Monday, August 15
In the tradition of “Heathers” and “Mean Girls,” comes the latest queen bee satire, “Pretty Persuasion.” Evan Rachel Wood (“Thirteen”) plays rich, sexy and cruel teen Kimberly Joyce who sets out to achieve her dream of being famous, even if it means destroying the lives of others. The film also stars Jewish actress Adi Schnall in the role of a Muslim girl, Randa.
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Tuesday, August 16
Shoop on down to Orange County, the last stop on the national tour of Broadway’s revival of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Actor Lenny Wolpe plays flower shop keeper Mr. Mushnik, who takes in nebbishy protagonist Seymour Krelbourn, and eventually, his man-eating plant, the Audrey II, designed for the production by the Jim Henson Workshop and Martin P. Robinson.
8 p.m. (Tues.-Fri.), 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Sat.), 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (Sun.). Runs through Aug. 28. $21.25-$64.75. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 556-2787.
Wednesday, August 17
Experiences of summertime, from Canada to Coney Island to Malibu, make up Forum Gallery’s new exhibition, “Summer Days.” Vancouver artist John Macdonald’s paintings of bathers offer an unexpected moodiness, while Jeffrey Gold’s surfer paintings portray his passion for surfing life, and David Levine and Ralph Goings offer varying depictions of Coney Island summers in watercolor.
Runs through Sept. 10. 8069 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 655-1550.
Thursday, August 18
Nicole Krauss’ debut novel was about an English professor who had amnesia. Her latest book, “The History of Love: A Novel,” is also about memory, about how a man remembers his life in his last days. She speaks about the transmission of memory through writing with “Bookworm” host, Michael Silverblatt, this afternoon on public radio station KCRW.
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Friday, August 19
In “Protocols of Zion,” filmmaker Marc Levin explores a frightening worldwide belief that a Jewish conspiracy was responsible for Sept. 11. The film screens as part of this week’s DocuWeek Documentary Showcase, which helps documentary makers qualify for Academy Award consideration. It screens every day, through Aug. 25, at varying times.
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7 Days in The Arts
7 Days In Arts
The city moves indoors for Milla Angelina Gallery’s “The L.A. Show.” Depictions of homelessness, nightlife, religious and cultural diversity and economic and class structures of Los Angeles adorn the walls of the new Melrose gallery dedicated to the expression of social commentary through art. The show runs through July 21.Noon-6 p.m. (daily). 73201Â¼2 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 930-0391.
Today, kids get out the red, white and blue streamersand deck out their bicycles for Community Action Team’s “Great American Fourthof July Bike Parade and Contest.” Bikes are to be outfitted in patriotic style,and those voted the top 10 decorators will receive cash prizes of $10 each. Thetwo-mile parade route travels east along the Belmont Shore bike path from OceanBoulevard at Granada Avenue. Certificates of participation will be given toanyone registering via e-mail at least 24 hours in advance. 10 a.m. Helmetsrequired, and children must be escorted by a parent or guardian. 1 South GranadaAve., Long Beach. www.bikeparade.com
Fine artist Tobi Kahn is also acclaimed for his designsof Jewish ritual objects. In a new book, “Objects of the Spirit: Ritual and theArt of Tobi Kahn,” edited by Emily Bilski, photographs of Kahn’s work aredisplayed alongside commentary by Bilski, Leora Auslander, Tom Freudenhaim,Terrence E. Dempsey, Jonathan Rosen and Ruth Weisberg. A series of meditationsby Nessa Rapoport concludes the book. Hudson Hills Press, $34. www.amazon.com
Tonight, you might actually want to sit in on a little domestic conflict. Zócalo public forum welcomes Nick Goldberg and Amy Wilentz, who, in addition to being husband and wife, are also Los Angeles Times op-ed editor and former Middle Eastern Bureau chief for New York Newsday, and author and former New Yorker correspondent in Jerusalem, respectively. Hear them discuss and disagree on Iraq, Israel, Sept. 11 and peace in the Middle East.7 p.m. Free. Central Library, Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles. (213) 228-7025.
Today we’re inspired to recommend some summer romance, care of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Get gussied and take in the fountain, some wine … and “A Little Night Music.” The new production of the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical features a distinguished cast including Victor Garber (“Alias”), Judith Ivey (“Designing Women”) and Zoe Caldwell (“Master Class”). Whether you splurge on Patina is up to you.Through July 31. $20-$90. 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500
The gay and lesbian community keeps fighting the goodfight. But this week it calls for celebration, as well. Tonight marks theopening of Outfest 2004, the 22nd annual Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian FilmFestival. The opening night t begins by giving writer/director Tod Haynes (“FarFrom Heaven”) the Outfest Achievement Award, follows with the film, “D.E.B.S.,”and closes out with a party with food from 30 Los Angeles restaurants. www.outfest.org. (213) 480-7065.
