Ahead of historic vote, many Scottish Jews wary of independence


Bright blue signs scream “Yes” while red ones urge “No, thanks” in the streets of Scotland’s largest city just days before a vote on whether to secede from the United Kingdom.

But at Frank Angell’s house, his windows are empty and his yard is bare.

A former local council candidate for the Scottish National Party, the main political movement behind the independence push, Angell is a vocal supporter of the Yes campaign, attending rallies and touting the economic potential of an independent Scotland.

But in his local Jewish community, Angell is one of only a handful of supporters of independence.

Most of the affiliated Scottish Jewish community appears to want to remain part of the United Kingdom — among them Angell’s wife, Elaine. Hence the lack of signage on their lawn.

“The SNP has a history of pro-Palestinian support,” Elaine Angell said. “[UK Prime Minister] David Cameron is very strong. He’s pro-Israel. He’s always been pro-Israel.”

On Thursday, Scotland will vote on whether to become an independent country or continue more than three centuries of union with England. The campaign has proved a divisive one here, with recent polls showing the country nearly split evenly on the secession question.

Supporters of independence believe that Scotland would be better able to allocate resources to the local population as a separate country while leaving a smaller military footprint than the United Kingdom. Opponents argue that the country is better served by the U.K.’s greater global influence and worry about the financial and political uncertainties of independence.

“It’s historical, cultural, but also practical, economical,” Angell told JTA. “The way the economy has gone in Britain has been to pander to a very rich minority and allow a lot of tax avoidance. I also object to the money being spent on nuclear weapons because I’m anti-nuclear.”

Many Scottish Jews say they are wary of secession, citing anti-Israel statements by the Scottish government, historic and family links to the United Kingdom, and the potential economic risks of independence.

“The Jews in Scotland have been well received,” said Malcolm Livingstone, chairman of the Glasgow Jewish Community Trust. “It’s only in recent times that extreme Palestinian groups have upset that. The Scottish Parliament has shown serious signs of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attitudes.”

Scotland’s 2011 census counted fewer than 6,000 Jews — about 0.1 percent of the population — most of them living in and around the industrial metropolis of Glasgow. Including unaffiliated Jews, the total could be more like 10,000, according to the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities director, Ephraim Borowski.

The community hasn’t been polled and Borowski’s group has no official position on the referendum. But he says official condemnations of Israel during the war in Gaza this summer may have pushed some Jews to oppose independence.

During the war, the Scottish government released eight statements criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza. On Aug. 5, it called for an arms embargo against Israel to protest civilian deaths in Gaza. Glasgow’s City Hall flew the Palestinian flag for a day in August.

“I do know of people who have said explicitly that they intended to vote yes and now intend to vote no, and that’s connected with the much more explicit obsession with Israel and the Mideast,” Borowski told JTA.

The anti-Israel resolutions in Scotland have come alongside a spike in anti-Semitism here. More than 35 anti-Semitic acts occurred in July and August, according to Borowski’s group, compared to 14 in all of 2013. While the Scottish National Party, which is leading the independence charge, has condemned anti-Semitism, some Jews worry that nationalist feeling has encouraged it.

“Nationalism in Europe has not done well with the Jews,” Livingstone said. “I’m not suggesting for a minute that the SNP is like the nationalist parties in Germany, but within nationalist politics there’s always an element that tends to blame minorities for things that go wrong.”

Angell told JTA he has never encountered any anti-Israel sentiment at party conferences. Last month, Scotland’s second-ranking government official, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, wrote Angell a letter saying an independent Scotland would support a two-state solution and oppose boycotts of Israel.

“The foreign policy of an independent Scotland has yet to be written, but I know from the membership of our party that our attitude toward every nation and every group is a positive one,” said Vincent Waters, the SNP city councillor for Giffnock, a heavily Jewish Glasgow suburb. “We don’t have countries or ethnic populations that we favor one over the other.”

With a population of approximately 5.3 million, Scottish foreign policy isn’t likely to have a big impact on Israel. But Ben Freeman, 27, who grew up in Glasgow and founded an anti-discrimination nonprofit, says his country should support Israel as a matter of principle.

“It does matter because it’s our country,” Freeman said. “I don’t want to be part of a country that’s anti-Israel. I don’t want to be part of a country that’s anti-Semitic.”

Some Scottish Jews says they feel more of a connection to Britain as a whole than to Scotland. Unlike Scottish families who can trace their lines back to the country’s ancient clans, many Jews came here in a wave of immigration from Eastern Europe only a century ago, 200 years after England and Scotland formed a political union in 1707.

“Perhaps being a fourth-generation immigrant I have a different attitude toward being Scottish. None of my family was here in 1707,” Joel Conn said. “There’s a lot more that makes us British than makes us Scottish.”

Jews who support independence cite parallels between the Jewish and Scottish stories. Scottish nationalists have desired independence since the earliest rebellions against English rule in the 1200s, much as Jews longed for Zion over centuries of living in exile. And like Judaism, Scotland’s Presbyterian ethos historically encouraged education and literacy.

Joe Goldblatt, a native Texan who moved to Scotland six years ago and gained citizenship in July, was passing out fliers supporting independence last week in Edinburgh. Approaching a mother with a baby in a stroller, Goldblatt offered a pin to the “wee bairn,” or little kid.

“What’s the basis for all Jewish thought? Freedom,” said Goldblatt, a professor at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. “It surprises me when my fellow Jews want to be shackled to the old political tissue, as if they’re saying, ‘The pharaoh has been pretty good so far. Let’s not rock the boat.’ ”

Scotland’s Jewish population is declining as young people move to cities with larger Jewish communities in London, Manchester or Tel Aviv. Between 2001 and 2011, the community’s numbers declined nearly 10 percent.

But though many Jews oppose independence, Freeman doesn’t think a yes vote will cause a mass Jewish exodus.

“Those who will leave will leave and those who will stay will stay,” Freeman said. “I’m leaving in two years, but I want the best for the country of my birth, and I feel the country of my birth should not be independent.”

July 4th as a day of reflection


This coming Thursday, the Jewish community, alongside all other Americans, will be celebrating the fourth of July and the Independence of The United States of America. The relationship between Jews and America is one that is not only a historical phenomenon but is indeed an outstanding human and moral phenomenon in human history. 

Despite the fact that the Jewish people are a people who lived in so many different countries, who experienced close exposure to so many cultures and attitudes the American Jewish experience is one of the most exceptional and fascinating ones in our history. Typically Jews, wherever they lived, did a lot to integrate be accepted, and to be appreciative and respectful to the countries that have granted them with homage and hospitality.  This appreciation showed itself in many different ways that varied from special prayers said in synagogue wishing well to the local governments, paying taxes, in serving in the local armies and so on. In many cases Jews did not only pay much courtesy to the countries they were living in but many cases adopted the identity of the countries they were living in; British Jews saw themselves as British, French Jews saw themselves as Frenchman, and Russian Jews saw themselves as Russian. The gratitude to the hosting country became an an adoption of identity. What began, for example, we gratitude to Napoleon and the French for their emancipation had slowly become a character adoption. 

After so many centuries of oppression we developed some kind of Stockholm syndrome where we suddenly began to see the countries in which we were oppressed as great redeemers once they granted us freedom; we suddenly no longer saw freedom as a means to the end of being able to practice what we believed in but we began to see it as an end to itself. Being able to practice Judaism freely in France, for example, was no longer the goal but it was rather becoming Frenchman and woman that was our goal. This, however,  was not a one sided trend; when granted civil rights in the eighteenth  and nineteenth century Jews were expected to fully integrate and become a part of the societies they were living in. When Napoleon granted French Jews civil rights he made it clear that intermarriage and full integration into society is expected and should be concomitant with the granting of civil rights. This was not the case only in France, other counties such as Russia, Germany, and more. These countries showed clear expectations and anticipation that the Jews abandon their religious practices that separate them from societies they are living in and fully integrate into the societies that granted them freedom.

And then came America. From its earliest days The United States of America was a welcoming, open, and safe haven for Jews; this did not only manifest itself in George Washington’s famous letter to the Jewish community of Rohde Island where he assured their religious freedom expressed his vision of Jews living freely in America, but was indeed the practice of the land. From America’s earliest day Jews enjoyed a great deal of freedom and security and the American people have excelled far beyond any other people in the extent of opportunity, tolerance, and safety extended towards the Jews in America. This uniqueness was outstanding that Jews were no longer just tolerated but were recognized; unlike in European countries where Jew were tolerated despite their religion, Jews were tolerated and seen as full members of society with their religious having no bearing on what their status in the country would be. So much so that being Jewish was not only not an obstacle towards full social rights but, as renowned British novelist Howard Jacobson put it, ”You often feel that to be American is to be Jewish”.

With this realization in mind it would be an epic loss for us not to take advantage of this outstanding opportunity; to not realize that in today’s America where Jews are not only tolerated and unconditionally accepted but are also welcomed and appreciated would be a historical  mistake.

As Jewish learning and adult education in Israel and America flourish and learning opportunities abound it is essential that we take this opportunity to embrace our Jewishness, to find out what it means, and to persue a higher level of understanding of it.

To be satisfied with the level of knowledge we have had at our Bar and Bat Mitzvas and to not pursue a more mature and deeper understanding of what Judaism is all about at this beautiful juncture of history would be a mistake for which history will never forgive us.

