Happy Father’s Day


Happy Father’s Day to new dads, old dads, estranged dads, moms who are also dads, dads who are also moms, men about to be dads, and dads who have passed away.

I miss my Dad.

Everyday.

All day long.

I hope you all have a wonderful Father’s Day and may you all be happy, healthy, kind, blessed, and appreciated.

Keep the faith.

Close up of a death cockroach on white background.

Leann Rimes, Celebrity Roach


This blog is about pop culture, celebrity, and reality TV. As such, I’ve written a lot of blogs about Leann Rimes. She is a celebrity, who has done reality television, and is desperate to remain in the spotlight of pop culture. It makes perfectly good sense she would be a topic of discussion here. To clarify, it makes sense to everyone but Leann Rimes. She hates when I write about her and is not a fan of mine, which is crushing. By crushing of course I mean not at all crushing.

I have not written about Ms. Rimes for almost a year.  A lot has happened in my life during the past year. I took my son to Europe for holiday and watched joy deep in his soul as he discovered Athens, Rome, Florence, Naples, London, and Paris. I met a man who is reshaping my heart and showing me how a woman is meant to be treated. I celebrated nine years as part of the Jewish Journal family, and danced at my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. That is just a small part of the past year.

I am fulfilled personally and professionally. My work is applauded, nominated for awards, and I am blessed to make a living as a writer. I am a mother, daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, friend, and advocate. I have spent the past year redefining my priorities and shifting my energy into helping other people, animals, and the planet. I am happy and have a peaceful and joyous life. I only mention the things going on in my life to show the difference between myself and Leann Rimes.

Nothing has changed in her life. She made another record that nobody bought or listened to, stalked the mother of her husband’s children, plagiarized the work of others, and continued to publicly unravel. I write a lot of things about a lot of things, but whenever I write about Ms. Rimes, my words take on a life of their own and quickly become a must read. It is fabulous. At the end of the day Leann Rimes is good for business.

I’m sure Ms. Rimes would argue people read because she is an icon and still a celebrity, decades after becoming a child star. I however, would argue people read because they are amazed I am able to pull together a blog about a woman who is not at all interesting. Understand when I tell you, there is nothing interesting about Leann Rimes, which is what makes people read my work about her. It is not about how pathetic she is, but rather about how talented a writer I am.

When I wrote about Ms. Rimes last year, it made her crazy. Actually, she was crazy before I wrote about her, so it actually made her insane. The kind of insane that requires medication and a padded room. She sent cease and desist letters, had her assistant troll me, tried to have me arrested, paid people to write horrible things about me, posted pictures of my son, supported death threats to me, and encouraged the vile things sent to me by invisible people hiding behind keyboards.

It was terrifying and exhausting for a long time. There were lawyers and police involved, which is a waste of money. Her money and your taxpaying dollars. I will say now, with no hesitation and no fear of legal action, that Leann Rimes suffers from psychosis and is in need of professional help. Help that requires medication and a padded room. She is dangerously unwell, but I feel compassion for a broken woman who lives her life with no real love from anyone. It is tragic and so she has my sympathy.

I could talk about what Ms. Rimes and pack of wolves have done to me, or rather what they have tried to do to me, but it won’t change what they do or stop them from doing it. I could write about her desperate need for attention and pathetic desire to maintain her fame, but it would bore you. At the end of the day the only interesting thing about Leann Rimes is what I write about her. You can confirm with her because she reads everything I write over, and over, and over again.

Leann Rimes is a cockroach of the celebrity world because she won’t ever go away. Long after her 15 minutes, she is still here with no signs of leaving. She is fueled by sadness and bitterness, which is a never ending food supply.  I don’t say that to be mean, to roaches, but only to explain she will live on and on. She will continue to try to be relevant and people will continue to marvel at how uncomfortable she is in her skin and her life. They will also marvel at my restraint in not going off about what an unstable person she is.

Important to note I will not be bullied by anyone, especially Leann Rimes. I am not scared of her, and honestly feel sad for those who are. She is uneducated, unsophisticated, and mentally deficient. She is delusional about her fame, her husband, and her popularity. She really is a talented singer, which makes her life even more tragic. The best thing Ms. Rimes can do for herself is divorce her husband, fire her assistant, stop paying people to kiss her ass, and sing about mental illness instead of love.

To my readers who have reached out to ask why I haven’t written about Leann in so long, my job is to entertain and she’s a bore. As for the book I have “allegedly” written about her, it continues to write itself so be patient because it is absolutely hilarious along with being a mental health guide.. To Ms. Rimes, understand these two very important things:1) There is no such thing as a “bonus mom”, and 2) More people read my blog than buy your records. Why? Because unlike you, I am always keeping it real.

Dating 101: Politics and Religion


I have been dating “George” for several months and for the first time in my life I am not in a rush to define it. He calls me his girlfriend, which is lovely. We are in an exclusive and committed relationship that matters to me, but I am not searching for labels or declarations. That is new for me because as a hopeless romantic I am so hopeful that my view of relationships has been distorted.

I have loved men who were unworthy of me. By unworthy of course I mean they should never date. Ever. I have not been interested in men who were probably good for me. I have cried more tears than anyone should, yet I am certain I will find love. I will meet someone wonderful who gets, deserves, and appreciates me. We will build memories that are happy rather than sad. It is just a matter of time.

When it comes to George, I have never been treated so kindly by a man. He is sweet, attentive, supportive, and lovely. He does not look like anyone I’ve ever dated, and he is not Jewish, which is how I have always rolled. He is a republican, which is how I never roll. We have nothing in common and were raised very differently, yet we are in a relationship and it is all really quite nice.

I am at a point in my life when I understand how hard it is to simply have nice. Nice is a wonderful word to describe a relationship and I don’t think people understand how important it is to have things be nice. To be clear it is not boring, just nice. We are respectful of each other’s opinions and communicate without fear. I enjoy his company and how he treats me. Most importantly, he makes me laugh.

There is however, one unsettling thing. When we talk politics, I find myself wanting to punch him in the face. We are on different pages and it makes my lower back spasm. The truth is no matter how much George thinks he is a Republican, I think he may actually be Independent. Perhaps I am one too! He believes his views are patriotic, but they are actually not at all in the best interest of the country.

I like him, but politics are a road block. I used to think I could never date a man who wasn’t Jewish, but it turns out dating a republican is much harder. It could just be me getting nervous that everything is good and therefore I’m finding things to sabotage. It could also be that I’m simply not able to date someone so different on two very important subjects of politics and religion.

It is hard to know if I am making the right choices. On Friday night George came with me to Shabbat services. He held my hand while I prayed, participated in the traditions, and met my Rabbi. It is great that he is open to my faith and will celebrate with me. I appreciate it, but we will undoubtedly speak about the political drama of the week, and I will struggle to not punch him. Oy vey.

At this point in our relationship I need to either jump in or get out. I want very much to set aside politics and focus on the nice, but I am not sure I can do it. I am open to all perspectives, but am struggling with politics, which is strange because I was certain it would be religion that got in my way. George is not a religious person. He believes on God, but does not practice any faith.

That makes things surprisingly easy. I am a practicing Jew, but I do not need him to practice with me to be satisfied in my faith. It is enough that he supports and respects how I practice Judaism. Having him at services with me was lovely. He was comfortable and open to all of it. This is a wonderful man who checks a lot of my boxes. I want to make it work, but will I be able to?

Can you fall in love with someone who is fundamentally different from you? Can you build a life with someone who’s political perspective changes how you view them? Should you invest in someone who you want to change? I adore this man but politically we are beyond not being on the same page, we are actually reading different books. It seems silly, but is a real struggle.

The internal battle I thought I would face over religion never happened. Instead my struggle is political, but love should never be political. Should it? I believe people should think, feel, and believe whatever they want. I also believe in love, and love is grand. The most important thing in love is respect, so can I love someone who’s views I don’t respect? It is all rather complicated.

The problem is that I have written here many times that love should not be complicated. My past relationships have always had something that was complicated, and the complication ultimately ends things. I am in a relationship now where the complication has been front and center from the beginning. There are no surprises. I knew what the differences were right from the start.

Time will tell if this complication brings us closer together or tears us apart. George is of the belief it makes us interesting as a couple. He is also a republican, so what does he know? Oy! It has been a wonderful weekend with George. We went to temple, hung out with my son, and enjoyed our time together. As for the future, he might be my bashert so I am putting politics aside, and keeping the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Highs and Lows of Paris


I have spent the past 12 days in Europe with my son. He went to Greece and Italy, then joined me in London and Paris. It was a wonderful holiday and watching the joy and wonder on his face as he discovered parts of the world he has always wanted to see, was everything. Thanks to Facetime, he was able to take me along on his adventure and it was spectacular.  I will treasure this time together always.

We took the Eurostar from London to Paris and spent 28 hours walking everywhere. We strolled endlessly and saw amazing things. We had lunch atop the Eiffel Tower, ate crepes under the Arc de Triomphe, drank wine on the Champs-Elysses, and said a prayer at Notre Dame. It was magical and that I shared it with my beloved boy was special. I am the mother of a remarkable human being.

I look at the pictures today and I smile because it was a great trip, but also because there is proof of the trip. When my son was young there were no selfies, just me and a camera. I have a ton pf pictures of my son growing up, but very few of us together. I was always taking the pictures, so the shots of us are limited. It is sad, but makes the pictures I’m able to take now even more important.

I look at the pictures from Paris and can remember what we were talking about as we strolled along. It was very special and I am happy that when my son visits Paris again with his wife, or takes his children, he will be able to tell them that he went there with his mother for the first time, and is happy to share it with them now. Perhaps that is silly, but it matters to me that we build a history together.

I cannot think about our time in Paris and not think of the unbearable sadness we also saw. No matter where we went, there were Syrian families on the streets. Mother and fathers with their young children, looking broken, but hopeful. They would smile and one could see the pain and humiliation in their eyes, while also seeing the hope and relief. It was tragic and demands serious attention.

Watching a woman breastfeed her baby on the street, surrounded by wealth, when it is clear she needs a shower and a meal herself, is heartbreaking. In what world does it make sense that living on the street with your children is safer than living in your home? We live in a time when we can see everything that is going on in the world, but when you see it in person, it touches your heart in a different way.

Paris is the most romantic city in the world. From every location, every direction, every time of day, there is no view that is not beautiful. It is a city that inspires love, and she has now inspired me to be more loving. Me and my son left Paris wanting to do more, wanting to help, wanting to not pretend that the problems of the world are not also our problems. We need to make changes, quickly.

I am inspired by my son’s view of the world and the work that needs to be done.  Paris was the highlight of my trip for a lot of reasons. I saw my son as man, not a boy. I looked into the eyes of a woman sitting in the street and heard her ask for help, even though she never spoke. I was inspired to not only appreciate the love I have, but want to spread it. Paris has demanded that I keep the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My London Life


I have been spending a lot of time in London over the past year and I love it here. I am sitting in my room, looking out the window as the sun is desperate to break though, watching people walk past, and feeling very happy. This city is alive and hopeful and even though there is palpable stress and fear, my soul is at peace here. On many levels, and for many reasons, it feels like London is home.

To clarify, home is ultimately where my son is, so with him in London with me this week, it truly is home. We have had a terrific time and he feels the same way in London that I do. It is a great city, with great people, namely our friends J and S, who I have written about often, and call Victoria and David Beckham. They are wonderful human beings and we truly love them and their children.

We spent last night at the Beckham Castle and I slept like a baby. I have not slept well since I got to Engalnd because internal clock has been screwed up due to all my traveling. I went from Los Angeles, to London, to Los Angeles, to Las Vegas, to Los Angeles, to Toronto, to Los Angeles, to Melbourne, to Los Angeles, to London, all in 10 days. Sleep has been elusive, last night however, I slept like a baby.

I went to bed at 10:00 pm and was Sleeping Beauty for a divine 9 hours. I don’t worry about anything when I am there, and that peace invites sleep because I’m very comfortable and happy there. Today my son is at Wembley stadium with the oldest Beckham son, watching two football teams compete to get into the Premiere League. It makes me happy when these two young men hang out.

