Episode 27 – Unholy Matrimony in the Holy Land with Jessica Fishman


The right of return for the Jewish people states that anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent may become a citizen of the State of Israel. The reasoning: this was the criteria by which the Jews were persecuted under the Third Reich.

On the other hand, if you want to have an ordained marriage in the State of Israel, the par is set a little higher: your mother must be Jewish.

This dissonance leads to an inevitable rift in Israeli society: people who live here as lawful citizens, but are unable to legally marry their partner.

Jessica Fishman, author of the new book “Chutzpah and High Heels”, joins Two Nice Jewish Boys to share her story of Aliyah and talk about her devastation at the hands of this little known discrepancy in Israeli law.

Listen here:

Jessica’s book tour dates.

Meant2Be: Why we both cried over his first love


When I first met my husband, we were both in our 40s and full of stories of the lost and found loves that preceded finding each other. I was mostly the one with the found loves; his were mostly the lost. When he told me the woeful tales of the women who hadn’t noticed him, who didn’t want him, who ditched or disappointed him, I told him he needed a new PR department. From my perspective, he was wickedly smart, handsome, had a gap-toothed smile that telegraphed how incredibly genuine and sweet he was. And come on, he was a successful doctor.  

Eventually, the sad stories stopped. Only one remained, the one about Peggy Buckley, the Irish Catholic girl he met in college who was the single exception to his roll call of disastrous romantic life. Theirs was a mighty attraction and they would have married but the pope said ‘no.’ So did the rabbi, Peggy’s parents and my husband’s parents. 

I, too, had my share of romantic woes. I’d loved and lost, loved and won, loved and checkmated but the good news was he and I … oh, never mind!

Eleven years ago, we’d been married for a decade, and my husband popped into the kitchen and said brightly (a little too brightly), ‘Today is Peggy’s birthday!’ ”

 “Why don’t you find her?” I said, thinking that talking to Peggy again might give him some closure. Thus he dutifully contacted her college alumna association and placed a call to her in Boston. 

“So, did talking to Peggy help?” I asked after the hour they spoke. 

“Yes!” He was jazzed. 

I didn’t say, “Maybe now you can concentrate on how much you love me?”

A few weeks later, he was asked to fly to Boston on a business trip. He made a reservation for two at the best restaurant in Boston. 

He called later and told me he sat at the bar and spotted a beautiful young woman with short, dark hair who looked exactly like Peggy. It was only after awhile in this dreamy state that a middle-aged woman tapped him briskly on the shoulder and said, “Hey! Didn’t you see me walking back and forth?” 

He finally got to talk to Peggy about those days of confusion and longing. He asked if she ever came to enjoy sex. If she thought about him, and all the questions we’d like to ask our old flames who’ve left skid marks on our souls. 

After dinner, they took a walk. Peggy had married a Jewish man, after all. Apparently, she was over my husband and also over the pope.

At last, mystery had a face and the face had wrinkles, 30 extra pounds and unbecoming shoes. Five more years passed. Cut to Thanksgiving 2012. 

We were hanging around the house. My husband had never learned to use Facebook, so I showed him how to search for friends. Naturally, he looked up Peggy Buckley. 

A screen appeared with a year-old article about her from The Boston Globe. My husband stared ahead in stony silence. It took me a minute to understand why: We were reading Peggy’s obituary. It spoke of her extraordinarily loving heart and her service to her community. She clearly was a terrific woman. Now, that beautiful, if unwilling girl, was gone. 

But in an instant, she became newly alive to my husband. The mourning began. He was crying. He talked to a therapist. He emailed old friends. He retold the Peggy stories and included some I’d never heard. When he said, ‘This is ridiculous, she wasn’t in my life. Why am I so upset?” I told him the truth: She’d always be in his life; she was an important figure to him. It moved me to see the depth of heart he was capable of. 

But then, I realized I wasn’t doing very well myself. What could the loss possibly be to me? I couldn’t concentrate, became withdrawn, then I, too, began to weep. That really made no sense. Peggy was his youth, his frustration, his football games. Peggy was his story.

I realized that in a life littered with despicable prom dates, disinterested coeds and haughty nurses, Peggy was the first person who truly got him, got his humor, his shyness, his slightly offbeat ways. I was grateful to her for loving him.

Meanwhile, he was walking around the house singing, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain” … specifically the line that goes: “But I always thought that I’d see you, baby, one more time again … ”

Finally, it came to me; on a soul level, Peggy was a kind of sister to me. She made a lonely college kid happy; she centered him, helped make him real in his skin. I was bereft because I’d lost a “sister wife” who I’d never have the chance to meet. This was my loss, my Peggy Buckley story. We two were the women who saw the magic in this person who needed our love and who loved us both. 

Thank you, dear Peggy. Rest in peace. 


Barbara Bottner is the author of more than 45 books for children (some she illustrated), has had short stories published in national magazines and articles appear in the LA Weekly and Miami Herald, and has written for television.

This column is part of our new series, Meant2Be, stories of love and relationships. Do you have a story about dating, marriage, singlehood or any important relationship in your life? Email us at meant2be@jewishjournal.com.

One-of-a-kind weddings in Israel


Israelis love come-as-you-are weddings, where guests are welcome to bring along a friend, there’s no color scheme and the groom wears an open-necked shirt. But whether it’s a jeans or black-tie affair, in many cases the venue itself provides the Israeli wedding’s wow factor because of its great religious or historical import or its stunning natural backdrop.

“I find most people who do an event in Israel want it to be more meaningful and significant, as opposed to focusing on décor and other extraneous values,” said Judy Krasna, co-partner in Celebrate Israel.

In addition to copious wedding halls, wedding gardens and hotel ballrooms across the country, Israel offers many one-of-a-kind places to get married. For engaged couples abroad, wedding planners who speak their language can take care of all the arrangements.

“We have an insane amount of gorgeous ideas for parties in Israel,” said Adena Mark of A to Z Events Israel.

Mark has hung chandeliers in Zedekiah’s Cave under the Old City walls of Jerusalem, creating a fancy, festive wedding inside this legendary 2,000-year-old limestone quarry. She has staged weddings among the ancient Roman ruins in Caesarea, and decorated forest clearings with twinkling lights in the trees and straw mats on the bare ground.

Mark even has schlepped flowers and portable air-conditioners or heaters to marriage ceremonies on the cliffs of the Judean Desert. “At night it’s magical, with a view of the Dead Sea and the rolling hills,” she said.

Krasna especially loves weddings at wheelchair-accessible Genesis Land (Eretz Bereshit) in the Judean Desert.

“The view from the chuppah over the desert at sunset is the most spectacular backdrop for a wedding ceremony I’ve ever seen,” she said.

“You can choose to do an upscale wedding or a funky one with camel rides for the guests and waiters in biblical garb. For guests coming from outside Israel, it’s a really Israeli experience.”

It’s possible to arrange a wedding on just about any Israeli beach or national park, Krasna said. She recommends a beachfront with a hotel or restaurant in which the reception can be sheltered from the strong sea winds — such as Herzliya’s Daniel Hotel, Al Hayam in Caesarea or the Rimonim Palm Beach Hotel in Acre.

For nuptials in nature away from the waterfront, Krasna likes the historic Hulda Forest in central Israel, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens or Ein Gedi Botanical Garden near the Dead Sea.

What about a wedding in a winery? Several Israeli wineries can accommodate parties of various sizes, including the Tishbi and Binyamina wineries in the Zichron Ya’akov area and the Psagot Winery overlooking the mountains of Jordan.

Krasna’s favorite spot for a dream wedding in Israel is the Bell Cave at Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park.

“It’s so incredibly different! The guests always rave that they’ve never been to such a cool wedding,” said Krasna, though she warns that the venue does present limitations. “Because it’s a national park, you can only have acoustic music, and the terrain is uneven so if you have elderly guests they might have trouble walking,” she said.

For those who prefer to be above ground, Alon Rosenberg of Danny Marx Productions recommends the Ottoman-period Tower of David citadel in Jerusalem and the historic Masada cliff on the road to the Dead Sea.

Rosenberg said a wedding at the Tower of David is “very, very expensive, and you need to bring everything in,” but for those who can splurge, “it’s like you’re entering a castle surrounded by the Old City walls. It’s a historical site that enables you to have an amazing event in an enclosed structure.”

Danny Marx, who often arranges celebrity affairs, including actress Gal Gadot’s nuptials five years ago at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, added that venues combining an atmosphere of history with modern elegance make Israeli weddings unique.

Jerusalem resident Reuven Prager aims to put some history back into the ceremony itself. His Biblical Weddings re-creates the ancient custom where every bride in the land of Israel wore a Jerusalem of Gold crown and was carried to the ceremony on a royal litter called an aperion.

Prager built a replica of the crown and the aperion as described in the biblical Song of Songs and Talmudic sources. Ten strong men carry it to the accompaniment of shofar-blowers and harpists. (Prager charges $1,500 but says he never turns anyone away for lack of funds.)

“We dedicated the aperion in a ceremony at the Bible Lands Museum during Chanukah 1992, and the next day we used it for the first wedding,” Prager said.

About 100 Israeli and foreign Jewish couples have used Prager’s aperion for their weddings, while Christian couples from abroad have made Biblical Weddings the highlight of their honeymoon or anniversary trip.

Prager hopes to work with the Tourism Ministry to launch a national competition encouraging the creation of hundreds of aperions and golden bridal crowns across Israel to broaden the availability of this unusual package. The Jerusalem municipality and the Israel Museum stand ready to host the competition. If Prager’s dream comes true, the aperion could usher in a unique wedding startup industry that could happen only in Israel.

Power plays


I want to share a story about a couple who’ve been married for 19 years.

Their relationship is a series of power plays in which they subtly and sometimes not so subtly try to control one another.

They're’ from the Boston area. 
They have 2 kids
. Both have special needs – one learning, one emotional. She used to work outside of the home, has a PhD in science, but stopped working when her children’s needs became a full time job.

He makes a good living in law.

Here’s where their control issues come to play: She wants to move from the big city, to be in a house surrounded by trees, have a less-stressful life, downsize their financial pressures and be able to reconnect with her professional passion.

He says she’s not realistic, he needs to work long hours in his big-city practice to support their family’s needs. How could she insist that they move away from his parents just because she’s unhappy with the big city? How could she uproot their family right at the time their kids are finally enrolled in suitable schools that address their learning and emotional challenges?

She says he doesn’t consider her feelings, wants and needs. Though she loves him, she’s lonely and disconnected from her husband.

He says he doesn’t want to leave his city of birth and won’t move just because she’s unhappy.

They’re literally stuck, frozen in their apartment and their marriage – because neither one is willing to compromise. Like two people in a boxing ring they stand in position waiting to see who will fall first.

Their power play deeply upsets me – as hear about how they manipulate each other in order to control their family’s future. Rather than work together as a unit, their marriage is game of who will win and who will lose.

Listen, marriage can be difficult –anyone who tells you otherwise – is lying. But frankly, ALL relationships have the capacity to lure us into power plays – in which we try to gain control over another person or a situation.

These dynamics play out at work and school, between genders, in social media, over the environment, among nations, and between religions.
Exerting one’s control over another is pervasive. And as a result it can rip apart our homes, our character and our world.

Now it’s true that sometimes it’s necessary to control and dominate another person if we’re bullied or if a nation feels its safety is endangered. But today I’d like to look at the many power plays we partake in that destroy our souls, and offer 3 some ways we can avoid the allure of trying to dominate and control others.

Let’s start with Torah.
Unfortunately Torah’s very familiar with power and control. In Deuteronomy, Moses blesses the Israelites:
“Be the head and not the tail.” (Deut. 28:13)

It’s as if to be blessed we need to be both in control of our subordinates, and be controlling of them.
The head looks forward, not back.
The head advances onward, without negotiating with its tail. Yet effective leaders are often those who use their positions of power to empower others.

What about taking the back seat sometimes or listening to the opinion of those we lead?
How about the value of being a follower or collaborator?

It’s a tough tension, because even God teaches us to relish power. Torah describes how God encourages Adam to name all the animals of the earth – an ancient tactic of acquiring control over living beings.

And frankly the power to name, can be a very positive tool of control even today.
As of this February, Facebook gives everyone the option of choosing to name oneself from 51 gender categories.

A person can be: Agender, bigender, cis, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, gender variant, intersex, pan gender or transgender (to list a few) – & if you don’t know what some of these gender categories are – you’re not alone.
 The point is – I imagine that those of us who are one of these genders feel validated when we can actively name ourselves. (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/15/the-complete-glossary-of-facebook-s-51-gender-options.html).

Yet naming others in a demeaning or controlling way can be used as a way of exerting power over someone else. Perhaps you’ve heard of how ISIS “educates” their soldiers to name their captured women ibadah – meaning “worship,” and then instructs their soldiers to pray before they rape them, and then pray after they rape them –
justifying their violation as a “prayer to God,”
telling the women that they are their ibadah – their tools of worship. I find this obscene … (NYT, Enslaving Young Girls, Aug 14, 2015)

The Torah also gives many examples of power plays between brothers and sisters.
Remember when the siblings Miriam and Aaron criticize Moses for having a close relationship with God? (Numbers 11)

It’s as if they’re vying for “Big-daddy-in-the-sky’s” attention. Sounds like the dinner fight my brothers and I would have around our table –
who got to sit at the head, how much extra food were we served, who was mom and dad’s favorite & who had to wash the dishes.

And the competition and one-upmanship sadly continues when we become “grown up” siblings:
•Like the tension when a father dies and leaves his children unequal inheritance without an explanation. • or a sister- in-law who’s controlling and pushes her spouse into a family feud…..

These power plays are usually about attention and love ….. and often they leak into our bedrooms.

Think of the power and manipulation our patriarch Jacob held over his two wives -who were sisters – Rachel and Leah.
I imagine they wondered who he’d go home to each night and if he favored one over the other.

Today there are many spouses who wonder whether their partner is out late at a business meeting -
or finding intimacy with someone he met on-line
or through work.

How about the manipulative power in the business world? Think of Korach, in the Torah, who wanted even more control than he already had as a Levite (Numbers 16:1+).
He criticized Moses for being power hungry
even though it’s clear that Korach was really interested in promoting his own ego needs.

This type of power-play in the office is all too common today. Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook and author of Lean In, cited a recent study that found that when women executives speak more than their peers,

They’re punished with 14% lower ratings,
but when male executives speak more than their peers, they’re rewarded with 10% higher ratings of competence. Sexual hypocrisy has not disappeared from our conference rooms.
(NYT “Speaking While Female”, Jan 12, 2015).

And how about domination over women in many parts of the world today?
 Should we take literally, the Torah’s teaching that when a man goes to war he can take any woman he wants by power after 30 days of bringing her into his house… or should we follow other biblical injunctions that teach that all human beings are created in the image of God? (Genesis 1 and Deut. 21:10-14)

The 14.2 million women and girls who are sold into slavery each year are told they are a man’s booty, while I assume most of us understand this as an outdated justification of holy texts to manipulate and control the vulnerable.

(UNFPA, 2012, Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage. New York: United Nations Population Fund).

Then there’s the power we humans have wielded over our environment.

