“24 Days” playing Tues. Jan 31 at Temple Judea

Calendar: January 27- February 2

FRI | JAN 27


Companies will be looking to fill full-time, part-time and apprentice positions. Candidates of all ages, experience levels and industries are encouraged to attend. Presented by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian. Come prepared with resumes and dressed to impress. 11 a.m. Free. La Iglesia En El Camino, 14800 Sherman Way, Van Nuys. (818) 376-4246.

SAT | JAN 28


The new documentary “Surviving Skokie” tells the story of Jack Adler, who survived Auschwitz and then, in 1961, witnessed American Nazis marching down the main street of Skokie, Ill., a Chicago suburb. Jack, accompanied by his son, Eli, returns to his village in Poland for the first time in 65 years. The film follows their journey from turbulent Skokie through Poland, where Jack and Eli find a new understanding of the Holocaust and each other. Discussion with filmmaker Eli Adler and synagogue member Jim Ruxin to follow screening. 4 p.m. Free. To RSVP, call (310) 471-7372. University Synagogue, Gray Family Chapel. 11960 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 472-1255. unisyn.org.


Carol V. DavisIn her new poetry collection, Carol V. Davis crosses cultural and geographic boundaries to explore her family’s history as Jews, outsiders and immigrants. Ranging from Los Angeles to Nebraska to Germany to Russia, she probes the boundaries between faith, folklore and superstition. Davis, poetry editor of the Jewish Journal, will read and sign her new work. 8 p.m. $10; $6 children, students, seniors. Beyond Baroque, 681 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 822-3006.


This year’s theme, “reJEWvenation … Be Your Jewish Self,” features crafts, activities and festivities as you enjoy a community Havdalah and hot dog dinner. 5:30 p.m. $7. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 494-8174. templeetzchaim.org.


Join in song and story as the legacy of Debbie Friedman is honored. Israeli artist Bat Ella and her band will perform unique interpretations of Friedman’s songs in Hebrew. Other special guests include Craig Taubman, Danny Maseng, Rick Lupert and Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben. 7 p.m. $10; tickets available at tickettailor.com. The Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. (818) 760-1077. picounionproject.org.


Hear a tale of kabbalists and street cleaners, Jews and Muslims, immigrants and natives, prophets and lost souls — all of whom inhabit Jerusalem. Author Ruchama Feurerman will discuss her novel, being made into a movie, which is a tale of personal dignity, ownership, love and the way they overlap. Q-and-A to follow. 7:30 p.m. Free. Congregation Shaarey Zedek, 12800 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 763-0560.

SUN | JAN 29


Judy Zeidler, author, food consultant and frequent contributor to the Jewish Journal, will discuss her culinary journey from gourmet Jewish cooking, to cookbooks full of kosher recipes, to international cuisine, to her latest publication, “Italy Cooks.” Ticket price includes a copy of her book along with a light brunch, an author talk, a cooking demonstration and a chance to sample her famous biscotti. 10:30 a.m. $45. Tickets available at jewishwomenstheatre.org. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 315-1400. jewishwomenstheatre.org.


The Congregation Beth Shalom Film Series presents “The Venice Ghetto, 500 Years of Life.” The film traces its story to the medieval era, told through Lorenzo, a New York teenager sent to Venice to learn about his family’s origins. Learn about the daily life, rituals and architectural landmarks of the Venetian Jewish quarter through Lorenzo’s journey of discovery. Italian lunch and popcorn will be provided. 11:30 a.m. $5. Congregation Beth Shalom, 21430 Centre Pointe Parkway, Santa Clarita. (661) 254-2411. cbs-scv.org.


Boyle Heights was once home to Jewish, Latino, Japanese, Italian, Armenian, Russian and African-American migrant communities. The neighborhood is emblematic of Los Angeles’ multicultural history. An afternoon of multilingual poetry and prose will feature the works of Yiddish poets such as Hirsh Goldovsky and Henry Rosenblatt (1920s) to Sesshu Foster, Clement Hanami and Veronica Reyes (1970s-80s), all of whom documented life in Boyle Heights. This event is a part of a collaborative series that explores the neighborhood, then and now. 2 p.m. Free. The Paramount, 2708 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Los Angeles. cjs.ucla.edu. (310) 267-5327.


