Jack Bender on flying among the stars

Jack Bender has recurring dreams of flying. 

His work life is deeply embedded in the fantasy world — he was an executive producer on “Lost” and he’s directed episodes of “Game of Thrones” — but his dreams are what great TV is made of. 

“I had some dreams where I would go so high, I would go into astro propulsion like a Marvel movie, above the Earth, and see dark space and then start to fall,” he said about his nocturnal flying episodes.

He’s even hit the ground once, even though, he said, “They say you can’t.”

“I remember one time really falling and not jerking out of the dream like I usually do, and I remember thinking, ‘Just hang in there, it’s going to be OK.’ So I willed myself to keep the movie going.”

With lucid determination, Bender stayed in the dream. He kept dropping until he hit the ocean. “At least I think it was the ocean. I can’t remember,” he said.

Bender’s dreams have inspired “The Urban Acrobats,” a short story featured in his new book, “The Elephant in the Room.” “The Urban Acrobats” tells the story of two high-flying individuals who fall in love, have a falling out, and get back together. 

I Ate the Whole Thing!

I Ate the Whole Thing!

Rap music and matzah balls? Hey, Jews can rap. Just ask the group, Chutzpah, which showed up in full rapping gear for the weighing of the 26-pound-matzah ball at Canter’s Deli last week to celebrate the DVD release of “When Do We Eat?” The weights and measures officials arrived in uniform to record the official weight to send to Guinness, and guests and regulars ogled the giant treat. Not exactly like grandma used to make, but in this case bigger was better.

The matzah ball weigh-in was all part of the 75th anniversary celebration for the legendary L.A. deli, with Assemblyman Paul Koretz doing the honors of presenting an official proclamation from the state of California. Alan Canter, representing the second generation of family ownership, accepted the honor; he has spent practically his whole life keeping Canter’s one of Southern California’s most beloved and long-lasting dining establishments.

Koretz saluted the restaurant for its many years of great food, legendary service and extensive community involvement.

Two longstanding employees, head waitress Jean Cocchiaro and manager and main sandwich man George Karkabasis — considered by many to be the fastest and best sandwichmaker in town — were also surprised with certificates of commendation.

Together, they have worked at Canter’s for more than 100 years! Jacqueline, Gary and Mark Canter were on hand to celebrate their family’s famous fressing history with Dad, Alan.

The Canters reminisced about old times with Koretz, noting the table where Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller sat on Friday nights, the visits from sports stars like Wilt Chamberlain and Hank Aaron, the joking of regulars like Jack Benny and Buddy Hackett.

Solidarity Brother

Responding to the crisis in Israel, Rabbi Eli Herscher, senior rabbi of Stephen S. Wise Temple, and the synagogue’s director of education, Metuka Benjamin, quickly organized a solidarity mission to Israel. The group of 21 congregants met with high-level military and political leadership for a crisis update, visited military bases directly involved in the conflict and experienced first-hand the mobilization of essential services for Israelis in the north who were directly affected by this war. Herscher and Benjamin led the temple’s leadership as they brought gifts to wounded soldiers at Rambam Hospital in Haifa. They also visited a summer camp organized by the Joint Distribution Committee to serve children affected by the bombings in the Haifa area and met with handicapped Israelis who were evacuated to hotels in the center of the country. The temple has scheduled three other Israel missions for the coming year and raised $1.4 million dollars toward meeting Israel’s immediate crisis needs.

Zev on the Mount

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries named Bob Zev director of marketing. Zev, who has a bachelor’s from CSUN and an MBA from USC, has more than 15 years of marketing and communications experience serving as the vice president of marketing for a financial institution.

Zev grew up in Los Angeles, became a bar mitzvah at Sinai Temple, and attended Hillel Hebrew Academy, Hebrew High School, Camp Ramah and spent a year in Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

‘Lost’ in the Art World

Even though Jack Bender didn’t win the best director Emmy Sunday night for his work on “Lost,” he was very much a winner at the premiere of his one-man show, “Found” at the Timothy Yarger Fine Art Gallery in Beverly Hills on Aug. 26. The exhibition was a “lost and found” of sorts for Bender’s friends, colleagues and admirers, who all converged onto the swanky gallery floors to view his colorful, explosive mixed-media paintings and, of course, to socialize.

The paintings could hardly be viewed through the talkative crowd of well-dressed art lovers, gallery clients and Bender’s circle of friends, who were sipping vodka-based cocktails named in Bender’s honor, such as “On a Bender” and “Castaway.” Across from “The Hatch Painting,” made famous for its appearance in “Lost,” students from View Park Prep in South L.A. played smooth jazz for the guests.

Among the celebs present to gush over Bender’s artwork were actress Blythe Danner; Jacqueline Bisset; J.J. Abrams, creator of “Lost”; Carlton Cuse, “Lost” producer; “Lost” star Evangeline Lily (who plays Kate) and “Sex and the City” actor Evan Handler (Charlotte’s Jewish husband).

“I don’t know how he did all of these,” Danner enthused to Entertainment Tonight, at the gallery.

Works exhibited are those he completed during breaks from filming “Lost” in Hawaii these past two years. Bender has been painting ever since he was a teen.Lilly, however, wasn’t surprised by Bender’s creative output on display: “It’s an expression and extension of himself,” she told The Journal in the gallery’s backroom, where Bender shared exhibition space with Chagall and Picasso. “He’s very spontaneous as a director and doesn’t like to premeditate things.”Bender summed up the evening: “It’s wonderful to be in this extraordinary environment. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long ride.”

— Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer

Beit T’Shuvah’s New President Honored

Brindell Gottlieb recently opened her home to celebrate Nancy Mishkin as the new president of Beit T’Shuvah. Mishkin’s two-year term with the Westside congregation and rehabilitation center began in July. The annual Steps to Recovery Gala on Jan. 28, 2007, honoring Ron Herman, Dr. Susan Krevoy and Diane Licht, will be the first event highlighting Mishkin’s presidency. Beit T’Shuvah’s mission is to insure the physical, emotional and spiritual health of individuals and families within a supportive Jewish community. For more information, call (310) 204-5200, ext. 211.

