Surviving a Survivor


It’s an age-old, common dilemma faced by adult children of aging parents: What is the right thing to do when those parents begin to lose their faculties? That theme is at the heart of “Surviving Mama,” by playwright Sonia Levitin, which opens Oct. 12 at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica.

“When you have an aging parent and you have to make a decision, it can’t just be a cookie-cutter decision,” Levitin said in an interview. “You have to take into account everything about that person — their early life, what they endured, their personality and how they are going to react. What’s going to be the next step for them? And people are very different. Almost everyone I talk to has an aging parent, and I hear many different stories — of sibling rivalries coming out, some parents going on their own, making a plan; others a little resistant.” 

Levitin’s play traces the life of Marlena, called Mama (Arva Rose as the older Marlena, Gina Manziello as her younger self), who, when we first meet her, is a feisty, independent woman of German-Jewish heritage in her mid-80s. She has almost set her apartment on fire and is displaying other signs of encroaching dementia. Her youngest daughter, Anne (Manziello, in a dual role) continually clashes with her middle daughter, Stella (Sharon Rosner), over whether to put Mama in a home, and it is clear Mama resists the idea with all her might.

Much of the action is shown in flashback, as we revisit significant events in Marlena’s life. The story reverts to Germany in 1923, when, at the age of 26, she exhibits the strength and resolve that will carry her through life by defying her autocratic father, learning a profession, and marrying the charming, flamboyant Gustav (Peter Lucas). Fifteen years later, with the advent of Nazism, Gustav flees to Cuba, and Marlena escapes to Switzerland with their three young daughters, where they are helped by a priest who enlists the aid of a Catholic family.

The following year, Marlena, the girls and Gustav reunite in America, and Gustav, who is a designer, goes into the shmatte business. But he is a womanizer, and Marlena endures an unhappy marriage.  

After Gustav dies, Marlena falls in love and has a short-lived relationship with another man as the dementia overtakes her.

Levitin based the work on her own late mother’s life, incorporating memories her mother related, as well as on her own recollections, some of which go back to her days as a young child in Nazi Germany.

“I remember that Hitler parade that I refer to in the play. It was very frightening.  I remember scattered things. I remember being in Switzerland.”

Levitin said she also remembers how impoverished she, her mother and her sisters were in Switzerland. “My mother wasn’t allowed to work because she wasn’t a citizen, and you had to be a citizen. She was willing to do anything, and she was absolutely destitute. She went to an agency that was supposed to help refugees, and they told her to go back to Germany. She did go to a rabbi, and he found families for her who were not Jewish but would take the children.” 

Once in America, Levitin’s mother, who had been raised in a beautiful home, with a nanny and maids, still struggled. “She had to work,” Levitin recalled, “and she had to work at very grimy jobs, cleaning other people’s houses, scrubbing the floor, after hours, in a restaurant. This is a woman who came from a well-to-do family.

“My mother’s experience has had an effect on my children, in that they understood her independence and her courage,” Levitin added.

Levitin recalls that just as the character of Anne, her counterpart in the script, is in denial about Marlena’s dementia, she herself could never acknowledge her mother’s mental deterioration. 

“Anne says in the play, ‘You know, I haven’t even said it to myself.’ And it was gradual, and the truth is, I never said it until this woman came over to assess her, the woman who ran the group home, who was lovely. She met my mother, and we talked. I remember it was outside on the lawn, and my mother went in for a sweater or something, and the woman said, ‘Well, she’s going to fit right in. They’re all demented.’ It was like the bottom had just dropped out. Yes, I knew, but I didn’t know. I had managed her; I really had.”

The character of Marlena as an old woman shares her life story with the viewer at key moments in the play, coming to the apron of the stage to address the audience directly. Those segments transition into flashbacks, and, for director Doug Kaback, they represent Marlena’s growing isolation.

“Her mind is drifting to the events of her past, and I think what she’s really analyzing and experiencing in a way, because we bring these events to life, is a sort of validation of the things that she did to save her children and herself, to hold on to a marriage that was proving very fateful and without passion. Her arc is to come to terms with that and to recognize that, even though she sometimes has a caustic character, she has tremendous love and value, and has accomplished really heroic things in her lifetime.”

But, Kaback added, she is burdened by a lifelong sense of guilt.

“She carries such a huge weight, and this terrible horror of what she experienced getting out of Nazi Germany, and the fact that so many loved ones remained, and that she couldn’t help them, and the tragedy of their early deaths, is something that she just can’t quite make whole for herself.  Consequently, she drifts more and more internally, into a world of loss, and she’s pulling back from life in a way.” 

Rose, who plays Marlena, believes that her character’s guilt over having left her contentious mother, Lucie (also played by Rose), in Germany as the Nazis were taking power is pivotal.

“It creates a deep sadness, a great defensiveness and a depression that is not uncommon in many Eastern European Jews,” Rose said. “We come to guilt easily. She didn’t just abandon her mother. She abandoned her mother knowing, in her gut, that she was abandoning her to something terrible. So, even though she begged her to leave, she knew that she could have done more, and that it was, to a certain degree, self-serving that she didn’t do more.”

Rose was particularly drawn to this material because of its ethnic underpinnings. “I’m very Jewish. Most of the theater that I do, that is of consequence and that matters to me, often has a Jewish theme. I am not just an actor. For the last 25 years, I’ve been a family therapist, and the combination of the family dynamics, the Jewishness of the plot and the characters, made it completely irresistible to me.”

Rose would like the play to transmit a sense of what she calls “the incredible bond between family members, particularly mothers and daughters.”

And Kaback hopes that “whatever station we’re at in life, we’re able to see in Marlena a reflection of ourselves, and a recognition that we, too, have to confront some very challenging and difficult questions as we grow older.”

As for what Levitin would like audiences to take from her play: “I want them to come away with a feeling of the fullness of life, the triumph of life and of people over all the things that can befall them. I want them to become encouraged by the show, and to say, ‘Wow! That was a woman who knew how to live.’ ”

 


“Surviving Mama”

Edgemar Center for the Arts, on the Main Stage

2437 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90405

Oct. 12- Nov. 18

Fri. at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and and 8 pm, Sunday at 5 pm.

Tickets:  $34.99

RESERVATIONS: (310) 392-7327

ONLINE TICKETING: http://www.edgemarcenter.org/ 

LimmudLA honors founders


LimmudLA honored its founders, Linda Fife and Shep Rosenman, in an evening of dinner, music and study on Sunday, Sept. 9, at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens.

LimmudLA is the local outlet of an international model of interdisciplinary, interdenominational, no-boundaries Jewish conferences and events. Founded in the United Kingdom more than 30 years ago, Limmud now conducts 60 conferences in 30 countries, all of them almost entirely run by volunteers.

Fife and Rosenman conceived of bringing Limmud to Los Angeles about seven years ago, after they participated in a Limmud conference in New York. They rallied volunteers and funders and five years ago held the first conference in Southern California over Presidents’ Day weekend, with close to 700 participants converging at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa. The conferences have continued there each February since then.

In 2013, however, LimmudLA plans to forgo its annual marquis conference, instead holding smaller, local events ranging from cultural to academic to family-oriented.

“We’re trying to be localized and organic to the communities where we’re doing different events,” said Yechiel Hoffman, executive director of LimmudLA, the only paid staff member. “Rather than taking people out to Orange County for an event, this gives us a way of being able to provide different options and different access points where people are.”

More than 400 volunteers have stepped up for LimmudLA since its inception. Hoffman said about 120 people are currently active volunteers. LimmudLA plans to hold a multi-day event next summer and is aiming to put on the full conference again in the winter of 2014. 

About 175 people came to honor Fife and Rosenman at what was LimmudLA’s first gala fundraiser. The organization met its goal of raising $75,000. 

The event featured music, text study and an examination of Jewish narrative. Rather than a plaque, Rosenman and Fife each received the newly published Koren Talmud, Tractate Brachot, and rather than a traditional acceptance speech, they staged a musical collaboration that had the audience responding to Rosenman’s “oom-pa-pas” and “ba-da-das.” Fife said it was, like LimmudLA, an example of volunteers stepping out of their comfort zones to produce something meaningful.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sep. 15-21, 2012


SAT SEPT 15

“With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story”
The feature-length documentary explores the life of the 89-year-old, comic-book legend, co-creator of the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk. Directed by Terry Douglas, Nikki Frakes and William Lawrence Hess, “With Great Power” highlights Lee’s Depression-era upbringing, his early years at Timely Comics, his military service during World War II, the dawn of Marvel Comics and more. Narrated by Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber), the doc features interviews with Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendes. A Q-and-A with the filmmakers follows the screening. Sat. 7-9 p.m. $10. Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., downtown. (213) 617-1033. downtownindependent.com.


SUN SEPT 16

High Holiday Food Drive 2012
SOVA needs your help. This Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles program, which provides free groceries and an array of support services to more than 12,000 individuals each month, is collecting canned beans, meat, tuna, dry milk, pasta, noodles, rice, dry soup, peanut butter, toiletries and other items. Drop-off locations include the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as well as participating synagogues and day schools. Sun. Through Sept. 26. The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Call (818) 988-7682, Ext. 116, to find drop-off locations in your area. jewishla.org, jfsla.org/sova.


TUE SEPT 18

Matisyahu
The Grammy nominee appears live in support of his latest record, “Spark Seeker.” Like its predecessors, the new album — Matisyahu’s fourth — features a blend of reggae, hip-hop, beat boxing and spiritual lyrics, but also showcases traditional ancient sounds and electro beats. Expect to hear lead single “Sunshine” as well as other new tracks, and older material off of albums “Light” and “Youth,” during tonight’s performance. Opening bands include reggae-rock ensembles Dirty Heads and Pacific Dub. Tue. 6:30 p.m. $27.50. Hollywood Palladium, 6215 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (800) 745-3000. livenation.com.


WED SEPT 19

“Sarin Zakan & Eshel Ben-Jacob: Bacteria Art and Eco-Fashion”
Israeli fashion designer Sarin Zakan, who creates eco-couture clothing that blends science and art, makes her U.S. debut at the Pacific Design Center. Zakan’s work — including collars and dresses — features patterns formed by bacteria. Her pieces will be displayed alongside the work of her mentor, Tel Aviv University physics professor Eshel Ben-Jacob, who is called the godfather of bacterial art patterns. Wed. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Free. Through Nov. 9, Mon.-Fri. Pacific Design Center, 8867 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 657-0800. pacificdesigncenter.com.


THU SEPT 20

Mitch Albom 
The best-selling author of “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” sits down with Rabbi David Wolpe to discuss his new book, “The Time Keeper.” Albom’s novel follows the inventor of the world’s first clock, Father Time, who, after being punished for trying to measure God’s greatest gift, is given a chance to redeem himself by teaching two people — a teenage girl about to give up on life and a wealthy old businessman who wants to live forever — the true meaning of time. Admission includes a copy of the book. Thu. 8 p.m. $20 (Sinai members), $25 (general). Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3243. sinaitemple.org


FRI SEPT 21

Martin Amis and Matthew Weiner
Matthew Weiner, the marvel behind “Mad Men,” appears in conversation with Martin Amis, a master of ironic prose (“Money: A Suicide Note”). A postwar British writer of fiction, nonfiction, short stories, essays and reviews, his new novel, “Lionel Asbo: State of England,” follows the problematic relationship between a thuggish and lottery-winning English uncle and his nephew. Though experts in different mediums, Weiner and Amis share a fascination with the lives of the privileged in their respective works. Fri. 7:30 p.m. $20. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 855-0005. writersblocpresents.com.

“Abraham”
French singer-songwriter and actor Michel Jonasz embodies Abraham, his cantor grandfather, in this one-man show. Set before his death, the play follows Abraham as he recalls his deepest memories — his childhood, escaping from Poland, meeting his wife, his deportation to concentration camps, and the joys and sorrows of existence. In French with projected English translations. Fri. 7:45 p.m. Through Sept. 22. $50 (general seating), $75 (premium). Theatre Raymond Kabbaz, 10361 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 286-0553. theatreraymond-kabbaz.com.

Chabad Telethon raises $4 million


Hollywood stars and dancing rabbis came together for the 32nd annual Chabad “To Life” Telethon on Sept. 9. Held for the first time at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, the high-profile fundraiser raised approximately $4 million for Chabad of California.

“At Chabad, there’s no greater joy than the joy of giving,” declared Larry King, whose hosting duties and interviews were recorded days earlier at KCET in Burbank and shown on screens straddling the stage.

KTLA Morning News’ Sam Rubin, “Good Morning Arizona” anchor Stella Inger and comedian Elon Gold co-hosted the event live, playing to a small studio audience at the Art Deco theater.

The three-hour telethon aired locally on KTLA 5, from 8 to 11 p.m., and was carried nationwide by cable and satellite providers, as well as stations in San Diego, San Francisco, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.   

Actor Jon Voight, one of the evening’s main celebrities, remains an active supporter of Israel and Chabad, having appeared in multiple telethons. 

“I’ve had many major roles in motion pictures, but one of my favorite roles is taking part in Chabad’s” yearly telethon, he said. 

Onstage throughout the evening, Voight was in good spirits, surrounded by a house band, a rotating crew of people working the phone banks and an active tote board. He danced with black-suited Chabadniks young and old. “I’m learning new steps every day,” Voight said. 

Then, catching his breath, he delivered his spiel, asking viewers to call the phone number that appeared on the bottom of their television screens and donate what they could. 

In addition to Voight, speakers included actors Tom Arnold, David Arquette and Howie Mandel, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. City Councilmen Paul Koretz and Dennis Zine, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel and philanthropist Stanley Black.

Among the featured performers were 11-year-old piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick, Chasidic rock-and-pop duo the 8th Day and Chasidic singer and composer Lipa Schmeltzer. 

The $4.03 million raised on Sunday — last year’s telethon raised $4.2 million — will benefit the international Chasidic movement’s social services and programs, including summer camp scholarships, support for children with special needs, community outreach centers, crisis intervention and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. 

Seated near L.A. Clipper forward Trey Thompkins at the phone bank, actor-comedian Arnold made his pitch for Chabad. Never shy, Arnold highlighted his past as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict when requesting donations in support of Chabad’s drug rehabilitation services.

“They do wonderful work there and they help everybody,” Arnold said.

Highlights from the Chabad “To Life” Telethon: 

7:58 p.m.: Backstage, two minutes until showtime, production assistants scramble to prepare performers, including Voight and dancing rabbis, for their cue. 

