Abbas denies Jerusalem’s Jewish heritage


Jerusalem’s identity is Arab, and the city’s and Christian holy sites must be protected from Israeli threats, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said.

Abbas also said that Israeli authorities want to build a Jewish Temple on the site of the al-Aksa mosque and Dome of the Rock, in a statement issued Tuesday on the anniversary of an attempted arson of the Al-Aksa Mosque in 1969 by an Australian Christian, who was later found to be clinically insane.

“Their ultimate goal is to rob Muslims and Christians of their holy shrines, destroy the Al Aksa mosque and build the alleged Jewish temple,” he said.

He also said that Israeli excavation work in Jerusalem, and in the Western Wall tunnels beneath the mosque, “will not undermine the fact that the city will forever be Arabic, Islamic and Christian.”

Abbas concluded that “there will be no peace or stability before our beloved city and eternal capital is liberated from occupation and settlement.”

The Orthodox Union slammed Abbas’ denial of Jewish heritage in Jerusalem. Nathan Diament, the OU’s executive director for Public Policy, said in a statement:
“President Abbas’ statement is only the latest in which he and other Palestinian leaders have outrageously denied the millennia-old connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.  The existence of our two holy Temples is not ‘alleged’—it is fact. Just as it is fact that Jerusalem has served as the capital of Israel and the Jewish people since the times of King David; just as it is fact that only under modern Israeli sovereignty have Jerusalem’s holy sites been protected and open to access by people of all faiths; and just as it is fact that Jerusalem must and will remain a united city, and the capital of Israel and the Jewish people eternally.”

Opinion: Time to assert Jerusalem’s Jewish heritage


Among his many statements related to Israel in the last couple of weeks, President Obama got at least one thing right when he said at a London news conference that Jerusalem goes deep into how the Jewish people think about their identity.

As we mark 44 years of a reunited Jerusalem this week, we should appreciate the centrality of Jerusalem to Jewish identity.

This is why most Israelis and American Jews consistently reject the idea that Israel surrender swaths of the holy city as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Jerusalem has been a touchstone of our identity throughout our history, and our contemporary experience gives Jerusalem a central place in our faith today.

From the religious perspective, when Jews pray, we face toward Jerusalem—and the Temple Mount in particular—no matter where we are in the world. We pray each day for the welfare of Jerusalem, and we conclude our most sacred services, the Passover seder and Neilah on Yom Kippur, with the pledge and prayer, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

Historically, we regularly read biblical accounts of our forefathers and mothers that take place in and around Jerusalem. King David made the city his capital 3,000 years ago, and it has been the national capital of the Jewish people—and no other nation—ever since.

Only brute force has kept us out. Such was the case, we must still recall, from 1948 to 1967, when Jews were barred entry to the Old City and denied worship at the Western Wall during the time that the West Bank was controlled by Jordan.

Since Jerusalem’s reunification in 1967, the city has been open to all. As noted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his recent address to Congress, “Only a democratic Israel has protected freedom of worship for all faiths.”

Moreover, reunification has enabled Jerusalem to flourish economically and culturally. While it is a poorer city than Tel Aviv, Jerusalem has a vibrant tourist trade, entrepreneurial businesses and first-rate theater and museums.

Some, in Israel and elsewhere, assert that Jerusalem can be easily divided with minimal impact upon the life of the city, let alone the sanctity and safety of its holy places. Indeed, there are neighborhoods, especially those to the east of the West Bank security barrier, where Jews seldom venture.

But modern Jerusalem is far more an interwoven checkerboard of Jewish and Palestinian areas than starkly segregated enclaves. The Arab area of Beit Safafa lies between the Jewish neighborhoods of Talpiot and Gilo, while the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah lies between the Old City and the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill. Moreover, an area like the City of David or Silwan may have more Palestinian than Jewish residents, but it is deeply connected to Jewish history.

It is no more feasible to separate the Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem from one another than to ethnically divide the neighborhoods of Manhattan.

Proponents of a “two-state solution” are wont to say that “everyone knows” what the details of a deal are. Those details often include the presumption that Jerusalem will again be divided and will serve as the capital of two states: Israel and Palestine.

It is high time to repudiate this presumption. The international community would never expect the Muslims to cede sovereignty over Mecca, the cradle of their faith and history, any more than Americans would be asked to return Philadelphia to the queen of England. The Jewish people should be afforded no less respect. Jerusalem must remain united under Jewish sovereignty.

Days after the 1967 Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem, one of the great leaders of religious Zionism, Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neriah, wrote that the Jews were not worthy to hold onto Jerusalem in 1948 because they were divided into many factions.

“In 1967,” he wrote, “we entered the city through one gate, the Lions’ Gate, with one army, the IDF, under one flag.”

Of course, we Jews find ourselves in many factions today. We must fight on many fronts to assert the Jewish heritage of Jerusalem. On this Jerusalem Day, or Yom Yerushalayim, we must commit ourselves to confronting those who would redivide our capital from without and to working to unify the Jewish people from within.

We must do it for the sake of Jerusalem.

(Nathan Diament is the director of public policy at the Orthodox Union.)

Heritage site renovations approved


An Israeli government committee approved the $25 million renovation of 16 national heritage projects and sites.

The Ministerial Committee on the National Heritage, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Tuesday approved the renovation of the sites—among the 150 sites and initiatives included in the “Plan for Renovating and Strengthening National Heritage Sites and Assets” approved in February—at a cost of $25 million. The plan caused some controversy when two West Bank biblical sites, Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs, were added to the list.

Included on the list of the approved renovations is Independence Hall in Tel Aviv.

The committee meeting Tuesday was held at the Ben Tzvi Institute in Jerusalem, home to the wooden cabin used by the second president of the State of Israel, Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, another site on the list.

“The heritage project is one that we owe ourselves, our children and future generations,” Netanyahu said.

Czech Republic surprises with Jewish treasures


A tight budget, an embarrassing exchange rate and exponentially expensive flights — it's a tough time to be an American, and an even tougher time to be an American traveler. But it's still possible to enjoy a first-rate European experience while keeping travel costs reasonable.

The Czech Republic's strong cultural balance between bustling urban life and calm rural communities features a wide variety of tourism options, from breweries to castles to Jewish ghettos. Major cities like Prague and Pilsen are ripe with history at nearly every corner, and Jewish tours offer everything from the construction of the second-largest synagogue in Europe to the creation of the mythical Golem.

Birthplace of Theodore Herzl, Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud, this increasingly progressive country is trying to shed the specter of the Nazi and Soviet occupations and embrace its Jewish past and present to bolster tourism, an important part of its national economy. (Full disclosure: The Journal took part in a Jewish Heritage trip sponsored by Czech Tourism.)

Divided into three main regions — Bohemia in the north, Moravia in the south and Silesia in the East — the Czech Republic provides travelers with an opportunity to savor both metropolitan grandeur and bucolic settings. While prices aren't cheap, U.S. tourists will appreciate favorable current exchange rates with the Czech crown that keep hotel and food costs comparable to a comfortable domestic getaway.

The Bohemian city of Prague features an abundance of landmarks — the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle — a rich arts tradition and deep Jewish roots.

The Jewish Museum in Prague is not a physical entity, but rather a collection of gothic and Moorish revival synagogues in Josefov, the city's Jewish quarter, and its Old Jewish Cemetery, with tilted, crumbling tombstones — some more than 600 years old. Synagogues on the tour include the Maisel Synagogue, Spanish Synagogue, Klausen Synagogue and Ceremonial Hall and Pinkas Synagogue. Inside, the sanctuaries display hundreds of artifacts, including refurbished Torah covers, silver yads (Torah pointers) and other ritual artifacts.

Prague's Jewish Museum, which attracts 500,000 to 600,000 visitors each year, honors the past while also helping to support the country's Jewish future. Much of the museum's revenue aids funding for the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Czech Republic, which compensates Holocaust survivors and develops programming for young people, executive director Tomas Kraus said.

The area's two active synagogues, the 13th century Old-New Synagogue (Alt-Neu Shul) and the High Synagogue, are not on the museum tour itinerary, but public tours are available through the Jewish Museum for an additional fee.

In the Old-New Synagogue, the great Rabbi Judah Loew is rumored to have created the Golem, the mystical monster intended to protect the Jews of Prague from anti-Semitic attacks in the 16th century. When the Golem became increasingly violent, Loew struck a deal with the oppressors and destroyed his creation by simply rubbing out the first letter of the word “emet” (truth) from its forehead, leaving the word “met,” meaning death. According to the legend, the whereabouts of a Golem remains unknown, but many believe it's still in the synagogue's attic.

Multiple tourist shops have capitalized on the Golem myth and feature a hefty inventory of miniature dolls sure to satisfy anyone's souvenir needs.

Outside the Jewish quarter, the beauty of Prague is best experienced through a walk from Prague Castle to the scenic Charles Bridge and into Old Town Square, a site featuring street entertainment and dining, particularly the traditional staple of Czech cuisine — beef goulash.

Bohemia is also home to Europe's second-largest synagogue, The Great Synagogue of Pilsen, which features a variety of architectural styles ranging from Moorish to art nouveau. The synagogue was built in 1892, a time when the city of Pilsen's Jewish population was about 5,000.

Jiri Lowy, vice president of the Pilsen Jewish Community, says that the synagogue is now mainly used as concert hall for a community of about 100 Jews and a museum for tourists.

Pilsen is also known for its world-famous brewery, Pilsner Urqell, which dates back to the mid-19th century. Beer has been a part of the city's history since at least the 13th century, and Czechs revel in their country's branding as “the beer-drinking capital of the world.” National consumption is so pronounced that bottles of beer are often cheaper than bottled water.

To complement tours of Prague and Pilsen, a trip to the outer towns of Moravia provides insight into the origins of the nation's smaller Jewish communities.

The Jewish Quarter of Trebic, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is made up of 120 homes along the bank of the Jihlava River. While no longer home to an organized Jewish community, Trebic maintains its Jewish cemetery, a renovated synagogue-turned-museum and a recently discovered mikvah.

Non-Jewish villagers of Boskovice and Mikulov have taken it upon themselves to preserve the memory of their once-thriving Jewish cultures. These righteous guides provide tours of old synagogues, buildings and cemeteries. Boskovice, set in the Drahanska Highlands, features one of the largest cemeteries in the Czech Republic.

While the Renaissance town of Telc has a Jewish cemetery but little significant Jewish history, its main square — which is more of a triangle, some locals joke — has been preserved as a UNESCO site. Pastel-colored shops, packed together like crayons tips sticking out of a box, line the square's cobblestone roads.

Important for any Czech travel itinerary is Terezin, the former ghetto-like concentration camp and Holocaust memorial. The bricked fortress, dating back to the late 18th century, was built as a military prison. Within the compound, yellow walls, topped with barbed wire, skirt the smaller, more severe prison section of the ghetto.

A day trip to Terezin offers an important contrast to an otherwise colorful land whose people recognize the importance of commemorating Jews who lost their lives to Nazi oppression. Even as the country continues to find its footing after the fall of the former Soviet Union, the mood of the Czech Republic reflects an overall optimism as the reality of its own independence becomes more engrained.

Although cultural and religious restrictions are a thing of the past, the Czech Republic is still healing from the hard lessons experienced by previous generations. Britney Spears billboards, nightclub strobe lights and soccer regalia indicate that young Czechs believe in a future filled with opportunity. The graffiti on the walls speaks to a love of pop culture rather than a culture of hate.

The birthplace of the Golem and pilsner beer is a destination that brings together Jewish and non-Jewish culture in ways that exceed Western expectations of a gray, downtrodden nation. Rich in artistic, architectural and historical heritage, the country pays dividends with its vibrant Bohemian skylines and fertile Moravian countryside.

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Fry the latkes, try the gingerbread


In a second-grade classroom I visited recently, the children were comparing how many presents they were going to receive for Christmas. When they finished, Sarah announced, “I don’t celebrate Christmas, I celebrate Chanukah. We get eight presents every night for eight nights.”

Even for those who were not yet up on their multiplication tables, her total clearly trumped the previous top scorer. It was a valiant attempt to compete with Christmas, and I think it worked on the other children. But she couldn’t fool me. I’ve been there myself, plus I’m a therapist.

Therapists aim to place themselves in their client’s shoes. What is life like for them? What is their subjective experience?

So let’s be a young Jewish child living in North America in the weeks leading up to Dec. 25.

Your best friend, who is not Jewish, lives down the street.

Her parents, who normally won’t allow her to bring anything bigger than a twig or a rock into the house, drag a dark, fragrant, 7-foot fir tree through the front door.

For hours they work to decorate the tree with twinkling and glittering objects.

These normally tidy people fling handfuls of shiny tinsel at the needles, careless of how many fall to the floor, and at the end of this happy ritual one of the grownups balances on a stepladder to place a star atop the tree.

This unusual activity is in preparation for a visit from a man traveling from the North Pole in a sleigh drawn by reindeer.

Everything about him is out of the realm of ordinary experience. He wears a red suit decorated with white fur, lands on their roof and enters their house through their chimney. In exchange for a simple offering of cookies and a glass of milk, he delivers to them exactly the presents their hearts desire (as long as his magical list shows that they have been “nice”).

He lovingly places tiny red-and-white-striped candy canes and small gifts in a sock with their name on it pinned to the fireplace, and places the larger items under the tree.

Where do all these gifts come from? They were made and wrapped by happy, highly industrious elves.

What is your experience beyond your friend’s house? A soundtrack of lovely, jaunty songs in anticipation of the man’s visit plays all month everywhere you go. When you go to the store with your mom to buy a present for your teacher, the saleswoman leans over and asks “The Question.” Even if your family buys all their holiday presents online or at the Chanukah boutique at the temple, if you don’t live in Tel Aviv or Monsey, someone will ask, “What do you want Santa to bring you? What did you ask Santa for?”

You aren’t sure what to say to be polite and still protect your pride. Santa doesn’t come to your house not because of the naughty-nice business, but because you don’t celebrate Christmas. You, as a 3-year-old non-Jewish acquaintance of mine says, celebrate “Harmonica.”

For a whole month your life is like the saying, “Don’t think about an elephant.” You can’t help it because the elephants are everywhere.

Now let’s go to your house. The home of no graven images, maybe a few blue-and-white decorations. On the first few nights of Chanukah your family puts pale wax candles in a cold, metal, fork-like object as a tribute to a military victory and something called the miracle of the oil — a story considerably less romantic than the one about three wandering kings following a star to a baby in a manger.

As for Chanukah rituals, there is always some confusion about the proper prayers, the right combination of words and melody, because you don’t hear them all day, every day playing at the mall. Some nights your family might even forget to light the candles.

You host or attend a party or two where you eat latkes, a treat so delicious that you say, like you do about charoset at Passover and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, “Why don’t we have this every week?” You play a gambling game by spinning a little chunk of wood, but no one is quite sure of the rules. Instead of money you use chocolate coins wrapped in foil, each alike, except the ones that are squashed, all a bit waxy when you take a bite, none shaped like trees or stars or snowmen. If you go to a Jewish day school you get to have jelly doughnuts.