Celebrate Rosh Hashanah in India? No Problem

Young Israelis are among the world’s most prolific travelers, gravitating to hot spots like Bolivia, Thailand and India, where the shekel stretches far. Having experienced Pesach in Argentina, surrounded by more than 400 mostly Israeli backpackers, I was curious to see where I might end up for Rosh Hashanah on my around-the-world journey.

I knew that I would be in India, and given that several hotels in Delhi’s Pahar Ganj district had signs in Hebrew, there had to be something going on.

As it turned out, I would be in the holy town of Rishikesh, where ashrams and yoga studios line the Ganges. A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, I had fallen in with an Israeli crowd in Goa who had highly recommended Rishikesh as a place to find the inner spirituality that India is so famous for. Like so many others who visit India, I was looking to find myself, too.

During a challenging night bus ride from Delhi, in which the driver seemed hell-bent on having a head-on with every truck on the road, I found myself chatting up an Italian girl in the seat next to me. When we arrived, I followed her to an ashram outside of town. Naturally, we got horribly lost on the way, but I suppose you have to get lost before you expect to find yourself.

The swami there was world famous, and the Italian girl had flown in from Rome to spend eight months studying yoga and inner bliss. It seemed like just the ticket, so I followed her to a yoga class, where I found myself surrounded by post-high school Californians with immaculate tans in the latest, hippest designer yogaware. The instructor, an American, spoke with an unnerving calmness while the class anxiously took notes.

“Can you repeat clearly how one should position our shoulders during two-minute meditation,” asked one kid, as if nirvana would be the best possible grade at the end of year semester.

It all seemed a little ridiculous, so I quietly backed out the door, grabbed my pack and headed into town.

Unlike the lower Ganges, where the water pollutants are apparently 150 times more than the most dangerous allowable level, the Ganges here flows thick and fast from its source in the nearby Himalayas. A suspension bridge crosses the gray water at Ram Jhula, a popular neighborhood with the holy set. Pedestrians, cyclists, cows and monkeys all make use of the bridge, and as I stepped foot on the other side, I was surrounded by babas, Indian holy men who meditate all day and survive through the charity of the community.

I followed my nose to a wonderful little guesthouse at the top of the hill, dropped my things and went off in search of a beer. Easier said than done, this being a holy city after all, where most restaurants are vegetarian and the chiming of ashram bells echo in the air.

With a little perseverance, I found what I was looking for above an Internet cafe, where the signs were all in Hebrew. Seconds later, I was talking to some girls from Haifa.

“Nu, and where are you going for Rosh Hashanah?” they asked in that friendly Israeli way that makes you feel like a younger sibling.

“Wherever you are, I hope,” I replied.

Turns out there were so many Israelis in Rishikesh, that three different Rosh Hashanah celebrations had been organized. Early the next evening, I met with the girls from Haifa and followed them to the next village of Luxman Jhula, across another bridge. After passing rustic Indian shacks, hundreds of locals getting ready to sleep on the streets, beautifully exotic ashrams and more than a few monkeys and cows, the last thing I expected to see were chandeliers.

A large enclosure had been set up in a field below a hotel, with seats and tables laid out, and chandeliers hanging from the plastic tarp walls, lighting it up. The ceiling was open, the sun was setting and it looked surreally beautiful.

Unlike my Pesach in Argentina, where we had to walk through metal detectors to enter the five-star hotel in Patagonia, this Rosh Hashanah service was open to anybody and everybody, bringing together quite an eclectic mix of travelers.

I turned to talk to a Japanese backpacker, curious how she stumbled upon Chabad, and it turned out she was Jewish, too. By my rough count, there were about 300 people, and this was just one of three celebrations.

We were served a meal of chicken, potato and vegetables after a service that saw uplifting singing and dancing. I wondered how on earth Chabad managed to secure kosher food. But since it was Chabad, I figured it must be kosher. It was the first time I had eaten meat in India, as I was determined to avoid getting sick and was avoiding all meat, eggs and anything uncooked.

At the same time on the Ganges below, a traditional Hindu puja, a religious ritual showing respect to God, was taking place. Floral offerings were made and set forth on the river, young boys chanted holy songs, incense was burned and a gold urn was passed around and touched with reverence by the community, much like a Torah on the way back to the ark.

Never mind the ashrams and the yoga centers.

As I sat beneath the stars, celebrating a new Jewish year surrounded by Jewish backpackers of all nationalities, I decided the Ganges was the perfect place to find myself after all.

Vancouver-based freelance writer Robin Esrock has traveled to 32 countries in the past 18 months, posting pictures and stories on his Web site,

Jack Bender: ‘Lost’ and ‘Found’

Just as he has in so many past years, TV veteran Jack Bender will attend the Emmy Awards this Sunday. He’s nominated again this year in the category of Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for his work on the hit ABC show “Lost,” for which he is also an executive producer. But after some 25 years working in television, Bender has finally gone public with his other occupation.

This weekend also marks the opening of his first major art exhibition, titled “Jack Bender FOUND,” at Timothy Yarger Fine Art, a gallery in Beverly Hills.

The themes of “lost and found,” of seeking and finding, and of faith, play a major role in “Lost,” a drama about a group of plane-crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island. But these are equally apt themes for Bender personally. He is the husband of a rabbinical student, but says his own faith is not as easily defined. And he is an artist who describes his work, both behind the camera and on canvas, as having a life of its own.

“If you’re good at directing, you let life happen,” he says, and similarly, “you have to let the painting have its voice.”

Bender tends to work quickly on his paintings, favoring bold colors and brush strokes, layering on paint as well as objects, such as Perrier bottle caps, blue jeans and vintage photographs.

In many cases, he is commenting on American society. But Bender also explains that in most of his pieces, “it’s not as much of an intellectual statement as a visceral one.”

He goes for raw emotion, creating pieces that conjure artists from Basquiat to Gauguin or Picasso.

One of his works, “Jazz Man” will be auctioned off at Saturday’s opening reception, with proceeds benefiting Friends of Washington Prep Foundation, an organization that supports and develops arts programming at George Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles.

“It’s a remarkable place…. They have taken guns out of kids’ hands and given them instruments,” Bender said.