8 p.m.: A message from King segues into Bortnick’s piano performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The rabbis follow — young men grab one another’s hands or shoulders, kicking up their feet as they dance in circles. 

8:12 p.m.: Dressed in black sneakers to match his suit, comedian Gold warms up the crowd: “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the Chabad Telethon, but it helps,” Gold says.

8:55 p.m.: King interviews Arquette about what it took to get sober. Building “a connection to God” and learning how to manage self-critical thinking both played a role in his road to sobriety, Arquette says. 

9:10 p.m.: Consul General Siegel, City Councilman Koretz, County Supervisor Yaroslavsky and philanthropist Black share the stage with Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad. Black announces his own pledge for $250,000.

9:35 p.m.: Looking out at the theater’s numerous empty seats, Arnold quips from the phone bank, “How about a hand for all of Clint Eastwood’s chairs out there,” referring to Eastwood’s controversial speech at the Republican National Convention.

9:40 to 10 p.m.: Entertainment attorney and Chabad Telethon co-chairman Marshall Grossman pledges $25,000. Television producer Kevin Bright (“Friends”), who was not in attendance, pledges $180,000 and Ralphs supermarket representative Jose Martinez hands over a jumbo-check for $20,000.

10:10: An interview between King and TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal president David Suissa is screened. “Chabad means ‘love’ more than anything,” Suissa says.

10:55 p.m.: The tote board jumps to more than $4 million for the evening’s final total. The rabbis return for a final dance — until next year.

Jewish Home to expand to West L.A.


Challenged by an 18-month waiting list numbering 400 people, the Jewish Home of Los Angeles has announced that it will add another campus — this time on the west side of Los Angeles. On Sept. 7, the Jewish Home closed escrow on a 2.5-acre site in Playa Vista.

The Gonda Healthy Aging Westside Campus, as the senior care community will be known, will be located at The Village in Playa Vista. It will offer independent living, assisted living and memory care, supplementing the Jewish Home’s two existing campuses in Reseda in the San Fernando Valley. 

“Our goal is to be spread geographically so that we can serve both in the Valley and West L.A.,” Molly Forrest, president and CEO of the Jewish Home, said on Sept. 11. “Some people would like to stay at home. Others will need skilled nursing. We are trying to present in West L.A. an opportunity to serve almost 600 seniors in a variety of settings.”

Now in its centennial year, the Jewish Home cares for more than 1,000 seniors in-residence, and it assists 1,600 more through community-based programs. Half of those waiting to get into the Jewish Home live on the Westside.

The expansion is being funded in large part by the Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Foundation and the Saul Brandman Foundation. At its core will be the Gonda Campus, with a 176-unit continuing care community for independent seniors and 24 units dedicated to assisted living and memory care. Forrest said the goal is to open the campus within four years.

This is part of a bigger plan. Forrest said that the Jewish Home aims to purchase a skilled nursing facility in the area and find a Westside site for a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). The federal program, known at the Jewish Home as the Brandman Centers for Senior Care, provides a full range of health-care services for seniors living independently in the community in order to allow them to remain in their homes. This can include anything from meals and therapy to medical care and transportation.

Forrest said the move to West L.A. reflects the Jewish Home’s aspirations to serve 5,000 people by 2015. Already, it is the largest single-source provider of senior housing in Los Angeles.

“It’s a huge step forward for us,” Forrest said.

The Hollywood treatment


“Fundamentally, your job is not that different from my job,” screenwriter Alex Litvak told a room full of rabbis assembled at American Jewish University for the annual High Holy Days conference sponsored by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

While most of the 165 attendees were off attending sermon workshops on topics ranging from social media to Mussar, about 20 opted to touch-up their Torah with insights from film and TV. Rabbi Jon Hanish from Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills began the session by asking a panel of eight Hollywood writers what was on their minds this year.

“Why am I here?” one said. “Materialism,” another said. “Political and social divisiveness,” a third added. 

It was a fun but unorthodox match, bringing Hollywood currency to holy categories. 

“I’d want to know what King David’s approval rating would be in the digital age,” said Seth Kurland, a sitcom writer and producer best known for his work on “Friends.” “You think of him probably as courageous and compassionate, but he kills Bathsheba’s husband! Even he must have had a Yom Kippur day; he must have asked, ‘Do I want to define my life by moments of weakness or moments of strength?’ ”

This second annual Professional Writers Workshop, which paired some of Hollywood’s finest with the rabbinate’s most fastidious, looked like an episode of “In Treatment,” offering the best sermon therapy money can buy (and for the bargain conference price of $150). In cross-denominational groups of three, the questions ranged from the practical (“Should I start with a question, crack a joke or tell a story?”) to the philosophical (“What would you say you’re trying to say in this sermon?”) to the political (“This is the time to go for it — make the big point!”). It was classic Freudian role-reversal, with the rabbis in the hot seat and the writers going righteous.

“I don’t know if by the end [of this session] we’re gonna pitch you sermons or you’re gonna pitch us TV shows,” said David Kendall, creator of ABC Family’s “Melissa & Joey” who also worked on older hits like “Growing Pains” and “Boy Meets World.” 

In one group, Rabbi Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Orange County puzzled over how to make a trite topic like tzedakah sexy. He worried about sounding “canned” and “predictable,” but even more so, Spitz said, “There is discomfort in asking for money on High Holy Days, when people want to be spiritual.” To which Kendall offered straightforward advice on the merits of truth: “Say, ‘It feels horrible to talk about this,’ ” Kendall said. “In writer’s terms we’d say, ‘Let’s hang a lantern on it,’ which means you’re going to do something obvious. If something is unavoidable in the plot or exposition, you ‘hang a lantern on it.’ ”

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills’ Rabbi Laura Geller suggested that Spitz tell a story about an event that changed his relationship to money. “That takes people to very personal places,” she said.

But just how deep can you go, she wondered. “How personal can you get?” she asked Kendall. “My sermon is about growing older; about how we devote so much energy and resources to youth. Well, what about me? I’m not dead yet. How vulnerable do I get in speaking about my own fears about aging; how my mother’s getting older? How much do congregants really want their rabbi to reveal?”

Get intimate, he said. A message becomes more memorable if tied to a resonant or relatable story.

Things were less fraught for Rabbi Mark Kaiserman, who will serve this year as interim rabbi at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley after the retirement of 36-year-veteran Rabbi Stephen Einstein. 

“Which gives me the luxury of reusing sermons,” Kaiserman joked to his Hollywood helper, Sam Baum, creator of Fox’s “Lie to Me.”  

“And,” Baum added guilefully, “you can swing for the fences.” 

Rabbi Daniel Feder was more interested in milking Baum for entertainment tips. “I always try to have one or two chuckle moments,” Feder said. “Maybe you could suggest, ‘Put Humor Here.’ ” 

Baum rejoined his request with plot-development 101: “I try to force myself to write a single sentence that gets at the core of the story,” he began. “The first couple of minutes are crucial to creating the feeling that there is a hand quietly guiding you.” And, as Hollywood proverbs go, action must follow inspiration. “It is crucial that in the last two minutes there is something actionable — you have to give the character something to do, not just something to think about.”

It is telling that the people who usually do the teaching were so willing to be taught. And perhaps a little bit ironic that those who often self-protect from congregants felt safe among storytellers with the world’s largest soapbox.

But as writer and producer David Sacks, known for shows “3rd Rock From the Sun” and “Malcolm in the Middle” encouraged, be fearless! Don’t be cowed into feel-good Torah. Although this hardly compelled Rabbi Miriam Hamrell of Ahavat Torah in Brentwood: “Last year I gave a sermon on Israel, and people had a hard time with it,” Hamrell said. “People said, ‘We’re not here to hear politics. We’re coming here to heal, to listen, to open our hearts.” In the wake of that, she said, she had to lead a decompressing discussion circle.

Monica Henderson Beletsky, a Harvard graduate who writes for NBC’s “Parenthood” got a kick out of the strange and wonderful convergence of Hollywood and holy themes. 

“It’s so funny,” she said, “one rabbi wrote about being in a personal prison and another wrote about happiness, and they both came to the same conclusion. And, you know, we’re working with a similar theme on our show, but I can’t tell you about it.”

Hanish, an organizer of the event, said the confluence of high-minded rabbis with highly accomplished writers is a good fit.

“Rabbis know a thing or two about writing, but rabbinic school is about academic writing, and we end up writing things that are too intellectual and not connecting on a human level. Film writers understand how to write to the general populace and get deep messages across.”

And, of course, Hollywood is always seeking good material, a plentiful resource in the life of a rabbi.

“The writers get just as much out of it as the rabbis,” Hanish said. “They come for fun, but they get rejuvenated. Afterward, they’ll say, ‘I was on the fringe of my Judaism, but these rabbis understand today’s world’ —and some consider returning to Judaism.”

For Dahvi Waller, who won an Emmy for her work on “Mad Men,” things got a little too close for comfort. Last year, after a Jewish Journal article covered her session at the workshop, she was bombarded by requests for help from rabbis all over the country. “I can’t say ‘no’!” she gushed, explaining why she didn’t want her session to be written up this year. “They wanted way more than an hour of my time.”

Community Profile: Gerald Bubis


Gerald B. Bubis is 88, and he knows there are things he’ll never do again.

He’ll never travel to Israel again, for one, and after 46 trips, that’s a tough one to swallow. Then there’s the fact that this author and/or editor of 12 books and 200 articles on serving the Jewish community now has a tremor in his hand that prevents him from putting pen to paper. He also can’t drive anymore, and he can’t stand up long enough to wash dishes.

Despite all this, he’s not frail, and the clarity and wisdom he still possesses have provided him the blessing of being able to ponder how he wants to approach this late stage of life.

“I think of this more as a condition than as a stage,” Bubis said, sitting in an armchair in the living room of his Beverlywood condo. “This is the first time in your life you’re confronting the fact that this is really the end of the physical stage, and that’s different. Because there is this notion of it being Dec. 25 on the calendar, and it’s a matter of saying how will you spend that last week of your life.”

It’s a scenario the High Holy Days imposes on all worshippers, but for Bubis, as it is for many seniors, the question of what has filled his book of life and how it will close is not abstract, but an everyday reality.

He has made the decision that he will not allow himself room for regrets — neither about the past nor about what he can no longer do. Rather, he focuses on what he has accomplished and what he still can do. 

Bubis is the founding director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and was an early and ardent advocate for peace with the Palestinians. He is recognized nationally as an elder statesman, both in the peace camp and in the world of Jewish professionals.

In his earlier years, Bubis, who is still a broad 6 feet tall, was probably called strapping. Now, his hearty eyebrows and booming voice both have taken on the qualities of old age, and he moves slowly, with a walker. His health issues are profound: He takes two dozen pills a day to deal with legs that barely work, heart trouble, high blood pressure and episodes of pain on one side of his face that are so debilitating the condition is referred to as suicidal neuralgia. He’s had three bouts with thyroid cancer, and a serious car accident in February exacerbated issues with his legs and left vision in one eye impaired.

But Bubis is well aware of the tendencies of his age cohort, so to a genuine query of, “How are you?” Bubis will begin his answer by setting himself a time limit to update the essentials, and he promises that he will then move on to more interesting conversation.

 “You can either sink into a morass of depression or feeling sorry for yourself, or you say it is what it is, it can’t be any different,” Bubis said. “The people I admire most are the people who confront their limits and cope with them in ways that say, I still have my life, and I still have my pleasures. I still have my challenges, and if one part of my body is diminished or extinguished or involves some kind of coping or adjusting, so be it. I can’t do anything about it, but what I will do about it is, I will say ‘hineni,’ here I am, and how do I go forward?”

Jerry and Ruby, his wife of 64 years, still go to concerts and lectures regularly; they get together with friends often, and they are close with their two children and three grandchildren. They study and socialize with a chavurah they have been part of for 35 years, and have been members of Valley Beth Shalom for decades, but their once weekly attendance has become more sporadic since the car accident.

And Jerry still works. He mentors and consults with Jewish professionals several times a week and reliably holds court at Pat’s on Pico, where the lunch waiters know to pack up half his salad at the outset and to bring him biscotti with the bill.

Because he can no longer write, he is considering looking for funding to hire someone to help him transcribe his words into articles.

He has volumes of anecdotes to share, and while he is careful about his listeners’ time and patience, it doesn’t take much goading for him to unleash dependably gripping stories about camping in Yosemite or personal encounters with King Hussein.

Bubis says he is at peace with where he is now, because he allows himself the satisfaction — but not the fiction — that his life has been lived well.

“To me, it’s a nourishing thing to know that this stage has grown from all those other stages. I have been lucky enough to go through all the stages there are — by way of love and marriage, children, professional fulfillment and accomplishment and recognition,” Bubis said.

That’s not to say it’s been perfect. He’s got an ego, and he can get angry, he said. He said he was for too long married to his work, and didn’t always give Ruby or the children the time he should have.  

“My regrets are of my failing as a father and as a mate in the early days of our marriage,” he said. Today he has a strong relationship with his son, David, who is vice president for development for Bet Tzedek Legal Services, and his daughter, Deena Libman, a development officer at the San Diego Jewish Federation. Both David and Deena were Bubis’ students in graduate school at HUC-JIR, and, like their father, both also were awarded honorary doctorates from HUC-JIR. 

Dwelling on what wasn’t accomplished is a sure road to unhappiness, Bubis advises.

“Making peace with what you have accomplished, and not judging yourself for what you didn’t accomplish, is to me a very important attribute, which I believe a lot of people never acquire, but rather they have this restless dissatisfaction, and maybe in some cases depression, about what they wished would have happened that didn’t happen,” Bubis said. “But you can only be what you are capable of being at the time that you are that.”

Jerry and Ruby built their life from modest beginnings.

Bubis grew up in Winnipeg, and his parents divorced when he was 11, after his father fled to the United States after being caught embezzling. Jerry, his mother and his sister moved to Minnesota, where they lived with his mother’s parents, Orthodox immigrants from Minsk. 

As a teenager, he split his time between the Talmud Torah at the Jewish community center and loitering around the streets, shoplifting and pulling pranks. He had a lot of anger, he admits, and says he once went at his mother with a butcher knife and tied his sister up in the closet.

But his maternal grandfather was a true role model. He was a quiet and kind small property owner who established a synagogue and Jewish free loan in Minnesota, and during the Depression he would secretly leave food and coal for his tenants.

