Groups praise child nutrition law, with qualms


Jewish groups praised the renewal of a law funding school meals, but expressed concern that it was financed in part by money designated for food stamps.

The approval in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act means the bill—which had been subject to some last minute wrangling—is ready for enactment by the president.

The bill extends for another ten years funding for school lunches and breakfasts for children from families that depend on the meals, estimated at 4.2 million households.

The passage “is an important achievement that will improve the lives of millions of children,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public policy umbrella for the Jewish community.  “This bill is an acknowledgement that in a nation as bountiful as ours, no child should worry about when their next meal will be.”

The JCPA was at the forefront of an interfaith coalition lobbying for passage.

Other groups that had sought the bill’s passage included the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and the National Council for Jewish Women.

All three groups in their statements praising passage expressed regret that some of $4.5 billion in funding was drawn from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp benefits.

“By imposing what amounts to a $60 per month cut in SNAP benefits for a family of four, Congress hurts the very families that this legislation is designed to help,” the RAC said. “Cutting SNAP benefits during the third consecutive year of rising poverty rates negates the positive impact of a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization. We call on Congress to act immediately to restore SNAP benefits to the level of funding that recipients were told they could rely upon until 2018.”

frdy nt efis


Rabbi Effie Golberg is in a bind. It’s late Friday night and he’s got about 60 noisy teenagers at his home in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Right now, they aresampling five different cholents, as part of his first-ever Cholent Cook-Off.

But there’s a problem: Cholent No. 4 is too popular, and they’ve run out of No. 4 cards. Since they can’t make new ones on Shabbat, the rabbi needs to improvise. He sees that cholent No. 5, his own, has gotten no reaction, so he announces that No. 5 cards will now count for cholent No. 4.

Problem solved.

It’s another day at the office for Rabbi Effie, the head of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) on the West Coast.

Rabbi Effie’s specialty is dealing with teenagers. On this night, a happy group of teens is buzzing throughout his modest but welcoming home, and they are filling its many “play areas.”

Within about a minute, he asks a 10th grade YULA girl how her science project is coming along; he tells a Shalhevet boy that he hasn’t yet received his paperwork for the “regionals” (the nickname for their big annual Shabbaton in December); and he introduces a kid from Natan Eli to a kid from Shalhevet (where he gives a class on comparative religion).

The rabbi has some extra stress tonight, because the housekeeper didn’t show, and his 9-month-old baby girl is having trouble sleeping. His wife and partner, Sara Leah, a New York frummie who could have played the lead in Woody Allen’s “Radio Days,” is commuting between the baby’s bedroom and the kitchen, handing out little cholent containers, directing traffic between the crockpots and matching her husband’s affinity for delivering instant soundbites to an easily distracted generation.

As the climax of the evening approaches — the reveal of the best cholent — Sara Leah is helping her husband gather everyone in the kitchen. They interrupt a high-intensity foosball game, kids playing cards and board games and others just being loud for no reason. It’s clear they don’t mind yelling above the din of the crowd to get people’s attention.

Every party has a star, and for my money the star of this party is a stocky, Moroccan version of John Belushi (kids, go rent “Animal House” or “The Blues Brothers”) who goes by the name of Ouriel.

This 23-year-old character recently joined the staff at NCSY, and tonight he will announce the winner. When he introduced the five cholents a little earlier, he used references to the movie “Borat” and the MTV show “Yo Momma!” to make fun of everything, including the crockpots. He picked on a fancy-looking crockpot (my daughter’s) by referring to MTV’s “Pimp My Ride,” revealing with a perfect deadpan that this particular crockpot came equipped with a DVD player and a navigation system.

When Ouriel announces the final scores, he shows no mercy for the losers, which plays well with a crowd raised on “American Idol.” As the contest comes down to the two finalists, he lowers his voice to build suspense. He’s no fool. He knows that the grand prize — a $20 gift certificate at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf — will not build suspense on its own, so he must compensate. By the time he announces the winner (cholent No. 4, Sephardic style) and ridicules the runner-up cholent’s Polish Ashkenazi lineage, it’s clear that the yelling and celebrating have nothing to do with the winning of a free chai latte.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Effie is schmoozing with a 15-year-old boy from Beverly Hills High, trying to entice him to come to the regionals (“the food and the speakers will be amazing”). He also reconnects with an alum who is now at USC and who tells me that in his last year of high school he rarely missed a Friday night of E=MC2.

