Lying for the cause


There are many admirable values. The list includes, of course, goodness, integrity and compassion.

But there is one value without which civilization cannot survive, and without which evil is inevitable: truth.

I cannot think of a 20th-century evil not predicated on lies. It was years (if not centuries) of lying about Jews that enabled the Holocaust to take place. Otherwise, “ordinary men,” to use the title of historian Christopher Browning’s work on the perpetrators of the Holocaust, would not have slaughtered Jewish men, women, not to mention children and babies, had they not been brainwashed into believing that Jews were not human and were the source of Germany’s and the world’s problems.

The same with communism. Every communist regime was totalitarian — meaning, among other things, that it controlled what was deemed true. The Soviet Communist Party newspaper was therefore named “Pravda,” the Russian word for truth. But there was no pravda in Pravda.

Given the horrors that result from lies (I am referring largely to societal lies; in personal life, there are times when truth is not the highest value, such as when maintaining shalom bayit, peace in the home, or when lying to a murderer to save an innocent’s life), one would think that more people would value it. But not many do.

And the reason is simple: Most people think that their cause is more important than telling the truth.

The most recent example occurred this past weekend when Congressman Todd Akin (R-Mo.) was asked about his position on abortion for women who had become pregnant as a result of rape. The Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Missouri responded, in part, that “from what I understand from doctors, that [pregnancy as a result of a rape] is really rare …  the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Now, if a lie is something one knows to be untrue, then, technically speaking, Rep. Akin wasn’t telling a lie. After all, he claimed that he understood this “from doctors”– and it is quite possible that someone did tell him that some doctors had made that claim.

What we have here, rather than a lie in that technical sense, are two other, more common assaults on truth:

First is the lack of desire to know the truth in order for the individual to continue to believe what he wants to believe, even when, as in the Akin claim, it is obviously absurd. Mr. Akin is undoubtedly familiar with the massive amount of rape committed by victorious armies throughout history. Does he believe that almost none of the victims got pregnant? And is he not aware of the tragedy of the women of Darfur raped by Sudanese Arab soldiers — and then abandoned by their families for getting pregnant out of wedlock?

As a member of the United States Congress, he surely knows about such things. So, what we have here is reason number one for the assault on truth: People believe what they want to believe more than they want to know, let alone assert, the truth.

And why this lack of desire to know the truth? 

The answer brings us to the second reason so many people don’t value truth: Their cause is always higher than truth telling. It’s permissible to lie on behalf of one’s noble cause (and what cause isn’t noble in the cause-holders’ eyes?)

I’ll give another conservative example: the claim that viewing pornography leads to rape. While many feminists also make this claim, it is mostly associated with religious conservatives. That the claim is patently false is easily demonstrated. First, the countries with the most lax laws governing pornography have the least rape, and many of the countries that ban pornography have the highest rates of sexual and other physical abuse of women. Second, the vast majority of men who look at pornographic images have never, and would never, commit rape. The fact that virtually all rapists have viewed porn is as meaningless as the fact that virtually all rapists are meat eaters.

But for many religious conservatives who regard pornography as a major sin against God, and feminists who regard it as major sin against women, truth telling is less important than their cause — fighting pornography.

This phenomenon is at least as common on the left. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman made up the false charge that Jared Loughner, the mentally deranged man who tried to kill former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (and killed six others) did so because of Republican Party hate rhetoric. Why did Krugman write this lie? Because it served his great cause: demonizing the right.

And progressives in California’s legislature have passed laws governing what goes into history textbooks from elementary school through high school — a certain amount of space must be allotted to blacks, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered. For many progressives, making students feel good about their ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation is more important than historical truth.

So, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approaching, here’s a suggestion for any rabbi searching for a High Holy Day sermon topic: The primary importance of truth telling. Lies built Auschwitz.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Who shall live and who shall die: God’s iPhone, Rosh Hashanah 5769


ALTTEXT

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague,
Who by strangulation and who by stoning,
Who shall have rest and who shall wander,
Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,
Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,
Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,
Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.

But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.



From the cover story by Marty Kaplan

The U’Netaneh Tokef prayer—or piyyut—was the subject of last week’s Torah Slam. Read Danielle Berrin’s report, and watch the video here.



Is our fate really sealed? Is change possible?


These are nervous-making times.

No, I’m not talking about the damage the capital campaign may do to you, or — at my temple, anyway — whether you’ll find a parking place for services, which is enough to make anyone want to reach for a Xanax.

What I mean is this protracted season of suspense we inhabit, this waiting for the other shoe to drop, this not knowing what comes next.

The uncertain outcome of the presidential election would by itself be enough to give anyone the jitters, no matter which way you want it to turn out. The economy, both national and global, seems to be lurching from one meltdown to another. Hotspots and tragedies on the international scene may have fallen off the radar screen of the ADD-afflicted news media, but anyone who continues to pay attention to the Middle East or Russia or Darfur, to name just three, has reason to be plenty anxious. Terrorists, loose nukes, avian flu, climate change, the lurking Big One: it’s a wonder anyone can get out of bed these days.

Yet even though the country has a bad case of shpilkes, and despite the nervousness that comes from uncertainty, both presidential candidates have hitched their campaigns to the bandwagon of change. From Barack Obama: “Change You Can Believe In,” “The Change We Need. “From John McCain: “The Change You Deserve,” “Change Is Coming.”

Clearly it’s a welcome message. Eight out of 10 Americans say the country is on the wrong track. All the polls say that the country wants change. Despite the upheaval and disorientation that change often brings with it, nearly all of us want a divorce from the present, a clean break, a fresh start.

But can one leader — whether Obama or McCain — really change us? How much can any one man, no matter how vigorously he exercises his powers, no matter how energetically he uses his bully pulpit, change us, let alone change Washington, or America, or the world?

The answer, of course, depends on how capable of change you believe anyone is, or can be.

