Boys to men: Jewish education helps prepare kids for life


Raising three boys to be well-rounded, menschy men isn’t easy, and I admit to making one or two mistakes (per hour) in my efforts to guide my sons toward actions that reflect soulfulness, integrity and compassion.

As my children grow, so do my expectations of their accountability for their decisions. However, there is much that I — that all of us — can do, as our sons lurch toward manhood. In partnership with their educators, we can make a difference in helping them become stand-up young men.

Seeing the impact of an ethically based Jewish high school, both as a parent and as a professional in the school, I’ve witnessed much to give me hope. This is in spite of all the news spotlighting boys walking onto campuses to vent rage and fear with bullets, and young men at colleges assaulting women.

As an educator, I’ve witnessed how much of an effect the parent-educator partnership can have. I’ve seen boys who have reacted in anger to classroom situations learn to recognize the triggers and articulate frustration productively. I’ve seen young men poke fun at weaker kids on one day, then, weeks later, encourage those same kids when they’re teamed up on a soccer field. I’ve seen shy freshman boys who tease girls at the lockers later become superb co-leaders with young women in student government. 

All of this requires parents to engage with educators, giving context to the students’ situation, expressing hopes for their children’s maturation and staying consistent on a plan of action. Meanwhile, teachers, deans and administrators must spend ample time talking, setting boundaries and goals, and following through with the young men and their parents.

I do not profess to have easy answers. Negative things can happen in spite of all the right efforts. However, I do believe in the power of a parent-school commitment to painstakingly and repeatedly teach our boys values and behavior that help them navigate their emotions and the expectations placed on them by a society that too often rewards aggression.

One of my conclusions: Leading by example trumps everything. So many times, I have lectured my boys with a torrent of words, only to realize they don’t hear much of it. What they do gather are my actions. When they’ve seen me disagree with their mother, they’ve watched me listen to her side as much as argue my own. And when I’m wrong, I admit it (even if it’s long after the argument). When greeted by a homeless person asking for money, they’ve witnessed how I say hello and often give something, usually a food item, because I want to stress that ignoring someone in need is a missed opportunity to have a direct impact. 

I’ve also discovered that there may be no skill more important than communication. Being able to articulate an idea, concern or feeling can make life much easier in everything from business to personal relationships. This is especially important for guys to learn because, even in this more egalitarian age, males still find it difficult to express their emotions and needs, which sometimes results in the building up of tension that gets released negatively.

As an educator at a Jewish high school, I’ve noted how role modeling and communication can be addressed through tradition and text. This is why we commit a year’s worth of assemblies to hearing senior students give presentations, called drishat shalom (messages of peace and wholeness). The students each summarize a piece of Jewish text, explaining what the text has taught them about particular values and recommending ways younger students can apply the values. 

It is also why we gather our entire school for a yearly off-campus Shabbaton. Some of the programming is led by kids from all grade levels and allows them the time to value their relationships with one another and with their teachers. Because faculty often bring family with them, students see first-hand how these adults model the values they espouse.

Of course, teachers and pupils need to notice when students seem upset. When necessary, an experienced school counselor and the parents must be brought into the loop.

I feel so fortunate to raise my boys in partnership with an ethics-based Jewish school. Although I am still ultimately responsibile for rearing my children, I don’t have to be the only role model, and I don’t have to do all of the complicated explaining of why character counts so much. In these ways, I am more confident that my boys, and the many others who are educated similarly, can become the kind of role models and communicators who will make the world a little safer and better.

My Single Peeps: Lynn R.


Lynn has been a widow since 1996 and is doing her best to fall in love again. But she’s finding the world of online dating difficult to navigate. On one date, she told me, “I found out the guy was a bookie.” He was in a bad mood because he had just lost $8,000. “There was one guy on the phone — every time we talked with each other, it was fun and great. Then we got together, and he was way overweight. I mean way overweight — which wasn’t disclosed in the profile. There was absolutely no chemistry — nothing. You can’t let yourself be seduced by the voice, because the pictures they put up aren’t representative of who they really are. That’s online dating.”

Lynn’s originally from Los Angeles. “I grew up in the Valley. I was a Valley Girl before the term was created. The last several years, I’ve been writing screenplays, which doesn’t differentiate me much from the other people out here. But I did have a short film made, and one of my screenplays is in the hands of a London producer who’s trying to find a director for my script. So that’s hopeful. That’s what I spend a lot of time doing.”

“I started out as a secretary, but I hated it. I took a Greyhound bus around the Western states when I was about 22 and wound up in Sun Valley, Idaho, and I thought this could really be fun working here in the winter. So I tried to get a job as a maid, which I would have failed at miserably — my parents had a cleaning girl.

“At the last stop before the bus came, there was a coffee shop, and I heard a piano player next door — and he was so bad that I thought I could do better than that. I used to play as a kid. If she had asked me to audition, I couldn’t have done it. But she didn’t.”

Lynn made a deal that she’d work at another bar they were opening if they would send her the train fare. “I went back to my old piano teacher, and I took three lessons a day and practiced 16 hours a day for two weeks and took my first job.  I got fired a week later.”

But that led to a job at another bar and, soon, a singing and piano career.

[For other Single Peeps, visit jewishjournal.com/my_single_peeps]

Although Lynn, who’s in her early 60s, is officially retired, she puts in two to four hours a day on her writing. “I hate the word retired. You see it on profiles and wonder what they’re doing with their lives. I like being productive, and I like for other people to be productive. If he is retired, at least he wants to do other things, like travel. [I want] a man with a good heart, a good mind and financially stable. I don’t mind dating men who are younger than me. It just depends on the man. He could be older and could be a terrific guy.”

I ask Lynn what she likes to do with her free time. “I like to go to movies, I like to read, and I love to swim. I love to travel. My last major trip was to Africa on a safari. [It was] the most amazing trip of my life, seeing the animals in person. I traveled with a girlfriend. Another favorite place I went to is Bora Bora. I went there with my [late] husband.”

“How’s single life?” I ask. “It’s fine. You know, I certainly adapted to it. But I think life is better when you share it. I do.”


