Ashtrays and Diet Coke


You did it even though we told you not to. That you would hurt too many people just to make yourself happy. We would miss you. And causing other people pain wasn’t good. That you had to be patient. The medicine would eventually work. But you finally gave up paddling through life and let the waves take you out to sea.

I remember mom telling me when she found out you were gone. I had never cried so much over a person; but you weren’t any other person, you were my brother. She said you hadn’t answered the doorbell at your apartment. And the police had to come and knock down the door. And when they came inside to find you, all they found was an empty body. You had left. Gone away to a better place, they told me. But I don’t know another place. And even before you died you weren’t present. Your body walked around and was active but you were nowhere to be found.

I remember you smoked. And that we had an ashtray for you in our garden by the pool. And you wouldn’t stop when I asked you to. I told you all the bad effects that could come from smoking, but you didn’t care. I remember all that Diet Coke you drank had ruined your teeth. They were aged teeth, too old for you. And you barely came to visit. You only came sometimes, and you never looked happy. Your hearty laughs were rare, but you could always make me laugh. You gave me happiness even when you were deprived of it. When you did laugh, I was never sure it would last. Your contentment could withstand time or be gone in a second, just like you.

But when you left you hurt everyone. I remember flying to your house in Israel. The tiny rooms were aching to release the masses of people who had come to cry over you at the shiva. And that park across the street that I wouldn’t go to because I thought I shouldn’t play. As much as the swings and slides cajoled me to come play with them, I didn’t leave the house. I thought you would be mad if I had fun.

But when all of your family went around in a circle to say what we missed the most about you: I was stuck. Maybe if we had spent more time together, and maybe if you hadn’t gone so soon I would have had something to say. I just said that I loved when you visited us, while other people had real memories with you. But I didn’t have those, and I never will. You made me grow up too soon. I was only eight when I learned that people could and would end their life. You had the power, and you used it to leave us. And when you took your life, you also took away a part of me: my innocence.

Anjoum Fried Agrama is a ninth-grader at Marlborough School. Anjoum’s brother would have been 35 on Nov. 12.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the December issue is Nov. 15; deadline for the January issue is Dec. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Sense and Sensitivity


If you spend much time looking at online dating profiles — and admit it, you do — you’ll notice that the No. 1 characteristic men seem to be seeking in a potential match is “attractive.” We women (attractive or not) are overwhelmingly in search of “sensitive.” For us, Mr. Right is Mr. Sensitive.

And we mean it.

Self-described sensitive men, though, will tell you that we’re full of it. My guy friends come armed with dating war stories about being dumped after crying too many times in front of their girlfriends — although the girlfriends invariably say it’s not because of the crying, it’s just that “something’s missing.”

Usually my guy friend starts tearing up when he gets to this part of the story.

“I just don’t understand what’s missing,” he’ll say, his voice cracking, his face reddening, his nose beginning to run into that little crevice above his lip.

Hello? What’s missing is your masculinity!

You see, the problem lies not in women misrepresenting what they want, but in the gender-specific definition of the word “sensitive.” Sensitive women cry. Sensitive women are emotional. Sensitive women have lots and lots (and lots) of feelings.

A sensitive man, on the other hand? He doesn’t have feelings … he understands our feelings. He doesn’t act emotional. He empathizes with our emotions. He doesn’t crank up Sarah McLachlan and spill tears onto his journal. He sucks it up and goes out to shoot hoops with the guys. He’s stoic in the face of our meltdowns. He listens, he soothes, he assures us everything will be OK. Heck, he’ll even give us an extra-long backrub.

Women don’t want to play this role for men very often. Seeing our boyfriend cry is creepy. It’s like walking in on your parents during sex: We’re aware they do these things, but please do them when we’re at sleep-away camp.

Granted, we’ll watch our man cry. We won’t sprint out of the room. We may even feel flattered that, if push comes to shove, he feels close enough to be vulnerable with us. But we’ll only do it once a year or so. Like a birthday. (Only our birthday wish is, “Please God, not for another 364 days.”) Because vulnerable can turn into pathetic if he becomes a blubbering mass of tears as often as we do.

It’s OK for me to cry if my boss yells at me. But it’s just … icky … for him to cry if he gets fired. He can yell, he can scream, he can curse the heavens, he can blow things up in his video games, he can pop an extra Prozac. But he shouldn’t break down and cry. Double standard? You betcha. Men don’t want dumpy women and women don’t want wimpy men.

Take Carrie Bradshaw’s boyfriend Aidan on “Sex and the City.” Mr. Sensitive, right? Lasted a season and a half. But the stoic Mr. Big — who caused Carrie to cry instead — made cameos from the beginning to the very end.

Women, on the other hand, usually get the guy because they’re crying. In “When Harry Met Sally,” Meg Ryan’s a balling mess — snot pouring out of her nose, mascara trickling down her face — when she calls Billy Crystal to come over to comfort her.

“It’s not that Joe didn’t want to get married,” she whimpers through hiccups about her ex. “It’s that he didn’t want to marry me!”

