can be summed up in one word: overwhelming. I had never been more confused in my life. The camp was full of nervous campers, overprotective mothers and a feeling of pure chaos.

I quickly realized that in order to communicate with all of my new campers, I would have to repeat everything I said in Hebrew and in English and make sure that every camper who didn’t speak those languages would have someone to translate for them. Can you imagine having to teach camp cheers to 60 energetic 10-year-olds in more than three different languages?

By the end of the day, my legs felt like Jell-O, my voice was nonexistent and if I had not fallen asleep within seconds of getting into my bed, I would have questioned myself about why in the world I gave up part of the freedom of my summer vacation to work at this seemingly crazy job.

Throughout the next few days, I began to learn the ropes of working at Camp Kimama and soon grew to love the environment, the campers (who I already cared and worried about as if they were my own children) and my fellow staff members. Somehow as a camp we managed to form a beautiful family and create a home away from home for the campers as well as for the counselors.

I began to realize this during the first Shabbat evening of the first session. Shabbat at Camp Kimama was one of the most unique and relaxing Shabbats I had ever experienced. Throughout the week, the entire camp is bustling with excitement and energy, as each age group runs from one activity to the next. I remember being so busy that by the time each day ended, it felt as if the day had lasted an entire month.

Once Shabbat finally came, everybody cleaned up, put on their best clothes and gathered on the grass overlooking the beautiful beach at Michmoret to welcome the much-needed resting day of Shabbat. As I looked around, I took a few moments to myself to absorb the faces surrounding me, because I knew that seeing such a diverse group of people come together for a Jewish holiday was not something I would see many times in my life.

Working at this camp was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. I am used to seeing Zionism from the perspective of either the Israeli community or of the Jewish American community, however, this time I saw it from a completely different standpoint.

In United Synagogue Youth (USY) we are sheltered by the limitations of a variety of people. Last summer, after I came back from my trip to Israel with USY, I was sure that having friends from New York, Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey meant that I had expanded my horizons as much as I possibly could.

Never would I have thought that a group of Jewish friends — my campers — could consist of children from China, Thailand, California, France, Israel, Florida and the Philippines. I can truthfully say that working at Camp Kimama this summer has changed my outlook on life as a Jew, as an Israeli and as a teenager.

Sivan Ron is a senior at Beverly Hills High School. She plans to join the Israeli army next year.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the April issue is March 15; deadline for the May issue is April 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Creating a new community


When I moved from Miami to Los Angeles four months ago with a tenuous plan and a lofty dream, I packed my car with all the things I thought I would need to survive on my own: 600 thread-count Calvin Klein sheets (because a gal’s gotta dream), a Proust novel (intellectual sustenance to counterbalance tabloid shallowness), Villeroy and Boch silverware (a reluctant gift from my mother, who relinquished her extra set for my alimentary benefit), a portable navigation system (from my dad, who knew that without it I’d wind up in Mexico on the way to my first job interview), my Artscroll Tehillim (for times of gratitude and times of duress) and three journals my grandmother gave me the night before I left (in which to deposit the contents of my experience).

I was ready.

These are hardly the items to ensure safety and security for this 23-year-old woman leaving home for Hollywood. But upon arrival in the second-largest city in the country, I quickly had to discern between things needed to keep me happy and things needed to sustain viability here. I started shopping at South Coast Plaza — fabulous retail, ethnic food court, isolated anonymity — a comfortable destination. But soon enough pressing needs like, say, having an income, a residence and a California auto insurance policy (which my first car accident efficiently expedited) took precedent over bric-a-brac intended to furnish an abode I did not yet have.

What I needed was some help. What I needed was my family.

Every Shabbat for three months, I ached for their presence; the laughter tumbling through the hallways, the Friday afternoons spent cooking with my mother and sipping sauvignon blanc, kneading challah dough with my 15-year-old brother, who is quite deft at leveraging his religiosity for a day off from school. Most of all I missed the frustrating commotion of our time together: the competitive commiserating at the table, my father’s completely ridiculous jokes, my sister’s hurried recitation of the blessings so we could eat the raisin challah — already — and my grandmother’s prolific and endless anecdotes about everything from King David to President Bush.

When the grind of settling in subsided, I leased a studio-with-a-view in pristine Santa Monica and acquired a job in the film industry to foot the rent; I also regained the luxury of longing. Three thousand miles divided me from comfort and companionship, and though I was determined to forge ahead and establish my independence, I needed a community.

I spent weekends strolling down Main Street, eyes transfixed and ears abuzz with the Sunday morning bustle of Santa Monicans walking their dogs and carting their strollers, holding their babies and eating their brunches, sporting their iPods and donning couture — how do they put that much effort into early morning regalia? Now and then I’d make an acquaintance — in the Starbucks line (“Oh you love soy? I know — it tastes so rich!”) or at The Omelette Parlor (“Slather your muffin with apple butter … di-vine!”), but recreating the role of family takes more than casual conversation.

In order to integrate myself into the community here, I committed myself to two things: I would accept any invitation and seize every opportunity, either finding friendship or business connections, or at worst, acquiring fodder for amusing my editors and colleagues at the Journal. And if I turned on the television because I had nothing else to do, I resolved to leave the apartment.

I enrolled in a Jewish history class, which sounded very romantic, with its “4,000 years in four weeks cruise through the ancient world” motif. The age gap between me and the others in the class ran the gamut from 40-or-so years to 60.

Although it was not quite Saturday-evening fare, I was thoroughly embraced by peer and professor alike as the chronically late 20-something who hops over the desks for a discreet seat in the back and then countermands her carefully styled privacy by posing provocative questions. After all, connecting with your elders is a crucial threshold in community building and since my grandmother’s footfalls are a tough act to follow, it was going to take a village.

Another tool emerged vis-a-vis the Miami neighborhood of yore, as I endured an almost daily barrage of phone calls and e-mails from community members proffering their connections to help me put down roots. I was apprised of who to meet and where to go, and in typical Jewish fashion, heard a good deal of, “This one’s sister and that one’s brother knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone living — somewhere — in Los Angeles.”

With nothing to lose but sleep, I complied with every insistence to connect.

Thus began a programmed routine of breakfast with film producers, sushi with television executives, coffee with Jewish musicians and, finally, a temple not to call home, but to recall home.

On Shabbat, I attended Friday Night Live, which brought me closer to the friend back home who recommended the event, while strengthening my bond to new friends, who came to the service because they knew how much it meant to me. With familiar melodies reverberating throughout the crowd, this was the moment I first felt the force of belonging — and challah never tasted so sweet!

As the days pass, the deep longings for my home and family, my temple, my rabbi, my mentors and friends, do not wane or wither.

But a different yearning forms and festers; an unfamiliar place gives birth to a new destiny, and my mind whirls with possibility — the dream of creating my own family begins to unfold.

Pick your redemption


There’s something about being Jewish that makes you think big. Jews can easily schmooze about global stuff — the bigger the better. We’re here for all of humanity.

We want to save the planet, whether from global evil or global warming. When we talk about our own problems, we also lean to the dramatic; we’re constantly at a crossroads, fearing for our survival, talking about “the future of the Jewish people.”

Maybe it has to do with our big bang beginnings, when we all had front row seats to God’s revelations. We were born in drama, we grew up in drama and we shall forever live in drama.

So it was business as usual the other night when a historian from Aish Hatorah gave a lecture at my place called, “The Edge of History.” Talk about big. It seemed like every few minutes we heard the words prophecy, redemption or revelation. The speaker, Rabbi Ken Spiro, was using a slick PowerPoint presentation to impress on us that the era of global redemption was at hand, and there is no time to waste to return to God.

The rabbi was no fool. He was prepared for a skeptical audience, so he went through many of the biblical prophecies – the Jews will be small, they’ll be hated by the world, they’ll survive, an enemy will have a “weapon of mass destruction,” etc. — to make the point that if those prophecies came true, why can’t others?

He was especially interested in the prophecy that all Jews will return to God. According to the biblical and rabbinical sources Spiro quoted, this teshuva, or return, is critical if we want to survive as a people and fulfill our role as the redeemers of humanity.

In truth, it was a compelling presentation. When he was done, there was a sense that we had witnessed something incredibly important. It couldn’t get any bigger — the future of the world and the Jews’ vital role in shaping it. When your mind is consumed with whether you have a snack ready for the kids tomorrow, it feels oddly relaxing to talk about the end of the world.

But while we were highly impressed, even awed, I didn’t get a sense that anyone was personally moved. Some of us might have been swept away in the moment, but that seemed to blow over once the shmoozing started.

Of course, it didn’t help that something was still lingering in my mind — like a little barbecue party.

You see, by a strange quirk of timing, a few hours earlier, my teenage daughter and her friends from Yula High School hosted a little barbecue for a couple of Jewish girls visiting from Israel.

It was a casual affair. Everybody just hung out and had a good time. The visiting girls had just come back from a day of shopping. A day earlier, they were at Disneyland, and they were now looking forward to Universal Studios. One of the girls, Adi, asked for my mother’s hummus recipe. The other, Racheli, was saying how much she’d love to live in Los Angeles. They both asked about movie stars.

There was, however, one thing about the girls that was not typical. About six years ago, on a warm Saturday night in Jerusalem, Adi and Racheli went out for ice cream with friends and soon found themselves next to a terrorist blowing himself up.

Racheli had only minor injuries, because right before the bomb exploded, she’d left Adi to say goodbye to a friend several yards away. The bomber was a yard and a half from Adi. All 10 people around her were killed. About 100 nails coated with rat poison exploded into her legs, and a main artery was severed.

When Adi talks about it now, with her sweet voice matching her sweet, olive-skinned face, she is remarkably calm and factual. She talks about “maybe 30” operations on her legs and another one coming up. She tells me in detail about the night she was rushed to the hospital — how the enormous amount of blood pumped into her body was coming out of “the hundred holes in her leg”; how at one point they had to stop operating because her body couldn’t take the trauma, and how an experimental coagulant drug, Novo 7, saved her life.

She also remembers that in the beginning of her recovery, one of the few things she could eat was ice cream, her favorite.

She was especially happy when I met her, because she has finally begun to walk without the help of a walker or cane. Clearly, she was also happy to be in Los Angeles, a place she always dreamed of visiting. In fact, when I told her I might write about her story, she asked me to please mention the organization that helped arrange her L.A. visit — Kids for Kids, an organization that connects young terror victims with fellow Jews around the world.

In the spiritual realm, they tell you there are no coincidences — everything that happens to us holds a divine message. What could be the message in this unusual sequence of events: a little barbecue party for two young girls who were caught in a Jerusalem bombing, followed by a masterful presentation on the final days of global redemption?

If you ask me, maybe the message is that there’s more than one way to find God and bring about redemption. One way is to think big, go right to God and commit to obeying his commandments.

The other is to think small, and on your way to finding God to see if you can find any Jews who have trouble walking — and who might be in the mood for a little ice cream.

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

So many singles, so few tables


This is not a sob story. There is no hunger or homelessness, there are no kids with cancer.

Rather, it’s the story of single Jews in Los Angeles who, once ina while, would love to gather around a family Shabbat table. They’re not desperate for company. Many don’t have family here, and they just like the idea of staying connected to their Judaism and their people through the joy of a Shabbat table.

