7 Days in the Arts
A Manual for the Auntie-to-Be
It seemed that lots of people — including total strangers —
had plenty of advice to offer my sister and my brother-in-law before the birth
of their first child, an event the entire extended family anticipated for late
summer 2003. And it wasn’t just a matter of kindly (if ultimately incorrect)
projections about the baby’s gender or rueful warnings about all those
sleepless nights to come.
“I heard that you’re not supposed to eat tuna fish when
you’re pregnant,” one woman in a New York City deli remarked, loudly, when my
sister sank her teeth into her once-a-week tuna treat during her seventh month.
The willingness of so many people to “share” scarcely
surprised me. Like the suggestions that streamed in for the bridal couple
between the engagement and the wedding, child-related counsel appeared to come
with the territory of a pregnancy. And if the pointers weren’t enough for my
sister and brother-in-law, they could count on the insights and instructions
buried within the books that quickly crowded out the suddenly antiquated
wedding prep manuals on their bookshelves. Not to mention the countless classes
they soon registered for, on everything from how to bathe a newborn to
negotiating the relationship changes “when two become three.”
I confess that before my sister’s wedding, I didn’t sense
too much that was personally life changing for me. And since I’d previously
served as a bridesmaid, it wasn’t very difficult to perform that job again.
Bridesmaiding seems a contract position of sorts, which ends as the band packs
up and the bridal couple drives away in their limousine.
But I quickly found preparing for the birth of a first niece
or nephew to be different, especially as a still-single and childless future
aunt. For one thing, while there is plenty of advice, these days, even for
bridesmaids — and perhaps ironically enough, my sister has co-founded a popular
Web site on that topic (www.bridesmaidaid.com) — there is little written to
provide counsel for the more significant lifelong position of aunt-to-be. Nevertheless
I was surprised by the events and changes — some subtle, some less so — that I
experienced in the months between sister’s announcement of her pregnancy and
the baby’s birth. Others might be just as surprised by analogous “symptoms,”
Feeling the Baby Kick — Sure, I have lots of friends who are
moms, and I’ve watched the growth of their families very attentively, but no
matter how long I’ve known them or how many secrets we’ve shared, it’s never
quite seemed appropriate to ask, “Can I touch your stomach?” It wasn’t until my
own sister’s pregnancy that I could press my palm against a mother-to-be’s bare
skin — and wait to feel a baby kicking her from within.
Consulting on the Baby’s Name — As a writer I have the
opportunity to name characters all the time, and I’d owned a book titled,
“6,000 Names For Your Baby,” expressly for that purpose long before my sister
started thinking about beginning a family. But one of the biggest surprises —
and privileges — of my sister’s pregnancy was my role as “consultant” and
confidant in the name selection process (and there was an extra bonus — being
allowed to remain in the room for one final confidential discussion after the
baby arrived but before her name was announced).
Expanding My Consumer Savvy and Lexicon — Babies “R” Us.
buybuy BABY. I didn’t know about any of this before. Frankly, I didn’t care.
And I certainly never saved those Pottery Barn Kids catalogs that for some
reason arrived regularly in my mailbox. Now they are stacked with pages marked
and items circled. Like the first-time grandparents on both sides, I get to
spoil this baby.
Learning Infant and Child CPR — OK. Some details of
obstetrical procedures I probably didn’t really need to hear about. There are
reasons I chose not to go to medical school. Twenty years ago, as part of the
middle school “health” curriculum, I had received certification in first aid
and CPR. But thanks to my sister’s insistence that anyone who planned to be
entrusted with solo time with her child needed to acquire some training in
emergency response, I contacted the American Heart Association. I enrolled in a
Heartsaver CPR for Infants and Children Course. I studied the manual and
prepared for my class — two weeks before the parents-to-be.
I learned a lot in that class that surprised me. I hadn’t
realized, for example, that, this year, one in every five children would be
injured significantly enough to require emergency treatment. I hadn’t realized
how many preventive measures could be taken to avoid crises situations. And I
certainly didn’t know about other aspects in the “chain of survival.” I’d
already understood the best way to place an infant in her crib (“back to
sleep”) and known something about car seat safety, but I appreciated my
instructors’ additional tips on how to handle 911 calls and other strategies
(that of course I hoped I’d never have to use). I was proud to report that I’d
only missed one question on my written test — a record my sister matched; my
brother-in-law, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and tops in his law school class,
scored a perfect 100. (You can imagine the pressure on the grandparents.)
But the biggest surprise was how much closer my sister and I
— who certainly had our share of sibling struggles over the years — became
throughout her pregnancy. From speaking on the phone only occasionally, we
found ourselves speaking multiple times each week. We planned a trip to buybuy
BABY (with grandma-to-be) that would include Auntie Erika, visiting
specifically for the occasion, as well.Â Everyone in the family referred to the
baby, whose gender remained a mystery until delivery, by the nickname I gave
it: “Kicky.” Via e-mail I viewed every single sonogram and smiled over
photographs of the baby’s newly assembled bassinet. And when my sister was
admitted to the hospital (for the real thing, after having stalled preterm
labor for several weeks) I only hoped I’d reach New York in time.
That, I’m not sure anyone expected. Â
Erika Dreifus is a Massachusetts-based writer and teacher. Her fiction and essays have appeared in such publications as the Boston Globe and Lilith. Â
Zen and the Art of Homemade Gefilte Fish
Exile the So-So Seder
Some people like their Passover seders just as they remember
them: the same lines recited by the same relatives with the same emphasis, the
same songs, jokes and foods, the same delicate glassware that picks up the
light in a certain way, reflecting past and present.
David Arnow treasures his memories, too. But for him, the
seder is also about creating new memories, doing things differently each year
so that each person present indeed can taste the feeling of having left Egypt.
Although it’s possible to use a different haggadah every year given the large
number of editions now available, Arnow believes that it’s not about the
haggadah, but how it’s used. He suggests that people follow the traditional
narrative and add texts for discussion, stories, participatory activities and
much that goes beyond reading what’s printed on the page.
His new book “Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook
of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities” is an outstanding resource for
enhancing seders. It’s not a haggadah but a companion volume that’s best read
before the seder, with certain passages shared at the table. One of Arnow’s
strengths is drawing on the haggadah text, midrashim and traditional
commentaries, and juxtaposing them with contemporary and historical issues. He sees
this telling of the story in a creative, interactive way as very much in
keeping with the Mishnah’s approach.
Arnow, a 53-year old psychologist by training and a communal
activist and writer, explains in an interview that he has been amending his
family’s seders with meaningful readings and discussion questions since 1988.
In 1994, he expanded those readings into a seder booklet for the New Israel
Fund, an organization he had served as president. For eight years, Arnow, who
also served as vice-president of UJA-Federation and as a Wexner Heritage
Leadership Fellow, produced the widely praised booklets, highlighting a
different passage each year, and thought to develop his ideas further into a
At his family seder, which this year will be held in his Scarsdale,
N.Y., home, the intergenerational group first gathers in the living room, for
about an hour’s worth of discussion before moving into the dining room. Once
they begin the formal part of the seder at the table, they follow the haggadah
text, pausing for questions and dialogue. He admits that these gatherings,
although great, are far from perfect. Even at his table, people ruffle through
the pages looking for the cue to serve dinner.
“One of the things I realize,” he said, “is that what
happens at the seder recapitulates what happens at the Exodus. We’re supposed
to be celebrating freedom and soon we start complaining and grumbling about
wanting to eat. The seder leader gets a bit of the experience of Moses, trying
to lead an unruly group that takes freedom for granted very quickly.”
Arnow’s family sings the Passover songs with great spirit.
He noted that when most people recall seders of their childhood, they remember
the singing with particular fondness. The first song mentioned in the Bible is
after the crossing of the Red Sea; he explains that after having such an
overwhelming experience, it was as though the Israelites took a huge breath and
out came a song to God. He quotes Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “We sing to Him
before we are able to understand Him.”
The author acknowledges that there’s much too much
information in this book for any one seder, and suggests that people might
focus on a different chapter each year, selecting from the supplementary
Even those readers who can’t imagine their guests marching
around the house, led by children singing “Let my people go” en route to the
table, will find possibilities of interest here — from discussions that tie
together Passover, spring and the environment to bibliodrama to a chapter on
the women of the Exodus who are missing from the traditional text. He includes
a quartet of 20th century voices on redemption, with quotes from Rabbi Mordecai
Kaplan, Martin Buber, Heschel and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, along with
questions leading to dialogue.
Many of Arnow’s discussion topics touch on politics and
peacemaking, but he is not preaching a particular point of view.
“I am saying that one of the lessons to remember is that we
were strangers in the land of Egypt and, therefore, we have the responsibility
to treat strangers among us fairly.”
Arnow and his wife, the parents of two sons, are members of
Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations in Westchester, N.Y. He has no
formal training in Jewish studies and spent a year and a half doing research,
studying on his own and with others, and says that he loved the process. In
talking with the author about the book and the upcoming holiday, he continues
to generate new ideas, new topics and approaches, beyond what’s in the book.