My son spent the past week on holiday in Greece and Italy. He went on his own and it was a great adventure. It takes courage to travel on your own and his bravery inspires me. (To be clear, it also scares the crap out of me!) I am seeing my son in a new light following his trip. He has grown up somehow and it is exciting. He is 21, and will always be my baby, but he is also an amazing man.

Tomorrow I am going to take my favorite person on the planet to Paris. We’ll spend a glorious day walking around, seeing the sights, and eating the perfection that is French cuisine. It has been over 30 years since I was last in Paris, and to take my son there for his first time is special. We’ll be there for 28 hours, so will jam pack as much as we can into our day and I hope it doesn’t rain!

I love my London life and being here has allowed me to have my son come over and see parts of the world he has wanted to visit since he was little. He always wanted to see the world and it is an honor to watch his face as tells me about what he has seen and done. He is a remarkable child and being even a small part of his dreams coming true is the greatest gift I can receive as his mother.

Israel is home because I was born there and it is where my parents met and fell in love. Canada is home because it is where I grew up and where my family is. Los Angeles is home because my son was born there and it is where he is building his life. London is home because it makes me comfortable and happy. I’m a lucky girl to feel connected to so many places. I’m grateful and keeping the faith.

Prayers for Manchester


Last week I flew to London with my son, where we spent a day together, then he left on a wonderful adventure. He is spending 6 days on a whirlwind European trip. It freaks me out of course, because the world is scary, but I am happy for him. He is travelling alone so he can make his own schedule, see what he wants, and do what he wants, when he wants.  I am thrilled he is brave, and very proud he gets that quality from me.

Following the attack this week in Manchester, I feel frightened all the time. I walked to the market in London today and was so nervous I went home before making it there. I watched kids on scooters, enjoying a sunny London day, and I wanted them to all go home and stay safe. It is horrible to be on edge like this. I worry about my son being on his own, but am thankful he’s not here, where we are on a high terror alert.

Last time I was in London there was an attack on Westminster Bridge, and now innocent children have been murdered in Manchester. My heart is broken and I want to look away, but find myself unable to turn off the news. I am on edge, which makes me angry. The attack in Manchester makes me really angry. The targeting of children is beyond horrific and my heart breaks for the families who have been touched by hatred in this way.

From the mothers who were killed while waiting to pick their kids, and the kids who saved up money to see their favorite singer, I am unable to process what it was like for them. The world is dark and I am seeing it from a scarier perspective in London. There are police and armed guards everywhere, which is comforting, but they are in the same danger as those of us they protect. How can we feel safe when these attacks come with an element of surprise?

We are living in a time of great unknown and it can be paralyzing. I want to empower myself to be brave and not let terrorism dictate how I live my life, but I am a mother and so it does. My son has been checking in every few hours while he is on holiday, and it is keeping me sane. In the end he does it as much for his sake as mine. He is worried about me being in London when there is so much going on. The communication matters.

My boy will join me in London on Saturday and we will spend another few days in Europe together before returning to Los Angeles. It will be wonderful to be in London with him as this is my favorite city and he is my favorite person. We will be cautious, and we will be together. Life goes on, but we must never forget these attacks and never forget the souls who were lost. To the amazing people of Manchester, my prayers go out to you. I am holding you close and keeping the faith.

The Halacha* of Mayim Bialik


*Halacha (noun): set of Jewish religious laws

“It’s my job to be a public person and I get that,” actress Mayim Bialik told a packed crowd at the Barnes & Noble book-signing of her third book, Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular (Penguin), a manifesto, of sorts, for girls going through puberty. Somebody in the audience had just asked her how she dealt with the pressures of fame.

“But,” she continued, “it’s not my job to be super-anything.” (Still, it might be noted that she is donning a superhero cape on the cover of “Girling Up.”)

The actress-comedian-author-neuroscientist-feminist-Zionist is somewhat of an anomaly. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a celebrity who wants to be as authentic as I do. Like I literally posted a photo of me holding a toilet bowl brush,” she said, referring to a Facebook post where she’s holding aforementioned toilet bowl accoutrement.

“I posted that because I don’t want to be that celebrity who’s like, ‘I’m supermom!’ I’m not.”

Bialik, a real-life scientist, plays a neurobiologist in what’s being hailed as the most watched show on television today: “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS. But, in a culture downright obsessed with celebrity, she’s the polar opposite of a Kardashian. She wants (and makes a solid effort) to display her humanness, her Jewishness, her flaws.

In some ways, the 41-year-old actress wrote her newest book for herself, although perhaps a younger version of herself. “I think I basically wrote the book that I wish I had when I was in this age range and going through all those changes,” she told the Journal.

Bialik is still going through changes – not to mention a divorce in 2012 to her now ex-husband – but, when undergoing major life events, she turns to Judaism for answers. On Kveller, an online community for moms, grandparents and women, Bialik wrote a post about Rabbinit Alissa Thomas-Newborn of B’nai David-Judea, the first woman to be hired as Orthodox clergy in Los Angeles.

Well, when I was getting divorced, I spoke to male rabbis. I spoke to their wives. I spoke to therapists, and mentors, and other women who had been divorced. But there were questions I longed to ask a woman who was trained in halacha. I needed her then.

“The Big Bang Theory” star said if she weren’t acting, she probably would’ve pursued a rabbinical career. She first became aware of this yearning at the age of 15, she wrote on her website GrokNation. Bialik admits that had her life path been different, she could’ve easily pursued a rabbinical education at Yeshivat Maharat, the first yeshiva to ordain women as Orthodox clergy.  

I am now a PhD-holding divorced woman and a mother of two sons. I support myself and my children by being a full-time actor. My chance to be a rabbi is gone; my life is meant for something different. But I still remember, understand and feel the desire to lead.

“How do you balance your religion with your science?” It’s a question raised time and time again with Bialik. To her, science and religion go hand-in-hand. During the author’s Q&A, it was, inevitably, one of the questions asked. “The snarky answer is: I just do,” she quipped, before delving into the physics of faith. There’s a hint of sermonizing in the way Bialik speaks. As one might expect, there’s science, fact and logic embedded in her diction. And also, there’s something deeply Talmudic. Listen to her full response here (with a gratuitous animation):

Shabbat Shalom from Oz


I am writing today from Melbourne, Australia, where I have come on a little holiday. By little of course mean I am here for 48 hours. I left Los Angeles on Wednesday night and arrived Friday morning. It is now Saturday morning in Oz, and I leave tomorrow at 9:00 am. It is a bit insane to travel for two days to spend only two days, but I am so happy I did it. I love it here and love the people I am with.

I’m staying with my friend Gamble in a glorious part of the country. Yesterday we ran errands and got caught up. Had lunch with her family and sat by the ocean as I tried my first oyster while having the best Cosmo I’ve had in a long time. It was a perfect day. This group is like family and I feel blessed to spend time here, even if just for a couple of days. I love Australia and have a real connection to this place.

When I was recovering from cancer, Gamble swept in like an angel and saved me from myself. I was either going to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself, or was going to get up and live my life. Not just live it, but be brave. Her kindness and nudging forced me to not waste my time thinking about what had happened, but rather what was still possible. Gamble made me brave and gave me Australia.

She attached herself to my heart and I am thankful. I get a lot of perspective on my life through knowing Gamble. I am able to see myself differently through her eyes, and able to see George differently through mine. I am in a very happy and settled place in my life, and Gamble has helped with that. Not only Gamble, but also her sister Tempest, who I love very much. These two remarkable ladies  are family.

I am in Melbourne for two days and it is perfection. The weather is divine, there are a million birds singing in the garden, and while I am sad to be leaving so quickly, am happy that I came and know I will be back soon, for a proper vacation and enough time to see everything this amazing country has to offer.  Tonight we will mark a milestone birthday, have too many cocktails, and celebrate friendship.

If you have an opportunity to visit Australia, you must. If you can spend more than two days, you REALLY must! I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Shabbat. I hope you all have friends like I do, women who inspire you to not only be better, but be happy with exactly who you are. Have a wonderful weekend and be safe out there. Remember that life is always better when you are keeping the faith.

 

Dating 101: Fingers Crossed


I have been quietly dating a lovely man for a few months. He is a wonderful father, grandfather, and son. He is kind, smart, funny, generous, gentle, and respectful. He treats me with a tenderness I have never experienced in a relationship before. He extends the same respect to my son, which I appreciate and admire very much. We have a wonderful time together and I feel nervous, but content.

We don’t have a lot of things in common, and are politically on opposite sides of just about everything, but he allows me to have my opinion. He also allows me to spend a lot of time trying to change his opinion. He is open to change and growth and knowledge. I adore this man am quite certain that if I can get out of my own way, we will be important to each other in a lot of different ways.

I have had a series of complicated and difficult relationships, and while my relationship with George is complicated in some ways and difficult in others, it is also easy, calm, nurturing, and fun. We laugh at many things, including each other, and I feel blessed to have stumbled upon this man. He is unlike anyone I thought I would ever date, but has all the qualities I was looking for in a man.

It is new, exciting, comfortable, and connected. I don’t know where we will end up, but being on this road with him has brought me happiness. I have been writing about my dates and relationships for years, always being clear that I only date Jews and Democrats. I am now dating a man who is not a Democrat or a Jew, and I am counting my blessings.

Time will tell what we become to each other, but we are both happy and hopeful. It is strange to be dating a man who is not Jewish, but I am working through it. It is frustrating to date a man who is not a Democrat, but he is working through it. It is unusual to be dating a man who takes such good care of me, so I am crossing my fingers and keeping the faith.

Las Vegas - April 7. 2017

Rape, Recovery & Celine Dion


When I was in my 20’s I was the victim of a violent crime while living in Toronto. I spent a year in and out of the hospital, followed by a year in and out of court. My attacker was convicted of kidnapping, forcible confinement, aggravated assault, and rape. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, never received parole, and when he served his sentence, was found to be a continuing danger to society and deported to his country of birth.

I have never written in detail about what happened, and never will. It was violent and continues to haunt me. It changed who I was, and while the scars will physically and emotionally never go away, I was not broken and have managed to not only survive, but do things I thought would be impossible, including getting married and having a son. I invested in myself, and years of therapy, to build a life blessed beyond measure.

Important to note what I went through is not the subject here. I share it only to give context. I do not share the details because they don’t matter, not because I am ashamed. I fought hard to recover from my attack and my advice to anyone with a similar experience, is to get help. There are people who will support and believe you. Do not carry it on your own. Be brave and get the help and justice you deserve.

When I was taken to the hospital, going in and out of consciousness, I was aware of what had happened and was trying to get as much information to the police as possible. I remember being naked on a table, having a rape kit done, and crying. It is the moment I remember most vividly. The nurse was trying so hard to make the situation manageable. She put music on to bring calmness to the room. That choice changed my life.

I heard what can only be described as the voice of an angel. She was singing in French and even though I did not understand anything she was saying, it felt as if she were singing directly to me. As I floated above my own body, watching it being violated again, I listed to the singer and felt embraced. I didn’t know what she was saying, yet felt like she was there to help me. It was the exact moment Celine Dion became a part of my life.

When I was in the hospital she was all I listened to. I learned all the words, to all her songs, in French. I don’t speak French, but I can sing in French! I made up the translations of what she was saying. Sometimes the songs were loving and encouraging, other times they were about revenge and killing my attacker. It was quite fabulous. Without any hesitation, and with complete certainty, I can say Celine Dion saved my life.

Since that fateful day, she has been a constant companion. Every milestone since then has included Celine. I danced to Celine Dion with my father at my wedding, and I listened to her when my son was born. She sang the mother-son dance at my son’s Bar Mitzvah, and is the background music on his montage video. She sat up with me the day my son got his driver’s license and I waited for him to get home. She walks with me every day.

