Leon Wieseltier

Leon Wieseltier on Jewish journalism: ‘Investigate and analyze Jewish identity’


Leon Wieseltier is one of America’s best-known public intellectuals and has spent the better part of his career critiquing the values that underlie American culture and politics. For three decades, he served as literary editor for The New Republic, where it was common for Wieseltier to bring his Jewish background and education to bear upon the pressing issues of the day.

Educated at Yeshiva of Flatbush in New York City, Wieseltier is firmly rooted in Jewish study, even though he broadened himself in other subjects at Columbia, Oxford and Harvard. Author of the 1998 book “Kaddish,” Wieseltier has demonstrated throughout his career how a grounding in Jewish particularism is a useful lens through which to view the world, both because it encapsulates the wisdom of a long-enduring people and because Jewish values are the progenitors of universal humanism.

On the occasion of the Journal’s 30th anniversary, we caught up with Wieseltier to talk about why, in an increasingly global world, Jewish journalism still matters.

Danielle Berrin: You’ve said that Jewish journalism is essential because it gives the Jewish community a sense of itself and captures the lived experience of the Jewish people. Why does it matter to American democracy? 

Leon Wieseltier: In an open society, the reporting of unpleasant truths and the criticism of leaders is an essential feature of [democracy]. It’d be impossible to imagine democratic life without journalism, and since Jews in the United States have been among the groups that have kindled most ferociously to democratic habits and practices, Jewish journalism is our community’s way of affirming its belief in democracy and in an open society.

“In an open society, the reporting of unpleasant truths and the criticism of leaders is an
essential feature of [democracy].” — Leon Wieseltier

DB: What do you make of the argument that critical Jewish journalism makes Jews look bad?

LW: For a variety of reasons, [Jews] have had mixed feelings about airing truths about their communal realities. For a long time. they worried that the goyim would overhear and it would somehow weaken the position of the Jews in the host culture of wherever they were living. There is something about the ethic of journalism that defies certain traditional Jewish ethics — I sometimes think of Jewish journalism as the professionalization of lashon harah [gossip]. We are taught not to say bad things about people, not to circulate the bad things that we know about people even if they’re true. And then along comes this profession that basically consists of that; that has to have a critical and skeptical attitude if it is to meet its own standards. It would be a travesty if Jewish journalism consisted merely of the praise of important Jewish figures and institutions, because it would violate the principles of journalism and it would deprive members of respective communities of information that they need. People used to complain in the old days that Jews suffer from self-hatred; the problem now is that they suffer from self-love.

DB: You’ve said, “Self-criticism is the hallmark of a mature community.” But how do you encourage self-criticism when the Jewish self-understanding has been shaped, in part, by an excess of outside criticism?

LW: There’s a sentence in Maimonides that is fundamental in many contexts, including this one: Qabel et haemet mimi sh’amra — “Accept the truth from whoever utters it.” The first question is: “What is true?” Not: “Who is saying it?” It may be that this truth is being directed at us by enemies, but we cannot use the motives of certain critics to discredit what they say. If it’s true, it’s true. The American Jewish position is the strongest it has been in any Diaspora community in Jewish history — the eruption of the anti-Semitic sewer in the Trump campaign notwithstanding. If Merrick Garland had been confirmed to the [Supreme Court] as he should have been, there would have been four Jewish justices on the Supreme Court [and] pretty soon we would have had to worry about establishing a goyish seat! Given our security here, I’m not especially worried about external criticism.

DB: Since the Jewish community as a whole is more powerful than at any other time in Jewish history, should our standards for self-examination change? 

LW: Insofar as we have become more powerful, we can expect more interrogation and more hostility. [But] our security and our strength in this country doesn’t absolve us of our ancient Jewish obligation of self-reckoning. That obligation applies to the strong as well as to the weak — none of us are exempt from it, individually or communally. The Jews in the exile never used the fact that they were surrounded by hostility as an excuse to lower their standards for themselves. In the Torah, [it says] “Hoche’ah tochi’ah et amitecha — You must rebuke your fellow” — Leviticus 19:17. If anyone wondered about the ultimate license in Judaism for critical journalism, it’s in that verse.

DB: How would you characterize the landscape of American Jewish journalism today? What are we getting right and what can we do better?

LW: Oh, I think American Jewish journalism is never as good as it should be. I think there are a few islands of excellence and it’s better than it was 30 years ago. Sometimes I think there’s too much noise and not enough sharpness. And every evidence of Jewishness has suddenly become charming and fascinating. I probably wish there was less, but better.

DB: If you were running a Jewish newspaper right now, what issues would you cover?

LW: The most important subject facing the American Jewish community is the new financial and power structure of the community. The Jewish community and its institutions have never been more dependent than they are now upon the largesse of spectacularly wealthy people — families and foundations — and I think that the prestige of wealth has never been greater. So one of the things Jewish journalism should cover in a very, very strict way are the foundations [and] the benefactors. It should also make an extended effort to cover the nature of Jewishness of American millennial Jews, because they are the successor generation; it needs to cover the impact of the internet on Jewish life and identity; the condition of the various rabbinates in the various denominations; and the holy grail would be the kosher meat industry. I don’t want to read about Jewish celebrities. I don’t want to hear that some Jewish movie star or non-Jewish movie star was seen eating kreplach. I’m tired of the reduction of Jewish journalism to a celebration of ethnic tics. Enough Seinfeld. Enough Larry David. Enough Barbra Streisand.

DB: You’ve said that the people who own and operate media companies have a responsibility to publish articles with which they do not agree. But in our online age, the public finds itself in so-called “echo chambers” where we can consume journalism that confirms what we already believe and rarely do we have to confront other perspectives. How can Jewish journalism bypass this?

LW: Too many people think that the purpose of Jewish journalism is to strengthen Jewish identity. I think the purpose of Jewish journalism is to probe and investigate and analyze Jewish identity. All Jewish life cannot be an experience of affirmation.

DB: Does journalism need to reassess itself in the age of Trump? 

LW: Relations between the president and the media are going to be bad. The role of the press in covering power is adversarial, and it should be adversarial. My working rule is: The more power, the less pity. I think the media has some self-reckoning to do about the astonishing gift of free media to Donald Trump during the campaign. And the other thing they have to think about is the religion of data, and the reverence for numbers and polls. Because something went badly wrong. So they have a cheshbon [accounting] to do.

But they also have a job to do, which is to cover the new president as obnoxiously and relentlessly as they can, which, by the way, was their job in covering Obama. The obligation remains the same. The media has to be pitiless about every powerful individual in our society, because power has to be held accountable. And one of the main instruments of our accountability is public opinion, and public opinion will only be as good as its sources of information. Journalism plays a central role in that. And so, in order for Americans to have a shot at correct, knowledgeable and factual options, they need the institutions and the people that govern them to be covered ruthlessly.

Melvin Durslag, journalist, dies at 95


Melvin Durslag, one of the last surviving major metropolitan newspaper columnists who personified and shaped the golden age of Jewish sportswriters in post-World War II America, died in Santa Monica on July 17. He was 95.

At the peak of his career in the 1960s through the ‘80s, Durslag’s byline was published in daily and weekly newspapers and magazines with a combined circulation of some 25-million. This figure was estimated to be higher than that of popular and widely read Jewish advice columnists Dear Abby and Ann Landers.

A journalism graduate of USC, his best-known work was with the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner, as well as TV Guide and the Sporting News in the heyday of their popularity. In any given week, he would write seven daily columns for the Herald Examiner, and then serve as a contributing writer of lengthy feature articles on the leading sports personalities and events of the 20th century. Magazines to which he was a contributing writer included the Saturday Evening Post, Look, and Sports Illustrated.

His newspaper column, in particular, served as a springboard for bringing major league sports to Los Angeles. He lobbied, in writing, for bringing Dodger Stadium to Chavez Ravine, the Lakers and the Sports Arena to Exposition Park, and the Raiders from Oakland to L.A. and into a new stadium that never was to be. Durslag was one of the first journalists to focus on the business side of sports. He generally did not approve of tax dollars going into public stadiums and arenas, warning readers that they were sure-bet money losers. 

Despite his work appearing in many of the most influential and highest circulation publications of the time, Durslag’s name was not as widely recognizable as one might expect. He never considered himself a “media celebrity” even though he was a confidant of many of sports’ most controversial and high-profile owners. These included maverick Jewish NFL executives such as Al Davis, Carroll Rosenbloom, Gene Klein and Art Modell. To that list may be added non-Jewish and non-conformist owners such as Walter O’Malley, Jack Kent Cooke, Gene Autry and Charles O. Finley.

Working in the pre-Internet age of communication, Durslag was trusted by sports’ elites because he strictly abided by a code of confidentiality and ethics; still he was able to perform his job with utmost objectivity, which earned him the trust of his legions of loyal readers.

He clung to a journalistic philosophy in which he did not consider himself the center of attention; rather, the modest purveyor of the information from those he interviewed as the experts. Rarely did Durslag’s stories venture beyond his sources doing the speaking, and they were almost always written in the third person.

Joe Siegman, founder of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and co-founder and past chairman of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (which elected Durslag in 1991), said, “Mel Durslag let his typewriter tell you who he was.  Before there was Google, there was Durslag. He was especially helpful for research during the early days of the Halls of Fame.”

Writing about the Munich Olympic massacre of Israeli athletes in 1972, Durslag slightly reverted off of his journalist ethos, and wrote in the first person. “I never thought I would live to see this at a sports event. As times began to change and people started taking their philosophic differences to the streets, and they expressed themselves with bombs, with bullets, and with fire, the possibility began to develop that sports was not exempt from this behavioral pattern.”

Durslag penned these words for the Sporting News as someone who, in his career, had covered 10 Olympic Games, as well as 25 Super Bowls and 34 World Series – all potential targets for terrorists. Henceforth he was concerned about security and the high costs involved at sporting events, especially international competition.

Melvin Durslag was born in Chicago on April 29, 1921, the second of two sons of Hungarian Jewish immigrant parents. When he was a small child the family moved to Los Angeles.

After graduating from Los Angeles High School and USC, he took his first journalism job with the Los Angeles Examiner (later the Herald Examiner), one of two flagship newspapers in the once powerful chain founded by “Citizen Kane,” the legendary media mogul William Randolph Hearst.

His journalism career was placed on hold when he entered the Army Air Corps in 1942. He served with distinction in India and China. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Durslag concluded his military service by writing speeches for legendary Air Corps Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle who gained fame for leading his airmen in daring and successful missions along Asia’s Pacific Rim.

Like many other Jewish GIs returning to civilian life, Durslag pursued — against his immigrant mother’s wishes — a career as a sportswriter. Before the war, sports writing had been previously dominated by the sons of Irish and German immigrants. After the war, Jews began making a name for themselves as national columnists, “rewriting” the rules of sports journalism. Durslag’s contemporaries who went on to the national spotlight (those born between 1915 and 1929) and that predeceased him included such names as Dick Young, Leonard Koppett, Milton Richman and Joe Reichler from New York; Jerome Holtzman from Chicago; Hy Hurwitz from Boston; Art Rosenbaum from San Francisco; Stan Hochman from Philadelphia; and Hal Lebovitz from Cleveland.  

The writing style of sports articles evolved to appeal to the emerging middle class, which was better educated, and wanted more leisure time. This led to record TV ratings, attendance and marketing revenues for sporting events. Durslag was a pioneer in composing feature stories and in-depth interviews which later evolved into the TV news magazine format.

He brought diversification to the topics to be included in the sports column, not limiting himself to football and the three B’s –boxing, baseball and basketball. He would write about golf and the Kentucky Derby to attract more affluent readers. He did not have a distinct “written voice.” He utilized many styles, tailor-made for his publication and its readers.

In 1995, Durslag was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame.

When Durslag retired he, without fanfare, gifted his extensive career files to the Paul Ziffren Sports Resource Center Library at the Amateur Athletic Foundation in L.A., according to Joe Siegman. Ziffren, a prominent Jewish community leader, was chairman of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee.

As recently as 2007, he appeared in HBO’s documentary, Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush.

He is survived by his wife of 68 years, the former Lorayne Sweet, three children, Bill Durslag, Jim Durslag and Ivy Durslag, and three grandchildren.


Richard Macales is a contributor to the four-volume reference/anthology work, “American Sports: A History of Icons, Idols and Ideas,” edited by Prof. Murry R. Nelson. ABC-Clio.

What’s a dollar a month worth?


People love the Jewish Journal. They love picking it up, at a shul or deli or cafe or market, and flipping through the stories of the Jewish world. There’s nothing quite like it in Los Angeles — a gathering place where all the voices of our community can be heard.

I can’t tell you how often I hear: “I love the paper. I’m hooked. It’s my weekly read.”

That kind of response gratifies me to no end, because I think good journalism is essential to the Jewish future. Where else would Jews regularly connect to their world and their community if not in a community paper? What other Jewish institution can claim to build as much Jewish connection, every week in print, and every day online — at no cost, and with access to all?

Some of you already know that in addition to my obsession with the Los Angeles Lakers, I’m obsessed with Jewish unity. Not Jewish uniformity, but unity within diversity — the idea of Jews of all colors and denominations coming together and uniting in a spirit of exchange, where we can learn and receive from one another.

I love being at the Shabbat table of a Persian friend and tasting a new cuisine, or seeing Sephardic Jews singing Chasidic nigguns at the Happy Minyan. This is a privilege my ancestors didn’t have. During the centuries that they lived in Morocco, how often did they get to meet Jews of different traditions?

