Nearly all Israelis have power again following snowstorm

Electricity was restored in Israel in the wake of last week’s snowstorm, though isolated customers in Jerusalem still had no power.

The Israel Electric Corp. on its website Tuesday afternoon urged the customers without power to contact the company’s service center.

Up to 60,000 households were without power at the apex of the storm.

The Jerusalem Light Rail resumed service for the first time since last week early Tuesday morning, and public bus transportation began running regularly in and out of the city.

[Related: I got stranded in the great Israeli snowstorm of 2013]

Some schools in Jerusalem reopened an hour late on Tuesday morning. Schools remained closed in the northern city of Safed and in areas of the West Bank.  Hebrew University in Jerusalem remained closed due to traffic issues, however.

The main road to the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem remained closed Tuesday due to large snow drifts and dangerous ice patches.

Jewish community bears impact of Hurricane Sandy

Less than a year into her job at North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, N.Y., Rabbi Debbie Bravo sounded remarkably poised as she and her community faced one of their most powerful challenges together: Hurricane Sandy.

Bravo’s land line was dead. When she picked up her cell phone Tuesday, she had just returned from the local police station.

“I have a child who takes medication that has to be refrigerated,” she said calmly.

According to figures released by The Long Island Power Authority on Tuesday, more than 930,000 families — 90 percent of all island residents — are without power after Hurricane Sandy wrought havoc Monday night across the northeastern United States. Among those 930,000 are an estimated 139,000 Jewish househoolds.

Hurricane Sandy, which washed ashore Monday evening just south of Atlantic City, N.J., took dead aim at the most populous region of the country, home as well to the majority of the country's Jews. In its wake, it left a trail of devastation that may take weeks to restore, if not longer.

“I went over to the synagogue a few hours ago, which is right next to a woodsy area,” Bravo said. “Ten plus trees are down, including a huge one down on the front law. Everyone’s saying this is a hundred times worse” than previous natural disasters that hit the island.

The greater New York area, home to the largest population of Jews in North America, took a harsh hit as severe winds and flooding toppled trees, triggered electrical fires and flooded public transportation systems. The result: mass evacuations of apartments and dormitories, widespread school closings and damaged homes and community institutions.

Early Tuesday afternoon, David Weissberg, executive director of the 120-year-old Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn., posted a photo of a tree that literally sliced through the roof over the center’s main building.

“We’re looking in the short term how to work around that space and need to assess how long it will take to get that space repaired,” Weissberg said.

“It’s an amazingly precise cut,” he marvelled. “It fell at an angle perfectly perpendicular to the building, which will hopefully make the repair an easier one.”

Jewish communal organizations, whose offices, landlines and in some cases e-mail servers were closed or down on Tuesday, largely set up shop remotely as they set out to formulate a response.

“The concerns of the Jewish Federations movement is focussed on both those in the Jewish community and non-Jewish community as we work with local Jewish federations as well as local, state and federal emergency management personnel to assess the damage and look forward to recovery,” said William Daroff, vice president of public policy and director of the Washington office of The Jewish Federations of North America.

Daroff noted that while watching the devastation unfold, social media was a source of comfort. “Compared to visuals from New York and the Long Island coast, having a support structure and literally thousands of friends acquired through Facebook and Twitter helped me feel less alone as my family sat shuttering with gusts of wind at 50 mph.”

The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago set up a relief fund Monday night, with The Jewish Federations of North America and Union for Reform Judaism following suit the next afternoon.

For those without power on Long Island, finding alternative to landlines was critical.

“A lot of people are not getting cell phone service at home,” Bravo said. “For one congregant, the only time i could talk to her was when she left her house.”

As Bravo attempts to establish and maintain contact with the elderly and other congregants — including two with recent births — she also pondered the next moves for her synagogue’s two b’nai mizvah this weekend, which in all likelihood will be conducted without power.

“Truthfully in my mind, our options are try to use daylight,” she said.

Where are the great American Jewish leaders?

We are living in a troubling and dangerous time, a time when we need courageous and insightful leaders more than at any point since the Holocaust. We are facing a potentially existential crisis for Israel and ultimately, I believe, for Jewish people worldwide. Yet our leaders for the most part have not responded in a forceful way.

Those among us who understand what is at stake must immediately light a fire under our current leaders. At the same time, we need to rethink the process of how we select our leaders and what we expect of them.

If we look squarely at the facts and are unflinchingly honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are confronted with substantial threats. Today we are experiencing two primary attacks. The Arab/Muslim/Persian drive to remove Israel as a Jewish state is a fact, as is the very real threat of catastrophe that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel.

The unsettling recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and the entire Arab world add to the instability of Israel’s neighbors. Increasingly, radical Islamists, who interpret certain edicts of the Koran as instructing them to kill Jews, are directing their vitriol and hateful propaganda not solely at Israel but at the Jewish people as well. Anti-Israel sentiment is simply a new twist on an old canard. The hate has migrated from Christian religious anti-Semitism to Nazi racial anti-Semitism to Muslim political anti-Semitism and, finally, to a leftist, intellectual form of anti-Semitism under the guise of political correctness.

There is a frightening groundswell of negativity in the Western and Muslim worlds toward Israel and the Jews resulting from a deliberate, pernicious and astonishingly effective international propaganda campaign to delegitimize Israel by portraying it as a colonial implant and oppressive occupier. We have a situation in which Jews everywhere are experiencing a level of insecurity that has not existed since the 1940s.

Many would agree that Jewish leadership has a poor record when it comes to the perennial American Jewish problems of Jewish education, assimilation and confronting modernity. Most everyone also would agree that American Jewish leadership during the Holocaust was abysmal.

Why, then, have we ignored the lessons of that era? We certainly have the wherewithal—we have shown ourselves to be effective change agents and effective leaders in so many spheres outside of the Jewish world, from the media to medicine to the sciences to the arts and humanities. Where is our “Jewish genius”?

To all who would argue that we already have been responding, I submit that we have not. Mass assemblies within our communities with the stars of the Israeli lecture circuit and American political leaders might make American Jews feel good, but won’t make a difference—preaching to the converted never does.

American Jewish leadership does a reasonably good job running nursing homes, feeding the poor and housing the homeless. It is essentially a model forged in the prewar Ashkenazic communities of Europe and in the Sephardic world of the Levant, when the Jewish people were in effect powerless.

But when it comes to issues of exercising serious power to prevent another catastrophe in which the unthinkable can happen in an instant, our leaders have been impotent. They have adhered to an outdated model based on powerlessness despite the fact that, since the founding of the State of Israel, we now have power and a voice that potentially can be heard the world over.

I am not denying that we have an effective group in AIPAC, which does a phenomenal job of lobbying Congress. Paradoxically, however, no Jewish organization has succeeded when it comes to lobbying the Jewish people—and no organization has been successful in motivating the masses of Jews to action.

Where are our great, inspiring leaders who will be able to rally us, help us coalesce to work together for the good of the Jewish people and the world? Where is our Brandeis, our Martin Luther King Jr.? Where is our American Ben-Gurion or Jabotinsky?

Threats and insufficient response

We are running out of time. While the Arab leadership funded a well-thought-out campaign to sway the hearts and minds of the masses in Europe and the left in the United States; while they endowed chairs on college campuses and subsequently embedded like-minded professors sympathetic to their cause; we were marching at Israel Day parades singing “Am Yisrael Chai.”

While we were feeling warm and fuzzy, while we were asleep at the wheel, our enemies laid out and put into action a detailed and effective plan to destroy the State of Israel and the Jewish people. What they could not accomplish on the battlefield, they determined to carry out in the public arena.

We are now playing catch up—we finally realized what was going on and have been making a belated attempt to fight delegitimization and promote Israel studies on the campuses, but our efforts are nowhere near the scope that is necessary to effectively counter the momentum in place from our enemies’ efforts.  It is a case of too little, too late.

What are our leaders doing about these threats to the safety of Israel and the Jews? How loudly did our leaders protest when the world sided with the Turkish flotilla? How much is really being done about the Iran issue? Were our leaders vocal enough in response to the Goldstone report? And it staggers the mind how our leadership is not clamping down on some Jewish federations as they continue to fund organizations that espouse anti-Israel activities.

Considering our recent history, it seems inconceivable that our leaders are not more vociferous in their calls for justice and protection, are not organizing marches on Washington and putting unrelenting pressure on the president, are not coordinating a voice of truth to counter the growing threats. Quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy did not work during the Holocaust, and it won’t work now. The isolated voices of organizations like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, the Zionist Organization of America and others are not enough. The groups that are pushing for sanctions are not doing enough.

We need our leaders to be louder and more forceful, and for their actions to have real results. They need to motivate not only Congress and the administration to take action, but also Jews as a whole from apathy into action. We need more in-your-face Jewish activism. And we also need to form real partnerships with those that wish us well, i.e., the Evangelicals.

Would today’s Jewish leadership have the wherewithal to call for Jewish civil disobedience if a nightmare scenario develops, as yesterday’s leaders should have but did not during the Shoah?

Of course, there are some very dedicated and inspired leaders among us. There are those who are speaking out, those who are trying to apply the lessons of the Soviet Jewry model, which was one of American Jewry’s successes (albeit only after impetus from the masses). But there are too few of them.

To understand, it helps to look back. The failure of American Jewish leadership during World War II was no doubt in part motivated by fear, by the conviction that not rocking the boat was the best course, by the desire to hold onto the relatively newfound security of living in America, a safe haven and an ocean away from the turmoil of Europe. During the Holocaust, there were grass-roots groups doing valiant work on behalf of Europe’s Jews that were essentially silenced by America’s mainstream Jewish leadership.

This is the legacy we have inherited. Our leaders today have additional reasons for choosing to keep silent. Raising the alarm about the threats to Israel runs the risk of being labeled a racist or Islamophobe. And certainly there are many leaders who simply don’t know what to do. As a consequence they are doing next to nothing.

We know from modern Jewish history that people, organizations and leadership can change. In the 1940s, despite the horrific news coming from Europe, a number of individuals, organizations and rabbis were and remained opposed to the establishment of the refuge of the State of Israel. Some Jews opposed the United States entering and prosecuting the war. In hindsight, their opposition was ghastly.

Yet when prompted by their constituents, organizations do change, as do their leaders. Although the American Jewish Committee was not enthusiastic about Zionism before the State of Israel was declared, today it is one of the leading advocates for Israel and the Jewish people.

Choosing our leaders

Finally, we must reconsider how we choose our leaders. Our decision-makers today, the ones on the boards guiding collective Jewish action, are predominantly consensus builders drawn from the moneyed class, many of whom are unschooled in Jewish history and ritual, often unappreciative of the mystique and grandeur of our heritage, and lacking a solid grasp of what is most beneficial for the Jewish people and for Israel. When they do act, they often make ill-considered decisions that lead to poor outcomes.

To continue to choose our leaders from the same subset year after year and expect different results is not rational.

We should choose our leaders with different criteria in mind. Leaders should be people who are independent, creative thinkers and committed doers. They should be people of conviction and vision with the moral courage to rock the boat. We need leadership that is more diverse in terms of age and range of experience.

Our leaders should include members of the clergy, the academy and the creative community—people who understand the lessons of history and believe that history has a purpose. They are the ones who can inject into our community the missing vitality, imagination and vision.

We are in dire need of leaders who are connected to core Jewish values and who are caring, have empathy, wisdom and a majestic vision to be part of the power structure. Their collective experience, combined with the acumen of some of the current leaders, should improve the process of decision-making and lead to better outcomes.

If we choose our leaders with these criteria in mind, we will increase the probability that charismatic and forceful leaders will arise.

We cannot afford to remain silent. It is up to us to speak up, motivate our current leaders and ultimately strengthen our leadership. That is our homework. Let us hope that there is still time.

(Aryeh Rubin, a JTA board member, is the managing partner of the Maot Group and the founder and director of Targum Shlishi.


Jewish groups congratulate Egypt, hope for continued peace

In initial statements, Jewish groups congratulated Egyptians on ousting Hosni Mubarak and expressed hope for continued peace with Israel.

“The demonstrations by the people of Egypt against the regime’s authoritarianism and repression, and their demands for greater freedom, political accountability and transparency, have been inspiring to all who cherish democracy and liberty,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement Friday after Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had relinquished his powers to the army. “The people of Egypt must now channel their passion for change into the more difficult task of building the foundations for a true open, inclusive and stable democracy.”

The statement noted uncertainty about “the new role of the military is and how they will govern” as well as “serious questions about what role the Muslim Brotherhood will play in the transition and beyond, and how this will impact Egypt’s policies, and its relations with the West and the State of Israel.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center said it “congratulates and commends the Egyptian people’s courageous and non-violent transformation of their country.” It continued: “We hope that future developments will help institutionalize individual and political freedoms and that the new Egyptian government will continue to maintain the legacy of peaceful coexistence with all its neighbors, including the state of Israel.”

J Street’s President Jeremy Ben-Ami also issued a statement congratulating the Egyptian people, adding “The epic changes underway in the broader Arab world have important implications for Israel, beyond simply its bilateral relationship with Egypt, as well as for the United States. It is now even more imperative to seriously pursue a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert provided the following advice this week to his successor Benjamin Netanyahu in light of events in Egypt: ‘Don’t wait. Move, lead and make history. This is the time. There will not be a better one.’”

Jewish Journal staff contributed to this report.

Holy Doubt

This week’s Torah portion contains a story that most of us skipped in Hebrew school — the story of Dina.

Dina goes out to “see the daughters of the land.”

the eponymous local prince, sees her, sleeps with her and vaye’aneha — sexually forces or humiliates her.