I listen to Celine Dion when I am happy, sad, worried, tired, energized, strong, and weak. I have literally not spent one single day in the past 28 years without her being a part of it. Sometimes for just a minute, and other times for hours, she is always with me and I listen every day. I love her in ways only I can really understand. She was the light on my darkest day and I will love her for the rest of my life. She matters to me.

When I was first married my husband took me to see her in concert. She was opening for Michael Bolton and it was the first time I was going to see her in person. I cried throughout her show and found it difficult to breathe. Being so close made me happy, but sad. I don’t remember much of the show, other than the fact I knew every word, to every song, and looked like a creepy super fan who was certain nobody loved her like me.

I never saw her in concert again. It made me nervous to be near her, and ultimately gave me flashbacks that were very difficult. I loved her privately and continued to share my life with her. I sent her gifts to mark the birth of her children, and sent a birth announcement for my son. I wrote her when she married her beloved Renee, and again when he passed away. I wrote her when my attacker went to prison, and again when he was released.

It never bothered me that it might be weird or stalker-ish. I was simply reaching out to the person who brought me back to life. When I was diagnosed with cancer I decided to go and see her in Las Vegas. I was certain if I saw her she’d help heal me again. Ridiculous to be sure, but I knew it would make me feel better. My cancer was a beast, and I never made it that year. I turned 50, and again planned to go to Vegas to celebrate.

The ultimate gift to myself after surviving cancer would be to see Celine, but cancer returned and I was sidelined. I felt everything would be okay if I could get to her. Months ago I told my son I was finally going to see her, on my 51st birthday, and he wanted to come with me. He knows how much she means to me, and why, and wanted to be there for what would be an important moment in my history, so we made plans.

I bought airplane tickets, booked a room at Caesar’s Palace, and counted down the days until my birthday. I had waited years for this moment, and to share it with my son, the most important person in my life and the reason my heart beats, was everything. The day finally came and I was so excited I could hardly stand it. I was working in London and flew back just for 3 days so I could make the trip to Vegas with my boy. I was tired, but thrilled.

When we walked to the theater and I saw the first glimpse of a picture of her, I started to cry. I cried walking in, I cried when I sat down, and I cried continuously for the next 5 hours. Long after the show was over, I was still crying. Celine was remarkable and I would go back and see it every day for the rest of my life. Celine has an incredible voice and my son and me sat in awe of how wonderful she looked and sounded. Amazing.

I sang along with Celine and at the end of the show the woman next to me said it was impressive I knew all the words as there were songs she wasn’t familiar with. I sat holding my son’s hand, taking in the powerful moment. I had waited so long to see her, and wasn’t disappointed. She was everything I knew she would be and felt proud when my son told me she was insanely talented and he was blown away by her. It was a magical night.

At one point in her show members of the audience were able to go up by the stage. She shook hands and engaged with the crowd, but my legs were frozen and I couldn’t do it. I somehow felt I could not be that close to her or I might faint, or perhaps vomit. It was hilarious. All these years later, being close to her was overwhelming on some levels, and beautiful on others. It left me feeling thankful and excited for many things.

I’m not sure why I shared this today. Perhaps it is just as simple as wanting to say thank you. Thank you to Celine Dion for everything she did for me. I have always had the ability to count blessings and pride myself on being a compassionate and empathetic human being. I feel proud of the life I have built for myself, and my son, and now look at life with a new perspective having seen Celine.  I am better for having loved this woman.

If my sharing today helps one person, that squashes the fear of writing it. I am listening to Celine’s Falling into You album and feeling brave and free. It feels good.  I will probably regret writing it at some point, and want to delete it, but I will try to remain brave because I hope this inspires someone else to be brave. Trauma can be debilitating, but only if we allow it to be. It is important to let others know that blessings will come.

Thank you Celine. You saved me and I am grateful. It was an honor to see you in person, am blessed my son was by my side, and thrilled he is now a fan not only because of what you did for me, but your amazing talent.  I wish for you and your children all that you wish for yourselves, and more.  I still think I probably love you more than anyone else, but am happy so many love you. With love, admiration, and thanks, I am keeping the faith.

My Favorite Englishman


I have been travelling to London for the better part of a year. The property consulting company I used to rent a house, is a couple of lovely gentleman who have taken very good care of me. If anyone is looking to buy or rent a home in London, let me know and I will make an introduction. They are wonderful and over the past few months, one of the men has become rather important to me. He is my favorite Englishman and there is nothing I don’t like about him.

From his three piece suits, to always blowing his nose into a handkerchief, he is very proper. He can drink like a sailor, and speak on any topic with authority. I am not sure if this is because he is well versed on a variety of subjects, or rather because he is such a snob his dismissal of things makes him sound like he is dismissing from a place of knowledge, not boredom of something he has no interest in. He is funny, charming, smart, handsome, and simply lovely.

On Saturday night he took me out for my birthday. We went to The Ivy Club, which was terrific. They made a particularly good Cosmo and the wait staff were perfect. On the way to dinner however, my friend said he brought me to this particular location because I am a snob. Well, um, no. We go to fancy places because my friend is quite fancy. It is both ridiculous and insanely funny for him to think it is me who insists on where we go. The truth is he is a bit of snob.

He has impeccable taste and has never taken me anywhere that wasn’t fabulous. When I am in London I tend to stay within a 3-mile radius of home because everything I need is here, but he has shown me London and I have fallen in love with the city because of him. I have fallen in love with him too. He has made coming here a pleasure and taken the sting out of being away from my son for such long stretches.

If my friend could see himself as I do, he would be in love with himself too. I don’t think he has any idea how wonderful he is, which I suppose is part of his charm. He is accomplished, successful, and painfully unaware of his appeal. I want him to not only be happy, but find his happily ever after. I am going to introduce him to the woman he is going to marry. I am sure of it and so the search has begun. I am going to find a girl who is worthy of something special and will appreciate how amazing he is.

My Englishman and me have absolutely nothing in common, and on paper we don’t really make sense, but we have settled into something important and fun and rather entertaining. I am certain he has never met anyone like me, and I have only read about men like him in classic literature. There is no deeply woven story here, I just really wanted to share this man with you. That said, should you be a single woman living in London, between the ages of 27 and 35, let me know.

Sometimes it takes someone to see you a certain way for you to see it in yourself, so to my lovely friend, I see you and you are smashing. You are going to trust me and go out on dates with who I set you up with because you love me too, so you will believe it can happen. I am heading back to LA tomorrow and will be back in London next week to begin my matchmaking services. I will not only be in search of the perfect Cosmo, but also the perfect girl.

It has been a long five weeks and I am ready to go home and see my son. I will be celebrating my birthday in Las Vegas with Celine Dion and I am so excited I might bust. To my lovely friend, thank you. Thank you for always taking care of me and making sure I have some fun while here. I look forward to dancing at your wedding one day. By dancing, of course I mean I will also be giving a speech. When it comes to your search for love, my advice is simple, keep the faith.

Childhood Dreams


Have you ever loved something you have never seen in real life, only photographs? Convinced that if you were to ever see it, you would plunge into depths of joy that engulf your entire being? Scared that if you did see it, you would somehow be disappointed and your dreams crushed? Over the weekend a dream of mine came true and I was profoundly moved by it. I spent the weekend in the English countryside and was transported to my childhood dreams.

I have always wanted to live in the England countryside. I would have a grand, old home with lots of land, magnificent gardens, and tons of animals. I’d spend my days walking through fields and forests, cooking glorious food, with a door always open to family, friends, and strangers. Anyone who had a story to share. I’d have a massive dog and an English husband. As I’ve grown old the dream remains the same, only now there is a pub in town that makes a great Cosmo.

Adam Ant was the first man I ever fell in love with and he was the husband of my childhood dreams. I thought he was the most handsome man in the world and I’d listen to his records endlessly. I thought we’d get married and live happily ever after. I was certain if given the opportunity to meet me, he’d fall instantly and desperately in love. Every minute I spend in England is with the hope I’ll see him, our eyes lock, and our lives entwine as they were always destined to.

I stayed in a magnificent home and as I wondered into each room it took my breath away and required all my strength not to cry. I stood in my sprawling bedroom as the sun was setting, looking out onto the Isle of Wight in the distance, and I was mesmerized. It is not often someone’s dreams come true and I was emotional. I felt as if my beloved English father was looking down on me, thrilled the dream we had spoken of so often had come true. It was magical.

The rooms were romantic and historical. The fireplaces held stories of so many who sat in front of them. There was so much to see one could spend days in each room and constantly discover new treasures. The home was grand and important, yet warm and welcoming. You could feel happiness contained in the walls and while I’m certain a home so old must be haunted, the ghosts were simply happy to have company and enjoyed the merriment. I loved every moment.

On Sunday, pretending that I actually lived there and Adam was on his way home, I went to the pub and raised a glass to my dad, who’s stories of his childhood in England became my dreams. I took lots of pictures with both my camera and my mind’s eye, so I could come back to the exact moment we walked through an enchanted forest with deer running between 2000-year-old trees. It was a spectacular weekend and I am once again dreaming of a life here.

Sidebar: The pub didn’t make a Cosmo, so I requested the drink I invented in my country home. The “Fallen Angel” is now a favorite and I’ve had a couple since the weekend. The drink is fizzy elderflower, a shot of vodka, and a splash of grenadine, over ice. It is sweet and light and the perfect substitution to my believed Cosmo. I’m not sure how easy it will be to find sparkling elderflower in LA, but I will, and Fallen Angels will be a go to beverage for the summer. Try it!

It is quite spectacular to be transported to your childhood at the exact moment you see a vision of your future. This piece of heaven made this angel very happy. Thank you to my lovely hosts for a wonderful time. From the walks, to meeting the animals, to the Yorkshire pudding and blackberry crumble, it was all perfect. I felt lucky to be included in the weekend and look forward to one day being your neighbor. I am looking out for Adam, and keeping the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praying in London


I have spent much of the past six months in London. It is my adopted home and I love it here. I have a tight group of friends and colleagues in this wonderful city. I enjoy every minute that I am blessed to be in London, a city my father loved so much. I walk every day and my favorite route is to walk is across Westminster Bridge then across to the Tower Bridge, passing Shakespeare’s Globe Theater along the way. It is about a 5 mile walk and a treasured part of my time here. I listen to the soundtracks of Bridget Jones movies and am happy.

I do my walk three days a week. Yesterday however, I didn’t go because I was busy and didn’t have time. I never walk at a set time, so it is impossible to know if I would have been on the bridge during the terrorist attack, but I am shaken. I am sad for those who lost their lives, those in the hospital, and the witnesses of this cowardly attack. I am thankful for the first responders who bravely helped. I am also worried for my Muslim friends here, who feel this attack on levels I won’t ever understand. The world is dark and hate is truly powerful.

It is exhausting to hear the hate. It chisels away at my heart and I hear it every day. People in line at the market, on the subway, having coffee. Everyone speaks freely and loudly about how all the problems in the world are because of Muslims. They say it in front of Muslims. They speak of how every terrorist in the world is Muslim and they must all go. I’m not sure where exactly they want them to go, but as a Jew, and an intelligent human being, it breaks my heart and frightens me to hear of the persecution of a group of people based on faith.

I walked again today, but chose a different route, mostly to stay out of the way. I walked through London this morning because life goes on. I am praying for this city and her people as I count down the days until I go home and hug my son. I’m thankful for my amazing readers, who immediately upon hearing of the attack, reached out to see if I was okay, knowing I am often on Westminster Bridge. I felt embraced and comforted. I am grateful for the opportunities that brought me to London and I hope all of us here can keep the faith.

 

Dating 101: George


I have been dating a new man for 6 weeks. We met online, chatted for a couple of weeks before meeting in person, and are now falling into something comfortable. We have practically nothing in common, and he is unlike anyone I have ever dated. He is a father and a grandfather, not Jewish, and a Republican. He works in law enforcement, and has a world view that is different than mine. We debate politics, speak about faith, and feel connected without words, which has value.

