Emmanuelle Chriqui leads Jewish stars, characters coming to TV in December

Even if you’re behind on your Chanukah preparations, you’ll want to take time to watch — or record — these December TV offerings with Jewish themes or personalities.


“Shut Eye”

 “I’ve had such an amazing ride,” actress Emmanuelle Chriqui said, reflecting on a career that has run the gamut between contemporary comedies (“Entourage,” “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan”), period dramas (“The Borgias,” “Killing Jesus”) and a gritty crime show (“Murder in the First”). 

 “My goal as an actor is to go outside the box as often as possible,” she said. “For 15 years, I’ve been saying it’s just the tip of the iceberg, and I still feel that way.”

That’s not surprising, considering her latest role in the Hulu drama “Shut Eye.” Chriqui plays Gina, a hypnotist from Las Vegas with mesmerizing abilities in a show about fake psychics and con artists in Los Angeles. “It’s nothing like I’ve played before,” she said.

 “She’s very unpredictable and shady. She’s mysterious, she’s sexy, she’s dangerous and she has a lot of secrets,” Chriqui said of her character. “She’s a survivor and she’ll stop at nothing to do what she has to do. She’s a hustler, but she’s needed to be. Her needs are based on how she grew up. Life’s circumstance makes us the way we are.”

Chriqui researched the Romany con artist subculture and also got some tips from a legitimate hypnotherapist for insights. “The kind of hypnotist I play isn’t the same, but there were some basic things I was able to incorporate,” she said. 

On the lighter side, Chriqui will be seen in the comedy “Super Troopers 2” next year. “I play this French seductress, a political attaché. I got to use my French, which was really fun,” the Montreal native said, adding that next she would like to do a cable drama series and independent films. 

Chriqui, 38, grew in a Sephardic Jewish home, the daughter of Moroccan immigrants. The specific food, celebrations and rituals — such as Bibhilu, chanting and lifting the seder plate over each celebrant’s head at Passover — are “so inherent in who I am and how I was raised,” she said. She recently emceed the Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival, which honored her in 2010.

These days, Chriqui looks forward to lighting Friday night candles and getting together with her “Shabbat crew,” which often includes her boyfriend of four years, actor Adrian Bellani. “He’s not Jewish but he sees what Judaism means to me,” she said. She has been to Israel several times and said she wants to go back.

“Shut Eye” begins streaming Dec. 7 on Hulu. 


 Rupert Evans stars in “TheMan in the High Castle.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video 

“The Man in the High Castle”

A provocative drama that posits a frightening alternate version of history in which the Allies lost World War II and the Nazis and Japanese rule an occupied America, “The Man in the High Castle” became Amazon Prime’s most popular original series last year and earned four Emmy nominations. Season Two will reveal the previously unseen man of the title and expand on events of the first season, which was based on Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel. The fate of Jews will continue to be explored as the story goes inside Germany for the first time. 

 “We get glimpses, through our characters’ experiences, that find our way into our story,” executive producer David Zucker said. “It’s something that sometimes you’ll get a sense of and other times it’ll be more explicit than others. Through a reference in a line of dialogue, you’ll understand what’s going on and how we got to the place we are now.”

In the first season, Frank Frink (Rupert Evans), who was hiding his half-Jewish ancestry, was arrested by Japanese authorities who executed his sister and her children for his refusal to cooperate. That motivates his actions going forward as he becomes radicalized and joins the resistance.

Being Jewish is “certainly something that’s inescapable for him now. It becomes very much essential to the emotional fabric of the character,” Zucker said.

Evans elaborated, saying, “He starts to question what his identity is, being Jewish and having family that was Jewish. We use flashbacks this season to show seders and that kind of thing.”

The actor, currently playing a Jewish character in the movie “American Pastoral,” characterized Season Two as “bigger in scope, more adventurous in many ways.”  

 “I can’t give away too much,” he said, “but there are some really exciting storylines and set pieces.”

 “The Man in the High Castle” begins streaming Dec. 16 on Amazon Prime. 

Gail Simmons is a judge on “Top Chef.” Photo by Tommy Garcia/Bravo

“Top Chef”

Since 2006, food maven and writer Gail Simmons has served as a judge on Bravo’s kitchen competition series “Top Chef,” sampling everything from rattlesnake to ostrich to insects and everything in between. She puts her expert palate to use once again in Season 14 of the series, which emanates from Charleston, S.C., and has a twist: eight nonwinners from past seasons return to compete alongside eight first-timers in challenges that reflect the city and Southern cuisine.

 “They cook for some of the most talented Southern chefs in the country, which really intimidates them,” Simmons said. James Beard Award-winning Israeli chef and cookbook author Michael Solomonov is among the season’s guest judges. 

Simmons attributes “Top Chef’s” longevity and popularity to its peripatetic format and the professional level of its competitors, many of whom have gone on to open restaurants and win awards.

 “Most food-competition shows are set in a studio. We travel around the country, highlighting the cuisines and culture of the places we’re in,” she said. “These are chefs at the top of their game. It’s fascinating to see people who are so skilled, doing what they do best.”

Simmons has learned to pace herself on judging days, taking a few bites from each plate. “When it’s really good, it’s hard to stop eating, but I will,” she said. “There are days where I’m exhausted by eating. But after five hours, I’ll still want to go out for dinner.”

Although she doesn’t care for veal or black beans, there’s no food she won’t try on “Top Chef.” “I can’t judge other people based on my personal biases,” she said. 