E=MC2 is the somewhat corny name for Rabbi Effie’s Friday night drop-ins (Effie’s = munchies plus chillin’ and cholent), but corny or not, the kids have been coming. What started as impromptu invitations to a few high schoolers three years ago has become a weekly happening for the teens of the hood.

Outside, I ask a Shalhevet girl who is a friend of my daughter why she likes going to Effie’s, and she replies that it makes Shabbat “less boring.”

Rabbi Effie is very aware that “not boring” is the secret password to win over teenagers. If you hear what this sharp-dressing 28-year-old has to sell — lighting Shabbat candles, putting on tefillin, learning Torah, eating kosher, honoring the Shabbat, honoring your parents, visiting the sick, avoiding gossip, saying your brachas, etc. — you understand why he needs to avoid boredom at all cost.

He heads two organizations on the West Coast: NCSY, which runs programs for teenagers in Jewish day schools, and JSU (Jewish Student Union), which works with Jewish teenagers in public schools. As he sees it, he encourages both groups of kids to do the same thing: strengthen their connection to Judaism, whether their level of Torah observance is high or nonexistent.

Although he doesn’t shove the Orthodox label down anybody’s throat, he makes no apologies for his Orthodox agenda (NCSY does, after all, fall under the Orthodox Union umbrella), nor for the fact that he would love to see every Jewish teenager in America keep the Shabbat and eventually marry Jewish.

He’s smart enough to take what he can get. He once pleaded with a teenage girl who was completely disconnected from her Judaism to try honoring the Shabbat for just 10 minutes: light the candles, he told her, and stay off the Sidekick, the iPod and the TV for 10 minutes, and try it again next week, this time for 20 minutes.

He believes that if he can keep the kids busy with their Judaism, they’ll spend less time wasting their lives away on things like MySpace and YouTube.

For the Kids


Chanukah!


The holiday of lights is here
It gives me such a lift
When candles burn so bright and clear
That I can see my gift!

Have You Lost Your Marbles?

Well, you better find them to make this chanukiah!

You will need:

Nine glass jars (baby food jars work) and colored marbles.

Acetate (a clear hard plastic sheet that can be cut with scissors).

Decorate the outside of the jars with Stars of David or
Chanukah symbols.

Arrange the jars in a line and fill them with the marbles.
Make sure you fill the middle jar higher so that the shamash candle will be
higher than the others. Cut out nine circles from the acetate to fit over the
tops of the jars.

Make a slit in the middle of each circle large enough to
insert a candle.

Now you have your own beautiful chanukiah.

Or try this sweeter version:
Buy nine sufganiyot (jelly donuts) or cupcakes. Line them up.

Wrap the bottoms of the candles in tin foil (to keep them from dripping on the delectable donuts).

Stick them in the middle of each pastry. Yum!

Not Just for Kids


Purim may conjure up visions of kiddie games, sugar-addled
toddlers and homemade noisemakers, but it lends itself just as well to adult
forms of celebration. The Talmud instructs us to drink and make our hearts
merry with wine on Purim until we cannot tell the difference between “cursed be
Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.”

For American Jews who were raised on G-rated carnivals held
in synagogues and schools, the idea that Purim could look more like a Jewish
variation on Mardi Gras can come as a minor revelation. Just think: Dance
parties instead of spin art; the pop of a wine cork instead of the slosh of a
doomed goldfish in a Zip-Locked baggie; and costumes that might even make
Vashti blush.

After all, the Shushan story is one of our spicier
narratives. Underneath the sanitized children’s version, there is a rich tale
of palace intrigue, sexual power struggles, violence and desire. The king
demands that Vashti parade in front of his wine-soaked friends, wearing nothing
but her crown. After Vashti’s rebellion and violent demise, Esther, a lovely
virgin, is taken to the palace, rubbed with oil and beautified for display, so
that she may be chosen as queen instead of just palace concubine. Haman plots,
Mordechai maneuvers and, ultimately, the Jews of Shushan escape death. Who
needs goldfish?

For the over-21 set, there are now more adult opportunities
to celebrate Purim than there used to be. While family-oriented events still
dominate, there has been a conscious effort in recent years to organize Purim
celebrations that will appeal to Jews who are young, single and unaffiliated.

A Green Martini Purim

ATID’s first ever Purim Bash is a case in point.

