How to not spoil your interfaith kids during the holiday season


“We get twice the presents!”

Most interfaith kids will utter this classic, and rather obnoxious, boast at some point during childhood. I have to admit, it makes me wince and grit my teeth a little. As an interfaith child myself, I understand all too well that bragging about Christmas and Chanukah gifts can be a defense mechanism designed to dazzle and deflect those who view interfaith families with skepticism and disapproval. 

But as the parent of two interfaith children, now 17 and 20, it was crucial every year to at least attempt to reduce the avalanche of holiday packages, boxes and bags. I really did not want my interfaith kids to feel entitled, superior or somehow wealthier than their single-faith playmates.

To be honest, I did try to give my kids double the gifts, but I wanted those gifts to be metaphorical or experiential, not material. The plan was to bestow on them deep connections to both Judaism and Christianity, education in the history and rituals and beliefs of both religions, and opportunities to celebrate with extended family on both sides. In lieu of buying stuff, my husband and I tried to focus on creating deep sensory memories for our children: frosting gingerbread houses and frying latkes, hanging ornaments and dancing around the menorah.

OK, so we are not total Scrooges, or Grinches, or ascetics. Each child got one pile of gifts for the holidays, and “Santa” delivered that pile on Christmas morning. I do understand why some families who don’t celebrate Christmas give a huge mound of presents on Chanukah instead. But giving two piles of presents on two overlapping holidays seemed to me like a misguided attempt to make the two holidays equal. 

Part of the beauty of celebrating both religions for our family is that Chanukah does not have to compete with Christmas. Instead, we let Chanukah be a more modest holiday, appropriate to its modest place in the Jewish liturgical calendar, where it stands behind Shabbat, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot in terms of importance.

Part of our strategy was to communicate with all the grandparents and aunts and uncles our intention to try to keep the gift-giving under control, and instead focus on those who are truly in need. One visionary great-uncle gave donations to a different charity each year at Christmas in lieu of presents, and wrote a letter about his choice to each member of the extended family. My mother has taken to donating goats and sheep and chickens in the name of each of her grandchildren through Heifer International. And each year, we shepherded our children to the local Alternative Gift Fair, where they made charitable donations in lieu of Chanukah gifts on certain nights: drumming lessons for youth in detention, psychotherapy and fresh local vegetable deliveries for low-income Washington, D.C., residents, and bicycle-repair kits for people in Uganda and Honduras.

And cumulatively, over the years, I must admit they got a lot of toys and clothes and books.

But being an interfaith family provided fresh incentive each year to focus on the carols and the klezmer, the firelight and the candlelight, and spending time with both sets of relatives. It took a conscious effort to keep Chanukah and Christmas from disappearing under a drift of torn red-and-green and blue-and-white wrapping paper. 

We did not always succeed. But I hope that if you ask one of my nearly grown kids about the benefits of being part of an interfaith family, you will get a deeper answer than “Twice the presents!”  

Susan Katz Miller, a former Newsweek reporter, is the author of “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family.” She blogs regularly at onbeingboth.com, Huffington Post and The Seesaw interfaith advice column at The Jewish Daily Forward. You can find her on Twitter @BeingBoth.

Gifts for the wedding party


Show your appreciation for members of the wedding party by giving them a token of your love and friendship. Whether it’s matching ties for all the groomsmen or rhinestone rings for the bridesmaids, small gifts are the perfect reminder of how they helped you celebrate your special day.

For bridesmaids:

Let your bridesmaids know your love for them is unending with the INFINITY RING ($35). Made of sterling silver and cubic zirconia, these modern rings are stylish to infinity … and beyond. ” target=”_blank”>modcloth.com

” target=”_blank”>rebeccaminkoff.com

For groomsmen:

” target=”_blank”>uncommongoods.com

” target=”_blank”>americanapparel.net

” target=”_blank”>marcjacobs.com

Special gifts for that special day


Finding the perfect gift for a 13-year-old can be difficult. You can always give a new bar or bat mitzvah money — in the traditional multiples of $18  — but if you’d rather give a more personal or meaningful gift, make it something they’ll remember.

1. Recently considered dinosaurs of the camera world, POLAROIDS ($69.99) are making their way back. Why? Because everyone loves instant gratification. Holding a tangible, one-of-a-kind retro photo is a lot more fun than looking at a digital version on a screen. Your teen and all her friends will love the novelty of snapping insta-pics at the party. radioshack.com

Gifts to de-light


These are serious times. We just finished a brutal election cycle here in the United States, and things are as tense and uncertain as ever in the Middle East. What better excuse than Chanukah, then, to relax a little? For those who are interested in passing along a little laugh with some holiday spirit, here are a few fun gift ideas.

Chanukah Gift Guide


The holiday season is finally here, and with it comes the quest for the perfect Chanukah gifts. Whether your loved one prefers the classic comfort of a cozy throw or something with a little more sparkle, here is a great selection of Chanukah gifts for everyone in your family. So spin the dreidel, eat some latkes, and prepare to tear into these fun presents — one for each night!


1. This cuddly, soft SHEEP PUPPET ($24) by Folkmanis is sure to become your child’s new best friend. The sheep’s movable mouth allows your child to help the sheep graze or simply have an engaging conversation. At 19 inches long, it’s just the right size for snuggling in bed. Playing make-believe has never been cuter. shop.skirball.org


2. The hot pink Rebecca Minkoff OSTRICH EMBOSSED LARGE ZIP WALLET ($225) will make any woman feel like a diva. The genuine leather wallet, measuring 7 1/2 inches by 4 inches by 1 inch, easily holds eight credit cards and has two bill slots. The bright and modern design of this fabulous, functional wallet is just the icing on the cake. handbags.com


3. MAN CANDLES ($15) by Uncommon Goods were created with compassion and a love for the quirkiness in life — but in a manly way. Made from cans recycled from soup kitchens, the 100 percent renewable soy-wax-blend candles come in a variety of funky scents like dirt, fresh-cut grass, sawdust, campfire, pizza and coffee. uncommmongoods.com


4. Don’t be fooled by the name. The NOT-SO-PERFECT MEN’S ACCESSORIES PACK ($25) from American Apparel is well-suited for the hip young man or lady in your life. The grab bag contains a poplin wallet, striped calf-high socks, a pack of drawcords, a seersucker classic necktie, a cotton canvas makeup bag and a cotton bow tie. The colors will vary in each pack. americanapparel.net


5. The Gypsy 05 BLUE AGATE NECKLACE ($64) takes sparkling azure-blue, gem-cut agate beads and gives them a heavy-metal edge with a hefty chain. The necklace is handmade right here in Hollywood. If your teen is looking for a way to take her winter look to the next level, this is the perfect gift. gypsy05.com


6. For the writer in your life, there’s always the 12 TRIBES FOUNTAIN PEN ($3,750) by Visconti Pens. The pen, which pays tribute to the 12 Tribes of Israel, is handmade in Florence, Italy, from blue resin and sterling-silver filigree. The body of the pen features an engraving of an olive tree branch and also rotates, revealing each of the tribes, one by one. visconti.it

 

In defense of acquiring material things


Every year around Christmas and Chanukah time, writers, commentators, pundits and many rabbis, priests and ministers exhort Americans against spending money on things. We are too materialistic, we are told every year. Happiness, not to mention a meaningful life, depends on our having non-material things, not material things.

Thus, Americans are told to spend little or nothing on holiday gifts. Give your children love and time, we are told, not train sets (are they still given?), dolls or electronic devices.

The problem is, this advice is built on platitudes. And as is always the case with platitudes — or they wouldn’t be platitudes — the words sound nice but mean very little.

Before defending material things, let me make clear where I do agree with the joy-deniers. First, there is no question that no material thing can compete with love, religion, music, reading, health and other precious non-material things. And second, experiences contribute more to happiness than things do. If you only have x amount of money to spend on yourself, traveling to new places is usually more contributive to happiness than a better car. When I had almost no money through my early 30s, I still traveled abroad every year — which meant that I could only afford an inexpensive car. I have now visited a hundred countries, and that has given me more meaning and happiness than a luxury car or any other material thing.

But having said all that, material things matter. They can contribute a great deal to a happier and more meaningful life.

A grandmother once called in to my radio show to tell me that instead of giving her grandchildren Christmas gifts, she wrote each of them a special poem. I respectfully suggested to the obviously sweet woman that I could not imagine any normal child preferring a poem to a material gift.

With all my love of family, of friends, of music and of the life of the mind, I have always loved material things, too. On any happiness scale, it would be difficult to overstate how much joy my stereo equipment has given me since high school. I so love music that I periodically conduct orchestras in Southern California. And I now own a system that is so good that its offerings sound only a bit less real than what I hear from the conductor’s podium. I bless the engineers and others who design stereo products, and it is my joy to help support their noble quest of reproducing great music in people’s homes.

Since high school, too, I have written only with fountain pens. Buying new pens and trying out new inks are among the little joys of life that contribute as much — and sometimes more — to one’s happiness than the “big” things. There is incomparable joy at attending a child’s bar mitzvah or wedding. But those great events last a day. I write with a beloved fountain pen every day, listen to music every day, smoke a pleasure-giving cigar or pipe every day (except Shabbat, for the halachically curious). I love these things. What a colorless world it would be without them. So, too, I love my house. And I love the artwork and furniture and library that help to make it beautiful.

Sure, I could write with a 29-cent Bic. Yes, I could hear great music on a $50 radio. Of course I could give up cigars. Certainly, I didn’t have to buy the 5,000 books and 3,000 classical music CDs I own, and I understand that I don’t need to live in a house when my “needs” could have been met in an apartment a third its size.

But, thank God, most Americans don’t think that way. We like things. And liking things doesn’t mean you love less or read less or appreciate sunsets less. Life isn’t a zero-sum game between free joys and purchased joys. Moreover, the American economy and that of most other nations depend on our buying considerably more than our minimum needs.

Can people overdo purchasing things? Of course they can. People can also overdo taking vitamins, exercising and even reading books or studying Talmud.

So, then, when do we need to control our buying things?
a) When it becomes a compulsion — when one cannot stop buying things because the buying gives more pleasure than the things that are bought.
b) When the primary purpose of the purchase is to impress others with one’s wealth.
c) When one cannot afford what one is buying.

But beyond those caveats, don’t let the killjoys get you down. “Work hard and play hard,” my father always said (and still does at 93). When he bought a new Oldsmobile every few years, the family stepped outside the house to marvel at it — and even as kids we understood this was his reward for working all day and many evenings six days a week.

May your holidays be filled with lovely gift receiving and giving and may your New Year be filled with both wonderful experiences and wonderful things. Both contribute to a fuller and happier life.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project
is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Chanukah Gift Guide


Jonathan Adler Dachshund Menorah   Calling all dog lovers! The Dachshund Menorah designed by Jonathan Adler is not your standard chanukiyah. Made in Peru, this fair-trade sculpted menorah is made of high-fired stoneware and features a white matte glaze. The Dachshund Menorah is pottery at its finest and makes the ideal gift for the Festival of Lights. $120. jonathanadler.com.


Growbottles  Winner of the Eco Choice Award, Potting Shed Creations’ Growbottles add a touch of spring during any season — rain or shine. Basil, chives, mint, oregano or parsley easily grow when potted in these recycled and repurposed wine bottles. And, they create a unique display of freshness in any household or office. The Growbottles kit includes everything you need to make your plants flourish: seeds, pebbles, grow bottle and cork coaster. Replant kits available. $35. pottingshedcreations.com.


Matisyahu’s “Miracle” EP  Matisyahu has done it again with the release of his Chanukah anthem “Miracle.” The EP includes a track with his band Dub Trio, guest vocals by rapper Shyne, a remix by University of Colorado at Boulder freshman Miniweapon as well as a beatboxing and acoustic version. $7. matisyahuworld.com.


Laura Cowan’s Smart Dreidel  Forgot what the letters on your dreidel stand for? Have no fear because the Smart Dreidel by Laura Cowan teaches you how to play the dreidel game. The text on the dreidel is uniquely designed in acrylic and anodized aluminum, incorporating Cowan’s signature use of discs and cones. $80. lauracowan.com.


Cookie Monster Nosh Bib  Let your child indulge in a snack with his or her favorite monster — Cookie Monster! Designed by Rabbi’s Daughters for a Shalom Sesame collection, the cotton bib features yellow trim with a Velcro closure and an adorable picture of Cookie Monster snacking on rugelach. $18. store.sesamestreet.org, rabbisdaughters.com.


“I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River” by Henry Winkler  Actor Henry Winkler, best-known as the Fonz on “Happy Days,” shares all he’s learned while fly-fishing, which is more than just catching fish. Compiling humorous anecdotes and heartfelt observations from his annual trips to Montana and Idaho, Winkler recounts how his experiences on the river have shaped his perspective on life. $21.95. insighteditions.com.


Modern Bite Chanukkah Gift Boxes  Chef Daniel Shapiro taps his passion for baking to come up with the Modern Bite Chanukkah Gift Boxes. Baked to order, the boxed gift set includes natural sugar cookies with colorful icing that are pleasing to both the eye and stomach. Packed with a keepsake stationery box made of 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials, the cookies are ideal for satisfying a sweet tooth. $30. modernbite.com.


Marla Studio’s Beauty, Kindness, Compassion Necklace  What do beauty, kindness and compassion all have in common? Not only are they three of the many things Jews thank God for, but they are the three words that are engraved in Hebrew on designer Marla Studio’s brass pendant. An English translation is featured on the back, so even non-Hebrew readers can enjoy the striking message. $88. moderntribe.com.


“The Brisket Book:  A Love Story With Recipes”  There’s no longer a need for frantically searching for the best brisket recipes. Stephanie Pierson, author, food writer and brisket lover, has written a cookbook filled with only the best brisket recipes, accompanied by illustrations, poems, cartoons and musings. “The Brisket Book” has a recipe for everyone, and it’ll turn you into the star of any potluck. $30. thebrisketbook.com.


Chewish Treats  Who says dogs can’t get gifts on the holidays? Chewish Treats come straight from the doggy deli to your home. Allow your dog to indulge in these pooch-pleasing cookies that are topped with a yogurt-based icing. Made with only the highest-quality ingredients, these treats are sure to satisfy any kosher canine. $8. moderntribe.com.


Jewish Blessing Flags  If you’re looking for a decorative piece that has some Jewish value, these Jewish Blessing Flags are a must. Based on Tibetan prayer flags, each design is distinct in color and represents one of seven values in Jewish tradition: love, compassion, lovingkindness, peace, healing, respect and justice. The flags are suitable for the home, synagogue, classroom or sukkah. $20. fairtradejudaica.org

 

Chanukah gift guide


Chanukah Gift Guide 2008


Here’s some ideas for gifts that will continue to inspire long after the chanukiah has been put away. Bling that bridges faith and fashion, a DVD from a local yoga instructor and a Western Wall locket from an Agoura Hills jewelry designer are a few ideas from Southern California and beyond that can make shopping for family and friends easier.

Los Angeles designer Ellen Hart offers an alternative to the tired “status bag” with CareerBags (” target=”_blank”>http://www.elezar.com or at Royal Dutchess in Studio City).

Stella Rubinshteyn has created a treasure trove of mommy must-haves with Tivoli Couture (” target=”_blank”>http://www.awareables.com).

Jewtina ($20-$25, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewzo.com) takes the animals of Chinese astrology and replaces them with New York deli favorites. Born in the Year of the Dog? Fuhgeddaboudit. Now you’re the Year of the Blintz. T-shirts ($18-$20), infant onesies ($20) and other Jewish Zodiac products make this a fun, personal gift for family and friends.

Rock Your Religion (” target=”_blank”>http://www.samsontech.com, also available at Best Buy and Amazon.com), which is compatible with both PC and Mac, can hold a 16-gigabyte SD card and features an on-board chromatic guitar/bass tuner.

If you are hoping to give (or get) inspiration this holiday, look toward the wisdom of Abby Lentz, who imparts hope and spirit with her “Heavyweight Yoga” DVD ($25, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.iamnotamess.com), a yoga DVD focused on health and recovery of body, mind and spirit created by Hillary Rubin, who was diagnosed with MS in 1996 and teaches at L.A.‘s City Yoga.

The Wish Locket by Agoura Hills-based Monica Nabati goes the distance from fashionable to meaningful by providing you with a Kotel you can keep close to your heart, among other designs ($56, plus $8 for additional engraving). Simply write out your hopes, dreams or prayers, fold the paper and insert it into the locket. Available at ” target=”_blank”>http://www.scenelifegames.com). The Seinfeld Edition gives players a chance to relive their favorite “Seinfeld” moments from each of the show’s nine seasons. Kids can school their elders on everything cool with the Disney Channel Edition, featuring clips and trivia from “Hannah Montana,” “High School Musical,” “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Wendy Wu” and more. Given ($30, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewishmajorleaguers.org). Produced by the American Jewish Historical Society, the set bats .1000 with photos and facts of baseball’s greatest Jewish players. It also includes a special tribute to the 75th anniversary of Hank Greenberg’s rookie season. Once you’re on base, hit a home run with Bergino’s Judaica collection baseballs ($20-$25,

Teen makes a difference for orphans in Kenya slum


Instead of splurging on a Wii or a state-of-the-art laptop, Ryan Silver, of Manhattan Beach, donated a portion of his gift money to orphans in a Nairobi slum.

“I think the best thing you can do is help another person,” said Silver, 13. “I have a better life than the kids [in the orphanage], and I wanted to help them.”

Silver’s inspiration stemmed from a 2006 family vacation to Africa. Silver, his parents and his younger sister went on safari and explored Kenya and Tanzania. While the incredible sights of wild animals and tribesman remain with him, Silver’s most memorable moments were meeting the children in the Nyumbani Orphanage in Mukuru, a slum in Kenya’s capital. The orphanage houses about 100 children whose families have been affected by AIDS/HIV.

Silver and his family had traveled with Micato Safaris and chose to participate in the New York-based tour operator’s nonprofit AmericaShare program, which allows travelers to spend time with the orphans in Nairobi.

AmericaShare supports about 2,000 Kenyan children, many of whom have been affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping the continent. The organization places underprivileged children in schools and orphanages throughout East Africa. Through Lend a Helping Hand, a subprogram of America-Share, travelers can meet local children and offer financial support if they so choose.

It’s “main accomplishment is travelers hooking up with children whom they now support,” said Dennis Pinto, Micato’s managing director. “Many of these children were homeless or living on streets, and this gets them out of that situation.”

Often, this means living in the safety of the orphanage and getting a boarding-school education.

For Silver, Mukuru was a far cry from the clean, upscale neighborhood he knows in Manhattan Beach, where he surfs daily and plays on the school lacrosse team. Home to about 700,000, Mukuru has no infrastructure and little access to water and electricity.

“It was shocking,” Silver said.

After walking through narrow streets filled with mud, past large piles of trash and tiny, rundown shops, he arrived at the orphanage.

When Silver entered the facility, two toddler orphans, a brother and sister, took him by the hand and showed him their play area and vegetable garden. The juxtaposition of the devastation and the happy children was overwhelming. Silver says he was overcome with emotion.

“They were the cutest kids I’d ever seen, and they were so excited to see us,” said Silver, his soft-spoken voice evoking a mixture of sympathy and enthusiasm.

During Silver’s visit, the children and their caretakers sang songs for him in Swahili and played games. Although he only spent about two hours there, the experience changed his life.

“It definitely made me realize how lucky I am to have a home and a family and have the food and I water I need,” said Silver, who is in the eighth grade.

According to Pinto, Silver is not alone. For many children, especially teenagers, a trip through the slums of Africa can be life- altering.

“It is an experience that reaches quite deep into the psyches of teenagers,” Pinto said.

When Silver returned home, he began preparing for his bar mitzvah. Without hesitation, he knew that his mitzvah project would involve helping the children in the orphanage.

When it was time to send the invitations for his March simcha, Silver enclosed a letter about the cause and asked guests to donate money to AmericaShare at the reception. At the party, he played a video of the children from the orphanage and gave guests handmade decorative pins and bracelets that they bought from the women from the orphanage. Between the guests’ donations and his own, Silver raised more than $2,700.

In addition to completing a Jewish rite of passage, Silver was pleased that his celebration helped educate others about the plight of the children in Africa and to ultimately offer financial support.

“Instead of just coming for a party, [my guests] came to see what Mukuru is like and how they can help,” he said.

Silver now sponsors a teenage boy from the orphanage named Evans. The donated funds cover Evans’ $1,500 tuition for one year, and the remainder of the money will go to help support an additional orphan.

Silver says he plans to continue to support Evans and other orphans in the years to come.

“Ryan is quite a special kid who is sensitive to the world beyond him,” said Rabbi Mark Hyman of Congregation Tikvat Jacob in Manhattan Beach, who officiated at Silver’s ceremony. Hyman said that becoming a bar mitzvah means one becomes responsible for transforming the world — something the teen has certainly taken on.

Silver said his experience in Africa continues to influence him.

“It has definitely given me a more positive look on life,” he said. “We can make a difference helping kids less fortunate.”

For more information, visit http://www.americashare.org/

Try main course hamantashen for a topsy-turvy day!





Chef Nathan prepares savory hamentaschen. Video courtesy ” vspace = ’12’ hspace = ’12’ align = right border = 0 width = 200 alt=””>
I’m sure I don’t have to offer any information on Ahasuerus holding a beauty contest where he chose the secretly Jewish Esther to become his queen, replacing Vashti. Nor do I have to write about Haman, the anti-Semite who plotted to obliterate the Jewish people in the month of Adar. If you’re reading this article, you’ve also read others that get into the dressing up, the megillah reading, the frivolity of the holiday and the purpose and joy in giving.

If you’re the type of person who likes gift giving, especially treats from your kitchen, then you probably look forward to the holiday as much as my family does. I especially enjoy the making of hamantashen. Holiday cookbooks are full of poppy seed, prune, chocolate, and even jelly-filled recipes.

They’re all good, but I like my own unique creations the best.

Did you know that Queen Esther hid her dedication to kashrut by claiming to be a vegetarian? This look into Queen Esther’s palace life is why it’s traditional not to eat meat during Purim. Just wait until you read the calzone-style hamantasch recipe I’ve included below. It’s a great dairy dinner to make for the holiday.

It’s been years since my daughter dressed up during a Purim carnival as Queen Esther and my son as a human grogger. Although we’ve outgrown some holiday traditions, the mainstay for my family at Purim is the giving of shalach manot. What a terrific opportunity to share with your Jewish neighbors and friends a basket full of treats from your heart and home. The megillah instructs us to celebrate the holiday by sending these gifts as an expression of brotherly love and unity.

When we first started setting up Purim baskets, we filled them with the clichéd ensemble of grape juice, candies, fruit and, of course, fresh-from-our-oven hamantashen. The baskets were spruced up with sprinklings of chocolates, homemade jams and preserves.

Over the years, we’ve developed a more interesting and personality-filled basket of mishloach manot. We’ve expanded our baskets’ bounties based on ones that we’ve received. (It’s not illegal to borrow other people’s ideas, ya know!) One year, some good friends gave us mammoth-sized flower-shaped cookies in a brightly painted flowerpot. By the following summer the pot was filled with freshly grown strawberries on my back porch. The next year our friends outdid themselves when they sent oversized coffee mugs filled with holiday treats.

What we’ve used for baskets has evolved from the recycled ones we received in previous years into fancier hand-painted glass bowls. We try to use the opportunity of gift giving as an expression of who we are and what we like, what we enjoy in our home and what we’d like to share with our friends. And not everything has to be homemade. We often fill the baskets with spiced nuts, fruit chutneys, chocolate truffles and wine, along with the one or two items that we’ve baked. The idea behind shalach manot is giving, not necessarily being a slave in the kitchen. So be proud of what’s in your baskets.

Savory Hamantashen
From Jeff Nathan's "New Jewish Cuisine."
Stuffing
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup red bell peppers, diced medium
1/2 cup green bell peppers, diced medium
2 small zucchini, diced medium
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup pitted olives, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 cup farmer's cheese
1/2 cup pot cheese
1 cup grated havarti cheese
2 eggs, mixed

In a large sauté pan add the olive oil, onions, peppers, zucchini and garlic. Sauté until onions are translucent. Add salt, pepper, olives and fresh herbs. Stir well. Remove from heat. Place in a large bowl and fold in the cheeses. Stir in the eggs. Adjust seasonings. Set aside and allow to cool.

Dough
2 packages dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons honey, divided
1 1/2 cups cool water
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups flour

Preheat oven to 450 F.
In a small bowl combine the yeast, warm water and 1 tablespoon of the honey. Set aside and allow to proof (approximately three to four minutes). In another small bowl mix the remaining honey with the cool water, salt and oil. Put all the flour in a food processor. While the machine is on, add the cool water mix, then the warm water mix. Process until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Remove to a large, well-oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise in a warm area until doubled in volume. Punch down dough. Roll out to approximately two 10-inch circles. Fill each with stuffing and pinch into triangles. Brush with olive oil. Bake on cookie sheets sprinkled with corn meal to prevent sticking.

Makes two large savory hamantashen, enough for four to six servings.

Jeff Nathan is executive chef of Abigael’s on Broadway in New York, host of television’s “New Jewish Cuisine” and author of “Adventures in Jewish Cooking” and “Jeff Nathan’s Family Suppers.” His food columns will appear monthly in The Journal.

Fran Rosenfield: All About the Children


Fran Rosenfield

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

Fran Rosenfield answers the door of her Northridge home a few moments after the musical doorbell has cycled through its tune. This 79-year-old grandmother was slowed by a recent spinal injury that has rendered her dependent on a cane or walker to get around. But her passion for a cause she championed 15 years ago is going strong.

Inside, her dining room has been transformed into a makeshift shipping department. On the table are wrapped gifts stacked three- and four-boxes deep that are waiting to go to children who are autistic, chronically ill, poor, abused or neglected. Hundreds of gifts were picked up the previous week, and now this batch has to be cleared out to make room for more that will soon arrive.

Welcome to Fran’s Project.

“I do what I do because it’s what I have to do,” said Rosenfield, who is known as Bubbe Fran at Northridge’s Temple Ahavat Shalom. “I can’t stand the thought that anywhere there is a child who is hungry or doing without.”

Her inspiration for the project came from the Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker Program, which she helped a fellow congregant pitch to the Valley Interfaith Council in 1991.

“These caseworkers are overloaded, and they can’t keep track of everything,” she said.

Rosenfield started out collecting donations for one caseworker from the Department of Children and Family Service, and found she was so successful at motivating people to give that she adopted another caseworker a year later.

Before long the former personnel manager had adopted the entire North Hollywood office.

“You hear stories, like a mother and two kids who are living in a garage on $325 a month or a family whose gas was turned off,” she said. “How can you not want to help these people?”

For Rosenfield, the only December dilemma has been how to collect more gifts than the previous year. This former sisterhood president collected more than 1,000 gifts in 2005, which she donated to four different agencies, including Family Friends, a project of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. For 2006, she added Jay Nolan Autistic Services to her roster of groups that receive her gifts.

Every morning in the run-up to Christmas, Rosenfield gets on the computer and phone with her list of names and uses her “Jewish mother guilt like crazy, honey.”

The gifts donated to her program from synagogue members and others range in price from $20 to $100, and include toys, clothing, grocery scrip and gas cards. Rosenfield was hoping to break her 2005 record by collecting between 1,500 to 2,000 gifts to put under children’s trees.

Born in Minnesota, Rosenfield moved with her husband, Lenn, to Panorama City in 1950.

“We didn’t even have a phone for the first three years,” said her husband, a former advertising art director who designs the annual posters for Fran’s Project.

Rosenfield’s efforts reflect a family tradition of responding to a crisis. After Hitler came to power, her father rented a home in Minneapolis, declared it a synagogue and brought one or two family members over at a time to serve as its rabbi or cantor. Her father would then find work for the newly arrived relative and put in another request to fill the empty leadership position.

Building on her success with Fran’s Project, Rosenfield recently started a birthday twinning program at Temple Ahavat Shalom. A Hebrew school student is paired up with a child in need whose birthday is on or near the same day, and she provides them with a gift suggestion list.

“I tell them that there are kids who are not as lucky as they are whose parents can’t afford to give them birthday parties and gifts,” said Rosenfield, who serves as the synagogue’s social action chair.

While Rosenfield says she doesn’t know what drives her to do what she does, she counts herself as one of the luckiest people in the world.

“How many people can feel that they’ve made a difference in a child’s life, and then do that by thousands?” she said.

A wish list of guilty pleasures and goofy gifts


We’ve all been there.

You go to the store, turn on the TV or pick up a catalogue and see something incredibly silly that you never in a million years would buy for yourself (it’s also called a “guilty pleasure”). But you can always say you are buying it for someone else.

So in the grand tradition of the Pet Rock, the Moses action figure and the snow cone machine, The Journal presents the Chanukah gifts you really want but won’t admit it.

Just when you thought Barbie has done it all … the blonde anatomical wonder now comes with Tickle Me Elmo Extreme (TMX) in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the beloved “Sesame Street” character. The 12-inch doll, wearing an oh-so-trendy TMX Elmo shirt, is joined by a knee-high version of the huggable red monster that giggles when you press his belly.

If Elmo isn’t your thing, why not Barbie with a dog — a soft, fuzzy pooch named Tanner that does everything a real dog should, everything. We shouldn’t give away too much … but this Barbie comes with a minimagnetic scooper!

And if Tanner gets lonely, you can buy her Mika the cat, owned by Barbie’s gal-pal, Theresa. The feline (and her owner) come with bowl, toys and — I think you know where this is going — a litter box that Theresa gets to clean. Something tells us that this isn’t quite what creator Ruth Handler had in mind.

Each Mattel doll will run you $19.99.

Attention closet Fanilows: This one’s for you. “Copacabana” king Barry Manilow pays homage to the “classics” in “The Greatest Songs of the Sixties.” The follow-up to his “Greatest Songs of the Fifties” includes renditions of “Cherish”/”Windy” (with The Association), the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” and the Beatles’ ballad, “And I Love Her.” We don’t think these are all the “greatest” hits — but it’s sure close. And if you are itching for some authentic Manilow, rumor has it that when you play “Blue Velvet” backward, it sounds like “Mandy.”

Arista, $18.98 on CD (but a lot of online stores have it on sale).

Minsk and Pinsk. Just try to say the words out loud without smiling. See, it’s funny because they sound alike — “The Big Book of Jewish Humor” says so. The 25th anniversary of the Jewish humor canon, by William Novak and Moshe Waldoks, doesn’t just offer jokes, it gives the methods behind the shtick with the help of some of the biggest names in Jewish humor, through clever cartoons, famous one-liners and stories you just have to use your hands to tell. Why can we make fun of ourselves when others can’t? Because nobody does it better.

(Collins, $24.95) Available in bookstores — probably in a front display marked “Chanukah,” next to the blue-and-white wrapping paper.

You’ve seen ’em hang with Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats and Snow White … now come see the team built by Abe Saperstein for yourself. What? You’ve never heard of Abe Saperstein! How about the Harlem Globetrotters?

One of the best-known franchises in the world has been around since 1927, and they’re coming to L.A. Monday, Feb. 19, for a night of laughs and lay-ups. While you won’t find Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal, Goose Tatum, Marques Haynes or “Sweet” Lou Dunbar at the game, we dare you to not start whistling “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

Staples Center at 1 p.m. on President’s Day. $16-$135. Ticketmaster.com.

They say dogs sometimes look like their owners — so how about you, your honey, your baby and Fido get matching T-shirts for a good cause? Friends of Pups for Peace sells the cutie couture, whose proceeds will help stop terrorism around the world by training dogs to sniff out the bad guys. The pups logo comes on tank tops, long sleeve tees, sweatshirts, ties and hoodies — as well as doggie bowls. So you’ll look cute and do a mitzvah.

1-800-699-8930, www.pupsforpeace.org.

X-Men, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk. You’ve seen the movies, you’ve read the comics, you’ve dressed up and acted out their fight scenes in your backyard (don’t try to deny it). Now Stan Lee, the man behind Marvel Comics, and Rob Thomas, Lee’s assistant editor, let fans see — and hear — how it all began in the coffee table book, “The Amazing Marvel Universe.” Throw in the added scoop of “Marvel vs. DC” and the “Women of Marvel” and it’s an out-of-this-world present. And because it comes in such a cool display case, you can take off that mask when you read it and let your true identity shine through.

$50. $75, if you are an evil genius hell-bent on taking over the world.

You know you loved them the first time, as much as you try to deny it. Now all that e-mail campaigning has paid off, and they are out on DVD, to be enjoyed all over again. Judy Graubart and friends on “The Best of The Electric Company, Volume 2” remind us all that grammar is fun ($39.98); “Northern Exposure — The Complete Fifth Season” features the episode where Dr. Fleischman’s parents come to Cicely for the first time ($59.98); Blanche discovers her Jewish roots (Did I mention her name was Feldman?) in “The Golden Girls — The Complete Sixth Season” ($39.99); and the awesomest ’90s show around, “Beverly Hills, 90210 — The Complete First Season,” taught us two things: They went to West Beverly, and her name is pronounced Ahn-drea ($54.99).

Not sure if they are supposed to be Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero’s favorites or our favorites, but “Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites” is just too unique to resist. The “Where the Boys Are” chanteuse puts her vocal chords to a dozen songs, including “Hava Negilah,” “My Yiddishe Momme” and “Tzena Tzena.” Believe it or not, the album hit No. 69 on the Billboard charts (it was 1961, but still). So maybe the boys were at the deli knocking back a few egg creams.

$19.99. www.thejewishsource.com.

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home


 

When the doorbell rings at the Cohens’ Pico-Robertson home — or more accurately when the door edges open, since it’s almost never locked — the littlest of Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen’s six kids grab their shoes. If it’s someone dropping off donated food or clothing, they start shlepping things in while the older ones begin sorting and organizing. If it’s someone coming to collect those items, the kids take them through the living room and yard to help them pack up the day’s offerings — unserved food salvaged from caterers; groceries donated by local markets; or furniture, clothing, toys and electronics that the area’s wealthy families don’t want, and that one of the 52 families that depend on the Cohens sorely needs.

