Video footage of Gilad Shalit’s release


Free High Holy Days services 2011


WED., SEPT. 28

EREV ROSH HASHANAH

Chai Center. Wed. 6:25-8:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve party follows. Free. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 391-7995. chaicenter.org.

Sinai Temple’s Rosh Hashanah Live, a musical service featuring Rabbi David Wolpe, Cantor Joseph Gole, Craig Taubman, Theodore Bikel, opera singer George Komsky and the Life Choir. Wed. 8-9:30 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10440 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. sinaitemple.org.

Hillel at UCLA. Wed. 6:30 p.m. (Orthodox), 7 p.m. (Traditional), 7:30 p.m. (Reform). Free (students). 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081. ucla.hillel.org.

Hillel at USC. Wed. 6:30 p.m. Free (students). Hillel at USC, 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135. uschillel.org.


THU., SEPT. 29

ROSH HASHANAH — FIRST DAY

Temple Israel of Hollywood. Family service (toddler-second grade). Thu. 8:30 a.m. Free. 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330. tioh.org.

Hillel at UCLA. Thu. 9 a.m. (Traditional), 9:15 a.m. (Orthodox), 9:30 a.m. (Reform). Free (students). 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081. ucla.hillel.org.

Hillel at USC. Thu. 9:30 a.m. Free (students). 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135. uschillel.org.

Chabad House at UCLA. Thu. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (service), 11:30 a.m. (shofar). Free. Chabad of Westwood, 741 Gayley Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-1613. chabadwestwood.com.

JConnectLA’s Days of Awesome Un-Service. Thu. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (interactive service, including classes, yoga, stories, meditation and song). Free. Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, 9120 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-5544. daysofawesome.com.

Beth Chayim Chadashim. Family service. Thu. 10:30 a.m. Free. Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023. bcc-la.org.

Chai Center. Thu. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (services), 12:30 p.m. (shofar). Free. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 391-7995. chaicenter.org.

Laugh Factory. Thu. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Free. 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. RSVP, (323) 656-1336, ext. 1. laughfactory.com.

Sholem Community. Thu. 11 a.m. Free. Rancho Park, Picnic Area No. 1, 2551 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. (818) 760-6625. sholem.org.

Congregation Or Ami. Family service. Thu. 2:15 p.m. Free. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theatre, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (818) 880-4880. orami.org.

Kehillat Israel. Family service. Thu. 3-4 p.m. Free. Wadsworth Theater, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 459-2328. kehillatisrael.org.

Temple Judea. Tot services. Thu. 3:30 p.m. Free. 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800. templejudea.com.

Jewish Learning Exchange. Thu. 4:30-6 p.m. (beginner’s service). Free (registration required). 512 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (888) 908-0338. jlela.com.

TASHLICH

Congregation Kol Ami. Thu. 1:30 p.m. Free. MacArthur Park, 2230 W. Sixth St., downtown. (323) 606-0996. kol-ami.org.

Nashuva’s Tashlich by the Sea. Thu. 4:45 p.m. Free. Tashlich, drumming circle and shofar blowing. Venice Beach, 1 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. nashuva.com.

Leo Baeck Temple. Thu. 5 p.m. Will Rogers State Beach, 15800 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. (310) 476-2861. leobaecktemple.org.

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Thu. 5-9 p.m. Free. South Will Rogers State Beach, Lifeguard Station 8, 15800 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. (310) 409-4644. tebh.org.

Kehillat Ma’arav. Thu. 5:30 p.m. Free. End of the Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566. km-synagogue.org.


FRI., SEPT. 30

ROSH HASHANAH — SECOND DAY

Hillel at UCLA. Fri. 9 a.m. (Traditional), 9:15 a.m. (Orthodox), 6:30 p.m. (Orthodox). Free (students). 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081. ucla.hillel.org.

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Fri. 9 a.m.-noon. Free. 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737. tebh.org.

Beth Chayim Chadashim. Fri. 10 a.m. Free. 6090 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023. bcc-la.org.

Chabad House at UCLA. Fri. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (service), 11:30 a.m. (shofar). Free. Chabad of Westwood, 741 Gayley Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-1613. chabadwestwood.com.

Ohr HaTorah’s Second Day Rosh Hashanah Special Musical Performance. Fri. 10 a.m. Free. Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles. (310) 915-5200. ohrhatorah.org.

Temple Israel of Hollywood. Chapel service. Fri. 10 a.m. Free. 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330. tioh.org.

