Israel’s ‘grande dame’ grows up on the big screen


There is a scene in Dina Zvi-Riklis’ award-winning drama, “Three Mothers,” in which Gila Almagor, once a popular singer, stages a comeback concert to raise money for her sister, Yasmin, who needs a kidney transplant. At the start of the concert, she introduces herself as one of three sisters. “Sixty years ago, my sisters and I were born in Alexandria, in Egypt. We’re triplets,” she says, with a coy smile. “Triplets are like twins, but a lot harder.”

In that moment, Almagor is Rose, a still-attractive, 60-year-old woman who has lived a remarkable life, full of mystery and adventure and an unusual bond with her sisters. It’s only when the movie ends that the viewer can detach from this vision of Almagor as Rose, a has-been cabaret singer who refuses to be daunted by what she and her sisters did to help one another.

For despite some similarities, Gila Almagor herself is anything but a has-been. This 67-year-old actress is at top of her game, working on several movies, the stage and two television series. She will be presented with a lifetime achievement award on Tuesday, March 6, at the Los Angeles Israel Film Festival, which runs March 7-22. But, perhaps, like Rose, Almagor is a woman who is able to focus on her own gifts while remaining dedicated to a force larger than herself. For Rose, that force is her sisters. For Almagor the actress, it is the world known as Israeli cinema.

“I started as a very young actress,” Almagor said in an interview. “When I was 18 or 19, I was already participating in Israeli films, and it was the beginning of the Israeli film industry. We’ve been working together ever since, and I feel more like a servant of Israeli cinema. I’m so happy that I’ve been here [from] the beginning and survived until now, when I see it flourishing.”

Almagor was a teenager when she first fell in love with the stage. She was living in a children’s home — her mother was mentally ill; she never met her father, a policeman in the British Army, because he was killed by an Arab sniper when her mother was five months pregnant with her. Her mother later remarried, but by time Almagor was 13, she was sent away to school. She wasn’t yet 17 when she moved to Tel Aviv, rented a room near the Habima Theater and took the entrance examinations for the drama school.

Her debut performance was on her 17th birthday, in the Thornton Wilder play, “The Skin of Our Teeth.” After working at both the Habima and Cameri theaters, Almagor studied acting in New York, returning in 1965 to Israel, where she has remained, performing in dozens of plays, movies and television shows.

“In acting and content and contribution as an actress, Gila is the most prolific actor in Israeli cinema; her contributions have been utterly fantastic,” says Katriel Shory, director of the Israel Film Fund. “You can’t think of Israeli cinema without Gila Almagor. You just can’t.”

For Almagor, the last year has been one of intense work, on stage and on small and large screens. Besides acting in “Three Mothers” and “Tied Hands,” both being screened at the festival, she also participated in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” and Assaf Bernstein’s “The Debt.” She has performed in several plays and in two television shows, “Our Song” and “Therapy” (HBO recently bought the rights to create their own version of “Therapy,” which will be called “In Treatment”).

Almagor loves to work, particularly when the different roles demand versatility as an actor. For Almagor, this is the essence of being an actor: the challenge to change physically and mentally for the look and feel of each character.

During her early years as a young actress, she says, she was “cast only as a pretty face, with empty roles, empty characters and I had to fight against the stigma. They dyed my hair blonde for three years. It was torture to be a good-looking young actress when I wanted to become a very versatile actress. I knew I could do comedy [and] drama. I did so many things to fight against the stigma and to make sure that I could become the actress that I dreamed of. ”

In “Tied Hands,” Almagor plays a mother caring for her dying son, attempting to make up for a lifetime of benign neglect. The movie revolves around one night when Almagor goes on a journey to find marijuana for her son and discovers different aspects of his very different world in her search. Critics have called Almagor’s performance masterful, as she balances the mother’s stern, proper exterior with the expressions of a woman who is confused and despairing over her son’s terminal illness.

To Almagor, the best part of last year’s work was the range of roles she played: tortured mother and sometimes selfish sister in “Three Mothers;” retired psychologist in the series “Therapy;” police investigator in the fourth season of “Our Song;” as well as her ongoing stage work in both “Abandoned Property” and the Israeli version of playwright Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.”

“Work is my open university,” Almagor says. “I learn by working on my characters or dealing with a period by doing research. But I try very carefully not to be affected by the roles I play – I know how to draw the line between my work and my life, otherwise I would have to be hospitalized.”

Then again, that has always been Almagor’s gift as an actress — her ability to physically and mentally morph into the look, sound and soul of the character that she is playing.