Remember what the Torah teaches: after humanity was created God told us “to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and watch over it.” (Gen 1:28)
But what’s going on today?!
We’re not protecting our environment.
Instead of watching over our earth
we’re watching as we level our forests,
strip the earth of its resources
and create a global warming disaster.

Let’s not ignore our children –
how about the power-plays in our schools?
It’s no wonder many public & private schools have instituted uniforms to try to level the playing field –
and even then it becomes about what shoes you wear,
your haircut or jewelry –
anything to show your status.

Or consider how social media has become a tool to manipulate and influence one’s “friends.”
Now with a swipe of a finger 25% of teenagers report that they’ve experienced repeated bullying via their cell phone or on the internet, and of the teens who reported cyber bullying incidents, 33% of them said that their bullies issued online threats. (http://nobullying.com/cyber-bullying-statistics-2014/

Power in marriages, among friends, between family members, in the work place, between men and women, over the environment and on social media – are constant tightropes we all traverse. How much we dominate, pull, push back, speak out, submit, or resign ourselves to the allure of participating in these power dynamics- constantly changes.
At work we may be submissive, while at home very dominant – Or vice versa….

This year in America, we can’t ignore the light that’s exposed the power-plays between white and black people.
The Midrash teaches that the reason one “Adam”, one person, was created first, and not two people – not Adam and Eve – was so no person could say “My ancestors are greater than yours.”(Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

In other words, no matter our color, race, culture or gender – we all come from the same place and we’re all equal.
Yet – that’s not the world we live in.
Just look at the streets of Ferguson, Mo where Michael Brown was killed, or Staten Island where Eric Garner was choked to death.

As a white women reading Ta-Nehisi Coats’ book Between The World and Me I felt embarrassed.
He shares that “To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology.
The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.”

His words upset me.

I wondered as a white, relatively privileged American – what I do, subconsciously, to promote and accept racism around me?

Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress, taught: “racism is so universal in this country,
so widespread and deep seated, that it’s invisible because it is so normal.”

And I wonder: how have I actively or passively participated in the invisible nature of racism?
Am I engaged in my own power-plays and not even aware of them?

Talking about race in America – and how it’s connected to power is very uncomfortable.
I confess with shame that when I worked in Central Park for 3 summers during high school, I resented and felt deep dislike toward the Puerto Rican community.
You see every year, in early June, there was a Puerto Rican parade down 5th Avenue – right next to the park – and the whole surrounding area would get trashed.
After the parade, the community would go into the park and BBQ (which was illegal),
leave their garbage everywhere (also illegal)
and drink alcohol in public (illegal).
I deeply resented the Puerto Ricans.
And then…. And then a close relative, who I love dearly, married a Puerto Rican. And she’s wonderful.
And her sister and parents are good, kind, caring people.

I had to confront my racism and rework how I viewed the Puerto Rican community.
I was forced to see them as individuals, rather than as one group of people.

And of course I have to make note of some radical Jewish extremists whose warped power-play deeply embarrassed me this year.
Though as Jews we don’t promote racism as part of our ideology, as say ISIS does, I was horrified when a Jewish extremist at this summer’s LGBT parade in Jerusalem stabbed Shira Banki to death, a 16 year old girl.
And then on that same weekend in July, a group of Jewish radicals threw two firebombs into 2 Palestinian homes, in the West Bank, in the middle of the night, killing an 18-month-old boy and his parents.
That’s a sick corruption of Jewish power!

In all these examples of control, dominance and power – whether it’s in a relationship, in the office, between genders, of the environment, among races, religions and nations – what’s gained?

Why is the allure of control so seductive?
And why do we continually fall into the trap of participating in power plays?

Well, first – Clarity.
Being right is so satisfying.

But sometimes our ability to distinguish right from wrong becomes blurry:
whether it’s a spouse gone astray,
a boss who favors men,

a white cop who strangles a black guy,
an ISIS solider before he rapes his “wife”…
we believe we are right because we justify our actions with human desire, history, culture, society or religion on our side.

What else is gained? –
the self-indulgent notion that the most important person is me, my wants, my desires, my point of view.
When we put “me” at the center –
we misled ourselves into thinking that everything that goes my way, is the best way.
And when we only look at one side,
our side,
we strip away any hope for sympathy, empathy and respect – ingredients for a balanced relationship.

And with these false gains of power plays, what’s lost? So much more.

As Yehudah Amichai, Israel’s poet laureate once wrote: From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right is hard and trampled Like a yard.

God made the world with different people, holding several points of views and various dispositions to teach us that one way isn’t the only way.
And ironically – when we focus on dominating or manipulating others, our relationships feel disconnected, stuck and stagnant.

The author Shannon L. Adler describes the effects of yielding our power in relationships:

“When you think yours is the only true path you forever chain yourself to judging others and narrow the vision of God. (You see) The road to righteousness and arrogance is a parallel road…. but what makes them different is the road to righteousness is paved with the love of humanity — while the road to arrogance is paved with the love of self.”

I’d like to offer some ways we can walk the road of righteousness and escape the allure of the road of power- plays- to improve our relationships and the world we live.

First — I’ve found that the less I take the bait of a power-play, step back, take a pause, and recalibrate my goal of connecting rather than dominating, the more I deepen my relationships to those I love.

It’s really about walking the road of Teshuvah. And I don’t mean Teshuvah as a noun – it’s not “say you’re sorry.”
Instead it’s Teshuvah as a verb:
●It’s the act of taking a deep, honest, hard look at oneself.
●It’s the proactive review of one’s strengths and weaknesses. ●It’s the courageous act of sharing those insights with someone you trust or with God.

●And it’s the counter cultural choice to change what’s not working in your life, rather than blaming others.

If we really do this, it’s no longer about whose on top,
who’s right, or who’s winning the competition-
instead it’s about uniting, joining & coming together with those we love, those with whom we work, or those who have a different skin color, gender, culture or religion than we do.

It’s no wonder the NYT Modern Love column “Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” generated more than 5.2 million visits since its publication in January.
In case you missed it, Mandy Len Catron described a Cupid— like technique she developed of 36 questions,

which get increasingly intimate in nature,
that 2 people can answer while facing each other.
Apparently, if you follow her list of questions, any two people, even strangers, can fall in love! (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love- to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html)

The reason this technique is so powerful is because it’s really an act of Teshuvah. Teshuvah as an honest self-assessment
and Teshuvah as a turning toward the person you want to become – which has temporarily been covered with layers of arrogance or inflexibility…..

Take out your mirrors for a moment. (Note: mirrors with questions on the back were put on everyone’s seat)
The ones on your seats.
This is my gift to each of us: Our Teshuvah mirrors.

On it you’ll find 5 questions – like the 5 books of Moses. Each one focuses on a different aspect of our lives that may have succumbed to the allure of power.

The first is about an interpersonal relationship:

1. Think of one person you have hurt this year. How can you address this wound?

The second asks us to focus on our character:

2. What is one realistic change you can do to make yourself a better person this year?

The third challenges us to look at our professional life:

3. What can you do this year to become a better student, professional, parent or retiree?

The fourth expands our hearts to the greater world:

4. What is your prayer for the world this year?

And the last one invites us to open our souls toward a force or power beyond ourselves:

5. What is one thing you can do to strengthen your relationship with God this year?
(based on Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe by Erica Brown, page 126)

Let’s spend the next 10 days between RH & YK contemplating our answers to these questions with humility—
as we walk the road of righteousness.

Our challenge is to remember to not take the bait when it comes to power-plays, control and dominance.
It’s so alluring,
So easy to succumb to its self-satisfying pull, but it leaves us lonely, disconnected, and keeps us from looking at ourselves.

Instead, look into your Teshuvah Mirror, Carry it with you the next 10 days.

I wish each of us the strength to be honest on our journey. Shannah Tova.

Israeli couples say ‘I don’t’ to Orthodox Jewish weddings


For most Israelis in the Jewish state, there is one legal way to get married – God's way.

Israeli law empowers only Orthodox rabbis to officiate at Jewish weddings, but popular opposition is growing to this restriction and to what some Israelis see as an Orthodox stranglehold on the most precious moments of their lives.

Some of Israel's most popular TV stars and models have come out this week in an advertisement supporting a new bill allowing civil marriage. A political storm is likely when it eventually comes up for a vote in parliament.

The Rabbinate, the Orthodox religious authority that issues marriage licences in Israel, says it is charged with a task vital for the survival of the Jewish people, and a recent poll showed more Israelis oppose civil unions than support them.

Nevertheless, many Israelis want either a secular wedding or a religious marriage conducted by a non-Orthodox rabbi. Facebook pages have been popping up, with defiant couples calling on others to boycott the Rabbinate.

In September, Stav Sharon, a 30-year-old Pilates instructor, married her husband in an alternative ceremony performed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi.

“We wanted a Jewish wedding despite being secular. We feel connected to our Judaism, even if we are not religious. It is our people, our tradition,” Sharon said.

Weddings such as Sharon's fall into a legal no man's land. They are not against the law, but neither are they recognised as valid by the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for registering marital status on the national identity card every Israeli is required to carry.

In a twist in the law, the ministry will register as married any Israeli couple that weds abroad – even in a non-religious ceremony – outside the purview of the Israeli rabbinate.

Some couples hop on the short flight to Cyprus to marry. The Czech Republic is another popular destination for Israelis wanting a civil wedding.

Sharon and her husband decided against that option. “Marrying abroad means giving in. We wanted to marry in our own country,” she said.

No formal records are kept on the officially invalid alternative ceremonies held in Israel. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, nearly 39,000 Jewish couples married via the Rabbinate in 2011. About 9,000 couples registered that year as having married overseas.

Muslims, Druze and Christians in Israel are also required to marry through their own state-recognised religious authorities, making interfaith weddings possible only overseas.

WHO IS A JEW?

Secular-religious tensions have simmered in Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state, since its establishment in 1948.

About 20 percent of Israeli Jews describe themselves as Orthodox while the majority of citizens are only occasional synagogue-goers. There are also non-Orthodox communities such as Reform and Conservative, but these are proportionately smaller than in Jewish populations abroad.

Ultra-Orthodox zealots have drawn anger in recent years for separating men and women on some public buses and harassing women and girls for what they see as immodest dress. Orthodox rabbis insist that brides take ritual baths to purify themselves before marriage, a practice to which some Israeli women object.

Immigrants to Israel, which since its inception has appealed to Jews around the world to live in the Jewish state, can find marriage through its Rabbinate a gruelling process.

Anyone wed by the Rabbinate is required to provide evidence of being Jewish, usually a simple and quick process.

But when it comes to new immigrants, the Rabbinate requires an affidavit, usually from an Orthodox rabbi in their home country, attesting they were born to a Jewish mother – the Orthodox criterion for determining if someone is a Jew.

And, Orthodox authorities in Israel can pile on more problems by digging even deeper into Jewish roots by requiring additional documentation proving that a bride or bridegroom's grandmother was Jewish.

“It took a year,” said a 34-year-old Argentinian immigrant to Israel, who asked not to be identified.

“They said the papers I had were not sufficient. They kept asking for more and more crazy documents. At one point they wanted me to provide a witness, from Argentina, who knew my grandparents and who had seen them, inside their home, celebrating a Jewish holiday,” he said.

His case was ultimately brought before the Chief Rabbi who ruled the man was Jewish and could marry his bride-to-be.

Israel's government is less strict in determining “who is a Jew” and therefore eligible to immigrate to Israel. Under its Law of Return, proof that someone has at least one Jewish grandparent is enough to receive automatic citizenship.

The Rabbinate says it is charged with preventing intermarriage and assimilation with non-Jewish communities which would endanger their people's survival.

Ziv Maor, the Rabbinate's spokesman, said strict adherence to Orthodox ritual law and practices had bonded Jews across the globe and set common rules for all.

“A Moroccan Jew knew he could marry a Jewish woman from Lithuania,” he said. “Rabbinical law guides us in a very clear way on who is Jewish and who is not … and we do not have permission from past or future generations to stray even a hair's breadth from those criteria,” Maor said.

According to the Rabbinate, only two percent of the men and women who apply to it for a marriage licence are turned down because they are found not to be Jewish.

GAY MARRIAGE

There are other groups to whom marriage is forbidden by rabbinical law.

Same-sex marriage, as in other religions, is out of the question as far as the Rabbinate is concerned. Israel's Interior Ministry recognises gay marriage – but only if it is conducted in a foreign country where it is legal.

Margot Madeson-Stern, a business consultant, was wed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi at a celebration attended by more than 300 guests. The ceremony had no legal foundation in Israel.

“The (Rabbinate) would not marry me. The person I fell in love with was a woman,” said Madeson-Stern, 30. “I'm Jewish. I wanted a Jewish wedding. It's my family, my tradition, it's how I grew up.”

She later travelled with her wife to New York for another wedding ceremony. New York recognises gay marriages, so Israel's Interior Ministry did the same, registering them as a couple.

At least two parties in the coalition government are promoting a bill to allow civil marriage in Israel, including for same-sex couples. One of them is Yesh Atid, which tapped into anti-religious sentiment in last January's national election and finished in second place.

“It cannot be that people who do not believe or whose lifestyle does not suit the Rabbinate will be forced to get married by people whose way is not their own,” Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid told Israel Radio this month.

But tradition could die hard in Israel. A poll published in November in the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, showed that while 41 percent of Jewish Israelis supported Yesh Atid's Civil Union bill, 47 percent objected.

Such bills have been floated at Israel's parliament before. But for the first time in years, ultra-Orthodox parties, which oppose civil marriage, are not in the government.

Yesh Atid believes it has enough votes from lawmakers across the board to pass the law in the next few months. The Rabbinate says it will oppose the measure strongly.

“Matters of marriage, divorce and conversion are our most important fortress. It must not be touched and we will defend it fiercely,” said Maor.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Stamp

Hearts remarried


Marriage means so much, to all of us. Including to unmarried people. We all want to live paired up, don’t we? To die not alone? What’s sadder than a grave all by its lonesome? Two side by side, we feel we can protect each other through all eternity. 

Marriage is also the inner pillar of our psyche. We think of it all the time, even more than of sex. Why we have marriage, why we don’t, why and when did it become better, at last? Look around. Marriage is our life’s top ingredient, as guaranteed as the sun on a bright day.

I could go on. You see my wife and I just rededicated our vows. I’m still bubbling.

Rededication, by the way, is an American invention we should applaud. Even if one remarries not 50, just five years in, those would be some important five years! In the case of Iris and I, we clocked 30 and then decided: We’re redoing it, in Europe where I’m from — where she stems from, too, one generation past. 

I do remember the times when she, or I, doubted that we would last. A counselor told us to beware when you stop fighting, when you have “peace.” Peace means the end of being unique to each other. Better unique and bleeding. So we rededicated — bleeding and all. We have littler fights these days, and better friendship in between. 

Thirty years. And we’re hoping for another 20.

Wow. 

In honor of our roots, we flew to Eastern Europe. Iris comes from Holocaust survivors. I’m from the other survivors, the runaways from communism. 

The logistics were complex. We’re an interfaith marriage, although we don’t live interfaith; the blood that lost the most is the blood whose traditions we follow. So we were looking for a Jewish environment to remarry. 

