The Age of Feelings

In the Pacific Coast waters off the Northern California city of Eureka on Nov. 10, a mother, a father and their teenage son all died.

It was not a boating accident or a shark attack. 

They died because at least one of them tried to save the family dog, which had been carried out to sea by 10-foot waves. The 16-year-old son ran into the water. When the father could no longer see the son, he ran into the water to save the teen. Meanwhile, the son had gone back to shore. But when he and his mom could no longer see the father, they both tried to save him.

All three drowned.

The dog swam back to the shore.

I relate this terrible tragedy because it illuminates a major issue that we all — especially parents raising young children — need to address.

It is the role of feelings in determining our actions.

Why did this teenager — as have so many others, young and old — risk his life to save his dog? Because he acted on feelings, not on reason or values.

We live in the Age of Feelings. People make big decisions in their own lives, and in the life of the nation, based on feelings.

The heart has supplanted reason and values. Some years ago, I interviewed a Swedish doctoral student about her thoughts on life. 

I asked her if she believed in God? No.

I asked her if she believed in any religion? No, again.

So, then, I asked, how do you determine right and wrong? 

Her heart tells her, she responded.

One of the first things I learned in yeshiva as a child was not to allow feelings to determine how I acted. This realization took place in fourth grade, when my rabbi announced, “Boys, it’s time to daven mincha” (to say the afternoon prayers).

I walked over to Rabbi Fostag and respectfully told him that “I wasn’t in the mood to daven mincha.”

He studied the comment thoughtfully, rubbing his beard. He had probably never heard the words “mood” and “daven” (or any other mitzvah, for that matter) put together. 

Finally, he looked up and said, “Shmuel Prager is not in the mood to daven mincha? So what?”

I learned one of the greatest moral lessons that day — that good can rarely, if ever, depend on the heart. Indeed the Tanakh is filled with warnings against being guided by the heart (and the eyes).

That family might be alive today if someone had told that teenage boy never to risk his life to save his dog. 

Someone, ideally his parents, needed to tell him the following:

“All of us in the family love Teddy [a name I’m giving the dog]. But you must understand that you are infinitely more precious to Mom and Dad than is Teddy. As sad as Teddy’s death will one day be, we can always get another dog. But we can never replace you or your sister [a sister is now the family’s sole surviving member]. More than that, human life is infinitely more precious than animal life. We, not animals, are created in God’s image. So, you need to promise us that if there is any risk in saving Teddy’s life — such as happens most frequently when a dog falls into a body of water or is carried away by a current, you will stop yourself from trying to save him. Your death would ruin our lives. Teddy’s death wouldn’t.”

There are no guarantees that this would work. But parents should have such a talk with their children. At the very least, it teaches one of the most important rules of life: that we cannot be ruled by our feelings but must be ruled by values.

We have sent young Americans the very opposite message. How they feel about things has become parents’ and society’s No. 1 concern. Instead of an objective right and wrong, young people are taught only to be concerned with how they feel about an action. The entire Values Clarification movement in public schools years ago was about “clarifying” how students felt about any action (such as whether to return a lost purse). Because there is never a right answer, all that mattered was that they be clear about how they felt.

A generation of parents and educators has now come to believe and to teach that when it comes to sex, teenagers will simply act on their feelings, so all we adults can do is provide them with contraceptives and sex education about contraception. The idea that teenagers might actually curb their sexual appetites if taught to control their feelings and to live by certain values is regarded as antiquated nonsense in this, the Age of Feelings.

But this “antiquated nonsense” is actually a fundamental Jewish teaching. Indeed, if one had to isolate the greatest lesson of Judaism, it might arguably be this: Behavior is what matters. Not feelings. 

Feelings make us human, but they are awful guides on how to be human. Tell that to your kids.

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

What Men Want (To Say)

On a typical coffee date, because we’re meeting for the first time, awkward conversation comes with the territory. Neither of us completely reveals what we’re thinking or feeling. We’re shy, holding back, concealing, putting on a good face, feeling the other person out.

How much more interesting the first date would be if we both were to communicate our true emotions. Still, those actual thoughts and feelings are definitely present, whether uttered or not. They’re simply bubbling under the conversation’s surface; biding their time until we feel more comfortable and trusting with one another.