“We want to attract people who otherwise would never come to
shul on Purim,” said recording artist and Friday Night Live music director
Craig Taubman. Through his independent label, Craig ‘n Co., Taubman is
co-producing the Purim party at Bergamot Station. Taubman will be there in
tandem with Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe kicking-off the first party
sponsored by ATID (Hebrew for “future”), a new group under Sinai’s auspices
that has been set up to fund programming for young Jewish professionals.
Inspired by their success with Friday Night Live, Taubman and Wolpe, believe
the Jewish establishment must think creatively in order to spark any interest
among disaffected, unaffiliated Jewish singles.

“We’re looking to attract people who don’t even usually
consider attending anything remotely Jewish,” Taubman said.

A DJ, guitar player and percussionist billed collectively as
Tribe 1, will provide live music. Wolpe will conduct a decidedly nontraditional
Megillah reading jazzed up by the Purim Posse, a troupe of professional actors
who, Taubman said, will dramatize a rather “spicy” version of the holiday tale.
Strolling musicians and jugglers will entertain partygoers while interactive
performers will mingle with the crowd. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Purim
celebration without costumes. Grand prize in the ATID costume contest will be
two tickets to New York City on American Airlines, with other prizes for
runners-up.

“Estherminator”

In an irreverent press release that promises to “put the
‘fun’ back into fundamentalism,” a group of New York- and San Francisco-based
actors, musicians and educators will bring “Estherminator,” their edgy version
of a Purimspiel, to Los Angeles’ Echo Club on March 16.

Billed as a “psycho-pious Purim rock opera,” Estherminator
is an hour-plus piece of Megillah-inspired performance art put together by Amy
Tobin of The Hub in San Francisco, and the New York-based Storahtelling
Project, a nonprofit group founded by artistic director Amichai Lau-Lavie.
Lau-Lavie, like his organization, has an interesting pedigree. His work as
scholar-in-residence at New York City’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun transformed
the staid, Saturday morning Torah services into pieces of dynamic performance
art that taught — as well as inspired.

Original music is woven into show, and the evening promises
to provide a modern take on the timeless themes of power, vengeance, sex and
politics. While “Estherminator” is the centerpiece of the evening, it’s still a
party. Drinking and dancing will get equal billing, with a live DJ and a cash
bar both before and after the performance.

“We’re hoping to attract a funky and cutting-edge crowd
from the more radical, underground Jewish arts scene,” saidStorahtelling
marketing director,Stephanie Pacheco.

Brazilian Night Singles Party

What better way to honor Los Angeles’ dizzying polyglot
culture than to gather together in West Hollywood to celebrate an ancient
Persian story with booze, kosher food, music, Brazilian dancers and a
Vegas-style casino?

At Brazilian Night, the fourth annual Purim party hosted by
the Iranian American Jewish Federation’s (IAJF) Youth Division, you don’t have
to be Iranian to come and celebrate, or to meet that special someone. All
Jewish singles between the ages of 21 and 38 are welcome to dance to music spun
by DJ Shaad, dine on glatt kosher hors d’oeuvres, gamble at the casino tables
with $1,000 faux dollars in chips that will be handed out at the door, win
prizes and shimmy to the tropical beat of live Brazilian dancers.

IAJF planners say they expect a strong turnout of singles,
as they have in years past. Youth Division Chair Elliot Benjamin said this will
be the fourth year they’ve held the Purim party, and it’s always a hit.

Shushan Revisited

Now in its third year, Purim Extravaganza 3 at the Century
Club is a veritable tradition in Los Angeles. This year, the festivities are
sponsored by the Happy Minyan, Olam and the Chai Center.The party is geared
toward “Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, non-affiliates and any Jew that moves,”
host Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz says in his press release.

With Megillah readings beginningat 7 p.m. and continuing
every hour from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., the evening will also include entertainment
by Yehuda Glantz, Peter Himmelman, Gregg Fisher, The Happy Minyan Band and
comedians seen on Leno and Letterman.

For more information, check our Arts and Calendar sections.

  • ATID’s Purim Bash at Bergamot: Monday, March 17, 8 p.m.,
    Bergamot Station Art Center, Track 16 Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa
    Monica. $25 cover includes all food, drinks and entertainment. Costumes
    encouraged. Reservations are required. Call (310) 481-3244; or visit
    www.fridaynightlive.net.