“George” is a lovely man and my long time readers will understand why I have called him George :-). I have struggled to write about this man.  Not because there is nothing to write about, but rather because I have doubted myself for dating a man who is so different from me. I define myself as a Jew, and have written for years about my search for a Jewish man. I do not often write about politics, but when I do, it is often about my difficulties in respecting the Republican party.

How do I tell my beloved readers, people who have become invested in my search for love and happiness, that I am dating someone who is the opposite of everything I told them I want? It then felt strange that I was concerned about what other people would think of me, when I have built a career on not caring what anyone thinks of me. At the end of the day, after much soul searching, it turns out my search has never been for one specific man. It has been a search for happiness.

I am a list maker. I like to not only make lists, but cross things off those lists. I love the feeling of accomplishment I get when a list has been completed. I have made a couple of lists about George. The list is long, and while one or two things may never be crossed off, the rest of the list is not only getting longer, but the checks are adding up. I keep adding things to perhaps make me walk away from the Republican goy, but instead he inspires check marks.

George takes care of my heart. He is thoughtful about things I had no idea would matter to me. He makes choices based on what I want, what I need, and what he feels I deserve. He puts me first. He has a genuine interest in my happiness on a level I have never experienced, except when offering the same care to men who did not appreciate it, or ultimately deserve it. George treats me in a way I have craved, but thought was perhaps only in the movies or imagined in my mind.

There are no uncomfortable silences. There are fair and interesting discussions. There is a desire from both of us to not only understand what is being said, but be kind when faced with differences. There is a meaningful and decent tone in the way we engage with each other, which is refreshing. I like this man and that is huge because rather than worry about whether or not I can love him, I am enjoying the simple pleasure of liking him, which I suppose is the moral of this story. I like him.

In the search for love we need to enjoy the story, rather than rush through to the ending. George is an interesting man and our story is a good one. I have no idea what the ending will be, and that is okay. In a time when I am working on being brave, our story has been a revelation. The bravery is coming not from searching for love as I originally thought, but instead in letting it find me. I am writing a new story for myself, trying to convert a Republican to a Democrat, and keeping the faith.

Dating 101: Snakes & iTunes


My dating life is interesting. By interesting, of course I mean slightly more pathetic than interesting, but still interesting. I truly have to laugh at the absurd things that happen to me, otherwise I would cry. Cry and scream. Cry and scream and adopt a cat. By cat of course I mean a dozen cats, two dogs, and perhaps a parrot. One I could train to laugh every time I said “I have a date”.  I am good at a lot of things, but detecting crazy in men is not one of them. I suppose in the big scheme of things this is not a terrible gift to be saddled with, but some days the inability to see exactly how insane a man is exhausts and depresses me.

I was chatting on Match with a man from Beverly Hills. He works in mining, was sweet, and if you took out one contact lens and squinted with your other eye, looked a little bit like Kelsey Grammer. We were texting back and forth as I am in London, and made plans to go out when I get back. He asked me to tell him something interesting about myself every day that I was in London. Seemed like a cute thing to do. I told him I was Canadian and had a Canadian flag tattoo. He told me that he had a very large penis, that he refers to as “snake”, and you can see it even when he is wearing a suit. You can’t make this stuff up people.

I marveled that of all the things he could have told me as we did the dance of introduction, he opted to tell about his genitals. I told him I thought it a was strange and disrespectful choice. He told me he meant no disrespect and was simply sharing. I reiterated it was offensive, and he told me I had no sense of humor, sent him mixed messages, and should “fuck off and die”. He then proceeded to tell me I would remain alone because I hated men. Dear Lord. I don’t think I hate anything, other than Donald Trump as President, so his outburst was hilarious. The snake charmer was anything but charming and I was in shock.

He was texting nonstop, then started to talk about my son, who he knows nothing about. Well that’s no fun, so I blocked him on my phone, blocked him on Match, and sent them a screen shot of his text telling me to die. This is a guy who has put his picture online, given me his phone number, then threatened me, all because I told him it was disrespectful to talk about his penis with a stranger. His name is David and he’s 48 years old with glasses, so if anyone comes across him run because he is unstable and dangerous, with or without his snake. As of this morning Match had not suspended him. Dating is strange to be sure, but this is terrifying.

Cut to James, also from Match, who also happens to do something with mining. He is originally from Brazil, and is looking for love after having his heart broken. We exchanged a few emails, then exchanged phone numbers and started to text rather than call as I am in London. He wrote to say he was going to Boston and would let me know when he had arrived. He did as he said he would, and when I asked him how it was going, he told me he got an iPhone. I am a diehard Apple person, so I congratulated him on stepping into the light. I asked what he was up to on a Sunday in Boston, and he told me he was downloading an app he needed for work.

He then told me he did not have his credit card and could I buy him an iTunes card and send it to him by email. Really? Yes. Really. I’m not sure how he bought the phone since he said he left his credit card at home, but I’m guessing details are not important to James. Details or the truth. When I told him he was insane to think I would send him anything, he stopped writing. Not a word since I said he was creepy and I would report him to Match. It makes me sad because there are women who will fall for things like this and in an attempt to not be lonely or feel desired, will buy into this type of scam. James should be arrested, not dating.

Cut to today, when James wrote to tell me I misunderstood him and he expected more from me. He doesn’t know me, so I’m not exactly sure what exactly he was expecting, or what was disappointing. He said he wasn’t asking for money, just asking for an iTunes card to get some apps, for his work, so he could give a great presentation. He said he has a daughter, and friends, and a boss, and family, so why ask a woman he does not know? This is insanity and makes me sad for people who are dating from a place of deep loneliness, as I am sure money is being sent and snake selfies are being taken. It is very sad and frightening.

I looked this morning and the profiles for both James and David are now hidden from the Match website. I am not sure if that was done by them or Match, but they should be looked at more closely. These men are predators and ruin it for others who are online genuinely trying to meet someone. I invite Match to get in touch with me at angel@jewishjournal.com and I will give them the details of these two loser who are polluting their website and good work. Dating is scary in general, but when you do it online, there are risks involved that perhaps women don’t think about. It can be creepy, but if you want to find someone, a necessary evil.

I date not because I love to date, because who would love something so revolting? I date because I would like to share my life with someone, and dating is how I will meet that person. I am hopeful, which is truly the most important thing to have when dating, because without hope you’ve got no shot in hell of ever meeting anyone. Please just be careful out there, and I don’t just mean the ladies. There are women online who are scamming people just as often as men. Do not send anyone any money, do not tell anyone where you live, meet in a public place, and don’t let anyone pick you up at home. You cannot be too careful.

It is sometimes hard to trust people you know, let alone strangers, but you really must try to be aware. If you come across people you sense are dangerous, tell someone. Write to the dating site you are using and tell them. You owe it to yourself, and also to the other people who will innocently stumble across these people. If you’re wrong and they are not dangerous, just crazy, still better to have said something than to be quiet. James and David are bumps in the road and I will not be scared off by a couple of idiots. I will be cautious and I will be brave because my bashert is out there and he is keeping the faith.

Passover: Faith and freedom


My local Ralphs has begun stocking its shelves with Passover goodies. The resonant voice of Charlton Heston can be heard on t.v. This can only mean one thing: the Jewish holiday of Passover is coming. Again, as every year, Jews around the world are instructed to personalize the Exodus story, “as though we ourselves were slaves in Egypt.”    

Judging from the therapy clients coming through the doors of my office, there is plenty of resonance to be found. These days, few of us are actually physically enslaved.  Yet we are often trapped internally. We lives our lives in restricted, confined routines because we are afraid of making changes without any guarantee. 

Many people feel stuck internally, and don’t realize that they can empower themselves to change.  Although it is not a conscious choice, we often choose the safety and familiarity of routine.  But we  disengage from our daily lives in subtle ways.  We stay busy.  We lower our expectations.  We become slaves to our internal inertia.        

I never realized this, but the Hebrew word for Egypt, mizrayim,  can be translated as tight place. Place of constriction.  The Israelites were physically constricted.  Yet even when Moses offered them instant freedom, they hesitated. They weren’t sure that they wanted to exchange the familiar for danger and uncertainty. 

When the Israelites approached the Red Sea, G-d had not yet parted the waters.  According to the Rabbinic Midrash, a man named Nachson ben Aminadav responded by jumping into the sea without hesitation.  Only after he was up to his nose in the water, did the sea part so that the Israelites could cross in safety. He had to take a leap of faith in order to go forward. 

In a way, the therapeutic process requires that same leap of faith.  Many of us have difficulty imagining that lasting change can be possible. One of the best parts of being a therapist is that I am blessed with the chance to offer my clients the idea that change is possible. That often leads to a sense of hopefulness that can lead to significant shifts. 

Often, people engage in magical thinking. “I could leave my current circumstances and start all over again.”  Unfortunately, it is never that simple. The grass is rarely, if ever, greener on the other side.  It is not enough to move to a new physical destination–we need to work on our internal landscape.   Part of that process involves being able to be compassionate to ourselves.  To accept our imperfections and flawed selves. Only then can we become truly free.

Roni Blau is a licensed clinical therapist practicing in Santa Monica.  She can be reached at roniblausw@gmail.com.

Calendar: February 26 – March 3


FRI | FEB 26

AMI SHABBAT DINNER

Join AMI for an interactive and family-friendly service, followed by a Shabbat dinner and kids program. The evening will illuminate the meaning of Shabbat — sanctifying the week and unifying the Jewish people. 5 p.m. service, 5:30 p.m. dinner and kids program. $70 per couple; $15 per child; free for children 3 and under. Pat’s Restaurant, 9233 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 278-1911. ” target=”_blank”>sexfaithplay.com

SAT | FEB 27

NATHAN MILLER

Come hear what this experienced writer and commentator has to say. Nathan Miller is president of Miller Ink, a strategic communications consultancy, but he has served as the policy director of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and as the director of speechwriting for Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations. As a senior communications adviser and the chief speechwriter for Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor, he was instrumental in crafting some of the most acclaimed and highly scrutinized speeches delivered on the floors of the U.N. in recent memory. 10:30 a.m. Free. The Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-4246. ” target=”_blank”>malibuplayhouse.org.

HAVDALAH AND HOT DOGS

Enjoy Havdalah and a hot dog dinner! This year’s theme: #BeJewish24/7. There will be crafts and activities for the whole family. Hot dog dinner will be served from 5:30-6:15 p.m. followed by a service and evening festivities. 5:30 p.m. $7. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891. SUN | FEB 28

“MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED”

The feature-length documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” examines the history of education and reveals the growing deficiencies of the school model in today’s world. For most of the last century, entry-level jobs were plentiful and college was an affordable path to a fulfilling career, but that is no longer the case. The film explores compelling new approaches in project-based learning that aim to revolutionize teaching as we know it. This event is presented by the Sholem Community. 10 a.m. coffee and bagels; 10:15 a.m. screening. Discussion to follow. Free for members and pre-registration; $5 donation at the door. Westside Neighborhood School, 5401 Beethoven St., Los Angeles. (818) 760-6625. ” target=”_blank”>vistadelmar.org.