His soul clings to her, he loves her, and he speaks tenderly to her.

This begins a protracted negotiation, in which Jacob remains silent and his sons, Dina’s brothers, maintain their outrage.

Shechem invites Jacob and the brothers to name any amount for a bride price.

The brothers answer with guile, seeming to accept Shechem’s proposal with the proviso that he and all his male subjects undergo circumcision to become “one people” with the Israelites.

Three days after all the males of Shechem are circumcised, while they are still in pain, Simon and Levi, two of Dina’s full brothers, enter the city, confident. They kill all the men and remove Dina from the house.

Jacob’s sons appropriate the property of the slain and take the women captive. Jacob objects: “You have stirred up trouble …[with my neighbors] while I am few in number, so if they band together against me and attack me, I and my house will be destroyed.”

The sons answer: “Shall our sister be dealt with like a whore?”

The story raises many questions, particularly from Dina’s perspective.

Did she learn of her impending marriage? If so, from whom? What was it like for her in the three or four days after the rape and before the “rescue”?

How did she feel when her brothers stormed in, killing the men and taking the women who were to be her new family? Was this similar to the way she had been taken captive? What was she looking for when she “went out to see the daughters of the land”? Had she and the local women already forged the kind of friendship and alliance that the men were negotiating for?

Or could Dina have been a spy against the women? (“To see” and “to spy on” are the same verb in Hebrew.) Can we imagine her as a Mata Hari figure, conspiring with her brothers to conquer Shechem? Or did Dina’s soul cleave to Shechem’s as improbably and enduringly as his cleaved to hers?

The Torah focuses on the men’s motivations, yet these, too, are far from clear. Jacob’s political objection to his sons’ actions ignores the harm to Dina, the sons’ deception and violence, and the murder of innocents. Is Jacob cautiously protecting the clan after a traumatic loss, or has he ceded control and leadership? Is he indifferent to his daughter’s suffering, or so distraught that he becomes passive?

Are the brothers overzealous defenders of their sister’s honor (perhaps in response to Jacob’s passivity) and/or do they see an opportunity for a land grab?

On his deathbed, Jacob will condemn Simon and Levi’s excesses and bar the two tribes from owning land (Genesis 49:5-7). Is the crime that most troubles the brothers rape — or theft? The males of Dina’s family should have commanded a bride price for her in advance, and the brothers seem more interested in orchestrating revenge than in facilitating Dina’s release.

Is Shechem a rapist? It is certainly not typical of a rapist to love his victim, want to marry her, offer to pay any amount of money and undergo genital surgery to be with her. Shechem more than fulfills all the requirements later imposed on Israelites (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) who bed an unbetrothed girl without gaining permission first.

Perhaps Shechem, prince of the land, thought that Dina, visiting among the daughters of the land, was one of his subjects, and therefore legal and eligible to him.

Long before Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent,” the ancient rabbis wondered if Dina chose — before or after the fact — to be with Shechem.

One midrash suggests that Dina was enticed by his uncircumcised body, and had to be removed from his house because she would not leave voluntarily.

Other midrashim don’t attribute sexual volition to Dina, but posit instead her extraordinary spiritual power: she would have caused Esau to repent had she been paired with him; she was Job’s second wife and healed him. Dina was indeed raped, but she inspired a rapist to repent immediately and completely.

The verb vaye’aneha — usually translated as “he raped her” — comes from the root ayin-nun-hey, which has two meanings: to answer or respond; or to force, afflict or humiliate, especially sexually.

Translating according to the first definition, it is possible to read vaye’aneha as parallel to vayidaber al lev hane’ara, he spoke to the girl tenderly (Genesis 34:2-3). This supports the interpretation that Shechem seduced Dina, rather than raped her. Similarly, it is possible to reverse the usual translation in 34:13: the brothers didn’t just answer Shechem with guile, they afflicted him with it.

It surprises me how confident people sometimes are about exactly what the Bible intends. What is meant, literally and in context, by “frontlets between your eyes” or “a man lying with a man as with a woman” or even “your neighbor?”

The Bible is laconic, allusive, ambiguous, layered.

It is not always clear to me, after years of study, which stories are cautionary tales and which are examples to be emulated.

Torah urges us: read again, review again, and don’t be so sure.

Approach with holy doubt, and humility.

Rabbi Debra Orenstein, editor of “Lifecycles 2: Jewish Women on Biblical Themes in Contemporary Life,” is spiritual leader of Makom Ohr Shalom in Tarzana. More of her writings can be found at

Two-state solution ASAP only chance for peace

Lebanon held the world’s headlines for much of the summer as Hezbollah and Israel waged sudden, furious battle. On the strength of the internationally brokered cease-fire that
brought a halt to the violence, Israel has now withdrawn the last of its troops and the world is holding its breath, hoping the cease-fire is sustainable.

But in the meantime, the Gaza Strip has continued to fester and collapse, seemingly forgotten. The situation in Gaza has been deplorable since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in August 2005, its population suffering from hunger and growing desperation. Late spring saw further deterioration and an escalation in the violence.

During a June 25 attack on an Israeli army base, two soldiers were killed and Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit was captured.

Since that time, Gazans have been subjected to repeated Israeli attempts to combat terrorism, resulting in enormous loss of life and damage to the area’s infrastructure. Newspaper readers know, for instance, that the war in Lebanon led to the deaths of more than 850 Lebanese and 150 Israelis, combatants and civilians. How many know that since June 25, more than 240 Palestinians, combatants and civilians, have been killed by the Israel Defense Forces?

Meanwhile, Qassam rockets have continued to be launched into southern Israel — far fewer in recent weeks, but still a source of fear and tension for those living within the rockets’ range. Despite an iron-fisted response to the Hamas attack and reports of a possible prisoner exchange, Shalit remains in his captors’ hands.

Most critically, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has gone from awful to far worse. The New York Times reported earlier this month that “it is difficult to exaggerate the economic collapse of Gaza,” and Jan Egeland, the United Nations undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, called Gaza “a ticking time bomb.”

Gaza’s economy, health care and social services are near collapse, and there are growing signs of malnutrition. Sixty percent of the population is without electricity, due to Israel’s bombing of Gaza’s only power station.

Border crossings have been open for only a few days over the past several months, leading to drastic shortages in basic human necessities: hospital supplies, essential medicines and food. Seventy-nine percent of households are now subsisting below the poverty line, and the World Bank forecasts that if the current situation persists, 2006 may be the worst year in Palestinian economic history.

As American Jews for whom Israel’s well-being is of paramount importance, we find it impossible to believe that these circumstances will lead to Israel’s security or help bring about a lasting peace. While it is understandable that we focused our attention on Lebanon for many weeks, we now call on the U.S. government and international community to dedicate the resources employed in achieving the Hezbollah-Israel cease-fire to address the looming disaster in Gaza and work toward reviving negotiations for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

First and foremost, the United States must work with Israel and the international community to open the border crossings on a regular basis to ensure receipt of desperately needed humanitarian supplies and the establishment of a functioning economy. Indeed, the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, reported early this month that the U.S. Security Coordinator, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, told a group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders that “without the restoration of commercial activity, there will be no security in the area.”

The possible formation of a Palestinian unity government may allow for the resumption of direct aid to the Palestinian Authority but seeing to it that more Palestinians get enough to eat and can meet their basic medical needs will not be enough.

Ha’aretz columnist Gidon Levy said of Israeli actions: “There is a horror taking place in Gaza, and while it might prevent a few terror attacks in the short run, it is bound to give birth to much more murderous terror.”

The only thing that can bring a final resolution of the conflict, creating economic stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike, as well as the longed-for end to the violence, is a negotiated, two-state solution.

Now that the cease-fire is in place and Israeli troops have left Lebanon, the international community, led by the United States, must turn its attention to Gaza. Continuing to ignore the problem will not make it go away. On the contrary, if the crisis is not addressed soon, Palestinians and Israelis alike will pay dearly as the peace process is further delayed.

Steve Masters and Diane Balser are the chair and co-chair of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom’s national advocacy committee. Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, is a national grass-roots movement more than 35,000 strong that educates and mobilizes American Jews in support of a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

What’s your Jewish I.Q.?

1. When was Judaism founded?
(a) 1000 C.E.
(b) 5000 B.C.E.
(c) 2000 B.C.E.
(d) 1000 B.C.E.

2. Who was the mother of Moses?

3. Who was born a Moabite, became a Jew and was the great-grandmother of King David?
(a) Rebekkah
(b) Deborah
(c) Lillith
(d) Ruth

4. Complete this line from Exodus 23:9: "You shall not oppress the _______ for you were _________ in the land of Egypt."

5. The Jews received the Torah at _____________ __________. God said there: "You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a ________ __________." (Exodus 19:6)

6. The phrase "Chosen People" refers to:
(a) God chose the Jews to be persecuted.
(b) God entered into a covenant with the Jews.
(c) Only Jews are made in the image of God.

7. The First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C.E. by which power?
(a) Macedonia
(b) Rome
(c) Assyria
(d) Babylonia

8. The tragic last stand of the Jews in their revolt against Rome took place at:
(a) Qumran
(b) Jerusalem
(c) Masada
(d) Hebron

9. The Spanish Jews who chose conversion between 1391-1492 and continued to practice Judaism in secret were called:
(a) Kabbalists
(b) Marranos
(c) Pietists
(d) Sephardim

10. The first Jewish community in North America was established in this settlement by 23 Dutch Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Brazil:
(a) New Amsterdam
(b) Newport
(c) Charleston
(d) Savannah

11. In 1807, __________ freed the Jews from their ghettos, granting them citizenship.

12. The main wave of 2 million Jewish immigrants entered the United States in which period?
(a) 1914-1933
(b) 1860-1870
(c) 1880-1914
(d) 1933-1945

13. What Jewish person won nine Olympic gold medals in swimming and is considered the greatest swimmer in the history of the sport?

14. TRUE OR FALSE? Historians cite three factors that distinguish the Holocaust from other genocides: its cruelty, its scale and its efficiency.

15. During the Holocaust, what three countries resisted the deportation of their Jewish population?

16. "Hear O Israel the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One" is the first line of?:
(a) The Israeli National Anthem
(b) The Shemoneh Esrei
(c) The "Shema"

17. A mitzvah is:
(a) A prayer
(b) A commandment
(c) A sin

18. Where is it written:
(a)"We support the non-Jewish poor together with the Jewish poor, and we visit the non-Jewish sick alongside the Jewish sick, and we bury non-Jewish dead alongside Jewish dead, all for the sake of the ways of peace."
(b)"You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. I am the Lord."

19. Fill in: "On three things does the world stand: Torah, service to God, and acts of ____________" (Pirke Avot).

20. TRUE OR FALSE? The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel offers "Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel" the "full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions."

Click here for the answers.

Test contributors include the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Outreach Institute, and The Journal editors.

Power of the Prez; In the wake of war; Children work for a cure

Power of the Prez

Century City attorney and Iranian Jewish activist H. David Nahai was elected president of the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commission on Sept. 21. The five-person commission unanimously elected Nahai who was originally appointed to the board that overseas the city’s water and power service by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last September.

“For me it’s a great honor and a significant opportunity because there is so much more the DWP can do, such as renewable energy, finding new water sources, and doing outreach,” Nahai said.

This new position is significant in that Nahai becomes one of only two Iranian Jews currently serving in local government in Southern California, a rare achievement for the Iranian Jewish community which had never been involved in political office in Iran. Indeed, Nahai is no novice when it comes to environmental issues as he practices environmental law and is chairman of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. In January 2005, Nahai was reappointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for an unprecedented third term on the Water Quality Control that overseas water quality in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. In addition, he currently serves as vice chairman of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

In the wake of war

Knesset member Arieh Eldad paid a rare visit to Los Angeles last week and spoke about current challenges facing Israel after the war against Hezbollah.
Eldad, a member of the Israeli Knesset Ethics Committee, served as the chief medical officer for the Israel Defense Forces (brigadier general, retired). He headed the plastic surgery and burns unit at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

While at Beverly Hills City Hall, Eldad met briefly with Mayor Steve Webb and Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad and later with Soraya Nazarian of Hadassah International Outreach. He explained about the treatment of burn victims of homicide bombings in Jerusalem. The professor is planning to visit the L.A. area again in December.

Children work for a cure

The Cure FD Foundation held a Sunday Morning of Fun event Sept. 17 to benefit children living with Familial Dysautonomia (FD). The event included a special showing of the “The Sound of Music” and featured free popcorn, raffle prizes, a live auction and brunch items for sale. All proceeds went to fast forward research to save hundreds of children with FD.

Charity Becomes Them

Creative Arts Temple volunteers celebrated Rosh Hashanah by distributing food to the needy on the Jewish New Year. More than 2,500 men, women and children enjoyed a dinner donated by L.A. caterer Joann Roth-Oseary and received blankets, socks, diapers and other necessities as part of the celebration. Celebrities who participated included: Stanley Kamel, Monty Hall, Joe Bologna and Dick Van Patten.

Mazel to Merkel

Herman Merkel, an L.A. resident for 26 years and a former chairman of Our Parents Home in Johannesburg, South Africa, was honored for years of devoted service to the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA). A donation in his honor will fund a major renovation of the JHA lounge, which was named for Merkel at a ceremony on July 11.