“For me, this is the essence of being an actress,” Almagor says. “It’s like being a comedian.”

What many people don’t know about Almagor, says the Film Fund’s Shory, is her commitment to the development of Israeli cinema, her dedication to the battles over what constitutes Israeli cinema.

Clues to family drama’s Jewish roots finally add up on ‘Numb3rs’


Add family drama plus FBI action, and the sum equals CBS’s hit drama, “Numb3rs.”The show, which just started its third season, is as much about fathers and sons as it is about using mathematics to solve crimes. Alan Eppes (Judd Hirsch) is the widowed patriarch to two disparate sons: son Don (Rob Morrow), an FBI agent, and Charlie (David Krumholtz), a math genius who works as a consultant for Don. The subtext is that Charlie the prodigy, is the favored son, while Don feels abandoned and bitter and yearns to connect with his father. The Oct. 6 episode deepens this dynamic while “outing” the family as Jewish.
 
This time, the brothers investigate a piece of Nazi-looted art that may belong to a Holocaust survivor who lost her family in the camps. Don is deeply moved by her story and by his father’s revelation that a cousin of theirs also lost all her relatives in the Shoah. The agent tells his father he would like to investigate what happened to them — an unusually emotional statement for a character who tends to repress his feelings.
 
“This episode gives us a glimpse into Don’s soul,” Morrow told The Journal. “Don feels a yearning to connect to his heritage, which reflects his longing for his father and for connections in life.”
 
At a time when crime dramas abound on prime time (think “C.S.I.,” “Law & Order” and their various spinoffs), “Numb3rs” stands out for its focus on family and “unexpected shades of character,” according to Newsweek.
 
Yet one aspect of the characters has been neglected, at least until tonight’s show — their obvious Jewishness. After all, these actors are well known for playing members of the tribe: Hirsch, 71, was cabbie Alex Rieger on “Taxi”; Morrow, 44, played Dr. Joel Fleischman on “Northern Exposure,” and Krumholtz, 28, portrayed numerous “neurotic shlubs,” in his own words, before landing the “Numb3rs” gig.
 
“When they cast the show, an executive said the poster was going to show the three of us emerging from shul triumphant,” Morrow says with a laugh.
 
Even the series’ creators, Cheryl Heuton and Nick Falacci, say they had envisioned the Eppes as Jewish since casting the show in 2004. (The first hire was Krumholtz, partly for his uncanny ability to make math sound cool, even though the actor had flunked algebra twice.) The producers say they were waiting for the right story to “out” the characters, and they found it in the headlines about Nazi-looted art. They feel the onscreen family chemistry works, in part, because the actors share culturally Jewish New York roots. A subtler dynamic helps the performers create the favorite son/black sheep son nuances on the show.
 
Neither Hirsch nor Krumholtz have previously worked with Morrow (although they enjoy doing so now), but they share a rich performance history together. Krumholtz got his big break playing Hirsch’s son in “Conversations With My Father” on Broadway 15 years ago.
 
Krumholtz was 13 at the time and had no previous acting experience, nor had he ever been to the theater. He auditioned on a lark — “something to do on a Saturday afternoon” — and landed the role, in some measure, because of his resemblance to Hirsch.
 
“I was frightened for David,” the older actor recalls. “His first production was going to be this extremely violent, emotional play, and he was going to be an ‘object’ in it.”
 
Hirsch’s character, a volatile Jewish immigrant, chokes, grabs and smacks his son, and also chases him around the stage with a strap. Hirsch worried the production might overwhelm the ebullient, novice performer.
 
Hirsch’s solution, Krumholtz recalls, was a form of theatrical “tough love.”
 
“Teasingly, he pointed out every little thing I did wrong,” the younger actor says. “I was extremely unprofessional; I had an opinion about everything, and every time I was loud or said something when I was supposed to be quiet, or missed a line, he was right there with a big ‘shut up’ or ‘That’s you, kid,’ or ‘get with the program.’ It was rough, but I knew he was doing it because he believed in me. By the end of the show I had learned about professionalism, and I loved Judd with all my heart. I now call him my ‘acting father,’ because I feel I owe him my career.”
 
When Krumholtz eventually left “Conversations” to pursue movies, he cried so effusively that Hirsch sat him on his lap to comfort him.
 
