Once dreaming of a Hebrew charter school, now only Mandarin is offered


When the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences (AEA) opened in August 2010, part of the draw for parents was the chance for students at the Santa Clarita charter middle and high school to study Hebrew. 

Since then, AEA backers have submitted petitions to set up elementary schools in the Newhall School District, Los Angeles Unified School District and Ventura Unified School District, without success. In August 2012, a revised version of its twice-rejected petition for an elementary charter was submitted to the Saugus Union School District in Santa Clarita. Among the changes in the newest version was eliminating offering Hebrew at the school, at least initially. 

“We will offer only one second language at the beginning; it will be Mandarin,” Shannon Perches, the principal and lead petitioner for the proposed elementary school, told the Saugus district’s board of governors at a well-attended public hearing on Sept. 19. 

In denying an earlier version of the charter petition, the board expressed concerns about the proposed school’s financial plan and its ability to accommodate students with special needs, as well as those whose first language is not English. 

As for teaching a second language, a central element of AEA’s unique curriculum, the board’s objection wasn’t to offering Hebrew, per se. 

The board’s concern was focused on how the proposed elementary school would go about teaching multiple foreign languages. 

“The AEA petition fails to state how students would be assigned to either Hebrew or Mandarin instruction, or whether there would be any consideration of the child’s ability to learn either language,” states a report by the Saugus district staff adopted by the board when it rejected the second version of the charter petition in April 2012. 

Hebrew may yet return to the proposed school’s curriculum, according to Jeffrey Shapiro, the executive director of the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences (AEALAS) Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization designed to support and develop AEA schools. 

“In future years, we intend to add additional languages,” Shapiro said. 

Other public schools in California teach Hebrew, including public charter elementary schools. At the AEA high school, 80 students are enrolled in Hebrew classes this year, the vast majority of them new learners of the language, and not all of them Jewish. 

“It’s like a miracle,” said Nehama Meged, head of the school’s Hebrew department. On the wall in her classroom are half a dozen framed photographs of her students on a school trip to Israel taken after the end of the 2011-12 academic year. 

Twenty students traveled through Israel on an itinerary that featured both Jewish and Christian historical and holy sites; five of the students were not Jewish, Meged said. 

“The kids, who had zero knowledge not just about the language, but the place, the people learned so much, and they care about Israel,” she said. 

Taking Hebrew out of the AEA Saugus elementary petition is just the most recent step in a long process that has dramatically reduced the prominence of Hebrew language instruction in AEA schools. 

In order to get the high school’s charter petition approved by the William S. Hart Union High School District, the backers of the AEA high school dropped a curriculum that would have offered Hebrew-immersion instruction. That change led the Hebrew Charter School Center, the leading organization dedicated to developing Hebrew-language charter schools, to cut ties with AEA. The school also abandoned their plan to locate in a newly planned Jewish community center building.

The school was, from the first, the vision of Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita, and Blazer spoke publicly to parents, officials and the media during that initial AEA charter approval effort. He has since taken a much lower profile, though he remains president of the board of the AEALAS Foundation. Blazer attended the Sept. 19 hearing but left before the proceedings began.

N.J. again denies Hebrew-language charter school


The state of New Jersey for the third time has denied a proposal for a Hebrew-language charter high school in Highland Park.

Citing unspecified “deficiencies,” the application for the Tikun Olam Hebrew Language High School became one of 56 charter school applications rejected by the education department on Sept. 30, the New Jersey Jewish News reported. Only four new charter schools were approved by the state.

Tikun Olam would have been the state’s first Hebrew-language charter high school.

Sharon Akman, who is leading the push to open the school, said Tikun Olam would not teach religion but instead would treat Hebrew as a culture. She told the New Jersey Jewish News that Tikun Olam hoped to serve up to 100 students from the Edison, Highland Park and New Brunswick areas.

“There’s always the possibility,” Akman said when asked if she would apply again.

LimmudLA: 4,000 years of Jewish history in one hour



David Solomon

With white butcher paper stretching around the room, David Solomon hurriedly scrawls timelines with his thick black marker, delineating 250-year blocks of time.

“Dudes, don’t try this at home,” he jokes with the audience of mostly 20- and 30-something participants.

In the space of the next hour — plus an extra 10 to 15 minutes thrown in for good measure — Solomon outlines the 4,000 years of Jewish history, from 2000 B.C.E. to the present. Each white paper wall represents 1,000 years, and as Solomon moves from Abraham to the 12 tribes, Moses, the prophets, the First and Second Temples, the Babylonian exile and the “PR stunt” of Chanukah, he works the room, swiveling the audience in its seats as he races from one side of the room to another.

“There’s a purpose to the Jewish people besides handing down the recipe for gefilte fish,” he tells the rapt group. “You don’t have to be frum to believe that the Jewish people have a purpose in the world.”

Welcome to “The Whole of Jewish History in One Hour” and the Solomon agenda, if this charmingly disheveled teacher has one. The 45-year-old Aussie, who says he feels — and acts — much younger than he is, utterly believes in the absolute necessity for Jews to know and understand Jewish history. Dividing the Jewish history timeline into phases provides people with a framework, Solomon says, and shows them “how amazing our history is.”

Solomon will be one of dozens of teachers at LimmudLA Feb. 17-20 in Costa Mesa. The conference will feature a weekend packed with everything Jewish, from text studies to meditation minyans to arts performances. About 600 people are expected to attend the three-day President’s Day weekend event, the first time the worldwide phenomenon is hitting the West Coast.

“In One Hour,” as produced by Solomon and his wife, Marjorie, started out as something of a joke. At the end of 2004, the Solomons had returned to his native Perth after he had spent several years doing postgraduate research in Jewish mysticism at University College London. When Solomon was invited to address a conference of Jewish high school students, he somewhat flippantly came up with the idea of covering the whole of Jewish history in one hour. As the date neared, he found that his talk was being billed as such, and the idea caught on as a more permanent concept.

“It’s really just … a way of making sense of it all, so that people are able to contextualize and comprehend the history,” Solomon says.

“In One Hour” is designed for a wide range of people, Solomon says. Some participants may simply want a better understanding of the framework of Jewish history, others may have a more solid background but haven’t been able to envision the entire timeline.

During the talk, Solomon throws in Hebrew terms and names and does not translate. He sees the use of Hebrew as an important part of acculturating his audience to “speak about Jewish things in Jewish terms.”

“There may be a gap between who it was designed for and who turns up,” Solomon says. “It’s a talk that attempts to give meaning; you don’t have to believe in God.”

In some ways, Solomon’s “In One Hour” is the Jewish History 101 of the Taglit-Birthright Israel age. While successfully branding a new approach to a subject that may have faded in popularity, Solomon is very serious about his desire to use Jewish history as a method of propelling students toward more serious Jewish study.

He wants them to learn Hebrew and Jewish history as a “method of self empowerment,” because he believes that the Jewish people have “lost” their “perspective.” Looking back at Jewish history — the Golden Age of Spain lasted a mere 700 years –Solomon wants to show the Jewish community outside of Israel that nothing lasts forever.

Learning Hebrew is a crucial part of Solomon’s proposed framework. He sees the Hebrew language as the “gateway to Torah” and believes that Hebrew and living in Israel are the only ways to “authentically renew” Jewish spirituality.

Solomon himself took what he calls “a spiritual exile” from the Jewish world for some 10 years and now calls himself a secular Jew who keeps mitzvot (commandments). He grew up in a Sabbath-observant family in Perth, attending Jewish day school and then a Lubavitch-run college in Melbourne, followed by yeshiva in Israel. After living in London and Australia, he and his wife moved to Israel late last year after it became “increasingly apparent that we didn’t feel at home anywhere except Israel.”

Now living in Tel Aviv, the Solomons travel regularly, bringing “In One Hour” to communities in England, the United States and Australia. The format has evolved into an entire series, branching into other subjects, including Bible, philosophy, women in Jewish history and Hebrew, as well as an expanded, nine-session version of the history course.

“I’m not interested in hoisting my own petard,” says Solomon, as intense in conversation as he is in teaching. “There really isn’t a script to this. The narrative just comes out, and these,” he says, pointing at the time-lined walls, “are the headlines.”

For more information on LimmudLA, visit http://LimmudLA.org

Jewish literacy Is a mitzvah — and not fulfilled with phonetics


For the People of the Book, literacy is a mitzvah, a sanctified behavior that draws us closer to God and the Jewish community.

Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of the Fathers, described a curriculum in the year 200: “A 5-year-old begins Tanach,” or scripture; “a 10-year-old begins Mishnah,” or rabbinic law; “a 13-year-old is obligated to accept mitzvot,” based on his/her ability to comprehend meaning; “a 15-year-old begins Gemarah,” or elucidation of Mishnah. (Avot: 5:28).

The desired outcome of this course of study is the development of a Jewish identity rooted in our connection to and knowledge of Jewish texts.

Fast forward to our day: In the past 30 years, the number of schools and the percentage of Jewish children receiving a day school education has risen to dramatic heights. Most of the schools are under the broad spectrum of Orthodox auspices; a smaller but growing number associate themselves with the Conservative and Reform movements or are in the expanding network of pluralistic “community schools.”

Yeshivot and Jewish day schools are uniquely positioned to deepen and expand Jewish literacy. Immersion in classical texts, the time commitment of students and the financial investment of families come together to give a 21st century meaning to Jewish literacy. As graduates of today’s day schools assume professional and volunteer leadership roles in Jewish communal institutions, renewed Jewish literacy may emerge as a characteristic of Jewish life.

A premiere aspect of Jewish literacy is fluency in Hebrew, whether classical or modern, spoken or textual. In our time, we have seen a huge growth of Jewish publishing of classical texts in English. Nonetheless, it is true that the meaning, nuance and message are lost in the translation and may lead to distortions of the original.

The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act reduced much of the discussion on literacy in American society to a focus on phonics – $900 million was distributed in 2002-2003 to develop “scientific, research-based” programs on this approach to reading – but the initiative has been stalled at that basic level.

Day schools and yeshivot need to resist the temptation of reducing their Hebrew literacy programs to phonetic decoding. That would miss a special opportunity of these schools.

Most modern day schools subscribe to the belief that they are engaged in fashioning a new kind of Jew: One who sees the world refracted not only by the wisdom of Western civilization but also simultaneously through the insights of Torah.

Jewish literacy promotes such philosophical and psychological integration; the yeshiva and day school that embraces this view can produce a student whose vision of the world and his/her community was described millennia ago by the midrash: “May words of Torah be spoken in the language of Yafet,” i.e. classical philosophy and science, “within the tents of Shem,” i.e. the ideas and ideals of the Jewish people. (Genesis Rabbah 36:8). Many hope that this describes the best of what it means to be a modern Jew.

There is a third dimension to Jewish literacy particular to the day school setting: To be Jewishly literate, immersed in the meanings and messages of 4,000 years of Jewish life and letters, conveys with it a moral imperative. We get “it” – the eternal truths of Judaism – when we look up from the page of text, peopled by the generations of giants that preceded ours, and say to ourselves, “What are the consequences for me of taking this seriously?”

The Mishnah teaches: If we achieve Jewish literacy, then our actions will speak louder than our words so that we treat people with a countenance that reflects God’s own. (After Avot 1:15). Jewish literacy does not permit a retreat from real life. What we read, study and discern ought to have implications for our attitudes and behavior.

In the Jewish schools of today, Jewish literacy can have new and special meaning. It calls for a refocus on the linguistic, textual and ethical dimensions of learning, which will be the legacy we leave our students.

When a couple divorces, the custody battle goes beyond dishes and children


Jews are not immune to America’s divorce endemic.

With one in two marriages ending long before the expiration date contemplated by the ketubah, rabbis frequently find themselves in the difficult position of having to officiate at bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings with families who continue to be hurt and angry about a divorce. Today’s wedding chuppah is called upon to accommodate not just the bride’s and groom’s parents, but stepfathers and stepmothers as well.

In fact, divorce issues can affect nearly every aspect of a family’s relationship with the synagogue, and with Judaism: Hebrew school, havurahs, Passover seders, Shabbat dinners and Chanukah celebrations are all impacted when a couple splits up.

Even trips to Israel.

Susan Chait and her husband, Michael, wanted to take Michael’s son from a previous marriage to Israel following his bar mitzvah. But the boy’s mother refused to give permission, even at a time when security was not an issue.

“Initially, we had the rabbi talk to her, but she wouldn’t change her mind,” Chait said. “Ultimately, we had to go to court. The judge was angry about the fact that she would stand in the way of her child taking advantage of a great opportunity. He said, ‘I am Jewish, and I understand the importance of a trip like this’ and gave us permission to take him on the trip.”