Merkel, 89, was deeply committed to serving Our Parents Home for more than 10 years. As a member of the board, he lent his expertise as a civil engineer and was known for the time he spent getting to know its residents. As chairman from 1975-1979, Merkel was a daily visitor at JHA, ensuring that it operated smoothly at all times. The ceremony at Our Parents Home was attended by Merkel’s granddaughter, Karen Berelowitz, of Washington, D.C, family members living in Johannesburg, JHA residents and Johannesburg Jewish community leaders.

Two to Cheer For

Democrats for Israel (DFI) gathered at its annual garden party recently to honor Rep. Adam Schiff and state Insurance Commissioner and lieutenant governor candidate John Garamendi. They used the opportunity to pay tribute to the 33 members of California’s Democratic congressional delegation who supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hezbollah, Iran and Syria by voting for a pair of resolutions expressing solidarity with Israel and demanding the return of three kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

Schiff was selected for his staunch support of Israel in Congress, and Garamendi was picked due to his tireless work to ensure that European insurance companies honor their commitments to Holocaust survivors.

The well-attended event reiterated Schiff’s belief for the need for the United States to support Israel and commended the strong support of House and Senate Democrats for Israel’s right to defend itself.

DFI President Andrew Lachman praised the two honorees, saying, “We are thrilled that Congressman Schiff and Insurance Commissioner Garamendi accepted these awards and spoke before us today.”

Other elected officials and candidates who attended the Garden Party included Assemblymen Paul Koretz and Lloyd Levine; Los Angeles City Councilmembers Jack Weiss and Wendy Greuel; Democratic Assembly nominees Mike Feuer, Julia Brownley and Anthony Portantino, and Democratic Board of Equalization candidate Judy Chu.

Israel, U.S. Act on Request for Renewable Energy

Israel and the United States will pool their scientific brainpower to find and develop alternative energy sources under a bill passed by the House and now wending its way through the Senate.

Under the proposed U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act, scientists and engineers from both countries would focus on research, development and commercial use of renewable energy from solar, wind, hydrogen and biofuel sources.

The act would appropriate $20 million annually through 2012 for grants to researchers at universities and business enterprises, awarded by a newly established International Energy Advisory Board in the U.S. Department of Energy.

All the funds are to come from the United States.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the energy act was introduced by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Rep. John Shadegg (R-Phoenix), and approved by an overwhelming voice vote in the House last month.

Essentially the same bill has been sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and 14 of his colleagues. Although the bill faces the usual committee and appropriations hurdles, Smith’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond, expressed confidence that the measure would pass the full Senate by the end of the current session.

The act received a boost from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his May 24 address to a joint session of Congress, when he stressed America and Israel’s common “desire for energy security” and praised the pending legislation.

Ron Dermer, minister of economic affairs at the Israeli embassy in Washington, said that the act would build on previous collaboration through the U.S.-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation.

Dermer also pointed to the large pool of Israeli scientific talent, such as at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and its ability to tackle new research fields.

Similarly, Sherman noted past technological collaboration between the two countries, as in the development of the Arrow missile, and Israeli pioneer work in developing more efficient batteries, solar energy and fuel cells.

In the language of the bill, he and Shadegg stressed that energy independence was “in the highest national security interest of the United States,” and warned that the U.S. now imports from foreign countries 58 percent of its oil.

Such dependence will increase by 33 percent over the next 20 years, the legislators projected, with some of the exporting countries using their profits to fund terrorism and hostile propaganda.

In a phone interview, Sherman said that when he introduced a similar measure last year, it died in committee hearing, contrasted to the overwhelming support this year.

He paid special tribute to the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), which has been lobbying for effective energy legislation for many years and has mobilized public support for the House measure.

Gary P. Ratner, AJCongress western regional executive director, said that his national organization had sent e-mails to some 25,000 members in support of the House bill. He urged that voters now contact their senators to advocate passage of Senate Bill 1862.

AJCongress National Executive Director Neil B. Goldstein said he was optimistic that the legislation would be passed by the Senate and signed by President Bush, noting that Senate majority leaders Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had expressed interest in presenting the bill to the full Senate for an early vote.In a related development, American and Israeli business, academic and financial leaders will meet in Tel Aviv on Nov. 8 for a high-level Alternative and Renewable Energy Conference, according to Shai Aizin, Israel West Coast consul for economic affairs.

For information on the conference, call (323) 658-7924, or e-mail — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Anchors Let Slip Plaintiff’s Name

Two Israeli radio disc jockeys were suspended for broadcasting the first name of a woman who alleges that President Moshe Katsav sexually assaulted her. Shai Goldstein and Dror Raphael, irreverent anchors on Tel Aviv Radio, were suspended for a week following a recent surprise phone call they made on air to the former Katsav aide, who previously had been identified in the media only by her first initial “A” due to the sensitivity of the case. Before she hung up on the duo, they used her full first name. The radio station apologized for the indiscretion but noted that the name is so common in Israel that the chance that the woman had been unmasked was slim. Shai and Dror, as they are popularly known, are famous for their broadcast pranks, which have included making crank calls to Israeli leaders and even enemy countries like Iran and Iraq.

Olmert Limits Inquiry Into War

Ehud Olmert announced that his government would conduct a limited inquiry into Israel’s handling of the Lebanon war. The prime minister said Monday that a former Mossad chief, Nahum Admoni, would lead the government-appointed commission to investigate whether the military and political echelons mishandled the 34-day offensive against Hezbollah. Olmert’s decision fell short of the independent judicial commission that his opponents had called for, and which might have had the power to recommend the prime minister’s resignation. Olmert said such a probe would take too long and would neglect the need to rehabilitate Israel’s defense apparatus ahead of possible future conflicts with Hezbollah or its patron, Iran.

Poll: Israelis Want Olmert Resignation

Sixty-three percent of Israelis want Ehud Olmert to resign, according to a new poll. Results of the Yediot Achronot poll, released Friday, showed for the first time that a majority of Israelis favor the resignation of the prime minister, elected in March, because of his handling of Israel’s war with Hezbollah. The poll showed 45 percent backing Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister who heads the Likud Party.

New Orleans Shul Dedicates New Torah

A New Orleans synagogue that lost its Torah scrolls to flooding dedicated a new scroll for the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. On Sunday, Congregation Beth Israel dedicated a scroll donated by the Los Angeles Jewish community through a fundraising drive by 16-year-old Hayley Fields of Hancock Park, who raised $18,000 to buy the Torah. Seven ruined Torah scrolls were recovered and buried after last year’s flood. National Council of Young Israel, the Orthodox umbrella body, facilitated the dedication.

Argentine Jews Complain Over Blocked Protest

Argentine Jewish leaders met with the country’s interior minister after left-wing activists prevented Jews from holding a demonstration against Iran.Luis Grynwald, president of the community’s central AMIA institution, and Jorge Kirszenbaum, president of the DAIA political umbrella group, talked with Anibal Fernandez for more than an hour Friday morning about an incident Thursday in which the Quebracho group blocked a street where Jews were to demonstrate. Many saw the move as anti-Semitic.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Mideast Fighting Strains Fragile Interfaith Ties

For more than three decades, Rabbi Allen Krause has believed in the power of interfaith and intercultural dialogue, especially between Jews and Muslims.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the head rabbi of Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo offered to have members of his congregation guard local Muslim day schools, he stood alongside other religious leaders to publicly decry a vicious assault on a Yorba Linda Arab American high school student and he invited a Palestinian to address his congregation to talk about the hardships of living in the territories.

However, the interfaith ties that Krause and others like him have carefully cultivated are now being tested as never before. Against the backdrop of Hezbollah rockets raining on Israel and Israeli bombs exploding in Lebanon and Gaza, friends are splitting into two sides. In mid-July, several Muslim members of Common Ground, an Orange County interfaith group Krause helped found, declined to attend a scheduled meeting, because they “might say things they might regret,” he was told.

Krause’s experience is not unusual. As war in the Middle East rages, one of the casualties has been the fragile ties between Muslim and Jewish interfaith and other groups. Already weakened by the failed peace promise of Oslo and the second intifada, in recent weeks Muslim-Jewish relations have hit their lowest ebb in more than a decade. The increased strain has re-sown the seeds of mistrust in some interfaith group that enthusiasts hoped to have forever banished.

To be sure, a few Muslim and Jewish groups have redoubled their efforts to bridge the growing chasm. The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) will soon announce a sweeping interfaith collaboration with a yet-to-be-named Muslim group, said PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which has a longstanding relationship with the Islamic Center of Southern California, soon plans to open a Center for Religious Inquiry that would invite members of all faiths, including Muslims, Jews and Christians, to discuss and examine the world’s major religions, said Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein. A new outfit named L.A. Jews for Peace recently held two peace vigils outside the Israeli Consulate and sent a representative to a large anti-Israel peace protest co-sponsored by Muslim and other organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Overall, though, Jewish-Muslim relations are strained, and tensions will likely worsen before getting better, predicts Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

“I think the current state [of Jewish-Muslim relations] is non-existent and will be even more alienated in the near future,” he said.

Rosove, once a major proponent of the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue, quit the now moribund group soon after Sept. 11 when, he said, several Muslim participants savagely criticized attempted to de-legitimize Israel. The dialogue, founded in 1998 amid great expectations, lost considerable Jewish and Muslim support over the years, including the withdrawal of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and CAIR, because of internal arguments over the Middle East. The group has not convened a meeting in more than a year.

David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates Inc., a Los-Angeles-based human relations organization that promotes civil rights, said he favors Jewish-Muslim dialogue. However, “unrelenting” anti-Israel attitudes he believes are shared by the majority of Muslim-American leaders makes that dialogue all but impossible.
“I think it’s incumbent upon us to find moderate Muslim voices. They’re out there; they’re just not leading the Muslim organization that Jewish organizations have traditionally dealt with,” said Lehrer, who served as the ADL’s regional director when the group quit the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue after Sept. 11.

On the other side, Reed Hamzeh, an L.A.-based attorney and regional director of the Arab American Institute, a civil rights group, believes that Israel’s actions in Lebanon are stoking anti-Semitism as well as anti-Americanism in the Muslim and Arab worlds.

“I’ve spoken to many Jewish-American friends,” said Hamzeh, whose parents were visiting Lebanon when the bombing began there. “We are in agreement that Israel’s actions are not in the best interest of Israel, the Jewish people and for the prospects of peace in the region, which should be everybody’s desired goal.”

In one reflection of the changing climate, a longtime Jewish member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blasted the group’s local chapter for planning to honor an activist whom he characterizes as an anti-Israel propagandist. Joel Bellman, press deputy to County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, sent a blistering e-mail on July 20 to the ACLU questioning the local chapter’s intention to honor Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) at the ACLU’s 43rd annual Garden Party in September.

“I guess I’m extremely pissed off, because MPAC has been extremely successful in packaging its message in very soothing and moderate tones,” Bellman said. “But when you strip away the dainty and decorous language, their positions are almost indistinguishable from anti-Israel, anti-Jewish attitudes found in much of the Muslim and Arab world.”

This is not the first time that Al-Marayati has been the focus of controversy: In an interview just after the Sept. 11, attacks, Al-Marayati suggested that Israel could be behind the terrorists. He later apologized for his comments and said they were taken out of context.

Al-Marayati, who said Bellman’s attack caught him by surprise, also said his group supports a two-state solution, denounces terrorism and reflects the outlook of moderate American Muslims. Yet Al-Marayati says that now more than ever, Jews and Muslims need to work together on issues of mutual interest such as hate crimes, civil rights and the separation of church and state, despite their differences about the Middle East.

Sande Hart, the Jewish co-founder of the Orange County-based Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope (SARAH), a four-year-old women’s interfaith group, also believes Jews and Muslims need to talk to one another as never before. Unfortunately, she said some Jewish and Muslim members no longer want to interact for the time being. Two Christians, no Muslims and just two Jews attended the group’s most recent meeting. Typically, two to three Muslims, five Jews and several Christians come to the interfaith gatherings. Hart said both Muslim and Jewish SARAH members told her they needed “space.”

“Our common ground is a little smaller than it was three weeks ago,” said Hart, who vows to patch-up relations among the group’s members.

Like their Jewish counterparts, many Muslims fear that events overseas could poison relations locally. They have expressed surprise at what they characterize as the “ferocity” of Israel’s strikes against Lebanon and Gaza.

Orange County resident Osman Umarji called Israel’s military campaign “vicious,” and said it nearly claimed the life of a close friend, who, in attempting to flee from the fighting in southern Lebanon , crossed a bridge with his mother just moments before Israeli bombs destroyed it.

The former president of the Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine — a group often at odds with pro-Israeli student groups at the university — said he thought Israel’s war in Lebanon would galvanize pro-Palestinian forces and breathe new life into the divestment movement at UCI and other campuses.

“I’m sure the discussion will intensify, and more Muslim and Arab students will get involved in educating people and speaking out against the atrocities Israel’s committing,” said Umarji, now an engineer at Broadcom Corp., a global leader in semiconductors for wired and wireless communications.

For Hussam Ayloush, Israeli “aggression” is personal. The executive director of the Southern California chapter of the CAIR said he grew up in Lebanon and left in 1989 during the civil war. Coming to America to study, he eventually settled in Southern California. Now married with three children, he said he returns to Lebanon once every couple years to visit family members, including a brother who lives in the capital city of Beirut.

Soon after Israel’s air campaign began, Ayloush said he fell out of contact with his brother and his parents for four long days (His parents were in Lebanon visiting their son). Scared for their safety, Ayloush said he barely slept. He checked e-mails incessantly and watched the news round-the-clock. Although relieved when he finally reached his loved ones, he said he knows their lives continue to remain in peril.

