The poisoning of Beverly Hills High


Joy Horowitz’s “Parts Per Million: The Poisoning of Beverly Hills High School” (Viking) is a dense 350-page book detailing a four-year fight between 1,000 litigants who claimed oil wells at the school caused diseases, such as cancer, and defendants — including the oil companies, the city of Beverly Hills and school officials — who said there had been no harmful effects from the (profitable) derricks.

Could it be true that leakage from the derricks and power plant caused incidences of cancer up to three times more than normal, as some experts claim?

Or were people like Erin Brockovich, the celebrity environmental paralegal who took on the case, “ambulance chasers” and “fear-mongerers” relying on junk science, as defendants like Beverly Hills city officials and school administrators said?

As the case is being appealed — with a partial settlement offer of $10
million from one oil company — Horowitz, who will receive the Environmental Hero of 2008 award from the Environmental Relief Center on Jan. 31, believes the wells continue to endanger.

The author of “Tessie and Pearlie: A Granddaughter’s Story,” and the recipient, with her siblings, of the settlement of a case against tobacco companies fought on behalf of her late father, Horowitz spoke to The Jewish Journal about the complicated nuances of the lawsuit, why she thinks her message in “Parts Per Million” has been silenced, how the Jewish community sits at the center of the case and to what lengths people will go to protect their lifestyle.

Jewish Journal: How did you become involved in this story?
Joy Horowitz: I graduated in 1971 and went to my 30th reunion — it was a year late, in the summer of 2002. A lot of my classmates, whom I was looking forward to seeing, had died. They’d had cancer — some of them had multiple cancers. When you’re a person in your 40s, that’s too young. Then the following February of 2003, that’s when Erin Brockovich descended on Beverly Hills and started making these allegations between cancer and young graduates. I was very skeptical, but the more I looked into it, the more I found that what was being said publicly was not the reality of what was going on.

Parts Per MillionJJ: What was going on?
JH: You’ve got these two industrial sites [the oil derricks and the Sempra power plant], operating at a high school in Beverly Hills.
Over time, there was a major litigation filed, and the number of people with cancer mushroomed. What started off as about 28 graduates with cancer mushroomed into 1,000 plaintiffs, some 400 with cancer. The community said these emissions are inconsequential to the children’s health. There are epidemiological studies that suggest otherwise.

JJ: What kind of evidence was there linking disease to the oil wells and power plants?
JH: It depends who you talk to. As far as Beverly Hills High School (BHHS) goes, there were three epidemiological studies:
1) The Los Angeles cancer registry found threefold excess of thyroid cancer among young men living adjacent to Beverly Hills High School. But the author of that study said that her findings lacked statistical significance, so it wasn’t really an issue. (Her husband was working as a consultant for one of the defendants.)
2) Richard Clapp’s study, out of Boston University’s School for Public Health Research, found excess rates of cancer among graduates of BHHS from 1990-2000 — threefold for Hodgkin’s disease, twice the expected amount of thyroid cancer and elevated rates of testicular cancer — but he was working for the plaintiff’s law firm, so his study was ruled inadmissible by the judge, because it hadn’t been peer-reviewed and published.
3) There was a study that was never made public by Philip Cole, a retired epidemiologist who did a lot of work for industry at the University of Alabama. The school district cited Dr. Cole’s study as evidence that there wasn’t a higher rate of cancer among students at Beverly Hills High School, but the study was never made public, so I don’t know what the study is.

JJ: In November 2006, the judge summarily dismissed the first 12 plaintiff’s cases. In October 2007, Frontier Oil offered a $10 million settlement to plaintiffs. Why do you think that happened?
JH: For a couple of reasons. In order to get to trial relatively quickly — it still took three years — they had both the defense and plaintiffs agree to select six cancers. The strongest cases never got to court.
The other thing is the defendants, which included Sempra and Chevron, Frontier Oil and Venoco, continued to be willing to spend an unbelievable amount of money to defend these cases.

JJ: What do you think should be done now?
JH: Nobody has ever done a cohort study comparing the population at [this] high school to another high school. That would be a really good first step.

