An American wedding in Israel

In my excitement about getting engaged this past October, I printed out a monstrous wedding planning checklist, which detailed exactly what I should be doing and when — from nine months to the day of my wedding.

But as I read down the four-page list, the anxiety started to mount — many of the prescribed to-dos couldn’t be done because we’re getting married in Israel.

Under “Nine Months Prior to the Wedding,” the list included a reminder to make arrangements at local hotels for out-of-town guests. Except that in our case, the only out-of-towners are pretty much me, my fiance and my parents.

Israeli weddings, as I quickly discovered, are very different from American weddings. And planning the big day from a distance of 7,500 miles and 20 years — I moved to Los Angeles when I was six years old — has proved to be no small ke’ev rosh (headache).

The difficulties became apparent early on in the list. The fifth item on the wedding checklist, under “When you get engaged,” was “develop your budget.” Pretty basic. We’re calculating our budget in increasingly worthless dollars, but paying in shekels. As the dollar keeps plummeting on the world market, the price of each meal at our wedding, fixed in shekels, keeps rising. How many brides have to design wedding invitations while keeping their eye on the value of the dollar?!

Maybe the U.S. economy will perk up by September. Perhaps Americans will feel invigorated by the prospect of a new president as elections near. We can hope.

After the budget, we’re supposed to decide on the maid of honor, bridesmaids, best man, groomsmen, flower girl and ring bearer.

Israelis, who are much less ceremonial, don’t have all these fancy designations.

“People won’t understand why your American friends are all wearing the same dress,” my future mother-in-law informed me.

I didn’t care. Let them wonder, I thought. It’ll be a lesson in American culture. Besides, I grew up watching “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Father of the Bride,” and I always imagined my closest girlfriends in green bridesmaid dresses.

My fiance, David, cheerfully agreed to designate groomsmen to accompany my green-clad friends down the aisle (another ceremonial tradition not done in Israel — there, only the bride and groom walk down the aisle). However, despite showing them how lovely matching bridesmaids and groomsmen look on David’s Bridals’ Web site, we could not convince his three brothers to wear matching suits.

“No way!” his younger brother cried in protest. “I don’t want to look like everyone else. That’s embarrassing.”

We’re working on getting them to wear matching shirts at least. And only for the ceremony. Ties were out of the question. Israelis don’t do ties, even at the most formal occasions. It’s not unusual for them to show up to weddings in jeans. Seriously.

At the nine-month marker, which came and went long ago, we were supposed to finalize the guest list with addresses. Another huge challenge. With an estimated guest list of 500 — and that’s after David’s parents begrudgingly whittled down the list — the preferred method of disseminating invitations in Israel is by good old-fashioned hand delivery. No meticulous Excel spreadsheets for this wedding — which kind of saves us the time and trouble of gathering addresses — but it also makes it impossible to keep track of who received invitations. Boxes of the lacy crème-colored cards are sitting in Holon right now waiting to be distributed to a handful of designated deliverers on each side of our families. It’s the Israeli camel express.

Something, however, is missing from those smooth stamp-less envelopes: R.S.V.P. cards. That’s right. Israelis don’t R.S.V.P.

How do you know who’s coming? And how do you seat everyone?

Perplexed, I asked my fiance the same questions.

You don’t, was his blunt answer.

Before I could descend into panic, David assured me that there is a workable alternative in place in Israel. If 500 guests were invited, then it’s safe to assume that around 450 people will attend, so you pay for 450 place settings, and have 50 on reserve in case more people show up. If the tables on reserve fill up, you pay for them. If not, you don’t.

Oh, and to make sure all the paid-for tables are filled before anyone dares sit at the non-paid-for tables, you station a few forceful aunts at the door to corral people into empty seats. Sababa (great).

Six months prior to the wedding (back in April), we were supposed to look into marriage license requirements. Israel does not recognize marriages unless they are performed by certified Orthodox rabbis and according to the standards of the Rabbinate, so we went to the central religious authority while we were in Israel in March for my sister’s wedding. After hours of waiting in line, we were given a list of errands to run before we could even start a file at the Rabbinate. Three months later, we’re still struggling to figure out how and what we need to do. I’m so frazzled by it that I don’t even want to go into details.

Skip to four months before the wedding, which is right about now: update budget. Hmmm, let’s see where the dollar is today.

Next, confirm transportation for wedding day. Limousines are unheard of in Israel, so we’ll just have to decorate a nice sedan with big bows. Hopefully we can get a rental car without scratches. Car rental companies in Israel don’t charge customers for scratches because it’s nearly impossible to keep a car pristine on Israel’s crazed roads.