For instance, take this (nearly) verbatim transcript from one of my coffee dates. All un-uttered thoughts have been italicized for the protection of the emotionally fragile.

Me: Lauri?

Here I go again. Date No. 163, but who’s counting? At this rate, by next May I’ll have dated every unattached woman in the city. At which time I’ll have to start importing them from other countries and taking Berlitz classes.

Lauri: Hi, Mark. Nice to meet you.

Dear Lord, please don’t let this one be a stalker, a jerk or have serious psychological issues like the last six. I believe I’ve reached my annual quota for restraining orders.

Me: Should we get some coffee and sit down?

And then decide within 10 minutes whether there’s a chance we might eventually see each other naked or, and most likely, never see each other again?

Lauri: Sounds good.

Looks like I’m gonna have to train this one how to dress, make eye contact, speak, stand up straight and do something with that hair. Yep, this one’s a definite fixer-upper. Again. Dear Lord, just shoot me now.

Me: So, have you been doing this Internet dating thing long?

Exactly how many guys have you rejected, and how many have rejected you? Be specific. You have five minutes to answer. Show all work. Begin.

Lauri: You’re actually only the first coffee date I’ve been on.

Today. The sum total of all my coffee dates could fill Dodger Stadium. And it’s always I who do the rejecting, because I am perfect and they are flawed. Capiche? So unless your own perfection level approaches mine, you might as well start heading over to the stadium right now.

Me: What are you looking for in a relationship?

Are you a) High maintenance? b) Emotionally needy? c) Nuts?

Lauri: Oh, I don’t know. I guess the usual — chemistry, shared goals, friendship.

A man with Brad Pitt’s looks and Bill Gates’ bank account who can make me yodel in bed. That specific enough for you, Sparky?

Me: What kinds of things do you like to do for fun?

And please know that the red flag goes up immediately with any hint of chick flicks, shopping or eating at restaurants whose names begin with a “Le.”

Lauri: I’m pretty down-to-earth. Just the usual.

That is, if you define “usual” as a) Frequent, “where is this heading?” talks about our relationship; b) Having my mother visit us as often as possible; c) Making it my lifelong mission to interest you in ballet and opera.

Me: Is it just me, or am I sensing some chemistry here?

I’m picturing you without your clothing right now, but I’m gonna have to do some up-close and personal research in order to get the full effect.

Lauri: You might be right.

It’s just you.

Me: May I walk you to your car?

And check out your rear view as I, the perfect gentleman, allow you to walk in front of me?

Lauri: Sure. Can I contribute something to the bill?

And need I remind you that a “yes” answer on your part will forever brand you as a cheapskate of the highest caliber?

Me: Oh, no, I’ve got it. Thanks.

I accepted one of those invitations to contribute once before and ended up as the featured newcomer on for two months.

Me: Well, here we are. It was really good to meet you.

Because I enjoy taking two-hour chunks out of my day to spend time with people I’ll never see again.

Lauri: You, too. You seem like a really nice guy.

And we’ll have our next date when Paris Hilton becomes a nun.

On second thought, perhaps those dates are better off with the actual thoughts and feelings remaining bubbling under the conversation’s surface. After all, if you start off a romantic relationship with absolute honesty, no telling what madness and chaos would result.

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional
stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He
can be reached at

Ask Wendy

Does Help Betray Sister?

Dear Wendy,

My sister and her husband are observant Jews. Their daughter, my teenage niece, comes over to my house regularly and asks me questions about boys and sex. Her questions are typical teenage fare but clearly not topics she feels comfortable raising with her own parents. If I talk candidly with my niece, am I betraying my sister’s religious beliefs?

Agonizing Aunt

Dear Agonizing,

Many parents clam up when it comes to talking about sex with their children, irrespective of their religious beliefs or practices. And it is always nice to have a stand-in for those occasions when subject material can get too delicate — or too loaded — for a parent to tackle. In my book, it’s one reason godparents were invented.

As for the content of your talks, hormones are hormones; they do not stop at religious boundaries and they are neither likely to go away, nor adapt themselves to different liturgical interpretation. The facts of life in no way conflict with your sister’s religious beliefs.