Nick Starr’s new play, “Slow Boat,” covers topics from metaphysics and body-switching (as in, “I don’t like my body. I think I’ll inhabit my dead grandpa’s for a while”) to Jewish identity and Eastern philosophy. The story’s hero is Nathan Beagle, a guy who’s recently been inducted into a Chinese body-switching cult and decides to seek answers in China.Through Aug. 14. 8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.). $15. Los Angeles Repertory Theatre, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 470-9899.
Journey to Judaism
For the Kids
Take a Leap
Let’s leap into the month of Adar! This is the month in which we are told: “The month of Adar brings great joy!” That is because Purim, a very joyous holiday, begins on the 14th of Adar. So, get into the spirit everybody and jump for joy!
Now don’t leap to conclusions!
If you were born on Feb. 29th, 1980, how old would you be this coming Feb. 29, 2004? (Leap years happened in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000.)
What’s the Connection?
After you find the words, try to put all the facts
together. What did John Holland invent? Who is Mario Andretti? Who are Graham
Nash and Jimmy Dorsey? You may need to ask your parents and/or the Internet for
some help. Send your answers with what these guys all have in common to email@example.com
Off the Page
“Dave at Night” is an adventurous book based on Gail Carson Levine’s father’s life. Dave’s parents die and nobody wants him to live with them. Dave is placed in a cold, disgusting Jewish orphanage filled with obnoxious teachers. If you would like to find out what happens to Dave, read “Dave at Night.” — review by Yonatan Isaacs & Benjamin Rostami, sixth grade, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy
If you have a Jewish book you would like us to know
about, review it and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org .
For the Kids
RUTH, A TRUE FRIEND
On Shavuot, we read the Book of Ruth. Even though Ruth’s husband died, she decides not to desert her mother-in-law, Naomi, who has lost her husband and two sons. Ruth leaves her home in Moab to accompany Naomi back to Israel. She cares for Naomi and goes to work in the fields of her relative, Boaz. Ruth later marries him, and lives, I suppose, happily ever after.
This book is about friendship, loyalty and compassion. In fact, the rabbis say that Ruth’s name comes from the Hebrew word for friendship — Re’ut. That is why it is so important to read this book on the day we celebrate the giving of the Torah. All the laws and commandments of the Torah would be worth nothing if we did not, before anything, know how to be a good friend.
Time to Go
This week we start a new book of the Torah — Shemot or Exodus. The word shemot means names, because we start out by naming all the descendants of Jacob who came down to Egypt. But the word exodus means going out (just like the word exit). In this book we will learn about how the Israelites leave Egypt and spend 40 years in the desert before entering the Land of Israel.
Why must they spend 40 years wandering, you may ask? Why couldn’t God just take them straight to Israel? The answer is this: Sometimes you are not ready to go on to the next level. If you try to take a fifth grade math test when you’re in fourth grade, you may fail. In the same way, the Israelites had a great deal of growing up to do. They were used to being slaves. They needed to learn how to become responsible citizens before they could be allowed to possess their land.
Blessed With Talents
Memories of Summer Camp
My first and only experience at summer camp was magical, or so it seemed to me. I entered a world I had never known before, and by summer’s end had gained some recognition into who I was and who I was not. No mean feat at 13.
A city boy, I developed at camp a feel for the country, which meant the forests and lakes of upstate New York. The silence and solitude of canoeing across an open lake got to me immediately. I prevailed on one of the boating counselors to make me an assistant in exchange for doing some of the grunt work around the dock. Every day at dusk, before putting the boats away, the two of us would set out across the lake in silence. I thought at that moment the universe belonged to the two of us.
It turned out that I had a talent for cross-country running, not a popular activity at camp that summer. Mostly I liked the sense of being alone – away from counselors, rules (Lord, there were so many rules) and, yes, even from the other campers – and running a makeshift course through the woods was exhilarating. My mind could range free as I ran: First I would empty my head of everything, then conjure up images from particular books I was reading to an imagined future that lay just beyond reach waiting to be encountered or fashioned by me. It was only in midsummer that a singular recognition dawned on me: I was an only child who did not particularly like the press of living with so many other bodies and voices. Running cross-country was a way of escaping.