I’m not asking whether the next president, whoever he is, will have an impact on our lives. For better and worse, presidents have changed the course of innumerable American lives, and their actions have remade the nation’s place in the world. The issue I’m trying to get at — and I’ll be the first to admit that the question may be unanswerable — is the human capacity for change, the malleability of our individual souls.

Some people maintain — and there is a long tradition that this conception arises from — that people really can’t change. People are inherently good, or they are inherently bad, or they are inherently programmed to be selfish or altruistic or whatever innate characteristics you believe are built into our species. In other words, human beings are limited and run by something called “human nature.”

Yes, there is variety within groups; yes, personal circumstances and social experiences also shape us along the way; yes, we do develop along several dimensions during the course of our lives. But all these variations occur — says this point of view — within the framework of our hardwiring, our genetic givens, our fundamental nature. When real change does occur in our species, it happens during a glacial time frame, not within individual lifetimes; it arises from random variation and natural selection, not from new leaders and new policies.

But the contrary view has just as long a history. It says that conscious human evolution is possible. It maintains that free will can move genetic mountains, that big ideas can change civilizations, that consciousness is not a prison, but a battlefield. Where the notion of human nature leads ultimately to a tragic sense of life, the concept of conscious evolution is ultimately utopian — the belief that there is something perfectible about society, and not over the course of eons, but within our own lifetimes.

José Ortega y Gasset put this way: “Man, in a word, has no nature; what he has is — history.” Yes, there may be local and temporal limitations on our freedom to act, but if someone tells you that you can’t change human nature, beware of power politics masquerading as evolutionary biology. Just about every progressive social movement — abolition, suffrage, civil rights, gay rights, feminism, environmentalism — starts from this premise. So does what Philip Rieff called “The Triumph of the Therapeutic”: the culture of self-help, the faith that each of us has the power to change our own life.

Which brings me back to the High Holy Days.

Within the calendar that constitutes the Jewish cathedral in time, no days are more saturated with the experience of human nature, and with experiments in human change, than the Days of Awe. This is when we are asked, paradoxically, both to steep in our powerlessness to escape our species’ fate, and yet also to try out behaviors that can rescue us from our destinies.

This is a good moment for me to confess that I have never been particularly comfortable with the grand narrative of the High Holy Days liturgy, the story of the Book of Life.

Dating dramas


I’ve decided to embark on an acting career, so I signed up for acting classes. Given that acting is such a competitive business, I comfort myself in the idea that I can also treat acting class as a form of therapy and thus gain added, nonprofessional value. So far, playing characters in difficult situations has allowed me to reflect on my own feelings and behaviors.

For my first assignment, I was asked to recreate, on stage, a personal environment (whether my bedroom, office or living room) — and engage in an activity I like (whether painting, cooking or playing music). The point was to get us actors to feel comfortable on stage so that we could react naturally when the phone rings with an imaginary crisis. The audience doesn’t have to know the identity of the crisis — it’s the reaction, not the story, that’s important.

Eager to do a good job and impress the teacher, I recreated my living room in Israel and thought of a crisis all too sadly familiar to me: A terrorist attack in my neighborhood. When the phone rang, I jumped from my easel, where I was drawing a horse, and went into crisis mode. I immediately began to call friends to find out who was hurt, to check the news on TV and online for casualty updates. I was frantic.

Then the teacher stopped me and said: “Orit! Just sit on the sofa.”

I followed his instructions. On the sofa, I contemplated, without words, the horror of the moment. And the teacher said that’s where I was effective and convincing. In that moment I wasn’t acting. I wasn’t trying to say the right things. I was being.

At my next rehearsal, at a cafe for a scene in which I play a woman trying to seduce an old flame, I repeated the same pattern. As my scene partner hinted to me, my reading was stiff, unnatural and predictable. I only worried that I uttered the lines in the right way. I didn’t capture the emotion of the moment by allowing the part of me who relates to the character influence my delivery of the lines. Then, when we put the script down and just talked, I reconnected with my natural way of speaking and gesturing and sought to bring that into the role.

That’s when it hit me. What applies to acting also applies to dating.

For instance, if I meet a really good-looking and charming guy at a party whom I want to impress, I go into acting mode. I ask myself: How should I behave? Should I walk up to him and say “Hi”? Should I stand there nonchalantly and wait for him to make the first move?

When I e-mail him, I overthink the timing and wording of the letter. I become a playwright. Should I think of a creative subject line or keep it casual? Should I open it with “Hey” or “Hi”? And how should I sign it? With “Best regards”? With just my first initial?

I know I’m really infatuated in a bad way when I actually think of implementing the advice of that lame book “The Rules,” such as: “Don’t stare at men or talk too much” or “Don’t call him or rarely return his calls” or “Don’t accept a Saturday night date after Wednesday.”

Then, if we go out on a date, I try to be, or at least act, put together, cool, perfect. I don’t allow myself to become vulnerable. I don’t honestly share my likes and dislikes, my strengths and insecurities. I worry too much about what the guy wants to hear rather than what I truly want to say. In short, I’m not myself. I’m acting.

Contrast this behavior with a guy I’d consider only as a friend. I can chat it up with him for hours and talk about whatever concerns me, without worrying about what he thinks of me. I write whatever I feel like in an e-mail without proofreading it 10 times. I complain about my day, my problems, my hopes, my dreams. Strangely, my guy “friends” are those who end up falling in love with me.

I think it’s because when I’m myself with the opposite sex, I create real moments — the Oscar-worthy moments that light up a screen or a stage because the audience sees the real character — her pain, joy, uncertainty, triumph. I let go of the script and show what’s between the lines — and what’s inside my heart.

So I’m learning to change my approach — not only in acting class, but in the real-life drama of my dating life. I think part of the challenge is finding the right “scene” partner — the supporting male who can bring out my true character, who doesn’t make me feel the need to read from a script or follow rules.