“We would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t realize that this new conflict will increase hatred among Arabs, Muslims and Jews. It’s not going to just increase anti-Semitism but also Islamophobia and anti-Arab feelings,” Ayloush said. “That’s a tragedy.”

But not all hope for continued dialogue has been dashed. Despite the July disappointment, Temple Beth El’s Krause persisted with his group, and after some heart-to-heart talks, the Muslim members have agreed to attend a mid-August gathering, much to Krause’s satisfaction and

Letters 06-30-2006

South Central Farm
Ralph Horowitz’s claim of anti-Semitism simply serves to inject ethnic conflict into a debate it does not belong (“A Harvest of Conflict,” June 23).

As part of our senior project, I and my friend, Deepak Seeni, interviewed some of the people involved in the farm. I suffered no anti-Semitism. On the contrary, some of the people seemed interested when I explained why I could not eat the food that was being sold there.

To portray Horowitz negatively at a time of negotiations was foolish, but to judge on the basis of what a hate group the leadership condemned said is ridiculous. If Horowitz was interested in negotiating in good faith but found current leadership distasteful, I don’t understand why he didn’t accept the deal negotiated by the city and nonprofit groups on the basis that the city or another neutral agency be in charge of running the urban garden.

Throwing out misleading accusations doesn’t show good faith, and the fact this piece of land was not saved, in the end hurts only the kids whose closest alternative for play is an empty parking lot, while the parties unproductively blame each other.

Horowitz now has the chance to be a true mensch by simply reentering negotiations and finding a way to save that space for the community.

Charlie Carnow

Assemblymember Monta?ez
In a column providing all sound bites and no substance, Jill Stewart offers comments disparaging Assemblymember Cindy Monta?ez (“These Dems Could Help Unlock Gridlock,” June 16). These comments are both mean-spirited and baseless.

Stewart’s first barb that Monta?ez (D-Mission Hills) is “an emotional hyperpartisan” is both sexist and false. Exactly how does one measure emotional hyperpartisanship? First, Monta?ez is a policymaker; [L.A. City Councilman Alex] Padilla is a power broker with little interest in real policy.

Next, Stewart makes claims like “[Monta?ez] proved incapable of working with both sides of the aisle in Sacramento.” Stewart, unsurprisingly, provides no support for this claim. Indeed, were Stewart an informed journalist, she would know that Assemblymember Monta?ez has co-authored 12 bipartisan pieces of legislation this session alone (AB547, AB568, etc). And readers should know that her legislation, signed by the governor, was, by definition, acknowledged by Republican leadership as necessary and important work.

Stewart is also off base in her ludicrous assertions that Monta?ez’s pro-labor position hurts her Latino constituents. In fact, being pro-labor and a being a friend to small business are not mutually exclusive. Rather, the reason that major labor organizations support Monta?ez is that she takes on, not kowtows to, big business. Stewart needs to do her homework.

Roy Kaufmann
Field Representative
Office of Assemblymember
Cindy Monta?ez

Jews and China
You’ve got it partially right — the next revolution in Jewish life is already taking place relative to China, but in a very different way than you describe and for a very different reason. (“This Week,” June 16).

Let me explain. Both traditional Judaism and the predominant Chinese philosophies are unbroken traditions addressing the whole person — intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Traditional Chinese medicine, based upon that premise, is truly holistic and integrative in both theory and clinical practice.

For this reason, an ever-increasing number of Jews seeking to bring balance to their lives and wellness to their health are attracted to Chinese medicine. Also, an ever-increasing number of Chinese medical practitioners and students are Jewish.

Yehuda Frischman
Los Angeles

You are not alone in your envisioning of Jews in China. In 1970, plus or minus a few years, Max Dimont, the author of “Jews, God and History,” was the speaker at a Temple Soleal retreat in Santa Barbara. He ended his talks with the prediction that the next great revival of Jews would be in China. Needless to say, most of us were dumbfounded. But the thought remained with me ever since.

Stan Burney
Via e-mail

Campus Activism
In his op-ed, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller mischaracterizes pro-Israel campus activism and ignores its importance and effectiveness (“Different Tack on Campus Challenge,” June 23). UCLA, in the heart of Jewish Los Angeles, does not always reflect what is happening nationally and internationally.

The rabbi’s approach certainly can enhance these efforts, but contrary to his charge, activist groups like StandWithUs promote coalition and bridge-building as a necessary part of activism. If the pro-Israel/pro-peace community abandons activism, it will do so at great risk.

Roz Rothstein, National Director
Dr. Roberta Seid, Educational Consultant
Esther Renzer, President StandWithUs

Kosher Entity
I am perplexed as to where the millions –if not billions — of dollars in profits that the “strongest and wealthiest entity in the Jewish world, ” except for Israel, as described by Rabbi Jacob Pressman, reside. Is there a secret bank account in Switzerland for the Orthodox Union (OU), the largest kosher certification entity?

The OU is a registered not for profit, so Pressman could easily check its financial documents (Letters, June 23).

While a few purveyors of kosher food –many of them non-Orthodox Jews or non-Jews — may make a handsome profit, the idea of a massive, megawealthy Orthodox “kosher entity” is as mythical as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

As an admirer of Pressman’s many contributions to L.A. Jewry and a member of a Conservative congregation, I am sorely disappointed that the rabbi has chosen to engage in what can only be called Orthodox bashing. And his words reinforce the negative canard that kashrut is “all about the money.”

Jodie Davidson
Woodland Hills

John Fishel
While the article titled, “A Private Man,” about John Fishel that ran May 26 was informative, it did not highlight one of Fishel’s key strengths.

Expert after expert has declared that a vital dynamic causing growth and change in 21st century Jewish life is directly proportional to the successful rise of entrepreneurial, Jewish, social venture startups. Jewish Los Angeles has spawned more of these new and creative organizations that address the myriad interests and needs such a diverse population requires than any other area outside of New York.

A great deal of these initiatives are being adapted and re-created in cities across the country, such as new spiritual communities, organizations that decry global genocide and serve the special needs of Jewish children among many others. Fishel has consistently taken the position that new organizations can and should arise and that their existence alone adds immeasurable value.

This is not true in most places. I believe the prolific number of creative ventures attest to the success of this position and must be noted.

Rhoda Uziel
Executive Director
Professional Leaders Project

In “Young Lawyer Has a Ball With Bet Tzedek” (June 23), The Journal incorrectly reported that Jeffrey A. Sklar is an attorney at Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP. Although he once worked at that firm, he is now an associate in the corporate practice of Loeb & Loeb LLP in Los Angeles.

In “Jesus’ Man Has a Plan” (June 23) the Rev. Rick Warren received his kippah from Jimmy Kolker, former U.S. ambassador in Uganda, not from the country’s president, as reported. Additionally, the invitation to Warren came from Rabbi David Wolpe, Craig Taubman and the ATID program at Sinai Temple, not from Synagogue 3000.


Nation-World Briefs

U.N. Asks Israel to Stop Making Nukes
A U.N. commission recommended that Israel refrain from manufacturing any more nuclear weapons as a step to a nuclear-free Middle East. The United Nation’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, chaired by weapons inspector Hans Blix, released its 60 recommendations on Monday. Regarding the Middle East, Blix recommended that most nations commit to not possessing any nuclear weapons. However, with Israel he recommended only that it commit to not manufacturing any more weapons. Israel is highly unlikely to agree to dismantle the 200 warheads it is believed to possess as the region’s sole nuclear power. Israel’s agreement would be a start, Blix said.

State Dept. Blasts Israel for Human Trafficking
Israel is on a U.S. State Department watch list of nations that fail to effectively prevent human trafficking. Israel was classified as being on the Tier Two watch list in the report released Monday. Tier Three is the worst classification, reserved for countries that fail to comply with minimum U.S. standards. Israeli law enforcement has made strides in cracking down on sex trafficking, the report said, but the same was not true of labor trafficking and “the estimated thousands of victims of forced labor were not provided with protection.” It described fees demanded of laborers ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, “a practice that often leads to debt bondage and makes these workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Israel,” it said.

FDA Approves Israeli Parkinson’s Drug
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved an Israeli drug that treats Parkinson’s, a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled shaking and muscle stiffness. Marketed under the name Azilect, this is the first once-daily oral treatment for Parkinson’s to be distributed in the United States; it was developed by Technion professors Moussa Youdim and John Finberg and is being manufactured by Tel Aviv-based generic pharmaceutical giant Teva. The drug is expected to become available by prescription in the United States by July or August.

While not a cure, the drug slows the progression of the disease. Azilect works by blocking the breakdown of dopamine, which tells the body how and when to move.

Parkinson’s currently affects 1 million people in the United States.

“This is a welcome development for the more than 50,000 Americans who are each year diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, ” said Dr. Steven Galson, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Parkinson’s is a relentless disease with limited treatment options, and each new therapy is an important addition to the physicians’ treatment options.”

However, the FDA is warning that the drug could carry an increased risk of hypertensive crisis — a precursor to a stroke — if taken with tyramine-rich foods (cheese, chocolate, red wine), dietary supplements or cough/cold medicines. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Nazi Papers Declassified
The U.S. government declassified more than 8 million pages of files related to Nazi war crimes. The material including documents relating to the CIA’s employment of suspected Nazi war criminals after World War II. The members of the government’s Interagency Working Group said at a news conference Tuesday that the revelations pointed to the dangers of working with war criminals, as the United States did after World War II. Among other revelations, the papers show that former Nazis employed by the United States were more susceptible to recruitment as double agents by the Soviet Union. Additionally, the papers show that the United States had a strong lead on the whereabouts of Adolf Eichmann in 1958, but did not pursue it because of fears that his capture would expose the Nazi past of high-ranking officials in the West German government, which was allied with the United States.

Trump Fires Jewish Contestant
An observant Jew failed in his bid to become Donald Trump’s next apprentice. Lee Bienstock was fired Monday on the season finale of “The Apprentice.” Bienstock and another Jewish contestant, New Jersey’s Dan Brody, observed Rosh Hashanah together early in the season missing the third episode’s task but only Bienstock, who grew up in the New York area, stayed in the show long enough to observe Yom Kippur, missing another task.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Competing Moments of Truth on Schools

On Tuesday April 18, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to lay the groundwork for the most defining initiative of his term in office: his attempt to take control of Los Angeles’ schools. But the day before he does, opponents of his plan will beat him to the microphone. The L.A. teachers union has scheduled a Monday press conference, hoping, they said, to push Villaraigosa in a different direction.

Villaraigosa’s first state-of-the-city speech is likely to put bone and muscle on his school takeover pitch which, up till now, nearly a year into his term, has been theoretical and short on specifics. If Villaraigosa delivers what people all over town have been waiting for, a slew of interest groups will know where they stand and will begin to respond accordingly.

“Mayor Villaraigosa has made a major commitment to take on the reform of the school district, and the civil, political and media hierarchy of the city have taken up that commitment as a serious benchmark of his performance as mayor,” said David Abel, a publisher who founded New Schools, Better Neighborhoods, an organization that works to shape schools as centers of community revitalization.

Unless Villaraigosa holds off — and further delay might be seen as retreat or indecision — the mayor will set the city on a path toward mayoral control within about two years. That would put Villaraigosa on a timetable to win control in a first term as mayor and wield that power in a second term, if he is reelected.

“Getting this to happen,” said Abel, who supports mayoral control but is not directly involved in the effort, “will be a delicate balance between the doable, the clock and the mayor’s own strategic goals and political ambitions.”

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the L.A. teachers union, hasn’t been content to wait for the unveiling. Over the past several weeks, union leaders have met with community groups and other key players, trying to set up a parallel juggernaut. The effort is planned to culminate the day before Villaraigosa’s speech, at a news conference during which the union will unveil its own “Call to Action” on school reform.

Early this week, the union was putting its reform declaration in final form, trying to settle on wording that will attract as many allies as possible. The stated goals will have much in common with what anyone would like to see in Los Angeles’ schools: It will call for quality instruction by fully trained teachers, a rigorous, diverse and engaging curriculum and adequate (meaning increased) funding.

“I think Mayor Villaraigosa will agree with almost all of it,” said UTLA spokesperson Steve Weingarten. “This vision of ours does not stop and start with mayoral control. We will be proposing the most dramatic changes at the school site. If you have people at that ground level making decisions, then it’s secondary who’s controlling things at the top.”

Of course, until now, the teachers union has been the most consistently powerful political force in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The mayor’s intervention could change that.

A recent version of the union’s draft declaration didn’t take on mayoral control directly, but spoke generally of more representation, which for the union has meant an elected school board at one end and a switch to community-governed schools at the other. Union officials also have talked about expanding the school board and “professionalizing” it. Which means making school board service a full-time job and increasing a board member’s salary and staff. That agenda is hardly compatible with putting Villaraigosa in charge.

Specific wording on who would call the shots is tricky for the union, because potential members of the union’s hoped-for coalition are not themselves settled on the issue.

“Some are a little more opposed to mayoral control than others,” said one teachers union stalwart, joking that “some are atheists and some are agnostics.”

Groups at the table with UTLA have included ACORN, a national social justice organization with deep Los Angeles roots; CARACEN, an L.A.-based organization that focuses on the needs of Central American immigrants and Latinos; and One L.A., the local affiliate of the national Industrial Areas Foundation. The union also would like to bring on board officials from smaller cities, such as Carson, South Gate and Cudahy, that are served by the LAUSD.

“The new leadership of UTLA prefers to work in concert with community organizations as part of a real alliance for change,” said Joel Jordan, the union’s director of special projects.

The union desperately wants to avoid being the bogeyman of school reform. A hint of that worst-case scenario played out during a late-March panel discussion at the Latino-Jewish Roundtable, held at the West Los Angeles headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League.