For our first vows all those years ago, we eloped to Utah, of all places, because I’d been invited to Robert Redford’s Sundance writer’s workshop. We were married by Brother Johnson, a colorful Mormon judge, and enjoyed a Hopi dance and a bridal suite, both arranged by Mr. Redford, on our first night. 

This second time, we wanted something more traditional. But who would marry two Americans — one a Jew, one not — in Hungary or the Czech Republic, lands where my wife’s folks survived? 

Answer: Uh, apparently not anyone mainstream.

We were thrust from something we expected to be so intimate and personal into hectic East European, post-communist politics, with a very bitter-before-sweet feel of déjà vu. 

Europe is not America; its Judaism, like its Christianity, is barely beginning to become flexible. Liturgical adjustments, so familiar in California, are unheard of. My wife researched a comprehensive number of congregations, which would not deal with interfaith couples, period. Discouraging. But at last, a congregation that called itself Reform agreed to revow us. Its leader, guide and navigator came to talk to us at the apartment we had rented in a street behind Budapest’s Belle Epoque parliament building.

“Hi, I’m Ferenc,” the rabbi said to us, walking in.

He was a robust 60-year-old with a light Hungarian accent, friendly, hands-on, beaming American nonconformity. Rabbi Ferenc Raj, whose stature in today’s Judaism I’ll not detail — Google him if you want; he’s far from being obscure — was the only congregation leader who agreed to remarry us despite the interfaith kink. 

We’ll make the service quintessential, he told us. When the groom (me) is told to say, “According to the law of Moses and Israel,” we shall say, “According to the law of God.” For God — he smiled at both of us — is God for all, not for the chosen alone. At last, the groom crushes the glass. (I’d always wanted to do that!)

Surely, this felt so momentous because Iris’ family memories drifted so richly above this city by the Danube — where her mother and uncles hid with fake papers in 1944, helped by the occasional well-meaning Catholic. Iris and I visited the Dohany Street Synagogue, one of the largest in the world, where footsteps from the past resounded in our minds. Compared to the tests and trials of 1944, this year of 2013 should be like a breeze of reconciliation. Well …  

On this mild September afternoon, up in the Buda Hills, in a family’s backyard, standing inside a sukkah — the model of all sacred Jewish spaces, even the wedding canopy, Rabbi Raj explained — Iris and I were rejoined. In attendance, including our son and daughter, were some 30 people only. Careful they were, almost like refugees. Because they were Reform, a sect still fighting to be officially recognized in today’s Hungary. 

I felt so many things on that afternoon. 

I felt the presence of my own tragically departed ones, starting with my deceased twin brother, whom communism killed. I felt reconnected with my wife, and with my deepest lone self. The ritual was too primal not to touch hidden-most memories, which unlocked and flowed in abundance. We drank blessed wine, my woman and I, surrounded by unprepossessing Reform worshippers who deserve to be accepted even if there were just a handful of them. 

To my readers: Take note that such exclusions still exist. Help leaders like Rabbi Raj — through inclusiveness of them and others, the past might have been different. Help people like Rabbi Raj, even if you’re not Reform or not even religious. 

I could write more about the passive-aggressive relationship of Europe’s Eastern lands to their Jews. Hungary’s erraticism is up there, and then some. When you pass the plaques on this and that building, you’re reminded that Budapest birthed Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb — on the plaque, his name is duly Hungarized, Teller Ede. Equally honored, Herzl Tivadar. Huh, who? THEODORE HERZL? Hey, you’re ours again, Tivadar! I felt like moaning: Would the real Europe ever stand up and say, “I regret that I oppressed my Jewish sons and daughters who so often carried my name to the heights. I repent, I do. Deeply and sincerely, I weep over my cruelty and vow not to restart it!” 

Oh well. Evil didn’t stop in 1945, and doesn’t target Jews only.  See what’s happening right now to the ancient minority Christians, burned in their churches, routinely killed, in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, while the world is in busy conference talking about anything else but that. 

Let’s all do the little that we can do. Like, let’s all remarry. 

You know what I mean.


Petru Popescu is a Romanian-born, best-selling novelist. He lives with his family in Beverly Hills.

How to buy the best diamond wedding ring for your buck


When Jeremy Ziskind of Pico-Robertson proposed last year to his then-girlfriend, Allyson Marcus, he had a basic idea of what kind of engagement ring he would give his future wife.

“Allyson told me pretty early on in our relationship that she loved the idea of a heart-shaped ring,” he said. “So I knew that’s what I wanted to get.”

Relying on a tip from a friend, Ziskind searched for rings on

I am my beloved’s: How to avoid making your wedding day one to forget


It’s no secret that all the planning and decisions required to pull off a wedding can cause stress and worry. From flower designs to musical selections, there are a million things that might drive you meshugge.

But that doesn’t mean you have to accept that there will be unavoidable hiccups and “oy vey!” moments. With a few insider tips, you can avoid some problems the way you avoid Aunt Helen’s chopped liver.

No matter what happens, remember to enjoy the experience. At the end of it all, you still get to marry the love of your life. 

Stay on your chair

During the horah, tradition calls for the newlywed couple to be lifted up in chairs and raised above the crowd like royalty. It’s fun! It’s festive! It could leave you with a co-pay at the ER! 

No need for that. Just make sure your venue has two armchairs. The arms keep you stable, and you’ll also have something to hold on to as your tushee gets bounced around. Be sure to tell your venue coordinator or wedding planner that this is a must-have and that your designated lifters should grab the correct chairs.

Keep your dress white

During your ceremony, you’ll be instructed to take sips of wine. But in all your excitement to get down with a little “borei p’ri hagafen,” you might giggle or get shaky and then — drip! — wine on your dress. Avoid a mess and heartache. Use white wine in your Kiddush cup so that if any spills, it won’t be as obvious. 

Think about your ink

When it comes to your ketubah, you should use only the best pen to sign your John Hancockstein. After all, you’ve spent a lot of time selecting the right words and artwork, and most likely you’ll want to hang it in a special place in your home. So why would you use an office pen? Or a permanent marker? 

Those inks will fade or ruin the fine ketubah paper. Make sure to use an archival pen with a fine point. Go to your local art supply store. They’ll point you in the right direction. 

Break the glass, not your foot

At the end of the ceremony, the groom stomps on the glass that’s wrapped in a cloth or bag and the guests yell, “Mazel tov!” That’s a perfect scenario. What if the groom steps on the glass and then … crickets! … It doesn’t break?

Avoid this scenario or you’ll have over-eager bubbes shouting, “Mazel tov!” over whole, unbroken glass. Grooms, take note: Use your heel — not your toe — when stepping on the glass. More pressure and control can come from the heel, and you’ll hear that perfect crunch that leaves no doubt that you just tied the knot. For bonus points, step on the glass with your heel on a hard surface. Avoid sand or grass, and try to make sure your chuppah ceremony takes place somewhere paved. 

Why you should yichud

After your ceremony, you’ll be giddy with hot-off-the-presses newlywed excitement. You’ll probably want to join your guests and start the party off with drinks and appetizers at cocktail hour. I urge you: Wait. Take a breath. Enjoy some private time with your spouse. 

This period of seclusion is called yichud, and it’s a special moment to be alone together after you leave the chuppah. Back in the day, this would be the time that the couple would consummate their marriage, but if that doesn’t sound all that sexy to you, that’s OK. No pressure. Consider this as your time to savor all that you experienced together under the chuppah. Your guests will be fine, and you won’t miss out on much. 

Have the venue coordinator or your wedding planner bring you a special spread of food and drinks so you can share your first married bites and sips together. Take a few minutes alone together to reflect and collect yourselves — and finally relax! Then you can rejoin your friends and family and continue the party.


Alison Friedman is owner and editor-in-chief of The Wedding Yentas (theweddingyentas.com), an online guide for Jewish brides. She lives in Thousand Oaks. 

Outmoded divorce law leading to back-alley beatings a real shandah


The FBI arrested two prominent Orthodox Jewish rabbis and two of their associates overnight Oct. 9 in New York. Allegedly, these rabbis arranged back-alley beatings for men who refuse to divorce their wives. Understanding their alleged crimes requires a short background in Jewish law.

Jewish law recognizes that some marriages may end in divorce, and includes provisions for how it should be done. In order to divorce in Jewish law, the husband, who accepted the responsibilities of marriage and the financial obligations of divorce at the wedding ceremony, must formally end the marriage with a divorce document, a “get.” This document must be given by the husband to the wife.

Most divorces go smoothly, with the parties in full cooperation. The husband gives the get and all ties are severed. However, there are a significant number of cases in which a recalcitrant husband refuses to give the get. It can be for financial reasons, it can be for vindictive reasons and it can be simply because the husband is holding out hope for reconciliation. Whatever the reason, when a husband does not give his wife a get, she is chained to him and cannot remarry under Jewish law. We call this woman an agunah.

Few things play at the heartstrings in a more profound way than the agunah. The woman is a double victim. She is a victim of an arcane, one-sided system of dissolving a marriage, and she is a victim of a husband who is taking advantage of that system.

A woman can become desperate for her get. It can begin to consume her life. Protests and social pressure might help, but sometimes the recalcitrant husband digs in his heels.

In extreme cases, the woman in these dire straits would call the two rabbis who were arrested on Wednesday evening. For a fee, the FBI describes, these rabbis would make the husband “an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Allegedly, the rabbis’ thugs would physically coerce deadbeat husbands to give their desperate wives a get. Using props more familiar to mob films and torture scenes, the FBI complaint describes, the thugs would beat husbands until they actually handed over a signed get. Perhaps most shocking of all is that their actions, according to the complaint, were sanctioned by a rabbinical court.

It’s a clumsy solution, but it has precedent in Jewish law. It has its roots in the Talmud and is explicitly codified by Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorce 2:20).

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin explains the precedent well in his book “Jewish Wisdom”:

“Because the Rabbis were conscious of the inherent unfairness in divorce laws, over the centuries they established new laws to protect women. The tenth-century Rabbi Gershom, who also issued a decree against polygamy, legislated that it was illegal to divorce a woman against her will, a law that has remained in effect since. During the twelfth century, Maimonides ruled that if a man refused to grant a divorce to a woman who was entitled to it, he was to be whipped without mercy until he did so (Mishneh Torah, “Laws of Divorce,” 2:20). The legal precedent for his ruling was the talmudic law, “If a man refused to give a woman a divorce, he is forced until he declares ‘I am willing’ (Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 50a). That Maimonides was willing to accept as voluntary a statement elicited by whipping indicates how anxious he was to assist a woman who was being mistreated.”

However, in the United States this kind of activity is illegal, and the public is painting these rabbis as villains.

It’s not so simple. In the ugly mess of the agunah crisis, these rabbis could be a woman’s only hope. While I can’t condone violence, and while I can’t support thuggery, we must see these rabbis for what they are. They are knights in shining armor for these chained women. Like our favorite fictional vigilante, they may not be the hero that we want or deserve, but sometimes they are the hero that we need.

Disgusted might not adequately describe our feeling over the allegations of violence and Mafia-like tactics toward recalcitrant husbands, but these rabbis were heroes to women left with no options.

There is no doubt that these arrests will serve as another wake-up call to the Orthodox Jewish community. The agunah crisis must be solved.

One solution for preventing an agunah crisis is the Halachic Prenup. This is available and comes recommended by foremost rabbinic authorities. The prenuptial agreement triggers a daily fine of $150 if a husband withholds a get. It’s not a very elegant solution, but it works. The Halachic Prenup is gaining traction and hopefully our discomfort with violent solutions will push more rabbis to insist on it at every wedding they officiate.

Perhaps there is also an alternative solution: a conditional get that triggers after an agreed-upon event. There are halachic nuances that would be required to make it work, but I believe there is a way. Perhaps all Orthodox Jewish marriages should include a conditional get that triggers with a specific future event. If the husband refuses to give a new get during subsequent divorce proceedings, the conditional get takes effect. I think it’s at least an option worth exploring.

Until such time that all Orthodox Jewish marriages are subject to the Halachic Prenup or some other preemptive solution we will have an agunah issue. That it came to violence in the most recently reported case is a very sad commentary on what it feels like to be an agunah.

That rabbis were inflicting violence is a terrible consequence. But the real villains are the recalcitrant husbands. Let’s not forget that these rabbis were heroes to the chained women. But at the same time, we should not need such complicated heroes. There are preemptive solutions, and they must become universally instituted.

A version of this column originally appeared in Haaretz.


Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D., is the rabbi at Pacific Jewish Center/The Shul on the Beach in Venice. Connect with Rabbi Fink through Facebook, Twitter or e-mail. He blogs at finkorswim.com

Married and dating: Polyamorous Jews share love, seek acceptance


Bud Izen wasn't prepared for the reaction he received the first time he brought his two girlfriends with him to synagogue in Eugene, Ore.

The rabbi stopped the trio in the parking lot outside the synagogue and grilled Izen’s partners about whether or not they were really Jewish. Izen hasn't been back since, but he and his girlfriend — now his wife — still engage in polyamory, the practice of having more than one intimate partner at a time.

A number of partners have been part of the couple's relationship since Izen, 64, and Diane Foushee, 56, first got together 3 1/2 years ago. Now they are seeking a third partner in the hopes of forming a stable three-way relationship, or triad.

“We want to use the relationship that we have to bridge our way to the next relationship,” said Foushee, “so that each of us in turn is given strength.”

Polyamory, often shortened to poly, is a term that first came into circulation in the 1990s. It is distinct from swinging in that it typically entails more than just sex, and from polygamy, where the partners are not necessarily married. Polyamorous relationships often are hierarchical, including a “primary” relationship between a couple that can be supplemented by a “secondary” relationship with a girlfriend, boyfriend or both.

Such arrangements remain far from mainstream acceptance. But in the wake of the progress made by gay and lesbian Jews in winning communal recognition for non-traditional partnerships, some polyamorous Jews are pushing to have their romantic arrangements similarly accepted.

“The only kind of queers who are generally accepted in some sects are monogamous married queers, upstanding queers,” said Mai Li Pittard, 31, a Jewish poly activist from Seattle. “Judaism right now is very oriented towards having 2.5 kids, a picket fence and a respectable job. There’s not a lot of respect for people on the fringe.”

A former editor of ModernPoly.com, a nationwide polyamory website, Pittard has been polyamorous for 10 years and is currently involved with three partners — two men and one woman. She is a violinist and vocalist in a fusion hip-hop klezmer band, the Debaucherantes, and likes to engage in culture jamming, the mixing of seemingly disparate cultural elements. Combining polyamory and Judaism is one example of that.

“For me, polyamory and Judaism make a lot of sense together,” Pittard said. “When I’m singing niggunim or hosting people at my Shabbat table, it’s just another way of experiencing a connection with a group of people.”

Pittard is frustrated by what she describes as a “white-bread,” conformist Jewish culture that refuses to accept polyamorous relationships. But some Jewish communities have been more accepting than others.

“It's easier to be open about polyamory at temple than it is with my professional colleagues,” said Rachel, a 28-year-old San Francisco business owner who asked that her last name be withheld. “My particular segment of the Jewish community likes me because I’m different and they accept that being poly is part of that.”