For more information about the book, visit www.livelyseders.com
“The Holistic Haggadah: How Will You Be Different This
Passover Night?” with commentary by Michael Kagan, (Urim) is a guide to the
inner journey of Passover, with contemporary spiritual commentary, geared to
individuals of all denominations. Throughout, Kagan reflects on the meaning of
freedom and its relation to serving God. This volume makes for meaningful
pre-Pesach preparatory reading; the traditional haggadah text is translated by
Kagan, with new translations of the Hallel and other sections by Reb Zalman
Schachter-Shalomi. Kagan, who leads experimental workshops and lectures on
holistic Judaism around the world, lives in Jerusalem and describes himself as
“an Ortho-practicing, but unorthodox Jew.”
“The Pesach Haggadah: Through the Prism of Experience and
History” by Rabbi Berel Wein (Artscroll) features classic commentary and
stories, along with background and history of the holiday. Wein is the author of
several well-received books on history and Jewish texts.
“The Gurs Haggadah: Passover in Perdition” edited by Bella
Gutterman and Naomi Morgenstern (Devora Publishing, in cooperation with Yad
Vashem) has its origins in a detention camp in southwestern France where, in
1941, the Jewish inmates held a seder, declaring their own freedom from
oppression. This volume is a significant addition to holiday literature.
Included is a facsimile edition of the actual hand-written haggadah used,
photographs and other materials from the Yad Vashem archives and several moving
essays commenting on the haggadah and on the ordeals of life at Gurs, with a
piece by the son of Aryeh Zuckerman who wrote the haggadah by hand from memory.
After the seder, one inmate wrote, “Passover was but a brief respite from the
fleeing and wandering, yet closer than previous Passovers to the ancient-new
prayer: ‘Next year in Jerusalem.'”
Of Passover Interest:
“Make Your Own Passover Seder: A New Approach to Creating a
Personal Family Celebration” by Rabbi Alan Kay and Jo Kay (Jossey-Bass) is a
guide that covers every aspect of making a seder and is useful for someone
making one or participating for the first time, as well as for those who are
veterans and want to enhance their efforts. Included is information on
selecting a haggadah, tips for including children and guests from different
backgrounds, personal stories, guidance on rituals and more. Rabbi Kay serves
as spiritual leader of Temple Beth Emet in Mount Sinai, N.Y., and Jo Kay is director
of the School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
in New York.
“Had Gadya: The Only Kid” edited by Arnold Band (Getty
Publications) is a facsimile edition of Russian avant-garde artist El
Lissitzky’s 1919 edition of lithographs. His colorful, bold prints interpret
the traditional Passover song; the illustrations are crowned with architectural
frames with the verses printed in stylish letters, in Yiddish, with some
Aramaic text at the bottom of the page. Only 75 copies were published in the
lifetime of the artist — this work was part of his engagement with Judaica
before turning to abstract painting. In this volume, a separate section
includes a translation of each verse and notes on the images. Band is professor
emeritus of Hebrew and comparative literature at UCLA. In her introduction,
Nancy Perloff, collections curator at the Getty Research Institute, notes that
Lissitzky chose to publish these artworks in their own publication rather than
as part of a haggadah, indicating that he “viewed the song both as a message of
Jewish liberation based on the Exodus story and as an allegorical expression of
freedom for the Russian people.”
“Matzah Meals: A Passover Cookbook for Kids” by Judy Tabs
and Barbara Steinberg, illustrated by Bill Hauser, (Kar-Ben) includes
easy-to-follow recipes for banana pancakes, gefilte fish kabobs, matzah pizza,
meringue kisses and more.
“It’s Seder Time!” by Latifa Berry Kropf, photographs by Tod
Cohen, (Kar-Ben) documents a class of young children learning about and
participating in Passover rituals — collecting chametz for a food bank, making
matzah, singing, dancing, posing as frogs. The full color photographs are full
7 Days In Arts
Money Buys Control
The angry man in the back of the room at El Caballero
Country Club in Tarzana was shaking his fist and calling us crooks.
I made a big mistake — eye contact. With me in his range, he
raised his hand, and I think his middle finger, and yelled, “You!” Being a city
ethics commissioner, I didn’t think I should be called a crook in public.
Bill Rosendahl, cable television public affairs moderator
and City Council candidate, leaned over and asked me what was with the guy.
Just don’t make eye contact, I warned. Finally the man, still shaking his fist,
left and we concluded our panel discussion at the annual town hall meeting of
the Tarzana Property Owners Association.
The subject was “Ethics in Politics: Oxymoron? Achievable?
Pipe Dream?” Rosendahl was the moderator. The panelists were Los Angeles City
Councilmembers Cindy Miscikowski, Wendy Greuel and Dennis Zine; City Controller
Laura Chick; lobbyist Steve Afriat; and me.
The room was pretty well filled with members of the
association, longtime Valley activists, some of whom have been in the middle of
every big fight from Bradley-Yorty to Valley secession. They live in the heart
of what political consultants and analysts like to call “the Jewish Valley,”
home to many Jews who are involved in synagogue life, community organizations
and who have a long history of political involvement.
The audience seemed to share the Valley discontent with
downtown that sparked the secession movement last year.
The man in back was an extreme example. He was mad because of
a highly controversial city award of a $33 million contract for a Van Nuys
Airport parking garage and shuttle bus terminal to the firm of Tutor-Saliba,
which has been involved in many disputes over the quality of its work.
Others in the audience expressed themselves in a more civil
manner. But they, too, were unhappy with the city. What particularly galled
some was a proposed increase in Department of Water and Power rates.
They hammered Greuel, Miscikowski, Zine and Chick with
demands that the city councilmembers do something about it, as if the matter
were out of the audience’s hands.
Actually, constituents are not entirely powerless. Public
protests prompted the City Council to delay the increase and to begin a study
on whether higher rates are really needed.
As I listened, I felt frustrated, not particularly with the
audience, because these were good people with a long record of civic
involvement. I was thinking of Angelenos in general: Why don’t they do more to
seize control of their government?
Scholars, analysts and journalists, puzzled by the vast
expanse of a city that has sprawled instead of grown, blame the lack of a civic
culture on an amusement-loving quality in Los Angeles life, exacerbated by
That’s not what I’ve seen in covering Los Angeles for more
than 30 years. I’ve encountered intense political activity in East Los Angeles,
South Los Angeles, the Westside and the Valley. I’ve met many involved people,
such as Los Angeles City Fire Commissioner Louise Frankel, who was in the Tarzana
Property Owners Association town hall audience.
Toward the end of the session, Frankel, who is now president
of the Mountain Gate Community Association, rose to offer her opinion.
“I do enjoy local government,” she said. “….It touches you
every day. When you see something wrong, you can do something about it.”
Frankel took credit for her precinct registering a high vote
for Miscikowski. “And that’s because I walked door to door,” she said.
Miscikowski got to the root of the problem — a lack of broad-based
campaign contributions that would permit a wide variety of candidates and
issues to go before the voters. Rather than offer a tired old rant against
fat-cat contributors, she put it to the audience. How many people in the
audience contributed to a local political campaign, she asked.
Very few hands went up.
Such a tepid response shows that Los Angeles residents have
ceded power to the small universe of business and union leaders — all dependent
on city pay and contracts — that finance Los Angeles political campaigns.
This has led to an incestuous political culture that does
not reflect what is actually happening in the city. The same contributors go to
the same fundraisers and pay the same few political consultants to run
campaigns. The consultants are interviewed by an equally small group of
reporters. Reading the papers, you would think that no more than a dozen people
run L.A. politics.
There’s a way out of this.
Remember Howard Dean? I know he imploded in Iowa and
collapsed in New Hampshire, but the brilliant use of the Internet by his man,
Joe Trippi, revolutionized political communications and fundraising. Dean
created his own network.
We could do the same thing in Los Angeles.
I looked over the audience. Lots of retired people were
there. Computer literate, no doubt, and spending their time e-mailing messages
and photographs to kids, grandchildren, other relatives and friends. Tarzana
and the rest of the Jewish Valley is a mighty source of energy and talent.
What’s needed is a better way of getting these folks
together. Someone should harness that talent into a Dean-like L.A. fund-raising
Internet network for candidates and causes. If you can control the money, you
can control the town.
There’s enough anger to fuel such a network. The man who
called me a crook should be given a more constructive outlet, just as Dean,
even in defeat, offered one to angry and frustrated Democrats.
Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We Have an Obligation to Speak Out
The Art of Religion
How did Israelite religion develop and evolve in its earliest years? What influences led to the centralization of power during the First Temple period? And how did changing perceptions of God fit into all of this?
These questions will be raised and answered this week not by a religious institution, but by the California Museum of Ancient Art. As the final installment in its lecture series on "Religion in the Ancient World," the museum has invited Dr. Theodore Lewis to discuss "Ancient Israelite Religion: El Worship, Early Cult Centers and the Origins of Yahwism," on March 29, 7:30 p.m. at Barnsdall Park’s Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Blvd.
