A Single Thread Links Generations


Becoming a grandparent is a very exciting event. Being able to create an heirloom pillowcase out of heirloom pieces for the britim, or covenant ceremonies, of our first grandchildren was an equally humbling and exciting adventure.

Our daughter and son-in-law, Alisha and Ahud Sela, became the proud parents of twin babies, Yael Shira and Gavriel Yair Sela, on May 4, 2004. Knowing beforehand that they were giving birth to twins, a girl and a boy, set the wheels in motion for planning a brit milah, ritual circumcision, and brit mikvah, ritual purification — a relatively new ceremony for a girl, for the two babies. It was planned that the babies would be carried in on pillows for the ceremonies.

While researching what should be written to enhance a bris pillowcase, I found the suggestion of using old family tablecloths for the construction of the pillowcase. I had a tablecloth and napkins given to us by my husband’s grandmother for our wedding, which were now 33 years old. I contacted Ahud’s mother, Rita, and found out she had tablecloths from her grandmother and mother that they had used regularly and were packed up in her attic. Rita sent me a full box of beautifully cross-stitched tablecloths, well worn with loving holes from regular use. I looked at the cloths for two weeks before I had the nerve to make my first cut.

I carefully looked at the cross-stitch designs, imagining what would be the best use of the pieces so lovingly stitched so many years ago. Making the first cut was the hardest, but once that was done everything else fell into place. The back of the pillowcases consists of the edge of a green tablecloth with white fringe and white thread on the cross-stitch design. This was stitched by the baby’s great-great-grandmother, Minnie Aronow (mother of Joel, father of Rita).

Attached to this is a piece from the center of a white cloth with brown cross-stitching created by the baby’s great-grandmother, Yetta Aronow (mother of Rita).The bottom portion of the front of the pillowcase is a white cloth stitched with Shabbat symbols in many colors by Yetta. Rita remembered using this cloth “all the time.” I attached a white napkin from the set given to my husband, David, and myself by the baby’s great-great-grandmother, Anna Robinson (mother of Sandy, mother of David). In one corner of the napkin I attached three white crocheted rosettes that were part of a tablecloth made by great-great-grandmother Anna Robinson and great-aunt Rachel Vorspan (David’s sister). In the other corner is part of an embroidered and crocheted doily made by Bessie Wolfson, first cousin of great-great-grandfather Kopel Kaminsky, who died in the Shoah (father of Sime, my mother).

Before our grandchildren were born, I embroidered in Hebrew, “L’Torah, ul’chupah, ul’ma’asim tovim” on the napkin portions of the pillowcases. This is a prayer for them to study Torah, arrive to the marriage canopy and do good deeds in their future life. I used blue variegated Brazilian embroidery floss for one pillow and a pink, yellow and lavender variegated floss for the other pillow. After the babies were named, I was able to fill in their names in English and Hebrew with their English and Hebrew birth dates. I will be stitching a label inside each case that identifies who made each piece.

Rita and I had the privilege of carrying the babies into the ceremonies on these pillowcases lovingly stitched by the generations that came before them. How delighted these ancestors would be to know that the work of their hands would embrace the future of our families with such love. Our husbands, Nadav and David, held the babies during their britot cradled in the pillowcases.

Alisha and Ahud asked each of the grandparents to share a blessing with their grandchildren. They wanted the blessing to take place under a canopy held up by the baby’s aunts and uncles, Ben Vorspan, Shaina Vorspan and Amitai and Rebecca Sela. I was asked to make this canopy during Passover when Alisha could have had the babies any day (they were born three weeks later). Stitchery was out of the question, so I painted a family tree on a Battenburg lace small round tablecloth. I was able to include some names of great-great-great-great-grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles. What a holy moment to stand under so many generations and bless our precious jewels.

David and I and Rita and Nadav are truly blessed with these new additions to our beloved families. I can’t wait to add more names to the heirlooms we have created, but for the time being, we’re all very delighted to enjoy the newest blessing.

Bonnie Vorspan is an educator at Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills.

Wonderousness of the First Time


A bar mitzvah is a time of becoming an adult. While my son was ready to proclaim, "Today I am a man," he also had to go through life with his voice changing and the wearing of braces for a perfect smile.