Others are more conflicted about their polyamorous and Jewish identities.

Ian Osmond, 39, a Boston-area bartender and former Hebrew school teacher who has been in a polyamorous marriage for 10 years, says he believes the rabbinic ruling that prohibited polygamy nearly a millennium ago has expired. Still, Osmond worries that his behavior is inconsistent with Jewish law.

“I do feel there’s a conflict between polyamory and Judaism,” said Osmond, who is dating several women. “I feel that what we are doing is not supported by halachah.”

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of American Jewish University in Los Angeles and a longtime champion of gay inclusion in the Jewish community, draws the line when it comes to polyamory.

“First of all, the depth of the relationship is much greater if it’s monogamous,” Dorff said. “The chances that both partners are going to be able to fulfill all the obligations of a serious intimate relationship are much greater in a monogamous relationship. I would say the same to gay or straight couples: There should be one person you live your life with.”

But some poly Jews say they have pursued other relationships precisely because their partners were unable to fulfill all their needs. Izen began exploring polyamory because his wife has crippling migraines and other health problems that make sex impossible. Osmond did so because his wife is asexual.

“She’s just not interested in sex, and therefore it didn't bother her if I was interested in sex and had sex with other people,” Osmond said. “Lis and I are comfortable with each other, and emotionally careful.”

For more than a decade, poly Jews have connected with one another on the email list AhavaRaba — roughly translated “big love” in Hebrew. The list’s 200-plus members come from across the country and use the forum to discuss jealousy, breakups, child rearing in multiple relationships and, in one case, a poly gathering in a sukkah. They also address the challenges of being poly in a community in which monogamy and marriage are still considered the ideal.

That tension manifested itself for Pittard in a recent discussion with poly friends who were considering attending a couples wine-tasting event hosted by JConnect Seattle, a networking site for Jewish young adults.

“We were talking and we said, well, does this also make you slightly uncomfortable, having to choose which of your partners to bring to something like this? Do you feel like if you showed up with both of your partners, or all three, they’d look at you weird?' Pittard recalled. “A lot of people are closeted for fear of judgment.”

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi at New York’s gay synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, says she tries to avoid that sort of judgment in her rabbinic practice. Polyamory, she says, is a choice that does not preclude a Jewishly observant, socially conscious life.

“People make all different kinds of choices, and many choices have complex issues related to them,” Kleinbaum told JTA. “The important thing is for all of us to be asking ourselves hard questions about how to create non-exploitative, profoundly sacred lives within the different choices that exist.”

Poly Jews occasionally invoke the multiples wives and concubines typical of the biblical patriarchs as evidence that their relationships can indeed be sacred. But one poly Jew who asked to remain anonymous because of her connections to an Orthodox institution said those role models only go so far.

“I acknowledge that in some sense there’s an inherent conflict, there is a sense in which classical Jewishness is built in separation, reservation, the enforcing of boundaries,” she said. “I think there has to be some more work towards an authentically Jewish way of constructing the notion of polyamory beyond the superficial answer of 'hey, that’s how they married in the Torah, right?’ ”

Relationship advice: Marry young


I know the arguments that people give for delaying marriage: 

“I’m not ready.”

“I need to be financially secure first.”

“Right now, I’m preoccupied with ____” (fill in the blank).

“To tell you the truth, I’m having too much fun to settle down.” (This argument is usually offered by males — and generally told only to other males.)

Others cite data suggesting that marrying later means less likelihood of divorcing.

I would like to make some arguments on behalf of early marriage.

The first and best argument for early marriage — providing, of course, that one meets a good person and believes this person will also be a good parent and/or provider — is that it forces you to grow up.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — makes us grow up as much as marriage does. Children are a close second, but the maturity leap from singlehood to marriage is still greater than the maturity leap from marriage without children to marriage with children.

The problem today is that becoming mature is not even on the list of most young people’s life goals. If anything, staying immature — committing to no one and remaining dependent on others — is more of a goal.

That is what “not ready” usually means.

Putting aside the financial issue, which we will address, “not ready” almost always means not willing — not “not ready” — to take on the permanent commitment to someone else that marriage entails.

Why were people throughout history ready to commit to marriage at a much younger age than people today? Only because society expected them to become adults at a younger age than today. Nothing makes you an adult as much as responsibility does. And no responsibility makes you an adult as much as marital responsibility.

And why, even today, are religious Jewish and Christian young men and women ready to marry in their early 20s? Because their values and their culture expect them to.

Let’s be honest. “I’m not ready” is usually a statement of emotional immaturity even when the person is otherwise a wonderful and responsible man or woman. 

As for the financial aspect of “not ready,” this is puzzling. People who say this may be entirely sincere, but they may also be fooling themselves. For one thing, two people living together cuts many costs almost in half. For another, nothing spurs hard work as much as marriage (and family) does. Married men make more money than single men. Moreover, many of the happiest and most bonding memories of couples are the early days when they financially struggled.

Another argument pertains to each sex separately. 

To women, I would argue that:

a) More good marriageable men are available when a woman is 23 than when she is 33, not to mention 43. To deny this is to deny reality. To dismiss this as “sexist” is to complain that life is sexist. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether it is “sexist”; all that matters is whether it is true.

b) She will learn little more about men and relationships by either going from relationship to relationship after college or by living with a man for many years without marrying. In other words, all those years a woman spends avoiding looking for a man to marry are largely wasted. There is rarely major emotional growth — this is just as true for men — during those unmarried years. And, in the meantime, she might have been able to find a good man and begin the most satisfying thing in life — making a home and, hopefully, a family. 

c) The notion that marriage will interfere with her career means she believes that, in the long run, career success will bring her greater joy and happiness than marital success. For the vast majority of women, this is not true. Young women who do not believe this should speak to successful single women in their 40s.

To men, I would argue that:

Guys who spend their lives avoiding marriage are, as a general rule, not impressive. That is one reason committed bachelors rarely get elected to high office. Neither sex thinks much of them. I understand men “sowing their wild oats” in the belief that it can help later on in life if they are plagued with curiosity about what it would be like to be with another woman. But after a certain age, chasing women is quite pathetic, and men doing so are spinning their wheels in terms of personal growth. Unfortunately, not all men want to grow up — just ask all the women looking for a man who complain of a surfeit of “man-boys.” 

I learned all this first from traditional Judaism, and later from life and from callers to my radio show. 

In order to be a judge on the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, a man had to be married and a father. Also, in traditional Jewish life, a man could not wear a tallit (prayer shawl) in synagogue until he was married. It was the community’s unsubtle way of telling males that until they committed to a woman in marriage, they were still considered a boy.

There are, of course, exceptions. But in general, boys and girls stay single. If they want to become men and women, they marry.


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

At long last, lasting love


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Married, but not in Israel


Located in the eastern Mediterranean, the island of Cyprus feels very familiar to Israelis, due to its warm climate, arid stretches of mountainous land filled with olive trees and beautiful beaches.

Not a bad place for a wedding, right?

Every year, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, about 20,000 Israeli couples get married outside of Israel, many of them in Cyprus. But it wasn’t the dream of a destination wedding, or of getting married in far-flung yet familiar-seeming territory that shaped the decisions.

Many simply felt they had little choice but to marry abroad: Israel’s religious authorities — the only entities authorized to perform weddings in Israel — are prohibited from marrying couples unless both partners share the same religion. To have their marriages recognized by the Ministry of the Interior for the purpose of spousal benefits, mixed-religion couples must have civil marriages abroad. 

“Civil union” has been available since 2010, but only for the very small number of couples of which both partners have “no religion” listed on their government I.D. cards. As of early this past summer, only about 80 couples have entered into an Israeli civil union, most likely because anyone born into a family with a stated religion isn’t eligible. 

Israel actually has a common-law arrangement through New Family, an organization that advocates equality for all families. Partners are issued Domestic Union Cards, which serve as legal proof of status as common-law spouses in most (though not all) institutions in Israel and many abroad. But it is not the full-fledged marriage that most Israelis and their parents have long dreamed about.  

A growing number of couples — no one knows how many — of the same religion, who could therefore marry in Israel, also fly abroad for a quick civil marriage ceremony to avoid having to deal with the notoriously bureaucratic Orthodox rabbinate, or its Muslim and Christian equivalents.

An entire industry, most notably on the island of Cyprus and in the Czech Republic, has grown up around the phenomenon of overseas weddings. And it doesn’t cater just to Israelis.

The Web site of Cyprus Wedding Celebrations, a company based near Limassol, offers information in a variety of languages, including Russian, Ukrainian, Dutch and Hebrew. Dina Martjens, the company’s founder, said in a phone interview that she annually arranges 50 to 80 weddings for overseas couples, many of them from Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.

There are thousands of couples who are eligible to be married in their home countries, “but want to avoid the Big Fat Greek Wedding so common in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon and Israel, where you have to invite the whole kibbutz,” Martjens said, referring to the lavish affairs common in many societies.

Because Cyprus issues a marriage certificate the same day as the wedding, most Israeli couples return home the day of the civil ceremony. A small number stay longer to enjoy a honeymoon by the beach or head for one of the many quaint villages that dot the countryside. 

Companies based in both Israel and Cyprus arrange flights and ground transport, book the wedding venue, and secure the wedding license and marriage certificate. They can arrange for witnesses and post-wedding fees and ensure that all the documentation gets to the right clerk. 

“Those who come just for the day get married at the municipality. They wait their turn, and the actual ceremony takes seven minutes,” Martjens said.

Wedding in Cyprus, an Israeli agency that specializes in weddings on that island and in the Czech city of Prague, serves 1,200 couples a year, roughly 60 percent of them unable to marry through the rabbinate.  

“The rest are Jews who don’t want to make a wedding via the rabbinate, and there are also a small number of Arab couples — one spouse Muslim, one Christian,” said Igal Lukianovsky, the agency’s owner.

Eighty percent of Lukianovsky’s clients marry in Cyprus because it takes less than an hour to fly there from Tel Aviv and it is relatively inexpensive. Wedding in Cyprus, for example, offers a one-day, all-inclusive wedding package starting at 520 euros ($690) and a two-night package for 570 euros ($755). A single day in Prague will cost a couple 700 euros ($928).   

Arranging a wedding in Prague is more complicated, Lukianovsky said, because Czech authorities require more documents than the Cypriot authorities.

That didn’t deter Roey Tzezan, a Haifa-based scientist, from having a civil ceremony in Prague three years ago, despite the fact that both he and his now-wife, Gali Alon, are Jewish.

“We don’t like the way the rabbinate has a monopoly over marriage and its attitude toward women and human rights in general,” Tzezan said.

The couple also opted for a Masorti/Conservative wedding in Israel, even though it wasn’t recognized by Israeli authorities.

“We’re extremely connected to the deep roots of Jewish tradition and feel it’s important to remain part of the Jewish world. At the same time, as long as the rabbinate dictates norms to the Israeli nation, we cannot consider ourselves fully part of Israel’s Jewish community.”

Uri Regev, president of Israel’s Hiddush-For Freedom of Religion and Equality, said marrying abroad isn’t a solution to the religious establishment’s “monopoly” on marriage and divorce.

“Many Jewish couples don’t realize that marrying in Cyprus doesn’t exempt them from falling into the rabbinical courts if the marriage ends in divorce. And if they’re not Jewish, dissolving the marriage is even more complicated.”

Regev said that opinion polls show that “a clear majority” of Israelis “want freedom of marriage” — the right to an Orthodox, non-Orthodox or civil marriage that will be recognized by the state.

“Israelis want the same rights people enjoy in every normal democracy,” Regev said. 

A short history of Jewish intermarriage


JTA’s Uriel Heilman reported this week on the continuing evolution of Jewish attitudes toward intermarriage. After the clarion call of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey showed a 52 percent intermarriage rate among American Jews, Jewish groups poured millions into efforts to stem what was seen as a threat to the future of the community.

Intermarriage has long been an issue of concern to American Jews. In 1926, the marriage of “Miss Mina Kirstein” of Boston to a non-Jew was considered worthy of a news item in the Jewish Daily Bulletin, the precursor to JTA’s Daily Briefing.  But the degree of fear engendered by intermarriage, not to mention its frequency, has ebbed and flowed over the years.

In 1967, a study by the Reform movement’s rabbinical group found that intermarriage rates were actually lower than they had been in the early days of North America’s settlement by Europeans. Between 1654 and 1840, the study found, there were 942 Jewish marriages, only about 15 percent of which were between Jews and Christians. The low rate may have owed something to the fact that large majorities of Catholics and Protestants at the time opposed marriage to Jews.

Back in the 1960s, long before the NJPS, solid evidence of intermarriage rates was lacking, but what did exist pegged the rate lower than what had existed in the first two centuries after the Pilgrims arrived. The federal census bureau put the intermarriage rate at 7 percent.

Two years after the Reform study, a woman identified only as Mrs. Moses Richler told a conference of Jewish women that if current trends persist, there would be no Jews in Canada in “four or five generations.” Mrs. Richler said that in 1968, 18 percent of Jewish men and 12 percent of Jewish women married out.

Since then, the rates have grown dramatically (and, last we checked, there were still Jews in Canada). Jewish consternation over the issue has also risen. Following the 1990 survey, several academics concluded that Jewish engagement was far lower among intermarried couples and the Jewish community should focus its resources on combatting intermarriage and providing avenues of engagement for the in-married. Others argued that if effective outreach was made to intermarried families, they too could be drawn into the Jewish fold.

A similar debate has unfolded over the decades within the religious denominations. The Reform movement has wrestled with the issue most prominently, particularly over the question of whether rabbis should officiate at interfaith weddings, gradually coming to the view that rabbis should perform such weddings in the hope that a welcoming approach could increase the odds of future Jewish engagement.  The Conservative movement, which long considered itself less vulnerable to the threat of intermarriage, had to reconsider that position after 1991, when the NJPS found that the intermarriage rate in the movement was not 5 percent, but 28 percent  Among the Orthodox, which maintain the most uncompromising stance toward intermarriage, the threat was recognized far earlier. in 1979, Rabbi Bernard Rosenzweig, the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said intermarriage had reached “catastrophic levels” and formed a commission to fight it.

In recent years, the intermarriages of several high profile Jews have both driven home the reality of American Jewish nuptials and raised further questions. An essay by Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman in the New York Times in 2007 challenged the decision by his Orthodox alma mater in Boston to eliminate his Korean-American wife from a photograph. The 2010 marriage between Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky prompted a debate over whether to celebrate the extent of Jewish inclusion in the corridors of American power or lament yet another soul lost to the community.

Meanwhile, the trend lines continue as they have for decades. This year, Naomi Schaefer Riley reported that intermarriage rates are rising among all American religions, but are highest among Jews.

Los Angeles rabbis respond to Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8


The Jewish Journal invited rabbis from throughout Los Angeles to contribute their thoughts and reactions to the Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage. The following is a sampling of what we have received and we will be adding more as we receive more responses.


Rabbi Ken Chasen, Leo Baeck Temple

I will always remember where I was on the day that marriage equality won its defining victories in the Supreme Court.