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

Promoting men’s Jewish engagement


Rabbi Charles Simon, a recent visiting lecturer at American Jewish University (AJU), asked rabbinical students how they would deal with a future intermarriage. One young rabbi-to-be said he’d welcome the couple … then tell them that, unfortunately, he couldn’t marry them. Simon, clearly taken aback, answered quickly: “No, don’t tell them that. Don’t ever approach things from a negative point of view, especially with a couple who want to be part of your synagogue. … We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we’re a diverse community united in a common goal — to find meaning in Jewish life.”

Simon is executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC), an auxiliary arm of the Conservative movement, and he talked about intermarriage because it’s a key element of his overriding concern: how to increase men’s involvement in synagogue life, including men who are intermarried. Simon, who’s 62 and lives in Manhattan, became head of FJMC more than 30 years ago, after receiving his rabbinic ordination from New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary.

During his recent swing through Southern California, in addition to talking with AJU students, Simon also met with several rabbis and their staffs, discussing the changing nature of men’s place in society, the effects of that change on Jewish institutions, and offering his suggestions about how to try to reverse what to him is a worrisome trend. In a monograph called “The Diminishing Role of Jewish Men in Jewish Life: Addressing the Challenge,” Simon’s conclusion, based on studies as well as anecdotal evidence, is that “Jewish boys and Jewish men are drifting to the fringes of the organized Jewish community and are beginning to disappear on its borders.”

Simon points out that the decreasing role of men in Jewish life parallels what’s happening in American secular life, and it’s “not an encouraging picture.” Women are more engaged in academia than their male counterparts. They “study longer and harder [than men] and … are becoming more successful in the workplace. Women study [while] men play video games. Men are rapidly becoming the second gender.”

Synagogues are experiencing a parallel phenomenon: a growing gender imbalance, as evidenced by the declining rate of male volunteerism in synagogue institutions. He urges synagogue leaders to take steps to try to correct that situation, such as by getting men to join a synagogue-affiliated men’s club in order to “engage men more actively in Jewish life.” 

“We’ve intensified our reach-out to our clubs and encourage the men’s clubs to hold what we call ‘Hearing Men’s Voices’ sessions,” Simon said in an interview. In these events, topics have included men’s spiritual lives, their health issues, men’s role in the Jewish family, and the place of work in men’s lives.

“While one of our primary goals is to service and build men’s clubs in Conservative synagogues,” Simon said, “we’re beginning to serve as the voice of Jewish men.” Simon added that FJMC now has 350 men’s clubs, with some 30,000 men participating.

Simon believes synagogue leaders need to “engage men at any age, whether married and with infants, or whether they have adult children who are no longer living at home.”

He listed some ways to reach out to men at these different stages. The father of a young toddler often feels the urge to put the child over his head and throw him or her around. “The mother’s instinct,” Simon said, “is to say, ‘Don’t do that, you’re going to drop them.’ ” But, Simon said, the father’s behavior is not only wired into men’s DNA, it’s also useful. “When a toddler is picked up, what the father is teaching the child is how to become comfortable with their bodies and how to take risks.”

Simon’s point is that when a wife warns her husband about holding a child aloft, this shouldn’t necessarily be the cue for him to stop the activity, but rather an opening to engage his wife in a discussion. “The husband can say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop her.’ ”

This kind of advice is normal in any men’s group — Jewish or not — where men assure one another that their male instincts, in spite of what women may say, are natural and healthy. Whether this strategy draws men into synagogue life remains to be seen.

Another example has to do with men who have adult children. “I have a bunch of 50-, 60-year-old men right now, who six months ago started texting their adult sons and daughters, adult children living all over the place, ‘Shabbat shalom’ on a regular basis. Never did this in their entire life, and all of a sudden, they’re getting responses. And when the kids say, ‘Why are you doing this, Dad?’ And they say, ‘Because this is important for me,’ at that point the fathers realize that they still have influence in the Jewish decisions that their children will make.

“The connection of Jewish men to Jewish life is loosening,” Simon said. In the future, “There is an increasing risk of fewer men identifying Jewishly.” By using the men’s clubs to provide men with helpful strategies, with welcome information about important issues like intermarriage, with a forum where their voices can be heard at every stage of their lives, Simon hopes to “alter the current trend of diminishing male involvement.”

FJMC’s current outreach initiative, Simon said, “is really in the start-up stage. For years, people have been saying, ‘Where are the men? What’s going on with the men?’ But no one’s come up with a constructive way to understand what’s going on with the men, generally, and how to motivate and attract and engage men so that they can make more conscious decisions in a Jewish way at any stage in their lives.”

Dear Mr. Sensitive


Jokes survive on the Internet like Styrofoam in a landfill. Perhaps you’ve already read these “Actual Personal Ads in Israeli Newspapers”:

  • Professor with 18 years of teaching in my behind wants American-born woman who speaks English very good.
  • 80-year-old bubbe, no assets, seeks handsome, virile Jewish male under 35. Object: matrimony. I can dream, can’t I?
  • Sensitive Jewish prince whom you can open your heart to. Share your innermost thoughts and deepest secrets. Confide in me. I’ll understand your insecurities. No fatties, please.

dlsaltzberg@gmail.com.

A Super ‘Schmooze’ Move


The unforgettable superheroes of comic strips became the stuff of endless Hollywood big-budget sequels. But more often than not, they began in the fevered imaginations of struggling young Jewish guys, whose wildest dreams could be hemmed in only by four panels and black ink.

“In June 1938, Superman appeared,” Michael Chabon writes in his 2000 novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay.” “He had been mailed to the offices of National Periodical Publications from Cleveland, by a couple of Jewish boys who had imbued him with the power of a hundred men, of a distant world, and of the full measure of their bespectacled adolescent hopefulness and desperation.”

It’s not an insurmountable leap from those days to these, from the pioneers like “Superman’s” Joe Shuster and Jerome Siegel to masters like Art Spiegelman, to the talented Jewish comic strip artists of today.

In that spirit, we premiere this week, “Schmooze or Lose,” our first, weekly serialized comic strip. Read more about the creators, writer Jake Novak and illustrator Michael Ciccotello at www.jewishjournal.com, and follow the further adventures of their very L.A. Jewish characters in this space each week.

 

Not-So-Nice Jewish Boy


When Israeli producers came to America to audition Jewish men to star in “Nice Jewish Boy,” their upcoming Bachelor-type reality show, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. After all, who better than me — a commitment-phobic, ardently secular, anxious, heavily medicated, pale glass of short Jewish water — to represent the American way?

