George W. Bush and Jews for Jesus


Former President George W. Bush spoke for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI) this past week, and this has led to a good deal of writing on Jews for Jesus and the ex-president’s address.

Some observations:

• Like nearly every other Jew, I was saddened by the news. The MJBI is not some quiet Messianic congregation consisting of Christians and born-Jews who affirm Jesus as their Lord, Savior, and Messiah; its entire raison d’etre is to convert Jews to Christianity. Needless to say, in a free society, such as ours, one should be free to engage in proselytizing. And if President Bush had spoken before a Christian organization whose purpose was to spread belief in Jesus, no one would have said a thing. 

But the MJBI is different. First, it is devoted solely to bringing Jews to Christian faith. Second, it does so by telling Jews that they do not become Christian when they accept Christ; they stay Jewish. They simply become “fulfilled” Jews. So unlike every other case of religious conversion in the world, the Jew who converts to Christianity remains a member of the religious group he previously identified with.

To most Jews, that is intellectually dishonest. Such Jews should call themselves by the name of the faith whose religious doctrines they now embrace — Christian. Jews may be saddened when a Jew leaves Judaism, but they can respect the decision. After all, if Christians can become Jews, Jews can become Christians. What Jews cannot respect is when Jewish converts to Christianity deny they are Christians, call themselves Jews, and devote their lives to converting other Jews.

• Even many Evangelical Christians who are genuinely and selflessly devoted to fighting on behalf of the Jewish people and Israel find it difficult to understand why Jews react so negatively to Jews for Jesus. The best way I have found to explain this to them is by comparing the Jews’ attitude toward Jews for Jesus to Evangelicals’ attitude to Mormons. Evangelical Christians have no more problem with there being Mormons than they do with any other religious group; their problem is with Mormons calling themselves Christian — just as Jews have no problem with the existence of Christians, only with Jews who convert to Christianity who still call themselves Jews — and claim that the only authentic Jew is one who is a Christian. 

• Jews should not allow their opposition to Jews for Jesus to bleed over to opposition to Christian Zionists, as a writer on this subject recently irresponsibly did in the liberal Jewish newspaper The Forward. Christian Zionists have been the best friends Jews have had for most of the last two centuries. As Andrew Brown, the religion writer for the British newspaper The Guardian, wrote this week:

“Without the belief of Victorian upper class evangelical Englishmen — almost exactly the equivalents of George W. Bush — there never would have been a Balfour Declaration. And without that declaration, there could not have been the Jewish immigration to Palestine that laid the foundations for the state of Israel.”

Today, groups such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and other Evangelical pro-Israel groups are the Jews’ and Israel’s best friends in the world — and they are not working to convert us. If the Evangelicals turn against Israel the way the liberal churches have, we will be in deep trouble.

• Concerning George W. Bush, it should not be difficult for Jews to object to his address to MJBI while continuing to express gratitude for his steadfast support for Israel while president of the United States. I think it is fair to say that nearly all the Jews of Israel are far more angered by President Barack Obama’s policies toward Iran than George W. Bush’s appearance at a Jews for Jesus institution. As Yossi Klein Halevi said this week (on my radio show), “a majority of Israelis today have no faith in the Obama administration’s will to stop a nuclear Iran.” Israelis did have faith in George W. Bush’s will to stop Iran. So, let’s not lose perspective because of one address to a group of Christians few people have ever heard of.

• For 40 years I have argued that Jews for Jesus pose little or no danger to Jewish survival. We Jews should be preoccupied with all the Jews for Nothing, the Jews for anti-Zionism, the Jews for radical Leftism, the Jews in PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who developed the obscene vegetarian campaign called “Holocaust on Your Plate” that equates the barbecuing of chickens in America with the cremating of the Jews in the Holocaust.

Our sons and daughters in college are not being alienated from Judaism, the Jewish people, and, of course, from Israel by Jews for Jesus, but by the secular left-wing professors who teach contempt for God, for religion, for Zionism and for Israel.

• The claim of Jews for Jesus that they are not Christians but Jews is false advertising, but the claim that they remain Jews is not false. Take, for example, the late Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. He was born a Jew, Aaron Lustiger, and converted to Catholicism. On becoming Archbishop of Paris, Lustiger said: “I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.”

Yet, Jews around the world came to revere Cardinal Lustiger for his unceasing efforts to rid the Catholic Church of anti-Semitism and to help Israel in the Catholic world. This Catholic, who considered himself Jewish, was a regular speaker for the World Jewish Congress and was even invited to speak at the Modern Orthodox Jewish seminary Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York.

Of course, Lustiger did not devote his life, as Jews for Jesus organizations do, to converting Jews. But Jewish law regarded him as a Jew, mainstream Jews honored him, and he asked that the Kaddish be recited for him upon his death.

• The only positive Jewish response to Jews for Jesus is to figure out how to keep Jews Jewish so that they will not leave us for other secular or religious faiths. And the way to achieve that is to instill in young Jews faith in the Jewish trinity: God, Torah and Israel. Then they won’t seek any other trinity.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

EVENT: Hot & Holy — A provocative discussion on sex and spirituality


A provocative discussion on sex and spirituality. Whether you are single, married, have a great sex life, or want one — join the conversation as we talk about what sex means to a relationship and how it is reflected in our faith.

Moderated by Ilana Angel, panelists are Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom, Sex Therapist Dr. Limor Blockman, Dating Coach David Wygant, and Hollywood Jew Danielle Berrin.  Ticket price includes admission and hors d'oeuvres.  Cash Bar. Special Valet Rate of $7.00.

Click here to buy your ticket online and secure entry. Some tickets will be available at the door. First come, first served.

No immediate threats for High Holy Day security, but warnings to stay vigilant


The Los Angeles Jewish community is not facing any security threats related to the High Holidays, but local institutions should still be vigilant, the Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Southwest division said at a community briefing Tuesday.

“We want to be open and welcoming, but we also want to be safe and secure at the same time,” ADL associate regional director Ariella Schusterman said appearing at a recent ADL security briefing for the Jewish community. “The question is, ‘Can these two things be married together?’ And the answer, actually, is ‘Yes.’”

Held at the Century City headquarters of the ADL-Pacific Southwest, the security seminar’s theme focused on suspicious behavior: what qualifies, and how to respond to it. A national agency that emails security alerts, security bulletins and non-alerts to institutions and oversees regional offices that partner with law officials on security issues, the ADL holds this security briefing annually, always prior to the High Holy Days. The agency invites community leaders, security personnel and others to the event. 

It’s important to focus less on a person and more on a person’s behavior, said Jason Pantages, assistant federal security director at the Transportation Security Administration at Los Angeles International Airport. “People aren’t suspicious—their behavior is suspicious,” Pantages, the program’s main speaker, told the group.

Pantages provided examples of suspicious behavior, such as a person leaving a bag behind or parking an unfamiliar vehicles in an prohibited area; an unfamiliar person photographing loading docks, security cameras or other building features; or a stranger who is unusually curious about an institution’s’ security and asks questions about it.

Both speakers gave individual presentations. It’s important to maintain “domain awareness,” which is the knowledge of what’s normal activity at your institution and what’s abnormal, Pantages said. That baseline will help you identify suspicious behavior, he said.

And always trust your instincts, Schusterman said. “If it looks wrong, if it feels wrong, then do not be afraid to contact somebody, whether it be your security person, or whether it be the police,” she said.

During the High Holy Days, police “are all on higher alert,” Schusterman said, to the question of audience member Joanne Feldman, assistant office manager for the Pacific Jewish Center, who asked if it’s a synagogue’s responsibility to liaison with police for extra security on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But, if an institution wants additional security – such as a patrol vehicle or a decoy vehicle parked in front of its location when services are taking place – it’s the institution’s responsibility to coordinate that with police, Schusterman said.

Approximately 60 people from various synagogues, schools and other organizations attended, including Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, the Skirball Cultural Center, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; the Los Angeles Jewish Home and IKAR, as well as police officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Burbank Police Department and Beverly Hills police.

For further information on ADL security measures—including the online security manual, “Protecting Your Jewish Institution”—visit adl.org/security.

It’s not about a plan


“Remember a time that you felt everything was right. The world just worked. You were in the moment. You felt calm, alive, complete. There was no other place you wanted to be but right there. Everything about that moment worked,” Rabbi Sherre Hirsch writes in her new self-help book, “We Plan, God Laughs: 10 Steps to Finding Your Divine Path When Life is Not Turning Out Like You Wanted” (Doubleday).

What Hirsch most wants is for people to find their “sparkle,” as she writes in Step 7, “Finding Your Divine Spark.”

That’s why she left her job as rabbi at Sinai Temple a year and a half ago. Although she had wanted to be a rabbi since she was 19, after serving at the Conservative synagogue in Westwood under Rabbi David Wolpe for eight years, she decided to move on.

“It was an incredible position for me, and I loved my congregants, I loved teaching and counseling,” she said. But “there were other things I wanted to do,” including spending time with her husband and three kids, and, it turns out, broadcasting her messages of spirituality and hope to a much broader audience.

On a recent day that meant a morning interview with Sam Rubin at KTLA and an afternoon at CBS, with The Jewish Journal sandwiched between—and there have been appearances on “The Today Show,” “Tyra,” Naomi Judd’s “Good Morning” and PBS’s “Thirty Minutes.”

Which may be because Hirsch does sparkle. In a black satin shell and immaculate ivory pants, the 39-year-old’s blue eyes, framed by purple mascara, shimmer as she talks about her message.

“I want people to take a risk, to believe that life may not have turned out like you planned,” she said, leaning forward eagerly on her hands. “I wanted people to have hope more than anything, in an age where people lose hope and get stuck.”

Hirsch knows from plans and getting stuck. Her mother was a small-town Midwesterner who met her knight in shining armor when she was 15. She got married at 19 and had two kids by the time she was 24. But her husband lost his job, became depressed and verbally abusive. After Sherre and her brother left for college, her mother, in her early 40s, finally left her husband. Eventually she rebuilt her life and remarried.

“When I officiated at [my mother and stepfather’s] wedding, my mother wore my wedding dress. What I said then under the chuppah was that, at her first wedding, she was waiting for someone to rescue her. But at this wedding she had rescued herself,” Hirsch wrote in her book. “She had taught us all that to live the life you want, you have to be willing to leap. You have to be willing to realize that your life is not scripted. The happy ending starts with you.”

In recent years many self-help gurus—and rabbis—have taken on the subject of happiness in books and lectures. So what makes this one any different?

“I think that when people say something in a new way, people hear it in a new way,” said Hirsch, who lists Rabbi Harold Kushner (“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”) and Rabbi Ed Feinstein (of Valley Beth Shalom) as inspirations. She also admires Oprah and Katie Couric as “communicators,” which is how she sees herself.

“Do I think I’ve written Aristotle’s new treatise?” she asks. “No.”

She focuses on tried-and-true concepts, such as “finding meaning” and “celebrating the divine in you.” But Hirsch said she didn’t want to write a “rabbi’s” book—i.e., a Jewish scholarly book.

“I wanted them to feel like they were talking to their friend, not being preached at by a rabbi. ‘What would I say to my best friend, and what would they say back to me?’ I wanted a different level of intimacy.”

Every chapter is infused with personal stories—of herself, her family, her congregants and Judaism. She chattily intersperses stories about God’s 13 attributes to teach about our own 13 positive attributes. She uses the Jewish new moon to show how we express our faith in the future, and shows how Moses’ doubting God means that only with doubt can one gain true faith.

What may appeal to a national TV audience—and on the Web site momlogic.com—is that Hirsch, in her own words “is a Midwestern girl.” (She was born in Ohio, although she grew up in Palos Verdes.)

That and the fact that she’s a female rabbi.

“Many of the audiences are women. I’m relatable, a mother with kids, I dated a ton—I struggle with the regular challenges that everyone struggles with, and I’m not afraid to be vulnerable or real,” she said. “I hope that people feel my authenticity.”

“I think everyone makes plans and things don’t go the way we plan,” she said.

People need to stop being so focused on the plan and just take action and see where it unfolds: “We’re not in charge—we can control our actions, but we can’t control our results.”

For her, spirituality is part of the equation, something that should be more than a yearly event on holidays.

“People can incorporate faith into their daily lives,” she said.

“I’m interested in helping people come closer to their faith,” she said. “If you find your faith, you find a way back home.”

Theater: ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ — populism through a post-punk prism


“Populism, yea, yea!
Populism, yea, yea!”

Sung to an urgent pop beat, this rousing refrain from “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” is bound to stick in your head. Not just because it’s so catchy, but because the show gets you thinking about populism — what it meant to early 19th century America, and what it means to us today. Written and directed by Alex Timbers, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, “Bloody Bloody” is a rollicking, irreverent new bio-musical about Andrew Jackson’s life and leadership — viewed through the lens of “emo” music and 20th century pop culture.

The first American president from humble origins, Jackson pitted himself against authority and privilege. Scarred by early violent encounters, one of which left a bullet in his chest for life, Jackson bled himself in vain attempts to ease his pain. And long before Bill Clinton “felt our pain,” Jackson fashioned his wounds, youthful disappointments and family tragedy into an empathetic persona that appealed to those who felt powerless.

Although this is their first collaboration, Friedman and Timbers each bring impressive credentials to the production. Timbers, 29, is artistic director of the New York-based, Obie Award-winning avant-garde company Les ” target=”_blank”>The Civilians, a New York-based off-Broadway company that conducts extensive interviews to create theater that raises questions about contemporary cultural phenomena. Friedman, composer and lyricist for numerous Civilians productions, most recently penned pop music for the upcoming “This Beautiful City,” an inside look at evangelical Christian churches that probes the intersection of religion and civic life in America, premiering this March at Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that Friedman and Timbers share the conviction that emo — which they describe as hyper-emotional, post-punk rock that’s “so sincere it’s ridiculous, and so ridiculous, it’s heartbreaking” — is an ideal aesthetic to apply to Jackson and his era.

“There’s an entire language of the American presidency that’s invented during Jackson’s presidency,” Friedman said. And the invention of populism, he added, can be seen as “disenfranchised boys who didn’t think they were popular in high school getting their revenge.”

By using contemporary teenage idioms and post-punk music alongside 19th century speech and period details, Friedman believes “Bloody Bloody” highlights qualities of each period that might not otherwise be apparent.

“Often, the most simplistic things we come up with — like introducing Monroe’s cabinet to the strains of a Spice Girls song — are really helpful at focusing in on what the thing itself is,” Friedman said.

These pop culture motifs also add lightness and humor to what is — beneath a gloss of irony and absurdity — a serious subject.

A classically trained pianist who didn’t write his first song until he was 24, Friedman thrives on intensive research — whether it’s the hundreds of interviews that form the basis of The Civilians’ plays, or historical research for “Bloody Bloody” — and draws musical inspiration from a seemingly limitless range of styles.

“I approach my work anthropologically,” Friedman said.

For one project, he immersed himself in Senegalese rap — not expecting to actually write a Senegalese rap song, but instead to absorb the sounds in order to pick up a new trick or two.

“It might be about structure, or rhythm, or the way a melody works,” Friedman said.

Listening to other music also helps him concentrate while composing, and anything he hears might suggest an idea for works in progress: “I’ll be listening to my iPod and finally figure out what I want to do on a song … often it’s not even a direct correlation — I’ll hear a Mahler symphony and I’ll think, ‘Oh, “Trail of Tears” [from “Bloody Bloody”] should have a key change right here.'”

With his wide-ranging forays into musical style and his flair for eclecticism, Friedman has created a style that’s not easy to categorize.

“I’m kind of chameleon-like,” he said. For The Civilians’ “Gone Missing,” which recently completed a six-month run at New York’s Barrow Street Theater, Friedman called his score a “pastiche … there’s a Noel-Coward-esque song, a Mariachi number in Spanish, a big rock ballad….”

Friedman’s upbringing may have planted the seeds for his interest in, and facile navigation of, disparate cultural sources.

Raised in Philadelphia by a Jewish father of German descent and a non-Jewish, “Yankee, New England” mother, Friedman attended a Quaker school until college at Harvard. His father is from a family of “fiercely proud” German Jews who identified culturally, but not religiously, with Judaism.

“I was half-Jewish, half-Christian in a confusing way, both sides a little bit nonobservant, went to a Quaker school in the ’70s, when everything like that was very much up in the air,” Friedman said. This gave him a “sense of religious — and nonreligious — possibility” for his own identity.

Although he doesn’t believe that any particular “faith background” influences his work, Friedman believes he’s got his father’s German Jewish sense of “intellectual questioning, of learning for learning’s sake.”

That said, no one in his father’s family has any connection with their European roots, so they are, more than anything else, “Americans first,” he added.

“At this point — after so many generations — what else are you?” Friedman asked.

A very contemporary question, but one that also harkens back to the Jacksonian era, when the presence of Native Americans, Spaniards and African slaves within our borders challenged our ideals of democracy and raised issues of race and ethnicity in America.

What did we then, and what do we now, make of these “foreigners” on our soil?

Morally Kosher; Defending the Dennis; <BR>Teddy the Great; Jane Ulman means ‘brilliant writing


Morally Kosher

Perhaps you wonder whether your column has an impact (“Moral Diet,” Jan. 5). Upon reading it last week, my wife and I — longtime vegetarians and supporters of organic farming — were struck by the justice and power of [Rob Eshman’s] words. I immediately spoke with our president, executive director and others at the synagogue, and all agreed that Sinai Temple would join Hazon’s Tuv Ha’Aretz program. We will encourage our members to buy shares in a local farm and enjoy their organic produce. Perhaps we will even persuade some members to till a little local soil!

Kashrut is the Jewish expression of our stewardship of the earth. As the Midrash teaches us, God told human beings at the outset of our journey, we are responsible for the well being of the world, for if we befoul its air and destroy its earth, no one will follow to undo our neglect. This kashrut initiative expresses that holy purpose of taking care of God’s gift. Along with our program to encourage buying fuel-efficient cars, which has so far enabled more than 50 members to purchase hybrid vehicles, this is our synagogue’s attempt to fulfill the ethical underpinning of the mitzvot.

Rabbi David Wolpe
Sinai Temple

I am responding to your article, “Moral Diet.” I will quote your words: “Many kosher-observant Jews would argue that kashrut is not about morality, but about obeying a set of divine but incomprehensible laws. That’s a fine line of reasoning for infants and automatons, but most of us who struggle with kashrut do it to elevate our souls….”

Your words deeply offend, hurt and disgust me. I indeed keep kosher because it is Divinely commanded and at a certain point incomprehensible on a strictly rational level. I do not believe the Almighty needs to make His laws with my approval, nor do I think He needs yours. Of course everyone has free will, but a servant of God does not demand of his Master to explain Himself or His directives.