Maybe by learning to be more natural and hence creating authentic moments not only stage, but also over coffee or dinner with the men I date, I’ll earn my real Oscar — a shining golden man to take home.

Orit Arfa is a Jewish Journal contributing writer based in Israel who is spending the summer in Los Angeles. She can be reached via her Web site: www.oritarfa.net.

Deal or No Deal


Some women would argue that your expectations should go down the longer you are single. I say a deal breaker is a deal breaker, and the fact that you have turned 28
for several years in a row doesn’t mean you should dismiss core things you want in a guy.

Let’s start with the no-brainers: A suitable suitor should have the following qualities: intelligence, sense of humor, financial stability, emotional stability and passion. I also require my mate be heterosexual. He also should not be hygienically challenged, an addict or a felon.

The other thing that is near the top of my list is height. I like guys who are tall, but, more importantly, I prefer guys who tell the truth about their height. I met Bill through my friend’s aunt. He had recently moved to town, and we had two weeks of conversations before we were able to meet. He said he was 5-foot-8. He wasn’t. First words out of his mouth when we met were, “You are not 5-foot-6. You are at least 5-foot-8.”

I was not taller than I claimed to be, it was Bill who was shorter.

All right, so, maybe my list is a bit longer than the average. Some say we tolerate more when we’re younger; we have lower expectations. I say we’re just more apt to know what we want after dating for a decade or so.

We all have a list of qualities essential for a potential mate. A cat person can’t date a dog person. A neat freak does not want a slob. A person who likes to drink socially wants a designated driver.

Some … many … most of us have at least one item on our list of attributes a loved one cannot possess.

For one friend of mine, Shakespeare is his deal breaker. He had been seeing a woman for three months before he took her to see a Shakespearean play. He loved it. She hated it. They were over. He said it would have saved him three months had he taken her to a play when they first started seeing each other.

My friend Kate dated musicians when she was in her 20s. She managed bands and was a bit of a groupie. Kate had a hard and fast rule, though — she could never date a guy who did his hair or makeup better than she.

Another female friend had a problem with her beau’s table manners — or lack thereof. They had just started dating, so rather than making waves, she figured they’d just break up sooner rather than later. Before she could end it, he did the unthinkable: He asked her if something was wrong. So, she said, “Yes,” told him about her “needs,” and he said he was glad she told him and instituted change. While etiquette was a deal breaker for her, he wouldn’t let it be their breaking point.

Not all confrontations fare so well.

Mike was a friend of a business associate, who knew I was looking to meet someone. Mike called, and we had great phone chemistry. I knew he had been divorced and had kids. He came with a good recommendation. You can’t beat that.

Mike had been used to online dating, so he asked me a laundry list of easy questions, before getting to the tougher ones.

“Have you ever been married? Do you have kids? Do you want kids?” he asked. “No, no and yes,” I said.

At that point Mike suggested we stop talking, because he had kids and was done.

The call was over — just like that.

Wow. That was the shortest not-a-blind-date I ever had. I appreciated Mike’s honesty, but couldn’t help but wonder if things would have been different had we met in real life.

So, here’s the thing. If we all were to lay our cards out on the table, we would save a lot of time. If we know up front that a person has a deal-breaking habit, pet or attribute, then we don’t have to waste time dating a Mr. or Ms. Wrong.

But it’s one thing to have ideas of what you do and do not want in a life partner, it’s another to dismiss someone without getting to know them just because, say, he has two left feet, doesn’t like classical music or has a few extra pounds.

By judging people before we meet them, we may miss out on a great new friend or an important love.


Debra L. Eckerling is a freelance writer, based in Los Angeles who leads a writers support group in Santa Monica.

There’s A Message in the Sounds of the Shofar


The approach of Rosh Hashanah always takes me back in memory to my bar mitzvah, which took place on Shabbat Shuvah — the Sabbath of Repentance that comes
between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Two weighty questions preoccupied me that day in 1964. One: what did it mean that God called Jews and the world to “repent” or “return,” because all of us had “stumbled in sin?” The prophet Hosea, whose words I chanted that morning, insisted in God’s name that God cared about how we treated one another, and that we could all do better.

He promised that God would help us do better if we turned to the task. I marveled at this promise. It was and remains a great mystery to me.

The other big question on my mind that September day in Philadelphia was whether the Phillies, under manager Gene Mauch, could hold on to their position atop the National League and win the pennant for the first time in my life.

The optimists among my friends took victory as a near-certainty. The Phillies were six games ahead. Things looked really promising.

The pessimists warned that the team would blow it. It turned out that they were right. The Phillies lost 13 of the next 20 games.

This, too, was a mystery to me. Was it bad pitching, bad managing, bad luck? Maybe it was fate.

I bring up the connection between Rosh Hashanah and the Phillies because it gets to the heart of what the Jewish holidays mean to me each fall. In a word: it’s not fate. How things go is largely up to us, even if we do not control the circumstances of our lives.

The New Year is a time at once joyful and solemn for Jews, because it marks a new beginning for each of us. It carries the assurance that we all do get a second chance and urges us to seize hold of it.

The world, too, can be better than it is — a hope desperately needed this year. We have witnessed so much suffering in the Middle East and elsewhere — so little peace for Israel or Iraq, Darfur or the Congo.

I can still chant by heart, thanks to months of practice for my bar mitzvah, Hosea’s promise that we can change this: “The person who is wise will consider these words. The person who is prudent will take note of them. For the paths of the Lord are smooth. The righteous can walk on them.”

Hosea urged Jews more than 2,500 years ago to “blow a shofar in Zion” so as to call the people to turn and return. Jews still blow a ram’s horn at Rosh Hashanah for exactly the same reason. We need to hear loud and clear, again and again, the message to which it summons us.

Many interpretations have been given to the notes struck by the horn, but the one that means the most to me is this. The shofar’s first sound, tekiah, is a wake-up call. It calls us to attention. Look around, it says. Things are not OK. Your work is needed to set them — and yourself — right.

The second sound made by the shofar is called shevarim, or “breaks.” The world is broken. The horn imitates its cries, preventing us from stopping up our ears or our heart.

Teruah, a series of short blasts one after another, gives us marching orders. Change requires small steps that each of us has to take modestly but with determination. Overreaching will not work.

The shofar-blowing ends with a return to the first notes, longer this time — a “great tekiah.” It lets us know what victory sounds like. We can change our ways. So can the world.

Honesty compels each of us to concede that we’ve tried before to turn things around and haven’t managed it. Experiences of failure haunt all of us, not just fans of the 1964 Phillies. That’s why we need Rosh Hashanah each year to remind us that this beginning can be different.

May we all heed the shofar’s call this year and prove that the world, which so needs fixing right now, can be made better — and that we can make it so.

Professor Arnold M. Eisen is chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

You can listen the

To Tell the Truth


Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised, tucked into a secret room in the dark corridors of Hogwarts, allows the person who looks into it to see what they most desire to be. There seems to be a similar notion in the world of online dating.

A computer becomes a tool to create a “new and improved” version of yourself.

Short people become “not overly tall,” shy people become “pensive and thoughtful,” unemployed becomes “self-employed,” and living with the folks becomes “family oriented and saving for the future.” Delusional becomes creative. And dating reaches some desperate lows.

A little embellishment here and there isn’t so bad — creativity and a sense of humor are always great things. But there are just certain things that you should never lie about.

1. Physical attributes.
How many times have you opened the door to find a person 4 inches lower to the earth than what they had told you? One person I agreed to meet told me he was 5-foot-6 — exactly my height — so I was a bit annoyed when, even wearing lip-flops, I turned out to be a good 2 inches taller than him.

“My eyes are only blue with certain outfits” is actually a buyable lie. But height is pretty much set in stone once you exit the teens.

Then, of course, there is the touchy subject of weight. Most people probably post their wishful driver’s license weight, thinking at least they have “proof” in writing.

One guy admitted to me that although his profile said he was 170 he was more like 190, and honesty is a good thing, right? So how was he to explain the additional 45 pounds that followed him to my door on our first date? Did he think that I just wasn’t going to notice, or believe that he went on a crazy pre-date jitters eating binge that made 45 pounds show up overnight?

2. Pictures
There are those online who are honest and upfront enough to post recent and un-Photoshopped, untouched up, non-photo shoot, actually-looks-like-me pictures. And then there are those who are not.

I’ve had too many dates start with a smile and confusion as I have an inner dialogue: That’s who I’ve been talking to? Did I remember to ask him if his photos were recent? How fast can I eat this ice cream and leave without getting brain freeze?

3. Age
Like it or not we were all born on a certain day of a certain year, and that (along with your height) is set in stone. The people who have lied to me about their age all have their own reasons. Usually it’s the younger guys who make themselves a few years older so that they will show up in my search preferences. Then three or four dates down the road they give me the, “Oh, by the way….”

One guy who was already four years older then me lied and made himself even older! When I asked him why, he said that he looked older anyway so he changed his age to match what people usually said. Excuse me? I mean I’ve been told oodles of times that I have a baby face, but you don’t see me telling people that I’m 300 months old to somehow get that infantile sense.

4. Personal Habits
I had one man tell me that he was a nonsmoker, though four conversations later he divulged that he did smoke, just not cigarettes. Then another told me he was a nonsmoker, to later go into detail that he was actually just “working on trying to start convincing himself that he should really begin to seriously think about” quitting. Or some other equally far-fetched story that left me rolling my eyes and politely declining plans to meet.

5. Odds and Ends Details
One of my personal favorite stories was a man who told me that he had never been in a serious relationship before, so one could understand my confusion when during our first date he mentioned his exes. When I finally asked him what he meant, he said that since he wasn’t with them anymore it just didn’t count. Oh, if only the world worked that way.

The bottom line is just don’t do it. Do you really think people aren’t going to notice those few inches, those extra pounds that cloud of smoke around your head? What do you expect will happen when you start a relationship by completely misrepresenting yourself?

Most of the men I’ve confronted about it just got mad, hoping that I would “give this a chance.” Give what a chance? The delusional version of yourself that you created in your own Mirror of Erised? I don’t think so. The next upgrade that online dating needs is a giant red stamp saying liar that a person can vote to place over your profile, warning the next innocent online dater of what is really going on.

Caroline Cobrin is a writer living in Van Nuys and can be reached at carolinecolumns@hotmail.com.

 

Scheduled Relaxation


Last Sunday afternoon I was standing in my shower scrubbing my tile. It suddenly occurred to me — in the midst of Ajax and scouring pads — that the man who was ruling my fantasies was on a plane coming back from a sure-it’s-professional junket in Las Vegas.

Something was wrong with this picture. I dropped my sponge and ran to call my girlfriend: “Hey. You gotta help me. All of this straight-and-narrow is getting to me. I need to have some fun.”

We met at a local restaurant reminiscent of the hip, urban San Francisco eateries of our 20s, had a drink, stayed late, and laughed as the waiter batted his lashes.

“Listen,” I told her over martinis. “I think I’ve forgotten how to play.”

She looked at me with the knowing eyes of a friend and said, “Me too. I feel like all I do is work on myself. Where’s the friggin’ fun part?”

What occurred to me as I started thinking about it is that I used to rely on my relationship life to have fun. I’d fly to New York, run around the city, eat passionately with my boyfriend for 10 days and come home. I’d rush home from work, throw all my clothes on the floor, don a slinky dress and feverishly drive to the beach for a drink date. I’d hike up Runyan Canyon in the middle of a storm with my dating man, laugh uproariously and kiss in the rain. It was flash and dash, delight and joy — and sometimes even love. What is was was fun.

I relied on my relationship life for downtime, too. It was the time I hung out in bed, took the slow walk around my neighborhood, had the morning-after breakfast made sloppily and slowly between intimacies.

But lately all of that has been different. I stopped dating for a while altogether (no need to go into the now-mercifully distant reason why), and in the wake of a more careful re-entry into dating life, I’ve become a project girl. Creative things that I’ve been longing to express my whole adult life I’ve taken on like a conquest. I write, I paint, I sing, I cook and I songwrite. It’s rich and it’s full and it’s fulfilling.

But what it also is is busy. And beyond my projects and an involved social life, there seems to be no genuine relaxation time. There are no goof-off, just-for-fun days where there’s nothing to do but play. I’m not sure I even remember what play-time looks like anymore.

Yet — to be totally honest — when I think back on some of those play-time, nostalgia-inducing boyfriend experiences, I have to admit that as sweet and easy as those encounters could be, they were just as often peppered by the nervous tension of “being together” when we weren’t all the way there, or by the dodging and ducking of using our intimate connection to mask other, bigger incompatibilities. That wasn’t relaxing.

As the years have gone by, I realize I’d just as soon be alone than continue to go through cycles of head-spinning effort with someone in exchange for a couple of moments of grace. So I don’t do that anymore. And though this kind of spiritual honesty has created an ease in my nervous system (and a welcome death to that horrible intimate uncertainty of giving myself where it’s not appreciated), I have to stop and wonder, have I become overworked and underplayed?

I don’t want to say that getting rid of the -isms has gotten rid of the fun part. That’s not it. But there’s something here about playing and free-falling joy that I’m missing. Something in the enjoyment of what is already here, versus the pregnant push of needing to create it. To observe, appreciate, enjoy, relax, and receive. That’s what I’m missing. And now that I’m officially dating, it seems kind of imperative to bring this ethic back onto the playing field.

I was on my cell with my wise girlfriend yesterday — the one who gives me that uncannily timed girl-advice that saves me from giving in to my idiotic post-second-date fears — and three times in row she cut out at a pivotal word.

“What?” I intoned. “On my cell. You cut out.”

She laughed outloud: “Receive, sweetheart. It kills me that you missed that. Relax and receive!”

Oh, that.

If I’ve forgotten how to have downtime, if I’ve joined the ranks of the over-diligent in my efforts to not fall into wary paths of love, then it’s time to loosen the reigns a bit. Underplaying means I have to let go of my project-queen, art-making cottage-industry, and just be done for a while.

So, with the grace of personal discovery, I’ll be amending that busy behavior, whether I’m accompanied or not. It’s time to enjoy whoever I’m seeing, and have fun on my own. It’s time to let go, go slow, play, hang out and take some time to do absolutely nothing.

Even if it means I have to schedule it.

JoAnneh Nagler is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She writes articles, philanthropic proposals and has recently been at work on Fox’s telenovellas “Table for Three” and “Fashion House.” Her newly completed folk-pop CD “I Burn” is online at

Letters


Muslim Majority

Salam Al-Marayati’s apologetics miss the mark entirely (“Don’t Ignore the Quiet Majority of Muslims,” Feb. 17). In the wake of the mass violence throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia, it is impossible to argue that a small, extremist element, “a handful of reckless Muslims” in Al-Marayati’s words, is responsible for weeks of mayhem. Tens of thousands of rioters have rampaged, killed, and looted with governments either abetting or unable to control the violence. They are not a tiny fringe. And they are not reacting to alleged anti-Muslim bias in Europe, as Al-Marayati tries to argue.

Whether the rioters and their silent supporters represent the majority of Muslims or a sizable minority is debatable, but one conclusion is certain: They and the intolerant strain of Islam they adhere to threaten all who disagree with them.

Linda Abraham
Los Angeles

The op-ed of Salam Al-Marayati is a well-articulated presentation that falls short of explaining the “civilized response” of U.S. Muslims to the caricatures of Mohammad. It is difficult to accept the representation that “free thinking is a cornerstone of Islamic law” when the essence of Islam is submission to Allah and violations of fundamental Sharia law are dealt with by dismemberment, stoning and decapitation.

Most troubling is the accusation that racism and bigotry in Europe are disguised as freedom of expression or democracy. Yet, many instances of quite the opposite is being reported — Muslims who choose to live in their own communities, following Sharia law in their dealings with each other, even if it contravenes the law of their adopted countries.

Quiet Muslims will be ignored until they speak up loudly against the violent actions of their fellow Muslims.

Aggie R. Hoffman
Los Angeles

School Pesticides

Thank you for your wonderful and important article about Robina Suwol and AB 405 (“Parent Wins School Pesticide Battle,” Feb. 10). Suwol is a tireless worker for our children’s health. Unfortunately, you did not mention that she and others helped to establish the Integrated Pest Management Team in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). This team, which has been operating for about five years, is one of the leaders in the country in minimizing the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides in our schools. LAUSD should be recognized for their pioneering spirit.

Dr. Cathie Lippman
The Lippman Center for Optimal Health
Beverly Hills

Cartoon Controversy

Hurray for The Journal! Although lacking the courage to print the riot-provoking cartoons, the honesty of the stated reasons for not doing so was refreshing (“Drawn to Controversy,” Feb. 10). That’s more than can be said for most of the country’s major news outlets.

Kenny Laitin
Via e-mail

Jack Abramoff

Over three decades ago, Equity Funding Corp., a Century City-based financial conglomerate, was forced into bankruptcy due to massive fraud and embezzlement. The trustee surmised that approximately 60 employees (about 10 percent of the workforce) were involved in some level, in the illegal activities (“Sympathy for the Devil,” Jan. 27).

Twenty-two of them, mostly Jewish, pleaded guilty to participation in the conspiracy.

Although both my wife and I were employees, we were neither involved nor knowledgeable, primarily because we joined the corporation long after the fraudulent activities began. Nonetheless, I’ve often wondered what I would have done, had I been asked to assist in the illegal activities.

The point is that given the opportunity, many otherwise honest people are easily seduced into immoral activities that they sincerely regret after the fact. Most of Equity Funding’s conspirators are truly repentant.

Because of that experience, I truly believe that men like Jack Abramoff are sincerely remorseful. So while it is important that they pay for their crimes, it is also important we accept their apologies at face value and practice forgiveness.

Leonard M. Solomon
Los Angeles

Kosher Gourmet

I was impressed with the excellent article in The Journal titled, “Oxnard Kosher Dining is a Sur Thing”(Feb. 3).

I did however take issue with one of the authors’ comments: “Kosher gourmet sounds like an oxymoron.”

Apparently the authors of this article have never sampled the food at Pat’s Restaurant on Pico Boulevard, or sampled the cuisine of Pat’s catering or Brenda’s catering, among others. Far from being an oxymoron, kosher gourmet has been alive and well in Los Angeles for many, many years!

Martin Shandling
Los Angeles

Military Hitch

I was stimulated by the recent article on Rabbi David Lapp (“Rabbi Ending Long Hitch in Military,” Feb. 17), which focused on his ability to bring all major branches of Judaism to work together to support the needs of Jewish soldiers.

I am wondering whether there might be other important areas in which such cooperation can occur, and whether Rabbi Lapp’s experience might suggest how that cooperation can be brought about to the benefit of the entire Jewish community.

Barry H. Steiner
Department of Political Science,
Cal State Long Beach

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

 

Mama Said…


Taking relationship advice from your Jewish mother is like heeding a shiksa friend’s advice about curly hair gel. It’s not their area.

Besides, your mom has an agenda: to get you married. Sure, she wants you to be happy. But in her mind, the two may or may not coincide. Consider the following well-meaning but misguided maternal advice:

You Can’t Love Somebody Else Until You Love Yourself. Of course you can! Granted, you may not love the person in a healthy, much less reciprocal way. But you’ll think you’re in love, and the power of a delusional mind and desperate heart are a formidable combination. Besides, love and hate are far enough apart on the scale of emotions that they come full circle and become the same thing. Your self-loathing turns into other-loving, so that the more you hate yourself, the more you love the other person. Don’t wait for self-esteem to kick in before pursuing romance. That could take years of therapy and remember, you’re not getting any younger.

If You Marry for Money, You’ll Pay the Price. Not really. Money’s good and, the fact is, no matter whom you’re with, you’re bound to be disappointed eventually. Wouldn’t you rather be disappointed and rich than disappointed and broke? Think of it this way: You can be disappointed on an estate in Malibu or disappointed in a crappy, roach-infested studio apartment in Reseda. Besides, what better way to drown your disappointment than in a shopping addiction?

You Won’t Meet Anyone by Sitting Home Alone in Front of Your Computer. Actually, I’ve never met more people more quickly than by sitting home alone in front of my computer. It’s like being at a fabulous party, but looking my best (courtesy of a JDate photo taken three years ago) and not having to deal with freeway traffic or second-hand smoke. In fact, my fondest dating encounters recently have taken place from the comfort of my Aeron chair.

Just Be Yourself. Do our mothers really expect us to get to a second date by being ourselves? Will any guy show interest in a judgmental intellectual snob who visibly rolls her eyes when her date says he doesn’t know who Thomas Friedman is? On the other hand, most guys will go ga-ga over a woman who says, “No way! Me, too!” when her date declares that “Tommy Boy” is his all-time favorite movie. So if your date thinks David Spade is an underrated genius and you think David Spade is a moron, feel free to borrow your date’s opinions. If he gushes about Aqualung, gush back for the sake of simpatico. (“Aqualung? Yeah, I love Aqualung!” — even if you’ve never heard of Aqualung.) If he says his favorite movies are “A Clockwork Orange” and “Raging Bull,” there’s no need to mention that yours are “Amelie” and “Lost in Translation.” If he says he’s a vegan who doesn’t eat junk food, stop yourself from talking about your love of Big Macs and Cold Stone chocolate sundaes. (The implication being: We both like healthy food, therefore we like each other.) It’s advisable to take on alternate personalities as we try to guess what type of person might appeal to the object of our affection. Be yourself, on the other hand, and you’ll be by yourself.

If He Can Have the Milk for Free, He Won’t Buy the Cow. Our moms clearly forgot about the sexual revolution. Nowadays, no guy will marry you just for the nooky. So if you’re going to be manipulative, choose something else to withhold. Like the truth about who you really are. Because if you give him that, he’ll probably want to trade you in for a less dysfunctional cow.

Put on Some Lipstick, Mascara and a Cute Outfit When You Go Out for Your Morning Coffee — You Never Know Who You Might Run Into. Nobody wears makeup and a matching Juicy Couture get-up when they roll out of bed on Sunday mornings unless they’re Britney Spears or the Hilton sisters. If I’m all dolled up in the Peet’s line, it doesn’t matter who I run into — guys will be running away from me.

Honest Communication Is Key. Both honesty and communication can wreck an otherwise peaceful courtship. Nothing ends a relationship faster than getting the truthful answer to “What are you thinking about, sweetie?” and having him reply, “I was thinking about what the 19-year-old college student who works at Kinko’s looks like naked.”

Act Uninterested — It’s a Turn-on. A turn-on to whom? We’ve all had our objects of infatuation act uninterested, and it didn’t make us like them more — it just made us like ourselves less.

No disrespect to our mothers, but courtship rituals have changed since they were dating. So forget all their antiquated rules. Except the one about never criticizing your boyfriend’s mother, no matter what. If he secretly hates his mother, he’ll end up hating you instead for merely broaching the subject. In fact, he’ll probably accuse you of hating his mother, and say that he can’t love anyone who hates his mother, even though in truth he loves you and hates his mother. Or else he loves his mother so much that he hates you for demanding a portion of that love. Either way, you lose.

So shut up about his mother. Because this is one area Mom knows something about.

Lori Gottlieb, a commentator for NPR, is the author of “Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self.” Her Web site is www.lorigottlieb.com.

 

Jesus’ Death Now Debated by Jews


The controversy over Mel Gibson’s upcoming film about the death of Jesus has spurred painful exchanges between Jews and Christians and progressive and traditional Catholics in recent days. To date, the debates have centered on the “proper” interpretation of the role of Jews in Jesus’ Crucifixion, as presented in the four Gospels.

But this week, Gibson’s $25 million biblical epic, which the director insists is about love and forgiveness, has triggered a new squabble — among Jewish scholars.

The texts in question are not in the Christian Bible but rather passages long-censored (by Christian authorities) about Jesus from the Talmud, the encyclopedia of Jewish law and tradition considered sacred by traditional Jews.

Raising the issue is an article by Steven Bayme, the American Jewish Committee’s (AJCommittee) national director of contemporary Jewish life, which declares that Jews must face up to the fact that the talmudic narrative “does clearly demonstrate…fourth century rabbinic willingness to take responsibility for the execution of Jesus.”

“Jewish apologetics that ‘we could not have done it’ because of Roman sovereignty ring hollow when one examines the talmudic account,” Bayme said.

He contends that Jewish interfaith representatives are not being honest in dialogue if they ignore the explicit talmudic references to Jesus.

His article was posted on the AJCommittee’s Web site last week, then removed after a Jewish Week reporter’s inquiry.

Ken Bandler, a spokesman for the AJCommittee, said the article was taken down to “avoid confusion” over whether it represented the organization’s official position. AJCommittee officials now refer to the article as “an internal document.”

Some Jewish scholars and interfaith officials were upset with the article, either questioning Bayme’s scholarship or his timing — saying this was a particularly delicate time to call attention to Jews’ role in Jesus’ death — or both.

But Bayme was unswayed. Citing the continuing controversy over Gibson’s “The Passion,” which has reignited concern over Christianity’s ancient charge against Jews as “Christ-killers,” he wrote that it is also important “that Jews confront their own tradition and ask how Jewish sources treated the Jesus narrative.”

Bayme cites a passage from the Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, which relates the fate of a man called Jesus who is hanged on the eve of Passover for practicing sorcery and leading the people of Israel astray.

When no one comes forward to defend the accused sorcerer during a 40-day reprieve, Jewish authorities put him to death, despite Jesus’ “connections with the government.” The Talmud cites this incident during a discussion of due process and capital punishment in Jewish law.

Bayme acknowledges that the passage was written by talmudic scholars in Babylon, who lived about 400 years after Jesus.

“To be sure, historians cannot accept such a text uncritically,” Bayme wrote.

But he says the passage is significant because the talmudic text “indicates rabbinic willingness to acknowledge, at least in principle, that in a Jewish court and in a Jewish land, a real-life Jesus would indeed have been executed.

“No effort is made to pin his death upon the Romans,” Bayme said. “Pointedly, Jews did not argue that crucifixion was a Roman punishment and therefore, no Jewish court could have advocated it.”

Bayme told The Jewish Week he wrote the piece for two reasons: to educate Jews and promote honest dialogue with Christians.

He cited the Catholic Church’s 1965 statement that Jesus’ death “cannot be blamed upon all Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today.”

Bayme said Gibson’s movie “has alienated many Jewish leaders who correctly worry whether the movie’s graphic description of the Crucifixion and its alleged overtones of a Jewish conspiracy to kill Jesus may ignite long-dormant Christian hostilities to Jews.”

That’s why the Gospel and its association with anti-Semitism need to be confronted as well as Jewish sources, he said. But Bayme stressed that he is not suggesting a moral equivalency between problematic anti-Semitic Gospel passages “which have caused the death of Jews” and the talmudic Jesus references.

Indeed, the Catholic Church, which burned copies of the Talmud in the Middle Ages, officially censored the Talmud’s Jesus references in the 13th century. Even today the standard Vilna edition of the Talmud omits any discussion about “Yeshu,” Jesus in Hebrew.

The Jesus omissions began to be restored in the last century, Bayme said. And the passages “are now included in most of the new printings of the Talmud,” said Yisrael Shaw of Daf Yomi Discussions, an on-line Talmud service.

“If you do an Internet search for Sanhedrin 43a, you will find that it is one of the favorite sources of the Christians to use as proof of the Jewish murder and hatred of their god,” Shaw said.

But Bayme is concerned that Jews know nothing about the censored texts.

“Whenever I talked about the origins of Christianity with fellow Jews, I discovered massive ignorance of Jewish narratives concerning the death of Jesus. It’s something I thought Jews ought to confront fairly,” he said.

Bayme contends the talmudic text resonates with the Gospel accounts for several reasons. He said the talmudic charge of practicing sorcery and seducing Israel into apostasy, a biblical capital crime, matches recently discovered “hidden Gospels” that “a historical Jesus was indeed a first century sorcerer.”

“A mature relationship between two faiths should allow for each faith to … uncover these texts and view them critically,” Bayme said.

But some disagreed with Bayme’s analysis and policy suggestion.

His own organization pulled the piece only a couple of days after it was posted, though AJCommittee Associate Executive Director Shula Bahat defended it as a teaching tool.

Rabbi David Rosen, the group’s director of interreligious affairs, said Bayme’s views were not the “official AJC position” concerning the trial of Jesus.

He called the talmudic text historically “dubious” and questioned Bayme’s connecting the text with the Gospel stories, noting the actual charge against Jesus and the nature of the court “is in conflict.”

Some outside specialists also refuted Bayme’s article.

Brooklyn College history professor Rabbi David Berger, a specialist in Christian-Jewish issues, said it would be a mistake and diversion to bring the talmudic texts into the interfaith dialogue.

“The Second Vatican council properly rejected collective Jewish guilt for the Crucifixion, even though it affirmed that some Jews were involved,” he said. “Consequently, raising the question of the historical involvement of Jews, with or without reference to talmudic texts, diverts us from the key issue, which is the denial of contemporary Jewish culpability for these events.”

He noted that in the Middle Ages, “most Jews assumed that Jews executed Jesus of Nazareth based on these talmudic passages, though some asserted that the Jesus of Talmud is not the same as the Jesus of Christianity.”

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, whose Talmud edition has been translated into English, Russian and Spanish, said he believed the talmudic Jesus is probably not the Christian Jesus.

“It could very well be somebody else” who lived 100 or 200 years earlier because the stories don’t match the Gospel account, he said.

Steinsaltz noted that the Hebrew name Yeshu was popular back then and that “stories about the resurrection of dead leaders are a dime a dozen, before Jesus and after him. This is not a historical issue.”

In any case, Steinsaltz said Christians would do best to avoid these texts because there is nothing politically or theologically significant to them in Jewish tradition.

Ellis Rivkin, professor emeritus of Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and author of the seminal book “What Crucified Jesus,” said dragging in the Talmud text is “dangerous, utterly meaningless and irrelevant.”

But Dr. David Kraemer, professor of Talmud and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary, supported Bayme’s call for honesty about Jewish texts and Jesus.

“I think it’s very relevant to bring up evidence of the difficulty of our relationship with Christianity,” he said, contending that it is indeed Jesus of Nazareth in the text. Kraemer believes the text was written at a time of fierce competition between the early rabbis and Christian leaders in the early centuries of the Common Era.

“The attitudes expressed [in the Talmud] can be pretty hateful attitudes,” he said. “It’s not about comparing them [with the anti-Semitic Gospel passages]. Just because you can’t equate them doesn’t mean you can’t raise the issues.”

Originally printed in The Jewish Week,

Mother Weathers Terror’s ‘Storm’


"Storm of Terror: A Hebron Mother’s Diary," by June Leavitt (Ivan R. Dee, $22.50).

Either excoriated as illegal conquerors or praised as pioneers, Jews living in the territories conquered by Israel in the Six-Day War are never portrayed neutrally. The very name of where they live depends on the political bent of the writer: to critics they live in "the West Bank in the Occupied Territories," and proponents historically term it "Judea and Samaria." But at the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian controversy, settlers themselves rarely tell their own stories in print. With "Storm of Terror," June Leavitt has filled that gap.

Leavitt is an American Jewish woman who grew up in secular upper-middle-class Long Island, left for the University of Wisconsin with a trunk full of new mix n’ match clothes, then found herself floundering in the drug culture. Today she is an ultra-Orthodox mother of five who lives with her husband and children in the Jewish enclave of Kiryat Arba in the Palestinian-controlled city of Hebron.

"Storm" is the intensely personal diary of her life during the first year and a half of the second intifada, which erupted on Sept. 29, 2000. Apart from emotional references to biblical patriarchs, the book is not a political polemic; Leavitt, passionately convinced of the Jews’ historic right to live in the entire biblical Israel (including Palestinian-occupied territories), feels no need to justify her a priori position.

Rather, she tells the story of how it feels to live through the trauma of violence and death that strikes her neighbors and friends daily. She relates chronologically the relentless terrorist incidents in which settlers have been attacked in fields, cars, busses and in their own beds. In each case, Leavitt writes not of some anonymous victim, but of acquaintances in her tightknit community whom she meets in the streets, in the grocery and in her children’s schools: "We are burying another of our dead…. Orphans. Orphans everywhere."

When right-wing Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi was assassinated in 2001, it was not some remote politician Leavitt lost but a close family friend who years earlier had himself joined her hospital vigil after rock throwers assaulted her husband causing head injuries.

The real power of the narrative is its honesty, as when Leavitt agonizes about watching her own children on the firing line: "Miriam said that at school her friends are busy writing their own eulogies…. Whoever says they are not frightened is telling a lie."

Leavitt also struggles to juggle among her children’s differing viewpoints. Her eldest daughter Estie, a soldier, was stationed in her hometown to quell settlers advancing towards violent Arab demonstrators. One of the settlers was Estie’s younger sister, Miriam:

"Get out of here before I smash you with this!"

Estie pushed the settlers back with the butt end of her rifle.

Miriam cried, "Why are you on their side? Why are you going to let the Arabs kill us?"

"Traitor!" other settlers screamed at Estie.

A woman soldier grabbed Miriam’s arm. Miriam resisted. When the soldier raised her arm to hit Miriam, Estie screamed, "Don’t touch her! She’s my sister!"

Leavitt’s son became intensely devout as a reaction to friends’ deaths. And her 13-year-old daughter was often so terrified that Leavitt spent nights rocking her. In the new reality of the intifada, normalcy is nowhere. Even a simple mother-daughter conversation about planning the daughter’s future is not immune: "Both Estie and I are trying to ignore the screaming, the whistling of the mobs, the gunfire, the grenades, the street battles between the army and the Arabs," she writes.

Leavitt lost her mother at a young age, and her father and brother turned their backs on her when she moved her children into the dangers of "the West Bank."

Leavitt continues to search for the meaning that brought her and her husband first to become devoutly religious and then ardent Zionists. As a child of the ’60s she used yoga, bioenergy healing, meditation and even tarot cards in her quest for equanimity in the midst of horror.

Leavitt is candidly on the extreme fringe of the Israeli political spectrum. Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers in 1994, had been her family doctor. Her comment on the causes for the crime?

"So many friends had died in his arms. Many of us think it was that event which broke our neighbor, Dr. Goldstein."

Leavitt describes, with almost utopian nostalgia, the friendships between her children and nearby Arab families before the peace process "put up barbed wire between us and the Arabs."

"Storm" will not cause any reader to change sides. But its powerful style and even more powerful emotions will engage anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy to race through its pages. Leavitt reveals herself not only as a determined ideologue but as a complex, struggling human being.