Hillel at USC. Fri. 10 a.m. Free (students). 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135. uschillel.org.

TASHLICH

Beth Chayim Chadashim. Fri. 4 p.m. Free. Venice Beach, near Figtree’s Café and Grill, 429 Ocean Front Walk, Venice. (323) 931-7023. bcc-la.org.


SUN., OCT. 2

KEVER AVOT

Eden Memorial Park. Sun. 10 a.m. Free. 11500 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills. (818) 361-7161. eden-memorialpark.com.

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary. Sun. 10 a.m. Free. Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, 6001 W. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles. (800) 576-1994. hillsidememorial.org.

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries—Hollywood Hills. Sun. 10 a.m. Free. 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles. (800) 600-0076. mountsinaiparks.org.

Home of Peace. Sun. 11 a.m. Free. 4334 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 261-6135. homeofpeacememorialpark.com.

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries—Simi Valley. Sun. 1 p.m. Free. 6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley. (800) 600-0076. mountsinaiparks.org.

Sholom Memorial Park. 10 a.m. Free. 13017 N. Lopez Canyon Road, San Fernando. (818) 899-5216. sholomchapels.com.

TASHLICH

Adat Chaverim. Cantorial soloist Terry Lieberstein leads this outdoor, interactive Tashlich service. Sun. 11 a.m. Free. Los Encinos Park, 16756 Moorpark St., Encino. (888) 552-4552. humanisticjudaismla.org.

Shomrei Torah Synagogue. Sun. 12:30 p.m. Free (for Birthright Israel alumni). Beach in Malibu. For more information, call (818) 346-0811 or visit shomreitorahsynagogue.org.

Tashlich: A Jewish Ritual of Renewal. Hosted by HaMercaz, Vista Inspire Program, Miracle Theatre and Nes Gadol. Sun. 2-4 p.m. Free. Annenberg State Beach House, 415 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica. (866) 287-8030 or (310) 836-1223, ext. 322.

IKAR. Sun. 4:30 p.m. Free. Santa Monica State Beach, Lifeguard Station 26, just south of Ocean Park Boulevard, Santa Monica. ikar-la.org.

JConnectLA’s Sunset Tashlich by the Sea. Sun. 6 p.m. Free. Santa Monica Pier, halfway down pier, Santa Monica. (310) 277-5544. daysofawesome.com.


WED., OCT. 5

FREE SENIORS HIGH HOLY DAY LUNCHEON
Chabad Jewish Community Center in conjunction with the Ventura Townhouse.  Wed., Oct. 5, 11:30 am. Free.  Chabad Jewish Community Center, 5040 Telegraph Road.  To RSVP please call Sarah at 805.660.1836.


FRI., OCT. 7

KOL NIDRE

Kol Nidre LIVE BROADCAST. Fri. 6:15 p.m. Rabbi Naomi Levy and Nashuva will appear on livestream over jewishjournal.com.  Click here to watch.

JConnectLA’s Days of Awesome Un-Service. Fri. 5:30 p.m. (non-traditional service). Free. Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, 9120 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-5544. daysofawesome.com.

Hillel at UCLA. Fri. 6 p.m. (Traditional), 6:15 p.m. (Orthodox), 7:30 p.m. (Reform). Free (students). 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081. ucla.hillel.org.

Laugh Factory. Fri. 6-8 p.m. Free. 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. RSVP, (323) 656-1336, ext. 1. laughfactory.com.

Chai Center. Fri. 6:30-8:30 p.m. (services). Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 391-7995. chaicenter.org.

Hillel at USC. Fri. 6:30 p.m. Free (students). 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135. uschillel.org.


SAT., OCT. 8

YOM KIPPUR

Temple Israel of Hollywood. Family service (toddler-second grade). Sat. 8:30 a.m. Free. 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330. tioh.org.

Hillel at UCLA. Sat. 9:15 a.m. (Shachrit, Orthodox), 9:30 a.m. (Morning, Traditional), 9:30 a.m. (Morning, Reform), noon (meditation, Reform), 1 p.m. (Yizkor, Traditional), 2 p.m. (text study, Reform), 4:30 p.m. (Mincha, Traditional), 5:15 p.m. (Neilah, Orthodox), 5:30 p.m. (Yizkor/Neilah, Reform), 6 p.m. (Neilah, Traditional), 7:13 p.m. (Shofar sounded). Free (students). 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081. ucla.hillel.org.