The father-son dynamic is still apparent as the two sit side by side over lunch in a studio cafeteria. The boyish Krumholtz avidly listens as Hirsch tells long stories, with relish, about thwarting anti-Semitism in the Army and how his own father chased him around the house with a strap. Both recount growing up in working-class homes (Krumholtz’s “Conversations” salary paid for his bar mitzvah reception) and describe Morrow as “more of a Westchester County [a.k.a. wealthy] Jew.”
 
In a phone interview, Morrow laughs ironically when told of the “Westchester” remark.
 
“I was as working class as they were,” he says, sounding a bit like his misunderstood “Numb3rs” character. Actually, he grew up comfortably middle class in White Plains, N.Y., until his parents divorced when he was 9, and his father, an industrial lighting manufacturer, moved to Manhattan and later to Florida. Morrow stayed behind with his sister and his mother, who went to work as a dental hygienist to support the family.
 
“Suddenly money was a real issue, but my mother was determined to keep up appearances, so we moved to Scarsdale and we were living on the fringes of this wealthy enclave,” he recalls.
 
Like the fictional Don, he says he felt somewhat abandoned by his father (“suffice it to say I spent a lot of years in therapy”), and he has channeled those feelings into his “Numb3rs” character.

Channel Surf With the Tribe


Welcome to fall: The time of High Holidays, contemplation, repentance and really, really long services.

And did I mention TV?

OK, we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure your calendar is marked with things like “bake brisket, 350 F for five hours” and “bring challah to Goldbergs for break the fast” and “climb neighbor’s palm for sukkah fronds.”

But just maybe you’re also tuned in to another new year. And you’ve also scribbled in: “Watch new ‘Will and Grace'” and “TiVo ‘Alias.'”

With so many returning and premiering shows, it’s hard to know what will make you want to celebrate or just repent the time wasted. Here’s the lowdown on what some of the Jew crew is up to: the shows, the times and, the nu, why you should care. Look fast — some of these won’t be around come Passover.

ABC

“Desperate Housewives”
Sundays, 9 p.m.

Joely Fisher joins the cast this season as Nina, Lynette’s (Felicity Huffman) boss, who is said to be the new “witch with a B” in town. But come on, do you really need a reason to watch this guilty pleasure?

“Commander-in-Chief”
Tuesdays, 9 p.m.

Creator Rod Lurie brings a new look to the White House with a female president (Geena Davis) who takes over when the current prez dies in office. The buzz on this political drama could keep the show in office for a long time.

“Boston Legal”
Tuesdays, 10 p.m.

After this David E. Kelley show was held to make room for “Grey’s Anatomy,” the cast is ready to go — which means less repeats and more hijinx from Denny Crane (William Shatner) in and out of the courtroom.

“Alias”
Thursdays, 8 p.m.
Dead or alive, bad or good, Michael Vartan’s Vaughn is still hot. But is he a hot double agent? And is that bad or what?

“Hot Properties”
Fridays, 9:30 p.m.

“Sex and the City” meets the world of real estate in more ways than one. Evan Handler (Charlotte’s hubby Harry Goldenblatt on the HBO series) plays the psychiatrist next door.

CBS

“How I Met Your Mother”
Mondays, 8:30 p.m.

Five hip 20-somethings on CBS. And they said it couldn’t happen. In this “flashback” show, cutie patootie Jason Segel plays Marshall, whose engagement prompts his friend, Ted (voiced as an adult in 2030 by Bob Saget), to jump on the get-married bandwagon. The sitcom tells us how it went.

“Out of Practice”
Mondays, 9:30 p.m.

What if the Fonz was married to Rizzo and both became doctors. Besides forming the greatest match in pop culture, you’d have a new sitcom starring Henry Winkler as a Dr. Dad with three Dr. Kids and a Dr. Ex-Wife. (Winkler is also putting in an appearance on NBC’s “Crossing Jordan,” Sundays, 10 p.m.)

“The King of Queens”
Mondays, 8 p.m.

How will Arthur (Jerry Stiller) react when his daughter starts taking a pole-dancing class? Probably not so good. But will his displeasure be related to her skill at pole dancing or something else?

“Still Standing”
Wednesdays, 8 p.m.

This season Jami Gertz’s Judy has to deal with a son who just lost his virginity to an Italian con artist. Then there’s the neighbor who has a “Field of Dreams” complex — he builds a whiffle ball field next door. If he builds it, they will whiff?

“Criminal Minds”
Wednesdays, 9 p.m

Special agent Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) heads the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, after coming back from a sabbatical for post-traumatic stress. Yes it is another crime drama, but anything with Indigo Montoya is worth watching.

“Numb3rs”
Fridays, 10 p.m.

