Scarlett Johansson attending the premiere of “Sing” during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival at Princess of Wales Theatre, in Toronto, Canada, on Sept. 11, 2016. Photo by C Flanigan/FilmMagic
Actress Scarlett Johansson has filed for divorce from her French husband Romain Dauriac.
Johansson filed for divorce Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, Page Six first reported, noting that she has asked the judge for custody of her daughter Rose, age 3. Page Six reported that Johansson is “gearing up for a nasty custody battle.”
Johansson, 32, and Dauriac, a journalist, married in 2014, shortly after their daughter was born.
Dauriac’s attorney told Page Six that his client would like primary custody of Rose, and to live with her in France. He noted that Johansson “does a lot of traveling.”
The couple reportedly separated over the summer, at Johansson’s initiation.
In a statement to People, Johansson said she would not publicly discuss the divorce.
“As a devoted mother and private person and with complete awareness that my daughter will one day be old enough to read the news about herself, I would only like to say that I will never, ever be commenting on the dissolution of my marriage,” she said. “Out of respect for my desires as a parent and out of respect for all working moms, it is with kindness that I ask other parties involved and the media to do the same. Thank you.”
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Our guide to the Members of the Tribe in new and returning series and specials includes familiar faces and a few newcomers.
The dark comedy “Divorce” marks a return to HBO for “Sex and the City” star Sarah Jessica Parker (Oct. 9), and the cast of the network’s new sci-fi/Western hybrid “Westworld” features Evan Rachel Wood in a key role (Oct. 2).
Woody Allen writes, directs and stars in his first TV series, “Crisis in Six Scenes,” streaming Sept. 30 on Amazon Prime. Elaine May, who hasn’t acted since Allen’s “Small Time Crooks” in 2000, came out of retirement to co-star in the six-episode comedy.
Lizzy Caplan is back as Virginia Johnson in the fourth season of Showtime’s “Masters of Sex,” (Sundays), and Pamela Adlon (“Louie”) stars in the FX comedy “Better Things” as a Jewish single mother of three and struggling actress (Thursdays).
Lizzy Caplan in “Masters of Sex”
Norman Lear is one of the correspondents in the Epix docuseries “America Divided,” which explores social inequality in the United States. The 94-year-old producer and activist reports on the New York housing crisis in the Sept. 30 premiere.
Norman Lear in “America Divided”
Emmanuelle Chriqui (“Entourage”) plays a hypnotist in the Hulu drama series “Shut Eye,” about fake psychics in L.A. (Dec. 7), and Tania Raymonde (“Lost”) is a hooker turned paralegal working with lawyer Billy Bob Thornton in Amazon’s “Goliath” (Oct. 14). Oded Fehr (“Covert Affairs,” “The Mummy”) joins ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” as Jafar, the villain from the movie “Aladdin” (Sept. 25).
“American Idol” alumnus-turned-recording artist and Queen touring vocalist Adam Lambert plays Eddie in Fox’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” (Oct. 20), and Harvey Fierstein reprises his Tony-winning role as Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray Live!” coming to NBC on Dec. 7.
Adam Lambert in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”
Billy Eichner hits the Manhattan pavement for more “Billy on the Street” antics (TruTV, TBA), Andy Samberg returns in the fourth season of Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Sept. 20), and billionaire investor Mark Cuban is back for the eighth season of “Shark Tank” (ABC, Sept. 23).
Several Jewish actors and characters populate Amazon’s “Good Girls Revolt,” based on Lynn Povich’s book about women trying to crack the glass ceiling in a newsroom in 1969. Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer) is a main character, and Daniel Eric Gold, Leah Cohen and Israeli actress Odelya Halevi are in the cast of the newsroom drama (Oct. 28).
Also on Amazon, the highly anticipated third season of “Transparent,” now streaming, finds Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) seeking gender reassignment surgery. “Man in the High Castle,” set in an alternate-reality post-World War II America occupied by the victorious Nazis and Japanese, will go inside Germany in its second season. After the murder of his family, a fired up Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) explores his Jewish identity and joins the resistance (Dec. 16).
Jerusalem-based writer Avigail Rosenberg — who goes by her pen name — had been divorced for nearly nine years when her book “Healing From the Break: Stories, Guidance, and Inspiration for Anyone Touched by Divorce” was published last year. The tome shares the stories of men, women and children affected by divorce as well as advice from professionals.
Rosenberg’s own divorce was traumatic, and she recently remarried someone who also went through a painful divorce. In the aftermath of her experience, she was inspired to create an informal support system that lends books on topics such as divorce, single-parenting and remarriage for adults and kids; she calls it the Divorce Resources Gemach (free-loan association).
The Journal recently interviewed Rosenberg about her take on divorce within Jewish culture in light of her book and personal experience. What follows is an edited version.
JEWISH JOURNAL: What did you take away from the stories in your book?
AVIGAIL ROSENBERG: The stories in my book were all carefully selected to portray people who overcame their challenges and grew from the process. No one gets through life without facing challenges; the question is whether a person can focus on the positive and come out stronger, or will they get stuck in the anger, bitterness and frustration. My goal was to show that, yes, there is life after divorce, and even despite the curveballs, we can all reach fulfillment.
JJ: What would you say to someone who is staying in a loveless marriage to avoid the stigma of divorce? Are such pressures greater in certain Jewish communities?
AR: The first question I would ask is whether the person has children or not, as that makes a big difference in whether I’d recommend staying in the marriage. The second question is what’s their definition of loveless? If it’s simply two people who no longer find themselves compatible but are willing to stick it out for the sake of the children, that would be ideal, at least until the children are grown and out of the house. If one partner is truly miserable, feeling misunderstood, under attack, battered (physically or emotionally), and unable to function because of his or her pain, they should consider their options seriously, and take a look at how they want to move forward. In my experience, stigma is no longer as much of a factor as it used to be, at least not when there’s no hope of the couple having a future together.
JJ: Children are obviously affected by divorce. How can shalom bayit (peace in the home) be upheld in the wake of a divorce?
AR: If a divorcing couple makes every effort to put their children first, the children will only benefit. Using children as weapons or pawns in a divorce battle isn’t going to make for very happy, well-adjusted children. Many couples go to therapy sessions pre-divorce simply to keep things as civil as possible for the sake of the children. I highly recommend not bad-mouthing your children’s other parent to them; whatever you say will only end up rebounding on you.
JJ: What do you find is the most common myth about remarrying?
AR: Many people who don’t get along with their spouses indulge in a daydream of: “If only I could find someone more understanding/put-together/what-have-you.” I have news for them — remarriage doesn’t happen so fast, especially if there are now children involved, as well. Don’t use the dream of remarriage as an excuse to break up a home.
JJ: What aspects that are uniquely Jewish in the practice of divorce do you think are helpful? Which do you think could improve?
AR: In the Orthodox community, divorce is considered a last resort, an option only when the marriage is truly untenable. Studies have shown that children growing up in an intact home for the most part do better than their peers, and married men and women tend to live longer than their contemporaries. Putting marriage first is an important value that I believe the rest of the world can gain from. The flip side of this is that people occasionally stay in a marriage way past the point of no return, enduring shame and humiliation from an abusive partner. There’s no reason for this, and young people should be taught when it’s time to get out.
JJ: One of the more controversial practices is that of the get (a Jewish divorce decree). Do you see any real movement to reform the practice? What are your thoughts on agunot (women without a get who cannot remarry)?
AR: I would just say that as an Orthodox Jew, I don’t believe the problem is with the system but rather with people who abuse the system. Both husband and wife have to agree to a divorce; a get can’t be given if the wife refuses to accept it. So using the get as a weapon is something that both spouses can do. A person who is in this unfortunate situation should look for the spiritual/emotional guidance they need to deal with it in the best way possible.
JJ: We thank God when a couple comes together in marriage. What is God’s role in divorce?
AR: The Talmud tells us that the altar weeps when a couple divorces. On the other hand, divorce is a valid option in Judaism, and there’s an entire tractate dedicated to its laws. I don’t think anyone goes into marriage expecting to divorce, but if that’s where they find themselves, and they’ve done their best, they can look to God to hold their hand in the challenges to come.
JJ: What can engaged and married couples learn from the cases of Jewish divorce?
AR: Make sure you have a solid base to your relationship before jumping in. Do you share the same values, hopes and dreams? Do you have a healthy sense of respect for one another? Do you have open communication? If yes, you know that marriage isn’t easy street for anyone, and if you put the effort in, you’ll create something that you can look back on with pride after 25 or 50 years. On the other hand, if you’re already married and your marriage isn’t doing well, don’t give up just because everyone else seems to be. Go to therapy if necessary, and get the help you both need to survive and thrive.
Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau intervened to help a woman obtain a religious divorce after a 14-year wait.
The woman discovered 14 years ago that her husband was having a homosexual relationship with a Filipino caregiver. The woman immediately filed for divorce in the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court.
After 12 years, the rabbinical court jailed the husband for continuing his refusal to grant the divorce, or get. At the same time, however, the wife filed for damages in Family Court. The husband said he would continue to refuse until the wife withdrew the Family Court claim.
The Supreme Rabbinical Court then attempted to broker a deal under which the husband would agree to the divorce if she paid him 18 percent of a jointly owned apartment. The woman refused, according to The Jerusalem Post, insisting that she should not have to buy a bill of divorce from her husband.
In a hearing of the Supreme Rabbinical Court last week, Lau, who sat on the panel, over five hours convinced the husband to drop his claim to part of the apartment and to grant the bill of the get if the wife dropped her claim in Family Court.
The woman left the court in tears of happiness, Lau said in a statement on his Facebook page.
Lau reportedly has assisted in several other cases of women who have been chained to their marriages for long periods.
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Rabbinic court bars woman from introducing her children to female partner
A government rabbinic court in Jerusalem issued an order prohibiting a woman from bringing her children to meet her female romantic partner.
The order came during divorce proceedings between the woman and her husband, according to Israel’s Center for Women’s Justice. The center filed a petition this week with the Supreme Court of Israel on the wife’s behalf challenging the order.
The couple agreed that the wife would have custody of the children, but the husband asked the court to issue an order prohibiting her partner from seeing the children. Without such an order, the husband said he would refuse to grant his wife a get, or a ritual divorce. The court agreed to his request.
Israel does not allow civil divorce, so Jewish couples must divorce through the rabbinic court system.
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Husband of Rivky Stein fails to show for get proceedings
The husband of Rivky Stein, a New York Jewish woman who launched a social media campaign to attain a religious divorce, did not appear at the religious court as promised.
Yoel Weiss, 31, failed to show up at a beit din, or Jewish religious court, convened on Wednesday to complete the process, the New York Daily News reported.
“This is just another form of abuse,” said Stein, according to the newspaper.
Weiss told the Daily News that he would only give his wife a religious divorce, or get, if the same three rabbis who started the process would be there to complete it. One of the rabbis could not attend Wednesday; he was in Israel for the funeral and shiva of his mother. Other rabbis who could step in were at the proceedings.
Weiss’ stipulation has no precedent in Jewish law, rabbis told the newspaper.
Stein, 24, of Brooklyn, alleges in documents posted on the Facebook page and a website on behalf of her case that she was physically abused and raped by Weiss, and he kept her under surveillance. Weiss denies that he abused Stein, who left her husband two years ago.
In a June interview, Stein told the Daily News that she recently turned to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office in an effort to have Weiss criminally charged.
Weiss told the newspaper then that he will give his estranged wife a get once they work out custody of their two children in family court.
Hurrying by the parking lot at the Lakeside Event Center in Las Vegas, Israel Meir Kin and his new wife, Daniela Barbosa, avoided eye contact with a group of about 30 demonstrators who had been waiting for them. Dressed for their wedding in a suit and gown, respectively, the couple could not move fast enough. The sight of them was enough to enrage a gathering from the Los Angeles and Las Vegas Modern Orthodox communities, who stood waving signs and shouting slogans denouncing the union.
“Give her a get,” one of the protesters shouted at Kin, referring to the Jewish bill of divorce, which requires a husband to willingly agree to divorce his wife — in this case, Lonna Kin — in order for a Jewish divorce to become official.
In the Orthodox community, Lonna Kin, a resident of Monsey, N.Y., will be unable to marry again or have Jewish children without a get. Israel Meir Kin has refused to grant this to his estranged wife unless she goes with him to a beit din (religious court) of his choice.
Israel Meir Kin’s March 20 wedding to Barbosa in Las Vegas, where he lives, has added fuel to the ongoing, often-heated debate within the Orthodox community over Jewish laws governing divorce, and the occasion prompted leaders from Los Angeles’ Modern Orthodox community to travel to the protest. Those present were all in agreement that he is in the wrong.
“He is adding outrage to outrage by getting married, doing the very thing that he is preventing his wife from doing, and he is violating the laws of polygamy,” said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, leader of the Modern Orthodox B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Pico-Robertson.
Lonna Kin said in an interview with the Journal that, as conditions for giving the get, her former husband, who could not be reached for comment, is demanding that she pay him $500,000 and give up custody of their 12-year-old son. “He’s extorting me for half a million [dollars] and for custody,” she said. She also claimed he has been making these demands “for the past 10 years.” Lonna Kim also said she had to give up custody of a child in a previous Orthodox divorce. She said she would never agree to do so again.