“Nobody ever gets fired,” said Marcus Castain, the mayor’s point man for developing a reform plan, while enumerating the district’s ills. “Fifty-three teachers were let got out of 37,000 in a school system where 75 percent of students are not making the grade.”

At the forum, Castain was supposed to have gone head to head with school board President Marlene Canter, who, like other board members, has evinced no desire to turn over authority to the mayor. But Canter couldn’t attend because a school board meeting ran late, and Canter’s pinch hitter avoided a verbal confrontation with Castain.

Instead, Lucy Okumu, an aide to Superintendent Roy Romer, suggested that Romer could find some common ground with the mayor if the goals included making it easier to get rid of bad teachers.

The union failed to burnish its own image recently when it backed a school board candidate, Christopher Arellano, who works for the union as an organizer. His candidacy collapsed after The Journal and other media outlets reported that he’d exaggerated his academic credentials and failed to disclose two theft convictions. UTLA spent more than $200,000 on his behalf and Arellano limped into a runoff, but he and the union have abandoned his candidacy.

The union would prefer to be one of many groups supporting its Call to Action. But each invited participant has interests that don’t perfectly coincide with the union’s. One such group is the Community Coalition, a black-brown social justice organization of South Los Angeles. Its focus has been getting the school district to make a full college-prep curriculum available to every student, said Sheilagh Polk, the coalition’s communications adviser. That goal appears in the Call to Action.

Nonetheless, the Community Coalition and other groups also are meeting with the mayor’s office. It’s clear that the mayor, too, would like to line up as many allies as possible.

The union leadership considered staging a competing event on the day of the mayor’s address, but that idea was dismissed as unnecessarily confrontational, said UTLA’s Jordan. Besides, on the charisma scale, “You’re not going upstage Antonio.”

Jordan spent most of his career in the teaching trenches, one of a legion of Jewish educators devoted to serving communities of poor black and brown students. It was another Jewish educator, Herman Katz, who helped turn around a teenage Villaraigosa when he was in danger of becoming a dropout.

Jordan remains on a first-name basis with the mayor after having worked with Villaraigosa during the future mayor’s days as a UTLA organizer: “He’s one of ours,” said Jordan.

Or so he seemed when UTLA broke with much of organized labor and backed Villaraigosa for mayor last year instead of incumbent James Hahn. Jordan and recently elected teachers’ union president A.J. Duffy met with Villaraigosa earlier this year.

“If we could show him there might be another way to have an effect on schools…” said Jordan wistfully, adding, “he left that door open.”

Jordan also conceded: “He appears to be set on his course. I wouldn’t bet against that.”


The View From L.A.: Hoping for the Best

Los Angeles supporters of Israel’s political parties praised or mourned the results of the Knesset election, but even the winners weren’t entirely in a mood to celebrate.

Shimon Erem, a former high-ranking officer in the Israeli army, said he had planned to fly to Israel to cast his ballot for Kadima (Israel has no absentee voting). However, with pre-election predictions that the centrist party would gain around 40 seats, Erem felt his vote wouldn’t be needed.

Instead, Kadima got only 29 seats out of a total of 120, a showing he attributed to “faulty strategy due to overconfidence, to taking its support for granted.”

Dr. Yehuda Handelsman, a veteran leader of the local Israeli community, also backed Kadima, but had been more realistic.

“I think we did pretty well,” he said. “If Ariel Sharon had remained healthy and had led the party, I think we would have gotten 35-40 seats.”

As a new party, Kadima has not yet organized an American support group, but Handelsman predicted the establishment of such an organization in the next two years.

The Labor Party came in second with 19 seats and Bea Chenkin, regional executive director of Ameinu (formerly Labor Zionist Alliance), said she was satisfied.

“Considering that [former Labor Party leader] Shimon Peres jumped ship to join Kadima, we did as well as could be expected,” she said. “A lot of Israelis feel that the social problems of the country have been neglected, but now these issues are coming to the fore again.”

Rabbi Meyer May, president of the (Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of California, said that the three religious parties had done a good job in mobilizing their base among the generally apathetic electorate.

“Shas, National Union-Religious Party and United Torah Judaism understood that there was a lot at stake for the observant community and managed to retain their strength, May said.

Even among the Orthodox parties, there are strong ethnic and ideological differences, noted Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, a Loyola Law School faculty member and an Orthodox leader.

At least one of the religious parties, most likely the less ideological United Torah Judaism, will join a Kadima-led coalition, Adlerstein predicted.

Robert Rechnitz, national vice chairman and Western regional president of American Friends of Likud, said he was “obviously disappointed” by the election results.

Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, had been the largest party in the sitting Knesset, but will have only 12 seats in the next one.

Rechnitz blamed the decline on Sharon’s absence at the top of the ticket and defections by many retired and Orthodox voters, who had been hurt by Netanyahu’s past economic policies, as well as by what he called a “vicious” campaign against Netanyahu in the Israeli media.

The leftist Meretz Party managed only five seats, to the dismay of Dr. Isaac Berman, a national board member of Meretz USA.

“Similar to the Democratic Party here, Meretz didn’t seem to have clear message and didn’t make the right kind of noise,” Berman said.

Views on the road ahead in the peace process varied from wait-and-see resignation to cautious optimism among several community leaders interviewed by The Journal.

Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs, a pro-Israeli advocacy group, said the situation in Israel is so fluid that it is difficult to make predictions about how events will unfold. Given the internal and external challenges Israel faces, though, she said that now is a time for unity.

“This is a time when Israelis need to pull together and work together,” Rothstein said. “You have the potential polarization of the Israeli society on the left and right on the inside and the Hamas threat from the outside.

A more upbeat assessment came from Mark LeVine, associate professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine. He said that despite Olmert’s vow to draw Israel’s final borders unilaterally, a negotiated settlement could eventually emerge. Hamas, he said, despite its refusal to recognize Israel, is not opposed to cutting a deal. And because of its standing in the Arab street, the group has the credentials to do so.

“Assuming Hamas doesn’t engage in too much violence either against military targets or terrorism against civilians, I would assume that in the next couple years there’s going to be a repeat of the negotiations you had at Camp David in 2000 and in Taba,” said LeVine, who wrote the 2005 book, “Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil” (Oneworld). “They’re probably going to be using pretty much the same maps.”

A local Muslim leader weighed in with similarly cautious optimism.

“There’s a recognition by the bulk of the Israeli population that the Greater Israel Project is over,” said Nayyer Ali, past chair of the Muslim Pubic Affairs Council. “Unlike the mood in Israel in 2000 and before, we now have a consensus among Israelis that the end solution is a Palestinian state.”

Ali added that the rise of the terorrist Hamas group on the Palestinian side also should not be viewed as a fatal impediment to peace. Just as the Israeli left cannot make peace without the support of more conservative Israeli parties, Ali said, Palestinian leaders, absent Hamas, also could not make a binding agreement. Despite its vow never to recognize Israel, “like other ideological parties, I think Hamas will have to deal with reality now that it’s in power,” Ali said.

But Sabiah Khan, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Southern California chapter, said she sees nothing but a stalemate ahead in at least the short term: Israel, on the one side, refuses to negotiate until Hamas renounces terrorism and recognizes its right to exist. The new Palestinian government, on the other hand, won’t engage Israel until the Jewish state ends its “occupation,” recognizes the national rights of the Palestinian people and renounces terror.

“Basically, we have two groups saying the same thing, that they’re not going to talk to each other [until the other side does something that it isn’t willing to do], Khan said. “Outside intervention from the U.S., Europe, the United Nations or Arab governments is needed.”

Some or all of those parties, she said, could break the impasse by encouraging a negotiated settlement based on international law and existing U.N. resolutions.

Regardless of last week’s voting results, the local Israeli consulate was in campaign party mode on Election Day. Consul General Ehud Danoch and his staff festooned the consulate’s Jerusalem Hall with small Israeli flags, and had spread out a generous supply of pita, hummus, techinah and cookies for more than 100 guests who jammed together to watch the results of the first exit polls.

Danoch drew on his own political background for a running commentary on the merging trends and shared the general astonishment at the success of the Pensioners Party, which came out of nowhere to gain seven seats.


Wendy Chronicles — A Personal Memoir

Wendy Wasserstein, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, died on Jan. 30 in New York of lymphoma. She was 55. This essay was written by her close friend, actress Caroline Aaron.

I first discovered Wendy Wasserstein at the 92nd St. Y. Known as the off-Broadway playwright of “Uncommon Women and Others” and “Isn’t It Romantic?” she was reading a monologue but did not introduce the piece. She simply came up to the lectern and began, “Women, where are we going?”

I was smitten. I felt she had plagiarized my inner life. In the last paragraph, the character says, “It’s just that I feel stranded, and I thought the whole point was that we wouldn’t feel stranded. I thought the whole point was that we were all in this together.”

That monologue became “The Heidi Chronicles,” which earned Wendy a Pulitzer Prize and the distinction of becoming the first female playwright to win the Tony Award for best play.

But long before the Pulitzer or the Tony was the workshop production of “Heidi” at The Seattle Rep. As part of that cast, I was on the front lines as new pages were coming out of her typewriter. I loved being around her, but for Wendy the spontaneous and instantaneous camaraderie of show folk did not come easily. The workshop was a success, and “Heidi” was on its way to New York.

The full-scale production was to be mounted at Playwrights Horizons. All of us in the Seattle workshop were to be replaced. It was not unusual to be the guinea pig actor replaced in New York with the pedigreed one.

What was unusual was I got a letter from Wendy thanking me for my contribution. She wrote that she had already worked on the play with an ensemble of actors and felt they should have the first crack at the New York production.

She then went on to say that she fully hoped some day I would be on the other side of that loyalty. And indeed I was. That letter was the beginning of one of the most rewarding and complicated friendships of my life. That letter was the beginning of “The Wendy Chronicles” for me.

It would be another five years before I would once again be the actress to her playwright, but in the interim, our relationship grew from colleagues to friends to family.

I became one of Wendy’s regular I-should-be-writing-but-let’s-meet-for-coffee-instead dates. It was a blast to help Wendy procrastinate. We shopped, gossiped and swore to get thin together. We went to each other’s openings. I was her date for award ceremonies and multiple engagements where, in her words, “I’m speaking to the Jews.”

But our most fun was going to temple together for the High Holidays. Every year we went to a different temple. The Super Bowl is probably the only ticket harder to get than one for High Holidays at a temple in Manhattan. But Wendy was always a coveted guest at all the best temples in New York, so I was in.

Wendy never wanted to belong to a congregation. She did not want to be identified by any institution.

Still, she was not above feeling obligated to the decorum of a nice Jewish girl. After Kol Nidre one Yom Kippur, Wendy wanted to go out to eat, but where?

She was Wendy Wasserstein, after all, and being seen in a restaurant at the beginning of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, a day of fasting and atoning, would just not be right. We were two Jewish girls on the lam, looking for a good meal.

Wendy knew just the place — a small, elegant bistro on Madison. When we sat down at our table, Wendy pointed and with a whisper said, “Oh look over there, it’s Donna Karan, so we’re OK.”

I told Wendy first that I was pregnant with my now 16-year-old son. I was her date for The Outer Critics Award Ceremony, and I was bursting with my news, but it was still a secret.

“The Heidi Chronicles” won that night. Over drinks celebrating the play’s first of many prizes, Wendy told me a secret of her own. She was trying to have a baby, too.

Wendy had a way of being so personal and so guarded all at the same time that I instinctively did not press for details. I just got on the ride of her unique journey.

There were allusions to possible mates, donors or adoptions, but the how seemed insignificant. It was the chance to be somebody’s mother that was important to Wendy. It would be 10 years later before this dream would finally come true with the birth of Lucy Jane.

Fast forward five years, and it is time to enroll my son in preschool, a highly competitive world in Manhattan. Wendy agreed to be my pull and enthusiastically wrote a hilarious letter that highly recommended my 4-year-old son because she was so impressed with “Ben’s opinions about movies and books” and because she “supported his political views.”

In 1993, I became her actress again when I played Dr. Gorgeous in the national tour of “The Sisters Rosensweig.” The tour ended in Los Angeles, and I ended up staying in L.A.

My life spread out, and I added cats, dogs, fish and a baby girl to my family. Wendy came out to meet the new baby, and as we peered over the crib to gaze at Sydney sleeping, I said, “I don’t know whether to raise her to be Madeleine Albright or Kate Moss.” Without hesitating, Wendy said, “Kate Moss. She will be much happier.”

I believe Wendy wanted a happy life, but she was not a slave to securing that outcome. An interesting life, that was her brass ring, with as much happiness as possible in its midst.

Perhaps our most profound bond was we were little sisters. Our big sisters were accomplished, imperious, judgmental and brilliant. They were the women we both feared and relied on. And then, Sandy, Wendy’s big sister, was struck with breast cancer. During this time, she wrote “The Sisters Rosensweig,” and Sandy was the inspiration for the eldest sister, Sara.

I was amazed at Wendy’s fortitude and wisdom. She was learning on her feet but a quick study. Sandy, once the shtarker in the family was now the fragile one. Sandy couldn’t be the manager, the boss.

These were now Wendy’s roles, but in her infinite kindness, Wendy made it still appear that she relied on Sandy. When Sandy died, I felt so sorry for my friend, still strong but profoundly diminished by the loss.

Ironically, very shortly after Sandy died, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and Wendy was my first call. I was living in Los Angeles and Wendy flew all the way across the country to be with me. She stayed only for the day and said, “I just came to tell you two things: One, this is not a TV movie, and two, show up.”