This benefit concert for Save a Child’s Heart features Israeli singing sensation Rita, popular Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and 15-year-old pianist, composer and songwriter Emily Bear. American-Israeli contemporary dance ensemble Keshet Chaim will perform with acclaimed young vocalist Liel Kolet. Israeli actress Moran Atias, star of the FX series “Tyrant,” will emcee the event. 7:30 p.m. Tickets starting at $45. Valley Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. (818) 677-8800. valleyperformingartscenter.org.

MON | JAN 30


cal-carvalhoThis film is a 19th-century American Western adventure story about Solomon Nunes Carvalho, an observant Sephardic Jew born in 1815 in Charleston, S.C., who, in 1853, traveled with John Fremont’s Fifth Westward Expedition. Living alongside mountain men, Native Americans and Mormons, Carvalho became one of the first photographers to document the far American West. Narrated by actor Michael Stuhlbarg (“Boardwalk Empire”). Q-and-A with filmmaker Steve Rivo to follow. 7:30 p.m. Ahrya Fine Arts, 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. It will be screened Jan. 30 and Jan. 31 at locations across Southern California; visit laemmle.com for more information. Q-and-A with photographer Robert Shlaer at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30, Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; and with Rivo at 1 p.m. Jan. 31, Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., No. 121, Encino. (310) 478-1041. laemmle.com.


“24 DAYS”

Award-winning French film “24 Days” tells the story of the kidnapping, torture and murder of 23-year-old French Jew Ilan Halimi in 2006. Before the screening, the Anti-Defamation League will facilitate a discussion about anti-Semitism in Europe. Film in French, with English subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Free. RSVP to onagel@adl.org or (310) 446-4243. Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. templejudea.com.



Join Young Adults of Los Angeles’ Wine Cluster for an exploration of the stylistic differences between Old World and New World wines. Is all chardonnay rich and buttery? Can cabernet sauvignon be both earthy and fruity? Get some answers to these questions and more. 8 p.m. $25. Tickets available at eventbrite.com. Vinoteque, 7469 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. yala.org. 

How to become a Jew


There are a variety of options for how to begin the process, but all involve study with a rabbi. Some people study with an individual rabbi for a period of time, and other people enroll in group classes designed especially for converts.

People find out about conversion classes in a number of ways: through the Internet, through family and friends, or by making an appointment to meet with a synagogue rabbi who recommends a program. Some students choose a particular religious movement’s program because that is the movement to which a Jewish partner’s family belongs, or perhaps the student is attracted to a particular rabbi or synagogue of that movement.

My program, Judaism by Choice, offers a Conservative curriculum, but which also welcomes other denominations; it includes 18 three-hour classes that cover such topics as Jewish history (biblical, rabbinic, medieval, modern, Holocaust, Israel/Zionism, American Judaism), Jewish holidays, Shabbat, kashrut, Jewish lifecycle (birth, marriage, death), theology, prayers, philosophy and rituals.

Students must also connect to a local synagogue and attend Shabbat services weekly, meet with the synagogue rabbi, observe Shabbat fully every week — including meals from Friday night to Saturday night — keep a level of kashrut (no pork, shellfish or mixing of meat and milk), learn to read Hebrew and have experiences in the Jewish community. Students must also attend our monthly Shabbat dinners and Shabbat morning learning services at Sinai Temple or Temple Beth Am and a Havdalah social evening at private homes.

When students in my program meet the conversion requirements, I give them a letter saying that they have completed all requirements in the Judaism by Choice program and are now eligible for conversion with either the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative) or the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California (interdenominational). 


Men must undergo a ritual circumcision, or, if already circumcised, hatafat dam brit (symbolic circumcision), which is a procedure where the mohel draws a little bit of blood from the penis.