The news flashed across the screen on my phone as my congregants and I were ascending toward Jerusalem.  I took the microphone on our tour bus, announced the rulings, and was overcome with chills as the exhilarating sound of joyful cheers erupted spontaneously.  Very suddenly, the 7500 miles that separated us from Los Angeles seemed to disappear… just as a new layer of meaning in our pilgrimage to the Holy City was born.

To be sure, there is so much more work to be done.  There are so many states in the U.S. where same gender marriage remains under legal assault.  There are so many persistent forms of discrimination that continue to diminish the character of our nation.  But today, we can celebrate this reminder of the power found in the relentless yearning to affirm all of humanity as creatures fashioned in God’s image.  Could there be a more redemptive message to find its way to a group of Jewish travelers headed into Jerusalem?

I have made the uphill trek into this golden city many times in my life, but this was an arrival that I will never forget.  May this renewal of hope that the longest battles for justice can ultimately be won lift us ever higher – both at home in America and in our people’s long-treasured home.


Rabbi Laura Geller, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

Close to fifteen years ago I officiated at the Jewish wedding of two lesbian friends. Though legal marriage was not an option, they wanted their relationship to be blessed by our tradition. Both of them, thoughtful and serious students of Judaism,  wanted to create a ritual that was both authentically Jewish and at the same time acknowledged the difference between a heterosexual  and a lesbian ceremony. They carefully reflected on each part of the traditional wedding ceremony, determining what should be included, what needed to be changed and what should be added. Years later they reaffirmed their vows in another ceremony when gay marriage was legal in California. It was in their second ceremony that I first truly understood the significance of the words: “By the power vested in me by the State of California.”

Just last month I officiated at the Jewish  wedding of other lesbian friends, also serious and thoughtful students of Judaism.  Though legal marriage was again not an option because of Prop 8, planning their wedding with them was a very different experience from my first.  They chose to have a ceremony that  was exactly like every other wedding ceremony:  same words, same blessings, same symbols. The only change was that the references to “ bride and groom” were changed to “bride and bride.” I asked them why they were not more concerned about adapting the ceremony and their answer was clear:  “ours is a Jewish wedding pure and simple.  We don’t have to jump through any hoops or make any significant changes. This ceremony is our inheritance.  We want to claim it as ours without apology.”

Because I couldn’t say:” By the power vested in me by the State of California” they went to Washington State to sign a legal marriage license. Now, in response the  Supreme Court’s decision on Prop 8, I can invoke the power vested in me by the State of California and declare them married in accordance with the laws of the State of California and our Jewish faith. Now we are so much closer to the truth of their experience:  a gay or lesbian Jewish wedding, like a Jewish heterosexual wedding, is a Jewish wedding pure and simple. It is the inheritance of every loving Jewish couple.  


Rabbi Jocee Hudson, Temple Israel of Hollywood

A few months ago, I sat alongside two same-sex couples from my congregation, presenting to a room filled with 7th graders.  The couples, both legally married in the months preceding Proposition 8 and parents of young children in our schools, were talking with the students about their lives and experiences of being gay and Jewish.

When it came time to discuss the right to marry, I used my own life as on object lesson.  “I am engaged,” I told them.  They clapped and smiled.  “I am getting married in a Jewish ceremony and all my friends and family are coming.  But, I can’t get legally married, because I am a woman marrying a woman.  I don’t have the right to do that.  I can sign a marriage license as an officiating rabbi, but I can’t sign it as a bride.” 

The students’ looks of confusion, alarm, and outrage told me everything I needed to know about the next generation’s commitment to equality.  What a healing moment it was for me when their eyes met mine.  They are used to seeing me give directions, lead services, teach, speak, and direct.  In that moment, as in so many others, I felt the fullness of the humiliation, indignity, and inequality that yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions now reverse in the state of California.

Next year’s 7th grade lesson is going to be a very different conversation!


On this side of history
by Rabbi Heather Miller

Rabbi Heather Miller, right, and her wife Melissa de la Rama on their wedding, July 21.

What does it feel like
when a human-made law
tells you your relationship isn't worth as much as that of others
even when you've been together 10 years, 20 years, 60 years?
What does it feel like for your religious marriage ceremony to not be backed by your government?

Before today, I couldn't tell you, because I had nothing to compare it to.

But today, on this side of history, I can say
that it feels like sunshine breaking through the clouds.
That the Creator is shining down
renewing the covenantal promise
that we are indeed created in the Divine image.
It feels like a heavy rush hour traffic suddenly clearing
and all road blocks have been taken away.
It feels like we are 10,000 feet up and now free to move about the cabin.
It feels like news that a disease has gone into remission.

One of life's major obstacles have been removed
and instead of our government working against our family unit,
it is supporting it, rooting for us.

It feels like we are marching through the parted waters of the Red Sea,
on our way to freedom.

It feels like people have confidence in our ability to make the world a beautiful place,
instead of begrudgingly tolerating us.

It feels like justice.
It feels like intentional, sincere hugs and cheers.
It feels joyous, empowering and deeply affirming.

It feels like we are a true part of the community and that we are blessed.

Rabbi Heather Miller serves several congregational communities in Los Angeles, CA. Prior to ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2008, she majored in Peace and Justice Studies and Africana Studies at Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA. She and her wife, Melissa de la Rama, were named the 2013 Liberty Hill Foundation “Leaders to Watch.” Learn more at www.rabbiheathermiller.com.


Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Beth Chayim Chadashim

Today the chupah is up and reservations are once again being accepted!

I remember like it was yesterday — how blessed I felt and how busy I was — during the short window of time ( 4½ months) in 2008  when same gender marriage was legal in California.  And I well remember too how it all came to an abrupt and teary halt in November 2008 when Prop. 8 passed in California. 

Of course not all has been resolved with today’s interesting U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  Much remains to be done (including work to overcome some of the Court’s other decisions earlier this week).  But we can stop for a moment anyway from the ongoing struggle — stop to say a shehekhiyanu and celebrate this step forward.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, 5 sisters — Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah — boldly step forward to plead their case for justice, and in so doing help change their society (Numbers 27:1-11).   How many plaintiffs, how many attorneys, how many brave souls through the generations followed in their footsteps, stepping up to make a case for justice?  We are their descendants and beneficiaries — and today we as a nation grow stronger because of them.  Mazel tov to us all!  Let the weddings begin!


Rabbi Denise L. Eger, Congregation Kol Ami of West Hollywood

Today is a true historic day! A moment when you can feel the chains of bondage breaking. The Supreme Court has ruled that DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act is dead.  The Gay and Lesbian married couples cannot be denied federal rights and benefits. And Proposition 8, the hateful ballot proposition in California that went into affect in November 2008 taking away the right to marry is also history.  The court ruled that the people who sponsored Prop 8,who took the case to court when the State of California Governor and Attorney General refused to sponsor the court case, had no standing to do so.  Thus Prop 8 is dead.

While the Supreme Court avoided ruling on a sweeping marriage equality platform across the United States, the ruling means that now in 13 states (including CA) and the District of Columbia where marriage is legal, the Feds must recognize that marriage in the over 1138 rights and benefits and privileges at the Federal level. 

These include according to the Williams Institute at UCLA, the opportunity to sponsor a foreign born spouse for permanent resident status the same as heterosexual couples.  There are over 24,700 bi-national same-sex couples who can finally get out of limbo.

The Death of DOMA means that gay and lesbian couples no longer have to pay higher federal taxes on health care provided by an employer in the private sector.  Straight married couples do not pay income tax when the husband or wife is enrolled in their spouse health plan.  Gay couples have paid over $1000 in taxes previously.  The Death of DOMA means that surviving widows will be able to access survivor benefits through Social Security.  At present no gay and lesbian married couple could.  The Death of DOMA means  that couples will be married no matter where they go as the full faith and credit clause stands! 

The marriage equality fight isn't over in the United States. There are many places where gay men and lesbians cannot legally wed.  And there are 33 states in the US where you can still be fired for being gay!  That is why it is time for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to pass the House and Senate.  The marriage equality and adoption rights must still be fought state by state.

We aren't full citizens yet. But today for sure… a little more.  My congregants are celebrating tonight even as we understand that full equality is not yet here for everyone.  The gutting of the Voting Rights Act still puts our country at great risk. We must live up to the promise of liberty and justice for all.  Even as we celebrate today, the state of Texas is moving to make it more difficult for people of color to vote and only yesterday tried to take away women's reproductive freedom. Until all are free-no one is free. 

But for today I will rejoice a little even as there is still work to be done.

I am grateful to God for this day.  A day of blessing for sure. A day where we feel God's justice showering down upon us and encouraging each of to continue the work of Tikkun Olam-repairing a broken world.


Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, B'nai David

With today’s decision, America becomes truer to itself and to its founding values. In order for this nation to truly be a sweet land of liberty, it must bestow the protections and privileges of citizenship upon all citizens, without regard for creed, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. President Washington promised the Jews of the United States of America that they would live in a land which “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”.  And as Jews, we can appreciate the Supreme Court’s affirmation of this principle today.

Significantly, today’s decision does nothing to infringe upon the right of each religious community to practice according to its own beliefs. This too is an expression of the protections and privileges of citizenship being bestowed equally upon all. Within the Orthodox Jewish community, religious marriage will continue to be only between a man and a woman, for this is the sole definition of marriage that our religious tradition gives us. And at the same time, our community will continue the sacred work of balancing our dual commitments – our commitment to read the entirety of the Torah as God’s word, and our commitment to embrace as deepest theological truth, that God created all people in His image.


Rabbi Zachary R. Shapiro, Temple Akiba of Culver City

Many years ago, a couple arrived about a half hour late for their wedding appointment.  The bride to be said, “Would you believe we had to wait an hour in line to get our wedding application?”  The groom to be said, “It's insane having to go through that to get married.”

At once, they both looked at me and blushed.

For some it takes an hour.  For others it has taken years.  Today, however, we move forward as equals.


Rabbi John Rosove, Temple Israel of Hollywood

I could not be happier to learn of the Supreme Court decision today ruling unconstitutional a 1996 law denying federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples and clearing the way for California to legalize same-sex marriage. This decision enfranchises all loving couples who want nothing more than to enjoy the full benefits of committed marriage relationships that heterosexual married couples enjoy in California. As a Rabbi who believes in the sacred character of love between committed partners regardless of whether they be same gender or heterosexual, I consider this to be an affirmation of all that is truly important for the perpetuation of Jewish family in today's world.

Edgar M. Bronfman: Jewish values dictate protecting gay marriage


In the early 1970s, while I was CEO of the Seagram Company, public dialogue about gay rights was largely nonexistent in corporate America. Social discourse had not yet even evolved into the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ethos that dominated the following decades. Homosexuality was simply not discussed and therefore, by implication, was shameful.

During that time, as the head of a company with thousands of employees, personnel issues often came across my desk. One day, the director of human resources came into my office with a recommendation to terminate one of my brightest executives. I found myself puzzled that anyone would want to fire such a promising young man until the director leaned in and confided in a hushed tone, “Well, you know, he’s a homosexual.”

The declaration did persuade me — but not in the way he had hoped.

The promising young executive continued on to a distinguished career at Seagram, and the HR director was soon let go. Although my choice was shocking to the director, the decision was obvious to me: to fire a person because of their sexual orientation was not only wrong, it was bad business. It was discrimination, plain and simple, and would not be tolerated in the company I ran.

More than 40 years later, I still feel such discrimination to be unequivocally wrong, but my views on the subject of gay rights have evolved. Particularly today, as we celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to recognize the legality of gay marriage, I now see marriage equality as a moral imperative because of my Jewish roots.

Just as the high court has shown moral bravery in its recognition of gay marriage, the Jewish community should follow its example in our myriad communities. As Jews, we should remember that our tradition upholds the bond between two loving people and the families they create as a source of strength and commitment to the betterment of the world.

“Justice” is a word we are taught early in life, and we are reminded constantly that it is a principle we should uphold and promote. In Hebrew, the word tzedek is used to promote acts of loving kindness and righteousness. Its diminutive, tzedakah, is translated as charity, but it is much more. We are taught in the Torah, in the book of Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, Justice shall you pursue.” In Hebrew, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdorf.”

It is a vital, active imperative for the Jewish people to be on the front lines of issues protecting and promoting the rights of any group being treated unfairly. To take approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population and tell them they are second-class citizens is clearly unjust. As Jews we are instructed to seek justice for the stranger, the widow and the orphan because too often society discriminates against and takes advantage of those without advocates.

I have come to see the protection of gay marriage as a manifestation of the Jewish value of seeking justice for those who are enslaved. To those who cover their prejudice with reference to biblical injunctions against homosexuality, I ask if they are willing to live by every other law listed in the Torah. For such literalists, I submit that the very Torah portion of Leviticus that they so often quote also enjoins us to harbor no hatred against our brother and our neighbor.

To freeze Judaism in time because of ancient biblical edicts is to deny that Judaism is a mighty river that moves forward through time, a living entity that changes course and becomes renewed through what it meets on the banks. Like a river, it retains its essential character although it is constantly renewed and evolving.

Today, the Jewish pursuit of justice must channel itself against the denial of marriage equality. For Jews, who have suffered so much throughout history at the hands of prejudice, to stand idly by while any group is treated so unfairly is unequivocally wrong.

I have been inspired in my thinking on gay rights and marriage equality by a woman I have known since she was a teenager. She is now the leader of Keshet, a group that promotes equality for the LGBT community in the Jewish world.

Idit Klein first came to my attention when she was in high school. She was a student on a program I founded called the Bronfman Youth Fellowship that targets Jewish teens of exceptional promise from an array of backgrounds. In my conversations with her over the years, I have learned that the issues facing LGBT Jews are ones on which all Jews need to speak out.

Within the Jewish community we must endeavor to include and celebrate the diversity of families and couples within all aspects of religious, communal and institutional life. When our communities continue to open their tents as our forefather Abraham did, to include all who wish to participate in Jewish life, our people’s possibilities expand and gain strength.


Edgar M. Bronfman, the former CEO of the Seagram Company Ltd., is president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, which seeks to inspire a renaissance of Jewish life. He is the author of “The Bronfman Haggadah” (Rizzoli Press) created in conjunction with his wife, artist Jan Aronson.

AJWS president Ruth Messinger applauds Supreme Court ruling on DOMA & Prop 8


American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger released the following statement today after the Supreme Court ruled in two cases related to marriage equality.

“We applaud today’s historic decisions by the Supreme Court to strike down discriminatory laws as a major victory for equal rights for LGBTI people in the United States,” said Messinger. “We believe that this is one of the necessary steps to ensure that the human rights of people of all sexual orientations are respected everywhere in the world.

“Too many people in too many countries are ostracized, threatened and assaulted just for living their lives and loving others of the same gender. In 76 countries, people can be arrested for having sex with someone of the same gender and in five countries the punishment is the death penalty.

“As the Jewish voice for LBGTI rights worldwide, we are proud to support LGBTI activists in Cambodia, El Salvador, Haiti, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Uganda and elsewhere. These defenders of human rights stand up for the dignity and rights of every person, and they put their lives on the line to defend the human rights of the LGBTI people,” said Messinger.

AJWS is the eighth largest funder of LGBTI rights worldwide. AJWS has granted nearly $5 million to support advocates for LGBTI rights and currently funds 50 organizations promoting the rights of LGBTI people in 18 countries.  


