Alternative rituals for girls’ naming ceremonies


It’s a girl!

Now what?

While Jewish tradition is clear about the ceremony for welcoming a baby boy, there is no set ritual for welcoming a baby girl. In more traditional communities, the father of the baby takes an aliyah to the Torah on the first Torah-reading day after the birth. A prayer for well-being is recited for the mother and the child, and the baby girl receives her name. Often the rabbi or parents speak about the name.

In more progressive communities, this naming might occur on a Shabbat during the first few months of the baby’s life, and the mother, and other family members, might receive an aliyah, as well.

Beyond these basics of naming a daughter, many families also are developing new rituals that, much like a baby boy’s circumcision, symbolize a daughter’s entry into the Jewish covenant.

Rituals Involving Water

The most common of these new rituals involve water — either dipping the baby’s feet or other body parts into water, often a mikveh, or pouring water over her feet. Other families choose to fully immerse the baby girl (one should check with a pediatrician before doing so). These rituals are sometimes called Brit Mikveh (covenant of the ritual bath) or Brit Rehitzah (covenant of washing).

At a Women’s Rabbinical Alliance Conference in the early 1980s, nine progressive women rabbis developed the idea of a washing ritual for daughters, and they hoped families would adapt it to meet their own needs. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, said he likes to recommend a feet-washing ritual for reasons both spiritual and practical: The ritual evokes biblical imagery, it is performed on the baby girl’s body, and it can take place even if the baby is crying.

Water rituals are meaningful and symbolic in a number of ways.

Covenant: Rain water — and especially rainbows — recall God’s covenant with all of humanity, which followed the biblical story of Noah and the flood. In Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea is a powerful water scene that leads the Israelites to freedom and the start of a new, covenantal life. The Meiri, a 13th-century French commentator, spells out the water-as-covenant connection when he writes that the forefathers entered into the covenant with God through circumcision, and the foremothers entered this covenant through immersion in the mikveh.

Creation/New Beginnings: Water holds powerful symbolism as the source of life. It figures prominently in the creation story in Genesis, when it is separated first from the heavens and then from the land to initiate the creation of all living things, and is an appropriate medium for celebrating new life.

Feminine Connection: Biblical women have a special connection to water. Sarah brings water to the three guests who visit her and Abraham in the desert, Rebecca is found at a well while giving water to both people and animals, and Miriam is associated with wells. Rabbinic Judaism legislates monthly visits to the mikveh for married women, strengthening the women and water connection.

Immersion: Besides sitting in a sukkah, mikveh is the only mitzvah whose observance fully surrounds those observing it. For babies, immersion mimics the safe and protective environment of the womb from which they emerged.

Welcoming: In the Bible, Abraham washes the feet of the three guests who visit him in the desert as a welcoming gesture (Genesis 18:1-4). Parents can wash the feet of their newborn daughter to welcome her to the world and to the Jewish community.

Rituals That Parallel the Wedding Ceremony

Some parents circle their baby daughter seven times to symbolically bring her into the covenant. This mimics the traditional practice at a wedding ceremony, when the bride circles the groom seven times as they join together in covenant with God.

Anita Diamant, author of “The New Jewish Baby Book” and a pioneer in innovative Jewish ritual, explains that elements of the Jewish wedding ceremony can be resonant at a welcoming ritual for a daughter, since both life events are about creating a covenant, and both mark a new beginning for a family. She outlines a number of ways to incorporate wedding liturgy and imagery into welcoming ceremonies for daughters. (More ideas can be found at ritualwell.org and itim.org.)

For example, families may recite seven blessings to welcome their daughter, parallel to the seven blessings (Sheva Brachot) which sanctify a Jewish wedding. These birth ritual blessings often include the blessing over wine and the Shehecheyanu blessing (which marks any new occasion), and sometimes more innovative blessings created by the family for the moment.

Some parents modify the wedding blessing over “the One who causes bride and groom to rejoice together,” changing the language to bless “the One who causes parents and children to rejoice together.” Since six of the seven blessings in the Jewish wedding ceremony focus on creation, they are relevant when welcoming a child — a time that the power and importance of creation are particularly apparent.

Also, in keeping with the wedding theme, some parents hold their daughter’s welcoming ceremony under the chuppah (marriage canopy) that they used at their own wedding.

Other Rituals

Parents have developed many other rituals that speak to their own personal connection with Judaism. This includes wrapping the baby in a family tallit or touching a klaf (sacred scroll, often a mezuzah scroll) to the baby’s lips. Some families use the various senses to welcome their daughters — touching wine to the baby’s lips and having her smell spices or herbs.

Other families anoint their daughter with gentle oil, which evokes the biblical practice of anointing kings and priests. Anointing a baby can represent a blessing for plenty, in keeping with the verse from Ecclesiastes, “Let your clothes always be freshly washed and your head never lacking ointment,” and the famous Psalm 23, “You anoint my head with oil, my drink is abundant.” Anointing is also associated with love in Song of Songs, “Your ointments yield a sweet fragrance, your name is like finest oil, therefore do maidens love you.”

All of these rituals can include the baby’s older siblings, extended family members and friends, who can help wrap the baby in a tallit, help wash the baby, circle the baby or recite a blessing, poem or reading.

This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing website for smart, savvy moms looking for a Jewish twist on parenting. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for daily digests here.

Hollywood millennials for Hillary Clinton


It was a marvelous sight: Beneath a giant screen bearing a big “H” sat Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of a former president and a presidential hopeful; America Ferrera, a first-generation Latino-American actress; and Lena Dunham, the young, half-Jewish writer and creator of the HBO series “Girls.” They had gathered onstage at the Hollywood venue NeueHouse on the night of March 20 to proclaim their support for Hillary Clinton. (Full disclosure: I was invited because I’ve donated to Clinton’s campaign.) 

During one of the nastiest election cycles in recent memory, in which xenophobic pandering has reached a new low, the evening offered an astonishing image of American politics in the 21st century: three powerful, accomplished (and quite young) women campaigning for their dream of crowning the nation’s first female commander in chief. 

But the dream quickly gave way to a bitter reality. 

“There’s this narrative about young women not being inspired by Hillary,” Ferrera, best known as the star of sitcom “Ugly Betty,” said. “And that’s just not the case.”

“When I first made it clear [on social media] that I was obviously voting for and campaigning for Hillary Clinton is when the vitriol started,” Dunham began. “And I want to say that I have received more hostility [from fellow Democrats] for voting for a qualified female candidate than I have ever received from anyone in the American right wing.” 

The hip venue and casual, laid-back atmosphere belied the gravity of the evening’s message: that Clinton is targeted by a culture “so deep into the psychology of villainizing successful women,” as Dunham put it, her qualifications are often either dismissed or delegitimized — along with the credibility of her supporters.

As if to underscore the young-and-hip factor, Dunham wore a jean jacket with sewn-on patches and knee-high socks, while Ferrera looked more polished in a white blazer. The duo of actress-activists sought to prove that some young women are, in fact, electrified by Clinton and offered a litany of reasons for why they support her. Between them, a pregnant Chelsea Clinton, dressed in a simple black pantsuit, sat quietly while the stars delivered theater-worthy monologues to drum up more support. 

Both women cited specific Clinton policy positions to illustrate how she aligns with their values. Ferrera talked about growing up as the daughter of an immigrant, single mother who raised six children on her own with very few resources, revealing that she depended on free meals at school. “I’m an American Latina who has experienced firsthand so many of the inequities that children and families from communities of color face in this country — the kinds of inequities Hillary has spent her entire career trying to change and understand,” Ferrera said in support of immigration reform.

Dunham had her list, too, but used her soapbox to speak more personally about the sexism she’s encountered for publicly supporting Clinton. “I’m kind of done with being polite about this,” she said. “The fact that other members of the Democratic Party have spoken to me like I was an ill-informed child for voting for someone who represents everything that I think this country should be, is outrageous. 

“I’m sorry,” she continued, “but to be told by people who supposedly share your values and your goals that the choices you’re making come from a limited understanding of feminism and a limited understanding of your own needs is wrong.”

Dunham said she reached her “tipping point” last week when she received an anonymous comment on social media from someone alleging that Bernie Sanders “has done more for feminism than Hillary Clinton.” 

“I. Lost. My. Freaking. Mind,” Dunham said to laughter and applause. A group of Sanders supporters known as the “BernieBros” have earned a reputation in the media as a “sexist mob” for posting misogynistic messages so offensive that even the Sanders campaign has tried to subdue them. 

“The idea that you’re going to tell me that the woman who stepped into the White House when I was 6 years old and made me think it was possible to live the life I wanted, and say the things I believed in, has somehow not done enough for women in her career, is so offensive to the core of my being that I should probably stop talking right now because I’m going to turn into a shaking, ogre monster,” Dunham said.

Lest anyone accuse these women of voting for Clinton for any reason other than her values and her record, Dunham and Ferrera spoke plainly about the role feminism plays in their choice. 

“I think it’s pretty awesome that Hillary Clinton is a woman,” Ferrera said. “However, if you could show me a purple-faced, three-eyed, sexless Martian with a better record on defending women’s rights and fighting for the most vulnerable children and families,  and working across party lines to actually get things done, then I would be out there campaigning for that Martian.” 

“When I’m told I am voting for [Clinton] only because she’s female and I’m female, I’m like, ‘If that was case, I’d be out campaigning for Carly Fiorina,’ ” Dunham said to laughter. “I’m sitting here before you as a voter who is fully informed. It doesn’t mean we’re using our whatever … vaginas … to vote for president. Which is the most insane concept.”

Their message inspired the crowd, a mix millenials and Gen Xers, but also underscored Clinton’s weakness among young voters who feel galvanized by Sanders’ message of economic equality. Again and again, the actresses used terms such as “hard won,” “unglamorous,” “unsexy” and “slow going” to describe Clinton’s work, while Sanders calls for revolution. In a thinly veiled reference to her mother’s Democratic opponent, Chelsea Clinton insisted that this is not a “single-issue” country and Americans can’t afford to have a single-issue president.

Due to give birth to her second child this summer, Chelsea Clinton said becoming a mother has deepened her appreciation for politics. For her, there is a simple litmus test for candidates that has nothing to do with gender, race, strength or even experience: “Am I being well represented?” she asked. “Are my values being represented?”

There are troubling realities to confront with every candidate. Being a woman shouldn’t be one of them.

Lena Dunham show ‘Girls’ to end after 6th season


Lena Dunham’s successful HBO series “Girls” will end after its sixth season.

On Wednesday, HBO confirmed the rumor first reported on Entertainment Weekly.

The upcoming fifth season will premiere Feb. 21. The show has been renewed for a sixth season, but its premiere date — likely to fall in early 2017 — has yet to be announced.

“I conceived of ‘Girls’ when I was 23 and now I’m nearly 30 — the show has quite perfectly spanned my 20s, the period of time that it’s about — and so it feels like the right time to wrap our story up,” Dunham said in a statement.

Dunham’s dramatic comedy, which centers on a group of 20-somethings navigating young-adult life in New York, has won multiple Emmy and Directors Guild of America awards since its debut in 2012. The show’s star and co-writer grew up in New York.

“I can’t imagine a more fulfilling creative experience than ‘Girls,’” Dunham said in the statement. “The freedom and support that HBO has given [co-writer] Jenni [Konner], [producer] Judd [Apatow], and me is something rare and beautiful. The commitment and originality of our actors has been stunning, and our crew is truly my family.”

Dunham is the daughter of painter Carroll Dunham and Jewish photographer Laurie Simmons.

Actress Shiri Appleby chats about Jewish influences and life on the small screen


It may sound surprising coming from someone who’s been acting on TV since she was a child, but Shiri Appleby (“Roswell,” “Life Unexpected”) insists she doesn’t watch much television. Nevertheless, Appleby found the lead role in Lifetime’s new series “UnREAL” — a scathingly satirical behind-the-scenes look at the making of a reality dating show — too good to pass up.

