Break Fast With Emmy

Brace yourself. This Sunday night, some angels, a spy, a cynic and a meddling mother-in-law are coming over to break the Fast of Gedaliah. You don’t have to feed them, however. They’re all part of the 56th annual Emmy Awards on Sept. 19, hosted this year by comedian Garry Shandling.

Tony Kushner’s epic HBO AIDS-themed miniseries "Angels in America" is up for a whopping 21 awards — more than any other program — including director, best actor (for Al Pacino as Roy Cohn), best actress (for both Emma Thompson and Meryl Streep in myriad roles), writing and best movie or miniseries.

On a lighter note, the MOTs are strong in the comedy category, among them Larry David for his HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Jeffrey Tambor in the Fox hit "Arrested Development" and everyone’s favorite mom and brother, Doris Roberts and Brad Garrett as they head into what is scheduled to be the final season of CBS’s "Everybody Loves Raymond." Missing this year: "Will and Grace’s" Debra Messing (but maybe the character’s impending divorce will put the NBC star back on the list next year).

Also keep an eye out for Victor Garber, as daddy spy on ABC’s "Alias," and Kristin Davis of the gone but not forgotten "Sex and the City," who gets her first nomination for the season her character converted to Judaism.

No matter who wins, one thing is for sure: If you were able to identify any of the shows in the opening paragraph, you might want to add "And for watching too much TV" to your repentance this Yom Kippur.

The 56th Annual Emmy Awards airs live at 5 p.m. on ABC.

Scholarship Takes No Vacation

Two local synagogues are offering an opportunity for Jewish scholarship this summer, and a third is offering weekly Hebrew classes at all levels.

Through the Community Scholar Program, Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel will help host a six-day visit by a professor of Jewish history and archaeology from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

Professor Lee Levine, a 30-year resident of Israel, is the author of 11 books about ancient Judaism, synagogues and geography. He will hold six talks over six days, July 1-6. Most will be held at either B’nai Israel or an upper school classroom at Tarbut V’ Torah Community Day School in Irvine.

His topics will range from Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" to whether the Passover seder is a pagan invention.

Anaheim’s Temple Beth Emet promises an eight-week class that can turn Hebrew illiterates into Hebrew readers able to follow in a prayer book. Four levels of Hebrew are offered at Beth Emet in weekly classes that will meet beginning July 19 at 7:30 p.m. and run through the first week of September.

"The instruction is highly individualized and offers the freedom to move between classes to meet your personal needs," promised Margalit Moskowitz, Beth Emet’s education director.

Irvine’s Beth Jacob Congregation will host a parenting seminar July 29-Aug. 1 by Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen, a teaching professor from Jerusalem who challenges popular child-raising theories.

A former Harvard and UCLA student, Kelemen began his career as a ski instructor and worked as a news director and anchorman for a California radio station. He then traveled to Jerusalem to pursue the rabbinate, simultaneously conducting a dozen years of intensive postgraduate field research and publishing several books.

Kelemen teaches at Neve Yerushalaim College of Jewish Studies for Women and is the author of "To Kindle a Soul" (Leviathan, 2001) an authoritative parenting handbook.

The Beth Jacob seminar is $36 per person; $48 per couple.

Further details on the programs are available by calling the shuls: Beth Jacob, (949) 786-5230; B’nai Israel, (714) 730-9693; Beth Emet, (714) 772-4720.

Big Brother Lurks in Higher Education Bill

In recent weeks, a number of major Jewish organizations — the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) American Israel Public Affairs Committee and others — have announced their support for congressional passage of H.R. 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003, which would amend Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to enhance international education programs.

The purpose of the bill is to restore some semblance of ideological balance to Middle East studies centers on university campuses, and it is for this reason that many Jewish organizations support it.

Leaving aside the question of whether it is the government’s role to ensure ideological balance in academic settings, the bill unquestionably is a well-intentioned response to a serious problem. However, Section (6) of this proposal, which is now before the Senate, would establish an international higher education advisory board.

These government-appointed overseers not only would “monitor, apprise, and evaluate” academic programs but also would have the power to “assure that their relative authorized activities reflect diverse perspectives and the full range of views on world regions, foreign languages, and international affairs.”

In other words, the U.S. government would have the power to decide whose views are heard.

With all due respect to my elders and betters who support this legislation (with the proud exception of Alan Dershowitz, whose opposition rightly prevented the Jewish Council for Public Affairs from endorsing it), this proposal is wrong for America, wrong for academia, wrong for American Jewry and wrong for Judaism.