The protest was organized by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had been notified in advance. ORA describes itself as “the only nonprofit organization addressing the agunah crisis on a case-by-case basis worldwide.” “Agunah” is the Hebrew word for “chained wife,” and Lonna Kin is the agunah in this situation, ORA says, as she cannot remarry as long as Israel Meir Kin does not provide her with a get. If she were to remarry without it, she would be ostracized according to the laws of the Orthodox community.
The Kins finalized their civil divorce in 2007, so, according to civil law, both are free to remarry. In Jewish terms, however, while Lonna Kin remains tied to her former husband, Israel Meir Kin claims to have a heter meah rabbanim — the permission of 100 rabbis — a decree that allows him to wed Barbosa even though he is still technically married to Lonna Kin under Jewish law, according to ORA.
Women do not have access to the 100-rabbis alternative, which is supposed to be employed only in extreme cases. ORA claims this is not one of those cases.
Lonna Kin, who works as a realtor and grew up in Los Angeles, expressed her gratitude for the protest in a phone interview after the event.
“That support was incredibly empowering for me,” she said. “Because, first of all, women in this position, a lot of women are agunot, and I speak to other people, and I try to help other people. They tell me how they feel, they think nobody cares, and, unfortunately, there’s a lot of women going through divorces, and it’s always, ‘He said; she said,’ and it’s not about that, it’s not about right or wrong.”
Lonna Kin, 52, called get refusals “a major crisis … in the Orthodox community, that someone can refuse a get for so many years, use extortionist tactics and afterward get married while the woman is still chained.”
In her youth, she straddled both the secular and religious worlds, attending Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and Beverly Hills High School. She said she met Israel Meir Kin, who also grew up in Los Angeles, in her late 30s, when the two both had children from previous marriages who were attending the same summer camp. They married in 2000. “He seemed like a nice person,” she said.
Yet, after they wed, she claimed, “He was extremely controlling, very mean to my children, a very difficult person altogether, all around.” The couple separated in 2005.
For a group of Los Angeles students at the protest, it was a moment of activism and learning: Yaakov Sobel, a ninth-grader at Los Angeles’ Shalhevet High School, held high a banner that read “Shame on You Israel Meir Kin.” Sobel was one of six Shalhevet students who traveled together to Las Vegas on March 20, riding in a van that departed from their campus at noon. They had come, with their parents’ permission, for the sole purpose of speaking out against the wedding.
“I’m here to support the Jewish idea in general that a woman deserves a get,” Sobel said.
Rabbi Ari Segal, Shalhevet’s head of school, was also there, chanting as the newlyweds stepped into the parking lot. Segal said his students have been studying laws surrounding Jewish marriage, and the protest was an experiential learning opportunity for them.
For his part, Kanefsky had come to teach. He told the protesters that the conflict between the Kins illustrates the importance of Jewish prenuptial agreements. These agreements, he said, are paramount to any union, in that they obligate two people entering into a marriage to agree that they would, in the event of their divorce, settle the matter in a reputable beit din.
Israel Meir Kin reportedly has agreed to give his wife a get only on the condition that she appear in one particular beit din, one that the ORA claims is known for being corrupt.
Irrespective of which beit din, Kanefsky said, a spouse should allow for a get without any strings attached.
“We’re saying he must give an unconditional divorce,” Kanefsky said.
Israel Meir Kin’s unwillingness to grant the get has drawn widespread condemnation. In 2010, three Orthodox rabbis issued a seruv, an order of contempt, against Israel Meir Kin, denouncing his refusal to provide a get to Lonna Kin. The panel of rabbis included Rabbi Avrohom Union, who is associated with the beit din of the Rabbinic Council of California.
The seruv has affected Israel Meir Kin’s standing in the Orthodox community in Las Vegas. Rabbi Yisroel Schanowitz, the rabbi at the Chabad of Summerlin/Desert Shores, where Israel Meir Kin occasionally comes to pray, does not allow him to be counted to make up a minyan and would deny him the opportunity to be recognized with any awards, according to Kanefsky, who spoke with Schanowitz on the day of the protest. Schanowitz did not participate in the protest, and the Journal could not reach him for an interview.
Students from Shalhevet High School travel to Las Vegas to protest the wedding of a man who refused to grant his previous wife a Jewish divorce.
Israel Meir Kin, a physician’s assistant, currently lives in Vegas. The Chabad he occasionally attends is located in an upper-middle-class neighborhood overlooking an artificial lake, in the same shopping center as the venue where the March 20 wedding was held. The shul was not involved in the ceremony.
Israel Meir Kin did not respond to the Journal’s request for an interview.
“We don’t know what is going to happen when we get there,” Kanefsky told a reporter at Los Angeles International Airport earlier in the day, before departing for Las Vegas. “I am the sort of person who likes to know everything before he does it, so this is unusual for me.”
Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation commended those who turned out for their commitment to an important cause.
“It’s great we all came here — some of us, hundreds of miles — to come together to say we are not going to stand for this,” Topp told the crowd.
Police officers on the scene frequently had to remind the group, which also included members of the Las Vegas Orthodox community, to remain out of the street. Otherwise, the protest was civil throughout. It did not disrupt the wedding.
Rabbi Nachum Meth of the Las Vegas Kollel was among the locals at the protest. Meth said a man who refuses to give his wife a get is attempting to exert psychological power over his spouse.
“It is the last form of control that a husband has over his wife or ex-wife,” he said in an interview. “He is trying to control her destiny.”
Kanefsky, the only person representing B’nai David-Judea, said he had informed his congregation only a day or two prior to the event. Topp, meanwhile, was joined by a few members of Beth Jacob. The participation among Shalhevet students might have been greater if not for homework and tests, Segal said.
Not all responses to agunot situations have been like this one.
Past media reports have included rabbis resorting to kidnapping and violence as means of coercing the husbands into granting their wives a Jewish divorce.
Forgoing such illegal actions, ORA nevertheless relies on what its assistant director, Meira Zack, referred to as “pressure tactics.” Last Thursday was such an example, said Zack, whose passion on behalf of agunot was apparent from the beginning of the protest, when she led a chant to energize the crowd.
But what of the Jewish law that says that a get must be given “willingly”? Would the external pressure faced by Israel Meir Kin jeopardize the validity of a get, should he ever decide to give one to Lonna Kin?
Rabbi Jeremy Stern, executive director of ORA, says no, pointing to a concept of “constructive consent,” which he says was developed by the Jewish sage Maimonides.
Drawing on a study conducted several years ago by Barbara Zakheim, president and founder of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, Stern estimates that there are currently 462 agunot living in the United States. He points out that while all of them are self-identifying agunot, there is no clear consensus on what an agunah is.
“Different people give different definitions,” Stern said. “Some say a woman is considered an agunah once there has been a ruling by the beit din making that determination. Others say it’s once she has a civil divorce and doesn’t have a get. Others say it’s when she’s been separated for a year and still doesn’t have a get, then she’s an agunah.”
Kin and his new wife, Daniela Barbosa, leave the wedding ceremony.
Adding to the difficulty in quantifying how many agunot there are, Stern said, “There’s no official registry of agunot or even of Jewish divorces. There’s no registry of gets or anything like that, or people applying for a get, because this is all outside the legal system. In civil law you can see how many applied for divorce from the courts and how many court cases are still [outstanding], but in Jewish law you can’t do that because there’s no official Jewish court system outside of Israel, no registry, no real way to define how many agunot there are.”
As a result, the ORA has developed criteria to help in the determination, taking on the cases where a beit din has issued a seruv against the husband and “where the woman has done everything she can through the rabbinical court process, and that has concluded without securing her a get,” Stern said.
ORA also considers taking on cases in which the “rabbinic court has failed or stalled for whatever reason,” Stern said. “So for example, if she says, ‘I want to go to this court,’ and he says, ‘I want to go to this court,’ and the two can’t agree on what rabbinical court to go to, and he cannot compel her, she cannot compel him, then you’re stuck, at a deadlock.
“We’ll get involved in those cases as well, to facilitate those processes to move things forward and ensure that a get is given,” Stern said.
ORA handles about 50 agunah cases at any given time. Currently, several of these are in Los Angeles, Stern said, but he would not provide further information about them.
It is hard to discern how prevalent the issue is in Los Angeles. Topp told the Journal that there have been “a few cases in the synagogue,” where sanctions punishing recalcitrant husbands “would have been helpful.” He did not elaborate further.
Kanefsky said he knows of one congregant from B’nai David-Judea who denied his wife a get, but that took place before he was the rabbi of the congregation, where he has served for approximately 20 years.
In 2013, the Los Angeles Times published an article on recalcitrant husbands who have fled from Israel, where their actions could lead to jail time, to U.S. cities where the separation of church and state keeps them safely out of the way of the criminal justice system.
Stein believes that criminalizing get refusal would solve the problem, providing incentive to adhere to a law that obligates them to give a get upon marital separation.
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, a Modern Orthodox rabbi in the Pico-Robertson area whose responsibilities include officiating weddings, believes that allowing third parties, such as the beit din, to intervene in certain situations and issue the get — husband involvement or no — would solve the problem.
Most importantly, Bookstein says the community’s leaders need to find a solution to this crisis.
“I think that because of the prevalent abuse going on right now, that our rabbinic sages should be entrusted to find a halachic [according to Jewish law] avenue to solve this growing problem … it seems that there is an uptick in this problem as the divorce rate in the Orthodox [community] has grown,” he said.
In the meantime, several rabbis, including Kanefsky and Topp, are trying to increase awareness of the issue on the community level. In September, an Pico-Robertson event will ask already-married couples who have never signed halachic prenuptial agreements — either because they did not exist at the time of their union or because the rabbi who officiated their wedding did not ask them to — to sign halachic postnuptial agreements.
Kanefsky highlighted the importance of this gathering. “It will be an enormous, consciousness-raising event for the whole city,” he said.
When I began practicing law more than four decades ago, divorce in the Los Angeles Orthodox Jewish community was rare — and the giving of a get (Jewish divorce) by the husband was quietly arranged in the local rabbi’s study without fanfare, creating only a few social ripples in the fabric of a close-knit community. Get refusal, or get extortion was almost unknown. (One blatant exception was when a rabbi’s son was finally forced to give a get after eight-plus years of recalcitrance, but only after he was allegedly beaten and thrown into a newly dug grave in New York, whereupon he “willingly” gave his wife a get).
While I was generally aware that a Jewish marriage was not dissolved by a secular divorce until the husband gave the wife a get and freed her to remarry, the possibility of a husband withholding a get and leaving the wife an agunah (a woman chained to a dead marriage) was not something that occurred in my law practice until several years after I opened my office in 1972.
Around 1976, I began receiving an increasing number of cases where husbands refused to give a get for vengeance, or to extort money, property or even custody rights to their children, in some cases whom they may have molested. The result was taking into consideration the grave threat of forcing a woman into a state of agunah if the civil case did not proceed as the husband demanded. I quickly learned that under Jewish law, by virtue of “acquiring” a wife, the husband also had unfettered rights to keep her chained to him until he decided to free her, or until his death could be verified. This gave power to the abusive husband to prevent the wife from ever remarrying or having children with another man, even when he himself remarried and had children in his new relationship.
This imbalance in power afforded the husband creates numerous problems in affecting a civil divorce settlement or judgment, as well, because no amount of legal creativity can force the husband to free the wife from the Jewish marriage bonds. Get refusal and get extortions became so much a part of the Orthodox divorce scene that, being the only family-law practitioner in Los Angeles who also knew the intricacies of the Jewish divorce law, I was compelled to write legal articles, train lawyers and judges to watch out for the problem, and create some solutions.
The delicate balance of the civil law rights to equal property division, as well as spousal and child support and custodial determination, was constantly being jeopardized by a husband’s threat to withhold the get and leave the wife an agunah. I often felt like I was walking a religious tightrope, where any misstep could doom my client.
There are many highly legitimate reasons for a woman to want a divorce that even the most traditional families can accept: marriage to a man who is physically or emotionally abusive or who molests children, or who is discovered after marriage to be homosexual, or who is an adulterer, or who remarries without giving his wife a get, or who disappears, just to name a few. Yet, in an Orthodox marriage, a man marries his bride via a kinyan (an acquisition), and he essentially possesses her until he decides to free her by giving her a get, which, by Jewish law, he must give willingly and without coercion.
If the marriage is legitimately Orthodox, not even the rabbis can free a woman from her marriage — only the husband can. A woman who remarries without a get from her former husband is deemed an adulteress, and the result is that her children — and all progeny from her subsequent relationship — are punished, deemed mamzerim.
The word mamzer is often loosely translated in English as “bastard” or “illegitimate,” but it actually signifies a child from an incestuous relationship. Jewish law does not recognize the concept of “illegitimacy,” so children of an unmarried Jewish woman, for example, are considered legitimate and can freely marry other Jews, but a mamzer is forbidden to marry anyone except another mamzer. This Jewish law remains very much in practice among today’s Orthodox Jews. I have been presented with a number of cases where young people who are about to marry Orthodox suddenly discover they cannot because they were fathered by a man their mother married without having obtained a get from her former husband. In Israel, the rabbinate even keeps a record of known mamzerim to prevent accidental illegitimate marriages into the Jewish community.
The converse, however, is not true. A man who fathers children with another woman without giving a get to his first wife does not beget mamzerim — his children remain legitimate and able to marry other Jews. That is simply because, biblically, a man was allowed many simultaneous wives, and the subsequent rabbinic prohibition of polygamy does not prevent the legitimacy of the husband’s remarriage.
