When Jews Became a ‘Modern’ People


“After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity” by David Ellenson (Hebrew Union College Press, 2004).

In the forward of “After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity,” Michael Meyer explains: “This book is directed especially to a broader readership … that is not likely to have read these essays when they first appeared in scholarly journals…”

Author David Ellenson defines modernity: “Emancipation and enlightenment at the end of the 18th century initiated a process of political and social integration of Jews into Western culture…. The essays gathered in this volume … focus on the … period in which Jews were called upon to redefine and reconceptualize themselves and their traditions as both the Jewish community and individual Jews entered this radically new realm of possibility and challenge.”

He introduces himself first. Raised in an Orthodox synagogue in Newport News, Va., in the 1950s, his education defined a journey into Judaism pursued within the theoretical literature of religious studies. To his credit, he remembers many important influences, at Virginia, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and Columbia University, where he did his doctoral studies on German Orthodox Judaism.

The collection of 23 freestanding, but topically connected, essays in five rubrics covers these subjects, explained by Ellenson in the preface:

1. Reflections on Modernity: Judaism resurgent? American Jews and the evolving expression of Jewish values and Jewish identity; Jacob Katz on the origins and dimensions of Jewish modernity; Max Weber on Judaism and the Jews.

Ellenson explains: This “presents the overarching theme that informs my work in general … the ongoing and evolving nature of the Jewish response to the modern enterprise … in the American context.”

2. The Challenge of Emancipation: Emancipation and the directions of modern Judaism. The lessons of Melitz Yosher; a disputed precedent: the Prague organ in 19th century central European legal literature and polemics; Samuel Holdheim and Zacharias Frankel on the legal character of Jewish marriage; traditional reactions to modern Jewish Reform, the paradigm of German Orthodoxy; the Rabbiner-Seminar Codicil, an instrument of boundary maintenance. “These essays look at Jewish legal and liturgical writings in 19th-century Europe…and indicate how Jewish religious leaders … demonstrated that the Jewish religion and Jewish culture were worthy of respect by the gentile world….”

3. Denominational Responses: the Israelitische Gebetbuecher of Abraham Geiger and Manuel Joel; the prayers for rain in the Siddurim of Abraham Geiger and Isaac Mayer Wise; German Jewish Orthodoxy, tradition in the context of culture; Gemeindeorthodoxie in Weimar Germany, the approaches of Nehemiah Anton Nobel and Isak Unna; the curriculum of the Jewish Theological Seminary in historical and comparative perspective; a prism on the emergence of American religious denominationalism

The essays cover “how the leaders of Liberal and Orthodox branches of Judaism in Central Europe constructed novel parameters for their communities through prayer books, legal writings, sermons and journal articles.

4. Modern Responsa: Women and the study of Torah: a responsum by Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin of Jerusalem; Gender, Halakhah, and women’s suffrage: response of the first three chief rabbis on the public role of women in the Jewish states; Parallel worlds: Wissenschaft and Psak in the Seridei Eish; a Jewish legal authority addresses Jewish-Christian dialogue: two responses of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein; Jewish legal interpretation and moral values: two responses by Rabbi Hayim David Halevi on the obligations of the Israelite government toward its minority population; Interpretative fluidity and Psak in the case of Pidyon Shevuyim: an analysis of a modern Israeli responsum as illuminated by the thought of David Hartman; Artificial fertilization and procreative autonomy, two contemporary responses.

Here Ellenson “takes a close look at 20th-century Jewish legal decisions on … new issues: the status of women, interfaith relations, modern academic scholarship, recent medieval advancements, and the reestablishment of Jewish political autonomy through the creation of the State of Israel.”

5. New Initiatives, New Directions: a new rite from Israel: reflections on Siddur Va’ani tefillati of the Masorti (Conservative) movement; David Hartman on Judaism and the Modern condition; Marcia Falk’s The Book of Blessings, the issue is theological.

These essays “analyze a few landmark contemporary works of legal and liturgical; creativity by individuals and movements from diverse sectors of the Jewish religious world.”