I can walk down Pico Boulevard on a Shabbat afternoon and, in one block, encounter more Jewish diversity than my grandparents experienced in a lifetime. It’s true that sometimes that diversity can get on our nerves. Human beings prefer the familiar. I get that.

But it’s worth appreciating this grand family reunion that is now happening in the Jewish world.

After so many centuries of being mostly in our own bubbles, here we are in this great, amorphous city called Los Angeles, where we can discover each other. Persian Jews learning about Russian Jews, South African Jews learning about Tunisian Jews, Israeli Jews dancing with Latino Jews.

Our wish is that by Thanksgiving 2016, we will have tens of thousands of readers becoming patrons of the community paper they own and love, in whatever amount they’re comfortable with, even a dollar.

This is unity within diversity, and I think it’s a major reason why people so love the Journal. We cover it all. We inspire curiosity. We inspire connection.

Of course, none of this comes cheap. It costs a lot of money to hire reporters, to print and distribute thousands of papers each week, and to stay current on the Web. So, to use our CFO Adam Levine’s favorite question: “Are you sure we can afford all this?

Well, that depends on you — which is why I’m writing this Thanksgiving column.

As many of you know, the Journal is a nonprofit. It is distributed free because we don’t believe in charging for Jewish connection. We’re fortunate that we can cover a lot of our expenses through advertising —  but because advertising hardly covers it all, we’ve always depended on donations to help us continue to serve you.

This year, because we are a community paper that belongs to the community, we want to give everyone a chance to chip in. So, we are asking 100,000 readers and fans to join the Jewish Journal family and help keep us strong with a monthly donation of $1 or more. 

We have about 150,000 readers a week in print in Los Angeles, and another 3 million worldwide each month at jewishjournal.com. If 100,000 of our readers each chip in $1 a month, that will cover our printing costs for the whole year — all 52 issues — and will enable us to continue growing and serving you. If 50,000 readers chip in $2 a month, or 10,000 readers chip in $10 a month, we also reach our goal, and so on.

We call it our “One dollar or more” campaign. Our wish is that by Thanksgiving 2016, we will have tens of thousands of readers giving back to the community paper they own and love, in whatever amount they’re comfortable with, even a dollar.  

To make your tax-deductible donation now, choose the amount below and then click on the “Donate” button below. Or, if you're old school, call Adam Levine at (213) 368-1661, ext. 131.

What will you get in return? The satisfaction of contributing to the Jewish institution  that keeps us all connected — week after week.

I think that’s worth being grateful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.



*Your tax-deductible donation to the Jewish Journal provides high-quality, independent journalism that connects, informs and inspires the community. We can't do it without you!


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Sitting shivah for Grantland


Human beings get attached to all kinds of things. We have our favorite cafes, our favorite parks, our favorite shows, our favorite people. Take them away and something inside of us dies.

I lost my favorite website this past week, Grantland.

Grantland was a quirky, literary, sports and pop-culture site that belonged to ESPN, the giant sports network that pulled the plug. Thankfully, the archives will remain online, so Grantland junkies like myself can occasionally reminisce and revisit great stories, like a Civil War buff might revisit a famous war site.

Grantland was the brainchild of Bill Simmons, a longtime sportswriter from Boston who loved sports and pop culture in equal measure. Although he’s a diehard Celtics fan and I’m a diehard Lakers fan, I was addicted to the breezy intimacy of his sports columns. He wrote these long pieces that went off on humorous tangents, mixing deep knowledge of his subject with pop analogies and personal references. He was like an expert jazz musician, jamming away and enjoying himself, while we inhaled every note. His podcast was similarly intimate and addictive.

Although he’s a diehard Celtics fan and I’m a diehard Lakers fan, I was addicted to the breezy intimacy of his sports columns.

Simmons intuitively understood that sports and pop culture are both part of that same package we call “entertainment.” It’s not the part of our lives that worries about climate change, peace in the Middle East or paying our medical bills. It’s more like what recess was in grade school — a break from the serious and the tedious.

Although they look and feel different — sports is real-life competition with clear winners and losers; pop culture is the product of our imaginations — both can inspire us and bring us pleasure. We consume the brilliance of “Breaking Bad” just as we consume the brilliance of LeBron James.

Still, there’s a reason why you rarely see a hybrid site like Grantland. Culture junkies and sports junkies are often not the same people. It’s a lot easier to create niche sites for each crowd. Grantland broke the mold by being a hard-core site for both crowds. On its elegant and lively home page, you could see an erudite critique of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel featured right next to a 3,000-word analysis of why the Golden State Warriors offense is so lethal. 

Simmons, of course, is not the “niche” type. His site was a reflection of his deep attachment to all kinds of entertainment. It’s poignant that his contribution to the world he so loves was to cover it in a way that would be entertaining in its own right. He wanted the coverage of a show to be just as quirky and delightful as the show itself.

This is where Grantland really broke the mold — redefining how a culture site entertains. Instead of settling for popular, traffic-chasing gimmicks such as top-10 lists and juicy headlines, Grantland entertained with irreverent and literary prose. It celebrated long-form features, not Twitter-happy items. It hired talented writers who brought sophistication to mass entertainment, without being elitist. It was like watching Wolfgang Puck create the world’s best hamburger. Slowly.

No subject was immune to this ethos. Here is Grantland staff writer and author Brian Phillips on the pro wrestler Andre the Giant: 

“You open in rural France in the late 1950s. Andre at 12 is the size of a large adult. The driver has banned him from the school bus, so to get to class he depends on rides from a neighbor, Samuel Beckett, who has a truck. Yes, that Samuel Beckett. You can be the author of ‘Waiting for Godot.’ It’s still useful to have a truck. By his early twenties, Andre is working as a mover in Paris, toting refrigerators by himself. He gets noticed by wrestling promoters. Of course he does, a kid that size, with his crooked grin and those hazy piles of black hair.”

This kind of sophistication was a breath of fresh air from the macho swagger that colors so much of sports reporting, or the newsy gossip that colors so much of pop-culture reporting. Ironically, without resorting to the usual tricks of the trade, Grantland at its height was able to attract close to 7 million unique visitors a month.

But never mind all that. Today, Grantland is no more.

It’s clear that Simmons’s bosses at ESPN didn’t share his passion for his creation. After they decided not to renew his contract last May, it was just a matter of time before they would lose interest and shut down the site. I don't buy the excuse that the site was not profitable. A multibillion-dollar juggernaut like ESPN could certainly afford to support a site that adds so much prestige to its brand, or at least use its enormous sales leverage to make the site profitable. 

My gut is that ESPN killed Grantland because the very idea of the site was too subtle for its taste. ESPN has made its billions by sticking to sports and serving it up in a generally predictable way. Given that ESPN admitted a discomfort with covering pop culture, it’s telling that they couldn’t even bring themselves to keep the sports side of Grantland, which in itself would have been a breakthrough site.

In the end, as good as Simmons was, he was probably always doomed to leave the network because the man and his ideas are anything but predictable. Now that he’s at HBO, maybe he can get me addicted again.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Jewish student press group convenes in L.A.


More than two dozen Jewish high school student journalists from Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco gathered on Oct. 24 for a four-day convention and Shabbaton that aimed to build students’ practical journalism skills while addressing the intersection of news reporting and Jewish ethics.

The inaugural convention of the newly formed Jewish Scholastic Press Association (JSPA), held at B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Pico-Robertson, included workshops and lectures that covered issues such as Jewish journalism ethics, Israel coverage in the college press, freedom of the press in religious high schools, copyright law, photojournalism, layout techniques and more.

The conference was co-sponsored by Shalhevet, a Modern Orthodox school on Fairfax Avenue, and the American Jewish Press Association. It was organized by Joelle Keene, adviser to Shalhevet’s prize-winning newspaper, The Boiling Point. A total of 28 students — all but seven from Los Angeles — attended.

On Thursday, the conference’s first afternoon, students chose among several workshops. One was led by Los Angeles-based New York Times national correspondent Jennifer Medina, who is an Orthodox Jew. She gave students a glimpse into life as an observant Jewish journalist at The New York Times.

“The most difficult thing for me is Shabbat,” Medina said to a group of about 20 students in B’nai David’s beit midrash. “We work in a news system that goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“It’s quite unusual for any journalist to say, ‘There’s going to be 25 hours in a week where, not only will I not work, I won’t check e-mail or answer my phone,” Medina continued.

Students asked Medina questions ranging from her coverage of Israel during her brief stint as the paper’s Jerusalem correspondent to whether she has had to compromise her Jewish and halachic values as a journalist.

After Medina’s talk, Ricki Heicklen, a senior at the Modern Orthodox SAR High School in Riverdale, N.Y., told the Journal she learned how her religiosity is “going to shape my life later on” if she pursues a career in journalism. Heicklen is the editor-in-chief of her school’s newspaper, The Buzz. 

Students from out of town stayed at local families’ homes and attended B’nai David for Shabbat meals and services. They also had an opportunity to sample the various kosher restaurants lining Pico Boulevard.

The event’s keynote was given by Dana Erlich, Israeli consul for culture, media and public diplomacy in Los Angeles. 

In one session, journalist Kathleen Neumeyer, the adviser of the student newspaper at L.A.’s Harvard-Westlake School, addressed the issue of covering controversial news within one’s own community. She discussed the balance needed in reporting significant news while trying to not unfairly hurt anyone. 

“What are stories that maybe you could tell, but maybe they could be harmful to somebody?” she asked the students.

Adam Rokah, a junior at Shalhevet and the arts editor for the school’s newspaper, The Boiling Point, said that Neumeyer’s workshop gave him insights into “what names you can use and what has to be anonymous.”

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of the Jewish Week of New York, was among others who participated in the conference, along with several representatives from TRIBE Media Corp., the parent company of the Jewish Journal. They included Rob Eshman, publisher and editor-in-chief; David Suissa, president; and Susan Freudenheim, executive editor.

Deena Nerwen, a student at SAR, was awarded the JSPA’s inaugural prize for Jewish scholastic journalism for her story on the Tav HaYosher, an Orthodox initiative in New York that aims to improve working conditions in kosher restaurants.

Yossi Klein Halevi’s dream


Too many books about Israel try to tell us what to think or feel. Whether from the left or right, it seems that the subject of Israel brings out the emotional partisan in many of us. We feel strongly one way or the other, so we like to read books or articles that support our opinions.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong or surprising about that — it’s just that it usually doesn’t make for fascinating reading.

In his new, magisterial book about Israel, “Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation,” my friend Yossi Klein Halevi has taken a different approach.

He’s written a book not of opinions, but of stories. Stories and dreams. By following the lives of seven soldiers bonded by a seminal event, and recounting their divergent narratives, he’s captured the complexity of Israel in human terms.

Yossi’s own dreaming began after a miraculous Israeli victory during one unforgettable summer.

“In late June 1967, a few weeks after the end of the Six-Day War, I flew to Israel with my father,” he writes in the book. “I was a fourteen-year-old boy from Brooklyn, and my father, a Holocaust survivor, had decided that he couldn’t keep away any longer.”

These paratroopers who “fulfilled a dream of two millennia” didn’t just change the history of Israel and the Middle East, he writes, they also changed his life.

“At the Wall, I watched my father become a believing Jew. He had lost his faith in the Holocaust; but now, he said, he forgave God. The protector of Israel had regained His will. It was possible for Jews to pray again.”

“That summer,” he writes, “everyone in Israel felt like family … Israel celebrated its existence, life itself. We had done it: survived the twentieth century. Not merely survived but reversed annihilation into a kind of redemption, awakened from our worst nightmare into our most extravagant dream.”

The young Yossi dreamed of returning one day to become an Israeli, and for good reason: “The great Jewish adventure was happening in my lifetime; how could I keep away?”

He made aliyah in the summer of 1982, but was hardly prepared for the messy adventure that awaited him. Israel had just invaded Lebanon in response to terror attacks on the Galilee. This was no summer of love.

“Instead of uniting Israelis, as it had in 1967, war now divided them. For the first time there were antigovernment demonstrations, even as soldiers were fighting at the front.

“The euphoria of the summer of ’67, the delusion of a happy ending to Jewish history, had been replaced by an awareness of the agonizing complexity of Israel’s dilemmas.”

Making sense of this agonizing complexity would come to define Yossi’s next 30 years.

This wasn’t exactly the dream he had in mind when he made aliyah — the dream shaped by his idealized view of Israel in that heroic summer of 1967.

This was a grown-up type of dream, where the test of love would be trying to understand all sides and not rush to judgment.

I’ve known Yossi since the summer of 2000. When I first met him, I knew only about his reputation as one of Israel’s most astute political analysts. I had no idea he was also deeply spiritual and meditated every morning. I learned more about that side of him from his last book, “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for Hope With Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.”

These two sides — the spiritualist and the realist — have melded together in “Like Dreamers.” He has married the heartfelt sensitivity of spirituality with the hard-nosed demands of reality. 

“I tried to listen to the conflicting certainties that divided those who saw the results of 1967 as blessing from those who saw it as curse,” he writes. “Israel was losing the feeling of family that had drawn me there in the first place. Much of my career became focused on explaining the unraveling of the Israeli consensus.”

Not satisfied with producing only the piercing essays for which he is well known, in 2002, Yossi embarked on a decade-long journey to better understand the country he loves — to feel the Israeli reality through Israelis themselves — and to write about it.

