Dear Deborah

Sharon Ann Dror, born deaf, didn’t enjoy seders with her hearing family while growing up in a traditional Jewish home in Santa Monica. She could read lips, but she couldn’t see peoples’ faces as they read from behind their Haggadot. &’009;

“I felt frustrated and bored,” recalls the 38-year-old marketing manager, the founder of the Jewish Deaf Community Center. “I couldn’t understand anything. I just read the Haggadah by myself, over and over. I wished that I could hear.”

Passover wasn’t the only time Dror felt shut out of Jewish life. Her parents attempted to enroll her in Hebrew school but couldn’t find one willing to take a deaf child. Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in Arleta, offered religious school in sign language, but it was far away and Dror didn’t know how to sign. She was raised in the oral communication method, which means she communicates by reading lips.

Dror was finally able to attend school at Chabad in Westwood, where “the rabbis had to keep moving their mustaches so I could read their lips,” she says. &’009;

Those experiences turned Dror into an activist.

In 1992, Dror, now the mother of three deaf children, founded the Jewish Deaf Community Center to create more opportunities for deaf Jews in L.A. The JDCC provides seders, High Holiday services and other programs with a traditional Jewish bent and kosher food (Temple Beth Solomon is Reform). &’009;

Ultimately, though, Dror became dissatisfied with the center’s annual sign-language seders. “The problem was that many deaf Jews did not have a Jewish education, so they didn’t understand what was going on,” she says.

The result, this year, is a brand-new, multimedia educational seder, developed by Dror and JDCC board member David Rosenbaum with a grant from the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation.

On March 31 at Burbank Temple Emanu El, up to 170 deaf Jews and their relatives will gather at small tables, family style, with a leader at each table. They’ll gaze at two large TV monitors at each end of the room that will project Haggadah text and pictures describing essentials such as the seder plate. There will be a voice for hearing people to follow as well.

“The seder will be totally accessible for everyone,” Dror says. “For deaf people, the key is that the seder is visually oriented, because deaf people are visually oriented. I’m hoping that when our deaf participants go home, they’ll say, ‘I finally understood the whole Haggadah, for the first time ever.'”

The JDCC seder costs $25 per person. For tickets and information, call (818) 845-9935 (voice); (818) 845-9934 (TTY); or (818) 845-9936 (fax).

Temple Beth Solomon is also hosting a seder at the Sportsmen’s Lodge on April 1, the second night of Passover. For information, call (818) 899-2202 (voice); (818) 896-6721 (TTY); or (818) 899-2123 (fax).

Dear Deborah

“Love’s Captive,” collage by Jess(Collins). From “Pacific Dreams,” 1995.

Relationship Gridlock

Dear Deborah,

I’m a divorced 39-year-old businesswoman with twoyoung daughters. “Paul” and I have been dating for two years andliving together for a year and a half. I am very attracted to Paul,physically and especially mentally. He is really intelligent andencourages me to learn all the time. He has his faults, but I lovehim enough to know that I want to spend the rest of my life withhim.

My problem is that I feel insecure about ourrelationship. He says we’re in a committed, monogamous relationship,yet I feel that my future is uncertain with him. He acts as if he’sstill unattached: He’s taken phone numbers of women he’s met onflights, and flirts with women in front of me and on the Internet.But he insists that it’s just fun, that it’s no different thanreading Playboy, that he’s never cheated on me, that I’m the onlyone. But his actions really hurt me.

He’s been divorced for 14 years and has had astring of short relationships. I think I’m one of the longest. Hewill not talk about us and marriage. Whenever we fight, I think thatwe should just break up and end the inevitable, but we are never ableto completely end it, and then we make up. How do I stop this rollercoaster, or do I just need to jump off?

Sad and Uncertain

Dear Sad and Uncertain,

Why uncertain? He acts unattached, flirts andtakes women’s phone numbers. He refuses to talk about marriage evenafter living together a year and a half. He has a dicey relationshiphistory. He continues to do what you say hurts you. The only mysteryhere is why you would put up with this for a nanosecond.

Is this what you feel you deserve? Is this thekind of relational model you wish to provide your youngdaughters?

Enough already. Jump off the “roller coaster” andmove on.

Dumped for Dogma

Dear Deborah,

I am a 30-year-old Jewish woman who broke upseveral months ago with my boyfriend of many years. We loved eachother deeply, but there was one point of contention between us, andit ultimately tore us apart.

I was raised in a traditional home, and although Idon’t keep all the mitzvot to the letter of the law, I still believe in and do myutmost to uphold traditional Jewish values. I also try to keep allthe holidays and Shabbat. I believe in the ethical foundation ofJudaism and want to instill those values in my futurechildren.

My ex-boyfriend was not raised in a religioushome, but later in his life, he became a ba’alei teshuvah, a Jew who”returns” to an Orthodox lifestyle. He began to practice Jewish lawand ritual.

When we first met, he was ambivalent about wherehe stood religiously. Although he was still more observant than me, Iaccepted our different levels of practice. Then, about a year ago, hestarted to become even more observant. And six months ago, he threwme a bombshell: I was not religious enough for him. He told me thathe could not accept the fact that I didn’t observe the laws as hedid, and that we could never get married as a result.

I was devastated. I had spent several years of mylife with a man whose level of religious observance I acceptedunconditionally — and now he was leaving me because he couldn’taccept my level of observance. I consulted several Orthodox rabbis,who reassured me that they knew couples with different levels ofobservance who did have successful, viable marriages. Such amarriage, they said, required an enormous amount of love, patienceand tolerance — but it was possible. I told my boyfriend this, andalthough he contended that he was pained by the idea of separating,there was, in his words, “nothing he could do.” After several monthsof tension, arguing and hurtful exchanges, we separated.

I still love him and think of him so often. Ican’t understand how all this could have happened. We were so inlove.


Dear Brokenhearted,

My condolences on becoming yet another soberingstatistic of ba’alei teshuvah fervor. Not all of those who “return”to observance move into intolerance and inflexibility, but those whodo, well — you have just experienced firsthand the fallout.

With all due respect, I must differ with theconclusion of the rabbis you consulted about “love, patience andtolerance” being the ingredients required to have a successful”mixed” marriage. Tolerance isn’t enough. And you have learned thehard way that neither is love. While patience is a good idea in anyrelationship, the missing element here is respect. Your ex-boyfriendneeded to respect your level of observance. Tolerance, on the otherhand, suggests that there is something inherently wrong with how youpractice Judaism that must be abided.

It is tragic that you have suffered this loss,especially because you seem to be both devoted to and thoughtful inyour practice of Judaism. Yet it is better that this happened now,before getting married, and not after the stakes might havemultiplied. Imagine the range of possibilities (beside religion) inwhich such inflexibility might have manifested later on.

May you begin to let go and move on with renewedstrength to find a partner capable of loving, accepting andrespecting who you are now.

Keeping Score

Dear Deborah,

A word to “Headin’ for the Exit” (April 12): If”Headin'” himself were not so busy keeping score of Jewish womenkeeping score, he might have time to actually be in arelationship.

I am insulted when anyone lumps me into anycategory — whether it’s “Swing-dancing, red-headed, Jewish women whohate sushi and only keep score when the Lakers play” or “JewishAmerican Princesses who ‘keep score,’ are manipulative andmaterialistic.”

Can’t we just stop this fatuous drivel and get onwith Jewish men and women taking each other on an individualbasis?


Dear Sonia,

I’m down with that.

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist. All letters toDear Deborahrequire a name, address and telephone number for purposes ofverification. Names will, of course, be withheld upon request. Ourreaders should know that when names are used in a letter, they arefictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses canbe given only in the newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss,1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You canalso send E-mail:


Dear Deborah

Cooking Up Regrets

Dear Deborah,

My sweet, 87-year-old mother has become anincreasingly horrible cook. The food she prepares often is made fromstale ingredients, and because of her poor eyesight and memory, shemisses ingredients in recipes. For example, she forgot to add sugarto a cake, and she served crackers that were so stale I could notbite into them and meat that was unrecognizable.

The problem is that cooking has always been amajor part of her identity. Since Dad died four years ago, sheinvites all the children and grandchildren over for meals constantly.It’s all she does. That, and baking (awful) cookies to send away tothe grandchildren in college. We tried inviting her to our homes, butshe says that her feelings are hurt and that she has nothing else todo with her life but cook. She will not try new hobbies or do newthings. Any suggestions?

Queasy in Denver

Dear Queasy,

Since her eyesight is failing, she won’t noticeyou slipping those crackers into your pockets to use for stabilizingwobbly restaurant tables. And hold zip-lock Baggies under the tableinto which you may discretely slip the mystery meat.

Do whatever gets you through in giving your motherthe only meaning she has left in life. Don’t forget to tell her howdelicious it was, and remind the children to send thank-you notes forthe cookies because, one day, you will miss those salty cakes and mayregret not having given that “sweet” woman, who lovingly preparedthem for you, the kavod (respect) she deserves.

Mount Vesuvius

Dear Deborah,

My husband is so bottled up and angry, and hewon’t talk. When I ask what’s wrong, he stares at me or leaves theroom. I have begged and pleaded, but he won’t budge. This has beengoing on for months.

We have been married for 26 years, and ourchildren have left home. I know that he is in a work crisis that hasbeen going on for a couple of years, but I don’t know if that’s allthere is to it. How can I break through to him?


Dear T.,

It must be grueling, waiting for this Vesuvius toblow, especially when you don’t even know what is causing thepressure beneath the surface. Tell him that you must speak with him.Express concern for his welfare and that of the marriage, and makeclear that you will not endure this lack of communication.

If he does not respond, let him know that youintend to phone his doctor, parents, employer and/or best friend inan attempt to unravel this mystery. This ought to get him talking. Ifnot, then make those calls. Perhaps some group pressure will hastenthe process.

If not, either he has a secret or perhaps adeveloping physical or emotional disturbance. Hang in there, andremember to get the necessary support for yourself through thisordeal.

The Price of Love

Dear Deborah,

My lover of four years is unwilling to budge.Because I have a child from a former marriage, marriage was lessimportant to me than it might be for women who want to start afamily. From the beginning, it was an unconventionalarrangement.

He is against marriage altogether, and even livingtogether is abhorrent to him. He needs a great deal of privacy andparticularly loathes the idea of being around children. He has neverbeen married and has no children.

After my divorce, I agreed to his terms because Iwasn’t interested in marriage or in even living with a man. So whenmy daughter is with her father three nights of the week, I stay at mylover’s house. He refuses to sleep at my home. When my daughter iswith me, I occasionally go out with him but do not spend thenight.

This man is my soul mate. We share a unique,unconventional worldview. He stimulates, pampers and plays, this loveof my life, but I am beginning to be disturbed by the arrangement. Mydaughter is now 12, and I worry about how she feels and how she willview relationships, based upon the fact that her mother has one inwhich the man won’t come over to our house more than a half dozentimes a year. She feels rejected and hurt.

When I discuss it with him, he reminds me of the”terms” I agreed to and becomes a brick wall. I feel as if I live twolives — one with him and one with my daughter. It feels wrong atthis point, not to mention the fact that living in two places takesits toll. And, yet, I do not see how I could give up this man I soadore.

Any suggestions?


Dear Bewildered,

Remarkable how the choices we make that seem soright, so absolute at any given moment, still are subject to changeswe are completely incapable of anticipating at the time we madethem.

Let’s look at the facts: 1) Your lover rejectsmarriage and children out of hand. 2) You agreed to those terms. 3)You are worried about the effects of this fact upon your child. 4)You too are finding the arrangement to be wanting. 5.) He thus farhas been unwilling to adapt to any of your needs regarding yourchanging feelings.

Facts 1 and 2 are fixed. As for the third, do youworry about your child feeling rejected, or is it a values issue? Sheis certainly old enough to understand that people vary greatly, andthat your lover’s choices are not about her — nothing personal. If,indeed, it is a values issue or reflective of a change in your needs,you have to decide if you will choose to sacrifice those values andneeds in order to keep the relationship.

The most troubling aspects of this are hisinflexibility and his unwillingness to compromise to meet any of yourneeds. Why, for example, is he unwilling to do any of the travelingto your house when your daughter is at her father’s?

Only you can decide whether the price you must payfor this relationship is worth the mounting obstacles. And rememberthat your decision, too, is subject to change.

Be thankful for (awful)cookies. Photo from “The New CompleteInternational Jewish Cookbook,” 1992

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist.

All rights reserved by author.

All letters to DearDeborah require a name, address andtelephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course,be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names areused in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses canbe given only in the newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss,1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You canalso send E-mail:

Dear Deborah

Dear Deborah,

I am trapped in an emotionally and financiallyabusive marriage. My mother died when I was 4 years old, and myfather married a woman with a daughter around my age. My stepmothertreated her daughter like a princess, buying her the best clothes andgiving her the best education. On the other hand, she put me inpublic school, bought me second-hand clothing and so forth. It was anightmare, and my father always made it clear that his wife wasnumber one and that I should be grateful to have such a beautifulstepmother and sister.

When I was 19 years of age, my stepmother informedme that I could no longer live there. Since my education was inferiorand they wouldn’t pay for college, I became a clerk in a store. Inever felt good or attractive or happy; instead, I was always justgoing through the motions. After a difficult six months on the job,barely making ends meet, I met and married a man — really the firstman who ever showed an interest in me. My father was so glad to getrid of me, he gave my husband a lump sum of money toward a house. Weset about having two children, and, boy, was I naïve. He alwayshad affairs, barely gave me an allowance and ignored me. He nevergave me a birthday or anniversary gift, and he went through many jobsand businesses — all of which my father bankrolled.

Now, the children have grown and gone. They haveno respect for me and don’t get in touch often. My father has passedaway, leaving everything to his wife and nothing to me. My husbandnow has let me know his true feelings — that he never loved me andmarried me for my father’s money. He no longer speaks to me, he eatsout and gives me no money for food. I have had to stop having my hairdone, I am fat from the sort of food I can afford, and he now sleepsin the basement. I can’t afford an attorney; I can’t leave.


Dear M.,

The situation you describe is one of a persontrapped in a burning building. If you jump, there may be a safetynet; however, if you do not, you’re dead. Get help. Call your localJewish Family Service. Your childhood was brutal, and you had nochoice about the bad things that were done to you. As an adult,however, you do have choices.

With hope, the Jewish Family Service will arrangefor you to receive some counseling and support…perhaps some jobtraining or leads, and will help you to see your choices.

So jump out of that burning building fast, or elseyou will have chosen an adulthood that looks just like yourchildhood. Good luck.

Passion and the Boy

Dear Deborah,

I have a son who is very extreme in his opinions,passionate about causes and sensitive to a fault. This would be fineif he were older, but he is 8 years old! His sense of justice is soextreme that, in school, he will speak out against an injustice doneto another child. As a result, he is very popular among his friendsbut ends up getting into trouble with teachers with some frequency.He will not allow us to use paper plates (the environment), will notwear or eat animals (try finding dressy canvas shoes) and insists ontaking in every stray animal. If my son encounters a homeless personas he exits a store, he will give the person his purchase (or mine,for that matter).

These are great qualities, but my husband and Iwould like to tone it down a bit. We end up having to pay for this,deal with the strays and so forth. Have you any suggestions?

Confused Parents

Dear Confused,

To parent a remarkable child such as yoursrequires great creativity and patience. At 8 years old, to be soprincipled, passionate and sensitive is a rare and precociouscommodity that must be protected and cultivated with great care. Ifyou don’t, as you have already learned, problems may arise.

First and foremost, your son’s qualities are, ofcourse, to be respected. Let him know that what he feels is admirableand that you value his thoughts, feelings and opinions. Educate himby allowing him to experience more of the consequences of hisactions; for example, have him go through the process of findinganimal rescue organizations, placing the calls, caring for the dog orcat, and so forth.

Buy food coupons to a grocery store or fast-foodoutlet in small denominations so that your son can give in thesituations you describe. Teach him appropriate ways of defendingclassmates without antagonizing teachers. Each situation that arisesis a new opportunity to strengthen and refine his character.

Of course, the most challenging aspect toparenting this child is setting limits without quelling his passion.As parents who demonstrate such caring and concern, you already areheaded in the right direction.

Thank You, Thank You

Dear Deborah,

Is it appropriate to expect a thank-you call ornote after an expensive evening out? I always take ladies to finerestaurants and elegant clubs. I would think decent manners wouldinclude a thank-you of some sort, don’t you?


Dear Sir,

If what you are saying is that a “thank you” atthe end of a date is not enough, and that you expect a second “thankyou” in the form of a note or call, then I imagine you must berepeatedly disappointed. Wouldn’t it be more expedient and productiveto modify your own expectations? Do the math. One evening out — onethank-you. Either that, or make your wishes known to your dates. Butif you are going to tally up the thank-yous in relation to the costof the dates, perhaps a more modest date — say, pizza and a walk onthe beach — will leave you feeling less miffed.

All letters to DearDeborah require a name, address andtelephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course,be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names areused in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses canbe given only in the newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss,1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You canalso send E-mail:

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist.

All rights reserved by author.

Dating Sober

Dear Deborah,

I am a 32-year-old alcoholic who has been sober for eight years. Ihad been drinking and smoking marijuana every day since I was 15years old. After years of AA and therapy, I have finally begun toadjust to sobriety. I have held a job for six years and have risen tomanagement. I have some good friends. I have worked hard on familyrelationships. I have a passion for bicycling and consider myself tobe an accomplished athlete. Life is good, thank God.

The problem is relationships with men. I have never had a soberone. I think that I have the skills of a 15-year-old when it comes todating. I have avoided relationships since becoming sober and haveconvinced myself that I don’t need relationships. I have resignedmyself to a life without them…until recently.