We have been blessed; we have been immensely blessed- let us have the courtesy to go and pick up our gift. God Bless America.


Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is Fellow, The Institute for Advanced Research in Jewish Law, Yeshiva University

Israeli government accused of curbing court independence


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative government came under attack on Tuesday for promoting legislation that critics said would weaken the independence of Israel’s judiciary.

Parliament on Monday passed a government-backed amendment that paves the way for a judge perceived by right-wing lawmakers as an ally to be appointed chief of the Supreme Court.

In a country that does not have a constitution, the Supreme Court is widely respected as an independent-minded watchdog over the legislature and guarantor of civil rights.

Separate legislation that would change the composition of a legal committee appointing Supreme Court judges also received preliminary approval on Monday. Critics say if the bill is finalized, the committee will be packed with more right-wingers.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, of the centrist Kadima party, accused Netanyahu of trying to “change the character of the nation.”

Some of the criticism even came from within Netanyahu’s Likud party. “Perhaps it would be better to just write into the law who we want to be appointed,” Cabinet Minister Michael Eitan sarcastically told Army Radio.

Netanyahu has insisted he will protect the independence of the judiciary. Israeli media reported on Tuesday that his government, which had originally backed the legal committee bill, might now backtrack.

The other change is final and allows for the appointment of Asher Grunis as chief justice next month. The amendment changes an age restriction that would have disqualified Grunis.

Yaakov Katz of the far-right National Union party, who first proposed the bill, on his website called Grunis “an asset to the legal world in Israel.”

Editing by Kevin Liffey

Honey, you’re home!


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Student gets into good university. Student obtains esteemed degree. Graduate flounders in unsteady job market; must confront the dreaded possibility of moving back in with her parents, Ima and Abba, whom I dearly love — and come college, was all too ready to leave.

We didn’t see it coming. After school I moved from Boston to Los Angeles with my then-boyfriend, landed a great job close to home and started referring to myself as an “adult.” It worked: the gas and electric bills got paid, my grungy old Converse sneakers became a landing pad for sleek black heels, and we ate well enough to stave off scurvy.

Even when my parents decided to pack up and join me in Los Angeles, the glowing specter of independence still seemed to loom just a few exits down the freeway.

Then everything changed.

My relationship went crunch with the credit market — I grew tired of investing subprime. It wasn’t long before my hours at work were slashed, too, and I began to have nightmares of showing up at my parents’ door with a suitcase.

It’s not like they wouldn’t understand. In fact, when I first called in January to sheepishly report that my job had been cut to part time and I’d need some help buying groceries, my mother suggested I move in with them “for now” with the excitement of a “Kadimanik” inviting her best friend over for a slumber party.

Which is what scares me.

Don’t get me wrong — my parents are wonderful. Growing up, they gave me a Solomon Schechter education; extra napkins in my lunchbox; lessons in ballet, piano and (reluctantly) driving; and the breathing room to move 3,000 miles across the country to start a life of my own. They even gave me eight months before moving into a ranch house a couple blocks down the street.

But something tells me that’s the closest we should get. It’s one thing to drive from Sherman Oaks to Encino on a Sunday morning to meet them at More Than Waffles; it’s another thing to roll out of bed and meet them at the kitchen table.

Ah, the kitchen….

Where so many home-cooked meals might await. Where I could open the fridge and grab an afternoon snack that isn’t ramen (an old habit that should have stopped with college tuition). Where I could enjoy unlimited access to Mom’s kugel and Dad’s matzah brei and, best of all, probably not have to lift a finger.

Adjoining the kitchen, the laundry room. I can almost hear Mom’s casual offer, called out in a singsong key as she passes the extra bedroom I’ve taken over, to wash my white load if I’m too busy. That, and if I need anything at Barnes and Noble, she’s heading over there later today. By the way, how am I doing on tampons?

Not having to vacuum. Not having to pay for cable. Not having to worry about dropping off a rent check on the first of every month.

As blissful as this all sounds, it’s also the point at which the daydream ends.

Something fundamental has changed since the last time I lived under my parents’ roof: I no longer need to be babied. And moving back in with them would mean I’d have to keep close watch on my independence skills to make sure they don’t melt away under Mom’s sure-to-be intense regimen of mothering.

Dating also poses a problem. Newly back on the singles scene, the last first-impression I’d want to make is a three-for-one deal — sign up for me, get my parents for free.

Hanging out at “my place” would mean being prisoners of the only 175-square-foot space in the house where we could get any, ahem, privacy. Otherwise we could cozy up to watch TV on the living room couch, a special, limited-edition model that — did I forget to mention? — comes equipped with two built-in chaperones.

I’d want any serious beau to meet my parents after at least a couple weeks, not when he drops me off after our first dinner-plus-movie outing. And even if the mischpacha didn’t come out to accost us at the car, the barely restrained refrains of “how did it go?” when I walked in would have me heading for that kugel-stocked fridge.

Still, the quandary remains: How do I make it in this dollar-hungry city alone?

The answer: Hire me. I’ll do laundry. I’ll vacuum. I’ll even be your personal kosher chef and make you matzah brei in the mornings (my own signature version). Anything to stave off an onset of that increasingly common condition striking 20-somethings everywhere — Childhood, Part Two.

If only they taught this stuff in school.

Rachel Heller is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and can be reached at rsheller@gmail.com.

Independence creates uncertainty for Kosovo’s Jews


Briefs: They’re Jews first and Israelis second; Pope to soap offending trope


Israelis Identify by Faith, Then Flag

Israelis are three times more likely to identify primarily as Jews than as Israelis, a poll found. According to a survey in Monday’s Yediot Achronot, 40 percent of Israelis said they identify “first and foremost” as Jews, while 13 percent identify primarily as Israelis. Most Israelis, 45 percent, identified primarily as human beings, with the rest undecided on how to identify themselves. The poll had 500 respondents and a 4.2 percent margin of error. It was not clear if the respondents represented a cross-section of Israel’s entire population, 20 percent of whom are Arabs, or just the Jewish majority.

Stars to Celebrate Israel’s Birthday

Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg are among Jewish celebrities expected to attend Israel’s 60th Independence Day events. The famed musical diva and Hollywood director are among those invited to a May 13 conference in Jerusalem being organized by Israeli President Shimon Peres in honor of the Jewish state’s 60th birthday, Ma’ariv reported Monday. Streisand will entertain by singing “Avinu Malkeinu,” a Peres favorite. Among foreign statesmen expected to attend the events are President Bush and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Canada Removes Israel, U.S. From Watch List

Canada removed Israel and the United States from a list of countries suspected of using torture. Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said Saturday that an internal government torture watch list naming Israel and the United States had been amended to omit them. Bernier noted that Israel and the United States are among Canada’s “closest allies.” The watch list, which had been compiled as part of training for Canadian diplomats, was accidentally leaked to the press. It mentioned methods known widely as “torture light” — sleep deprivation, forced nudity, isolation and blindfolding. Human rights groups denounced Bernier’s turnabout, saying designation states that sanction torture should not depend on whether they are political allies. Israel and the United States admit that their security services use vigorous interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists but deny this amounts to torture.

Israeli Spy Satellite Launched

After months of delays, the TECSAR satellite was launched into space Monday from a site in India. The TECSAR features an all-weather, day-or-night radar imaging system that will significantly improve Israel’s ability to monitor Iran and other Middle East foes. Two Israeli-made Ofek satellites, with conventional optical camera, already are in orbit. Israel is among a handful of countries that manufactures and deploys its own satellites.

Olmert Praises Aid to Sderot

Aid extended to Sderot by the Israeli military has improved conditions for the rocket-rattled town, Ehud Olmert said. The Israeli prime minister, who made an unannounced visit to Sderot last Thursday after the military’s Southern Command was ordered to deploy personnel in the town to reinforce buildings against rocket salvos from the nearby Gaza Strip and help with routine affairs, said the measure has shown some success.

“I found a different atmosphere both in Sderot and its outlying communities. I found impressive determination, fortitude, fewer complaints but not less pain and concern, and great appreciation for the activity being carried on there,” Olmert told his Cabinet in broadcast remarks Sunday.

Last week saw a surge in rocket fire by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups as Israeli forces pressed attacks in Gaza. The Jewish Agency for Israel announced Sunday it has begun providing emergency relief grants of around $1,000 for Sderot residents who are injured, or whose homes are damaged, by rockets. A total of $300,000 was last month earmarked for Sderot out of the Jewish Agency’s Victims of Terror Fund, which is underwritten by the United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod.

Pope to Change Liturgy Offensive to Jews

Pope Benedict XVI reportedly has decided to change part of the Good Friday liturgy that is offensive to Jews. The decision was reported by Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican expert of the Italian daily “Il Giornale.” The change would affect the Missal of 1962, which the pope brought back into use. The prayer is not used in most churches, but certain congregations continue to use the old rite on Good Friday.

The prayer, which refers to the blindness of the Jews in refusing Jesus as the messiah, is part of a series of prayers for non-Christians. The prayer reads: “Let us pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, you do not refuse your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness.”

A reference to “perfidious Jews” was dropped in 1959. When Pope Benedict brought back the prayer, the chief rabbis of Israel expressed concern, as did the ADL.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

I’m ready to take the wheel


I turned 16 on June 26. After so many years of impatiently waiting, and six months of misjudging left turns and getting away with some pretty serious traffic violations while my mother sat horrified in the passenger seat, I am finally eligible for my driver’s license. Sayonara, learner’s permit. I can, in theory, do as I please, whenever I please. I am, in short, free.