Beyond insulting an entire group of Jews, your words serve to alienate and destroy, instead of creating and building. A person with such a position of influence like yourself has an awesome responsibility. Do you think it’s fine to be so judgmental and condescending? I disagree with Jews who don’t keep kosher, but I do not call them names or insult them.

Josh Horwitz
via e-mail

Prager’s Right

Dennis Prager has every right to express his opinion, and those criticizing his view that a congressman should take his oath on the Bible are intolerant and judgmental (“Democrats Call on GOP to Condemn Prager, Rep. Goode,” Jan. 5).

The blatant disregard and disdain for American customs and values is the hallmark of the left, which bullies its way into schools, health care, the workplace and every other segment of American life, from education to social issues, trying to impose its will on a majority that neither believes in nor wants its advocacy. But when one member of the right dares to defend a tradition honoring a belief system that built this country, the left wants him to humbly apologize.

Those criticizing Prager should instead apologize to him for trying to isolate him and intimidate him into submission — very un-American approaches to disagreeing with someone’s views.

Caroline Miranda
North Hollywood

It is time for all Americans and all Jews to eschew calls of “racism” whenever Islam or the Quran is commented on in ways felt to be “politically incorrect.” The name calling is not productive and honest debate about the issues is squelched by this type of unthinking emotional outburst.

The Judeo-Christian Bible is clearly the basis for American values, and Dennis Prager and Rep. Virgile Goode were correct in making that point.

It should be noted that the Jeffersonian Quran that Rep. Ellison chose to use for his ceremonial swearing-in was the book that Jefferson studied prior to advocating war against the Muslim pirate slavers of the Islamic Barbary States of Morrocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli. It was the Bible that provided the values to oppose Muslim slavery, not the Quran of the Muslim Barbary pirates.

The Democrats for Israel should save their condemnation for Rep. Ellison, a man who built his career on Jew-hatred as the spokesman for the Nation of Islam. The demand by the group, that the Republican Jewish Coalition rebuke Prager and Goode is vulgar, pathetic and misguided.

Michael A. Wienir
via e-mail

Jane Ulman

Jane Ulman always writes well, whether it’s about her sons, Torah references or others (“Who Needs Law School? Just Marry a Lawyer,” Jan. 5). I was particularly touched by her latest column for it’s humanity, expressions of love and the nature of her marital relationship, warmth, subtle humor and personal insights.

Even though I didn’t want to overstate my initial response upon reading her very human account, still “brilliant writing” first came to mind.

I hope to see much more of Jane’s work in this vein.

Allan Boodnick
Los Angeles

Teddy Kollek

As Mormons around the world celebrate the reopening of Brigham Young University’s Center for Near Eastern Studies in Jerusalem on Jan. 8, we pause to mourn the passing of Teddy Kollek, a leader of compassion and vision whose support was crucial in securing permission for the center to be built in the mid-1980s (“Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem’s Modern Day Herod, Dies at 95,” Jan. 5).

BYU students have studied in Jerusalem since 1968, and “Mr. Jerusalem” helped the university to secure the land and building permits necessary to erect the permanent facility, which was opened in 1987. For many years the mayor maintained close ties to BYU, which granted him an honorary doctorate in 1995 during one of his visits to Utah; his last visit to the university took place in 2002. Mayor Kollek praised the Jerusalem Center as a possible bridge to peace and a symbol of Israel’s capital as an open city.

Kollek’s graciousness to the Mormon community was not limited to BYU. In 1979 he bestowed the Jerusalem City Medal on LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball on the Mount of Olives, where they had participated in the opening of a memorial park commemorating the church’s dedication of the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jews in 1841. In addition, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in Israel at the invitation of Mayor Kollek during his last year in office. May his name and memory be blessed, and may his dream of peace be fulfilled in our lifetimes.

Water and pumpkins mark eco-friendly Sukkot


During Sukkot, families of Kesher Israel, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Washington, D.C., will gather together for a special celebration. Socializing in the synagogue’s sukkah, they will be treated to a tantalizing array of chocolate cakes and candies, accompanied by delicious cups of … tap water.
 
“Which are you enjoying more, the sweets or the water?” congregant Evonne Marzouk will ask, knowing full well that the cups of water will remain largely untouched.

This activity is a set up. It’s modeled on Simchat Beit Hashoeva, the festive water-drawing ceremony that took place during Sukkot while the Temple was standing but that is rarely commemorated today. Reconfigured, however, as part of True Joy Through Water, a new outreach program created by Canfei Nesharim (“the wings of eagles”), an Orthodox environmental organization, it’s designed to educate the primarily Orthodox community about the importance of water, its imperiled state and ways to conserve it.

“At the time of the Temple, people lived on the land and understood that if there wasn’t rain, there wasn’t food. That absolute dependence is still true today, but we don’t think about it because we live so far from the land,” said Marzouk, who serves as executive director of Canfei Nesharim, which was founded in January 2003.
 
The True Joy Through Water activities, text studies and instructive sukkah decorations have been requested by more than 30 Orthodox congregations across the United States.

In Los Angeles, at Congregation B’nai David-Judea, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky hopes to perform several of the True Joy Through Water activities with synagogue members, especially those in the youth group, in the sukkah. No formal program is planned for Young Israel of Century City, but Rabbi Elazar Muskin has distributed the materials to his congregants and is hoping that “people will take an interest in this important endeavor.”
 
True Joy Through Water is one of several programs that Jewish environmentalists are promoting this Sukkot, which begins at sundown on Friday, Oct. 6, to encourage people to take stock not only of the earth’s bounty but also of the earth itself — and to take action to repair it.
 
At the Shalom Institute in the Malibu Mountains, about 80 teenagers will be working directly with the earth on Sunday, Oct. 8, preparing the soil and planting in the Marla Bennet Israel Garden. The ninth- through 12th-graders, participants in Camp JCA Shalom’s Teen Camp weekend, will learn about Sukkot as well as their responsibility to nature, according to Einat Gomel, an environmental educator from Israel now serving as the year-round director of the Shalom Nature Center.
 
In the afternoon, the Shalom Institute is hosting a family Sukkot celebration. “We will talk about how we can help kids build a better world and make it eco-related,” Gomel said. Families will also participate in a ceremony and service in the sukkah.
 
“The fragility of the sukkah and its shelter is eloquent testimony to both our dependence on the environment and the environment’s dependence on us,” said Everett Gendler, rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanuel in Lowell, Mass., who is considered by many to be the father of Jewish environmentalism.
 
Gendler, who admits to a fondness for pumpkins stemming from an overflowing pumpkin patch he visited yearly as a Midwestern youth, invented the “Yaakov Lantern.” It’s a bright orange pumpkin, home-grown by Gendler every year, on which he carves a typical jack-o’-lantern face on one side and a Star of David on the other. Inside, he places a candle.
 
At night, the Yaakov Lantern invokes the “ushpizim,” the biblical forefathers and foremothers whom Gendler refers to as the “ancestral spirits” and also illumines the sukkah in an environmentally friendly manner.
 
“It’s hard to imagine the sukkah with wires attached,” said Gendler, who invented the first solar powered “ner tamid” (everlasting light), and espouses alternative energy sources.
 
Another long-time environmentalist, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia, is hosting an expected crowd of 250 to 350 Jews, Christians and Muslims to address the question, “What can our religious traditions do to help heal the planet from the climate crisis of global ‘scorching?'”
 
Leaders from all three Abrahamic faiths will speak to the participants, who will also engage in prayer and song and build a sukkah together. In addition, they will have the opportunity to sign petitions asking for reductions in global warming and increased use of alternative energy sources, which will be delivered to national, state and local legislators.
 
“I’m hoping to have some direct impact right there on the spot, both in terms of public policy and in terms of congregations’ and congregants’ energy use,” Waskow said.
 
The event takes place on Oct. 8 and jointly celebrates Sukkot and the month of Ramadan, as well as the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4). It is co-sponsored locally by The Shalom Center and is part of a nationwide effort initiated by “The Tent of Abraham, Hagar & Sarah,” a network of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
 
For Barbara Lerman-Golomb, executive director of Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), Sukkot, as a harvest holiday, is a perfect time to talk about healthy foods for a healthy planet.
 
“Many individuals who have joined community supported farms and co-ops are bringing their organically grown fruits and vegetables into the sukkah,” she said.
 
On the first day of Sukkot, Lerman-Golomb herself is slated to speak at the Conservative Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn during the morning service.
“I coined the phrase ‘energy observant,'” said Lerman-Golomb, who will present the Jewish response to environmental issues and encourage people to lead more sustainable lives.
 
In particular she will stress the problem of global warming, part of a nationwide campaign the coalition launched in August — billed as “How Many Jews Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?” — which will culminate at Chanukah.

From Agony to Acceptance — Documentary Delves Into Intermarriage


When Holocaust survivor Leah Welbel learns that her American granddaughter is about to marry a Christian, she cries out, “When this happened in my old hometown, my family used to sit shiva. Here they expect me to open my arms. I can’t do it.”

Leah’s agony in the documentary, “Out of Faith,” is deeply rooted in the memory of her 33 months at Auschwitz-Birkenau. But the same dilemma of rejection or acceptance is faced by other American Jewish families, half of whose children and grandchildren opt for interfaith marriages.

The film, which will have a special screening on Sept. 12 at the Laemmle Sunset, is rich in the human drama of family relationships and sharpened by the Holocaust experience, while tracing the trajectory of the American arc from immigration to assimilation.

Leah, deported from her Slovakian hometown at age 16 and in her mid-70s when the film was made, is the classic indomitable Jewish matriarch. Voluble, feisty, humorous, a born survivor, she ably made her way, first in Israel and then in Skokie, Ill.

She taught herself the intricacies of the stock market and prospered, even as she continued to labor over her gastronomic specialty, potato sandwiches. And she hasn’t spoken to her grandson, Danny, in six years, since he married a non-Jew.

Now her granddaughter, Cheryl, has announced that she will marry Matt, a Christian, and Leah tries a different tack. If she pushes Cheryl hard enough, Leah figures, maybe the new bride can persuade Matt to convert to Judaism.

Though raised in an Orthodox home, Leah is not particularly observant, not even lighting candles on Friday evenings. But by allowing her grandchildren to marry non-Jews, she insists, “I feel like a traitor … we’re finishing the job Hitler started. We’ll become extinct like the Mayas.”

Always in the background hovers her older husband, his eyes alternately dead or haunted, who worked in a Sonderkommando shoveling Jewish corpses into the crematorium. He says little but wonders, “Where was God in Auschwitz?”

Leah’s son, Michael, also married a Christian, but his wife, Betty, converted to Judaism. Not an unmixed blessing, Michael observes, since “she became more Jewish than we are. We had to reel her back in.”

A friend has a different attitude.

“If I didn’t let my son marry a Catholic, I would have lost a son,” she says.The different viewpoints toward intermarriage are reflected by the film’s producer, L. Mark DeAngelis, and director Lisa Leeman.

DeAngelis, a 36-year-old Chicago lawyer, businessman and now founder of Eliezer Films, grew up in a secular home. When Leah, a family friend, invited him to accompany her on a trip to Auschwitz some five years ago, he accepted and found both a subject for his film and a new attachment to Judaism.

“I started wondering why, when I dated a non-Jewish girl, it bothered me, which seemed almost like a racist thought at the time,” he said in a phone interview.DeAngelis has no doubt about his viewpoint now. “If our community is to have a future in this country, Jews must marry Jews. Only that way will their kids have a shot at staying Jewish,” he said.

He is now launching an outreach campaign, “Keep the Faith.”

Leeman, a veteran Los Angeles filmmaker and editor, represents, in her words, “the classic American story of assimilation.”

Her father, she said, was “a New York Jew,” her mother, a Protestant of Scandinavian descent from Idaho. Neither parent was religious and Leeman thought little about her identity until she attended a meeting of the Conference of Christians and Jews.

“At some point, participants were asked to divide into Jewish and Christian groups, and instinctively I chose the Jewish one,” Leeman said.

As the product of an interfaith marriage, Leeman has a tolerant — or ambivalent — attitude on the topic.

“I can understand that any ethnic group, Jewish, Chinese or Mexican, wants to pass on its culture and heritage to future generations,” she said. “But are they willing to do it at the price of family strife and estrangement?”

The web magazine, InterfaithFamily.com, interacts with about 20,000 Jewish visitors a month, says managing editor Micah Sachs. The webzine is not a professional counseling service, and most questions are referred to a hometown list of rabbis and social workers.

Yet, over time, Sachs and his colleagues have accumulated some pragmatic suggestions, particularly for parents struggling with a child’s interfaith relationship or marriage.

  • Your child is not rejecting you but making a personal choice.
  • Opposing or condemning your child’s love for a non-Jew is almost always counter-productive. While parents should not hesitate to stress their own attachment to Judaism, understanding and welcoming a non-Jewish partner works out better in the long run.
  • Do not insist that the non-Jewish partner convert to Judaism, unless it’s his or her own decision.
  • Your situation is not unique. Depending on the definition of who is a Jew, slightly more or slightly less than 50 percent of Jewish newlyweds between 1995-2000 married non-Jewish partners. Some 33 percent of these mixed households raised their children as Jewish. However, in families with two Jewish spouses, 96 percent raised Jewish children, according to the National Jewish Populations Survey.

“Out of Faith” will screen at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 12, at the Laemmle Sunset 5 Theatre, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, to be followed by a discussion between the audience and the filmmakers.

Admission is free, but a $10 donation is suggested. For information, contact Kim Fishman at (310) 907-5852, or e-mail outreach@outoffaith.net. For background on the film, go to www.outoffaith.net.For more information on “Out of Faith,” visit, www.Jafah.org.

Jews in the Military: High Holidays Under Fire


Who shall live and who shall die.
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not.

Ralph Goodman recited those words in a hillside tent in southeastern Belgium. Warren Zundell’s “shul” was a patch of no-man’s-land somewhere in North Korea. For Robert Cirkus, it was a jungle clearing in the bug-infested Central Highlands of Viet Nam. And for Lee Mish, it was Saddam Hussein’s former palace.

The four men have never met, but they share an uncommon bond. They represent four generations of Jewish servicemen for whom the High Holidays — and their signature Unetanah Tokef prayer — took on new meaning.

For all Jews, the words of the emotionally charged Unetanah Tokef are a powerful reminder of mortality. All the more so for Jews serving their country in wartime — such as Goodman, Zundell, Cirkus and Mish — where every day is Judgment Day and where prayer, righteousness and repentance can’t always avert a decree of death.

Here are the stories of these American servicemen who observed the High Holidays not in conventional synagogues, but on far-flung battlefields. The worship services they participated in were often improvised and incomplete. But the jarring juxtaposition of war and prayer, faith and fear, continues to resonate with these men.

A Tent on the Side of a Hill
A Tent on the Side of a Hill
Fays, Belgium
September 1944

“Colonel, the Jewish community wants to observe Yom Kippur. What can you do to help us?”

Ralph Goodman, attached to the 1st U.S. Army’s Headquarters Commandant in Belgium, was unable to celebrate Rosh Hashanah because his unit was traveling.

But Yom Kippur was fast approaching, and the 24-year-old enlistee from Pittsfield, Mass., was determined that the Jewish servicemen, now encamped at a temporary base near Verviers, Belgium, be given a place to pray.

He had already approached the 1st Army’s chief chaplain, who offered nothing except a few prayer books. But Goodman’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Harry F. Goslee, was more accommodating. He ordered a large blackout hospital tent set up on a hillside, with chairs and a portable electric generator.

On Yom Kippur, Sept. 27, 1944, about 25 soldiers and airmen congregated in that tent. Two Orthodox laymen acted as cantor and rabbi.

Goodman sat by the tent flap opening, his gun on his lap. He was juggling several different prayer books, trying to find the correct pages for Unetanah Tokef. He finally located the prayer and recited the words. But what he really was saying that day was, “Please, God, bring my buddies and me home.”

Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up to see a chaplain he didn’t recognize, a fresh-faced, sandy-haired man about 30, who asked permission to address the troops.

“How lovely are your tents, Oh Jacob,” he began, intoning the words to a prayer Jews say each morning.

He talked about five minutes, thanking the men for allowing him to speak and commending them for assembling a service.

Goodman, who still lives in Pittsfield, thinks about that service often, proud that he and his buddies were able to make it happen. He wishes he could share another Yom Kippur with them.

But 62 years later, he still regrets that he never asked the name of that fresh-faced Christian chaplain who reached out to a group of Jews on the holiest day of their year.

“God bless that man,” he said.

Above the 38th Parallel, North KoreaAn All-Jewish Convoy
Above the 38th Parallel, North Korea
October 1951

Warren Zundell, an orthopedic surgeon with the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Wonju, South Korea, wasn’t eager to attend Rosh Hashanah services. It meant traveling 40 miles on an unpaved, mountainous road to 10th Army Corps headquarters, over the border into North Korea. Zundell, 27, had a baby daughter back in Fall River, Mass., whom he had never seen, and he didn’t want to risk encountering snipers or land mines.

But Zundell was the unit’s only Jewish officer, and the Catholic chaplain on his base was insistent that Zundell escort the convoy.

“There are about 30 Jewish boys around here who want to go,” said the priest, who planned to remain in Wonju at the hospital.

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 30, 1951, in the priest’s jeep with a white cross painted on the hood, Zundell led the way. A few truckloads of Jewish soldiers, all heavily armed, followed. Perhaps the only all-Jewish convoy ever to travel into North Korea, they arrived safely several hours later at the camp, a war-scarred patch of ground that sported some tents and housed perhaps a few hundred soldiers.

The next morning, a rabbi conducted services in a large tent, with about 300 soldiers, many who had traveled there from other units, sitting on the ground or on boxes. There was no ark, no Torah and no prayer books, except for the rabbi’s.

“I just sat there and listened,” Zundell recalled. “I didn’t think about where I was.”

After services, he traveled back to Wonju with the same soldiers.

Even less enthusiastic about observing Yom Kippur, Zundell was again induced to return to the prayer site. On Yom Kippur day, the convoy again traveled above the 38th Parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea. The scene was identical to what Zundell remembered from Rosh Hashanah, except, instead of 300 soldiers in the tent, there were now 150.

“Where are the other boys?” Zundell asked the servicemen sitting near him.
“Heavy casualties during the week,” one of them replied.

Zundell doesn’t remember his exact reaction; he imagines the service was pretty sad. Afterward they loaded up the trucks and headed home.

Since then, every Rosh Hashanah, the Coral Gables, Fla., resident sits in temple and remembers Korea.

