Philanthropy from Venus differs from philanthropy from Mars

Women give charity differently than men.

They are a little more generous across the board and a little less egocentric in their giving. More often they believe that charity is a moral obligation. And they tend to be more inclined toward education, religion and health-related causes.

Saying so isn’t a case of sexism or stereotyping, it’s just statistics, said Debra Mesch, the director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

“Women tend to want to spread the wealth a little more, and a lot of that has to do with how men and women are socialized in terms of their upbringing,” Mesch told JTA. “In this culture especially they are the nurturers and are charged with raising the family. Their altruism is more developed.”

Statistics show that single women are twice as likely to give charity than single men, she said.

That’s why, in part, as the National Women’s Philanthropy division of the United Jewish Communities preps for its annual Lion of Judah conference, organizers and philanthropy experts are saying that women’s philanthropy is more important than ever.

The annual conference, scheduled for Nov. 9-16 in Tel Aviv, is the preamble to the UJC’s General Assembly in Jerusalem immediately afterward.

The Lion of Judah, so named because of the solid gold lion-shaped pins that women are awarded because of their giving — and bejeweled in relation to the size of the gifts — is expected to draw some 1,100 women who each give more than $5,000 annually to their local federations.

Over the past decade, the federation system has seen its general annual campaigns slump, but women’s giving has grown rapidly, according to the managing director of the National Women’s Philanthropy division, Beth Mann.

The Jewish federation system in 1946 became one of the first charities to launch a separate campaign to solicit gifts from women. In its first year, giving by women to that campaign accounted for $10 million — or 10 percent — of the total taken in by the federations.

That dollar total has climbed steadily to $61 million in 1973 in the aftermath of Israel’s Yom Kippur War, and to $138 million in 1995. As the general campaigns fell flat, in 2006 the women’s campaigns took in $192 million, or 22 percent of all of the money that federations raised.

Thirty-four percent of donors to the federation system are women, and that doesn’t count the women who give gifts from couples and families.

Mann estimates that some 50 percent of all the dollars federations take in come from women.

That number stands to increase in coming years.

By 2010, experts estimate that women will control some 60 percent of America’s wealth — a figure that could increase as some $41 trillion is passed on from the oldest generations to younger generations over the next 50 years. That’s because with women living on average seven years longer than men, many husbands will end up leaving their estates to their wives.

Some observers see women’s philanthropy as a new well that could help bridge the philanthropic gap between today’s economic crisis and recovery.

“Women’s philanthropy has been an untapped resource because I don’t think people have been paying attention to women’s giving and women’s power,” Mesch said.

The Lion of Judah conference is focused on thanking women for their giving and inspiring them to give more. That same week, Indiana University will run its own symposium on women’s giving to help fundraisers focus on how to tap into the women’s market — a problem for a fundraising world that still more often focuses on courting men.

“I hear from development officers at Indiana that they talk to the man,” Mesch said. “If there is a couple sitting with them, they assume it is the man writing the check, so the discussion always goes to the man. The thank-you note goes to the man.

“But you need to do the little things and realize that it is the women who open the tap. I think it is a huge faucet.”

Other philanthropies are catching on. The United Way started its National Leadership Women’s Council in 2003 to help guide local United Way branches as they started separate women’s campaigns. Already the charity has seen gains.

The system as a whole saw a 2.6 percent growth in donations last year, but local branches that started women’s campaigns saw on average a 3.6 percent growth, according to the United Way’s director of strategic marketing for the women’s council, Linda Paulson.

To put into perspective how effective the federation system has been at raising money from women, consider this: The United Way raised $4.2 billion systemwide in 2007 and took in $102 million from women.

In the same year, the federation system raised $908.1 million through its general campaigns, $193 million from women.

And while rumors persist that the federation’s umbrella organization, the UJC, has had trouble with sagging attendance numbers for this year’s General Assembly, the Lion of Judah conference is bringing about 400 more attendees than organizers anticipated.

“In the future,” Mann said jokingly, “there will be a general campaign and a separate men’s campaign.”

For those women who are the givers, the mission is less about bridging the gap than it is about fulfilling a personal mission.

“The opportunity to give your own gift means that you can express yourself philanthropically in a different way,” said Cheryl Fishbein, a board member of a litany of charities, including the UJC and the UJA-Federation of New York.

Before she became involved in the women’s campaign 15 years ago, Fishbein’s giving was done with her husband or her family.

“We really believe in a lot of the same things, but if it is my own gift, I can have a say in where it is going to go and what it will fund,” said Fishbein, who is a Lion of Judah. “And as I have become more knowledgeable on philanthropy, it gave me an opportunity to feel that the things I am most passionate about, I can fund.”

We don’t need more gabfests on diversity

The details of the ugly dustup between a leading local Jewish philanthropist, Daphna Ziman, and the local African American head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Eric Lee, are still at issue. Ziman disseminated her account of the encounter in a widely distributed e-mail. She claimed that Lee gave a speech at a local fraternity function rife with anti-Semitic statements. Lee strenuously denied the charges, and no independent corroboration exists.

But what is of greater interest than what actually transpired at the Kappa Alpha Psi gathering is the response from the leadership of our community to Lee’s remarks and what that portends for intergroup relations in this city.

Predictably, the civil rights leadership of our communities seems to be responding to the incident just as they have in the past — with dialogue groups and resurrected “roundtables” aimed at convincing participants of the value of diversity and of our historic and present commonalities.

What ought to distinguish the response of today from those in the 1970s and 1990s is the context of our very changed society.

Society has caught up and passed well beyond dialogue groups and the need to justify and rationalize the value of diversity. Every major study conducted in this field has revealed an amazing attitude of acceptance of differences by today’s young people. As Morley Winograd and Michael Hais observe in their just-published book, “Millennial Makeover,” “the great diversity of the Millennial Generation [born between 1982 and 2003] and its experiences growing up in a multiracial society is reflected in their relatively color-blind attitudes on racial relations.”

The Pew Center concluded in its multiple surveys of millennials that “they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.” One example documented by the Pew Center (dealing with a historically incendiary issue) found that that between 1987 and 2003, attitudes toward interracial dating among 18-25-year-olds underwent a sea change — those approving such activity rose from 56 percent to 89 percent. Those completely agreeing with interracial dating rose from 20 percent to 64 percent.

The data of a profound change in attitudes is incontestable and is manifested across racial and religious lines. The Reboot study of millennials, “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era,” found that today’s youth are “fully integrated into diverse social networks. While previous generations often lived in homogenous religious communities, among Generation Y [born 1980-2000], only 7 percent of youth report that all their friends are the same religion as themselves. Even the most religious youth maintain diverse networks of peers.”

The study oversampled Jewish and black youth to confirm their findings.

Even the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) study of anti-Semitic attitudes indicates a decline in anti-Semitic attitudes among the African American population, historically among the most problematic cohort it surveys. Unfortunately, the ADL study does not disaggregate data for younger blacks and their attitudes.

If one believes the myriad studies that confirm the exceptionally positive trends of the new generation, how should one respond to the Lee incident? More dialogue groups that devolve into vehicles to preach to the converted seems to be what we have in store for us. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and its friends will be busy singing the same old songs.

What ought to inform any actions that grow out of the Lee-Ziman incident is the profound change that has taken and is taking place around us. Young people today don’t need a “coalition” to talk about how to live together — they do it 24/7. Their world isn’t circumscribed by their faith, their race or their ethnicity.

Nor should we trudge out the old nostrums and activities and think that the Lees of the world will change their version of history or their attitudes — nor should we really care. They are not the future, and their historical notions are virtually irrelevant.

Our communities’ leadership has to absorb the reality that the next generation of open-minded young people sees diversity as a plus, not as a burden to be overcome. We need to offer them activities that confirm their positive outlook and involve them in doing, not talking, about things, much as Temple Israel’s Big Sunday program does — people working together as equals, improving our community for everyone. We don’t need more gabfests or sessions of self-flagellation.

Millennials believe that they live in an exciting time, two-thirds rate their lives as “excellent or pretty good,” let’s give them reason to confirm those positive attitudes.

David A. Lehrer is president and Joe R. Hicks vice president of Community Advocates Inc. (, a Los Angeles-based human relations organization headed by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.

The journey to inclusion

My son, Shmuel, was born four years ago on the 10th of Cheshvan. My wife woke me at 3 a.m.; we were at the hospital a bit after 3:30. Not her first delivery, the labor was quick. By 5:45, she gave birth.

So efficient she was, I thought that there would be time to make it to my regular 7 a.m. minyan in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood of Jerusalem. Our newborn would fit into my schedule — everything according to expectations; everything as planned.

I accompanied the baby to the post-delivery room. The doctor, flanked by two nurses, labored over the baby with unexpected focus and intensity. Finally, the doctor emerged. Our newborn, he suspected — really, he knew — had Down syndrome.

A close friend of ours, a nurse, whispered to my wife moments after we received the news that she would be happy to take the baby and foster him — even before my wife would be released from the hospital. The doctors and hospital staff, who in the past had been unswerving in their aversion to early discharge, happily acquiesced to my wife’s request to go home after only one day, relieved that we would be taking the baby home.

Friends visited. Two of them conducted a dispute in my presence about whether a father of a child with Down syndrome should be wished a congratulatory mazal tov (the answer is yes). A rabbinical authority in my neighborhood averred upon hearing the news that the event could only be looked at as a manifestation of unadulterated din, Divine judgment.

Someone else recounted the story of a father of a similar child who had proclaimed at the brit milah of his son that the birth of such a child was a manifestation of pure rachamim, Divine mercy. A neighbor advised that we really should foster the child. Raising such a child — though, of course, a blessing — would be too large a burden, not to mention a source of embarrassment to our family.

Amid all of this, the languages of advice, explanation and consolation — and I had hardly noticed — there was an infant nursing in my wife’s steadfast arms.

The irony — unappreciated then and for many months, even years after — was that I had devoted much of my personal and professional energies to understanding conceptions of diversity and difference, first in relation to the works of the Western literary tradition and then on a different path in relation to Torah and the teachings of Chazal.

Throughout my career as a professor of English literature, I have been compelled by literary and theoretical meditations on difference. When I entered the realm of the beit midrash, I discovered the ways in which Chazal affirm a notion of Divine truth, with a multiplicity of different faces.

When I was confronted, however, with a child of difference, not the difference espoused enthusiastically around large oak tables by my teachers in graduate school at Columbia or even that discussed between the four walls of the beit midrash, I was unprepared. All of my adventures in the pursuit of understanding difference, diversity and pluralism in the arcane and academic languages of epistemology and literary hermeneutics, and even in the realm of limud, had insufficiently prepared me for Shmuel.

When the world, as Deborah Kerdeman writes in the Journal of Philosophy of Education, “departs from our expectations and desires,” and thus “refuses to be appropriated by us or subjected to our categories, we are pulled up short.” That is, suddenly, we encounter a reality that our categories fail to fully assimilate. It is an experience associated with loss or failure — the inability of our cognitive equipment to provide a map adequate to what happens.

I had been pulled up short by the birth of my son, Shmuel, or, more accurately, pulled up short by the initially shattering experience of having an atypical child, a child with Down syndrome. To be sure, the label “atypical” or the exceptional has useful diagnostic functions. But the question, I wondered, was in what sense, if any, is there a conception of typicality in the Torah? That is, does the Torah proscribe a notion of typicality and how does it accommodate conceptions of difference?

If the biblical notion of tzelem Elokim (man created in the image of God) affirms a similarity between man and the Divine, with all men created in His image, Chazal in Sanhedrin (37a) come to qualify that assertion of similarity with an emphasis on difference: “When a man mints coins with one ‘stamp,’ all [of the coins] are similar to one other, but when the King of Kings mints each man from the ‘stamp’ of Adam Harishon, each one of them is different; therefore it is incumbent upon each person to say, ‘For me the world was created.'”

Created from the stamp of the first man and traceable to that original source in his similarity, each man also evidences an ineluctable difference. It is this difference that affords him with the experience of both opportunity and responsibility: “For me the world was created.” For it is the image of God that guarantees that all manifestations of difference are linked back first to Adam Harishon and then to the Divine.

As Dr. Rahamim Melamed-Cohen observes in his remarkable book about the exceptional child in the Jewish tradition, there are blessings recited upon seeing difference or exceptionality in the Divine creation, but only the blessing over human exceptionality includes the shem Hashem, the Divine name. Only in those human differences, though sometimes confounding our expectations and pulling us up short, does the Divine image dwell.

Notwithstanding the pervasive attitude of a contemporary Western culture that aggressively advertises its commitment to multiplicity, diversity and pluralism, such a culture does not really encourage the encounter with genuine difference. As a recent New York Times article observed, more and more prospective parents in the United States choose to terminate pregnancies rather than face the prospect of nurturing a difference that has a human face.

The faces of those who are born also sometimes remain invisible, not because their faces lack the ability to make an impression but rather because the cognitive lenses available fail to afford the refinement of vision that allows such children to be seen. We view the world through a set of categories and expectations, and what doesn’t fall within those categories does not register on our cognitive screens. Vision may be a biological mechanism, but what we, in fact, see is also a function of our perceptual habits and prejudices.

Second-class Conservative citizens

When I first read that there would be a vote by the Conservative movement’s Committee on Law and Standards regarding homosexuality and Jewish law, I was of
course interested.

I’m a gay man, and I have had both personal and professional ties to the Conservative movement since I was a child. In fact, some of my closest friends (and colleagues) are avowed Conservative Jews.

I grew up in the late ’60s and ’70s in a Conservative synagogue in northern New Jersey. It was a dying synagogue due to shifting demographics. My religious school class was made up of about eight students. My venerable, grandfatherly rabbi and the young, well-groomed cantor knew all of us by name. Having always been drawn to Jewish ritual, one year I volunteered my house for the religious school sukkah (much to my parents’ chagrin). My seventh-grade class, along with my teacher, Rabbi Zitter, a 20-something guy sporting tzitzit, built a sukkah in my backyard. The Sunday of Sukkot the rabbi, cantor and religious school principal all visited the synagogue’s “satellite” sukkah. I felt so honored. (And for years after that my family built a sukkah.)

As a middle school and high school student I often attended services at my Conservative synagogue and likely brought the average age of the congregants down to 65. The only other young congregant was a handsome, strapping young college-aged guy who was often called on to lift the Torah. This was the time when I first began to feel the stirrings of same-sex attraction. I didn’t understand it but knew that something was different for me. I imagine that neither the rabbi nor the cantor had a clue that any of his students was beginning to come to terms with anything other than a heterosexual identity. If “gay” was on their radar, I imagine it was “out there,” outside the austere stone building in Paterson, N.J.

I was an active, practicing Conservative Jew. I belonged to USY for a time, I went to USY Summer Encampment, and I went to Israel for the first time with USY’s Israel Pilgrimage. During my college years, I regularly davened with the Conservative minyan at Brandeis University, and upon graduating taught at a Conservative Jewish day school in the Boston area. When I moved to Los Angeles, I began teaching at Adat Ari El in the day school and also taught b’nai mitzvah students there for many years; in addition, I taught at L.A. Hebrew High School. I am currently on the professional staff of Temple Aliyah. My Conservative movement ties run deep.

Honestly, I’m glad that the recent vote of the Conservative movement has opened the door a bit toward acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews. Now that this teshuvah, or legal interpretation, was one of two that received a majority vote, I know that this helps some of my gay “friends and family” squeeze sideways through the now partially open door. I nevertheless remain sad and disappointed that the door has only opened a little, and the idea that it is a qualified acceptance is troubling to me. (Let alone that it rests side by side with a standing ruling of nonacceptance, or that a third accepted teshuvah purports that individuals — I assume “straight” people too — can control their sexual orientation.)

I understand the notion of baby steps, and I understand the notion of compromise in the name of baby steps. But I don’t have to like it. I think this decision perpetuates a system in which gays and lesbians continue to be second-class citizens. It also perpetuates one specific interpretation of a biblical text, which has been interpreted in other ways. Take me for who I am or don’t take me at all. I too am created in God’s holy image.

When I came out I never felt an incompatibility between my Jewish identity and my sexual identity.

Perhaps I was lucky, perhaps naïve. Who knows? I never doubted that God loves me for who I am. I am a Jewish educator and a Jewish communal professional. And I am gay. I hope that my students have experienced me as someone who is caring, compassionate and dedicated. I hope they have seen me as a role model. And I believe that I am these things not despite the fact that I am gay, but in large part because I am gay. My identity as a gay man has helped me to learn to be more empathic, to embrace differences and to overcome my own prejudices.

While I am pleased that the Conservative movement has inched forward in the direction of inclusivity, I find it difficult to rejoice. When I am allowed to sit in the front of the Conservative bus (without being singled out to pass a litmus test; without being subjected to the whim of the driver of that particular bus), then I shall surely rejoice, and I will be at the front of the line chanting the “Shehecheyanu” blessing.

Jeff Bernhardt is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He works as a teacher, social worker and Jewish communal service professional with Reform, Conservative and trans-denominational Jewish organizations.

Change of Command on ‘Commander in Chief’

Was it sex, TV politics or controversial opinions about the Middle East? Or something else entirely?

News reports and sources cite conflicting reasons why Israeli-born Rod Lurie was booted or departed as show-runner of the successful new ABC drama, “Commander in Chief,” about the first female president of the United States. Lurie, the show’s creator, was replaced by TV veteran Steven Bochco (“NYPD Blue,” “L.A. Law”) last week — a highly unusual move on a show that is doing so well in the ratings.

Neither Lurie nor Bochco was available for comment on the backstage drama of who deposed the show’s real-life commander in chief and why.

However, rumors began circulating when well-connected entertainment columnist Nikki Finke reportedly told “The Drudge Report” that Lurie was sacked for wanting a “rough” limo sex scene between the president’s daughter and a Secret Service agent.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that Lurie and his bosses had “creative differences” about future episodes. A source told The Journal that the pro-Israel producer had hoped to create episodes in which the fictional president grapples with the Middle East conflict — episodes that may have been too controversial for the network.

Lurie is the son of Ranan Lurie, the famed Israeli political cartoonist, who often entertained Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in the family’s Herzelyia home. Young Rod moved with his parents to Greenwich, Conn., as a boy. He studied Middle East politics at West Point and worked for the U.S. military, before becoming a film critic and, ultimately, a director in 1999.

His first film, “Deterrence,” revolved around a Jewish president of the United States (Kevin Pollock) who must decide whether to drop the atomic bomb on Iraq.

The Post also surmised that Lurie was “stretched too thin trying to handle writing, producing and directing on the series, while juggling those helpful ‘notes’ from 25-year-old studio and network suits.”

Production reportedly fell so far behind that executives worried that they wouldn’t have enough episodes to push the show through sweeps month in November. Another potential looming problem is the show’s mixed critical reception: Some reviewers speculated that the appealing premise and stars – — Geena Davis and Donald Sutherland – — would not be enough to retain viewers, unless the quality or depth of the product improves.

Lurie will retain his executive producer title on the series, but will focus on developing new projects under his recent deal with Touchstone, a Touchstone press release said. Touchstone produces the ABC series.

“I’ve been a huge fan of Steven Bochco’s for over two decades. I’m blown-away, excited to see how much more he will electrify ‘Commander In Chief,'” Lurie said in the release.

“I have always been a big Rod Lurie fan, and I’m excited about … helping to realize Touchstone’s and Rod Lurie’s vision,” Bochco said in the release.

This season, the Jewish Bochco unveiled Hollywood’s first TV drama on the Iraq War, “Over There,” which aims at a realistic depiction of war that Bochco insists is apolitical. One can only surmise whether Bochco’s approach will translate, for example, to dealing with an issue such as the Middle East in “Commander in Chief.” And whether the show will rise or fall as a result.


The Circuit


SHoshanim Celebrates

Shoshanim, a magazine for Jewish teenage girls, is celebrating its fifth year in publication with a newly designed Web site, new features and an upgraded layout. Based in Los Angeles, the magazine geared for Orthodox teenagers has 5,000 subscribers. It is the Bais Yaakov girl’s answer to Seventeen Magazine, with advice columns on things like good baby-sitting techniques and “Ask Rebbetzin Rochel.” Along with columns on arts and crafts, a Jewish law corner, and personality profiles of pious people, the magazine gives readers a chance to have their own short stories, poetry, and art published.

Visit Shoshanim at (articles not available online) or call (800) 601-4238.

Don’t Stare — Just Talk

Students at Conejo Jewish Day School had a visit from the Kids on the Block, a troupe of puppets both able and disabled who teach children to appreciate differences.

This program, endorsed by the Bureau of Jewish Education, enables students to openly discuss the differences in others and the importance of caring for others and being aware of everyone’s feelings.

For more information about the Conejo Jewish Day School call Rabbi David Lamm (818) 879-8255. For information on Kids on the Block go to or call (800) 368-5437.

New News for New Jew

You may be hearing a lot more from the New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) soon. The West Hills school, which was founded three years ago, was recently awarded an Avi Chai marketing grant for recruitment and publicity.

“New Jewish high schools often begin very small, without the necessary funding to successfully market themselves,” said Lauren Merken, a member of Avi Chai’s board of trustees. “It is the foundation’s goal to help schools like New Community Jewish High School, reach out to the community effectively.”

Of course, recruitment doesn’t seem to be a weak point at New Jew: It opened in 2002 with 40 kids in the ninth grade. Next year, as it welcomes its first 12th-grade class, NCJHS expects a total enrollment of 250 students.

For more information on NCJHS, call (818) 348-0048 or visit

Change the World

Seven students took home $500 prizes in Chapman University and the “1939” Club’s sixth annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest in March. Students from 75 schools submitted essays, poetry and art on the topic of “To Change Our World: Legacy of Liberation,” which invited students to tie the history of the Holocaust to a current situation of injustice. The first-prize winners in the middle school categories were Art: Monique Becker, Lakeside Middle School (Irvine); Essay: Gabriella Duva, St. Anne School (Laguna Niguel), and Poetry: Kim Ngai, Fulton Middle School (Fountain Valley).

In the high school category, two entries tied for first place in Art: Steven Vander Sluis, El Toro High School (Lake Forest) and Marisa Moonilal, Mater Dei (Santa Ana); Essay: Irina Dykhne, University High School (Los Angeles), and Poetry: Matthew Adam White, University High School (Los Angeles).

For more information on the contest or Chapman University in Orange, call (714) 997-6620.

And More Winners

After a rigorous application process, four Californians are among the 26 youths from across the country selected to participate in the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel this summer. Rachel Cohen of Goleta, Alexander Kaplan of Pacific Palisades, Alex Schatzberg of San Rafael and Juliana Spector of Piedmont will spend five weeks traveling throughout Israel to participate in seminars and dialogues with diverse rabbis and leaders. They will also spend a week with Israeli peers who are part of a parallel program for Israelis. The program was founded by Edgar M. Bronfman and is funded by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation.

For more information, call (518) 475-7202 or visit

Open Your Home

If international cooperation and understanding is best achieved through personal ties, then imagine having someone from a foreign country live in your home. AFS Intercultural Programs and Pacific Intercultural Exchange are looking for families in the L.A. area to host high school students who are studying in America for a year or a semester.

For more information contact AFS Intercultural Programs (formerly American Filed Service) at (800) 237-4630 or; or Pacific Intercultural Exchange at (800) 631-1818.


False Promises in Berg’s ‘Becoming’


“Becoming Like God” by Rabbi Michael Berg (Kabbalah Publishing, $21.95).

I have never been to the Kabbalah Centre, never studied with one of their teachers, and cannot comment on their practices. My sole direct exposure was to watch a videotape produced by the center, “The Power of Kabbalah: A Documentary,” from 1996, in which they claim, among other things, credit for producing the Oslo accords — credit which they may be presently inclined to disavow. But no matter. I spent an infuriating hour reading “Becoming Like God” by Rabbi Michael Berg. If I can succeed in persuading one person not to buy this confused, contradictory, intellectually disreputable and Jewishly perverse volume it will be well worth the exasperation.

The Torah recounts that at the very outset of the human journey God throws Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. They are thrown out not for what they have done as much as for what they might do: “What if he should stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and live forever?” (Genesis 3:22). Human beings must not be permitted to escape death. The Bible insists that built in to the human condition then are two fundamentals, each of them is the basis of faith, each irreversible: We are not God, and we are not immortal.

“Becoming Like God” promises two things: first to make you like God, and second, to make you immortal. We can conquer death. In one of the stranger passages in this surpassingly strange book, Berg writes, “Many consider the Bible the word of God, yet refuse to believe in the possibility of resurrection, even though it is declared in the Bible’s pages.”

Yet in order for there to be resurrections, there must be death.

Berg sees death as the enemy, the fate of the unenlightened. The conquest of death, resurrection and a different life is certainly part of classical Jewish belief, one that is borne of a Messianic hope. Yet the word Messiah does not appear in this book.

The word Torah does not appear in this book. The word Talmud does not appear in this book. Every Jewish sage cited in the book, of whatever era or orientation, is called simply “a kabbalist.” There is an oft-repeated talmudic tale that everyone masters the entire Torah before birth, and the instant before we are born an angel presses a finger above our lip, causing us to forget our learning (Niddah 30b). But since the word Talmud must not appear in the book, nor the word “Torah,” the story is credited to “a kabbalist” and the angel causes us to forget not “Torah” but “everything.” The idea that there are no superfluous words in the Torah, a staple of Jewish interpretation that runs through the Talmud, becomes a kabbalistic idea. The use of the term yetser hara, the evil inclination, becomes kabbalistic, not a borrowing from the Talmud. And so on. If Ravina and Rav Ashi, the redactors of the Talmud, held a copyright, the allegedly massive holdings of the Kabbalah Centre might build them a very capacious yeshiva.

“Becoming Like God” opens with a story about leaping souls known to be from the Kotzker Rebbe, whose name actually does appear elsewhere in the book. Once again, the story is told without attribution. Although this may seem academic, not only do the rabbis teach us that one who quotes in the name of another brings redemption into the world, I fear there is a deeper motivation for the relative anonymity. This is a book that seeks to rip kabbalah from its Jewish moorings.

Anyone who opens a page of the Zohar, or any kabbalistic book, sees that kabbalah is inextricably bound up in the Jewish tradition. In kabbalah (real kabbalah, that is) ritual practices are given cosmic meaning. The Talmud is quoted on each page of the Zohar; authority is granted to the Zohar because it is attributed to Rav Simeon Bar Yochai, a talmudic rabbi. Kabbalah, for the uninitiated, is a Hebrew word — that ought to provide a clue. To teach it as a universal “technology” of salvation is a travesty of tradition and a spiritual sham.

Permit me to quote Berg, lest you think that I exaggerate:

“A story is told in the Bible about Rebecca. During her pregnancy, she noticed something quite strange: Whenever she passed by certain parts of town — a place of study or prayer — she felt her child wanting to go there. At the same time, whenever she passed by other parts of town — a house of idol worshipers or a den of thieves — she felt her child wanting to go there also. The phenomenon worried her, because she thought her child might be hesitating over whether to follow the path of evil or the path of righteousness.”

She decided to go to a wise man for advice, and he told her, “you are carrying two children. One twin is going to be a spiritual giant, and the other is going to be drawn to darkness.” He was referring to her two sons, Jacob and Esau.

“Upon hearing this news, Rebecca had an astonishing reaction: She was not in the least bit dismayed. She was delighted.”

At this point, the faint of heart might just give up. For this story does not appear in the Bible. It is a rabbinic Midrash, and a badly paraphrased one at that.

Rabbi Berg, did you think that none of your readers would actually look in the Bible? Do you perhaps treat it as you do the Zohar, as not essentially a Jewish book and legitimately subject to garbled paraphrase? Is this all fair game because, after all, we would all like immortality?

The implausibilities pile up, producing an astonishing page-to-foolishness ratio. Berg tells us “Looking out for No. 1 is not wrong because it isn’t nice. It’s wrong because it violates the laws of physics, the connectedness scientists have called the Unified Field.”

Preaching against selfishness is an admirable thing. Is it necessary to point out, however delicately, that if being selfish indeed violated the laws of physics, one would not be able to do it? We do not write books cautioning pedestrians to avoid walking faster than the speed of light. It may be an inadvisable practice, but it violates the laws of physics and is therefore impossible to boot. Selfishness is a lamentable human trait, not a scientific impossibility.

Berg solemnly warns us: “Wherever we can, we must take actions to destroy the ego.”

Yet this advice does not discourage him from putting his name on the cover and his picture on the back flap. Nor does it stop his announcing his own “feat of momentous proportions” in translating the Zohar by age 28. The seeker is entitled to understand what sort of ego we are talking about. The only non-Jewish individuals cited (as examples of paradigm-shattering individuals) are the Wright brothers and Leonardo da Vinci, none of whom were renown for their lack of ego. We might do well to remember that ego often drives accomplishment. Indeed the Talmud says, “The jealousy of sages increases wisdom” (Bava Bathra 21a).

This was, perhaps, the one talmudic bromide not attributed to a noted kabbalist.

Can we become like God? Berg’s advocacy of humility and goodness is cogent and admirable. But this does not amount to much more than an exhortation to be nicer. His one piece of “evidence” that we are to become “like God” is the biblical verse that we are created in God’s image. Never was this understood as promising us divinity, but rather that there was in human beings a spark to be carefully nurtured.

The Bergian worldview is Manichean — that is, there is a war between light and darkness. God is the source of light (Berg never teaches us where all that darkness in the universe comes from). We have to connect to one or the other, and we become like that to which we connect, light or dark. We become like God by destroying our egos, sharing and creating a life of “total joy and fulfillment.” These, in capsule, are the six steps that promise divinity and deathlessness.

Promising physical immortality is, simply put, spiritual snake oil. But a more generous view of this book, with its extravagant promises combined with the mundane rhetoric (“unlike Club Med, life is not as it should be”), is that becoming like God is a fairy tale.

What this says about the devotees of the center I do not know. But one who reads this book with anything but head-shaking incredulity ought to compare this book, with its pink capitalized commonplaces (“Becoming God does not fit into our schedules”) to a work of genuine spiritual significance, such as the writings of A.J. Heschel, Rav Soloveitchik and so many others, to feel the difference between pabulum and poetry.

Immortality? Becoming godlike? Reaching perfection? Total purity? You may doubt, but Berg tells us that everything depends on certainty.

A man once approached the Baal Shem Tov and asked him how he could tell true teachers from charlatans. The founder of Chasidism (not solely “a famous kabbalist”) answered as follows. He said, ask the teacher if he knows how to banish machshavot ra’ot, or evil thoughts. If he says he has the secret, the Baal Shem Tov continued, he is a fraud.

David Wolpe is rabbi of Sinai Temple in Westwood and is the author of several books, including “Floating Takes Faith: Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World” (Behrman House, 2004).


To Tree or Not to Tree


For the first time in my adult life I’m dating a Jewish girl.

Her father’s Catholic — an Italian — but according to my

rabbi, “She’s all good.”

(Maybe he didn’t use those exact words, but something to that effect.)

Carrie and I bicker but never have any real fights; that is not until Christmastime. She was raised with Christmas in her house. Chanukah was a pool they may have dipped their toes into out of some traditional obligation, but it was Christmas that they jumped into cannonball style.

Their house is covered in multicolored lights and adorned with cheap plastic Santa wall hangings. A gargantuan Douglas fir, rivaling the one in the center of The Grove, is squeezed in between the ceiling and floor. And gifts wrapped in red and green piled three-deep high surround the tree as if out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Her childhood memories are filled with Christmas as the happiest day of the year.

Then, she started dating me. And, like a Jewish Scrooge, I decided over dinner to let her know there would be no more Christmas. Well, at least not for us. I said that if we ever moved in together she would need to get used to the fact that there would be no Christmas tree in our house. She looked like she would drop her pork chop.

“I was raised with Christmas!” she said. “And I want a tree in my house.”

“I know,” I answered. “But, I wasn’t. And if we’re raising our kids Jewish why would we have a Christmas tree?”

“Because I like Christmas.”

“But, you’re Jewish!”

“My dad’s not.”

“But, you are. You were raised Jewish for the most part, you don’t believe in Jesus, why would we have a tree?”

“It’s got nothing to do with that,” she explained, quickly losing her patience. “It’s an American holiday.”

“Look, Carrie. You’re Jewish and I’m Jewish. What the hell are two Jews going to do with a Christmas tree?”

Two weekends ago we had to stop by her parents’ house she could pick up something she left there. Her mother proudly showed me the decorations on their tree and excitedly clicked on all the little lights strewn about the house.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she exclaimed. She opened the front door. “Look at this wreath I made. I made it by hand.”

I smiled, uncomfortably. Ironically, it was Carrie’s Catholic father who saw my discomfort and said, “Some Jewish house, huh?”

Carrie’s mother once told me that when she married her husband she was very excited to have her first Christmas tree. She had been raised in a WASPY Long Island neighborhood and had hated feeling like an outcast. So, she looked forward to finally having a Christmas tree just like everyone else.

I suppose I understand her feelings — Christmas always looked like so much fun when I was a kid. We were inundated with music, TV specials and movies that showed families gathering together around the Christmas tree, tearing open gifts and singing uplifting songs. The plain menorah and a crappy song about a dreidel was no competition.

I tried to explain to Carrie that for most of us assimilated Jews there is something important about growing up without a tree.

We basically fit in with our non-Jewish friends and colleagues, and are careful not to stand out too much as Jews.

But, one time a year it becomes evident that we are different. Our houses are not decorated, we don’t have a Christmas tree and when people wish us a “Merry Christmas” we debate whether or not we should say, “Well, I don’t celebrate Christmas but thank you, anyway.”

“Once we allow ourselves to start appropriating another religion’s traditions in order to fit in with our neighbors, we have compromised who we are,” I told Carrie. “By taking away the wonderful things that separates us from non-Jews, it only damages us.”

Carrie’s mother joined in on my side, telling her daughter that it would be a little silly for us to ever have a Christmas tree in our house.

“I married someone who wasn’t Jewish, so it would be wrong for me to ignore my husband’s traditions,” her mother said. “But you are both Jewish and going to raise Jewish kids. You’re not going to celebrate Christmas. Instead, you can celebrate that other holiday — you know, the one with the candles and the spinning top.”

Carrie looked at me with resolve. “Fine, we won’t have a tree. But, I’m going to my parents’ house on Christmas.”

“Fine with me,” I answered. “If you need me, I’ll be at the movies.”

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer who lives in Los Angeles.


The Ring

My girlfriend wants a ring.

To say that I didn’t see this coming is the understatement of the century. In a way, there is not much to tell:

Los Angeles boy meets Boston girl living in Los Angeles. Though we had some differences — seems the East Coast Ivy-Leaguers up there can even out-liberalize some of the most granola-eating free spirits out West — we agreed on many a film, food and music (a girl who dug Springsteen!). In the first few months I started to sprout hope that this new relationship might even outlast Schwarzenegger’s political career.

But then it happened. Suddenly, I sensed that our current relationship was not enough for her. She hadn’t shown it at first, when my chivalrous romancing seemed to be more than adequate. But that was back in the summer. What changed?

It became fall — though still 80-plus degrees outside my Beverly Hills apartment — and everything I did and said fell miles short. She seemed to want, nay, deeply desire, something more, something bigger. I could sense that this "thing" welling up inside her was not going to fade away of its own accord. Soon I would have to make a serious decision about our future together.

One day, out of the blue, she said it: She wanted a ring. I gasped, I froze; sweat started to drip from every pore. How could she be jumping into things so quickly? I asked myself. We were getting along so well. How could she ruin it with talk of such a commitment? A ring! But this was no ordinary I-want-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-with-you type of ring. Oh no, to her, it was much, much more.

This ring was about baseball.

For many in Los Angeles, baseball has long been a cute, outdated national pastime which, from the moment Magic Johnson first stepped onto the court to be greeted by Jack Nicholson, has given way to our current obsession, basketball — namely, the Lakers. I just blindly assumed that the rest of the country felt the same way. Heck, aside from Shawn Green (his being Jewish makes it a mitzvah to know who he is), I probably couldn’t tell you the names of more than a handful of players in the entire league, and I doubt that many of my native Angeleno friends could either. But it seems that there are still more than a few people — most of whom were raised in the Northeast — who don’t quite see things the same way. And it also seems I am dating one of them.

My girlfriend is many wonderful things — but from Los Angeles she is not. Make no mistake about it: you can take the girl out of Boston but you can’t take the Red Sox fan out of the girl.

And this Red Sox fan wanted a World Series Championship ring. This was not an "OK, let’s go to Tiffany’s" type request she had. This was not something that money could buy. She wanted something I couldn’t provide.

Four hours after the Sox lost to their arch rival, the New York Yankees, I feebly tried to console her — but right away, it seemed, I was DOA.

"How could you even call me on such a night of mourning?" she screamed, pointing out her other 200 friends (all Bostonians living in Los Angeles — who knew there were so many?) would never call at such an hour. "You could never understand what I’m going through," she cried.

Am I really so callous? I really can empathize. I also get upset when my team loses.

Therein lies the rub. She, like other Bostonians, was always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Always the post-season loser and never the World Series champ. The Red Sox haven’t even won one championship since 1918 (a date I have heard so many times it has taken on a mythical-type quality). So how can I even bring up not winning four in a row? The Sox have no "three-peats," so how can I even try to understand?

Her friends did. The following day, the Bostonians had a shiva-like lunch in order to just sit together and stare into their salads, not speaking, about what they repeatedly called "a death in the family."

At that lunch my girlfriend finally figured out that … drum roll please: I am not from Boston. I guess she always knew it, but maybe she just didn’t want to admit it. But with the finality of her "loss" it suddenly hit home.

With that realization came forgiveness. She finally concluded that we from outside of Boston are not the enemy. And that maybe I was being truthful when I told her that I do hate the Yankees as much as someone from Boston. (Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in the ’77 World Series against the Dodgers — what’s not to hate?)

My girlfriend and I have moved ahead in our relationship. We just had to learn that there are many different types of people in this world, and that perhaps we can understand each other better sometimes by admitting that we don’t understand each other at all.

Last week, as my girlfriend and I both rooted against the Yankees in the World Series that suddenly nobody cared about, the one thought that repeated in my mind was — "Thank God I don’t have to deal with this again till next year."

Greg Ross is an actor and musician living in Los Angeles. He can be contacted


After The New Republic’s Gregg Easterbrook wrote in his online column that Jewish executives in Hollywood "worship money above all else," he apologized.

Every group in some way lives up to its stereotypes, and even knows that about itself — otherwise there’d be no specific humor within each tribe or dismay about the tribe within the tribe. Tribes and nations have opposing codes, and smaller groups within bigger nations or cultures will always suffer for the differences. None of us live without summary judgments of other tribes, in the largest sense of that word. The scapegoat mechanism is biological, and a civilized person, knowing this, doesn’t bring his uglier opinions forward, because he knows that our summary judgments belong to the same rough instinct as road rage. We feel it, we control it, and sometimes we slip.

The problem with summary judgment is that for every particle of truth, the scapegoat mechanism uses the lie to protect us from the mirror. This is called projection, or as the founder of Christianity said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye, with never a thought for the great plank in your own?"

As far as I know, Halliburton and the big defense contractors who got the no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq are controlled by Christians, but no one would say of them that Christians are warmongering profiteers bent on destroying America’s middle class to immiserate all but a few million families, who will then refeudalize the world. Or no one would say of Disney that because some of the largest holders of Disney stock, the Bass and Disney families, are Christians, we can say that Christians exploit the Jews’ undeniably fluid understanding of numbers to make the Christians rich and give some Jews the illusion that financial partnership equals social acceptance. Then, when the Jews are no longer needed, like, say, Andrew Fastow at Enron, the Christians hang them, or even, as with Dennis Kozlowski, the old-line WASPs use the crimes of anyone outside of their tribe to obscure their own role in the conspiracy. No one would say of them that Christians worship money, just because of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

So who is guilty for Columbine? Blaming mass culture for destroying society isn’t new. Blaming the Jews for the destructive mass culture is also not new. Read "Mein Kampf." "Scream" and "Kill Bill" were written and directed by Christians. Is Easterbrook saying that Wes Craven and Quentin Tarantino were abducted in the night by Jews, their blood drained for the matzah and replaced with monster-movie Jew juice? Or that Christians, going back to ancient Rome, have an uncontrollable lust for images of blood, which the Jews exploit?

What is unforgivable in this is the phrase "worship money above all else."

Some may think that Easterbrook absolves himself of anti-Semitism with his aside that there are Christian executives who also worship money. But framed as it is, he puts the Jews in first position at the blood-soaked money altar. We started it. When you say the Jews worship money, when you say that Jewish executives worship money above all else, when you say that Jews don’t care about the screams of the innocent, you’re talking like a Nazi.

Easterbrook wrote: "Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice."

Otherwise, what?

Adding to the distress, Leon Wieseltier, his editor at The New Republic wrote, "Insofar as Gregg’s comments impute Jewish motives for everything that Jews do, insofar as they suggest that everything any Jew does is intrinsically a Jewish thing, they are objectively anti-Semitic. But Gregg Easterbrook is not an anti-Semite."

Wieseltier is wrong. Writing without an editor, or cautious self-censorship, Easterbrook wrote what he really thinks: that the Jews control everything, and that the Jews, for their own good, should remember what happened in Germany. There is no support possible for Easterbrook, the damage has been done and the Jews have been hurt. The apology is not accepted.

Author Michael Tolkin is the co-writer of “Changing Lanes,” which has been named the Best Picture of the Year by Catholics In Media. His most recent novel, “Under Radar,” is published by Atlantic Books.

Arab Groups Assail Bush Appointment

Jewish and Arab leaders say President Bush’s appointment of Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes to a federal think tank — despite the objections of Arab groups and some congressional Democrats — offers a window into White House thinking on Middle East issues.

Bush’s Aug. 22 appointment of Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, to the board of directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) comes after Arab American and Muslim groups waged a strong battle against his Senate confirmation. They called Pipes an "Islamaphobe" who made bigoted comments against Arabs and Muslims.

The USIP was founded by Congress in 1984 to create programs and fellowships that foster peace and nonviolent conflict resolution. The organization frequently sponsors lectures in Washington on international conflicts. Its board is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Jewish groups were gearing up to back Pipes in the Senate, saying they rely on his insight and scholarship on militant Islam. In the end, however, no heavy lifting was required. Instead, Bush placed Pipes on the board through a recess appointment, allowing him to serve without confirmation until the end of the congressional term in January 2005.

Jewish leaders say the move shows the White House’s commitment to combating the threat radical Islam poses to the United States and its allies. Pipes had warned of the danger of militant Islam long before Sept. 11 and criticized many scholars in his field who he said had become apologists for Islamic militancy.

Arab leaders, however, say the appointment shows that some White House officials hold the same "right-wing" views on Middle East issues as Pipes. Specifically, they point to Elliott Abrams, a senior official on Middle East affairs at the National Security Council, who they say has a track record of public comments that put his positions in line with those of Pipes.

Pipes was nominated for the post in April, but his confirmation was postponed last month by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee after several lawmakers, including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), voiced opposition to it.

"It certainly reached a level of attention and publicity that surprised me," Pipes said. Major newspaper editorials came out for and against the nominee. Pipes said he was told the White House decided to use a recess appointment, because of its eagerness to fill the institute’s board, not because of concerns over his ultimate confirmation.

Pipes said Kennedy and others misunderstood the writing and work he has done for more than 25 years, at times taking his comments out of context and at other times distorting them.

Arab groups claimed Pipes had said that Muslims do not follow proper hygiene, but Pipes said he was simply describing the way Europeans look at Muslims. Also, he said many of the comments he has made about radical Islam often are mistaken as accusations against the Muslim religion in general.

"I’m making a fairly complex and novel argument about the differences between religious Islam and radical Islam," he said. "It’s an important argument that needs to be made."

Pipes said he will expand on his rationale for the objections to his nomination in a column for the New York Post.

Hussein Ibish, communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Pipes is prevaricating when he says that he is trying to distinguish between Islam per se and terrorist actions linked to militant Islam.

"He defaults to putting everyone in an Islamist militant category," Ibish said. "You have to basically agree with his pro-Likud stance to not be considered a militant Muslim."

Several Jewish groups quickly praised Pipes’ nomination, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The Anti-Defamation League said Pipes had an "important approach and perspective to the challenges facing the U.S. in the post-9/11 world."

The nomination of Pipes, a frequent lecturer to Jewish audiences, was being watched in the American Jewish community. Jewish officials said they would have backed Pipes vocally if a fight over his nomination had erupted on the Senate floor.

Instead, the community decided to stay silent in order not to derail a process that was moving in Pipes’ favor. Meanwhile, many Arab leaders voiced their opposition.

When word of Pipes’ impending recess appointment became public, nearly a dozen Muslim and interfaith groups spoke out against him and led a phone campaign to the White House against the appointment.

Ibish said Arab and Muslim groups consider the fact that Pipes’ nomination required a "backdoor" appointment a victory for their cause. "It’s an important political statement that the White House had to do it this way," he said.

Pipes said his writings have been more closely scrutinized in the past five months and that he has learned to be more cautious.

"I’ve learned to be careful to make sure things I say cannot be taken out of context," he said. "It is the lesson of increased attention that I hope I have profited from."

Shut Up, I Love You!

What is it about the mitzvah of loving our fellow Jew thatis so complicated?

This question was on my mind recently when I witnessed anextraordinary event. A group of Sephardic, Chasidic, Reform, Orthodox,Conservative, Reconstructionist, unaffiliated, atheist, right- and left-wingJews were gathered at a private dinner  — and no one had to call security. Weall sat at a large table, and shared our thoughts with each other. What struckme was how intently everyone listened. There was a holy glow to the evening, asense that something special was unfolding.

So I thought: Wow, that was a piece of cake. What happenedthat created this little miracle of Jewish unity? How could we bottle it so wedon’t have to wait for private dinners to bring out, in the words of AbrahamLincoln, the “better angels of our nature”? And then I mused: If I was a rabbi(scary thought), what kind of sermon would I give to describe the specialmindset that promotes true ahavat Yisrael (love of the Jewish people)?

So here, my friends, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, is alayman’s sermon and contribution to this mysterious subject of ahavat Yisrael:

Good Shabbos, and to our Sephardic friends, Shabbat shalom.

Today, I want to challenge you to see love in a differentway. For years now, you have heard about the importance of ahavat Yisrael. Butnow I will stick my neck out and tell you how I think we can live out thisgreat mitzvah of love: We should stop giving to each other and start takingfrom each other.

Let me explain. It’s easy to love in the abstract, when yourlove is never tested. It’s easy to say “I love every Jew” when you are doingall the talking (shut up, I love you!). It’s easy because you’re the one incontrol.

But easy is not the Jewish way, and ahavat Yisrael iscertainly not easy. You see, life gives us a choice. We can spend the rest ofour days with people we always agree with, people who laugh and live and thinkthe way we do. In this cubicle of isolation, we feel safe and comfortable. That’seasy love.

Our other choice is to jump the walls and engage the world.While staying true to our own beliefs and traditions, we can meet Jews we’renot used to meeting, sing songs we’re not used to singing, hear views we’re notused to hearing. In other words, we can take from our fellow Jew, even if itmakes us uncomfortable. That’s hard love, and it’s the true test of ahavatYisrael. Easy love keeps us apart, but hard love bonds us.

Feeling sorry for another Jew because he or she does nothave your truth is easy love (even if your truth is that there is only onetruth). Trying to save that person is easy love. Loving a million people fromafar is easy love. Hard love is when you recognize that your fellow Jews arealso created in God’s image, and you honor them by letting them give yousomething. Like Heschel said, the greatest need we have is to feel needed.

When you take from a fellow Jew (and I don’t mean money) youallow the person to give a part of himself, and that is the greatest gift. Byshowing genuine interest, you create a vessel for his giving to enter yourheart. You’re telling that person: “You’re worth a lot to me — I need you. I’msecure inside, so your differences don’t threaten me; they interest me. Show meyour mitzvahs; sing me your songs. I’m not tolerating, I am engaging. If wedisagree, we’ll do so with dignity, but we’ll never stop seeing each other.You’re family, and I am more than my ideology. I’m also curious, so tell memore. You’re enriching me.”

And guess what? Something miraculous happens at that moment:that person who you’re listening to and taking from, well, they’re now morelikely to listen to you and take from you. To take your views, your songs, yourmitzvahs. That is the climax of ahavat Yisrael: when the desire to receivebecomes our strongest link; when we stop competing with each other and startcompleting each other; when we open our eyes and realize that we each own apiece of the truth, and together we own the whole truth.

After 2,000 years of living apart, we are now face to face,Jews of all stripes and colors in virtually the same neighborhoods. If we cantake little steps and walk from the same neighborhood to the same table, andshare what we’ve learned and accumulated over those 2,000 years, we can transformthis moment in history into the ultimate family reunion. Yes, it’s a utopianvision, but so was the dream of returning to Israel, and God knows we rose tothat challenge.

So my friends, I’m inviting you this Shabbat to begin ourfamily reunion by taking from your fellow Jew. Instead of, “I’ll give to youso you can see what you’ve been missing,” let’s try, “I’ll take from you so Ican see what I’ve been missing.”

The path to true love is not through change, but throughexchange. And if this means that you’ll occasionally be taking from anothershul or another rabbi, you should know that I’ll be doing the same.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Somebody Stop Me

I’ve been spending so much time and energy dating that it
sometimes feels like an addiction. Or at least another career. If only it paid. And didn’t involve so much time at Starbucks.
And didn’t require at the end of each meeting having to come up with a polite
way to say, “It’s perfectly okay with me if we never see each other again for
the rest of our lives; in fact, I’d prefer it.”

Which usually emerges from my careful-to-be-tactful mouth in
this fashion: “Very nice meeting you.”

In the first three years following my divorce, I went on 150
coffee dates. And by “coffee dates” I’m using the standard Merriam-Webster
dictionary definition: “first-time meetings, usually ending in disappointment.”
And I’m an optimist, mind you.

Now, I realize that 150 coffee dates sounds like a lot, but
spread out over three years, it’s just one a week. Of course, depending on the
person, 15 minutes with the wrong woman for the first time can seem like a
whole week. But I learned something very important from those 150 coffee dates:
If I’d saved all the money I spent on them, I could have afforded a Hyundai.
(Granted, four of the dates resulted in relationships, but the other 146 of
them only resulted in a thorough knowledge of the differences between lattes,
frappucinos and caramel macchiatos.)

Sometimes I think this dating odyssey is God’s way of
getting back at me for never having taken chemistry in school. He’s making it
virtually impossible for me to find chemistry with my beshert. Is mutual
worship and adoration too much to ask for? Of course not. You can ask for it
all you want. Getting it is another story.

It’s the same old story: Either they’re not attracted to me
or I’m not attracted to them. Sometimes they show up without a sense of humor,
without a sense of playfulness, without even the realization that someone else
is sitting across the table from them. One woman talked to me about herself for
a full hour without asking me one question about myself. Astounding. But if I
want self-absorbed, I’ll date actresses exclusively.

I admit that I do like the variety. I’ve gone out with a
judge, a cantor, a masseuse, a teacher, a network executive, a nurse, a college
student, a speech therapist, a doctor, an actress, a psychologist, a lawyer,
even a forest ranger. I’ve had a first date in an art museum that featured
life-sized, naked, anatomically correct male and female mannequins.

At a recent brunch, a woman immediately removed a digital
scale from her pocketbook and proceeded to weigh each item of food that was
served. Another date took me to the Holocaust-themed film “The Pianist”; but my
efforts to salvage the mood (“We Jews really have to stick together — wanna
come home with me?”) came to no avail. At one Starbucks, I waited an extra half
hour for my date to arrive, missing the fact that she was already seated a few
tables away — she looked so different from the photo that went with her profile
that I could not believe she was the same person. Still to this day I am
convinced she was my date’s mother.

And even though I’ve done my share of rejecting, I’ve also
experienced my share of being rejected. At first, I took it personally. Now I
consider it part of the process. Often, women can’t bring themselves to say,
“Sorry, not interested” to my face, so they’ll lie.

Once, I asked a date, “Can we go out again?”

She cheerfully responded, “Call me!” I never heard back from
her. Now when I hear a cheerful “Call me!” I realize it’s the kiss of death,
not unlike that given by Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.”

My favorite kiss-off, though, happened recently. When I
brought up the subject of a third date, I actually heard these words come from
her lips: “I’m going to be really busy in January.” Wouldn’t a quick slap
across my face have made the point more directly?

So why do I put myself through all this pain, aggravation,
expense and time over and over and over and over again? Am I masochistic? Or am
I a serial dater so addicted to the process that I consciously or
subconsciously never intend to settle down with one of them?

I don’t think so.

I go through it all because I’ve experienced the thrill of a
relationship when it works. In fact, I’ve been lucky enough to have had more
than one relationship in which both people worship and adore one another. I
think these kinds of relationships are rare — at least for me. But when they do
happen, it’s special, exciting, stimulating, life-enhancing. It’s magic. And I
know she’s out there somewhere, perhaps even looking for me.

All I ask is that at the end of our first date, she doesn’t
look me in the eyes, smile warmly, and cheerfully say, “Call me!” Â

Mark Miller is a former stand-up comic and current marketing manager at KCET. He’s also a comedy writer, who has written and produced TV sitcoms, sold feature film comedies to Warner Bros. and been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and other publications.

Spicy ‘Shores’ of the Mediterranean

Celebrated cookbook author and chef Joyce Goldstein can trace her bloodline to a Russian shtetl, but her heart and soul lie in the Mediterranean.

In "Cucina Ebraica" (Chronicle Books, 1998) and "Sephardic Flavors" (Chronicle Books, 2000) she explored Italian Jewish and Spanish Jewish cuisine, and now, to round out the trilogy, in "Saffron Shores" (Chronicle Books, $35) she continues her Mediterranean culinary journey with the exotic cuisine of the Maghreb: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, even including related Judeo-Arabic countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

"I have been cooking this food for I cannot tell you how many years," said the former chef/owner of the renowned Mediterranean restaurant Square One in San Francisco. "When I was doing research for ‘Sephardic Flavors,’ I realized the subject was so huge I couldn’t do it all in one book, so I covered the northern Mediterranean in ‘Sephardic Flavors’ and the southern Mediterranean in ‘Saffron Shores.’ Here the style of cooking changes with a lot more spices and herbs and additional uses of fruit, but, of course, there is some overlap."

Notable for its absence is Israeli cuisine. "I left it out because it’s a hodgepodge," she explains. "The last time I was in Israel I was served sashimi and Thai-flavored something or other, and I thought, sorry, I didn’t come here for that. Israeli cuisine is a melting pot, a lot like America. Whoever is there is cooking Romanian food, Italian food, Yemenite food. Is there Israeli cuisine? I think it’s fusion, so I didn’t give it much attention. It’s not pure. I’d rather go back to the sources."

Indeed, each recipe reflects Goldstein’s impeccable research and attention to detail, and regional differences are carefully noted. For example, for the Cumin Flavored Meatballs, Goldstein offers Moroccan and Syrian variations. But she never sacrifices flavor for authenticity, adding a touch of orange to the sfenj (Moroccan Chanukah donuts), for example, and adjusting the spices in various dishes.

"The spices of North Africa are really vibrant, just incredible, so much fresher and more intense than those we can buy here," she said. "To make these recipes taste right, I often had to double them."

More than just a recipe collection, "Saffron Shores" traces the history of Jewish life in these exotic lands and its impact on the cuisine. We learn that unlike the Ashkenazim, who preserved their Judaism by isolating themselves, the Sephardim were more involved in the communities in which they lived. "They shared recipes and culinary traditions with their non-Jewish neighbors," she writes. "Their food reflected the cuisine of their homeland but adapted to follow the kosher laws."

Because the Sephardim were more active in the community, in trades and in business, there was a greater exchange of ideas between Jews and Muslims, and the similarity in recipes between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors is striking, she notes.

"On the other hand, certain [Eastern European] dishes, when you think of them, you know they are Jewish. I have many Russian cookbooks, but I don’t see too many recipes in there for brisket or tzimmes. There’s not as much overlap between the Jewish and non-Jewish dishes. Some of the ingredients are the same, like cabbage and potatoes, but the recipes don’t track the same way that the Sephardic ones do."

A tireless researcher, Goldstein combed cookbooks from the area, written in French, to capture the authentic tastes and aromatic flavors of such dishes as Iraqi Chicken and Chickpea Pastries, Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Honey and Moroccan Chicken and Almond Pie. The latter, known as B’Stilla, Goldstein calls "a masterpiece of Moroccan cuisine."

And while most of the recipes are easy to prepare, favoring the use of fresh, local ingredients over the labor-intensive method, the savory pastries that Goldstein calls "labors of love" are worth the extra effort, she said. Teams of women would prepare them together for special occasions, a tradition that is sadly dying out. Goldstein suggests families create their own traditions by preparing these bistels, briks or buraks together. "Anything that is fried is appropriate for Chanukah. The Tunisian briks are rounder in shape and contain egg, as compared to the bistels from Morocco and buraks from Algeria," she explains, "but they all can be fried."

For those who can’t think of Chanukah without potatoes, there are potato filled briks from Tunisia. But Goldstein offers a variety of fillings for these pastries, from beef or lamb to feta cheese to chicken with chickpea to spinach with pine nuts. Depending on the region, the dough may be phyllo, yeast raised, short crust or semolina, and the pastries may be baked as well as fried.

These spice-infused pastries make an alluring addition to any Chanukah table. And for Ashkenazic Jews, what an exotic change from latkes.

>Cumin Flavored Meatballs With Onion Jam and Spicy Tomato Sauce

1 pound ground beef

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1¼4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

11¼2 teaspoons salt

1¼2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Light a fire in a charcoal grill. (You may also use a skillet heated over medium-high heat.)

2. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well, form into 16 oval meatballs wrapped around skewers, or into eight oval patties.

3. Grill or cook in oil on a hot pan until browned on all sides.

4. Serve with onion jam and tomato sauce.

Serves four.

Moroccan Chanukah Doughnut

2 envelopes active dry yeast

1¼4 cup sugar

1¼2 cup warm water

4 cups all-purpose flour

1¼2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten (optional)

grated zest of 1 orange

1¼4 cup canola oil, melted margarine,

or melted unsalted butter (optional)

11¼2 to 2 cups warm water or part

water, part orange juice

Peanut or canola oil for deep frying

Granulated sugar for sprinkling or warm honey for dipping (optional)

1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water. Let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.

2. Pour into a large bowl and gradually stir in the flour and salt.

3. Stir in the eggs, zest, and 1¼4 cup oil, margarine or butter, if using.

4. Stir in just enough water or water and juice to make a soft and elastic dough.

5. Knead well, with a dough hook or by hand, on a lightly floured surface, until the dough is elastic, smooth and shiny.

6. Roll the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl and turn to coat.

7. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled (11¼2 to 2 hours).

8. Oil your hands. Divide the dough into 20 balls about 2 inches in diameter.

9. In a deep saucepan or wok, heat 3 inches of oil to 365 F.

10. Take a ball of dough, make a hole in the center, and pull it out to make a doughnut shape. Deep fry a few at a time until the donuts are puffed and golden.

11. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer to paper towels to drain.

12. While still hot, sprinkle with granulated sugar or dip in warm honey. Serve warm.

Makes about 20 donuts.

Judy Bart Kancigor, the author of “Melting Pot Memories” (Jan Bart
Publications, $19.95), can be found on the Web at

Cape Town Clash

A controversial conversion has reignited a dispute over Orthodox Jewish standards between South Africa’s Orthodox establishment and one of the largest Orthodox congregations in the Southern Hemisphere.

Attempts to paper over the cracks between the beit din, or the Jewish law court, the Union of Orthodox Synagogues and Cape Town’s Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation had been made in August. At that time, Sea Point members, who had been considering pulling out of the union to set up their own rabbinical court, decided instead to give the parties six months to work things out.

However, the issue has erupted again as the result of an article in the latest issue of Noseweek, a South African publication known for investigative journalism. The article focuses on the validity of the conversion that Karin Berman underwent before her marriage to construction magnate Saul Berman, a prominent Sea Point member.

Karin Berman was married to the late Christiaan Barnard, who performed the world’s first heart transplant in 1967.

Members of the beit din reportedly told Karin Berman that they do not recognize her conversion or marriage and said the child she is expecting will not be recognized as Jewish. The credentials of the Paris rabbi who converted Berman were withdrawn 20 years ago, when he was discredited for having certified conversions for a fee, Noseweek reported.

However, Sea Point’s U.S.-born rabbi, Elihu Jacob Steinhorn, insisted that the conversion was valid. Noseweek reported further that the rabbi who married the Bermans in Rome said that he had accepted everything as kosher, based on an introduction from Steinhorn. Steinhorn denied the rabbi’s statement.

The conversion squabble, however, masks deeper issues that have been dividing the South African Orthodox world for some time. Steinhorn told Noseweek that the conversion was "the least of the issues" involved in the dispute.

The heart of the dispute centers on whether Sea Point must observe the standards of halacha demanded by the country’s chief rabbinate in Johannesburg, or whether it can adopt looser standards.

"The fact of the matter is that in the Orthodox world today outside of South Africa, which is very provincial, very closed and very British, there’s a whole world called modern Orthodoxy," Steinhorn said.

"We in Sea Point are its only representative in South Africa," he continued. Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris "can say what he likes, but he does not represent modern Orthodoxy."

Steinhorn disputed claims that the fervently Orthodox community was growing stronger in South Africa, dismissing them as "public relations." The fervently Orthodox, he said, are "disenfranchising most of Judaism."

The Noseweek article mentioned that Harris objected to an invitation that Sea Point extended to Tzili Reisenberger, an Israeli-born theologian at the University of Cape Town, to address the congregation.

"We see nothing wrong with inviting a professor who teaches Bible at the university to come and give a shiur [lesson]. That’s part of modern Orthodoxy," Steinhorn said.

A statement attributed to Harris in Noseweek, charging that Reisenberger officiated at same-sex marriages, was "baldly untrue," said Clive Rabinowitz, Sea Point vice president. Harris later apologized to Reisenberger and retracted the accusation, admitting that his statement had been incorrect and defamatory.

But Harris described as "patent nonsense" the notion that the beit din was being "unnecessarily harsh" and using the controversial conversion to "coerce" Sea Point into stricter observance. At issue, he said, is the fact that "there’s a lot of cheating going on here," with Sea Point congregants defining for themselves what modern and centrist Orthodoxy are.

"Modern or centrist Orthodoxy is observant," Harris said. "The only differences between it and ultra-Orthodoxy lie in attitudes to non-Jewish people and attitudes to general scholarship. They are not differences about the observance of Torah, and this is where both Steinhorn" and a prominent congregant, Judge Dennis Davis, "have got it wrong."

In that sense, Harris continued, Sea Point "is cheating by putting their own definition on modern Orthodoxy."

Harris described as nonsense the article’s assertion that Sea Point was "the last outpost of ‘liberal Orthodoxy,’" resisting "the flood of ‘fundamentalist pietude’ washing south from Johannesburg."

"They are defining Orthodoxy in their own way, and no one else in the Orthodox world will accept it," Harris said.

Rabinowitz, who proposed the resolution to disaffiliate from the union in August, said the public spat was "extremely unfortunate."

Negotiations between Sea Point and the union are "limping along," said Rabinowitz, who predicted that the talks "may yet lead to a resolution of the problems."

Steinhorn said he was not optimistic that things would be resolved between the beit din, the union and Sea Point. "We want unity," Steinhorn stressed, "but I don’t think they can live with modern Orthodoxy," he said.

Take It to the Church

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

For Blake, the match is a natural one.

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

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

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

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

Blake is looking forward to the Chanukah program.

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

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