Till get do us part: Israel Meir Kin’s Las Vegas wedding

Hurrying by the parking lot at the Lakeside Event Center in Las Vegas, Israel Meir Kin and his new wife, Daniela Barbosa, avoided eye contact with a group of about 30 demonstrators who had been waiting for them. Dressed for their wedding in a suit and gown, respectively, the couple could not move fast enough. The sight of them was enough to enrage a gathering from the Los Angeles and Las Vegas Modern Orthodox communities, who stood waving signs and shouting slogans denouncing the union.

“Give her a get,” one of the protesters shouted at Kin, referring to the Jewish bill of divorce, which requires a husband to willingly agree to divorce his wife — in this case, Lonna Kin — in order for a Jewish divorce to become official. 

In the Orthodox community, Lonna Kin, a resident of Monsey, N.Y., will be unable to marry again or have Jewish children without a get. Israel Meir Kin has refused to grant this to his estranged wife unless she goes with him to a beit din (religious court) of his choice.

Israel Meir Kin’s March 20 wedding to Barbosa in Las Vegas, where he lives, has added fuel to the ongoing, often-heated debate within the Orthodox community over Jewish laws governing divorce, and the occasion prompted leaders from Los Angeles’ Modern Orthodox community to travel to the protest. Those present were all in agreement that he is in the wrong.

“He is adding outrage to outrage by getting married, doing the very thing that he is preventing his wife from doing, and he is violating the laws of polygamy,” said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, leader of the Modern Orthodox B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Pico-Robertson.

[Related: Confronting the problem of Orthodox divorce]

Lonna Kin said in an interview with the Journal that, as conditions for giving the get, her former husband, who could not be reached for comment, is demanding that she pay him $500,000 and give up custody of their 12-year-old son. “He’s extorting me for half a million [dollars] and for custody,” she said. She also claimed he has been making these demands “for the past 10 years.” Lonna Kim also said she had to give up custody of a child in a previous Orthodox divorce. She said she would never agree to do so again.

The protest was organized by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had been notified in advance. ORA describes itself as “the only nonprofit organization addressing the agunah crisis on a case-by-case basis worldwide.” “Agunah” is the Hebrew word for “chained wife,” and Lonna Kin is the agunah in this situation, ORA says, as she cannot remarry as long as Israel Meir Kin does not provide her with a get. If she were to remarry without it, she would be ostracized according to the laws of the Orthodox community.

The Kins finalized their civil divorce in 2007, so, according to civil law, both are free to remarry. In Jewish terms, however, while Lonna Kin remains tied to her former husband, Israel Meir Kin claims to have a heter meah rabbanim  — the permission of 100 rabbis — a decree that allows him to wed Barbosa even though he is still technically married to Lonna Kin under Jewish law, according to ORA. 

Women do not have access to the 100-rabbis alternative, which is supposed to be employed only in extreme cases. ORA claims this is not one of those cases.

Lonna Kin, who works as a realtor and grew up in Los Angeles, expressed her gratitude for the protest in a phone interview after the event.

“That support was incredibly empowering for me,” she said. “Because, first of all, women in this position, a lot of women are agunot, and I speak to other people, and I try to help other people. They tell me how they feel, they think nobody cares, and, unfortunately, there’s a lot of women going through divorces, and it’s always, ‘He said; she said,’ and it’s not about that, it’s not about right or wrong.”

Lonna Kin

Lonna Kin, 52, called get refusals “a major crisis … in the Orthodox community, that someone can refuse a get for so many years, use extortionist tactics and afterward get married while the woman is still chained.” 

In her youth, she straddled both the secular and religious worlds, attending Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and Beverly Hills High School. She said she met Israel Meir Kin, who also grew up in Los Angeles, in her late 30s, when the two both had children from previous marriages who were attending the same summer camp. They married in 2000. “He seemed like a nice person,” she said. 

Yet, after they wed, she claimed, “He was extremely controlling, very mean to my children, a very difficult person altogether, all around.” The couple separated in 2005. 

For a group of Los Angeles students at the protest, it was a moment of activism and learning: Yaakov Sobel, a ninth-grader at Los Angeles’ Shalhevet High School, held high a banner that read  “Shame on You Israel Meir Kin.” Sobel was one of six Shalhevet students who traveled together to Las Vegas on March 20, riding in a van that departed from their campus at noon. They had come, with their parents’ permission, for the sole purpose of speaking out against the wedding.

“I’m here to support the Jewish idea in general that a woman deserves a get,” Sobel said.

Rabbi Ari Segal, Shalhevet’s head of school, was also there, chanting as the newlyweds stepped into the parking lot. Segal said his students have been studying laws surrounding Jewish marriage, and the protest was an experiential learning opportunity for them.

For his part, Kanefsky had come to teach. He told the protesters that the conflict between the Kins illustrates the importance of Jewish prenuptial agreements. These agreements, he said, are paramount to any union, in that they obligate two people entering into a marriage to agree that they would, in the event of their divorce, settle the matter in a reputable beit din.

Israel Meir Kin reportedly has agreed to give his wife a get only on the condition that she appear in one particular beit din, one that the ORA claims is known for being corrupt.

Irrespective of which beit din, Kanefsky said, a spouse should allow for a get without any strings attached.

“We’re saying he must give an unconditional divorce,” Kanefsky said.

Israel Meir Kin’s unwillingness to grant the get has drawn widespread condemnation. In 2010, three Orthodox rabbis issued a seruv, an order of contempt, against Israel Meir Kin, denouncing his refusal to provide a get to Lonna Kin. The panel of rabbis included Rabbi Avrohom Union, who is associated with the beit din of the Rabbinic Council of California. 

The seruv has affected Israel Meir Kin’s standing in the Orthodox community in Las Vegas. Rabbi Yisroel Schanowitz, the rabbi at the Chabad of Summerlin/Desert Shores, where Israel Meir Kin occasionally comes to pray, does not allow him to be counted to make up a minyan and would deny him the opportunity to be recognized with any awards, according to Kanefsky, who spoke with Schanowitz on the day of the protest. Schanowitz did not participate in the protest, and the Journal could not reach him for an interview. 

Students from Shalhevet High School travel to Las Vegas to protest the wedding of a man who refused to grant his previous wife a Jewish divorce.

Israel Meir Kin, a physician’s assistant, currently lives in Vegas. The Chabad he occasionally attends is located in an upper-middle-class neighborhood overlooking an artificial lake, in the same shopping center as the venue where the March 20 wedding was held. The shul was not involved in the ceremony. 

Israel Meir Kin did not respond to the Journal’s request for an interview.