  • Estherminator: Sunday, March 16. Doors open at 8 p.m. $8
    (with costume); $10 without. Club Echo, 1822 West Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.
    For information, call (323) 761-8350.

  • Brazilian Night Singles Party: Saturday, March 15, at the
    Iranian American Jewish Center, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., Los Angeles.
    Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is a donation to IAJF; $40 (in advance) $50 (at
    the door). Ladies entering before 9:30 p.m. are charged 2 for 1 (either in
    advance or door ticket sales). For tickets or more information, call (323)
    656-3150.

  • Purim Extravaganza 3 at The Century Club, 10131
    Constellation Ave. Century City. $15. Costumes optional. For more
    information, call (310) 285-7777 or (310) 391-7995.

Varsity Blues


As the summer draws to a close, Jason Kahan feels anxious and excited: soon his firstborn, Aron, is to begin his freshman year of college at UC Santa Barbara.

"On one hand, I recognize that he’s going to a good school and it’s a great opportunity for him," admits the psychologist from Playa del Rey. "But at the same time, it’s very difficult to imagine that come Sept. 23, we’re going to drop him off and he won’t be in house anymore. It’s pretty heavy duty."

Whether the distance is 100 miles or 1,000 miles, the experience of letting a child go off into the world can be just as stressful for parents as it is for the child, if not more. From nursery school to college, parents are having separation anxiety over issues such as safety, religious observance, independence and social concerns.

This year, Beatrice Levavi of Los Angeles will send her third of seven children off to college. She’s already sent Reuben to NYU, and this year, 18-year-old Max will leave home to join his big sister, Rebecca, at Brandeis. "It always feels as though someone is cutting off a limb," jokes Levavi, who works in public relations at Shalhevet High School. "At some level, it doesn’t get any easier. You feel this intense pride that they can function independently. At the same time, you feel this stark terror that you haven’t prepared them enough."

While Levavi admits that losing the presence of a child changes the family dynamic, in her own experience, the bonds have remained as strong as ever. "What you save on food bills, you spend on phone bills," she says. The advent of e-mail and Instant Messaging has also helped the children keep in touch with their older brothers and sisters.

Because her son has participated in a number of summer programs on the East Coast, actress Sarah Jane Schwartz of Hollywood Hills isn’t quite as apprehensive about Trevor’s departure for Princeton University. Schwartz is more worried about her son’s physical safety. Trevor spent this past summer at an internship in Washington, D.C.

"In a way, that was a bigger leap because while he lived in the dorms of George Washington University, he was pretty much on his own as far as getting around, and that was scary for us," Schwartz says. "This summer we were anxious to hear from him out of concern, but when he goes to Princeton, we’ll want to hear from him out of curiosity." Schwartz says that Trevor is very passionate about his Judaism and plans to become involved with the school’s active Hillel.

Ellen Greenberg of Beverly Hills has mixed emotions about seeing her daughter, Blair, off to Ohio University. "It’s difficult. In one respect, I’m going to miss her, but in the other respect I think it’s a very healthy thing for her to spread her wings, live on her own and learn self-discipline," says Greenberg, who works in the film industry. Since Blair flourished as a student at Beverly Hills High School, Greenberg is confident that her daughter will continue to prosper academically. In addition, Blair went to summer camp back east, so Greenberg feels that she’ll adjust quickly to being away from home. Her biggest concern is that Blair will leave behind the culturally rich city of Los Angeles. "She’s going to a very small college town that has one movie theater. There are no malls, no department stores and all the activities are campus-driven. I have a feeling she’s in for a culture shock," says the Beverly Hills resident.

Empty-nest syndrome isn’t unique to parents of college students. Parents of preschoolers also experience a loss when their children begin their early education. Alissa Block is adjusting to the fact that her 2-year-old daughter, Rachel, will start preschool in a few weeks at B’nai Tikvah in Westchester. After a six-month stint of caring for Rachel and her baby brother at home, Block is ready to go back to work as a legal recruiter. To ease the transition, she is currently helping Rachel assimilate to the school a few hours each week.

"It’s bittersweet," Block admits. "I’m excited for her, but it definitely pulled at my heartstrings when I saw her be aloof and not having friends, yet, while the other kids paired-off." Block is confident that both she and Rachel will adjust to the new situation, as she’s watched friends go through the process with their own children.

