Letters to the Editor: Milk, languages, kindergarten, breakfast, philanthropy

More on Milk

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is restirring a tempest in a glass of milk (“How Kosher Is Your Milk,” June 22). This issue was addressed in great detail in the fall 2007 issue of the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society in the article “The Kashrut of Commercially Sold Milk” by Rabbi Michoel Zylberman. The conclusion of the article:

“In the contemporary situation, there appears to be no credible evidence that a majority of dairy cows harbor adhesions. It is, however, quite likely that a prevalent minority (mi’ut hamatzui) of cows have terefot, such that more than 1.6% of milk that gets mixed together comes from such cows. To date, while a few individuals have stopped drinking commercially sold milk, major kashrut organizations have endorsed the continued consumption of milk, following the implication in Shulchan Aruch that we may assume that every individual cow comes from the majority of cows that are kosher, even if such an assumption contradicts a statistical reality.”

Rabbi Israel Hirsch
Valley Village

A Lesson in Languages

In your June 22 issue’s Letter From Egypt by Al-Qotb (“Egypt’s Election: An Argument Without Resolution”), you identified Al-Qotb (“The Writer”) as a pseudonym for The Jewish Journal’s Egyptian correspondent. Al-Qotb (correctly Al-Kotb or Al-Kootb) means “The Books,” and the Arabic name for anyone who writes is Al-Kaatb or Al-Kaateb, depending on one’s dialect. The proper letter (binyan in Hebrew) to use in this instance is “K-T-B” not “Q-T-B”. There is no equivalence in the English language nor in modern Hebrew for the Arabic letter “Q.” The best illustration would be in pronouncing the Hebrew letter “kaf” gutturally as in the case of the letter “khaf.” Quick pronunciation illustration is in the name of the leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and ’60s, Sayyid Qutb — Qutb could mean pole or region, as in the North Pole or the South Pole, but Kutb signifies books.

Ed Elhaderi
Los Angeles

Kindergartens of Hate

Micah Halpern’s piece is profoundly disturbing (“Finishing School,” June 22). It states that Arab children in Gaza and the West Bank are taught to hate Jews and to aspire only to slaughter them as a duty of their Islamic faith. This despite 20 years of a “peace process” that earned Nobel Peace Prizes for its originators. I suppose the indoctrination of Jew-hatred, not to mention the suicide bombings, rockets and turning children into murderous robots described by Halpern only proves, as then-President Clinton said in late 2000, that “the peace process hasn’t gone far enough.”

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Synagogue Breakfast

Last week’s calendar section mentioned a dog-walking tour for June 24. It did not mention the 20th anniversary breakfast of Congregation Bais Naftoli honoring Zvi Hollander and Dr. A. Richard Grossman. At this breakfast, not only will the Israeli and Hungarian consuls general attend, but also two members of Congress, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the city attorney and controller, four members of the City Council and two members of the state Assembly.

Why does the canine event take precedence?

Andrew Friedman
Congregation Bais Naftoli

Editor’s note: The Jewish Journal calendar desk did not receive notice about the Congregation Bais Naftoli breakfast. Please send all event notifications at least three weeks in advance to calendar@jewishjournal.com

Philanthropic Teens

It came as no surprise to me that a cross-section of community schools participated in National Conference of Synagogue Youth’s (NCSY) philanthropy project (“Philanthropy Project Puts Teens in Charge,” June 8). NCSY has been breaking down barriers to Jewish involvement for quite some time with creative programs geared to young people from all spheres. 

My wife, Sara, and I [spent] a magical Shabbat with NCSYers at their regional Shabbaton in Woodland Hills recently. The diversity of the participants was amazing. There were kids from public schools, Jewish schools, Yachad for special needs, all singing, clapping, standing on chairs with a thunderous spirit that was inspirational and meaningful.

The philanthropy project was a good chance to bring to light the creativity NCSY displays in reaching out to all kids with the goal of bringing them closer to Judaism.