Using archeological findings and ancient texts — including the Bible and ancient tablets — Lewis, professor of Near Eastern studies as Johns Hopkins University, will look at the era starting when the Israelites first came to the land of Canaan through the centralization of worship and power during the period of the First Temple — covering roughly 1250-700 B.C.E.
"We tend to see ancient religion through the glass of Judeo-Christianity because that is our framework," said Jerome Berman, the executive director of the museum, an institution without a facility whose collection of ancient art is currently in storage. "We are trying to present ancient religions in a more objective fashion from their own point of view, which is really the only relevant point of view."
To receive audiotapes of this lecture or previous lectures on ancient Egyptian, Sumerian or Hittite religions, or for more information, call (818) 762-5500.
Chaos Comes to Town
7 Days In Arts
Southwest Chamber Music performs works by musicians on the fringes of society in their latest series, “Exiles and Outcasts: Vienna and Hollywood.” Six concerts at three different venues feature music by Third Reich exiles Eric Zeisl and Hanns Eisler along with pieces by older Viennese musicians — also considered outsiders in their day — Joseph Joachim, Johannes Brahms and Anton Bruckner. Tonight, it’s Mozart, Zeisl and Mendelssohn at the Norton Simon Museum Theater in Pasadena.
7 p.m. (prelude talk), 8 p.m. (concert). $10-$25. 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (800) 726-7147. Future shows also held at Colburn School of Performing Arts and Armory Center for the Arts.
Hopefully stopping short of a round of “Kumbaya” is today’s USC Office of Religious Life interfaith panel and screening of “God and Allah Need to Talk.” See Ruth Broyde-Sharone’s film and hear scholars representing four Abrahamic religions: Islam, Christianity, Baha’i and Judaism. Also planned is a performance of international music by Alula from Ethiopia, Tardu Yegin from Turkey and Stephen Longfellow Fiske from Los Angeles.
6-9 p.m. $15. Mark Taper Hall of Humanities, Room 101, USC Campus. R.S.V.P., (310) 837-2294.
Mrs. Romano and Schneider take on different roles tonight as the leads in Classic and Contemporary American Plays’ staged reading of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.” Actress Bonnie Franklin of television’s “One Day At a Time” founded the nonprofit that introduces public school children to theatrical classics. She also performs this time, with ex-co-star Pat Harrington. Proceeds from their public performances tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday make the school performances possible, so do your part.
7:30 p.m. $10-$25. John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.
More “Kumbaya” good times this afternoon. Los Angeles Jewish Symphony in partnership with the Nimoy Concert Series has created “A Patchwork of Cultures: Exploring the Sephardic-Latino Connection.” The program for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade Jewish Day School and LAUSD public school kids teaches them commonalities between Sephardic Jews and Latinos. It culminates in a free concert today for the kids as well as the general public.
Noon. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (310) 478-6332.
Be schooled by a master today as UCLA Live! presents Art Spiegelman in “Comix 101.” Described as “a visual exploration of the history of comics, from Hogarth to R. Crumb,” the evening also promises a discussion of the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic book writer’s Sept. 11-inspired work, “In the Shadow of No Towers.”
8 p.m. $25-$35. Royce Hall, UCLA Campus. (310) 825-2101.
And yet more intercultural exploration today, as Cal State L.A. presents the 22nd annual David L. Kubal Memorial Lecture, featuring National Poetry Prize-winner Estela Alicia Lopez Lomas of Mexico. The poet reads from her collection titled “El Fuego Tras el Espejo,” (“The Blaze Behind the Mirror”), about the Holocaust — a surprising choice for someone with no personal ties to the subject matter. English translation will also be provided, and a discussion follows.
6:30-8:30 p.m. California State University, Los Angeles. (323) 343-4289.
The Yiddishe weekend begins tonight. California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language presents performer and founder of Vilnius Yiddish Institute Mendy Cahan and television’s Mayim Bialik (“Blossom”) in a program titled “The New World Welcomes the Old: A Celebration of Yiddish Vilna.” This evening, the “virtual journey to Yiddish Vilna” comes in the form of a Shabbos tish of Chasidic melodies, Yiddish songs and traditional storytelling. Similar stuff tomorrow night, but in a multimedia program.
Friday: free (students), $20 (general). Saturday: $8 (students), $26 (general). $40 (both nights, general). UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard, Westwood. (310) 745-1190.
7 Days In Arts
7 Days In Arts
Two widely divergent Jewish performers come to Southern California tonight. Make the drive to Claremont for the feel-good sounds of Israeli folk/rock star David Broza. The celebrated trilingual guitarist and singer-songwriter will perform his English, Spanish and Hebrew favorites in a concert sponsored by Hillel of the Claremont Colleges. Or, for something closer to home and below the belt, head to Royce Hall, as UCLA Live! Presents “An Evening With Sandra Bernhard.” The bawdy comedian and student of kabbalah offers up her latest rants and raves, with musical accompaniment by Mitch Kaplan and Pam Adams.
David Broza: 8 p.m. $5-$50. Garrison Theatre, Scripps College, Claremont. (909) 621-8824.Sandra Bernhard: 8 p.m. $20-$45. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.
Two seasoned comedians prove they’ve still got it, as Orange County Performing Arts Center presents “Together Again: Comedy Greats Tim Conway and Harvey Korman.” The “Carol Burnett Show” duo known as much for cracking each other up as they were for entertaining the audience joins impressionist Louise DuArt for two shows, today only.
2 p.m. and 7 p.m. $35-$60. Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (213) 365-3500.
Diane Arbus’ work gets center stage at MOCA’s latest show, “Street Credibility,” which examines the convergence of real and posed photography from the 1940s to the 1970s. Arbus’ choice to pose her subjects, who were real people, was a departure from a tradition that separated the worlds of journalistic style and artificial photography. Other artists featured in the exhibit include her peers, as well as later photographers whom she influenced — Larry Clark, Lee Friedlander, Sally Mann, Charles Gatewood, Garry Winogrand and others — as well as some of her predecessors, namely Lisette Model, August Sander and Weegee.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Monday and Friday), 11 a.m.-8 pm. (Thursday), 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday). Free (members, children under 12 and all day Thursday), $5 (students and seniors), $12 (general). MOCA at the Geffen Contemporary, 152 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 626-6222.
Queens, N.Y., transplant and author Lisa Lieberman Doctor puts her roots into the pages of her first novel, “The Deflowering of Rhona Lipshitz.” It’s Queens 1971, and Rhona Lipshitz is in love, but not with the man whom she’s engaged to marry in just 11 days. Doctor’s previous writing credits include an Emmy win for her work on the soap opera, “General Hospital,” and 16 years in the film industry, most recently as vice president of Robin Williams’ Blue Wolf Productions. She discusses “Rhona Lipshitz” tonight at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.
7 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8648.
New on DVD is a film that’s not the usual Holocaust-themed fare. “Liability Crisis” is the story of Paul, a Jew so obsessed with the Holocaust that he sees images of Hitler everywhere. His life is on the verge of unraveling when his long-distance girlfriend shows up and he must confront his situation.
Providing the second tile in the Skirball’s World Mosaic series is celebrated oud player and singer/songwriter Naser Musa, in a concert titled “Naser Musa and Friends.” Joined by violinist Georges Lammam, accordionist Elias Lammam, upright bassist Miles Jay and percussionists Souhail and Tony Kaspar, Musa will perform traditional Arabic, Arabic folk and traditional Andalusian music this evening. His lecture on Arabic music precedes the show.
7 p.m. (lecture), 8 p.m. (concert). $15-$25. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8587.
Filmmaker Stephen Grynberg had an interesting response to Judy Chicago’s call to artists to submit works on the theme, “Envisioning the Future.” He looked to the past. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, he has said that his personal exploration always involved looking at his own family history. By looking back, he was able to envision his own future. Hence the title of his art installation, “PAST FORWARD,” which was chosen as one in Chicago’s series.
Runs through Feb. 29. 5-10 p.m. (Feb. 13 and 14 only), Noon-4 p.m. (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Progress Gallery, 300 S. Thomas St., Pomona. (310) 480-1794.
7 Days In Arts
God’s Conversations With Allah
Documentary filmmaker Ruth Broyde-Sharone’s latest work, "God and Allah Need To Talk," will make its Los Angeles debut Sunday, Sept. 14, with the 18-minute film being central to a three-hour interfaith celebration highlighting common bonds between Muslims, Christians and Jews.
"A lot of people have awareness at these events, but they’re not changed," said Broyde-Sharone, who from her Culver City home office has coordinated the afternoon slate of film, dance and music at the Laemmle Fairfax Theater. "The film, plus everything else, equals social, spiritual change in a positive way. I don’t mind putting the film in a secondary way. It didn’t seem enough just to show my film."