JJ: Why didn’t they do that?
JH: They didn’t want to invest in that. Had they invested in that, as opposed to all this money they spent on the lawsuit, that might have been an interesting step, but instead, they took great pains to keep information from getting public.
By and large, public health officials hate doing cluster investigations, because they’re almost impossible to determine, to establish a link between environmental factors and clusters. And statistically, it could just be by chance that there are all these extra cancers in this particular area. Historically, there have been very few proven. Most of the clusters that are proven are among occupational workers exposed to very high levels of carcinogens. The classic one is asbestos exposure, and mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the lung), which my dad got from smoking Kents with a filter. My dad died in 1996.
JJ: Was that part of the motivation for your book?

Online social scene clicks with younger set


OK, admit it. You’ve breathed a guilty sigh of relief that your kids are still too young to have been bitten by the MySpace bug. You’ve relished the reprieve (if only temporary) from the mounting worries of parents of virtual-social-networking-obsessed middle and high schoolers.

But just because your child is still a few years short of acne and raging hormones doesn’t mean he or she isn’t involved with online social networking. In fact, tens of millions of elementary-age kids (6-years-old and up) have posted personal pages on Web sites that are — for all intents and purposes — mini-MySpace.coms.

On the wildly popular ‘ target=’_blank’>Millsberry.com (as in General Mills cereals), kids create cartoon-like “buddies” and custom-built homes, and then meander around town socializing with Millsberry’s bottomless bowlful of citizens.

On ‘ target=’_blank’>ClubLego.com members build Lego self-representations and then schmooze to their heart’s content about the plastic interlocking cubes.

Inching closer to prime-time MySpace in terms of logistics and curb appeal, Time warp again? Take a step toward tradition

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times


If it says in the Torah that embarrassing someone is worse than death, then why does “Mortified” seem so Jewish?

The show features adults revisiting their own teen angst onstage by sharing their original childhood artifacts — journals, letters, poems, lyrics, illustrations, song and dance numbers — with perfect strangers in the audience. Very few of the performers are actors, which often makes their readings seem even more revealing and unfiltered as they read from their childhood keepsakes and offer comments on them. Many of these, which currently are being performed in versions of the show in five cities across the country, have been compiled into a book titled, “Mortified: Real Words, Real People, Real Pathetic” (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2006), offering both the original text and a view from the adult perspective. And it is this duality of real exposure and the distance of time that makes this so poignant — and mortifying.

The material often reveals the writer’s innermost fears. Here is Sharone Jelden writing when she was 17:

“Dear Diary ….When you’re Jewish and cheap you’re doomed. At school, I have to act extra-giving because I’m a Jew. Like if I’m in the food line to buy my Lorna Doones and tea in the morning and some popular girl like Cindy Mcklansky is in line in front of me, short of change or something, I have to give her money. I don’t have a choice; it’s a requirement.”

The topic of religious identity — Jewish and Christian — is heavily featured, such as in pieces like “Cheap Jew,” “The Unholy Land” “Gotta Have a (Boy) Friend Named Jesus,” “Courting Catholic Guilt,” but it’s far from the only subject excavated in “Mortified.”

“Religious identity and kids fitting in, that’s one of the top three things kids write about,” says David Nadelberg, creator, producer and self-titled “angstologist.” “We’re just reflecting what kids go through: romance, religion, peer groups, depression, parental relationships, divorce and remarriage and even eating disorders.”

Nadelberg first came across the unlikely combination of shame and humor when he was in his 20s, before the advent of reality television.

“I found some really wretched ancient love letters that I’d never sent to a poor, unfortunate girl, and I started really laughing at it,” he said. “I knew my friends would laugh at it, too.”

In 2002, he mounted his first production of “Mortified” to a sold-out audience in Los Angeles, and people began to ask when the next show would be. It now runs monthly in Los Angeles, with the next shows scheduled for Jan, 24 and Feb. 21. “Mortified” also now plays regularly in New York, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago.

The show does not aim for the kind of exhibitionism of reality shows, Nadelberg says. “It’s not ‘look at me, look at me,’ that’s not our focus. Our comedy philosophy is we want the audience to ‘laugh at, cheer for.'”

He says the point is not to mock what stupid kids we were, but to show warmth and humor in the pain.
In fact, as part of the Mortified “brand” — the five-city shows, the book, as well as animated YouTube videos — “Mortified” has begun to bring its performances back to a different kind of audience: Kids. Last month, for example, there was a special show for a Wilshire Boulevard Temple youth group. Afterward, kids came up to the performers and thanked them. Nadelberg says they showed the kids that “we’re all living these lives, and then we survived.”