The essays are diverse — some of narrowly academic interest, others of broad implications that engage a wide audience. Among the latter is “Judaism resurgent?” which “demonstrates the ways in which American attitudes toward ethnic identity and public manifestations of faith have evolved over the past century…. Jews in the United States are overwhelmingly universalistic, and particularistic affirmations are made in the service of universal moral and spiritual values … the question … is whether such affirmations will provide strong enough … to sustain a broad cultural and communal identity.”

The survey of 20th-century Jewish opinion is illuminating. But the strongest group of essays are those that expound the ideas of theologians and scholars of Judaic thought, inclusive of both the media of law and philosophy. Here Ellenson is able to introduce systematic analytical writings and show how they work. Among the best work in the book are the essays on Jacob Katz, Max Weber and a number of 19th- and 20th-century Orthodox and Reform religious thinkers, including Geiger and I. M. Wise, Holdheim and Frankel, Nobel and Unna.

Finally, a sequence of halachic disquisitions shows Ellenson at his best: erudite, lucid and purposive. Most of the chapters are given “final thoughts,” conclusions that underscore the main point. Ellenson is a scholar who generalizes and draws conclusions and doesn’t only lay out a lot of obscure information about this and that. So there is never reason to wonder about the point of the exercise; it is always made explicit and accessible.

Ellenson stands in the front rank of scholars of modern and contemporary Judaism, and these essays constitute a formidable contribution to not only the study of the topics they treat, respectively, but also the formation of a coherent, encompassing conception of Judaism in modern times.

No wonder in his presidency of Hebrew HUC-JIR he has made so many truly distinguished appointments, turning the Reform seminary into an influential center of learning in Judaism.

Jacob Neusner is research professor of religion and theology at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.


Why I Keep My Hair Under Wraps

A few weeks ago I found myself spellbound while watching “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” This film, based on the excellent Tracy Chevalier novel, is a fictional account of the history behind Vermeer’s famous painting of the same name.

The novel revolves around a servant girl, Grete, who became a secret assistant to the painter in his studio. In one scene, Vermeer accidentally glimpses Grete with her hair uncovered. The moment is electric. Grete, like all women of her social station, covered her hair at all times. It was as if Vermeer had caught her unclothed.

It was odd to feel such a kinship with a fictional character, and one who lived in the 17th century at that. But, like Grete, I also keep my hair covered in front of all but family members.

Over the years, I have begun to feel that my hair is a very private part of me. Revealing it has become an almost intimate act.

I never expected to feel this way. Years ago, I wrestled with the idea of living an Orthodox life. It was the most defining and difficult spiritual struggle of my life, and one that was not made quickly. While I was captivated with the timeless truths of the Torah, I insisted that I could never fulfill the mitzvah of covering my hair after I married.

The Torah considers a woman’s hair part of her crowning beauty. Covering it after marriage symbolizes not only the woman’s modesty but also her exclusive relationship with her husband.

For a long time I considered this idea to be repressive and anti-feminist, and could not make peace with it. But I had a problem: In my new circle of Orthodox acquaintances I kept meeting Orthodox married women, bewigged or wearing scarves or hats, who failed to match my unflattering stereotype of the Jewish Stepford wife. These women were intelligent, highly educated and lively. Almost none had grown up Orthodox, so I couldn’t claim they were covering up their locks by rote. Nearly all were baalei teshuva, or returnees to the faith, and they had chosen this spiritually rich lifestyle despite myriad available choices.

Even after I married and adhered to most Orthodox standards, I did not cover my hair. I wanted to want to do it, but I couldn’t bring myself to take on this monumental obligation. I attended lectures about hair covering, but left depressed because I had not found the beauty or inspiration I had sought. What did everyone else see in this that I could not see?

However, I no longer viewed the idea of hair covering as repressive, since Jewish men, both single and married, also wear garments that remind them of their unique obligations as Jews: the kippah on their heads and the four-cornered tzitzit under their shirts. I had learned enough by then to understand that these guidelines were designed to help us incorporate spiritual awareness into the physical aspects of our lives, including how we dress.

Eventually, I began covering my hair to set a good example for my sons.