Your sister is lucky you are there for her. That said, you should of course make it clear to her that her daughter is coming over for talks about topics that she is not comfortable discussing at home. A good mother — and sister — will be grateful there is someone else there to share the responsibility, and the trust. You will of course make it clear to your sister that your generosity stops short of taking her daughter to the gynecologist for birth control pills.

Feeling Like a Stepmonster

Dear Wendy,

Twenty-one years after I married her father, my stepdaughter still refuses to accept me as a part of her family. She has a new baby and refuses to let her call me Nana. I’m to be called by my first name, which makes me feel hurt and excluded. What do I do?


Dear Nana,

There is nothing wrong with telling your stepdaughter that this is hurtful and leaves you feeling excluded. That said, if you have not raised the subject with either your stepdaughter or your husband in the past 21 years, it may well be too late to do so now. The bond stepchildren feel for stepparents has to do as much with the age at which the new parent enters their lives and the circumstances of the parents’ parting, as it does with the play of personalities. I don’t know enough about your situation to say which applies in your case. But whatever the explanation, 21 years of entrenched behavior is not likely to be undone. As soon as you stop hoping for a relationship with your stepdaughter that will never meet your expectations, you will cease to be disappointed by your stepdaughter’s failure to deliver. And that, too, might inspire a little more generosity on her end.

To Church or Not to Church?

Dear Wendy,

My wife and I were invited to attend the wedding of a dear colleague that was being held in a church. I did not want to attend, but my wife convinced me otherwise. The ceremony turned out to be a traditional Roman Catholic affair and everyone in the church received communion. There were long periods during the ceremony when the entire audience was kneeling — except for my wife and me. How does one finesse such a situation in the future?


Dear Uncomfortable,

A simple “no-church” policy is my choice. (Orthodox Jews would say it is the only choice.) Picking and choosing between churches and ceremonies is sure to leave some bride and groom offended while making you look like a bigot.

A more open-minded individual might say there is no way to finesse the ceremony other than the way you did, which was beautiful. We live in a pluralistic world. You were there for your friend, and you participated in the event to the extent that you were comfortable. One can’t ask more.

Friend With Tunnel Vision

Dear Wendy,

My oldest friend has chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. I respect the choice she has made. What I cannot tolerate is that her children now seem to be her only topic of conversation. I dread talking to her. Is there a nice way to say, “You’ve turned into a colossal bore?”

No More Elmo

Dear Elmo,

Working outside of the home is not what makes an individual interesting — although it may guarantee additional expertise in topics other than diaper rash and teething. Suggest to your friend that she join your book club (if you don’t belong to one, start one). There is nothing less interesting than conversations about children: If the children are not your own, you don’t care to hear the particulars, and if you don’t have children, you don’t care to hear the generalities. The one exception to this rule may be between husband and wife, but even that exception should — for the sake of a marriage — come with a time limit. Next time you meet, gently try to preempt your friend by introducing topics of conversation you once found mutually engaging. If that effort fails, and she is indeed your oldest friend, try the “colossal bore” line and hope it shakes her out of her stupor.

Send letters to Ask Wendy at or 954 Lexington Ave. Suite 189, New York, N.Y., 10021.

Community Briefs

Peres Pays Visit to Southland

In addition to celebrating his 80th birthday, former Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shimon Peres spoke with members of the Los Angeles Jewish community on two separate occasions this week.

Peres’ first speaking engagement took place at Stephen S. Wise Temple on Sunday, Oct. 13 and was sponsored in part by Israel Freedom of Religion in an effort to gain support for a bill currently awaiting review by the Knesset that would require the Israeli government to acknowledge practices — such as marriage and burial — performed by rabbis in non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, in addition to those performed in a civil ceremony.

“It is vital for the future of the Jewish people to have greater numbers,” Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin said.

Michael Milken introduced Peres to the audience of nearly 1,000 people, including distinguished guests and American heroes in Israel’s War of Independence Lou Leonard and Al Schwimmer.

“When Prime Minister Peres speaks tonight I suggest that you listen closely because it will give you a chance to think about the future,” Milken said. “Every time I hear him speak I gain insight, I gain energy and I gain a better view of what the future holds and the opportunities available for those that have an opportunity to experience his knowledge of eight decades.”

That sentiment was apparent at the Jewish Federation on Tuesday, Oct. 14, where leaders of the Jewish community listened as Peres spoke about current events in Israel and possibilities for the future.