The Cohens’ cramped three-bedroom home is the headquarters, warehouse and distribution center for Global Kindness/L.A. Chesed, the network the Cohens founded less than three years ago.

With caring brown eyes peeking out of her broad face, Yaelle, in her late 30s, is a pint-sized Moroccan tornado in bright yellow-and-orange sneakers. In a perpetually hoarse voice, she answers about 35 phone calls a day from donors and people desperate for help.

The Cohens understand desperation. Eight years ago, Nouriel’s beauty supply business went under, and the family had to give up their Beverly Hills home. He hasn’t had steady employment since then and has had to rely on his parents and family to get by.

“But now when you look ahead, you can see that was all for the purpose of good, because we had to really feel what was going on in people’s hearts and minds when they are really down,” says Nouriel, whose distinguished gray beard and smiling blue eyes do little to attest to his Persian ancestry.

The Cohens raise money to help families with rent, bills, day-school tuition or transportation. They help with bar mitzvahs, and have sent families housekeepers and gardeners to restore dignity to rundown homes.

Late every Friday afternoon the family gets a load of challah the kosher bakeries didn’t sell, and the kids, ages 1 through 12, wheel strollers and carts through the neighborhood doling out the loaves.

They host huge Shabbos lunches and singles events and help a handful of families in Canada, New York and Israel.

Often, they become de facto social workers, referring families to resources for abuse, addiction or mental health issues.

The Cohen operation shuts down from 5-8:30 p.m., so the family can have dinner, do homework and get through bedtime. But other than that, they’re on.

And on Chanukah, the Cohens sent their clients’ wish lists to Chabad of Malibu, where families purchased and wrapped the gifts. Those packages were set up in a dream-like display on the ornate furniture left over from wealthier times in the Cohen’s living room/dining room.

Recently, Nouriel started a new business and it seems to be taking off. While he looks forward to giving his family more comfortable quarters, he thanks God for the new sensitivity they have.

“We see what people throw away — thousands and thousands of dollars worth of beautiful clothing,” Nouriel says. “Why would someone throw it away? Because it means nothing. Money comes and goes. The main thing is what you are doing in this life.”

For more information call (310) 286-0800.

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen and family

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

My Gift List


My wife and I don’t make a big deal out of Chanukah presents. Our family tradition stops far short of indulging in the orgy of getting and spending that overtakes America every holiday, I mean, Christmas, season.

One look around our house reminds us that neither our closets nor shelves need any more stuff. So when my wife asked me what I wanted for Chanukah, I came up with this wish list:

I want a president who will take Iran 1,000 times more seriously than he did Iraq.

For the past three months, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been saying that the Holocaust never happened, that Israel should be dismantled and moved to Europe, and that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” In the meantime, his country has deceived and stalled U.N. weapons inspectors even as it has announced plans to build 20 more nuclear reactors. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has indicated that Iran is in breach of its obligations to comply with its agreement against developing nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration, which took a gung-ho approach to the now-disproven Iraqi threat, has taken a passive and gutless approach to Iran. Earlier this month it supported a Russian proposal that would allow Iran to domestically manufacture all but one element of the nuclear fuel cycle, and it again allowed the IAEA to defer referral of Iran’s nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council. That move prompted a rare public condemnation from the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, hardly a fount of administration criticism: “This decision will facilitate Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons and undermines international efforts to stop Iran from achieving such a capability.”

The nutty Iranian president and the radical mullahs in charge will have nuclear weapons as early as this year, according to some Israeli analysts (see story, p. 20) — unless the U.S. and the international community acts forcefully now.

I want the U.S. Senate to derail, crash and blow up the House of Representatives’ attempt — again — to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

This isn’t about saving caribou or protecting tundra — not that there’s anything wrong with that — but about forcing Congress and the president to develop a real, sustainable energy policy.

One reason for this is the environmental cost of burning fossil fuels. The other, made clear by Israeli energy expert Gal Luft on a swing through Los Angeles last week, is this: our growing dependence on Mideast oil fuels extremism and terrorism and “poses lethal threats to America and its allies.”

Luft said that although only about 12 percent of our oil comes from the Mideast today, 66 percent of global oil reserves are in the hands of Middle Eastern regimes. Saudi Arabia alone has 25 percent and Iran 8 percent. That means that our Mideast policy will not only fund more terror, but eventually bring us into conflict with the fast-developing economies of China and India. Luft’s Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (www.iags.org) has specific, hard-headed ways to avoid this bleak future.

I want Jews to keep a sense of perspective about “Munich.”

Mel Gibson didn’t start pogroms with “The Passion of the Christ” and Steven Spielberg’s new movie won’t destroy Israel. As a thriller it is intermittently successful, as history it is suspect and as a political tract it raises questions that will — and should — provoke thoughtful debate. Why Spielberg would step down from the pedestal that “Schindler’s List” built to enter the fray of Mideast politics and — worse! — Jewish politics, I have no idea, but the phrase “glutton for punishment” comes to mind. Still, there is no doubt his effort is well-intentioned, so let’s keep the fist-shaking and name-calling to a minimum. That would be a Chanukah miracle.

I want the middle to continue to expand, until it squeezes all the hot air out of the far left and far right.

The signs are encouraging: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stood up to his right and withdrew Israel from Gaza; Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, has offered a sober defense of the administration’s Iraq policy; the Republican-controlled Senate slapped the president’s wrist on the Patriot Act; and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed a Democrat as his chief of staff. Are these signs that the next presidential election will actually be about effective policy, not platitudes? McCain-Feingold in ’08, anyone?

I want “Never Again!” to mean “Never Again!”

Jewish groups have been in the forefront in condemning the genocide in Darfur and in aiding its victims. But we need to do more to push our leaders to impose sanctions and no-fly zones and offer additional aid on behalf of the victims in Sudan. Earlier this month Congress voted to cut out all $50 million in the current budget to help pay for African peacekeepers in Darfur. If there is no national outcry, there will be no political will to help, and the words we have brought to international conscience will rightfully ring that much more hollow.

That’s all I want for Chanukah — oh, and maybe a nice bottle of red wine.

Happy Chanukah.

 

A Jewish Spin On Gift-Giving


Everyone has the same shopping countdown this year: Dec. 25th is also the first night of Chanukah. With holiday-season commercialism rising exponentially each year, the plethora of items for purchase can be blindingly confusing for even the savviest shopper. Whether it’s finding something for your non-Jewish co-worker or your husband’s Tanta Miriam, the pressure’s on.

Easing the strain of finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, however, are products like The Box of Questions. These boxes come in four varieties — Thanksgiving, Shabbat, Christmas and Chanukah — and are attractively decorated to suit their respective themes. Each contains a set of 35 thought-provoking questions about its event, like, “What does the Christmas spirit mean to you?” and “If you could invite anyone in the world to your home for Shabbat, who would it be?” There are also little prizes, such as a dreidel, thrown in.

The boxes come with instructions, but these are more like suggestions on how to facilitate the discussion.

The ladies behind the boxes, Heidi Haddad and Cece Feiler, were searching for a way to entertain their families during an indelibly long wait for their orders to arrive. They came up with round after round of challenging questions about what makes family so important or what values people cherish the most and why. The activity was a big hit, so Cece and Heidi decided to share their method for having great family discussions by taking the trivial out of the pursuit.

Now known as The Box Girls, Haddad and Feiler donate all proceeds from the sale of the boxes to various charities. The boxes are sold at high-end retailers, such as Saks and Fred Segal’s, for $19.95 and are also available online, at www.theboxgirls.com. — Staff Report

The martini on the cover of “The Hanukkah Lounge: Instrumental Jew Age Music” (Craig N’ Co, $14.98) should give you some idea of what to expect from the songs inside — it has a blue olive with a Star of David toothpick sticking out of it.

The entire CD should help turn any Chanukah party into the most swinging event of the season. Craig Taubman’s version of “Maoz Tsur” is as smooth as a gob of sour cream on a latke, with a drumbeat and clarinet background that will definitely get your head moving.

The chimes in Scott Leader’s “Hanukkah o Hanukkah” make the song sound like something one might hear at a day spa during a massage. Don’t be surprised if your guests get up and dance a little salsa to the Afro-Semitic Experience’s “Descarga Ocho Kandelikas.” Even the simplistic “I Have a Little Dreidl” gets a grown-up treatment — it sounds almost dreamlike. And, of course, what Chanukah CD would be complete without the candle blessing?

The collection is part of the Celebrate Series (” target=”_blank”>www.sarahdavid.com. — SL

Gifts for Your Honey Too Large to Wrap


Those eight crazy nights are coming up fast. Still stumped what to get your sweetie? Think outside the giftbox and give your loved one a gift certificate for an experience. Whether it’s a pampering, an adventure, or just some much needed help, Los Angeles is loaded with services that will make your Chanukah honey happy.

Eight Gift Certificates for Him:

The Shave

Help your man show off his punim with an old-fashioned straight razor shave (starting at $45) at The Shave of Beverly Hills (230 S. Beverly Drive). This barbershop retreat for the urban man offers up hot towels, ESPN, shoe shines, and a shot of whiskey. ” target=”_blank”>www.concierge.com or (323) 468-9395.

Sports Package

He’s gonna watch sports whether you like it or not, so make yourself look like the most amazing babe and buy his sports for him. DirecTV offers an NBA Pass, MLB Extra Innings, ESPN’s NCAA Full Court, even a Mega March Madness Package. Starting at $109, these packages will make you his MVP. ” target=”_blank”>www.nitespa.com or (323) 465-7148.

Race Car Lessons

Does he feel the need for speed? Give him a day at Performance Race Training Center in Irwindale. Classroom instruction is followed by NASCAR-style stock car driving on a half-mile banked-oval speedway. Put your honey in the driver’s seat for $199. ” target=”_blank”>www.chefjoanna.com or
213-393-9661.

Eight Gift Certificates for Her:

Closet Organizer

How many times have you heard your wife say “I can’t find my black purse!” or “Have you seen my red jacket?” Give a gift certificate to In Perfect Order. They’ll organize her closet, clean her garage or assemble her photo albums. “We embrace all aspects of clutter,” owner Jessica Duquette says. ” target=”_blank”>www.chateaumarmutt.com. For gift certificates, call (323) 653-2062.

Handyman

Could she use help assembling furniture, installing an appliance or hanging a picture? Call on Mr. Handyman. No project is too small — a service technician will arrive at her home and take care of all her home maintenance and repair needs. A gift certificate will come in handy when those stressful, unexpected home repairs pop up throughout the year. ” target=”_blank”>www.lushspa.com or (818) 506-7848.

Straighten Her Out

Jewish girls got curls, but sometimes we like to wear our hair straight. Give her the gift of smooth, shiny locks at Umberto Salon (1772 S. Robertson Blvd.) Straight Blow-Dries range from $18-$37 depending on the stylist and the length of her hair. It’s a gift she’ll use to look hot for you on a special night. (310) 204-4995.

Tech Support

Has she ever called you crying because her computer crashed and her thesis paper/production report/script draft is due? Geek Squad to the rescue. The squad is an elite tactical unit of highly trained and highly mobile agents, who seek out and destroy villainous computer activity. They even make house calls. Geek Squads are located inside Best Buy stores (West Hollywood, Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Glendale) and there’s a freestanding store in Santa Monica (2800 Wilshire Blvd.).

Skip the Tsuris of Chanukah Shopping


With Chanukah coinciding with the rush for the “other holiday,” why spend unnecessary time hunting for parking at the mall or waiting in line? We’ve surveyed some of the hottest catalogs and Web sites for eight nights of creative gifts. Best of all, you can order in a hurry online or by phone.