The result is a poignant and deeply human portrait of a little nation navigating existential rapids through four tumultuous decades.

His masterstroke was to tell this story through the lives of the paratroopers who liberated the Western Wall where his father regained his faith in that fateful summer of ’67— when Yossi first began dreaming about Israel.

In thinking about these soldiers, he wondered: “How had the war changed their lives? What role did they play in trying to influence the political outcome of their military victory?”

It took hundreds of interviews all over the country, years of research, plenty of midnight meetings and more than a little soul searching to get at those answers.

In his journey, he discovered a group of Israeli soldiers who grew to become remarkably diverse — kibbutznik, religious Zionist, artist, peace activist, settler leader, capitalist, even an anti-Zionist.

The group came to represent some of the major schisms within Israeli society who “not only helped define the political debate of post ’67 Israel, but also its social and cultural transformations.”

Each of the paratroopers has a powerful story, but what truly distinguishes the book is how Yossi tells these stories.

By infiltrating the lives of these seven main characters over so many years, by observing and faithfully recounting their distinct and often-clashing narratives, by showing empathy even when it was difficult and by weaving in his insightful commentary, Yossi has delivered an Israel that dares to be authentic. 

An Israel that transcends caricature and humanizes the flawed heroes and dreamers of the Jewish nation, including, yes, even the much-maligned settlers.

An Israel gritty enough to face the reality of life-threatening problems with no easy answers.

An Israel that can be both united and divided, as when he writes: “Secular kibbutzniks and religious Zionists disagreed about God and faith and the place of religion in Jewish identity and the life of the state.

“Yet for all their differences, religious Zionism and the secular kibbutz movement agreed that the goal of Jewish statehood must be more than the mere creation of a safe refuge for the Jewish people.”  

It is this unifying and aspirational idea that fuels the book.

As its title suggests, the book is indeed a story of dreams, “a story about the fate of Israel’s utopian dreams, the vast hopes imposed on this besieged, embattled strip of land crowded with traumatized Jewish refugees.”

It’s a story of dreams that don’t go away, dreams that crash on each other, dreams that sometimes overlap, dreams that grudgingly evolve, dreams that are never fully realized.

It’s a story, above all, of complexity.

Here in the Diaspora, we’re tempted to look at this complexity and feel exhausted and get impatient and say, “Yeah, but the bottom line is that Israel must do this, or Israel must do that,” as if there really were only one bottom line.

Maybe the hidden message in “Like Dreamers” is that the absence of one bottom line is the bottom line.

And maybe the broader message in “Like Dreamers” is that if you had to pick one bottom line, it would be having the very freedom to follow one’s dreams.

That may well be Israel’s least-noticed and most notable achievement — how an embattled Jewish nation surrounded by enemies managed to create a society where its “traumatized refugees” felt free to follow their dreams, even when those dreams threatened to tear the country apart.

In giving us such a compelling portrait of Israel’s complex humanity, Yossi Klein Halevi has followed his own evolving and never-ending dream.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

‘For 2,000 years, the Temple Mount was off-limits to Jews’


Excerpted from Yossi Klein Halevi’s “Like Dreamers: The Story of Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation”

The next morning, the three battalions of Brigade 55 assembled on the Temple Mount, for a victory lineup. Only a week earlier they had been boarding buses ascending in a slow convoy to Jerusalem.

They gathered in the area between the Dome of the Rock and the silver-domed Al Aqsa mosque. The ceremony was delayed for the wounded. Motta had given the order that those who could be moved from their hospital beds should be brought to the ceremony.

Yoel Bin-Nun stood at the foot of the steps leading up to the Dome of the Rock. Any further, and he risked treading on the area of the Holy of Holies.

“Why aren’t you going up?” a kibbutznik asked him.

“This is the area of the Temple,” Yoel explained. “A victory lineup could have been done at the Wall. I see the bulldozers have already cleared the area,” he added sarcastically.

“But Yoel, isn’t the Temple Mount the essence?”

Yoel savored the irony: Here was a kibbutznik from Hashomer Hatzair berating a Kookian for seemingly underplaying the centrality of the Temple Mount. Kibbutzniks and Kookniks together: That’s what made the victory possible. 

In two days, Israel would be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot, marking the giving of the Torah at Sinai. For Yoel, it was also the festival of Jewish unity: The Torah was received by the whole people of Israel, functioning like a single body with one heart. And not since Sinai had the Jews been as united they were in these last weeks. The spiritual calculus was self-evident: Disunity brings destruction; unity, redemption.

The midday sun was strong, and men began removing their helmets. One dropped to the stone ground, then another, until there was a volley of crashing helmets. To Hanan Porat, it seemed a spontaneous ceremony marking the end of the war, perhaps the end of all war.

Accompanied by nurses, the wounded arrived, in casts and on wheelchairs. Avital Geva wasn’t among them: He was recovering from one operation and awaiting the next.

The intact rushed over to the wounded. There were hugs, anxious inquiries about missing friends.

Then the men lined up by battalion and faced the Dome of the Rock. Motta, Stempel and Uzi Narkiss stood before the soldiers. Motta had asked Arik to join them, but he preferred to stand with his staff.

I would gladly have forgone this victory, thought Arik, had it not been forced on us. Motta addressed his men: “For two thousand years, the Temple Mount was off-limits to Jews. Until you came — you, the paratroopers — and restored it to the embrace of the nation. The Western Wall, toward which every heart beats, is again in our hands.

“Many Jews risked their lives, throughout our long history, to come to Jerusalem and live in it. Innumerable songs expressed the deep longing … In the War of Independence, great efforts were made to return to the nation its heart — the Old City and the Western Wall.

“To you fell the great honor of completing the circle, to return to the nation its capital and the center of its holiness.

“Many paratroopers, including our closest friends, the most veteran and the best among us, fell in the difficult battle. It was a merciless battle, in which you functioned as a body that pushes aside everything in its way without noting its wounds. You didn’t complain … Instead, you aspired only forward …

“Jerusalem is yours — forever.”

The brigade was discharged, but the officers stayed on for debriefings and hospital visits to see the wounded. Motta asked Arik to remain in uniform for another three months, until the fall semester at university, to prepare the final report on the battle for Jerusalem. Arik had had other plans. He needed to make up exams. And he intended to marry Yehudit Hazan. But he couldn’t say no to Motta.

That night, the two men shared a hotel room. After showering, they sat in their underwear, on the edge of their beds. “Tell me who,” said Motta.

Until then, Motta hadn’t had a complete list of the brigade’s dead. Arik began reciting from memory the names of their fallen friends, over 20 of the brigade’s veterans alone, with whom they’d served since the mid-1950s.

Motta broke out in loud sobs.

Arik couldn’t remember the last time he had wept; that was a privilege denied him. He bowed his head, averting his gaze to give Motta an approximation of privacy, and waited until the weeping passed.

Yehuda Lev, Jewish journalist and columnist, 86


Yehuda Lev, an iconoclastic journalist and veteran of World War II and Israel’s War of Independence, who established a European underground route to smuggle Holocaust survivors to Palestine, died on Aug. 3 in Providence, R.I., after a prolonged illness. He was 86.

With the founding of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles in 1986, Lev became the weekly’s first associate editor, continuing in the role until 1993. He was best known for his column “A Majority of One,” which slayed the Jewish community’s sacred cows week after week.

Rob Eshman, The Journal’s publisher and editor-in-chief, observed that “Yehuda took seriously journalism’s obligation to ‘afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted’. His columns were fearlessly critical of communal institutions at a time when most Jewish papers played it safe. The angrier the response from machers and mavens, the happier he was.”

Gene Lichtenstein, The Journal’s first editor, who had hired Lev for his writing style and skill, noted, “what Yehuda had not told me  [during an initial job interview] was quite how generous and important a mentor to young journalists he would turn out to be. Or how gracious and witty and loyal a friend the newspaper and I had acquired.”

[Related: A self-written obituary: A Majority of One]

Lev was born in New York City and raised in Forest Hills as John Lewis Low, the son of Sol Low, a successful businessman, and Rosamond Trilling Low one of the first American female labor lawyers.

He dropped out of Cornell to enlist in the U.S. Army during the latter part of World War II and was discharged in Germany when the war ended.

Moved by the plight of Holocaust survivors languishing in Displaced Persons camps, he established a route, mostly by foot, to bring the DPs to Mediterranean ports, where they embarked on “illegal” ships, past the British naval blockade, into Palestine.

At the same time, he looked after the physical needs of the survivors. At one point, he wrote his mother in Forest Hills, asking whether she could collect some wearable clothes for the refugees.

Three months later, Lev wrote, “I received word from a querulous American transportation officer in Bremerhaven that a shipment of 10 tons of clothing had arrived in a military transport and that I was listed on the manifest as its recipient. A few months later, a second shipment of 12 tons of clothing arrived.”

Returning to the United States, Lev earned master’s degrees from the University of Chicago (political science/Arabic studies) and Stanford (communication arts).

Then, in 1947, he set off to Palestine to help the Jews in their struggle to establish an independent state. Changing his name to Yehuda Lev, he joined the Israeli army when war broke out in May 1948.

[Related: Remembering Yehuda Lev]

While on patrol in the Negev, his jeep was blown up by a landmine, which killed everyone else and shattered his feet.

He remained in Israel at the end of the war and established himself as a highly popular radio host of “Jerusalem Calling,” a daily one-hour variety and discussion show in English on Kol Ysrael, the country’s national network.

Later, as the only native English speaker at Kol Ysrael, Lev became the network’s voice in reporting the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann to the outside world. Before returning to America in 1965 with his wife Idell Low, he created a record, “Six Million Accuse,” which was nominated for a Grammy.

In Los Angeles, Lev resumed his writing career on Jewish newspapers and a self-published broadsheet (also titled “A Majority of One”).

After divorcing Low, he married Rosa Maria (Shoshana) Pegueros, and in 1993, when she was offered a professorship in history and women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island, the couple moved to Providence.

Lev became active there in the local Jewish community and Federation, particularly in advising and writing for the local Jewish Voice & Herald, while also contributing to the daily Providence Journal.

In 2008, he suffered complications from a series of ailments and spent much of the following five years in care homes and hospitals. The same year, he wrote his own obituary, which was funny and completely honest (for the complete text, please visit this article at jewishjournal.com), in which he chose as his tombstone inscription  “He was there, when needed…Mostly.”

Lev is survived by his first and second wives and four adult children, Dr. Daniel Low (Jennifer), Dafna Low Smith (Scott) and David Low, all of Los Angeles, and Ariela Low Gragg (Clayton) of Providence, as well as five grandchildren.

Interment is scheduled for Aug. 9 at the Veterans Cemetery in Providence. A later memorial service is planned for Los Angeles.

Donations in Lev’s memory may be sent to the Jewish Voice & Herald, 401 Elmgrove Ave., Providence, R.I. 02906.

The family requests that those wishing to share a recollection of Yehuda Lev’s life email it to: yehudastory@gmail.com.

Jewish Journal receives top honors at 55th Annual SoCal Journalism Awards


The Jewish Journal won top honors in three categories at the Los Angeles Press Club’s 55th Southern California Journalism Awards ceremony, which took place June 23 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Jewish Journal columnist Marty Kaplan, who pens a bi-weekly column on a wide range of topics, from politics to science, received the award for Best Columnist. Reporter Danielle Berrin was honored with Best Individual Blog and critic Tom Teicholz garnered first prize for Entertainment Reviews/Criticism/Columns.   

Berrin’s Hollywood Jew blog, which appears on jewishjournal.com, was recognized for two entries: “Should ‘Girls’ Just Get Married” and “Wrong to be Funny About Anne Frank?

Teicholz was recognized for an arts column titled “Lessons from Arthur Schnitzler’s Vienna,” about the late-19th/early 20th century playwright and essayist .

The Jewish Journal, with a weekly circulation of 50,000, competes against other large publications including the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly, as well as online media like The Wrap and Hollywood Reporter.

The banquet also honored the legendary comedy writer and actor Carl Reiner, who received the President’s Award for lifetime achievement; NBC sportscaster Fred Roggin, who received the Joseph M. Quinn Award; Los Angeles Downtown News publisher Sue Laris, who received the Public Service Award; and journalist Sandra Rodriguez Nieto of Juarez, Mexico, who was honored with the The Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism.

The Jewish Journal was recognized with seven finalist nominations and took home a total of five awards:  Rob Eshman, the Journal’s editor-in-chief and publisher, won second place for columnist,  Kaplan also picked up a second place award for Entertainment Reviews/Criticism/Columns,  and columnist Raphael J. Sonenshein received Third Place for Political Commentary.

In awarding Kaplan for Best Column, the judges wrote: “Like a boxer, [Kaplan] is relentless, coming after you with crisp language and rhetorical combinations, whether the subject is Chris Christie or global warming. Embrace Kaplan’s points or totally discard them, you’ll almost certainly stay in the ring with him until the end.”

Of Berrin, the judges wrote,  “She carefully infuses strong, well-written commentary with her personality and insight, all within the lively online platform blogs provide.”

And of Teicholz, the judges’ comments included: “His reviews are informative and engaging.”

Criticism is not Islamophobia


Criticism is the oxygen of journalism. Here at the Jewish Journal, we will criticize anything that we believe deserves criticism, including religion. We will criticize preachers who use Christianity to express hatred and bigotry toward gays as much as we will criticize religious Jews who use the Torah to humiliate women rabbis wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall.

