Survey: Half of U.K. Jews not overly concerned by rising anti-Semitism


Nearly 70 percent of Jews in the United Kingdom believe anti-Semitism is on the rise, a new survey found, but half of the respondents are not overly concerned.

Approximately half of the 1,468 respondents said anti-Semitism was “a fairly big problem,” while another half said it was “not a very big problem” or “not a problem at all,” according to the email study conducted by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research and released earlier this month.

Religious Jews were more likely than secular ones to be concerned about anti-Semitism.

The three groups considered most likely to commit anti-Semitic acts, the respondents said, are extremist Muslims, individuals with left-wing political views and teenagers.

Among the findings, 75 percent of respondents indicated that anti-Semitism on the Internet is a problem, half stated that anti-Semitism in the media is a problem, and half said they avoid wearing or carrying a distinctive Jewish item, at least on occasion, out of fear for their safety.

Asked if they feel blamed by others for actions taken by the Israeli government, nearly two-thirds of the respondents said it never or only occasionally happens.

With an estimated 300,000 Jews, the U.K. has the world’s fifth-largest and Europe’s second-largest Jewish population.

Genetic study offers clues to history of North Africa’s Jews


A new genetic analysis has reconstructed the history of North Africa’s Jews, showing that these populations date to biblical-era Israel and are not largely the descendants of natives who converted to Judaism, scientists reported on Monday.

The study also shows that these Jews form two distinct groups, one of which is more closely related than the other to their European counterparts, reflecting historical migrations.

The findings are the latest in series of genetic studies, which began in the 1990s, indicating that the world’s Jews share biological roots, not just cultural and religious ties. In many cases the analyses have confirmed what scholars had gleaned from archaeological finds and historical accounts.

“This work demonstrates a shared genetic history among the Jews of North Africa and strengthens the case for a biological basis for Jewishness,” said medical geneticist Harry Ostrer of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who led the study.

For the new analysis, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ostrer and his colleagues examined the genomes of 509 Jews and 11 non-Jews from North Africa, which is home to the second-largest Jewish diaspora. Only the European diaspora, which includes American Jews, is larger.

The scientists found that the Jewish populations of North Africa became genetically distinct over time, with those of each country carrying their own DNA signatures. That suggests they mostly married within their own religious and cultural group, said Ostrer. “They lived in ghettos,” he said, “so their mobility was quite restricted, and by marrying each other they became as closely related as first cousins once removed.”

The analysis showed that all North African Jews are descended from forebears in the Middle East, supporting the hypothesis that biblical-era Israelites among Phoenician traders established colonies along the North African coast.

Common DNA signatures also show that some groups are closer, genetically, to their European co-religionists than expected. That suggests “a shared set of founders,” said Ostrer, presumably Jews from the Middle East who migrated west.

If Jewish populations in North Africa and Europe shared ancestors, then Sephardic Jews who settled in Africa after being expelled from Spain during the Inquisition originated in North Africa more than 1,000 years earlier. “The Sephardic Jews show significant North African ancestry,” said Ostrer. “That could reflect bidirectional migrations” to and from North Africa and Europe over the centuries.

EXODUS FROM EGYPT

DNA evidence lends credence to accounts that in 312 BC Egypt’s king settled Jews in Cyrenaica, in what is now Tunisia. According to the Jewish historian Josephus (born in AD 37), by the first century AD there were 500,000 Jews there. The DNA that Tunisian Jews share with those of the Middle East supports accounts that, after the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, 30,000 Jews were deported to Carthage, in what is now Tunisia.

North African Jews fall into two genetically distinct groups: those of Morocco and Algeria and those of Tunisia and Libya. The former are more closely related to Europeans, suggesting that when the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497 most of those escaping to North Africa put down stakes in the first lands they reached rather than traveling farther east.

Experts not involved in the new study saw no major surprises but credited it for the breadth of its findings.

“What’s new here is the inclusion of several Jewish communities whose DNA had not been studied before, such as those of Tunisia and Georgia,” said geneticist Marcus Feldman of Stanford University, co-author of a 2009 study that found significant genetic similarity between European and Middle Eastern Jews.

Including Georgian Jews led to one surprise: that they are closely related to those of the Middle East, including those in Iraq and Iran. “That shows there was significant migration of Jewish populations along the Silk Road beginning in the Persian Empire,” said Ostrer. “Just a small number of founders started Jewish communities in India, Burma, and Georgia.”

The Jews of Ethiopia are so distantly related to other Jews that their community must have been founded by only a few itinerants who converted local people to Judaism and then married within the local population. It also suggests the founding was more than 2,000 years ago.

That antiquity helps explain why Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel during “Operation Moses” in 1984 had no idea about the holiday of Hanukkah, which commemorates events of the second century BC—long after their ancestors had left Israel. (Editing by Douglas Royalty)

Leading Jewish demographer disputes study of N.Y. Jews


Len Saxe, a leading Jewish demographer, said a widely cited survey on New York Jewry overestimated the number of Orthodox Jews in the city and its environs.

Saxe, a demographer at Brandeis University, told The New York Jewish Week that the data on the Orthodox in The Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011 clashed with that reported by the Avi Chai Foundation in 2009 on the number of Orthodox children in day schools.

The newer survey, which was commissioned by the UJA-Federation of New York and released last month, found that about 1.5 million Jews are living in New York City and three surrounding counties, and that about one-third are Orthodox. Saxe agreed with the finding that the city’s overall Jewish population has grown.

[Related: Rosner-Cohen ‎Exchange: So, how many Jewish people are there exactly?]

“Key outcomes of the study don’t seem to reconcile with ‘hard,’ non-survey data,” Saxe told The Jewish Week.

Steven M. Cohen, one of the study’s authors, told The Jewish Week that “the main contours of our findings” were correct.

Five steps to studying and learning from the Torah


Observing my kids playing, I notice how the same toy, no matter how many times they play with it, can reveal the most remarkable things. My daughter, with the vocabulary befitting a 1 1/2-year-old, will bring her ball over to me and point to a mark on it with a delighted grunt.

“How remarkable!” I will say with (feigned) enthusiasm. But to her it is remarkable; she had never noticed it before.

When I hear the phrase from Pirkei Avot (the Teachings of our Fathers), “Turn it around and around, for everything is in it” (5:21), the image of a toy jumps to my mind.

The rabbis of the Mishnah, however, were writing at the beginning of the Common Era in the Land of Israel and not in 21st century playrooms of North America, so I’m not sure they share the same association. Surely they were referring to the Torah and the revered text’s limitless insights and wisdom.

There is, however, something playful about the phrase. If we studied the Torah the way a child plays with a toy—repeatedly and open to the possibility of discovering something remarkable—then perhaps we would discover something remarkable.

Why should we make this ancient scroll our own? For starters, the Torah tells us we should.

In recounting the story when the Torah was revealed to Moses, the text begins by describing the journey of the Israelites to Mount Sinai.

“In the third month after the children of Israel went out of the land of Egypt, the same day [‘bayom hazeh’] they came into the wilderness of Sinai,” it says in Exodus 19:1. If the Torah were retelling something that already took place, it should say “on that day” not on “this day.” Rashi, the 12th century French commentator, says we should look to the Torah as if it is being given on this day. The Torah is being given, and revelation has the potential to happen anew each day.

Nice words, but how might we really experience this? While Shavuot offers us a moment to focus our attention on Torah study—all-night learning tikkun style awaits at many area synagogues and JCCs—the esoteric musings of a Talmud scholar at 3 a.m. may not be the kind of revelation we seek.

Try this activity (which I learned from dear friends Rabbi David Ingber and Ariel Rosen.) It’s called “Find your (Uni) Verse.” Here’s what you do:

Step 1: Open the Torah (the scroll, book or even an online version).

Step 2: Randomly point to a verse (this may be easier with a book version).

Step 3: Read the verse a couple of times. The first time is to understand the plain meaning. The second and third times are to play with different interpretations of what the verse might be saying. Consult commentary on the verse if you like.

Step 4: Consider the lesson that you might learn from this verse. What wisdom might it impart?

Step 5: Try to apply the lesson to your life in the coming weeks.

Some Torah verses may have immediate relevance to you than others. “Honor your father and mother” and “Love your Neighbor as Yourself” may be clear at face value and easy to apply. Other verses from Leviticus, like ones that speak about people stricken with tzara’at, may take a bit more parsing. (Luckily, commentators understood tzara’at as “motzi shem ra,” one who does not speak truthfully about another person, an aspect of gossip to which we may relate more readily.)

Even (or especially) if you don’t think the verse relates to you on face value, sit with it for a while. I promise, you will find some meaning.

My husband and I did this activity last year with our community. We just had a disagreement about some household matter and were a little tense going into the holiday. The verse he selected was “Together with your households, you shall feast there before the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 12:7).

The lesson was clear: Don’t let the everyday stresses of your life cloud the experience of these precious holidays. Safeguard them, honor them. You can get back to your stress when the holiday is over, but for now, let it go and rejoice!

How a verse selected at random can be personally relevant speaks to the power of the Torah and the potential for its wisdom to be revealed to us.

“Your Testimonies are my delight/play thing, they are my counselors,” it says in Psalms 119:24. On Shavuot, turn your selected phrases of the Torah around and around in your mind. The words will become for you a beloved toy.

Study: Birthright alumni better Israel advocates, marry Jewish


The impact of a Taglit-Birthright experience is significant and lasts for years, according to a new study.

Participants in the 10-day Israel trips are more confident advocates for Israel, are more likely to feel very connected to Israel, and are 51 percent more likely to marry a Jew than their peers who applied for but did not go on a Birthright trip.

These are some of the findings of “The Impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel: 2010 Update,” a recently released study by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies. It is a follow-up to the center’s 2009 report, “Generation Birthright Israel,” and looks at 2,000 young Jews who applied for and/or took part in a Birthright trip between 2001 and 2005.

According to these findings, trip participants were 46 percent more likely to feel “very much” connected to Israel and 28 percent more likely to explain with confidence Israel/Middle East issues. They are 35 percent more likely than non-participants to consider it highly important to raise Jewish children, and if they marry non-Jewish spouses, that spouse is four times more likely to convert to Judaism.

Noting that this study compared trip participants to those who applied but did not ultimately go, usually because there was no room for them, Birthright Israel Foundation President Robert Aronson said the findings demonstrate how greatly “the lives of those who were turned away from the trips would have been changed.”

The research was sponsored by the Robert K. and Myra H. Kraft Family Foundation, the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center Fund and Taglit-Birthright Israel. The full study is available here.

We don’t need more gabfests on diversity


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Gap-Year Kids Leave to Study For A Year in Israel


Many college-bound high school graduates are packing up their inflatable sofas and plan to stay abreast Middle East news using wireless laptops. But some of their peers will get a real-time glimpse of current events as they prepare for a year of study in Israel.

In the wake of the recent eruptions of violence in the region, the resolve of students intent on spending a “gap year” between high school graduation and freshman year of college engaged in study or service in Israel has remained strong. While most are relieved that the cease-fire has eased immediate threats, they know that the situation is far from over.

The war in northern Israel has left her feeling “no different than before” about studying in Jerusalem, said Adina Stohl, who graduated from the Yeshiva of Los Angeles Girls High School (YULA) in June and is starting at the Michlalah women’s school in Jerusalem in September.

Alison Silver, an alumna of Shalhevet High School who left for Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim in late August, shares Stohl’s conviction that her year in Israel will remain relatively unaltered despite recent turbulence in the region.

“I think that in the beginning the seminaries are going to be stricter,” she said, “but I was already anticipating a year of ‘You shouldn’t do this, it’s not safe.'”

julief@jewishjournal.com.

Nourish Your Soul With a Helping of Jewish Learning


Torah study in its broadest sense is the path to the divine. The Chasidim and their spiritual descendants traditionally reach toward God through ecstatic music, with the mediation of their rebbes.

The more straitlaced Mitnagdim found God in the intricacies of halacha, the “path” that constitutes the Jewish legal system and defines almost every aspect of what a Jew says and does.

Many Reform Jews express their connection with the divine through social action and tikkun olam, fixing God’s world. While all of these are also part of my own life as a Jew, it is study that nourishes my rationalist-traditionalist soul and links me to another realm.

In Deuteronomy 30:11-13, Moses assured the Jewish people that the Torah was neither “too baffling” nor “beyond their reach.” He poetically anticipates their objections — that the words of God are too far way, either “in the heavens” or “beyond the sea,” for a mere human to even approach.

Moses reassures them in verse 14 that Torah is indeed accessible and attainable: “No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”

When Torah is in your mouth, when you are studying aloud and in the company of other Jews, you are “observing” the Torah, creating a path to God through study.
For adult Jews today who want to study Torah, in its broadest sense of any Jewish learning, the possibilities are manifold. You can pursue as much or as little as possible, finding something that matches your own time and inclinations.

Fairly early in my life I committed myself to learning Hebrew — not just decoding the letters, which I learned in kindergarten, but as both a mode of communication and a tool for Jewish study.

I made this decision many years ago while sitting in a women’s section in an Orthodox shul and using a Yiddish-Hebrew prayer book. With those two languages of my tradition side by side, I felt deeply the power of language as a force that binds Jews as it conveys our tradition, culture and religion. At that moment, I vowed to become fluent in both languages, but I only managed to succeed in Hebrew.

It was a long, hard slog — college and graduate school classes, tapes, easy Hebrew newspapers and two ulpanim 22 years apart. But the paybacks have been manifold.

Hebrew is a compact language that packs a lot of bang in a small space; an English translation of a Hebrew passage, for example, requires many additional words to express the same material. Hebrew words also echo across the Jewish tradition, accumulating meaning across time — through Torah, rabbinic and medieval commentary, and the flourishing modern Hebrew language. And, as the framework of Torah, the letters themselves are said to have a mystical power.

But these same letters sometimes feel like an impossible wall to many adults, keeping them on the outside, mystified rather than mystically moved. I’ve seen them in the adult b’nai mitzvah classes where I teach Hebrew reading. Fear of making a mistake, a terror that “maybe I’m too old to learn,” worry that “everybody but me knows what they’re doing already” — all of these are bulwarks that maintain ignorance. Yes, learning to read Hebrew requires a commitment and time. But as learners make their way to the other side, they’ll find themselves on the inside looking out and feel connected instead of alienated.

Although being able at least to read Hebrew is an important step for Jewish educational self-confidence, much Jewish learning is available without knowing a single word of Hebrew or even the alef-bet, the Hebrew alphabet.

The format that works best for me in Jewish study has been to learn with a cohesive group that studies together for a period of time. When studying with the same group of people, you get to know them personally as well as intellectually. You benefit not only from the knowledge of the group leader, but from both the Jewish and personal experiences of the individuals around the table (and, I mean specifically around a table — this kind of learning doesn’t happen with rows and a dais — although that kind of learning has its place too).

I owe my awareness of this kind of study to the havurah movement, whose tenet for Jewish study is that everyone has something to contribute, be it from their secular work experiences, their personal relationships or their own Jewish learning.

Some subjects work better than others to really ignite this type of study. For beginners, it’s often an adult b’nai mitzvah class or perhaps a conversion class where participants are taking tentative steps toward Jewish understandings by connecting new ideas to their own life experiences.