For Kids

Busy little ones with activity books, postcards and more all packed in a box of 101+ Things to Do on Chanukah. Or just keep it simple with a roll of 168 Chanukah stickers, $4+, ” target=”_blank”>Kosher.com or (866) 567-4379.

Keep kids in touch with walkie-talkie wristwatches within a range of 400 feet ($30 for two). ” target=”_blank”>NormThompson.com or (800) 547-1160.

For Her

Warm her up with stylish sweaters and an Oprah favorite: shearling lace-up Uggs ($180). NormThompson.com. For casual times at home, comfort her with ultrasoft Wooby sweats, hoodies, hats and more ($14.50+). ” target=”_blank”>NormThompson.com.

Tummy control knit pants ($59) and a “wearable art” Mirror Lake silk shirt make for easy wash and wear ($69). ” target=”_blank”>NormThompson.com.

Treat him to sand-washed silk or silky microfiber shirts ($60 each). And splurge on high-tech, moisture-wicking Ex Officio’s knit boxers that double as travel gear by drying within two to four hours ($25). ” target=”_blank”>Sahalie.com.

For Travelers

Gift a friend with IOU a Trip, complete with leather world travel atlas and a “let’s take a trip” postcard. Your friend fills out the postcard with a date and time for your future get-together and then mails it back to you ($55), ” target=”_blank”>TravelSmith.com

Can’t sleep in-flight? Convert your coach seat into a much more comfortable ride with a remarkable, inflatable seat cushion. It really works! ($40). ” target=”_blank”>Brookstone.com or (800) 846-3000.

Never stub feet again with rubber reinforced toes and unparalleled comfort soles from Keen Footwear ($80+). ” target=”_blank”>Sahalie.com.

Capture time worldwide via radio signals with the self-adjusting Atomic Travel Alarm Clock ($39). ” target=”_blank”>Brookstone.com

For Home and Hearth

Grow Israel-inspired Inbal paper-white flowers ($35), burn a romantic bouquet of carved waxed poppies ($20) or cultivate a wish with “magic beans” that grow imprinted with inspirational messages, such as “heal,” “faith” and “love” ($15). ” target=”_blank”>Bathtopia.com or (888) 717-2284.

Lavender-scented eye masks and hot/cold heart-shaped pillows filled with whole buckwheat seeds ease tensions ($18+).

A Funny Present Happened Here


Lighten up your Chanukah without striking a match. Yes, we fought, we won, we ate — but we can also laugh. While gift-buying is sometimes lumped in the same category as root canals and traffic on the 101, the humorous books, music and DVDs below will make the whole process a lot more fun.

Even better, every item below is available via the Internet. So stay home, put your feet up, crack open some foil-wrapped gelt and get ready for myriad thank-yous from your friends and family, who are so glad you didn’t give them socks — again.

Nap time is Shluffy Girl’s favorite time of the day…. Unfortunately, Shluffy Girl’s love for sleep sometimes gets her into trouble.” While most of us have been there, done that, there are lessons to be learned from Shluffy Girl, the newest character in Anne-Marie Asner’s Yiddish-titled Matzah Ball Books series (Gingerbread houses might be nice — but nothing beats a gingerbread menorah. The Popcorn Factory’s (Make 2006 go by just a bit funnier with “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents America”: The Calendar — now with August (Warner Books, $11.95). Based on the book of the same name, the desk calendar comes with instructions on how to assemble the darn thing (it’s really difficult).

Keep an eye out for the nods to the MOTs, such as on Rosh Hashanah, where the Timeline of Democracy notes that in 1,300 B.C.E., God gives the Ten Commandments — “and nothing bad ever happens to the Jews again.”

You think your family is bad this time of year? What about Holistic New Age Aunt, Uncle Speedo and Child Who Was in a National TV Commercial? All the freaky relations are gathered together in Justin Racz’s new book, “50 Relatives Worse Than Yours” (Bloomsbury, $14.95).

Each relative comes with a profile, gift idea, motto, home, benefits and drawbacks. But even if you can’t relate, literally and figuratively, to Uncle Speedo, fear not — Jewish Mother is at No. 23 (and there is room in the back to add in other odd branches of your family tree).

While it’s Chanukah at your house, it can be “Springtime for Hitler,” as the musical film version of the musical stage version of the nonmusical film, “The Producers,” releases its soundtrack (Sony, $18.98). Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Gary Beech and Wisteria Lane’s favorite pharmacist, Roger Bart, reprise their roles in Mel Brooks’ Tony Award-winning show. The veterans are joined in absurdity by Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman, who actually sings. No, really.

What if you hit your head and woke up in Menorahville — where everything is bought and sold in gelt, every female is Jewish and single and almost no guy wants to get married? OK, Los Angeles right now isn’t too far off, but this stuff is fiction.

Author Laurie Graff takes us to the crazy world of dating in “Eight Dates of Hanukkah,” one of the three stories in “Scenes From a Holiday” (Red Dress Ink, $12.95). When singles events planner (and slight commitmentphobe) Nikki Heller lands in a “Chanukoma,” it may take more than a miracle to help her find her way out of an endless cycle of the Festival of Lights.

Forget The Wiggles. If you’re getting songs stuck in your head, they might as well be Jewish ones from “OyBaby 2” (

Attending to Gifts


Your wedding party is an entourage of childhood friends, college roommates, siblings and other close family members. Most have been by your side, contributing their time, energy and love throughout the entire wedding planning process. So, when the big event is about to happen, how best can brides and grooms offer their thanks?

As one would when shopping for any gift, it’s best to keep each individual in mind, choosing imaginative and stylish gifts that come from the heart, say bridal advisers at theknot.com.

Are traditional gifts the way to go?

“Brides can give the bridesmaids something to wear on the wedding day such as a necklace or earrings,” said Kathleen Murray, weddings editor at The Knot. “For the guys, a wine set, Swiss Army knife and golf kits are great traditional ideas.”

Looking for something a little trendier?

Owen Halpern, co-owner of OwenLawrence, an Atlanta boutique, prides himself on offering shoppers items they won’t see in every other shop.

For bridal attendant gifts he suggests a crystal bedside carafe, Italian crystal clocks by Arnolfo Di Cambio or beautifully boxed Italian vodka shot glasses by Salviati — all gift items that are as special as the occasion they mark.

He also said people are “loving” gift items called Elton Rocks, made out of colored, scented resin — “sort of an alternative to potpourri.” (According to Halpern, Elton John allowed his name to be used on the product because a portion of the proceeds are donated to his AIDS foundation.)

Halpern indulges OwenLawrence shoppers with champagne or signature bellinis, offered “only in crystal with linen napkins — no paper or plastic,” to help everyone enjoy “the finer things in life.”

“It’s a stressful time. Brides and grooms can relax and enjoy the shopping experience,” Halpern said.

Anything monogrammed is also popular for attendant gifts.

“Monogramming anything from jewelry to flasks to sandals for a beach wedding is hot right now,” Murray said.

While fountain pens may have become the joke of traditional bar mitzvah gifting, pens are popular as gifts for grooms’ attendants.

“We’ve sold everything form Mont Blanc, Cross and Watermans to Parker and Cartier. Generally we engrave initials of the groomsmen. It’s a small gift, but it’s a valued one,” said Steve Light of Artlite.

No matter how much appreciation you might want to lavish upon your bridal attendants, the sheer quantity can tally a daunting price tag. Be sure to ask yourself how much you plan — and can afford — to spend.

Murray normally advises bridal couples to spend what they can, but on average it’s usually $75 per person. The best man and matron or maid of honor should get something a little more lavish.

Yet, if a tight budget is cramping your style, there are great ways to get by.

Inexpensive gifts for bridesmaids can include an engraved silver photo frame or compact mirror, nice jewelry or beautiful candles.

For groomsmen, engraved pewter beer steins, silver pocketknives or cigar holders are usually low-priced.

Murray says it’s all about being a smart shopper.

“Inexpensive gifts are really just being able to find a great buy,” she said. “The bride may find a bracelet worth thousands of dollars, but if they look harder, they can find one for a lot less.”

Of course, if you decide to splurge on the wedding party, the options are endless. “The Knot Complete Guide to Weddings in the Real World” offers ideas ranging from remote control cars for guys, a certificate for an acclaimed restaurant or spa certificates to tickets to a game or play, silk pajamas, beauty baskets or cigars.

For bridesmaids, Murray says classes are always a popular item.

“Cooking, wine tasting, photography classes are all great options,” she said. “Again, base your decision upon each bridesmaid’s specific interest. For groomsmen, look into golf or ski lessons or even a bottle or case of wine from a great vineyard.”

Still stuck on what to get? Consider using your own talents. Artists can create drawings, paintings or pottery, while musicians can create a CD of their own music.

“If a couple does not feel they have such talents, or do not have time to make their gifts, they can have gift baskets created that are personalized to each attendants’ tastes and interests,” Murray said.

Laura Vogltanz of Copley News Service contributed to this article.

Perfect Gadgets for Jetsetter, Homebody


When it comes Chanukah, you’ve got eight nights to get your gift giving right. Our Gift Guide points you toward a cornucopia of categories for every evening of the Festival of Lights. From low- to high-ticket pricing, we’ve got your loved ones covered, including frequent fliers, adventurers, techies and homebodies of all ages. Last-minute shoppers never fear. With online and phone-in orders, you won’t have to battle holiday traffic.

Bon Voyage

Breathe right with the ionic 1.5 oz. Ultra-Mini Air Supply ($125). Bless your car with a compact version of “Baruch HaCar” ($20), the traveler’s prayer. Surprise your favorite road warrior with a collapsible flashing orange Pack-A-Cone ($25). And supply travelers with Eagle Creek’s astonishing Pack-It Compressors, Two-Sided Cube and other well-priced, smart ideas, such as the Flat Pack Organizer, Jewelry CarryAll and waterproof Splash Caddy ($10 and up). Magellans.com, (800) 962-4943.

Streamline laptop travel with an action-packed lightweight Vertical Computer bag ($85). Awesome convertibility, with a removable computer sleeve for quick getaways. REI.com, (800) 426-4840.

Retrieve luggage with the Victorinox’s astonishing Global Track I.D. Tag ($15). You lose it, they send it back — gratis. SonomaOutfitters.com, (800) 290-1920.

Lux

Cuddle up with a scrumptious F horseshoe head pillow ($25), Brookstone.com, (866) 576-7337.

Eshave’s rich shaving creams, in floral for her and cucumber for him, complement a his/her kit with pink and blue Lucite-handle razors ($195). The picture is complete with a T-shaped chrome stand. Plumparty.com, (800) 227-0314.

Top-of-the-line, foldable “noise canceling” stereo headphones are pricey. Save with NoiseBuster ($69) from Pro Tech Communications.com. Amazon.com (free shipping).

Brew full-bodied gourmet coffee or tea anywhere in the unbreakable, portable Bonjour French Press Carafe ($15). Add romance with a totally flat, packable plastic WonderVase (three for $15) that you mold under warm water. Or create ambiance with a flickering, battery-operated CandleSafe made of real wax ($25). Magellan’s.

Oprah loves a shimmery lime and powder blue silk throw ($100). Will you? PlumParty.com, (800) 227-0314.

Washable suede shirts, sweater jackets and “cashnear” knits are equally yummy ($89 and up). Travelsmith.com.

Techno

Save money and the planet with a Dual-Voltage Battery Recharger ($35). Complete with four AA NiMH batteries, this practical gift runs on both 110 or 220 volt current. Magellan’s.

Shape up with a digital pedometer ($30), loaded with a panic alarm and calorie counter. Or tune in with Orion’s AudioView AM/FM radio binoculars ($90). Travelsmith.

Navigate 20 reversible routes with a wrist-mounted GPS receiver/personal navigator from Garmin Foretrex ($130 to $170). In under three ounces, compute speed, track trips and calculate distances, all while telling time. REI.

Countdown

The flip-top, analog Dakota Mini Travel Clock ($35), features sleek stainless steel in a charming wooden box. Or keep time here and in Israel with easy-to-set dual-time tank style watches ($79 each) for him and her. Magellan’s.

Wake up to shortwave with Grundig’s ultra-compact Mini Radio ($40). Draws in seven bands of shortwave signals, plus AM, FM. With a digital clock, sleep timer and earphones, it’s good to go. Or indulge and download news, weather and calendar dates on the Suunto Web Watch ($299). Includes stopwatch, alarm and date. Subscribe to MSN Direct for stock quotes, sport scores and more. Travelsmith.

Call of the Wild

Prepare for all-weather winter adventure with outdoor gear. Add breathable warmth with soft, moisture-wicking Performance Wool separates ($95 and up). Fast drying and machine washable. Bundle up with 650-fill-power goose down jacket ($99) with a water-repellent, breathable finish that resists light moisture. Doubles as a zip-in liner for REI parkas and packs small for the space conscious. And hydrate with the REI Runoff Pack ($60 and up). The women’s version boasts super comfortable shoulder straps for women-specific contouring. REI.

The ultimate camping mat, the self-inflating Therm-A-Rest Dreamtime Sleeping Pad ($199) includes a cushy pillow top and washable fleece cover. Campmor.com, (800) 525-4784.

His

The classic calfskin Taxi Wallet ($49) or the Cash InCase key ring ($20) stash cash for all occasions. Magellan’s.

Gift gentlemen with the English Butler Shoe Shine kit ($80), includes a distinctive leather case. Delight amateur astronomers with the Night Navigator digital electronic compass ($99). And help Zayde fight off chills and spills with a stylish “Teflon” Stain-Free Cardigan ($99). Travelsmith.

The Gerber Nautilus Flashlight Tool ($69) packs a four-mode LED light with Fiskars scissors, a fine-blade knife, Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, with a bottle opener. REI. Or cut loose with Leatherman’s “high-wattage” Charger Ti multitool. It boasts interchangeable bits, perks galore and lightweight titanium handles. Cabelas.com, $100.

Hers

Classic equestrian-style boots ($160) combine comfort and fashion. Bornshoes.com. Or prep her for wet weather with a 100 percent waterproof, packable microfiber Balmacaan raincoat ($179), optional lightweight liner ($70) and plenty of rain-worthy boots ($89 and up). Travelsmith.

For the perfect shoulder bag on the road or at home, Hobo’s women-designed, microfiber Essential Traveler ($69) hides travel documents and organizes pens, travel guides and more. Attach a handsome leather phone tote ($25) that doubles as an eyeglass case. Magellan’s.

Wrap her in a cultural souvenir from the Himalayan region of Kashmir. This black merino wool shawl ($89) features colorful hand-embroidered flowers. ShopNationalGeographic.com, (800) 437-5521.

Kids

Wooly mammoths and saber-toothed cats, hornless rhinos and giant sloths hold court in NatGeo’s Prehistoric Mammals book ($30). Ages 8 and up.

Or explore the “Atlas of the World,” eighth edition ($125). Hard copy purchases include online access to customized maps, satellite imagery and downloadable updates. National Geographic.

Little ones beam in super-bright blue light with a tiny Microbeam flashlight keychain ($20). Brookstone.

A responsible teen ready for a pocketknife? A miniature Jewish version of Victronix’s “Star of David” model ($15) features a bright blue case and white Magen David. SwissArmyExpress.com, (877) 289-2769.

Little Robosapien ($100), a carefree “pet,” combines robot technology with personality. Command Robo with a remote or speech to fetch books and perform 65 other functions. Ages 6 and up. SharperImage.com, (800) 344-5555.

Lisa Alcalay Klug is a former staff writer for The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times.

Web Links Your Wallet to Gifts From Israel


 

With Chanukah fast approaching, you might want to look to the east for the best gifts. Presents from the Holy Land have resonance for both the recipient and for Israel, whose economy could use a little boost from American consumers. Since most people can’t just run to Jerusalem for holiday shopping, consider these Web sites as outlets for gift items you can’t get anywhere else.

” target=”_blank”>israeliproducts.com

Buy a jar of honey from the actual Land of Milk and Honey. Or create a unique and original gift basket from this site, which includes cookies and pastries, spices and olive oil. And if you spend more than $100, then Linda Katz, owner of the site, will pay all of the shipping charges. Hers is a shop based out of Maryland, dedicated to paying all the overhead costs of importing Israeli goods. The two-year-old Internet company donates 100 percent of its modest profit to charities in Israel. According to Katz, her small staff takes no salaries and they all have other jobs. She said the main goal of her business is to distribute Israeli products in the United States.

” target=”_blank”>israelrose.com

A couple years ago, Flori Rosenthal of Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel visited some family in New England. She was greeted with warm smiles and fragrant roses upon her arrival. When she asked where the beautiful roses came from, she was surprised to learn they came all the way from the Negev Desert in Israel. Since, she has arranged fundraisers for her temple by purchasing the roses in bulk and selling them to congregants and community members. The roses grow in a computerized climate-controlled greenhouse and come in eight varieties. Two types of mixed dozens are also available. The roses are freeze-dried and need hydration upon arrival. Instructions are included with the package. According to Flori, the hydrated roses last up to two weeks. The only catch for these beautiful desert blooms is you have to purchase a minimum of four dozen so they can be sent in bulk. Four-dozen roses cost $70 — that’s only $17.50 per dozen, shipping included. The deadline to order roses for arrival by the start of Chanukah may already have passed by the time this article goes to print, but if you hurry, you may be able to receive your roses before the eighth night.

” target=”_blank”>mavrikjewelry.com

This site brings beautiful custom-made jewelry found only in boutiques directly to your doorstep. Internationally acclaimed artisans such as Michal Negrin and others fashion breathtaking adornments from precious metals and stones, as well as other materials, inspired in the heart of the Holy Land. The pink, green, blue and gold crystals in Negrin’s rings surround a delicate flower set in a ring of brass. The rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces capture light and attention wherever they go. Another favorite set by an unnamed artist is a fiery blue opal set in a sterling silver square — a bargain at $49.95. While you’re at it, why not splurge on the earrings, too? Only $45 more. Oh, wait. We’re shopping for others, right?

 

L.A. Brigade Helps Israel Fight Hunger


Rachel Bamberger Chalkovsky doesn’t need statistics to know about poverty in Israel.

Affectionately known as “Bambi,” the retired head midwife of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital can tell heart-wrenching tales of women who gave birth wearing tattered undergarments and shoes, and young women in their prime who are missing several teeth for lack of dental health care and an adequate diet. From reading the postnatal hemoglobin counts of mothers she knows that 20 percent of the 900 birthing mothers coming to the hospital each month are subsisting on food such as bread and margarine.

“Israelis are not suffering from extreme poverty and they are certainly not hungry for bread and tea. They are just not getting enough meat, fruit and vitamins. For some, a tiny piece of chicken on Shabbat is the only meat they see each week.”

Fifteen out of 100 births in the hospital are from the Arab population, where the situation may be worse: “They don’t have the same network of helping volunteers like the Jewish communities.”

The truth is, one in five Israeli children is going to bed hungry. Recent findings by Israel’s Health Ministry show that many Israeli families are not able to guarantee a reasonable food supply to their children, and that too many children are living on unbalanced diets deficient in protein and vitamins.

Chalkovsky said that they started the organization Matan B’Seter (giving in a hidden way), 30 years ago during the Yom Kippur War. On a $1 million budget, the organization helps 500 families. Referrals come through social workers and nearby schoolteachers, and Chalkovsky and her board allocate cash donations based on need.

“Advocates make a difference in any society,” said Eric Schockman, the executive director of MAZON, at the recent Poverty and Food Insecurity Conference in Tel Aviv. “They represent the voice of the voiceless.”

As a guest at the conference, Schockman delineated a blueprint built to end hunger in America. He contributed experience he gained at MAZON, a nonprofit organization that distributes donations from the Jewish community to help feed America’s needy from all faiths and background.

The conference was initiated by The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership. The four-way venture between The Jewish Federation of Los Angles, the municipality of Tel Aviv/Yafo, the Jewish Agency and the City of Los Angeles has previously contributed to initiatives in education, culture, economics and health.

“The food idea started 18 months ago when North American Jews were becoming aware of Israeli’s food insecurity, which mainly resulted from the intifada and the dot-com bust,” said Marcie Zekilow, project chair. “Donors wanted to help and well-meaning individuals wanted to set up soup kitchens, but well-meaning isn’t always effective. Israelis are asking for the tools in order to help themselves.”

What was slated to be a two-way exchange between the two countries bordered on a rescue mission. The agenda of the Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 event appeared to be focused on what Israel needs to do in the short-term to alleviate a problem that the Israeli government can no longer sweep aside.

High-ranking guests from the American side included Eric Bost, the U.S. undersecretary of food, nutrition and consumer services; Robert Forney, president of America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s food bank network, and Adlai Wertman, the CEO of Chrysalis.

Bost, whose position hinged on President Bush’s re-election, has been managing a yearly budget of $50 billion. He represents the 15 main nutrition programs in the United States, and helps allocate money that goes to one out of every five Americans who are hungry.

“We believe that we run an efficient and most successful feeding program in the world,” he told The Journal. “The Israeli government hasn’t yet made decisions about what they are doing to avoid pitfalls. They are at the information gathering stage.”

While the efforts of most guest speakers were commendable, Jacob Klerman, director for RAND Center for the Study of Welfare Policy, was more reticent about giving advice.

“There has been an increase in social welfare expenses in Israel, and caseloads are increasing with trends similar to those in the U.S.,” he said. “The administration in Israel is cutting back on benefits, but there is a serious debate on whether or not the basic ideas [that Israel] borrowed from America will be effective in Israel.”

In 2003, Israel made its first study on food security using definitions borrowed from the United States. In response to its findings, the government immediately upped social benefits to the elderly by about 300 NIS ($67) per month and has initiated a school lunch program at 100 schools nationwide.

“Is there hunger in Israel?” asked professor Dov Goldberger, the director general of the Ministry of Welfare on the second day of the conference: “Unequivocally no. The problem is that food is not being equally distributed.”

Throughout the event, participants experienced hands-on activities and helped local nonprofit organizations, like La Sova, make late night food runs to collect leftover food from banquet halls and restaurants.

While the conference was into its third day, a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv’s Carmel market reverberated through the streets a stone’s throw away. Participants carried on as planned and continued their visit to Hayarden School.

The school benefits from a subsidized lunch program provided by the Sacta-Rashi Foundation and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The project enables the school day to be lengthened so that children from lower socioeconomic areas in Israel can benefit from individual tutoring and homework help, together with extracurricular courses such as capoeira (Brazilian martial arts), basketball and drumming.

Schoolteacher Danielle Max from England has seen students from other locations begging their teachers for pitote (Israeli pita bread) from their staff rooms. But, she noted, problems with nutrition cannot be ignored even in high-level income schools.

“It is the layout of the school day in Israel and the vending machines that are a problem,” Max said. “The kids don’t have a proper lunch break and when they do, they are sold stodgy food from vending machines.”

Some local Israelis and concerned parents, like therapist Adam Jessel, are not convinced that the Israeli government should shoulder the burden of feeding the nation’s hungry in the same way the U.S. government does. He believes that the Israeli government should spend its shekels on education and on helping raise awareness to and the productivity of the thousands of covert nonprofit operations that are already in operation.

“In religious communities, even in small ones such as Kiryat Sefer with only 10,000 people, there are typically hundreds of family-run operations, called gemachim, that provide needy individuals with loans or gifts of everything from power tools and pacifiers to money, furniture and clothing,” Jessel said.

Gemilut chesed, or acts of giving kindness, is a patent of the Jewish people, Jessel explained. He believes that potential donors, many of whom are ready and willing to open another soup kitchen, might not know about existing operations staffed by efficient and dedicated volunteers.

“It is in our nature to support one another,” he said. “Our government, on the other hand, needs to focus on raising awareness abroad to the multitude of community-based nonprofit organizations in Israel.”

Donations to Matan B’Seter can be forwarded to Matan B’Seter c/o Deena Zyskind, 447 N. June St. Los Angeles, CA 90004. (323) 934-8157.

Karin Kloosterman is a freelance journalist and researcher living in Israel. She writes for The Jerusalem Post and Israel21C. Comments can be sent tokarin@loolwa.com.

Record Gift Given to Boston Day Schools


Jewish educators hope one of the largest gifts ever for Jewish education in America will prompt other philanthropists to follow suit.

The $45 million donation from a group of anonymous families is intended to improve Jewish day school education in Boston. The money will be spent over five years, with $30 million divided equally among three schools, and the remaining $15 million designated for a tuition scholarship fund and grants for innovative educational projects.

Jewish community professionals hailed the move, announced Monday, as a historic investment. Jewish educators say they hope other philanthropists will now step up to transform day school education across the country.

“We’ve been dreaming about days like this,” Barry Schrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), said at a news conference Monday in Boston. “The grant truly represents a change in the way the American Jewish community understands education.”

The pledge, called CJP’s Peerless Excellence Project, was announced at the annual conference of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, held in Boston from Sunday through Tuesday.

The gift’s primary beneficiaries will be the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, The Rashi School and Maimonides School. They are the Boston area’s three largest Jewish day schools, representing the Conservative, Reform and Orthodox movements, respectively.

Maimonides, the oldest and largest of Boston’s Jewish day schools, with approximately 625 students, is in the process of coming up with a plan to spend its $10 million — an amount equal to the school’s annual budget.

The executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, Rabbi Joshua Elkin, said the $10 million grants constituted the largest-ever gifts for operational use in day-school education. The $45 million total dwarfed even capital gifts and day-school endowments, he said.

“There’s been nothing quite at this level,” Elkin said. “It breaks the glass ceiling of how much it is possible to invest in a day school.”

“It presents an unprecedented opportunity that I believe will be something that encourages other communities and other donors to think about ways to invest in their day schools,” he added.

The money comes with some strings attached: Funds are not to be spent on capital improvements, and the goal is to use the money to institute permanent improvements at the schools, not merely give them a five-year boost, according to Gil Preuss, director of the Excellence Project.

“The idea is not just to have excellent schools for five years, but to shift the line and improve the schools permanently,” Preuss said.

Yossi Prager, North American executive director of Avi Chai, one of the Jewish foundation world’s biggest charities, said the schools’ challenge will be to build a system that will use the money effectively but also can survive once the funding period is over.

“Either they’ve got to build in an effective fund-raising program or find ways of creating programming that’s sustainable beyond the term of the funding,” he said.

Avi Chai has spent tens of millions of dollars on grants to Jewish day schools. It also operates an interest-free loan program for capital improvements at day schools that has doled out approximately $56 million over the past five years.

Prager said the $45 million gift should serve as a model not only for investment in day-school operations but because of the role Boston’s federation, CJP, played in brokering the deal.

“The role of the federation was not as a giver but as an ally or advocate for day schools,” Prager noted. “That should be a comfortable role for day-school education.”

There are 14 Jewish day schools in the Boston area serving a total of 2,600 students, 1,400 of them at the three schools slated to receive the gifts. Day-school enrollment in Boston has risen significantly in recent years together with the opening of several new schools. The area’s schools now have excess capacity.

One of the areas not addressed by the $45 million gift is teachers’ salaries, which educators say still fall short of the level needed to recruit and retain good teachers. None of the $15 million portion of the gift will go toward teachers’ salaries, though Peerless Excellence officials did not say whether or not the three primary beneficiaries would be able to include requests for salary raises in their $10 million spending plans.

The decision by the anonymous families to make the $45 million donation to day-school education — an amount rare even for gifts to universities and museums — came in a “magic moment,” CJP’s Schrage said.

Deliberations about a substantial gift for day-school education had been under way for about five years, Schrage said, but it wasn’t until one family decided to triple its intended pledge that the project suddenly reached record proportions.

Officials would not say how many families were involved, only that they were local.

“The prerequisite is a couple of passionate donors who believe they can change the world,” Schrage said. “We expect that many more donors will begin to see the schools as a positive place to make an investment.”

Philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, the real-estate magnate behind countless “Jewish renaissance” projects, such as Birthright Israel, called the Boston gift a “bright and shining example” for what should be happening around the country in Jewish education.

“We must do a much better job than we’re doing today,” he said, noting that the vast majority of Jewish parents still do not send their children to Jewish day schools.

About 91 percent of Orthodox children go to day schools or yeshivas, but less than 20 percent of Conservative children and 4 percent of Reform children go to day schools, according to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01.

The Gifts


From 1955 to 1967, Magnificent Montague was the most riveting rhythm-and-blues disc jockey in the nation, presiding over the birth of “soul” music. In addition to working as a DJ in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and several other cities, he became a passionate collector of African American memorabilia, assembling a museum-sized collection of 6,000 items. Montague is best known for his trademark on-air scream of “Burn, Baby! BURN!” — which, to his horror, became the battle cry of the Los Angeles riots in 1965. But his new autobiography, “Burn, Baby! BURN!” (University of Illinois Press, $24.95, written with Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Baker) is devoted as much to history as music, including Montague’s admiration of Judaism.

You could not be a Negro in the record business in the ’50s and not be curious about how these two tribes — blacks and Jews — had

mingled together in rhythm and blues. You would have to have been an idiot, first off, not to notice the number of Jews who ran independent companies specializing in black music: Art Rupe, founder of Specialty Records in L.A.; the Chess brothers, Phil and Leonard, in Chicago; Syd Nathan, who owned King records in Cincinnati; the Mesner brothers in L.A. with Aladdin Records, and Jerry Wexler, one of the hearts of Atlantic Records. You’d have to have been only a little less blind to ignore the fact that Jews, like blacks, had gravitated to the music business because there were so many covenants locking them out of more respectable professions. I knew that just about the only white people who’d ever given me a break in this business were Jews, and a fair number of times they did it not only because they knew I could make them some money, but because they recognized my talent and genuinely wanted to help–genuinely identified with being on the wrong side of society’s line. If you had ever considered the Old Testament, you would instinctively understand what Paul Robeson explained in a 1927 issue of The Jewish Tribune: “The Bible was the only form of literature the captive Negroes could get at, even those who could read. It was natural for their quick imaginations to find a … similarity between their condition and that of the enslaved Hebrews.” Listen to the black voices sing: “Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land; tell old Pharaoh to let my people go!”

The more I collected history, the more it pained me that Negroes knew so little of our struggles and our remarkable successes. By contrast, I realized, the Jews had managed to educate so many generations of their own. I thought, vaguely, that if I studied the Jews, I could learn: What kept them going in the face of so much hatred? How did they survive?

This curiosity came to a head in 1960 when I was working on KXLW in St. Louis and met Rabbi Julius Nadel. My wife, Rose, and I and our baby boy, Martin, were living on the border between a black neighborhood and a Jewish section. I could see Nadel’s synagogue from my window, and one day some unseen hand touched me on the shoulder and I walked over. Everybody looked at me, wondered what I was doing there. The rabbi came over and shook my hand, and we went into his office and hit it off. He, it turned out, was interested in blacks. It was a hard time to reach out. St. Louis was still intensely segregated.

“Why don’t you teach me how to be Jewish, and I’ll teach you how to be black?” I say half-jokingly. “We’ll trade this off.”

“I like it,” he says.

We agreed that I would come every evening and study, and for every evening I would give him an hour on the history of blacks. For six, maybe eight weeks this went on. I learned the story of the Jews, the Diaspora, the holidays, the rituals, the foundation of ethical monotheism that paved the way for Christianity. And on the 14 of Adar in the Hebrew year 5720 (more commonly known as March 13, 1960) Rabbi Nadel issued me a certificate of conversion.

We went to dinner and celebrated, and he asked me to sum up what I’d learned about Jews and blacks. It was so personal I had trouble finding words. I’d found similarities in the spirituality both sides bring to the table, I told him, but Jews have an advantage I envied: Each of their religious holidays represents something historically significant to their people. Imagine, as a parent, the power that gives you — the tools it gives you by presenting each holiday to your child as a lesson in how to live his life, a lesson tied directly to real life, a way to reinforce values so the old mistakes or injustices will not occur again. That is what bands the Jews together, that and their intense pride in achievement.

Rabbi, I said, the only thing that bands my people together is our religious fervor, but we don’t have a racial religion, or holidays significant enough to loop it in right with our religion, with our hand-clapping.

We do have one thing that no one else has, though. We have “The Gift,” the gift of song, the touch that song has given Negroes. God gave the Semitic people certain gifts, and in the same regard he gave us music. Music had been so wrapped up in so many phases of my life, I took it for granted. It was as common as the air, and just as essential to my people’s survival. In the years that followed, my collecting of the black experience would intensify in the hope that I could give my people something similar to what Rabbi Nadel gave his.

More information about “Burn, Baby! BURN!” can be found
at

V-Day Gestures


It’s hard enough being single, but listening to those Valentine’s Day gift-buying countdowns feels a lot like being Jewish and unable to participate in Christmas. So what if there are just five shopping days left before Feb. 14? It’s like St. Valentine took over St. Nick’s body, and now the whole coupled country is in another mall-bound tizzy. Maybe it’s sour grapes, but I don’t get all the hoopla.

Does the grand romantic gesture really pay off?

I asked my married friend, David, who said, “Look, Lori. Money can’t buy you love, but it can definitely buy you domestic harmony.”

Apparently, for those in relationships, gifts on Valentine’s Day are like Machiavelli’s open secret: they’re a means to an end — usually of an argument.

And in a culture defined by the grandiose, the grand romantic gesture is starting to seem a little, well, gross. It’s not just the pink balloons, stuffed teddy bears and baby talk that make otherwise sensible adults seem like postpubescent 5-year-olds.

Call it “keeping up with the Cupids,” but a card and candy won’t cut it anymore. Exhausted from three days of jewelry shopping for his girlfriend, my neighbor complained about the trauma of what he called “V-Day — and the ‘V’ doesn’t stand for ‘victory.'” Another friend worries that her husband might buy her lacy lingerie when she really wants a night out on the town. A colleague who’s packing a suitcase for what she hopes will be a “surprise” weekend getaway put it this way: “He better get it right this year!”

One of my smug married friends tried consoling me. “Ah, honey, don’t worry. You’ll find a Valentine,” she said, her tone dripping with pity.

I’m not so sure I want one. Hallmark calls it “the most romantic day of the year,” but what’s so romantic about disappointment, overblown expectations and hemorrhaging money like a hemophiliac with a paper cut?

Then I saw an ad for Kwiat Spirit Rings, or what The New York Times recently dubbed “bling rings” — and being single didn’t seem so bad. These rings, worn on the fourth finger of a woman’s right hand, are supposed to be gifts for yourself, thus signifying an independent spirit. As the Diamond Information Center’s marketing campaign puts it, “Your left hand says ‘we.’ Your right hand says ‘me.'”

Being self-absorbed and single, I figured a “me” ring sounded perfect. And, OK, a little desperate, but since Halle Berry wears one, at least I’d be in good desperate company. Then again, Halle Berry probably has the $5,000 to buy one of these “symbols of the feminine spirit.” When I asked the saleslady at Saks (diamond ring on left fourth finger) if she had anything more in line with, say, “the feminine wallet,” she shot me a condescending look. To her, I wasn’t just desperate, but also down-market.

Of course, Wal-Mart advertises its own “bling ring” — the Keepsake Independence — but who wants a cheapo imitation? I mean, what message would I be sending to myself on Valentine’s Day? That I wasn’t worth, well, what?

That’s when I realized what’s really wrong with Valentine’s Day: We want proof that we’re loved — that we’re as special as a night at Ventana and as valuable as a ring from De Beers — but neither really does the trick. Being loved is about being understood, accepted and adored, despite the fact that your baggage isn’t exactly Tumi or “a symbol of your feminine sanity.” Maybe something more low-key and personal, like a single Stargazing Lily, shows that your lover remembers your favorite flower. But the best Valentine’s gift, I think, isn’t available at 1-800-Flowers, the Beverly Center or on redenvelope.com.

As a materially low-maintenance woman trapped in a psychologically high-maintenance body, I often require the emotional equivalent of dinner in Paris. So if I could replace V-Day with, say, E-Day, for 24 hours I’d get sensitive replies to questions like, “Do you think I’m more attractive than she is?” “That’s not a gray hair, it’s blonde, right?” and “What do you mean by, ‘It’s not you, it’s me?'”

Now, if only there was a holiday for that.


Lori Gottlieb, a commentator for NPR, is author of the
memoir “Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self” (Simon and Schuster, 2000) and
“Inside the Cult of Kibu: And Other Tales of the Millennial Gold Rush” (Perseus
Books, 2002). Her Web site is at www.lorigottlieb.com

.

Chanukah Rights


Growing up, I was one of the few children that did not
receive Chanukah presents. My family gave gelt, the money that children
traditionally receive on the holiday while gambling over the
game of dreidel, the spinning top.

My parents wanted to make the holiday as different from that
green and red one that sometimes falls at the same time. An easier task then, I
suppose, than now.

But isn’t that what the Festival of Lights is really about —
making sure we stay different? The Israelites resisted Hellenization; can the
American Jews resist Christmasization?

 From Adam Sandler to “The Hebrew Hammer” to the ultimate
public display of Chanukah — Chabad’s giant chocolate menorah at Fashion Island
in Newport Beach — we Jews have managed to procure equal Chanukah rights for
all, thank you very much. Maybe that’s not a good thing.

One nice thing about my time living in Israel — aside from
avoiding overly sentimental holiday songs and films — was the fact that most
people I knew didn’t have a lot of money. Most of us couldn’t afford to buy
everything we ever wanted, so we stuck to buying the things that we needed,
like toilet paper and shoes.

As an anonymous Yiddish author wrote in “A Treasury of
Jewish Humor,” which was compiled in 1967: “To have money is not so ai-ai-ai!
But not to have money is oy-oy-oy!”

There is no going back in time to when we were less
affluent, to when we gave a few pennies for gelt instead of gifts, to when
Chanukah and Christmas weren’t often synonymous for “the holidays.” And that’s
a good thing in many ways, I suppose.

But can’t we Jews bring something more to the holiday table?
Don’t we have more to offer this season than a giant chocolate menorah and
eight gifts instead of one?

In Judaism and in life, the world presents two inherent forces
competing for every person’s soul: gashmiyut (materialism) and ruchaniyut
(spirituality). We don’t shun one in service for the other; the tradition
understands that the material world has a place, too: our spiritual leaders
don’t take vows of celibacy — they marry.

A person who chooses to be a nazir (an ascetic) can only do
so for 30 days. The Jewish tradition teaches that wealth should be used to
enhance spirituality: avodah b’gashmiyut. Worship through materialism.

This week, as Chanukah and Christmas collide, instead of
unrealistically calling for a moratorium on spending (who would listen?),
perhaps we should look to our tradition to see how we can enhance our values
through materialism: avodah b’gashmiyut.

We can use our spiritual — and hopefully, emotional — wealth
to give to others: to donate our time, our services, our money.

But we need to do more than co-opt the “holiday spirit,”
that somewhat superficial niceness that descends on everyone, for say, two
weeks out of the year. Chanukah shouldn’t be completely Americanized, neutered
of all spiritual meaning, with candles instead of a tree, latkes instead of
fruitcake (as if that’s a fair choice).

The Festival of Lights, of course, is about a battle that
was won by the few against the many and the miracle of the Temple menorah’s oil
that lasted eight days instead of one.

Perhaps this year, some will draw a parallel of the
Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks to the United States’ capture of Saddam
Hussein.

To me, Chanukah is about the survival of the Jewish people.
How do we do it? Julie Gruenbaum Fax writes this week about how some movements
are looking to conversion as a route to survival. Many stories in this issue
testify to the ways we continue: from Tom Teicholtz’s article on the revival of
Yiddish (The “always dying but never dead” language) to Rabbi Eli Hecht’s tale
of his feisty bubbie’s stolen menorah. Survival is apparent, too, in our own
community, where the Orthodox Union held its annual West Coast Convention, just
days after the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra gave a masterful performance at
Disney Hall and the next day went to Milken High School to visit with student
musicians.

What does it take to survive? Strength, courage and, yes,
even adaptability and change. If the victory against the Greeks was about
withstanding assimilation and taking on foreign ways, perhaps this Chanukah we
remember that some of our greatest gifts come, already unwrapped, from our very
own tradition.  

Time for Something Sweet


Platters of apple slivers prepared for dunking in honey are a holiday ritual symbolizing hope for a sweet New Year.

The Jewish Federation of Orange County is on its way to starting another New Year tradition by again urging residents to buy Israeli-made honey for their own Rosh Hashanah tables as well as contributing a jar to an Israeli family.

This year, six other Jewish communities in Western states are joining in the “Honey for the Holidays” promotion, started by the broad-based O.C. Israel Solidarity Task Force, said Bunnie Mauldin, the Federation’s executive director. “We are with you in sweetness and sorrow,” reads the card that will be attached to hundreds of honey jars expected to be distributed in the Israeli communities of Kiryat Malachi and Hof Ashkelon.

Some of the nectar-filled jars, produced by the Hof Askelon apairy, Yad Mordechai, are also available for sale at several distribution points through October. Sites include Costa Mesa’s Jewish Community Center, Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School, Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom and Fountain Valley’s Congregation B’nai Tzedek. A donation in multiples of $18 is requested, with extra funds going toward worthwhile projects in Israel.

For several years, Orange County has sent aid and visitors to the two Israeli towns. Last year, their cumulative gifts provided scholarships for higher education to four families, Mauldin said.

For more information or to order jars, call the Jewish Federation of Orange County at (714) 755-5555.

Fed Campaign Ends on High Note


Propelled by a tide of last-minute contributions in the final weeks of its annual campaign, the Jewish Federation of Orange County raised a record $2.3 million, a 9 percent gain over last year, outpacing national results by the United Jewish Communities.

“We attribute the increase in the campaign to deliberate relationship building,” said Bunnie Mauldin, Federation executive director.

Each of the Federation’s various support groups increased its giving, though the 39 percent increase by the young professionals’ network was the largest. Gifts ranged from $5,000 to $100,000 or more.

Nearly 90 percent of the Federation’s contributors gave $500 or less, or 16 percent of the total.

“That is pretty much in step with what most philanthropy’s experience: 90 percent of the money comes from 10 percent of the donors,” Mauldin said.

In June, the Journal incorrectly reported the 2003 results as slightly down based on incomplete figures that did not reflect the final campaign push.

The Federation fell short of an ambitious $3.2 million target, but should be considered a success since other communities experienced meaningful declines, Federation President Lou Weiss, noted in the group’s annual report.

This year’s campaign exceeded last year’s level by $235,000, Mauldin said.

It’s All About You


It should be pointed out that once upon a time I wrote a little book titled "Life Sentence." It is the definitive treatise on the state of human relations between men and women, vis-à-vis engagement and marriage from the male perspective. Some people think it was anti-marriage, although on page three it clearly states, "For the record — [I] strongly recommend getting married." It remains, in my opinion, the best written and the least-read book on the subject. Ultimately, it seems that the man’s point of view on the subject of marriage is somewhat irrelevant.

In fact, the guy seems to be incidental to the whole marriage process. When I went with my long-suffering fiancée, Alison, to register for wedding gifts, there was a catalog with a beautiful bride (there is no other kind, evidently) on the cover, shot with slightly out-of-focus artiness. By contrast, the yellow, 72-point headline was clear enough that I could read it from across the room. It said: It’s All About You.

Later that day, Alison bought one of those brides magazines at the newsstand. There are tons of these things, all 2-inch- thick monsters, with yet more beautiful brides and recycled stories full of clichéd advice. (Have you noticed that there is not one magazine for grooms?) I leafed through it when she wasn’t looking, and was somewhat surprised to find that there was scarcely one picture in the 500 pages of glossy color ads with a guy in it. As if the whole marriage thing would be so much simpler without those unseemly men mucking it up. Just whom do they think all these brides are marrying, anyway?

We went shopping for wedding rings the other day. Alison took me to a joint called Cartier in Beverly Hills. When you ask to see the women’s wedding ring selection, they do a whole choreographed number, with "I Feel Pretty" playing over the sound system, great velvet-covered trays of sparkly jewels being proffered by eager, perfumed saleswomen.

By contrast, when you ask to see the selection of men’s wedding rings, they snap back, "Gold or platinum?" The girls get to choose from 31 Flavors, and we get chocolate or vanilla. (I found it interesting that the women’s rings seem to be somewhat more expensive than the men’s. Fascinating.)

Even the registry is all about her. Why don’t we go to the Home Depot? Do we really need a cake plate more than a nail gun? Which is going to be more useful in the future? Have you ever tried to install molding with a cake plate? They’re useless.

Alison didn’t want it to be all about her. She didn’t even want a bridal shower where your friends give you all that kitchen stuff. To be fair, Alison doesn’t know her way around the kitchen. Not at all. If left to her own devices with a raw chicken, some vegetables and herbs, she might starve to death.

I, however, am a very handy fellow to have around in the kitchen, and I like all that stuff — the All-Clad pots and Le Creuset pans, for example. (While writing this story, I was informed by The New York Times that I’m a "metrosexual," a straight guy in touch with his inner Julia Child.) So my sister, who also happens to be my gender-bending best man, threw a kitchen shower for me and all her gal pals. We had a spa day at which I had a scrub, a wrap and a massage. I was going to get something called a "polish change," but was told it didn’t apply to me.

Over salads (with the dressing on the side), the gals took turns offering me marital advice. In turns, it boiled down to this: empathy, focus, persistence, don’t sweat the small stuff, and the "Serenity Prayer" (Lord, help me to accept the things I cannot change). How can I go wrong?

It’s all right with me if the wedding is all about her. There would be no "us" without her, no wedding plans to fight over, no honeymoon to look forward to. I just hope I get my picture in the wedding photos next to the beautiful bride.

It’s all about J.D. Smith at www.carteduvin.com.