BETZALEL ARTS FESTIVAL

Kehillat Ma’arav is launching a new program, JAWS (Jewish Arts Workshop Series), with a Betzalel Fest! There will be activities for all ages, such as candle making, kosher wine tasting, silk challah cover making, challah baking, arts and crafts, and a musical performance featuring flutist Susan Greenberg and pianist Louise Lofquist. 1 p.m. Free. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566. MON | FEB 29

EVE JOCHNOWITZ

Eve Jochnowitz, the author of “The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook: Garden-Fresh Recipes Rediscovered and Adapted for Today’s Kitchen,” will explore Fania Lewando’s extraordinary Yiddish vegetarian cookbook from 1937. Lewando’s cookbook is filled with recipes from Jewish tradition, European cuisine and the booming 20th-century health food movement. Jochnowitz also will engage in conversation with Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s “Good Food.” 12:30 p.m. Free. Tutor Campus Center at USC, 3607 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. (213) 740-2311. WED | MARCH 2

CALIFORNIA-ISRAEL WATER SUMMIT

While California is in the midst of its worst drought on record, Israel has emerged from years of chronic water shortages thanks to its water management and technology. Seth M. Siegel, author of “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution For A Water-Starved World,” will detail how Israel’s expertise can help solve water problems around the world. Hosted by the Jewish National Fund in collaboration with the Consulate General of the State of Israel, the City of Beverly Hills and the City of Los Angeles. 9 a.m. Free. RSVP by Feb. 29. Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 964-1400. ” target=”_blank”>bethjacob.org

THUR | MARCH 3

BALADINO AND SPECIAL GUEST LA VICTORIA

Baladino combines everything from Egyptian darbuka to Armenian duduk, from Ladino classics to rare tunes. The Israeli group has stunning vocals, unexpected instruments and a perfect sense of arrangement. During their live performances, there are often instrumental improvisations driven by Mediterranean-Gypsy grooves with rock and electronic influences. Their vibrant and organic sound will be accompanied by special guest La Victoria. 8 p.m. $25. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. (818) 760-1077.

The meaning of coincidences


One of the most powerful ways we experience God’s closeness is through coincidences.

I know this is certainly the case with me. Stuff happens to me all the time that I can’t explain.

Here are two examples.

One Friday night, I was in shul and my mind wandered a bit. I realized that this was my anniversary of keeping Shabbos for the first time. In fact, it was exactly 20 years ago to the day. I wondered how many Shabboses that was. I did the math and multiplied 20 (years) times 52 (weeks) and arrived at 1,040 Shabboses. Then I realized something that made my head spin: That same week I began a new job. The street address number was 1040.

Another story.

One of my favorite Torah commentators is Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver, a tremendous 19th- century Torah scholar and kabbalist from the school of Vilna Gaon. The book of his I’ve been studying is called “Ohr Torah” (The Light of Torah). When I learned that he’d also written a commentary on the aggadot, the more esoteric sections of the Talmud, I ordered that, too. When the books arrived, I was overcome by emotion. I sat in my favorite chair, brought the books to my heart, and hugged them. At that moment, the phone rang. My daughter ran in to tell me that someone was calling for me. “Who?” I asked. “Ohr Torah,” she said.

What?

There is a shul in the community called Torah Ohr, but the caller ID on our phone reverses first and last names, so the screen read “Ohr Torah” — the name of the book I was hugging at that moment.

How do you explain occurrences like these, and what are we supposed to do when they happen?

Usually, we throw our hands up in the air and say things like, “What are the odds!” or “Can you believe that?” But the sheer miraculousness of the events always left me feeling as if I wasn’t fully appreciating their significance.

So for years I struggled with what the appropriate response to coincidences is — or put another way — given that that just took place, what am I supposed to do now?

I once heard that coincidences were God’s way of waving, “Hello!”

Although that’s a lovely thought, there’s something problematic about it. Namely, God is waving, “Hello!” every moment! So given that, what makes coincidences any different from every other moment?

The question perplexed me.

Clearly there is a difference. But how do we express it exactly?

The question stayed with me until I reflected on the following teaching.

In Pirke Avot, a volume of the Talmud also known as Ethics of Our Fathers, Rabbi Akiva says, “Beloved are people for they were created in God’s image; it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to them that they were created in God’s image, as it is said: ‘For in the image of God, He made human beings’ ” (3:18).

Rabbi Akiva is telling us something amazing here.

You see, something can be true, but it’s indicative of an even greater love when God shows us that it’s true.

Imagine this exchange between a parent and child. Child: “Do you love me?” Parent: “Of course, I love you.” Child: “Then how come you never tell me?”

The parent loves the child. But it’s indicative of a greater love when the parent makes it known to the child that he loves them.

Yes, God is everywhere.

Yes, God is saying, “Hello!” to us every nanosecond of our lives.

But when we experience a coincidence, God is, so to speak, “going out of his way” to make it known to us how present he is in our lives.

Contemplate how awesome that is! God is literally customizing a series of events unique to you just to make known to you how close he is.

Wow.

In Torah, this is what we call an “ays ratzon,” a favorable moment. But if we translate the Hebrew literally, it’s even more powerful. It means “a time of desire,” meaning a time when God is expressing his longing for us.

During these moments, the rabbis teach us that the gates of heaven are open to our prayers.

Now we know what to do the next time a coincidence happens.

Pray.

Pour your heart out and ask God for everything. 

David Sacks is an Emmy-winning TV writer and produces torahonitunes.com.

Calendar May 24-30


SAT | MAY 24

“UNKNOWN STORIES OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS”

The Jewish Women’s Theatre invites you to the world premiere of a show that takes ancient Bible stories and weaves them into music, poetry and plays — modernizing the text. From comparing Eve’s fig leaf to a tattoo, to slavery in Congo, to sibling rivalry, these
vignettes are funny, poignant and relevant. A Q-and-A will follow the show. Sat. 7:30 p.m. $20 (presale), $30 (door). National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 651-2930. ” target=”_blank”>vbs.org.


SUN | MAY 25

INDIANA JONES DOUBLE FEATURE

With director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and star Harrison Ford, this will be a very Jewish cinematic experience! Come for “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the film where Mr. Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do, and stay for “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Sometimes it’s important to start the week with a little Spielberg. Sun. Various times. Through Tues. $8 (general), $6 (seniors, children under 12). New Beverly Cinema, 7165 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-4038. ” target=”_blank”>hbo.com.


TUE | MAY 27

BILLY JOEL

Catch him before he’s gone! The Piano Man is at the Hollywood Bowl for a closing night that will leave you wanting him onstage … for the longest time. Responsible for such classics as “Vienna,” “Uptown Girl,” “Movin’ Out” and so many more, the six-time Grammy winner belongs to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. Don’t miss this music legend. Tue. 8 p.m. $45.50-$249.50. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (800) 745-3000. WED | MAY 28

“SACRED TRANSITIONS”

It’s the Jewish collaboration you didn’t know you were waiting for. Based on the teachings of Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis’ “Songs on Meditations,” “Sacred Transitions” is composed by Russell Steinberg, who recently premiered his project “Cosmic Dust” with the New West Symphony and is the artistic director of The Los Angeles Youth Orchestra. Schulweis — who has been with Valley Beth Shalom for more than four decades — and Steinberg offer a world premiere that is as religiously significant as it is artistically unique. A dessert reception will follow the concert. Wed. 7:30 p.m. Free. RSVP requested. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. THU | MAY 29

“SONS OF ABRAHAM: TALKING FAITH, FAMILY AND FRIENDSHIP IN THE 21ST CENTURY”

 A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim walk into a temple. Sounds like the setup for a bad joke, but this Thursday, it’s actually happening. Salvador Litvak, Jason VanBorssum and Rahmi Mowjood, all friends, are strongly united in their desire to change current multifaith dialogue, stressing the importance of 21st-century spirituality. Moderated by Jewish Journal senior writer Danielle Berrin. Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. RSVP requested. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7354 ext. 215. ” target=”_blank”>cjs.ucla.edu.


FRI | MAY 30

“THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM”

When a young man goes to see his dying father, he’s confronted with the finiteness of death and the strange nature of time. Based on stories by Jewish author Bruno Schulz, director and writer Wojciech Jerzy Has brings a dreamy surrealism to the complexities of mortality and family. Has also reflects on the Holocaust, Schulz having been killed by a Nazi in 1942. Winner of the Jury Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, the movie promises a timeless quality. Fri. 7:30 p.m. $3 (members), $5 (general). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6010.

George W. Bush and Jews for Jesus


Former President George W. Bush spoke for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI) this past week, and this has led to a good deal of writing on Jews for Jesus and the ex-president’s address.

Some observations:

• Like nearly every other Jew, I was saddened by the news. The MJBI is not some quiet Messianic congregation consisting of Christians and born-Jews who affirm Jesus as their Lord, Savior, and Messiah; its entire raison d’etre is to convert Jews to Christianity. Needless to say, in a free society, such as ours, one should be free to engage in proselytizing. And if President Bush had spoken before a Christian organization whose purpose was to spread belief in Jesus, no one would have said a thing. 

But the MJBI is different. First, it is devoted solely to bringing Jews to Christian faith. Second, it does so by telling Jews that they do not become Christian when they accept Christ; they stay Jewish. They simply become “fulfilled” Jews. So unlike every other case of religious conversion in the world, the Jew who converts to Christianity remains a member of the religious group he previously identified with.

To most Jews, that is intellectually dishonest. Such Jews should call themselves by the name of the faith whose religious doctrines they now embrace — Christian. Jews may be saddened when a Jew leaves Judaism, but they can respect the decision. After all, if Christians can become Jews, Jews can become Christians. What Jews cannot respect is when Jewish converts to Christianity deny they are Christians, call themselves Jews, and devote their lives to converting other Jews.

• Even many Evangelical Christians who are genuinely and selflessly devoted to fighting on behalf of the Jewish people and Israel find it difficult to understand why Jews react so negatively to Jews for Jesus. The best way I have found to explain this to them is by comparing the Jews’ attitude toward Jews for Jesus to Evangelicals’ attitude to Mormons. Evangelical Christians have no more problem with there being Mormons than they do with any other religious group; their problem is with Mormons calling themselves Christian — just as Jews have no problem with the existence of Christians, only with Jews who convert to Christianity who still call themselves Jews — and claim that the only authentic Jew is one who is a Christian. 

• Jews should not allow their opposition to Jews for Jesus to bleed over to opposition to Christian Zionists, as a writer on this subject recently irresponsibly did in the liberal Jewish newspaper The Forward. Christian Zionists have been the best friends Jews have had for most of the last two centuries. As Andrew Brown, the religion writer for the British newspaper The Guardian, wrote this week:

“Without the belief of Victorian upper class evangelical Englishmen — almost exactly the equivalents of George W. Bush — there never would have been a Balfour Declaration. And without that declaration, there could not have been the Jewish immigration to Palestine that laid the foundations for the state of Israel.”

Today, groups such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and other Evangelical pro-Israel groups are the Jews’ and Israel’s best friends in the world — and they are not working to convert us. If the Evangelicals turn against Israel the way the liberal churches have, we will be in deep trouble.

• Concerning George W. Bush, it should not be difficult for Jews to object to his address to MJBI while continuing to express gratitude for his steadfast support for Israel while president of the United States. I think it is fair to say that nearly all the Jews of Israel are far more angered by President Barack Obama’s policies toward Iran than George W. Bush’s appearance at a Jews for Jesus institution. As Yossi Klein Halevi said this week (on my radio show), “a majority of Israelis today have no faith in the Obama administration’s will to stop a nuclear Iran.” Israelis did have faith in George W. Bush’s will to stop Iran. So, let’s not lose perspective because of one address to a group of Christians few people have ever heard of.

• For 40 years I have argued that Jews for Jesus pose little or no danger to Jewish survival. We Jews should be preoccupied with all the Jews for Nothing, the Jews for anti-Zionism, the Jews for radical Leftism, the Jews in PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who developed the obscene vegetarian campaign called “Holocaust on Your Plate” that equates the barbecuing of chickens in America with the cremating of the Jews in the Holocaust.

Our sons and daughters in college are not being alienated from Judaism, the Jewish people, and, of course, from Israel by Jews for Jesus, but by the secular left-wing professors who teach contempt for God, for religion, for Zionism and for Israel.

• The claim of Jews for Jesus that they are not Christians but Jews is false advertising, but the claim that they remain Jews is not false. Take, for example, the late Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. He was born a Jew, Aaron Lustiger, and converted to Catholicism. On becoming Archbishop of Paris, Lustiger said: “I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.”

Yet, Jews around the world came to revere Cardinal Lustiger for his unceasing efforts to rid the Catholic Church of anti-Semitism and to help Israel in the Catholic world. This Catholic, who considered himself Jewish, was a regular speaker for the World Jewish Congress and was even invited to speak at the Modern Orthodox Jewish seminary Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York.