They kiss, they make love, they (eventually) live happily ever after. Had Billy Crystal’s character been the gushing faucet, would Meg Ryan have slept with him that night? Not a chance.

There’s only one time when a woman likes — in fact, desperately wants — to see a man cry: after they break up. She wants to know that he cares, that he misses her, that he has feelings for her. She wants to know that he hurts as much as she does.

She’ll call him late at night (sobbing, of course), and when he betrays no emotion about the breakup, she’ll ask indignantly, “How come you’re not crying? Didn’t I mean anything to you?”

“Um, I gotta go,” he’ll say in a neutral tone, which only makes her cry harder. Then she’ll tell her friends what a heartless jerk he is. And when she finally comes up for air, she’ll emphatically declare that next time, dammit, she’s going to make sure she finds a sensitive guy.

Lori Gottlieb is author of the memoir, “Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self” (Simon and Schuster, 2000), and has an essay in “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt” (Dutton, 2005). Her Web site is www.lorigottlieb.com.

 

Ex-treme Takeoff


You always see him one more time. It’s inevitable. And it’s always on a bad hair day.

I’m flying home from a Chi-town visit with the Davis fam. Sporting yoga pants, glasses and a tired green hoodie, I grab my backpack, my book, “Midlife Crisis at 30” (required airplane reading), and board the plane.

I spot him immediately. Or at least the back of his head. He’s 25 feet ahead of me, but it’s a whole “back of his head like the back of my hand” thing. I know it’s him. I just don’t know how to react.

Ben and I had an on again, off again, on (me) again five-month stint about four years ago. Haven’t seen him since. There was no heated argument or “we need to talk.” The relationship just ran out of ink, faded away. OK, fine — he stopped calling. After he pulled the Elijah, I kept hoping for one more chance, one more call, one more date, when he’d see me and realize he’d made a huge mistake.

But this was not the moment I imagined. This was not the outfit I saw myself wearing. This was not the book I wanted to be caught reading.

With Ben’s noggin in clear view, I analyze my options and do what any self-sufficient woman would do. I duck behind the tall dude in front of me. Chances are, I’ll be seated rows in front of Ben and he’ll never know I’m here. I’m short. I’m blonde. I can blend.

As I inch down the aisle, I realize blending’s not an option. Because sitting right next to me, assigned to the aisle seat across from mine, is my ex, Ben. The stewardess asks that I return my jaw to the upright position, because we’re ready for takeoff.

I throw my frozen deep dish in the overhead, my JanSport under the seat, and hear, “Carin?”

“Ben, hey…. Wow. How funny is this? How are you?”

This should make for good in-flight entertainment. I frantically sit on my book, pull the scrunchie from my hair, and pray my glasses scream sexy librarian. In the movies, the ex run-in always occurs in a great dress on a fun date with a new guy. In real life, no such thing.

My friend, Angel, ran into her ex while walking home from pottery class covered in clay. My friend Jen saw her former beau at the gym. I bumped into an ex at the Pavilions checkout. I was buying wine, ice cream and a 12 pack — of toilet paper. Not exactly the stuff of a Meg Ryan rom-com. And now I’m trapped on a 4 1/2 hour, 1,749-mile friendly skies reunion with no place to go but aisle. And I thought the worst thing about this flight was going to be my kosher meal.

“This is so great, Carin. What’s going on with you? What are you up to?”

Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the fasten your seat belt sign, we are about to experience turbulence.

It’s not that I didn’t want to see Ben; I just didn’t want to see him like this. Ben’s supposed to think I’m cute and successful and happy. I’m supposed to wow him with my impossible beauty and enviable career. I want him to think I’m stunning and funny and the one that got away. But with the way I look right now, he’s probably thinking, thank God he got away.

I know, I know — why do I care what a boyfriend from six boyfriends ago thinks? I guess it’s an ego thing. A whole “I Want You to Want Me,” “I Will Survive,” “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break My Stride” remix. The look on his face when he grasps that he was right — it wasn’t me, it was him — is the ultimate “I told you so, your loss buddy, I still got it” confidence booster.

Two bags of free pretzels later, Ben and I move beyond “what’s a five-letter word for awkward” and talk careers, life, even current dating sitches. I don’t feel a thing. And not just because I pounded two mid-flight mini-vodkas. I no longer have feelings for Ben. Not a yearning, a pulled heartstring or a mile-high urge. Guess my emotional baggage shifted during flight. Ben’s a great guy, a smart guy, but not everything I built him up to be. This run-in made me realize his opinion doesn’t matter. Bad travel clothes aside, I’m doing just fine on my own.

Besides it’s not like he’s doing that well. He is flying coach.

Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

What Men Want (To Say)


On a typical coffee date, because we’re meeting for the first time, awkward conversation comes with the territory. Neither of us completely reveals what we’re thinking or feeling. We’re shy, holding back, concealing, putting on a good face, feeling the other person out.

How much more interesting the first date would be if we both were to communicate our true emotions. Still, those actual thoughts and feelings are definitely present, whether uttered or not. They’re simply bubbling under the conversation’s surface; biding their time until we feel more comfortable and trusting with one another.