Also scheduled at the opening is a performance by The View Park Prep Jazz Combo, and one more highlight.

Bender’s “The Hatch Painting” is a mural that was featured on “Lost” last season, and has been the subject of much chat room conversation by show groupies attempting to decode its many symbols. Fans can see it in person at the gallery, but as far as secrets hidden within the work, Bender offers only this: “There are definitely Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs in the forest there. So people should come see it.”

The 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on NBC, Sun., Aug. 27, at 8 p.m.

The opening reception for “Jack Bender: FOUND” takes place Sat., Aug. 26, at 7:30 p.m. 329 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 278-4400.

John Paul II and the Jews

For 20 centuries, the Catholic Church has had a turbulent relationship with the Jewish people. Jews were persecuted and held responsible for the death of Jesus, and were often the victims of church-instigated pogroms and anti-Semitic attacks.

With the passing of Pope John Paul II, we have lost the strongest advocate for reconciliation with the Jewish people in the history of the Vatican. This pope was determined to embark on a new course and leave that shameful period behind. From the very beginning of his papacy, when he first visited his native Poland, there were hints that this pope was going to break with tradition and not follow the centuries-old script, with respect to the Jews.

On his 1979 visit to Auschwitz, when he approached the inscriptions bearing the names of the countries whose citizens had been murdered there, he said: “I kneel before all the inscriptions bearing the memory of the victims in their languages…. In particular, I pause … before the inscription in Hebrew. This inscription awakens the memory of the people whose sons and daughters were intended for total extermination…. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference…. “

The first time I met the pope was in 1983, when I led a Wiesenthal Center mission to Eastern Europe. There, at a private audience at the Vatican, I expressed my concerns about anti-Semitism and said, “We come here today hoping to hear from you, the beloved spiritual leader of 700 million Christians, a clear and unequivocal message to all that this scourge in all its manifestations violates the basic creed to which all men of faith must aspire.”

Obviously, John Paul II understood that very well, but it is important to place in proper context the considerable obstacles that he had to overcome.

During the height of the Holocaust, when millions of Jews were being gassed, the Vatican found the time to write letters opposing the creation of a Jewish state. On May 4, 1943, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Magaloni informed the British government of the Vatican’s opposition to a Jewish homeland in Palestine. One day later, the Vatican was informed that of the 4 million Jews residing in pre-war Poland, only about 100,000 were still alive.

Six weeks later, on June 22, 1943, the Vatican’s apostolic delegate, Archbishop Cicognani, wrote to then U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, again detailing its opposition to a Jewish homeland in Palestine and warning him that Catholics the world over would be aroused, and saying, in part:

“It is true that at one time Palestine was inhabited by the Hebrew race, but there is no axiom in history to substantiate the necessity of a people returning to a country they left 19 centuries before…. If a Hebrew home is desired, it would not be too difficult to find a more fitting territory than Palestine.”

To imagine then that 62 years later a Polish Pope would have redefined Vatican thinking regarding the Jewish people is astounding.

Twenty years after our first meeting, on Dec. 3, 2003, together with a small delegation of center trustees, I returned to the Vatican for another private audience, this time to present the pope with the Wiesenthal Center’s highest honor, our Humanitarian Award. On that occasion, I recapped his remarkable accomplishments:

“As a youngster, you played goalie on the Jewish soccer team in Wadowice … in 1937, concerned about the safety of Ginka Beer, a Jewish student on her way to Palestine, you personally escorted her to the railroad station … in 1963, you were one of the major supporters of Nostra Aetate, the historic Vatican document which rejected the collective responsibility of the Jewish people for the crucifixion … in 1986, you were the first pope to ever visit a synagogue … the first to recognize the State of Israel … the first to issue a document that seeks forgiveness for members of the church for wrongdoing committed against the Jewish people throughout history and to apologize for Catholics who failed to help Jews during the Nazi period … the first to visit a concentration camp and to institute an official observance of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Vatican….”

I did not always agree with the pope, especially when he nominated Pius XII for sainthood or when he met with then Austrian President Kurt Waldheim. But one thing is clear: In the 2,000-year history of the papacy, no previous occupant of the throne of St. Peter has had such an interest in seeking reconciliation with the Jewish people.

With his passing, the world has lost a great moral leader and a righteous man, and the Jewish people have lost their staunchest advocate in the history of the church.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance.

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L.A. Rabbis Voice Praise for John Paul II

Pope’s Jewish Legacy

Jewish Groups Join Quake Relief Efforts

For thousands of young Israelis, the sun-drenched archipelagos of Southeast Asia were the perfect destination to forget the rigors of military service.

But this week, that post-Zionist nirvana became a nightmare. The tsunami that swept India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands on Sunday plunged hundreds of Israeli families into a frenzy of worry over relatives feared lost while touring.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that witness testimony suggested that at nearly 70 of the approximately 500 Israeli tourists still unaccounted for in hard-hit Southeast Asian nations may have been swept out to sea and drowned. At least 33 Israelis are receiving treatment in hospitals in the region, the Foreign Ministry said.

For thousands of families living in or visiting the Indian Ocean region, Sunday’s catastrophe confirmed their worst fears: At least 45,000 people were killed by the devastating earthquake and tsunami, mostly in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.

A Belgian Jewish couple reportedly lost their 11-month-old son in the disaster. According to Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, Matan Nassima’s body was found Tuesday near the Thai resort where his family had been vacationing.

Details were not immediately known, but it also was believed that members of the South African, Australian and New Zealand Jewish communities were missing.

Immediately after the tragedy, Israel and Jewish groups swung into action. Israel’s Foreign Ministry set aside $100,000 in aid for each of the countries hit by the tsunami. Four top doctors from Israel’s Hadassah Hospital were dispatched to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the ministry’s request, Hadassah said. Among them were the hospital’s head of general surgery and trauma, its chief of pediatrics and two anesthesiologists.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka turned down an Israeli offer to send military personnel to help with search-and-rescue efforts but said it would accept a smaller team.

