Girls’ faces blurred in toy store ad in Beit Shemesh


The faces of young girls modeling Purim costumes in a toy store ad were blurred in a haredi Orthodox newspaper in Beit Shemesh.

The Red Pirate toy store chain said the ads in the Hadash BeBeit Shemeh newspaper were altered without its knowledge, Ynet reported. The faces of boys in costume were not altered.

The chain issued a statement saying that the newspaper’s kashrut supervisor decided to blur the ad. The statement also apologized to anyone who was offended by the ad, according to Ynet.

Hadash BeBeit Shemeh responded with a statement saying that “This is not a case of women’s exclusion or girls’ exclusion. The ads were blurred by the advertising company, at our request, out of respect to our readers—both men and women—who want to receive a paper which matches their worldview and lifestyle. The attempts made by people who are not part of the haredi public to meddle in the desires of a different public are pathetic and doomed to fail, as haredi readers will not bring an unclean newspaper into their home.”

In response, some Beit Shemesh residents upset by the ad have urged consumers to boycott Red Pirate stores, Ynet reported.

Beit Shemesh, a Jerusalem suburb of 80,000, has been the site of intense conflict over gender separation and female modesty issues.

What makes a ‘real’ Jew?


After being alive for 16 years, I would think it would be easy to classify myself into a certain category, and that by now I would know what, who and why I am what I am. But as I grow older, it has become more complicated for me to label myself — secular, religious, Jewish American Mexican, Mexican American Jew.

This is probably a result of the fact that the older I get, the more in-depth I learn about my religion and the more I begin to formulate my own thoughts and opinions about it and about myself. While for a long time I have been able to articulate thoughts on certain religious matters, I have to admit that those opinions were, for the most part, strongly or loosely based on those of my parents and teachers. For example, I was a secular Jew because my mother told me that she was a secular Jew. I considered myself to be a Mexican American teenage girl, who happened to be Jewish, as well, because that was the way I was raised. We would celebrate Shabbat when it was convenient to, and would observe only the “famous” Jewish holidays — Chanukah, Pesach, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.

I considered a Jew to be a person who knew about the Torah, kept kosher, celebrated Shabbat and who went to temple every Friday night — and anyone who did not, was, in my eyes, not a “real” Jew. This consequently meant that I was not a “real” Jew. The thought of this not only made me hate the religion’s standards — which I myself had set — but it caused me to feel very confused about myself. I wasn’t sure which temple I liked, how to celebrate each holiday, and even how to eat. Everyone I met seemed to have different views than I did, and no one was able to help me understand where I fit in best.

When I started Milken Community High School’s middle school after finishing the sixth grade at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, I further realized how unacquainted I was with my own feelings toward my religion. Although we had Judaic studies every year, I felt unable to drift away from my parents’ beliefs and create my own.

Then, in 10th grade this past year, I was accepted into the Tiferet Israel Program, for which I left the comfort of my parents’ home and lived in Israel on my own for four months, along with 38 other Milken 10th- graders.

I was relieved to find that one of my friends, Tali, happened to be in Israel at the same time, on a separate school program. Tali, a girl I met at tennis camp, was one of the only people I knew who shared my beliefs — we both agreed that it was not necessary to follow all of the rituals of the Jewish religion. It was not until we reconnected in Israel that I found out her father is an Orthodox rabbi who works at Chabad. This immediately made me wonder how a rabbi, an Orthodox rabbi, a “real” Jew, could raise a “fake” one. I asked Tali what she considered herself to be, and whether or not she felt comfortable with her decision of moving away from her family’s opinions and creating her own. She answered that she respected her parents’ beliefs but did not completely agree with what they stood for. When I asked her if she felt as Jewish as her father, she responded without any hesitation, “I am just as Jewish as my father and mother and you are just as Jewish as them as well.” Hearing those words finally come out of someone’s mouth besides my own was like lifting the world off my shoulders. From that point on I no longer felt uncomfortable with my beliefs, and I no longer felt out of place.

Every day it became clearer to me that there was not one specific way to define a “real” Jew. By observing the amount of pride and devotion that all the Jewish Israelis felt toward their religion, I began to understand that simply believing in God and being proud of the fact that you are Jewish automatically makes you as Jewish as you can get. I was able to see on many different occasions the variety of Jews, and how I did not have to fit into any one of them in order to be Jewish. When our group went to the Kotel, for example, I was able to see ultra-Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews, and Jews that don’t fit into any of the categories praying toward the Wall, and every one of them accepts the other as a member of the Jewish faith.

All of my experiences in Israel made me able to officially classify myself under a category that I fit into. I now consider myself to be a Jewish Mexican American teenage girl, and I am proud to have it be in that order. I no longer feel disconnected from the rest of the Jewish people, and for the first time in my life, I feel as Jewish as any rabbi who works at Chabad — or any Jew in the world.

Rebecca Suchov just completed the 10th grade at Milken Community High School.<BR>

Perky Obit Girl


My love of journalism started in high school, when I confronted the cafeteria manager at my public — predominantly Jewish — high school about why there was no matzah available during Passover. I’ve always loved keeping people informed, so journalism seemed like a natural career path. When I came to The Journal as a copy editor and had the opportunity to write and edit stories and interview celebrities (both real and pseudo), I couldn’t have imagined a better job.

Then came the curveball: In addition to writing and editing, I was asked to coordinate the obituaries. Ouch. The girl with the Mickey Mouse doll perched atop her computer was faced with handling grief on a daily basis.

It’s strange to be the “Perky Obit Girl,” as I’ve been dubbed by my colleagues. That part of my job mostly involves processing the listings from L.A. Jewish mortuaries.

Sometimes I’ll get a heartwarming listing for someone who lived into their early 100s, did tons for the community and had great-great-grandchildren. And because we’re in Tinseltown, I occasionally have a brush with fame. When the former husband of “Gilligan’s Island” actress Dawn Wells died, she faxed in the notice on her own palm tree-adorned stationery.

On the flip side, there are the ones about the family of three who was killed in a car accident; the 20-something who was lost at sea.

And then there are the odd requests that take me by surprise. One mortuary notice listed the sibling as: Puppy Brewster. Thinking that “Puppy” was a nickname, I ran it as: sister, Puppy Brewster. The family was incensed, and called to complain. Brewster was the name of the deceased man’s dog.

When I tell people what I do, I always take pride in ending with: “….and I coordinate the obituary page.” Sometimes I get a smile, sometimes a wince, but more often than not I get every journalist’s dream answer: “I faithfully read it every week.”

 

Keeping My Hair Under Wraps


 

Recently, I found myself spellbound while watching “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” This film, based on the excellent Tracy Chevalier novel, is a fictional account of the history behind Vermeer’s famous painting of the same name.

The novel revolves around a servant girl, Grete, who became a secret assistant to the painter in his studio. In one scene, Vermeer accidentally glimpses Grete with her hair uncovered. The moment is electric. Grete, like all women of her social station, covered her hair at all times. It was as if Vermeer had caught her unclothed.

It was odd to feel such a kinship with a fictional character, and one who lived in the 17th century at that. But, like Grete, I also keep my hair covered in front of all but family members.

Over the years, I have begun to feel that my hair is a very private part of me. Revealing it has become an almost intimate act.

I never expected to feel this way. Years ago, I wrestled with the idea of living an Orthodox life. It was the most defining and difficult spiritual struggle of my life, and one that was not made quickly. While I was captivated with the timeless truths of the Torah, I insisted that I could never fulfill the mitzvah of covering my hair after I married.

The Torah considers a woman’s hair part of her crowning beauty. Covering it after marriage symbolizes not only the woman’s modesty but also her exclusive relationship with her husband.

For a long time I considered this idea to be repressive and anti-feminist, and could not make peace with it. But I had a problem: In my new circle of Orthodox acquaintances I kept meeting Orthodox married women, bewigged or wearing scarves or hats, who failed to match my unflattering stereotype of the Jewish Stepford wife. These women were intelligent, highly educated and lively. Almost none had grown up Orthodox, so I couldn’t claim they were covering up their locks by rote. Nearly all were baalei teshuva, or returnees to the faith, and they had chosen this spiritually rich lifestyle despite myriad available choices.

Even after I married and adhered to most Orthodox standards, I did not cover my hair. I wanted to want to do it, but I couldn’t bring myself to take on this monumental obligation. I attended lectures about hair covering, but left depressed because I had not found the beauty or inspiration I had sought. What did everyone else see in this that I could not see?

However, I no longer viewed the idea of hair covering as repressive, since Jewish men, both single and married, also wear garments that remind them of their unique obligations as Jews: the kippah on their heads and the four-cornered tzitzit under their shirts. I had learned enough by then to understand that these guidelines were designed to help us incorporate spiritual awareness into the physical aspects of our lives, including how we dress.

Eventually, I began covering my hair to set a good example for my sons.

After all, how could I expect them to make blessings before and after eating, wear their little kippot and perform other mitzvot, when I failed to uphold such an obvious one?

Still, it remained a struggle. I vainly missed compliments about my hair’s beauty. I missed feeling the wind in my hair. Still searching for meaning behind the practice, I continued to drill friends about their feelings about it. When one friend said that covering her hair made her feel special, like royalty, something finally clicked. Jews are supposed to be God’s chosen people and should dress the part. Stylish, modest clothing and head coverings did the trick for her. I liked this idea of hair covering making me special.

These days, when women and girls bare so much skin in public, I know that my manner of dress makes me something of an oddity. Looking at me in my long skirt, mid-sleeve blouse, and hat or beret on my head, many can instantly identify me as an Orthodox Jew.

I like being marked this way. I appreciate how the Torah has taught me to resist the ordinary and the faddish in an effort to become exemplary. My modest attire and hair covering remind me that I must always separate the private from the public. My body, including my hair, is private. I’ve also been heartened by the book, “Hide & Seek,” an anthology of essays about hair covering, edited by Lynne Schreiber (Urim Publications, 2003). The writers in this book are an eclectic group of Jewish women — not all of them Orthodox — who came to the decision to cover their hair in many ways, some of them unexpected and dramatic. Reading these women’s stories, including their struggles with a mitzvah that they find both important yet difficult, I realized I had more company than I would have expected.

When Vermeer saw Grete’s beautiful, naked locks, it added a level of intimacy to their relationship. It took me years to realize this, but eventually, I found that reserving my hair only for the closest of family members — and especially for my husband — has done the same for me, too.

Judy Gruen is a columnist for Religion News Service and an award-winning author of two humor books. Read more of her columns at www.judygruen.com.

 

The Forbidden Food


I was casually walking through the meat aisle at the local supermarket yesterday morning looking for kosher chicken when I saw her holding a package of frozen shrimp.

Her hair was long and sun-bleached blonde, and her eyes were blue like the sky. I knew she wasn’t Jewish. My heart was racing like a klezmer band on speed, and I wondered what the kosher chickens might have said if they knew how badly I wanted her. The son of a rabbi, they’d probably quip. It figures.

A few months ago the story would have probably ended there. I’d have picked up my kosher chicken, a few 12-packs of Diet Coke, some Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and been on my way. I’d have forgotten her by nightfall and remembered her the next morning when I sat down to write. How many shrimp could fit between those glossy pink lips? I might have wondered.

Okay, truthfully, I’m still thinking about it now. Four? Maybe five? Not since the bar mitzvah incident with Debbie have I been able to fully get shrimp out of my mind.

Debbie was one of the popular girls in my Hebrew School, and I had a big-time crush on her. Although we rarely talked, she accepted an invitation to my bar mitzvah party. As the night waned, I did the unthinkable: I asked her to dance. She agreed, and I did my best to hold her tight. I was a man, I imagined, and my luck with girls was sure to change.

So I looked into her eyes and said, Do you think, maybe, probably, a girl like you, I mean not you, would ever think about going out with a guy like me, I mean not me?

She batted her eyelashes and said, Of course not. You’re too shrimpy. A moment later she realized the potentially lasting effects of her words and added, I didn’t mean that in a bad way.

I was devastated. I remember crying on my mother’s lap later that day. Am I really too shrimpy? I asked her.

She smiled and said the same thing millions of mother’s have said to their less-than-perfect sons: Just be yourself Danny. That’s all girls really want.

Pish posh, I thought. No girl wants a shrimp. But I was wrong. The hot blonde apparently liked shrimp just fine.

Even a few months ago, I was afraid to indiscriminately approach beautiful women. I imagined that even the pitter-patter of my heart and my distinctly Jewish sex drive didn’t give me license to say hello. And if I did say hello, I was sure she’d look at my scrawny frame and say something like, Scram.

So late one Shabbat night in early June, I took fate into my own hands. I called my father — the rabbi — and told him my plans. I’ve decided to make a movie. It’ll be called: ‘A Sensitive Guy on the Road: Fifty Dates Across the States.’ I’ll date one woman in each of 48 states and Washington, D.C., and hopefully find true love.

That’s a bad idea, he said.

It gets better, I promised. I won’t kiss any of them for 49 dates.

Then I will ask one of them on a 50th and final date, and hopefully, you know, give her the big smootcheroo.

A reality show without sex, he said. That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

It’s not a reality show, I promised. It’s a critique of reality shows. I want to find out if women are willing to give a nice, sensitive, albeit short guy like me a try.

It’s still a terrible idea, he said.

The hot supermarket woman walked towards me. Closer. Closer. Eyes squinting. Still closer. Shrimp in hand. Inspecting me, judging me, making my heart flutter. Touching me with a treif hand. Sure, she touched just my shoulder. But her hand was treif nonetheless. And I liked it!

Excuse me, she said. Weren’t you on the front cover of the newspaper last week? You’re that sensitive guy, right?

I blushed. She smiled. My heart melted. Yep, I responded. I knew I should have said something funny or profound like: I’m sensitive, but I swear, I’m no shrimp cocktail, Or maybe: Sensitivity can mean so many things. Instead, I just stared at her smile. I was at a loss for words.

Yep, I said again.

That’s so cool, she said.

Wow, I thought. She thinks I’m cool.

And in that moment of pure stress and elation, I forgot about all the heartache that girls, mostly ones at Jewish sleepover camp, had caused me. I put aside my ego and my insecurities, put down my kosher chicken, swallowed hard and went for it: I really like your thighs …I mean, I mean your eyes. I like your eyes. They’re blue like the sky.

She smiled. Do you want my phone number? she asked.

I was speechless. But before I knew it, she had copied her number onto a gas station receipt and handed it to me. It was that easy. I had spent 22 years thinking I had to be tall and Scandinavian to get a goddess like her. Twenty-two years believing that short Jewish guys just couldn’t do crazy things like that unless their names are Woody Allen or Philip Roth. And all this time, it was simple: let them know I’m sensitive. Just throw it out there.


Dan Jacobs currently resides in Western Massachusetts. He will soon return to Los Angeles to live. You can learn more about his journey on his Web site:

Like a Jew in a Bagel Store


I’m no longer a virgin. To Israel, that is. This single babe just returned from her maiden voyage to the land of milk and honey. And all I can say is — there were a lot of honeys. Jewish men everywhere.

In the restaurants, on the streets, in the shops — I didn’t know where to flirt first. Forget a kid in a candy store, I was like a Jew in a bagel store. I’ll take a dozen — hot ones if you have them. Israel is a single Jewish girl’s fantasy.

Take one of my Tel Aviv adventures. I was downing a Maccabee Beer in a disco on the pier when it hit me: Every guy in this club is Jewish — they’re all fair game. The cute guy in the corner, the tall guy drinking Goldstar, the fine guy who asked me to dance and the young guy who could not ask at all. Every man here has a "for sale" sign. This must be what the rest of the world feels like — everyone they meet is a potential mate.

In Los Angeles, it’s all about the Jew-crew prescreen for me. When I get to a bar, first thing I do is a lap. OK, first thing I do is a shot. Second thing I do is a lap. Once I locate the hot guys, the real fun begins. Will the real Slim Schwartzie please stand up? OK, it’s not that bad. But without a secret password or members-only handshake, I have to do some fast detective work to uncover the boys’ roots. I open with subtle overtures like, "Where’d you go to school? When’d you graduate? When was your bar mitzvah?" Sometimes I slip in the, "Hi, my name’s Carin. What’s your last name?" or the ever-popular "Can I buy you a drink? Are you circumcised?" We even turn it into a drinking game, "Name That Jew." Every time you correctly ID a Jew in a bar, you pound a beer.

Some guys pass the Tribe test, but in a room of 100 random American men, statistics say I’ve narrowed my options to 2.2 of them. One of them is probably hitting on the 21-year-old blonde who’s up for a WB pilot and the other is usually a band geek without an instrument.

By dating only Jews, I really limit my pool. We’re not talking Olympic-size pool or even kiddie pool. Picture the small plastic pool you can purchase at Toys R Us. No — picture a bathtub. That’s my sample size.

So why put myself through that? Why restrict myself to .02 percent of the single men in the world? I haven’t always. In college I dated and fell love with an incredible Catholic guy. I told myself we’d work the religion thing out, we could compromise. But eventually I realized I didn’t want to compromise. Not about this. Judaism is an essential part of my life, it’s Carin to the core. I’d be lying to myself if I said it wasn’t. So now I only pick up Jews. Cuz’ you never know when that flirt’s gonna lead to a date, and that date to a relationship and that relationship to a puffy white dress and a drunken wedding hora. So for me it’s Heeb or nothing.

It’d be easier if I went outside the Jewish circle. I’d meet more men, I’d go on more dates, I could be married by now. But not under a chuppah. And there’s the snag. Dancing in that Tel Aviv club, I realized what it feels like to have my choice of any man at the bar. It feels amazing — I love the multiple choice. But more importantly, I realized what it feels to be in a bar packed with fellow Jews. The connection I felt to the people in the room — these were my peeps. And my future husband, he’s gonna be one of us. While dating only Jews limits my choices, it’s the only choice for me. Which is why I loved Israel’s all-you-can-date buffet. I was dancing on a platform in that Tel Aviv club when my friend, Amy, introduced us.

"Carin, this is Eli."

I owe Amy big time. In the movie of his life, Eli was hot enough to play himself. He had a cocky smile and a tight little Israeli boot-camp bootie. I didn’t have to hunt for the hecksher before we started kissing. In Israel, you know the guys are kosher.

If only it were that easy in Los Angeles. I’m back in Hollywood and trawling the scene for Jewish men. It’s frustrating, looking for mensch in a haystack. I miss my Israeli all-access pass. When a date goes poorly in Los Angeles, we say there’s always more fish in the sea. But in Israel, there’s a whole sea of Jewish fish waiting to be caught.


Carin Davis is a freelance writer and
can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

Pages Reveal a Whole New Esther


As far as narrative goes, Megillat Esther is one of the most exciting parts of the Tanach. It is rich in religious significance and considered a seminal text on the miracle of Jewish survival, the story of Esther, the orphan girl who is chosen in a nationwide beauty contest to become the queen and ends up saving the Jewish people from the evil machinations of Haman the Wicked, has all the elements of a good potboiler. Played out under the specter of Armageddon for the Jewish people are great and lavish displays of wealth, a mighty king who is duped by his nefarious adviser, scheming chamberlains, a harem full of nubile virgins, power plays among the king’s underlings and enough surprising plot twists to keep the pages — or the scroll itself — turning.

Megillat Esther is perennial — it is read every year on Purim in synagogues and homes all over the world accompanied by a cacophonous soundtrack of grogger noise — but the story itself has recently inspired a number of contemporary authors to spin their own versions of Esther’s compelling tale.

While two novels published in the last year take a new look at the beautiful queen, another self-help book uses the megillah as a source of business advice to young women.

In "The Gilded Chamber" (Rugged Land, 2003), author Rebbeca Kohn tells the story of Esther’s pauper-to-princess journey in way that evokes Anita Diamant’s "The Red Tent" in style and Arthur Golden’s "Memoirs of a Geisha" in setting. Much of the narrative in "The Gilded Chamber" is devoted to life in the harem, a setting that develops intrigues of its own between the girls themselves. There are many lush descriptions of the girls trading secrets and gossiping while reclining on couches and being fed and tended to by eunuchs. The eunuchs also instruct the girls how to pleasure the king, and the book is full of flowery and euphemistic sex prose, like, "My body opened to him like a rose in bloom, each soft petal unfolding until the final burst of color and fragrance."

The story of Purim is the backdrop of the "The Gilded Chamber," but the book is not a retelling of the megillah. Mordechai’s role, for example, is greatly reduced. He is Esther’s unrequited love interest and, taking great liberties with the source text, he emerges in "The Gilded Chamber" as a man largely estranged from traditional Judaism. Esther pines for him, all the while trying to figure out how she can protect herself from becoming doped and sick from the drugged wine that the eunuchs feed the virgins, and how she can keep herself in the king’s favor to eventually save her people. According to the book’s press materials, Kohn supplemented her imagination with meticulous historical research, and so while there are no surprises about how the story ends, it still manages to look different from the story we know.

"The Gilded Chamber" sticks to ancient Persia, but "Writing the Book of Ester" by Louise Domaratius (Quality Words in Print, 2003) travels across continents and time to the present day, and uses the story of Esther as a starting point for a complex novel that meditates on race, culture and religious identity.

"Writing the Book of Ester" is the story of Celia, an American English teacher who lives in Paris and is in love with Medhi. Medhi is her 19-year-old Iranian student, and the son of a Muslim father and a Jewish mother — named Ester. Ester is in prison for writing provocative journalism and, as Medhi talks about his mother, Celia becomes fascinated with her. Celia creates a "book" in which she parallels the contemporary Ester and the biblical Esther, seeing in both a fascinating feminine strength and defiance. Like the biblical Esther, who had to hide her Jewish identity in the palace but still remain true to it, the contemporary Ester does the same thing. While she converts to Islam, she remains true to Judaism in her heart and maintains her cover so she can help the Iranian Jews.

In both these books, Esther emerges as a proto-feminist hero. In the self-help book "What Queen Esther Knew: Business Strategies From a Biblical Sage," authors Connie Glaser and Barbara Smalley (Rodale 2003), continue this idea, seeing Esther as a role model for young women trying to make it in the business world. With chapter headings like "It Pays to Know the Palace Gossip" and "Communicating With the Clout of the Queen," the authors advise young girls to act "queenly" in business, much the same way that Esther did in the palace. The book keeps referring back to the megillah — "Queen Esther requested not one, but two banquets with King Ahasuerus and Haman. Why? Putting in more face time with the king before revealing [her] request was likely part of her master plan…" — but it also references a good number of other business advice books to bolster its advice, and a few contemporary Esthers, like Sherron Watkins, who blew the whistle on Enron.

"Given all that Esther knew," Glaser and Smalley write. "It’s little wonder that her story continues to inspire women — even after 2,500 years."

The Oldest Diary


There is something otherworldly about the experience of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. It is perhaps the preeminent spiritual-cultural paradox in all of Jewish life. When girls and boys focus so intensely on this personal lifecycle event, each possesses a transcendent, timeless and eternal quality.

I was reminded of this recently as I was sitting in my study helping a young girl work on her speech a few weeks before her Bat Mitzvah. We began talking about her upcoming Bat Mitzvah and how it made her feel about being Jewish, how she might describe her own Jewish identity and her place in the history of the Jewish people.

In order to put into words exactly how she saw her relationship to the Torah and the passing down of Jewish tradition, she told me the following story: “Imagine that my parents and I decided to research our family history, and we discovered that my great-great-great-grandmother had lived her whole life in a small village in Russia. When we discovered that this same small village still exists today, we decided to take a trip to see where my great-great-great-grandmother lived.

“When we got there, it looked like it hadn’t changed in 200 years, and we began to explore the small, crowded streets. Suddenly, we stumbled upon the very house in which my great-great-great-grandmother had lived. When we knocked on the door, an old woman came and asked us what we wanted. We told her – through our interpreter, of course – that she was living in the exact same house that my great-great-great-grandmother had lived in and we were curious to see what it was like. She immediately invited all of us into her home.

“While my parents were busy talking to the woman, I walked in to explore another room. As I looked around, I noticed that one of the floor boards was loose, so I pulled it up and discovered a very, very, very old and dusty book. I grabbed the book and ran back in to show my parents. The woman who lived there took the book from me and began to read it.

“She told me that it seemed as if I had actually found my great-great-great-grandmother’s diary. Here were stories all about how she lived, what she thought about and what her dreams were for the future.”Imagine how incredibly excited I was to find this book. It was the most amazing thing I had ever owned, and I was thrilled to be able to read all about my own ancestor’s life. Who wouldn’t want to find a remarkable diary like that?”

“And Rabbi Reuben,” said the young girl, “that is how I feel about my Bat Mitzvah. When you hand the Torah from my grandparents to my parents and then me, it will be just like I’m getting the oldest family diary that has ever been found. Like I am saying to everyone, ‘This is now my story, too.'”

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses recites the final poem that he has written in his diary. He begins this poetic conclusion to the entire Torah by challenging us to recognize that the words and laws, commandments and ethical foundation of the Torah “isn’t a trifling thing for you, it is your very life.” Indeed, at this most sacred season of the Jewish year, our real challenge is to figure out each day how to make the precious inheritance which is our own Torah wisdom a meaningful part of our everyday lives. Then, says Moses, we will long endure on the earth, and the world will be a more sacred and holy place because we are in it.

Steven Carr Reuben is senior rabbi of Kehillat Israel, the Reconstructionist congregation of Pacific Palisades.

Raising Boys


This past year, Toys R Us was excoriated for proposing and, in some instances, constructing separate “Boys World” and “Girls World” sections. But public outrage quickly forced the 707-store retailer to abandon this gender-based marketing concept, which it euphemistically referred to as “logical adjacencies.”Twenty years ago, I would have vehemently condemned Toys R Us’ discriminatory actions, perhaps even joining the ranks of the politically correct protesters. Girls, I would have argued, have as much right to play with a Tonka truck as boys with a Little Tikes vacuum cleaner. And not only a right, a need.Twenty years ago, I was single, childless and clueless.

But I had come of age in the late 1960s and 1970s, witnessing the birth of the pill, Ms. Magazine and Helen Reddy’s hit song, “I am Woman,” watching a total upheaval of traditional sexual roles, rules and expectations.

By the early 1980s, I had seen Sally J. Priesand ordained as the first female American rabbi, Sandra Day O’Connor appointed as the first female United States Supreme Court justice and Sally Ride launched into space as the first American female astronaut. And I firmly believed the slogan – before I met my husband, Larry, of course – that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

The truth is that the feminist movement, especially during the last 30 years, has brought women unprecedented and very necessary civil rights. It has increased our pay, our sense of confidence and our reproductive options. Clearly, in the words of Bob Dylan, “the times they are a-changin’.”

Changing so much that by late 1983, married and pregnant, I envisioned raising my first son in an idyllic, egalitarian environment. I would teach him to be vulnerable and sensitive, to share his toys graciously with his playmates and to assist me joyfully and willingly with household chores. My future daughter-in-law, whoever she might be, would sing the praises of my parenting skills.

Then Zack was actually born – and I watched the powers of the Y chromosome unfold before me. I watched him hide his favorite toys before a friend would come over. And even more horrific, in our then-adamantly pacifistic, weapon-free home, I watched him fashion guns out of Legos or pieces of toast. Or shoot with a pointed forefinger and raised thumb.

In 1987, Gabe was born. As a toddler, he transformed his cute, cuddly Care Bears into deadly weapons to hurl against his older brother. Later, he used his artistic skills to draw guns and forts and armed castles. Then, in 1989, with the birth of Jeremy, I learned the true meaning of the word risk-taker. Barely walking, he regularly climbed atop the kitchen table and marched across it. Worse, before he learned to swim, he jumped fearlessly into the deep end of swimming pools. He also wrapped Levolor cords around his neck and headed for electrical outlets with letter openers.

By the time my fourth son, Danny, arrived in 1991, my feminist outlook had flip-flopped. I had accepted the reality of innate, intrinsic and God-given gender differences, differences not easily altered by well-meaning and enlightened parents and parenting manuals, differences fundamentally immune to social and cultural influences.

The Talmud agrees. “It is the way of man to subdue the earth, but it is not the way of a woman to subdue it.”

My friend Doug Williams also agrees. Recently comparing our respective hormonally charged home environments, Doug, the father of three daughters, said, “At our house, we have talking, talking, talking. Everything has to be processed.””Come to our house,” I offered. “We have punching.”

“Boys are just hard-wired a certain way,” my husband, Larry, says. And studies confirm this. Males have 10 to 20 times higher testosterone levels than females as well as lower levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that reduces confrontational and impulsive tendencies.

Overall, men are more competitive, aggressive, physical and prone to taking risks.That’s why, with four boys, we have plastic surgeons on call.And that’s why females, who have been trying for the past several decades to remake males in our image, to make them more communal, cooperative and compassionate, have been unsuccessful. Indeed, no matter how much we ask our husbands and sons to talk about their feelings, how often we ask them to process and not necessarily solve problems or how many pink polo shirts we buy them, biology trumps behavioral influences, nature trumps nurture.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t passionately and unequivocally believe in equal civil, social and religious rights for males and females.

It doesn’t mean that I condone rude, offensive, outlandish or inappropriate behavior. Or that I ever accept the excuse that “boys will be boys.”

But it does mean that no matter how generically, unideologically or “illogically adjacent” Toys R Us arranges its thousands of toys, my sons, every time, will make a beeline to the weapon aisle.

To the Graduates


I can’t remember a word spoken by Ira Goldstein, the Plainview (NY) High School valedictorian, Class of 1965, but I’m sure his graduation address was brilliant. Ira, who apparently was in the Philosophy Club with me for three now-forgotten years, was the most brilliant boy in a class of brilliant boys. Girls were “smart” or “sweet” in those days; boys were “brilliant.”

“The difficult he does quickly; the impossible takes a little longer” was written under Ira’s school photo. He was destined for greatness, but I never heard about him again. I used to follow him home from school, padding along behind him since he lived around the corner from me. I can’t remember a word he said.Still, I miss him terribly. I know this sounds insane, but 35 years later I think I’m finally ready for high school. Having worked on my self-esteem for three decades, I’d finally be capable of talking to Ira about things that matter. Leslie Wiletzky, who had been a god to us girls as sophomore class president the year after I moved from the city to the suburbs, would no longer intimidate me either. I’m even ready for Bob Dickman (Fencing, Honor Society, Russian Magazine) now. And what about Allen Kranz, sports editor? I can still fake interest in football, if that’s how the game is played.

Yes, now I’m ready for high school. I’m confident I can enter the girls’ room on my own now, without a bodyguard. I’m not afraid of those “Leader of the Pack” gang girls with their teased hair and stiletto nails, though I still dream about them and break into a sweat.

The first time around, none of my outfits were good enough, and the fashion police in the sorority crowd had real fun snickering at my plaid skirts. I didn’t own a single Orlon sweater, let alone a twin set! These days, I’m an adult and wear jeans. But just in case I relapse into self-doubt, it’s good to know that I can have all the sweater sets I want – and in Lycra – since my mother no longer co-signs my charge card! I can afford my own Kate Spade bag, too, if I want one. You can’t be too well-armed against peer pressure.What a wuss I was. I hated lunch hour, spent writing morose poetry and trying on shades of lipstick, even though my best friend at the time, Diane Cobert, swore in my yearbook that we had endless fun. “I can still remember that first day in Caf 2A eating spaghetti,” she wrote in my yearbook. “Ever since it’s been a ball.”

What an actor I must have been. Everyone, it seems, admired my sense of humor. I burned my hair during the National Honor Society candle lighting ceremony. What a joke! David Don, however, took me seriously.

“Despite your liberal tendencies, you’re still OK,” he said. See, it began early.No matter what they say in the Plainview Gull, I was totally unhappy, and I mean every single day. Paul Kornreich (Chess, German Club) had the right idea. “Whenever you’re feeling gay,” he wrote, “just remember the miserable times we had in history; that will cure you.”

I made it look good, I guess, as did we all. I don’t remember my public speaking class, but Barry Aaronoff insists I alone made it endurable for him. “The only good spot of the period was you.” He never said a word to me, I swear it.

It’s no wonder that it took so long for the pain to ebb. We were just kids, hurting each other mercilessly in preparation for the real world, which has been kind in comparison. That’s why I’d like once again to look into Barry Aaronoff’s eyes.

“You wrote ‘I’ll never forget,'” I’d tell him, pointing to his own handwriting. “Did you?”

Since I’m on the topic of high school graduation, it’s not too early to address the college road ahead. Inspired by Maria Shriver’s best-selling “Ten Things I Wish I’d Known – Before I Went Out Into the Real World,” here are the first “Four Things I Wish I’d Known – Before I Went to That Hare Krishna Meeting” (with more to follow soon):

1) Learn who you are: Many people think college is the time to experience alienation, to respect other cultures more than your own and to bust the rules. Fine, but rebellion gets tiresome. Plan to take a Jewish studies course. There’s more to our tradition than your Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Your non-Jewish roommate may know more about religion than you do. 2) Get a support system: You may think Hillel is square, but come the High Holidays, you’ll be glad it’s there. Keep the number posted. Use It. 3) Watch out for loneliness. Suicidal thoughts and depression are too common among freshmen. Don’t be macho. Call home. Light candles. Keep your spiritual life alive. Get a subscription to your hometown Jewish newspaper. 4) Satisfy your curiosity, but don’t forget to come home. Of course you may want to date non-Jews.

But then get smart and see Rule 1): Learn who you are.Meanwhile, has anyone seen Ira Goldstein?

Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.com

Chaya’s Dance


Six years ago, Carol Solomon attended Yom Kippur services in Copenhagen. Flipping through the back of the English language prayerbook, she came upon a poem, translated from Hebrew, called “The Letter of the Ninety-Three Maidens.” Based on an actual letter that was found after the Holocaust, it tells of young girls at a Jewish school in Cracow who took poison rather than allow themselves to be defiled by Nazi soldiers. Historians question the letter’s authenticity. But for Solomon, “something about this story just captured my heart.”

Which is why Solomon, an L.A.-based choreographer, was inspired to create “Chaya’s Letter,” a full-length dance work that will have its world premiere in Sinai Temple’s Barad Hall on Sept. 4, 1999, just before Rosh Hashanah. But a 15-minute excerpt can be seen by the public on Friday evening, April 16, as part of a Yom Ha Shoah service at the Wadsworth Theatre in Westwood, under the auspices of Temple Shalom for the Arts.

“Chaya’s Letter” features six young female dancers, who in rehearsal displayed their passion for Solomon’s intense, grueling choreography. The haunting score was composed by Chris Ridenhour, husband of one of the dancers, for piano and string quartet. Solomon, who has never before based a dance on Jewish themes, has been encouraged by the support (both financial and moral) she has received from the Jewish community. Michael Berenbaum, president of the Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, endorsed her work as “powerful, indeed at moments awesome,” and calls it a fitting memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

For more information about “Chaya’s Letter,” call the Carol Solomon Dance Co. at (323) 957-9614.


Dear Deborah


Detail from the cover of “Boy MeetsGirl,” a romance comic book, 1947

Suffocating Sweetheart

Dear Deborah,

I am engaged to a wonderful man whose “littleproblem” has become very, very big during the course of our two-yearcourtship and has grown acute during our engagement. He was always alittle possessive when we dated, but, then, it made me feel loved. Iactually thought it was sort of sweet and sexy, and it made me feelprotected.

His possessiveness has grown into what I feel isan invasion of my privacy that seems, to me, to be not sweet at all.It feels controlling — as if he thinks of me as an incompetentchild. He’ll show up uninvited to a girlfriend-only lunch; he’ll tryto find me a job with a friend of his before I even open theemployment ads; he calls my doctors and asks about test results forme.

When I complain, he says that he is just trying tobe helpful, and asks why I don’t appreciate his love and caring. Ido, but I’m worried about feeling more and more “devoured” by his”caring,” and I’m asking for help in how to deal with it because, atthis point, I feel inclined to hide my whereabouts and activities sothat he cannot butt in so freely — even though I have nothing tohide.

Feels Devoured

Dear Devoured,

“As wolves love lambs, so lovers love theirloves,” wrote Socrates. While you found the wolf at first to becompelling, you are now beginning to feel more like a lamb chop thana lamb. Should you marry him without resolving this now, youundoubtedly will be devoured by his controlling nature.

You must tell him that this issue is seriousenough to cause you to call off the whole deal if it is not resolvedimmediately. Explain in as concrete a manner as possible thebehaviors that are not acceptable to you, and why. Listen to what hesays — whether he is defensive or truly understands you. He may beinsecure and need a little help in some areas, he may have somecharacterological issues that are deeply entrenched, or he may notsee the need to change. If you get nowhere with him, get counselingtogether immediately.

It will take courage to face these issues squarelyand at once, but not to do so will ultimately reduce you from lamb tolamb chop to mucky, little divorce statistic.

Mommie Dearest?

Dear Deborah,

My 7- and 10-year-old sons recently sat me downand told me what I was like when I got angry. They said that Iscreamed a lot, acted like a “monster,” frightened them, and wasentirely different from the “sweet mommy” who usually takes care ofthem. I always knew I had a temper, but I had no idea I was havingsuch an effect. My husband thinks they are just spoiled and don’twant to hear about it when they do wrong.

I am a little confused about how to handlethis.

Chicago Mom

Dear Mom,

The Talmud states that if one person tells youthat you have ass’s ears, pay no attention. But if two tell you,you’d better saddle up.

Whether or not your children are spoiled is notthe issue. Whether or not they don’t like criticism is not the issue(who does?). Rather, the fact that both your children experience yourrage as frightening and deemed it important enough to approach you iswhat counts — that, and your ability to hear them with an openheart.

Yelling is not an effective way to discipline.Either children get scared or feel bad about themselves, and,eventually, they become so inured to yelling that they tune you out.Also, they will learn to be yellers from your example. Learning tomanage anger is the task at hand.

First, when you feel the rage coming on, stop.Notice the buildup of anger. Catch yourself before you hit rage.Collect your thoughts before you speak. Then choose a differentmethod, preferably quieter and with less blame. Use consequencesrather than fear. “You may not go out and play until your rooms areclean.” “No TV until the homework is done.” “Here is ashmatte. Now goclean up what you spilled.” In other words, actions should havelogical consequences that teach children responsibility.

If you lack the necessary self-control to stopyelling, there are anger-management and parenting books and classes.If that fails, there is counseling. The fact that you are taking yourchildren’s feelings to heart is a good prognosis.

Mother-in-Law Blues

Dear Deborah,

My mother-in-law has been in the hospital,recovering from surgery for a week. She is a widow and has alwaysbeen an unpleasant, demanding and self-absorbed woman, but she is myhusband’s mother and children’s grandmother, and because I have noremaining parents, I do want to be a good daughter-in-law.Furthermore, my husband is an only child, so there is no one else totake care of her. He works more than full time, and since my job ispart-time, I feel it is my duty.

I visit her every day, bring her anything she asksfor, and, when she is well, take her shopping and to doctorsappointments. I try. Yet she barrages me with complaints about how noone cares about her, no one visits her, and so forth.

She doesn’t understand that I do work, havechildren (which is another full-time job) and have a life. She thinksthat I am her servant, which would be OK if she showed anyappreciation whatsoever. I am at my wit’s end with her complainingand sometimes want to say what’s on my mind, and yet I never say aword.

At Wit’s End

Dear Wit’s End,

There seems to be a rather fine line between”honor thy parents” and “kick me.” I mean, Martyr of the Year is arotten, low-paying job with no benefits and zero glory.

Have you said anything at all when she complainsabout the dearth of visitors, such as: “What am I? Chopped liver? Ihave visited you every day. It hurts my feelings when you say thingslike that.”

Although you are a true mensch for your efforts, thereis no law against directly and kindly saying how you feel. You neednot be abused to be a dutiful daughter-in-law.

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist. All letters toDear Deborahrequire a name, address and telephone number for purposes ofverification. Names will, of course, be withheld upon request. Ourreaders should know that when names are used in a letter, they arefictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses canbe given only in the newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss,1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You canalso send E-mail: deborahb@primenet.com

 

Cleared of Charges?


Charges against a Brooklyn Chassidic rabbi of groping a 15-year-old girl during a transpacific flight were part of an extortion plot and will be dismissed by federal prosecutors.

So states prominent Washington attorney Nathan Lewin, who’s representing Rabbi Israel Grunwald, leader of a group of Pupa Chassidim in Brooklyn’s Borough Park section.

“The government has agreed to dismiss the misdemeanor charge [of abusive sexual contact with a minor] against Rabbi Grunwald, who is totally innocent of the allegations made against him,” Lewin declared in a written statement.

The U.S. government, at this point, is less certain. “The charges are still pending and trial is still set for Sept. 22,” said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

Lewin reaffirmed, in a phone interview, that he has a written agreement with the U.S. Attorney to drop all charges. Mrozek said that he could neither confirm nor deny this assertion.

Grunwald and his assistant, Yehudah Friedlander, both 44 at the time, were arrested on May 31, 1995, as they stepped off their plane at Los Angeles International Airport, following an overnight flight from Melbourne, Australia.

The arrests were based on allegations by a 15-year-old girl — who has residences in Australia and the United States — that during the darkened flight, Grunwald had fondled her breasts and Friedlander had touched her private parts.

Friedlander, facing a felony charge, subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a 22-month imprisonment. He is currently incarcerated at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center and is due for release in November.

Charges against Grunwald were dropped at the time but reinstated last October.

According to Lewin and a source familiar with the case, the father of the girl contacted a Jewish community leader in Australia last month and said that his daughter would retract her court testimony in return for a $1.2 million payment from the Chassidic communities in Australia and Brooklyn.

The demand was relayed to Australian lawyer Norman Rosenbaum, brother of yeshiva student Yankel Rosenbaum, who was killed in the 1991 Crown Heights riots, and the information ultimately reached Lewin.

Lewin notified federal authorities. On Aug. 24, two days before a previously scheduled trial date, a FBI undercover agent, posing as a friend of Rabbi Grunwald, turned over a “down payment” of $50,000 to the girl’s father in Burbank.

Kiara Andrich, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said that while the FBI was involved in the initial investigation of Grunwald and Friedlander, she could not comment on the alleged undercover operation.

Lewin said that he hoped that the U.S. Attorney’s office would “vigorously prosecute all parties involved in the attempted extortion of the Jewish communities in Melbourne and Brooklyn.”

The New York Post reported “real anger” in the Brooklyn Chassidic community over the government’s failure to arrest the father.

Grunwald leads a faction of some 100 Pupa Chassidim in Borough Park. He is the son of the late Josef Grunwald, the Hungarian-born founder and grand rabbi of the 12,000-member Pupa movement. On the founder’s death, the title devolved on his older son, Yakov Grunwald, who heads the main Pupa community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.