For instance, take this (nearly) verbatim transcript from one of my coffee dates. All un-uttered thoughts have been italicized for the protection of the emotionally fragile.

Me: Lauri?

Here I go again. Date No. 163, but who’s counting? At this rate, by next May I’ll have dated every unattached woman in the city. At which time I’ll have to start importing them from other countries and taking Berlitz classes.

Lauri: Hi, Mark. Nice to meet you.

Dear Lord, please don’t let this one be a stalker, a jerk or have serious psychological issues like the last six. I believe I’ve reached my annual quota for restraining orders.

Me: Should we get some coffee and sit down?

And then decide within 10 minutes whether there’s a chance we might eventually see each other naked or, and most likely, never see each other again?

Lauri: Sounds good.

Looks like I’m gonna have to train this one how to dress, make eye contact, speak, stand up straight and do something with that hair. Yep, this one’s a definite fixer-upper. Again. Dear Lord, just shoot me now.

Me: So, have you been doing this Internet dating thing long?

Exactly how many guys have you rejected, and how many have rejected you? Be specific. You have five minutes to answer. Show all work. Begin.

Lauri: You’re actually only the first coffee date I’ve been on.

Today. The sum total of all my coffee dates could fill Dodger Stadium. And it’s always I who do the rejecting, because I am perfect and they are flawed. Capiche? So unless your own perfection level approaches mine, you might as well start heading over to the stadium right now.

Me: What are you looking for in a relationship?

Are you a) High maintenance? b) Emotionally needy? c) Nuts?

Lauri: Oh, I don’t know. I guess the usual — chemistry, shared goals, friendship.

A man with Brad Pitt’s looks and Bill Gates’ bank account who can make me yodel in bed. That specific enough for you, Sparky?

Me: What kinds of things do you like to do for fun?

And please know that the red flag goes up immediately with any hint of chick flicks, shopping or eating at restaurants whose names begin with a “Le.”

Lauri: I’m pretty down-to-earth. Just the usual.

That is, if you define “usual” as a) Frequent, “where is this heading?” talks about our relationship; b) Having my mother visit us as often as possible; c) Making it my lifelong mission to interest you in ballet and opera.

Me: Is it just me, or am I sensing some chemistry here?

I’m picturing you without your clothing right now, but I’m gonna have to do some up-close and personal research in order to get the full effect.

Lauri: You might be right.

It’s just you.

Me: May I walk you to your car?

And check out your rear view as I, the perfect gentleman, allow you to walk in front of me?

Lauri: Sure. Can I contribute something to the bill?

And need I remind you that a “yes” answer on your part will forever brand you as a cheapskate of the highest caliber?

Me: Oh, no, I’ve got it. Thanks.

I accepted one of those invitations to contribute once before and ended up as the featured newcomer on www.cheapdatestoavoid.com for two months.

Me: Well, here we are. It was really good to meet you.

Because I enjoy taking two-hour chunks out of my day to spend time with people I’ll never see again.

Lauri: You, too. You seem like a really nice guy.

And we’ll have our next date when Paris Hilton becomes a nun.

On second thought, perhaps those dates are better off with the actual thoughts and feelings remaining bubbling under the conversation’s surface. After all, if you start off a romantic relationship with absolute honesty, no telling what madness and chaos would result.

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional
stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He
can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net.

Free Fallin’


I’m riding shotgun in Hawthorne’s truck, and we’re on our
way to jump out of a plane together. As the truck bumps along to
Perris Valley, I’m having one of those moments where the
same word keeps repeating itself in my head: “requiem.” Requiem, requiem, requiem.
My brain has been saying it all day.

Hawthorne is a writer and the object of my affection. Riding
out to the sky-diving school, we discuss the word “requiem.” I joke that “Free
Fallin'” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will be my requiem, should my
skydiving video survive me. Granted, I’m nervous about the jump. But I’m
nervous about the day as well. It feels like a possible turning point in our
relationship. “Requiem,” while dramatic, is feeling like a particularly
appropriate theme.

We discuss other good words too, like “effuse” and
“equinox.” We discuss lots of things. That’s what we do. Hawthorne’s a good
talker, and more rare, a good questioner. I’m not one for personal confessions,
but he draws me out. Even while he’s driving, he’s figured out a system for
watching the road and me at the same time, of looking into my eyes with his —
which are bright blue, by the way.

Forget the skydiving, this guy could kill me. I haven’t
jumped yet, but it’s all over for me, anyway. I’m too scared to confront him
with my feelings, and too scared to find out the depths of his. Taking the leap
out of a perfectly good airplane somehow seems far less scary.

I realize it all sounds very fifth grade, but this guy is so
beautiful that my usually healthy self-image fails me. We’re so unlikely even
as friends. He, a 6-foot-1 Irish Catholic farm boy from Ohio, with blond curls
and a rough past, and me, a nice Jewish girl from a good home in the Valley.
But somehow our relationship evolves: He teaches me fighting stances; I teach
him bits of Hebrew. He’s taken to calling me Yofi, a Hebrew word that means
great. I particularly love the nickname because of its other meaning: beauty,
which Hawthorne doesn’t know.