“It never leaves my mind,” he said. “I think about those boys who didn’t make it back for Yom Kippur.”

Central Highlands, Vietnam

A Jungle Clearing
Central Highlands, Vietnam
September 1966

While stationed in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry, Army Spc. 4 Robert Cirkus often didn’t know what day it was. But somehow the 21-year-old draftee from Passaic, N.J., knew the High Holidays were coming. And he knew he wanted to attend services.

A rabbi was dispatched to the forward base camp in the Central Highlands where Cirkus was working as a weapons repairman. Around noon on Rosh Hashanah day, Sept. 15, 1966, Cirkus, three infantrymen and a medic, all strangers to one another, gathered together in a cleared-out jungle area.

The rabbi set up a small ark on a bench in the back of his open Jeep. Inside was a traveling Torah. Cirkus and the others sat on the ground in the hot sun, the air muggy and bug-infested. He wore a tallit over his uniform, holding his submachine gun and his prayer book on his lap.

Cirkus, who now lives in Clifton, N.J., remembers that the service was truncated and that he and the others were not really at ease. They were praying, but they were also alert to every sound, especially gunshots off in the jungle. He knows he wasn’t thinking about life and death. Or about Judgment Day. He didn’t want to think about what was really going on.

Afterward, the rabbi handed out cans of tuna fish, bread, wine and kosher C rations.

“We sat, we chitchatted and we went our separate ways,” he said. “But we knew we were all Jews.”

Until 10 years ago, Cirkus was too traumatized to discuss his Vietnam experience at all. Even now, he can’t talk about all of it. But he’s able to look back on that Rosh Hashanah in the Central Highlands, where, for a short time, five Jews who didn’t know each other sat around together with a rabbi praying.

“I don’t want to say it like it’s jerky, but you felt like you were being watched by God,” he said.

Saddam's Palace

Saddam’s Palace
Tikrit, Iraq
September 2004

September 2004 was a tense time in Tikrit, Iraq, where Special Agent Lee Mish was stationed. Roads were impassable, bridges were blown up and food and water were rationed. Plus, with flights grounded, the rabbi assigned to Tikrit couldn’t leave Baghdad.

Despite these obstacles, erev Rosh Hashanah services were held on Sept. 15. And Mish, 27, a Conservative Jew from Sharon, Mass., who enlisted in the Army nine years ago, walked to Saddam Hussein’s former palace, now under control of the U.S. military.

There, in a large room with marble floors and ceilings and a gold chandelier, a room once used by Saddam’s servants, Mish encountered three other Jews. They included a captain who served as the Jewish lay leader, a sergeant and a civilian contractor.

Wearing kippot, the uniformed men sat around a card table on folding chairs, their guns by their sides. For about 20 minutes, they read from prayer books sent by Hebrew school students in Wisconsin. Mish doesn’t remember the specifics, but he recalls saying prayers for all the soldiers and being aware of Rosh Hashanah’s message of mortality.

“When you’re in a situation where your friends are dying, where people all around you are dying, any time you pray, it hits home more,” he said.

Afterward they shared a bottle of wine and ate some “normal food,” including bagels with jelly. They also read Rosh Hashanah cards that the students had decorated with honey pots and apples and inscribed with messages such as “Be safe” and “Hope you come back soon.” Inside the holiday cards, the students had placed prepaid phone cards.

Despite its informality, that service resonated with Mish, now stationed in Wurzburg, Germany. Rosh Hashanah had always been important to him, a way of confirming his Jewishness. But being in Iraq had given him more time to reflect on death and destruction, and he was feeling more religious while stationed there. Also, he had recently learned from his Iraqi translator, who was born and raised in Mosul, Iraq, that during Saddam’s reign, the Jews in that area were barred from observing holidays in public and were forced to celebrate secretly in their homes. That day, however, Jewish soldiers were praying openly in Saddam’s palace.

“I felt honored,” Mish said.

Freelance writer Jane Ulman lives in Encino.

To learn more about today’s Jews in uniform, visit Jews In Green, the”ultimate resource for Jewish service members.”

Saddam Hussein’s palaces have also been the site of Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Pesach and other Jewish celebrations, as this Jewish Journal story from 2004 relates.

Finding Deeper Truths in Fiction — the Best About Israel


In recent weeks, many of us “Diaspora Jews” kept ourselves neck-deep in news from the Middle East: jumping out of bed to check the front page, keeping the television on all night, refreshing Web sites for the latest headlines. Of course, our routine paled in comparison to many Israelis, who were dashing into bomb shelters, being forced from their homes, arranging funerals. Still, it was a change, part of our anxiety-propelled, bottomless need for information.

But information does not necessarily breed understanding. This is especially true for us who are here and not there, and the distance is a complicating factor. Even those who have planted themselves firmly on one side or another of the political spectrum have been struck by new, different, often uncomfortable thoughts. (“How can I accept the killing of innocent Lebanese civilians, even by Israel?” one asks, while another wonders whether he should up the ante of his support by joining the Israeli army.) Behind these questions is the desire to get a better hold on the exact contours of one’s individual relationship to the State of Israel — not necessarily by figuring out one’s politics as much as by plumbing one’s emotional connection.

The answers to these questions cannot be found on CNN (thankfully). For this, we might be more successfully aided by fiction. One should read Israeli writers, of course — Agnon, Amichai, A.B. Yehoshua, Aharon Appelfeld, Orly Castel-Bloom, Etgar Keret. But the more appropriate template may come from fellow Americans, writers who, by exploring the Diaspora Jew’s relationship to Israel, have gone down this road before.

One of the best of these books is “The Counterlife,” Philip Roth’s 1986 masterpiece. Less a linear tale than five riffs revolving around the same set of characters, the book acts as a kind of narrative kaleidoscope on Jewish identity; with each slight shift of perspective, a whole new picture emerges (think “Sliding Doors,” but smarter). The structure is designed to put the author’s famed alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, face to face with characters who challenge his identity as a Jew — vis-?-vis signature Roth topics (sex, family, psychoanalysis, sex, assimilation, sex) as well as broader ones: the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and, most evocatively here, Israel. Nathan’s good, moderate, American values are challenged — from his resistance to religious ritual and distaste for the political right (“We do not wish to crush the Arab,” a settler leader explains, “we simply will not allow him to crush us”), to his subtle romanticization of Israeli life.

“Whenever I meet you American-Jewish intellectuals,” says his friend Shuki, a wearied Israeli journalist, “with your non-Jewish wives and your good Jewish brains, well-bred, smooth, soft-spoken men, educated men who know how to order in a good restaurant, and to appreciate a good wine, and to listen courteously to another point of view, I think exactly that: We are the excitable, ghettoized, jittery little Jews of the Diaspora, and you are the Jews with all the confidence and cultivation that comes of feeling at home where you are.”
The book is not exclusively about Israel, but those were the sections that moved me. And they are what I’ve found myself rereading over the past weeks.

“The Counterlife” is only one of many, many books about Israel by Americans — from “Yehuda” (1931) by Meyer Levin to “Exodus” (1958) by Leon Uris to “Light Years” (2005) by Tamar Stein (see sidebar). Perhaps it is this kind of reading that can begin to provoke understanding of the conflict a continent away. l

To push fiction as a complement to the newspaper, the television and the Internet in our quest for information and understanding about Israel, we asked readers to help us create a list of the best novels and short stories about Israel written by Diaspora authors:

  • “Yehuda” by Meyer Levin: Based on the author’s own experiences, this book is the first known novel depicting life set on a kibbutz in then-Palestine of 1931 (1931).
  • “Exodus” by Leon Uris: A detailed account of the transition from the ill-treatment of Jews in Europe to the founding of Israel sets up a fictional background for political arguments on issues of the 19th and 20th centuries (1958).
  • “A Weave of Women” by E.M. Broner: A group of very different women band together to save a shelter for wayward Jewish girls (and learn a lesson or two in politics, when they change its official name to “Home for Jewish Future Homemakers”). “Life’s contradictions live throughout this novel,” wrote one reviewer (1978).
  • “Preparing for Sabbath” by Nessa Rapoport: A young woman’s spiritual quest, set in Jerusalem (1981).
  • “The Hope” by Herman Wouk: An epic novel about Israel’s fight for statehood. The author delves into the personal lives of the dramatis personae, including Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and Anwar Sadat (1993).
  • “Operation Shylock: A Confession” by Philip Roth: An impostor, calling himself “Philip Roth,” causes a furor in Israel by advocating “Diasporism,” the polar opposite of Zionism, encouraging Israelis to return to Eastern Europe (1993).
  • “The Jewish War” by Tova Reich: A radically religious, polygamous man, Jerry Goldberg transforms from a mere social worker in the Bronx to a terrorist leader of a group of American Jews in Israel who secede a portion of the West Bank to form their own nation in this satire (1995).
  • “From a Sealed Room” by Rachel Kadish: The lives of a young woman from New York, a Holocaust survivor and an Israeli housewife intersect (1998).
  • “Damascus Gate” by Robert Stone: A journalist in Jerusalem, reared both Jewish and Christian, feels devoid of a true sense of identity, despite the fact that he is surrounded by some of the most devoutly religious peoples in the world. “The characters in ‘Damascus Gate’ may be ‘God-struck,'” wrote Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times, “they may dream insistently of a better world, but like so many Stone characters, they end up captives of history and their own very human illusions” (1998).
  • “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges” by Nathan Englander: “A debut collection of nine stories that explore the condition of being Jewish with an often hallucinatory, epigrammatic eloquence that is, as advertised, reminiscent of the fiction of Isaac Singer, Saul Bellow, and especially Bernard Malamud,” noted Kirkus (1999).
  • “The Family Orchard” by Eve Nomi: Spanning six generations, this epic follows the lives of one family grounded in Jerusalem (2000).
  • “House of Guilt” by Robert Rosenberg: Police detective Avram Cohen goes on a hunt to find a tycoon’s wayward son, with his search leading him right into the heart of the West Bank (2000).
  • “Strange Fire” by Melvin Bukiet: A dark comedy about a speechwriter for the Israeli prime minister (2001).
  • “Crimes of the City” by Robert Rosenberg: Police detective Avram Cohen must track down the killer of two nuns in Jerusalem while contending with a host of religious and political tensions (2001).
  • “The Ascent of Eli Israel” by Jon Papernick: In seven modern-day stories, the scene is established in Israel, and the plots are mostly driven to underscore hypocrisy, touching on cultural tensions and war (2002).
  • “Quiet Street” by Zelda Popkin and Jeremy A. Popkin: A woman living in the suburbs of Jerusalem must come to terms with reality as she watches her 18-year-old daughter take on the role of soldier instead of farmer (2002).
  • “Seven Blessings” by Ruchama King: Set in an Orthodox community in Jerusalem. King has been described by writer Wendy Shalit as “a writer who writes about a devout lifestyle that she actually lives” (2003).
  • “The Dialogues of Time and Entropy” by Aryeh Lev Stollman: “An expert weaver, Stollman brings together themes of religion, science, and love into an emotional whole,” noted Kirkus (2003).
  • “Welcome to Heavenly Heights” by Risa Miller: A cohort of Jews from the United States ventures to the West Bank to build a new community, but their settlement becomes a primary target of violence (2003).
  • “The Butcher’s Theater” by Jonathan Kellerman: A chief inspector of police who is also a Yemenite Jew begins work on a case involving the death of an Arab woman. After a second killing occurs, the inspector bears witness as Jewish-Arab conflicts ensue (2003).
  • “Ten Thousand Lovers” by Edeet Ravel: A novel, set in the 1970s, about the relationship between a Canadian émigré and an army interrogator. “The tragedy here is both anticipated and inevitable,” said Booklist, “but the textured personal story rises above its political context like a melody soaring beyond the steady rhythm pulsing below it” (2003).
  • “An Hour in Paradise” by Joan Leegant: This collection of 10 short stories covers a breadth of characters — from the secular to Orthodox, young to old — through whom Leegant poses questions about faith, love and change (2003).
  • “The Place Will Comfort You” by Naama Goldstein: In this collection of short stories, American Jews make aliyah and Israelis immigrate to America (2004).
  • “Faith for Beginners” by Aaron Hamburger: An American Jewish family teeters on the edge of collapse. In a last resort, they travel to Israel on a package tour with a mission to reinvigorate their spirituality (2005).
  • “The Task of This Translator” by Todd Hasak-Lowy: According to Publisher’s Weekly, “Hasak-Lowy artfully reveals layers of personal and national identity,” including one story about an Israeli ex-journalist working in the cafe at Yad Vashem who clashes with an American businessman over a stale pastry (2005).
  • “The Covenant” by Naomi Ragen: Set in 2002, a pregnant Israeli woman, her husband and their child are abducted by Hamas (2004).
  • “Light Years” by Tammar Stein: A 20-year-old woman leaves Israel for college in the United States after her boyfriend is killed by a suicide bomber in a Tel Aviv restaurant (2005).

— Compiled by Elisha Sauers

Article reprinted courtesy The Forward

What I Really Asked Mel Gibson


Can an alcoholic who was poisoned with his father’s anti-Semitism use a moment of naked exposure to confront his bigotry? Can he ever hope to cleanse himself of this deeply-seated
hatred or is he forever doomed?

Will he turn his life around and begin using his celebrity and wealth to combat the anti-Semitism he now eschews? Is the adage, once an anti-Semite, always an anti-Semite, unshakeable?

As a Jewish people, these are some of the questions we all personally confront in different forms during the month of Elul, the 30-day period preceding the better-known 10 days of penitence (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur).

For some of us, combating anti-Semitism has replaced the teachings of our faith on compassion as a new form of religion. I meet many Jews who are not religious, don’t keep the Torah, but let anyone dare insult the name of our people, and they are the first to condemn him.

That may be the beginning and the end of Jewish identity for some. But I believe such a reactive mentality neglects the foundations of our faith and its teachings on redemption.

Mel Gibson made a tepid but widely reported expression of remorse and a call to begin dialogue with rabbis after spewing anti-Semitic comments. In response, I invited Gibson to publicly apologize before my congregation on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Our faith does not believe in vicarious atonement and requires direct action to the injured party, coupled with one’s apology. The media mistakenly reported my letter to Gibson as an offer to speak, not as an offer to apologize. It furthermore omitted the key precondition of a face-to-face meeting. Should that meeting ever come to pass, I would use my 30 years of rabbinical experience, 20 of them spent in the entertainment and arts community, to evaluate Gibson’s sincerity.

I would begin by requiring him to adhere to the same four steps of repentance that I set as a guideline for myself. Firstly, he must admit his act and acknowledge that it is not a new phenomenon.

Secondly, he must make a confession of the terrible slander he uttered at a time of defensive war and great sensitivity for the Jewish people. When he declared “the Jews start all the wars,” he was pointing an anti-Semitic finger at the Jewish state, instead of at the true culprit, Hezbollah Islamo-fascism and its call for Israel’s destruction.

How would he respond to his Malibu church and home being bombarded and his children being kidnapped? Gibson needs to comprehend and fully own the scope of that libel. Individual apologies to the families of fallen Israel Defense Forces soldiers would be an appropriate start.

Thirdly, he is required to express his sincere contrition and directly ask forgiveness of the injured party. Sometimes the place you choose for such an act can send an important message.

I recently returned from Poland, where I attended a memorial ceremony at the Auschwitz death camp led by Pope Benedict XVI. During our personal exchange, he told me why he had come to that place of horror. It was, he said, “to make a statement as the leader of world Catholicism and as a son of Germany.” His humble presence and words of comfort spoke volumes.

Gibson’s father denies the Holocaust, and Gibson must now clearly and unequivocally denounce that perverted view. I urged him to stand before the Jewish community, with his children at his side, and break the intergenerational cycle of hatred.

Lastly, any sinner is required to make a, “tikkun,” a viable act of repairing the injury. Gibson should sponsor an annual seminar on combating all forms of religious, ethnic, sexual and racial hatred. Real soul repair requires time and work but it must begin.

Once these concrete steps have been undertaken, we, as a people who pride ourselves at being “the compassionate children of compassionate ancestors,” must open to accept his contrition. While we may remain skeptical, we must be prepared to forgive.

According to the prophet Isaiah, in the final days, the children of those who despised Israel will come to worship with us in the temple of Zion. (Isaiah 60:14) The objective here is not religious conversion, but rather that the persecutor shares in the perspective of the persecuted.

The world is too full of blind hatred of our people, and if we can respond to one anti-Semite is it worth the effort? Rabbinic tradition narrated that some of our worst enemies became instructors of Torah.

The great Rabbi Meir of the second century was a descendant of the Roman emperor, Nero. The offspring of Sennacherib, who sacked Jerusalem, came to teach Torah in public. These were none other than Shemaya and Avtalyon, two of the most distinguished members of the rabbinic chain of tradition. They were also the teachers of the renown sage, Rabbi Hillel, who asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me, but if I am only for myself, of what worth am I, and if not now, when?”

Gibson is currently in alcoholism rehabilitation, and I have postponed the invitation for a later date. The time to begin, however, is now, and these 30 days of soul-centered repentance are the opening for his anti-Semitic rehabilitation to begin and for us to ask questions about our dearly held assumptions.

Rabbi David Baron is the spiritual leader of Temple of the Arts. He is the author of the “Sacred Moments” prayer book and “Moses on Management: Leadership Lessons in Business and Life” (Simon & Schuster). He produced a nationally televised Yom Kippur program for the homebound which airs on PAX TV.

Who We Are


Three times over the past six years that I’ve been editing this paper, I’ve come to work in the morning to find an old man waiting for me. A different man each time, though I remember all of them being thin and frail.

The men had walked past the receptionist and taken a seat on one of the upholstered chairs across from my desk. They had no appointment; they hadn’t called me first. They came and sat, and waited however long they had to.

They all wanted the same thing, though every conversation was slightly different. One presented me with a book he had just published and demanded that the paper review it. Another looked up at me when I walked in — to my office — and said, “I have a very important story.”

One of them, whose name I’ve forgotten, carried a photo. “I want you to see this,” he said.

It was a photo of him and his closest friends, taken in Germany just before the war. The boys in it were young men, dressed in suits, handsome and confident. Only one of them had survived — the one sitting in my office.

“You need to print this,” he said.

We spoke for a while about his concentration camp experiences, about what he knew of the fates of the others. But he kept his eye on the ball: “So, when will you print my picture?”

I said I wasn’t sure. The paper was divided into sections, I explained, community news, features, national and world news, opinion, singles, obituaries.

“I know,” he said, “I read it.”