After all, how could I expect them to make blessings before and after eating, wear their little kippot and perform other mitzvot, when I failed to uphold such an obvious one?

Still, it remained a struggle. I vainly missed compliments about my hair’s beauty. I missed feeling the wind in my hair. Still searching for meaning behind the practice, I continued to drill friends about their feelings about it. When one friend said that covering her hair made her feel special, like royalty, something finally clicked. Jews are supposed to be God’s chosen people and should dress the part. Stylish, modest clothing and head coverings did the trick for her. I liked this idea of hair covering making me special.

These days, when women and girls bare so much skin in public, I know that my manner of dress makes me something of an oddity. Looking at me in my long skirt, mid-sleeve blouse, and hat or beret on my head, many can instantly identify me as an Orthodox Jew.

I like being marked this way. I appreciate how the Torah has taught me to resist the ordinary and the faddish in an effort to become exemplary. My modest attire and hair covering remind me that I must always separate the private from the public. My body, including my hair, is private. I’ve also been heartened by the book, “Hide & Seek,” an anthology of essays about hair covering, edited by Lynne Schreiber (Urim Publications, 2003). The writers in this book are an eclectic group of Jewish women — not all of them Orthodox — who came to the decision to cover their hair in many ways, some of them unexpected and dramatic. Reading these women’s stories, including their struggles with a mitzvah that they find both important yet difficult, I realized I had more company than I would have expected.

When Vermeer saw Grete’s beautiful, naked locks, it added a level of intimacy to their relationship. It took me years to realize this, but eventually, I found that reserving my hair only for the closest of family members — and especially for my husband — has done the same for me, too.

Judy Gruen is a columnist for Religion News Service and an award-winning author of two humor books. Read more of her columns at www.judygruen.com.



Let’s Work

In this week’s portion, Lech Lecha, we learn about a fight between the shepherds of Abraham and his nephew, Lot. There was plenty of space for everyone, but they weren’t getting along so it seemed too crowded. Our rabbis teach us that when two people get along, they can be happy together sharing even the smallest of spaces, but when they don’t, the whole world can seem too small.

By working at getting along with the people around us, we can make our whole world seem bigger and brighter.

Don’t forget to send in your essay of where you would go in time and space if you could climb into a time machine? Write an essay, story or poem telling us about your adventure. Send entries by Nov. 4. to abbygilad@yahoo.com. Remember to include your full name, age, address, school and grade.

Loud and Proud Mizrachi Voices

"The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage," edited by Loolwa Khazzoom (Seal Press, $16.95)

On the last night before her family would flee Libya in 1967, Gina Bublil Waldman recalls that she had to choose between taking her only warm sweater or a photo album with the words "Souvenir of Libya" on the cover. Its hand-painted image of a peaceful seascape was in absolute contrast to the political turbulence and danger her family faced. She packed the photos, remnants of a life she wouldn’t know again.

Her essay is included in a compelling collection, "The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage," edited by Loolwa Khazzoom.

"The Flying Camel" is both a travelogue of exile and longing — revisiting memories, often borrowed, of the Old Country, whether in North Africa or the Middle East — and a book that charts a new course. Among the essays are bold tales of escape, traditional life, "passing" as Ashkenazi, fighting invisibility and defining home. Asserting their identities with newfound confidence, the contributors are writing their stories into the larger story of Jewish history.

The essayists are of Tunisian, Libyan, Moroccan, Iraqi, Iranian, Indian and Yemenite descent; some are refugees from Arab lands, others are the children and grandchildren of exiles. They are of various ages, religious backgrounds, lifestyles, professions; they speak many languages. They share a strong desire to be heard.

As Jews, they were often second-class citizens in the Arab lands they came from. As Mizrachim, the Hebrew word for "Eastern," they felt similarly considered second-class among Ashkenazi Jews. And as women they felt further marginalized.

In her introduction, Khazzoom describes trying on the silk abayah, a full-body veil, that her grandmother wore on the streets of Baghdad. She imagines she would have wanted to tear it off and feel the sun if she had been forced to cover herself in such a garment.

