Aboard the S.S. Jewlicious

Slave hunters, reggae stars, cabaret, slam poetry — it was just another weekend at Jewlicious Festival, the eclectic, diverse Jewish festival put on by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.

Jewlicious is a grass-roots organization based in Los Angeles whose aim is to unite Jews of every background in a “dynamic, judgment free, intellectually, spiritually, and communally stimulating environment,” Rachel Bookstein, the festival’s co-director — and Yonah’s wife — wrote to the Journal in an e-mail.


Held from Feb. 28 to March 2 on the permanently docked Queen Mary hotel and ocean liner in Long Beach, about 400 people, most in their 20s, attended the 10th annual event that was part Jewish spring break party and part Shabbat learning marathon.

Photo credit: Yitz Epstein Photography

There were dozens of performers and speakers. Aaron Cohen, an author and human rights activist, discussed his travels around the world to help free people who are being trafficked as slaves. Also aboard was Rabbi Shmuel Skaist, a rock star, Phish-loving Chasidic rabbi, who lectured on overcoming personal and spiritual challenges.

There were prayer services for the Shlomo Carlebach-inclined and for those who wanted to relive summer camp songs. There were classes taught by Hollywood veterans, seasoned rabbis and experienced social activists. And of course, there was food — lots of it.

Returning from last year’s festival were Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, who in 2013, made their first public appearance at Jewlicious after leaving their family’s infamous Westboro Baptist Church, which is widely known for blaming America’s ills on, among other things, its acceptance of homosexuals.

The two sisters spoke to nearly 100 people about how far they’ve come in the past year. Grace, for example, said she regularly attends Friday night Shabbat services at Temple Beth Sholom, a Reform synagogue in Topeka, Kansas that she used to picket — and which her family still pickets. 

On the second night of the festival, after 24 hours of food, learning, partying and some sleep mixed in, the Queen Mary filled up even more as people drove down from Los Angeles — some on a Jewlicious party bus — for the weekend’s main attraction: a concert with Moshav Band and Jewish reggae/dub star Matisyahu, who spent the weekend aboard the ship.

Photo credit: Yitz Epstein Photography

Cindy Kaplan, a 27-year-old Angeleno who was attending her first Jewlicious Festival, reflected on the boat party as she cooled off after Matisyahu’s performance.

“It’s amazing to experience Shabbat with people from all across California,” she said. “From people who are already connected — doing Shabbat every week — to people who it’s their first time.”

Calendar February 22-28

SAT | FEB 22


Temple Isaiah and First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME) are joining forces to remind us all how powerful a bit of peace can be. The program will inclulde prayer, songs and stories. Former gang members, victims of violence and City Attorney Mike Feuer will all speak, and community organizations will offer materials on services they provide, such as mental health counseling, reducing gun violence and transitional housing. Although the issues are serious, the commitment to the causes is a celebration. Refreshments will be served. Sat. 5 p.m. Free. FAME Church, 2270 S. Harvard Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 730-7750. ” target=”_blank”>luckmanarts.org.

SUN | FEB 23


The cello is arguably one of the most beautiful-sounding instruments, and when Lysy is playing, there’s little to argue. He’s performed with the Royal Philharmonic and the Israel Sinfonietta, and collaborated with Yuri Temirkanov and Sir Yehudi Menuhin. He’s been a professor of cello at UCLA since 2003, after a successful professorship at McGill University, and this afternoon he will perform work by Eric Zeisl, Ernst Bloch and more. Sun. Noon. Free. The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 100 S. The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704. MON | FEB 24


J Street hosts Major General and former head of the Mossad Danny Yatom at a town hall meeting that aims to make peace in Israel a reality. Yatom, who is also a former member of the Knesset, will speak with J Street Vice President Rachel Lerner and the Los Angeles Times’ Nick Goldberg about what pro-Israel Americans can do as Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to offer a framework for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. With town hall meetings taking place all around the country, this is a chance to be part of the big picture. There will also be cookies. RSVP requested. Mon. 7 p.m. Free. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 643-0339.WED | FEB 26


If you believe what goes around comes around, consider coming to this! World-renowned speaker Rabbi Dovid Kaplan gets streetwise about our actions and their consequences (and benefits). In a unique and modern way, he helps clarify Jewish issues. Originally from Chicago, he is currently the senior lecturer at Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem, so his visit to Los Angeles is a special treat. There will be a reception preceding the program. Wed. 7 p.m. $5 suggested donation. Nessah Synagogue, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400. THU | FEB 27


If children are the future, we’d better equip them with all the tools they need for success, and ETTA is just the organization to do it. Join Harvard Medical School psychologist Robert Brooks as he helps map out the most effective ways to nurture motivation and resilience in young people.  Parents, teachers and professionals are all welcome to learn from this expert on school climate, family relationships and positive work environments. The program includes lectures, a Q-and-A session with Brooks and refreshments throughout. Thu. 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. $100 (general), $75 (per person, for groups of 10). Summit View, 6455 Coldwater Canyon Ave., Valley Glen. (818) 985-3882. ” target=”_blank”>valleyperformingartscenter.org

FRI | FEB 28


OK guys, when was the last time you were on a ship? That’s what I thought. Jewlicious makes it easy to be maritime with its weekend-long party aboard the Queen Mary. There is something for everyone, from a slam poetry workshop, to a solar cooker Iron Chef workshop, to yoga and jogging, to dance parties with a performance by Moshav and Matisyahu. Attendees have an option to sleep in first-class staterooms, but can also opt to lodge on land. Do yourself a solid and risk the sea legs. Fri. 12:30 p.m. Through Sunday. Rates vary depending on package purchased. Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach. (310) 277-5544.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: July 20–26




Are you young, Jewish and professional? The Young Jewish Professionals of Los Angeles’ annual Summer White Party is back, and bigger and bolder than ever. Avoid the tired club and lounge scene at this poolside garden party. Enjoy a premium open bar, DJ and the privacy of a home away from your own. White cocktail attire, because that’s the summer way. YJP hasn’t forgotten what day it is, though, and the night will also include Havdalah under the stars. Ages 21 and over. $40 (online), $50 (door). Private residence in Beverly Hills. (310) 692-4190. MON JULY 22


Join the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust for a discussion of faith during hard times. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, the Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, moderates a panel that will try to make sense of the senseless. The evening will include a host of interfaith voices, including the Rev. Scott Colglazier of the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles; Fred Siegel, elder in the Beverly Hills Jehovah’s Witness Congregation; and Imam Jihad Turk, president of Bayan Claremont, an Islamic graduate school at Claremont Lincoln University. Mon. 6:30 p.m. $40 (preferred seating), $20 (general seating), $15 (ages 12 and under). Paramount Studios, 5555 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. (323) 465-5077. “>booksoup.com.



Nothing says party like vegetables and dirt! Join the Young Adults of Los Angeles for the group’s third annual summer soiree. Festivities include planting a vegetable garden to donate to YALA’s program partners, live music, a photo booth, drinks, food and complimentary parking. Leave your green thumb print and take a bit of the L.A. Jewish community back home with you. Wed. 7 p.m. $15 (Ben-Gurion Society and Chai Society members), $20 (community presale), $25 (walk-ins). Tiato, 2700 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 761-8247. THU JULY 25


In this new documentary, director Emmanuel Itier celebrates women healing the world. First exploring the ancient goddess cultures, Itier journeys through the history of women and interviews 100 influential visionaries and scholars. Author and futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard and Austrian-born social activist Riane Eisler are just two of the featured interviews that showcase what the Jewish woman’s place has been in bettering our planet. Discussion with director following the screening. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $11 (general), $9 (seniors and students), $7 (members). Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456. FRI JULY 26


Leave your inside-museum voices at home. Longtime pianist, composer and arranger George Kahn brings his all-star band to LACMA Jazz. Featuring vocalists Courtney Lemmon and Gina Saputo, Kahn and his cohorts will provide easy listening. Maybe you’ll even hear some of the latest off of his sixth and most recent album, “Cover Up!” Fri. 6 p.m. Free. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 867-3000. “>levittpavilionpasadena.org

Letters to the Editor: Prager on Newsweek’s Top Rabbi list, Slavin Library closure, AEPi

Rabbinic Recognition

I have an answer to Dennis Prager’s column criticizing the annual list of 50 top rabbis published by Newsweek/Daily Beast (“Time to End the ‘Top Rabbis’ List,” March 29). Prager complains that the Newsweek ranking brings the cult of celebrity to the fragile institution of the rabbinate, inflicting “gratuitous pain” on those rabbis who don’t make the cut and inflating the egos of those who do.

It’s too bad that Prager missed the Forward’s latest project, published a day before the Newsweek list, in which we profiled 36 rabbis who have inspired Jews throughout the country. The rabbis were selected from hundreds and hundreds of nominations submitted by our readers, who sent us compelling stories of men and women offering inspirational leadership in synagogues, classrooms, Hillels and hospices. Only two of the rabbis cited in our project were also on the Newsweek list, illustrating how very different the process and criteria were. And we didn’t rank the 36 rabbis, preferring to present them as an assemblage of the extraordinary work quietly done on behalf of the Jewish people.

The Forward is following up on this project with hard-hitting analytical stories on the challenges facing the American rabbinate, but we wanted to start by listening to our readers. I have no beef against the Newsweek list — the editor this year was a fine journalist who used to work at the Forward. But there are other ways to highlight inspired leadership, and we have shown how it can be done.

Jane Eisner
The Forward 

Lamenting Library’s Closure

We read with dismay about the impending closure of the Slavin Family Children’s Library (“Slavin Library to Close,” March 22). As a whole, its collection represents the best in Jewish children’s books, music, DVDs, programming and more. Broken up, it is bubkes.

It is disconcerting that the collection can’t be placed in a more accessible and visible location. A library is so much more than the sum of its parts! They are synergistic enterprises that give a foundation to its ethnic, religious community. Cities with smaller Jewish populations than Los Angeles, such as San Diego, Montreal and Cleveland, support Jewish literacy with libraries. While the library has never been a priority of the Federation or the BJE — otherwise resources would have been found to support it — it is still a dream of these two professional librarians to lift the children’s library out of the 6505 space and situate it in the current nexus of the community where families may visit and use it on the way to and from schools, markets, bakeries and so forth, fully integrated in communal life.

Abigail Yasgur
Sylvia Lowe
Los Angeles

Two Jews, Three Opinions?

I commend Jonah Lowenfeld for covering the story of the first three UC student governments to vote (overwhelmingly) to approve resolutions urging their campus administrations and the University of California as a whole to divest from companies that either assist or profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (“Three UC Student Governments Endorse BDS,” March 22). I commend him for including the voices and perspectives of Palestinian students and Students for Justice in Palestine activists in his story. And while he included the voices of Jewish students and activists who opposed these measures, he completely left out the voices of the many Jewish activists both on and off campuses who promote the non-violent BDS movement and the rights of Palestinians to equality, justice and self-determination in their homeland. Two Jews, three opinions, but one is being silenced within the Jewish community and the Jewish Journal.

Estee Chandler
Toluca Lake


The Greek Life

As a longtime reader of the Journal and also of David Suissa, I must comment on his column regarding fraternities (“Life of AEPi,” March 8).

I am a member of a ZBT fraternity (Michigan State University ’57), and I remember that McGill University in Montreal, at that time, had a ZBT chapter on that campus. ZBT is still a viable and active fraternity and has been around longer than AEPi. I am still in contact with many of the “brothers” I knew then.

Ted Toback


The article “Moving and Shaking” (March 29) omitted Rabbi Sarah Hronsky, senior rabbi at Beth Hillel Day School, from the entry about the Passover celebration at Los Angeles City Hall.

In the column “Jewlicious Works” (March 15), the Marx Brothers’ stateroom scene was from “A Night at the Opera,” not “Monkey Business.”

Letters to the Editor: Settlements, Rice, Jewlicious, Secularism

The Two-State Solution

David Suissa has been writing a brilliant monologue, telling Los Angeles Jews that Israel’s settlements are legal and Israel’s enemies are so very afraid. The problem with his monologue is that it will convince no one who is not already convinced.
Legal or illegal, we all know that the presence of settlements makes contiguous Palestinian territory ever more difficult and thus the possibility of a two-state solution ever more contorted and disruptive for Israel. Two out of three Israelis believe that a two-state solution is imperative for the future of a Jewish democratic Israel, and far more than two in three American Jews concur; two thirds also believe that it is not on the horizon.
But if the strategy — not the tactics — is to search for a two-state solution, then the settlements are unwise at least. I personally believe that they are catastrophic, not because I believe in the peace process but because I think that a divorce between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the only way to preserve a Jewish and democratic state.
But keep telling us, my dear friend David, what we want to hear and we may end up like the Republican Party without appeal to any demographic except our own.
Michael Berenbaum
Los Angeles
David Suissa responds: If someone accuses me unfairly of being a thief, and then tells the whole world that I’m a thief, I’m going to push back and defend myself, even if it’s not “practical” or “strategic.” If Israel doesn’t start defending itself against these lethal accusations, it will become the most boycotted and delegitimized country on the planet. And that’s not good for the Jews or for the peace process. Please read my complete response to critics here.

Rice, U.S. Champions of Human Rights?
How dare Condoleezza Rice defile the podium at UCLA by lauding the United States as “a worldwide champion of human rights,” when she personally approved the use of waterboarding, prohibited by the Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994 (“Rice Dissects American Policies,” March 8).
According to a declassified 2009 Senate Intelligence Committee report, in July 2002 Rice approved the CIA’s request to subject alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah to waterboarding and personally conveyed the administration’s approval to CIA Director George Tenet. The next month Zubaydah was illegally waterboarded at least 83 times.
The Senate Armed Services Committee also released an exhaustive report detailing direct links between the CIA’s harsh interrogation program and abuses of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. While Rice admitted that she had attended meetings where the CIA interrogation request was discussed, she omitted her direct role in approving the program in her written statement to the committee.
Instead of giving high-priced lectures, Rice should be huddling with her lawyers preparing her defense to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Stephen Rohde
Chair, ACLU Foundation of Southern California 
Founder, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace

Jewlicious: He Gets It
I found Rob Eshman’s article about the recent Jewlicious Festival insightful and encouraging (“Whatever Works,” March 15). It took just one visit and Rob got it. He understood clearly the Jewish outreach value Jewlicious brings to our Jewish community. And while I think it’s important to mention that The Federation and Valley Alliance have been supportive of Jewlicious in the past, there has been very little organized or overall support of Jewlicious. If reaching out beyond the usual suspects and reinvigorating Jewish life for young people is a priority, it would be a tragedy if this turned out to be the last Jewlicious Festival.
Larry Cohen
West Hills

Prager on Secularism
In the first sentence of his article, Dennis Prager writes, “Most non-Orthodox Jews venerate secularism” (“Secularism,” March 15). If I were a rabbi at a Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or nonaffiliated temple, I think I would be quite surprised to find out that I am really a closet atheist who is hostile to religion. And I would be even more dismayed to learn that “most” of my congregants are just as deluded as I am. 
Michael Asher
Valley Village
Dennis Prager responds: First, “most” does not mean “all.” Second, “non-Orthodox Jews” does not mean “non-Orthodox rabbis”; they compose a fraction of 1 percent of non-Orthodox Jews. Third, sarcasm is not argument.


The article “Slavin Library to Close” (March 22) incorrectly indicated that the decision to close the Slavin Children’s Library was made jointly by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and BJE, Builders of Jewish Education. The decision was made exclusively by Federation.

Jewlicious works

Saturday afternoon on the upper deck of the Queen Mary, six young Jewish adults were engaged in a heated discussion. The topic:  Men or women– who's hornier?

I overheard it, and marveled at the participants– a group of people you wouldn't ever expect in the same room: a svelte dark-haired woman in skinny jeans and tight top; a man with the long beard and knitted kippah of a Chasid; a couple of guys of the buff, secular Israeli type; a blond-haired woman in a modest skirt; and a man whose tzitzit spun about his waist as he gestured while making his points. 

Women have a much stronger sex drive, the man with the tzitzit said, but society forces them to suppress it. Then, as if to answer the unasked challenge — How would you know? — he added, “What happens at Jewlicious, stays at Jewlicious.”

Jewlicious is an annual gathering of Jews, ages 18 to 36, that celebrates and explores all the different ways of being Jewish. There are reggae and rock bands. There are at least five kinds of religious services. There is Torah-inspired yoga, and a guy promoting the healing properties of marijuana, and talks about serving the poor, and about why “Jewrotica” is better than erotica, and kabbalah, and at least 60 other topics, speakers and activities. 

I’d never been to a Jewlicious conference before — I graduated from that demographic during the Clinton administration. But I drove down this time to lead a discussion on Israel with Consul General of Israel David Siegel, and once I came on board, I didn’t want to leave.

If you cross a summer camp with a senior seminar, add a waft of 1 a.m. college dorm room and toss in some scotch and a tent revival, you get Jewlicious. 

You also get yet more evidence that Judaism continues to defy all predictions of its imminent demise, despite, it seems, the unconscionable, half-hearted support Jewlicious gets from the self-appointed guardians of Jewish continuity. 

About 400 people attend Jewlicious. The mix has varied over its nine years of existence, but this year it was 40 percent Orthodox, 30 percent Conservative and Reform, and 30 percent who-the-hell-knows?

But the labels don’t do justice to the energy. Many “cutting-edge” Jewish groups tend toward the homogenous — same practice, same age, same politics. At Jewlicious, identities and ideologies combine, conflict, merge and blend. During my evening at Jewlicious, I met with two Orthodox brothers who make their own label of kosher wine in Thousand Oaks; a single 30-something woman, quite secular, looking for a love connection; a Marine just back from Iraq trying to figure out his place in the Jewish community; and an Iranian-Jewish lawyer who called herself “Traditional, But.” That’s my pick for Best New Jewish Denomination.

For the past two years, Jewlicious has been held on the Queen Mary, the massive circa 1930 ocean liner now permanently docked in Long Beach. The setting adds to the sense of discovery: I wandered to the upper deck to find the impromptu debate on female sexuality, then into a hallway so packed with boisterous 20-somethings, where I had a flashback to the stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers’ “Monkey Business,” and then into an art deco ballroom where a band was setting up for a concert that would start at 10 p.m. and go all night. 

“You missed last night’s Torah study,” one young man told me. “It started at midnight.”

“What time did it end?” I asked.


While we were speaking, I was eating a Florentine-style cookie from the overflowing dessert buffet. It was excellent. 

“Rachel Bookstein made it,” the man said.

“The cookies?”

“All the desserts.”

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, Rachel, are the guiding force behind Jewlicious. 

Rachel Bookstein also programmed the entire event, while her husband, who created Jewlicious in 2004, ran the proceedings. They run it on insomnia, elbow grease and a few shekels. 

I’m not exaggerating. Just two paid staff and 40 volunteers pull off the event, relying on vendor discounts, in-kind donations, free presenters — and homemade desserts. Four families cover 70 percent of the budget, and participants pay according to their ability. Despite the hardships, the Jewlicious winter and summer festivals have created a turned-on alumni network of some 7500 souls. But major Jewish foundations, like overexcited children, often drop things that actually work for the next shiny idea.They have all discontinued their support for Jewlicious, forcing the Booksteins to turn away at least 200 potential attendees this year. In comes whatever’s new, out goes whatever works. 

Jewlicous could attract thousands. It could run parallel programs for the baby boomer or even the alter-kacker set. It is scalable and proven, and it is constantly starved for institutional support as mainstream organizations go off in search of some way to do what the Booksteins already excel at.

They run Jewlicious with a kind of effortless inclusivity and acceptance. At the Havdalah ceremony on deck under the stars, musician Sam Glaser sang while circles of participants swayed back and forth — some separated by gender, others mixing it up. You picked your shoulder to hold on to. 

People might scoff at the idea of such “cafeteria Judaism,” where people just select what suits them, whatever they’re comfortable with. Guess what: we all do that anyway

At least at Jewlicious you also come face to face with Jews and Judaisms that make you uncomfortable. And you can feel free to try them on, or not: After all, what happens at Jewlicious, stays at Jewlicious. 

Calendar Picks and Clicks: August 11-17, 2012

SAT | AUG 11

The Grammy-winning pop-rock icon played a series of sold-out shows at the Greek in the summer of 1972, which led to the multiplatinum double live album, “Hot August Night.” Forty years later, Diamond returns to the Greek stage to celebrate the anniversary of those concerts, performing such hits as “Sweet Caroline,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Solitary Man” and “I Am…I Said.” Sat. Through Aug 25. 8 p.m. $49-$250. Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 665-5857. greektheatrela.com.

SUN | AUG 12

Experts from the film industry—producer Robert Israel (“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”), documentarian Bette Jane Cohen (“The Spirit in Architecture: John Lautner”) and animator Brooke Keesling (“Boobie Girl”)—present clips of their work and discuss the moments and people who have inspired them. Sun. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Free. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. RSVP (323) 272-4574. sephardicfilmfestival.com.

A new print of 1924 Yiddish silent film masterpiece “Yidishe Glik” (“Jewish Luck”)—based on Sholem Aleichem’s satiric stories about daydreaming entrepreneur Menakhem Mendl—marks today’s 60th anniversary of the executions of 13 leading Jewish literary and civic figures in the former Soviet Union. Los Angeles Times and NPR film critic Kenneth Turan appears in person to introduce the screening. Sun. 5 p.m. Free. Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 389-8880. yiddishkayt.org.

TUE | AUG 14

The Russian-born singer-songwriter puts her multi-instrumental chops on full display on new singles “All the Rowboats,” a haunting sample-driven number, and “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas),” an upbeat piano-pop tune, from her new album, “What We Saw From the Cheap Seats.” Spektor has proven that she hasn’t lost her touch even after six albums. Tonight, she performs with special guest Only Son. Tue. 8 p.m. $39.50-$55. Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 665-5857. greektheatrela.com.

WED | AUG 15

The migration of approximately 1,000 Jewish settlers to the Dominican Republic during World War II – and the integration of Jews into Dominican society – forever changed the Caribbean nation. Tonight at the Skirball, an interactive Web documentary examines the relatively unknown history of the Jewish community in the Dominican Republic through the memory of the settlers and their descendants. A Q-and-A with directors Adrien Walter and Emmanuel Clemenceau follows. Wed. 8 p.m. $6 (general), $5 (Skirball members, full-time students). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

THU | AUG 16

Rock n’ roll meets religion at Jewlicious’ summer camp-style festival for young professionals (18 and over). Taking place over the course of four days and three nights, this annual overnighter features performances by reggae singer Pato Banton, acoustic-pop musician Ari Herstand, Mikey Pauker and others. Activities include horseback riding, mountain biking, late-night Torah learning, and discussions on social entrepreneurship and relationships, among other topics. Thu. Through Aug. 19. 3 p.m. $56-$699. Brandeis-Bardin Campus American Jewish University, 1101 Pepper Tree Lane, Brandeis. (310) 277-5544. jewliciousfestival.com.

Celebrated Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Venezuelan pianist Sergio Tiempo in a performance of quintessential American composer Aaron Copland’s four-movement “Symphony No. 3,” which fuses jazz, neoclassicism and modernism. Thu. 8 p.m. $1-$133. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. hollywoodbowl.com.

Friday | AUG 17

The latest production from Moriah Films, the Oscar-winning film division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, explores of the life and times of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism. Co-written and produced by Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and directed by Richard Trank, the film features narration by Ben Kingsley and stars Christoph Waltz as the voice of Herzl. “It Is No Dream” follows Herzl as he meets with kings, prime ministers, ambassadors, a sultan, a pope and government ministers in his quest to create a Jewish homeland. Fri. Various times. $11 (general), $8 (children under 12, seniors). Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836. laemmle.com.

Jewlicious offers pluralistic fun aboard the Queen Mary

“The Reform service is going crazy, the Conservative service is going crazy. Orthodox [service] is huge,” Josh Kaplan, a Jewlicious board member, said as he walked past the concierge to the Jewlicious merchandise booth.

Surrounded by black-and-white photographs of Winston Churchill, Bob Hope, Loretta Young and other historical and cultural figures, attendees of the eighth annual youth-oriented festival Jewlicious arrived onboard the Queen Mary on Feb. 24.

A carefree attitude defined the weekend festival. For the first time, it was a held on the retired ocean liner docked in Long Beach. In previous years, the festival, attended by college students and young adults, had been held at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach.

A blend of music, arts, lectures and Shabbat celebrations attracted approximately 700 people this year, with 350 people staying overnight.

On Friday night, “Blossom” and “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik discussed her Jewish journey during “Inside the Rabbi’s Studio,” with festival director Rabbi Yonah Bookstein. Raised secular, Bialik’s transition to Modern Orthodoxy began with her involvement at UCLA Hillel. “What I understood about [Judaism] became more intriguing than what was going on in the secular world,” Bialik said of her time as a UCLA undergraduate.

Short TED-style talks dominated on Friday, featuring Jewlicious blog creator David Abitbol (speaking on “Young American Jews and Israel”); Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Esther Kustanowitz (“Comedy, Connections and Today’s Jewish Community”); Tea Party member Michael Prell (“My Jew-ish Journey”); young adult and former Israel Defense Forces soldier Jay Schreiber (“Stories of a ‘Lone Solider’ ”) and Torah scribe Julie Seltzer (“Birthing the Torah”). Tahlia Miller, Matisyahu’s wife, examined “how personality affects relationships,” and Rav Shmuel Skaist led “Torah and Chulent,” the sole all-night event.

“The overall goal of Jewlicious is to create the best experiential weekend for young Jews in the country,” Bookstein said in an interview. “That’s always been our goal, and that’s what we constantly strive to achieve. As the years have progressed, we’ve had a lot of involvement with our participants, with feedback and their involvement in planning it.”

Hurrying around an 11 p.m. ice cream party in the ship’s Britannia Salon, a 7,500-square-foot room that once served as the Queen Mary’s second-class lounge, Bookstein described this year’s festival as “next level.” For the first time, festival-goers slept on site, bunking in the cruise ship’s cabins, as opposed to previous years, when they slept at hotels adjacent to the Jewish community center.

The venue also allowed for more freedom. In previous years, attendees were confined to the JCC. This year, they could walk anywhere on the boat. After a massive Shabbat dinner that had four long tables seating 50 to 80 people each, a bunch of students from California State University, Long Beach, ventured off to the Observation Bar, an art deco lounge with live music and cocktails.

After the TED-style talks, 20-year-old Becky Rudin, a member of Claremont Students for Israel at Claremont College, along with six female friends from Claremont who were at Jewlicious for the weekend, walked the ship’s deck, enjoying the evening’s cool air.

“I just wanted to get more involved in the community … and have an enlightening Jewish experience,” Rudin said.

Friday was filled with lectures, Shabbat and attendees getting to know each other — and their way around the ship — but the rest of the weekend featured live music and comedy. On Saturday night, ska and reggae band The Aggrolites and stand-up comedians Todd Barry and Moshe Kasher performed. The Los Angeles band Fool’s Gold filled in for Moshav, which had to cancel for personal reasons.

On Sunday, an acoustic concert with The Wellspring took place on the Captain’s Deck overlooking the Long Beach harbor and skyline. Later, a panel discussion examined “Jews and Cannabis,” workshops explored the Jewish art of paper cutting, and mimosas complemented an outdoor brunch.

“It was just so scenic and gorgeous,” Bookstein said of the weekend’s weather, but he could as well have been describing the event.

“The new venue really brought a whole new atmosphere to the festival; everybody was just raving about having it on the Queen Mary,” he said. “I think that with the success with 8.0 on the Queen Mary, we’re already looking forward to doing the ninth one there.”

LimmudLA, Jewlicious: Two gatherings, one goal

Over Presidents Day weekend last year, nearly 500 Jews of all affiliations holed up at the Hilton hotel in Costa Mesa to attend virtually round-the-clock lectures, workshops, musical performances and more. Volunteers serving as speakers covered the growth of European Jewry, alternative Jewish travel in the West Bank and whether morality can be achieved without God, among other topics. They were all participants of LimmudLA, the annual Jewish conference for study and community.

Then, at the end of February last year, approximately 900 college students and young professionals gathered in the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach, also for discussions — on topics including the unrest in Libya and Egypt, urban Jewish gardening and oil sustainability, to name a few — and for live music and comedy sets, and, yes, much more. These were attendees of Jewlicious, an annual Jewish arts, culture and music festival geared toward Jewish youth.

On its Web site, LimmudLA advertises itself as a “Jewish celebration of life and learning,” while the Jewlicious site bills its festival as “pluralistic, apolitical and about Jewish unity.” However, LimmudLA could as easily use the Jewlicious description — and vice versa — and both statements would be honest. Both are opportunities for Jewish education and are designed to be experiential, with multiple sessions happening simultaneously, and both cater to all affiliations, as well as the non-affiliated.

LimmudLA returns to the Hilton in Costa Mesa on Feb. 17- 19, and highlights at this year’s conference include discussions led by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author and educator Everett Fox, hip-hop artist Y-Love and Israeli academic Nathan Lopes Cardozo. More than 100 presenters, including rabbis, artists, academics and lots of lay people — for instance, an architect will discuss architecture at mikvehs worldwide — will lead the sessions.

Most LimmudLA speakers are local, but a handful travel here, from Israel and other countries. They’re all volunteers — no one is paid — including the out-of-towners. The lineup reflects Limmud’s attempt to be all things to all people.

“We’re interested in creating a space for people to get out of their comfort zone, to connect with other people and to be inspired to transform themselves and their communities,” said Yechiel Hoffman, executive director of LimmudLA.

Jewlicious is entering its eighth year, and fewer presenters are booked for Jewlicious than will be at LimmudLA, but the Jewlicious lineup is just as diverse. Ska and reggae band The Aggrolites are headlining; regulars Moshav and Venice, Calif.-based jazz-fusion band Dustbowl Revival are among the handful of musical performers. Mayim Bialik — the actress who became famous on “Blossom” and who now appears on CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” — is the festival’s keynote speaker, and discussion topics include alternative health, Israeli politics and relationships, and the entertainment industry. Irreverent stand-up comic Moshe Kasher also performs.

“We put the same amount of effort into both who’s presenting and who’s playing because we want the program to be compelling from a musical standpoint, and we also want it to be inspiring and thought provoking,” said Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, director of Jewlicious Festivals.

True to form, both events are as conducive to letting loose as they are to provocative conversation — and both offer new features this year.

At LimmudLA, an “open space” session will allow attendees to experience “free-form learning,” with participants deciding on topics of interest and forming groups to explore these during two-hour discussions, Hoffman said. Expert speakers will explore their ideas more intensely during TED-talk-style presentations, and attendees ages 18 to 30 will be eligible to receive subsidies for their admission by volunteering three hours each day via the YAD — Young Adult Development — program.

This year, LimmudLA will extend over three days, instead of four, making good on attendee feedback from last year’s conference that deemed programming on Monday unnecessary. This year’s conference begins on Friday and ends Sunday. Various deals are available for accommodations at the Hilton, depending on how many people are booked per room, and day passes are only available on Sunday.

Jewlicious, meanwhile, is undergoing a major venue change. This year’s festival, Feb. 24-26, will take place aboard the Queen Mary, the famous art deco cruise ship, harbored in Long Beach. Jewlicious’ programs will take place in the Queen’s Salon, a 4,600-square-foot room that once served as the first-class main lounge for the ship. Shabbat services will be held on the ship’s sun deck, overlooking the ocean and the bay.

“The move to the Queen Mary was a way of [keeping things] fresh,” Bookstein said. Indeed, it’s the first year that the JCC isn’t hosting the festivities. Festivalgoers staying overnight will get to bunk in cabins and suites on the ship.

Although the two events share characteristics, their origin stories are different. LimmudLA is one of 50 annual Limmud conferences worldwide; Limmud originated in the United Kingdom in 1980, before expanding to cities worldwide.

Jewlicious, on the other hand, is homegrown and one-of-a-kind. The festival began in Long Beach and has been held in that city every year. Bookstein founded Jewlicious as a way of creating community in Long Beach, and it’s the only Jewlicious festival in the world.  It should be noted, though, that in a way, Jewlicious’ roots can be traced back to Europe — Bookstein and his wife were living in Poland in the 1990s, and they organized Jewish cultural festivals there, an experience that informed their creation of Jewlicious years later.

The main difference between LimmudLA and Jewlicious is in the ages they attract. Limmud appeals to families. Jewlicious draws college kids and 20-somethings, although all ages are welcome. “We’re on a Boat!” reads the tagline for this year’s Jewlicious, borrowing from a song by “Saturday Night Live” star Andy Samberg, to give one the idea who Jewlicious is targeting.

Distinction in demographics aside, LimmudLA and Jewlicious both are staffed by volunteers who are highly committed — borderline radical — in their love for the events.

A 37-year-old actress from Hancock Park, Debbie Jaffe has been volunteering at LimmudLA since 2008. For Jaffe, fellow volunteers and attendees matter just as much — if not more — than the musical acts or the presentations at LimmudLA.

After attending several LimmudLA conferences, Jaffe realized that “hanging out and getting to know people was actually as important” as attending sessions.

Jewlicious volunteers sound similarly passionate when describing their experiences at the festival.

“I truly believed in what I was doing,” said Daniella Dolgin, who helped with scheduling at last year’s Jewlicious. For Dolgin, a sociology student at Santa Monica College, the best part about Jewlicious is the festival-wide Shabbat dinner. The dinner reinforces that Jewlicious is about community.

“I had never seen anything like that, where you have people from different denominations from different parts of our community, coming together and having a Shabbat meal,” she said, recalling last year’s festival.

Both events expect turnouts similar to those of previous years. Hoffman expects that 500 people will come to LimmudLA, and Bookstein estimates that approximately 800 people will attend Jewlicious.

As with Jewlicious, “community” is a key word for LimmudLA. A core group of dedicated volunteers — about 30 — band together to plan the conference each year, and they work to organize a conference that will allow people to feel united by their shared interest in Jewish renewal.

“The whole notion of Limmud as a movement is about letting each community build something for itself that can be partaken by the wider community,” LimmudLA co-founder Shep Rosenman said in an interview.

Likewise, the loyalty of the attendees who come every year — and bring along with them a few new people each time — keeps Jewlicious going.

“People, when they’re done with the festival, they inspire us to do it again. Their enthusiasm for what went on is great, and we’re like, ‘OK, we’ve got to do this again,’ ” Bookstein said.

It isn’t easy, said Bookstein. “It takes an enormous amount of effort to pull this off.”

For more information about LimmudLA, visit http://limmudla.org/. For more information about Jewlicious, visit http://www.jewlicious.com/jf8/

From Jewish roots, band sprouts afro/new wave wings

Luke Top and Lewis Pesacov of Fool’s Gold are surprised they don’t have a larger Jewish fan base. Most of the songs on the band’s 2009 self-titled debut are in Hebrew, vocalist Top was born in Israel, and earlier this year the band played Jewlicious, a music festival for Jewish college students.

“We kind of thought that it might happen, and it totally didn’t happen,” lead guitarist Pesacov said.

However, the L.A.-based band has steadily raised its profile among indie music fans over the past five years. Santa Monica radio station KCRW embraced Fool’s Gold, and a variety of publications gave its Aug. 16 sophomore release, “Leave No Trace” (IAMSOUND Records), high marks for its marriage of African rhythms and new wave sounds. The band will headline the Troubadour on Sept. 29, and, starting in November, it will join the Red Hot Chili Peppers on tour in Europe.

Top says he sang primarily in Hebrew on the band’s first album because of his insecurities as a vocalist. He thought he could hide behind a language that most people can’t understand.

“It’s a little veiled, you know, the Hebrew. People don’t understand it, and there was a little bit of security in there,” Top said.

By singing primarily in English on the latest album, Top said he’s pushing himself.

“I think the idea was just, ‘Don’t hold back.’ To go all out,” he said.

Top and Pesacov, both 31, first met during high school — Top attended Cleveland High School in Reseda, and Pesacov went to Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. The pair started Fool’s Gold as a musical side project in 2006, as a way to explore their common interests in African music (Congolese, Ethiopian, Eritrean and Malian), progressive German rock and ’80s synth pop. Over the next five years, the band evolved into a collective that at one time featured 15 members. On its most recent tour, Fool’s Good was left with its current lineup: Top, Pesacov, drummer Garrett Ray, multi-instrumentalist Brad Caulkins and percussionist Salvador Placencia.

“We were five people on tour, the smallest band we’ve ever been, and we were like, ‘This kind of works.’ More people started to listen, and it sounded better than ever,” Pesacov said.

Last year, from Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve, Top and Pesacov rented a house near Joshua Tree National Park, where they jammed and developed ideas for “Leave No Trace.” A four-month recording process in Los Angeles followed. The result is a more concise and radio-friendly effort, featuring the lead single, “Wild Window,” in which Top plays a funky bass and Pesacov offers a jangle pop sound.

Fool’s Gold’s sound doesn’t lend itself easily to classification.

“Some listeners have commented that their songs sound as if ’80s alternative band The Smiths were jamming with Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti,” KCRW music director Jason Bentley said in an e-mail interview.

Like Chasidic reggae star Mat-isyahu, Fool’s Gold lets Judaism inform its music rather than become its music, said Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, director of the Jewlicious festivals.

“They’re not setting out to make Jewish music in any way, shape or form. But their roots, their ethnic and religious and cultural background, influence their music,” Bookstein said.

Top, who immigrated to the United States from Israel when he was 3 years old, sings in Hebrew for one of the new album’s more uplifting songs, “Tel Aviv.” In the lyrics, Top negotiates the idea of having two homes, while craving a return to Tel Aviv, his birthplace. He sings in Hebrew, “I was born in Tel Aviv… I laid down on the sand,” and then switches to English, “I reach for you.”

“Am I Israeli? Am I American? I wanted to write a song kind of touching upon that, referencing my experiences going back to Israel and being here,” he said. “It’s pretty literally talking about being in both places.”

Top has also wrestled with his level of Jewish observance. He isn’t religious, but he said his family “had a small window where they were trying to be more Conservative and Orthodox.”

Pesacov, a native Angeleno who performs with drummer Ray in the band Foreign Born, said he grew up in an interfaith family with a Jewish father and a mother who wanted to convert to Judaism. And though he wanted to explore Judaism, his father discouraged him.

“I wanted to have a bar mitzvah as a kid and my dad’s like a hippie who did not believe in religion,” Pesacov said. “But it’s funny, because I grew up with all Jews in Los Angeles. I probably recognize myself as more Jewish than I am Christian.”

Events Calendar: August 2011


Grab the family and enjoy “The Bounty of the County” at this year’s fair, which features games, rides, food pavilions, carnival rides, livestock pavilions and concerts by The Beach Boys, The Four Tops, Pat Benatar and REO Speedwagon. Through Aug. 14. 10 a.m. (weekends), 11 a.m. (weekdays); entrance until 10 p.m., fair closes at 11 p.m., carnival closes between 11 p.m. and midnight. $12 (general), $9 (seniors and children, 6-12), free (children, 5 and younger); rides extra. Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. (805) 648-3376. ” title=”venturatheater.net” target=”_blank”>venturatheater.net.


Head outdoors to see the Bard’s controversial tragicomedy — featuring Shylock, a Jewish moneylender intent on revenge — during the final weekend of the Kingsmen Shakespeare Company’s 15th season. Through Aug. 7. 5:30 p.m. (grounds open for picnicking), 8 p.m. (show). $15 (adults), free (18 and younger). California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks. (805) 493-3014.



Bring your own picnic dinner to this annual Shabbat service in the great outdoors. Sponsored by The New Shul of the Conejo. 7:30-9:30 p.m. Free. Oak Canyon Community Park, 5600 Hollytree Drive, Oak Park. (818) 851-0030.
” title=”shomreitorahsynagogue.org” target=”_blank”>shomreitorahsynagogue.org.


This annual community event features a barbecue, old-fashioned games and more for the whole family. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. $10 (adults), $5 (kids, 6-12), free (kids, 5 and under). Elings Park, 1298 Las Positas Road, Santa Barbara. (805) 565-1158. ” title=”orami.org” target=”_blank”>orami.org.


Spend quality time with family and friends during this synagogue fundraiser. Rock out to Kol Play. Join the Havdalah service. Enjoy carnival games, a watermelon-eating contest and a movie (1971’s “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”). Food and snacks available for purchase from Menchie’s, Rocket Fizz and a food truck. 5:30-9:30 p.m. Free admission. Temple Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670. ” title=”valleycultural.org” target=”_blank”>valleycultural.org.

A trio of symphonic sounds closes out the summer season, conducted by maestro Leonard Slatkin, a Southern California native and incoming music director of the Orchestre National de Lyon. Enjoy Cindy McTee’s “Circuits,” Tchaikovsky’s “Francesca da Rimini, TH 46, op. 32” and Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” 8 p.m. $10-$48. The Granada Theatre, 1214 State St., Santa Barbara. (805) 899-2222. ” title=”eventbee.com/v/campjewlicious2011″ target=”_blank”>eventbee.com/v/campjewlicious2011.


Like your comedy slightly neurotic? Actor-comedian Richard Lewis (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) manages to make depression funny, drawing on his therapy sessions and recovery from alcoholism for his stand-up act. 6 p.m. (doors open), 9 p.m. (show begins). $29.50 (under 18 must be accompanied by an adult). Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. (818) 879-5016. ” title=”congregationbnaiemet.org” target=”_blank”>congregationbnaiemet.org.

Celebrate Temple Aliyah’s 50th anniversary during this open house, which features activities for the whole family and a barbecue. 4-6 p.m. Free. Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 346-3545.

Calendar picks and clicks: Feb. 16–Feb. 25, 2011

WED | FEB 16

Tonight’s program for college-bound high school juniors and seniors features a panel discussion with representatives from American Jewish University, StandWithUs, Hillel, AIPAC and the Greek system, moderated by Sinai Temple’s Rabbi Nicole Guzik; a session for parents on “Letting Go,” led by a licensed clinical social worker; a dessert reception; and a chance for students to win $500 scholarships. This is the first session of Sinai Temple’s 2011 college connection program, co-organized by American Jewish University. Wed. 6:30-9 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple. 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3234. sinaitemple.org.

SAT | FEB 19

An invisible world is revealed as the Israeli troupe performs the critically acclaimed dance show “Infrared.” Based on a poem “In the Black Garden” by KCDC artistic director Rami Be’er, the show explores the human condition through primary colors in breathtaking beauty. Sat. 8 p.m. $25-$45. The Luckman Fine Arts Complex, 5151 State University Drive, L.A. (323) 343-6600. luckmanarts.org.

The former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel delivers the 2011 Feinberg Lecture, “The United States and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Elusive Quest for Peace.” Sat. 7:30 p.m. Free (RSVP required). A.J. Villalobos Hall, Whittier College, 7214 Painter Ave., Whittier. (562) 907-4219. whittier.edu.

SUN | FEB 20

Just five days before his 92nd birthday, the world-renowned jazz cellist, pianist and composer (1960’s “Little Shop of Horrors”) performs an intimate living-room concert as he looks back over his career. His son, flutist Hyman Katz, with bassist Richard Simon, guitarist John Pisano, vocalist Jeanne Pisano and the Flying Pisanos accompany him onstage. Music critic Josh Kun moderates the program. Sun. 4 p.m. $12 (members), $15 (general). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

MON | FEB 21

“Jewish Genealogy and the Case of the Honey Bee”
Arthur Kurzweil, one of America’s foremost experts on Jewish family history research and author of “From Generation to Generation,” shares his insights on what the future holds for Jewish genealogists. Mon. 7:30 p.m. Free (JGSLA and JCC members), $5 (general). Westside Jewish Community Center, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A. (818) 771-5554. jgsla.org.

TUE | FEB 22

Edward Serotta, a journalist, photographer and filmmaker who specializes in Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe, presents photographs and film about the Sephardic Jews of the Balkans. The evening continues the Board of Rabbis of Southern California’s yearlong community learning program, One People, One Book, which focuses on various themes in Geraldine Brooks’ “People of the Book,” a historical novel that explores the origins of the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the world’s oldest haggadot. A reception with kosher light appetizers and dessert follows. Tue. 7-9:30 p.m. $5. Jewish Federation Goldsmith Center, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. jewishla.org.

WED | FEB 23

Israeli-born New York musicians Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat bring their Balkan-flavored dancehall beats to L.A. for a one-night-only concert with Tel-Aviv-based DJ crew Soulico and DJ Yossi Fine. Ages 21 and over. Wed. 8 p.m. $17 (general), $45 (VIP), $150 (Super VIP). The Conga Room at L.A. Live, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., downtown. (213) 745-0162. congaroom.com.

THU | FEB 24

Author Rudy Simone discusses “Young Adults With Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autism: Must-Have Advice for Transitioning Successfully to Work and Adult Life” during the Help Group’s Distinguished Lecturer Series. Continuing education credits available for qualifying professionals. Thu. 6:30-8:30 p.m. $10 (general), $25 (CE credit). The Help Group Autism Center, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 779-5212. thehelpgroup.org.

FRI | FEB 25

The three-day culture and arts festival, now in its seventh year, features a diverse lineup of performers, presenters and speakers, including Grammy-nominated artist Matisyahu, comedians The Sklar Brothers, Moshav Band, L.A. afro-rock collective Fool’s Gold, Israeli jam band Acharit HaYamim and more. The weekend also features a Shabbat banquet, wine tasting, dance and yoga, screenings of amateur films from the Jewish Film Competition and discussions on social justice, alternative energy, Israel and Jewish spirituality and sexuality. Fri. Through Feb. 27. $65 (full-time undergraduate student), $199 (general admission). The Alpert JCC, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (310) 277-5544. jewliciousfestival.com.

Arthur Miller’s World War II-era tale of a New York couple’s downward spiral kicks off the West Coast Jewish Theatre’s 2011 season. Sylvia Gellburg develops a mysterious paralysis after learning about Kristallnacht, which only serves to magnify her marital problems with her workaholic husband, Phillip, the only Jew at a Wall Street bank. Fri. Through April 17. 8 p.m. $30. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. (323) 860-6620. westcoastjewishtheatre.org.

Books: The end of many things, but not of the Jews

“The End of the Jews: A Novel,” by Adam Mansbach (Spiegel & Grau, $23.95).

Adam Mansbach was at a “garish” family bar mitzvah with his grandfather some years back when somewhere between the bad ’80s music and kitschy dance floor games, his grandfather turned to him and said sardonically, “This is the end of the Jews.”

The novelist filed this great phrase away in his writerly head, only to have it re-emerge when he started writing his third novel, an epic drama about a Jewish family of artists from the 1930s to the present, due out in mid-March.

“When I picked that title, I thought that someone at some point would make me change it,” said Mansbach, 31, by telephone from his Berkeley home. “But the publisher loved the title, and thought it would get attention.”

Attention is probably an understatement for the kind of scrutiny that will be paid to a book with such a hyperbolic appellation. Is it really a book about the end of the Jews?

“In terms of an apocalyptic moment? No,” said Mansbach, who will be speaking this weekend at Jewlicious 4.0, a festival for young, hip Jews taking place Feb. 29 through March 2 in Long Beach. (For other performers/participants, see Calendar, Page 38.)

“I wanted to explore the end of a lot of things — the end of a sustainable community, the end of family structures that sustain us, all these ways of understanding oneself and one’s work are thrown into question in the book by the collective action of the characters,” he said. “It’s the tension between freedom and individuality, between the need to feel you’re part of something bigger — there’s a freedom when these things are central to our lives but at a central cost. At the beginning of the book there’s a lot of people for whom these things have already been destabilized who are striving for new forms of community based on art, memory, love and family, and it gets ugly in the process.”

“The End of The Jews” is a literary family saga built around three narratives in different time frames, opening with Tristan Brodsky, “15 years old, the sum total of five thousand years of Jewry, one week into City College, a mind on him like a diamond cutter.”

This son of Bronx Jewish immigrants is eager to escape his talmudic roots by studying literature and writing at City College in Manhattan. Escape Brodsky does, to become a famous writer whose own grandson, Tris (or RISK, his graffiti moniker), follows in his footsteps, to his grandfather’s ultimate dismay.

“I didn’t set out to write about Jewish identity,” Mansbach said. “I set out to write a book about people in this family — about a writer and another writer whose ambitions butt up against their loyalties.” But as he researched and wrote the book, the Jewish part became a significant factor. Part of Mansbach’s research included spending summers with his grandfather, a lawyer and a judge.

“He’s always fascinated me,” Mansbach said, “and I spent a lot of time trying to excavate his memories and learn all I could about him — not purposely, for the book — but I was talking to him, and a lot of the book does revolve around me figuring him out.”

The novel is hardly autobiographical, he said, even though there are some similarities, such as a grandfather-grandson relationship, a grandmother who was a poet, a young writer who writes his first novel about hip-hop.

For example, Mansbach’s second novel, “Angry Black White Boy, or The Miscegenation of Macon Detornay” (Crown, 2005), a satire about race, whiteness and hip hop, tells the story of an Afro-centric white kid who grew up on a diet of hip-hop in the late ’80s and develops an anger toward white people and later becomes a cult hero. But “Angry Black White Boy” was critically acclaimed and is taught in curricula around the country, whereas Mansbach’s character RISK’s book on hip-hop is panned, because he can’t transcend race.

Other stories have their basis in real life, such as when the fictional RISK leaves Hebrew school after “Mr. Pearlmutter: two hundred years old, a staunch Zionist, the kind of guy who spent his Sundays educating the youth because he liked the idea of a captive audience,” said the Jews never turned their backs on their communities and the blacks did. In the book, RISK tells his father, and his father berates the teacher and the kid doesn’t go back.

In real life, Mansbach actually waited until a Hebrew school assembly where he was supposed to recite a prayer — but read the lyrics to Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” instead.

“It was mutually clear to us that neither I nor they wanted me at the school anymore,” he said.

That’s how Mansbach, a disc jockey who grew up in the hip-hop culture, uses reality — selectively, alternately.

“In some ways, a lot of the writing I do is anti-autobiographical: it explores directions I could have gone and didn’t,” Mansbach said.

The Jews don’t really end in his novel either — but that’s not the point. “There’s always some notion of ‘the end of the Jews’ — it might be assimilation and intermarriage that people seem preoccupied with right now, it might be destruction from outside forces — it seems to be on their minds a lot and it shouldn’t be.”

Mansbach grew up in Massachusetts in a Jewish family that was secular for generations, and he is reluctant to make any proscription for the Jews — even as he attends conferences like Jewlicious, REBOOT and Professional Leadership Project.

“I think some of what is going on in those spaces is interesting, whether it’s [REBOOT’s] Guilt & Pleasure magazine, and meeting those cool people, and looking at Judaism as this common denominator, and what — if anything — it means to anybody in the room,” he said. “I think that the notion of connecting to Judaism in cultural ways makes sense to me; it makes sense to me to understand it through the lens of what I do.”

As for the continuation of the Jewish people, he said, “It matters to me, but I wouldn’t say I’m worried about it.”

Adam Mansbach will be speaking/performing at the Jewlicious 4.0 Festival, 9 p.m. Fri., Feb. 29 and 2 p.m. Sat., March 1 at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach.

For more information, visit http://www.jewliciousfestival.com.

Jewlicious Conspiracy

In November 2004, I sat in Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein’s kitchen. They are a young couple with three children, and together they run the Cal State Long Beach University Hillel (he is spiritual adviser; she is program director).

Apple laptop on hand, Rabbi Bookstein talked of a dream about a conference for young Jews, where they could hang out and learn. No agendas, no gimmicks.

I jokingly labeled it a conspiracy. But with the collaboration of a Web journal, or “blog,” known as Jewlicious.com, the conference “Jewlicious @ The Beach” launched in April 2005.

Parents don’t understand why 300 young Jews packed the Long Beach Alpert JCC for the Jewlicious sequel on Feb. 17. We came for food and song, complete with banging on the tables and exuberant dancing wherever there was room. At the Sunday night concert, “Jewbilation,” you could see the look of shock on the older generation’s faces as we jammed to Hebrew heavy-metal songs by the Maccabees. This was not your mom’s “Oseh Shalom.”

Jewlicious included panels on everything from “Kabbalah and Madonna” to “Jews Who Protest.” There were workshops, musical jams and tons of food. It was attended by young Jews in the spotlight, such as writer Ruth Andrew Ellenson, editor of “Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt,” and Matisyahu, the Chasidic reggae superstar my dad refers to as “the hip-hop hoo-hoo.” But most of all, it was everything that the Booksteins hoped for: a celebration of being young and Jewish and alive.

What many people don’t realize is that a new Jewish youth culture is coming to the surface. For us, it’s old school meets new school-klezmer with a hip-hop beat (brought to “Jewbilation” by the amazing DJ So Called and Beyond the Pale).

We are of all ethnicities and levels of observance, and we include some in the process of conversion. Some young Jews have become more observant, much to the shock of less traditional parents. Orthodoxy is no longer old-fashioned, but a source of fascination.

We have faced anti-Semitism in all forms. At a women’s session, one girl told us that when she was in high school in Glendora, swastikas were carved into her desk and she was beaten up-twice. Anti-Israel activities on campuses these days often turn hateful against “Zionist Jews.” Many of us have been told to accept Jesus before we go to hell. Our response is Jewish pride.

We love eating, wine tasting, the beach, dancing, movies, fashion and long conversations. We’re activists, writers, musicians, artists, vegans, nonconformists, Shabbat-observers or just attracted to big noses. If you like being Jewish, you are an MOT, or Member of the Tribe.

And what do MOTs do? We rock out to Matisyahu and Israeli hip-hop. We wear shirts that say, “Eat me, I’m kosher.” We like poking fun at ourselves, with examples ranging from the movie, “The Hebrew Hammer,” to Rav Shmuel’s cutting jibes in his song, “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

We love Israel, although some of us are more willing to criticize its policies than others. We’re glued to our computers, and use them to connect to other Jews. We understand that there are many people in the world who still hate us, and in order to prevent them from bringing us down, we have to come together.

Sometimes it worries me that the pendulum will swing back. Yes, we have come very far in our Jewish youth culture, but for how long will the Los Angeles Times refer to Matisyahu as a Jesus-figure, as it did after the Ragga Muffins Festival in Long Beach? For how long will we be cool and not have to respond to the world outside?

Luckily, Jewlicious @ The Beach was my answer. Between musical jam sessions and henna tattoos , we had created something very important: a community, a safe haven where we could express who we are and learn. The Jewish youth culture was creating a home — a home we have desperately needed.

Judaism is changing as youth takes over the reins. It’s us taking our Judaism away from what others tell us it is and transforming it, letting it grow and making it into our own.

I guess it is a conspiracy after all.

Reina V. Slutske is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.


A Blog World After All

Last year, the Pew Internet and American Life Project estimated that 8 million American adults had created blogs. Although the number of specifically Jewish blogs is unconfirmed, those with knowledge of the blogosphere say the pool is substantial. Jewish blogs, or Web diaries, run the gamut from kosher cooking to Israeli advocacy. They include leftist rants, dating melodramas, rabbinic ruminations and secular musings from all corners of the globe.

“I’d estimate the number of active blogs at some several thousand,” says Steven Weiss, who currently blogs about religion (canonist.com), food (kosherbachelor.com) and the Jewish college experience (campusj.com).

“Among young, highly affiliated Jews, J-blogs are very popular,” the 24-year-old New Yorker continued. “As you move up the age brackets, the popularity drops off somewhat, though many in the organizational and rabbinic establishment have started paying a lot of attention to them.”

What exactly are these Jewish bloggers seeking on the Web?

Some, like 30-something New York blogging guru Esther Kustanowitz, say the blogosphere connects them to a larger, global Jewish community.

“I started looking at other Jewish blogs to see if there were other people like me out there — single, Jewish and blogging,” she explained.

The No. 1 thread on Jewlicious (jewlicious.com), a group blog focusing on Judaism, Israel and pop culture, addresses premarital sex in the Orthodox community. It pulled in 676 comments.

The No. 2 post, with 502 responses, tackles an equally contentious topic — the identity of Conservative Judaism.

Oftentimes, noisemakers walk a fine line between healthy debate and mudslinging.

“There are definitely blogs where the conversation tends to be acrimonious,” said Barenblat, who recently received anonymous hate mail. “People feel free to be obnoxious because it’s just through a computer screen.”

Fiery language also peppers the Jewlicious site, with posts often descending into vitriolic exchanges.

“It’s a paradigm for disagreement,” Kustanowitz said. “I think because of the anonymity and lack of accountability, people tend to not think before they write.”

Where exactly this blogging phenomenon is going remains unseen.

Schiano, for one, predicts a continuously evolving blogosphere.

“I think there will always be this room for grass-roots voices on the net,” she said.

And as long as rabbis continue to preach, advocates to crusade, singles to gripe and ideologues to spar, Jews will continue clicking — and posting — away.