All of this is sweet and delightful and you do get a lot of presents, but they are spread out over eight nights, so the getting doesn’t have the majesty of one huge blowout of unwrapping, swooning and delirium. There are only two songs to sing for your holiday, one very straightforward, detailing action by action exactly what you’re doing anyway — “Lalalalalalalala, come light the menorah, let’s have a party, we’ll all dance the hora” — and one about an old rock.

It is tempting to spin this situation for your child: Honey, you are so lucky, you get presents for eight nights!…. We celebrate Chanukah and so many other wonderful holidays all the year through!…. We can buy some fruit and vegetable Christmas ornaments on sale after Thanksgiving and use them to decorate our sukkah next fall!

But these concepts ask your child to stretch her mind to encompass the whole cinematic epic of how wonderful Jewish traditions are and, at the moment, your child isn’t looking at a movie. She is looking at a bright, colorful snapshot, and the snapshot is filled with such potent allure that your words float off into the category of grown-up speak, a category that contains nonsense such as, “You don’t really want that ice-cream cone so close to dinner, you just think you do.”

It’s hard to empathize with people who seem to have everything. Yes, our children have amazingly good lives; yes, they have a stunningly profound religious heritage; yes, their parents are hopelessly devoted. But they don’t have Christmas, and we can do them a kindness by taking a moment in the next few weeks to look at the temporarily dazzling world of Christmas from their perspective.

Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson expected to set new charity donation record


Sheldon Adelson, frequently dubbed “the world’s richest Jew,” is about to claim the title of biggest Jewish philanthropist.The Las Vegas-based global casino and resort owner is slated to announce creation of a foundation that will allocate $200 million a year, according to a rising tide of media leaks and speculation.

Adelson himself, in a phone call to The Journal, would not confirm these figures, or that the money would be split between projects strengthening Jewish heritage and medicine. He labeled such media reports as exaggerated or erroneous.

“Everything I do promotes Jewish heritage, and I’ve given more than $200 million to medical research,” he said. “We’re now focusing on 10 different diseases.”

It is believed that half of the $200 million will go for projects to preserve the Jewish heritage and half for medical aid to the needy.

On the current Forbes 400 list of the 400 richest Americans, Adelson ranks third with $20.5 billion, up from a mere $1.4 billion in 2004. That year, Adelson took the Sands public, with his family as the majority stockholder. The shares have more than doubled since the initial public offering.

However, the 74-year-old entrepreneur has made no secret of his ambition to overtake Bill Gates, who leads the field with $53 billion, and Warren Buffett, second at $46 billion.

The expected new mega-donation tops Adelson’s other contributions this year, including $25 million to the Yad Vashem Martyrs Memorial in Jerusalem, between $2 million and $3 million to hospitals and residents of northern Israel hard hit by Hezbollah rocket attacks.

This week, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Adelson had pledged $5 million to Birthright Israel to send 2,000 additional young American adults on 10-day trips to Israel.

A close friend of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Adelson came under scrutiny some years ago for alleged improper donations to the Likud election fund.

In this country, Adelson has been a generous supporter of Republican candidates and, in Las Vegas, he has underwritten a new Chabad center. He has also pledged $25 million for a state-of-the-art Jewish community high school in the gambling destination.

Much of Adelson’s interest in Israel has been spurred by his second wife, Miriam, an Israeli internist and authority on methadone treatments for drug addicts. She heads rehabilitation clinics in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv.

Adelson is the father of five children and his life and career is in the best immigrant’s-son-makes-good tradition. His father left Lithuania for Boston, where he made a modest living as a cab driver.

Young Sheldon started his business career at 12, when he borrowed $200 from his uncle to buy the “rights” to peddle newspapers at a favorable Boston street corner.

He attended City College of New York, but dropped out to work as a mortgage broker, investment adviser and financial consultant.

Adelson made his first big money by creating COMDEX, which became the world’s leading computer trade show, one of the first of 50 companies he has founded or developed during his lifetime.

In 1989, he joined the big league by buying the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas for $128 million, gutting it and then erecting the 4,000-suite Venetian Resort Hotel Casino.

Legend has it that Miriam Adelson inspired the Venetian concept while the couple was on their honeymoon. Whoever deserves the credit, the super-luxurious Venetian resort complex helped to revolutionize the Las Vegas hotel industry and give a facelift to Sin City.

Not resting on his laurels, Adelson broke into the Asian market two years ago by opening the Sands Hotel in Macao, the former Portuguese enclave on China’s southeast coast.

Next year, he will open the Venetian Macao as part of a complex of 20,000 hotel rooms and 3 million square feet of retail space. In addition, Adelson has won the right to open the first casino in Singapore.

“We’re in an obsolescence-proof business,” Adelson told Bloomberg News. “We’re in the second-oldest business in history.”Recently, Adelson has been slowed by a nerve condition and needs to use a walker, but he is not about to step down as chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.

“Why do I need succession planning?” he told Bloomberg. “I am very alert. I’m very vibrant. I have no intention to retire. But if I were to retire, I would keep my family interest in the company the same and say ‘don’t sell.'”

Appraising Adelson’s influence, Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, told Israeli reporters, “I predict that Adelson will change the nature of Jewish philanthropy by setting new standards in dollar terms for giving to Jewish causes and hopefully others will follow his lead.”

Skateboard Creator Builds Business on Performance


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The flow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irreverent Stories You Haven’t Heard


“All your stories are the same,” a British girl in an MFA creative writing program tells the Jewish students in one of the short stories in Elisa Albert’s new collection, “How This Night Is Different” (Free Press, $18). “I just feel like I read the same stories over and over again from you guys. They’re great and all, but….”

The unspoken “but” is: Why are there so many young, hip Jews writing fiction that irreverently pokes fun at their heritage?

Albert, for example calls herself a “lobotomized Philip Roth writing chick lit” in the above MFA story, which, incidentally, is a fictional letter penned to Roth offering him the chance to impregnate her. But Albert, like other sardonic Jewish short story writers, is probably closer to the next millennium’s version of Roth and Woody Allen. Instead of portraying an overwrought Jewish mother and other now-familiar Jewish stereotypes, Albert uses Judaism as a setting for mostly secular characters to air their grievances with each other, or themselves.

Judaism here is a Yom Kippur meal, where one sibling has had an abortion and another has an eating disorder. It’s a bris, where the mother doesn’t want to give up her baby to the mohel (whom the uncle calls “Shaky McSnips”). It’s a themed bat mitzvah, where the aunt gets stoned in the bathroom with her niece’s friends while pondering the state of her own shaky marriage.

In short, these are stories about the next generation of Jews — Jews well-versed enough in their culture to throw around references to Camp Ramah and the search for chametz and Ba’al Teshuvas, but they are so comfortable with it that they have no problem tearing it apart.

“What the f– is your neshama?” Miri asks her best friend Rachel, watching her prepare to cut her hair off before her religious wedding.

The neshama — the one Rachel is saving in the story “So Long” — is the Jewish soul. And the soul of these 10 stories is that Jewish characters find, perhaps, a sense of identity in their Jewishness, but not necessarily any particular spiritual meaning.

“How This Night Is Different,” and other in-your-face expressions of Jewish culture like the popular Heeb magazine, is this generation’s attempt to connect to their heritage, and connect even while they mock.

If sometimes they go too far, if at times they offend, they still expect to be part of the cultural dialogue. As Debra, the convert looking for a shul in Lisbon in the story “When You Say You’re a Jew,” muses: “A Jew could do that, find a home anywhere in the world with other Jews. Wasn’t that the point of the entire freakin’ deal?”

Elisa Albert will be giving reading Sunday, July 23 at 2 p.m. at Dutton’s, 11975 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; Tuesday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; and Wednesday, July 26, at 7 p.m. at Borders Books and Music, 6510 Canoga Ave., Canoga Park. On Friday, June 28, at 7 p.m., she will be in Santa Monica as part of the ATID/Sinai Temple’s Shabbat at Home program for young professionals. To R.S.V.P., call (310) 481-3244.

Farmar Trades Bruin Blue for Laker Purple


What could be better? Los Angeles’s own Jewish Jordan — Jordan Farmar — is here to stay.

The Los Angeles Lakers has drafted Farmar, who made headlines as a sophomore point guard at UCLA, in the first round and as the No. 26 overall pick. Thus, though the Bruin bear must wave his paw goodbye to Farmar, L.A. fans can rejoice in the up-and-comer’s continued presence here.

The 19-year-old Farmar is a native Angeleno; he grew up in Van Nuys and graduated from Taft High School, where, as a senior, he averaged 27 points per game and became a Valley superstar by leading the school to its first Los Angeles City title. As a freshman at UCLA, he averaged 13.2 points and 5.3 assists and earned the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honor. In his sophomore year Farmar averaged 13.5 points and 5.1 assists, led the Bruins to their NCAA championship game against the Florida Gators and was named a first-team All Pac-10 performer.

A self-described non-religious Jew, Farmar told The Journal’s Carin Davis in a prior interview that he is proud of his Jewish heritage. His mother and stepfather, Melinda and Yehuda Kolani, raised him in a Jewish home, and his upbringing was complemented by both a bar mitzvah at Temple Judea in Tarzana and trips to Israel. Farmar’s biological father, Damon Farmar, a former minor league baseball player, is not Jewish.

Farmar stands a natural leader at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds and has been extensively covered in the Daily Bruin since before his entrance into “>Farmar told The Journal in March. “To always have some people behind you is a great thing. It helps you out defensively, with intensity, and gives you that extra edge.”

A Young Violinist With a Lot of Pluck


Her name is Camilla Tsiperovich. But, growing up in Azerbaijan, there were times she wasn’t allowed to use it. As a 9-year-old violinist performing for world-renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, she was told to call herself Camilla Gadjieva. Her headmaster at the Azerbaijan Conservatory considered this a more suitable name, one that reflected the Muslim heritage of her country. While representing Azerbaijan in international music competitions and spending her first year of high school at the famed Moscow Conservatory, she always understood that “there was something wrong because you were Jewish.”

Tsiperovich no longer needs to hide who she is. A year ago, her talent was noticed by Anita Hirsh, whose work with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has given her a deep commitment to the Jews of the former Soviet Union. Hirsh, the widow of The Jewish Journal’s late publisher, Stanley Hirsh, sponsored Tsiperovich’s entrance into the Idyllwild Arts Academy. Now, at age 17, Tsiperovich is flourishing as a full-time student who divides her days between academic subjects and an intense focus on her chosen instrument.

Idyllwild Arts Academy, a boarding school nestled in the mountains above Palm Springs, is home to 270 high school students who are preparing for careers as artists, dancers, actors, filmmakers and musicians. The atmosphere is international, with about one-third of the student body hailing from Europe, Asia and Latin America. As an entering student with shaky English skills, Tsiperovich is enrolled in a basic course in English as a Second Language. She introduced herself to her classmates by saying, “I’m from Azerbaijan. None of you know where that is.”

The course has required her to write and speak often about the homeland she’s left behind. Todd Bucklin, the school’s ESL teacher, commends her for being frank and responsive: “It’s great having her strong presence in the class.”

He also admires her social progress. In her dormitory she’s been spotted watching Korean-language movies with her new Asian pals, reading the subtitles to understand what’s going on.

At Idyllwild, all academic classes are held in the morning, to leave afternoons free for lessons, rehearsals and practice sessions. Life is so busy that Tsiperovich finds time to practice her violin only five or six hours a day. Back home, her passion for the instrument led her to practice 12 hours daily. Such devotion had its downside: she was prone to developing injuries in her hands, wrists and feet.

Her family, though always supportive, is not especially musical. In fact, a career in music was completely Tsiperovich’s idea. She was only 3 when she saw a televised concert of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G and became obsessed with learning the violin. She began lessons before she turned 4, and it wasn’t long before she was winning competitions and presenting public recitals. She is also a gifted visual artist, who received her current instrument from an American oil company after it used one of her paintings in an advertising campaign.

Tsiperovich admits that in Azerbaijan it’s almost impossible to follow the rules of religious Judaism (her family’s tiny synagogue is now defunct). Nonetheless, she learned from an early age to respect Jewish tradition. She was active in her local chapter of the World Jewish Agency, also known as Sochnut, an organization that encourages Diaspora Jews to feel connected with the State of Israel. It was Sochnut that paved the way for her to participate in an Israeli music festival, where her violin performance won first prize. Because her stay in Israel coincided with her 13th birthday, she was able to celebrate an impromptu bat mitzvah in a local synagogue. Though her parents were far away, she was by no means lonely.

In Israel, Tsiperovich says in her careful, accented English, “I felt like I am at home. I felt so warm. People were so close to me.”

Now she’s learning to feel at home in the United States. She says Hirsh often acts as “my parent in America” and sees her during holidays. Hirsh took Tsiperovich to Utah over winter break for her first attempt at skiing. Still, it’s hard for her not to miss all that she has left behind. When her school took its spring break in late March, she flew to her home city of Baku, on the Caspian Sea, to reunite with her family for the first time in five months. As luck would have it, she was able to share in the festivities of her favorite holiday, Azerbaijan New Year.

Tsiperovich is determined to follow high school with four years at a major American music conservatory. Because her long-range goal is to forge a career as a soloist, it’s likely she won’t be spending many more New Years in her native land. The life of a professional musician can be heartbreakingly tough, but it offers one great reward.

“When you play music,” Tsiperovich says, “you feel really free.”

 

A Dying Language Comes to Life


“Gut morgn.”

Teacher Hannah Pollin greeted the group assembled in a large circle around her. Her nine high school students, armed with a page of interview questions and tape recorders, sat interspersed among 13 senior citizens at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda. They formed groups of two or three, impatiently awaiting last-minute instructions.

“Ir volt redn nor af Yidish,” she reminded them.

But the admonition to speak only Yiddish was unnecessary as the students, from New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, turned on their tape recorders and began firing off questions to their eager partners, native Yiddish speakers whom they were meeting for the first time.

“Vos makh stu?” they asked. “Fun vanen kumt ir?” “How are you?” and “Where are you from?”

Pollin’s class at New Community Jewish High School, an elective for 10th-, 11th- and 12th- graders, is possibly the only full-year, for-credit high school Yiddish language class currently being taught in the United States. Pollin, 23, also teaches Yiddish to the sixth-grade class at Shalhevet Middle School. Last fall she taught an elective Yiddish class to sixth- and seventh-graders at Sinai Akiba Academy, which she plans to continue in the spring.

The classes are part of a three-year pilot program funded by a $130,000 grant from Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Person’s Foundation. It was the idea of Aaron Paley, founder, and Dan Opatoshu, a board member, of Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 to preserve and transmit Yiddish language and culture.

To the students and seniors at the Jewish Home that Friday, those abstract goals had the immediate impact of building a bridge across generations.