I had been looking forward to getting my license for so long, because you need to be able to drive yourself in Los Angeles, right? Isn’t it necessary to show off your car to your friends, to finally give your parents a break from chauffeuring you everywhere, to get from Point A to Point B? Isn’t that what driving is all about? As I thought about this milestone, I realized that driving is symbolic of something much greater.

In Los Angeles and at my school, Harvard-Westlake, driving has become a deplorable status symbol, and I fell into the trap. I used to gaze in admiration at the juniors and seniors rolling onto campus in their shiny cars. They all noticed the mesmerized faces of the underclassmen, but they always maintained an air of nonchalant coolness. I could practically read their minds: “I am so awesome because I drove to school. I even picked up a latte on the way here.” Those people were my heroes. I used to think that when I turned 16, my moment in the spotlight of the school driveway would arrive, and I was going to milk it for everything it was worth. I, too, wanted to be awesome and put lattes in my cupholders.

When I finally got behind the wheel of a car myself, conceit and self-importance set in. If ever I saw someone with that familiar awe-struck gape staring at my car during one of my innumerable driving lessons, I would think, with a shameful amount of pride, “I am cooler than you because I am operating a motor vehicle right now.”

Now that I actually am 16 and will soon be taking my driving test, I realize how arrogant I was as I pondered the significance of getting my license. Driving isn’t about showing off or feeling cool. To me, driving represents the freedom I have been given to choose how I want to live my life.

Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben once said that with great power comes great responsibility. I say that great responsibility comes with great freedom. Driving, in a way, is my platform to make an impact on my own in the world. I now choose what to do with my time, but too much independence too soon can be overwhelming. The laminated card entrusted to me by the Department of Motor Vehicles gives me the opportunity to pick a side in the epic battle of right and wrong. Like the aforementioned web-slinger, I want to use my newfound powers for good.

Before I turned 16, I would often use my inability to drive as an excuse for laziness. If I was sitting at home watching television on a Saturday morning instead of feeding the homeless, I could justify it. “My parents don’t have the time to drive me there,” I told myself. “I don’t want to inconvenience them.” At 16, my inactivity is no longer defensible. I now have the option of either driving to the mall to have fun or driving to an animal shelter or a food bank to volunteer my time and have a rewarding experience. It seems obvious, but I’m not a saint, so I plan to find a balance between serving myself and serving the community. I expect the choices I will have to make about where I will drive to be a source of some serious angst — I’ve never had to make these kind of decisions for myself before, but I’m ready to take the wheel.

I used to wonder why you had to wait until you were 16 to get a driver’s license. I now realize that an incredible amount of responsibility is involved in being in the front seat because of what driving means. Driving shouldn’t be a method of flaunting yourself, but it shouldn’t just be about reaching your destination either. For me, driving means having a choice about what to do and where to go and, at 16, I’m ready to choose for myself.

Derek Schlom will be a junior at Harvard-Westlake this fall. He is interning at The Jewish Journal this summer.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the August issue is July 15; Deadline for the September issue is Aug. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

What’s next after Hamas’ Gaza takeover?


yeLAdim


Mighty Glad to See You!

It was great seeing so many of you at the Israel Independence Day Festival on May 7 (we hope you enjoyed the fans). Be sure to check out our yeLAdim page on June 30, as we will be printing many of the essays you wrote for our 20th anniversary!

Kein v’ Lo:

Parental Spying?

There’s been a lot of talk in the news about people listening to other people’s phone calls, and some people say parents need to check what their kids are doing online and who they are chatting with — because not everyone on the Internet is telling the truth. Should parents be allowed to do that?

The Kein Side:

  • A lot of kids don’t talk to their parents, and the parents want to make sure their kids are safe from drugs, alcohol, bullies and other things that can hurt them.
  • It is your parents’ house, and you have to live by their rules — when you have your own house, you can have your own rules.

The Lo Side:

  • Parents need to trust their kids — otherwise how will the kids ever learn to be responsible for themselves?
  • It is invasion of privacy to listen to their phone calls and look at someone’s things when they aren’t there.

We want to know what you think. E-mail your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com, with the subject line: Parents.

We’ll publish your opinions on a future yeLAdim page.

Pages & Picks

This month’s pick is the very cute “Kvetchy Boy” by Anne-Maire Baila Asner — the latest from Matzah Ball Books.

Kvetchy Boy joins his friends Noshy Boy, Shluffy Girl, Klutzy Boy and Shmutzy Girl in bringing Yiddish expressions to young Jews (don’t worry, each book includes a glossary of words) and teaching everyone about being a better person:

Even at his birthday party, Kvetchy Boy kvetched and kvetched.

“This ice cream made my cake soggy. I hate soggy cake,” said Kvetchy Boy.

“But Kvetchy Boy,” said Noshy Boy, who loves to eat. “The cake tastes even better that way.”

Kvetchy Boy didn’t agree.

If you haven’t seen your favorite Yiddish expression yet, don’t worry — there are more books on the way, including some for grown-ups like “Mrs. Mitzvah” and “Bubby” and “Zaida Kvelly.” You can even buy T-shirts with the different characters on them!

For more information, visit

Still Smarting


By Sunday evening, single women across America were trying to slit their wrists by inflicting a hundred little paper cuts from the Sunday New York Times Magazine, featuring an article by Maureen Dowd, “What’s a Modern Girl to Do?”

Feminism is over, Dowd writes, men only want to date non-challenging, non-career-oriented women, and women are willingly returning to traditional gender roles.

If “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw were writing this article, she’d type in her familiar courier font: “Sometimes I wonder … are men threatened by smart, successful women?”

But Carrie’s era has ended, apparently, says the real-life (non-sex) op-ed writer Dowd, pictured in the Oct. 30 magazine in an austere black suit paired with fishnet stockings.

“So was the feminist movement some sort of cruel hoax? Do women get less desirable as they get more successful?” she laments.

I felt like I was listening to my father, or my rabbi — if I still had one (a rabbi, not a father) — with this return to men as providers, women as caretakers and never the twain shall meet.

Dowd’s basic theory posits that “The Rules” — that once-silly guidebook on how to entrap a man, which is now read nonironically, as in The Torah of dating — was just the beginning. The end, a decade later, is women in their 20s who go to law school planning to drop out to get married, women who won’t call a guy because men don’t like to be chased and men marrying nurturers like their secretaries because they don’t desire a challenging woman (like “the boss”). Which leaves some smart, successful women wondering, alone, where they went wrong.

It’s not that Dowd said anything particularly new. It’s just that, well, the thing is … a lot of it is true. I wish I could deny it; I wish I could say that feminism is safe and Dowd is bitter. And that the people she quotes are a small random selection; and that plenty of people find an equal partner; and my friends and I will too someday (soon). But I’ve had too many recent experiences that suggest otherwise:

  • At a recent Sukkot meal I met a single guy, an educated artist-intellectual who was becoming religious. What he found lovely about religion was the “traditional roles that people — women — played in terms of family,” he said, before stopping when he saw the look of horror on my face.
  • My friend’s father recently came out to visit from New York. The man’s a professor at a prestigious university and married to a woman who is also a professor at a better university and who makes more money than him. After I spent the whole night trying to charm him silly, he told his son, “She’s going to have trouble meeting a man. She’s too smart.”
  • I was recently rebuffed by a guy who said, “You’re the type of woman I could bring home to my parents, but my problem is I’m only attracted to stupid, simple women — women whom I’d never socialize with or bring home to my parents.”

He’d go out with these bartenders, dancers — secretaries — for a few months till conversation ran dry and he couldn’t stand the sight of them any longer and then flee like an escaped convict to socialize with the likes of me — people in his “class.” It was not a question of looks.

“You’re just too smart for me,” he said sadly.

Look, I’ve tried dating down. My last two boyfriends were by no means my intellectual equals; they weren’t threatened by my brain, but they weren’t particularly interested either. Or interesting, really. I chucked them in hopes of finding my intellectual equal, my soul mate, the man I can ask advice from and discuss everything with — from literature to politics to religion to child rearing, to even this stupid New York Times article.

But I hear that he’s off dating his secretary, his physical therapist, his nanny, his cook — all the nurturers we thought we could hire while we provided the intellectual stimulation, which he apparently prefers to get from “The Daily Show.”

Look, maybe we can’t have it all — the perfect career and the perfect man and the perfect family — and if I could do it all over again, maybe I’d do some things differently: Maybe I wouldn’t have done all that I’ve done if I had known the price for independence is … being alone.

Maybe. But maybe not.

Dating for women of my generation has always been about the conflict of being yourself vs. behaving like someone else in order to get the prized man. But what kind of guy would I get if I behaved like someone else? Who would I be? What kind of we would there be if I weren’t me?

The women of the generations before me, well, maybe they were lucky. Lucky without feminism, lucky to be in the haven of their traditional roles. And maybe that’s the happy fate that also awaits the women of the future.

What is a Modern Girl to do, Ms. Dowd? Sadly enough she doesn’t answer that question, so I guess this is one article I’m going to have to write on my own.

 

Israel Wins More Than Hoop Crown


 

Everybody wanted to be in Moscow this past weekend. Leaders from all over the world flew in to partake in history: President George W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder all made it, as did President Moshe Katzav of Israel.

But as the world leaders all converged on the Russian capital, only Katzvav and his wife, Gila, secured an entry ticket to Moscow’s hottest event that weekend — the Final Four of the European Cup Basketball Championship. It featured three European teams — Russia, Spain and Greece — and one non-European team from a place in the Middle East called “Israel.”

As the world’s leaders gathered in Moscow to join Russian President Vladimir Putin in commemorating the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, 13,300 basketball fans gathered in Moscow’s Olympisky Arena to watch Maccabi Tel Aviv try to defend its Euroleague basketball crown.

Think about it: Moscow hosts a large ceremony celebrating the defeat of the Nazis, and, just a few minutes away from all of the pomp and circumstance, on the same weekend, Moscow also plays host to a basketball tournament that will potentially crown a team from a Jewish state in the Middle East as champions of Europe.

Some will call it irony, others will call it sweet justice, but no matter how you see it, the scene in Moscow this past weekend put a unique spin on history, one that is worth exploring as we celebrate 57 years of Israel’s independence this week.

Imagine if you had told a Holocaust survivor walking out of the gates of Auschwitz that in 60 years, a Jewish state in the Land of Israel would send a basketball team to Moscow to play for the European basketball championship. The responses would have included anything from sheer disbelief at the thought of an independent Jewish state to wondering why a team from the Middle East would play in the European league.

That Israel is competing against European teams rather than in a Middle Eastern league serves as a grim reminder of the unfriendly neighborhood where Israel is situated. Israel has had peace with Egypt since 1979, Jordan since 1994, and is currently in peace talks with the Palestinians. Yet with all the supposed atmosphere of “peace,” no realist would venture to suggest hosting a basketball tournament featuring teams from Egypt, Jordan, the Gaza Strip and Israel, which begs the larger question of how genuine all of this “peace” really is.

It’s not like the European continent is a more logical place for Israel to play basketball. Not too long ago, anti-Semitism was virtually a way of life in Europe, and just when we thought it was all over, European anti-Semitism is once again fashionable. So what is Israel’s team doing playing in Europe? Well, they’re not playing for sympathy.

In this onetime bastion of Jew-hatred, the team from the Jewish state has won five European basketball championships (1977, 1981, 2001, 2004 and 2005). France, with all of its open disdain for Israel and its laissez-faire approach to current anti-Semitism, has one title in the 47 years since the founding of the Euroleague; Germany still waits for its first.

That the current crowning of Israel took place in Moscow is also something to reflect upon. Imagine visiting Natan Sharansky in a Soviet prison during the 1970s and telling him that one day, Moscow’s Olympisky Arena would contain 7,000 Jews from Israel openly waving Israeli flags, and chanting “Hatikvah” together as their team lifted the European Cup.

That such a scenario is not fiction, but really took place just a few days ago, is an event of monumental historical importance that travels far beyond the boundaries of a basketball court.

Much to the disdain of several world leaders gathered in Moscow this past weekend, Israel is a fact on the ground, and it is here to stay. In basketball, and in many other fields, this young country continues to behave like a true champion.

This was best expressed by Tal Brody, the legendary captain of Maccabi Tel Aviv, in 1977, after Maccabi’s defeat of the Soviet Red Army Team on the way to its first European championship.

“Now we are on the map,” said Brody in a post-game interview. “And we are staying on the map — not only in sports, but in everything.”

Daniel Bouskila is the rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in West Los Angeles.

 

No Rush


Lately it seems as if everyone I know is interested in me getting married. In fact, the person pressuring me the least is my girlfriend,

Carrie. She’s still working on her independence, having recently moved out of her parents’ house for the first time.

Like many women, Carrie looks forward to wearing a wedding gown, but she needs more time to work on her growth as a woman. At least that’s what I’ve been telling her in the hopes it buys me some more time.

Recently, I had Shabbat dinner at a couple’s house — Chasidic friends in their early 20s with a newborn. While the wife was burping her baby, she asked when Carrie and I were going to get married. Her husband quickly joined in.

“Why?” I asked. “What’s so great about being married?”

The baby spit up onto her shirt as her husband fielded the question; only he did so in a very Chasidic fashion — no answers, just more questions: “What are you waiting for? Why are you so scared? Will you pass the gefilte fish?”

“What does marriage offer me?” I asked him. I tried to explain to him the difference between our situations. He is a Chasid who avoids shaking hands with a woman in order to avoid getting excited. When he met his wife, he was expected to avoid touching until marriage. So, marriage came fast. I, on the other hand, am dating Carrie, who, being the woman of loose morals she is, allowed me to not only kiss her within the first week of dating, but also to hold her hand. Three years later, we’ve gone so far I can now hold the hands of other women. “So what’s the rush?” I asked him.

My friend looked at me pensively, sat quiet for a moment and then said, “Seriously, I’m still hungry. Will you pass the gefilte fish?”

One day, Carrie’s grandmother pulled me aside. “Do you planning on marrying Carrie?”

“I don’t know, lady” I answered. “We’re not really up to that.”

“Well you better get up to it, funny guy. I want to see great-grandkids before I die.”

“And I want you to live a long time, so for you I’m going to hold off,” I said.

She shook her head and walked away muttering to herself.

Why would anyone in Carrie’s family want her to marry me? I look decent enough and am occasionally funny but I’m a 30-year-old struggling actor, getting by on the bare minimum, and living in a rent-controlled apartment in Silver Lake. On paper, I sure don’t sound that great. I don’t think I’d do too well on JDate, where women decide whom to date based on a picture, career choice, yearly income and a list of my hobbies, which oddly enough include going to restaurants and listening in on other people’s conversations.

Carrie spends three to four nights a week at my apartment. We have a great relationship. Sometimes we bicker too much, but I love her and I’m pretty sure she loves me. The thing is, the nights she isn’t with me I don’t really mind. In fact, I enjoy having the nights off. It’s not that I’m unhappy in the relationship — I just like my freedom. I don’t have other women sneaking over in the middle of the night, but I like the feeling that I could if I wanted to. I’ll probably never act on it, but I want the option. Even though I have no interest in dating anyone else, I’m still a little frightened by the idea of dating one person for the rest of my life. So, maybe I need a little more time. Is that bad? Is there something wrong with me because I’m not ready to be married? I feel like I’ll know when it’s time. I’ll be a little more settled in my career and hopefully be ready to have children — or at least a houseplant.

So if Carrie and I are both not ready to buy into marriage, why is everyone else so interested in selling? Are they getting commission?

I once knew a woman who got wrapped up in some cult-like business seminars — Anthony Robbins kind of stuff where she kept paying more and more for these seminars and then would hold meetings where she would try to recruit other people to join. She invited me to one and I went there already knowing there was no chance they were getting me to sign up. But she begged me and I gave in out of respect for her. Midway through the introductory course I realized something. These people, who were charting their happiness with multicolored markers on gigantic pieces of paper that sat on easels, were not trying to convince me to join because their lives were now so enriched. They were convincing me to join because they needed to convince themselves.

My married friends are all newly married and, therefore, are still getting used to the idea. By convincing me, and others like me, to go down the same road as quickly as possible, it validates their decision. And it’s not necessarily a bad decision — just one I’m not ready to make. I’m sure as they grow more comfortable with their decision the less they will feel the need to convince others to do likewise. And who knows — by then I might be ready to go down that road with them. As for Carrie’s grandmother, well, she just wants to see a baby. I can get one for her on the black market within a week.

I picked up the phone and called Carrie. “I just wanted to say I love you and I’m glad we both agree on how things are going. We care deeply about each other but aren’t in a rush to get married. We have plenty of time and can take things as they come.”

“Well,” she said. “Don’t get too comfortable.”

Seth Menachem is an actor living in Los Angeles. You can currently see him on TV hawking such fine luxuries as fast food, beer and cellular service.

Esther Netter: A One-Woman Dynamo


Time is running out for Esther Netter. On June 6, the Zimmer Children’s Museum will unveil its most ambitious art exhibit in its 14-year history to an expected sellout crowd of 300. As if that wasn’t enough, the Zimmer’s executive director must simultaneously ready her organization for independence from the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), an outfit that for years has provided important services to Zimmer at heavily discounted rates.

Seated in a conference room with two Zimmer executives, Netter gave a progress report on the last-minute preparations for "Show & Tel: Art of Connection," which will feature 179 telephones transformed into artworks by the likes of musician Alicia Keys, actress Elizabeth Taylor and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The funky phones, up for auction, will benefit youTHink, an art-based social issues program for third- to-12th-graders (see sidebar below).

Turning her attention to Zimmer’s impending independence, Netter whipped out a to-do list with 50 items on it. By July 1, she said, her staff of 12 full-time and 10 part-time employees must apply for a business license, set up a bank account and hire a chief financial officer, among other tasks.

During the meeting, Netter’s cellphone rang over and over and over. Whenever it sounded, she flipped it open and glanced at the caller ID to decide whether to answer.

She occasionally seemed lost in her own thoughts, peering off into the distance. Adding to the chaos, a frantic Zimmer employee barged in and asked Netter for money to pay for some fixtures for the phone exhibition. Netter handed her a blank check — literally.

"The classic Esther is to be in a meeting, and she has her phone ringing, her cell ringing and the call-waiting going," said Shifra Teitelbaum, youTHink’s director. "She always has 40 things going. Undivided attention is not in her vocabulary."

Passionate and driven, the 45-year-old Netter has managed to channel her nervous energy into tangible accomplishments for the betterment of the local Jewish community. Working closely with founding board member Jean Friedman, Netter has overseen Zimmer’s growth from a tiny 600-square-foot museum with a $40,000 budget to one of the city’s premiere Jewish institutions with a $1.5 million budget.

The museum now sits in a 10,000-square-foot space inside The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’s headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Netter set up the initial meetings with Nathan Krems and Zimmer family members that led to a $2 million grant that made the recent expansion possible.

Last year, Los Angeles Magazine selected Zimmer for a "Best of L.A." award for best little-known museum.

Netter is quick to give credit to others and to forge alliances to get things done. She said she prefers sharing the limelight with 10 other people than to have it shine brightly on her alone.

Known as much for her ability to spin out creative ideas as for her short attention span, Netter co-founded youTHink six years ago with her friend, Bernie Massey, executive director of the Center for American Studies and Culture. Concerned that students were increasingly interested in education as a means for making money rather than as a tool for social change, the pair came up with the concept of using art to stimulate critical thinking.

Going into classrooms with reproductions of provocative artworks, youTHink instructors draw students out into discussions about such contemporary subjects as affirmative action, homelessness and the value of education. Some students have become so inspired that they have gone on to volunteer for community service after the program, she said.

YouTHink, which serves about 20,000 California students annually, hopes to expand nationally. The program recently received a grant of nearly $100,000 for that purpose. All the while, Netter has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from public and private sources to fund her pet project.

Her willingness to take Zimmer in a new direction, despite some board concern that youTHink might detract from the museum’s mission to serve the Jewish community, reflected Netter’s courage and vision, Massey said.

"She wanted to knock the walls down on what the limitations of the museum were at the time and broaden the institution," he said. "She recognized the importance of being connected to the broader community."

Netter wasn’t always so worldly. For much of her life, she lived, loved and played mainly among Jews. She even married a religious leader, Rabbi Perry Netter, with whom she had three children — Eli, 19; Mosher, 17; and Shira, 13. The couple eventually divorced.

Growing up in a Conservative Jewish family in the San Fernando Valley, Netter’s happiest childhood memories took place at Camp Ramah. There, she learned about her heritage by pretending to be a Soviet Jew trying to emigrate or play-acting the creation of Israel.

At UCLA, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Jewish studies. She went on to graduate with a master’s from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. In 1981, Netter landed a job at JCCGLA working in teen outreach at public schools. She has worked in the community ever since.

Over the years, Netter’s work increasingly exposed her to people of different backgrounds, especially through youTHink. Now, she sees the world in all its colors and flavors.

"I want play a role in strengthening the Jewish community and in connecting our communities around us individually, institutionally and communally," she said.

One of the ways she now bridges those two worlds is through "Show & Tel," which is the Zimmer’s first adult show. The exhibition will feature art from both Jews and non-Jews and raise money for the youTHink program, which serves mostly non-Jewish students.

At the Zimmer’s November annual fundraising dinner, an audience member paid $12,000 for the right to first dibs on one of the phones; another ponied up $10,000 for the second choice.

Netter said she is happy and fulfilled with her work, family and contribution to both the Jewish and larger L.A. community.

"My life is incredibly full," she said. "I’m lucky to have a great job, great kids and what looks like an exciting future."

For the Kids


One Fun Festival

Come to the Israeli Independence Day Festival on May 2,
10 a.m.-7 p.m. at Woodley Park (between Burbank Boulevard and Victory Boulevard adjacent to the 405).

For more information about the festival, go to www.israelfestival.com,
and be sure to stop by The Jewish Journal booth for free goodies.

Time to Transition From Day to Night


This summer, Jacqueline Berlin, 7, will leave her mom, dad
and younger sister to enter the world of overnight camp for the first time.

“As soon as she found out that she would be old enough to go
[to Camp Ramah in Ojai] this summer, she wanted to go,” said Jacqueline’s
mother, Robin Berlin of Beverly Hills, who attended the Jewish residential camp
for 10 summers as a child and teenager.

But is Jacqueline, who will be 8 by summertime, really ready
to be away from home for a whole week?

“I don’t know,” Berlin said with a sigh, “but I think it’s
good that it’s coming from her.”

According to the American Camping Association, more than 10
million children and adults attend an estimated 12,000 camps each year. Of
those facilities, approximately 7,000 are residential camps and 5,000 are day
camps. While experts agree that camp can increase self-esteem and foster
independence and lifelong friendships, finding the right time when a child is
ready to transition from day camp to overnight camp is challenging.

“The two major issues for kids are being comfortable with
sleepovers and having the desire to go [to camp],” said Wendy Mogel, a local
clinical psychologist, parent educator and school consultant.

Still, the therapist says that the older a child is, the
more likely he or she is to adjust to living away at camp. Having an older
sibling at camp or going with a friend can also make the transition easier.

After spending several summers at day camp in Malibu, as
well as frequently sleeping over at friends’ houses, Andie Natis of Mission
Viejo knew her daughter Blaine, 14, was ready to attend overnight camp.

“She’d been ready for years, but I just didn’t have the
money,” said Natis, whose daughter attended Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu for the
first time last summer.

“I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know anyone else
going, but I met people on the first day,” said Blaine, who will return to the
camp for a second summer this year. “In the end, I made lots of best friends
and had the time of my life.”

Blaine was so enthusiastic about the camp that her younger
sister, Brooke, 12, decided to go with her this summer.

Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute — Camp
& Conference Center said that most campers tend to make the switch to
overnight camp in fifth or sixth grade.

To ease the transition, Camp JCA Shalom offers minicamp programs,
which usually appeal to first- through fourth-graders. In these short sessions,
campers stay for five days. The hope is that the exposure will prepare them for
a longer camp session down the road. JCA Shalom also offers weekend camp
programs during the fall and spring.

“We find that it’s a great way for kids to transition
without committing for a one-week or two-week session,” said Kaplan, who added
that most weekend campers sign up for longer sessions or they realize that they
are not ready for overnight camp just yet.

Zach Lasker, assistant director of Camp Ramah, believes that
the experience of settling in depends on the child.

“There are kids who are loving it from the time they get
here, kids who take a few days to transition and kids who struggle throughout
the session,” Lasker said. “As an educator, I see more growth from the kids who
struggle and end up making it and finding out what they’re capable of.”

Berlin is anticipating that her daughter will struggle with
a bit of homesickness during her time at camp.

“I would be very surprised if she wasn’t homesick at all,”
Berlin said. “I think it’s just getting to the other side of missing the
comforts of home, being able to comfort herself and knowing it’s OK.”

Lasker noted that the summer separation can be just as hard
on parents as it is on campers.

“One mom said to me, ‘My daughter wants to go to camp for
four weeks and she thinks she’s ready, but I don’t know if I am,'” Lasker
recalled. “We talked about what the camp involves and handling the separation
from her daughter.”

Still, not every child is suited for residential camp.

“There are few kids where camp is a bit overwhelming for
them and it gets to the point where it’s not the right match and we might have
a camper who goes home early,” Lasker said.

Kaplan advised parents not to give their children the option
of coming home.

“For a child to transition, he or she needs time,” said the
administrator. “Camp JCA Shalom starts on a Tuesday. If the child doesn’t [feel
better] by Shabbat, we’ll contact the parents.”

In the meantime, Kaplan advises concerned parents to send
their children care-packages and letters reassuring them that they will have a
great time.

While Berlin is nervous about Jacqueline’s first summer away
from home, she is still confident that it will be a positive experience.

“I think she’s ready for a change,” Berlin said. “I think
she will feel a certain sense of accomplishment if she goes and has a good
time.” Â

Israel Fest Expands Celebration Borders


UCLA Hillel special events coordinator Guy Kochlani was born in Tel Aviv, but he was never actively involved in supporting Israel — until the day three years ago when a group of Palestinian students interrupted the Yom HaAtzmaut celebration on campus.

"I couldn’t believe it — these 15 guys dressed in black militia garb came storming across campus, shouting and carrying signs reading, ‘You Nazis, You killers!’" Kochlani recalled. "It didn’t stop the other [Jewish] students, they just kept on dancing, but it stopped me cold. That was my breaking point."

Kochlani is one of the planners of this year’s Israel Independence Day Celebration Festival to be held Sunday, May 11 in Woodley Park in Encino. In the three years since the incident on campus, he has co-founded two groups for Israeli college students — Bruinpac, which became Bruins for Israel, and the social group Israelis Biyachad — and was chair of the 55th Israel Independence Day Block Party at UCLA held May 7. He also joined the board of both the Israeli Festival’s planning committee and the Council for Israel Community, a local political action group that seeks to promote positive images of Israel in the media.

Kochlani, 23, hopes the Israeli Festival will attract more young people. Last year, he helped institute a teen stage (which will also appear at this year’s event) featuring popular Israeli DJs cranking out a variety of music, from house and hip hop to Israeli pop. This year, he will direct the festival’s fashion show on the main stage at 3 p.m.

The all-day festival commemorates Israel’s 55th Independence Day and includes activities for all ages. There will be a children’s village featuring rides, an arts-and-crafts area and a petting zoo, along with live musical performances and magic shows. An Israeli Pavilion, sponsored by the Israeli Consulate, will showcase music and art from across Jewish culture. Visitors can indulge in a variety of ethnic food, such as schwarma, falafel and kabobs, or stroll through the marketplace for Israeli artwork, jewelry and Judaica.

Dignitaries participating in this year’s ceremony will include Gov. Gray Davis, Reps. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) and Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Yuval Rotem and Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.

During the ceremony, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky will be honored as a "distinguished friend of the Israeli community."

This is the festival’s third year in Encino, where it moved after many years at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles. The festival usually attracts around 40,000 people, said organizers, who expect even larger crowds this year.

Festival chair Itzik Glazer said that this year’s festival has expanded to include nearby Lake Balboa Park area, as well as Woodley Park, increasing vendor space and parking. The number of vendors for 2003 has more than doubled, from 120 last year to 250 this year, spurring festival organizers to create an "Israel street" market area. Security for the event was also revamped, Glazer said.

"The private company working for us will have more people on staff," he said. "All of the park will be fenced, and because we’re busing people from the Lake Balboa parking lot [to the main festival area], on each bus there will be a security guard. We also worked with the police [the West Valley Division of the Los Angeles Police Department], so there will be more security people inside and more police outside."

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel, who is honorary chair of the Israeli Festival, said a demonstration in support of Israel is more important now than ever.

"This is an opportunity for the residents of the second-largest Jewish community in the country to come out in force, to show that we stand strongly with Israel at this critical time," Fishel said.

Kochlani agreed that the State of Israel needs a powerful demonstration of support from Angelenos, and he hoped that people along the political spectrum can put their feelings about the road map aside for the sake of the festival.

"Any event you do for Israel, politics are included — it just comes with the package," Kochlani said. "But we’re trying to keep the event in the center, so both sides can enjoy it."

The Israel Festival will take place Sunday, May 11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Woodley Park, corner of Victory Boulevard and Woodley Avenue in Encino. Admission is $3 per person and parking is free. For more information, call (818) 757-0123 or visit www.israelfestival.com.

A Wish Is Granted


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Jewish
Family Service (JFS) have received the first federally funded grant in California
for so-called naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), places where
a majority of the population is over 55.

JFS, which collaborated with the Federation in a year-long
lobbying effort to land the money, will use the $500,000 to provide support
services to clusters of seniors living in the Fairfax area and West Hollywood.

“This is a significant victory for the community, especially
in these tough economic times,” said Paul Castro, JFS executive director.

As their physical and mental capabilities diminish, many
seniors living at home must grapple with myriad problems, ranging from balancing
their checkbooks to flipping their mattresses to finding a ride to the
supermarket.

Often to frail to adequately take care of themselves, they
nonetheless continue living in their homes after the children leave for fear of
losing their independence and ending up in nursing homes. Even healthy seniors
generally prefer staying among friends in their old neighborhoods as long as
possible.

NORCs have cropped up around the country, with an estimated
5,000 now dotting the U.S. As the population grays — an estimated 75 million
Americans will be over 55 in 2010 — the number of NORCs is expected to jump,
said Andrew Kochera, senior policy advisor at AARP in Washington.

To better provide services for the people residing in them,
the federal government has awarded 18 grants worth nearly $10 million to 15
Jewish Federations in the past seven months. And in late February, The Jewish
Federation of Greater Los Angeles and JFS were awarded their grant.

“This is really the wave of the future for senior care,”
said Jessica Toledano, the Federation’s director of government relations.
“There’s a huge need for this.”

JFS, which the Federation partially funds, will spend the
grant money to improve the lives of local seniors. JFS plans to identify what
seniors might most benefit from NORC support services and then begin providing
them within six months, said Castro, agency executive director. Programs under
consideration include home-delivered meals, transportation to and from doctor
offices and grocery stores and taxi vouchers.

All seniors living in JFS-designated NORCs in the Fairfax
area and West Hollywood, regardless of income levels, would qualify for support
services.

JFS has a proven record of providing vital services to needy
seniors, said Perri Sloane Goodman, director of state programs for the agency.
The Multipurpose Senior Services Program has, since 1980, provided frail,
indigent elderly men and women with an array of services ranging from taxi
vouchers to home-meal preparation to keep them out of nursing homes.

A growing number of politicians favor funding NORC support
services partly because of economics, said Diana Aviv, vice president for
public policy at the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group for
the nation’s federations. She estimates that nursing home care costs $55,000
annually per person, while senior housing with special services is $20,000. By
contrast, NORC support services cost about $5,000, Aviv said.

One of the reasons why the UJC has become involved in
seeking funding for NORCs is because of demographic trends in the Jewish
community. Whereas 11 percent of the general population is 65 or older, 19
percent of Jews are, Aviv said.

UJC will continue going after NORC funding “as long as our
communities are interested in it,” she added.

Funding for NORCs dates back nearly two decades, although
federal support is still relatively recent and small.

The first support services for NORCs began in New York City
in 1986. Less than a decade later, in 1994, the New York State Legislature
supported 14 NORC programs. Five years later, the City Council in New York City
allocated millions of dollars to expand the program.

In the Big Apple, services for the elderly inhabiting NORCs
ranged from social worker home visits to cat sitting and plant watering for
wealthy seniors near Lincoln Center, said Fredda Vladeck, director of the
United Hospital Fund’s Aging in Place Initiative.

Last August, the federal government got into the act by
allocating $3.7 million to five Jewish federations, including Baltimore,
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Seven months later, the government awarded 13
grants totaling almost $6 million, including the stipend to Los Angeles.

Each federation receiving federal funds individually lobbied
legislators for money. Among others, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif), Sen.
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Van Nuys) and Rep. Howard Berman
(D-Los Angeles) championed local NORC funding, the Federation’s Toledano said.
The Boston, New York and Richmond, Va. Federations all failed in their bids to
land NORC money. 

The Consumer


Ancient Greek democracy created the “citizen.” Renaissance
Europe invented the “gentleman.” Colonial America produced the
“frontiersman.” Each human civilization, it seems, fashions
its own unique character type. And ours is no exception. Contemporary America
has spawned the “consumer.”

The consumer is a character type unique in human history.
The Greek citizen saw himself as an inseparable part of an organic community.
The European gentleman conceived of himself in terms of a code of obligations —
chivalry and noblesse oblige — that bound him to others. The frontiersman, a
loner in human community, felt himself an integral part of a natural
environment. By contrast, the consumer seeks absolute independence. He is
sovereign, complete unto himself, and in need of no one. No unfulfilled
existential need motivates him. The consumer engages the world only as a source
of stimulation and satisfaction. To protect his sovereignty, he presses every
encounter into the form and shape of a commercial transaction so it can be
easily controlled. Ever notice how the newspaper’s personal ads and the
classified ads are almost interchangeable? “Clean, quiet, reliable. Sleek
exterior. Warm interior. Runs great. Low maintenance. A steal at this price!”
Even the most personal becomes a matter of barter and trade. 

Henry James called America a “hotel culture.” A hotel —
where you eat and sleep, but never fully unpack and move in. You never set down
roots. You never really own the place. You can mess up your room knowing that
while you’re out, someone else will come and straighten up. You care nothing
for the people who live next door for soon you’ll be checking out and moving
on.  So, too, the consumer joins, but never belongs. Never will he allow the
obligations that come with relationships, values or community to compromise his
sovereignty. He has no attachments, only a series of limited-liability
partnerships.

In politics, for example, he has no deeply held convictions,
visions or loyalties. He asks only what his country can do for him. Candidates
are sold to him on television alongside soap and aspirin, and with the same
claims: New and Improved! Brighter and Cleaner! Quicker Relief! He doesn’t want
to be too deeply involved. The causes of the day, the problems of society, the
issues of civic life are not his personal concerns. He allows nothing to claim
him. 

Even in religious life, he is a consumer of services. He may
contribute but resists commitment.

He’s a member of the synagogue. He’s also a member of AAA,
Blockbuster Video, Blue Cross and Bally Total Fitness. And he has same
arrangement with them all: He pays his dues, drops off his kids, visits
occasionally, but wants and expects little else.  In a moment of crisis, he’ll
call for Emergency Roadside Judaism. Otherwise, he keeps his distance.

It works. In a culture so saturated with entertainment,
diversion and distraction, the consumer can always find something else to
occupy his time and make life pleasant. It works — until one of those life
moments arrives when all is called into question. And then the consumer finds
he’s truly bereft. He hasn’t the resources to construct a sense of personal
meaning. He hasn’t a community to offer support, nor the intimacy of a good
friend willing to listen. He hasn’t access to eternity, to deeper values, to a
larger narrative that would provide context and purpose for his struggle.
Having allowed nothing to claim him, he has nothing to stake his life upon.

“Let them make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among
them,” we are commanded in this week’s Torah portion (Exodus 25:8). An awesome
responsibility: Build a place for God in this world. A remarkable opportunity:
Create the conditions for Eternity to be present among us. But this is no
casual weekend project. We are commanded to bring our best — the best of our
hands, hearts and minds; the best of our resources. A sense of life’s meaning
isn’t a consumer product. The assurance of life’s purpose cannot be purchased
or rented. No infomercial can sell them. They are fashioned out of the gifts we
bring in response to the claim we feel upon us, the claim of a covenantal
community that asks us to share in the work of making a place for God in the
world. They are available only when one is prepared to donate the entirety of
the self. Greece had its citizen, Europe its gentleman, America, its consumer.
The Torah projects the character of the tzadik (righteous person).  

Better Future Tied to Secession


For decades, hard-working, committed citizens have been struggling to break the Valley free from remote politicians and uncaring bureaucrats, whose interests are focused on downtown interests with downtown influence. If we are successful, Valley independence will provide a more representative and more accountable government for all Los Angeles residents.

Declines in public safety, after-school programs, health care, education, transportation and the loss of middle-class jobs have contributed to the Valley’s sinking quality of life. Valley leaders have been trying in vain to get the attention of the downtown interests for many of these local problems.

Throughout the East San Fernando Valley, there are unpaved and unlighted streets. Crime throughout Los Angeles is increasing and murders in the Valley have increased 80 percent. In the northwest Valley’s Devonshire Division, as few as nine police cars patrol at night, with only 14 cars covering the peak activity periods.

Valley residents know that some areas of Los Angeles have nearly twice as many officers assigned to them per thousand residents. This inadequate deployment explains why police response times to emergency calls in the Valley are 18 percent slower than in the City of Los Angeles as a whole. Indeed, in many neighboring cities, police response times to emergency calls are nearly half those experienced in the Valley.

Roads and public safety are not the only examples of misplaced priorities and bureaucratic bloat. The Local Agency Formation Commission report proving the financial health of an independent Valley city and the remaining part of Los Angeles confirms that the city currently spends $1,350 per resident per year, about $250 more than the average amount spent by Phoenix, San Diego and other cities the size of the proposed Valley city.

That extra $250 per person a year is bureaucratic fat that could be eliminated with a modest amount of municipal belt-tightening. Such fiscal discipline would save about $350 million for the Valley city and could save $575 million for the remaining part of Los Angeles.

Numerous academic studies prove that budget bloat is merely a function of government size. Economists call it "diseconomies of scale." By reducing the size of government agencies, they become more efficient and better spend their resources to meet local needs.

This would be especially true if the new Valley city adopts a small, locally accountable borough system as part of its municipal charter. But if the downtown interests defeat Valley independence, there will be no real fiscal reform for any part of the city. They will see the defeat of Valley independence as validation of business as usual.

Until just recently, our voices have been drowned out by the din of continuing controversy and neglect of misplaced priorities. After ignoring the Valley’s needs for years, the downtown power brokers have finally realized that we’re serious about making real change. So, finally, they’re telling us what they think we want to hear. They’re making us promises, saying anything they can to keep us from leaving.

Now, the downtown interests are spreading fear and sowing doubt. Their focus is on generating fear — telling us "the sky is falling" — protecting their bureaucracies, maintaining their own power and preserving the status quo. But we know better. They can’t make up for decades of neglect with a few months of political rhetoric. We can see through their smoke and mirrors.

We know that a new San Fernando Valley city will work financially and be more efficient and effective than the sprawling megalopolis of Los Angeles. And we know we can put in place a local government that will be more responsive and accountable to the people of the San Fernando Valley. We know that there will be better opportunities for public participation in two smaller cities.

When Los Angeles voters take the time to study the Valley independence issue, they will find solid evidence that Valley independence provides opportunities for a better future in both the Valley and the rest of Los Angeles. About 40 percent of the Valley’s population is Latino, giving Latino leaders an unparalleled opportunity to represent their community, develop their skills and move up the political ladder.

For residents in the remaining parts of Los Angeles, Valley independence would allow elected officials to focus on settling the persistent turmoil and meeting the many needs of a growing population. With Valley leaders taking care of Valley problems, there will be more time, energy and resources to address the crime, transportation, economic development, environmental and quality-of-life issues that continue to plague the rest of Los Angeles.

Valley independence is all about accountability, local control, self-determination and opportunity for a better future for all Los Angeles residents and their families. Jewish voters understand these important principles.

All Los Angeles residents deserve a government that’s accountable, a government that’s efficient, a government that’s responsive to their needs and supports a better quality of life. Valley independence is the catalyst for that overdue change.

Independence Day


Nothing could dampen their spirits. On Saturday morning, July 27, a small band of San Fernando Valley secessionists gathered at a park in Van Nuys to sign a declaration of independence from the city of Los Angeles. In the middle of the historic moment, as leaders of the secession movement and candidates for office in the proposed Valley city crowded toward the podium to sign the petition, the park’s sprinklers went off, sending politicians and camera crews running for cover.

Secessionists dubbed it yet another example of the city’s incompetence when it comes to running the Valley. Some even joked that it was a conspiracy against Valley independence.

"Look at this. They’re running the sprinklers in the middle of the day," remarked one secession supporter, using her red, white and blue Valley-cityhood sign to shield herself from the spray. "That says something about why we’re here."

Although the event was performed tongue-in-cheek, in signing the declaration, secessionists said they hoped to make the point that a separation between Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley is inevitable.

"All cities are not created equal," declared Jeff Brain, president of Valley VOTE. "Some cities provide their residents with the services and the quality of life they deserve. Others hinder the well-being of their residents, interfere with their dreams and sap their opportunities.

"Present-day Los Angeles is a city that has failed to keep pace with the times, failed to bring people together, failed to help its residents achieve their dreams. We believe the time has come to form an independent Valley city and control our own destiny," Brain said.

The event, which drew about 150 people, attracted a group of candidates for the proposed Valley city. Only a handful have held office or worked in government.

Paula Boland served in the state Assembly from 1991 to 1996, Terry Stone was field deputy for former City Councilman Joel Wachs and Scott Svonkin is currently chief of staff for Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood). They are running for the Valley’s 3rd District (Northridge, Chatsworth), 10th District (Van Nuys, Encino) and 14th District (Sherman Oaks, Studio City), respectively.

Some of the other candidates have made prior bids for public office: Dr. Sid Gold, assistant chief of psychiatry for Kaiser Permanente’s Valley service area, lost a congressional race against Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) in 2000, but is now running for the Valley district covering Granada Hills. Victor Viereck, an accountant who served on the city’s Affordable Housing Committee, ran an unsuccessful campaign against Jack Weiss for the 5th District City Council seat last year. He is running for the Valley’s 12th District seat covering North Hollywood.

The typical candidate, however, is more like broadcast consultant Barry Seybert, an entrepreneur making his first run for office. Seybert, a candidate for the 8th District (Woodland Hills, West Hills), has served on Los Angeles’ Bicycle Advisory Committee for 10 years and on the newly created Neighborhood Council in West Hills for the past year.

"I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, and back there every city has its own city council, its own police, its own everything," Seybert said. "It is so well run. You see police driving around, so when something happens, they are there within minutes.

"Out here, for the West Hills area, the Police Department is in Reseda," he continued. "We need [another] police department in Woodland Hills to serve the West Valley."

Seybert, Gold and other Jewish candidates acknowledged that they have a long fight ahead, especially when it comes to convincing the Jewish community to vote in favor of secession. (A number of prominent rabbis have come out strongly against secession, including Rabbi Mark Diamond of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, who was part of a task force to examine the issue. To date, no Los Angeles-based rabbi has publicly lent support to the secessionists’ side.)

"We need to educate people," Gold said. "A lot of the rabbis don’t understand what’s going on, and a number of them have come out against cityhood. They look at it as a loss of services, but in truth, with the new city, there will be more services and more protection for the Jewish community.

"In a new city, we’d have more police and a much better response time," he said. "For our community, that should be the major focus of cityhood and the value of [secession]."

Silver Lining for Silverlake


At the onset of 2002, it looked like curtains for the Silverlake-Los Feliz Jewish Community Center (JCC). The JCC, located at Sunset Boulevard and Bates Avenue, was one of five sites originally slated to be shut down and sold so that parent organization Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) could repay a $3 million debt.

Seven months later, the Silverlake center will have much to celebrate during its community-wide party on July 28. Renamed the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (SIJCC), the center is still standing, still open for business, and, as its new moniker suggests, the JCC is severing ties with JCCGLA — with the JCCGLA’s help.

Silverlake’s move toward independence is part of the ongoing rearrangement of the JCC network since a financial crisis last summer spurred a dispute between JCCGLA and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and threatened to shut down many of the facilities. But how Silverlake’s move will affect other JCCs — if they will also choose to go independent — is yet to be seen.

JCCGLA President Nina Lieberman Giladi told The Journal that it is premature to predict the shape that the centers will take in the future. "Everything that we have done since we inherited and tried to manage this crisis is unprecedented," she said.

"The JCC leadership and the Federation leadership are now looking for broader solutions in terms of the long term solutions of JCC services in L.A.," said Federation President John Fishel. "The spirit is positive, anger has dissipated and everyone’s working to find solutions.”

In Silverlake, "It’s been a roller coaster ride these past six months," said Janie Schulman, chair of SIJCC’s 13-member board of directors, who spearheaded efforts to save Silverlake’s JCC. Since the JCCGLA crisis was first made public in late 2001, Silverlake’s members galvanized to marshal political and financial support to save their institution. By February, action committees formed to develop a viable business plan to keep their center alive. They created a nonprofit group called Friends of the Silverlake-Los Feliz JCC to facilitate these efforts.

Today, the center is in the process of forming a new independent 501(c)(3) entity, using the nursery school and kindergarten early childhood education (ECE) programs as its primary service. JCCGLA is assisting the nascent SIJCC make the transition by letting members use the building rent-free until summer of 2003, when the organization will sell the property. This gives members, who have organized into various committees, nearly a year to find a new building.

"They’ve been very cooperative," Schulman said of JCCGLA, which technically still operates the SIJCC until the nonprofit status is finalized. To ease continuity, SIJCC has incorporated the phrase "Jewish Community Center" — not a registered trademark of JCCs of North America — into its name.

In addition to JCCGLA’s support, Schulman said that The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has provided the center with a $55,000 contingency cushion, to be used in case of a sudden drop in enrollment, need for repairs or other emergency.

"I am very pleased by how the numbers look," Schulman said. "We are making a real effort to be fiscally responsible and making sure we don’t have a hole in the middle of the school year."

Such potential snags have not deterred parents from committing children to SIJCC’s schools. Nearly 60 kids have enrolled.

"The irony was that the original plan was to close us down because there was no Jewish community on the east side of Los Angeles," Schulman said. "Now we might have a waiting list."

JCCGLA’s crisis was not the first time that the Silverlake center has experienced hardships. In fact, the center was born from turbulence, opening its doors in 1936 as the Hollywood-Los Feliz JCC after area Jews experienced anti-Semitism.

An early 1970s joint review by the institutions that are now JCCGLA and The Federation identified demographic, membership and financial redundancies. The center had 841 members — an enviable tally by today’s standards. Nevertheless, funding was eliminated in 1976 for Hollywood-Los Feliz JCC, which was on the brink of closure until community activists pressured the organizations to reverse their decision.

For now, SIJCC will concentrate on rebuilding step by step into a full-service community center.

"There is a definite need in our area," said SIJCC Director Ruthie Shavit, who emphasized how important the center is to Jewish and interfaith families alike. "If the center was not here, many people would not seek a synagogue."

Israel in the Valley


So 40,000 people can’t be wrong, right? That’s how many people are expected to attend next week’s 53rd Annual Israel Independence Day Festival. KRLA’s Dennis Prager will emcee the festival’s official ceremony, and special guests will include Israeli Minister of Transportation Ephraim Sneh (official representative of the Israeli government) and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. Yoram Gutman returns as festival director.

Location, location, location — ostensibly, that’s the big difference between this year’s Valley-based festival, previously held at Pan Pacific Park. Due to area construction, the festival will be held at Woodley Park in Van Nuys this year.

But according to festival organizers, there is another factor distinguishing this year’s event: a focus on the next generation of the Jewish community. For the first time, the festival will offer the Teen Tent Schmooze, where teenagers can congregate and meet with Tel Aviv high schoolers who will be performing on stage. There will also be an area for singles in their 20’s and 30’s, complete with DJ’s spinning records.

And don’t forget to drop by the Journal’s booth. A festival sponsor, the Journal will offer an art contest and prize raffle.

As in previous years, the festival will feature a variety of children’s entertainment and rides, an artists’ pavilion, food kiosks, youth activities and sky divers. A “Heritage Pavilion,” sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel, will feature a display called “Changes” that will chronicle the timeline of Israel’s growth and development through pictures. Among the entertainers taking to the stage this year: Yaffa Yarkoni, Shimi Tavori and Eddie Grimberg & His Orchestra.

While the big idea here is to have fun, Israeli-style, festival chair Chaim Linder told The Journal that for the organizers, there is a deeper subtext beneath the mirth.

“We really want to show the support of Jewish community of L.A. to Israel, especially today when Israel is in such a bind,” said Linder. “We view this as our main mission.”

The 53rd Annual Israel Independence Day Festival will take place Sun., April 29, 10 a.m -6 p.m at Woodley Park, Woodley Avenue, between Burbank and Victory, Van Nuys. Admission is free, parking $7. For more information or to volunteer, call (818) 757-0123 or (800) 644-9505, or go to www.israelfestival.com

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From Best Boy to Best Man


Filmmaker Ira Wohl


Two decades ago, filmmaker Ira Wohl sat at the Passover table andthought about his cousin, Philly. For his first 50 years, thedevelopmentally disabled Philly had lived at home with his parents inQueens, never venturing into the world. Wohl now wondered how Phillywould survive once his ailing parents were gone.

Thus begins a family journey that Wohl chronicles in tworemarkable documentaries, the Academy Award-winning “Best Boy” (1979)and the newly released “Best Man,” tracing Philly’s move towardindependence, toward leaving home at last. “Best Man” will screen atLaemmle Theatres’ Cinema Judaica ’97: The Los Angeles Jewish FilmFestival this month.

In both, the story is told in a series of poignant vignettes,small scenes of everyday life that are somehow universal. As “BestBoy” opens, Philly appears slovenly, slump-shouldered while his mute,pained, elderly father shaves him in the tiny kitchen. Philly oncelived in an institution, we learn, until his parents found out aboutthe beatings. By midlife, he is happy, ebullient as he plays with hisfloppy doll or sings gibberish to “Fiddler on the Roof.”

His transformation is best described in glimpses: Philly joyouslybounding to the corner store for ice cream all by himself, orexcitedly hopping the bus for his first day of school, while hismother, Pearl, asks, “You don’t want to stay home with Mommy nomore?”

When father Max finally dies, it is Wohl who gently insists thatPhilly must move to a group home while Pearl is still alive tosupport him. Eight months after he moves in, she dies, we learn in atag line.

Yet Pearl lived long enough to hear the cheers from the viewers atscreenings; and “Best Boy” made Wohl a star. Suddenly, he washobnobbing with Richard Gere and Sidney Lumet, and the Hollywoodproducers had come calling.

Philly, on the occasion of his bar mitzvah.

It was a far cry from his humble beginnings in show business,which began on a “semi-slavery basis,” working for, of all people,Orson Welles in the 1960s. Wohl, then around 20, was told that hecould have the job if he smuggled several boxes of Cuban cigars intoSpain for the director. Welles was living in a grand house outsideMadrid, and, with the cigar mission accomplished, Wohl found himselfcutting film day and night in the basement. He was invited upstairsweekly, however, for a three-course lunch and Hollywood gossip.

For Wohl, the aftermath of “Best Boy” was not the classicHollywood happy ending. He grew frustrated and depressed with theless-than-serious-entertainment job offers, and when they stoppedcoming, around 1990, he went back to school to become a socialworker. Perhaps as catharsis, he chose to specialize in issuespertaining to the entertainment industry.

All the while, people would ask what had become of Philly. By June1996, Wohl, who had moved to Los Angeles, was ready to

Celebrating Israel’s Independence


While it may be true that if you ask two Jews a question, you’re likely to get three different opinions, it appears that thousands were in agreement last Sunday: The Israel Independence Day Festival at Hansen Dam was the place to be to celebrate the Jewish State’s 49th birthday. Festival organizers said that attendance reached 10,000 for the daylong event, which featured food, live entertainment, cultural exhibits, picnic areas and a children’s amusement park.

“This was our most organized year ever, from parking to vendors to everything else,” said staffer Haim Linder. “The kids had a great time, the weather was beautiful, and the new Sephardic Pavilion was a success. [Israeli pop singer] Matti Caspi had everybody there until a quarter of 6, even though the day was supposed to end at 5…. It was really a happy, community atmosphere.”

And, as it does every year, the Israeli Flight Club, composed of Israeli pilots now settled in Los Angeles, flew in formation over the festival to salute another year of independence. — Diane Arieff Zaga, Arts Editor n

Israel at 49


Looking for a traditional Israeli way to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzma’ut? Try the annual Israel Independence Day Festival, pictured above, this year on Sunday, May 18, from noon to 5 p.m., at Hansen Dam Park in Sun Valley. The park is sun-drenched, loud pop music sung in Hebrew is blaring, and the scent of Israeli food — grilled meat and spicy falafel, fills the air. Families bring picnic blankets and umbrellas, and there are children’s amusement rides, as well as a stage for performers. This year’s theme is “Celebrating Jewish Unity for Israel,” and the event features a Sephardic Heritage Pavilion. And if you bring some Israelis with you, chances are they will run into friends from their hometown. The event is organized by the Council of Israeli Organizations and the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. It is sponsored by the Jewish Federation Council, AIPAC and Israel Bonds. For more information, call (818) 757-0123.

Yom

Ha’Atzma’ut (Israel Independence Day) Celebrations:

  • * Kol Tikvah celebrates with music and comedy, featuring Herschel Fox, comedian and Jewish storyteller; Aliza Kashi, Israeli singer/entertainer; Tova Morcos, musical director; University of Judaism Concert Singers; hosted by Cantor Caren Glasser, Sun., May 18, 4 p.m., 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.
  • *Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy Day School, Religious School and Nursery School celebrate with a festive Mincha/Maariv service and presentation on the theme of Israel, followed by a community celebration, Mon., May 12, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353.
  • *Temple Isaiah celebrates at its Shabbat service, Fri., May 9, 7:30 p.m., 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772.
  • *Temple Ner Maarav celebrates at its Shabbat service, followed by an Israeli-themed dinner and entertainment by Yosi Levy, Fri., May 9, 6 p.m., 17730 Magnolia Blvd., Encino. RSVP (818) 345-7833.
  • *Temple Ramat Zion’s Sisterhood sponsors a program featuring food, festivities and fun, Mon., May 12, 8 p.m., 17655 Devonshire St., Northridge. (818) 360-1881.
  • *University Synagogue celebrates at its Shabbat family service, led by kindergarten and first-grade classes, Fri., May 16, 7:30 p.m., 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine. (714) 553-3535.