About American Jewish World Service:

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is the leading Jewish organization working to promote human rights and end poverty in the developing world. We support more than 400 grassroots organizations in Africa, Asia and the Americas that promote the rights of women, girls and LGBT people; rebuild societies torn apart by war and natural disasters; and seek to secure access to food, land and water. In the United States, we mobilize our supporters to advocate for U.S. policies that help create a just and equitable world. We are inspired by Judaism’s commitment to pursue justice and repair the world, and we believe that Jewish history teaches us to respect and fight for the rights of others.

What I Married Into


Salt into meat
browned briefly.
 
Carrots, paprika, potatoes.
As it is written on her greased page.
 
I sing Dayenu, improvise verses
as I churn the soup.
 
Meal of bitter herbs I married
into. Chopped apples and cinnamon.
 
Matzos wrapped in linen.
Silver goblet for the prophet.
 
Celebrant out of bondage,
shank of a lineage I’d refused.
 
The woman who loved my husband
without doubt I carry to all things
 
was certain her recipe would not fail,
the matzo ball would be light,
 
our daughters would marry well,
the brisket tender.
 
Mother-in-law of big bosom,
sequin and shocking pink,
 
took me in — hug
into faith I’d waited for. 
 
Today, in my kitchen
littered with pots and peelings,
 
parsley limp in its strainer,
I want her bossing, her sass, soft arms,
 
her gold rings
in the dish by the sink.


Barbara Rockman lives in Santa Fe, N.M., where she teaches poetry at Santa Fe Community College and in private workshops. Her collection “Sting and Nest” received the 2012 National Press Women’s Book Award and the 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award.

Jews vocal on both sides of France’s gay marriage debate


Wide-eyed and smiley, Elay-Gabriel seems utterly unaffected by the French media’s sudden interest in him.

A dozen French journalists have visited the 18-month-old in recent months because he is trapped in a sort of legal limbo: He cannot obtain citizenship because the state does not recognize children born to surrogates abroad as French, even if one of their biological parents is a French national.

Complicating matters is the fact that Elay-Gabriel is being raised by two gay Parisians — Israeli-born Eran and his partner, Jean-Louis. (The family asked that their last name not be published.) Gay couples cannot adopt in France, meaning that surrogacy — and the citizenship uncertainties which follow — are inevitable for gays wishing to raise children.

“We learned singles practically can’t adopt, and gays are all singles in France because we can’t marry,” Eran said.

Much of that could change if President Francois Hollande succeeds in his effort to push legislation through parliament that would allow same-sex marriage in France, a move that has set off a fiery public debate in which Jews have played an outsized role.

In October, Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, breaking with the French rabbinate’s traditional neutrality on issues of civil legislation, penned an essay on the negative effects of gay marriage. Bernheim argued that legalization efforts are made for “the exclusive profit of a tiny minority” and are part of a wider move to “undermine the heterosexual fundamentals of our society.”

France’s association of Jewish homosexuals, Beit Haverim, condemned Bernheim’s language as “bellicose.” But the document has been quoted at length in influential French dailies and was cited approvingly by Pope Benedict, who called it “profoundly moving” during his Christmas address to Vatican officials.

Bernheim’s essay was a notable contrast to the inflammatory reaction of France’s Catholic clergy. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, said in an interview that the law would bring about “social collapse,” adding, “Next they’ll want to have foursomes. Then they’ll legalize incest.”

“When the Catholics spoke against this law, nobody listened because of the vehemence and because they’re Pavlovian opponents of change,” Yeshaya Dalsace, a well-known Conservative rabbi from Paris, told JTA. “People listened to Bernheim because the Jews are known as progressive forces of change in law, medicine, labor — you name it.”

For many, the debate is largely a nominal question of principle, as legal workarounds afford French gays de facto equality in most areas. Parenting, however, is an exception.

In November, Eran met with several French Socialist lawmakers leading the gay marriage effort. On Jan. 29, French media reported that Justice Minister Christiane Taubira ordered authorities to naturalize the dozens of surrogate children like Elay-Gabriel who are living as foreigners in France.

“This is positive, but a directive could be canceled and cannot replace legislation,” Eran said.

Preliminary deliberations on the “marriage for all” bill began in parliament on Jan. 28. With Hollande’s Socialist Party holding a majority in both houses, the law is likely to pass.

Still, the debate has ignited passions. Only a bare majority — 52 percent — supports the law, according to a poll of 1,002 adults published Jan. 13 by the newsweekly Le Point. The first discussion in parliament was preceded by a demonstration in Paris by some 340,000 opponents of the legislation. Another 120,000 demonstrated in favor.

The divide is similarly evident within France’s Jewish community.

Joel Mergui, president of the French Consistoire, a state-recognized body responsible for synagogues and religious Jewish services, spoke out against gay marriage in September, telling Le Monde, “It would change the natural model of the family.”

Dalsace has emerged as something of a spokesman for the other side, penning a 37-page essay and several Op-Eds disputing Bernheim’s reasoning and asserting that the law does not infringe on religious liberties. But while he is routinely quoted by supporters of gay marriage, Dalsace maintains that rabbis should not get involved in debating civil law. His objective in speaking out, Dalsace told JTA, is “to fight the false impression that Bernheim speaks for all Jews.”

While no data exist on where French Jews stand on the gay marriage question, experts say the Jewish community of 550,000 — the world’s third-largest — is gradually becoming more traditional and inclined to oppose Hollande’s law.

“The affiliated Jewish community of France is becoming more and more religious and traditional, and that is part of the influence of the large North African contingent which arrived here in the 1950s and '60s,” said Gideon Kouts, head of the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Culture at Paris 8 University.

Whether or not religious opposition to the law is sufficient to prevent its passage is an open question, but it's certainly not going to deter the French president. In an article in Le Figaro last month about an “informal talk” he had with a group of clergymen that included Bernheim, Hollande made clear that he planned to stand his ground.

“We don’t make laws based on demonstrations,” Hollande said. “[Because] if we did, we'd be letting the street decide.”

The queerness of love: A Jewish case for same-sex marriage


Last year, I officiated at the first same-sex wedding in the 145-year history of my synagogue.  For a Conservative congregation, this was quite a break with tradition.  Nevertheless,  I was proud to stand beneath the wedding canopy with this couple, who affirmed the sacredness of their union “in accordance with the laws of Moses and the people of Israel.”  Before I chose to officiate, I studied the texts, teachings, and arguments in my tradition.  I didn’t make this decision lightly.  Today, I am unfazed by the apparent biblical injunction against homosexuality as an “abomination.”  I am confident in my stand, despite a 3,000-year-old tradition that has no precedent for such a marriage.  In fact, it is from a place of humility and awe before my tradition and God that I have chosen take this stand.

The Hebrew word for wedding is “Kiddushin,” which means ‘Sanctification,’ or ‘Holiness.’  A wedding is the formal declaration of the holiness of love.  All the blessings and rituals and formulae under the wedding canopy affirm one idea:  when two human beings find each other and love each other, it is Godly:   a taste of the World to Come, a world of perfected justice and joy.   It is in our capacity to love that we are holy, and most fully in the image of God.  If there’s anything that 3,000 years of Jewish history has shown us—3,000 years of so much exile and persecution—it’s that the only hope for humankind is to strive toward ever-more loving and just societies. 

We Jews are a people who have never quite fit into the same categories of peoplehood or religion that other nations do.  We are a distinct people, even as we bear a message of God’s universality.  We affirm that we are different from other peoples, even as we know that we are no different than any other human being.  Our presence in the world has often been a source of anxiety for other nations, religions, and people.  In this way, we Jews have always been a queer people .  And yes, I use the term ‘queer’ deliberately.  To be queer is to be troubling, unsettling, not meeting expectations of the way others might want things to be.

It is, in fact, the Jews’ queerness in the world that captures our particular Divine message to all humanity.  As Rabbi David Dunn Bauer, creator of Queer Spiritual Counseling teaches, the existence of God is the queerest thing about the universe.  God, too, cannot be categorized or boxed in. The inexplicable mystery of God is a source of unspeakable anxiety to so many of us who long to reduce God to our simplistic categories.  Finally, we declare the love of a wedded couple to be holy because love, too, defies all classifications and can never be bounded–it’s a feeling, but not just a feeling; it’s a state of being that “have,” that we “are,” but it is larger than any one individual or relationship.  Love is queer, and in recognizing this, we find its holiness, its Godliness.

It is no accident that the famous Levitical injunction concerning homosexuality appears in a section of the Torah called “Kedoshim,” meaning “Holy.”  When seen in context, the homosexual act described comes amidst a series of many kinds of human couplings—all of which are abusive because they are not loving acts.  When one man rapes another man simply because he does not have access to a woman, such an act is indeed an abomination, a desecration of God’s holiness, a desecration of love.  Such an act is the farthest thing from the love of two human beings—of whatever gender—that we can and must sanctify whenever it arises in our human condition. 

I reject the idea that the Bible declares that the only sacred love that can exist is the love between a man and a woman.  Love is queer — it can never be limited to our categorizations of roles and gender.  Love is commitment, presence, and kindness so awesome and mysterious that nothing in our power can contain it.  We must, in our very imperfect world, celebrate, sanctify, and lift up love wherever we find it; because our loving relationships are the only way that we will bring Godliness to this world.  For these reasons, I proudly stand for the evolution of Judaism,  in awe of the wisdom of my Jewish people and tradition, the of holiness God and the queerness of  love.


Rabbi Gil Steinlauf is senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.

An age of broken glances: On ‘Why Love Hurts’


Each time I officiate at a marriage, I perpetrate a small fraud. I read the ketubah, the marriage contract, in its original Aramaic and then I read the “translation.” The translation is actually a confection of sweet-spun phrases about creating a home of warmth, openness, and commitment based on mutual emotional support. The original Aramaic, on the other hand, mostly explains financial obligations the husband owes the wife in case of divorce, and the property the wife brings to the marriage. In other words, the Aramaic is legal and the English is therapeutic. When the rabbis drafted the ketubah in the first centuries of the Common Era they neglected to include quotations from Maya Angelou.

Yet the more comforting translation, with its echo of pop music promises, is what the couple — and the daters they were before — thought they were getting, not transactions but transcendence, less the assurance of financial stability than the wild endorphin circus of new love. The couple heard the fusty, older/wiser warnings but clung tightly, and appropriately, to the exceptional character of their love. When prenups or family quarrels intruded on the bubble, it felt less like reality than an unwonted violation.

For most couples, the little fraud is emblematic of a bigger one. Romantic love is a foreshortened story: the princess is carried from the tower or awakened with a kiss. The prince shines, full of dash, bravery, and brio. The story stops before that same princess spends her days working and childrearing, and they both realize she actually prefers sleeping late to a princely, wakening peck on the cheek as the kids run off to school. In the tower there were no soccer shuttles or bills to pay. Fairy tales end at the beginning because the ending is not so enchanting. Even in the age of perilous sea voyages and daring rescue on horseback, romance too quickly ebbed. So how long can we expect it to endure in the rapidly accelerated age of texting, sexting, and tweets?

The path to love is strewn with paradox. According to most studies marriage benefits men more than women, yet men are less inclined to marry. The same qualities — beauty, power, wealth, wit, charisma — which make a partner attractive may render them unsuitable as a mate. Romantic failure, which used to be blamed on the other person’s inadequacy, is now an arrow to the heart of self-esteem. As for healing from the wound? There are almost as many books about romantic healing as there are diet books, and for the same reason. When no single cure works, you can count on endless suggested treatments. Often the pain endures whether one is the breaker or the breakee — as Iris Murdoch said, “jealousy lasts forever — bad news for the young.”

¤

I read Eva Illouz’s Why Love Hurts with both personal and professional interest. As a divorced rabbi who meets with hundreds of singles and couples, I hear the same promises and plaintive cries: “Why can I not meet the man I seek?” “Why are men incapable of commitment?” “What is wrong with me/her/him?”

Why Love Hurts looks at the social conditions that affect our romantic lives. Illouz’s book is full of arresting ideas about love in our time, even as it staggers under some academic prose and doctrinaire commitments. Hers is the book of a sociologist. What we might see as personal traits, she enlarges to social trends. You think your boyfriend is a jerk; Illouz may agree, but sees him as succumbing not to selfishness alone, but also to a widespread pathogen.

Illouz draws the contrast between an age in which choice was limited to one’s social class or village, to the modern era, when no one is, in theory, off limits:

Pickiness, which seems to plague the entire field of romantic choice, is not a psychological trait, but rather an effect of the ecology and architecture of choice: that is, it is fundamentally motivated by the desire to maximize choice in conditions where the range of choice has become almost unmanageable.

Modern romance is like dinner in Beverly Hills, always looking over one’s partner’s shoulder because someone important or alluring might enter the room. Who can commit in an age of broken glances?

Add to that uncertainty the promise of self-realization, the idea that all of us should be changing, progressing, improving — and throughout our lives. This is the Heraclitus theory of personality — you never meet the same person twice. Solidity is staying in place and in Oprahville we must all grow. The ideal self is not a stable self but rather one that can perpetually create itself anew, be reinvented tomorrow. As Illouz writes, “The cultural ideal of self-realization demands that one’s options should be kept forever open.” By definition romance involves commitment and limitation. The ever-expanding self requires boundarylessness. No surprise then that the marketplace has become a mess.

Of course if you fashion who you are, you also bear the consequences. Individuality and autonomy place the burden of one’s fate on oneself. Fault lies not in one’s social conditions (although parents still come in for a proper beating) or what Henry James called one’s “envelope of circumstances.” In a world of individuals, when romance is less about social station than interiority and emotion, if you don’t accept me, it is all about me. Illouz points out that when Jane Welsh first rejected Carlyle in the mid 19th century, he assumed it was his financial woes and not his personality. (To be fair, Carlyle thought quite well of himself.) In the marketplace of choice, with outsized emphasis on the individual, we assume an acceptance or rejection says something essential about our very self. We are more likely to feel the way Bridget did in the bestselling Bridget Jones’ Diary:

When someone leaves you, apart from missing them, apart from the fact that the whole little world you’ve created together collapses, and that everything you do or see reminds you of them, the worst is the thought that they tried you out and, in the end, the whole sum of parts which adds up to you got stamped “REJECT” by the one you love.

Rejection is not new. Shakespeare knew of the “pangs of despised love.” But the deeply personal wound, Illouz believes, is largely a product of modern social arrangements.

Marriage keeps slipping down the statistical slope. Without the societal assumption that everything leads to marriage, there is a paradoxical pas de deux: each person acts as though commitment is not part of the opening negotiation, the man because he does not wish it and the woman because she does. The calculation of how to pressure, when to pressure, to coax, to cajole, or to strategically retreat can lead romance columnists to sound a little like von Clausewitz. And that those same writers view the whole enterprise, with men skittish and evasive, and women strategic, has led to a flourishing of aquatic imagery, with reeling, hooking, baiting and (at times) gutting — clear signals that all is not well in the land where there are “always more fish in the sea.” Dating seems less The Little Mermaid than Jaws.