Of course, Lustiger did not devote his life, as Jews for Jesus organizations do, to converting Jews. But Jewish law regarded him as a Jew, mainstream Jews honored him, and he asked that the Kaddish be recited for him upon his death.

• The only positive Jewish response to Jews for Jesus is to figure out how to keep Jews Jewish so that they will not leave us for other secular or religious faiths. And the way to achieve that is to instill in young Jews faith in the Jewish trinity: God, Torah and Israel. Then they won’t seek any other trinity.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

EVENT: Hot & Holy — A provocative discussion on sex and spirituality


A provocative discussion on sex and spirituality. Whether you are single, married, have a great sex life, or want one — join the conversation as we talk about what sex means to a relationship and how it is reflected in our faith.

Moderated by Ilana Angel, panelists are Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom, Sex Therapist Dr. Limor Blockman, Dating Coach David Wygant, and Hollywood Jew Danielle Berrin.  Ticket price includes admission and hors d'oeuvres.  Cash Bar. Special Valet Rate of $7.00.

Click here to buy your ticket online and secure entry. Some tickets will be available at the door. First come, first served.

No immediate threats for High Holy Day security, but warnings to stay vigilant


The Los Angeles Jewish community is not facing any security threats related to the High Holidays, but local institutions should still be vigilant, the Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Southwest division said at a community briefing Tuesday.

“We want to be open and welcoming, but we also want to be safe and secure at the same time,” ADL associate regional director Ariella Schusterman said appearing at a recent ADL security briefing for the Jewish community. “The question is, ‘Can these two things be married together?’ And the answer, actually, is ‘Yes.’”

Held at the Century City headquarters of the ADL-Pacific Southwest, the security seminar’s theme focused on suspicious behavior: what qualifies, and how to respond to it. A national agency that emails security alerts, security bulletins and non-alerts to institutions and oversees regional offices that partner with law officials on security issues, the ADL holds this security briefing annually, always prior to the High Holy Days. The agency invites community leaders, security personnel and others to the event. 

It’s important to focus less on a person and more on a person’s behavior, said Jason Pantages, assistant federal security director at the Transportation Security Administration at Los Angeles International Airport. “People aren’t suspicious—their behavior is suspicious,” Pantages, the program’s main speaker, told the group.

Pantages provided examples of suspicious behavior, such as a person leaving a bag behind or parking an unfamiliar vehicles in an prohibited area; an unfamiliar person photographing loading docks, security cameras or other building features; or a stranger who is unusually curious about an institution’s’ security and asks questions about it.

Both speakers gave individual presentations. It’s important to maintain “domain awareness,” which is the knowledge of what’s normal activity at your institution and what’s abnormal, Pantages said. That baseline will help you identify suspicious behavior, he said.

And always trust your instincts, Schusterman said. “If it looks wrong, if it feels wrong, then do not be afraid to contact somebody, whether it be your security person, or whether it be the police,” she said.

During the High Holy Days, police “are all on higher alert,” Schusterman said, to the question of audience member Joanne Feldman, assistant office manager for the Pacific Jewish Center, who asked if it’s a synagogue’s responsibility to liaison with police for extra security on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But, if an institution wants additional security – such as a patrol vehicle or a decoy vehicle parked in front of its location when services are taking place – it’s the institution’s responsibility to coordinate that with police, Schusterman said.

Approximately 60 people from various synagogues, schools and other organizations attended, including Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, the Skirball Cultural Center, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; the Los Angeles Jewish Home and IKAR, as well as police officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Burbank Police Department and Beverly Hills police.

For further information on ADL security measures—including the online security manual, “Protecting Your Jewish Institution”—visit adl.org/security.

The rebellious man of faith


The patriarch Jacob, my namesake (Jacob Shmuel) of whom we have read the past few weeks in the Bible, is the most maligned of all the patriarchs. He is the one whom non-Jews can do without. The Christians claim to have been grafted onto the seed of Abraham and the Muslims make equal claim to the father of Monotheism as the Jews. But Jacob, with his seeming deception of his blind father to gain the firstborn blessing from Esau and his commercial manipulations of his father-in-law Laban, most of whose flock he eventually owned, is treated by anti-Semites as the prototype of the wily, cunning, dishonest Jew who will do anything to profit. Jacob is the forerunner of Shylock who mourns more for his lost ducats then his lost daughter Jessica. He is the father, they say, of the modern State of Israel that will engage in questionable moral tactics to fight off its enemies.

And yet, the Jews celebrate Jacob and call themselves his, rather than Abraham’s, offspring. We are the children of Israel, the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with, and defeated an angel. Why celebrate a man of seeming deceit?

Because Jacob was the first patriarch who decided he would enter into the arena with evil, fight it, and defeat it. He was unconcerned at what damage this would do to his reputation. He knew Esau was violent and dangerous and would have abused the power that would have come with the firstborn blessing. He was determined to stop him one way or another, even if it partially impugned his soul. The same was true of Laban, whose wealth would be abused and misused and was in any event owed to Jacob for fourteen years of unpaid labor.

There are those who believe that religion should distance itself from the corruption of the world and maintain an unblemished integrity. Monastic life, divorced from the affairs of a society ruled by greed and avarice, is where the pious flourish. Even in the Jewish world there are many who believe that the righteous man spends his life studying unsullied by materialism or commerce. They should likewise avoid service in the Israeli army because fighting evil taints the fighter and lacks the innocence of pure Torah study. And in any event, the army is not sufficiently religious and ritual commitment will suffer in its godless environment.

To some degree this was the posture adopted by Abraham who was known as Ha’ivri, the Hebrew, the man who sets himself apart. The kernel of monotheism, having just been birthed by Abraham was, he felt, too vulnerable to be exposed to the world malevolent influence. So he cloistered himself from immoral people like Soddom and Gomorra’s inhabitants. Yes, he would pray for their welfare from afar, but he would not live among them, attempt to influence them, or even combat their wickedness. Isaac, who was a holy offering brought on G-d’s altar likewise lives apart and is prohibited by G-d from sojourning in the fleshpots of Egypt.

Only Jacob engages the world and courageously confronts the wicked allowing goodness to triumph. Yes, at times he will fight them on their own terms – even employ their own means – to defeat them. But he will not let the world be ruled by wicked men. One way or another, he will stop them. And it is as a result of this courageous posture to fight G-d’s battles that his name is changed from Jacob – he who is stepped on by the heal – to Israel, he who wrestles with G-d and man and triumphs. In the act of this constant struggle against malevolent forces who seek to defeat him, Jacob gives birth to a new concept of religion whose theme is captured by that name. Not the subservient man of the spirit, but the rebellious man of faith.

Indeed, it is those who are prepared to fight evil even when accused of becoming unethical in the process that are vindicated by history as having saved civilization from monstrous injustice. Lincoln suspected habeus corpus, insisted on continuing the bloody engagements of the civil war when there was an outcry for peace, and was labeled a bloodthirsty tyrant for doing so. Today we remember him as our greatest president who purged America of the abomination of slavery and kept the Union intact. While Chamberlain waved his useless piece of paper proclaiming ‘peace in our time’ and portrayed himself as an ethical man unwilling to shed blood, Churchill was dismissed a warmonger and alarmist provoking a fight with Hitler. He would later be accused of mass butchery in leveling cities like Hamburg and Dresden to finish off the Third Reich. Yet today he is remembered as the 20th century’s greatest statesman.

When I was in Oxford I heard world-renowned Jewish academics lamenting the State of Israel’s existence. Prior to its creation, they maintained, the Jews had the respect of the world as the people of the book and the pity of humanity as Hitler’s victims. Now we were the people of the M-16 and seen as oppressors of the Palestinians. Yet these moral cowards would have Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran take over the Middle East in order for the Jews to maintain a false morality, predicated on ethical self-preservation while the world is overtaken by darkness. The desire to remain aloof from the world’s affairs and allow wicked men to gain supremacy is piety of cowards and betrays a fraudulent faith.

For thousands of years religion has been perceived as demanding and inculcating obedience. Faith demands the bowing of the head to the unassailable will of G-d. Islam translates literally as submission and a Muslim is one who lives a life of obedience to G-d’s law. The great Danish Christian theologian Soren Kierkegaard likewise said that true Christianity demands not understanding or challenge but a leap of faith.

But Judaism imparted to the world a revolutionary vision of global social transformation and change. The time would come when men and women, through their defiance, would cure the world of seemingly intractable ills. War itself would be defeated as would disease and hunger. Human suffering, Judaism taught, was not the fault of sinful man. Rather, the man of faith was he who demanded of G-d Himself to keep his promises and His injunctions to choose life. After sending Moses to free the Israelite slaves of Egypt and Pharaoh’s cold response that their suffering would increase through the withholding of straw, Moses does not return to G-d with head bowed low, accepting the brutality inflicted on his people as G-d’s will. “Why have you acted so wickedly to this people,” he says to the Creator of the Universe, “and from the time you have sent me you have done nothing to save this nation.” The rebellious man of faith will continue to worship G-d after Auschwitz but He will never excuse G-d’s seeming callousness in allowing a holocaust against innocents. To the contrary, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the greatest Jewish religious leader of modern times, shouted in public on countless occasions, defiantly and with fists pounding the table, “Ad Mosai,” How long Oh Lord will you remain silent as people suffer and die? How long will it be before you fulfill your promise to perfect the world and defeat death. It’s flaws are now Your responsibility. We have been a faithful nation for generations. Our suffering is due not to our sin or shortcoming but to Your failure to keep your promise.”

While his own father-in-law, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson, the previous Rebbe, whom he adored and to whom he was incomparably devoted, wrote of the holocaust as possible divine retribution from Jewish abrogation of G-d’s covenant, on this matter and on this alone the Rebbe broke ranks. We could never understand why G-d would allow such suffering to be visited on his people, he said. Week after week, well into his eighties, he would thunder in front of thousands of his students. How long will Israeli soldiers die for simply protecting the Jewish people from further annihilation? When a bus carrying Israeli school children was hit by a train, killing 27, and the orthodox Israeli minister of the interior said they had died because of Israelis’ disrespect for the Sabbath, the Rebbe dismissed his chutzpah in adding insult to injury and raged against the heavens instead. There was no reason for these children to die. G-d had commanded through his prophet Moses to choose life. Why had He not chosen thus Himself?

And, my G-d, my G-d. If only our Muslim brothers and sisters did the same, ceasing the bowing of heads to fanatical Mullahs who pervert Islam in favor of their personal hatreds and insist that the faithful accept their exhortation to violence even as these foul teachings betray the humanity of a religion that took in Jewish refugees after the Spanish and Portuguese expulsions when the Jews were the most hated nation on earth.

The faithful have been obedient long enough. It is time for the emergence of the new defiant man of faith, steeped in the tradition of Jacob, refusing to allow the iron hoofs of evil to tread upon the vulnerable flesh of the innocent and the soft and trusting heart of the righteous.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has just published Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself (Wiley) and will shortly publish Kosher Jesus. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley

An enduring miracle


This coming Shabbat, together with Jewish communities around the world, we will celebrate the joyous festival of Chanukah. Most of us are quite familiar with the story of Chanukah and the miracle that our tradition recalls.

We learned as children that when the Maccabees rededicated our ancient Temple in Jerusalem, they found enough oil to light the menorah for only a single day. God’s miracle, we learned, was that the oil that should have lasted but one day lasted, rather, for eight days.

The rabbinic sages, explaining the ritual lighting of Chanukah, recounted in the Talmudic tractate of Shabbat the miracle noted above. We might wonder whether this miracle actually occurred. And, if it did not occur, we might question whether we should continue to observe the ritual lighting associated with this nonevent.

In order to understand the original and continued significance of the lighting of Chanukah’s flames, we might explore the manner in which we light the chanukiyah — Chanukah’s eight-branched menorah. We can thereby gain a deeper and enduring appreciation of the lighting, one that chronicles a miracle we live today as much as it commemorates a miracle of long ago.