“I’ve always had two birds on my shoulder — my father and my grandfather, and each influenced me in his own way,” Bubis said. “As a result of my father, I vowed that I would try to be a person with a good name. And as a result of my grandfather, I had a model of a person who had a good name.”

Bubis enlisted in the Army during World War II as a combat engineer and was trained to remove land mines. He was about to be deployed overseas when he was plucked from his unit and sent back to the camp in Oregon to train other soldiers. A few months later, his entire unit was killed in Italy.

With injured feet, Bubis was discharged with a disability pension that paid his way through college and social work school. Two months after he left the military, he met Ruby at a Manitoba-Minnesota Hillel event and was smitten immediately.

“Having the luck of having a mate, a partner, for so long is in itself an incredible gift, because we grew up together,” Bubis said, looking across the room, where Ruby sat on a loveseat that, like most of their furniture, is a family heirloom. “The love, for me, grows and grows, and it grows even as the nature of how we relate is different than when we were young. And, for me, having the luck of a person who is on the one hand always my supervisor and a goad for keeping me focused, and on the other hand has kept me from ballooning up about myself and puffery about myself, that to me has been a tremendous help.”

Ruby, also a social worker, helped resettle refugees after World War II and later helped settle Soviet Jews in Los Angeles. Jerry worked as a camp director and a Federation executive before he founded the School of Jewish Communal Service and then became a professor at HUC-JIR.

After his recent car accident, which left Bubis laid up for months, he was stunned at the love that began to flow from across the globe and from those close by — people stepped in with meals, rides and visits.

“This has just been a shower of love and support from places I never, ever would have expected — e-mails and calls from former students all over the world. And it has been a tremendous experience to have the equivalent of my hesped [eulogy] while I’m alive — the equivalent of what people will say at my funeral. To me that is remarkably lucky.”

It is the knowledge that he has affected so many people that gives him peace now. 

“You never know what time is going to be. I live as if there will be time to get to our grandson’s smicha [ordination], which will be in two years. My wife comes from a long-lived strain of people. I believe she could live until 100. I have no relatives who lived past 87, so I’ve already passed them. And I’m at peace with that. It doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the future and wondering what will happen, but I really do feel peaceful.”

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sep. 9-13, 2012


SUN | SEPT 9 

“ARTHUR SCHNITZLER — BEING JEWISH”
A renowned writer and dramatist whose favorite topics were anti-Semitism, love, sex and death, Arthur Schnitzler chronicled turn-of-the-century Vienna. A Getty staged reading of Schnitzler's journals and correspondence portray a conflicted Austrian Jew who is not afraid to ask difficult questions. Held in conjunction with “Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Line,” a panel discussion with filmmaker Peter Schnitzler, Schnitzler's grandson, and Schnitzler expert Lorenzo Bellettini follows. Sun. 4-7:30 p.m. Free (reservation recommended). Getty Center, Harold M. Williams Auditorium, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300. getty.edu.

CHABAD “TO LIFE” TELETHON
Television icon Larry King hosts the 32nd annual Chabad telethon, featuring celebrity guests and, of course, dancing rabbis. Proceeds benefit Chabad of California's programs and institutions, including schools, summer camps, community outreach centers, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, crisis intervention and support for children with special needs. Sun. 8-11 p.m. KTLA. tolife.com.


MON | SEPT 10 

“SONGS FOR A BRIS”
Actor-singer Ben Goldberg's one-night-only musical exploration looks at the biggest decision every infant Jewish boy never got to make. The performance features music by Meat Loaf, U2, Cole Porter, Hootie and the Blowfish, and many others. Mon. $10. Rockwell, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 661-6163. rockwell-la.com.

MACCABIAH MASTERS TENNIS TRYOUTS
Interested in representing the United States at the 19th World Maccabiah Games next summer in Israel? Maccabi USA is holding masters-level tennis tryouts today for men and women, ages 35 and older, at Mountain Gate Country Club. Buffet lunch included. Mon. 9 a.m. (arrival, check-in), 10 a.m. (tournament begins). $40 (application fee), $50 (participation fee), $30 (additional guest). Mountain Gate Country Club, 12445 Mountaingate Drive, Los Angeles. (215) 561-6900. maccabiusa.com.


WED | SEPT 12

KCET HIGH HOLY DAYS
The community television station honors the High Holy Days with four documentaries during the month of September, including “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles,” a story of how a family stays spiritually and physically connected through tradition; “The New Beginning,” which examines the ancient origins, evolution, symbols and traditions that have come to define the High Holy Days; “18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre,” which tells the story of the most sacred prayer in Judaism through the tales and anecdotes of those who have been touched by it; and “Where Birds Never Sang: The Story of Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps,” which looks at Hitler's largest concentration camp designed for women. Wed. Through Sept. 20. “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”: Sept. 12, 2:30 p.m.; “The New Beginning”: Sept. 13, 10:30 p.m.; “18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre”: Sept. 16, 4:30 p.m.; “Where Birds Never Sang”: Sept. 20 at 10:30 p.m. For additional airing times, visit kcet.org.


THU | SEPT 13

“10Q: NO REGRETS”
Time magazine columnist Joel Stein hosts an evening of confessions. Just in time for the New Year, comedians, writers, celebrities and audience participants reveal their biggest regrets in an attempt to clean the slate. Folk-pop duo the Wellspring performs. Co-sponsored by Reboot and the Jewish Federation's Young Adults of Los Angeles. Thu. 7-10 p.m. $15 (advance ticket), $18 (door). Acme Comedy Theater, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8324. yala.org.

ITZHAK PERLMAN
The Israeli-American master violinist performs Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto.” One of the world's most renowned classical musicians, Perlman has won more than a dozen Grammy awards, taken part in the inauguration of President Barack Obama and played with every major orchestra. Conductor Bramwell Tovey leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the final classic concert of the season with Johannes Brahms' “Hungarian Dances Nos. 10, 4, 5,” Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto” and Antonin Dvorák's “Symphony No. 8.” Thu. 8 p.m. $1-$133. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. hollywoodbowl.com.

MICHAEL CHABON AND AYELET WALDMAN
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen's Union” appears in person to read passages from his new novel “Telegraph Avenue.” Set in Berkeley at the end of the summer of 2004, record store co-owners Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe and their midwife wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffee, face personal and professional problems that test the strength of their relationships and businesses. Writer Mona Simpson (“My Hollywood”) leads a post-reading discussion and Q-and-A with Chabon and his wife, author Ayelet Waldman (“Red Hook Road”). Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000. hammer.ucla.edu.

5th District Plays Big Role


The Los Angeles elections on March 3 turned out to be more interesting than most of us had expected, especially the role of the Fifth Council District.

The Fifth, which is a mixture of Westside (think Fairfax) and Valley (think Encino) is also the “Jewish district.” In a city that’s about 6 percent to 7 percent Jewish, the Fifth is perhaps 35 percent to 40 percent Jewish. It’s the best-educated district, and one of the most affluent. It has tremendous voter registration and high turnout year after year.

Of the city’s nearly 1.6 million registered voters, 167,668 are in the Fifth, more than 10 percent of the total. On March 3, the Fifth cast around 12 percent of all city votes, with only 7 percent of the population.

The Fifth played a pivotal role in the rise and dominance of the Tom Bradley coalition, as its voters provided massive support to Bradley. Combined with the African American community, the Fifth and other white liberal districts consistently outvoted white conservatives. The Fifth is one of the few council districts that bridges the divide between the Valley and the rest of the city, joining more liberal Westsiders to more moderate Valley residents.

Winning the Fifth District’s council seat is a big achievement, because there are lots of talented and ambitious people ready to run and mount effective campaigns in those two parts of the city, and anyone who wins becomes a prospect for bigger things. Think Roz Wyman, Ed Edelman, Zev Yaroslavsky, Mike Feuer and now Jack Weiss, who is in the runoff for city attorney against Carmen Trutanich.

While the voters in the Fifth District are disproportionately Democrats, they can be very unpredictable on one local issue, and that is growth. When Bradley experienced a lot of political trouble in the 1980s, it was over growth, development and traffic, and much of this agitation was in the Fifth. The proliferation of billboards and city hall’s weakness in regulating them has energized another neighborhood rebellion today.

The race to succeed Weiss generated six strong candidates who split votes so evenly in the primary that the percentages looked like a box score on a night that the Lakers have everybody in double figures. Weiss has lots of defenders and lots of enemies in his own district on the hot-button issues, and he was charged with being too pro-development.

The two candidates who made it into the runoff, Paul Koretz and David Vahedi, are both critics of development and billboards. They are each likely to further activate the voters who are fighting growth.

With his early lead in fundraising and endorsements, Weiss contested the open seat for city attorney as if he were the incumbent. While he was able to preempt other strong candidates from challenging him, he also inevitably became the target of the anti-city hall sentiment that in this low-turnout election made its will known by apparently (pending the counting of some remaining ballots) defeating Proposition B, the solar power measure.

He came in first, but with only 36 percent of the vote, and he will face a tough runoff. And because the Fifth District is also going to have a heavily contested runoff, its turnout will likely affect the citywide result.

Ironically, Weiss’ best chance of winning is to expand his appeal beyond his own council district, where he has lots of active opponents, and draw on organized labor and other communities. He has to broaden the issues beyond development. If he does, he stands a good chance of winning. He did, after all, finish first in all but the 15th District, which represents Trutanich’s San Pedro home base.

Weiss’ best showing was in the three predominantly African American districts (Eighth, Ninth and 10th), where he polled 43 percent, 44 percent and 45 percent, respectively. He also polled 45 percent in the Latino and working-class First District.

These are pro-labor areas, where Measure B did well, winning 71 percent in the First and 71 percent, 75 percent and 67 percent, respectively in the Eighth, Ninth and 10th districts. He received only 37 percent in his own Fifth District.

The last Fifth District councilman to run for city attorney was Mike Feuer, in 2001, and Feuer’s situation was quite different. He was exceptionally strong in his own district, and he piled up a huge edge among Jewish and other white voters. But while Feuer had major labor support, Rocky Delgadillo pulled off the upset by linking Latino voters to a majority of African Americans.

Delgadillo also was bolstered by a late endorsement from Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters. This time, a number of African American elected officials are behind Weiss, while Waters endorsed Trutanich. It’s all consistent with the mix-and-match coalition politics of today’s Los Angeles.

Much of labor is in Weiss’ camp, as are the mayor and Police Chief William Bratton. Having apparently been beaten on Measure B, labor is likely to want to win a big one citywide to go along with the re-election of Villaraigosa and the election of Wendy Greuel as controller.

Trutanich has the endorsements of the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News, both of which might be influential in a low-turnout election, and Sheriff Lee Baca.

There are two types of Los Angeles electorates, the one that appears in partisan, statewide elections in even-numbered years and the one that appears in odd-year municipal races. The May 19 runoff election is scheduled to be held in tandem with a special statewide election with ballot measures negotiated as part of the state budget deal.

Labor may or may not have some big horses in this race. So this election is a kind of hybrid, maybe bigger than a quiet municipal runoff but less noisy than a true statewide partisan battle. Most likely, the election will be decided not just by how people vote, but by who votes.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is chair of the Division of Politics, Administration and Justice at Cal State Fullerton.

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Sholem Aleichem, Gogol Show Two Views of Shtetl Jews


Russians, Jews and literature scholars get excited about jubilee years, and for those who fit any of these categories, 2009 is a big year. One hundred and fifty years ago this month, a writer who would immortalize the Russian Jew in literature, Solomon Rabinovich (1859-1916) — better known by his literary persona, Sholem Aleichem — was born in the town of Pereyaslav, near Kyiv. This spring also marks the 200th birthday of Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852), who was born about 100 miles to the east of Kyiv, in the town of Sorochintsy. Gogol, too, helped to immortalize the Russian Jew in literature, but in a more problematic way: the Jews who crop up around the margins of his stories, most of them crafty market vendors, money-lenders and tavern keepers, are anti-Semitic stereotypes, an unsettling detail in the work of one of the greatest comic writers of modern literature.

Literary history rarely moves in a straight line. Gogol and Sholem Aleichem may have written in different languages and represented different cultures, but their lives, remembered together, offer a vivid picture of the interplay of Russian and Jewish cultural history, and their stories, read side by side, appear as if in conversation. Both writers were obsessed with the dangers of commerce and capital, a theme that renders them all the more current in 2009. Both hail from what is now Ukraine, and each came to be viewed as a literary ambassador from an ethnic group within Russian culture. Gogol knew Russian and Ukrainian, attended a Russian school, moved to Petersburg to become a writer and spent years traveling in Western Europe. Sholem Aleichem attended both a Jewish cheder and a Russian secondary school, a marker of assimilation in a Jewish family. He began writing in Russian and Hebrew, but found success in Yiddish. Like Gogol’s tales of Ukraine, which sounded quaint to the Russian elite, Sholem Aleichem exported tales of the Jewish Pale of Settlement to cosmopolitan readers via publications in Warsaw and Petersburg, and visits to the United States.

Best known in the United States for his Tevye character, who became a symbol of the Jewish departure from Eastern Europe thanks to the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” Sholem Aleichem was canonized in the Soviet Union as the representative Yiddish writer, and an abridged six-volume Soviet edition of his works, in Russian translation, was as expected a collection in any Soviet Jewish household (and in many non-Jewish households) as the collected works of Lenin or Tolstoy.

Gogol, now best known for his later works, like “Dead Souls,” “The Overcoat” and “The Inspector General,” first became famous for his tales of provincial Ukraine, which he peopled with an amalgam of Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Poles and Gypsies. In his first successful story, “The Sorochintsy Fair” (1830), we marvel at how “a gypsy and peasant smacked hands then squealed from pain; how a drunken Jew slapped a woman on the backside; how vendors who had been arguing hurled profanities … and crayfish; how a Russian stroked his goatish beard with one hand, while with his other … “ In this story, a Jew buys and sells a demon’s coat, infecting an entire fair with evil. Gogol’s Jewish characters increase the sensation of a tale told from the margins of the Czarist Empire and often provide a moral lesson about overzealous trade.