Dad Alan (Judd Hirsch) watches as brotherly love turns to sibling rivalry between FBI agent Don (Rob Morrow) and his numbers-loving brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz). Oh, and the two investigate a possible terrorist attack on the L.A. subways. Hmm. Wonder where they got that idea?

FOX

“The War at Home”
Sundays, 8:30 p.m.

Michael Rapaport plays a politically incorrect father of three in this sitcom. Think Bunker meets Bundy, minus some much-needed laughs.

“The Simpsons”
Sundays, 8 p.m.

Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner), Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria), principal Seymour Skinner (Harry Shearer) and the rest of the Springfield gang are back for a 17th season of spoof, satire and, of course, a new “Treehouse of Horror” special.

“Family Guy”
Sundays, 9:30 p.m.

The Griffins, including Lois (Alex Boorstin), Chris (Seth Green) and Meg (Mila Kunis), are up against “Desperate Housewives,” but don’t think that means the folks behind this clever animated show are worried — they’ve got Phyllis Diller.

“Arrested Development”
Mondays, 8 p.m.

Jew-by-choice (sort of) George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is under house arrest in the third season (and his wife decides to do some dating). So plan on some interesting scenes as he attempts to circumcise — er, make that circumvent — the situation.

“That ‘70s Show”
Wedensdays, 8 p.m.

Josh Meyers joins the cast in what is likely its last season — otherwise it would have to become “That Early ‘80s Show.” Look for Jackie (Mila Kunis) to have a run-in with Mary Tyler Moore (who plays a perky news anchor) while Donna (Laura Prepon) tests her love for the missing Eric, who heads to Africa.

“Stacked”
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.

This season the bookstore-themed show focuses less on plot and more on character, so look for less Pamela Anderson chest jokes (Get it? Stacked?) and more background on Marissa Jarret Winokur’s Katrina and Elon Gold’s Gavin. Yeah, right.

“The O.C.”
Thursdays, 8 p.m.

So much drama, so little time. Creator Josh Schwartz says tragedy will mix in with the romance and fun this season — but let’s hope Linda Lavin’s Nana is back for some more guilt, too.

NBC

“Las Vegas”
Mondays, 9 p.m.

After the Montecito imploded last season everything changed for surveillance chief Ed Deline (James Caan). He now has to worry about the “extreme makeover,” missing staff, a new boss and Vegas tourists who attempt to find this fictional casino, which is actually located in Culver City.

“Medium”
Mondays, 10 p.m.

Emmy-winner Patricia Arquette is back as a secret psychic who catches serial killers — say that five times fast — in this spooky sci-fi drama.

“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”
Tuesdays, 10 p.m

The Dick Wolf franchise, which never gets tired of spin-offs, begins season seven with a bang — literally. It’s rumored that one of the detectives will get shot. (Hope it isn’t Richard Belzer’s detective John Munch, whose wry observations offset some of the squad room drama.)

“Will and Grace”
Thursdays, 8:30 p.m.

Creators say after the live season premiere, the quartet — plus Karen’s maid Rosario (Shelley Morrison) — get back to their roots as this sitcom gets ready to say “Shalom.” Grace’s (Debra Messing) ex-husband, Dr. Leo, returns for four episodes and she still has that little problem of having kissed her very married ex-boyfriend.

“The Apprentice”
Thursdays, 9 p.m.

The Donald is back for more fired-up fun, but keep an eye out for 22-year-old Adam, a risk manager from Atlanta, whose family is from Israel and said his background had a “tremendous influence on his values.” Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

“The Poseidon Adventure”
Sunday, Nov. 20, 8 p.m.

This remake of the 1970s Irwin Allen disaster flick version is missing the huge wave, Maureen McGovern’s “Morning After” and Shelley Winters. Instead, we get Steven Guttenberg and terrorists. Welcome to the new millennium.

The WB
“What I Like About You”
Fridays, 8 p.m.

Holly (Amanda Bynes) follows the love of her life on a cross-country trip. The problem is that he’s taking it with another girl. Also watch this season for a mini-90210 reunion.

“Living With Fran”
Fridays, 9:30 p.m.

Fran (Fran Drescher) finally introduces her non-Jewish younger boyfriend to the rest of the mishpacha at a family bar mitzvah. Meanwhile son Josh (Ben Feldman) hits a quarter-life crisis.

F/X
“Nip/Tuck”
Tuesdays, 10 p.m.

Rumor is Joan Rivers is back for more nipping and tucking. And just in the nick (and tuck) of time.