Peres greeted his audience with both good and bad news. The good news, he said, “is that the Palestinian society is moving to become a democratic one, that the U.S. has become Israel’s immediate neighbor in Iraq and that Israel had finally achieved ideological unity.”

“After 25 years of refusing the right wing of Israeli politics, the Likud party, we’ve reached the conclusion that we cannot go on without a Palestinian state,” Peres said.

The bad news, Peres said, is that Israel continues to face many challenges, including the continued threat of terrorism and a weak economy.

Despite difficulties, Peres noted that he hopes the peace process will continue.

“In 55 years we’ve had so many problems, but we are the only nation that grew in problems of war,” Peres said. “Every time we become stronger and stronger and larger and larger because you should never give up.”

He also made a plea to leaders to invest in Israeli science and technology.

“Israel in the future means two things: peace and science,” Peres said. “Let’s sail, not to the unknown, but to a promising future.” — Rachel Brand, Staff Writer

AJC Meet With Mormon Elder a Rarity

As befits an ice-breaker, the mood was warm when members of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) met Elder Jeffrey Holland, a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons, on Sept. 22.

Holland is one of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which together with church President Gordon B. Hinckley and his two closest counselors make up the leadership of the 12-million member church. AJC organizers said the appearance by so senior a member of the church hierarchy was rare, if not unprecedented, in the L.A. Jewish community.

The tall, charismatic Holland used the opportunity to recount the amity Mormons feel toward Jews, even if that sense of closeness has not always been reciprocated. Mormons see their own flight across the western United States in the early 19th century as a continuation of the Exodus story. Their Christianity has held fast to the Bible’s Jewish roots, he said.

Holland said the scriptural appreciation has echoed throughout history. Two of the earliest Jewish mayors and governors in the American West were Jews elected in Utah, a Mormon state.

And Mormons have been staunch Zionists, Holland added. A Mormon missionary who arrived in Jerusalem in 1841 wrote a prayer for the church liturgy on the return of Jews to Zion.

“Let them come like clouds and like doves to the window,” Holland quoted. “Let them know it is Thy good pleasure to restore them to Israel.”

Holland also quoted David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, as telling a church elder, “No Christian organization in the world understands us like the Mormons.”

The warm relationship turned rockier when Holland, then-president of Brigham Young University, sought to open a satellite student center in Jerusalem. The effort brought stiff opposition from mainly religious Jews who suspected the Mormons of using the center as a base for proselytizing. Only the staunch support of Jerusalem’s then-mayor Teddy Kollek saw the project through, and no charges of proselytizing have been leveled since. — Staff Report

L.A. Businesses Encouraged to Connect With TelAviv

Two Tel Aviv University MBA students recently returned to Israel after spending the summer under the mentorship of various Los Angeles business and government leaders as part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Redevelopment Fellowship.

The new program, sponsored by the Economic Initiatives Committee of the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, is part of an effort called Genesis L.A., which hopes to bring about the redevelopment of neighborhoods in Jaffa and south Tel Aviv via the exchange of public/private financing tools and urban development methodology.

Over the course of seven weeks the students, Aviad Arviv and Michael Gofman, interned at the Milken Institute, met with experts in real estate development, tax incentives, business improvement districts, low-income housing development, enterprise finance, the arts and transportation, and visited a range of Los Angeles redevelopment sites.

“Israel’s economy is in the dumpster and we have to do what we can to attract non-Israeli money to induce foreign flow of capital into Israel for redevelopment,” said Michael Schwartz, a partner at George Smith Partners, who created an intensified training program to give the fellows an overview of the real estate finance industry.

Glenn Yago, outgoing chair of the Economic Initiatives Committee, said that the program is only one of several initiatives that the group has spearheaded in the Jaffa area as part of Genesis Tel Aviv. Based on the model used in Los Angeles after the riots, other projects have included issuing revenue bonds to finance public parking structures in Tel Aviv and environmental rehabilitation of the HaYarkon River. — RB

Got Closure?

I’m 18. I’m flipping through my yearbook, reading over the cursive messages of my friends: “Stay sweet” and “Great sitting next to you in French” and “Have a great summer.”