Personally, I’ve shown my revulsion at some of the stuff written in the Torah — like the admonition to stone your son to death if he desecrates the Sabbath—and I’ve railed against missionary Christians who twist the Torah in order to convert Jews.

But I have to confess — like most of the mainstream media in America, I’ve been very reluctant to criticize Islam.

When, several years ago, virtually every American paper refused to publish satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, I should have criticized that response. I understood that fear and intimidation probably played a role, given the riots that followed their publication in a Danish paper.

But it’s not as if the media has ever been afraid to publish cartoons that make fun of Jesus or Moses or Buddha — so why should they single out Muhammad for special treatment?

If you ask me, I think it’s time we stop walking on eggshells with Islam.

It’s not healthy. This notion that any critique of Islam equates to Islamophobia is absurd and patronizing. It says to Muslims: “We criticize Judaism and Christianity because we think they can handle it, but we don’t think you can.” That’s insulting to Islam and to Muslims.

Every religion needs a good dose of criticism. That’s how they improve and become more human. That’s how they shed their outdated and immoral layers, like slavery and oppression of women. Where would Judaism be today without the centuries of relentless self-reflection and self-criticism that goes on to this day?

How could it be wrong or Islamophobic to criticize a religious text that might justify the stoning to death of women or the killing of infidels?

After terror attacks that appear to have an Islamic connection, such as last week’s Boston massacre, we often hear defensive talk about how Islam is a “religion of peace.” To back this up, Muslim commentators like to quote a verse in the Koran (Surah 5, verse 32) that mentions the Talmudic idea that if you kill one human being, it is as if you have killed an entire world.

The problem, though, is that commentators usually fail to mention the verse that immediately follows, which is anything but peaceful: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.”

Verse 32 works for me. Verse 33 turns my stomach.

The way I see it, the future of Islam and its reputation in the world will hinge on which verse will win out—verse 32 or verse 33.

So far, it looks like the wrong verse is winning. Since 9/11, close to 20,000 acts of terrorism have been recorded throughout the world under the name of Islam, many of those against Muslims themselves.

It’s suicidal and counterproductive for the world to pretend that violence-prone religious texts like verse 33 do not exist, especially if those texts are used to instigate violence against “infidels” and other mischief-makers.

Religions shouldn’t get an automatic pass at respect. They have to earn it. If you’re a member of a religion where some members use the religion as an excuse to kill people, your job is not to convince me that you’re a religion of peace, but to convince your co-religionists who are actually doing the killing.

It’s ironic that verse 32 borrows from Jewish texts. Muslims who believe in that peaceful verse might want to borrow something else from the Jews: a big mouth.

These Muslims of verse 32 have been too quiet for too long. If they want the world to show more respect for their cherished religion, they must rise up and make more noise against their violent minority who believe in verse 33.

There’s no dishonor in self-criticism. Jews do it all the time. Maybe that’s why you don’t see much criticism of Islam in Jewish papers—we’re too busy criticizing ourselves.

But criticism is not an end in itself– it must lead to results. The Muslims of verse 32 must win the moral battle against the Muslims of verse 33, even if it takes a century. And they must not recoil at criticism that may come from outsiders who have good intentions. In fact, they must use it to shame their violent cohorts.

Constructive criticism of violent texts is not Islamophobia. It’s the beginning of positive change. Painting all criticism of Islam with the Islamophobic brush is just as wrong as painting all Muslims with a violent brush. It suffocates debate and the very process of evolution.

To borrow from another Jewish mantra, constructive criticism is good for the Jews, good for the Muslims and good for the world.

Journalists’ group considers dropping Helen Thomas award


Helen Thomas’ decision to take her disparagement of Zionists from off the cuff (last May) to on the record (last month) has led a journalists’ group to consider dropping her name from a lifetime achievement award.

The Society of Professional Journalists is revisiting its decision last summer not to change the name of its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award after Thomas, 90, told an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., last month that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”

Thomas, a 67-year-veteran of Washington reporting, resigned from her job as a columnist at Hearst last June after remarking to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States. She later apologized, but her remarks in Michigan on Dec. 2 have raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of the apology.

“Ms. Thomas’ most recent remarks led to calls for a reconsideration of the issue by the executive board,” said Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and an investigative journalist for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

The decision will be considered Jan. 8 at a meeting of the society’s executive committee. Ahead of the meeting, the society posted on its online magazine Quill what it said were two typical letters—one for renaming the award and one against.

Limor said the society, which advocates for press freedoms and promotes high-quality journalism through scholarships and awards, had been in touch with Thomas.

A message left at Thomas’ home by JTA was not returned.

Her website, helenthomas.org, still leads with her statement of regret, saying her remarks at the time “do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance.”

After her June remarks to blogger Rabbi David Nesenoff, the society considered calls from members and some Jewish groups to rename its Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement but decided against it, noting her apology and the off-the-cuff nature of the remarks, an official with the organization told JTA.

That changed a few weeks ago with her speech in Dearborn, where Thomas grew up.

“We are owned by the propagandists against the Arabs. There’s no question about that,” Thomas told the Arab Detroit group. “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists. No question in my opinion. They put their money where their mouth is.”

Wayne State University, her alma mater, immediately withdrew its Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award. Under deluge again, the Society for Professional Journalists said it would reconsider.

“This episode was a sad final chapter to an otherwise illustrious career as a trailblazer for women and minorities in journalism,” Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, wrote in the online letter to Quill seeking to rename the award. “Unlike her first off-the-cuff remarks into a camera, Thomas’ comments were carefully thought out and reveal a person who is deeply infected with anti-Semitism.”

Thomas, born to Lebanese immigrants, for decades was the White House correspondent for the United Press International wire service. She was among the first female journalists in Washington to break out of the traditional first lady coverage, scoring newsmaking interviews with Presidents Johnson through Clinton. When she left UPI to become a columnist for Hearst, she emerged as one of the first and sharpest critics of the Iraq war.

Wayne State’s decision was the right one, Foxman said in his letter, and “it should no longer be considered an honor to receive an award bearing her name.”

Countering was Lloyd Weston, a retired publisher and editor.

“The same First Amendment that protects my right to be a Jew and a Zionist in America protects Helen Thomas’ right to express her opinion of Jews and Zionists, no matter what that opinion may be,” said Weston, a Wayne State alumni who said his professors were likely “turning in their graves” at the university’s decision to rescind the honor.

The Society for Professional Journalists, established in 1909, granted Thomas its first lifetime achievement honor in 2000, and pledged to name subsequent awards for her. It has been awarded nine times since its debut. The award has no cash value.

On Saturday, the society’s executive committee could decide to rename the lifetime achievement award or not, or it could refer the matter to the full board, an official said.

Hitting the century mark doesn’t stop this translator


Most afternoons, you can find Eva Zeitlin Dobkin working. Undaunted by the 100-year marker she passed last month, she pulls her wheelchair up to the hospital bed in the room she shares at the Jewish Home for the Aging — her side is separated by a curtain — and spreads her work out over the lavender bedspread. While her roommate rests or watches television with the volume turned high, Dobkin spends a couple of hours editing “Burning Earth” (“Brenendike Erd” ), a historical novel she has translated from Yiddish to English.

She began working on the book in 1984, then had to put it aside to complete other translation projects.

Now, despite limits to her endurance, she is reviewing her final version for the fifth or sixth time, making corrections in longhand — she gave up the computer two years ago — and occasionally referring to a Yiddish-English dictionary to verify her word choice. The book, by Aaron Zeitlin, who may be a cousin, was written in 1934 and centers on a group of Zionists who spied for the British, prior to the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

This is the fourth or fifth book Dobkin has translated, in addition to innumerable articles, letters and personal memorabilia. Her best-known book is “Profiles of a Lost World: Memoirs of East European Jewish Life before World War II” by Hirsz Abramowicz, published in 1999.

Recently, Dobkin did take one afternoon off to celebrate her birthday — she was born on Nov. 20, 1906. Dressed in black slacks and a black sweater trimmed in white, her gray hair pulled neatly back, she sat in one of the home’s conference rooms at the head of a large table. Her son, Jack Forem, flanked her on one side, her youngest sister, Hannah Doberne, on the other. A cake, frosted in chocolate with brightly colored flowers, was set before her, as well as two balloon bouquets.

Friends joined her at the table. A second group, in chairs and wheelchairs, formed an outer circle. They clapped and occasionally sang along to “Bei Mir Bist Du Shein” (“To Me You Are Beautiful”), “Di Grine Kuzine” (“The Greenhorn Cousin”) and other Yiddish songs played by a pianist and violist. Staff members, most in red uniform smocks, clapped along.

“I regret that when you’re 100, I probably won’t be able to come to your simcha,” Dobkin, told her guests, including about 25 fellow residents at the Eisenberg campus, where she’s lived two years and is known as Eva Forem.

It was her day to shine, though, with 19 residents currently ranging in age from 100 to 108, centenarians are surprisingly common at the Jewish Home. Dobkin, however, is among the lucky ones, in that she is well and alert enough to be able to keep working.

Dobkin doesn’t play bingo, and she doesn’t own a television. She occasionally attends a lecture or musical event, but generally, when she isn’t working, she is reading, usually The Forward in Yiddish or English or The Jewish Journal. She reads without glasses, except for very small print.

She also spends about 45 minutes each afternoon discussing her work by telephone with her son, 62, who is a writer and lives in Yucca Valley, and who has been collaborating with her on the book’s final stages. Dobkin is hoping to find a publisher for it.

She has been translating Yiddish since 1932, when she was hired by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at $15 a week to work as a Yiddish and English typist. By the end of the first week, however, she was writing stories in Yiddish and English off the cable transmissions, eventually working her way up to $35. However, she left after two or three years to study for her teaching credential.

In 1936, she married Leon Forem, and in 1946 her son was born. She separated from her husband five months afterward and moved to Los Angeles in 1957, supporting herself by teaching public school from 1957 to 1972, mostly at Pacoima’s Telfair Avenue Elementary School.

Born in Waterbury, Conn., to parents who had just emigrated from Russia’s Mohilev Province, now Belarus, she was the oldest of seven children, and her youngest sister, 85, is her only surviving sibling. She grew up bilingual in Yiddish and English, and at age 3 she was taught by her father to write her name in Yiddish.

“There were Jewish periodicals coming into the house, and I would look at them whether I understood them or not,” she said.

Dobkin attended public school in Waterbury and later, after moving at age 16, in the Bronx. She also received a Jewish secular education, taught primarily in Yiddish, and considers herself not religious but “very Jewish.”

She often had to care for her younger siblings while her parents worked but nevertheless managed to acquire an A.B. in German, with a minor in English and education from Hunter College, as well as a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. The family was poor.

“We had nothing. Sometimes we didn’t have a quarter to put in the gas meter,” she said.

She attributes her success, and that of her siblings, to her parents’ emphasis on education and the availability of free schooling. Her longevity, she believes, is due to genetics.

“Pick the right parents and grandparents,” she advised, wryly. She won’t commit to a future translating project but is considering writing a family history.

“Have a few more birthdays,” her son said as the party wound down.

“I wouldn’t mind,” Dobkin retorted, “if they’re not any worse than this one.”

For more information, call (310) 456-2178

Perky Obit Girl


My love of journalism started in high school, when I confronted the cafeteria manager at my public — predominantly Jewish — high school about why there was no matzah available during Passover. I’ve always loved keeping people informed, so journalism seemed like a natural career path. When I came to The Journal as a copy editor and had the opportunity to write and edit stories and interview celebrities (both real and pseudo), I couldn’t have imagined a better job.

Then came the curveball: In addition to writing and editing, I was asked to coordinate the obituaries. Ouch. The girl with the Mickey Mouse doll perched atop her computer was faced with handling grief on a daily basis.

It’s strange to be the “Perky Obit Girl,” as I’ve been dubbed by my colleagues. That part of my job mostly involves processing the listings from L.A. Jewish mortuaries.

Sometimes I’ll get a heartwarming listing for someone who lived into their early 100s, did tons for the community and had great-great-grandchildren. And because we’re in Tinseltown, I occasionally have a brush with fame. When the former husband of “Gilligan’s Island” actress Dawn Wells died, she faxed in the notice on her own palm tree-adorned stationery.

On the flip side, there are the ones about the family of three who was killed in a car accident; the 20-something who was lost at sea.

And then there are the odd requests that take me by surprise. One mortuary notice listed the sibling as: Puppy Brewster. Thinking that “Puppy” was a nickname, I ran it as: sister, Puppy Brewster. The family was incensed, and called to complain. Brewster was the name of the deceased man’s dog.

When I tell people what I do, I always take pride in ending with: “….and I coordinate the obituary page.” Sometimes I get a smile, sometimes a wince, but more often than not I get every journalist’s dream answer: “I faithfully read it every week.”

 

Risks, Rewards of the Jewish Angle


Jewish journalism has its risks, as veteran newsman Daniel Schorr has pointed out.

Addressing a Jewish audience in Los Angeles some years ago, Schorr recounted that his first professional job, in the mid-1930s, was as a correspondent with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in his native New York.

He eventually quit and moved on to CBS and fame because, he said, “I became aware that I was looking at everything through a Jewish lens.”

There are other dangers in covering the Jewish world. They include indigestion and glazed eyeballs from too many testimonial dinners, the wrath of machers who do not suffer criticism lightly and the unforgiving grudges of VIPs whose names were left out of the story.

“Community leaders” might have overlooked such sins in a goyishe urban daily — what do they know about the suffering and incredible accomplishments of our people? — but to be slighted by a Jewish paper was intolerable.