“We don’t know what is going to happen when we get there,” Kanefsky told a reporter at Los Angeles International Airport earlier in the day, before departing for Las Vegas. “I am the sort of person who likes to know everything before he does it, so this is unusual for me.”

Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation commended those who turned out for their commitment to an important cause.

“It’s great we all came here — some of us, hundreds of miles — to come together to say we are not going to stand for this,” Topp told the crowd.

Police officers on the scene frequently had to remind the group, which also included members of the Las Vegas Orthodox community, to remain out of the street. Otherwise, the protest was civil throughout. It did not disrupt the wedding.

Rabbi Nachum Meth of the Las Vegas Kollel was among the locals at the protest. Meth said a man who refuses to give his wife a get is attempting to exert psychological power over his spouse.

“It is the last form of control that a husband has over his wife or ex-wife,” he said in an interview. “He is trying to control her destiny.”

Kanefsky, the only person representing B’nai David-Judea, said he had informed his congregation only a day or two prior to the event. Topp, meanwhile, was joined by a few members of Beth Jacob. The participation among Shalhevet students might have been greater if not for homework and tests, Segal said.

Not all responses to agunot situations have been like this one.

Past media reports have included rabbis resorting to kidnapping and violence as means of coercing the husbands into granting their wives a Jewish divorce. 

Forgoing such illegal actions, ORA nevertheless relies on what its assistant director, Meira Zack, referred to as “pressure tactics.” Last Thursday was such an example, said Zack, whose passion on behalf of agunot was apparent from the beginning of the protest, when she led a chant to energize the crowd.

But what of the Jewish law that says that a get must be given “willingly”? Would the external pressure faced by Israel Meir Kin jeopardize the validity of a get, should he ever decide to give one to Lonna Kin?

Rabbi Jeremy Stern, executive director of ORA, says no, pointing to a concept of “constructive consent,” which he says was developed by the Jewish sage Maimonides.

Drawing on a study conducted several years ago by Barbara Zakheim, president and founder of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, Stern estimates that there are currently 462 agunot living in the United States. He points out that while all of them are self-identifying agunot, there is no clear consensus on what an agunah is.

“Different people give different definitions,” Stern said. “Some say a woman is considered an agunah once there has been a ruling by the beit din making that determination. Others say it’s once she has a civil divorce and doesn’t have a get. Others say it’s when she’s been separated for a year and still doesn’t have a get, then she’s an agunah.”

Kin and his new wife, Daniela Barbosa, leave the wedding ceremony. 

Adding to the difficulty in quantifying how many agunot there are, Stern said, “There’s no official registry of agunot or even of Jewish divorces. There’s no registry of gets or anything like that, or people applying for a get, because this is all outside the legal system. In civil law you can see how many applied for divorce from the courts and how many court cases are still [outstanding], but in Jewish law you can’t do that because there’s no official Jewish court system outside of Israel, no registry, no real way to define how many agunot there are.”

As a result, the ORA has developed criteria to help in the determination, taking on the cases where a beit din has issued a seruv against the husband and “where the woman has done everything she can through the rabbinical court process, and that has concluded without securing her a get,” Stern said.

ORA also considers taking on cases in which the “rabbinic court has failed or stalled for whatever reason,” Stern said. “So for example, if she says, ‘I want to go to this court,’ and he says, ‘I want to go to this court,’ and the two can’t agree on what rabbinical court to go to, and he cannot compel her, she cannot compel him, then you’re stuck, at a deadlock. 

“We’ll get involved in those cases as well, to facilitate those processes to move things forward and ensure that a get is given,” Stern said.

ORA handles about 50 agunah cases at any given time. Currently, several of these are in Los Angeles, Stern said, but he would not provide further information about them.

It is hard to discern how prevalent the issue is in Los Angeles. Topp told the Journal that there have been “a few cases in the synagogue,” where sanctions punishing recalcitrant husbands “would have been helpful.” He did not elaborate further. 

Kanefsky said he knows of one congregant from B’nai David-Judea who denied his wife a get, but that took place before he was the rabbi of the congregation, where he has served for approximately 20 years.

In 2013, the Los Angeles Times published an article on recalcitrant husbands who have fled from Israel, where their actions could lead to jail time, to U.S. cities where the separation of church and state keeps them safely out of the way of the criminal justice system. 

Stein believes that criminalizing get refusal would solve the problem, providing incentive to adhere to a law that obligates them to give a get upon marital separation. 

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, a Modern Orthodox rabbi in the Pico-Robertson area whose responsibilities include officiating weddings, believes that allowing third parties, such as the beit din, to intervene in certain situations and issue the get — husband involvement or no — would solve the problem.

Most importantly, Bookstein says the community’s leaders need to find a solution to this crisis.

“I think that because of the prevalent abuse going on right now, that our rabbinic sages should be entrusted to find a halachic [according to Jewish law] avenue to solve this growing problem … it seems that there is an uptick in this problem as the divorce rate in the Orthodox [community] has grown,” he said.

In the meantime, several rabbis, including Kanefsky and Topp, are trying to increase awareness of the issue on the community level. In September, an Pico-Robertson event will ask already-married couples who have never signed halachic prenuptial agreements — either because they did not exist at the time of their union or because the rabbi who officiated their wedding did not ask them to — to sign halachic postnuptial agreements.

Kanefsky highlighted the importance of this gathering. “It will be an enormous, consciousness-raising event for the whole city,” he said.

Agunah crowd shouldn’t target families

The preeminent sacred cow to many Jews is compassion for agunot (“chained” women whose husbands withhold a Jewish bill of divorce, or “Get”). But enough already: the Internet crowd attacking Avrohom Meir Weiss in his divorce from Gital Dodelson is becoming as heartless and halachically problematic as Weiss himself.

Dodelson fired the first public salvo with a Nov. 4 article in The New York Post stating that Weiss has refused her a Get for more than three years. She provided unquestionably disturbing details, such as that Weiss demanded $350,000 to back down and said “I can’t give you a Get – how else would I control you?”

I sympathize with Dodelson – and here I completely accept her version of the truth. Every agunah situation is a tragedy, more so when children are involved (the couple has a son). Dodelson’s supporters have organized a Web site, setgitalfree.com, and an associated Facebook page.

But their methods reflect poorly on the entire urgent movement to help agunot. Instead of the traditional focus on the recalcitrant husband, this bandwagon mostly targets Weiss’s relatives.

First, Internet warriors boycotted Orthodox publisher ArtScroll until it fired Weiss’s father and uncle. A Facebook commenter claimed victory, saying ArtScroll “heard us loud and clear, and they did exactly what we asked.”

