Can men and women really be just friends?


After the 1989 blockbuster movie “When Harry Met Sally…” many were left questioning whether truly platonic relationships are possible. But friendships between men and women really do exist and, if anything, are becoming increasingly common.

Over the past two decades, the differences between male and female societal roles have narrowed. Women are spending time in the workplace beside men; men are more actively participating in child care, housework and parenting. These generational shifts have spawned cross-gender friendships that your grandma never dreamed about.

Yet there is still a paucity of research and no roadmap to guide us in handling these complicated relationships. That’s why we tend to resort to shorthand when explaining them. We may say having an opposite-sex friend is like “having a sister” or “having a brother.”

Shared values and expectations are essential to any friendship, but achieving this between platonic friends is especially tricky.

Kate’s experience highlights the potential pitfalls of failing to define a platonic friendship explicitly from the beginning — and, perhaps, redefining it periodically. (The names here are not real.)

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10. My Friend Suddenly Shut Me Out of Her Life

The case of Kate

Kate met her best friend, Jake, through her husband, Marc. At first, the three friends went to the movies and had dinner together quite often. Then Jake met Allyson, who would later become his wife, and the threesome became a foursome.

Jake was outgoing and loved being with people. Allyson worked long hours as a nurse, so Jake fell into the habit of coming over often to hang out with his old buddies. “It began to seem like he was always with us,” Kate says. He was even there, clapping like an uncle, when her son, Ari, took his first steps.

If Marc was working, Jake would accompany Kate to the mall to pick out baby clothes or to shop for gifts. “Jake actually enjoyed shopping, and I often joked he was my favorite girlfriend,” Kate says. Marc trusted his best friend (and his wife) so there wasn’t a hint of jealousy.

“There was only one time when I felt really awkward with Jake,” Kate admits. The two couples were at a movie, and Jake asked his wife to switch seats so he could sit beside Kate. “I nearly died,” she says. “I was so embarrassed and stunned he would do something like that.” But that seemed like a one-time gaffe.

A few years into their friendship, Jake confided to Marc that his marriage was foundering. Kate and Marc encouraged Jake to see a marriage counselor and tried to support him. Soon after, things calmed down and seemed normal between Jake and Allyson.

One day, however, Marc was changing a tire in the driveway when Jake stopped by. He went into the house to say hello to Kate. Out of the blue, Jake blurted out, “I’ve met the love of my life.”

“You’re married,” Kate said. “Are you having an affair?” She was shocked and disappointed in her friend.

Then came the kicker. “It’s you,” Jake said.

Kate was speechless. She picked up Ari and ran outside. Jake followed and said goodbye to all of them as if nothing had happened. After he drove away, Kate immediately told Marc about the incident. The next day, the couple called Jake, and Kate told him that even if he wasn’t, she and Marc were happily married. She hung up and cut off all contact with her once-best friend. Although it was painful to lose a friend, as far as Kate was concerned, Jake had crossed a line that signaled the end of the friendship.

“You can’t expect everything from one relationship,” comments Lauree Ostrofsky, founder of Simply Leap, a life coaching and communications company in Washington, DC. “Even if your partner is great, other friends (male and female) can really add to and enrich your life,” she says.

But just as same-sex friendships morph over time—and even the best of them don’t necessarily last forever—recognize that a platonic friendship may turn steamy for one individual or another. Having a solid friendship as a foundation should help in successfully renegotiating the terms of the relationship.

Searching for rules

Three basic rules can prevent problems in opposite-gender friendships:

1) Establish clear boundaries from the onset
Whether you’re single or married, platonic friends need to talk about what’s acceptable in the relationship and what isn’t. For example, if one is a touchy-feely person and the other isn’t, they had better get on the same page quickly. Kate and Jake fell into their relationship without ever explicitly discussing it. When she felt uncomfortable with Jake’s behavior in the movie theater, she should have spoken to him about it afterward in private.

2) Respect your romantic mate or partner
If one or both platonic friends are married or in a romantic relationship with someone else, they need to be especially careful not to undermine that primary relationship. While Marc was open and forgiving, maintaining a platonic relationship is inadvisable if your spouse or romantic partner is insecure and jealous. Never fan the flames by keeping secrets, or by sacrificing time and closeness with a primary partner for a friend. Be inclusive and make opportunities for the three or four of you to be together as well.

3) Be cautious about appearances to others

You both may have agreed on the rules — and your romantic partner may have blessed the plan, too — but people in your workplace (for example, an older supervisor) may still associate cross-gender friendships with romance. Flaunting a relationship with a “work spouse” (someone you’re closely tied to at work) can create misunderstandings among supervisors and co-workers that undermine your reputation at work. Always maintain your professionalism and exercise caution about drinking too much at office parties (think TV’s “Mad Men”) or burning the midnight oil together too often.

A story of unconditional friendship


I met Robin on Passover in 2000. We were both crossing a busy street in Beverly Hills carrying covered dishes, my 6-year-old was holding on to the edge of my skirt, and I asked if she was going to the same seder we were. It was my first Passover in Los Angeles, and now I realize it was a ridiculous question given the thousands of seders happening, but it turned out we were heading to the same house.

Some friendships are light and easy, others are challenging. Friendship with Robin was both. A comedy producer turned therapist, Robin had a wicked sense of humor. She loved to travel, to eat at the latest restaurant, to give the perfect gift accompanied by the perfect card — she would hand it over, beaming at her own wit. She read The New Yorker and The New York Times cover to cover, usually in the bathtub, passing along articles we simply had to discuss. She loved to shop, particularly if she had Bloomie bucks to spend; she loved a bargain, all things French, and she loved — loved — wine.

Robin also loved to tell stories — about the perfect meal on a trip to Europe or even the perfect parking spot on a trip to the mall. Robin was fun, and if things got too maudlin, she was ready to redirect your energy toward something lighter.

As a therapist, Robin used humor to help cancer patients cope with illness. So, when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the fall of 2008, her friends expected she would have more coping skills than most people. We were wrong. Robin convinced herself that she was not terminal and so was unprepared as her illness worsened and she needed more help. Her friends stepped in to care for her.

Susie — a 20-year friend of Robin’s — and I became the A team. We cried together in a huddle with Robin when she got the news early on that she wasn’t a candidate for surgery. We kept her other friends and family up to date. We sent e-mails, coordinated food and chemo companion schedules, talked to her doctors, made emergency room runs, took her to appointments and did errands when she was too doped up to drive but wouldn’t admit it. We also dropped everything whenever Robin would call saying, “You’re not busy, are you? Could you just …” It was Susie and I who convinced her to hire an aide, and, near the end, I got her to tearfully agree it was time for hospice.

I am an ovarian cancer survivor, so I knew my way around treatment. I also learned quickly that Robin needed me to be a cheerleader for her recovery. No talk of death; I was to remind her that although her tumor marker was going up, the CAT scan showed the tumor shrinking. Or despite not getting to have surgery, her level of pain was still low. Robin said I knew how to make her feel better. Early in our relationship, she was like an older sister to me. The last year of her life, I was like a mother to her.

Robin’s directorial debut, videotaping her friends on an iPhone from her bed during her last days.

Along with the A team, a vast network of loyal friends, some from as far away as England and France, visited regularly, brought meals, helped with shopping and errands, walked Robin’s dog, took her to appointments and checked in constantly.

On Dec. 26, 2009, Robin called at 7 a.m., crying with pain. It took Susie and me an hour to get her out of bed, dressed and down the stairs. I drove to the emergency room with Robin moaning in agony. Instead of going on the Ojai trip she had planned, Robin spent her birthday week in the hospital.

During the next few months, people came to say good-bye. Two friends came from France, a junior high school friend drove from Del Mar almost every weekend, high school and college friends came from across the country. An old crush even flew in and showed up at her door pretending to be a flower delivery guy.

Robin tested us at every turn. She made demands, argued, pushed and pulled. She continued the fiction that her disease was not terminal and wondered why everyone was suddenly visiting. She said some hurtful things in the name of “honesty.” Still, we all kept coming back. I sometimes wondered if she was testing us to be sure our love was unconditional. I like to think we passed.

In late March 2010, I struggled over whether to cancel a long-planned trip to Italy to celebrate my daughter’s 16th birthday. Robin told me I should go, but I wasn’t convinced she meant it. For many months, all my time and attention had been going to Robin. This time, I put my daughter first.

Just before I left, Robin told me that when I got the news, I shouldn’t be sad. Instead, I should raise a glass of wine to her. I smiled and told her, “I used to have a therapist friend named Robin who would tell me that you can’t control how people feel.” She laughed, and then she took my hand and we both cried. 

When Robin started hospice in mid-February, the nurse thought she would last two weeks. But through my March trip to Italy, we communicated daily. I told her about our purchases in Rome. She told me she ate a piece of brisket on Passover. We returned on a Thursday night. Friday morning I went straight to Robin’s house.

“I didn’t think I was waiting for you,” she told me, her voice barely audible, “but I was.” And then she said, “I’m not doing this right.” I knew she was asking for help dying.

Six of Robin’s closest friends from different parts of her life gathered at her house that weekend, along with her incredible aide, Elizabeth. We came for Robin, but also for each other. We took turns sitting by her bedside and sitting together, sharing our love for Robin. We had a wine party. Robin participated, taking a sip and videotaping us on an iPhone. She called it her directorial debut. She worried we were drinking her cellared wine; cellared was off limits!

We thought the party was a perfect ending and that now she could slip into that promised coma. She didn’t comply. At one point, we all came running up the stairs because we heard a noise. Robin laughed and said in her weak, morphine-slurred voice, “I’m having a Hollywood moment. I scratch my ass and six people come running!” When she was too weak to talk, she held out her arms to me like a baby, wanting to sit up so she could stay conscious, stay with us, for just a little while longer.

Early Monday morning, April 12, Robin finally let go. We were just a week shy of a decade of friendship. She had a big smile on her face, her eyes glistening. She looked radiant.

Friendship and freedom at Adat Chaverim


“What does it mean to be free and why is freedom so important?” was Karlo Silbiger’s first question to some 20 kids ranging from 3 years to early teens.

The youth and their parents were meeting on a recent Sunday morning to check out the offerings of Adat Chaverim (Community of Friends), especially its school and bar/bat mitzvah programs.

Adat Chaverim is a small congregation of secular, Humanistic Jews, whose brochure proposes that “reason rather than faith is the source of truth, and human intelligence and experience are capable of guiding our lives.”

Eight years after its was founded in the San Fernando Valley, Adat Chaverim is spreading its wings in concerted effort to attract like-minded Westsiders and broaden its services and educational programs.

The key to the congregation’s expansion from some 40 current families is its move to the American Jewish University (AJU), formerly the University of Judaism, on the exact border between the Valley and the Los Angeles basin.

The group attending the school orientation session consisted of young professional couples, averaging three kids apiece, just the kind of demographic for which any synagogue would give away half its building fund.

Mitchell and Susan Saltzman of Century City brought their three boys, ages 3, 7 and 10. The older kids had previously attended a Reform synagogue’s preschool and liked it.

But, said Mitchell Saltzman, “A friend told us that his children were getting a great education at Adat Chaverim, so we thought we’d check it out.”

John and Mara Glassner of Encino came with their three young daughters and said they hoped to find a Sunday school in line with their “skeptical” outlook.

Also working in Adat Chaverim’s favor are the much lower membership and school fees, as compared to almost all other synagogues.

To keep the youngest kids happy, education director Silbiger passed out crayons and coloring sheets, recounting the story of Moses and the Exodus, though the dialogue deviated somewhat from the biblical version. Moses tells the pre-liberated Israelites, “God said if you don’t like something, you can change it through collective action.”

Also innovative is the congregation’s bar/bat mitzvah program, which requires 13 preparatory projects.

These include writing reports on the work of two Jewish community organizations; attending services of the four main Jewish denominations; 15 hours of community work; planning and preparing a Jewish holiday meal; reading a Torah portion and explaining its cultural background; and writing a story using some Yiddish and Ladino words.

By the way, what does it mean to be free?

According to the bright and alert youngsters, it means that “Nobody can boss you around,” “You can go where you want to go.” “You have a sense of responsibility,” and “You can believe in what you want to believe.”

This year’s High Holy Day services at AJU’s Berman Chapel will be led on Rosh Hashanah by Harvard University Chaplain Greg Epstein. There will also be services on Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur. A Tashlich ceremony is set for 11 a.m. on Oct. 5 at Los Encinos State Historic Park in Encino. For more information, call (818) 346-5152.

Pope in Paris: ‘To be anti-Semitic is to be anti-Christian’ [VIDEO]


PARIS (JTA) – Jews and Christians should get to know each other better, Pope Benedict XVI said at a meeting with French Jewish leaders.

On the first day of his four-day visit to Paris, the pope condemned fanatics and anti-Semitism, called for a strengthening of bonds between Christians and Jews, and pushed for more religion in a staunchly secular French society.

Just before sundown Friday, the pope told Jewish leaders that “our fraternal links are a continual invitation to know each other better and to respect each other.”

At the former monastery in Paris where he spoke, the pope added that “the Church rises up against all forms of anti-Semitism” and “to be anti-Semitic is also to be anti-Christian.” Among the Jewish leaders present for the meeting was Richard Prasquier, the president of the CRIF umbrella organization.

Making his case for a more open view of religion in a country where religion is thought best kept private, Benedict warned that too little “obligation” would serve “the hands of fanaticism and arbitrariness.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy shocked France last December—but seemed to have pleased the pope—when he began making his case for “positive secularism” as an alternative to the existing French mantra that demands strict separation of church and state, among other social codes.

On Sunday, the pope led a public Mass in the town of Lourdes, attracting about 150,000 followers.

 

Eva’s prayer


It’s not often you see someone pray to God with all their might for something to happen, and then, when God doesn’t make it happen, thank Him profusely andeven celebrate.

My friend Eva Brown prayed to God with all her might.

She was praying the day she called me a few months ago and said, “Can you come over now? I need to see you.” By a stroke of luck, I had just finished a meeting in her area, and I went right over.

It was one of those bright California afternoons that make you feel guilty if you’re not in a sunny mood. And I was in a great mood, until I got to Eva’s place, a little bungalow in West Hollywood where she has lived for over half a century. With the sun’s rays piercing through the drapes of her immaculate living room, Eva sat on her sofa and gave me the news: She had stage IV leukemia.

Her spleen was so swollen by the tumor that fluid had entered her chest. At 81, she was too frail for surgery. Before doctors could start aggressive chemotherapy, Eva would need a bone marrow test. She was told the earliest it could happen would be two weeks. When she got to the doctor’s office, he changed his mind and said it needed to be done in a hospital. That meant another two weeks. All along, the pain was getting worse.

That’s when Eva started praying.

She saw all these obstacles as a sign that her time was up. Her daughter was not well. The thought of losing her had always haunted Eva. So she figured this was her chance to be the sacrificial lamb that might save her daughter.

“Don’t take her, take me,” she prayed to God day and night, while reading Tehilim (Psalms).

As she was telling me all this, my discomfort grew. This wasn’t the Eva Brown I had come to know — the feisty Holocaust survivor who for years had talked to thousands of people about the preciousness of life. This Eva Brown was ready to throw in the towel.

But I just listened, awkwardly, not agreeing with her resignation, but also wanting to provide comfort and support. As she saw things, after years of teaching people how to live, maybe her new mission would be to teach people how to die: how to accept one’s fate with grace and dignity — how to live while you’re dying.

We agreed that we would film her last statement, which we did a few weeks later. It was not pleasant. The video is a soul-searching, painful summary of her life.

In the meantime, while Eva was anticipating the next world, her good friend Sara Aftergood introduced her to another doctor, Sara’s husband, David, who after talking to Eva immediately put her in touch with a specialist, Dr. Solomon Hamburg. The new doctor and Eva hit it off. Hamburg, a child of Holocaust survivors, took her on as his personal mission. The bone marrow test was done in his office in a day. The chemo would start a few days later, every other Monday for eight weeks. Hamburg had no clue that Eva had been praying for God to “take her.” All he wanted was for Eva to live.

During the chemo treatments, Eva would call and tell me about the incredible physical pain she was going through. It seemed that every part of her little body was aching. She was in such pain she no longer had the strength to pray. When she finally told Dr. Hamburg that even with painkillers her suffering was becoming unbearable, he didn’t downplay it. To the contrary, he told her it was “useful pain”: It meant that the treatment was working.

He pleaded with her to hold on and fight.