Once the candidate has fulfilled all the requirements, he or she meets with a beit din — a rabbinical court. The rabbis ask about why the candidate wants to convert to Judaism, what observances he or she follows and his or her knowledge of Jewish holidays and Judaica. The candidate must also willingly give up any former religion. After 30 minutes of questioning, the candidate is told whether they have passed, and those who have are asked to read aloud the “Declaration of Faith,” affirming that he or she is ready to assume the obligations of Judaism.

The candidate then immerses in the spiritual waters of the mikveh, going fully under the water three times. For the first two immersions, he or she says blessings, and on the third immersion, recites the Shema, affirming the oneness of God. After fulfilling this, the candidate is officially a Jew.

For those who want to make aliyah (immigration to Israel), conversions are regulated by the Jewish Agency under the Law of Return, and all converts, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, are accepted. Israel’s Chief Rabbinate still regulates permission to marry within the Jewish state, and non-Orthodox and even some Orthodox converts are not accepted for that ritual, although many are. 


After the conversion, some people celebrate at their synagogue, where the congregation welcomes them to the Jewish religion. The newly converted might be called for an aliyah (saying blessings over the Torah) during the Torah service, and a special blessing might be recited for them in front of the ark during a Shabbat service. We do this at our Judaism by Choice Shabbat morning service.

Our program also includes a special ceremony at a Shabbat dinner, or a Havdalah social evening, where we officially hand the new Jew by Choice a conversion certificate and publicly acknowledge that the person is now part of the Jewish People and Jewish community. Family and friends also come to share this happy occasion.


We hope the new Jew by Choice will be involved in the Jewish community, in addition to involvement in a synagogue. Our program also provides supplemental programs throughout the year specially geared to Jews by Choice. These have included a pre-High Holy Days spiritual retreat, a Sukkot wine-tasting party, Chanukah and Purim parties, a second-night Passover seder and an annual trip to Israel. 

 Just as the biblical Naomi was welcoming to Ruth, so should the Jewish community be welcoming to those who embrace Judaism. Jews by Choice are knowledgeable and observant Jews, and we should all celebrate the fact that they will help the Jewish religion and Jewish people to grow and survive.

Rabbi Neal Weinberg is rabbinic director and instructor of Judaism by Choice Inc.

Post-election healing — kumbaya in class and at the beach

Alison Weinreb, a teacher at Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood, invited her sixth-grade social studies class to her home for an election-night viewing party.

As the electoral map turned increasingly blue, she noticed that her scattered Obama supporters were keeping pretty quiet — embarrassed even in victory to be in the minority among their McCain-supporting friends.

At the same time, McCain supporters — who have been the majority of students at Orthodox day schools like Maimonides — needed a fair amount of reassuring that an Obama presidency would not spell immediate disaster for Israel and the Jews, the message they had been hearing throughout the election from their friends and gleaning from conversations at home.

Weinreb wasn’t the only one facing a distressed and confused community in the aftermath of this year’s presidential race. Jews battered one another in passionate arguments throughout this election season, as each side staked out their positions, often spilling over into questionably grounded rhetoric and incivility. Friends and institutions squared off around Shabbat tables and at debate lecterns in what each considered life-or-death debates.

How children have interpreted such passion offers a revealing, though slightly distorted, mirror in which to view adult political discourse.

While children selectively perceive and then reinterpret information that comes their way, they reflect an atmosphere where issues of race, security, economic class divisions and Israel’s future have stirred up strong emotions.

At Orthodox day schools, mock elections yielded landslide McCain victories.

Students from at least one elementary school came home reporting that friends told them that if Obama were elected, he would “kill all the Jews.”

On the other side, at a another, more liberal school, one mother reported that her daughter was afraid to let on that her parents were McCain supporters, since everyone around her was so enamored of Obama.

Now that the election is over and campaign exaggerations can give way to reality, in schools, and everywhere else, people are making efforts to put things back into perspective.

At Maimonides, Weinreb helped organize a post-election assembly on Wednesday morning. On the stage, between the American and Israeli flags, two piñatas — an elephant and a donkey — stood side by side. Rabbi Karmi Gross, headmaster of the school, invited the sixth- through eighth-graders to come together to celebrate this historic triumph for American freedom and democracy.