I couldn’t think offhand where a picture like his would fit in. We run a page showing people in nice clothes receiving awards or handing out checks, and we run a photo spread of people celebrating weddings, engagements, bar mitzvahs. He and his friends were clearly celebrating, but it was 60 years ago, and then all but one of them were murdered.

I asked our art director to scan the photo, and I told the man I would think it over. Then I showed the man from my office.

He called me almost weekly after that. He was more difficult to deal with than the other two visitors. The one with the self-published book had written a Holocaust memoir. Over the years, we’d received dozens of such tomes, and I told the man what I’d told others with similar works — that we’d try hard to find a way to get something into the paper. I think we did.

The second man said that for months he’d been reading my column and figured it was time I listen to what was on his mind. I did, and he left.

But the man with the photo was relentless. Didn’t I understand how important it was to publish it? It should really be on the cover. What was taking so long? Occasionally, like many contributors, he would point out that his photo was much more important than some other article we ran. The singles columns maddened him: “You have room for some poor girl’s story about breaking up with her shaygetz but not for my photo?”

I got snappish. The singles column was for singles, I said. We couldn’t very well run a picture of him and his friends in it, could we? And the rest of the paper was stuffed with real news, about terrorism and Israel and the local community. I mean, we’re a newspaper, not the Shoah Foundation.

He hung up, and he didn’t call after that, and I lost his phone number.

After a while, I started to feel awful. What right did I have to say no to a man like that? He survived the Nazis, he saw everybody he loved destroyed, and all he wanted was to insert a fragment of their ripped-away existence into the public record, to give his lost friends a flicker of recognition after such a brutal death.

And this editor, this pisher with a corner office, couldn’t find space in any of those all-important sections to run a single, lousy snapshot.

So we ran the photo.

We put it among the photos of happy women and men in evening gowns and tuxedos attending charity banquets and handing out money and getting honorary degrees. Staring out from the midst of those penguin pictures, as we call them, are the faces of these vibrant young men from another era, who had also known a world of such wealth, and community, and acceptance, and then came face to face with its opposite.

It turned out the art director had written down the man’s number. I called and told him to look for his picture in the paper.

“I saw it,” he said. “I thought it could have been bigger.”

Why tell this story now, in the issue that marks our 20th year in print?

I guess it’s my realization — not for the first time — that a Jewish community paper is a different animal. We report on contemporary Jewish life, with its urgent or simply necessary issues, but our pages also can relate and even embody the joyful, self-satisfied or frivolous. And underlying every edition, every article, every word, is the understanding that we are rooted in something much deeper — our faith and traditions — and also something much darker — our often tragic past.

This convergence of meaning and meaningfulness, this is what I love about this paper and my job. Sometimes it arrives literally in the form of an old man wanting his book reviewed, or an old man determined to get his point across, or an old man with a picture to share with the world.

But one way or another, each day when I come to work, it is all there, waiting for me in my office.

 

Healing Torah Makes Hospital Rounds


One day last year Rabbi Levi Meier, the Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was summoned to the room of an elderly Russian man in the ICU who had cancer.

He was in poor spirits, so Meier decided to bring in the Torah from the chaplaincy ark. The patient’s eyes lit up at the sight of the Torah that Meier, and volunteer Sandy Gordon, brought into a room.

“Can you please bring me some water to help me wash my hands?” the ailing man asked. He washed and said a blessing and asked the rabbi to place the Torah next to him. After a few silent moments, tears began to stream down the man’s face, which became much more animated. Finally he spoke.

“Today is my Simchat Torah,” he told the rabbi, referring to the long-passed October holiday that celebrates the joy of the Torah. And then the man began to sing: “Sisu V’simchu, V’simchat Torah, u tenu kavod La Torah!” (Rejoice and be merry on Simchat Torah and give glory to the Torah.)

“He went from not being able to raise a finger, to raising his arms and singing a childhood song in Hebrew,” said Gordon, who has been volunteering at Cedars since 1988, when she attended the University of Judaism’s two-year Wagner Human Services Training Program for paraprofessionals in psychological training. “His eyes became very clear, and his face seemed like he was a boy or a young man, and when he smiled, it really lit his face up.”

When Meier and Gordon left the room some 20 minutes later, Gordon asked the chaplain: “Why doesn’t a Jewish hospital have a Torah they can take around, if it’s so profound?”

Meier, who has served as the hospital’s Jewish chaplain for the last 28 years, quickly acknowledged the need. So Gordon set out to fill the gap by endowing a Torah in honor of her parents, Florence and Milton Slotkin. Meier commissioned scribes in Israel to create a special lightweight Torah that could easily be carried to patients’ rooms on a daily basis. The completed Torah arrived last January.

Much has been written about the role of spirituality and faith in benefiting health and healing, but the effects are difficult to prove. There is no question, though, that Cedars’ new Torah has been uplifting the spirits of Jewish patients. Meier hopes other chaplains will also adopt the idea.

“Since we got the Torah, we’ve been taking the Torah around to selected patients, and the experiences has been amazing. Unparalleled,” Meier told The Journal.

In his nearly three decades at Cedars, he said, “we’ve been doing very well with all the patients, but the response with the Torah has brought it to a new level.”

Meier, an Orthodox rabbi ordained at Yeshiva University with a doctorate in psychology from USC, is a soft-spoken man with a gentle demeanor, and when he uses words like “amazing” and “indescribable” about the Torah’s effect on patients, it seems more than hyperbole.

Indeed, it is difficult to portray in words the powerful emotional pull people exhibit toward the chaplain with the Torah.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, “Lisa,” a 30-something actress with cancer and other ailments, has been hospitalized for 10 days. She lies wan and listless on her side, her pale, bony arms poking awkwardly out of a checked green hospital gown. The radio blares in the background but she doesn’t move; had her eyes not been open, staring into space, she might be mistaken for sleeping.

“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” the chaplain says as he walks into the room and turns off the radio. “I’m going to place the Torah next to you on the bed.”

He takes the blue-velvet-covered scroll and places it on the pillow within breath’s reach. With effort, Lisa slowly moves her hands to it. She closes her eyes and smiles, like a baby having a dream.

“Can you pray out loud? To me?” Lisa asks in a murmur after a few moments. “In Hebrew?”

Meier says she should repeat after him, and she does, inaudibly, her lips barely moving. “Shema. Yisrael. Hashem. Elokeinu. Hashem. Echad: Hear O’ Israel, The Eternal God is One.”

Meier recites a blessing that the holy angels and divine presence should surround her and give her a complete recovery. Lisa’s eyes are now closed again, her long fingers resting on the Torah. She breathes deeply, as if meditating.

Finally, the chaplain stands up to go, and reluctantly takes the Torah from her bedside.

“Tomorrow you will have an MRI,” he says on his way out, “so think about this, and this should give you some comfort.”

Down the hall, an 89-year-old Hancock Park rabbi awaits hip surgery.

“How nice, how nice,” says the ailing rabbi in a thick European accent upon seeing the Torah. After wiping his hands with a washcloth, he reaches to touch and kiss it, not expecting anything more. But the chaplain places the Torah at his bedside.

“Tonight we pray that the surgery will go well, but the best prayer is the one you say yourself,” the chaplain says and leaves the room as the old man’s voice, loud and cracking with emotion as he recites Tehillim, the Psalms, echoes in the hallway: “Eso eynay, el ha’harim, me’ayin yavot ezri….” (I raise mine eyes to the mountains/where will help come from/Help will come from God, creator of heaven and earth.)

After the chaplain has collected the Torah from the rabbi, he appears awed and shaken: “I don’t even know if King David said Tehillim like that.”

Unlike the old rabbi, most people the chaplain visits with the Torah are not particularly religious. Meier says the Torah rekindles the pintele (Yiddish for “spark” of Jewishness) in people, memories of Hebrew school or a bar mitzvah or a grandparent in the past and it helps them connect to the next generation as well.

For Meier, this work is not a “religious” mission, but a spiritual one that overrides distinctions of denominations and practice. “Although in the outside world, when people are healthy, they make a differentiation between Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, here there’s no distinction. There is the meaning of life, solitude, family, reconciliations — everyone is part of what we call “the experience of the human condition. It’s an experience that the Torah alleviates.”

As the Jewish chaplain at Cedars, Meier receives a list with the names of the all the Jewish patients in the hospital. Together with his assistant and a couple of volunteers, they visit the sick. The Torah, a holy object in itself, allows the chaplain to have immediate spiritual relationship with a patient that otherwise might take much longer to achieve.

The healing process is not always about getting better, Meier said.

“Healing means whole, and it also means holy, so we talk about the path of getting toward wholeness, even if a cure is not possible,” he said.

You can be whole in different ways, with yourself, with your family, with your children, with God, he said.

“It’s a common fallacy and myth that this job is very hard,” he said. “I find that when I don’t do this, it’s very difficult. I give meaning to people and they always to a little better. I don’t do miracles, but it’s beautiful to add meaning to a person’s life and to help them in the smallest way possible.”

 

Letters 06-16-2006


Is It Kosher?
I applaud and appreciate that you were ready to take off the gloves and attack what merits attack, but I fear you left one on (“But Is It Kosher?” June 9). You were too much of a gentleman.

I understand that you were courageously tilting against the strongest and wealthiest single entity in the Jewish world, second only to the state of Israel: the kashrut entity. Think of all the products that bear the kosher seal — from my delicious Oreo cookies to my bottled spring water (water?) to my milk from Ralph’s. Think of the add-on for personal supervision on the premise by mashgihim at all the kosher events in town. Consider the kosher wine industry, and the Passover product annual gouging orgy, and I come to a guesstimate that we are talking about millions, perhaps billions of dollars in profits for some people somewhere.

Understand, I benefit from the many reassurances that I am consuming kosher products. If along the way some of those involved are misleading me, the transgression is on their heads.

However, the issue of money leads me to another excellent article in the same Journal: the problem of funding Jewish education, especially day schools, so as not to deny such schooling to those who cannot meet the high cost (“The Middle Class Squeeze”).

What I am proposing now is that the collective Orthodox community take the huge profits from kashrut in which we are all consumers, and feed that money back into education. It happens that the majority of all-day schools are Orthodox and it would behoove the Orthodox community to investigate what is happening with all the enormous profits in the kashrut industry which they have arrogated unto themselves and hopefully are reporting every penny to the IRS.

As to misconduct, which always seems to happen in huge human endeavors, let the Jewish community not be guilty of suppressing information and sheltering misconduct in the religious establishment as some other great religious establishments are doing.

There, Rob Eshman, I have taken off both gloves, and I hope that from the pivotal position you have in L.A. Jewry’s primary information source you will succeed where I have not in elevating the sacred regulation of kashrut to what it should be, namely: to guarantee to all Jewish children whose families devoutly wish to provide them with a high quality, deeply Jewish-rooted education, the opportunity to receive it at our hands.

Rabbi Jacob Pressman
Rabbi Emeritus
Temple Beth Am

It seems that “kosher” has devolved into a mere technicality, a trend which needs to be reversed. Jewish law forbids cruelty to animals, as they are part of God’s creation. We now know that the OU heksher does not signify a cruelty-free slaughter. We are forced to awaken from our slumber of ignorance and indifference.

We must follow the lead of Whole Foods and not buy Rubashkin’s products. (There are other kosher brands available.) And we must do this until kosher means kosher once again.

Sue Roth
Los Angeles

Bravo to editor-in-chief Rob Eshman for bringing up the controversial subject of meat labeled “kosher” but which derives from animals treated inhumanely in plants where workers are exploited. There is significant room for improvement in another segment of the kosher industry, as well — prepared foods. I have long struggled to feed my children healthy kosher food. It’s not easy! There is not one brand of kosher chicken broth that doesn’t contain MSG. The one brand of kosher powdered chicken broth without MSG contains partially hydrogenated oils, also known as “transfats,” which are now universally understood to be the most unhealthy fat of all and which have recently been cut out of the recipes from most major brands of baked goods. Almost every “kosher for Passover” cake, brownie or cookie mix available in the supermarkets and kosher markets I shopped in this year also contained transfats.

Feeding our Jewish children healthy kosher food we can feel good about shouldn’t be such a struggle. How about it, Maneshevitz and Streits? Why not remove the unhealthful additives and sell us foods that are truly “kosher”?

Stephanie Gold
Los Angeles

Welcoming Converts
The non-Jewish spouses of Jews often feel unwelcome in Jewish circles. Synagogues ostracize them. Rabbis ignore them. Families insult them. Spouses call them by ugly names. It’s no wonder that they don’t explore the possibility of becoming Jewish.

If Jews are proud of our Jewish tradition, then we should practice our values of generosity, kindness, warmth and inclusiveness with the non-Jews who are close to our community. Why drive pro-Jewish partners away?

I appreciated The Journal’s cover story on June 2 about “Court Seeks to Ease Way for Conversions.” It demonstrates a concrete way in which a unique transdenominational beit din is genuinely welcoming candidates for conversion into the total Jewish community. This community beit din will not embarrass or harass the non-Jews who seek to join the Jewish people.

Ninety Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist rabbis are associated with the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din (www.scbetdin.us). People can rely upon these rabbis to provide sensitive and constructive paths into conversion.

Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein
Secretary
Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California

The Journal’s articles on conversion were excellent. During my years of experience with converts to Judaism, I have discovered the reason that so many converts backslide or no longer show the interest in Judaism they once had is because of the indifference and apathy their Jewish spouses have toward Judaism and its traditions. When one converts to Judaism, he or she is excited to celebrate Shabbat and Jewish holidays, go to synagogue weekly and keep some level of kosher observance. Unfortunately, after the conversion has taken place, the Jewish spouse thinks their former non-Jewish partner has now become “too Jewish” and discourages observance so that the convert’s enthusiasm for Judaism is dampened.

In our program, we encourage the Jewish partner to take our class with the potential convert, but many times the Jewish partner for various reasons refuses to enroll. However, when the Jewish and non-Jewish partners take our class together, they get closer, more knowledgeable and observant of Judaism. At the end of our program we have not only converted the non-Jew to Judaism, but also the Jewish partner, as well.

Rabbi Neal Weinberg
Director and Instructor
Judith and Louis Miller
Introduction to Judaism Program
University of Judaism

As a convert to Judaism, I was reassured to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). A lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967 and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130 year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room and I was the only person who had had a First Holy Communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F Rohde
Los Angeles

Middle-Class Squeeze
Are education tax credits (let alone publicly funded school vouchers) so politically anathema to the Jewish community that they escape mention in a 3,000 word article subtitled “What Can Be Done to Make Jewish Day Schools More Affordable?” (June 9)?

Tax credit schemes avoid elements typically cited as objectionable by opponents of voucher plans. No money is conveyed by the government to private schools, either directly or indirectly. Since every dollar allocated to qualifying recipients is the product of a voluntary contribution, it cannot be argued that “my tax dollars are underwriting the operation of schools whose purposes I do not support.” And as for those who argue that tax credits divert scarce resources from public education, cannot the same be said of Jewish day school enrollment?

If supporting and augmenting enrollment in our Jewish day schools is regarded as a fitting community priority, on what grounds are education tax credits viewed as treif?

Dr. Ron Reynolds
Van Nuys

Each year, the Jewish community bemoans the high cost of a day school education, while touting its value with subjective quotes such as “Population studies have shown that day school alumni are more likely to retain a lifelong affiliation rate with Judaism and to educate their own kids Jewishly.” Objective statistics somehow are never included to support those claims.

In fact, commitment to Judaism stems from the home, not the school. If it appears that day school graduates are more dedicated, the likelihood is that they come from homes where Jewish values and observance are a priority. Those same graduates, had they attended supplemental schools, would be just as likely to become stalwart adult members of the Jewish community, without having impoverished their families in the process.

Despite the wonderful work being done by people like Miriam Prum-Hess, there will never be enough money to enable the vast majority of middle class families to utilize day schools. That’s because there are other very worthy causes, such as caring for the elderly, indigents, immigrants and the Land of Israel, that also deserve additional funding.

Unlike those other causes though, there is a day school alternative∑ the supplemental school. Supplemental schools are far more affordable, can usually provide financial assistance, and offer classes for kindergarten through 12th grade. Synagogues generally provide the kindergarten through seventh grade components, while community schools such as the Los Angeles Hebrew High School (LAAHS), offer classes for students in eighth through 12th grade. On June 12, LAHHS will graduate 68 students from its five-year program. This is its 55th graduating class.

Regretfully, during the past decade, many synagogues have downsized their Hebrew school programs from three days per week to two days or less, deeming them unattractive to committed families. Returning those programs back to their initial stature will provide middle-class families with a viable alternative that won‚t drive them to the poor house.

The Jewish community must refocus its efforts and resources to bolster supplemental education. Synagogues must revisit the curricula of their schools to assure that their students receive a rigorous and robust Jewish education. Finally, the Bureau of Jewish Education must raise its standards for accreditation of supplemental schools. Once synagogue-based Hebrew schools provide the level of Jewish education that they did in their glory days, middle-class families will no longer find it necessary to make great financial sacrifices when raising children, and a quality Jewish education will be accessible for all.

Leonard M. Solomon
Trustee
Los Angeles Hebrew High School

UCLA Palestine Week
As a student leader at UCLA, I was disappointed with the coverage of the recent campus anti-Zionism Awareness week (“UCLA Jews, Muslims Alter Protest Tactics” June 2). Unfortunately, the article implied that Jewish and Muslim students were the only major campus groups involved in these events and avoided discussion of the recent positive steps toward dialogue between our respective communities.

June 2, at noon, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) along with Hillel and other student communities of faith, assembled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for distribution to the homeless on skid row. That evening, members of MSA joined our community at Hillel for Shabbat Shavuot featuring a discussion with Dr. Nayer Ali on Islam. On June 5, MSA and the UCLA Jewish Student Union (JSU) broke bread together at an event marking the first time kosher/halal meals have been available to dormitory residents at UCLA, due to the successful year-long campaign organized by leadership of both JSU and MSA.

For the alarmists of our community, there exists a fervently anti-Zionist and often anti-Semitic campus community more numerous and less nuanced than our Muslim cousins. Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), a sponsor of UCLA’s anti-Zionism week, and other Mexican-American empowerment groups see the Israel/Palestinian conflict as white male oppressors asserting their dominance over women and children of color and draw parallels between the occupation of Palestine and the occupation of Aztlán (Southwestern U.S. ceded after the Mexican-American War). Chicana/o students tend to invoke charges of deicide grounded in the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic tradition and have been more vocally anti-Semitic, claiming the “Jews are the criminals” responsible for the plight of immigrant communities at a rally in April, for example.

We, as the Los Angeles Jewish community, have an obligation to promote education and dialogue efforts reaching the Chicana/o community and other communities of color who tend to have less nuance and far more misconceptions about Jews and Israel than members of the Arab and Muslim communities.