HBO

“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Sundays, 10 p.m.

Is Larry (Larry David) adopted? His father (Shelley Berman) seems to think so. But would either set of parents want to claim him. Plus, watch for Larry to have a religious experience beyond having “Hava Negilah” as his cell phone ringtone.

 

Young Creator Spells Success ‘O.C.’


Josh Schwartz has been having trouble sleeping.

Ever since his new show, "The O.C.," began airing on FOX this summer, he’s faced insomnia Tuesday nights, anxiously awaiting the public’s response to each new episode. He got a brief reprieve in late September and October when the show went on hiatus for Major League Baseball playoffs and the World Series, but as of Oct. 29, "The O.C." is back, and restlessness now comes Wednesdays.

Over coffee one morning in September, Schwartz, the 27-year-old who’s being touted as the youngest person ever to create his own television network drama, discussed his recent starburst. The biggest change in his life?

"I got a job," he said, looking disheveled by design in vintage green T-shirt, powder blue cords and sneakers. "It’s just being immersed in something seven days a week, 16 hours a day and just having that be this all-consuming event. But it’s great."

There’s no sign of that changing, either. Fox has picked up a full season of his teen drama — "it’s not a soap" — about a tony Newport Beach gated community. While at press time the numbers were unavailable, if the extensive promotional campaign is any indication, the show seems likely to resume its summer spot as the highest-rated drama with teens, as well as pulling in the key coveted demographic of 18-49-year-olds.

"The O.C." is centered on the Cohen family and Ryan, the troubled teen from Chino they adopt (Benjamin McKenzie). Schwartz has infused a little bit of Jewish soul into the predominantly white-bread "O.C.," with Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), a liberal Jewish pro-bono lawyer, and his son, Seth, a nerdy and sarcastic high school senior (played by the unlikeliest of geeks, Adam Brody). Kirsten Cohen (Kelly Rowan) is the WASPy mom who has garnered them entree into this exclusive world — she has the money from working in her father’s real estate development business. And of course, there’s Marissa (Mischa Barton), the Neutrogena girl next door.

So far, hints at the characters’ Jewishness have been limited to throwaway lines. Explaining why he can’t get along with Kirsten’s über-WASP dad when he comes to visit, Sandy says, "I’m still Jewish." In two others, Seth makes reference to studying the Talmud and to his Jewfro, and Schwartz has promised a season finale involving "Chrismakah," wherein Ryan has to make the little money he has to purchase one gift last for eight.

Explaining this choice, Schwartz said, "For Sandy it just felt like one more thing to add…. But it felt like it was a natural thing for his character, coming from his background and how it would make him sort of feel a little bit even more out of place in Newport, and for Seth, as well."

Much of the basis for "The O.C." is autobiographical, Schwartz told The Journal. Raised Reform in Providence, R.I. to parents who were Jewish toy inventors, Schwartz says he based his characters on people he knew in Providence or at USC, where he majored in film. Of all the "O.C." characters, he said Seth Cohen’s take on the world is closest to his own: "Sort of a smart -ass, but with an underlying sweetness."

"I remember when I was a kid I was always looking for someone like that, that was cool, to kind of get behind, and hopefully Seth Cohen will be that to inspire more kids to be proud of their background," Schwartz said. "But it’s not gonna be a Star of David burning on the Cohens’ front lawn or anything inflammatory like that. I think we just want to sort of weave it into the background of these characters and have it be part of their personal culture."

Brody, for one, is pleased with this decision. As a secular Jewish actor playing a Jewish character, he said, "I like the way Josh does it. It’s self-deprecating. I never want to be on ‘Seventh Heaven,’" he said, referring to the moralizing WB show about a reverend’s family.

Unlike Sandy and Seth, it’s doubtful whether being Jewish in Orange County makes real O.C. Jews feel like outsiders.

"I think if Jews feel isolated, they isolate themselves," said Elsa Goldberg, 39, of Laguna Beach. She said there were many Jewish organizations available to people looking to meet fellow Jews.

She finds other aspects of the show off the mark as well, a sentiment expressed by quite a few who live in O.C. One thing she thinks Schwartz got half right: "I think that there’s probably a lot of intermarriage out here," she said, "but Jews always seem to find each other."

Schwartz isn’t reading all of the criticism, but he admitted to perusing the message boards online. Despite the aforementioned insomnia, it’s clear he’s not taking any of it too seriously.

"I find if anybody starts to rag on a certain element of the show then I have to go in and make fun of it in the next episode," he said. "But it’s interesting … as soon as the show airs, five minutes later you can go online and see what people thought about the show and that’s really exciting. Then sweat over it next week."

"The O.C." airs Wednesday nights on FOX at 9 p.m. n

Lung Donor Needed to Save Young Life


On a cool November evening, the Avrech family — Robert, Karen, and Ariel — sit within the cozy confines of their Pico-Robertson home, where an Emmy Award that Robert won for his 1999 Holocaust-themed drama, “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” graces the mantle.

But this is not your typical family scene. Ariel, Robert and Karen’s 21-year-old son, breathes with the assistance of an oxygen tank.

“There are good days and there are bad days,” Ariel said of his lung condition, which, while stabilized via steroids, produces emotional and physical highs and lows.

Unfortunately, this is not Ariel’s first brush with a life-threatening disease. At 14, he endured massive chemotherapy to eradicate a brain tumor. The procedure worked. However, this past spring, the Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles graduate was walking up a hill at Baltimore’s Ner Yisroel campus, where he was continuing his education, when he experienced difficulty breathing.

“At first, I didn’t think anything was wrong,” Ariel said.

In May, doctors diagnosed his condition; the chemotherapy that conquered his cancer left him with severe pulmonary fibrosis.

Now Ariel is in dire need of a living lobar lung transplant. With his family disqualified as suitable donors, a worldwide search for two willing, healthy males is underway.

“We’re reaching out to all communities, not just the Jewish communities,” said Rabbi Heshey Ten, director of Jewish Healthcare Foundation Avraham Moshe & Yehudis Bikur Cholim, which is facilitating the search. “We need to find two people to donate one of their five lobes to Ariel. The best intervention would be a living lobe transplant or a cadaveric transplant” (the latter option, for which Ariel is on a national donor list, is not being handled through Bikur Cholim).

According to the Lung Transplant Program at USC, lobar lung transplantation is an alternative for those patients who are too critically ill to survive the waiting list for cadaveric donors.

“I have a rabbi at YULA [Yeshiva University of Los Angeles] who has a list of people he would like to be cadaveric candidates,” joked Robert, screenwriter of “A Stranger Among Us.”

Humor is only one way that the Avrech family — including Ariel’s sisters, Leda, 17, and Aliza, 14 — is coping. The Avrechs have also relied on faith, one another and community to get through these trying years. As members of the Young Israel of Century City, they have received much support from the Orthodox community.

“Ariel has made a lot of personal connections,” said Karen, a school psychologist. “In his quiet way, he has a magnetism that attracts many people.”

Both Robert and Karen, who have known each other since the third grade, hail from the same Orthodox community in Bensonhurst, N.Y., a neighborhood in Brooklyn, where Karen’s father was a rabbi. Karen has great admiration for her son’s fortitude. During the seventh grade, Ariel grew bored with his school and wanted to attend Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles

“That determination is getting him through his illness,” Karen said. “He’s very hard on himself but doesn’t wallow in self-pity.” Ariel says that Torah study is crucial to his positive mental state. While on sick leave from the yeshivah, he learns with a study partner.

“When I go for a day without it, I feel like I’m not living a real life,” Ariel said. “It’s very frustrating when I’m sick and can’t study as much.”

Although 47 candidates have been tested to become Ariel’s living lobar donor, none have been suitable matches. Yet Robert and Karen remain hopeful that a match will come forward. “Many people think if they’re Jewish, they’re not allowed to donate organs, but that’s not true,” Karen said.

According to the Halachic Organ Donor Society (www.hods.org), organ donation has been a controversial topic in the Jewish community because, on the surface, the medical practice contradicts certain biblical commandments concerning the handling of a cadaver. For example, the precept of “nivul hamet” forbids the needless mutilation of a cadaver. But rabbis across all denominations have, over time, come to agree that pikuach nefesh (“saving a life”) supersedes the observance of such corporeal biblical prohibitions.

Ariel offered a message to prospective living lobar donors:

“Anyone who does this will become a partner with me, a partner in my life,” he said. “I’m going to accomplish a lot and he’ll have a portion of those good things. It’s an opportunity for him as well.

“My parents love me, God loves me, and I have the strength to make it happen,” he added. “All these things, I have no doubt that they will come together.”



For information on how to help, contact Jewish Healthcare Foundation Avraham Moshe & Yehudis Bikur Cholim at (323) 852-1900 or visit www.bikurcholimonline.org/ariel.htm .