Next, agunah activists turned against Yeshiva of Staten Island (YSI), where Weiss learns and which is run by his grandfather, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein. They demanded that the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) remove YSI’s accreditation and reject rabbis ordained by the yeshiva’s sister school. They also convinced at least one synagogue to cancel an appearance by Rabbi Feinstein.

“Set Gital Free” even bullied Weiss’s elderly grandmother by publishing her telephone number and urging people to “politely and respectfully” inundate her with calls until a Get is granted.

The pro-Dodelson site calls these family members “enablers” who “support” Weiss’s actions. But the relatives are pretty much chained themselves – caught in the no-win position of wishing to succor a humiliated loved one while wanting an ugly divorce resolved. Besides, who knows what they’ve said to Weiss privately?

Those who punish relatives of Get refusers remind me of opponents of Israel’s policies on the West Bank who randomly say “I know – let’s boycott Israeli universities and scholars!” Only this improvisation is worse.

No act, however spiteful, justifies a posse deciding to assault the livelihoods and reputations of relatives and colleagues. It doesn’t seem very Jewish to me: Did a horde attack Jacob because of Esau’s misdeeds, or Jonathan because of Saul’s?

So I contacted RCA Executive Vice President Rabbi Mark Dratch, the rabbi “Set Gital Free” recommended to explain the Torah basis for their strategy. To my surprise, he said absolutely nothing in halachic literature endorses communal pressure on family members of Get refusers, and he never prescribed that approach. Thus, the activists are disregarding the counsel of the man they claim is their rabbi. Orthodox Jews just don’t do that.

I later consulted Rabbi Jeremy Stern from the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), who also could think of no text in a Jewish source describing anything like the “Free Gital” tactics – and he would know. ORA’s extensive Web site promotes many ways to pressure husbands but none to pressure relatives.

Rabbi Stern referenced the impressive “Kol Koreh” (proclamation) signed by ten leading American rabbis, including five from the renowned Council of Torah Sages and ORA’s halachic expert, Yeshiva University Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Herschel Schachter.

The Kol Koreh imposes more than a dozen harsh penalties on Weiss, but only one regarding his family: that ArtScroll must terminate the father and uncle. That directive clearly relates to the laws of a Jewish court (beit din), not those of agunot, since any man who flouts a beit din’s rulings risks retribution. But the rabbis didn’t call for a boycott. (The Facebook site’s supposed triumph over ArtScroll is absurd – as if it had more sway than our generation’s most respected rabbis.) The proclamation also says nothing about canceled speeches, disaccreditations, rejected ordinations, or harassment of old ladies.

Rabbi Schachter and several other Kol Koreh rabbis have been “consulted” throughout the process, Rabbi Stern said. But he would not answer specific questions whether Rabbi Schachter (who declined comment) approved the extreme actions against the relatives. Surely the Gedolei Hador (today’s leading rabbis) would have demanded further steps against the family in the Kol Koreh if they felt them licit and necessary.

It’s alarming that poor Gital’s agunah case would arouse the most disproportionate response in Jewish history undoubtedly due to a 2,500-word essay in a non-Jewish newspaper. Now, before you get out the pitchforks: I don’t defend Weiss one bit. I just think we should heed the measured voice of the Kol Koreh instead of the “Set Gital Free” overreaction.

David Benkof lives in Jerusalem, where he teaches Hebrew at a yeshiva and constructs the weekly Jerusalem Post crossword puzzle. He can be reached at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Rabbis arrested in kidnapping, beating of recalcitrant husbands

Two Orthodox rabbis and two others were arrested for allegedly kidnapping and beating men in order to force them to grant their wives religious Jewish divorces.

The men were arrested Wednesday night in a monthlong sting operation in which a female FBI agent posed as an Orthodox woman trying to get a religious divorce, or “get,” from her husband.

Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark, along with the two alleged accomplices, were due to appear Thursday in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J. Six others could be charged, according to reports.

The arrests were accompanied by a series of searches executed by the FBI, including one at Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, in New York’s Rockland County. Others were in Lakewood, N.J., Brooklyn and elsewhere. In the yeshiva raid, the students, of high school age, were forced to remain outside for the bulk of the law enforcement operation, the Journal News reported. 

According to the complaint unsealed Wednesday morning, the rabbis charged $10,000 to persuade the rabbis on the rabbinical court to approve the kidnapping, and another up to $60,000 to pay for others to handle the kidnapping and beating and other physical torture, The Star-Ledger newspaper reported.

Orthodox Jewish women cannot remarry without a writ of divorce granted by a rabbinical court.

Epstein is a divorce mediator in the Orthodox community, according to The Star-Ledger.

At long last, lasting love

Encino lawyer Jeremy Karpel’s home has an art gallery feel to it, with an eclectically decorated living room spilling out into an elegantly landscaped yard. During one recent weekend, it was the perfect backdrop for a party commemorating his grandparents’ anniversary, filled with the sounds of big band-era greats, as spun by a 9-year-old DJ.

But this was no ordinary anniversary. Eddie and Ruth Elcott of Arleta, both in their 90s, were marking 70 years of marriage.

While laying down their own roots — resulting in a fleet of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the precocious DJ — the Elcotts contributed to a number of San Fernando Valley Jewish organizations as well, among them their longtime congregation, Adat Ari El in Valley Village.

Still, the visual centerpiece of the Aug. 24 anniversary party was purely personal: a suitcase packed with 1940s wartime correspondence between the couple, then barely in their 20s. The suitcase lid is adorned with a portrait of the then-newlyweds and promotional material for a book that features them, “Project Everlasting: Two Bachelors Discover the Secrets of America’s Greatest Marriages,” written by Mathew Boggs and Jason Miller.

While the Elcotts have been in the public eye of the local Jewish community personally and professionally for decades, one of the most defining moments, according to the couple, took place while promoting the book on CNN. The reporter asked the Elcotts if they ever considered divorce. Not missing a beat, Ruth replied, “Divorce? Seldom … if ever. Murder? Often!” 

“It made people around the world laugh, but it also made them think,” Eddie said following their anniversary party, lounging comfortably in the living room of their home of 60-plus years. It is covered wall-to-wall and table-to-table with decades’ worth of framed photos and albums and a sculpture of a young girl dancing that Ruth’s family smuggled out of Germany.

The couple first met back in 1940 at a Jewish United Service Organizations (USO) party in New York City. That’s when a streetwise young soldier from Harlem set his sights on a delicate beauty whom he later learned got herself and her family out of Germany when Hitler came to power, thanks to forged documents, a job opportunity to work on a farm in England and other twists of fate.

“I still remember that when you got out of Germany, you really made a vow, that you would not let Hitler win,” a still-inspired Eddie told his wife. “That’s been basically what our lives since the war have been about. Rather than shy away from the past like other survivors, Ruth made it a point to tell the story to our children and family, as well as high school kids all over Germany, explaining the Holocaust and what she needed to do to survive. Ruth was and is very much a model for how to survive.”