Jewish stock characters later appear in Gogol’s epic novel, “Taras Bulba” (1835 and 1842), based loosely on Bohdan Chmielnicki’s Cossack uprising against Polish Magnates in 1648, an event in which thousands of Jews were killed. “‘Hang all the Jews!’ rang out from the crowd, ‘don’t let their Jewesses sew skirts out of our priests’ garments!’” In this story, a Jew, Yankel, escapes a pogrom in his shtetl but eagerly betrays his community by offering products and services to the Cossack warriors for the right price. “Taras saw that his protégé Yankel had already managed to erect a stall with an awning for himself and was selling flints, handfuls of gunpowder in paper cones, and other military items — even bread rolls and dumplings.”

Little surprise, given the stereotypes sprinkled throughout his work, that Gogol has been dismissed by Jewish readers, from the Russian historian Dubnow to the Soviet critic Mashinsky, as one of Russia’s many literary anti-Semites. But Sholem Aleichem chose to model much of his writing, and even his appearance, on Gogol. Ruth Wisse, in “The Modern Jewish Canon” (University of Chicago Press, 2003), has called Sholem Aleichem “the Jewish Gogol.” David Roskies, in “A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling” (Harvard University Press, 1995), reminds us, “Rabinovich kept a box marked ‘Gogol’ on his desk for work in progress, often quoted Gogol in private correspondence, and even wore his hair as Gogol did.” Had the two writers, with their dandyish bobs and whiskers, lived at the same time, they might have been mistaken for one another.

What Sholem Aleichem was borrowing from Gogol was a rural East European landscape that may have been dangerous, but could unite readers through the power of collective memory. He also learned from Gogol to soften this danger through laughter, and he often rewrites Gogol’s Jewish characters, correcting anti-Semitic stereotypes and narrating history from a Jewish perspective. Gogol’s heavily caricatured Jew tends to profit against all odds at Ukrainians’ expense, but Sholem Aleichem’s characters (like the author, who lost his inheritance in the Kiev Stock Exchange in 1890) are usually failures at trade, and their living conditions are squalid.

Sholem Aleichem devotes numerous stories and two full volumes to “Kasrilevka,” a fictional shtetl based, in part, on his childhood village, Voronka. The first, “Old-New Kasrilevka,” is a parodic Baedeker: “They turn out ‘A Guide to Moscow,’ ‘A Guide to Berlin,’ ‘A Guide to Paris,’ so why shouldn’t we have ‘A Guide to Kasrilevka?’ The guidebook includes seven sections, decreasing in appeal: “Transportation,” “Hotels,” “Restaurants,” “Liquor,” “Theater,” “Fires,” and “Bandits.” Eastern Europe was increasingly threatening to Jews, and Sholem Aleichem subtly expresses this by depicting the most despicable elements of the shtetl. Sholem Aleichem’s popular Menachem-Mendl stories (written between 1896-1913) find the title character traveling the world inventing get-rich-quick schemes. His adventures begin when he is given, in place of a promised dowry, a small sum of cash, two promissory notes and an illegitimate “draft” on bad credit (to be redeemed in Odessa). Menachem-Mendl’s wife, Sheyne-Sheyndl, remains at home in Kasrilevka, alternately scolding her husband for his bad investments and sending him money when his ventures fail. Gogolian characters occasionally appear in her shtetl. In one letter, she writes that a government inspector has arrived in town to ascertain what has become of certain sums of money meant for charity, an echo of Gogol’s “Inspector General,” whose anticipated arrival shakes a town to its core, unearthing the illegitimate finances of its provincial elite.

Sholem Aleichem’s 1900 “The Haunted Tailor” begins with a mock-biblical description of a community’s poverty:

And it came to pass that Tsippa-Beyla-Rayza was returning one summer day with her basket from the market, she threw down her bundle of garlic with a little parsley and potatoes that she had bought, and cried angrily, “This can all go to hell! Enough of thinking up what to cook for dinner. You have to have the head of a prime minister! Dumplings with beans and again dumplings with beans. May God not punish me for these words! But even Nekhame-Bruchkhe, who is destitute, miserable, a charity case, she has a goat!

For all their apparent misery, Sholem Aleichem’s hapless characters inspire the Yiddish reader to imagine a world that is not limited to the confines of the shtetl. This incitement to imagination looks something like the conversation, in Sholem Aleichem’s 1902 story set in Kasrilevka, “Seventy-Five Thousand,” between Yankev-Yosl and his wife, Ziporah, when the former has (erroneously) decided he has won a jackpot of 75,000 rubles:

“How much have we won?” she says, gazing right into my eyes, as if saying: “Aha! You’re lying, but you’re not gonna get away with it!”

“Gimme a for instance — how much do you figure we’ve won?”

“I have no idea,” she says. “Maybe a few hundred rubles?”

“Why not,” I say, “a few thousand rubles?”

“What do you mean by a few thousand?” she says. “Five? Six? Maybe as much as seven?”

“You can’t,” I say, “imagine more?”

(Translation by J. Neugroschel in “No Star Too Beautiful: A Treasury of Jewish Stories,” W. W. Norton & Company, 2004).

Sholem Aleichem wants his readers to imagine more, even if the ticket to get there proves to be one number off. His fiction, borrowed in part from Jewish literary sources and in part from Russian writers like Gogol, was, in its own way, revolutionary.

On May 15, 1916, when Sholem Aleichem was buried in the Mount Neboh Cemetery in Cypress Hills, Queens, his headstone was inscribed with his original epitaph, which ends with the following lines:

“And just as the public was

Laughing, chortling, and making merry

He suffered — this only God knows —

In secret, so that no one should see.

(Un davke demolt ven der oylem hot

gelakht, geklatsht, un fleg zikh freyen,

hot er gekrenkt — dos veys nor got —

besod, az keyner zol nit zeyen.)

The epitaph echoes Gogol’s famous “laughter through tears” passage from “Dead Souls,” which Sholem Aleichem used to keep, in a Yiddish translation, on his desk:

And for a long time still I am destined by a wondrous power to walk hand in hand with my strange heroes, to view the whole of hugely rushing life, to view it through laughter visible to the world and tears invisible and unknown to it! (translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, Everyman’s Library, 2004).

As a writer, Gogol struggled with his simultaneous terror of a changing world and desire to entertain his readers through comedy. According to Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997: what did I tell you about 2009?), Gogol’s world vision was as single-minded as Tolstoy’s was. Sholem Aleichem was not nearly so single-minded. Rather than worrying about the dangers of foreign influence on the Russian Empire, he worried about the dangers in Russia for Jews, its perennial foreigners. But he did share Gogol’s struggle between tradition and creativity. The fine line separating Yiddish literature as a means of inciting social change, and social change as a force destroying Yiddish, gave Sholem Aleichem the fear of loss that he would take with him, quite literally, to the grave.

Sholem Aleichem enclosed his epitaph in his Last Will and Testament, written a few months before his death. In the first of 10 points outlined in his will, the Yiddish writer specified that:

Wherever I die, I wish to be buried not among aristocrats, big shots, or wealthy people, but precisely among ordinary folk, workers, the real Jewish people, so that the gravestone which will be placed on my grave will beautify the simple graves around me, and the simple graves will beautify my grave, just as the simple, honest folk during my life beautified their folk-writer. (Translation by Zuckerman and Herbst in “Three Great Classic Writers of Modern Jewish Literature, V. II,” Joseph Simon Pangloss Press, 1994.)

With this final wish, Sholem Aleichem promises to remain near those readers whose spirit he sought to evoke through the shtetls of his fiction, and, of course, in a more subtle way, he also remains with the memory of Nikolai Gogol.

 

Amelia Glaser is assistant professor of Russian and comparative literature at UC San Diego. She is currently completing a book about rural commerce in Russian, Ukrainian and Yiddish literature. She also translates poetry and prose from Russian and Yiddish; her translations include an anthology of Yiddish poetry, “Proletpen: America’s Rebel Yiddish Poets” (U. Wisconsin Press, 2005).

 

Through the looking glass with Friends of Sabeel


Covering a meeting of Friends of Sabeel is a strange experience. “Strange” as in walking through the looking glass and encountering a reverse universe on the other side.

While we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence, they are mourning six decades of the nakba, the Palestinian “catastrophe” of 1948.

Where we see resolute defenders of the Jewish people, they see cruel persecutors of a downtrodden minority.

We quote the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his support of Israel and friendship for the Jewish people. They cite him as saying that the oppressed must take their rights back from the oppressor.

A recent meeting at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena was hosted by the Southern California chapter of Friends of Sabeel, which supports the work and aims of the Nazareth-based Sabeel movement and the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

According to the organization’s brochure, “Sabeel is an Arabic word which means ‘the way’ and recalls the Christians of first-century Palestine, who were called ‘the people of the way.'”

Founded by Palestinian Christian church leaders 18 years ago, Sabeel draws its support from predominantly Protestant churches and their congregants in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain and Scandinavian countries.

Sabeel is hardly a mass movement. According to Darrel Meyers, a retired Van Nuys Presbyterian minister and co-chair of the Southern California chapter, there are no dues-paying members, but about 300 names on his mailing list in Los Angeles and San Diego.

About 75 people, predominantly white and middle-aged Christians, with a smattering of Jews, attended the meeting in Pasadena.

Sabeel’s influence, however, seems to exceed its small number, partly through cooperation with some 50 like-minded organizations listed in its brochure, and partly through its persistent push for boycotts and divestment measures against Israel by mainline churches.

The primary speakers were two Jewish women, who addressed the audience with the passion and conviction of those who first had to throw off the shackles of ancestral beliefs before discovering the truth through long, painful struggle.

Judging from audience questions and suggestions, the speakers were preaching to the choir. As in most ideology-based groups, there seemed to be a considerable gap between the rather moderately phrased goals of the mission statement and the more militant attitudes of its followers.

Officially, Sabeel describes itself as a nonviolent “international peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, who seek a just peace based on two states — Palestine and Israel, as defined by international law and existing United Nations resolutions.”

However, the two speakers, both self-avowed “anti-Zionists,” moved well beyond the two-state solution to advocate a single “democratic” country of Arabs and Jews, which would welcome back all “Palestinian refugees” who wish to return.

Anna Baltzer, the first speaker, is an animated, 28-year old woman, author of “Witness in Palestine — A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories,” and granddaughter of a refugee from the Holocaust.

She noted that American Christians may fear that their criticism of Israel would be labeled as anti-Semitism and urged her listeners to define themselves not as pro-Palestinian, but as pro-human rights.

In a mighty semantic leap, she told her Christian listeners that “Jesus lived under Roman occupation and now Palestinians still live under occupation.”

The second speaker, Marcy Winograd, is a public school teacher and co-founder of L.A. Jews for Peace, which claims a server list of about 100 names.

She explained her advocacy for a single Arab-Jewish state by saying, “We are not talking about ‘destroying’ Israel, but about a transformation to a one-state solution.”

Among Winograd’s targets is the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, and she urged pressure on school boards to stop transporting students there on educational trips.

She claimed that the museum’s Holocaust exhibits are used for pro-Israel lobbying and demanded exhibit space for the Palestinian nakba.

The windup speaker was the Rev. Monica Styron, a Presbyterian minister from Sonoma, who announced plans for the upcoming seventh International Sabeel Conference, from Nov. 12 to 19, in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Ramle and Nazareth, with side trips to “decimated Arab villages.”

The theme of the conference is “Beyond Remembrance: Facing Challenges of the Future Sixty Years After the Nakba,” and Styron promised dialogues with Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Audience comments and suggestions were perhaps more revealing than the speeches, including the following sampling:

  • Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Holy Land, on the model of post-apartheid South Africa.
  • Bring empty suitcases to work in support of an alleged plan by Palestinians in Lebanon to march on the Israeli border carrying suitcases.
  • “Israel and the Zionists don’t care what we say here. But they scream if we can apply political and economic pressure.”
  • “Tell the Israelis to choose peace over war and light over power.”
  • “I’m Jewish and have been an anti-Zionist for 40 years. There is increasing anti-Zionism in the Jewish community, especially in Southern California … Jewish youth, in particular, is open to enlightenment.”

The only exception to the litany of anti-Israel charges came from an elderly gentleman, born in Korea, who suggested that if people wanted to see what a real occupation was all about they should try living under Japanese domination.

When the man was gently upbraided for his heresy, he responded plaintively, “But I like the Jewish people.”

After the meeting, Baltzer, the initial speaker, sat down for a brief interview. On her business card, she lists herself as a “Teacher, Writer, Activist,” and her resume includes graduation from Columbia University, linguistic research in Turkey as a Fulbright Fellow and the Web site www.AnnaintheMiddleEast.com.

An intelligent, outgoing young woman, she said she had evolved over the past five years from protesting the “occupation” to anti-Zionism, shocked by Israeli human-rights violations.

She is busy as a full-time speaker at churches and on college campuses, and her May 1-14 calendar listed 13 speaking engagements, from Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert to UCLA. Being Jewish is a definite advantage in her line of work, Baltzer said, making her a much more credible anti-Zionist than Palestinian speakers.

She has experienced little harassment for her controversial views, she said, though plenty of “offensive” e-mail, while mainstream Jews tend to label her as “naïve” or “brainwashed.”

At least while speaking to a Jewish reporter, she allowed that she could understand the “other” point of view, such as the Israeli fear of terrorism.

For expressing such soft-hearted sentiments, she said, “I have received criticism from the left.”

Scene & Heard


Carmen Warschaw

Inspired by an election season in which young, first-time voters are participating in record numbers, USC trustee Carmen Warschaw has pledged a $3 million gift to endow the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics. The goal of the new position is meant to encourage civic activism by bringing students together with elected officials through courses, conferences and discussion forums. Warschaw and her husband, Louis, who died in 2001, helped established the college’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life in 1998 and have since funded a lecture series which invites prominent elected officials to speak about how their Judaism influences their political life.

” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt = “Lloyd Levine and Hanka Kent” align = ‘left’>


Lloyd Levine and Hanka Kent.

State officials heard about the persecution of homosexuals under the Nazi regime when Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) delivered an explicit and moving address to the Capitol in Sacramento during a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony on April 28. Levine was accompanied by Holocaust survivor Hanka Kent of Tarzana, whose own harrowing story was also honored that day.


It’s not about a plan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We don’t need more gabfests on diversity


The details of the ugly dustup between a leading local Jewish philanthropist, Daphna Ziman, and the local African American head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Eric Lee, are still at issue. Ziman disseminated her account of the encounter in a widely distributed e-mail. She claimed that Lee gave a speech at a local fraternity function rife with anti-Semitic statements. Lee strenuously denied the charges, and no independent corroboration exists.