Make appointment with florist to finalize centerpieces — flowers are so ridiculously expensive and the variety so limited in Israel that centerpieces tend to be creative alternatives: candles, bamboo shoots, fake tree branches, lamps. The only thing blooming at our wedding will be my (modest) bouquet.

Make appointment with photographer/videographer to go over everything — considering we’re thousands of miles away, the only meeting we’ll be having with our moment-capturing crew will be 14 days before the wedding, when we arrive in Israel. The same week we’ll be going over the playlist with the DJ, taste-testing our menu, picking out wedding rings, meeting our officiant, visiting family, waiting in line at the Rabbinate, choosing a bouquet, doing a test run of my hair and makeup, picking up my bridesmaids from the airport and wishing the whole damn thing were over already!

How to reduce restlessness among tweens and teens at services

Before any bar or bat mitzvah student walks onto the bimah to read from the Torah, Wilshire Boulevard Temple goes into high alert.

Three weeks before the service, the child’s parents must submit the names of three adult guests who will sit close to the younger guests to make sure they don’t disrupt the service.

Additionally, two ushers are placed on back-up duty to combat loud talkers, gregarious gigglers and super-fidgety seventh- and eighth-graders. Besides the usual reminder for guests to turn off cell phones, the rabbi also requests that youngsters refrain from text messaging during their pal’s Jewish rite of passage.

“Since we have implemented [these] … measures, the [children’s] behavior has improved,” said Rabbi Steve Leder, whose synagogue has used these tactics for the last three years.

The rules were adopted following a dramatic increase in the number of kids attending the ceremonies. The youngsters tended “to group together, at which point it is virtually impossible for them to remain attentive,” Leder said.

As Generation Y Jews filter though their bar/bat mitzvah years, the young guests now seated in the sanctuary have grown up speaking their minds and questioning their parents. With this kind of confidence, it is small wonder that preteens are pushing boundaries more than ever.

And this tendency carries over into shul.

“The days where you could gather a bunch of kids in a room and expect them to behave well seem to be gone,” said Gail Anthony Greenberg, author of “MitzvahChic: How to Host a Meaningful, Fun, Drop-Dead Gorgeous Bar or Bat Mitzvah” (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

Greenberg, who lives in Elkins Park, Pa., attributes the change to a societal trend empowering kids to make their own decisions. “These days, we give children more latitude,” she added.

As a result, many rabbis, administrators, parents and even bar mitzvah party vendors take preventative measures to quell chatty, restless or precocious preteen guests from being disruptive at bar mitzvah ceremonies and receptions.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino expects and understands the need for preteen bar/bat mitzvah guests to chat during the often-lengthy service.

“There are certain rabbis in the community who demand silence [during bar mitzvah services],” he said. “That’s not going to work.”

Feinstein insists that socializing during services is age-appropriate behavior for seventh- and eighth-graders.

He suggests that religious leaders make adjustments to accommodate the children’s needs during the long bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies.

“Let’s be a little more realistic, giving and forgiving, and find ways to include [children] in the service so they can feel that [the synagogue] is their place,” Feinstein said.

At Valley Beth Shalom, Feinstein encourages bored youngsters to take breaks and explore the shul’s garden before returning to the service. Another tactic is for kids to skip the beginning of the service to keep things shorter and more manageable.

For many preteens, a bar or bat mitzvah is the first formal event they will attend without their parents, and expecting them to behave appropriately may be a tall order.

“It’s a quantum leap from a party at Chuck E. Cheese,” said Greenberg, who also runs the Web site The author suggests that parents prepare their children for the event, letting them know ahead of time that the service will be long and that they’ll need to dress up.

“Tell your child the basics: behave decently, don’t use foul language, thank the host and behave the way I’d want you to behave if I was there watching you,” Greenberg suggested.

One group that tends to be on their best behavior is non-Jewish children. “They’re afraid that they’re going to inadvertently do something wrong,” Greenberg said.

With Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan as fashion icons, it is not surprising that appropriate synagogue attire is an issue.

Rabbi Feinstein is appalled by current teen fashion. “Dress for young people is ridiculous and it’s actually psychologically damaging the way we force young girls to dress,” said Rabbi Feinstein, referring to skimpy, tight and “over-sexualized” clothing.

“Appropriate synagogue dress is counter to the way the fashions are, so I’m always impressed when a kid is dressed appropriately,” he said. “I give them credit for bucking the trend.”

At Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the bar or bat mitzvah family is given a dress code for family members and those who will approach the bimah. Women and girls must wear appropriate necklines and hemlines; men and boys should wear a dark suit, a tie, a white shirt and dress shoes. Rabbi Leder said that in general, young guests come dressed “fairly respectfully.”