Khazzoom, in New York City on a book tour recently, shows up for an interview wearing jeans and a T-shirt, clearly free of veils, both real and metaphorical. She is outspoken as she describes the book and her family’s history.

About her Judeo-Arabic name, which sounds so unusual to an American ear, she says it’s quite common.

"I’m the Debbie Goldstein of Iraq," Khazzoom says.

Her mother is a Jew by choice. In 1950, her father fled Iraq, where the family had been for more than 2,000 years, going first to Israel and then to America. Her parents met at a Hillel dance when her mother was well-along in the conversion process. The author says it was her mother, who hails from rural Illinois and can trace one side of her family back to the ship that arrived after the Mayflower, who encouraged the emphasis on the Iraqi part of their heritage.

Her father, who had a distressing time in Israel as a Mizrachi immigrant, had grown used to trying to pass as an Ashkenazi, and the Iraqi pieces had to be coaxed out of him. Even though all of their relatives were in Israel, the Khazzoom home became very strongly Iraqi.

"I really embraced it," Khazzoom, 34, explains. "The religion, the history, the culture." She adds, "It’s very much a living part of who I am."

She grew up in Washington, then moved to Montreal. Her father, who now teaches Middle Eastern and North African studies at UCLA, had a sabbatical year in California, so the family moved there. He was very much at home amid the palm trees that reminded him of Baghdad.

From the time Khazzoom was 3, the family made frequent trips to Israel, which had a large influence on her life. They were Orthodox, and for holidays and frequently on Shabbat, they would attend a traditional Iraqi synagogue in Los Angeles.

Khazzoom is a woman of personality and spirit, and it’s easy to picture her as a determined 14-year-old when she tells the story of mobilizing the women behind the mechitza on one Simchat Torah. Their beloved Iraqi rabbi had retired, and a young spiritual leader of Moroccan descent and Ashkenazi style replaced him. From the women’s section she was incensed that the new rabbi was singing Ashkenazi tunes for the dancing with the Torah rather than the traditional Iraqi songs.

Khazzoom had been leaning toward the men’s section, singing the Iraqi songs at the top of her lungs to no avail, when she turned to the women behind her and mobilized them to sing loudly and drown out the rabbi. Many of the men eventually joined them. She walked over to the bimah and didn’t hold back in telling the rabbi what she really thought, and "all hell broke loose." She describes this as her first political act.

The book’s title is drawn from one of the essays, "How the Camel Found Its Wings" by Lital Levy, a doctoral candidate in comparative literature at UC Berkeley whose father was born in Iraq. She writes of a flying camel whose wings are broken, likening the process of healing them to gathering the pieces of her own broken identity and fitting them together anew, blending old and new into an integrated whole.

"For all the women in this collection," Khazzoom writes, "our identities have been shattered and need to be rebuilt."

Many of the essays include unforgettable imagery: a grandfather who built a paradise for himself on his roof in Safi, Morocco, far above the streets where, as a Jew, he had to walk with eyes always lowered; a young woman plucking chickens for her cousin’s wedding in Shiraz, Iran, while her cousin goes through a traditional pre-wedding ceremony in "Hair and Feathers"; elderly aunts transplanted to northern Israel who suffer from intense depression and whose only joy is setting a huge table of traditional foods; a young woman in Libya saving her family from having their vehicle set afire on their way to the airport for their escape to Malta.

Khazzoom actually began this project 11 years ago. When she first had the idea of putting together a collection of essays by Mizrachi feminists, the only possible writers she knew of were herself and her sister. One by one, she heard of other potential contributors, and compiled a book with 16 voices. But publishing it was another challenge. She was turned down repeatedly, with publishers suggesting that she add the voices of Ashkenazi women or non-Jews or men to round out the collection.

Then came Sept. 11. Suddenly, many people seemed interested in her writing, and some of the publishers who had turned down the book proposal came forward with offers.

"A positive outcome of the tragedy is that people have woken up, opened up their eyes," Khazzoom says. "At least now they’re more aware of what’s going on."

She sees the book as particularly important now, as the issue of reparations to Jews from Arab countries is being discussed.

"Personal storytelling is the most poignant way of addressing an issue," she says.

Khazzoom, who says she pioneered the Jewish multicultural movement in 1990, is working toward getting Jewish communities to be attentive to non-European Jewish history and culture.

"I wanted to open people’s eyes to the richness of their heritage," she says.

She uses the past tense to indicate that she’s no longer "the Jewish multicultural marketing machine" she once was — not that she doesn’t still value the work. But Khazzoom has moved on in her own professional life.

Two years ago she made aliyah and is now living in Tel Aviv, where most Loolwas have changed their names to Lily. Living among Jews of many backgrounds, identity is no longer the pressing issue it once was.

"I’ve already done my own healing," she says.

Now Khazzoom works as a free-lance journalist, and her mission is to get the message of Jewish multiculturalism beyond the Jewish community and into the larger world. She is also a professional singer, performing traditional Middle Eastern and North African music.

But she hasn’t quite found her place on the religious map.

"I am like a lost observant Jewish girl," she says. She still likes to sing out loud, as she did as a young child, and finds the Mizrachi synagogues, with the women sitting above and often behind a curtain, uncomfortable. Sometimes she attends a monthly egalitarian Mizrachi minyan in Jerusalem, where she might lead services.

Now Khazzoom is thinking of moving to Ramat Gan, a Tel Aviv suburb, where she could be within walking distance of an Iraqi synagogue that she finds to be very much in the old tradition, with women singing in full voice from above, without a curtain.

Although she stopped being observant in her 20s, she can see herself becoming observant again, saying: "I want to find a place where I can be authentic in my expression of Judaism."

Looking for Love?

JDate is the largest Jewish singles site, but for those interested in swimming in smaller ponds, below is a sampling of some of the other offerings on the web.

www.frumster.com  — A dating service exclusively for Orthodox singles.

www.jmatch.com   — Like JDate, but replying to messages is free. This site prides itself on being a human-based company, and it makes matchmakers available to its members.

www.jswsn.org   — A Web site aimed at Jewish singles with disabilities.

www.mitmazel.com   — Chabad’s matchmaking site. Members need a “sponsor” in the form of an Orthodox rabbi or the wife of an Orthodox rabbi who can vouch for them.

www.basherte.com   — Generic Jewish dating site. Users fill out a basic profile (name, age, physical appearance, etc.) and then write a short essay on “About Me.”

www.singlejew.com   — Another generic Jewish dating site. Users check off answers on a multiple-choice profile that includes questions like “If I had the talent … I would choose to be a: 1. Scientist, 2. Philosopher, 3. Musician.”

www.eharmony.com   — Not an exclusively Jewish site, but one where users fill out a very long questionnaire, and then the site matches them up based on their personality profiles.

Kids Page

You know that harmless-looking body part inside your mouth? The tongue? It sure looks nice enough, but it gets a lot of Israelites into trouble in this week’s parsha. Do you remember getting a present and then complaining it wasn’t enough? Not the right video game; not the kind of scooter you wanted. Often, your parents end up giving you what you want, but they might get pretty mad in the process. Well this time, the Israelites complain about the manna. “We want meat! We want more!” they shout.

God gives them what they want, but gets pretty mad at them. Was it worth it? Miriam and Aaron get into trouble, too, when they use their tongues to spread gossip about Moses’ wife, Zipporah. So, think about that tongue of yours. It’s more powerful than you realize.

Special Friends

Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing essays and poems by children who won the San Fernando Valley fifth-grade writing contest. The theme of the contest was: My Special Friend. Awards were given out by the California Writers’ Club on May 25, at the Encino Community Center. Meirav Fishman Cafri, 12, of Northridge, wrote the first-place essay. She is finishing up at Napa Elementary School in Northridge. She is the youngest of four children and is one of a set of triplets.

My Special Friend

My special friend is God. The reason God is my special friend is because He is the ruler of the Earth and has created me. He has dealt kindly with me throughout my 12 years. He is always there for me when I am going through good and bad times. He is even there for me when I need him most. No matter where I go He will always be watching over me. God has helped me through school and is still helping me through school. He is always where I need him most. He is keeping me alive and strong. I love him with all my heart. He always helps me through my injuries no matter how bad they are. Even when I behave badly, he does not or never will give up on me and that’s a fact.

Holocaust Writing Contest Winners Announced

Themes for this year’s submissions to the fourth Holocaust writing contest by Chapman University’s Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education ranged from defiant public protesters in Berlin to the instigators of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising to hate mongers from Hitler to Osama bin Laden.

At a March event to announce the results, about 120 Holocaust survivors met student contenders from 61 local schools. More than 600 people attended a speech by Pierre Sauvage, who talked about Le Chambon, a French town that protected his parents and other Jews during Nazi occupation.

The 122 entries were evaluated by 17 judges, including William Elperin, president of the "1939" Club, a survivors group.

The winning high school essay entries were from Andrey Finegersh, a Mission Viejo High School senior; and Jennifer Wiegert, from Whittier Christian High School, La Habra. Top middle school essays were written by Brittany Horth, a seventh-grader from Irvine’s Lakeside Middle School; and Andrew Grimm, of Tuffree Middle School, Placentia.

The high school poetry winners were Elaine Inoue, of Anaheim’s Acaciawood College Preparatory Academy, who placed second in last year’s contest; and Vickey K. Mendez of Anaheim High School. Winning middle school poets were Jennifer Thompson, an eighth-grader from St. Columban School, Garden Grove; and Amanda Mener, a seventh-grader from Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, Irvine.

Wendy Wasserstein to Give a Little Peek

Fertility therapy, Jewish identity, pressure to marry,
single parenting. All are themes that flow through both the personal life and
creative work of playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who won a Pulitzer Prize and
Tony in 1998 for “The Heidi Chronicles.”

In a rare peek behind the curtains on Broadway, Wasserstein
will share some scenes out of her own theater experience at the Newport Beach
Public Library on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. The $36 cost per person includes a
complimentary copy of Wasserstein’s latest book, “Shiksa Goddess (Or How I
Spent My Forties),” essays chronicling challenges facing contemporary women in

A more intimate dinner with Wasserstein for patrons of the
Orange County Jewish Community Scholar Program will precede the library event.
It will take place in the dining area of Corona del Mar’s Heath Food Emporium
and will be an opportunity to question Wasserstein directly, said Arie Katz,
founder of the Orange County Community Scholar Program, which organized the

Wasserstein’s first book of essays in 10 years is the result
of a “to do” list composed of items left over from when she turned 30. The list
included perennial resolutions: lose weight, exercise, read more, improve
female friendships, improve male friendships and a holdover from a second-grade
to do list: become a better citizen. The more recent additions were: move, fall
in love, decide about a baby.

Each quest and midlife obsession is annotated with
Wasserstein’s well-known gift for prose. Reviewers called her observations humorous
and disarming in their honesty.

“Wendy Wasserstein reveals in inimitably witty fashion the
hard work that underpins her glamorous playwright life — and charts hilariously
her tussles with personal trainers, directors, philistine congressmen and, of
course, her mother…. A remarkable volume of essays, with much wisdom and some
moral outrage detectable in a rollercoaster of theatrical thrills and dietary
spills,” said Flora Fraser, excerpted at the Borzoi Reader, an online
publication of the book’s publisher, Alfred K. Knopf.

At least 200 people are expected at the library, having
already purchased tickets for her previously scheduled appearance last month.
Wasserstein, who was unavailable for an interview, postponed because of
illness. Should demand outstrip the library’s capacity, the venue may be
changed, Katz said.

Within the theater community, Wasserstein is known as a
mentor to other writers and for using her stature in institutions and in
government for arts advocacy.

“Her presence on Broadway gave her a platform that she used
to benefit others more than herself,” said Jerry E. Patch, who years ago
directed a college production of Wasserstein’s first play about her roommates
at Mount Holyoke College, “Uncommon Women and Others.” Patch serves as South
Coast Repertory Theater’s dramaturg.

Her earliest work won accolades for capturing the impact of
the women’s liberation movement on the middle class. “When change happens, it’s
sometimes difficult to chronicle,” Patch said. “Wendy writes plays that are
really insightful and quietly revolutionary. She makes that kind of change

A native of Brooklyn, Wasserstein graduated from Mount
Holyoke and the Yale School of Drama. She wrote a string of successful,
award-winning plays, including “Uncommon Women,” “The Sisters Rosensweig,” “An
American Daughter” and her most recent, “Old Money.”

In an offstage version of life imitating art, Wasserstein is
taking a cue from her famous heroine, Heidi, who became a single parent. At 48,
Wasserstein gave birth to her first child, Lucy Jane, in September 1999.

Patch as well as others suggest that Wasserstein’s work
speaks for a generation of first-wave feminists, who assented to the dogma that
family and career were mutually exclusive. Personally, Wasserstein rejects such

Just listen to her answering machine. A husky voice that
signs off is joined by the squeaky soprano of a child’s voice. They slowly
chant the ABCs in unison.

To purchase tickets or more information, call (949)

What’s so Jewish about Harry Potter?

Last month, we asked our young Journal readers to answer that question. Since we got so many great essays, we decided to publish sections from some of them. And Congratulations to the winners of our drawing!

“Is Harry Potter Jewish, you ask? No. Harry Potter just exhibits many characteristics of a Jew. He is a leader, is loyal to his friends, and doesn’t abandon his heritage.” In the beginning of the book Harry accepts his fate of being a wizard and embraces it, just as I have welcomed my Jewish identity. As I go to a Jewish school to learn about my heritage and culture, Harry goes to Hogwarts, a school for wizards, to learn about his culture and heritage.” — Ariella Goldman, Age 13

“Harry reminds me of many Jewish people, all rolled into one. Like Sandy Koufax, Harry has principles, and he is true to what he believes in. Harry is brilliant like Albert Einstein. He and Anne Frank both have perseverance. Finally, like Judah Maccabee, Harry is courageous. I think Harry Potter would make a fantastic Jew.” — Shanna Perplies, Age 13

“Jewish culture teaches on that in life, many situations arise when one must choose between good and evil. Harry Potter had the natural inclination to make the admirable decision to act morally. On top of acting justly, he would go one step further and fight all evil wrongdoings, even if his honorable actions put him at a disadvantage.” — Lisa Conn, Age 12

“The Jewish value of choosing right over wrong is definitely present in the acclaimed movie and book series, ‘Harry Potter.’ While Harry chooses to be good, Lord Voldemort chooses evil over good.” — Laura Chanan, Grade 8

“Who would think that the best money-making movie of all time would have so much in common with a small religious group? I sure didn’t think about that…. There are many morals in this story which you can also find in the Torah. For instance, in the movie, Harry knowingly endangered his own life to try to save the life of another.” — Ilan Lakritz, Age 13


“Harry creates a deeper meaning to the story than the obvious meaning of protecting the stone. Harry sets many good examples that aren’t very obvious when one is watching the movie…. Harry had a great feeling of loyalty for his friends. This is a quality that many people can work on and improve upon.” — Spencer Wampole, Grade 8

“Harry was not brought up by the best family. Despite that, he learned who not to be. Harry was always a very nice person. When he got to Hogwarts, he met some different people. Harry is a mensch for sticking up for Ron when Malfoy tries to get Harry to become a bully like Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle.” — Jesse Salzman, Age 14

“Harry Potter will take chances and risk lives, but in the end, he does what is right. I think that Harry has a cornucopia of Jewish traits and plain old traits that he goes by that help him do the right thing.” — Annie Turner, Age 11

“Several things are Jewish about Harry Potter. Dumbledore, the headmaster at Hogwarts, is a godly figure. He’s always watching over the students like God watches over the Jews. Judaism allows for the belief in magic. King Saul went to consult the witch of Endo to bring up the ghost of Samuel. The Golem was the Jewish Frankenstein that protected the Jews.” — Hanna Sender, Age 11

“There are a lot of things that are Jewish about Harry Potter such as his loyalty to his friends, Hermione and Ron. Another thing is that he doesn’t really want to be ‘The Popular One,’ (he isn’t) but he still deserves it…. He is very unassuming and he doesn’t brag about achievements and himself.” — Noah Starr, Age 11