Section (6) is wrong for America. This proposal is Big Brother at its worst and runs counter to cherished principles of freedom of expression in open and public debates. The marketplace of ideas is the vital place where scholars and citizens — not the government — decide which views are considered mainstream options and which views are consigned to the margins of the extreme. Read the text of the bill carefully — it’s online at

New Channel BeamsJewish Programming

The soap opera, argues Shlomo Ben-Zvi, is the most Jewish of all television formats.

"Every 15 seconds, you have a dilemma of interpersonal relationships — and you have to solve them," he said

Ben-Zvi, who emigrated from England 20 years ago, is putting his money where his mouth is. This spring, the 38-year-old, modern Orthodox entrepreneur launched Techelet, a Judaism pay-TV channel, on Israel’s cable and satellite networks, and he’s already commissioning Hebrew scripts for "the first-ever Jewish soap opera."

Titled, "The Rebbe’s Court," it is set in an ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv. The Chassidic patriarch, Rav Azriel, has a large and quarrelsome family, shepherded through its tales of wise and wicked sons by Sheyndel, his university-educated rebbetzin with a mysterious past. "Dynasty," you might say, with fringes, "Dallas" with a sheitel (wig).

Techelet (Hebrew for light blue) won the rights for a "Jewish" channel against stiff competition. Its strength, Ben-Zvi claimed, is that it has no party affiliation and no theological ax to grind. "We are," he said, "inclusive and accepting."

The channel transmits 19 hours a day for 12 shekels (less than $3) a month. Half its wholesome programs are locally made; the rest are imported from the United States and Britain. They don’t have to be specifically Jewish.

Ben-Zvi lives with his wife and six children in the West Bank commuter settlement of Efrat, between Bethlehem and Hebron. Starting in the property business, Ben-Zvi branched out into information technology and now, with the U.S. cosmetics heir Ron Lauder as a minority shareholder, he has moved into the media.

Techelet’s target audience, Ben-Zvi said, is not so much the organized religious world as the two-thirds of Israeli Jews who don’t eat pork, who do have a seder at Pesach, light candles on Shabbat and want their sons to be circumcised and their daughters to be married under the chuppah.

Many of the 37 full-time staff at its designer studios in the Neve Ilan Television Center outside Jerusalem are secular young women in jeans and T-shirts. If there’s a resident rabbi, he keeps out of sight.

Techelet is emphatically not an on-screen yeshiva.

"People, especially nonreligious people, want to know a lot more," explained Ben-Zvi, the chief executive and majority shareholder. "They are tired of feeling foolish. They want to understand the rituals they keep in any case."

So the channel spotlights Jewish and Zionist history and explores the broader message of the Jewish festivals. It also aspires to foster debate about where Judaism is going.

"We want to provide a platform where people can be challenged to come up with new answers to old problems," Ben-Zvi said.

And it offers two and a half hours a day of "high-quality, clean" children’s programming.

"We make sure," he said, "there’s nothing parents would find offensive."

The channel has already shown "Anne of Green Gables" and has imported a BBC nature series called, "The Really Wild Show," for which popular Israeli singer Danny Bassan has recorded a Hebrew voice-over.

Techelet has bought the rights to rerun "Pillar of Fire," a 19-part Israel Television series on Zionist history last broadcast 17 years ago. It will also be showing the four-part biopic of Golda Meir, starring Ingrid Bergman.

One hour a night is devoted to the cycle of the Jewish year.

"We’re trying to take the festivals out of the closet and give them an airing," Ben-Zvi said. "We’re not focusing on the ritual aspects, but on the ethical teachings. We want to make the festivals relevant to modern life."

For Pesach, for instance, the theme was redemption from slavery. Programs included the 12-part adaptation of Alex Haley’s "Roots," as well as documentaries on a U.N. campaign to eradicate latter-day slavery in Africa and a look at sex slavery in Israel. For Shavuot next month, the theme is making commitments.

The channel does not broadcast news but has two daily talk shows. One is a women’s program with what Ben-Zvi called "eight very good-looking girls from different religious backgrounds."

They are, he explained, trying to broaden discussion of where Jewish women are going. One show featured single religious women who decide to have a child before their biological clock stops ticking.

Longer term, Ben-Zvi is working on an English-language Techelet for distribution in the United States.

"We know there’s room for an international Jewish channel," he said. "We’re putting together a first offering in Greater New York. It will be a mix of our better programs and new material made in English. We also plan a daily English-language news."

Techelet projects itself as pluralistic, but pluralism has its limits.

"Everybody is welcome so long as they have a serious commitment to Judaism," he said. For example, Meir Azari, a leading Israeli Reform rabbi, recently appeared on a talk show.