So far, she said, about 300 people have contacted her to confirm they will come. The interfaith event follows similar outreach through the Islamic Center of Southern California, Reform synagogues such as Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills and Southern California’s liberal-activist mainline Protestant churches. Broyde-Sharone documentary, the event’s short centerpiece, details post-Sept. 11 interfaith relations between Southern California’s Muslims and Jews. Its title comes from a billboard Broyde-Sharone saw in Hollywood.
Somewhat shaky handheld camera work gives the film a home movie feel as it shows non-Muslims — notably a Jewish couple — visiting the Islamic Center during observances of a Muslim holiday. The film then details this year’s April 11 Muslim-Jewish seder, "Breaking the Silence: A Passover Celebration Seeking Peace and Reconciliation," at Temple Kol Tikvah. (The film says 150 people attended; The Journal reported the crowd was closer to 80.) After trying some matzah, a Muslim African American boy says to the camera, "It’s kinda hard and crispy, but it tastes real good."
Broyde-Sharone completed the short film in four months.
"For me to do this in four months was a revelation and remarkable," she said, adding that interfaith activists in Detroit and Philadelphia want to screen it. "It was almost like this was being propelled beyond me. It was a really a series of events that just pulled together for me to finish this."
The filmmaker said the Sept. 14 event will also ask participants to make some kind of a serious commitment to remaining involved with people they met that day from other faiths.
"For some people it will require a big stretch," she said. "It’s not about holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya.’ It’s about really being able to move yourself beyond your comfort zone. I think that’s the part that’s usually neglected at these events — ‘What next?’"
Performers for the Laemmle Fairfax Theatre event will include a Palestinian violinist, an Iranian singer, Ladino singer Stefani Valadez and L.A. composer Steven Longfellow Fiske.
"It’s through the artists of our community that we’re going to move this entire agenda forward," said Broyde-Sharone, who is also an interior designer and freelance journalist who has written for The Jerusalem Post. Her short films include the Encyclopedia Britannica educational film "Israeli Boy: Life on a Kibbutz," and the 13-minute video, "Children of the Dream … the Reality," which was commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League’s Los Angeles office.
Broyde-Sharone also has filmed more than 30 seders for an upcoming documentary about how feminist and gay Jews and non-Jews use a seder dinner as a metaphor to discuss their own particular suffering.
"So when I went to these two events [at the Islamic Center and Temple Kol Tikvah], I was thinking about them as a larger film," said Broyde-Sharone, who attends Ohr HaTorah in West Los Angeles.
Expected at Sunday’s event are clergy and laypeople, like Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah and Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Santa Monica’s Beth Shir Shalom; local Pakistani community representatives; David Lehrer and Joe Hicks of Community Advocates, Inc.; and peace activists from groups such as the Progressive Jewish Alliance.
Speakers will include author Jack Miles, UCLA public policy analyst Xandra Kayden and CSUN assistant professor of religious studies Amir Hussain. They hopefully will move interfaith issues, "from the head and slowly thru to the heart," Broyde-Sharone said.
Would the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be discussed? "No," said the filmmaker/event organizer. "The way to get people to come together is to find common areas where they don’t feel they already have to defend themselves or attack."
Though Broyde-Sharone said the West Bank and Gaza, are, "like the white elephant that nobody wants to talk about in the room," as for her event, "the day is apolitical."
But in dialogue with Muslim friends, the filmmaker makes it clear that it is wrong for Americans to have as, "their entire frame of reference of who a Muslim is to be Sept. 11 and Muslim extremists." She said it is also wrong when Muslims in Southern California do not denounce suicide bombers and other terrorism far away. She said she tells Muslims, "it’s important that we hear you say ‘we will not accept this.’"
The premiere of "God and Allah Need to Talk" will be held on Sept. 14 at noon (screening begins promptly at 1:30 p.m.). $10 (suggested donation). Laemmle Fairfax Theatre, 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 837-2294.
Big-Hearted Giver’s Crowning Moment
Love and Loyalty
We would always say that we were the ambassadors of love and happiness, causing people to smile as they passed by us, the chemistry almost touchable.
At that point, the fact that he was a Jew and I was an Italian Catholic didn’t seem to make much difference. We were in love and that was all that mattered.
As we traveled through our relationship and through the past two and a half years, we overcame many of the obstacles that couples face. We also embraced the issues that arose due to our interfaith relationship, knowing that it was an important and vital component, not something to put off or take lightly.
Our discussions about religion began early on and became a running dialogue. We started off slowly, trying to discuss this delicate topic without hurting any feelings, but soon realized that if the relationship were to proceed, the hard questions needed to be asked. How do you want your children to be raised? Can you accept symbols such as a Christmas tree or a menorah that reflect the other’s religion? Do you feel that you can be true to yourself and your faith if you have a partner who is of a different religion?
Having asked these questions, we knew that the answers were nowhere except within. We read, we discussed, we attended seminars about being interfaith, and we learned about each other. Through this and because of this, our love and relationship continued to grow.
David voiced to me during one of our many discussions that he felt very strongly about having his children bar or bat mitzvahed. Knowing that his father was a Holocaust survivor who has since passed away, I understood and empathized with his strong feelings about this, and I began to think. Raising Jewish children was not something I ever had to consider before, and when I met David, I initially assumed that we would do "both."
I then began to think more about David’s desires in regard to what I viewed as my greatest hopes for my future children: that they be kind, moral and believe in something larger than themselves. If these were the things that I regarded as most important, and if my spouse had such strong feelings, then getting there through Judaism rather than Christianity would be OK. Not always easy or natural for me, but OK.
You would think that any tension and unhappiness that arose regarding our interfaith relationship and its future would come from my family, since I had decided to raise my future children Jewish. However, it proved to be the opposite. My mother, although not happy with the decision, was supportive, realizing that these were my decisions to make, understanding that she would still play a significant role in her grandchildren’s lives. David’s mother, however, despite the sacrifice that I had decided to make for him, believed that it wasn’t enough and that he should still marry a Jewish woman. Her unhappiness with our growth as a couple soon became obvious and vocal. She expressed to him her belief that there must be a common base in order for a relationship to survive — and that base needs to be religion.
Slowly, the constant pressure, comments from and discussions with his immediate family began to chip away during two years of soul-searching, discussions and resolutions until David became torn and conflicted between our love and his loyalty to his family and religion. I understand that his family only wants the best for him. However, I also believe that there doesn’t need to be a choice between love and loyalty; that the two can co-exist if both people are willing to compromise in some way.
We, as a couple and as individuals, had reached a place where we both felt that we were being true to ourselves as well as to our religions. However, David’s growing inner conflict was something he could no longer resolve or even understand, and it hindered our growth. Knowing that this was something he needed to resolve within himself in order for our relationship to survive, we decided that it would be best for him to work it out alone. We decided to split up, putting our relationship and love to the ultimate test.
Being without him fills me with a tremendous sadness, as does the uncertainty of whether or not our roads will join together once again. I don’t know if the resolution of his inner conflict will reunite us or keep us apart. However, I understand that this is a journey I cannot take with him, and I can only pray that he finds the strength that I know he has within himself to find his own truth. I look at this as a time for answers, knowing that God has a plan.
If our love is as true and as strong as we believe, we will find our way through this and will be stronger for it — once again bringing smiles to other people’s faces as well as to our own.
Lia Del Sesto is a freelance graphic designer and professional vocalist from Providence, R.I. Reprinted courtesy of InterfaithFamily.com, a member of the Jewz.com Media Network.
East Meets West
About six months ago, Gregory Rodriguez, a contributingeditor to the Los Angeles Times opinion section, phoned his friend, Rabbi GaryGreenebaum, West Coast regional director of the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee). Rodriguez had attended events purported to promote intellectualfellowship among diverse Angelenos, but had found them not-so-diverse. “There’sa lot of lip service paid to crossing barriers in this city, but manygatherings are organized around political or ethnic lines,” Rodriguez said.
To mix things up a bit, the two friends went on to launch aprogram, co-presented by the Los Angeles Public Library. The series, Zócalo,which means “public square” in Spanish, will gather Eastsiders and Westsidersfor private discussions and public lectures on crucial civic issues. It kicksoff at the downtown Central Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium on April 9 at 7p.m., when the Economist’s Washington correspondent Adrian Wooldridge,co-author of “The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea,” willdescribe his take on the corporation as “an engine that can work for the publicgood as well as ill,” Greenebaum said.
Four more speakers through July will include the preeminentAfrican American essayist Debra Dickerson and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, theOscar-nominated director of “Amores Perros.”
The series joins a burgeoning trend of L.A. programs devotedto the intellectual life, from Lunchtime Art Talks at the UCLA Hammer Museum tothe literary salon Beyond Baroque.
“But we don’t want to be labeled a salon,” Rodriguez said.”We want to create a nonpartisan, multiethnic place in a city that has fewneutral, welcoming places.”
Like Zócalo, its conveners represent East and West LosAngeles. Rodriguez, 36, is a Mexican American who lives in a Northeastneighborhood, Hermon, near Highland Park. Greenebaum, who is in his 50s,promotes intergroup relations through the regional office of the AJCommittee,located in West L.A. The two men met when Rodriguez interviewed Greenebaum fora piece that touched on Latino-Jewish relations several years ago.