My first experience with this momentous occasion was after our son celebrated his first birthday. His grandfather, marveling at how bright he was, told everyone, "In 12 years we will have a bar mitzvah!"

It was an occasion he longed to see and, fortunately for all of us, he did.

As the years progressed, each year he would remind Bobby. Each time there were similar remarks followed by, "I know, Papa. Only six more years!"

While his grandfather often went over the prayers with him and his grandmother was in awe of how tall he was growing, my concerns were more about planning the event. We had been to a few bar mitzvahs during the year and everyone seemed to be similar. I guessed one copied another.

When the date was set, everything came into focus. He really will become a bar mitzvah. How exciting the whole year became. Bobby knew his prayers and haftarah very well. No one was concerned about that. He began to work on his sermon and master that, too.

Our synagogue does not allow music during Shabbat, so this had to be our plan: After Friday night services we had the regular pareve desserts — since most who keep kosher have a meat meal on Friday night and could not have dairy afterward — fresh fruits and lots of pick-up desserts, which worked very well.

We had invited my parents’ friends and my in-laws’ friends, plus all of our relatives. In addition, there were our friends, plus our children’s friends. We were hoping for 100, but stopped counting as the response cards surpassed that number.

Two days before, I followed Bobby and his Papa to shul, where my father bought Bobby a tallit. On the bimah, before his lesson was to start, I was fortunate to be able to take pictures of Daddy as he unfolded the tallit and showed Bobby how to say the prayer and wear it. Since we could not take photos on Shabbat, I instead look back on this time with fond memories.

Because we had hired a fabulous caterer, I was not worried. The florist was also terrific. Friday night came and went and we were very proud. We were to have a quiet Shabbat lunch after services and since we can play music after Shabbat ends, following the evening service there would be a big celebration.

Saturday morning is a long service. As we sat in the second row, always reserved for the family, we were so proud of our little man. He chanted with great confidence. The aliyot went by very well. When it was time for his haftarah, he started beautifully. Somewhere in the middle, he paused and cleared his throat.

While he seemed to be searching for the next note, I was worried because his wonderful teacher, our cantor, did not jump in to help. Finally, he cleared his throat again and continued without a hitch. I felt so bad for him. There was too much for him to do, I whispered to his dad. He reassured me that all would be fine.

The rest of the service was wonderful. Soon we were down in the sisterhood hall, enjoying the compliments from everyone on the services, and the beautifully served food. Some time later, I asked him if he hesitated because he was nervous or because he forgot the words.

Bobby laughed and leaned over.

"The reason I paused," he told me, "is because I swallowed one of my rubber bands. Darn braces!"


Joan G Friedman, lives in Reading, Penn., and can be reached at joan@friedman.net.

Fine-Tuning


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s impending visit to Israel could be a win-win for the governor, the Los Angeles Jewish community and for Israel, but first some fine-tuning is in order.

As we reported last week, the governor is scheduled to travel to Jerusalem May 2 to participate in groundbreaking ceremonies there for the $150 million Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance.

But as soon as reports circulated that the visit was on, eyebrows started shooting skyward. By the middle of this week, it looked like the governor’s trip to the Land of Milk and Honey was going to include a side order of sour grapes.

Why, asked some local Jews, did such a high-profile visit seem to exclude representation of a wider swath of the California Jewish community? Why should one Jewish organization take up the bulk of the governor’s agenda? Why was a trip by a politician not organized first through the normal political channels?

"He’s not some star popping in to help out some friends," said one local activist, clearly disgruntled. "He’s the governor of the State of California visiting the State of Israel." (This trip is privately funded, and does not use taxpayers’ money.)

Some of the concerns found their way into a March 24 Los Angeles Times article about the trip. The story, with its implication that the trip was stepping on toes and upsetting protocol, infuriated some Wiesenthal Center supporters.

"I don’t get it," one of them told me. "Here this popular governor is going to Israel at a time when Israel really needs all the friends it can get, and people are turning it into an issue. I’ve had it with the Jews."

You know emotions are running hot when Museum of Tolerance supporters start getting anti-Semitic.