When I started moonlighting for a Jewish weekly in the late 1950s, I often encountered sneers that implied that if I were any good, why wasn’t I working for a “real” newspaper?

Since I had just come off a number of years at the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press in Spain, I naturally resented such slurs.

But looking at the American Jewish press in those days, I had to admit that its viewpoints and professional standards might well frustrate a reporter of Schorr’s abilities.

In the typical Jewish weekly, an inordinate amount of space was given to birth, wedding and death announcements — known in the trade as hatched, matched and dispatched — and, of course, the ever effusive bar mitzvah stories (although in those leaner years, few parents led safaris and rented baseball stadiums to mark their progeny’s passage to manhood).

Most of the remaining space was taken up by large photos of earnestly smiling men and women passing checks to each other for this or that worthy cause, while editorial and rabbinic columns fearlessly exhorted readers to study Torah and support our struggling brethren at home and abroad.

Questioning the competence of communal leaders amounted to heresy and the slightest criticism of Israeli policy meant excommunication.

I toiled on weekends for an upstart weekly, Los Angeles’ now defunct Heritage, which was an erratic exception to the general blandness.

Its founder, publisher, editor-in-chief, reporter, columnist and advertising manager was Herb Brin, who would have felt right at home in the frontier journalism of the mid-19th century, when rival editors settled differences of opinion with horsewhips and six-shooters.

Brin had been raised in the “Front Page” tradition of Chicago’s brawling journalism and was never happier than when scourging communal wimps who did not share his enthusiasm for decapitating real or imagined enemies of the Jewish people and Israel.

But in the last 20 years, Jewish journalism in the United States, particularly in New York and Los Angeles, has undergone a really remarkable transformation.

Its best editors and writers aim for the same professional standards (and frequently come from) leading general dailies, and they regularly hold up our leadership to scrutiny and try to reflect the changing modes and diversity of the Jewish world.

Still, Schorr’s reservation about looking at every problem from the Jewish perspective is still valid, and inevitably so.

As much as we consider ourselves part of the American mainstream, we reflexively look at every happening and ask, “What’s the Jewish angle?”

That “angle,” though, is less parochial and circumscribed than it used to be, reflecting the broadening interests of the American and worldwide Jewish community of which we are a part.

Though we still tend to obsess about every anti-Semitic scrawl and every neo-Nazi rant, we have gained enough self-assurance to look at our people and community with a degree of openness and honesty unthinkable in the past.

 

Shocking Discovery


I was cross when I arrived at The Jewish Journal on Oct. 9, 1986. I had earned a master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern University and had fantasized about becoming an arts writer (at least eventually) for, say, The New Yorker. Also, I was a bad Jew, having been turned off by lackluster synagogue services.

So after I settled down at my Journal IBM Selectric, I was shocked to discover I liked — no, loved — working at a Jewish newspaper. I learned that there are all kinds of Jews, including many I liked, and that I was covering stories I would never have landed at a metropolitan daily. For the first 16 years, there were news assignments along with the arts stories: I found myself interviewing victims of the Northridge earthquake, as well as actor John Cusack (who played Hitler’s art dealer in 2002’s “Max”), for example.

Along the way, I discovered that asking Jewish questions affords me an intimacy with subjects I might never achieve at a mainstream newspaper. Ben Stiller told me he felt pressured to assimilate, because he hates when people typecast him as “ethnic.” Winona Ryder described her Jewish spirit guide: a Russian cousin, also an actress, who looked like her and died in the Holocaust. And Robin Williams (who played a Polish ghetto inmate in “Jakob the Liar”) said he loved Yiddish, because it’s a great language for comedy: “There are so many great words, and ‘nu’ is the greatest word of all,” he enthused. “It encompasses everything: ‘What? How are you? Everything good? Bad? Hmmmm? Nu?'”

FAVORITE PROVOCATEURS

Sandra Bernhard and Roseanne Barr
I expected to be verbally eviscerated by these two Queens of Ascerbity, especially Bernhard, who is known for slaughtering the sacred cows of celebrity and politics with a sneer on her Mick Jaggeresque lips. Instead, she spoke of eviscerations of a Jewish kind, vacuuming out the lungs of kosher chickens during her teenage stay at a kibbutz, a job she actually enjoyed.

As I recovered from the “eew” factor, she breezed on about the Shabbat dinner she was preparing as we talked: kosher steak, potatoes, vegetables and homemade challah. Sounding more like a balabusta than comedy’s reigning loudmouth, she described attending synagogue every Saturday and her daily kabbalistic meditations.

In a separate interview, her fellow Jewish mysticism enthusiast, Roseanne Barr, confessed that she once became so incensed by her then-husband’s hair transplants, she “just, like, pulled a whole handful of ’em out.” Alarmed by her rage attack, she called her rabbi, and wondered if, as teshuvah (repentance), she should “give money to f—- — crippled children or something.” Instead, he advised her to just try to be nice — which Barr found to be “a walk through hell.”

This approach sounded sensible to me, but then Barr began talking about how she asked kabbalistic “face-readers” to help her select the executive producer of her 2003 reality series, “The Real Roseanne Show.” On the show, they made remarks such as, “The nose is about the honesty of the person.” Like one observer, I wonder how this works if the candidate had had a nose job.

Paul and Chris Weitz
I caught up with filmmakers Paul and Chris Weitz, directors of the raunchy teen classic, “American Pie,” several months after the death of their father, legendary fashion designer John Weitz. Instead of focusing on their film’s iconic sequence, involving a libidinous youth and a pastry, they wanted to talk about dad, who had fled Hitler’s Berlin and served as an OSS spy at 19. When the filmmakers were growing up, John Weitz overtly “identified as Jewish almost out of spite toward [anti-Semites],” Chris said.

The brothers inherited their father’s subversive streak, tormenting their German nanny (at ages 7 and 11, respectively) by repeatedly asking what she thought of Hitler until she blurted, “He made the country work.”

“We were like little OSS guys, undermining her authority and her politics until she got so aggravated that she left,” Paul said. Dad was chagrined, as he was with his sons’ preference for shlumpy jeans rather than twin navy blazers.

But the classy designer cheekily stuck up for his boys two decades later, when someone called “Pie” vulgar.

SAD CLOWNS

David Arquette
“Where’s the chartreuse suit with the polka dots?” I asked actor David Arquette during a conversation about his 2002 Holocaust film, “The Grey Zone.” The actor was known for his outrageous off-screen outfits and for portraying goofy dufuses onscreen. But he was wearing a three-piece herringbone suit to discuss his “Zone” role as a Sonderkommando, one of the prisoners who ran the gas chambers and crematoria at Birkenau.

Arquette played Hoffman, the most fragile and guilt-ridden of his squad; he said he was drawn to the role as a way to connect to his late Jewish mother, Mardi. She had died five years earlier, after battling breast cancer; Arquette experienced a stinging flashback when he lifted a naked, bald extra, whose body was painted to look like a corpse, evoking memories of when she was suffering from the effects of her cancer and chemotherapy.

“I felt I was looking at my mother,” he said.

Jason Alexander
When I met Jason Alexander in 2000, he had just directed a sexual coming-of-age-film, “Just Looking,” set in the Bronx in 1955. The actor was diversifying to shake his pop culture image as the cantankerous George from “Seinfeld.”

“If I were to walk onstage as Hamlet, everyone would go, ‘Look, it’s George,” he quipped. But his voice began trembling as he discussed his own sexual coming of age, which would now be legally defined as child abuse. As a young actor, he had had his first experience at 13 with a woman in her 30s in a wing of a theater during rehearsal.

“The show ended and so did the relationship,” Alexander recalled. While the affair had been physically gratifying, it was emotionally confusing for the bar mitzvah-age boy. Referring to his “Just Looking” protagonist, Alexander said, “I didn’t quite have his period of innocence.”

GIRLTALK

Eve Ensler
“I just love talking about my vagina,” Eve Ensler said of her taboo-busting feminist global hit, “The Vagina Monologues.”

The playwright-performer also frankly discussed how her Jewish father had raped her and ridiculed her weight as a child. The abuse, in part, inspired “Monologues” and her latest play, “The Good Body,” was sparked by her midlife midriff crisis.

In light of all this personal talk, I was shocked by what the actress wouldn’t reveal.

“You’ll discuss incest but not food,” I incredulously asked.

Finally she said that during her drinking years, she went through periods when she would stop eating or subsist solely on marinated mushrooms.

“I’ve never, ever felt relaxed with food until the last [several] years,” she said.

The change came when she began wondering how a radical feminist like herself could become so obsessed with her post-40s stomach (she even fantasized about contracting a parasite). She wrote “The Good Body” to explore how societal pressure to look like Britney Spears distracts women and keeps them disenfranchised.

I told her that women want to look good because men lust after attractive women of breeding age. “Men won’t change, but we can change things by creating positive images of older women,” she responded.

I felt somewhat cheered, but continued to wonder exactly when I would need Botox.

Julie Davis
Independent filmmaker Julie Davis (“I Love You, Don’t Touch Me,” “Amy’s Orgasm”) is known for stories about neurotic Jewish virgins holding out for Mr. Right. But she’s incredibly candid about sex for a woman who’s only slept with one man: her husband.

She told me her self-imposed chastity began when classmates called her a “slut” in junior high for dressing “really sexy,” like her movie star idol, Marilyn Monroe. In response, she kept the clothes but carefully guarded her virginity, preaching abstinence to anyone who would listen. She remained virtuous even when her first full-time job — editing erotic promos for the Playboy Channel — made her squirm lustily in her seat.

So she felt like a “fraud” when she met her husband-to-be, a hunky film executive, at 28, and immediately jumped in the sack. She poked fun at her own hypocrisy in “Orgasm,” in which a know-it-all author preaches celibacy until she meets a studly disc jockey.

MOST FUN

Ron Jeremy
Ron Jeremy told me he’s just a nice Jewish boy with one vice: more than two decades of porn films. Yes, he’s nicknamed the Hedgehog because he’s short, fat and hairy, but he’s been paid huge sums to bed more gorgeous women than James Bond.

“If a shlub like me can get lucky, there’s hope for everyone else,” he said of his popularity.

His family’s response to his career choice illustrates why so many Jews are in porn, he said. His physicist father didn’t tell him he’d burn in hell when Playgirl published his first nude photograph in 1978. But dad was chagrined when potential suitors began calling Jeremy’s grandmother, Rose, at all hours (she was listed under the family name in the directory).

“[Grandma] had to move out of her apartment for a month,” Jeremy (actually the actor’s middle name) sheepishly recalled. “My father told me, ‘If you want to get into this naked, crazy business, so be it, but if you use the family name again, I’ll kill you.'”

MOST MEMORABLE

The Persian Gulf War
I was on a press tourism junket in Israel on Jan. 17, 1991, when a fellow journalist banged on my door and shouted, “Get the hell up. This is it!” We all ran to the mezzanine level of our Tel Aviv hotel and fumbled to put on our gas masks, as an employee ushered us into a sealed room, slammed the door shut and stuffed a wet towel under the doorjamb.

The radio informed us that the five loud booms we’d heard were five Scuds. Over the next 72 hours, I dashed six more times to the shelters as I slept in my clothes and bonded with the some 40 remaining guests in the vast, eerily empty hotel. In this surreal world, politics didn’t matter: Israeli Arabs tenderly helped infirm Jewish guests down to the shelters.

I also bonded with the international journalists who raced outside every time the sirens sounded. Following one such sojourn, two videographers were tired but cheerful at having captured valuable footage of the second attack. “If it happens again, we ‘Ghostbusters’ will be there,” one of them said, looking like a character from that movie in his plastic chemical-protection suit.

I thought about the blind senior citizen, with his seeing eye dog, who had come to our hotel so as not to brave the Scuds alone. I felt guilty about the excitement I was experiencing as an accidental war correspondent.

MEETING MY HUSBAND

Given my penchant for good horror stories, I was intrigued when I received a press release in late 1992 for a play called, “Dracula Tyrannus: The Tragical History of Vlad the Impaler.” I noticed that the author, Ron Magid, had a Jewish surname and wrote for Monsterland magazine, so I phoned the publicist to inquire if there were any Jewish angles to the play.

The PR guy replied that Vlad was a metaphor for genocidal dictators such as Hitler — and that the playwright had long hair and “looked like a rock star.” I had previously written about dozens of men, but had never dated any of them — although I was single and looking. But as I prepared for this interview, I had a strange premonition: “Am I going to meet my husband?” Just in case, I put on a nice outfit.

At the Tiffany Theatre, a tall man emerged from stage right, looking dazed amid the fake impaled corpses and severed head props. He explained that he’d slept in the building the night before in his rush to prepare for opening night.

Ron proved fascinating and articulate, so I was thrilled when he offered to show me my own private screening of Dracula movies. I knew he really liked me when he phoned me the morning after opening night. I laughed when he told me how he had once left a realistic-looking corpse dummy in his car and the coroner had come calling.

These days, our 18-month-old son, Harrison, is a chip off the old block: He grins broadly when his Darth Vader toy intones, “You don’t know the pow-ah of the dark side.”

 

The Lichtenstein Formula for a Jewish Paper


“The role of a Jewish newspaper is to connect the Jewish community, not to unify it,” said Gene Lichtenstein, founding editor of The Journal.