This could be a chance for me to make a real difference in Israeli-American relations. I began to fantasize about my very own harem of glistening Israeli chicks in sweaty army fatigues, and all that we could do to and for one another in the name of world diplomacy. I’d learn invaluable lessons that only these gorgeous Israelis could teach me: how to shoot an Uzi, how to chain smoke and how to have zero respect for someone’s personal space. I, on the other hand, would pass on such valuable American skills as: driving a block away to Starbucks to spend $3 on a cup of coffee, how to say the words “excuse me” and, most importantly, how to apply underarm deodorant.

So, after my initial inquiry and some e-mail exchanges with the producer, I received a phone call from the show’s production coordinator in Israel at 6 a.m. No. You heard that right. Six. In the morning.

So anyway, in my groggy, disoriented state, the production coordinator (who we’ll call “Galit”) gave me my flight information. Coming to, I finally asked Galit, “So, who’s picking me up from the airport, and where will I be staying?”

There was dead air on the other end of the line. Then Galit responded: “Emmmmm, you can take a taxi, no? And, emmm…. We cannot put you up. OK?”

The thought of being stranded in Queens at 1 a.m. had me suddenly wide awake. Galit sensed my panic, and said that she was going to check with the producers, and that she would call me back in a half hour (read: 6:30 a.m.). Before getting off the phone with me, however, she asked if I could call some people in New York and see if they wouldn’t mind putting me up. I told her that I’d call everyone I knew. She hung up. I went back to sleep.

A half hour later, the phone rang. It was Galit: “Did you find anyone to put you up?”

I deadpanned, “Nope. I called 20 of my closest New York friends. Everyone’s all booked up for the summer.”

This clearly went over her head as she pushed on: “Not to worry, because I am a magic worker! I got you a hotel to stay! I work magic, no?”

Now we were talking! Clearly, all that needed to have happened was a little negotiation on my part. It looked like my American capitalist negotiation skills had trumped her primitive shuk haggling.

Galit said cheerfully, “We’ll put you up for one night at the Howard Johnson. This is good, yes?”

Emmm, no! Any hotel that is more famous for its flapjacks than it is for its, well … hotel, I’m gonna have a problem with. I don’t care how good their breakfast is — 11 hours of flying for six hours in New York was a deal that I was not going to make. There was some more dead air on the other end of the line.

“Hello?” I asked.

And then, out of the blue, Galit said six words that absolutely floored me: “C’mon, what angle can we work here?”

Angle! What angle can we work here? I was appalled. How about the angle of human decency? Or, an angle that doesn’t involve maple syrup and butter? I told Galit that either they were going to fly me out, pick me up and put me up for two full days, in a non-pancake-themed hotel, or I wasn’t coming. Period.

Well, my good-old American tenacity worked, because she finally acquiesced. Well sort of. Because when I landed at JFK on Friday night, there, of course, was no one to pick me up. The next morning, after showering, shaving, gelling, and sucking in my gut, I was off to meet the producers of the show.

The questions were probing and personal, and mainly focused on my past relationships. Here is a quick sample:

Israeli Producers: What sorts of things do you do to relax?

Me: I like to drink a little.

Israeli Producers: (Blank Looks)

Me: Um, well, okay, more than a little. Oh yeah, and I frequently like to get in touch with myself….

Israeli Producers: (More blank looks. And then….) What’s the most expensive gift you’ve bought one of your past girlfriends?

Me: You’re supposed to buy them gifts?

Israeli Producers: (Additional blank looks.)

Me: Does dinner count as a ‘gift?’

Israeli Producers: (See above.)

Me: (Slightly uncomfortable, and then taking a bold swing.) I gave them the gift of … the joy of being in my company?

That’s about where they wrapped up my audition. The next day, I flew home to L.A. with a promise from the producers that they’d let me know the following week if I made the cut. A month has passed since, and I still haven’t received any 6 a.m. telephone calls. Not that I’m waiting by the phone for an answer or anything. I mean, who’d want to be on some stupid reality TV show where 20 women fight over you? Not me, that’s for sure!

God, I’m pathetic.

Anyway, a week ago, I read in the Jerusalem Post that a “nice Jewish boy” had finally been chosen. Apparently, his name is Ari Goldman, and he lives in Manhattan where he runs a highly successful vintage comics enterprise. In other words, I lost out to a guy who collects comic books for a living. I always knew I’d rue the day my mom threw out my Green Lantern collection. I hope you’re happy, mom. The Green Lantern could have gotten me some serious tuchus.

Jonathan Kesselman created and directed “The Hebrew Hammer.”

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Father’s Day Fix


Several years ago, my wife, Linda, and I attended a conference of psychotherapists and sat next to a recently divorced female therapist who said to us, “Next time I’m going to marry a Jewish man.”

My wife asked, “Oh, are you Jewish?”

The female therapist replied, “No, but I’ve always heard that Jewish men make the best husbands and the most involved dads for their children.”

This wasn’t the first time we’d heard someone insist that Jewish men were the “chosen” husbands. But my wife and I weren’t sure if she was correct. Should we have told her about certain Jewish men (including some in our extended family) who are quite frustrating for their wives and frequently unavailable for their kids? Or should we have let her go on believing the stereotype?

As a Jewish psychologist counseling couples for more than 23 years, I wanted to find out the truth about “The Myth of the Menschey Jewish Husband.” So, for the past few years, I have been collecting data. I’ve surveyed several hundred couples in my counseling office and several thousand more at workshops nationwide. I’ve interviewed individuals and couples at men’s club programs, sisterhood events, federation gatherings and temples nationwide where I’ve been a guest speaker or instructor. I’ve also talked to friends and colleagues. Based on this sizeable but unscientific sampling of over 2,700 Jewish men from 22 Red states and Blue states, here’s what I found:

Good News: Almost 34 percent of Jewish husbands and fathers seem to qualify as a definite mensch.

Slightly more than one-third of the Jewish men I was able to assess in these surveys fit the criteria for a great husband and father. These individuals are able to work hard at their jobs and still find time and energy to be involved in household chores, child-care, shared spousal teamwork and family activities. On Father’s Day 2005, these multitasking and compassionate men deserve something a lot nicer than another department-store tie. They deserve our heartfelt thanks because their kids are growing up with great role models and their wives know the joy of having a true teammate in life.