While there are other intricate Jewish divorce and marriage laws too numerous to mention here, it is worth noting that there is no reciprocity, because while a woman can refuse to accept a get from her husband, this power is illusory because neither the husband, nor his children, would suffer any consequences if he remarries without his first wife’s acceptance of the get. Additionally, men can always avail themselves of the law of heter meah rabbanim, “the release by 100 rabbis,” that allows him to remarry despite the failure to legitimately end the first marriage. Such a heter is not available to a woman. The most recent example of this is the well-publicized refusal by an Orthodox man, Israel Meir Kin, to give his first wife a get, even though he married another woman on March 20 in Las Vegas, and no amount of public condemnation from members of the Orthodox community prevented him from doing so. Thus, Kin’s first wife languishes in limbo, unable to remarry or even to date, while her husband proceeds happily with his new marriage, which was performed by an Orthodox rabbi.
These cases of get extortion or get refusal were so rare 50 years ago that they were only whispered about, like the word “cancer” during coffee klatches. But they are now a burgeoning industry. Even the great-grandson of the revered Rav Moshe Feinstein (the great rabbi whose liberal decrees helped free women to remarry when they couldn’t physically prove the deaths of their former husbands in the Holocaust) refused to give his young wife a get for many years, holding her captive to his demands for hundreds of thousands of dollars from her family until she exposed this travesty in the New York Post a few months ago.
On International Agundah Day last year, I participated in a panel discussion held in Los Angeles and sponsored by Get Jewish Divorce Justice Inc. More than one-third of the 100-plus attendees acknowledged having family members or close friends who have either been refused a get or have been extorted for their right to freedom from an abusive Orthodox marriage. It was sickening to hear of women whose husbands demanded millions of dollars from the family; rabbis who shamefully participated in “bargaining” for the amount the husband would accept for the get. A growing industry of physical coercion (the only halachic, albeit criminal, means of forcing a man to “freely” grant a get to his wife) has gained worldwide attention with the recent arrest by the FBI of Rabbi Mendel Epstein, who is accused of hiring thugs to threaten the use of electric cattle prods on the private parts of recalcitrant husbands. A recent survey in Israel revealed that at least two-thirds of married women are fearful that asking for their legitimate share of property or custody of their children could leave them in marital limbo, because their husbands can refuse to give a get. (This is despite the fact that the Israeli rabbinate can lift the driver’s and professional licenses of recalcitrant husbands, or even jail them to coerce a get, though it rarely avails itself of this power).
Numerous solutions have been advanced to counter this problem. Currently popular is the “prenuptial agreement,” which is really an arbitration agreement, granting power to the beit din (Jewish court of law) to decide whether the husband should give his wife a get, as well as to impose a daily support amount he owes her for as long as they are separated and he fails to give a get. While some approaching marriage shy away in horror at the idea of anticipating a possible divorce via such an arbitration agreement, the 2,000-year-old ketubbah — regardless of its artistic presentation — is itself already a prenuptial agreement that specifies the husband’s monetary obligations to his wife in case of divorce or his death. The “arbitration agreement” is nothing more than a monetization of the husband’s obligation to give his wife a get and the wife’s obligation to accept it.
But even this is not a panacea, because, among other shortcomings, it fails to insure a woman’s freedom should the husband not care about the penalty, either because he is too rich or too poor, or if the husband disappears, is mentally disabled, or if he dies without heirs but leaves behind a brother who refuses to free the hapless widow from the levirate marriage requirement (requiring that she should marry her brother-in-law).
Another agreement, the tripartite agreement, essentially annuls the marriage should the husband refuse a get if the couple has lived separately for at least15 months (the children of such annulled marriages remain legitimate in Jewish law). While this agreement is probably the best antidote to an agunah problem, it is largely unknown and rarely used because Orthodox rabbis have been taking years to rally around its legitimacy. (I always recommend signing both the arbitration and tripartite agreements — like chicken soup, it can’t hurt.)
In the meantime, every Orthodox marriage ceremony remains fraught with the possibility of entrapping a woman in a dead marriage from which she cannot escape without her husband’s consent. There is a secret not many rabbis will acknowledge, but which is well-known and whispered in increasingly louder chorus in the agunah-activist community: Currently, the only failsafe solution to preventing a woman from becoming an agunah is to prevent the marriage ceremony from being deemed Orthodox. In other words, to prevent the kinyan of the bride. As long as there is a “flaw” in the Orthodox ceremony, such as unkosher witnesses or a double-ring exchange, etc., the power of the husband over the wife is never acquired, and a get becomes superfluous. The children of that marriage will still be deemed legitimate under Jewish (and civil) law, and the marriage deemed valid under civil law (assuming it is done with a civil marriage license), but the bride will not become the acquisition of the groom, and thus he cannot exercise a power over her that an Orthodox ceremony grants him.
I do not advocate this draconian solution lightly. I have an Orthodox background, and I am proud of my pedigree as an alumna of both the ultra-Orthodox Satmar Yeshiva (Bais Rachel) in New York and Bais Yaakov School for girls both in New York and in Los Angeles. My own marriage ceremony was attested to by 10 ultra-Orthodox rabbis. Our son was raised Orthodox, and he attended Orthodox yeshivot until his graduation from high school, and we are continued members of an Orthodox synagogue.
It is probably because I know the community from the inside, and because I understand the angst such a drastic recommendation will engender, that I speak out now to condemn what I have increasingly witnessed as blight on the community, and the danger to its daughters.
I have been vilified, cursed, disdained and worse because I, together with a number of agunah activists, have dared to voice opposition to Orthodox ceremonies that entomb the wife and vocally excoriate rabbis for their impotence or unwillingness to permanently obtain foolproof solutions to free a woman from a dead Orthodox marriage. Conservative marriages do not encounter this problem, as Conservative rabbis are empowered to annul marriages where the husband refuses to give a get, yet Orthodox rabbis who have bravely advocated similar solutions have been condemned and marginalized by their rabbinic brethren.
Until Orthodox rabbis have the courage to come up with permanent and legitimate solutions to eradicate this problem, there is only one way parents can definitively inoculate their daughters against this epidemic and assure them they will not be locked away in limbo at the mercy of their husbands: Do not allow them to marry in an Orthodox ceremony.
Alexandra Leichter is a partner in the law firm of Leichter Leichter-Maroko LLP and is a California State Bar Certified Family Law specialist. E-mail: Contact@LLMFamilyLaw.com
Tribal and human
Agunah crowd shouldn’t target families
by David Benkof | PUBLISHED Dec 16, 2013 | Opinion
The preeminent sacred cow to many Jews is compassion for agunot (“chained” women whose husbands withhold a Jewish bill of divorce, or “Get”). But enough already: the Internet crowd attacking Avrohom Meir Weiss in his divorce from Gital Dodelson is becoming as heartless and halachically problematic as Weiss himself.
Dodelson fired the first public salvo with a Nov. 4 article in The New York Post stating that Weiss has refused her a Get for more than three years. She provided unquestionably disturbing details, such as that Weiss demanded $350,000 to back down and said “I can’t give you a Get – how else would I control you?”
I sympathize with Dodelson – and here I completely accept her version of the truth. Every agunah situation is a tragedy, more so when children are involved (the couple has a son). Dodelson’s supporters have organized a Web site, setgitalfree.com, and an associated Facebook page.
But their methods reflect poorly on the entire urgent movement to help agunot. Instead of the traditional focus on the recalcitrant husband, this bandwagon mostly targets Weiss’s relatives.
First, Internet warriors boycotted Orthodox publisher ArtScroll until it fired Weiss’s father and uncle. A Facebook commenter claimed victory, saying ArtScroll “heard us loud and clear, and they did exactly what we asked.”
Next, agunah activists turned against Yeshiva of Staten Island (YSI), where Weiss learns and which is run by his grandfather, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein. They demanded that the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) remove YSI’s accreditation and reject rabbis ordained by the yeshiva’s sister school. They also convinced at least one synagogue to cancel an appearance by Rabbi Feinstein.
“Set Gital Free” even bullied Weiss’s elderly grandmother by publishing her telephone number and urging people to “politely and respectfully” inundate her with calls until a Get is granted.
The pro-Dodelson site calls these family members “enablers” who “support” Weiss’s actions. But the relatives are pretty much chained themselves – caught in the no-win position of wishing to succor a humiliated loved one while wanting an ugly divorce resolved. Besides, who knows what they’ve said to Weiss privately?
Those who punish relatives of Get refusers remind me of opponents of Israel’s policies on the West Bank who randomly say “I know – let’s boycott Israeli universities and scholars!” Only this improvisation is worse.
No act, however spiteful, justifies a posse deciding to assault the livelihoods and reputations of relatives and colleagues. It doesn’t seem very Jewish to me: Did a horde attack Jacob because of Esau’s misdeeds, or Jonathan because of Saul’s?
So I contacted RCA Executive Vice President Rabbi Mark Dratch, the rabbi “Set Gital Free” recommended to explain the Torah basis for their strategy. To my surprise, he said absolutely nothing in halachic literature endorses communal pressure on family members of Get refusers, and he never prescribed that approach. Thus, the activists are disregarding the counsel of the man they claim is their rabbi. Orthodox Jews just don’t do that.
I later consulted Rabbi Jeremy Stern from the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), who also could think of no text in a Jewish source describing anything like the “Free Gital” tactics – and he would know. ORA’s extensive Web site promotes many ways to pressure husbands but none to pressure relatives.
Rabbi Stern referenced the impressive “Kol Koreh” (proclamation) signed by ten leading American rabbis, including five from the renowned Council of Torah Sages and ORA’s halachic expert, Yeshiva University Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Herschel Schachter.
The Kol Koreh imposes more than a dozen harsh penalties on Weiss, but only one regarding his family: that ArtScroll must terminate the father and uncle. That directive clearly relates to the laws of a Jewish court (beit din), not those of agunot, since any man who flouts a beit din’s rulings risks retribution. But the rabbis didn’t call for a boycott. (The Facebook site’s supposed triumph over ArtScroll is absurd – as if it had more sway than our generation’s most respected rabbis.) The proclamation also says nothing about canceled speeches, disaccreditations, rejected ordinations, or harassment of old ladies.
Rabbi Schachter and several other Kol Koreh rabbis have been “consulted” throughout the process, Rabbi Stern said. But he would not answer specific questions whether Rabbi Schachter (who declined comment) approved the extreme actions against the relatives. Surely the Gedolei Hador (today’s leading rabbis) would have demanded further steps against the family in the Kol Koreh if they felt them licit and necessary.
It’s alarming that poor Gital’s agunah case would arouse the most disproportionate response in Jewish history undoubtedly due to a 2,500-word essay in a non-Jewish newspaper. Now, before you get out the pitchforks: I don’t defend Weiss one bit. I just think we should heed the measured voice of the Kol Koreh instead of the “Set Gital Free” overreaction.
David Benkof lives in Jerusalem, where he teaches Hebrew at a yeshiva and constructs the weekly Jerusalem Post crossword puzzle. He can be reached at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.
True life: I got stranded in the great Israeli snowstorm of 2013
Rabbis arrested in kidnapping, beating of recalcitrant husbands
Two Orthodox rabbis and two others were arrested for allegedly kidnapping and beating men in order to force them to grant their wives religious Jewish divorces.
The men were arrested Wednesday night in a monthlong sting operation in which a female FBI agent posed as an Orthodox woman trying to get a religious divorce, or “get,” from her husband.
Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark, along with the two alleged accomplices, were due to appear Thursday in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J. Six others could be charged, according to reports.
The arrests were accompanied by a series of searches executed by the FBI, including one at Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, in New York’s Rockland County. Others were in Lakewood, N.J., Brooklyn and elsewhere. In the yeshiva raid, the students, of high school age, were forced to remain outside for the bulk of the law enforcement operation, the Journal News reported.
According to the complaint unsealed Wednesday morning, the rabbis charged $10,000 to persuade the rabbis on the rabbinical court to approve the kidnapping, and another up to $60,000 to pay for others to handle the kidnapping and beating and other physical torture, The Star-Ledger newspaper reported.
Orthodox Jewish women cannot remarry without a writ of divorce granted by a rabbinical court.
Epstein is a divorce mediator in the Orthodox community, according to The Star-Ledger.
Encino lawyer Jeremy Karpel’s home has an art gallery feel to it, with an eclectically decorated living room spilling out into an elegantly landscaped yard. During one recent weekend, it was the perfect backdrop for a party commemorating his grandparents’ anniversary, filled with the sounds of big band-era greats, as spun by a 9-year-old DJ.
But this was no ordinary anniversary. Eddie and Ruth Elcott of Arleta, both in their 90s, were marking 70 years of marriage.
While laying down their own roots — resulting in a fleet of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the precocious DJ — the Elcotts contributed to a number of San Fernando Valley Jewish organizations as well, among them their longtime congregation, Adat Ari El in Valley Village.
Still, the visual centerpiece of the Aug. 24 anniversary party was purely personal: a suitcase packed with 1940s wartime correspondence between the couple, then barely in their 20s. The suitcase lid is adorned with a portrait of the then-newlyweds and promotional material for a book that features them, “Project Everlasting: Two Bachelors Discover the Secrets of America’s Greatest Marriages,” written by Mathew Boggs and Jason Miller.