But, exasperated joking aside, the Jerusalem brouhaha does threaten to mar what can be a flat-out success for all parties. So far, the mess is hardly anything that the governor’s office can’t quickly clean up. One experienced local pol — not Jewish — observed the dust-up with dispassion: "Arnold has a mix of politically experienced and politically inexperienced people on his payroll," he said.

When it comes to little things like visits to foreign countries, experience helps.

Simon Wiesenthal Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, who initiated the Jerusalem museum project, said he just can’t comprehend some of the reports and rumors that are circulating about the visit.

Most disturbing is the idea that the visit is some kind of quid pro quo. In the heat of the bitter recall campaign that put Schwarzenegger in office, Hier reiterated the results of a Wiesenthal Center investigation that cleared the Austrian-born governor’s late father, Gustav Schwarzenegger, of involvement in any World War II-era war crimes.

If the trip is seen as payback, it demeans both the governor and the center. "Quid pro quo applies when you don’t know a person," Hier told me by phone. "I’ve known the governor for 20 years. He has had cocktail parties and parlor meetings for us. He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to us and raised millions. He has participated in events of much less importance than [the groundbreaking], so it would be unusual if he didn’t participate in this."

Furthermore, Hier added, the center released all records it found pertaining to Schwarzenegger’s father to the media for public review.

The idea for trip is a year and a half old, Hier said. Schwarzenegger attended a parlor meeting in Miami for the Jerusalem museum long before his run for governor. At that meeting, Schwarzenegger promised to attend.

"He said, ‘You don’t have to tell me I’m going, I’m going,’" Hier said.

There has not been any indication that the recent State Department travel advisory against Israel and the prospect of violence in the wake of the assassination of Shiekh Ahmed Yassin will deter the governor. A spokesperson at the governor’s office said that trip was still in the planning stages, as are responses to security concerns.

"Everything is still being determined," the spokesperson said.

As to whether the Wiesenthal Center should have made sure to bring Israelis and local Jewish leaders in on the trip, Hier said he could only take responsibility for the part of the visit that concerned the groundbreaking ceremony and a Museum of Tolerance fundraising dinner that the governor was scheduled to attend. (The governor’s office would not confirm his attendance at the latter event.)

"I assume he has other components to his trip," Hier said. "We’ve always known he was going to do other things."

All official visits by governors include a meeting with the prime minister — true whether the governor is from California or Kansas — and a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum. (The Museum of Tolerance, which is being designed by Frank Gehry, will have no Holocaust-related exhibit.)

"My interest is that the governor is going to have an official, formal element to his visit to Israel," Israel Consul General Yuval Rotem said. The governor’s office said an itinerary is still in formation, and its release is two to three weeks off.

"Of course that should take place," said Hier, referring to a meeting between Schwarzenegger and the prime minister, "but I’m not involved in that."

Including other community leaders in the festivities surrounding the groundbreaking was not an option, Hier said. Invitees are people whom the center hopes will contribute toward the $200 million price tag of the museum and its endowment. So far, the center has raised $75 million for the project.

"On this occasion the shoe didn’t fit," Hier said. "We’re looking for prospects."

It’s no secret that a dram or two of bad blood has flowed between the Wiesenthal Center and some quarters of the community ever since Hier established the center and the museum here. As the center has become more of a presence in Jewish Los Angeles — many in the media see it as the major Jewish presence here — Hier and other Jewish leaders have worked to forge warmer bonds. Indeed, not everyone is ticked. "I think it’s fine," said Mel Levine, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of The Jewish Federation, regarding the trip. Levine, himself a former congressman, did not think a promise made as a private citizen should necessarily be negated once in public service.

"The governor, long before he was governor, was a supporter of the Museum of Tolerance here," he said, "and I believe it’s good whenever public officials go to Israel."

Officially, then, many community leaders are adopting a far-from-antagonistic approach to the visit. They want the governor, in the words of one activist, to see that "there’s more to the Jewish community than Marvin Hier," but they also don’t want to create any ill will so early in the administration. That makes sense. There are just too many important communal issues — poverty relief, medical funding, homeland security, to name a few — that rate higher on the agenda than this visit.