Hillel at USC. Sat. 9:30 a.m. (services), 1 p.m. (Yizkor), 4:30 p.m. (Mincha), 6 p.m. (Neilah), 7:06 p.m. (Break the fast). Free (students). 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135. uschillel.org.

JConnectLA’s Days of Awesome Un-Service. Sat. 10 a.m. Free (non-traditional service and break-the-fast). Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, 9120 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-5544. daysofawesome.com.

Beth Chayim Chadashim. Family Service. Sat. 11 a.m. Free. Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023. bcc-la.org.

Chai Center. Sat. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (services), 3-5 p.m. (“Stump the Rabbi” program), 5:30-7:06 p.m. (Neilah). Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 391-7995. chaicenter.org.

Laugh Factory. Sat. 11 a.m.-1 p.m., 6-8 p.m. (Neilah). Break-the-fast follows. Free. 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. RSVP, (323) 656-1336, ext. 1. laughfactory.com.

Sholem Community. Sat. 11 a.m. Free. Rancho Park, Picnic Area No. 1, 2551 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. (818) 760-6625. sholem.org.

Ohr HaTorah’s Yom Kippur Special Musical Performance. Sat. 2 p.m. Free. Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles. (310) 915-5200. ohrhatorah.org.

Congregation Or Ami. Family service. Sat. 2:15 p.m. Free. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theatre, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (818) 880-4880. orami.org.

Kehillat Israel. Family service. Sat. 3-4 p.m. Free. Wadsworth Theater, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 459-2328. kehillatisrael.org.

Temple Judea. Tot services. Sat. 3:30 p.m. Free. 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800. templejudea.com.


SUN., OCT. 9

KEVER AVOT

Sholom Memorial Park. 10 a.m. Free. 13017 N. Lopez Canyon Road, San Fernando. (818) 899-5216. sholomchapels.com.

Did we forget a free High Holy Days event? E-mail the information to {encode=”webmaster@jewishjournal.com” title=”webmaster@jewishjournal.com”}.

Shalit’s mother: Gazans also want Gilad freed


Hundreds rallied in Mitzpe Hila on Thursday, to demand the government do more to secure the release of captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

Shalit, originally from Mitzpe Hila, will turn 23 on Friday. Shalit was captured during a cross-border raid by Hamas militants in 2006 that left three IDF soldiers dead.

Read the full story at Haaretz.com.

PJ Library families snuggle up with Jewish books


Ellianna Brandt, age 3, doesn’t get much mail.

But when her monthly package from PJ Library arrives, she knows just what she is tearing into: A Jewish book that she will enjoy with her mother, Aviva, or her father, Scott, who isn’t Jewish.

The Brandt family of Portland, Ore., has been enjoying the books courtesy of PJ Library, a project of the Harold Grinspoon foundation that sends Jewish-themed books to families with young kids. The program, now in 80 cities, just launched in Los Angeles with spots for up to 2,100 families in the Valley, with funding from private donors and the Valley Alliance of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Over the past month, hundreds of Valley children have received books such as “The Always Prayer Shawl” by Sheldon Oberman (Boyds Mill Press), “It’s Challah Time!” by Latifa Berry Kropf (Kar-Ben) and “Shlemazel and the Remarkable Spoon of Pohost” by Ann Redish Stampler (Clarion). In addition, a mass invitation to join the PJ library went out to thousands of families, along with a gift of the book “Something From Nothing” by Phoebe Gilman (Scholastic Press).

Something for nothing is an idea organizers are spreading among Jewish families.

“You can sign up and get books once a month just because you’re a Jewish kid, or because you have a Jewish child. We want people to know that there are no strings attached,” said Carol Koransky, executive director of the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance. “This isn’t a gimmick, this isn’t a book club, this is something that the community is sponsoring fully.”

Age-appropriate books geared for kids 6 months to 7 years arrive with explanations about the book and the topics covered — everything from Jewish holidays to biblical characters to Israel or themes related to Jewish values or history. The idea is to lay the foundation for Jewish conversations and to help the family feel more tied in to the larger Jewish culture and community.

That has been the case in the Brandt household, where both Ellianna and her father are learning from the monthly packages.

“My husband’s not Jewish,” said Aviva Brandt, who heard about the program at Mommy and Me class at her local Jewish Community Center. “He learns a lot about Judaism through the books. We’ve been though Intro to Judaism and the textbooks that come with programs like that, but the PJ Library books really bring him much closer to feeling comfortable about actually bringing Judaism into daily life.”