It’s hard to believe they will survive, though, when listening to the overwrought angst and suffering in the pieces, which include stories of everything from shoplifting, cutting school, boy trouble, parental problems to coming out to issues of popularity and coming out as a homosexual and homesickness.

For example, from the 1976 summer camp letters of Adam Gropman:

“Dear Mom and Dad, I can’t stand it anymore!!! All the kids in my cabin hate me! They steal and wreck my things! I can’t escape it! I want … to go … KILL MYSELF!!!!”

His parents reply calmly:

“Dear Adam, “Think about something … you feel really good about. And then before you know it, you won’t feel like a Gloomy Gus anymore!”

This is right before Adam’s parents finally pull him from camp — none too soon, because a day after he left, a bunkmate burned down two cabins.

And therein lies the divide between people as adults — possessing life perspective and the ability to deal with crisis — and children, who experience intense fears, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, love and passion. Adults sometimes forget that it was all too real.

“There’s a difference between this and natural embarrassment,” says Neil Katcher, co-producer of “Mortified LA.” “A lot of what the show is about is aggressive embarrassment.

“People go on stage, knowing that what they wrote was embarrassing when they were younger. Allowing yourself to be embarrassed is the most cathartic thing about the show,” he says — for both performers and audience members. The cathartic thing “is very Jewish in my mind.”

“A lot of Jewish kids kept diaries. We’re brought up to be more expressive about our emotions. A lot of us had particularly strong mothers,” Katcher says. Even in Hebrew school you learn how to debate and discuss, he says. “That translates to people who think a lot more and who have a lot of inner debate and inner struggle, and it creates very expressive [people]. With really good inner debates.”

Nadelberg agrees. “It feeds off a Jewish stereotype … we’re just neurotic. We need a place to channel that neurosis. When we grow up and have money and we become Woody Allen, but until that time, we have our journals and letters and pages of horrific poetry. And that’s where we capture that.”

“Mortified LA” will be performed on Jan. 24 and Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. at King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.

For tickets call (877) 238-5596 or visit www.getmortified.com


David Nadelberg, Angstologist

Do Day School Health Programs Make the Grade?


Twenty parents from the Emek Hebrew Academy in Valley Village have come on a chilly winter evening to hear Dr. Francine Kaufman, a national expert on diabetes and childhood obesity, talk about promoting children’s health. Although the school has 455 families, Rabbi Sholom Strajcher, the school’s dean, is not discouraged by the modest turnout.

“We have to change the culture…. It’s a challenge,” he said.

Strajcher (pronounced Striker) tells the group he’s been overweight since childhood.

“When I was growing up, no doctor or teacher ever mentioned my weight,” he said. “I am reaping the result of all those years.”

He is not alone. In fact, Strajcher’s students are even more likely to struggle with weight issues. According to the Institute of Medicine, an agency under the National Academy of Sciences, more than 9 million U.S. children above the age of 6 are considered overweight or obese. The litany of health consequences associated with obesity — diabetes, cancer and heart disease, to name a few — might result in today’s children becoming the first generation in American history with a lower life expectancy than their parents. For children born in 2000, their lifetime risk of developing diabetes exceeds 30 percent.

Many can name factors contributing to these alarming trends: An increase in sedentary activities, such as television and computers; greater demand for convenience foods; advertisements targeting kids with high-fat foods, and an environment that discourage walking and physical activity. Given the breadth of the problem, solutions require action on all levels of society — from government and business to schools and families. Jewish day schools, which may not see their role in the equation, have been slow to address these concerns.

But some have begun to take action.

Let’s Get Physical

At Jewish day schools, the demands of a dual curriculum coupled with limited outdoor space can cause physical education to take a back seat. This is decidedly not the case at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Day School. When Head of School Sheva Locke joined the Encino school four years ago, one of her first priorities was instituting an athletic program. The school now employs an athletic director and two full-time coaches who supervise physical education classes and activities at recess and lunch.