“But we also come together for a different reason,” Gross continued. “We come together because this was one election — and I have seen quite a few — where the battle lines in America were drawn more clearly than ever, which pitted American against American, the red and the blue states, the left and the right, against each other in ways I do not recall. And sometimes the debates became very loud, and many times the debates became very nasty.”

Gross, using a talmudic parable, urged the children to understand the difference between disagreeing with an idea — which is fine — and attacking the person who holds such ideas, which is not.

Students together watched a video of McCain’s concession speech, and were asked to pull out some of the major themes.

“He said he was more proud to be associated with America than anything else,” one student offered.

“He said that we shouldn’t be upset that Obama won, because he’ll do good things for this country,” another said.

One rabbi acknowledged that many of the students were worried about Israel, but he assured them that Israel was strong, and that Israel’s ultimate fate lies in God’s hands, not in any president’s.

Jews who believed McCain was the better choice for Israel had to do a delicate dance with children.

One father, who asked not to be named to protect his son’s privacy, described a conversation he had with his 6-year-old son about the historic nature of this election and about the many reasons he was voting for McCain. In an age-appropriate way, they talked about security, the economy and issues that were important to them — such as having a president who had a record of supporting Israel. And the father posed the idea that he didn’t know whether Barack Obama would be a friend to Israel and the Jews, because there was not a very long record to rely on.

“Then — like all kids do, they pick up a small amount of what you tell them — he picked up from that that Barack Obama may not be nice to the Jewish people,” the father said, a declaration the boy made to his horrified mother.

The couple talked to their son again, softening the stance and saying that Obama might end up being a very good friend to the Jews. By the time Obama’s picture covered the front pages on Nov. 5, the boy seemed fine with his new president.

Helping kids process the broken-telephone game of information coming from the home and through their friends was a major focus at Emek Hebrew Academy-Teichman Family Torah Center in Sherman Oaks, where teachers integrated ideas about democracy or the specific campaign issues into the curriculum.

“But there were also moments where the students made baseless or exaggerated claims, repeating things they had heard,” said Gabriela Shapiro, general studies principal at Emek. “What we did at the time and will continue to do is teach the students about discernment — in other words, if someone makes a negative comment about Obama, we want the student hearing the claim to ask ‘what is the basis for your claim?'”

Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills brought in Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation, who introduced a pre-election debate by highlighting a moment several weeks ago in which McCain asked riled-up ralliers to stop relying on rumor and innuendo to attack Obama as a person, and to focus instead on the issues.

Rabbi Boruch Sufrin, headmaster of Hillel, plans to use examples from the election when the school starts a conflict-resolution and community-building program next week.

“We’re going to deal with issues of perception and judging others favorably, and attacking issues, not people. We’re going to talk about accepting people’s differences and understanding what you have in common,” he said.

It’s a tough message to get across to kids, when adults themselves haven’t been behaving well.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom said he found the rancor among Jewish voters “painful and discouraging.” At a pre-election debate in his synagogue, Feinstein had to put on his former middle school principal hat to discipline the crowd.

“It’s discouraging to me as an American and as a person who believes in democracy, and it’s discouraging to me as the rabbi of a synagogue where important things should be discussed that you can’t have a serious political debate without hooting and hollering and drowning out the other side,” Feinstein said.

ALTTEXTIt was such rancor that a Healing Havdalah — the ritual marking the end of Shabbat — last Saturday night aimed to overcome. The event was organized by LimmudLA, the apolitical, nondenominational, Jewish-unity organization that will hold its second annual conference in Orange County over Presidents’ Day weekend, in February.

Saturday’s event, organized by Gary Wexler, a Jewish marketing expert, attracted 150 people to Dockweiler Beach, where drums and guitars competed with the wind and planes taking off from the nearby LAX.

Warming themselves around a crackling fire, participants talked about how Havdalah, like the election, marks the end and the beginning, the perfect moment for healing.

Many kids were at the Havdalah, joining their parents in singing and dancing, basking in the very Limmud idea that no matter our differences, we can come together for a kumbaya moment of Jewish oneness.

While a lot of healing may still be needed before that sort of unity can move beyond a Saturday night at the beach, one uniting factor all agree on is that this election brought a new level of political awareness and passion across party lines and across ages.

“I’ve heard kids saying that for the first time in their lives they care about politics and elections and personally feel involved, and that is amazing — that energy is constructive,” Vicki Helfand, a teacher at Maimonides, told the students at the assembly. “When you care about something, you can do amazing things. Now that this election is over, we encourage you to keep being passionate, to keep believing that what you think matters — because it does.”

Danielle Berrin and Orit Arfa at Dockweiler Beach. Photo by Joe Haber http://funjoel.blogspot.com

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Nov. 8 – 14: Healing Havdalah, comedy, films


Joe the Plummer. Tina Fey. Yes We Can. Terrorist ties. Maverick. Hockey mom. It’s time to put the contentiousness of Election 2008 behind us. Republicans or Democrats, we are all Jews. To reunite the community, LimmudLA is hosting a “Healing Havdalah,” where cheering and jeering, political debates and heated ” target=”_blank”>http://www.limmudla.org.

Beth Lapides is 100 percent happy — 88 percent of the time. But Lapides will certainly be making everyone around her cheerful when she performs her “evolutionary entertainment.” Lapides, a comedian and creator-host of “Un-Cabaret,” has appeared on “Sex and the City,” “The Today Show” and “All Things Considered,” among other programs. During the 1992 presidential election, she tried to make First Lady an elected office and received as many electoral votes as Ross Perot. Sat. 8:30 p.m. $15-$20. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. (310) 315-1459. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Forgotten Jews of South America,” about South Americans who long to affirm their long-hidden Jewish faith, will also be featured during the fest. Rabbi Daniel Bouskila will be honored with the Maimonides Leadership Award for his years of service to the Sephardic Educational Center, and “West Wing” and “House” producer Eli Attie will receive the Cinema Sepharad Award. Sun. 4 p.m. $250 (opening gala). Through Nov. 16. $12 (screenings). Paramount Studios, 5555 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; Majestic Crest Theater, 1262 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 601-6302. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.afi.com.

In a powerful precursor to the Holocaust, 92 Jews were killed, 25,000 people were arrested and 200 synagogues were destroyed in one night in 1938. That night, remembered today as “The Night of Broken Glass” or Kristallnacht, will be commemorated at Loyola Marymount University when acclaimed photographer, filmmaker and writer Rick Nahmias presents his multimedia exhibit “Last Days of the Four Seasons.” Nahmias, who is best known for chronicling the struggles of California’s agricultural workforce, traces the lives of 100 Polish, Hungarian and Russian Jews who survived the Holocaust and established a refuge in the Catskill Mountains. Professor of Jewish Studies at Cal State Northridge Beth Cohen will deliver a keynote address, “Holocaust Survivors in Postwar America: Facts and Fictions of the Early Years.” Sun. 1 p.m. Free. Loyola Marymount University, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 338-7850. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lamuseumoftheholocaust.org.

Not that the subject of Israel is ever out of focus for organizations like StandWithUs and The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, but the aptly titled “Israel In Focus” conference will give the Jewish state center stage above issues like the new president-elect, the economy and the housing market. Featured experts will include Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch, who will share some of the latest outrageous videos he has unearthed on Palestinian TV; Roberta Seid, who will demonstrate how StandWithUs rouses college kids with a presentation on Israel 101, history and Zionism; and Micah Halpern, a political and social commentator with the latest developments in the turbulent Middle East political scene. Additional sponsors of this event are Sinai Temple Israel Center and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Sun. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. $75 (includes breakfast, lunch and all sessions). Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 836-6140 ext. 0.

Leave your to-do lists at home and spend an entire day focusing on yourself. “A Day for Women” at the Alpert JCC offers a rejuvenating experience of a different sort that doesn’t include massages or spa treatments. The theme is “Small Steps Toward Change” and the activities and discussion groups will center on how to make changes in ourselves as well as the world around us, starting with small efforts. The keynote speaker will be “Hours of Devotion” author Dinah Berland. Your day of spiritual pampering will also include lunch, a creative writing/art workshop and a Women’s Boutique (what’s a women’s day without shopping?). Sun. 10:30 a.m. $36 (young adults 18-28), $52 (AJCC members), $58 (non-members). 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601 ext. 1067 or elunt@alpertjcc.org. esteingart@jbbbsla.org. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.wbtla.org.


You don’t have to be a foodie or even an avid cook to enjoy a presentation by Jayne Cohen. The author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations” will join Deb Swartz and Deanna Clark of Old Town Cooking School in Pasadena to discuss Jewish aesthetics, Mark Rothko and Barbie dolls. What do Barbie dolls have to do with cooking? We have no idea, but you can find out during this evening of conversation, demonstrations and tastings with Cohen, where the culinary queen will also tell you how to celebrate Chanukah with a modern twist. Wed. 7-8 p.m. Free. Pasadena Central Library, DRW Auditorium, 285 E. Walnut St., Pasadena. (626) 791-0358. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.southerncalifornia.hadassah.org.


Nanci Neidorf Christopher was in her mid-30s when she felt her biological clock go off. With no knight in shining armor in sight, she decided to adopt. “… And Baby Makes Two — An Adoption Tale” is this Jewish mom’s tumultuous and inspiring story, which enjoyed an extended run at the Santa Monica Playhouse last year. This one-night only performance coincides with National Adoption Month and aims to raise awareness of the oft-misunderstood parenting option. Proceeds from the evening, which includes a live auction and a Sweet Lady Jane cake and champagne reception, will go to the American Liver Foundation, Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services and The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Thu. 8 p.m. $35 (single), $60 (pair), $100 (four tickets). The Other Space at the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (310) 285-2200. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>”Church, State, God and Politics: Past, Present and Future Religion in America,” accompanied by a Shabbat service. Saturday’s services will be followed by a study session led by Waldman and a luncheon. Waldman, with the help of Glendale Mayor John Drayman, will bring the weekend to a close with a lecture and Q-and-A session on Sunday. Fri. 7:30 p.m. Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m. Fri. and Sat. morning Shabbat services, free; $10-$25 for all other events. Temple Sinai of Glendale, 1212 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale. (213) 626-5863; (818) 246-8101. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.temple-sinai.net.

— Lilly Fowler contributed to this article

For listening, for giving — klezmer and its cousins

Romashka Live at Joe’s Pub

After two consecutive years of a mailbox clogged with new Chanukah music, this year seems to have produced a drought of latkes-candles-and-dreidel epics. No matter. There are plenty of terrific CDs around that will make good gifts for those who do the December festivities thing, or you could buy them for yourself (you selfish thing).

There is a phrase we use in my house to denote any music that makes you move your lower limbs almost involuntarily. We call this “wiggle music,” and the following selection features some very potent examples of the genre. If a winter dance is on your agenda, you could do a lot worse than to throw a couple of these in your CD player and hit shuffle. Or better yet: “wiggle.”

Metropolitan Klezmer, “Traveling Show” (Rhythm Media)

There used to be two complaints about live rock albums. Either the band played their greatest hits exactly as they had on record (Who needs a live recording that’s nothing but a reprise of the studio, only with the mistakes intact?) or they indulged their arty sides with long, dull solos. Old-line klezmer wasn’t as much of an improviser’s art as, say, jazz, but contemporary New Klez is much more so. And that means a live set like this new one from the Metros is welcome. The band swings hard, everyone has ample solo room and plenty to say. There’s even a track from Eve Sicular’s other band, Isle of Klezbos. In short, this is what a live set should be: great fun.


The Polina Shepherd Vocal Experience (featuring Quartet Ashkenazim), “Baym Taykh” (Oriente)

This dazzling new recording is a distinct change of pace from what I usually hear (I get to listen to a lot of new Yiddish music, which can be a positive or a negative depending on the recording). The songs are all originals, composed by Polina Shepherd and sung by Shepherd and a quartet that includes her and husband Merlin Shepherd (who also contributes memorably on reeds and guitar), Yana Ovrutskaya and Evgenya Slavina. This is elegant chamber music that dances nimbly from postmodern a cappella to jazz to art song without missing a beat. A beautiful, frequently moving CD. You can’t dance to it, but you can listen for hours without losing interest.


Blue Fringe, “The Whole World Lit Up”
(Craig ‘n’ Co.)

These guys have developed an ardent cult following, and it’s not hard to see why. With their hook-filled soft rock featuring inflections of The Beatles, The Eagles and The Byrds, Blue Fringe has found a plausible vehicle for their religious feelings, and their music is both thoughtful and danceable. Not my favorite genre, personally, but they do it well. I prefer the rockers, especially when the lead guitarists — to borrow a phase from boxing — let their hands go. Nevertheless, a satisfying set from a rising band.


Gail Javitt, “Like a Braided Candle, Songs for Havdalah” (self-distributed)

A nice idea for a record, compiling songs relating to Havdalah, and the result is a pleasant if unexceptional recording. Javitt has a sweet Debby Friedman-like voice; I wish she would use the lower part of her range more because it’s quite expressive, while the top is a bit thin. The material is a solid mix of the familiar (“A Gute Voch,” “Birhot Havdalah”) and the somewhat more unusual. I’m particularly fond of the Sephardic “Hamavdil” that opens the set.


Klezamir, “Warm Your Hands” (self-distributed)

Fourth album from this excellent Massachusetts-based quintet sees them proceeding without vocalist Rhoda Bernard. The result is a more instrumental-oriented set, but like their previous CDs this opens with a butt-shaking number, “Undzer Nigundl,” powered by a strong rock beat from drummer Keith Levreault. After that it settles into a more traditional groove, but the results are very satisfying.


Romashka, “Romashka” (self-distributed)

A wildly swinging set from this excellent Gypsy-cum-klezmer-cum-Balkan-brass-band aggregation. I saw Romashka live in a superheated little bar about a year ago and I was curious whether any recording could capture their insane level of intensity. From the rocketing opening of “Mariana,” the first cut on their new set, through some smoldering, smoky vocals by Inna Barmash to a pounding “Moldovan Batuta,” this is as full of energy and thrills as any studio set can be. Particular kudos to Ron Caswell, whose tuba provides a bouncing dance floor for both this CD and the Slavic Soul Party set reviewed elsewhere in this column.


Chana Rothman, “We Can Rise” (Oyhoo)

Here’s a promising debut from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Chana Rothman. She offers a heady mix of liturgically based hard folk-rock and reggae-inflected and hip-hop informed rockers, all originals. She reminds me of a young Basya Schechter without the Middle Eastern influences, and her best writing (“Ana,” “Gates of Justice”) is quite good. Her rapping isn’t quite there yet — too many eccentric rhythmic choices that disrupt her flow — but I’m definitely looking forward to watching her evolve.


Slavic Soul Party, “Teknochek Collision” (Barbes Records)

This is a wildly swinging amalgam of Balkan brass band, Gypsy and klezmer elements, with as many swerves and twists as a mountain road. The fusion of disparate elements is seamless, not a surprise if you consider how much these various traditions share. As the band’s name suggests, this is great party music, so grab a bottle of Slivovitz and a friend and dance.


Happy Campers

We are driving to pick up our son from camp. He’s been there three weeks, the longest stretch he’s been away from us since his birth.

In this age of e-mails and BlackBerrys and cell phones, the rule at Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley is no e-mails, BlackBerrys or cell phones. He’s sent us a few postcards home, clearly written by an 11-year-old who has put away childish things, like parents.

“Dear Family: We prayed and prayed and had havdalah end of story. Love, Adi. P.S. I love you. P.P.S. Tomorrow’s our overnight and we’re creating our own fire and no letters on Sunday.”

We follow a dusty procession of cars making its way toward the bunks — the one time of year these SUVs will touch actual dirt. Our son and his friends pour out — and they are different. Taller. Browner. A bit of manly bunk-stench still clinging to their clothes. We ask them how it was and they laugh among themselves and break into secret jokes and chants and hints of midnight sneak-outs, leaving the details to our imaginations. For a decade their lives have been lived out solely on our turf. Now we are strangers on theirs.

On this warm August morning, the endless agonizing over Jewish continuity and how best to ensure a Jewish future seems especially vapid. You want to know what works? Camp.

A fraction of American Jewish children attend Jewish summer camps, despite a small but growing body of evidence that no other institution is as effective in passing Jewish values and community to the next generation.

“The 24/7 experience can’t be replicated,” said Jerry Silverman, the executive director of the Foundation for Jewish Camping (www.jewishcamping.org). “It’s living communally outdoors, integrating Jewish learning with fun.” A former executive with Levi Strauss and Stride Rite, Silverman’s change-of-life moment came when he picked one of his own children up from her first stay at Camp Ramah New England and found she had been transformed by the immeasurably positive experience. Jewish camping, he said, “evolved into a family passion.”

Silverman joined up with the foundation, which was founded in 1998 by Wexner Fellows Robert and Elisa Bildner to be a national advocate for the Jewish camp movement. There are 120 nonprofit Jewish camps in the United States and Canada, serving between 55,000-60,000 children. That’s just 8 percent of the total Jewish population. The Foundation’s goal is to double the number in five years.

The obstacles are as close as your checkbook. Sleepaway camps range from $475-650 per week, with the average close to $600. An Avi Chai Foundation study found that while 67 percent of Jewish professionals are summer camp alumni, the high tab puts off many families.

Those that aren’t deterred often confront a lack of camps themselves. There is no camp on the West Coast serving the Modern Orthodox. The high price of land and start-up costs in the millions mean few new camps come on line with any frequency. Film producer Doug Mankoff, the Foundation’s only Los Angeles-area board member, put it this way: “There are three fundamental ways to strengthen Jewish identity among young people: day schools, Israel and camping. But nobody seems to be doing much about the last one.”

But the Foundation hopes to chip away at these problems, and money and effort are starting to flow in the right direction. In Western Massachusetts, the Grinspoon Foundation gives every Jewish child a $1,000 scholarship to attend the first year at camp. The Avi Chai Foundation is funding improved Judaic and leadership training for counselors and Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation is funding specialized courses in the dramatic arts for camp leaders. And here in Southern California, home of sticker shock by the square foot, organizers in San Diego have just broken ground on a new, pluralistic camp in the San Bernardino Mountains — with a lake.

Mankoff said such camps offer something unique, “learning about Judaism in a cool way.”

I thought of my son’s postcard — how prayer and Havdalah fused with the thrill of an actual campfire.

“It’s that heartfelt excitement about Judaism kids can feel with their peers,” Mankoff said.

It was that excitement I read on my son’s face and heard in his stories.

That morning we picked Adi up, he and his friends decided to take us on a hike around Brandeis. We ended up climbing a hill claimed by the junior counselors-in-trainings. “This is the J-CIT hill, that one is the CITs,” said one of them, pointing across the landscape like Gen. Tommy Franks on reconnaissance.

They had their own language, had formed their own tribe with its own stories. We scrambled past a garden where the kids learned about the (old) kibbutz life, and up a steep path that a month earlier we couldn’t have begged these boys to climb.

On the way down we heard an ear-jolting thrum. Two feet in front of us, a large rattlesnake shot across our trail and slipped under a toyon bush. Its body was thick as a man’s wrist, but all I noticed were its pointy eyes facing us down, and its furious rattle.

These boys, raised in the wilds of Rancho Park, Carthay Circle, Hancock Park Adjacent and West Los Angeles, slipped sideways around the snake and continued their march down the hill. The we-came-this-close-to-a-rattlesnake story joined the other stories and jokes and experiences they would pass down about Alonim 2004, as their little tribe happily merges into the larger one, the one to which we all belong.