While the Elcotts have been in the public eye of the local Jewish community personally and professionally for decades, one of the most defining moments, according to the couple, took place while promoting the book on CNN. The reporter asked the Elcotts if they ever considered divorce. Not missing a beat, Ruth replied, “Divorce? Seldom … if ever. Murder? Often!”
“It made people around the world laugh, but it also made them think,” Eddie said following their anniversary party, lounging comfortably in the living room of their home of 60-plus years. It is covered wall-to-wall and table-to-table with decades’ worth of framed photos and albums and a sculpture of a young girl dancing that Ruth’s family smuggled out of Germany.
The couple first met back in 1940 at a Jewish United Service Organizations (USO) party in New York City. That’s when a streetwise young soldier from Harlem set his sights on a delicate beauty whom he later learned got herself and her family out of Germany when Hitler came to power, thanks to forged documents, a job opportunity to work on a farm in England and other twists of fate.
“I still remember that when you got out of Germany, you really made a vow, that you would not let Hitler win,” a still-inspired Eddie told his wife. “That’s been basically what our lives since the war have been about. Rather than shy away from the past like other survivors, Ruth made it a point to tell the story to our children and family, as well as high school kids all over Germany, explaining the Holocaust and what she needed to do to survive. Ruth was and is very much a model for how to survive.”
After her father was imprisoned in 1938 and the freedoms of Jews became unbearably restrictive, Ruth decided to take action. When she heard about job openings in England, the 17-year-old obtained a passport and then forged paperwork to indicate she was the required age of 18, she said.
The couple first met during World War II — a recent German immigrant and a streetwise young soldier from Harlem.
During the train ride to Amsterdam, en route to England, she feared that the German conductor would discover her forgery and send her to her death. Instead, once the train crossed into Holland, Dutch authorities threw the German personnel off the train. Ruth’s job in England involved hard work on a family farm, but she ultimately obtained the means to get her mother, father and sister out of Germany.
No one in the extended family survived the Holocaust, however, according to the couple’s daughter, Diane Karpel of Northridge.
Later, Ruth’s wedding to Eddie was an almost spontaneous affair, consisting of the couple and two witnesses they randomly met shortly before Eddie shipped out. Although wartime romance inspired many Hollywood movies in the early 1940s and the USO gained iconic status through its entertainment and social gathering opportunities, reality put Eddie and Ruth’s relationship to the test.
“We all grew up during that war,” Ruth said. “Soldiers came back and realized the world had changed a great deal. Young women realized that they not only had children to take care of, but husbands as well, especially those injured during the war. We had nothing when we started out, and yet we did it — we got through it. [Eddie] did not come home to a wife happy to see him and a rosy future, but instead home to [a reality that he had] a child and no money.”
War separated the couple during the critical first years of marriage, but they wrote each other every day, chronicling an eventful time in world history and their own lives. Shortly after Eddie’s departure, Ruth learned she was pregnant with their daughter, Diane. Soon after, Eddie’s unit was torpedoed on the way out to the Pacific Theater. Dozens of Ruth’s letters finally got to Eddie a month later, after Diane was born.
“When we wrote to each other every single day, we realized how little we knew about one another … and that our family structures and upbringings were completely opposite,” Ruth said.
That didn’t stop them from dedicating themselves to the task of maintaining a family once Eddie returned.
“We had to start all over again, and when Eddie was in school, I did everything needed to maintain the household,” Ruth said. “Two and a half years later, our son David was born, and we now had two children to care for on my beautician’s job.”
What each one of them separately went through gave them the backbone to weather the challenges, said their son, Shalom Elcott, president of the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County.
“My parents were both street fighters determined to survive,” he said. “My father grew up in Harlem in a working-class family, while my mother grew up in a well-to-do family in Germany who lost everything and [she] had to get her family out to safety.”
Among the things the family did manage to get out was a crystal bowl that survived the war and several moves, only to be destroyed by the Northridge Earthquake. Its remains have been incorporated — as a symbol of endurance — into 14 statues held by multiple generations of family members. The sculpture was commissioned by Diane Karpel.
Shalom Elcott views his parents’ marriage through the lens of their devotion to building the Jewish community in the San Fernando Valley. His father, a political science educator at West Los Angeles City College, taught confirmation at Adat Ari El, and his mother was active in Sisterhood. She also was a religious school teacher at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and spoke about her experiences in Germany locally and abroad. Shalom Elcott also remembers heeding their encouragement to get involved in different community and philanthropic organizations.
“We had that strong Jewish upbringing in part because it was my mother’s way of continuing the now ongoing joke she played on the Nazis [by] getting herself and her family out. This now includes 18 great-grandchildren who exist because of my parents’ will to survive,” he said. “All of us and many of our children are involved in some form of Jewish education.”
Every day in my office, I see parents, embittered by divorce and so grateful to finally be physically and legally apart from a partner they once loved and now hate, struggling to co-parent and jointly make decisions about their children.
Every day, adults who once loved each other so much that they promised to stay together until the end of time storm into my office, dragging behind them children dejected and battered by Mom and Dad’s rage toward each other.
The out-of-control battles parents wage over raising children after divorce leave deep and dangerous open wounds and scars on their children long after the parents have moved on, making their children the real casualties of that war. I see these wounds every day in the children who come into my office. Their grades have plummeted. They act out at school and on the ball field. They are angry or sad. Their physicians raise red flags. Their teachers are concerned. I see children, emotionally and behaviorally hurt by the war between their parents, trying frantically to create stability as their world changes too quickly for them to keep up — and so they fall.
Handling the holidays creates tremendous conflicts in families of divorce. Differences in religious beliefs and observances, demands of extended families and commitments to new relationships all serve to increase the conflicts between separated parents.
There are several different approaches to managing holidays. Sometimes parents alternate years. For others, if the child spends Rosh Hashanah with Father, then she spends Passover seder with Mother that year. Other times, parents prefer to divide up the significant days — Rosh Hashanah with Mother until 3 p.m. and then with Father after 3 p.m. This allows the child to celebrate each holiday with both families. To ensure that domestic law attorneys remain well employed in interpreting documents, both approaches are sometimes combined, alternating years and alternating times. A third approach, especially popular with parents of younger children, may be to try to spend holidays together, believing that maintaining family traditions are better for their children.
In examining which approach might be the best for the children, one must explore the key factors that influence the impact of divorce on children.
The co-parenting relationship rests on three broad principles that guide parents after divorce to promote positive growth and development in their children. First, research confirms that children of divorce do better if they maintain positive, meaningful, real and consistent relationships with both of their parents. What parents consider equal parenting means nothing to the child.
Second, the parental relationship has to be as free of conflict as possible. Both parents are still the child’s parents, and they must model conflict-free parenting.
Third, parents must work to assure that both parents are actively involved in the life of the child and making decisions for the child. Children are hurt by the divorce, but they are far more damaged by how parents behave following the separation. And one of the biggest sources of that pain is the difficulty parents have in making decisions, or in simply being together at important times of the children’s lives.
The bottom line is that when adults fight — and when they cannot together effectively set consistent boundaries, rules and expectations that will allow active and meaningful relationships with both parents — the child suffers.
The key is flexibility and responsiveness to the child.
Happy new mitzvah
Humor thrives in ‘Divorce Party: The Musical’
by Iris Mann, Contributing Writer | PUBLISHED Mar 13, 2013 | Arts
Divorce can be a devastating experience, but one can get through it, survive and even thrive, according to Amy Botwinick, co-author of “Divorce Party: The Musical,” currently running at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.
The story centers on Linda (Janna Cardia), whose marriage ended when her husband came out of the closet and left her for another man. Linda is wallowing in misery and devouring Chubby Hubby ice cream. Enter her sister (Mary Jayne Waddell), her cousin (Samara Dunn) and her friend (Soara-Joye Ross), who have come to throw her a divorce party and lift her spirits. By the show’s end, Linda has been transformed, physically and emotionally, and is living a full life.
Botwinick, a former chiropractor, went through her own traumatic divorce some 12 years ago. She went on to become a divorce coach, helping other women get through their breakups. After five years of coaching, Botwinick wanted to do more, and the idea for a play came to her as an outgrowth of her therapy.
“My divorce took three years, and I remember going to my therapist, and she said, ‘You’re killing me. I don’t know what to do with you.’ She suggested that I start journaling my thoughts down on paper. I started writing my heart out, and the first thing was a book, ‘Congratulations on Your Divorce.’ That book was a little piece of me, but I interviewed a lot of other men and women, and I said, ‘Please tell me how you made it through this, because I need help.’ And they shared their stories of love, of loss, of why they stayed together, why they chose to leave, and what their lives looked like.
“I think the play was just me writing about what I learned from all these women that I coached, what I learned about myself and how you put your big-girl pants on and start over again.”
Botwinick had never actually written a play, so when she discovered that Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Mark Schwartz was at an event she was attending in Palm Beach, Fla., she introduced herself to him and said she had written a book on divorce and felt the subject would lend itself to a musical. As it happened, Schwartz, who had produced the off-Broadway hit “Menopause: The Musical” and was trying to decide what subject to tackle next, was thinking along the same line. The two ultimately got together and began to collaborate, with Schwartz guiding Botwinick in structuring a script and writing dialogue. He also brought in Jay Falzone to work with them on the book, direct the production and create lyrics that parodied popular tunes, a device modeled on the musical numbers in “Menopause.”
After honing the material for a few years, they premiered the play last January in West Palm Beach, Fla., breaking every box office record for the last 20 years. There was also a production in Toronto, which Schwartz said sold more than 20,000 tickets.
The producer, who has divorced twice, is quick to emphasize that the show is not just aimed at divorced people. “This is really, really important. It doesn’t matter if you’re single, married or divorced, this is one funny, funny time at the theater. Everybody knows someone who’s been through a divorce, or is going through a divorce. It’s a very normal part of our lives.”
Although the play unfolds from a woman’s point of view, the show includes about nine “boy toy” characters, all played by actor Scott Ahearn.
“It’s a tour-de-force performance,” Schwartz remarked, “and the audience loves him at the end. But h interacts with the women only as a third person. He’s not their friend; he doesn’t know them. He’s a pizza delivery boy; he’s a massage therapist; he’s a yoga master; he’s a makeover artist. He comes back in different guises.”
Although it is not a specifically Jewish play, Botwinick, who now lives in Florida and is remarried to “a nice Jewish attorney,” said her approach was heavily influenced by the values she learned as a Jewish girl from New Jersey.
“Growing up as a Jewish girl with this idea of always trying to be the bigger person, always trying to do the best you can, not being mean or vicious, a lot of that is in there, because a lot of people go through difficult times and they lash out, or they go for revenge. I just think about how I grew up, what I learned in Hebrew School and my bat mitzvah, about always giving back, whether it’s to your friends or your family, and just trying to be supportive and helpful.
“Things get hard,” she continued. “We always have hard times as Jews, right? We always have issues, but what do we do? We always pick ourselves up, and we move on, and we move on with a good heart, and with humor. Humor is everything.”
“Divorce Party: The Musical” runs until April 14 at the El Portal Theatre. For tickets or more information, call (866) 811-4111 or visit
Israel's divorce rate rose 5 percent in 2012 compared to the previous year, with the highest number of divorced couples from Tel Aviv.
Some 10,964 couples divorced last year, according to a report issued by the Rabbinical Courts Administration. Tel Aviv saw 711 couples split up, followed by 705 in Jerusalem. The city of Bnei Brak, which has a high proportion of haredi Orthodox families, had 147 divorces.
Divorces were granted in 2012 to 163 women classified as agunot, or women whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious divorce, without which they can not remarry. Some 97 agunot were granted divorces the previous year, though the report does not say how many women currently are being refused a religious divorce, or get.
Sanctions, including in some cases prison, were imposed by the court on 60 men who are refusing to grant their wives a divorce, compared to 41 in 2011.
The rabbinate fielded 75 requests from men wishing to take a second wife, according to the report.
Meet some of Israel’s new Knesset members
Israel gets same-sex divorce before same-sex marriage
by Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Reuters | PUBLISHED Dec 4, 2012 | Israel
An Israeli court has awarded the country's first divorce to a gay couple, which experts called an ironic milestone since same-sex marriages cannot be legally conducted in the Jewish state.
A decision this week by a family court in the Tel Aviv area “determined that the marriage should be ended” between former Israeli lawmaker Uzi Even, 72, and his partner of 23 years, Amit Kama, 52, their lawyer, Judith Meisels, said on Tuesday.
Legal experts see the ruling as a precedent in the realm of gay rights in a country where conservative family traditions are strong and religious courts oversee ceremonies like marriages, divorces and burials.
While Israel's Interior Ministry still has the power to try and veto the decision, it would likely have to go court in order to do so, Meisels said.
A 2006 high court decision forced the same ministry, headed by an ultra-Orthodox cabinet member, to recognize same sex marriages performed abroad and ordered the government to list a gay couple wed in Canada as married.
Same sex marriages are performed in Israel, but they have no formal legal status.
“The irony is that while this is the beginning of a civil revolution, it's based on divorce rather than marriage,” newly divorced Kama, a senior lecturer in communications in the Emek Yizrael College, told Reuters.
He and Even, both Israelis, married in Toronto in 2004, not long after Canada legalized same-sex marriage. They separated last year, Kama said.