The athletic department also runs an extensive after-school team sports program. Kindergarteners through third-graders can join in a Junior Sports Club, while fourth- through sixth-graders can participate in competitive sports, including basketball, soccer, football and volleyball — and 98 percent of them do. The teams compete in the San Fernando Valley Private School League. VBS provides transportation to off-site games to make participation easier on parents and children.

“The focus was on getting as many children as possible to participate and to play,” Locke said. “The problem solving and goal setting that goes along with having a physical fitness program is equally as important.”

During the school day itself, VBS provides physical education twice a week, a figure fairly standard in the day school world. For students who don’t participate in after-school physical activities, that amount is woefully inadequate, according to physician Fran Kaufman, professor of pediatrics at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles.”

“Kids should be active for 60 minutes each day,” she said.

The state of California requires that children in first through sixth grade have a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education time per 10 days of school, which averages 20 minutes per day. In seventh through 12th grade, the time requirement doubles. (According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, 51 percent of school districts reviewed failed to meet the state’s minimum requirement for physical education time.)

Those numbers fall far short of the 60 minutes daily recommended by Kaufman and the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And as Emek’s Strajcher points out, not all of that time involves being active.

“Even when kids are supposedly playing, how much of that time is spent waiting for a turn?” he asks.

At Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood, instructor Alan Rosen has designed a unique program where lessons on character and values are integrated into physical education. On the play area used by the elementary school students, circles painted on the blacktop list such values as responsibility, humility, effort and cooperation. The words are incorporated into songs and games, and are referred to in the course of regular physical activities.

“If it’s important, you find the time,” said Maimonides’ principal, Rabbi Karmi Gross. “Physical activity doesn’t have to be divorced from what else is being done.”

By the Book

Inside the classroom, the content and amount of wellness-related curriculum varies from school to school. An informal survey taken by the Bureau of Jewish Education of Los Angeles on nutrition education garnered responses from only 10 schools out of more than 30. Of those, half had no “formal” nutrition curriculum, and relied primarily on teacher-generated materials.

Because health is not a subject for which the state requires standardized testing, public school districts vary in the degree of emphasis they give the topic. Los Angeles Unified School District specifies knowledge and abilities that students are expected to master in grades four, seven, and high school.

In both public and private schools, a dedicated health class is generally taught in middle school. Seventh graders at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge take a health and life sciences class that focuses on the physiology and biology of the human body. An eighth-grade nutrition unit includes a screening of the school version of “Super Size Me,” in which the filmmaker traced his odyssey eating McDonald’s fare exclusively three times a day for one month, and how his body suffered as a result.

“We talk about individual choices and about society, and we discuss where responsibility lies,” said science teacher Liz Wenger. “We look at how society is changing the way we eat, such as not eating at home as much, and eating larger quantities and higher fat foods.”

The students calculate their own caloric intake and use a calorimeter to measure the amount of food energy in various foods. They also build pumps to replicate the heart and use stoppers to illustrate cholesterol build-up.

VBS employs a full-time nurse whose duties include teaching health-related lessons to all grade levels. At Milken Community High School, ninth graders take a class, designed with input from a health educator and a rabbi, which explores physical, social and emotional health as well as sexuality and tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse.

Ess, Ess Mein Kind

Learning about nutrition doesn’t necessarily translate into action. Most of the schools interviewed expressed concerns about the food they provided to students, not only through formal meal programs, but also informal means such as class parties or incentives.

Eating can be an emotionally charged issue given its integral role in Jewish practice. The ubiquity of food is illustrated in the oft-repeated definition of Jewish holidays:

They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

“Every time we celebrate, we celebrate with food — and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Emek’s Strajcher. The question is what kind of food and how much. He said that traditionally, when students began to learn the aleph-bet (Hebrew alphabet) in school, the rebbe would put a drop of honey on each letter so that the children would associate learning with sweetness. Even in the synagogue itself, congregants throw candy for auf-rufs (engagements), bar mitzvahs and other celebrations.

Some parents are troubled by the amount of sugary snacks given to their children.

Kaufman noted that packaged kosher snacks can be some of the worst offenders in terms of saturated fat content.

Last year, Emek parents formed a committee and worked with the school’s caterer and a nutritionist to improve the healthfulness of school lunches. Parent Amy Leibowitz, who spearheaded the committee, said it was a challenge to satisfy nutritional, budgetary and kashrut considerations simultaneously. The results included adding fruit and salad, subtracting dessert, serving foods that are baked instead of fried, serving leaner, lower-salt meat, and making water available at mealtimes. She said that classes now celebrate all the month’s birthdays at one time to limit the influx of sugary treats.