North American Jewish groups also were participating in the relief efforts. The American Jewish World Service (AJWS) was expecting to send its first shipment of medicine Tuesday to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. It has been coordinating with 23 partner organizations in the region to assess needs on the ground. The group is hoping to receive donations to cover the cost of emergency supplies.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is working with its office in Bombay and elsewhere to coordinate relief efforts. The organization is hoping to provide food, water, clothing and shelter to countries affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Chabad of Thailand responded to the crisis by dispatching a rabbi to Phuket to aid rescue efforts and turned the three Chabad Houses of Thailand into crisis centers where survivors can call home, get a free meal or receive funds for new clothing and medical help.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has established a Southeast Asia Relief Fund. To contribute, call (323) 761-8200, or send a check payable to The Jewish Federation at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048 and write Southeast Asia Relief Fund on the memo line.

For families of potential victims, the waiting for news was excruciating.

At Erez Katran’s home in Haifa, a 24-hour vigil was set up next to the telephone in hopes that he would call. His family hoped Katran’s silence was due to the fact that he was incommunicado while sailing in the Bay of Bengal. Katran was among the Israelis who remained unaccounted for Tuesday, despite urgent Foreign Ministry efforts to track them down.

In addition to delivering bad news, the Israeli communications industry pitched in with the search efforts. Every major Web site set up a page where pictures of missing tourists could be posted in hope that someone would report their location, and one cellphone company offered its Israeli customers in Southeast Asia 10 minutes of free air time to call home.

JTA staff writer Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this report.

Relief Donations Sought

The following Jewish organizations are seeking funds to assist in the relief effort:

• American Jewish World Service, ” target=”_blank”>www.jdc.org, (212) 687-6200, ext. 889.

• B’nai B’rith, www.bnaibrith.org or by mail to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund, 2020 K St., NW, Seventh Floor, Washington, D.C., 20006.

• Chabad of Thailand, 96 Thanon Rambuttri, Bangkok, Thailand 10200; www.chabadthailand.com. For U.S. tax deductibility, checks should be made out to American Friends of Chabad of Thailand.)

Mom and Dementia

My mother sounded upset when she called the other day. "What’s wrong, Ma?" I asked. "I don’t know what’s going on or where I am she said. "Who are these people with me?"

I reminded Mom of her move to Los Angeles three years ago, and her life at a San Fernando Valley board and care.

She sighed and said, "Ellie, I’m losing my marbles."

The painful truth is she’s right. Mom’s dementia impacts so much in her life. Once an avid reader, she can’t remember the plot of a book after the first page. Eventually, she stopped trying. Reading her short articles in the newspaper holds her attention for a while, but since she doesn’t know what’s going on in the world, most news means little to her. Mom and the other women in her residential care home occassionally watch CNN. It’s hard to tell if any of them really know what’s going on. Like my mother, their intelligence is intact, but for most their short-term memory is gone.

Recently when I was there, we watched images from a terrible suicide bombing in northern Iraq. My mother was horrified. I reminded her about Bush and the war in Iraq and she made some disparaging comments about Bush’s intelligence. Fifteen minutes later, my sister called from North Carolina. I leaned close to the phone at Mom’s ear so I could listen. After the usual chatter about the weather, the dogs and my mother’s digestion, my sister said, "Isn’t what’s happening in Iraq just horrible?"

Mom said, "It certainly is."

Then she covered the phone and whispered to me, "What happened in Iraq?"

She sounded concerned and looked anxious, like she should know. But any memory of what she’d just seen on the news was gone.

Though much of what’s happening to my mother’s mind is painful, there are moments of levity caused by her dementia. In fact, Mom is very often amused by her own forgetfulness. While her short-term memory is gone, her wonderful, slightly sick sense of humor is intact.

Last year, my mother and I went to my Uncle Bob’s funeral. We were escorted to front-row seats at the graveside and after a moment my mother looked at the casket and loudly said, "Who died?"

Heads around us turned. Mom looked at me, her embarrassment quickly shifting to amusement and she started to giggle. Then I started to giggle. I was reminded of Friday night services years ago, when my mother would start to sing, very off-key, and we’d both end up with tears rolling down our face from trying to swallow our laughter.

After Uncle Bob’s funeral, Mom and I were sitting on the sofa at the reception, enjoying a sandwich and a little wine. Mom stopped chewing suddenly. "Where are we?" she asked me.

"Carole and Bob’s house," I responded.

She glanced around the room, then said, "Where’s Bob?"

I almost choked. I looked at her and whispered, "We just buried him."

She looked completely confused, then we both burst out laughing. We got a number of suspicious looks from people around the room who probably thought we’d had too much wine.

Then there was the morning after the Queen Mother died. My mom was living at her former board and care, and during breakfast another resident, Sally, was reading the newspaper. She suddenly said, "The Queen Mother died."

My mother looked up from her oatmeal and asked, "Really, how old was she?"

"Let me look," Sally said. "She was 102."

My mother responded, "Isn’t that wonderful!" Moments passed. Then Sally, still reading the paper, said, "Did you know the Queen Mother just died?"

My mother replied, "No. How old was she?"

Sally read further, then said, "She was 102."

"Imagine. Isn’t that wonderful!" exclaimed my mother. This same conversation apparently repeated for 10 minutes, both women enjoying their exchange over and over again.

Maybe this is the upside of my mother’s dementia. Each moment is totally new. In fact, for her, each moment is all there is. While most of us agonize over the future or analyze and regret the past, my mother — having lost track of the past and lacking the ability to imagine the future — lives wholly in the present.

Ellie Kahn is a family historian, journalist and documentary filmmaker.
She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net.

Iraq Situation: It’s Vietnam Deja Vu

Determination is a virtue. Remember how determined we were in Vietnam?

No bunch of barefoot peasants was going to force the United States of America to cut and run. No sir. Through eight long years and 58,000 dead soldiers we demonstrated our refusal to be cowed.

We were in Vietnam to protect the freedom of the South Vietnamese people against the godless communists who were out to enslave them. Unfortunately, the fact that the enemy was ethnically identical to the citizens we were protecting made it a little hard at times to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys.

Some of the troops got so fed up with the effort that they stopped trying to tell them apart. On their helmets they had a catchy solution: "Kill ’em all. Let God sort ’em out."

Then, as now, we had persuasive reasons for persisting, even after it became apparent that we couldn’t win. There was the infamous "domino effect" of collapsing Asian countries if we left. And of course, the ever-popular "bloodbath" that would follow if the communists took over the South. Naturally, we had to keep fighting so as not to abandon our POW’s, who, it turned out, were repatriated immediately after we left.

Then there was the knotty problem of how to leave. We needed to "save face," to ensure our continued credibility among the nations of the world (most of whom thought we were crazy to be there). We finally left the way we came — on boats and planes.

During our prolonged adventure in Southeast Asia, we heard constantly that we were engaged in a struggle for the "hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people. Sound familiar?

We tried to win them over with crop assistance and relocation to "strategic hamlets." We built schools and clinics. When that didn’t work, we established "free-fire zones," where we shot anything that moved, including water buffalo.

And we were always making progress. Maps showing steady increases in territory "pacified" were popular backdrops for briefing senior administration officials when they visited. But the people doing the killing and dying had a slightly more cynical view. On a restroom wall in Long Binh I read, "Would the last person out of the tunnel please turn out the light."

In the end, we lost because we didn’t belong. We were foreigners pursuing what we considered our own self-interest at the expense of a people we saw as "underdeveloped."

They sent us packing, because, in the end, they were more willing to die than we were to kill them. It was, after all, their country. Vietnam should have taught us this: Determination in the pursuit of folly is the indulgence of fools.

Now we seek to disengage from Iraq, that ungrateful tar baby of a country, wondering all the while at the absence of the flower petals with which the inhabitants were supposed to greet us, their liberators. Instead it appears that many of them hate us so much that it is not enough to kill us. They want to dismember our burned bodies and hang us from the nearest bridge.

Can’t they see that we only want for them the freedom and democracy that is the natural condition for all people?

All right, we tell ourselves, the resistance to what is best for them is the work of a few "insurgents" or "Saddam loyalists" or "outside terrorists." Surely, most of the Iraqis like us and appreciate what we’re trying to do for them.

Meanwhile, in a related story, our own country is in the hands of the most arrogant, secretive, ill-informed administration in memory. These are people for whom the lesson of Vietnam was that we didn’t try hard enough, didn’t give the military free rein. Sure we dropped more bombs on the place than were used by all parties to World War II, but, by gosh, if Washington hadn’t micromanaged that war, if we had really taken the gloves off, we could have won.

As with Vietnam, we were wrong to go to Iraq, and we are wrong to stay. The action-oriented neoconservatives currently controlling our government are convinced that our proper place in the world is as an imperial power, disdaining the opinions of other nations, attacking preemptively whomever we feel threatened by. Do we imagine that the skewed intelligence and downright deceptions used to justify this war are irrelevant to its outcome?

And now, once again, standing on the ash heap of lies and miscalculations that have characterized this disastrous and unilateral aggression, the gang in charge looks at the rest of us smugly and speaks of a need to "stay the course" in an effort to sell this misbegotten invasion as an example of determined leadership in the war on terrorism.

If we are stupid enough to buy this approach for another four years, we deserve the whirlwind that awaits us.

Gordon Livingston is a West Point graduate who served as an Army doctor in Vietnam. He became an antiwar activist, and is now a psychiatrist in Columbia, Md.

Missing: My Mojo

I can’t explain it any better than this. I think I’ve lost my mojo. That phrase has been going through my head for months now. Lost my mojo.

How do you know you’ve lost your mojo? You get a couple clues.

I’m eating dinner alone at a restaurant when an attractive older man approaches. He puts down his crossword puzzle. We chat. I discern that he’s a divorcé with a teenager, not much my type, but since I’m feeling the mojo slip away, I’m less discerning.

He asks for my e-mail. Never writes me.

What’s a four-letter word for that thing you used to have, that charm, that magic that makes guys ask you out? Mojo.

My friend’s brother, an actor you’ve seen in many movies from the 1980s, asks me out. He brings me gloves because I mention in a column that I gave mine away. We see a play. He insists on taking me to dinner afterward.

Never heard from him again. So, thinking — in a moment of delusion — that my phone may actually not be receiving incoming calls (for a week, despite several calls from people with the last name Strasser) I called him. He didn’t call back. I tried again. I relate a condensed version of that conversational carnage here:

"Hi, this is Teresa. I haven’t heard from you and I just wanted to see how you were doing."

"Yeah, been busy."

"So, I was surprised I didn’t hear from you. I don’t know many people here in New York and I was hoping we could be friends."

"Yeah, what can I say? I thought by not calling you back I was communicating something."


"That I’m not interested in pursuing … anything … with you," he said, with all the dynamism of a sleep-deprived substitute teacher.

"You don’t even want to be friends?"

"No. I’m trying to be clear about this. Sorry. See you around campus."

See you around campus? What school are we going to? The University of No Mojo, or U NoMo, as we call it on campus?


A comedian I interviewed for the morning show I work on comes up to me after the show.

"I’m a guy, you’re a girl, we should go out."

It wasn’t the best line, but he gave me his card and as I slipped it in my pocket I thought, I’m back.

I left him a message. A week went by before he returned the call. I called back. He returned my call another week later. You see, when the mojo is working, that call comes the next day, or maybe two days later. Mojo eliminates phone tag. Phone tag is for suckers.

I’ve started to wonder if I’ve reached some sort of expiration date that I can’t find printed on my person. Is it over? My best male friend says I’m crazy. My mom tells me that I’ve just become intimidating to ask out because I’m on TV now, a statement I’m sure is right out of the mom handbook. She has to say that. A Jewish mother is a highly unreliable source.

What if I’m not intimidating but in fact simply unappealing and unattractive? What if this self-deprecating thing I’ve been working for years has grown tired? What if I was such a mess in my 20s that I seemed like a good time to save and a blazing, sloppy fire to put out, and now that I’m slightly more together, there’s no allure?

I pay a sweet woman with smart blazers, sensible shoes and a very calming hairdo to solve these problems for me once a week in 50-minute intervals. She insists that the high drama I provided in my 20s might have been useful in getting into relationships, but it was also pivotal in ending them.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that from age 16 to 28, I never went more than a week without a boyfriend. I listened to my friends drone on about their loneliness, their Internet dating, their desperation and felt the secret smug comfort of knowing that though I was never the prettiest in the room and rarely the smartest, I always had mojo.

Now that I’ve matured, I’m far less likely to, for example, throw a plate at you, hang up on you, toss your stuff out the window or storm out of a restaurant as if you’ve just shot my cat when all you’ve done is infer that your ex-girlfriend was pretty. Just when I’m becoming someone it might not be a nightmare to date, I’m being asked out solely by people who are at least 20 years my senior or 10 years my junior. Worst of all, I’ve become the girl you don’t call back.

Mojo, come back to me. I don’t know where you went, but if you return, I promise not to throw any plates your way.

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

Pastor Scott Bauer

Israel and the Los Angeles Jewish community have lost one of their most tireless supporters and good friends. Scott Bauer, senior pastor of the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, succumbed to a ruptured aneurysm on Oct. 24. He was 49.

Among his most passionate pursuits was his love and support for Israel and the Jewish people. This was evidenced both in many messages to his congregation and on his nationally broadcast radio program, and through his leadership and participation in activities to educate and mobilize the Christian community to stand with Israel.

His encouragement and guidance were instrumental in the founding of the Israel-Christian Nexus. He was active in the planning of the recent solidarity event held at Stephen S. Wise Temple that brought together more than 2,000 Christians and Jews for an evening of support and prayer for Israel. he enjoyed meeting on a regular basis with key Southern California Christian and Jewish clergy for prayer and fellowship.

More than 6,000 people attended Bauer’s memorial service on Oct. 29 where Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, a longtime friend and associate, spoke on behalf of the Jewish community.

Survivors include his wife, Rebecca, an author and ordained minister; three children; parents; and extended family.

The Cost of Latinization

For the most part, Jewish leadership in Los Angeles and elsewhere can be expected to oppose the recall of longtime "ally" Gov. Gray Davis and, in a pinch, support his Mini-Me proposed replacement, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (see page 12). "Go along to get along" expediency and Pavlovian liberal sympathies provide much of the explanation.

Yet, as is all too often the case, the more pressing, long-term issues will be lost. Not only has Davis presided over a disastrous decline in the state’s finances and an unprecedented debasing of its political culture. Now he has become handmaiden to the undermining of our most precious principles, the sanctity of citizenship.

By signing a bill to allow illegal aliens to receive driver’s licenses, something he had hitherto strongly opposed, Davis has opened the door to a massive debasement of citizenship itself. Once allowed driver’s licenses, there seems little to prevent illegal aliens — many of whom have only marginal attachment to the nation — from becoming full participants in our political culture, including the right to vote.

Will this move backfire? It should and could. Citizenship has always been seen as a precious thing, particularly among immigrants. It reflects both the openness of American society as well as the obligations one takes to become part of a democracy. The swearing-in ceremonies in Los Angeles and other immigrant centers are testament to the power of the American ideal.

Opposing the de facto legalization of all illegals is not the same as opposing Proposition 187. That measure sought to punish as well the children of illegal aliens and would have deprived people of essential medical services. It was mean-spirited and poorly drafted. Opposing driver’s licenses for illegal aliens represents entirely something else: an affirmation of the importance of citizenship.

After Sept. 11, it also should be noted that the measure damages the slender controls we have to contain terrorism. This has always been a concern of those who opposed the legislation, including Davis himself. Future Mohammed Attas will now find it even easier to get on planes and enter public buildings, including such prime targets as Jewish institutions.

But the key concern here is not really about our security in this direct sense. It relates instead to the fundamental nature of the country that we live in. In their long history, Jews have done best when membership in society was measured not by race or ethnicity, but as a function of citizenship. This was true to some degree in ancient Rome, in the British empire, under the French Republic after 1789 and, most importantly, in the United States.

Citizenship is about responsibility and shared goals. As American citizens, Jews have been protected by the same laws as non-Jews. This principle also has made America an attractive place for a wide range of peoples, including millions of Asians and Latinos, who have fled from racist or authoritarian regimes.

Citizenship is also about being a nation of laws. In states such as 19th-century Russia, contemporary China or 20th-century Mexico, ethnic power and grievance alone could be used to justify state action. Laws could be amended, twisted and shaped to the liking of labor, the political and big business insiders. If you have elections, you change the rules and count the votes as you please.

Although such things happen in America, they are against the grain and the basic constitutional order. Yet now we see something else on the horizon — an attempt to change an entire state by allowing the massive de facto legalization of aliens. That this is part of an explicit racial agenda makes this even more dangerous, particularly for exposed minorities like Jews.

The key thing here is to understand the nationalist motivations of the legislation’s backers. Until recently their agenda — which essentially seeks to wipe out the border — thrived only at the political margins. It was supported largely by a handful of Chicano history professors, left-wing labor organizers and activists. But now the ill-advised recall has led the unscrupulous and desperate Davis to sign a potentially disastrous order to garner the support of his core constituency, which also includes labor unions seeking to expand their base of undocumented members.

Like much of the Latino caucus in the legislature, Bustamante supports virtually every element of separatism, including bilingual education, a flawed and highly damaging idea whose strongest justification has always lay in an essentially nationalist rationale of preserving a specific ethnic culture.

Equally disturbing has been Bustamante’s refusal to break with his past association with MEChA — a campus group with an openly separatist agenda, whose chairman describes the Southwestern United States as "occupied land."

Overall, there is little positive in the Latino nationalist scenario for Jews. A racially dominated state, based on a swelling of illegal residents, does not bode well for a minority group that has thrived on a citizen-based democracy. Before jumping on to the Davis or Bustamante bandwagons, Jewish leaders and voters might think less about their short run self-interests and more about the best interests of America’s pluralistic democracy.

Joel Kotkin is a Senior Fellow at the Davenport Institute for Public Policy at Pepperdine University. He is writing a book on the history of cities for Modern Library. He can be reached at jkotkin@joelkotkin.com.

Jewish Survey Missing Data

Much-anticipated parts of the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) will not be released as expected next week because some of the data has been lost.

The United Jewish Communities (UJC), which is funding the $6 million study, is canceling all events pertaining to the 2000-01 NJPS at the Philadelphia gathering of its General Assembly, which begins next Wednesday.

And the UJC, the umbrella of the North American federation system, is launching an independent investigation into the lost data, JTA has learned.

“It is true we are delaying the release of the study,” Stephen Hoffman, UJC’s president and chief executive officer, said on Wednesday. “The reason is there have been some questions raised that I don’t believe we have adequate time to get answers to.”

The revelations could cast doubt on the entire NJPS, the most extensive and costliest demographic study ever conducted of the American Jewish community. The lost data apparently concerned methodological details about who was surveyed, rather than their responses to survey questions.

“Some people with serious reputations believe the study is sound and it could have gone forward and will stand up to the test of time,” Hoffman said. “That could be the case — but I didn’t feel comfortable with these questions to go forward [with releasing further NJPS data next week as planned].”

Last month, the UJC released initial findings from the NJPS, showing the American Jewish population declined 5 percent to 5.2 million since the last study in 1990, and that birth rates were dropping and the community was aging.

Hoffman said that had he known of the missing data before the release of that information, he would not have approved the release of those initial conclusions.

“There may be aspects of it [that are inaccurate],” he said, referring to the initial data released. “I don’t know.”

Hoffman said he only learned of the missing data Tuesday, one week before the information from the NJPS about Jewish identity and intermarriage was due to get released at the annual UJC gathering, which brings together much of the organized American Jewish world.

“I feel it would be irresponsible to go ahead and release the study while these questions are still unresolved,” Hoffman said.

“There will be some people who will be disappointed,” Hoffman said of the implications for the General Assembly. “I’m personally disappointed.”

But there “are other things in Jewish life,” he said that delegates will focus on.

At the heart of the mystery was that Hoffman only learned Tuesday that the firm conducting research for the NJPS, Roper Audits & Surveys Worldwide, lost some data for the study two years ago during initial telephone calls.

Meanwhile, “other issues like that have been coming up in recent days,” he added, though he declined to elaborate.

One source familiar with the NJPS said the missing data concerned lists of those people telephoned for the survey, their phone numbers and how often they were called.

Two-thirds of that data was lost, according to the source.

But the source maintained that while this information was important in determining the accuracy of the survey’s methodology, he did not think that it would undermine the ultimate conclusions, specifically those relating to Jews and Jewish identity.

“I don’t know how much has been lost,” Hoffman said. “The issue is 29 hours old. All I’ve had time to do is make the decision to not have the data be released.”

However, Hoffman said that Jim Schwartz, UJC’s director of research for NJPS, “was aware” of the missing data at some earlier point, though Hoffman said he hadn’t spoken directly with Schwartz yet about the matter. There were no plans affecting Schwartz’s position at this point, he added.

“It would be unfair to jump to conclusions about anybody’s particular role,” he said. “I’m not casting any aspersions at the moment.”

Schwartz could not be reached Wednesday for comment, despite several attempts.

After the General Assembly, the UJC will secure “an outsider” who is “totally objective” to launch an investigation into the missing information. The investigative team might include UJC staffers as well, Hoffman said. Such a probe would presumably attempt to learn exactly what information is missing, how it got lost, how significant it is, who knew about the missing information and why they did not inform senior UJC officials.

“I want to know if there are any other issues they haven’t told me about, either from staff or the technical team” or Roper researchers, Hoffman said.

June Wallach, a spokeswoman for Roper, said the company would have no comment at this time.

Hoffman said he had no idea whether the UJC would take action against Roper, which apparently lost the information from its computer system.

Several lead members of the National Technical Advisory Committee of demographers and social scientists that consulted with UJC’s staffers working on the NJPS said they were participating in a conference call Wednesday about the survey, though they declined to comment further.

Hoffman said he did not know if the co-chairs of the advisory panel, Vivian Klaff of the University of Delaware and Frank Mott of Ohio State University, knew about the missing data. Reached Wednesday, Klaff would only say he would be joining the conference call on the NJPS. Mott did not return calls.

Egon Mayer, director of the North American Jewish Data Bank at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said he had heard about the delay this week though he didn’t know the reasons for it.

“I think some very important conclusions were reached by the UJC management that led them to this decision, which I’m sure they reached very reluctantly,” he said.

Stephen Bayme, national director of contemporary Jewish life for the American Jewish Committee, said he had heard of the delay but preferred waiting until the UJC got to the bottom of the issue.

“I’d rather not have the data than have data that is mistaken,” Bayme said.

Bittersweet Music

Despite its air of celebration, Passover is a bittersweet remembrance, one in which the joy of liberation is marked by the pain of recollection of what we were liberated from and what we lost on the way from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael. Our seder liturgy reflects that ambivalence, although it may require hearing some unfamiliar music to remind us.

Two recently released CDs offer an excellent opportunity to reflect on the delicate balance of this festival. One is largely a reminder of the jubilation we feel at the seder table, yet, because it is specifically a tribute to Yiddish Passovers past and present, it inevitably has a certain appropriate somberness underlying its up-tempo party feel. The other is a collection of songs written about the liberation of Mauthausen; not surprisingly, its joys and sorrows are also mingled.

“Songs My Bubbe Should Have Taught Me, Volume 1: Passover” marks the debut on CD of singer Lori Cahan-Simon. Cahan-Simon has put together a sprightly collection of Yiddish Passover songs, the vast majority of which I haven’t heard before. Those who grew up in the secular socialist Yiddish world — Workmen’s Circle, the Farband and the like — will undoubtedly recognize many of them with great pleasure. She has also assembled a terrific group of musicians, most of them fellow Midwesterners, including fiddle player Steven Greenman, percussionist Alexander Fedoriouk and singer Michael Alpert.

Cahan-Simon has one of those delightful rough-and-ready soprano voices, expressive even when it’s not conventionally pretty and very flexible. She makes a wonderful pair with Alpert’s reedy tenor and my favorite cuts on this charming record are their seven duets. The musicianship is very high caliber, with some beautiful fiddling by Greenman. Best of all, these songs haven’t been recorded to death, so if you are looking to add some unfamiliar spices to your seder table’s musical mix, this is a great place to start.

There’s even a version of the Four Questions I’d never heard before, and a “Dayenu” that veers between big-band swing and Beethoven-on-the-rocks.

The fine Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis was himself a captive in German prisons during WWII. His close friend Iacovos Kambanellis, a poet, was interned in Mauthausen. In 1965, Theodorakis set four of Kambanellis’ poems about that hellish experience to music. The resulting piece has gone through many evolutionary stages. Its most recent incarnation is “Mauthausen Trilogy” (Piano). In this CD, the Greek versions of the poems are sung by the great Maria Farantouri, a frequent collaborator with Theodorakis, the English versions by Nadia Weinberg, the Hebrew by Elinoar Moav Veniadis. The recording closes with a 1995 speech by Simon Wiesenthal delivered at Mauthausen.

There is a family resemblance to be found among the songs of the Mediterranean, and many of Theodorakis’ warmest melodies could just as easily have been written by and for Jewish musicians. Farantouri’s plangent, hoarse contralto is particularly well suited to his laments, finding the perfect balance between the agonized and the triumphant.

Perhaps this is not a CD to play for the children at the seder; they’ll have much more fun with the Cahan-Simon (although they will probably miss some of its musical nuances). But “Mauthausen Trilogy” is powerful stuff and would make my short list of great music about the Shoah.

On the other hand, if you are looking for unfamiliar Pessah music suitable to your own seder table, two recent albums of North African music, imported from France, offer some interesting alternatives: Alain Scetbon’s “Haggada de Pessah — Tunisian Passover” (Ness) and Elie Zerbib’s “Haggada de Pessah — Algerian Passover” (Ness). These two CDs include French narration by the artists putting the musical selections in the larger context of the seder, but you probably won’t need the help (assuming you understand French in the first place). The Scetbon and Zerbib sets have the intimate and slightly rough feel of an evening at a friend’s home. The music on both is quite interesting, very reminiscent of Arabic music from the Maghreb, and will be unfamiliar to most readers. How much does professional slickness matter to you? I would opt for the two French sets for authenticity and kavanah (sincerity); at their best they have a tremendous power.

The above CDs range in price from $16.98 to $19.98.
Exclusive distribution in the United States by Hatikvah Music, www.hatikvahmusic.com  or (323) 655-7083.

Ticket to Enlightenment

Ever since I moved to Los Angeles, I’ve been completely lost.

No, I don’t mean spiritually or emotionally. I mean literally. I’ve been lost for pretty much two straight years.

What is the Thomas Guide to me but the Book of Babel? I have a hard enough time just knowing where I am in relation to the water. I have come to accept this about myself, although, as you can imagine, it has led to some pretty hairy driving moments. I’m always that loser who ends up trying to cross four lanes in a nanosecond to make my freeway exit. More than once, I’ve ended up hovering on one of those little freeway-exit islands, cars honking and fists shaking in my direction.

It doesn’t help that I’m easily distracted, prone to drinking coffee and reading my mail while driving lost, which is what I was doing when an officer of the law pulled me over a couple months ago. It seems I didn’t come to a complete stop at an intersection. “Hollywood stop,” they call it.

Oh sure, I put my head on the steering wheel and cried, but Johnny Law was unmoved. He wrote me out a ticket before I could say, “Officer, I think I’m the second coming of Job.”

And that’s how I ended up at comedy traffic school, which seemed to be the best of my options. I eyed the “Free Pizza” traffic schools, but pizza is gone in an instant and traffic school is eight long hours of my life.

And in a shocking turn of events, it turned out to be a great experience.

New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Disneyland — not fun. Traffic school — fun. Go figure. In my mind, a pleasant day at traffic school was my karmic comeuppance, payback for all the things that should have been fun but never were.

It didn’t get off to an auspicious beginning. The freshly cleaned stage emanated a sickening smell of bleach. The instructor came in, donning orange sneakers and a stupid baseball hat, and I kept wondering why it is that people seem to think wacky hats equal comedy.

“Welcome violators!” she said, clapping her hands together. Oh god, I thought, let the yuks begin. This is a hostage crisis, and I’m the hostage. Where’s my yellow ribbon? Call Jesse Jackson.

The instructor launched into her comedy opening, sprinkled with a lot of “hey, people” and “that’s all I’m saying, folks.”

It was in those early traffic school moments that something dawned on me. They’ve got you for a day, but that’s still a day of your life, a day you’ll never get back if you don’t make the most of it. As a sort of spiritual experiment, I willed myself to appreciate the day however I could.

It worked. All of a sudden, the instructor got funnier. She regaled us with stories of her years living in Tonga as part of the Peace Corps. She shared her encyclopedic knowledge of traffic.

The rules of the road became fascinating to me. I never knew you had to stop for a full three seconds at a stop sign, or that you can’t make a U-turn in a business district. The drunken driving lesson was particularly interesting, as I learned that one little glass of wine could cost me thousands of dollars in legal fees, not to mention the possibility of hurting myself and others. I had no idea it took so little to be legally intoxicated.

The instructor was so emphatic, so obviously sincere in her desire to impart proper driving techniques, that I became touched by her earnestness. She wasn’t just an out-of-work comic trying to make a buck; she really cared. And I was grateful for that.

Lunch time found me eating a falafel with a paint salesmen, a window washer and a student, people I might never ordinarily meet in the course of my daily life. We shared a bond as violators, caught in this weird nether world where our lives were put on hold for that all-important completion certificate and where we were stuck with each other, like some kind of “Breakfast Club” for grown-ups.

That completion certificate meant more to me than saving a few bucks on my insurance. What I had completed was a self-taught crash course on personal enjoyment management. Instead of cursing my fate, I chose to pull my negative outlook over to the side of the road and pull a fully legal U-ey.

Life isn’t always lemon drops and Julia Roberts movies and fresh-baked bread and dusky walks through the park with a loved one. Sometimes, it’s traffic school, and if you can make the most of that, you’re a little closer to cruising through life on the high road.

I drove home from traffic school, seat belt buckled and carefully stopping for three seconds at every stop sign, feeling fully apprised of the rules of the road and just a little less lost.

Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.