After her father was imprisoned in 1938 and the freedoms of Jews became unbearably restrictive, Ruth decided to take action. When she heard about job openings in England, the 17-year-old obtained a passport and then forged paperwork to indicate she was the required age of 18, she said.  

The couple first met during World War II — a recent German immigrant and a streetwise young soldier from Harlem.

During the train ride to Amsterdam, en route to England, she feared that the German conductor would discover her forgery and send her to her death. Instead, once the train crossed into Holland, Dutch authorities threw the German personnel off the train. Ruth’s job in England involved hard work on a family farm, but she ultimately obtained the means to get her mother, father and sister out of Germany. 

No one in the extended family survived the Holocaust, however, according to the couple’s daughter, Diane Karpel of Northridge.

Later, Ruth’s wedding to Eddie was an almost spontaneous affair, consisting of the couple and two witnesses they randomly met shortly before Eddie shipped out. Although wartime romance inspired many Hollywood movies in the early 1940s and the USO gained iconic status through its entertainment and social gathering opportunities, reality put Eddie and Ruth’s relationship to the test. 

“We all grew up during that war,” Ruth said. “Soldiers came back and realized the world had changed a great deal. Young women realized that they not only had children to take care of, but husbands as well, especially those injured during the war. We had nothing when we started out, and yet we did it — we got through it. [Eddie] did not come home to a wife happy to see him and a rosy future, but instead home to [a reality that he had] a child and no money.”

War separated the couple during the critical first years of marriage, but they wrote each other every day, chronicling an eventful time in world history and their own lives. Shortly after Eddie’s departure, Ruth learned she was pregnant with their daughter, Diane. Soon after, Eddie’s unit was torpedoed on the way out to the Pacific Theater. Dozens of Ruth’s letters finally got to Eddie a month later, after Diane was born.

“When we wrote to each other every single day, we realized how little we knew about one another … and that our family structures and upbringings were completely opposite,” Ruth said.

That didn’t stop them from dedicating themselves to the task of maintaining a family once Eddie returned.

“We had to start all over again, and when Eddie was in school, I did everything needed to maintain the household,” Ruth said. “Two and a half years later, our son David was born, and we now had two children to care for on my beautician’s job.”

What each one of them separately went through gave them the backbone to weather the challenges, said their son, Shalom Elcott, president of the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County.

“My parents were both street fighters determined to survive,” he said. “My father grew up in Harlem in a working-class family, while my mother grew up in a well-to-do family in Germany who lost everything and [she] had to get her family out to safety.”

Among the things the family did manage to get out was a crystal bowl that survived the war and several moves, only to be destroyed by the Northridge Earthquake. Its remains have been incorporated — as a symbol of endurance — into 14 statues held by multiple generations of family members. The sculpture was commissioned by Diane Karpel.

Shalom Elcott views his parents’ marriage through the lens of their devotion to building the Jewish community in the San Fernando Valley. His father, a political science educator at West Los Angeles City College, taught confirmation at Adat Ari El, and his mother was active in Sisterhood. She also was a religious school teacher at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and spoke about her experiences in Germany locally and abroad. Shalom Elcott also remembers heeding their encouragement to get involved in different community and philanthropic organizations.

“We had that strong Jewish upbringing in part because it was my mother’s way of continuing the now ongoing joke she played on the Nazis [by] getting herself and her family out. This now includes 18 great-grandchildren who exist because of my parents’ will to survive,” he said. “All of us and many of our children are involved in some form of Jewish education.”

High Holy Days: Sharing the love, handling the holidays

Every day in my office, I see parents, embittered by divorce and so grateful to finally be physically and legally apart from a partner they once loved and now hate, struggling to co-parent and jointly make decisions about their children.

Every day, adults who once loved each other so much that they promised to stay together until the end of time storm into my office, dragging behind them children dejected and battered by Mom and Dad’s rage toward each other.

The out-of-control battles parents wage over raising children after divorce leave deep and dangerous open wounds and scars on their children long after the parents have moved on, making their children the real casualties of that war. I see these wounds every day in the children who come into my office. Their grades have plummeted. They act out at school and on the ball field. They are angry or sad. Their physicians raise red flags. Their teachers are concerned. I see children, emotionally and behaviorally hurt by the war between their parents, trying frantically to create stability as their world changes too quickly for them to keep up — and so they fall.

Handling the holidays creates tremendous conflicts in families of divorce. Differences in religious beliefs and observances, demands of extended families and commitments to new relationships all serve to increase the conflicts between separated parents.

There are several different approaches to managing holidays. Sometimes parents alternate years. For others, if the child spends Rosh Hashanah with Father, then she spends Passover seder with Mother that year. Other times, parents prefer to divide up the significant days — Rosh Hashanah with Mother until 3 p.m. and then with Father after 3 p.m. This allows the child to celebrate each holiday with both families. To ensure that domestic law attorneys remain well employed in interpreting documents, both approaches are sometimes combined, alternating years and alternating times. A third approach, especially popular with parents of younger children, may be to try to spend holidays together, believing that maintaining family traditions are better for their children. 

In examining which approach might be the best for the children, one must explore the key factors that influence the impact of divorce on children. 

The co-parenting relationship rests on three broad principles that guide parents after divorce to promote positive growth and development in their children. First, research confirms that children of divorce do better if they maintain positive, meaningful, real and consistent relationships with both of their parents. What parents consider equal parenting means nothing to the child. 

Second, the parental relationship has to be as free of conflict as possible. Both parents are still the child’s parents, and they must model conflict-free parenting. 

Third, parents must work to assure that both parents are actively involved in the life of the child and making decisions for the child. Children are hurt by the divorce, but they are far more damaged by how parents behave following the separation. And one of the biggest sources of that pain is the difficulty parents have in making decisions, or in simply being together at important times of the children’s lives.

The bottom line is that when adults fight — and when they cannot together effectively set consistent boundaries, rules and expectations that will allow active and meaningful relationships with both parents — the child suffers.

The key is flexibility and responsiveness to the child.  

Community Rallies for Woman’s Divorce, UCLA Acquires Jewish Artifacts

Community Rallies for Woman’s Jewish Divorce

Chanting “Stop Abuse” and “Free Your Wife,” 200 people rallied on the eve of Purim in front of the Fairfax-area home of a man who refuses to grant his wife a Jewish divorce.

Meir Kin and his wife, Lonna, who have one child, have been separated for four years, and though a civil divorce has already been granted, he has refused to appear before a recognized rabbinic court to grant her a Jewish writ of divorce, or get. Without a get, she cannot remarry and is considered an agunah, Hebrew for chained woman.