If parents are concerned that a bar or bat mitzvah student’s tween or teenage guests may dress improperly, Greenberg suggests giving the parents a heads up beforehand, which could mean a conversation, an e-mail, note or manual detailing what is expected. “The more you can do to inform people is part of good hosting,” she said.

Keeping kids quiet and involved during bar mitzvah ceremonies continues to be a challenge for shuls across the Southland. But many agree that the struggle is worth it, saying it’s important that Jewish children return to shul and participate as adults.

“If we tell kids ‘Be quiet! Be quiet!’ and if that’s your memory [of the synagogue], why would you want to come back?” Feinstein asked. “So we have to create a happy situation.”


Bar Mitzvah 101 for the Non-Jew

Know a non-Jew attending his first bar or bat mitzvah?

Here’s what he or she needs to know:

  • Bar or bat mitzvah means “son or daughter of the commandment.” The bar or bat mitzvah ceremony marks the time when a boy or girl begins to observe the commandments and commits to studying Jewish beliefs.
  • At a Reform, Reconstructionist or Jewish Renewal synagogue, the service often lasts 60 to 90 minutes. For other branches of Judaism, like Conservative and Orthodox, the bar/bat mitzvah service can last at least three hours.
  • Non-Jews should stand when the other congregants stand during the service, but they are not expected to recite prayers or perform rituals.
  • Women and girls should wear dresses, suits or pantsuits and men should wear suits.
  • Bar and bat mitzvah guests should bring a gift. The same kinds of gifts one might give a 13-year-old on his/her birthday are appropriate for a bar/bat mitzvah. If giving a cash gift, it is traditional to give multiples of $18 since chai, the Hebrew word for “life,” has the numerical value of 18 in Judaism.
  • Anyone can wear a yarmulke (skullcap), but the tallit (prayer shawls) are for Jews only.
  • In general, it’s OK to leave the sanctuary during the ceremony, but know that there are a few moments when it is not. An usher will usually keep the doors closed during this time.

The so-called ‘perfect date’

The date was going really well. The conversation was flowing. We were practically finishing each other’s sentences.

“Have you ever been to Azumi Sushi?” I asked.

He smiled, secretly, a half smile.

“What is it?” I asked him.

“I was just about to say that,” he replied.

Not that going to the same sushi restaurant meant that we were soul mates, but we had a number of issues we agreed on beyond the superficial. Religion, family, politics, even our lifestyle goals — retire early, travel much — seemed to be in sync. Clearly, the person who set us up wasn’t high on crack — he’s a Jewish boy and you’re a Jewish girl — because we had a lot more in common beyond the nature of our religion, age and geographic location.

I could tell he was excited by these things. The way he paused when I said something he agreed with, like wanting to do Friday night meals for the camaraderie, and his eyes lit up like a Vegas jackpot if I happened upon a subject we had the same feelings about.

These are the kinds of dates I hear about all the time, usually from women. The dates where (finally!) everything is simpatico and natural, almost as if you’re not on a date at all. And then he doesn’t call.

“How could he not call?” these women complain. “You don’t understand, he told me that ___________,” they say, pointing out all the intimate details the guy shared, and all witty repartee they both shared, and all the lack of awkwardness that for sure meant the date was going superbly.

“How could he not call?” they say. “I thought it was going so well.”

I can tell you why he didn’t call. I can tell you why he didn’t call, because I was just on one of those dates where everything seemed to be going perfectly, but it didn’t work out.

It didn’t work out because I wasn’t interested. I know it started even before we met. On the phone we spoke for about an hour, maybe even longer, and it was like talking to someone who was really interesting, but who I wasn’t interested in. I don’t know why.

Not that I’d given it much thought. After our conversation, I didn’t analyze it, or him. To be honest, I didn’t think about him much, and that’s because I didn’t have that heart-pounding anticipation that can, yes, come even from just talking to a faceless person on the phone. But, I reasoned, all that heart-pounding anticipation has never exactly steered me in the right direction, so perhaps apathy isn’t the wrong emotion to have before a blind date either.

But when I met him, everything became clear. He was exactly as described: An average looking guy, not freakishly short or tall, somewhat of the teddy bear type and, well, just not my type. He was one of those guys I was neither dying for nor repulsed by — he just wasn’t for me.