But what is of greater interest than what actually transpired at the Kappa Alpha Psi gathering is the response from the leadership of our community to Lee’s remarks and what that portends for intergroup relations in this city.

Predictably, the civil rights leadership of our communities seems to be responding to the incident just as they have in the past — with dialogue groups and resurrected “roundtables” aimed at convincing participants of the value of diversity and of our historic and present commonalities.

What ought to distinguish the response of today from those in the 1970s and 1990s is the context of our very changed society.

Society has caught up and passed well beyond dialogue groups and the need to justify and rationalize the value of diversity. Every major study conducted in this field has revealed an amazing attitude of acceptance of differences by today’s young people. As Morley Winograd and Michael Hais observe in their just-published book, “Millennial Makeover,” “the great diversity of the Millennial Generation [born between 1982 and 2003] and its experiences growing up in a multiracial society is reflected in their relatively color-blind attitudes on racial relations.”

The Pew Center concluded in its multiple surveys of millennials that “they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.” One example documented by the Pew Center (dealing with a historically incendiary issue) found that that between 1987 and 2003, attitudes toward interracial dating among 18-25-year-olds underwent a sea change — those approving such activity rose from 56 percent to 89 percent. Those completely agreeing with interracial dating rose from 20 percent to 64 percent.

The data of a profound change in attitudes is incontestable and is manifested across racial and religious lines. The Reboot study of millennials, “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era,” found that today’s youth are “fully integrated into diverse social networks. While previous generations often lived in homogenous religious communities, among Generation Y [born 1980-2000], only 7 percent of youth report that all their friends are the same religion as themselves. Even the most religious youth maintain diverse networks of peers.”

The study oversampled Jewish and black youth to confirm their findings.

Even the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) study of anti-Semitic attitudes indicates a decline in anti-Semitic attitudes among the African American population, historically among the most problematic cohort it surveys. Unfortunately, the ADL study does not disaggregate data for younger blacks and their attitudes.

If one believes the myriad studies that confirm the exceptionally positive trends of the new generation, how should one respond to the Lee incident? More dialogue groups that devolve into vehicles to preach to the converted seems to be what we have in store for us. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and its friends will be busy singing the same old songs.

What ought to inform any actions that grow out of the Lee-Ziman incident is the profound change that has taken and is taking place around us. Young people today don’t need a “coalition” to talk about how to live together — they do it 24/7. Their world isn’t circumscribed by their faith, their race or their ethnicity.

Nor should we trudge out the old nostrums and activities and think that the Lees of the world will change their version of history or their attitudes — nor should we really care. They are not the future, and their historical notions are virtually irrelevant.

Our communities’ leadership has to absorb the reality that the next generation of open-minded young people sees diversity as a plus, not as a burden to be overcome. We need to offer them activities that confirm their positive outlook and involve them in doing, not talking, about things, much as Temple Israel’s Big Sunday program does — people working together as equals, improving our community for everyone. We don’t need more gabfests or sessions of self-flagellation.

Millennials believe that they live in an exciting time, two-thirds rate their lives as “excellent or pretty good,” let’s give them reason to confirm those positive attitudes.


David A. Lehrer is president and Joe R. Hicks vice president of Community Advocates Inc. (www.cai-la.org), a Los Angeles-based human relations organization headed by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.

Calendar Girls picks and clicks for May 3-9


SAT | MAY 3

(HOME + GARDEN)

Venice Beach is showcasing 30 of its unique homes and gardens for the public’s viewing pleasure. Benefiting the Neighborhood Youth Association’s Las Doradas ” target=”_blank”>http://www.venicegardentour.org.

(DANCE)

The last time we tried to include one of Heidi Duckler’s stunning site-specific dance performances, we had to yank it because the show sold out, then put it back in when another performance time was added, and take it out once again because that also sold out before we went to press. This time, the Collage Dance Theatre show, “A Guide to an Exhibitionist,” has wisely scheduled not two, but six show times. Set in an art gallery, the innovative work takes each audience member through a guided audio tour of framed live performers, completely reinventing the experience of viewing art. Hurry and get your tickets now, because the 7 p.m. show is sold out already! Sat. 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. $25 (includes wine and cheese reception). Museum of Design, Art and Architecture, 8609 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (818) 784-8669. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.bigsunday.org.

SUN | MAY 4

(YOM HASHOAH)

” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’ alt=”Antonio Villaraigosa and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi”>largest Holocaust Remembrance Day event, featuring guest speaker Rabbi David Wolpe. Garamendi, who has worked tirelessly to grant insurance reparations for Holocaust victims, survivors and their family members, will stand with others in remembrance at an event co-sponsored by The Jewish Federation, Jewish World Watch, the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument, The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and Second Generation. Sun. 1:45 p.m. Free. Los Angeles Holocaust Monument, Pan Pacific Park, 7600 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 280-5010.

(BENEFIT)

Oh, what a night it will be supporting Jewish education during a benefit concert featuring none other than the musical group that helped define American pop and rock in the ’60s — Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Join Faith and Jonathan Cookler, founding donors of New Community Jewish High School, during this gala event that features a kosher buffet and rockin’ concert. Dress in your finest attire and dance the night away to sizzling hits such as “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “Walk Like a Man.” Sun. 5 p.m. (dinner), 6:30 p.m. (program and concert). $100-$300. Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P, (818) 449-8900.

(DANCE)

Academic institutions are turning to the expressive power of Israeli dance to promote cross-cultural understanding when politics prove befuddling. Three of Israel’s most prolific contemporary choreographers — Idan Cohen, Niv Sheinfeld and Ronit Ziv — will highlight their modern interpretations of a traditional dance form as the culmination of a two-week residency at UCLA, the second phase of a performing arts cultural exchange program orchestrated by The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles twinning program. “Bridge Choreographic Dialogues: Live from Israel” features a symposium with the artists, a live dance concert and a folk-dancing frolic hosted by popular dance teacher David Dassa. Sun. noon-1:30 p.m. (symposium) 2-4 p.m. (concert) $12-$20 (includes concert and party). UCLA, Kaufman Hall, 120 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.debiderryberry.com.

(LECTURE)

Wilshire Boulevard Temple and State of Israel Bonds invites the community to listen and learn from Stephen M. Berk, a widely respected history professor at Union College in New York and a frequent guest in the media for his Middle East expertise. With an international reputation for his teachings, writings and research, Berk will deliver an engaging presentation addressing the challenges Israel faces on its 60th year of existence, “Israel at the Crossroads: Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the Jewish State.” Sun. 5:30 p.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus, Marcia Israel Chapel-Auditorium, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. requested, (213) 388-2401.

Theater: ‘A’ is for ‘angst’ when you’re the creators of ‘Avenue Q’


Jeff Marx, co-creator of the hit puppet musical, “Avenue Q,” was fired from his internship at “Sesame Street” in 1998. Back then he was an attorney, but he had taken the position in order to segue way into songwriting for kids. “Instead, I was cleaning tables, taking out the garbage, Xeroxing and answering telephones,” Marx says. “When I faxed an executive a song I had written, he told me that I was being too aggressive, that my job was to observe and to distribute scripts, and who they hell did I think I was? He got me the f— out of there, and I felt totally pathetic.”

Marx channeled his pathos into “Avenue Q,” which he penned with Robert Lopez, another unemployed, frustrated 20-something. The subversive musical, which opens at the Ahmanson Theatre on Sept. 7, wasn’t meant as revenge against “Sesame Street,” Marx says, but as a primer for youths who find the real world scarier than it appears on children’s TV.

The fictional Avenue Q is a dilapidated street in an outer borough of New York, where broke college graduates can afford the rent. The residents include puppets such as Princeton, a preppie searching for his “purpose” in life; Kate Monster, an assistant teacher who longs to found her own “Monstersori” school; Lucy T. Slut, a skanky chanteuse; and Trekkie Monster, the local pervert. Rod, a closeted homosexual, is in love with his slacker roommate, Nicky — a riff on all those homoerotic musings about “Sesame Street’s” Ernie and Bert.

Among the human residents is a character named Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman, of the 1980s sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes”) who “is like the patron saint of being great when you’re a kid, but sucking when you get older,” Marx says.

The musical is “how ‘Friends’ might be if it had Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy arguing about their one-night stand but with more angst, expletives and full-on puppet sex,” The Times of London said.

Marx seems light years from the fictional Avenue Q when he arrives at a La Brea cafe in his shiny black convertible. He recently moved from Manhattan to Los Angeles, and he orders his lunch like a native, asking the waiter to substitute salad for fries. When the fries come anyway, he affably shrugs and eats them all. He says he has been taking Hollywood meetings and even had breakfast with Stephen Schwartz, the composer-lyricist of “Wicked,” which “Avenue Q” beat out for best musical at the 2004 Tony Awards. He says he now has a “Bel-Air shrink” — and that he has “plenty to be neurotic about” because he is Jewish.

Marx’s love of musicals comes from his Jewish mother, a dental hygienist who routinely schlepped her four children to shows such as “The Sound of Music” and “The King and I.” “My bar mitzvah theme was ‘Hooray for Jeffrey and Hooray for Hollywood musicals,” Marx says.

By that time, he was already a professional singer, crooning ballads to blushing girls with a local music teacher’s Number One Bar Mitzvah Band. After each gig, the girls would chase Marx and ask for his autograph.

“They treated me like Elvis,” he says.

He had a very different experience in the musical theater department at the University of Michigan, where he received “only one bit part in one show, which had one line,” he says. “I had professors tell me that I had no talent and that I would never make it in theater.”

So Marx attended Yeshiva University’s law school and passed the bar, but discovered he didn’t particularly like the profession. At age 28, he found himself adrift, living in an apartment owned by his parents and interning for various shows and producers in the hopes of switching careers. He also considered becoming an entertainment lawyer, and enrolled in a musical theater workshop just to meet potential clients. It was there he discovered he had talent for songwriting and teamed up with Lopez, a Yale graduate who was still living with his parents, to write a show.

“We decided we wanted to write a musical for people our age, that even straight guys would want to see,” says Marx, who is gay. “We decided to use puppets because they don’t look cheesy when they burst into song.”

Marx and Lopez came up with a musical titled “Kermit, Prince of Denmark,” which they submitted to the Jim Henson Company. When the company passed, Marx recalls, “Bobby and I beat our heads against the wall and said, ‘Why did we spend an entire year writing for someone else’s characters? F— the f—- — Muppets, let’s create our own Muppets…. And screw trying to come up with some crazy imaginary world; let’s make it about our world.’ Everyone we knew was interning and assisting and floundering and struggling. And we thought, this is awful, but it’s also kind of funny.”

“Avenue Q’s” first two songs sum up those sentiments: “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English” and “It Sucks to Be Me.”

Marx and Lopez penned their ditties in restaurants, Starbucks, on the subway — anywhere people and surroundings could inspire them. “We wrote ‘There’s Life Outside Your Apartment,’ literally, while walking down the street,” Marx says. “Of course, we didn’t write ‘The Internet Is for Porn,’ while watching porn,” he adds. “That was in a diner over fries.”

“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” was inspired, in part, by a relative of Marx’s who refers to African Americans as “shvartzes.” At the end of the scene, the characters argue over whether Jesus was black or white.

“But everyone laughs when they finally realize Jesus was Jewish,” Marx says.“Avenue Q” opens Sept. 7 at the Ahmanson Theatre. For tickets and information, visit http:/www.centertheatregroup.org


‘Avenue Q’ on British TV’s Newsnight Review

Bentsch it like Beckham?


We have bad news and good news to report on David Beckham.

As everyone in the free and enslaved world knows (except some benighted American colonials), Beckham is the world’s best, or best publicized, soccer player, a multimillionaire and husband of Victoria, aka Posh Spice.

The bad news is that Beckham, shortly after joining the Los Angeles Galaxy on a zillion-dollar contract, sprained his right knee during a match against a Mexican team, and is probably out for at least six weeks of the season.

The good news, at least for readers of this fine publication, is that Beckham is — JEWISH.

Well, if you want to quibble, he’s half-Jewish, or maybe a quarter Jewish, but what with anti-Semitism rising at the rate of 2.755 percent in North Dakota, according to scientific surveys, we can use every muscular tribesman we can get.

After tireless investigations, The Journal has learned that Beckham’s maternal grandfather, Joseph West, was Jewish, and that Sandra, West’s daughter and Beckham’s mother, is either Jewish or half-Jewish (in all the available literature, we found no mention of Mrs. West).

The point is that Sandra must have felt Jewish, for the idol himself has written that “I’ve probably had more contact with Judaism than any other religion” and “I used to wear a traditional Jewish skullcap.”

He also recalls attending various Jewish weddings with his grandfather.

Need more proof? The richly tattooed Beckham has inscribed on his left arm a verse from the biblical Song of Songs, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” in Hebrew letters yet.

His wife was so taken by this romantic sentiment that she has had the same verse tattooed on the back of her neck and part of her spine.

Furthermore, there are reports that Beckham has dabbled in kabbalah studies, but then, who hasn’t?

Purists might quibble that Beckham also has a large cross tattooed on his chest. But who, I ask you, is perfect?

To diligent researchers, all this startling information isn’t exactly breaking news. Beckham wrote about his Jewish connection in his first biography “My World,” published in 2004, and touched on the same theme in his second autobiography, “My Side.”

Nevertheless, publishing this information now should be of some service to the Los Angeles Jewish community.

At this very moment, we should think, subcommittees at The Jewish Federation, the Wiesenthal Center, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress are busy inscribing plaques for upcoming fundraisers, honoring the greatest One-Fourth Jewish Athlete of the Year.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

It’s not camp, but it’ll do


Camp Hess Kramer broke my young and fertile heart. It was an instance of pubescent love that evolved into unrequited passion. For eight years, I frolicked in the crisp Malibu breeze, danced maniacally to Israeli folk songs and celebrated the Sabbath each Friday at dusk. It was eight summers of sheer, unadulterated bliss. Camp was where I discovered my Jewish identity, and it supplied me with religious pride and a newfound zest for Jewish culture. It was a safe haven and a supportive community. Camp comprised my heart and soul.

This summer, Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps — Camp Hess Kramer among them — instituted a gap year for students going into 11th grade, encouraging students to go to Israel, a common practice among Jewish summer camps.

A summer without camp? The thought was incomprehensible. I had my life ahead to travel and explore the world, yet only childhood for camp. Soon, I would be inundated with the stresses of being an adult, and it felt as if I was being forced away from my youth. I wanted to be in Malibu; I wanted to be a Jewish camper.