Andy Green
President Emeritus
Hillel at UCLA (2005-2006)

The Finkelstein Syndrome
Roz Rothstein’s article on the anti-Semitic Jew, [Norman] Finkelstein , highlights a major lapse in common knowledge abou Jewish history (“Beware the Finklestein Syndrome,” June 9). While every effort is made to inform the world about the Holocaust, very little information is disseminated about the history of lies and hate against the Jews, or its relationship to the Holocaust.( I have seen history books that devote two pages to Anne Frank, but fail to mention that Jews were patriotic Germans and no threat to Germany)

Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the “blood libel” which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern day Theobald? Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today, do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors .

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angles

Polish Holocaust
I note the reference in the article on the academic achievements of young Kenny Gotlieb that he is a grandson of a survivor of the “Polish Holocaust” (“Seniors’ Deeds Pave Path for Future,” June 9). Excuse me, but can someone explain to me what is a “Polish Holocaust?”?Is this suggesting that the majority of Holocaust victims were Poles? Or is it supposed to imply that the Holocaust was created by Poles? Surely neither of these. Is it supposed to mean that the Holocaust largely took place in Poland occupied by Nazi Germany? If so, then please say so. I am afraid that this constant coupling of the word “Holocaust” with the word “Poland” makes the young people of today forget that the author of the Holocaust was Nazi Germany whose armies conquered most of Europe and imposed the genocide of the Jews throughout the continent. So please call it the Nazi Holocaust or the European Holocaust, or best of all, just “The Holocaust” (for there was only one) and not “Polish Holocaust.”

Wiktor Moszczynski
Via e-mail

Da Vinci Code
Enjoyed your articles of the DaVinci Code, but only the first three gospels of the New Testament (Mathew, Mark and Luke) are synoptic gospels. They are synoptic because they are similar to each other and different from the writings of the fourth gospel of John.

Brett Thompson
Via e-mail

Correction
In “Seniors’ Deeds Pave Path for Future,” (June 9) Ruben Zweiban was sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys).

 

Drive Sends Love, ‘Gratitude’ to Troops


As Carolyn Blashek knows only too well, good things come in small packages. The founder and motivating force behind Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit organization that sends care packages to American troops overseas, Blashek serves as an inspiring testimony to one woman’s dedication to provide faith and hope to lonely soldiers.

Blashek is a Jewish mother in Encino who, like most Americans, was horrified by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. However, her reaction was slightly different than that of the average Jewish mother — she tried to enlist in the military. She soon discovered that, at 46, she exceeded the age limit of 35, and “as a civilian there were very few opportunities to show your support to the military.” She began volunteering at a dilapidated military lounge at LAX, until one day in March 2003 (the outset of the war with Iraq), a heart-wrenching talk with a despondent soldier inspired her to create a system to show soldiers that she cared.

“I’m going back to a war zone,” she recalls him saying. “I just buried my mother, my wife left me and my child died as an infant. I have no one in my life. For the first time I don’t think I’ll make it back, but it really wouldn’t matter because no one would even care.”

Blashek was devastated as she realized that many of the soldiers are fighting in foreign countries without support systems.

“What gives someone the strength to survive when bullets are flying?” she wondered. “The belief that someone cares about you.”

She decided to express her compassion by sending food, entertainment, and personal letters in packages.

“The Jewish mother in me had this need to communicate concern and love and appreciation,” she said with a little laugh. “It’s that sense of nurturing… the Jewish mother element.”

Primarily through word of mouth, the project snowballed. What began three years ago as a humble living room project financed and organized by her alone exploded into an organization that coordinates donation drives for packages across the country.

“Now I’ve sent over 111,000 packages in three years,” she said.

After Operation Gratitude’s third annual Patriotic Drive, which is to take place at the end of this month, she hopes to reach 150,000.

Blashek vividly recalls an emotional encounter she had with Kayitz Finley — the son of her local rabbi, Mordecai Finley of Congregation Ohr HaTorah — to whom she sent packages while he served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both a soldier serving in a distant land and a member of her local community, he became her inspiration. “The first most emotional experience I had through all this was when he came home and he and I got to meet in person for the first time,” she said. “It was at a Saturday morning service. We saw each other, threw our arms around each other and couldn’t stop hugging. Neither of us could get any words out. We both just kept saying ‘thank you’ to each other. It was very powerful.”

Operation Gratitude’s Third Annual Patriotic Drive continues at the California Army National Guard Armory, 17330 Victory Blvd, Van Nuys on June 17-18. Items requested for donation can be found on the website

Wiesel Adds Sinai to Shabbat ‘Collection’


“I miss Shabbat,” Elie Wiesel told a packed audience at Sinai Temple in Westwood last Friday night.

The renowned author and Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke at Sinai’s Friday Night Live, a monthly Shabbat service combining music with mingling and prayer geared to young professionals. The evening also celebrated the congregation’s 100th anniversary.

Wiesel’s remarks stressed the importance of maintaining rituals in the Jewish faith — and Shabbat in particular.

“Shabbat transcends time,” he said.

This night it was standing-room only as Shabbat also transcended the service’s typical 25-40 age group, as well as Sinai’s seating capacity.

Having celebrated Shabbat around the world, Wiesel conveyed the novelty of Sinai’s Friday Night Live service, which invites singles to stick around for socializing.

After being welcomed by a standing ovation, Wiesel captivated the audience with anecdotes about his small hometown in Romania and with commentary about a Jew’s relationship to Shabbat.

According to Wiesel, who survived the Nazi camps in Auchwitz, “even the poorest” and even non-Jews in his town celebrated Shabbat. Quoting from “Shir Hashirim,” Wiesel emphasized the need for today’s Jews to retain the practice of setting aside a day for rest, prayer and study.

Wiesel’s output of oral and written histories, including his books “A Beggar in Jerusalem,” “The Golem,” “Dawn,” and the Nobel Prize-winning “Night,” has been relentless, as noted in the introduction by Sinai’s Rabbi David Wolpe.

Wiesel, who ultimately chose to study philosophy over music and conducting, shared stories of his Shabbat experiences and interactions with fellow singers and musicians. He claimed that words, after all, can dance much like a song.

In a time of raised awareness about genocide and recent reports, false it turns out (see page 14) about an Iranian law that would require Jews to wear yellow bands, Wiesel’s speech to Sinai’s audience, which he said represents the “symbol of Jewish survival,” seemed nothing short of inspiring, to many in the audience.

“I collect Shabbats,” he said.

This Shabbat, for many in attendance, was certainly worth collecting.

Wiesel’s speech was followed by a performance by actor-singer Theodore Bikel, additional melodious prayers and a Kiddush wherein the more than 1,500 attendees could mingle, participate in Israeli dancing and meet Wiesel — or their beshert.

 

Building Homes, Building Hope


The prophet Isaiah asks: “What is the house which you would build for Me, and what is the place of My rest?” (Isaiah 66:1). In the days following the Easter and Passover holidays, 41 Angelenos traveled to the Gulf Coast to translate their faith into action. We were rabbis and pastors, African Americans and Jewish Americans, high school seniors and senior adults, synagogue and church members from 12 Los Angeles congregations who rebuilt homes in Gulfport, Miss.

We spent our days building and rebuilding roofs — separated into teams of eager “rookie roofers” under the patient supervision of AmeriCorps volunteers. In short order we were on the rooftop tearing off old shingles and tar paper, and replacing them with new materials. The work was hard, the heat and humidity intense. Few of us had prior construction experience, and many of us had never even been on the roofs of our own homes. But we were determined to finish “our roofs” before we left Gulfport. By week’s end, our volunteers had built six new roofs valued at $30,000 for uninsured or underinsured homeowners in the region.

The individuals and families we helped shared their moving stories of struggle and survival during and after Katrina. “Bob” described his 12-hour ordeal as the hurricane battered his house, and vowed never again to ignore evacuation orders. He lost his job at a federal facility that was destroyed in the hurricane and has no other job prospects. Bob lives day by day as he contemplates an uncertain future.

“Cheryl” is a single mom who has a job but lacks the funds to fix her leaky roof. The night before our site visit, a powerful thunderstorm blew through Gulfport and water crashed through the ceiling of Cheryl’s modest home. Our crew rebuilt her roof in one day, preventing further damage to the interior of the house. However, it will take years to heal the psychological and emotional scars borne by Cheryl and her family.

Everywhere we traveled along the coast, we witnessed heartbreaking scenes of devastation. We passed gutted churches that are now mere shells of formerly majestic houses of worship; twisted and dangling signs identifying businesses that are heaps of rubble; ruins of mansions and homes that are reminiscent of a war zone; front yards adorned with trailers whose occupants worry about how they will survive the next storm.

Through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the people of the Gulf Coast have met with tragic circumstances. The storm robbed them of homes and livelihoods, battered their dignity and in many cases left them for dead. The people we met have lost faith in FEMA, their insurance companies, their government, and so many others who have let them down over and over again. But the Jewish and African Methodist Episcopal Church communities of Los Angeles — two diverse groups working together — had compassion on the people of Gulfport and worked together to make a difference.

By repairing roofs, we helped to bandage their stricken community. Beyond the financial contributions our groups have previously made to the relief effort, by shouldering our neighbors’ burdens, we offered something equally as important: hope. That hope was seen in the eyes of the homeowners that we served and felt through the prayers and tears they offered as thanks for our assistance.

This journey was a lesson in faith and partnership. Our partners in Mississippi included the amazing young men and women of AmeriCorps, who devote one to two years of their lives in volunteer service for their fellow Americans. Our hosts were the staff and congregants of Westminster Presbyterian Church, which has transformed itself into a 24/7 center for volunteer relief groups. One of the church elders told us that he is especially pleased to welcome Jewish groups to the church, since he is a leader in ongoing efforts to overturn the divestment resolutions of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

This mission was a lesson in spirit and fellowship. The region’s sole Jewish congregation and B’nai B’rith chapter warmly welcomed us to their annual Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) commemoration, held in a Methodist church while the synagogue awaits repair. As the multifaith, multiracial congregation read the names of Holocaust victims, we prayed that we honor their memories by building bonds of faith and friendship between Los Angeles and the Gulf Coast.

We also built strong and sure bonds within our L.A. delegation — between African Americans and Jewish Americans; between Jews and Christians and their congregations; among Conservative, Orthodox and Reform Jews and their synagogues. Too often it takes a crisis or disaster for people of diverse races, religions and cultures to draw closer to God and to one another. Sometimes it takes a trip away from home to remind neighbors to celebrate their differences and their shared destiny as God’s children.

We returned home with a pledge to work together to meet the needs of our community in Los Angeles, even as we remember the needs of the Gulf Coast. The lives and struggles of the people we met are daily reminders of the sacred mandate to rebuild our broken world. We will not rest until the community has healed.

On June 4, the first Sunday of the 2006 hurricane season, churches and synagogues throughout Louisiana and in all cities with major concentrations of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita evacuees will join together in remembrance of those who were lost and to raise awareness of those still missing from the storms. For more information, e-mail findfamilypio@dhh.la.gov.

The Rev. Kevin Taylor is associate minister of Grant AME Church in Los Angeles. Rabbi Mark S. Diamond is executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. The Mississippi trip was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee and the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Ministerial Association.

 

Views Differ on Role in Centers Crisis


The news stunned John Fishel. In the fall of 2001, the L.A. Federation president learned that the city’s Jewish community centers were in crisis. If The Federation didn’t act quickly, some or all of the JCCs would have to shut down.

Fishel had every right to feel upset. He and other Federation leaders had allocated millions to support the JCCs over the years, with the expectation that the money was well spent, with proper oversight. In the late 1990s, for instance, The Federation had forgiven $1 million in loans to the parent organization running the centers.

Now, not only were the Jewish centers’ futures at stake, but also nearly $3 million in additional loans advanced by The Federation.

The financial troubles at the local JCCs were by no means unprecedented. Years earlier, difficulties flared up in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. In those instances, the local federations acted quickly to bail out troubled centers. They forgave loans, made emergency cash infusions and hammered out long-term strategic plans.

Other cities saved their JCCs because they saw them as invaluable community resources. They not only provided valuable services to Jewish families but also strengthened or even established connections between individual Jews and the Jewish community. In Los Angeles, JCCs also were known for serving the larger non-Jewish community.

But Fishel did not act as though preserving the centers was a community necessity. His approach to the problem was markedly different than in other cities.

“It all became: How are you going to pay back the money? When are you going to pay back the money? What interest rate will there be for this accrued debt?” said Nina Lieberman Giladi, former executive vice president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA). “I would have expected The Federation, as leader of the organized local Jewish community, to have taken a different, more collaborative tone.”

A former Federation executive close to the parent organization corroborated her account, as does documentation. The Federation brought an attorney to the first post-crisis meeting between group executives and representatives of the centers’ parent organization. Many in the community began to see Fishel as intent on liquidating the centers to get the Federation’s money back. Fishel did little to dispel that perception by opining that perhaps the JCC model was antiquated and megasynagogues, day schools and other Jewish institutions might fill the void.

Eventually, The Federation restructured the debt and agreed to some loan forgiveness. But Fishel created no special fundraising campaign. He didn’t hold a fundraiser dinner. And the repayment terms virtually guaranteed that most of the JCCs would be shuttered, with their land sold to repay The Federation.

His actions suggested that he had lost faith in the mission and relevance of some of the city’s JCCs, especially the smaller ones.

Within three years, the venerable Bay Cities JCC in Santa Monica went out of business; the small Conejo Valley JCC shut down, and the JCCs’ parent organization sold the North Valley JCC. Although the property’s new owner has permitted North Valley members to continue operating on the site, the number of families participating at the center is off nearly 80 percent from the late 1980s.

And in Silver Lake, it was a Christian cleric — not The Federation — who partnered with the local community to purchase the land under the Silverlake Independent JCC. Otherwise, that profitable center would have closed because of a debt that it did not create. Most of the proceeds went to The Federation to repay a secured loan.

All this occurred against the backdrop of a JCC movement that is booming nationally. Close to $700 million in construction is planned, under way or has recently been completed, said Allan Finkelstein, president of the JCC Association of North America, the umbrella organization for the nation’s 200 full-service JCCs and other community properties, including Jewish camps. In coming years, Las Vegas; Boulder, Colo., and Naples, Fla., are expected to have new state-of-the-art facilities.

So what happened in Los Angeles, a city with such an affluent Jewish community? For one thing, the JCC parent organization mismanaged its finances and never raised enough money to maintain and improve the centers as Federation funding began declining in the 1990s, said attorney Ron Leibow, a vice chair of the national JCC Association. Leibow ultimately helped negotiate a final settlement between The Federation and the JCC parent organization, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles.

The local Jewish community, unlike those in other cities, neither supported most existing centers nor clamored for the types of state-of-the-art facilities that have proven so successful elsewhere, he added. As for Fishel, Leibow said, he erred in initially taking an intransigent stance.

“There’s lot of blame to go around,” Leibow said. “I blame The Federation. I blame the JCC system. And I blame the community.”

Fishel, supporters argue, did much more for the local JCCs than he’s given credit for. In 2001, at the height of the crisis, Federation grants, loans and advances to the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles totaled $3.3 million, or nearly one-quarter of its $14 million budget, according to The Federation. (That figure included a $1.1 million emergency loan, with interest.)

“I can assure you John did all he could,” said Harriet Hochman, a former Federation chair who worked closely with Fishel on the JCC issue. “This caused him a great deal of pain and agony.”

The Federation, Hochman added, has increasing demands on its finite resources and simply lacked the money to prop up the entire system.

Given the mismanagement at the JCC parent organization, Fishel could be excused for not rushing to throw new money at the problem.

But to critics, Fishel and The Federation seemed to be choosing with their funding which Jewish communities were worth fighting for.

In the end, those JCCs considered worthy were the state-of-the-art New JCC at Milken in the West Valley; the Westside JCC (near the Fairfax district), which has raised millions for a planned renovation, and the often-struggling Valley Cities JCC. They have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Federation support.

“Without John Fishel and all the lay and professional support we’ve gotten from The Federation, we wouldn’t be here — period,” said Mike Brezner, president of Friends of Valley Cities JCC, which operates the center. “They got us over the hump.”

Fishel’s unwavering support, Brezner added, allowed Valley Cities to rebuild programs, attract new members and gave it time to find an anonymous donor who paid off the Valley Cities outstanding debt. More than 1,000 visitors per week now come to the center.

No such luck with Fishel for the Silverlake Independent JCC, which arguably was more successful than Valley Cities. The Federation, in recent years, gave nearly nothing to Silverlake.

A boisterous 2004 protest held by Silverlake supporters at Federation headquarters brought out television crews and put Fishel and The Federation in a negative glare. Afterward, when Silverlake formally requested a grant, Federation officials asked for audited financial statements. Silverlake executives said they couldn’t afford to pay the audit fee.

“In my estimation, [the Silverlake leadership] chose not to go through the route we recommended,” Fishel said curtly.

In April 2005, just as Silverlake appeared on the verge of closing, Bishop J. Jon Bruno, head of Los Angeles’ Episcopal Diocese, stepped in to assume a 49 percent ownership stake on behalf of the local Episcopalian diocese. The Silverlake group retained 51 percent control. The center, which operates in the black, now offers ballet, gymnastics, yoga and other classes. Its preschool has a waiting list.

“I was stunned when we ultimately received no help from the organized Jewish community,” said Janie F. Schulman, president of the Silverlake Independent JCC. “I kept thinking that at the end of the day, they would come through for us.”

For a city its size, Los Angeles now has a relatively weak JCC system. Whereas metro New York has 26 full- or part-service JCCs and Chicago has seven, Los Angeles has five.

“I don’t feel the JCC model is necessarily outmoded,” Fishel said, “but we have a different community today than we did 10 or 20 years ago.”

Fishel Facts

Name: John Fishel.

Position: President of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — 1992 to the present.

Age: 57.

Salary: $332, 000 (according to 2004 federal tax documents).

Birthplace: Cleveland.

Education: B.A. in anthropology from University of Michigan; M.A. in social work from University of Michigan.

Family: Married for 31 years to Karen, preschool teacher at Temple Isaiah; daughter, Jessica, 19, freshman at University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Hobbies: Reading, international adventure travel, music, especially jazz and blues.

Wandering Jew – We Shall Pursue


As I drove my children home after school last week, how many men, women and children were fleeing from their homes in Darfur? As I tucked my children snuggly into their beds, how many mothers crept out of their refugee camps at night to gather firewood to keep their children warm in Darfur? As I flew to our nation’s capital to rally for our government’s commitment to justice in Sudan, how many villages were burned to the ground by the Sudanese government-backed militia, the Janjaweed, in Darfur?