Chait said she believes the conflict between her husband and his ex-wife blinded her to her children’s welfare.

“And the really sad part of it is that the children know this,” she said. “My advice for parents in this situation is to put the love for your children over the animosity that you have for each other.”

Rabbi David Wolpe of Westwood’s Conservative Sinai Temple is a frequent witness to the battles that affect the synagogue when there is a divorce.

“High Holiday tickets are a very contentious issue,” he said. “They represent not only a monetary investment, but also a community, and it is very difficult for the parties and the synagogue to negotiate over who gets the community. Congregants often feel like there is a judgment of who is right and who is wrong. What tends to happen is the person who has the most friends or connections in the community ends up getting the shul.”

So what is the rabbi’s role in the drama?

“People often try to put the rabbi in the middle to make the difficult decisions, but one of the most important things is not to allow people to triangulate,” Wolpe said. “The rabbi needs to return [the parties] to each other so that they can work the issue out between themselves. The rabbi that doesn’t learn that is in a lot of trouble.”

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom has also witnessed the impact of divorce on the synagogue.

“Families sometimes use the bar/bat mitzvah as the place to continue the unresolved battles for control, financial redress, custody, etc,” he said. “They can be unusually nasty, petty and mean. They put the rabbi in the uncomfortable position of reminding adults to stop fighting like children and to focus on the child and his or her memories of this special day. Weddings can likewise be difficult. Who stands beneath the chuppah?”

Steve Garren, an active member of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, has witnessed the impact that his two-year separation has had on his family’s synagogue life.
“Even though we went to the rabbi before we split up, this is not something that clergy can tell you exactly how to handle,” he said. “When it comes to divorce, the rabbi doesn’t have the answer for how each family is going to do it and what it is going to look like. The reality is that when you first separate, the temple mail keeps going to just one address.

“When you split up you suddenly become a conversation piece among temple friends, which of course is something that you never wanted to be,” Garren added. “Our separation also meant that we were not in our havurah anymore.
“Passover this year was the first time that the four of us weren’t together,” he said. “The kids went with me one night, and the next night they went with my wife to her parent’s house. We both try to do a good job of minimizing the impact, but there is definitely an impact.”

Hebrew school, frequently a battleground between children and their parents, also finds its way into internal parental battles. Wolpe noted that divorce frequently impacts Hebrew school attendance.
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“Now Hebrew school becomes an additional weapon,” he said. “‘How come you didn’t take him to Hebrew school?’ Some parents work it out well, but many of them only care about Hebrew school to the extent that it is a weapon, and of course it is the kids that suffer.”

Susan Chait saw firsthand how Hebrew school became just another weapon in the divorce arsenal.

“Because my husband and his ex-wife had joint custody at the time his second son was attending Hebrew school, my husband’s ex would use skipping Hebrew school as a way to win her son over.”

So who does get the shul? It depends on the dynamic that the family ultimately chooses for itself. Feinstein noted that although the battles between divorcing Jewish couples can be nasty and mean, other times “divorce can liberate people to enjoy new relationships and a new life,” he said. “They can become better parents, better Jews and better people as they emerge from a marriage that was stifling and abusive. I’ve seen this, too. There are no easy generalizations.”

Today’s wedding chuppah is called upon to accommodate not just the bride’s and groom’s parents, but stepfathers and stepmothers as well.

Wendy Jaffe is the author of “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide To Staying Married” (Volt Press, 2006). She can be reached at

Davening for Dollars


Talmud teaches that a righteous act is its own reward. But if that’s not inducement enough, a rabbi in Woodland Hills is offering $10 cash plus a Krispy Kreme doughnut to teens who attend his 7 a.m. minyan.

It started like this: In 1998 Rabbi Netanel Louie founded the Hebrew Discovery Center to promote Judaism in the West Valley. His center, next to a sushi restaurant on Ventura Boulevard, began by offering after-school Hebrew courses that fulfill the public schools’ foreign language requirement.

Eighty Jewish teens, some of whom didn’t know an alef from a bet, soon signed up to study modern Hebrew (in addition to the classes, the center schedules teen events, including kosher pizza parties and snow trips).

The first weekday teen minyan began in December 2005. How to get sleepy kids out of bed at dawn? Louie, ever pragmatic, had an idea: “Why don’t we offer them something they can’t refuse?”

Thus the $10 payments — which continue for the first two months of each teen’s attendance. Currently 110 teens are registered for the short Orthodox service, with about 35 showing up each day. Eleventh-grader Joni Fakheri, who had fallen away from observance, says the minyan has changed his life. After three years of not putting on tefillin and straying from kashrut, “it all came back.”

Tenth-grader Elizabeth Benam, who sports a trendy diamond nose-stud and nails painted metallic turquoise, admits that “I used to never hang out with Jews.” But now she’s sold on the minyan, because “it gives you a good feeling inside.”

Her cousin, Mor Pinto, agrees: “We don’t do it for the money anymore.”

Hebrew Discovery Center is located at 19819 Ventura Blvd, Woodland Hills. For more information, call(818) 348-4432 or e-mail hdc@socal.rr.com. HDC also offers after school Hebrew classes at 11540 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 201, Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 696-4432.

 

Class Notes – A Model School


Kehillat Ma’arav, a Conservative synagogue in Santa Monica, thinks it has a winning formula for the eternal challenge of Hebrew school.

First, it did away with Sunday school, which was constantly competing with sports, music, tutoring and family activities. The Tuesday program was lengthened to three hours, but rather than relying on one teacher to cover all subjects, students go to specialized classes in Hebrew language, prayer and holidays, Bible and ethics — much as they move from math to science in school.

It cuts down on boredom, said Cantor Keith Miller, who did the revamp with Rabbi Michael Gottleib.

“The kids realize there is a finite amount of time in class, so they are excited to maximize that time and they come into class ready to start,” said Miller, who is also the education director at the 300-member synagogue. The school has about 60 students in its second- through seventh-grade classes.

Kehillat Ma’arav also developed Club Shabbat, a junior congregation for Hebrew school children, which integrates the Hebrew school families with those families who come for services every week.

This congregation has long sought ways to make its school more innovative. Two years ago, Kehillat Ma’arav revamped its high school program by teaming up with Shaarei Am, a Reform congregation in the neighborhood. Teens from both congregations study together every week.

For more information, call (310) 829-0566 or go to www.kmwebsite.com.

After School Academics

B’nai David-Judea Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson, is opening a new religious school for fourth- through sixth-graders with minor learning problems who attend public or private secular schools rather than Jewish day schools.

“For a lot of kids, day school is just too fast-paced, with too much homework and too many subjects to master,” said Janet Fuchs, a mother who helped establish Torah Club with B’nai David’s Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky.

Eight kids and a teacher are already signed up for September classes, which will meet twice a week for two hours. Fuchs hopes the program will not only educate the kids but, more importantly, give them a sense of community. The vast majority of traditionally observant kids go to day school, leaving those who don’t out of the social loop.

Students at Torah Club will study the holidays, the prayerbook and the weekly Torah portion, but not Hebrew language, which eliminates the need for homework.

For more information, contact B’nai David-Judea at (310) 276-9269 or BDJ@bnaidavid.com.

Calling All Authors

If, like most Angelenos, you have a manuscript in your desk it’s time to pull it out. If it’s geared toward 8- to 11-year-olds, that is. The Association of Jewish Libraries is accepting submissions for the 21st annual Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition for aspiring authors of children’s books. The best fiction manuscript written by an unpublished author that serves to deepen an understanding of Judaism will receive a $1,000 award.

For entry forms and rules, go to www.jewishlibraries.org, then click on Awards, then click on Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award. Deadline for submission of manuscripts is Dec. 31, 2005.

Around the Fringe The Gift of Summer

Nine Southern California children were able to attend camp this summer thanks to the Foundation for Jewish Education. The Beverly Hills-based nonprofit gives scholarships to unaffiliated, financially strapped families so their children can enjoy a summer experience of Jewish education and identity building. All nine attended Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, which also contributed to the scholarships.

For more information on the Foundation for Jewish Education, visit www.tfjeinc.org or call (310) 273-8612.

The Winners Are…

Downey B’nai B’rith Lodge 1112 presented five students Al Perlus Awards for scholastic and community achievement. The recipients of the $25 or $50 scholarships are: Vanessa Vasquez of South Gate High School; Byron D. Zacarias of Bell High School; Mercedes Perez of Huntington Park High School; Lauren Duran of Downey High School, and Mathew Vasquez of Warren High School.

Emek Hebrew Academy graduate Adam Deutsch won third place in the Jossi-Berger Holocaust Study Center Essay and Poetry Contest, a national contest sponsored by Emunah of America. His poem, “Will There Be Another Day?” dedicated to the 6 million Jews murdered during the Shoah, is posted at www.Emunah.org.

Please send Class Notes submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

You can reach Julie Gruenbaum Fax at julief@jewishjournal.com or (213) 368-1661, ext. 206.

 

Student Rabbis, Cantors Take Next Step


University of Judaism

It might just be a demographic blip, but it certainly is an interesting one. This year’s graduating class of rabbis at the Conservative University of Judaism (UJ) in Los Angeles is made up of four women and two men. And at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, there are 10 women to the seven men.

Are female rabbis taking over the Conservative movement — which only began ordaining women in 1985?

Probably not, said Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at UJ, on a hilltop campus where Mulholland Drive and Sepulveda Boulevard meet.

The gender breakdown is about 50-50 among the 75 rabbinic students at the school, Artson said. That ratio, he said, reflects the school’s commitment to gender-blind admissions, and to the work the school does to make sure UJ is open to women in all ways.

“Opening a school to women but not talking about the ways in which gender shapes a certain reality is not really admitting women,” Artson said. “We have been conscious about making gender something we talk about here.”

That means classes and mentorships bring the societal sexual divide to the foreground. And, Artson said, women are occupying an increasingly prominent role in the administration.

Founded in 1947 as a satellite of JTS, UJ began ordaining rabbis six years ago, and the fruit of that shift to independence will be apparent next year, as about 20 rabbis will be up for ordination, compared to the seven or eight of years past.

“For 100 years, the Conservative movement had one rabbinical school,” Artson said. “It’s taken a while to grow into and embrace this new expanded reality.”

Academy for Jewish Religion

Just six years after it was founded, the Academy for Jewish Religion(AJR) has a graduating class that is almost as large as the classes at the more established ordaining institutions in Los Angeles.

AJR, which is unaffiliated with any denomination, is graduating five rabbis, not far behind the UJ’s six and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s eight. In addition, AJR is the only show in town ordaining cantors, with two graduating this year.

The niche audience of mostly second-career students interested in a pluralistic education has proven to be a large and dependable one, with 60 students enrolled for professional training as rabbis, cantors and chaplains.

AJR graduates fill roles that don’t fall neatly within the organized Jewish world, such as presiding at life-cycle events for the unaffiliated, leading independent prayer groups and serving in chaplaincy positions, said AJR founding chairman Rabbi Stan Levy.

“We go to wherever Jews are finding themselves, and we try to get them into a more intensive Jewish spiritual life,” Levy said.

AJR has outgrown its quarters at Temple Beth Torah on Venice Boulevard, and is negotiating the final details to move into the Yitzchak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA.

Levy looks forward to planning joint programming with both Hillel and the university.

“It’s a far more prominent location for us to be in, right in the center of a vibrant university with a vibrant Hillel,” Levy said.

 

Calendar


The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed or

faxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least three

weeks in advance to:
calendar@jewishjournal.com
.

By Keren Engelberg

Calendar

March 26 /SATURDAY

SHABBAT

Temple Beth Emet: 6:30 p.m. Craig Taubman leads “The 25th Hour: A Havdalah Service” with discussion to follow. 1770 W. Cerritos Ave., Anaheim. (714) 772-4720.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Chabad of Miracle Mile Area: March 24-26. “Virtual Purim” Web site includes an online Purim costume contest, games, recipes, prayers and stories relevant to the holiday. www.chabadmm.com/purim. For more information call (323) 852-6907.

COLSAC Theater: 8 p.m. This version of “God of Vengeance” is Stephen Fife’s adaptation of Sholem Asch’s play, which was originally written in Yiddish. $20. 6902 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Plays Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 3 p.m.
(323) 960-7829.

March 27 /SUNDAY

PURIM

Temple Beth Torah: 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Purim carnival with dunk tank, Purim games, giant slide and prizes. Please bring canned goods for families in need. Free. 7620 Foothill Road, Ventura. (805) 647-4181.

EVENTS

Jewish Studies Institute: 7 p.m. “Echoes That Remain,” film of archival clips of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe in honor of the 60th anniversary of liberation. Light refreshments will follow. $5. The Conference Theater at the Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd.,
Los Angeles. (310) 772-2467.