Heidi Birnbaum, who already went through the preschool experience with her 5-year-old son, isn’t worried about sending Jessie, her 2-year-old daughter, to Temple Etz Chaim preschool in Thousand Oaks. "I’m actually excited," admits Birnbaum."I haven’t had any free time since my son was born, because we don’t have any other family out here to watch the kids." The Agoura Hills resident is also comforted by the fact that her child will only be gone three hours per day.

As Kahan continues to prepare his son for his new life in Santa Barbara, he is comforted by the fact that Aron will be relatively close by. While his child is "not overly religious, but Jewish in his heart," Kahan is also relieved that Aron plans to be active in UCSB’s Hillel program.

While Levavi jokes that her house will be "much quieter, much neater and much less interesting" when Max leaves this fall, she feels that the process is a natural progression.

"As much as [children] are the most important things when they’re in the house, they can’t be the sum total of your life because that’s too big a burden on them," she says. "Everyone has to shift, and the family restructures itself. You begin to accept it as a healthy stage of their life and you just pray that you’ve put enough into them that they’ll flourish wherever they’re going."

Hints for Parents of College-Bound Kids

1. Find out if the school has a parents’ weekend and get information on it.

2. Ask your child if he/she would like to come home for the High Holy Days or Thanksgiving.

3. Make sure you have your child’s new address so that you can send mail and care packages.

Some schools have prepackaged goody baskets with things like laundry detergent, shampoo, a toothbrush, school supplies and study snacks that parents can send to kids.

4. Some synagogues offer college care packages for various Jewish holidays like Chanukah and Passover.

5. Get your child’s e-mail address. This is a great way to keep in touch without bombarding your son or daughter with phone calls.

6. Feel free to send reminders of home, like local newspaper clippings, homemade cookies and photos from recent family events.

7. If your child is far away, sign up for frequent flyer programs available through various airlines.

8. Try to keep your emotions at bay when you talk to your child. Remember, he or she is the one going through the biggest adjustment.

9. Talk to friends who are in the same situation so you can commiserate, if needed.

Kids Page


Ack! Summer’s halfway over. I hope you’re having a great summer. Are you at camp? Did your parents take you on a fun trip? A cruise, perhaps?

In this week’s portion, Moses asks the Israelites to remember that while they are about to enter a rich and fertile land, “flowing with milk and honey,” they must always remember those who need help: the orphan, the widow, the stranger and the poor.

So, while you continue to enjoy your summer, maybe you can also think a little about someone who needs your help. That kid down the block who has no one to play with. Or maybe you can pay a visit to the Jewish Home for the Aging or bring some food to a homeless shelter. You can brighten up someone else’s summer, too!

Pre-Pesach Culinary Blues


The pre-Pesach season is both exciting and disturbing to my family. Exciting, because due to our exuberant cleaning for the holiday, emptying drawers, overturning mattresses and, in general, preparing the house for a visit by Martha Stewart, we find all kinds of things that have been missing in action for months.

Today, one son found a Game Boy game under a bookshelf and two week’s worth of allowance in the sock drawer. He even found something relevant to the task at-hand, which was the vestiges of a Chips Ahoy! package, still full of crumbs. My daughter found a long-lost favorite hairbrush in the closet and some packets of candy under her bed. She has no idea how the candy, a brand expressly forbidden by me, got to her room, but is sure that she had nothing to do with it.

The countervailing bad news in this otherwise sunny scenario is that we eat some strange and even terrible dinners before the festival of freedom. See, I hate to waste any food, and I have no pride whatsoever when it comes to reaching back into the recesses of the freezer or pantry and patching together something resembling a meal, even from scraps of pita bread with a terminal case of freezer burn.

A few days ago, for example, I cleaned out another freezer shelf and used it to offer up the following "meal" (perhaps this is a stretch) for the six of us: 13 fish sticks, a lone piece of petrified pizza, a cup- and-a-half of roasted pistachios, a bowl of corn and two cheese blintzes. My kids looked with horror at this sorry excuse for a family dinner and begged for cereal and — appealing to my sense of Pesach preparation — noted that we still had five boxes left. After standing guard to make sure they ate at least two fish sticks each, I gave in and watched them practically run over one another to make a real dinner out of Honeycomb, Crispix and milk.

During the rest of the year, as soon as the kids see me after school, they ask impatiently, "HiMaWhatsFaDinna?" But, once they come home and see we are wiping down linen closets and dusting off toys to make them chametz-free, they are too frightened to ask. And if they dare, it is with a quivering voice.