Harold Grinspoon and his Massachusetts-based foundation conceived of the idea as a way of creating an at-home entry point for Jewish involvement. While the program was initially envisioned for the intermarried or unaffiliated, it has expanded to encompass a large swath of the Jewish community. The program so far has reached 30,000 families in 80 cities, and 40 more communities are launching this academic year.

Communities who sponsor the program become funding partners with the Grinspoon Foundation. The Los Angeles program is starting with a two-year pilot in the Valley, and will expand if the program is well-received.

But just how much of an impact on Jewish identity can a few free books make?

Marcie Greenfield Simons, national director of the program, says the strategy has always been to look past those few minutes of snuggling on the couch with books like “Sammy Spider’s First Passover.”

“Ideally, what we envision for the program is that having the books in the home will inspire families to want to pursue other steps in their Jewish journey,” Simons said.

The program doesn’t require much of the recipients — they sign up for a free service, delivered to their door, and their only action is to read with their kids. But that doesn’t diminish the level of engagement it has achieved, Grinspoon said in a phone interview. He pointed to the feedback PJ Library gets not only from parents, but from community leaders.

“After implementing The PJ Library, we realized just how important this program was in helping to build our community,” said Steve Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. “Being able to make a connection to individuals in a very purposeful and thoughtful way has opened many unaffiliated doors for our Federation.”

The Atlanta Federation has supplemented the library with live programming, bringing the families together for holiday and other celebrations. In the process, the families feel more a part of the larger Jewish community.

“Essentially, our federation is able to provide more value to our community; we are giving something back and not asking for money,” Rakitt said. “It is a positive message to bring the program to families and not associate it with donations.”

The program has also been a boon for the Jewish publishing world. PJ Library has distributed 250,000 books since 2005, bringing some classics back to print, and even commissioning some works specifically for PJ Library.

Deborah Turobinor, a young mother, is looking forward to building her family library with selections for her 5-year-old, 3-year-old and 3-month-old.

Last week her baby received a Shabbat board book, and her oldest received “Jodie’s First Dig” by Anna Levine (Kar-Ben) about an archaeological expedition in Israel.

Turbinor feels that the program will not only increase her children’s positive associations with their Judaism but also help them understand how to be thankful for what they are given and how to give back in return.

“We love books, and we love being Jewish,” she said. “Why would we not do this?”

A limited number of spots are still open for children ages 6 months to 5 years in certain Valley zip codes.

Marion Ashley Said and Molly Binenfeld contributed to this story.

Free at last!


Last Sunday night (June 1) in an amphitheatre outside Jerusalem, I had a flash of insight into how to get disaffected Jews excited and involved in Jewish life: Make it free!

I was at something called the Birthright Israel Mega Event. Birthright is the eight-year-old program that has brought more than 170,000 Jewish young people from 53 countries to Israel for 10-day trips, all expenses paid. By most measures it has been a phenomenal success. Kids with no or limited connection to their heritage become deeply attached, or at least intrigued. They form lifelong bonds with peers from other states or other countries. They see the best of Israel having the best of times, and the impression is lasting and positive.

I rode a wave of that enthusiasm Sunday night in Latrun. “Birthright, ARE YOU READY TO PARTY??!!!!” screamed emcee Michael HarPaz to a packed amphitheatre of some 7,500 young people.

Strobe lights raked the stage, giant Star of David-shaped balloon sculptures floated in the breeze, and when the Birthrighters leapt up and screamed “YEAH!!” a series of synchronized fireworks shot out from behind the bandstand and dazzled in the warm, starry night.

Birthright, with an annual budget of $104 million, was created and initially funded by American Jewish mega-philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael and Judy Steinhardt. It now receives major support from the Israeli government, as well as from other private, mostly American Jewish donors. Many of them were seated in the first few rows of the mega-event — Bronfman, the Steinhardts, Lynn Shusterman and Gary and Karen Winnick, among others. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke, thanking the donors, the emcee thanked the donors, a video featured the donors, the donors took the stage and thanked one another — for at least 45 minutes, the event recalled that scene in “The King and I” where grateful Siamese come, on bended knee, to honor the benevolent Yul Brynner.

But so what — they deserve it. And it was in the midst of the thank-a-thon that my epiphany occurred: Why do this just for 20-somethings?

