Photo from Pixabay.

As a Woman

As a woman, I don’t vote for women just because they’re women.
As a feminist, I don’t vote for women just because they’re women.

As a woman, I don’t march just because something is called a “women’s march.”
As a feminist, I don’t march just because something is called a “women’s march.”

As a woman, I am offended when other women claim to speak for me.
As a feminist, I am offended when leftist feminists try to tell me what to think.

As a woman, I chose to stay home and care for my son when he was young.
As a feminist, I knew that this was my choice, that feminism means freedom for women to make these choices.

As a woman, I would never do anything to advance my career that undermines my self-respect.
As a feminist, I know that feminism is not a free ride: along with rights comes personal responsibility, including the responsibility to say no in difficult situations.

As a woman, I don’t keep silent about immoral behavior, no matter what the consequences.
As a feminist, I know that silence equals complicity.

As a woman, I love being a woman. I am offended by theorists who claim that we are all gender-fluid, that my femininity is a social construct.
As a feminist, I believe in biology, not trendy theories.

As a woman, I am against all restrictions on women that are not personal choices.
As a feminist, I find it hypocritical that leftist feminists never speak out against the restrictions on Muslim women that often are very much not personal choices.

As a woman, I don’t feel oppressed living in the United States.
As a feminist, I know that oppression and patriarchy exist in other countries, countries often ignored by leftist feminists because those nations don’t fit their political narrative.

As a woman and a writer, I have been bullied by both the left and the right, by women as well as men.
As a feminist, I know that bullying is a sign of weakness and insecurity. I have taught my son that no level of bullying is acceptable, and that the only way to respond to bullies is to walk away.

As a woman, I am inspired by strong, sexy women like Gal Gadot.
As a feminist, I know that being comfortable with my sexuality fuels my strength as a woman.

As a woman, I know that Israel is one of the most feminist countries on earth: Israeli women rise to incomparable positions of power in every field.
As a feminist, I know that Zionism and feminism have historically been prominent pillars of liberalism: efforts to demonize Zionism stem from bigotry, not liberalism or feminism.

As a Jewish woman, I love the ritual of lighting candles every Shabbat, of bringing the light into my heart and releasing it into the world through singing the blessing.
As a Jewish feminist, I may not support some of the restrictions placed on women in Judaism, but I respect a woman’s right to choose, as long as it is a choice.

As a woman, I think it’s well past time to take back the word feminist from people on both the right and the left who don’t understand what it means.
As a feminist, I know that if you don’t think women should be controlled — by either the left or the right, by men or other women — then you are indeed a feminist.

As a woman, as a feminist, as an individual, I think for myself, thank you.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and curator. Author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday), her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

Wanted: More women in Los Angeles City Hall

What Los Angeles City Hall needs is a strong Jewish woman.

Nothing against the three Jewish men who occupy citywide offices — Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and Controller Ron Galperin. But they’re so quiet, so devoted to working behind the scenes that it’s easy to forget they hold such prominent and influential offices. If a strong Jewish woman were in their place, everyone would know she was there.

It’s true that Garcetti deserves some of the credit for the city’s new $15-an-hour minimum wage law, although the figure approved by the City Council is higher than the $13.25 Garcetti originally sought. Feuer has buried himself in the nuts-and-bolts task of setting up neighborhood branch offices to deal with local problems, such as prostitution and graffiti, as well as trying to enforce the city’s marijuana law. Galperin has taken the lead in the fight to decipher and audit the mysterious education and safety fund maintained by the Department of Water and Power and its powerful employee union.

But in doing these worthwhile tasks, they tend to avoid the spotlight as if it were radioactive. Feuer and Galperin immerse themselves in every detail of public policy, especially Galperin, who personifies the word wonk. It’s hard to write a news story about that. Garcetti is incredibly cautious, a huge contrast to his flamboyant predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa.

Critics thought Villaraigosa was an egomaniac, but he willingly took the heat when trying to reform public education or pushing through public transit projects that were unpopular in many areas. 

Mayor Richard Riordan loved the spotlight, beating up bureaucrats and the Los Angeles Times.  He didn’t mind when people were shocked at times by his off-the-wall comments.

Chutzpah, that’s what they had — and they weren’t even Jewish. Maybe there’s something about being a Jewish guy in the 21st century, some kind of a mindset that makes them more comfortable getting along than raising hell.

A Jewish friend who pays attention to civic matters recently asked me what happened to our Jewish trio of Garcetti, Feuer and Galperin. Why, he wondered, are they so invisible most of the time?

That’s when I started thinking about strong Jewish women in City Hall, particularly Laura Chick, who was a member of the City Council, representing District 3 in the San Fernando Valley from 1993 to 2001, and, more famously, city controller for eight years, beginning in 2001.

I called her in Berkeley, where she now lives, helping to care for a 3-year-old granddaughter, while engaging in various civic activities and enjoying the view of three bridges on the San Francisco Bay from her Kensington home.

“Kick some butt,” she said was her goal as controller, “shaking up the status quo.”

And she did, unconcerned about getting along with the City Hall establishment.  Her audits were important, frequent and hard hitting, and her blunt style made it impossible for the media to ignore them. She found out that the Los Angeles Police Department had a backlog of thousands of DNA rape kits. She exposed a planning department locked in the past, crippled by outdated practices. She blasted an ineffective housing department.

In 2003, Chick appointed me to a five-year term on the city ethics commission, which supervises enforcement of campaign contributions and conflict-of-interest law. “Raise hell,” she told me then. When I talked to her recently, she said, “I wanted you to go in there and shake things up. I knew you weren’t there for window dressing.

“If you are always trying to get along, nothing changes,” she said. “You settle down and settle in, and the problems persist. It’s like a big ‘kumbaya,’ but under the surface, it’s not so good.”

That’s not Chick’s idea of what a strong Jewish woman should be. “For me and all the strong Jewish women, life is full of problems and therefore life is all about solving problems,” she said. “The strong Jewish women I know solve problems. They confront them.”

I’m focusing more on citywide elected officials, but there is a tradition of such Jewish women on the City Council as well. The first was Rosalind Wyman, who was elected to the City Council as a young woman and became a power there. Among the others were Joy Picus, Chick’s predecessor on the council, from 1977 to 1993, an influential lawmaker, who even took on then-powerful police Chief Daryl Gates. Jackie Goldberg, also on the council, representing Hollywood from 1994 to 2000, was a strong fighter for liberal causes who didn’t take guff from anybody, even reporters such as me.

Now City Hall is almost without elected women; the one is Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who represents eastern portions of the San Fernando Valley. Women, with few exceptions, tend to avoid city campaigns, Chick said. “Women are very pragmatic,” she said, “They take a look at what happens at City Hall and don’t like the game.”

After we talked, I thought back to when I started covering the City Council, at a time when there were several powerful female members, Jewish and non-Jewish.  I thought of the strong women I know, African-American, Latino, Jewish, WASP, Asian-American — and one who could be classified as doubly strong, Jan Perry, an African-American-Jewish woman who served on the City Council and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in the last election.

I could see that the premise of this column opens itself up to argument. I started writing about Jewish women because this is the Jewish Journal, and I was dealing with the shortcomings of Jewish men.

I should have said that City Hall needs more strong women, period.

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Israeli gov’t to fund abortions for women ages 20-33

Israeli women between the ages of 20 and 33 will be eligible to receive government-funded abortions in 2014.

The new eligibility is part of the country’s state-subsidized basket of health services for 2014, approved on Monday. Currently, the government only pays for abortions for medical reasons and for girls under 18.

Some 6,300 women between ages 20 and 33 are expected to have abortions in Israel in 2014. All the women still will be required to receive the approval of a government panel before undergoing the procedure; the panel approves nearly all cases.

The head of the health basket committee, Jonathan Halevy of Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, said the goal is eventually to raise the covered age to 40.

Contraception is not covered in the health basket.

The committee announced the approval of 83 new drugs and treatments for 2014.  The basket still must be approved by the Ministry of Health and the Cabinet.

Fed Chief Janet Yellen’s gender bigger deal than faith

Janet Yellen is soft-spoken, tough, methodological, flexible — and Jewish.

President Obama’s announcement last week that he had tapped Yellen, 67, to succeed Ben Bernanke as chair of the Federal Reserve made news in part because she would be the first woman in the top spot.

That very little was made of her Jewishness likely derives mostly from the fact that she would be not the first or second, but the sixth Jewish chair of the U.S. central bank and the third in a row, following Bernanke and Alan Greenspan.

For the first Jewish Fed chair, one has to go back to the 1930s, when the post was assumed by Eugene Meyer, better known perhaps as the patriarch of the family that ran the Washington Post for eight decades.

Yellen’s Wikipedia entry lists her as Jewish based on a reference to a 2001 profile of husband George Akerlof, then a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of California, Berkeley. The article noted that the couple attended the Reform Congregation Beth El in the Northern California city.

Beyond that, Yellen’s Jewish connections are not known. It’s not clear if she and her husband are attached to any Washington-area synagogue, and local Jewish religious leaders are unaware of any affiliation. The lone Jewish organization to note her nomination, the World Jewish Congress, made more of her gender than her faith.

Profiles quoting her classmates at Brown and Yale universities and at Fort Hamilton High School in her native Brooklyn, N.Y., depict her as a soft-spoken nerd.

Her parents were Jewish, but one classmate’s memory of her Brooklyn home evokes an upbringing focused on all-American traditions. Her mom, Anna Blumenthal, was a den mother to Cub Scouts, Rich Rubin told Reuters.

Yellen, who in the 1990s chaired President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, went on to become president of San Francisco’s Federal Reserve Bank from 2004 to 2010. Obama named her the vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve in 2010.

News reports about Yellen have focused on her similarities to Bernanke. According to a New York Times profile, Yellen intends to continue and expand his insistence on transparency in how the Fed arrives at its policies, and prizes precision in arriving at formulas to assess interest rates.

Yellen emphasizes unemployment over inflation and has said she is willing to adjust inflation rates above 2 percent to spur employment.

But some colleagues have noted her past embrace of “hawkish” policies. Peter Hooper of Deutsche Bank wrote in the Economist on Oct. 11 that in the 1990s, as a member of the Fed’s Open Market Committee, Yellen pushed to raise interest rates amid low unemployment.

“Ms. Yellen’s policy orientation has proven to be flexible and appropriate to the prevailing economic conditions,” wrote Hooper, who was a staffer with Yellen on the Fed’s Division of International Finance. “I have known her to be a straight shooter, someone whose views are governed by an objective assessment of the data within a reasonable analytical framework.”

Why Huma Abedin stands by her man

Many New Yorkers, as the New York Times notes, are “baffled by the loyalty shown by Huma Abedin” to her transgressing spouse, Anthony Weiner.  I suspect, however, that for many first generation immigrants such as myself, especially those of us with Asian and South Asian roots, she is much less of a puzzle.  I recently participated as a faculty member in a leadership seminar for Asian Pacific academics at Cal Poly Pomona, where we discussed the challenging cultural nexus at which many of us stand as we negotiate between our identities as independent career-minded individuals with a strong sense of self and habits that were a dominant part of our identity, growing up as we did with parents and family members for whom gendered social hierarchies were a given and permeated all aspects of daily life.

Huma’s cultural background may provide some clues to the behavior that many women in New York find baffling, especially because Huma is a woman who has had a notable career and held positions of political prominence nationally.