He wasn’t the only one who helped Eva fight through the pain. For years, Eva has had an extended family down the street at Maimonides Academy. The head of the school, Rabbi Boruch Kupfer, often came to visit. One day, knowing what Eva was going through, he asked her what they could bring. Eva wasn’t shy: Food, she said, and lots of soup. She had no strength to cook, and she loved soup.

Well, don’t ask. Overnight, the leaders of the Maimonides PTA — Kathy Hiller and Susan Tonczek — turned into managers of a catering operation. For several months, hot, homemade food cooked by Maimonides families was delivered to Eva’s door, along with words of comfort from regular visitors like Marci Spitzer and Sabina Levine.

It was clear that everyone in Eva’s life wanted her to fight and to hang in there, not least her ill daughter. But the pain was so deep she had trouble thinking straight. She started to see God everywhere. She saw God in her daughter’s eyes. She saw God in all the people who wanted her to live. She even saw God in the fact that she was in too much pain to pray for Him to “take her.”

Maybe, she realized, God was simply saying no, it’s not your time to go.

This helped her regain the will to live. Armed with the food deliveries from Maimonides, the dedication of Dr. Hamburg and the love she got from all over, she made it a personal project to conquer the pain of chemotherapy. Like she says now, pain became her “full-time job.” It’s not like she had no experience: Surviving 10 concentration camps in one year at the age of 16 had given her plenty of experience in full-time suffering.

As the weeks went by and her battle continued, her condition slowly improved.

On the Friday before Shavuot, Eva called to give me the news: Her cancer was in remission. The tumor had shrunk and was dormant. She still had some life left in her, and was full of gratitude to everyone who had helped her get through the ordeal.

Having regained some of her strength, Eva is slowly returning to public speaking, and praying with all her might that her daughter will get better.

She’s hoping that God, once again, will know how to answer her prayers.




Last year, Eva Brown talked with JewishJournal.com about her experience during the Shoah. Video by Jay Firestone.


David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Jacob’s Ladders


Every neighborhood has its gathering places.

In my neighborhood, you'll find one if you head west on Pico Boulevard from Robertson Boulevard, past the ethnic aromas of the “center” hood and into the kosher Ice Blended Mochas of the “west” hood, where, right next to an Office Depot, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf rules.

That's where you're likely to meet a young man named Jacob Katz. Jacob is a happy-go-lucky, kippah-wearing, 23-year-old Jew who mixes ice-blended coffee drinks and takes care of customers at the Coffee Bean. Talk about a neighborhood hangout. When Hillary Clinton wrote the book “It Takes a Village,” she could have started here.

Pop in to the sunny patio on any afternoon and you're likely to see Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky at a corner table giving a private Torah class; a Conservadox aspiring pop star who used to study in a Jerusalem seminary promoting her upcoming live show; a few perfectly coiffed frum supermoms taking a break from the carpooling; a couple of born-again Chasids from the Happy Minyan talking about a Jethro Tull concert; and a retired couple from Palm Springs making their weekly visit to their old neighborhood (“We bought a house on that street for $37,000. You know what it's worth now? I don't know why we got rid of it. Is that your daughter? How old is she? Hey, we have a granddaughter the same age.”).

Late afternoon, the patio gets invaded by YULA high-school students coming to unwind after a long day of Talmud, algebra and Shakespeare. The more eager students lay out their homework next to their lattes. The funny thing is, everyone seems to know Jacob.

You see, Jacob has a unique style and a unique voice. He has Down syndrome, so you have to listen carefully to get everything he says. In fact, to understand Jacob really well, you have to listen as well as he does.

Because Jacob Katz is a human sponge.

Ever since he was a child, he's had a talent for listening, and for absorbing everything around him. But as he got older, this talent morphed into something more universal: “I want this” and “I want that.” As his mother Frieda recalls, Jacob developed this unlimited capacity to want things.

It didn't matter what, Jacob wanted it: I want a computer, I want to learn how to drive, I want to listen to the Beatles, I want to go to college, I want to go to the movies. You name it — if it was cool, Jacob wanted it.

So one day, he looks up at one of the coolest places in Los Angeles, just a few blocks from his house, and he says, “I want to work at Coffee Bean.” And guess what? He gets the job.

Don't think it was a cake walk. He had to fill out a lengthy application, and after meeting with the store manager, he impressed him enough to get an interview with the district manager, a religious Christian woman named Jan. Obviously something clicked. She hired Jacob, and he started training that same week.

That was six months ago. Today, Jacob laughs all the way to the bank every two weeks to deposit his paycheck.

He laughs in other places, too. He laughs when he takes the bus twice a week to Santa Monica College, where he's learning all kinds of things, including how to type 30 words a minute without looking. From what I hear, Jacob's pretty well known around campus.

This week, Jacob is doing research on the Internet for a little dvar Torah he'll be giving at the Etta Israel Shabbaton at Beth Jacob Congregation. Etta Israel is the popular local organization that caters to kids with Down syndrome and other special needs, and it's where Jacob studied Judaism every Sunday for seven years.

Many years ago, Jacob's mother stood up at an Etta Israel dinner and said something that people still talk about. What she said was remarkably simple.

She said that all the things that Jacob did over the years — special classes, speech therapies, life skills training, etc. — were really important, but that one thing in his life was even more important: friendships.

Since he was very young, Jacob has been blessed with friends. Friends of his sister and three brothers are his friends, too. He has friends at Etta Israel, friends where he prays every morning (Young Israel of Century City), friends at the gym where he works out, friends all over the hood.

One reason he has so many friends is that he keeps in touch, and he doesn't ask for much. I love getting his calls: “Heyyy David, it's Jacob” is how he always starts, in his deep baritone voice. A little schmoozing, a few laughs, a few “I love yous,” and we're done. I think he gets a kick that the person at the other end of the line knows who he is.

At the neighborhood Coffee Bean, where he works four hours a day, four days a week, they definitely know who he is. Yet despite being so loved and having so many friends, guess what? Jacob wants more.

The other day, while sipping a pomegranate ice tea, and after singing his favorite Beatles tune (“Ticket to Ride”), he confided that there is one friend he still doesn't have — his lifetime soulmate. Like millions of single Jews, Jacob wants a great Jewish shidduch.

When you look at his track record with the things that he wants, and how single women in this town go crazy for Ice Blended Mochas, I wouldn't count him out.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Friendship — and pain


I don’t date much. I have all the usual excuses – too busy, not into “the scene,” but really, I’m just a lazy dater. I’m like the fisherman who waits for the fish to jump into
his bucket. I don’t go to bars or join groups, but if someone comes my way, I happily pursue.

That’s what happened with Patrick. In December, 2004, a friend offered to put my profile on a dating Web site. Easy enough. I’d wait for the fish to come to me.

And a few did. Including Patrick.

Patrick is caring, intelligent, well-read and fun-loving. He’s tall, lean, muscular, sports short straight blond hair (except when it’s long, curly and mussed up) and is about 18 years my junior.

He responded to my profile, and soon I found myself in a virtual world, instant messaging until 3 a.m., as we got to know one another. I’d go to bed each night with the swirling, euphoric feeling that I’d found true love — or that it had found me.

You’re probably thinking: Get a clue, Jeff. Surely you know that virtual words and pictures are anything but reality. But as someone who hadn’t been dating much (read: My last relationship was when a Democrat ran the country), I was determined to approach this optimistically.

After several weeks, I was determined to turn this relationship from virtual to actual. But Patrick (code-named Aharon by friends who couldn’t accept that I might date a non-Jew) wasn’t ready. I was reluctantly patient, overly empathic and beginning to doubt we’d ever meet.

Then, two months after our virtual relationship began, I again suggested meeting, and instead of no, he said, maybe. As fast as you can say Rip Van Winkle, he was driving to my house for our first date.

I prepared with eager anticipation. He arrived, we talked, the chemistry seemed an extension of our up-to-then instant messaging relationship, and six hours later he left, I knew that what I felt in our e-mails was becoming reality.
We shared guilty pleasures like “Survivor” and “Desperate Housewives,” had many common interests and on and on. Our second date also lasted six hours.

Sometimes, it seemed, the fish does jump into your bucket.

Well, before the third date, he e-mailed that my bucket wasn’t the one he was looking for. In person, he said he felt I was too emotional and our ways of looking at the world were too different.

I was sure there was something he wasn’t telling me.

“Is it our religious differences?” (He’s agnostic and was expelled from Catholic preschool.)

“No.”

I summed up my courage: “Are you not attracted to me? If not, just say so. It’s really OK.” (We all know how OK that would be, but I needed the truth.)

“No,” he said.

My ego breathed relief.

I became lead attorney for my own defense, while trying to remain unemotional.
“Well, that doesn’t seem like a deal-breaker. A deal-breaker would be if we weren’t attracted to one another, or if I were a sociopath. And I’m not emotional. I don’t cry. Not when it counts, anyway. Maybe at a Hallmark commercial….”

Anyway, there was an unspoken agreement to continue to give it a try. Unspoken because he didn’t say it until six months later.

In the intervening months, we got together once a week or so. It was always wonderful, and I always ended the “seems-like-a-date-but-is-it-a-date?” hoping it would lead to more.

June 30, just before I went to Israel for a month, we had the most memorable romantic “is-it-a-date-date-to-date”: a hike in Topanga Canyon (seeing deer up close); a picnic lunch on the beach; drinks at the LAX bar; Encounters; and dinner. Afterward, as we walked to his car, I felt the sadness that the day had to end and the ecstasy of this perfect day.

Patrick was my fish. We hugged at his car, and he said the hope-filled words that would echo in my head ever since: “I’m really going to miss you, Jeff.”
OK. So it wasn’t a vow of love. But it expressed to me how much our relationship meant to him.

After a month of little communication, I returned with purposely understated but meaningful gifts for Patrick. He was in and out of town in August, and I was disappointed that his e-mail responses were few and my voice mail messages went unreturned. Yet I thought about him all the time, and “I’m really going to miss you, Jeff” continued to echo.

In September, we finally saw one another for the first time in more than two months. I was clearly more excited to see him than he seemed to be to see me. When he left that night, I was heartbroken. I spent that week wallowing in self-pity and resolved that I would ask him the question to which I already knew the answer.

At the end of our next get-together, I told him I wanted to talk. Patrick told me he had in fact given it a try (who knew?), and he wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, but that our friendship was really important to him. (I think they call this the consolation prize, though it offers little consolation.)

Ironically, I felt better when he left that night. I knew where we stood. Patrick and I continue to get together weekly, and he continues to be among my first thoughts every day. I know that he likely doesn’t think about me as much, and that when he does, it isn’t the way I think of him.

Some friends believe that I shouldn’t see him again; that it would be easier. But I’m not ready to do that. Perhaps I think I should be stronger than that. Perhaps my heart simply refuses to accept the telegram from my head that says: It’s over. Stop. He’s not interested. Stop. He never will be. Stop.

I love my friendship with Patrick. Perhaps one day my heart will catch up with my head.

Jeff Bernhardt is a writer living in Los Angeles. He has written “Who Shall Live…?” a play for the High Holidays, and his work appears in the books “Mentsh” and “Rosh Hashanah Readings.”

D-A-T-E is just a four-letter word


I’m not sure why this never made any of the 2006 year-end lists, but it seems that — at least for singles — the most confusing question of the year wasn’t “How do you
pronounce ‘al-Zarqawi?'” but the more mundane “How was your date?” To be specific, the confusing part would always be the word “date,” as in, “Was I even on one?”

Because in today’s modern world, a guy and a girl looking for love can make plans, rush home from work, wash extra carefully in certain areas, put on nice clothes, spend three hours in flirtatious conversation at the local sushi joint, say a warm good night and still come home wondering whether what they just experienced was a date or two people who wanted to be on a date but were instead simply “hanging out.”


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I’ve lost count of how many times in the past year I’ve innocently asked friends — male or female — “So, how was your date?” only to get the response, “Well, I’m not sure it was a date…” followed by some analytical drivel I can’t quote here because I wasn’t really listening to the nonsense that came between “And then he said … ” “So I said … ” “But then he acted like … ” “So I couldn’t tell if he thought….”

As a single mom whose social life in the first half of 2006 was as nonexistent as sleep, I couldn’t understand why everyone had suddenly become so squeamish about using the word “date.” Why wouldn’t anyone call a date a date anymore? Like other neutral words that became linguistic pariahs (“Well, I’m not sure I’d call myself a feminist”) had the word “date” acquired a negative connotation during the time I’d been parked in a rocking chair breast-feeding and reading back issues of Parenting magazine?

Then, as soon as I started wearing a bra and reading The New Yorker again, I asked a guy out and the semantic “date” problem became utterly clear. We met for dinner, shared some calamari and banter, and took a quick walk before ending up at my car. I thought it was fairly obvious that there was some platonic but not romantic chemistry between us, which I guess is also why I thought it was fairly obvious that when I hugged him goodbye, it was the same hug I give to all of my friends and even some random strangers.

Admittedly, he did say, “I’d like to take you out again,” which under other circumstances might suggest the words “on a date,” but this is a guy whose neighbor is one of The Beatles. I mean, with that kind of financial picture, I thought, maybe he takes everyone out.

Sort of like the way I hug everyone. In any event, I assumed he knew that although we’d indeed gone on a date, if we got together again, we would be “hanging out.”

Just in case, though — and believe me, I’m not proud of this — when we did make plans the following week, I felt the need to explain that while I was definitely interested in him, I wasn’t interested interested in him. In other words, we’d be setting a date but not going on a date date.

It was a rather unfortunate e-mail, one that still makes me blush with mild regret and severe mortification. Especially since it ultimately turned out that he had zero interest in me — “as a friend” or otherwise. Date schmate.

I realized, in retrospect, that there were good reasons for my never having asked a guy on a date before (or since).

Unconsciously, even before my friends started substituting the verboten words “going on a date” with “having a drink,” “meeting for brunch” or “doing a hike,” I must have known that regardless of whether you used that four-letter D-word, the concept alone could get you into all kinds of trouble. For instance, if I asked a guy out on an explicit date, and he wasn’t interested, he’d have to find a tactful way to reject the offer — and as a woman, I know what an oxymoron “tactful rejection” can be.

On the other hand, if I made a more casual offer, how would he know it was a date? Would he interpret “Want to come to this party on Thursday night?” as “with me” or “to meet other women”? Even worse, what if he knew it was a date and I realized midway through the evening that I just wanted to be friends (or never see him again)? How could I convey my lack of interest in dating him (other than not returning his calls, which he’d interpret as me “playing hard to get,” since I, after all, was the one who expressed interest in the first place)?

My friend Kevin (a friend friend, no dating) said that to avoid this kind of confusion, he goes on what he likes to call “stealth dates.” As he put it, “Most women don’t know I’m asking them out, and 70 percent of the time, they won’t know I’m on a date with them. But I’m having a lovely time.”

It’s an interesting strategy, but my wish for 2007 is that we singles return to the real thing. We may be looking ahead toward a brand new year, but I’m already nostalgic for a good old-fashioned romantic d-a-t-e. If only somebody would be bold enough to unambiguously ask me on one.

Lori Gottlieb is a commentator for NPR and her most recent book is “I Love You, Nice To Meet You” (St. Martin’s Press). Her Web site is www.lorigottlieb.com.

I challenged karma, but did the karma win?


Contrary to what the polls say, California must be the most religious state in the union. Now that Pluto’s gone, it should be classified as its own planet.

I remember when I first realized this. I’d been living here for less than a year, and I was in a car with three other women.


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“So who were you in your past life?” one said matter-of-factly as she drove, as if she were asking us where we wanted to go for dinner.

The other women answered right away: Marie Antoinette, or a man, or something indubitably better than their current commonplace existence, although I can’t exactly recall what. What I do remember is that in answering, they didn’t lose a beat; they didn’t even have to think about the question. It was ready, there, waiting, like the answer to “what’s your name?” or “what do you do?”

“Who were you?”

Then they waited for my answer.

See, I’m the type of person who’s hardly sure some days of who I am, and I spend much of my time contemplating who I’m going to be (somebody, please!), so until that point, I’d never considered who I was, unless it was in the context of the ’90s or ’80s or some other bad hair decade, when I was actually alive, i.e. this time around.

“Uh, I don’t know if I believe in past lives” is what I said after a few moments.

Silence. There was incredulity while they paused to think about how, if I’m confined only to modern, Western psychology then this thing I’m living right here and now — ignominious and penurious — this life is all there is for me, I must be a pathetic and pitiable creature.