On the next page, there are a few more notes advising me not to change, to remember that night at the beach drinking wine coolers, to “keep in touch.”

I have a couple days left of high school, but in my mind I’m already gone. I have no idea when I turn the next page that what’s written there will keep me from really leaving for several years.

Across two blank white pages is scrawled, “UR UGLY.”

I snap the yearbook shut. I snap it shut with enough force to make a whooshing sound. I wasn’t sure — perhaps because the forensic humiliation team was off-duty that day — but it looked like each letter had been written by a different person.

I later found out who stole my yearbook and, with his crappy-hearted little buddies, jabbed a ballpoint pen into my paper-thin self-esteem. If you think they owe me an apology, “UR RIGHT.”

That was many Yom Kippurs ago. And what do you know? I’ve never gotten one. While I’m tempted to have you feel sad for that poor, innocent schoolgirl who never got the apology she so richly deserved, I’ve done worse, way worse.

Well, ’tis the season to be sorry. Or at least to think about what sorry is, to whom we owe an apology, to whom we owe forgiveness and, frankly, what good is any of this repentance anyway?

Moses begged God’s forgiveness for 40 days and 40 nights, Kobe Bryant’s going on at least that long plus a $4 million sorry ring. We all have our ways of expressing remorse, but what are we buying with our flowers, phone calls and fine jewelry? Maybe the more observant among us are trying to be “inscribed in the book of life,” to obey strict talmudic laws, but people like me, we just want to feel okay about ourselves. We’d like our names erased from the Book of Guilt.

And here’s where I unearth the “buried lede.” I said a big sorry this year and it changed everything. I was dreading it, I was nauseous when I did it, but it finally became obvious that I was carrying around guilt like rocks in my pockets — my hands were still free but I couldn’t quite get comfortable.

I had to do it; I had to call an ex-boyfriend and hope he’d be big about my saying he was … small. You know what I mean — down there.

If you’re a male reader, or maybe just a member of the human race, you are probably wincing. I still can’t believe I did it. I know it’s not murder or adultery or stealing or any of the big biblical sins, but it’s the most personal kind of attack, a surgical strike designed to go right to a the core of a man’s sense of well-being and blow it to smithereens.

No one ends up dead, but it’s this kind of cruel remark that erodes your confidence until “UR IN THERAPY.”

I could make excuses for why I said it — we were breaking up, I was devastated and hadn’t slept in days, he was so perfect there was no other target but the one below the belt — but those don’t matter. Beyond the fact that it wasn’t true, it was a bell you can’t unring.

“Even if a man only spoke badly about another man, he must appease and beseech until he is forgiven,” said Maimonides, who may not have had this sort of slight in mind, but you never know.

The 12th-century theologian also specified that the only person who can grant forgiveness is the person who was wronged. There was no getting around it, no asking to speak to the supervisor and going right to God. According to Jewish law, I had to repent, had to mean it, had to swing at forgiveness at least three times before giving up.

Years had passed since the day I broke up with that guy, the day I said the bad thing. I talked to him on occasion, his birthday or mine. We made small talk, but never about the “small” talk.

I wondered if he even remembered.

In 12-step programs, there’s a powerful concept very similar to the Jewish High Holidays and their focus on deliverance through atonement. In order to stay sober, one has to “become willing to make amends.” Because more of the people I know practice the 12 steps than traditional Judaism, I’m more familiar with their amends process. It’s methodical, and like Judaism, the focus is not on gaining God’s forgiveness but on making it up to the person you harmed.

Both traditions suggest that the only real redemption comes from being faced with the same situation again and doing it right the next time.

From the Babylonian Talmud: “How is one proved to be a true penitent? Said Rabbi Judah: If the opportunity to commit the same sin presents itself on two occasions, and he does not yield to it.”

Well, the universe has been kind enough to provide me many an ugly breakup and I knew better than to go back to my original sin. By acting better, I was making what 12-steppers would call “living amends.” Still, in the parlance of “recovery,” I hadn’t “cleaned my side of the street.”

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous gives some pointers I found useful, suggesting, “We should be sensible, tactful, considerate and humble without being servile or scraping.”

I could do that. I made the call.

After some chitchat, I slowly lowered my sorry. It went something like this: “When we broke up, I said some very cruel, very personal things. I said things that weren’t true and for that I’m deeply sorry.”