The Yiddish words flew — sometimes fluently, sometimes haltingly and occasionally “shreklich” or awful as the seniors reached for a word long forgotten or the students for a word they had not yet learned. They raised their voices, gesturing with their hands as they spoke.

“Vi heist ir?” asked senior Ami Kurzweil, 17.

He learned his partner’s name was Rose Levin. Now 100, she revealed that she spent the first 12 years of her life in Smargon, a shtetl near Vilna, Lithuania, then after World War I immigrated to the United States via Japan.

Across the room, 12th-grader Ari Tuvia, 17, talked with Mildred Cadish, who admitted to being no older than 79. Born in New York City, Cadish told Tuvia how she grew up speaking Yiddish and how she used to read “Der Forverts,” the Yiddish newspaper.

“I understand 110 percent,” she said. “It is the most beautiful language in the world.”

Tuvia understood better than most first- semester language students — he was raised listening to his Romanian grandmother and father speaking the language.

But most of the students, who have been studying Yiddish for only one semester, are still confined to asking questions or describing events in the present tense. They want to learn the language their grandparents used to speak — the 1,000-year-old language spoken by Ashkenazi Jews of Central and Eastern Europe — and preserve the heritage of the Jewish people.

“We should value this language for the adventure it takes us on,” said junior Zack Sher, 16, who hopes to spend a month this summer studying at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in Vilna, Lithuania.

That morning, Sher learned the history of Sylvia Gottlieb, 89, originally named Shalamus, who was born in Youngstown, Ohio, and grew up speaking Yiddish to her Ukrainian-born parents.

“You can go all over the world and find someone who speaks Yiddish,” she told him.

But today that’s less true. The 11 million Yiddish speakers that existed worldwide prior to World War II have diminished to only 1.85 million, according to sociolinguist Dr. Joshua A. Fishman, a visiting professor at Stanford University. Fishman categorizes them into two groups: elderly Jews, for whom Yiddish is the mother tongue, and members of ultra-Orthodox communities who use Yiddish as a daily language.

Pollin approaches Yiddish as a living language and brought her students, even as novice learners, to the Eisenberg campus of Jewish Home for the Aging to experience talking with native speakers.

“The most important goal is to form a relationship,” she said.

Pollin herself, who helped found the first undergraduate Yiddish major at Columbia University, significantly improved her speaking skills when she spent a year in Lithuania on a Fulbright scholarship, doing oral histories of Jews living there. And, in fact, her high school students will be writing histories of the people they interviewed, based on their tape-recorded conversations.

As the students began preparing to leave the Jewish Home, the seniors asked, “When are you coming back? Can we chip in for the bus to bring you here?” They exchanged phone numbers and “zayt gezunts,” hoping to meet again soon.

“It’s good to talk Yiddish,” observed Sara Litmanovich, 81, who was liberated from a concentration camp at age 16, the sole survivor of a large family. “It gives me varemkayt [warmth] and makes me feel again like I have mishpockhe [family].”

 

Buckeye State Gets a Jewish Museum


Stroll in the shadow of Jewish-owned factories like Glick Neckwear and Favorite Knitting Mills in Cleveland’s long-vanished garment district. Take a seat in an art deco theater where Ethel Merman belts out a song. Round a corner to see Superman bursting through a wall. These are among the sights, sounds and experiences visitors encounter in the new Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Using state-of-the-art audio, visual and computer technologies, the museum illuminates Jewish history, both local and worldwide, setting these traditions and achievements against the backdrop of U.S. and world events. Within its walls, one meets a host of colorful characters whose personal stories are brought to life in film, interactive activities and exhibits of precious artifacts.

Cleveland media mogul Milton Maltz and his wife, Tamar, pledged $8 million toward the construction of the Beachwood, Ohio museum, and to begin an endowment. The Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland contributed the remaining $5.5 million to the museum, which opened Oct. 11. Research support was provided by the Western Reserve Historical Society, and many of the historical documents and artifacts in the museum came from its Jewish Archives.

“Although this is seen through Jewish eyes, it is really an American story,” said Maltz who, with his wife Tamar, was the visionary behind the museum. Beyond chronicling Jewish history, the museum pays homage to the immigrant spirit that, nourished by freedom, built Cleveland and this country.

Although it illuminates large themes, the Maltz Museum is compact. The permanent exhibit occupies 7,000 square feet of the 24,000-square-foot minimalist building, which is faced in luminous Jerusalem limestone. Elsewhere, exhibits throughout the meandering rooms and alcoves engage and inform museum-goers.

The museum experience begins in a light-filled, high-ceilinged lobby hung with eight huge iconic images representing the museum’s major themes. These include dramatic photos of Cleveland Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, his head bloodied during the 1964 civil rights march in Mississippi, and the smiling face of astronaut Judith Resnick, an Akron native, paired with the Challenger space shuttle in which she lost her life.

Superimposed on these, a multilevel timeline shows the history of the Jews from Abraham onward, placing it in the context of world civilizations and historical events.

In the 60-seat Chelm Family Theater, a short film sets the tone — literally — for the visitor’s tour. A hazy close-up of a man blowing a shofar on a deserted hillside gradually dissolves into a sharply focused shot of the Cleveland Orchestra’s principal clarinetist, Franklin Cohen, playing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Actor Peter Strauss narrates this film, which provides an overview of the museum.

Exiting the theater, one encounters a floor-to-ceiling photo of immigrants disembarking on Ellis Island. They hold tightly to their children, bundles and valises. Anxiety, loneliness and hope are etched on their faces. This tableau ushers one into “They’ve Arrived!” — the first section of the core exhibit, which focuses on Cleveland’s first Jewish families and the immigrant experience.

Prominently displayed is the Alsbacher Document, the handwritten “ethical will” addressed to the small band of villagers from Unsleben, Bavaria, who settled here in 1839. In it, their rabbi urges the immigrants to remember their Jewish faith amidst the temptations of the New World.

To better understand the experience of those setting out for a new land, an interactive station allows a visitor to assume the identity of an immigrant, faced with numerous decisions and problems. Further along, exhibits show how schools and settlement houses enabled Americanization. Here, an interactive display challenges visitors to try to pass the citizenship test.

“Building a City” transports museum-goers to Cleveland at the turn of the 20th century. One side of the “street” looks back at the mom-and-pop shops that dotted the old Jewish neighborhoods. The other highlights Cleveland’s once-thriving garment district and pays tribute to Jewish-owned commercial firms like Forest City Enterprises, Rose Iron Works and American Greetings Corp., which all got their start here.

At the end of the street, “To Serve” focuses on the military experience of Jewish servicemen and women from the American Revolution to the war in Iraq.

A film loop shows a re-enactment of a seder held during the Civil War. Photos of soldiers appear on screen, narrated by excerpts from their poignant letters home. A Marine reservist who served in Iraq, Josh Mandel, also speaks.

Other multimedia exhibits highlight the last century of Jewish history. Dark events such as the Holocaust and the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre are covered, as is the creation of the State of Israel. Lighter trends are not ignored — in one section, a larger-than-life Superman bursts through a wall into the gallery, drawing attention to the story of the comic book superhero’s creation by local artists Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Even Jewish gangsters have their stories told.

The final area, “From Generation to Generation,” showcases Jewish achievements from 1950 to the present in science, medicine, business, industry, literature and the arts. Alongside photos of contemporary Jewish landmarks, filmed interviews address the question on of what it means to be a Jew today.

Off the main lobby is The Temple-Tifereth Israel Gallery, which showcases treasures drawn from the collection of The Temple Museum of Religious Art. The Temple’s collection includes ancient ritual objects, sacred books and scrolls from around the world, textiles dating from the 18th century, Holocaust art, Israeli stamps, paintings, lithographs and sculpture by renowned Jewish artists such as Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipschitz and Isidor Kaufmann.

While the museum has generated much initial excitement in the Cleveland Jewish community, its success will depend on drawing a wider audience and offering reasons for visitors to return. Maltz and Carole Zawatsky, the museum’s executive director, say they expect the museum to have regional appeal, drawing 45,000 to 75,000 visitors a year.

The changing exhibition space should be a magnet for repeat visits. The first of these temporary exhibits is “The Jewish Journey: Frederic Brenner’s Photographic Odyssey” which opens Nov. 12.

Just as he hopes people from other ethnic backgrounds will see some of their own stories reflected in the museum, Maltz also hopes they will want to use its open space to mount exhibits showcasing their own heritage.

Special events and ongoing activities will also bring people to the museum, said Zawatsky, who was formerly director of education at the Jewish Museum in New York. She and her staff have created a full schedule of activities for museum-goers of all ages.

“It’s wonderful to have this in our own backyard,” said Cleveland-area resident Ruth Mayers, who attended the Oct. 11 preview gala. “This will bring an understanding of our history to Jew and non-Jew alike; it is a gift to our children.”

For more information about The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, visit

Lack of Jewish Life in Greece Just Myth


When twilight descends on mountain villages and sun-kissed beaches, sociable Greeks make their way to tiny sidewalk cafes. They toast the end of the workday with anise-flavored ouzo, accompanied by plates of broiled octopus and green olives.

Dinner in the taverna is a long, lingering affair filled with an array of garlicky salads, fish, meat and maybe a slice of phylo-wrapped kasseri. As the night winds down, life moves to the cafeneion, where sweet and potent Greek coffee and perhaps a nibble of baklava serve as the perfect nightcap.

Poets have been known to wax lyrical about “the glory that was Greece.” Yet a visitor to Greece today quickly finds that the glory’s not only in the past tense. While those who built the shrines to Zeus and Apollo are long gone, the people who inhabit modern Greece are unquestionably alive.

The nation’s once-proud Jewish population, which dates back to Alexander the Great, was largely decimated during World War II. But from Rhodes to Athens, Greece’s rich Judaic history and culture are being preserved, and the seeds of the Jewish community are beginning to take root again.

Athens, a megalopolis whose population tops 3 million, has all the hallmarks of a major city: museums, theaters, office towers, the occasional Starbucks. Still, it remains quintessentially Greek.

Armed guards in short, pleated skirts; tasseled caps, and shoes with floppy pompoms keep watch in front of Parliament, across the street from Athens’ Syntagma (Constitution) Square. At regular intervals, they solemnly perform an oddly lopsided strut, complete with high kicks and sustained balletic poses. It’s a hint that the impulse to break out the dance moves is deeply rooted in the Greek soul.

Part of the thrill of Athens is that history is everywhere. A shady café in Plaka borders the delightful Tower of the Winds, dating from the time when Julius Caesar’s Romans ruled Greece. On a shopping expedition to the Athens Flea Market, tourists find themselves skirting the Ancient Agora, where Socrates and Plato once strolled. The city’s main bus lines terminate not far from the massive, horseshoe-shaped Panathenaic Stadium. Built in the fourth century CE on the ruins of an earlier stadium, it was restored for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and played a dramatic role in the opening ceremonies of the Athens Olympiad of 2004.

But what makes Athens most special is the large flat hill in its center — the fabled Acropolis. Visitors must wend their way on foot, past the charming restaurants and shops of the old Plaka district, to reach one of the world’s most dazzling sights. The Parthenon, along with the other ruined temples that gleam in the bright Greek sun, dates from the fifth century BCE. In ancient times this was the center of community worship, and it’s easy to imagine throngs of pilgrims bearing offerings for the goddess Athena here.

But not every ancient Greek worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses. In the marketplace under the Acropolis are the remains of a fifth century BCE synagogue, which still feature carvings of lulavs and a menorah. Happily, Athens can also boast Jewish sites of much more recent vintage. The city is home to the handsome Jewish Museum of Greece, built in 1997, which gives eloquent testimony to the lost glories of Greek-style Judaism. Today Athens’ small but vibrant Jewish community — comprising more than 3,000 of Greece’s 5,000 Jews — supports a day school, a youth center and a functioning synagogue.

Beth Jacob, founded in the 1930s, occupies an austere neoclassical building on a quiet street that was once the heart of a bustling Jewish quarter. It is open for Sephardic services throughout the year. Directly across Melidoni Street, one can also spot the historic (and well-guarded) Ioannina Synagogue, dating from 1903. Once the headquarters for Athenian Jews who embraced Greece’s ancient and unique Romaniote tradition, it is used on the High Holidays, but can also be viewed by special arrangement with the Jewish Community of Athens organization, which shares its premises.

Further afield, the traveler can find traces of Jewish life both on the Greek mainland and on many of Greece’s most romantic islands. One prime destination is Thessaloniki, also known as Salonika, where Jews who had fled from Spain in the 15th century found a safe haven under Ottoman rule. As late as 1900, almost half of the city’s population was Jewish. Now the 1,300 Jews still remaining in the area enjoy a community center, a school, and a kosher butcher, as well as a daily minyan. It’s possible to visit several charming Thessaloniki synagogues, along with a newly enhanced Jewish history museum that stands in the heart of the picturesque Modiano Market.

Jews planning to cruise the Greek islands can explore their heritage when they tire of beachcombing. In Corfu, a 300-year-old synagogue displaying a collection of Torah crowns is open every Saturday and by appointment. Remnants of Jewish life dating back to antiquity are found on Delos, Naxos and Zakynthos, among others. Chalkis, on the island of Euboea, claims to be the oldest Jewish community in Europe: today a 19th-century synagogue is a reminder of past glories. In Hania, Crete, an international archaeological effort led to the recent restoration of a Romaniote synagogue built in the middle ages. And a similar venture, spearheaded by Aron Hasson of Los Angeles, has helped preserve the Jewish historic sites of Rhodes. (See accompanying story.) The island’s 16th century Kahal Shalom, Greek’s oldest-functioning synagogue, now also plays host to the Jewish Museum of Rhodes. This informative museum makes an excellent jumping-off point for tours of the ancient Sephardic quarter known as “La Juderia.”

Most Hellenic vacations prove unforgettable because of the hospitality of the Greek populace, the beauty of the Greek landscape and the antiquity of the Greek culture. It’s no surprise that Jews lived contentedly on Greek soil for more than 2,000 years. Today’s visitor can revel in the splendors of Greece, while still pausing to remember the Jewish people who once made this land of sun and sea their home.

 

Jews Forced to Flee Arabs Want Redress


Jews who fled Arab countries following the creation of the State of Israel are preparing to launch a new campaign for restitution.

Meeting in London at a forum organized by the World Organization for Jews From Arab Countries and Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, Jewish representatives from 14 nations met for two days last week to create the steering committee for the International Campaign for Rights and Redress.

The group plans to conduct an international advocacy and public education campaign on the heritage and rights of former Jewish refugees, documenting human rights violations against those who fled Arab countries, as well as their lost assets.

The director of the justice group, Stanley Urman, said the summit was a landmark occasion.

“It is a commitment by Jewish communities in 14 countries on five continents to once and for all document the historical injustice perpetrated against Jews in Arab countries,” he said. “It is not just a theoretical and educational exercise; it is concrete.”