I’ve now have been living in Los Angeles for five years, and the hippie-dippie-yoga-Pilates-karma-kabbalah-astrology-Burning Man-surfer-superstitious-psychic-feng shui-acupuncturist-vegetarian ethos has invaded my life. (I’m embarrassed to say I practice some of the above now.)

These days, I barely blink when someone tosses off a New-Ageism like, “This world is just practice to repair your soul,” which would be a conversational bomb anywhere else in the country. I hardly react to the fact that the moon is in retrograde (why I lose money), that my chakras are off (why I’m sad) and that my adrenals are low (why I’m not sleeping).

Yet when it comes to dating, sometimes the New Age is hard to swallow.

Consider the latest buzzword on the New Age scene: “manifest.” Not the adjective that modifies “destiny” and the very prescient concept of American conquest of others’ lands, but a retooling of the transitive verb: “You manifest what comes to you.” If you put it out there in the universe, the universe will “answer.

You want success? You must manifest it. You simply must ask the universe for it, open your soul to it, and it will come. (I think you might have to work for it, too, but I’m not sure how much.) You want a boyfriend? You have to manifest it.

Is this philosophy just another excuse for blaming the victim? Am I single because I’m not open to dating? Am I not manifesting enough?

And yet it’s hard to resist the New Age, the principle that I get what I deserve, that bad karma smacks you in the face like a boomerang, that the guy I never called back means there will be another guy who’s not going to call me back someday, and it will be directly related. That you get what you put out there.

Maybe it’s my fault then that I recently manifested a hippie. I put it out there in the universe that I wasn’t very interested in all the traditional (boring) career-minded guys. That I didn’t care much for being settled, for wealth or material goods. And poof! Like a wish from a genie bottle, I meet a traveling Jewish hippie. He’s kind and loving, romantic — in a Hollywood-lead type of way, just not as clean. Oh, and also a little flaky.
Wait, that’s a judgment, my hippie would say. He prefers to see himself as spontaneous and unplanned.

“I have to see what tomorrow will feel like,” he’ll say if I ask him what he’s doing.

I nod sagely, but this is the point where the New Age leaves me wanting. Why does everything have to be so mysterious? For example: My hippie can leave when he makes his ticket out of here; he’ll have children if he decides to impregnate someone, and in five years, he’ll be exactly where he directs himself.

I hate to sound the cynic, like a friend’s father who once bellowed: “You want to find yourself? You’re right here!” And yet there’s something about this New Ageism that sounds strangely familiar to me: “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be”; “All things happen for a reason….”

Wait a minute! Didn’t Rabbi Akiba say that? Gam zu l’tova — this, too, is for the best? Isn’t the idea that your soul is repaired through this world a Jewish concept?

That’s what bothers me. New Ageism is comforting because it’s a religion. It’s a way to exert control over a life that is, for the most part, uncontrollable.

The problem with New Ageism is it’s religion-lite. It tries to provide a superficial panacea to deeper, more painful problems. It’s a Band-Aid for open-heart surgery.

When it comes to dating — to life, really — there are no easy answers. Our own prophet, Job, knew that sometimes suffering had no purpose, that not everything happens for a reason. I can’t say that the Torah is the first place I look when it comes to dating advice, but I’d rather rely on my own religious upbringing than on one that’s been cobbled together by a bunch of peripatetic Angelenos searching for an easy out.

I know the New Age is popular right now, and if I’m not open to it, the universe won’t be open to me. But that’s one chance I’m willing to take.

Manifest that!

The King of Hearts; Celebrating diversity


All About Atidim

“As Henry VIII told each of his six wives, ‘I won’t keep you long’,” promised Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, as he addressed some 300 guests at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The Nov. 16 occasion was a benefit for Atidim, an innovative Israeli project to assure an education for promising youngsters from the country’s poorer development towns and thus help close the social and economic gap between Israel’s haves and have-nots.

Gillerman assured his audience that the recent battles against Hezbollah in Lebanon had been a success and had changed the rules in the Mideast diplomatic game.

Joining the ambassador on the speaker’s rostrum were Rabbi Eli Hirscher, Skirball founder Uri Hirscher, Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch, and Israeli industrialist Eitan Wertheimer.

The only disappointment was the no-show of megabillionaire Warren Buffet, who called in sick.

Metuka Benjamin, co-organizer of the event with Anette and A. Stuart Rubin, received a standing ovation, as did two Atidim-aided graduates, one from Ethiopia, the other from Russia.

Conversation at the Circuit’s table was enlivened by Rochelle Ginsburg, principal of the Stephen S. Wise Temple elementary school, and her physician husband Eli.

As master of ceremonies, actor Michael Burstyn kept the action moving and concluded the evening on a high note by leading guests in singing “Jerusalem of Gold.”

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

King of Hearts

Larry King and his friends showed the world their determination to provide health care to all no matter what their economic circumstances when the Larry King Cardiac Foundation hosted “An Evening with Larry King and Friends” at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was a feast for the eyes and the palate and the heart and there was something for everyone as King and wife Shawn Southwick-King hosted the gala, entertaining the group with playful banter and true stories and incidents in their life.

“Entertainment Tonight”‘s adorable Mary Hart acted as emcee, bringing a whole lotta smiles and sunshine to the proceedings that honored Los Angeles’ own “movie star” mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, Eva (the men couldn’t get their eyes off her) Longoria, beloved and uber-generous philanthropists Alfred and Claude Mann, and renowned cardiologist Dr. Enrique Ostrzega. Athlete extraordinaire Lance Armstrong was on-hand to present the Corazones Unidos (United Hearts) award to Longoria, who thanked Armstrong for being there for her and acknowledged her deep admiration for him as someone who has triumphed in the face of personal adversity.

Three fortunate families bid $15,000 a piece for a personal portrait done by legendary American artist Peter Max.

The event featured entertainment by Il Divo, and raised more than $700,000 in funds to support the partnership forged earlier this year between the LAC+USC Healthcare Network, COPE Health Solutions, the Los Angeles County division of the American Heart Association and the Larry King Cardiac Foundation.

A Woman of Valor

It was a nonstop kvellfest when civic leader Rita Brucker received the Coastal Cities “Volunteer of the Year” award by the American Cancer Society. Brucker was recognized for her 35 years of outstanding service as one of the founding architects for the “Reach to Recovery” program helping breast cancer survivors. Proud son Barry Brucker, Beverly Hills City Council member, who attended the event with his wife, Sue and father, Charlie, stated, “I was amazed at the number of breast cancer survivors who credited my mother for being an integral part in their survival … it was very emotional and we are very proud.”

Celebrating Diversity

The evening was as diversified as its cause Nov. 19 at the star-studded black tie Multicultural Motion Picture Association’s (MMPA)14th Annual Diversity Awards — “Celebrating Diversity – Creativity and Talent That Shine.” The event, honoring artists for their exceptional achievements in film and television, benefited The Multicultural Motion Picture Association’s Educational and Development Scholarship Fund, that helps talented and dedicated students, and upcoming filmmakers, seeking entry into the film and television professions.

Jarvee E. Hutcherson, executive producer of the 14th Annual Diversity Awards and president of MMPA, said, “We are very pleased to honor a very select talented group of artists every year at The Diversity Awards, each of whom our organization feels have broadened the creative landscape in the film and television industry through their visionary work. With this year’s theme … we are recognizing the foundation laid by both artistic leaders and the emerging depth of dedicated young artists, behind and in front of the camera, who are bringing to this industry, a vision and talent indicative of only greater things to come in the future.”

MMPA’s Educational Scholarship Fund provides financial assistance and technical support to young filmmakers bringing diverse stories to the screen.

All’s Well

Three women were honored at The Wellness Community of West Los Angeles’ annual Friends of Wellness luncheon at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The women, Judy Bernstein, Shirley Blitz and Lynda Levy have given of their time, their hearts and their spirit to helping fulfill the mission of The Wellness Community.

“Their efforts have helped bring hope and support to countless people with cancer,” said Ellen Silver, executive director of The Wellness Community -West Los Angeles,
More than 265 people attended the event that featured a heartwarming presentation from cancer survivor and Wellness Center participant Karen Sabatini and a presentation with authors Carolyn and Lisa See.
For more information about The Wellness Community-West Los Angeles, visit www.twc-wla.org.

The so-called ‘perfect date’


The date was going really well. The conversation was flowing. We were practically finishing each other’s sentences.

“Have you ever been to Azumi Sushi?” I asked.

He smiled, secretly, a half smile.

“What is it?” I asked him.

“I was just about to say that,” he replied.

Not that going to the same sushi restaurant meant that we were soul mates, but we had a number of issues we agreed on beyond the superficial. Religion, family, politics, even our lifestyle goals — retire early, travel much — seemed to be in sync. Clearly, the person who set us up wasn’t high on crack — he’s a Jewish boy and you’re a Jewish girl — because we had a lot more in common beyond the nature of our religion, age and geographic location.

I could tell he was excited by these things. The way he paused when I said something he agreed with, like wanting to do Friday night meals for the camaraderie, and his eyes lit up like a Vegas jackpot if I happened upon a subject we had the same feelings about.

These are the kinds of dates I hear about all the time, usually from women. The dates where (finally!) everything is simpatico and natural, almost as if you’re not on a date at all. And then he doesn’t call.

“How could he not call?” these women complain. “You don’t understand, he told me that ___________,” they say, pointing out all the intimate details the guy shared, and all witty repartee they both shared, and all the lack of awkwardness that for sure meant the date was going superbly.

“How could he not call?” they say. “I thought it was going so well.”

I can tell you why he didn’t call. I can tell you why he didn’t call, because I was just on one of those dates where everything seemed to be going perfectly, but it didn’t work out.

It didn’t work out because I wasn’t interested. I know it started even before we met. On the phone we spoke for about an hour, maybe even longer, and it was like talking to someone who was really interesting, but who I wasn’t interested in. I don’t know why.

Not that I’d given it much thought. After our conversation, I didn’t analyze it, or him. To be honest, I didn’t think about him much, and that’s because I didn’t have that heart-pounding anticipation that can, yes, come even from just talking to a faceless person on the phone. But, I reasoned, all that heart-pounding anticipation has never exactly steered me in the right direction, so perhaps apathy isn’t the wrong emotion to have before a blind date either.

But when I met him, everything became clear. He was exactly as described: An average looking guy, not freakishly short or tall, somewhat of the teddy bear type and, well, just not my type. He was one of those guys I was neither dying for nor repulsed by — he just wasn’t for me.

“Why don’t you go out with him again and give it another shot?” my friends would say, if I would ever tell them this story, which I wouldn’t because then I’d have to hear yet again how they hated their husbands for the first X months before they married them. (If you ask me, they are all too readily connected to that initial animosity, which is why, except in the first grade and in Shakespeare, love should never begin with hate.) In any case, I didn’t hate this guy, and I’d never hate him. I knew this, just as I knew I’d never like him any more than as a … friend.

By friend I didn’t mean that I never wanted to see him again either romantically or platonically, or that I wouldn’t mind inviting him to my parties and introducing him to others in my circle who were really my friends.

I knew this from the moment I saw him, but what was I supposed to do? Was I to tell him this in the beginning? Was I to allude to a long and complicated dating history so as to dissuade him from liking me? Not that everyone likes me, but when someone does, and it’s one-sided — what is the proper etiquette?

I decided to be myself. I wasn’t overly flirtatious in a way I might have once been in order to entertain or to fulfill some ego-need to be liked by all; I just answered his questions, asked a few of my own (hopefully, although maybe I didn’t manage to get in too many) the way I would when I am out with a friend.

Which is the unfortunate answer to all those people who thought they had the perfect date and never heard from the other person again and are wondering “why?”

Why? Because it might have been a perfectly nice date, but it’s not a perfect date unless the people are right for each other.

Both of them.

Q&A With Rabbi Harold S. Kushner


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Twenty-five years ago, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner wrote a book that changed his life and the perspective of millions. “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” became an international bestseller that made Kushner a celebrity and gave many suffering people a sense of comfort.
Kushner wrote the book after grappling with the loss of his teenage son, who died from a rare condition that causes rapid aging.
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Now, Kushner, 71, has written another practical guide of spiritual wisdom. His 10th book, “Overcoming Life’s Disappointments,” uses Moses’ example to discuss ways of dealing with – and rising above – failure.
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“When we think of Moses, we think of his triumphs: leading the Israelites out of slavery, splitting the Red Sea, ascending Mount Sinai,” Kushner writes. “But Moses was a man who knew frustration and failure in his public and personal life at least as often and as deeply as he knew fulfillment.”
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Kushner is rabbi laureate of Temple Israel in the Boston suburb of Natick, Mass., where he lives with his wife of 46 years, Suzette.
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The Journal spoke with Kushner by phone, as he was preparing to leave on a trip to Florida to celebrate his grandson’s bar mitzvah.
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The Jewish Journal: Why did you focus on Moses?
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Harold S. Kushner: I meet a lot of people who can’t see the tremendous sources of gratification in their lives, because there are mountains of unfulfilled dreams blocking their view. I wanted to help these people. It occurred to me that Moses dealt with disappointment, and he would be the perfect figure, because people tend to think of Moses as a hero.

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JJ: Why did you write this book now?
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HK: I don’t find my subjects, my subjects find me. I hear a lot of people complaining about things. When I hear the same complaint coming up a lot, I’m going to think there’s a book there.
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I wrote the book when I turned 70, and there was this sense that I’m at a point in my life when I’m looking back and evaluating more than I’m looking forward and anticipating.

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JJ: Looking back, what has been your biggest disappointment?
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HK: We were not able to find a cure for our son’s disease, and he died when he was 14. We had another child, but we would have liked to have had a larger family.

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JJ: Have you had any dreams that you’ve had to let go?
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HK: Oh, sure. When I was a teenager I dreamt of being a professional athlete; I just wasn’t good enough. I dreamt of a spectacular college career. It was better than average but not spectacular. I got turned down for a couple of jobs that I applied for.

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JJ: I wonder whether people set themselves up for disappointment, because they have unrealistic dreams.
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HK: I want people to have unrealistic dreams. I want them to dream big. And then I want them to trust themselves, so that when those ambitions don’t come true, they won’t feel like failures. They’ll fall down, bounce back, dust themselves off and plug in a new dream.

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JJ: What’s the secret to failing but not feeling like a failure?
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HK: Look at all the other people who have failed and gone on to do wonderful things. Find another dream, a more realistic one. Realize that the first dream was probably worth having, but if you can’t have it, you have to let it go.

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JJ: You say God’s power is not the power to control events but the power to help people deal with events. How does that idea fit with the traditional Jewish and Christian belief in an omnipotent God?

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HK: It’s different. I grew up believing in an all-powerful God. But we have to tie ourselves in such knots to explain why an omnipotent God permitted the Holocaust, why an omnipotent God permits children to be born retarded, why an omnipotent God permits earthquakes and hurricanes. It just got so complicated, you ended up twisted in so many theological knots, that it became unsustainable.
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There are two things in life that God does not control: one is laws of nature and the other is human choice. This does not diminish God. I would rather worship a God who is completely good but not totally powerful than a God who is completely powerful but not completely good.

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JJ: In your book, you list the five elements of a complete life: family, friends, faith, work and “the satisfaction of making a difference.” You say Moses has four out of five, since he may have shortchanged his family by working so hard. You appear to have all five.
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HK: I don’t think anybody is going to be lucky enough to have all five simultaneously. There were times when I was working very hard to make a difference, and my family got cheated. And there were times when, because I gave a lot of myself to my family and my writing, I lost touch with friends. For me, that’s the one that falls to the bottom.
You have to decide your priorities at a particular juncture in life.

JJ: What are your priorities now?
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HK: My family and making a difference in the world.

JJ: Are you working on a new book yet?
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HK: That’s like asking a friend who just had a baby if she’s pregnant.

JJ: Maybe when you turn 80, you’ll write about mortality?
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HK: I don’t know if I can wait that long to write a book; 80 sounds awfully old.

Single, 60, and invisible no more


I’m over 60, single, considered sexy by some and ignored by others.

My experience is that if you are over 60, single and a woman
you’re somewhat invisible. Unfortunately, we live in a youth-oriented society where emphasis is placed on the young. So I started to make mental notes comparing similarities or differences between the under-60 singles and the over-60 singles.

I’m one of the over 60 “frontier generation” singles, someone who didn’t want to stay in a broken marriage. Before I pursued my new career — acting — I was a domestic engineer and political activist; I’m better educated than my parents’ generation, youthful, independent, in good health, vivacious and financially in a good place. I have a busy and somewhat active life with a small circle of friends. I have some baggage — I’m divorced, have married children who don’t live near me, and grandkids I don’t see very often unless I get on a plane. My youngest son, daughter-in-law and two darling grandchildren will be going to Uganda for two years, leaving early next year, so there is travel in my future. I see myself as somewhat of a risk-taker and adventurous, but I did not know what was awaiting me when I ventured out into the singles world after a long-term marriage, having been taken care of for many years.

All age groups seem to want the same thing: a soulmate, a soft shoulder to lean on occasionally, companionship for dinner in or out, theater, movies, and travel. I still enjoy cooking (and I’m good at it). I’m not too old for cuddling and hugging, and I happen to enjoy it.

I kept hearing about people meeting and connecting online, so I signed up. Well, my experience was like a bad dream, perhaps even a nightmare. Most men live in fantasyland and haven’t looked in the mirror enough to realize they are no longer 30-something. They all seem to be looking for younger women and a lost youth. My question: If these divorced men think they are God’s gift to the world, why are they single now?

One man I spoke to said music was his whole life, and he was looking for someone with the exact same interest and level of knowledge. I appreciate classical music, but that wasn’t good enough. He also had been married four times. Then there was a pharmacist who took me to lunch; he had had four marriages, although he didn’t go into any details — he didn’t want to talk about it. Then there was a widower who’d had a long-term, happy marriage and now wanted to just go out to have fun. Nothing wrong with that. He took me to dinner, a movie and then kept hinting about coming back to my place. Never happened. We couldn’t go back to his place, even if I’d wanted to, because his daughter and family had moved in with him as his caretakers. He’d fallen a few times in his house. We agreed to stay in touch. I haven’t been sitting by the phone waiting.

A date took me to the movies at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and treated me to matzah ball soup at Canter’s. I arranged to meet him in Santa Monica, because he doesn’t like to drive at night. After the movie, we got back about midnight to where my car was parked, when he started to insist I come up to his place for soy ice-cream. Didn’t happen.

Then I met a friendly, interesting lawyer. We enjoyed walking, hiking and talking; occasionally he would take me to lunch. He would eat his lunch and half of my lunch. One evening I invited him to a theater event. He said he was going out of town. That evening he showed up at the event with another woman.
After reading many profiles, I got the impression that many men — and possibly women — are still looking for their Prince/Princess Charming and want to be swept off their feet. Love at first sight.

Realistically, I’m not sure it’s going to happen, since relationships consist of someone else’s mishegoss. I came to realize that I needed to find a nice person with a good heart and to look beneath the surface. Massage the friendship, allow it to grow and develop. I think all of us need to compromise.

I now have an ongoing friendship. The Internet didn’t bring us together. It was an interesting first meeting at Starbucks; he did a reading chart based on my handwriting. He was correct about many things. It certainly caught my attention. He calls me almost daily.

We e-mail, we date occasionally, share a lot about our lives and thoughts. He travels a good deal — it’s part of his job. Recently, his daughter went off to college, so now he’s home alone with his dog.

He’s a few years younger than me, but so what.

What can I say but the beat goes on.

He’s a nice person with a good heart.

Esther W. Hersh is an actress who lives in Los Angeles.

Obituaries


Mildred Ball died Sept. 23 at 91. She is survived by her sons, Joseph and David. Malinow and Silverman

Albert Benaltabet died Sept. 28 at 93. He is survived by his wife, Allegra; daughters, Lynn (Don) Sonderling and Michele Smith; four grandchildren; one great-grandchild; brother, Samuel; Malinow and Silverman

Albina Bennett died Oct. 1, at 83. She is survived by her son, Dr. Martin; and daughter, Marilyn (Larry Mott). Mount Sinai

Edythe Bennett died Sept. 22 at 77. She is survived by her husband, Benjamin; daughter, Nina Cantley; and three grandchildren. Groman

Ann Boodnick died Sept. 24 at 94. She is survived by her son, Jerome (Aliza) Ben-Ner; daughter, Margartet (Norman) Arinsberg; five grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Groman

Sheldon Cohen died Sept. 22 at 60. He is survived by his father, William; and social worker, Ivette Rodriguez. Groman

Selma Comsky died Aug. 24 at 79. She is survived by her daughters, Michelle Margolis, Jan and Andrea; sons-in-law, Jack Cousin, and Mark Margolis; and two grandchildren.

Sarah Decovnick died Sept. 22 at 100. She is survived by her sons, Stanley and Harvey; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Groman

Anthony Peter Merrill Dent died in July at 61. He is survied by his friends.

Gil Donchin died Sept. 26 at 42. He is survived by his parents, Emanual and Rina. Malinow and Silverman

Jean Dreisen died Oct. 3 at 86. She is survived by her daughters, Janet and Betsy; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Hillside

Selma Ruth Cohn Erso died Sept. 28 at 80. She is survived by her husband, Henry; son, Harold Rice-Erso; daughter, Robin (Michael) McIntyre; five grandchildren; and sister, Marcia Spiegel. Mount Sinai

Edward Ezra Feinstein died Sept. 23 at 91. He is survived by his wife, Li Jiang; and nephew, Dr. Eben. Malinow and Silverman

Anna Fox died Sept. 30 at 93. She is survived by her daughters, Helen MacKinnon and Marilyn Cooke; and three grandchildren. Hillside

Minnie Garr died Sept. 27 at 83. She is survived by her sons, Norman and Rabbi Ronald (Minda); three grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; sisters, Fay Levy and Tamar (Dr. Gerald) Freeman; and brother, Nathan Frankel. Mount Sinai

Hanne Gilinsky died Oct. 1 at 73. She is survived by daughter, Margaret (Thomas) Noble; in-laws, Barbara and Jerry Werlin and Richard and Hetty Gilinsky; nieces; and nephews. Hillside

Elsie Goldstein died Sept. 29 at 95. She is survived by her sons, Maurice and Gerald (Naomi); and eight grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Harris Goldstein died Oct. 5 at 64. He is survived by his wife, Andrea; sons, Matt and Dave; two grandchildren; parents, Harold and Adeline; and brothers, Joel and Gary. Mount Sinai

Frances Shirley Kass died Oct. 3 at 86. She is survived by her husband, Reuben; daughters, Ilene Blok and Anne Bowman; and four grandchildren. Groman

Myer Keleman died Oct. 4 at 90. He is survived by his wife, Helen; daughter, Dorene (Steven) Shapiro; son, Steven (Laurie); four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Sylvia Keys died Sept. 27 at 94. She is survived by her sons, Stan (Dorothy), Paul (Carmen) and Harvey (Mickey); six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Alvin Klugman died Oct. 2 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Marjorie; daughter, Peggy (John) Cronin; grandsons, Paul and Bryan Cronin; and sister, Faye Hershman. Hillside

Sally Kraft died Sept. 28 at 95. She is survived by her daughter, Sheila (Dr. Elliot) Leifer; three grandchildren; and five great grandchildren. Groman

Sol Lederman died Oct. 4 at 84. He is survived by his daughters, Jill Fine, Patti Rose and Sue Minkoff; four grandchildren; and sister, Rose Silverstein. Groman

Bernard Lifson died Oct. 3 at 94. He is survived by his son, Allan; daughter, Barbara (Mendel) Kahan; and grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Dr. Irving Madoff died Oct. 2 at 96. He is survived by his wife, Frances; daughters, Cindy (Bertrand) Marcano and Jane; grandsons, Stewart and Scott Marcano; and great-granddaughter, Hannah. Hillside

Benjamin Gale Mannis died Sept. 25 at 94. He is survived by his daughter, Lynn Hill. Malinow and Silverman

Steven Jules Markman died Sept. 30 at 59. He is survived by his mother, Esther Kevenson; son, Joseph; sister, Barbara (Bert) Pronin; and brother, Larry. Malinow and Silverman

M. Stanley Muskat died Oct. 3 at 96. He is survived by his daughters, Joyce and Carol; and nephew, Harvey Kates. Malinow and Silverman

Joseph Nathenson died Oct. 4 at 80. He is survived by his wife, Ruth; son, Larry; daughter, Jill (Thomas) Bassett; one grandchild; and sister, Shirley (Ken) Bassett. Mount Sinai

Denise Rachel Oschin died Oct. 1 at 52. She is survived by her daughter, Ritta Sophia Papadopoulos; stepmother, Aggi; sister, Renie. Groman

Edythe Pauline Ouslander died Sept. 28 at 91. She is survived by her son, Arnold; and one grandchild. Groman

Constance Passamaneck died Oct. 5 at 69. She is survived by her husband, Steven; daughter, Julia (William) Jensen; stepchildren, Evi (Scott) Graham and Daniel (Kelly); and three grandchildren. Hillside

Howard Pearlman died Oct. 4. He is survived by his wife, Evelyn; son, Larry, (Janelle); daughter, Judy; three grandchildren; great-granddaughter, Georgia; and sister, Bernice; Hillside

Leslie Preston died Sept. 29 at 63. He is survived by his brother, Monty (Polly); and nephew, Darren. Mount Sinai

Maurice Rabin died Oct. 1 at 83. He is survived by his nieces, Wendy (John) Kelsey, and Maxine Blaurock; and nephew, Michael Pantel.

Walter Roth died Sept. 29 at 85. He is survived by his sons, Albert and Edward; and former wife, Henny. Sholom Chapels

Arthur Rothenberg died Oct. 2 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Maxine; sons, Richard, Howard and Phillip; daughter, JoAnn Mercer; six grandchildren; and three great- grandchildren. Hillside

Davis Sarkin died Oct. 3 at 80. He is survived by his sons, Allan (Lisa) and Ralph; daughter, Robin Haines; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Groman

Rabbi Richard Ira Schachet died Sept. 20 at 70. He is survived by his daughter, Tamara (Wally) Schachet-Briskin; stepchildren; and two grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Life at 85: what a trip!


I was born in Chicago some 85 years ago. My home was Jewish Orthodox and consisted of my mother, her two brothers and their father, my grandfather. I specify
my grandfather because, in those days, nobody ever thought of placing their old father in an old folks’ home.

My closest friend while growing up was Alan, who lived across the street. Each evening, we would go for a walk — generally lasting about two hours. He and I really liked each other, but this walk was a very silent one, neither of us had much to say.

In 1943, I left Chicago and moved to Los Angeles. It was during the war, and I became a flight test engineer and copilot on the airplane known as the B-25. From then on, Alan and I spoke on the phone but also had personal visits during the years.

The other day, I got a call from Alan, who is now 87 and a widower.

Now, not as before, there was ongoing conversation. Not silent anymore. But what did we have to talk about? The talk ran easy. We spoke for a long time about his hip problems and my back and other health problems. The opening, “How are you?” was for one minute, and the health conversation lasted for one hour.

Now you may ask, why I am telling you the story of my friend? It has to do with my past. When he and I were growing up, how in the world would we ever know or think about hip problems at the age of 87? We would have asked: What do you mean by “the age of 87?” It was another world. A world of which we had no knowledge.
My reaction to our long conversation was very emotional. I was in tears when it was time to say goodbye. I said, “Alan, you have my love.”

BR>
But this is what the past does for you — it is really another life; it’s gone but never forgotten. That thought will always put a tear in your eye.

The goodbye was so different than our youthful, nonspeaking days.

The conversation with Alan opened the door of my brain. I suddenly realized I am 85 and part of another world: It’s called the present. I have gone through the youth time, the middle time when I was 40 to 60 and, now, I find myself in the third stage. What a trip! Really unbelievable.

We look back on the past because it was another era. In our youth and young years, life included activities you chose. Your responsibilities were minimal compared to those as you grew older. Being young and thinking young allowed you to exist in a world that is the start of the middle age.

Of course, there are exceptions, and some people are required to give more of themselves as required by family obligations. But those times somewhat establish the makeup you will carry the rest of your life.

From the middle age, we enter what is called the old-age era. Old age is intended to slow the flow of time so we can get back to the real “hopefully pleasant” moments of the past.

How do I handle belonging to the senior group? How do I accept the present? It is very, very hard to say to myself: “You are old.” Stepping into this stage is not easy; it’s difficult to accept the number 85.

At 85 I have given up driving. I just can’t see well enough. There are two other “loves of my life that also went by the wayside: tennis and jogging. My eyesight also contributes to hardship in reading the newspaper. I find it difficult to really accept the fact that I can no longer do all of the middle-life chores or continue with many of my chosen activities. I find myself thinking about the activities that came so easily in my middle life.

But in the “old age” category, one must force oneself to realize the here and now. Activities must conform to the present place you are in life, both physically and mentally. When you come to accept the present position, time wise, I think you can then enjoy what you have — and prosper with all the good things that are there.

You can take advantage of the knowledge of the past, an example of which is the seven-member men’s club I belong to. It used to be that each time we met, the opening welcome was a cordial handshake. The past brought me to ask this group of men, a gender that often refuses to show hidden emotions, “Are you glad to see each other?”

The answer was, of course, “Yes.”

So I suggested a hug in place of a handshake — and the hug has taken over.
I find others, friends not in their 80s, display emotional tenderness to me and my wife, who is 84. I detect my friends thinking that age brings great knowledge not present in the early years. Another great experience is having our family close by and the joy they exhibit at having us with them.

The past is very important; it contributes to the actions of the present. Look back and enjoy your thoughts, but the present is here and now. Live it up, take pleasure in your friends and do not feel bad thinking about who you are today. Tell your thoughts and become a charter member of “Senior Time.”


Red Lachman is a short-story writer.

‘Moishe Houses’ provide post-Hillel hangout for 20-somethings


Say you’re a few years out of college, living with friends and working in a low-paying job for some do-good organization. You don’t go to synagogue, but you miss the camaraderie of your college Hillel, and you like to invite people over for Shabbat meals.

Imagine if someone was willing to pay you to keep doing it?
 
That’s what’s offered by Moishe House, a fast-growing network of subsidized homes for 20-something Jews committed to building Jewish community for themselves and their peers.
The project was launched less than a year ago by The Forest Foundation, a Santa Barbara-based philanthropy. The foundation’s executive director, David Cygielman, 25, says the goal was to give young activist Jews the financial freedom to focus on creative programming designed to reach other young, unaffiliated Jews.

To the people living in these houses, it’s a terrific gift.
 
“We were already having Shabbat dinners three or four times a month and then they came along and said, ‘We’re looking for people doing what you’re doing. Keep it up, and we’ll support you,'” said Jonathan Herzog, 29, who lives in the Seattle house with his sister Norah and two friends.
 
The project is a validation of these young Jews’ efforts to create a Jewish home for an age group they feel gets lost in the communal shuffle.
 
“After college there’s no more Hillel, and they don’t join the Jewish community until they have families,” Cygielman noted.
 
The first Moishe House opened last December in San Francisco. Seattle was next in February, joined quickly by houses in Boston and Los Angeles.
 
New ones are to open in October in Oakland, Washington, Uruguay and Nigeria, and the plan is to have 12 houses up and running by next year.
 
Except for the Nigerian house, which is a one-man outreach operation, they all follow the same formula: Three or four Jews in their 20s receive a rent subsidy of up to $2,500 a month, along with $500 for programming, and are expected to become a communal hub for young Jews by hosting Shabbat meals, card games, Yiddish lessons, film nights, book discussions, neighborhood clean-ups and other social, intellectual and civic-minded activities.
 
Residents say the formula works because it lets young people organize events they themselves would want to attend, rather than having something imposed from above by a synagogue or JCC.
In many ways, it’s the bayit of the 21st century. But unlike those communal Jewish homes of the 1970s and ’80s, which usually were sponsored by Zionist youth groups, residents of Moishe Houses don’t subscribe to a particular ideology.
 
The focus varies according to residents’ interests: The houses in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco host a lot of poker parties and film nights, while the Boston house is more involved in social action.
 
Houses have great freedom, Cygielman says, so long as they meet the minimum requirements: hosting eight to 12 events a month, making weekly reports, maintaining a Web site and reaching out to young people. Funding can be withdrawn if a house doesn’t perform.
 
“I won’t tell them what’s a wrong program or a right program,” Cygielman said. “I don’t care, so long as they’re building community and lots of people are coming.”
 
Maia Ipp, 24, moved into the San Francisco house in June. She runs a women’s group and a cooking club that is working its way alphabetically through the world’s cuisines.
 