It’s my birthday today. Taking stock, life’s pretty good, if
maybe a little on the dull side. Am I where I want to be? Do I have success,
wealth, love? I’m forced to settle for a small amount of the first two, and a
healthy, albeit platonic, dose of the third for right now. Life holds no drama,
so I might as well jump out of a plane — especially if Hawthorne’s going with
me.

I’m secretly hoping the day will bring us closer together.
Doesn’t it mean something that he chose to go skydiving with me? Perhaps facing
death will make him confront his true feelings. We’ll reach the ground so
caught up in the moment that we’ll just have to kiss, or, at the very least,
maybe I’ll feel emboldened enough to tell him how I feel. I’ve anticipated 100
scenarios, with the kissing one a clear favorite, but up in that plane, that’s
suddenly the last thing on my mind.

We’re both given a tandem partner — a professional sky diver
to whom we’re strapped for safety. I’m going first with my partner, Mike. My
mouth’s gone dry and my top lip sticks to my teeth as I smile goodbye at Hawthorne.
Then Mike and I move to the opening on the side of the plane and perch at the
edge. I’m prepared to jump, but turns out it’s more of a fall. Or a little-kid
dive, actually. Like how 5-year-olds will stand at the side of the swimming
pool, and point their hands out in front of them in the best mimic of diving
form they can muster, but then just kind of fall in, hands and feet first.
That’s me. At the edge of the plane, down on one knee, I lean forward, taking
Mike with me, and suddenly, it’s just us and gravity.

Back arched now, arms and legs splayed out, all I feel is
wind, so much wind I’m breathless. I’m taking in gulps of air, swallowing hard,
eyes wide open at the sky around me — the beautiful orange sunset and wink of
crescent moon. And I guess Hawthorne jumps after me, but I don’t look. I am
consumed. The earth may swallow me up.

One solid minute, then a sudden jerk and I’m vertical. Mike
pulled the chute and we’re floating back down to earth, laughing
uncontrollably, beyond euphoric.

We touch down safely and I’m immediately swept up in
Hawthorne’s enormous bear hug, which is wonderful, even without the kiss I’d
wished for.

For a while, we just sit in the diving school’s bar, sipping
beers, grinning stupidly and talking the way we always do — about everything
real, except how I really feel about him. And I guess I feel I’ve conquered
enough fear for one day. There’s always next year for emotional bravery. Â


Keren Engelberg is the calendar editor for The Journal

Vocal Musicians Make a Joyful Noise


Human voices converge on the same note, echoing a haunting harmony — arousing complicated emotions.

This has been the buzz surrounding an award-winning Jewish a cappella group, Shir Appeal, a group of college students from Massachusetts, who will bring their hypnotizing harmonies to Orange County’s Temple Bat Yahm (TBY) for Shabbat evening service, Jan. 16. The group was named after Tufts University’s mascot — Jumbo the Elephant. The Hebrew phrase shir hapeal means "song of the elephant."

A cappella, Italian for "in the style of the chapel," is a term used to describe a type of music composed of entirely human voices.

A student-run organization, Shir Appeal receives no funding from their student government, and sustains their costs with CD sales, which feature Jewish folk songs, Israeli pop songs and liturgical music.

This year marks the group’s return to TBY in Newport Beach, also home of operatic cantor Jonathan Grant. The 15 members of Shir Appeal have been invited to stay with TBY congregants and will sit in a place of honor among the temple’s choir.

"Where ever there’s a sizable Jewish population [at a college], you’re bound to find an a cappella group," said Rebecca Bromberg of Shir Bruin, UCLA’s Jewish a cappella ensemble, who also co-founded a Jewish a cappella group in 1997 at Emory University in Atlanta.

Bromberg cites Columbia University’s Pizmon, which formed in 1987, as popularizing American Jewish a cappella on college campuses. As secular a cappella gathered steam in the 1990s, marked by the formation of major a cappella societies, Jewish a cappella also became more popular, especially among youth on college campuses. Techiya of MIT formed in 1994; Shir Appeal in 1995; Shircago, of the University of Chicago, in 1996; as well as a slew of others on university campuses whose participation waxed and waned over the decade — including Harvard, Brandeis and Boston and New York universities.

During the spring of this year, the University of Chicago hosted "Striking a Chord," the first-ever, all-Jewish Midwest a cappella festival, attracting groups from around the Midwest.

The San Francisco-based Contemporary A Cappella Society, a loose association of amateur, semi-pro and professional a cappella artists, recognizes groups that have produced a commercially available body of work with a Contemporary A Capella Recording Awards (CARA). Like the mainstream recording industry’s Grammy Awards, a CARA is given to artists in many categories. Groups with limited distribution also qualify for recognition, said Jessika Diamond, former vice president of the Contemporary A Cappella Society, however, they are less likely to have the resources to create a recording with high production values.

"This year is the first time in the history of the CARA competition that any religious group did as well as Shir Appeal," Diamond said.

Shir Appeal took home the award for "best collegiate song" and runner-up for "best collegiate album."