Clearly, the Bronfman/Steinhardt brainchild worked. And a great part of its success has been due to three factors.

First, it is professionally done. Israel, a country that can’t seem to organize a line at a bus stop, has managed to shepherd thousands of wild and crazy young people on a meticulously planned itinerary twice a year for 10 days without breaking a sweat.

Second, Birthright gives these Jews something they need at that point in their lives, even if they themselves don’t know it.

Finally, it’s free. A trip that costs thousands of dollars per participant is handed out like a money-stuffed attaché case on “Deal or No Deal.” It doesn’t matter if the participant is the child of a single mom working three low-wage jobs or the scion of a Cincinnati ladies’ support-hose magnate, your money’s no good here.

To summarize: Excellent + Relevant + Free = Huge Success.

It turns out the success of many other Jewish outreach initiatives boils down to this same formula. Think of the new minyans and congregations who don’t ask for a dime but offer a great spiritual experience.

Think of Chabad, arguably one of the most successful outreach organizations of any religion. Their services are free, and so is their schnaps.

Think of the scholarships that various communities and schools offer young people for study in Jewish institutions: There is never a lack of applicants.

Finally, think of this very newspaper and Web site, offered at no cost to anyone who takes the trouble to pick it up or click on it.

It turns out that uninspired, unattached, unaffiliated Jews are easy to lure into the fold: Just give them something good for free.

So, my suggestion is, extend the Birthright brand. You want to rock the Jewish world? Tell every 30-something with children their first year of Jewish school tuition is gratis. That’s right: one free year of Jewish education to every child — Call it Schoolright.

How about Campright — a free week of summer camp for every Jewish teen?

And of course, Prayright — one year’s free temple membership to any Jew, anywhere.

And while we’re at it, what’s wrong with Dateright — one year of free membership in the online Jewish dating service of your choice, for any Jew of any age.

I’ll stop for a moment to stress I’m not being arch or facetious. The common beef against Jewish institutions is that they don’t strive for excellence and that they cost too much. Birthright’s mega-philanthropists demanded business-world accountability and performance and they paid for it. In return, they have changed hundreds of thousands of hearts.

With the same level of competence and commitment, the same could be done for young parents in their 30s who never really considered Jewish schools, for parents in their 40s who are too stretched to pay summer camp bills, for singles in their 20s, 50s or 80s wary of the Jewish dating services but willing to try it — for free.

As the Birthright Mega Event in Latrun went on that evening, there were Israeli singers and dancers, drummers, a great band, a real helicopter that landed and disgorged a real Israeli soldier, much flag-waving, more fireworks and, after 10 p.m., an all-out dance jam that sent the screaming joyous masses into a sweaty, hormone-stoked Zionist frenzy until the early morning hours.

I saw the future of Jewish philanthropy at Latrun — the “Field of Dreams” approach to the Jewish future:

If you build it, they will come. Just make sure a mega-donor picks up the tab.

A free trip to Israel — custom-made for you!



Click on BIG ARROW for Taglit video

What’s more enticing than a free trip to Israel? A free trip to Israel tailor-made for your interests.

Taglit-Birthright Israel, a partnership between the Israeli government, local Jewish communities, Jewish federations and philanthropists, offers free first-time trips to Israel for Jewish young adults between 18 and 26. But these days, trips for special interest groups like medical students, law students, business students, military cadets and even aspiring chefs are another way to entice Jewish young adults to visit Israel.

Between exploring the Kotel, the Negev and the Dead Sea, young professionals spend time with Israeli experts in their field and visit prominent facilities that relate to their interests.

“Going with a special interest group gives people a chance to meet people with similar interests and to connect with Israel and the things that they’re specifically interested in,” said Miri Pomerantz, program director of the Jewish Book Council in New York, which is co-sponsoring a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip for young professional journalists this summer. While exploring the Jewish homeland, the writers will meet with Israeli novelists, editors of The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz and other Israeli professionals in the world of literature and journalism.

For more information on Taglit-Birthright Israel, visit www.birthrightisrael.com.

— Sharon Schatz Rosenthal

God Is Gray


“This is heaven,” I announced Sunday afternoon.

Cruising the city (the absence of traffic in itself celestial), sunroof open, exposed shoulders browning. Wild poppies glistening, swaying in a soft breeze scented by orange blossoms; singing along to KOST 103.5 FM:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone,

I can see all obstacles in my way.

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.