Sad News: Almost 29 percent of Jewish husbands and fathers are emotionally unavailable to their loved ones.

Despite the stereotype that says Jewish men are great catches, in fact, there are a sizeable number (some with high incomes) who don’t seem able or willing to be good listeners or helpful partners at home. They don’t tend to pitch in much with child-care or family activities. His wife and kids typically complain that, “When he’s finally at home, he’s either cranky and short-tempered or he’s obsessed with golf or video games or watching his favorite shows on television while tuning out the rest of us.” Or he’s described as, “A bit self-absorbed and even though he does some good volunteer events for the community, he’s always got an excuse as to why he won’t do his fair share regarding the kids or the chores.” It’s almost as if the kids are being raised by a single mom.

Mixed News: Approximately 37 percent of Jewish husbands and fathers fluctuate between sometimes being a caring family member and at other times being too stressed or unavailable because of other priorities.

This group fascinates me most as a psychologist. More than one-third of Jewish marriages have occasional tension because a husband/dad, who deeply desires a peaceful and involved family life, gets pulled away by stressful work demands, sporting events, volunteer commitments or hobbies that eat up most of his free time. Most, it seemed, didn’t grow up with good modeling from their own dads or from other adult males in their lives. These dads are appreciated sometimes by their wife and kids and resented at other times for failing to follow through on family commitments.

There are remedies, and the problem is obviously worth addressing if you are a Jewish husband and dad (or if you know one) who needs either a minor tune-up or a major overhaul. The first place to start is early in the week when you carve out sacred family time. You should make sure nothing will disturb a beautiful family Shabbat dinner, and you should plan some enjoyable, connecting family activities on the weekend. You also should set aside time for one-on-one conversations during the week. And you should volunteer to share the load of weekly tasks with your spouse rather than waiting for her to plead or get fed up.

To do this, it helps to carry in your wallet a “Kavanah Note Card” stating your good intentions. You can pull it out and reread it just before entering your home each night. The note card that you write in your own words should say something like: “The precious souls I am about to listen to during the next few minutes and hours are more important than any customer, boss, or colleague I’ve spoken to all day. They deserve my most compassionate and helpful self, not my crankiness or my criticism. Don’t take this for granted, because the emotional and financial costs of doing a mediocre job with my family life will be enormous.”

Collectively, we Jewish men still have some inner work to do. Father’s Day 2005, possibly, will inspire each of us to make improvements and learn what they don’t teach in high school, college or even graduate school — how to be the involved, deeply caring husband and dad that your kids and truly deserve.

Leonard Felder, a licensed psychologist, has written 10 books. His newest is “Wake Up or Break Up: The 8 Crucial Steps to Strengthening Your Relationship” (Rodale, 2005).

Like a Jew in a Bagel Store


I’m no longer a virgin. To Israel, that is. This single babe just returned from her maiden voyage to the land of milk and honey. And all I can say is — there were a lot of honeys. Jewish men everywhere.

In the restaurants, on the streets, in the shops — I didn’t know where to flirt first. Forget a kid in a candy store, I was like a Jew in a bagel store. I’ll take a dozen — hot ones if you have them. Israel is a single Jewish girl’s fantasy.

Take one of my Tel Aviv adventures. I was downing a Maccabee Beer in a disco on the pier when it hit me: Every guy in this club is Jewish — they’re all fair game. The cute guy in the corner, the tall guy drinking Goldstar, the fine guy who asked me to dance and the young guy who could not ask at all. Every man here has a "for sale" sign. This must be what the rest of the world feels like — everyone they meet is a potential mate.

In Los Angeles, it’s all about the Jew-crew prescreen for me. When I get to a bar, first thing I do is a lap. OK, first thing I do is a shot. Second thing I do is a lap. Once I locate the hot guys, the real fun begins. Will the real Slim Schwartzie please stand up? OK, it’s not that bad. But without a secret password or members-only handshake, I have to do some fast detective work to uncover the boys’ roots. I open with subtle overtures like, "Where’d you go to school? When’d you graduate? When was your bar mitzvah?" Sometimes I slip in the, "Hi, my name’s Carin. What’s your last name?" or the ever-popular "Can I buy you a drink? Are you circumcised?" We even turn it into a drinking game, "Name That Jew." Every time you correctly ID a Jew in a bar, you pound a beer.

Some guys pass the Tribe test, but in a room of 100 random American men, statistics say I’ve narrowed my options to 2.2 of them. One of them is probably hitting on the 21-year-old blonde who’s up for a WB pilot and the other is usually a band geek without an instrument.

By dating only Jews, I really limit my pool. We’re not talking Olympic-size pool or even kiddie pool. Picture the small plastic pool you can purchase at Toys R Us. No — picture a bathtub. That’s my sample size.

So why put myself through that? Why restrict myself to .02 percent of the single men in the world? I haven’t always. In college I dated and fell love with an incredible Catholic guy. I told myself we’d work the religion thing out, we could compromise. But eventually I realized I didn’t want to compromise. Not about this. Judaism is an essential part of my life, it’s Carin to the core. I’d be lying to myself if I said it wasn’t. So now I only pick up Jews. Cuz’ you never know when that flirt’s gonna lead to a date, and that date to a relationship and that relationship to a puffy white dress and a drunken wedding hora. So for me it’s Heeb or nothing.

It’d be easier if I went outside the Jewish circle. I’d meet more men, I’d go on more dates, I could be married by now. But not under a chuppah. And there’s the snag. Dancing in that Tel Aviv club, I realized what it feels like to have my choice of any man at the bar. It feels amazing — I love the multiple choice. But more importantly, I realized what it feels to be in a bar packed with fellow Jews. The connection I felt to the people in the room — these were my peeps. And my future husband, he’s gonna be one of us. While dating only Jews limits my choices, it’s the only choice for me. Which is why I loved Israel’s all-you-can-date buffet. I was dancing on a platform in that Tel Aviv club when my friend, Amy, introduced us.

"Carin, this is Eli."

I owe Amy big time. In the movie of his life, Eli was hot enough to play himself. He had a cocky smile and a tight little Israeli boot-camp bootie. I didn’t have to hunt for the hecksher before we started kissing. In Israel, you know the guys are kosher.