Her parents once lived in a bayit sponsored by Habonim, a Labor Zionist youth group, but Ipp prefers the Moishe House model.
 
“We’re not affiliated with a movement that has a belief system, which frees us to do new, fresh work and engage young adults in ways other movements and campus groups can’t,” she said.
 
One recent evening, the four young residents of the San Francisco house got together for their weekly meeting. They sat around the large table in the dining room, which opens onto a large patio they use for Shabbat dinners and holiday parties.
 
David Persyko, 25, started hanging out at the house soon after it opened.
 
“I found myself really attached to being part of a Jewish community again,” he said. “Some of my fondest memories growing up were from Camp Swig, and coming here, I felt that rush of support I hadn’t felt in 10 years.”
 
He moved in in June and now runs poker night, which draws a group of guys every three weeks to “vent about the women in our lives,” Persyko said.
 
Aaron Gilbert, 24, runs a book club. The books aren’t Jewish, but the participants are, and talking about the books leads to talking about other things.
 
“It’s really intimate. We hang out, catch up on each others’ lives,” he said.
 
The house holds a big Shabbat dinner once a month and sponsors a softball team called the Matzah Ballstars. But the events and programs are secondary to the real draw.
 
“At our core, we’re four people who live in a house and we’re inviting people over. That’s appealing to people like us. It’s not institutional,” said Isaac Zones, 24, national director of the Moishe House network and a founding member of the San Francisco house.
 
On a table in the corner is a silver-toned bust of Zones’ grandfather, a man who founded his business empire with money he won playing poker. Zones makes sure the statue is always there during games.
 
The Moishe House concept is still in its early stages, and some things need to be tweaked. For example, the Los Angeles and Seattle houses are trying to beef up their social action component, while the Boston house is being encouraged to offer more “fun events,” Cygielman said.
 
It’s all part of figuring out what constitutes a Jewish community, or even a Jewish event. Must it be something devoted purely to a Jewish ritual or Zionist goal? Or is it enough to bring together a bunch of Jewish people to shmooze and eat?

Obituaries


Werner Anders died Sept. 27 at 91. He is survived by his wife, Lily; daughter, Rachel (Leo) Woss; son, Gideon (Leslie); five grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchildren.
 
Roberta “Bobbie” Bernstein died Sept. 25 at 67. She is survived by her husband, Hy; sons, Steve and Keith; daughter, Deanna; and four grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha
 
Shari Cohen died Sept. 25 at 78. She is survived by her husband, Harry; daughters, Barbara Racklin, Margie Baumbac and Debra (Stuart) Blum; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai
 
Jonathan Comras died Aug. 8 at 44. He is survived by parents, Jackie and Richard; and brother, Lawrence. Mount Sinai
 
Selma Comsky died Aug. 24 at 79. She is survived by her daughters, Michelle Margolis, Jan and Andrea; sons-in-law, Mark Margolis and Jack Cousin; and two grandchildren.
 
Harry Drucker died Sept. 8 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Sylvia; and son, Barry. Sholom Chapels
 
Mae Falikoff died Sept. 20 at 95. She is survived by her son, Marvin. Sholom ChapelsJordon Feldman died Sept. 27 at 70. he is survived by his wife, Bette; son, Adam; and daughter, Abbie. Mount Sinai
 
Isaac Fields died Aug. 26 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Dora; son, Allan (Elyse); daughter, Pauline (Milton) Zablow; six grandchildren; and brothers Max (Betty) and David (Gladys).
 
Mildred Handelsman died Sept. 17 at 91. She is survived by her husband, David; and sons, Burton and William. Groman
 
Jeffrey Michael Harman died Sept. 22. at 48. He is survived by his wife, Debbie; son, Eric; parents Martha and Sam; brothers, Harvey and Steven; and friends. Beth Israel Cemetery
 
Alice Horowitz died Sept. 14 at 90. She is survived by her son, David (Miriam); daughter, Phyllis (Dr. David) Katzin; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Sholom Chapels
 
Ayouch Yechiel Ifrah died Sept. 18 at 85. He is survived by his sons, David, Albert, Gabriel, Raphael and Max; daughters, Jacqueline, Annette, Helen, Tersa and Judith; 14 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Chevra Kadisha
 
Herman Klein died Sept. 10 at 91. She is survived by her daughters, Jenny (David) Cohen and Rose Margolis; son, Larry; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels
 
Semen Khanukayev died Sept. 20 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Olga; sons, Josef and Igor; daughter, Anna; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha
 
Aaron Phillip Moss died Sept. 19 at 89. He is survived by his son, Jack Crayne; daughter, Phyllis; and stepson, Richard Cohen. Groman
 
Herbert “Lou” Press died Sept. 25 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Ina; daughter, Susan Shulman; son, Evan (Isis); four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; sister, Evelyn Lehman; and brother, Burt (Trueen). Mount Sinai
 
Martin Alden Rohrlich died Sept. 17at 87. He is survived by his daughters, Janice Lang, Linda Cohn and Andrea Cohen; and six grandchildren.
 
Alfred Ross died Sept. 12. He is survived by his brother, Max (Doris). Sholom Chapels
 
Martin Saben died Sept. 26 at 82. He is survived by his sons, Jack and Gary; and cousin, Glenda (Larry) Carver. Mount Sinai
 
Diana Ruth Siegel died Sept. 21 at 98. She is survived by her sons, Robert (Sally) and Allan (Melinda); daughter, Elaine (Harry) Smith; seven grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; and brother, Al Powell. Mount Sinai
 
Sarah Silverberg died Sept. 17 at 88. She is survived by her nephews, Marvin Kay, Howard Rudnick and Jeff Monka. Sholom Chapels
 
Bess Smith died Sept. 25 at 89. She is survived by her sons, Murray and Barry (Denise); three grandchildren; and brother, Max Muravnick. Mount Sinai
 
Judith Tiger died Sept. 26 at 74. She is survived by her husband, Siggy; sons, Michael and Peter (Lynn); daughters, Inez (Mark) Tiger-Lizer and Leone (Etai) Zion; son-in-law, Drummond; and six grandchildren. Mount Sinai
 

Smith Barney doesn’t manage this portfolio. My heart does.


A conservative, long-term investor, I’ll still admit to my sometimes ridiculous attraction to the highs and lows of risk.
Question is: How much can
I — or anyone — really handle?
 

At 22, I’d fearlessly seek the beta — or risk factor — in anticipation of the alpha — or excess — returns. I’d diversify my portfolio, but often follow a hot dot, whose value would quickly double, drop, then creep back up. When the market tanked? I reveled in my seemingly endless time horizon.

 
My strategy began to shift after some market volatility, which, combined with maturity lent a better understanding of my own assets and risk tolerance. I became more moderate, investing in diverse, well-researched stocks for a longer-term gain.

 
Still, my rate of return seemed nominal.

 
At times, I’d considered leaving the market altogether, but trusty advisers would encourage me to stay the course.

 
Investment decisions are best executed without emotion, they’d say.
Yeah, right, say I.

 
See, Smith Barney doesn’t manage this portfolio. My heart does.
Disturbingly analogous to the omnipotent stock market, in dating, the alpha of a long-term relationship drives us to invest even more: our hearts, minds, bodies and souls.

 
We’ll work diligently to review and build our personal assets (be it career, hobbies, looks, personality or all of the above); establish our search criteria (determine characteristics of a partner); and perform severe — if often frustrating — due diligence (dating the gamut to find that sometimes elusive, but impassioned and fabled, soul mate).

 
As our investment pool in this feverish search shifts, so do our emotions and risk tolerance — often dramatically. And sometimes unexpectedly.

 
High-risk (newbie) investors might trade short-term losses (“just hanging out”) for long-term gains (dating for crazy love). Moderates (more mature) might accept some risk (getting back out there post-burn) for higher ultimate returns (falling in love … again). Lowest risk takers (seasoned cynics) may seek the safest route (maybe even … gulp … settling).

 
At 22 and for a while thereafter, the process was thrilling. Working to build my own assets, I was myself an actual beta — figuring my way and learning fancy investment terms while marathoning my lifestyle.

 
My diversified portfolio included mostly my peers: the drummer, the elevator crush who made me blush, the student, the party-guy who might actually call, the tree-hugging college friend, and even the swamped getting-established professional. My relationships gave me butterflies and stomachaches, but I withstood the volatility, hoping for high returns.

 
The alpha on these short-term buys sometimes seemed negligible, but experience built my assets for the long term. It also lowered my risk tolerance — a dangerous bout in my maturing stage, wherein people have paired off, leaving bounds of skeptics.

 
What was “edge” seemed like attitude; opinions became stubbornness. “Stability” translated to boredom; “Fun” often meant noncommittal. And as I became more selective, my investment pool downsized.

 
Uh oh.

 
Determined still, I went moderate-to-low with lower-betas who seemed ready to commit: the great guy my age, the goal-oriented (too busy) professional and the creative guy who knew how to channel it.

 
Ratings seemed positive, but earnings ultimately disappointed. Our stock split, and hearts got broken.

 
Perhaps my search criteria was askew; I considered old standbys, friends; I diversified madly to mitigate losses, but my risk skyrocketed with my diminishing tolerance and time horizon.

 
Should I seek growth or the undervalued stock? Hedge? Strattle? Bail out? Or, shoot endlessly for off-the-chart heart-jumps that put me in the red, then black within a matter of days?

 
Not quite ready to index, I sought value with potential growth. I still sought the beta.

 
After a market slump, and bordering the defeatist pull-out, a tip off to a charming, intelligent (younger) option surfaced. I’d stay the course for long-term growth, I thought.

 
First, it was blissful and fun; carefree and light; we’d stay up late and dance around who liked whom. He called me “hot” instead of pretty, bought me chocolates and wrote me sweet cards. He called too late.

 
And the best part: he believed in “the one.” The one!

 
Things were swell until liabilities in my beta’s limited repertoire emerged. He struggled to fully identify with me. My skin felt comfortable; his was still filling out. He wasn’t cynical, which, to me, meant he didn’t reflect…. Or maybe, at 25, hadn’t yet lived.

 
Despite my short-term disappointment, I’d already learned to sell out sooner in lieu of a more “appropriate” investment.

 
See, while he was still diversifying, I was — apparently — ready to focus my assets.

 
General rule says: the greater the risk, the greater the return. And in today’s rough relationship market, determining risk tolerance may indeed help assuage some long-term “damage.” Problem is: it may also risk a lower alpha.

 
And that’s no fun.

 
Maybe — ultimately — we’re all just betas making our way; our yields to maturity are just different.

 

Dara Lehon, a freelance writer living in New York City, can be reached at dlehon@yahoo.com.

Jews in the Military: High Holidays Under Fire


Who shall live and who shall die.
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not.

Ralph Goodman recited those words in a hillside tent in southeastern Belgium. Warren Zundell’s “shul” was a patch of no-man’s-land somewhere in North Korea. For Robert Cirkus, it was a jungle clearing in the bug-infested Central Highlands of Viet Nam. And for Lee Mish, it was Saddam Hussein’s former palace.

The four men have never met, but they share an uncommon bond. They represent four generations of Jewish servicemen for whom the High Holidays — and their signature Unetanah Tokef prayer — took on new meaning.

For all Jews, the words of the emotionally charged Unetanah Tokef are a powerful reminder of mortality. All the more so for Jews serving their country in wartime — such as Goodman, Zundell, Cirkus and Mish — where every day is Judgment Day and where prayer, righteousness and repentance can’t always avert a decree of death.

Here are the stories of these American servicemen who observed the High Holidays not in conventional synagogues, but on far-flung battlefields. The worship services they participated in were often improvised and incomplete. But the jarring juxtaposition of war and prayer, faith and fear, continues to resonate with these men.

A Tent on the Side of a Hill
A Tent on the Side of a Hill
Fays, Belgium
September 1944

“Colonel, the Jewish community wants to observe Yom Kippur. What can you do to help us?”

Ralph Goodman, attached to the 1st U.S. Army’s Headquarters Commandant in Belgium, was unable to celebrate Rosh Hashanah because his unit was traveling.

But Yom Kippur was fast approaching, and the 24-year-old enlistee from Pittsfield, Mass., was determined that the Jewish servicemen, now encamped at a temporary base near Verviers, Belgium, be given a place to pray.

He had already approached the 1st Army’s chief chaplain, who offered nothing except a few prayer books. But Goodman’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Harry F. Goslee, was more accommodating. He ordered a large blackout hospital tent set up on a hillside, with chairs and a portable electric generator.

On Yom Kippur, Sept. 27, 1944, about 25 soldiers and airmen congregated in that tent. Two Orthodox laymen acted as cantor and rabbi.

Goodman sat by the tent flap opening, his gun on his lap. He was juggling several different prayer books, trying to find the correct pages for Unetanah Tokef. He finally located the prayer and recited the words. But what he really was saying that day was, “Please, God, bring my buddies and me home.”

Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up to see a chaplain he didn’t recognize, a fresh-faced, sandy-haired man about 30, who asked permission to address the troops.

“How lovely are your tents, Oh Jacob,” he began, intoning the words to a prayer Jews say each morning.

He talked about five minutes, thanking the men for allowing him to speak and commending them for assembling a service.

Goodman, who still lives in Pittsfield, thinks about that service often, proud that he and his buddies were able to make it happen. He wishes he could share another Yom Kippur with them.

But 62 years later, he still regrets that he never asked the name of that fresh-faced Christian chaplain who reached out to a group of Jews on the holiest day of their year.

“God bless that man,” he said.

Above the 38th Parallel, North KoreaAn All-Jewish Convoy
Above the 38th Parallel, North Korea
October 1951

Warren Zundell, an orthopedic surgeon with the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Wonju, South Korea, wasn’t eager to attend Rosh Hashanah services. It meant traveling 40 miles on an unpaved, mountainous road to 10th Army Corps headquarters, over the border into North Korea. Zundell, 27, had a baby daughter back in Fall River, Mass., whom he had never seen, and he didn’t want to risk encountering snipers or land mines.

But Zundell was the unit’s only Jewish officer, and the Catholic chaplain on his base was insistent that Zundell escort the convoy.

“There are about 30 Jewish boys around here who want to go,” said the priest, who planned to remain in Wonju at the hospital.

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 30, 1951, in the priest’s jeep with a white cross painted on the hood, Zundell led the way. A few truckloads of Jewish soldiers, all heavily armed, followed. Perhaps the only all-Jewish convoy ever to travel into North Korea, they arrived safely several hours later at the camp, a war-scarred patch of ground that sported some tents and housed perhaps a few hundred soldiers.

The next morning, a rabbi conducted services in a large tent, with about 300 soldiers, many who had traveled there from other units, sitting on the ground or on boxes. There was no ark, no Torah and no prayer books, except for the rabbi’s.

“I just sat there and listened,” Zundell recalled. “I didn’t think about where I was.”

After services, he traveled back to Wonju with the same soldiers.

Even less enthusiastic about observing Yom Kippur, Zundell was again induced to return to the prayer site. On Yom Kippur day, the convoy again traveled above the 38th Parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea. The scene was identical to what Zundell remembered from Rosh Hashanah, except, instead of 300 soldiers in the tent, there were now 150.

“Where are the other boys?” Zundell asked the servicemen sitting near him.
“Heavy casualties during the week,” one of them replied.

Zundell doesn’t remember his exact reaction; he imagines the service was pretty sad. Afterward they loaded up the trucks and headed home.

Since then, every Rosh Hashanah, the Coral Gables, Fla., resident sits in temple and remembers Korea.

“It never leaves my mind,” he said. “I think about those boys who didn’t make it back for Yom Kippur.”

Central Highlands, Vietnam

A Jungle Clearing
Central Highlands, Vietnam
September 1966

While stationed in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry, Army Spc. 4 Robert Cirkus often didn’t know what day it was. But somehow the 21-year-old draftee from Passaic, N.J., knew the High Holidays were coming. And he knew he wanted to attend services.

A rabbi was dispatched to the forward base camp in the Central Highlands where Cirkus was working as a weapons repairman. Around noon on Rosh Hashanah day, Sept. 15, 1966, Cirkus, three infantrymen and a medic, all strangers to one another, gathered together in a cleared-out jungle area.

The rabbi set up a small ark on a bench in the back of his open Jeep. Inside was a traveling Torah. Cirkus and the others sat on the ground in the hot sun, the air muggy and bug-infested. He wore a tallit over his uniform, holding his submachine gun and his prayer book on his lap.