They’re hoping Zócalo — sponsored by groups as varied as TheJewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and Citibank — will introduce Angelenoswho wouldn’t normally meet. “A group devoted to fostering fellowship and newideas will be a powerful contribution to the new L.A.,” Rodriguez said.Â
For information about Zócalo events, which will be broadcastover KPCC 89.3 FM, call (213) 228-7025.
Zionism, by George
How Ready Are We?
"For bioterrorism, we’re about as prepared as we are for snow," said City Councilman Jack Weiss, who has spent a year working with security experts and local officials to figure out what Los Angeles needs to do to prepare for and prevent terrorist attacks. The report of the results of that investigation, released Oct. 10, runs 59 pages long. "There is a ton to do," Weiss said.
On Sunday, Nov. 24, at Sinai Temple in Westwood, the public is invited to a panel discussion featuring terrorism security experts. The meeting, sponsored by the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, aims to address local preparations for one of the scarier possibilities — a biological attack.
Among the panelists who will discuss our preparedness is Dr. Peter Estacio, a senior scientist at the University of California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, on assignment with the Washington, D.C.-based Office of Public Health Preparedness of the proposed Homeland Security Department. On a national level, "we’re certainly more prepared than we were. Los Angeles is more prepared than most areas," Estacio said, but "it is also more a target." He expressed concern about a biological attack on a particular industry of importance to both Los Angeles and the Jewish community. "The movie industry is an icon of American life," Estacio said, "and it happens to have a large percentage Jewish contribution, much as Wall Street."
Estacio also acknowledged the local Jewish community’s relatively strong efforts to educate itself and improve preparations in case of terrorist attacks, with outreach to security officials and discussions like the one planned for Nov. 24. "The Jewish community recognizes that it has often been the target of these kinds of actions. That translates into a sense of civic duty," he said. "That is not a paranoia, it’s an appropriate response."
A long list of further appropriate responses to the threat of bioterrorism that city and other local officials might take are suggested by Weiss’ plan. The recommendations range from improved surveillance to detect an attack, to emergency worker safety protocols and volunteer response coordination.
So far, however, Weiss said Los Angeles security officials have not done nearly enough to prepare. "They have focused on tabletop issues — they sit at a table and flip through a binder," he said. "What you will see in a crisis is a lot of improvising," just as Weiss remembers occurring here on Sept. 11, 2001. He described the efforts to improve planning and response so far as "some agency heads in the region who have met sporadically to deal with the issue."
Bioterrorism preparation in particular, and Los Angeles’ health care system in general, are issues of particular concern to local residents. On Nov. 5, more than 73 percent of Los Angeles County voters opted to raise their own property taxes to partially fund full-service hospitals through Measure B. A portion of those tax dollars will be set aside for biological or chemical attack response.
Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County’s director of public health, said the county Health Department is now studying the issue of how Measure B money will be implemented for bioterrorism preparations.
Critics of Los Angeles’ preparations to date, like Weiss, say the work done so far — "we have purchased some equipment for our first responders, and taken steps to secure the airport" — is not nearly enough. Weiss credits County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky for his efforts to improve the health system, and said he believes Police Chief William Bratton has shown an active interest in terrorism preparedness.
But he worries that officials are "relying on bureaucracies to provide us with a wish list," he said. "We need a different strategy, we need to look at missions and needs." Weiss also worries about the possibility that part of the city might need to be evacuated: "If an attack occurs at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday, Los Angeles is already gridlocked."
Official preparedness alone will not be enough in case of a chemical or biological attack — residents need information on what they must do to protect themselves. We need to provide and disseminate easily understandable information," Weiss said. "That’s not cost intensive, but it is highly effective. In Israel, there is a populace that knows exactly what to do in an emergency. We’ll never get to that level in Los Angeles, but I think we ought to try."
For more information on Los Angeles’ bioterrorism
preparedness, visit labt.org. For reservations to attend the panel discussion on
Sunday, Nov. 24, at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., fax (310) 788-2824 or
An Orthodox Pursuit
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, in the early afternoon, I visit my younger brother at his nursing home, a mile from my home in Providence, R.I.
I bring him grapes and a banana because he can eat only soft foods, and I also bring him the first section of the previous day’s newspaper. He sometimes reaches for it, occasionally holding it upside down, but I think it important that he be aware, if that is still possible, of the world he left behind when his many illnesses struck him down. For the same reason I asked the nursing home staff to use his title of doctor so that he might be mindful of his professional accomplishments as a professor of economics and as an advisor on economics to the government of New Zealand.
The discussions we have are one-sided. I tell him what is happening with my family. He says nothing, but does look at me, perhaps to acknowledge my presence.
The degrees he earned — at Princeton, Harvard and NYU Law School — have long since been lost in a life increasingly dominated by the ravages of schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and dementia. I once brought him a copy of a book he wrote on anti-trust, which is still available in several local libraries, but he showed no sign of recognition.
For 40 years, while I lived in Jerusalem, Los Angeles and Providence and he lived at Rutgers University and in Wellington, New Zealand, we were out of touch. We had little in common; I was a Zionist and much involved in Jewish life, whereas he cared nothing for either and remained all of his adult life a Republican in a family of New Deal Democrats. Even as children, our relations were not close. I was outgoing, a mediocre student. He was withdrawn, but always first in his classes. He was a lifelong bachelor without issue; I have been married for most of my life and have four children.
And then a few years ago, he wandered into a doctor’s office in Manhattan babbling incoherently, which is when I learned that he was no longer living in New Zealand, but in a shabby, single-occupancy hotel. For several years, while he was hospitalized and then in a nursing home, I traveled every week by train to New York. Finally, I brought him to Rhode Island.
Everything, negative and positive, can be a learning experience. For most of my life, I have shared the common American assumption that Western democracies are unsurpassed in their concern for the individual. The nuclear family structure we live in has its problems, but it is far superior to the extended family system of more traditional societies in its creation of a safety net for the young, the weak and the elderly. After all, we have Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to support us in our final years.
I now have to question that assumption. It is not that my brother has been left to die on the street. The taxpayers, through the state and federal governments, provide for his physical needs. He has food to eat and a place to sleep and nurses to attend to his wants. If he were more responsive, he could share in the activities that the nursing home provides.
But traditional societies provide something else, the need for which we tend to ignore: a closely knit, intergenerational family. My brother would be surrounded by people he knows and loves and, health permitting, would have responsibilities and activities in keeping with his abilities. My grandchildren live in Los Angeles and St. Louis and I see them twice a year. I play almost no role in their lives nor they in mine. I miss them; I am not sure that they miss me.
My wife once asked me why, after all the years of separation, I took such an interest in my brother. "I don’t believe in a hereafter," I answered, "but in case I am wrong and I should meet our mother again, she might ask me if I took care of my brother."
"If I said ‘no,’ she would kill me."
7 Days In Arts
Got some time between services and your next Rosh Hashana meal? Unwinding with a book may sound nice, but perhaps that Jackie Collins paperback isn’t quite appropriate to the day. Try “Seven Heavens: Inspirational Stories to Elevate Your Soul,” instead. Based on his work experiences, the book by Rabbi Levi Meier, Jewish chaplain of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, presents his thoughts on death and dying. He discusses subjects like dying with dignity and mystical concepts like the soul and angels.
Pitspopany Press, $24.95. Available in bookstores andonline. For more information, visit www.pitspopany.com .
Day two of the Jewish New Year festivities. By now you’ve OD’d on mom’s famous brisket and small-talk topics – from the AMBER Alerts to Iraq – have deteriorated into dust bunnies behind Grandma’s plastic-covered sofa. What to do now that it has ended? Make a break for Café des Artists, where goyishe food and literary salvation await. Strong-jawed beauty Minnie Driver and doe-eyed ex-brat packer Andrew McCarthy take part in “Literary Stages,” reading from works by Oscar Wilde and Jewish author Tod Goldberg. Goldberg will also be on hand to sign copies of his novels.
6 p.m. (buffet dinner), 7:30 p.m. (reading). $25 (in advance), $30 (at the door). 1534 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. For reservations call (323) 465-1010.
No neurotic Jew, she. Siona Benjamin, a Sephardic artist raised in Bombay could’ve had one heck of an identity crisis. But instead, she’s embraced the influences of the many religions and cultures that have surrounded her while growing up. The result is “Finding Home: A Series of Gouache-on-Paper Works by Siona Benjamin.” Her vibrant works mix Hindu and Jewish images, as in one self-portrait in which Benjamin, as multiarmed Hindu goddess, becomes a menorah. The exhibition is on display at the USC Hillel Jewish Center, and you can hear Benjamin speak during Hillel’s Yom Kippur evening services.
Runs through Oct. 25. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Monday-Friday). Free. 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 747-9135.