It took months to finalize a divorce as they could not meet Canada's residency requirements to have their marriage dissolved there. At the same time in Israel, rabbinical courts in charge of overseeing such proceedings threw out the case, Kama said.
By winning a ruling from a civil court, Kama and Even may have also set a precedent for Israeli heterosexual couples, who until now have had to have rabbis steeped in ancient ritual handle their divorces, legal experts say.
“This is the first time in Israeli history a couple of Jews are obtaining a divorce issued by an authority other than a rabbinical court, and I think there is significant potential here for straight couples” to do so as well, said Zvi Triger, deputy dean of the Haim Striks law school near Tel Aviv.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Michael Roddy
Sheldon Adelson spent close to $150 million on 2012 campaign, GOP fundraisers say
Mayim Bialik divorcing
by Uri Fintzy, JTA | PUBLISHED Nov 27, 2012 | Hollywood
On Thanksgiving, a day that Americans celebrate with family, and friends Big Bang Theory” star Mayim Bialik took to her Kveller blog to say she's divorcing her husband, Michael Stone, after nine years of marriage.
“After much consideration and soul-searching, Michael and I have arrived at the decision to divorce due to 'Irreconcilable Differences,' ” Bialik wrote last week. “Divorce is terribly sad, painful and incomprehensible for children. It is not something we have decided lightly.”
The couple have sons aged 7 and 4. Bialik, who has chronicled her parenting style online for years, denied it had any relation to the breakup. “The hands-on style of parenting we practice played no role in the changes that led to this decision; relationships are complicated no matter what style of parenting you choose,” the former “Blossom” star wrote.
Bialik went on to say, “The main priority for us now is to make the transition to two loving homes as smooth and painless as possible. Our sons deserve parents committed to their growth and health and that’s what we are focusing on. Our privacy has always been important and is even more so now, and we thank you in advance for respecting it as we negotiate this new terrain. We will be ok.”
‘Anything Goes’ is high jinks on the high seas
Israel is swamped with singles
by Arieh O’Sullivan, The Media Line | PUBLISHED Jun 27, 2012 | Israel
Israelis are known for their gregarious behavior and love nothing more than spending time with their group of close friends. It’s a trait that is wreaking havoc among the quickly mushrooming singles population and threatens to have long-range anthropological effects on Israel’s future society.
“The impact of the singles revolution, or better called ‘the breaking-up revolution,’ is far reaching and has been leaving its mark in recent years on housing, economy, education and even the level of personal happiness,” writes Amit Zahavi-London in a new study on the singles scene in Israel.
Zahavi-London, who manages a dating service, maintains that modernization, pluralism and the rise in the standard of living can actually increase misery. “Perhaps it is temporary misery – a transition stage on the way to a society with new game rules.”
According to the statistics, in 1971 the chance of a 35-year-old woman in Israel being unmarried was 1 in 40. Today, at least one in four women of that age is unattached. The situation is the same with men. Reflecting trends in the West, Israel is also witnessing a sharp rise in the divorce rate.
“A few years ago being divorced was a disgrace, shameful. People wouldn’t even admit they were divorced. Now, in America, one out of every two couples is divorced. It’s a very common phenomenon. In Israel, it’s one out of three,” Prof. Oz Almog, a sociologist from the Israel Studies Department at Haifa University, told The Media Line. “Having a lasting marriage is becoming abnormal, and that’s no joke. We have to adapt.”
Israelis use the Hebrew term Panu’i or “seeking” to describe that growing chunk of the population looking for a relationship around which an industry has been built. According to those in the business, Panu’i is anyone over the age of 24 who is officially either divorced, widowed or has never been married and is looking for a partner. It excludes all those fantasizing or miserable or even happy married folks who just want to hook up with someone new.
The latest figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics show that 35% of Israeli women between the ages of 35-49 are “seeking.” For men, 42% between the ages of 35-39 are in this category. It drops to 35% between the ages of 40-44, and to 31% for the 45-49 age bracket.
As late as 1980, the Central Bureau of Statistics didn’t even list “divorced” as a category for family status; offering only “single” or “not single.” This drives home the fact that at that time, divorce was still on the margins. “Dating sites have taken the place of the matchmaker with one exception,” Zahavi-London tells The Media Line. “In the past it was uncomfortable to admit one needed the services of a matchmaker and it was usually done clandestinely. Today, belonging to a dating service is very legitimate.”
Zahavi-London manages a dating site called “Shakuf B’Tzafon,” in northern Israel. She maintains that the Internet significantly widens the number of potential partners over the traditional ways of hooking up. They usually offer everything from hikes, to dance parties, bus tours, communal singing, folk dancing and even bowling events.
But in reality, these events are very often attended by many more women than men; sometimes up to 80% are women.
“Women come to the parties in packs, not alone, whereas a man will come alone,” she explains. “Men are less social and less engaged and are embarrassed to come alone. They are more functional minded. If they come to an event and don’t find someone to go home with they won’t come back. But girls have a good time. If they don’t meet someone, then so what? They had fun and will come back hoping to meet someone the next time.”
Eviatar Ronen, a divorced 49-year-old events organizer with boyish, charming looks, says he finds Internet dating the best way to meet women. However, while he says he has enjoyed it, he suggests that it risks creating a culture of “alienation” from the more challenging real world.
“Dating is easy these days. There are lots of choices and if you don’t like it… click away and go to another group of choices,” Ronen tells The Media Line. “Internet dating sites create an illusion of getting closer to people but really it creates alienation. You just head to J-Date and login and it creates a sense that if things don’t work out, then you can just move on with the idea that you’ll find another one with another click of a button.”
Noga Martin, an editor in her 30s living in Tel Aviv, says she’s practically given up on Internet dating sites.
“I’ve tried. I have stopped counting. When I used to keep a running tally I think I went out with well over 60 guys and the conclusion I’ve drawn about Internet dating is that it reflects exactly what you would find if you weren’t using the Internet. People who are very sociable and outgoing find it very easy to meet people on the Internet and people who are more reserved or shy find it difficult,” says Martin who has big brown eyes and enjoys long walks on the beach.
“If you are in a bar or any real analogue social situation and someone comes up and talks to you, you might not be that interested in talking to them at first but you know, someone can have another chance. Whereas, if someone passes over you on an Internet site, there is nothing you can do,” she tells The Media Line.
Still, Zahavi-London argues that the Internet lets one cast a wider net.
“True, the alienation is easier, but why? It’s because you can reach a wider group of people now. In the past, it was harder to break-up because often you and your spouse were in the same circle of friends, or at work or in the neighborhood. Now, if it doesn’t work out, it is easier to cut-off because you don’t have to see them,” Zahavi-London says.
Ronen says that “seekers” who are put off by the blatant dating clubs and sites use other, more subtle activities to meet partners.
“Meditation classes, Yoga, Kabbalah studies, Tantra courses; it’s a meat market,” Ronen says. “Officially, it’s not a dating site but nevertheless, practically speaking, it is a very popular pick-up place and ironically, that’s because it doesn’t have that stigma.”
Ronen, who has lived abroad for extended periods, says he often finds Israeli single women very assertive.
“Israeli women can be very bold today and will come up to me and ask me for my business card and they ask me where I’m from and say ‘You’re so cute’,” he says. “Many of these are women are freed-up from a miserable relationship. They are saying to themselves that they live only once and they don’t give a damn and they deserve to enjoy life.”
Zahavi-London says that people seeking a partner are not necessarily interested in getting remarried but are mainly looking for a partner to take them out of their loneliness.
The “seekers” population in Israel is growing and not just because more and more people are divorcing, but because, as Prof. Almog, believes, it’s uniquely harder and harder to actually meet in Israel, regardless of the dating clubs.
“Specifically in Israel we have extra difficulties,” Almog says. “One for them is our very inefficient public transportation network which makes it harder to meet up. Another thing is the lack of clubs and bars that cater for the middle aged, people above the age of 40—like me.”
Almog says this was because Israeli society itself is in-flux and the industry of night life is relatively new.
“We used to meet in each other’s apartment in our leisure time. And now, so many singles don’t have the right place and they don’t want to host someone in their apartment—why should they? Now, for them it’s difficult to adapt, and you know, there are so few bars that provide entertainment for mature people. It has to develop over the years. We have to think about people above forty.”
Almog, who has written extensively on Israeli culture, believes that the number of single people will grow, especially women, who will be inclined to do away with having a relationship altogether. He even believes that in the future women will start to live in communal dwellings, a sort of Amazonian kibbutz.
“They will say, ‘We don’t need the male full time. Let him be my neighbor and come to some arrangement that will gradually replace him’,” Almog quips. “Many people on Facebook do not accept term ‘relationship’. It’s not suitable for them. What we are going to have is a big large spectrum of relationships during a life course. It will be reflected in the different ways we are going to live. Many families will be temporary, they will change, and then we will live in a commune, then we will live alone, and then we will be together, with the kids, without the kids, kids coming back to our house, living with us, urban life, rural life, all sorts of things.”
“We are living in a twilight zone, sociologically speaking,” Almog says. “Researching the phenomenon of singles is actually researching the transformation of the human system.”
Masa Desert Sports Challenge Program – Take the Challenge
Picks for rabbinical judges’ panel riles Israeli women’s groups
Women’s and human rights groups in Israel criticized the Israel Bar Association’s decision not to appoint any women to a committee that appoints rabbinical judges.
In its selections Tuesday for the Appointments Committee for Rabbinical Judges, the bar association for the first time in 12 years did not have any female representatives on the panel picking rabbinical judges, or dayanim.
The committee elects judges to the country’s 12 regional rabbinical courts, which are responsible for matters including divorce.
The appointment of two males to the committee reportedly came about as part of a political deal struck with the bar association’s haredi Orthodox faction despite a written promise from Yuri Geiron, the head of the bar association’s largest internal faction, to the International Coalition for Agunah Rights to appoint a woman to replace the woman who was being rotated off the committee, The Jerusalem Post reported.
“The lack of female representation deepens the outrageous [religious and gender] imbalance that exists on the committee, which also includes only three non-haredi members,” Batya Kehane, director of the women’s divorce rights organization Mavoi Satum, told The Jerusalem Post. “The rabbinical courts are a state institution which are supposed to serve the general public.”
Jewish agency employee accused of selling survivors’ personal info
An Israeli woman must pay her husband nearly $57,000 in damages for refusing to accept a Jewish writ of divorce, or get.
A Family Court judge in northern Israel on Sunday ordered the woman to pay more than $7,000 a year for each year that she has refused to divorce her husband, despite being ordered by a rabbinical court to comply.
The couple separated in 2003 after 25 years of marriage, according to reports. The husband originally had filed for divorce in 1986, citing his wife’s infertility as the main reason, but was refused by the rabbinic court. His wife claims he is interested in another woman.
The judge ruled that the wife will still owe her husband the compensation even if she now agrees to a divorce. The husband can sue for more damages if she continues to hold out.
Ruth Madoff will divorce her husband, Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, in order to reconcile with her son, a Madoff biographer said.
Ruth Madoff, 70, reportedly has not visited her husband of 52 years in prison since their son Mark, 46, committed suicide last December, according to Diana Henriques, author of “Bernie Madoff: The Wizard of Lies.”
Another son, Andrew, reportedly has not had contact with his mother since the suicide, and turned her away from a memorial service for Mark at his home in Greenwich, Conn., the New York Post reported.
The brothers, who turned in their father, broke off contact with their mother after she chose to support her husband during legal proceedings.
Henriques told CBS’ The Early Show that “there are good signs of reconciliation” between mother and son.
Bernard Madoff bilked investors out of approximately $20 billion during his 20-year Ponzi scheme. He is serving a 150-year sentence at the federal prison in Butner, N.C.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will again underwrite the baseball tournament at the Maccabiah games in Israel, according to an announcement from the Maccabiah Organizing Committee.
Frank McCourt, though occupied with ownership of the team and a contentious divorce, said, “Our sponsorship hugely enhanced the baseball experience at the 18th Maccabiah Games in 2009, and the Dodgers are proud to continue our close association with the Jewish Olympics.
“We are delighted to participate in spreading the baseball message internationally and eagerly look forward with all Jewish and Israeli fans to seeing great ball at the 2013 Maccabiah.”
On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also put aside a few other concerns and pledged that his government will provide substantial support for the next Maccabiah, scheduled for July 16-30, 2013.
On the local end, a committee of 36 well-heeled Angelenos is again swinging into action, after raising $1.8 million for the 2009 Maccabiah. The money went mainly to subsidize the participation of athletes from smaller Jewish communities around the world.
Steve Soboroff, who organized the Los Angeles efforts, said that, as previously, local supporters have pledged $50,000 each to serve as “consultants” for the 2013 event.
In addition, former Mayor Richard Riordan will again sponsor the Maccabiah chess competition and the Jewish Life Television network will broadcast highlights of the games.
In a related development, the main venue for the next Maccabiah may be Jerusalem’s expanded Teddy Kollek stadium, rather than the traditional Ramat Gan facility near Tel Aviv.
Some 8,000 athletes, among them junior and senior competitors, participated in the 2009 Maccabiah, setting a new attendance record, Maccabiah executive director Eyal Tiberger said during a recent visit to Los Angeles.
They came from 52 countries, and organizers hope to add Cuba, Morocco, Burma and Singapore to the 2013 list.
by JESSICA PAULINE OGILVIE | PUBLISHED May 4, 2011 | Health
Sascha Rothchild, 33, describes the feeling leading up to the end of her first marriage as a sort of underlying malaise.