On Saturday evening, in the shadow of the Jefferson Memorial and with the Washington Memorial just across the Basin, we ended Shabbat. Bimheira v’yameinu yavo eileinu, im mashiach ben David — speedily in our days, may (Elijah the prophet) come with the messiah, son of David.

These are the words we always sing as we usher in the new week. Hoping, praying that this will be the week that will see the coming of the messianic time. This week is different. We, who stand more than 200 strong, are thinking of a people thousands of miles away who truly need that peace and need it right now. The victims of the genocide in Darfur are so very present in our hearts as we pray together.

A military helicopter flies directly over us and we pay no attention. If I were a woman in Darfur, that very same helicopter would strike fear within me. A military helicopter in Darfur signifies not safety, but the beginning of a raid by the Janjaweed. How fortunate I am, O God, to be 1,000 worlds away. And how ashamed I feel to even utter those words.

I sleep fitfully. What am I doing here? What real impact will this gathering really have? Even thousands of people gathering on the Mall cannot end the suffering (see story on page 17). Our tradition gives us only two instances where we are actively commanded to seek out opportunities to fulfill a particular commandment. They are “Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34:15) and “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). Rodef. To pursue. To be one who pursues peace. One who pursues justice. Pursue — it is such an active word. During the restless night, I realize that my presence here is not merely a symbolic act nor should I view it as an act of passivity. Rather, by being here and joining my voice with many others, I have become a rodefet. I have become one who pursues.

This is to be a family reunion of sorts. I am joined by my mother, my brothers, my sister, one of my sisters-in-law and her cousin. Completing the Amado-Einstein-Schorr group is my young cousin whose mother introduced me to activism two decades ago by encouraging me to write letters on behalf of the Refuseniks, Jews not permitted to leave the Soviet Union. How proud I am to stand with more than 100 Jews from Los Angeles, an effort coordinated by Jewish World Watch and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. And our group stands among groups from congregations, day schools, Hillel students, Jewish Community Centers and other Jewish groups from all across North America. More than 15,000 people. Young and old, we have come together with a unified purpose.

Jews marching for Jews. Self-explanatory. But Jews marching for African Muslims? Why? Why stand up for a group of people whose lives have no impact on mine?

Because my faith demands it of me. Because I cannot be angry at the world for allowing 6 million of my people to be slaughtered if I am not willing to raise my voice in protest for the Darfuris.

The association of Darfur with the Shoah is a natural one for us. When we hear phrases such as “ethnic cleansing” and “relocation,” we know all too well what these euphemisms are concealing; the organized destruction of a people.

Many of the signs at the rally reflect our natural instinct to draw connections between the realities of Darfur and the memories of our recent past. Signs bearing the slogans “Never Again,” “Never Forget” and “Save Darfur” are in English and Hebrew. And there are others. A refugee from Liberia, with the Texas flag draped over his shoulders, carries a sign declaring “I saw it, I escaped it, stop it now!” Three coeds from the University of Iowa drove all night to hold signs that say “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.” A high school student from Boston wrote the words “Schindler’s List, The Killing Fields, Hotel Rwanda. Don’t wait for the movie.”

Now what? What do I do now that the March is over? I don’t have the international respect of Elie Wiesel whose mere presence here is a reminder of what can happen when the world remains silent in the face of evil. I don’t have the political clout of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) whose impassioned words elicited great cheers from the crowd. Nor do I have the celebrity of George Clooney, whose recent visit to Darfur will do more to forward this cause than a dozen marches.

What I do have is the desire to see the genocide brought to an end. I can write to President Bush. I can make responsible choices in the voting booth. I can stand in front of the consulates of NATO and African Union nations, Russia and China between now and June 2, a day that corresponds this year with Shavuot, the day we celebrate God’s revelation at Mount Sinai.

How fitting that these visits, as suggested by Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, will “be taking place during the counting of the Omer, in which we move from the freedom given us at Passover to the responsibility that came with accepting God’s laws at Sinai.”

I can receive regular e-mail updates from the Save Darfur Coalition and American Jewish World Service. I can encourage my colleagues to join with the more than forty Southern Californian congregations who have already become active members of Jewish World Watch. And I can continue to talk about Darfur with my friends, congregants and neighbors.

Speedily in our days, O God, speedily in our days may this nightmare end and may our brothers and sisters in Darfur know enduring peace. May this be Your will.

Rebecca Yael Schorr is a rabbi at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley.

 

The Hebrascope: Signs of the Jewdiac


(April 21-May 20)
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Barbra Streisand

During this birthday period, it makes sense to expect things to be all about you. Sadly, friends and family aren’t so sensitive to your needs. The trick is to divide your expectations in half and you’ll enjoy yourself twice as much. Family and friends aren’t trying to steal your thunder; they’re only human and thus likely to want some attention for themselves. Generally, the stars wouldn’t suggest tucking yourself into a protective cocoon for a little healing and rejuvenating. This week is different. Spend an afternoon in your own world, watching your own lame TV shows, reading magazines, eating popcorn in bed and generally isolating yourself from other people. You will emerge anew, with perhaps a few popcorn kernels in your hair, but otherwise refreshed.

(May 21 — June 20)
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Barry Levinson

Gemini loves to socialize on the job, especially now. The math goes something like this: One hour on a work project, 20 minutes discussing last night’s game in the break room, two hours in a meeting, half an hour debating whether or not the temp has been surgically enhanced. Here’s the thing, in order to ever make headway in terms of your career, you may have to keep your nose to the grindstone for awhile instead of in other people’s business or a particularly fascinating salon.com article. Self-employed Geminis should consider holding a social gathering, attending a trade show or throwing a gallery exhibit to expose your work to a wider audience.

(June 21-July 20)
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Sydney Pollack

All those big ideas floating around in your keppe just need a little faith, hope and cash. That’s easy for your horoscope to say, but perhaps hard to muster. The stars say otherwise, but advise you to think things through carefully before investing time and money. A burst of confidence and luck will galvanize your efforts, just be careful to ponder every possible outcome before taking any leaps. It may be tedious, but will certainly be useful. Saturday, a casual lunch with friends or family may reach “My Dinner With Andre” proportions. Expect stimulating conversations and don’t cram too many plans into your day so that you can fully enjoy the interaction without having to check your watch.

(July 21 — August 21)

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Monica Lewinsky

If there’s a burst in the real estate bubble, that doesn’t matter much to Leo right now. An investment in a first home or condo is advised, according to celestial influences. Leos who already own property might think about doing some improvements this week. As for long time homeowners, it’s been years of looking at that monthly mortgage like it’s the boogeyman, scrimping and saving and being conscientious of every little splurge. Finally, the end is in sight as that home may be almost paid off. Look for socializing to ramp up from May 3-29, when Venus (the planet of love) visits impulsive Aries in your ninth house of ideas. You will not only be attracted to new people, but to new ideas.

(August 22-September 22)
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Adam Sandler

Traveling, or even just a rough daily commute, is beginning to wear on you, grinding you down both spiritually and physically. This is a good time to find a workout buddy. You are far less likely to miss that personal training session if it’s also a fun hour of chatting and even good-natured whining about your evil trainer and her evil squats. What’s more, if you’ve pre-paid, the guilt factor will also provide an incentive to get you to the gym, yoga studio or duo Pilates session. Think about it. What better way to counteract the stress of being trapped on planes or in automobiles than by simply moving your body? Strengthen a friendship while you strengthen your muscles and make even better use of your time.

(September 23-October 22)
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Michael Douglas

Partnerships are big for Libra this week. Whether it’s a professional partnership that’s moving ahead, or the announcement of an engagement or even an impending cohabitation, the stars have your back if you are teaming up in any significant way. Collaboration is favored up until May 29. Tuesday, some confusion could arise involving a love affair. It may feel lasting and permanent, but your horoscope says this small romantic blip will be all cleared up by Wednesday.

(October 23-November 22)
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Jonas Salk

People like people who like them. It’s such a simple concept that Dale Carnegie would be rolling his eyes. Still, it’s something we often forget. This week, folks will be looking to you for validation and approval. It doesn’t take much, like the old saying goes, a handful of peanuts and a pat on the back. It costs you nothing to shell out a few compliments to those around you who look up to you, and in the end it creates much good will. A meaningful conversation could mark the end of this week, as could especially poignant interactions with those in your circle who are younger than you are.

(November 23-December 20)
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Harpo Marx

Heads up to the Sagittarius worker: you will be walking into what feels like an ambush at work. Be armed with patience and flexibility. Check all your facts and figures when it comes to paperwork. Employ all of your teamwork skills and be ready to tackle tasks using creativity. By midweek, things will cool off at work just in time for a romantic slump to come to an end, as Venus moves into Aries on Wednesday. Pay special attention to your hygiene, floss, wax, get those roots done, bleach the moustache, trim the bangs and don’t be afraid to splurge on at least one big luxury item. Don’t feel guilty about buying yourself something you’ve been wanting. Your horoscope says it’s OK.

(December 21-January 19)
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Dave Attell

Envy and irritability — they aren’t your friends but they seem to be tagging along everywhere you go this week, leading to feelings of frustration. Instead of plotting your revenge on the people who are annoying you the most, dig down deep for some compassion. At the very least, lay low and avoid any altercations you may regret later. A partner or family member may seem indifferent to practical matters that concern you. Instead of presenting a lecture complete with PowerPoint presentation on all of the flaws in their thinking (or lack thereof), remember that the quality of this relationship is more important to you than being right.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 18)
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Ted Koppell

It may be tempting to jump into a new relationship, as passion intensifies this week. Try to slow your pace and protect any financial assets. You may not be Trump with a pre-nuptial agreement the size of “War and Peace,” but we can all be taken advantage of when our heart is in charge. Look forward to community celebration midweek. Also, you may feel overwhelmed now just thinking of all your friends and family scattered throughout the world. How do you keep in touch? Dedicate at least an hour this week and roll some calls. Once you get in the habit of keeping in touch, it will seem less daunting and ultimately rewarding.

(February 19-March 20)
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Josh Groban

This week opens like a scene from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” There may be lots of shouting and betrayal. The whole situations will be high drama with plenty of unnerving interactions. The resolution of this drama could be ruthless, but it will at least be swift, coming to a resolution by midweek, when uplifting astrological patterns are in your favor. Relatives and friends support you, spontaneous outbursts of fun attract you, and you may even be in for a streak of luck. Curious Pisces may wish to dabble in gossip, but you would do better to plan for an overseas trip that will satisfy your curiosity more deeply and with less trash talking.

(March 21-April 20)
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Matthew Broderick

It sounds like a conundrum, but it’s just crazy enough to work. Cooperate with others this week and you will stand out as an individual. Your ability to facilitate teamwork and put your own ego aside will be noticed and appreciated. The only bitter taste in your otherwise sweet week is an outstanding debt — either a credit card or mortgage payment that’s overdue and may cause stress with a partner or family member. Take care of the debt so that extra charges don’t start piling up — and know that financial freedom is on the horizon as an unexpected check is likely to come in just when you need it.

Elliott Gould Thrives as Work in Progress


Elliott Gould appeared for our interview at the Chabad House near UCLA, his venue of choice, wearing a baseball cap over his unruly salt-and-pepper locks, an open-necked shirt and glasses.

That’s quite a change from the three-piece, pin-striped suit and neatly combed hair he sports as Rufus Van Aldin, the fabulously wealthy American oil magnate in Agatha Christie’s thriller, “The Mystery of the Blue Train.”

The episode, one in the British television series on the adventures of that canny Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot (David Suchet), will air Sunday, Feb. 12, on the Biography Channel at 9 p.m. and again at 1 a.m.

The 67-year-old actor obviously enjoyed the role and the locations in Nice and London.

“The British have always been very supportive of me,” he said, a feeling that goes back to 1963, when he starred in the London production of the musical, “On the Town.”

For the West End stage run, Gould brought along his new bride, the rising young singer Barbra Streisand, and he later spoke frankly of their relationship, which has since filled reams of tabloid columns.

Elliott Goldstein grew up in a two-and-a-half room apartment in a section of Brooklyn populated by Jews, Syrians and Italians, the only child of a garment industry production manager and his wife. Both parents were born in the United States, but his grandparents emigrated from Russia, the Ukraine and Poland.

Gould has total recall of his childhood, a mixed blessing, at best.

“My parents didn’t know how to love each other, and that devastated me,” he reminisced. “I’ve been in shock and denial of this most of my life, and as a boy, I was repressed, inhibited and very withdrawn.”

On Passovers, the Goldstein family visited Uncle Louie, and young Elliott got to ask the Four Questions. The future actor found it “stressful to get it right. I was very sensitive and insecure.”

In 1944, when Elliott was 6, his father was drafted into the Army, became a sharpshooter but broke his ankle just before he was to be shipped overseas. It was a lucky break, since most of his unit was wiped out in the Battle of the Bulge later that year.

Encouraged by his doting mother, Elliott auditioned for a “country-style” TV show, got a part and was told by the producer, “‘From now on your name is Gould,’ and I just accepted it.”

His stage career accelerated at age 12, when he made his debut as a tap dancer at the Palace, and at the same time, he started studying for his bar mitzvah at a Hebrew school. “On my first test, I cheated and got a 100,” he recalled.

At 18, he made it onto the Broadway stage in the chorus line of “Irma La Douce” and supplemented his meager earnings by selling vacuum cleaners, running a hotel elevator and working as a plumber’s helper.

His first breakthrough came as the lead in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale,” the same musical that first brought Streisand to public attention. The two young Jewish actors struck up a romance and married within the year.

The marriage proved difficult almost from the beginning. As his wife rocketed to superstardom, Gould, despite his promising performance in “Wholesale,” had trouble advancing his career.

Snide columnists took delight in referring to Gould as “Mr. Streisand” and in chronicling his real and alleged frustrations, depressions, therapy sessions and nervous breakdowns. Even the birth of their son, Jason Gould, in 1966, couldn’t reverse the downward trajectory of the couple’s marriage, and they were divorced in 1971. Gould also has two children with Jennifer Bogart, whom he married twice, divorced once and from whom he is now separated.

It became obvious during our long interview that Gould’s feelings about his marriage to Streisand are still acute and mixed. Again and again, he interrupted our conversation on other topics to break in with comments, such as:

“It is not true that I was traumatized because Barbra’s career went up and mine didn’t.”

“Barbra and I will always be connected through our son, Jason, but we only communicate when necessary.”

“Life is a challenging and painful journey. Barbra was part of it, and our love has not been destroyed.”

“Barbra will always love me.”

As his marriage gradually unraveled, Gould’s professional fortunes took a sudden turn upward. The breakthrough came in his role as Ted in the 1969 movie, “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” about two sexually liberated but confused couples, which the ’60s generation adopted as the iconic reflection of itself.

Gould, who was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance, was at the time described by The New York Times as “Tall, curly-haired, more homely than handsome, laid back, unconventional, sensitive and unabashedly Jewish.”

Over the following four years, Gould seemed to be everywhere on movie and television screens, and his photo graced the cover of Time magazine as “the star for an uptight age.” He was especially popular among young adults, who identified closely with the often-neurotic anti-hero he depicted.

He scored again as Trapper John in Robert Altman’s black comedy, “M*A*S*H,” and as private eye Philip Marlowe in “The Long Goodbye.”

Then, in the mid-70s, what had been the hottest property in Hollywood went cold. Gould continued to act in movies and television but mostly in forgettable productions and roles.

In the 1990s, he began to regain his reputation as a character actor through frequent appearances on the phenomenally successful TV series, “Friends,” and in the past few years he has been lauded for his movie roles in “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Ocean’s Twelve.”

He remains as unabashedly Jewish as ever, though in his own way.

“I feel connected by the branches of the Jewish family tree,” he observed. “I belong every place where there is one of us…. Not only do I not deny my Judaism, but I am aware how unorthodox and unconventional I have been.”

Although “conditioned to question everything, the concept of faith seems right to me, and I have found my faith,” he added.

At 67, Gould considers himself “still a work in progress,” but he seems to have found a measure of equilibrium in a life during which “I never had problems with drugs, but I’ve had problems with reality.”

He lives in an apartment with a picture of Sigmund Freud on the wall and is re-reading the works of Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud.

“I have nothing more to prove,” he said in concluding our interview. “I now look on myself as a happy and healthy grandfather.”

 

Choosing Pluralism


We were all seated in our respective minyanin when a large outburst sounded from the Orthodox group down the hall. Within a few moments, teenagers were running out from every direction, anxious to see what the excitement was about. As I edged closer, I realized it was not disagreement, but joyous celebration filled with shrieks and songs.

Before I could gather my thoughts, someone grabbed my hand and I was swept up in a whirlwind of excitement and shoved against Jewish teenagers of every denomination in a celebration of Shabbat, Israel and Jewish pluralism.

Attending the North American Association of Jewish High Schools’ (NAAJHS) leadership conference last year awakened me to the great possibilities of Jewish pluralism. NAAJHS was founded as a forum for Jewish community high schools to exchange ideas and work toward the betterment of Jewish education.

Sensitive to the needs of students that affiliate themselves with different denominations, the heads of the program offered a variety of minyan choices, from liberal nature services to Orthodox services with a mechitza. However, as Shabbat approached and we gathered in our separate alcoves, a spark of enlightenment surged across the room as we felt the need to enact the Jewish pluralism that we discussed in our daily seminars.

Clasping hands with Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist Jews, we proclaimed our love for Judaism in an outburst of song and dance, putting our differences in belief behind us.

Hidden beneath such Jewish rituals and celebration lies the true nature of pluralism. As Rabbi Harold Schulweis discusses in his essay, “The Pendulum of Pluralism,” the Talmud prescribes benedictions for all of life’s wonders — upon seeing a rainbow, nature, the ocean — but upon witnessing a Jewish audience we are commanded to pronounce: “Blessed is he who discerns secrets, for the mind of each is different from the other, as is the face of each different from the other.”

Are we living up to this commandment?

Earlier this year, Rabbi Schulweis came to Milken Community High School to engage in a discussion with teachers and students about pluralism. As a school that prides itself on pluralism within a community setting, Milken sought clarity and distinction about a concept that can become cloudy and convoluted.

I was seated on a panel with other students and faculty members, and after our prescribed questions were asked and answered, one teacher in the audience asked a monumental question, one that broadened the question of internal Jewish pluralism to our place in a larger, pluralistic culture: How can we truly embrace pluralism within our society if we are the chosen people, deemed by God to be prosperous and blessed?

Rabbi Schulweis answered the question without hesitation.