¤

As love has shifted from a social enterprise to the individual, Illouz writes, we have learned to evaluate according to categories that are intangible, like “sexiness” which (unlike beauty) was not a marker in an earlier age. These categories entail a relentless disenchantment of love. In high school, savvy teens already know that attraction is only a rush of chemicals in the brain, or nature’s way of fooling us into reproduction. We study love as if it were botany, abandoning poetry for pathology. When we seek to understand the overwhelming emotion that drove Shelley to write, “Its passions will rock thee / As the storms rock the ravens on high,” by shoveling infatuated undergrads into MRI machines, their temporal lobes may be illuminated but little else is. Something has been lost.

¤

The infamous internet dating profile requires a still greater intellectualization of love, with lists of categories and attributes. Modern love: science abetted by a checklist. There are few things more essentially unromantic than a multiple-choice exam.

Mass entertainment, so much more pervasive and potent than the romantic novels that sent Emma Bovary over the edge, teaches us the lesson of perfect, temporary bliss. When at the end of Ghost Patrick Swayze ascends to heaven, his soul at peace, leaving Demi Moore to tearfully wave goodbye, I recall leaving the theater thinking that I pity her next boyfriend. He will have to compete with an angelic Patrick Swayze. And then it hit me — so will the boyfriends of every woman in the theater. Not that people are so literal, but the repeated images of beautiful human beings speaking laboriously polished lines with carefully directed expressions and accents cannot help but make the guy beside you, well, a bit of a shlub. Especially if within you lurks the suspicion that he was on the shlubbish side to begin with. Besides, the qualities that promise dependability are rarely the same as those that dazzle.

Illouz explains that she has written this book primarily for women. Therefore in some deep way it is about men. In an epigraph to one of her chapters, she quotes Julian Barnes from Love, etc.:

I book that marriage therapist, naturally.

We last about 18 minutes. I explain that basically my problem with Stuart is getting him to talk about our problems.

Stuart says, “That’s because we don’t have any problems.” I say, “You see the problem?”

Men. Is the problem of love the problem of men? Illouz struggles with two consistent tensions. First is her commitment to feminism, which teaches that “power,” in her words, “must be tracked down and expelled from intimate relations.” But as everyone who has ever been in love knows, power — the having of it, the losing of it, the renouncing of it, the reclaiming of it — is the delicate heat without which the soufflé flattens. If you cannot be powerless in love you cannot know bliss. Tracking down and expelling power from intimate relations is simultaneously blindly authoritarian and sweetly naïve. The French proverb has it right: “In love there is always one who kisses and one who offers the cheek.” Illouz acknowledges the reality of power imbalances and male/female differences, but there is a schoolmarmish, vaguely censorious undertone, suggesting they shouldn’t really be there if all was well with the world. (What to make of this? “Instead of hammering at men their emotional incapacity, we should invoke models of emotional masculinity other than those based on sexual capital.” In other words, I suppose, since men are actually romantically stunted, let’s encourage them to be good fathers and cry at sad movies. Workable on the page, but I doubt this epicene ideal is going to persuade in the bedroom.)

The second tension is her commitment to Marxist analysis, which erases the individual. It pushes the puzzle of sociology to the brink: if this is all about society, then is the individual a helpless agent of larger forces? “The widespread literature of Mars and Venus is nothing more than an attempt to understand in psychological terms what is in fact a sociological process,” she writes.

Illouz tries to qualify the conclusion that individuals don’t matter but she is too subtle and too smart to miss the complexity of the questions. And she is surely correct that something large is going on when romantic disappointments are soothed by “hooking up,” and sex, instead of being the volcanic core of romantic mystery, is reduced to a form of advertising.

We have learned the lesson from DVRs and Netflix that everything can be revisited, nothing is lost, nothing should be missed and it is easy to live alone and have needs provided for. The essential human need, to love and be loved, suffers from each technological boost to the energies of autonomy. Into this jaded and self-sufficient world, what chance love?

Why Love Hurts is not an easy read but it is an important book. Illouz does not pine for an earlier world. Modernity brought untold blessings to us all. But even its greatest goods come with serious costs. She quotes literature, as if uneasily aware that artists have done much of her sociological work before she got there. But she doesn’t address the spiritual condition of human beings, which does not change — that yearning for something greater than ourselves. Having lost classical faith, people often seek its substitute in romance. But as Borges taught us, falling in love is creating a religion with a fallible god. Sooner or later the worshipper will be disappointed and be forced to readjust expectations.

¤

The movie Quartet is based on a Somerset Maugham story that tells of a man whose wife publishes a book of poetry. He soon learns that all of London is talking about the work. In striking images, the poems describe a torrid affair. The husband grudgingly attends a party to celebrate his wife’s success and hears someone remark that such a book could only have come out of real experience.

He confronts his wife. She begs him to forget it, but he will not. Finally she confesses, yes they are based on reality. “Do I know the man?” he thunders. In a meek voice, she admits that he does and begs him not to go any further. But he cannot stop and demands to know who it is.

Finally in a soft voice, his wife answers, “It was you. It was you — as you were — all those years ago — in those happy days when we first met, and you loved me.” Her husband responds incredulously that the poems say that the lover died. He did, replies his wife. “The man that loved me died.”

The deepest magic of love is not first love but continuous love, which we know is not easy. But in our day even first love is not easy, either. Perhaps the title answers itself. Asking why love hurts is a little like asking why rain falls. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t love.

Editorial Cartoon: Cutting the cake


Israeli weddings

McCartney attends Yom Kippur Services, Marries Next Day


Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney reportedly spent the night before his wedding at Yom Kippur services.

McCartney married Jewish-American heiress Nancy Shevell in London on Oct. 9. They reportedly attended Yom Kippur services and a break-fast at a local London synagogue, where Shevell, 51, received a blessing in honor of her upcoming marriage.

The couple married in a civil ceremony at London’s Marylebone Register Office, followed by a small reception at McCartney’s north London home.

McCartney’s first wife, Linda Eastman, also was Jewish. She died in 1998 after a battle with breast cancer.

Jewish couple the first same-sex pair to tie knot in NYC


Two elderly Jewish women were the first same-sex couple to marry in New York City.

Phyllis Siegel, 77, and Connie Kopelov, 85, were married in Lower Manhattan at 9:02 a.m. Sunday in a ceremony witnessed by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and officiated by City Clerk Michael McSweeny. Quinn is the first openly gay speaker of the New York City Council.

Siegel and Kopelov, who have been together for 23 years, reportedly were among 659 couples—gay and straight—who received marriage licenses on Sunday and 484 who held marriage ceremonies.

“It was just so amazing,” Siegel told the New York Post. “It’s the only way I can describe it. I lost my breath and a few tears.”

The couples married exactly one month after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a measure enacted by the State Legislature allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Also Sunday in New York City, Gregory Levin, 32, and Shane Serkiz, 33, of the Astoria section of Queens, who have been engaged since 1999, were the first same-sex couple married in that borough.

And at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s home in New York, Mayor Mike Bloomberg officiated at a wedding for city Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz and mayoral policy adviser John Feinblatt. After the vows, actor Joel Grey sang “Married” from the musical “Cabaret.” Bloomberg then introduced the traditional breaking of the glass, which the couple crushed underfoot.

George Bush’ niece Lauren to marry Ralph Lauren’s son


From The Jewish Chronicle:

Six months after Chelsea Clinton married investment banker Marc Mezvinsky, the granddaughter of President’s George HW Bush has announced she is to marry another New Yorker of Jewish descent.

Lauren Bush, niece of George W Bush, is engaged to the son of Jewish fashion designer Ralph Lauren.

Read more The Jewish Chronicle.

Settle down


When it comes to dating, even Tobey Maguire is interested in the concept of settling.

Now, I have no idea about Spidey’s love life — last I heard he was with Lois Lane, wait, no, that’s Superman, not Spider-Man, and this just in — the real Maguire is married and expecting his second child.

But I don’t want to talk about his personal life, I want to talk about his professional one.

Maguire has just signed on to develop a feature film from essayist and occasional Jewish Journal columnist Lori Gottlieb’s “Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.”

In a 5,500-word piece published in March in the Atlantic Monthly, Gottlieb, a 40-year-old single mother who chose to have a baby on her own asked a poignant question: “Is it better to be alone, or to settle?”

I’m not giving anything away by saying that Gottlieb quickly answers her own question:

“My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling ‘Bravo!’ in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year.”

Gottlieb’s stance caused quite a brouhaha on the blogosphere (read: rantosphere), where people called her everything from “immature” to “desperate” to “tragic” to “crazy,” labeling her a narcissist, anti-feminist, crackpot journalist. She has also been told “she needs a shrink, pronto.”

Gottlieb tells me she was a bit taken aback by the harsh reaction, but said that in addition to the 700 letters of support she also received, a number of rabbis have used her piece in their sermons. (She even spoke last month at Sinai Temple.)

I’m not surprised by the rabbis’ support. Gottlieb’s message is something I’ve heard many, many times before. Since the beginning of my illustrious dating career at age 19 (for marriage purposes!), rabbis, educators, teachers and other religious married people have been telling me the same thing: Find someone with shared values, someone you respect, someone you can build a life with. A good husband, a good father, a good partner.

Nothing new here.

In traditional Jewish communities, the notion of “Hollywood Love,” of “Love at First Sight,” of a “Love of Everlasting Passion,” has long been viewed as a myth. The problem in those communities is not whether or not to believe Hollywood love myth, it’s whether to believe love and attraction should play any part at all in the choice of a mate.

That was the message I got, anyway.

When I was in my early 20s, I went to dozens of weddings (to this day, the words “bridal shower” make me break out in hives). The ceremonies were solemn and the parties leibadik (festive), and the “salmon-chicken-or-prime rib” menus were delectable, if indiscernible, but to me it seemed like something essential was lacking: love. Back then, in my world, it seemed people settled too easily. They married — young — to have a partner, to not be alone, to fit into the community, to have kids, to be part of what Gottlieb calls “a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane and often boring nonprofit business.”

If one could chart my own “why isn’t she married?” trajectory (and believe me, there are many who do) it might be the result of this kind of advice: I’ve seen too many loveless marriages hastily entered into for anything but love.

Now, of course, Gottlieb isn’t advocating marrying a man who repulses you or puts you to sleep every time he answers the question, “How was your day, dear?”

But it would seem that once you enter the slippery slope of settling, it would be hard to know when to stop. What exactly is the right thing to compromise on? If he is a nice guy, but he goes on and on at dinner parties until you hope someone will drop a plate of hot soup on his lap, is that settling?

See, the other side of the “too picky” see-saw is the “not selective enough” category. Most (married) people who watch their friends/children/congregants date are not familiar with this second category until it’s too late. For example, if a single person regales a married person about her date, saying, “he made me pick up the tab and then just hopped in a cab home!” the married friend will reply, “Well, maybe he’s just low on cash this week and got an emergency call, and you should really give him another chance.”

No, the message to Jewish singles is and always has been Gottlieb’s message: Why can’t you all just settle down?

Now that I’m in my 30s, I wonder if there is something in between musical chairs (grabbing the last man standing) and “The Notebook” (holding out for perfection).

And I suppose that is the beauty of a different kind of Judaism, one that mingles with the mainstream world — even Hollywood, believe it or not. Yes, there should be sparks and chemistry and love and happiness and laughter — together with shared values, common goals and mutual interests.

Because if I’ve learned anything from 15 years (!!!) of dating, it’s that whether you run into a marriage with someone you don’t love, or you hold out for a hero who never comes, either way, you’ll end up all alone.

Briefs: Governator opens new Saban Free Clinic, Weisenthal Center pressures Swiss on Iran deal


Free Clinic Named in Honor of Sabans

The Los Angeles Free Clinic was renamed the Saban Free Clinic this week in honor of Cheryl and Haim Saban, who last month pledged a $10 million gift to the health care facility that treated Cheryl Saban some 25 years ago, when she was a divorced mother of two.

“This is what I call a match made in heaven,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said at the ceremonial unveiling Monday. “When you team up a great clinic like this with the extraordinary generosity and vision of Cheryl and Haim Saban, how can the people of California do anything else but win?”

The Free Clinic operates four facilities that handle 100,000 patient visits a year, providing physician services, disease testing, prescription filling and nutritional counseling. Co-CEO Abbe Land has said the Sabans’ unrestricted gift probably will be used to supplement decreased government funding.

Haim Saban is chair and CEO of Saban Capital Group and chair of Univision Communications; Cheryl Saban is the author of several books on parenting, marriage and child advocacy and founder of the nonprofit 50 Ways to Save Our Children.

“Our greatest wish is that this gift will create further awareness among the community and will drive additional contributions to support the long-term success of the clinic in providing health services to the uninsured in Los Angeles,” Haim Saban said.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Wiesenthal Center Urges Swiss to Cancel $18 Billion Gas Deal With Iranians

The Simon Wiesenthal Center urged the Swiss government to cancel its $18 billion gas deal with Iran.

“This ill-conceived and ill-timed deal, signed in the presence of the Swiss foreign minister, bolsters the Iranian regime and weakens the international community’s efforts to use economic sanctions to force Iran to stop its nuclearization program,” said a statement by Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the L.A.-based Wiesenthal Center and Leo Adler of the Canadian-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. The two released the statement following their meeting last week with Swiss State Secretary Michael Ambuhl in Bern, the Swedish capital.

“Further, press reports indicate that the bulk of the Iranian gas is destined for Italy and not, as was asserted, a way for Switzerland to lessen its reliance on Russian gas. So the question remains as to whose strategic and national interests are being served,” the statement said.

During their meeting with Ambuhl, Cooper and Adler also urged Switzerland to oppose the anti-Israel resolutions frequently approved by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Since the council’s inception, it has passed 20 resolutions — 19 against Israel and one on Burma — but nothing on the genocide in Darfur or the current crisis in Tibet,” Cooper and Adler noted.

â??- Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Chabad Hosts ‘Sober Seder’ — With Twists

Chabad offered a “Sober Seder” last Sunday that was traditional — with a couple of twists. For one, grape juice was used instead of wine. For another, every few minutes, someone shared his or her struggles with addiction.

During the service, a burly, middle-age man told the 100 participants: “I’m an alcoholic and drug addict.” As a result of his addictions, he said, he ended up “living in a cardboard box and pushing a shopping cart around. For food, sometimes I’d pull stuff out of garbage bins.” He now has his life back as a result of Chabad’s recovery program.

British-born Rabbi Mendel Cohen, 25, presided with an infectious energy, sense of fun and occasional moments of joyful dancing. Throughout, Cohen reminded the crowd — many of whom were graduates of Chabad’s residential addiction program — that recovery can be thought of as leaving Egypt.

One woman stood up to agree. Sobriety, she said, has released her from enslavement. A man in his mid-40s said the seder was “always a time to get drunk, from the age of 12. Chabad taught me how to live. I have freedom now, but inside I also have pain from my past, so I work through it every day.”

“Once I saw Judaism as the enemy,” he said. “Now I see it as my path to recovery.”

— Roberto Loiederman, Contributing Writer

UC Irvine Muslim Group Co-Sponsoring Talk by Strong Critic of Israeli Policy

Norman Finkelstein will speak at the UC Irvine student center on May 7 in an appearance co-sponsored by the Muslim Student Union. The former DePaul University professor is a vigorous critic of Israeli policy and author of “The Holocaust Industry” and “Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict.”