If only it were that easy in Los Angeles. I’m back in Hollywood and trawling the scene for Jewish men. It’s frustrating, looking for mensch in a haystack. I miss my Israeli all-access pass. When a date goes poorly in Los Angeles, we say there’s always more fish in the sea. But in Israel, there’s a whole sea of Jewish fish waiting to be caught.


Carin Davis is a freelance writer and
can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

My Chanukah Miracle


I’m an experienced multidater, so I’m usually pretty good at juggling men.

But this Chanukah, I think I dropped a couple balls. Every year I throw a latkes-n’-liquor, dreidel-til-you-drop, anti-Antiochus Chanukah rager. It’s a typical "they attacked us, we lived, let’s eat" Jew crew celebration. And yenta that I am, I might have, kind of, sort of, invited all my men to my simcha. Marc, Alex, Scott, Dan, Evan, even Todd. They’ll all be there. What was I thinking? I need them all together like I need a loch in kop, a hole in the head. The Maccabees’ oil lasted eight nights. But the real miracle of Chanukah will be if I make it through just this one.

It’s not that my men don’t know I’m seeing other people, but I don’t usually let them see each other. Like my milk and meat dishes, I keep ’em separated. And now the whole thing is going to treif.

I invited two guys I’m dating, six guys I used to date, eight guys I’d like to date and one kid that my father bought for two zuzim. How did I get myself into this situation? There will be more eligible men in my apartment than tribbles on the Enterprise. Damn it, Jim, I’m a dater not a miracle worker. Sure, Chanukah celebrates the struggle of the few against the many, but this is ridiculous. I’ll be totally outnumbered. Paging Miss Davis, your party is waiting for you in the disaster department.

But what was I supposed to do? Pick one guy’s name out of a yarmulke? Draw a straw? Roll a die? Spin a dreidel? Nun, I invite none. Hey, I invite half. Gimmel, I invite all. And Shin, I send some back in the dating pool? I may be stressed, but I’m not stupid. A good mensch is hard to find.

Instead, I’ll be the host with the most — men, that is — running around the party, burning my Chanukah candle at both ends. I can picture it now: The boys will all arrive Jewish Standard Time, looking mmm, mmm good. I’ll spend some time with each, but even a professional dater like myself can’t be all things to all men all the time. If I don’t flirt wisely, I could lose as many men as my Chicago Bears have lost games. Perhaps I’ll run a zone defense, keeping Todd near the latkes, distracting Evan with my kugel and charming Marc with my cookies.

But eventually someone will get peanut butter in my chocolate. My men will get all mixed up. They’ll mingle, swap stories, compare notes, plot revenge. Oy, I’m in trouble. Danger Will Robinson, your social life will self-destruct in five minutes.

Or perhaps not. Maybe I’m making a Mount Sinai out of a molehill. The guys know I’ll be playing happy hostess, so they’ll arrive at my party expecting my much-divided attention. Besides, Jewish men welcome a little competition. Especially when it comes to dating. They always want the woman they can’t have, the one who’s hard to get. I may actually look hotter to these boys once they realize they’re not the only one looking to make a little sufganiyot. This whole mishegoss could work to my benefit. At the end of the night, I may end up on top.

But in case I don’t, I’ll exercise my eight-day clause and promise to celebrate Chanukah alone with each guy on another night. Just the thought of a private dreidel-spinning session with me should keep them satisfied until then.

But the real question isn’t why did I invite so many men, but rather, why do I date so many men? Why can’t I settle down?

The Hebrew word Chanukah means "to dedicate." If I were truly ready to dedicate myself to any one of these men, I’d ditch the others faster than J-Lo drops a husband. I’d be ready to make my man for now my man forever. After all, most of my peers have already picked a mate for life. They’re done. All sales final. No refunds. No exchanges.

But I’m still shopping around. I’ve dated a lot of men who know how to light my candle, but I’m still looking for my shamas. A man who stands taller than the rest. A latke-eating, Maxim-reading, football-cheering, tallit-wearing babe who makes my heart laugh, my mind dance and can keep my fire burning for at least eight long nights.

So until I meet my match, I’ll date a whole congregation of hotties and invite them all to my parties. And since men are the masters of the multidate, I think my guys will understand.

But just to be safe, I’m leaving town for New Year’s.

Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com

Women Who Don’t Need Men


When Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen shared bunk beds at a 1996 Catskills theater workshop, they swapped stories about Mars-Venus angst.

Westfeldt, an Upper West Side Jew, was breaking up with her college boyfriend and dating for the first time. Juergensen, a downtown bohemian, was juggling three guys and feeling guilty. Their girl talk led to a 1997 play and a movie, "Kissing Jessica Stein" (now in theaters), in which two women escape heterosexual hell by dating each other.

The frothy if sometimes clichéd romance, a lesbian take on "Sex and the Single Girl," puts a new spin on the saga of the befuddled single woman ("Annie Hall" meets "Bridget Jones’ Diary"). Stein (Westfeldt) is a prudish Upper West Side Jewish copy editor with a mean ex-boyfriend and an overbearing mom (Tovah Feldshuh), who thinks she’s too picky. On a whim, she answers the perfect personal ad — except it’s in the women-seeking-women section. She meets Helen (Juergensen), a promiscuous, "bi-curious" Chelsea gallery owner. The comedy veers into bedroom farce when Jessica’s mom invites Helen to Shabbat dinner.

Westfeldt dates her relationship woes to her childhood in a WASPY Connecticut town. "My mom would say, ‘Why don’t you date a nice Jewish boy, and I’d say, ‘Because this one’s ugly and that one’s crazy,’ she recalls. "That’s how many Jewish boys there were around."

When the family shleped into Manhattan to B’nai Jeshurun services — today the ultimate singles’ synagogue — led by Westfeldt’s esteemed great-uncle, the late Rabbi Marshall Meyer, mom pointed out cute guys for young Jennifer to check out. The memories inspired a "Stein" Yom Kippur scene in which Jessica’s mother is so obnoxious, Stein finally blurts: "Will you shut up? I’m trying to atone!"

Though the characters’ dating histories are loosely based on the authors’, Westfeldt and Juergensen, both "30-ish" say they’ve never dated women (including each other). But Westfeldt insists the concept isn’t far-fetched. "While writing the story, we interviewed dozens of women, straight, gay, crossed-over, crossed-back," says the actress. "Plus, we all have these wonderfully close women friends, and lots of us wonder, ‘What if my girlfriend made the perfect b.f.?’"

The film also features hilariously exaggerated versions of the authors’ crummiest dates: The lech who suggestively rubbed his chest; the nerd who meticulously split the check; the malaprop-prone doofus who declared he was a "self-defecating guy." "Like Jessica, I’m something of a wordsmith, so that was absolute torture," says Westfeldt, a Yale theater grad.

Less icky was rehearsing her first girl-on-girl smooch, courtesy of Juergensen, though "We were both nervous," she confides.

Juergensen, an earthy lapsed Protestant, agrees: "I knew there wasn’t a man attached to those lips, but eventually our professionalism kicked in," she says.

After their 1997 play version of "Kissing," "Lipschtick," created a deafening Hollywood buzz, Westfeldt and Juergensen were barraged by studio offers. "Our play closed on a Saturday, and by Monday my agent’s phone was ringing off the hook," says Westfeldt, who previously starred in the ABC sitcom "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place."

"It was the classic Hollywood bull—- machine; people were like, ‘We need to sit down with these girls and option their play, but they hadn’t seen it or read it or met us.’" Eventually, the actresses sold the script and completed more than 100 rewrites, but decided to go independent when their dating-hell flick turned into development hell. Westfeldt’s favorite indie film moment: The time they shot in a cab with the sound guy locked in the trunk. &’9;

The filmmakers’ perseverance paid off when they sold "Stein" to Fox Searchlight and won the audience award for best feature at the 2001 Los Angeles Film Festival. Observers compared them to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who also jump-started their acting careers by writing a scrappy independent film (1997’s "Good Will Hunting").

Since then, the actresses have encountered criticism from people who charge that "Stein" suggests sexuality is a choice. "But we had no interest in a political agenda," Westfeldt says. "We just wanted to show how diverse we all are." That’s why she thinks "Stein " would have pleased her famously progressive great uncle, who welcomed gays at B’nai Jeshurun and chastised the Conservative movement for refusing to ordain homosexuals. "The movie is all about tolerance and acceptance," Westfeldt says.

During a lighter moment, she notes that viewers still assume she and Juergensen are lesbians (they actually live with their respective boyfriends in Los Angeles). "People ask us, and we say no," she says, with a laugh. "But we’re almost embarrassed to admit we’re not."

Fit After 50


Looking to get in shape, clients of all ages, shapes and sizes come to youthful fitness trainer Betsy Mendel. Mendel, who operates a business called No Excuses, has developed special insights into the training needs of her middle-aged clients. After arriving in Los Angeles from Atlanta five years ago, she fell in love with the sunny climate and found it the perfect place to indulge her fanatic workout habits in the great outdoors. Since 1999, she has been training full time, offering workouts suited to L.A. beaches, canyons and other outdoor spaces.

Mike Levy: Can you describe your average client?

Betsy Mendel: I’ll train with anyone, but a lot of my clients are women over 50. What I try to do is make it easy, convenient and fun for them.

ML: How do you begin a fitness routine?

BM: We fill out a medical history, make sure they don’t have any medical problems where they’d need a doctor’s supervision. Then, we just talk about what their fitness goals are. Most people just want to get back in shape; they want to start feeling better and doing something a few times a week.

ML: You’ve said that many of your clients are women over 50. Do you have specific workouts for them?

BM: Let me give you an example. I have a client — she quit smoking a year ago — [who] feels like she’s put on weight. We do a warm-up where we stretch, then a 40-minute power walk around her neighborhood with light weights for the arms, and then we do a cool-down. She’s really into burning fat and working her cardiovascular, so we have a program emphasizing those things.

Another woman I work with, she’s 69. I set up a step. We use exercise bands, which are like giant rubber bands, and body bars, which are padded and weighted. We start off with a warm-up, and then we do stretching, because she’s very concerned about flexibility. A lot of the warm-up is done on the steps, or jogging in place. Then we’ll work with the bands, which provide resistance for upper-body strength.

ML: So, more generally, what do women need to be focusing on in their fitness training?

BM: As you get older, maintaining your flexibility becomes more of a challenge, but also more important. It gets very easy to break your bones, for your body to get more brittle, if you don’t stay active.

ML: And what is the most important part of the fitness routine for your older clients?

BM: For most of my clients, for women over 50 as well as the younger women, the most important thing is just getting out and doing something. That’s going to make them feel better about themselves, and when you feel better, you take better care of yourself; you eat better. It all comes together.

With an older woman, you just start out slower, you use a bit more precaution. And the results are going to be different as well: obviously, you don’t get as much muscle tone when you’re older. But you can still feel great, which is really what it’s about.

Dear Deborah


Outspoken Men

Readers: When itcomes to Jewish men and women and the great, complicated knot oflove, hate, passion, contempt and yearning, Jewish Journal readers –in this case, men — are outspoken. These responses and excerpts areto Headin’ for the Exit (“Renounces Jewish Women,” April 17), a manwho, despite his desire for a Jewish family, is frustrated by Jewishwomen and what he perceives to be their shortcomings. A curiousfactor: Only one woman responded. Could this be because they do notwish to dignify such stereotyping with a response? Or perhaps it isbecause they are so used to it that they have become inured to theseslurs. I hope the replies of the following men will evoke a responsefrom our Jewish sisters. And I’ve given our lone female correspondentthe last word.

Dear Deborah,

For a week, I’ve been puzzled. Why did a pictureof Cybill Shepherd and the caption “Cybill Shepard [sic], a primeexample of a non-Jewish woman” appear smack dab in the middle of yourcolumn. Actually, the picture and caption have kept myshiksa wife andme cheery for the week. Was this picture related to the Headin’ forthe Exit letter, a piece of sexism that did not deserve an airingunless, of course, it was to expose Jewish sexism? Unlikely, becauseyour response missed the point, failing to mention that in the”collective unconscious of millennia of Jewish generations,” there isenormous sexism.