For more advanced learners, certain texts may work better to unlock personal sharing. I once studied midrashim, or ancient commentaries and stories, on the near sacrifice of Isaac in the book of Genesis with a class of university professors and townies. The rupture of relationship between father and son and extreme demands of loyalty by God brought latent emotions to the surface and promoted acknowledgement of these feelings and personal responses. In my women’s study group we recently studied selected Psalms where the raw feelings, the suffering and the ambivalence toward God’s actions evoked resonances that created meaningful connections between the people present.

Jewish learning also can work well in a class where the leader’s role is more teacher than facilitator (although both are certainly important for any successful learning experience).

The last leg of my own Jewish learning is the Internet, which offers a realm of possibilities. One fantastic resource is myjewishlearning.com, which covers Jewish learning — from Jewish life, practice, and culture to history, ideas, and beliefs, to Jewish texts — in bite-size chunks. The articles are tailored to an Internet audience that wants good information quickly and at the depth required, offering both broad-based introductions to material and nuanced essays on particular aspects of a field.

Through the Internet I also receive several divrei Torah each week — although I have to admit I seldom read them immediately but rather save them in portion-specific files as resources for future use (both for myself and for parents of my b’nai mitzvah students who want to learn about their children’s Torah portions). I also subscribe to the Bet Midrash Virtuali of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel and every few days receive text and commentary of Pirke Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers. The interpretations come not just from the facilitator of the group, but also from other participants who email their own comments.

Not only are there multiple venues where adults too can participate in Jewish education, but books are being written to specifically aid the process. Barry Holtz’s “Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts” (Simon & Schuster) has been a resource since 1984, but a more recent amazing aid to serious adult Jewish Torah study is “The Commentator’s Bible” by Michael Carasik (Jewish Publication Society, 2005). This book translates the medieval Bible commentators into accessible English, with the commentators basing most of their comments on either the new JPS translation of the Torah or the more literal old JPS translation.

Jewish education has connected me to the soul of Judaism. I keep kosher, I observe the holidays, I go to services regularly, yet I find study to be my most dependable spiritual connection to the Jewish tradition. I think the rabbis knew that no single path works for everyone, yet their own pursuit of study and discussion is certainly one they have encouraged us to emulate. It is not a mistake that Torah in its broadest sense of both study and practice is one of the three goals for each Jewish newborn, along with chuppah (marriage) and ma’asim tovim (good deeds).

When Torah is in your mouth, when you are studying aloud and in the company of other Jews, you are “observing” the Torah, creating a path to God through study.

Michele Alperin is a freelance writer and a former lifecycle editor for MyJewishLearning.com. She has a master’s degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

What Do Gen-Y Jews Want? Everything


Brandeis University just released a new study of Jewish college students. It found that they’re proud to be Jewish, largely unaffiliated, attracted to Jewish culture more than religion, like diversity and don’t feel strong ties to Israel or Jewish federations.

Reboot, a nonprofit that promotes creative Jewish initiatives, just did a study of the same age group, and found that they’re proud to be Jewish, avoid institutional affiliation, are interested in Jewish culture and have diverse allegiances.

Sociologist Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York did a similar study, as did Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and they both found … guess what? Young Jews are proud, unaffiliated, pro-culture, pro-diversity and anti-tribal.

The last few months have seen a flood of studies of Gen-Y Jews — all trying to map their sense of Jewish identity, affiliation patterns, needs, hopes, beliefs and behaviors.

Why is everyone looking at the same population?

First, there are the numbers: almost half a million Jewish college students, the future of this country’s Jewish community. The very few studies on record, particularly the 1990 and 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Surveys (NJPS), indicate that large numbers of young Jews aren’t going to synagogue, joining Jewish organizations, marrying other Jews or giving money to Israel or Jewish charities.

They’re opting out, which has led to great hand-wringing and head-shaking on the part of American Jewish officials.

Yet the new studies show an up-and-coming generation that is proud of its Jewish identity and culturally creative, is coming up with new methods of religious expression and feels part of a global community linked by Jewish Web sites and blogs.

Researchers say it’s cause for cautious celebration.

“There has been a general angst about the Jewish future for the past two decades, a continuity crisis,” says Roger Bennett, senior vice president at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, which sponsored the March 2006 Reboot study, “Grande Soy Vanilla Latte with Cinnamon, No Foam: Jewish Identity and Community in a Time of Unlimited Choices.”

Describing his study’s findings as “very positive,” Bennett says, “I hope this study assuages almost all the fear. There’s plenty to be optimistic about.”

The question for Jewish funders and organizations is what they’re going to do with the information, Bennett says.

Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, says that while Jewish leaders in the late 1960s and early ’70s were “very unhappy about developments in the youth culture, and took a long time to reconcile themselves to it,” today’s Jewish leadership “is inquisitive, wants to know more.

Even while the older generation “may be shocked at things like Heeb,” an irreverent youth magazine, it “sees that something is going on and is paying attention,” Sarna says.

But if all these new studies are yielding pretty much the same information, are they useful?

Yes, researchers insist. First, each study asks slightly different questions, reflecting the needs of the sponsoring organization.

For example, Hillel’s study was prompted largely by one figure from the 2000-2001 NJPS, which showed that two-thirds of Jewish college students don’t attend Hillel activities, says Julian Sandler, chair of the group’s strategic planning committee. Hillel will release its long-awaited study of Jewish college students in late May.

The statistic “troubled us immensely,” Sandler says. Hillel engaged in two years of research “to try to understand what it is that today’s Jewish students are interested in.”

Hillel already has put some of that information to work. One of the central findings of its study is that young Jews have “a strong desire to find out more about their Jewishness, especially from an ethnic perspective,” which can “be manifested in multiple ways.”

One popular way is through tzedek, or social justice work. To that end, Hillel last month sent hundreds of students on a spring-break trip to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild communities hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“Tzedek will be a major emphasis [of Hillel programming in the future],” Sandler says.

Amy Sales, co-author of “Particularism in the University: Realities and Opportunities for Jewish Life on Campus,” a new study by the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis, says her data, collected in 2003, helps the people funding Jewish campus activities to use their dollars more effectively.

Her study found, among other things, that Jewish college students are interested in Jewish studies, want events that have a Jewish “flavor” but are open to non-Jews and need help in finding meaningful, compelling ways to engage in Jewish life.

She and co-author Leonard Saxe used that information to propose that Hillel customize its programs for each campus and develop better relationships with university administrations, other campus groups and local Jewish communities, creating “Jewish-friendly campuses” rather than focusing on simply reaching as many Jewish students as possible.

In fact, Hillel is doing just that, incoming President Wayne Firestone says. The group is convening a Washington summit May 21-23 to bring together funders, university administrators and Jewish organizational heads to talk about how to improve working relationships on campus, the first time such a targeted meeting has been held.

Researchers from all the studies agree that today’s young Jews can be a willing and energetic audience if the organized Jewish community steps up to the plate in time, and with a message that is relevant.

“They are looking for a positive Jewish experience, and every Jewish institution that answers that and puts its faith in young people will have a rosy future,” Bennett says. “Any funder that wishes to innovate is going to prosper.”

 

Where the Boys Aren’t


The Chanukah party for Adat Ari El’s junior United Synagogue Youth group had all the elements the seventh- and eighth-grade members had requested: latkes, a gift exchange and a fierce board game competition. Yet, said, Julee Snitzer, the synagogue’s youth activities director, of the 13 who participated — only two were male.

Her experience is not unusual. Many of the informal Jewish education activities geared to teens in the greater Los Angeles area — such as camps, synagogue youth groups, school clubs and Jewish community centers — draw more girls than boys. The ratio in formal Jewish activities, such as Jewish high school and religious school, appears to be more gender balanced.

“Looking at what’s happening locally and nationally, we’ve found that fewer teen boys enroll in informal Jewish activities than they did in previous years,” said Lori Harrison Port, senior associate director for planning and allocations at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

A survey done by her department showed that informal Jewish education programs generally attract 60 percent girls and 40 percent boys. The lack of participation among boys could lead to a weakening of their Jewish affiliation over time, some fear.

A special report analyzing results from the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-01 indicates that participation in camping and youth groups may impact Jewish identity as much as or more than attending up to six years of supplementary religious school. The impact is directly linked to the length of involvement in those youth-oriented activities.

Last fall, The Federation and the Bureau of Jewish Education hosted a conference for Jewish youth professionals to explore the issue and generate ideas for cultivating greater male involvement in informal Jewish activities. Held at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, the program was an outgrowth of the bureau’s Youth Professional Advisory Council, which facilitates sharing of ideas and resources for those serving Jewish teens.

Keynote speaker Bob Ditter, a Boston-based psychotherapist who consults nationally with camps and other youth-targeted agencies, shared insights about boys’ development and led attendees in discussing how to design their programming and marketing to attract boys.

“The central [element] in boys’ development is task and action. Boys want to feel that they’re good at something,” Ditter said. “Boys develop friendships through the stuff they do. Girls develop friendships and then go do stuff.”

Ditter said that boys engage in activities — such as tossing a ball or comparing video games — as a way to connect. He suggested that youth group leaders and counselors allow boys to do an activity first before expecting them to sit and talk.

He also urged group leaders to recognize that boys initiate connection through a challenge or dare. For example, Ditter witnessed a teen participant make a sarcastic comment to his counselor at a camp’s opening campfire. Rather than feeling threatened or insulted by such remarks, leaders “need to hear the invitation [to engage] rather than the challenge” he said.

“It’s a myth that adolescents distrust or don’t respect adults,” he added. “They’re hungry for meaningful connections to adults they respect and feel respected by.”

The group also discussed the underlying pressures that children of all ages face to compete and excel, whether that means getting into the right preschool or taking the most Advanced Placement courses.

“At social events, they just want to hang out,” Ditter said. “They need to depressurize.”

Looking at how these factors might affect marketing to teen boys, the conference participants agreed that programs — and their promotional materials — must reflect teens’ reality and clearly state the benefits of participation, such as providing community service hours or leadership opportunities.

Ellie Klein, Wilshire Boulevard Temple youth director, noted that many students are attracted to participate in the synagogue’s Wednesday night program, which consists of dinner, a recreational elective and a Jewish-themed seminar, because there is excellent tutoring available through the program’s supervised study room.

Wilshire Boulevard bucks the norm by attracting more boys than girls at its programs. Klein said she’s baffled by the male-to-female ratio, although it helps that eight of her 11 staff members are men and one of the synagogue’s rabbis, Dennis Eisner, is popular with the youngsters and actively recruits participants.

“I’m not selling basketball,” she said. “I’m selling community and connection.”

Temple Sinai’s Sinai High, an educational program for eighth through 12th-graders that draws from the synagogue’s religious school graduates, also boasts a good ratio between boys and girls. Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei, who oversees youth programs, said programming is specifically geared to attract boys. As an example, he noted a popular series of classes that examined Jewish values as evidenced in “The Simpsons.”

Schuldenfrei said the trend of females outnumbering males is not limited to the teen realm. Sinai’s ATID group for young professionals in their 20s and 30s struggles to attract a male audience. For Sukkot, ATID held a Sukkah Sports Night, offering a televised game and beer, as well as a holiday teaching under the sukkah, and was rewarded with more male participants than normal. Schuldenfrei said that programming “needs to speak to males, as well as females.”

This advice may apply throughout the age spectrum. “In liberal communities,” said Rabbi Karen Fox of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, “60 percent to 70 percent of people participating in adult education are women.”

 

No Religious Bias in Racy ‘Bodice Rippers’


Fess up or don’t, a lot of us are reading romance novels — otherwise known as “bodice rippers.” The numbers speak for themselves, accounting for 48 percent of all popular paperback fiction published, according to the Web site of the Romance Writers of America.

And that “us” includes more than a few Jews.

While there are no statistics to prove it, the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Typing “Jewish romance novel” into Google calls up dozens of bodice rippers featuring Jewish themes or characters, and not all published by small presses. And since publishers make their decisions based solely on a manuscript’s marketability, the romance novel industry is as democratic as it gets. Bottom line, these Jewish-themed books are getting published because editors know there are readers who will buy them.

Just who these readers are is hard to say, according to Mark Shechner, professor of English at State University of New York at Buffalo and co-editor of “Jewish Writing and the Deep Places of the Imagination” (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). Jewish-themed pulp fiction is prevalent and has a loyal following, it’s just not singled out in reviews, Shechner said.

“There are even writers of Chasidic romance fiction, like Pearl Abraham, author of ‘Romance Reader,'” he noted.

Recently published Jewish-themed romances include Persian Jewish writer Dora Levy Mossanen’s “Harem,” and her 2005 follow-up, “Courtesan”; Australian Jewish author and screenwriter Tobsha Learner’s “The Witch of Cologne,” and Southern Jewish writer Loraine Despres’ “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell.”

The list goes on, with titles also including works that seem to be a part of an emerging genre fondly termed “biblical bodice rippers” by Abigail Yasgur, executive librarian at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.

Anita Diamant’s 1998 best seller, “The Red Tent,” a fictional retelling of the biblical story of Dinah, seems to have set off the trend. Two recent releases include Eva Etzion Halevy’s “The Song of Hannah” and Rebeca Kohn’s “The Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther,” which both came out in the last two years.

A Jewish tradition of romance writing may help account for this trend, Shechner said. “The earliest Yiddish writing we have is from the early 16th century, ‘Bovo of Antona,’ a Yiddish translation of the Anglo-Norman romantic epic.” Moreover, “there were courtly romances with names like ‘Pariz un Vyene’ (Paris and Vienna). There were early translations of Arthurian tales into Yiddish — very early.”

And while the genre is easy to mock, consider this before you do. Shechner believes that the Jewish culture has an intrinsic relationship with romance.

“Maybe after all, romance is one of the authentic undercurrents of the Jewish imagination,” he said. “Isn’t romance the underside of piety, the negative, the shadow, the suppressed yearning that follows duty and restraint around? That is how I look at it.”

Three Romance Books Follow Novel Paths

“The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell” by Loraine Despres (Willaim Morrow, $23.95).

Incorrigible Belle Cantrell can’t seem to help being bad — or is it just that she’s ahead of her time? Women combating social repression are a common theme of historical romance fiction, and “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell” is no exception.

The protagonist of Loraine Despres’ latest book lives in 1920s Louisiana, and whether it’s fighting for women’s suffrage or against the Ku Klux Klan, this Scarlett O’Hara with a sex drive always seems to be getting herself into trouble.

It doesn’t help that she’s fallen for a handsome Jewish Yankee with a wife back in Chicago.

Spitfire Southern girls and genteel Jewish men seem to be Despres’ specialty, having written for television shows like “Dynasty” and “Dallas” — including penning the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” episode. Despres is currently a producer living in Los Angeles, as well as a romance writer.

In 2002, she published her novel, “The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc,” and has followed it up this year with a prequel, “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell.” Both feature Christian Southern belles with affections for Jewish men.

But while the protagonist of Despres’ “Bad Behavior” may seem a bit of the Southern girl cliche, the book’s sexy love scenes aren’t too purple and should leave regular romance readers satisfied. So will a host of other kooky characters and a happily-ever-after ending.

“The Witch of Cologne” by Tobsha Learner (Forge, $14.95).

Interfaith love sits at the heart of Tobsha Learner’s dark historical romance epic, “The Witch of Cologne.” The starkness of mid-1600s Germany is brought into focus through the eyes of Ruth Bas Elazar Saul, a learned midwife and the daughter of the chief rabbi of the Jewish quarter of Deutz.

At 23, Ruth is still unwed, after running away to Amsterdam to escape having to marry a man she did not love. Ruth’s rebellious nature also leads her to study Kabbalah and modern birthing techniques in Amsterdam.

However, her inability to live a quiet life, coupled with her maternal family’s unfortunate history with an evil Spanish friar who has since become an inquisitor under the Inquisitor-General Pascual de Arragon, puts Ruth face to face with the Inquisition.

This chain of events will bring Ruth face to face with true love — in the form of nobleman and Christian canon Detlef von Tennen — and, ultimately, her greatest tragedy, as well.

As defined by the Romance Writers of America’s Web site, this story isn’t considered a romance: “In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.”

But apparently, emotional justice isn’t to be had in 17th century Cologne. Still, considering this book remains in good company with other “nonromances” like the film, “Titanic,” and the book, “The Bridges of Madison County,” we feel fine including it just the same.

Moreover, readers who enjoy hints of magic and circles of political intrigue woven through their romances will be pleased with this choice.

“Courtesan” by Dora Levy Mossanen (Touchstone, $14).

The exotic lives of Parisian courtesans in the Belle Epoque provide the backdrop for Persian Jewish author Dora Levy Mossanen’s latest novel, aptly and simply titled, “Courtesan.”

Mossanen’s protagonist, Simone, is yet another headstrong girl. But what’s a girl to rebel against when she has been raised in a brothel by her famous grandmother, the courtesan Gabrielle?

Simone’s best way to defy her grandmother, and the mother who followed in her footsteps, is to embrace what her grandmother rejected, namely a Jewish upbringing and a more conventional life.

Simone chooses to follow love, rather than follow their ways. And so she does, all the way to Persia, where she marries Cyrus, a Persian Jew and the shah’s jeweler. But that is just where Simone’s adventure begins, eventually taking her back to Paris and to the diamond mines of Africa.

While certainly lighter than “The Witch of Cologne,” “Courtesan,” to its credit, also does not provide the formulaic happy ending. However, its flowery prose is occasionally too much, and Mossanen’s tendency to imbue her women’s sexuality with supernatural qualities can seem silly at times.

Still, it is refreshing to find a romance that does not rely on its characters’ opposing religions to provide the story’s major obstacle.

Lighten Up on Christmas and Christians


 

Even in relatively tolerant and officially secular America, Jews long have had to do a dance around the holidays of the majority population. There’s a national party going on and, let’s face it, we are not invited.

The issue then is how to deal with it. There seems to be three basic responses.

One, give in “to the spirit,” even if that means elevating Chanukah into an ersatz version of Christmas, with excessive gift-giving and demands for equal time with the bigger holiday.

Two, rail against the persuasiveness of the holiday and of Christianity in our core culture. For some, that means waging a kind of secularist jihad to remove all spiritual aspects from the season.

Third, just keep a respectful distance and let the Christians enjoy their holiday to the fullest including allowing trees, mangers and reindeer in the parks. Use the time to reconfirm to yourself and, more importantly, your children our status as proud and very separate minority.

In some ways, the first approach seems akin to giving in to the majority faith. We boost Chanukah, a relatively minor holiday, into megastatus and turn our children into Yuletide wannabes. Let’s face it, most of our kids don’t need more excuses for presents.

More serious, and immediately damaging, is the opposite tendency, which amounts to driving religious Christmas out of the public sphere. This is something not exclusively supported by Jews, but it’s no big secret that Jews are prominent in many of the organizations — like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — that spearhead the anti-Christmas secular jihad.

To a large extent, this approach seeks to eliminate everything that is Christian about Christmas from the public sphere — from trees, green lights and mangers to the singing of Christmas carols. It reached the point of ludicrous when our former, illustrious governor, Gray Davis always craven in the service of his heavily Jewish donors, renamed the state Christmas Tree into a Holiday Tree.

This kind of idiocy, which was reversed this year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, comes out of a mistaken belief that to ensure a secular state, we need to eliminate any hint of Christian belief from the public sphere. In the words of Amanda Susskind, regional director of the ADL, furious efforts must be made to maintain “a wall of separation between the pubic realm and religious tradition.

In theory, this is a fine idea. I certainly would not like to see public school students forced to sing Christmas carols or listen to a Billy Graham lecture. Yet Susskind is talking about circumscribing all manner of spiritually tainted behavior. They have even issued a somewhat silly pronunciamento called, “The December Dilemma, ” to supply guidelines so schools don’t dip their toes into even vaguely religious waters at this time of year.

Behind these efforts lies what I suspect is a more elaborate agenda. Susskind, for example, expresses “sympathy” for the French government’s decision to ban crosses, head scarves and yarmulkes from public schools. She isn’t ready to take this on in America, but more zealous secularists, like the ACLU, might be sorely tempted.

Such efforts, in my mind, turn the state from neutral toward religion to advocate for what may be called the secularist faith. Instead of admitting that religious ideas, primarily derived from Jewish and Christian roots, stand at the root of our constitutional republic, the ADL and the even more secularist ACLU seem to see any acknowledgement of religion — from the singing of “Jingle Bells” at schools to discussions of the religious roots of Christmas — as a grave threat to civil liberties.

Perhaps, the most egregious local example of this can be seen in the ACLU’s so far successful attempt, with full backing from the ADL, to get the Board of Supervisors to excise the mission cross from the Los Angeles County Seal. This effort grew out of the notion that having a cross on the seal for the past half century represented, in the ADL’s words, and affront to the “diversity of the people of the community.” Zev Yaroslavsky, easily the most influential Jewish politician in the county even called the cross a “symbol that divides us.”

David Hernandez, one of the leaders of a broad-based effort to overturn the country’s decision, considers this decision an example of legislative arrogance. It was taken without considering the idea that many church-going Christians, as well as Hispanics proud of their historic role in the City of Angeles, might object to having their heritage expunged from the seal.

After all, Catholic missionaries built the first schools, brought medicine and many other elements of European civilization (not all positive, to be sure) to this part of the word. Reducing the mission symbol to a kind of jumped-up Taco Bell is not only an affront to L.A.’s Hispanic Catholic heritage but to the critical role faith has played in the evolution of the city since then.

Nor can anyone but a total paranoid compare people like Hernandez to the kind of bigoted Christians who have tormented us in the past.

“People are surprised I am not a Bible-Belt, right wing Christian fanatic,” explains the middle-of-the-road Republican insurance adjuster from Valley Village, who is a member of such dangerous groups as the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, the North Hollywood Neighborhood Council and the Executives support group for the Jewish Homes fro the Aging.

This guy is about as close to Father Coughlin as, well, Kris Kringle.

Rather than wage silly battles with such well-meaning people over Christmas carols, of a mission cross, Jews need to lighten up. Christmas and traditional Christianity today simply do no represent serious threats to the existence of Jews in the contemporary world; outside of the Islamicists, our mortal enemies and those of Israel, can more likely be found among the most hip, pro-Palestinian Churches, some of which back a boycott of Israel, as well as among the longtime anti-Zionists in the secular intellectual left.

In 2004, we have more to fear from Micheal Moore and the archbishop of Canterbury than we do from Graham and ex-urban megachurches. It’s long since time to admit that the political and social landscape has changed greatly from the time our grandparents fled the czarist shtetl.

Finally, we should also recognize that the attempt to drive all religious thought (except perhaps pagan ideas) from the schools also represents a threat to the intelligent understanding of our republic. The founding fathers, many themselves steeped in the traditions of the Torah, would have found it ludicrous that our kids are expected to learn about the roots of American republicanism without some notion of the role played by basic Jewish, as well as Christian, moral principles.

For these reasons, learning about our faith, along with Muslims, Buddhist and Christian traditions, should not be verboten within public education. Indeed, the study of history has convinced me that you can’t understand the past, and how we got to be who we are, without a full comprehension of the religious past.

By removing religion from the public realm entirely, evicting the ecclesiastical role from our histories, plays and pageants, we essentially end up embracing in its place another theology, one that sees human history in exclusively economic class or biological terms.

Given these realties, it’s time for Jews to realize that traditional Christianity — and its symbols — represent less a threat than an important potential ally. By showing respect, and keeping our distance at this time of year, we can build on this historically miraculous development, instead of creating the basis for yet another season of discord.

 

How the Maccabees Reshaped Jerusalem


 

The Maccabees are celebrated throughout the Jewish world for recapturing Jerusalem for the Jews, rededicating the Temple and lighting lamps with a day’s supply of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days.

Less well-known, according to a leading Israeli archaeologist, is that the Maccabees also were major builders who transformed the face of Jerusalem and restored the centrality of the Temple in Jewish life.

“The problem is that Herod the Great built so thoroughly that many remains of the Maccabeans have almost disappeared,” said Dan Bahat, a senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan University who is spending the academic year lecturing at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.

The Maccabeans, who founded the Hasmonean dynasty, likely inspired King Herod’s vision of the Temple, said Bahat, whose specialty is Jerusalem of the Second Temple period.

In recent years, the former chief archaeologist of Jerusalem has supervised the excavations of the Western Wall tunnel, the ancient subterranean passage that extends along the western perimeter of the Temple Mount.

A large water channel that was discovered in the tunnel has been accepted by many archaeologists as a Maccabean-built aqueduct and, according to Bahat, almost certainly is the most visible Maccabean relic in the Old City.

“This is the most important remain of Hasmonean Jerusalem today,” he said. “It’s an enormous ditch that was excavated from the surface in order to supply water to the fortress named Baris, which was the seat of the Maccabean family before they moved to a place in the area of today’s Jewish Quarter.”

The apocryphal Book of the Maccabees offers ample evidence that the legendary leaders of the Jewish revolt against the Greeks were great builders. As further evidence, Bahat cites the fine mosaics and frescoes excavated in various Maccabean palaces in Jericho.

But the Maccabees’ architectural footprint was almost fully erased in Jerusalem, especially on the Temple Mount, by King Herod’s massive construction projects.

Although the Book of the Maccabees relates that its heroes undertook projects to heighten the Temple Mount walls and remove a hill as a protective measure against the Greeks, there’s little chance of discovering even the slightest physical trace of these efforts, according to Bahat.

Without archaeological evidence, “it’s very difficult for us to decipher what exactly they have done,” he said. “But there’s no doubt the Maccabees greatly contributed” to the national “consciousness of the importance of the Temple. After the Maccabean period, there’s no question that the Temple was the center of Jewish life in all respects.”

He added, “The Maccabees made the Temple the most important thing in Jerusalem.”

In rebuilding the Temple, King Herod was guided by the measurements listed in the Book of Kings, but went beyond any scriptural references when it came to the Temple’s beautification.

“My question is, when he did all these works, where did he learn it from? What did he take it from? It must have been from the Maccabees,” Bahat said.

Born in 1938, Bahat grew up in the pre-state Yishuv at a time when Jewish access to the Old City of Jerusalem seemed a far-away dream. It was Professor Michael Ave-Yonah’s famous model of ancient Jerusalem in the Holy Land Hotel that first inspired him to study all available scriptures and texts about the Old City.

“I thought, ‘If he can do it, so can I,’ ” Bahat recalled. “I never imagined that I would ever really be in the Old City of Jerusalem, so I thought that at least theoretically, I could get to know it very well.”

He chose to specialize in the Second Temple period because the era marked “the apex of Jerusalem as a Jewish city,” he said. “Remember the saying, ‘The one who hasn’t seen Jerusalem hasn’t seen a beautiful city in his life.’ Or the other saying, ‘Of the 10 parts of beauty in the world, Jerusalem took nine.'”

When Bahat attained his bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University in 1964, Jerusalem still was divided and there was a paucity of literature in Hebrew about the Old City.

“Most of the study of Jerusalem was done by non-Jews, mainly by Christians interested in the city where Jesus walked,” he recalled.

The restoration of Jewish sovereignty over the Old City in 1967 prompted an unprecedented boom of Jewish-led archaeological investigations.

“The result of that is that today our knowledge of Jerusalem has increased immensely,” Bahat said. “We can’t compare our knowledge of Jerusalem in 1967 to what we know today.”

Possibly the only authority anywhere on the topography of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, Bahat is a fervent nationalist and lover of history who knows many passages of scripture by heart but says he is not religiously observant.

Bahat has lectured to Christian groups around the world on Jerusalem in the time of Jesus and once was invited by Pope John Paul II to do so at the Vatican. He seems equally versed on Jerusalem in the eyes of Islam, and did his doctoral thesis on Jerusalem in the Crusader period.

During his 40 years as an archaeologist, Bahat has produced dozens of books and papers, including the well-known “Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem” and a popular illustrated volume two years ago on the Western Wall tunnel.

Although his specialty is Jerusalem, Bahat also has worked on many major archaeological digs in Israel, including the ancient synagogue in Beit Shean and the mountaintop fortress at Masada. It was at Masada that he made one of his most remarkable finds: a group of shards with Hebrew names on them, dating from the moment of the dramatic fall of the Jewish stronghold to the Romans in 73 C.E.

But Bahat continues to focus most of his scholarly attention on the city to which he has devoted much of his career.

“All my life is based on studying Jerusalem,” he said. “It’s a lifetime job, it’s not a simple thing. It’s a multifaceted city. The field is so complex and so complicated, but so interesting. So I’m kind of addicted to Jerusalem.”

 

UCLA Forming Israel Studies Program


Everybody talks about Israel, but, surprisingly, there is no teaching, research and community program at an American university that focuses solely on the Jewish state in all its multiple facets.

The gap is beginning to be filled at UCLA, and if all works as planned, the Israel Studies Program will be “the most comprehensive and systematic” in the United States, according to its organizers.

Already in place are two undergraduate courses, visits by prominent Israeli and American scholars, and a community lecture program. In the works is a major international conference on Israeli democracy.

By 2007, Israel studies expects to be fully on the intellectual, community and media map, with an interdisciplinary faculty, prestigious academic chair and library, and poised to offer an undergraduate degree.

While there are well-established Jewish and Middle/Near East study centers at UCLA and a number of East Coast universities, “Israel itself doesn’t get focused attention and tends to get lost as an appendage to other programs,” said UCLA political scientist Steven Spiegel, one of the movers of Israel studies.

Aside from academic considerations, there is a strong feeling among many professors — and certainly within the Jewish community — that Near East departments on many campuses (though not UCLA) are dominated by pro-Arabists.

Yuval Rotem, who recently left his post as Israeli consul general after five years in the Western United States, reflects the opinion of more reticent scholars.

“Professorial posts in too many Middle East centers on too many American campuses are funded and occupied by pro-Arabists, and when they invite Israeli speakers, these are often more hateful of Israel than are the Arabs,” said Rotem in a phone call from Jerusalem.

“This situation, plus pro-Palestinian student movements on many campuses, can’t be changed by the occasional seminar on Israel’s plight or discussions among Jewish organizations,” he said. “It’s a long-range problem. Knowledge is a cumulative process and only a permanent study program on Israel can provide it.”

The initiative, drive and seed money for the Israel Studies program has come from a determined woman — Sharon Baradaran, a member of the influential Iranian American Nazarian clan of Los Angeles, who has a doctorate and is a university teacher in political science.

“It started more than two years ago, after the Israeli-Palestinian clashes in Jenin, when the media reported a lot of false and slanderous information about the behavior of the Israeli army,” Baradaran said in a phone interview.

Upset by the reported distortions, she invited a group of friends, including Rotem, American academicians and Israeli officers who had participated in the Jenin action for an informal discussion at her home.

Every two or three months, she reconvened and expanded the salon, including visiting Israeli politicians and scholars, and the discussions became more urgent as anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic incidents were reported on numerous American campuses.

“I had the idea that while there were study centers on China, Russia, Latin America, Africa and many other areas at the UCLA International Institute, there was none for Israel, whose history, culture and political impact certainly warranted its own study program,” Baradaran said.

“First, we wanted an interdisciplinary program that would draw faculty and students in history, economics, sociology, law, political science, literature and cultural studies,” she added. “Secondly, we wanted a place open enough to also attract Arab and other scholars.”

She and some of her influential salon friends presented the concept to UCLA Vice Provost Geoffrey Garrett, dean of the International Institute, and to UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale. Both men reacted enthusiastically but noted that in these difficult times, no university funds were available for the program.

Baradaran was not fazed. She and Steve Gamer, external affairs director for the UCLA Institute, mapped out a fundraising drive for a $5 million endowment, to underwrite a permanent academic chair, visiting scholars program, campus and community education, policy forums and conferences and to develop a curriculum on Israel for school teachers at all levels.

The Israel Studies program, and future center, will be named in honor of the hoped-for $5 million donor.

So far, $800,000 has been raised and seed money to invite distinguished scholars has been provided by the family foundation of Younes and Soraya Nazarian, Baradaran’s parents. This month, professor Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem inaugurated the visiting scholar program.

While the fundraising is progressing, two undergraduate courses in the Israel program are already in their second year. One is “History of Israel: 1948 to Present,” popularly dubbed Israel 101.

The second is an innovative course on Israel-Diaspora Relations, in which students at UCLA and Tel Aviv University hold “joint” videoconferencing classes to explore each other’s culture, politics and attitudes. Dr. Fredelle Spiegel initiated and teaches the class, which was initially funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Directors of the Jewish Studies centers at USC and UCLA see the developing Israel program not as a competitor, but as an ally.

“I’ve always emphasized that the more high quality research and teaching on Israel and Jewish life we can get, the better it is for everybody,” said Dr. Barry Glassner, director of the USC Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life.

Dr. David N. Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, who participated in the planning of the Israel program, said, “Israel is one of the most misunderstood countries in the world, and a better comprehension is vital to the intellectual and general communities. What better place to have the Israel program than in Los Angeles?”

Myers’ center at UCLA has organized an extensive campus and public program for the 2004-2005 academic year, including lectures, seminars and workshops on local Jewish history, Jewish-Muslim relations, Yiddish and Sephardic culture and the Holocaust. For information, call (310) 825-5387 or visit www.cjs.ucla.edu.

For information on programs or financial support for the Israel Studies program, contact Steve Gamer at (310) 206-8578 or sgamer@international.ucla.edu.

Israel Seminar Gives Teachers Refresher


When it came to modern Israel, Ziva London found herself living in the past. Having immigrated to the United States 23 years ago, the Jewish-day-school teacher recently realized that her concept of the Holy Land reflected the Israel she knew there as a citizen more than two decades ago. Talking to fellow Israeli teachers at B’nai Shalom Day School in Greensboro, N.C., London discovered that she wasn’t alone.

“We didn’t have the resources and knowledge of how Israel has been changing according to the international arena,” said London on a break between sessions at an Israel teacher education workshop at the University of Judaism (UJ).

Ziva and her colleagues were not the only educators wanting an educational update or a refresher course so that they could effectively teach students about the Jewish homeland. Seventy teachers from 13 states, Great Britain and Canada gathered Aug. 1-6 for the Pre-Collegiate Teacher Education Workshop on the History, Culture and Politics of Modern Israel, a seminar conducted by Emory University’s Institute for the Study of Modern Israel and hosted by the UJ.

With a decline in tourism since the re-emergence of suicide bombings in key Israeli cities in 2001, fewer American Jews are visiting Israel. With less exposure to the realities of Israeli society, many Jewish educators feel that their knowledge of modern Israel is either limited or passé.

“A lot of people have antiquated ideas about Israel,” said Dr. Nadav Morag, the UJ’s director of the Center for Israel Studies and chair of the political science department. “This is not the Israel of the kibbutz and people dancing in the fields, which is what a lot of Americans have images of today. Every 10 years it’s a different country.”

Between changes in the role of the Israeli army, exports focusing on high-tech products rather than agriculture and the influx of Russian immigrants, keeping one’s finger on the pulse of the ever-changing country can seem like a full-time job.

In addition, many American Jews are baffled by the idea of some Israelis’ secular, national Jewish identities. Others don’t comprehend Israel’s parliamentary government compared to the presidential government in the United States.

Pat Glascom, a workshop participant and an Israel studies teacher at Congregation Keneseth Israel in Allentown, Penn., was relieved to get some clarity on the differences between American and Israeli democracies.

“With the American presidential election approaching, I plan to have my students make a comparative study of the two democracies,” said the religious-school teacher.

For educators who are up to date on Israel, many still struggle with the task of trying to instill within students a connection to the Jewish state.

Rebecca Zimmerman, the educational director of Contra Midrasha in Walnut Creek, was baffled when two of her teenage students failed to understand her desire to visit Israel.

“I tried every angle I could think of,” said Zimmerman, of her struggle to explain possible motivations. “An emotional connection to the state of Israel, a political fascination, historical importance, religious, a spiritual homeland or even a simple cultural connection to other Jews. No matter what I said, they would not sway from their thought that Israel was not important.”

The UJ workshop focused on how to overcome such obstacles.

While some Jewish teachers struggle with student apathy, others must tactfully facilitate in-class political debates involving Israel.

Matan Agam, a senior at Milken Community High School, said that political discussions occasionally arise in his history, Hebrew and Jewish law classes.

“If there’s a bombing or something drastic, teachers open it up to discussion among students and they’ll moderate,” Agam said. “The opinions vary greatly among students and we usually get good points from both sides.”

In light of last summer’s front-page Los Angeles Times story about a former Shalhevet faulty member exposing his seventh-grade class to Palestinian points of view, some students feel their Jewish school are too rigid when it comes to Israeli politics.

“The school claims to be really open-minded, but when it comes to Israel, they’re not,” Shalhevet senior Becky Dab said. “They try to make it seem like everyone else is wrong and what the Israelis are doing is right.”

Her father, Jon Dab, is satisfied with the school’s position.

“We’re extremely supportive of Israel, so we don’t perceive anything [at Shalhevet] as being untoward as far as viewpoints being expressed.”

As the topic of Israel in the Jewish community seems to trigger black-and-white thinking, another obstacle is American Jews’ tendency to view Israel in an idealistic light.

“A lot of American Jews put Israel on a pedestal,” said Nadav, emphasizing the need for American to think of the country as “a normal society. If they build Israel up as an example of perfection, they’ll be disappointed when they find out it’s not perfect.”

For more information on the institute, visit www.emory.edu/COLLEGE/JewishStudies/ismi.html .

Journey to Judaism


"I want to be the first Jewish country singer," Mare Winningham says. "Actually, Kinky Friedman was the first. But I want to be the next."

It’s the kind of easy banter the actress-singer proffers between nightclub sets of her country-tinged folk music. But the setting on this Thursday afternoon is the chapel at the University of Judaism (UJ), where Winningham sits at an upright piano after completing her three-hour Hebrew class. In her pure, open voice, she launches into her "Convert Jig," a country-ish ditty she wrote to honor her "Introduction to Judaism"teacher before her conversion last year.

"He has organized the notes for life and given me the tools to turn my tiny insignificance into something big," she croons, as her eyes crinkle into a smile. "I will be a Jew like all of you … and never eat a pig."

If the levity is unexpected, the actress thinks she is, too.

"Look, my last name is Winningham, and that in itself is funny," she says. "I joke sometimes that I’ll open ‘Winningham’s Kosher Bakery’ and throw everyone for a loop."

Indeed, the 45-year-old actress is better known for the decidedly American (read: non-Jewish) roles she’s portrayed in 70 films and TV movies than, say, for the challah she bakes on Friday afternoons.

She won a 1980 Emmy for playing a farmer’s daughter in "Amber Waves"; received a 1996 Oscar nomination for her role as a country music star in "Georgia"; and starred as Kevin Costner’s common-law wife in "Wyatt Earp." Winningham will also appear as a Catholic single mom in the upcoming CBS series, "Clubhouse," and a stalwart prairie resident in the Hallmark TV movie, "The Magic of Ordinary Days." (She’s perhaps best known as the virginal Wendy from the Brat Pack flick, "St. Elmo’s Fire.")

As she leaves the piano to munch some kosher almonds, she says she’s happy to be back at the UJ after the four-week "Magic" shoot near Calgary, Canada.

"We were in the middle of nowhere, so I knew I was going to miss Shavuot," she says, ruefully.

Shavuot, which celebrates converts, is Winningham’s favorite holiday, because it’s the first she observed after converting in March 2003. For that Shavuot, she stayed up all night studying at Temple Beth Am; in Calgary, she improvised by studying Jewish books such as "The Midrash Says," a five-volume set she’s vowed to complete this year. Also in her suitcase was her trusty Shabbat travel kit, which includes candlesticks, a prayer book, a Havdalah candle and spice box.

"I’ve been known to light Shabbat candles in a Honeywagon trailer," she says of her experience on various sets.

Her observance has been "a real conversation starter," especially among fellow Jews. Larry Miller, her co-star from CBS’ short-lived "Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.," recalls his surprise upon learning that Winningham rushed home to bake challah one Friday afternoon.

"It was like having Grace Kelly say, ‘By the way, what time is Mincha?’" he says, referring to afternoon prayers.

Winningham wouldn’t forget the time.

"She takes her Jewish studies very seriously," Beth Am’s Rabbi Perry Netter told The Journal. "It’s part of her incredible desire to be part of the Jewish world, not for any other motive than she feels so deeply and passionately Jewish."

The actress traces her spiritual journey to her Catholic childhood in Granada Hills. Her great-uncle, "Father Dave" Maloney, was bishop of Wichita, Kan.; her devout mother, Marilyn, sent Mare and her four siblings to catechism at the cathedral across the street.

"My mom influenced me greatly with her beautiful devotion to her faith," Winningham says. But that came later. By age 14, Mare says, she had developed problems with religion in general and "the idea of someone dying for your sins."

A 12th-grade comparative religion course fueled her budding agnosticism; after graduating from Chatsworth High — where an agent discovered her in a production of "The Sound of Music" — Winningham began "a resolutely secular existence."

In 1982, she married her now ex-husband in a non-denominational ceremony; she raised their five children (today ages 15-22) in a household where holidays were celebrated in an irreligious, if flamboyant fashion.

"I cooked for days," she says about Christmases past.

It wasn’t until her children were nearly grown that Winningham found herself reading works by Jung, Joseph Campbell and others in an attempt to sort out nagging religious and psychological questions. In summer 2001, she visited a "creation of the world" exhibit at a science museum and made an announcement to herself: "I don’t think I believe in God."

"But that night, I had the most remarkable dream, which told me, ‘If you’re going to reject something, at least find out what it is you are rejecting,’" she says. When a friend told her about the UJ’s Introduction to Judaism class, Winningham thought, "OK, I’ll begin by studying the Jews, since they started the one-God thing."

While she intended to approach the class from a historical, intellectual perspective, the epiphanies began the day she stepped into Rabbi Neal Weinberg’s UJ class in November 2001.

"There I was, struggling with God, and one of the first things he said was, ‘Israel means struggle with God,’" she says.

"When Mare started, she seemed to be checking Judaism out," Weinberg recalls. "But before long, she enthusiastically embraced the values of Judaism and Jewish family life."

The actress says she began celebrating Shabbat and fell in love with an observance that included "ritualizing, literally, the breaking of bread…. Shabbat fed me literally and figuratively, and I found myself finding my way to God through this very earthly endeavor of feeding my family."

Although her children are not Jewish, they helped her rate brisket recipes, participated in Torah discussions and invited their Jewish friends to her Shabbat table.

Winningham’s attraction to Judaism deepened as she read the Bible: "Everything one needs to know about behavior here on earth is manifest in these stories," she says. "Anything one could find confusing or morally challenging is answerable. When the most important thing about a religion is how you behave here, and not about what happens after you die — these are the things I believe my soul was longing for and rejecting in other religions."

By December 2001, she was regularly attending Netter’s Bait Tefillah minyan at Temple Beth Am.

"Mare drank everything in," Netter recalls. "There was a certain intensity in the way that she concentrated, both on the siddur and on the Torah discussion that would take place."

After Winningham observed her first Yom Kippur that year, she knew she had to convert.

"There was something about petitioning God, as a community, for forgiveness," she says. "I knew then that Judaism was something I couldn’t live without."

On March 3, 2003, an entourage of friends and relatives accompanied Winningham to the official ceremony at the UJ.

"Sitting in on her beit din [rabbinical court] was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had of conversion," Netter said. "It was apparent to me and to the other rabbis that this was a woman who was born a Jewish soul, in terms of the depth of her feelings and the rawness of her emotion."

Cori Drasin, a former Beth Am vice president, says she was especially touched by the ritual immersion part of the ceremony.

"I stood behind the curtain as Mare chanted the blessing in the mikvah, and the walls just resonated with her beautiful voice," Drasin says.

A friend placed a Star of David around Winningham’s neck (she’s still wearing it) and "I cried a lot," she says. She was moved not only to become Jewish, but because her family has been so supportive.

"When I told my mother I was going to become Jewish, she said, ‘You know Mary, they were the first,’" Winningham recalls.

The actress’ children have also been accepting, which, Winningham says, "is lucky, considering that it must be weird for your mom to embrace a new religion when you’re a young adult."

The performer also feels lucky to have been embraced by the Beth Am community, where she recently chanted from the Torah for the first time.

"Everyone in the minyan rejoiced," Netter says. "It was as if one of our children had become bat mitzvah."

Winningham isn’t content to stop there. A self-prescribed "cheerleader for the Torah," she intends to read the entire Bible in its original language, which is why she’s taking that Thursday Hebrew class at the UJ.

"I don’t care if it takes decades, I’ll finish it eventually, I really will," she says. "I may be 80 when I finish, but that would be a beautiful thing."

Winningham sounds more like a scholar than the world’s second Jewish country singer when she adds, "Judaism for me is like a mystery novel. I just can’t stop reading; that’s what it’s like for me."

Winningham will perform in concert July 24, 10:30 p.m. and Aug 21, 10:30 p.m. at Genghis Cohen restaurant, 740 N Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. For information, call (323) 653-0640.

"A Convert Jig"

(Mare Winningham wrote this to honor her "Introduction to Judaism" teacher, Rabbi Neal Weinberg, and she performed it during a tribute to him at the University of Judaism.)

Guard your tongue, love your neighbor

Help someone to help themselves

It’s required — it’s not a favor

That is what my teacher tells us

Don’t be late — you’ll miss the prayer aerobics

Ancient melodies you need to know

How to sing the holy songs — to add your voice where it belongs

And how and when to lift up on your toes

That is what my teacher tells us

That is what I’ve come to learn

He has organized the notes for life

And given me the tools to turn

My tiny insignificance into something big

I will be a Jew like all of you

and dance a convert jig

Take the time to learn the Hebrew

Memorize your holidays

Keep kashrut — and study on the Torah

You’ll reap rewards forever and always

Cut your flowers, set your table

Light your candles and say your prayer

Then you’ll know how you are able

To feel you’re Jewish, anywhere

That is what my teacher tells us

That is what I’ve come to learn

He has organized the notes for life

And given me the tools to turn

My tiny insignificance into something big

I will be a Jew like all of you — your tree has grown a twig

I will be a Jew like all of you — and never eat a pig

I will be a Jew like all of you — and dance a convert jig!

Removing Theology


"Resisting History: Historicism and Its Discontents in German-Jewish Thought" by David N. Myers (Princeton University Press, $29.95).

It is a rare exception to find a scholarly volume penned by an academic that speaks with such a resoundingly relevant message to the popular community at large. Professor David N. Myers’ "Resisting History: Historicism and Its Discontents in German-Jewish Thought" is one of those pleasant exceptions.

What does it mean to "resist history"? What is "historicism," and why would there be "discontents" toward historicism in German Jewish thought, or in any intellectual society? Myers refers to the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard as having been opposed "to the kind of historical thinking that reduced human experience to a long series of disconnected moments." In Jewish terms, "historicism and its discontents" means that when a Jew enters a synagogue on Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), the day that is traditionally fixed as a day of mourning over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the rabbi tells his congregants that "today’s mourning includes the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, plus the expulsion from Spain in 1492, plus the Holocaust," and that all of these tragedies are linked as part of God’s "Divine plan for the Jewish people," the traditionalist (anti-historicist) takes solace in knowing that "in every generation, they seek to destroy us, but the Holy One Blessed be He saves us from them."

The historicist in the congregation understands that while it is religiously enticing to view these tragedies as part of a larger "divine picture," the proper academic understanding of these events involves studying each one as an independent event, each with its own unique set of social, political and economic circumstances, void of any theological implications. To a traditionalist, the rabbi’s interpretation of Tisha B’Av is deeply inspirational, while the historian’s explanations would seem cold and void of any spiritual message. To the historicist, the rabbi’s interpretation is theology, not history, and a proper academic analysis of the various "Tisha B’Av tragedies" would ultimately make more sense to the rational mind.

Myers writes of four German Jewish intellectuals who each, in his own unique way, resisted the strong wave of historicism that was capturing the minds of intellectual German Jews during the 19th century. Philosophers Hermann Cohen and Franz Rosensweig, political leader Leo Strauss and Orthodox Rabbi Isaac Breuer were each passionate opponents of historicism.

I write a review of Myers’ book not as a professional historian with the academic qualifications of adequately critiquing the particulars of his arguments, but as a community rabbi and educator who is continuously challenged with the tension of maintaining Judaism’s traditional theological beliefs in the face of modern academic and scientific research. I write this review as a teacher of Torah who faces the challenge of merging the midrashic wisdom of Rashi with the modern insights of academic Bible scholars and archaeologists. Within my mind, the rational historicist prevails, but within my soul, I hear the voices of Cohen, Rosensweig, Strauss and Breuer.

By examining the lives and writings of these four particular thinkers, whose styles, philosophies and religious orientations are so diverse, Myers demonstrates that the tension between historicism and anti-historicism crosses all denominational and political lines. The fact that three of the four are not Orthodox (Cohen, Rosensweig and Strauss) shatters the conveniently prevalent myth that this tension is limited to a struggle between Orthodox and liberal Jews. Thanks to Myers’ book, we now understand that this tension is not between opposite poles of Jewish theology, rather it is between those who wish to view Jewish history through spiritual lenses — e.g., Max Dimont’s book "Jews, God and History" (Mentor Books, 1994) — versus those who wish to study Jewish history through the less than spiritual lenses of sociology, politics, economics and archaeology.

As a recent manifestation of this tension, Myers cites Rabbi David Wolpe’s now-famous sermon about the historicity of the exodus. Wolpe’s sermon, delivered from his Sinai Temple pulpit on Passover 2001, and the controversy that it generated, serve as a lucid reminder that the tension between historicism and its discontents is alive and well within current Jewish circles.

Like all scholarly volumes, Myers’ book is a challenging read but, in this case, one that is well worth the effort. The intricacies of scholarly lingo are softened by the author’s bold admission in his introduction that his interest in this subject is not a matter of dispassionate scholarly concern, but a reflection of his own personal tensions of living within "the academy and the shul," so to speak.

Myers’ book brilliantly addresses the tension that many Jews — scholar, rabbi, educator and lay person alike — face every day. This is therefore an important read for all of us, as it will continue to help facilitate the important dialogue on how we honestly live with and address these theological tensions within our congregations and classrooms, and within our minds and souls.


Daniel Bouskila is rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.

C’mon, a Bat Mitzvah Is, Like, So Uncool


Everything was going wrong. First, her best friend moved. Not just to another town, she moved to another state.

Also, she was starting a new school this year. Middle school was scary to think about, though she would never admit it out loud. She was too cool for that.

And now her parents were talking about moving to another town, with a better school district. She, of course, saw nothing wrong with this one. And what was worse, they would probably move after she had become used to the new middle school.

OK, now add to all of this: her bat mitzvah.

"I don’t want a bat mitzvah," she told her parents. "It’s just for you and your relatives. You don’t even need me there. So why don’t you just throw your own party?"

"Don’t be silly," they answered. "This is for you, it’s about you."

So how come no one would listen to her?

Lessons with the cantor were OK, but then the cantor is a cool guy. He never lies, never says you did a good job when you know you stank.

But what goes over well in the cantor’s study isn’t likely to go over well in front of a whole mess of people.

"I’ll be a bat mitzvah automatically at 12 anyway," she said. "Why do we need the fancy ceremony?"

"We’ll keep it simple."

"Why can’t we just go to Israel for my bat mitzvah?" she asked.

"Would you like that? We could have the ceremony on Masada."

"Oh," she responded. "I thought we would just go and, y’know, kinda sightsee."

"That’s not what this is about," they answered.

"Then what is it about?" she replied.

"If you don’t know that, you’ve wasted all your years in Hebrew school."

Well, no duh! She had slept through most of it.

She asked the cantor, "So what is it all about?"

"L’dor v’dor," he said.

From generation to generation?

"Tov me’od," he said. Very good.

From generation to generation. From your parents generation to yours. From your grandparents to your parents. From your great-grandparents to your grandparents. All the way back, and all the way forward.

Throughout history, as long as there are Jews on earth, we will all be connected through things like the bar or bat mitzvah, Shabbat, brit milah, lighting candles, fasting on Yom Kippur, eating matzah and retelling the Passover story.

Sharing the stories of our ancestors with our children, as you will do someday, God willing, with yours. That’s what it’s all about.

That’s why she liked the cantor. He answered her in words she could understand.

So she entered middle school, and did just fine. She studied her parshah and learned the prayers.

She thought about what the cantor had said, and pictured herself listening to her own son practice. She imagined her grandfather, now in his 70s, as he must have looked up on the bimah.

And then it was time.

She sat on the bimah, a demure young lady with ankles crossed and tissues in hand. She read her parshah, sang the blessings, led the service and gave a dvar Torah.

As she stood behind the pulpit, she looked into some of the faces in the sanctuary. And when she led the congregation in the prayer, "L’dor v’dor," she sang it with feeling.

She imagined the family members she had never met, going back generations. She thought about those who could not have a bar or bat mitzvah before they were sent to the concentration camps. She thought about those who would have one after her.

Then she looked at her younger brother sitting in the first row, with her parents.

"I wonder if he’ll feel the same way I did," she thought.

"Well, at least he’ll have me to help him."

Cal State Bridges Culture Gap


The Los Angeles campus of California State University hardly seems fertile ground to introduce studies on Jewish culture and history.

Located five miles east of the downtown Civic Center, Cal State L.A. has some 21,000 students, of whom more than half are Latino, almost a quarter Asian American and 8.4 percent African American.

Among the 15.7 percent non-Hispanic whites, Jews make up such an insignificant portion that no statistics, or even good guesstimates, are available.

It is precisely because of this lopsided ethnic minority makeup that Carl M. Selkin is working hard to add a Jewish component to the curriculum.

"Our students, who are tomorrow’s public school teachers, have no connection with Jews in their lives and studies," said Selkin, dean of the College of Arts and Letters. "Many are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, and they need to know about the Jewish contributions to American society and the building of Los Angeles."

The campus site is near Boyle Heights, once home to a vibrant Jewish community before and during World War II. But by the time the campus was opened in 1956, almost all Jews had departed for the Fairfax area and the Westside.

That means that few students have had any regular contacts with Jews, leaving only a residue of anti-Semitic stereotypes and myths.

The Jewish studies program will start out fairly modestly next year (2004) by expanding present courses to reflect Jewish contributions in a given field. Selkin expects that the first such courses will be in the history of the film industry and in American literature.

As the program — and financial resources — grow, he hopes to add Jewish-oriented lectures by visiting experts, research projects, scholarships and special events.

These studies and activities will be part of the university’s American Communities Program, which has received challenge grants form the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation.

However, to put the Jewish program on a sound financial footing, Selkin is seeking an endowment of $200,000 from Jewish community organizations and individuals.

The obvious question remains whether Latino, Asian and black students will have the interest, and time, to study about American Jewish culture, history and the immigrant experience.

Spare time is a factor since most students commute to campus, hold part-time jobs, and frequently are older men and women preparing for second careers.

Nevertheless, there are "lots of possibilities for the program to make an impact, if carefully planned," said professor Peter Brier, who taught English on campus for three decades.

"Many students are curious about Jews, beyond the myths and stereotypes," he said. "There is a growing interest in religious studies, including Judaism and Islam."

Brier also thinks that the current students, drawn largely from East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, may show a historical interest in the Jewish immigrants who preceded them in their communities.

Rabbi Michael Perelmuter, who worked with the now defunct Hillel Extension program on campus, believes that many Christian students, especially among Asian Americans, will wish to explore the Jewish roots of their faith.

"It will take an effort, but it is important to keep Jewish culture and history on the radar screen," he said.

One plus factor is the relatively large number of Jewish faculty members on campus. Seymour Levitan, who served as chairman of the psychology department, recalled that, in the 1960s, roughly one-quarter of his 100 full- and part-time academic staff was Jewish.

Although the number has declined as the older Jewish professors retire and are largely replaced by non-Jewish faculty, there still remains a sufficient core who could serve as instructors and supporters of a Jewish program, if they are willing.

Cal State L.A. has never approached the Jewish activism and presence found at the top American academic institutions, private and public, with their large and largely affluent Jewish enrollment and attractive Hillel centers.

On the other hand, the L.A. campus has been largely immune to pro-Palestinian demonstrations and confrontations.

"These issues don’t really interest our student body," Brier said.

However, there was a time, from the mid-1970s to the mid-’80s, when Cal State students regularly met for Shabbat dinners and Passover seders at off-campus homes, Perelmuter recalled, and there was even a short-lived Aish HaTorah campus chapter in the 1960s.

Between 1975 and 1991, Perelmuter served as the "itinerant" Hillel Extension rabbi for Occidental College, Caltech and Cal State L.A., until the extension program was axed for lack of funds.

"We weren’t all that large, but we had up to 50 Cal State students signed up with Hillel, we had speakers and cultural programs and some excellent interfaith dialogues," said Perelmuter, who is now director of interreligious affairs for the regional American Jewish Committee.

For more information on the Jewish studies program at Cal State L.A., contact Dean Carl M. Selkin at (323) 343-4001. Tax deductible contributions can be sent to Selkin, College of Arts and Letters, Cal State L.A,. 5151 University Drive, Los Angeles, CA, 90032-8100. Checks should be made payable to "The CSLA Foundation/Jewish American Endowment."

Mothers, Daughters Bond Over Torah


Netivot, the women’s Torah study institute, will begin a program next month on a subject not often associated with Orthodoxy: bat mitzvah.

Beginning Nov. 16, Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills will host a “Mother/Daughter Bat Mitzvah Seminar,” in which girls ages 11-13 and their mothers are invited to explore aspects of being a Jewish woman through text study, creative expression and areas of social action.

Educator Marcie Meier will lead the six-week course, joined by specialists who will facilitate projects in music, drama, art and dance. In addition to female characters in the Bible, seminar participants will discuss historical and personal role models.

Although Meier recognizes that “there’s always been a more public role for young men … there’s no reason girls shouldn’t achieve as much as boys in Judaism.”

Attaining the age of bat mitzvah, Meier told The Journal, involves “growing into a more responsible role in Judaism” — not just fulfillment of commandments incumbent on women such as lighting Shabbat candles but also saying daily prayers and carrying out acts of chesed (lovingkindness), what Jews often refer to as tikkun olam (social action).

Text study, Meier said, allows girls to understand their responsibilities as adult Jews “on a deeper level.” Orthodox from birth, Meier embraced the importance of study for girls as a young adult after reading an essay in an Orthodox journal in which a woman wrote, “Women sometimes confuse motherhood with washing floors…. Anyone who can study should study.”

At Beth Jacob, girls celebrate their coming of age as Jewish adults by offering to the congregation a d’var Torah, or commentary, on the weekly Torah portion, though, consistent with traditional practice, they do not lead prayers or read from Scripture.

But Steven Weil, Beth Jacob’s rabbi, downplays the “public performance” component of bar mitzvah as a latter-day American phenomenon. For centuries, he said, bar mitzvah was nothing more than a boy being called to recite Torah blessings on a Thursday morning.

To Weil, the close study of text and Jewish values that leads to the d’var Torah is the core of the rite of passage for girls and boys.

“Our goal is that the focus is on a real, substantive intellectual growth experience,” he told The Journal, “learning for six to 12 months with a first-rate mentor.”

Weil cites Meier as such a mentor, someone knowledgeable in Bible, rabbinic texts and traditional practice. A product of Los Angeles Jewish day schools, Meier, 51, attended Stern College for Women in New York and UCLA. She has prepared girls to deliver divrei Torah at Orthodox congregations and at non-Orthodox synagogues such as Temple Beth Am.

Michelle Rothstein, a seventh-grader at Pressman Academy in Pico-Robertson, has been working with Meier since last year to prepare divrei Torah for her bat mitzvah celebrations this month at Beth Jacob and at Beth Am, where she will also lead a weekday service.

With Meier, Rothstein explored Torah in both Hebrew and English.

“She knows a lot, and she’s really nice,” Rothstein said of her teacher.

Meier is looking forward to working with mothers and daughters together.

“For some mothers, it will be a first opportunity to study things they didn’t have an opportunity to study as they grew up,” she said.

She also sees it as a chance for women to spend “quality time” with their middle-school daughters.

Netivot (Hebrew for “paths”), founded in 2000, opens its fall schedule on Nov. 2 with “Weaving Beauty Into Our Everyday Lives,” an afternoon-long program combining Torah study with interactive arts workshops. All of Netivot’s programs are open to women at all levels of knowledge and from all Jewish denominations.

The seminar is “really going to be able to reach all levels,” Meier said. “It’s such a positive thing to bring our girls into the next step of Judaism.”

To find out more about the “Mother/Daughter Bat Mitzvah
Seminar” or Netivot’s other fall offerings, call (310) 286-2346, visit www.netivot.org or e-mail info@netivot.org .

BJE Selects ‘Leaf’ for Reading Initiative


Assimilation. How Jewish children should best be educated. Oppression against Jews and the Jewish State. Whether faith can provide meaningful answers.

Those topics lead to unexpected plot turns in “As a Driven Leaf,” a historical novel selected by Orange County’s Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) for “To Read as One,” its first communitywide reading initiative, which began last month.

Written by Milton Steinberg, the book is based on a historical character, a renegade rabbi who lived during the Roman conquest of Judea and was excommunicated. The novel provides a context both historical and cultural for many dilemmas confronting contemporary Jews, said Howard Mirowitz, of Newport Beach, the BJE’s treasurer.

“It makes us realize where our own reactions are coming from,” said Mirowitz, who with his wife, Ellen, co-chaired a group that organized “Driven Leaf”-themed events. “To Read as One” aimed to reach a segment of the Jewish population that is unaffiliated, Mirowitz said.

“If nothing else, they read a book that’s really worth reading,” he added.

The age-old conflict between contemporary standards and
tradition that confront the book’s characters will be discussed by Rabbi Claudio
Kaiser-Bleuth in a final “To Read as One” event, May 4, 10:30 a.m. at Tustin’s
Congregation B’nai Israel. A study guide for the book is posted online at www.bjeoc.org.

The Camp Quest


While the summer is still a good four months away, the race
to register for Jewish overnight camp has already kicked into high gear.

“A lot of families don’t realize that you’ve got to act
fast,” said Stacey Barrett of Sherman Oaks, whose daughter has attended
Brandeis-Bardin Institute’s Camp Alonim in Simi Valley for seven summers. “One
year I mailed in the application in February and my daughter was placed on a
waiting list.”

A 1995-1997 study by the Foundation for Jewish Camping found
Jewish camps significantly increase Jewish identity, affiliation and practice,
while decreasing the likelihood of intermarriage. Unfortunately, getting into a
local Jewish camp is not as easy as finding a reason to go. With only a handful
of Jewish residential camps in the Greater Los Angeles area, parents must act
quickly or find another summer activity for their children.

Each summer, administrators at Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling
Hilltop Camp in Malibu, both run by Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles,
must turn away 25 to 40 prospective campers. Enrollment begins in December and
experienced parents know to send their deposits right away.

“You’re pretty much out of luck if you wait to turn in your
application in February,” said Cheryl Garland, the office administrator for the
Reform residential camps. Like other camps around the city, even getting a top
spot on the waiting list is not easy. Wilshire Boulevard Temple congregants get
first priority, returning campers get second preference and new campers are the
low men on the totem pole for securing a place once wait-listed.

Admittance to Camp Ramah, which has seven overnight camps
around the United States and Canada, including one in Ojai, has gotten so
competitive that administrators now accept applications as early as September.

“I was lucky,” said Janet Urman, whose son and daughter will
attend Ramah for their second and fourth summers, respectively. “I have nieces
and nephews who went to Ramah, so I was told I had to get [the application] in
the day [I received it in the mail] or soon as possible.”

The Los Angeles resident said that some Ramah parents drive
their applications to the camp offices the day they receive them to ensure that
their children will get in.

While cabins for certain age groups fill up faster than
others, Camp Ramah’s Assistant Director Zachary Lasker said that some children
miss out on the experience because parents take for granted that Ramah is full.

“The big myth is that Ramah in California fills up right
away and certain parents think, ‘Why bother trying?'” said the camp
administrator.

Currently, Ramah’s seventh- to 10th-grade cabins are filling
up fast, but there are still a number of slots open for fourth-, fifth- and
sixth-graders. Ramah officials are also in talks about referring families to
other Ramah camps around the country that might have more availability.

Ramah, which runs seven overnight camps and five day camps,
is the only Conservative Jewish residential camp on the West Coast. In fact,
Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is the next closest. The National Ramah Camp
Commission, Inc. is considering building another camp in San Diego or Northern
California to accommodate more West Coast families looking for a Conservative
summer environment. Ramah will be opening a day camp in Berkeley this summer.

Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute:
Camp & Conference Center, which runs Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, anticipates
that his camp will begin a waiting list in March when he expects enrollment to
reach capacity. As the camp is affiliated with The Jewish Federation of Greater
Los Angeles and the Jewish Community Centers, Camp JCA Shalom finds most of its
camps through those groups. Camp scholarships are available through The
Federation and 30 percent to 40 percent of campers receive financial aid. Even
though the camp is able to attract enough campers, Kaplan noted that many
families are unaware of the scholarship program.

“There are families that aren’t applying to camp because
they think they can’t afford it,” he said.

Camp Alonim, a non denominational camp celebrating its 50th
anniversary in June, is also filling up. Jill Sava, the camp’s assistant
director, said that while many slots are taken, there is availability within
some of the sessions.

“It depends so much on age group, session and gender,” Sava
said.

Apparently, the older age groups and girls’ cabins fill up
faster and most campers seem to prefer the middle sessions as opposed to the
first and last of the one-, two- and three-week sessions.

Only one local Jewish residential camp claims to have a
number of openings for this coming summer: Camp Gilgoa in West Hills, which is
a Labor Zionist Youth Movement (Habonim Dror) camp that operates like a
kibbutz. “We have lots of space and would love to have more kids,” said camp
recruiter Natalie Stanger.

Stanger said that Camp Gilgoa is less popular because it
doesn’t directly draw from a synagogue.

“There’s not this huge organized force behind [Camp Gilgoa]
like some of the other camps,” she said.

The urgency to sign up for camp has become both a learning
experience and a fact of life for many L.A.-area Jewish parents.

“I’m not the type to let things sit around,” said Wendy
Bachelis, a Calabasas resident whose daughter has attended Hess Kramer for five
summers. “I knew from [sending my daughter] to day camp that the good
[sessions] fill up first.”

Barrett said she only made the mistake of holding off on
registration one time:

“Once you get an e-mail saying your kid is on the waiting
list, you learn your lesson and fill out the application immediately.”

For more information on Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling
Hilltop Camp, call (213) 388-2401. For Camp Ramah, call (310) 476-8571. For
Camp JCA Shalom, call (818) 889-5500, ext. 1. For Camp Alonim, call the
Brandeis-Bardin Institute at (805) 582-4450. For Camp Gilgoa, call (818)
464-3224.  

A Dose of Wisdom to Combat Illness


"Illness and Health in the Jewish Tradition," edited by David L. Freeman and Judith Z. Abrams (Jewish Publication Society, 1999, $24.95).

What is your definition of a new book? Mine is a book that I have not yet read, regardless of when it was published. And so, let me call your attention to a book that was published a couple of years ago, but that did not receive the attention that it deserved and that you may have missed.

This is a book for those who are or who some day may be ill, which is another way of saying for everyone. It contains wisdom culled out of ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary Jewish literature that is intended for the patient, the caregiver and the physician. Like every anthology, it has some passages in it that will be your favorites and some that you will not like as much, but there are more than enough of the former to make this a precious and valuable collection.

The writings are of different kinds. There are, first of all, selections from the Psalms, because this is the great treasure house of the human spirit. The Psalms are poems and prayers written by and for those who are ill, and because they are so excruciatingly personal, their power does not diminish with the passing of the centuries.

Then there are selections from rabbinic literature, from both the legal sections and from the midrashim. And then there are selections from the law codes, in which all the bewildering questions that confront patients, caregivers and physicians today are struggled with: When should you visit a sick person and what should you say? When can you let go of life and how long should you fight? How much must you tell a patient when he/she wants to know the truth and how much should you tell when he/she does not want to know the truth?

There are also essays by modern Jewish thinkers–Harold Schulweis, William Cutter, Hirshel Jaffe and others — each reflecting on what they have learned as a result of their illnesses and what they now understand as a result of their recoveries.

These essays do not deal, for the most part, with the theoretical theological questions but with the real concerns of people who are in the hospital. They do not deal with such questions as who has priority for a transplant or whether euthanasia or abortion or stem cell research are right or wrong.

Instead, they deal with such questions as what can we do to make a patient feel that he/she has some control, how can we make the consulting room look less forbidding to the caregivers, and how can a person who has to wear a silly looking gown and a bracelet with his name on it, and who has to sleep in a bed that has sides like a crib, and who has to stare up at the nostrils of those who treat him, feel dignity?

Above all, they deal with the question of where shall a patient find a measure of hope and meaning in the time of illness?

There are a 127 selections in this book. They range from the Chumash and the Book of Job through Maimonides and Glueckel of Hameln in the Middle Ages, to Sholem Asch and Sholom Aleichem in modern times, to Victor Frankl, Max Lerner, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Adin Steinsaltz in our own time.

The prayers and the customs of the tradition are here, such as the "Misheberach," the changing of the person’s name, the amulets, the vidui. New customs and new ways of giving hope and will to live are to be found here, too.

Not only will each person have his or her own favorite in this anthology, but I suspect that different pages will be each person’s favorite at different times in his life. Rachel Cowan’s memoir of what it was like to stay in her husband’s hospital room and to celebrate Shabbat with him there near the end of his life is a gem that those who need be caretakers will appreciate.

The physician’s oath and Isaac Israeli’s portrait of the good physician will speak to doctors about the spiritual challenges they face. (I wish that Nancy Flam’s exquisite prayer for doctors to recite when they lose a patient had been included; perhaps it can be added in the next edition.)

The principles of administration for a hospital that were written for Kiryat Sanz Hospital in Netanya, Israel, is an extraordinary document that should be must reading for anyone who administers a hospital. Many other selections in this collection will speak to those who are, or who some day will be, ill and will show them what those who have walked the lonely path that they must tread have learned.

This source book is the work of two remarkable people: Dr. David Freeman, who teaches internal medicine and rheumatology at Harvard Medical School, and Rabbi Judith Abrams, who teaches Talmud via the internet from Houston.

The book came out of a healing service called Refuat Hanefesh that has been held since l990 at Temple Israel in Boston, where patients, caregivers and physicians meet once a month to share prayers, poems and readings — many of them set to music — and study selections from classic Jewish sources and contemporary Jewish thinkers that grapple with how to achieve both strength of body and strength of spirit.

Now that I have discovered this anthology, I am going to make it the textbook for a study group on health, illness and recovery that I want to teach in my community, because there is no one who does not now or will not some day have to confront the issues that this book deals with. So it is a wonderful resource to study now, as well as when we will need it.

7 Days in the Arts


2/SATURDAY

Monique Schwartz has people talkin’ about our mommas. No need to organize a posse though. This is actually kind of Schwartz’s way of doing that herself — to analyze and combat stereotypical depictions of Jewish mothers in film. Her documentary “Mamadrama: The Jewish Mother in Cinema” screens today as part of the Laemmle’s “Bagels and Docs: A Jewish Documentary Series.”

10 a.m. Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. For more information, including other screening dates and times, call (323) 848-3500 or visit www.laemmle.com.

The wacky duo is at it again, only this time they’re being sponsored by Muslims. Thanks to the Iranian Muslim Association of North America (IMAN), the comedy duo of Rabbi Bob Alper and Egyptian-born Ahmed Ahmed continue their goal of “building bridges in troubled times through laughter,” tonight at IMAN Cultural Center.

7:30 p.m. $18 (in advance), $20 (at the door). IMAN Cultural Center, 3376 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 202-8181.

3/SUNDAY

It’s been 10 years since “The Quarrel” hit theaters, and this morning, the Sunset 5 hosts a special screening of the film about two old friends reunited after the Holocaust and the differences and disagreements that still separate them. Following the screening, the film’s writer-producer David Brandes moderates a discussion on “Good and Evil in Islam and Judaism” between Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Dr. Khaled M. Abou Fadl. Proceeds benefit The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity.

10 a.m. $12 (general), $118 (sponsors). Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 556-5639.

Panic grips your heart as you realize you only have only 27 days left till Chanukah. We know, that lunar calendar’ll get ya every time. But fret not, dear readers. For today is the Contemporary Crafts Market. Jewish trinkets and tchochkes are yours for the buying at this gift extravaganza. So quit the kvetching and head on down.

Nov. 1-3, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. $6 (adults), free (children 12 and under). Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 285-3655.

4/MONDAY

We know there’s a pole-vaulting joke in here somewhere, but we’re pretty sure the folks involved in the two one-act plays that make up “Folk and Race” have got that covered. So instead, here are the basics: Act One is the dramatic interpretation. It’s a play about a Jewish pole vaulter who hides his religion to gain a spot on the 1936 American Olympic team after his better is kicked off for being Jewish. And Act Two is a parody of Act One, a la Mel Brooks. Take the leap and check it out.

8 p.m. Nov. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 and 19. $12. The Theatre District at the Cast, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 651-5862.

5/TUESDAY

Bursting with fruit flavor is Jewish artist Rebecca Newman’s latest exhibition “Between the Branches.” The 17 new drawings continue her study of Southern California tropical tree species, everything from bananas to bougainvillea. They’re on display now at TAG, The Artists’ Gallery.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Friday), through Nov. 9. TAG, The Artists’ Gallery, 2903 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 829-9556.

6/WEDNESDAY

Things we can learn from (818), a non-profit “dedicated to furthering the education, production and distribution of filmmaking in the San Fernando Valley”: 1. “Valley film” is not a euphemism for porn. 2. The Valley has already made important contributions to the world of film. 3. It’s a worthwhile trip over the hill this week for the Valley Film Festival, screening 16 films, including four from Valley residents and one from Israel, called “Raging Dove.”

Nov. 1-7. El Portal Theatre, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. For information call, (818) 754-8222 or visit www.valleyfilmfest.com.

7/THURSDAY

The UJ’s series “In Their Own Words: Conversations With Writers” continues tonight when Journal arts and entertainment editor Naomi Pfefferman interviews author Dara Horn. Horn will discuss her first novel “In the Image,” a story that examines the nature of good and evil, and the presence of God.

7 p.m. $15. University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1546.

8/FRIDAY

So you think the ballet “The Nutcracker” just conjures up Christmasy images of Sugar Plum Fairies. Not if Akiva Talmi, the kibbutz-bred producer of the esteemed Moscow Ballet, has his way. He pushed his ballet to informally dedicate its 2002 season to” celebrating the contributions of Jewish cultural heroes of the former Soviet Union,” who had to downplay their heritage to succeed back in the U.S.S.R.

Nov. 7-9, 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Terrace Theater, Long Beach Convention Center, 300 East Ocean Blvd.,Long Beach. (213) 480-3232.

Hebrew School Horror Stories


Randy Fried will never forget the day he almost had a police escort to Hebrew school. Like many other Jewish students around the country, the then-preteen class clown ("I was a Hebrew school teacher’s worst nightmare") tried every excuse in the book to avoid going to his weekly bar mitzvah training class.

He faked sick. He faked homework. He probably would’ve faked his own death if it meant skipping the "Shema" for a day. One afternoon, Fried got into such a heated argument with his parents about blowing off class, that a neighbor called the cops.

"Two officers showed up, and one asked my dad, ‘Is there a problem, here?’" the 24-year-old recounted, chuckling at the memory. "So my dad said, ‘My son refuses to go to Hebrew school, and he has to learn his religion because his bar mitzvah is coming up.’"

The officer looked at Fried’s father for a moment and then said something along the lines of, "Well, Hebrew school is very important." He then asked Fried if he needed ride in the back of the squad car to get to class.

Panicked, Fried declined and said it wasn’t necessary. Without another complaint, he let his dad drop him off at the former Temple Beth Torah in Alhambra for class.

Now, the Arcadia resident is a sixth-grade Hebrew school teacher at Sinai Temple on the Westside. Having been on both sides of the desk, Fried is not alone in feeling that Hebrew school has changed a lot since those days.

Edith Singer, a veteran teacher at Sinai Temple on the Westside, said that she’s noticed significant differences in children’s attitudes during her nearly 40 years of teaching. "I know there was a time when kids said, ‘I hate Hebrew school,’" said the Holocaust survivor, who began teaching in 1965. "I don’t hear this anymore. I think it’s out of style to hate Hebrew school."

If Singer is correct, 11-year-old Daniel Yosef, who attends classes at Temple Emanuel in West Los Angeles, is right in style. "I think I learn a lot in Hebrew school," said the chipper sixth-grader after returning from a Sunday morning class.

His best friend, Raif Cogan, 11, admitted that while he’d rather stay home and play Nintendo, the pre-bar mitzvah classes are not that bad. "It’s not the funnest thing in the world," said Cogan, who also attends Temple Emanuel, "but it’s not terrible."

Both Yosef and Cogan believe their worst in-class crime — and that of their peers — is talking during class.

Talk to any Hebrew school graduate and he or she is likely to have a Hebrew school war story.

A writer living in Los Angeles, Gilah Yelin Hirsch recalls her escapades in Hebrew school as an 8-year-old in Montreal, in 1952. "The mornings were spent in Yiddish and Hebrew studies while the afternoons focused on English and French. One morning, I asked my Orthodox [Bible] teacher, in Yiddish, why God was always referred to as he, while the names and pronouns were interchangeably male and female, i.e. ‘umvorchim otach.’ [‘And you (F) shall be blessed.’] He grabbed me by my long, red hair and threw me out of the classroom," she said.

Deborah Jacoby, 30, of Sherman Oaks, remembers the time her older brother was sent to the principal’s office for making out with a girl on the bimah and then trying to convince administrators the act was a "double mitzvah," because it happened on Shabbat.

It seems that even the most well-behaved kid could — especially in the old days — turn into your average Hebrew school delinquent.

Fried and a buddy made their teacher so angry that he threw a book on the floor and stormed out of the classroom.

"Because it’s not ‘real school,’ kids don’t take it as seriously," Fried said. "What kind of trouble can they really get in? What is the [school director] going to say, ‘You can’t have a bar mitzvah?’"

Singer attributed the problem to fatigue. "Kids are tired in the afternoon, especially when they’ve spent the whole day at school. Maybe they have their mind on homework, and it makes them a little restless," he said

Singer said that while she used to have problems keeping her students in line, those issues have disappeared over the years. "Now they respect me because I’m over 70. I have difficult children, but I put foot my down," said the Czechoslovakian native.

"I take them very seriously," she said. "I treat them with a lot of respect, and they give it back to me."

Singer has noticed that in general, younger teachers tend to have more disciplinary problems than their experienced counterparts.

Deborah Kreingle, a Hebrew school teacher at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles, said she’s been teaching "longer than Moses was in the desert." "We don’t have any discipline problems," the West Los Angels resident said.

"The program is so fast, that we’re always running out of time," she said. "The kids are never bored, because there’s no time for it."

Most teachers agree that the decline in behavior problems can be credited to parents. Singer thinks that kids today know that when it comes to their Jewish education, they are in it for the long haul, whether they like it or not.

"Parents don’t promise the kids that after their bar mitzvah, they don’t have to go [to Hebrew school] anymore, which is what they used to do," she said. Along the same lines, Fried has noticed that parents seem more involved, which makes the children feel the classes are important.

Class size and hours spent in class have also changed. Singer has about half the number of students she had 20 years ago, and the classes, which used to meet three times a week, have been reduced to two — a common trend.

With reduced hours, teaching students to speak Hebrew has become a lower priority than teaching them to read the prayers in time for their bar and bat mitzvahs.

"I feel bad that we don’t have time to study Hebrew as a language," said Singer, who remembers a time when there was more emphasis on language and vocabulary. "Now we have to spend the time on reading. I think it comes from the rabbis from the Conservative movement who wanted to focus more on reading and knowing the prayers."

There are also more school activities that take away from academic class time. Many schools now include music, art and library programs, as well as field trips.

Fried said that one of the biggest differences he noticed, as compared to his Hebrew school days, are the classroom discussions. While he remembers a lot of lectures, teachers are now encouraged to promote questioning and discussion. As such, he said, programs have become more interactive.

"We talk more about ‘why,’ as opposed to ‘how to,’" Fried explained, "like, why do we believe in God, and why do we say these prayers?"

Above all, Fried said, his best teaching tool is the ability to use his experiences as a reformed prankster to reach his students. He often shows the kids his old Hebrew school report cards, which contain teachers’ comments about his constant gabbing and short attention span.

"My philosophy is that we need to teach them that Judaism is fun, so they don’t do what I did. We need to try to tap into that crazy energy in a creative way," said Fried, who believes that his rebellion was, in part, due to strict teachers and boredom.

While it appears that the heyday of Hebrew school horror has passed, kids continue to find ways to keep themselves entertained during their weekly classes. Yosef, Cogan and their cronies admit that a small amount of Hebrew school mischief still exists.

"We use the same desks that belong to the day school kids during the week," said Cogan, stifling a giggle. "A lot of times, we go through the desks and play around with their stuff."

A Second Wake-Up Call


It took nearly 10 years, but now the other shoe has dropped. In the early 1990s, the American Jewish community was jolted by findings of an intermarriage rate exceeding 50 percent during the previous five years. Now, a new survey sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) sheds light on the profound social and psychological consequences of widespread intermarriage.

The new study indicates that American Jews are rapidly accommodating themselves to the new realities. Only 39 percent of the people questioned agreed with the statement, “It would pain me if my child married a gentile.” In the judgment of merely 25 percent, the best response to intermarriage is “to encourage the gentile to convert to Judaism.” Half claimed “it is racist to oppose Jewish-gentile marriages.” And 56 percent were either “neutral” or “positive” about marriage between a Jew and a gentile.

Equally startling were responses to questions about how rabbis ought to deal with prospective interfaith marriages. Fifty-seven percent want rabbis to officiate at interfaith weddings, side-by-side with gentile clergy; only 15 percent would like rabbis to refuse to officiate at any interfaith wedding.

What has caused this apparent wholesale abandonment of long-standing Jewish norms? Certainly, trends within American society at large play an important role. Marriage between individuals of different religious and ethnic groups has become the rule, rather than exception, and is widely regarded as a symptom of growing tolerance within our society. American individualism as applied to religion, moreover, encourages people to “follow their bliss,” making up their own rules as they go along. And the new “pluralism,” which celebrates blurred boundaries, now teaches that multiple religious or ethnic allegiances are better than one.Undoubtedly, American Jews are influenced by all of these social trends. But the AJCommittee data also make plain that many respondents are reacting not only to changes in the wider culture, but to the reality of intermarriage close to home. Among members of this sample who have a married child, nearly two-thirds claim at least one of their children is currently intermarried. Given the ubiquity of intermarriage, few American Jews with unmarried children can confidently expect all their offspring to marry Jews. The AJCommittee data suggest that American Jews are coping with these painful realities by defining the problem away. Rather than risk friction with intermarried children, they have come to accept interfaith marriages, and they turn to their rabbis for help in keeping relations with their offspring free of tensions – at any cost.

This conclusion seems inescapable in light of an otherwise puzzling pattern of responses to the survey: Jews over age 60 were considerably more tolerant of intermarriage than were younger Jews, even though the latter are presumably more in touch with current cultural trends. One can only assume that the resistance of the over-60 population has been weakened by the actual incidence of intermarriage within their own families and in the families of their peers.

For those of us who are unwavering in our commitment to endogamy as a Jewish religious imperative and strategy for ethnic survival, the findings of the AJCommittee survey are undeniably heartbreaking. Indeed, the news is so bad that one can only hope these grim findings may actually serve as a catalyst for increased Jewish unity among our religious leaders. For with a few exceptions, even the most ardent champions of outreach to the intermarried reject the views of amcha, of the Jewish masses. Rabbis of all stripes regard the conversion of a gentile married to a Jew as the ideal Jewish choice. And only a small minority of rabbis who co-officiate at interfaith weddings do so without setting at least some conditions. On these issues, rabbis across the religious spectrum have far more in common with each than they do with their own congregants.

A unified campaign is also in order because the survey indicates that all sectors of the Jewish community are affected by intermarriage and its social consequences. True, Orthodox Jews are consistently the most likely to oppose accommodation, but even in the Orthodox camp resistance is eroding. Moreover, while the incidence varies considerably from one group to the next, intermarriage hits home within every religious stream.

We are all in this together, and we had better engage in the battle of ideas quickly and forthrightly. Ten years ago, Jewish communities mobilized to fight for “Jewish continuity” by redoubling their efforts to strengthen Jewish education. Unfortunately, this campaign was not matched by an explicit confrontation of intermarriage. Rabbis, religious educators, and communal leaders may have believed that improvements in Jewish education and positive Jewish experiences would deter Jews from intermarrying. Perhaps they were reluctant to talk about the vital necessity of inmarriage because they feared alienating the swelling population of intermarried Jews and their families and friends. But unless we are certain that all the past rules of Jewish survival ought to be suspended because “America is different,” we had better engage in this cultural battle – and a battle it is when large numbers of Jews regard opposition to intermarriage as “racist.” It is inconceivable that for fear of giving offense, we are not articulating the Jewish case for inmarriage at time when growing numbers of our people are embracing views antithetical to Jewish values and interests.

Fortunately, the AJCommittee survey offers evidence that a pro-endogamy message will not fall on deaf ears. For with all their open-minded views on this issue – and perhaps their despair about how to cope with intermarriage occurring all around them – more than two-thirds of the people in the AJCommittee sample nonetheless agree with the statement, “The Jewish community has an obligation to urge Jews to marry Jews.” (This figure, we should note, holds steady for all age groups.) Despite their personal accommodations to the reality of intermarriage and their desire to have their rabbis make interfaith marriages kosher by officiating at ceremonies, American Jews still want their communal institutions and leaders to affirm the tradition-al ideal. Here is the foundation on which to rebuild communal consensus on what Jews until recently long took for granted, namely, that a Jewish marriage is a marriage of two Jews.

Majoring in Courage


These are tense days for the Los Angeles parents of Jewish students studying at Israeli universities and yeshivas. Their sons and daughters are among some 4,000 Americans studying in Israel this year in a wide range of programs. Major universities, yeshivas, kibbutzim, the Israel Defense Force are just a few of the institutions that offer American students programs in Israel. According to the Israel Aliyah Center, there are l00 students from Los Angeles currently studying in Israel.

With the escalation of violence engulfing the Palestinian territories, the parents of these children worry and ponder issues of safety and security while maintaining close daily contact with their sons and daughters by phone and e-mail. When the crisis intensified, it was expected that many students would return to their homes in the U.S. Instead, 97 percent of the students from the L.A. area have elected to stay in Israel, maintaining their studies and offering their moral and physical support to the embattled Jewish state.When it became clear that the cease-fire was not holding in the conflict, and alerts were issued to the students by the State Department, Dana and Gary Wexler told their daughter Miri, who is 20 and studying at Hebrew University, that they wanted her to return home.

“We have been very concerned for her safety,” Dana told The Journal. “We trust her judgment, but you never know when you might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. ” But Miri chose to stay.”She loves Israel,” Dana said. “She’s thrilled being there. She knows the language. She took the ulpan and is very fluent.”

“This crisis brought me face to face with all the issues of my Jewish and Zionist ideology, of what would I do,” said Gary. “Would I take my child out if push came to shove? And I realized I would. My first priority as a Jewish parent is the concern for my child’s safety, not my responsibility to Zionist ideology. But my daughter chose on her own to stay.”

Asked how he felt about his daughter’s decision, Gary replied, “I’m frightened, I’m jittery. On the other hand, I’m proud of what Miri has chosen to do while she stays. She went and got herself a job at the YMCA kindergarten, which is a coexistence kindergarten of Jewish and Arab kids. Because she really believes that they need to learn to live together.”

Gregg and Merryl Alpert’s daughter, Sarra, 20, is also studying at Hebrew University and has also decided to remain in Israel. A literature major, Sarra won a national essay contest prize from Masorti, the Conservative movement in Israel, for an essay in which she wrote about her relationship to Israel.”We feel our primary job has been to support her in how she has worked through this decision,” Gregg said.

“We told her, of course, we’re concerned for her safety. But this was a decision she needed to make. We were there to advise her and to help her think it out and offer her whatever support she asked for. We wanted to make sure she knew she had our permission to get on a plane and come right home if she wanted to. I was proud of how she thought it through.” he said.

In Sarra’s prize essay, which was titled “The Lizard’s Tail,” she described the tension between the desire to seek the richness of life and the knowledge there are really frightening situations in the world. “And now, in Israel, there’s a classic example of that situation,” said her father.

Sol and Pearl Taylor’s son, Benjamin, 23, is studying at Darche Noam, a yeshiva in West Jerusalem. Benjamin graduated from UC Santa Barbara, majoring in political science, and had previously spent his junior year at Hebrew University. “We keep in touch daily,” Sol said. “I would prefer he be here, but if he feels he’s comfortable there, it’s okay.”

Sol described how Benjamin developed a strong feeling for Israel. “We come from an orthodox background,” Sol said. “Benjamin started going to an Orthodox shul, Shaarey Zedek, becoming shomer shabbos. He’s similar to his grandparents.They were founding members of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights.”

While Sol emphasized his family’s support for Israel, he too cited the Palestinian conflict as a source of unease. “Those Jewish settlements in Gaza: who would want to live in such a Godforsaken place? And they’re just another thorn in the side of the Palestinians living there.”

Yael Weinstock, who is 18 and planning to become a rabbi, is studying in Jerusalem on a program called Nativ, a United Synagogue project of yeshiva study for Conservative youth. Her parents, Alan and Judy Weinstock emphasize that Yael’s choice to stay in Israel was “her own decision.”

“We’ve been quite calm about it,” Alan said. “We have only asked her once if she felt a desire to come home. She said no. Each family has to make their own decision.”

For the Weinstock family, as for so many others, the Holocaust remains a cornerstone of their love of Israel and their belief in its importance. “My parents are survivors from Poland,” Alan said. “So when my daughter went to Israel, she could meet family and friends of my parents for the first time, people she’d heard about for many years. They were the real chalutzim of the country. So for my daughter, that connection to Israel is very strong.”

“We’re proud of her all of her life,” Alan continued. “She’s a very special young lady.”

Exercise is Good for the Soul


Maybe it’s a stereotype, but Jewish people have always been considered smart. Not just by others but by themselves, too. We pride ourselves on making education a priority for our children. We encourage them to study, to go for the extra credit, and we imbue them with the value of education that they will pass on to their own children. But there’s a type of education that we – and many other Americans – have been ignoring, that may have a direct impact on brain power: physical education. According to new research by neuroscientists and educators, physical exercise “may boost brain function, improve mood, and otherwise increase learning,” writes Dolores King for the Boston Globe.

The body/mind connection

Physicians have known for years that depressed people often improve when they exercise. Sometimes that’s all it takes. “It’s helpful to think of the brain as a muscle,” says Dr. John Ratey of Harvard Medical School in an interview with the Boston Globe. “One of the best ways to maximize the brain is through exercise movement. Everybody feels better after exercise. There’s a reason for it.”

That reason, shows research, is that physical activity increases blood flow in the brain, which helps you think better, and also increases the levels of a brain-cell growth hormone. Exercise, points out Ratey, also has a positive effect on mood-altering brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. That’s possibly why depressed people feel better when they exercise.

Missed opportunities

If exercise is so great for the body, mind and soul, then why don’t more schools require it? That’s a question many parents and educators want an answer to. According to the Boston Globe, a 1997 survey by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education showed that only one state, Illinois, mandates daily physical education for students in grades K-12.

Get physical

Here are some ways to encourage your child to be physically active despite the lack of official school encouragement:

1. Support your child’s participation in gym class. When your kid comes home with his or her report card, don’t poo-poo the grade in gym. Take it as seriously as other grades.

2. Many girls try to get out of gym class by getting their parents to write them excuses about menstrual cramps. Don’t do it (unless it’s medically advised by your doctor). Instead, tell your daughters how physical activity helps keep their bodies and minds in shape – and helps to alleviate menstrual cramps if they indeed have them.

3. Work with your school board in reinstating more comprehensive gym programs or after-school physical activities.

4. Encourage, but don’t push, your kid to take up a sport that he or she really likes. Not so much for the winning or the need to excel, but for the sheer joy of movement.

5. Buy your child some fun sports gear or equipment to encourage him to do some physical activity.

And if you’re really smart, you’ll stop preaching to your kid about how good physical activity is for the body and mind – and get out and do some sweating yourself. n

This article reprinted with permission www.jewishfamily.com

Bad News: Things Are Fine


A new study of national Jewish population trends was completed recently at the University of Miami, by one of the nation’s leading experts in Jewish demography, and it’s a bombshell. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t look at the Jewish future the same way.

Simply put, the study shows that intermarriage isn’t the problem everybody thinks it is. Firstly, Jews aren’t marrying non-Jews at a annual rate of 52 percent. That was a statistical error in a 1990 national Jewish population survey. The true figure is lower, perhaps much lower. Moreover, surprising numbers of intermarried couples raise their children as Jews. The 1990 survey said 28 percent do so. The new study shows it’s as high as two-thirds in some major communities.

The study doesn’t draw big conclusions, but they’re obvious if you do the math. The American Jewish community is growing, not dying.

Don’t pop those corks yet, though. The study’s sponsor, the newly-formed United Jewish Communities of North America, is sitting on the document.

They’re “reviewing” it. They can’t predict the publication date. Meanwhile it’s under wraps. Only a handful of copies have leaked — “illegally,” gripe UJC officials. They won’t discuss the contents.

For good reason. These are the folks who, in their previous guise as the Council of Jewish Federations, brought you that 1990 survey. They’ve touted it ever since as the biggest and best Jewish demographic study ever done.

Its 52 percent intermarriage figure sparked a nationwide panic over impending Jewish disappearance that continues unabated. They’re planning a Year 2000 update at 10 times the expense, using the same methods.

Now they’re sweating bullets. The Miami study raises big questions about their methods. Partly as a result, UJC recently put Survey 2000 on indefinite hold, weeks before polling was to begin, over the research department’s bitter objections. Officially the delay is to let UJC’s new committees study the questionnaire. In fact it reflects new doubts about Survey 1990.

This is serious stuff. The 1990 intermarriage figure utterly transformed American Judaism. It moved Jewish spiritual survival to the very top of the Jewish community agenda. It put liberals on the defensive. It inflamed communal tensions, as Jewish movements blamed each other for the looming disaster.

Now it appears there’s no disaster. Whoops.

The news puts the UJC and its researchers on the spot. They weren’t just wrong. They fought bitterly to defend their blunder. A few respected Jewish population specialists (plus, ahem, one stubborn reporter) have challenged the data for years. The CJF-UJC researchers responded by vilifying the critics. Everyone else kept quiet, convinced it was too complicated to follow, yet ready to believe the worst.

The Miami study is different. It isn’t an outside attack. Its author, geographer Ira Sheskin, is a member of the survey’s advisory board. He’s a key architect of Survey 2000.

Sheskin’s study isn’t meant to debunk Survey 1990. It merely summarizes local Jewish population surveys conducted in various cities in recent decades. His tables compare individual findings from 40 cities, with the 1990 national findings alongside for comparison. Only in passing, in a footnote, does he note the intermarriage error.

What’s the problem? “The much cited 52% figure for intermarriages,” Sheskin writes, “would be 43% if calculated only for Core Jewish households.” “Core Jewish households” is survey-speak for homes that contain an actual Jew.

Besides Jews, the survey interviewed hundreds of others who had some Jewish ancestry but never considered themselves Jewish. Inexplicably, the survey included those gentiles’ marriages in the intermarriage rate.

True, 43 percent is still high. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Critics have found other flaws that exaggerate intermarriage in the survey.

Sheskin’s comparative charts seem to strengthen some of those claims.

In fact, Sheskin’s charts make it clear how assimilated American Jews were made to look in the 1990 national survey. Nearly every table, from intermarriage to Sabbath candlelighting, shows a broad range of religiosity among Jewish communities, from old-fashioned, deep-rooted communities like Cleveland to newer, more transient ones like Orlando. Somehow, the national numbers always land near Orlando.

That can’t be right. Older Jewish communities in the Northeast still outnumber Sunbelt transplants by two to one. The national averages shouldn’t resemble Orlando.

Sheskin claims the national survey was simply more thorough than local studies. But the numbers don’t compute. Critics, by contrast, argue that Survey 1990 used mistaken methods that exaggerated signs of assimilation.

The most important of these was data “weighting.” All surveys “weight” or over count responses from blacks, Southerners and rural folks, to compensate for their tendency not to cooperate with pollsters. But black, Southern and rural Jews are more educated and probably more likely to cooperate, not less. On the other hand, all three groups are less likely to eat kosher food or marry Jews.

According to Hebrew University sociologist Steven M. Cohen, one of the survey’s critics, removing the weights puts intermarriage at 38 percent, a figure now gaining acceptance.

But that ignores a critical question. What kinds of Jews avoid pollsters? Nobody’s ever checked. Still, certain groups come to mind: the Orthodox, immigrants, Holocaust survivors. Weight those groups, and intermarriage might be as low as one-third.

The difference is critical. If half of all Jews marry non-Jews, and only 28 percent of them raise Jewish children, the prognosis is demographic disaster. That’s what Survey 1990 reported, and what most Jews believe. But if intermarriage is one-third — and if half the interfaith couples raise Jewish children — then the community is growing. That’s what the Miami study seems to show.

What made the surveyors choose the gloomier path at every turn? One reason is personnel. Some of America’s leading demographers were involved, but few specialized in Jewish population. They followed standard procedure, even when logic said otherwise. Most leading Jewish demography specialists became critics.

Some critics suspect it wasn’t coincidence. They say the 1990 survey was assembled with an eye toward raising Jews’ consciousness, not finding the truth.

The issue isn’t just intermarriage. Survey 1990 initially called 125,000 households and asked their religion. About 5,000 said “Jewish.” After eliminating false positives — pranksters, schizophrenics, Bible-thumpers calling themselves the children of Israel — they were left with 2,441 interviewees. That’s how they calculated 5.5 million Jews in America, another sign of stagnation.

But they never called back the other 120,000 to weed out the false negatives. How many Jews heard the religion question and simply hung up? A hint came in 1991, when New York’s Jewish federation ran a local population survey. After the polling began, the federation started receiving calls from area police. The cops were hearing from frantic Jews who thought the P.L.O. was out to get the Jews by pretending to be the UJA.

They were wrong. It was the demographers.


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal

Jewish Earning Power


Jews are more likely than members of any other American ethnic group to purchase a hardcover book or attend a live musical performance in the coming year, but they’re much less likely to buy a car, truck, recreational vehicle or major home appliance.

Their earning power outstrips any other ethnic group, yet they continue to vote very much the way Blacks and Hispanics do.

These statistics may sound like the setup to some tired ethnic joke or chicken soup homily, but they’re actually the latest in social-science research.

They are part of an intriguing new portrait of American Jews that has emerged from a groundbreaking study of ethnic America. Conducted last winter by Zogby International in cooperation with the New Jersey Jewish News, the studies, the Zogby Culture Polls, attempt to shed new light on a variety of American ethnic groups by examining them side by side.

The study consists of a series of identical surveys administered simultaneously to six different ethnic groups: Jews, Hispanics, and Asian, African, Arab and Italian Americans. The result is perhaps the first fully rounded statistical snapshot of America’s ethnic mosaic, or an important chunk of it.

By mapping the contours of individual ethnic subcultures alongside one another, the researchers hoped to produce a sort of relief map of the broader society, as well as a more rounded profile of each individual group.

The surveys were conducted between Dec. 14, 1999 and Feb. 7, 2000. Sample sizes varied, as did margins of error. The Jewish sample numbered 589 people, with a 4.1 percent margin of error.

The portrait of American Jews that emerges from the poll is at once familiar and surprising. Jews are increasingly rooted in America, the survey confirms. Fewer than one-third are immigrants or children of immigrants, a percentage similar to that of Italian Americans, but far less than the numbers for newer arrivals such as Hispanic, Asian or Arab Americans.

Moreover, Jews have achieved an extraordinary measure of success. Six out of 10 Jewish adults have a college degree, more than any group except Asians.

More than 41 percent report a household income of $75,000 or more, far above any other group surveyed. Fewer Jews than members of any other group reported worrying about losing their jobs or going without a meal. Far more reported investing in the stock market and shopping via the Internet.

And yet Jews still view themselves as a minority, and that self-image clearly shapes their view of their world.

Close to 90 percent say their ethnic heritage is “very” or “somewhat” important to them, comparable to Blacks, Hispanics or Arab Americans but far beyond Italian Americans. And nearly 60 percent report having experienced discrimination because of their ethnic heritage, more than any other group except Blacks.

Fully half of Jews report having a “strong emotional tie” to their “country of ethnic heritage” — less than Hispanics, at 62 percent, or Arab Americans, at 56 percent, but much more than Asian Americans, at 43 percent, or Italian Americans, at 37.5 percent.

What is particularly striking is that unlike the other groups, the country to which Jews are attached is not one their grandparents came from, but Israel, one which for the most part they have only read of in newspapers or learned about in religious school.

The researchers pointed to the very distinctiveness of the Jews as an identifiable community, with its own patterns of behavior and values, as the most striking finding of the poll of Jews.

“Jews have retained their own identity,” said John Zogby, president of Zogby International.

“I’m not an expert in Judaism, and as an Arab American I wouldn’t claim to be, but the findings suggest that there’s plenty within the context of Judaism as a spiritual force that generates a commitment to community spirit and communal values.”

Zogby, who is of Lebanese Christian descent, is best known as a New York-based Republican pollster. He is the brother of Arab American lobbyist James Zogby.

“You have to look at what appear to be subtleties,” added Belio Martinez Jr., Zogby’s director of international marketing and research. “When you look at issues of persecution, or at their involvement in international affairs, it’s clear that they really don’t view themselves as part of the traditional Anglo American majority culture.”

That minority self-image may help explain why Jews remain more liberal than any of their neighbors, despite their material success and the fading of the immigrant experience.

Both Zogby and Martinez cited that liberalism as the most important finding in the Jewish survey.

“They’re more conservative than they were in the 1920s and 1930s,” said Zogby, “but within the larger context, they remain more liberal than others.”

This liberalism shows up in a variety of contexts: party identification, voting patterns and positions on issues.

Nowhere, though, is it clearer than in the simple fact that Jews are more likely to identify themselves as liberals than any other group. Some 49 percent of Jews called themselves “liberal” or “very liberal,” compared to 42 percent of Blacks and about one-third of every other group.

By contrast, about 19 percent of Jews called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative,” compared to 25 percent of Blacks and about one-third of every other group.

The lopsided liberalism is reflected in party identification: About two-thirds of Jews are registered as Democrats and 15 percent as Republicans. That makes Jews less partisan than only Blacks, who are 78 percent Democratic and 6.5 percent Republican.

Among Hispanics, 57 percent are registered Democratic and 21 percent Republican. Italian and Arab Americans, like the nation as a whole, are about 37 percent Democrat and 34 percent Republican. All the groups’ presidential votes in 1996 closely matched their party registration.

The lopsided liberalism of the Jews shows up in their responses to issues on the public agenda, particularly on abortion.

Jews are overwhelmingly pro-choice, with 61 percent saying the decision should always be left to the mother. Among other groups, the figure ranged from 40 percent of Blacks and Asian Americans to 29 percent among Italian and Arab Americans and 24 percent of Hispanics who were fully pro-choice.

Similarly, fewer than 50 percent of Jews believe in notifying parents when a minor seeks an abortion, compared with nearly 80 percent in every other group.

Jews are also the most supportive of letting the federal government set education policy, the most supportive of campaign donation limits and the least supportive of increasing the military budget. In general, Jews showed a greater faith in the power of the federal government to do good than any other group.

That good will does not spill over to the United Nations, which received lower marks from Jews than from any other group surveyed.

Given a choice between “effective peacekeeping/human rights agency” and “bloated bureaucracy that weakens U.S. sovereignty,” most groups tilted about three-to-one toward “effective peacekeeping.” Only 55.8 percent of Jews chose “effective peacekeeping,” while 18.2 percent chose neither.

For Zogby, the specific characteristics marking American Jews — attachment to Israel, distinctive political values, mistrust of the United Nations — all point to the enduring influence of Judaism on the Jews’ inner lives.

Others might dispute that conclusion. But one thing is certain — wherever it comes from, they’re not getting it in synagogue.

Jews attend worship services less regularly than any other group surveyed. That, in fact, was one of the most striking differences the survey found between Jews and the others.

Just under one-quarter of the Jews polled said they attend services at least once a week, while more than half said they attend on “special occasions only.”

In every other group those numbers were precisely reversed, with about half saying they attend services at least weekly and 25 to 30 percent saying they attend only on special occasions. (Between 9 and 20 percent of each group said they “never” attend services, with Asian Americans scoring highest.)

At the same time, Jews had the highest proportion — 5.2 percent — who attend services daily, suggesting the continuing influence of Orthodoxy. Combined with 18 percent who attend weekly and more than 6 percent who attend “once or twice a month,” a total of nearly 30 percent attend synagogue with some regularity. This matches other surveys showing that 25 to 30 percent of American Jews maintain a deep, ongoing involvement in communal Jewish practice.

What keeps the others identifiably Jewish? The Zogby Culture Poll doesn’t say. All it does is state the facts: One way or another, something is keeping them Jewish.