“Why don’t you go out with him again and give it another shot?” my friends would say, if I would ever tell them this story, which I wouldn’t because then I’d have to hear yet again how they hated their husbands for the first X months before they married them. (If you ask me, they are all too readily connected to that initial animosity, which is why, except in the first grade and in Shakespeare, love should never begin with hate.) In any case, I didn’t hate this guy, and I’d never hate him. I knew this, just as I knew I’d never like him any more than as a … friend.

By friend I didn’t mean that I never wanted to see him again either romantically or platonically, or that I wouldn’t mind inviting him to my parties and introducing him to others in my circle who were really my friends.

I knew this from the moment I saw him, but what was I supposed to do? Was I to tell him this in the beginning? Was I to allude to a long and complicated dating history so as to dissuade him from liking me? Not that everyone likes me, but when someone does, and it’s one-sided — what is the proper etiquette?

I decided to be myself. I wasn’t overly flirtatious in a way I might have once been in order to entertain or to fulfill some ego-need to be liked by all; I just answered his questions, asked a few of my own (hopefully, although maybe I didn’t manage to get in too many) the way I would when I am out with a friend.

Which is the unfortunate answer to all those people who thought they had the perfect date and never heard from the other person again and are wondering “why?”

Why? Because it might have been a perfectly nice date, but it’s not a perfect date unless the people are right for each other.

Both of them.

Deal or No Deal

Some women would argue that your expectations should go down the longer you are single. I say a deal breaker is a deal breaker, and the fact that you have turned 28
for several years in a row doesn’t mean you should dismiss core things you want in a guy.

Let’s start with the no-brainers: A suitable suitor should have the following qualities: intelligence, sense of humor, financial stability, emotional stability and passion. I also require my mate be heterosexual. He also should not be hygienically challenged, an addict or a felon.

The other thing that is near the top of my list is height. I like guys who are tall, but, more importantly, I prefer guys who tell the truth about their height. I met Bill through my friend’s aunt. He had recently moved to town, and we had two weeks of conversations before we were able to meet. He said he was 5-foot-8. He wasn’t. First words out of his mouth when we met were, “You are not 5-foot-6. You are at least 5-foot-8.”

I was not taller than I claimed to be, it was Bill who was shorter.

All right, so, maybe my list is a bit longer than the average. Some say we tolerate more when we’re younger; we have lower expectations. I say we’re just more apt to know what we want after dating for a decade or so.

We all have a list of qualities essential for a potential mate. A cat person can’t date a dog person. A neat freak does not want a slob. A person who likes to drink socially wants a designated driver.

Some … many … most of us have at least one item on our list of attributes a loved one cannot possess.

For one friend of mine, Shakespeare is his deal breaker. He had been seeing a woman for three months before he took her to see a Shakespearean play. He loved it. She hated it. They were over. He said it would have saved him three months had he taken her to a play when they first started seeing each other.

My friend Kate dated musicians when she was in her 20s. She managed bands and was a bit of a groupie. Kate had a hard and fast rule, though — she could never date a guy who did his hair or makeup better than she.

Another female friend had a problem with her beau’s table manners — or lack thereof. They had just started dating, so rather than making waves, she figured they’d just break up sooner rather than later. Before she could end it, he did the unthinkable: He asked her if something was wrong. So, she said, “Yes,” told him about her “needs,” and he said he was glad she told him and instituted change. While etiquette was a deal breaker for her, he wouldn’t let it be their breaking point.

Not all confrontations fare so well.

Mike was a friend of a business associate, who knew I was looking to meet someone. Mike called, and we had great phone chemistry. I knew he had been divorced and had kids. He came with a good recommendation. You can’t beat that.

Mike had been used to online dating, so he asked me a laundry list of easy questions, before getting to the tougher ones.

“Have you ever been married? Do you have kids? Do you want kids?” he asked. “No, no and yes,” I said.

At that point Mike suggested we stop talking, because he had kids and was done.

The call was over — just like that.

Wow. That was the shortest not-a-blind-date I ever had. I appreciated Mike’s honesty, but couldn’t help but wonder if things would have been different had we met in real life.

So, here’s the thing. If we all were to lay our cards out on the table, we would save a lot of time. If we know up front that a person has a deal-breaking habit, pet or attribute, then we don’t have to waste time dating a Mr. or Ms. Wrong.

But it’s one thing to have ideas of what you do and do not want in a life partner, it’s another to dismiss someone without getting to know them just because, say, he has two left feet, doesn’t like classical music or has a few extra pounds.

By judging people before we meet them, we may miss out on a great new friend or an important love.

Debra L. Eckerling is a freelance writer, based in Los Angeles who leads a writers support group in Santa Monica.