After filming “Top Chef,” which takes six weeks to shoot on location, or traveling elsewhere, Simmons brings culinary inspiration home to her New York kitchen. After Charleston, she longed for Southern food, she said. “Now it’s fall, so I’m into making soups, roasting squash and buying greens, sweet potatoes and apples at the market,” she said.

Traditional Jewish dishes and favorites from the local deli also are on the menu for Simmons. The granddaughter of Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Poland and Russia, she grew up in what she described as a “pretty traditional Jewish home” in Toronto. 

 “I grew up eating matzo ball soup and knishes, brisket, and latkes, kasha and kreplach,” she said. “I still make all of it for my daughter.”

Simmons learned to cook from her mother, a food writer and cooking teacher. “It was a legacy that she had passed on to me. I followed my own path in the industry, but all of my inspiration for doing so is absolutely to her credit,” she said.

Her father, a chemical engineer and businessman who made his own wine, taught her other skills. “Every fall, we made applesauce together and put it in our cellar and ate it all year round. We made special applesauce in September that we’d bring out at Chanukah to eat with latkes,” she said. “We would make sour dill kosher pickles every fall, when Kirby cucumbers come into season.”

For Simmons, “Judaism is about community and tradition and family and preserving the culture of my ancestors. It’s about observing and understanding our purpose on this earth, and being a contributing member of our community and our world.” She and her daughter, who attends preschool at a synagogue, recently donated their full tzedakah box to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “For me, that’s what Judaism is about,” she said.

Currently working on a cookbook that is scheduled to be published in late 2017, Simmons co-founded a production company that produced “Star Plates” for Food Network, with an eye toward creating programs to showcase talented new chefs, especially women. Hosting is always a possibility, “but I’m not doing it to make shows for myself,” she said. “I want to find the next generation and give them a platform.”

 “Top Chef” premieres Dec. 1 at 10 p.m. on Bravo.

 Also: Harvey Fierstein reprises his Tony-winning drag role as Edna Turnblad in NBC’s latest musical, “Hairspray Live!” (Dec. 7). Liza Weil, now appearing in the ABC series “How to Get Away With Murder,” will reprise her role as Paris Geller in “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” on Netflix (begins streaming Nov. 25). Lola Kirke returns as symphony oboist Hailey Rutledge in Season Three of Amazon Prime’s “Mozart in the Jungle” (begins streaming Dec. 9). 

Israel sees 25 percent drop in terrorist attacks

The number of terrorist attacks on Israelis decreased significantly in December over the previous month, Israel’s security agency said.

The Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, recorded in December a total of 246 attacks by Palestinians on Israel compared to 326 in November, the organization said in its monthly report released earlier this week.

The 25 percent drop led to fewer casualties. While November had 10 fatalities and 58 wounded from terrorist attacks, December had three fatalities and 44 wounded.

In the December report, the Shin Bet for the first time added the category “Jewish terrorism” to the synopsis of its monthly report. It listed only one incident: The hurling of two smoke grenades into a home near Ramallah, resulting in no injury.

Of the attacks against Israelis documented by Shin Bet in December, 183 involved the hurling of firebombs. All three fatalities were in stabbings.

The attacks are part of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed a “wave of terrorism” that began in September amid claims by Palestinians that Israel was plotting to increase its control over or destroy Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed by security forces and civilians while carrying out the attacks and in subsequent rioting.

Since Sept. 1, the Shin Bet has documented over 1,415 attacks, which resulted in the death of 25 victims and dozens of wounded. Of those, 620 attacks occurred in October alone.

On Thursday night, Israeli troops in the West Bank killed a Palestinian man whom they said tried to stab a soldier. Earlier that day, three Palestinians were killed elsewhere in what the Israel Defense Forces said was an attempted stabbing attack.

The top 7 perks of being Jewish in December

Growing up, ours was the only house on the block with a menorah glowing in the window. This should have put me on the fast track to Christmas envy, but it didn’t. I respected Christmas but was never jealous of those who celebrated. In fact, watching my neighbors actually gave me a deeper appreciation for the simpler joys of Chanukah. Here’s why:

Early-bird shopping 

Celebrating Chanukah means I usually have an earlier gift-buying deadline to meet than my counterparts. I have to get myself in gear way before Christmas shopping madness descends on the rest of the world. By Thanksgiving, I’m usually done. I spend most Black Fridays sipping spiced cider and recovering from a turkey-induced coma. Being Jewish means never having to freeze my tuchis off in a parking lot waiting for a “Midnight Door Buster” sale.

Decorating ease

The town where I spent my childhood could probably be seen from space. Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, the neighborhood dads would hang Christmas decorations. They could all be found precariously perched on their roofs, stringing lights across the rain gutters. Plastic Santas and their reindeer would be dragged two stories into the air and then somehow fastened to shingles. I watched the scene, year after year, relieved we didn’t have to do the same. My dad + wires + heights = certain doom. The expectations for Chanukah decor are less labor-intensive. We plug in an electric menorah and park it on the windowsill. Done.

Time for fun

My non-Jewish friends have to find time for their kids, spouses, siblings, parents, cousins, in-laws and their great-aunt Shirley who flies in from Nebraska once a year, all within 24 hours. I get eight days to fill with lots of family togetherness. Eight. Long. Days.

The food 

Chanukah is the holiday of deep-fried everything. And chocolate gelt. 

’Nuf said.