It was as if he’d been sitting by the phone for years just waiting to hear that. He knew exactly what I meant. There was a pause.

“Yes,” he said. “That really hurt. I’m glad you called. Thank you.”

As guys do when faced with intense emotional situations — and when living with their new girlfriends who are probably in the next room — he hustled off the phone right quick. And the deed was done. Or undone.

I’m not being overly dramatic when I tell you I hung up that phone and walked lighter, sat straighter, not weighted down by those rocks. And something unexpected happened. I didn’t miss that guy in the same deep-down way I had for so long, because partially I was tethered to him by a past I couldn’t put away until I took it out for show and tell and made it right. I guess anything that can keep an addict clean and a people together for thousands of years must have some magic in it.

My guy accepted the apology with grace. But what about the yearbook guy? Could I forgive someone who never repented?

To be honest, the yearbook guy is just one portrait in my Gallery of Grudges, an easy example, because it’s far away and time has blurred the anger. It hangs next to “Evil Stepmother in Repose,” “Still Life of Guy Breaking Into My Childhood Home” and “Portrait of a Teacher Who Said I’d Never Amount to Anything.” What about them?

I took the question to a couple of rabbis.

“There is no obligation to forgive someone who has never apologized. There is a benefit, however,” said Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe. “Hatred corrodes the soul, while not usually hurting the hated at all. It ties knots inside of us, which can’t really be unraveled by another’s apology as much as by our own willingness to let go.”

Oh, that old “letting go” thing. So much easier said than done. Have you noticed that spiritual teachers in almost every discipline won’t let go of telling us to let go? Dr. Phil practically has it tattooed on his tush.

Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple agreed, saying, “Forgiving relieves us of the burden of bitterness. It can help take the chip off our shoulder and that is always a good thing.”

Chips off the shoulder, rocks out of the pockets, I think I get it. Let go and the heavy stuff lightens up. Life gets better. We act better.

Leder hit me with perhaps the most persuasive quote I’ve heard all year. From Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach: “If I had two souls, I would devote one to hating. But since I have only one soul, I do not want to waste it on hatred.”

I should talk to rabbis more often.

As for letting go, that happened with yearbook guy when I put it into perspective. Was it all about me? Was he a second-string sadist coming off the bench to impress his friends? Was he an angry kid with problems of his own? More importantly, was I truly ugly? I was no cover model, but I was holding my own. I can see that now. The question is, what was he holding? And is he still holding it?

This is where Leder dropped some more wisdom on me. He said, if possible, we should let someone know that they’ve hurt us, giving them the chance for repentance. If they repent, we forgive.

This seems fair. Fair, but at this moment, utterly impossible for me in most cases. Not to mention the fact that there’s probably a statute of limitations on petty high school hurt feelings crimes. As for the other grudges, I’ll have to think about it. A soul is a terrible thing to waste.

Teresa Strasser will join other Journal Singles
columnists at Friday Night Live on Oct. 10 for “Dating Dos and Don’ts” at Sinai
Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. Visit Teresa Strasser on the Web at .

Moonstruck in Israel

The moon doesn’t usually make me cry. I’ve been struck by the amber beauty of a harvest moon low on the horizon or by the tantilizing grace of a silver sliver dangling high in the sky.

But this moon — rising at dusk over the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City in perfect pinkish equanimity, framed to the right by David’s Citadel and to the left by three or four soaring kites tethered somewhere below to the hand of an Arab or Jewish or Christian or Armenian child — brought a flow of tears that just wouldn’t stop.

I knew why I was crying. It was my last night in Israel, and I didn’t know when I would be back. And I knew that once I got back to Los Angeles, it wouldn’t be long before that unspeakable power of connection would begin to slip away, just as it had — subconsciously, almost imperceptibly — since my last visit.

It had been seven years since I was last in Israel. I was back this summer courtesy of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, culminating a two-year program in Jewish leadership with a week in Israel, during which 180 members and spouses — about 50 of us from Los Angeles — had VIP access to people and places shaping today’s Israel.