My husband, who has learned a thing or two in nearly 15 years of marriage, just eats what’s offered. He knows that brisket is just around the corner on seder night. The kids begin pleading for pizza. They are so earnest in their appeals, they even offer to do extremely uncharacteristic things, such as clean their own rooms and bathe without waiting for any parental threats or intimidation.

And they know they will soon get their pizza, because at a certain point, I will run out of food. And because no one is eager to eat Pesach food before absolutely mandated by law, we, along with about 4,000 of our neighbors, start hitting the kosher pizza joints. Let me tell you, if there was ever a proving ground for our perseverance as a people, you can see it in the lines at the pizza shops in the waning days before Pesach. No one has chametz in the house anymore. No one wants to cook. Everyone is turning their kitchens around to be kosher for Pesach, and we will wait as long as it takes, sometimes for days, for a hot pizza and calzone.

Well, my pantry and freezer are pretty bare right now, so this will probably be the last night I can get away with serving another in the series of pathetic pre-Pesach portions. Tonight we are having three thawed-out chicken drumsticks (age indeterminate), six bagels (with only moderate freezer burn), pretzels (only semi-stale), peanut butter and canned peaches.

With the yom tov only days away, we’re so close to repast redemption, I can almost smell the brisket now.

Decorating Your Sukkah


Are You Reading This in Your
Sukkah?

Why do we build the sukkah? To be reminded of our ancestors’ lives in the desert, when they lived in huts made from branches and leather.

It is also a reminder of our farming ancestors, who harvested at this time of year. They built huts in the middle of their fields so that they would not have to go back and forth from their houses to their fields during the harvest. Houses and fields were far from each other, and the farmers had to make sure they got the harvest in before the rain fell. Jews also built huts to live in when they made the long pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When you build your sukkah, when you eat in it and sleep in it, invite all the memories of your ancient ancestors in to eat and sleep with you. Watch them cutting the wheat; smell the olive oil they are pressing; feel the grapes underfoot as you and they tread on them to make wine.

Decorating Your Sukkah

String decorations for the harvest festival:

Create “food chains” to be hung from one corner of the sukkah to the other. They can be made from many different types of foods and natural materials, as long as they will stay fresh throughout all eight days of the holiday. Here are some suggested decorations:

Crabapples, cranberries, cornstalks, evergreens, gourds, peppers, popcorn, pine cones, onions, small eggplants and wildflowers.

Making a Difference


Rabbi Bernie King watched the rioting sparked by the Rodney King verdict, but what he saw was gam zo l’tovah, the Jewish notion that also, this is for good.

Although the violent aftermath gave him the sense that “society was falling apart around us,” the spiritual leader of Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine also “realized that we needed to build bridges between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.'”

Putting his social conscience to work, Rabbi King constructed a plan for the temple to partner with the Santa Ana school system. His own partner, wife Barbara, then a teacher at Willard Middle School in Santa Ana (now she teaches at Century High), was ideally suited to implement – and enhance – the plan.”The key has been Barbara, who teaches in the school. She’s already developed relationships with gang kids and the poor. And being my wife with her connection to the temple, she is involved deeply on both ends,” explains Bernie King.

The partnership between Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot and three schools in the Santa Ana Unified School District, where students are mainly Hispanic and primarily Catholic, is comprised of: programs (essay contests, writing contests, tutoring, “adopting” students); services (free services from temple members who are eye surgeons, orthopedists, optometrists, psychologists, social workers, heart valve specialists, oral surgeons, and veterinarians); tzedakah, scholarships (Dollars for Scholars, rabbi’s discretionary fund, camp scholarships and giving Tzedakah box to schools for distribution to needy families), and donations (“adopting” families for Thanksgiving and Christmas, ongoing clothing drive).

Bernie and Barbara King, who share two cars with the customized license plates “B AMensch” and “U2RHoly,” agree that the partnership has provided the students with a very positive image of Jews. This is especially significant because the student population at the three partner schools – Franklin Elementary, Willard Middle and Century High – is estimated at 70 percent Hispanic, 10-15 percent Asian, and 3 percent African American, with the remaining percentage white and others. Virtually no Jewish students attend these schools.