No tall tales 

I am grateful that I don’t have to remember to hide an “Elf on the Shelf” in a new spot each day. And I don’t have to make up stories to tell my daughters about how a jolly fellow actually gets around the world in one night, or explain how a reindeer’s nose can glow in the dark. Instead, I get to teach them the dreidel game while we snack on latkes.

The music 

Only kidding. This is a category where I can’t honestly come up with a perk for the Jews; there just isn’t as much Chanukah music. Let’s see, we’ve got “I Have a Little Dreidel” and, um, what else? Seriously, what did suburban Jewish kids listen to before Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song”?

Holiday spirit 

Whether families are making Christmas cookies or sufganiyot, the whole month of December is dusted with powdered sugar and scented with vanilla. Everyone’s mood seems to lift. People are kinder and more forgiving. It’s easier to believe that miracles can — and do — happen. This holiday season, I wish everyone peace, joy and magic.

Chag sameach!

Calendar December 7-13



The old country just got a little newer. Taking traditional sounds and themes and infusing them with some modern funk, the Grammy-winning band brings rhythm and timeless spirit to its audiences. With 25 years of experience and a growing fan base, the Klezmatics have changed the face of the Yiddish imprint on popular culture. They are making history, performing history, and you get to dance all the while. Sat. 7:30 p.m. $69-$108. The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. SUN | DEC 8


Here’s an opportunity to work off some of that Thanksgiving feast (not that you don’t look great). It’s a 5K run/walk that raises funds for the Los Angeles Jewish Home so that it can provide the finest care for its golden-years residents. From basic services to tai chi, the Home offers much to many. With a pancake breakfast and face painting after you finish, it’s a festive morning for everyone. City Councilman Bob Blumenfield is going, so you can, too! Sun. 7 a.m. (registration), 8:20 a.m. (opening ceremony), 8:30 (5K), 10 a.m. (breakfast). Free (seniors, 80 and over), $15 (youth), $35 (general, ages 13 to 80). Jewish Home’s Eisenberg Village Campus, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. (818) 774-3324. ” target=”_blank”>beittshuvah.org


“Symphonic Prayers and Poems” is an opportunity to understand how the power of music transcends cultural and religious conflict. Highly acclaimed composer Mohammed Fairouz interweaves Aramaic, Jewish, Israeli, Arab and Western inspirations to showcase how strong and unique togetherness can be. Klezmer musician David Krakauer performs the West Coast premiere of “Tahrir,” a clarinet concerto written for him by Fairouz. Sun. 7 p.m. $30-$50. Royce Hall at UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101. ” target=”_blank”>cjs.ucla.edu. (310) 825-5387. 



Dec. 10 is International Human Rights Day, and American Jewish World Service (AJWS), along with many proud partners, is hosting a forum honoring what those rights mean for everyone, everywhere. A panel discussion moderated by Journal Executive Editor Susan Freudenheim will include AJWS President Ruth Messinger, Guatemalan activist Claudia Virginia Samayoa, Temple Emanuel’s Rabbi Laura Geller and Loyola Marymount political science professor Jodi Finkel. American folk musician Julie Silver will perform. Mon. 7 p.m. Free. Temple Emanuel, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 843-9588. “>aju.edu.

TUE | DEC 10


This one’s for all you thrill readers and big imaginers. Whether you were a fan of “World War Z” or “Daredevil,” Brooks (the son of Mel Brooks), Mark Waid and legendary producer Thomas Tull have collaborated on a graphic novel that might get a little dark. “Shadow Walk” follows a U.S. Special-Ops team as they discover the Valley of the Shadow of Death — the one we hear so much about from the Bible — which might be an actual place hosting a dangerous new energy source. Tue. 7 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble at The Grove, 189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 525-0270.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: December 4-December 9

Pick of the Week: Wednesday, Dec. 21

East Side Jews, Reboot and the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center head to Atwater Crossing for an evening of funny stories and deep music on the second night of Chanukah. Performers include former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Michaela Watkins, “How I Met Your Mother” writer Tami Sagher and folk-pop band The Wellspring. Dinner, beer and wine available for purchase. Wed. 7-10 p.m. $10. Atwater Crossing, 3245 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. eastsidejews.com, atwatercrossing.com.

FRI | DEC 16

Actor-satirist Shearer (KCRW’s “Le Show,” “The Simpsons”) and his singer-songwriter wife, Owen, host their annual evening of musical mirth. What began as a yearly gathering for family and friends soon grew too large to host at the couple’s home. Mixing traditional and nontraditional holiday music, the public performances have drawn such celebrity guests as Jane Lynch (“Glee”), Weird Al Yankovic and Shearer collaborator Christopher Guest. Who knows who will turn up this year? Fri. 7:30 p.m. $47-$75. Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. thebroadstage.com.

SAT | DEC 17

Director Gregg Barson got unlimited behind-the-scenes access to the 85-year-old Lewis for this documentary, which provides viewers with a contemporary look at the comedian’s career as well as never-before-seen film footage. Carl Reiner, Jerry Seinfeld and Richard Lewis are among the stars offering their perspective on Lewis. Sat. 5 and 9 p.m. Premieres on Starz. starz.com/titles/jerrylewismethodtothemadness.
Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, known for his work with the Batsheva Dance Company, is the featured artist in this program from The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance. Approximately 20 undergraduates, who rehearsed under Batsheva veteran Danielle Agami, perform two works by Naharin: “Echad Mi Yodea” and “Humus.” The evening concludes with premieres from CalArts faculty choreographers Colin Connor and Stephanie Nugent. Sat. 8:30 p.m. $20 (general), $16 (students), $10 (CalArts students, faculty, staff). Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 631 W. Second St., downtown. (213) 237-2800. redcat.org

Have fun for a good cause. Young professional groups ATID LA and 30 Years After host the third annual communitywide toy drive and mixer. The party goes off at L.A. nightclub Crimson Hollywood, and proceeds benefit the Friendship Circle and Cedars-Sinai Pediatrics. The LEV Foundation provides a limited number of free taxi vouchers. Sat. 9 p.m-2 a.m. New, unwrapped toy or gift valued at $10 or more, or $10 donation. Crimson Hollywood, 1650 Schrader Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3244. atidla.com.