It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiney day.

“Heaven,” I said. “Yep,” everyone agreed, celebrating under flawless sapphire sky — free from even the teeniest speck of a cloud — “this is paradise.”

Heaven, paradise — choose a synonym: ecstasy, bliss, rapture. We use such words to describe experiences of perfect, supreme happiness, God on earth. The conditions on Sunday merited all such descriptions, especially that immaculately blue sky. Skies like that burn gloom away.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Gray days certainly have a subtle beauty. But no one calls Seattle paradise, and if Fritz Coleman reported that a cloud was going to remain interminably over Los Angeles, a mass exodus to South Beach would certainly ensue.

I’d probably go, too. I mean, who wants to live under a cloud forever?

How dull. How boring.

Those are the synonyms for “cloudy,” along with: hazy, murky, gray, obscure — not the ideal forecast, to say the least.

What would inspire my sermons in such weather? How would I instill faith in God if I were denied its experience? Because the experience of the Divine is an ecstatic one, right? It is the feeling of rapture, bright, glorious bliss, isn’t it? I mean, no one prays in hopes of reaching an enhanced state of hazy obscurity.

And yet, this week’s parsha tells us that from the day the Israelites erected the tabernacle (the place of Divine presence made manifest on earth) a cloud covered it. Seems they weren’t singing much about sunshiny days, for, “so it was always: The cloud covered [the tabernacle] by day and the appearance of fire by night” (Numbers 9:16).

No need for sunglasses or flashlights near God’s house. More like a mobile home than an estate, the cloud was the original built-in navigation system: When it moved, the people picked up the tabernacle and followed it, “and in the place where the cloud abode, there [they] encamped.”

Meaning, the closer we get to the experience of God on earth, the more overcast it is, and if it starts to clear up, we should move away from the brightness and follow the clouds. Always.

And so I must ask: Are you kidding? What, so heaven is hazy? God is gray?

Maybe. At least, the ultimate experience of God is gray. As in not black nor white, not agony nor ecstasy, not seasonal affective disorder nor carcinoma from sun overexposure; it is the subtle obscurity at the nexus of all those extremes.

According to the portion, God’s presence is made manifest in the middle. We call that dull, murky or boring — or, we can call it balance. See, the ultimate Los Angeles Sunday might be our human definition of heaven, but it is one that is inherently dependent on a day of equivalently dismal, mud-sliding gloom.

Here on earth, that’s how we see things: in terms of their polarities. The big Chief set that up in Genesis: light opposed darkness, day defined night, man contrasted woman. God created all the highs and lows in precise opposition to one another as the essence of our human experience — to be tempered with our spiritual experience. But we lost our way and got stuck in the duality, where our delusional aspirations for perfection and delight led to swings toward equal and opposite desperation. Lost in the realm of heroes and villains, beauty and ugliness, we still think that bad feelings will disappear when bright, sunny days come back around.

From this human perspective, it makes sense that we would equate a Divine day with dazzling, untainted perfection. But God is beyond our mundane experience. He is the source of it. She is the containment of it all. And in recognizing that God is One, we head for the clouds — we welcome the haze.

A cloud sheltered the Divine’s residence among the Israelites every day, and fire illuminated it by night; it is never fully dark nor light in the presence of what is most holy. Always a bit obscured, for how could we possibly apprehend everything or nothing?

God is gray. God is the opaque place in between all of our yearnings for some ultimate and definitive extreme. And while I am still “in heaven” that summer has finally descended upon La La Land, I am well aware that it is only as glorious as it is because it contrasts the nasty cold I kvetched about all winter.

Sunday was a temporary ecstasy for which I will pay with my grief in the fall. But if I can remember to set my sights on the clouds, as few or many as they may be, I will be sheltered by their subtle and eternal protection, predictably guided back to my own center. It may not be rapture, but it will certainly be peace. Wholeness. Shalom. That is paradise. A cloudy day.

Karen Deitsch is rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge.

 

Requests Swamp Israel Trip Program


Birthright Israel has received many more applications for its upcoming trips than it has spaces available. Approximately 14,000 young Jews applied for 8,000 spots in the program’s spring/summer trips this year in just the first 12 hours of registration Feb. 8.

The organization provides free trips to Israel for Jews ages 18 to 26. In the six years since its founding, Birthright has brought 98,000 people from 45 countries to Israel. The upcoming trip will include the program’s 100,000th participant.