UC Irvine has been at the center of controversy over what some Jewish students allege to be repeated instances of harassment and anti-Semitic speech, which the university has refused to condemn. Other students say the situation at UC Irvine is now dramatically improved and that the administration has been responsive to Jewish concerns.

— JTA

Conservative Movement to vote on gay marriage


The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the movement’s highest legal authority, is expected to vote next week on five separate teshuvot, or responsa, that range from a complete overturn of the traditional prohibition on homosexual intercourse to a restatement of the committee’s 1992 decision upholding the ban.

Implicit in those opinions are views on whether gays and lesbians should be ordained as rabbis and whether Conservative clergy can officiate at commitment ceremonies. Committee members were loath to speculate this week on the final outcome, but insiders expect the committee to endorse both the traditional ban and a more liberal opinion — leaving it to local rabbis to make determinations for each community.

But that’s hardly a foregone conclusion, and the liberal opinion could still fail, particularly if the committee determines that lifting the ban on homosexual intercourse is so substantial a break from halachic precedent that it entails a takanah, an act of legislation overturning an established tradition. A takanah requires an absolute majority of the committee’s 25 members, or 13 votes, to pass. A normal interpretive teshuva requires only six votes.

Report: Jerusalem talks to Barghouti

Israel’s government has been holding indirect talks with a Palestinian politician jailed for orchestrating terrorist attacks. Channel 2 television reported Monday that Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah lawmaker sentenced to five life prison terms in 2003, helped broker this week’s Gaza Strip cease-fire at the behest of the Olmert government, which contacted him through Chaim Oron, a Knesset member from the Meretz Party. Oron declined comment. According to Channel 10 television, the previous Israeli government of Ariel Sharon also communicated indirectly with Barghouti. With Israel and Western power brokers scrambling to offset the influence of Hamas among Palestinians, there has been growing speculation that Barghouti, who professes moderate political views, could be released as part of a rapprochement deal.

West Bank truce seen

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are trying to extend the Gaza Strip cease-fire to the West Bank. Following Sunday’s declaration of a Gaza truce, spokesmen for both sides said negotiations were under way for a similar deal in the West Bank.

“I hope we are going to move in the next few days to have a similar arrangement in the West Bank,” Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told Israel’s Army Radio.Israeli diplomatic sources confirmed this in comments to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Extending an olive branch, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that Israel was willing to evacuate settlements in the West Bank to make way for a Palestinian state, but only on condition that the Palestinians abandon violence.

Israel allows pro-Abbas deployment in Gaza

Israel agreed to allow Mahmoud Abbas to send a loyal security force to the Gaza Strip. Israeli sources said Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority president had requested permission to redeploy the 1,000-strong Badr Brigade, which is currently stationed in Jordan, to Gaza, and that it had been approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. There was no immediate date given for the move, which would strengthen Abbas’ hand against the rival Hamas in Gaza and could help cement an Israeli-Palestinian truce declared in Gaza over the weekend. The United States has voiced interest in bolstering Abbas’ security forces, especially given the buildup of Hamas terrorists.

Holocaust hero Werber dies at 92

Jack Werber, who helped rescue some 700 Jewish boys at a Nazi camp, died at age 92. Werber suffered a fatal heart attack Nov. 18 in his hometown of Great Plains, N.Y. Born in Poland to a furrier, Werber was separated from his wife and daughter in 1939 and taken to Buchenwald. In 1944, a transport of 2,000 prisoners came to the camp, including some 700 boys. Werber, the barracks clerk, worked with fellow inmates to hide the youngest throughout the barracks and find easier jobs for the older ones. He obtained the complicity of some Nazi guards who were beginning to fear war-crimes charges. After the war, Werber moved to the United States, where his older brother, Max, his only surviving immediate relative, had settled. Werber remarried and started a business in the 1950s, selling coonskin-style caps made popular by Disney’s “Davy Crockett” television show.

OU agrees to oppose Israeli policy

The Orthodox Union (OU) adopted a resolution empowering its leadership to publicly oppose Israeli government policies. The measure was approved by delegates at the group’s biennial convention in Jerusalem on Saturday night.

It was part of a broader resolution on Israel’s security challenges. The resolution noted the continued launching of rockets from Gaza more than a year after Israel’s withdrawal from the coastal strip and expressed skepticism about any policy that relinquishes territory without obtaining security and peace in return. Other resolutions adopted at the convention concerned the plight of evacuated Gaza settlers, the need for a “proactive” response to substance abuse in the Orthodox community and the genocide in Darfur.

Palestinians start English-language newspaper

A privately owned English-language newspaper was launched in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Associated Press reported that The Palestine Times began circulation Monday with 5,000 subscriptions. The new daily says it is not affiliated with any political party; its first edition included op-eds from a Hamas spokesman, a Fatah spokesman and an independent analyst, the AP reported. Circulation in Israel and an Internet edition are planned.

Canadian Muslims send anti-Semitic cartoons

The Canadian Islamic Congress circulated anti-Semitic cartoons to Jewish homes in Ontario, B’nai B’rith Canada charged.

According to a B’nai B’rith statement, Jewish residents of London, Ontario, received the cartoons in their mailboxes along with political flyers from the Canadian Islamic Congress, days before a Monday federal election.

One cartoon shows Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper draped in an Israeli flag with a slightly exaggerated hook nose, reminiscent of stereotypical anti-Semitic depictions of Jews.

51 Birch Street: House of Blocks . . . House of Cards?


We all know about “the generation gap.” The “mother-daughter bond.” Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons.” Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” or any number of his plays for that matter. Our literature and our language are rife with expressions of the struggles inherent in that most primal bond Doug Block with his fatherbetween parents and children.

In his personal documentary, “51 Birch Street,” filmmaker Doug Block sets out to explore his relationship with his father. His mother has died, and Block wants to document the dismantling of the family home before it is sold. A “baby-boomer” who came of age in the “let it all hang out” ’60s, Block is taken aback when he learns that his parents’ 54-year marriage was not at all what it seemed. Wrestling with disturbing revelations, Block’s film questions how well any of us truly know the people we love, how well we might really want to know them, and perhaps most importantly, what right we have to know.

On the surface, the Block family is a typical, post-war, middle-class suburban Jewish family. Mike Block and Mina Vogel married shortly after World War II, had three children over the course of four years and moved from Brooklyn to a brand-new house in the suburbs to raise their family. They were among the founding families of a Reform congregation that became the center of their social lives. Their children — two girls and a boy — went to (or more accurately “suffered through,” as son Doug describes it) Hebrew school through confirmation. Mike worked long hours as a mechanical engineer while Mina stayed home to raise the children, working outside of the home only as the children grew up. Mike and Mina were “inseparable.”

Mina’s death was shocking not only in its swiftness, but for the maelstrom of unexpected revelations that followed. Three months after his wife’s death, Mike Block traveled to Florida, returning only to announce that he was moving there to live with Kitty, his secretary from 40 years earlier. They wed shortly thereafter. As if this wasn’t enough for the Block siblings to absorb, Mike and Kitty decided to sell the family home on Birch Street. It fell upon Doug and his sisters to help their father sort through the accumulated detritus of 50 years of family life.

Block, a documentary filmmaker by vocation (“Home Page” and “The Heck With Hollywood!”) and an inveterate home-movie-maker by avocation, always felt close to his mother; her death left him bereft. In contrast, he felt both very different than and distant from his father. He hoped to use his camera, as was his wont, to help him get to know his subject — in this case his father — better.

As we travel with Block through his arduous path of discovery, watching long-buried secrets of his parents’ unhappiness slowly come to light, we see his family struggle with their newfound knowledge. And we struggle alongside them, wrestling not only with our own fears about trust and intimacy, but with questions of privacy and disclosure.

These questions come to a head when Block uncovers volumes of personal diaries his mother had written over a three- year period. Pained as his father obviously is by seeing them, he nevertheless tells his son to “save them.” Block is both drawn to and fearful of reading them, and decides to consult an “expert” on the ethical issues involved.

He turns to Rabbi Jonathan Blake, a young rabbi with a warm smile and quick wit, who Block felt was “wise” beyond his years. Asking Blake if it’s “right” to read his mother’s diaries (the mention of which causes an amusing moment of eyebrow-raising by Blake on camera), Blake first answers in true Rabbinic fashion, with another question: “What does your heart tell you to do?” Yet after wrestling a bit with the dilemma, Blake tells Block that learning more about one’s parents can be valuable, if the knowledge is used for “a holy purpose.”

Thus encouraged, Block decided to forge ahead — at times ambivalent, at times stunned.

“From the outside, to us, we thought they were actually wonderfully compatible. They had similar interests, they traveled, they bickered a bit but never argued,” Block said in an interview.

But as his mother’s diaries revealed, she was deeply unhappy in her marriage.
Block searched for ways to reconcile his image of his parents’ “model marriage” with the emerging picture of discord, anger and infidelity.

Although the film contains no explicit explanation of how Block, a “cultural” but non-observant Jew, interpreted the rabbi’s words, Block said he believed the rabbi “meant if I’m using it to honor and celebrate my mother’s life … it’s a holy thing.”
Yet, during the process of making the film, it wasn’t always clear to Block that his work hewed to this “holy” purpose.

“There were many times I thought it was a holy mess! I thought, all I’m going to do is burn in hell,” he said. “My mother will come off looking horribly, and I’ll look even worse for doing this.” He said he spent “many sleepless nights feeling the weight of picking out the right phrases and words of all the volumes of writings, to honor her complexity, her intelligence, to show her as a rounded human being.”

“On one level,” Block said, his film “is a story of assimilation, of city Jews moving to the suburbs and trying to fit in,” the pressures of which were one source of his mother’s unhappiness. Block says it’s also “very Jewish” that his family “covers up a lot of stuff through sarcasm and humor.” And he believes that his film was a profound act of teshuvah, a concept he discussed with Los Angeles Rabbi Judith Halevy while filming. Creating a portrait of his parents’ lives, including their fallibility, was for Block an “act of coming to forgiveness, and somehow getting cleansed in the process.”

Yet “51 Birch Street” is also a universal tale. Ultimately the story is — like the complex lives it reveals to us — a mass of contradictions. On the one hand, it is a truly sad story: of thwarted potential, of betrayal and of the defeat of good intentions. But it is also a story of redemption, of two men who manage to transcend the pain of their lives to forge new relationships: Mike Block with Kitty, and Doug Block with his father.

Scenes from 50 years of marriage


An acquaintance of mine, the late screenwriter Michael Blankfort, wrote a book with my favorite title, “I Didn’t Know I Would Live So Long.”
 
If I were to write a sequel, it would be, “I Didn’t Know I Would Be Married for 50 Years, and to the Same Woman.”
 
Well, Rachel and I are marking our golden anniversary this month, surrounded — at least via e-mail — by three lovely daughters, three stalwart sons-in-law, and eight lively grandchildren, all, as Garrison Keillor would say, above average.
 
My wife was born and raised in Jerusalem, and that’s an important point. Before our marriage, I hardly ever dated Jewish girls, and when my friends expressed their surprise that I was tying the knot with Rachel, we would counter, “But she’s not Jewish, she’s Israeli.”
 
Readers with an Israeli spouse of either gender, or who have spent considerable time in the Promised Land, will understand what we’re talking about.
 
When conversation lags at dinner parties, people will sometimes ask how we met. I’m glad you asked, because there are actually two versions.
 
In the Hollywood treatment (currently in development), we met during Israel’s War of Independence.
 
Rachel had joined the underground Haganah at age 15, served in the Signal Corps (anyone here remember the Morse Code?) and survived the siege of Jerusalem. She was one of the last to communicate with besieged Israeli troops as the Old City fell to the Jordanians.
 
I had come to Israel from Berkeley as a volunteer and served in an “Anglo-Saxon” anti-tank unit.
 
In the movie version, I jump into a foxhole under a heavy barrage of enemy fire, landing practically on top of a beautiful sabra named Rachel — and the rest is history.Unfortunately, under the full disclosure strictures of this publication, the real story is somewhat less dramatic.
 
A friend, who had been my company commander in Israel, threw a party at his home in the Hollywood Hills, partly to welcome me home after a year in Spain.
 
It was a jolly affair, but I noticed — as single guys are apt to — a beautiful girl sitting quietly in a corner, her large expressive eyes taking in the scene.
 
I learned later that she had been sent by the Israeli foreign ministry to work at the consulate in Los Angeles and had been here for only a few months.
 
Anyhow, at the end of the evening, I made the bold move to ask if I could take her home. She answered yes, and I told her she would have to ride on the back seat of my motorcycle, and she responded with the 1950s equivalent of “no problem.”
 
Of course, when she told the couple who had brought her that she was going home with a guy she knew nothing about except that he traveled by motorcycle, her friends said no way.In a classic response, Rachel told them that she was a big girl and would make her own decisions.
 
I knew right then that here was a woman who would stand by her man, fight off Indians — oops, wrong movie.
 
As it turned out, rather anti-climactically, I had actually come to the party in my mother’s old Chevy, but Rachel had already proven her mettle.
 
Those who know sabras well are aware that they are a forthright breed, who speak their minds, and when they come to the States do not realize that social intercourse in this country is perforce larded with piles of b.s.
 
So Rachel is painfully honest, which sometimes startles her devious-minded husband, but fortunately it is her integrity and character that have been passed on to our children.There were other cultural misunderstandings. The day after our marriage, my dewy-eyed bride announced that she would make a special breakfast for me. I saw visions of pancakes, my favorite nourishment, with heaps of strawberries, blackberry syrup and whipped cream.
 
When I came to the kitchen, there was Rachel proudly displaying an Israeli breakfast bowl of cucumbers, tomatoes, olives and other frightfully healthy stuff.
 
Rachel maintains that I surveyed the breakfast table and murmured, “This is just scrumptious, but I think from now on I’ll make my own breakfast.” I don’t know if this is true, but in any case — though my wife has become a renowned cook — I have made my own breakfast ever since.At my 80th birthday party at the UCLA Faculty Center, I told the assembled well-wishers that without Rachel, I would not be standing before them. That was not just a nice turn of phrase.Since adolescence, I had suffered from periodic depressions, but pulled out of them in a couple of weeks.
 
Some 20 years ago, the depression deepened month after month, until I descended into “the unrelenting horror of a complete biochemical brain meltdown,” as William Styron, who went through the same experience, described it. I still cannot imagine what Rachel and our children went through.
 
I had long therapy sessions about my childhood and the relationship to my mother, and kept going down.
 
After six months, I could take it no longer, swallowed a handful of pills, washed them down with vodka and lay down to die.
 
It was Rachel and my daughter who discovered my inert body, rushed me to the hospital, where I woke up 24 hours later with a pumped-out stomach and my wife sitting by my side.
 
Fortunately, the doctors at UCLA discovered that the depressions were caused by a lifelong imbalance of the chemical serotonin in my brain, an affliction not remedied by psychoanalysis but an appropriate drug regime.
 
On our 25th anniversary, I wrote a letter to Rachel, and everything I said then goes double now.