This year, approximately 60 volunteer a cappella aficionados judged the CARAs. Among them was the society’s representative, Greg Bowne, of Massachusetts.

"[Shir Appeal] used their voices in such a great way that really conveyed power and emotion in the song," Bowne said.

After the competition was over, Bowne said he kept listening to their recording, impressed with the group’s strong sound.

Two of the group’s songs were also featured on the "Best of College A Cappella" CD, a production of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), which Diamond directed from 1999 to 2003. The ICCA attracts a cappella groups worldwide and encourages them to submit recordings of their best songs for a competition. Out of thousands of submissions, 18 songs are selected for a compilation CD, "The Best of College A Cappella," released every year. Shir Appeal won coveted spots on the 2000 and 2003 collections.

Before their Newport Beach appearance, Shir Appeal performs in Los Angeles with Shir Bruin, the Scattertones and another UCLA-affiliated a cappella group on Jan. 11.

Cantor Grant said he expects the group to sing a 17th-century selection by Solomone Rossi, called "Eftach Nai S’Fatai" (God Please Open My Lips), and a unique arrangements of "Shalom Aleichem" and "Shalom Rav."

"I also look forward to the Israeli popular selections they will sing at our Shabbat dinner program," he said.

For information about the Jan. 16 appearance at Temple Bat Yahm, call (949) 644-1999.

Sept. 11 Still Roils Our Nation’s Heritage


Anniversaries take on lives of their own. The further from the original event, the more laden they become with symbolism, meaning and portent.

Since the tempo of our time is fast, even abrupt, it’s not surprising that since Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve backed away from the stomach-churning horror of that day.

We had to. You go insane if you keep tumbling over the same precipice forever. How we’ve shrouded and protected ourselves is of question, not the need to shroud.

Last year, I was in New York on the first anniversary of Sept. 11. The city was quiet, subdued, still reeling from the events that had changed it forever or so everyone thought. Yet people were being buffeted by gusts, inside and out — winds blowing down the streets at 60 mph matched the whirlwinds inside every New Yorker, whirlwinds of fear, of loss and, yes, of hate.

Somehow, this must be stilled. If not, we wither and die.

E.B. White, in his prescient essay, "Here Is New York," first published in 1949, looked into a post-Hiroshima future and saw a city that, "for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now…."

White was smart. He’d once lived in New York; at the time he wrote "Here Is New York," he was living in Maine, as safe from Gehenna as you could be. But there are many forms of hell, and maybe the worst is the one that we absorb and that lives inside of us — a hell that you can’t escape, not even by moving to Maine.

Sept. 11 is that kind of hell. That may be why we have yet to decipher and sort it out. And why we may never be able to.

Thanatologists like to talk about the various stages of death, starting with denial and anger, moving through bargaining and depression and ending, for some of us, with acceptance. We couldn’t deny Sept. 11. It was replayed over and over again on television. But we can’t accept it, either, and we shouldn’t.

That leaves us on ground that is unstable, malleable and ripe for opportunists, of whom there are many. Civil liberties are being trumped by "security," foreign relations by unilateralism and sense and sensibility by runaway jingoism — the fruits of fright and confusion. Reason, reflection, moderation have retreated to the vestibule of public life.

That blow to discourse may be the most corrosive and the most lingering casualty of Sept. 11. This is not to minimize the many lives lost two years ago, but we do not need a rerun of Palmer Raids or McCarthyism. That cowboyism, jingoism, damn the Bill of Rights-ism surfaced so swiftly and so tenaciously after Sept. 11 makes me wonder whether turning us into our own worst enemies was the true goal of Muhammad Atta and his 18 pals.

The buildings crumbled and the bodies fell, and the emotional blow coast to coast was immediate and devastating. But more invisible, and maybe more effective, was the blow to our civic integrity, our national heritage, our communal raison d’être.

If we forget why we exist as a country, if we spurn the founders’ principles and vision, then our tongues, as the psalmist wrote in another context, will cleave to the roofs of our mouths. Or worse, and more subtly, as Job moaned, "Oh, that my grief were thoroughly weighed and my calamity laid in the balances together! For now, it would be heavier than the sand of the sea; my words are swallowed up!"

Our words and our beliefs are not yet swallowed. We still hear them — if we strain. But amid the current clang and clutter, our words — words of justice, words of truth, words that truly mark us as Americans — are harder to notice and harder to heed.


Arthur J. Magida is writer-in-residence at the University of Baltimore. His latest book is “The Rabbi and the Hit Man” (HarperCollins).

Diaspora Diversity Focus of ‘Portraits’


An Argentine gaucho lounges near his horse. A Bombay bride displays her upturned palms, filigreed entirely with henna. An Ethiopian boy lights candles with a classmate. A woman poses stiffly in her kitchen in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. What unites these disparate images is that the people depicted in them are Jews, all of them captured in black and white by Israeli-born photojournalist Zion Ozeri.

Ozeri has made a career out of documenting Jewish communal life both in Israel and in far-flung outposts of the Diaspora, like Peru, India, Tunisia and Uzbekistan. The images are compelling. Ozeri has a strong sense of composition, an outsider’s eye for the telling or humorous detail and an ability to play on our emotions with shadow, light and reflection.