"We don’t go out of our way to invite spokesmen for non-Orthodox streams," Ben-Zvi said, "but we don’t go out of our way not to invite them. We haven’t felt the need to disqualify anyone at this stage."

That might not be enough for Israel’s small, but growing Reform and Conservative communities. Rabbi Uri Regev, a veteran of many High Court recognition battles who now serves as executive director of the World Union of Progressive Judaism, is already sharpening his quill.

"We shall be pressing for more access," he warned. "They won a license to run a Jewish channel, not an Orthodox one."

Russia’s Jews Rediscover Roots

Lev Entin, a 90-year-old resident of St. Petersburg, has spent the past year relearning something he spent most of his life trying to forget: his Judaism.

Entin’s father was a shochet (ritual slaughterer), and until Entin was 12, he attended a cheder (Jewish school). But after that, Entin, "a product of the Bolshevik Revolution," as he puts it, did not pay attention to his religion.

But in the past year, Entin has reintroduced himself to his tradition by reading books and brochures he receives from his local Hesed welfare center.

"Only this year did I become a Jew again," he said.

Roughly 175,000 Jewish elderly in Russia are now served by the 88 Heseds across the former Soviet Union. These centers, run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), account for about one-half of all Jewish social and welfare organizations in the former Soviet Union.

They provide basic services, such as food and health care, to the large numbers of elderly who were impoverished both by the chaos of post-Communist Russia and by last August’s economic collapse. But the Heseds, which mean "charitable deed," also play a role that is just as important in creating a Jewish community for the Russian elderly.

When the JDC began opening Heseds in the former Soviet Union earlier this decade, the organizers were afraid of two things: that the centers would be overwhelmed by requests from non-Jewish clients, and that the centers would lead to an anti-Semitic backlash. None of the fears has come true.

Indeed, in some places Hesed centers serve as a model for similar state-run organizations. In St. Petersburg, for example, Hesed Avraham is among the most successful welfare organizations in the city of 4 million. Last year, Hesed Avraham started a joint project with a local government-funded welfare organization, where one of the Hesed dining rooms is now feeding 100 non-Jewish needy elderly.

The success of the Hesed program has led to some problems. Indeed, in some cities, local authorities ignore the needs of Jewish clients because there are other organizations to take care of them.

"The state sometimes wants to lay its responsibility onto the Heseds. But Jews are citizens of this country just like non-Jews and the state has certain obligations toward them," says Benjamin Haller, director of the JDC’s William Rosenwald Institute for Communal and Welfare Workers in St. Petersburg, which trains Jewish social workers and conducts sociological research of the Jewish elderly in the former Soviet Union.

But there is one aspect of the Hesed activities where the state welfare system cannot help: reconnecting people to their Judaism.

"People are coming to Heseds not only to get a piece of bread. They come to taste the spirit which makes us unique, distinct from other similar organizations. This is the spirit of belonging to the Jewish people," Haller said.

For example, in the city of Tula, some 190 miles south of Moscow, about 50 elderly Jews gathered on a recent Friday night at the Hasdei Neshama center. A concert by a local klezmer band was followed by a Shabbat service and a meal conducted by a Moscow rabbi who comes to the city every weekend.

In St. Petersburg, Hesed Avraham publishes Hesed Shalom, a bimonthly newspaper with a print run of 15,000.

This process of creating a community extends beyond the clients served by the Hesed centers to the volunteers who assist.

Last year, about 7,000 volunteers participated in the provision of welfare and other social services in the centers.

"Any program we run involves people helping other people. Even a bedridden person can call another bedridden [person] so that they will not feel lonely," Haller said.

In most communities, youths and students of Jewish schools occasionally volunteer in some social programs. But the average volunteer is recently retired and is in his early 60s. These people deliver food to the homebound, do home repair or work once or twice a week as hairdressers, shoemakers, electricians. Medical doctors conduct regular free consultations for Jewish elderly in almost every Hesed center.

Despite all the good work they are doing, the future of the Heseds is not entirely rosy. With the ongoing economic crisis and the depreciation of pensions, money is becoming rare, particularly to supply medicines.

The multimillion-dollar annual budget of the Heseds comes from several sources. Most Russian Heseds operate with the money channeled by JDC from funds raised by the joint campaign of the United Jewish Appeal and local federations in the United States. These funds go primarily to support the most fund-consuming part of the Hesed operations — food programs, including monthly and holiday food packages and distribution of hot meals through community dining rooms and meals-on-wheels programs.