Ron Solomon
Executive Director
American Friends of Bar-Ilan University, Western Region

An article on a project exploring Los Angeles history (“UCLA Mapping Project Goes Back to the Future,” June 22) did not mention that the “Mapping Jewish L.A.” display of the digital project at the Autry National Center of the American West will be part of the larger exhibition “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic,” scheduled to open at the museum in May 2013.

Temple B’nai Hayim’s Rabbi Beryl Padorr is not retiring (“Ner Maarav to Merge With Ramat Zion,” June 15).

Hebrew support for Siri in development

Apple reportedly is developing add-ons for the Siri interface that will include support for Hebrew, among other languages.

Sources told the iPhones.co.il website that Nuance, a company working directly with Apple, has rented a studio where sound bites and sentences are being recorded in Hebrew. Nuance is using a special developer’s iPhone app to make the recordings.

The report does not guarantee that iOS 5.1, the forthcoming software update for iPhone, will support Hebrew.

Schools to Teach Ein Bisel Yiddish

Linguists have predicted that within 100 years, more than half of the 6,000 languages that exist today will disappear.

For a long time, it’s looked as though Yiddish was among those bound for extinction, but scholars and Yiddish speakers, as well as some Jews who remember their parents speaking Yiddish, have never given up on the language.

And now there’s a better chance that a new generation of Jews will understand Yiddish and the Jewish culture it embodies. This fall, three local Jewish day schools will offer their middle and high school students classes in Yiddish, the language spoken for 1,000 years by Ashkenazi Jews of eastern and central Europe.

The three schools represent a spectrum of Jewish education and geography in Los Angeles: New Community Jewish High School in the west San Fernando Valley is non-denominational, Shalhevet School in the Fairfax district is Orthodox and Sinai Akiba Academy in West Los Angeles is Conservative.

“The purpose of this course is to give [students] the key to unlock the vault that contains the history of their people,” said Dan Opatoshu, who sits on the board of Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, a nonprofit that develops programs to preserve and transmit Yiddish language and culture, which will administer the classes.

About 11 million Jews spoke Yiddish before World War II. Today, the number has dwindled to 2 million, comprising mostly elderly and ultra-Orthodox Jews scattered in the United States and around the world, said Aviva Astrinsky, head librarian at the YIVO Institute in New York, which studies the Yiddish language, Eastern European Jewish life and the American Jewish immigrant experience.

The very existence of the YIVO Institute, an organization founded in Europe in 1925 and moved to New York in 1940, is evidence of concerted efforts to pay homage to, preserve and even revive Yiddish. The National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., founded in 1980, has rescued more than 1.5 million Yiddish books, sending them to libraries around the world, from Harvard to Hebrew University in Jerusalem and national libraries in China and Japan.

Learning Yiddish will give young people access to a vibrant culture, a wealth of literature, film, theater and music that has largely been forgotten, Opatoshu said.

Opatoshu came up with the idea for a high school Yiddish curriculum when he realized that day-school students were learning “a truncated history that goes from the Bible to the Holocaust to the establishment of the state of Israel” and skips a millennium of Jewish culture in between.

The Jewish narrative places too much emphasis on the attempted annihilation of the Jews and too little emphasis on how Jews lived before World War II, Opatoshu said.

“For some reason, we’ve decided as a people to commemorate, study, learn every detail, honor the extinction of our civilization … and we don’t spend any time to examine what that history actually was, how we lived, what we created,” he said.

Opatoshu wanted to see Yiddish in the Jewish day school curriculum, not as an after-school program but as a central part of Jewish learning.

The resulting program is called Take [pronounced tahkah] Yiddish, meaning Really Yiddish, as in “not just the punch-line-of-the-joke Yiddish, not just what’s-the-difference-between-a-schlimazel-and-a-schlemiel Yiddish,” Opatoshu said.

The curriculum is being developed from scratch, because while there are a few good Yiddish college textbooks, no new, innovative ones exist for younger students, Opatoshu said.

Hannah Pollin, 23, will teach the classes at all three schools. She has organized her material around themes such as “greetings and introductions,” “time and seasons,” “emotions and sensations” and “holidays.”