At first glance, his photos seem like intimate glances into the lives of people who are vastly different from us. They are rich in atmospheric details — the steam of the marketplace, the rough texture of cobblestones, the ropy muscles of laborers, the weave of embroidery on traditional costumes. But if what draws us at first is the exotic, what makes these images linger in our minds is their universality. Ozeri captures not just the foreignness of these other lives, but their intense humanity. In the process, he illuminates the colorful, global variety of Jewish life. It makes the title of his latest exhibition at the Skirball, "Portraits of an Eternal People: A Jewish Family Album," particularly apt.

Ozeri wasn’t always this passionate about cross-cultural experiences. Raised during the 1950s as an Israeli-born son of Yemenite immigrants, Ozeri’s formative years were spent trying to distance himself from his own family’s cultural distinctiveness. Born in an Israeli transit camp, and later raised in the town of Ra’anana, Ozeri chafed at the ethnic divisions and social prejudices that marginalized Yemenite Israelis. It was a time when Ashkenazim reigned supreme in Israel.

"When I was growing up, I just wanted to fit in," he recalled in an interview with The Journal. "In those days, fitting in really meant distancing myself from my parents’ generation. People my age wanted to be modern, to get rid of the stigma associated with being Yemenite or Sephardic."

Ironically it was his own heritage that propelled him toward cultural photojournalism. An early attempt to study premed in the United States was aborted when the ’73 war broke out and Ozeri returned to Israel to fight. Shortly after his six-month military stint, Ozeri decided to pursue his interest in photography instead of medicine.

After studying in New York, he began freelancing for magazines and newspapers. During a vacation in Israel in the early 1980s, it occurred to him that his own community was a ripe subject for the camera.

"I saw, at this point, that my parents’ generation was disappearing and that, in fact, all the generations of Israel’s immigrants were disappearing and no one was paying attention," Ozeri said. "So I decided to spend a few days of my vacation photographing Yemenites in the community of Rosh Ayin. I took pictures at the local market, and elsewhere around town. I began to appreciate my specific heritage as a Yemenite Jew. I outgrew my embarrassment as a kid and learned to see the beauty in it."

Ozeri’s photographs of Yemenite Jews in Israel became an eight-page photo essay in Moment magazine and ultimately led to a book, "Yemenite Jews: A Photographic Essay" (Schocken, 1985).

His Skirball show, which opened July 1, includes images from more than a dozen countries. However, it’s always Jewish spirit and ritual that are the common threads — from a photo of a challah maker in Chile to a Jewish day school in Zimbabwe.

"What I love is to compare and contrast, to see the beauty in other places, other communities," Ozeri said. "Sometimes, it’s amazing, there are only a few Jews in a given community, and yet, they are still keeping up all the traditions. In that way we are really a global community. I can go to a synagogue anywhere and I open the siddur and it’s a comfortable thing."

Some of the communities Ozeri documents are on the verge of extinction. He cites the 1,000-year-old Uzbekistan Jewish community as a case in point.

"There’s definitely more drama in photographing a community that is disappearing," he said. "You can feel the tension in the air. There is tension between family members. Some are headed for Israel, others to America. Some stay behind. It’s a unique experience."

For future projects, Ozeri is contemplating travel to Western Europe and Cuba. He has begun to see his work in ways that move beyond journalism and art photography into the realm of education.

"The more I am invited to lecture and speak about what I do, the more I begin to see the educational element in my work," he said. "People look at the exhibits and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know there were Jews here or there, or that they did this or that.’ My feeling now is that if you want to teach about diversity, the Jewish people are a dramatic example."

"Portrait of an Eternal People" is on display at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Ruby Gallery through Aug. 31. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Free. Noon-5 p.m. (Tuesdays-Saturdays); 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sundays). For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

Musical Memory


Ever since I was a toddler, I knew that my grandmother, Lisa Jura Golabek Roberts, was a Holocaust survivor.

During our piano lessons, she awed me with stories of her past. As a little girl, she was a child prodigy in Vienna; when Hitler rose to power, Lisa’s parents sent her on the Kindertransport, a British operation that saved 10,000 Jewish children from the Nazis. As my grandmother tearfully boarded the train, her mother told her, "Lisa, hold on to your music, it will always be your best friend in life." Lisa never forgot her mother’s last words to her.

Not only did she become an internationally renown concert pianist, she passed on her music to her two daughters, Mona Golabek and Renee Golabek Kaye, and her four grandchildren, myself included. On Nov. 17., we will perform some of Lisa’s favorite music in a concert to benefit Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles.

My mother, Renee, told me that Lisa began teaching her and my aunt, Mona, to play piano when they were small children. There were five pianos in the house, and my grandmother used to roller skate (literally) back and forth while teaching her two daughters and the other students who swarmed in and out of the house.

When they were in high school, my mother and aunt left the campus every day at noon to go home and practice for hours in the back studio. As child prodigies, they often performed at the Hollywood Bowl and in competitions. They went on to study at Juilliard School and became world-renowned Grammy-nominated concert pianists.