While the activities are operated by the JDC in conjunction with local groups, including the Russian Jewish Congress, a majority of the funds for the multimillion-dollar project are provided by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany — particularly in Ukraine and Belarus, which were under Nazi rule during World War II.

Most observers say Hesed programs have been the most successful — in their scope and outreach — of all similar projects supported with local and foreign funds.

They appear to be successful for Sofia Shapiro, an 80-year-old retired engineer who receives several services from her local Hesed in Yekaterinburg. The homebound Shapiro and her bedridden blind sister, Vera Brook, have no relatives and a caretaker from Hesed visits them daily. The center also gave Shapiro a walker made by some of the eight staff workers and 39 volunteers who assemble a total of 2,500 wheelchairs, walkers, walking canes and crutches a month at a plant in St. Petersburg.

"There is a sticker here," Shapiro says, pointing at the bottom part of the walker. "It says, ‘Live with Hope.’ So I do."

Jewish Studies Flourish on Campus

While the headlines speak of confrontations between pro-Palestinian and Jewish students at California’s public universities, the number and variety of Jewish studies programs on the campuses have never been more bountiful.

Students can earn their doctorate degrees in Jewish studies at the University of California (UC) campuses at Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara. Master’s degrees are offered at Irvine, Santa Cruz and Davis. Stanford University, a private institution, also offers a doctorate in the field.

Within the last few weeks, a number of developments have added strength and further scope to these programs.

At UC Berkeley, the Jewish studies program received a $5 million donation from the Helen Diller family, which will enable the university to annually invite an Israeli professor to the campus for a full year’s stay.

The California State University system (CSU), whose nearly 400,000 students on 23 campuses make it one of the largest public university systems in the world, has announced the creation of a bachelor of arts major in modern Jewish studies, through a consortium of the Chico, San Diego and San Francisco campuses. A fourth campus, at Long Beach, is scheduled to join this group next year, and the campuses at Sacramento, San Jose and Sonoma are expected to participate further down the road.

In addition, the state is establishing a teacher training program at the newly created Center for Excellence in the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance at Cal State Chico; Chico’s reputation as a Jewish studies center has drawn such speakers as Elie Wiesel and Shimon Peres. Holocaust education has been mandatory in California public schools for some time, but the quality of instruction in these courses has fluctuated widely.

Overall director of the three-campus program is professor Sam Edelman, who, teamed with his wife, Associate Dean Carol Edelman, has made the rural residential Chico campus, about 170 miles northeast of San Francisco, a vital outpost of Jewish studies over the past two decades.

"We believe students should have the option of learning about one of the oldest religions and cultures in the world," Edelman said in introducing the new degree program. "The history, culture, literature and politics of Judaism have had, and continue to have, significant impact on the world."

In an interview, the 54-year-old Edelman, whose roundish face is framed by a white beard, ascribed some significance to the fact that he was born in Altoona, Pa., one day before the official proclamation of the State of Israel. Though he said his parents were "very secular," Edelman absorbed "a wealth of Jewish heart" from his grandmother, and additional Yiddishkayt from an itinerant rabbi.

After receiving his doctorate at the University of Arizona, Edelman went to the Chico campus 23 years ago, hoping to introduce some Jewish studies but planning to leave after two years. However, he soon felt at home in "this natural place, distant from the tumult of the outside world," and was also impressed by the support of the non-Jewish faculty for his Jewish studies efforts.

While the new CSU Jewish studies major, which was seven years in the making, will start officially with the 2003 fall semester, a handful of students on each of the three campuses have jumped the gun by enrolling in the program during the current semester.

The bachelor’s program will consist of three basic areas: the Holocaust, Israel and Jewish studies. Majors on the Chico, San Diego and San Francisco campuses will supplement classroom courses on their respective home campuses with online instruction from the other two campuses.

In the planning stage is a master’s of education degree program, focusing on Jewish education or Holocaust-genocide education, through a partnership among Cal State Northridge, Chico, Long Beach, San Diego and San Francisco.

At San Diego State, professor Lawrence Baron, director of the Lipinsky Institute for Jewish Studies, said that currently approximately 560 students are enrolled in courses that include Women in the Bible, kabbalah and modern history of the Middle East.

At San Francisco State, site of some of the most intense clashes between Jewish and anti-Israel students, the new major consists of 42-43 required units through courses in modern Hebrew, Jewish culture and society, history and religion. The current Jewish studies program, headed by professor Laurie Zoloth, offers 11 courses with an enrollment of about 175 students each semester.

John Gemello, San Francisco State’s interim vice president for academic affairs, welcomed the new major for giving "students from all backgrounds more opportunities to learn about the rich culture, literature, history and politics of the Jewish people."