Those of you long-time West Coast transplants yearning for bygone days of Coney Island hot dogs and stickball may find comfort at the Beverly Hills Public Library today. Currently on display is a series of images by street photographer Martin Elkort. The photographs depict scenes from New York’s Lower East Side and Coney Island, five years after the end of World War II. Elkort captures the period’s general optimism and innocence through these documentary-style pictures. Kind of like a “Time Warp” minus Tim Curry in drag.
444 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 288-2220.
It’s hard to believe one year has passed since Sept. 11, 2001. And while we’ll each find our own ways to personally commemorate the day, there are also public memorials and television specials planned. For those of you planning to stay home with your families, you may want to consider Showtime’s “Reflections from Ground Zero.” Spike Lee hosts this showcase of nine short student films. They range from Serguei Bassine’s animated piece about a woman trapped in the World Trade Center to Rachel Zabar’s documentary “One Life,” about David Harlow Rice, a man who died in the attacks.
5:45 p.m. Showtime. Also airs Sept. 9 at 8 p.m. For moreinformation, visit www.sho.com
You’ve heard all the “Fuhrer Furor” in the pages of this paper. Along the same vein is a panel discussion at the Getty Center about “Biography on Film.” Academy Award-winning documentarian Mark Jonathan Harris and artist Péter Forgacs discuss their approaches to documenting the Holocaust. Special guests from various academic institutions are scheduled to attend as well.
7 p.m. Free. Museum Lecture Hall, J. Paul Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-7330.
It’s low-brow night at the Alex Theatre as the Alex Film Society presents “Vaudeville Returns.” World Hula-Hoop champion Mat Pendl astounds and amazes; “Top Banana” Bruce Block yucks it up; and for the main event, the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” is also on the, ahem, bill. So don the Groucho glasses proudly. After all, what’s Friday the 13th without a touch of the bizarre?
8 p.m. $15 (adults), $12 (children). 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. For more information, call (818) 243-2539.
7 Days in the Arts
Making His Mark
On the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 4, American swimmer Mark Spitz won his seventh gold medal at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, and set his seventh consecutive world record. It was a feat unprecedented in Olympic history, and the handsome 22-year-old Californian became an instant international media celebrity, nowhere more so than in the Jewish press.
A formal news conference for Spitz had been set for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5. On his way to meet the media, he heard confused reports that in the early morning hours, Arab terrorists had attacked the living quarters of the Israeli men’s team, but "no one in the Olympic Village really knew what had happened," says Spitz, recalling the tumultuous events 30 years later.
At the news conference, reporters besieged Olympic officials for news of the terrorist attacks, all but ignoring Spitz.
At 10:30 a.m., Spitz met with ABC-TV sportscaster Jim McKay for a prearranged interview and there saw the first footage of a white-hatted Black September terrorist negotiating with a German policewoman.
After the interview, Spitz says he went back to his quarters in the Olympic Village and watched the day’s competitions on television.
At noon on Tuesday, Spitz was visited by a delegation of Olympic officials, German security officers and U.S. State Department representatives. During on-and-off discussions that lasted until 4 p.m., it was decided that Spitz should leave immediately for home.
Unlike later Olympic Games, no security infrastructure was in place. Officials imposed an immediate news blackout on Spitz’s movements. Looking back, Spitz thinks that all the concern was probably unnecessary.
"I was the most recognizable face of the Olympic Games and everybody knew where I was, so if the terrorists wanted to track me down, they could have found me," he says.
Instantly, rumors circulated that Spitz had flown to Italy or returned to the United States. At 6 p.m., Spitz and his personal coach, Sherm Chavoor, were taken to the Munich Airport for a flight to London, arriving there around 8:30 p.m.
Early the next morning, Sept. 6, Spitz learned of the deaths of nine Israeli athletes (in addition to two coaches killed in the initial attack), five of the eight terrorists and a German policeman during a bungled rescue attempt at a military airport near Munich.
From London, Spitz flew to Los Angeles and on to Sacramento, for a hero’s welcome at the family home in suburban Carmichael. His face was on the cover of TIME and LIFE, and the world marveled at his lifetime achievement in setting 28 world records and 35 national records.
The only note slightly marring America’s lovefest with Spitz was the criticism in some Jewish publications, questioning his behavior following the murder of the Israeli athletes.
"Would it not have lifted man’s spirits if Spitz had declared his solidarity with Israel as a proud Jew?" asked an editorial in one Jewish weekly. "Would it not have been a magnificent gesture if he had dedicated his seven gold medals to the families of the slain Israeli sportsmen?"
Even after 30 years, such criticism still rankles Spitz, which he angrily labels as a "bunch of crock and garbage" by "fraidy-cats who wanted Mark Spitz to solve their problems."
At age 22, Spitz was told by the U.S. State Department to say as little as possible. "What did [the Jewish critics] want me to do? What could I have done?" he asks, adding, "It’s no use. I can never win in making my point."
Following his Olympic triumph, the "Jewishness" of Spitz became a favorite debating point among Jewish journalists and others who relish such speculations.
Swimming was the central, if not sole, focus of Mark’s life, since his father, Arnold Spitz, enrolled the 8-year-old boy in the swimming program at the Sacramento YMCA, counseling him that, "Swimming isn’t everything, winning is."
According to an oft-repeated story, when a local rabbi informed the senior Spitz that the swimming practice of 10-year-old Mark conflicted with his Hebrew school lessons, his father replied, "Rabbi, even God likes a winner."
Sometimes, Mark’s Jewishness and swimming complemented each other. He probably got his first international recognition when, as a 15-year-old, he won eight gold medals at the 1965 Maccabiah Games in Israel, and several more four years later.
Currently, he and his wife, Suzy, send their 10-year-old son, Justin, to a Jewish day school at Stephen S. Wise Temple, which was also attended by Justin’s older brother, Matthew. Both parents are frequent visitors at the school.
After a short stint as an entertainment personality and doing TV commercials, Spitz is now, at 52, a public and motivational speaker and an investor in real estate and other ventures. He works out four times a week at the UCLA swimming pool.
He does not intend to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1972 Olympics and rarely thinks back on the days of triumph and tragedy.
Looking beyond his own achievements, Spitz marvels at the much tighter security precautions that have become standard at all Olympic Games following 1972, and in practically all venues since Sept. 11. "I guess we have all become used to security measures which were not even thought of in 1972," he says.
The Real Gidget
7 Days In Arts
Think you’ve never heard of Yitzak Asner? Think again. Like so many in Hollywood, Yitz went with his middle name, Edward, to succeed in showbiz. And though Ed Asner dropped the Yitzak, he never dropped Judaism. Tonight and tomorrow night, the politically minded actor stars in a celebrity staged play reading of “Bitter Friends,” the story of a Jewish American accused of spying for Israel.7:30 p.m. $100 (patrons), $10 (members), $12 (nonmembers), $2 (senior and student discount). Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. For more information, call (818) 786-6310. (Sunday show is at the Westside JCC, 2 p.m.)
For those of you unfamiliar with Ladino, the easiest definition is that it’s the Sephardic equivalent of Yiddish. But, more importantly, those of you unfamiliar with Ladino music or stories really ought to visit the Autry Museum’s Heritage Serenade this afternoon. Celebrating and commemorating the Jewish and Spanish settlers of the Southwest, Ladino artistas break out the castanets as Flor de Serena (Siren’s Flower) performs Ladino music, stories and dance.1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Free with the price of museum admission. Heritage Court, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 667-2000.
“I can’t see nothin’, so where’s the somethin’? Yeah,it’s comin’, man, it’s comin’, and it’s gonna be great. It’s the genesis,genesis, the genesis, genesis, the genesis, genesis….” “Genesis, Revisited,”that is — a new, two-CD set that tells the great stories of Genesis, completewith rap interludes (from which the above lines are taken). Other rap songsinclude one about Lot’s wife, titled, “Miss Sodium Chloride,” and one aboutAbraham’s second son, aptly titled, “Call Me Ishmael.” The raps are actuallypretty catchy. Try playing them to keep the kids quiet on that next family roadtrip to Great-Aunt Shirley’s house in Palm Springs. Also available in audiocassette. To order, call (800) 794-1912. For more information, visit www.genesisrevisited.com
Relax, men. You don’t have to be Don Juan to sweep your lady off her feet. If you’re looking to bring some romance back into the relationship, Craig Taubman may have your answer. He’s just released his latest CD, called, “Celebrate Jewish Love Songs” ($14.98). So you can ditch the Barry White and help Stella get her groove back, Jewish-style. Plus, 50 percent of the proceeds will benefit Magen David Adom West.For more information, call (800) 627-2448.
The Jewish New Year is right around the corner, which means it’s time to be thinking about getting a new Jewish calendar. Now, sure, you could wait for your freebie from Chevra Kadisha in the mail. But here’s a prettier option: Women of Reform Judaism-The Federation of Temple Sisterhoods puts out an annual art calendar. This year, artist Karla Gudeon’s whimsical dry-point engravings of biblical themes are featured. The cover design, “Generation to Generation” is also used for the organization’s High Holy Day greeting cards. So besides getting a set for yourself, you’ve got no excuse for showing up empty-handed to Rosh Hashana dinner.$14 (calendar), $9 (10 New Year’s greeting cards). To order, call (212) 650-4060.