The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) issued a seiruv, or letter of contempt, against Kin in March 2007 for refusing to appear before the beit din, a rabbinic judicial panel.

The New York-based Organization for the Resolution for Agunot (ORA) organized the rally to apply communal pressure on Kin. Because Jewish law does not allow a beit din to force a man to issue his wife a divorce, communities have historically used religious ostracization and social embarrassment to pressure recalcitrant husbands into giving in.

“We feel it is important for a community to take a stand against this kind of abuse, and say we will not tolerate it,” ORA’s assistant director Jeremy Stern said. “If someone is emotionally abusing his wife, abusing halacha and making a mockery of the rabbinic system, it will not be tolerated.”

ORA works with couples from across the religious spectrum — from fervently Orthodox to loosely traditional — to help resolve tough divorce cases, Stern said. The organization tries to facilitate conversation between the parties to help bring them to an acceptable resolution with a beit din or other mediator. If that fails, ORA uses threats of protest and then actual protests at the home or workplace of a husband who refuses to give a get, or a wife who refuses to accept one. Since it was founded in 2002, ORA has helped resolve 97 cases and still has 60 cases open — just a small percentage of the problem divorce cases out there, Stern says. Several of ORA’s cases are in Los Angeles, including an Israeli man in Tarzana who has refused his wife a get for 31 years.

ORA has been working on the Kin case for three years. The case has a long and complicated history in civil courts in New York and Los Angeles, and several rabbinic courts. Kin said a get is waiting for his wife at the beit din of Rabbi Tzvi Dov Abraham in Monsey, N.Y. But that beit din is universally reviled as extortionist, and divorces from Abraham’s beit din are not recognized by the RCC, the chief rabbinate in Israel or the Beth Din of America, Stern said.

Kin comes from a prominent Los Angeles Orthodox family — both his parents are longtime educators in the Beverly-La Brea area, and his brother, Rabbi Elyahu Kin, is a leader at the outreach organization Torah Ohr. Another brother is president of an Orthodox congregation.

The protest was held outside the parents’ home. Stern has been slowly publicizing the case for two years, sending fliers and information packets to local rabbis, hoping to avoid a rally, he said. While some rabbis showed up to the rally and publicized it among their congregants, many stayed away.

Stern said the group also works on preventative measures. It supports a 10-year-old effort to make prenuptial agreements, which make withholding or refusing a get financially painful, a standard part of Orthodox wedding ceremonies. Stern flew to Los Angeles for the rally, and spent some time in local Orthodox high schools teaching students about the need for prenups.

“We see this as way of making social change from the bottom up, so everyone does it as a matter of course,” Stern said.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

UCLA Acquires Western Jewish History Artifacts

UCLA last week celebrated the acquisition of a treasure trove of Jewish history in the American West, the legacy of four dedicated amateurs turned skilled historians.

The ceremony in the UCLA Library’s special collections department culminated decades of work by the late Dr. Norton Stern and Rabbi William Kramer, both Los Angeles residents.

When they died, they left behind some 400 boxes crammed with documents, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, memoirs, photos and assorted memorabilia.

Much of the hoard was accumulated by Stern, an optometrist, who scoured the small towns of the Western states, looking, as he put it, “through hundreds of haystacks for dozens of needles,” hidden in abandoned cemeteries and faded newspapers.

His and Kramer’s immense accumulation of history in the raw was rescued after their deaths by two Valley residents, David W. Epstein and Gladys Sturman, who went about cataloging, indexing and archiving the material.

They were aided by 11 members of Congregation Shir Ami in Woodland Hills, an $18,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation and $10,000 from Sturman’s own pocket.

A major part of the Stern-Kramer legacy was trucked to UCLA last year and, over the months, Caroline Luce, a doctoral candidate in history, has digitized the archive, which is expected to go online in May.

In the process, Luce has become an expert on the arcane history of bagels, and the audience of some 70 invited guests was left to ponder whether the Jewish gustatory icon had originated in Austria, Poland, or China.

Epstein noted that Kramer and Stern had defined rather broad boundaries for the “American West,” claiming all the land west of the Mississippi River, Hawaii and parts of Mexico.

Jews played a disproportionally large role in the development of the West, because they were often the only residents who were literate, knew about business affairs, and were trusted by both gold prospectors and native Indians.

David Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, lauded the professional standards and work by Sturman, Epstein and the Shir Ami volunteers as a prime example of collaboration between town and gown.

Additional parts of the original Kramer-Stern collection have been donated to other institutions, such as 1,000 books to the American Jewish University, 2,000 photos to the Autry National Center, and ephemera to the Huntington Research Library, in partnership with USC.

For additional information, call the UCLA department of special collections at (310) 825-4988 or Genie Guerard at (310) 206-0521.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

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.

Modern Orthodoxy’s Marriage Crisis

Hard-to-marry-off children have been worrying parents since Genesis, when Leah, her eyes tender from the sadness of being unwanted, took part in a hoax to trick Jacob — her younger, prettier sister’s suitor — into marrying her. There’s no indication of how old Leah was at betrothal, but the tone of the text prompts a mortifying thought: Had she lived in our time, the future matriarch of the Jewish people would likely be another tough case for the matchmakers.

Or so I surmised a few months ago after a crowded panel in Manhattan on what has come to be known as the “shidduch crisis” in Modern Orthodoxy. Over the past decade, rabbis, activists and parents have been wringing their hands over the “ever-burgeoning number of religious singles and rising percentage of failed marriages” in the community. This event was only the most recent of many discussions devoted to the topic.

Having once been both single and Modern Orthodox, I recognized many of the audience members — not exact faces, of course, but types: The knitted-browed parents, bantering anxiously among themselves; the fresh-faced Stern and Yeshiva University students who seemed too young to take the bus themselves, let alone join in holy matrimony; a handful of older singles brave enough to show their faces at such a gathering.

The evening’s discussion traversed a lot of ground, but it was clear that among its primary goals was the prevention of those too-often-seen tragic situations — “marriages that end, God forbid, in divorce” and “people who are in their late 20s, even 30, and not married.”

The timing could not have been better — or worse: Three days earlier, I had signed divorce papers; six days later, I turned 30.

Of course, the world is filled with singles wishing to be part of doubles. Since the fate of every society turns on the success or failure of its particular set of mating rituals, each one develops its own specialized system of coupling. But what happens when those rituals erode?