You probably know about the recent addition of anorange to the Seder plate. The story goes that back in the distant1980s, when some representative Jewish man heard a woman speak out infavor of women in the rabbinate, he said, “A woman belongs on thebimah like anorange belongs on the Seder plate.” Although Jews take pride in ourefforts to eradicate racism, not until the Renewal Movement have wemade an effort to expose and eradicate sexism.

Back to the caption. It’s OK to use the word”shiksa.” It’s no more disparaging than the word Jew. A book reviewin a recent issue of The New Yorker started out with the line, “Leaveit to a goy towrite the definitive novel about Israel.” These words are OK if whatis in our hearts about non-Jews is clean and honest.

Anyway, to set the record straight, the shiksa cumlaude du jour is Meg Ryan.

I.G.

Dear I.G.,

It seemed so obvious that Headin’ for the Exit’sstereotypes were sexist that it didn’t warrant mention. Apparently, Iwas mistaken. That said, let’s save the discussion of the sexism of”millennia of Jewish generations” for another column — and inanother lifetime. I like my job.

As for the photograph of Cybill Shepherd, alas,the art director is responsible for column illustrations andcaptions.

As for the use of words such as “shiksa” and”goy,” frankly, I am certain that there were many others who, likeme, winced at the word “goy” in the New Yorker book review of RobertStone’s “Damascus Gate.” Perhaps when certain words become diluted byuse, they lose their bite. On the other hand, what’s next? “I knowthis kike. Ha,ha, just kidding. Some of my best friends….”

You know what I mean? Sometimes words hurt, bethey Latin, Yiddish or French — despite what is in one’sheart.

Dear Deborah,

I was married to a JAP (Jewish American Princess)from New York City the first time around. She parted when I didn’tget her the new car she requested for her birthday. That was only oneyear after the marriage. The second time around, I married aChristian, and we are still happily married 20 years later. Most ofmy Jewish friends have had similar experiences.

X.

Dear X.,

Ugh. I can’t even believe I am including thisshort excerpt of your diatribe, but I felt compelled to do so becauseit really was representatitive of many letters. Some wereworse.

Dear Deborah,

My experience is more general in that truly warm,considerate, intelligent women are rather rare. Restricting oneselfto Jewish women for marriage is too optimistic in this materialisticworld.

Some Jewish women I have dated were rather quickin pointing out my shortcomings, even on a first encounter. My worldhas enough adversaries and critics, and I prefer not to formattachments with persons whose first thoughts are critical. I try toaccept criticism when I am sure that my companion is “on myside.”

Singly Yours

Dear Singly,

Read on for one woman’s opinion.

Dear Deborah,

After reading Headin’s letter, I felt compelled torespond to his charges. I too want to marry and raise a Jewishfamily; however, I have dated only Jewish men and would neverconsider dating or marrying a non-Jew. Headin’ complains that Jewishwomen are calculating and have agendas; non-Jewish women on the otherhand, are “just happy to be with you” and “do things for you becausethey want to do things for you.” My experience with Jewish men isthat when I have been with someone I was “just happy being with,” hepreferred his calculating former girlfriend. And when I did thingsfor Jewish men “just because I wanted to,” my efforts were viewedwith suspicion that I must want something in return orunappreciated.

Deborah, a similar indictment against Jewish menmight read as follows: 1) They are scared — period. 2) They aresuspicious of Jewish women’s motives. 3) They feel they are too youngto settle down unless they are in their late 30s. 4) They prefer toamass material wealth rather than marry and have children while youngand build a life with their family.

So, is there any solution to this problem? I thinkthe answer might be that we need to consider our future sooner,realize that we don’t have forever, and try to recognize when youhave found what you are looking for.

Equally Frustrated

Dear E.F.,

Would it not be refreshing if we considered thepeople who pass through (or remain in) our lives on a case-by-casebasis, without ever needing to generalize about Jews, or any race,religion or gender?

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist.

All letters to DearDeborah require a name, address andtelephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course,be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names areused in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses canbe given only in the newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss,1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You canalso send E-mail: deborahb@primenet.com

 

A Jewish Guy


Frankly, I’mall for it.

But what about sports? Girls? Humvees andwashboard abs? This column’s supposed to parse the experience of aJewish Guy in the world. But some guys have called, confused. What’sall this about singing baby boys to sleep? About tender talks and thesalve of toddler hugs? It’s all very sweet, but, guy, hey guy, theyask, where’s the testosterone?

Funny. My wife’s been bugging me about the samething.

When I met Abby, I was 23, fresh off a few yearsof intensive karate training and backpacking adventures in WesternEurope. A Jerusalem girl, she liked to call me her “New York TaxiDriver.”

So a few years pass. The karate gives way toevening walks. The backpacking to lingering meals and washing uptogether. The modern dance classes, the bike trips — phoosh! — outthe window. I had the girl. Who needed the bait?

Then come the kids, and as the backpack molded inthe basement, the jagged horizons of world travel spun themselvesinto the downy world of the nursery. But not without some adjusting.”Could you be a little more gentle with the baby?” she says. “Do youhave to throw him so high in the air?” “I really don’t think a1-year-old needs to watch Godzilla vs. Rodan with you.”

And, so, slowly, washed bottle by washed bottle,powdered tushy cheek by cheek, gentle lullaby by lullaby, I, like thePleistocene dog and cow long before me, became domesticated.

After seven years, my wife’s most cherished wishhas come true. Nurturing comes naturally. I am the king ofKissathons, the Nabob of Neck-farts. Behold — Commander Cuddle. Theladies at the playground smile at me when I cradle my little ones.They coo over my unabashed affection. They marvel at the simple factthat I’m spending so much time with my children — and I’m not even ananny! (Of course, my wife, being an actual woman, sees no one on theplayground ever coo over her singing love and fierceembraces).

Now here’s the kicker. Now that I’m ready andtoned up for the Nagano of Nurturing, my wife tells me, “Genucht!”Would I mind putting down the book of children’s poetry and throw onmy carpenter’s belt. Go bang around the yard a little. Preferablyshirtless. Nail something. Haul the firewood across the lawn. Oh,and, sure, we can spare the money for a personal trainer — “but onlyif you want.”

A guy can’t catch a break.

This all may sound horrifying to some of you guys.I can hear you reaching for the Rogaine, perusing mag wheels for yourAcuras, gut-crunching right there on your carpets.