MON | DEC 19

Grinstein is an expert on Israeli political life, having participated in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Tonight, the founder and president of Israel strategy group the Reut Institute discusses “Flexigidity: The Invisible Hand of Israel’s Adaptation.” Mon. 7 p.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 530-4097. vbs.org.

The Grammy-winning klezmer supergroup celebrates its silver anniversary this year. Steeped in Eastern European Jewish traditions and spirituality, The Klezmatics aren’t afraid to mix up their Yiddish-roots sound, whether it’s recording an album set to Woody Guthrie lyrics (“Wonder Wheel”) or collaborating with kosher gospel artist Joshua Nelson (“Brother Moses Smote the Water”). What better way to spend the night before Chanukah than with this eclectic ensemble? Mon. 8 p.m. $38-$97. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown. (323) 850-2000. laphil.com.

TUE | DEC 20

CHANUKAH celebration
The Original Farmers Market at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue and The Jewish Journal host an outdoor Chanukah bash for all ages. Kids can help build a giant Lego chanukiyah, families can play Chanukah bingo, make dreidels and play games with DJ Groovy David. Arts and crafts, snacks and more highlight the occasion, which closes with the menorah lighting ceremony and sing-along. Community participants include Temple Israel of Hollywood, Miracle Mile Chabad and the Zimmer Children’s Museum. Tue. 2:30-4:30 p.m. Free. The Original Farmers Market, 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (323) 933-9211. farmersmarketla.com.

WED | DEC 21

Forget “The Price Is Right.” Come on down to Ohr HaTorah! You’re the next contestant at the Mar Vista synagogue’s Chanukah celebration, which features music, prizes and dinner. Wed. 5:30 p.m. (dinner for families with young children), 6 p.m. (dinner for all ages), 7 p.m. (Chanukah program). Ohr HaTorah, 11827 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 915-5200. ohrhatorah.org.

THU | DEC 22

Blending contemporary electronic beats with world sounds from the Middle East, India and beyond, music trio Naked Rhythm perform at tonight’s charity concert, organized by Jewlicious and progressive synagogue IKAR. Proceeds benefit Jewish Heart for Africa, which brings Israeli solar technology to African villages, and Tomchei Shabbos, a weekly food delivery agency. Thu. 8-11 p.m. $18 (presale), $25 (door), $20 (with two cans for food donation). The Joint, 8771 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-5544. jconnectla.com, ikar-la.com.

Tribe Calendar: December 2011


Join or cheer on the annual 5K walk/run, which raises funds that directly benefit residents of the Jewish Home. The family-oriented event includes food, music, clowns and magicians. 7-8 a.m. (registration), 8:30-10 a.m. (5K), 9:30-10:30 a.m. (awards ceremony). Jewish Home’s Eisenberg Village Campus, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. (818) 774-3344. ” title=”shomreitorahsynagogue.org”>shomreitorahsynagogue.org.


Jewish Genealogical Society of Conejo Valley and Ventura County hosts its annual Chanukah party and features guest speaker Stephen Morse, creator of the One-Step Webpages, which allows users to search large genealogical databases. 1:30-3:30 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (818) 889-6616. ” title=”wcce.ajula.edu”>wcce.ajula.edu.


Tom Dugan stars in this one-man show as Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor who relentlessly pursued 1,100 war criminals. A Q-and-A session with Dugan follows the show. 4 p.m. $30. American Jewish University, Familian Campus, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246. ” title=”templebethtorah.com”>templebethtorah.com.


Victor Bates died Dec. 22 at 102. He is survived by his wife, Yetta; daughter, Marlene Berman; grandchildren, Cathy (Randy) Marks and Sue (Ron) Grossblatt; and five great-grandchildren. Hillside

May Bierman died Dec. 18 at 91. She is survived by her daughter, Rita (Herb) Silverman; sister, Alice (Ted) Rosenblatt; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Geraldine Blum died Dec. 20 at 85. She is survived by her husband, Julius; daughter, Bunnee; and son, Rick. Mount Sinai

Frieda Donshik died Dec. 21 at 94. She is survived by her son, Peter; daughter, Sharon Grossman; and cousin, Scott Siken. Hillside

Shirley Erenberg died Dec. 7 at 94. She is survived by her daughter, Helen; granddaughter, Adina (Ron); great-grandsons, Matthew and Eli; brother, Abe (Ruth); sisters, Jessie (Al) and Ruth; nieces; and nephews. Hillside

Geraldine Louise Fraider died Dec. 21 at 82. She is survived by her husband, Jack; daughters, Rosalyn (Robert) McQuade and Nancy (Stan) Gertler; and four grandchildren. Hillside

Shirley (Shedlov) Freedland died Dec. 21 at 88. She is survived by her sons, Marvin, Daniel and Kenneth; daughter, Marilyn Hawkes; three grandchildren; and brother, William Shedlov. Hillside

Blanche Goldin died Dec. 21 at 88. She is survived by her daughters, Ilene (Michael), Ellen and Sheri; and granddaughter, Jessica. Hillside

Hannah Harrow died Dec. 20 at 87. She is survived by her son, Larry (Andy); daughter, Sheri; and three grandchildren. Hillside

Tina Hart died Dec. 20 at 81. She is survived by her husband, Bruce; sons, Marc (Claudia) and Robert; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Minnie Hershfield died Dec. 21 at 93. She is survived by her sons, Jerry (Tama) and Alan (Angela Locke); three grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and brother, Irving (Nadine Lange) Abbit. Mount Sinai

Rodelle Karpman died Dec. 22 at 75. She is survived by her son, David; and daughter, Laura. Hillside

Martha Lake died Dec. 22 at 88. She is survived by her daughters, Ann (Bill) Zeller and Mindy (Joseph Einhorn); and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Leonard Stanley Lebow died Dec. 22 at78. He is survived by his niece, Marcie (Bill) Yellin. Sholom Chapels

Maxine “Honey” Ripley Meyers died Dec. 19 at 88. She is survived by her sons, Ken and Scott Sherman, and David. Hillside

Irwin Mintz died Dec. 21 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Nancy; daughters, Debra Mintz-Sullivan and Dena; three grandchildren; and sister, Birdie (David) Massoth. Mount Sinai

Dr. Bernard Pogorel died Dec. 16 a 91. He is survived by his wife, Bernice; son, Barry; daughters, Reba Demeter and Esther (Yaacov) Hass; and seven grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Manny Rohatiner died Dec. 19 at 87. He is survived by his sons Marc (Lynn) and Jeff (Linda); six grandchildren; and brothers-in-law Joel (Ros) Linderman and Marshall Wernick. Sholom Chapels

Marilyn Rosen died Dec. 20 at 83. She is survived by her daughters, Janet and Susan; and grandchildren, Matthew and Allison. Hillside

Joseph Stark died Dec 17 at 81. He is survived by his daughter, Dianna (Mark) Rauch; four grandchildren; and, sisters, Esther Dolgin and Viola Mandelbaum. Chevra Kadisha

June Sallan died Dec. 20 at 89. She is survived by her son, Bruce; and grandchildren Arnold and Aaron. Hillside

Sidney Siegel died Dec. 20 at 70. He is survived by his wife, Lynn; daughters, Lianne (Kevin) Shattuck, Lauren (Ron) Torres, Dena (Simon) Trasler and Alisa; son, Steven (Lisa); three grandchildren; and sister, Victoria. Mount Sinai

Ruth Wolk died Dec. 19 at 83. She is survived by her sons, Joseph (Sheree) and Bennett (Lily); and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Julius Gerard Wulfsohn died Dec. 20 at 82. He is survived by his wife, Elaine; daughters Jennifer and Bracha; son, Roni; grandchildren; and brothers, Phillip and Norman. Sholom Chapels


Like a pareve partygoer in a world of milk and meat, I’m traipsing between two distinct December traditions. While I don’t belong in Christmas festivities, I don’t enjoy the season’s organized Jewish events. And so, I’m more confused than Anne Heche on a trip to Fresno.

The Christmas season is good to me — those swank holiday parties, the Mrs. Beasley gift baskets, not to mention Pottery Barn wine socks filled with free alcohol. Santa knows this Jewish girl has been a little naughty, but mostly nice. At times I am so immersed in Christmas merriment that I forget I don’t actually celebrate the holiday.

Christmas is so secularized that it seems most Americans now embrace the December holiday fever. And I’ll admit that I, too, find myself carried along by a gust of good tidings and Tiny Tim cheer. At parties, I Ethel Merman “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” I swig some eggnog and rock more than a few Jingle Bells. And let me tell you, this Jewish babe can kiss under the mistletoe with the best of them.

But in my heart I know that Christmas is not my holiday. I should have as much contact with mistletoe makeouts, stocking stuffers and yuletide festivities as I do with my ex-boyfriend. And yet, I can’t make the clean break.

But can you really blame me? Have you explored the alternative? The motley crew of Christmas counterprogramming — StuandLoserpaloozaJewzer shindigs — that our fellow Jews offer up in lieu of yuletide fun?

I checked one out once. Once.

I went, hoping a club full o’ Jews was more my scene. And at first, it seemed the Jewbilee had skyrocketing pickup potential. No way would I leave this function without a Kate Spade full of digits.

Yet despite the robust five-guys-to-every-girl ratio, this meeting of the MOTs (Members of the Tribe) was as socially rewarding as a Blockbuster night. The single men who answered this open-casting call hit me with pickup lines like “My mohel was impressed,” or my favorite: “I’m Jewish. But if you don’t believe me, why don’t you confirm it for yourself.”

It was like a bad Jewish e-joke that someone kept forwarding to my inbox. But I couldn’t delete my way out of this one. As I right-hooked my way through the bar line, the DJ started spinning 2 Live Jews and the entire Adam Sandler Chanukah song trilogy. Don’t get me wrong. Sandler is one bachelor whose Judaism I wouldn’t mind confirming personally. But the matzah ball mosh pit was just more than I could handle. I was out of there faster than a Barry Bonds homer.

The party names alone should have sent up red flags. The Schmoozapalooza? The Hamish Hop? The Mensch Mart? We’d call the Anti-Defamation League if a non-Jew dreamt up these names. Why does our effort to throw our own holiday parties have to be so self-mocking? Can we keep up with the Joneses without keeping the kitsch? It feels like we’re overcompensating for Christmas insecurities with shtick humor and potentially detrimental self-gibing.

Maybe I’m just oversensitive. Maybe I’m just bitter because I left the Simcha soiree as single as I arrived. No, there is definitely more to my discomfort than my always-a-bridesmaid status.

It’s the tone of these events that distresses me. These Jewish galas simply try too hard and result in a caricature of our culture. Why does this night need to be different from all other nights? On all other nights, Jews drink at bars like normal people, but on Christmas night, we act like fools.

And so, yet again this year, my December quandary burns brighter than a yuletide log. What’s a Jewish girl to do? I am torn between parties where I have fun and parties where I belong. Perhaps I feel more comfortable at Christmas parties because the revelers aren’t trying to prove that they can have a good time; they simply have a good time. They aren’t looking to publicize their holiday; they’re looking to celebrate it.

So this Christmas, I won’t be returning to the Mitzvah Mixer. No booty shaking to “Jew Rule” for me. Instead, I’ll be living it up like a special episode of “7th Heaven.” I’ll be kicking it with a little drummer boy and lap dancing for Santa. But when the jolly man asks, I’ll tell him that I all really want for Christmas is a Schmoozapalooza with a bit less schmaltz.

Carin Davis, a freelance writer, is waiting for her mensch under the mistletoe.

Uncommon Journeys

Excerpted from "Common Prayers: Faith, Family and a Christian’s Journey Through the Jewish Year" by Harvey Cox. (Houghton Mifflin, $24).

It is September. The trees are in full leaf, and here and there a splash of amber or scarlet presages the foliage feast to come. The air has a bite; the atmosphere crackles. Energy is high. Children have returned from camp suntanned and taller. Back-to-school sales are under way. It is a time of year fairly popping with new beginnings. But before they officially ring out the old and ring in the new, most people will have to wait until the end of December. And it will happen during the darkest days of winter, crammed into an already crowded "holiday season.

For those attuned to the Jewish calendar, however, which follows the lunar rather the solar cycles, early autumn is precisely when the new year does begin. It would be nice to think that the rabbis took all these seasonal and psychological elements into consideration when they set the date, but I doubt it. Predictably, there were centuries in which Jewish authorities differed over when the new year should begin. Their argument, recounted in the Talmud, goes back to a more basic dispute about when the world itself was created. Was it in the Jewish month of Nisan, the one in which Passover falls? Or was it in Tishrei, which comes in the fall? The debate was eventually settled that, in effect, both parties were right, and some different "new years" in the Jewish calendar. The first day of Nisan is used as a year marker for the length of a king’s reign (although admittedly there are not many kings — let alone Jewish kings — in business nowadays.) It is also the new year for months. The month of Elul is used for counting the age of animals. The fifteenth of Shuvat is the new year for trees. But Tishrei marks the creation of the world and is the new year for years, so that is when the Jewish New Year’s Rosh Hashana falls.

This may sound unnecessarily confusing to those of us who are used to taking up a new calendar, popping a bottle of champagne, singing "Auld Lang Syne," and putting the wrong date on checks during January. But I rather like the idea that for Jews, the matter of exactly when the new year begins — like so much else in their tradition — was never definitely settled. Not only does the coming of the "new year of years" in September cohere well with the way many people live their lives, but the implication that there are different kinds of new years for the flora and fauna also makes sense. It reminds us (though this may not have been the original intent) that poodles and ostriches, scrub oaks and long needle pines, may live in cycles that are different from those of human being. Why should they all be squeezed into our human calendar? But I have learned something even more elemental from Rosh Hashana, something that is at the same time both unnerving and heartening. I have learned that it is a holiday about life and death.

The truth is, I have always found something acutely unsatisfying about the way most Christians and nonreligious gentiles and non-observant Jews commemorate the New Year. As a child I looked forward to being allowed to stay up until midnight on December 31. The next morning, while my parents slept late, I found the silly hats and noisemakers they had brought home from their merry-making the night before. In my later youth I looked forward to the dancing and singing and — to a limited extent — the drinking.

But all along I felt there was something missing. It seemed to me there should be another dimension to the coming of a new year, something that was being overlooked or even avoided. As I got older, I came to recognize that what was being left out was the apprehensiveness, even trepidation, that gnaws at each of us with the realization that our time is limited, another year has passed, and a new one is beginning. If only to ourselves, we inevitably ask some difficult questions. What does the new year really hold for us? Will it be just another 12 months or could it be my last year?

New Year’s Day is simply not on the Christian calendar, and as far as I know, only a few Methodists still celebrate the custom of a Watch Night service on New Year’s Eve. I think this is a loss for us all. Human beings need rituals as punctuation marks. They signal changes in our lives and allow us to become more fully aware of them. Some are relatively minor changes, marked by commas and periods. Others like new paragraphs, demarcate new but still relatively minor changes. New chapters, however, cue us that something more significant is beginning. Maybe that is why the medieval monks illuminated the first letter of each chapter in the manuscripts they copied with elaborate curlicues and gold dust. The coming of a new year is definitely a new chapter. This is why clinking glasses and cheering the descending ball in Times Square does not speak to the powerful mixed feelings New Year’s Eve evokes.

Early in the twentieth century a German philosopher named Rudolf Otto published an influential book, later translated into English as The Idea of the Holy. In it he suggest that the original impetus for all religions comes from what he called — in a phrase that has become commonplace to theologians — the mysterium tremendum et fascinans. The holy, he says, awakens in us both a trembling shudder at its uncanniness, and a sense of fascination with its beauty and seductiveness. For thousands of years the different religious traditions have grappled with ways to do justice to both these dimensions, and they have devised a variety of patterns. In the bible, the anxious shudder is evoked by "the wrath of God." Those familiar with Buddhist iconography will recognize it in the so-called dreadful and grotesque deities that are especially evident in Tibetan iconography, although this dark side of that tradition is not often mentioned in the gentle version purveyed by the Dalai Lama. In Hinduism, the malicious face of the divine can be seen in the figure of Kali, with her belt of dismembered arms and her necklaces of skulls.

Of course, no religion leaves it at that. Each also has its way of projecting the merciful, benevolent — even approachable and loving side of the holy. But one reason that so many people see contemporary American versions of Judaism and Christianity as shallow is that the fascinans side has completely overwhelmed the trememdum side. A few years ago Cheryl Bridges Johns, an American theologian and religious educator, took a year off to visit churches throughout the United States in order to appraise the health of religion at the grass-roots level. What she found discouraged her. She discovered what seemed almost to be a conspiracy across denominational and even interfaith lines to remold God into the most pleasant and obliging deity imaginable.

The Yahweh who thundered from Mount Sinai, drowned the Egyptian army, and who the prophet Amos says will bring destruction upon "who oppress the helpless and grind down the poor" has disappeared from altar and pulpit. Both churches and synagogues have tried to devise a "user-friendly" God. Indeed, some of the most successful "mega churches" now plan their services, music, and preaching on the basis of market surveys.

But this presents a problem. When tremendum is short-circuited, the fascinan also seems to fade away. It is hard to imagine anyone shuddering in the presence of the God of American cultural religion today. But this oh-so-nice God does not seem to evoke much passionate affection either.

Still, the shudder persists, if somewhat muted. For example, Jewish religious leaders often speculate on why, even though weekly synagogue attendance is usually low in America, their buildings are full to overflowing on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Indeed it comes as a surprise to anyone with a Jewish spouse to discover that one has to get tickets in advance for the high holiday services or no seat will be available. Why the crowds? Some observers point out that Judaism actually has two calendars. The first is the annual one, which includes all the holidays. The second one is based on the individual’s own life cycle, which encompasses birth (and circumcision), coming of age (bar and bat mitzvah) marriage, and death. In an individualistic society like our own, life-cycle rituals loom much larger than the prescribed annual holidays. Then why such a crowd at Rosh Hashana? I think it is because, for many people, the start of a new year is not just a collective event, it is also a pivotal road mark in their own lives. But I think there is something else in the picture as well: the Rosh Hashana ritual itself. It strikes exactly the right note to resonate with the mixed feelings that well up in most of us when an old year ends and a new one begins.

"Judaismis a religion of life against death," Rabbi Irving Greenberg says in "The Jewish Way." Even the most uninformed Gentiles often recognize this. However dimly, they know that Jews have survived more threats to their individual and corporate existence, and for more centuries, than any other people. Someone once referred to Jews as "the always dying out race." Their disappearance has been confidently predicted time after time, most often by their enemies, but sometimes even by Jews themselves. Yet, after thousands of years filled with perils and pogroms, and even after the Nazi’s attempt to murder them all, Jews are alive and well. It could even be argued that at the end of the century that treated them most harshly, most Jews are thriving today more vigorously than at any time since the halcyon days of David and Solomon. They still bury their would-be pallbearers and still stubbornly offer toasts to life, "l’chaim." As even the most casual observer has to admit with some degree of puzzlement, they must be doing something right.

An outsider participating in Jewish religious life soon learns that the way Jews affirm life is not by denying death but by facing it down. The Rosh Hashana ritual takes the form of dramatic confrontation with death and mortality. This happens in part through a carefully staged courtroom drama in which God is the judge, and everyone who comes before his presence is being tried for his or her life. In fact, to my astonishment, according to one Jewish prayer book, even the "hosts of heaven" are called to account at this time. Nobody, human or angel, escapes this sweeping indictment. In the end, life and mercy win out over death and judgment, but the Rosh Hashana liturgy is designed to elicit the same cold dread anyone would feel in a human courtroom under such formidable circumstances.

The trial actually goes on for days and ends only on Yom Kippur, a week and a half after Rosh Hashana, when the verdict is finally announced. But getting to that final acquittal is not easy. Between the two come what are called yamim noraim, the Days of Awe. During these 10 days the defendants must undergo the most intensive sort of self-scrutiny, reviewing a year’s deeds and misdeeds, both major and minor. They must ask forgiveness from anyone they have wronged and — when possible — make restitution. God, the tradition says, forgives only the sins we commit against him, not those committed against other people. The objective is to move the soul to teshuvah, "repentance." The symbolism states that throughout the trial, God is pondering whether to inscribe our names in the Book of Life or in the Book of Death. The hope is that, having undergone such a rigorous moral inventory, the new year can begin with a
clean slate.

The concept of taking a personal moral inventory has become familiar to millions of people who are not Jewish and may never have heard of Rosh Hashana. It is one of the first and most basic steps one is required to take in a "12-step program," like Alcoholics Anonymous or Alanon. Scholars estimate that one out of every four adult Americans is involved in a "support group," many of which use the moral inventory approach. Christians who were raised with some exposure to the traditions of pietism and revivalism will sense something familiar about the Days of Awe. None of it should be particularly surprising, since the Christian tradition of setting aside certain days and seasons for self-examination and penitence are adaptations of earlier Jewish traditions, and the 12-step programs evolved from the Oxford Group Movement, an evangelical Christian enterprise. The Days of Awe have shaped modern culture much more than most Jews realize.

As Rosh Hashana ebbs, everyone anticipates the unearthly blast of the shofar, the ram’s horn that is sounded several times during the Days of Awe. It emits a strange sound, like nothing one hears anywhere else in modern life. It seems to cut through the buzz and static to what must be a primitive part of the brain. But why does it pierce so deeply? The answer given by Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, one of the last of the great Hasidic teachers (he died in 1905), makes sense to me.

"The shofar blasts," he said, "are sounds without speech. Speech represents the division of sound into varied and separate movements of the mouth. But sound itself is one, united, cleaving to its source. On Rosh Hashana the life force cleaves to its source, as it was before differentiation or division. And we, too, seek to attach ourselves to that inner flow of life." Commenting on this interpretation, Rabbi Arthur Green says, "The sound of the shofar takes us to that moment of outcry from deep within, to a place prior to the division of our heart’s cry into the many words of prayer."

But for me there is another reason that the shofar slices the air and stabs the soul. It signals, as nothing else does, the chasm between the past and the future. It splits time in two. As the old year fades and the new one begins, we realize that the old one is gone forever and that, try as we will, we can never know what lies ahead. The shofar, since it is wordless, can both scream in terror and shout for joy with the same breath. Nothing else is worthy of the beginning of a whole new year in the only life we will ever have.

Toppling the Chanukah Bush

Rabbi Eli Herscher is leading a discussion about the December holidays with about two dozen participants of Stephen S. Wise Temple’s Holiday Workshop Series. The class attracts a good number of intermarried couples and those considering conversion, but they are not the only ones who squirm over the topic.

The rabbi begins this session by asking participants whether they have any concerns about the upcoming holidays. It is a young couple’s turn to respond. Both are Jewish. The wife speaks first. “I don’t have any concerns,” she says.

Then her husband speaks. “I’m concerned that Christmas is my favorite day of the year.”

“OK, I do have concerns,” corrects the wife.

So begins another exchange for Herscher, who has led this session of the Holiday Workshop Series for the past 24 years.

After listening to the class members voice concerns ranging from how — and whether — to celebrate Christmas with non-Jewish relatives, to how to combat the materialistic spin of the holiday, Herscher goes straight for the jugular. He begins with the Christmas tree.

First he explains that the tree represents the wood of the cross. And while some Jews may feel that the tree no longer carries any religious symbolism and is merely a beautiful, fragrant decoration, Herscher poses this question to test such a conviction: if you saw a tree on the bimah of a synagogue, would you think it was out of place? If it doesn’t belong in a synagogue, it doesn’t belong in a Jewish home, he argues.

Herscher suggests that more often than not, parents’ insistence that their children will feel left out if they can’t celebrate Christmas is actually “an adult issue.”

“I can love the tree and the decorations; but they’re not mine,” he says. Herscher goes on to tell that he would explain Christmas to a child by comparing it to a friend’s birthday.

“You may look at your friend opening presents and you may feel a little jealous… but you know it’s not your birthday. And you know there’s going to be another day when it is your birthday… It’s kind of like that with Christmas. It doesn’t belong to us,” he says. If the child still objects, says Herscher, then it’s time for the parents to just say “no.”

A class member remains unconvinced. She explains that her husband is not Jewish, although they have agreed to raise their children as Jews. “It’s my husband’s tradition,” she says, asking whether it’s fair to deprive children of their father’s customs. Herscher responds by saying that celebrating both holidays is often confusing to children. As evidence, he holds up three Rosh Hashanah cards produced by children in the temple’s religious school. They say “Happy New Year,” but all three are illustrated with Christmas trees.

While Herscher draws the line at celebrating Christmas within a Jewish home, he sees no problem with sharing the holiday with non-Jewish relatives or friends. In many intermarried families, for example, one set of grandparents will celebrate Christmas. “The grandparents should be celebrating it,” he says. Herscher says parents need to be clear in explaining that while their family does not celebrate Christmas, the grandparents do, and they get pleasure by sharing the celebration with their grandchildren.

Nor is it a crime to enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas, says Herscher, who admits that he likes most Christmas carols and takes his kids for drives to admire Christmas lights. As a child, he even helped decorate a friend’s tree.

But no Christmas trappings “cross the threshold” of his home, Herscher says. “[American] culture has a lot we can enjoy without it being mine.”

For this reason, Herscher suggests declining invitations to celebrate Christmas with other Jews, unless it is necessary to preserve family relationships.

As for the commercialism of Chanukah, Herscher feels that gift giving is not necessarily bad if it is done in a context where it does not overshadow the message of the holiday. He recommends that presents not be opened until after the candles burn down, and that the time in between be used for singing, playing Chanukah games or telling the Chanukah story. Gifts need not be lavish, and one night the gift should be a gift to charity, suggests Herscher.

The rabbi readily admits that, taken on its own, Chanukah cannot compete with Christmas. But he stresses that when a family celebrates the Jewish holidays throughout the year “as they’re meant to be,” then Chanukah won’t need to compete. Herscher contends that regularly making Shabbat and celebrating the other Jewish holidays will provide children with moments of celebration, family closeness and memories that are much richer than anything a Jew can get from celebrating Christmas. “And,” he boasts, “I’d hold a sukkah up to a Christmas tree any day.”