Supported by the Israeli government, the plan also has the backing of Jewish communities in North and South America, Europe and Australia, with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International and the World Sephardi Congress involved.

“We are delighted to play a key role in this crucial project,” said Henry Grunwald, president of British Jewry’s umbrella group, the Board of Deputies. “The plight of Jews from Arab countries is all too often a cause that we in the wider Jewish community forget, and we must act to educate and raise awareness of this important issue.”

Organizers long have been unhappy that the issue of Palestinian refugees largely has eclipsed the question of the nearly 900,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries around the 1948 creation of the State of Israel. They want the Jewish refugees’ fate addressed as well in any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Approximately 600,000 of these refugees settled in Israel; by 2001, fewer than 8,000 Jews remained in Arab countries. The displaced Jews were recognized as refugees by the United Nations, but there was virtually no international response to their plight.

The only way that the rights of former Jewish refugees can be asserted, organizers believe, is through an international advocacy campaign. They will launch the campaign in March with a special month of commemoration to highlight the torture, detention, loss of citizenship and seizure of property suffered by many Jewish refugees.

“This is a milestone in the effort to address the historic injustice to the Jewish communities in Arab countries,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “We hope that this renewed, unified campaign will not only succeed in creating a comprehensive data bank, but will also put this issue on the agenda of the international community, which has neglected it for so long.” Data on the communal and individual assets lost in the mass displacements — incorporating public education, the collection of testimonies and programs to lobby media and governments — will be collected and preserved in a special unit established in Israel’s Ministry of Justice.

Urman declined to speculate on the value of the Jewish refugees’ assets, insisting that the fundamental issue was justice rather than compensation. Redress might come in many forms, he said, from a commitment to protect and preserve historical Jewish sites in Arab lands to the endowment of chairs at universities to preserve Middle Eastern Jewish culture.

In Iraq, the Jewish community numbered around 140,000 before being mostly dispersed in the 1950s. Like many others in his community, Maurice Shohet, president of Bene Naharayim, the Iraqi Jewish community in New York, abandoned his possessions when he fled Iraq with his family in 1970 at age 21.

The combined assets Iraqi Jewry left behind now could be worth billions of dollars. When the U.S.-led Iraq War began in 2003, the prospect of an elected, post-Saddam government offered some hope of restitution for the community.

But “so far, all we are hearing is the voice of the insurgents,” said Shohet, who visited his hometown of Baghdad last year, but cut short his trip because of violence.

With divisions rampant within Iraq society and the government still going through a transition period, compensation still seems far away. Yet that makes the issue more urgent, Urman said.

After Israel’s recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, there might also be a new impetus toward fresh talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“If Gaza results in renewed commitment by the Palestinian Authority to advance serious peace negotiations, it will have moved us forward to a resolution of both the Arab and Jewish refugee issues,” Urman said. “But it’s a big if.”

 

It’s Not Your Zayde’s Klezmer Anymore


Musician Eric Stein felt disillusioned with rock ‘n’ roll. He spent years slogging away in a band without “making it,” so he started looking for something else.

He considered being a history professor, but then, a new instrument and an old style of music changed his mind.

The instrument was a mandolin and the music klezmer.

“There was level of musical sophistication that goes with the kind of music you can play on the mandolin, and my intention was to start a new acoustic-fusion thing, with an emphasis on string and wind instruments,” said Stein, who went on to form Beyond the Pale, a klezmer-fusion band.

“I had been brought up as a secular Jew, and I didn’t know much about Jewish music except that it was dorky,” said Stein on the phone from Toronto, where his band is based. “But when klezmer got hot a few years ago, I found that the music really spoke to me on a cultural level. All the time, I was trying to play other people’s music, but this is the music of my family and my history.”

Stein’s approach to klezmer — seeing it as part of his heritage, but wanting to put an innovative, modern stamp on it, is typical of today’s klezmer revival. More and more musicians are attracted to the music, but want to move it beyond its European folk roots.

Hence, bands like Beyond the Pale fuse klezmer with reggae, jazz, ska and bluegrass music. As a result, klezmer keeps one foot in its shtetl past and another in the post-modern present.

“That’s why we called the band Beyond the Pale, because the expression means something that is unexpected and beyond the bounds,” Stein said. “[The name] refers to the Jewish roots of the band, but it also refers to the idea that we want to get outside of the rules — to pay homage to the traditions, but at the same time express ourselves.”

“Consensus” is the name of Beyond the Pale’s new CD, but while the title implies harmonic accord, even compromise, the tunes on the CD do not. Although not disharmonious, the tunes startle the listener with their complex boldness.

In “Whassat,” for instance, the 10th song on the CD, a clarinet melody starts off plaintive and wailing, only to be overlaid by a thumping base beat that builds into a rhythmic crescendo that is less “Tevye” and more jazz club.

In “Skalavaye,” Beyond the Pale gives a modern, ska-tinged rendition of a 1940s Yiddish classic, with contemporary nods to Yiddish humor. “Halevai (I only wish that) I was a keg of beer,” warbles vocalist Josh Dolgin. “So you could quench your thirst with me, my dear'”

For Stein, the CD, a live recording of a Toronto concert, epitomizes the new direction of klezmer.

“Historically, klezmer music was just about extinct by the mid-60s, for all sorts of different reasons, such as demographics and the Holocaust,” Stein said. “So for the first 15 to 20 years of the klezmer revival, [which started in the 1970s], the overriding influence was about ‘Let’s rescue what was forgotten and bring it back.’ But in the 1990s, we have the second generation of the klezmer revival, and that is when things really started to evolve. [The musicians] were marrying klezmer to jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, funk and reggae.”

Klezmer was not only becoming musically assimilated, but moving beyond the confines of the Jewish community. Stein is the only member of his five-piece band who is Jewish, and the band’s audiences have also changed.

No longer do klezmer bands attract only the bubbes and zaydes who remember the music from the old days. Now, in many venues, klezmer audiences can be primarily non-Jewish.

“People from within the Jewish community are embracing it, and using it as a way to express their own cultural heritage, but it is also having a life outside of the Jewish community altogether,” said Martin Van de Ven, Beyond the Pale’s clarinetist. “It has become [a style of music] with its own direction and way of doing things. More and more musicians are getting involved with it….”

“It is really evolving beyond just a Jewish form of music,” he said.

Beyond the Pale will perform June 1 at 9:30 p.m. at Tangier Restaurant, 2138 Hillcrest Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 666-8666. For more information on the band, visit

Jerusalem Becomes Queen of ‘Kingdom’


In 1986, Oscar-nominated production designer Arthur Max (“Gladiator”) visited Jerusalem in the midst of the intifada.

“People told me not to go almost everywhere, but I went everywhere,” said Max, who is Jewish. “Of course, some of the Old City was closed off for security reasons, but I went to the Western Wall and into the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And I stood on top of the Jaffa Gate and I looked out over what to me always had been a name, and suddenly I felt connected to my heritage, a close connection to all the Jewish history I had studied as a bar mitzvah.

Max drew on those feelings to recreate medieval Jerusalem for “Kingdom of Heaven,” in which the protagonists also journey to Jerusalem to connect to their religious roots. The Ridley Scott film revolves around a crusader (Orlando Bloom) swept up in the 12th-century battle between Christian King Balian and Muslim leader Saladin.

If Scott is known for dissecting heroes braving fierce odds in movies such as “Alien” and “Gladiator,” Max’s Jerusalem is an epic (and besieged) character in its own right. While Jews are relegated to extra roles, the city itself is stunningly depicted in detailed close-ups and otherworldly vistas.

Scott, for his part, wanted Jerusalem to appear as “the romantic, golden city,” not because of the color of its stone but because the film’s characters “saw it as a metaphor for idealism,” he told The Journal.

“The message is that for our heroes, Jerusalem is a symbolic, iconic place that represents God’s city,” Max said. “Because of my background I felt compelled to ‘get’ the city, not so much scholastically as emotionally correct.”

As he began researching his production design, Max again visited the Old City and snapped photographs from atop the perimeter walls.

“But there was too much intrusion from later periods; too much commercial and industrial clutter,” he said.

For inspiration, he instead turned to 19th-century romantic painters, such as David Roberts, who had depicted the city using dramatic lighting and visual exaggeration. An 1853 work by the German artist Auguste Loeffler became a key image for the film: “It’s a wide view of distant Jerusalem under stormy skies but with sunlight breaking through,” he said. “You see these whitewashed and golden walls of the city gleaming in the light, but all around the landscape is forbidding. And I showed this painting to Ridley and he said, ‘That’s it, the golden city on the hill under siege, threatened by all the dark forces around it.'”

To recreate this romanticized Jerusalem, Scott agreed the real city wouldn’t do — not just because of the commercial clutter but because of the congestion and the political unrest. Instead, he decided to build his set outside the Moroccan town of Ouarzazate, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, an area in which he had shot segments of “Gladiator.” He and Max spent days bouncing around the desert in an SUV until they discovered a wide plain upon which they could construct “Kingdom’s” centerpiece set: the exterior of Jerusalem.

Over five months in 2003, Max and his 350-person crew molded 6,000 tons of plaster into more than 28,000 square meters of wall on the arid plateau.

“We modeled our physical set on the oldest military structures of Jerusalem, such as those located in the Citadel, also known as the Tower of David,” he said. “But while we built large sections of walls and ramparts, with computers we digitally added the rest of the city, based on scanned images of ancient ruins, iconic Jerusalem structures such as the Dome of the Rock — all inspired by the 19th century painters.”

Max, 59, led his multinational crew with ease, in part because of his own diverse background. Speaking precisely in an accent that is half-American, half-British in a phone interview, he said his Sephardic family fled Spain during the Inquisition, spent centuries in Belarus, and eventually landed in New York, where Max grew up in a Reform family but was bar mitzvahed in an Orthodox synagogue. Since then he has lived in Rome and London, and calls himself a “Wandering Jew.”

On the set, he regaled his crew with tales, remembered from his childhood religious studies, of how Jerusalem had been conquered and reconquered since the destruction of the First Temple.

In contemporary Jerusalem, the conflict continues, prompting Max and Scott to draw parallels between the film and current events.

“It’s like we keep replaying history,” Scott said. “The holy wars are the fundamental basis of Jerusalem today.”

“Kingdom” itself has been under siege from various factions. Scott received death threats from extremist Islamic groups while on location in Morocco; Christian conservatives in the United States will reportedly protest the film, which they feel depicts crusaders as less than chivalrous, and some Jews will dislike one character’s observation that in Jerusalem, “no one has claim and all have claim.” (Scott, too, feels “the city should be shared, not belonging to one country or another.”)

Max, for his part, believes the movie does not take sides.

“Surely the film is a plea for tolerance, and against extremism of all kinds,” he said.

“Kingdom of Heaven” opens today in Los Angeles.

Tell Me a Story


 

When I was growing up, my family’s Passover gatherings were a joyful blend of holiday traditions, over-eating, stand-up comedy and most important of all — storytelling by our “tribal elders.”

For example, I was always moved by one of my Grandma Lena’s stories from the Great Depression.

“So many people were hungry,” she said. “Occasionally, I would come home from work and find a strange, unshaven man dressed in rags, sitting at our kitchen table. Your great-grandmother Leba would be serving him an entire meal — from soup to dessert. It scared me that she let strangers into the house when she was alone; she was a tiny, frail woman. But when I asked her how she could this, she simply said, ‘How could I not do this? He was hungry.'”

I never knew Leba Klein, but when my grandmother shared such memories, I learned something real about my ancestors.

I only wish we had recorded those stories.

Passover is a time for families to gather, to enjoy each other’s company and to recall the story of our shared ancient history.

It is also the perfect time to preserve your family’s greatest treasure: the memories and stories of your own family elders.

That’s why this Passover (or Mother’s or Father’s Day), you should create a family project to interview your oldest relatives.

Recording these stories means that they will be available for future generations. Plus, you can avoid regret. I’m constantly hearing people say things like, “We kept meaning to interview my grandparents, but we just didn’t have time. Now it’s too late.”

Also, every person should have a chance to tell his or her life story. One shouldn’t have to have survived horrible experiences, or accomplished the extraordinary, or be a celebrity to have this opportunity.

When we take the time to ask a parent or grandparent to tell us about their past experiences, and truly listen to them, we are acknowledging them for who they are, and for the life they have lived. They deserve this.

And finally, involving children in this interview process creates a meaningful connection between them and their family elders, something that doesn’t often happen these days. They will learn about their roots from a real person.

Not sure where to start? Here are some tips:

1. Get an audio cassette recorder or video camera and tripod. Bring a lot of tapes and back-up batteries. Get an external microphone, so that the recording will be clear. (Get advice from Radio Shack or Fry’s for a microphone that will fit your specific machine and will capture the sound most effectively. Pay extra for a good one.) Be sure to test your equipment before you conduct the interview. Try out different locations for the placement of the microphone to capture all important voices.

2. Plan a family gathering, where the entire family can commit to a few hours together. That in itself is a challenge, I know. But it’s worth it.

3. Determine the best interview subjects. Usually, this would be the eldest relatives who can not only talk about their own lives and experiences, but who also know the details and stories about your ancestors. You also want to choose people whose memories are intact. (My mother’s dementia would sadly rule her out now as an appropriate interview subject.)

In many families there are Talkers and Listeners. Some of the Talkers are great storytellers; some of them are just dominating. Listeners rarely speak up family gatherings.

With Talkers, your job is to manage the conversation, so that the interview moves along. Having a list of interview questions will help.

With Listeners, your job is to make sure they know that you truly want to hear about their life and experiences. Make sure they have their moment in the spotlight by asking them a specific question, and kindly telling anyone who interrupts to please wait their turn.

4. Before your gathering, have everyone in the family write down a list of questions to ask. There isn’t room here to give you an entire list of such questions, but you want to cover every generation that these interview subjects can speak about — their ancestors, grandparents, parents and the subject him or herself.

Your questions should trigger memories and details about different aspects of a person’s life: For example: names of important people, their personalities, the home, the city or town, daily activities, work, education, their experiences of being Jewish, how the family interacted, what they did for fun, what were their challenges and the events and times.

Ask all of the children in the family to make up questions, too. Depending on their ages, children often want to know grandparents’ favorite toys, what school was like or how their grandparents met.

5. Someone may have to play “director” and make sure that everyone gets a chance to talk and that people aren’t talking all at once (the result on your tape will be gobbledygook.)

6. Remember, this is something that deserves your family’s time and energy. The payoff is a precious experience and a record of your heritage. Have fun!

Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer and owner of Living Legacies Family Histories. She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net.

 

The Grand Old Jews of York


 

In 1773, when Capt. Alexander Graydon visited York, Pa., it was a married Jewish hostess who captured his attention.

“[T]here was but a single house in which I found that sort of reception which invited me to repeat my visit; and this was the house of a Jew,” he wrote of Shinah [Shaynah] Etting in his memoirs.

“In this I could conceive myself at home, being always received with ease, with cheerfulness, and cordiality,” he continued. “Those who have known York, at the period I am speaking of, cannot fail to recollect the sprightly and engaging Mrs. E., the life of all the gaiety that could be mustered in the village; always in spirits, full of frolic and glee and possessing the talent of singing agreeable, she was an indispensable ingredient in the little parties of pleasure which sometime took place.”

Shaynah and her merchant husband, Elijah, considered the first Jewish residents of York, also were among the country’s Jews of record. And their story is among the handful of surprising Jewish connections in York, the country’s first legal capital, where the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of the Confederation on Nov. 15, 1777.

Visitors to this charming industrial center, which describes itself as the “Factory Tour Capital of the World,” can choose from an eclectic mix of attractions. York also hosts fascinating Colonial buildings such as the Golden Plough Tavern. In the adjacent home, complete with pots hanging over the hearth and an authentic spinning wheel, a bonneted tour guide introduced a reporter to the story of the Ettings.

I found out still more from “Never to Be Forgotten” by James McClure, historian and managing editor of the York Daily Record. The book is sold for about $14 at the York County Heritage Trust gift shop in the downtown visitors center.

The Ettings’ most prominent son, Solomon, who moved with Shaynah to Baltimore after her husband died, went on to lead the efforts to pass the “Jew Bill,” which allowed Jews to become elected officials in Maryland. After its enactment in 1826, Solomon Etting would become one of the first Jews in that state to hold office.

Another son, Reuben, was enlisted during the Revolutionary War despite the customary exclusion of Jews. Reuben, after a brilliant military career in which he reached the rank of captain, was then appointed by Thomas Jefferson to be the U.S. marshal for the District of Maryland.

A tour of nearby downtown streets reveals one of York’s most honored modern-day heroes, Rabbi Alexander Goode. His visage looks down upon York from a large outdoor mural, one of a popular downtown series, which depicts the blue beauty of dawn at sea.

The former spiritual leader of the Reform Temple Beth Israel was aboard the USS Dorchester during World War II when it was struck by a torpedo off the coast of Greenland. In the ensuing panic, Goode gave his gloves to a Coast Guard officer, enabling him to cling to a lifeboat for hours before rescue. Goode, who also forfeited his lifejacket and seat in a lifeboat, joined arms with three fellow chaplains and lifted his voice in prayer as the ship took them to their death.

The U.S. Senate awarded “The Four Chaplains” Medals of Heroism. An interfaith chapel dedicated to their memory stands at Valley Forge. And a York elementary school, which contains another mural, is named in Goode’s memory.

Just outside the city of York, the local Jewish Community Center (JCC) receives the support of a Jewish community estimated at 500 to 900 families, depending on the source. The JCC houses a striking Holocaust memorial wall sculpture.

In an unusual piece of Jewish trivia, one of the world’s leading motorcycle makers based here reportedly also has Jewish roots. The Davidson half of the legendary Harley-Davidson company, which began operating in York in 1903, is presumed to have been Jewish.

I stayed at The Yorktowne Hotel, a national historic landmark, which opened in 1925. The hotel, at 48 E. Market St., is located near many tourist sites. For reservations and more information contact (800) 233-9324 or visit www.yorktowne.com.

For more information on tours and exhibits throughout York County, call (888) 858-9675 or visit www.yorkpa.org. Printed walking tour guides are available for a nominal fee.

“The Four Chaplains” mural is located on Market Street near Pershing Avenue, east of the visitors’ center. The “Harley-Davidson Tradition,” the first mural of the series, is located nearby on West Market Street between Newberry Street and Pershing Avenue.

The York JCC is at 2000 Hollywood Drive, (717) 843-0918. Two local congregations are the Reform Temple Beth Israel, 2090 Hollywood Drive (next door to the JCC), (717) 843-2676 and the Conservative Ohev Sholom Congregation, 2251 Eastern Blvd., (717) 755-2714.

For information on Harley-Davidson tours in York as well as Wauwatosa, Wis., and Kansas City, Mo., call (877) 883-1450 or visit

Letters to the Editor


 

Jewish-Black Ties

The outrageous assertion that blacks and Jews have “passed through a period of hostility and animosity” and come together for “issues ranging from civil rights legislation to Israel” is absurd (“Jewish-Black Ties Loosen Over Years,” Jan. 14).

If it takes “a common thread to revive the relationship,” such as working to defeat David Duke’s run for political office, why does nothing similar happen against the left? The so-called coalition did not denounce black congresswoman Cynthia McKinney for her anti-Israel, anti-Jewish beliefs. It does not distance itself from Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for their questionable attitudes about Jews.

The coalition does not condemn the NAACP for its racially inflammatory statements and divisiveness. When former NAACP leader Benjamin Chavis was removed for theft, he blamed the Jews. Lee Alcorn, president of the Dallas NAACP, stated his concern with black-Jewish coalitions because of what he called Jews’ preoccupation with money.

The assertion that anti-Semitism is not as strong among blacks as among mutual enemies of blacks and Jews is wrong. A 1996 Gallup survey reported that blacks were more likely than whites to blame liberal Jews for what is wrong with America. The Anti- Defamation League’s own surveys reveal that blacks have higher rates of anti-Semitic beliefs than whites.

A United Nations conference on racism held in South Africa had anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and anti-American themes. Hundreds of prominent American blacks, including Jackson, attended to show their support.

Superficial public relations events such as speaking at Black-Jewish forums do not indicate anything beyond political calculation. Jews would be far wiser to form coalitions with the political right, not the intolerant political left.

Caroline Miranda
North Hollywood

Shawn Green

When Shawn Green arrives for spring training with his new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, he will be leaving a piece of himself behind while at the same time, he will be taking along large portions of our L.A. Jewish pride. Such is the dilemma that Peter Dreier’s (“Goodbye Shawn Green,” Jan. 21) 8-year-old twin daughters are faced with; who are they to root for now?

To date, there have been 161 men of Jewish heritage to have played major league baseball. The White Sox and the Tigers have listed 17 and 16 respectively, while the Dodgers and Giants have fielded 15 each (those damned Yankees have only had six).

So it looks as if we may have to wait for another Jewish Dodger. But we Jews are good at waiting. Green isn’t the Messiah, but it may take almost as long for the likes of another Shawn Green to wear Dodger Blue. In the meantime … go Diamondbacks!

Jonathan Blank
Calabasas Hills

Birthright Exploitation

I am no supporter of the extreme aspects of Israel Solidarity Movement’s (ISM) agenda, but I am appalled by Gaby Wenig’s implicit suggestion that Jewish love for Israel should come with a political litmus test (“Do ISM Activists Exploit Birthright?” Jan. 21). Perhaps Wenig does not know that there are many Israelis (Jews and non-Jews alike) who have concerns about “the occupation,” that “pro-Palestinian” is not a synonym for “anti-Israel” and that all of us who “love Israel,” as Wenig understands Birthright’s aim, whether we are on the left or the right, have a wide range of views on how Israel can live up to its full potential for social, economic and political justice.

Despite the fact the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) does not appear among the list of Birthright funders on birthrightisrael.com, Western region associate director Allyson Taylor suggests that Birthright alumni who engage in political activism with which she disagrees should have to repay the cost of their trip. Does Taylor also think Aish HaTorah should send a collection agency after every Discovery alumnus who steps foot in a Reform or Conservative synagogue? Should college kids who flirt with Buddhism or Hinduism repay their parents for their bar and bat mitzvah expenses? Perhaps all the ex-AJCongress members in Los Angeles should simply bill the national office for the return of their pre-1999 contributions.

Shawn Landres
Los Angeles

On behalf of 4,000 Birthright Israel alumni from greater Los Angeles, we are responding to the article (“Do ISM Activists Exploit Birthright?” Jan. 21).

It would be extremely unfortunate if your article left the impression with your readers that ISM activists taking advantage of free Birthright Israel trips is a significant problem. In fact, Birthright Israel staff has only been able to find evidence of six people out of more than 70,000 participants who have done so.

Birthright Israel, which provides the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26, is one of the most powerful and successful Jewish continuity programs ever devised. As program alumni ourselves, we can confirm the findings of a recent Brandeis University study, Bbirthright Israel participants have a stronger and more sustained connection to Israel and the Jewish people than do their peers.

Thanks to the foresight and funding of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, our groundbreaking birthright Israel alumni association provides local alumni with opportunities to connect with each other and with the L.A. Jewish community. Information is available at www.socal.birthrightisrael.com.

We know Birthright Israel and its alumni association has been instrumental in our connection to Israel and the Jewish community. We would hate for the success of this important organization to be tarnished by a story that creates a controversy where there really isn’t one.

Kimberly Gordon, Joshua Kessler, Abtin Missaghi, Ben Schwartzman,
Members of the Leadership Board
Birthright Israel Alumni Association

 

Lighten Up on Christmas and Christians


 

Even in relatively tolerant and officially secular America, Jews long have had to do a dance around the holidays of the majority population. There’s a national party going on and, let’s face it, we are not invited.

The issue then is how to deal with it. There seems to be three basic responses.

One, give in “to the spirit,” even if that means elevating Chanukah into an ersatz version of Christmas, with excessive gift-giving and demands for equal time with the bigger holiday.

Two, rail against the persuasiveness of the holiday and of Christianity in our core culture. For some, that means waging a kind of secularist jihad to remove all spiritual aspects from the season.

Third, just keep a respectful distance and let the Christians enjoy their holiday to the fullest including allowing trees, mangers and reindeer in the parks. Use the time to reconfirm to yourself and, more importantly, your children our status as proud and very separate minority.

In some ways, the first approach seems akin to giving in to the majority faith. We boost Chanukah, a relatively minor holiday, into megastatus and turn our children into Yuletide wannabes. Let’s face it, most of our kids don’t need more excuses for presents.

More serious, and immediately damaging, is the opposite tendency, which amounts to driving religious Christmas out of the public sphere. This is something not exclusively supported by Jews, but it’s no big secret that Jews are prominent in many of the organizations — like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — that spearhead the anti-Christmas secular jihad.

To a large extent, this approach seeks to eliminate everything that is Christian about Christmas from the public sphere — from trees, green lights and mangers to the singing of Christmas carols. It reached the point of ludicrous when our former, illustrious governor, Gray Davis always craven in the service of his heavily Jewish donors, renamed the state Christmas Tree into a Holiday Tree.

This kind of idiocy, which was reversed this year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, comes out of a mistaken belief that to ensure a secular state, we need to eliminate any hint of Christian belief from the public sphere. In the words of Amanda Susskind, regional director of the ADL, furious efforts must be made to maintain “a wall of separation between the pubic realm and religious tradition.

In theory, this is a fine idea. I certainly would not like to see public school students forced to sing Christmas carols or listen to a Billy Graham lecture. Yet Susskind is talking about circumscribing all manner of spiritually tainted behavior. They have even issued a somewhat silly pronunciamento called, “The December Dilemma, ” to supply guidelines so schools don’t dip their toes into even vaguely religious waters at this time of year.

Behind these efforts lies what I suspect is a more elaborate agenda. Susskind, for example, expresses “sympathy” for the French government’s decision to ban crosses, head scarves and yarmulkes from public schools. She isn’t ready to take this on in America, but more zealous secularists, like the ACLU, might be sorely tempted.

Such efforts, in my mind, turn the state from neutral toward religion to advocate for what may be called the secularist faith. Instead of admitting that religious ideas, primarily derived from Jewish and Christian roots, stand at the root of our constitutional republic, the ADL and the even more secularist ACLU seem to see any acknowledgement of religion — from the singing of “Jingle Bells” at schools to discussions of the religious roots of Christmas — as a grave threat to civil liberties.

Perhaps, the most egregious local example of this can be seen in the ACLU’s so far successful attempt, with full backing from the ADL, to get the Board of Supervisors to excise the mission cross from the Los Angeles County Seal. This effort grew out of the notion that having a cross on the seal for the past half century represented, in the ADL’s words, and affront to the “diversity of the people of the community.” Zev Yaroslavsky, easily the most influential Jewish politician in the county even called the cross a “symbol that divides us.”

David Hernandez, one of the leaders of a broad-based effort to overturn the country’s decision, considers this decision an example of legislative arrogance. It was taken without considering the idea that many church-going Christians, as well as Hispanics proud of their historic role in the City of Angeles, might object to having their heritage expunged from the seal.

After all, Catholic missionaries built the first schools, brought medicine and many other elements of European civilization (not all positive, to be sure) to this part of the word. Reducing the mission symbol to a kind of jumped-up Taco Bell is not only an affront to L.A.’s Hispanic Catholic heritage but to the critical role faith has played in the evolution of the city since then.

Nor can anyone but a total paranoid compare people like Hernandez to the kind of bigoted Christians who have tormented us in the past.

“People are surprised I am not a Bible-Belt, right wing Christian fanatic,” explains the middle-of-the-road Republican insurance adjuster from Valley Village, who is a member of such dangerous groups as the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, the North Hollywood Neighborhood Council and the Executives support group for the Jewish Homes fro the Aging.

This guy is about as close to Father Coughlin as, well, Kris Kringle.

Rather than wage silly battles with such well-meaning people over Christmas carols, of a mission cross, Jews need to lighten up. Christmas and traditional Christianity today simply do no represent serious threats to the existence of Jews in the contemporary world; outside of the Islamicists, our mortal enemies and those of Israel, can more likely be found among the most hip, pro-Palestinian Churches, some of which back a boycott of Israel, as well as among the longtime anti-Zionists in the secular intellectual left.

In 2004, we have more to fear from Micheal Moore and the archbishop of Canterbury than we do from Graham and ex-urban megachurches. It’s long since time to admit that the political and social landscape has changed greatly from the time our grandparents fled the czarist shtetl.

Finally, we should also recognize that the attempt to drive all religious thought (except perhaps pagan ideas) from the schools also represents a threat to the intelligent understanding of our republic. The founding fathers, many themselves steeped in the traditions of the Torah, would have found it ludicrous that our kids are expected to learn about the roots of American republicanism without some notion of the role played by basic Jewish, as well as Christian, moral principles.

For these reasons, learning about our faith, along with Muslims, Buddhist and Christian traditions, should not be verboten within public education. Indeed, the study of history has convinced me that you can’t understand the past, and how we got to be who we are, without a full comprehension of the religious past.

By removing religion from the public realm entirely, evicting the ecclesiastical role from our histories, plays and pageants, we essentially end up embracing in its place another theology, one that sees human history in exclusively economic class or biological terms.

Given these realties, it’s time for Jews to realize that traditional Christianity — and its symbols — represent less a threat than an important potential ally. By showing respect, and keeping our distance at this time of year, we can build on this historically miraculous development, instead of creating the basis for yet another season of discord.

 

Shoah-Era Music ‘Silenced’ No More


The music of a lost generation of Jewish composers will come to life when the Los Angeles Philharmonic presents “Silenced Voices,” a series of concerts, operas and panel discussions, from Oct. 19 to Nov. 9.

While mainly honoring the composers who were persecuted or perished during the Holocaust, the concerts will also feature the works of Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler, whose “degenerate” music was banned by the Nazis.

For conductor James Conlon, bringing the “beautiful and provocative” music of such composers as Erwin Schulhoff, Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein and Bohuslav Martinu to international audiences has been a 10-year crusade.

“These men represented an enormous piece of the music and culture of the 20th century,” Conlon passionately declared in a phone call from Montreal.

“Rediscovering their music is equivalent to a museum which suddenly finds 200 great paintings in its cellar — of course, the museum would exhibit them for the public,” he added.

“Silenced Voices” will open on Tuesday, Oct. 19, with the satirical opera “Der Kaiser von Atlantis” (The Emperor from Atlantis), which Ullmann composed while imprisoned in the Nazis’ “model” camp of Teresienstadt (Terezin).

The protagonist is Emperor Overall, who brings such pain and misery to the world that Death arrives to take him, and everyone else, away. The SS apparently sensed some similarity between “The Emperor” and a contemporary dictator and shut down the work during rehearsals.

An L.A. Phil ensemble and Juilliard School singers will perform the staged production at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 3663 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles.

On the following Thursday, Oct. 21, a discussion on the concept and context of “Silenced Voices” will be led by Conlon, Rabbis Steven Z. Leder and Gary Greenebaum and Dr. Gary Schiller of the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust. The event will be held on the Irmas campus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in West Los Angeles.

The two temple evenings are sponsored by the Ziegler Family Trust, with additional support from the Jewish Community Foundation. All subsequent events will be at the downtown Disney Concert Hall.

Conlon and the Philharmonic will perform Ullmann’s Symphony No. 2 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 on Oct. 23 and 24.

On Oct. 29, 30 and 31, Conlon will lead the Philharmonic in Schulhoff’s Jazz Suite, Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 2, and Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7.

Dvorak is the only non-Jewish composer represented in the series, but as a composer and Czech nationalist he had a profound effect on such composers as Schulhoff, who was Dvorak’s protégé, Conlon noted.

Pianist Jonathan Biss will be the soloist in the Mendelssohn work.

Concluding the series on Nov. 9 will be a chamber music concert by the Phil’s instrumentalists of works by Schulhoff, Martinu, Ullmann, Klein and Mendelssohn.

Conlon was first drawn to “silenced” composers of the early 20th century by rediscovering the works of Alexander Zemlinsky, a brother-in-law of Arnold Schoenberg, and the conductor recorded most of Zemlinsky’s works in Germany. Conlon’s “discovery” of other names and composers followed.

“I have been a practicing musician for 30 years, and until 10 years ago, I knew hardly anything about these composers from Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Budapest, whose works represented much of the musical ferment of their time,” Conlon said.

Conlon made his New York Philharmonic debut in 1974 and has since spent most of his time in Europe, conducting leading orchestras and serving as principal conductor of the Paris National Opera for the past nine years.

The “Silenced Voices” program are part of his three-year project on “Recovering a Musical Heritage,” although he fears that “I won’t live long enough to integrate the major works of the ‘silenced’ composers into the standard concert repertoire.

“People tend to be afraid when they see the names of unfamiliar composers on a program, but I want to turn that around,” he said.

Given Conlon’s preoccupation with Jewish composers, he is often asked, “usually as the first question,” whether he is Jewish himself.

“Actually, I am an Irish-Italian-German Catholic, but growing up in New York, I absorbed and loved everything Jewish,” the conductor said.

“What the Nazis did was a crime not just against the Jews, but against every human being,” he said. “We can never redress the injustice against the Jewish composers, but we can do what meant most to them, and that is to restore and play their music.”

For ticket and other information on all the listed programs, call (323) 850-2000, or visit www.LAPhil.com.

Jewish + Humor = ‘Jumor’


Groucho Marx once said that there’s no such thing as an old joke if you’ve never heard it before.
And maybe two young Jewish filmmakers heard that maxim and decided they’d find fresh material for their 45-minute
documentary, “Jumor: A Journey Through Jewish Humor.”
Laguna Beach local Aaron Krinsky, with co-director and his Yale University pal Scott Kirschenbaum, explored their
Jewish humor heritage by interviewing more than 30 Jewish elderly residents at 14 Jewish nursing homes, including Heritage
Pointe in Mission Viejo. On Sunday, Sept. 5, the Jewish Community Center 532-seat theater will showcase the
Krinsky-Kirschenbaum saga, a 18,000-mile, six-week summer trip before their junior year.

“‘Jumor’ is a look into our own culture through our elderly community,” Krinsky said. “The more homes we visited,
the more we realized we were interested in the stories itself, not the comics who told them.”

The directors, inspired by the humor of other great 20th century comedians, delved further into the gift of
laughter in their own culture. They found through reflections by the film’s subjects that life in a shtetl, faith
and use of Yiddish serve as a basis for Jewish humor.

“Years ago, Jewish young men and women did not have the same opportunity as non-Jews to create their own
[opportunity],” said Lillian from Miami. “When they met each other they did not say, ‘Oy vey, this is going on
and that is going on,’ they said humorous stories. They had to learn how to laugh at themselves otherwise they
would be crying all the time.”

Film subjects included a 106-year-old woman from Los Angeles and a vibrant 102-year-old, Sylvia Harmatz., who
appears to have a great memory for a good joke.
“The residents were thrilled to have the two young men come to perform and speak with them about the topic of Jewish
humor,” said Rena Loveless, director of Mission
Viejo’s assisted-living facility Heritage Pointe. “There was a warm reception to the film when it was shown at the
facility. The residents were happy to be apart of this project.”

The duo’s filmmaking technique is unorthodox. To establish rapport with their subjects, Kirschenbaum performs a
stand-up act based on the stories and jokes of their generation of comedians, while Krinsky is in the sidelines
filming the reaction of the crowd. After the show, each home’s directors select a handful of the most articulate
residents to deliver their own wisecracks.

speaking on similar subjects creates momentum for the topics and shows the stories coming directly from the people who lived them.

“We used the editing process to create a sense of fabric, of knowledge coming directly from the people’s mouths to establish
an attitude and tone in the film,” Krinsky said. “This film is about more than Jewish humor, it is a generation talking and telling
a story.”
Along their voyage, the filmmakers start sensing parallels between their own impressions of Jewish culture and those of their elderly
subjects. Each day was a new exploration of both the subject and the subject’s cultural history, and how a sense of humor binds Jews
together.

“It is not just about our culture and ‘Jumor,'” Krinsky said. “This movie slowly became more about them [the elderly residents]
and us [filmmakers], where you do not laugh at the participants, but with them.”

Join one of the filmmakers for the 45-minute viewing of “Jumor,” followed by a talk on the documentary in the JCC theater, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 5, One Federation Way, Irvine. Requested donation $5 (general), $3 (seniors, children). For information, call (949) 435-3400.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow


As I leave the world of Jewish Day schools and begin college, I journey like Dorothy into the mysterious Land of Oz.

Wearing cropped jeans (instead of a blue-checkered dress), I anxiously follow the yellow brick road (or Interstate 5) to Stanford University.

Halfway there, a melancholy sensation of homesickness overwhelms me, and I think of my prior extraordinary 14 years of Jewish day school education. Soon, there will be no more all-school holiday celebrations, no more faculty dressing up on Purim and no more crooning Hebrew melodies down the noisy halls.

My prior Temple Emanuel Community Day School and Milken Community High School 100 percent Jewish population is about to dwindle to a dismal 12 percent.

I begin to panic and search frantically through my suitcase for my red shoes. After sloppily tying them onto my feet, I desperately cry, "There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home."

Yet, when I open my eyes, I am still on the yellow brick road and it is time for me to wake up and smell the coffee. It is time to glide (or ineptly stumble) into the secular world as a college freshman.

Indeed, like Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz," I am a young adult on a quest to find her inner soul and place in life. Dorothy transitions from childhood to adulthood, and travels to Oz only to fathom that everything she wanted was in her home, in her own backyard.

For me, my beloved home is Judaism, and my family constantly reminds me not to fret. I can hold on to my Jewish heritage, whether it be in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Kansas or even Oz.

Take one instance: I was sitting at Starbucks in Westwood last week, sipping my Frappuccino and perusing the Los Angeles Times, when a handsome UCLA student approached me, and asked if he could join me at my table. Our conversation was delightful until he took me by surprise and bluntly inquired, "I saw you in the window and thought you were beautiful. Do you have a boyfriend?"

I stared at his shiny cross and gulped.

"Yes, I do," I staggered.

Sure, it was a bubbemeise, as my mother would say, but how could I have told him the truth? I later chuckled, imagining his response to: "Sorry, but my family says that ‘those you date you mate,’ and I need to raise my kids Jewish." Or, what if I had given him a quick lecture on how being Jewish is so important to me? All I can say is "oy."

Yet, now I was confident that even though it would not be easy, I could emerge safely from my cozy and protective Jewish day school bubble while retaining my identity.

Furthermore, besides the dating factor, my Jewish education had prepared me to confront anti-Semitism. The Middle East seminar that Milken implemented this past year imparted onto me the tools to ward off any evil witch (or anti-Semite) that I might encounter.

My lessons of Talmud had infused me with the Tin Man’s much-desired heart, my social science and humanities instructors had imbued me with the Lion’s admirable courage, and from my mathematics teachers I had gained the Scarecrow’s sought-after brain.

Thus, as the summer days begin to shorten, and the cool Los Angeles air gently reminds me that on Yom Kippur I will be davening for the first time away from home at Hillel, I feel prepared for my future identity as a worldly maidelah.

Who knows? In a month, I might be staying up late at night with a Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or atheist roommate, comparing our theological takes on the universe (while munching on a midnight snack). I will be elated to take part in that dialogue, to learn about other religions and cultures, and to share mine.

Will I ever reflect on my prior days at a Jewish day school?

You bet.

When my grandmother called me at my summer job a couple of days ago, the young Latina secretary politely inquired, "May I ask who is calling?"

"Her Bubbe," my grandmother replied.

A few seconds later I picked up the telephone and the befuddled secretary informed me, "Someone by the name of Herbubbe is on the phone for you."

Now, that, I was certain, would have never happened at Milken.


Stanford freshman Michele Goldman is a writer and pianist.

A Day on the Bimah Changes Everything


My bar mitzvah took place in Queens, New York, in 1970. It was an unexpected and odd occasion, and I hadn’t thought about it in years. But now, 34 years later, I was once again in New York, and the subject of my bar mitzvah came up, as the ceremony itself first had, unexpectedly.

My new bride and I sat in a booth across from Charlotte, one of my oldest friends, in the Moonstruck Diner in Chelsea. We’d driven to town to introduce my wife to those who couldn’t make it our traditional Jewish wedding in Louisville, Ky.

Abruptly, Charlotte asked point-blank, as New Yorkers tend to do, what had prompted me to become observant. Throughout high school, college and our early careers, we two friends had been secular Jews, intellectually but not spiritually interested to our heritage. During the intervening years, our paths diverged. Eventually I began attending synagogue, and Charlotte remained secular.

She wanted to know, "Was it because you moved from New York, where you’re surrounded by Jewishness, to someplace you felt more isolated?"

Though there is some truth to her point — isolation in Nashville, and in Louisville later on, had definitely been part of the impulse to connect to my "roots" — I had to smile at the thought that one had to leave New York in order to discover Judaism.

As my wife and I toured the city, we passed synagogues, yeshivas and seminaries. Visiting my aunt and uncle in Brooklyn’s Ocean Parkway, we were in the midst of a large Chasidic neighborhood. It was the eve of Tisha B’Av. Cafe signs proclaimed: "Have a good fast. We open 9 p.m. tomorrow." Even Murray’s Bagels, my favorite Chelsea breakfast spot, was certified kosher.

Seeing these many signs of Jewish observance made me recall the storefront synagogues in my own Rego Park neighborhood, and how, while I ran to class at Queens College one day during Sukkot, the Mitzvah Mobile had pulled up, music blaring like some bizarre Orthodox ice cream truck. A black-hatted Lubavitcher emerged, pressed a Lulav into my startled hands and walked me through the Sukkot mitzvah.

No, you didn’t have to leave New York to discover Jewish observance, but something had to plant the desire. In my case, it was my bar mitzvah.

"That’s the big secret that none of my family or my old friends knows, or would understand," I told her.

In 1969, as I approached bar mitzvah age, the ceremony wasn’t even a blip on my parents’ radar. Not only were they recently divorced and not getting along, but they were both uninterested in Jewish observance; perhaps they were even somewhat antagonistic toward it. Therefore, I knew next to nothing about Judaism. The eldest among my cousins, I had never been to a bar mitzvah, so I hadn’t even acquired "reception-envy," with which to pressure my folks into complying with tradition.

Upon hearing that my parents did not intend to make any Jewish coming-of-age plans for me, my maternal grandparents decreed that despite all my family’s mishegas, I was having a bar mitzvah. And that was that.

But the path from decree to Torah wasn’t that simple. What followed was an embarrassing time for a preteen, as I was taken first to the local Reform, then to the Conservative synagogue, only to be rejected by their rabbis because it was "too late" to train me.

If it was hard for my secular parents to swallow the idea of a bar mitzvah, I’m sure it was even harder for them to make an appointment at their last option — the Orthodox Rego Park Jewish Center. But they did, and Rabbi Gewirtz told them, "He’s a Jew, of course we’ll take him."

Thus began a strange period in my family’s history. Each Wednesday, the day designated by the New York City public school system for RI, or religious instruction, the secular Jackmans’ kid left school an hour early (Yes!), put on his tzitzit under his street clothes, and headed to an Orthodox shul to learn Hebrew writing and stumble through the Rashi reader.

On Sundays, I attended morning minyan and more classes, including accelerated haftarah chanting lessons held with a group of other late-starters.

I must confess I remember very little of this learning. However, what stuck with me all these years is the passion for Judaism that the men and women of the shul communicated to me. During Sunday prayers, the bearded men davened in what seemed to be holy rapture. One morning, a mortified congregant scolded me for trying to pronounce the ineffable name of God. I may not have known better at the time, but I didn’t have to be told twice.

And that passion is why, the day the Jackmans’ kid stood at the bimah to recite haftarah Bo in a beautiful piping soprano full of errors, with his female relatives separated from the men, and heartily congratulated anyway by the somewhat forbidding but tolerant men of the synagogue, he was heading inevitably toward Jewish observance.

The inevitable decision would not be made for many years, until I overcame ambivalences, inhibitions and other mental obstacles. But the impulse was created during that short half-year when I prepped for and achieved my bar mitzvah.

Reprinted courtesy of in the Jewish Federation of Louisville.

Twinning Makes for Double Mitzvah


A surplus of 13-year-olds and a shortage of Shabbat mornings often means sharing the bar or bat mitzvah experience with a partner. While “sharing” customs vary from synagogue to synagogue, the b’nai mitzvah typically co-lead many of the prayers, divide the Torah and haftarah readings and each deliver a d’var Torah.

When Hannah Marek shared her Shabbat Sukkot bat mitzvah at Congregation B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge, Conn., with “partner,” Marion Pritchard, it was Hannah alone who lead the entire service, including Shacharit, Hallel, the Torah service, Torah and haftarah readings, d’var Torah, Musaf and the Hoshanot. Pritchard said only a few words. But these words lead to unprecedented clapping, tears and even a standing ovation — for both 13-year-old Hannah of New Haven, and for 82-year-old Pritchard.

“When Marion came up to the bimah and gave her little talk, I was biting my lip not to cry,” Hannah admitted.

Who is Marion Pritchard and why would a Jewish girl choose to share her special day with a non-Jew more than six times her age?

Pritchard is a soft-spoken psychotherapist living in Vermont. She is also a “Righteous Gentile.” For her bat mitzvah, Hannah wished to recognize and honor the work of such people as Pritchard, who helped save and rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Pritchard grew up in the Netherlands. When the Nazis occupied her country, she witnessed such horrifying acts as children being tossed on to trucks. These events affected her deeply. In 1944, when a friend (a member of the resistance) asked her to find a hiding place for a Jewish man and his three children (including a baby), she agreed. She hid them in a space underneath the living room floor in a house in the Dutch countryside, about 20 miles from Amsterdam. On one occasion, two Nazi officers came to her home, searched, but found nothing. On a second visit, this time by only one officer, he heard a baby crying and discovered the hidden family. Pritchard immediately took a gun, which was hidden behind a bookcase, and killed the officer. She even arranged for the body to be taken away and buried.

Hannah learned of Pritchard’s work in several ways: First, her older sister, Miriam, had shared her bat mitzvah with Pritchard two years ago. And even then, Pritchard was no stranger to the Marek household. Mother Deborah Dwork, a professor at Clark University and founding director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, had met Pritchard at an academic conference. And she invited Pritchard eight years ago to co-teach a course at Clark. The two now co-teach four separate courses on a rotating basis.

“I am an analyst historian; she is a participant historian/rescuer,” Dwork noted. “When [Pritchard] sits at the top of the seminar table each fall and speaks, the 18 students in the class are totally silent.”

Dwork speaks with great admiration about colleague and friend Pritchard. And she describes the accomplishments and qualities of her daughters in the most glowing terms. Dwork was pleased when daughter, Miriam, naturally stood up and went up to the bimah at Hannah’s bat mitzvah to help the somewhat frail Pritchard down the stairs (“The entire congregation stood up and applauded while Miriam escorted Marion,” Dwork said). And Miriam has kept in touch with the director of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous since her bat mitzvah and will serve as an intern there this summer.

Dwork is proud of the extensive role Hannah chose to have in the Shabbat Sukkot service. But she is especially pleased with Hannah’s motivation — and with Hannah’s ability to articulate the meaning of the bat mitzvah to B’nai Jacob’s Rabbi Richard Eisenberg, in a private pre-bat mitzvah meeting in his study. He was so moved that he felt compelled to share with the congregation some of Hannah’s profound observations and insights.

“Being able to recite the entire service — that’s what religion is to me,” she said. “It’s important to me to know all of it. If I was the last Jew alive, I’d be honoring my people and culture to be able to lead the service and to teach others. I loved learning at the Ezra Academy [Solomon Schechter Day School in Woodbridge] for six years and I plan to send my children there in the future.”

Eisenberg noted, “For Hannah and her family, the service was not only about Hannah, but about the legacy and heritage of Israel and the Jewish people, and about honoring the memory of the victims and the heroism of the Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews. The twinning is a testament to this theme. Marion’s presence in shul was a most powerful complement to Hannah’s coming of age, because this is all about memory, history and, God-willing, a bright future.”

For more information about the Jewish Foundation for the
Righteous, including their Twinning Program and the Rescuer Support Program,
visit

Mother of the Bat


A friend of mine called in a lather the other day, all het up about her daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah.

"I can’t believe it," she said, her voice a good octave higher than usual, "there’s so much to think about. You have to find a place, decide on a menu, pick out flowers and favors and dishware and tablecloths and even tables — you’ve got to pick out tables! You have to know the diameter of the tables you’re going to have in order to choose tablecloths. It’s crazy. It’s too much for me."

"Calm down," I told her. "Everything will fall into place."

And then I thought back to my own experience as the mother of the bat mitzvah, which was followed soon thereafter by my experience as mother of the bar mitzvah, by which time I was seasoned, wiser and only slightly less frantic. There’s something about inviting a sizable number of people to an event, some of whom will be arriving from distant locales, and that "something" is that you want them to be happy they came. To this end, that first time around, there was a sign up in my office that read: "It’s the Bat Mitzvah, Stupid," lest I forget for even one waking moment that I had a two-pronged event to plan: a morning service followed by Kiddush and then a party in the evening.

My husband and I spent our courtship on the protest fields of Washington, D.C. Yet here we were, in the thick of planning what I am sure we once believed to be the most bourgeois enterprise imaginable: a "catered affair," entertainment that would cost thousands and be over in a matter of hours. How had we gotten ourselves into this?

"The meaning of the bar and bat mitzvah," our rabbi intoned at a special service geared toward anxious parents, "is that your child becomes a Jew in his or her own right. You have sent your child to Hebrew school for four years, he or she has attended with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and now, on this day, you give over the responsibility. You release your child to be an independent Jew, the son [bar] or daughter [bat] in charge of the mitzvot."

The truth is, our daughter’s level of enthusiasm for her Hebrew studies rarely wavered. Indeed, she had, from the beginning, chosen to go to Hebrew school, maintained an interest in learning the language, and downright bubbled over the questions of philosophy and social reality that came up in class as a result of the excellent teachers with whom she had the good fortune to study. She had been a bat mitzvah, a daughter of the commandments, from the get-go. And this made her coming-of-age a fitting commemoration of the work she’d put in, and the dedication she had so spiritedly demonstrated.

Of course when, at 8 years old and entering the fourth grade, she’d said that she would like to go to Hebrew school, a big party at the end of her tenure as student was the last thing on her mind. But now that the ritual of the celebration had made itself known to her, well, what self-respecting about-to-be-a-teenager wouldn’t want a party with lots of friends and rock ‘n’ roll?

"OK, so why not just turn up the music and make her a party?" many might wonder, ourselves included. We’d thought about ordering a couple of pizzas and letting the kids have their fun. Why worry about caterers and DJs and rented party rooms, tables and menus and centerpieces? Why spend all this money that a lot of people could really use?

"The ceremony of the bar and bat mitzvah is not an ancient rite," the rabbi told us at that same gathering of parents. "It can’t be found in any of the books of the Torah; in fact, it’s only about 500 years old." (Only a rabbi can make 500 years sound like a drop in the bucket.) "But sometime between the 14th and the 16th centuries, the concept of the bar mitzvah and the celebration that accompanies it took hold. Beginning in Germany and Poland, and readily accepted by Jews around the world, the age of 13 was adapted as the time when the child is not only obliged but allowed to participate as a member in full standing of the Jewish community."

And that’s why the pizza party wouldn’t do. Because, as the rabbi said, the celebration is central to the tradition. And it is a celebration, as I understood it, meant to be of, by and enjoyed with the community. Sure, our daughter could have a party with her friends, but that wasn’t the point. In fact, it would betray the point because that what is being celebrated in the context of the bat mitzvah is the arrival of a new member into the Jewish community. Not a community of teenagers, but a community of mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. A community that does reach back to ancient times, even as representatives of its many generations gather at this time to welcome its newest trained, educated and committed member.

Let the kids dance? Sure. But let all of us, of many ages, rejoice as well at the triumph that the bat mitzvah party symbolizes — our continuity.

I’m of the generation that created the atmosphere in which Jewish daughters feel it is their right to share in this mere 500-year-old practice. The generation that fought for civil rights, rebelled against everything our parents taught us and then returned to a good deal of it. Still questioning, probing and, yes, justifying. I ask myself how many more mouths could be fed, and how much hope made a little bit more possible were I to chuck the catered affair and send the money to those in need. But then I came back to my daughter, and the profound weight of her decision to study. It’s a mere drop in the bucket that created enough of a splash to ripple indefinitely into the past that is her heritage, and the future her decision will help create.

So, yes, we made a splash, too. And I continued to question the political correctness of it, worry over the details of it, and break into an intense fit of angst when I realized I still hadn’t decided on the menu. For, as my grandmother taught me well: If you invite people to join you in celebration, "You’ve got to give them what to eat.


Elyce Wakerman teaches composition at CSUN and is the author of “Father Loss: Daughters Discuss the Man That Got Away” (Henry Holt, 1987). She is currently working on a book about the year her daughter left for college.

Your Letters


Jewish Cool

The torrents of ink on “Jewish hip,” “Jewish cool” and “Jewish pop culture” obscures a simple truth: Only Jews who take seriously Judaism — the religion — can count on having Jewish grandchildren (“From Jew to Jewcy,” July 23). This is because in an open society only Judaism provides a compelling answer to the question, “Why be Jewish?”

Other “Jewish” paths are dead ends, and literally sterile — they can’t reproduce. They have Jewish value insofar as they may be a person’s door into Judaism, and thereafter enrich one’s practice of Judaism.

The remaining question is whether the organized, “secular” Jewish community will include this insight into its outreach efforts before it’s too late.

Paul Kujawsky, Valley Village

Tisha B’Av Today

Dr. Aryeh Cohen (“Tisha B’Av Today,” July 23) has got one thing right — we do need Tisha B’Av today. Unfortunately, he has the reasons all wrong. His assertion that on this Tisha B’Av we must consider “how all our cherished hopes for ourselves as a community based on ethics and a commitment to social and economic justice can — and at times have — slipped through our hands” is misguided. Indeed, Tisha B’Av has nothing to do with confronting our inability to “create an ethical polity” or with being “allied with the forces of injustice.” Despite Cohen’s evident discomfort with the idea of Jewish victimhood, Tisha B’Av is, in fact, a day dedicated to the great tragedies which have befallen our people, including the ongoing calamity of the confusion of Jewish values with the politically correct agenda of the day. On Tisha B’Av, our thoughts should be directed toward bridging the huge gulf between God and the Jewish people, which is symbolized by the continuing absence of the Temples in Jerusalem whose destruction is the main focus of the day. That is what Tisha B’Av is about today, as it has always been.

Ben Taylor, Los Angeles

Test-a-Jew

I hate to burst Mark Miller’s stereotype-laden bubble, but my granddaughter has blond hair, blue-green eyes and a straight nose (both her parents are Jewish) (“Test-a-Jew,” July 30). Continuing to analyze my granddaughter’s family tree vis-a-vis Miller’s standards: My granddaughter has two Jewish parents. Her maternal grandmother (that would be me) has blond hair (natural, but now gray) and blue eyes; her three first cousins (on my side) all have blue eyes; and her paternal grandfather has blue-green eyes. Two of her first cousins on her father’s side have blue or green eyes.

Both of my parents (both Jews of Russian heritage) had blue eyes.

I think a higher percentage of Jews have blue or green eyes than people of any other faith.That study would be a ridiculous waste of time, but since Miller brought it up.

Name withheld by request, Los Angeles

Faith and Pork

I believe that Micah Halpern (“Balancing Acts of Faith and Pork,” July 23) is blind to the possibility that the State of Israel’s secular founding fathers are turning over in their graves by the monster they created by subsidizing Orthodox Jewish “students,” who now number in the scores of thousands (along with their enormous families). They are a burden on the economy, and have politically disenfranchised all non-Orthodox Jews. What kind of “democracy” is it that insists that all marriage and divorce for Jews be in the Orthodox traditions in order to be legal? In comparison, Ireland is a true democracy. Although about 88 percent of the citizens are Roman Catholic, civil marriage and divorce is quite legal. A Jewish state does not have to be a fundamentalist Jewish state.

Martin J. Weisman , Westlake Village

Reverse in Israel

Gideon Levy writes about a disabled Palestinian man killed during an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) house demolition and a Palestinian professor and son shot in their home and asks for our reactions if the situation were reversed (“If the Situation Were Reversed,” July 30). However, Levy admits that the IDF considered the death of the disabled man “a death that shouldn’t have happened.” In both cases, the aim of the IDF was not to indiscriminately kill Palestinians and that both cases are being thoroughly investigated to determine the cause of these tragedies and methods to prevent them in the future. One can quibble about how thorough and how serious the IDF are in these matters, but the fact is that they aren’t pinning medals on the soldiers responsible.

If the situation were reversed, for instance, after the bus bombing in Tel Aviv on July 10 that killed Maayan Naim, groups like Yasser Arafat’s Al-Aqsa Brigades proudly take credit for intentional murder. The perpetrators’ goal is to murder as many Jews as possible, and their communities hail them as heroes. These incidents will be studied by these Palestinian groups not to prevent them in the future, but to learn how to repeat them and to learn how to murder more Jews.

Dr. Steven Ohsie, Los Angeles

Correction

In “Presbyterians Ignite Divestment Uproar” (July 30), Rabbi Mark Diamond is the executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Kazan’s Residents:


A Sunday in the park. A brilliant, bright sun warms the air. The frozen tundra has given way to seedlings, flowers and patches of green. On this day, memories of the harsh Russian winter recede like so much melted snow.

Along with the blue skies and verdant forests, Judaism has returned here after a long hibernation. About 125 Russian Jews gathered May 9 to celebrate Lag B’Omer, a minor Jewish holiday that commemorates the day a plague ended during the time of Rabbi Akiba. Boys kicked around a soccer ball. Parents stopped to catch up with old friends or to share a smoke. A crowd huddled around a fiery barbecue from which the sweet smells of succulent chicken kabobs wafted.

Spring had arrived in Kazan, a city of 1.4 million about 500 miles southeast of Moscow. Life seemed especially good for the estimated 7,000 Jews who continue to call the place home. For decades, Kazan’s Jews had lived uncomfortably in an atheist state that viewed them as outsiders. Practicing Judaism during the Soviet era — publicly or even privately — could derail careers, lead to academic expulsions and attract the unwanted attention of the KGB.

Today, a Jewish renaissance is taking place in Kazan, as in other parts of the former Soviet Union (FSU). In the past 15 years, a Jewish community has slowly grown up in here, partly under the auspices of the Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch sect. Kazan has a renovated Jewish community center in the heart of town that houses a synagogue, a mikvah (ritual bath), and a library teeming with Jewish texts. Jewish pensioners receive free medical care, meals and Hebrew lessons from a group called Hessid. In March, a new 30-minute radio program about Jewish philosophy began airing on a local station.

"We now have the possibility in Kazan to say we’re Jewish and proud of it," said Sofia Botodova, a 45-year-old mother of two and director of cultural programs for the Jewish Community Center. "We can celebrate all the Jewish holidays and invite our non-Jewish and Jewish friends. We can have a Jewish life here."

That’s not to suggest anti-Semitism has disappeared from the Russian landscape. It hasn’t, said Alistair Hodgett, spokesman for Amnesty International. In recent years, Jews have been beaten, robbed and intimidated for their beliefs, and Russian authorities have sometimes shown a reluctance to classify anti-Semetic acts as hate crimes, he said.

Still, many Jews in Kazan and elsewhere in the FSU said things have improved dramatically since the crumbling of communism.

Grigory Dyakov, born to a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, said religion never mattered much to him growing up. But when his grandmother died six years ago, Dyakov went to temple to say Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer for the dead. The 32-year-old investment banker said he discovered a beauty in Judaism that completed him. He has since become an Orthodox Jew and underwent an adult circumcision in 1999.

"The synagogue has become my top priority," he said as he performed the Jewish religious custom of wrapping tefillin. "I come to pray in the morning, at lunch and in the evening. I am a better Jew, and I think a better person as well."

Kazan State University student Jenya Sontz said she has forged her closest friendships at the Union of Kazan Jewish Youth Center. There, students celebrate Shabbat, attend lectures on Judaism and feel pride in their heritage.

"Maybe it’s a cliché to say, but we’re all family," she said.

In Kazan, Chabad works in tandem with several other Jewish organizations, including the Joint Distribution Committee, Hillel and the Russian Jewish Congress to support Jewish life. Elsewhere in the FSU, Chabad is "the only game in town," said Sue Fishkoff, author of "The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch" (Schoken Books, 2003).

The group has permanently stationed 220 rabbis throughout the FSU, funds seven Jewish day schools, 10 Jewish orphanages, Jewish summer camps and soup kitchens, among other projects. Its annual budget for the region of $60 million dwarfs that of other Jewish organizations. Chabad traces its roots to the former Russian city of Lubavitch.

Some Russian Jews mutter privately that Chabad wants nothing less than to turn the largely secular Jews of the FSU into ultra-Orthodox foot soldiers. Nonsense, said Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, the executive director of the Chabad-Lubavitch-dominated Federation of Jewish Communities of the Former Soviet Union.

"Chabad wants to help every Jew: man, woman, or child, to appreciate and love their faith and traditions more and go up one step at a time to add a little more to their observance," he said.

Kazan was gentler to its Jews than most other parts of the FSU. Jews began settling there in the 1830s when the czar forcibly conscripted young Jewish boys to serve him in the region. Jewish traders and craftsman followed, bringing the Jewish population to about 2,000 by the end of the 19th century. In 1915, the relatively prosperous Jewish community opened a synagogue, which the Soviets later nationalized and turned into a cultural center for teachers.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Ukrainian and White Russian Jewish students barred from their home universities fled to Kazan where anti-Jewish quotas were more relaxed. Kazan authorities sometimes looked the other way when Jews celebrated minor Jewish holidays such as Simchat Torah or baked matzah in their homes.

But Kazan’s Jews faced insurmountable obstacles to practicing their faith. During Soviet times, there existed "no Jewish schools, no Jewish education, really no organized Jewish life here," said Lev Bunimovich, a 77-year-old retired welder. Even in the nominally tolerant ’60s, a Jewish professor of mathematics lost his job for refusing to teach on Shabbat.

Under former Soviet leader Mikail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika, Jewish culture reasserted itself in Kazan. Jewish youth choirs and klezmer bands emerged and held large concerts. Hundreds attended public seders. Still, about 4,000 of Kazan’s Jews immigrated to Israel and the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Surprisingly, those who decided to stay behind did — not because they had lost touch with their heritage — but because they wanted to build a Jewish life in their homeland. Israel’s economic woes and vulnerability to terrorism have put a brake on new immigration and have actually led to a reverse migration. In recent years, an estimated 50,000 Soviet Israeli Jews have returned to the FSU, experts said.

Alexander Velder is one Kazan’s many Jews who said he has no regrets about remaining. The 45-year-old furniture manufacturer chairs a local philanthropic organization called the United Jewish Council of Kazan. The group is actively raising local money to build Russia’s first Jewish home for the aging, which, when completed next year, will house 50 seniors.

Reflecting on Kazan’s Jewish renaissance, Velder smiled and said: "It was never like this for most of my life."

Sweet Days of Summer at Day Camps


Local synagogues, Jewish centers and other cultural organizations are holding day camps throughout the summer months that expose children to Jewish culture, popular culture and even pre-Columbian culture.

The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Orange County operates two camps in two different locations that cater to different interests and age groups.

For 2- to 4-year-olds, JCC’s Camp Yeladim offers a playful and creative environment in five sessions, with activities including water play days, cooking, sing-alongs, messy art play, puppet shows, family activities, science, oceanography and Judaic exploration.

Each week, Camp Yeladim has a different theme to help the young children experience the world through travel. The themes are: “Traveling America,” “Traveling and Camping,” “Traveling to Hawaii,” “Traveling to the Circus” and “Traveling and Tasting the World.”

Camp Yeladim is held at the JCC at 250 Baker St., Costa Mesa. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays; half days from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The cost for a week is $350 a for members and $455 for nonmembers, or $240 for members and $315 for nonmembers for three days.

For more information contact Roberta Deutschman at (714) 755-0340, ext. 113.

Camp Haverim for kindgerarten children through ninth grade is offering four weekly summer sessions on the grounds of Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine. Younger campers can participate in field trips, overnights, beach and swim days, sports, arts and crafts, music, drama, nature, dance, Jewish theme weeks and Shabbat programs.

The older campers have the same programs, but there will be extra activities, including amusement park outings and camping trips. Campers also may choose a one-week specialty sports or theater camp, where they receive coaching by sports experts or rehearse and perform “The Music Man.”

Camp Haverim’s hours are 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with costs ranging from $240 to $400 for members and $340 to $560 for nonmembers. Kosher lunches, Dippin’ Dots, T-shirts and camp pictures can be purchased for additional fees, and scholarships are available to qualified campers.

For more information call (714) 755-0340 ext. 126 or go to www.jccoc.org.

Silver Gan Israel offers a combination of Jewish life and culture, along with summer activities such as sports, arts and crafts and nature hikes. The camp is offered in two locations: the Hebrew Academy at 14401 Willow Lane, Huntington Beach, and Morasha Jewish Day School, 30482 Avenida de Los Banderas, Rancho Santa Margarita.

Both camps are open to children entering kindergarten through seventh grade and have a counselor-in-training program for students 13 to 18.

The camp’s focus is Jewish heritage and instilling appreciation for Jewish culture. Weekend Shabbatons, Israeli dancing, challah baking, stories and contests will be overseen by Jewish counselors brought to the camp from all over the world.

“All of our counselors come from working with children or in children’s programs within their local Jewish community in different parts of the world,” said co-director, Bassie Marcus. “Jewish spirit and identity is very important to every counselor with Silver Gan Israel.”

About 200 campers are expected to enroll at both locations. The camp schedules three two-week sessions, and campers can attend either all five days or just three days a week. Camp hours are 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.

For campers in fourth grade or higher, an overnight and getaway trip to Big Bear in the San Bernardino mountains is offered in early August.

Cost per session is $350 for five days and $260 for three days. There are extra fees for T-shirts, baseball caps and tote bags.

For more information contact Joelle at the Morasha camp office at (949) 770-1270 or Rabbi Yossi Mentz at the Hebrew Academy campus office at (714) 898-0051.

Morasha is also offering a summer camp program for preschool-age children who can attend two-, three- or five-days a week for full- or half-day sessions. Activities include art, music, drama and storytelling, daily water play in an inflatable pool, weekly themes and Shabbat every Friday.

“Each week is a different theme like bubbles, circus, sand and red, white and blue that includes art, music and stories that go with that week’s theme,” said program director Lin Goldman.

Camp hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with an hour of quiet time after lunch. The program lasts eight weeks and costs $155 a week, $100 for three days and $75 for two days.

For more information contact Goldman at (949) 459-6330.

Congregation B’nai Israel holds Camp B’nai Ruach at the synagogue, 2111 Bryan Ave., Tustin. The camp’s programs are designed to teach Jewish heritage to grade schoolers.

The camp is divided into five age groups: kindergarten, first- and second-graders, third- and fourth-graders and fifth- and sixth-graders. Seventh- through ninth-graders serve as counselors-in-training.

The camp meets weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in six one-week sessions. Campers go to the beach on Tuesdays, cool off at the pool on Wednesdays and take a field trip Thursdays related to the week’s theme. Field trips range from the Los Angeles Zoo to Carlsbad’s Legoland.

Cost for Camp B’nai Ruach is $195 a week for synagogue members to $225 for nonmembers. There is a $10 discount for extra children per week and additional costs for registration fees and camp T-shirts.

For more information on Camp B’nai Ruach contact Barbara Sherman at (714) 730-9693 or go to www.cbi18.org.

Temple Beth Sholom operates Camp Sholom at 2625 N. Tustin Ave., Santa Ana. Camp Sholom offers daily activities integrated with Jewish values. Campers’ grades are kindergarten to sixth, while seventh- to ninth-graders take part as counselors-in-training.

“All of our activities are based on Jewish living 24/7,” said camp director Rabbi Heidi Cohen. “We dedicate all day Friday to Shabbat at the temple, and at the end of the day, we imagine lighting candles and drinking from our Kiddush cups in observance of Shabbat.”

Every day is opened with Jewish songs and morning blessings, and Hebrew is used continually in the camp. Campers refer to staff members in Hebrew as madrichim meaning leaders, and each group is given a Hebrew name like rishonim, which means the “first ones”; chalutzim, “pioneers”; and habonim “builders.”

Sholom campers can attend camp five or three days a week. Tuesdays and Thursdays are off-campus days, with trips to the beach or local theme parks; Wednesday afternoons are for swimming. Camp hours are weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with extended morning hours from 7:30 a.m. and evening hours to 6 p.m.

Camp Sholom costs $194 for members and $221 for nonmembers for the first session; $184 for members and $210 for nonmembers for the second session; and $168 for members and $194 for nonmembers for the third session. Prices are less if parents choose only three days a week per session. One T-shirt will be provided with the cost of camp, and there is a $30 nonrefundable registration fee for each camper.

For more Camp Sholom information contact Rabbi Cohen at (714) 628-4600 or go to www.tbsoc.com.

The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana offers a day camp through its Kidseum that introduces children to foreign cultures. Kidseum offers seven weekly sessions for children 6 to 8 years old and 9 to 12. Camp hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, with extended hours available for an extra charge.

Each session has a distinct theme or explores a different culture. Themes include a “Historical Journey,” “Pacific Rim Odyssey,” “Art of the Pioneers,” “Art of the American Indian,” “The Americans,” “Pre-Columbian Art Adventure” and “African Safari.” All programs include visits to the Bowers’ galleries, theme-oriented art projects and interactive music and dance periods.

Kidseum has space for only 30 campers each session. Cost per session is $165 for nonmembers and $150 for members.

For more information contact Genevieve Barrios Southgate
at (714) 480-1522 or go to

A Great Beginning


When Ed Block’s father died three years ago, he and his siblings were left to look for keepsakes while disposing of the contents of his Florida home. When opening a large, flat box stored in a closet, they were flooded by memories of their father, ever eager to show off a possession prized for 30 years: an unframed lithograph series by Abraham Rattner, a contemporary Jewish American painter.

"He loved to show them," said Block, of Laguna Hills. "But he never figured out what to do with it," he said of the collection. "He didn’t want to split them all up" between his three children.

In vivid primary colors with figures drawn in bold, black strokes, the 12 large pictures in the series titled, "In the Beginning," depict seminal moments of Jewish biblical history, along with an appropriate citation and quote. Several suggest the dreamy fantasies of Chagall; others are painted with a dark, foreboding cubism in a style reminiscent of Picasso. Just 200 were printed in the early ’70s.

Among the biblical characters portrayed are Moses at the burning bush, Adam and Eve and Sampson and Delilah. The abstract lithographs mounted in contemporary frameless Lucite will be permanently displayed on the second floor of the synagogue under a vast skylight.

The collection can be viewed through Aug. 27 in the current exhibit at the Kershaw Museum in Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El. The modernist series aptly fits Beth El’s contemporary architecture, reborn after an extensive remodeling from its original industrial use. The congregation relocated from trailers in 2001.

Block’s father owned the lithograph collection, because he was a childhood friend of Rattner’s publisher, New York art dealer Bill Haber.

After his father’s death in February 2001, neither Block nor his two siblings, Cheryl Gelber and Marilyn Harvey, were ready to hang the collection in their homes. Eventually, they decided to celebrate their father by making the collection a gift to Beth El. Jo Anne Simon, whose family helped establish the synagogue, served as an intermediary.

"I wanted it close to home so I could go and visit it," said Block, a physician. He and Lori, his wife, are 15-year synagogue members. His own artistic preference favors the realism of Israeli artist Tarkay, who sentimentally portrays women in vibrant scenes.

Recent appraisals valued the collection, one of Rattner’s lesser known works, at about $15,000, Block said. "It’s not that valuable. Its value is that it’s intact."

Individual prints from the series can be found for sale but not the entire collection, he said. Alan Wofsy Fine Art in San Francisco acquired Rattner’s portfolio a decade ago and currently lists signed and numbered lithographs made by the artist in the last decade of his life for $400 each.

In the decade that preceded Rattner’s biblical series, the artist’s work began reflecting religious themes and his Jewish heritage. One of his best known from that era is "Victory — Jerusalem the Golden," honoring Israel’s 20th anniversary of independence.

Rattner was born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. His parents were immigrants who came to the United States to flee anti-Semitism and czarist Russia. Work by the artist, who died in 1978, was widely exhibited in his lifetime and is included in several museum collections.

His personal papers and those of his second wife, Esther Gentle, are archived in the Smithsonian’s collections, in part because of Rattner’s friendships with some of the century’s most creative luminaries. After serving in World War I, where duty included painting camouflage, Rattner spent 20 formative years in Paris, a cultural center for disillusioned expatriates. He experimented with cubism, futurism and expressionism, which would inform his later work that pushed the boundaries of artistic tradition.

During that period in Paris, he was part of a group that included Picasso, Dali and Miro and writers such as Henry Miller, a friend for 40 years who would join the artist on a road trip in the United States.

The introduction to "In the Beginning" is by the artist’s dealer. Haber wrote, "The 12 scenes symbolize man’s aspirations, his triumphs and defeats, his wisdom, his folly, his hopes and his prayers. There is no end to ‘In the Beginning.’"

Miller, too, added an introductory comment: "I’m so happy to see that with the advance of time, my dear old friend, Abe Rattner, continues to reveal that exaltation of spirit. He has the uncommon faculty of combining wrath, biblical wrath, with ecstasy. His work speaks of a living God, a God of infinite compassion and understanding. It belongs not in the museum, but in the cathedral of a new and promising world."

At least by one measure, Miller’s comments proved prophetic. For sure, Beth El’s remodeling transformed a secular environment into a public space with cathedral-like qualities.

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