Malibu Shul Begins Building — Finally

Construction crews broke ground at the site of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (MJCS) last week — two and a half years after the congregation held a gala groundbreaking celebration for the new $10 million building.

"Building in Malibu is legendary — it’s very difficult to get through the regulatory process. Thank God, we’ve made it through all of that," said George Greenberg, congregation president.

It took about seven years for the 225-family congregation to work through the red tape that binds any building project in Malibu, from city permits to the daunting state Coastal Commission. With permits finally in hand and $7.5 million raised, construction trucks moved onto the 5-acre site on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), about a mile up the coast from Pepperdine University.

The new building, a sweep of steel and glass that is deliberately ambiguous about where the outside ends and inside begins, will be the first major synagogue erected in Malibu. Chabad has a small congregation nearby, also on PCH, and the nearest shuls are in Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica.

"Malibu is an interesting place because people come here to get away — they come here specifically not to join, to be secluded with nature," Greenberg said.

Set into a lush hillside on PCH where lizards and dragonflies crisscross dirt paths, the Reconstructionist MJCS has eschewed the conventional routines of some communities, offering alternative portals to participating in services or classes. Rabbi Judith HaLevy relishes in programs such as Shabbat on the Beach — a hallmark of summer here — and she has set up a regular rotation on Friday nights of healing services, family services and small Kabbalat Shabbat services in people’s homes.

Until now, the physical space has worked well with the ad hoc aura. The "temporary" cluster of prefabricated units put up 10 years ago on the northern end of the site still serve as the way-too-cozy administrative offices, the preschool, the religious school and the main sanctuary — which also serves as a preschool room and a kitchen — and where bar and bat mitzvah’s require setting up tents outside the sliding doors on either side of the ark.

For the High Holidays, 1,200 congregants will worship in a tent set up in a dusty athletic field in the shadow of the mountainside, where if you sit in the right spot you can see over the trees lining PCH and catch a glimpse of the ocean.

HaLevy and Greenberg have worked with architects to maintain both the closeness with nature and the intimacy with each other in the new building.

The new campus will house the preschool and offices in the old prefab units. The centerpiece of the new 20,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor complex is the nearly all-glass main sanctuary, which opens up in back to two roofed patios covered on three sides. On the other side of the bimah and ark, glass doors open up to an outdoor amphitheater. The entire building is surrounded by lushly landscaped concourses. Catered events can also be held in the space, and the new kitchen will be under kosher supervision.

The natural beauty of the site is one of its biggest assets, and also turned out to be a major obstacle toward developing the property. The parcel of land, acquired from NBC 10 years ago, is a long, narrow lot, and about 40 percent of it turned out to be designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, rendering that part of the land ineligible for any development. (NBC agreed to forgive almost $800,000 of the remaining mortgage when the condition of the land became known.)

The entire property has to be regraded, sound barriers to PCH will be built and the shul will have its own waste water treatment facility.

While the delays were a headache for the congregation, Greenberg acknowledges the extra time was also necessary for more fundraising. Malibu Beach’s image as playground of the rich and famous holds true for a small percentage of the congregation, but most members are from plain old Malibu — just regular professionals, says Greenberg, attracted to Malibu’s small-town feel.

As one of the only shuls for miles, MJCS attracts a wide range of members, from the very traditional to the barely affiliated. It tries to be inclusive of the many intermarried families, while not lowering the bar of what is expected from both kids and adults.

Greenberg and HaLevy both realize that putting up a major edifice will challenge the warm and intimate character they have worked hard to nurture.

HaLevy looks to innovative programs like Shabbat on the Beach, where the candles flutter in the wind and the dolphins come for a weekly dose of spirituality, to keep congregants tied to the community.

"The direct spiritual experience is very difficult to provide, but my saying ‘let’s be quiet for a three minutes and listen to the waves before we say the Shema’ might be enough for you to find a place in your soul that is very hard to find," HaLevy said. "Hopefully the space we are building will have that kind of a feel."

For the Kids

We Love to Laugh

Jews have always used humor to get themselves through difficult times. And you better believe that Jews have had difficult times! Maybe our humor is what has kept us alive as a people for more than 5,500 years. Certainly, our humor has been used to teach the world a great deal about humanity.