This is the bind in which Modern Orthodoxy has lately found itself. Over the past decade, the movement has drifted to the right — adopting, along the way, the belief that greater stringency in Jewish law and ritual equals greater religiosity. Distinctions that might seem infinitesimal to an outsider — “she’s a Bais Yaakov girl,” “he wears a kippah sruga” — have become fundamental differences, and competitions have sprouted up over who follows which obligations more strictly.

Along with new perspectives on the legality of singing in the shower and smoking cigarettes on Passover, there also has emerged a more exacting code of modesty and celibacy for singles. In response, ever younger people have begun racing to the chuppah, with many of us discussing potential mates as early as high school.

This is the system used successfully by the ultra-Orthodox, who place more emphasis on God, family and community than on individual choices: Each person has confidence in her mate not only because he is right for her, but because he is right for everyone and everything in her life. On the other end of the spectrum, the secular world offers a method based on individualism: Release yourself from everyone else’s expectations, and date as many people as it takes to find the one.

The problem is that both of these opposing philosophies are now circulating in the Modern Orthodox community, and their coexistence is causing static — mixed signals, false expectations, miscommunications. The confusion might be surmountable, but muddling through it requires two things that Orthodox Jews who’d like to remain marriageable don’t have: experience and time.

The first inkling that I did not have nearly enough time to find a mate was in my junior year of yeshiva high school. We were learning about Amuka, an area in northern Israel where the prayers of people looking for their besherts (destined partners) allegedly are answered, when I was seized with confusion.

“Can each person only have one beshert?” I asked.

“I think so,” said the rabbi.

“But what about a woman who remarries after her husband dies? Which one was her beshert?”

“Only God knows,” came the reply.

“What if my beshert lives in, like, Pakistan?”

“You have to just believe, Alana.”

I can’t, I thought suddenly. I don’t know enough about the world.

And with that, Amuka became my Archimedean point, the place where I stood when I inadvertently lifted my entire religious world off its axis. After that, the questions came quickly — even leading, briefly, to a period of greater observance.

By the time I started my second year at Barnard, I was taking classes on other religions, had an Episcopalian best friend and regularly attended non-Jewish campus events on Friday night, as long as I could walk to them.

But as my curiosity about the larger world expanded, the atmosphere of Modern Orthodoxy contracted. I wanted to engage with the secular world — to learn about it as well as to experience it — but the same adventures that might have once been par for the Modern Orthodox course now threatened to make me an outcast.

I was too attached to religious life and thought to abandon it entirely. Instead, I made the kind of unspoken compromises with my parents (and, by extension, the community) that some people make with God: I will not go to services often, but when I do, I’ll attend Orthodox synagogues; I will eat nonkosher in restaurants but at home will abide by rules strict enough that the rebbe could snack in my kitchen; I will avoid premarital sex, but won’t follow the laws of negiah.

This last item was, in fact, the only one for which I had an intellectual defense. I was shy and insecure about sex and knew enough to fear its power as an obfuscating force in relationships. The more I knew, I thought, the better my chances that I wouldn’t mistake lust for love.

Fooling around before marriage has, historically, not been an uncommon practice among Modern Orthodox Jews. After all, they gave the world the “tefillin date,” so named for the men who brought along their phylacteries in hopes they wouldn’t be home in time for morning prayers.

By my early 20s, the community had moved significantly to the right. People found themselves caught between rules of the old world and the kind of curiosity about sex and dating fostered in the new one.

“It is bad enough to be alone, but to be not sexual is almost as bad, and the two together is terrible,” writes an anonymous Orthodox blogger. “I have had fantasies of killing myself. I have considered hiring a male prostitute and getting it over with. No, I have not tried either of those last two things, chas vishalom…. To all the married people out there telling older singles that they should deny themselves, I wish I could respond, ‘Let he who is 34 and never been kissed cast the first stone.'”

I was 25 when I married — a bit old compared to my yeshiva classmates but still within respectable limits. To a casual observer, Daniel might have seemed like a rebellious choice: He did not grow up Orthodox; his father is not Jewish; his last name is Scotch-Irish. But he was almost as connected to the community as I was, having just gotten out of a relationship with another Orthodox woman.

He had started learning Hebrew, loved Shabbat and had relatives in Israel. And, unlike me, he had yichus, a distinguished lineage: His grandfather was a famed civil rights lawyer and Zionist activist. He was different enough, and yet similar.

After a year of dating, we wanted to move in together, but I knew this was unheard of in our circles. So I made another silent compromise: I’d marry the person of my choosing, but at an age and in a way that would be acceptable within the community.

Daniel and I married before we should have, a step that put undue pressure on a young relationship and two people still struggling to define themselves. When the marriage ruptured, so did the thin thread holding me to Orthodoxy. I became angry at the community for depriving me of my adolescence or, rather, for being too rigid to encourage it.

As psychologist Naomi Mark said at the panel on the shidduch crisis that I attended, the community expects young adults to have marriage, education and careers settled, or at least on track, by their early 20s, leaving no time to make the kind of mistakes that teach us who we are. My effort to avoid these mistakes — to experience the world but not so much that I’d be forced from the community’s safe corral — threatened to split the baby. And the baby was me.

In the end, I chose self-definition over religion. As Plato promised, the examined life is indeed fulfilling — firsthand experience of oneself trumps guesswork any day — but it’s not nearly as pretty as the brochure implies. For me, the ugliness lies not in the fact that by opening the door to all experience I’ve ushered in pain as well as joy, or because in the course of learning about myself, I’ve unearthed a few things I’d rather never have known — though both have certainly happened.

What most disquiets me is the limbo. Unlike my Orthodox peers, who can be sure of the basic contours of their lives, I writhe with uncertainty: Where will I be living 10 years from now? What school will my kids attend? How kosher will my kitchen be?

Sometimes, the fog gets so intimidating that I start to wonder if there’s still time to go back, to abandon all this liberty and just get comfortable again. Alas, I fear all this experience has ruined me; I’ve lost too many virginities — intellectual, emotional, psychological and, well, otherwise — to mesh again with that life. Plus, as the panel proved, the community hardly needs another 30-year-old woman in need of marrying off, especially one without a younger, prettier sister to use as bait.

Alana Newhouse is the arts and letters editor at The Forward.

Reprinted from

A Holiday Redemption


When my wife left me last year, I was not prepared for how lonely Christmas could be, nor did I realize how Jewish it would become.

Last Dec. 24, I was alone in the Sherman Oaks townhouse we once shared. I did not buy a Christmas tree; there was no joy in my home that such a tree could magnify. All the Christmas ornaments were hers, so there were no blinking lights, holly or front door wreath; she was very good at creating Christmas cheer.