Dear Mr. Sensitive

Jokes survive on the Internet like Styrofoam in a landfill. Perhaps you’ve already read these “Actual Personal Ads in Israeli Newspapers”:

  • Professor with 18 years of teaching in my behind wants American-born woman who speaks English very good.
  • 80-year-old bubbe, no assets, seeks handsome, virile Jewish male under 35. Object: matrimony. I can dream, can’t I?
  • Sensitive Jewish prince whom you can open your heart to. Share your innermost thoughts and deepest secrets. Confide in me. I’ll understand your insecurities. No fatties, please.

Focus on Philanthropy

I opened my mailbox to find several letters, a few bills and a host of requests for donations from various organizations that I have supported over the years. Because I am a stickler for organization (although some would call me Type A obsessive), I sort the letters, place the bills in a folder marked “Look at me soon!” and the appeals for donations in one marked “Save the World.” Between the needs of my local community, the Jewish community, our country and the world at large, I am seriously thinking about renting a storage unit for the hundreds of requests that I receive annually.

I don’t know about how others think about gift giving, but I am honestly confused about it myself. Year after year, questions continue to gnaw at me like: What is the right amount for a gift? Should I support Jewish organizations first and then donate to other charities, like my alma mater or the Red Cross, only after I have made my Jewish gifts?

And while I’m being candid, I sometimes wonder: Why am I giving in the first place? Is it because of peer or professional pressure, social recognition or a genuine commitment to the cause? Does it need to hurt for my gift to be meaningful? Am I willing to give up something — a dinner out, theater tickets, a trip — to make a more substantial contribution this year?

Tzedakah, or the Jewish commandment to give, has been a quintessential Jewish value since the beginning of Jewish time. The Torah teaches: “If there is a needy person among you, any of your brethren in any of your cities in the Land that God has given you, you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against him. Rather, you shall open your hand and lend him whatever he is lacking” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).

Tzedakah is the counterpart to tikkun olam, the Jewish obligation to repair the world. Both affirm our responsibility to distribute a part of what we have to take care of others who are less fortunate than we. Both are grounded in the idea that individual wealth is neither a right nor a privilege but a form of stewardship for which we are charged, as agents of God, to care for the world in which we live.

These obligations operate in concentric circles — originating within our own home and family and extending out into the Jewish community. Yet Jewish law specifically recognizes that any needy person who lives in peaceful coexistence with us is a worthy charity recipient. The Talmud teaches that we should help support the poor even outside our own community, because of the “ways of peace” (Gittin 59 b).

Jewish law is fairly specific in its answer to the question of what we should give. Ideally, we are expected to give what is needed to help restore a poor person to his former position. If a man has lost all of his clothing in a fire, we should help him purchase suitable clothes. If he has lost his job, we should provide him with employment either directly or indirectly by helping him find work.

But Jewish law is both practical and realistic in its demands, for while it requires us to give the needy what they lack, it does not require us to make them rich or to become poor ourselves as a result of giving.

But how much giving is enough giving? Should I have to forgo something I want in order to make a pledge? While no one can ever really answer that question for us, the Jewish philosopher and sage Maimonides provides us with specific parameters for giving. The ideal gift is 20 percent of our possessions, although the average acceptable gift is 10 percent.

But what about our reasons for giving, the “why” behind the gift. Although no one can dictate the feelings we should have when we give, I am inspired by the words of Moses when he told the Israelites to bring gifts to build the Tabernacle, saying: “Take from among you gifts to the Lord: everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them” (Exodus 35:5).

When we give, Jewish tradition asks us to look into our hearts — where our intuitive, spiritual and emotional voices are most clearly heard. We open, rather than harden our hearts to those in need. In doing so, we are more inclined to give willingly, meaningfully and generously.

Since each of us has different resources, property and income, our gifts will differ. But tzedakah is an “equal opportunity mitzvah” and applies to everyone, no matter how great or small our portion. Our sages assured us that we are all capable of giving, even one who receives tzedakah, with the words: “To the one who is eager to give, God provides the means.”

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a nationally syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney. She can be reached at

Pitfalls of Making Playdate Plans

Brandon was 3 the first time another mother called me to schedule a playdate.

“A playdate,” I giggled. “That’s so clever! Did you make that up yourself?” (The dead silence on the other end of the phone clued me in that I had just made a monumental maternal faux pas that could potentially rival my last monumental maternal faux pas of offering up a bag of artificially colored/flavored Cheetos — rather than the au natural variety — to my son’s playgroup.) The other mother suddenly had a dire emergency and promised to call back. She didn’t.