But this isn’t really an either-or game. It’s anongoing process of adjustments along the masculine-feminine line. I’mnot worried, even if my wife is leaving power tools around the house– a regular Johnny Appleseed of machismo.

And I find that, among my friends, theirmasculinity doesn’t worry them either. We each have our own private,often unspoken claims to manliness. This one swims everyday. This onebuilds lawn furniture in his garage. This one mountain-bikes, theother sea-kayaks. Most of us get in some skiing or snowboarding. And,of course, as married men, we all have in common sex, which studiesare rumored to suggest can be reassuring.

But the truth is, we mostly Jewish guys — and Ionly speak for my circle of friends — are quite comfortable to haveforsworn the consistent company of Men’s Journal masculinity formenschhood. Not that we achieve it consistently. Far from it. But itdoes mean that, at minimum, we spend time by our children’s sides.Often, and passionately.

Yeah, I’d like to raft the wild Yukon or diveamong blacktip sharks off the Bahamas (not the big ones though; justthe little ones). I’d love to bike through Vietnam or Alsace. And Iwill — either later with the kids, or without them when they’re incollege.

But for now, for these years, the guy thing isvery much the dad thing. The Rabbis challenge us, “Where there are nomen, who will be a man?”

Yo, guys: Where dads aren’t dads, there are nomen.

Adam Gilad lives and writes in Topanga. You canreach him at Aggprods@aol.com

 

Checking My Mailbox


ou read me! You really read me!

When I perused the stack of letters in response to my recent column on the difficulty of finding friends in a new city, I not only felt less like a huge loser, but I was reminded what it means to have a community. When I question why being Jewish is important, I will look at those letters and know.

You sent me cards (one woman even made me a “friendship collage”), invited me to your homes for dinner, and generally proved the point that when you leap, the net will appear.

Once, as a reporter in San Francisco, I covered the story of a young Jewish woman who was bitten in the face by a hyena while on a safari in Africa. There’s no punch line here; this is a true story. When she woke up in the hospital, she was surrounded by every Jewish mother living in a 50-mile radius of Nairobi. That’s what I love about being Jewish.

Speaking of Jewish mothers, I also received much mail regarding my call for eligible Jewish men (I had asked mothers to describe their single sons). I’ll share some of their letters.

One cautionary note: I can’t vouch for these men, but their mothers can. First, Maya Spector Catanzarite describes her son, David, as “charming, handsome, athletic and intelligent. Stanford and USC grad. Teaches theater at an elite college. Speaks fluent German and Italian and is well-read and well-traveled. Is polite, tactful, personable, very good company and loves children. His interests are marriage, ecology and world peace.”

Polly Stone lists the virtues of her son, Josh: “A) A face everyone loves. B) Romantic to a fault. C) Extremely bright. This is no lie; he is attending USC-HUC to earn a double master’s degree. D) He is truly sweet, loving and thoughtful. E-Z) Too numerous to mention.”

I can’t be sure that this next letter was actually from Dan Satlow’s grandmother. Perhaps he shouldn’t have used his own return address label, or requested the photos be returned to “my grandson.” But what can I say; I was charmed. Encino Dan’s “grand-mother” writes: “He was never shy, that one, with the acting and singing and getting up in front of people. And he loves the outdoors — hiking, rafting and camping…. And that sense of humor, from his father, no doubt. Still, he’s a nice boy, very helpful and sensitive. P.S., if you speak with him, tell him he should call me more often.”Thanks to everyone who wrote — and to all of you who mentioned how difficult it is to meet Jewish women who aren’t “JAPs,” (an offensive term) that is a big, juicy apple of an issue, of which I’ll be taking a bite in an upcoming column.

Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.

All rights reserved by author.

Part Memoir, Part


For the next few weeks, you will be hearing about girls and sex. “Oprah,” “Leeza,” “Charlie Rose,” The New York Times, even The Jewish Journal — media great and small will focus airwaves and inches on a topic that, while hardly new, rarely gets serious, sustained attention.

You’ll be hearing about it because Naomi Wolf wrote about it. The best-selling author of 1992’s “The Beauty Myth” has just released her third book, “Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood” (Random House, $24). Part memoir, part polemic, part socio-anthro-historiography, the book talks about how American girls experience sexual awakening, and how society can do a better job of helping them.

There have been dozens of other books that have covered the same or similar ground (Wolf credits most of them in her bibliography), but Wolf has a knack for shaping the various voices into a mostly coherent, highly readable set of arguments.

With heart. The heart comes from Wolf’s memoirs of her own sexual development. Growing up near the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco at the tail end of the Sexual Revolution, the author, now 35, recounts her and her friends’ own gropings — pun intended — toward womanhood in a culture that offered few definitions of being a woman beyond losing one’s virginity.

“Men were deciding for us if we were women,” she writes. “Heck, teenage boys were deciding for us if we were women.” (Much of Wolf’s decision making took place during summers abroad in Israel; “Promiscuities” gives new meaning to the phrase “Israel Experience.”) In all, these personal recollections form the book’s most moving passages.

They are joined by Wolf-the-cultural-critic’s discussion of how society has come to devalue women’s sexuality. As she points out, there is a great, debilitating power in terms such as “promiscuous” and “slut,” which punish women for exploring what Wolf posits is, in fact, a much more powerful feminine libido.

Wolf-the-activist weighs in at the end with suggestions on how women can take control of their sexual destinies. Among them: Go on retreats with other women to pass on wisdom; develop rituals to mark and respect sexual growth; and join girls with older women/mentors to whom they can turn to ask questions about anything, including it.

There is, in fact, a lot going on in “Promiscuities.” Sometimes, the effect can be jarring. Just when Wolf’s memoirs pick up steam, for example, she veers off to discuss a turn-of-the-century Danish sex manual or Emma Goldman’s sexual liberation. At other times, the polemicist plows forward, leaving the larger picture in the dust. Doesn’t society’s ineptitude at sexual initiation afflict boys and young men as well? Isn’t a larger discussion in order here?

But here’s where Wolf succeeds mightily: in touching nerves. You will find quite a bit in this book to side with, react to, debate, reject, admit. While Wolf’s greatest successes as a writer may lie in the future with more personal essays, it’s hard to deny her current power as the instigator of a crucial national conversation. — R.E.