Maimonides also revised its lunch program, and modified the practice of using food as an incentive. Instead of giving Israeli chocolates as rewards, principal Gross now gives Israeli postcards.

“We’re not yet where we want to be,” he said. “But we’ll eventually get there.”
Vending machine soft drink sales — a tempting source of revenue for some schools — will likely decline due to a decision announced in May by the nation’s largest beverage distributors to discontinue selling beverages with more than 100 calories to schools. It is estimated that the practice will affect 87 percent of the public and private school market.

As schools grapple with decisions regarding food policies, Emek’s Strajcher says that they can look to Judaism for a model of dietary self control.

“Kashrut [shows us that] when it comes to food, there has to be a certain discipline,” he said.

And as Eileen Horowitz, principal at Temple Israel of Hollywood, noted, “The [mission] for a Jewish school is teaching how to make good choices. That applies to how we talk to a neighbor as well as what we put in our mouth.”

Just Do It

Some administrators cited the challenge of fitting in adequate time for physical activity and comprehensive health education on top of an already full dual curriculum.

“There’s tremendous pressure for time,” acknowledged Dr. Roxie Esterle, Heschel’s associate head of school. “It’s a very full day and it gets fuller and fuller,” she said, mentioning computers and technology as examples.

Secular schools also struggle with these issues. A recently released national report found that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was threatening physical education time because subjects that are not tested — including physical education — receive lower priority. In Los Angeles, 68 percent of high school students failed to meet recommended levels of physical activity according to a 2005 study by the CDC.

Yet, practicality dictates that schools take action on this issue: The California Department of Education states that healthy, active and well-nourished children are more likely to attend school and are more prepared and motivated to learn. The 2006 Shape of the Nation Report, issued jointly by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association, recommends that schools across the country “make physical education instruction the cornerstone of a comprehensive school physical activity program that also includes health education, elementary school recess, after-school physical activity clubs and intramurals, high school interscholastic athletics, walk/bike to school programs and staff wellness programs.”

Given that Judaism mandates the care of our bodies, Jewish day schools have an imperative to address these issues.

“If you’re not healthy, it’s hard to serve God with fullness,” Strajcher said. “Your soul can only do what it needs to do when your physical self is intact.”
He hopes to spare his students from facing the weight issues that have plagued him since childhood, and from the dire consequences which may result.

“If this is preventable and we can do something about it, it’s our obligation to do so,” he said.

Health Report Card for Schools

To determine how well your school promotes wellness, here are some questions to ask:

  1. How much physical education time is allotted?
  2. Is the physical education instructor certified?
  3. Are children actively engaged during physical education and recess?
  4. Does the school offer after-school activities or team sports?
  5. Do health lessons address nutrition and physical activity?
  6. What is the content of school lunches, and who determines this?
  7. Are fresh fruits and vegetables offered daily?
  8. Does the school have a policy on desserts and snacks?
  9. Is there a vending machine on campus? What does it offer?

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, August 13

Spend some quality time with the kiddies before the back-to-school commotion ensues. Saturdays at the Whitefire Theatre, “Precious Piglet and Her Friends” is a musical that teaches kids about self-esteem and friendship. Writer Carrol Mendelson and musician and songwriter Ken Mazur teamed up to create something that was educational for children ages 2 and up, and entertaining for the their parents, too. It runs through December.

11 a.m. $10. 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 990-2324.

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Sunday, August 14

This afternoon, a coalition of organizations commemorates Tisha B’Av, along with the Aug. 12, 1952, Soviet executions of Yiddish writers that closely coincides with the Jewish holiday. The program will focus on the careers of Polish bundist leaders Henryk Erlich and Viktor Alter, and will also feature poems and songs set to the words of Soviet poets.

2 p.m. Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

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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 Arts


Saturday

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). 73201¼2 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 930-0391.

Sunday

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

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Monday

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

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Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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

Thursday

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.

Friday

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.

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 abbygilad@yahoo.com

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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 abbygilad@yahoo.com .

Kids Page


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.

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.

Zarnow’s Zingers


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

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.

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 wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.

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