“It’s just that feeling of falling asleep at night,” she said, “knowing that you’re unhappy, and that you’re unhappy on someone else’s terms.”
Rothchild got married at 27, ended her relationship a year-and-a-half after her wedding and then authored the book “How to Get Divorced by 30: My Misguided Attempt at a Starter Marriage” (Plume, 2010). She isn’t alone in her willingness to explore and understand — publicly — what went wrong. Her outspokenness is a reflection of the seemingly palpable deterioration of the stigma surrounding divorce, as well as society’s changing views on what it means to be married.
In spite of the fact that young divorcees seem more open to talking about their breakups in recent years, marital stability among the under-40 set is, in fact, on the rise in the United States.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 1975 and 1979, 16 percent of 30-year-old men had divorced, as had 20 percent of women. By 2004, that number had slid to 13 percent of men, and 17 percent of women.
The relatively high percentage of divorce in the late 1970s has been largely attributed to the widespread adoption of no-fault divorce laws, in which couples can end a marriage without blame. And experts agree that societal factors still play an important role in who gets married, who stays married, and who’s happy within their marriage.
Over the past few decades, the median age of marriage has gone up from 23 in 1970 to 28 in 2008, and in a shift in trend, college-educated individuals are now getting married at the same rate and age as those without college degrees.
And both age and education influence the likelihood that a couple’s relationship will stay intact. According to a report released in October by the Pew Research Center, people with a higher level of education are less likely to get divorced; in the year 2007, it states, 1.6 percent of adults with a college degree were divorced, compared to 2.9 percent of those without a bachelor’s degree.
As we get older, says Thomas Bradbury, professor of psychology at UCLA and co-director of the UCLA Relationship Institute, we come to know ourselves better, eliminating the likelihood of a youthful marital mistake, or of growing apart during the decade of personal change that is the 20s.
“As you age through your 20s and firmly in adulthood in your 30s, your education is largely behind you, and your financial resources are firmly in place,” Bradbury said. “You define yourself and what you want better.”
Bradbury recently explored the subject of newlywed satisfaction in more depth. Over the course of 10 years, he tracked 464 couples to examine what led to happiness or unhappiness in their marriages, and whether those experiences were shared by a majority of couples.
“Everybody says relationships naturally deteriorate over time,” he said. “What we were discovering is that actually those changes, those rapid declines, are limited to a few small subgroups of couples.”
The study, published in October 2010 in the Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy, found that couples fell into one of five subgroups: Three were relatively satisfied in their relationships, and generally less likely to get divorced. The other two subgroups were less satisfied in their relationships, and by the 10-year mark, 40 to 60 percent had ended their marriages.
Among the couples who were more likely to get divorced, partners often struggled with communication, specifically around conflict resolution. And one or both partners routinely had personality traits like low self-esteem, high levels of stress or a pessimistic outlook.
“There’s an emotion regulation component to all of [the shared characteristics],” Bradbury said. A stable marriage, therefore, requires “an ability to know who you are, and to not be too inclined toward pessimism and negativity.”
Rabbi Mordecai Finley of Ohr HaTorah Congregation echoed the importance of the strong sense of self that’s necessary to build a healthy marriage — and to get out of an unhealthy one.
A stable relationship, he says, is built on mutual respect, admiration and the notion that we are all ultimately responsible for our own well-being. On the flip side, “It requires a considerable degree of insight into oneself [to come to] the realization that the primary foundation of a relationship is wrong,” he said.
Rothchild, who is now engaged again and planning her second wedding, adds that no matter what, the realization that a marriage is going to end almost as soon as it began comes as a shock.
“You think you know who you are, and you think you know what you want,” she said. “Then you’re about to hit 30, and you realize this isn’t what you want, and this guy is not the guy for you.”
Chanting “Stop Abuse” and “Free Your Wife,” 200 people rallied on the eve of Purim in front of the Fairfax-area home of a man who refuses to grant his wife a Jewish divorce.
Meir Kin and his wife, Lonna, who have one child, have been separated for four years, and though a civil divorce has already been granted, he has refused to appear before a recognized rabbinic court to grant her a Jewish writ of divorce, or get. Without a get, she cannot remarry and is considered an agunah, Hebrew for chained woman.
The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) issued a seiruv, or letter of contempt, against Kin in March 2007 for refusing to appear before the beit din, a rabbinic judicial panel.
The New York-based Organization for the Resolution for Agunot (ORA) organized the rally to apply communal pressure on Kin. Because Jewish law does not allow a beit din to force a man to issue his wife a divorce, communities have historically used religious ostracization and social embarrassment to pressure recalcitrant husbands into giving in.
“We feel it is important for a community to take a stand against this kind of abuse, and say we will not tolerate it,” ORA’s assistant director Jeremy Stern said. “If someone is emotionally abusing his wife, abusing halacha and making a mockery of the rabbinic system, it will not be tolerated.”
ORA works with couples from across the religious spectrum — from fervently Orthodox to loosely traditional — to help resolve tough divorce cases, Stern said. The organization tries to facilitate conversation between the parties to help bring them to an acceptable resolution with a beit din or other mediator. If that fails, ORA uses threats of protest and then actual protests at the home or workplace of a husband who refuses to give a get, or a wife who refuses to accept one. Since it was founded in 2002, ORA has helped resolve 97 cases and still has 60 cases open — just a small percentage of the problem divorce cases out there, Stern says. Several of ORA’s cases are in Los Angeles, including an Israeli man in Tarzana who has refused his wife a get for 31 years.
ORA has been working on the Kin case for three years. The case has a long and complicated history in civil courts in New York and Los Angeles, and several rabbinic courts. Kin said a get is waiting for his wife at the beit din of Rabbi Tzvi Dov Abraham in Monsey, N.Y. But that beit din is universally reviled as extortionist, and divorces from Abraham’s beit din are not recognized by the RCC, the chief rabbinate in Israel or the Beth Din of America, Stern said.
Kin comes from a prominent Los Angeles Orthodox family — both his parents are longtime educators in the Beverly-La Brea area, and his brother, Rabbi Elyahu Kin, is a leader at the outreach organization Torah Ohr. Another brother is president of an Orthodox congregation.
The protest was held outside the parents’ home. Stern has been slowly publicizing the case for two years, sending fliers and information packets to local rabbis, hoping to avoid a rally, he said. While some rabbis showed up to the rally and publicized it among their congregants, many stayed away.
Stern said the group also works on preventative measures. It supports a 10-year-old effort to make prenuptial agreements, which make withholding or refusing a get financially painful, a standard part of Orthodox wedding ceremonies. Stern flew to Los Angeles for the rally, and spent some time in local Orthodox high schools teaching students about the need for prenups.
“We see this as way of making social change from the bottom up, so everyone does it as a matter of course,” Stern said.
— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer
UCLA Acquires Western Jewish History Artifacts
UCLA last week celebrated the acquisition of a treasure trove of Jewish history in the American West, the legacy of four dedicated amateurs turned skilled historians.
The ceremony in the UCLA Library’s special collections department culminated decades of work by the late Dr. Norton Stern and Rabbi William Kramer, both Los Angeles residents.
When they died, they left behind some 400 boxes crammed with documents, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, memoirs, photos and assorted memorabilia.
Much of the hoard was accumulated by Stern, an optometrist, who scoured the small towns of the Western states, looking, as he put it, “through hundreds of haystacks for dozens of needles,” hidden in abandoned cemeteries and faded newspapers.
His and Kramer’s immense accumulation of history in the raw was rescued after their deaths by two Valley residents, David W. Epstein and Gladys Sturman, who went about cataloging, indexing and archiving the material.
They were aided by 11 members of Congregation Shir Ami in Woodland Hills, an $18,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation and $10,000 from Sturman’s own pocket.
A major part of the Stern-Kramer legacy was trucked to UCLA last year and, over the months, Caroline Luce, a doctoral candidate in history, has digitized the archive, which is expected to go online in May.
In the process, Luce has become an expert on the arcane history of bagels, and the audience of some 70 invited guests was left to ponder whether the Jewish gustatory icon had originated in Austria, Poland, or China.
Epstein noted that Kramer and Stern had defined rather broad boundaries for the “American West,” claiming all the land west of the Mississippi River, Hawaii and parts of Mexico.
Jews played a disproportionally large role in the development of the West, because they were often the only residents who were literate, knew about business affairs, and were trusted by both gold prospectors and native Indians.
David Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, lauded the professional standards and work by Sturman, Epstein and the Shir Ami volunteers as a prime example of collaboration between town and gown.
Additional parts of the original Kramer-Stern collection have been donated to other institutions, such as 1,000 books to the American Jewish University, 2,000 photos to the Autry National Center, and ephemera to the Huntington Research Library, in partnership with USC.
For additional information, call the UCLA department of special collections at (310) 825-4988 or Genie Guerard at (310) 206-0521.
Stuart Miller was not looking for a wife. After two failed marriages over the course of 15 years, the Arcadia doctor and father of two was content with his newfound bachelorhood and independence. But when he met Stacy, the widowed mother of one of his daughter’s Hebrew school classmates, his plans fell by the wayside.
“I just knew that she was different, and we really fell in love,” said Miller, 54. “I wasn’t looking to get married. It just fell in my lap.”
The couple married in 2005.
Finding love a second or third time is not always so effortless, but 52 percent of men and 43.5 percent of women remarried in 2004, according to a 2007 U.S. census bureau report. And Jews are no exception.
While religions like Catholicism frown upon the idea of divorce, Judaism is accepting of the end of a marriage as a fact of life, albeit an unfortunate one, and embraces the concept of remarriage.
“The Jewish tradition understands that there’s a place for divorce in the world,” said Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. “If the first marriage does not last a lifetime, the idea of remarriage is certainly a mitzvah.”
But when one or both spouses have already had a big wedding — rented out the country club, wore the fancy white dress and registered at Macy’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond the first time around — is it acceptable to have a large-scale event a second time?
In short, yes. While many second or third weddings are smaller and more modest than first weddings, it’s not necessarily the rule. Stuart and Stacy Miller’s backyard wedding had nearly 300 guests — the largest ceremony for both.
Most of the guests were members of the couple’s shul, the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, as the Millers met through the synagogue and both are extremely active in the community. The service was also Stacy’s first Jewish wedding and she had just begun cultivating her Jewish identity.
Second-time bride-to-be Vivian Guggenheim, 57, of Los Angeles, is thrilled to be planning her upcoming nuptials. Guggenheim’s first wedding took place in a Jerusalem yeshiva and was planned almost entirely by her late husband’s father. This time, Guggenheim has enjoyed working with her husband-to-be, Michael Marcus, in choosing the details for her ceremony, which will take place in a backyard in Hancock Park. The reception will be in Congregation Shaarei Tefila’s catering hall, Kanner Hall.
While some Jews claim that there are different ceremonial requirements in second Jewish weddings — including the idea that second-time brides should not wear white or take part in a bedeken, a veiling ceremony — they have no basis in Jewish law. Jewish communities have different marital traditions, but the wedding ceremony is the same for all spouses-to-be, with one small exception. On a ketubah (marriage contract), a woman who has never been married is indicated using different language than a woman who has been married before. For example, the ketubah for a second marriage changes be’tulta da (maiden) for armalta da (widow) or matarakhta da (divorcee).
When it comes to gift registries, some second-time spouses feel they have everything they need and skip it, while others wish to make a fresh start. Although a gift registry for a second marriage might seem unusual or even tacky to some, Sarah Dakar, owner of Under the Chuppah, a wedding and event production company in the Pico-Robertson area, said that many of her second-time spouse clients opt for the registry.
“Every marriage is a celebration,” Dakar said, “and a celebration deserves gifts.”
For the Millers, registering for new household items was a way of starting anew with their blended family, which included Stacy’s son, then 14, and Stuart’s two children, then 11 and 13.
“I tried to make it fun, so that the kids could get new stuff, too,” Stacy said.
Regardless of the ceremony and the gifts, Valley Beth Shalom’s Feinstein recommends that second-time spouses reflect on their previous relationships in preparation for the new commitment. Before marrying a couple, he counsels the spouses-to-be about what marriage means to them.
“Where you came from makes a difference in terms of where you’re going,” the rabbi said. “I ask the couple to tell me what happened in the first relationship and then I know that they’re prepared for another relationship.”
From the location to the ceremony to the guest list, many second-time brides and grooms struggle to make their second weddings significantly different from their previous wedding.
While Dakar has noticed this trend among her clients, she feels that things often fall into place naturally.
“Every wedding we plan is unique, totally reflective of the relationship and personality of the bride and groom, so it’s not hard to differentiate them,” Dakar said.
She also noted that second-time brides are often calmer and more definitive about what they want because the experience is not so new or intimating to them.
Looking back, Guggenheim realized that she overlooked some communication issues before marrying her first husband.
“This time it’s about addressing our differences and making sure our communication is good,” the bride-to-be said.
She also remembers being “swept up” in the event itself and is determined to be present on every level for her upcoming nuptials.
While having a Jewish wedding was a new experience for Stacy Miller, having her son and stepchildren be a part of the ceremony made the simcha extra-special. Her son walked her down the aisle and the three children did the seven blessings.
No matter what wedding choices a couple makes, Judaism fully supports the idea of re-entering into the state of marriage.