Determined to spare myself future mortification, I began reading up on the ins and outs of playdates; rapidly surmising they entailed a considerable amount of parental involvement. One article, for example, “Plan the Perfect Playdate,” suggested I orchestrate a caterpillar cookie recipe that would have given Wolfgang Puck a run for his money. And honestly, do people really have potato sack races anymore?

Four kids and many magazine articles later, I now feel I am a virtual authority in the field of playdates. And considering Merriam-Webster has yet to add this modern mommy term to the official lexicon, I’ve taken it upon myself to write a definition.

Playdate (n): 1. adult-supervised, adult-directed “free play” between kids. 2. an organized method of fitting socializing into a kid’s hectic agenda. 3. a means of improving a child’s social status and heightening his popularity. 4. the culminating step in the over-scheduling of kids’ lives by over-protective, stressed-out parents.

Despite the societal clout of these new-fangled kiddie rendezvous, many experts fear that while they may be fine for preschoolers, they can be stagnating for kids developmentally prepared to be more independent, largely due to the following defining features:

The Playdate Scheduling Feature

When we were kids, our social plans were arranged with a “Hey, you wanna come over?” on the school bus ride home. Today’s playdates, in stark contrast, are planned weeks in advance and entered indelibly into parental palm pilots.

The Problem with the Scheduling Feature

Since kids’ friendships can change with the tides, a playdate planned six weeks in advance offers no guarantee that the playees will even be speaking by the designated moment of contact. Furthermore, due to vast parental involvement, playdates exude a comprehensive list of adult-driven etiquette rules that weren’t even on the radar screen when kids were running the show. If someone invites our child for a playdate, for example, mommy protocol suggests we reciprocate within a reasonable period of time. If, perchance, the other mother invites our child back prior to reasonable reciprocation, we must profusely apologize and promise to have her kid over two times in a row next time.

The Adult-Supervision Feature

When we were young, unsupervised play was the norm. We’d hop from one backyard to the next (before the evolution of the cul-de-sac) and stay out until our moms called us in for dinner. Today, parents are expected to continuously supervise their children’s social gatherings (and supply a long-range walkie-talkie in the event they have to run in to check on dinner).

The Problem with the Adult-Supervision Feature

From a safety standpoint, parental vigilance is perfectly appropriate. After all, awful, unthinkable things can happen to children when they are out of a parent’s vision and earshot (and the media makes sure we don’t forget it!). There is, however, a fine line (especially with older children) between being cautious and being overprotective and smothering. Our kids are growing up in a nervous world as it is. Our refusal to leave their side (when they are old enough for us to do so) sends a neon message that we, their knowledgeable parents, genuinely believe our absence will jeopardize their safety – an unsettling message indeed for children just getting their feet wet in the waters of independence.

The Organized Activity Feature

In the old days, If we and our friend grew tired of hopping on our pogo sticks, someone would say something profound like: “This is boring, let’s do something else.” We’d bounce around ideas like climbing a tree or watching “The Flintstones,” and move on to a new activity. During the modern playdate, on the other hand, the host parent is the designated boredom buster. Kids (and other parents) expect us to provide playdaters with one organized option after another, and have an arsenal of dehydration-preventing juice boxes are on hand, to boot.

The Problem with the Organized Activity Feature

Having every moment of a playdate planned and accounted for from bubble blowing to Batman action figure time, deprives children of the opportunity to engage in free creative play and learn to occupy themselves independently. Plus, it reaffirms the erroneous belief that it is a parent’s job to provide kids with round-the-clock entertainment.

So what can we modern parents do to counteract these playdate pifalls without making social pariahs out of ourselves? We can begin by throwing in the towel on the Julie the “Love Boat” cruise director persona (orchestrating limbo contests and shuffleboard competitions), and make like Captain Stubing instead (controlling the ship from a comfortable distance). In other words, our role as big kid playdate hostess is to provide a safe and pleasant playing environment, adequate (as opposed to constant) supervision, and, oh yes, dehydration-preventing juice boxes.

Sharon Duke Estroff is a nationally syndicated parenting columnist.


Are Cell Phones Ever Cool in Shul?

A few weeks ago, I was at a funeral at Mount Sinai in Glendale when, at one of the most emotional moments, a cell phone rang loudly for several minutes, humming a Broadway tune. Attendees fumbled into their handbags and pockets to check if they were the culprit. The cell phone offender was one of the children of the deceased who was receiving a long-distance call from his family. The rabbi paused for a few seconds, looking irritated, and then continued his sermon. The call had interfered with a solemn moment during which silence is essential.

I started to wonder if cell phones had become as common during Jewish rituals as they are at movies and at manicurists.