During his nearly 15-year tenure, which ended in 2000, Lichtenstein’s formula was to hire good, independent writers and columnists who could produce articles that raised the interest, and frequently the hackles, of both professional and peripheral Jews.

“I wanted stories that people would discuss and argue about the following day,” Lichtenstein said during a lengthy interview at his home near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

This concept doesn’t seem so revolutionary now, but it went counter to the tradition of most American Jewish weeklies in decades past.

The purpose of those publications was precisely to unify their communities in material and moral support of their federations, which usually financed the papers, and other Jewish and Israeli causes. A basic rule was to avoid criticism and controversy.

In that sense, Lichtenstein was an odd, even risky, choice as editor, and his selection split the then Jewish Federation Council, he recalls.

When Lichtenstein visited Los Angeles in 1985 to court his future wife, Jocelyn, the city’s Jews had the unusual choice of three competing weeklies.

They were the venerable B’nai B’rith Messenger, the maverick Heritage, both independently owned, and the Jewish Community Bulletin, the official Federation organ.

Much of The Federation’s leadership was dissatisfied with the coverage of all three papers and decided to explore a new format with a new editor to replace its own Bulletin.

At this point, Lichtenstein remembers, he was contacted by Ethel Narvid, a key player in Democratic and city politics, on behalf of a Federation committee appointed to find a new editor to shape a new paper.

Lichtenstein, the grandson of Russian immigrants, had a resume combining experience as psychologist, journalist and academic.

He had worked for The New York Times, Fortune, London Economist and as literary editor at Esquire, where his contributors included the likes of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.

On the academic side, he had served as chairman of the journalism department at the University of Rhode Island and taught courses in mass communications at USC and UC Berkeley.

Perhaps equally important for the position at hand, he had started a newspaper in the Boston area, the Jewish Journal of the Northshore.

As he recalls it, in his first interview with The Federation committee, chaired by attorney Richard Volpert, Lichtenstein outlined his concept for the new paper.

“I wanted an American newspaper, Jewish but connected to the larger world,” he said. “It wouldn’t just reflect the viewpoint of The Federation or be mainly about fundraising. It wouldn’t print only favorable stories about the Jewish community and Israel.”

In addition, he would insist on good writing, and the contributions of columnists would be central to the paper.

After that presentation, Lichtenstein thought that his chances of getting the job were pretty slim, and he and Jocelyn went on a vacation trip to London.

To his surprise, “I got a midnight call from Volpert and he offered me the editorship,” Lichtenstein said.

Shortly afterward, Narvid gave a lunch at her home for some old friends, including Los Angeles Times labor editor Harry Bernstein and this reporter, to introduce Lichtenstein.

“Harry told me that I was kidding myself if I thought The Federation would let me put out an independent paper, and you backed him up,” Lichtenstein reminded me.

Despite the prediction, The Federation committee and larger Federation board of directors agreed, in the face of considerable internal opposition, to establish an independent Journal, to advance a $660,000 loan for its operation, and to pay a subsidy to mail the paper to each of its 52,000 donors.

There had been two other finalists for the editor’s job, Yehuda Lev, an outspoken, liberal journalist, and Marlene Adler Marks, a talented writer active in politics and feminist issues.

Lev and Marks were the first editor/reporters hired, soon joined by such early staffers as Tom Waldman, Sheldon Teitelbaum, Joe Domanick and Naomi Pfefferman.

The first slim issue of The Jewish Journal appeared on Feb. 28, 1986, with Volpert, whom the often-critical Lichtenstein praised for “a real standout job,” as the first publisher.

Early issues won kudos for lively writing, outraged criticism by some Federation leaders and Jewish organizations, and a weak response from advertisers.

Within one year, the paper was hemorrhaging money, and some influential Federation leaders demanded that in the future they approve all major stories and editorials. Lichtenstein refused and, in a committee vote, carried the day by a narrow margin.

However, there was enough dissatisfaction with the editorial and business performance of The Journal that The Federation invited Charles Buerger, publisher of six successful East Coast Jewish papers, to buy out The Journal.

Buerger made a “low- ball” offer, then raised the stakes, but “to my astonishment,” The Federation decided not to sell, Lichtenstein said.

Nevertheless, by June 1987, the paper had run through the $660,000 lent by The Federation and faced an early demise.

At his point, major Federation leaders, with Edward Brennglass, Stanley Hirsh and Osiah Goren in the lead, rode to the rescue, putting up their own money to repay the loan. The Journal lived to fight another day.

Brennglass took over as publisher for the next 11 years, the paper established a solid reputation and actually started to make a profit. After Brennglass’ death, Hirsh, an influential businessman and Democratic heavyweight, became publisher in 1997.

However, by the year 2000, strong editorial and personality differences between publisher and editor-in-chief led to a parting point. Lichtenstein resigned and was succeeded by the managing editor, Rob Eshman.

Looking back on his 15-year tenure, Lichtenstein said he had “a wonderful time,” which included reporting trips to Israel, Germany, Hungary and Croatia.

“I think we put out a pretty good paper, though not as good as it could have been,” he reminisced. Part of the problem was a running conflict between himself and Federation leaders, which, he acknowledged, were partly his fault.

“I was really always an outsider, with one foot in the community, and one foot outside,” he said. In addition, “I believe that a Jewish weekly belongs to the editor and staff, and it is the editor’s job to make the staff realize that the paper belongs to them.

“That is hard for some organizational leaders to accept,” Lichtenstein added in an understatement.

His major contributions, Lichtenstein said, were to publish as many diverse viewpoints as possible, recruit talented writers and columnists and insist, at all times, on good writing.

True to his initial inspiration, “I tried to put out a paper that was part of America and the world,” he said.

“I’ve met some Jews, very wealthy and powerful Jews, who embrace Jewish victimhood, who told me that you can never trust a gentile,” Lichtenstein said. “I don’t champion that. I believe that the walls we build around ourselves are only in our minds.”

The “victim” mindset is encouraged by many Jewish organizations, Lichtenstein said, “which wave the flag of anti-Semitism to keep their members loyal and to raise funds.”

For Lichtenstein, there is a busy life after journalism. While he still writes, he has returned to his first profession as psychologist and is the director of mental health and social services for 26 clinics of the Aegis Institute, which specializes in the treatment of opiate addicts.

In addition, he has established a private practice, which includes family and marriage counseling.

He draws a distinction between core committed Jews, who go to synagogue and contribute to Jewish causes, and the “integrated” Jew on the periphery of the organized community.

“It is not the job of the American Jewish press to ‘convert’ the integrated Jew,” he said. “Our job is to open a dialogue with him.”

 

Spectator – ‘Devil’ Is in the Details


The film adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 New York Times best-selling novel, “The Devil Wears Prada,” which hits theaters on June 30, follows recent college grad Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) as she takes on the dubious job of assistant to the editor-in-chief of the most prominent fashion magazine in New York: Runway. Her job, as it turns out, is not at all about journalism, but rather catering to the boss from hell, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), who makes absurdly vague demands and expects immediate results. After nearly a year, Andy must decide whether succeeding at her career trumps keeping her sanity.

An enjoyable chick-lit book, “The Devil Wears Prada,” in movie form follows the novel’s storyline, with slight modifications to the plot that only enhance our understanding of Andy’s dilemma. And for the fashion buff, the insider’s view of the inner workings of a haute couture, albeit fictional, fashion magazine are amusing.

One dramatic difference, however, is that in the film, Andy is no longer identified as Jewish. Ditto for the Miranda Priestly character, rumored to be based on legendary Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who was born Miriam Princhek into an Orthodox Jewish family. Despite the importance of Judaism to the main characters in the book version, Fox 2000 opted to exclude any religious references.

Hollywood is actually quite adept at changing Jewish literary characters into generic, unaffiliated characters on screen. “In Her Shoes,” for example, a 2005 film based on the book of the same title by author Jennifer Weiner, successfully glossed over the fact that the protagonist and her sister were Jewish. The only glimpse of explicitly Jewish content was the kippot worn at a wedding.

Although unavailable for comment at press time, in a 2005 interview with the Jerusalem Post, Weisberger noted how Jewish characters are a necessary element to her work.

“I can’t imagine constructing a single’s life and her family’s life without them being Jewish,” Weisberger explained.

And despite the producers’ efforts, the on-screen character of Andy Sachs remains true to her roots and comes across as a Jewish girl all the same.

“The Devil Wears Prada” opens this week in theaters.

 

The Circuit


Kudos for Kuh

Los Angeles culinary expert Patric Kuh was honored recently in New York by the James Beard Foundation for his humanitarian efforts during the the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards.

Kuh won kudos in the Magazine Restaurant Review or Critique category for his work at Los Angeles Magazine.

A Clear Need

Bob Ralls and Linda Falcone accepted awards from Harold Davidson, chairman of the board for Junior Blind of America, at the nonprofit organization’s gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The event was held specifically to recognize the contributions of the couple to Junior Blind of America, where they have served as president and vice president of development for more than 20 years. For more than 50 years, Junior Blind of America has offered unique programs and services to help blind and visually impaired people become more independent.

Farewell to Anat Ben-Ishai

While many Jewish Angelenos gathered to do a mitzvah for Big Sunday or to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut at the Israel Festival, a group of almost 300 Wilshire Boulevard Temple staff and families gathered at the Irmas campus for a cause equally personal. The morning’s event was dubbed a “Farewell to Anat Ben-Ishai,” who retired this year after 15 years as director of the Edgar F. Magnin and Gloria and Peter S. Gold Religious Schools.

“You’ve been an inspiration to our children. We can’t pay any person enough for that,” Rabbi Emeritus Harvey J. Fields told Ben-Ishai via a video message. Fields prerecorded a special goodbye message to Ben-Ishai, knowing he would be out of the country for the event. He said what would be missed most in Ben-Ishai’s absence would be her “poetic soul,” her storytelling, and her “care about each of us.” He also noted the excellence of the synagogue’s religious schools today “is your crowning achievement.”

Indeed, in the time Ben-Ishai served as Hebrew school director, the school grew from less than 400 students attending Hebrew school once a week at one campus, to close to 1,000 students attending three days a week at two different campuses.

The haimishe event, as one attendee described it, included many students, several of whom came with their parents. The day began with the tribute and was followed by Israeli dancing, children’s art projects and lunch, as well as a video station to record personal messages to Ben-Ishai and another station to “Write an Anat-o-gram.”

Students also participated in special art projects in their classes, as well as a video project, in which they bid Ben-Ishai farewell and told her they would miss her friendliness and her stories.

Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), acknowledged Ben Ishai’s leadership contributions over the years, stating that out of the five outstanding teachers recognized by the BJE last year, two teachers were from Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

“Anat,” he told her, “you are truly a teacher of teachers.”

Ben-Ishai told those assembled that her greatest pride came from seeing her student’s independent participation in acts of tikkun olam and tzedakah.

The Anat Ben-Ishai Religious School Scholarship Fund was established May 3 in Ben-Ishai’s honor.

Those wishing to contribute may call the school at (213) 388-2401. — Keren Engelberg, Contributing Writer

Much About Maller

Hot dogs and happy memories were the recipe for the weekend as Temple Akiba, the Reform congregation of Culver City, honored Rabbi Allen Maller for 39 years of dedication and inspiration. The weekend was filled with events to bring the congregation together to celebrate and reflect on the Maller’s years as their leader.

Friday night a special service was held and representatives of California Assemblywoman Karen Bass and L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke presented commendations. Former Culver City Mayor Albert Vera and Culver City Councilwoman Carol Gross praised Maller’s contributions to the community — the City Council even designated April as “Rabbi Maller Month.” There was a “Potpourri of International Tastes” dinner Saturday night and an original musical review written by Barbara Miller that featured five temple members — performing a “shtetl-flavored” tribute to Maller and Temple Akiba.

Maller will leave Temple Akiba at the end of June. Rabbi Zach Shapiro will become new spiritual leader of the congregation.

Magbit FUNDRAISER

Nearly 800 donors, community leaders and public officials gathered May 7 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the 17th annual Magbit Foundation gala to raise funds for interest-free loans for Israeli college students and to celebrate Israel’s 58th year of independence. Master of ceremonies and Magbit leader David Nahai, chair of the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board, welcomed the guests and the contributions of the local Iranian Jewish community that started the Magbit Foundation.

Keynote speaker, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, acknowledged Magbit’s nearly $3 million in loans given to almost 7,000 new immigrant Israeli university students during the last 17 years.

“The fact that you have provided a means for the talented students in Israel to get the education that will help better the world is truly remarkable,” Villaraigosa said.

Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch spoke about the uniquely strong sense of Zionism of Iranian Jews living in Southern California.

“My friends I have known many Jewish communities around the world, but I have grown to admire the Iranian Jewish community for your sense of Israel and love of Israel which is heartfelt,” Danoch said.

Guests also enjoyed the Middle Eastern dancing of the Sunflower Dancers and the singing of acclaimed Israeli Noa Dori. Also in attendance were Israeli Justice Ministry official Shlomo Shachar, and Los Angeles Jewish Federation President John Fishel — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Spectator – Spin-Doctors of the Revolution


Rachel Boynton, director of the documentary “Our Brand Is Crisis,” was excited when she first learned that American political consultants export their work globally.

While a student at Columbia School of Journalism, she saw a film about the history of 20th century nonviolent conflict that included a segment on how American consultants had gone to Chile in 1990 to produce TV ads for a successful campaign to end Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s long autocratic presidency.