While the peace process is ostensibly in the hands ofthe politicians, true peace may only come from the Israeli and Palestinianpeople, themselves. The conflicts and tensions that divide them became thesubject of the PBS 1988 documentary, “Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in aPromised Land.” Fourteen years later, the filmmakers revisit some of the peopleinterviewed in the first documentary, focusing on the issues that today seem themost difficult to resolve: the right of return, the holy city of Jerusalem andthe West Bank Jewish settlements. In doing so, they create “Arab and Jew: Returnto the Promised Land.” The film airs on KCET tonight at 10 p.m. For moreinformation, visit www.kcet.org
In the mood for some understated British (is that redundant?) drama? Celebrated Brit playwright Harold Pinter is known for subtle, intelligent dialogue and depictions of complex human relationships. The Hudson Backstage Theatre presents two Pinter one-acts tonight — “The Lover” and “The Collection.” Both of these pieces deal with sexuality, possessiveness and deception, which sounds like good fun to us.8 p.m. (Thursdays-Saturdays), 7 p.m. (Sundays). Runs through Sept. 29. $20. 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. For reservations, call (323) 856-4200.
7 Days In Art
Sex-Abuse Conviction Closes Chapter
The recent sex-abuse conviction of Rabbi Baruch Lanner for groping two teenage girls closed a highly disturbing chapter for the centrist Orthodox world. But it remains to be seen how deeply the controversy will transform the community.
Lanner was found guilty June 27 in a Monmouth County, N.J., Superior Court of endangering the welfare of two girls between 1992 and 1996, while he was principal of a New Jersey yeshiva. He also was their supervisor at the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), the youth wing of the Orthodox Union (OU).
Lanner, 52, who has long maintained his innocence and whose lawyers said he will likely appeal, was also convicted of aggravated criminal sexual contact and sexual contact against one of the girls. Freed on $100,000 bail, he is set to be sentenced Sept. 13. He faces between 10 and 20 years in prison and a maximum $300,000 fine.
The Lanner case not only stirred a rare public airing of the issue in the Jewish community, it also provoked intense debate in the community because Lanner allegedly abused scores of teenagers over 30 years.
The scandal surfaced in June 2000 when the New York Jewish Week reported the complaints against Lanner.
As public reaction swelled, the OU appointed the NCSY Special Commission on the Lanner case. In December 2000, the panel released part of a scathing 332-page report blaming OU leaders for ignoring reports of Lanner’s abuse and urging major organizational reforms.
In at least four instances, NCSY and OU officials were "put on direct and specific notice of serious sexual misconduct" by Lanner, but failed to heed such "red flags," the report said.
Richard Joel, president and international director of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, who chaired the Lanner commission, said the OU has begun to act. "The best thing to be said is that changes are still a work in progress," he says.
According to the OU’s new president, Harvey Blitz, the NCSY has instituted mandatory sensitivity training for all teen advisers, has created "ombudsmen" to hear complaints and has put in place formal procedures regarding sexual misconduct.
However, Gary Rosenblatt, the editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, who broke the story and has covered the case extensively, said such changes don’t come easily.
If another sex-abuse scandal were to surface, Rosenblatt said, "I’m not sure how the community would deal differently with it. I still think there’s a natural resistance to going public."
A Mazel Tov in Shanghai
Divided We Stand
One Friday night, I was at a local rabbi’s house for Shabbat dinner, and he said to me: “The Jewish Journal should be a newspaper that unites the different denominations of our community.”
“Rabbi,” I responded, “during this last hour alone I have heard two mentions of excommunication — and that’s within the Orthodox community. In addition, I’m not even certain that the two frum sides of town [Hancock Park and Pico-Robertson] actually get along with each other. So how do you expect one newspaper to bridge the gap between Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox when there’s so much dissension among those who are alike?”
The rabbi and I left the discussion for another time, but the question lingered with me.
It’s about more than one Jewish newspaper. It’s about our town.
I ran through many parts of it on Sunday while competing in the Los Angeles Marathon. We ran through Pico-Robertson and Fairfax, skimming by Hancock Park. We also ran through different non-Jewish neighborhoods, where kids of all colors slapped our hands, fed us Gatorade and sprayed welcome hoses on us in the shimmering heat. Religious women had a water table out in front of the Anshe Emes Synagogue on Robertson, and a band of Sikhs in white also cheered us on. It got me to thinking — and I had a lot of time to think during the five hours of the marathon — about this new city of mine, Los Angeles. How different it is from New York and Jerusalem, my other hometowns.
Like New York, there is much diversity, but also, between denominations, a muted animosity — or perhaps a distance that would sooner group Orthodox Jews with Orthodox Christians and Reform Jews with human rights activists than with each other.
This week, as we devote a special section to Orthodox Life, Jonathan Rosenblum asks, “What ever happened to Jewish unity?” from a religious perspective (page 32). But the fault lies on all sides. Certain groups do “outreach” to Muslims, to Christians, to everyone but our own community. Others can only identify with those who are like themselves.
It scares me, I guess, having lived for so long in Jerusalem and having seen the terrible rift between the secular and the religious, which left me — a traditionalist — stranded somewhere in the middle. To close that divide, it’s less like building a bridge and more like moving the prehistoric land masses back together after they are already on other sides of the world.
Israel’s religious conflict has made Jews strangers — or enemies — to one another. There are a few organizations that work toward introducing ultra-Orthodox people to secular people to show them that once you know a person as an individual, he or she ceases to become a number.
How many of us can talk of that kind of intermingling in Los Angeles?
Some people say that the Jews living in the Diaspora can teach Israelis how to get along, the way two Jews would here. But I fear that we are coming closer to their divisiveness.
How can the Orthodox accept Reform Jews if the latter are an anathema to the former’s religious practice? And how can a Reconstructionist Jew tolerate an ultra-Orthodox Jew when one has selected to lead a less fundamental lifestyle?
How can one newspaper offer divrei Torah without alienating the young secular Jew and run an Arts story without offending a religious Jew? (Don’t answer that.)
But really, how can we all get along, if by the choices we’ve made to be Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist we are by definition rejecting the other options?
I recently went back to this rabbi’s house for Purim. Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, they were all there. Perhaps it was the Nahafoch-hu, the world turned upside down as it is in the megillah. “Purim is the holiday where all the differences can be put aside,” the rabbi said at the holiday meal. “We can all share words of the Torah, enjoy the seudah and come together.”
Dialogue, tolerance, diversity — all overused buzzwords in today’s world. But in this community — a patchwork of thousands of individuals, affiliated and unaffiliated — is perhaps something worth looking into before it’s too late.
I’m seeing someone. Let’s call her Alison. We’re dating. We’re in that very gray area between being total strangers and celebrating our silver wedding anniversary. Three months into it and people are already asking when we’re getting married. At this point, we’re cautiously optimistic, still prefacing all our plans with the phrase: "If you’re still speaking with me," as in: "If you’re still speaking with me in two weeks, would you like to go to the theater on Thursday night?"
If we’re still speaking on Sunday at 9 p.m., you will generally find us parked in front of the television set watching "Sex and the City."
We love this show. It’s "our story," the way some people refer to a soap opera. Watching is like getting a play-by-play update from our relationship with color commentary supplied. All our secrets are laid bare for one half-hour per week. Now you can buy the past two seasons’ episodes on DVD and relive every dating horror ever recorded, and watch them unfold in ultra slo-mo, frame by frame if you want.
After the credits roll, we have a little discussion group, not unlike the "post-mortem" following a hand of bridge. It’s couples therapy without that pesky therapist getting in the way. I’m trying to get Blue Cross to reimburse me for my HBO bill on an 80/20 co-pay. That would be a great deal — I could get a whole season of premium cable for the price of one session at the shrink.
What I’ve learned from the show is that the sexual revolution didn’t bring people closer together. The Internet isn’t bringing people closer together. Singles bars don’t bring people together. Chastity brings people together. Watch any Shakespearean romance and those people can’t wait to wed; but these four girls are too busy running around to get married.
I watch "Sex and the City" just to know that there are four dynamic, intelligent, attractive, very, very well-dressed women who are having a lousy, unfulfilling time. Until I met Alison, I found this to be incredibly reassuring. Misery loves company. Of course, in reality, they’re fictional. (In reality, Sarah Jessica Parker is married to Matthew Broderick.) They’re lonely and either manic or depressive, depending upon whether they’ve just started seeing someone new or are just about to send him packing. In every episode, some guy starts off great, but by the end of the show has developed a tragic flaw and has to go. There is very little relationship in these relationships.
If they showed old episodes of "thirtysomething" or "Once and Again" afterward, it would be lethal, like mixing booze and pills. That would be like saying: "Here’s what happens if you get that man and put an end to the seemingly endless parade of bad singles relationships — marriage is a life of tedious fights in the suburbs, infidelities, guilt and noisy, disrespectful children." This show ain’t making it any easier either, sisters. Now we’re all too aware of what can go wrong.
