Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Louis Brandeis inspired my work for women’s rights


One hundred years to the day of the nomination of Louis D. Brandeis to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg paid tribute to the first Jewish justice at a program at the university that bears his name.

At Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, on Thursday, Ginsburg, who is Jewish, told a crowd of some 2,200 students, faculty, staff, elected leaders and others that she admired Brandeis for his “craftsmanship, his sense of collegiality and his ability to combine a judicial restraint with the readiness to defend civil rights and liberties.”

Brandeis’ work has influenced Ginsburg’s, both as an advocate for women’s rights and as a judge. Like many others, Ginsburg has been inspired by Brandeis’  groundbreaking approach to constructing fact-based legal briefs – still known in legal circles as the “Brandeis Brief” — that drew on real-world circumstances.

Ginsburg praised Brandeis as being open to changing his views when his “initial judgment was not right.” In the 1880s, for example, he was opposed to women’s suffrage, she pointed out; by the 1910s, he “became an ardent supporter of votes for women.”

Ginsburg’s remarks were part of a panel discussion, “Louis D. Brandeis, the Supreme Court and American Democracy,” moderated by Frederick M. Lawrence, former Brandeis president and senior research scholar at Yale Law School.

The event kicked off a semester-long series that will explore the justice’s legacy on a variety of subjects, including free speech, the right to privacy and American Zionism.

Among the other panelists were Philippa Strum, a Brandeis biographer and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Jeffrey Toobin, a legal journalist, author and New Yorker staff writer.

Brandeis’ nomination in 1916 was fiercely opposed by then-Harvard University President A. Lawrence Lowell, as well as other elites from Boston’s Brahmin circles. Brandeis’s nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on June 5, 1916; he served on the court until 1939.

Since Brandeis’ appointment, seven other Jewish justices have been appointed: Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurther and Arthur Goldberg. Today’s court, in addition to Ginsburg, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, today’s court includes Jewish Justices Stephen Breyer and Elana Kagan.

Polishing jewels of Elul


What is the art of welcoming?

In the eyes of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, it’s his responsibility “to create a better place, foster an open and welcoming city and find the prosperity that lifts us all for generations to come.”

For music legend Quincy Jones, it’s the act of “looking until you find a door of welcoming that’s opening up.”

And for spoken-word artist Andrew Lustig, “It’s when you’re all around a dinner table. / Sitting. / And talking and laughing. / When nobody has their phone on.”

These are excerpts from just three of the contributions featured in this year’s “Jewels of Elul,” a program created by musician Craig Taubman to fulfill the mitzvah of preparatory study during Elul, the month leading up to the High Holy Days.

Taubman has compiled a series of “jewels,” or inspirational anecdotes, focused on a central theme. Now in their ninth year, they come from a wide range of famous and under-the-radar individuals. Past contributors include President Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

“In trying to get inspiration for the High Holy Days, we can look to many different perspectives,” Taubman said. “We live among different types of people, so we can get inspiration from different types of people, too. I try to reach out to a variety of people [in collecting passages for ‘Jewels of Elul’]. They don’t have to be Jewish, as long as they have something to say about that year’s topic.”  

Free daily e-mails, each with a unique jewel, are available by subscribing at letmypeoplesing.com/jewels. They began to be delivered to inboxes around the globe on Aug. 7, and will continue until the first day of Rosh Hashanah, on Sept. 5. A complete collection of 29 jewels is available for purchase in a printed booklet from the same Web site.

Development is under way for a “Jewels of Elul” app, “A Daily Cup of JoE,” which Taubman hopes will be released in the month of September. Inspiration will no longer be limited to the High Holy Days season — the app will serve up daily inspiration year-round, with new jewels added every day of the year, he said.

In previous years, proceeds of  “Jewels of Elul” — the booklets sell for $18 each — have gone to organizations such as Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, Beit T’Shuvah and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. This year, they will benefit Tabuman’s latest project, the Pico Union center.

Located in the building that served as Sinai Temple’s original home more than 100 years ago, Pico Union is an interfaith community center that strives to unite Jews and people of other religions in a variety of ways. Congregations of all faiths are invited to reserve the space for prayer, attend concerts and performances that the center plans to host and learn to cook as a community in the center’s Holy Ground Cafe, a teaching kitchen and full-service cafe. Since its opening earlier this year, Pico Union has been reserved by Korean and Hispanic churches for worship, in addition to several Jewish congregations, Taubman said.

“With Pico Union, we are fulfilling the mitzvah of bringing light unto all nations,” Taubman said. “Pico Union is about being gracious — not only to other Jews, but to humankind.”

This year, Pico Union will host a number of festivities during the High Holy Days. A Selichot service will feature dance, theater, music and spoken-word performances. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, there will be services led by Rabbi David Lazar from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by a lunch catered by Paper or Plastik Cafe, Mama’s Hot Tamales Cafe and Art’s Deli. Later that day, 10 speakers will give their insight on how to start fresh in the New Year. Finally, the center will host a break-the-fast bash at the close of Yom Kippur. The party will feature comedians, mariachi and Israeli bands, and a DJ.

Taubman plans to split his time between the events at Pico Union and services at Sinai Temple, which he has helped to lead for 11 years. He will be at Sinai for erev Rosh Hashanah and the first day of Rosh Hashanah and during day services on Yom Kippur.

In other words, Taubman plans on doing a lot of welcoming in the coming days and weeks.

Dr. David Leo Lieber z”l: To know him was a privilege


A big part of my adult life has involved trying to live up to what Dr. David Leo Lieber expected of me. Trying to emulate his wisdom, his learning, his kindness, knowing all the while that it would be impossible.

It is told in the Book of Kings that the prophet Elijah announced to his disciples that his life would soon be at an end. His principal disciple, Elisha, asked his mentor to bequeath to him a double portion of prophecy. According to Jewish law, a first-born son inherits double the portion of the other sons, so Elisha asked his teacher, Elijah, to grant him double the spiritual portion of the other disciples.

In so many ways, I feel that I was given that double portion by David Lieber. I don’t say this as a matter of hubris but rather as a matter of my good fortune. For 30 years, I worked side by side with him. What a remarkable privilege that was. To be in his presence each day, to listen to him, to learn from him, to love him.

David Lieber was part of a generation of rabbis who were raised in Orthodox homes in which observance was taken for granted but rarely explained. In some ways, his was a religiously rebellious generation. They tended to appreciate Judaism more for its wisdom and values than for its ritual requirements.

Having said this, however, I cannot imagine anyone who was more profoundly spiritual than David Lieber. His spirituality did not have any of the external manifestations that are more common today. Rather, it was apparent in his quiet acceptance of God’s plan for him and for the world.

There are so many things I will remember about David Lieber that I could never hope to recount them all. I quote him often, and I smile whenever I use what I consider to be a “Lieberism.”

One of his favorite sayings was, “You can always tell someone to go to hell later.” Any of us who are prone to occasional flashes of anger can benefit from that bit of wisdom. Lieber used to claim that he borrowed this one from Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin of Stephen S. Wise Temple.

Another phrase he used often actually comes from the Talmud: “Sof ha-kavod lavo.” It’s a little difficult to translate into English. It is similar to “All good things come to those who wait.” But it really says that good things come to those who work hard and don’t try to force things before their proper time.

His most insightful saying is pure, original David Lieber. He often observed to me that human beings can “foresee” things but they cannot “fore-feel” them. In other words, we can often use our intellect to figure out what the future will bring, but we really don’t know how we are going to feel about something until it actually happens to us.

Whatever words of wisdom Lieber had for others, he certainly applied them to himself. He accepted whatever life had to offer, and he was one of those rare individuals who followed the rabbinic dictate: “We are required to bless God’s name when bad things happen, just as we so willingly bless His name when we enjoy the good.”

For years, David Lieber struggled with serious illness. It was not easy for him, but he did so without complaint and with true gratitude for the many productive years that were granted to him.

We all admired Dr. Lieber for his achievements, but that’s not why we loved him. We loved him for who he was as a person and the special position he occupied in each of our lives.

Even the most cynical among us yearns to believe that there is real goodness in this world, but often it’s a challenge to accept. We read about such terrible things, and we regularly encounter people who shake our faith in humanity.

But every so often, if we are very fortunate, we find a person who reminds us that human beings are truly formed in the image of God. We find someone of such extraordinary goodness that we say to ourselves, “This must be what God had in mind when He created the world.”

To know David Lieber was to know kindness. To know David Lieber was to know wisdom. To know David Lieber was to experience a quiet, steadfast faith in God and in the divine potential of all human beings.

And so we loved him. We loved him for who he was. And we loved him for seeing the good in us.

Dr. Robert Wexler is president of the American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism) in Los Angeles.



Dr. David Leo Lieber, rabbi, scholar and president emeritus of the American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism) died Dec. 15 at 83 after a lengthy battle with a lung ailment.

“Rabbi David Lieber was a dear friend,” said Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis of Congregation Valley Beth Shalom. “In every one of his conversations, there was a compassionate and caring soul. He leaves a remarkable legacy, not only in the public arena, in his scholarship and leadership, but in the personal relationship that he had with everyone — colleagues, congregants, students and contributors.”

Born in Poland, Lieber came to the United States at the age of 2. In 1944, he graduated magna cum laude from the College of the City of New York and earned a degree in Hebrew literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS).

In 1948, he was ordained at JTS. He earned his doctorate in Hebrew literature from JTS in 1951. In addition, he completed a master’s and all but dissertation from Columbia University. He pursued post-graduate studies at the University of Washington and at UCLA.

At JTS, Lieber studied under Talmudist Saul Lieberman, Jewish Bible scholar H.L. Ginsberg and philosopher Mordecai Kaplan, whose groundbreaking vision led to the creation of the University of Judaism, which was renamed American Jewish University last year after a merger with Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley.

Following retirement in 1993, after 29 years as AJU president, Lieber continued to teach. He also began focusing on a project he had first proposed in 1969, a new commentary on the Torah. The resulting “Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary” sought to provide laity with a contemporary interpretation of the text and a commentary that embraced both tradition and change, ancient teachings and modern scholarship.

As a young man, Lieber was a leader of Shomer Hadati, the religious Zionist movement that is now B’nai Akiva. An early pioneer in the establishment of the Ramah camps, he was also the founding head counselor in the first of the camps in Wisconsin, a director in Maine and the founding director in California. Furthermore, Lieber was the founding director of Mador, the national training camp for Ramah counselors.

A former spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles (1950-1954), Lieber served as a U.S. Air Force chaplain, and as university chaplain for the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation at both the University of Washington (1954-1955) and Harvard University (1955-1956).