By the time I was a toddler, Lisa was already teaching me piano. When I was in the third grade, we moved onto her Beverlywood street; every day after school, I eagerly walked down the block for my lesson. As I entered the front door, Chopin, Debussy, Liszt and Schumann filled my ears. My grandmother always greeted me with a kiss on the cheek and then silently took my hand and led me to the piano.

Lisa did not teach like most teachers. She didn’t just go over notes, theory and scales. Instead, she focused on feeling each note. For example, while teaching me her favorite piece of all time, Debussy’s "Claire De Lune," she told me, "’Claire De Lune,’ my grandchild, means moonlight. Imagine that you are in a golden meadow in the evening, looking at the shimmering moonlight overhead. Now close your eyes and put the emotions and beauty you feel into your music."

I was 12, the same age Lisa was when she first learned the piece after arriving in England on the Kindertransport.

Often during our lessons, I stared in wonder as my grandmother’s graceful hands flickered across the piano. But I was even more in awe of her strength of character. I tried to imagine leaving my parents forever and moving to a new country all alone, yet it was too painful to contemplate.

One of my last memories of Lisa took place after one of her many surgeries for ovarian cancer in the late 1990s. I slept next to her bed on the floor that evening, too frightened to leave her alone. In the middle of the night, I awakened to her quiet sobs. As I turned, she began shouting in her sleep for her "mama." I took her in my arms and held her.

I have played in many concerts and recitals since my Lisa died almost five years ago. Recently, I attended the 60th reunion of the Kindertransport, where my family and I performed, as a way to thank the British people for saving my grandmother. We also performed on the BBC.

When we appeared at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, upon the publication of Lisa’s recently released biography, "The Children of Willesden Lane," I began the evening with her favorite piece.

As I prepared to play, I could not help but remember the lesson in which she had taught me "Claire De Lune." I closed my eyes and thought of the moonlight over the meadow, but mostly flashed back to my beloved Lisa. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I somehow felt her presence beside me. I pressed my hands on the keyboard and gently played the first chords.

“Mona Golabek & Renee Golabek-Kaye Together Again in Concert” will be held at 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 17. at Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. For information, call (310) 652-7354, ext. 223.


Micheke Goldman is a junior at Milken Community High School.

A Nightmare on Wedding Street


As a little girl, Anna* always dreamed of a perfect wedding. Then, at 32, after a three-and-a-half-year engagement, she was ready to realize that dream. But recently, what she thought was going to be a dream, turned into a nightmare.

First, there were the fights with her mother over the menu. Anna wanted her wedding reception to consist only of a large Viennese dessert table and no main course. But her mother declared that this was not proper, demanding a more conventional sit-down meal.

She and her mother spent the next couple of weeks fighting and sobbing about how much to feed their guests. At one point, Anna called her mother and uninvited her to the wedding.

But that was only the beginning.

Anna says that her future machatanim (in-laws) did not like her, nor did they hide their feelings. She says that just months before the wedding, her in-laws called their son to beg him to date other people. Anna says she declared war.

"I will never forgive them, and will never let them see our future children," she promised her future husband.

Anna’s experience in planning her Jewish wedding might be more typical than the blissful experience portrayed in most wedding magazines. In today’s world, with fractured and fractious families, the wedding simcha can be marred by hundreds of details that only the bride, groom, rabbis, photographers and wedding planners can understand.

"There are never really any two families with exactly the same values or traditions, or with the perfect satisfaction over their child’s choice for a mate," said Rabbi Jacob Pressman, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Am. "On top of that, as with any other elaborate occasion, the wedding generates its own life — its own problems, anxieties and frustrations." Pressman said that all brides and grooms in this situation should sit down with their future in-laws and try to soften any harsh feelings. "It is much easier to go on fighting and hating your in-laws than trying to go forward on good terms," he said.

Like Anna, Rachel* and Ben* are also marrying in the fall. Yet, the tone of their wedding differs considerably. Both have raised families (this is Ben’s third marriage and Rachel’s second) and both sets of parents have passed away.

The wedding will be simple, yet elegant. But in a way, it will be more emotionally difficult than Anna’s wedding. "I only wish that I could hear the voices of my parents bickering about the ceremony," Rachel said.

But many couples are not like Ben and Rachel when it comes to their parents. Pressman said he has witnessed numerous absurd arguments, such as parents insisting that they decide on the seating arrangements. He said that he tries to intervene to discover the underlying issue. "Does it really make that big of a difference where you sit? Is it worth damaging the lives of your children?" he might ask the parents.

To the couple, he might say, "Perhaps the real issue for your parents is not the seating arrangement. It is really about their feelings of loss and desperation to … control their children one more time."

Pressman recalled one disastrous wedding: "One time, I officiated at a marriage in which the groom’s father and mother were divorced. His mother was an alcoholic and the father had remarried.

"The groom’s mother called me and said, ‘If you let that b—h [the father’s new wife] stand under the chuppah with him, I will shout my head off and destroy the wedding.’ The father’s wife then called me and threatened, ‘If you let that drunk come to this wedding, I will leave,’" Pressman said.