“The level of demand is unprecedented and well exceeds our financial capability to accommodate the majority of those who currently wish to go on Taglit-Birthright Israel trips,” said Susie Gelman, Birthright Israel Foundation chair.

Taglit is the Hebrew name for the program.

“As Taglit-Birthright Israel grows rapidly and develops into a community-supported organization, we hope that our friends will support us in enabling more young Jews to participate in the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience, so that we can send the 100,000th participant and plan for the next 100,000,” Gelman said.

Federation to End Donor Subscriptions


Starting next year, Jewish Journal readers who received their weekly newspaper by donating to The Jewish Federation will still be able to get it, but not as part of their Federation donation.

Readers will be able to subscribe directly to The Journal for home delivery, or pick it up for free at distribution sites around Los Angeles.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2005, The Federation will no longer purchase 20,000 annual Journal subscriptions for its donors.

The change in this 18-year relationship comes as The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles launches a unique and unprecedented plan to distribute some 110,000 copies of its weekly newspaper in the greater Los Angeles area.

"By 2006, we intend to be the largest circulation Jewish community weekly in North America," Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman said.

As part of its plan, The Journal will rely largely on free distribution and paid private subscriptions. Until now, The Journal has been able to pay cheap third-class postage rates, allowing it to charge $30 per subscription. Under U.S. Postal Service regulations, a company must pay first-class postage if it distributes a majority of papers for free. First- class postage for weekly delivery is $60 per year.

The Jewish Journal will be running a series of ads to alert readers to its new distribution system.

The distribution plan is unique among North America’s 135 Jewish community papers. But Eshman says it suits a community that is in itself unique. "L.A. Jewry is dispersed, diverse and at the cutting edge of American Jewish life," Eshman said, "and we want our paper to reach and reflect all parts of it."

Journal Chief Operating Officer Kimber Sax said the change could initially cost the Journal, a nonprofit, "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in lost revenue.

On the upside, she said, giving away The Journal is expected to double the paper’s circulation to 110,000 by 2006. Sax and Eshman are confident the increased penetration will make the paper more attractive to advertisers hungry to reach the affluent Jewish community.

"Our vision is that everywhere you go in greater Los Angeles County, whether you’re in Arcadia, Conejo, Encino, San Gabriel or Torrance, you’re going to see The Jewish Journal," Sax said.

Eshman said the new goal challenges the paper to improve the quality to grow readership. Toward that end, The Journal has hired new writers and launched editions in Orange County and Conejo Valley. The paper just hired an in-house Web director to overhaul its Web site, which should be unveiled by October.

"Our goal is to be the largest Jewish newspaper in the country and among the best," Eshman said.

The Journal will become one of only a handful of Jewish papers nationwide neither owned by nor selling thousands of subscriptions to federations, said Neil Rubin, senior editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times and former president of the American Jewish Press Association. He estimated that about 85 percent of Jewish papers have formal financial ties with the philanthropic bodies, including the Cleveland Jewish News and the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, which are federation-owned. Such arrangements help keep some publications afloat by guaranteeing paid circulation, he said.

However, Rubin said at the very least these relationships create the appearance of conflicts of interest.

With federation papers, "you’re not really doing journalism. You’re self-censoring or you’re being censured, which isn’t healthy for the Jewish community," said Rubin, whose Baltimore Jewish Times is independent.

Relations between the Los Angeles Federation and Journal occasionally became frosty after stories critical of the organization ran in the paper. Both Federation President John Fishel and Journal Editor Eshman deny these occasional conflicts played any role in the impending separation.

Eshman said the philanthropic organization no longer could afford subscriptions at a time of dramatically increasing operating costs and only slightly higher fund raising. He said the split might have been driven by cost-cutting recommendations made by an internal Federation task force.

Fishel said The Journal’s decision to give away most of its papers necessitated the separation. With The Journal’s decision to giveaway most copies, subscriptions will cost more than The Federation wants to spend, Fishel said.

Still, he said he hoped Federation members would continue to pick up The Journal, which has served the community well.

"I think The Journal has improved dramatically over the last decade," he said.

For the Kids


One Fun Festival

Come to the Israeli Independence Day Festival on May 2,
10 a.m.-7 p.m. at Woodley Park (between Burbank Boulevard and Victory Boulevard adjacent to the 405).

For more information about the festival, go to www.israelfestival.com,
and be sure to stop by The Jewish Journal booth for free goodies.