With a stance adamantly against the gap year, I argued with everyone in hopes of changing the program. Camp administrators, directors, counselors, campers, anyone who would lend a listening ear would be the victims of my anti-gap-year tirade. But, regardless of my presumptuous hopes, it was to no avail. I was banished from my second home, and my secure identity as a Jew was seemingly obliterated.

I stood at a crossroads, faced with two options, either go to Israel and contradict my initial stand, or just find other summer plans. My inherently obstinate nature would not permit me to choose the former, although I knew the trip ultimately would have been an unforgettable experience. So this summer, I set out on a quest to regain my Jewish sense of self.

I reluctantly joined the workforce. I found a job working as an editorial intern/reporter at the Beverly Hills Courier, and I was initially hesitant. It was my first job, and I was now to be treated like an adult. The daily grind, incessant traffic, 9 to 5 — could I handle it?

My worries dissipated the moment I entered the door. I was writing, earning bylines, and relaying information to a vast readership. I loved my topics, the work environment, the fresh smell of the paper off of the printing press every Friday.

But unbeknownst to me, through my job I was continually performing an act of kindness and righteousness. Each week, as I obtained information and then got it published for those who did not have the same resources, I was performing a good deed, a mitzvah. As acts of justice are imperative in being classified as “a good Jewish person,” I was not solely writing for the betterment of the community, but for myself. As the summer continued, my words inscribed on sheets of paper became symbolic of my progress as a Jewish person.

I worked at the Courier three days a week and also volunteered each Thursday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. I made my weekly trek up to cardiology in my volunteer uniform and assisted the nurses in the department, whether by answering telephones or organizing medical charts. In my hours at the hospital, I gradually became closer to my Jewish enlightenment. I saw that an act of kindness as simple as a smile can improve someone’s day, and I truly felt like a more righteous being when I observed the wonders of the nurses and doctors.

At camp I didn’t really have an opportunity to help those less fortunate, even in the sense of health. Now, I could actually visualize the affects of my deeds and the joy they brought. My heart was steadily increasing with joy, and I could feel the outcome of repairing the world, one act at a time.

My Fridays were devoted to Bet Tzedek, a nonprofit organization that provides less fortunate Los Angeles residents with legal aid. Bet Tzedek, or “House of Justice” in Hebrew, warmed my heart while stimulating my left-brain. A brilliant staff has selflessly abandoned the inflated salaries of corporate law firms in order to help those who are less fortunate. While so much of Los Angeles dwells on monetary income, the best payment that Bet Tzedek receives is the joy of their clients.

Initially, I questioned whether I would ever regain my Jewish identity without Camp Hess Kramer. Yet, through my own path, I discovered that it does not take a camp or a synagogue to classify oneself as an observant Jew. My work this summer has empowered me to feel like a stronger Jewish person than ever. I hadn’t really lost my Jewish identity — I had just failed to recognize it.

Shayna Freisleben is a junior at Harvard-Westlake.

Speak Up!
Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the September issue is Aug. 15; Deadline for the October issue is Sept. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Music: Hip Hop Hoodios do it up for due process at Guantanamo


C’mon Mr. President, is this really us?
Home of the brave and the land of the unjust?
We the people, you’re the government we can’t trust
So I strangle the microphone and kick dust
Now you label us by another name
And attempt to indefinitely detain
With no trial at all, your little war game
It’s un-American not to let us clear a name

The politically soaked title track from “” target = “_blank”>digital-only album on Aug. 7. And the duo are putting their money where their mouths are by donating 18 percent of the net profits from the sale of “Viva la Guantanamera,” to Amnesty International’s efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and restore due process.

It’s not the first time Norek, 32, and Velez, 31, have made a political or social statement with a hip-hop beat and a latin jazz groove. Their 2005 album “Agua Pa’ la Gente” included “

“>
I don’t care about her color or creed
It’s her big, plump, juicy kosher brain that I need
College educated, or natural genius
We’ll run naked through the house
With the sheet between us.

Dual Identity, Double the Questions


Chinese villagers found the baby, abandoned by her birth parents, in a basket on a riverbank.

“Just like Moses,” the child’s adoptive mother, Terri Pollock, says.
Today, Leah Hua Xia Pollock, 14, lives in Seattle and plays the flute in her temple’s klezmer band.

Last year, Leah became a bat mitzvah. As she stood on the bimah, looking out at the crowd of white faces before her, “it just dawned on me,” she said, “that even if I do look in the mirror and see someone different from the people around me, it doesn’t matter, because I’m accepted.”

Leah is among the first in a tidal wave of Chinese-born girls who are growing up in Jewish families in the United States. When she was adopted in 1992, she was one of only 206 Chinese children brought to the United States that year. Last year, Americans adopted slightly more than 7,900 children from China, nearly all of them girls.

China only opened its doors in a big way to international adoption in 1991 to help mitigate its problem of abandoned children, brought on by China’s one-child policy. That policy, which the government enforces by imposing economic penalties for noncompliance, combined with the traditional culture that sons care for their parents in old age, had resulted in a sea of neglected children, particularly girls.

These days, more American families are adopting from China than any other foreign country, and a large number of those families are Jewish. A wave of girls is now coming of age, starting to face challenging issues of identity.

There is the question of what it means to — look Jewish — for one — and the matter of who is a Jew in the eyes of the Jewish

Home and Jerusalem



Israel according to Hollywood:
Click the BIG ARROW for the trailer from “Exodus” (1960)

The two greatest Jewish inventions of the 20th century are, to my mind at least, Hollywood and Israel. Jews founded Hollywood to help the world escape reality; theyfounded Israel to help Jews escape the world.

Yes, there were individual Jews whose genius shaped the past century — Freud, Marx, Einstein and, of course, Dylan — but Hollywood and Israel are two enterprises a great many Jews built collectively.

One big difference, of course, is that while Jewish enterprise created Hollywood, it wasn’t, like Israel, a Jewish enterprise.

But both these grand inventions have something very important in common: Jewish writers.

Jewish writers created the movies that defined Hollywood. And other Jewish writers, a world away, created the movement that defined Israel. These thoughts wandered through my head as I dipped in an out of a rare offering this week, an international conference in Los Angeles on Israeli literature. Held under the auspices of the relatively new UCLA Israel Studies Program, “History as Reflected in Israeli Literature” brought together several dozen of the world’s top scholars in a surprisingly rich field.

Actually, as the Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua made clear in his keynote address Sunday evening, the importance of the literary imagination to Israel should surprise no one.

“Zionism was founded by writers,” he said.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, was a popular journalist and aspiring playwright.

“Herzl was a failed dramatist,” Yehoshua said. “Perhaps if he was a more successful dramatist….” His voice trailed off as the audience laughed, imagining Herzl forsaking his life’s mission for a three-play deal on the Ringstrasse. “We are perhaps one of his plays.”

But Herzl forsook plays and instead wrote books, bad fiction and good nonfiction, outlining his vision of a Jewish state. That tradition continued after Israel’s founding in 1948, though the quality of the fiction greatly improved. Those early works, as Ben Gurion University of the Negev’s Yigal Schwartz said at one panel, mostly wrestled with the basic questions of identity.

“Most Hebrew literature dealt with trying to make a new nation through literature,” he told conferees. These works created, “the Zionist religion of Nationhood.”

But on their heels, in the 1950s, came novels challenging the hard-won status quo.

“The major subject of this literature is the disappointment with the state,” said professor Avner Holtzman of Tel Aviv University. “There wasn’t any writer who didn’t express disappointment.”

Holtzman pointed out that the early Soviet literature evinced the same kind of post-revolutionary letdown.

The difference was, of course, that the Soviets killed their disappointed novelists. Israel lauded hers. Another generation — Yehoshua’s — blossomed, and its literature was still more complex, combining political themes with the personal and historical. And as these Israeli writers gained fame, something extraordinary happened — Israelis continued to listen to them.

As professor Robert Alter pointed out in a presentation with Yehoshua, this attention marks a great divide between Israeli and American novelists. Israel has a tradition of novelists and writers engaged in the public square.

“How different this is from the American writer,” Alter said. “I think very few practicing American novelists today feel any impulse to comment on political matters, and even more crucially, if they did, if Phillip Roth did comment on American politics, nobody would pay attention to him.”

In fact, Roth denies that his book, “The Plot Against America,” is a direct critique of the Bush administration, despite the fact that many have read it as such.

When Yehoshua gave a press conference last summer alongside novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman calling for an end to the recent war against Hezbollah — Yehoshua supported it but believed it was going on too long — it made national headlines. When Yehoshua declared that in the Diaspora being Jewish “is a jacket you take on or off,” while in Israel it is “a skin,” the outcry made international headlines. (He repeated the charges Sunday night, with considerably less shock value.)

In fact, the importance of the artistic imagination to the Israeli endeavor should be abundantly clear to anyone who dips into L.A. culture these days. The Israel Film Festival is at the Laemmle theatres, featuring a slate of cutting-edge movies from Hollywood-on-HaYarkon. This May, a vast exchange is in the works bringing Tel Aviv fine artists to galleries in L.A. Musicians from David Broza to the entire Israel Philharmonic Orchestra have played to large audiences recently.

And last week’s literary conference was, according to professor David Myers of UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies, which co-sponsored the event, the first of its kind in Los Angeles.

In America, it’s fair to say, Hollywood’s writers have more power than novelists over the public political and cultural consciousness. But in Israel the lions of literature still have an impact, and that, Yehoshua said, is not by chance.

“The others,” he said, going back to the beginnings of that other Jewish invention, “the rabbis, the leaders of the community, they could not foresee what was happening, what will happen to the Jewish people. It was only by a certain imagination, an audacity, that these writers could understand what has to be done in order to avoid the catastrophe.”

“My feeling is that we continue this certain tradition of writers, this vision for Zionism of seeing clearly what is to be done,” he continued. “I don’t say we have seen always the right thing, that our analysis was always correct. But the fact is that this is a certain tradition of Zionism, that writers and intellectuals are important and the public is hearing us. Maybe they were thinking we were perhaps na?ve, perhaps stupid, but there is a place for the intellectual to say his words. In this sense I am always grateful to Israel for the way in which it never persecuted us, and always gave us attention.”

Would you expect anything else from a great Jewish invention?

City Voice: We’re not who we think we are


There is a preconceived notion about the Los Angeles Jewish community being affluent, increasingly conservative and preoccupied with Israel to the exclusion of other issues.

There is some truth in this, as is the case with all preconceived notions and stereotypes. There is also some untruth.

Before the 2004 election, for example, we pundits wrote much about an anticipated Jewish shift to the Republican Party. But on Election Day, Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, received 78 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a post-election study conducted for the Solomon Project by five established political pollsters.

“This number has been remarkably stable over the last three presidential elections,” they said in their report.

And there’s poverty among us. In November 2004, Jewish Journal senior writer Mark Ballon reported on a Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles study that found one in five local Jews earn less than $25,000 annually. In greater Fairfax, with its large senior and immigrant population, the figure was one in three.

Aiming to puncture more stereotypes, I visited the single-room office of the Jewish Labor Committee and talked to the western executive director, Cookie Lommel, an African American woman, a journalist and the writer of books on famous people for young adults. She is, to her knowledge, the first African American woman to head a Jewish organization.

“Stereotypes are hard to kill,” she said. “That’s why I’m here.”
The liberal Jewish Labor Committee was founded in 1934 on the Lower East Side of New York by unionized Jewish garment workers organizing a movement against Hitler’s assault on independent trade unions. The Los Angeles operation began eight months later. Soon their efforts expanded to try to rescue German and East European Jewry. Today, the committee works closely with unions representing teachers and other public employees, supermarket workers, janitors and other elements of the labor movement in Los Angeles.

“We are the link between the organized Jewish community and the labor movement,” Lommel said.

In 1991, as a journalist, she became interested in the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. She wrote about it for black publications.

Afterward, she started Operation Unity, bringing African American and Latino high school students to Israel, where they worked on a kibbutz. Eventually, that led her to the small Jewish Labor Committee office on the second floor of the Institute of Jewish Education building, a few blocks east of the Beverly Center. Shifting from computer to desk to work table, answering the phone and my questions, Lommel was commander of her one-woman show. Her door was open, and the sounds of a preschool in the yard below provided the background to our chat.

I had called Lommel because it had occurred to me that the news media was not telling the entire Jewish story. We see Jewish Hollywood, Jewish business tycoons and Jewish political contributors, all of them at the top of the economic ladder.

Lommel knows a blue-collar side to Jewish life.

“There is a high percentage of Jews in the membership and leadership of unions,” she said.

Not all of Hollywood’s Jews are studio execs. Plenty are members of IATSE, the union representing technicians, crafts people, artists and stagehands.

Another place where you find large numbers of Jewish members is in the fast-growing unions representing government employees. I can’t think of a grittier, more blue-collar job than being a Los Angeles County social worker, driving through the poorest neighborhoods, checking up on dysfunctional homes, always worried that one wrong decision could leave a kid in the hands of a brutal parent.

Another tough job is being a school teacher. Jews are also supermarket checkers, as Lommel discovered while on the picket line during the 2003-2004 market strike. She told me about a striking checker encountering a longtime Jewish customer, who was shocked at seeing a nice Jewish woman carrying a picket sign. The customer’s surprise reflects how much of the Jewish community accepts stereotypes about itself.

Accepting these stereotypes takes the Jewish community out of the game on important issues vital to poor, working class and middle class Jews.

Certainly Israel is of great importance. The Jewish Labor Council was quick to join other Jewish organizations in protest when the United Teachers of Los Angeles’ (UTLA) 25-member Human Rights Committee planned a meeting at UTLA headquarters to discuss economic sanctions against Israel. The union, which has a total membership of 48,000, decided to deny the use of its headquarters for the event.

But there are issues besides Israel, including one of tremendous importance: the public schools. The people I’m writing about — the teachers, the social workers, the movie industry artists and technicians who don’t work in slow months — can’t afford private schools. They are entitled to send their children to good public schools. It is their right, just as it is the right of every American.

The influential, high-profile elements of the Jewish community are missing in action on this issue. To them, the public schools are a Latino thing or an African American thing. Actually, public education has always been a Jewish thing. And, considering what our community is really like, it still is.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. He can be reached at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Koreatown residents visit the synagogue next door


When Charles Kim called Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein of Wilshire Boulevard Temple last year, it didn’t take long for the Korean American leader to get to the point.