The problem is, there aren’t that many tables available, and the community could surely use a few more.

Remember the movie “Crash” that won the Oscar for Best Picture last year? On the surface, all you could see were the sharp differences among the many peoples of L.A., and how those differences divided us. But dig a little and you could see a more unifying message: When it comes to the pain of feeling isolated, we are all the same. Chinese, Persian, Latino, Black or Caucasian, deep down, what unites us all is our human need to stay connected — to not be alone.

Jews are no different. Whether male or female, young or old, Ashkenazic or Sephardic, rich or poor, left-wing or right-wing, religious or secular, SUV-driving or Prius-driving, loud or quiet, screenwriter or grant writer, somehow, no matter how good you feel in our own skin, and how much you enjoy your own company, none of us wants to be alone.

This need to stay connected seems only to deepen if you’re a single Jew living in the City of Angels … and it’s Friday night.

You don’t have your own family, you live in a city not known for itscommunal hugs, and you’re part of a people that has been kicked around for3,000 years — all of which makes you naturally open to some communalhugging.

And then there’s Friday night. After a week of doing whatever it is we all do, it’s not unusual to ask ourselves: What am I doing all this for? At that tender moment — when we seek to savor the fruits of our labors — there’s nothing quite like schmoozing with other Jews around the cozy warmth of a Shabbat table, especially if there’s a good bottle of red.

In his 2005 book “Around the Family Table,” Rabbi Shlomo Riskin explains how the Shabbat meal “links the generations, making everyone feel part of the eternal people participating in an eternal conversation with the Divine.”

He goes on to say that “over the last 40 years, thousands of individuals have shared these meals with our family, and have likewise discovered meaning and inspiration through their participation. Indeed I am convinced that this family ritual is a far more authentic and significant expression of Judaism than is any synagogue service.”

Imagine, then, if sharing this ritual became part of the Jewish consciousness. Imagine, for example, if every Friday night millions of single Jews across America would gather and connect with other Jewish families over a beautiful Shabbat meal.

It’d be like a weekly invitation to stay Jewish.

In fact, if the Jewish federations were smart, and if they were really serious about “Jewish continuity,” they would get together and create a national “Shabbat Birthright” movement and work with local communities everywhere to encourage Jewish families to connect with Jewish singles on Shabbat. Unlike one-day programs like “Shabbat Across America” that happen in outside locations, this would promote an ongoing ritual that is celebrated in Jewish homes.

They might start by coming down here to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, where an enterprising single Jew has started what you might call her own little Shabbat birthright movement.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a buttoned-up organization with a catchy name and a cool Web site. It doesn’t even have a name. It’s simply the brainchild of a 30-something woman named Lori Pietruszka, who’s got this mini-obsession with tracking down Jewish singles and matching them up with Shabbat tables in the neighborhood.

Since she started this in January with the help of friends, Lori has arranged Shabbat tables for about 90 single Jews in 11 different homes. The list of singles with references now tops 200, and she says she’s getting calls and e-mails every day from singles looking to join up (lorica10@aol.com). She already has Shabbat bookings through June.

Lori is one of those “Mary Poppins” kind of people, who doesn’t know from sarcasm and who uses phrases like “incredibly awesome.” There is one thing, however, that she doesn’t find incredibly awesome: how hard it is to find tables.

She’s doesn’t like to complain, but it pains her that married people with kids can forget how great it felt to be invited to a beautiful Shabbat meal when they themselves were single. That makes her exceedingly grateful to the families that have opened their hearts and their homes to her.

She knows that there have always been tables around the hood that regularly host singles, but she’d love to see more families embrace this mitzvah that dates from the time of Abraham. She believes that opening your door to guests is not just a way to connect with new and interesting people of your own faith, it’s also a blessing.

Eventually, she hopes that the many synagogues of the area will take over this blessing and encourage their members to participate. Since a lot of singles don’t go to synagogue, the synagogues will have to find them. That’s where people like Lori will help.

When I ask if her hidden agenda is to help singles meet their soulmates, she replies that it’s all part of the same picture. She thinks a Shabbat table is a holier, more elegant place to meet a possible shidduch than, say, a “singles event” or a pressure-filled first date.

Maybe she’s right. If you don’t meet that special someone at a Shabbat meal, you can always say you felt part of the eternal people participating in an eternal conversation with the Divine.

Or better yet, that you met a few good Jews and had some really good laughs.

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

Scheduled Relaxation


Last Sunday afternoon I was standing in my shower scrubbing my tile. It suddenly occurred to me — in the midst of Ajax and scouring pads — that the man who was ruling my fantasies was on a plane coming back from a sure-it’s-professional junket in Las Vegas.

Something was wrong with this picture. I dropped my sponge and ran to call my girlfriend: “Hey. You gotta help me. All of this straight-and-narrow is getting to me. I need to have some fun.”

We met at a local restaurant reminiscent of the hip, urban San Francisco eateries of our 20s, had a drink, stayed late, and laughed as the waiter batted his lashes.

“Listen,” I told her over martinis. “I think I’ve forgotten how to play.”

She looked at me with the knowing eyes of a friend and said, “Me too. I feel like all I do is work on myself. Where’s the friggin’ fun part?”

What occurred to me as I started thinking about it is that I used to rely on my relationship life to have fun. I’d fly to New York, run around the city, eat passionately with my boyfriend for 10 days and come home. I’d rush home from work, throw all my clothes on the floor, don a slinky dress and feverishly drive to the beach for a drink date. I’d hike up Runyan Canyon in the middle of a storm with my dating man, laugh uproariously and kiss in the rain. It was flash and dash, delight and joy — and sometimes even love. What is was was fun.

I relied on my relationship life for downtime, too. It was the time I hung out in bed, took the slow walk around my neighborhood, had the morning-after breakfast made sloppily and slowly between intimacies.

But lately all of that has been different. I stopped dating for a while altogether (no need to go into the now-mercifully distant reason why), and in the wake of a more careful re-entry into dating life, I’ve become a project girl. Creative things that I’ve been longing to express my whole adult life I’ve taken on like a conquest. I write, I paint, I sing, I cook and I songwrite. It’s rich and it’s full and it’s fulfilling.

But what it also is is busy. And beyond my projects and an involved social life, there seems to be no genuine relaxation time. There are no goof-off, just-for-fun days where there’s nothing to do but play. I’m not sure I even remember what play-time looks like anymore.

Yet — to be totally honest — when I think back on some of those play-time, nostalgia-inducing boyfriend experiences, I have to admit that as sweet and easy as those encounters could be, they were just as often peppered by the nervous tension of “being together” when we weren’t all the way there, or by the dodging and ducking of using our intimate connection to mask other, bigger incompatibilities. That wasn’t relaxing.

As the years have gone by, I realize I’d just as soon be alone than continue to go through cycles of head-spinning effort with someone in exchange for a couple of moments of grace. So I don’t do that anymore. And though this kind of spiritual honesty has created an ease in my nervous system (and a welcome death to that horrible intimate uncertainty of giving myself where it’s not appreciated), I have to stop and wonder, have I become overworked and underplayed?

I don’t want to say that getting rid of the -isms has gotten rid of the fun part. That’s not it. But there’s something here about playing and free-falling joy that I’m missing. Something in the enjoyment of what is already here, versus the pregnant push of needing to create it. To observe, appreciate, enjoy, relax, and receive. That’s what I’m missing. And now that I’m officially dating, it seems kind of imperative to bring this ethic back onto the playing field.

I was on my cell with my wise girlfriend yesterday — the one who gives me that uncannily timed girl-advice that saves me from giving in to my idiotic post-second-date fears — and three times in row she cut out at a pivotal word.

“What?” I intoned. “On my cell. You cut out.”

She laughed outloud: “Receive, sweetheart. It kills me that you missed that. Relax and receive!”

Oh, that.

If I’ve forgotten how to have downtime, if I’ve joined the ranks of the over-diligent in my efforts to not fall into wary paths of love, then it’s time to loosen the reigns a bit. Underplaying means I have to let go of my project-queen, art-making cottage-industry, and just be done for a while.

So, with the grace of personal discovery, I’ll be amending that busy behavior, whether I’m accompanied or not. It’s time to enjoy whoever I’m seeing, and have fun on my own. It’s time to let go, go slow, play, hang out and take some time to do absolutely nothing.

Even if it means I have to schedule it.

JoAnneh Nagler is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She writes articles, philanthropic proposals and has recently been at work on Fox’s telenovellas “Table for Three” and “Fashion House.” Her newly completed folk-pop CD “I Burn” is online at

The Hebrascope: Signs of the Jewdiac


Aries (March 21-April 20)

Notable Jewish Aries: Howard Cosell

It’s OK to be in a rut, just sit down, crack open a beer and kick your feet up on the ottoman, but don’t get too comfortable there. When you notice yourself stagnating this week, remember this: as an Aries, you need variety. Your life is best when it looks like the all-you-can-eat salad bar at the Sizzler. Sure, you have your regular salad stuff, but you’ve also got some odd pseudo-Mexican snack foods, frozen yogurt, clam chowder and eight kinds of medically contraindicated salad dressings. Right now, you are eyeballing the salad bar of life without a clue what you want, all of which is making you edgy. This one is so easy. Just pick an activity and dig in. You can always go back for seconds. 

 

Taurus (April 21-May 20)

Notable Jewish Taurus:
Joey Ramone

 

Single Taurus: Get ready. Love is in the stars for you this week. I’m not talking about some blah dinner with a guy from JDate. I’m talking about that magical, dynamic, magnetic connection that only happens once in awhile (and often ends in disaster, but let’s take things one week at a time). For now, get waxed, clean your apartment, wash the car, have your hair blown-out and enjoy the romantic ride. The weekend will be especially potent in the “sensual” arena. On a family note, beware that the value of a possession may cause some strife. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in material things, after all, you’re going to be starring in your own romantic comedy and with any luck it won’t be as cloying and predictable as “Must Love Dogs.”

 

Gemini (May 21 — June 20)

Notable Jewish Gemini: Yasmine Bleeth

I could give you a lot of mumbo jumbo about your solar eighth house of finances being affected this week by planets visiting Capricorn, but Gemini bores easily so just take this in: if you have been needing a bank loan, home refinance or student loan, this is your week. I know, Smarty Pants Twins don’t fancy comparing boring loan rates and such, but why not use your quick mind for something other than shouting out the answers to “Jeopardy” questions? As for work, this is the week that crazy co-worker seems to go off her medication. Just ignore her, because once you react, the mishegoss can be traced right back to you.

 

Cancer (June 21-July 20)

Notable Jewish Cancer:
Neil Simon

When it comes to horoscopes and Cancers, there’s one major catch: you don’t like advice and you bristle at being told what to do. Fortunately, all I have to say this week is DO NOTHING. That’s right — avoid impetuous decisions, last minute trips and dicey business schemes. Don’t even go to the mall to return that tin of popcorn the size of Bill Maher’s head or digital travel clock you can’t figure out how to use. Stay home. Do laundry. Stick to a safe routine after running around socializing so much. Toward the end of the week, remember that if you control the cash in the family, you control the family, and very few people enjoy this if Oprah is to be believed. Trust and love is what Cancer has all around right now. So that’s your mantra. Say it: trust and love.