“I don’t believe that any religion is chosen by God,” he said, “I believe that we are a choosing people, not a chosen people.”

If we as Jews were to walk around deeming ourselves higher than our surroundings, we would fail to accept others as equals. However, the first step in solving this problem of universal pluralism is addressing the problem of denominational pluralism within our own faith.

Too often we neglect the tension that exists between the Jewish people in order to focus on more prominent, global concerns. By choosing to engage in study and discussion with Jews from all denominations, we will instead model the very behavior we wish to incorporate into larger American society. As the modern enactors of our ancient covenant with God, we must emphasize “choosing” over “chosen,” equality over factionalism and denominationalism.

This transition from passivity to action must first be implemented in solving what Rabbi Schulweis identifies as a key tension within Judaism — the sectionalism among Jewish youth. Conservative teens attend United Synagogue Youth (USY) events, Reform teens attend North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) events, and Orthodox teens attend National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY). Each youth group provides a comfortable environment for teens to interact with one another, forming friendships that emphasize Jewish values and the importance of Israel. After reviewing the mission statement on each group’s Web site, I found an abundance of overlap and commonality. Each group aims to develop a strong attachment to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel by engaging in study, participating in services, and living a Jewish life. Why don’t these groups explore their own beliefs and values through interaction with each other?

As a student of Milken Community High School, a school in which Reform, Conservative and Orthodox teenagers study together, I have made it my personal goal to traverse the boundaries of my affiliation with the Conservative movement. If we take a step back from our differences in opinion — take a step back from the confines of our denominations, the limits of our beliefs and the restrictions of our own subjectiveness — we will truly be able to embrace pluralism. As Rabbi Schulweis writes, “Pluralism is not the surrender of debate or the bleaching of passionate conviction … pluralism calls forth an ethic of openness, a disposition to inclusiveness.”

Ashley Reich is a senior at Milken where she is co-editor of The Roar, the school’s newspaper.

‘One People’ Adopts Novel Plan on Book


Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei knew his congregants at Westwood’s Sinai Temple loved reading when about 20 of them braved the evening rush hour last November for an event at the University of Judaism (UJ) celebrating the 1939 talmudic novel, “As a Driven Leaf.”

“This was sandwiched in between two major adult learning weekends,” said Schuldenfrei, still amazed two months later.

The novel by the late Rabbi Milton Steinberg is currently being read at two dozen local synagogues in the new “One People/One Book” program, an attempt to broaden Jewish communal learning by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. It joins other Jewish book group gatherings at the Skirball Cultural Center and Orange County’s Bureau of Jewish Education.

The “One People/One Book” plan is for synagogue members to meet and discuss “As a Driven Leaf” in small groups at least four times between last November’s opening at the UJ and a closing event on May 24 at Milken Community High School.

“Every synagogue is sort of coordinating this in a different way,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, the board’s executive vice president. “In some synagogues, it’s just lay people studying.”

Steinberg’s well-received book is a fictionalized portrait of Elisha ben Abuyah, a dissident talmudic scholar in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. The “One People/One Book” study guide mixes the book’s ideas with Torah texts.

“This book lends itself to so many profound themes,” Diamond said. “Modernity vs. tradition, forgiveness and repentance.”

The board’s president, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Pico-Robertson’s Orthodox B’nai David Judea Congregation, worked last year to develop “One People/One Book” with Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh of the Reform congregation, Temple Israel of Hollywood. The new learning program came after the board held annual interdenominational “Meeting in Torah” study nights for six years, but interest in that waned.

“For the first couple of years, it was very novel,” Kanefsky said. “Over the course of years, it became one part of the landscape.”

The new “One People/One Book” program replaces the one night of annual “Meeting in Torah,” with its opening and closing gatherings and smaller synagogue discussion groups.

“This way, we have two of those everyone-coming-together events and the four study groups in between,” Kanefsky said.

At Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills, a Reform congregation, people are absorbing the book in clusters.

“We are reading the book in different settings around the congregation,” Senior Rabbi Laura Geller said. “Two different classes are including it in their reading, so it’s happening all around the congregation.”

Geller said she feels that her 50 to 60 congregants who are reading Steinberg’s book together are gaining “a deeper understanding of rabbinic Judaism. It’s putting flesh and blood on names. I also think that they are finding themselves in the book.”

Schuldenfrei said Sinai Temple will start discussing “As a Driven Leaf” in March, with the Conservative synagogue currently busy marking it its centennial anniversary.

Beyond “One People/One Book,” the Jewish community has other ongoing book groups.

The Skirball Cultural Center’s book group has an “Echoes of the Past” theme set around five novels and nonfiction books to be discussed at monthly meetings through June. The first meeting, on Feb. 14, will examine Australian writer Anna Funder’s “Stasiland: True Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall” (Granta Books, 2003).

Skirball book lovers in March will read Brian Morton’s “A Window Across the River” (Harcourt, 2003), followed in April by Edwidge Danticat’s “The Dew Breaker” (Vintage, 2005). In May, the book group will read James McBride’s “The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother” (Riverhead Trade, 2001) and in June Andrea Levy’s “Small Island” (Picador, 2005).

In Orange County, the Bureau of Jewish Education is in the midst of 30 weeks of Tuesday morning book club meetings around the women-driven theme, “Foundations: Making Our Wilderness Bloom.”

The bureau’s Web site lists six books anchoring the theme: Haviva Ner-David’s “Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Toward Traditional Rabbinic Ordination” (JFL Books, 2000); “A Spiritual Life: A Jewish Feminist Journey” (State University of New York Press, 1999), by Merle Feld, and Kim Chernin’s “In My Mother’s House: A Daughter’s Story” (Harper Perennial, 1994).

Also listed are the Rebecca Goldstein novel, “Mind-Body Problem” (Penguin, 1993); Anzia Yerzierska’s, “Bread Givers: A Struggle Between a Father of the Old World and a Daughter of the New World” (G. Braziller, 1975), and Gina Nihai’s “Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith” (Washington Square Press, 2000).

In addition, the Santa Monica Public Library is exploring Jewish books with its program, “Between Two Worlds: Stories of Estrangement and Homecoming,” meeting the third Tuesday of each month. It will start on Feb. 21 with Eva Hoffman’s “Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language” (Penguin, 1990), followed March 21 by a discussion of Saul Bellow’s “Mr. Sammler’s Planet” (Penguin reissued edition, 2004). Scheduled for April 18 is the Andrea Aciman memoir, “Out of Egypt” (Riverhead Trade, 1996).

 

A Step Into Secular


Chaim breezes into a diner on the Upper West Side of Manhattan clutching two huge shopping bags.

“I got some clothes, this plaid shirt, two for $5, this leather jacket just $20,” says Chaim, 19, in the clipped, Yiddish-accented English of the Chasidic world he comes from. “I didn’t know what to buy, my roommate went with me, he told me what’s nice,” he says, fingering a sweater gingerly.

Chaim is — or was — a Skver Chasid, born and raised in the ultra-Orthodox enclave of New Square, N.Y. His world until recently was Torah, family and a close-knit community.

But now he’s entering the secular world.

In September, he shaved his beard, left his parent’s home and took a bus to Brooklyn, where he now goes to college and shares an apartment.

“I found it on craigslist,” he says with pride, referring to the online classified site.

His new life comes with help from Footsteps, a 2-year-old Manhattan-based nonprofit group that helps dropouts from the Charedi world transition into secular society.

No one knows how many American Jews have left the ultra-Orthodox fold, although most are believed to have come from the New York area. There are no statistics, and, until Footsteps was created, no organization to help them learn how to make it on the outside.

While the organized Jewish world doesn’t usually think of Chasidic dropouts as “Jews in need,” outsiders can’t begin to imagine how frightening and complicated the everyday world can seem to a person who only knows the carefully controlled cocoon of Satmar, Skver or Bobov.

Particularly for a young person, whose departure can be hasty and unplanned, the road out of the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg or Crown Heights is fraught with confusion and loneliness — and sometimes drug abuse.

“People who have decided to make this transition don’t have a place to go,” says Hella Winston, the author of “Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels” (Beacon Press, 2005).

Chaim isn’t using his real name out of respect for his family still in the community. His journey from ultra-Orthodoxy to young, secular Jewish New Yorker didn’t happen overnight.

A year and a half ago, he says, “I heard there was such a place as a public library,” where he could find a computer and Internet access.

“I didn’t know how to use the mouse. I started tapping on the screen,” he says, smiling in embarrassment.

He began reading about the world outside New Square, and soon realized “it’s not all drug dealers and crazy, like they say in our community.”

Slowly, he felt more and more alienated from his Chasidic world.

Although he lived at home until this fall, last year he was already sneaking into Manhattan after work to walk the streets and look at people. He let his hair grow longer under his yarmulke, and bought black jeans, sneakers and a baseball cap to wear on his urban forays.

“I’d changed in my mind a long time ago,” he says. “Something pushed me away, I don’t know what.”

He planned his departure carefully. His first step was to get his GED, or high school equivalency, so he could apply for a loan to go to college. But Chasidic boys receive very little secular education, and he didn’t know how to begin studying for the test.

In late February he met the founding director of Footsteps, 24-year-old Malkie Schwartz, an ex-Lubavitcher.

She introduced him to the few dozen other ex-Chasidim in her organization, and he enrolled in the GED class.

This summer, Chaim passed his exam. He’s in a liberal arts program, but hopes to major in math or science. He hasn’t gone on a date yet — “Socially, I’m very awkward,” he admits — but says he’s looking forward to that, too.

The transition can be difficult.

Winston recently heard from a young man who spent six months sleeping in New York City parks and subways after he left his Chasidic community.

“He had nowhere to go,” Winston says. “America is a very individualistic society, and for people leaving a community it’s important to have one to move into. Otherwise they run the risk of becoming lost.”

Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology and Jewish studies at the City University of New York, agrees.

“Missing their families [is a major problem],” says Heilman, the author of “Defenders of the Faith: Inside Ultra-Orthodox Jewry” (University of California Press, 1999). “For most people in the Charedi world, the single biggest part of their lives, and the part that outsiders are often envious of, is connection to family and community.”

And when they leave, those connections are radically broken. Even if the one who left remains in contact with family members, those contacts often have to be surreptitious, Heilman says.

A support system like Footsteps didn’t exist when Schwartz left Crown Heights five years ago.

She was 19, and knew she would be expected to marry soon. That’s often the point at which young Chasidim who are unsure about their faith or their lifestyle make the move to leave, Winston writes, before their decision will impact their future families.

“I felt I couldn’t make this decision for myself and for the large number of kids that would follow,” Schwartz says. “I wanted an education.”

She moved out, enrolled in Hunter College with financial aid and got a bachelor’s degree.

But it was tough to go it alone. In December 2003, she organized a meeting for what she hoped would become a support group for former Chasidim. Twenty people showed up, and Footsteps was born.

Schwartz runs everything out of her apartment. GED classes, support groups, art and writing therapy groups and discussions on health, sex and relationships are held at ad-hoc spaces around the city. Once a month there are sessions on life skills.

Footsteps has received grants from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Alan B. Slivka Foundation, the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women and an anonymous donor, and in early December was accepted into Bikkurim, a program that provides office space and technical support for Jewish start-ups in New York City.

More than 200 former Chasidim have passed through Footsteps; about 40 are currently active, mostly young Jews in their 20s. One thing Schwartz would like to offer is a halfway house, a temporary safe space for those just leaving their communities.

Many of the former Chasidim in Footsteps are not observant anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have strong Jewish identities.

Zelda Deutsch, 28, left her Satmar community in early 2003, along with her husband and their son. Leaving was, she says “a very complicated and lonely process,” and she wishes Footsteps had been around.

The Deutsches no longer go to synagogue, but they speak Yiddish at home and celebrate all the holidays.

“My son is very aware he is Jewish, the environment in our home is filled with the way we were raised,” she says.

In November they began hosting Friday-night dinners for fellow Footsteppers.

“The people who come don’t go to synagogue, they’re not religious,” Deutsch says. “We serve kugel, stuffed chicken, the traditional foods, and we sing all the zemiros,” or Shabbat songs they grew up with.

“For some people the singing brings up bad memories,” she admits. “But the Jewish life filled such a large part of our daily lives, now that it’s gone, there’s a huge void. As a rule, everybody wants some connection to a spiritual life.”

 

Proposal Advocates Shoah Forgiveness


Sam Oliner wants to help an estimated 200,000 Jewish survivors worldwide free themselves of their psychological bondage. The time, he believes, has come.

In the 1970s, several years into teaching Holocaust-related studies at Humboldt State University, Oliner, now 75, experienced his own dark night of the soul. A German student tearfully told him that she was dropping his course because she could no longer stand her guilt at what her ancestors had done.

Unwittingly, she helped move Oliner toward his own epiphany.

Had he, he wondered, unfairly pushed onto this woman his rage from when the Nazis murdered his family in Poland? Had he forgotten how Balwina Piecuch, a Catholic peasant, had taken him in, saving his life?

Through these memories, Oliner turned a personal corner to come up with an admittedly controversial proposal. It is time, he says, for Jews to collectively forgive the new generation of Germans for their parents’ atrocities.

No, Oliner is not advocating forgetting Nazi atrocities, which would be contrary to the spirit of the Holocaust Memorial. Rather, he wants to find ways to forgive the younger generation of Germans, who have acknowledged their nation’s collective responsibility and made bona fide reparations. This, he contends, would allow survivors to finally let go of a bitterness eating at their own souls.

Oliner’s personal turnabout resulted in studies, which still continue, at his Altruistic Personality and Prosocial Behavior Institute at Humboldt. From there, Oliner and his wife, Pearl, have interviewed more than 500 rescuers who risked everything to save others, while seeking no personal reward.

What, he wondered, makes these altruists, spanning from the Holocaust to Sept. 11, different from the rest of us? Are they happier, more at peace with themselves? And what can we learn from them?

Oliner was surprised that neither high self-esteem nor degree of religious observance correlated with altruistic behavior. Rather, rescuers tend to be exceptionally empathic, including fascists driven by visceral outrage at witnessed inhumanity, their private empathy overpowering their public ideology.

Rescuers also tend to have been raised in integrated neighborhoods and tend to identify less with their own ethnic group and more with humanity at large. Their families also usually stress reason over physical punishment in discipline, allowing for development of a more nuanced sense of right and wrong and lesser fear of authority.

They share strong social skills, allowing them to work well in networks. One Polish rescuer estimated that saving a single individual required an underground network of at least 10 others to feed, transport and house their charge.

Rescuers also share a strong moral sense, which enables them to lie, as needed, to authorities to safeguard their charges. Yet, they also valued family and truth. Rescuers, then, could see the grays and maintain a balance between when to tell the truth and when to shade it. And yes, rescuers also like themselves better and tend to be more successful at business.

After publishing his initial findings in “The Altruistic Personality” (Free Press, 1988), Oliner co-sponsored dozens of inter-group reconciliations, developing his model calling for victimizers to publicly acknowledge their wrongs and make restitution. The final part of his model calls for victims to grant collective forgiveness.

He recently helped lead an intergroup reconciliation in Humboldt County, where whites in 1860 slaughtered more than 100 Native Americans on Indian Island, off Eureka, in a land grab. At the reconciliation meeting, white civic leaders expressed remorse and, with money they had raised, deeded part of the island back to Indian descendants who, in turn, granted this new generation forgiveness. It wasn’t perfect. But it represented considerable progress.

Not everyone buys into Oliner’s model. His former mentor, Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, calls it “ill timed and ill conceived. Only the brutalized people have the right to forgive. It’s wrong for others, even their children, to do so in their name.”

Instead of one people forgiving another, he said, each people should promote its own rescuers from within its own ranks, thereby modeling healthy behavior.

David Harris, executive director of the New York-based American Jewish Committee, which co-sponsored Oliner’s studies, endorses the model in principle. Still, he acknowledged, “It is impossible for some survivors to let go of their anger. And so, it is up to their children to look at a changed world with new eyes.”

Harris, whose father fled Berlin in 1933, reopened the committee’s Berlin offices eight years ago with his father’s blessing.

“I was convinced that Germany has made a good faith effort to face its past directly, and to indemnify those hurt,” he said.

Like Oliner, Harris sees the five-acre Berlin Holocaust Memorial, which opened last May just a stone’s throw from Hitler’s bunker, as another step in putting the past behind. Having turned their personal corners, each now sleeps better. This is the gift they would bestow upon their own people.

Joseph Hanania is a writer based in Los Angeles. He is currently writing, “The Baghdad Blues,” a memoir of growing up as a Jewish Iraqi American.

 

Save Darfur – I Mean It


“Do not stand idly by. Save Darfur.”

More than once a person has looked at this statement printed on the green wristband that I wear on my right arm. Usually, they read it unenthusiastically and then disregard it. But occasionally, someone asks what it means, and I am quick to respond with a brief description of what is going on in Sudan. I know many people couldn’t care less about my almost rehearsed plea to help to stop the genocide. Yet I will not stand idly by while so many others do.

There are so many issues and problems in the world. How does one know what to focus on? Why do we, in the United States, need to worry about this faraway region of Africa, which is just part of a larger continent of peoples who also need our money and support?

The answer is simple, really. We have witnessed genocide before. And by the time the people of the world took notice, there were 6 million Jews dead.

Knowing this should give us, as Jews, all the more reason to make a difference in Darfur. The Holocaust was tragic, unfair and a huge test of faith both to Jews and to other religious people. Today, there is absolutely no reason to watch another community suffer the same way we did.

The truth is that the way in which the government of Sudan and regional leaders are dealing with economic, political and ethnic-based conflict is disgusting. The Arab-Africans and non-Arab Africans are fighting over water and land, letting scarce resources and ethnic hatred push them into a Civil War that they cannot end on their own.

Why should we make Darfur our problem? Why shouldn’t we? Where does society come off in thinking that refugees, and the diseased, and the starved, and those harassed by the Janjaweed can save themselves? Since when has stopping mass murder been put on the to-do list of the world unless we as citizens make it so?

Some 400,000 people have died since February 2003, when all this began. And about 100 more die everyday. More than 2 million have been forced to leave their homes.

Why are 80 percent of Darfur children under the age of 5 suffering from severe malnutrition? Why are women and girls being raped? Why are children getting abducted and watching their villages burn to the ground? Why are water supplies being poisoned?

Why?

Because no one is stopping it.

What can we do?

First, pass on the information.

Write to your newspapers and your aunts in Idaho. Buy a bracelet; wear it proud. Wear a T-shirt. Give a T-shirt. Take every opportunity you have to tell a neighbor or a classmate. Volunteer with Jewish World Watch to educate more people about the conditions.