MARCH 28/MONDAY

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

American Film Institute: 8 p.m. “Palindromes.” the story of 12-year-old Aviva Victor’s quest to become a mom, takes her far from home and back again. Question and answer session with the director to follow. $10-$11. ArcLight Hollywood,
6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 464-4226.

March 29 /TUESDAY

EVENTS

The Jewish Journal and Jewish Community Library: 7:30 p.m. First event in the “Jewish Screenwriter Speaker Series” for young professionals 21-39 at B’nai-David Judea in Los Angeles. For more information.

OPEN HOUSES

New Community Jewish High School: 7 p.m. Prospective students and families can meet the faculty, current students and the head of school, and ask questions.
7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. R.S.V.P., (818) 348-0048.

MARCH 30/WEDNESDAY

LECTURES

Valley Beth Shalom: 7:30 p.m. “A Conversation of the Learned” with Rabbi Harold Kushner in honor of Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. Also, on Thur., Mar. 31, at the same time with Rabbis David Hartman and Irving “Yitz” Greenberg. $60 (reserved seating), free (open seating). 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 530-4088.

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MARCH 31/THURSDAY

EVENTS

Jewish Artist Network: 8 p.m. Networking meeting for artists, publishers and other interested parties. Canter’s Deli, 419 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (562) 547-9078.

APRIL 1 /FRIDAY

SHABBAT

Nashuva: 6:45 p.m. Rabbi Naomi Levy leads passionate, rocking Kabbalat Shabbat service. Westwood Hills Congregational Church, 1989 Westwood Blvd., Westwood. www.nashuva.com.
Note: This is the correct date. Last week’s Jewish Journal print edition calendar listed the incorrect date.

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UPCOMING:

April 3-4

Hillel Foundation of Orange County/Israel on Campus Coalition of Orange County/Caravan for Democracy/StandWithUs: 8:30 a.m. Sun.-6 p.m. Mon. “Making the Case for Israel: A Two-Day Conference Presenting an Accurate Picture of Middle East Reality.” $36 (students), $75 (per day, nonstudents). UC Irvine and Merage Jewish Community Center, 1 Federation Way, Suite 200, Irvine. (800) 969-5585 ext. 247.

Tues., April 5

Stanford Jewish Alumni of Los Angeles: 7 p.m. Presentation and book signing by Vincent Brook, author of “Something Ain’t Kosher Here: The Rise of the ‘Jewish’ Sitcom.” Vegetarian appetizers and kosher wines will be served. Beverly Hills residence. R.S.V.P. by April 1, (213) 763-7377.

Sat., April 9

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: “Hope – A Musical Celebration of the Soul” honoring Rabbis Ed Feinstein and Karen Fox, with special guest singing groups and comedy performer. $36-$100. 116611 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 788-4673.

Sun., April 10

Kadima Hebrew Academy: “35 Years of Moving Forward – A Gala Evening Honoring Shawn and Dorit Evenhaim and Rabbi Elijah and Penina Schochet.” 7011 Shoup Ave., West Hills. (818) 346-0849.

Singles

MARCH 26 /SATURDAY

Singles Helping Others: 1-4 p.m. Assist with the Therapeutic Prom for Children’s Special Olympics. Santa Monica. (818) 591-0772.

Conversations at Leon’s: 7:30 p.m. Saturday night mixer. $15. Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s and 40s):
8 p.m. Screening of the film, “The Chosen” and discussion led by Rabbi Aaron Katz. Temple Ner Maarav, Encino. R.S.V.P., (818) 750-0095.

New Age Singles (55+): 8 p.m. Madrid Theatre party for “A Stoop on Orchard Street.” 21622 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. No-host dinner at Acapulco Restaurant in Woodland Hills preceding. $36-$38. R.S.V.P., (818) 347-8355.

MARCH 27/SUNDAY

Jewish Outdoor Adventures:
10:10 a.m. Intermediate hike of Leo Carillo State Beach to Nicholas Flat. West Los Angeles and Valley carpools available. jewishoutdoor@yahoo.com.

Jewish Singles Volleyball: Noon-
3 p.m. Weekly beach volleyball game. Court 11 or close to it. Playa del Rey, where Culver Boulevard meets the beach. (310) 402-0099.

Harbor Jewish Singles (55+): 3 p.m. Afternoon at the movies. Meet downstairs by the escalator and decide which movie to see. Edwards Cinema Metro Point, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa. (714) 939-8540.

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MARCH 28 /MONDAY

Coffee Talk (30s and 40s): 8 p.m. Weekly discussion group. 9760 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.
(310) 552-4595, ext. 27.

MARCH 29/TUESDAY

Nexus (20s and 30s): 6:30-9 p.m. Weekly beach volleyball. Liberty Park, 19211 Studebaker Road, Cerritos. R.S.V.P., kdkalish2@yahoo.com

Westwood Jewish Singles (45+):
7:30 p.m. “Fear of Rejection.” $10. West Los Angeles. (310) 444-8986.

MARCH 30/WEDNESDAY

Valley Beth Shalom Counseling Center (40s and 50s): 6:30-8 p.m. Singles’ Growth Group. For singles who are divorced or have never been married. R.S.V.P., (818) 784-1414.

AISH (21-31): 8 p.m. User-friendly Judaism. Marc Firestone leads discussion about practical wisdom from ancient sources. Emphasis on male-female relationships. Refreshments. R.S.V.P., (310) 278-8672, ext. 401.

MARCH 31/THURSDAY

Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “Find Love, How to Overcome Shyness and Fear of Rejection.” $15-$17. 639 26th St., Santa Monica. (310) 393-4616.

Singles Helping Others: 7 p.m. Usher for “Wonderbread Years” at the El Portal Theater. North Hollywood.
(818) 705-7916.

APRIL 1/FRIDAY

Nashuva: 6:45 p.m. Rabbi Naomi Levy leads a spiritual passionate, rocking Kabbalat Shabbat Service. Westwood Hills Congregational Church, 1989 Westwood Blvd., Westwood. www.nashuva.com. All are welcome.
Note: This is the correct date. Last week’s Journal print edition calendar listed the incorrect date.

New Age Singles (55+): 6 p.m. No-host dinner at Nibblers, 8383 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles followed by 8 p.m. Creative Arts Shabbat Service at Temple Beth Am. 1039 La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 838-7459.

Ethiopian American Jewish Art Center: 9:30 p.m. Weekly klezmer band performance. $5. 5819 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6661.

Upcoming

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April 2, 3 & 12

Elite Jewish Theatre Singles: April 2, see “The Fantasticks.” A no-host dinner precedes the show. April 3, brunch and parlor magic show at the Magic Castle. April 12, see “The King and I” at the Pantages Theatre. R.S.V.P.,
(310) 203, 1312.

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A Last Purim Hurrah

Just when you thought it was safe to hang up the Esther costume, the Workmen’s Circle sucks you in for one more night of drunken excess. Celebrating Jerusalem-style, they present a Shusan Purim dance party on the second night of Purim only celebrated by Jews in walled cities. Of course, it’s BYOB, and a donation of dry rice or beans for Food Not Bombs is requested. But then again, the PC touch should remove any guilt you might be harboring from a night of too much Manischewitz. Also featured will be electro clash bands and DJs spinning old school, hip-hop, electro and ’80s. Costumes are encouraged.

Mach 26, 7:30 p.m. $7 (plus donation). 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

WWI Huns Spark His Passion for Exercise


 

I learned about gymnastics from the German soldiers occupying Lithuania during World War I. I used to watch them swinging on the parallels and the rings. I would go home and try it myself. I took wood from one of our factories and made parallel bars in our backyard.

One day, when I was 10, my grandfather found me practicing on the parallels. He said, “What do you want to be, a ‘comediant?'”

They would call us “comediants,” because we would swing from bars and stand on our hands. The older generation didn’t approve. Jews weren’t used to physical education; they were used to studying.

I joined the Maccabi organization when I was 16. It was a sports club with a Zionist philosophy. The goal was to build a strong youth who would be able to fight for Eretz Yisrael.

In my town, Seraij, we had about 60 members: boys and girls from age 9 to their 20s. We rented a hall where we did gymnastics. We met every day, every evening.

We spoke Hebrew, and we took courses in Hebrew language. Lecturers came and spoke to us in Hebrew about the importance of sports and gymnastics. We had a slogan: Nefesh briah b’guf barih, a sound mind in a healthy body.

Every year, we had a festival. We would march through the streets with a band playing music. Some Maccabi members would ride horses. Then the townspeople would come to the big hall, and we would have an exhibition. We would do gymnastics and weightlifting and lecture on the importance of physical education.

Mostly, we competed against other Maccabi teams. But we also competed against other organizations and non-Jewish teams. We would perform for the townspeople, young and old, to raise money.

Sometimes, I would find a play in the library. If not, I would write a play myself. We would then perform a little drama and do exercises to music on stage. Afterward, everyone would dance until 4 o’clock in the morning.

I became the chairman of our Maccabi club soon after I joined…. I had done gymnastics at my high school, which was one of the first Hebrew-speaking schools. I also taught myself by reading literature in German, because there were no Hebrew books on physical education.

It was my job to go to towns and organize the youth into Maccabi clubs. I would explain to the people that physical education was important — just as important for the girls as for the boys.

The Maccabi Central Committee chose seven people to represent Lithuania in the Maccabiah games. I was the only one chosen to compete in the 100-meter dash. To prepare for the competition, I ran every day in an open field that the Maccabi had rented. I ran plenty, a few hours a day.

But I had to make a living, too. I would come home late from Maccabi meetings. In the morning, my grandfather would come looking for me, because customers would be lined up outside our flour mill, waiting for me to open the gates.

In 1932, I traveled with the Lithuanian team to Palestine. I took a train from Lithuania through Germany and France. Then, I sailed from Marseilles on a ship called the Patria. When we landed in Jaffa, Palestine, the harbor wasn’t deep enough for the ship. So everyone got onto small boats, which carried us to shore.

It was very exciting to step onto Palestine. The Maccabiah was the first Jewish event in Palestine for people from the Diaspora in 2000 years. There were tens of thousands of people there.

Some of the Jews who had known me in Lithuania and had moved to Palestine saw me marching in the opening ceremonies. They called my name and yelled, “You should come visit us!” The Americans and the Germans won all the awards. All I got was a certificate.

I spent about two weeks visiting relatives in Palestine after the games. One woman from our team decided to stay in Palestine, because she was a Zionist. I didn’t want to stay. I saw Arabs in Jerusalem riding horses and waving swords and yelling. And I had to go back to Lithuania to work.

When I came back, I lectured about the games. In 1935, I was invited to inspect Maccabi organizations all over Lithuania and to organize new groups in cities that didn’t have any Maccabi clubs. I did this until 1937, when I left for the United Sates.

The Maccabi made going-away parties for me, because I had organized new branches and invigorated others. I was celebrating, because I knew I would live.

My older brother, Meyer, who had been in the United States, came back to Lithuania to get me. We went to the American consul together to try to get a visa. I was sitting there while Meyer was speaking with the official behind a closed door. When Meyer opened the door and nodded his head yes, he got a visa for me, I said, “Ah, I’m alive.”

I left behind my mother; my brother, Aaron, and his wife and two sons; my sister, Paula, and her husband and two sons; my grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts, cousins — maybe 25 members of my family. I’m the only one left from the whole family.

In the United States, I didn’t play sports. It wasn’t so easy here. I had to work very hard. I worked at a meat factory until 10 p.m. every night. This was my exercise, my hard work.

The following story by Hillel Price, 99, was told to his granddaughter, Journal contributing writer Sarah Price Brown.

 

Election Education


Democrats and Republicans may have done their best to get out the vote, but nothing quite does it like making it part of the school curriculum. At schools around the city this week, regular classes were suspended so that kids from elementary to high school could dip their young toes into the political waters.

On election day at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, the student council ran a polling place in the gym for pre-first- through eighth-graders, complete with official booths and “I voted” stickers. In the weeks leading up to the elections, kids as young as 5 learned to identify the major candidates and older kids learned about the electoral process (something about “electoral universities” sixth-grader Rebecca Asch said) and the issues at stake in this election.

All that came into play last week when seventh- and eighth-graders participated in mock debates before the rest of the school.

Students who had prepared position papers as part of an assignment for Hal Steinberg’s history class presented ideas on health care, taxes, the war in Iraq and social security. They delivered impromptu responses to their peers’ offerings, and were able to be a little more forthright than the actual candidates. Here, Sen. John Kerry (Simha Haddad) said President George W. Bush’s ego and his need to finish his father’s war drove him to make unwise decisions. Bush (Daniel Lazar) said it wasn’t fair to tax rich people for money they worked hard for.

“It was interesting because we could see both sides of the issues, which are difficult, in ways we could understand,” seventh-grader Benny Gelbart said.

And lest we think this is just some quaint academic exercise, Steinberg sees it otherwise.

“Some of these kids will be voting in just six years,” he said. “This gives them a chance to see that every vote is important.”

Sunday Best

For several years now synagogues have been scheduling adult education classes on Sunday mornings in a sometimes successful attempt to challenge the parental ritual of dropping the kids off at Hebrew school and then killing two hours at Starbucks or the gym.

This year, National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) — the people who brought us Shabbat Across America and Read Hebrew America — is taking that a step further, introducing the Great Jewish Parenting Challenge. NJOP has collaborated with shuls nationwide to offer its signature crash courses in Hebrew, Judaism, Jewish history and the holidays on Sunday mornings.

“There are a lot of congregations within this one congregation, so we offer things when people are available,” said Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica, which is participating in the Sunday morning Parenting Challenge.

The five-week Hebrew reading course, which will kick off the program at Beth Shir Shalom, is also being offered at dozens of Los Angeles-area shuls at different times during the week. So parents who are loathe to give up those two hours of freedom on Sunday morning can opt to schlep out on a Wednesday evening instead.

The first part of Beth Shir Shalom’s Great Jewish Parenting Challenge goes from now to Dec. 5, and students can join midcourse. Call (310) 453-3361 for more information. For other locations, call (800) 444-3273 or visit www.njop.org.

‘Tis the Season …

…to worry about church-state separation. With December just around the corner and Chanukah coming quite a bit earlier than Christmas this year, the wink and nod behind the generic “holiday” celebrations becomes even more disingenuous, especially in public schools and other government settings. The Anti-Defamation League has some balanced and detailed information on its Web site on what exactly constitutes breaches of the church-state wall, and which public decorations and celebrations are and aren’t allowed. An example: Singing Handel’s “Messiah” — good. Singing 23 Christmas carols without so much as one dreidel made out of clay — not so good. Hanging a wreath on the teacher’s lounge door — joyous and welcome. Hanging a crucifix with “Jesus Loves Me” on the third-grade bulletin board — try again.

For more information, look under the “Religious Freedom” menu on the left-hand side of the home page at www.adl.org.

Positive Parenting

Just as in any other profession, parenting requires the input and knowledge of experts and the group networking and support a good conference can provide. Recognizing that need, the Orthodox Union, with funding from The Jewish Federation, is holding its third annual Positive Parenting Conference on Nov. 14.

“There may be challenges to our parenting where our own resources, based upon our experiences and our own education, may not give us enough to be able to effectively deal with issues,” said Rabbi Sholom Strajcher, dean of the Emek Hebrew Academy-Teichman Family Torah Center, which is hosting and co-sponsoring the event.

Experts will address issues such as helping children deal with anger; the consequences of overindulging children; monitoring Internet access, friends and afterschool activities; dealing with religious differences within a family; and the emotional and academic issues linked to learning disabilities.

The conference will be held Sunday, Nov. 14, 8:45 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Emek Hebrew Academy-Teichman Family Torah Center, 15365 Magnolia Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Admission is $10 in advance (via mail) and $15 at the door. For reservations and information, call (310) 229-9000, ext. 6.

You can reach Julie Gruenbaum Fax at julief@jewishjournal.com or (213) 368-1661, ext. 206.

Up Front


Teen Artist�(tm)s Fairy Tale Comes True

Laguna Hills resident and artist, Alina Eydel, is etching a name for herself within the international art community with her imagery of fairy tale princesses, imaginary cat worlds and detailed costume designs. The 14-year-old�(tm)s work fetches an average of $1,500 apiece at galleries and art shows around the country.

“The paintings are visions of my own glamorized fantasies and self-indulgence,” Eydel said. “I put my own glimmer and shimmer into my ideas through my art. I really like details.”

Artists like Michael Parkes and Fernando Botero are current inspirations for Eydel. Her art is more directly influenced by architecture, people close to her and her animal friends, especially her cats.

“I have been through three stages of influence since I started painting seriously at age 7,” Eydel said. “Fairy tale worlds, me and my cat friends, and now embroidered costume design using beads and fabrics on canvas.”

Eydel is a Russian Jew who came to the United States with her parents, Igor, a graphic designer, and Svetlana, an interior designer, when she was 2. By age 4, her talent was evident to her parents, who both studied art in St. Petersburg. Their daughter sketched and doodled while watching them at work.

“Alina sold her first paintings at age 9,” her father said. “A woman from the Los Angeles area found her Web site and e-mailed us to buy one of the paintings. She ended up buying 10 of Alina�(tm)s paintings for $2,000.”

Her mother entered her daughter�(tm)s work in a Beverly Hills art show in 1999. The city�(tm)s mayor purchased one of her paintings, which he hung in his office.

Alina now sells an average of five paintings at each gallery exhibit or art show, recently selling one work for $11,000. Her paintings have been purchased by buyers from as far away as Japan.

For more information on Alina�(tm)s paintings, visit www.alinafineart.com. – Stefanee Freedman, Contributing Writer

Elcott Calls for Study of Jewish O.C.

Intrigued by the recent accomplishments of Orange County�(tm)s Jewish community, the relative youth of its leaders, and the unusual absence of enmity between local denominations, Shalom Elcott started work in the top post of the county�(tm)s most prominent Jewish fundraising organization last month.

Elcott, 44, who most recently worked as a philanthropy adviser in Los Angeles to private family foundations, brings with him a coveted Rolodex of contacts among big-league Jewish philanthropists. He served as the go-to guy who engineered major projects in Israel for the late Ted Arison, founder of Carnival Cruise Line. As president of Arison�(tm)s Tel Aviv foundation, Elcott in 2001 helped establish a group of the world�(tm)s 10 largest family foundations to share ideas on wielding philanthropy more effectively.

Although board members of the O.C. Jewish Federation demanded Elcott predict how much he could improve over last year�(tm)s $2.2 million campaign, his answer was a surprising one.

He asked for a year�(tm)s forbearance to conduct the first serious demographic study of the county�(tm)s Jewish community, a costly endeavor. “It�(tm)s something that will help all of us in targeting and branding our product,” said Elcott, who has developed marketing campaigns for other nonprofits.

A study will likely reveal distinct demographic pockets whose needs and interests should be canvassed, Elcott said. “I�(tm)d like to take a year to get the information, filter it and figure out how to use it,” he said.

Partnering with Israel and combating campus anti-Semitism, though, are issues already in Elcott�(tm)s game plan.

The completion in under four years of the $70 million Samueli Jewish campus in Irvine gives Elcott little breathing room. Stephen H. Hoffman, the retiring president of United Jewish Communities told him last month, “people are going to watch what Orange County does.”

“There can�(tm)t be any excuses,” Elcott said. “It�(tm)s a test and challenge to the community to go out and build something great.”

Elcott�(tm)s partner is Dr. Marc Miller, who succeeded Lou Weiss as president in June after serving for two years as the Federation�(tm)s campaign chairman. Miller said he and Elcott share a common community vision.

Elcott was selected by a search committee headed by board member Mel Lipson. He had the luxury of a long search as retiring executive, Bunnie Mauldin, announced her planned departure last fall. Even as Lipson was narrowing his list, though, the competition over candidates intensified with similar job openings in higher-profile communities such as San Francisco, Pittsburgh and San Diego.

Elcott and his wife, Robin, intend to relocate to the area with their 9-year-old son. – Andrea Adelson, Contributing Editor

Mothers Bridge Generation Gap

Joan Kaye knows from personal experience that during adolescence relationships between parents and daughters can turn frosty. Only at 16 did her own daughter “suddenly turn into a human being,” said Kaye, the director of the Bureau of Jewish Education.

To counter a teen culture that celebrates risky behavior, this month the bureau begins a program that celebrates girls�(tm) transition into womanhood, but with a Jewish spin. “It�(tm)s a Girl Thing,” is a yearlong pilot program for mothers and sixth-grade girls to deconstruct contemporary cultural norms while connecting to their own religious identity. By drawing on the traditional Rosh Chodesh celebrations of the new moon, instructor Leslie Dixon will lead monthly discussions on subjects such as friends, body image and sexuality, weaving in examples of Jewish heroines and Jewish rituals.

“We�(tm)re training young women that this is part of their history and identity,” said Dixon, of Laguna Hills, who has developed and taught innovative sex-education classes for families.

The experience can be transformative between parent and child, she said. “The bridge is lessened; something starts to shift.”

“If you get mothers and daughters communicating before adolescence, you have a good shot at continuing communication through high school,” explained Kaye, who faced surprising difficulty raising funds to underwrite the well-regarded program, introduced in 50 cities over the last two years.

“It�(tm)s not something people think is a major issue,” she said.

Among those convinced is Julie A. Lobel, a Newport Coast mother of five, including fifth-grade daughter, Jamie. She helped underwrite the program, as did the O.C. Community Foundation and Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women�(tm)s and Gender Studies.

Lobel observed her daughter�(tm)s riveted focus during a free-for-all discussion on sexuality led by Dixon, who worked as a school nurse at Tarbut V�(tm)Torah Community Day School.

“In that room without telephone and TV, alone with your daughter without any interruptions, it�(tm)s a challenge in itself,” Lobel said. Her hope is that girls grasp the spiritual side of growing into young adults.

“Some kids have the connection; you can�(tm)t force it,” she said. “We�(tm)re giving that gift to them, the path to tap into it.”

“It�(tm)s a Girl Thing” open house is Sept. 19, 2-4 p.m. at Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo. A $100 fee pays for the entire year. For more information, call (949) 435-3450.

Teeing Off for Tarbut V�(tm)Torah

Jill and Mark Stein, parents of an athletic senior enrolled at Tarbut V�(tm) Torah Community Day School, sympathize with parents besieged by unceasing monetary demands of their teenagers. Their own daughter, Ashley, obsessively attempts to pack three sports into every season, each generating a $190 athletic fee at the school.

To help defray the $70,000 budget of the school�(tm)s athletic department, the Steins organized a golf tournament, held the last two years at Tustin Ranch. This year, in the hope of luring golfers who covet access to one of the county�(tm)s private courses, the Oct. 4 Tarbut V�(tm)Torah third annual Golf tournament is shifting venues to the Coto de Caza Golf & Racquet Club. “This allows the general public an opportunity to play on a course they don�(tm)t normally get to,” said Jill Stein, herself a novice golfer.

Stein hopes for 140 golfers at the noon start, broken into foursomes around the club�(tm)s north course. Dinner and awards begin by 6 p.m.

“Generally golfers like to take it seriously and walk away with something,” she said. Trophies will be awarded in seven categories.

Profits only accrue through sponsorships, which Stein is still seeking.

Last year�(tm)s event raised $37,000. That, combined with student fees from upper graders that play in the 11 sports offered, leaves a shortfall of less than $4,000, coach Patrick Roberts said. He is hoping tournament proceeds this year will make the department entirely self-supporting.

The $220 cost per player includes two kosher meals and greens fees. $500 for tee sponsors; $100 for cart sponsors, and $800 for those who register as a foursome. For more information, call Doris Jacobson, (949) 509-9500, ext. 3007.

Hands-On High Holidays

“Once in a lifetime, you�(tm)re asked to do something like this,” said Heidi Kahn, of Irvine, an award-winning religious school teacher known for incorporating touch, taste and smell into her lesson plans.

Given free rein to devise a new program for preschoolers and their parents or grandparents, Kahn is bubbling with hands-on ideas to reanimate “freeze-dried Judaica.” The two-hour Congregation Eilat-a-Fun class begins Sept. 12 and is open to the entire community. It will be held Sunday afternoons once a month through June at Mission Viejo�(tm)s Congregation Eilat.

“I�(tm)m allowed to let my imagination go crazy,” said Kahn, who teaches at Eilat and Irvine�(tm)s University Synagogue. “Oh, it�(tm)s so delicious. I can�(tm)t wait to do this.”

While the typical religious school curriculum for the High Holidays might involve making round challahs and shofars, Kahn strives for even more innovative ways to present Jewish holidays. She is certain to fascinate preschoolers. Their jaded parents will be a tougher audience, she predicted

For example, Kahn�(tm)s Yom Kippur concept calls for a revised version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” where the main character must make an apology. The Rosh Hashanah curriculum includes a beekeeper with a sealed hive and the extraction of its contents.

“It�(tm)s going to be fabulous,” she promised.Eilat sponsored the class to harness Kahn�(tm)s creativity and to give young families a memorable Jewish experience at low cost, said Neal J. Linson, a synagogue board member.

“She is a jewel to the local community that has an imagination and love for Judaism that is visceral,” Linson said, describing Kahn as “10 pounds of sugar in a 5-pound sack.”

The class will be held 3-5 p.m. 2081 Hidalgo, Mission Viejo. $18 per family, per session. R.S.V.P. to (949) 854-4402 or heidikahn@cox.net.

Hebrew No Longer aForeign Concept

Orange County students can now go off-campus for school credits, thanks to a new language program offered at the Mission Viejo Chabad Center and Huntington Beach�(tm)s Hebrew Academy. Up to 10 foreign language credits, enough to satisfy annual state requirements for high school students, can be earned by those who enroll.

“The program provides an excellent opportunity for our teenage students to satisfy their foreign language needs while receiving a meaningful Jewish education,” said Hebrew Chai director, Rabbi Shmuel Marcus, of Cypress. “This program also offers college-style sessions along with electives and retreats.”

The course will include Hebrew reading and writing, modern and conversational Hebrew, biblical text study, prayer, electives, Shabbatons and trips. Hebrew Chai will run in three semester sessions, offering students two elective choices each semester. By enrolling in the off-campus language course, students can add an on-campus elective to their schedule.

“Students can choose a variety of topics that include kosher cooking, why stars like Madonna study kabbalah, secrets of the Talmud and many more exciting topics,” said Mission Viejo Chabad Director Bassie Marcus. “We want to create a social scene for the students while they are learning a new language outside their schools.”

The 10-credit course meets Sunday mornings and Tuesdays, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The program is able to issue credits through the Hebrew Academy, accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). A staff member will monitor the program according to WASC�(tm)s standards and issue student transcripts, as the school does for transferring students.

Hebrew Chai will begin classes in both locations Sept. 12 and will accept later registering students, though for less credits. Enrollment is limited to 45 students. Two other instructors will joining Marcus in teaching; Hadas Zaetz, a California state accredited teacher from Israel, and Orange Coast College Hebrew professor, Rabbi Benzi Saydman.

“This program is nondenominational and open to any students that want to earn extra credit off campus,” Marcus said. With Mission Viejo as a model, other Chabad centers are considering similar for-credit courses, he said.

For more information on Hebrew Chai, contact Bassie or Rabbi Marcus at (949) 770-1270, or e-mail hebrewschool@cjc.occoxmail.com. – SF

Divining Prayer


I have had a love affair with words ever since I can recall. As a little girl I would whisper words to myself just to hear the sounds of them; magical words like canopy, arithmetic and Ethiopia. As an adult, I have relied upon words as the tools I use to make meaning in my world. In my work, my family, my relationships and my inner life, words accompany me throughout the day, enabling me to bring to life the images, ideas and beliefs that shape who I am.

This is not to say that all words come easily to me. I have never been able to say orangutan without adding a "g" at the end and I still say "head egg" instead of headache when under stress. And foreign languages really throw me for a loop. My theory in high school Spanish has remained true to this day: If you add an "o" or an "ita" to any English word, the chance is it will sound Spanish enough that you will be understood. For example, "Can you help-o me find-ita the school-o?" will definitely lead you to a school, or at the very least a building with windows.

So you can imagine my fear when I enrolled in a Hebrew course at the age of 43 at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, ready to conquer the intricacies of a language that had frustrated me since Matt Berman threw eraser tips at me in Hebrew school. I enthusiastically entered the class only to find a room of lethargic college students, most of whom were more interested in concerts and bars than verb conjugation and tenses.

I became obsessed with learning Hebrew, spending every hour of the day — in the classroom, on the streets, at home, even in my sleep — trying to speak the language. I was brazen and I was shameless. I insisted on speaking Hebrew to anyone and everyone who would listen, including a group of Japanese-speaking tourists who wanted directions to the Israel Museum.

Some people never leave home without a credit card; I never left home without my Hebrew-English dictionary. Such determination and diligence, while hastening my comprehension and ability to speak, came with a price. I became a walking, talking malaprop in Hebrew, the originator of more bloopers than Jerusalem has synagogues.

My family’s first dining experience in Jerusalem began the parade of horribles. I proudly requested the menu in Hebrew and began ordering more food than we could possibly eat in a week. I was quite pleased with myself until my son asked for some ice for his drink.

"No problem," I said confidently turning to our middle-aged waiter, a man with absolutely no hair and a wide, open smile.

"Sir, may I have some ice please?" I asked in my finest Hebrew.

He looked startled, then hurt as he scurried off. My Hebrew radar detector indicated immediate distress. What could I have possibly done to insult this gentle soul?

When a new waiter came to deliver the food, I knew I was in trouble. Slipping away from our table on the pretext of finding the bathroom, I headed straight for the dictionary hidden in my purse. It was on those worn pages that I discovered the error of my ways.

The trouble was that the Hebrew word for ice and the Hebrew word for bald are almost identical. I had told our unsuspecting waiter that I wanted him — and I wanted him bald! I was desperate to make amends and returned to the table with renewed faith that I could set things right. I motioned to our hairless waiter and with a smile as big as Montana, asked for a masrek. Now he wasn’t wounded but outraged. An Israeli called out, "She means a masleg, not a masrek!" This time I had asked the poor guy for a comb instead of a fork.

I might have thrown in the Hebrew towel if there hadn’t been a breakthrough one Friday evening at the shul we attended. After several months, I still hadn’t noticed much change in my ability to understand the Hebrew prayers. Even though I knew them by heart, they were really just words I recited in order to be a part of the synagogue community. Slowly I felt it, like a soft shiver running through my soul. I realized that for the first time in my life I actually understood the meaning of the Hebrew words of "Yedid Nefesh," the prayer we say to welcome the Sabbath. I heard the passion, understood the poetry, clung to the description of love between man and God which are found within it. No longer were these words mere sounds; they were Hebrew words I understood because I had made them my own.

Hot tears rolled down my cheeks when we began to sing the "Shema" and I understood for the very first time the words that I had recited by memory my entire life. The "Shema" itself is a commandment to hear, to listen and to understand. I realized that in my efforts to learn Hebrew I had gained much more than mere knowledge of the aleph-bet. In learning Hebrew I had enabled myself to understand the true meaning of Jewish prayer and to give these words personal meaning. In learning Hebrew, I had begun to make traditional Hebrew prayers my own.


Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a
nationally syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney
who lives in Tucson, Ariz., with her husband and two children. She can be
reached at alederman@cox.net
.

The Whole Kingdom


When Ahuva Goldstein attended Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Torath
Emeth in 1960, she had five students in her sixth-grade class. The ultra
Orthodox elementary school was in its seventh year, but it did not have its own
building; it was housed in a synagogue on the corner of Third Street and Edinburgh
Avenue. The class was so small that it was combined with the seventh grade,
bringing the total number of girls up to 13.

“I don’t even think there were 50 students in the whole
school,” said Goldstein, 55, who now lives in Hancock Park and works as a
volunteer for Bikur Cholim and Hachnassas Kallah of Los Angeles. “But there was
not much of a choice [in Los Angeles] as far as the kind of in-depth religious
school my parents wanted. The education was very one-on-one, and we knew every
student. The teachers were very motherly, but it was really more like a little
house, with 30 to 40 kids running around, than a proper school.”

These days, two of Goldstein’s grandchildren attend Toras
Emes (as it is more commonly known) and she says the school has become “a whole
kingdom.” Celebrating its 50th anniversary on March 9, that kingdom includes
1,100 students in preschool to eighth grade, 240 staff members, five different
buildings in the Beverly La Brea area and an annual budget of $6 million.

Over the past 50 years, the school’s growth has been
synchronous with the expansion of the ultra-Orthodox community in Los Angeles
as a whole. In the 1950s, there was only a handful of synagogues that served
the ultra-Orthodox community, and even fewer schools. Today, the ultra-Orthodox
community has dozens of synagogues, several kollels and other community
infrastructure.

For many in the ultra-Orthodox community, Toras Emes is the
only educational choice worth considering: It serves as the middle ground
between the Chasidic Cheder Menachem (where secular studies are minimal) and
Ohr Eliyahu (a newer ultra-Orthodox school whose student bidy is more diverse).
What sets Toras Emes apart from other yeshivas in the city are, among other
things, its insistence on a high level of religious observance in the families
it serves. The school will not accept anyone whose parents aren’t Sabbath
observant and will not accept a child whose mother wears pants. Most Toras Emes
parents come from the far-right end of the religious spectrum and, according to
Toras Emes administration, 30 percent of its students are the children of
parents who are religious functionaries in the community, meaning that even
those who work in other places still consider Toras Emes to be the final word
in children’s education.

“Almost the entire [Jewish studies] teaching staff of any
Orthodox school in Los Angeles send their children here,” said Rabbi Yakov
Krause, the school’s principal since 1977. “So in a sense, we view our yeshiva
as a catalyst for Yiddishkayt in the entire community.”

The school takes Yiddishkayt very seriously, in intensity of
the learning and the number of restrictions it places on its students and their
parents to safeguard that learning. Torah is taught the first half of the day
to show its importance: School starts at 7:30 a.m. and Jewish studies continue
until 2:30 p.m. The chinuch (education), at Toras Emes is both old-style and
modern. In one second-grade Chumash (Bible) class, for example, many of the
students stand at their desks, their fingers pointing to the words in the
Chumash, swaying back and forth with their feet planted on the ground in
imitation of Rabbi Shmuel Jacobs, who is doing the same thing. In unison, they
repeat the verses of the text in a lilting cadence, first in Hebrew and then in
English. The effect is reminiscent of old European cheders, but before it
becomes too old-fashioned, Jacobs, a recipient of a Milken educators’ award,
turns off the overhead lights and switches on a moving electric light display,
which he has programmed to give the students information about the clothes worn
by the priests in the Temple.

In other classes, teachers discuss the finer points of
Hebrew grammar, connect the impending war in Iraq to the story of Purim and
find cute acronyms to get the girls to remembers the order of the animals that
lined the steps of the altar in the Temple. In the older boys’ grades, students
sit in a large beit midrash and learn Talmud chavrusa-style, with each boy
learning with a partner.

“We try to make the learning exciting for them,” Krause
said. “This is a time when we have so many distractions — the outside world has
so much glitz and glamour to it — that if the learning is just cut and dried —
and it doesn’t become alive to them — it’s a losing battle.”

The school tries to keep the outside world at bay with its
rules and regulations. Girls are required to adhere to the laws of modesty in
and out of school, and failure to do so is grounds for dismissal. Movie
theaters, regardless of the rating of the film or the accompaniment of an
adult, are off-limits. All television viewing is discouraged, as is patronizing
public libraries, and the school handbook states that the Internet “should be
treated like a loaded firearm.”

“If this is too much a price to pay for the chinuch we
provide,” the handbook continues, “then our school is not for you.”

Over the past half a century, Toras Emes has indeed
established itself as a vital institution for Los Angeles’ ultra-Orthodox
community, and yet, its phenomenal growth has not come without costs. The sheer
size of the school, some say, creates one large culture where individual needs
are not met. And with the generous amount of financial assistance it provides
(only 350 of 1,100 students are full-fee paying), some say the school doesn’t
have the resources to accommodate all the students.

Yet, the school says that while it is inevitable that some
students will get lost in the shuffle despite the school’s best efforts, it has
never sacrificed educational quality for financial reasons.

“I don’t think the education has been affected [by the
financial situation]. Nothing has been stopped because of money,” said Rabbi
Berish Goldenberg, also a principal and a fundraiser for the school.

Goldenberg cites the small classes, and the inclusion of
special needs staff as evidence of the school’s efforts to deal with its
imposing size.

As the school gets larger, different questions arise about
its direction. Should the school move more to the right? Should the school
become a television-free school (meaning that parents will need to get rid of
their sets before enrolling their children in the school)?

As a way of dealing with some of these issues, the school
has a “cheder track” for the younger grades, where Jewish studies are taught in
Yiddish. While some parents don’t particularly care for the Yiddish, they still
want their children in the cheder track, because it’s for children from more
seriously religious homes  — homes that do not have televisions, and where
there is no ambiguity in their commitment to Torah.

Even with these issues, many parents feel that what their
children get out of Toras Emes is priceless.

“Toras Emes is not so much about the education,” said
Jonathan Weiss, who attended the school, and whose two children are students
there. “The students are imbued with traditional Jewish sensitivity and
feelings, and it becomes their essence. I think that is why parents send their
children there.”

“I have yet to meet a mother who doesn’t have something to
complain about when it comes to the education of their children,” said Batya
Brander, mother of three Toras Emes students. “But the love of Judaism that my
kids have from Toras Emes is indescribable, and that far outweighs everything
else.”  

Hebrew School Horror Stories


Randy Fried will never forget the day he almost had a police escort to Hebrew school. Like many other Jewish students around the country, the then-preteen class clown ("I was a Hebrew school teacher’s worst nightmare") tried every excuse in the book to avoid going to his weekly bar mitzvah training class.

He faked sick. He faked homework. He probably would’ve faked his own death if it meant skipping the "Shema" for a day. One afternoon, Fried got into such a heated argument with his parents about blowing off class, that a neighbor called the cops.

"Two officers showed up, and one asked my dad, ‘Is there a problem, here?’" the 24-year-old recounted, chuckling at the memory. "So my dad said, ‘My son refuses to go to Hebrew school, and he has to learn his religion because his bar mitzvah is coming up.’"

The officer looked at Fried’s father for a moment and then said something along the lines of, "Well, Hebrew school is very important." He then asked Fried if he needed ride in the back of the squad car to get to class.

Panicked, Fried declined and said it wasn’t necessary. Without another complaint, he let his dad drop him off at the former Temple Beth Torah in Alhambra for class.

Now, the Arcadia resident is a sixth-grade Hebrew school teacher at Sinai Temple on the Westside. Having been on both sides of the desk, Fried is not alone in feeling that Hebrew school has changed a lot since those days.

Edith Singer, a veteran teacher at Sinai Temple on the Westside, said that she’s noticed significant differences in children’s attitudes during her nearly 40 years of teaching. "I know there was a time when kids said, ‘I hate Hebrew school,’" said the Holocaust survivor, who began teaching in 1965. "I don’t hear this anymore. I think it’s out of style to hate Hebrew school."

If Singer is correct, 11-year-old Daniel Yosef, who attends classes at Temple Emanuel in West Los Angeles, is right in style. "I think I learn a lot in Hebrew school," said the chipper sixth-grader after returning from a Sunday morning class.

His best friend, Raif Cogan, 11, admitted that while he’d rather stay home and play Nintendo, the pre-bar mitzvah classes are not that bad. "It’s not the funnest thing in the world," said Cogan, who also attends Temple Emanuel, "but it’s not terrible."

Both Yosef and Cogan believe their worst in-class crime — and that of their peers — is talking during class.

Talk to any Hebrew school graduate and he or she is likely to have a Hebrew school war story.

A writer living in Los Angeles, Gilah Yelin Hirsch recalls her escapades in Hebrew school as an 8-year-old in Montreal, in 1952. "The mornings were spent in Yiddish and Hebrew studies while the afternoons focused on English and French. One morning, I asked my Orthodox [Bible] teacher, in Yiddish, why God was always referred to as he, while the names and pronouns were interchangeably male and female, i.e. ‘umvorchim otach.’ [‘And you (F) shall be blessed.’] He grabbed me by my long, red hair and threw me out of the classroom," she said.

Deborah Jacoby, 30, of Sherman Oaks, remembers the time her older brother was sent to the principal’s office for making out with a girl on the bimah and then trying to convince administrators the act was a "double mitzvah," because it happened on Shabbat.

It seems that even the most well-behaved kid could — especially in the old days — turn into your average Hebrew school delinquent.

Fried and a buddy made their teacher so angry that he threw a book on the floor and stormed out of the classroom.

"Because it’s not ‘real school,’ kids don’t take it as seriously," Fried said. "What kind of trouble can they really get in? What is the [school director] going to say, ‘You can’t have a bar mitzvah?’"

Singer attributed the problem to fatigue. "Kids are tired in the afternoon, especially when they’ve spent the whole day at school. Maybe they have their mind on homework, and it makes them a little restless," he said

Singer said that while she used to have problems keeping her students in line, those issues have disappeared over the years. "Now they respect me because I’m over 70. I have difficult children, but I put foot my down," said the Czechoslovakian native.

"I take them very seriously," she said. "I treat them with a lot of respect, and they give it back to me."

Singer has noticed that in general, younger teachers tend to have more disciplinary problems than their experienced counterparts.

Deborah Kreingle, a Hebrew school teacher at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles, said she’s been teaching "longer than Moses was in the desert." "We don’t have any discipline problems," the West Los Angels resident said.

"The program is so fast, that we’re always running out of time," she said. "The kids are never bored, because there’s no time for it."

Most teachers agree that the decline in behavior problems can be credited to parents. Singer thinks that kids today know that when it comes to their Jewish education, they are in it for the long haul, whether they like it or not.

"Parents don’t promise the kids that after their bar mitzvah, they don’t have to go [to Hebrew school] anymore, which is what they used to do," she said. Along the same lines, Fried has noticed that parents seem more involved, which makes the children feel the classes are important.

Class size and hours spent in class have also changed. Singer has about half the number of students she had 20 years ago, and the classes, which used to meet three times a week, have been reduced to two — a common trend.

With reduced hours, teaching students to speak Hebrew has become a lower priority than teaching them to read the prayers in time for their bar and bat mitzvahs.

"I feel bad that we don’t have time to study Hebrew as a language," said Singer, who remembers a time when there was more emphasis on language and vocabulary. "Now we have to spend the time on reading. I think it comes from the rabbis from the Conservative movement who wanted to focus more on reading and knowing the prayers."

There are also more school activities that take away from academic class time. Many schools now include music, art and library programs, as well as field trips.

Fried said that one of the biggest differences he noticed, as compared to his Hebrew school days, are the classroom discussions. While he remembers a lot of lectures, teachers are now encouraged to promote questioning and discussion. As such, he said, programs have become more interactive.

"We talk more about ‘why,’ as opposed to ‘how to,’" Fried explained, "like, why do we believe in God, and why do we say these prayers?"

Above all, Fried said, his best teaching tool is the ability to use his experiences as a reformed prankster to reach his students. He often shows the kids his old Hebrew school report cards, which contain teachers’ comments about his constant gabbing and short attention span.

"My philosophy is that we need to teach them that Judaism is fun, so they don’t do what I did. We need to try to tap into that crazy energy in a creative way," said Fried, who believes that his rebellion was, in part, due to strict teachers and boredom.

While it appears that the heyday of Hebrew school horror has passed, kids continue to find ways to keep themselves entertained during their weekly classes. Yosef, Cogan and their cronies admit that a small amount of Hebrew school mischief still exists.

"We use the same desks that belong to the day school kids during the week," said Cogan, stifling a giggle. "A lot of times, we go through the desks and play around with their stuff."

Prevent Your Children From Intermarrying


The calls increase in frequency as Rosh Hashana gets closer. "Rabbi, I’m thinking of putting my kids in Hebrew school. Could you tell me a bit about it?" So I give the usual descriptions. We meet twice a week. Your child will learn Hebrew reading, history, holidays and traditions. On the holidays we have all kinds of interesting projects, on Rosh Hashana they will learn to make a shofar, Chanukah make a menorah and Passover bake matzah. By the way, I sometimes say, our Hebrew school is great, but day school, like the Hebrew Academy, is a much better choice for a more comprehensive Jewish education.

"Oh," they say, "that sounds interesting. But I’ve got one problem. The program conflicts with soccer on Tuesday." So I try to be a bit tough. "Look, the program is twice a week. If you don’t send Timmy or maybe Tiffany both days, they really won’t be getting that much of an education."

"Rabbi, we are really not so religious, and anyway the kids learn the traditions at home."

So I wonder if I should lay it on the line or not. Chances are the amount of "traditions in the home" was a dinner last Passover. The family gathered and read the Maxwell House edition of the haggadah. After about 20 minutes, Aunt Sadie started complaining that it was getting late and they should move on to dinner. The older sister’s cell phone was ringing with some friend from school. And the 10-year-old kid is thinking to himself, "Ah, this must be Judaism." Mom can’t read Hebrew, and dad can somehow figure out the four questions since he had a bar mitzvah some 20 years ago.

Instead, I try to be the nice guy. Usually I try to cajole, encourage and hopefully convince them that the kids will have a great time. Hebrew school does not have to be a drag, and if you can only do one day a week, we will try to accommodate you.

Hoping that by first getting in the front door, maybe I will have a chance to slowly interest the children — and then maybe down the line the parents, whose Jewish attention span lasts no longer than the bar mitzvah anyway.

At times, I will try to enter into a philosophical discussion. Judaism gives us answers to the inner meaning of life. It leads us down a path of holiness, imbuing us with spiritual purpose and direction. But few are interested in engaging in a philosophical dialogue. They are more interested in the important issues: tuition, carpool, homework loads, etc.

What I don’t tell them is the harshest truth. "Listen, your observance is not so strong, and unless your kids get an education chances are it will be less. And if you want your children to marry a fellow Jew, the only thing that really insures that is giving the children a Jewish education."

But rarely are they interested in hearing the statistics of the National Jewish Population Study that clearly prove the more Jewish education, the lower the rate of intermarriage and assimilation.

I feel like I am witnessing assimilation at work. Parents who make Judaism a priority to their kids will have children that carry it on. Most importantly, they will gain an appreciation of the richness of Jewish tradition that will impact their lives. Sadly, we live in a time where most Jews are three and even four generations removed from full observance.

Daily, I see parents making decisions that will effect their children’s identity for decades to come. "Oh, Rabbi, we’ll make a small bar mitzvah and invite over the family," they say. I wonder, what’s the celebration if the kid knows as much about Judaism as I do about Zulu Indians?

Still there are the good stories. Parents who for years have invested much in their kids and are seeing the rewards of having the right priorities. Families who make a decision to seize the opportunity before it’s too late, and give their children some Jewish education. The best news is that what we are teaching the kids has an impact. According to all the surveys, the more years they learn — and in particular if they choose a day school over a Hebrew school — they grow to love Judaism.

It’s all very simple: the more hours they put in, the more they value the ideals and traditions that reach down to us from Mount Sinai.

Terror on Campus


July 31 was the last day of Ulpan, the six-week Hebrew class at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University’s Rothberg School for Overseas Students. Most of the students studying, lunching and lounging on the Mount Scopus campus that day were not Israelis. They were Americans, Canadians, South Koreans, Japanese taking Hebrew summer classes to prepare for the fall semester. The minority of Israelis on campus were retaking final exams. Ulpan’s finals were to be held on Thursday.

At 1:40 p.m., Sofia Aron was studying for her final the next day, when a bomb exploded in the Frank Sinatra cafeteria, killing at least seven and wounding some 85 people. The cafeteria is adjacent to the new Rothberg building, expanded some three years ago.

Aron, a 19-year-old UC Davis student, immediately began compiling a list of all her friends who might be there. "Everyone hangs out in that cafeteria," she said. She started calling friends on their cellphones, trying to locate her new roommate, Chloe Massey, a Christian from Somerset, England, who had arrived just two days prior.

Aron later found Massey, but still, "We know a lot of people who were there," she said, still in shock. "There’s no reason to target the campus here. There are so many Arabs studying here," the L.A. native said. "I’m shocked that it happened here. I told my parents that I’d be safe here."

The July 31 bombing — not a suicide attack, police believed, but a remotely detonated bomb for which Hamas claimed responsibility — hit one of the last perceived areas of safety in Israel.

The unprecedented attack on an Israeli university campus comes as a big blow to Hebrew University, which prides itself on its secular and pluralistic identity, with a diverse student body hailing from more than 70 countries that includes Israeli Jews and Arabs, new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and American and European exchange students.

"This university has never been attacked," said Peter Weil, president of the American Friends of the Hebrew University, Greater Los Angeles region. The closest such incident occurred on April 13, 1947. Arab fighters ambushed a civilian medical convoy from the university, massacring some 80 doctors and nurses.

Officials at Hebrew University and its American affiliates — including the L.A. chapter — expressed their outrage at the incident. They also worried about the repercussions this tragedy might have on an already-ailing Israeli university system, as well as what it might bode regarding the future shape of terrorism.

The bombing follows a steady decrease in enrollment of American students at the university since the intifada began in September 2000. Approximately 1,000 American students enroll in the university’s Summer Ulpan, freshman year and masters programs, and popular junior-year and semester-abroad programs on a typical year. Enrollment this year was already down 40 percent from the previous year, which was far below 1,000.

Following the news of the tragedy, an executive meeting at the Los Angeles offices of American Friends of the Hebrew University was held on the morning of July 31. Weil, Western Region Chairman Richard Ziman and eight other members of American Friends’ West Coast branch joined a conference call initiated by Hebrew University to update American affiliates on the situation and how it was being handled. Two university psychologists have been dispatched to the dorms, and more will be sent in coming days to help students cope with the tragedy.

"For the Palestinians or Hamas to do what they did," Ziman said, "is really striking at the heart of anything that affords the hope for peace in the future."

"I think it’s just another outrage that will push Israelis to dig deeper in their resolve to fight terrorism," Weil said. "This is not only a problem for the administration but from other universities who see the dangerous precedent this could set."

The surrounding buildings, including the Frank Sinatra Student Union, are all named after American supporters. The cafeteria is just across from Nancy Reagan Plaza, which is adjacent to the Rothberg School for Overseas Students.

"There are two towers both named after Angelenos — Richard Ziman and Harvey Silbert," Weil said, noting the prominence and dedication of American support to Hebrew University.

Safety on the campus, located atop Mt. Scopus, has never been an issue. Despite the numerous terrorist attacks that have taken place all around the campus, which is surrounded by some hostile Arab neighborhoods, Hebrew U. itself has never been targeted since it was founded in 1923 by a group of intellectuals and dignitaries that included Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Martin Buber.

"The university feels that it had done an extraordinary job beefing up security around the university several months ago," Ziman said. "But it’s a very difficult environment. You have traffic of 10 to 15,000 people a day to keep the university functioning."

Campus newspapers lately had mentioned the possibility of an attack.

"It’s in the East Jerusalem and surrounded by some Arab neighborhoods that are unfriendly," Weil said. "But it’s on a hilltop so there’s only one way in. They have security and tall fences and you need identification to get in but it’s still an open university."

"Until today, the university was regarded as a very safe place," said Amy Sugin, director of the Office of Academic Affairs.

"Hebrew University has been the last island of sanity in Jerusalem with respect to Arab and Jewish coexistence," said Peter Willner, executive vice president of the American Friends of Hebrew University.

"We have to show our solidarity," said Ziman, whose daughter is presently studying at a Jerusalem yeshiva. "There are several people leaving from New York to Hebrew University. I’ve been there this year in March and in June."

The support, Ziman added, is particularly needed in the wake of the second intifada.

"The universities in Israel are going through unique financial hardships," Ziman said. "The government allocations are down because of other involvement. Enrollment from overseas has gone down significantly and as a result, tuition is down. More local students have been called up to serve in the armed forces."

So what will this mean for Hebrew University? Ziman said that the attack at Hebrew U. could be systematic of a larger trend.

"I think this is a wake-up call, perhaps for universities all over the world," Ziman said. "Universities are some of the hotbed of political ideas. Look what’s happening in Tehran where university crackdowns are happening."

American Friends’ Los Angeles chapter hopes that this will not further erode enrollment at the university.

"Up until this time, nothing like this has happened on an Israeli university," Ziman said. "You felt like it was the unwritten law. We had the riots here and USC was untouched. Will it affect students from abroad going to learn there? I hope not."

For her part, UC Davis student Aron says she intends on taking another six-week Ulpan class and to do her semester abroad at Hebrew U. Right after the bombing, she hurriedly typed up an e-mail to her parents in Los Angeles: "I’m OK, don’t worry."

Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this story.

Shalom Leases


An announcement last week by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that it will not renew leases for its West San Fernando Valley properties will have an impact on two Jewish institutions: Kadima Hebrew Academy and the Rabbi Max D. Raiskin West Valley Hebrew Academy.

However, the announcement, which first appeared in the Los Angeles Times Jan. 9, may not be the last word on the subject, according to LAUSD spokeswoman Stephanie Brady.

"The Times article may have been premature," Brady said. "The closed-school policy for the district remains under review. There should be a recommendation to the Board of Education within the next month."

Although Kadima Hebrew Academy has only been a resident for 10 years, it seems that it has always been a fixture on the green and busy corner of Shoup Avenue and Collins Street in Woodland Hills. However, the reported decision by LAUSD to not renew its lease, which ends in July 2002, means that while the school will continue to exist, its address for next fall is yet to be determined.

Fortunately, the district’s decision was not unexpected. In September, Kadima’s administrator, Barbara Gereboff, and its president, Cheri Mayman, sent out a letter to parents alerting them that, "for a variety of reasons, LAUSD has decided not to lease its Valley schools beginning in Fall of 2002, which happens to coincide with the end of our 10-year lease." The letter noted that the school’s board of directors is seeking a permanent site for the future, as well as a temporary site for the next school year. A later letter, mailed in December, informed parents that a new site had been found but that the location would remain confidential in order to avoid a potential fight with neighbors over the required conditional-use permit.

"We’re moving ahead on another property, although we’re still unsure of the outcome for this property," Gereboff said, adding that Kadima had made a prior offer on the site several years ago but it was declined.

Until it is able to ascertain LAUSD’s intentions regarding the site, Kadima’s board continues its preparations for a possible move, including fundraising. Already, the school has a commitment from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for a $50,000 grant to use toward new development, and officials are also looking into applying for a loan through the Avi Chai Foundation, which provides funding to Jewish day schools throughout the country.

Kadima, a Solomon Schechter day school affiliated with the Conservative Movement, was founded in 1970 and has since built a reputation for incorporating a solid Hebrew language and Judaic-studies curriculum within the framework of a secular education. The school is also known for attracting students from a wide spectrum of the Jewish immigrant community, a factor which Gereboff regards as one of its greatest strengths.

"We want our kids to be proud of their diverse backgrounds and even rewrote our mission statement to reflect that," she said. "It’s a part of what makes our school unique."

With enrollment at 300 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, Gereboff said she anticipates continued growth, particularly for the middle school, which feeds into the new Milken Community High School currently in its first year at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills.

The West Valley Hebrew Academy, also a kindergarten to eighth-grade school, has experienced similar growth in the past year, although at 150 students, it faces fewer challenges to moving from its present location on Oso Avenue. The school is affiliated with Beit Hamidrash of Woodland Hills, which owns a large piece of property on Fallbrook Avenue that is already zoned and licensed for a day school although it still needs a city permit for any expansion, said Alan Shapiro, the congregation’s president.

"We do already utilize our campus on Fallbrook; we’re just going to have to use it more," Shapiro said, adding that school officials have been prepared for an announcement of this sort. "We all have leases and [LAUSD] made it clear that the lease was for 10 years and never promised to renew, although there’s always the hope and the thought they would."

Shapiro said West Valley actually has a little more time than Kadima, because the former’s lease expires in 2003.

"We would appreciate an extension of the lease because it would give us more time [to raise funds] for the expansion," Shapiro said. "Especially because of Sept. 11, which set back our fundraising campaign for the new campus by about a year."

Shapiro anticipates the eventual move will be a positive one for several reasons, among them a higher profile in the community and greater security for the school itself.

The West Valley Hebrew Academy is run by Rabbi Zvi Block, founder of the Aish HaTorah Institute (now named Beis Midrash Toras HaShem) in North Hollywood.

A Nice Not-Jewish Boy


"Everyone thinks I’m Jewish," says actor Jason Biggs.

The 23-year-old star of "American Pie," "Loser" and "American Pie 2" is actually an Italian Catholic from New Jersey. But he looks like the kind of nice Jewish boy you had a crush on in Hebrew school. Which is why he keeps getting cast as Jews, he says.

His big break, at age 13, was playing Judd Hirsch’s son in the Broadway run of "Conversations With My Father." In 1997, TV mogul Steven Bochco cast him as Robby Rosenfeld in the series "Total Security."

In "American Pie 2," Biggs’ character, Jim, gets a Jewish surname, Levenstein. "Yet again, I am playing a Jew," quips Biggs, who comes across as exuberant and personable.

If the misconception lingers, it doesn’t help that Biggs has a Jewish girlfriend, a 24-year-old writer, his first serious relationship since high school. In the year and a half that they’ve been dating, he has celebrated Shabbat and Rosh Hashana at her parents’ Los Angeles home.

When she flew off to Israel in June to visit her brother, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem exchange student, Biggs tagged along. "I was definitely concerned about the political situation," he confides, "but I’ve always wanted to see Israel."

Hours after he flew into Lod airport, Biggs was walking in Tel Aviv when he heard a loud explosion. "When we got to our restaurant, all the Israelis were on their cell phones, and suddenly they were clearing out of the place," he recalls. "Then our waiter told us there had been a suicide bombing at a discotheque less than half a mile away. It was as if the headlines had come to life."

When the shaken actor walked past the disco two days later, there was still blood on the sidewalk. "But the Israelis were getting on with their lives, so we felt, ‘We must get on with our vacation,’" says Biggs, who was often approached for autographs.

"They were impressed that we would show solidarity and come at a time like this to see their country."

He spent the rest of his 12-day trip doing touristy things like snorkeling in Eilat, visiting Hebrew University and learning a smattering of Hebrew. He was amused to learn that the Israeli Domino’s Pizza was giving away promotional copies of the Hebrew-language "American Pie" video.

Back in Los Angeles just before the release of "Pie 2," Biggs was wearing his Hebrew University T-shirt and recalling the day he made pop culture history with a pastry.

"Pie got everywhere," he recalls. "It was pretty slimy."

The actor was hesitant to do the sequel, however. "I thought so highly of the original that I didn’t want to mess with it," he says.

But he was swayed by the funny script, in which Jim comes home from college and at one point visits "band camp" — the almost-mythical place that was obnoxiously touted by his prom date, Michelle, in the original movie. He’s seeking sex-ed from the experienced Michelle, who begins every other sentence with the annoying phrase, "This one time, at band camp…."

In real life, the sequel’s band camp sequences were filmed at Camp Shalom in Malibu.

"At the end of the second day of filming, my girlfriend asked me which camp it was, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s Camp Shalom,’ and she goes, ‘No way, I went there for four summers!’" Biggs says. "I was just relieved that at no point has she ever said, ‘This one time, at Camp Shalom….’"

A Matter of Time


Michele Frankel of Fort Lee, N.J., wants her fifth-grade son, Roger, to get a Jewish education, but she also wants him to be able to go to baseball practice and complete his regular-school homework.

Her husband works every other Saturday, so Sunday mornings — often a Hebrew school day — is one of the few times the family can spend together. And she wants her son to enjoy and not resent Hebrew school.

As she struggles to balance her family’s different needs, she is relieved that her synagogue, the Jewish Center of Fort Lee, offers school once a week, rather than the two or three days most Hebrew schools require.

"More than once a week would be a little hectic," she said.

Once upon a time, the afternoon Hebrew school was a three-day-a-week regimen, accompanied by Shabbat attendance. It has dropped over the years, according to a new report on congregational schools released by the Jewish Education Service of North America.

Facing pressure from parents whose work schedules make frequent carpooling tricky or who find religious instruction hard to squeeze into children’s calendars crammed with sports and music lessons, a number of schools — like the Jewish Center — are shifting to a once-a-week model.

While no statistics are available, schools that have opted for reduced hours say they are part of a growing trend.

Diana Yacobi, education director at the Jewish Center, which is Conservative, said enrollment at her school has jumped from 65 children to close to 200 since it began offering a one-day option three years ago.

Students also can enroll in a two-day track, something approximately half do, and Bar Mitzvah students attend more frequently and work additional hours with a tutor.

Yacobi’s school offered the once-a-week option because it was losing families to other once-a-week congregational schools and contending with poor attendance rates.

"The reality was people were attending one to two days a week anyway," said Yacobi.

Giving parents a choice "lifted from the school the level of resentment traditionally there," and has led to a drop in student discipline problems, said Yacobi.

"If you can do three days a week that’s fantastic," said Yacobi. "If you can’t, you don’t have to jump ship."

The secret, says Yacobi, who is pursuing a doctorate in education, is in using the time efficiently.

"It’s not once a week — it’s seven years, and we should be able to get something worthwhile done in seven years," she said, adding that the curriculum is very focused and she works closely with the teachers to ensure the lessons are well-planned.

"There’s not as much content" as in a school that meets more often, but "what does happen should be a quality experience," she said.

The question over hours and days reflects a larger debate over the goals of Hebrew schools and the extent to which they should more closely resemble formal education like day schools, or informal education like summer camps.

That is, to what extent should they attempt to inculcate students with specific skills and knowledge — something that is challenging with few hours available — or instill them with positive feelings about their Jewishness in hopes that the children will continue Jewish learning later in life?

Rabbi Steven Moskowitz, who directed a once-a-week Hebrew school at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y before becoming rabbi of the Jewish Congregation of Brookville, a nondenominational synagogue on Long Island with a once-a-week school, aligns himself with the informal camp.

"We’ve clearly made the decision, and I don’t mind saying this bluntly, that the feeling we’re creating in the children’s hearts is more important than measuring a kid’s specific knowledge level," he said.

"I’m sure that means that the specific knowledge level, if you compare the curriculum of a three-day school to our school there’s going to be a difference," he said. "But the question open to debate is how much each child can absorb."

Moskowitz wants to ensure that children don’t, like many of their parents, hate Hebrew school and he insists that if students enjoy school they will learn and retain more in the long run than if they do not.

"What’s more important than creating positive Jewish memories and a feeling that ‘Wow, it’s fun to learn about Judaism?’ " he asked.

However, many are skeptical that once-a-week schools can accomplish much.

"At some point you lose the critical mass," said Rabbi Robert Abramson, director of education for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the umbrella arm for Conservative Jewry.

"The analogy I frequently use is if you’re in an exercise regimen that requires five days of training a week and you do two, you shouldn’t think you’re going to be two-fifths as good," he said. "You’ll probably never run the marathon that way. The other analogy is with medication — if the doctor tells you to take an antibiotic for 10 days and you take it for seven, you just might not get better."

United Synagogue requires member congregations to offer six hours of instruction per week, but the policy is not strictly enforced and is believed to be widely flouted.

Abramson acknowledges that schools need to respond to families’ busy schedules and difficulty getting to Hebrew school, but is reluctant to support a reduction in hours.

He also argues, that mastering Jewish skills — something that takes time — is an important part of creating positive Jewish identity.

"When kids know some things about Jewish values and have done some mitzvot," they can "get excited about being Jewish," he said.

A 1995 study by Hebrew University sociologist Steven Cohen found that all forms of Jewish education improve adult Jewish identity — except for once-a-week Hebrew or Sunday school. The study found that those who attend Sunday school score lower on standard measures of Jewish identity than people who had no Jewish education at all.

However, defenders of once-a-week schools argue that number of hours is less important than the overall quality of the program and the extent to which parents are involved.

Congregation Dor Hadash in San Diego opted for a compromise of sorts four years ago when the school — once a week by necessity because a large number of families live more than 45 minutes away and find frequent commuting difficult — felt there were "too many holes in the curriculum," said its education director, Barbara Carr.

The school now requires 30 hours a year of "independent learning" for its fourth- to sixth-graders in the categories of religious services, outings, Jewish study, family life and the arts. Using the school’s ideas and suggestions, the students take on various projects such as seeing Jewish-themed movies, visiting a Jewish museum with parents or trying to keep Shabbat or kosher for a week if they do not already do so.

The projects are a mix of individual activities and ones shared with parents and family members. The students keep a journal about the experience and report back to their teachers on what they learned and whether it was valuable.

"We really want them to pursue things that interest them but also count curricularly," said Carr, adding that the program "allows kids to explore areas supplemental schools normally don’t get into."

Alana Pennington, a sixth-grader at Dor Hadash, said she has done most of the projects together with her family which is "fun," she said. As part of the project, she read books about the Holocaust, went to museums, helped paint the synagogue and traveled to Israel with her mother.

Her mother, Berina, said the program enables the family to do "things on our own that are interesting rather than sending her to school for all these hours."

The setup is an improvement over her own Hebrew school experience, said Pennington, which "wasn’t something I exactly looked forward to."

The traditional model of Hebrew school, in which kids sit in a classroom several days per week, "doesn’t work with kids," said Carr.

"We need to bend and allow not only them to learn but their families to learn."

A Commitment toEducation


In a move that many see as a turning point for thefuture of Jewish education in Los Angeles, the Jewish Federation ofGreater Los Angeles board agreed last week to almost double theamount that the Federation gives to Jewish day and Hebrewschools.

“I am elated,” said Dr. Gil Graff, executivedirector of the Bureau of Jewish Education. “I think that itunderscores the reality that the community recognizes that Jewisheducation is an important and essential issue that requires moresupport.”

The 1998 Planning and Allocations (P&A)report, which the board approved at its Jan. 20 meeting, calls for a$1 million increase to the BJE budget. Half of that money will beadded to the existing fund of $1.1 million and disbursed among theSouthland’s 37 day schools and about 50 “supplemental” Hebrewschools. A task force chaired by Mark Lainer, president of the JewishEducation Service of North America (JESNA) — the national educationarm of the Council of Jewish Federations — will decide how theremaining $500,000 should be spent.

The Federation’s allocation of an average of $100per day-school student is among the lowest in the country, saidP&A director Carol Koransky. The average in other communities isabout $490 per pupil. Additional funding still will not narrow thegap completely, but it will almost double the per-student amount, shesaid. The hope is that possibly a new endowment program, createdthrough the Jewish Community Foundation, will be able to come up withmore funding.

Federation President Herb Gelfand, whom some havedubbed the “education president” because of his vocal determinationto increase funding for Jewish schools, has met, along withFederation Executive Vice President John Fishel, with day-schoolprincipals on several occasions. He spoke strongly in favor of themove to board members. Los Angeles now needs to pay attention toeducating its Jewish children for the future, Gelfand said. “It’s adisgrace that we spend $100 per child.”

There is no debating the need: The cost of Jewisheducation is extremely high, and many families, particularly thosewith several children, simply cannot afford to send their kids toJewish day schools. At Emek Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox schoolserving about 600 children in preschool through eighth grade, as manyas 40 percent of the students at the two campuses in North Hollywoodand Sherman Oaks need some kind of financial aid, EducationalDirector Rabbi Yochanan Stepen said. “We have to raise more than$500,000,” he said.

According to much-quoted research, a Jewishday-school education is an excellent way of ensuring Jewishcontinuity, which accounts for the high premium that the Los AngelesFederation — and others around the country — has placed onincreasing the amount spent to support the schools.

At the Jan. 20 board meeting, no one disputed theneed for providing additional support for Jewish education; thesticking point was where the money would come from. According toFishel, about $430,000 would be subtracted from the Federation’soverseas allocation to the United Jewish Appeal, with the other$470,000 coming from unspecified additional funds. “It’s a matter ofpriorities,” said Fishel, in response to concerns about reducing aidto Jews in Israel and elsewhere overseas. As important as theoverseas agenda is, adding $1 million to the fund for Jewisheducation “is making a strong statement that without assuring thestrength and viability of Jewish education, in our community,particularly among our kids, the whole concept of Klal Yisrael is atrisk.”

The $1 million increase, while not solving allproblems, “is a very significant statement of recognition thateducation is a key area of community concern,” said Graff.

In the 1997-98 school year, 9,375 students attend37 Jewish day schools in the greater Los Angeles area, and about13,500 students are in the Hebrew schools, Graff said. Costs for dayschools range from about $7,500 to $12,000. Nearly 80 percent of theBJE allocation goes to day schools, with the remaining 20 percentearmarked for supplemental schools, which cost far less but are stillout of range for some Jewish families. “There is no such thing as aJewish school, either supplementary or day, that is operating in theblack,” Graff said.

The cost of day school has become prohibitive formany middle-class Jewish parents and completely out of the questionfor poor families, said Dr. George Lebovitz, headmaster of KadimaHebrew Academy, a Conservative day school in Woodland Hills. About120 of Kadima’s 350 students receive some form of scholarship, saidLebovitz. He said the school’s allotment from the BJE is about$28,000, and it expects to receive an additional $13,000 or $14,000from the first $500,000 the Federation distributes. Last year, theschool handed out $375,000 in scholarships, so, even with increasesfrom the BJE, it has a lot of money to raise.

Rabbi Stepen of Emek Hebrew Academy called the $1million increase “a new beginning.” Since 1991, when the BJE budgetfor Jewish schools was at a high of about $1.6 million, “there havebeen tremendous cuts made because the Federation campaign didn’t goso well,” Stepen said. “Now there is recognition that instead ofcutting, they’re going to add $1 million. They’re going to put theirmoney where their mouth is. I think that it is a tremendousaccomplishment.”


Accepting Judaism as a Privilege


One Sunday morning, many years ago, as parentscame to pick up their kids from the Hebrew school where I taught, Ioverheard a conversation. “How was class?” A father asked his son.The child began to whine. “I hate Hebrew school,” he said. “It’sboring and stupid, the teachers are mean, and the kids aren’t nice. Idon’t want to go any more.” The father stopped, turned to the kid,and said: “Listen, when I was your age, I went to Hebrew school and Ihated it. It was boring, the teachers were mean, the kids weren’tnice, but they made me go, and, now, you’re going to go too!”

What a tragedy. What a catastrophe. To have raiseda generation of children who associate Judaism with coercion, boredomand emptiness.

When my grandparents described the painfulcondition of the Jewish people, they would shake their heads andsigh, “Shver tsu zein a Yid” — “It’s hard to be a Jew.” To them,being a Jew was a privilege, but the world made it so difficult, sopainful. Somehow, we’ve turned this around. No longer description, ithas become prescription: Shver tsu zein a Yid. For anything to beauthentically Jewish, so many seem to feel, it must be hard, painful,difficult: “No chrain, no gain.”

A friend of mine, a Jew by choice, was invited toaddress a community commission that was researching outreach toconverts. After her statement, a prominent community leaderquestioned her: “You say that you keep a kosher home. Don’t you findthat very difficult these days?”

“No,” she replied. “With new labeling of packages,it’s actually getting easier.”

“Well, certainly, you find it veryexpensive.”

“No, not really. You just shop wisely.”

“Well, doesn’t it severely restrict what you caneat?”

Catching his direction, she explained pointedly,”Kashrut brings to my kitchen and to my home a level of sanctity andgodliness that is precious to me and to my family.”

“Well, obviously,” the chairman concluded, “youdon’t keep strictly kosher!”

Shver tsu zein a Yid. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s notreally Jewish. I once gave a sermon in a synagogue on a Shabbatmorning. A woman came over afterward and said, “Rabbi, I enjoyed yourtalk so much, I had such a good time, I forgot I was in shul!”Oy.

Mordechai Kaplan’s classic text, “Judaism as aCivilization,” opens with a sad observation: Once, Jews acceptedJudaism as a privilege; now, they regard it as a burden.

This is a twisted, tortured, contorted form ofJudaism. In the face of such an attitude, it is no wonder that whenasked in a national study of the Jewish population, “What is yourreligion?” 1.8 million Jews answered, “None.” After all, if Judaismis only a painful burden, who needs it?

It is time we recover Jewish joy. And this holidayof Sukkot, called by the tradition, z’mansimchateynu — our season of joy — is agood place to begin. It is a mitzvah, a divine imperative, toknow Jewish joy. It is a sin to have twisted Judaism into a dry,joyless, morbid burden. Jews must learn to say to their children andgrandchildren, in the most unequivocal of terms: “I do Judaismbecause it brings my life purpose, beauty and depth. I do Judaismbecause it makes me happy.”

As we will read this week: “You shall rejoice inyour festival with your son and your daughter…and have nothing butjoy” (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).

My greatest triumph as a rabbi came one Sukkot,when a little kid came and whispered in my ear:

“Rabbi, I feel sorry for my neighbors.”

“You feel sorry for your neighbors? Why?” I askedhim.

“Look what we get to do today, Rabbi,” he said.”We get to eat in the sukkah, sing the prayers and march with thelulav and etrog. We’re together as a family and with all our friends.Rabbi, for us, today is Yontif, but for them, it’s justThursday!”

May all Jewish children feel the same. HagSameach.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom inEncino.

Lifting the Language Barrier


In the past, when members of Los Angeles Hebrew High School’s student body applied for foreign language credits at their home high schools, some were routinely turned down. This despite the fact that they had spent the school year studying Hebrew intensively three times a week, in the evenings and on Sundays, as part of the LAHHS program.

The situation could change now that Los Angeles Hebrew High has been certified by a national body formed to accredit private schools and religious day schools. The action by the Commission on International and Transregional Accreditation, commonly known as CITA, marks the first time that any Jewish supplementary school in the United States has been given CITA’s seal of approval.

The new accreditation should make it easier for full-time LAHHS students to receive high school credit for their study of Hebrew. Those school districts and private high schools that have resisted granting foreign language credits to LAHHS teens will presumably cooperate now that the LAHHS curriculum has been given official sanction. Of the 280 students slated to attend LAHHS during the current school year, nearly 70 percent have signed up for the full-time program, which would make them eligible for the language credits.

1997 has turned out to be a banner year for the 48-year-old Los Angeles Hebrew High School. Earlier this year, the school won accreditation both from the Bureau of Jewish Education and from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. LAHHS, affiliated with the Conservative movement, serves teen-agers from all over the Greater Los Angeles Basin. During the week, students attend courses at satellite campuses that spread from Arcadia to Agoura, from Palos Verdes Estates to Newhall. They come together on Sunday mornings at the University of Judaism for classes that range from Hebrew conversation to “Jews in the Media.”

In the words of LAHHS principal Ben Zion Kogen: “We are thrilled to have completed the accreditation process. It has resulted in a serious school self-study, and we look forward to working with all of our feeder schools so that our students can receive the credit they so richly deserve.”

Jules Porter, president of the LAHHS board of directors, says: “At first, I didn’t realize how important the accreditation was. Then, one of our high school sophomores explained that fulfilling his foreign language requirement through Hebrew High gave him a free period during the school day to use either for study or for an elective course.”

Beverly Gray writes about education from Santa Monica.