High Holy Days: Working for happiness

Did you know that many people actually find free time more difficult to enjoy than work? Although many people also find their work stressful, boring or meaningless, success doesn’t make people happy either. 

“More than a decade of groundbreaking research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience has proven in no uncertain terms that the relationship between success and happiness works the other way around,” writes Shawn Achor, one of the designers and teachers of Harvard’s famous Happiness course, in “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.” Research shows that happiness is the precursor to success, not the result, and that, together with optimism, it fuel success. This is what Achor means by the competitive edge he calls the “happiness advantage.” 

But can unhappy people – or even mildly content people – become happy? If so, how? And is it possible to be happy even at work?

Achor believes so. As the CEO of Good Think Inc., a global positive-psychology consulting company, Achor uses the latest in research to give practical steps to increase happiness in our daily lives. His TED talks on the subject have garnered millions of views. 

The Texan got a taste of happiness when he unexpectedly got into Harvard after applying on a dare. He then stayed in the dorms for the next 12 years, first as an undergraduate, then a graduate student and live-in resident to help students with academic and personal success. There he witnessed a pattern of students getting worried, overwhelmed, depressed and even failing. 

It was only after he went to visit a shantytown school in Soweto, South Africa, that he began to understand the answer. When he asked the kids if they like to do schoolwork,  most of the kids raised their hands. And they weren’t lying. A CEO from South Africa told him, “They see schoolwork as a privilege, one their parents did not have.”

When he returned to Harvard and saw people complaining about the very thing Soweto students saw as a privilege, “I started to realize just how much our interpretation of reality changes our experience of that reality.” Students who saw learning as a chore missed out on the opportunities in front of them, but those who saw Harvard as an opportunity shined.

The seven principles in “The Happiness Advantage” are not about putting on a happy face, Achor believes. It’s not about using positive thinking to pretend problems don’t exist, or that everything will always be great. It’s about harnessing our neuroplasticity, our brain’s ability to change and rewire itself. 

“The hardest part about happiness is remembering that we can choose it,” he says. 

Achor talked about the seven principles of “The Happiness Advantage.”

Principle No. 1 The Happiness Advantage Happiness, Achor says, is “the joy we feel striving toward our potential.” This definition links positive emotion with a cognitive awareness of growth. Positive emotion without growth is pleasure, which is fleeting. Growth without positive emotion is equally short-lived and leads to depression.

“Your brain works significantly better at positive than it does when neutral or negative,” Achor says, noting that when positive, the brain has triple the creativity, 31 percent higher levels of productivity, 23 percent fewer fatigue-related symptoms, 37 percent higher levels of sales — all resulting in higher profit and lower burnout. 

Principle No. 2: The Fulcrum and the Lever Achor learned at an early age that our brain can be thought of as “single processors capable of devoting only a finite amount of resources to experiencing the world.” You can use those resources to see the world through a lens of negativity, stress, pain and uncertainty, he says, or through a lens of gratitude, hope, resilience and optimism. 

“Happiness is not about lying to ourselves, or turning a blind eye to the negative, but about adjusting our brain so that we see the ways to rise above our circumstances.”

According to Yale psychologist Amy Wrzeniewski, a crucial part in work satisfaction is whether you view your work as a job (a means to a paycheck), a career (necessary to advance and succeed) or a calling (work as an end in itself contributing to a greater good). It doesn’t matter the work one does, it can always  be connected to one’s higher calling, Achor says. 

Principle No. 3 The Tetris Effect 

The brains of people who repeatedly play video games (like Tetris, where blocks have to fit geometrically) became stuck in a ‘cognitive after-image,’ which causes them to see the game wherever they go. People can also get stuck that way, especially accountants, lawyers and other professionals trained to be critical. Lawyers depose their children while accountants make spreadsheets of their wives’ faults. 

But you can create a ‘Positive Tetris Effect,’ i.e. train your brain to get stuck in a positive afterimage using happiness, gratitude and optimism. Make a list of three positive things at the end of the day, and your brain will have to scan for positive events. 

“This trains the brain to become more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them,” he says. 