7 Days In Arts


Saturday, Dec. 8

When you have to take medicine and immediately think
about adding “A Spoonful of Sugar,” you can thank Robert and Richard Sherman,
better known as the Sherman Brothers. The two were responsible for creating the
songs from some of the most beloved movies of all time, including “Mary
Poppins,” “Winnie the Pooh” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” Now, remember their
Academy Award-winning music all over again as the University of Judaism presents
“A Spoonful of Sherman Brothers.” $30-$35. Tonight at 8:30 p.m. Sun., Dec. 9 at
2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Tues., Dec. 11 at 8 p.m. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel
Air. For tickets or more information, call (310) 476-9777 ext. 201.

Sunday, Dec. 9

Take some rides and games, stir in some kosher food,
add a very large menorah and you get Chanukah Wonderland. Hosted by Chabad of
the Conejo, the all-day fair will have something for every member of the family,
including a band, petting zoo, juggling acts and a tour of a Macabbee Village.
The event, which will pay tribute to the heroes and victims of Sept. 11, will
end with a lighting of the grand menorah. 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Conejo Creek Park
next to the Thousand Oaks library. For more information, call (818) 991-0991.

Monday, Dec. 10

It seems that families are always funniest to the
people who aren’t in them. Tonight, everyone can enjoy the antics of someone
else’s family as Kehillat Israel presents the second part of its Comedy on
Camera series. This evening, “Jewish Home Movies,” looks at the way the Jewish
family is portrayed on film. Experience the healing power of laughter at this
celebration of Jewish heritage hosted by Kehillat Israel Follies writer Bob
Schibel. 7:30 p.m. 16019 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. For reservations or
more information, call (310) 459-2328.

Tuesday, Dec. 11

Traitor or betrayed? The debate arises whenever
Jonathan Pollard’s name is mentioned. After 17 years it is still a case with
more questions than answers. Mark Shaw, the author of “Miscarriage of Justice:
The Jonathan Pollard Story,” will discuss what he learned about the U.S.
government’s role in keeping Pollard behind bars for the rest of his life.
Pollard’s father, Dr. Morris Pollard, will be on hand to speak on behalf of his
son, who was found guilty of spying for Israel. The Museum of Tolerance. 7 p.m.
9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For reservations or more information, call
(310) 772-2528.

Wednesday, Dec. 12

What lengths would you have gone to in order to survive
the Holocaust? For Edith Hahn Beer, survival meant giving up her Jewish identity
to become “The Nazi Officer’s Wife.” In this memoir, award-winning author Susan
Dworkin tells the riveting tale of the intelligent lawyer who lived a life of
fear and survived. She’ll discuss this book as well as her opinions on
maintaining a thriving Jewish culture in America at “A Conversation With Susan
Dworkin,” presented by the University of Judaism. 7:30 p.m. 15600 Mulholland
Drive, Bel Air. Call (310) 476-9777 to register.

Thursday, Dec. 13

Artist Marta Golab revives the 19th and early 20th
century folk art tradition of papercutting in “Contemporary Polish Papercuts by
Marta Golab,” on display at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Ruby Gallery. Golab
puts a new spin on this old tradition with new interpretations of quotations
from Psalms, blessings, menorahs and scenes of Jerusalem. Gallery hours:
Tues.-Sat., noon-5 p.m., Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Opening lecture: Tues., Dec. 11,
10 a.m. Through March 17, 2002. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more
information, call (310) 440-4500.

Friday, Dec. 14

Turmoil wrought from greed, jealousy and adultery
engulfs the royal family’s home in 1183 England. In L.A. Theatre Works’ radio
theater production of “The Lion in Winter,” starring Alfred Molina, a bitter
dispute ensues as the two sons of King Henry II vie for the throne. The
comedy/drama, directed by Rosalind Ayres, will be recorded before a live
audience for public and satellite radio broadcast. $36-$40 (general admission);
$10 (student rush); $20 (public rush). Wed., Dec. 12, 8 p.m. Thurs., Dec. 13, 8
p.m., Fri., Dec. 14, 8 p.m. and Sun., Dec. 16, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Skirball
Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information,
call (310) 827-0889.

Dear Deborah




Roller-Coaster Life

Dear Deborah,

I have had a strange, traumatic, roller-coaster life, but I havefinally settled down with a truly wonderful man. The problem I haveis that I cannot understand why I feel so empty and have no sexualdesire whatsoever for my prince.

When I was small, my mother was subject to horrible mood swings(my grandmother thinks it was because of the constant diet pills) andmy father, a “businessman” (gambler) of questionable morals, draggedus around from city to city to keep ahead of loan sharks, year afteryear. My mother died when I was in my early 20s, and I have losttrack of my father.