“He was wondering if the temple was for sale,” said Stein, head of the synagogue’s Center for Religious Inquiry. “I can’t sell you the temple, I replied, but I hope I can sell you on a relationship.”

A series of discussions about how to bring the Korean and Jewish communities together followed. After Stein accepted an invitation to address a Koreatown Rotary Club meeting in December, he invited the Korean American community to the Byzantine-style synagogue on Feb. 27.

During an evening open house reception at Wilshire Boulevard Temple that featured desserts such as sticky sweet rice cakes and hamantaschen, Korean Americans and Jews gathered to dialogue about mutual understanding and to discuss conditions in the formerly Jewish Wilshire Center district, which is now home to the largest Korean population outside of Seoul.

While the Jewish and predominantly Korean communities have had dialogues before, this intercultural initiative marks the first time the Wilshire Center synagogue has opened its doors to the surrounding Korean community, which is predominantly Christian. About 80 people attended the event, which included Korean business and educational leaders as well as synagogue clergy, staff and congregants.

“It took us 34 years to get here,” said Kim, national president of the Korean American Coalition. “Thank you for making us feel at home. Shalom.”

A major topic of discussion between the Jewish and Korean communities was the shared use of the building’s facilities, which already house a predominantly Hispanic charter school during the day. Proposed joint ventures include introductory Judaism courses taught in Korean, a brown-bag lunch lecture series, and educational trips to Israel and Korea.

But a more daunting, shared problem facing the area is gang activity, Stein said. Among the 11 most dangerous L.A. gangs recently identified by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one is active in Koreatown.

“That’s our neighborhood,” said Stein, gesturing to the entire room. “We all have to work on that.”

Kim echoed Stein’s enthusiasm for cooperation between the ethnically, religiously and culturally distinct communities.

“Up until now, we have been like many islands, instead of one community,” said Kim, who traveled to Israel in 1987 as part of an Asian goodwill delegation.

This is not the first attempt at Korean-Jewish togetherness. A decade ago the American Jewish Committee launched a project to bring local Korean and Jewish business and political leaders together, and in 2005 the Simon Wiesenthal Center and The Jewish Federation held a “Talking Tolerance” discussion with Koreans and Jews. In the heart of Koreatown, the Rev. Yong-Soo Hyun runs the Shema Educational Institute, which promotes the study of Hebrew and Jewish culture.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple hopes to become an ongoing and significant partner in the life of the neighborhood.

The corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Hobart Street was once known as “the Jewish address” in Los Angeles, according to the synagogue’s literature. Originally dedicated in 1929, the building is actually the third inhabited by Los Angeles’ oldest synagogue community, founded as Congregation B’nai B’rith in 1862. After much of the Jewish population shifted West, Wilshire Boulevard Temple built the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus on the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Barrington Avenue in the mid-1990s.

The synagogue recently commissioned a demographic survey to determine how many Jewish families live in the surrounding mid-Wilshire area, and officials were surprised to discover a near 30 percent increase in Jewish residents within a 20-minute drive of the Koreatown campus.

“We are deeply committed to this neighborhood and plan to be here for hundreds of years to come,” Senior Rabbi Steven Z. Leder said.

Following the reception, guests were led on an hour-long tour of the synagogue, which features biblical murals by artist Hugo Ballin and a 100-foot dome in the Edgar F. Magnin Sanctuary.

“It is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” Kim said of the sanctuary.

When Stein told the story of a synagogue’s Torah scroll being rescued from a barn in Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust, the Korean guests were awed.

“Wow,” said Jun Su, executive director of the Korean Institute of Southern California, an educational organization. “A miracle.”

Stein nodded and smiled.

A spirit of hope and optimism surrounding a new friendship dominated the event, but there was one point of dispute between the Jews and Koreans. During the press conference, Kim strode up to the podium after Stein and said in a very solemn tone, “I have one correction to make.”

Kim looked to Stein and joked, “I never asked Stephen to sell me the temple. I asked him to give it to me.”

Wilshire Boulevard Temple, ‘ target=’_blank’>www.kacla.org

Shema Educational Institute, Briefs: Survey to catalog landmark Boyle Heights buildings to prevent destruction; Chabad expands on

Tehran cemetery Web site links local Persians to Iran


Nearly four years ago, Shahram Farzan, an Iranian Jew living in Los Angeles, traveled to Tehran to have a hand-carved marble tombstone placed on his father’s grave at the Jewish cemetery, which has been called “beheshtieh” by the city’s Jewry for more than half a century. (The word beheshtieh is Persian for “heavenly place.”)

After Farzan had photographed his father’s new tombstone, he was inspired to create a Web site — Beheshtieh.com — to share what he had seen. For the next two months, Farzan painstakingly cleaned and photographed nearly 80 percent of the graves at the 20-acre cemetery, so that the exiled Iranian Jewish community in Southern California could view their loved ones’ gravesites online.

“After the revolution, many people lost their ties to Iran and to the cemetery because it was not a priority,” said Farzan, 52. “I thought by taking these photographs of the graves, their relatives living in Beverly Hills would maybe see this and realize that the world is not just about money and power.”

For the past three years, Farzan, who owns a Los Angeles demolition business, spent his own funds and his spare time translating, cataloging and posting more than 10,000 photographs in preparation for the Web site’s launch last June. Each photo is accompanied by English translations listed beneath.

Many of the tombstones are made from white marble and have elaborate hand-carved designs, including Stars of David, menorahs and inscriptions in both Persian and Hebrew. Others are just mounds of earth without a proper headstone or identifying marker. And many of the tombstones have been damaged by poor weather and lack of upkeep, Farzan said.

“On the grounds of the cemetery, I saw a lot of used drug needles, roaming dogs, trash dumped everywhere, a greenhouse with shattered windows and some homeless people loitering there,” Farzan said.Despite the cemetery’s worn condition, Farzan spoke only praise for the remaining Jews of Iran who, he said, have not abandoned the site.

He was also appreciative that the Iranian government has not allowed developers to build on the site, as has happened in some non-Jewish cemeteries in the country.

“I think the Iranian government has been very respectful for keeping the cemetery and not demolishing it,” Farzan said. “Historically, from the time of Abraham, we are cousins with Muslims and must foster better relations with them.”

Not all the Jews buried in Tehran’s Jewish cemetery are of Iranian heritage. The cemetery is also home to more than 60 European Jews who escaped Nazi Europe for Iran in the early 1940s and died there, Farzan said.

The Jewish community in Iran has never had a mortuary business. Traditionally, Jewish volunteers donated funds and physically helped with preparations for burial of the dead; volunteers included some of the most affluent businessmen in the community.

Woodland Hills resident Yusef Hendizadeh, 80, who volunteered at the cemetery from the 1940s until the 1970s, is one of the original caretakers of Tehran’s Jewish cemetery.

“I was a very successful businessman in the fabrics business; they [community leaders] came to me and gave me the responsibility of helping the community with their burial needs,” Hendizadeh said in his native Persian tongue. “At that time, there was a difficult road to travel to the cemetery, so we had to carry the bodies by a horse-drawn carriage; later the community helped pay for a car.”

According to Dr. Habib Levy’s “Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran” (Mazda Publishers, 1999), the site for Tehran’s Jewish cemetery was also used as a temporary refugee camp, housing thousands of Iranian and Iraqi Jews waiting to immigrate to Israel. Many had fled their homes out of fear of being killed after Israel declared its independence.

Perhaps one of the best-known Jewish burial grounds in Iran is the traditional site of the tombs of Esther and Mordecai, located in the city of Hamadan. Although Iranian Jews have long believed that the tombs belong to Esther and Mordecai, historians and archeologists note a lack of solid evidence.

“The great archeologist Ernst Herzfeld, in his book, suspected that Esther and Mordechai were buried there,” Amnon Netzer, professor of Middle Eastern and Iranian studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told The Journal in 2005. “But [he] later indicated that he believed Shushandokht, a Jewish woman who was the wife of Yazgerd I, an Iranian king, is buried there.”

Netzer also said the tomb of the Jewish biblical prophet Daniel is located in the southern Iranian city of Susa, and is visited by both Jews and Muslims.

Local Iranian Jewish leaders said Farzan’s photos of Jewish gravesites also serve an important role in preserving historical records of Iran’s Jewry dating back more than 2,500 years.

“Some of these sites are older than the Talmud; some are as old as Queen Esther,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation. “In the absence of any other guaranteed alternatives, photographs may be the best option for preserving at least the memories of these sites.”

Farzan said he would like to return to Iran and photograph the graves at various other Jewish cemeteries in the cities of Esfahan, Kermanshah, Kashan, Rezaeh, Shiraz, Sanandj and Yazd.

Kermanian said local Iranian Jews are looking to help Farzan expand his efforts in photographing and recording various significant Jewish burial sites throughout Iran.

Representatives from the Jewish Central Committee of Tehran, who control the cemetery, indicated in a written statement that there are plans to transform a chapel on the grounds of the cemetery into a small museum honoring those who helped establish the cemetery in 1933.

Farzan said he is seeking online donations from those using the site. The funds will be used for maintenance and new landscaping renovations for Tehran’s Jewish cemetery as well as to build a small memorial to Tehran’s Jewish cemetery at Groman Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills.

“We must pay our respects to the past generations lying in that cemetery [who] sacrificed by enduring hardship while holding onto their Judaism, which we still have today,” Farzan said.

Briefs: L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea;


L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea

Leaders of the Korean and Jewish communities in Los Angeles have joined forces to vigorously protest anti-Semitic cartoons in a book published in South Korea and translated into English.

A typical cartoon depicts a newspaper, magazine, radio and TV set with the caption: “In a word, American public debate belongs to the Jews, and it is no exaggeration to say that [U.S. media] are the voice of the Jews.”

The publication in question, which is in comic book format, is one in a series titled, “Distant Countries and Neighboring Countries,” and is designed to teach young Korean students about other nations.

It was written by Lee Won-bok, a popular South Korean university professor and author, and the book’s English translation has reportedly sold more than 10 million copies.

“I don’t have words to describe the outrage I feel,” Yohngsohk Choe, co-chairman of the Korean Patriotic Action Movement in the U.S.A., told the Los Angeles Times.

Choe was among leaders of the large local Korean American community who met last Friday with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Choe added, “The depictions are explosive. They have the potential to harm good relationships with our Jewish American neighbors in Los Angeles.”

Cooper said he had written the publisher of the book, asking her “to carefully review the slanders in this book that historically have led to anti-Semitic violence and genocide,” and “consider providing facts about the Jewish people, our religion and values to young South Koreans.”

The publisher, Eun-Ju Park, answered by e-mail that she would check into the matter “more closely and correct what needs to be corrected,” a response Cooper considered unsatisfactory.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish liaisons for Bush and Clinton outline work in ‘the real West Wing’

Noam Neusner, who served as Jewish liaison and special assistant to President George W. Bush, said last Thursday that while the president welcomes comments from major Jewish organizations on matters of national policy, “it was kind of crazy” for the Union of Reform Judaism to pass a resolution condemning the Iraq War.

Neusner and Jay K. Footlik, who was President Bill Clinton’s Jewish liaison, spoke at Sinai Temple at the 2007 Rabbi Samuel N. Sherman Memorial Lecture. Titled, “The Real West Wing,” the event was co-sponsored by StandWithUs and moderated by Rabbi David Wolpe.

It is the job of the Jewish liaison to advise the president on a wide range of issues, including such things as lives of Jews in the military, allegations of proselytizing or arranging the annual White House Chanukah party. Footlik said some people believe that the Jewish liaison works for Jewish community, rather than for the president. He pointed out that American Jews are “not shy” about telling the White House their feelings.

In response to a question about anti-Semitism in America, both men said that in spite of the impact of President Jimmy Carter’s recent book, support for Israel remains solid, but they stressed “you can’t take it for granted.”

Each cited examples of their administration’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people and expressed confidence that regardless who wins the 2008 elections, American support for Israel will remain strong.

— Peter L. Rothholz, Contributing Writer

Milken schools chief announces retirement

Stephen S. Wise Schools went into high gear to find a successor for Dr. Rennie Wrubel, who last week announced her intention to retire from the position of head of school of Milken Community High School and Stephen S. Wise Middle School on June 30, 2008.

Wrubel, 62, has headed the schools for 10 years, during which time she has increased enrollment, made both the academics and Judaic studies more rigorous and built up the Jewish culture of the school, according to Metuka Benjamin, director of education for Stephen S. Wise Schools.

“She has been a great asset to Milken and really helped develop and build Milken,” Benjamin said. “She brought it to the next level.”

On Feb. 22, Wrubel sent a letter to Benjamin, explaining that she and her husband, who is 10 years her senior, longed to spend more time with each other and with family. Her daughter and son-in-law live in Israel with three children — a 4-year-old and twin 10-month-olds.

“Leading Milken for these past 10 years has been the highlight of my 41 years in education. It has been far more than a job to me; it has been an act of love,” Wrubel wrote, saying the decision to retire was one filled with emotion.

Milken is planning an international search for the position in the 16 months before Wrubel retires. With its $30 million campus, challenging academics and robust programming, the school aims to compete with L.A.’s best prep schools.

A search committee is already in formation, and administrators have hired Littleford & Associates, a consulting and executive search firm that has worked with the synagogue and its schools in the past and understands the culture and needs of the school, Benjamin told parents in a letter. John C. Littleford has already visited the school to conduct focus groups to develop a leadership profile for the position.

Once candidates have been identified and narrowed down, small groups of parents, teachers, alumni, students and administrators will have a chance to interview semifinalists and give input to the search committee. The committee aims to make a final recommendation by February 2008.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Police Chief Bratton warns terrorism will be threat for the rest of our lives

“Terrorism, like crime, is going to be with us the rest of our lives” LAPD Chief William Bratton told Rabbi David Woznica at an open forum at Stephen S. Wise Temple Monday night.

“Since we are a likely target, we share intelligence with the FBI and the governments of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Israel. We know we must trust one another and learn from each other.”He went on to reassure his audience, however, stating that “we are highly regarded for our capability and creativity, and there’s no place as well prepared as this place.”

You have the right to shut up


Did you hear about the local court in Israel that sentenced a newspaper editor and a reporter to a year in jail for criticizing the prime minister? Or how about the 100 menwho were arrested at a private party in Tel Aviv because they were “dancing and behaving like women”? Or the Israeli court in Haifa that ruled that the testimony of a man is worth twice that of a woman?