It turned out, the rabbi said, continuing the story, that both women came to the wedding. The bride and groom were suffering from the flu and had to sit on chairs under the chuppah. The drunken mother screamed her head off. The groom fainted, fell off his chair and his wine spilled all over the bride’s gown. The bridesmaid and usher were knocked off their feet. "Wheelchairs were carrying people back and forth…. It was crazy!" said Pressman with a laugh.

He said this was certainly an exception. "Out of the hundreds of weddings that I have officiated at, only one was ever called off."

Yet, most Jewish weddings are not like those in the movies. Brides tend not to run from the altar, since they are too focused on other things.

Professional videographer David Stern agreed: "Many times, the bride, groom or parents come to me after the wedding in shock. They swear that their minds went blank, and they completely forgot what happened during the ceremony … they were too wrapped up in their emotions."

Wedding photographer Darryl Temkin added, "As the saying goes, if a couple can make it through the wedding, then they certainly can survive anything else."

Oy Vey Iz Mir!


"But mom, I feel too sick to go to school today. My tummy hurts, my throat hurts, I feel hot," moans 7-year-old Adam. His mother kisses his forehead and replies, "Adam, you feel cool as a cucumber! You’re probably not sick, you’re nervous about making friends at your new school. But I shouldn’t take any chances; there is a bug going around. You can have the day off. Maybe I’ll take you to the doctor."

Perhaps this is where it all starts, in second grade. I’ve been a doctor for more than a dozen years now, and a Jewish doctor at that. I’ve treated people from dozens of countries and countless cultural backgrounds. Over the years I have noticed that Jewish people suffer disproportionately from painful conditions that are ultimately tied to their emotions.

Research supports the concept that Jewish people are more likely to suffer from some psychological conditions, and less likely from some other disorders, than the general population. An article from the Israeli Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, published in 1989, reviews studies that show a lower prevalence rate of schizophrenia, but a higher level of neurosis than non-Jews. The authors also conclude, "Jews tend to internalize aggression."

The relationship of alcohol abuse and psychiatric conditions as it varies among ethnic groups is quite interesting. An article in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse in 1989 describes a study of drug and alcohol intake for Jewish and Christian men at UC San Diego. Christian men were more likely to report alcohol-related problems than were Jews.

In a more recent report in the Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology Journal from 1992, data showed that the overall lifetime rate of psychiatric disorders among Jews did not differ from non-Jews. However, Jews were more prone to depression. An article in the American Journal of Psychiatry published in July, 1997, noted that Jewish males had higher rates of major depression than Catholics and Protestants. But, again, rates of alcohol abuse/dependence were lower in the Jewish population and inversely related to rates of major depression.

What’s interesting about these studies is that they point out that Jews seem to suffer a higher rate of neurotic illness, more depression and less alcoholism. Of course, this could represent a genetic tendency. However, no one has demonstrated that Jews share the Asian tendency to have a lower level of an enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the system. No one has yet discovered the depression gene or a gene therapy for it, so perhaps we should think about the role of Jewish culture.

It’s possible that over centuries of restricted living in the shtetls and ghettoes of Eastern Europe, and elsewhere under the domination of other groups, Jews have learned that directly expressing anger and aggression was a dangerous thing. The alternative to acting out emotions is often to turn these feelings inside. Gradually, this became a learned behavior, passed on culturally from generation to generation.

This self-attack or internalization of anger and aggression may be the cause of a higher rate of depression and certain other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, chronic back and neck pain, and temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ). Jewish people internalize emotion, literally experiencing in their bodies the angers, fears and frustrations of everyday life. The oy vey we hear does represent real, physical pain in a patient’s abdomen or back. But the origin of the pain may indeed rest in emotional tension rather than a particular structural disorder of the colon or spine.

Many Jewish children, like Adam in the story above, have found that their parents are sensitive to their every ache and pain and much more attentive when they kvetch. The pattern continues as adults when Jews are quite willing to share their aches and pains with one another as a way of bonding and letting off steam, but not really confronting the underlying emotional issues. This indirect style, or repression of emotions, may lead to physical symptoms.

The medical profession is beginning to acknowledge the mind-body connection in a variety of ways. Insomnia, headaches, back pain, fatigue and abdominal pain all can have purely organic causes; but we are learning more and more to connect these symptoms and others with a patient’s emotional life. The elderly widow or widower who suffers a well-documented higher rate of death and disease in the first year after losing a spouse is one example of a mind-body effect.

The good news is that Jews are also among my most educated patients, and especially among younger people, much more psychologically aware. It turns out that the key to treating these mind-body disorders is making patients aware of the connection and teaching them to think about their pain less and their feelings more. I tell them: "Think psychologically, not physically."

Jewish people are often among the best at learning to approach their problems this way. And, by the way, these conditions are quite common in all ethnic groups, just more so in Jews.

So the next time one of your parents says, "Oy Vey, my aching back!" think not of dad’s bulging disc or mom’s bursitis, but instead, the statement beneath: "Why haven’t you called?"

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