So was birding. I was an athletic kid, used to the rough-and-tumble of school yards and city sports. But when a nature counselor passed along a copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s “Field Guide to the Birds,” another new world opened for me. Later in the year, and indeed in the years after that, I would head off spring weekend mornings for Central Park, Van Cortlandt Park, the Bronx Botanical Gardens, binoculars and Peterson’s guide firmly in hand. Of course, this too was a separate world – and one, moreover, inhabited mostly by adults. They were different from my parents, and from my relatives too.
They were quieter, for one. And they extended me a courtesy I treasured; despite our differences in age, they treated me like an equal, a member of some loosely affiliated but unincorporated “club” of bird-watchers, rather than as some 13 or 14-year-old kid.
Once, my father, suspicious that I might be engaged in some unsavory activity, questioned me about what I did when I was out birding. I tried to describe for him the sight of several blue herons I had watched that morning. They were sitting, perched on a long, thick, low tree branch hanging over the sluggish Bronx River. Suddenly, first one, then the other lifted off the tree, cutting arcs and patterns over the water, then began circling upward across the sky. My father stared at me blankly for a minute, not sure whether I was teasing him, then turned away. It was not one of my more successful moments.
There were mishaps at camp, to be sure. Once I seriously miscalculated and overturned badly in a canoe far out in the lake. Luck and the quiet skill of the boating counselor (I wasn’t so foolhardy as to break the waterfront rules and canoe alone) saved my hide, meaning perhaps my life. Fortunately, at 13 immortality is assumed and it neither deterred nor dampened my enthusiasm for boats and canoes.
It was inevitable that I would antagonize a counselor. I was grateful only one had singled me out for “not being part of the camp.” I lacked team spirit and set myself apart, he told me. I was going to be his summer project. It was clear he did not much like me. Nor, truth be told, did I care for him.
I volunteered for overnight hikes andbetween those trips, working with the boats and hanging out with the nature counselor, I managed to stay out of his way. Most important of all, I avoided complaining about him. It was between the two of us, and I didn’t want him to hear me grouse, nor was I willing to have him prevail.
By summer’s end, it had settled on me that I was a contrarian and pleased to be one, though at the time I did not know the word, nor had ever heard it in conversation. That was not supposed to be the outcome for a boy away at summer camp, where learning to get along and go along were the defining and accepted rules of the game.
But I knew I did not particularly care one way or the other about getting along, and I definitely resisted going along. It was astonishing to me that I had survivedthe camp experience, had not fallen afoul of more counselors who saw me as subversive, as someone who was not a team player and had therefore taken it upon themselves to straighten me out. But that had not occurred.
Nor was I singled out for being a nonconformist by some of the other kids. In general I was neither popular nor unpopular. Just someone who went through the summer camp unremarked, an outsider and yet not quite an outsider, for there was no active rebellion. I thought of myself as moving in a sidewards way, more aslant the others than in the same direction or in confrontational opposition.
Deep down I knew that I had begun, quite consciously, the difficult task of becoming my own person, and wanted time and space in which to sort things out. At camp, without much effort, I had that chance.
In 1987, Teryl Zarnow, an Orange County Register editorial writer and education reporter who had opted for a more flexible schedule after starting her family, decided to write a column about what it was like to be a mother. In her own defense, she says that she had just attended a baby shower. She wrote three columns and submitted them to the newspaper. They described the ordinary events of daily family life, only with a healthy dose of humor.
Initially, the editors seemed baffled by the columns. They ran them as vignettes and placed the pieces on the grocery page, she recalls. But then – surprise – readers began to seek them out and to respond. And Zarnow, to her delight, suddenly found herself a front-page columnist in Accent, the newspaper’s feature section.
Since then, Teryl Zarnow has been parlaying those funny family experiences into a weekly column. Syndicated over the Knight-Ridder wire, the column strikes a nerve with readers because it’s so universal. “One of my favorite columns was about a time when my daughter took off her shoes and socks and left them in the living room, and I tracked the progress of them for days,” she says. “It was absolutely nothing important, but it drove me nuts. The column gave me a way to get it out of my system.”
Zarnow’s column, the longest-running one in the Register, can be cathartic and therapeutic for her, she says. It also serves as a backdoor for sending messages to her family. “It turns out that it is a good way to ventilate,” she says. “But it is also a great way to communicate with my kids and let them know how I was feeling about something they did. Sometimes, it’s easier to put it in writing and show it to them, rather than trying to talk about it.”