“There’s no such thing as a second wedding,” Feinstein said. “It may be the second time a person stood under the chuppah, but at that moment, at least in the imagination of the Jewish tradition and the couple, it’s brand new and miraculous and a gift of God.”
It’s the state of being in flux — the gray area between no longer married but not yet divorced. A divorce decree gives you back your life as a single person, but being separated keeps you in love limbo.
Many guys I’ve gone out with since I separated from my husband have asked about it. They want to know if the ex is really an “ex.” And despite their interest, most of them never bothered to ask me out a second time.
Mutual friends fixed us up. Ted divorced nine years ago, has a kid and recently made partner at his firm. We talked on the phone several times and exchanged photos via e-mail. He had a dynamic voice and I enjoyed our conversations, so I agreed to a date.
We met for dinner at the Urth Cafe one chilly Friday evening. While seated on the patio, we explored our similarities (age, height, taste in music) and talked about our kids, including what it’s like to have youngsters who were becoming teenagers.
When we moved inside to sit by the fireplace, we leaned in closer as we talked and held hands. The conversation grew more personal by the hour, and before long he asked me what was the biggest lesson I had taken from my marriage.
“I would have gotten a prenup,” I said.
When I asked him the same question, he said he would have never stopped communicating.
With kids at home and a baby sitter on the clock, I told Ted I was nearing my midnight curfew. And like two nervous teenagers, our date ended with a hug goodbye and a short kiss.
In the run-up to our next date he sent me endearing text messages and we talked on the phone daily. During one conversation he casually but directly asked, “When will your divorce be final?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer. The dissolution papers were being prepared, but hadn’t been filed yet.
“Hopefully soon,” I responded after a long pause on my end. I immediately filed for divorce, hoping to truly begin the next chapter of my life.
Ted and I began dating exclusively and we seemed to be at the beginning of a beautiful relationship. We hit the hot spots, he introduced me to his entire family and I attended his daughter’s bat mitzvah. We were even there for each other in the off times — I kept him company while he had oral surgery, and he gave advice on handling a problematic house leak.
One weekend, Ted and I went to Catalina as a special treat. As we strolled hand-in-hand along Crescent Avenue, newlyweds in a golf cart honked as they passed us. Ted caught sight of the words “just married” on the cart, stopped in his tracks, dropped my hand and said, “You’re still married.”
My heart skipped a beat. I had no idea it bothered him so deeply.
“Only on paper,” I said, a knot forming in my stomach.
Ted implied that he was looking to get married — and fast.
As we continued to date, he would bring up my pending divorce and separation at odd times. He’d ask about the court hearings and then declare that delays were bound to crop up. He insisted my divorce would take longer than six months.
I agonized over how long the divorce was taking.
Ted eventually told me about his time frame for relationships. He said he generally gave women a six-month window, but because I was “separated” he was willing to “extend” it for me.
A time frame? Six months?
I asked Ted if he could just enjoy our time together and let our relationship blossom. While he got my hopes up when he said yes, his actions told a different story. I discovered he was actively pursuing other women behind my back.
Ted’s intense marriage pressure might have been honest or it might have been a cover. My pending divorce could have been a convenient excuse, a way to keep a good thing going for a while. Whatever the reason, he wasn’t discussing his true feelings with me. It all seemed to boil down to his relationship Achilles’ heel — communication.
While I cursed it in the beginning, I thank the California court system for my “separated” status. The cooling-off period that follows a divorce filing kept me levelheaded enough to eventually recognize what was happening. What if I had been single and available? I cringe at the thought of what would have happened had Ted and I actually married.
I should have known better.
I should have seen the red flags, which rarely ever change color. My heart didn’t hear what my head was trying to tell me.
Next time I’m taking my own advice: I need a relationship prenup.
I plan to lay out all the issues and clearly define boundaries before dating reaches the relationship stage, let alone before there’s any talk of marriage.
Unromantic? Maybe. But there is nothing quite as ugly as love turned to acrimony. The more candid each person is, the fewer surprises there will be down the road. Be honest and tell me what you want. After that, time, circumstance and intuition will guide the rest.
Now please initial here, here and here, and sign on the dotted line.
Heather Moss is a corporate communications professional and the mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know the answer to that question — I’ve known it for a year now — but I also don’t know the answer, the one that helps us make sense not just of one woman’s tragic arc, but of good and evil, of life and faith.
Marcy Asher was the first girl I French kissed (I’m not counting a girl named Allison D. — she grabbed my face and tongue-kebabed my tonsils, which was about as romantic as really bad CPR). No, Marcy and I shared a true mutual kiss, and I walked around school the next day like I’d stolen home with two outs at the bottom of the ninth. Marcy Asher was beautiful, a slim girl with wavy brown hair and a thin, delicate face.
Smart? Marcy was by unanimous and uncontested assent the most brilliant girl at Portola Junior High and Birmingham High School. We met in Mr. Hanson’s eighth-grade English class, shared two class trips and bonded over our simultaneous reign as teachers’ pets. Our romance never went beyond that kiss — well, maybe we rounded one more base — then it came to a screeching halt when I fell for Dana O.
But we stayed friends through high school. We were just decent looking enough to get invited to the good parties, but too geeky to join in the heavy drinking and petting. So we ended up talking a lot, in the corner of some over-decorated Encino living room or another, about Greek mythology and Israel and square dancing.
After Birmingham High School — Marcy was class valedictorian, of course — we lost touch. I just assumed Marcy had become a doctor or professor somewhere, or was immersed in a new book project or too busy cracking the genome to even show up in a Google search.
Then, a year ago, a woman named Barbara Shulman called me from an assisted-living home.
“Do you remember Marcy Asher?” she said.
“Of course,” I told Barbara, “she was the first girl I French-kissed.”
“I’m Marcy Asher’s mother,” she said. “And I want you to write about her.”
I spoke with Barbara for a while. Then I spoke with Mark Asher, Marcy’s brother, who lives in Ashland, Ore., and with Nathan Wang, Marcy’s first husband. The same question hung over each conversation: What happened to Marcy Asher?
“I had a chance to really know Marcy,” said Wang, who spoke to me by phone from his home in Hacienda Heights. “She was the spunkiest, most vivacious person I’d ever met.”
They found each other in college, at Pomona College in Claremont. She was a freshman; he was a senior. Wang, a music major, was taken with Marcy’s talents.
“She was an exceptional singer, guitarist and pianist,” he said. “She was extraordinarily bright.”
Marcy started out as pre-med, then switched to languages. Eventually, she became fluent in Hebrew, Mandarin Chinese and French. She studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Claremont.
Marcy’s graduation present from her mother and stepfather was a trip to China with Wang, for two weeks, in 1984.
“During that time,” Wang said, “something kicked in. She couldn’t sleep. She was always angry. I’d say, ‘What’s wrong, Marcy?’ and she wouldn’t tell me.”
Back in the States, a psychiatrist diagnosed Marcy as paranoid schizophrenic. She was listening to the wind, talking to trees. Doctors put her on lithium. When the medication began working, Marcy would feel better and decide to go off the drug. Then the symptoms would kick in again. Despite her condition, the two decided to marry. Wang converted to Judaism. They were wed in 1989 at Temple Isaiah on Pico Boulevard.
“I thought we could lick it,” he said. “But it started getting really bad. Her stepfather took me aside and said, ‘There’s no need for you to suffer. You have our blessing to step aside.'”
After less than a year, the marriage was over.
Looking back, Wang realized Marcy was weighted with crushing challenges from her past. Some might have been the result of bad genes, others were surely put upon her.
The girl we knew as brilliant and vivacious was the child of a tough divorce. According to Wang, she struggled to find comfort and support in her family.
“She was always on her own,” Wang said. “She was hungry for connection.”
After her parents’ divorce, and her mother’s remarriage, the family fortunes shifted drastically. Her mother became successful running Flower Pavilion, a chic floral design business in Encino. Her stepfather, Gerald L. Schulman, grew rich in tax shelter investments until he was the subject of a very public fraud investigation. In 1988, a federal judge sentenced him to five years probation and 1,000 hours of community service for cheating the government out of $28 million in taxes.
Millions came and went; Marcy went from living in a luxurious house on Tudor Avenue — the one I remember — to an apartment on Magnolia Boulevard. Family members drifted apart.
“She wanted to feel like family, a family that lights Shabbat candles,” Wang said. “She wanted that structure. There was no real family for her. Marcy said she always felt like an orphan.”
The rootlessness infected her professional choices.
“She considered going to graduate school in languages,” Wang said. “But she never had a purpose or intention. She never felt she could say yes to anything.”
There are other sides to this story, even darker aspects that for a year I’ve wrestled over how and whether to report. In the end, I stuck to facts relayed to me by Wang, her brother Mark and her mother: And those are plenty mysterious enough. What is clear is that so many of the figures Marcy clung to for security and stability either abandoned her, used her or let her down.
In the end, some who loved her think her faith did the same.
In April 1994, at a Hillel lecture in Westwood, the topic was: “The Relationship Between Jewish Men & Jewish Women: Love or War?” On the “war” side of that discussion was Dr. Herb Goldberg, a practicing psychologist, professor and writer.
Goldberg told the 500 or so people in that hall that he had “worked in therapy with numerous Jewish men … who had never married. While most of them wanted to have a relationship with a Jewish woman, the relationships many did manage to sustain were often with non-Jewish women, the ‘Shiksa Goddess,’ or ‘Gentile Queen.'”
Goldberg said that the Jewish male gravitated to the ‘Shiksa Goddess’ because “she rarely, if ever, made him feel guilty, did not pressure him for marriage and was not preoccupied with status. For the Jewish male … this was a relationship of instant gratification and low stress, compared to his experiences with Jewish women.”
Interviewed recently at his home in Mount Washington, Goldberg says that he thought that the Hillel evening was “going to be great, we were going to have a great dialogue.”
Instead, it got very quiet.
“What I felt was a hush,” Goldberg says. “The reception got very cold. I felt that they [saw] me as very critical of Jewish men and women, what they would call a ‘self-hating Jew.'”
Even though his lecture was an attempt to “make sense of the underpinnings of the Jewish male/female relationship,” the issues he presented were those he’s grappled with all his adult life: Why do men and women — of any ethnicity or religion — have so much trouble relating to one another? Why are the results so often toxic and frustrating, ending in rage, bitter divorces and custody battles?
Herb Goldberg earned his doctorate in psychology at Adelphi University and until his recent retirement was a professor at California State University, Los Angeles. He’s written a number of books about what he calls the “gender undertow,” the unconscious elements that underlie men’s and women’s opposite reactions. His books have sold well, gone through many printings and been translated into various languages, including Hebrew.
Goldberg has now returned to his lifelong themes in the recently published, “What Men Still Don’t Know About Women, Relationships, and Love” (Barricade Books, 2007).
Over the years Goldberg has developed a vocabulary with which to understand relationships. “Content” is what takes place on the surface — our actions and words. “Process” is what’s really going on underneath. Your process is not perceptible to you because “it’s within your defense system, so you don’t see it in yourself.”
And here’s the key point: “If you look at pure process on the masculine and feminine level, men and women have two absolutely different ways of perceiving the world.”
To demonstrate the polarized ways that men and women see reality, as well as the contrast between content and process, Goldberg uses the example of the romantic date: “When a couple go on a date, the man is the actor: He makes the phone call, drives the car, chooses the restaurant, pays for dinner, makes the sexual advance … while the woman simply reacts to the man’s actions. If the movie is lousy, if the food is bad at the restaurant … if the sexual advance is poorly timed — who’s responsible? The man. Because he made all the decisions.”
So whatever happens, the man ends up feeling guilty. That is his process. And the woman? Because she makes no decisions and suspends her ego, she feels controlled by the man. She may not acknowledge it, but her unconscious process is that she feels angry.
“The actor/reactor dynamic, which characterizes the majority of romantic, intimate male-female interactions,” Goldberg writes, “is as entrenched as ever and is at the heart of the dysfunctional, painful experience of relationships.”
In spite of the changes that have taken place over the last 40 years, this dynamic is still in control. On the content level, both men and women have — for the most part — become liberated and aware of sexism and of the need for gender equality. So one would think that the experiences between men and women would be good.
“But what actually happens,” Goldberg says, “is exactly the opposite.”
Goldberg says that the actor/reactor dynamic exists even when — on the content level — the roles are reversed. “It doesn’t matter if the woman is a CEO and the man is a kindergarten teacher or a poet. It’s the how of the relationship, not the what, that creates its deeper dynamic.” Which is why one of the stages — sometimes the “endpoint” — of many relationships is an “angry, blaming woman and a guilt-ridden, self-hating man.”
Is there any way out of this scenario? Goldberg writes that it requires hard work. Most men still see the world as “a competitive jungle,” so they have to be willing to overcome their fear that change will lead to “humiliation [and] vulnerability.” Since women still see connection and closeness as the path to fulfillment, they need to overcome their fear that change will lead to “a loss of safety [and] security.”
“What Men Still Don’t Know” also has a lot to say about parenting. Goldberg writes about “mechanical fathers” who, on the content level, are actively involved in their child’s life but are seen — by the child — as being out of touch; and mothers whose content is selfless devotion but whose process stymies their child’s development.
Which brings us back to Goldberg’s 1994 Hillel lecture. He told an audience that was already “cold” to him that in many ways the Jewish woman is the psychological clone of the classic Jewish mother: “engulfing, monitoring, guilt-making, blaming, sexless and angry.” Is it any wonder that Jewish men “look elsewhere … for comfort and happiness?”