Jammin’ Jokes

Some of our very own Jewish comedians have this to say:
Q: What do you get when you squeeze
a synagogue?

A: Fresh Jews!

Sent in by Raquel Rosen, 12,
Beverly Hills

Where Are High EI Guys?

Dating is not brain surgery, but for some men it is more difficult. I think I’ve discovered why. The current thinking on intelligence is that people have several types of intelligence, which may not be equally developed.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman coined the phrase “emotional intelligence” or EI. He defined EI as “knowing one’s emotions, managing emotions, motivating oneself, recognizing emotions in others and handling relationships.” Goleman and others have found that EI has little correlation with IQ. They are on to something.

Arnie, a Jewish doctor, and not an “ordinary” one — rather a professor of neurosurgery, tumor specialist and brain surgeon (I am not making this up) — contacted me through Advanced Degrees Singles. Oh, he also is a pilot and owns a plane. My grandmother would be kvelling. But after speaking with him, I do not share her enthusiasm.

Among all the men I have spoken to on the telephone or dated, Arnie has the lowest EI. Like all Internet daters, we exchanged the perfunctory pleasantries by e-mail and then exchanged telephone numbers. After a round of telephone tag, he found me at home. Immediately following the “How are you’s?” he suggested that we meet for dinner.

Gosh, doesn’t he believe in foretalk?

I explained nicely that I would feel more comfortable if we spent a little time getting to know each other. He then told me that he is not a “telephone person” and that, having recently arrived from London, where he held a number of prestigious positions, he had only a cell phone and it would cost him 65 cents a minute to talk to me. Last I checked, neurosurgeons were fairly well paid.

There’s more: Besides my wanting some foretalk, I also was up against a project deadline, which I explained to Dr. Doctor.

In response, he said, “I am sure that you can spare a half hour to meet me at the marketplace for coffee.”

I thought, well maybe I can; the marketplace is only a mile from me. But then it occurred to me that he was talking about the marketplace close to him, which is nearly a half-hour from me.

Math was one of my best subjects, so I figured this out: 30 minutes to drive there + 30 minutes for coffee + 30 minutes to drive home. That equals an hour and a half. Of course, he couldn’t know this. He didn’t bother to even ask where I live.

So, I said to him nicely (I’m not sure why I was so nice), “I would rather meet you when I can give you my full attention and not have my mind on my work or my eye on the clock.”

There’s even more, but I think we have enough here to score Arnie’s EI. Here’s how it works. EI is scored similarly to IQ, with 100 as the norm. Every 15 points represents a standard deviation above or below the mean. Two standard deviations above the mean (130) is “emotionally gifted” or “socially sensitive” and two standard deviations below the mean (70) is “severely socially challenged.” For EI, everyone starts with 100. You can earn 7.5 points for each socially sensitive statement and lose 7.5 points for each faux pas or socially insensitive statement.

Let’s do the math: 100 — (4 x 7.5) = 70 or “severely socially challenged.”

The next day, I opened my e-mail to find Dr. Doctor’s CV. He wrote, “Hi, here is a little overkill on meeting me. Maybe it will save some time.”

Well, I’m no physicist, but I do know that Einstein believed that time is relative. Relatively speaking, I’ve wasted enough time but, in the process, I have done research on Goleman’s concept of EI. My findings indicate that, among some highly intelligent men, IQ and EI have an inverse correlation: as IQ goes up, EI goes down. It’s another form of “Women Are From Venus” and “(Some) Men Are From the Dark Side of the Moon.”

Sharon Lynn Bear is a researcher, writer and editor living in Irvine. She can be contacted at

Don’t Hate Me ‘Cuz I’m Happy

If you’re anything like me — and for the love of God, I hope you’re not –you’ve found dating in Los Angeles to be nonstop inferno of disappointment, frustration, anguish, horror, tedium and depression.

And those are the dates that work out fairly well. It’s not hard to understand why some battle-scarred veterans of the singles scene have completely sworn off dating, substituting other, nondating activities in life, whatever those could possibly be. I understand jogging may be one of them.