The series, which premiered June 1 to critical acclaim, casts the actress as the beleaguered, conflicted assistant to the producer (Constance Zimmer) of a dating show called “Everlasting” (modeled after “The Bachelor”).  It’s a job that requires her to lie to and manipulate the contestants for dramatic effect, which wears on her conscience.

“She’s very good at it, but she’s constantly struggling with the fact that what she’s doing is killing her on the inside,” Appleby said. “She’s one of these people that hasn’t found her place in the world. She’s not close with her family. She doesn’t have any real relationships. She lives in the back of the grip truck. This world is her family. It’s incredibly dysfunctional, and it makes her hate herself so much. But she’s found her community in this world and does what she can to take care of herself. She really thinks she’s doing the right thing.”

Appleby said she was drawn to the concept, which felt “really fresh” to her, and the idea that the characters are all “at odds with themselves and trying to figure out what they believe in and what their morals are.” She also loves that she only needs to spend 20 minutes in the hair and makeup trailer to play the unglamorous Rachel Goldberg. 

Appleby said that Judaism isn’t a focus of the show, but that Rachel is “definitely a Jewish girl.” 

“You see the relationship with my mother [Olive, played by Mimi Kuzyk], and in the second episode, I say, ‘Sheket b’vakasha,’ ” (Hebrew for “Be quiet”).

Appleby grew up in a kosher home in Calabasas, where her Israeli-born mother, Dina, teaches Hebrew school and her semi-retired father, Jerry, is a former president of their synagogue’s men’s club at Temple Aliyah. “They’re both really involved,” she said. 

She attended Hebrew school, became a bat mitzvah, and celebrated the Jewish holidays with her parents and younger brother, Evan, observing both her father’s Ashkenazic traditions and her mother’s Sephardic ones. “My parents spoke to us in both Hebrew and English,” she said.

Appleby said her Jewish heritage “gave me a strong identity growing up. I always really knew who I was and where I came from. … I knew what my morals were, [what] my values were and what was expected of me.”

Although she doesn’t keep kosher now, Appleby does celebrate Jewish holidays with her husband, Jon Shook, a chef, and their 2-year-old daughter, Natalie. “He comes from a nice Jewish family as well. That was important to me. There are so many challenges, it’s a lot easier when you’re of the same faith,” she said. 

It’s also important to her to pass down Jewish traditions to Natalie. “We’re doing Shabbat more and more now. Now that I have a child, I feel that it’s important to light the candles, have a family dinner. And getting her together with her cousins for Chanukah, that family experience, was amazing,” Appleby said, noting that she does the cooking for the family and Shook mans the kitchen when they entertain.

“Passing on the wisdom and the experiences that my mother gave me and being able to replicate that in my own way, and also share that with my mother, is lovely. I appreciate the way I was raised much more now that I’m a parent.”

Appleby is enjoying her life as a working mother, but she hesitates to bring her daughter to the set, even though she herself grew up on them. “Having been a child actor, I don’t think [the] set is a place for children,” she said. 

She started out acting in commercials at the age of 4, segueing to guest spots in shows such as “thirtysomething” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” before landing her breakout role as Liz Parker in the teen alien drama “Roswell” in 1999. 

“I never really chose what I was going to do as a profession, which was a struggle I faced in my life,” Appleby admitted, adding that she began to enjoy it as she took classes and worked more. “Obviously, I’ve chosen it at this point. I was really good at it, and I was able to purchase my own home, not be dependent on anybody else. Being an actor is great, but it’s a challenge, and like anything that has great reward, it takes a lot of work.”

Her more recent credits include guest spots on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Elementary” and recurring roles on “Chicago Fire” and “Girls,” which she said has reinvigorated her career. 

But Appleby said she’s proudest of her work on “Life Unexpected,” a 2010 series on The CW, and of her experiences working with John Wells on “ER” and the late Mike Nichols on “Charlie Wilson’s War.” In the future, she said, she would love to do a period piece and to be directed by Steven Spielberg, Cameron Crowe and Richard Linklater. “I really respond to great directors,” she said. “It’s like when you’re playing tennis with a great tennis player. It makes you better.”

As for “UnREAL,” she had been optimistic about it getting picked up for a second season before it even premiered. “Since I did ‘Girls,’ I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to do things that are riskier, and this show is that,” Appleby said. “It’s an exciting time for me, and it’s great to be putting something out there that I’m proud of.”

The show was renewed for a 10-episode second season early last month. 

Lena Dunham to launch newsletter named after ‘old Jewish man’


Lena Dunham, creator of the hit HBO show “Girls,” is starting a lifestyle newsletter and naming itLenny — “the name of an old Jewish man,” according to her business partner.

Lenny is “the name that people call us by accident all the time on the walkie-talkie” on the set of “Girls,” the partner, Jenni Konner, told CNNMoney. “It’s also the name of an old Jewish man, and we love old Jewish men.”

Konner is a producer and showrunner on “Girls,” as well as Dunham’s close friend. The women — both Jewish — will launch Lenny together in September, and they invited people to sign up for it starting Tuesday. The subject matter will range widely and include feminism, politics, fashion and current events, they said.

Maybe it’s best that Lenny steer clear of the Jewish beat. Dunham’s New Yorker piece from March “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz” was widely condemned as anti-Semitic, or at least insensitive. Outgoing ADL head, Abe Foxman, said at the time that the piece “evokes memories of the ‘No Jews or Dogs Allowed’ signs from our own early history in this country.”

Dunham, who writes and stars in “Girls,” described the newsletter’s target subscribers as millennial women, or men: “An army of like-minded intellectually curious women and the people who love them, who want to bring change but also want to know, like, where to buy the best tube top for summer that isn’t going to cost your entire paycheck,” she told Buzzfeed.

Writer Jessica Grose, formerly an editor at Jezebel and Slate, will be the newsletter’s editor-in-chief, and producer Benjamin Cooley will be the CEO, Dunham and Konner said.

Dunham hinted that, Goop, the mega-newsletter of fellow-Jew Gwyneth Paltrow’s, was an inspiration. “Jenni and I have always been obsessed with Goop,” she told Buzzfeed. “We feel strongly that even if some of it is aspirational, it’s aspirations like ‘I want to know how to take care of my body and soufflé something.’”

Beastie Boys settle lawsuit with GoldieBlox over song parody


Yet another reason to love the Beastie Boys: Those guys know how to settle a lawsuit.

The band settled for an undisclosed amount with GoldieBlox over the toy company’s video ad that featured a parody of their hit song “Girls.” ”That settlement includes (a) the issuance of an apology by GoldieBlox, which will be posted on GoldieBlox’s website, and (b) a payment by GoldieBlox, based on a percentage of its revenues, to one or more charities selected by Beastie Boys that support science, technology, engineering and mathematics education for girls,” a spokesperson for the company told Rolling Stone.

Back in November, GoldieBlox’s video of little girls building a Rube Goldberg-like contraption to a version of “Girls” with more female-friendly lyrics went viral. The Beastie Boys expressed that they viewed this  as copyright infringement. So GoldieBlox filed a lawsuit claiming the whole thing was entirely kosher because the ad was a parody and therefore protected under fair use.

The Beastie Boys said that while they loved the idea of empowering young girls, they also loved the idea of honoring the wishes of their deceased bandmate Adam Yauch, who indicated in his will that nothing he’d created could ever be used to sell products.

The band pulled the song from the video and posted an apology letter to their website. Then, in December the Beastie Boys filed a counter-suit, accusing the company of stealing music.

So yes, things got ugly, but we think this is a pretty great ending. Perhaps they might want to brainstorm with Natalie Portman for names of worthy charities? Just a thought.

‘Girls’ star Jemima Kirke sometimes does Shabbat with ‘super-Jew’ husband


Jemima Kirke is just like us — if only we were cooler and more bohemian, occupied an entire Brooklyn brownstone and tattooed our Shabbat guests.

In the March 10 issue of New York Magazine, the “Girls” star gives us a peek into her life, which includes making art, being a mom, getting groped by her cute, “high-end” rehab-building husband Michael Mosberg, and — yes — challah.

“We do Shabbat sometimes. Mike went to Yeshiva law school. He’s super-Jew and super-corporate. That’s why I was so attracted to him when I met him: the contradiction,” says the actress, whose mother is of Israeli and Iraqi descent.

The next shot features Mosberg in a yarmulke, and in the one after that Kirke is administering that after-dinner tattoo, which is obviously the hipster version of Birkat Hamazon.

Lena Dunham to write for Archie Comics


Riverdale, get ready for a hipster invasion!

“Girls” creator Lena Dunham is going to write a four-part story for Archie Comics. According to a press release, the story, to be published in 2015, will be about what happens when the eponymous redhead and his gang encounter a reality show filming in their town.

“I was an avid Archie collector as a child- conventions, first editions that l kept in plastic sleeves, the whole shebang. It has so much cultural significance but also so much personal significance, and to get to play with these beloved characters is a wild creative opportunity,” Dunham said.

Obviously we aren’t expecting any nudity or cocaine binges. This is PG-rated “Archie,” not “Girls,” right? Well, that’s what we thought until we saw the promotional poster. Look familiar?

Here’s the promotional Archie Comics image for Dunham’s comics debut:


Lena Dunham’s comic debut at Archie Comics, promo image (Courtesy Archie Comics)

And this is the promo for the third season of “Girls” on HBO.


‘Girls’ Season 3 promo poster (Courtesy HBO)

Will Dunham’s raucous behavior change Riverdale forever? We can’t wait to snuggle up in our beds with a flashlight and find out.

Comedy Central renews ‘Broad City’


“Broad City,” a series created by and starring Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, has been renewed by Comedy Central for a second season. Executive producer Amy Poehler announced the news on Seth Meyers’ “Late Night” premiere Monday night.

The show chronicles the lives of two young, single, cash-challenged gals trying to make it (or survive, more accurately) in New York City. Think “Girls,” with more laughs and less self-analysis and belly shirts.

The idea for the show came from a sketch Jacobson and Glazer, two Jewish girls from the suburbs (Wayne, Pennsylvania and Long Island, respectively), came up with for New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade. The idea morphed into a popular web series which ultimately got noticed by Poehler.

So where does “Broad City” fall on the Jew-o-meter? We’ll let the experts weigh in.

“The show is super Jewish, but in that new tacit, casual way that’s more Andy Samberg and less Adam Sandler,” says Stephanie Butnick from Tablet. It’s not New Girl’s Schmidt dropping lines about his bar mitzvah and seeking his rabbi out as a therapist when the show’s plot stalls. They’re just Jewish (on the show and in real life, duh), and it plays into their act as much as any other of their characteristics (young women, broke, middling bucket drummers) do.”

Season one features guest stars like Rachel Dratch, Amy Sedaris, Janeane Garofalo, plus Fred Armisen as a guy who answers the girls’ Craigslist ad, reading  “We’re just 2 Jewesses tryin’ to make a buck.” In order to raise funds for weed and Lil Wayne concert tickets, they accept his offer to clean his apartment in their underwear. That should give you a taste of what you’re in for, so if it’s your thing, join the 1 million viewers who, per The Hollywood Reporter, have enjoyed “Broad City” since its Jan. 22 premiere.

Or, at  the very least, test the waters with a clip, like this one. It’s called “Garbage Bagels.” Yum.

Lena Dunham on photos of boyfriend with ScarJo: ‘My mind is going to explode’


Lena Dunham was trolling the Internet when she stumbled upon a shot of her boyfriend with his ex-girlfriend. Relatable, right? Well, yeah, except for that her boyfriend, rock guitarist Jack Antonoff, used to date Scarlett Johansson.

It seems Dunham was perusing a little obsession of hers, a Tumblr blog called “Old Loves,” when she came across a photo of her beau (a Solomon Schechter alumnus) with the Sexiest Woman Alive and SodaStream spokesperson.

“The craziest thing that ever happen to me, was like, Old Loves is my passion, I check it, like, once a week. It’s how I kick back on a Friday night is to see what Old Loves has done,” “Girls” creator told Grantland Channel, according to The Daily Mail.  “I saw my boyfriend and his girlfriend from high school. Scarlett Johansson.”