For the next six years as Josie battled this hideous disease, I called Wendy my cancer coach. When my sister died, I thought now I only have one big sister left — I have Wendy.

The following year, I got a call from Wendy asking me to come to Washington to do a workshop of a new play. She started giggling and said, “Whenever there is a two-figure deal in a swamp, your name immediately pops into my mind. But I totally understand if you can’t do it.”

It was no money, it was all the way across the country and it was just a reading. But she was the only place I felt safe with my sadness. She was the one who had also buried a sister. I didn’t even the read the play — I just headed to Washington, D.C., in the August heat.

The play was “Rash,” a two-character play about a doctor and his patient. I knew then why Wendy had wanted me. It was a play about a woman trying to cheat death in chemo rooms, being poked and prodded, winning and losing the battle on a daily basis.

But because it was Wendy’s writing, it was a romance, a kind of love affair between this Indian doctor and his frightened female patient, and it was damn funny. She knew I had ridden sidesaddle while my sister had endured each one of these scenes.

One night back at the hotel, after Wendy had put Lucy to bed, we were hanging out watching TV, and I ventured forth into the choppy waters of Wendy’s privacy.

“Who is this play about?” I wanted to know. “It’s not about your sister or mine is it?”

“No, it’s not,” she finally replied. “It’s about me. I have leukemia. I went through a lot in the last year, and I met this great doctor, and I am OK now.”

I needed to believe her. She ducked my worry and said, “I wrote another play on my way to D.C, and maybe we should read that one, too.”

I was in.

“I don’t know if it is any good,” she demurred, “but why not put it out there and find out?”

So the next day at rehearsal, the company sat around and read the one-act version of “Third.” We mounted both for the festival at The Kennedy Center, and both were a triumph. I thought “Third” was her best writing ever, and she was energized and hopeful, with her muse at full throttle.

We once again parted for different coasts, but I felt full, with a good dose of my friend. The next year, she worked to turn “Third” into a full-length play, finished her novel, started Lucy in school, spoke to the Jews and hid from all of her friends the war she was waging in order to be OK.

Wendy spent her formative years as a student at The Calhoun School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where, she says, “I began writing to get out of gym class.” Wendy’s early resistance to physical fitness gave us Heidi and Holly and Rita and Dr. Gorgeous and “An American Daughter” and all kinds of “Uncommon Women.” But when asked about her work as a female playwright, she would always bristle.

“I am a playwright,” she would respond, “it is not relevant that I am a female. My plays stand for me, not my gender.”

Wendy did not want to represent. She wanted to reveal. But now that she is gone who will speak for us? Who will be the custodian of our dreams, our rage, our disappointments, our politics and our power? Who will remind us not to leave each other stranded, that we are all in this together no matter what our individual choices?

And who will be my big sister?


The Hebrascope: Signs of the Jewdiac

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Notable Jewish Aquarius:
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Notable Jewish Pisces:
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Notable Jewish Aries:
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Notable Jewish Taurus:
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Notable Jewish Gemini:
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Notable Jewish Cancer:
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Notable Jewish Leo:
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Notable Jewish Virgo:
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Notable Jewish Libra:
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Notable Jewish Scorpio:
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Notable Jewish Sagittarius:
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Notable Jewish Capricorn:
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Write of Passage

My first crush was the Pikesville library in Baltimore, Md. Every Saturday after synagogue, my parents would usher me into the small, ancient red brick building quietly ensconced along one of the less-developed business roads in Pikesville. I would spend what seemed like hours quietly roaming the young-adult stacks and painstakingly choosing the “friends” I would bring home with me for the week.

One week, I would ambitiously attempt to devour the entire “Box Car Children” series; another I would host a Judy Blume marathon and vigilantly try to sneak the purportedly trashy “Deenie” home in between my “Sheila the Great” and “Blubber.”

After racing through all of the books with still a few days lingering between my weekly trysts, I would start reciting the books aloud, memorizing passages and acting out the various characters. Sometimes, I gawkily went so far as to continue the books in my innumerable journals. I’d imagine my own ending to the “Narnia” books and give the “Bobbsey Twins” new mysteries to solve.

My first audience was my far-too-willing parents and my far-too-unwilling younger brother. At dinner, after my parents asked us how school was and my brother, David, retorted with the perfunctorily pithy “fine,” I immediately glimpsed my window of opportunity and launched into a new playlet. Everyone assumed I would outgrow this “little phase” of needing attention.

The day of my bat mitzvah proved otherwise.

November 1986. It was raining outside Beth Am, one of the only pre-century temples that stood proudly in a yet-to-be-gentrified, fairly unsafe neighborhood. My hair was curled like Farrah Fawcett’s and my bat mitzvah book — yes, book — whose cover I had designed and whose 11 pages I had meticulously written, was ready.

A burnt orange cover, my thematic Thanksgiving color of choice, enveloped the little novella, which proudly stood in nine piles of 11, waiting for people — my people, my audience — to read during the ceremony. As I stood up on the bimah, I took people through my book of poems, stories and Jewish anecdotes.

It was then that I realized an audience of 99 sure beats an audience of three. My dream was to both act and write.

For a while, I put writing on hold, because acting was a lot more glamorous. Yet glamour easily tarnishes and after coming out to Hollywood, the Mecca of the film industry, I acted in a lot of plays, yet somehow felt unsatisfied.

I felt limited by the words the dead male playwrights were giving me. I was Jewish — where was my voice?

It wasn’t until I met Mark Troy, a Jewish playwright who later became my fiancé, that I realized the power of the voice within me. He inspired me to write my first play. He simply put the mirror in front of me and echoed the timeless adage: Write about what you know.

Admittedly, I knew my women inside and out. They were fiercely impassioned, obnoxiously intelligent, a little zaftig and a lot Jewish.

They were me.

My plays are a reflection of my life. My first play, “First to the Egg,” was the classic boy-meets-girl; however, the boy was a nerdy schlemiel sperm and the girl was the self-important conservative egg, whom he was trying to woo. Life reflected art and art reflected life. My genesis as a playwright had fertilized and conceived.

Growing up in a middle-class Jewish neighborhood in Baltimore has given me lots of fodder for my work. Dad’s a specialist on Middle East policy and Mom’s a teacher, so our dinner-table conversations were fraught with arguments, lessons and thought-provoking anecdotes. Of the five plays I have running around the country, all of them employ pseudo-intellectual/quasi-political and far-too-educated characters based on my own Jewish upbringing.

Currently, at the Elephant Theatre, my play, “Ellipses…,” is about two people who can’t finish their sentences; yet they manage to communicate better than most people.

My family rarely finished their sentences because everyone had so much to say, articulate, declare, pronounce, state, verbalize. Dad was always spewing on and on about Arab-Israeli politics, Mom would argue the benefits of communal dressing rooms at Loehmann’s, and I would champion my vegetarian ideals by disputing whether or not an egg should replace the shank bone on the seder plate.

Like the Freedman’s, the couple in “Ellipses…,” including the Jewish saleswoman who tries to help them pick out a wedding dress, are plagued with ellipses. These characters have so much to say, that they can’t finish their sentences because their minds are working too quickly.

I attempt to explore, investigate and play with my voice in various plays. Currently playing in Northern California is “Looking for Atticus Finch,” a play I wrote with Mark Troy, investigates a Jewish girl’s coming of age at Haverford College (my alma mater) and her ultimate search for a real hero. In Pennsylvania, one of my favorite plays is running: “Serial Killer Barbie,” which explores a young Jewish girl’s evolution from kindergarten to high school as she confronts anti-Semitism head on with her wit, anger and strychnine.

Who knew once upon a bimah that my coming of age was truly reflective of my adult coming of age as a writer?

Being a writer is a process. Being a Jewish writer simply furnishes a lot more schtick with which to bless my characters.

Colette Freedman’s “Ellipses…” runs through June 15 in Circus Theatricals One Act festival at the Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or visit

Patriot Paranoia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nathan’s Voice

At a time when Jews have unprecedented access to money and political power, it’s a fair question to ask: What do we bring to the table as Jews?

Better yet, what should being Jewish have to do with being rich or influential or powerful — or all of the above?

This is a good problem to have, mind you. It’s better to ponder how to dispense power than how to defend powerlessness. But the challenge remains, and this week the Case of the Gay Governor brought it once again to the fore.

By the time you read this, you’ll know even more of the sordid details behind New Jersey Gov. James McGreevy’s alleged affair with the Israeli man he then appointed as his homeland security director, Golan Cipel.

Cipel, 35, served as an Israel Defense Forces naval officer in such a low command that, as one New Jersey Republican state senator told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, "He wasn’t going to be able to pass the simplest of four-way background checks to be a state trooper," much less a homeland security adviser.

At an Aug. 12 press conference, McGreevy, 47, acknowledged he is a homosexual and said he was resigning, but no one believed for a second his sexual predilection was the sole cause for his resignation.

What we have here is chicanery disguised as soul-searching. There is the governor, who kept his alleged Israeli lover on taxpayer’s money. There is Cipel, the lover, who now claims he is not homosexual but was the victim of serial harassment and inexplicable professional advancement.

There is the Cipel’s Jewish lawyer, Alan Lowy, who presented a pre-press conference settlement offer of $50 million. There is the Cipel’s sponsor, McGreevy’s friend and campaign donor Charles Kushner, a prominent New Jersey Jewish leader who is now the target of a federal investigation involving an alleged scheme to blackmail his brother-in-law using the services of a hooker.

Well, I thought as I followed this story, at least the hooker’s not Jewish.

I think.

Of course there is the shonda factor here — the shame of reading so many Jewish names connected to such sordid business. My New Jersey friends tell me the cringing will only increase as more revelations come to light concerning Kushner — a major donor to Jewish schools and institutions.

"Even if you discount the usual conspiracy theorists," New Jersey Jewish News editor Andrew Silow-Carroll editorialized, "the scandal retroactively casts a shadow over Jewish communal politics in the state. By appointing an Israeli of dubious experience as head of an office as sensitive as homeland security, the governor raised questions at the time over whether he was being overly solicitous of the Jewish power brokers who were so helpful to his successful run for governor."

The temptation to curry favor, to rub elbows, to advance even our noble causes through ignoble means or people increases as we accrue power and influence. Before we know it, we find ourselves handing out awards to the wrong people for the right reasons, seduced — figuratively speaking — into loving governors and others when, deep down, we know better.

It’s not that we are better than anyone else, or that we should be held to a higher standard, but that we can and should aim higher. Our tradition makes this very clear, like when the prophet Nathan upbraids King David for sleeping with another man’s wife, or when Isaiah chastises the powerful elders and princes.

"This is the material, the stories, the biblical record that cultivates conscience," Rabbi Harold Schulweis once said. "The prophet is not a fortune teller; not a prognosticator, and the prophet speaks forth against the grain of power. He will not pretend muteness or deafness."

The problem is not unique to New Jersey. Last Feb. 3, I attended an American Jewish Committee (AJC) banquet honoring Doug Dowie, the Los Angeles general manager for the public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard. The AJC does fine work, as does Fleishman-Hillard, as has Dowie in a long and distinguished career. But not long after that banquet, the Los Angeles office of Fleishman-Hillard came under investigation for, among other things, over-billing the Department of Water and Power and soliciting illegal campaign contributions.

Dowie, who oversaw public sector contracts, has been placed on indefinite paid leave. It is fair to say, as one local activist told me, the who’s who of Los Angeles’ Jewish and non-Jewish power elite who sang the company’s praises and posed for photos in the hotel ballroom that evening would stay far away from such an event today.

In an ideal world, we would never be embarrassed by the names on our institutions or the pictures in our tribute books. But it happens. Our charge is not to stay away, but to resist getting too close. As we strive to be Davids, we must remember the voice of Nathan. We need to look those we honor straight in the eye, speak truth to power and demand to know if they are, indeed, honorable.

Communities Find Light in Darkness

It was Thursday afternoon, three days before 1,800 Jewish kids were to arrive for the final week of the JCC Maccabi games, and 40 delegation leaders were ironing out the logistics at a New Jersey hotel.

That’s when the lights and the air conditioning went dead, and the room quickly became hot and sticky.

But the organizers kept planning, hardly skipping a beat.

"I gotta tell you," said Lenny Silberman, North American continental director of the JCC Maccabi Games, "doing this for the games for 20 years and working with those communities, the potential for a big balagan [brouhaha] was definitely there."

But "it was amazing," he said Monday from his cell phone at the site of the games, the Jewish Community Center on the Palisades.

Thanks to the organizers’ calm, the blackout didn’t create even "an ounce" of anxiety — and all the athletes, hosted by local families, arrived in time for Sunday’s opening ceremonies.

"We knew there was no power, but we also knew that we had 1,800 kids that are depending on us on Sunday, so we had to do what we had to do," Silberman said.

A mix of determination and calm was found in Jewish communities across the Northeast that were impacted Aug. 14 by the massive blackout, the largest in the nation’s history.

Jewish communities also mirrored the mood of the population at large, which was relieved to learn that the outage was the result of a system overload, not terrorism.

Yet the incident highlighted Jewish organizations’ lack of preparedness for an emergency situation.

David Gad-Harf, executive director of Detroit’s Jewish Community Council, praised the spirit of communal cooperation — people took to the streets for block parties, cooking steaks that had defrosted in their freezers — but called the power failure a "wake-up call not only for the Jewish community, but for America as a whole."

Without an "old-fashioned" non-electric phone on hand, Gad-Harf said, the agency was unable to contact local federation leaders or other Jewish agencies.