“It’s a very hard topic to talk about without … stepping on land mines,” Goldberg says. “I wish I could do it over again.” His wistful reflection seems to have deeper currents than the Hillel event.
Briefs: Espere la Luz in Mojave, Alonim campers step up to help, kids library returns
In the last year, my younger brother has been asking for and taking my dating advice on an almost daily basis. It’s a fact that continues to astound me. This isn’t to say I don’t have anything worthwhile to say on the topic, despite the fact that I’m married now and raising two kids. It’s more that I’ve simply never had this kind of relationship with him before.
My brother and I were born two years apart. We shared a room growing up, played with “Star Wars” action figures together and coordinated plans to torture our younger sister, but around high school our paths split. He was into extreme sports and living life on a razor’s edge, whereas I was content lounging around the house reading and going with friends to places like Gorky’s to get into philosophical conversations.
The one thing we still had in common was our appreciation for women, but even there we differed. He liked the adventurous party girl, while I was drawn to the moody intellectual type. He ended up converting at age 16 to Catholicism after dating a Catholic girl, while one of my love interests led me to get serious about my Judaism and attend Shabbat services at CSUN Hillel.
My brother and I eventually found ourselves in completely different cities, and our phone calls went from weekly to monthly. As time went on, I was surprised if I heard from him more than a few times a year. We saw each other for the first time in eight years when I flew out to the Midwest to be a groomsman at his wedding in 1999. And I realized how far our paths had diverged when he proudly showed off the printed wedding blessing his in-laws secured from Pope John Paul II.
Like many men, my brother and I relied too much on our spouses, and we willingly sacrificed our male friendships on the pyre of our turbulent marriages. I was left with one close friend when my first marriage crumbled three years later. In 2004, when my brother’s marriage and business were falling apart, he couldn’t name any guy whom he could count as a reliable friend.
Throughout his contentious divorce, we still barely talked. I wasn’t sure what help I could offer him or whether he’d want it. But when he finally opened up to me a few months later about how he wanted to find love again, I couldn’t hold my tongue.
I told him to focus his time and energy on rebuilding his life and his self-esteem. He couldn’t offer stability to anyone, and he needed time to find himself outside of the context of a relationship.
“Date,” I said, “there’s no reason to get serious about anyone.”
Naturally, he didn’t listen. He moved in with a new girlfriend who had a tattoo emblazoned provocatively across her chest and observed a three-drink minimum when she visited with our family.
It wasn’t long before my brother started calling me with his doubts and anxieties. She was still chummy with her ex, he said. After he found multiple calls on her cell phone to her former beau, he wasn’t convinced everything was kosher, especially because their love life had hit a rough patch.
“She must have girlfriends to run to for advice,” I said. “Assume she isn’t just ‘talking,’ and tell her to drop him as a friend or you’re moving out.”
And to my surprise he did it. He moved out.
When he got his own place, I told him not to invite women over. He didn’t believe me at first. When he found two women he’d dated staking out his home at different times to see if he was bringing anyone else over, it dawned on him the advice might exist to protect him.
When he blew some first dates by talking too much, my advice was to keep his mouth shut, start listening and asking questions, but without turning it into an interview.
“Women want men to be enigmatic,” I said. “They’ll project what they want onto you. Don’t let your reality interfere with their fantasy.”
The guy who almost always wanted to talk about himself suddenly started taking the back seat in our conversations and shocked me by asking about my life.
After months of living on his own, my brother eventually reached a point where he told me he didn’t want or need a relationship. It amused him to no end that even though he was forward with women about not wanting a commitment, they still pursued him with a dream of getting to see his home — and with the hope of eventually moving in.
My brother has since been called a player — as well as many other names that can’t be printed in a family newspaper — but he learned quickly that many women will keep calling even after they’ve sworn off of him for good. It was a liberating revelation for him, because he saw that he didn’t have to become someone he wasn’t in order to attract a woman.
He’s even started to explore his Jewish heritage. He calls me frequently from the road as he’s on his way to use the gym at his local JCC, asking my advice about how he should handle his evening. And after joining a Jewish dating site, he asked me to recommend a synagogue for him to try on for size. Needless to say, Mom is kvelling.
I’m just excited that he’s also sought out his old friends, reserving a few days each month to play poker or get together for dinner. He tells me that they trade dating advice as they sit around the table, sharing what works and what doesn’t.
Although I’m about 1,600 miles away from him, I’m always by the phone, ready with some advice when my brother needs me. And I’m glad to know that even if I can’t join him at the table with his buddies, at least he’s regularly offering me a seat as one of the important men in his life.
Last week’s Letters section offered a fascinating window on the views and feelings of our community (Letters, Feb. 23). Most of the letters were thoughtful, informative and passionate. Two stepped over the line.
One nasty note was directed at Rob Eshman personally, condemning him for once belonging to Peace Now, calling him a traitor and a pogrom, while besmirching all Jews who disagree with the writer as people who would “sell their soul for a fake peace.” I’m afraid someone’s been listening to too much talk radio.
And speaking of talk radio, the other letter lumps together Messrs. Prager, Medved (and David Klinghoffer for good measure) as “notorious Jewish hypocrites,” while managing to disparage all evangelical Christians as people who “do not respect Judaism.” Sad.
Be they on the left or the right, some folks don’t seem to realize that it’s indeed possible to debate with facts, rather than fanaticism. Mr. Rohde’s letter proved it beautifully, with his clearly laid out rebuttal showing that our Founding Fathers did respect other faiths beyond the Judeo-Christian realm.So why tolerate the name calling?
While I congratulate you for having the guts and openness to publish even the most vitriolic letters, perhaps there’s a better way.
The Journal already imposes some restrictions on writers, requesting that letters be of a certain length and contain a valid name and address. May I make a suggestion? How about also requiring a civil tone?
Want to get nasty and call names? Go someplace else.
It would be a small thing, true, but maybe it’s a first step toward elevating the debate to at least a minimum level of respect.
Abe Rosenberg via e-mail
I thoroughly approve of your approach and point in this editorial (“Shutting Jewish Mouths,” Feb. 16). Two Jews, three opinions has always characterized our tribe and always will. Even with the fear injected into the conditions of dissent from the Israel lobby line, still we rise. I hope we always will.I especially appreciate your point of the destruction of all but the most reactionary views of history and current events when the left is walled off and vilified.
Stuart M. Chandler Mar Vista
Rob Eshman speaks proudly of having sought Jewish support for a Palestinian state 20 years ago, when it was a minority position in the American Jewish community, saying, “The moral of the story: Today’s dissenters [like Tony Judt and Tony Kushner] might just be on to something.”
Doesn’t Eshman understand the danger of creating a Palestinian state today, which would have Hamas and Fatah running the show, whose charters call for Israel’s destruction and use of terrorism, and who would continue to promote hatred and murder of Israelis in its media, mosques, textbooks and youth camps and refuse to arrest and jail terrorists?
We agree with the former head of the IDF, Gen. Moshe Yaalon, who has repeatedly stated that “a Palestinian state should not be created. It will only increase the likelihood of war.”
Morton A. Klein National President Zionist Organization of America New York
I coordinated the recent Los Angeles Combatants for Peace (CFP) events (“Divided We Fall,” Feb. 9).
StandWithUs’ (SWU) assertion that CFP presentations are “one-sided” is false, and its categorization of CFP events as “anti-Israel” is cynical and absurd.
CFP is a joint Israeli and Palestinian peace group, and all CFP events in the UnNited States feature representatives from both peoples. CFP is comprised of former Palestinian militants and Israeli combat soldiers who have realized the futility of the violence they have perpetrated on each other, and now believe that there is no viable military solution to the conflict and that both sides are wrong to persist in armed hostilities against the other.
If SWU applies the “anti-Israel” label to any gathering that fails to promote the integrity of greater Israel, CFP events are properly categorized as such. Otherwise, SWU’s labeling of CFP events as “anti-Israel” evidences a profound measure of political solipsism.
Further, I would be interested in learning what “unsubstantiated charges” and “misinformation” SWU claims CFP is disseminating. As a matter of policy and design, and out of a desire to discourage debate over ancillary matters, CFP makes no charges and takes no positions other than those expressed in its threefold mission.
Joel S. Farkas Santa Monica
I was pleased to read one more article about Azerbaijan which stresses the tolerance of its population toward different religions and nations (“Borat, Meet Elin,” Feb. 23).
However, I see a threat: Because of authoritarianism and pressure on political opposition, more and more people have started turning their faces toward radicalism. An ordinary citizen believes now that it is impossible to change the government in a democratic way.
According to OSCE reports, all elections since 1993 have been falsified by the former local KGB and Communist Party boss Heydar Aliyev and by his son, Ilham, after the father’s death in 2003. Some experts have started warning about the danger of revolution in Azerbaijan. Yet, will it be “colored revolution” as in neighboring Ukraine and Georgia to democratize the country or Iranian-like path?
I do believe that only by urging authorities to cease the pressure on democratic opposition will we succeed in preventing Azerbaijan from falling into radicalism and finally starting democratization.
Elgun Taghiyev Program Assistant National Democratic Institute Baku, Azerbaijan
‘Curly Top’ Arkin
To see Alan Arkin bald is so shocking to my system, considering here is a guy who, in a gentile high school environment, had the most glamorous and envious beautiful curly head of hair of any of us seven or eight gifted Jews who were literally his friends (“Alan Arkin: Not Just Another Kid From Brooklyn,” Feb. 16).
When it came to having that suave, utterly curly head of hair, Alan had no equal.
With strident calls for action and threats of “taking to the streets” if the issue is not soon resolved, participants in the 10th anniversary conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) ratcheted up the rhetoric around the plight of agunot, “chained women” whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious bill of divorce.
“Let this be the last JOFA conference where we need to ask if there’s a halachic heter [permissive legal ruling] for agunot,” Tova Hartman, founder of an Orthodox feminist synagogue in Jerusalem, told the approximately 1,000 people, mostly women, who attended a conference earlier this month in New York City. “The time has come to stop kvetching.”
The rhetoric on agunot contrasted sharply from that on other topics at the conference, where a sense of confidence bordering on the triumphant prevailed, owing to the substantial progress made in the decade since JOFA’s founding.
Women today serve as congregational heads, spiritual leaders and advisers on matters of religious law. They have greater access to rigorous textual study that once was the domain of men. And their participation in public prayer is on the rise with the growth of so-called “partnership minyanim,” in which women take on some leadership roles — including reading the Torah and leading certain prayers — in an otherwise typical Orthodox service.
Other issues, like marking a girl’s bat mitzvah, have fallen off the agenda entirely now that such celebrations are par for the course in Orthodox congregations.
“It is a slow and gradual progress,” JOFA Executive Director Robin Bodner said. “There is definitely progress. There is definitely change.”
Hartman electrified the conference with her talk of civil disobedience and the creation of alternative religious courts to address the plight of agunot, who under Jewish law are forbidden to remarry until their husbands have “released” them from marriage with a get, or religious bill of divorce.
In the worst cases, husbands have refused to grant religious divorces to their wives for years, sometimes issuing the documents only in exchange for sizable ransoms.
In the United States, various rabbinic courts and civil laws provide some recourse. In New York, state law requires spouses to remove all religious barriers to remarriage before a civil divorce is granted; a similar law is under consideration in Maryland.
In Israel, marriage remains under the purview of rabbinic courts that have the power to enforce their rulings. The problem, agunot advocates say, is that those powers are rarely used by judges, all of them male and drawn mostly from the ranks of the ultra-Orthodox.
An international rabbinic conference on the topic, the first of its kind, was scheduled for last November by Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar. It was canceled at the last minute, however, reportedly due to pressure from Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, an Ashkenazi rabbi widely considered the most authoritative figure in the fervently Orthodox world.
“It’s time that we in the Modern Orthodox world challenge the power of a handful of extremist Charedi rabbis,” Sharon Finkel Shenhav, the only woman serving on Israel’s commission to appoint religious judges, said at the conference.
Shenhav said the ultra-Orthodox, also known as haredim, control the courts only because “we let them.”
One possible halachic solution, the so-called “tripartite” solution, would have couples sign a prenuptial agreement stipulating that the marriage is dissolved if a husband and wife voluntarily live apart for a certain amount of time.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the American-born chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel, argued for that option in an address to a standing-room only crowd at the convention.
While some accused the rabbinic courts of outright corruption, Riskin said the principal obstacle to resolving the issue is the courts’ preoccupation with “what they think is the purity of Israel as over and against the plight of the agunah.”
The tripartite solution is nearly airtight from a halachic standpoint, Riskin said, but it would only affect future marriages and would have little impact on existing agunot. Even so, he’s under no illusions that the idea will be enacted.
“If it does not work, then I believe we will have no choice but to establish alternative batei din,” or rabbinic courts, he said.
JOFA plans to take ads in Jewish media demanding action on agunot from the Orthodox rabbinate. The ads, which call the situation an “injustice” and a “disgrace,” would be timed to coincide with the Fast of Esther, which falls this year on March 1.
“If the community rose up, ultimately that’s how things are changed,” Bodner said. “We need to keep pushing for this change. We’re going to do it. Somehow, some way.”
When Ashkenazi and Persian worlds collide — community healing begins at shul