My large Irish-Catholic clan (sisters, Anne and Mary; brothers, Matthew, Mark and John) means large Christmas gatherings. But schedules last Christmas meant we would not all be together until Dec. 26 at my parent’s home. So last year, I caught the Christmas Eve vigil Mass alone at St. Charles in North Hollywood. It can be a painful place; I was married there three years earlier, but then again, it’s also where three of my nephews, plus my twin brother and I, were baptized, and where my sister, Mary, was married. My fresh, sad marriage memories were muted by joyous thoughts of other Christmases.

After Mass, I drove to my oldest, closest friend’s Fairfax District home for Christmas Eve dinner. It was a small affair, just me, him, his longtime girlfriend and her widowed mother. There was something comforting about his door’s mezuzah that Christmas Eve.

I woke up Christmas Day morning with no tree, toys or eggnog, and I understood how Jewish children could feel left out on Christmas mornings as non-Jewish neighbor kids ride new bikes and try out other presents. Like Jewish kids, I had no gifts that morning.

But I had Sinai Temple. The Conservative Westwood synagogue’s Mitzvah Day attracted 105 young Jewish volunteers to clean a beach, play with abandoned dogs, visit elderly Christians in a nursing home and feed Los Angeles’ poor. They gathered in the underground parking lot of that Pico Boulevard Ralphs near Century City, where Leslie Klieger, Sinai’s ATID young adult group director, greeted me, as did Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei.

I briefly interviewed him in the back seat of volunteer Lida Tabibian’s parked SUV. The tape recorder was not working, which was embarrassing in front of the rabbi, who asked if everything was OK. I mentioned my divorce and he listened — a much-appreciated act of Jewish empathy for a broken Catholic on this Christian holiday.

Last Christmas morning, rain soaked downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row, and the poor were wet and hungry. Inside a rescue mission were Klieger, Tabibian and other young Jews doing good for people far worse off than a tape recorder-challenged journalist whose wife had left him. With the mitzvah done, Klieger, Tabibian and I went back into Tabibian’s large SUV so I could interview them for my mitzvah story.

Tabibian mentioned the Mitzvah Day’s large turnout and said, “Isn’t it wonderful what we’re doing here?”

What could I say? My wife had left me. My savior was born yet I didn’t feel saved.

But Tabibian’s rich Persian smile, her dark eyes alight at the joy of doing mitzvah, and that phrase, “Isn’t it wonderful?” briefly stopped my grief. Suddenly, with her question, Christmas Day started to glow a little.

Beauty and wonder at Christmas are not always under a tree or in a song or at Mass. Sometimes, beauty and wonder can be heard when a good-hearted woman asks you, “Isn’t it wonderful?”

For dinner that Christmas Day, I went to Izzy’s Deli in Santa Monica and met a friend, both of us alone, but now, not lonely.

This Christmas Eve, I may check out a Pico-Robertson Shabbat sermon. On Christmas Day, I might look in on Temple Israel of Hollywood’s dinner for the poor at a nearby church, or maybe attend the Skirball Cultural Center’s Theodore Bikel Yiddish concert in the evening.

I grew up in Studio City (yes, south of Ventura Boulevard). Except for two gauntlet years at Encino’s Crespi Carmelite High School, I was a public school Catholic, surrounded by Jewish friends and Jewish student role models. The first girl I ever kissed was Jewish. The best man at my Catholic wedding was Jewish — the same man my wife asked to tell me our marriage was over.

From my first crush to my first kiss to being praised by Steven Spielberg to my divorce to this newspaper, Jews have been there for me. And last Christmas Day, when I looked at the young Jewish volunteers in that underground Ralphs parking lot, in a small way I was home again; among my Studio City own, spending part of Christmas with cool Jews. I was broken, yes, but not alone.


Dealing With Divorce

The Jewish community has always pushed marriage. So when it
comes to divorce, it is understandable that resources in the Jewish world are
limited. It’s not the sort of thing the community wants to encourage.

Still, there is a need. The most recent U.S. Census Bureau
statistics available reveal that nearly half of first marriages end in divorce.
Because of this and despite some cultural resistance, the University of Judaism
(UJ) is offering a class on divorce — the first in its history.

The course is “an attempt to meet the various needs of our
community,” said Gady Levy, dean of UJ’s continuing education department and
the person behind the school’s public lecture series at the Universal
Amphitheatre. “The concept of pairing a psychotherapist with a rabbi has proven
very successful in our Making Marriages Work program.” he said. “I believe this
format could [also] be of help to those dealing with divorce.”

Getting Through a Divorce will run three Thursdays,
beginning Feb. 13. The first two sessions will be led by Tamar Springer, a
licensed clinical social worker, and will deal primarily with coping strategies
for dealing with the emotional side of divorce and how to build a support
network. The last class will include Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel,
who will discuss the Jewish aspects and perspectives on divorce.

Prior to going into private practice, Springer worked for
the Los Angeles Superior Court’s Child Custody Division, where her main aim was
to “help people make good decisions, despite their difficult situations.” She
said that while each divorce involves different factors, the main cause that
she sees is communication.

“Usually, there are long-term, deep-rooted problems that
were not addressed earlier that should have been,” Springer said. “Resentment
builds up, and the disconnect between the couple gets too big.”

“But I think people can use the experience of divorce to get
themselves to a wonderful place — to a richer, more fulfilling relationship,
eventually — and to really know themselves in a way [that] can only lead to
better connections,” added Springer, who also teaches the UJ’s Making Marriage
Work class.

“One of the reasons I wanted to do the class is because
there is a lot of help offered at the UJ for married people or for people
getting married, but nothing for people who are getting divorced,” she said. “I
think partly it is because going through a divorce is difficult and people shy
away from difficult things, and partly that in Jewish culture we have so many
celebrations and acknowledgments of positive things and, aside from funerals,
there is not a lot going on for more difficult situations.”

The Jewish community in Los Angeles does have a few
resources for divorced families, such as the Jewish Single Parent Network
offered through Jewish Family Service and various singles groups at area

However, the lack of sufficient support among Jews for those
going through the difficult, emotional process of a divorce was one of the
factors that prompted Rabbi Perry Netter of Temple Beth Am to write his book,
“Divorce Is a Mitzvah” (Jewish Lights Pub, 2002)

The book addresses the gamut of Jewish divorce, from the
initial decision to the beit din (Jewish court of law), as well as Jewish
perspectives on divorce, from what the rabbis of the Talmud had to say to
today’s reactions from well-meaning friends (“I’m sorry to hear about your
divorce, but have I got a girl for you!”).

Netter said that while divorce may no longer be stigmatized,
the typical reaction in the Jewish community is to gloss over its painful
reality, instead of dealing with it in a helpful way.

“We need to give people permission to talk about this,”
Netter said. “Divorce is not a disease; it’s not contagious, but that is the
way most people treat it.”