“It’s brought an understanding and acceptance of Judaism. Many of these students didn’t know anything about Judaism or Jews. Those who were exposed to Catholicism sometimes had a negative view of Jews as the killer of Christ,” explains Barbara King. “Now they’re able to see Jews as caring and giving. There’s definitely an acceptance – not just of Jews, but of others.”

A case in point: During one of Rabbi King’s weekly visits to Willard, the students welcomed him with “shalom,” grabbed their heads and said, “oy vey.” “They did it with perfect intonation. It was great,” says Barbara King.

TThe partnership began in 1992 at Willard, where Barbara King was teaching; in 1995, it followed her to Century High. In 1998, the partnership expanded to Franklin Elementary, primarily because temple member Marsha Bisheff, who helps coordinate the program, teaches there.”We get back much more than we give,” says Barbara King. “We gain an appreciation of what we have and become more aware of Baruch Hashems in life.”

To that end, L’Chaim Chavurah, a temple group of 9-10 couples comprised of adultswith grown children, has adopted an extended family of 21 representing three generations. Several have graduated from Century High. Jean and Daniel Marcus coordinate the effort.

At Thanksgiving, the adopted family received enough food for one week. At Easter, each family member received a basket with age-appropriate goodies – candy and toys for the children, fruit, flowers, shampoo and shaving lotion in a reusable container for the adults. And at Christmas, each family member got a complete outfit of clothing with shoes.”We explained that this was a present from your Jewish friends,” said Jean Marcus. “Their eyes were really happy when they saw the presents. It was wonderful. They were absolutely thrilled.”In addition to the holiday giving, each month Daniel and Jean – representing L’Chaim Chavurah – shop for and deliver food to the family whom Jean Marcus describes as “a very nice group of people who are trying to make a new life.”

On one occasion, when the mother, who didn’t know whether there was enough to feed her family, saw the Marcuses arrive with donated food, she threw her arms around Jean, exclaiming, “Gracias. Madre de dios.” “Now she says thank you in English,” Jean Marcus says. “She was so delighted.”Jean Marcus adds, “I’m so happy that we can give something back, that we can help give someone a hand who needs it. It’s wonderful.”

Another temple member, a heart-valve specialist who grew up in poverty, lent a hand when he spoke at a Willard class assembly about his profession. He gave each of the students $1 and told them to invest in themselves. He also encouraged them to take $1 each week and put it in the bank.”A lot of these students think day-to-day. They don’t make grandiose plans for the future. They’re surviving. Most come from gang-infested neighborhoods. There’s lots of drug use, lots of violence – and they survive.

“This speaker gives them hope. It crosses over ethnic bounds, economic bounds. It gives the students a commonality they can relate to,” explains Barbara King, who, among her extensive array of good deeds, paired a child survivor of the Holocaust with an abused student to give the latter hope and support.Reflecting upon the eight years since the looting and rioting following the Rodney King verdicts served as the impetus for the temple-school partnership, Rabbi King is “really pleased” with the results.

“This is the one project in my 30 years here that continuously bears fruit. We’ve touched a lot of lives – and had our lives touched, too.”

To Live and Die in West Beirut


There have been a few Israeli films that dealt with relationships between Arabs and Jews (among them the superb prison drama “Beyond the Walls”), but rarely do we see an Arab movie that tells the story from the perspective of the “other side.”

If only to fill that gap, the screening of “West Beirut” is a welcome addition to the short list of foreign-language movies available to American audiences.

The film by Ziad Doueiri, a young Lebanese cinematographer making his directorial debut, begins in 1975, the beginning of Lebanon’s 17-year-old civil war.

The fighting quickly divides cosmopolitan Beirut, dubbed “The Paris of the Middle East,” into warring camps, with Christian militiamen controlling East Beirut, and the Muslims, West Beirut.

Three 16-year-olds, two Muslim boys and a Christian girl living in West Beirut, are the protagonists and, at first, the sporadic fighting is a lark. School is closed, parents are preoccupied with other problems and the three teens are free to roam the city, shoot Super 8 films, listen to American pop music and, perhaps most importantly, explore their sexuality.

In a memorable scene, they visit a legendary brothel in the Olive Quarter between East and West Beirut, the only enterprise still patronized by both Christians and Muslims.

The kids’ elders, too, try to shrug off the fighting at first. “It’s something between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” says one man. “It has something to do with the Israelis and the Syrians,” says another.

But as the war drags on, even the resilient teen-agers find the fun going out of their explorations. Food is in short supply, people they know are killed, the camera shop that developed their film is now in enemy territory.