The Talmud instructs us to observe Chanukah’s ritual lighting in accordance with the sage Hillel’s practice. We are to kindle one additional flame for each successive day of the holiday. On the first day, we kindle one flame; on the second, two flames; etc. According to the sage Shammai’s dissenting opinion, we ought eliminate one flame for each successive day of the holiday; on the first day, eight flames; on the second day, seven flames; etc.

At first glance, Shammai’s approach seems compelling: In recounting the miracle of the single jar of oil that lasted eight days, we should acknowledge that, despite our rational conclusion to the contrary, there was in actuality enough oil on the first day of Chanukah to last eight days, on the second day to last seven, and so on. In other words, Shammai suggested that the proper way to recount the miracle is to recall what once occurred from the perspective of one who knows how the story ends.

Still, the Talmud rules in accordance with Hillel. I believe Hillel’s view prevailed because it reflected a belief that the ritual lighting of Chanukah is more than commemorative; it exists very much in the present tense, experientially. Standing outside the miracle, remembering it historically as Shammai did, the focus is simply on how much oil remained each day. However, when we use the ritual to relive the miracle in our present, when we experience each day of it anew, we are not certain that our oil will last yet another moment. We cannot be sure that the lights we revisit from our ancient Jewish past, or even those we strive to preserve and nourish today, will endure. Will the Jewish flame of our era burn forth unto our children and our children’s children? Are we any less at risk of losing our light than the menorah in the Temple was so very long ago? Might it have been the case for the rabbis long ago that the “miracle” of Chanukah was a metaphor for our people’s unlikely but persistent survival and flourishing, against all odds? Is it possible that the miracle that we celebrate in our own era, when kindling our own flames of Chanukah, is the ever-constant miracle of our presence in this world, altogether, as Jews?

The flames of Chanukah, as Hillel had us kindle them by adding one more flame each day, express our enduring faith that our flame of today will grow ever stronger, in our own generation and beyond. The flames we kindle on Chanukah represent our commitment to the work we must do to enhance and clarify the light of our people and the beauty and depth of Jewish meaning and purpose. Ultimately, from within the annual and ongoing miracle of Chanukah, we might even come to recognize that we, ourselves, are the flames; we are the enduring miracle of Chanukah, if we make it so.

Rabbi Isaac Jeret is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid, a Conservative congregation in Rancho Palos Verdes. For more information, visit http://www.nertamid.com.

We felt so safe there


Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like mortality is in the air.

“We had a view, trees, a yard and neighbors,” retired school bus driver Linda Pogacnik, 63, told a Los Angeles Times reporter about her Sylmar home, crying uncontrollably. “We felt so safe there. It was a perfect place for an old retired woman.”

I’m sorry, but I don’t like thinking of 63 as old. I also don’t like thinking that “we felt so safe there” is as relevant to me as it is to a mobile home community destroyed by the Sayre fire. Does that mean I’m in denial?

A couple of days before the fires began, at 10 in the morning, you would have found me in my office on the floor beneath my desk, holding on to it for a surprisingly long three minutes during the regionwide drill meant to prepare us for a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Afterward, my colleagues and I spent a half hour calmly trying to understand what it would be like to sleep in parks for two weeks along with thousands of our neighbors, and to experience 10,000 aftershocks during the year that followed, and to live in a city without electricity or transportation or any of the other urban services we usually don’t think about depending on.

The evening of the day of the drill, I went to my book club. The book this month was “The Teammates,” by David Halberstam, the story of Red Sox veterans Dom DiMaggio, 84, and Johnny Pesky, 82, driving down from Massachusetts to visit their dying teammate, Ted Williams, for the last time. We book club members, men in our 50s and 60s, usually love a rousing conversation about the text at hand, but that night the conversation was about politics, food, the fine points of Yiddish curse words — anything but the Halberstam book. Afterward, on e-mail, we acknowledged the reason why: our discomfort at confronting our own forthcoming decrepitude and demise.

The week before, I had lunch with a college friend, a baby boomer like me, who’s been battling a chronic disease since its onset at age 30. Some years since then have been bad; others, more endurable. Right now, he’s doing OK.

I asked him how he had come to handle the fragility of his well-being and the uncertainty that his illness has plagued him with. His answer: “Everything is a percentage. You have an X percent chance of a recurrence over the next Y years. You have a Z percent chance of being alive from today until whenever. The percentages are never zero and never a hundred. And when they’re lopsided, you never know what side of them you’ll be on. It’s all about the odds.” He paused, had a sip of espresso, and went on. “It’s all about the odds for everyone, isn’t it? Being sick just makes you realize it more.”

A week later, while the wildfires raged, I went to Thousand Oaks to give a talk along with

Religion: The ‘first and worst’ explanation


Until about 1832, when it first seems to have become established as a noun and a concept, the term “scientist” had no really independent meaning.

“Science” meant “knowledge” in much the same way as “physic” meant medicine, and those who conducted experiments or organized field expeditions or managed laboratories were known as “natural philosophers.”

To these gentlemen (for they were mainly gentlemen) the belief in a divine presence or inspiration was often merely assumed to be a part of the natural order, in rather the same way as it was assumed — or actually insisted upon — that a teacher at Cambridge University swear an oath to be an ordained Christian minister.

For Sir Isaac Newton — an enthusiastic alchemist, a despiser of the doctrine of the Trinity and a fanatical anti-papist — the main clues to the cosmos were to be found in Scripture. Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, was a devout Unitarian, as well as a believer in the phlogiston theory. Alfred Russel Wallace, to whom we owe much of what we know about evolution and natural selection, delighted in nothing more than a session of ectoplasmic or spiritual communion with the departed.

And thus it could be argued — though if I were a believer in god I would not myself attempt to argue it — that a commitment to science by no means contradicts a belief in the supernatural. The best known statement of this opinion in our own time comes from the late Stephen Jay Gould, who tactfully proposed that the worlds of science and religion commanded “nonoverlapping magisteria.”

How true is this on a second look or even on a first glance? Would we have adopted monotheism in the first place if we had known:

That our species is at most 200,000 years old and very nearly joined the 98.9 percent of all other species on our planet by becoming extinct in Africa 60,000 years ago, when our numbers seemingly fell below 2,000 before we embarked on our true “exodus” from the savannah?

That the universe, originally discovered by Edwin Hubble to be expanding away from itself in a flash of red light, is now known to be expanding away from itself even more rapidly, so that soon even the evidence of the original “big bang” will be unobservable?

That the Andromeda galaxy is on a direct collision course with our own, the ominous but beautiful premonition of which can already be seen with a naked eye in the night sky?

These are very recent examples, post-Darwinian and post-Einsteinian, and they make pathetic nonsense of any idea that our presence on this planet, let alone in this of so many billion galaxies, is part of a plan.

Which design or designer made so sure that absolutely nothing (see above) will come out of our fragile current “something”? What plan or planner determined that millions of humans would die without even a grave marker, for our first 200,000 years of struggling and desperate existence, and that there would only then at last be a “revelation” to save us, about 3,000 years ago, but disclosed only to gaping peasants in remote and violent and illiterate areas of the Middle East?

To say that there is little “scientific” evidence for the last proposition is to invite a laugh. There is no evidence for it, period. And if by some strenuous and improbable revelation there was to be any evidence, it would only argue that the creator or designer of all things was either (a) very laborious, roundabout, tinkering and incompetent and/or (b) extremely capricious and callous and even cruel.

It will not do to say, in reply to this, that the lord moves in mysterious ways. Those who dare to claim to be his understudies and votaries and interpreters must either accept the cruelty and the chaos or disown it. They cannot pick and choose between the warmly benign and the frigidly indifferent. Nor can the religious claim to be in possession of secret sources of information that are denied to the rest of us. That claim was once the prerogative of the pope and the witch doctor, but now it’s gone.



Rabbi David Wolpe and Christopher Hitchens will debate religion and faith on Wednesday, Nov. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills as part of the Celebration of Jewish Books



This is as much as to say that reason and logic reject god, which (without being conclusive) would be a fairly close approach to a scientific rebuttal. It would also be quite near to saying something that lies just outside the scope of this essay, which is that morality shudders at the idea of god, as well.

Religion, remember, is theism, not deism. Faith cannot rest itself on the argument that there might or might not be a prime mover. Faith must believe in answered prayers, divinely ordained morality, heavenly warrant for circumcision, the occurrence of miracles or what you will. Physics and chemistry and biology and paleontology and archeology have, at a minimum, given us explanations for what used to be mysterious and furnished us with hypotheses that are at least as good as, or very much better than, the ones offered by any believers in other and inexplicable dimensions.

Does this mean that the inexplicable or superstitious has become “obsolete”? I myself would wish to say no, if only because I believe that the human capacity for wonder neither will nor should be destroyed or superseded. But the original problem with religion is that it is our first, and our worst, attempt at explanation. It is how we came up with answers before we had any evidence.

It belongs to the terrified childhood of our species, before we knew about germs or could account for earthquakes. It belongs to our childhood, too, in the less charming sense of demanding a tyrannical authority: a protective parent who demands compulsory love even as he exacts a tithe of fear.

This unalterable and eternal despot is the origin of totalitarianism and represents the first cringing human attempt to refer all difficult questions to the smoking and forbidding altar of a Big Brother. This, of course, is why one desires that science and humanism would make faith obsolete, even as one sadly realizes that as long as we remain insecure primates, we shall remain very fearful of breaking the chain.

Christopher Hitchens is the author of “God Is Not Great” and the editor of “The Portable Atheist.” This piece was commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation as part of an essay series that can be found at http://www.templeton.org/belief.

We were intended by God — we’re not afterthoughts


The magician succeeds by misdirection — look here and you will not notice everything that I am doing with my left hand.

Part of Christopher Hitchens’ magic in his essay is misdirection: He would have us ignore ourselves. How do human beings know? If we are, as scientific materialists tell us, nothing more than an accident of ancient chemistry, haphazardly evolved with no thought, no design, no intelligence behind the universe, then how do our minds draw correct conclusions about the origin of things? In Hitchens’ article he makes numerous assertions about the way the world began and will end and what God would or would not do, without wondering if it is wonderful that he can know this at all.

Minds evolved to survive on the savannah do not need to invent, much less master, nuclear physics. “I am awesomely, wonderfully made” sings the psalmist. The addition of evolutionary mechanisms to our stock of knowledge makes that declaration more potent, not less.

Evolution tells us that random mutations followed by adaptations to environment account for who we are. If we are adapted to fit an ecological niche, and our minds are as random and limited as our legs, ears and eyes, why can we understand truths about the world? Even more powerfully, where would free will enter this story? Products of heredity and environment do not get free will: No one picks his or her environment or his or her genes, so where do we get this glorious ability to choose?

It is possible that we are determined and all of our conclusions are limited or simple illusions. I cannot argue against the certainty that people are robots. But if you believe that what we know about the world has some relationship to truth, and that we are free agents, then you are driven to the conclusion that materialism may be too simple a conclusion. Perhaps God has something to do with this remarkable pageant.

The improbability of human existence can be seen from two different directions. Hitchens writes that given the ages Earth was without us, the close brush we had with extinction and the universe’s constant threat to wipe out life on our planet, we are clearly a wild card in the deck, products of happenstance.

There is another way to view the same set of facts: Given how long the Earth prepared for our appearance, however, (the midrash actually talks about how God set everything like a table for the guest of honor) and the unlikelihood of our being here and surviving, we could equally argue it is clear that we were intended. Once again, what Hitchens writes as conclusive — we were afterthoughts — can be seen in a very different light.



Rabbi David Wolpe and Christopher Hitchens will debate religion and faith on Wednesday, Nov. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills as part of the Celebration of Jewish Books



Physicist Robert Jastrow famously remarked, “At this moment, it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Faith is not a cowering born of fear, to be discarded when a vaccine proves more efficacious than a prayer. Two thousand years ago the rabbis taught us that faith from love is more powerful and lasting than faith from fear. They understood the uncertainty of reward and punishment in this world, teaching explicitly that there is no reward for mitzvot in this world (B.T. kidd. 39b).