“I thought to myself, ‘There’s my movie. I want to follow an American who is trying to run an ad campaign to oust a dictator,'” Boynton said in a telephone interview. “It seemed to epitomize a lot of things I think of as being fundamentally American — optimism, hubris, political idealism and the profit motive all wrapped up in one event.”

Raised by her Jewish lawyer mother, Esther, after her parents divorced when she was 9 months old, Boynton had already lived in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Denver, Ann Arbor and Paris by the time she was in graduate school. Her film’s subject also dovetailed with her undergraduate degree in international relations from Brown University.

After five years of work on “Crisis,” Boynton, 32, has finally completed her movie, which opens in Los Angeles on April 14. But it didn’t turn out as originally planned.

She documents the campaign waged by the liberal firm of Greenberg Carville (as in James Carville) Shrum (GCS) on behalf of the unpopular but reformist millionaire, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (a.k.a. “Goni”), who was attempting to return to office as president of Bolivia.

“I liked GCS because they were very idealistic about what they did,” Boynton said. “Most people expect to see political consultants being very mercenary. This firm professed to be idealistic about their work.”

Essentially the firm’s strategies for advertising, focus groups, polling and image-shaping worked in Bolivia. “Goni” won in 2002. But the rifts caused by the spirited election set in motion a bloody uprising that forced him to flee from office in 2004.

The turn of events left the firm’s Jeremy Rosner and Stan Greenberg — captured by Boynton in post-revolt interviews — feeling melancholy and disappointed. A revolution was not part of their plans.

“They had this American attitude because we live in a place that’s stable,” Boynton said. “That is not necessarily the normal course of things all across the world. We need to recognize our perspective is not universally shared.”

“Our Brand Is Crisis” opens April 14 at the Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. For showtimes, call (323) 848-3500.

 

Class Notes


The Write Stuff

From Nov. 13-15 in Toronto, college students are invited to attend Do the Write Thing, a conference on Jewish journalism held at the General Assembly, the annual gathering of machers in the Federation system and other Jewish organizations.

Aside from participating in workshops on things like objectivity in reporting, the dynamics of power between the media and the Jewish establishment and reporting on Israel, students get a chance to network with top-notch journalists as well as lay and professional leaders of the Jewish community.

The cost to students for hotel, meals and conference is $99, and travel is subsidized up to $200. Applications are due Oct. 13. For more information go to www.wzo.org.il/en/dtwt or call 1-800-274-7723.

Anti-Bias Buy In

Applications are now available for high school students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds who want to become involved in the Anti-Defamation League’s anti-bias youth education program, Dream Dialogue. In quarterly meetings, participants bond across ethnic groups, develop teen leadership skills, train to become anti-bias peer facilitators, lead discussions in valuing diversity with their peers and initiate a community social action project of their choosing.

The program is free. Applications are due Oct. 10 for the 2005-06 school year. For an application or further information, call Jenny Betz at the ADL, (310) 446-8000, ext. 233, or email jbetz@adl.org.

 

Letters


Two Families’ Dreams

I thought I was reading an excerpt from an Al Jazeera broadcast when I read “Two Families’ Dreams Were Not Demolished” (June 24).

The chattering liberals in Brentwood, donating funds for Nasrallah’s new home, have long ago made common cause with the Israel haters on the left. I expect little from them and more from The Jewish Journal.

Rachel Corrie’s accidental death is a tragedy, but so are the deaths of the Jewish teenagers intentionally murdered by Arabs last month. She chose to be in harm’s way. Not so the thousands of innocent Israelis murdered and maimed by intentional acts of violence by Arabs during the last four years.

When will the Brentwood Jewish bleeding hearts bleed for their own people?

Herb Glaser
E-mail

What’s missing from your article is a discussion on what the Palestinian Authority has done for the Nasrallah family or why the Corrie family feels that the plight of the innocent Palestinian is worth more than the innocent Israeli.

Once again, the author and his subjects find plenty to complain about, but offer no real solutions about what Israel should do to protect its people and help the Palestinians, when the Palestinians (who are also funded by the U.S. taxpayer) won’t help themselves.

Ari Stark
Los Angeles

Thanks so much to The Journal for having the courage to publish “Two Families’ Dreams Were Not Demolished” by Howard Blume.

I have an idea of what kind of toll a backlash can take. My grandfather was an Orthodox Jew who survived Bergen Belsen and publicly spoke out in support of Jews and Palestinians living together as equals in peace. He became the target of the wrath of zealots who shunned him in synagogue, resulting in a painful isolation that led him to leave Holland and move to the U.S.

The Los Angeles Jewish community is not a monolith. We are much better served with a paper that reflects and embraces our diversity.

It was an honor to meet the parents of Rachel Corrie and the Nasrallah family, who exhibit incredible poise and commitment as they are warmly welcomed on their 20-city U.S. tour, carrying Rachel’s message of peace and justice.

Karen Pomer
Los Angeles

Thank you for having the journalistic independence to print the article, “Two Families’ Dreams Were Not Demolished” in The Jewish Journal. Regardless of how one feels about this issue, it is important that a free press has the courage to present all views.

Middie and Richard Giesberg
Los Angeles

I am writing in support of The Jewish Journal and its balanced, comprehensive coverage of the Middle East. Your paper gives me focus and detail that the mainstream media misses, and I appreciate it.

I have been a loyal reader for many years.

Keep up the good work and give a brave face to the extremists on both sides who would suppress the whole story.

Dr. Sandy Weimer
Los Angeles

Ten Commandments

I find it curious why anyone would want the Ten Commandments inside a courthouse (“Ten Commandments’ Future Unclear,” July 1). Without any commentary, the commandments alone are very cold and unforgiving.

They say “Do not kill,” but leave no room for self-defense. They say, “Honor thy parents,” not offering any olive branch for people who have had very abusive parents. They say, “Do not covet,” which is not technically a crime.

Furthermore, the first commandment is Adonai is your God and the second is, “You shall have no other gods besides Me,” which seems an unfair statement in a space that is supposed to be unbiased toward race and religion.

I believe that whatever hangs on the wall of a courthouse should be directed to the judges who serve there day in and day out, rather than to the people who come and go. It is the judges that need a constant reminder of why they are there, so as not to be jaded or forget their sacred purpose.

Therefore, if a courthouse desires to put biblical verses on their walls, instead of the Ten Commandments, let me suggest the following three verses from Deuteronomy:

“You shall appoint magistrates and officials … and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue…. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)

Rabbi Zoe Klein
Temple Isaiah
Los Angeles

Gush Katif

This letter is in response to the letter to the editor by Jeff Warner of La Habra Heights on June 24, regarding the Israeli government’s intention to abandon Gaza and the northern West Bank (“The Battle Over Gaza in America,” June 17).

SaveGushKatif.org does not use the “G-d argument,” because if one doesn’t believe that G-d gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people for eternity, then the argument is meaningless. Our entire campaign simply presents the security risks involved in giving away Jewish Gaza (Gush Katif) and the four communities in the northern West Bank that are still in Israeli hands.

I am sure that Mr. Warner loves Israel every bit as much as I do. I beg him to simply read the reports from security experts from Israel and the United States and then to draw his conclusions.

Mr. Warner can find the reports on our Web site at www.SaveGushKatif.org

Jon Hambourger
Save Gush Katif
Beverly Hills

Dystonia

Your article about dystonia (“Rare Ailment Occurs More in Ashkenazis,” June 10) was a moving and necessary reminder that not enough attention is given this disease in the research community.

Contributions to organizations, including the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (www.dystonia-foundation.org) and We Move (www.wemove.org) are critical to help raise awareness and education, and to help thousands of children like David Rudolph, the amazing 10-year-old boy featured in your article.

Thank you for helping shed light on this important topic.

Benjamin Krepack
Los Angeles

Summer Safety

Thank you for your valuable article (“Don’t Get Lazy on Kids Summer Safety,” June 24). Jewish Family Service/Aleinu Family Resource Center continues to work with Susan DiLeo and the Mothers Advocating Prevention program to develop school-based programs educating children and parents about child safety in a manner that is sensitive to the Orthodox community.

We also promote child safety at summer camps. For the second year, JFS/Aleinu is sponsoring a comprehensive training program on child safety for directors and head counselors of Jewish camps in the Los Angeles area.

We have developed guidelines for staff and counselors to help ensure that there is no inappropriate, illegal or confusing conduct taking place between staff and campers or among campers.

We offer a certificate to all camps whose directors complete our training program and whose staff agree to use these guidelines.

A list of camps that have participated in the training and earned this certificate is available online at www.jfsla.org/index.php?/programs/details/5/53.

We encourage all parents to require the JFS/Aleinu Keeping Our Kids Safe certificate from camps before registering their children.

Debbie Fox,
JFS/Aleinu Family Resource Center

Dreams Not Demolished

I have read Howard Blume’s article about the Gaza disengagement, the Nasrallah famil and Rachel Corrie’s death, and find it a good piece of journalism (“Two Families Dreams Were Not Demolished,” June 24). Far from being polemical or blatantly pro-Palestinian, it presents both sides very fairly. Blume should be congratulated, first of all for telling Corrie’s story, which too many American newspapers have ignored, and second for presenting a potentially emotional and divisive story in a calm, objective way.

Mary Johnson
Mount Kisco, N.Y.

With the exception of those parents who encourage their children to become suicide bombers, no other parent, such as Craig and Cynthia Corrie, wants to see one of their children, like Rachel Corrie, killed. It was indeed a tragedy.

I would like to respectfully ask them, and the Nasrallahs, and the Stanley Sheinbaums who, among others, offer them a venue at which they can condemn Israeli actions, Caterpiller, Inc., the settlements and Ariel Sharon, about whether they include in their screeds a condemnation of the bombings at Haifa University, or at the Sbarro pizza parlor or numerous busses? And more recently, have they condemned Wafa Samir Ibraim Bas, the girl who was carrying 10 kilos of explosives strapped to her underwear attempting to blow herself up at the very hospital that had treated her in the past, and who was quoted as saying that she wanted to kill as many children as possible? Have they condemned Fatah’s Al-Aqsa’s Brigade? You know, Abbas’ Fatah?

So the visitors were here to “…promote peace and raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians.” But what about the plight of innocent Israelis wantonly killed by Palestinians who subscribe to the Cult of Death? We all know by now the plight of the Palestinians, but fail to comprehend how that “plight” justifies the murder on June 24 of two teenage Yeshiva students by Palestinian terrorists from Hebron.

Has Sheinbaum endowed a chair at the Yeshiva to honor these two innocent students? Or at Haifa University to honor those innocent students and counselors who were murdered by a suicide bomber? Why not? Has he created a trust fund for the families whose members have been murdered or maimed by Palestinian suicide bombers? If not, why not? Or a memorial to Tali Hatual, eight months pregnant, who was murdered along with her four children in May 2004? Or is it the plight of the Israeli to be subordinated always to the plight of the other?

Why does Blume omit that though “The Gaza Strip was set aside as Palestinian in 1947,” the Arabs rejected the plan? When you reject a plan does that mean you’re still tied to it as though you had accepted it? Why does he also state that various “…Israeli governments tacitly or explicitly encouraged Israelis to move into the disputed “occupied territories,” without mentioning that Israeli did not do so until the Arabs met at Khartoum and rejected Israel’s plea for a quid pro quo, territories for peace, with their famous three Nos: no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel? Wasn’t that relevant to him? Partial facts can be as much a lie as a falsehood.

And finally, Mrs. Corrie should be disabused of the statement that “The U.S. government has funded the occupation.”

No, Mrs. Corrie, Arab intransigence has.

Jack Salem
Los Angeles

I didn’t realize that the Jewish Journal was now an outlet for Palestinian Disinformation.

The article starts by comparing the Jewish residents of Gaza with people who endorsed and shielded terrorists waging war against Israel’s civilians … and it gets worse.

It characterizes Rachel Corrie as an activist who died to protect Palestinian homes’ but it describes the ISM as “a pro Palestinian activist group that uses non-violent means to oppose Israel’s policies in the territories.” The article of course omits the deliberate shielding of terrorists by the ISM, or the on the record endorsement of violent “resistance,” against Israel’s civilians by the groups’ founders, Adam Shapiro and his Arab wife Hawaida Arraf on numerous occasions. Of course, a cute picture of “activist” Corrie is included – not the AP shot of a hate filled harridan in a Palestinian headscarf burning an American flag in front of a group of Palestinian children, screaming at the top of her lungs.

The article also repeats as fact allegations that the IDF bulldozed homes without notice and without regard for human life, as well as alleging that the IDF deliberately shot pregnant women and children.

Just because two parents with a long history of anti-Israel activism feel like propagandizing against Israel with a Palestinian in tow and are able to get the likes of Stanley Shienbaum to front for them is no reason for this kind of falsehood.

Robert Miller
La Crescenta

We have read the article by Howard Blume in the June 24 issue of your paper and wish to commend you and Blume for presenting a balanced view of two families made homeless by policies of the Israeli government. We believe that Israel will be secure and that peace and justice will prevail in the Middle East only when the truth on all sides is aired. We thank you for the step you have taken in this direction.

Kathryn J. Johnson
Executive Director
Methodist Federation for Social Action
Washington, D.C.

Thank you for the enlightening and moving article about the Corries and Nasrallahs, two unlikely families who forged a friendship through a mutual tragedy and have chosen to work together for justice.

Howard Blume should be congratulated for his detailed account of this sad story that never should have happened, and for giving the historical background which is usually missing in articles in our media about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. I am grateful to Tthe Jewish Journal for bringing us the story of these two fine, proud families.

Carole La Flamme
Studio City

Vegetarians

Modern agricultural methods of factory farming are far more cruel and inhumane than most people could ever imagine (“A Holocaust Inspired Vegetarian,” June 24). [Noam] Mohr’s essay accurately described examples of how food animals are raised and slaughtered. I recommend the book, “Eternal Treblinka, Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust,” by Charles Patterson. I sincerely believe that if slaughterhouses had windows, everyone would be a vegetarian! — or at least, anyone with a conscience and any sensitivity.

Arlene Cohen
Los Angeles

The Evil Stepmother

Teresa Strasser’s article lifts the art of whining to new heights. In what has become the anthem of her generation — “I Am Victim, Hear Me Whine” — Strasser complains and annoys, never once contemplating the notion that possibly, she could have been even partly responsible for her own fate (“The Evil Stepmother Dies,” July 1).

It’s so much easier to blame everyone else. But then, that’s what Strasser and her ilk are all about. What a loser.

Rob Frankel,
Encino

Halachic Decisions

While I appreciate — and agree with — Jacob Neusner’s idea that every Jew has a contribution to make to the worldwide Jewish community, I must take issue with two of the premises in his article (“Why Reform, Chabad Are Necessary,” June 17).

The first is that “humanity and common sense” should be the “principal criteria in halachic decision-making.” By definition, “halachic decision-making” means that the principal criteria should be just that — halacha.

The second is that, somehow, Orthodoxy — i.e., halacha — has somehow managed to be applied with concern and compassion for several millenia, and continues to be so applied today. There is no need to reject it in order to apply it in a responsible manner, as true halachists — by definition — do.

Dafna Breines
Beitar Eilit, Israel

Shattered

Your editorial “Shattered” on July 1, indicates that you are no longer able to abide by journalist Thomas Freidman’s sitting on the fence position regarding Iraq, but that you are also still unsure of what to do.

History may help you, and others, who ask “when will be bring the troops home?” to place that question in perspective.

Nazi Germany touted a totalitarian policy of world domination, wherein the Aryans were the best and only race/culture worthy of survival. All others were to be ruthlessly wiped out (murdered!) and/or subjugated.

In 1943, would you have asked, “When will we bring the troops home?”

Had we brought home the troops in 1943, America’s national language, today, would likely be German, and there would be no Jewish newspapers in the United States — for there would be zero Jews on Earth! Nor would we have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, etc.

Today’s Islamists offer a totalitarian policy of world domination, wherein their philosophy is the best and only religion/culture worthy of survival. All others (the “infidels” of the world) are to be ruthlessly wiped out (murdered, beheaded etc) and/or subjugated.

We can either choose to fight to maintain the western culture and freedoms we cherish or simply stand passively and idly by, while our culture and freedoms are erased.

“Bring home the troops now” will do much to help the latter outcome.

Fred Korr
Los Angeles

 

Patriot Paranoia?


By chance, Bet Tzedek Legal Services sponsored a program on the American Patriot Act just about the

same time readers were beginning to get their copies of Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America.”

It was a perfect combination. The Patriot Act, hurriedly passed by Congress and signed by President Bush after Sept. 11, 2001, gives the federal government new power to find out about our private, business and academic lives. Roth’s book projects what happens when government runs wild with such power.

Both the book and some of the implications of the Patriot Act touch the insecurity that hides deep in the hearts of many Jews — that our nation’s constitutional protections could vanish, and with them the safety and opportunity that brought Jews to America.

Nicholas Lemann, Washington correspondent for The New Yorker and dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, made the connection between Bush and Roth quite nicely when, in writing about the book, he described the perpetual wariness of the Jewish soul: “Emotionally, it could happen here. It could happen anywhere, any time. It has happened practically everywhere. It’s also the case that President Bush activates in many Jews the same emotions that Roth activates in ‘The Plot Against America.’ He may have activated them in Roth himself.”

Perhaps that explains the interest of a substantial audience at Sinai Temple on Oct. 4 for the symposium “Pursuing Justice and the War on Terrorism.” For the past 30 years, the event’s sponsor, Bet Tzedek has enlisted the constitutional guarantees of a fair justice system on behalf of Los Angeles’ poor.

The Patriot Act erodes these guarantees by greatly increasing the power of federal law enforcement agencies to wiretap, monitor Internet use and e-mail communications, obtain records of library borrowing and bookstore purchases and gather information on customers from financial institutions and other businesses. The government has new power to investigate foreigners, meaning immigrants can come under heavy scrutiny. In the past, the constitutional guarantees weakened by the Patriot Act have often — but not always — protected political, religious and ethnic minorities from the tyranny of state oppression that has periodically taken hold of federal, state and local governments in the United States.

Roth’s “The Plot Against America” takes place in 1940. The new president is Charles Lindbergh, Hitler admirer and anti-Semite, who begins exporting Jews from Jewish neighborhoods in the Northeast to areas where they would be a minority — the beginning of an American Holocaust.

Most Jews undoubtedly consider such fears far-fetched. I do. But a lot of Muslims don’t, particularly immigrants and children of immigrants who came here from the Middle East. They have rational and justified fears about the government’s growing ability to snoop and to arrest. Even the most assimilated Jew might, consider that, historically, Jews have been in the same boat as Muslims — and could be there again.

Such catastrophic thoughts were not expressed by the panelists, Jamie S. Gorelick, a member of the 9/11 Commission; Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a member of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards; and Viet D. Dinh, the main author of the Patriot Act.

Dinh, who was an assistant attorney general when he wrote the Patriot Act and now is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, is an upbeat, articulate man who, while fleeing as a boat child from Vietnam, survived harrowing experiences and poverty. To Patriot Act supporters, his life story counters charges that the law is a threat to immigrants.

His personal story is inspiring, but the implications of his words at the symposium were troubling. The Sept. 11 attacks, he said, were an assault on “the essential order” of a nation. And the cops who preserve such order are not the enemy.

“The single greatest threat is from Al Qaeda, not law enforcement,” he said. At another point, he said, Americans might have to give up some liberties in the face of danger.

Is that necessary? No, said Gorelick. She, like Dinh, served in the Justice Department where she was deputy attorney general before her appointment to the 9/11 Commission. Speaking from those two perspectives, she said there were “laws and procedures in place” that could have caught the Sept. 11 terrorists.

And Dorff said, “If we protect ourselves at the expense of our national character, what have we protected?”

A few days after the seminar, I bought Roth’s book. His 1940 Newark was foreign to me.

I never had to fight my way through anti-Semitic gangs on my way to school or be deprived of a good assignment by an anti-Semitic boss.

But as a reporter, I have covered cops, courts, the civil rights movement, urban riots and student rebellions. I have seen the fragility of constitutional guarantees of due process when society feels threatened by protestors, rioters, by crime and, now, by terrorists.

They can bend and break, as Roth, writing from the depths of Jewish paranoia, envisioned. Gorelick and Dorff hinted at the same thing in their much more reasoned manner. The words were different but the message was the same.

Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Herb Brin


Herb Brin, one of the most colorful writers and editors inthe annals of Los Angeles Jewish journalism, died of congestive heart failureon Feb. 6 at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda.

His death came 11 days before his 88th birthday and shortlyafter he completed his autobiography, pecked out, like countless exposes,features and editorials, with two fingers on a manual typewriter. For some 45years, from the mid-1950s to the end of the 20th century, Brin was theeditor-publisher of the Heritage weeklies in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and the Central Valley.

He “was the last of the old-time Front Page newspapermen,absolutely committed to every cause he felt just,” said his youngest son,Daniel J. Brin, who worked at his father’s side for 25 years, succeeded him aseditor and, with his brothers, supplied most of the material for this obituary.

Amidst deadlines, soliciting ads and even printing hisweeklies, Brin authored six books of poetry and two books on post-Holocaust Germany,based on his frequent travels.

In some respects, Brin was a throwback to the mid-19thcentury editors of the Wild West, whose newspapers were an extension of theirpersonal passions and prejudices, and who settled differences of opinion withhorsewhips and six-shooters.

His overriding passion was for Israel, which he visitedcountless times, and in whose capital city he was buried earlier this week. Hebattled real — and sometimes perceived — enemies, or even lukewarm supporters,of Israel and the Jewish people, with every fiber of his being and applied thesame passion, and often blunt language, to a long list of causes, from civilrights to conservancy of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Never a very astute businessman, he fought bitterly againstThe Jewish Federation and the realities of a corporate society to maintain hischain of community papers, but, at his death, only the San Diego Heritage,under different ownership, has survived. Brin was born in Chicago of immigrantparents and cut his journalistic teeth at his birthplace’s fabled City NewsBureau, immortalized in Ben Hecht’s “The Front Page.”

After World War II Army service, Brin moved to Los Angelesand found his niche as a lively feature writer of oddball human intereststories at the Los Angeles Times.

In 1954, with a wife and three small sons, Brin quit TheTimes, mortgaged his home and started the Los Angeles Heritage as a 12-pageweekly.

He continued to write occasionally for his old paper andcovered the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem for the Los Angeles Times. Throughoutthe years, Heritage published his investigations of white supremacy andneo-Nazi organizations, his early meetings with Soviet Jews, and his picketingof the 1979 Oscar ceremonies to protest an award to British actress VanessaRedgrave, a PLO sympathizer.

Elie Wiesel, who learned of Brin’s death while traveling in Europe,said, “Herb and I were very close. He was a great editor and a superb poet. Allthose who knew him will miss him.”

Brin was married and divorced three times. He is survived byhis sons, Stan, a business reporter; David, a bestselling author of sciencefiction novels; and Daniel, an editor; and six grandchildren.

On Sunday, a memorial service at the Jewish Home for theAging, with Rabbis Louis Felman and William Kramer officiating, honored Brin’slife and work.

To learn more about Herb Brin, sample his autobiography,or to offer condolences, visit www.davidbrin.com/herbbrin.html .

Finding Gould in L.A.


In 1992, Jennifer Gould was 24, fresh out of Columbia’s graduatejournalism school, with a dream job at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Yetthe Toronto native was restless. She was eager to make a name forherself overseas and unwilling to wait the years necessary to earn aforeign post. And so, upon the fall of communism, the cub reportermade her move.

Without a job or even a rudimentary knowledge of Russian, shebought a one-way ticket to Moscow’s grim, dirty, bustlingSheremetyevo International Airport. Her Jewish grandmother had oncefled Russia, but Gould was exuberant to step off the plane. “This isthe Moment,” she thought. “This is the Story.”

And find the story she did. Gould prowled railway stations andsleazy hotel lobbies to meet the new underclass, the homeless andchild prostitutes. She visited hired assassins; trekked to an arcticgulag; and was mistaken for Princess Anne in the South Gobi desert.She huddled with Chechen fighters in a besieged garage and, in aTbilisi luxury hotel, learned the staff was used to cleaning messyblood stains off the carpet.

Gould recounts these escapades and more in her new book, “Vodka,Tears and Lenin’s Angel,” which recalls her four years in the formerSoviet Union. It could be subtitled, “Jennifer’s Romp in the WildEast” or “Fear and Loathing in the FSU.”

Past 1 a.m., in a Moscow office strewn with precious icons andplates of half-eaten cookies, Gould encounters Volodya, asunken-eyed, 19-year-old gangster millionaire. When he loses a gameof chess, he grabs a shotgun and aims at the wall, which, Gouldnervously notices, “is already riddled with bullet holes.” She thenaccompanies him to a club where he loses wads of $100 bills at theroulette table, while chain-smoking Winstons.

In another cloak-and-dagger episode, a KGB officer leads Gouldthrough icy streets to a secret office where the talk is of”sexpionage.” Between sips of champagne, a mysterious woman discussesthe training of “swallows,” beautiful women who use sex to turn theirWestern lovers into spies.

Gould, for her part, was briefly kidnapped on a Moscow street,perhaps to deter her from a story. But, she says, fear rarelyparazlyed her. Once, when a rich Chechen arms dealer spoutedanti-Semitism, she even told him she was Jewish. “There was thistense, stony silence as I sat there, in his fabulous mansion,surrounded by huge, gun-toting bodyguards,” Gould recalls. “Then hewent back to being hospitable.”

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the crazed, neo-fascist anti-Semite, was aslecherous as he was racist. Gould met him in August 1994, not longafter he had swept the parliamentary elections and had posed nude inthe shower for The New York Times Magazine. He wasn’t grantingforeign interviews for less than $15,000 — until Gould finagled herway onto his yacht cruising the Volga. She managed several freeinterview sessions before the Russian grew, er, restless.

“I’ll agree to [another] interview only if… you come intopless,” Zhirinovsky ogled. He bragged of having more than 200 womenand 10,000 orgasms. Then he demanded an orgy with Jennifer, hertranslator and a bodyguard.

Gould declined, and her legendary interview sprawled over 18 pagesof Playboy in March 1995. In the end, the reporter had the last laughover Zhirinovsky. When a politician read part of her piece to Vlad ona popular, live TV show, the neo-fascist threw his orange juice inthe man’s face. The politician then threw his juice back atZhirinovsky. “A scuffle ensued and the TV screen went blank,” thereporter recalls, with a chuckle.

Gould, who now lives in New York and covers the Russian beatfor The Village Voice, will appear Monday, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m., at theMuseum of Tolerance. (310) 553-8403. She will also have a readingTuesday, Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m., at Skylight Books in Los Feliz (213) 660-1175.