The two, it turns out, were together for a year when they were both 17 and attending the Professional Children’s School in New York City.

“She’s beautiful, he’s beautiful, but it was just so surreal to be looking through this blog that gives me so much pleasure and then there’s my boyfriend,” Dunham said. “And I was like, “My mind is going to explode.”

Good thing she’s not the jealous type, but even if she were, Dunham has nothing to worry about. Johansson is engaged to French journalist Romain Dauriac.

Rosanna Arquette gets married


Mazel tov to Rosanna Arquette and her brand-new husband, investment banker Todd Morgan.

The two were married Sunday in a private family ceremony in Malibu, a rep for the Jewish actress told Us Weekly. According to another source guests included Barbra Streisand.

Arquette is best known for her roles in “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “Pulp Fiction,” but you may have seen her more recently on this last season of “Girls” as Jessa’s dad’s hippy girlfriend.

This is her fourth marriage.

Watch: ‘Girls’ season 3 teaser


Newsflash: Season three of “Girls” is in production! For those fans who are already chomping at the bit, HBO has put together this 31-second photo slideshow of (Jewish) creator Lena Dunham and the rest of the (heavily Jewish) cast at work.

Don’t get too excited–it’s called a “teaser” for a reason.

The 2013 (Jewish) Emmy nominees


The 2013 Emmy nominations are in!  We won’t bore you with the whole long list, but we will share this compact yet impressive group of Jewish nominees. Here goes.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA

Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

Lena Dunham, “Girls”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

Mayim Bialik, “The Big Bang Theory”

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE

Michael Douglas, “Behind The Candelabra”

Tune into CBS on September 22 at 8 p.m. to see who goes home with a shiny statue. (And to see who’s wearing what, of course.)

Lena Dunham posts wedding plans on Instagram


You probably think Lena Dunham is nothing like the lovely cast members of “Princesses: Long Island.” You are most definitely wrong.

Not only is the “Girls” creator a Jewish woman dating a Jewish guy (Fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff), but like the reality starlets, she too harbors elaborate wedding fantasies. On Saturday Dunham posted to Instagram this sketch of her dream “Pretty In Pink” style wedding dress, accompanied by a list of the music (Sade) and food (Tofurkey) to be featured at her nuptials.

“An upsetting document from 2002, back when I was fienden’ to get hitched,” Dunham’s caption reads.

Okay, so she did draw this up when she was 16. Since the princesses are all mentally 16, though, we felt it was okay to draw the comparison.

Lena Dunham's sketch. (Instagram)  

Purim’s other woman: Vashti, the queen who kept her clothes on


When it comes to the story of Purim, Queen Esther has received lots of attention. All the little girls want to play her in the Purim spiel. She’s brave, beautiful, loving and heroic: the quintessential female biblical role model.

But what about the other brave, role model Queen of Persia? What about Vashti?

Vashti is a proto-feminist who has been unfairly maligned by “mainstream media” and Jews everywhere.

Myself included. When I was 9, I wrote a song about Vashti, set to the tune of “Bicycle Built for Two.” The lyrics were:

Vashti, Vashti, give me your answer, do,
I’m half crazy, and it’s all because of you.
I told you to entertain us,
But you said, “Kiss my tuchis.”
Now get in here, or else you should fear
For the life span that’s left to you.

Growing up in the 1990s, I have been a passionate, self-avowed feminist from an almost comically young age, and even at 9 considered myself quite adept at detecting gender bias and sexism. I was well-versed in the ongoing fight for gender equality and the subtle side-effects of gender discrimination. So sensitive was my internal radar for sexism and gendered political issues that I sometimes picked up on nonexistent clues (for example, I was convinced that Shaggy’s 2000 pop song “It Wasn’t Me” was a sorry excuse for a rape allegation defense). I was also big on supporting the underdog. Around the time that I wrote my Purim song, I did my first school research project. Topic suggestions included things like “Abraham Lincoln” and “dinosaurs.” I opted to research four under-represented female suffragettes, women whose contributions I felt had been under-emphasized in our history textbooks.

“Vashti Deposed,”1890, oil on canvas, by Ernest Normand.

And yet I never stopped to consider Vashti’s side of the story. It didn’t occur to me that Vashti had been a feminist worthy of admiration. Although I thought that King Ahasuerus was unprincipled and boorish and that Vashti’s punishment — deposal and quite likely death — was unfair and unwarranted, I don’t remember ever feeling all that bad for her. It was my understanding that Vashti had been arrogant, vain, even wicked, and really, she probably shouldn’t have made such a fuss about something as minor as a request to attend a party. Didn’t she know about the importance of picking your battles?

I had no idea that Ahasuerus had been drunk for 180 days and that his summons included the demand that Vashti parade around naked in front of his drunken, male guests.

Until recently, my understanding of Vashti was fairly closely aligned with the depiction in Debbie Friedman’s “A Purim Musical.” In “Vashti’s Song,” Vashti explains, “I never like to go to parties when I’m the only woman there. When I said no to Ahasuerus, I really didn’t know he’d care. … He wanted to show them my lovely face. I didn’t feel like dressing up in satin frills and lace. Perhaps it was a pretty silly thing for me to do — no woman wants to be a single act!”

But, as it turns out, Vashti did know that Ahasuerus would care, and the summons had nothing to do with frills, lace or Vashti’s face.

Although I can chant a great V’ahavta, I can’t even speak Hebrew like a fifth-grader. My Purim education came from stories adapted for English-speaking Hebrew schoolchildren, songs and skits. I knew they took some artistic license with the Purim story, but I assumed that the essential elements of the narrative and characters I knew were drawn from the megillah.

When I actually read the Book of Esther, I was surprised to discover that Vashti, as the Book of Esther presents her, was a far cry from the Vashti I knew.

In the Book of Esther, Vashti is a brave woman who risked her life for her beliefs. She was a woman who did pick her battles — and this was not a small matter of a single party. By refusing the king’s summons, Vashti was taking a stand for women’s rights. King Ahasuerus and his advisers — especially Haman — understood this and that was why they advised the king to depose Vashti immediately. If he did not, it would send a message to all of Persia’s men and women that it is acceptable for a woman to disobey her husband’s orders. Male sovereignty would be jeopardized. And so Vashti was deposed (and likely killed), and King Ahasuerus commenced a search for a new wife. And the rest, as they say, was history. Or legend.

The unflattering descriptions of Vashti’s character originate not in the actual Book of Esther but from later commentary. Talmudic scholars came up with a host of theories and explanations about Vashti and her fate, theories that ranged from unfounded to absurd:

Rashi theorizes that Vashti said no because she was suffering from a sudden-onset case of leprosy. M’nos Halevi agrees, claiming that “leprosy was punishment for her conceited manner.” Other scholars suggest that Vashti was suffering from a different affliction: the sudden growth of a tail.

Both the leprosy and the tail theories are grounded in the inventive idea that Vashti refused the summons not out of principle and dignity, but rather because she was ashamed of her body and her appearance and didn’t want to reveal a deformation. The megillah offers no evidence to support this; on the contrary, in it, Vashti is described as beautiful.

Why were rabbinic scholars so eager to prove that Vashti was wicked, conceited, deserving of her fate?

Perhaps because it simplifies the story of Purim and its attendant moral concerns. For Esther to rise, Vashti must first fall, and if Vashti’s fall was deserved and justified, the story is a lot cleaner. We don’t get distracted by empathy for the first queen, and we can move easily forward with the narrative and onto its central concern: the Jews. Furthermore, talmudic scholars were themselves a part of and complicit with a male-dominated social order, so they were unlikely to approve of Vashti’s attempt to challenge the patriarchal status quo.

Negative portraits of Vashti persist to this day, but there is a gradually expanding movement to repair and redeem Vashti’s public image.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harriet Beecher Stowe were among Vashti’s earliest defenders. Stowe described Vashti’s refusal of the king’s summons as “the first stand for women’s rights,” and Stanton wrote that Vashti “added new glory to [her] day and generation … by her disobedience.”

But if Vashti is a feminist role model, does that mean Esther, who — dare I put it this way? — slept her way to the top and was obedient and subservient to the king, is not? Especially since Esther’s strategy for saving the Jewish people involved not just praying and fasting but also getting the king drunk and deliberately arousing his jealousy.

The short — and feminist — answer is that Esther didn’t have a choice. Today, thanks to centuries of women (and men) who have fought for women’s rights, women occupy positions of power across all different fields. Today, sleeping your way to the top is far more likely to land you in the middle (at best) than working your way there.

The town of Shushan is big enough for two female heroes. And it’s high time that Vashti receives the appreciation and respect that she deserves, as a woman who said no. It’s time to celebrate Vashti for having the courage to stand up to a drunken and demanding king, just as we celebrate Esther for persuading that same drunken king to free the Jews.

And who are the modern-day Vashtis?

Lena Dunham might be one of them.

Dunham is the 26-year-old creator and star of the HBO hit “Girls.” Her character, Hannah Horvath, spends a lot of time naked on screen; in fact, in this season’s Episode 5, I’m pretty sure Hannah spends more time out of clothes than in them. So the comparison with Vashti, who was deposed for refusing to appear nude, might seem counterintuitive.

But Vashti wasn’t a prude. She owned her sexuality. So, too, does Dunham, and her nudity on “Girls” is on her own terms; she’s not inhibited by the fact that she doesn’t have the typical body of a nude female lead. Hannah — and Dunham — are provocative, bold and uncompromising. So was Vashti. And so, I suspect, are many of the young women who are fans of the show. You go, “Girls.”

Next step? “Vashti: The Movie.”

Dunham doubles up at Globes, Israeli docs’ double Oscar nomination, Sandler’s countless Razzies


The 70th annual Golden Globe Awards kicked off the Hollywood awards season on Sunday, and it was in television that the Jewish people stood tall — notably Lena Dunham, the new queen and unchallenged ruler of television comedy.

Dunham, the creator of “Girls,” brought home two awards — for best actress as Hannah Horvath and for the HBO show itself, which won best comedy.

The Golden Globes are widely seen as a bellwhether for the Academy Awards (doubtful, since “Argo” beat Spielberg's Oscar favorite, “Lincoln”).

In her acceptance speech, a shaken Dunham said, ”This award is for every woman who felt like there wasn’t a space for her. This show has made a space for me.”

In addition, Dunham thanked a man named Chad Lowe. The reason for the random nod? During the 2000 Academy Awards, Lowe's then-wife, Hillary Swank, forgot to thank him as she accepted the best actress award for “Boys Don't Cry.” Dunham, the sweetheart that she is, promised Lowe she would mention him if she ever won an award — and so she did.

Another TV topper was “Homeland,” the Showtime CIA thriller based on the Israeli show “Prisoners of War.” The show won best drama, in addition to best actor for Damian Lewis and best actress for Claire Danes.

Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrays Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln,” won best actor in a drama.

Oscar nods for Spielberg and Israeli documentaries

A few days prior to the Golden Globes, the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards were announced, and Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” led the way with 12, including for best film and best director. Spielberg is still expected to take both awards despite falling short in the Golden Globes to Ben Affleck of “Argo.”

On the Israeli side, the lack of presence in the Best Foreign Film category was compensated by a heavy presence in the Best Documentary field, with two nominees: “5 Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers.” The former tells the story of a Palestinian farmer who tries to document Israeli settlers building homes and a barrier wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in.

“The Gatekeepers” is a series of interviews with former heads of Israel's counterterrorism agency, the Shin Bet, who describe their role carrying out operations against Palestinians.

“Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane will host the 85th Academy Awards on Feb. 24.

More Razzies expected for Sandler

In addition to celebrating Hollywood's best, the worst of showbiz is also recognized this season with the annual Razzies. As in past years, Adam Sandler is set to clean up, leading the way in nominations for his 2012 film ”That’s My Boy.”

Sandler’s film is nominated for worst picture, worst screen ensemble, worst director and worst screenplay. Sandler, 46, is nominated for worst actor and worst screen couple with Leighton Meester.

Sandler also dominated the Razzies last year for his horrendously unfunny comedy “Jack and Jill.”

This year, the tribe gets another Razzies shot with Barbra Streisand, who was nominated for worst actress for “Guilt Trip.”

Day-Lewis needed coaxing to play Abe

More about Spielberg's “Lincoln.” Ten years ago, when Spielberg was starting to work on his film about the 16th American president, he asked the Jewish actor Daniel Day-Lewis to star as the protagonist. Day-Lewis said no.

On Monday, Spielberg shared the rejection letter for the first time with the crowd at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards.

“It was a real pleasure just to sit and talk with you,” the letter reads. “I listened very carefully to what you had to say about this compelling history, and I’ve since read the script and found it in all the detail in which it describes these monumental events and in the compassionate portraits of all the principal characters, both powerful and moving. I can’t account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore life as opposed to another, but I do know that I can only do this work if I feel almost as if there is no choice.”

Day-Lewis also writes, “I’m glad you’re making the film, I wish you the strength for it, and I send both my very best wishes and my sincere gratitude to you for having considered me.”

But Spielberg being Spielberg wouldn't take no for an answer. He sent Day-Lewis a second and third version of the script, both of which he declined as well. Spielberg then turned to Tony Kushner, the screenwriter with whom he collaborated for “Munich,” and Day-Lewis finally complied.

With a Golden Globe and possible Oscar, Day-Lewis likely has no regrets.

And then there's Maude

For those who have ever doubted the legitimacy of the acting of Maude Apatow, the daughter of celebrated filmmaker Judd Apatow, here’s reason to confirm you're a fan. In a deleted scene from Apatow’s recent film “This is 40,” Maude demonstrates that she is able to perfectly impersonate all three of the Kardashian sisters, even at the age of 15. First she mocks Khloe, whom she calls the smartest (“Well, out of all of them”) and then nasally mimics her ”Lamaaaaar.”

Maude then moves onto Kourtney, the sister she calls the most responsible, and puts on a typical Valley girl drawl to talk about Scott Disick, who is “so out of control.” Finally, she deadpeans into Kim in a higher pitched voice and whines about not having butt implants.

When Seth met Mindy

If anyone fits the role of a summer love at Jewish camp, it's Seth Rogan. The “Knocked Up” actor is set to guest star as Mindy Kaling’s childhood sweetheart from Jewish camp in Fox’s “The Mindy Project,” the network announced. In an episode titled “The One That Got Away” that is set to air Feb. 19, Mindy will reunite with Rogan’s character, Sam, who was the first boy she ever kissed, and the two will rekindle their romance after reminiscing about all those good times at Jewish camp.

Samberg is back

Like him or not, Andy Samberg is back. The Jewish comedian who left “Saturday Night Live” last year is planning to return to television soon. According to Entertainment Weekly, Fox ordered an untitled pilot about “a diverse group of detectives at a New York precinct.” The project will be executive produced by Dan Goor and Mike Schur of “Parks and Recreation.” This will be Samberg’s second television project since his departure from SNL. Last summer, Samberg starred in the successful British comedy “Cuckoo” as a hippie American who marries a British woman.

For more Jewish entertainment news, visit 6nobacon.com, the illegitimate child of JTA.

In Antwerp, a Charedi pariah forces school to go coed


With a soft smile and two young boys in tow, a mild-mannered Moshe Aryeh Friedman appeared undeserving of his reputation as the scourge of the local Charedi Orthodox community as he walked his sons to school on Monday.

Until, that is, he led them straight into Benoth Jerusalem, a girls-only public school that was forced by a judge to admit Friedman's boys on the grounds that Belgian schools cannot discriminate on the basis of gender.

In the Charedi community, gender segregation is the norm, and Friedman's push for admission is considered so sensitive that Belgian police assigned an escort, lest the Friedman boys be attacked upon their arrival.

“This is a fascinating development in our society,” Friedman told the 15 or so Belgian journalists who had turned out to see his sons — Jacob, 11, and Josef, 7 — attend their new school. “Finally boys and girls can study together, ending centuries of discrimination.”

Friedman, a 40-year-old Brooklyn native, is an unlikely champion of gender equality in Jewish schools. The Charedi rabbi became a pariah after attending a 2006 conference in Iran questioning the Holocaust and for his friendship with the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A fierce anti-Zionist, Friedman has befriended the leaders of Hamas and has cast doubt on whether 6 million Jews actually died in the Holocaust.

As a result, Friedman was excommunicated by Jewish communities in Antwerp and Vienna, where he had lived for several years, and his children were denied entry to communal institutions. In 2007, Friedman sued the Viennese Jewish community after three of his daughters were expelled from Talmud Torah, a private school. Friedman said it was because of his trip to Tehran; the school cited unpaid fees.

In 2011, Friedman returned to Antwerp with his wife, Lea Rosenzweig, a Belgian national. When no Charedi schools would admit their sons, Friedman tried to enroll them in schools for girls. That failed, too, so he sued.

“We had very few public schools to choose from,” Friedman told JTA. “The element of collective punishment against my children is well known.”

Friedman says the Jewish community is taking “revenge” on him because of his opinions.

Aron Berger, the father of one of Benoth Jerusalem’s 200 female pupils, acknowledged that Friedman was left with little choice. But he added, “We need to ask why this community and the one in Vienna left him no choice. There’s trouble wherever Friedman goes.”

In a separate and pending case, Friedman has sued a Zionist all-boys yeshiva in Antwerp for denying admission to his daughters.

By involving the Belgian courts, Friedman has violated the Orthodox norm of resolving conflicts internally — a move that is unlikely to improve his standing in the community. Perhaps even more important, he has compromised the Charedi community’s pedagogical autonomy and separation of the sexes — two hyper-sensitive points for a devout group striving to insulate itself from Belgium’s secular and often unsympathetic society.

“It’s a sad day for the community, which has lost a battle which is important to it and its tradition,” said Michael Freilich, who as editor in chief of the Joods Actueel Jewish monthly has been writing about Friedman for years.

At an improvised news conference outside the school, Friedman declined to comment on the Holocaust, his private life, his past and the various accusations made about him. Instead, he confined his remarks to the legal issue at hand, which he presented as a matter of gender equality. Friedman did not respond to further questions by JTA by phone and email.

Friedman has been a thorn in the Jewish side for years. In 2006, The Associated Press reported that he had announced a new “coalition” between himself and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe, after a meeting in Stockholm with Atef Adwan, a senior Hamas figure. Friedman also has been accused of having dealings with Austria's extreme right.

A Jewish umbrella group in Flanders filed a complaint against Friedman for Holocaust denial a few years ago. More recently, a lawyer from Antwerp accused him of not paying off debts in the United States and in Austria. In 2007, Friedman reportedly was attacked by Jewish pilgrims during a visit to Poland.

“Pretty much any Charedi community would shun Moshe Friedman,” said Freilich, who maintains that Friedman's problems are less about his politics than his tendency to “use the law as an instrument of terror, which makes the community afraid of him.”

For now, the Benoth Jerusalem school is struggling to adjust to its sudden fame. The leader of the Belz Chasidim community, to which the school is affiliated, asked community members to let things take their course regardless of their personal feelings. The school sent parents and staff a letter asking the same.

But the community is anything but resigned to the new status quo.

“For 30 years I have managed to do my work in silence and devotion but now, to our detriment, we have been made famous by Moshe Friedman,” said Leibl Mandel, the school's director. “It’s bad for education.”

It may also be bad for Friedman's children, as they may be sucked deeper into the escalating fight. Henri Rosenberg, a lawyer from Antwerp who has compiled a file on Friedman’s business transactions in Vienna and the U.S., last month called for a probe by child welfare services into their domestic circumstances.

“Enrolling them here is child abuse,” Berger said. “They can have no social interaction here, when the girls play among themselves.”

Lena Dunham book leaks


The book proposal that landed “Girls” creator Lena Dunham a $3.7 million publishing deal was leaked online on Monday.

The 66-page proposal explains the ideas behind the book, “Not That Kind of Girl,” and reveals it will be divided into six sections: Work, Friendship, Body, Sex, Love and Big Picture, the Christian Science Monitor reported. The structure of the book by the Jewish actress, writer and director is inspired by the late Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown’s “Having It All.”

“I’ve never kept a diary,” Dunham wrote in the introduction. “I remember being given a journal around age six, penning a long paragraph about my massive crush on Colin Bliss (what a name!) and then leaving it casually strewn open on the kitchen counter for my parents to ‘find.’ Here was my feeling: if a girl writes in her diary and no one’s there to read it did she really write at all?”

Some notable quotes from the proposal include: “Every ice pop I ate, every movie I watched, every poem I wrote was tinged with a fearful loss,” and “I’ve been in therapy since I was seven.”

The leaked proposal was posted on various blogs and websites, but was taken down when Dunham’s attorney intervened. There is still no word if she is writing the book naked while eating cake.

Is HBO’s ‘Girls’ about young women’s struggles, or some women’s privileges?


“Girls” begins with the conversation that many parents of 20-somethings dream of having someday real soon with their floundering children: No. More. Money.

This is what the parents of 24-year-old Hannah Horvath, played by series creator, director and writer Lena Dunham, tell her over dinner. She is two years out of college working as an unpaid intern at an indie publishing house living in a crappy apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with a roommate while being heavily subsidized by her professor parents.

Sound familiar? It should. Over the last half-decade, countless articles have chronicled the exploits and failings of the Millennials, the generation whose experience is being represented on this show. And as many accounts have noted, this cohort has had a more difficult time than previous generations finding jobs and adult identities, with some remaining dependent financially on their sympathetic Boomer parents. Hannah’s own father, when confronted by the pathetic sight of his daughter, high on opium tea, mumbling on the floor, declares to his wife, “It’s hard for me to watch her struggle.” He is undoubtedly echoing the sentiments of many a parent who has mailed a check to his post-college child.

But watch them struggle we will, and it won’t be pretty. However it’s a particular type of struggle and not one that is very easy to get behind. “Girls” is not the story of underdogs, the children of immigrants or even a young adult from a middle-class background struggling in a recession that has been particularly hard on recent graduates. It follows four daughters of upper-class privilege—Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and college student Shoshana. These young women are not encountering institutional barriers to success but their own too-fortunate upbringings, which reinforced the idea that the lives and careers that awaited them were special and meaningful. They were not expecting boring nine-to-fives where no one saw them as unique snowflakes who have lived enough to write memoirs, as Hannah is doing while her parents foot the bills. (Hilariously, hers seems to be about six pages long, as befitting a 24-year-old who hasn’t been a child soldier, battled a life-threatening illness or escaped from a cult.)

One blogger humorously suggested that the series could be renamed “First World Problems.” And in that, you can detect the majority of the criticisms of the program. After being feted by nearly every major critic before its April 15 premiere on HBO, the backlash, which was predictably fierce, has largely been about the white privilege of the characters, how the problems of the characters are hardly representative of Millennial women with student loans, or from the lower socioeconomic strata, or who work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Which is to say, most of them.

Add to this casting decisions—in addition to Dunham, who is Jewish and the daughter of artist Laurie Simmons, the other three women are from equally if not more prestigious backgrounds – that make the cries of “class/racial privilege” seem even more credible. The other three leads in the pilot are played by Allison Williams, the daughter of NBC News anchor Brian Williams; Zosia Mamet, progeny of the famed playwright David Mamet; and Jemima Kirke, the daughter of the drummer of the rock band Bad Company. While all four are quite good in their parts—the acting throughout is naturalistic—the choices do seem a little culturally tone deaf. It’s one thing to watch a show about privilege. It’s quite another, more uncomfortable thing to watch one cast entirely comprised of its beneficiaries, which is then touted through its marketing and via interviews as representing all women.

While white privilege and class privilege are certainly nothing new on television—“Two and a Half Men” is a show about white male privilege if ever there was one—it is not entirely unfair to criticize “Girls” on these grounds, either. Unlike “Men” and many of the female-centric comedies that premiered this fall, which merely aim to be funny, “Girls” seems to aspire to do more than get laughs. It aims to be a realistic depiction of young women today. And this generation, which has been frequently called “multiracial,” helped elect President Obama and protested economic inequality en masse at Occupy Wall Street. Some awareness of these “facts on the ground” would be welcome, especially when one chooses to set it in Brooklyn, which is actually only one-third white.

While I definitely subscribe to the write-what-you-know camp (hello—I primarily write for Jewish publications), I guess I’m disappointed that Dunham seems to “know” so little of New York, much less the world. Thus far, her work, which also includes the semi-autobiographical feature, “Tiny Furniture,” has betrayed a stunning lack of curiosity about other strata of the city in which she was born and raised.

I really wanted to like this show. Not am I only part of its target demographic (albeit at the tail end)—I’m 29, I live in Brooklyn (in addition to being born and raised here) and have a creative career—but I loved the idea of a woman like Dunham, at the age of just 25, being given unprecedented creative control over a series. And perhaps because I and many others like me had been hoping for more, we were bound to be disappointed.

Over at Jezebel, Dodai Stewart writes, “If ‘Girls’ was merely a terrible show with zero potential, none of this would be up for discussion. Part of the problem is that the creator, Lena Dunham, and the premise—a kind of more realistic ‘Sex and The City’—have so much potential.”

And she’s right—there is actually stuff to like about “Girls.” The female characters aren’t total caricatures. They don’t fit neatly into archetypes—the creative one, the smart one, the prim one and the slut—as they did on the show’s predecessor, “Sex and the City.” The dialogue felt natural even if a bit too much of it referred to social media. (We get it—kids these days narrate their lives on Twitter and don’t use their phones as phones.) It was also squeamishly entertaining to watch the least sexy sex scene I’ve ever seen on television. It was a nice change of pace from the highly stylized iterations we typically see on TV where everyone’s always having fun and no one’s head accidentally hits the headboard. And in this television season where writers have used “vagina” as a punch line, as though the term in and of itself was humorous, Dunham actually lands a vagina joke that is legitimately funny.

Are bad sex and vag jokes enough to get me to tune in to future episodes? Well, while I’m inclined to give the show another shot and see how Dunham and Co. develop the characters, unfortunately I’m part her target demographic. This means I don’t have a subscription to HBO. Ultimately, “Girls” might be for the parents of post-collegiate girls who want to see how their retirement savings are being spent.

Anorexia and the new values of courtship


The New York Times article last week about the explosion of anorexia and eating disorders in the orthodox community highlights a tragedy that has long been buried. About four years ago I published a column about an eighteen-year-old girl my daughter knew at seminary in Jerusalem who died of anorexia. The seminary denied it was the cause and cited some other illness, even though the girls at the seminary watched her wasting away with the administration seemingly oblivious.

The tragedy is not only the danger posed to religious girls with eating disorders but rather the growth of corrupt values in the orthodox community. The New York Times highlighted how matchmakers are calling about girls and asking what dress size they and their mothers are. What does this have to do with Jewish values? Sure, a man has to be attracted to a woman. But the narrow definition of the body as the only ingredient of attraction is a betrayal of the traditional Jewish definition of feminine beauty.

Time was when a Jewish woman’s comeliness was determined holistically and was based on five key components: her body, her mind, her heart, her piety, and her personality. Now, it’s been reduced to her dress size. Stick-thin scarecrow-like features are the foremost determinant of attractiveness.

To be sure, being overweight is not healthy. But women who focus only on their bodies to the exclusion of their souls are equally unhealthy. And religious men who have practiced Judaism their whole lives but are blind to a woman’s righteousness and virtue, focusing exclusively on her form to the exclusion of her substance, are even more unhealthy.

The crisis in orthodoxy today is the practice of Jewish ritual to the exclusion of Jewish values. And in no area is this more evident then in the increasingly shallow dating values that are betraying our community. King Solomon’s ode to the ‘Eishes Chayil -Wife of Excellence’ that we chant every Friday night risks becoming an empty refrain, with men paying lip service to its central proclamation that ‘physical beauty is misleading, but a woman who fears G-d is truly to be praised.’

I would never have thought we orthodox Jews would arrive at a stage where our young men of marriageable have become so one-dimensional that their superficiality and pickiness would begin to literally kill our young women. That their mothers – women themselves – are colluding in this corruption by calling up to ask a girl’s dress size in the same breath as asking what her level of Torah observance is doubly tragic.

The New York Times article also cited the immense pressure that orthodox women feel to marry at a very young age and how they feel themselves to be failures if they are in their mid-twenties and not yet married with a few children.

I have long advocated marrying young – for orthodox and secular alike – because it allows a couple to grow up together and solidify their union with life’s formative experiences. But this has to be balanced against the desire of the orthodox community to see their young women educated and using their minds and not just their wombs. It’s a beautiful thing to see orthodox Jewish seminaries for women bursting at the seams. Jewish women today are being exposed to the great texts of Judaism, from Talmud and Midrash to Halakha and Chassidus. Stern and Touro are graduating orthodox girls with degrees in international relations and public relations, proficient in the sciences and mathematics.

Secular Jews have long dismissed the orthodox attitude toward women as demeaning and misogynistic. They argue that we treat our girls as baby-making machines who belong in the kitchen. But the highly educated orthodox Jewish woman gives the lie to these malicious accusations. Should we be so stupid as to prove them right by making women feel so much pressure to be married by the age of twenty that failure to do itself constitutes failure? Is it not our responsibility to demonstrate that a woman can maximize her fullest intellectual potential alongside having a family and that she need not choose between them.

I am, thank G-d, the proud father of nine children. People often ask me how I have time to do my professional work with a large family. I answer them that only in the modern world have we created this false notion that family is an impediment to achievement. Queen Victoria had nine children but ruled the largest land empire in the history of the world. Rose Kennedy, an accomplished woman in her own right, had nine children and is the matriarch of the greatest political dynasty in American history. The list goes on.

I want my daughters to marry young and to marry virtuous men. I shudder at the idea that after raising them to embody the virtue of the Jewish matriarchs they should meet orthodox Jewish suitors obsessed with their external beauty to the exclusion of their inner G-dly commitment. And if that’s the case, could I not have found that in the secular world?

I have spent my life critiquing the secular culture’s attitudes toward the feminine, especially in my book ‘Hating Women,’ where I decry a culture that has reduced women to the libidinous man’s plaything. But we in the orthodox community dare not make our own mistake of reducing our women to pretty baby-making mannequins. Our women must possess, and be appreciated for, intellectual and spiritual substance.

Sure, family in Jewish life is the most important thing. And dating recreationally for ten years – as is common in secular society – is scant preparation for the life-long commitment of marriage. I am a counselor to secular singles who suffer the effects of the recreational dating culture. They often experience the pain and heartache of going in and out of relationships and the numbing affects of sexuality practiced as a hookup.

Orthodox Jewish life is meant to offer a radical alternative, one where romance is valued and sexuality, reserved for the sanctity of marriage, is practiced as the highest expression of human intimacy. But viewing women as either the orthodox male’s frum Barbie, whose foremost responsibility is not learning Torah and practicing mitzvos but going on the treadmill and pumping iron, or seeing a woman’s education as inconsequential and making her feel old and discarded if she is not married by twenty-three, is hardly an attractive alternative.

Shmuley Boteach, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ is one of the world’s leading relationship experts and the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. Among his 25 books are such classics as ‘Kosher Sex,’ ‘Judaism for Everyone,’ and, most recently, ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

VIDEO: Girls of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)


Girls of the IDF—Israel Defense Forces.  Video photo montage plus music lovingly crafted by YouTube member , a Floridian named Pilman.

Dear Abby of Cyberspace


For a while this past year, several thousand girls between the ages of 10 and 14 read my words every day by logging on to Allykatzz.com, an Internet site for “‘tween” girls that provides a safe alternative to MySpace and Facebook.

They wrote to me about their parents’ divorce or their fear of seventh grade or their little eating disorder they hoped no one else would know about.

For several months, I became the “Dear Abby of Cyberspace,” the friendly counselor whose open door was only a cursor away, the virtual adult who answered a teen girl’s question when the actual adult in her life couldn’t even be asked.

When I was brought on to the Allykatzz staff, I expected that my blogging ‘tweeners would grapple with the same issues as I hear of in person from my at-risk adolescent clients: sex, drugs, and — rock ‘n’ roll not withstanding — anger, anxiety and despair. Although the emotional outpouring was similar to that of the kids I work with daily, some of the stories I was told by my nameless readers astonished me:

There was the girl who was raped when she was 8 and, at 14, wanted to know how to keep it a secret until she got to college; the girl who was born with a deformed limb and wanted to cut it out of her body; the girl whose father just died of brain cancer and who wanted to hypnotize herself out of grieving.

I tried to answer all of them, often urging them to advocate for themselves by seeking out counseling or a support group or by expressing their feelings in a positive, healing way. I made it a point to let each of them know they are cherished, unique young women and that, whatever confronts them, this too shall pass.

On a lighter note, the most frequent issue of all seemed to be the one I call the BFF Dilemma. For those of you who are ignorant of cyber-speak, a BFF is a Best Friend Forever. The problem for many of my bloggers was that, alas, the BFF actually shouldn’t be forever. Here is a typical (if not actual) letter:

“So, Leda, like HELP me!!!! My BFF who I no since we wuz in frst grade has gotten so ANNOYING!!! She IMs me all the time and talks about nothing! She even makes fun of me in front of other grls! She told one really cool popular grl my name is Jade and it is SO not Jade! She was OK til 7 grade and then she got WEIRD. My mom sez 2 ignore her but I cant! What to do?”

There were so many BFF Dilemma letters that they took on a weight equal to that of my occasional clinically depressed teen. Although a few of the girls face horrific problems, most of them were dealing with the simple process of being. I am constantly reminded in my work that an adolescent’s struggle to forge a mature identity can be a lonely one, as singular and as difficult as a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

Part of that transformation is in deciding who will be compassionate and trustworthy enough to make the passage with them. When I was a teenager, I would become baffled and angry when my normally very progressive Jewish parents, who had a reputation among my friends for being especially hospitable, would shake their heads in wonderment and disapproval at some of my peers. “Di vos vaksn nit, vern kleyner,” my Yiddishkeit, immigrant father would tell me: Those who do not grow, grow smaller.

He was right.

BFFs, BBs (blog buddies) and BFs (boyfriends) will come and go, despite the best of intentions, simply because the level of maturity between adolescents is so uneven. Hopefully, for my readers, there will be new and better friends and perhaps a sympathetic adult or two on the road ahead as they travel from girlhood through adolescence into adulthood. It is my wish that I can be one of those adult voices who can support and cajole a young woman forward.

I am reminded of another bit of Yiddish wisdom: Each child carries his or her own blessing into the world. So far, I have been blessed many times over, and I am both grateful for and honored by them all.

Leda Siskind is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles who works with adolescents, young adults and families. She can be reached at (323) 824-0551.

VIDEO: Israel tries to sex up its image


Britains’ Sky News reports from Tel Aviv on an Israeli advertising campaign to sex up its image.

Choose Grrl Power over beauty pageants, grrlz


As children we loved to put on my mother’s old nightgowns, makeup and heels and pretend we were Queen Esther. Somewhere around adolescence this became a little more
uncomfortable.

Why was Vashti banished for refusing to dance — according to some, wearing only her crown — for the drunken King Achashverosh and his buddies? Wasn’t that the right thing to do? And what was a nice Jewish girl like Esther doing in a beauty contest for the Persian king?

Today, in a world saturated by images of beauty and still uncomfortable with a woman asserting her power, these remain relevant questions. How are Jewish girls faring amid this sea of contradiction?

By many measures, Jewish girls are thriving. They are leading extracurricular activities, bettering the world around them, excelling in sports and studying at elite universities. At the same time such success often comes at a cost for girls.

Research and anecdotal evidence point to girls’ perception of intense pressure to accrue academic and extracurricular distinctions. Simultaneously, girls feel bound by the constraints of feminine “niceness,” through which individual ambition becomes untenable, aggressive and selfish.

For some girls, the impact of these contradictions causes suffering.

For others it can lead to the development of eating disorders, cutting, relational bullying, precocious sexuality, abusive relationships and low self-esteem.

Ma’yan: the Jewish Women’s Project is founded on the belief that it is critical to help girls, and those who work with girls, address these contradictions.

Take for example, the case of the National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), the Reform youth group. Recent reports have sounded the “boy” alarm: 60 percent to 80 percent of participants in Reform youth groups, leadership training, camp and Israel programs are girls. The Union for Reform Judaism has inaugurated a Young Men’s Project to address the dearth of male participants.

What is heard less often is that this year — and it appears not to be atypical — all of the national NFTY officers are boys. An organization in which the overwhelming majority of participants are girls is still led by boys. Leaders involved with the program report that the girls are content with this arrangement, do not seek leadership and are happy to do the behind-the-scenes work.

In other words boys, though few in number, are eager to lead and are apparently groomed to be leaders.

Girls, like women in Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, do not seek leadership, presumably out of fear of being seen as “bossy” or “presumptuous,” or unwilling to set themselves apart from their female peers. Despite their strength in numbers, the girls say they prefer a more collaborative model of leadership.

What future is predicated here? Do we want girls to grow to be women who collaborate nicely and plan events while the men are given center stage? Do we want girls to grow to be women who comprise the backbone of the workforce while the male CEO occupies the corner office? What does it mean if boys, so few in number, still rise to the top?

It is these questions we wish to explore. The Jewish community of late appears to be more interested in questions that concern boys’ absence rather than girls’ lack of leadership. Picking up on national news trends, the Jewish community has sounded its version of the “boy crisis” alarm. Boys are the new girls and are depicted as failing academically, suffering emotionally and dropping out of all things Jewish. Implicit in these arguments is the assumption that attention to girls has served its purpose and should now return where it was always due — to boys.

Although pundits typically lump all boys’ issues into one puddle and declare it a “crisis,” the reality is that Jewish boys are not, and never have been, failing academically. If we are really concerned about boys in crisis, we should turn our attention to poor boys and boys of color, who are truly suffering.

Boys and boys’ issues are worthy of attention, and the Jewish community is surely not serving its sons as well as it could — just as there are gaps in our attention to girls’ needs. Indeed, if it is the case that young men’s participation falls off precipitously after the age of bar mitzvah, it is definitely worth looking at what it takes to engage young men and their interests.

I am agnostic on the question of inherent difference between boys and girls. It is clear, however, that boys and girls from the earliest age are subject to vastly different experiences, which in turn shape them. To truly meet the needs of both boys and girls, we will have to pay specific attention to gender socialization.

Boys and girls must be given the opportunity to explore the social construction of gender, challenge gender norms, examine gender privilege and create a balance of power between boys and girls. We must prepare our daughters to be strong leaders well armed against the sexism they will face in the media and employment at the same time that we raise young men who share an interest in their sisters’ achievements, who have full access to their feelings and who are engaged by Jewish life.

Toward this end, Ma’yan recently launched Koach Banot, Girl Power!

Through training, advocacy and education, we aim to raise the profile of Jewish girls in the community, make excellent resources including curricula and programs more widely available, and to train those who work with girls to better understand issues that confront girls and learn how they can utilize resources to best serve their population.

By exploring these issues and questions together, we can steer clear of the zero-sum game of boys vs. girls and enter into a rich exploration of gender and its implications for our community.

Rabbi Rona Shapiro serves as a senior associate at Undressed up

Shoah lessons drive curriculum


The Holocaust will play a major role in educating teens at a new Green Dot charter school in Exposition Park. The entire staff of the Animo Jackie Robinson High School — seven teachers and two principals — has been trained to teach a curriculum by Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based organization that uses the Holocaust to help kids understand the impact of moral choices they make daily.

“In making our school a Facing History high school, we are saying ‘what if we could really shape all the curricular components with this vision? What would happen with kids from the inner city who are really struggling with moral choices, and who often have no idea what it means to have remorse for your actions?'” said assistant principal Kristen Botello.

 
The school has written a four-year curriculum that integrates the Facing History approach through several disciplines, including English, history, science, art and community service. Animo Jackie Robinson is the first school in Los Angeles to adopt Facing History as an underlying educational philosophy.

 
The school opened this year with 147 kids in ninth grade; 18 of them are African American and the rest are Latino. Grades will be added over the next three years until there are 600 ninth- to 12th-graders, and all teachers hired will be trained by Facing History.

 
“I believe the thought processes that result from Facing History affect the kids not only in terms of learning the content of the Holocaust, but in looking at human behavior and the specific, personal events where individuals had to make choices, and how individual choices impact history,” Botello said.

 
Botello taught English at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights for 14 years, 11 of them using the Facing History curriculum. She says she can always spot kids who had Facing History teachers.

 
“You can just see it in the way they behave, the way they treat each other and the tolerance levels they have for people who are different, not just in terms of race or ethnicity, but in terms of disabilities or challenges,” she said.
The Jackie Robinson educators were among 30 LAUSD teachers who participated in Facing History’s five-day September institute called “Holocaust and Human Behavior,” held at Mount St. Mary’s College Doheny Campus.

 
Around 1,500 teachers in Los Angeles have been trained by Facing History.
 
For information, visit www.facinghistory.org or www.greendot.org.

 
A helping foot
 
As they have been for the past 14 years, about 250 kids and families will lend their feet to AIDS Walk Los Angeles Oct. 15 as part of Kids Who Care, a team made up of kids from more than a dozen schools, including Stephen S. Wise Day School and Milken Community High School.
 
Last year, Kids Who Care raised $65,000, placing it fifth among the top AIDS Walk fundraisers, most of them corporations.

The team was founded with 25 walkers in 1992 by then-8-year-old Leo Beckerman, a Stephen S. Wise member. Since then, Stephen S. Wise families have raised more than $500,000 for AIDS Walk Los Angeles, now in its 22nd year.
 
The money funds direct services, prevention education and advocacy on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County.
 
There are approximately 55,000 people living with HIV in Los Angeles County, and there are 1,500-2,000 new infections each year.
 

For information visit www.WiseLA.org or www.aidswalk.net/losangeles.

 
Family dinners = better grades + better behavior
 
First ladies Maria Shriver and Corina Villaraigosa helped kick off Family Day at Thomas Starr King Middle School near Griffith Park Sept. 25. The Safeway Foundation launched a $2 million public service campaign to encourage families to eat dinner together.
 
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University founded Family Day in 2001 — and this year 600 cities participated. A CASA study found that compared to kids who have fewer than three family dinners per week, children and teens who have frequent family dinners are at 70 percent lower risk for substance abuse; half as likely to try cigarettes or marijuana; one-third less likely to try alcohol; and almost 40 percent likelier to say future drug use will never happen. The report also found that teens who have frequent family dinners are likelier to get better grades in school.

 
For information visit www.safeway.com or www.casafamilyday.org.

 
The next step for girls: Israel
 
The Orthodox Union’s (OU) Machon Maayan one-year program in Israel opened with its first class of 39 women, many of whom have scant Judaic studies background.
The post high-school seminary in Beit Shemesh — a half hour from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem — attracts girls who graduate from the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the OU’s outreach youth movement, and want to continue in their Jewish studies.
 
“Where we stop, programs like Machon Maayan continue,” said Rabbi Steven Burg, National Director of NCSY, who was formerly the movement’s West Coast director.
For more information go to www.machonmaayan.org.

 

Orthodox youth not immune to high-risk lifestyles


A few weeks ago, Joel Bess gathered his group of 15 teenage boys and took them to the funeral of a 21-year-old who had died of an overdose. Like the teenagers, the youth who died was Orthodox and didn’t fit the yeshiva mold and wound up on a path of high-risk behavior.
After the funeral, Bess — the son of a prominent rabbi who spent his teenage years and beyond in a whirl of self-destruction — asked the boys to write their own epitaphs on pictures of blank tombstones.
 
“I wanted them to think about how people would remember them and what they would say about their lives,” said Bess, who is now 29, a father of three and has a strong relationship with his own father.
 
Bess knows how hard it is not to fit in, to fall and then to muster the strength to move toward health of body and soul.
 
“Almost all my friends ended up dead or in jail, and I’m trying to prevent that with these kids,” he said.
 
He has been meeting weekly with the boys for about nine months through Issues Anonymous, a group he helped found.
 

My son, the plumber. Amen.

 
On a hot abandoned Granada Hills playground surrounded by waves of wheat-colored brush, Rabbi Mayer Schmukler looks around and sees the future. Rather than the overgrown jungle gym and dusty rows of red Little Tikes cars at the site that once was the North Valley JCC, he sees a soccer field, a refurbished pool, maybe tennis courts behind the new dorm buildings.
 
Last year, Schmukler, a Chabad-trained rabbi, brought 15 boys to this eight-acre site to pilot JETS — Jewish Education Trade School. This year he’s got 35 boys praying, studying Torah and training to be carpenters, plumbers, chefs and elevator repairmen.
 
Schmukler is keenly aware that a Jewish vocational school faces some deeply ingrained prejudices.
 
“Everyone feels that if a Jewish kid has to become a plumber it’s a sad situation, that really he should be a lawyer or an accountant, or a rabbi,” Schmukler says.
 
But some kids aren’t cut out for academic rigor. Leaving them in a mismatched environment often leads them toward self-destructive paths to failure.
 
“We take kids that maybe have low self- esteem and show them they are good at something — or we make them good at something — and show them they can make it in this society,” said Schmukler with a smile that never leaves his eyes or his mouth, hidden though it is in his untamed beard.
 
JETS doesn’t take the most hard-core cases. Boys have to be drug-free for 12 months to get into the program, and there is mandatory drug testing every two weeks.
 
But some of his kids come from broken homes, or have emotional, learning or behavioral challenges. Most of them live on campus in classrooms converted into dorms.
 
JETS, an independent nonprofit, employs teachers, social workers, dorm counselors and a psychologist. Students get personal counseling, and classes in ethics and time management and organization as well as high-school equivalency preparatory classes.
 
It was the combination of industry and ethics that won Schmukler a California Regional Consortium for Engineering Advances in Technological Education grant and award from the National Science Foundation in May 2006.
 
Most of the trade classes are offered at College of the Canyons, an accredited community college in Santa Clarita that provides work force training.
 
Last year, the boys built a skateboarding ramp. This year, they’re building a house, from computer modeling to reading the blueprints to carpentry, plumbing, electricity and the finishings.
 
Some of the classes, such as cooking, take place at JETS. The school is building a state-of-the-art kosher kitchen, and hopes to open a kosher culinary school to the public.
On Shabbats when they stay in, boys prepare meals for each other. They have also taken trips to the Grand Canyon and Northern California.
 
Schmukler’s approach to discipline is to help the boys self-motivate. Smoking, for instance, is not prohibited. But boys can only smoke alone, and only in designated spots that might be a half-acre from the action. There is no wake up call in the morning — boys need alarm clocks to rouse themselves. Free time is scheduled up with classes in kickboxing or karate, and a whole set of bikes and the old JCC gym facilities are available to the guys.
 
Schmukler has bigger plans for the campus, and he is a strong fundraiser. He worked for years as the development director for Chabad’s Russian program, where he first set up teen centers in West Hollywood. JETS has an annual budget of about $1 million, and Schmukler works his connections well. He’s already raised $5 million for the purchase of the campus and got an adjacent parcel donated.
 
Schmukler is also giving space to the JCC for offices and some programming, and is working out further arrangements with them. He says he wants JETS to be a center for Jewish unity, especially because no one can forget the 1999 rampage by Buford O. Furrow, who wounded five people at this JCC and then killed postal worker Joseph Ileto.
 
“Because of that I really believe something positive has to come from here,” Schmukler says. “Judaism is positive, and if you open up with something positive, we’ve won.”
 
For more information, visit www.jetsschool.org or call (323) 228-5905.

 
— JGF

Issue Anonymous is one of several new programs that have emerged in the last few years to serve the Orthodox community, giving kids, their parents and local high schools more resources and options than have ever been available in Los Angeles.
 
At Issues Anonymous, the boys can express themselves freely — which they did on the blank tombstones.
 
“To our beloved son, we loved you and we wish we could have been there for you,” one of them wrote.
 
“He died on the road to recovery. He meant well and he tried hard. Had he lived longer he would have made some big differences. He will be missed by the select few that he touched.”
“We loved you, and we will miss you. You were a good friend, son and brother. You really were nice and smart.”
 
And then simply, “I hope I rest in peace.”
 
For these youths, the introspection and repentance of Yom Kippur is a full time, ongoing pursuit.
 
For nearly two decades, it has been an open secret in the Los Angeles Orthodox community that some kids are turned off by religious observance and high academic standards, and they end up turning to truancy, alcohol, unsafe sex or drugs.
 
Once on that path, many of the boys feel let down or pushed out by their schools, families or both. They feel hated by the community, and especially lost because they don’t feel they belong anywhere else. They call themselves screw-ups, and worse.
 
Some of them take a high school equivalency exam — or not — and get sent off to Israel or to yeshivas outside of Los Angeles. Some land in rehab, in jail, on the streets — or dead.
They are Sephardic, Ashekenazic and Persian. Their families are Chasidic and Modern Orthodox.
And to those who know them well, they are loveable boys who just need someone to believe in them.
 
“I think the community needs to embrace these kids with love,” says Debbie Fox, director of Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Family Resource Center, who brought Bess in to start Issues Anonymous when four mothers approached her looking for help.
 
“I know that people are afraid that the kids will influence others. But that doesn’t mean we don’t create a place for them,” she said. “It means we need to look at how to balance things and how to do things safely and acknowledge that they are part of our community. We cannot sacrifice these kids — and they’re really beautiful kids.”
 
Los Angeles’ Orthodox community now offers some organized solutions for these boys — though none have been put forth for girls, even while most observers agree that, too, is needed.
 
The Jewish Educational Trade School (JETS), a vocational boarding school for boys who weren’t cut out for the academic rigor of yeshiva, started meeting last year at the North Valley Jewish Community Center. This year 35 boys spend part of each school day studying Torah and high school equivalency, and part of their day learning trades, such as elevator or air conditioning repair, or construction.
 
But JETS doesn’t take in the hard-core boys. Students have to have been drug-free for at least a year, and they are tested regularly.
 
Boys who are currently using drugs are welcome at Issues Anon and Aish Tamid, an organization Rabbi Avi Leibovic founded six years ago to provide a welcoming environment and support services.
 
Leibovic’s latest venture is Pardes/Plan B, a program that combines Torah study, outdoor adventure, counseling and high-school equivalency preparation. The program started in mid-September and, so far, the reports are positive.
 

Pardes: School, But Not
 
Pardes meets at Congregation Shaarei Tefila on Beverly Boulevard, where the boys pray every morning. Then they go out on a trip — hiking, bowling, boating — all the while imbibing bits of wisdom from their teacher, Rabbi Ari Guidry, and a social worker who has had years of experience with this population in New York.
 

“The rabbi is awesome,” says Aharon (boys names have been changed to protect their privacy). “He’s not like a typical rabbi. He knows how to treat us — like the humans that we are.”
Aharon has always been a good student and hopes to go to college; he is excited about the academic subjects being taught by End Result, an organization with great success in running classes in juvenile detention centers.
 

Aharon’s mother is glad he chose Pardes.
 

“Pardes is not going to be top-notch academic experience, but for me it is much more important that his soul is intact,” she said. “I believe that this year he can work on himself; he can set his own spiritual compass to know in which direction he needs to go to find true happiness in life.”
 

She is one of the mothers who approached Fox last year to start Issues Anon, after she realized that Aharon was doing drugs, taking the car out in the middle of the night when he was 14 or 15, and messing up in school.
 

“Anything I tried to do in terms of controlling him and where he was going and what he was doing didn’t work,” said Aharon’s mother, who also attends a parent support group offered by Aish Tamid.
 

Leibovic, a 33-year-old YULA graduate who can personally relate to what these kids are going through, was one of the first in Los Angeles to try to organize programs for this population. He started with post-high school young men and then expanded to the younger set.
 

Aish Tamid has Shabbat programs, career fairs, study groups and the popular Teen at the Bean, a weekly discussion and study session at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Beverly Boulevard.

 
Mostly, Leibovic, a father of six and a full-time attorney, has made himself and a growing staff of social workers and counselors available to the boys and their parents at all hours, giving individualized guidance about everything from rehab centers to family therapy to finding employment.
 

Leibovic is still trying to find funding for Pardes. Young men who have been through Aish Tamid programs donated a van worth $22,000. Pardes only has enrolled a half-dozen students.
Leibovic is hoping eventually to fill the van with 13 kids. He said he knows of about 10 kids in need who aren’t in any program, but are still holding out to get into one of the local yeshivas, which historically haven’t dealt well with these kids.
 

“There is no way that any one school can cater to all of the students we have in our community,” said Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, dean of Valley Torah High School. “A school’s job is to be as broad as possible and needs to see themselves as embracing and accommodating as they can be. But as good as a school can be, there is no way we can do it all.”
 

While high school principals are grateful for programs like Pardes and JETS, they know there is work to do in making such programs acceptable to the boys and their families.
 

“I think there is still a stigma in the eyes of the children about going to these schools,” said Rabbi Dovid Landesman, principal of YULA. “We have to work on the psychology to make kids accept that these schools are more suited to their needs, because I really think both of these schools [Pardes and JETS] are a bracha to the community.”
 

Issues Anon: Steak and Free Expression
 

Yossi has managed to stay at YULA through his senior year, with an inclusion aid to help him through Attention Deficit Disorder. He started smoking marijuana at summer camp after 10th grade, and then he started popping his dad’s Atavan and Valium.
 

“I really messed up my whole 11th grade year, but I was on drugs so I didn’t care,” he says.
He fights with his father, but has a close relationship with his mother. She got him into rehab, which allowed him to stay in school. Yossi’s been clean 90 days.
 

He attributes much of his success to Issues Anon, the Jewish Family Service Wednesday night group that Joel Bess runs with social worker Howie Shapiro.
 

“This is the one thing I look forward to every week, and it’s really helped me a lot,” says Yossi, at a recent dinner at La Gondola.
 

The boys were there to celebrate milestones — some had just started school, some were chalking up months of sobriety, some were just happy to still be getting up in the morning. (All of them were grateful for the glistening heaps of ribs and giant sized steaks on their plates.)
 

Some of the boys wear kippahs and some don’t, some have spiky coifs or buzz cuts, and several of them sport large Jewish stars around their necks and pants sagging well below their hips.
Regular meetings start with the boys jotting down an issue, all of which are then read aloud, without revealing the source, and discussed. The guys give each other advice about how to get through their issues.

 
Tonight, many of them note their sobriety counts — a year and half, 90 days, two months — “and I better start feeling some of those changes promised,” one of them quips to Bess.
“I threw out all of my stuff two weeks ago,” another announces, to the applause of the group.
“Damn, you should have given it to me,” another jokes.

 
“My mom kicked me out again,” a boy says quietly.

“Cool! Are you sleeping at my house tonight?” his friend asks hopefully.

 
Behind the jokes, the cursing and goofing off, the kids are there for each other.
“If you see these kids sitting in the back of the classroom goofing off, you get one impression,” says Shapiro, the social worker. “But when you hear them talking about what they don’t get from their parents or how they fell through the cracks, it’s really amazing the depth with which they can describe what they are feeling and what they need. But the school administration and the parents don’t see that depth. They just see the GPA and the drug use.”

 
The kids in the group have become close friends and relate easily to Bess, who runs a division of an infomercial company and has a hip style the kids are comfortable with. They call him or knock on his door at all hours, and he welcomes them.

 
“I feel like I can do things now. Before I wasn’t able to do anything,” says Zev, who has been clean for a year and half and is being schooled at a private home in the valley.
Zev is one of many siblings from a Chasidic home. He has an abusive father and a supportive mother. When he was only 9 or 10 years old, he got his first taste of weed in shul on Simchat Torah.
 

He’s 15 now but looks a lot older, with a scraggly beard, big eyes that hold your gaze, and a quiet voice.
 
He is a leader — several boys say it was Zev who got them started on drugs. Now, at Issues Anon meetings, they turn to him for support in staying sober. And it was Zev who instituted the idea of starting each meeting with gratitude — going around and saying something positive about your week, or your life.
 
Tonight, Yossi is proud of 90 days sober. And like the other boys around the table, his goals are basic.

 
“I just don’t want to f*** up anymore,” Yossi says. “I want to get my life together and to be able to go through stuff without relapsing. I just want to be able to function like a normal person.”
 

www.aishtamid.org (323) 634-0505
www.jfsla.org/aleinu (323) 761-8816

My True Best Feature — My Crazy Charm?


My friend Nanea is breaking up with singlehood, and my girls and I are ready to help. Best friends since UCLA, we throw Nanea a wild bachelorette party weekend in NYC.

My group takes a bite out of the big apple. We shop uptown, dine downtown, theater on Broadway, picnic in Central Park — good times, good times. Saturday night, we hit a bar in the meat packing district.

The joint is too cool for signage, but not too cool for us. I’m sporting a black lace tube top from Forever 21, and I am rocking that discount couture. Picture me… I look even better. Feeling feisty, I take the tiara intended for the bachelorette and wear it all night. Normal, no? Effective, yes? It’s an instant conversation piece.

I’m meeting people. I’m making friends. I am in a zone. I even start a game of truth or dare. I’m the life of the bar.

Local boy Jake buys us a round and brings good conversation. We have one of those long ask-anything, reveal-everything chats reserved for bars in strange cities and freshman year dorms. All of us girls have boys at home, so the chat is for pure flirt’s sake. We talk relationships, dating, hook-ups and land on what’s our type.

Jake looks our gaggle of girls up and down and says, “For me, the perfect woman would have Shana’s top, Nanea’s bottom, Angel’s lips and Carin’s….”

Carin’s what? My mind races through the endless possibilities. I’ve been working hard with my trainer and my little bod is working for me. So he’ll totally go with my flat abs and tiny waist. Or maybe he’s a curves guy, and is all about my swingin’ hips. Oh, but men do dig my long, flowing dark blonde — OK, fine, highlighted dark blonde — hair. Hmmm. What is the sexiest part of Carin Davis?
There are really too many to just say one. But Jake managed to:
“The perfect woman would have Shana’s top, Nanea’s bottom, angel’s lips, and Carin’s … ridiculousness.”

My ridiculousness? Whatchu talkin’ about, Willis? My ridiculousness?
That’s crazy talk. He might as well have said I have a good personality and doomed me to wallflower status. My ridiculousness. Ha! I am a very cute girl.

More than cute — attractive. Yeah … I’m like a model. That’s right. I’m like a 5′ 2″ supermodel. I’m talking “Deal or No Deal” briefcase-babe hot.
And yet you claim my best attribute is my ridiculousness?

Wait. Hold on. You think I’m ridiculous?

“Um, you are wearing an unexplained tiara,” Jake points out.

I get it. Bedazzled hair wear is cool for Miss America, but not for me. Well, listen here buddy. There’s nothing wrong with a girl having a little sparkle.

So I’m bizarrely outgoing, unusually uninhibited, and have been known to like center stage. A lot. But to say that makes me ridiculous — that’s uncalled for. And for your information, no one uses the term “ridiculousness” anymore, the PC phrase is “normalcy challenged.”

Why am I getting so fired up? Why do I care? This is some guy I’ve known for an hour, not one I’ve dated for a while. I’ve got an amazing boyfriend at home who thinks I’m a babe. I think….

I drunk-dial my boy Scott and recap the night. He seems amused as I describe our social antics, public game play and the cheer I was dared to perform for the bar. Then I tell Scott about Jake’s perfect woman. And he laughs, in a way that says Jake may have gotten it right. I am little ridiculous. And that’s kinda hot.

Could it be that my looks only complement my true best feature — my crazy charm? Interesting. Men find my charisma endearing, even magnetic. Anyone can be good looking, but I’m good fun.

Looking for back up on my theory, I poll my male friends and ask: “What makes a woman sexy?” Their answers: confidence, wit, intelligence and large breasts (OK, there’s always one).

But maybe Jake and Scott are on to something. I am a confident, energetic, funny, silly, spunky girl and that makes me sexy. For me to think otherwise would be ridiculous.

Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

Growing Girls Whole


“Isaac then brought [Rebecca] into the tent of his mother Sarah” (Genesis 24:67). Rashi reinterprets this verse as: “Isaac brought Rebecca into the tent, and behold, she was Sarah!” Rashi explains that the years Sarah was alive her Sabbath lamp remained lit, her dough stayed fresh, and a cloud of God’s Presence rested upon her tent. Upon Sarah’s death, the lamp guttered, the dough crumbled and the cloud dissipated. Enter Rebecca; return miracles.

Maharal explains that the lamp, the dough and the cloud refer to the three commandments assigned to women: candles, challah and niddah. The candles and the challah are respectively represented by the lamp and the dough. Niddah (menstrual impurity), therefore is linked with the miracle of the cloud, suggesting that the home of a woman who observes family purity laws is enveloped in a heavenly cloud.

The commentary around menstruation however are not always so embracing. Later in Rebecca’s life, Torah tells us of her agonizing pregnancy, and the twins who “struggled in her womb.” From the beginning, Jewish womankind has suffered a duality. One has only to look at halachic lexicon to find the duality of epithets that converge on her physical center, makor (source), eim (mother) and rechem (womb-compassion) speak of life and goodness, while kever (grave) and bet hatorfa (place of rot) speaks of death.

Less than a 100 years ago, the average age of menarche for American girls was almost 16. Today, 12 is considered late. Theories for such early onset range from the amount of growth hormones injected into the food we eat to the amount of electrical light we absorb. Regardless, it creates a dangerous duality in girls which I often see when working with a bat mitzvah. Boys are going through changes too at bar mitzvah, and if a boy’s voice cracks while chanting haftarah there are good-natured smiles in the congregation. But there is something else splitting in girls, nearly invisible and painful to perceive. I watch during the course of a bat mitzvah how often girls begin the service with their hair in barrettes and their faces bright and exposed. By the end of the service they take the barrettes off, and try to hide darkly behind their hair.

In less than a century, girls have gone from corsets to thongs. They are inundated with social pressures from diet pills to plastic surgery. Girls physically mature now earlier than ever, while cognitively and emotionally they are still children. Contemporary society provides fewer social protections, especially with the dangers of Internet. Today, most girls don’t receive a slap on the face from their mothers as initiation into womanhood, but they do learn to call it “The Curse.”

The moment girls become menstruant is a critical moment for protecting their wholeness. Jewish law takes menstruation with the utmost seriousness. For moderns, it is tempting to brush aside the laws as archaic. But with such dismissal, we also dismiss the seriousness of a girl’s coming of age. It is important to consider the sacredness of a girl’s cycle not through a lens of fear, rather through a lens of life-affirmation that is central to our faith and critical to a girl growing up whole.

In many cultures, circumcision is performed on boys as a rite of puberty, at the age of Ishmael, 13. Circumcision in many cultures, it has been argued, is the male inorganic counterpart to menstruation, to the natural blood-covenant girls achieve. In Judaism, of course, circumcision is performed at Isaac’s tender age of one week and a day. Instead, bar mitzvah is the male puberty rite. There is little ritual or liturgy on menstruation. Just as boys undergo brit milah (covenant of circumcision), let us consider the girl beginning menarche as entering brit niddah (covenant of menstruation).

What ritual can surround entering brit niddah? Anne Frank called her period “a sweet secret” in a line that her father edited out of the 1947 Dutch version of her diary, saying that it was unnecessary and unseemly to speak of such things. It is remarkable that this young girl qualified her “secret” with sweet. The higher levels of tzedakah also involve secrecy. It is a perfect opportunity to learn with a girl the eight levels of tzedakah. It would be fitting to associate the monthly periods with an act of giving and gratitude by learning and giving tzedakah from the start.

As menstruation ties naturally with the cycling of the moon, it would be appropriate to consider brit niddah as a part of a Rosh Chodesh ceremony. The blessings for the new moon are appropriately worded: “Our God and God of our ancestors, may the new month bring us renewed good and blessing. May we have long life, peace, prosperity and health, a life full of blessing, a life exalted by love of Torah and reverence for the divine; a life in which the longings of our hearts are fulfilled for good.”

Adolescent girls need all the help they can get in this world. Let them not be burdened at this impressionable age with carrying a “curse,” with a sense of medical infirmity or religious impurity. She, like every human being, is a microcosm of the Supreme One, in which nothing is lacking, and everything is whole and pure. May we all be embraced in clouds of glory.

Zoë Klein is a rabbi at Temple Isaiah.

 

Prop. 73: The Devil’s in the Details


When Californians go to the polls on Nov. 8, many will read Proposition 73 as a proposal to require that health care providers perform the seemingly logical task of informing parents before performing abortions on underage girls.

But the considered opinions of doctors and Juvenile Court judges, as well as a look at the actual text of Proposition 73, reveal that the initiative is fraught with adverse ramifications for virtually all Californians. It also poses particular issues for the Jewish community.

Much of the literature against Proposition 73 correctly emphasizes that many teenage girls will seek underground abortions, rather than have their parents (or guardians, foster parents or other legal designees) learn that they are pregnant. Thus, under the banner, “Protect California’s Teens,” a Planned Parenthood Web page urges that defeating Proposition 73 is essential to ensuring that desperate teenagers retain access to safe and legitimate medical care.

This emphasis is entirely appropriate. But there’s more to object to in this ballot initiative. One of the proposition’s most troubling aspects lies within the fine print. Proposition 73 amends the California Constitution to define abortion as a procedure ending the life of a “child conceived but not yet born.”

This radical definition has profound implications not only for teens, but also for adult women. And this carefully calculated wording should be of particular interest to the Jewish community.

Many Jewish couples undergo genetic screening as part of family planning. Those of us who learn we are dual carriers of genetic mutations (e.g., Tay Sachs) know there is a one in four chance of conceiving a child afflicted with the disease.

Couples who face this risk make the wrenching choice of attempting to have a biological child, while also taking the precaution of undergoing testing after conception. Diagnosis is possible through either chorionic villus sampling 10 to 12 weeks into the pregnancy or amniocentesis in the second trimester. Couples choose such procedures with the hope of having a healthy baby.

But typically, they also have resolved to terminate a pregnancy that would, if carried to term, bring forth a child doomed to endure unconscionable suffering ending in early death. A couple that follows this course of action sometimes has the blessing of Orthodox rabbis who would ordinarily oppose abortion.

Amending California’s Constitution to define abortion as ending the life of a “child conceived but not yet born” has profound implications for adult Jewish couples that rely on pregnancy testing. The proposition’s language would, in effect, shorten the road to outlawing abortion.

Indeed, that appears to be the aim of James Holman, the San Diego millionaire who backed Proposition 73 with $800,000, most of which went to paid signature gatherers to get the initiative onto the ballot. In line with his devout, conservative beliefs, Holman has expressed opposition to contraception, as well as to abortion apparently under all circumstances, including rape and incest.

Defining abortion as terminating the life of “a child that is conceived but not yet born” also could undermine the legality of stem cell research, perhaps the most promising scientific frontier of the 21st century. Here again, the medical implications are heightened for those of us in the Jewish community who recognize that stem cell research may herald the cures for degenerative diseases linked with genetic markers prevalent among us.

This subtle but intentional groundwork for outlawing abortion is reason enough for opposing Proposition 73, but even at face value, this measure would do more harm than good. It is opposed by Planned Parenthood, of course, and other pro-choice organizations, but also by California Women Lawyers, a statewide organization that promotes the general interests of women in society, as well as the California League of Women Voters.

Women’s advocacy organizations are correct to cite the dangers to teens posed by parental notification initiatives. Indeed, efforts to decriminalize abortion in the 1970s were largely spearheaded by doctors, lawyers, and clergy who knew only too well that making abortion illegal did not prevent abortion, but simply made the procedure lethal to many women who sought out illegal abortions.

Today, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all oppose parental notification laws, citing the risk to teens. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, mandating parental notification does not achieve the intended goal of family communication, but does increase the risk of harm by delaying access to appropriate medical care.

Parental notification is also opposed by Bill and Karen Bell, who lost their daughter to an illegal abortion in 1988. Although Becky Bell belonged to a loving Indianapolis family, this high school junior pursued an underground abortion, rather than tell her parents. The Bells never had the chance to tell their daughter they were not, after all, angry at her.

Instead, they became outraged at the parental notification law, operative in Indiana, that compelled their daughter to resort to the underground abortion that claimed her life. In the wake of their family tragedy, the Bells became activists against parental notification laws.Proposition 73 contains a supposed answer in its “judicial bypass provision,” which would enable teens to seek court orders excusing health care providers from the parental notification requirement in appropriate circumstances. This provision is unrealistic and unreasonably cumbersome both for teenagers and the courts, which is why Juvenile Court judges have gone on record against it.

To activate this provision, California courts would have to appoint guardians ad litem to speak on behalf of teenagers and, in most cases, to appoint lawyers for the minors, as well. In sum, the law would impose a mandate upon all courts, with no source of funding to carry it out.

Like many of my colleagues on the California Women Lawyers board, my personal choices were for marriage and children. I hope, want and expect that my daughters will come to me, however reluctantly, if they became pregnant unexpectedly. But a sweeping parental notification requirement will affect all families, including vulnerable teenagers in broken and abusive families.

As the tragic example of Becky Bell reminds us, even girls in “good” families may resort to underground abortions. And, a close examination of Proposition 73 makes clear that its language and intentions strike far closer to home than many of us previously thought possible in California.

The Jewish community — and everyone else — should oppose Proposition 73 not only because it is bad for teenage girls we may never meet, but also because it is bad — and dangerous — for adults, including ourselves.

Angela J. Davis is president-elect of California Women Lawyers, an independent bar association that advocates on public-policy issues.

 

Barbie Meet Gali


For generations, Barbie’s hourglass “perfect” figure has confounded experts in anatomy, while giving girls a role model of debatable merit.

Now there’s a doll whose appearance is more modest, who looks like kids and whose values are distinctly Jewish.

Created by Aliza Stein of Teaneck, N.J., Gali Girls wear clothes that are not made to accentuate their bodies. Accessories include a matching Magen David bracelet for the owner and the doll, a Hebrew and English birth certificate and a separate wooden Shabbat kit that can be painted.

Gali Girls are designed to encourage girls to bring positive Jewish values, such as kindness, respect, and charity, into their doll play, Stein said.

At 18 inches, Gali Girls are about the same size as some dolls made by Mattel Inc. and American Girl Dolls, but they are designed to be childlike playmates, not miniversions of some fantasy adult that a child may want to grow up to be.

“Young girls adopt dolls as their friends, even as their own children,” Stein said. “They create stories, role play and live out lives as they are or how they wish it could be. Having a doll with a Jewish identity reinforces values, and gives girls a certain sense of religious pride.”

Stein introduced the doll at the August 2004 Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education conference.

The dolls come with brown, blond or red straight hair. A version with curly hair seems mandatory for a Jewish line of dolls, and apparently that one is in the works.

Gali Girls from Gali Girls Inc. cost $55-60, but can be purchased at discount prices for school and organizational fundraisers. To order, call (201) 862-1989 or visit

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