Their parents think of emigrating, but, in a refrain with some resonance for Jews, no country wants Lebanese refugees. At the end, one father sighs despondently, “100,000 dead and the game still goes on.”

There are no professional child actors in Lebanon, and director Doueiri relied on amateurs, including his younger brother, to portray the teens.

Their inexperience shows at times, but the importance of the film lies in portraying the humanity of the “other”; in reaffirming the truism that even in war, people are mainly concerned with their mundane personal problems and pleasures; and in affording a candid look at the teen-agers’ world.

“West Beirut” opens at Laemmle’s Music Hall on Sept. 3.

A Jewish Cooking Primer


Illustration from “Mark Stark’s Amazing JewishCookbook”

A Jewish Cooking Primer

By Tamara Liebman, Contributing Writer

Los Angelesbaker Mark Stark has taken the Greatest Hits of American JewishCookery and put them into a format that’s so kid friendly, readersmight be tempted to color in the pictures.

From its lively full-color cover to its hand-drawnillustrations of cooking ingredients, “Mark Stark’s Amazing JewishCookbook” (Alef Design Group, $19.95) could easily become the primerfor first-time Jewish cooks. Starting with basics, such as kitchensafety, and including a glossary of terms (i.e. “stir: to move aroundand around with a spoon…”), this paperback focuses on manystandards of the Ashkenazi kitchen. Recipes include challah, bagels,chicken soup, brisket, potato latkes and mandelbread, with falafel,hummus and tahina thrown in as the newest American Jewishstandards.

Stark, a 31-year-old fourth-generation Angeleno,is the author and illustrator of this little volume. Although he wasborn and raised in Southern California, he first got his mittsgreased in the Bay Area. After graduating from San Francisco’sCalifornia Culinary Academy, the young baker opened Stark’s AmazingBakery, specializing in gourmet Jewish baked goods. Having one of theonly Jewish bakeries in San Francisco, he soon began supplying localmarkets.

Stark eventually sold the bakery and moved to LosAngeles to open the baked goods division of Barney Greengrass inBeverly Hills. “It was probably the best job I ever had,” Stark said.”I hired a 61-year-old baker away from Junior’s Deli as my assistant.I learned a lot from him. He was a great inspiration to me.”

After training Barney’s bakers, Stark went back toschool. This time to teach. He taught at Southern California CulinaryInstitute in South Pasadena, and he’s currently teaching at EpicureanSchool of Culinary Arts Los Angeles. Between classes, Stark works asa consultant for various bakeries. And he loves writingcookbooks.

Stark said he wrote this book to simplify thecooking process. “Most of the time, people usually are not ascreative when reading out of a regular cookbook,” said Stark. “Byfollowing my book, it’s more visual and interactive. Most cookbookson the market tend to call for different types of equipment that youmay not have. My book uses equipment that you usually already have. Ialways believe that less is more.”

For someone who believes less is more, thisdoesn’t apparently apply to preparation. The cookbook took two yearsto write and a month to illustrate. “I did the drawings in 30 days.But that was 24 hours, seven days a week. I didn’t sleep.”

The book is organized around the Jewish calendar,starting with a Shabbat meal. Each chapter begins with a briefdescription of the holiday and touches on customs, followed by apossible holiday meal.

One note of caution: Although Stark offers adescription of kashrut and clearly marks recipes as meat, dairy orparve, he groups both meat and dairy dishes together within oneholiday meal. Kosher cooks need to replace certain recipes with theirparve versions, such as nixing the flank steak from split pea soupwhen serving cheese-filled phyllo triangles on Simchat Torah. Whenasked about this, Stark said he wanted the book to appeal to thebroadest range of readers. He did, however, have a rabbi review therecipes to make sure they were kosher.

Asked about his own kitchen memories, Stark turnedhis thoughts to Mom.

“I think working with my mother ultimatelyinspired me to continue on with the profession,” he said. “I’d liketo pass it down. I’ve written this book for future chefs. If I couldchange one person’s mind to become a chef, I think that’sgreat.”

Mark Stark’s Amazing Jewish Cookbook isavailable at all Barnes & Noble, Brentano’s and Waldenbooks. Oryou can order it direct through Alef Design Group: 1-800-845-0662;e-mail, misrad@alefdesign.com; or visit their web site atwww.alefdesign.com.