Currently, Zarnow lets her children – Zachary, 16; Rachel, 14; and Noah, 12 – read her column before it gets published, “so other kids don’t say something to them about it first.” Some things that happen in the family are “nobody’s business, ” and she carefully screens these out. Moreover she never refers to her children or her husband, David, an engineer, by name. In addition to protecting the privacy of her family, not using anybody’s name makes the kids and their antics universal, she says.”The easiest columns for me to write are the ones where I pick on my husband,” Zarnow quips. “He’s a tempting target, but I only do that every four or five weeks.”
Zarnow says that her husband once told her, “You can write about what a fool I am, but just make sure I’m the fool you love.”
While Zarnow pokes good-natured fun at family life, it is clearly her need for a career wrapped around family life that motivated her present career path. “It’s isolating to be home with babies, and you have to develop a whole new infrastructure,” she says. “On the other hand, when both parents work full-time, it can take a toll on the family.”
Zarnow feels lucky to have the best of both worlds. She feels that “the Register supported and encouraged” her during three six-month maternity leaves and allowed her to go on a flexible schedule. “It’s a lot easier to like an employer when you’re working out of your home, but you also don’t get to eat lunch with people and share ideas,” she says.
In addition to her column, Zarnow writes feature stories for the Accent, Kidspace and Discover sections of the Register. She also serves as contributing editor to Orange County Woman and has had articles published in Child, Redbook, Working Mother and Ladies Home Journal. She enjoys “getting out and get connected in the community,” she says.
The author of two books, “Husband Is the Past Tense of Daddy – and Other Dispatches from the Frontlines of Motherhood” and “The Mother Side of Midnight – Nocturnal Confessions of a Lunchbox Queen,” Zarnow says the sales of the books haven’t made her “famous enough to have been on Oprah.”
Zarnow believes that the Register has expanded its coverage of the Orange County community, especially the Jewish community, over the years. She also feels fortunate that nobody tells her what to write. “The feature sections are impervious to the editorial sections, but I censor myself a lot,” she says. “I don’t want people to think: there’s that woman talking about how great her kids are again.”
Although the Register column does not have any particular Jewish focus, Zarnow muses that it has “the Jewish elements of self-analysis, guilt and angst, a la Woody Allen.”
Zarnow, whose grandfather was a rabbi in Chicago, has served on the Sisterhood board at Temple Bat Yahm. Currently, her activities include PTA membership in the three schools her children attend and participation in a mentoring program at Newport Harbor High School.
Having decided early in life that she wanted to write, Zarnow derives great joy from the response to her column. She says that she gets “great mail,” in which people identify with her experiences as a mother. Zarnow claims that she never runs out of material for the column, although she revisits some subjects occasionally.
“I’ve developed a voice in my column,” she concludes. “It’s not just what I say, but the way I say it.”
By Ilene Schneider is an editor and writer who lives in Orange County
That Clutter-Free State of Mind
Making Reading a Star Attraction
In a corner of downtown Central Library’s Children’s Literature Department, actor Elliott Gould is reading “Arthur’s New Puppy.” Over by the stacks, J. Paul Getty Trust President Emeritus Harold Williams enjoys a picture book about sunflowers. In another corner, TV personality Bob Saget pours through “Looking for Atlantis,” a sensitive read for kids tackling the topic of death. Across from him, actress Mayim Bialik is engulfed in a Babar tale, and beside her, producer Marc Platt is studiously leafing through one children’s book after another.
Despite appearances, these high-profile Angelenos are not on some trendy trek to connect with their inner child. They are, in fact, reading to school children at a star-studded kick-off for KOREH L.A., a new program designed to combat illiteracy.
Sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, “KOREH L.A.: The Los Angeles Jewish Coalition for Literacy” is the most recent affiliate of the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, a non-profit movement. The nationwide version is already up and running in more than 17 cities, such as Miami, Philadelphia and Boston (site of the program’s pilot). Now the reading campaign is finally hitting home. And with the involvement of more than 60 Jewish institutions — Young Israel of Century City, Shalhevet High School, Temple Isaiah, and Hadassah among them — KOREH L.A. is already the city’s largest Jewish coalition effort.
KOREH L.A. hopes to reverse some frightening statistics. Recent national statistics say California’s fourth-graders ranked second to last among 39 states in reading skills and comprehension. As high as 80 percent of those fourth-graders are not proficient readers, and more than half of them have failed to even partially master fundamental skills. Urban school districts have been particularly hard-hit by the disturbing trend.
So champions of KOREH L.A. believe the one-on-one reading initiative is particularly welcome here in Los Angeles, home to the nation’s second-largest school system with nearly 700,000 students. And beginning in October, hundreds of volunteers will be deployed throughout the LAUSD, where each will spend an hour a week reading to a designated child.
The Jewish Federation’s interest in KOREH L.A. started about a year and a half ago, when Michael Hirschfeld, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, attended a conference in Miami. There, he learned about the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy — the brainchild of Moment Magazine founder Leonard Fein — and the work that the nascent organization had begun across the Eastern seaboard. Hirschfeld was so taken with the idea that, upon his return, he immediately spoke to Elaine Albert, director of the JCRC’s Commission on Urban Affairs, about installing a local branch of Fein’s program. Soon, KOREH L.A. found a “literacy partner” in the Wonder of Reading — a non-profit organization that renovates public school libraries and trains tutors — which has helped place the program in more than 33 schools.
Local Authors: From Torah to Tinseltown
The tale of an orphan’s search for acceptance. A lawyer’s fantasy of a Holocaust survivor’s revenge. A book that may save your marriage.
These are just a few of the interesting choices made for this year’s People of the Book Festival.
Featuring more than 30 authors, including Nathan Englander, the very hot short story writer; Persian-Jewish novelist Gina Nahai; Alan Dershowitz and best-selling author Janet Fitch, the festival runs Nov. 10-21 at three Jewish Community Centers: West Valley (the Bernard Milken Campus), Westside and Valley Cities.
New for this year is the inclusion of the first women-authors panel discussion, “The Unbreakable Bond: Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters,” which will showcase Fitch, the author of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club selection “White Oleander” and popular newcomer Hope Edelman.
“It just seems like something that would appeal to several generations of the family,” said Festival Coordinator Seville Porush. “So, we’re encouraging grandmothers to come with their daughters and granddaughters.” The panel, originally scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 17 has been changed to Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the West Valley JCC.
People of the Book is the brainchild of Porush, program director for the West Valley Jewish Community Center. For this, its third year, Porush said the Book Festival committee decided to make a few improvements based on their experiences running the event the past two years, along with suggestions from The Jewish Book Council of New York.
“For example, this year we are holding all of the events in our three largest [Jewish Community] Centers,” she said. “The past two years we did it at a number of synagogues and center locations, too many to manage. We weren’t able to form that bond that makes a JCC festival work. It seems to be jelling this year and we’ve learned a lot; hopefully the festival will continue to grow and expand.”
Porush and her committee strove to make the festival a well-balanced mix of local and national authors. Local luminaries include Rabbis David Wolpe and Steven Leder; psychologist Betty L. Polston (see page 13), Ellen Jaffe-Gill, author of “The Jewish Women’s Book of Wisdom” and Risa Munitz-Gruberger and Rabbi Jeffrey A. Marx, co-authors of “What’s Right, What’s Wrong? A Guide to Talking About Values for Parents and Kids.”
Marx and Munitz-Gruberger will host a parenting program and discussion at all three of the festival’s locations on Family Day, Sunday, Nov. 21. The Family Day programs are all free, although the centers are requesting parents call for reservations for the special Children’s Program on “Mr. Belinsky’s Bagels” which will include crafts and bagel-making, plus a visit from the “Mr. Belinsky” character.
Adults can take their pick of discussions: from the ethereal (“Spirituality for the New Millennium”) to the concrete (“Finance and Investment Options”) to the historical (“Oswego,” a staged musical reading about 1,000 Holocaust survivors brought to safe haven in the United States).
“Our main purpose is to feature books of Jewish content, preferably by Jewish authors, both new books in the field along with some of the old standards people may have not had time to acquire — in other words, something for everyone,” said Fran Shuster, a former librarian and current chair of the Festival’s book selection committee.
For those who love art as well as books, West Valley JCC is hosting two shows in tandem with the festival: the “Beacon of Light” display in the Finegood Gallery with items from the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights and “Pages of My Life” in the Art Space on the Center’s first floor. “Pages” is a collection of photographs and watercolors by California artist Gay Wellington which are available for sale; a portion of the purchase price will be donated to the Festival and to the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles.
Costs for the festival range from as little as $2 for certain individual authors to the $18 program and kosher brunch for featured author Dershowitz. Series packages are available starting at $60.
For more information or a schedule of Festival events, call (818) 464-3300.
More Books in Orange County
The Jewish Community Center of Orange County launches its first Jewish Book Fair this year with several thought-provoking programs.