Principle No. 4 Falling Up 

The human brain has been wired to create mental maps to survive and navigate the world. After a failure, we create a map with three possible outcomes:  1. Circling in the same spot.  2.  Getting further lost (going down a more negative path).  3.  Getting to a place stronger than before.

The third way “is the difference between those who are crippled by failure and those who rise above it.” After repeated setbacks, some people learn helplessness and believe their actions are futile, while others have what psychologists call “adversarial growth” success after traumas or failures because of their positive mindset. 

Principle No. 5 The Zorro Circle 

Before he could become a hero, the fictional character Zorro had to learn to control his impulsiveness and master his skills one by one, first within a small circle. Often, Achor says, we feel out of control, especially when we try to tackle too many things at once. In a study of 7,400 employees published in The Lancet in 2007, people who felt they had little control over their deadlines had a 50 percent higher risk of heart disease. 

In times of stress, Achor says, it’s important to identify your feelings (whether in writing or in words), find out which parts of the situation you can control, then try to accomplish one small goal. Then another, and another. 

Principle No. 6: The 20-Second Rule

Neuroplasticity tells us that we can change our brains: bad habits wire them that way as do good habits. Achor works with people to replace a negative habit with a positive one “so that the brain’s resources are being allocated appropriately” toward change, he says. 

But to form a new habit, you have to create the path of least resistance (i.e., it needs to be easy). Achor found that committing to playing the guitar every day wasn’t enough when his guitar was stored in the closet. Once he moved it outside (“lower the barrier”), he incorporated guitar playing into his daily routine. 

Principle No. 7 Social Investment

In times of stress and crisis, many people retreat into their shells and cut off communication with their friends and loved ones. But happy, successful people do the opposite. “Instead of turning inward, they actually hold tighter to their social circle,” Achor says. Forming social bonds increases Oxytocin, reducing anxiety and improving concentration and focus.

In the end, Achor believes we can always be happy at work by creating positive habits and sticking with them. “But if you feel like you could grow more in another job, then optimism should fuel the belief that you can make that change successfully,” he says. But if change is not possible for some reason, “making the best of the current situation only makes good sense.”

When Birthday Party Blowouts Blowup

The wedding invitation convinced me that modern moms and dads have officially lost their gumballs regarding children’s birthday parties. “Master Jacob Estroff” read the ivory parchment envelope; it took a moment to register that the addressee was in fact Jakey, my 5-year-old. The bride-to-be (Miss Sophia Rosenthal) was Sophie, his toothless classmate.

The party lived up to its invitation. There were bridesmaids, groomsmen and, of course, a mini groom and a mini chuppah. There was even a wedding cake taller than the birthday bride herself.

In all fairness, Jewish parents come by it honestly. We’ve barely cleared labor and delivery before we’re expected to be on the phone with the caterer ordering bagels and lox for 200 for the bris or baby naming.

It seems a natural progression to plan a three-ring circus in the cul-de-sac when that bundle of joy turns 6. It’s just that somewhere between the petting zoo, the pony rides and the moonwalk we end up with an empty wallet, a giant headache and a kid who is so overwhelmed by the hoopla, he can barely enjoy his big day.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we bail on our kids’ birthday parties altogether. On the contrary, these annual rites of passage are much-anticipated events in our children’s lives. But going to the opposite extreme isn’t the answer either.

Fortunately, it’s perfectly possible to plan a kid-friendly birthday bash without compromising our values, sanity and pocketbook. All it takes is a little panning for gold.

You know when you take a big clump of mud and swoosh it around in a pan until a few glistening specks of gold are all that remain. Well, we’re going to do the same thing here. Only instead of mud, we’re going to swoosh a big, mushy mess of modern birthday party madness.

Are you swooshing yet? Do you see those overpriced invitations and goody bags spilling over the sides into a bucket by your feet? Great, keep swooshing. But don’t go peeking at those golden nuggets yet. Not until we’ve spent some time looking at the slush in the bucket, and have a clear grasp on what exactly our child’s birthday party does not need to be (regardless of what parenting magazines, party planners or other parents might think):

  • It does not need to be a reflection of our parental prowess. We accomplish lots of amazing feats as parents. Getting our children out the door and into school every morning; keeping them safe, healthy and happy. Our child’s birthday party is but one little parenting accomplishment in a year of millions; it’s hardly a manifestation of our maternal savvy.
  • It does not need to be a Martha Stewart masterpiece. Have you ever bought a magazine based on the teaser “foolproof birthday party ideas” only to realize a page and a half in that you are a fool for buying the magazine in the first place? Not only is making tulip-shaped cupcakes not foolproof, but it takes a degree from the World Culinary Institute. Besides, our kids couldn’t care less if their cupcakes are shaped like tulips or toilets, as long as they’re yummy, icing-soaked and flanked with the right amount of candles.
  • It does not have to be an unprecedented concept. Do you know that sinking feeling we get when we learn another kid is having a birthday gala at the same secret site we’ve booked for our own child’s party — only a week earlier. “The nerve!” we think to ourselves. “I’ve had that inflatable jumpy place booked for a year and that parent stole the idea right out from under me.” But the reality is our kids love playing on inflatable jumpy stuff. They would do it day in and day out if we’d let them. I must ask you this: Would you turn up your nose at an opportunity to go to a spa just because you did the same thing last weekend? I think not.
  • It does not need to go off without a hitch. For my niece’s sixth birthday, my sister-in-law booked a highly acclaimed magician, months — if not years — in advance. You could taste the excitement as the guests counted down the seconds until he arrived. And then they counted some more. And some more. Until it became painfully evident that the magician had taken his vanishing act to the next level.

That’s when they started building Oreo towers. Those kids went through package after package of double stuffs until they’d constructed a bona fide chocolate cookie Camelot. And then it was time to go home. “Thanks, that was fun,” the children told my catatonic sister-in-law as they exited.

Lesson learned? Despite a catastrophic birthday party disaster, my niece turned 6, the guests were happy and we had a family memory that would last years beyond the applause after a perfectly executed magic show.

OK then. I think we’re finally ready to peek at the golden nuggets. At those few precious, glimmering things our child’s birthday party should be. They look something like this:

  • A fun, memorable day spent with family and friends.
  • A means of making them feel happy, proud and loved.

  • A celebration of their development, uniqueness and existence.

Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning Jewish educator and mother of four. Her first book, “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? The Essential 411 on Raising Modern Jewish Kids” will be published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House in 2007.

End of Sanity

The orange ribbon was tied neatly around my rearview mirror.

Through the mirror I saw the face of an acquaintance in the backseat. I was giving her a ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

When she noticed the color of my political views above the dashboard, she offered her own: “We can’t live in the midst of our enemy. Disengagement is the only sane thing to do.”

“I disagree,” I said simply, avoiding a political debate I wasn’t ready to win fully. I knew I would find out some more truth for myself, that weekend, on my planned trip to Gush Katif.

I had to go to the Gush before it was too late. I had to see what all the contention was about. Friends of the family hooked me up with an 18-year-old named Ayelet, who was doing her national service in the emergency dispatch station in Neve Dekalim, the most urban Gush settlement.

Before sunset heralded in Shabbat, Ayelet and her friends took me for a ride around the Gush. All I could see through the car window were red roofs, palm trees, and the thick blue line of the sea. The place looked like an Israeli Malibu.

Our first stop was a huge nursery filled with thousands of plants.

“I can’t believe they’ll close this,” I said to Ayelet. “They’re even uprooting nature.”

“It’s very sad,” she sighed.

I didn’t take the conversation further because it clashed with the upbeat green life around me.

We ended the afternoon on the beach, the same beach where soldiers occupied the deserted seaside hotel they had evacuated a week earlier. But I hardly noticed them. Instead I watched men play matkot (beachside racket ball), kids splash in the water and a couple snuggle on the sand. The waters looked bluer than those that met the crowded Tel Aviv shore, and much more peaceful.

That evening, as we walked to the family hosting us for Friday night dinner, we passed couples pushing strollers — smiling; kids running in the street — carefree; teenagers wishing us Shabbat shalom — cheerfully.

At dinner, the topic of disengagement hardly came up, and I was annoyed because I had questions: How do you feel? Do you think it’s going to happen? What are you going to do the day of?

But I couldn’t bring myself to break the serene air with such painful talk.

So I looked around me. Hundreds of books lined the walls, china filled the cabinet. There was no sign of anyone leaving, or wanting to leave.

Walking home with the clear skies above us, and the special Shabbat silence enveloping the Gush, I pressed Ayelet.

“I don’t see how they’re going to clear the Gush out.”

“Me either.”

“People are happy here. They have built their homes here, their livelihood. What are they going to do? Drag people out of their homes? Put them into buses, like cattle? Pack their stuff?”

“It seems so. The army will bring special containers and pack for them.”

“How can they do that?”

“It’s devastating.”

The next day, I had lunch with another family. Pictures of Rav Kook, the father of religious Zionism, adorned the walls of their home. This time, the topic of disengagement came up, but with an air of dismissal.

“God will help us,” said the father.

He and his wife had never left Israel, on principle. I tried to picture what it would be like on the fateful day: What would they do when a soldier knocked on their door — if he didn’t already break it down — and hauled them out against their will?

But I shut off the vision. I decided to give the residents a well-deserved break from the topic of “disengagement,” and they inspired me to do the same for myself. I took a nap for the rest of the Shabbat afternoon.

Finally, on my way out of the Gush, I gave people a ride to Tel Aviv. Shlomi, a handsome 21-year-old who had just finished his army service, sat in the front seat, wearing jeans and a tank top. He lived on a Gush farming community.

Trying to be nonchalant, I asked, “How are people so relaxed?”

“No one wants to think about,” he said. “No one can digest it. It’s like if someone you love is going to die. You don’t want to think about and plan their death.”

The woman I had driven to Jerusalem had said it was sane to evacuate the settlers. Now it was clear to me how it will be one of the maddest things Israel could do. Gush is one of the sanest places in Israel I had ever visited. The people are healthy and happy. They love life and they love Israel.

But maybe that’s what Israel is learning to disengage from: tranquility, joy, health, beauty, idealism, strength and bravery. By uprooting these families, Israel is uprooting the very emotions and values we need to win the fight for Israel — and to remain here, forever.

On my way out of the Gush, driving the three-minute stretch of potentially dangerous road, I looked at my orange ribbon. And I understood even more why it was there.

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at arfa@netvision.net.il.


And They Lived Happily Ever Apart

Years ago, when I met someone who had life-partner potential, someone who could be my first real adult relationship, I held on

tighter than Donald Trump to a bad hair style.

“I love you,” I said.

“I want to be with you all the time,” I said.

“Let’s get married,” I said.

I said a lot of things. We got married.

At first, it was just like the movies. There was love and passion and caring and sharing and laughter and plans for the future. We were like the models on Hallmark greeting cards. There were fields of daisies and we were running across them, in slow motion, toward one another, arms outstretched. It couldn’t have been mushier or cornier, but we didn’t give a damn. Other singles envied us.

“Be strong, little singles,” we told them. “We were you once.”

Flash forward. A dozen years. A couple of kids. A few conflicts.

“I want you” was replaced by “Are you still here?”

“Do you realize we’ve been having sex for six straight hours?” was replaced by “Do you realize we haven’t had sex for six straight weeks?”

And “I just love all your little quirks,” was replaced by “That sound you make when you sneeze makes my skin crawl.”

Being together day after day for 14 years sadly lost its luster.

We tried to save the quickly expiring marital patient. Counseling. More counseling. More counseling. But it was not to be. We decide to pull the plug. Divorce. Mediation. Married couple becomes two singles again.

When you’re alone, you look around and it appears as though everyone else in the world is in love, except you. All the other animals on the Ark are in pairs — except you, the sole pig — Porky, party of one.

So I jumped back into the quest. Almost another decade of dating; of periods of no dates, of bad dates, of wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am dates. And now, once again, I’ve met someone who has life-partner potential. I want to be with her all the time. I see fields of daisies and us running across them, in slow motion, toward one — wait a minute. This is starting to sound familiar. I try to remember the TV show or movie that’s reminding me of what’s happening, and then it occurs to me that it’s a rerun from my own life. Oh, God. I’m repeating the pattern. Will I be stuck in this Dante’s Romantic Inferno forever? Will this be my personal hell? My Vietnam? My Iraq?

Is this going to be the arc of my romantic growth? To go from “All You Need Is Love” to “Familiarity Breeds Contempt?” Is there any way to change my fate?

Life has a way of stepping in when you need it. This time (Adult Relationship No. 2), I can’t spend all my waking moments with my new girlfriend. Because of our work, children, pet and activity schedules, we can only see each other a few times a week. Maybe that’s why each time we do, it’s like we’re meeting for that first time. We’re constantly in a state of missing each other and accumulating experiences and feelings to share. We’re not together every day. We’re definitely not living together. And we’re both fine with that. Really. We’ve each been married before, so neither of us are in a hurry to rush into anything permanent. We each value both our time together and our independent time apart.

I remember many of those fairy tales we read as kids ending with: “And they lived together, happily ever after.” I suppose for some people that still holds true. But for myself and for many others these days, it’s a new, revised fairy tale ending: “And they lived apart, happily ever after.”

Maybe it’s not the perfect fairy tale ending. Then again, what with the national divorce rate at 50 percent and higher, maybe we’re simply creating our own fairy tale.

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net

If You Wanna Be Happy

If You Wanna Be Happy

During these holidays, Jews are commanded to be joyful.

The Hebrew word for happy is sameach.

The Hebrew word for festival or holiday is chag.

Find and circle those words in the phrase below, which means: “And you shall be happy on your festival”


Dance ‘Til You Drop!

We hold the Torah and dance in a circle seven times on Simchat Torah to celebrate the completion of the old cycle of reading and the beginning of the new one.

Complete this poem. All the words rhyme with Torah!

Come on Wendy, Jake and ________ (a girl’s name)

Let’s dance the ____________ (name of Israeli dance) around the Torah.

We’ll dance ’til we reach ______ – ______ (an island in Polynesia).

We’ll jump ’til we fall on the _______- a (it’s below the ceiling).

Because our legs and arms are ______- a (when you exercise too much).

But if you sleep, please don’t ________- a (you do this through your nose and mouth).

Los Angeles 5758

Your rabbi is a banana. Your cantor thinks she’sJohn Lennon. And the entire congregation is singing Beatlestunes.

A nightmare? A parallel universe?

No, it’s just Purim at Sha’arei Am: The SantaMonica Synagogue, and Rabbi Jeff Marx’s megillah reading is just oneof many bizarre scenes that will play out as rabbi and congregantsrid themselves of cumbersome inhibitions for one silly day.

In the Book of Esther business as usual is turnedon its head, so Purim demands that revelers literally eat, drink andbe merry, in direct contrast to holidays such as Yom Kippur.

“On Purim we can appreciate what God has given usthrough good things and happy times,” says Malca Schwarzmer, Jewishstudies principal at Ohr Eliyahu academy, a yeshiva day school inCulver City.

“We are given a wonderful opportunity to have timeand perspective without pressure. That belief is something that comestruly from the heart,” says Schwarzmer, who has been known to shockstudents by dressing up as a punk rocker for Purim.

Rabbi Yisroel Kelemer — a notorious jokester –has never had a problem with merrymaking. But on Purim, even he takesit over the top with costumes and pranks.

“One year I wanted to go as a Chasidic rabbi,”says Kelemer, rabbi at Congregation Mogen David. “But the only beardI could get was a Santa Claus beard. So they called me, ‘RabbiSanta.'”

Rabbi Avraham Levitansky found out that it’s hardto shock Southern Californians. A few years ago he hung aroud a SantaMonica street corner handing out mishloach manot, traditional Purimgift baskets, with his friend, Megillah Gorilla.

“Not one person flinched,” recalls Levitansky,rabbi of Chabad in Santa Monica. “They just rolled down theirwindows, took the basket, and said, ‘thank you.'”

Some take their fun more seriously than others.This year, Rabbi Haim-Dov Beliak of Temple Ner Tamid in Downey willcontinue his 15-year tradition of dressing up as a clown.

“I did not know I would be made famous by RabbiBakshi Doron, who calls himself the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel,when he said Reform rabbis are clowns.”

This year, the board at Ner Tamid passed aresolution requiring all board members to dress in costume to “set aproper example” Beliak said.

The fact that a board resolution was requiredpoints to a problem lamented by many.

Purim has fallen victim to “the pediatric approachto Judaism — it’s something wonderful for the kids, but not sonecessary for adults,” says Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah inWoodland Hills.

But historically, Purim was a very adult chance tochuckle at the world, he points out.

“A Purim spiel is an attempt to laugh at life evenwhen things are bad. At times, spielers brought great healing to manycommunities,” Vogel says.

Unfortunately, Purim has also brought great harm,as revelers have gone too far with the tradition of ad delo yada,drinking until the distinction between cursing Haman and blessingMordechai is blurred.

“I don’t think it’s a sobriety test,” says Vogel.”I think rather that it’s a statement about life, that sometimes goodand evil blur themselves and life can change quickly. It’s the natureof Jewish existence.”

Most rabbis agree that getting smashed is not theway to celebrate Purim. In fact, the Orthodox Union is using Purim asa launchpad for a new teen alcoholism educational campaign.

Schwarzmer notes that there are other ways tocelebrate, such as through the other mitzvot of Purim — givingtzedakah, sharing gift baskets and enjoying a community meal.

There is also a fine tradition of using Purim topoke fun at tradition, nowadays widely done on the Internet.

But some say even that goes too far.

“The line between being relaxed and derisive hasto a large degree been crossed over,” says Joshua Berkowitz, rabbi ofCongregation Shaarei Tefila in the Fairfax area, which draws a largecrowd to its annual Purim party. “It was always intended to be withrestraint and respect, but things that are holy and sacred becomeobjects of derision.”

But for Beliak, joy is what Purim is allabout.

“Generally, there is too little real joy in asynagogue,” Beliak says. “There is a lot of manufactured joy, whereyou walk in on somebody’s simcha. But Purim just seems to be purejoy.”

Raisin revellers at Sha’arei Am’s Purimfestivities.

Coming Up

Purim On The Pier

Purim is known as the holiday where everythinggets turned upside down, and that’s just what will happen to rollercoaster riders at Kehillat Israel’s Purim party on the pier.

The Pacific Palisades synagogue has managed torent out Pacific Park at the Santa Monica Pier for the evening ofThursday, March 12, when the carnival rides and games are usuallyclosed.

“It’s a wonderful way for everyone to celebratetogether and for people to learn about Purim,” says Leslie Gifford, asynagogue member who is helping to organize the event.

Thursday, March 12, 4-8 p.m. at the Santa MonicaPier. Wristbands for all 11 rides are $12 at the gate, $10 in advanceat Kehillat Israel, 16019 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310)459-2328. — JGF


Justice for All

The Southern California Board of Rabbisis creating an interdenominational beit din

By Julie GruenbaumFax,

Religion Editor

In a move that some are heralding as a great showof Jewish unity, the Southern California Board of Rabbis is creatingan interdenominational beitdin, or rabbinic arbitration body, toresolve civil disputes between Jewish individuals orinstitutions.

“We wanted to show that the concept of Jewishethics is not divided by movement,” says Rabbi Aaron Kriegel, chairof the beit din committee for the Board of Rabbis. “We all understandthe idea of what is right, the concepts of Torah that bind ustogether.”

Litigants, who must agree that the beit din’sdecision is legally binding, will each choose a rabbi, and the tworabbis will choose a third.

The board, made up of 250 rabbis from alldenominations, hopes that the beit din will provide an alternative tocostly court battles and keep the media away from internal battles inthe Jewish community.

“There is real excitement in our coming togetherto use tradition to solve problems, using a system that has workedfor thousands of years,” says Kriegel.

Yet that excitement is premature for some in theOrthodox camp, who are reluctant to offer support until more detailsare available.

“In theory, this is a wonderful idea, a wonderfulway to connect Jews to the Jewish legal system, and a wonderful wayto keep things internal rather than going to civil court,” says RabbiYosef Kanefsky, a member of the Board of Rabbis’ executive committeeand head of B’nai David-Judea, an Orthodox congregation.

“[But] I wouldn’t serve unless it were clear thatthis is not a formal halachic body. If the impression is that it isgoing t
o issue piskei halacha [Jewish legal decisions], that would bea misrepresentation.”

Kanefsky, who is active in interdenominationaldialogue, says he would consider participating only if it were clearthat the body was a “Jewish, scholarly, benevolent and wisearbitration board guided by principles of Jewish law.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, also a member of theBoard of Rabbis, is less optimistic.

“On one hand, there is a part of me which looksfavorably to Jews looking to the sources that all of us share,” saysAdlerstein, director of the Jewish Studies Institute of Yeshiva ofLos Angeles. “But in terms of mechanics of such a beit din, I don’tknow how we could ever get off first base.”

Kanefsky and Adlerstein both stress that eachmovement holds a fundamentally different approach to halacha and thehalachic process.

“It would be like a medical committee of aHarvard-trained physician, a homeopath and a foot reflexologisttrying to decide a medical matter,” Adlerstein says. “They would eachhave the best interest of the patient in mind, but they just don’tspeak the same language.”

But Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark, president of theBoard of Rabbis, says that, by definition, participants in each casewould be self-selective. Litigants would choose rabbis whom theyrespect, and rabbis uncomfortable with the specifics of a given casecould refuse to sit on the beit din.

“There is nobody being forced to be on a beit din,and because we have 250 rabbis of all shapes and sizes anddescriptions, people can choose,” says Goldmark, rabbi of Temple BethOhr, a Reform congregation in La Mirada.

There remain details to be worked out, Kriegelsays, such as how much the beit din will charge. For the first case– a dispute between an individual and a Jewish institution — no feewas charged.

“We don’t want to be nogaya bidavar, to showpartiality,” Kriegel says. “Right now, the issue of justice is biggerthan the issue of payment.”

And the issue of unity seems to come above allelse.

“The whole concept is that there are so manythings that are dividing the Jewish community that this is somethingthat comes at a wonderful time to unite us,” Goldmark says.

For Adlerstein, the issue is not so clear. “AllJews can, and should, feel equally passionate about the ability ofall of us to get along,” he says. But this, he added, just might haveto remain one of the issues that divides.


Activist and Cantor Team Up For Shabbaton

It’s not often that Rabbi Avi Weiss, activist parexcellence, gets upstaged. But he didn’t seem to mind taking secondseat to Cantor Elli Kranzler at a recent Shabbaton hosted by B’naiDavid-Judea.

With sweet melodies and rousing renditions of thetunes of Reb Shlomo Carlebach, Kranzler, cantor at Weiss’s HebrewInstitute of Riverdale, led the congregation in hours worth ofuplifting song and dance throughout the weekend at the OrthodoxPico-Robertson congregation.

Rabbi Weiss drew crowds for his talks on Shabbat,and despite a downpour, to a Saturday night lecture, where his speechwas followed by a sing-along by Kranzler in the shul’s intimate GoldRoom.

“What has propelled me to do what I do,” explainedWeiss, “…is feeling the pain of our brothers and sisters. Thequestion becomes not why do we do it, but how can we not?”

Weiss is renowned for such actions as taking onblack activist Khalid Mohammed for anti-Semitic and racist remarks,and for taking up the cause of Jonathan Pollard, currently in prisonfor spying on the U.S. for Israel.

“What he did was legally wrong,” Weiss said. “Theissue is those who have done what Jonathan Pollard did, have receivedsentences between four and five years. Jonathan Pollard is in the13th year of a life sentence.”

Weiss said his activism was also aimed atpreserving the past.

“How will we view the Shoah 200 years from now or300 years from now? I’m desperately concerned about this…I’mconcerned that the Shoah has not been ritualized.”

In addition, Weiss noted that the memory of theHolocaust is being threatened by the establishment of churchesoutside concentration camps in Europe.

Outlining the formidable task of activism thatlies ahead, Weiss defined “the ultimate challenge we face” as “theneed for younger, stronger people to help.”

He concluded his lecture by saying: “Don’t speakout for what is popular, but for what is right.” — MichaelAushenker, Community Editor, and Julie Gruenbaum Fax, ReligionEditor