There are religious people who are credulous and narrow. To set up these straw men is one way of disputing, but there are religious people who both contribute to and learn from the intellectual advances in the world. For we believe that God intends us to learn, to grow, to discover and to create. These things are not contradicted by a tradition that pictures God as a creator; rather creativity is one of the ways of imitateo Dei — becoming more like God in our conduct in this world.

Hitchens does not mention that people who are religious give more to charity, have more stable lives, are less addicted to drugs and alcohol and form more cohesive communities. None of this proves religion is true, of course. Things can be false and still good for us.

What it suggests, however, is that faith is far more complex than a simple ancient illusion. Only a narrow antagonism assumes religion can be replaced with the Hubble telescope.

Disdain is an ugly quality on either side of the debate. Humility and goodness are a prerequisite if one wants not merely to score points but to touch souls. Belief is not a static illusion to be knocked down at the introduction of a new scientific hypothesis or discovery. Faith is an orientation of soul, a posture toward God’s universe that finds expression in many religious traditions. God is not a magic dispenser of favors in the sky but a creator whose presence is a challenge to create goodness and a call to humility.

Those who value religious traditions should value thoughtful opposition, because it forces us to re-examine our own lives. In the end, however, I believe that questions honestly asked lead us back to the Source of all.

David Wolpe is senior rabbi of Sinai Temple.

Who shall live and who shall die: God’s iPhone, Rosh Hashanah 5769


ALTTEXT

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague,
Who by strangulation and who by stoning,
Who shall have rest and who shall wander,
Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,
Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,
Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,
Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.

But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.



From the cover story by Marty Kaplan

The U’Netaneh Tokef prayer—or piyyut—was the subject of last week’s Torah Slam. Read Danielle Berrin’s report, and watch the video here.



No healing the world here — Humanistic Jews are ‘building’ the world


Rabbi Greg Epstein, the young Humanist chaplain at Harvard University, maintains that the question “Do you believe in God?” is totally meaningless and that “tikkun olam,” to repair the world, is the wrong concept.

But he also affirms that religion will never disappear and that the “New Atheists” don’t have the answers to meeting human needs.

In his 31 years, Epstein seems to have done most everything, from being a singer and composer in a professional rock band to studying ancient Aramaic literature at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

During a lengthy phone conversation, he previewed some of the points he will raise when he speaks at Rosh Hashanah services at Adat Chaverim, the local Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, points that he analyzes more deeply in his forthcoming book, “Good Without God.”

Humanistic Jews do not believe in an omnipotent supernatural power, “but in this day and age, the term God can mean anything you want it to be,” he said.

“If you mean a bearded deity on a throne who worries about your personal lifestyle and issued 613 commandments, we reject that. But if your god stands for nature, or the universe, or love, that’s fine,” he added.

“The real point is that this is the only world we can ever know and that this life is the only chance we get to make a difference.”

Epstein also thinks that the oft-repeated injunction to repair the world misses the mark, because it assumes there once was a perfect world, which degenerated and must now be fixed.

“I prefer the phrase ‘bniyat olam,’ to build the world,” Epstein said. “Humanistic Judaism teaches that there never was a utopia, but this lack of perfection is no excuse for intellectual or spiritual laziness.

“We must build our relationship to our fellow humans and the world brick by brick, for we are responsible for one another and no one else will do the work.” He added facetiously, “The most pernicious rhyme in our language is ‘Humpty Dumpty,’ the idea that there was once a perfect white egg which shattered into a million pieces, and no one could put it together again.”

Many, but not all, Humanists are atheists or agnostics, but Epstein is no fan of such popular proponents of the “New Atheism” as writers Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens.

In an early story about these writers in Wired Magazine, the cover proclaimed “No heaven, no hell — just science.”

That distillation oversimplified a “painfully complex” question, Epstein said. “Science is the best tool for determining the truth about us, but that is not the same as doing something about it. It is not enough to just observe, we must engage in our community and do something.”

Epstein also distinguishes his philosophy from that of Jewish, mostly Yiddish-speaking, secularists of previous generations, who maintained that religion would ultimately disappear as mankind became increasingly rational.

“Religion is not primarily about faith in God; it is about community, identity, heritage and being of service to others,” he said. “We Humanists must also do more to meet these needs, rather than complain about what others believe.

“As a friend pointed out to me, when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his most famous speech, he did not say, ‘I have a list of complaints,’ but ‘I have a dream.'”

Questioned about the role of religion in the current presidential race, Epstein recalled that slamming the other candidate’s religion or piety has a long, dishonorable tradition in American politics.

In the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson challenged incumbent John Adams, the Federalist Alexander Hamilton, an Adams partisan, swiftboated Jefferson in the following advertisement.

“The Grand Question Stated: At the present solemn and momentous epoch, the only question to be asked by every American, laying his hand on his heart, is ‘Shall I continue in allegiance to GOD _ AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT; or impiously declare for Jefferson – and no god!!!”

Epstein was born in the Flushing section of Queens, N.Y., then a widely diverse, multiracial community, and he had his bar mitzvah in a local Reform synagogue.

“It seemed to me then that no one took the message of religion seriously, and everyone recited prayers just by rote,” he said. “So I soon started exploring everything except Judaism and visiting every place except Israel.”

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Epstein studied Buddhism in Taiwan and China, then joined the rock band Sugar Pill and recorded two albums. Like many of his contemporaries, Epstein said, “I wanted to express myself through art and music, rather than religion.”

At this point, Epstein discovered the pioneer Humanistic Judaism congregation established by Rabbi Sherwin Wine in suburban Detroit, and “I finally connected to my heritage, but also realized that I had a lifetime of learning ahead of me.”

The process began with five years of study in suburban Detroit and Jerusalem at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, followed by a master’s degree in Judaic studies at the University of Michigan, and another master’s degree in theology and comparative religion from the Harvard Divinity School.

Four years ago, he became a chaplain at Harvard, where he advises students in the Secular Society, Interfaith Council and the Harvard Humanist Graduate Community.

Epstein’s thoughts are frequently expressed in national publications and on radio networks, and he is one of a select group of invited panelists for the On Faith blog, started jointly by Newsweek and the Washington Post.

According to the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, there are 1.6 million American adults and children who define themselves as “just Jewish,” and who are either secular or without any denominational affiliation.

Epstein said that one out of five young American Jews between ages 18 and 25 fall into that category, and that globally 1.1 billion human souls do without formal religion.

If all secular and unaffiliated American Jews joined together, they would form the country’s second largest Jewish denomination, barely trailing Reform membership.

The problem for Epstein and other Humanist leaders is that the 1.6 million are not organized and are not joining the existing congregations/communities of the Society of Humanistic Judaism.

After more than 40 years on the North American scene, the movement claims only some 10,000 adherents and 30 congregations, according to national executive director M. Bonnie Cousens.

Only six of the congregations are led by ordained rabbis, the others by lay leaders or “madrichim.”

What accounts for the low figures, given the large pool of potential members?

There are no clear-cut answers, but Cousens and other national leaders speculate that secular Jews, having arrived at this state through personal doubts and mental wrestling, are just not prone to join any organization.

Another cause may be that there is still, at times, an onus attached to “coming out” as a secular or atheistic Jews, though reactions by more traditional Jews seem less shocked and outraged than in the past.

Rabbi Miriam Jerris, president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis, bemoaned the society’s lack of popular visibility, saying, “There are so many Jews out there just waiting to discover us.”

Epstein is more upbeat. Drawing on his four-year experience at Harvard, he said that in the beginning only four students regularly attended his meetings.

Now his meeting rooms are crowded and last year, when he organized an international conference on “The New Humanism,” some 1,100 people attended.

“We may be a small minority, but minority groups can have a profound impact on mass movements,” he said. “Even now, I believe, liberal mainstream congregations are speaking more to human needs than divine needs.”

To have a growing impact, Humanistic Jews “must sing and must build, and I mean that literally and metaphorically,” he said.

So Epstein is hopeful, but within reason. Quoting playwright Tony Kushner, Epstein said, “We are optimists, but we are not stupid optimists.”

Is our fate really sealed? Is change possible?


These are nervous-making times.

No, I’m not talking about the damage the capital campaign may do to you, or — at my temple, anyway — whether you’ll find a parking place for services, which is enough to make anyone want to reach for a Xanax.

What I mean is this protracted season of suspense we inhabit, this waiting for the other shoe to drop, this not knowing what comes next.

The uncertain outcome of the presidential election would by itself be enough to give anyone the jitters, no matter which way you want it to turn out. The economy, both national and global, seems to be lurching from one meltdown to another. Hotspots and tragedies on the international scene may have fallen off the radar screen of the ADD-afflicted news media, but anyone who continues to pay attention to the Middle East or Russia or Darfur, to name just three, has reason to be plenty anxious. Terrorists, loose nukes, avian flu, climate change, the lurking Big One: it’s a wonder anyone can get out of bed these days.

Yet even though the country has a bad case of shpilkes, and despite the nervousness that comes from uncertainty, both presidential candidates have hitched their campaigns to the bandwagon of change. From Barack Obama: “Change You Can Believe In,” “The Change We Need. “From John McCain: “The Change You Deserve,” “Change Is Coming.”

Clearly it’s a welcome message. Eight out of 10 Americans say the country is on the wrong track. All the polls say that the country wants change. Despite the upheaval and disorientation that change often brings with it, nearly all of us want a divorce from the present, a clean break, a fresh start.

But can one leader — whether Obama or McCain — really change us? How much can any one man, no matter how vigorously he exercises his powers, no matter how energetically he uses his bully pulpit, change us, let alone change Washington, or America, or the world?

The answer, of course, depends on how capable of change you believe anyone is, or can be.

I’m not asking whether the next president, whoever he is, will have an impact on our lives. For better and worse, presidents have changed the course of innumerable American lives, and their actions have remade the nation’s place in the world. The issue I’m trying to get at — and I’ll be the first to admit that the question may be unanswerable — is the human capacity for change, the malleability of our individual souls.

Some people maintain — and there is a long tradition that this conception arises from — that people really can’t change. People are inherently good, or they are inherently bad, or they are inherently programmed to be selfish or altruistic or whatever innate characteristics you believe are built into our species. In other words, human beings are limited and run by something called “human nature.”

Yes, there is variety within groups; yes, personal circumstances and social experiences also shape us along the way; yes, we do develop along several dimensions during the course of our lives. But all these variations occur — says this point of view — within the framework of our hardwiring, our genetic givens, our fundamental nature. When real change does occur in our species, it happens during a glacial time frame, not within individual lifetimes; it arises from random variation and natural selection, not from new leaders and new policies.

But the contrary view has just as long a history. It says that conscious human evolution is possible. It maintains that free will can move genetic mountains, that big ideas can change civilizations, that consciousness is not a prison, but a battlefield. Where the notion of human nature leads ultimately to a tragic sense of life, the concept of conscious evolution is ultimately utopian — the belief that there is something perfectible about society, and not over the course of eons, but within our own lifetimes.

José Ortega y Gasset put this way: “Man, in a word, has no nature; what he has is — history.” Yes, there may be local and temporal limitations on our freedom to act, but if someone tells you that you can’t change human nature, beware of power politics masquerading as evolutionary biology. Just about every progressive social movement — abolition, suffrage, civil rights, gay rights, feminism, environmentalism — starts from this premise. So does what Philip Rieff called “The Triumph of the Therapeutic”: the culture of self-help, the faith that each of us has the power to change our own life.

Which brings me back to the High Holy Days.

Within the calendar that constitutes the Jewish cathedral in time, no days are more saturated with the experience of human nature, and with experiments in human change, than the Days of Awe. This is when we are asked, paradoxically, both to steep in our powerlessness to escape our species’ fate, and yet also to try out behaviors that can rescue us from our destinies.

This is a good moment for me to confess that I have never been particularly comfortable with the grand narrative of the High Holy Days liturgy, the story of the Book of Life.