Nov. 7 at 2 p.m: A talk marking Kristallnacht with Marc Carrel, senior advisor to Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, examining the response of the Sacramento community to hate crimes. A portion of ticket sales will help replace books destroyed by the arson fires at Sacramento’s Congregation B’nai Israel.
Nov. 11 at 7 p.m: Israeli mystery novelist Batya Gur.
Nov. 14 at noon: author Nathan Englander.
Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m.: Lionel Okun, “Jews in Places You’ve Never Thought Of.”
Nov. 21: Susan Dworkin, co-author of “The Nazi Officer’s Wife.”
For information and reservations call (714) 755-0340.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
How Green is My Envy?
When my daughter, Samantha, was 6, I got a call from our synagogue’s Hebrew-school principal.
“Do you have a Christmas tree?” DiDi asked.
“Is that a serious question?”
“Samantha says you do. She told the class today that you have a Christmas tree and that it’s right near the fireplace,” she insisted. “Is it true?”
At first, I was appalled by the inquiry. Then I laughed at myself, having foolishly thought I could insulate my child from Christmas. There’s not a kid in America, of any religion, who doesn’t spend some time pining for a Christmas tree. In fact, it’s a national rite of passage: Christmas Tree Envy. Even youngsters in day schools go to the mall. They’d have to live in a tunnel not to know that red and green are important colors of the season.
So now that she reached this stage, what was I to do about it? For many Jewish parents, “the tree” is the religious equivalent of the conversation about sex — dark and dangerous territory. We avoid any such discussion until the kids raise it first.
“We have Chanukah,” we say, as if having a holiday of our own evens the score. Of course, it does not.
Most of what’s written on the so-called December Dilemma suggests that the problem is only a matter of education and pride. We’re told that Jewish children can avoid Christmas Tree Envy by learning about their own holidays, taking joy in their own history and celebrating Chanukah as a minor ritual that teaches the values of toleration.
Good beginning, but hardly enough. The biggest problem with Christmas is that it is undeniably beautiful, holy and spiritual. Its music is deeply moving. A home with a Christmas tree is filled with good smells, wonderful colors and, yes, fun. To deny that we, as adults, recognize the beauty of another tradition and that we, in our own way, are moved by “Silent Night,” at least on the level of harmonics, is preposterous and, worse, paints us as Scrooge. Bah, humbug.
But there is another approach, one based on our own tradition, as well as common sense. For it is important that all children, Jews not excluded, develop the capacity to respect a friend’s success, attainments and possessions. Our Yiddish grandparents have a word for this talent — farginen — and it is an important skill to master all year long.
To fargint someone means to allow another person to enjoy what he or she has, free from resentment, belittlement, threat or fear.
Farginen, writes Rabbi Nilton Bonder in “The Kabbalah of Envy” (an invaluable book for every Jewish library), “means to open space, to share pleasure; it is the exact opposite of the verb to envy.”
Bonder’s book demonstrates just how overpowering a disease envy can be. In fact, the sages assert that three things reveal a person’s character: his “cup” (meaning his appetites); his “pocket” (how he earns a living); and his “rage” (the envy by which he lives in the world).
As adults, we know how difficult it is to fargint someone’s good fortune. A friend’s book lands on the best-seller list, while yours is just getting off the ground. A screenwriter’s script is optioned, while yours gathers dust. Competition can kill us. The discipline to fargint assuages the competitive urge, allowing us to recognize another’s accomplishments and feel content with our own.
If we don’t practice farginen when we’re young, it won’t get easier later on. Samantha was about 4 when she first regarded a beautiful wreath on a door.
“Yep,” I muttered, but, afraid she would want one for our home, I tensed into silence. And she said nothing more. Later, she admired Christmas carols. “Nice,” I said, my voice tight. And she fell silent again.
But what had I taught her but to censor herself? This was no good, in ways that had nothing to do with December. By age 6, many children, like Samantha, experience not only Christmas Tree Envy but envy of all kinds, including sibling rivalry and schoolyard brawls. If she can’t fargint Christmas, how will she deal with college entrance exams or a friend whose home is “better” than ours?
So when Samantha came home from Hebrew school, I asked her if she liked Christmas trees. She looked at me suspiciously. “They are beautiful,” I said. She thought I was nuts.
“Would you like to see one?” Yes, of course. So off we went to the mall, and began to fargint.
Join Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, this Sunday morning at the Skirball Cultural Center when her guest will be Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. Her e-mail address is email@example.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.
Secular and Sacred