And then there are the gluttons for dating punishment, such as, say, oh … myself, who trudge on through the singles scene, doing it all, experiencing it all, meeting them all, confident that Ms. Right is just around the corner. Apparently, I’ve been turning the wrong corners. Had I applied the time, energy and effort I’ve put into dating to any other career, I’d now be CEO of a major corporation and wouldn’t have time for a relationship. I understand that Bill Gates’ wife sees him just two and a half times a year. I’m guessing his being a billionaire eases some of her loneliness.

But sometimes you can win. Sometimes it all pays off. The cherries line up across the slot machine windows. The ship comes in. The race car crosses the finish line. There is a God. Ms. Right is, in fact, just around the corner. How else do I explain Lauri, whom I met at the Broadway Deli in Santa Monica, just over three months ago, via an online singles site? How do I even describe her without gushing? How do I talk about how perfect we are for each other without making you jealous, nauseated and anxious to kill me? Hey, get a hold of yourself — you really have issues.

The thing is, guys know within the first few minutes of meeting a date that there’s no future here. And then the rest of the evening is just treading water until you climb out of the pool, spitting chlorinated dating water from your mouth. But it can work the other way around, too, when you know that the person has all the right stuff. In the first half hour of meeting Lauri, I mentally checked off the categories: intelligence, looks, personality, sense of humor, energy, enthusiasm, optimism, creativity, love of intimacy and, the all-important one, interest in and attraction to me. Thumbs up on all counts. I was stunned, because this doesn’t happen often. This doesn’t happen at all. This clearly was the Halley’s Comet of coffee dates and I hope it lasts, otherwise my next good prospect isn’t due for another 76 years.

And because this kind of relationship is so rare, Lauri and I are both taking full advantage. We simply don’t care how many frustrated singles we’re nauseating with our mushy phone calls, e-mails, flowers, gifts and public displays of affection. We just can’t help it. The sun is shining brighter, foods are tasting better and the lyrics to love songs make perfect sense. Romeo and Juliet? Amateurs!

So please don’t hate me because I’m deliriously happy. After all, just because I’m walking on air each day doesn’t mean that this new relationship doesn’t bring with it another whole host of potential mine fields: How long will it last? Will I be able to not disappoint her? Will there be growth? Will our equal passion for one another remain equal? Will we stay healthy? Will we stay true to one another?

When the “honeymoon period” ends, will we still be able to give one another what the other needs and desires? Will we keep things fresh? Dear Lord, this relationship thing just never ends! I’m going jogging.

Mark Miller is a comedy writer who has written for TV, movies and many
celebrities, been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate,
contributed to numerous national publications and produced a weekly comedic
relationships feature for America Online. He can be reached at

Koala Makes Aliyah

Ben-Gurion Airport welcomed a new Israeli, and a rather furry one at that.

Didgee, a koala, made aliyah from Melbourne, Australia, but he won’t be the only Aussie in his new home. Cindy and Mindy, two cute koala girls who made aliyah from the Melbourne Zoo in February, already have been resettled in the park.

Upon his arrival, Israeli authorities put Didgee in quarantine for six weeks. When his isolation ends, he will meet his prospective mates, and they can kick back in the Beit Shean valley and talk about the old days in Sydney and Melbourne.

It’s estimated that Didgee has been photographed more than 10,000 times by enthusiastic tourists in Australia. He will have some time to rest and recuperate from his trip before delighting the 80,000 annual visitors to Gan Garoo, a four-acre park fully recognized by the Australian Wildlife Authority. Gan Garoo is a little slice of Australia in the middle of Israel, which even has a plaque in memory of the Australian athletes who lost their lives when a bridge collapsed during the opening ceremony of the 1997 Maccabiah Games, said Gan Garoo administrator Yehuda Gat, who started the park.

Australia does not export many koalas and they need special care, said Chandi De Alwis, Melbourne Zoo’s native mammal expert.

"However, they have bred very successfully overseas and I hope Gan Garoo will be home to many generations," De Alwis said. "They are delightful animals, loved by park visitors. In these difficult times, I hope they will bring some joy to the troubled Israelis."

Koalas are not really bears but rather marsupials, like kangaroos. They are born after 34 days gestation, and live in their mother’s pouches until they are almost 6 months old.

However, Didgee will be a little confused: In Australia it’s spring, the koalas’ mating season, but it’s autumn in Israel.

"They will adjust and when spring comes round, Cindy and Mindy should have no worries, mate," De Alwis said.

Didgee is looking forward to the day he can leave the quarantine cage to snuggle up with his two Sheilas in the shade of a eucalyptus tree, and learn to say "Shalom" as well as "G’day."

Invest in Your Community

It has been one year since a financial crisis engulfed the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA). In response to this crisis, JCCGLA was forced to close facilities, cut services and lay off scores of staff. Programs that served more than 1,000 people were discontinued. It was a very difficult year — but we survived.

In a city that is divided by geography, class, denomination and national origin, every Jewish institution questions its mission. In a time when assimilation, the economy and security issues consume us, every Jewish institution questions its relevance. Surviving the crisis helped JCCGLA appreciate the central role it plays in addressing critical issues affecting the L.A. Jewish community.

As highlighted by the recent National Jewish Population Survey, American Jews are profoundly concerned by evidence that our Jewish community is fractured and in decline. Whether the discussion focuses on the survival of Israel, interfaith marriage, our aging population or divisions among the denominations, people are searching for meaningful connections with others. In Los Angeles, this dialogue takes place in a region that is physically vast — compounding the difficulty of creating a sense of community.

JCCs address many issues raised by this dialogue. We provide Jewish continuity and cohesion. We are open to the entire Jewish community — Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, unaffiliated, intermarried or agnostic, fifth-generation American or recent immigrant. We offer programs for young children, teenagers, families, single adults and seniors. The range of programs is impressive: from the Celebrity Sunday Staged Play series and Israeli dancing to basketball leagues and the Zimmer Children’s Museum. JCCs are gathering points for the entire community.

According to the 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey, 41 percent of L.A. Jews who married during the previous five years married non-Jews. Some 66 percent of Jewish households in Los Angeles are not affiliated with a synagogue. JCCs serve as the bridge to Judaism for a significant portion of the L.A. Jewish population. In many instances, the programs run by JCCs are the single most important link to these at-risk Jews.

I often joke that my family is the poster family for the role JCCs play in Jewish life. I was not raised in a religious household. We were cultural Jews, unaffiliated with a temple but unquestioning in our knowledge that we were Jewish. I met, fell in love with and married a wonderful woman from Maine — no, she isn’t Jewish. We established our home in Los Angeles, far from family and tradition.

When our daughter reached preschool age, I hesitated to suggest the Westside JCC — although it was only six blocks from our home and operated a well-regarded preschool. I didn’t want to impose my religious background on our interfaith family. My wife recommended that we visit the school and when we saw the happy children, the decision to attend was simple and obvious.

Westside JCC was welcoming and supportive. The Shabbat dinners, holiday festivals and Judaic curriculum, educated and enriched our family and provided a warm sense of community. Summer day camp at Camp Chai followed preschool. We established lifelong friendships. I became involved in center leadership.

Today, our family often lights candles to celebrate Shabbat. We attend High Holiday services at a local temple and my daughter looks forward to attending her religious class on Sundays. I have no doubt that Westside JCC made all this possible.

This past year confirmed that Los Angeles’ JCCs were taken for granted for too long. Years of neglecting the aging facilities and the failure to address long-term financial stability took their toll. The facilities must be renovated, highly trained staff professionals must be hired, programs of excellence must be reestablished and expanded.

The challenges ahead are significant. These goals will be accomplished only if the community financially supports the renewal of the L.A. JCC movement. The issue of funding this renewal in Los Angeles is sensitive. Los Angeles is home to more than 500,000 Jews. Despite these resources, The Jewish Federation’s annual campaign is disproportionately smaller than campaigns of cities with significantly fewer Jews (i.e., Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Cleveland). Clearly L.A. Jewish organizations must do a better job of engaging the community.

The financial investment is worth it. A visit to the thriving new JCCs on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, La Jolla or Scottsdale, Ariz., confirm that state-of-the-art facilities with sufficient programming staff are central hubs of Jewish life.

Westside JCC has raised more than $5 million for its capital campaign to renovate its aging campus. The capital campaign’s goal is $14 million. While we are well on our way, moments of opportunity are fleeting and must be seized. After Westside JCC is rebuilt, other JCCs in Los Angeles must renovate their facilities. State-of-the-art buildings must open to serve new communities.

If the L.A. JCC movement is to succeed, the L.A. Jewish community must recognize the important mission played by JCCs and support this renewal with significant investments. Failure to recognize and support this mission is an opportunity lost to build a stronger more cohesive L.A. Jewish community.

Michael J. Kaminsky is president of the Westside Jewish Community Center advisory board and a member of the board of directors of Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles.

Helpers Harm

It’s one of the oddities of world affairs that the worse things get in the Middle East, the more various countries, international bodies and individuals want a piece of the diplomatic action. The region could use some help, but sadly, recent offers by a number of hopeful mediators are likely only to confuse matters and make U.S. diplomacy more difficult.

The Europeans, the United Nations, even Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan all want to lend a hand.

But part of the problem in the region is that they all may want to be involved for reasons having nothing to do with a desire for a fair peace or with the survival of the Jewish state. And for all their handwringing over the Palestinians, there’s little real interest in easing their plight, either.

Here’s a brief guide to the mediator wannabes:


Europe wants Israel to just go away. OK, they don’t actually come out and say this, but that’s the gist of the double standard they apply to the region: The Palestinians can do no wrong. The Europeans show a sympathy for them that is absent in their feelings about the rest of the world, where self-absorbed apathy is the rule, not compassion. And Israel can do no right. Even when Israel was poised to give up almost all of the land taken in 1967, the Europeans found ample reasons to carp and complain.

This imbalance is the result of a pungent stew of factors, including their dependence on Arab oil and concern about their own burgeoning Muslim minorities. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there’s also a strong thread of anti-Semitism, something with which the Europeans have lots of cultural experience. There is opposition to current Israeli policies around the world, but Europe is the only non-Islamic region where anti-Semitic violence is surging.

Islamic States

Islamic States want the 54-year Arab-Israel conflict to go on forever. Many talk a good talk when it comes to the plight of the Palestinians. But none of these nations has been willing to actually help suffering Palestinians. None has lent a hand to peacemakers in the region or offered significant economic aid.

Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt would rather keep the Arab-Israeli conflict at a low boil than help solve it — largely because whipping up anti-Israel animus helps deflect their own people from rebelling after generations of political and economic oppression.

The recent Saudi peace proposal seemed like a signal that some prominent Muslim countries were ready to help, not hinder the search for peace. Washington reacted hopefully — but changes in the plan may render that hope premature.

The United Nations

The United Nations is churning out the usual blizzard of indignant resolutions on the region, but the one-sided outpouring guarantees that once again, the international body has disqualified itself from playing a useful role. The United Nations partition plan in 1947 was the pivotal event in the creation of Israel, and U.N. bodies have acted ever since as if it was a big blunder.

Some of that is a proxy for rampant hostility to the United States, Israel’s only friend. Some of it has to do with Palestinians’ success in portraying Israel as the last colonial power, a charge that still resonates powerfully in the Third World, helped along by European guilt.

And much of it has to do with inept leaders, including Secretary General Kofi Annan and outgoing Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, who has legitimately criticized Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians — but who, by posing this as one of the worst human rights abuses in the world, has displayed an absence of perspective that would be funny, if it wasn’t so destructive to any helpful U.N. role.

Media Stars

Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan shouldn’t really be lumped together — Jackson may not be an anti-Semite, while Farrakhan leaves little room for doubt — but they both seem motivated by the same thing: a lust for attention. Does Jackson, a longtime Yasser Arafat ally, somehow dream that Israel can see him as an impartial mediator? Forget about Farrakhan.

The Middle East is the world’s greatest international stage, and it’s hardly surprising that people who long for the spotlight — including washed-up politicians and religious leaders — want to be front and center, even when there’s no conceivable possibility they could help, and a lot of opportunity for them to hurt.

Christian Groups

Mainstream Protestant groups in this country don’t support terrorists, but they end up encouraging the suicide bombers when they ooze sympathy for the man who gave them the green light. Treating Arafat like a misunderstood pacifist and Ariel Sharon like a war criminal suggests motives and biases that have little to do with a fair, stable peace, and it encourages Arafat to continue believing he can speak peace to gullible outsiders, while preaching war to his own people.