In 1956, when Lieber was appointed dean of students of the nine-year-old University of Judaism, the college was a Hebrew teachers institute, which also offered adult education classes, art exhibits and drama programs. The institution, today replete with an undergraduate college, graduate programs, seminary, think tanks and a large library on a 25-acre campus in Bel Air, was developed with Lieber’s help.

In recognition of his work, Lieber was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters degree, honoris causa, by the Hebrew Union College in 1982 and the Torch of Learning award by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1984. Between 1996 and 1998, he served as the first West Coast president of the International Rabbinical Assembly.

Over the years, Lieber has authored some 50 articles, which appeared in a variety of journals.

Lieber is survived by his wife, Esther; sons, Michael and Danny; daughters, Susie and Debbie; and 11 grandchildren.

A service was held Dec. 18 at American Jewish University. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to the university’s Ostrow Library at American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air, CA 90077.

Authors explain Jewish influences on their works


The Jewish Journal invited writers who will be featured at Sunday’s Festival of Books to answer the simple, essential question that every Jewish writer is often asked: “What Jewish sources — ideas, writings, traditions — inspire you, and how do they show up in your work?”

The following show that there is no easy answer to what defines a Jewish author, but there is no question that there’s much to draw upon within the faith.

Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket)

The Jewish sources that have most affected my work are stories of my father’s family leaving Germany in 1938, for the usual Jewish reasons that one would leave Germany in 1938. And the independence of suffering from redemption — in other words that you’re not rewarded for behaving well, and you shouldn’t behave well because of a possible reward.

These seem to me manifestly Jewish ideas, and it is pretty easy to find them in my work. I’ve written 13 books about terrible things that happen to children who do their best to behave well. This is arguably an encapsulation of Jewish history in its entirety.

Novelist and screenwriter Daniel Handler is perhaps best known for his 13-book children’s series collectively known as “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” penned under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket. Under his own name, Handler has published three novels, “The Basic Eight,” “Watch Your Mouth” and “Adverbs.” An accomplished musician, Handler has played accordion on a number of recordings, including “69 Love Songs” by The Magnetic Fields.

Anita Diamant

Having written six books about Jewish practice — from weddings to birth, from conversion to mourning — it’s pretty clear that I have been inspired by the way Judaism gives expression and shape to the fluid and ineffable cycle of human life. As a journalist and adult Jewish learner, it was a pleasure, as well as a challenge, to translate the wisdom and joy of our tradition into a contemporary idiom.

The other major inspiration I find in Jewish life and letters is our history of debate. The ongoing, sometimes sublime and sometimes silly, argument found in even our most sacred books (Talmud, et. al.) gives me, as a liberal Jew, a sense of belonging to a grand, ongoing and ever-changing wrestling match with the past, with the sacred, with one another.

Anita Diamant is the author of six handbooks of Jewish life and life-cycle events, including, “The New Jewish Wedding” and “Choosing a Jewish Life.” This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of her first novel, “The Red Tent,” based on Chapter 34 in the Book of Genesis, but told from Dinah’s point of view. Her latest novel, “The Last Days of Dogtown,” is set in Massachusetts in the early 1800s and chronicles the lives of a group of society’s cast-offs in a poor, rural community. For more information, visit www.anitadiamant.com.

Kirk Douglas

When I was writing my last book , “Let’s Face It,” Peter, one of my sons, said, “Dad, don’t make it too Jewish.” It’s hard for me to obey him, because being a Jew is, as Cole Porter would say, “Deep in the heart of me.”

The history of the Jews fascinates me. We are only about 13 million in number, way out of proportion to what we have accomplished in life and what we have contributed to the welfare of people in so many areas. I am proud of that. And yet, anti-Semitism grows.

Being a Jew is a challenge. It’s often said, “Schwer zu sein a Yid” (It’s hard to be a Jew). To me, it’s been a challenge that I try to accept gracefully, and it has given me many rewards.

Actor, producer, director and author, Kirk Douglas was born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents in Amsterdam, N.Y. He was a wrestler at St. Lawrence University and worked as a bellhop to put himself through school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Douglas’ books include “Dance With the Devil” (1990); “The Secret” (1992); his autobiography, “The Ragman’s Son” (1988), and “Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning,” which will be published by Thorndike Press in March.

Gina Nahai

The sources that inspire me are the men and women whose lives I try to render in my stories. They’re the people I grew up with or that I grew up hearing about. I watch them now as I did then and describe what I see, hear them, and write what they say. I don’t invent so much as reveal, don’t comment so much as bear witness. I think a writer’s job is to tell the truth as she sees it, and, having done that, be prepared to defend what she has said.

I’m an Iranian Jew, and most of the people I write about are Jews. I don’t pretend to capture an entire history or to portray an entire nation. I don’t believe that’s possible. But I do believe that by telling the truth of an individual’s life — a personal truth — one can arrive at a universal understanding, and this is what I aim for.

Gina Nahai’s novels include “Cry of the Peacock” (1991), “Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith”(1999), “Sunday’s Silence”(2001) and her new novel, “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam/Cage, 2007). A lecturer in the Professional Writing Program at USC, her writings have also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Magazine. Her column appears monthly in The Jewish Journal.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

The most important Jewish inspiration that I have is the Torah, and especially great characters of the Bible. I am moved whenever I read of the kindness of Abraham, the struggles of Jacob, humility of Moses and the daring and commitment of King David and righteousness of Hebrew prophets.

Discovering these great men in the Bible fills my Jewish spirit with passion and inspiration. It is especially moving to learn of those who embody the patriarchs. In my life, a great inspiration was the Lubavitch Rebbe, who lived with the passion to serve my people and spread the word of Judaism to all corners of the world.

Semper Fiber


I am a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, especially of the weight-loss variety. I’ve even been known to renew my vows on a weekly basis. Yet, I have learned
that any drastic promises, such as, “I will never eat another bowl of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream ever again,” never work.

Other sure-fail methods include eating “calorie-controlled” blueberry gelatin and promising that you will only eat three ounces of cold turkey (skinless, of course) for lunch every day. A coworker of mine ate this way until one day she opened her mouth to speak but started to gobble instead.
Last year, I also decided that I would only weigh myself on the summer and winter solstices.

Too-frequent weigh-ins can sabotage any diet efforts, because a woman’s weight is a mysterious, jumpy, undependable thing that does not follow any known laws of nature. Over-weighing would lead to stress. Stress would slow down my metabolism, which was already prone to sleeping in late.

When my scale realized it was being ignored, it had a digital breakdown. Now my husband and sons are perplexed why the scale registers a difference of 15 pounds from a Monday to a Wednesday. Finally, payback time.

This year, I looked for fresh ideas on reducing poundage. Fortunately, I found an article that uncovered facts never before revealed to the American public. For example, did you know that Krispy Kreme Doughnuts are full of saturated fats and sugar? Who knew?

Now that I am aware of this and other startling nutritional data, I don’t dare approach within 100 feet of a Krispy Kreme shop. (Frankly, they deserve a boycott for the spelling alone.) But I am going one better: I am also making a commitment to fiber. This inspiration came from my friend Helen, who went from a pleasingly feminine figure to a lean, mean marathon machine.

Each time I saw her, she had dropped another dress size, her skin glowed more radiantly than ever and the threat of middle-aged wattle under the chin had vanished. When she moved her arms, her biceps flexed insouciantly. Helen looked fantastic. If she didn’t knock it off, I would have no choice but to hate her.

“How have you done this?” I asked, faking wonderment instead of envy.

She took my arm and leaned in close. “It’s all about the fiber,” she said. “You’ve got to try it.”
“No thanks,” I said, holding my hands up in a “stop” gesture. “It may be ecologically friendly, but pure fibers are much too high maintenance for me. I bought a linen dress once, and the dry cleaning alone nearly killed me.”

“Not that fiber,” she said. “I’m talking bran cereal, garbanzo beans and broccoli.”

She whipped a small nutrition bar out of her pocket, where she apparently kept a stash. It was made of flaxseed, apricots and at least 25 percent recycled greeting cards.

“Try this. Fourteen grams of fiber in this little bar,” she said. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she laughed.

It was a strange laugh, perhaps the kind of laugh you get after ingesting too much fiber.

“Great,” I said, dropping the bar into the vast black hole of my purse. “If it works, I’ll ask my doctor for a prescription.”

“Oh, no need,” she said. “These are over-the-counter, even the blueberry. But if you’re really serious about prescription fiber bars, I know where you can order them cheap from Canada.”

And so, desperately trying to become sinewy and taut like Helen, I put my trust in fiber. Scads of fiber. My main food groups became split peas, collard greens and psyllium husks. I tossed soy nuts and lentils on everything, even cereal. One night, I dreamed that I had fallen into an open barrel of barley at the local Whole Foods store. I developed indigestion.

After two weeks of uncompromising fidelity to fiber, I had not lost any weight, but my pantry was four pounds lighter, because I had used up most of the lentils and several cans of kidney and white beans.

Then I saw Helen again, who looked more buff than ever. My indigestion flared up immediately. Probably too many raw red peppers at lunch. Not a good idea.

“What gives?” I demanded. “You claimed that you looked so great because of fiber. I’ve eaten so much fiber I could be the poster child for the National Colon Health Foundation. You must be doing something else. Come on, spill it ”

“I’m working with a personal trainer three times a week,” Helen said. “I’m sure I told you.”

I knew there had to be a catch. Helen’s confession vindicated me. A diet of chickpeas and cantaloupe might get you poster child status for colon health but would not get you on the cover of Brawny Babe magazine. The green stuff of Helen’s success wasn’t only kale, it was cold, hard cash for the trainer.

Since then, I’ve gotten used to my more fibrous diet, but sometimes I pine for hours for an empty calorie. Overall, it’s not really that bad, if you don’t mind indigestion. I can’t afford Helen’s personal trainer, but at least I know the secret of her success. Commitment, self-discipline and money.

Who knew?

Judy Gruen writes the popular “Off My Noodle” column at judygruen.com. Her next book, “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement,” will be published in May.

Rabbi Heschel at 100 — still the voice of God


I had a life-changing experience on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 25th yahrzeit in 1997. After just meeting and befriending Heschel’s daughter and only child, Susannah,
she took me with her to all of the various memorial services happening around New York City in her father’s memory.

I went into the Heschel home and met his relatives — great rebbes and leaders of various Orthodox sects, who, regardless of the fact that their famous family member left Orthodoxy, came to pay their respects and honor his memory.

There was an intense Ma’ariv service at the Heschel School, one in which Susannah taught a Mishnah, a selection of oral law, in honor of her father, using the chanting and pronunciation of another world, another time. The experience swept me back into Eastern Europe, to the Polish village where Heschel came from, to the beit midrash, the study hall, where he emerged as the talmudic and biblical genius he was to become.

I had never felt such depth of prayer, such fervor of learning text, such intensity of emotion; Abraham Joshua Heschel’s spirit was alive in that room.

This past week was Heschel’s yahrzeit, which falls during Parshat Shemot, the beginning of slavery and our fight against Pharaoh, which is also when we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. How appropriate!

Heschel spent the end of his life fighting against injustice, screaming out against the Pharaohs of his day, using his prophetic understanding to try and end the Vietnam War, speak out against poverty and, of course, famously walking with and befriending Dr. King in his fight against racism and for civil rights. From the life of Jacob, the God-wrestler, to the battle against injustice, from Vayechi to Shemot, these are the mountaintops from which Heschel lived his life, combining love of Torah and God with a need for prophetic screaming against the injustices of our world.

Heschel taught that God, Torah, Judaism and one’s whole being are fully interconnected. There is no break among any of these moments in our lives. When we pray, we must give our whole selves over to the experience of connecting with God, the Divine. As Heschel wrote in “Between God and Man”: “One who goes to pray is not intent upon enhancing his storehouse of knowledge; he who performs a ritual does not expect to advance his interests. Sacred deeds are designed to make living compatible with our sense of the ineffable.”

Mitzvot lead us to this kind of life, even as we exist in the secular and material world. We must cultivate an inner sense of connection with the Divine so as to carry it forth in all moments of our lives. This takes work, patience, consistency and inner courage. Every moment with every falling leaf, every passing car, with every unseen sound, with every unseen breath, these are the moments of eternity, holy of holies. If only we can come awake to these moments, then Heschel will live in all of us.

Pathos for God, feeling the pain, sharing the joy, having a relationship — that is what Heschel lived with. There is nothing higher, nothing holier, than community connected in rich and meaningful prayer. It is never a performance, a show for the congregation to watch. It is an experience to partake in and fully contribute to.

Without all of us in it together, the experience is not complete. As Heschel wrote in “Man’s Quest for God”: “The act of prayer is more than a process of the mind and a movement of the lips…. What marks the act of prayer is the decision to enter and face the presence of God. To pray means to expose oneself to God.”

In today’s Jewish experience, we need to recapture the sense of awe and wonder that Heschel professed so often. Prayer must regain its sense of meaning for it to have value for us today. Life must be lived with a sense of the ineffable, which Heschel meant as seeing the great amazement of just being alive.

How many of us wake up each morning and give thanks for the new day? How many of us see the pain of the world around us and call out for justice? How many of us notice the beauty, the glory, the absolute magnificence that exists right here, right in front of us?

Heschel noticed the gnat on a wall, the bud on a tree just before it blooms, the face of the God in the homeless people he passed on the street each day. And, in all of these moments, he understood that there was a God, a Creator and Sustainer, a Life-Supporter and a Guide. We must do the work in this world, that is true, but it is God that offers us the chance to do mitzvot, it is God that smiles when we succeed and it is God that cries when we fail.

We all have the ability to become the prophet, to live with the voice of God in us. On this, Heschel wrote: “The pathos of God is upon him. It moves him. It breaks out in him like a storm in the soul, overwhelming his inner life, his thoughts, feelings, wishes, and hopes. It takes possession of his heart and mind, giving him the courage to act against the world.”

This is the mindset of Heschel, and while we can’t live like this all of the time, ultimately, this is the mindset that can be achieved through prayer, leading to action in our world. If only we commit ourselves to cultivating this sense. We must carry God with us on our journey in life, not just visit God when we come to the synagogue.

In honor of Heschel’s 100th year, I would encourage you to read, or re-read, something by him. His books have the potential to change your life if you read them with an open heart, an open mind and desire to be truly moved, shaken, uprooted and replanted with different vision, new motivation and a drive to make this world a more holy, special, just place, and to live a life filled with the awe and wonder that we seldom only see in our children. Heschel maintained his sense of wonder throughout his life, and, at the end, he recalled that fact as the most important kernel he had to teach:

“Live your life as a work of art,” he said in his final interview. What more can be said then, “Amen.”

Fran Rosenfield: All About the Children


Fran Rosenfield

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

Fran Rosenfield answers the door of her Northridge home a few moments after the musical doorbell has cycled through its tune. This 79-year-old grandmother was slowed by a recent spinal injury that has rendered her dependent on a cane or walker to get around. But her passion for a cause she championed 15 years ago is going strong.

Inside, her dining room has been transformed into a makeshift shipping department. On the table are wrapped gifts stacked three- and four-boxes deep that are waiting to go to children who are autistic, chronically ill, poor, abused or neglected. Hundreds of gifts were picked up the previous week, and now this batch has to be cleared out to make room for more that will soon arrive.

Welcome to Fran’s Project.

“I do what I do because it’s what I have to do,” said Rosenfield, who is known as Bubbe Fran at Northridge’s Temple Ahavat Shalom. “I can’t stand the thought that anywhere there is a child who is hungry or doing without.”

Her inspiration for the project came from the Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker Program, which she helped a fellow congregant pitch to the Valley Interfaith Council in 1991.

“These caseworkers are overloaded, and they can’t keep track of everything,” she said.

Rosenfield started out collecting donations for one caseworker from the Department of Children and Family Service, and found she was so successful at motivating people to give that she adopted another caseworker a year later.

Before long the former personnel manager had adopted the entire North Hollywood office.

“You hear stories, like a mother and two kids who are living in a garage on $325 a month or a family whose gas was turned off,” she said. “How can you not want to help these people?”

For Rosenfield, the only December dilemma has been how to collect more gifts than the previous year. This former sisterhood president collected more than 1,000 gifts in 2005, which she donated to four different agencies, including Family Friends, a project of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. For 2006, she added Jay Nolan Autistic Services to her roster of groups that receive her gifts.

Every morning in the run-up to Christmas, Rosenfield gets on the computer and phone with her list of names and uses her “Jewish mother guilt like crazy, honey.”

The gifts donated to her program from synagogue members and others range in price from $20 to $100, and include toys, clothing, grocery scrip and gas cards. Rosenfield was hoping to break her 2005 record by collecting between 1,500 to 2,000 gifts to put under children’s trees.

Born in Minnesota, Rosenfield moved with her husband, Lenn, to Panorama City in 1950.

“We didn’t even have a phone for the first three years,” said her husband, a former advertising art director who designs the annual posters for Fran’s Project.

Rosenfield’s efforts reflect a family tradition of responding to a crisis. After Hitler came to power, her father rented a home in Minneapolis, declared it a synagogue and brought one or two family members over at a time to serve as its rabbi or cantor. Her father would then find work for the newly arrived relative and put in another request to fill the empty leadership position.

Building on her success with Fran’s Project, Rosenfield recently started a birthday twinning program at Temple Ahavat Shalom. A Hebrew school student is paired up with a child in need whose birthday is on or near the same day, and she provides them with a gift suggestion list.

“I tell them that there are kids who are not as lucky as they are whose parents can’t afford to give them birthday parties and gifts,” said Rosenfield, who serves as the synagogue’s social action chair.

While Rosenfield says she doesn’t know what drives her to do what she does, she counts herself as one of the luckiest people in the world.

“How many people can feel that they’ve made a difference in a child’s life, and then do that by thousands?” she said.

Six self-help books seek to help you get sealed in the Book of Life


In these days of asking tough questions, taking stock, revisiting memories and trying to do better in 5767, books are essential tools. Several new works from different disciplines and traditions, some of which don’t mention the words Days of Awe, lend new meaning to the holidays — on caring for orphans, baking bread, deepening celebrations, understanding forgiveness, practicing kindness, exploring traditional liturgy and rituals.

 

Skateboard Creator Builds Business on Performance


Don Tashman doesn’t look like a skater boy, not with his scraggly, brown hair and three-day-old unshaven stubble that’s yet to materialize into a beard.

This religious boy from Beverlywood doesn’t even look like a surfer boy — which he is, as these things usually go hand in hand, along with snowboarding. Tashman certainly doesn’t look like the creator and owner of Loaded Boards and Pigeons Inc., the hip skateboarding company that has brought performance boards back to the industry.

No, 31-year-old Tashman doesn’t look like a dude, not with his short-sleeved, button-down shirt, untucked over loose, brandless blue jeans, but that’s OK, because his co-workers do. The long, lean, sun-kissed blond boys stack skateboards according to styles (Fish, Hammerhead, Pintail, Vanguard) or sit on yoga stability balls at computers, looking like they’re playing video games or designing specs — something that makes them almost as happy as riding a board — any board: skate, surf, snow.

Tashman doesn’t need to look the part of the people he designs skateboards for, because he’s got the attitude, for sure — laid back, imperturbable, chill.
These are the qualities that have gotten Loaded a reputation for authenticity in a world clannishly obsessed with it. It’s been four years since he founded the company, and Tashman said he can’t keep up with demand (he declines to give actual figures) and will be forced to move offices soon from mid-Wilshire, where he shares space with his father and brothers, who work in real estate and futures exchange.

Skateboarding runs in the Tashman family, although not on the paternal side. His mother, who also grew up religious, skateboarded when she was a kid. She was sponsored by a local Velcro company. “She took her old roller skates and nailed them to a two-by-four for her first skateboards,” Tashman said. Since he was 3 years old, “she would attach me to my skateboard and pull me down hills and our neighbor’s empty swimming pool,” he said. “She always wanted me to be a cantor, though.”

Tashman didn’t become a cantor. He grew up Orthodox, attended Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YOLA) and then moved to New York to become an English major at Columbia University in 1994.

“I was short-boarding and couldn’t get around,” Tashman said, referring to the shorter boards in vogue then, which were hard to maneuver around the streets of Manhattan. He started developing his own boards for his own use. After he finished college in 1999, he went to study at a yeshiva in Israel. After a few months there, someone convinced him to work as a traveling salesman for an Israeli technology company. He spent a year at that, then, in his wise and quiet way, Tashman cashed out his stock options two weeks before the market crashed in April 2000.

With about $150,000, Tashman spent the next two years developing the boards he’d begun designing at Columbia. Performance was key but so was finding environmentally friendly materials, like bamboo instead of oak.

Tashman said that because he surfed here growing up, he became interested in making the environment better.

“Surfing in L.A. water is to feel the toxicity — people aren’t even aware of it,” he said. Although Tashman’s is a small company, he believes that if other small companies like his and big ones like GE are more environmentally conscious, “I think we can inspire people to be aware of what they consume, what they use and how they can live more sustainable lives.”

In the end, the company created longer, high-performance skateboards, tailored for hills or parks or streets or long distances. The skateboards were unlike the other black-topped, fancy logo boards.

“We had no graphics,” Tashman said. “It was the ride first and foremost. Most boards were driven by graphics, and we wanted to separate ourselves.”

Separate the company he has, with clean, bamboo long boards that appeal to 20- to 40-year-olds, as opposed to the “17-year-old male from the O.C.,” Tashman said. The boards sell for $215 to $300 and are sold in about 350 stores nationwide and have been featured in men’s magazines like FHM and Maxim. Loaded is looking into expanding into apparel as well as snowboards, and the prototypes are laying around the office. But the company will always focus on skateboards, Tashman said.

Now that he has established the company for performance-driven boards, Loaded is adding graphics in the form of a bird — a kite to be precise, a kind of a sparrow drawn sparingly in white and gold on the undercarriage of the Vanguard.
“We’re seeing what we can get away with, and where we can go with it,” Tashman said.

Imagine standing on a high wire, suspended midair and bouncing on it. That’s the experience of being on the Vanguard, a long and flexible skateboard designed for stability. There’s a sensation of coiled-up energy, as if the rider is a spring ready to be sprung, an arrow ready to be shot — loaded, like the company name.
For Tashman and his five full-time employees, the key to the business is having fun.

“Stoke ’em,” is part of the company motto, which, Tashman explains, means, “We’re here to get people excited about the underlying excitement, to promote the visceral experience of the flow.”

The flow.

Some people talk about finding meaning in life, and others talk about religion, but for adrenaline junkies, flow is the buzzword. “There is a spiritual thing [about skateboarding] — the flow, the pure exhilaration of the experience.”
Tashman also finds inspiration in Los Angeles’ Jewish community.

“It’s an exciting time to be Jewish in L.A. Jewish culture seems very vibrant — people are excited about their heritage; it’s starting to filter out from New York, and it’s like it never was when I was growing up.”

Tashman admitted it’s unusual to be a religious skateboarder, but he finds similarities between the two worlds.

“My religiosity has existed synergistically with my skateboarding. The visceral sense of flow, the intense personal engagement and the stoke it has generated and allowed me to pass on are enriching. Skateboarding culture has historically exhibited a strong sense of community. Like Judaism, I find that it promotes personal development and environmental awareness,” he said.

Aren’t they so different, these two separate worlds of Jewish life and skateboarding?

“They go hand in hand — a big part of skateboarding is how you present yourself,” he said. In the skateboarding industry there’s always the question of authenticity, whether you’re a “core” company — the rap equivalent of street cred — or an outsider trying to make a buck.

“I’ve always skirted the issue. If I can make people excited, great; if not, OK, I don’t need to classify myself in a group to achieve that,” Tashman said.
And that’s how he feels about religion. He said he’s “traditional, shomer Shabbat” but doesn’t define himself as Orthodox. “I do the things I find meaning in, and I don’t do things I don’t.”

“Both worlds can be alienating, in that myopic, or xenophobic tendencies, tend to miss the broader universalist picture,” he said. “In my opinion, the need to promote in-group behavior at the expense of creativity and exploration is sad. I can’t really be bothered by those approaches — there’s too much fun to be had.”

‘Sex and the City’ Workout


“You’re joining a gym again?” I laughed. “If you could get back even half the money you’ve spent on gym memberships, you could go to Hawaii!”

“This time it’s different,” my friend said. “I’m joining that new one right by the mall. It’s so convenient, I can’t not go! And I’ll even use my free sessions with the personal trainer. I swear to you I am not throwing my money away this time.”

Where have I heard that before? Gym joiners are a dime a dozen here in fitness-obsessed Los Angeles. And you can’t drive three blocks without seeing some kind of gym or studio. Where I live, every time a new Starbucks pops up so does another gym. But I gave up on gyms long ago.

I joined my first gym while in college. My friends and I signed up for a three-month trial together, intending to rid ourselves of the proverbial freshman 10 — the end result of late-night doughnut runs.

We went religiously for three weeks, and then at least twice a week for three weeks after that, and then once in a while for three more weeks, and then we took a break for finals. After finals, the excuses began: “I have too much studying to do.” “I have a date.” “My sister has my car.” “I need to go shopping.”

We didn’t sign up again when the three months ran out.

Over the years I joined a few more gyms, always with the best intentions. But eventually my motivation to workout just wore out. For every reason there was to go, I had at least three reasons not to.

After I swore off of gym memberships, I decided that I needed to come up with different incentives to get moving. I used my dog. My dog loves to walk, and I love my dog. But dogs tend to stop frequently, and my dog must have been concerned that the female dogs on our block were not aware of his existence. So even though our walks were delightful, it became less of a fitness routine and more of a way for my dog to mark his masculinity.

Although the dog-walk routine didn’t pan out, a bit of canine inspiration led me to a workout regimen that finally worked.

When I next ran into my gym-joining friend, she was sipping a low-fat frap at the Starbucks next door to her new gym.

“Hey! How’s the new workout?” I asked.

“Um, good. The trainer was great, but kind of expensive once the freebees ran out. The locker room is very clean, and the juice bar totally yum,” she said, diverting her eyes and concentrating on the whipped cream oozing up her straw.

“You quit, didn’t you?”

“Not exactly,” she said.

“You stopped going?”

“I just needed a break.”

“I told you so,” I said as I ordered a tall decaf latte.

“OK, so you did,” she said defensively. “And what about you? What are you doing for exercise?”

I raised my eyebrows and smiled coyly. “I invented my own routine. I call it the ‘Sex and the City’ Workout,” I said.

“I’m intrigued,” she said. We took a seat in a quiet corner in the back. “How does it work?”

“Do you remember Pavlov? Well, I now am conditioned just like his dog.”

“You drool?”

“Don’t be silly. I developed a system so that I associate exercise with something I really want. I got an elliptical machine and put it in front of the TV.”

“I bet you hang your dirty clothes on it.”

“I do,” I admitted. “Exercise equipment always turns into a clothesline. Anyway, the trick to my workout is DVDs of ‘Sex and the City.'”

“I don’t get it.”

“I love watching ‘Sex and the City,’ right? Well, I allow myself to watch only if I am on the elliptical. So just like Pavlov’s dog learned to associate the bell with food, I associate exercise with my favorite show. If I want to watch, I have to workout. It’s that simple. I got caught up in season five one night, and when I looked down I had burned more than 3,000 calories.”

“That’s amazing!”

“It’s the best idea I ever had. My regular workout consists of two episodes — first episode on the elliptical and second episode stretching and lifting weights.”

“Wow,” she shook her head. “You do look, uh, pretty fit.”

I showed her my upper arm and allowed her to poke my bicep.

“I’m not only in shape,” I bragged, “I am also the ‘Sex and the City’ trivia game champion. I was the only one in my havurah who knew where Carrie and Miranda bought their cupcakes.” (Magnolia Bakery.)

“So you just watch ‘Sex and the City’ over and over?” she asked.
“When I could recite Carrie’s lines as well as she could, I decided to move on. So I addicted myself to ‘Gilmore Girls,'” I said.

“Ooooh, I love that show!”

“Then ‘The Sopranos,’ ’24,’ ‘Will and Grace’….”

The Hebrascope: Signs of the Jewdiac


Aries (March 21-April 20)

Notable Jewish Aries: Howard Cosell

It’s OK to be in a rut, just sit down, crack open a beer and kick your feet up on the ottoman, but don’t get too comfortable there. When you notice yourself stagnating this week, remember this: as an Aries, you need variety. Your life is best when it looks like the all-you-can-eat salad bar at the Sizzler. Sure, you have your regular salad stuff, but you’ve also got some odd pseudo-Mexican snack foods, frozen yogurt, clam chowder and eight kinds of medically contraindicated salad dressings. Right now, you are eyeballing the salad bar of life without a clue what you want, all of which is making you edgy. This one is so easy. Just pick an activity and dig in. You can always go back for seconds. 

 

Taurus (April 21-May 20)

Notable Jewish Taurus:
Joey Ramone

 

Single Taurus: Get ready. Love is in the stars for you this week. I’m not talking about some blah dinner with a guy from JDate. I’m talking about that magical, dynamic, magnetic connection that only happens once in awhile (and often ends in disaster, but let’s take things one week at a time). For now, get waxed, clean your apartment, wash the car, have your hair blown-out and enjoy the romantic ride. The weekend will be especially potent in the “sensual” arena. On a family note, beware that the value of a possession may cause some strife. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in material things, after all, you’re going to be starring in your own romantic comedy and with any luck it won’t be as cloying and predictable as “Must Love Dogs.”

 

Gemini (May 21 — June 20)

Notable Jewish Gemini: Yasmine Bleeth

I could give you a lot of mumbo jumbo about your solar eighth house of finances being affected this week by planets visiting Capricorn, but Gemini bores easily so just take this in: if you have been needing a bank loan, home refinance or student loan, this is your week. I know, Smarty Pants Twins don’t fancy comparing boring loan rates and such, but why not use your quick mind for something other than shouting out the answers to “Jeopardy” questions? As for work, this is the week that crazy co-worker seems to go off her medication. Just ignore her, because once you react, the mishegoss can be traced right back to you.

 

Cancer (June 21-July 20)

Notable Jewish Cancer:
Neil Simon

When it comes to horoscopes and Cancers, there’s one major catch: you don’t like advice and you bristle at being told what to do. Fortunately, all I have to say this week is DO NOTHING. That’s right — avoid impetuous decisions, last minute trips and dicey business schemes. Don’t even go to the mall to return that tin of popcorn the size of Bill Maher’s head or digital travel clock you can’t figure out how to use. Stay home. Do laundry. Stick to a safe routine after running around socializing so much. Toward the end of the week, remember that if you control the cash in the family, you control the family, and very few people enjoy this if Oprah is to be believed. Trust and love is what Cancer has all around right now. So that’s your mantra. Say it: trust and love.

 

Leo (July 21 — August 21)

Notable Jewish Leo:
Debra Messing

Driving Leos, start your engines. Oh, what’s that? They won’t start. I don’t get it. You took your vehicle to the Jiffy Lube three years ago, what could be the problem? You know all that stuff they tell you to do — besides the oil change you asked for — that you ignored? Well, this is the week to take care of it. No more riding around with warning lights on, or pretending not to notice the fluid dripping under your tires. This is a time for preventive maintenance. As for your own health, if you want to drop a bad habit, this is the perfect time. Maybe you don’t need six packets of Splenda in your coffee or that fourth glass of wine or that sixth macaroon. Drop a bad habit like you used to drop those oil change reminders — right in the trash.

 

Virgo (August 22-September 22)

Notable Jewish Virgo:
Amy Irving

Some group environments are peaceful, say, yoga class. Others are stressful, say, a distant cousin’s bar mitzvah that’s in some horrible far away suburb and features stale rolls and even stiffer conversation. Here’s the thing, this week means any group activity is likely to bring you chaos. You may feel overly sensitive, or the unswerving need to throw a chair, Bobby Knight-style, into a crowd of people. Find your inner Phil Jackson and be diplomatic. What’s the pay-off for all that restraint? You may witness something extraordinary this week, something only an attentive Virgo would appreciate. Keep your eyes open, and your throwing hand closed.

 

Libra (September 23-October 22)

Notable Jewish Libra:
Barbara Walters

Occasionally, your family has so many feuds Richard Dawson would plotz. These are just minor skirmishes, a political discussion that went sour, a call unreturned, an invitation “lost in the mail.” For Libra, this is the week to reconcile with family members. Coincidentally, the stars also say it’s a perfect time to entertain in your home. So there you go, get out your Swiffer, pop some pre-made crab cakes in the oven, light a nice holiday candle someone gave you at the office and make the place comfortable. Once your home looks nice, it’s time to make nice and invite over any relatives you’ve alienated. On the work front, more responsibility may come your way this week. Don’t get all, “That’s not my job.” Just do what you do best, find a solution that suits everyone

 

Scorpio (October 23-November 22)

Notable Jewish Scorpio:
Winona Ryder

You want your partner or spouse to be happy, but does it have to reach perkiness proportions the likes of which are generally reserved for beauty pageants and morning news shows? This week, the enthusiasm level of someone close to you is downright exhausting, especially in your worn-down state. Here’s the thing, recalibrating someone else’s perk-o-meter is impossible and rude, so let it be. Speaking of rude, this is a time for Scorpio to embrace all forms of etiquette. I’m talking about thank-you notes, turning off your cell phone at the movies and speaking to everyone with respect. Friday the 13 happens to be a magical day for you. Dream big. Ask everyone you know their favorite travel destinations and stories and await inspiration.

 

Sagittarius (November 23-December 20)

Notable Jewish Sagittarius: Mandy Patinkin

There are times when your mind seems to function faster, like you’ve just upgraded your cerebral PC and the graphics are so sharp you can’t believe it. This week — there’s just no other way to say it — your thoughts are going to be intense, dude. You will have no trouble influencing people with your ideas and impressing them with your projects. Though your brain is both tenacious and focused right now, beware of one thing: Sagittarius is a great conversationalist, but don’t let it slip into gossip. Oh, and that domineering person in your life … could it be a mother figure? Anyway, you will have to stand up to her midweek. Luckily, your mind is so clear now, it will be no trouble “setting a boundary” rather than being a brat.

 

Capricorn (December 21-January 19)

Notable Jewish Capricorn: Howard Stern

You seem to embrace control more than Janet Jackson. Okay, that was a really old song lyric reference, but you know what I mean. On Tuesday, you will have to relinquish control with the service people in your life, be it the dry cleaner, maid, waitress or even doctor. Let people do their jobs and understand that chaos will creep it from time to time. Know that next week will run more smoothly. On a positive note, this week will bring a one-on-one interaction you won’t forget. Competition or cooperation will arise this week in a big way, but which one depends on you and the situation. After all, there’s a time to sing “Kumbaya” and a time to throw an elbow when the ref isn’t looking.

 

Aquarius (January 20-February 18)

Notable Jewish Aquarius:
Judy Blume

It’s usually annoying when folks throw around phrases like “Go big or go home,” but what can I say? You are going big this week. Big energy. Big changes. You know those times when you just want to stick to your routine, wear your favorite old jeans, watch your usual TV shows, drive the same routes and call the same friends? This isn’t one of those weeks. You are open to any and all new experiences. Oh, and single Aquarians should be happy with that new “something something” you’ve got going. Even if it’s just a mild flirtation, attraction and desire are strong this week. If an ex comes into the picture, crop him or her right out.

 

Pisces (February 19-March 20)

Notable Jewish Pisces:
Philip Roth

Don’t dole out warmth and affection like they give out slices of frozen pizza samples at Costco. I’m saying, don’t just create convenient bite-sized pieces of genuine humanity and place them on a platter for any passer-by to taste. This week, save your goodwill for the inner circle, the people in your daily life who have earned your trust. Speaking of those people, do you ever notice you interrupt a lot? Hear me out. Sure, it’s a cultural thing, talking, debating, leaping into furious discussion, but I encourage you to listen closely this week. You don’t even have to agree, just nod and smile. People love that.

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?


 

To try to figure out all the volunteer projects social worker Karen Gilman is involved in — and where she finds the time to do them all — is to sift through a complex maze of stories of individuals who need help, or organizations that need help, or a volunteer staff that needs organization, or funds or whatever she can give.

For her job, Gilman is a social worker, who deals with parents of developmentally disabled children ranging in age up to 3.

“Some of my work-work interferes with my volunteer work,” she joked.

That volunteer work is vast. She served as the sisterhood president of Temple Israel of Hollywood and currently co-chairs its AIDS lunch project, which distributes food once a month. Gilman is also social action chair for the Western Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, which presents the women’s positions on legislative policy.

She also works with Shane’s Inspiration, a nonprofit group that creates handicapped-accessible playgrounds around Los Angeles, and serves on the Special Olympics Mini Meet committee, as well as Fiesta Familiar, a yearly training program for parents of children with disabilities.

There’s more — like volunteering at her temple gift shop and working with the day school children on volunteer projects — but the real questions are: How does she do it? How does she not get burned out?

By way of an answer, she tells stories of second-graders who donated money anonymously so a poor person could celebrate Purim, the school lunch lady who called her to find out what to do for a severely lactose-intolerant child on pizza day and the parents who advocate for their children and “turn their pain in something for their families. That keeps us going,” she said, although even the mere question of what motivates her is curious to her.

“Once in a while, someone will do something out of the kindness of their hearts for someone else,” she said. “When you’re able to pull together the research and make something happen for someone, and they can utilize the resources, it’s gratifying.”

That’s Gilman’s main motivation. She was raised by socially conscious and politically active parents and grandparents in Chicago.

“They set the stage that this was the right thing to do,” she said.

“She doesn’t seek the limelight,” said Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood. “She really does it modestly. She just cares a lot — she knows she has the ability, and she knows a mitzvah and how to do it.”

That’s why the temple decided to surprise her by honoring her — only her — last year.

“They really shouldn’t have done it,” Gilman said, more embarrassed than upset. “Everyone works together on all these projects, and no one person is more deserving than another for praise. The highest form of giving charity is doing so anonymously, so it’s not really good to draw attention to oneself in one’s charitable work.”

For Gilman, volunteering is a team effort, one that requires motivating others to join her: “They are doing something good together with their friends, you get to spend a great time together with your community and it will make you feel good. People love giving anonymously and selflessly. Usually, Jewish people are easy to convince. They usually understand the concept of charity pretty well.”

Karen Gilman

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Create Festive Table in a Blue Mood


 

Following are pointers on livening up your Chanukah table from “Kosher by Design” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah, 2003).

1. In the Beginning: Dress your dining table with a snazzy tablecloth. A gold one will glitter. Using narrow runners and/or yards of wide ribbons, preferably in shades of blue and gold, weave them under and above each other, creating a lattice effect.

2. Gifted Settings: Create place settings that look like Chanukah presents by using placemat-sized rectangles of Styrofoam (about 2-inches thick). Cover them with blue fabric. Straight pins will secure the fabric to the underside of rectangles. To simulate a bow, wrap gold tulle ribbon on a diagonal around two opposite corners of rectangles.

3. Box Appeal: Find boxes about 3-inches square. Cover boxes with Mylar foil wrapping paper. Tie a bow around them with gold ribbon. With two-sided tape, attach them to the upper left-hand corner of placemats.

4. Got the Gelt: In front of each placemat, situate a gold netted sack of Chanukah gelt. Write each guest’s name in gold ink on place cards. Then, with narrow gold ribbon, tie place cards to gelt sacks.

5. Twinkling Fantasy: Flood the center of the table with as many blue votive candleholders as you can find in every size and shape. Fill them with candles and light just before guests arrive.

6. Gaming Table: Scatter around dreidels in varying sizes and shapes, ones made from silver, gold, porcelain, plastic, wood — and anything blue. Antique dreidels are particularly decorative.

7. Blue Plate Special: Set the table with blue dishes, preferably ones that mix and match. Place a salad plate of one pattern over a dinner plate of another. Wal-Mart sells glass blue plates for $1.25 each.

8. Color Wave Silverware: Set the table with gold-plated flatware or stainless steel with blue plastic handles.

9. Crystal Collection: Buy glasses and wine goblets with blue striations or purchase glassware with a blue tint, found at stores such as Crate and Barrel.

10. Clear Water: Buy mineral water in blue bottles.

11. Fruit of the Vine: Buy wine in blue bottles.

12. Congratulations: You’ve created a show-stopping setting! Photograph your table for inspiration when planning your next holiday meal.

 

Church Honors Gibson ‘Inspiration’


Mel Gibson’s “muse” is on the path to sainthood. Pope John Paul II this week beatified Anna Katharina Emmerick, a 19th-century German nun whose mystic visions inspired Gibson’s gory depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ.”

Sunday’s move dismayed some Jewish observers.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which publicly criticized “The Passion” as anti-Semitic, expressed “deep distress” and said the beatification could harm Christian-Jewish relations.

“In our letter to Church leaders, sent in early June, we acknowledged that beatification is entirely within the realm of the Church and we understand that Sr. Emmerick has been proposed in recognition of her virtuous life and how she strengthened others in faith despite her own ill-health,” said an ADL statement.

“Yet,” it added, “it cannot be contested that in addition to the aid she offered many of her co-religionists, hatred and anti-Semitism were fomented in her name.”

The beatification was the latest move by the church regarding sainthood in recent years that has alienated some Jews.

In 1998, for example, many Jews reacted angrily when the pope made Edith Stein a saint, saying she had been rounded up and killed during World War II because of her Jewish identity, not because she was a nun.

Emmerick, who lived from 1774 to 1824, was almost illiterate and spent much of her life as an invalid. Her grisly visions of the torturing of Jesus were recorded by the German Romantic poet Clemens Brentano, who published them after her death in a book, “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The book, which portrays Jews as cruel “Christ-killers,” has achieved cult status among Roman Catholic traditionalists who oppose the church reforms implemented by the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s.

These reforms included an opening to the Jewish world and a renunciation of the charge of deicide, that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death.

Gibson used a number of the book’s images in his controversial film.

“Amazing images,” he told an interviewer earlier this year. “She supplied me with stuff I never would have thought of.”

Among them were elements not found in the Gospels, such as Mary mopping up her son’s blood after his scourging, and the hooded devil inciting Jews to demand Jesus be crucified or following him as he carried his cross.

Beatification is the last step before Roman Catholic sainthood. The process for Emmerick was begun in 1973 and approved in July 2003, eight months before “The Passion” came out.

The Vatican said it honored Emmerick for her virtuous life, not her visions, which it said it could not confirm.

A previous attempt to beatify Emmerick was halted in 1926 because of concern that Brentano had infused his account of Emmerick’s visions with his own views.

During the beatification ceremony, the pope did not mention the book. He praised Emmerick’s piety and concern for the poor and noted that she bore stigmata, or bleeding wounds in her hands and feet, similar to those of Jesus on the cross.

Still, said Shawn Landres, who co-edited a forthcoming book, “After The Passion Is Gone: American Religious Consequences,” on the impact of “The Passion,” the move was upsetting.

“The church’s decision to beatify Emmerick is especially troubling to those of us in the Jewish community who sought to defend the post-Vatican II Church against its critics, especially in the wake of the ‘Passion’ controversy.”

Landres, who is a research fellow at the University of Judaism’s Sigi Ziering Institute in Los Angeles, said the timing of the beatification also raises questions.

“[It] suggests an attempt to reach out to traditionalist Catholics energized by ‘The Passion,'” he said.

However, he added, “beatifying one relatively minor mystic won’t satisfy the traditionalists, whose objections to the post-Vatican II Church are much broader and more serious.”

He cautioned, however, that Jewish criticism of the beatification should be made with respect for the Roman Catholic Church as a whole.

“Our role should be to hold the church to its highest standards, not to denigrate and antagonize it,” he said. “There is dignity in dissent.”

Teen Called ‘Amiga de Cuba’


Since traveling to Cuba several times with her mother, who organizes relief missions for Cuban Jews through her travel agency, Daniella Gruber has returned home changed by the experience.

"Both Daniella and I will never forget the images in our minds of these old Jews, some who are Holocaust survivors, living in dingy rooms with chunks of ceiling falling down, bursting into tears when we delivered bags of food," said her mother Roe Gruber, who enrolled her daughter in Spanish classes one summer at the University of Havana.

For the last five years, Daniella, 16, has followed her mother’s example and tapped school families, her synagogue and a retirement community to collect medicines, clothes, hygiene products and school supplies for Cuba’s Jews, as well as for a children’s hospital and several orphanages. Her latest campaign is a shoe drive for mentally handicapped teens in a Havana orphanage.

"Watching her over the years doing all this organizing, promoting, collecting and sorting has been amazing," said Gruber, who thinks her daughter’s values differ from typical, self-absorbed teens.

In a surprise at a school awards assembly last month, the 11th grader at Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School received national recognition from B’nai B’rith International’s Cuban Relief Committee in Pittsburgh. The Amiga de Cuba youth award was created especially for her to spotlight her unusual example and hopefully to serve as an inspiration to others, said Stan Cohen, the committee’s chairman, who has organized 23 relief missions to Cuba from B’nai B’rith chapters worldwide since 1995.

"She’s obviously a great girl," Cohen said.

School principal Howard Haas, who presented the award, said, "She exemplifies what we want for every student at Tarbut — to be a role model."

The Giving Ladder


"Rambams Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It Is Necessary to Give" by Julie Salamon (Workman Publishing, $18.95).

Even a wizard at niche marketing would tremble before the title of Julie Salamon’s most recent book. "Rambam’s Ladder," based on an ancient text by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, sounds like it’s bound for the remainder bins even before it hits the Judaica sections. Don’t be fooled; this slender volume is a (mistitled) must-read for every individual, Jew and non-Jew alike, who recognizes his or her greater responsibility as part of a family, community and member of society.

Ben Maimon, a 12th-century physician, philosopher and scholar, is best known as Maimonidies or Rambam. Salamon uses his text, the Ladder of Charity, as the inspiration for her title and the basis for her eight-step ladder explaining different levels of charitable giving: the reluctant giver is at the bottom of the ladder and the individual whose charity enables someone to become self-reliant at the top. In between fall all vagaries and levels of giving — unsolicited charity, giving with a smile or giving with a scowl, anonymous donations — with a separate chapter dedicated to each rung of the ladder.

The ground beneath the ladder of charity is always shifting, Salamon says. By the time you have finished her text you fully grasp that there is no such thing as a simple act of charity. Do we give out of self-interest, to atone for past sins, to alleviate guilt, to impress, to ingratiate favor? At the end of the day, who is giving to whom?

Billed as a road map to charitable giving, "Rambam’s Ladder" begins as one woman’s journey, subtle and stirring, to make sense of her world following the horror of Sept. 11. An inveterate volunteer and do-gooder, Salamon’s reaction to the tragedy of Sept. 11 was to gather her children near and to protect her own. Her husband bolted into action, running to donate blood, to dispense sandwiches, to search for the missing. Sept. 11 is the crucible for inhumanity and terror on the one hand, and profound acts of kindness and charity on the other.

"The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people," said the late Steven Jay Gould in response to Sept. 11. "Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ‘ordinary efforts’ of a vast majority."

Paolo Alvanian is an ordinary man responsible for one such act of kindness. He watched from his downtown restaurant as the Twin Towers crumbled. The events of that day transformed him from a man who did not believe in charity — an immigrant who believed that everyone should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps — into a giving man. He dedicated a day for charity where all proceeds from his restaurant were donated to the Red Cross. He did away with his set prices and asked his patrons to pay what they could afford. One woman ate a small salad and wrote a check for $400. The lesson of the reluctant giver: "Giving may begin as a way to make order out of chaos, and turn out to be a transformation."

Alvanian’s simple act changed his perception of himself, his place in the world and his feeling of responsibility to others. "I’m not Mother Teresa. I’m not equal to her liver for generosity. But I believe that if you give from you heart you will have it returned back."

Each and every one of us is not only capable of, but obligated to be charitable. Reading this book forces us to examine how we stack up — or which rung of the ladder we are on. The book is thoughtful, poetic and a gripping read.

Salamon interviews the homeless man on the street and the CEOs of major corporations. She references Enron, Sotheby’s and Scarlett O’Hara all in the same breath. She is brutally honest about her own conflicts, preferring to give money to a presentable homeless man rather than the crazy one muttering under his breath. And her reporting is thorough and relevant. We learn that the United States has more billionaires than any other country in the world: 216 out of 497 in 2001: "Yet the U.S. Bureau of the Census reported in September 2002 that 32.9 million Americans, 9.2 percent of the total population, were officially considered poor."

Too many Americans, it would seem, have yet to reach even the first rung of the ladder.

It is not natural to want to give away one’s money; in fact, one could argue that being philanthropic is counterintuitive. Ramban’s goal — and Salamon’s mission — is to press the importance of our hardwiring a charitable instinct into the soul. No easy task, but one she takes on with courage and zeal. Every parent will immediately recognize the importance of this book not only for themselves, but also for their children. No child is too young to understand the importance and the impact of a charitable life. The sooner the indoctrination begins the better.

Taking a Leap


No one asked me to my senior prom. Jon asked Liz, Steve asked Jen, Brian asked me how to ask Kim, but my dance card remained empty. I sulked, I cried, I listened to Monster Ballads.

I swore my life was over. Then I found inspiration in an article on famous women who never went to their prom — I was inspired to keep my name from ever appearing on a list of powerful chicks who missed their big dance. This Cinderella was going to the ball. I picked up the phone, called Dave Rosenberg, and invited him to Prom ’92.

This weekend, you can do the same. Well, not exactly the same. I mean you shouldn’t ask out an 18-year-old football player or call Dave Rosenberg. But dial a guy and ask him out. Or ask him to marry you.

Don’t drop your jaw at me. Popular tradition says Feb. 29 is one day it’s appropriate for a woman to propose to a man. Women can get down on one knee and pop the question on leap year day. It sounds risky, but let’s be honest, guys never say "no" to a girl on her knees. So in this Sunday’s performance of "Love Life," the role of "pushing things forward" will be played by a woman.

Leap year fixes a flaw in the calendar and a glitch in our culture. We women constantly complain about our position on the dating food chain. We have to wait for men to ask us out, make the first move and call the next day. Well now we can stop waiting and start dating. This leap year weekend, don’t wait for him to give you a ring, don’t wait for the phone to ring, don’t wait for anything or anyone involving any sort of ring. Throw out the outdated dating rules, find your inner chutzpah and go for the gold. Or platinum. Or princess cut.

We’ve all heard that aggressive women can scare men off. But maybe it’s women who are really scared. We feel safe in our dating role; we’re comfortable waiting. But at times in relationships, you can’t just wait. There’s some assembly required.

I know, I know, what about tradition? If the girl asks the guy, does she call his parents for permission? Who pays for the ring? Who throws the bouquet? Who gets the sheep and the 200 zuzim? And what about the dream proposal you’ve always imagined? Not that I’ve fantasized about my engagement; I’m not the type of girl who daydreams. I almost never picture my name on the Jumbotron, him saying he loves me as I choke on the diamond ring he hid in my Bud Light. OK, maybe I’ve thought about it a few (100) times and hopefully, it will happen — minus the choking. Hopefully, I’ll meet a man who likes the Sprite in me, falls in love with me and proposes to me. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if I’m not asked? Most of my friends have already walked the aisle, but I’m far from buying a big white dress.

When it comes to everything else in my life — my career, my education, my writing — I go after my goals with every ounce of intelligence, determination and spunk I possess. I don’t wait for success to come my way — I make it happen. I’m a take-charge, woman-on-top kind of gal. But with something as important as marriage, I’m supposed to wait for someone else to decide when and if it’s going to happen? I don’t even like waiting for my car at the valet.

Now asking a man to get married is a whole different groove than asking him to prom — sure they both involve tuxedos, slow dancing and an alleged "first time," but one lasts a nighttime, the other a lifetime. And since I don’t have a groom-worthy boyfriend, or any boyfriend for that matter, I’m not going to propose to anyone just yet. But in the leap year spirit, I will kick-start my love life. On Sunday, I’ll call my crush, won’t hang up when he answers and ask him out for next week. Hey, it’s a start. One small step for Carin, one giant leap for womankind.


Carin Davis is a freelance writer
and can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

For Love of the Dance


Or Nili Azulay often gazes at the faded photograph of her late grandmother, who was widowed in her 20s. “Her huge, expressive eyes are filled with strength and struggle,” the Israeli dancer-actress said. “She looks like Bizet’s ‘Carmen,’ although she is wearing nothing fancy, only a simple white dress and a white flower in her hand.”

Azulay, renown for her flamenco work, excels at portraying characters who are equally strong and passionate. In her spin on Edvard Greig’s “Peer Gynt Suite,” she plays a feisty Bedouin princess and other heroines from the plays of Henrik Ibsen. In her version of the Bizet opera, “Carmen,” she depicts the defiant gypsy as a feminist, not a prostitute.

Azulay will bring a similar range of emotions to Noam Sheriff’s “Israel Suite” and the world premiere of Yuval Ron’s “Canciones Sephardi” when she performs with the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS) on Sunday.

“The kind of happiness I recall in my grandmother’s way of being is the same as in flamenco,” she said. “It’s never 100 percent happiness; it’s always tinged with melancholy.”

If it seems unlikely that a nice Jewish girl would become a flamenco dancer, consider her early role models. Azulay’s Syrian-born grandmother, Nona, defied her parents to wed the man she loved, then refused to remarry after he died several years later. Azulay’s mother, Chaya, became one of Israel’s first female barristers; her father died when she was a small child. “The sadness of not having a father was tempered by growing up with these strong, independent women,” she said.

No wonder Azulay was riveted by Bizet’s fiercely independent gypsy — and the art of flamenco — when she saw Carlos Saura’s film “Carmen” at age 14. The ballet student was so “stunned” by the dance numbers that she returned to see the movie a dozen times. “In ballet, the body is an instrument in service of the overall piece, while in flamenco, the protagonist is the dancer’s personality,” she said.

As Azulay began intense studies with famed teacher Sylvia Duran, she learned that “People who become huge in flamenco have huge personalities. They don’t have to do much to burn up the stage.”

The poised, five-foot-nine Azulay — who is also an award-winning poet — displayed similar charisma when she studied in Spain in 1995-96. She went on to establish a career emphasizing flamenco and classical Spanish dance performed with orchestras around the world. Azulay — who also appears in films such as 2003’s “The Brothel” — considers herself part of the flamenco revival spurred by Saura’s “Carmen.”

But her grandmother remains an important artistic inspiration. Azulay was drawn to the “Canciones Sephardi,” in part, because it reminds her of the tunes Nona used to sing in Ladino and Arabic. “That really struck a chord in Or Nili, and she brings that passion to the stage,” said Noreen Green, founder and artistic director of the LAJS.

The complex emotions of the “Israel Suite” also remind Azulay of her grandmother. In the dreamy first movement, she flies onstage with a white lace mantilla, reminiscent of a bridal veil. In a section based on a 15th century Ladino song, she uses constricted movements to suggest the pain of exile.

“The piece conveys the pathos of being an Israeli, of living in a state of half-dream, half-war,” she said.

The concert Sept. 14, 7 p.m. at the International Cultural Center (formerly Scottish Rite Auditorium), 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, also features internationally renown musicians such as flamenco guitarist Adam Del Monte and music by David Eaton. For information, call (310) 478-9311, where you can buy tickets through 1 p.m. Friday; or purchase them at the door.

Mojdeh Sionit contributed to this story.

News That’s Fit to Paw Print


In 1999, Lori Golden left a 25-year career in freelance television production when she found industry changes and “ageism” working against her. Struggling to make ends meet, Golden taught herself desktop publishing and, soon after, The Pet Press was born.

The paper’s primary goals are the promotion of animal adoption and rescue from overcrowded shelters, spaying/neutering and responsible pet care. Each issue spotlights a personality involved in some form of animal welfare work.

“Just because a person loves her dog or cat doesn’t mean she rates a cover story,” Golden said. Celebrity activists that have been featured include Betty White, Bea Arthur, Richard Pryor, Buddy Hackett, Ed Asner, James Cromwell, Shannon Elizabeth and Mary Tyler Moore with her dog, Shana Meydela.

Golden attributes her inspiration for The Pet Press to her own dog, Maxx, whom she rescued from an L.A. shelter. “She was dedicated, loving and loyal, and always by my side in good times and bad. I thought about all of the other wonderful dogs just like Maxx who were lying in animal shelters in Southern California,” she said.

I quickly discovered the phenomenal benefits of the barter system,” Golden said.

“It was a struggle, but because of a lot of chutzpah, and my father’s fantastic support and belief in me, the paper is now doing just fine.”

The free monthly paper, headquartered in Northridge, reaches more than 95,000 readers throughout greater Los Angeles and has grown from 20 pages to 40.

“The Pet Press is distributed to pet-related venues and many other places, including libraries, car washes and my favorite locations — Jewish delicatessens from Calabasas to Long Beach … and all points in between,” Golden said.

Although Golden admits she only attends services once a year for the High Holidays, in keeping true to her profession she makes The Pet Press available for the animal lovers who attend.

“Although I miss the excitement of entertainment,” she said, “I take great pride and satisfaction in knowing that my efforts are appreciated, and that I’m helping to save the lives of countless numbers of cats and dogs.”

For more information, visit

B’nai Mitzvah Bond With Israel


Medical oncologist Dr. Daniel Lieber reached a breaking point two years ago. Israel’s poor economic state had him so concerned that he began moonlighting as a volunteer for State of Israel Bonds Development Corporation for Israel (DCI), primarily trying to induce doctors to invest their pension money.

But on Dec. 7, 2002, his daughter, Dena, was bat mitzvahed at Sinai Temple in Westwood. His idea to have Dena invest half of her cash gifts into Israel Bonds served as inspiration for what’s become known as Israel Bonds’ B’nai Mitzvot Program.

"It occurred to me that it was a good opportunity for the bar or bat mitzvah kid to do something worthwhile on that occasion and it was good for Israel to have the kids invest their gifts in Israel bonds," Lieber said.

State of Israel Bonds DCI is an international organization offering securities issued by the government of Israel to support every aspect of the country’s economy. In exchange for their investment, the children receive a certificate of appreciation from Israel, as well as the return on their investment when the bonds mature, of course.

Jonathan Toobi, who shared his bar mitzvah day at Sinai Temple with Dena, also pledged half his money. The two became the first of 36 children at the synagogue to participate in the new program.

Lieber estimates that at least $150,000 has been committed to State of Israel Bonds through Sinai Temple since the program began. Now, he said, "Our goals are to get as high participation as possible in the temple and to try to contact other temples."

To that end, State of Israel Bonds has sent out letters to synagogues throughout North America. But their meager advertising budget has driven Lieber and project co-chair Dorice Melamed to donate their own money in addition to their time. In an effort "to start some grass-roots support," Lieber said, they have personally purchased ads promoting the B’nai Mitzvot Program in The Jewish Journal. Their hope is that every child will participate.

"If someone tells us it’s a financial hardship, then any investment is fine," Lieber said. "We want to get kids used to the idea of doing a mitzvah on their bar or bat mizvah, and have a significant connection to Israel and help Israel all at once."

To contact the State of Israel Bonds office, call Esti Duenyas, director of the Synagogue Campaign of Israel Bonds, at (310) 996-3007.


Say hello to The Jewish Journal’s new celebrations section.

Due to the vast number of b’nai mitzvah, wedding, anniversary and birth announcements we receive, The Journal will now publish all of our readers’ celebration announcements immediately on our Web site. We have unveiled our celebrations Web page (part of www.jewishjournal.com). You can upload your announcements and photos onto the site, and send your best wishes and mazel tovs by e-mail directly to the person who is celebrating. We run monthly expanded profiles in The Journal on selected births, b’nai mitzvah, anniversaries and engagements, and a complete and up-to-date list will always be available at jewishjournal.com. We hope you, your synagogue or your family will keep us in touch with all your simchas through the Web (or by snail mail if absolutely necessary), so that we can celebrate with you and the entire community of 200,000 Jewish Journal readers each week. And mazel tov!

True Tales From the Holocaust and After


"Drohobycz, Drohobycz and Other Stories: True Tales From the Holocaust and Life After" by Henryk Grynberg. Translated from Polish by Alicia Nitecki. Edited by Theodosia Robertson. (Penguin Books, 2002).

Until recently, the word Drohobycz (pronounced "Dro-ho-bit-ch") sounded to most American readers like an exotic Eastern European tongue twister.

Then, three years ago, the name of this Ukrainian town appeared in the world press when representatives of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial controversially claimed a set of murals painted by Bruno Schulz, a lifelong resident of Drohobycz who was gunned down by the Gestapo there in 1942, and is now considered to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

It is Bruno Schulz’s haunting self-portrait that gazes at us from the cover of Henryk Grynberg’s powerful book, "Drohobycz, Drohobycz and Other Stories," and it is Schulz and his fellow residents of the eastern borderlands of prewar Poland who inspire Grynberg’s tales, which have been awarded the 2002 Koret Jewish Book Award for Fiction.

A child survivor of the Holocaust and longtime resident of the United States, Grynberg has dealt directly or indirectly with the Holocaust in 26 books of prose, poetry, essays and drama, all written in his native Polish.

He considers the Holocaust singularly important as a lesson, a warning and a turning point in the history of our civilization, and frequently calls himself a guardian of the graves and the writer of the dead.

The documentary-like stories of "Drohobycz, Drohobycz" are set in almost a dozen countries. His narrators are survivors of ghettos, labor and death camps, as well as wartime deportations to the Soviet Union.

The narrators recall hundreds of names, places and local historical events; in the face of destruction, these details of the past acquire a new poignancy, and Grynberg’s allusions underline the wide geographical scope of the Shoah.

Letting others speak is Grynberg’s conscious strategy — he takes his inspiration from real testimonies but crafts them with fictional techniques. We can only guess that the names mentioned in the dedications preceding each tale — "Halina M." or "Janina" or "Ben, Zoila, Michal and Basia" — belong to the real-life victims on whose lives the fictions are based.

Grynberg dutifully catalogs these survivors’ responses to the horrors they have experienced and the challenges of survival. In some cases, the survivors, many of whom like Grynberg, himself, are children of the Holocaust, view the world from a child’s perspective.

After the war, the narrator of "A Hungarian Sketch" is surprised to see mothers with children strolling in the street; having miraculously escaped the clutches of Mengele, she imagined there can be no more mothers and children in the world.

Others experience permanent alienation: "To the Americans I was a foreigner," says the narrator of "A Pact With God." "To the Poles, a hidden Jew. Who was I to the Jews?" The narrator of "A Family Sketch" remarks, "I married twice and didn’t try after that. I didn’t want to have children. I’d rather be by myself." Another woman narrator argues survivors are like painters unrecognized during their lifetimes.

Although Grynberg is very careful to give his narrators their own voices, his authorial touch is felt in the ironic distance, sense of absurdity and even humor of these tales. A former actor, Grynberg has said that he has been encouraged by his editors to exploit his talent for comedy in his fiction. Though only so much humor is appropriate in stories as grim and often heartbreaking as these, Grynberg’s ironic sensibility makes his tale-testimonies easier to read, as their tragedy is tempered for the reader who otherwise might be overwhelmed with the scope of suffering and horror he describes.

Twenty years ago, Philip Roth introduced Schulz to the American audience in the series "Writers From the Other Europe." Since then, Schulz’s life and work have inspired novels by Cynthia Ozick and David Grossman, and a powerful biography by Jerzy Ficowski, recently translated into English. Schulz’s famous example illustrates how important it is that new stories of tragedy and survival continue to be unearthed from the wartime and post-war experiences of Polish Jews. In "Drohobycz, Drohobycz," Grynberg carries on this work, using fiction to tell "True Tales From the Holocaust and Life After" and to create a compelling portrait of the effect two totalitarian systems — Nazism and Stalinist communism — had on the lives of millions. By sharing his own story and those of more than a dozen survivors, Grynberg helps these millions become less anonymous.


Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska is a professor of American and comparative literature
and head of the Center for Jewish Studies at the Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin,
Poland, and the co-editor of “Contemporary Jewish Writing in Poland: An Anthology.” This review originally
appeared on the recently redesigned JBooks.com, the online Jewish book community produced by Jewish Family & Life.

Seeking Redemption


In college, I tutored in a maximum-security prison for kids
who had committed violent crimes. I met a 17-year-old boy there who
had killed a 16-year-old boy earlier that year. He had been
tried as an adult and sentenced to life. Though we were only together for a
couple sessions, he left an impression that to this day still haunts me.

He kept a cracked, yellowed newspaper photo of his victim in
his pocket. And he would constantly pull it out, unfold it, gaze at it, then
put it back in — only to remove it again and stare at it some more.

The sentencing judge not only made the boy finger his
victim’s personal effects, he also made him wear the dead boy’s clothes. The
boy told me he even had to put his victim’s jacket, and it made him feel
“spooked.” “Like I didn’t know that this kid was, like, a human being or
something,” the boy said. It was the judge, in fact, who told him to keep the
boy’s photo.

But the judge never told him he had to look at it forever.

And yet he couldn’t let it go. It was as if by staring at
this two-dimensional image he was trying to reconstruct some three-dimensional
persona. As if a kind of understanding would emerge, a way of grappling with
the magnitude of his actions.

It was this relationship — these two boys, total strangers
now bound forever by one horrible deed — that was the initial inspiration for
“Levity.”

In researching the movie, I spent time with a lot of people
who had committed murder when they were kids. I met some through youth groups,
others through church and community programs. Some I interviewed extensively,
others I just followed around for a while. They were all different ages, yet
each had in common that he was trying to come to terms with the consequences of
what he’d done. Some (those who believed in God) were trying on a spiritual
level, others (those who didn’t) on a secular level. For all of them it was a
kind of obsession.

The other thing they had in common was a sense of futility.
At the end of the day, none actually thought he could ever make up for his mistakes.

When I sat down to write the script, I called a friend,
Naomi Levy, who was a rabbi at a Conservative temple in Venice. I told her I
wanted to tell a story that questions whether any number of so-called “good”
acts can outweigh one very bad one. And I told her I want the central character
to not believe in God. (It seemed to me that if he believed in God, there would
be more of a proscribed path for him to follow, and that was too easy.) I asked
her what my protagonist might have read that would underscore his belief that
he would never be redeemed.

Naomi pointed me to Maimonides, a 12th-century Talmudic
scholar who wrote about the five steps one must follow to achieve redemption.
The last three involve making right with your neighbor, making right with God
and being in the same place and behaving differently.

“Levity’s” central character, Manual Jordan, knows he can’t
return the dead boy like a stolen chicken. And he doesn’t believe in God. And
since he is convinced that time makes certain one is never in the same place
twice, Manual knows there’s no hope for him.

But Manual has a conscience, and he’s obsessed with trying
to salvage some version of a life. And even though he knows his is perhaps a
lost cause, he desperately wants his somewhat hesitant presence on the planet
to not be wasted. So he bumbles and stumbles, disconnected from the flow, never
really knowing where he’s going, yet somehow guided by what may be seen as his
best intentions.

So often I think we feel our behavior as individuals doesn’t
have any effect; that what we do doesn’t really matter. “Levity” looks at how,
to the contrary, the world around us can actually hinge on our individual
actions. What we do can have direct, instantly determinable consequences, or
our words and actions can ripple away behind us, in subtle ways we never know
and could certainly never predict.

For instance: the boy who started this whole thing off. At
18 — just two weeks after we met — he was transferred to a state penitentiary.
I never heard from him again. My guess is he’s still there. And he’d certainly
have no recollection of our time together — I was one of dozens of tutors. So
there’s no way he could possibly imagine how our brief conversation had any
effect on anything. Most likely, he was just trying to get out of talking about
math and English.

But, looking back, if I follow the steps that lead to this
very moment, right now, as I sit at this table writing this piece, I arrive at
that image of that nearly 18-year-old staring at that photograph of that
eternally 16-year-old.

And I think about how those two boys — completely unknowingly
— changed my life. Â


Ed Solomon makes his feature directing debut with “Levity,” which he also wrote. The film opens April 4 in Los Angeles and New York.

Remembering King in an Age of Terrorism


This weekend we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the
life he dedicated to the struggle for civil rights. As we still reel from the
savage assault wrought upon our nation on Sept. 11, 2001, and as the people of Israel endure terror on an almost daily basis, the significance
of King’s life should be recognized anew. Under his leadership, the civil
rights movement transcended political, theological and ideological differences.
So, too, must our fight against terrorism.

King drew his inspiration from the Torah, from the Hebrew
prophets who stood up to injustice and fought against oppression. He saw no
separation between religious and civic responsibility and insisted upon social
action as the path to spiritual wholeness. “To avoid involvement in a just
cause,” King said, “is to lead a sterile life.” He emphasized that people who
fight for their rights are honorable only as they fight for the rights of all
people. He said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are
caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of
destiny.” We have come to recognize that in a country where many of us do not
share a common faith, we do, however, share a common fate, and we have
acknowledged that there is total democracy in our suffering.

The events of Sept. 11 and the explosive violence in the
Middle East by Palestinian extremists are perversions of the principles of both
religious and social action; fanatic abominations against humanity. Fundamentalist
groups like Hamas that use terrorism against other human beings accomplish only
the perpetuation of injustice and the distortion of religion. In response to
accusations that he was an extremist, himself, King wrote in his 1963 Letter
From Birmingham Jail, “The question is not whether we will be extremist but
what kind of extremist will we be? Will we be extremists for hate or for love?
Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of
justice?”

We are obliged to become the kind of extremists King
envisioned in this fight against religious and political fanaticism. He
insisted that America, with its wealth of human and financial resources, must
guide the rest of the world in this campaign for freedom. He believed that “we
must rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns, with a
broader concern for all humanity.” We must commit ourselves unconditionally to
the elimination of the subversive and terrorist activities of extremist groups,
in particular murderous suicide bombers who target innocent civilians.

Participation in the fight for justice for all humankind is
the theme of what the rabbinic sages called tikkun olam, the responsibility we
all have to repair the world. King’s life and work embodied the true spirit of
this charge. As we find ourselves faced with this same task, let us honor
King’s life by arming ourselves with his words and examples. Â


Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the
New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. He is also the author of “Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King Jr. and The Jewish Community” (Jewish Lights Publications, 1999).

‘Light’ From Darkness


What a year! Struggle and loss, the threat of war, earthquakes and elections. Like many of us, I’d begun to feel as though peace, not to mention peace of mind, was always going to stay just one upheaval away.

And then the man in UPS brown arrived. He brought an envelope containing a beautiful ray of hope, an exceptional picture book by Jane Breskin Zalben titled "Let There Be Light: Poems and Prayers for Repairing the World" (Dutton Books, $15.99). Zalben is well known as an illustrator-author, providing art for her own writings as well as others. With "Beni’s First Chanukah," she began a popular series of picture books for the very young about various Jewish holidays ("Papa’s Latkes," "Pearl’s Passover," "Goldie’s Purim," "Beni’s First Wedding," etc.) Some of her more recent works are specifically aimed at enhancing Jewish family, food and fun.

In this new book, however, she turns instead to many different cultures and faiths, trying to offer universal reassurance to young readers in an uncertain time. Culling poems and prayers from across the world, Zalben chose simple texts from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism, as well as African, Inuit and Native American traditions, and included the words of such leaders as Ghandi and the Dalai Lama. Often departing from her usual dry brush watercolor technique, she matched each quote with an illustration drawing on its cultural art, materials and patterns. Cut paper, collage and paint are used. Japanese rice paper, Egyptian papyrus, African bark paper and papers from Nepal, India and Italy were sought out; Persian miniatures, Islamic tiles and many other sources served as inspiration.

Zalben has included a serene Asian scroll illustrating the sixth-century words of Buddha and a smiling, curly lamb safe in its field opposite the 23rd Psalm. She shows a simple flower from seed to the dropping of its last petal opposite Kohelet 3:1-9, while the limitless purple-shadowed sky over a prayer for peace from Zimbabwe is as soothing and uplifting as the artist obviously hoped it might be. Through her work illuminating ageless words of love, faith, purpose, friendship and understanding, Zalben has contributed to tikkun olam and can help heal your family’s world.

Rita Berman Frischer, long active in the fields of library and literature, currently works as a freelance writer, lecturer,reviewer, instructor and book group leader.

Hero With a Thousand Faces


The 60th birthday of Bob Dylan (né Robert Zimmerman) has created a bull market in baby-boomer nostalgia and soul-searching. In his 20’s, Dylan defined a generation. Perhaps even more significantly, he invested pop music with social meaning, giving future generations a powerful tool for defining themselves. His religious identity has always been a source of mystery (and obsession) to Jewish fans. He flirted with Christian messianism, sent his children to a Beverly Hills Hebrew school, nearly joined a kibbutz and danced with the Lubavitchers. A generation that looked to Dylan for The Way seemed forever disappointed that he was often lost himself. Four decades later, his spiritual quest and his musical achievements seem of a piece — a long strange trip, with so many of us as eager passengers.