 

Leo (July 21 — August 21)

Notable Jewish Leo:
Debra Messing

Driving Leos, start your engines. Oh, what’s that? They won’t start. I don’t get it. You took your vehicle to the Jiffy Lube three years ago, what could be the problem? You know all that stuff they tell you to do — besides the oil change you asked for — that you ignored? Well, this is the week to take care of it. No more riding around with warning lights on, or pretending not to notice the fluid dripping under your tires. This is a time for preventive maintenance. As for your own health, if you want to drop a bad habit, this is the perfect time. Maybe you don’t need six packets of Splenda in your coffee or that fourth glass of wine or that sixth macaroon. Drop a bad habit like you used to drop those oil change reminders — right in the trash.

 

Virgo (August 22-September 22)

Notable Jewish Virgo:
Amy Irving

Some group environments are peaceful, say, yoga class. Others are stressful, say, a distant cousin’s bar mitzvah that’s in some horrible far away suburb and features stale rolls and even stiffer conversation. Here’s the thing, this week means any group activity is likely to bring you chaos. You may feel overly sensitive, or the unswerving need to throw a chair, Bobby Knight-style, into a crowd of people. Find your inner Phil Jackson and be diplomatic. What’s the pay-off for all that restraint? You may witness something extraordinary this week, something only an attentive Virgo would appreciate. Keep your eyes open, and your throwing hand closed.

 

Libra (September 23-October 22)

Notable Jewish Libra:
Barbara Walters

Occasionally, your family has so many feuds Richard Dawson would plotz. These are just minor skirmishes, a political discussion that went sour, a call unreturned, an invitation “lost in the mail.” For Libra, this is the week to reconcile with family members. Coincidentally, the stars also say it’s a perfect time to entertain in your home. So there you go, get out your Swiffer, pop some pre-made crab cakes in the oven, light a nice holiday candle someone gave you at the office and make the place comfortable. Once your home looks nice, it’s time to make nice and invite over any relatives you’ve alienated. On the work front, more responsibility may come your way this week. Don’t get all, “That’s not my job.” Just do what you do best, find a solution that suits everyone

 

Scorpio (October 23-November 22)

Notable Jewish Scorpio:
Winona Ryder

You want your partner or spouse to be happy, but does it have to reach perkiness proportions the likes of which are generally reserved for beauty pageants and morning news shows? This week, the enthusiasm level of someone close to you is downright exhausting, especially in your worn-down state. Here’s the thing, recalibrating someone else’s perk-o-meter is impossible and rude, so let it be. Speaking of rude, this is a time for Scorpio to embrace all forms of etiquette. I’m talking about thank-you notes, turning off your cell phone at the movies and speaking to everyone with respect. Friday the 13 happens to be a magical day for you. Dream big. Ask everyone you know their favorite travel destinations and stories and await inspiration.

 

Sagittarius (November 23-December 20)

Notable Jewish Sagittarius: Mandy Patinkin

There are times when your mind seems to function faster, like you’ve just upgraded your cerebral PC and the graphics are so sharp you can’t believe it. This week — there’s just no other way to say it — your thoughts are going to be intense, dude. You will have no trouble influencing people with your ideas and impressing them with your projects. Though your brain is both tenacious and focused right now, beware of one thing: Sagittarius is a great conversationalist, but don’t let it slip into gossip. Oh, and that domineering person in your life … could it be a mother figure? Anyway, you will have to stand up to her midweek. Luckily, your mind is so clear now, it will be no trouble “setting a boundary” rather than being a brat.

 

Capricorn (December 21-January 19)

Notable Jewish Capricorn: Howard Stern

You seem to embrace control more than Janet Jackson. Okay, that was a really old song lyric reference, but you know what I mean. On Tuesday, you will have to relinquish control with the service people in your life, be it the dry cleaner, maid, waitress or even doctor. Let people do their jobs and understand that chaos will creep it from time to time. Know that next week will run more smoothly. On a positive note, this week will bring a one-on-one interaction you won’t forget. Competition or cooperation will arise this week in a big way, but which one depends on you and the situation. After all, there’s a time to sing “Kumbaya” and a time to throw an elbow when the ref isn’t looking.

 

Aquarius (January 20-February 18)

Notable Jewish Aquarius:
Judy Blume

It’s usually annoying when folks throw around phrases like “Go big or go home,” but what can I say? You are going big this week. Big energy. Big changes. You know those times when you just want to stick to your routine, wear your favorite old jeans, watch your usual TV shows, drive the same routes and call the same friends? This isn’t one of those weeks. You are open to any and all new experiences. Oh, and single Aquarians should be happy with that new “something something” you’ve got going. Even if it’s just a mild flirtation, attraction and desire are strong this week. If an ex comes into the picture, crop him or her right out.

 

Pisces (February 19-March 20)

Notable Jewish Pisces:
Philip Roth

Don’t dole out warmth and affection like they give out slices of frozen pizza samples at Costco. I’m saying, don’t just create convenient bite-sized pieces of genuine humanity and place them on a platter for any passer-by to taste. This week, save your goodwill for the inner circle, the people in your daily life who have earned your trust. Speaking of those people, do you ever notice you interrupt a lot? Hear me out. Sure, it’s a cultural thing, talking, debating, leaping into furious discussion, but I encourage you to listen closely this week. You don’t even have to agree, just nod and smile. People love that.

How They Choose to Be Jews


OK, we know some of the things that college students, especially college freshman, want. But put aside the clichés, the risqué jokes and careerism for a moment. It turns out that many Jewish undergrads also seek a connection both to Judaism and to Jewish peers.

How this translates into a Jewish future is a subject of much debate. But there’s also an opportunity here — both for the students and those who care about them.

In this higher education package, correspondent Sue Fishkoff examines the campus Jewish scene at UCLA and elsewhere. Jane Ulman looks at the Jewish seen, literally, through something called Facebook.com. And Education Editor Julie Gruenbaum Fax details two new academic programs, including a major in Jewish studies, where some people might not expect it.

Campus Outreach 101

It’s a hot Sunday afternoon at the end of September, and more than 300 student groups have set up tables on the UCLA soccer field for what the university accurately calls the Enormous Activities Fair.

Thousands of students, most in their first year, are milling about, eyeing each other as often as they glance at the brochures spread out by various clubs vying for attention.

Over at the Jewish Students Union table, Arlene Miller, Hillel’s assistant director of programming, is standing in front of a large blue-and-white Israeli flag, handing out honey sticks for the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

“I’m not Jewish,” says an Asian American student, as she first takes and then awkwardly tries to give back one of the candies.

“That’s OK, have some honey to bring in the new year,” Miller tells her with a big smile, pressing the honey stick back into the young woman’s hand.

Turning to another group of students who are Jewish, Miller thrusts a signup sheet in front of the overexcited bunch and says, “We’re having a party in the dorms the Monday of Rosh Hashanah. Want tickets?”

Across the country, similar scenes played out at hundreds of colleges and universities early this fall, as students headed back to school. And there’s purpose behind the outreach.

There are about 250,000 Jewish undergraduates on U.S. college campuses, according to the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey. Twenty-seven percent of them attend Hillel activities. Since Hillel’s umbrella includes nearly every on-campus Jewish student group, except Chabad and Jewish fraternities, that means close to two-thirds of Jewish college students are not part of Jewish life on campus.

That has Jewish professionals — and Jewish parents — worried. Largely to address those concerns, the Hillel staff in Washington embarked a year ago on a strategic planning effort to find out who these Jewish students are, what they want and how campus Jewish organizations can better serve them (See related story). Hillel, which provides services to students at more than 500 colleges and universities in North America, released those findings at the annual gathering of North American federations this week in Toronto.

One thing students want, it turns out, is to meet other Jewish students, and that holds true for students at the University of Texas at Austin; New York University; Santa Clara University, a Jesuit college near San Jose, and certainly UCLA, as well as other Southland schools such as USC and Cal State Northridge.

At UCLA, where more than 3,000 Jewish students make up close to 10 percent of the student body, one might think students don’t need a campus organization to meet their fellow Jews. But apparently they do.

On this day, at least, many students are eager to take advantage of a plethora of Jewish-related activities and organizations. With such a large Jewish student population at UCLA, there’s the luxury of dozens to choose from, each catering to a specific ethnic, religious or political interest. Such groups range from the Progressive Jewish Students Association to the Persian American Student Organization, which serves UCLA’s large Iranian population, about 25 percent of the Jews on campus.

Seventeen-year-old Vanessa Stark of Orange County is moving from table to table, picking up information first from the Progressive student group and then chatting with Rabbi Yonasan Quinn, one of the three rabbis at UCLA sponsored by the Jewish Awareness Movement, a Southern California-based organization for newly observant Jews.

“I want to get involved,” Stark says. “I’m not really religious, but it would be cool to get involved with Jewish people on campus.”

Stark says that although she’s given her name to two activist Jewish groups, she’s “interested in social events, not religious services.”

Freshman Mor Toledano from Sacramento says he chose UCLA partly because of its large Jewish student population. He’s interested in Hillel, because “they have a lot of meals on Friday, and it’s really social.”

His friends Justin Goldberg and Matt Ross agree.

“I want to meet Jews that have something in common with me,” Goldberg says.

Some students who were active in their high school Jewish groups say they want to continue in college. Amy Katznelson was social action vice chair of her Reform congregation’s youth group in Tarzana, and says she “definitely” wants to stay connected at UCLA.

She says she also plans to get in touch with the Muslim student group.

“I want to get people from the different religions together, because indifference and intolerance stem from misunderstanding, from not realizing what we have in common.”

Many of those who stopped by Hillel’s table came from intermarried families.

“I want to get more involved in Jewish culture,” says one such student, Danielle Cohen from Orange County. “My heritage is Jewish. My grandpa is a Holocaust survivor, and it would mean a lot to him if I learned more about it.”

UCLA’s Hillel president is Andy Green, who says he’s trying to make the organization more welcoming to non-Orthodox students. Like other schools with large, active Orthodox populations, Green says UCLA Hillel can be “intimidating” to a nonobservant student who walks in for the first time “and sees all those students in yarmulkes.” It’s natural that Orthodox students congregate at Hillel, he says, since “it provides a space for them to engage in the religious activities they already do, like prayer and study.”

To attract less Jewishly connected students, UCLA Hillel hosts barbecues and ice cream socials like other campus Hillels, but also brings Jewish life right to the students, throwing parties in freshman dorms and bringing in kosher food.

“It’s a great way to engage nonreligious students, because there’s no pressure, it’s just socializing with other Jews,” Green says.

Even those tactics don’t attract everyone. Jane Levich of Lafayette, Calif., was one Jewish student who walked right by the Hillel table. She says she goes to synagogue on the holidays, but isn’t interested in campus Jewish life.

“I’m not against connecting, but I don’t think I’d necessarily seek it out,” she says. “The Jewish community is kind of overbearing. You’re either committed or you’re kind of shunned.”

She says she would, however, go to lectures about Israel and the Middle East — but the social and religious aspects simply don’t appeal to her.

Jews In Texas

The University of Texas in Austin, with 37,000 undergraduates, is the campus of choice for young Jewish Texans. During welcome week in late August, Hillel Jewish Campus Services fellow Julie Unger, a recent college graduate hired by Hillel to reach out to students, has set up her information table in the lobby of the Towers dormitory.

Towers is known as “the Jewish dorm,” and Hillel activists say it’s more than 60 percent Jewish. Many incoming freshmen are already running into friends from their Houston or Dallas high schools in the Towers lobby.

“There are 4,000 Jewish students here, and 500 to 1,000 come to our events,” Unger says. “But there are 3,000 others who don’t come. They think Hillel is just for religious students. It has some kind of stigma. Those are the ones I’m trying to reach.”

Frances Shwarts is one of the first students to stop by Unger’s table. A Dallas native, she finished 12 years of Hebrew school at her Conservative synagogue; was active in the movement’s United Synagogue Youth; in BBYO, the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, and she went on a teen trip to Israel.

“They forced me all the way,” she laughs. Shwarts says she’ll “definitely” go to Hillel activities, because she likes Friday night services and “likes being surrounded by Jewish people. It’s really comfortable.”

Shwarts’ comments reflect what students on other campuses most say they want from Jewish organizations: Jewish friends and a place to go for holiday services when they can’t get home.

“I’m not terribly religious, but it’s a good place to connect with like-minded people,” says Houston native Jonathan Graber, who graduated from his Conservative synagogue’s Hebrew high school. “I have tons of Christian friends, but it’s nice to have that Jewish connection — it’s one less obstacle to overcome.”

Some freshmen like Graber and Shwarts want to join Jewish groups to continue the social life they knew in high school. Others who were active Jewishly in high school get burned out by the time they hit college, and don’t want anything to do with campus Jewish life, says junior Mimi Hall, an activist in Texans for Israel, a campus pro-Israel group.

Unger, the Hillel representative, says Austin is “a big party school,” unlike her alma mater, UC Berkeley. Whereas Israel activism is high on the Jewish agenda at Berkeley to counter the large pro-Palestinian presence there, Unger is focusing more on social programming at Austin — bagel brunches, barbecue get-togethers, ice cream socials.

At the group’s first such event, a welcome brunch, first-year student David Auslender is one of four dozen new and transfer students to attend.

“I thought it would be a good way to meet people,” he says, adding that he thinks the synagogue his family goes to in Poquoson, Va., is Reconstructionist. He goes to services with them occasionally, but says he isn’t particularly interested in services or in Israel while he’s in college.

A few freshmen at the brunch say they do want regular religious services. Roommates Adina Neustein and Carly Robalin of El Paso say they want to “do Shabbat” once a month in their dorm room.

“Judaism has always been very dear to my heart, and I want to maintain that here,” Robalin says.

Both young women come from affiliated families — Robalin’s parents are active in their Reform congregation, and Neustein says her family belongs to Reform and Conservative congregations and Chabad.

Chabad also does outreach during orientation week. Chabad outreach on U.S. college campuses has grown dramatically in recent years. More than 70 campuses across the nation currently have active Chabad houses, including UCLA, of course, where Chabad is a significant presence.

Jews at a Jesuit College

Santa Clara University is a far cry from UCLA, even though it’s just a six-hour drive north. Nestled in the hills outside San Jose, it’s a private Jesuit college. Most of the 4,700 undergraduates are Catholic; 163 are Jewish. There is no kosher food option, no Torah classes and no on-campus Shabbat services.

“The students who come here are not looking for a Jewish environment,” says Vanina Sandler, director of student life for Hillel of Silicon Valley, which runs Jewish activities at four area colleges, including Santa Clara, through each campus’ Jewish Student Union. On such campuses, Sandler says, some students prefer to blend in with their non-Jewish peers, while others seek out Jewish affiliation for the first time in their lives, precisely because they’re at an openly Christian campus.

Those students who stop by the Jewish Student Union table at Santa Clara are often quite tentative, even shy, about asking questions. Many of them aren’t even Jewish. Sandler says of 55 students who signed her contact list one particular day, only 12 were Jewish.

“The Jewish students don’t want to ‘come out’ on a Jesuit campus until they see their non-Jewish friends sign up,” she says, adding that the non-Jewish students “like to come to our Shabbatons,” but don’t tend to become active in the organization.

The co-president of the Jewish Student Union, Katie Wampler, says she chose Santa Clara because “it’s a good school,” and only developed her Jewish identity after arriving on campus, when she started going to the local Chabad house. Now possibly the only Shabbat-observant student at the school, Wampler says she met lots of Jewish freshmen the first week of classes.

“They didn’t come here with the intention of being Jewish,” she says. “They want to suppress that. But once they’re on campus, they’ll start to seek us out.”

“I didn’t think I’d be the only Jew, but I knew there’d be very few,” says Anne Butterfield of Oakland, who stopped by Wampler’s table to pick up some brochures.

Butterfield comes from an intermarried family, and says her family stopped attending their Reform synagogue when she was a child. She thinks “it would be fun to go bowling together, or other social activities,” and she also thinks “it would be great to have a place to celebrate the holidays” on campus.

Carolyn Healy, a hurricane transfer student from Tulane University in New Orleans, says she is looking for Shabbat services, as well as a Jewish community on campus. Pointing to the silver hamsa, the five-fingered Sephardic symbol she wears on a chain around her neck, she says, “I’ve been asked four times today what this necklace means, if I’m a Muslim or what.”

For all of these young people, the Jewish Student Union provides a social haven, a place where they don’t have to explain their holidays, food or jewelry. It’s also a place where they can learn more about who they are.

Cassandra Schwartz has stopped by the table to ask about Birthright Israel, the program that sponsors free trips to Israel. Wampler hands her a brochure, saying, “You’re part-Jewish, right?”

“Half,” Schwartz says. “But it’s not my mom, so it doesn’t count.”

“Of course it does,” chimes in Sandler.

Wampler and Sandler take turns telling Schwartz about Shabbat services, the Birthright program and Jewish holiday parties planned for later in the semester.

“What do we get Friday night?” Schwartz asks skeptically.

As Wampler rattles off the list — roast chicken, pizza, matzah ball soup — Schwartz breaks in, “Oooh, I love matzah ball soup. In December do we get latkes?”

As she walks away from the table, Schwartz shakes her head and says, “It’s so sad, I’m learning more about this here than I ever learned at home.”

Even in New York City

Across the country at New York University in Manhattan, many Jewish students feel that because they are in such an overtly Jewish city, they don’t need to affiliate in order to “do Jewish.”

“It’s tricky just getting them in the door,” says NYU senior Isaac Rothbart, president of Kesher, the Reform movement’s campus organization. Most Jewish first-year students at NYU who do get involved are looking for services, especially for the holidays, he says.

“Others are just looking for friends, and some want to learn about Judaism,” he adds.

Freshman Josh Welikson from Ridgewood, N.J., says he took part in Hillel’s scavenger hunt through Manhattan during the first week of school.

“It was awesome,” he reports, adding that he’s “looking for social connections.”

Dyanna Loeb was raised as a Reform Jew in Oakland, and seems excited about campus Jewish life.

Would she go to Jewish lectures? Depends on the topic, she says. How about Shabbat services or meals? She’s not sure: “I’m just here to find out more.”

 

The Legacy of a Folk Hero


As fate would have it, back in 1961, while at Columbia Records making my third folk music album, I invited my friend, Bob Dylan, to play harmonica on the LP. It was I who introduced Dylan to John Hammond. The influential Columbia Records executive produced albums for legendary jazz artists, among them Billie Holiday and Benny Goodman.

At this point, Hammond was turning the spotlight on folk music at Columbia, signing Pete Seeger and myself; the Clancy Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel were to come. Dylan has remained with Columbia for more than 40 years, certainly a remarkable partnership.

Bob and I had an unusual bond. We were both folk singers, but as friends, each knew the other had a weakness for the music of Buddy Holly. I was from Texas and knew Buddy, so Bob and I had lots to talk about. Our other passion was this new musical adventure.

Folk music came with lots of “structure,” both musical and moral. There was plenty of gospel music — which accounts for the early evidence of Christian musical influence noted by writer Andrew Muchin. Our heroes in folk were Woody Guthrie and Seeger. And, as Dylan’s autobiography, “Chronicles,” points out, we were armed with Woody and Pete’s “take no prisoners” ethic:

1 — Tell it like it is.

2 — Use few if any production frills.

3 — Be a “stand-up-on-your-own” artist.

“Artist” is the word. After interpreting traditional music and its connection to gospel, bluegrass and country music, Dylan and others of our acquaintance in New York City’s Greenwich Village began to create contemporary “new folk.” Tom Paxton, Eric Anderson, Phil Ochs, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joni Mitchell and the rest of us threw in our two cents, as well. The most successful of these was Dylan, acoustic or electric.

Dylan’s work was both spellbinding and consequential. He helped to inspire a generation to march into the South in the name of civil rights. Many young men listened to his words and then burned their draft cards, putting themselves at some risk.

The term “generation gap” was born, fueled by the rift within families. Draft-age males left home and fled to Canada to avoid going as soldiers to a foreign war that they believed our nation was fighting without provocation.

Dylan asked moral questions that had never before been asked in popular music, turning his smoldering gaze on congressmen, senators, warlords, lawmen, professors — in other words, the establishment.

With so direct a message and so revolutionary a reach, Dylan rattled cages. And, he laid down the gauntlet to these citizens of the future to dismiss the easy answers of the past.

“Don’t trust anyone over 30” not only entered the vernacular; it also became words to live by. Dylan was gifted with the courage and skill to ask profound questions and the ability, through his popular music, to get others to hear those questions.

And it seemed proper, even inevitable, to fans and admirers that Dylan the philosopher, the voice of a generation, also would become Dylan the leader. It seemed like the natural progression for those whose consciousness was so recently raised.

They wanted the questioner to answer the questions. They summoned Dylan to attend their marches, write articles and, verily, to run for president. Dylan did not see things that way. He envisioned no role for himself along those lines. Besides, Dylan had a young wife and a stepdaughter — and soon would add his own sons (and eventually another daughter) to a burgeoning family.

But what he preferred not to be doesn’t diminish what he was. Dylan’s great creativity, strength and resolve — his artistic powers — were never wasted; his opportunities never lost. He spoke to our souls with every bit as much depth as the ancient philosophers.

Nearly three generations after his celebrity burned so brightly, the essence of his ongoing musical contribution still shines strongly, though perhaps more sporadically, and sometimes more ironically, more wistfully. He’s still doing concert tours; he writes books; and he remains a subject of public fascination, as the spate of articles, biographies and documentaries demonstrate.

I don’t see him fading from musical prominence any more than Frank Sinatra became irrelevant after his own early glory period. And the ongoing Dylan legacy was never just about music, but also about social justice.

He has never ceased to be a spiritual and musical seeker. And thankfully, here in 5766 and 2005, Dylan and his muse are alive and well.

We can be proud that he was so well grounded in Judaism, as well as folk music tradition. Both have served him well. And (I believe) he has served both traditions faithfully in return.

Carolyn Hester, a leading performer in the ’60s folk-music scene, has, like Bob Dylan, continued to write, perform and record music. With her husband and musical collaborator, Dave Blume, the Los Angeles resident also has raised two daughters and managed Cafe Danssa, a longtime Israeli folk-dancing venue.

 

Villaraigosa a Yemenite?


The energy and enthusiasm of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa got ahead of his staff when, at a Rosh Hashanah dinner with consular officials, he suddenly announced his intention to lead a local delegation to Israel.

The pledge had raced across newswires for several days and still the mayor’s staffers pleaded ignorance late last week, saying that they had no details, such as a date, an itinerary or participants.

But Westside City Councilman Jack Weiss, at least, was wise to what was up. He, too, had been at the Beverly Hills home of Ehud Danoch, the regional Israeli Consul General, and his wife, Miki. The Danochs hosted the gathering to celebrate their first Rosh Hashanah in Los Angeles, said Weiss, a close Villaraigosa ally.

“Mayor Villaraigosa said many times during his campaign that he would lead a trip to Israel,” Weiss said in a phone interview. “He feels a strong connection to Israel.”

Villaraigosa’s wife, Corina, and their two children were also among the guests, along with other consular officials. Also on hand was Benny Alagem, co-founder and one-time CEO of Packard Bell NEC. He’d helped arrange the visit to Israel by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Villaraigosa has long had strong ties with the Jewish community. He grew up in Boyle Heights, a former Jewish enclave that became Latino. A Jewish teacher and mentor paid for him to take his college boards. And leading Jewish progressives and funders supported his political rise early on. Weiss said that Villaraigosa already has been to Israel twice before.

But Consul General Danoch, a fluent Spanish speaker, spied another semblance of connection. Danoch’s parents are originally from Yemen and when they “saw a picture of Antonio on television, they told Ehud that he looked like a Yemenite,” Weiss said. “The mayor got a big kick out of that.”

Nimoy’s New Trek


In a recent Tel Aviv seminar, Leonard Nimoy — famous as “Star Trek’s” logical Mr. Spock — described the Vulcan way he behaved while playing Golda Meir’s husband in a 1982 TV movie.

“I had a question and the director blurted, ‘It doesn’t make any difference, you’re wrong for this part anyway,'” the 74-year-old actor-director said. “But I just walked away, let it fizzle out and went back to work.”

Nimoy — who was Emmy nominated for that role — was back in Israel as part of the Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership film master class program. During his five-day trip, he conducted two “Inside the Actor’s Studio”-style seminars for student actors and directors.

Nimoy said he was eager to participate because he finds current Israeli cinema to be “fresh, well-executed and relevant to the culture,” compared to the “primitive” films he viewed in the early 1980s. He was equally impressed by students at the Beit Zvi drama school, who asked questions such as “How did you approach your work?” and “How did you find your way into a character?”

Nimoy, in turn, described his use of Stanislavsky’s Method, as taught by the late Jeff Corey, in which an actor uses personal experiences to emotionally tap into a scene. The technique also emphasizes finding major themes in a piece to determine a character’s connection to them. Spock, for instance, drew on “Trek’s” dissection of individuals simultaneously “exploring outside of themselves and achieving self-discovery.”

“I also talked a lot about subtext,” Nimoy recalled. “For example, what does a character mean when he says the simple words, ‘I love you’? Is he saying, ‘I love you,’ meaning the other person doesn’t, or ‘I love you,'” because he feels unloved?”

Eventually someone asked why Nimoy gave up acting and directing in favor of photography and philanthropy eight years ago. The artist traced his decision to sitting, for hours in a hot trailer in Morocco, flies buzzing about, while playing the prophet Samuel in the TV movie, “David.” “I decided, ‘I’m done with this,'” he said, in decidedly un-Spock-like tones. “‘There’s no need to continue, because I’ve had all the creative expression a person could ever have dreamed of in a career that’s spanned more than 50 years.”

The Nimoy Concert Series presents Sheshbesh, The Arab-Jewish ensemble of the Israel Philharmonic, June 26, 3 p.m., at Temple Israel of Hollywood. For more information, call (213) 805-4261. For more information about the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, visit www.jewishla.org/html/io_partnership.htm.

 

Spectator – The Geffen’s Great Escape


In the 1930s, with the Great Depression at home and Hitler saber-rattling overseas, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, two sharp-witted Jewish lads, kept Broadway and the nation laughing.

Together, they wrote such comedic classics as “Once in a Lifetime,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” “I’d Rather Be Right” and “You Can’t Take It With You.”

The latter play, which debuted on Broadway in 1936 and won a Pulitzer Prize and as an Oscar-winning movie two years later, has now been revived by the Geffen Playhouse.

The revival marks the 100th anniversary of Hart’s birth and, to keep the familial connection, is directed by his son, Christopher.

Cunningly constructed, the play relates the adventures and misadventures of the Sycamore Family of New York, whose guiding motto is, do whatever turns you on, however eccentric, and you’ll have lots of fun, avoid ulcers and enjoy a happy ending.

This philosophy may not always work in this harsh world but it surely does on the stage.

The pace of this production is not quite as antic and frantic as we recall from the olden days, but there are enough laughs to get your money’s worth.

Excelling in a somewhat uneven cast is veteran British actor Roy Dotrice as the family patriarch, who quit the rat race 35 years ago and has never looked back.

Also amusing are Conrad John Schuck as an irascible Wall Street tycoon, and Magda Harout, who doubles as an inebriated actress and an aristocratic Russian refugee who has fallen on hard times.

The Geffen’s performances have been in exile on the Veterans Administration grounds while its Westwood playhouse has been undergoing a $17 million facelift.

Included in the renovations are a plusher main stage and audience seats and construction of the smaller Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre.

A grand reopening of the Westwood facility is set for Oct. 17. The inaugural drama on Nov. 4 will be Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” directed by Gilbert Cates and starring John Goodman as Big Daddy.

“You Can’t Take It With You” concludes its run on May 22 at the VA’s Brentwood Theatre. For information, call (310) 208-5454 or visit www.geffenplayhouse.com

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Jewish Arsonist Worked for Paris Center


French Jewish leaders fear they may have cried wolf once too often after a Jew was arrested in connection with the well-publicized arson of a Jewish community center in central Paris.

Paris police say a 52-year-old Jewish man arrested Monday morning in connection with the Aug. 22 torching of the Judaeo-Spanish social center in the capital’s 11th district is the principal suspect in the arson.

Police said the man, identified only as "Raphael B." and described as unstable, is a former caretaker at the institution who had received free meals in return for his volunteer activities.

It is believed that the center wanted to part company with the man, provoking what police think was an act of vengeance.

Investigators found keys to the center at the man’s former rented apartment. This discovery tied in with earlier evidence, including the fact that the burned building’s front door was damaged from the inside during the arson, rather than being forced from the exterior.

The arrest shocked community leaders who had successfully mobilized the French political establishment to condemn what appeared to be an anti-Semitic attack.

Moise Cohen, president of the Paris Consistoire — the country’s principal Jewish religious group and the organization that owns the burned building — was sharply critical of community leaders he said had reacted "without taking the necessary precautions."

"From the beginning we thought this wasn’t normal," Cohen said. "The building is in a very quiet neighborhood and there was no indication on the outside that it was a former synagogue. From the start of the investigation, the police thought it was someone connected to the institution."

Cohen was equally scathing about politicians "who fear they’re going to be accused of not doing enough" to tackle anti-Semitism — though in part they have become zealous in their condemnations following stinging criticism that they weren’t taking anti-Semitism seriously enough.

In the aftermath of the attack, Jewish leaders sought to link the incident to recent cases in which judges had been lenient with anti-Semitic offenders.

The Jewish community could have been excused had its cries of anti-Semitism been isolated to one attack that turned out to have different motives. But the recent arson is only the latest example of politicians and community leaders reacting to an event with horror, only to have to ask questions later.

In July, an incident in which a young woman claimed she and her baby were attacked on a suburban train drew fierce condemnations from politicians and religious leaders — until it was discovered that the woman had made up the story.

Similarly, the recent knifing of a yeshiva student in the Paris suburbs also apparently was not motivated by anti-Semitism. And police still are investigating claims by a rabbi that he was stabbed outside his synagogue in January 2003, as reports allege that the rabbi may have stabbed himself.

Less in the media spotlight is the burning last November of an unoccupied annex of a Jewish school in the Parisian suburb of Gagny. It looks less and less likely that the incident was motivated by anti-Semitism.

Nevertheless, for Jewish organizations and for the government, these cases are merely isolated incidents in a tide of nearly 300 reported acts of anti-Semitism in France since the beginning of 2004.

Roger Benarroch, vice president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jewry, said that last week’s arson and the reaction to it should "not cause us to lose sight of the essential, that the climate of anti-Semitism makes these things credible."

But he admitted that such events "give our detractors, and the anti-Semites, an excuse to doubt us."

Similar comments came from France’s Union of Jewish Students, a group in the vanguard of the fight against anti-Semitism.

However, certain groups were critical of what they regard as Israel’s exploitation of the arson incident, which came just weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called on French Jews to leave the country "immediately" because of rising anti-Semitism.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom flew hastily to Paris to hold talks with government officials and Jewish leaders following the arson, and to visit the destroyed center.

Benarroch sharply criticized the visit, saying that "the Israelis should be more careful" and "shouldn’t meddle in the internal affairs of the community."

However, Shalom last week was considerably more nuanced about the arson attack than many community leaders.

Visiting the burned-out building, Shalom told reporters "we should leave the French authorities to conduct their investigation." He added that it was "of little importance what happened here when we know that during the last six months there have been more than 170 anti-Semitic incidents [in France].

The Consistoire’s Cohen, though, issued a warning to the Jewish community.

"Sixty years after the Shoah, every anti-Semitic incident rightly goes to the community’s head," he said. "When you cry wolf, you need to be very careful and ever vigilant. We are becoming less and less credible."

Burbank Police Kill Israeli Man


Stunned friends and family members are trying to make sense of the death of Assaf Deri, a 25-year-old Israeli who was shot and killed by Burbank police officers on June 25.

Friends say the sparse details in the police report do not fit the picture of the man they knew.

"He never had anything negative to say, he only knew to give and to help and to do and to love," said Nati Goldman, a close family friend. "He was smiling all the time, joking all the time. He was an amazing person. This is a very big loss and very hard to believe."

According to a police report, Deri was driving a car around 10:30 p.m. in a North Hollywood alley, when two Burbank police detectives stopped him in connection with a felony narcotics investigation.

The detectives say that they walked toward Deri’s car, who then stepped on the gas and sideswiped one of the officers. Both detectives opened fire, wounding Deri, who was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

The shooting comes within weeks of a public outcry over excessive use of force by police, following the release of a videotape in which an LAPD officer is shown beating a handcuffed suspect with a flashlight. On June 20, a panel found that a November 2003 shootout in which a Burbank police officer and a suspect were killed did not violate department policy.

A similar panel will investigate the Deri shooting. The Burbank Police Department has opened an administrative investigation, examining whether officers followed proper procedures.

The Los Angeles Police Department Robbery-Homicide Division and the county district attorney’s office are conducting parallel criminal investigations into Deri’s shooting to determine the circumstances of the incident and whether officers were justified in their use of force.

Once all three reports have been concluded, the district attorney will decide whether to file charges against the officers.

These investigations are standard in any officer involved shooting. Police and district attorney spokespeople said no more information would be released until the conclusion of the investigations.

But friends and family members want more information now about the violent death of a man they say was warm, giving and happy, and could not have been involved in drugs or anything criminal.

"Assaf has never been in trouble and I can’t believe the police story," Goldman said. "I can only assume that Assaf didn’t realize what was happening when the police stopped him and that he got confused."

Goldman has hired a lawyer to investigate the case.

Deri’s father, Pinchas Deri, an electrical contractor in Bet Shemesh, was two weeks into a six-week visit with his son when he was informed of his death Saturday morning.

The elder Deri was "in total shock, he doesn’t believe it really happened," Goldman said.

The father and son had traveled to Las Vegas together, and had gone to Magic Mountain and Universal Studios, spending every minute they could together over the last two weeks. The elder Deri did not leave with his son after Shabbat dinner at the Goldman’s house because Pinchas won’t drive on Shabbat during the year he is mourning the death of his father, a pious Moroccan Jew.

Goldman’s wife flew with Pinchas Deri back to Israel on Monday, when police finally released Assaf’s body. He was buried in Israel on Tuesday.

Goldman said Assaf was a sensitive man with a girlfriend and many friends. In Israel he had served in an elite undercover unit with the border police working to thwart terrorists.

Goldman, who was best friends with Assaf’s uncle in Israel, said that he met Deri three and a half years ago when Assaf joined his family for seder, soon after he arrived in the United States to work as a diamond salesman. He worked in New York for a few years, sending money to his parents and four siblings in Bet Shemesh. Deri was the oldest of five siblings — three brothers aged 22, 18 and 14, and a 5-year-old sister.

He came to Los Angeles nine months ago, and was like a family member to the Goldmans and their three children, ages 12, 13 and 5. When Goldman suffered a heart attack while in Miami four months ago, it was Assaf who stepped up to take care of the family, driving carpools and making sure all their needs were met.

"He was an extraordinary person, taking care of everybody and loving everyone. He helped everyone. My kids looked at him like a big brother," Goldman said.

Goldman said that since Assaf’s death hundreds of people have come over or called to offer sympathy, and friends prepared a memorial book to send home with Pinchas Deri.

Israeli Consul Yehoshua Avigdor, who helped arrange the Deris’ return flight to Israel, said the consulate would pressure the police to provide more information.

"Nobody understands what happened, so we are just waiting for more details," Avigdor said.

Q & A With Norman Brokaw


Norman Brokaw’s first day at the William Morris Agency was July 7, 1943; he has never worked anywhere else.

The 15-year-old, $25-a-week mailboy was the first mailroom trainee to become an agent, later becoming the agency’s chairman of the board. He represented Bill Cosby for four decades and was responsible for introducing Joe DiMaggio to Marilyn Monroe.

On April 20 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, Brokaw’s three decades of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center philanthropy — as a member of the hospital’s board of governors, board of directors and now life trustee — are being honored by Cedars-Sinai’s Heart Fund as Brokaw receives its Steven S. Cohen Humanitarian Award.

The cardiology unit is special to Brokaw because his mother had a stroke and heart attack while her older sons fought in World War II (one was executed on the Bataan Death March). One of Brokaw’s brothers and his father died of heart attacks.

In his cozy office, the 76-year-old William Morris icon gave a rare interview to The Journal discussing his 30-year love affair with Cedars-Sinai.

Jewish Journal: How did you get involved with Cedars-Sinai?

Norman Brokaw: I’ve always had an interest in things that had to do with the heart, because of family history. Having had all this experience, first at the age of 15, when my mother had a heart attack, I lost a brother who died at the age of 43 with a heart attack, I’m very mindful of the heart situation. When my father and brother had their heart attacks, if we had that knowledge then (about the heart), they’d be living a much longer life.

JJ: What’s the connection between your success at work and your success at philanthropy?

NB: If you work hard in business and you work hard for the hospital, if you’re successful in business you can be successful for the hospital.

JJ: What do you think of philanthropy in Hollywood today? George Gobel once joked, "By the time I got to Hollywood, the only charity that was left was water on the knee."

NB: Well there you are. Everybody has a favorite charity. Cedars has been very, very special to me. So many doctors I know are longtime, personal friends of mine, and they all work through the hospital, treating family and friends of mine, including actors, writers, directors, producers, etc. Chances are that their personal physicians are on staff or had privileges at Cedars-Sinai.

So many people are drawn to the hospital; it has an incredible reputation. With Dr. P.K. Shah, the director of cardiology and atherosclerosis, and the research and things that are accomplished in his department, it’s really the whole future.

JJ: What did you learn about philanthropy from Lew Wasserman?

NB: A great and friendly competitor. I considered him a mentor to me. I liked everything about Lew Wasserman. How he supported candidates from both political parties. He cared about everybody.

JJ: During the same 60 years you have been in Hollywood, you’ve also seen the rise of Jewish philanthropy and institutions in Los Angeles, including Cedars-Sinai.

NB: As a young man, I was in the entertainment section of the United Jewish Welfare Fund. I was one of the two founders of the Cedars-Sinai annual tennis tournament, which is now in its 32nd year. I did create a huge benefit to launch the Betty Ford cancer center, because of my relationship with President and Mrs. Ford.

My main contributions go to Cedars-Sinai, because of my involvement with them. I’ve always made contributions to the United Jewish Welfare Fund.

JJ: There is also a very personal reason why you are so attached to Cedars-Sinai and especially Shah, its cardiology division director.

NB: P.K. Shah saved my life. Because of my family history, every year I go to Cedars-Sinai and take a complete physical. Dr. Shah spotted a change in my cardiograph about a year-and-a-half ago and told me he wanted me to have a angiogram.

I told him that I had no aches, no pains, no shortness of breath, I work 17 hours a day and did I really have to have an angiogram? He said yes and scheduled it for a few days later.

At 5:30 in the morning, they did an angiogram. When I awakened about four hours later, I learned I had a triple bypass.

Because of P.K. Shah’s early detection, they found there was blockage in three of the arteries. I was operated on with no damage to my heart. I was back working from home four days later and back in the office in three weeks.

Again, it was because P.K. Shah spotted that there was something going on. His early detection prevented me from having a major heart attack.

For tickets to the Heart Fund Humanitarian of the Year gala on April 20 honoring Norman Brokaw, call (310) 423-3657.

Clarinetist Finds His Klezmer Voice


"I came to klezmer quite by accident," said virtuoso clarinetist David Krakauer.

He was a noted classical musician around 1987 when a chance encounter on a Manhattan bus changed the direction of his career.

Seated nearby was the accordionist from a klezmer band that played in front of Zabar’s, across the street from Krakauer’s 10th-floor apartment on the Upper West Side.

"The music used to waft up through my windows," he said. "Suddenly, I realized it had made an impression."

The son of a psychiatrist and a violinist, Krakauer had known little about Jewish music or culture growing up in an assimilated home in Manhattan. Yiddish was the language his grandparents had used when they did not want younger relatives to understand their conversation. At Juilliard, Krakauer assumed he would embark on a career of playing Brahms and Mahler with perhaps some jazz on the side. He did so while making a name for himself as a member of the Aspen Wind Quintet, by performing with new music groups such as Continuum and teaching at Vassar and the Manhattan School.

But Jewish music crept up on Krakauer, 42, who’ll perform his unique brand of nouveau klezmer at the Skirball Cultural Center March 21. Around 1978, he said, he attended a concert by the then-elderly clarinetist, David Tarras, who had merged klezmer and swing in the 1920s.

"He didn’t play so well anymore … but there was just something about his sound that gave me the shivers," Krakauer said. "[It] was the rhythm, the cadence, the way the sounds went up and down. It reminded me of my Belorussian grandmother’s voice, when she said things like ‘David, so nu?’"

Krakauer’s own gravely voice crackled with excitement as he recalled meeting that klezmer accordionist on the 104 bus headed uptown in the late 1980s.

"She asked me to recommend a clarinetist who could play with her band, and I think she assumed I’d name a student," he said. "Instead, the words spontaneously flew out of my mouth: ‘I’ll do it.’ It was as if I instinctively realized, ‘I know nothing about being Jewish, but I want to connect.’ I felt like klezmer could be my connection, through sounds, notes and music."

So Krakauer began studying old recordings, learning the proper ornaments and the lilting or frenetic technique required to perform traditional dances such as the doina or freylach. He played weddings and bar mitzvahs, assuming the endeavor would become a musical hobby, not a career.

But then he was invited to play with The Klezmatics, an American band spurring the exuberant klezmer revival of the 1980s. When he traveled to Germany with that group around 1989, he performed in front of thousands of dancing, cheering non-Jews. The same thing happened throughout Eastern Europe and especially in Poland, where Krakauer returned more than seven times to teach and perform. While coaching a group of young musicians in a ramshackle barn off a dirt road in Sejny, he recalled, even a dour farmer paused to tap his feet in the adjacent field.

Of the continuing non-Jewish obsession with klezmer, Krakauer said, "I think enough time has passed, since the Holocaust, for Europeans to wonder, ‘What Jewish culture have we been missing?’ We klezmorim are viewed as representatives of that part of the Eastern European soul that was destroyed in the Shoah."

But Krakauer, like The Klezmatics, wasn’t content just to perform traditional pieces in a straightforward style. In the mid-1990s, he formed his own band, Klezmer Madness!, which weds classic Jewish music with contemporary forms such as jazz, rock and hip-hop. Today, he is part of a wave of musicians who are continuing to push the klezmer envelope, according to Yale Strom, author of 2003’s "The Book of Klezmer." Such bands include the world fusion-infused Flying Bulgars and Strom’s Afro-Cuban Klazzj.

Krakauer’s latest forward-thinking CD is "Live in Krakow," which he recorded last year in the city that bears his name. The energetic album features samples and beatbox by DJ Socalled; it also includes Krakauer’s original composition, "Klezmer a la Bechet," based on an imaginary 1920s meeting between black New Orleans jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet and the Ukrainian Jewish clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. Another track, "Love Song for Lemberg/Lvov," combines a waltzy melody with atonal sounds mimicking "screams of the Jewish dead," said Krakauer, who is still prominent in classical music circles.

But even as he stretches the genre, he still wants klezmer to sound like klezmer. It has to remind Krakauer of the music he heard wafting in through his windows back in 1987: "It has to suggest my grandmother’s voice," he said.

For information about the Skirball concert, call (310) 440-4500. For tickets, call (323) 655-8587.

For the Kids


Take a Leap

Let’s leap into the month of Adar! This is the month in which we are told: “The month of Adar brings great joy!” That is because Purim, a very joyous holiday, begins on the 14th of Adar. So, get into the spirit everybody and jump for joy!

Now don’t leap to conclusions!

If you were born on Feb. 29th, 1980, how old would you be this coming Feb. 29, 2004? (Leap years happened in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000.)

What’s the Connection?

After you find the words, try to put all the facts
together. What did John Holland invent? Who is Mario Andretti? Who are Graham
Nash and Jimmy Dorsey? You may need to ask your parents and/or the Internet for
some help. Send your answers with what these guys all have in common to abbygilad@yahoo.com

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Off the Page

“Dave at Night” is an adventurous book based on Gail Carson Levine’s father’s life. Dave’s parents die and nobody wants him to live with them. Dave is placed in a cold, disgusting Jewish orphanage filled with obnoxious teachers. If you would like to find out what happens to Dave, read “Dave at Night.” — review by Yonatan Isaacs & Benjamin Rostami, sixth grade, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy

If you have a Jewish book you would like us to know
about, review it and send it to abbygilad@yahoo.com .

Community Briefs


Hier: Gibson Is Insensitive

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has asked Mel Gibson to “speak out forcefully against anti-Semitism” and to “condemn the false charges of deicide leveled against the Jewish people.”

In a letter sent to the director of “The Passion of the Christ” on Monday, Hier criticized Gibson’s remarks reported in an upcoming issue of Reader’s Digest.

“Rather than showing understanding for what historians regard as the most telling example of man’s inhumanity to man in the history of civilization, you diminish the uniqueness of the Holocaust by marginalizing it and placing it along the horrors and of people caught up in conflict and famine,” Hier wrote.

Pointing to the influence of Christian theology in forming the Nazi mentality, Hier noted that during a 1958 war crimes trial in Germany, the Protestant pastor of an SS Einsatzkommando murder squad was asked how he could justify the extermination of the Jews.

The pastor replied that “These acts were the fulfillment of the self-condemnation which the Jews had brought upon themselves before the tribunal of Pontius Pilate,” Hier wrote. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Elmo Teaches Tolerance

Elmo was the face of anti-hate education at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) launch of the Miller Early Childhood Initiative at Los Angelitos Early Education Center on Jan. 13. Making his guest appearance, the red and furry Sesame Streeter greeted members of the ADL, Sesame Workshop, PRANA Foundation and children at the center.

The initiative, part of A World of Difference Institute, targets the youngest demographic in anti-bias training — preschoolers.

Amanda Susskind, ADL’s Pacific Southwest Regional director, explained that children as young as 3 are susceptible to hateful messages. “To unlearn it [prejudice] is much more difficult. The anti-bias program will give them the tools to critically analyze when they are confronted with an opportunity to learn hatred,” she said. The initiative involves 10 and a half hours of training, three and a half of which are follow-up, where teachers and parents learn through different scenarios how to combat hate in the classroom. Sesame Workshop was instrumental in tailoring the training to the preschool level.

ADL’s workshop is now available all over the United State through either fee for service or a grant. Due to the generosity of the PRANA Foundation, 300 educators and 150 family members in Los Angeles County benefited from the workshops.

Josemie Jackson, an educator for 18 years and the principal at Los Angelitos Early Education Center, said that preschoolers are curious about racial differences and an anti-bias training program is needed. “These workshops — we’ll be able to use them at teachable moments…it will give us techniques and strategies that we can use whenever it [prejudice] comes up,” she said. — Leora Alhadeff, Contributing Writer

Feds Pressure Krugel on Killing

Federal prosecutors are putting pressure on an imprisoned Jewish Defense League (JDL) activist in hope of solving the 19-year-old killing of an Arab American official.

The case involves Earl Krugel, the JDL’s former West Coast coordinator, and Alex Odeh, the former Western regional director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Odeh was killed in 1985 by a bomb that detonated when he opened the front door to his Santa Ana office.

In a separate case, Krugel pleaded guilty nearly a year ago to conspiring with JDL National Chair Irv Rubin to bomb an L.A. mosque and the field office of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issue (R-Vista), who is of Lebanese descent. Krugel and Rubin were arrested before the alleged plan could be carried out.

Over the years, the FBI has investigated several JDL members in connection with the Odeh murder, which has become a cause celebre in the Arab American community. No charges have ever been filed and the JDL has steadfastly denied involvement.

Under the terms on his plea agreement in the alleged mosque bombing conspiracy, Krugel promised to cooperate fully with federal investigators. However, the U.S. Attorney’s office now believes that Krugel is still withholding information in the Odeh killing and has asked U.S. District Judge Ronald S. Lew to rule that Krugel has violated the terms of his agreement, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

The difference for Krugel, 61, could be a possible 45-year prison sentence, instead of the anticipated 13- to 16-year sentence under the plea agreement.

Krugel’s co-counsel, Peter Morris, told The Times that his client “has met all the obligations to the government under the plea agreement.” Morris accused the prosecution of “overreaching.”

Krugel’s sentencing and hearing on the plea agreement are scheduled for March 29.

Rubin, the dominant and most publicized JDL figure since founder Rabbi Meir Kahane emigrated to Israel, and its chairman since 1985, died in November 2002 in a Los Angeles federal prison, where he was being held on the alleged mosque bombing conspiracy.

Prison authorities and the FBI ruled that Rubin committed suicide by slashing his throat and jumping over a prison railing, but his family has contested the findings. — TT

A Jewish Diet


The Tu B’Shevat seder, with its many fruit and nuts, challenges us to reconsider our usual diets, and the recommended Jewish diet. While the FDA recommends a diet high in grains, rich in nutrients and low in saturated fats, Judaism recommends a diet high in holiness, rich in consciousness and connection, and low in selfishness. These four factors guide not only a Jewish diet, but also a Jewish life.

As Jews, we’re commanded to strive for holiness in every facet of our lives. One ritual and spiritual practice that helps us infuse holiness into our daily life, is offering blessings. Offering a bracha or a blessing with mindful consciousness — known in Hebrew as kavanah — helps us transform apparently mundane acts into moments rich with spiritual potential. Saying a blessing before and after each meal ensures that we stop to appreciate our food and its Ultimate Source. In our tradition, eating without blessings to thank God is like stealing from the Source of Life, while robbing ourselves of spiritual awareness. Judaism tells us a proper diet should include healthy portions of holiness — ideally beginning and ending each meal with blessings.

A second key ingredient in a Jewish diet is consciousness. Maintaining a traditional Jewish diet requires a high degree of consciousness in order to follow the ritual guidelines of kashrut commonly described as keeping kosher. The word kosher, which means ritually fit, can apply to a wide range of subjects from the food we eat to the wedding rings we may wear. In the dietary realm, the core ideas of kashrut are defined in the Bible. While the biblical Garden of Eden narrative clearly defines a vegetarian diet as ideal, our Noah narrative highlights the human lust for blood and meat. In Judaism meat eating can be seen as a concession to human blood lust, which was allowed, but highly regulated through ancient cultic ritual and the practice of kashrut.

As we know, the biblical traditions of kashrut include definitions, prohibitions and guidelines for treating animals. Kosher land animals have cloven hoofs and chew their cud (thus cows and most herbivores can be kosher, but pigs and all carnivores are treif, or un-kosher). Kosher fowl essentially include all birds except birds of prey. Kosher marine life must have fins and scales and may not be scavengers. According to kashrut, meat and dairy products may not be mixed, and traditional kosher homes have separate dishes, silverware, cookware and utensils for meat and dairy products.

While kashrut allows the slaughter and consumption of animals for food, it demands that the animals be treated with respect. Judaism requires the schochet (ritual slaughterer) to perform his duties consciously minimizing pain and maximizing reverence for life and the Life Source.

A third dish in the Jewish diet is connection. Our foods connect us symbolically to the teaching of our tradition, and sociologically to our heritage. This is best reflected in the Passover meal, or seder. Tradition teaches us that in this ritual meal, bitter horseradish represents the bitterness of slavery and saltwater reminds us of the tears of bondage, while fresh spring herbs symbolize the promise of hope. Through the Passover meal, food helps us symbolically reenact the journey from slavery to freedom. Similarly, the oily latkes and sufganiyot of Chanukah, remind us of the remarkable events surrounding the rededication of the oil lamps that burned in the ancient Temple.

A Jewish diet also connects people through a program of communal meals. One of the joys of the Sabbath is joining friends and family for a celebratory meal — by tradition this should be the best meal of the week. Every life-cycle event — bris, baby namings, b’nai mitvah, weddings and funerals — is accompanied by a communal meal. These meals and the food we often serve, connect us not only to our family, but to our particular familial heritage.

Our tradition demands that our diet be not only high in holiness and rich in consciousness and connection but also low in selfishness. We are commanded to share our bread with the hungry, even to feed our animals before we feed ourselves. At every Passover seder, we’re expected to call out to all who may pass, all who are hungry, let them come and eat. We strive to make providing food to the hungry a regular part of our Jewish practice, contributing to food pantries and volunteering at soup kitchens.

Mazon is a Hebrew word that means food. It is also an international Jewish organization that urges us to donate 3 percent of the cost of a celebration (such as a wedding or bar mitzvah party) to help feed the hungry the world over. Our blessing after meals includes the phrase "Chazan et hakol," praising God for providing food for all who live. We realize we must be partners with God to realize this promise.

As we know, there is enough food to sustain all who live on this planet if only we’ll be partners with God in the distribution of our resources — learning to share our abundant blessings with those in need. At times, in our world full of hunger, poverty and suffering, the blessings of holiness, compassion, connection and selflessness may seem distant ideals. The Source of Life and Sustenance, which we sometimes call God, may seem distant when we see the eyes of a hungry child.

Leo Baeck, a great rabbi who was sent to concentration camps by the Nazis, was once asked where God was during the Holocaust. His answer? Every time one prisoner helped another to drag a heavy wagon or shared one hard crust of bread with another starving inmate, God was there in the helping and sharing.

May we who are blessed with abundance, be blessed also with the strength, will and conviction to share what we have.

This is the foundation of a Jewish spiritual diet.


Sheryl Nosan-Blank is rabbi at Temple Beth Torah of the San Fernando Valley.

A Ramah Union


David Ross and Lauren Schmidt met for the first time in Los Angeles in May 2000. Or at least, the couple is pretty sure that was the first time.

Raised in Palo Alto, David was an active member of United Synagogue Youth since his early childhood, and spent every summer at Camp Ramah in Ojai, first as a camper and then as a staff member.

Little did he know that his future wife slept only a few bunks away during those summers at Ramah.

Lauren grew up in Austin, Texas, and was involved with Young Judea and various Jewish summer camps. In the summers of 1992 and 1993, Lauren traveled west to work as a counselor at Camp Ramah.

Despite spending summers at the same camp and sharing a passion for music, Lauren and David did not remember meeting each other when their paths crossed again through a mutual friend in 2000.

"It’s almost impossible that we never even said ‘Hello’ through two entire summers at camp," David said. "But we really didn’t remember each other at all."

Although they sensed a connection, Lauren still lived in Austin, and 2,000 miles was enough to dissuade David from pursuing a relationship.

"I remember telling my friends, ‘Too bad she lives in Texas,’" David said. "I thought we really hit it off, so the distance was pretty disappointing."

David’s disappointment soon turned to excitement when he traveled to Texas with his band, Milot Ha’Nefesh, to open for musician David Broza at Young Judea’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Lauren watched, then met David and his band. Even though they barely remembered each other, sparks flew and, three weeks later, David was in Austin meeting Lauren’s family. After a 10-month long-distance relationship, Lauren packed her bags and moved to Los Angeles in February 2003.

Only two months after her move, Lauren found more than matzah in the afikomen bag on the second night of Passover: David had hidden an engagement ring among the broken crumbs.

"Then I got down on one knee, and she said yes," David said. "It worked out well. We had been joking about wedding lists after we were together for three weeks, so it didn’t really surprise either of us."

The couple currently lives in the Pico-Robertson area and is strongly involved in the Jewish community. Lauren, a graduate of the University of Kansas with a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas, is a school therapist in Santa Monica. David, who graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in music composition, still works for Ramah and travels with his band. They will be married on Nov. 2, 2003, at Camp Ramah.

"It’s a little bit like ‘When Harry Met Sally,’" David said. "Their paths had crossed several times over 10 years, but nothing happened. The same was true with us — it just proves to us that it was meant to be."

Solace in SoCal


Sergio Edelsztein said he would not have come from Israel to
a cultural exchange in New York. “Los Angeles is so much more open, and it’s
still about regular people — not so much of an establishment,” said the
director of the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv.

Edelsztein was one of seven Israeli artists, curators and
educators who came to Los Angeles Feb. 10-15 to view art and establish
professional dialogues, as part of The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles
Partnership. Participating local institutions included the Los Angeles County
Museum of Art (LACMA), the J. Paul Getty Museum, LACMA Gallery, Craft and Folk
Art Museum, Otis Art Institute and Inner-City Arts.

It may seem an auspicious time to bring Israeli artists over
to America, as Israel has been in a virtual state of war since the beginning of
the second intifada, and America is on the brink of war as well; but in a way,
the timing could not have been better to discover what role museums play amid
chaos.

“Where you’re heading now, we’ve been for years,” Edelsztein
told Angelenos about living with violence during a panel discussion at LACMA on
the impact of political turmoil on arts institutions. LACMA Lab Director Bob
Sain and others wanted to know how Israelis and their art were affected by the
situation?

“A lot of people are still doing personal art,” said Nili
Goren, curator of photography at the Tel Aviv Museum.

Yael Borovich, director and curator of education at the Tel
Aviv Museum of Art said that Israelis — artists and non-artists alike — make a
point to keep on with their normal lives. “We still go to the theater, we go to
museums, we go on living,” she said.

For some, the situation has had indirect influence their
exhibits. For example, Nitza Behroozi, curator for Judaica and folklore at the Eretz
Israel Museum exhibited a Hamsa exhibit shortly after the intifada started in
September 2000. Although the exhibit was planned way before the situation
erupted, she felt it still was positive, considering the tensions. “We wanted
to do something that was about what Jews and Muslims share. We share a lot.”

Similarly, American curators and educators are considering
holding exhibits that defuse the charged political atmosphere. Gabrielle
Tsabag, senior educator from the Skirball is considering doing exhibits on
Islam.

“The museum’s role is not just to be a showcase but to be
pertinent,” she said. Exhibits on Islam could “possibly be a way to empower the
moderate Muslin community in this country to feel they can come out and speak
out.”

War was hardly the only thing the Israeli and American
groups had in common; art discussions — on education, exhibit selection,
technical subjects such as preservation — peppered the frenzied week of
touring.

Fowler Museum curator Polly Roberts, led the group through
the “A Saint in the City” exhibit, teaching them about the secret Sufi wisdom
painted into Senegalese street murals.

At the home of Cliff and Mandy Einstein, Ohad Shaaltiel,
artist and Meyerhoff Education Center’s Workshop director in Tel Aviv, was
overjoyed at viewing an Ad Reinhardt painting: “Look at the brushstrokes. I can
see his later work in the brushstrokes,” he said.

In addition to viewing art, the Israelis found practical
lessons to take back home. Nachum Tevet, artist and director of the MFA Program
at Bezalel Academy of Art, fostered artist-in-residence programs. Edelsztein
discovered festivals and other venues for Israeli video artists. Behroozi
learned how textiles are preserved at the Gene Autry Museum of Western
Heritage.

The Los Angeles group began to establish professional
connection that would continue long after the trip ended. Bob Bates, who
founded Inner-City Arts, said that he is willing help the Israelis create
successful arts education programs for kids. “Please stay in touch,” he told
the group repeatedly.

But what the Angelenos might have learned the most from
their Israeli counterparts was how to continue working with art in an
atmosphere of fear, which is relatively new for Americans.

“Yihyeh tov,” Hebrew for “all will be well,” could have been
the motto throughout the week.

“When you come to the museum, you see we’ve always been
threatened, we’ve always struggled, and still look what we did anyway,”
Behroozi said. “So we should take strength from that.”

Spinning a Jewish Web


When preschool teacher Sylvia Rouss noticed a lack of children’s literature about Judaism, she did something about it: she wrote the books herself. Rouss, who teaches at Stephen S. Wise Temple, is the author of the popular "Sammy Spider" series, which are widely used in Jewish schools around the country.

"I use the spider as a vehicle to teach young children about Jewish holidays and Israel," said the Tarzana resident. In her latest book, "Sammy Spider’s First Trip to Israel" ($6.95, Kar-Ben Publishing), which was released in July, Sammy tags along when the family he lives with makes a special trip to the Holy Land. "It is very hard to find any books for young children on topic of Israel," Rouss said. "We try to teach [children about Israel] every year because it is so important at a Jewish school."

Earlier, when Rouss completed "Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah" (Kar-Ben Publishing, 1993) she was asked to create a series around her crawling character. It wasn’t long before the young spider experienced Passover (1995), Rosh Hashana (1996), Shabbat (1998), Tu B’Shevat (2000) and Purim (2000). While "Sammy Spider’s First Trip to Israel," is the arachnid’s seventh adventure, Rouss has written numerous other books as well as two anthologies and two activity books.

Having traveled to the Jewish homeland every year for the last 27 years, Rouss has developed a strong connection to the country. As such, she just wrote a new book for older children called "Tali’s Jerusalem Scrapbook," which is about a young girl living in Israel. The story deals with terrorism through the eyes of a child. Rouss is quick to point out the importance of going to Israel during times like these. "When someone’s sick, you make a point of visiting them," she noted.

In addition to the "Sammy" books, Rouss recently released a preschool rhyming book called "The Littlest Candlesticks" ($14.95, Pitspopany Press).

Meet Sylvia Rouss as she gives public readings of her three most recent works on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 10 a.m. at Temple Beth Israel, 3033 N. Towne Ave., Pomona, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys, (626) 967-3656; and Sunday, Nov. 24, 11:30 a.m. at Pages Books for Children, 18399 Ventura Blvd., No. 15, Tarzana, (818) 342-6657.

Stay Connected


Orange County. At least 60,000 Jewish residents creating over 20,000 Jewish households spanning 800 square miles. Within the borders of this vast area, we can find about 25 synagogues, great Jewish day schools, numerous Jewish organizations … and you.

In May, The Jewish Journal of Orange County launched its premier issue. As the “numbers” person for The Jewish Journal, I know that the statistics listed above mean a target market for advertisers. But far more importantly, I believe they prove that O.C. Jewry deserves an independent Jewish news source that facilitates your connection to Jewish life.

Being Jewish means so many different things to different people. But, in today’s world, most of us will agree that time is precious. There are only 24 hours in a day for work, school, commuting, synagogue meetings and events, theater tickets, doctor appointments, ballgames, PTA, working out, Mommy-and-Me classes, attending luncheons, fundraisers, sleep. We are active, involved, charitable and just barely keeping up with our demanding lives. We are a busy community and a diverse group, but we are neither too busy nor too diverse to stay connected and informed.

The Jewish Journal of Orange County will enable you, with your hectic schedule, to sustain your connection to the O.C. Jewish community and the broader Jewish world. We will be there for you when you have a free moment — to share award-winning news, analysis and opinions; to sit with your children and read our Kids Page; to connect with your heritage and your community. We will be there for you, as we have been there for the L.A. Jewish community for over 16 years. All we ask of you is to subscribe.

In order to serve the O.C. Jewish community, The Jewish Journal of Orange County needs subscribers. Due to post office regulations for periodicals, we will be unable to continue without your paid subscription. The staff of The Journal is committed to reaching and serving you, but we need you to do your part. I urge you to subscribe.

Please purchase a year (12 issues) subscription for $18. Go to www.jewishjournal.com today and subscribe. The process is as quick as the speed of your Internet access. Unlock the door to the community and let The Journal work to meet your needs. Read it. Share it. Talk about it. Buy it for your friends, your kids and your parents. When The Jewish Journal of Orange County is delivered directly to your home, you can stay connected at your leisure and in the privacy of your own home.

It says in the Talmud that knowledge is power. This knowledge is not intended for personal gain but rather to share with others bringing us closer to the source of knowledge. Let’s get closer, stay connected and watch the O.C. community thrive. For only $18, you can receive a year’s worth of The Jewish Journal of Orange County. We cannot, and will not, continue this effort without you, our reader. You decide. Subscribe to The Journal and stay connected to the Jewish community, from Orange County to Israel.

A Personal Success


Dear Jewish Journal:

About five years ago, I ended a very serious relationship. I was devastated, but knew that my life could not end over this. I did everything to try and resolve my pain but it was hopeless. I eventually moved to another city, started a new career, and got on with my life. About two years later, I was ready to return to Southern California and pick up where I had left off. I figured I would contact some of the old people I used to hang out with. To my surprise, they too had moved on. Many got married, started families, etc. This was going to be a lot harder than I thought it would be.

Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to get married to the perfect guy, have a family and live happily ever after. That is the way it always was in the storybooks. If that was going to happen, I had to get serious about this whole relationship and dating thing now!

I received The Jewish Journal and often thumbed through the personals. Occasionally, I made a couple of calls, but I never really found that connection — the kind of connection where you feel absolutely comfortable and free with another person. One evening in September 1998 while flipping through The Journal, the 900 number just about jumped off the page. I don’t know what made me call, but there was a strange force pulling me in. I called the number and browsed through a couple of ads until I heard a male voice that actually drew me in. I listened to the ad in its entirety hoping to hear the guy’s name, but no name was given. I left a message anyway. The next day someone called me back and I knew instantly who it was. It was that familiar voice that was so captivating the day before. We spoke that evening for several hours and arranged to meet that week. Each night until we met we spoke on the phone. The excitement was so intense for both of us. I remember on the afternoon of the day we were supposed to meet he called me. He said he couldn’t wait to meet me and all he could do was think about that night!

We met and it was as if we had known each other forever! He was so perfect. Tall, handsome, sweet and very funny. We laughed and talked until very late in the evening. We spoke and saw each other on a regular basis for the next two years. Recently, we took a cruise and there on the bow of the boat with the wind blowing in my hair, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I was breathless! It was right out of a movie. Nothing could have been more perfect.

Our wedding is planned for May 2000. I am doing something I always dreamed of — marrying my best friend, my soulmate. If you never believed it could happen to you, think again. They say there is someone for everyone out there, you just have to know where to look. For all of you hopeless romantics out there who are still looking for love in all the wrong places, look right here in The Jewish Journal. Your true love could just be a phone call away. Mine was!

Thank you, Jewish Journal, for making this connection possible! Without the personals we probably never would have met.

Sincerely,

Debbie

(last name withheld upon request)