A man who regularly comes to my office for business keeps invitingme to lunch, and I keep finding excuses. But the truth is, I think Ifeel attracted. I am too scared to say yes and, yet, unwilling togive up the idea. Sometimes I think: “Damn him for showing up. I wasdoing just fine.”

But I can’t stop thinking about him, and when he shows up, I amsure that I blush and act stupid. Any advice?

Passionately Afraid

Dear Passionately Afraid,

Hmmm. Passion and fear — ain’t love grand? Such intimately linkedemotions awakening in you have you at loose ends. Certainly, it isbecause you have invested so much in healing that you have arrived atthis next step of readiness for partnership. Yet it would be wise tokeep it a definitively small step.

1) This is new for you, so keep your expectations low. Think ofdating as the act of getting to know someone rather than as the firststep toward marriage. If it were indeed the first step towardmarriage, we’d all be married by age 16.

2) Say yes to lunch, but don’t order the soup. Sopping wet clothesare the last thing you need. Your mission is to get to know the man,to listen, to ask and answer questions. And remember to breathe.

3) If you like him, and a second date is arranged, mention at thissecond meeting that you like him but need to move very slowly.

4) If there is a third date, tell him why you must move slowly.His response, of course, will dictate the next step, and, by then,you will know what that is.

Get it? Small steps and small expectations equal a giant leap inyour life. Welcome to this next chapter, and good luck.

For the Birds

Dear Deborah,

My father-in-law is a cruel and sarcastic man. He sneers, thinksthe worst of people, and is cheap and mistrustful. The only thing inthe world that puts a smile on his face are his pigeons. He takesthem outside to a huge “condo” he built for them, complete with apond, grass plants and perches.

He sits and watches them for hours, talks to them and is as gentleand kind as can be.

I am not confused about him. I would never have anything to dowith him at all if it weren’t for my husband, a good man who isnothing like his father and who insists on visiting him with ourchildren every Sunday. He knows that his father has always been likethis and will never change, but says that he is over it and doesn’twant to abandon him. I think it does the children no good to visit aman who shows no warmth, interest or kindness to anyone or anythingbut his birds. The kids don’t even relate to him as a grandfather,compared with how they relate to my father.

Do you think it could be harmful to my children to spend time withthis grouch? Should I insist to my husband on not taking the childrenthere anymore? Do you have any suggestions?

Protective Mom

Dear P.M.,

As long as your father-in-law is not cruel to the children, andeither your husband or you is with them during these visits, I don’tthink it would harm them. They might as well adjust themselves to thefact that grandfathers (as well as other members of the species) donot always emerge from Central Casting, and that there are some realunpleasant people out there one must to learn to endure. Do yourchildren complain about going? Are they at an age when the pigeonsmight be of interest to them? Perhaps if this new hobby could beencouraged, it could provide some common ground with theirgrandfather.

As for your husband being “over it” and insisting on keeping the”honor thy father” commandment, count your blessings. You are marriedto a mensch. May your children learn from your husband’sexample.

When Dollars = Esteem

Dear Deborah,

I am a divorced, blue-collar Jewish man — no college education,no profession, no fancy car or big home. I earn a decent living and,within two years, will have enough money for a down payment on afixer-upper, which I plan to work on myself by using my carpentryskills. I play basketball on the weekends with my friends, Ioccasionally go to shul, I visit my aunt in the nursing home,and I have good relationships with family and friends.

The reason for my divorce is that my ex-wife, also Jewish,couldn’t get over being ashamed of me. I just wasn’t good enough forher. We were married young, and she wanted me to go to college andget a degree. She went on to marry a professional.

My problem is that having been burned big time, I don’t want todate Jewish women. I know marrying a non-Jewish woman would hurt myparents, and it’s not my first choice either, but my feelings ofself-worth (or is it my cash flow?) just aren’t big enough for aJewish woman. Is there any hope for a man who is nothing more than anice guy?


Dear J,

“Nothing more than a nice guy?” Gevalt! “Do not makeyourself low; people will tread on your head,” goes the Yiddishproverb.

Question: Do you like your work and how you live your life? Is itenough for you? If your answer to these questions is affirmative,then hold your head up high and date Jewish women because they arethe ones you’d rather marry. Just be up-front about your work andyour aspirations. The wheat will separate from the chaff soon enough.

It is only if you feel less than good enough that you will standin the way of you and a Jewish wife.

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.

All rights reserved by author

All letters to Dear Deborah require a name, address andtelephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course,be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names areused in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses can be given only inthe newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss, 1800 S.Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You can also sendE-mail: