Forget annoying helicopter parents. Helicopter kids are way worse.


There are parents who hover over their kids like a helicopter. And there are parents who generally leave their kids to their own devices. Each side insists their way is the right way. I’m not here to judge other parenting styles, though I assume, as is often the case, that the best way is a healthy mixture of both — allowing your kids some independence, coupled with giving them the security of boundaries and a loving home base. But what do I know? Figure it out yourself, and I’m sure you’ll let me know when you do. Because every parent seems to be a maven in all things parenting.

But I’m here to talk about something entirely different from helicopter parents: helicopter kids. When I take my kids to the park, I struggle to shake them off of me like a ragdoll in the jaws of a tenacious pit bull. They’re clingy, they check in constantly, and they compete for my attention — when all I really want is for them to get the hell away from me. “Go on the slide. Go bounce a ball. Go keep that homeless guy company who’s talking to himself and could probably use a conversation partner.” 

I pick up my kids from preschool and look around the playground. There are kids on slides, kids in three-wheelers, and kids chasing each other. My kids? My daughter, Sydney — almost 5 — is getting her hair braided in the lap of her cute young teacher with the pink highlights; my son, Asher, 3, is helping to clean and rake the sandbox with his teacher. This is a playground filled with kids — why are they hanging out with the teachers?

My kids are well-liked by their peers. They’re socially adept and smart. But given the choice of chasing a kid up a hill or sitting with my wife and me on a park bench, they choose us, even when their friends are begging them to play. They might occasionally run off with another kid for a few minutes, but they’re not gone for long. There is an ongoing societal debate about kids watching TV — should they, shouldn’t they, should TV time be limited? We don’t have that issue. My kids have never sat through a whole movie. We throw on “Annie,” sneak away, and 20 minutes later they come running down the hall to our bedroom and climb into our bed. I beg them to go away. I insist. “You’ve never gotten past the first act. Keep watching. Annie gets out of the orphanage. It’s not always a hard-knock life for her!” But they don’t care. I plop them down in their room to play with each other. They come back to ours. No matter what I do, they always come back. 

“I love you guys, but leave me alone,” I beg. They play for a few minutes, which quickly turns into a wrestling match, or a tug-of-war over a toy. And then they’re back again, running to us for help, one or both of them in tears. I say, “Solve it yourself. You don’t need us.” Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But either way, they have managed to worm their way back to us.

I’m flattered that my kids like their parents so much. And I know it won’t be long before they want nothing to do with us. I know this, and yet I feel like if these nerds don’t start making friends they’re not going to have anyone to hang out with when it comes time for them to hate us. They’ll just be angry, and stuck at home, locked in their room listening to whatever version of The Smiths is around for sad teenagers.

At birthday parties, they take a long time to warm up. They spend most of the party with each other, and within inches of my legs. At one party in the park last week, a parent, Monique, walked over and gave me a kiss hello. “Have you seen Dash?” she asked. I looked around for her son. He was climbing a tree, albeit not very well. What he lacks in coordination he makes up for in confidence. I pointed in his direction. Monique looked to my kids. “They’re always on top of you,” she said. She wasn’t criticizing. She was just pointing out the anomaly. “It’s good they think you’re so fun.” She thinks I’m a clown, perpetually happy and silly. She doesn’t know the side of me who broods, and worries, and gets frustrated with my kids. She’s never heard my daughter yell out, “You’re a bad daddy!” So I went along with the ruse. “I wish I wasn’t so awesome,” I said with a wink. She playfully hit me on the arm and then took off after her kid.

A week later, I was picking up the kids from school, and my wife called to tell me she was going out with her sister for the night. I saw Monique on the playground and made impromptu plans with her and her husband to take the kids out for pizza and ice cream. Dash jumped into my car and asked if he could ride with us. There wasn’t enough room, so I asked Asher if he wanted to ride with Dash’s baby brother. He ran right over to their car and hopped in. He doesn’t know Monique well but I assume he must have sensed that she’s Argentine and was all over that like blanco en el arroz

Meanwhile, in my car, Sydney and Dash were sitting in their car seats talking to each other. I leaned my head back to talk to them, but they weren’t that interested in what I had to say. There was a moment where I wasn’t even sure what they were talking about — and I was actively trying to eavesdrop. Dash has a slight speech impediment and he’s a little hard to understand — at least to me. Sydney didn’t seem to notice. She laughed at his joke, but I didn’t get it. What was the joke? I asked them to explain it to me, but they just giggled. I felt left out.

We parked on Larchmont Boulevard and headed toward Village Pizzeria. The kids ran ahead of me. They ducked into a store, but I was distracted by a text message and wasn’t sure which one. Monique and Asher came up behind me. “Did you see where the kids went?” I asked. Monique pointed to a little boutique. I walked in. A woman with a sourpuss face was speaking on the phone. She was indifferent to the two kids standing at the jewelry case. I walked over to them, as I overheard Sydney tell Dash she liked the gold necklace with the long charm hanging from it. Dash waved his hand over all of the jewelry — “I’m going to buy you all of them.” Sydney laughed. I defensively said, “Sydney, you don’t need a man to get you anything. You’ll buy your own jewelry.” She looked at me, confused. So did Dash. Then they ran off to the pizza place without me. 

I heard Asher chasing after them — “Wait for me!” And even though I was only a few paces behind, something in me ached as my helicopter kids stopped hovering and learned how to fly.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and two kids. You can see more of his work on his website, sethmenachem.com.

Noa, Noam most popular names for Jewish babies in Israel


Noa for girls and Noam for boys were the most popular names for Jewish babies born in Israel in 2012.

Israel’s Central Bureau for Statistics released the list of names Monday.

Noa, of biblical origin, was followed in order by Shira, which means song; Tamar, a biblical name and date; Talia, which means a female lamb; and Maya. Rounding out the top 10 are Yael, Sarah, Adele or Edel, Ayala and Michal.

Noam, which means pleasantness, was followed by Uri or Ori, which means my light, and the biblical names Itai, Yosef and David. Rounding out the top 10 are Yehonatan, Daniel, Ariel, Moshe and Eitan.

Among Muslims, Miriam was the most popular name for girls and Mohammad for boys. For Christians, the winners were Maria for girls and George for boys.

My last Halloween


These days it creeps up on me like an ache — the occasional pumpkin in a front yard, the synthetic cobwebs in trees, the subtle turn in the weather and, yes, there’s that feeling in the pit of my stomach, the hollowness of those dreams in which you’re lost in a white tunnel, with nowhere to go but forward, though you know that every step will take you farther away from home. 

I know why Lot’s wife looked back. 

From early September, the discussions begin. What am I going to be this year, and when are you doing to decorate the house, and do we have enough candy for the trick-or-treaters, and why don’t you dress up as well — my friend’s mom wears a costume every year and my teacher painted her feet green. Throughout October, negotiations revolve around which stores we’re going to shop at and how many trips we’re going to make and how many hours in total we’ll spend looking for “the same as last year, but different.” My older son is a ninja redux, the younger one wants to dress up as a cowboy, even when it’s not Halloween. My daughter, who likes fine clothes and red lipstick, has been a ballerina three years in a row and wants to be a ballerina again, “only not the same kind of ballerina,” she says, and the boys join in the chorus, “and not a ballerina that has to wear a sweater if it’s cold.” Ninjas and cowboys, needless to say, don’t wear sweaters either. 

Our neighbors are mostly young families with small children. The house directly across from ours is one of those haunted mansions that spits out fog and echoes of laughter, with the shadows of headless corpses popping out of open coffins every 60 seconds. The owners have the whole decorating thing down to an art, so they don’t have to start until the weekend before the big day, but the rest of us, bumbling pumpkin carvers and clumsy spider-web spinners, get to work in mid-October and are still “perfecting” the set at 5 o’clock on the 31st, when the first few kids with their parents appear at the door. By then, my little cowboy has been dressed and ready for a couple of hours already, and has posted himself, basket of candy in hand, in the foyer. The ballerina is waiting upstairs for her cousin, Cleopatra, to arrive for hair and makeup, and the ninja is setting boundaries for me as to how much of the evening’s spoils I’m allowed to take in the name of tooth decay. 

So much of my remembrances of motherhood is traced with guilt — at the mistakes I made thinking I was doing the right thing, the chances I missed because I was focused on the wrong thing, my impatience and arrogance and just plain ignorance. So much of it, too, is condensed into a cluster of midnight feedings and birthday parties, school trips and beach outings and, “Alex, stop working and go to bed”; “Kevin do your homework and go to bed,” seven nights a week. Amid it all, those early Halloween memories sparkle — bright, fleeting, untainted, brimming with anticipation, rife with possibility. 

When did I last put my children to bed with the makeup still on their faces and the candy tucked under their beds? Close the door behind the last trick-or-treater? See the back of that young woman with the long, pale hair and giant angel’s wings? The zombie impaled with a sword and still walking? 

The next morning, the street is strangely quiet. The cobwebs have been cleared from the trees, and the doorbells no longer howl. The haunted mansion has been sold to a less theatrical family, and the basket full of candy remains, untouched, by the front door. The kids have grown up and left home. Oct. 31 is just another day on the calendar.  

It’s not that I have nothing else to do with my time, now that the obligatory visits to the pumpkin patch have stopped. It’s not that I have no identity outside of being a mother. On any given day. I’m a good few months behind on a whole lot of work-related projects, my domestic talents still waiting to be discovered. I can attend to neglected friendships and an ailing social life, spend more time with my parents, travel again with only my husband to places that are not necessarily child-friendly. But even with all that, I feel like a typewriter in the age of Siri: still operational, but functionally obsolete. 

I think that’s why Lot’s wife looked back: to see her daughters one last time and, through them, the part of herself she most liked. 

I do have other things to do with my time, yes. I just can’t think of anything better to do on those October mornings when I drive by the little preschool on my way to the gym and see tall those little fairies and wizards march, single file and effervescent with joy and pixie dust, before their adoring, admiring parents.


Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in the Journal.

The Torah and child sexual abuse


Everything we build and teach our children, all our investments and dedication to good, all our moral standards, our entire education system, can be wiped out in one fell swoop when we or our children are violated.

The first of all ethical and Torah axioms must be stated at the outset: No one has a right to in any way violate in any way the body or soul of another human being. Indeed, we don’t even have the right to mutilate our own bodies, because your body does not belong to you; it is “Divine property.” 

No crime is worse that assaulting another’s dignity — which is compared to the dignity of G-d Himself, being that every person was created in the Divine Image. Even a hanged murderer must not be defiled and his body not left to hang overnight because it reflects the Divine Image. How much more so — infinitely more so — regarding a live person and innocent child.

Abuse, in any form or shape, physical, psychological, verbal, emotional or sexual, is above all a violent crime — a terrible crime. Abusing another (even if it’s intangible) is no different than taking a weapon and beating someone to a pulp. And because of its terrible long-term effects, the crime is that much worse.

The next question is this: What are our obligations as parents, teachers, writers, Web site editors or just plain adult citizens when it comes to abuse?

On one hand, we are talking about protecting innocent people from criminal predators, which clearly is a major obligation and a priority concern. On the other hand, we do have laws prohibiting embarrassing people (even criminals) in public, always hopeful, allowing people to correct their ways. We have laws about avoiding gossip and speaking ill about others (lashon harah), and not feeding into the base instinct of “talking about others” or “mob mentality” witch-hunting expeditions.

We have several obligations when we see or know about a crime, as well as obligations to prevent further crimes:

1) A witness to a crime who does not testify “must bear his guilt” (Leviticus 5:1). 

2) “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14), which includes the obligation to warn someone from a danger we are aware of. If you see someone walking down the street and you know that farther down the block there is an uncovered pit in the ground or a man with a gun, you are obligated to warn him. If we are aware of a predator, we must do everything possible to protect people from him.

3) “Do not stand still over your neighbor’s blood (when your neighbor’s life is in danger)” (Leviticus 19:16). It’s interesting to note that this commandment follows (in the same verse) “do not go around as a gossiper among your people,” suggesting that gossip is an issue only when no life is in danger. But if a life is in danger, then “do not stand still” even if means speaking about it in public.

4) “You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). If one does not admonish, then he is responsible for the other’s sin (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive 205; see Shabbat 54b. 119b). Although at the outset rebuke must be done “in private, kindly and gently,” not to embarrass him publicly (Arkhin 16b; Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative 305), but if it doesn’t help, the obligation is to admonish him in public (Rambam Deos 6:8. Shulchan Aruch HaRav Hilchos Onaah v’Gneivas Daas 30).

This is true even about a crime that does not affect other people. All the care taken about public shame is because the crime does not affect the public. And even then, there are situations where the admonishment must be done publicly. By contrast, in our discussion about abuse, which affects others, all these restrictions do not apply: Embarrassment of a criminal is never an excuse or a reason to put anyone else in potential danger.

Based on the above, I would submit the following criteria to determine whether to publish and publicize the name of a molester:

1) The abuse must be established without a shred of doubt. Because just as we must protect the potential victims of abuse, we also are obligated to protect the reputations of the innocent, and not wrongly accuse anyone without evidence or witnesses.

 2) Publicizing the fact will serve as a deterrent or even possible deterrent of further crimes, or will warn and protect possible future victims. If that is true, then lashon harah does not apply. It would be the equivalent of saying that it is lashon harah to warn someone of a weapon-wielding criminal who may cause harm.

3) Even if a name is not available to be publicized, the issue of abuse itself must be addressed for the same reasons stated: to make the public aware of the dangers, to protect innocent children.

The argument that publicity will give the community a “bad name” and “why wash our dirty laundry in public?” does not supersede the obligation to protect the innocent from being hurt.

Anyone who suggests that abuse must be overlooked, because (as one person told me) it “happens all the time” and “by many people, including our leaders,” or for any other reasons — is not different from ignoring any other crime, and is in itself a grave crime.

One could even argue that the greatest “kiddush HaShem” (sanctifying God’s name) is when a Torah-based community demonstrates that it doesn’t just mechanically follow the laws or isn’t merely concerned with reputations, but that it sets and demands the highest standard of accountability among its citizens, and invests the greatest possible measures to protect its children from predators, create trust and absolutely will not tolerate any breach or abuse. That the greatest sin of all is ignoring or minimizing crimes being perpetrated against our most innocent and vulnerable members: our children.

In conclusion: The bottom line in all matters regarding abuse is one and only one thing: protecting the innocent. Not the reputation of an individual, not the reputation of the community, not anything but the welfare of our children. In every given case, whether to publicize, whether to take any other action, the question that must be asked is this: What is best for the victims? Will or can this action help prevent someone from being hurt or not? If the answer is yes or even maybe yes, then the action should be taken.

The crisis has reached a boiling point where it must be addressed and brought to the attention of the public to make everyone aware of the dangers, the long-term consequences and the zero-tolerance policy that needs to be applied to every form of abuse.

Anything less would be irresponsible, immoral and, yes, in some way complicit.


Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of the best-selling book “Toward a Meaningful Life.” He heads The Meaningful Life Center (meaningfullife.com), in Manhattan, N.Y., which bridges the secular and the spiritual through a wide variety of live and on-line programming.

Getting ready for baby


Rabbi Julia Weisz found herself in a bit of a conundrum when she became an expectant mother.

On the one hand, the rabbi and director of education at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas was cautious about holding a baby shower. In the earlier stages of her pregnancy — she is due to have her first child in July — she said, “It seemed uncomfortable for me to celebrate something that wasn’t here.”

However, her Reform congregation wanted to honor her pregnancy. Ultimately, she agreed to have one in May. 

“A baby shower is a good way to bring the community together around something positive,” Weisz said. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to do something to help.”

When it comes to Jewish laws and customs, there are many different opinions on every lifecycle event — from birth to marriage to death. Baby showers are no exception.

While some Jews and clergy have no problem with throwing baby showers, others won’t even select a name for a baby prior to birth. There are no textual laws banning celebrations before the baby is born, but in some circles, it’s customary not to hold them. 

“It’s a little bit arrogant to assume the baby is going to be born,” said Rabbi Chaim Bryski of Chabad of Thousand Oaks. “Traditionally, we don’t tell anybody about the pregnancy, not even until the third or fourth month. To make a party to honor the baby would be uncomfortable from a traditional perspective, but there is no law that says you can’t.”

Some believe that if a baby’s name is uttered or his or her life is celebrated before birth, the evil eye, or ayin harah, might harm it, according to Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), a Conservative shul in Encino. 

“In our tradition, there is the theological and religious idea that a new life is very tenuous,” he said. “One of the superstitions is that the evil eye knows who to run after because they know the name of the person. If someone gets really sick, they can change their Hebrew name to escape the angel of death. We don’t do a lot to celebrate the baby in order to protect it from the possibility of its own demise.”

After a baby is born, more traditional Jewish families will celebrate by sponsoring Kiddush meals at their synagogues or hosting a shalom zachar, or a drop-in party for a baby boy, on the Friday night after he is born. 

Bryski suggests registering for gifts, and once the baby is born, they can be delivered. He said that if something happens to a baby, it adds to the pain the parents experience to be surrounded by presents.

Still, Rabbi Jonathan Hanish has no hesitation about having a baby shower, particularly because of modern medical advances.

“In today’s world, where you know a baby is healthy and you have such a high rate of successful pregnancies, a baby shower is totally acceptable,” said the rabbi at Temple Kol Tikvah, a Reform congregation in Woodland Hills.

One of Hanish’s congregants, Sarah Knopf, a mother of three, had a baby shower for her first son. Although she grew up with a superstitious grandmother, she wasn’t convinced that there was anything negative about it. 

“I needed to have everything done and organized before he came,” she said. “I’m a planner, so that made me feel better. I would have gone crazy.”

Farkas said that at VBS, which has 5,000 members, traditions vary. 

“Most of the congregation does do baby showers of different types. In our community, it’s not homogeneous by any means,” he said. “Some in the community will give babies names, and then there are some who [won’t do anything before a baby is born]. Some are in between. That reflects the larger Jewish community.”

Like Knopf, VBS member Nikki Eigler chose to hold a shower because she wanted to plan before the baby arrived. She said, “I’m a person who needs to be prepared. I did not want to come home from the hospital without having anything in the house.”

Allison Lotterstein, a congregant at Kol Tikvah, had no concerns either. She, like many expectant mothers, just wanted a way to commemorate a new life coming into the world. 

“Every pregnancy should be celebrated,” she said. “In my mind and in the minds of the people who threw me a shower, my baby was a blessing.

Jewish parent power tools can help kids cope with the tragedy at Sandy Hook and beyond


There’s been a lot of talk in the news about what to say to children about the massacre at Sandy Hook.  A steady stream of experts attempting to provide some sort of parental protocol for addressing this unimaginable tragedy with our kids: Find out what our child knows before divulging too many details. Limit our kids’ exposure to scary news reports. Reassure them that they are safe and that the adults in their lives know how to keep them from harm’s way. But even the best advice seems to fall short in this case as it’s ultimately impossible for anyone – our children or ourselves – to make sense of that which doesn’t. 

Thankfully, our rich Jewish tradition offers a unique set of resources to help us find our way over this most daunting of parental hurdles.  The following Jewish Parent Power Tools – when embraced for all their worth – can help our children cope with the harsh realities of Sandy Hook while gearing them with strength, courage and compassion for the uncertain road ahead.

The Shema.  “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” The Shema is considered the most important prayer in the Jewish religion as it perfectly and succinctly reaffirms of our faith and connection with God twice a day. The news out of Newtown that our kids might have seen on the TV, Internet, and social media can make their world feel frightening and out of control.  By saying the Shema, this sense of powerless is replaced by spirituality and belief in a higher power that will help guide and sustain them through good times and bad.

The Haggadah.  The word haggadah means a storytelling.  Sharing tales of overcoming hardship is part of our religion by design.  The Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life (MARIAL) at Emory University has shown this premise on a more scientific level.  A long-term study by MARIAL’s found that children whose parents told family stories at the dinner table had significantly better coping skills than those whose parents did not.  From Passover to Purim and everything in between, our Jewish narrative reassures our children of the power of perseverance and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World).  Senseless acts of violence like that which occurred in Newtown confirm that our world is indeed in need of repair.  Joining forces with our children to pick up litter in a park, volunteer in a soup kitchen, or doing other acts of Tikkun Olam can feel like our own little triumph over evil – a tiny step toward restoring that which was broken and tilting the balance scales toward good.

Tzedakah and Gemilut Chasadim (Acts of Loving Kindness).   There’s no doubt that the school shootings in Newtown shake us to the core.  But rather than focusing on the horror of what’s transpired, we should encourage our children (and ourselves) to channel our energies into feeling compassion for the families that were affected by this tragedies. Collecting Tzedakah or making cards for the students at Sandy Hook school can help facilitate this cognitive shift from fear to a much healthier compassion.

Jewish Courage.  There is a beautiful Hebrew song based on the sage words of Rav Nachman of Breslov. Kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar m’od v’ha-ikkar lo l’fahed klal.  The world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to fear. “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the overcoming of fear,” writes Rabbi Harold Kushner in his book Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World.  This is not to suggest that we encourage our kids to throw caution to the wind altogether.  They should, of course, be sensible and vigilant. But then it’s time to move forward: Skipping into their classrooms, laughing with friends on the schoolyard, walking that inevitably narrow bridge with a zest for life and faith in the world’s ultimate goodness.  Enjoy the journey together.


Sharon Duke Estroff is an award-winning educator and author of “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah?” (Random House). Her parenting articles appear in over 100 publications including Parents, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Huffington Post and the Jerusalem Post. Her four children give her an endless supply of parenting fodder.

High Holy Days: Books for children and teens


“Oh No, Jonah!”

by Tilda Balsley, illustrated by Jago (Kar-Ben: $7.95)Oh no, Jonah!

Those parents and teachers looking for a new twist on the story of Jonah (read yearly on Yom Kippur) need look no more. This latest version from children’s author Tilda Balsley sticks to the biblical text but is appropriate for very young children. The clever rhymes demand to be read out loud, such as after Jonah suggests that the frightened fisherman throw him into the sea: “Immediately, the weather cleared. / But things were worse than Jonah feared / ‘I wish I hadn’t volunteered.’ ” The vibrant, bold illustrations are truly stunning, and the artist’s interpretation of a huge, bright orange fish is probably more accurate than the usual depictions of whales. “A giant fish swam to his side / And stared at him all google-eyed. / Its mouth, humongous, opened wide / and, CHOMP! / He found himself inside.” Entertaining fun with a biblical message of forgiveness that is surely important to remember during the High Holy Days.


“It’s a … It’s a … It’s a Mitzvah”

by Liz Suneby and Diane Heiman, illustrated by Laurel Molk (Jewish Lights: $18.99)

If your kids haven’t heard of Mitzvah Meerkat and all his animal friends, then it’s time to introduce them to this delightfully illustrated picture book. The authors were inspired by a well-known Talmud teaching relating the importance of various good deeds, such as honoring parents, visiting the sick, helping the needy, bringing peace between people  and more. The lively animal characters joyously perform many mitzvot that children can easily relate to, and the clever layout helps parents introduce the Jewish concepts of performing good deeds in an age-appropriate manner. The title refers to the rhythmic refrain that can be chanted for fun by kids during a story-time session, but the whimsical pen-and-ink watercolor drawings are the highlight of this engaging way to introduce children to acts of loving kindness. Thankfully not preachy or otherwise didactic, the lessons are cute and contemporary.  (The sheep are knitting scarves, the monkeys play on monkey bars, etc.) This is an excellent book for the preschool classroom, but the cuteness factor of the animals’ antics will ensure that parents at home will also get lots of pleasure in learning great Jewish values and passing them on to future generations.


“The Apple Tree’s Discovery” 

by Peninnah Schram and Rachayl Eckstein Davis, illustrated by Wendy W. Lee (Kar-Ben: $7.95)

Well-known author and storyteller Peninnah Schram reminds us in her afterword to this charming fable: “To find the star in the apple, you must turn it on its side and cut it in half. We must look hard to find the beautiful star in each of us, and sometimes it just takes a change of direction.” When a little apple tree notices that stars in the sky appear to be hanging from branches of the taller oak trees, she asks God to grant her wish to also have stars. Although God notes that her “fragrant blossoms fill the air” and her “branches offer a resting place for birds” she covets only what others have. But when God causes a wind to blow and suddenly her delicious apples hit the ground, they split open, exposing the beautiful star within. This sweet parable about appreciating God’s gifts and understanding our own uniqueness is a universal tale. It will be particularly memorable if you remember to read it before you slice those Rosh Hashanah apples — by turning them on their sides and finding that elusive star.


“Be Like God: God’s To-Do List for Kids”

by Ron Wolfson (Jewish Lights: $15.99)

Did you know God gave us superpowers? This inspirational guide/journal for kids (ages 8-12) shows us how “our God shares God’s powers with us so we can make our lives better and the lives of others better. When we learn how to use God’s superpowers, we become God’s partners — God’s superheroes — on earth.” Even though it sounds moralistic, it isn’t. In fact, it looks like fun. The paperback volume sets up prominent Jewish educator Ron Wolfson as a friendly uncle who asks you thought-provoking questions and lets you write down all your answers in your book. This book is a kids’ version of Wolfson’s 2006 adult book, “God’s To-Do List — 103 Ways to Be an Angel and Do God’s Work on Earth.” Divided into 10 chapters such as “Rest,” “Care,” “Give” or “Forgive,” it can serve as a young person’s means of truly understanding the ways he or she can bring goodness into our world. Wolfson is remarkably at ease with the sort of unaffected language that will appeal to young people. The book is attractively designed, the stories within are engaging, and the child’s urge to write in it will be irresistible. 


“Text Messages: A Torah Commentary for Teens”

edited by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin (Jewish Lights: $24.99) Text messages

Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin (author of “Putting God on the Guest List”) wants young people to know that the Torah is about their lives — even if they are teenagers. “Every passage of Torah has the potential to be someone’s personal story and teaching — and that definitely includes you as a teenager,” he writes. Rabbi Salkin serves as editor of this volume and he has gathered insights into each of the 54 Torah portions from more than 100 Jews of all denominations. Most are rabbis, but other contributors are well-known educators, authors or community leaders. Some of the names that would be familiar to Angelenos would be Rabbi Sherre Hirsch, Chazzan Danny Maseng, Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, Rabbi David Wolpe, Ron Wolfson, Ruth Messinger, Rabbi Spike Anderson, Rabbi Zoë Klein, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi William Cutter, Rabbi Ken Chasen, Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Joel Lurie Grishaver, Rabbi Denise Eger and Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz. Each short, two- to three-page essay is written in an engaging teen-centered style, such as one by Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox, which opens the discussion of Parshat Miketz with this line: “How do you know whom to trust and what is true? In Miketz, Pharaoh faces that problem.” Of course this is a wonderful resource for bar mitzvah students, but it can also serve as the first go-to book for families who enjoy sharing Torah insights at Shabbat or holiday meals.


Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library and former children’s editor of Jewish Book World magazine. 

Kidsave changes lives for orphaned children, adoptive parents


Santiago Brown calls himself a “cashew.” It’s his way of combining the words “Catholic” and “Jew,” to refer to his unusual religious background. He lived in Colombia in a Catholic orphanage until being adopted into a Jewish family a year ago, at the age of 12. His mother, Lori Brown, a graphic artist and Nashuva member, says Santiago has Jewish music on his iPod and tells his friends, “It’s awesome to be Jewish.”

Brown first connected with Santiago through the organization Kidsave and its Summer Miracles program. Kidsave founders Terry Baugh, in Washington, D.C., and Randi Thompson, working in Los Angeles, were inspired to start the nonprofit after making visits to foreign orphanages where they witnessed children who were often left alone for hours without personal attention or mental stimulation. Kidsave, which has offices in Bogota, Colombia, and Moscow, is designed to find families for these children, as well as mentors and other sources of support.

Kidsave’s Summer Miracles program brings Colombian children from group homes and foster homes to the United States for four weeks during the summer. The children stay with “host-advocates” who care for the children while they are here, and who take it upon themselves to help find permanent homes for the kids.

Summer Miracles focuses on older children, usually between the ages of 8 and 11, who are often overlooked in the adoption process. Selected children must be legally and emotionally ready for adoption and typically are not more than two years behind academically in their home countries.

“I think there is a niche for these children,” says Sari Weiner, who adopted a child through Kidsave’s domestic hosting program, Weekend Miracles. As an older parent, Weiner did not want to adopt an infant, believing she would be too elderly by the time her child was grown. Other families may not have the energy for younger children or may want an older sibling for their other children.

Once chosen for the program, the children are brought from foster homes and group homes all over Colombia to the country’s capital, Bogota, for two weeks of training, psychological counseling and workshops. They are taught guest etiquette, some English and a bit about U.S. culture.

Estefany, left, and Johana participate in the three-legged race with Kidsave’s Bob Holman.

Host-advocates also complete role-playing workshops before the children arrive to prepare them for how to deal with situations that may arise. Rhona Rosenblatt, who has helped a child get adopted through a hosting program before and is hosting again this summer, jokes, “All the kids are doing great. The adults are constantly checking on them, being paranoid, but they are always fine.”

It costs a total of about $7,500 to bring a child to the United States through Summer Miracles, according to Thompson. Of that amount, host-advocates contribute a hosting fee of $1,250 and an application fee of $275. Host-advocates generally raise money through grass-roots organizing, while Kidsave itself receives grants and large donations.

Once the children are here, the host-advocates’ job is to spread the word about Kidsave and attend weekly events to introduce their visiting children to families. Susan Baskin, who is currently two weeks away from adopting the child she hosted last summer, mentioned Kidsave in her profile in The Jewish Journal’s “My Single Peeps” column. Brown, Santiago’s mother, has used Facebook, word of mouth and even a blurb on the Nashuva Web site to spread information about Kidsave. Brown says she brings up the organization in conversation whenever possible. Once, a teller at the bank who saw Santiago ended up mentioning Kidsave to a friend, and that friend is now in the process of adopting a child of her own.

Kidsave does not facilitate adoptions. Families who wish to adopt Colombian children after their summer visit must go through the normal international adoption process. Lauren Reicher-Gordon, the vice president of Kidsave and director of Family Visit Programs, said, “We are the yentas, the matchmakers.”

However, their success rate is noteworthy. Eighty percent of children from Summer Miracles are now adopted or in the process of being adopted, according to Reicher-Gordon. She attributes the high rate to the time families spend getting to know the kids.

Baskin agrees. Before hearing about Kidsave, she had attempted adoption on her own but was turned off by the lack of information about and time with the prospective children. “As a single woman, I felt I might not have the financial and emotional resources if the match was not good,” Baskin said. Kidsave motivated her to try adoption again because it gave her time to get to know her prospective child and a realistic idea of what it would be like to be a parent. Baskin hosted Johana in the summer of 2011 and will be leaving to pick up her new daughter in Colombia in two weeks.

The risk of any hosting program, of course, is that children’s hopes will be crushed if the adoption does not work out. Marcia Jindal, director of the intercountry adoption program at Vista Del Mar, has worked with Kidsave for seven years, doing home assessments before the children arrive, training the families, providing support and resources while the children are here, and conducting post-placement studies on children who have been adopted.

Jindal says there are pros and cons to every program. In her experience, she said, “The biggest negative that families find in these hosting programs is they feel it’s unfair to get the child’s hopes up. But there’s no way to prevent that, unfortunately.” Even if the families have the intention of adopting, the home countries of the children could at any time revoke permission to adopt. Additionally, a sudden family illness or financial problem could prevent the adoption from going through.

Valentina enthusiastically tosses a bean bag.

Reicher-Gordon says Kidsave has specific instructions for hosting families about how to approach the issue of adoption while the children are visiting. “It is not discussed when the kids are here. They are told they are learning English and having a cultural experience. … We know that kids are hopeful [for adoption], but it is not in the best interest of the children to tell them that before they leave.”

It is, nevertheless, a challenging issue to navigate. Baskin described taking Johana, who was crying and clinging to her, to the airport at the end of her visit. “I wished I could say I was going to adopt her. But all I could say was, ‘I will see you again.’ ”

Jindal stresses, however, that there are more positives than negatives to a program like this one. “Any way that we can get the word out there that children are waiting for permanency is good.” Vulnerable older children do need to be connected with families before they age out of the foster care system, and she says Kidsave does a very good job of matching children with families. “The families are really committed to advocating for the children.”

At the most recent Summer Miracles event, it appeared the hosting families cared deeply about their Kidsave children.

Baskin still remembers the expression on Johana’s face when she walked in the sand and splashed in the ocean for the first time a year ago.

Brown is hosting two more boys this summer, a second boy named Santiago — this one is 11 — and Julian, 12. The visiting Santiago recently learned to ride a bike for the first time.

“My heart is filled with joy and love,” Brown said. “They just need homes; they’re good boys. … The magic in them is amazing.”

I can’t be the badly dressed mom at pickup time


Today, I stopped home to change my outfit before picking up my kid from day care.

What, because you never know who might snap a photo as I lure my child into his car seat with the whispered promise of a Grover juice box? No one cares. Except now that I’m a parent, I care deeply about lots of things that are totally meaningless. For example, what I wear when I fetch my kid.

It’s not that I want to impress the other moms, or the woman who runs the place, or her assistant. It’s that on some level, I need to impress them.

Or at least that describes the urgency with which I want to stroll in wearing skinny jeans tucked into high-heeled brown suede boots with a casual but clearly expensive T-shirt.

It was one thing for me to show up places with a guacamole stain on my sleeve when I was only representing myself. Maybe it was even cute, not Zoey Deschanel in a romantic comedy cute, but I like to think it was close. Now that I’m a mom, for some reason it seems important to look important, or at least like I don’t eat in my car and buy accessories at Claire’s.

Yep, get ready, because this is one of those mom moments triggered by one of those daughter moments. Get cozy, it’s blame mom time!

It may not surprise you that keeping up appearances wasn’t exactly a thing to my mom, and bless her heart for being all free-spirited, but her free-spiritedness cost me big time.

My mom wore what she wanted, regardless of the setting. Graduation from Confirmation class at Temple Sherith-Israel, the other moms wore knit separates and wrap dresses, my mom wore something with a batik feel, something Mrs. Roper might have sold at a yard sale after placing it in her “too loud” pile. My mom never shaved her armpits, but always wore sleeveless. Granted, it was San Francisco and the hippie thing was arguably fashionable, but not at Hebrew school.

Part of me wished she would see that, and bend to the obvious notion that all kids want to fit in, and by extension, they would like their parents to blend.

Blending is an important skill I had to teach myself, the way I taught myself table manners and cursive, because counterculture childhoods kind of skip those stops on the growing-up train.

Looks matter. And by that I mean the sideways looks you get when your mom is sporting an exotic beetle-sized amethyst brooch to the dentist’s office.

What never fails to surprise me is the pressure I put on myself not to make a single mistake my mom made.

No epiphany about perfectionism or how shallow wardrobe is as an assessment of a person’s character is going to stop me from being aware of my wardrobe choices from now until I’m dropping my son off at his college dorm room (or visiting him in prison; I don’t want to jinx anything). I can’t hide how deeply I want to do better than my own mother, because I’ll be wearing it.

Ironically, I’ll be wearing wrinkle-free and appropriate clothing as I make a bevy of other untold errors in judgment that my son will go out of his way to avoid when it’s his turn. That’s how it is. We over-correct. In doing so, we make all sorts of other gaffes. There’s a closet full of ways to under-achieve, so grab whatever is on the rack. There’s something to fit everyone.


Teresa Strasser is a Los Angeles Press Club and Emmy Award-winning writer and the author of “Exploiting My Baby: Because It’s Exploiting Me” (Penguin). She blogs at ExploitingMyBaby.com.


Seth Menachem is on paternity leave and will return at the end of April.

You, with a kid


I’ll never forget asking my therapist the following question when I found out I was pregnant: “Who am I going to be?”

“You,” she answered. “With a kid.”

That was comforting that day, on that couch, staring at those Matisse prints, being that person who was terrified of mom jeans and my life thrown into a bouncy house to sprain its ankle and barf.

Now, that’s not so comforting.

In fact, there are days I don’t want to be just me, with a kid. I want to be a version of me that knows how to cook, so I won’t be defrosting gluten-free microwaveable burritos and calling it dinner. That’s right, preservatives and cost overruns, my friends. I’m not proud. But I had a baby, and I didn’t become that lady who subscribes to Real Simple, and I don’t understand what it means to “blanch” or even “julienne” a vegetable.

What’s more, I also didn’t become a fun, wildly animated lady. I’m still the pretty serious, reading a book on the history of fonts, inhibited, never even sings karaoke kind of lady. The woman who swings her child upside down over a sandcastle as she does a perfect Cookie Monster voice? I didn’t become her, and now sometimes I want to.

I’ve seen progress, which I’ll get to.

(And by the way, “progress” is just the kind of buzzword therapists love. It’s their catnip. It sounds very self-reflective, but not grandiose.)

The rush of love for your kid, not to mention the constant exposure to other parents to whom you can’t help but compare yourself, can make you feel like a real bummer, like you aren’t doing it right or aren’t doing enough, or having enough fun, or serving enough kale. If you can’t cook or maybe teach the essentials of good pitching technique or tutor in algebra or even play a decent game of hide and seek, you might be hard on yourself, as I can be, because I just want to be good, like a kid just wants to be good. I just want to be ebullient and have a minor in childhood development and maybe another in the art of drawing with sidewalk chalk. Is that too much to ask?

I am who I was before, and I wasn’t exactly making balloon animals and singing songs that require accompanying hand gestures.

What my therapist didn’t mention, because her purpose in that moment was to stop me from panicking about changing, is that what I used to be wasn’t all that glamorous, and that maybe a few changes would do me good.

My son loves rocks, loves trucks, loves being outdoors, loves watching motorcycles whiz by. I don’t inherently enjoy any of these things. The progress is that I’m starting to get it. A pile of rocks has its charm.

Last night, my son stopped his tricycle on the sidewalk and spread himself out on a bed of rocks, staring up at the sky. He motioned to me, and I spread myself out on the pile of rocks right next to him, and we both looked up, saying, “Sky. Trees. Airplane. Birds.” And I genuinely enjoyed the feeling of those rocks against my back, the setting sun on my face. There are times I see a motorcycle and genuinely find myself thinking, “Those are cool.”

Who is this? Did I change a little? Open myself to the little wonders a toddler digs because I want to love him the right way, and to do so I have to get dirty? Am I making the slowest, most imperceptible progress toward being one of the moms I admire? Have I become so lame at expressing myself I just ask a series of rhetorical questions meant to point toward some conclusion? I am still who I was, because I was always decent at experimenting, failing, trying again.

Looking up at the birds, that sounds idyllic and all for most people, but it was just never my thing. Now that my son is my thing, so are his birds and his rocks. I’m just me, with a kid, and grass stains on my heels.


Teresa Strasser is a Los Angeles Press Club and Emmy Award-winning writer and the author of “Exploiting My Baby: Because It’s Exploiting Me”( Penguin). She blogs at ExploitingMyBaby.com.


Seth Menachem is on paternity leave and will return at the end of April.

Boy allegedly set Jewish girl’s hair on fire after making slurs


A Canadian teenager was arrested for allegedly setting a Jewish classmate’s hair on fire after making anti-Semitic remarks.

Winnipeg police have charged the 15-year-old boy with assault with a weapon following an investigation of the Nov. 18 incident in the hallway of a local high school. Police say he confronted a 14-year-old girl and made the slurs before pulling out a cigarette lighter and singing her hair.

The girl did not suffer any serious physical injuries.

Police weren’t notified of the incident until Nov. 25 and arrested the boy on Dec. 4, CBC News reported.

Staff at the high school told the Winnipeg Free Press that the boy was suspended immediately, and he was later withdrawn from the school by his legal guardian.

Police said a possible hate crimes charge must be approved by Manitoba justice officials.

Investigators said the boy’s Facebook page contained posts of an “anti-Semitic” and “Nazi” nature. A school official said the teens had exchanges on social media prior to the incident.

Shelley Faintuch of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg called the incident “a shocking act of violence that must not be tolerated. The allegation that the attack may have been motivated by ant-Semitism makes it of special concern to the Jewish community, but in actual fact, an attack like this affects all communities.”

Alan Yusim of B’nai Brith Canada said the incident “tears at the fabric of the community. I think there should be zero tolerance for any hate-motivated activity in our schools.”

Britian to fund security at Jewish schools


Britain’s government will fund extra security for Jewish schools.

The new funds, for security personnel, will be in addition to the security measures already supplied to government-funded parochial schools, the BBC reported on Thursday. Parents at the Jewish schools until now have been pooling funds to pay for the guards to enhance standard measures, including cameras, fences and gates.

“Faith schools make a fantastic contribution to our education system and none more so than Jewish faith schools,” Education Secretary Michael Gove told the BBC. “Children and staff at these schools should feel safe at school and able to learn in an environment free from any anti-Semitic or racist threats.”

The government initially will pay the schools about $1 million and may provide another 3 million a year depending on need.

Florida school sues over Kohl’s Cares contest


A school in Florida that finished just out of the money in a national online contest sponsored by Kohl’s has sued two Florida Jewish day schools that did win one of 20 prizes.

Abi’s Place in Coral Springs filed a lawsuit against the Hebrew Academy Community School and Bais Chaya Inc. in Broward County, where all the schools are located, saying they reneged on their promise to help Abi’s win votes, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

Abi’s Place, a school with 10 special-needs children, finished in 21st place in the Kohl’s Cares Facebook contest that ended Sept. 3. The school alleges in its lawsuit that it paid $3,750 in expenses to the two Jewish schools in a joint vote-getting effort but did not receive assistance.

The Hebrew Academy Community School and Bais Chaya were among 12 U.S. Jewish day schools that finished in the top 20 of the contest, each receiving a $500,000 prize. Eleven of the top 20 were Chabad-affiliated, according to the Lubavitch.com website. Three schools eventually were disqualified for voting irregularities.

One of the disqualified schools, Yeshiva Achei Tmimim Academy in Worcester, Mass., announced this week that it would file complaints against Kohl’s with attorneys general offices in all 49 states where Kohl’s operates, according to the newspaper.

Groups praise child nutrition law, with qualms


Jewish groups praised the renewal of a law funding school meals, but expressed concern that it was financed in part by money designated for food stamps.

The approval in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act means the bill—which had been subject to some last minute wrangling—is ready for enactment by the president.

The bill extends for another ten years funding for school lunches and breakfasts for children from families that depend on the meals, estimated at 4.2 million households.

The passage “is an important achievement that will improve the lives of millions of children,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public policy umbrella for the Jewish community.  “This bill is an acknowledgement that in a nation as bountiful as ours, no child should worry about when their next meal will be.”

The JCPA was at the forefront of an interfaith coalition lobbying for passage.

Other groups that had sought the bill’s passage included the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and the National Council for Jewish Women.

All three groups in their statements praising passage expressed regret that some of $4.5 billion in funding was drawn from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp benefits.

“By imposing what amounts to a $60 per month cut in SNAP benefits for a family of four, Congress hurts the very families that this legislation is designed to help,” the RAC said. “Cutting SNAP benefits during the third consecutive year of rising poverty rates negates the positive impact of a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization. We call on Congress to act immediately to restore SNAP benefits to the level of funding that recipients were told they could rely upon until 2018.”

Quarterly calendar


MARCH

Fri., March 16

“Irish Writers Entertain: An Evening in the Company of Irish Writers.” One-man show starring Neil O’Shea. Part of the annual Irish Cultural Festival. Loyola Marymount University (LMU). 7:30 p.m. Free. LMU, Barnelle Black Box, Foley Building, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 338-3051.

Sat., March 17

“Cult of Childhood.” Multiple artists explore the menace and charm of childhood. Opening reception 7-10:30 p.m. Through April 15. Black Maria Gallery, 3137 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 660-9393. www.blackmariagallery.com.

Thu., March 22

Joffrey Ballet Performances. Two dance programs, one featuring live orchestra accompaniment, and the other featuring contemporary music by The Beach Boys, Prince and Motown artists. Choreography by Twyla Tharp, George Ballanchine and four others. Through March 24. $25-$115. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-0711. www.musiccenter.org/dance.

Werner Herzog Tribute and Film Retrospective. Screenings of “Heart of Glass,” “Fitzcarraldo,” “Grizzly Man,” and other films by the German director. Herzog will be discussing his work at some of the programs. American Cinematheque. Through March 25. $7-$10. Max Palevsky Theatre at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456. www.aerotheatre.com.

Ventura County Jewish Film Festival. Film subjects include the fate of European art during the Third Reich, a French butcher who saves the lives of three Jewish children, the journey of musician Debbie Friedman and a romantic tale of unrequited love. Through March 25. $36 (festival pass), $10-$12 (individual screenings). Regency Theatre Buenaventura 6, 1440 Eastman Ave.; and Temple Beth Torah, 7620 Foothill Blvd., Ventura. (805) 647-4181. www.vcjff.org.

Sun., March 25

“Projectile Poetry.” Hosted by Theresa Antonia, Eric Howard and Carmen Vega, the program features readings by published poets as well as an open mic for newcomers. 3 p.m. Dutton’s Brentwood Books, 11975 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-6263. www.duttonsbrentwood.com.

“Requiem.” World premiere of Christopher Rouse’s musical piece, performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and baritone Sanford Sylvan. Conducted by Grant Gershon. 7 p.m. $19-$109. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (800) 787-5262. www.lamc.org.

“Distracted.” Lisa Loomer’s comedy about an 8-year-old boy diagnosed with ADD and the fast paced, overly wired environment that may have caused it. Directed by Leonard Foglia and starring Rita Wilson and Bronson Pinchot. Center Theatre Group. Through April 29. $20-$55. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 628-2772. www.centertheatregroup.org.

Tue., March 27

“Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life.” Tony Award-winning dancer stars in a musical production celebrating her 50-year career. Directed and choreographed by Graciela Daniele. Through April 1. $25-$75. Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 655-4900. www.wilshiretheatrebeverlyhills.com.

Fri., March 30

Roy Zimmerman’s “Faulty Intelligence.” Singing political satirist takes aim at Saddam, Dick Cheney, creation science and more. 8 p.m. $25. Steinway Hall at Fields Pianos, 12121 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 471-3979.

“California Style: Art and Fashion From the California Historical Society.” Exhibit includes Victorian-era paintings, ball gowns and a re-created private parlor from the 1880s. Through May 27. $3-$9. Autry National Center, Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles. (323) 667-2000. www.autrynationalcenter.org.

APRIL

Thu., April 5

“The Art of Vintage Israeli Travel Posters.” Commemorating Israeli Independence Day, the exhibit displays posters produced by Israeli government tourism agencies as well as national and private transportation companies during the 1950s and 1960s. Through July 8. Free. Skirball Cultural Center, Ruby and Hurd Galleries, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Fri., April 6

John Legend Concert. Special guest Corinne Bailey Rae. 8:15 p.m. $30-$75. Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City. (818) 622-4440.

Sat., April 7

“Sleeping Beauty Wakes.” Musical adaptation incorporating deaf and hearing actors signing and singing to the book by Rachel Sheinkin. Also features GrooveLily .Center Theatre Group/Deaf West Theatre. Through May 13. $20-$40. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (213) 628-2772. www.centertheatregroup.org.

Wed., April 11

“The Elixir of Love.” Gaetano Donizetti’s light-hearted romantic opera is set in a West Texas diner in the 1950s. Opera Pacific. Through April 22. $27-$200. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (800) 346-7372. www.operapacific.org.

Thu., April 12

“KCLU Presents Terry Gross.” The host of National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” will speak about her experiences interviewing renowned writers, actors, musicians and political figures. Book signing will follow discussion. California Lutheran University. 8 p.m. $15-$50. Fred Kavli Theatre, Countrywide Performing Arts Center, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (805) 449-2787.

Malibu International Film Festival. Competition festival premiering films from around the world. Opening night party at The Penthouse and awards night at Geoffrey’s Malibu. Through April 16. $10-$100. Aero Theater, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 452-6688. www.malibufilmfestival.com.

Jane Austen Book Club. Series of six book club luncheons discussing Jane Austen novels with UCLA Professor of English Charles Lynn Batten. Novels included. Literary Affairs. 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. May 10, June 14, July 12, Sept. 27, Oct. 25. $375. Beverly Hills Country Club, 3084 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 553-4265. www.literaryaffairs.net.

Fri., April 13

“The Diary of Anne Frank.” Selections from the book performed as an opera and staged in specially prepared areas of parking garages. Featuring Laura Hillman, Schindler’s List survivor. Composed by Grigori Frid. Long Beach Opera. Through April 19. $15-$70. Lincoln Park parking garage, Ocean Boulevard and Pacific Avenue, Long Beach; Sinai Temple parking garage, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (562) 432-5934. www.longbeachopera.org.

Sat., April 14

“Preschool Poetry Jam.” David Prather hosts interactive children’s program with jump rope jingles, Shel Silverstein’s poetry, tumbling boxes, scooters and more. Part of Pillow Theatre Series for 3-6 year olds. Music Center. 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. Free. BP Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3379. www.musiccenter.org.

Tue., April 17

Noah Bleich: A Man of Many Hats


‘>Alex Baum

‘>Eve Marcus

‘>Marilyn Harran

‘>Rebecca Levinson

‘>Yoram Hassid

Noah Bleich is standing at the entrance of an elementary school with a blue-and-white menorah on his head. Once again, he has dragged himself out of bed to read stories to children.

“I’m not a morning person,” he says, “but it’s easy for me to get up if I have a reason.”

Every other week, for about three years, Bleich has been visiting neighborhood schools to read to kids. Each time, he arrives in a different hat. This morning, he has tossed aside his zebra-print cowboy hat, giant sombrero and Mad Hatter top hat in favor of a white faux-fur and blue velvet piece topped with felt candles. The kids love it.

Bleich, 31, is used to wearing many hats. As the newly elected president of the South Robertson Neighborhood Council, Bleich not only runs the council’s monthly meetings, but he spends much of his time — as many as 30 hours a week, he says — planning projects to benefit the community.

“He’s like the Superman of the Neighborhood Council,” said Steven Coker, a council board member. “Most people think of themselves first, and if there’s time or money left over, then they think of everybody else. With Noah, it’s reversed. He thinks of the community first and himself second.”

An observant Jew, Bleich provides a Jewish rationale for his commitment. While Judaism teaches that each individual is unique and special, it also emphasizes community, he says.

He tries to put this teaching into practice: “Judaism should be about living it.”

Bleich, a self-employed computer consultant, has started building a computer lab at the local community center. He has also written a grant application, asking for funds to renovate the center and build a garden outside.

He recently helped a group get funding for a three-week program for at-risk youth. Kids will now be able to go to the community center to take life-skills classes during their winter break from school. Bleich has volunteered to coach the children on how to build computers and how to cook.

One of Bleich’s greatest passions is protecting the environment. As the leader of the council’s Green Team committee, Bleich runs monthly neighborhood cleanups to pick up garbage, paint over graffiti and plant trees and flowers (he initiated a project to plant hundreds of trees in honor of the firefighters who died on Sept. 11 and the Los Angeles firefighters who have died in the line of duty).

Bleich pays careful attention to how his own actions impact the environment. To save gas, he walks, bikes or takes the bus whenever he can. He is a vegetarian who uses canvas shopping bags and energy-efficient lightbulbs. Bleich will pay extra for goods made in countries with high environmental and social standards.

He tries hard to do the right thing, he says, not because he believes he will change the world, but because he sees no satisfactory alternative.

“I don’t do the environmental work because I think I’m going to make a difference,” he says. “I don’t think I can, given the scope of what needs to be done.

“I do it,” he says, “because I don’t believe I’m excused from trying.”

To get involved in the South Robertson community, e-mail noah@soronc.org.

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times


If it says in the Torah that embarrassing someone is worse than death, then why does “Mortified” seem so Jewish?

The show features adults revisiting their own teen angst onstage by sharing their original childhood artifacts — journals, letters, poems, lyrics, illustrations, song and dance numbers — with perfect strangers in the audience. Very few of the performers are actors, which often makes their readings seem even more revealing and unfiltered as they read from their childhood keepsakes and offer comments on them. Many of these, which currently are being performed in versions of the show in five cities across the country, have been compiled into a book titled, “Mortified: Real Words, Real People, Real Pathetic” (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2006), offering both the original text and a view from the adult perspective. And it is this duality of real exposure and the distance of time that makes this so poignant — and mortifying.

The material often reveals the writer’s innermost fears. Here is Sharone Jelden writing when she was 17:

“Dear Diary ….When you’re Jewish and cheap you’re doomed. At school, I have to act extra-giving because I’m a Jew. Like if I’m in the food line to buy my Lorna Doones and tea in the morning and some popular girl like Cindy Mcklansky is in line in front of me, short of change or something, I have to give her money. I don’t have a choice; it’s a requirement.”

The topic of religious identity — Jewish and Christian — is heavily featured, such as in pieces like “Cheap Jew,” “The Unholy Land” “Gotta Have a (Boy) Friend Named Jesus,” “Courting Catholic Guilt,” but it’s far from the only subject excavated in “Mortified.”

“Religious identity and kids fitting in, that’s one of the top three things kids write about,” says David Nadelberg, creator, producer and self-titled “angstologist.” “We’re just reflecting what kids go through: romance, religion, peer groups, depression, parental relationships, divorce and remarriage and even eating disorders.”

Nadelberg first came across the unlikely combination of shame and humor when he was in his 20s, before the advent of reality television.

“I found some really wretched ancient love letters that I’d never sent to a poor, unfortunate girl, and I started really laughing at it,” he said. “I knew my friends would laugh at it, too.”

In 2002, he mounted his first production of “Mortified” to a sold-out audience in Los Angeles, and people began to ask when the next show would be. It now runs monthly in Los Angeles, with the next shows scheduled for Jan, 24 and Feb. 21. “Mortified” also now plays regularly in New York, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago.

The show does not aim for the kind of exhibitionism of reality shows, Nadelberg says. “It’s not ‘look at me, look at me,’ that’s not our focus. Our comedy philosophy is we want the audience to ‘laugh at, cheer for.'”

He says the point is not to mock what stupid kids we were, but to show warmth and humor in the pain.
In fact, as part of the Mortified “brand” — the five-city shows, the book, as well as animated YouTube videos — “Mortified” has begun to bring its performances back to a different kind of audience: Kids. Last month, for example, there was a special show for a Wilshire Boulevard Temple youth group. Afterward, kids came up to the performers and thanked them. Nadelberg says they showed the kids that “we’re all living these lives, and then we survived.”

It’s hard to believe they will survive, though, when listening to the overwrought angst and suffering in the pieces, which include stories of everything from shoplifting, cutting school, boy trouble, parental problems to coming out to issues of popularity and coming out as a homosexual and homesickness.

For example, from the 1976 summer camp letters of Adam Gropman:

“Dear Mom and Dad, I can’t stand it anymore!!! All the kids in my cabin hate me! They steal and wreck my things! I can’t escape it! I want … to go … KILL MYSELF!!!!”

His parents reply calmly:

“Dear Adam, “Think about something … you feel really good about. And then before you know it, you won’t feel like a Gloomy Gus anymore!”

This is right before Adam’s parents finally pull him from camp — none too soon, because a day after he left, a bunkmate burned down two cabins.

And therein lies the divide between people as adults — possessing life perspective and the ability to deal with crisis — and children, who experience intense fears, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, love and passion. Adults sometimes forget that it was all too real.

“There’s a difference between this and natural embarrassment,” says Neil Katcher, co-producer of “Mortified LA.” “A lot of what the show is about is aggressive embarrassment.

“People go on stage, knowing that what they wrote was embarrassing when they were younger. Allowing yourself to be embarrassed is the most cathartic thing about the show,” he says — for both performers and audience members. The cathartic thing “is very Jewish in my mind.”

“A lot of Jewish kids kept diaries. We’re brought up to be more expressive about our emotions. A lot of us had particularly strong mothers,” Katcher says. Even in Hebrew school you learn how to debate and discuss, he says. “That translates to people who think a lot more and who have a lot of inner debate and inner struggle, and it creates very expressive [people]. With really good inner debates.”

Nadelberg agrees. “It feeds off a Jewish stereotype … we’re just neurotic. We need a place to channel that neurosis. When we grow up and have money and we become Woody Allen, but until that time, we have our journals and letters and pages of horrific poetry. And that’s where we capture that.”

“Mortified LA” will be performed on Jan. 24 and Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. at King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.

For tickets call (877) 238-5596 or visit www.getmortified.com


David Nadelberg, Angstologist

Jewish day schools short-change kids with special needs


Adam is pushing the strings of his tzitzit through a small hole on the side of his desk.

“If you don’t want to finish your work now, that’s OK,” his teacher, Chau Ly tells him. “You can do it later.”
“It’s easy. I just don’t feel like it,” answers Adam (not his real name).

He looks at the language arts workbook open in front of him, then flips it to examine the bar code. He wants to tell Ms. Ly about the cat next door. Ms. Ly, sitting right across from him, tells him he can do that when he finishes his assignment.
She begins to read him the next question.

He pulls at some rubber on his sneaker and says, “I don’t need help, it’s easy.”

Ms. Ly sits back. Adam, an 11-year-old with learning and emotional disorders, begins to work quietly.

Finally, he finishes his assignment. Ms. Ly adds up the points he’s earned for doing things like getting his head into the assignment and working independently, and sets the timer for his break.

He chooses to spend his time exchanging cat stories with Ms. Ly.

Adam is one of 12 students in Kol Hanearim, an organization that sponsors small classes in three local day schools for children with learning disabilities and emotional disorders such as attention deficit, oppositional behavior, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. The kids spend part of the time in their own classroom and part of the time mainstreamed in regular classes. They also join their grade level for lunch, recess, art, PE and other activities.

The classes were founded last year by mothers of kids who had been either asked to leave a Jewish day school, or who chose to leave on their own. Their decision to stay and make something new is part of a slowly emerging trend toward integrating diverse learners into the Jewish day school milieu — a move that everyone agrees has been too slow in coming, and has hardly begun to reach the students who need it.

For years, resources for kids with special needs have been scarce in Los Angeles’ day schools.

While supplemental Jewish education programs — camps, Hebrew schools, Shabbatons and parties — have provided wonderful Jewish experiences to the region’s special needs kids during the last 10 to 20 years, other cities seem to be making greater strides with their day school populations.

Parents who want their special needs children immersed in a Jewish environment on a daily basis often have to fend for themselves with minimal school support. Those able to afford it have hired tutors and shadows, which has not always been a successful solution. More often, parents have had to make the difficult choice to take the kids out of Jewish schools.

For parents in the Orthodox community, the decision to pull a kid out of day school means not only forfeiting a vital environment and education, but has social consequences, as well. Since the majority of Orthodox children attend day school, the child will be excluded from social circles, further marginalizing him or her.

With the explosion of day school attendance in the non-Orthodox sectors over the last 15 years, that decision is equally painful for Conservative and Reform parents who hoped to solidify a child’s identity with an intense Jewish experience.
About 10 percent of the general population has a disability, and the Bureau of Jewish Education estimates that between 700 and 800 children with disabilities are in Los Angeles’ 37 day schools, which serve 10,000 kids.

Over the past several years, schools and programs have opened up to teaching a more diverse array of learners in Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and community schools.

“There is a growing awareness that day schools need to be accessible to the widest range of students possible, and schools are working hard to refine their mission statements and to make sure that whatever their aspirations are to work in this area, that they find the financial and human resources to make it successful,” said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. The Boston-based group recently published a best practices report from day schools across the country.

Adam’s mother says her son, who previously attended Vista Del Mar’s Julia Ann Singer Center, a school near Culver City for children with severe emotional, learning and developmental disorders, has worked his way from a first-grade reading level to a fourth-grade reading level at Kol Hanearim. Whereas before he was surrounded by other kids with behavioral challenges, now he has nonchallenged children to model behaviors for him.

He is no longer embarrassed to wear a kippah and tzitzit, and can participate in class cooking projects without worrying about kashrut. He now asks to go to shul every Shabbat, and he even sings Hebrew songs in the shower.

While singing in the shower may seem like a silly benchmark, a positive or negative day school experience can have lifelong impact on a child’s Jewish identity.

One woman who contacted Kol Hanearim told the story of her son, now grown, who had been thrown out of yeshiva and told he would never amount to anything. Today, he is working toward a master’s degree in physics and is engaged to a non-Jewish woman.

Slammed Doors, New Opportunities

Kol Hanearim started its classes last academic year, soon after, Sharon Gindi was told that day school was no place for her son. She found that there were no good options for him within the Jewish community.

She got in touch with Kol Hanearim, a group of parents who had coalesced a few years before to offer Jewish programming to their children, who had left day schools. They had already met with principals in hopes of figuring out how to start classes for special-needs kids in day schools. But after two years, those meetings had gotten nowhere.

“I looked at my husband, and I said, ‘ All we need is a classroom and a teacher? How hard can this be?'” said Gindi, who will be speaking on this topic at a session at the United Jewish Community’s General Assembly here this week. So she skipped over the organizational meandering and immediately got down to details.

It’s Pat — South African queen of kosher cuisine


Smoked duck with papaya salsa. Wild mushroom turnovers. Chicken roulade with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. Sushi.
Hungry yet? Good.

You keep kosher? Not a problem.

These are just a few of the elegantly presented gourmet dishes created by Pat Fine, of Pat’s Restaurant and Pat’s Catering.
In the nearly three decades since Fine started serving up her dishes in the Southland, the kosher dining landscape has changed dramatically. As David Kamp chronicles in his book, “The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation,” Americans of all stripes have been tutored in fine dining by a string of successful chefs, food critics, cookbook writers and restaurateurs over the last 30 years. This phenomenon has raised the bar for kosher cooking as well, creating demand for chic kosher dining.

Fine has been — and remains — a kosher cuisine pioneer in Los Angeles. Perhaps Rabbi Meyer May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and frequent Pat’s customer, sums it up best: “She’s the queen of kosher catering, absolutely top of the line.”

Raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Fine was one of four daughters. Her mother had very little interest in cooking, so Fine and her sisters were given free reign in the kitchen. Her father, a man who loved to eat, proved an enthusiastic recipient of his daughters’ culinary adventures.

Although had she expressed a desire to become a professional cook, Fine is convinced that her mother “would have freaked.” Cooking was thought of as “such an ordinary job, one that simply wasn’t OK for nice Jewish girls,” Fine said.
As a concession to her parents, Fine went on to university to train and work as a pharmacist.

“I was misguided,” she said. “Someone should have said to me ‘Why don’t you go to chefs school?’ I would have loved to go to Cordon Bleu or somewhere like that. But I didn’t, and I regret that.”

Continuing to live and work in Johannesburg, Fine met her husband, Errol. They married in 1970 and soon started their own family. While Fine’s parents were traditional Jews — they lit candles on Friday nights and celebrated the holidays — her in-laws were more observant.

“They kept kosher, so of course when I married I began to [keep kosher] as well,” Fine said.

As massive riots broke out in Soweto near Johannesburg in 1976, the Fines left South Africa with their three sons to start anew in California.

“I had never left the country until we emigrated; I didn’t even have a passport,” Fine said.

The Fines settled in Los Angeles, where Errol was the financial controller for a chain of men’s clothing stores. Pat was busy at home with their children, but still loved learning about food and creating new recipes, so she spent a lot of time “reading and experimenting on my own.”

Over time, more and more of Fine’s friends asked her to prepare food for celebrations and events.

“I was cooking out of my house. I was doing everything myself — the shopping, cooking, delivery, serving. It became too much,” she said.

Since large trucks were prohibited from frequenting her residential neighborhood, Fine would sometimes send deliveries to her children’s school and then transport items with her own car.

Fine expanded her catering with the purchase of a deli on Pico Boulevard in 1982, which she named Elite Cuisine. She soon opened a second Elite Cuisine deli on Beverly Boulevard near Hancock Park. (Although Fine has since sold both delis, the new owner of the Hancock Park location has kept the name.)

As Fine remembers, “When we started out, there were just places like Nosh and Rye. There was nothing else — just some falafel places, kosher hot dogs, deli food. I would tell people that we’ve got pasta salad and they’d say ‘macaroni salad?’ because that was all they knew.”

When she sold the last of her delis about 15 years ago, Fine consolidated her business, opened the fleishig (meat) Pat’s Restaurant on Pico Boulevard near Doheny Drive and expanded the catering operations. Around the same time, Fine said, she offered her accountant husband a job.

With Errol Fine running the business side — from managing 50 employees to handling details for events as far away as in San Francisco — Pat Fine is free to spend her time focused on food.

“He has a lot of charisma, so he meets with people. I prefer to be in the kitchen,” she said.

“It’s a very good partnership,” she added.

As kosher cooking has become increasingly sophisticated and customer’s palettes have become more refined, Fine said she endeavors to stay ahead of the curve. Inspired by her customers’ knowledge and by other creative chefs, Fine said, “Whatever they’re doing out there, say at Spago’s, we’re doing, but kosher.”

Despite her ongoing love for fine food, one shouldn’t expect an invitation for a home-cooked meal at the Fine residence any time soon. At the end of the workday, her home kitchen is the last place Pat Fine wants to be.

She warned, “If you ask me to make coffee at home it’s a big deal — you’re on your own. The most you’ll get in my house is a bagel and cottage cheese.”

The magic Spend/Save/Tzedakah Plan keeps kids thinking


“I know what I want for my birthday,” my first-grader announced upon returning from school today. “A PSP [PlayStation Portable].”

“Jake” I replied, intent on giving my son perspective on how much his request would cost. “Do you realize that you could go to the dollar store and buy 300 toys for the price of one PSP?”

“Really?” Jake asked, clearly pondering this revelation. “I guess I’ll just do that instead!”

It’s not that my son is inherently greedy. On the contrary, he’s compassionate and generous. It’s just that he is in a developmental place where it’s difficult for him to grasp the concept and value of money. In fact, the vast majority of grade-schoolers (up to age 11) are what cognitive psychologists call concrete thinkers. That means they have a tough time conceptualizing anything they can’t physically see or touch. Money — thanks to credit cards, checks, Internet PayPal accounts and the like — is a hugely abstract concept.

Through the eyes of my soon to be 7- year-old, the difference between $300, $30 and $3 is largely inconsequential. I know it seems hard to believe that this could be so, but that’s only because we adults have the ability to think abstractly. Trust me, after a decade and a half as an elementary school teacher, I can tell you that, with rare exception, the only way an early elementary-aged child is going to truly understand the quantitative distinction between these amounts is if he actually sees 300 $1 bills piled next to 30 $1 bills piled next to three $1 bills.

So how do we enlighten our concrete-thinking kiddies to the fact that — despite popular playground belief — money doesn’t grow in ATM machines? With the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan, of course! A superconcrete, positively priceless program that helps children the grasp the value of money, empowers them with financial smarts and encourages them to give back to their community, all in one fell swoop.

Here’s what you need to know to get it working for your little spenders.

Three Little Piggies

The basic premise of the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan is to have our kids regularly divide their allowance into three distinct sections — one for personal spending, one for saving and one for giving. Deciding how to allocate the money (i.e. 60 percent spending, 30 percent savings and 10 percent tzedakah) is a personal family choice, but it’s important to make sure kids stick to their designated amounts every week.

Spending

For the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan to work its magic, children should be required to use their personal spending money for all nonessential purchases other than birthday and Chanukah gifts. That means our kids pay for their own popcorn at the movies, Power Ranger popsicles from the ice cream man and fruitless attempts on the “try-to-pick-up-a-stuffed-animal-with-a-metal-claw” machine.

Still doubtful? Consider the following scenarios:

Shopping at Target without the Spend/Save/Tzedakah Plan:
Child: “Can I get that Hot Wheels car?”
Parent: “No”
Child: “Please? It’s only $1.29, and I’ve really been wanting that one.”
Parent: “I said NO.”
Child: “But, it’s a Hummer Hot Wheels — with real monster truck wheels!”
Parent: “How many times do I have to tell you? No means no!”
Child: “Please? PLEASE? PLEEEEASE?”
Parent: “OK, fine. Just put it in the cart and stop whining.”

(Epilogue: The same scene plays out the next day only this time the kid wants a pair of $70 Heelys roller sneakers.)

Shopping at Target with the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan:
Child: “Can I get that Hot Wheels car?”
Parent: “Sure. You can use your spending money any way you’d like.”
Child: “Well, I don’t really need it. I’d rather save my money for those Heelys roller sneakers.”

On Saving

Just to clarify. The kind of savings we’re talking about here is the kind you put away for a long-term goal — like going to college or spending a high school semester in Israel — not an exorbitantly priced toy or an overpriced outfit. The key here is to help our children move beyond the instant gratification mentality toward understanding that some things cost so much money it takes years to save and pay for them.

Finally, it’s important for children to have a concrete representation of their savings progress. Have them place a sticker on a chart each time they surpass a $10 increment, or enroll them in a kiddie savings program that requires no minimum balance and provides monthly statements. We parents will be as excited as our kids to see how much money they are putting away for their future!

Tzedakah

Our kids’ lives largely exist within a vacuum. They have their families, their friends, their schools, their neighborhoods and their material possessions. They often don’t consider the needs of those less fortunate, not because they don’t care but because they are not used to thinking outside their familiar worlds.

By putting a small portion of their allowance toward tzedakah each week, our children will begin to appreciate their responsibility as Jews and human beings to share their resources with the community.

They’ll come to recognize that many of life’s most precious gifts come without a barcode. And that — in the scheme of things — a PlayStation Portable isn’t really that important after all.

For a piggy bank perfectly designed to fit the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan, check out the Learning Cents bank at

At-risk youth; Much more Mathout; Donkeys vs. Elephants — the beef goes on


Custody Battle
 
Wendy Jaffe’s cover story on divorce focused primarily on the custody battles while neglecting alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation, which can lead to far more peaceful results (“Who Gets the Shul?” Oct. 6).
 
In my role as a divorce mediator, I have worked over the years with scores of Jewish couples who are separating or divorcing to help them negotiate issues concerning their Jewish life and the Jewish life of their children. Couples in mediation are able to reach agreement on synagogue membership, synagogue dues and religious school fees, b’nai mitzvah costs, the wording on b’nai mitzvah or wedding invitations, as well as how they will share time with their children for holy days and festivals.
 
Not only is mediation less expensive than litigation, but the process results in far less acrimony and battle. Divorce, while maintaining shalom bayit, is indeed possible.

Rabbi Jeffrey A. Marx
Sha’arei Am — The Santa Monica Synagogue

 
Maher Hathout
 
It would have been irresponsible to stand by when a man is honored, even though he uses anti-Israel, anti-Jewish propaganda and participates in rallies that support terrorist groups, as he did at the Federal Building on Aug 12, where he was a keynote speaker and participants chanted, “Long Live Hezbollah” (“Controversial Muslim Leader Gets Award,” Sept. 22).
 
Hathout never distanced himself from them, nor, after his nomination, did he try to reach out and allay our understandable concerns. Instead, he lashed out, labeling us “un-American” fringe groups that oppose free speech or dislike Muslims. Hathout is free to say whatever he likes, but this extremist, divisive rhetoric and behavior should not be any city’s model for human relations.
 
We were not alone. Only four out of 14 commissioners voted for Hathout, with five abstaining and four absent. Steven Windmueller, dean of Hebrew Union College and a 1995 Buggs [Award] honoree, returned his award, stating that the [County Human Relations] Commission’s selection of Hathout stained the legacy of the award’s namesake.
 
There has been no “pressure” on us from “Jews in high places,” and we have not backed down. As rhetoric about the Middle East continues to escalate, the endgame of our protests is to send a strong message about desirable standards of discourse for Los Angeles, to educate the public about extremist rhetoric and to raise questions about who is a “moderate Muslim.”
 
We succeeded. We hope that Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders everywhere were paying attention and will strive for balanced, informed discourse as the standard for people singled out for special recognition.
 
Roz Rothstein
Director, StandWithUs

 
At-Risk Youth
 
I would like to applaud The Jewish Journal and Julie Gruenbaum Fax for courageously highlighting Aish Tamid and other programs in Los Angeles that offer “troubled teenage boys a way to curb self-destructive behavior” (“Orthodox Youth Not Immune to High-Risk Lifestyles,” Sept. 29). The topic of troubled teens is one of the most pressing and concerning issues facing our city, and it is important to supplement the article with a few additional facts and comments.
 
Firstly, while the core services and programs provided by Aish Tamid are tailored for troubled teens, we have also witnessed that not only troubled teens regularly attend and participate, but that there is a craving for our services by many different types of students. It is correct that our programs have been designed and appeal to troubled teens and/or students who have tried or are using drugs, but most Aish Tamid students are not druggies, and it is important to clarify this important distinction for the sake of all of our student participants.
 
It is also significant to note that the issue of at-risk youths is not restricted to only the Orthodox community, but that it affects all teens and young adults in our city, irrespective of their religious upbringing.
 
The article began with the mention of an Orthodox boy who overdosed on drugs, but many of us recall reading a little more than a year ago about the unfortunate death of a Los Angeles boy who was raised in the local Conservative schools and synagogues of our city who also died from a drug overdose.
 
In fact, after being mentioned and quoted in your 2005 article, Aish Tamid received a flood of phone calls from parents and school principals within the Conservative and Reform movements who confirmed that their children and/or students where facing the exact same challenges that was attributed to only Orthodox students in your recent article.
 
It would be naive of us to conclude that only Orthodox students are challenged with religious expectations, community and family pressures, academic and educational obstacles, questions on personal relationships, uncertainties on professional career options and, of course, the immense social influences of sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling and other self-destructive habits.
 
These are the challenges of all teens and young adults, not just Orthodox, and the Aish Tamid programs and services, especially the Pardes/Plan B alternative high school program, have been designed to provide resources and support to all Los Angeles teens, young adults and their parents, irrespective of their religious affiliation.
 
Rabbi Avi Leibovic
Founder and Executive Director
Aish Tamid of Los Angeles

 
Politicized Reports
 
Joseph M. Lipner makes several interesting points in his op-ed (“Israel Should Probe Accusations of War Crimes,” Sept. 29), particularly on the subjective nature of terms such as “war crimes.”
 
Unfortunately, his piece is marred by incredible naiveté regarding human rights NGOs. Claims that Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International “appear to be acting with good motives” toward Israel, or that they can be expected aggressively to take the side of civilians in any military conflict are not grounded in reality. They reflect the halo effect these groups cultivate to escape accountability.
 
Research carried out by NGO Monitor shows a different story. Amnesty and HRW released highly politicized reports and statements throughout the war. Amnesty published a scathing 50-page report focusing entirely on Israel’s actions, while hundreds of rockets fell on Israeli civilians daily. HRW even denied Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields.

Conejo and West Valley shuls rate high with newcomers


For a Jew who doesn’t belong to a synagogue, the West San Fernando and Conejo valleys are good places to shop around. A new report from the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) gives a snapshot of the community as a whole and an assessment of its ability to react to newcomers, including interfaith couples, racial minorities and sexual minorities.
 
The JOI presented results from “The Jewish Outreach Scan of the West Valley/Conejo Valley” during a well-attended Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance board meeting at The New JCC at Milken in West Hills on Oct. 4. The survey was funded by the United Jewish Communities’ Emerging Communities Project.
 
Last summer, the JOI anonymously e-mailed and called 11 synagogues and four community agencies in the Conejo and West Valley, assessed the effectiveness of local Web sites and interviewed 30 Jewish communal professionals. The organization has conducted similar surveys in communities such as San Francisco, Phoenix, Atlanta, Louisville, Ottawa and Washington, D.C.
 
The West Valley/Conejo Valley drew a 77 percent favorable response rate, placing it second overall behind Ottawa’s 86 percent.
 
“The biggest surprise was … how well we did,” said Carol Koransky, Valley Alliance executive director. “But it’s true, as was pointed out to us, that doing 77 percent means there are 23 percent that aren’t being reached.”
 
According to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey, 44 percent of Jewish adults are unaffiliated, while 28 percent are moderately affiliated. With the intermarriage rate currently hovering at about 50 percent, and with only about 30 percent of interfaith families raising their children Jewish, Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, JOI’s executive director and former vice president of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, said it’s important for synagogues to review their outreach strategies.
 
“Eighty-five percent of interfaith families are not affiliating with the Jewish community,” Olitzky said. “Unless they engage the Jewish community, it’s unlikely they’ll raise Jewish children.”
 
The scan did not compare response rates of area synagogues or agencies to one another. However, Olitzky recounted one anonymous phone call placed to a synagogue. When a receptionist told a caller to check back after the New Year regarding an “Introduction to Judaism” class for his non-Jewish spouse, the caller asked if the receptionist meant Jan. 1.
 
“The person on the phone said, ‘Honey, when I say the New Year, I’m talking about the Jewish New Year,'” Olitzky said.
 
In addition, the receptionist never asked for the caller’s contact information.
 
According to Olitzky, one of the biggest obstacles the Jewish community must overcome is its kiruv mentality, a Hebrew term that means “to bring near.” He said many synagogues wait for unaffiliated Jews to come knocking. Instead, Olitzky suggested that congregations think outside the shul and engage in what JOI calls “public space Judaism.”
 
“We spend most of our time in a secular environment,” Olitzky said. “We need to create programs where people will stumble over the Jewish community.”
 
Founded in 1988 as a vest-pocket organization for City University sociology professor Egon Mayer to conduct studies, New York-based JOI has expanded its mission over the last 10 years and now features a variety of outreach programming, including interfaith inclusion efforts and surveys of North American Jewish communities.
 
Prior to last Passover, a Conservative congregation in Northern California took part in a pre-holiday JOI program called Passover in the Aisles. Congregants spent time near a matzah display in a Palo Alto Albertson’s, talking with unaffiliated Jews shopping for their family seders.
 
Olitzky suggests this kind of activity can draw in those who might not come to a synagogue on their own; other suggestions are holding readings in bookstores, setting up tables with kid-friendly activities in front of a Target or Staples during back-to-school shopping or holding menorah lightings in malls the way Chabad does. “Why not take what Chabad does well and copy it?” he suggested.
 
Temple Beth Haverim has been doing just that for the last 10 years, holding menorah lightings at The Promenade at Westlake.
 
“We’ve just been providing it as a service for the community,” said Rabbi Gershon Johnson, who added that the Agoura Hills Conservative synagogue hadn’t looked on the activity as an outreach opportunity. He said the congregation would be more proactive this year about collecting names and phone numbers from unaffiliated Jews attending the event.

Olitzky said that adopting a retail mentality can help get people in the door, especially advertising membership discounts and free specials.
 
Debbie Green, vice president of membership at Conservative Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, said her synagogue drew in 40 unaffiliated Jews with an outreach program that advertised special no-cost High Holiday tickets. But she said follow-up has been a problem for Aliyah.
“One month later, we need to be telephoning them and offering free tickets to something else,” she said. “We’re one-time-event oriented, and we need to get beyond that.”
 

 

For more information about the Jewish Outreach Institute, visit www.joi.org.

Power of the Prez; In the wake of war; Children work for a cure


Power of the Prez

Century City attorney and Iranian Jewish activist H. David Nahai was elected president of the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commission on Sept. 21. The five-person commission unanimously elected Nahai who was originally appointed to the board that overseas the city’s water and power service by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last September.

“For me it’s a great honor and a significant opportunity because there is so much more the DWP can do, such as renewable energy, finding new water sources, and doing outreach,” Nahai said.

This new position is significant in that Nahai becomes one of only two Iranian Jews currently serving in local government in Southern California, a rare achievement for the Iranian Jewish community which had never been involved in political office in Iran. Indeed, Nahai is no novice when it comes to environmental issues as he practices environmental law and is chairman of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. In January 2005, Nahai was reappointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for an unprecedented third term on the Water Quality Control that overseas water quality in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. In addition, he currently serves as vice chairman of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

In the wake of war

Knesset member Arieh Eldad paid a rare visit to Los Angeles last week and spoke about current challenges facing Israel after the war against Hezbollah.
Eldad, a member of the Israeli Knesset Ethics Committee, served as the chief medical officer for the Israel Defense Forces (brigadier general, retired). He headed the plastic surgery and burns unit at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

While at Beverly Hills City Hall, Eldad met briefly with Mayor Steve Webb and Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad and later with Soraya Nazarian of Hadassah International Outreach. He explained about the treatment of burn victims of homicide bombings in Jerusalem. The professor is planning to visit the L.A. area again in December.

Children work for a cure

The Cure FD Foundation held a Sunday Morning of Fun event Sept. 17 to benefit children living with Familial Dysautonomia (FD). The event included a special showing of the “The Sound of Music” and featured free popcorn, raffle prizes, a live auction and brunch items for sale. All proceeds went to fast forward research to save hundreds of children with FD.

Charity Becomes Them

Creative Arts Temple volunteers celebrated Rosh Hashanah by distributing food to the needy on the Jewish New Year. More than 2,500 men, women and children enjoyed a dinner donated by L.A. caterer Joann Roth-Oseary and received blankets, socks, diapers and other necessities as part of the celebration. Celebrities who participated included: Stanley Kamel, Monty Hall, Joe Bologna and Dick Van Patten.

Mazel to Merkel

Herman Merkel, an L.A. resident for 26 years and a former chairman of Our Parents Home in Johannesburg, South Africa, was honored for years of devoted service to the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA). A donation in his honor will fund a major renovation of the JHA lounge, which was named for Merkel at a ceremony on July 11.

Merkel, 89, was deeply committed to serving Our Parents Home for more than 10 years. As a member of the board, he lent his expertise as a civil engineer and was known for the time he spent getting to know its residents. As chairman from 1975-1979, Merkel was a daily visitor at JHA, ensuring that it operated smoothly at all times. The ceremony at Our Parents Home was attended by Merkel’s granddaughter, Karen Berelowitz, of Washington, D.C, family members living in Johannesburg, JHA residents and Johannesburg Jewish community leaders.

Two to Cheer For

Democrats for Israel (DFI) gathered at its annual garden party recently to honor Rep. Adam Schiff and state Insurance Commissioner and lieutenant governor candidate John Garamendi. They used the opportunity to pay tribute to the 33 members of California’s Democratic congressional delegation who supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hezbollah, Iran and Syria by voting for a pair of resolutions expressing solidarity with Israel and demanding the return of three kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

Schiff was selected for his staunch support of Israel in Congress, and Garamendi was picked due to his tireless work to ensure that European insurance companies honor their commitments to Holocaust survivors.

The well-attended event reiterated Schiff’s belief for the need for the United States to support Israel and commended the strong support of House and Senate Democrats for Israel’s right to defend itself.

DFI President Andrew Lachman praised the two honorees, saying, “We are thrilled that Congressman Schiff and Insurance Commissioner Garamendi accepted these awards and spoke before us today.”

Other elected officials and candidates who attended the Garden Party included Assemblymen Paul Koretz and Lloyd Levine; Los Angeles City Councilmembers Jack Weiss and Wendy Greuel; Democratic Assembly nominees Mike Feuer, Julia Brownley and Anthony Portantino, and Democratic Board of Equalization candidate Judy Chu.

What are you thinking about this Rosh Hashanah?


“I’m actually thinking about changing my behavior with my brother — he’s 7 — because I’ve been pretty mean to him. I can be a little more nice, even if he annoys me…. I learn a lot during the holidays. You learn about how to react, and what you should do and how you should be, like you can’t be rude to people. And you have to ask forgiveness for all the stuff you’ve done and make it a new start, like you’re starting all over again.”

 
— Brandon Ross, 10, Canfield Elementary School and Temple Emanuel Religious School

 

“I’m going to set the table for Rosh Hashanah with a tablecloth and lots of food…. I like the challah. My dad always buys chocolate chip challah because it’s my favorite.”

 
— Lexi Shafa, 6, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy

 

“I think we need to have a cleaner world so people can live longer and not get diseases, like lung cancer. We need to do a better job of throwing away trash and recycling. I think we don’t need to cut off as many trees as we do. We should find a new way to make paper than just cutting down trees. I had a chance to go to Costa Rica and see the rain forest, and I saw how many stumps there were and it was really sad. I think the High Holidays is a time to pray and to thank God for all the beautiful stuff that we have, like good health, and a good education, and a roof over our heads; and it’s a good time to be with family and to enjoy yourself.”

 
— Teddy Sokoloff, 9, Center for Early Education and Temple Emanuel Religious
 

“I’m going to go buzz buzz like a bee, and go round and round and round like a challah and dip the apple in the honey.”

 
— Moses Bar-Yotam, 4, Institute of Jewish Education

 

“I like some holidays, and some holidays I feel sad. I like Passover and I like Rosh Hashanah — I like a lot of them. I feel happy at the sound of the shofar. It’s a holiday when my family comes together.”

 
— Ariana Garrotto, 7, El Rodeo School and Temple Emanuel Religious School

 

“I’m going to daven for the Beit Hamikdash [Jerusalem Temple] to come back, and for all my aveirot [sins] to leave and that we should have a happy year. I’m going to work on lashon hara [gossip] and give tzedakah so everybody has a house and money to live.”

 
— Evan Teichman, 7, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy

 

“My aunt got really sick and then she got better, so I’ll be thinking about how she keeps getting better. I’ve been thinking about my dancing a lot — I’m a hard-core ballet dancer. My family has been spending a lot of time together, so I can’t really say I want to spend more time with my family because we are spending as much time together as possible. If we wanted to spend any more time together we would have to stay up all night!”

 
— Tess Levinson, 10, Center for Early Education and Temple Emanuel Religious School

 

“On Rosh Hashanah my cousins are coming to my grandma’s house, because I’m having Rosh Hashanah at my grandma’s house. We used to have it in my house, but now it’s at my grandma’s.”

 
— Liv Berg, 4, Institute of Jewish Education

 

“I think about what I might have done this past year to hurt someone or to help someone, and I think about whether I want to repeat it. My sister and I get into fights, and sometimes the fights are bigger, and I really hurt her or she really hurts me, and I feel bad and I don’t want to do it again.

 
“I had my bat mitzvah in April, and now I feel more obligated to do the High Holidays, because now I’m part of the adult Jewish community. For my bat mitzvah, I helped an organization called, Turn Purple; it helps homeless kids. In April, everyone who is involved wears purple, and they have a petition that people sign to get a bill so we don’t have homeless kids.”

 
— Shoshana Young, 13, Beverly Vista School and Temple Emanuel Religious School

 

“I’m trying to work on teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah [repentance, prayer and charity]. I’m kind of excited and I don’t know if I’ll be judged as bad, in the middle or good. I want to be good; I’m trying to work on that. I’m trying to be nicer to my friends and stuff, because they’ll be happier and nicer to me if we work things out together.”

 
— Lorien Orpelli, 9, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy

 

“As a school, [Temple Emanuel] really makes the High Holidays great because everyone comes together and sings songs, and it’s a lot of fun. There is no other holiday where you learn about your religion as much as on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. You learn about your religion and you come closer to your religion and get more of the meaning of it — you say, ‘I’m Jewish and I should be doing this or should be doing that and helping the community.’ I think the High Holidays are the most important holidays because it’s about finding your mistakes and saying you can do better the next time.”

 
— Max Shapiro, 11, Center for Early Education and Temple Emanuel Religious School

 

“I am going to be a better fire-truck driver and be a firefighter when I get big.”

 
— Nathan Nassir, 4, Institute of Jewish Education

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the
16th

The JCCs’ Celebrity Staged Play Readings, produced and directed by Alexandra More, have been going strong for 11 seasons. Consider taking in the first of their 12th season’s selections. The comedy/drama, “Brooklyn Boy,” by Pulitzer-winning author Donald Margulies, plays this weekend, starring Stephen Macht as Eric, a Jewish author in his late 30s grappling with sudden huge success.

Sept. 16: 7:30 p.m. $12-$16. Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 786-6310.

Sept. 17: 2 p.m. $12-$16. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-2531, ext. 2225.

” TARGET=”_blank”>www.venice-arts.org.

Wednesday the
20th

Get in touch with your child, and your inner child. Quality time with the family comes courtesy of Barnes and Noble in Aliso Viejo, today. A special “Rosh Hashanah Storytime” with Chabad of Laguna’s preschool director, Perel Goorevitch, includes storytelling, a guitar sing-along and arts and crafts.
4 p.m. 26751 Aliso Creek Road, Aliso Viejo. (949) 362-8027.

Thursday the
21st

Morocco’s Jewish and Muslim cultures, and the social and physical spaces they inhabit, are explored in UCLA Fowler Museum’s new exhibition. “Liminal Spaces: Photographs of Morocco by Rose-Lynn Fisher.” It opens this week, with an opening reception Sunday, Sept. 17 at 2 p.m. It remains on view through Jan. 14.

Free. Fowler Museum, UCLA campus, Westwood. (310) 825-8655. ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.laemmle.com.

Behind the Bimah


In “Teaching Your Children About God,” Rabbi David Wolpe suggests taking our children to a sanctuary when services are not being conducted to give them a sense of the
sacred.

I love this idea. I have been in my own sanctuary at odd hours, and even if I am there for “business reasons” — taking pictures for a new synagogue brochure, for example — I feel different in the sanctuary than I do in any other room.
Seeing the eternal light, knowing the Torah is sleeping inside the ark, gives me the feeling of being on holy ground.

But here’s a variation on Wolpe’s idea — let your children stand in awe in front of the bimah, but then take them behind the bimah. Raise the curtain and demystify the sanctuary. By doing so you help them feel comfortable.

Many of my adult friends still feel uncomfortable in synagogue. To them, it is a place where you have to go — where you have to sit still and say meaningless prayers in a difficult language, where you have to listen to lectures from a rabbi who you do not know personally and are, perhaps, a little intimidated by. No wonder they only attend services twice a year.

I was extremely fortunate as a child. My family “raised the curtain” for me. And they did so by doing two things.

The first is unique to my family — my uncle is Cantor Saul Hammerman, who is now cantor emeritus of Beth El in Baltimore. Before my parents affiliated with our Philadelphia synagogue, they would take us to Baltimore to be with our extended family for holidays. I remember sitting in Beth El, an imposing synagogue to anyone, but even more so to a little girl. I looked up at the enormous ark and wondered how anyone could ever reach the Torahs.

I listened to the brilliant Rabbi Jacob Agus, and wondered how old I would be when I would understand his sermons. And I listened to the chazzan — so imposing in his white robes and his big white hat with the pompom on top (oh, how my sister and I loved that hat). When he sang, his voice wafted over me — both beautiful and frightening in its power and passion.

But, then, during the Torah procession, something would happen. My sister and I would scramble to the end of the aisle to kiss the Torah, and as the procession passed the cantor would wink at us and flick his tallit so that the fringes brushed our cheeks. We would giggle, and the imposing chazzan would once again become our beloved Uncle Saul.

At other times, Uncle Saul took us to his office and even showed us where his robes hung and how he entered and exited the bimah. Those special visits made the synagogue seem less foreboding, but no less magical.

The second thing my parents did was be involved with our synagogue. Their involvement inspired my own. I remember being on the bimah with the choir, making macaroni in the kitchen between tutoring the younger students and waiting for my own evening classes to begin, and even raking leaves at my rabbi’s house during our Kadima “Rent-A-Rake” fundraiser. This involvement, this ownership, made synagogue a comfortable place.

And so, the very first thing I did when my husband and I joined our shul was to volunteer. I didn’t like the feeling of entering the synagogue and not knowing what it was like behind the bimah. By volunteering, I was able to feel at home. I did this for me and I did it for my children.

This is a gift every Jewish parent can give to her child. Not all families have an Uncle Saul, but everyone can volunteer. Synagogues desperately need lay leaders. It is so easy to get involved — just call and ask how you can help. And then? Well, you will have raised the curtain, you will learn that a synagogue is not run on some intimidating magic, but by people you know and care about. Synagogue will no longer be a frightening Oz, but rather a welcoming home.

Meredith Jacobs, author of the soon-to-be released “Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat” (HarperPerennial) is founder and editor of

Lawsuit Filed in Granada Hills Jewish Community Center Shooting


Lawsuit Filed in Granada Hills Jewish Community Center Shooting

Families of the victims of the 1999 North Valley Jewish Community Center (JCC) shooting in Granada Hills are suing the state of Washington for allegedly failing to supervise the man who committed the crime. The $15 million lawsuit filed Aug. 18 says the state’s Department of Corrections failed to adequately monitor Buford Furrow Jr., an ex-convict on probation from a Washington state jail. On Aug. 10, 1999, Furrow burst into the North Valley JCC and opened fire. He wounded two small boys, a teenager and an adult receptionist, and later killed a Filipino-American letter carrier nearby. Furrow is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

Young Quits After ‘Hurtful’ Remarks

Andrew Young resigned as a Wal-Mart advocate after disparaging Jewish, Arab and Korean shop owners. A former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta, Young resigned as head of “Working Families for Wal-Mart,” and apologized. The Los Angeles Sentinel, a black newspaper, asked Young how he could advocate for an organization that displaces “mom and pop” outfits. Young said he was pleased when those stores were “run out” of his neighborhood. “Those are the people who have been overcharging us — selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables,” he said. “And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs, very few black people own these stores.”

Olmert Pressed on War Inquiry

Ehud Olmert is under pressure to establish a state commission of inquiry to investigate how officials handled Israel’s war with Hezbollah. The Israeli prime minister told the attorney general to see what alternatives exist for such an investigation, ranging from inquiries that would be made public to those that might remain confidential within the Cabinet. Meanwhile, criticism of how the war was conducted is mounting. Petitions have been circulating by reserve soldiers who have returned from fighting in Lebanon with long lists of complaints.

Diaspora Money Heads North

World Jewry is expected to contribute about $344 million to rehabilitating Israel’s northern towns and cities. The money, according to an Israeli government plan announced Sunday, would contribute to the overall cost of repairing damage and providing assistance to northern residents, estimated at about $1 billion. Money would go to financial aid for residents and businesses, repairs, psychological counseling, rebuilding schools and other projects run by a newly formed Israeli government committee. An emergency campaign in the United States has already raised $220 million for assistance to the North.

Israeli Officials Face Sexual-Harassment Charges

On Monday, police seized computers and documents from President Moshe Katsav’s Residence in Jerusalem, seeking possible evidence related to charges by a former employee who has claimed that Katsav coerced her into sexual relations. Katsav has denied any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Israel’s justice minister resigned in the wake of sexual-harassment charges. Haim Ramon announced his resignation Sunday. Israel’s attorney general said he plans to indict Ramon on charges that he forcibly kissed an 18-year-old soldier at an office party July 12, the day the war started between Israel and Hezbollah.

“I am sure that I will succeed in court,” Ramon said. “A kiss of two, three seconds, based on the version of the complainant, cannot be turned into a criminal act.”

Israeli Children Anxious After War

About 35 percent of Israeli schoolchildren who stayed in the North during the war with Hezbollah are suffering from anxiety, nightmares and other problems, a survey found. The 16,000 or so children also were found to have difficulty concentrating and are crying more often, the Tel Chai Academic College found in the survey. Problems are especially acute among preschoolers.

Major Israeli Writer Dies

Writer Yizhar Smilansky, an Israel Prize-winner better known by the pen name S. Yizhar, died Monday. One month shy of his 90th birthday, Yizhar died of heart failure. Known as a major innovator of Hebrew literature, he wrote prose, poetry and children’s literature. He also was well-known for his essays, which gained attention at the beginning of the war in Lebanon in 1982. His writing, which often challenged the Zionist narrative and the morality of the army, was the subject of intense controversy.

Israel: Hezbollah Used Russian Weapons

Israel complained to Russia that Russian-made anti-tank missiles reached Hezbollah fighters, who used them with devastating effect against Israeli troops. An Israeli delegation traveled to Moscow earlier this week to deliver the complaint, Ha’aretz reported. The anti-tank missiles proved to be one of Hezbollah’s most effective weapons in the monthlong war in Lebanon, responsible for the deaths of at least 50 of the 118 Israeli soldiers killed in the fighting. Israel protested in recent years when Russia sold advanced weapons to Syria, warning that they would be forwarded them to Hezbollah, but Russia dismissed the concerns. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said it was “impossible” that Russian weapons could have reached Hezbollah.

Jewish-Owned Market in Moscow Bombed

An explosion at a Jewish-owned market in Moscow killed at least 10 people and left 16 to 40 wounded. According to preliminary reports, no Jews were hurt in the blast at the Cherkizovsky market. The market is believed to be owned and operated by members of the “Mountain Jewish” community, which has its roots in Azerbaijan. At least two children died in the Monday morning blast in Moscow. Investigators say the explosion, which caused a two-story building to collapse, could have been a settling of scores among gangs, but officials are not ruling out that the blast was a terrorist attack.

Restaurant in India Named After Hitler

A new restaurant in India is named after Hitler and has swastikas on its walls. The owner of the Hitler’s Cross restaurant in Bombay told Reuters that he just wanted to stand out from the crowd. India’s Jewish community is protesting the name.

Annan Chides Iran on Holocaust Cartoons

Commenting on an exhibit of cartoons questioning the Holocaust, Kofi Annan’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said that the U.N. secretary-general has made clear in past conversations with Iranian officials that while he supports free speech, “people need to exercise that right responsibly and not use it as a pretext for incitement, hatred or for insulting beliefs of any community.”

A museum in Tehran opened the exhibit last week, in response to the publication in Denmark last year of cartoons that targeted Mohammed, the Muslim prophet.Exhibit organizers say they took their cue from Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust a “myth.” Annan is to visit Iran in coming weeks as part of a tour to follow up on the Lebanon-Israel cease-fire.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Posters by Czech Students Bring Back Lost ‘Neighbors’


” TARGET=”_blank”>Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust should be exhibiting the art work of Czech children trying to rediscover their Jewish compatriots in the exhibition, “Neighbors Who Disappeared.”

The show, which opened Aug. 20 and runs through the end of September, was put together by Susan Boyer of the Czech Torah Network and Rachel Jagoda, executive director of the museum, who has made it one of her goals to seek out “the other.” She has presented exhibitions on the Cambodian genocide and the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust, as well as a recent lecture by a 101-year-old Jehovah’s Witness who, along with many of his co-religionists, spent time in Nazi concentration camps.

The “Neighbors” exhibition combines non-Jewish and Jewish narratives by featuring posters designed by non-Jewish kids from Czech junior high and high schools, who researched the history of their towns and found out about the plight of Jews, some of whom actually attended their very schools. Each poster in the first half of the exhibition, many of which have an earth-tone background, shows a map at the top which indicates the Czech town that was researched and includes a collage of archived photographs, diary entries, diagrams and other mixed-media forms.

Typically, the students who created the poster provide quotes about how the project has transformed them. In some cases, students reveal their ignorance prior to becoming enlightened about World War II and the Holocaust. One writes, “Today’s generation, without any knowledge what it is all about, only laughs at it.”

However, the students from Ostrava, an eastern Czech town, overcome this failing and are grateful to get in touch with Jan Mayer, who is shown as a 6-year-old in 1931, wearing a Maccabee shirt with a Star of David on it. The littlest child in the Jewish gymnasium, Mayer, who in the black-and-white photograph scratches his upper lip, later survived Terezin; Auschwitz, where he encountered Dr. Mengele; Birkenau; and the death march.

A recent photo shows the octogenarian with his wife. He tells the Czech students that he made it through the Holocaust due to “a lot of luck,” but the students write that he is a man of fortitude.

The second half of the exhibition is a tribute to the Czech children who died in the Holocaust. One colorful poster, with lots of yellow and pink, displays entries from a short-lived magazine, published in 1940 and 1941 by young Czech Jews, called Klepy, or gossip. There are cartoons and other illustrations, such as a superimposed image of a smiling boy who kicks a soccer ball.

But the light-hearted title of the publication and the frivolous images can not leaven the severity of a poem, titled “Reflections — Statements.” An unknown child poet writes, “We have only one life, one small fragment of eternity, and we have this in order to fight the world.”

The last poster is by the students of Varnsdorf High School and is dedicated to one of their alumni, the Czech painter Frantisek Peter Kien. Kien, who was deputy head of the art room at Terezin, may very well have taught art to the children whose work was found after the Holocaust and is now exhibited at venues like the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

In this poster, we see a number of remarkable drawings by Kien, including a self-portrait of the young artist, whose thick but tiny gob of a moustache ironically makes him resemble Hitler. We also see a print of an elongated, silhouetted man in a top hat, sitting next to a woman of the night. The image, done in a kind of diabolical green and red, is evocative of the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec and references Maupassant.

If there is a possible flaw to the poster, it is that we see none of Kien’s art documenting the inhumanity of the Terezin camp, even though such work is noted in the text. Perhaps the students wanted to show that in spite of the dehumanizing nature of Terezin, painters like Kien and the young Jewish children were still able to enter the imaginative realm, to dream and to produce art that outlasted the hatred of the Nazis.

“Neighbors Who Disappeared” runs through the end of September at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 6435 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704.

How YOU Can Help Israel; Electronic Devices


How YOU Can Help Israel

Kids in Los Angeles can send letters to kids in Israel by e-mailing elka1@jdc.org.il. The letters will be printed out and inserted into “care packages” that are beng sent out to families in shelters in Northern Israel. When you send an e-mail, include your name, age and address.

  • In addition to expressing support, you can write about whatever it is that you, as kids, like to talk about.

  • Ask that the children e-mail or mail you back.
  • It is important that spelling and grammar are correct (have an adult or older sibling read it first), otherwise it can be difficult for the Israeli children to understand.

Remember: Tikkun olam comes in all shapes and sizes.

Kein v’ Lo: Electronic Devices

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. This month’s Kein v’ Lo (yes and no) is about personal electronic devices. Are kids spending too much time on iPods, PSPs and cellphones?

The Kein Side:

  • The obesity rate among children is growing because many are sitting down (or standing still), playing games on their PSPs and texting their friends via their phones and not getting enough exercise.

  • A lot of kids listen to their iPods all the time — even in public — and are not learning to how to interact with people. The headphone volume could also cause many of them to have hearing problems.

The Lo Side:

  • Kids are learning to be technologically savvy — skills that are very important for doing homework and will later be used to get good jobs.

  • By texting their friends and talking on cellphones, kids are socializing all the time. Playing games on PSPs keeps minds sharp because players have to constantly think. Some teachers even use iPod podcasts (streaming video or audio) as learning tools for class.

Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to Kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Pages & Picks

Shabbat candles you don’t have to light? A shofar you can drop and it won’t break? A pyramid that you can build without breaking a sweat? Impossible you say! Not so with Joel Stern’s “Jewish Holidays Origami” (Dover Publications, $5.95). In addition to the step-by-step craftmaking, the book includes background on eight holidays — as well as on the objects for that holiday. And because the crafts come in beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, younger kids can make a siddur, while the older ones create a Torah scroll. And the best part? No messy glue — although parents might want to check to see that kids’ report cards don’t turn into a paper hamantaschen.

Circuit


For the Children

Emunah of America held a West Coast fundraiser recently to raise money for the residential homes and after-school programs to help Israel’s needy children .One of those children, Dvora, attended the elegant buffet dinner and silent art auction at the Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood.

Dvora, now a student of speech therapy at Tel Aviv University, grew up in Beit Elazraki in Netanya, a residential home for 180 children whose own parents couldn’t or didn’t want to care for them.

“I have broken the cycle of need,” Dvora told the crowd after a moving video that showed the children at the home and at Emunah’s other children’s programs. “I have managed to come out of this situation mature and successful, free of the terrible circle. My children will not have to suffer like me. They will not grow up in other people’s homes but in my own warm, loving home.”

Yehuda Kohn, director of Beit Elazraki, spoke of the baby brought in at 1 week old, with no name. He and his wife Ricky named him, and like they do with other children, will be surrogate parents, taking him to school, doctor appointments and birthday parties and tucking him in every night.

The Emunah benefit the first on the West Coast honored Celia Shire, who paid tribute to her late husband Harold.

The honorary chair of the event was Dr. Leila Bronner. Event chairs were: Dr. Gita Nagel, Marlene Einhorn, Sharon Katz, Rivki Mark, Mia Markoff, Fran Miller, Gittel Rubin and Elana Samuels. Emunah national president Heddy Klein attended.For more information or to volunteer, call (310) 837-1225 or visit www.emunah.org.

Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Music to Our Ears: A True Hacham

Roughly 1,000 members of the local Iranian Jewish community crowded the main sanctuary at the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills on June 11 for prayers marking the first anniversary of the passing of Hacham Yedidia Shofet, the late spiritual icon for Iranian Jews both in Iran and the United States. For nearly seven decades, Shofet, who died at 96, served both as a religious leader and as the liaison representing Iran’s Jewish community before the shah’s government in Iran. Shofet joined the thousands of Jews who left Iran following the 1979 Iranian revolution and in Southern California continued to serve as a religious leader for Iranian Jews living in America. Community leaders and close friends spoke of Shofet’s remarkable speaking ability and compassionate leadership style.

“Hacham Yedidia proved that he had the leadership ability to help maintain our sense of Judaism and the community warmly accepted him,” said Dr. H. Kermanshahchi, one of the founders of the Iranian American Jewish Federation.Last October, nearly 90 religious and social leaders from Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community formally recognized Shofet’s son, Rabbi David Shofet, as the community’s new spiritual leader.

Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Heroes Among Us

June 7 was a time to honor two community heroes as University Synagogue hosted its “Heroes Among Us” event honoring Susan Corwin with the inaugural Margaret Zaas Avodah Award for Community Service.

The award is named after Zaas, a local and beloved resident who dedicated her life to helping others and spent 16 years at New Directions, a residential rehabilitation program for homeless and addicted veterans.

Corwin initiated the Mitzvah Corps program at University Synagogue in 2002 and created programming that extends into the community, including a Shabbat shuttle and bikur cholim program. She has launched support groups for people with aging parents, a cancer survivors network, parents of special needs children and the gay and lesbian social outreach. Corwin is also the regional representative for the Los Angeles Area and Pacific Southwest Council of the Union for Reform Judaism.

The evening also honored Richard Weintraub as Educator of the Year for his long-standing history of working with and on behalf of youth at University Synagogue. Weintraub was the president of the California Council on Children and Youth and supervisor of the Dare Plus Program, an after-school program for at-risk youth.

The Sporting Life

One of the best things about the Cedars-Sinai Sports Spectacular event are the faces of the kids who attend the dinner. They can hardly contain their excitement at rubbing elbows with all their favorite athletes and more than 100 came to help.

Over the past 21 years, the event, which this year grossed more than $1.5 million, has raised more than $16 million in support of the Sports Spectacular Endowed Medical Genetics Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The VIP event before dinner allows the kids to meet their favorite sports heroes up close and personal and the goody bags, well they are indeed legendary. (Take it from someone who met Sandy Koufax there, I am still excited by the memory.)

This year’s honorees were Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers, tennis champion Jimmy Connors and professional surfer Kelly Slater. Al Michaels and John Salley were among the evening’s hosts. l