It was a week intensely packed with emotion and information. One of our first stops was at the Shalom Hartman Institute, a pluralistic Judaic think tank, where the words of Rabbi Donniel Hartman set the tone for the week: Do not come to Israel on a shiva visit. Do not come just to do bikur cholim, visiting the terror victims and the families of victims. Add to your itinerary the kind of stops that will remind you that Israel is alive, Israel is vibrant, Israel needs Americans to tour and shop and eat in Israel.

The cease-fire and the ever-present phalanx of wired and weaponed Israeli security guards gave us the illusion of safety that made it easy to heed that charge, despite the overlay of terror precautions and reminders that are a part of Israeli life. I passed Sbarro pizzeria at the corner of King George and Jaffa roads with a mournful sense of disbelief, knowing this is where my high school classmate, Shoshana Hayman Greenbaum, was murdered by a suicide bomber.

But more than the terror, more than the conflict, what I saw was Israel close up, where day-to-day life fills all the time before and after the three minutes of evening news we get each day.

Consider the quality of art in Jerusalem. Kitschy souvenirs have been supplemented (thought not supplanted) by top-quality art, jewelry and Judaica crafted by people whose inspiration is the magic that results when a people and religion can flourish on a land they love.

Religious life in Israel is thriving, despite news of pluralism wars and dogmatic secularism. Liberal services at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion on Shabbat were packed not just with Wexnerites but with Israelis. An Orthodox feminist conference in June attracted 1,500 Israelis; a new shul that pushes halacha to its limits to include women just opened in Jerusalem. At the Jerusalem College of Technology, Charedi women and men are studying to be engineers, even as they keep up an average birth rate of seven-point-something kids per family, in generations that are about 20 years apart, rather than the usual 30 years.

On our visit to the Golan, we talked with Ramona Bar Lev, head of the Golan settlers movement, and she talked less about Syria than about the griffins that catch wind currents to glide over rocky ravines laced with streams and wildflowers. It is not that she is oblivious to the political reality of her world. It is that she is living in the moment, loving the land she has always loved in the only way she knows how.

And that is what I know my seven-year absence from Israel has cost me. I, and I imagine many American Jews, have let Israel the cause eclipse Israel the land that I love. I have spent money at the Israeli merchant fairs, I have sung "Hatikvah" on Yom Ha’atzmaut, I have been part of adopting the family of a terror victim, I have kept up with — cried with — the news.

But seven years is a long time, and that visceral tug has weakened. I don’t know if I’ll ever live in Israel, as I once was so sure I would. But I know I, with my husband and children, will be back soon, despite the prohibitive cost and the grueling travel time, despite the perceived danger. I need to feel the physicality of that emotional surge that can only happen with my feet on Israeli soil.

I need to press my forehead into the warm stones of the Kotel, standing shoulder to shoulder with women from everywhere. I need to breathe in that endearing olfactory combination of freshly baked rolls and bus exhaust, to sit at the Kadosh Cafe and walk on Rambam Street. I need to let the Mediterranean sun bounce off the Kinneret and burn my skin and to let the moon make me cry.

Hey Kids!

Zimmer Kids Say

Zimmer kids were asked this question:

“If you could invite anyone to your house, whom would you invite and why?”

Here are some of their answers:

I would invite my friend Armando, because whenever I don’t have lunch, he shares his food with me. So I will invite him over and make him dinner. — Carlos, age 6

I would invite a giant talking bee, because I have always wanted to know how bees live their lives. — Brandon, age 5

I would invite the world to my house, and teach it how to share. — Yojar, age 7

A Portion of Parshat Vayigash

This week, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. “I am your brother Joseph,” he tells them. Joseph can’t hold back his tears anymore, and weeps openly and loudly. It is through these tears that the ice is broken, and the brothers can hug and become friends again.

Do you ever hold back your tears when you really want to cry? It is always a good thing to tell people what you are feeling, if you are hurt, sad, or upset. It is only when your friends or parents know what you are feeling that they can help you feel better. The family in the picture is talking about their feelings.

This week we will begin a column where we can hear your voice. If you visit the Zimmer Jewish Discovery Museum (at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, in Los Angeles) you will find an area where you can write your comments on subjects such as: “What am I thankful for?” and “How would I help the world?”

Each month, the museum will send your writings to The Jewish Journal, and we will choose a few to publish in that week’s edition of the For The Kids page. Good luck!