As an example, Netter described a focus group he conducted
with some congregants prior to the book’s publication. Some in the group were
divorced before they had joined the synagogue, while others went through a
divorce while they were members.

Netter said there was a divorced couple who were members of
the same chavurah. Because the man and his ex-wife did not want their children
to suffer, they decided to both remain in the chavurah, and whoever had the
children that weekend would be the one to participate in the chavurah’s events.

“This man spoke to our group with a hurt bordering on rage,
his lip quivering, saying, ‘When my kids are through with school at this
synagogue, I am through with this congregation. When I was going through my
divorce, I approached people in my havurah to talk, and they said no, because
they didn’t want to take sides,'” Netter recalled. “The man said, ‘I didn’t
want them to take sides — I just needed someone to talk to.'”

Netter said that people must find the vocabulary with which
to talk about divorce and “to be in touch with the compassionate side they
have, to let that overtake their fears and anxieties. Listening to someone is
not taking a side.”

Getting Through a Divorce is scheduled Feb. 13, 20 and 27, 7:30-9:30 p.m. at the University of Judaism. Cost for the class is $72. For more information,
call (310) 440-1246.  

Why I’m Still Single

A friend of mine and I were sitting at Canter’s having lunch when we were discussing my dating life — or lack of it. Since he knows what a cool guy I am, he suggested that there was just one tactic to take — to make up an ex-wife and a divorce so that I could avoid the stigma of having never been married. He went a step better — he went for the widower concept, which I liked, and embellished with the death of my wife in a tragic car wreck.

But here’s the problem: It’s not so much that I’m against lying on principle, it has its place. It’s just that I suck at it.

And in the best- (or worst-) case scenario, I would have to continue the charade with tales of my courtship and marriage, the details of the accident and whether I’m in touch with her parents and siblings, etc. I’d have to basically write my own Lifetime TV movie.

So, in the interest of honesty, and because I cannot afford more therapy, I am going to address, once and for all, the issue of why such an incredible, well-liked and modest guy has never been married.

First of all, I was a late bloomer. Although I had an amazing date for my senior prom, she broke my heart, and I had zits. So I never got married in high school.

In college, I didn’t have a car and partied a lot. I went to the weddings of several friends my senior year, and it was pretty obvious that those marriages were in trouble. My main concern was the draft. So I never got married in college.

After college, I got the most incredible job in the history of mankind, due to the fact that my father was the treasurer of a large travel agency. For the next seven years, I was a tour guide in Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Cancun, Rome, Paris and Tahiti, just to name a few. I learned to play tennis quite well and got an amazing tan. Needless to say, I didn’t get married.

After that I moved to Los Angeles and became a screenwriter. I had a serious relationship that ended when I decided that it wasn’t quite right. Thereafter, I went out with every flake and insane model and actress in Los Angeles. By the way, in case you didn’t know this, struggling screenwriters are not considered marriage material by women of substance. So I didn’t get married in my 30s.

And I even made a bit of money writing screenplays, but you couldn’t call it a career — although I tried. And I made good money as a legal secretary. But you know what, legal secretary is a crappy job to meet women.

Oh, did I mention that I am the only child of Holocaust Survivors? So I had a very close home life and was devoted to my parents, who were quite a bit older than my friends’ parents, and in most cases, a lot smarter. Well, my father passed away when I was 37 and he was 86. He was a very wise man. He loved my mother deeply but he would say to me, at least three times a week, (translated from German) — “marry infrequently.”

So I did. Very infrequently.

My mother lived in La Jolla, and I went down there about every third weekend to make sure that she was OK and to pick up some free food — she would generally pack a cooler of Czech specialties and lox for me to take back to L.A. Made it rough to really get married with all that free food.

When things stabilized, my mom died. Now I was really devastated because I couldn’t really figure out why I needed to get up in the morning, so I didn’t bother. Well, not really. I went into therapy and discovered that I was really a hell of a guy, and that I had a right to feel bad.

So I got back into the thick of things and wrote a couple of computer books and decided it would be nice to find love with a good woman, but everybody I dated would ask me: “So how come you’ve never been married?”

Translation: “What is wrong with you anyway?”

So I met this woman I really liked — and I even really liked her dog, Max. I even walked him on Sundays and cleaned up his poop. She was worried I would never make a commitment, but right after Valentine’s Day, she woke up and asked me at 1 a.m., “Are you going to make $100,000 next year?”

You know, I really miss Max.

So I bought a condo on the Westside and had a big party, and all my friends said, “Man this is a great place to bring a lady.” But the women at the party all asked me, “So how come you’ve never been married?”

So I decided that instead of lying or making up an ex who died in a car wreck, I’m going to photocopy this column. At my age I go to the bathroom quite a bit, so over dinner, when I need to take a break, I’ll let her read it. We’ll see what happens.

I will also post it on dating boards online under the area, “What I’ve learned from my relationships.”

What have I learned from them? Mostly, I know that thing with the toilet seat, and a lot of times I even take tissue and wipe the hair from the drain in the shower.

Next time: Why I’m not six feet tall.

Changing Lives, Making Peace

Illustration from “Painting with Passion,” 1994. Photo-illustration by Carvin Knowles

Losing My Religion

Dear Deborah,

My husband and I have decided to get a divorce, and we have amicably worked everything out — finances, custody, etc. What has become acrimonious and ugly are our religious differences in raising our child, age 5. I am Jewish, and my husband is Christian, but neither of us ever took religion seriously until we had our child. We used to think that when the child got old enough, he would decide for himself.

How do we do this? We are fighting all the time. Can you tell us who, other than our attorneys, can impartially guide us. We each want the child to follow our own faith. Help!


Dear Struggling,

One cannot be a Jew on Saturdays and Yom Kippur, and a Christian on Sundays and Christmas. Yet this is undoubtedly how it will play for your son after the divorce. So, although a mediator, family counselor or both may be able to “impartially” guide you, no matter what is decided, odds are that no one will be satisfied with the outcome because this is a question of fundamental identity and values, which, unlike time or money, may not simply be sliced in half. No one is going to win this one, but if you make this a contest, the biggest loser will be your son.

Place the focus upon your child, who is about to suffer a great loss and be forced to endure some difficult changes. The question is not about whether he will be Jewish or Christian, but, rather, how both parents may provide religious environments that are warm, informative and, above all, respectful enough to not engender turmoil, guilt or confusion.

Perhaps the simple truth is best for now: “Mom is Jewish, and Dad is Christian. You will learn a great deal about both religions as you grow up in each of our homes. When you are an adult, you will decide upon your religion, and we both will respect whatever you choose.” In other words, you probably have no choice but to