Nothing is taboo anymore on cable, where I now have four different takes on everything. No stone is left unturned. I have the blonde, brunette and redhead points of view. They started the fourth season being sort-of-engaged, sort-of-married, sort-of-in-love and sort-of-pregnant. Now they’re broken up, divorced and cheated-on. Ha!
If this show is any indication, what women want most is good sex with mostly bad men, then they want to complain about it with one another over lunch, wearing a pair of Christian Laboutien shoes. It is sexy and edgy. It has been pointed out that I, like the fictional Carrie Bradshaw, write a column about single people for a local paper. The problem is that when guys try to have this free-wheeling dialogue about their sex lives, it doesn’t turn out to be sexy and edgy, it turns out smarmy and icky. It turns out to be "The Mind of a Married Man." It gets canceled after one season. It makes you want to take a shower.
Sadly, "Sex and the City" just wrapped up a "mini" season of six episodes, which means that until our story comes back, Alison and I will be getting our relationship advice from "The Sopranos."
J.D. Smith is tuned in @ www.lifesentence.net .
The Queen’s Advice
There’s No Time Like the Present
In my family, death and funerals seem to inspire joking. Maybe it’s discomfort, but it also seems to be a lack of concern and heaviness about the whole thing. No one in my family does much visiting of graves, and burials are apparently not deemed necessary.
My mother wants her body cremated and her ashes scattered at her camp in Maine. I imagine my sister and I will someday combine sharing our grief with a nice trip to New England.
My father, after years of making jokes about his postmortem plans, suddenly informed us that he wants to donate his body to the Northeastern Medical College in Ohio. (His only concern is that some of his former psychology students might recognize him.)
My grandparents also gave their bodies to medicine. My father recalled how some men from the medical school carried my grandmother out in a body bag. Did it bother him? “Well, they looked just like the men who came to fix the television,” he joked.
But it is a serious subject, and a necessary one to discuss — well before the time comes, in order to avoid extra emotional stress and expense.
Yet only 35 percent of the funerals in the Los Angeles area are preplanned through mortuary arrangements, says Steve Espolt, director of sales at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles. This means that someone — a spouse or a child perhaps — not only has lost a loved one, but also has to make arrangements for the person’s body while grieving.
Planning a funeral is not unlike planning a wedding, Espolt says. For both events, you need clergy, a location, flowers and probably some meaningful comments. But “a wedding is usually planned over six months to a year and is the happiest day of your life. A funeral has to be planned in 24 hours and might be the worst day of your life,” he says.
“We don’t ask to be born, and we have nothing to say about when it’s our time to be called,” says Ira J. Polisky, sales manager at Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills. Making arrangements and having them paid for ahead of time, Polisky asserts, “is the greatest expression of love within a family.” Eden offers seminars at temples and fraternal groups for the purpose of bringing the facts of life about funeral arrangements out in the open.
“After 20 years in this business, I’ve seen prepared and I’ve seen unprepared,” Espolt says. “Prepared is better.”
Both Polisky and Espolt mentioned payment plans they offer to encourage families to be prepared. “A small deposit is made,” says Polisky of Eden’s plan, “and then the necessary items are paid off over a seven-year period, which locks in the prices.” This way, one isn’t forcing a new widow to start writing checks at the painful time of loss.
If it’s practical and relatively easy to make arrangements, why are so few people prepared?
“Most people don’t like to think about their own mortality, so they don’t like to talk about what will happen to them after they die,” says Arnold Saltzman, general manager of Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuary.
“Many people take the ostrich approach,” Polisky says. “They pretend that nothing will happen to them, that they will have as much time as they want.”
According to Espolt, men are worse than women, because more men don’t want to admit they’re going to die. Now they are having to deal with their parents’ arrangements, and they don’t like that either. So, they avoid the subject.
Saltzman, a former therapist and executive vice president of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, has seen stress explode when funeral arrangements are not made ahead of time. “Families come in with old wounds and battles that they’ve had over the years,” Saltzman says. “The stress causes them to become more agitated, rather than bringing them together, and as they’re trying to reach these decisions they haven’t made already, they get into arguments.”
One result is “emotional overspending.” Espolt describes a situation where a recently widowed man asked the son of his deceased wife to choose whatever he wanted for his mother, since she hadn’t made her wishes known. “The son picked the most expensive casket available, which made the widower uncomfortable, partly because he knew his wife wouldn’t have wanted anything so extravagant, but he’d made the offer and felt he had to live with it.”
Parents frequently make a decision to just let their kids take care of funeral arrangements when the time comes. “This places an undue burden on children,” Saltzman says. “If the parents won’t talk about it, their children should try to initiate discussion. It will make things easier when the time comes.”
To encourage discussion, Saltzman has created a brochure called “The Right Words,” which offers advice on how to broach this awkward subject. Mount Sinai has also launched a campaign that includes pins that say, “Let’s Talk.”
Espolt says Hillside is also keeping its services in the front of people’s minds with a recent community service ad offering 20-year yahrtzeit memorial calendars to anyone who calls and asks for one.
After speaking with these professionals, I feel relieved that I know what my parents want for themselves after they die. It will be difficult enough to be feeling their loss without trying to imagine what they would have wanted.
Hopefully, it’ll be many years before I need to think about it again.
Ellie Kahn is an oral historian, freelance writer and the owner of Living Legacies Family Histories in West Los Angeles. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
Not Your Grandchild’s Gym
A Traditional Meeting Place
It all begins on a Friday around sundown. You, theparticipant, are assigned to a family’s house. Perhaps you arrive attheir doorstep, or maybe you meet them at Aish HaTorah’s KabbalatShabbat services at Pico Boulevard and Doheny Drive and walk homewith them afterward.
At the dinner table, your hosts guide you and anintimate gathering of singles through a series of Shabbat customs –singing “Shalom Alechem”; saying the “Kiddush” (wine blessing); andwashing for “Hamotzeh” (bread blessing). Introductions are madearound the table. Those in attendance reflect back on the past weekand offer a highlight for which they are grateful.
Following the meal, your hosts lead a discussionof the week’s Torah portion. More songs are sung. By 9:30 p.m., yourparty returns to Aish’s shul, where a guest speaker — such as pastspeakers Rabbi Nachum Braverman and David Sax, executive producer of”Third Rock from the Sun” — talks about relationships to a roomfulof young singles. Afterward, everybody spills into the adjacentsocial hall and kibitzes late into the night over a selection ofbeverages and finger foods.
What’s going on here?
You have just been through the Bart Stern ShabbosExperience.
The goal is “to introduce young adults to aShabbos experience and expose them to an open and loving and caringcommunity,” says program founder David Nisenbaum, 36.
The namesake of this Aish HaTorah-sponsored affair– a survivor who emerged from the Holocaust an observant Jew — wasregarded as a tzadik (a “righteous individual”) by the Pico-Robertsoncommunity.
“Bart Stern went out of his way to performmitzvahs,” says Nisenbaum. “We started the program about a monthafter his passing.”
The program itself had its genesis in anotherpopular local singles event.
“I really conceived this program from hostingMakor,” says Nisenbaum. What separates the Bart Stern ShabbosExperience from Makor is the Shabbat meal, which takes place at thehome of an observant family, as opposed to single peers.
Many of them point out that the organization’sm.o. is to lead people with little Jewish background into anincreasingly more Orthodox lifestyle, without exposing them to thevarieties of Judaic experience. But for a simple night out, BartStern provides good food and company.
Controversy has not diminished the popularity of agrass-roots network such as Bart Stern. On a typical night, anywherebetween 150 and 180 people spend Shabbat at 30 homes throughout thecommunity. And there is always a demand for more participants –hosts and guests alike.
As with any newer program, Bart Stern hasexperienced its growing pains. A recent blow was the Jan. 27 death oftelevision producer Leibel Rudolph (“Roots,” “Rich Man, Poor Man”).As Nisenbaum puts it, Rudolph was “a driving force behind launchingthe program…. When you went to Leibel’s table, he could read anyperson and make them feel special.” It was not uncommon for Rudolphto extend himself to people interested in strengthening their Jewishidentity. He even facilitated trips for people to learn inIsrael.
Presently, Nisenbaum has taken up the reins again,running the program with Tali Rosenthal. In the works for next monthis the Leibel Rudolph Discovery Experience, a Shabbaton weekend thatwill feature seminars on the Torah and Judaism.
When pressed for specific highlights of past BartStern events, Nisenbaum opts for an overview: “Our highlight is thegrowth of the community as a result of the program. The unity itbrings…. The warmth and love of what being Jewish is allabout.”
To participate in the Bart Stern ShabbosExperience, call Aish HaTorah’s 24-hour phone line — (310) 278-8672.Leave your name, address, phone, sex and age on the answeringmachine, and you will be contacted.
Not in Our BackYard