If every person in America knew about this genocide, something would be done about it.

Do not wait for a movie to come out years from now about how awful it all was. Don’t you dare. Because now you know. And you have no excuse.

Do not stand idly by. Save Darfur.

Laura Donney is a freshman at the Hamilton High School Academy of Music and a volunteer for Jewish World Watch (“> julief@jewishjournal.com.

Rice Weaves Rich Tale of a Young Jesus


“Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” by Anne Rice (Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95).

Biblical fiction is a perilous business. Having committed not one but two such indiscretions in my time — a 1993 novel titled, “In the Shade of the Terebinth,” and a year later another called, “The Gospel of Joseph” — I know that many authors try to avoid the pitfalls of the genre by approaching the biblical tale from an odd or indirect angle. This is most often done through subsidiary characters, thereby shedding light on the story that everyone knows by telling a tale that no one does.

Anne Rice’s new novel, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” the first, according to its author, in a projected three- or even four-novel “autobiography” of Jesus, will have none of that. She tackles her story head-on, framing it as a first-person narrative of the thoughts and fears of a 7-year-old Jesus en route from exile in Egypt to his family’s home in Nazareth.

From the first page, this is a Jesus bewildered by the unusual powers he discovers in himself. He can make it snow; he can raise the dead — all of which is material Rice has drawn from the so-called apocryphal gospels, third or fourth century collections of legends and sayings that are often focused on Jesus’ childhood. Most of all, he is haunted by a recurring sense that family members know something about his origins and identity that they’re not yet able to tell him.

“An angel had come,” Rice has her central character muse, “an angel to my mother; and no man had been my father; but what did such a thing mean?”

That, in a nutshell, is Rice’s story, the outlines of which are familiar to most readers, Christian and non-Christian alike. What is not so familiar is the rich tapestry of first century Jewish and family life into which she plunges her characters.

Often pictured in Christian iconography as solitary figures, lost in a unique and incommunicable holiness, Rice’s “holy family” of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, by contrast, is part of a large, boisterous, affectionate Jewish clan, living a full, observant Jewish life together, full of rituals and prayers and the rhythm of the holy day feasts.

“Finally, the Sabbath was upon us. It came so quick. But the women were ready, with all the food prepared ahead of time, and it was a feast of dried fish that had been plumped in wine and then roasted, together with dates, nuts I’d never tasted before, and fresh fruit from the farmland around us, as well as plenty of olives and other splendid things…. We said our prayers of thanksgiving for our safe homecoming and began our study, all together, singing and talking and happy that it was our first Sabbath in our home.”

This is the most persuasive aspect of the book: Jesus lives, sleeps, eats, argues, talks politics and prays with a gaggle of aunts, cousins and near relatives. I was instantly reminded of an Israeli friend in Jerusalem who, when I once asked him to lunch, responded laconically, “You can’t afford it. My family and I, we move in 30s.”

The degree of accuracy of Rice’s account of Jewish life in first century Palestine is less important than the considerable pains she takes to imagine Jesus in that vital cultural and religious context: praying in a synagogue, studying Torah, observing Shabbat, bathing in a mikvah, going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

It’s a vitally important effort, and, perhaps, one of the most important services such fictional depictions of the life of Jesus perform for the reader. Such efforts situate Jesus in an authentically Jewish world and help us imagine him in it.

As such, they exemplify one of post-Holocaust Christianity’s most powerful, and salutary tendencies, the ongoing efforts to see Christianity as rooted in ancient Judaism, in common sources, in particular the Hebrew Scriptures and in a vital and living relationship with the Jewish people.

Contemporary Christians are only too aware that the imagination may be religiously misused to catastrophic effect. As the medieval Passion plays or the Oberammergau festival amply demonstrate, it is not a matter of indifference whether Jesus is pictured as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryan, or as divorced from or hostile to his people and culture.

All this is quite a departure for Rice, who for decades has built her career on New Orleans gothic and an epic series of best-selling vampire chronicles. As one reviewer quipped, “What is this? ‘Interviews With the Messiah’?” a reference to Rice’s best-known book, “Interview With the Vampire.”

Rice, of course, is hardly alone in her literary attraction to the life of Jesus. It’s worth noting that the publication of Rice’s “Christ the Lord” coincides with the release of another piece of Christological fiction, “Jesus: The Novel” (Zondervan) by National Book Award-winner Walter Wangerin Jr. In fact, modern authors seem particularly drawn to the story of Jesus. Nikos Kazantzakis, Robert Graves, Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo, Anthony Burgess, the Yiddish writer Scholem Asch, Jose Saramago are a few of the major writers who’ve tried their hand at a Jesus novel or two.

Most of these novelists had axes to grind, however. Kazantzakis’ fiction, regardless of subject, is tormented by the dualism of flesh and spirit. Robert Graves’ “King Jesus” is less a study of the historical figure than a vehicle for the poet’s eccentric, though often entertaining, religious speculations.

Rice’s intentions are purer. As she puts it in her long author’s note at the end of the novel:

“The challenge was to write about the Jesus of the Gospels…. Anybody could write about a liberal Jesus, a married Jesus, a gay Jesus, a Jesus who was a rebel…. The true challenge was to take the Jesus of the Gospels … and try to get inside him and imagine what he felt.”

One of the pleasures of this book — indeed, of this whole genre — is placing the bare bones of biblical accounts into the imagined context of the times, of the sights, smells and rhythms of daily life in the ancient world.

Rice is very concerned to get the details right.

“At last we began dipping our bread,” Rice’s young Jesus relates. “It was so good — not just a sauce but a thick pottage of lentils and soft-cooked beans and peppers and spices. And there were plenty of dried figs to chew after the hot flavor of the pottage….”

She can be more than a little obvious in introducing every possible political actor in Second Temple period Palestine to the child Jesus, as he and his large extended family make their way to Galilee. (Roman soldiers, marauders, brigands, Zealots — Can the group not manage to avoid a single known peril?) Nevertheless, she places Jesus, accurately, in a first century milieu of political instability, rebellion, lawlessness and Roman brutality.

“I was so scared I couldn’t breathe. They [the Roman soldiers] had said ‘crucify,’ and I knew what crucifixion was. I’d seen crucifixion outside Alexandra, though only with quick looks, because we wanted never, never to stare at a crucified man. Nailed to a cross, stripped of all clothes and miserably naked as he died, a crucified man was a terrible shameful sight.”

Finally, it is Rice’s sincere and generally well-informed attempt to place Jesus not merely in plausible first century surroundings but in the rich and vibrant Jewish world we recognize from the ancient sources that make her exercise especially worthwhile.

In view of the long and tragic history of the evils to which a misinformed imagination can be put, Rice’s honest offering is no small thing.

Gabriel Meyer is an award-winning poet, journalist and novelist. He won Catholic Press Association awards for his coverage of the first Palestinian intifada in 1989 and went on to cover the Balkan war for the National Catholic Register in the early 1990s. Since 1998, he has written extensively on the civil war in Sudan and his book War and Faith in Sudan” (Eerdmans), has just been released.

Letters


Though I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, I had barely heard the name Rabbi Eliezer Silver (z”tl) before my arrival in Cincinnati, OH a little over seven years ago. As I quickly became more acquainted with the life of this great leader, I was awed by the extent of his service to our people- Founder and President of the Vaad Hatzalah Rescue Committee (he helped save thousands during and after the Shoah), Founder and President of the Agudat Israel of America, President of the Vaad HaRabbanim of the U.S. and Canada (his determination to improve the religious standards of his day laid the foundation for the fine Jewish infrastructure we now enjoy in this country). There is much more to tell. At a certain point I stopped and asked myself, “Why hadn’t I known of this giant Jew before arriving here?”

And now the Cincinnati Hebrew Day School (CHDS), the school that Rabbi Eliezer Silver (zt”l) was instrumental in founding (then known as Chofetz Chaim) is reaching its 60th anniversary. In recognition of this significant milestone our school is once again turning to Rabbi Silver-this time for inspiration. A younger generation wants to know-his life, Torah insights, stories, historical vignettes-anything that will bring the memory of this great man back to life. If you or your family knew Rabbi Eliezer Silver in whatever capacity could you please forward your contact information to us-we’d love to hear what you have to say.

E-mail: rabbiesilver@juno.com
Phone: 513-351-7777
Fax: 513-351-7794
or Write to CHDS 2222 Losantiville Ave
Cincinnati, OH, 45237
c/o Rabbi B. Travis.

Thanks in advance for your help.

More Articles of Faith

I read your latest piece, and as usual I am always thankful we have such a high-quality newspaper in Los Angeles (“Read All About It,” Oct. 28), in many respects better than the L.A. Times.

Your article highlighted the demographics of an increasing unaffiliated community. Newspapers such as yours serve as a portal for this population. Reading The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles might be a person’s only means to identify as a Jew.

Would you consider increasing the religious content? I suggest a couple of things. First have a commentary on the attendant haftorah in addition to the Torah portion.

Second, we could be the first to also begin weekly articles from Ketuvim. With the plethora of classes one could take from your advertising pages, obviously your readership is receptive to further religious education.

If this resonates with readers and advertisers, you could expand this section further to include Reform, Conservative and Orthodox commentaries on the aforementioned. It would be interesting for laymen to see the interpretative differences among our great branches.

Finally if this works, you could start a rabbinic history section, including background information on historic rabbis of our past. There are some pretty interesting stories.

Bill Kabaker
via e-mail

Skinhead Shock

Adam Wills’ article on his visit to the German Phoenix Club Oktoberfest celebration (“Shocktoberfest,” Oct. 28) and the sudden, ominous feelings he described after noting that Nazi-loving skinheads had “entered the building” reminded me of the Bob Fosse film “Cabaret.” One of the scarier scenes in the film features Liza [Minelli] and friends visiting a beer garden in a small village, where a younger crowd transforms into Nazi-style garb while singing “Tommorrow Belongs to Me.” I would imagine Wills and his group felt extremely uneasy among a crowd that, as he described, wasn’t the warmest toward them. Oy! Some things never change.

Milt Cohen
Chatsworth

Hatikvah’s End

How sad to learn Hatikvah will soon be closed (“Fairfax Shop Feels The Squeeze,” Oct. 21). I fear the other mom-and-pop businesses in the area will also close and the entire area converted to strip malls. Although I currently live in Fort Collins, Colo., I grew up in the Los Angeles area and have fond memories of frequent visits to Fairfax to shop, eat and folk dance. It was possible to absorb Yiddishkayt through sight, sound and taste. As the only Jewish child on my suburban street, visiting Fairfax enabled me to experience an authentic Jewish neighborhood, had a very powerful influence on my sense of connectedness and community, and gave me great exposure to Jewish culture.

There’s a wonderful group of Jews in Fort Collins, but no physical community outside our synagogue, and even less Jewish culture. Whenever I visit Los Angeles I make it a point to spend some time on Fairfax, to recharge that spark of Yiddishkayt that tends to get buried as I go about my daily life. It is particularly important for me to bring my children there, and hopefully fan that same spark inside them. I lament this particular way to reinforce their Jewish identity will soon be lost forever.

Judy Petersen
Fort Collins, Colo.

The Interfaith Age

In your article on the movie “Prime” you quote from the study “Will Your Grandchilren Be Jewish?” (“What, Meryl Worry?” Oct. 28). The author of the study states that the likelihood of an intermarried Jewish parent having any Jewish descendants is close to nil.

This is contrary to my experience in Grand Rapids, Mich., where I lived until two years ago. In this very typical American city, a controversy has raged for more than a decade in the local Conservative synagogue as to the extent of participation in bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies by the non-Jewish parents. In other words, there are a considerable number of intermarried Jewish parents who are raising their children Jewish. Apparently, the non-Jewish parents want to have a part in this important ceremony. One of the worries of our Conservative shul was that the local Reform temple was more liberal in this area, and we might lose membership to them. The board of directors solemnly passed a resolution allowing the non-Jewish parent at a bar mitzvah ceremony to recite the prayer for our country in English. (What if a non-Jewish parent wanted to recite it in Hebrew?)

It seems to me that to a large segment of the general population, Jews are no longer considered pariahs. They look on Judaism as another sect among the many in our country. For better or for worse, we are living in an age when a marriage between a Baptist and a Jew is not much different from a marriage between a Baptist and an Episcopalian in the minds of much of our population; and the children of such a marriage might take up either faith.

Marshall Giller
Winnetka

A Simple Mistake

I was appalled to see the glaring misspelling on your kids page in this week’s issue (Oct. 28). When I showed the page to my 7-year-old son and asked him what was wrong with it, he immediately said that the Hebrew word lo (no) should be spelled with an aleph rather than a vav after the lamed. If something that basic (and visible) is missed by the Journal’s editors, it calls into question the accuracy of everything else within the paper. Please make sure you do not teach our children incorrect information.

Nedra Weinreich
West Hills

A big thank you to those who spotted the mistake on last week’s kids page. We deeply regret the error. On our next kids page, we will print the names of all the kids who detected it, and award a prize to the first to notify us at kids@jewishjournal.com.

 

Bob Dylan: In His Own Lyrics


Torah References:

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”

Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”

God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”

God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but

The next time you see me comin’ you better run:

Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killing’ done?”

God says, “Out on Highway 61.”

— From “Highway 61 Revisited” on the album, “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965)

Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed

Dignity never been photographed

I went into the red, went into the black

In the valley of dry bone dreams

…Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take

To find dignity

— From “Dignity” on the album, “Under the Red Sky” (1991)

Reference to Jewish Liturgy:

May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you….

— From “Forever Young” on the album, “Planet Waves” (1973)

Christian Reference:

I was blinded by the devil

Born already ruined

Stone-cold dead

As I stepped out of the womb

By His grace I have been touched

By His word I have been healed

By His hand I’ve been delivered

By His spirit I’ve been sealed

— From “Saved” (with Tim Drummond) on the album, “Saved” (1980)

Allusions to Jesus:

You’re a man of the mountains, you can walk on the clouds

Manipulator of crowds, you’re a dream twister

You’re going to Sodom and Gomorrah

But what do you care?

Ain’t nobody there would want to marry your sister

Friend to the martyr, a friend to the woman of shame

You look into the fiery furnace, see the rich man without any name

— From “Jokerman” on the album, “Infidels” (1983)

Pro-Israel, Pro-Jewish Reference:

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land

He’s wandered the earth an exiled man

Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn

He’s always on trial for just being born

He’s the neighborhood bully

— From “Neighborhood Bully” on the album, “Infidels” (1983)

On Social Justice:

Come you masters of war

You that build all the guns

You that build the death planes

You that build the big bombs

You that hide behind walls

You that hide behind desks

I just want you to know

I can see through your masks

— From “Masters of War” on the album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (1963)

On Faith in God:

Father of grain, Father of wheat

Father of cold and Father of heat

Father of air and Father of trees

Who dwells in our hearts and our memories

Father of minutes, Father of days

Father of whom we most solemnly praise

— From “Father of Night” on the album, “New Morning” (1970)

Source: “Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001” (Simon & Schuster, 2004)

 

Rhodesli Keep the Faith in L.A.


As a student at Cal State Northridge more than 30 years ago, Aron Hasson wrote a paper about the Sephardic synagogues of his ancestral homeland, the Greek island of Rhodes. His professor was so taken with Hasson’s research that it ended up in a history journal.

Hasson paid his first visit to Rhodes in 1975, after a stint in an Israeli kibbutz. In 1997, he returned with his teenage children. Standing in the 400-year-old Kahal Shalom Synagogue, where three of his grandparents had once worshipped, he realized that the tourists who gaped at the Judeo-Spanish wall plaques had no knowledge of Rhodes’ rich and complex Jewish history.

Hasson’s first response was to create a pamphlet, “The Jewish Quarter of Rhodes,” for distribution in Kahal Shalom. Next he turned the synagogue’s women’s prayer rooms into the Rhodes Jewish Museum, in which old photographs and artifacts document the thriving Jewish community of pre-World War II Rhodes, once some 4,000 strong. Now, through his nonprofit Rhodes Jewish Historical Foundation, the Westwood attorney works toward the restoration of other old synagogues and holy sites that can be called “Rhodesli” (or “pertaining to Rhodes”). Hasson has also sponsored the visit of an 800-year-old Sefer Torah — which had long ago been carried from Spain to Rhodes before ending up in Buenos Aires — to Sephardic synagogues across the United States. Although not a religious man, he feels great pride when other Rhodeslis acknowledge his efforts with a heartfelt “Kol Ha Kavod.”

Hasson’s obsession with Rhodes mirrors that of an earlier generation of Angelenos. Cousins Art Benveniste and Shirlee Peha, now both in their 70s, remember growing up in South Los Angeles when the area was a magnet for Jews from Rhodes. Their immigrant parents and relatives, all of whom left the island before World War II to improve their economic prospects, spoke Ladino (also known as Judeo-Spanish) in the home. They helped found the Sephardic Hebrew Center, a Ladera Heights congregation that merged in 1993 with Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, as a way of preserving Rhodesli religious practices. They also instituted the custom of group visits to Catalina Island, whose location resembles that of Rhodes in relationship to Turkey.

“It was natural to them to take a boat across the water to an island nearby,” Hasson said of the immigrants,

By the time Benveniste and Peha reached adulthood, members of the close-knit community were starting to scatter. The annual Catalina trips, which currently attract about 40 of the 900 Rhodeslis now living in the L.A. area, could not fully satisfy their desire to meet and mingle. Since then, they’ve inaugurated regular luncheon gatherings at a local restaurant, and their yearly picnics bring together 200 people representing several generations: on the menu are all-American hot dogs and hamburgers, along with more exotic treats. Benveniste, who also participates in a Ladino-speaking havurah, has made numerous sentimental journeys to Rhodes. His last visit came in 2002, when a group of 20 Rhodeslis traveled from Los Angeles for the dedication of a Holocaust memorial in Rhodes’ Square of the Martyred Jews.

If Benveniste and Peha represent an older generation of Rhodeslis, Rachelle Hasson stands for the future.

At 21, Aron Hasson’s daughter feels increasingly connected to her roots. Having inherited from her Rhodesli grandparents a love for baking, she takes pride in the flaky bourekas, boyos and masas de vinou (Passover wine cookies) that have her family begging for more. In school she elected to study Spanish, because “in the back of my mind I always wanted to learn the language of my ancestors.”

Now, at UCLA majoring in world arts and cultures, she has just returned from a junior year in Spain. She chose the University of Granada partly because it offered courses touching on the Sephardic tradition. Since she’s come home, she delights in chatting with her grandparents in Ladino and said one day she will be the keeper of their memories of Rhodes: “I feel it’s my duty to continue the tradition and keep it alive.”