My 20s were spent running from one destructive relationship to thenext, job to job, city to city — basically, it was more of the same.

I thank God every day for my husband of four years. He is stable,financially responsible, honest, handsome and adores me. And, yet, Ifeel like a caged tiger and fantasize about running away or having anaffair. Why? What can I do?

N.W.

Dear N.W.,

My dear woman, you wouldn’t recognize how to be in a stablerelationship if it left teeth marks on your tush. Your problem seemsto be an addiction to adrenaline. Unless life feels familiar — inother words, fraught with danger of any sort — you don’t know whatto do with yourself.

This predicament is not easy to solve. It may involve learning howto have some legal thrills in your life (every try hang gliding?) orin your marriage (ever try sex while hang gliding?). Or start talkingtachlis (bottom line) with your husband about how you feel,and see what you can come up with together. And if you get stuck, trycounseling.

The one immutable fact about all this is that unless you choose toteach your brain mastery over your adrenal glands, your life will endup looking a lot like those of your parents. Good luck.

Man and His Doll

Dear Deborah,

My adult son, a never-married, successful 46-year-old attorney,has brought upon us this family’s worst nightmare: She is blue-eyed,blond, half his age, and has two small children and an ex-husband whodoesn’t pay a penny of child support. She is uneducated, a totallydim bulb and, most importantly, not Jewish — although she says thatshe is willing to convert. They became engaged after a shortcourtship.

What can we do to convince him of this huge mistake? Why would anintelligent, educated man choose such a bimbo and suchresponsibilities?

Grieving Mother

Dear Mother,

Why would a man choose a woman whose IQ is about room temperature?Well, perhaps her beauty seems to him an even exchange. Or who knows?Perhaps her IQ is a relief to him, a soothing, gentle breeze after aday of brain torture. Then again, there have always been men whoprefer to flaunt a trophy wife above all else.

Look, you’re probably never going to know why he chose her unlessthis mystery reveals itself over time. Who knows, with a little luck,maybe you’ll find a mensch beneath the peroxide and learn toaccept his choice.

Do not, however, under any circumstance, think that you can showhim the error of his ways. You may use your Mom license once, andonce only, to let him know that you are concerned about his choice.If he asks why, tread ever so carefully on these egg shells. “She isyoung, and then there are the children, and will the conversion bereal, or will there be an Easter egg hunt the third day of Passover?”But do not even consider touching the IQ business, as you will proveyour own to have fallen off a few points.

Your son is a man making his own life, choices and mistakes. Asdifficult as it is to stand back and quietly watch this story unfold,remember: The “bimbo” you scorn today could be the mother of yourgrandchildren who will scorn you tomorrow.

United We Stand

Dear Deborah,

My fiancé and I have decided to have a Sunday-afternoonwedding, a small reception and then a formal dinner. Partly due toexpenses and partly due to personal preference, we have decided tonot include children at the dinner.

We want a quiet, elegant affair. The children will be welcomed atthe reception. For dinner, we have arranged for qualifiedbaby-sitting, games, videos and pizza up in a suite at the hotelwhere the wedding will be.

The family is in an uproar over this. One sister-in-law hasthreatened not to come. When I asked why, she said that she feltuncomfortable handing her children over to a stranger. I encouragedher to meet and spend time with the baby sitter the night before sothat the children could get to know the sitter, but she still wasunwilling. A cousin already declined because she disagreed, inprinciple, with our no-children decision and fears that her daughterwill feel hurt. She thinks that it is not a proper simchawithout dozens of children in attendance. The whole family seems tobe ganging up on us. Should we cave in to the pressure?

Nuptial Nightmare

Dear N.N.,

Choice A: Give up the “quiet, elegant” wedding dinner of yourchoosing and replace it with a shrieking, pint-sized progeny party.Then be prepared to continue giving in to these rude, disrespectfullouts the rest of your marriage.

Choice B: Stand united in your choice to have the wedding youwant. Some of the less mature adults will not attend, will hold itagainst you awhile or, in an act of unbridled passive aggression,will do something as spectacular as spilling red wine on the bridalgown. So big deal. A pox on their minivans.

On the other hand, they may get over it and learn to respect yourchoices now and always. Good luck.


Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.

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All letters to Dear Deborah require a name, address andtelephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course,be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names areused in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses can be given only inthe newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss, 1800 S.Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You can also sendE-mail: deborahb@primenet.com