"We realized that we were really not prepared for a crisis of this kind," he said.

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella organization for local federation community-relations councils, agreed.

"We learned how completely dependent on electricity we are," she said, noting that even the organization’s national contingency plan is dispatched through computers.

The alternative plan is to use telephones — which, if they were typical office phones, depend on electricity and didn’t work in the blackout — followed by cell phones, whose networks quickly were overloaded.

"None of those three plans worked for us," she said.

A new backup system has been in the works, Rosenthal said, explaining that a computer motherboard located in the Midwest could release information remotely.

But even that wouldn’t have helped last week, as parts of the Midwest went as black as Manhattan. As a result, every Jewish agency had to fend for itself in the blackout — without the national mobilizations or alerts that are customary in emergencies.

"[There was] not the time or the communications capacity to mobilize," said John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York. "Our first responsibility was to deal with the safety and security of our people.

"Every agency with whom I’ve spoken was better prepared and had a better system in place than we did on Sept. 11, and yet there are times when you still need to call audibles," he said, using a term for football plays that are improvised in response to unexpected circumstances.

While commending the efforts of his federation’s social service agencies, Ruskay noted that Jewish agencies realized they must establish more effective backup modes of communication.

Despite the enormity of the power failure, Jewish communities across the country took it in stride and were only minimally hindered.

The Jewish contingent of an interfaith mission from Akron, Ohio, to Washington was about to fly home when they heard about the blackout.

"I checked the Internet from my cell phone, and as soon as I found out what the situation was, I just knew that we were not going to be able to fly into Cleveland," said Michael Wise, chief executive officer of the Jewish Community Board of Akron, which sponsored the trip.

His instincts proved right: As one of six major airports that bore the brunt of the power outage, Cleveland’s airport was without power for the next 15 hours.

The group — which included state representatives, judges, media professionals, clergy and school and business leaders — arrived in Akron at 1 a.m., only five hours later than planned.

"Everyone from our group was incredibly cooperative and understanding," Wise said. "They all said this was a trip they will definitely never forget."

Others found a type of reprieve in the electric jolt.

"In a way it was magic," said Naomi Rose, executive director of the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto, which closed early on Thursday.

"We got to see the stars," which usually are obliterated by the city lights, she said.

"People sort of felt reasonably positive about it," viewing it as a "pause in their hurried lives," she said.

The wedding of Eli and Debbie Savage, a young Orthodox couple in Toronto, was due to begin Thursday evening soon after the lights went out. It went ahead as scheduled. Some 350 wedding guests ate a festive meal warmed on gas stoves, and danced to music played on a grand piano that had been wheeled into the banquet hall. A hotel generator supplied a bit of backup lighting and air conditioning, as well as temporary power for a video camera. Some guests arrived as much as two hours late because of gridlocked traffic in the streets. But most stayed late, realizing it made more sense to enjoy the celebration rather than struggle to get home.

"When they were there, they really couldn’t go anywhere," Savage said. "So people were thinking that they might as well just stay and enjoy. I’ve never seen so much spirit and electricity in the room."

After a night of dancing, the newlyweds were obliged to climb 10 flights of stairs to their honeymoon suite with candles in hand.

A candlelit photo of the Savages appeared on the front page of The Globe and Mail’s Saturday edition under the headlines "With Glowing Hearts" and "How the wedding sparks flew against a backdrop of darkness."

Guests commented that it had been one of the best weddings they had ever attended.

JTA correspondent Bill Gladstone in Toronto contributed to this story. Material also came from the Akron Jewish News and the Detroit Jewish News.

Lieberman Candidacy Spotlights Fear Factor

Sen. Joseph Lieberman was in town the other day, raising money and support for his presidential quest. Since his stint as vice-presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in the oh-so-close contest of 2000, Lieberman has become a national fixture in the political world.

Throwing his hat into the presidential ring was a natural outgrowth of the 2000 experience and has been met with welcoming applause in all but the Jewish community. While many Jews have expressed support for the Connecticut senator, still many are troubled by either his level of religious observance, his political stands and/or the perception that his candidacy, dare I say presidency, might act as a conductor of anti-Semitism.

I made a number of calls on the senator’s behalf for a fundraiser here and was surprised by the number of Jews who told me that they didn’t feel comfortable with Lieberman’s candidacy. One person said that they were concerned that Lieberman might be unnecessarily hard on Israel, while attempting to silence his skeptics that his being Jewish would lead him to be easy on Israel.

Another said to me that while they had voted for the Gore-Lieberman ticket in 2000, they were extremely glad Bush was president post-Sept. 11. The person reasoned that a Jew couldn’t be as hard on Iraq and Osama bin Laden as Bush had for fear that it would be seen as currying favor to Israel.

At first, I was amused at this discomfort people were expressing, until I heard from a Lieberman staffer that concerns about Lieberman’s being Jewish have been seen consistently nationwide — expressed only by Jews. Non-Jews have expressed no such reservations about Lieberman the presidential candidate, who happens to be Jewish. Indeed, at this point, Lieberman has jumped into an early lead in the polls.

This was bound to happen. The glass ceiling that has for so long hovered over the heads of the Jewish community now has Jews questioning whether completing this ascension to the full array of rights afforded all peoples in the Constitution is really worth the risk — the risk of arousing the anti-Semites.

It is instructive to look at two prominent Jewish columnists for The New York Times, William Safire and Tom Friedman, to realize that one can be Jewish and of two different minds. Here are two very Jewishly committed men with two very different views of the world and of the Middle East. Neither one represents a monolith that some of the "Lieberman-scared" Jews fear exists.

This all tells me that there is no one unique Jewish way of thinking or looking at the world, and this is good. This should tell us that Lieberman will only be Lieberman, and if elected, he will govern as he sees fit. Certainly his being Jewish will inform and mold his behavior, but it won’t be Jewish, because there is no such thing.

A President Lieberman may pressure Israel to dismantle settlements or he may even encourage such Israeli behavior, but he will ultimately do what is consistent with his campaign platform and what is true to his political philosophy.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, founder of CLAL — The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, who is currently serving as president of the Jewish Life Network, is troubled by this Jewish ambivalence to power. Greenberg said, "It expresses a fear that at a time of heightened anti-Semitism, Jews should not be too visible."

Greenberg’s point challenges the notion that if we are fearful, then we should be quiet. Greenberg continued, "For me, the Lieberman candidacy is proof that Jews have come of age, that we are capable of taking our fate into our own hands."

Alan Abramowitz, the Alben W. Barkley professor of political science at Emory University, contends that there is one element of the Jewish community that seems to be looking at the presidential candidates on the sole basis of where they stand on the issues. Abramowitz stated that "the fact that Jews do not automatically support a candidate because he happens to be Jewish is a reflection of the political maturity and self-confidence of American Jews."

How about that? Political maturity. What a great concept. It suggests that we American Jews have arrived at the place within American society where we feel equal to all Americans on all counts. We can now compete as individuals economically, socially and politically.

While Abramowitz is correct in pointing out this political maturity, there is still a segment of the Jewish community that appears to be afraid of this inalienable right. Greenberg claims "those Jews who are running scared in time will only hand a victory to anti-Semitism. One cannot hide or evade responsibility at this point of history. On the other hand, if we act — like everyone else — like we are entitled to compete for power and to be visible, then we will truly overcome the last residues of anti-Semitism."

If one doesn’t like Joe Lieberman’s stand on any of the issues and feels that there is another candidate who better reflects their views, then that would be a very mature way to look at the candidates. However, to reject Lieberman’s presidential bid because he is Jewish and that makes you feel uncomfortable as a Jew, that would be, well, immature.

Steve Berman serves on the board of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce. He is a columnist for the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Community Briefs

Center Board Wants Member to Resign

Pini Herman, an activist and outspoken critic of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), has been asked to resign from the advisory board of the Westside Jewish Community Center (WJCC) by the group’s president.

Herman, in a stinging missive to Westside JCC President Michael Kaminsky, said he refused to step down. “The whim, outrage, thrashings and arbitrariness that you and your JCCGLA support network are displaying is what has driven away many capable, talented, responsible and community-minded people from having anything to do [with] the WJCC and JCCGLA,” he wrote.

Kaminsky, in an earlier e-mail, characterized Herman as “belligerent” and “antagonistic,” saying the time had come for him to resign or be ousted.

The main cause sparking the latest brouhaha was Herman’s request to have a union member represent him and take notes at an upcoming WJCC board-JCCGLA meeting that he cannot attend.

Until recently, JCCGLA and unionized center workers were engaged in tough negotiations that called for salary and health benefit cuts. Kaminsky, in addition to his Westside duties, sits on JCCGLA’s board.

Herman, who attended a WJCC advisory board meeting May 5, said no one raised the issue of his dismissal. “I think Kaminsky was making up the process as he was going on and overreacted to my request,” Herman said.

In an interview, Kaminsky said he was frustrated and disappointed that Herman had leaked private e-mails to the press and that Herman had screamed at him recently on the phone. He added that no further action against Herman is planned. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Tenth Yahrzeit for ‘The Rav’ Planned

Young Israel of Century City will host a community forum Sunday, May 18, in commemoration of the 10th yahrzeit of “The Rav” — Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the preeminent Talmud scholar of the 20th century, whose philosophy shaped modern Orthodoxy.

“Hearing The Rav lecture was the most exciting intellectual and spiritual experience you could have,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, rabbi of Young Israel of Century City. “You thought you were hearing Torah straight from Sinai. He was so clear and profound, able to transform the most difficult concepts into simple language.”

The Rav’s great nephew, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik will speak about how his uncle emerged from a Lithuanian rabbinic dynasty to become a revolutionary leader in an Orthodox community confronting modernity. Soloveichik will also deliver a Shabbat lecture on The Rav’s influence on interfaith dialogue.

Rabbi Asher Brander of the Westwood Kehilla, Rabbi Nachum Sauer of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles and Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob will teach classes on different aspects of Soloveitchik’s thinking.

“A Man for All Seasons: Reflections on The Rav” will beheld Sunday, May 18, from 9 a.m.-12:15 p.m. at Young Israel of Century City,9317 W. Pico Blvd. There is no charge. For more information call (310) 273-6954or go to . — Staff Report

First Training in Adult EducationOpens

Most rabbis, cantors, educators and communal professionals have had no professional training for meeting the needs of adults seeking Jewish education — until now. This spring, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles established the Institute for Teaching Jewish Adults (ITJA). The continuing education program, which is the first of its kind in the United States, will train Jewish professionals and advanced lay leaders on how to reach out to the growing number of adults seeking Jewish literacy.

“Concerns over Jewish literacy and the need to develop an informed leadership are becoming commonplace in our community, affecting every family and synagogue,” said Dr. Diane Tickton Schuster, director of ITJA.

“It is increasingly important that Jewish professionals who work with adults understand the learning needs of this highly diverse constituency and the best strategies for teaching them,” she said.

Currently, the new program has a pioneer class of six students, all rabbis.

“This is training they never had as part of their preparation for [their] positions,” Schuster explained. Participants will learn how to cater to “well-educated Jewish adults, who feel under-educated Jewishly” and help them study and embrace Jewish history, Jewish text, Hebrew and find meaning within their Jewishness. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

El Al Offers New Class of Service

El Al recently replaced its business class with a new Platinum Business Class, offering increased personal service and comfort to passengers on its 777 and 747-400 aircraft. Each jetliner has been reconfigured, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in the number of seats and increased leg room for Platinum Business Class passengers. In addition, each seat has a laptop power outlet, personal lighting and a personal TV monitor.

Additional improvements include an increased number of flight attendants, more meal choices and courses and an extensive wine menu. At specific El Al Platinum Business Class counters, check-in is expedited and travelers are allowed three pieces of luggage, compared to two in coach. Platinum Business Class passengers are also allowed the use of specific airport departure lounges, such as Los Angeles International Airport’s King David Lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

For those traveling to Israel on a full-fare Platinum Business Class ticket, El Al offers a $250 round-trip companion Platinum Business Class ticket.

For more information, visit . — Rachel Brand, Staff Writer

Bombers and the Martyr Syndrome

Palestinian suicide bombers killed a total of 28 bus passengers and young people in a four-day orgy of blood and vengeance that stretched from Haifa and Hadera in the North to Jerusalem in the South.

The weekend’s four human bombs brought to 30 the number of Palestinians who have blown themselves up since the intifada broke out 14 months ago. Hamas claimed responsibility for 22 of them, the smaller Islamic Jihad eight. Altogether, 243 Israelis have been killed by them and about 2,000 wounded.

Leaders of these extremist Islamic movements boast that young Palestinians are lining up by the hundreds in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to volunteer for suicide missions. Eyad Sarraj, the director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Project, detects a widespread eagerness and zeal. "If they are turned down," he said, "they become depressed. They feel they have been deprived of the ultimate award of dying for God."

Palestinian opinion polls show a sharp rise in support for suicidal attacks on Israelis. Before the intifada, it ranged from 20 to 25 percent. It is now soaring between 70 and 80 percent. And this cuts across party lines. Support for Hamas as a political movement runs at barely 20 percent (double what it was before September 2000, but still a minority) and support for Islamic Jihad is at about 5 percent.

Sarraj, who believes they are making a deadly mistake, has spent two decades researching the "martyr syndrome," trying to fathom why so many young Palestinian Muslims are competing to die with smiles on their faces. Religion, he concluded, was only part — albeit a crucial part — of the answer. The other components, he maintained, were a need to identify with a symbol of power and a thirst for revenge.

"The bottom line," Sarraj explained, "is absolute despair. It’s not economic despair, not poverty, but political despair. These people identify with the defeated, humiliated Arab Islamic nation. They feel desperate because they can’t defeat the Israelis on the battlefield. They can’t rely on outside help. So in the end, they turn themselves into bombs."

Many Palestinian children, the London-trained psychiatrist added, had witnessed the humiliation of their fathers by Israeli soldiers. They no longer admired a father who couldn’t protect them and couldn’t even protect himself. So, they looked for an alternative. In the 1980s, after the first intifada, when children played "Arabs and Jews," the local variation of "Cowboys and Indians," many chose to be the Jews because the Jews were stronger.

But, that produced a trauma of its own. How, they brooded, could they identify with the enemy? So, Sarraj and his research team discovered, many of these young Palestinians turned to violence against others in their own community. Once the second intifada broke out, however, they found a more appealing model in the Palestinian fighter who kills for his nation.

That led in turn to hero-worship of the suicide bomber. "The martyr," Sarraj argued, "is the highest model because Muslim culture glorifies the martyr. He is the most courageous fighter because he meets the ultimate test of faith. The martyrs think they are exercising their will over life and death, the ultimate form of power."

Faith is the key to the puzzle. The Koran says that if you die for God, you don’t die. The bombers believe it in the most literal sense. "If they believed that their death was really their end," Sarraj insisted, "they’d never do it. They believe they will go to a better and more victorious life."

The question challenging Palestinian and Israeli political leaders, not to mention President Bush’s mediator, General Anthony Zinni, is whether the cult of the martyr is now so entrenched that it would be impossible for Yasser Arafat to rein in the bombers, even if he wanted to.

Ghassan Khatib, a West Bank political analyst, is convinced that the Palestinian leader could enforce a cease-fire, if the Israelis would help him. "Arafat is still in control of his security organizations," he said, "and he is still perceived as the leader. His word will be obeyed if it makes sense to the Palestinian in the street."

Everything turned, he contended, on whether the Israelis continued killing Palestinians, be they children on their way to school or Hamas commanders rocketed in their cars. "The reason for Arafat’s failure so far is that he is required to deliver a unilateral cease-fire," Khatib said. "He was made weak last week when Israel killed 15 Palestinians in 48 hours. But, if a cease-fire is applied to both sides, he still has the authority to deliver."

After the latest suicide bombings, Ariel Sharon and Bush may yet force him to the test.

The Divorce Force

By J.J. Goldberg

Gangs of masked, Yiddish-speaking thugs inBrooklyn have been abducting Orthodox Jewish men and beating themsavagely to force them into granting their wives a religious divorce,or get, according to several men who say they were victims of such assaults.The beatings allegedly were ordered by an Orthodox rabbinicalcourt.

The story surfaced just before Purim, but it’s nojoke. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office is investigating twocases and may submit evidence to a grand jury within weeks, the DA’sspokesman says. Newsday, a local daily, reports that it has uneartheda dozen such get-related assaults.

One of the alleged victims, Abraham Rubin, filed a$100 million civil racketeering lawsuit in state court in Januaryagainst the people he claims attacked him. The suit names severalprominent rabbis charged with authorizing the assault.

Also named is America’s second-largest Orthodoxrabbinic association, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the UnitedStates and Canada, which the lawsuit says acted “in conspiracy” withsome of the accused rabbis. The union’s executive vice president,Rabbi Hersh Ginsberg, says that his group had “nothing to do” withany beatings, adding: “We have 500 members, so whatever a member mayor may not do has nothing to do with us.”

The union last won headlines on the eve of Purim1997 by decreeing that Reform and Conservative Judaism were notJudaism. Founded in 1900, it is the oldest Orthodox rabbinic group inAmerica. Often derided by critics as marginal, the union’s membershipincludes some of the leading Talmudic authorities in traditionalOrthodoxy.

The allegations are the latest twist in acontinuing Orthodox debate over the fate of agunot, or “chainedwomen”—women who cannot remarry, because their husbands won’t givethem a get. In rabbinic law, the divorce document can only beinitiated by the husband. An ex-wife without a get is still a wifeand may not remarry, though a husband without a get may sometimestake a second wife.

Women’s rights advocates say that husbands oftenuse the get to extort better financial or child-custody terms than acivil court might grant. Many agunot, activists say, are womenfleeing abuse. Their number is unknown, but some activists put it inthe thousands.

Rumors of get-related beatings have beencirculating for years, but “there’s never been any hard evidence,“said Susan Aranoff, who is with the women’s rights group Agunah Inc.“We think it’s barbaric.”

A beating is rumored to cost about $5,000,including rabbinical court fees.

Rubin and his attorney, Thomas Stickel, held apress conference last week with five other Orthodox men who claimedto be victims of get attacks, including one beaten in 1992 bybat-wielding, Yiddish-speaking thugs in ski masks. Stickel believesthe same group of rabbis ordered most of the assaults.

Rubin’s lawsuit paints a sad picture of a 1986marriage that ended in 1990, when his wife, Chaya, fled to Canadawith the children. She agreed to settle their dispute in rabbinicalcourt, the suit says, but, instead, she obtained a civil divorce inMontreal in 1992. Then she asked for a get.

Beginning in 1995, the suit says, a series ofrabbinical panels ordered Rubin to appear for divorce. In 1996, aseven-member “star-chamber-like tribunal” allegedly issued a writ,“ordering plaintiff’s abduction and torture.” On Oct. 23, 1996, Rubinsays, he was snatched off a Borough Park street by three men whodragged him into a van, handcuffed, blindfolded and beat him, andrepeatedly shocked him with a stun gun, demanding in Yiddish that heissue a get. He says that he passed out and was later dumped near acemetery. Stickel says that Rubin was told the get had been concludedwhile he was unconscious.

In the broader Jewish community, the case hasaroused, well, not much of a reaction. Only two secular tabloids,Newsday and the New York Post, even reported the story. Orthodoxleaders who are asked for comment typically offer responses rangingfrom “nothing’s been proven” to “it’s not news; we’ve known aboutthis for years”—sometimes both from the same person.

The community’s ringing silence is not hard toexplain. It’s tough to know whom to dislike more in this, a sordidtale without good guys. But the silence also betrays a largerpathology: a tendency in the Jewish community, particularly theOrthodox community, to circle the wagons and resist outsidescrutiny.

It’s an old instinct, based on real fears ofvulnerability and a determination to shut out the outside world. Butit won’t work anymore. The outside world keeps creeping in.

Agunot were rare until recent times. That waspartly because divorce was infrequent, and partly because rabbis oncehad the power to flog a husband until he agreed to divorce. Israelirabbis can still jail a husband, but rabbis elsewhere have no suchpower. Not legally.

The problem is most acute in the United States.Because of church-state separation, no central authority governsrabbinic courts here, so husbands may bring a divorce to any tribunalthey choose. Some right-wing panels are known for favoringhusbands.

What’s emerged is basically a home-grown Americanproblem, something the Talmud never foresaw: growing numbers of wivesopting out, growing numbers of husbands refusing to free them. TheOrthodox community faces a crisis that it is just beginning toacknowledge. Society’s ills are taking a toll on a community thatlikes to think itself immune.

Actually, pummeling husbands isn’t the onlyhalachic way to help agunot. One tribunal in New York, headed byRabbi Moshe Morgenstern, began arranging divorces last year withoutthe husband’s participation. The panel uses an old procedure, akin toannulment, in which a get can be written without hubby’s consent ifthe rabbis rule the original marriage contract invalid.

But Morgenstern’s panel has evoked gales ofprotest from a spectrum of Orthodox rabbis who say the speedy getsare invalid. In January, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis convened aspecial “emergency meeting” to condemn the tribunal’s work as”deceitful.”

The reported get beatings, if proven true—andfew who know the community doubt there’s something there—are asign of what happens when change strikes a community that doesn’t believe in change. An irresistible force meets an immovable object.The result is violent chaos.

“This is what’s going on,” says Morgenstern. “It’sperfectly legitimate to beat the husbands up, but it’s treif to annul the marriages. There’s something wrong with that. Whether or not itwas once acceptable to use corporal punishment, it’s now against thelaw.”

J.J. Goldberg is author of “Jewish Power:Inside the American Jewish Establishment.” He writes regularly for The Jewish Journal.

How Do We Do It?

I was late getting home from mymeeting the other night. Too late to help my daughter prepare for herSpanish quiz. Too late to massage her shoulders after softballpractice. “Do Not Disturb,” read the sign on her door. Hernight-stand light was on, but Samantha was already asleep.

Disregarding her warning sign, I entered, andpulled the covers over her. “Sweet dreams,” I whispered, and I kissedher forehead. I knew from our car-phone talk that she had had a goodday. Still, until I saw Samantha myself, her hair neatly pulled backwith a barrette, I could not rest. At nearly 16, my daughter isaccustomed to making her own meals, putting herself to bed. Thebalance of power has shifted: I need the good-night kiss more thanshe does.

I’ve been a single parent a long time now. I knowa lot about it. When Jewish organizations need a speaker on singleparenting, they often ask me — and I’ll be at the Westside JewishCommunity Center this Sunday for the daylong conference, “CreatingFamily Life as a Single Parent,” sponsored by Jewish Family Service’snew Jewish Single Parent Network (818-762-8800.)

Fifteen percent of all Jewish households withchildren under 16 are single-parent, according to the soon-to-bereleased Los Angeles Jewish community population survey. That’s aboutone in six. We may have fewer teen pregnancies than the surroundingmainstream community, but lots of divorce, lots of widowhood, lots ofsingle parents by choice.

And the questions I’m asked most often are: “Howdo you do it?” “How do you make choices about the child’s welfarewithout someone to bat the ideas around with?” “How do you play goodcop/bad cop by yourself?” “How do you get any time for yourself aftera long day’s work?” “How do you retain a social life that doesn’tleave the child feeling excluded?”

The single answer to all of these issues changeswith time. Raising a child alone is so overwhelming “There’s noschool for parenting,” my mother used to tell me, and single parentsare even more in the dark. Whipped about in the heady winds of achild’s emotions, I’ve had no one else to provide an anchor. Yet,somehow, homework gets done, new Adidas get bought. We get throughthe school semester. We get over our tantrums. We get our hugs. I getby, with a little help from my friends.

I’m not kidding. Some nights I can’t bear theweight of the worry. And some days I have to kvell out loud. Ineither case, I talk: to the pillow, or to Marika, Jane or Willie. Orto God. I hold back nothing. My advice to single parents is: Pickyour friends wisely. Forget the meaning of shame. And learn themeaning of pride.

It’s about pride that I want to make a specialpoint. A single parent’s life is generally deemed to be one of pity,sadness, handicap. The prevailing attitude of our synagogues andorganizations, and of married couples who belong to them, is that wesingle parents are “broken,” while they, of course, are “intact.” Ina series of focus groups sponsored by Jewish Family Service in LosAngeles, single parents reported that they felt “unwelcome” in Jewishlife. There’s a bias toward the nuclear family; anyone who doesn’tconform is a challenge and a threat to community norms.

Perhaps it goes back to the biblical commandmentof caring for the widow and orphan, but single parents carry, inaddition to extraordinary financial and emotional obligations, aweighty psychological burden to prove their wholeness. The Jewishsingle parent is regarded as a war veteran, like the one-legged guywho stands on the highway with a tin cup. Battle-scarred, needinghelp.

Wrong! The aura of handicap that hangs over singlefamilies not only hurts parents, who ache with a sense of their owninadequacy, but it destroys the burgeoning confidence of Jewishchildren.

There are plenty of stumbling blocks in a parent’slife; let’s get rid of the crazy ones. We have to see single parentsfor who they are: strong, tireless, persevering and role models ofselfless love.

The community, rather, could honor us not withpity but with support, including low-cost synagogue membership andb’nai mitzvah fees, and scholarships for summer camp. But the biggestboon to single parents would come when the Jewish world begins toredefine “family” according to the realities of today. After all, theLos Angeles community survey demonstrates that only 23 percent of allJewish households are in the traditional “Leave it to Beaver” mode:Mom, Dad, kids.

Well, my house is part of the new majority. Ididn’t exactly plan to raise my child alone, but, even so, it is arewarding life. I was lucky to do her bat mitzvah alone, without aspouse to argue with over “how Jewish” it would be. I have vacationswith my daughter each year that are the envy of many two-parentfamilies. We have closeness and intimacy and friendship. I love her,and she’s still talking to me, so I can’t be doing too bad ajob.

I’m a single parent, sure. Glad of it.

Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of TheJewish Journal. She hosts the Jewish community chat Thursday eveningsat 8 p.m. on American Online. Her e-mail address

All rights reserved by author.


January 30, 1998One by One byOne


January 30, 1998TheDaughter


January 23, 1998Babysitters NoMore


January 16, 1998FalseAlarms


November 28, 1997As AmericanAs…


November 21, 1997The ThirteenWants


November 14, 1997Music to MyEars


November 7, 1997Four Takes on50


October 31, 1997ChallengingHernandez


October 24, 1997CommonGround


October 17, 1997Taking Off theMask


October 10, 1997Life’s a MixedBag


October 3, 1997And Now ForSomething Completely Different


September 26, 1997An OpenHeart


September 19, 1997My BronxTale


September 12, 1997 — Of Goddesses andSaints


August 22, 1997 — Who is Not a Jew


August 15, 1997 — A LegendaryFriendship


July 25, 1997 — A Perfect Orange


July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own


July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes


July 4, 1997 — Meet theSeekowitzes


June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life


June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites