Glorious Living


We are a product of our environment, we cannot change.  

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Our circumstances have been set in motion from the beginning.

We are failures.

We are stuck.

We are worthless.

These sentences are belief systems. They are only real by the conviction that our own minds have set for them. But they are figments of our imaginative minds that lack true imagination, yet ache for invention.

To change our made up voice that thinks these negatives, we must only look inside our own truths that exist underneath, that are drowning, that are aching to be seen.

Try hearing the self that speaks to you quietly, under the loud voice that screams these false beliefs and see how quickly your life becomes alive.

True courage comes from hearing the whisper of your own voice emerge through the sea of the negative rattle.

Today become alive.

See what happens.

It is glorious.

 

DIY: How to make guest towel cupcakes


One of my favorite DIY gifts is guest towels, or washcloths, rolled up to look like cupcakes. Given as a set, they make adorable hostess, housewarming and birthday gifts. Pick up a pastry box at a party store or culinary supply store such as Surfas, and you can package your gift in a clever way that, well, takes the cake.

What you’ll need (per cupcake):

  • Guest towel
  • Rubber band
  • Cupcake wrapper
  • Small lollipop

 

1. Roll the towel into a long strip

” target=”_blank”>jonathanfongstyle.com.

11 observations on life and living


1. We just want someone to listen to us.

My mother broke her hip, she’s in rehab, she wants to get out but, imprisoned, she needs someone to listen to her story. I’m providing that service.

That’s what we all want. Someone we don’t have to be our best self with. Someone we can reveal our inadequacies and frustrations to. Someone who will patiently listen and won’t give us unwanted advice. We usually don’t want any advice, we just want to be heard. A great listener possesses the key to friendship. Someone who listens will have more friends than any world-beater. People are complicated and flawed. Don’t berate them for opening up, embrace them.

2. Don’t do all the talking.

That doesn’t mean in one or another conversation you can’t dominate, but if you can’t ask how the other person is doing, if you can’t interact in a way that evidences you’re listening, you may think you’re winning, but you’re not. Life is about giving. If you’re always taking, it’s going to get very lonely.

3. Business books are b.s.

Because even if the advice is good, it’s not particularized to you. I’m not saying you can’t gain insight, but the people you’re reading about don’t resemble you, and too often the writers are doing it to make money and burnish their careers as opposed to genuinely trying to help you. Sure, it’s great to identify with what a writer says, but don’t overinvest; you’ve got to find your own path.

4. You can’t tell people what to do.

They’ve got to find out for themselves. When you’re listening to them, it’s about being heard, as stated above; it’s not about you dropping pearls of wisdom that they can follow. Furthermore, if you do manage to help them out once, they’re still gonna be flummoxed soon. Life is about experience. It’s a long ride we’ve all got to take. You’ve got to find your own way. It’s great if you can find a mentor, but I’ve never encountered one. But the main point is people don’t really want advice, no matter how much they say they do. Tell them the truth and you’ll be in trouble — they’ll start explaining why you’re wrong. It’s human nature.

5. Don’t evidence weakness.

I know this sounds contradictory, but my main point is don’t always be the person who got the raw deal, who the world is against. Life is tough for everybody. Sure, complain. But be joyful sometimes, too. Otherwise, everybody’s gonna run from you.

6. Life is not always up. 

If you haven’t experienced downs, you haven’t taken any risk or you’re so rich you’ve never engaged. Life is about losses even more than victories. Lick your wounds, but then lift yourself back up, however slowly, and get back in the game. Learn from what happened, but do your best not to be burdened by it.

7. Everybody’s got an interior life.

When they reveal it to you, you bond. Most people don’t feel safe enough to tell you their truth. But when they do, it’s a magic moment for both of you, the teller feels exhilarated and alive, finally able to relax in his skin, and the listener starts to tingle, stunned that the teller trusts him that much.

8. It’s not what you own, but who you are.

But you don’t realize this until you’re close to 60. The young kids have little wisdom and all the strength and synapses. The old people have all the wisdom, but failing bodies. So you’ve got young people doing stupid things, not realizing how long life truly is, and you’ve got old people driving around in the sports cars they can finally afford. It would be better if the young people had wisdom and Ferraris, that they could truly enjoy, when they’re truly meaningful, and the oldsters could drive Priuses and Fusions yet have no aches and pains.

9. No one remembers history. 

They’re doomed to repeat it. It’s the way of the world, the same way people repeat the same relationship until they finally wake up and realize their choices are bad, what they think they want is actually no good for them.

10. Trustworthiness is more important than excitement.

11. We want people we can count on. 

Who will take us to the hospital. Who will go out of their way to help us just because they’re our friend. We all know these special people, who live to serve, despite being neither rich nor famous, they’re our society’s secret savers. If you don’t have one of these people in your life, someone not related to you, start looking, now. And once again, you get them by giving more than taking.


Bob Lefsetz is the author of the e-mail newsletter The Lefsetz Letter, where this column originally appeared.

I am the woman who used to annoy me


To all the elderly women who have tried my patience over the years: Retribution is yours for the asking, for as you have known all along, I am becoming you. I’ve stood behind you in the supermarket line, tapping my foot and pretending to be absorbed in the details of Jennifer Aniston’s love life splayed across the magazine covers, but really I was a roiling tsunami of frustration that could boil over at any moment. 

I stood silently as some of you fumbled with your wallets, then swiped your credit cards through the readers with the magnetic strip facing up instead of down and then had to swipe again. I’ve bitten my tongue as those of you with fingers felled by arthritis took, oh let’s say, a whole minute, to pluck a nickel from your change purse. And I’ve smiled insincerely when it took another whole minute of my precious time to neatly stack your bills, fit them into your wallet, snap the darn thing, place it neatly in your purse, fold your receipt into a neat bundle, reopen your wallet to nestle the receipt in with your bills, re-snap the wallet — which is no easy task for you — place the wallet in your purse, search for your keys because why should you wait until you are at your car to find your keys, fit your groceries into your cart just the way you like them, and finally, transaction completed, walk away, leaving your sunglasses or cell phone or roasted chicken behind. Jennifer Aniston went through three boyfriends in the time it took you to buy bread, milk and Oreos. I smiled, but little did you know my closed-lip grin hid teeth so gritted, air couldn’t pass through my molars.

Take delight, Dear Ladies, that I am getting my comeuppance now. The young girl behind me at the Acme yesterday perused two Katy Perry/John Mayer breakup articles while I searched for my debit card in the bottomless pit that is my handbag. I could tell she was seething as I organized and reorganized my bags so none would be too heavy for my tennis elbow to bear. The tension in her brow signaled that I was keeping her from very important appointments, appointments that must have been far more substantive than anything I had lined up that day. I almost implored her to chill out until I recognized my younger self in her bridled impatience.

I send you my apologies for any bad vibes my highly metabolized being sent your way. I spent decades in a hurry, and unfortunately sometimes you were in my way. I decorated my house from top to bottom in a week and a half. I can make it from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Greenwich Village on foot in a half hour. A few years of my life have been wasted waiting for movies to begin or planes to board because I am always the first one at the theater or airport. Please don’t ask me what roses smell like. 

I’m sorry, ladies, and I want you to know I’m eating my just desserts. I’ve left my phone or my sunglasses in restaurants and shops all over town. I vividly remember the lasagna I served at my sweet 16 party, but can’t recall what I ate for dinner last night. I maintain the speed limit on highways these days and people honk at me. Recently, a restaurant hostess asked if I’d like to have my seat moved because many older people don’t like to sit near the air conditioner. I loathed hearing that but much preferred my new seat away from the vent. And I still needed my sweater. 

Intellectually I knew all along you had no control over the deceleration of your everyday activities, so I did not judge or condescend. But I had little control (or chose not to control) the brisk rhythm of my days. When our paths crossed, one of us was bound to feel off-kilter. Invariably, it was I.

I suppose you and I had a tacit agreement between us. I respected you by allowing you your time and space and by keeping my annoyance under wraps, and you respected me by restraining yourselves from mentioning that I would become you much sooner than I could possibly imagine. Thank you for that.


Karin Kasdin is an award-winning playwright, author and essayist whose articles have appeared in Ms. Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Family Fun Magazine, New York City Parents and others. Her book “Oh Boy, Oh Boy, Oh Boy: Confronting Motherhood, Womanhood and Selfhood in a Household of Boys” was named Best Parenting Book in 1997 by the Parent Council Ltd.

Just how expensive is it to live in Israel?


What began in Israel in June as a Facebook-driven rebellion against the rising cost of cottage cheese, then morphed in July into tent encampments protesting soaring real estate costs, has since turned into a full-scale Israeli social movement against the high cost of living in the Jewish state.

From Tel Aviv’s tent-filled Rothschild Boulevard to marches in Beersheva, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have participated in one protest or another. The movement’s targets have expanded from housing and cheese prices to everything from the costs of child care and gas—not to mention salaries.

All this begs the question: Just how expensive is it to live in Israel?

A close examination of some key metrics show that compared to the United States and Europe, Israeli costs of living are a mixed bag. Salaries are lower, but so are health care costs. Consumer goods and services costs are nearly double those in the United States, and owning a car can run about six times as much relative to one’s salary.

So how do Israelis make it? Israeli retailers and banks offer easy credit on everything from big-ticket items like summer vacations to everyday purchases like groceries; all can be paid in monthly installments. The result is that many Israelis are perennially in debt and are increasingly frustrated by their inability to cover costs with their monthly paychecks.

Here’s a closer look at some of the costs of living in Israel.

Housing

The most expensive and desirable places to live in Israel are in the center of the country, where the vast majority of the population resides and works.

According to figures from the real estate company RE/MAX Israel, apartment prices in central Tel Aviv run $5,714 to $7,142 per square meter. In Jerusalem, the peripheral neighborhoods of East Talpiot and Kiryat Hayovel offer housing from $4,285 to $5,714 per square meter, while prices in the tonier neighborhoods of Baka, the German Colony and Rechavia range from $7,000 to $8,571 per square meter.

That means that in Baka or the German Colony, a typical two-bedroom apartment starts at $428,571, according to Alyssa Friedland, a broker for RE/MAX.  In the peripheral neighborhoods, some of which are built on territory captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, a two-bedroom apartment runs for about $343,000. According to RE/MAX figures, two-bedroom apartments in Beersheva, Haifa, Hadera and Afula cost between $143,000 and $286,000.

Mortgage rates are about 4.5 percent, according to Friedland, but the required down payment is usually about 40 percent.

“Young couples are getting the money from their parents because they don’t typically have savings like that,” she said.

As the economist Daniel Doron noted recently in The Wall Street Journal, “A small apartment can cost the average Israeli worker 12 years in annual salary.”

Salaries

In Israel, the average salary is about $2,572 per month, and the average income for a tfamily with two wage earners is approximately $3,428 per month, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Teachers and nurses earn abound $1,666 a month, making Israeli teachers’ salaries among the lowest in the world, according to a recent report by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Business managers, computer engineers and lawyers have some of the highest median salaries in Israel. A lawyer with five years’ experience can make $5,500 to $6,500 per month, and top associates earn about $8,571 per month, according to Dudi Zalmanovitsh, who runs the Tel Aviv law consulting firm GlawBAL. Technology professionals are some of the highest paid in Israel, with technical writers and software engineers earning between $2,500 and $3,500 a month, and managers making upward of $10,000 a month.

Doctors, most of whom work at clinics and hospitals, earn $6,000 to $7,000 a month, unless they also have a private practice.

Transportation

With a tax rate of 78 percent on new cars, a lack of competition in the import market and high auto insurance costs—not to mention the price of gas—owning a car can be one of the most expensive things for an Israeli.

A Honda Civic, which has a sticker price of approximately $16,000 in the United States, costs $33,000 in Israel. Gas costs more than $8 per gallon.

As most Israelis earn about one-third of their American counterparts, Israelis may spend more than six times as much of their monthly salaries on car ownership as the average American.

The alternative—public transportation—is cheap by comparison in Israel, though the network of mass transit is much less developed here than in America or Europe.

A small but growing number of Israelis commute by train, but most need to take a bus to complete their commute. Buses are subsidized and therefore relatively cheap. Within cities, bus fare costs about $1.51 per ride or $65 for a monthly pass.

Health care

Israel’s socialized health care system is considered among the world’s best, and taxes pay the lion’s share of costs. Based on figures from the National Insurance Institute, the health care costs deducted from the average paycheck are between 3 percent and 5.5 percent, estimates Dr. Michael Cohen, who runs an HMO in the coastal city of Netanya.

With a system of universal health care run by private corporations, all citizens are entitled to the same uniform package. Whether self-employed or employed by a company, every citizen pays a basic health insurance rate to one of the four HMOs, which are heavily regulated by the government and subsidized.

For Israelis who need to visit the doctor, require fertility treatment or visit the emergency room, the extra costs are minimal. Medications are cheaper in Israel than in the United States because they are subsidized by the HMOs.

Many Israelis choose to expand their coverage with private health insurance that offers more access to private care or more comprehensive coverage. Private insurance costs a fraction of what it costs in the States.

“The working poor are much better off here because if someone gets sick, they still get full hospital treatment for what would be very expensive in the U.S.,” Cohen said.

Taxes

Israel is more like Europe than America on taxes. The top rate of income tax is 45 percent (it was 50 percent until 2003). The value added tax, or VAT, which amounts to a sales tax, is 16 percent. That’s considered regressive because rich and poor pay the same rate.

The average Israeli pays an income tax rate of 20.5 percent. The top 1 percent of salaried workers, who earn an average of $19,000 per month, pay a 40 percent income tax rate. The top 1 percent of the self-employed—the super-rich who gross an average of $121,000 per month—pay 26 percent in income tax.

Education

Education is one area in which Israelis pay considerably less than Americans.

Tuition at Israel’s renowned public universities is about $2,714 per year, thanks in large part to government subsidies. At Israel’s lesser-known private colleges, tuition costs about $8,571 each year. Compared with other developed countries, Israel ranks eighth out of the OECD’s 26 countries for tuition rates.

Those paying tuition for Jewish day school in America would save a bundle in Israel. Public schools—whether secular, Modern Orthodox or haredi Orthodox—are free. However, parents must pay service fees for field trips and special events, are responsible for busing costs and must pay for books.

The growing number of semi-private schools that offer special pluralistic, democratic or religious curricula charge annual tuitions ranging from $800 to $1,600, and boarding schools charge $3,000 to $5,000 per year.

Because the traditional Israeli primary school day is short, often ending before 2 p.m., many parents shell out money for afternoon childcare programs or afterschool activities.

The most expensive part of child rearing may be day care for the under-3 set. Some day care centers cost $630 a month for private toddler day care. Once children turn 3, they can take advantage of the public school system and day care centers that charge as little as $257 a month for a six-day, six-hour program.

Food

Israel’s social protest movement began with an investigative report by the Globes business daily on food prices. Globes found that prices for basic food products were two to three times higher in Israeli stores than in other Western countries.

An 8-ounce container of cottage cheese costs $1.68; a pound of hummus costs $4.54; 2 liters of orange juice—in a country that exports oranges—costs $6.54; 2 pounds of rice costs $1.94; and a 13-ounce container of Israeli Osem soup nuts costs $4.54—more than it costs in American stores that import the soup nuts from Israel. A 6-ounce can of Israeli-made sunscreen spray can cost approximately $40.

“Prices have gone above what the middle class and weaker classes can afford,” said Rami Levy, who owns 22 supermarkets nationwide. He attributed the rise to Israeli supermarket chains that collude to set prices.

“I started my business with the goal of selling to my customers at wholesale prices,” said Levy, who started with a stall in Jerusalem’s open-air Machane Yehudah market. “I wanted them to be able to buy what they needed and still have money left at the end of the month.”

Education in the synagogue should aim for enhanced Jewish living


For professors in a university’s Judaic studies program, Jewish literacy appears to be a straightforward proposition. They can insist on prerequisites, delineate academic standards, articulate a curriculum, impose the extrinsic motivation of grades and design objective tests of students’ achievements. That is because their program is one of Judaic studies, as opposed to Jewish education, and their goal is to impart information, rather than influence behavior.

For synagogue rabbis, Jewish literacy is much more of a moving target. Jewish education in the synagogue aims for enhanced Jewish living, as opposed to striving simply for increased Jewish knowledge. It addresses the mind, heart and soul. It addresses children, adults and families – people at every stage of life, with varied backgrounds and divergent interests.

Nonetheless, it is possible, even desirable, for a synagogue to design and promote a systematic program of Jewish education and enculturation that moves its members toward Jewish literacy. For some Jews, it is sufficient motivation to know that we are commanded to engage in study as a lifelong endeavor – the mitzvah of Talmud Torah.

For other Jews, the synagogue needs to help them understand that active Jewish living will enhance their lives, that a vibrant Jewish community gives them a context for celebrating life’s joys and coping with its challenges, that Jewish texts and rituals give them a vocabulary for expressing the deepest yearnings of their souls and that learning for its own sake can be profoundly rewarding. Often, the greatest barrier for individuals is a lack of confidence and competence. A program that moves its members toward Jewish literacy fills this gap.

There are some Jews who will eagerly respond to such a program and have the time and inspiration to immerse themselves in regular, serious study. The synagogue is obligated to respond by providing opportunities for learning.

But most synagogue members are not prepared to study regularly. The synagogue must respond to this population, as well, by offering introductory programs and then helping it progress beyond the basic classes.

Synagogue membership that is diverse in background, knowledge, experience and interest also challenges synagogue leadership to be teachers of Judaism. That teaching must be guided by the conviction that Jewish literacy is not simply about book learning but also Jewish heritage and life.

To be Jewishly literate, a person need not know everything. Rather, he or she must be familiar with the basic aspects of the religion: the rhythms and cycles of the Jewish year; sacred texts; Jewish history, ethics and values, and the obligations and opportunities of being a Jew. Also, a person needs to know Hebrew – not necessarily to be fluent but at least conversant with the vocabulary of Jewish life.

Jewish literacy is a goal to be sought. Synagogues need to create communities of learning wherein members come to understand that it isn’t so much the attainment of that goal that is meaningful as the journey to get there. l

Rabbi Michael Weinberg is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, Ill., and a past president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education.

Living and Working [Il]legally in America — It’s Not Just for Latinos Anymore


Hardly a day goes by without some news about them — the undocumented. Congress debates the issue of how to handle them, and pundits argue even as the number of illegal immigrants grows. Supposedly, there are more than 12 million of them in the United States. Thinking about them, we tend to see the shadowy figures on this week’s cover: Mexicans or Central Americans scurrying across the road at night, abandoned by their coyote in the desert dust. They pick our fruit, cut our lawns and bus our dishes. But what does illegal immigration have to do with us?

More than you might think. According to statistics compiled by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), during 2004 alone, 540 Israelis were deported or about to be deported. If that many Israelis were caught, it stands to reason that there are many thousands more — in Los Angeles as well as the rest of the United States — who have not yet been located by authorities. And we know from interviews we conducted that — besides Israelis — there are many Jews from Latin America and elsewhere who also fall into this category.

Morris Ardoin, who handles media relations for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), said that he knows of no way to determine how many Jews are in the United States without a valid visa or working in contravention of the law. “Making a guess on that would be a shot in the dark,” he said. “Like asking how many stars in the sky.”

Maybe there aren’t quite as many as there are stars in the sky, but there are undoubtedly many thousands of illegal Jewish aliens throughout the United States and in Los Angeles, and they have their own stories to tell. The following are three very different stories of the Jewish experience of illegal immigration.

What Is U.S. Jewish Role in Gaza?


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A desk cluttered with papers — things to do, meetings to arrange. A demanding computer monitor — so many e-mails relentlessly calling for response. Yet my sense that we are approaching a watershed moment in Jewish history makes me want to push everything else aside.

I ask myself what we might do in the organized American Jewish community, the largest and most influential Diaspora community, to help prevent a looming confrontation — possibly heaven forbid violent in nature — between opposing forces in Israel.

This July, Israel will implement the government’s plan to evacuate Jews living in the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank. Opponents of this policy, as we have been hearing and reading, are preparing a series of measures, including massive civil disobedience intended to prevent this from taking place. Other, more radical opponents, we have been informed, may be planning even more extreme actions.

There is the appearance here of two speeding trains on a collision course. Not just any trains, but ones carrying our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel.

I firmly believe that there is a Jewish community consensus position on this issue. While there are thoughtful people on both sides of the disengagement policy, the organized Jewish community overwhelmingly supports it. And it is not simply because it is a policy of the democratically elected Israeli government in Jerusalem.

I believe the support is fundamentally rooted in the merits of the initiative, which was intended not as a reward to the Palestinians, but as a necessary step to preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic character. The fact that it will now be coordinated with a new Palestinian leader, who appears to be serious about a peaceful resolution of the conflict, is a bonus.

I believe our Jewish community has great empathy for Jewish residents in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, who must make painful personal sacrifices by leaving their homes of many years. In addition, there is recognition of the national sacrifice associated with departing parts of our beloved Land of Israel.

We also respect the right of those who disagree with the government’s policies to engage in legal protest. But we reject and denounce any call for violence or efforts to delegitimize the country’s democratic processes. With deep emotions rising on both sides, it is incumbent upon all responsible leaders, whatever their position may be on disengagement, to express their views with civility.

It has been a basic principle in our community that as American Jews — who live here and not there, whose children are not asked to serve in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] — we should avoid becoming enmeshed in Israel’s internal political discussions. Over time, that principle has served us well and has reinforced an understanding of our primary role, which is to advocate for a strong

U.S.-Israel relationship and to help Israel meet the social and economic challenges it faces.

But there are rare times when it is much more than a simple political debate, when what is happening goes to the core of Israel’s identity as the state of the Jewish people, when the very future of the Zionist enterprise is on the line. I believe we are at such a juncture in Jewish history.

Even though 10 years have passed, I remember the moment as though it was yesterday, when my wife came to me with the shocking news that Prime Minister Rabin had been assassinated by a Jewish extremist. Her words went through me like a knife, and I cried off and on all day — my grief accentuated by the fact that we at the JCPA [Jewish Council for Public Affairs] had just met with him in Tel Aviv the week before.

Did we recognize sufficiently the poisonous climate that led up to this tragedy? Could we have taken some action to calm the situation? I continue to ask myself those questions.

Our choice is clear. Either we can be observers of this unfolding drama from the sidelines and pray for the best. Or, in the remaining months before July, we can come together as a community, representing the full spectrum of religious and political perspectives, to consider how to communicate our convictions and feelings to the Israeli people directly, in the hope that we will help shape — and not merely be witnesses to Jewish history.

Martin J. Raffel is acting executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

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Jews in Hong Kong?


My mother used to say that there were people starving in China. While her words had the effect of making me guilty enough to eat her badly burnt chicken, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d get the chance to see all those starving people in the undernourished flesh. On Nov. 19, I visited Hong Kong when my film, "The Hebrew Hammer," was invited to the fourth annual Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival. No, my friends, that was not a typo. There are actually real live Jews living in Hong Kong, and they have a film festival.

You can imagine my curiosity before boarding the plane. What Jew in their right mind would want to live in Hong Kong? My mind was racing. Maybe this was some sort of bizarre sect of Jewish Chinese-food zealots who decided sometime during the Ming dynasty that the only place they could get dim sum authentic enough to satisfy their discriminating palettes would be in China. When I arrived in Hong Kong, would I be able to reason with these people that they could probably find pretty decent Chinese in New York or Los Angeles? Would I be able to steer these lost souls back to New York City?

Upon arriving in Hong Kong, the first thing I noticed was that I suddenly felt much taller. I hadn’t played basketball in two years due to a chronic dislocating shoulder problem, but for some reason, I now felt an overwhelmingly intense urge to play a pick-up game of basketball.

I was whisked off to the home of Jason and Jess Budovitch, two transplanted Montreal Jews. This was to be my first opportunity to get some face time with some real-life Chews (Chinese Jews). Over some green tea, I quickly discovered that Jason was a venture capitalist who’d been living in The H.K. for 13 years, while Jess was a professional actress and jazz singer. When I asked the two why they chose to settle in Hong Kong, Jason pointed toward the window and said, "You ever played a pick-up game of basketball in China?"

The next day, I took a tour of the city. The streets were teaming with people. It reminded me of New York City on Steroids, but with lots of Asian signage … wait a second. You know, on second thought, I can honestly say that the city looked exactly like Chinatown — only bigger. And seriously, if I had known that going in, I might have skipped the 15-hour plane ride, rented a room in Chinatown and blown the rest of the money on Tsing-Tao and special "Chinese" Massages. What can I say, you live and you learn.

Later on, I found myself at a street market where live animals were being slaughtered in front of my very eyes. I suddenly became acutely aware of a slight cough. Convinced I’d come down with some new and exotic strain of Bird, Scallop or Giant Prawn flu, I decided it was time for me to go home and rest up for that evening’s festivities.

That night, festival founder Howard Elias hosted me at a Hong Kong-style Shabbat dinner. I arrived at the Jewish Community Center and was immediately stopped by two Chinese guards at the entrance into the building. In broken English, they explained that because it was the Sabbath, I was to turn over my camera and cell phone immediately. Even when I’ve visited my Orthodox relatives’ shul in Long Island, I’d never been asked to turn in the telltale signs of my irreligiousness at the door. Apparently, these Hong Kong Jews weren’t messing around with God’s law. I decided it’d be best not to make a scene. After all, I remembered what happened to Richard Gere in "Red Square."

At dinner, I met a whole host of Hong Kong Jews from all over the world: South Africa, Canada, the United States, Britain and Germany. Most were businesspeople with their trades in such things as plastics and technology. I discovered that in Hong Kong, a city of 7 million, there are only 4,000 Jews.

"Many people think it’s strange that there are Jews in H.K., let alone that we have a Jewish film festival," Elias explained. "The Jewish community here is as old as Hong Kong itself — over 150 years." "Although we come from places all over the world, we all have one thing that binds us together — our religion," he continued. "Like most communities, we have been known to fight, but we still care very deeply for each other because we really are each other’s families here…. I’ve visited Jewish communities all over the world, but I’ve never met one that was friendlier than this one."

Before I left Hong Kong, another one of my new Chewish friends, Dr. David Cosman, a chiropractor from Winnipeg, took me for dim sum in Stanley, a shopping village on the water on the south side of the island. For lunch, he ordered two kinds of chicken feet for me to sample. That’s right. You heard me correctly. The feet of chicken. What’s it like, you ask? Well, it looks like miniature velociraptor claws, has the consistency of, well, hard bone and, believe it or not, it tastes like chicken. Not my mother’s burnt chicken, mind you, but more like the kind of chicken that makes you want to vomit violently into a trash can after you bite into it. And this Jewish man was eating it like it was the God’s gift to the culinary arts. So in answer to the declarative statement your mother used to trump you with at the dinner table: While there may be people starving in China, the Jewish community in Hong Kong seems to be holding their dim sum down just fine, thank you.


Jonathan Kesselman, writer and director of The Hebrew Hammer, is an incredibly good looking (yet also modest), slightly neurotic, single, self-proclaimed ‘nice’ Jewish boy from the Valley, who enjoys writing run-on sentences.

Baggage Claim


I used to want things. One day, I realized the seven pairs
of Puma sneakers and the Pottery Barn rug and the 8-pound “Columbia
Encyclopedia,” those were just things to pack, and I didn’t
want them anymore.

Actually, that day was just about two weeks ago, when I got
a job in New York and had to pack up my worldly belongings in a matter of days
to ship off to Manhattan. I got here just in time for the first snowstorm,
which is happening today, as I stare out my hotel window. Maybe I should have
held onto those wool gloves, but in a fit of Buddhist nonattachment, I erred on
the side of frozen.

I donated most of my clothes to my girlfriend, a social
worker who divvied them up among the teenage girls under her charge. I divided
my books into piles: the Mitzi pile, the Bianca pile, the Tim pile. I parceled
them out stuffed in the multitude of tote bags I amassed during my five years
in Los Angeles. I packed up sacks of makeup for my 14-year-old cousin. She also
got a jewelry box filled with stuff I hadn’t worn since I was her age.

My silky green Indian print curtains went to a friend of a
friend, with the cream-colored panels thrown in for good measure. I left behind
a coffee maker and microwave for my home’s new inhabitants.

With days left before I was scheduled to leave, my blue
Taurus plagued me. It was worth so much to me, a way to get safely from place
to place, but worth almost nothing to Mr. Kelley Blue Book. When my dad called
saying one of his jalopies broke down, I said “Dad, you’re in luck. The Taurus is
yours and it will be parked in my garage with a full tank of gas and the keys
under the doormat. Godspeed.”

I can honestly tell you that the most I ever got from my
things was in the giving away of them.

“What do you want for Chanukah?” my mom asked before I left.

“Nothing,” I responded, with perhaps a little too much snap
in my newly nonattached voice. “I don’t want things. If you must, send a bottle
of Scotch, that way it will be gone in a day.”

I can’t tell you how many expensive candles I owned that
were too good to use. There were the tubes of body lotion that were too special
to open, the gifts that I put on a shelf, the fancy champagne I was waiting for
the right occasion to pop, the scarf that was too pretty to wear. If you don’t
think burning that grapefruit-currant candle you’ve been hoarding is a
spiritual act, think again. Having isn’t living, it’s waiting to live. 

I think we single people do a lot of that waiting; as in,
when I have a date, I’ll try getting my legs waxed; when I have a boyfriend,
I’ll try that new Italian restaurant; when I get married, I’ll try buying a
house. 

Okay, I sound mighty philosophical for a girl who breaks out
in tears at least once a day, trudging through black ice and wet snow and
wondering, which way is uptown? Will my new co-workers like me? Am I doing a
good job? Have I made a huge mistake and ruined my life?

If only you could pack up your emotional baggage in a couple
Hefty sacks and drop them off at the Goodwill. 

Maybe I’ve taken the first step, the easy one, in giving
away the material things I don’t need. And every night, in a ritualistic fit of
beauty product blasphemy, I purposefully massage my fancy face cream into my
hands and elbows like so much drugstore Lubriderm. I’m using what I have and I’ve
disposed of what I don’t need, and maybe I’m hoping something so silly and
small will have a profound effect on the storage unit that I call my brain.

In the meantime, I’m traveling as light as I can. The phone
numbers in my cell phone are the most important things I have, and I use them
nightly to report on how homesick I am. 

And when you rip off the packing tape and shake out all the
Styrofoam peanuts and unroll the bubble wrap, it’s right there, small and
obvious as a regifted picture frame — I’m scared. 

I’ve collected anxieties and stowed away a mother lode of
smothering perfectionism and now I wish I knew how to give them away. I had
them in Los Angeles, and here in New York, away from my friends and my routine,
they’ve multiplied. I’ve learned only this: giving stuff away is only possible
when you understand how deeply you don’t need it. 

I have to believe that will happen with the things that
truly weigh me down. Until then, I would like those gloves back.   


Teresa Strasser writes from Manhattan, where she is a
feature reporter for Fox’s “Good Day New York.” She’s on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com
.

Five Elements of a Fairy-Tale Marriage


“The Committed Marriage” by Esther Jungreis (Harper San
Francisco, $23.95).

At first glance, the title of Esther Jungreis’ new book,
“The Committed Marriage,” seems a bit redundant. After all, isn’t commitment
the whole point of getting married?

But what Jungreis explains is that, too often, husbands and
wives end up living separate lives in the same house — and even those marriages
that begin on the best footing as joint ventures often lose their way.
“Marriage” addresses a variety of challenges along the continuum of marriage,
from what to look for in a prospective partner to navigating a marriage at
midlife and beyond.

Jungreis’ new release is meant to build on her 1998 book,
“The Committed Life,” in which she discusses how making a commitment to a Torah-based
lifestyle can help people become healthy, wealthy and wise. In some ways,
“Marriage” is an improvement on the earlier work; it is better organized with
stand-alone chapters.

The structure of the book is simple: using as a framework
the story of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who sent his five most devoted
disciples out into the world to discover the important qualities for a good
life, Jungreis examines how each of these qualities together comprise a good
marriage. Each section addresses a different element the disciples found
essential: to have a good eye, to be a good friend, to be a good neighbor, to
develop the ability to project the consequences of one’s actions and to have a
good heart. Jungreis then relates the element to couples she has counseled.

Among the advice she imparts are:

On being friends in marriage: “The Hebrew term for
‘loving, kind friends’ is re’im v’ahuvim. The word rei’m is derived from the
Hebrew ro’eh, which means shepherd. The relationship of husbands and wives
should be that of shepherds … always keeping a loving, watchful eye on the
other.”

On acquiring “a good heart”: “There are myriad little acts
of chesed [lovingkindness] that can go a long way to generate a good heart and
give us our much-sought-after happiness. You can send an e-mail composed of
just three words: I love you. Make a point of smiling at your mate … as you
pass her chair, you lovingly touch her shoulder, just to let her know you care.
These little gestures require no expenditure, no special energy, but they can
change your life.”

For marriages gone awry, Jungreis tells how Moses dealt
with Korach, a cousin who fomented rebellion against him: “Instead of arguing,
Moses simply said, ‘Morning — wait until morning and we’ll settle it then.’
When troubled couples consult me and one of the spouses is bent upon divorce, I
have often succeeded in forestalling disaster simply by prevailing upon them to
wait until morning. There is always the hope that, if we can buy some more
time, they will perceive their folly and reconsider their decision.”

Despite her sometimes long-winded tales, Jungreis’ ability
to weave Torah and talmudic commentary into each chapter offsets many flaws.
One chapter in particular, “Communicating Without Hurting,” where Jungreis
teaches an especially contentious couple how to talk to each other in more
positive ways, should be required reading for every newlywed.

Jungreis was married to her third cousin, Rabbi Meshulem HaLevi
Jungreis for 40 years, and throughout the book describes their relationship in
almost fairy-tale terms. It can be difficult to believe in marriage in such a
wholehearted way, especially when today’s world often seems to offer no such
guarantees.

But maybe it can’t hurt for even those predestined pairs to
have someone like Jungreis in their corner. And for anyone seeking some
old-fashioned wisdom about love, this book may yet have you believing in the
possibility of your own fairy-tale marriage.

It’s a Full Plate in Nourishing the Sick


Bob S. insists that his mother back in Virginia made the best chicken soup ever, but he’s willing to admit the homemade version delivered to his Van Nuys apartment is a close second.

The delivery is part of the mission of Project Chicken Soup, an all-volunteer group that cooks, packages and personally delivers kosher meals twice a month to patients living with HIV and AIDS. It might be a chicken breast or a casserole, along with the soup, salad, fruit, dessert or even a protein drink.

Bob, who’s 61 and lives alone, said the food is crucial for him, but it goes deeper than that. “If it wasn’t for Project Chicken Soup, there wouldn’t be a connection to the Jewish community for some of us, and I wouldn’t be cooking for myself,” he said. “I don’t have the energy or the interest or the desire to eat.”

For Project Chicken Soup President Rod Barn, whose client list has grown steadily from 20 in the early ’90s to more than 100, the task of meeting a growing demand when charitable donations and grants are harder to secure is a never ending challenge.

“So far, we haven’t had to turn anyone away, and we don’t want to,” Barn said. “A lot of our clients say when they get our food, it reminds them of better times. They smell the chicken soup, and it brings them love and warmth, and that’s what we’re about.”

It’s a similar story elsewhere, from small programs to large, as medical advances mean more people are living better and longer with AIDS and HIV. Whether it’s Project Chicken Soup; Aids Service Foundation (ASF) Orange County, with its 1,500 clients; St. Vincent’s Meals on Wheels, which serves 50 to 75 HIV and AIDS patients a day out of 1,650 clients; or Project Angel Food, which cooks and delivers 1,200 meals daily, they have to do more with less.

Larry Kuzela of ASF Orange County said this “has always been a struggle and continues to be. We’ve never had a waiting list, and we’ve never turned anyone away, but we have a reserve fund, and we’ve had to dig into our reserves.” Sister Alice Marie of St. Vincent’s was only half joking when she said, “I pray a lot” to make sure there is enough money.

At Project Angel Food, considered a model for this type of service nationally, Executive Director John Gile said, “We’ve added 800 new clients in 2002 alone, yet we have over 20,000 donors, with the average gift being $38. We always seem to get the gift when we need it most.”

“Since we’re based in Hollywood, we have strong support and generosity from the entertainment industry, which this year alone will help us raise a half-million dollars,” he continued. “We’re proud to say that if you call Project Angel Food today, you get a meal tomorrow”

On the other side of the table, groups that give grants and funding to AIDS service providers would like to do more, but they also must compete for donations. For example, MAZON, A Jewish Response to Hunger, which receives the majority of its donations from individuals, plans to give away approximately $3.4 million to 250 organizations nationwide in this fiscal year. Project Angel Food and Project Chicken Soup, which is under the umbrella of Jewish Family Service, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, are among the grant recipients.

Grants Director Mia Johnson said, “The sense or urgency is not as strong as it was in the ’80s and ’90s, so it’s a challenge for these organizations to make sure people understand their ongoing needs and the evolution of those needs”

The nutritionally balanced meals that are provided can literally make the difference between life and death for those struggling to stay healthy, and that’s why Steven F. of Santa Monica, said of Project Angel Food’s work: “It’s very crucial. Every day, I think of it as a gift. It is something I look forward to, and it provides me with good, cooked food that I wouldn’t and couldn’t do for

myself.”

For more information about Project Chicken Soup, call
(323) 655-5330 or visit “>www.angelfood.org; for MAZON, call (310)
442-0020 or visit