They also understand that, to borrow from the season we’re fast approaching, this governor is different from all other governors. "He doesn’t see himself as a politician," said the local pol, "and so far people don’t see him as one." Just as Schwarzenegger’s campaign circumvented normal channels of campaigning, so too his governance can bend the rules.

But as the governor moves forward, it must be with an understanding that as good a friend as he has in Hier, he has the potential to make many more in the Jewish community.

Functional Seating to Avoid Teen Chaos


It had been perfectly planned. For my brother’s bar mitzvah reception, each member of our family was responsible for sitting with and entertaining a particular constituency. Eric had his friends and younger cousins. My parents had the adults. And I, the older sister, had everyone else.

That’s where the seating plans started to get a little complicated.

In the mania known as planning for a bar mitzvah party, no detail is too small, no nuance too insignificant to overlook. So, when my parents and I realized we had a minor ordeal at hand, we naturally begged the question: "How do we seat the older teens?"

The answer was not immediately apparent. Old enough to have finished their own treks on the bar mitzvah circuit, members of this group, comprising mostly cousins and family friends, might believe themselves too old for the kids’ table and probably would not be thrilled if seated with Mom and Dad and other adult guests.

For others now faced with the same conundrum my parents and I dealt with a year ago, I consulted with some party planning experts well-versed in the ways of the b’nai mitzvah seating arrangement.

I was hopeful that Lisa Iannuzzi, property sales leader of the Bethesda Marriott Suites, who’s "planned too many bar mitzvahs to count" would offer me a Ten Commandments of seating, some kind of seating doctrine those in her field follow religiously.

Much to my chagrin, no such thing exists, according to Iannuzzi, who says there "really are no set rules" for the hosts planning a seating arrangement. "It really just depends on what they feel will be most comfortable for the guests," she said.

That said, she does offer some advice.

Iannuzzi, with 22 years of hospitality experience, classifies b’nai mitzvah guests into four groups: kids, mitzvah kids, young adults and adults.

The mitzvah kids, who are the middle school and Hebrew school friends of the b’nai mitzvah, are typically seated at a U- or E-shaped table arrangement. Younger kids may or may not be seated with the mitzvah group, depending on their level of maturity, and those younger than 8 are often seated with their parents.

For young adults, a popular option for seating is a table near the mitzvah kids’ table and also in close proximity to the dance floor.

If there aren’t enough young adults attending to have a table solely for them, the host has a couple of options. The few young adults can be seated with their respective parents or seated together in a section of the mitzvah kids’ table. Iannuzzi generally advises against the later, however. "Most of the time, the young adults don’t want to sit with the mitzvah kids," she said.

The relationship of the young adults to the b’nai mitzvah can also factor in their seating, she noted. If there are only a handful of young adults, but most are cousins of the b’nai mitzvah, then a table for cousins, seating both kids and young adults, can be created.

Cara Weiss, owner and special event planner for Save the Date, a Potomac, Md., party-planning company, also had some seating advice when I spoke with her recently.

Weiss’ seven years of experience includes planning more than 200 events, of which most are b’nai mitzvah celebrations, including those where ‘NSYNC and Dave Matthews performed.

Like Iannuzzi, she notes that the kids’ table — "mitzvah kids" in her terminology — is usually a series of long tables in a geometric shape, although round tables for the kids are gaining popularity.

Also popular is the practice of using favors — chocolate bars, snow globes, etc. — as place markings for the kids. Young adults should get these as well, she advises, even if a young adult is seated with his parents.

Other than giving them favors, young adults should generally be treated like adults: adult meals, an adult round table, an adult centerpiece, she said.

If necessary, however, 14- and 15-year-old guests can probably be seated at the kids’ table without taking offense.

If unsure where to seat a specific young adult, Weiss said to keep this rule of thumb in mind: Adjustments in seating can usually be made at the party. "You want your guests to be comfortable," she said. "If they want to move, you move them."

An extra person or two can usually be seated at a round table if necessary, depending on the size of the chairs.

Above all, say Iannuzzi and Weiss, remember that a good seating plan is an important element in a successful party.

And even seating young adults is possible, with the right advice and some advance planning.