Cirkus, who now lives in Clifton, N.J., remembers that the service was truncated and that he and the others were not really at ease. They were praying, but they were also alert to every sound, especially gunshots off in the jungle. He knows he wasn’t thinking about life and death. Or about Judgment Day. He didn’t want to think about what was really going on.

Afterward, the rabbi handed out cans of tuna fish, bread, wine and kosher C rations.

“We sat, we chitchatted and we went our separate ways,” he said. “But we knew we were all Jews.”

Until 10 years ago, Cirkus was too traumatized to discuss his Vietnam experience at all. Even now, he can’t talk about all of it. But he’s able to look back on that Rosh Hashanah in the Central Highlands, where, for a short time, five Jews who didn’t know each other sat around together with a rabbi praying.

“I don’t want to say it like it’s jerky, but you felt like you were being watched by God,” he said.

Saddam's Palace

Saddam’s Palace
Tikrit, Iraq
September 2004

September 2004 was a tense time in Tikrit, Iraq, where Special Agent Lee Mish was stationed. Roads were impassable, bridges were blown up and food and water were rationed. Plus, with flights grounded, the rabbi assigned to Tikrit couldn’t leave Baghdad.

Despite these obstacles, erev Rosh Hashanah services were held on Sept. 15. And Mish, 27, a Conservative Jew from Sharon, Mass., who enlisted in the Army nine years ago, walked to Saddam Hussein’s former palace, now under control of the U.S. military.

There, in a large room with marble floors and ceilings and a gold chandelier, a room once used by Saddam’s servants, Mish encountered three other Jews. They included a captain who served as the Jewish lay leader, a sergeant and a civilian contractor.

Wearing kippot, the uniformed men sat around a card table on folding chairs, their guns by their sides. For about 20 minutes, they read from prayer books sent by Hebrew school students in Wisconsin. Mish doesn’t remember the specifics, but he recalls saying prayers for all the soldiers and being aware of Rosh Hashanah’s message of mortality.

“When you’re in a situation where your friends are dying, where people all around you are dying, any time you pray, it hits home more,” he said.

Afterward they shared a bottle of wine and ate some “normal food,” including bagels with jelly. They also read Rosh Hashanah cards that the students had decorated with honey pots and apples and inscribed with messages such as “Be safe” and “Hope you come back soon.” Inside the holiday cards, the students had placed prepaid phone cards.

Despite its informality, that service resonated with Mish, now stationed in Wurzburg, Germany. Rosh Hashanah had always been important to him, a way of confirming his Jewishness. But being in Iraq had given him more time to reflect on death and destruction, and he was feeling more religious while stationed there. Also, he had recently learned from his Iraqi translator, who was born and raised in Mosul, Iraq, that during Saddam’s reign, the Jews in that area were barred from observing holidays in public and were forced to celebrate secretly in their homes. That day, however, Jewish soldiers were praying openly in Saddam’s palace.

“I felt honored,” Mish said.

Freelance writer Jane Ulman lives in Encino.

To learn more about today’s Jews in uniform, visit Jews In Green, the”ultimate resource for Jewish service members.”

Saddam Hussein’s palaces have also been the site of Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Pesach and other Jewish celebrations, as this Jewish Journal story from 2004 relates.

Keep Your Eyes Open


Kein v’ Lo: Snack Attack

YeLAdim talked to the LAPD and got these tips on what kids can do to stay safe — and maybe to help catch a bad guy:

  • Be aware of your surroundings on the way to and from school, at your synagogue and while hanging out with your friends.
  • If you find a note about someone wanting to hurt someone — or use a gun or knife — tell an adult immediately. If any of your friends wants to write notes like that, let them know that they could get in big-time trouble because threatening notes are no joke to the police.
  • If you see packages, boxes or bags with bottles sitting near the street or in a hallway don’t touch them.
  • If you see anything or anyone in a public place that looks like they don’t belong or is acting strangely, tell a parent, a teacher or another adult you trust.
  • When it comes to safety, there’s no such thing as a tattletale.

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue.

This month’s Kein v’ Lo (yes and no) is about snacks at school. Many schools have removed candy, chips and sodas from campus vending machines and replaced them with what they consider healthier snacks and drinks. Also, many schools are telling parents that when they bring a treat for a child’s birthday, it should include a healthy snack, as well.

Should schools be able to say what kids can and cannot eat?

The Kein Side:

  • Many kids are gaining weight much faster than ever before, because of how easy it has been to get sugary-, fat- and salt-filled snacks during and after school. Eliminating those kinds of foods could cut down on kids’ health problems.
  • Most kids left to their own choices probably won’t pick veggies over cookies or bottled water over soda. Cutting out unhealthy snacks at school makes sure that at least during school hours, kids will be exposed to more nutritious foods.

The Zimms Can’t Wait To Go Back To School!

The Lo Side:

  • Removing sugary snacks won’t really improve health if, at the same time, schools are cutting back on time to get exercise during recess or cutting back on physical education. Offering nutrition classes would be a better idea, allowing kids to feel they have a little say in what happens to their snacks.
  • A birthday is a celebration — if a child wants to have cupcakes, they should be able to — parents shouldn’t have to spend additional money on granola bars or fruit.

Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Back to School Shout-Outs

Get a head start on making new friends this year by sending a shout-out to your classmates, and we will print it here! Example: Sending a “Have a great year” to Mrs. Friedman’s sixth-grade class at Siman Tov Academy

— Josh A. & Laurie H. (names are optional).

E-mail us at ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.zimmermuseum.org.

The Bittersweet Meaning of Mud


Mud

I had been waiting seven years, and my machon summer at Camp Ramah in Ojai was finally here. It would be different from every other summer, because we would finally be the oldest group, and camp domination would be ours. I knew it would be bittersweet, and I looked forward to making every moment of this incredible summer count.

Natalie KatzThere is one program in particular that embodies all of the emotionalism and meaning of machon summer: Tza’adah. Tza’adah is a five-day, four-night overnight trip that takes campers far from the boundaries of camp and into the nature of Northern California, where we bond with friends, while experiencing the outdoors. I was a little skeptical about not showering for five days, but before I knew it, the day finally came — we were ready to embark on a wild adventure.
We drove for what felt like a lifetime to Big Sur in Northern California. The next morning, we had our first day — and only day — in Big Sur. The morning started with a bowl of Rice Krispies and some scrambled eggs. Following breakfast, we were given the choice between a hard, medium or easy hike.

Assuming the hard hike was going to be well, hard, I set off with the rest of the adventurous campers on the hard hike. We trekked all the way up a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean, singing songs to pass then time and admiring the scenery.

We walked along the beach and came to an astounding discovery. Earlier that day, a beached whale had died and was now lying on the sand. Staring with amazement at the gargantuan creature, we developed one of the verses of our machon song, “This Tza’adah of Mine,” sung to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Later that evening, after arriving at Lake Casitas, our campsite for the next three nights, we sat around the bonfire and sang cliched camp songs, aided by packets of the best songs hand selected by our wonderful counselors. We could all sing along and learn the words. I will keep the songbook forever as a memento of this journey.

The next day, we took a bus to a beautiful beach. As my two friends and I were walking along the shore, we found a rock shaped like a heart. We took it with us, promising to start a new tradition of passing the rock, along with a letter, among us so we can keep in touch after camp.

The last day, we were given a choice between kayaking, rock-climbing and mountain-biking. I chose kayaking.

The group leader gave us the task of fitting as many people in one kayak as possible without it tipping over. This may not seem to be difficult, but it was unbelievably hilarious and so hard! Try to imagine people laughing hysterically while squeezing their way onto a little kayak. Meanwhile, it’s sinking, and we’re desperately trying not to tip it over.

I was sitting near the front, and after the ninth or 10th person climbed on, the kayak flipped over. Everyone fell in the water — and to top off a perfect day, the water was the perfect temperature.

Then we had one last task: To stand up straight on the kayak and paddle it like a gondola in Venice. I succeeded after falling in a couple of times!
Tza’adah had finally come to a close, but we were not going to finish without a huge hurrah. As is tradition at Camp Ramah, the machon campers run into the chadar ochel, the dining hall, at the end of lunch, giving mud hugs to friends and family. On our last day, we trudged eight miles back to camp from Lake Casitas, singing, laughing and stopping for POWERade along the way, a necessity in the sweltering heat.

We finally got to camp, jumped in the mud pit and got ready to run into the chadar. I will especially remember being the first to do a belly flop in the mud.

Once everyone was finished getting muddy, we formed platoons and began to march to the chadar. The platoons lined up at different entrances. I could feel the adrenaline pulsing through my veins.

The counselors yelled, “Charge!” and we sprinted for the doors. It was complete pandemonium inside. I ran around yelling, cheering and giving mud hugs to all my friends, making sure to squeeze extra tight to ensure they were truly covered in mud.

Looking back
is so hard, because I know I will never again have the chance to run through the dinning hall covered in mud. Tza’adah defined my camp experience, and I know that even though I will never be a camper again, the memories I created this summer will last forever.

Natalie Katz, a 10th-grader from Manhattan Beach, has attended Camp Ramah for seven years.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the September issue is Aug. 15; Deadline for the Ocotber issue is Sept. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Remembering Zvika


“I have the worst possible news,” said our friend Avram Bar-Shai, calling from LAX. “Zvika has been killed in a helicopter crash and we are on the way to his funeral.”

Clowning Around


clowns

Dan Berkley always carries two noses. “I always try to have a spare,” he says. “Particularly in a pie fight, it can come off. Doing anything, you’re gonna lose a nose.”

Berkley knows noses. He’s a clown in town with the Ringling Bros. When we met, he’d just jumped off the circus train from Fresno. Applying his makeup off Clown Alley backstage at Staples Center, Berkley explained how a nice boy from “the last exit off the Garden State Parkway” ran away with the Barnum and Bailey and the whole mishagoss.

He didn’t. First he got a degree in physics from a college in Maine. Then he fooled around with Circus Smirkus in Vermont and the Pickle Players in the Bay Area, developing a scientist character along the way. Did I mention he’s smart? Now, at 25, he’s an entertainer in “The Greatest Show on Earth!” (Take that Mandy Patinkin.)

Some of my best friends are clowns. I know that sounds like a line, but it’s true. Jewish clowns, too. Back East, there’s Dr. Meatloaf and Dr. Noodle (aka Stephen Ringold and Ilene Weiss). They’re in the CCU, the “Clown Care Unit” of the Big Apple Circus. Like badchens (Yiddish for clown) for the broken up, they play hospitals instead of weddings.

Here, Berkley takes a header into a pie with 15 other clown pals when an elephant walks into his diner. In a “Smashcar” pit-stop sketch, he reaches the heights — depths? — of pratfalling. Yet, his zany behavior onstage in front of thousands of ooh-ing and ahh-ing children contradicts a yeshiva bocher-level interest Berkley has in his art off-stage.

Berkley knows the difference between a badchen and a kachina (a Hopi clown). He learned some of his craft at the funny feet of the wonderful messugenah clown Avner “the Eccentric” Eisenberg. Avner lives off the coast of Maine and is, if not a ba’al teshuvah then not a bad Baal Shem Tov, using humor as a healing tool for the heart and breath. Berkley learned from Avner (and Bill Irwin and other mentors) that clowning “is an evolutionary art.”

“You’re always trying to come up with something new,” he says. “Of course, there are no new ideas. There’s your take on it.”

Clowning has deep Jewish storytelling roots — notably the cartoon faith of Krusty the Clown on “The Simpsons.” His real name is Herschel Krustofski, and his father, voiced by Jackie Mason, was a rabbi. Berkley remembers a line from the Talmud that Bart Simpson quotes in one episode: “Who shall bring redemption if not the jesters?”

Nicole Feld, circus co-producer with her father, Kenneth Feld, hopes such wisdom is prophetic. Her grandfather, Irvin Feld, first moved the venerable show from tent to arena. This is their 136th year and Feld, 28, wouldn’t say whether Berkley is her favorite clown — “That’s like asking me if I love my mom or my dad more!”

“He brought his college background and his interests in physics to his character,” Feld says. “Dan’s great because he can talk to kids about all kinds of stuff and helps us place the value on education.”

Dan starts by putting on his eyes (white, red, black). He can complete his face in 15 minutes. The latex nose goes on with skin adhesive.

“In the medical industry they use it for colostomy bags and stuff like that,” he says. “It works well. You really don’t wanna lose a nose. Guys that are prone to losing their nose, will paint their own nose red so worst-case scenario, they still have a nose. The nose within. The inner nose.”
Berkley steps away and powders.

“We powder our makeup to set it, keep it from smudging,” he explains. “I bump into somebody, I don’t want to leave my face on their costume.”
He tops off with a two-toned yak wig reminiscent of Sam Jaffee as Dr. Zorba on TV’s “Ben Casey.”

“I use yak hair because it’s tougher,” he says, too young for the reference. “It takes a beating. We beat up everything we use.”

Did you know clowns wear two pairs of boxers? For the final touch, Berkley pokes a tiny black clown dot into his dimpled chin. In floppy two-toned custom-made shoes, he’s ready to meander out — lime-green smock over orange shirt with dark bow tie, green-and-black plaid pants held up by red suspenders — for his pre-show “all access” visit with the early-arriving audience. He has been buffooning since 3 a.m., when he did a Univision appearance (Latino audiences are Ringling’s bread and butter in Los Angeles).

Berkley likes the Wavy Gravy line: “A clown is a poet who is also an orangutan.”
“There are a lot of contradictions in clowning,” Berkley says. “There are no rules. It’s one of those arts where you can do anything. You’re limited by what you can get your hands on sometimes and how much time you have to work on it.
In Staples, I ran into some Israelis I knew. Not to get all “Up With Laughter” about it, but they said Israel could sure use a circus. Leytzan, they told me, is the word for clown in Hebrew. Dan Berkley is very leytzan.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is currently in Anaheim, through Aug. 6. For ticket information, visit see www.ringling.com/schedule/.

Hank Rosenfeld learned in a Ringling Brothers audition “ya gotta have a heart as big as Alaska” to reach the top row.

A ‘Nice’ Idea Blossoms Into a Group of ‘Niceaholics’


Debbie Tenzer was having lunch with several girlfriends when the conversation got heated. “We all had such different views on where the country was headed. There was so much anger and so much scary news in the post-Sept. 11 world,” she says, recalling the devastation from hurricanes and the tsunami, terrorism threats, difficulties facing Israel and escalating deaths in Iraq. “I wished I could pull my head in and hide like a turtle.”

But that’s hardly what Tenzer, a mother of three and marketing consultant, decided to do.

She thought to herself: “I can’t single-handedly end world hunger, but I can donate some cans to a food bank. I can’t fix the entire school system, but I can donate my kids’ old books to the library.”

So she did, and her kindness was empowering.

“I realized that if you have the ability to help other people, you’re in a pretty good place,” says Tenzer, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 29 years. “It’s not always easy, because basically, we’re selfish creatures, many of us struggling every day. We have to make a choice, and it starts by doing just one nice thing.”

Tenzer decided that every Monday, she’d do something nice for others.

“It’s the hardest day of the week,” she explains, “so I wanted to start off with something I could feel good about, a personal victory,” even if it was only a five-minute gesture like making a card for senior citizens in nursing homes.
Her friends were inspired by her idea, so she sent an e-mail to 60 of them with her suggestions for kind acts they could easily do, too.

One year later, her idea has evolved into a Web site, DoOneNiceThing.com, with thousands of visitors and a weekly e-mail that reaches people in more than 20 countries, including Afghanistan, Israel, Japan and Slovakia. Her self-funded site reinforces the idea that small acts of kindness can create lasting results and suggests simple deeds that appeal to both adults and children without usually asking for money.

She credits them with cheering up hundreds of hospitalized children, donating countless books to schools, libraries and hospitals, as well as backpacks to foster children who were literally carrying their belongings from home to home in a garbage bag.

“What kind of message does that send to them?” Tenzer asks rhetorically.
The ideas are often sent to Tenzer in the more than 200 weekly e-mails she receives from the site’s members, whom she calls “Niceaholics” because, Tenzer cautions, “you get hooked.”

Operation Feel Better, for example, encourages people to make or buy cards that she then sends to hospitalized children. “So far I’ve gotten 1,000 cards from all over the United States and as far away as China, and they’re still trickling in,” she says. The figure includes about 20 from her 14-year-old daughter.
“I brought some to UCLA Children’s Hospital and sent others to St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis.”

Pulling out a big batch in a manila envelope, she adds, “These are on their way to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where sick children of all faiths lie side by side.”

Pointing to a wall in her home office that’s covered with pictures, Tenzer says, “These are some of the heroes who are making life better.”

She begins to cry as she talks about Mallory Lewis, with whom she spent the day at Fort Irwin near Barstow, the last stop before many of the soldiers are deployed to Iraq. “Some of the people we met were killed in the war. Maybe the last smile they had or their last taste of childhood was because of Mallory,” she sobs, noting that Lewis, the daughter of puppeteer Shari Lewis, performed with Lamp Chop for no fee.

“I’m not usually so emotional, but these people remind me of a higher purpose in life,” she adds. Getting teary-eyed again, she points to a picture of a young man who quit his job at a law firm to teach at an inner-city school, where he spent his free time helping students fill out college applications.

“Every one of them went to college because of him,” she said.

While some of the “nice people” Tenzer has recognized are spearheading grass-roots efforts or starting nonprofits to help the homeless, disadvantaged children, AIDS patients, abused animals or drug addicts, others are honored for simply making people smile. Bob Mortenson, for example, a retired man in his 70s, takes a walk every morning carrying a bag of cookies so that he can share something sweet with workers in his neighborhood. And on her way home from work as a gynecologist, Karen Gross has a daily ritual of dropping off treats at her local LAPD and Fire Department stations.

The one thing all the honorees have in common, Tenzer says, is their reaction to being praised.

“Every single one of them says something like, ‘Oh no, not me. Other people do so much more than I do,'” Tenzer says. “This is the sign of a truly kind person.”

When the kindness hits close to home, she’s especially grateful and pleasantly surprised.

“You won’t believe this,” she says, explaining that her younger son, Ben, a college junior who’s spending the semester in Barcelona, was recently pickpocketed. But within days, a taxi driver had found what remained of Ben’s wallet, including his credit cards and ID, and called his university in the United States so that he could arrange to return it.

“There really are a lot of nice people out there,” Tenzer says with a smile.
She attributes her sense of tikkun olam, healing the world, to her Conservative Jewish and Zionist upbringing in the Bay Area, values that she and her husband, an agent at Creative Artists Agency, have instilled in their children.
“I was always taught that we have a responsibility to other Jews and to the whole community,” she says, praising her parents for being role models. “Tikkun olam is in my soul. It’s just a reflex. It’s what’s expected of us.”
But she’s careful to point out that her site embraces people of all denominations and backgrounds.

“My goal is to unite people, not point out our differences,” she says. “I never ask people their faith, but it often comes out.”

Still, she admits that about half of all the people featured on the site are Jewish: “And I’m proud of that.”

Like her honorees, she’s also proud of her accomplishments, but won’t take all the credit. “It’s not all me by any means,” says Tenzer, who’s now working on a related book. “I just lit a match to get some light going out there. It’s the people all over the world who are keeping it going.”

Return to the Promised Land


“Do you think we’re crazy?” Avi Rembaum is sitting with his wife, Sharon, on a couch in his parents’ lovely living room in the Pico Robertson area, while their impish, blue-eyed 21-month-old, Ella, runs back and forth between her parents, and her brother Itai, 8, is watching a video in the family room. Ella’s other brother, Dani, 5, is out at a sleepover.

The Rembaums don’t look crazy. They don’t even look like many of the bearded or skirt-wearing flag-waving people being interviewed on television who are moving their families to Israel on group flights sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh, the American organization that gives grants to North Americans who want to immigrate to Israel. By the end of the year, Nefesh B’Nefesh will have sponsored 10,000 olim, most of whom are Orthodox.

No, the Rembaums don’t look crazy, or militant. Avi, 35, is wearing a green baseball cap and khaki shorts, and Sharon, 38, is wearing cargo pants, a short-sleeved T-shirt and matching tan plastic Crocs, and they look just like any other couple you might see in the parking lot at Pressman Hebrew Academy, a Conservative school their sons attend that is affiliated with Temple Beth Am, where Rabbi Joel E. Rembaum, Avi’s father, is the senior rabbi.

But the Rembaums could pass for a typical American family living in Israel, perhaps one from an anglicized neighborhood in Jerusalem or Ra’anana. They look that way because that’s what they once were, when the couple met and married 10 years ago. And it’s what they were about to become again, just last week, as the family prepared to once again make Israel home.

Last Sunday, while thousands of Los Angeles Jews were rallying in front of the Jewish Federation headquarters to show support for Israel, the Rembaums were showing a different kind of support for the Jewish state: They were on a plane moving there.

After living six years in Israel, and nearly the same amount of time in America, the Rembaums have weighed their options, compared the two countries, debated which lifestyle is better for their children — and themselves — and come up with one conclusion: Israel. They hope, they say, this time they’ll stay for good.

While this back and forth story sounds unusual, it’s not as uncommon as one might think; theirs is a conflict that many Diaspora Jews struggle with — an inexplicable, heart-wrenching love for and attachment to Israel, versus a pull toward a native country filled with family, friends, better economic opportunities and, especially as of late, better security. This struggle is experienced not only by people who have lived in Israel, but also many who have visited there — on summer tours or one-year programs or university semesters, or on missions – as well as virtually any child who goes through the Jewish school or camp system, with their strong emphasis on the State of Israel and Zionism. And it’s a struggle that is often heightened in times of war.

“The bottom line,” Avi’s father, Rabbi Joel Rembaum told his wife Fredi when they were discussing how upset they were over Avi and Sharon’s departure, “is that when you train your children to be Zionists, somebody’s bound to want to live in Israel.”

The rabbi of Beth Am tells the same thing to parents who want to send their kids to Pressman: “We tell the people who sent their kids to the school here: ‘Expect that your kids are going to be turned on to Judaism — you may get back a child who is different from the one you sent.'”

It’s the same thing with teaching Zionism, he told his wife: “If you’re really serious about it, then [someone making aliyah] is bound to happen, and it did.”
The Rembaum children were trained to be Zionists, attending Jewish day schools, summering at Camp Ramah, growing up in the home of a Conservative rabbi. Joel Rembaum has been the leader of Temple Beth Am for the last 21 years, and Fredi, who is now director of development for the Western Region of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, was director for overseas relations for the Federation for eight years, and has traveled to Israel as often as four times a year.

Zionism stuck particularly with Avi, who moved to Israel at 22 and attended the World Union of Jewish Students, a one-year program in Arad that teaches Hebrew and Jewish studies and helps new immigrants integrate into the Israeli job market. That’s where he met and fell in love with his future wife, Sharon Isaac, a new immigrant from London.

“My parents were Israeli, and I grew up in a very Zionist home, and I had a huge family in Israel,” Sharon said. “It was always Israel, Israel, Israel. I was always torn.”

Sharon’s parents had moved to England in 1966, where her father had citizenship, and always planned to go back.

“They got wrapped up in life there,” Sharon said. Her parents moved back to Israel after Sharon and her sister did.

In Israel, Avi worked in the booming hi-tech industry, and Sharon worked at the BBC and then became a correspondent and anchor for the local English TV news, a program widely watched by Americans and diplomats and tourists who don’t speak Hebrew. They lived mostly in and around Tel Aviv, and tried to make life work there.

But reporting daily on the deteriorating political situation was depressing for Sharon.

“After Baruch Goldstein, everything went downhill,” she said, referring to the American Jewish doctor who killed 29 Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

“I remember the bombings, and I remember the assassination [of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin]. It was relentless, it was every other day; the beeper would go off every morning, so it was very hard to live in it and breathe in it,” Sharon said. “Most Israelis have the opportunity to close it out,” she said. But she couldn’t because she was immersed in it for her work. “Israel is a great place to be a journalist if you’re removed from it, if you’re [a Brit] working for the BBC, but when you’re Israeli, it’s different.

The economic situation is what got to Avi.

“We were overwhelmed by our overdraft, we weren’t able to make ends meet, and our financial situation was going downhill,” Avi said. When his company offered to move the couple and their one child to Boston, they decided to go.
“We wanted to come to America. We wanted to have more kids. It made more sense to move here,” Sharon said.

There’s a figure that new immigrants in Israel throw around to determine whether a person will make it: Seven years. If someone stays seven years, it’s likely they’ll be there a lifetime. Even Nefesh B’Nefesh’s generous gifts are dependent on a family staying three years. That’s because people leave. Some for economic reasons, others for security reasons. Some, like Sharon, just want a break.

“I wanted to be somewhere that I didn’t have to think about it for awhile. But our intention when we left was always to go back.”

That’s another thing about new immigrants who leave Israel. Most plan on coming back. Some have a monetary goal, others set a time goal: the three-year plan, the five-year plan, the 10-year plan.

“We didn’t have a plan,” Sharon said. But they knew it was the right thing to do.

“When we left, at the airport, I turned to you and felt like someone [leaving] Europe in World War II,” Avi said, addressing his wife. “It felt like the time was right.”

Indeed, only seven months after the Rembaums moved back to America, in the beginning of 2000, the second intifada broke out. The next four years were a tough time for Jews in Israel; they shut themselves in, avoiding the threat of crowded places like malls, the movie theaters, restaurants and cafes, for fear of terror attacks.

Avi and Sharon really liked Boston.

“It was amazing; it was an incredible community,” Sharon said.

But Avi’s company shut down after a year and a half, so they decided to come to Los Angeles.

“It was a bit too cold, and we wanted our kids to have grandparents,” Sharon said. “If we would have stayed in Boston, we might have stayed [in America.]”
Sharon wasn’t crazy about Los Angeles at first.

“When I first moved here, I vehemently hated it. I couldn’t stand the fake boobs, the plastic-ness.”

But then she got involved with Pressman school and the Beth Am community, and she started working at KCRW, as a producer of “To the Point,” the call-in news show hosted by Warren Olney. “That was when I started to really like L.A.; I saw a very different side of it,” she said.

Avi, who describes himself as the “optimist” in the family, didn’t have problems with Los Angeles, perhaps because his family and childhood friends were here. But, he said, “Israel’s always been on my mind.”

There is a moment, for some people — one particular Eureka moment — that they can point to as an impetus for any decision, and especially for the decision to move to Israel. For Sharon, it was when her father died a year ago, and she was sitting shiva in Israel. “It was a very emotional time for me,” she said.
Her sister, who lives in the north of Israel, said to her, “Sharon, do you want to grow old in the city of Los Angeles?

“Oh God, no,” Sharon replied, repeating the emphasis as she retold the story.
“I didn’t want to live forever here, and I wanted to live my life there,” Sharon said now, explaining her vehemence.

“I am a better person there,” she said, choking back tears.

As she spoke, Avi took her hand in his. For him, it’s always been what he calls a “gestalt” thing.

“I am the happiest person when I’m there,” he said. “I’m most confident as a person when I’m there.”

For both of them, though, it was also about their children.

“It was about the life we want our kids to love, the freedom to be children. It seems hard to raise sane, Jewish children in L.A.,” Sharon said. “It’s very expensive here. You have to pay through the nose. In Israel it’s a no-brainer [because school is free]. You don’t have to work on chag. Here you get two weeks of vacation, if that, a year, and you have to take it off on the holidays.”
After spending Passover in Israel, they seriously began to consider moving back. But this time they weren’t going to be undone by the economic realities of Israel.

“We had three criteria: Sell our house for more money, buy a house for a lot less money and get a well-paying job,” Avi said.

They expected this would take them some time — months, maybe even a year.
“We did all those things in two weeks,” he said. Less than a month ago, they bought their tickets to Israel.

Ironically, it was Sharon, the non-native, who had a harder time leaving Los Angeles.

“It was very hard for me to leave. Even though we never said we wanted to stay here forever, I could have stayed,” she said. But “in many ways, it was now or never.”

But Sharon wasn’t the only one having a hard time leaving.

“I feel sad that they’re leaving,” said Fredi, her mother-in-law, in what was surely an understatement. “It’s going to be a big hole in our lives.”

Avi jumped in: “I reminded [my mother] that she dragged two kids to Israel in the middle of the Yom Kippur war, so she has no right to say anything.”
There is a strong parallel. In 1973, Rabbi Rembaum and his wife took a sabbatical in Israel — arriving there on the eighth day of the Yom Kippur war, when Ariel Sharon was leading the campaign to cross the Suez canal.

“When our El Al flight came to Israel we were accompanied by Phantoms,” Fredi recalled.

“As long as Israel is letting us in, we’ll go,” Rabbi Rembaum said at the time. Those words have come back as a strong reminder that each family has to choose its own way, the rabbi said, “We have no moral grounds on which to tell them they shouldn’t go.”

And besides, even though he’ll miss them, “I’m proud of them. I’m a Zionist.”
As the family talked about this landmark decision, about moving to Israel, no one really mentioned the current military actions going on, the fact that Israel is fighting in Lebanon, that Katyushas are being fired on the Northern cities, and the country might soon be in a state of war.

“I’m less distressed about the situation they’re going back to than about losing them on a daily basis,” Fredi said.

When the fighting started, Sharon said, “We looked at each other and said, ‘Are we doing the wrong things for our kids? Are we taking them into a potentially difficult situation?’ The only thing we always think about is our children.”

But they’re moving to Ra’anana, at the center of the country, where the rockets don’t hit. And they’ve already sold their house, shipped their stuff and enrolled the kids in school.

“In some ways it makes us want to go more,” Sharon said about the situation.
Avi added: “It’s happening now, but it could have happened three months from now, and we’ll be living there. It’s just the way that living in Israel is.”

Why, then, was Sharon crying? Was it because of the war, leaving Los Angeles and her family or moving to Israel?

“I just got emotional thinking about Israel and all the amazing things,” she said. “I love the fact on Friday at 3, 4, 5 in the afternoon it’s quiet, and you start to smell chicken soup, and the country just relaxes,” she said. “I love the unity that we see when times are bad: It’s the only county in the world that opens its arms and says, ‘Come.'”

‘Sex and the City’ Workout


“You’re joining a gym again?” I laughed. “If you could get back even half the money you’ve spent on gym memberships, you could go to Hawaii!”

“This time it’s different,” my friend said. “I’m joining that new one right by the mall. It’s so convenient, I can’t not go! And I’ll even use my free sessions with the personal trainer. I swear to you I am not throwing my money away this time.”

Where have I heard that before? Gym joiners are a dime a dozen here in fitness-obsessed Los Angeles. And you can’t drive three blocks without seeing some kind of gym or studio. Where I live, every time a new Starbucks pops up so does another gym. But I gave up on gyms long ago.

I joined my first gym while in college. My friends and I signed up for a three-month trial together, intending to rid ourselves of the proverbial freshman 10 — the end result of late-night doughnut runs.

We went religiously for three weeks, and then at least twice a week for three weeks after that, and then once in a while for three more weeks, and then we took a break for finals. After finals, the excuses began: “I have too much studying to do.” “I have a date.” “My sister has my car.” “I need to go shopping.”

We didn’t sign up again when the three months ran out.

Over the years I joined a few more gyms, always with the best intentions. But eventually my motivation to workout just wore out. For every reason there was to go, I had at least three reasons not to.

After I swore off of gym memberships, I decided that I needed to come up with different incentives to get moving. I used my dog. My dog loves to walk, and I love my dog. But dogs tend to stop frequently, and my dog must have been concerned that the female dogs on our block were not aware of his existence. So even though our walks were delightful, it became less of a fitness routine and more of a way for my dog to mark his masculinity.

Although the dog-walk routine didn’t pan out, a bit of canine inspiration led me to a workout regimen that finally worked.

When I next ran into my gym-joining friend, she was sipping a low-fat frap at the Starbucks next door to her new gym.

“Hey! How’s the new workout?” I asked.

“Um, good. The trainer was great, but kind of expensive once the freebees ran out. The locker room is very clean, and the juice bar totally yum,” she said, diverting her eyes and concentrating on the whipped cream oozing up her straw.

“You quit, didn’t you?”

“Not exactly,” she said.

“You stopped going?”

“I just needed a break.”

“I told you so,” I said as I ordered a tall decaf latte.

“OK, so you did,” she said defensively. “And what about you? What are you doing for exercise?”

I raised my eyebrows and smiled coyly. “I invented my own routine. I call it the ‘Sex and the City’ Workout,” I said.

“I’m intrigued,” she said. We took a seat in a quiet corner in the back. “How does it work?”

“Do you remember Pavlov? Well, I now am conditioned just like his dog.”

“You drool?”

“Don’t be silly. I developed a system so that I associate exercise with something I really want. I got an elliptical machine and put it in front of the TV.”

“I bet you hang your dirty clothes on it.”

“I do,” I admitted. “Exercise equipment always turns into a clothesline. Anyway, the trick to my workout is DVDs of ‘Sex and the City.'”

“I don’t get it.”

“I love watching ‘Sex and the City,’ right? Well, I allow myself to watch only if I am on the elliptical. So just like Pavlov’s dog learned to associate the bell with food, I associate exercise with my favorite show. If I want to watch, I have to workout. It’s that simple. I got caught up in season five one night, and when I looked down I had burned more than 3,000 calories.”

“That’s amazing!”

“It’s the best idea I ever had. My regular workout consists of two episodes — first episode on the elliptical and second episode stretching and lifting weights.”

“Wow,” she shook her head. “You do look, uh, pretty fit.”

I showed her my upper arm and allowed her to poke my bicep.

“I’m not only in shape,” I bragged, “I am also the ‘Sex and the City’ trivia game champion. I was the only one in my havurah who knew where Carrie and Miranda bought their cupcakes.” (Magnolia Bakery.)

“So you just watch ‘Sex and the City’ over and over?” she asked.
“When I could recite Carrie’s lines as well as she could, I decided to move on. So I addicted myself to ‘Gilmore Girls,'” I said.

“Ooooh, I love that show!”

“Then ‘The Sopranos,’ ’24,’ ‘Will and Grace’….”

Don’t Think Of Me As Different — I’m Not


My name is Rachel, and I am a Jewish American girl who was born in China. I was adopted. I am finishing the fifth grade, and I go to a Jewish school where I am not the only Chinese girl — there is one other girl from China named Willow, who is in the fourth grade. We are friends.

Sometimes I do not want to be different from the other kids,

Spectator – The Woman Who Fought the Tigers


Helene Klodawsky remembers how her survivor mother and girlfriends stayed up all night, laughing and crying as they recounted their Holocaust experiences over cigarettes and coffee.

“I became consumed with questions about women and war,” the 50-year-old Canadian filmmaker said.

Her new documentary, “No More Tears Sister” — about the struggle of Sri Lankan human rights activist Rajani Thiranagama — reflects that lifelong obsession.

The film describes how the late Thiranagama, a physician, joined a militant group she believed would help her people amid brutal civil war in the 1980s. She eventually left that group, the Tamil Tigers, when she learned their murders and bombings tormented civilians, especially women. She founded the University Teachers for Human Rights to document and disseminate reports about atrocities perpetuated by Tigers and other factions.

Thiranagama wrote of women’s dead bodies — bloated, beaten, shot, raped and left to rot on the roadside. She helped expose how the Tigers convinced sexually assaulted teenagers, considered tainted by society, to become suicide bombers.

“One day a bullet will silence me,” Thiranagama said of her work. Her premonition came true on Sept. 21, 1989 when a Tamil gunman assassinated her in her rural hometown of Jaffna. She was only 35.

“Sister” spotlights the legacy Thiranagama left Sri Lanka: “The idea that militarism does not benefit women, who are often caught in the crossfire between groups of armed men,” Klodawsky said.

The fear of such gunmen challenged “Sister’s” production in 2003 and 2004. Although Thiranagama’s relatives agreed to speak on camera, many potential subjects declined to be interviewed, even in shadow, and even when they lived as far away as Canada. Those who participated did so only when the director agreed to film them far from their homes. Because Kladowsky could not shoot in Thiranagama’s Tamil-controlled hometown, she decided to tell the story largely through staged recreations — a technique often frowned upon by cineastes.

“These flagrantly fictional images push the already elastic limits of documentary almost to the breaking point,” The New York Times said of “Sister” in a mixed review.

Other critics praised the film as powerful.

Kodlawsky said her goal was to tell Thiranagama’s story vividly; in a way, it reminded her of those late-night discussions over cigarettes and coffee. Her mother’s friends often spoke of how Kodlawsky’s mother risked death to smuggle food to others at Bergen-Belsen.

“Her courage came in very private, localized ways, not to say it was a lesser courage,” Kodlawsky said.

“No More Tears Sister” airs July 11, 10 p.m. on KCET.

 

Converts’ Hardships Expose Truth


“My father didn’t survive the Holocaust to have his grandson marry a shiksa.”

Alison, my classmate from the University of Pennsylvania who is currently in the process of converting to Judaism, gasped at the harshness of the words delivered stoically by her boyfriend’s mother.

He succumbed to intense pressure from his parents to end the relationship, while she was subjected to a cascade of accusations:

“Converts are not welcome in my family.” “No Jewish boy will ever want to marry you.” “You are inadequate to raise Jewish children.”

“I felt like someone was putting a knife through my heart,” she told me. “When you’re so passionate about something, and you know you will never be accepted…. I’ll always feel inadequate.”

As I had recently discovered, Alison’s case was not an isolated incident in Penn’s Jewish community. I vividly remember my first Friday night at Penn. It was a huge event organized by Hillel, and swarms of Jewish students were packed in.

Noticing that I was a freshman overwhelmed by the bombardment of new faces, a junior whom I had never met before took my hand and said, “Are you Laura? I’m Julie. I’ve heard so much about you! If you want, I saved you a seat on that table over there.”

We soon became friends and particularly bonded during our weekly swim in Penn’s pool. One day, as we sat chatting casually in the sauna, she confided to me that although she observes the law according to Orthodox traditions, she technically isn’t Jewish yet.

Julie hails from a small, white Christian town, and spurred by her own spiritual quest, she had found Judaism. We had been close for two months by this point, and I was shocked that she had kept this from me. She explained that she has learned to keep her conversion secret from her Jewish acquaintances, because the reactions have been so discouraging and unwelcoming: “The overwhelming sentiment was that converts are not wanted, and they are a burden. And that’s what I was.”

Intrigued and appalled, I tried to probe the issue. A torrent of emotions and stories poured out, reflecting her relief in expressing her feelings to a sympathetic ear.

“I was taunted, like the fat kid in third grade” Julie recalled. “It was always, ‘Well, you’re not Jewish, so you shouldn’t come to davening.’ Students wouldn’t hand me a bentscher, or they would tell me to step out of the line to wash [ritually], because I was just wasting everyone’s time. Just lots of constant, intentional reminders that I was not chosen to be part of this people as they were.”

Julie’s list of painful interactions went on and on, as I sat in numbed silence, hugging my knees to my chest and absorbing the oppressive heat of the room.

“I have been told not to touch the Torah and to go back to my own religion” she relayed to me matter-of-factly.

“Wasn’t there anyone you could confide in?” I asked.

“I could confide in some more than others, but when it came down to it, no one really cared whether I converted or not.”

“So … how did you cope?”

“I cried and wondered what I did wrong to merit not being born Jewish.”

Just then, someone entered the sauna, bringing in a chilling draft and an abrupt end to our conversation.

I was introduced to Alison several weeks after I met Julie. Again, I discovered she wasn’t born Jewish only after knowing her a couple of months. When I finally mustered the courage to approach her about her experiences converting, I found her surprisingly open as well.

“When I went to shul, people asked me why I was there,” she revealed. “People would ask me to press the elevator button for them on Saturday … to be their Shabbos goy. Why didn’t I just abide by the seven Noahide laws, they asked. There’s no reason for you to convert. They called me a shiksa…. That was very hurtful.”

In addition to justifying their change of faith to their families, friends and local communities, Julie and Alison absorb the added hardships inflicted by the intolerance of the Jewish world they seek to enter. As converts, they feel that they undergo constant scrutiny and consequently abide by the strictest interpretations of Jewish laws and customs.

“I feel like I have to prove myself” Alison told me. “Because I wasn’t born Jewish, I have to do more to make up for it.”

She noted the paradox that it is usually the people less comfortable with their religiosity that give her the hardest time; they feel “threatened” by a convert who is more religiously inclined.

My friendship with these girls has exposed me to what it feels like on the outside of the Jewish community, and it disturbs me how callous and cold we can be to those who sincerely find meaning in the Jewish faith.

“I am not going to fight for [my boyfriend] anymore,” she replied. “I don’t want to be a burden on him…. I love Judaism and have sacrificed so much for it. I really wish people could be more accepting.”

Laura Birnbaum is a student at the University of Pennsylvania and a freelance journalist.

 

The Making of a Jewish Teen


Community
by Lauren Schein, Tribe Contributor

I am a stubborn person. I get it from my dad. I also get many of my beliefs from my dad, who disregards all religion as not only mostly useless, but harmful.

I also have influences from my grandparents, who are big players in their temple. They insist on carrying on the Jewish traditions. My mom pushes the idea of Jewish community and how good it feels to be part of something larger.

Among all of these influences, my dad’s beliefs seemed most believable to me. I had seen evidence of the problems that religion had caused in the world and was ready and willing to go without. I didn’t see the point of being a part of anything bigger if it could invoke wars.

That is, until I had some chicken.

Chicken, you ask? Why is chicken symbolic of my joining of the Jewish community? The answer begins with the Religious Action Center trip to Washington, D.C. in February 2006.

I had not wanted to go along in the first place, but had been convinced. I walked into the situation firmly believing that there was no fun or learning to be had, and was ready to be stubborn enough to stick to that belief.

My mind was quickly changed the moment I walked into a large dining hall full of laughing, happy people who were all ready to get to know each other. I was enjoying myself even before dinner. The people I met were interesting, and I had a lot in common with them.

Then the food came. It was … chicken. That’s when Rabbi Kenneth Chasen, my rabbi from Leo Baeck Temple, said, “It wouldn’t be a Jewish convention without chicken.”

Everyone at my table was laughing, including me.

That’s when it hit me: I am a Jew. I was eating chicken with people I had immediate connections to, laughing over stereotypes and feeling pride in being part of such a great group. I became a part of the Jewish community that weekend. Whether it was the chicken, the friends, the senators, or the research; I had come to realize the reason for religion in the world.

I no longer view the idea of religion and community as only harmful. I have learned that a community can be the most important thing a person can have. A community is there for support and comfort in times of celebration and in times of need. Everyone — anywhere in the world — needs a community.

I am actually surprised to feel how fulfilling it is to tell people that I am a Jew and belong to the Jewish people. Thanks to that piece of white-meat chicken, I now have a community I will be able to rely on my whole life.

Lauren Schein, a junior at Santa Monica High School, was confirmed at Leo Baeck Temple.

Jewish Identity
by Mickey Brown, Tribe Contributor

I’m Jewish everywhere I go, but it always feels a little different depending on if I’m at my synagogue, at my camp or at my school.

When I’m at synagogue at Congregation Ner Tamid, I don’t feel unique. Being Jewish is typical and ordinary. I know everyone, and I simply take it for granted that everyone is here because they’re Jewish, and that everyone is Jewish because they’re here.

At Camp Hess Kramer, it feels completely different. I know that everyone is Jewish, but I don’t know anyone, and at first it’s strange. We know all the same prayers, all the same games and all the same rituals. The interesting part for me is that these things have less to do with being Jewish and more to do with being at camp.

It’s such a great feeling to be there and know that it is where I belong. People accept me at camp, and sometimes I just stand and ponder the idea that, “Wow, they’re all Jewish, every single one of them. I am not the minority, or even the majority, but the entire population! I am the religion!” Being able to say that feels really good.

School is another story, and to be honest, school is where I truly feel proud to be Jewish. I am part of a small minority at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, and I am treated a little differently for it. People see me in some of my classes as “the Jew” or “one of the Jews” and, truthfully, I love it! I am proud when I am at school to be known as “the Jew.”

The different ways people see me are mostly based on stereotypes. If someone were to point me out in a crowd to one of his friends and tell him that I am Jewish, the person would very likely assume I was smart, hard working, and fairly wealthy — and I have absolutely no problem with that assumption. I am proud to be thought of that way because those are valuable and honorable qualities that all people would want to have, and the fact that somebody would simply assume that I have them is quite flattering to me.

The truth is, however, that being Jewish has absolutely nothing to do with those stereotypes. It’s about what I believe in and how I view myself. I have come to realize that my parents didn’t decide that I would be Jewish; I decided that I would be Jewish, and that I had to want it for myself. It didn’t matter how many people wanted it for me as long as I made my choice.

And as I stand here on the night of my confirmation, I think that it is obvious which choice I’ve made. I have nothing to prove to anyone regarding my religion, my beliefs, my faith, or my Jewish heritage, and I am very proud of who I am.

Mickey Brown, a junior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, was confirmed at Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Israel
by Kevin Senet, Tribe Contributor

It was my first time in Israel, and on one of my first evenings there, I went to a Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game. That night, Maccabi was playing Jerusalem HaPoel for the Israeli basketball championship. This rivalry is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, rivalries in Israeli sports. The stadium was divided; the Tel Aviv fans were standing on one side in yellow, while the Jerusalem fans were standing on the other in red.

All of the sudden, before the game, the arena lights dimmed. I was amazed to see tens of thousands of people stop whatever they were doing — mostly chanting and cussing at the other side — to stand united and sing “HaTikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. Not only did everyone sing, but they sang with pride and wholeheartedly.

Listening to this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I could feel the love of the Jewish nation in everyone’s voices, the love that has kept the hope for Israel alive in the Jewish people for thousands of years and through many difficulties. From this I understood why the Israelis have such extreme national pride and risk so much in order to live in the Jewish homeland.

I had never heard “HaTikvah” sung in public by tens of thousands of people. Being in Israel taught me not to hide my Jewish pride, but to show it in public. After living in Tel Aviv with an Israeli family for two months on the Milken-Lady Davis Israel Exchange Program, my pride in Israel and in Judaism has risen greatly.

I have also never seen fans as passionate as the Maccabi fans in any sports game in America. During the exchange program this spring, I attended every Maccabi game. When I saw that Maccabi was going to the final four in Europe, I was amazed. A team from the small country of Israel was going to Prague to play against teams from Russia and Spain. This shows the world that the Israelis and Jews are strong and can compete in sports, like basketball. When European countries see an Israeli team as one of the best teams in Europe, they must respect Israel and Jews.

Israelis are so proud of Maccabi doing well that more than 10,000 Israelis, including my host family, the Dekels, and I, went to the Euroleague Finals in Prague to cheer them on. Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball was one of the highlights of my stay in Israel. Not only was it fun to go to the games, but it taught me how different the Israeli culture is from American culture, and how to be proud of who I am.

Kevin Senet, a junior at Milken Community High School, was confirmed at Stephen S. Wise Temple.

God
by Natalie Paige Karic, Tribe Contributor

One night a few months ago, I was talking with two of my closest friends, whom I have known for as long as I can remember. Both of these girls are relatively religious Christians who frequently attend church and have a strong belief in God. Soon our conversation came to the subject of religion.

My friends asked me if I believed in God. I quickly answered that I wasn’t sure. Recently, I have asked myself how I could believe in God if I had never had a personal experience in which God spoke directly to me or guided me in some way.

I told them that to be a Jew you didn’t have to believe in God. I was certain about this, but I still couldn’t explain more. My friends didn’t grasp how I could be Jewish and be an active participant in my Jewish community yet not believe in God. They didn’t understand what I feel in services when the congregation is praying and singing to God. How is Judaism even a religion, they asked, if you aren’t praying to anything?

After thinking about it I came to the realization that most people don’t understand this important part of Judaism. Our religion is, of course, based on the monotheistic principle in which people unite to pray to one God, but a bigger part of Judaism, which my Christian friends overlooked, is the moral code, tikkun olam and other mitzvot that our religion promotes.

Of the ethics and values we are taught in Judaism, the most important to me is the learning and discovery integral to our Jewish religion. As we learn about the ideals and history of Judaism, we are better prepared to make educated decisions based on our beliefs about God and life.

After this year in Confirmation class, I feel as though I am more prepared to think about my belief in God. To be honest, I’m still questioning, but being a part of our Jewish community and trying to understand my religion has given me exactly what I wanted.

I know I won’t be judged by our community on the basis of faith, and I am always being asked to question my beliefs until I achieve what I consider to be the best understanding possible.

As I have grown as a Jewish woman, I have learned that being a part of Jewish community is what makes me a Jew. The people here are joined together by something great that cannot be explained. While we may not all believe the same things about God and life, we are all in this together.

Natalie Paige Karic, a junior at Harvard-Westlake School, was confirmed at Temple Israel of Hollywood.