You probably haven’t heard, because these abuses didn’t happen in Israel.They happened in Israel’s neighborhood, in countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and as you might imagine, there are plenty more where those came from.

What does any of this have to do with a column about the Pico-Robertson neighborhood? This week I feel like going a little broader.

There’s a controversy that has bubbled up in the Jewish world today around this question: Is it good for Israel when Jews go public with harsh criticism of Israel?

One recent example is a Jewish group that has been presenting on college campuses a stinging, single-minded and, in the eyes of many, exaggerated critique of the Israeli army. Presumably, this type of collective soul-searching demonstrates the Jewish values of fairness and good faith and ought to generate some goodwill in return.

Of course, Jewish criticism against Israel or its policies is nothing new — but not all criticism is created equal. Criticism that rails against the corruption in Israel’s government, for instance, is an example of a political system trying to clean up its act to better serve its people.

But Jewish criticism that publicly undermines Israel’s morality and ability to defend itself is another matter, and it can backfire.

If we keep “confessing” to an already hostile world, for example, that we are too harsh in defending ourselves, should we be surprised if that same world concludes that we deserve to be punished — that we had all this terrorism coming?

And if this public self-criticism happens only on our side — because the other side doesn’t allow it — aren’t we creating a false reality that puts inordinate responsibility on Israel for whatever goes wrong? When we complain that Israel’s global brand image is worse than that of murderous regimes, isn’t our public self-flagellation at least partly to blame?

In short, shouldn’t supporters of Israel be more careful with what it allows its enemies to hear?

As I write these words, I feel like an 80-year-old World War II veteran who spends his days looking at his medals. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can make you more exhaustingly boring and unsophisticated today than suggesting for one second that a Jew should watch his mouth.

For the Jews who don’t think twice before criticizing Israel in public, there’s no such thing as a bad debate. Go ahead and trash the Israeli army over civilian casualties, watch the enemy exploit this weakness to create even more civilian casualties and then let’s all celebrate the beginning of a “terribly important” debate.

Jews who are careful about not helping the enemy don’t have this fetish for debate. They see their home being broken into by people about to hurt their kids. Then, as they look at the faces of their frightened children, they have a choice to make: Do they argue with their spouse — in front of the burglars — about who was supposed to call that security company to install the new alarm, or do they figure out a way to protect their children and leave the debate on the alarm for later, in private?

These Jews’ mouths might be shut, but their eyes are wide open. They see that when Israel tried to give its enemy what it said it wanted (example: Gaza), things got even worse. They believe in peace, but not suicide, and they believe that in times of danger, knowing when to be discrete can be just as courageous as knowing when to speak out.

This is their guiding question: Does an enemy who wants to kill my family deserve to see all my insecurities?

So clearly, despite the ingrained Jewish habit of self-criticism, there are millions of Jews today who don’t think it’s a great idea to villify the Israeli army in front of American and pro-Palestinian college students.

Instead of buying you good will, it’s more likely to buy you bad PR.

Having said all that, in our collective obsession with Israel, Jews of all political stripes have missed a major opportunity: shining a light on the rest of Israel’s neighborhood.

While the world’s press records every Israeli mistake, millions of Arabs are being silently persecuted across the Middle East — gays who are arrested for being gay, women who are humiliated for being women, reporters who are attacked for reporting, Christians who are persecuted for being religious, poets who are jailed for writing the wrong poems.

Where is the outrage? Where are the “Breaking the Silence” campus road shows? Where is the liberal support for these Arab victims of human rights abuse who don’t have a fraction of the freedoms that Arabs in Israel enjoy?

The notion of shutting Jewish mouths is a moot point — nobody can shut a Jew up. If a Jew exercises the freedom to shut up, it’s a personal choice, and it’s usually for good reason.

But for all you progressive Jews out there who believe it’s in the grand Jewish tradition to always speak out, there are 300 million Arabs who don’t live in the vicinity of Israel, and who could surely use a road show.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Your handy guide to performing at Jewish functions


Opening special-needs school would be a mitzvah


Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed his dream: that all children, no matter their race or ethnicity, will one day play and learn together.

I, too, have that dream, but with a twist: that all Jewish children, no matter their learning differences, will be able to receive a yeshiva or day-school education.

In some Jewish communities this dream is a reality, but not in the city of Los Angeles. It’s not that the Jewish community in Los Angeles doesn’t offer any services for Jewish students with special needs. But they are a hodgepodge of offerings, which leaves huge gaps for special-needs students whose families want them to have a traditional Jewish education.

Almost all Jewish day schools and yeshiva programs can boast of resource rooms and/or pull-out programs. Many schools allow “shadow aides” for inclusion students. The Etta Israel Center, an organization dedicated to the needs of disabled Jews, sponsors a class for developmentally delayed high school girls and another class for learning disabled elementary-aged boys. Another organization, Kol Hanearim, has recently opened classes at various grade levels on several day school campuses.

Frequently, parents of children who do not follow the learning path of a typical student are forced to make a terrible choice: keep their child in the Jewish environment while sacrificing the child’s educational, social and emotional needs; or, alternatively, place the child in a public school and sacrifice their Torah studies and possibly their Yiddishkeit. All too often, the day school makes the decision for the parents, telling them, “We cannot deal with your child. You should put your child in public school.”

These children are often very bright and sensitive; rejected by the Jewish educational establishment, they can feel worthless and like outcasts.

How can the rabbis, educators and leaders of this community turn their backs on these children? Are these children’s neshamas, their souls, any less valuable than those of other children?

The mitzvah of eglah arufah, the laws concerning the unsolved murder of a person found in a field between two cities, is relevant here.

The elders of the city closest to the corpse are obligated not only to bury the body, but to sacrifice a heifer to atone for the slain person’s blood. The elders beseech God, saying, “Forgive your people … do not allow the guilt for innocent blood to remain with your people Israel.”

The Rambam, Maimonides, explains that this ritual publicizes the event, thus increasing the likelihood of bringing the murderer to justice, and sends a warning to all potential murderers that they will not get away with the crime. He also says the ritual signifies that the Torah considers each member of the community indirectly responsible for the murder, and that the entire community — beginning with the members of the rabbinic leadership — need to look within, ask tough questions and resolve to prevent future deaths.

Rabbinic commentators explain that the field mentioned in this law symbolizes an environment that has no protective fences, a location that is open and vulnerable to destructive forces. Each child who is abandoned by the day school/yeshiva system ends up in this field, encountering a form of spiritual and emotional death — a death of innocence, of hope, of dignity, and of purpose. When a child is forced out to the strange field, every member of the community, particularly the educators and leaders, must ask themselves serious questions about where they failed the child.

With the piecemeal services still failing so many children, it is time for our leaders and our community to take responsibility.
The Jewish community of Los Angeles needs a Jewish special education school.

This school would serve students from pre-first through high school for whom resource rooms or inclusion programs are not sufficient. It would provide the day school setting needed by children with serious learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, emotional/behavioral disorders, or autism spectrum disorder. It would provide additional support services such as counseling, social skills training, occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech and language therapy.

I have a dream that the rabbinic leaders, principals and lead educators in the Los Angeles Jewish community will provide a Torah education for all Jewish children regardless of their learning differences.

I have a dream that all Jewish agencies and institutions of learning will unite in building this vital and necessary place of Torah learning.

I have a dream that a community-sponsored special education school will be established to serve our Jewish children.

Leah Hoffman is a special education teacher, educational therapist and the mother of a special-needs child.

Eighth ‘Crazy Night’ for Jewish punks


A unique combination of mosh pits and hora dancing was one of the many cultural clashes during the last leg of the “Eight Crazy Nights” tour.

Local punk bands brought their own followers to the Workmen’s Circle on Robertson Boulevard, and a swarm of people flooded the building as the lights dimmed and the stage settled. Members of the Australian group, Yidcore, passed out kippot to the crowd, and once the last Chanukah candle was lit, the band launched into a cacophonous “Salaam” and “Mao Tzur.”

It was unclear who was there for the punk and who was there for the Judaism, but everyone seemed to be there for the music.

Hosted and funded by Workmen’s Circle, the seemingly unlikely marriage of Judaism and punk brought bands like Yidcore, Oakland’s Jewdriver and the Zydepunks from New Orleans to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood on Dec. 22, the last night of Chanukah.

The idea was “to put culture back into punk,” said Aaron Brickman, the Workmen’s Circle youth programmer who envisioned the tour last Purim.

But “Eight Crazy Nights” provided more than punk with a Jewish face. It was also intended as a vehicle to expose Jews to different ways of being Jewish and to engage a more culturally diverse audience to the high-intensity music of punk rock, Brickman said.

The tour started on Dec. 15 in San Francisco, before moving on to punk venues in Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Las Vegas, Tucson, San Diego and Pomona.

As the intensity of the music increased at the Workmen’s Circle, the crowd’s energy grew. It didn’t take long for a slab of hummus from the snack table to end up across the room and on several fans, creating what can only be described as a “nosh pit.”

The madness continued with the Manischewitz-drinking melodies of Jewdriver, and the show wrapped with the klezmer tunes of the Zydepunks.

One of the main values of the religion is to constantly challenge convention, said Brickman, a University of Judaism graduate who added that Jewish punk rock can provide a unique path that is both educational and enjoyable.

Although at times the lyrics were drowned out by yelling and screaming, Jewish punk appears to offer its own very clear message that this ancient religion can continue to survive through continuous reinterpretation and musical transformation.

Web links:

‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.yidcore.com

‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.zydepunks.com

Reading ‘Jewish’


I heard recently that some people have complained that this column is too “Orthodox” — that there’s too much focus on the frum and kosher side of Judaism. Since thiscolumn is about an Orthodox neighborhood, that’s like complaining that a hockey writer spends too much time writing about hockey, but nevertheless it got me thinking about how Jews read about other Jews.

This was on my mind when I walked into Delice bakery the other day and saw a copy of Jewish Life magazine. Jewish Life is a monthly published by The Jewish Journal to appeal to religiously observant Jews. I’m not here to critique it or promote it, but it struck me that the magazine is like a microscopic view of the world that I write about every week.

If you think this column is too religious, wait until you see Jewish Life. If I snorkel into observant Judaism, then it goes deep-sea diving. If this column is “the hood,” then Jewish Life is the hood on steroids.

Take the latest issue. At first glance, it looks like another general-interest magazine with a self-help cover story: “Why Aren’t We Happier?” But open it up and you’ll see the kind of things that matter most to observant Jews.

On Page 4 of the first column (Ask Dr. T, a parenting advice column), a reader worries about the “chronic” problem of what her children should do with their Chanukah gelt. (Dr. Sara Teichman gives a six-paragraph answer to this “complex” problem).

In the next column, Marriage Matters, a “lovely single girl in her 20s” laments her single status:”The wait is killing me. It feels never ending and hopeless. Isn’t there something I can do? I mean, I know I have to daven hard, network with people and hope for the best, but isn’t there any more?”

Below the article is a little section on a new book titled, “Shidduch Secrets,” which includes practical advice on using one’s time productively while waiting for one’s beshert.

On the next page is a column called Shirmas Halashon with the headline, “Beware: Words Can Hurt” and this announcement right below: “With this column, Jewish Life begins our regular column on Hilchos Lashon Hara.” Below the announcement are these untranslated words: “Lilui Nichmas Masha Ruchama bas Shmuel.” The author of the column — across from an ad for Frumster.com that has a picture of a happy-looking newlywed couple (“Idith and Eli, match No. 93”) — is the dean of Valley Torah High School.

As you continue flipping through Jewish Life, you see these kinds of headlines: “What Exactly Is Mussar?” (Hint: it’s a system of ethics, not a new kosher hair gel), “The Advent of Chasidism” under the column History L.A. and in the society gossip column is the headline “A Tzadik Pays a Visit,” about Rav Yitzchak Grossman’s visit to Los Angeles.

In the food section, there’s a “Grateful Letter From a Duncan Hines Fan,” thanking my former employer (Procter and Gamble) for bringing back Duncan Hines pareve cake mixes (“They are a great resource for us here in the Orthodox Jewish community”), and a recipe called “Nat’s Brownies/My Frosting.”

In the Kashrus Concerns column, you’ll find a series of announcements from the Kosher Information Bureau, such as: “Salad Mate Salad Dressing is no longer under CRC certification,” “Flora Foods Italian Breadcrumbs bears an unauthorized OU,” and “Sandy Candy Co. now produces cotton candy sugars certified by the Star-K.”

The last section, Kosher Road Trip, is on travel, and here you’ll see a column by a homemaker and mom named Cinnamon Shenker on winter trips, with the headline: “Grab Your Sled and Head for the Hills.” She even quotes Tehillim to help make her point that it’s “a glorious thing that we can experience snow and ice first hand, rather than just look at pictures.”

So you can see I’m not kidding when I tell you that Jewish Life is the Jacques Cousteau of Orthodox Jewish reporting in Los Angeles. But there’s another side to this story.

If you read Jewish Life without any preconceptions about Orthodox Judaism — out of simple curiosity, for example, or even a desire to learn something helpful and interesting — it will probably surprise you.

For example, once you get past the annoying absence of translation in the beginning of “Beware: Words can Hurt,” you can’t help but be moved by the life-changing possibilities of the message, whether you are ultra-Orthodox, Reform or even a Zen Buddhist.

The same can be said for several articles in Jewish Life, like the idea of “living in the moment without acting on impulse” in the cover story on happiness, or the universal system of ethics developed by our very Orthodox sages, called Mussar.

Even the reader’s question on the “chronic” problem of what kids should do with Chanukah gelt — which I poked fun at — actually led to an incisive take on the complicated relationship between people and money.

That’s why I’m ambivalent about this whole notion of having different publications for different Jews. There is so much we can learn from each other, why can’t we all read the same paper?

The marketing side of me — the one that learned at places like Procter and Gamble the importance of “market niches” — understands why having different publications makes good business sense. People like to read about themselves.

But the “Jewish unity” part of me would love to see Jews of all denominations show more curiosity towards one another, whether it’s nonobservant Jews reading about Orthodox ideas, or Orthodox Jews reading things that have nothing to do with Orthodoxy, but that are still very much part of the Jewish experience. It’s like the interest you would show toward a beloved family member who has a completely different lifestyle from your own.

And of course, the self-absorbed part of me would love to see every Jew read this column, even if it’s a little too, you know, Orthodox.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

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