Pollin, who majored in Yiddish at Columbia College, said her courses will combine language principles with historical context. While students will study vocabulary and the grammatical structure of Yiddish, a language derived from German and written with Hebrew letters, they will also learn about Yiddish culture. When teaching the days of the week, for example, Pollin said she will talk about the daily routine of Jews in Eastern Europe. She would explain, for instance, how Jews prepared for Shabbat and how they celebrated it. Using photographs, films and songs, she would illustrate the way life was.

This summer, Pollin scoured the archives of the National Yiddish Book Center, for teaching materials. Among the piles of books and magazines through which she had been sifting, she came upon a Yiddish comic strip from the 1940s and ’50s, “Moishe and Friends,” a sort of Yiddish equivalent to “Calvin and Hobbes.”

In one scene, Moishe and his buddies climb atop a statue of Abraham Lincoln, where they discuss the end of slavery and the importance of social equality. In another, Moishe plays baseball with a black friend, who, like everyone else in the comic strip, speaks Yiddish. Pollin said she would use the Moishe and Friends cartoon to spark a discussion about what it means to be Jewish in Los Angeles.

“There are lots of different people out there,” she said she would tell her students. “You live among them, but you go to a Jewish school. How do you balance the two?”

“I’m very excited about it,” said Bruce Powell, 57, head of New Community Jewish High School. He said he expected a dozen students to sign up for the class this fall.

Yiddish does not have to be practical to be worthwhile, Powell said. Some students might go on to become scholars of the language, but for others, “this can just be fun,” he said. Why study Yiddish? “It’s almost the same question as saying, why do we study American history,” Powell said. “It’s extremely important to know from where you came.”

Opatoshu, 58, grew up in New York speaking Yiddish to his grandparents. His grandfather, Joseph Opatoshu, was a leading Yiddish novelist. Friday nights, poets and artists, including the Russian-born painter Marc Chagall, would gather round his grandfather’s table, discussing intellectual ideas in Yiddish.

Opatoshu also learned about Yiddish culture from his father, actor David Opatoshu, who appeared on the Yiddish stage in the 1930s and later became a Hollywood actor, playing the leader of Zionist activists in the 1960 movie “Exodus.”

After years in the movie business as a screenwriter, Dan Opatoshu decided to go back to school to study history, discovering along the way that he had “Yiddish somewhere inside me, in my blood, in my bones.”

Opatoshu started attending Yiddish festivals joined a Yiddish reading group, and got involved in Yiddishkayt Los Angeles.

Opatoshu brought his idea for a Yiddish curriculum to his brother-in-law, Steven Spielberg, who pointed him in the direction of the Righteous Persons Foundation. Opatoshu ended up securing a $130,000 grant for Yiddishkayt Los Angeles to launch a three-year pilot program.

Yiddish experts say the decline of the language can be traced to a number of factors: the Holocaust, Jewish immigrant assimilation and the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language in the 19th century.

The “Take Yiddish” project description warns of the “imminent danger” of Yiddish “being forever lost” and says the program’s goal is to create a “revitalized Yiddish education” as a means of “fostering Jewish identity” for “generations to come.”

Whether teaching Yiddish to middle and high school students can stem the decline of the language is up for debate.

“If you don’t catch the kids early and teach them basically from the cradle, then they never really become fully fluent speakers,” said Doug Whalen, president of the Endangered Language Fund in New Haven. But “if teenagers are still using [the language] on a daily basis, then it’s fairly safe.” Whalen considers Yiddish “moderately endangered,” because some parents are still teaching it to their children.

“We want to see if we can make this work,” said Aaron Paley, 47, founder of Yiddishkayt Los Angeles.

The alternative could be devastating.

“When you lose a language, you face the extinction of an entire … perspective, a worldview and a history,” Paley said. “All of that — all at once — disappears.”

For more information on Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, call (323) 692-8151 or visit

She’s 88 and Going Like 60 Volunteering


Imagine this situation: You’ve arrived at LAX after hours of sitting in an airplane from Italy. You’ve waited in line to get through customs, lugged your suitcases from the baggage claim and you finally emerge to locate your relatives. But they’re nowhere to be found, and you don’t speak English. What do you do?

If you’re fortunate, you find Eva Field.

Field, at 88 years old, is a volunteer with the Travelers Aid Society of Los Angeles in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. She’s been helping foreign travelers for 30 years, enabled in this job by the fact that she speaks English, Italian, French, Spanish and German.

Field’s role is often directing newcomers to a hotel or giving them transportation advice. At other times, her task is more complicated.

“People often have serious problems,” Field said. “Someone might arrive here and have no place to go, or they might have no money. They’re very upset. I try to come up with solutions.”

Apparently, Field’s personality is ideal for job.

“Field has a wonderful way with people,” said Christine Okinaga, director of volunteers for Travelers Aid at LAX. “She has to do a lot of soothing and reassuring in her job, which is vital in that terminal, where a lot of people are frustrated. Field’s great sense of humor helps to diffuse the situation.”

Field has faced some interesting challenges.

“There are some things you can’t believe,” she said. “A Belgium woman arrived one day and said she came to California to meet Charles Manson. Well, I was the only one who spoke French, so I talked with her, and I decided something wasn’t right. I called the Belgium consulate and told them they needed to watch over this dame. Eventually they sent her back to Belgium.”

Field also assists those who are waiting for arriving passengers.

“Someone might be here to meet a relative, but they don’t know what airline or flight they’re on, just that they’re to be here at noon,” she said. “I know people at all the airlines, so I make calls to find out the flight they’re on.”

Field knows what it’s like to be a foreigner. She was born in 1916, in Cologne, Germany.

“I didn’t like that country from the moment I was born,” Field said.

She spent time in Italy as a young woman and then in France, after Nazis closed her father’s business and the family was able to leave Germany. Field, her sister and parents were able to leave Europe in 1941, and they went to relatives in New York. But Field quickly headed west to Los Angeles.

“I worked as a maid, at first, for a really horrible woman,” Field recalled. “When I could get away from that, I applied for a job as a telephone operator. The day I married my husband, the phone company finally called and said, ‘Field, you have a job.’ I said, ‘Sorry, I’m getting married.’ I was a mother and a wife after that, so I didn’t do other work.”

After her husband died in the 1970s, Field volunteered with the National Council of Jewish Women.

“They became involved in helping the Boat People from Vietnam to find apartments,” she recalled. “At one point, I picked up some of these people at the airport, and I met someone from Travelers Aid, and they said, ‘Oh my God, you speak all these languages. We need you to help us at the airport.'”

Field’s been there ever since.

“One interesting thing that happens is that sometimes a person arrives in America looking for a relative with a certain name, but that relative has changed their name,” she said. “I try to figure out, if you had an unpronounceable name when you landed in the United States, what would you call yourself instead? When I come up with a name, I find people with that name and sometimes it turns out they are the relative.”

Since volunteering at LAX is apparently not quite enough for the 88-year-old, Field also works twice a week with first-graders at Westminster School in Venice.

“It’s been about nine years,” she said. “Many of the children are from Mexico, and I work with a perfectly marvelous teacher, Ramon Ramos.”

This feeling is mutual. According to Ramos, Field is a wonderful addition to his students’ experiences.

“She’s so warm and gentle with the kids,” he said, “and since she speaks Spanish, she can help them with their reading and writing and with learning English. She even teaches us some Italian phrases. The kids love her. One year, my class called her ‘Abuelita,’ which means “Little Grandma.”

Field also helps the children with math.

“I figure I can’t manage second-grade math, so it’s better that I’m in first grade,” she said.

At 88 years old, Field could be taking it easy. But every Monday, Thursday and Friday, she’s helping others.

“I would have a hell of a hard time living if I couldn’t do this,” Field said. “My friends are dying around me, and it becomes more difficult being alive.”

“I get joy from my daughter and grandson,” she continued. “I do quite a bit of reading, but it’s hard with my eyesight. The volunteer work I do gives my life meaning.”

Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer, oral historian and owner of Living Legacies Family Histories. She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net.


Image and Reality in L.A.

Critics say Los Angeles is all image. The city, they claim, presents an illusion to the world much like the movies Hollywood projects on its big screens. The myth goes that it’s a city of facades, with the favored tools are the editor’s airbrush or the plastic surgeon’s scalpel. There are no friendships here, only contacts and connections, they say.

After five years on “extended vacation” in Southern California, I have found these statements far more superficial than the city they decry. As a permanent resident of the tormented Middle East, my time here has left me in awe of the wide variety of religions, colors, languages and life philosophies that intermingle in Los Angeles. To be a minority is to be in the majority in Los Angeles, and despite its fragmented sprawl, coexistence is real, with each community adding to the flavor of the city.

That is not to say, however, there aren’t absurd aspects about life in Los Angeles. There is, for example, the infatuation with cars and the impossibly tangled web of freeways. When we bump into people, it is likely in the most literal sense — a fender bender on the 405.

It is little wonder that I learned one of Los Angeles’ more important lessons with the help of my car. Traveling alone on the 10 Freeway opened my eyes to the multitude of faces, languages, cuisines and cultures that run into each other here. Starting in Venice, stereotypical images of Los Angeles abound — from beach bums soaking in the sun to fitness fanatics pumping iron at Muscle Beach. Moving east, the Jewish neighborhood of the Pico corridor became a second home for me. On my way downtown, I stopped in Koreatown, historic Adams and eventually East Los Angeles, making friends in each community: each group diverse, each group proud, each group American.

I traveled this freeway and others often during my tenure here, visiting a variety of communities along the way. What I have learned here has given me a “Thomas Guide” of sorts to maneuver and navigate through our differences to arrive ultimately at our similarities.

Dorothy Parker once described Los Angeles as “72 suburbs in search of a city,” but I sometimes wonder how badly they really want to find it. The communities I passed on my drive down the 10 didn’t seem to be looking for it; they already appeared to be perfectly at home and at peace as Angelenos. On July 4, for instance, people from all over this city simply don’t appear interested to gather en masse at some civic center, but prefer neighborhood parades, local fireworks displays and backyard barbeques.

Despite this geographic disconnection, the people of Los Angeles are nonetheless remarkably united. They share the same debates about Kobe vs. Shaq, the same frustrations with the traffic, the same concerns about schools and public safety, the same appreciation for the amazing beauty and vibrant cultural life that Los Angeles has to offer. Most importantly, the diverse population of this city shares a truly laudable spirit of respect and tolerance for “the other.” There have been, of course, many tough times. However, friendships and relationships that transcend ethnicity and religion are the norm here. By and large, people relate to each other as individuals — not as groups, not as categories, not as stereotypes. As coming from the Middle East, where ethnic divisions have paralyzed us, I am in awe of the positive cross-cultural interaction between the people of Los Angeles.

It is easy to see the problems from the inside — social and economic inequality, tensions that sometimes bubble to the surface, the challenge of educating 750,000 children who collectively speak more than 80 languages. It would be easy to focus on the chaotic events that have marked my time here: the energy crisis, wildfires, earthquakes and the recall election.

Yet, for an outsider, Los Angeles is something of a miracle. At the end of the day, you see millions of people from every background imaginable living side by side, working together and forging a future under the bright California sun. In today’s world, where terrorism, prejudice and hatred widen the already existing gaps between peoples, this is an inspiration. As I return to my own homeland, I carry with me the hope and promise that Los Angeles offers to the future — a fitting going-away present from the city of dreams.

Ambassador Yuval Rotem served as consul general of Israel in Los Angeles from September 1999 to August 2004.

Everyday Hebrew

Meseret Rubin started learning modern Hebrew for the sake of her family.

Rubin and her Israeli husband, Amir, are raising their two children in a Westside home where any one of four languages are spoken at any given time. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the photographer-turned-stay-at-home mom is already fluent in Amharic, French and English, but she would like to become proficient enough in Hebrew to help her children with their homework. The Rubins’ 6-year-old son, Ari, currently attends a Jewish day school where half of the instruction is in Hebrew, and 3-year-old daughter, Liat, spends her day immersed in the language at an Israeli-run day care.

“I took a Hebrew crash-course,” she said, “but it was too confusing.”

Undaunted, she signed up for beginning modern Hebrew through the University of Judaism’s (UJ) continuing education program.

The UJ’s modern Hebrew program is the largest of its kind in Los Angeles, attracting more than 200 students from a diverse cross-section of a Jewish community increasingly interested in Israeli language and culture.

“I like [the UJ program] much better,” Rubin said. “The beginning was tough, but good.”

Rubin, 31, said some similarities between Amharic and Hebrew have helped her with vocabulary, but reading and writing is a different story. She’s accustomed to reading the block Hebrew in prayer books, but much of the class is taught in script with no vowels.

“It pushes us to figure out how to read the word,” she said.

The Rubins primarily socialize with Israelis, and the family travels frequently to Israel, so she gets plenty of opportunities to practice. Now in the third quarter of her first year, she said that while she isn’t fluent yet, “I understand more than ever.”

People’s motivations for joining the modern Hebrew program at the UJ are varied. Ruthy Shalev, the UJ’s Hebrew coordinator, estimates that about 50 percent of the students in the program, like Rubin, are married to Israelis and would like to be able to speak Hebrew at home and with in-laws.

“Other people who are Jewish want to know the language of the Jews of Israel. We also have some non-Jewish students who want to read the Old Testament in the original language,” said Shalev.

Some are preparing to make aliyah, or they grew up speaking Hebrew at home and just need to brush up. Others travel regularly to Israel or have been inspired by their friendships with Israelis in Los Angeles.

Jordon Winter, a 29-year-old music video director, recently started his second quarter in beginning Hebrew. He never attended Hebrew school and always felt it was odd that during the holidays “I was praying in a language that I didn’t understand.”

An L.A. native, Winter was partly motivated by his circle of Israeli friends.

“I want to know what they’re saying behind my back,” he joked.

Winter, who is planning to go to Israel for the first time next year, said his Israeli friends “want to practice their English, but I want to practice my Hebrew, so we switch off. I think they were surprised at how much I learned so quickly.”

The program, based on the ulpan method, is staffed by 11 Israeli instructors and has no tests or grades.

“It’s a big enough commitment to come to class,” said Shalev. “We don’t think we have to burden them with tests, because that’s not what they’re here for.”

Classes are taught almost exclusively in Hebrew from the first day, and students typically lament how challenging the language can be in the beginning.

“You need to focus and dedicate yourself,” said Charlotte Krashinsky, an agent with DBL Realtors in Beverly Hills who is married to an Israeli. “I was expecting to go to class and just learn it. You have to put your time in.”

Krashinsky found herself falling behind when she first signed up a few years ago. She took some time off and came back to it this year, more prepared and committed. Shalev said that this isn’t uncommon. The program mostly attracts professionals who must juggle work with study, and occasionally work wins out.

While many feel the classes can be difficult, the feedback on the program itself is nothing short of glowing.

“I can’t imagine it being better anywhere else,” said Anna Reyner, who has been attending the classes with her husband for three years.

Reyner, a Jew by choice, likes the connection she’s able to make with her children when she’s helping them with their Hebrew school homework. Also, she said, “When my husband and I don’t want the kids to know what we’re talking about, we have our little secret code.”

A few years ago, Reyner’s daughter befriended the daughter of the assistant Israeli consul in Los Angeles, and the two families became close.

“It’s hard to break into Israeli social circles. Once you get in with one family, it’s easier. I think there are a lot of social barriers between any two groups,” Reyner remarked.

“As I approach Israelis, I have a certain confidence that I can be taken seriously as somebody who is open to their culture,” she said. “I really like the fact that I can understand what’s being said around me.”

Reyner, who taught ESL in El Salvador, thinks that UJ’s Hebrew teachers are particularly adept. Learning from native Hebrew speakers who take time to explain the language’s nuances and history is a real draw for many of the students.

“I’ve never had a teacher I didn’t think was a good educator,” she said. “It’s much easier to know something than to teach it well.”

For more information about the UJ extension program’s
modern Hebrew classes, call (310) 476-9777, ext. 436, or visit www.uj.edu .