Cell phone etiquette, particularly in public locations (movie theatres and synagogues among others), is an educational task that has been undertaken by the very companies that produce cell phones. Sprint and Verizon are two of the companies that have hallmarked "cell phone education months" and partnered with movie chains and other outlets to remind people to be cell-polite. What ever happened to common sense? I guess it was too early for Emily Post to have a chapter on cell phones.

Should rabbis run a "no-cell" commercial (sponsored by Manischevitz) like in movies and post big "verboten cell" black/red signs around the synagogue? What will rabbis do during the upcoming Jewish High Holidays to ensure that people can pray in silence and reach non-buzzed introspection.

An Orthodox friend of mine who davens at Chabad in Hancock Park tells me that cell phone interruption is a problem during daily minyans but that the use of cell phones during holidays is strictly prohibited. During daily minyans, he said that the interruptions are frequent. Just this morning, two phones rang on the bimah. But, he is adamant that "those things" don’t happen during Shabbat and the holidays in Orthodox shuls.

"People won’t even call from the bathroom?" I ask.

My Conservative and Reform friends were considerably more liberal in their cell phone plans for the High Holidays. They all agreed that at no time, should a cell be answered or used in services. But, they all admitted that at the various synagogues, people "do forget" and "it happens." There has to be quite a few "exceptions" if this happened at more than 10 shuls in the city. My Reform friends were much more comfortable about calling from the bathroom than my Conservative friends.

"The bathroom? We are not disturbing anyone who is praying. We phone on Shabbat so why shouldn’t we call on the holidays? We need to check on the kids and tell Rosa that we are on our way home to lunch."

They all agreed that vibrate mode was OK and that they would be reluctant to leave their phones in the car. And that cell phones should not be confiscated during the security check. What if there is an emergency?

And, as you think of emergency, your mind drifts toward Jewish doctors. I mean could there be an emergency when so many of them are in the sanctuary at once. Beyond doctors, everyone else should turn off their cell phones before entering the sanctuary. A Conservative usher believes that even vibrate can be disturbing as some vibes are louder than others. A doctor can place his cell on vibrate. However, most doctors carry a pager (again on vibrate) and the pager is only used to contact them in case of an emergency. They usually can go out to the street to return the call. However, most Jewish doctors are not on call during the High Holidays and, therefore, are only contacted in extreme emergencies.

Rabbis agree that the biggest cell phone culprits in synagogue are teens and children who are either bored or unaware of customs. Many L.A. bambini seem to have their own cell phones and do not seem to know the difference between a regular day and a High Holiday. It is important for parents to discuss the decorum of the holiday and being in a public place and the use of the cell phone.

All the rabbis I spoke to did say that they felt that it was essential to have a clear posted sign on cell phone use and to remind people from the pulpit several times during the day to turn off their cells.

So I keep my fingers crossed that this year, as I attempt to go into deep prayer there will not be a Broadway tune or "Hava Nagila" chanting in the background. The High Holidays are a time of reflection. Being quite liberal, I will not be critical if in the bathroom, I do hear someone talking about what is for lunch.

So unless, you are waiting for a direct call from God, there should be no phones in the synagogue.

Fate With a Frummie

A funny thing happened on the way to the Old City. Well, technically, it happened in the Old City. My friend, Matt, invited me to Shabbat lunch at his rabbi’s house. I covered my cleavage and accepted the invite. Packed with kids and black hats, this third meal was standing-room only. I was balancing a Kiddush cup in one hand and the rabbi’s baby in the other, when Matt introduced me to Yakov. Yakov was a tall drink of Manischevitz. A bearded yeshiva student about my age, he took one look at me and said: "Carin, are you from Chicago?"

Confident my Chicago accent didn’t come out during ‘da Hamotzi, I wondered how he knew.

"I went to high school with you. My name back then was Jake."

Of all the Jew joints, in all the towns, in all the world, I walk into his. The artist formerly known as Jake didn’t just go to my high school. I was a freshman cheerleader in a sophomore geometry class and Jake was the hot football player who sat next to me. He barely noticed me. But every Friday, game day, he’d wear his jersey, I’d wear my cheerleading skirt, and we’d talk through morning announcements about how Deerfield High School football rules. I had a major crush on Jake, I passed notes about Jake, I dreamed he’d ask me to homecoming. Then I learned he was dating Risa Rosen — a sophomore. I cried, I sulked, I couldn’t eat for days. And today I’m eating lunch with him in Israel. Someone call VH1, I know where he is now.

After each of my high school heartbreaks, my mom would say, "Ten years from now you won’t remember this boy. Who knows where you’ll be by then? Who knows where he’ll be by then? Forget about looking back on this and laughing. You won’t even look back."

She’s right, I’m not looking back. I’m looking across the table — at Jake, his sweet religious wife and their adorable baby. Talk about a high school reunion. What are the chances? I try to figure out the probability of our random meeting, but can’t run the numbers in my head. I should have paid attention to something in math class besides Jake’s profile.

I have a million questions for my hometown hottie. When did he become observant? When did he move to Israel? Does he still play football? Can frummies play football? When did he get married? How did he pick this yeshiva? How many licks do talumudic scholars say it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

I can’t ask him that. I can’t even hug him. I can’t even shake his hand. If I don’t know the hummus fork from the salad fork, how am I supposed to know how to greet a long-lost, now deeply observant friend? I should have brushed up on my Shabbat etiquette. Where’s Martha Schwartz when I need her? Do I sit next to him or next to his wife? Do I bring up old times? Should I bust out a DHS cheer? Of course, the rabbi would see doing the splits as working on Shabbat, so I settle on a smile and say, "What have you been up to since grunge was in style?"

We exchange a decade of Cliffs Notes over cucumber salad. We’ve got a lot in common. He’s married, has a son, lives in Jerusalem. I’m single, have a plant, live in a studio. OK, not so much in common. Except that we’re both happy. As the great sage Peter "Pinchas" Brady once said, "When it’s time to change you’ve got to rearrange who you are and what you’re gonna be."

Jake is an Orthodox yeshiva student in Israel. I’m, well — I’m still figuring things out. But I have figured out we weren’t meant to be together. I couldn’t have known that in high school. I didn’t even know it an hour ago. Actually, I’d forgotten about Jake until an hour ago. But seeing him made me realize that things happen — or don’t happen — for a reason. Even running into Jake had a purpose, if only to hear him say, "Wow, you look just like you did in high school."

Seeing Jake also gave me a fresh perspective on my boyfriend shortage. I used to blame myself for my single condition. Why am I alone? What’s wrong with me? What does Risa Rosen have that I don’t have?

But now, I’ve kicked the habit. Instead of crying into my kugel, I think of Jake. I can’t get down on myself every time some guy doesn’t want to date, commit or ask me to a semi-formal, buy me a corsage and take awkward photos under a balloon arch. I can’t get my fringes in a knot over every unrequited crush.

Maybe we just aren’t meant to be together. Maybe life has a different path for me — or him — that I just can’t see yet. And maybe, like Jake, our paths will cross again sometime.

As for Jake, well, we’ll always have geometry.

Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at


Rules of etiquette suggest that one must whisper in a library. But for the Jewish Community Library of Greater Los Angeles, that rule is just the beginning.

The library recently held its culminating ceremony for a group of youngsters enrolled in its Children’s Etiquette and Social Grace class. This is the first time that the institution has sponsored such a class.

The idea developed after the library director Abigail Yasgur and children’s director Sylvia Lowe, children’s librarian, enrolled their respective youngsters in an etiquette class.

"Libraries are not just about the books," Lowe said. "They’re becoming meeting places for people in the community."

"Eating is such a big thing in the Jewish tradition," said Yasgur, who noted that such pointers in protocol will come in handy at Shabbat meals and seder tables.

At Pat’s Restaurant, a kosher Pico-Robertson-area establishment, 15 boys and eight girls — students age 6-10 at schools such as Temple Emanuel, Maimonides Academy and Canfield Elementary — gathered for their fourth and final weekly class. They showed off their newly cultivated high-society habits, such as how to hold a long-stemmed glass, how to butter a roll, fold a napkin and other multicourse meal manners.

Contrary to expectations, Maggie O’Farrill, who for seven years has been teaching children etiquette, said that these restless years make the best time to teach kids.

"At this age, they’re very easy," O’Farrill said. "When they get older, it’s harder for them to break bad habits."

At the Pat’s soiree, parents were over the moon over the effects these classes have had on their youngsters.

Mary Jo Schnitzer’s daughter, Ariel, 9, is in her second year of etiquette class, having completed one at Hawthorne School last year.

"She learned to set the table and to speak properly on the phone," Schnitzer said.

"Children at this age want to be polite," O’Farrill said. "You can see that they’re trying."

Based on the parental enthusiasm and the success of this first program, Yasgur wants to continue holding such sessions. She hopes to start another class in January for children ages 10 and up, as well as offer refresher courses.

Ariel’s favorite lesson was "when she taught us how to walk."

Daniel Schwartz, 7, was less enthusiastic about the class."It’s OK, but I just want to put food in my mouth."