Though born in the US, Huma is a daughter of Muslim immigrants. Her father is of Indian origin, her mother Pakistani.  Both her parents are educators and holders of doctorates from the University of Pennsylvania. They moved, when Huma was young, to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where she grew up, though she returned to the USA for her college education. Certainly, this combination of religious, social, cultural, and international circumstances have made Huma who she is. Precisely which aspects of these fused identities and cultural contexts shaped her is hard to say, but my own experience growing up within a community diverse in its faith, class, caste, and language provides a partial context for understanding Huma’s behavior, though I too, like many New Yorkers, find myself reluctant to endorse or approve of it.

Lest anyone think that my invocation of Huma’s upbringing and background are attempts to see her as playing out a purely subservient role as a Muslim woman from a South Asian background, let me say that I am pointing to something a great deal more complex.  In fact, the line that separates dominance from subservience and authority from servitude is far harder to discern in Asian and South Asian cultures than one might think. And Huma is equally influenced, I am sure, by leaders such as Hillary Clinton.

[Related: The shandah factor: What makes Jewish sex scandals different?]

As a schoolgirl, when I visited my Muslim friend Nazra’s home, I interacted with her four mothers and thought nothing of it. The Muslim Marriage Act in India guides matrimonial practices among Muslims, and Muslim men are legally allowed four wives; the Christian Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act does likewise for Christians and Hindus, respectively.  Even as a child, I understood this difference among religious groups as normal.  Even if Huma’s parents lived a married life such as Christians or Hindus might, could we perhaps understand Huma’s tolerance of her husband’s straying eye within this larger, deeply-held, and long-practiced cultural context that may not have dominated her upbringing but must surely have inflected it? Perhaps. 

The impact of contexts, even ones which one might have rejected decisively, can continue to shape one’s behavior, as I have discovered on many occasions, much to my chagrin.  As I watched Anthony Weiner’s news conference, I could neither take my eyes off Huma nor help but think that she was in a state of deep shock.  Confident, ambitious, and career-driven though she might be, perhaps in this moment of unexpected and unprecedented crisis in her life, the cultural impulse to stand behind her man was instinctive. 

As a woman who wishes to see my Asian and South Asian sisters break out of habits of automatic deference and subservience, I hope, like many New Yorkers, that time will allow Huma to see her husband’s serious problems as ones that she must not facilitate through repeated acts of forgiveness.  Unlike many New Yorkers, however, I think that her behavior might be understood within the context of her complex cultural identity as an independent-minded and American-educated Muslim woman who has led a global life and whose upbringing has been both complex and complicated.

Molly Smith was born in Chenna, India. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degree in English from Madras Christian College, University of Madras, and her doctorate from Auburn University. She has held tenured faculty and administrative posts at St. Louis University, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Seton Hall University and Wheaton College, and served as the 11th president of Manhattanville College. Smith also serves on the board of trustees at Fairleigh Dickinson University and on the executive committee of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP), where she leads an initiative to develop women as academic leaders globally; she is a representative to the United Nations from IAUP.

Jewish and Arab American woman suing airline for racial profiling

A Jewish-Arab American woman is suing a U.S. airline and the federal Transportation Security Administration for removing her from an airplane and strip-searching her.

Shoshana Hebshi, whose mother is Jewish and father is Saudi Arabian, is suing Frontier Airlines and law enforcement for ethnically targeting her.

A SWAT team forcibly removed Hebshi, 36, an American citizen who lives in Ohio, and two Indian men in handcuffs from Frontier Airline flight 623 after it landed on Sept. 11, 2011 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. She was held for hours, questioned and strip searched.

A fellow passenger had accused the three of acting suspiciously. Hebshi did not know the Indian men, who reportedly were sitting in her row.

The lawsuit was filed Jan. 22 in a federal court in Detroit. Also named in the lawsuit are the Wayne County Airport Authority, Detroit Metro Airport Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol.

Hebshi said in a statement that she was” frightened and humiliated,” and that she believes she was singled out due to her ethnicity.

“The illegal arrest and strip search of Ms. Hebshi is not simply a mistake made by an airline employee or government agency, but a predictable consequence of institutionalizing racial stereotypes and mass suspicion as law enforcement tactics,” Sarah Mehta, an attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, said in a statement issued Jan. 22. “Racial profiling is unconstitutional and counterproductive. No one is safer because an innocent mother of two was dragged off a flight, strip searched and held for several hours.”

The TSA would not comment to media on pending litigation.

Woman attacked for immodest dress

Haredi Orthodox men threw stones at a woman and her baby who were shopping in Beit Shemesh.

The men shouted that the woman was not dressed modestly enough, Haaretz reported. The incident occurred on Wednesday.

Two Haredi Orthodox women helped the woman and her baby escape the attack by ushering them to a nearby store.

The woman’s care was damaged by the stones.

Community Rallies for Woman’s Divorce, UCLA Acquires Jewish Artifacts

Community Rallies for Woman’s Jewish Divorce

Chanting “Stop Abuse” and “Free Your Wife,” 200 people rallied on the eve of Purim in front of the Fairfax-area home of a man who refuses to grant his wife a Jewish divorce.

Meir Kin and his wife, Lonna, who have one child, have been separated for four years, and though a civil divorce has already been granted, he has refused to appear before a recognized rabbinic court to grant her a Jewish writ of divorce, or get. Without a get, she cannot remarry and is considered an agunah, Hebrew for chained woman.

The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) issued a seiruv, or letter of contempt, against Kin in March 2007 for refusing to appear before the beit din, a rabbinic judicial panel.

The New York-based Organization for the Resolution for Agunot (ORA) organized the rally to apply communal pressure on Kin. Because Jewish law does not allow a beit din to force a man to issue his wife a divorce, communities have historically used religious ostracization and social embarrassment to pressure recalcitrant husbands into giving in.

“We feel it is important for a community to take a stand against this kind of abuse, and say we will not tolerate it,” ORA’s assistant director Jeremy Stern said. “If someone is emotionally abusing his wife, abusing halacha and making a mockery of the rabbinic system, it will not be tolerated.”

ORA works with couples from across the religious spectrum — from fervently Orthodox to loosely traditional — to help resolve tough divorce cases, Stern said. The organization tries to facilitate conversation between the parties to help bring them to an acceptable resolution with a beit din or other mediator. If that fails, ORA uses threats of protest and then actual protests at the home or workplace of a husband who refuses to give a get, or a wife who refuses to accept one. Since it was founded in 2002, ORA has helped resolve 97 cases and still has 60 cases open — just a small percentage of the problem divorce cases out there, Stern says. Several of ORA’s cases are in Los Angeles, including an Israeli man in Tarzana who has refused his wife a get for 31 years.

ORA has been working on the Kin case for three years. The case has a long and complicated history in civil courts in New York and Los Angeles, and several rabbinic courts. Kin said a get is waiting for his wife at the beit din of Rabbi Tzvi Dov Abraham in Monsey, N.Y. But that beit din is universally reviled as extortionist, and divorces from Abraham’s beit din are not recognized by the RCC, the chief rabbinate in Israel or the Beth Din of America, Stern said.

Kin comes from a prominent Los Angeles Orthodox family — both his parents are longtime educators in the Beverly-La Brea area, and his brother, Rabbi Elyahu Kin, is a leader at the outreach organization Torah Ohr. Another brother is president of an Orthodox congregation.

The protest was held outside the parents’ home. Stern has been slowly publicizing the case for two years, sending fliers and information packets to local rabbis, hoping to avoid a rally, he said. While some rabbis showed up to the rally and publicized it among their congregants, many stayed away.

Stern said the group also works on preventative measures. It supports a 10-year-old effort to make prenuptial agreements, which make withholding or refusing a get financially painful, a standard part of Orthodox wedding ceremonies. Stern flew to Los Angeles for the rally, and spent some time in local Orthodox high schools teaching students about the need for prenups.

“We see this as way of making social change from the bottom up, so everyone does it as a matter of course,” Stern said.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

UCLA Acquires Western Jewish History Artifacts

UCLA last week celebrated the acquisition of a treasure trove of Jewish history in the American West, the legacy of four dedicated amateurs turned skilled historians.

The ceremony in the UCLA Library’s special collections department culminated decades of work by the late Dr. Norton Stern and Rabbi William Kramer, both Los Angeles residents.

When they died, they left behind some 400 boxes crammed with documents, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, memoirs, photos and assorted memorabilia.

Much of the hoard was accumulated by Stern, an optometrist, who scoured the small towns of the Western states, looking, as he put it, “through hundreds of haystacks for dozens of needles,” hidden in abandoned cemeteries and faded newspapers.

His and Kramer’s immense accumulation of history in the raw was rescued after their deaths by two Valley residents, David W. Epstein and Gladys Sturman, who went about cataloging, indexing and archiving the material.

They were aided by 11 members of Congregation Shir Ami in Woodland Hills, an $18,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation and $10,000 from Sturman’s own pocket.

A major part of the Stern-Kramer legacy was trucked to UCLA last year and, over the months, Caroline Luce, a doctoral candidate in history, has digitized the archive, which is expected to go online in May.

In the process, Luce has become an expert on the arcane history of bagels, and the audience of some 70 invited guests was left to ponder whether the Jewish gustatory icon had originated in Austria, Poland, or China.

Epstein noted that Kramer and Stern had defined rather broad boundaries for the “American West,” claiming all the land west of the Mississippi River, Hawaii and parts of Mexico.

Jews played a disproportionally large role in the development of the West, because they were often the only residents who were literate, knew about business affairs, and were trusted by both gold prospectors and native Indians.

David Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, lauded the professional standards and work by Sturman, Epstein and the Shir Ami volunteers as a prime example of collaboration between town and gown.

Additional parts of the original Kramer-Stern collection have been donated to other institutions, such as 1,000 books to the American Jewish University, 2,000 photos to the Autry National Center, and ephemera to the Huntington Research Library, in partnership with USC.

For additional information, call the UCLA department of special collections at (310) 825-4988 or Genie Guerard at (310) 206-0521.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

An open letter to the rabbis at the Jewish Theological Seminary

I want to share with you an email I wrote to Chancellor Elect Eisen as well as Rabbi Joel Roth on the JTS board to support allowing gays to marry and become rabbis:

Dear Mr. Eisen,

I am a 46-year-old woman born and raised in Los Angeles. I am writing to ask that the Conservative movement support gay marriage. As a child, my family was members of the Conservative Temple Beth Am with Rabbi Jacob Pressman at the helm. I am a private person but I wanted to share a bit of my story with you as I know mine is the story of many.

In elementary school I realized I was different. I had no vocabulary for it, but all the books, movies and relationships I saw led me to believe that my feelings were not normal and needed to be suppressed.

I began hiding what was to me a dark and terrible secret that I could not admit even to myself until my 20s. I did not want to be different. In fact, I went to sleep every night for years and years praying that I would wake up and be straight. Of course, that never happened. The thought of coming out and hurting my beloved parents or having them feel ashamed of me was more than I could bear and I thought my only options were either to commit suicide, which gay teens do three times more than their straight counterparts, or move to another city and hide my true self from my family forever.

I stayed in the closet until I was 28-years-old, dating men and sacrificing my youth and happiness trying in vain to fit in. I started having terrible panic attacks and actually thought I was going crazy. I realized one day that it was suddenly more painful to hide who I was than to admit the truth. I tried to prepare myself to lose my family. There were hints all my life that I was gay that my parents either ignored or denied hoping, like myself it wasn’t true or it would simply go away, or perhaps I would grow out of it. Their reactions let me know this would break their hearts.

Mr. Eisen, how different my life would have been had in my early years my temple and temple community openly welcomed gay people or if there were openly gay rabbis to demonstrate that everyone has value.

As Jews we especially understand the pain of being an outsider and of doors being closed to us simply because we were born Jewish. How terrible to think that we ourselves would ever make a fellow Jew an outsider.

By locking gay people out of the rabbinate or of the sacrament of marriage is to send a very strong message that gay people are flawed and not entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as those who happen to be straight.

The reality is that 10 percent of society is gay. With an estimated 14 million Jews worldwide, that’s 1.4 million Jews that happen to be gay. With our numbers dwindling, we cannot afford to lose even one person or make any Jew feel not welcome. I have always felt great pride in being Jewish.

This year I became a bat mitzvah after two years of study. I love Jews and Israel as much as anybody. I do not think it is fair that I am excluded from being a full member of the community I love so much because of the way I was born. It’s like saying people with blue eyes can never marry.

Mr. Eisen, whether we have blue or brown eyes, straight or gay most of us grow up dreaming of the day we will stand beneath a chuppah with our family and friends surrounding us with a rabbi to bless our union.

It is my deep hope that the Conservative movement will make a strong and courageous decision to embrace all of our members so that someday no Jew will ever again feel like an outsider in our own community.

Pamela Witt

Pamela Witt is a business owner in Los Angeles. She can be reached at

Jewish Woman Is European Beauty Queen; Katsav Urged to Temporarily Quit

Jewish Woman Is European Beauty Queen

Alexandra Rosenfeld, 19, won the Miss Europe 2006 title in Kiev last Friday. Rosenfeld, a student who is also Miss France, walked away with $130,000 in prize money and a diamond-studded crown. According to media reports, the Web sites covering the pageant were flooded with anti-Semitic messages after Rosenfeld’s win.

Katsav Urged to Temporarily Quit

Israel’s attorney general recommended that President Moshe Katsav temporarily resign. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz issued his advisory Sunday in response to a High Court petition lodged by a lawyer who wants Katsav to resign in light of the rape allegations against him. Mazuz noted that the High Court is not the forum for deciding Katsav’s fate, but said the president should consider having the Knesset declare him “temporarily incapacitated” until the investigation against him runs its course. Mazuz, who holds ultimate responsibility on deciding whether to prosecute Katsav, said that should there be a trial the president would have no choice but to step down. Katsav, who is suspected of raping more than one former female employee, has denied wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Elie Wiesel has said he is not interested in becoming Israel’s president in response to reports that he has been named as a possible successor to Katsav.

One-Third Favor Clemency for Rabin Assassin

Almost one in three Israelis would support seeing Yitzhak Rabin’s jailed assassin go free one day, a poll found. According to the survey published over the weekend by Yediot Achronot, 5 percent of Israelis would like Yigal Amir to be granted clemency now, while another 25 percent would favor him being freed in 25 years. Support for clemency was stronger among right-wingers and religious Jews. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they want Amir, who shot Rabin, Israel’s prime minister, at a 1995 peace rally, to stay behind bars for life. A 2001 bill passed by the Knesset ruled out clemency for anybody who assassinates an Israeli prime minister.

Foundation Funds Day School Scholarships

A U.S. foundation will offer scholarships worth $11 million for students to attend Jewish day schools in Baltimore. The multiyear grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation will be managed by the Associated, Baltimore’s Jewish federation. The Associated, which already provides more than $3 million a year to Jewish schools in the Baltimore area, committed an additional $1 million for each year of the partnership. Studies have shown that many Jewish parents say they are unable to send their children to Jewish schools because of the cost.”This fund will not only enable more children to attend Jewish day schools, it will centralize the scholarship process and ensure that the moneys are being disbursed as efficiently and effectively as possible,” said Shale Stiller, president of the Weinberg foundation.

Blair Attends Day School Launch

British Prime Minister Tony Blair attended the opening of an ultra-Orthodox day school. The Yesodai Hatorah Girls School was launched Oct. 26 at an event in London’s Stamford Hill. Blair called himself a proud friend of the Jewish people and praised the school for promoting the kind of “values that in the end must motivate and govern the whole of our country and society.”

Hours earlier, Education Secretary Alan Johnson reversed a government decision that would have required state-funded faith schools to reserve at least 25 percent of their spots for students of other faiths or no faith.

Auerbach, Legendary Celtics Coach, Dies

Legendary basketball coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach died over the weekend at age 89. Auerbach led the Boston Celtics to nine NBA titles between 1956 and 1966. Born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn, Auerbach was an innovator on both offense and defense. In 1954, the NBA introduced the 24-second shot clock to counter Auerbach’s tactic of having point guard Bob Cousy dribble out the game clock if the Celtics had a lead with under three minutes left.

Berlin Community Returns to Historic Quarters

Berlin’s Jewish community moved back into its historical headquarters. The community on Saturday celebrated its full return to a synagogue in the city’s east where both communal administration and board will be under one roof. Previously, some communal offices were located in the former West Berlin. The synagogue, which once could hold some 3,000 worshippers, largely was destroyed by allied bombing raids in World War II, but a new chapel and offices were constructed after reunification. The city’s Jewish population has quadrupled to more than 12,000 in the years since unification, particularly due to the influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

— Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

A Woman’s Touch

The stereotypical Jewish woman is strong, supportive, receptive and respected. Growing up, she is showered with love,

pampered by objects and experiences of beauty and quality. She keeps a welcoming home. She attends to detail, wants what she wants and is unapologetically “high maintenance.” She is wise, and capable of keen manipulation. She is emotional — following her heart more than her mind. She is nurturing, loyal, generous and willing to sacrifice. She finds total fulfillment only when she has balanced her work with marriage (preferably to a doctor or lawyer) and children. Most significantly, she loves receiving beautiful clothing, fine perfume and dazzling jewelry.

She might (stereotypically) become annoyed reading such generalizations, and seek out those attributes that do not apply to her. Her annoyance may also rise around the seeming male dominance of her religion: the subordinate roles of women, the deficiency of female voice and presence in Torah. She might question where the goddess part of the One Divinity is in Judaism; why parshot such as this week’s Vayakhel-Pekudey speak only of male priests and male builders creating a space within which to worship a male god.

That’s what I have wanted to know, anyway — Jewish American Princess/rabbi that I am. As wonderful as Judaism is, the apparent disregard for the feminine side of things really bugged me. More than that, I didn’t understand how Judaism had survived with this kind of imbalance. Be it a battery or a plant: Both the male and female aspect to its makeup must engage in equal and opposite reactions in order to maintain homeostasis. If the positive charge is stronger than the negative, if there’s too much water and not enough sun, too many carbs and not enough protein, more yang than yin, more tonic than gin…. OK, I’ll stop.

Disproportion in something’s receptive and aggressive qualities quickly destroys it. In accord with these irrefutable physical laws, it seemed impossible that Judaism could have subsisted with such dominant chauvinism.

I sought out the ancient hidden femininity within Judaism, knowing that the goddess had to be there somewhere — deep, concealed and receptive: as her feminine nature would dictate. The Divine aspect representing the stereotypical Jewish woman must have existed as consort to the father/ruler/protector/provider in equal but opposite strength. But where? As it turns out: everywhere!

As with the laws of homeostasis, kabbalah also acknowledged that both masculine and feminine elements exist equally within the emanations of the one God. They diagramed this: with the Ain Sof — the infinite, active, masculine, source of all — flowing down into existence until he is finally received by his woman: the Shechinah. This goddess aspect of the One is Its in-dwelling, the part that accepts, conceives and makes manifest what flows toward her. She is Mother Earth. The bearer of all that is: trees, buildings, humans; the finite that is married to the infinite in sacred communion. She is around us, within us, and certainly in Torah. Vayakhel-Pekudey, I have come to realize, is a description of goddess worship as much as adoration of god.

For in building the tabernacle and dressing the priests, homage is paid to the ultimate Jewish woman. In helping her to properly accommodate the presence of her man, her wood is measured in uncompromising detail to assure strength and support. Her people respect strict rules for manipulating the materials in their building. They follow their hearts rather than intellects in offering her objects of beauty. With loyal adoration they bring her perfumed oils and incense; flowery carvings, precious metals to be shaped into womb — like rings.

From the rings hang curtains and veils — such as those worn by the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Greek Penelope. Their cloth is from threads of fine linen, thread being the symbol of fate, woven by Aphrodite and the Cretan goddess Ariadne. So, too, the priests’ “robes of woven work” reflect ancient rites of women’s magic — weaving and knotting have been since time immemorial methods by which to control fates (example: marriage is “tying the knot”). They gather gemstones once connected to acts of female divination for the breastplate, such as sapphire — the stone of destiny, invoking the triple goddess of fate. And upon the hem of the priest’s robe, bells are intertwined with pomegranates — apples of many seeds (in Hebrew rimon, from rim: to bear a child) with their universal symbolism as the fertile womb.

With every material and every action, the congregation of Israel celebrates the goddess in her endless manifestations. And while her husband may not be a doctor, his capacity to co-exist with her as the ultimate equal and opposite partner explains how Judaism has maintained its glorious presence throughout history. The stereotypical Jewish woman is connected with, and ever empowered by, the sweet-smelling, jewel-wearing, high-maintenance Mother Earth goddess Shechinah. And she reflects a universal femininity that is powerfully, albeit subtly existent throughout the Bible. Through her partnership with the masculine, she calls to us to love what is along with what could be, and to celebrate the faces of woman in balance with the gender that is our equal, opposite partner in the Divine gift of recreation.

Karen Dietsch is rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge.


Friedan: Universal Woman, Particular Jew

Betty Friedan was, like most ordinary mortals, a mass of contradictions.

She was loud and sometimes imperious, yet she could be charming, funny, gentle, kind and winsome. A public persona, at times her ego needed massaging, but she remained surprisingly unassuming and unpretentious.

Though she exuded self-confidence, her vulnerabilities were right out there for all to see. She could fix her eyes and set her jaw in a ‘take no prisoners’ position, but she could also listen to opposite views, change her mind, and soften at the distress of others.

Friedan, who died last weekend at age 85 at her home in Washington, D.C., was both universal woman and particular Jew. The word Jewish does not appear at all in “The Feminine Mystique,” her seminal work, yet every heartbeat was a Jewish one. Once, in her 50s, after fame, fortune and independence had filled her life, she asked one favor of friends — to find her a nice Jewish husband.

She wrote about the drudgery and mindlessness of family work, yet her family was the sustained love of her life. She was totally invested in her children and longed for grandchildren well before they came.

This complicated, complex woman changed all of our lives, even those who never read “The Feminine Mystique” or never heard of NOW, the National Organization for Women.

She spawned perhaps the most profound social revolution of the last few centuries without a drop of blood being shed. She will go down in history as one of the great change agents of modern history; and for us, she will be a continuing source of Jewish pride, characterized in our own history books as one of the contributions we made to the world.

How and why was her impact so great? For that matter, how was it that she changed my own life as a Jewish feminist — for I came from a very different place in the 1960s, from a community that offered women great satisfaction and sense of value in their roles as wives and mothers?

Her book seemed to be anti-family, anti-men. Though her chapter “Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available” carried some truths, mostly she managed to put down so many of the great women I knew, full-time homemakers and mothers. Moreover, as the women’s movement got off the ground in the ’60s, building on her book’s steam, it quickly became more radicalized. The rhetoric of family as locus of abuse and man as exploiter grew more shrill. I’d have none of that!

Yet along with the excesses of early feminism was the underlying idea Betty Friedan offered the world: gender equality. This meant much more than the women’s vote. It meant equal access, equal talent and brains, equal dignity of women — and all of it a matter of justice.

For me, she did not adequately answer the question of equal careers and who would make lunch for hungry toddlers, prepare for Shabbat dinner with guests or meet the school bus each afternoon. She could not, because someone had to do the drudgework that accompanied the peaks and joys of raising children and running a Jewish household — and society was not yet organized to split these roles. But once she implanted in our minds and hearts the idea of equality of genders, once she posited this as ethics rather than as a battle between the sexes, each of us would try to work out the details in our own lives.

More than that, she opened the door to broader application of the idea of equal access and dignity to other spheres of life. In 1963, I made no connection between feminism and Jewish religious life, the imbalances in traditional Judaism created by gendered religious roles, the prevailing limitations on women studying Talmud or even the real disabilities in Jewish divorce.

But others did. These were a handful of Jewish women of the 1960s, women of Ezrat Nashim, women of other denominations who were writing about or modeling the new values, women who mediated secular feminism into Jewish feminism. Once these pioneering Jewish feminists established the connections, I could apply them to my own community — not out of a sense of abuse for I still felt none, but out of a sense of ethics, of meeting the original biblical paradigm — male and female created as equals in the image of God.

Friedan taught us several other important lessons. Not content to rest with the mighty power of her pen, she understood the covenantal nature of organizational life: For a job to be done and the work to continue, one needed more than an idea, more than cohorts. One needed organizational structures that would allow others to find an address and to take up the work. Friedan went on to found or co-found NOW, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the First Women’s Bank and Trust Company. She co-organized the first protest march and the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970. In 1969, though already beleaguered by opposition to feminism, she was unafraid to publicly take on the abortion issue, founding NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League.

These organizational models and her writings spawned hundreds of others. A spate of books and periodicals followed hers, and many hundreds of independent feminist organizations were created on these shores and far distant ones. Thus, her work in the world was multiplied in the arenas of politics, domestic life, religion, economics, education and all of the professions. It was, I believe, more than some of her sisters in the movement would acknowledge in later years.

As for her Jewishness, Friedan wore it proudly. In 1975, Rabbi Isaac Trainin and I invited her to join a New York Federation Task force, then called Jewish Women in a Changing Society. She joined in an instant, as if she’d just been waiting for the Jewish community to invite her in.

At her first meeting, she spoke of how Jewish values of justice had influenced her feminism, indeed her entire outlook on life. Later, we would learn that being a smart, Jewish girl growing up in Peoria, Ill., would shape her sensitivities as an outsider and sharpen her abilities to engage confrontation, both of which helped her in the early feminist battles.

She also was concerned specifically about the Jewish family. Once, in the early 1980s, as she, Susan Weidman Schneider and I shared a panel in Chicago on “Feminism and the Jewish Family.” I quipped that I was a slow learner for I had read “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963 while pregnant with my second child but went on to have three more children. (In the book, she caricatures the woman with a vision of five children). Friends though we were by then, she took considerable umbrage at my comment for she disliked being associated with a decline in the Jewish birth rate.

She saw Jewish feminism as a logical extension of secular feminism; the same rubrics applied: access and education; the need for ‘outside’ or public roles as well as inside ones defined as women’s primary space; freedom to control one’s destiny in marriage and divorce.

In those years, the Task Force held conferences on the agunah (the problem of women who have trouble obtaining a Jewish divorce), on infertility, on the Jewish family. Though peripherally involved in those conferences, she remained curious and interested in their outcomes.

Friedan’s greatness also lay in her ability to rethink matters. In publishing “The Second Stage,” she recognized that she had gone too far in “The Feminine Mystique” in denigrating women’s roles in the home. She wrote of transcending the false polarization between feminism and family, between men and women. She addressed the realities of work in the home and the satisfactions of women who chose that as their primary role. She was criticized by some of her more radical counterparts for selling out the original vision, but then, as earlier, she held her ground.

She once acknowledged that some of her writing in “Second Stage” was influenced by her contact with Jewish women of the federation world who successfully put together family and service and who made sequential choices in their lives regarding family and career.

Jewish history is full of flawed models, sometimes more powerful because of their flaws, and certainly more accessible. Betty was straight as a narrow, totally transparent, nothing behind a veil. What you saw was what you got, including anger or bruised ego. But that made the love, the caring, the creative mind, the generous spirit and the passion for justice all the more precious.

Blu Greenberg is founding president of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and founding chair of One Voice: Jewish Women for Israel.


Capturing Chasidim

As a street photographer, Maya Dreilinger echoes the sentiments of the 1982 “Missing Persons” song “Walking in LA.” Driving around the city, “you don’t see a lot of people walking,” she said. “But the Chasidism are always out on the streets and not just on Saturdays.”

With her camera, Dreilinger spent about two months documenting the streets of the Chasidic community bordering La Brea Avenue. Her exhibition, “La Brea on Robertson,” currently on display at the Workmen’s Circle, presents an intriguing mix of photographs and paintings that in some ways reveal more about the artist than the subject matter.

Born in Israel and raised in Los Angeles, the 30-year-old Dreilinger admits to having pre-conceived judgments about Chasidic Jews before she embarked on her project.

“I believed that their culture was restrictive, that women were always patronized,” she said. “But being around them for two months, I was humbled. Now I have no more anger or resentment, only respect.”

While other photographers have sought to document Chasidism from more of an insider’s perspective, Dreilinger purposefully maintained her distance as an outsider. She wandered around the La Brea area dressed as she normally does and refused the occasional invitation to dinner at someone’s home.

“I didn’t want to go in that direction,” she said. “I wanted to be only the respectful observer.”

Upon viewing Dreilinger’s work, Eric Gordon, director of the Workmen’s Circle, immediately thought of Roman Vishniac’s photographs of pre-war Poland.

“Maya has a discerning eye, and I love the humor in her work,” he said. “As for her subject matter, we may not be a religious-centered organization, but we are devoted to Yiddish culture. A socialist from the 1930s might have condemned this exhibit, but we’ve evolved since then. They [Chasidim] are part of our Yiddish community.”

The majority of Dreilinger’s photographs clearly show her outsider’s perspective. Several depict rear-view shots of Chasidic men and boys walking down the street and radiating inscrutability. A Chasidic boy, shown in the midst of prayer in an unidentifiable interior, seems completely absorbed in his own world. In “Kosher by Kehilla,” two women walking toward a street sign for a kosher bakery appear partially visible. Only their skirts and the top of a hat can be glimpsed.

In contrast, other photos subtly reveal the intrusion of the modern world. “Grandfather’s Touch” shows a little girl, with her father and grandfather, who carries the kind of plastic backpack desired by most trendy kindergartners. In “The Alley,” a group of black-garbed men pass an alleyway near the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard. Three men who appear to be Hispanic laborers inhabit the alleyway. One of them looks at the Chasidim, wide-eyed curiosity written across his face.

Often, Dreilinger succeeds in capturing the community’s varying attitudes in being photographed by an outsider. Some of her subjects smile broadly and pose for the camera. Some regard the camera as an alien interloper.

In some portraits, a sly humor can be found. A striking juxtaposition, for example, appears in “Trio,” where through the illusion of a reflection two young men look as if they stand next to the bust of a mannequin while they peer into the window of a clothing store. At first glance, the headless mannequin bears some resemblance to a Torah scroll.

Dreilinger took 14 of her black-and-white photographs and painted over their surfaces, sometimes leaving only a portion of the original image intact. These are hung situated across from the originals, and many a viewer will be tempted to keep traveling back and forth to cross reference the works. These paintings explode with vibrant color and whimsicality and, for the most part, do not evoke the sense of restraint and limitation found in many of the original photographs.

Take the Chasidic women walking toward the bakery sign. In the painted version, they wear bright red suits. The dress of an elderly woman standing outside the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic Boulevard has been colored in with bright flowers suggestive of a Hawaiian lei. In “Close-up,” a young, handsome Chasidic man posing against a wall has been colored and shaded so that he resembles an urban nightlife character from a Toulouse-Lautrec painting.

In other paintings, Dreilinger has added natural landscapes that sometimes enhance and other times completely obfuscate the original photograph. One of these paintings depicts two Chasidic girls with their hands over their mouths wandering amidst a rural, mountainous backdrop. In the original photograph titled “Contemplating Girls,” they stand on a city street with other schoolchildren.

Dreilinger says the paintings brought her “emotional release.”

“I hope I captured what is mysterious about these people and at the same time, beautiful. I wasn’t interested in showing ugliness,” she said. “But I did want to open people’s eyes.”

“La Brea on Roberston: Paintings and Photographs by Maya Dreilinger,” Jan. 22-March 5, Shenere Velt Gallery, Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Roberston Blvd. For more information, call (310) 552-2007.


Kosher Stylin’

If we are what we eat, then at this moment I’m a big fat Gordo’s burrito with extra cheese. But I’m a veggie burrito because for the past several years, I’ve been cultivating my own brand of kosher. I like to call myself “kosher style.”

It’s a phrase that’s apt to confuse, so let me explain. No pork. No shellfish. No conscious mixing of meat and dairy. I’ll eat meat out, and though I pass on cheeseburgers at Barney’s, I wouldn’t ask Alice Waters to hold the butter in preparing my filet of beef ? la ficelle (assuming ficelle isn’t bacon). My theory: Unless I see dairy, it’s kosher enough.

I have plenty of friends who keep more strictly kosher than I do, but even some of them make exceptions — like bouillabaisse in France or lobster in Maine. I deviate when I’m the guest in someone’s home, and the options are slim — my rationale being that it’s better to not shame a host than to stick to my half-baked rules.

There are those who may cringe at my interpretation of Jewish dietary laws, but it’s not like I eat this way because the Bible tells me to. Nor do I see it as a mitzvah commanded by the God I’m not always sure I believe in. And it certainly isn’t because I grew up this way.

It began with a request from a Holocaust survivor who once advised, “Order kosher meals on airplanes, because the day you stop ordering them is the day they’ll stop making them.”

Forgoing regular airplane food was a sacrifice I could make.

I remember the first time a flight attendant called out, “Ravitz, kosher meal?” Heads of passengers whipped around to look at “the Jew,” and there I sat, donning my jeans, fleece and baseball cap, looking like any other 20-something American.

I didn’t want the attention, but when it came, I kind of liked it. That nasty little packet of excessively wrapped, overcooked — and yet simultaneously frozen — meat sparked conversation. People would ask me about my kosher meals: “I’ve always wondered what this is all about.”

I even got confessions: “You know, I recently found out my grandfather was Jewish.”

I felt like an ambassador for my people, called forth to enlighten flight passengers over stale rolls.

Soon I was changing the way I ate on the ground, pork products being the first to go. Then I struggled to relinquish shrimp, New England clam chowder, steamed mussels. California rolls were missed, until I found salvation in “imitation crab.” Then came the meat-and-dairy conundrum, which wasn’t that bad, barring the loss of chicken Caesar salads and my mom’s grilled bleu cheese steak. The mere thought of it still makes me drool.

At a crawfish boil I attended in Alabama this summer, people around me snapped off heads, slurping the prawns’ insides, while taking turns asking me questions.

“What, you don’t like this stuff?” “You allergic?” “What’s wrong with you?”

I stammered, embarrassed by the repeated calls of attention. “Well, you see, I sort of keep kosher.”

“What’s that?”

I blathered about split hooves and chewed cuds before someone interrupted, “But why do you keep kosher?”

I gave the best answer I could come up with: “Because it reminds me of who I am.”

In September, Sophia Café, a new kosher restaurant, opened on Solano Avenue in Albany, walking distance from my home. When I first spotted it, I was floored. How could a glatt kosher restaurant survive in a place like this? It’s not like the Bay Area is a bastion of religious observance.

I walked inside and got my answer.

There was the visitor from Los Angeles who said her son passed up going to Cal because kosher food was so hard to come by. There was the woman planning for observant houseguests from the East who will need places to eat. There was the father in an Orthodox family who kept thanking the owner for his restaurant’s presence.

The mashgiach, who oversees kosher practices in the kitchen, said it’s the only glatt kosher restaurant in the East Bay. He also said it wouldn’t survive on kosher eaters alone.

I have a feeling that a certain Holocaust survivor would have something to say about that. Lucky for me, the restaurant’s meat was served hot and without wrapping.

Jessica Ravitz completed her masters in journalism at UC Berkeley and currently is a staff writer at The Salt Lake Tribune. She can be reached at

Queen of Laughter

Imagine emceeing an event following Sept. 11. Rhea Kohanknows that feeling. The mistress of ceremonies for countless local Jewishorganizations hosted Friends of Sheba Medical Center’s annual Women ofAchievement Luncheon just 48 hours after the terrorist attack.

“I was dreading it, because who was in the mood to laugh,”Kohan said of the Sept. 13, 2001, engagement. “I told them, ‘Why don’t youcancel? Even the Emmy Awards was canceled.”

But the luncheon’s honorees — including “Will & Grace”star Debra Messing and cartoonist Cathy Guisewite — did not cancel, so Kohankept her commitment, as well.

Attendees of that post-Sept. 11 function recalled how deftlyKohan negotiated the line between comedy and solemnity.

“People walked in absolutely confused, distraught, upset,”recalled Ila Waldman, Friends of Sheba Medical Center’s executive director.”After the luncheon, they walked out uplifted. It was a real catharsis.”

The self-described raconteur refuses to label herself astand-up comedian. But Kohan’s wit has, over the last decade, made her asought-after personality in the local Jewish community, and she refuses tocharge money for her humorous hostessing.

“When I get calls from [organizations such as] Israel Bondsand Sheba Medical Center,” Kohan said, “I find it very hard to say no.”

Comedy and music run in the family. Kohan is married tocomedy writer and composer Buzz Kohan, winner of 13 Emmy Awards. Son DavidKohan co-created the Emmy-winning “Will & Grace” and plays guitar; his twinbrother, Jono, plays piano and drums and is a partner in the music productioncompany, 1st Born Entertainment; and daughter, Jenji Kohan Noxon, won an Emmyin 1996 as supervising producer for “Tracey Takes On.”

Days before the 75th Academy Awards, Buzz Kohan took a breakfrom working on this year’s Oscar telecast to discuss his wife.

“I like her,” Buzz said with comic understatement. “We’vebeen together for 40 years. No sense trading her in now.”

Kohan has collaborated with her husband on specials, such as”The Funny Women of Television.”

“She contributes a Jewish sense of humor, sense of valuesand heart [at her gigs],” Buzz said. “She has a wonderful way of lighting up aroom, which is so rare for people who don’t do this for a living. She sizes upthe people at an event and makes wonderful, pithy observations about them.”

The Kohan offspring report that their mother has always beensupportive of their comedic and musical aspirations.

“Comedy is taken seriously,” said daughter Jenji, 33. “Ourdinner table was a rough room. I didn’t talk for years. Everyone was very quickand had standards for funny.”

Rhea Kohan grew up in “the best place in the world –Brooklyn.” She met her husband while working as a canteen girl in the resorttown of Lake George, N.Y.

“He came from the Bronx, so we would never have metotherwise,” she said, half-joking.

In 1967, “‘The Carol Burnett Show’ made Buzz an offer hecouldn’t refuse,” Kohan said, and they moved to Los Angeles, where her wickedwit was the hit of a friend’s birthday party. Word of Kohan’s gift of gabspread after hosting a Jewish Family Service gala honoring a friend.

“She’s just able to see things clearly and put a comedicspin on it,” said Jono, 38.

Kohan greatly influenced David, the sitcom creator.

“One summer, we were all away in camp,” David recalled ofwhen he was 13. “She had a chance to sit down with her legal pad, and she wrotea novel. A couple of years later, she wrote another.”

Unlike Buzz Kohan’s penchant for sketches and musicalcomedy, “all of my mother’s humor comes from character and the absurdity of asituation,” David explained.

“Up until the day of the banquet,” David continued, “she’sconvinced herself that she’s going to be an abysmal failure, and then she’sbrilliant. She’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Particularly whenshe criticizes my life choices — that’s a scream.”

“Sometimes I bomb like Hiroshima,” Rhea Kohan said, “but Ialways feel that I’m doing it for a good cause, not for the career of RheaKohan.”

The Beverly Hills-based Kohans remain a tight-knit clan.

“Every Shabbat, our family gets together for dinner,” Jonosaid. “We just have a great time together.

Kohan loves working Jewish galas and the community loves herback.

“She is just the most delightful human being,” said State ofIsrael Bonds’ Brigitte Medvin. “She can be a stand-up comic. She researches thehonorees and weaves wonderful stories about the people she introduces.”

“We’ve had her emcee our Women of Achievement Luncheon forthree years now,” Waldman said. “She’s synonymous with the luncheon. I can’tthink of doing it without her. To us, she’s our perennial woman ofachievement.”

Rhea Kohan will emcee the State of Israel Bonds’ Women’sDivision’s Golda Meir Club Luncheon on May 8 at the Four Seasons Hotel, WestHollywood. For information, call (310) 996-3004.

Kohan will also host Women’s Group of Friends of ShebaMedical Center’s Women of Achievement Luncheon on June 5 at the Four Seasons.For information, call (310) 843-0100. 

Support for IsraelElementary to Watson

She may not know the word shteibel, but she knows what’s going on.

"I represented [them] before, you know, in the ’80s when I was a state senator," said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), referring to the Jews of Hancock Park. "They wanted to pray, to have a temple in a house. I helped them get the permits."

When Watson runs for reelection this November, she’ll face some disadvantages not usually encountered by an incumbent politician. For one, she will have only represented her constituents for 18 months. She had won the House seat in a special election last year to replace the late Julian Dixon.

Another disadvantage is redistricting, which has changed the shape of her congressional district and added new voters groups that she has never represented in Congress before. Those new constituents include the active Jewish community of Hancock Park.

"I’m very pleased to have Hancock Park back," said Watson, whose redrawn 33rd District will retain her base in Culver City, Ladera Heights and South Los Angeles, at the same time adding Hancock Park and parts of the Hollywood and Silverlake areas. Watson represented much of the same area, including part of Hancock Park, when she became the first African American woman elected to state Senate in 1978, serving five terms.

In 1976, she became the first African American woman on the Los Angeles School Board. Before returning to elected office last year to fill Dixon’s congressional seat, Watson served two years as ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia.

As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Watson is aware of the tensions between African American and Jewish leaders that have grown during this election cycle, particularly the primary defeats of African American incumbents Earl Hilliard in Alabama and Cynthia McKinney in Georgia. Both incumbents were defeated with the help of Jewish organizations and individuals, largely from outside their House districts, concerned over their anti-Israel voting records.

In contrast to the two defeated House members, Watson has regularly supported Israel in Congress. She even met with Agudath Israel of America’s 2002 National Leadership Mission to Washington.

Watson, who sits of the House International Relations Committee, was quick to emphasize that the addition of the Jewish community in Hancock Park to her district does not add many Jewish voters to her constituency. The congresswoman explained that she lost Jewish voters in Cheviot Hills, the Pico-Robertson area and other parts of West Los Angeles in the same redistricting.

Her well-documented support for Israel, she said, is the result of her "long relationship with Israel, going back to the ’60s." In that decade, during a teaching stint in France, Watson made a side trip on her own to the Holy Land. "I’m a Catholic by the way, so the Via Dolorosa was an important place to visit."

In the 1980s, already familiar with the issues of the region and the importance of a strong Israel, Watson made an official trip to the country with a delegation from the state Legislature. During the visit, Watson conceived and later helped bring to Tel Aviv a statue honoring [African-American] Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche, who helped negotiate the end of Israel’s War of Independence.

In November 2001, she delivered the keynote address at the "All Eyes on Israel" conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee on Campus (AIPAC), where she said that United States has no greater friend than Israel. "I just think we need to be there for Israel," she told The Journal, "and we certainly are."

Watson’s voting record reflects her visits to Israel and her public statements in support of the country. In December 2001, she voted for a House resolution urging action against Palestinian terrorism. In March of this year, she signed a letter to President Bush urging the addition of the Palestinian groups Tanzim, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Force 417 to the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

Watson has also voted in favor of the congressional resolution expressing solidarity with Israel in the fight against terrorism, and in favor of a strong foreign aid package for Israel. Elliot Brandt, AIPAC western regional director, called Watson "stellar in her support of Israel."

Watson is expected to easily win reelection in the heavily Democratic district. The California Public Policy Foundation predicted a "slam dunk" for the Democrat in its California Political Review newsletter.

The prediction, based on Democrats making up 69 percent of registered voters in the district, questioned only whether Republican challenger Andrew Kim will be able to match Bush’s 13 percent showing in the district 2000 election.

In a district which she called "hugely diverse," Watson represents approximately one-third African American voters, one-third Hispanics and one-third "everybody, everybody." The district includes Little Armenia, Thai Town, Koreatown and a Greek community. Luckily, Watson said, in foreign policy and her home district alike, "I’m a negotiator, not a pugilist."

Ethel Lozabnick: Community Leader

A community activist, whose commitment to the Jewish community and Zionist causes was locally and nationally recognized, passed away Aug. 17, 2001. Lozabnick had served as National Vice President of Hadassah the largest woman’s volunteer organization in the United States and the largest Zionist organization in the world and was a member of Hadassah’s National Board. For her zionist activities, she received the distinguished Women of Merit Award in 1965, and in 1999 was one of three outstanding veteran local zionists honored by the American Zionist Movement with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Her commitment, dedication and tireless efforts on behalf of Israel led her to that country more than 40 times, including travel to Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan as a woman’s representative to early peace discussions. Her travels in various instances were as a representative of Hadassah, the World Zionist Organization, The Jewish Agency Assembly and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Among her numerous local activities, she served as past president of the Southern Pacific Coast Region of Hadassah for three years, during which time 10 new chapters were formed. She served as a past president of the Beverly Hills Girl Scout Council, the Beverly Hills Community Chest, Los Angeles Mayor’s Community Youth Program and the, League of Women’s Voters as well as serving as chair of the Martyr’s Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust, The Soviet Jewry Commission and the Executive Committee of the American Jewish Committee and The Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles.&’9;

Born in Denver, Colo., and raised in Cheyenne, Wyo., she moved with her husband, Oscar, and three children to Beverly Hills in 1947. She leaves behind her son, Donald (Ann) Loze; her daughters, Bobbie (Leonard) Kolod and Jan (Douglas) Stein; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Jewish and Normal? Oy!

NBC’s hit “Will & Grace,” which is up for 12 Emmys this month, is one of the first network shows to feature an appealing homosexual main character. But the sitcom — which revolves around gay attorney Will and his best gal pal Grace — is a first for another reason: its novel depiction of a young Jewish woman.

Grace Adler, played by Jewish actress Debra Messing, is a gorgeous, kooky interior designer who is neither pushy nor a shopaholic. Forget pathetic Melissa from “thirtysomething” or obnoxious Vicki from “Suddenly Susan.”

“Grace doesn’t fall into any of those categories that have stereotyped Jewish women on TV,” says executive producer Max Mutchnick. “She’s strong, and she’s pretty and she’s a proud Jewish woman.”

One reason the character works is because Mutchnick, 35, and co-creator David Kohan, 36, based her in part on a real Jewish woman. “Will & Grace” is modeled after the gay Mutchnick’s rapport with childhood chum Janet Eisenberg, who now owns a voice-over casting agency in New York. “Like Will and Grace, we are made for each other in every way except the bedroom,” Mutchnick says.

Mutchnick met Eisenberg while rehearsing a play at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills at age 13. He was the star of the Hebrew school musical; she was a student in the drama department. Mutchnick lived in a modest apartment just one building over the Beverly Hills line; Eisenberg lived in a nicer part of town. But before long they were hanging out together on Beverly Drive, “which in those days was like Main Street, USA,” Mutchnick says.

About three years later, she introduced him to Kohan, the son of veteran comedy writer Buzz Kohan, in the drama department at Beverly Hills High. Kohan promptly became their third wheel — though he found their relationship perplexing. “Max and Janet seemed to have a lovely rapport, but the romantic element confused me, and it confused them as well,” recalls Kohan, who is straight. “They went out for a couple of years, then they went off to different colleges. And Max comes out of the closet, springs it on her — and she was stunned. It was a shocking revelation for her, so I kind of functioned as a liaison between the two of them, because they both still really loved each other.”

As Kohan practiced his shuttle diplomacy, he and Mutchnick began exchanging sitcom ideas and decided they, too, were made for each other — as writing partners. They eventually landed staff jobs on HBO’s “Dream On” and executive produced the short-lived NBC sitcom “Boston Common.” In 1997, they developed an ensemble comedy about six friends, two of them based on Mutchnick and female soulmate Eisenberg.

It was Warren Littlefield, NBC Entertainment president, who suggested they focus on the “he’s gay-she’s straight” relationship, the premise for “Will & Grace.” Kohan and Mutchnick banged out a script and spent four tense months feverishly faxing Littlefield the grosses from hit films with gay characters suxh as , “The Birdcage” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

When the go-ahead finally came, they decided to name the show “Will & Grace” after a concept in Martin Buber’s Jewish philosophy book “I and Thou.” “Buber talks about how in order to have an ‘I-Thou’ relationship in the presence of the Eternal … one needs the ‘will’ to go after it and the ‘grace’ to receive it,” Kohan says.

He and Mutchnick concede that “Ellen,” which featured the first gay prime time TV lead, helped pave the way for “Will & Grace” — though the show crashed and burned after the coming-out episode. Why “Will” escaped that fate, Kohan says, is because “Our agenda is entertainment, not politics.”

Mutchnick agrees: “We never stand on a soapbox.”

But the sitcom has generated a few complaints — largely from Jewish viewers. They’re pleased that Grace reminisces about attending Camp Ramah (Eisenberg went there) and being profiled in the Jewish Forward but gripe that she’s never seriously dated a Jewish man. Kohan, for one, believes she probably never will. “I’d love her to find a Jewish love interest, but that relationship might actually work, and then there’d be no more ‘Will & Grace,'” he says.

Mutchnick faced a similar dilemma when Eisenberg married a Jewish man not long ago. “There’s been a shift in our relationship,” he admits. “But I fly to New York all the time to see her, and we’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining our friendship.” He pauses, then adds, laughing, “Sometimes I even wonder where her husband is in all of this.”

Redefining Beauty

Four years ago, Camryn Manheim walked into David Kelley’s office, feeling glum. She knew the executive producer didn’t want her for his new ABC drama, “The Practice.” After all, Hollywood typically ridiculed women who were 5-foot-10 and a size 22. Kelley practically yawned throughout her interview. “It was disastrous,” she told The Journal.

But slinking out of his office that day in 1996, the Jewish actress spotted a cribbage board — and felt a spark of chutzpah. “Why don’t we f— this audition and I’ll play you right now for the part?” she said. “If I lose, you’ll never see me again. But if I win, I walk out of here with the script.”

Kelley suddenly lost his bored look. “You don’t understand,” he warned. “I play the computer.”

“No, you don’t understand,” she retorted. “I play for money.”

Kelley didn’t play Manheim that day, but he was impressed enough to create a “Practice” role just for her: the gutsy, no-nonsense lawyer Ellenor Frutt. “When I got the phone call from my agent, saying that I had gotten the part, I sat down in the middle of my kitchen floor … and wept,” Manheim wrote in her 1999 memoir, “Wake Up, I’m Fat!” (Broadway.) Her sense of victory was sweet. It came after a bitter, 20-year battle for acceptance in a business that worships svelte actresses — a battle that nearly cost Manheim her life.

When her NYU drama professors strongly suggested she lose weight or leave the program in the late 1980s, she began taking speed and accidentally overdosed. “For the longest time, I hated myself because I was fat,” she says. “I let just one thing define me. Then I decided I wasn’t going to conform to a standard that wasn’t developed with me in mind.”

Manheim’s campaign against the beauty myth culminated with her accepting an Emmy for best supporting actor in 1998. Wearing a low-cut black Emanuel gown, Payless shoes and Target earrings (12 in one ear), the “Practice” star thrust the award high over her head and declared, “This is for all the fat girls!”

The self-professed “poster child for fat acceptance,” says she used the f-word deliberately in her Emmy acceptance speech. “If you say a word enough, it robs it of its power,” she explains. And the show offered the perfect opportunity to advance her cause. “It’s abhorrent to me that women hate themselves so much for being overweight. I want to do everything in my power to fight that.”

Fighting injustice appears to be genetic for her. Born Deborah Frances Manheim, she grew up in a culturally Jewish home in Long Beach. Her Polish-immigrant grandfather was an early organizer of the millinery workers union. Her mother, Sylvia, attended the Yiddishist-socialist IWO schools and worked as a switchboard operator for the Communist Party. Manheim’s Uncle Bill organized the New York taxicab drivers and eventually became secretary-treasurer of local 840 of the Teamsters Union. Her father, Jerry, a math professor, picketed segregated restaurants in the 1950s, and was denounced as a communist by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. “He was blacklisted,” Sylvia told The Journal. “He lost his job, and I went to work selling freezers door-to-door. It was a difficult time for our family.”

Nevertheless, the Manheims continued to equate their Judaism with social action, toting young Camryn to rallies to protest racism and the Vietnam War. When Camryn was arrested at a pro-choice rally in the early ’80s, she called her parents from jail. “Mazal tov!” Sylvia shouted into the phone.

Manheim quips: “For my family, protesting injustice is like ‘mitzvah therapy.'”

During her childhood, Manheim, now 40, felt that her parents supported every kind of underdog save one: the fat person. When Manheim began gaining weight at age 11, her parents shlepped her to a series of psychiatrists and hypnotists. They even tried bribery. When Camryn was a preteen, she signed her first contract: “If you lose 15 pounds by March, we’ll buy you a brand new bike.”

“We thought Camryn would have more boyfriends if she were thinner,” Sylvia says sheepishly.

Manheim’s self-esteem plummeted. She tried to hide her body with baggy Levis, which she even wore into the shower. At the age of 13, she says she missed all her friends’ “baruch atah adonais” because mom wouldn’t let her wear pants to bar mitzvahs.

A few years later, she found respite working summers at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, where big, busty wenches were de rigueur. More acceptance followed at UC Santa Cruz, where the actress wore Birkenstocks and protested against the Miss California pageant. During a post-graduation trip to Israel, an empowered Manheim decided to change her ho-hum name to something more stylish. “Some people get to the Wailing Wall and have a vision; I heard a voice,” she writes in her book. “Camryn … Camryn … Camryn.”

But when Manheim enrolled in NYU’s esteemed graduate drama program in the 1980s, she ran smack into size discrimination. Professors hounded her to reduce. “They said ‘You are never going to work if you are a big girl,'” the actress says. “The subtext was, ‘We don’t want that black mark against our school.'”

At NYU, Manheim was always cast as a middle-aged frump. “I was also Rebecca Nurse in ‘The Crucible’ — she’s at least 80,” the actress recalls. “And Queen Margaret in ‘Richard III’ — she’s not just old, she’s dead.”

A desperate Manheim began taking speed daily to lose weight. When she dropped 80 pounds, her professors were jubilant. “But I was a wreck,” she says.

After her near-fatal overdose on speed, she quit drugs and nicotine — and promptly gained back all her weight. When she flew home to visit her parents, who now kvell over her, they couldn’t hide their disappointment. After some unpleasant words with her father, Manheim packed her bags and didn’t speak to him for almost a year, she writes in her book.

Back in New York, she immersed herself in liberal causes, took a job as a sign-language interpreter and worked on regaining her self-esteem. When leading roles didn’t come her way, she wrote a hilarious, poignant one-woman show, “Wake Up, I’m Fat!” about being fat in a society obsessed with being thin. The monologue, filled with “fat survival” tips such as “stay horizontal on the beach,” played to packed houses off-Broadway in 1995. When a casting director sent Kelley some videotaped scenes of the show, Manheim earned an audience with the TV drama king.

In 1996 she snagged the role of Frutt, who, like Manheim, is culturally Jewish and determined to fight for the underdog.

But her very first day on “The Practice,” the actress discovered she was going to have to play an additional role: that of “Fat Police.” When the director described her character’s first shot of Frutt eating a doughnut, Manheim convinced him to lose the food, not wanting to reinforce stereotypes.

When the prop guy put a huge bowl of candy on Frutt’s desk, Manheim again confronted the director. “Let me tell you a little secret. Fat girls don’t keep candy on the desk. They keep it in the drawer,” she said.

The bowl was moved.

When Manheim later learned that a love interest was in the works for Frutt, she lobbied Kelley to cast a hunk in the role. Not only did she get her wish (actor J.C. McKenzie), she also convinced Kelley to write her some juicy love scenes.

Off the set, Manheim continues to lobby against the beauty myth and to show that “big women can be sexy.” The cover of “Wake Up, I’m Fat!” depicts the actress wearing a swimsuit and a beauty pageant-style banner reading, “Miss Understood.” “I wanted it to be in-your-face,” she says. “I also felt I needed to do something that was scary for me — which was to be half-naked in public — to show I was facing my fears.”

In April, Manheim starred in and executive-produced the ABC movie, “Kiss My Act,” one of the rare television programs in which the fat girl gets the cute guy. She says she’s motivated by the self-hating letters she receives from overweight women. “They’re heartbreaking,” she says.

Since winning her Emmy, Manheim has been featured on the cover of magazines such as People, TV Guide, Mode (the publication for full-figured women) and this month’s More.

When asked if her success has changed things for big women in Hollywood, Manheim sighs loudly. She points out that Julia Roberts is rumored to have been signed to play the overweight heroine in a movie version of the book, “She’s Come Undone,” Wally Lamb’s novel about a girl’s journey from fat teenager to trim adult. “I am going to lead the crusade against that,” Manheim says, grimly. “I am desperate to see a big girl in that role, myself or someone else.”

Meanwhile, the actress is continuing to enjoy her latest role: that of single mother. In March, the unmarried actress gave birth to a boy, Milo (named for the hero in her favorite children’s book, “The Phantom Tollbooth”). And while she won’t reveal the identity of his father, she will say she plans to raise Milo culturally Jewish, emphasizing social action.

Though Manheim doesn’t belong to a synagogue, she supports Hadasssah and the annual Justice Ball, which benefits Bet Tzedek Legal Services. She believes Frutt would approve of the nonsectarian legal program. “Jewish charities offer opportunities for everyone, which is what I love about the Jews,” the actress says. “You do not have to be a certified Jew to reap the benefits.”

“The Practice” airs Sundays, 10 p.m. on ABC.

Favorite exclamation: Man-oh-Manischewitz!

On her old amphetamine habit:

“The scary thing about speed is that it works.”

“Sure, it may kill you, but you’ll look great in that coffin.”

Worst confrontation with an NYU drama professor:

“You, Camryn Manheim, have a very bad attitude.”

Camryn: “I have a fat attitude?”

How to stand up on the beach without looking fat:

“You have to maintain the camouflage of the towel while trying to slide the shorts on up over the buttocks region, and then you have to say something in a dramatic fashion to cause a diversion, like ‘Hey, look, it’s Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr making out in the surf!'”

Why she wrote her show, “Wake Up, I’m Fat!”:

“I wanted to create the only role for which I would not be rejected.”

On parents:

“[They] know how to push your buttons, because, hey, they sewed them on.”

First question on Camryn’s “boyfriend application”:

Do you have an on-again, off-again girlfriend?

(If so, do not complete this form).

Excerpted from Manheim’s 1999 memoir, “Wake Up, I’m Fat!”

Literary Jewish Girls

Philip Roth, move over. You too, Saul Bellow. It’s time to make room for a newer generation of American Jewish writers, many of whom are young women who have not even hit 30. Their debut novels on Jewish themes are earning large advances, garnering stellar reviews and reaching best-seller lists. As the literary world looks to crown fresh young talent, readers are reaping the benefits.

Take, for example, Nomi Eve’s novel, “The Family Orchard” (Knopf), which chronicles the six-generation saga of a Jewish family in Eastern Europe, Israel and America. The manuscript, which took seven years to write, earned the now-32-year-old writer a six-figure advance and a hefty first printing of 75,000.

Or take 28-year-old Myla Goldberg’s coming-of-age novel about an 11-year-old spelling genius coached by her father, a mystical-minded Reconstructionist cantor: “Bee Season” (Doubleday).

And don’t miss Anita Diamant’s reinvented version of the biblical story of Dinah, “The Red Tent, ” (Picador), which has sold 350,000 copies. It has been near the top of Book Sense’s best-seller list (based on sales from independent bookstores across America) for more than 10 months, and has been translated into 14 languages.

“Jewish women are writing music and novels and theology, sculpting and painting and doing calligraphy,” Diamant says. “There’s a flowering of the arts across the board, and we are a part of that cultural ferment. We are the most educated generation of Jewish women in history. We are the readers and the writers.”

It’s not news that Jewish women are writing fiction. They have been doing so for decades. Erica Jong, Anne Roiphe, Sue Kaufman and others have won solid places in the annals of contemporary fiction. What is different, says novelist Susan Isaacs, is: “In the past, Jewish women have been represented by angry Jewish women or angry Jewish men. That was a very limited picture. Writers today are much more at home, both in America and in their religious identity, or even their lack thereof. They are taking their work beyond chicken-soup sentimentality or ‘I have kinky hair, and I’m angry.'”

Isaacs, who is at work on her ninth novel (a sequel to “Compromising Positions”), says Judaism, as it reverberates through today’s fiction, has “more to do with theological and philosophical questions than ethnicity. That’s part of the movement back to religion and study.”

Daisy Maryles, executive editor at Publishers Weekly, the news magazine of publishing and bookselling, agrees: “Writers are a lot less self-conscious of their Judaism,” she says. “They are using their own experiences to illustrate their relationship to the world at large and to their tradition. They offer innovative portrayals of communities and lifestyles.”

So, we meet Batsheva, the colorful, free-spirited convert to Judaism who turns the insular world of Orthodox Memphis upside down in Tova Mirvis’ “The Ladies Auxiliary” (Ballantine). And we meet Miranda Woke, Molly Jong-Fast’s “Normal Girl” (Villard), who describes herself as “a crazy cocaine addict with a hankering for heroin … just a nice Jewish girl from the Upper East Side with Prada shoes.” (Yes, Molly is the 21-year-old daughter of Erica Jong and Howard Fast.) We meet mothers and daughters, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, whose multigenerational relationships create the texture of plot and narrative.

The new crop of writers continues to offer an insider’s peek into the worlds they know intimately but that are foreign to most readers. That stage has been set in the past five years by writers like Pearl Abraham, who examined the Chassidic world of women in “The Romance Reader” (Riverhead); Allegra Goodman, who explored the Orthodox bungalow colonies of the Catskills in “Kaaterskill Falls” (Dell), and Rebecca Goldstein, who traced three generations of women from shtetl to Princeton professor in “Mazel” (Viking Penguin). Goldstein and Goodman have completed new novels; Abraham is working on her third.

The interest in Jewish themes may be part

of the wave of multiculturalism — from African American to Asian American — that has captured public imagination, says Gail Hochman, an agent with Brandt and Brandt Literary Agents. But, says Hochman, who represents several Jewish women authors, “Nobody promotes someone just because they are Jewish. They have to have real talent.”

Three themes predominate in contemporary Jewish fiction, says Hochman: the legacy of the Holocaust, survival in Israel or living in the secular world as a practicing Jew. One of her clients, Cheryl Sucher, spent 18 years crafting “The Rescue of Memory” (Berkley). The child of Holocaust survivors, Sucher was “haunted by the family heritage entrusted to her: Thou Shalt Not Forget.” Katie Singer’s first novel, “The Wholeness of a Broken Heart” (Riverhead), is the product of a nine-year odyssey. Singer left her job as writer-in-residence at South Boston High School and headed to the West to write, using her own family stories as inspiration. Her cast of strong female characters probe the complexities of mother-daughter relationships over four generations.

“Many women are focusing on their heritage and their link to the past,” says Cindy Spiegel, co-editorial director at Riverhead Books, who publishes both Singer and Abraham. “Through our stories we know ourselves. There’s an oral, Old-World quality to their writing. They are letting previous generations speak for themselves.” But their stories transcend the conventional. They are about transgressions and superstitions, laced with a mystical element. “They address questions of meaning and faith,” says Spiegel. “It’s a way to talk about all the old questions.”

Laura Mathews, senior editor at Putnam, calls it “curious but coincidental” that she has just published two books with Jewish subthemes: “Louisa,” by Simone Zelitch, a reinterpretation of the story of Ruth and Naomi, and “Saving Elijah,” by Fran Dorf, based on the devastating experience of losing her son in 1994. Though these books have strong appeal for Jewish readers, Mathews emphasizes that she falls in love with the stories first — then thinks about their marketability.

While most of today’s writers are of Ashkenazic heritage, a few Sephardic women are transplanting their roots into novelistic soil. For example, Ruth Knafo Setton, a Moroccan-born writer, explores the legend of Suleika, a 17-year-old Jewish martyr, in “The Road to Fez,” a novel of love and self-discovery (Counterpoint).

The 200-plus Jewish book fairs held during November and December capitalize on the demand for Jewish writers. Carolyn Starman Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Council, which created the Jewish Book Fair network to promote the reading of Jewish books, says the book fair industry can make or break a book, generating sales of $3 million during the two-month period.

But, notes Hessel, the audience for these books reaches beyond the Jewish market. “Society has become more open. What Jewish women have to say is of interest to the American public.” Isaacs agrees. “If we’re willing to read novels about medieval monks a la ‘The Name of the Rose’ or Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, about a little Anglican lady in a small town in England, then why shouldn’t we read about American Jews?”

Precedent Setting

Judge Pauline Nightingale, 90, says her mother taught her never to question the teacher’s authority. But when she entered the workforce after graduating from law school, she had no choice: authorities tried to keep her from practicing law because she was a woman. Not only did she learn to question authority, but she fought back and won.

Born Pauline Friedman to an Orthodox mother and a secular father, she grew up in Depression-era Boyle Heights. At 12 years old, she started working alongside the all-male crew in her father’s auto parts store.

Inspired by news articles about legal cases that her father discussed with her during work, she enrolled in evening classes at Los Angeles College of Law after graduating from UCLA in 1928. Nightingale — the only woman in her class — graduated valedictorian and summa cum laude, and passed the bar exam her first time in 1932.

Anti-Semitism was rampant in the larger legal firms, so she entered a practice with two Jewish men. A few years later, the firm was still struggling and she decided to look for a job in another field.

She took a non-legal interviewer position with the California Department of Employment. “Men [normally] interviewed men and women interviewed women,” she says. “But at that time the war was on and there was a shortage of men. So, I became the first woman to interview men.”

When she heard that there was an opening for a labor commissioner, a job in which she would enforce the working regulations for woman and minors, she realized it was a “golden opportunity” to work as an attorney. But the position was only open to men. “I protested the restriction,” she says.

After she passed the exams, she was told that she would have to work “irregular hours” from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. — a last-ditch effort to dissuade her from taking the job. Instead, she accepted the position and worked those hours for a full year.

When she was finally transferred to the day shift, she hoped that she would finally be able to use her legal knowledge. Instead, she was assigned to check businesses to make sure that the urinals in the men’s toilets were adequate. She had never so much as seen a urinal before, but did the job for six months.

Her next job finally put her legal skills to use. She spent 20 years working as counsel for State Labor Commissioner Sigmund Arywitz recovering wages and vacation pay, and enforcing lien laws.

Then in 1963, Nightingale applied for a worker’s compensation judgeship, along with five other women. “They still didn’t want women,” Nightingale says. “All of the women passed the written exam, but we were disqualified during the oral exam.” Three of the women reapplied, and despite some difficulty all passed. Nightingale went on to serve as a judge for 10 years.

After stepping down from the bench in 1973, she became active in ORT, Technion and Hadassah. She belongs to three congregations: Knesset Israel, Temple Shalom, and Temple Emanuel (she is especially fond of Rabbi Laura Geller.)

Nightingale was recently presented with the Outstanding Older Worker in California award and a Lifetime Achievement Award by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. “I was impressed that I received the awards, considering the fact that I’m a woman.”

Despite these and other accolades, she isn’t resting on her laurels. Nightingale spends less time in the courtroom these days and more writing letters to the California Supreme Court. “I still haven’t achieved what I want to achieve. I have cases I filed back from 1986 that I’m still fighting.”

Nightingale is happy to have seen the number of women studying law increase from almost nothing to 50 percent in her lifetime.

“I still think this is a man’s world, but women have made tremendous progress,” Nightingale says.

Alexis Sherman contributed to this article .

Clinton and the Feminists

For many Jewish women, the feminist movement hasbeen the key political event of our lifetimes. It has given us rolemodels, women of great personal power and intellectual agility, andallowed us to venture into unprecedented careers and lifestyles.Arguably, the reason so many Jewish women were drawn to feminism isthat it articulated the dream of personal freedom and the mandate ofpolitical activism contained within our own spiritual tradition, thepursuit of tikkun olam.

Having said that, the women’s movement today is,if not completely dead, at least lacking vital signs. It lacks acompelling, updated dream that can keep hope and focus alive for thegeneration of young women who reject it as old hat. The forcedresponse of feminist leaders last week to the Clinton sex scandals isonly the latest proof that our daughters are right — that feministleaders, of all people, do not know what women want.

Patricia Ireland of the National Organization forWomen, responding to Kathleen Willey’s case against presidentialgroping, suggested that Clinton may be a “sexual predator.” GloriaSteinem, writing in the Op-Ed pages of last Sunday’s New York Times,defends the chief executive as a man who committed no harassment,since, unlike Sen. Bob Packwood and Clarence Thomas, Clinton can take”no” for an answer.

“Welcome sexual behavior is about as relevant tosexual harassment as borrowing a car is to stealing one,” Steinemwrote.

These viewpoints, polar opposites though theywere, are appallingly inadequate. Ireland’s answer was merelyrhetorical overkill. But Steinem’s tortured pursuit of a legalloophole for her president — redefining sexual harassment soambiguously that even Casanova could slip through — is aself-inflicted wound, one that opens her up to charges that themovement she herself helped found is merely a shill for politicalpragmatism.

The fact is that most women have moved on frombitter sexual politics that marked its beginnings nearly threedecades ago. Male vs. female rhetoric has given way to a politics ofreconciliation between the sexes. We want an end to the sexualhostility that still seems to permeate the dating scene, theworkplace and the home.

With this background of personal regret, many ofus view the Clinton matter with a new sophistication, not because weare Democrats but because there are larger issues at stake thanbuilding a case for another impeachment.

Most women, like Americans in general, believethat the president’s private life is none of our business, and itwould be great if some feminist leaders said so. That they can’t,reveals the basic problem at the core of the current feminist agenda:its irrelevance to most women’s lives. Women’s issues today are homeissues: the decline of public education; the psychological problemsof young women, including massive eating disorders; and the spiritualdecline of community and family, including problems facing men.Feminism arose 30 years ago as a response to thwarted ambitions andpersonal desires. It was never supposed to be part of the old-boynetwork, defending or defeating friend or foe.

Many Jewish feminists, once galvanized by anational political agenda that responded to their needs, have alreadyfled the secular political fold. With the exception of abortionrights, they are turning their attention to the home. Young Jewishwomen today are reinvigorating volunteer organizations, takingcourses in Torah or attending rabbinical school. When it comes totrue domestic crisis, secular feminists are as relevant as theDaughters of the American Revolution.

There’s no doubt that the whole matter ofClinton’s sex life is unsavory. The president is no choirboy; he toyswith women’s affections in a gross and cruel way. But Gennifer,Paula, Monica and Kathleen — each of the women who have come forthwith stories against Clinton — are equally manipulative andexploitative. There’s no victim among them, and it belittles greatwomen’s causes to insist that we must respond to matters as trivialas this.

The public’s interest in this scandal is purely amatter of prurience. There is no feminist issue here, including thematter of sexual harassment. Feminists last week were trying tocapture a sense of their own centrality to the political controversy,but they are mistaken: They have no constituency.

America in the late 1990s is influenced more byspiritual issues than political agenda. The reason Kenneth Starr isuniversally loathed by the American public is that he is stalkingClinton like prey, hunting a man already mortally wounded. One wouldexpect that feminism would bring empathy to the public debate, not arewritten version of “Stand by Your Man.”

Women are tired of male-bashing; they’re exhaustedfrom partisanship. They want something more from their feministleadership than a sense that the workplace is a hostile environmentand that men are untrustworthy allies. And they want to be able todenounce a man whose sexual behavior is outrageous without bringinghim to ruin. Both Ireland and Steinem’s responses lack the basiccandor, the willingness to call Clinton foul without going for blood.Sad, indeed, for a movement whose first vision was to end politics asusual.

Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of TheJewish Journal. She hosts a live chat on Thursdays at 8 p.m. onAmerican Online, Keyword: Jewish Chat. Her e-mail address


March 13, 1998Shabbat, AmericanStyle


March 13, 1998The PublicMan


March 6, 1998Taster’sChoice


February 27, 1998 ALiberal Feminist Meets Modern Orthodoxy


February 20, 1998Spinning theWeb


February 13, 1998How Do We DoIt?


February 6, 1998One by One byOne


January 30, 1998TheDaughter


January 23, 1998Babysitters NoMore


January 16, 1998FalseAlarms


November 28, 1997As AmericanAs…


November 21, 1997The ThirteenWants


November 14, 1997Music to MyEars


November 7, 1997Four Takes on50


October 31, 1997ChallengingHernandez


October 24, 1997CommonGround


October 17, 1997Taking Off theMask


October 10, 1997Life’s a MixedBag


October 3, 1997And Now ForSomething Completely Different


September 26, 1997An OpenHeart


September 19, 1997My BronxTale


September 12, 1997 — Of Goddesses andSaints


August 22, 1997 — Who is Not a Jew


August 15, 1997 — A LegendaryFriendship


July 25, 1997 — A Perfect Orange


July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own


July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes


July 4, 1997 — Meet theSeekowitzes


June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life


June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites

Reality Bites

Are seniors at Milken Community High School really “Wildcats” after all?

Aaron Fishman, outgoing student body president, told me that earlier this year, students tried to change the school’s sports mascot from the Wildcats to “something more Jewish.”

“We wanted a symbol that would represent us as Jews out in the world,” he said. The Wildcats had an extraordinary year, winning league championships in basketball, softball, swimming and baseball. “But after talking about it a long time, we said, ‘Being Jewish is not in a symbol; it’s in our behavior, the things we do in the world.’ So we kept the name.”

The story, posing the conflict between Jewish and secular values, seemed apocryphal last week after Senior Prank Nite got out of hand.

Here’s what happened, in an incident that has been the subject of rumor and hyperbole throughout the last week: Prank Nite, that venerated tradition of seniors cutting loose after final exams, has been an accepted, if problematic, institution at Milken. Students talked openly in front of faculty about plans to “T.P.” (toilet paper) several school buildings and to bring four chickens onto campus, cooping them up in an area large enough to make it appear they were being set free. Milken students are, God knows, a sweet bunch, a tame bunch, destined for fine careers as rabbis, lawyers and community leaders. There are five prayer minyanim on campus (including one for “doubters.”) These students are so committed to Jewish learning, they spurned Ditch Day because it competed with the Senior Sermon (on the Torah portion of the week).

And they’ve got great ruach, school spirit. They raised $1,000 in a two-day “Tzedakah Fair”; held a walk-a-thon for camp scholarships in memory of Jamie Silverman, the Milken student killed on TWA Flight 800; and wore black tape on their sports uniforms to signify the year of mourning for Silverman and two other students, Avi Gesundheit and Michael Lewis (the latter two killed in a car crash soon after graduation). The yearbook is dedicated to the missing three.

The seniors never considered anything as risqué as making a fish pond out of the campus driveway or dragging a cow upstairs to school headquarters, as other Los Angeles seniors have done. If the Milken administration objected in advance, it looked the other way. A joke’s a joke. Chickens are funny.

On the evening of June 4, 38 of the 53 seniors built the chicken coop, T.P.’d the school and doused the campus in shaving cream, spraying the words “Class of 1997 rules!” After 25 minutes, the job was done. Everyone left but a small group of students, a security guard and several of his adult friends. The next morning, there was glue in three door locks and thumbtacks on at least one door knob (obscured by shaving cream); garbage buried the campus driveway; broken beer bottles were strewn on the teacher parking lot; dog feces was left in a bag in the faculty lounge.

Lee Chernotsky, senior class vice president, picks up the story. “When I got to campus the next day, I was horrified. We all were. I was in a suit, but I immediately changed my clothes and got to work, cleaning up. All of us did. We worked for hours.”

Nevertheless, the administration went ballistic. There were three senior-class meetings, a parent-administration meeting, and each student was brought in individually to see Headmaster Bruce Powell, who concedes, “I was upset.” You can imagine what was on his mind: In this community, bad P.R. can be lethal. The five-year effort to create a viable Jewish community high school (with 560 students expected next year, Milken is the largest non-Orthodox high school in the nation) could be ditched in a garbage heap.

Powell ordered every student who was on campus during Prank Nite to do teshuvah (repentance) — to pay $50 (toward an estimated $2,000 in cleanup) and to complete 40 hours of community service; the main culprits got 100 hours. The Grad Night party was canceled for all but the handful of students who had stayed away. The security guard was let go.

When my phone began to ring after Prank Nite, the rumors I heard were unbelievable: that the students had spray-painted swastikas on the school buildings, that a Torah had been defaced. Parents and community members alike were wondering “what’s going on at Milken” that Jewish students could go off that way?

I have to inform my readers that the rumors aren’t true. Compare Milken’s Prank Nite with that at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. Seniors there brought manure, fish heads and a dozen chickens, plus they T.P.’d the campus, glued locks and scratched graffiti on the walls. At Mira Costa, 30 students were disciplined with either a $75 fine or 15 hours community service, Principal John Giovati told me. He termed the Milken punishments “understandable,” if somewhat excessive.

“This incident’s been a tremendous learning experience for me,” Fishman told me. “Even though it was only a tiny handful of students who lost control, we all take responsibility for them and their actions. For this, we’ll make amends.”

These Milken students are responsible, sober, concerned young adults. I’ll remember them that way.

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is

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The Family Man

The restaurant billboard advertised its Father’s Day brunch in letters too large to miss.

“If I had a father, we could take him out to eat,” my daughter, Samantha, said, as we drove by.

Samantha’s voice held no accusation; she was entirely matter of fact. But I took it personally anyway; her words signaled that my severed ties with Jim could hurt her as well.

I squirmed helplessly. I can squirrel and save for her hiking boots, singing lessons, the dress for the family party; I’d move the world for my girl. But there’s nothing I can do about getting her a dad.

My friends get angry with me when I turn on myself.

“So what,” says Nessa, her voice growing tight. “So you couldn’t get her a dad. She had her own dad, and she’ll remember him.”

And Arlyne, newly single, gets practically frantic at my self-castigation.

“Listen,” she says as we sip our lattes, “I can’t stand it when a guy uses my children to get to me.”

If that’s what happened, I was a willing co-conspirator.

It is true and can be said without a trace of shame: No mother can resist a family man. I loved the man who loved my daughter. I couldn’t help it.

I had relegated Father’s Day to the ranks of unobserved customs, like Christmas or Chinese New Year, one that others might honor with full regalia but that we, in our family, spent at the movies or otherwise ignored.

And then came Jim. Whatever a dad could mean, he was it.

Last Father’s Day, Samantha and I took Jim to the Getty Museum and then out to dinner. We each felt audacious, risky. Jim had never been a dad. Samantha hadn’t had a dad in a long time. And, after so many years going solo, I no longer knew what a dad to my daughter might be.

“You’re not my father, and you never will be!” Samantha screamed at him outside the Getty parking garage.

“You’re right,” Jim said. He didn’t want to be her father, full of fearsome duty and overweening expectation. But being her dad — authoritative, respecting, care-giving in a benign sort of way — this was something he might be able to do well. He assisted with her homework, discussed her music, attended her concerts and singing lessons. He bought her a guitar. There was no “we” without her; wherever Jim and I went, Samantha was expressly invited to come.

“Don’t you two want to spend more time alone?” she asked. “Don’t you need some personal space, some private time together?”

If only we’d listened.

Our three-way connection seemed preordained, like a trinomial equation set into motion long ago; he was the kind of man I’d promised Samantha years before, one who could love us both.

At the Getty, Jim showed Samantha the red figures painted on black fragments of Greek urns, the remnants of a great civilization that had come and gone. At dinner, he let her taste his wine. I watched them from my side of the triangle and felt myself begin to breathe. We were a threesome; the number three, in Hebrew, is gimel, meaning full and ripe.

He was among the few “dads” to attend the high school parent meetings. He knew the dean, the music coach and her instructors by sight. He e-mailed the math teacher on her behalf, arguing that Samantha understood more algebra than her grades indicated. Sometimes, he spoke for me. Samantha judged her success by his approval and was crushed by his criticism. He was a dad in every way.

We were a family, but not a couple, and that’s why we hung on so long.

Now comes the sad part. The end.

When love fades, is it God’s error? Our own fault? Or just a fact of life?

I give the three of us this much: We meant it for good. Jim loved being a dad. Samantha loved having a dad. He loved being part of “us.” She loved having a larger “us.” And, among everything else, I loved saying, “Table for three.”

Even when things grew bad between Jim and me as man and woman, when our conversations became increasingly about Samantha and less about ourselves, as a dad, he kept at it. Up to the last minute, he judged her party dress for appropriateness, escorted her to family dinners, and gave her guidance on hiking gear; Samantha was still telling her friends about going to the movies with her “parents,” taking great pleasure in an extra “s.” She didn’t lose faith.

“I only want what makes you happy,” Samantha said.

“But Jim…” I started to say.

“I’ll get over it,” she said. “I’m stronger than you think.”

But what about me?

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is

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