Late to shul, on time for kiddush

My friend and I go to the same synagogue but almost never run into each other. “How come?” I was musing the other day.

“Well,” she said. “I only go there to pray.”

Aha! That explains it! When she’s walking out, I’m walking in.

Yes, I’m one of those synagogue goers who arrive pretty much just in time for the “Amen!” as we raise our mini plastic cups of wine before elbowing our way — er, gently sauntering over — to the food. My timing is never quite exact, of course, so there are days when I get there and my fellow congregants are still singing “Adon Olam,” the last song of the service. I’m happy to sing along — in fact, I like it if I’m in time for Kaddish and the announcements; makes me feel very much a part of things. But for shallow, antsy and kind-of-cheap me, going to synagogue means going to lunch with friends, there, in the social hall.

And how important is the quality of that lunch? Let’s just say that a tray of hummus and carrot sticks makes my spiritual aura shrink to the size of a store-bought gefilte fish ball. You could pierce my soul with a toothpick. But a glistening mound of bar mitzvah lox — the Holy Grail, as it were, of Kiddushes — maketh me skip through the Valley of Death and cartwheel over to the scallion cream cheese. It restoreth my soul and maketh my kids a lot happier about my bringing them along, too. In fact, it getteth them psyched to come again, the way a random shower of slot machine nickels getteth bubbe back to Atlantic City. And I know that I am not the only congregant who peruses the synagogue calendar to see who has a great big spread — er, great big simcha — coming up, and precisely which Saturday we are talking about.

My worry, of course, is that the Divine One is probably not thrilled with the attendee who arrives when the audience is filing out of the theater. Come to think of it, the rabbi probably isn’t, either. But I do believe there is something more than just lip service (and Tam Tams) being offered when a congregant arrives in time only to eat and shmooze. And, I am glad to say, some folks agree with me.

“Kiddush is not just a snack. The word ‘kiddush’ is from ‘kodesh,’ meaning ‘holy,’” says Elliott Katz, author of “Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants” (Award Press, 2005). (It’s also a good idea to be the rationalizing man a woman wants.) “Going just for kiddush is a lot better than not going at all.”

Hear, hear! Maybe it’s not quite as holy as actually participating in the service, but a couple of transcendent things are indeed going on, says Alan M. Singer, author of the recently published “Creating Your Perfect Family Size” (Wiley). First, he says, “It’s the central opportunity in a normal week to socialize with other Jews on a large scale, and I think that’s holy.” Then, too, consider the fact that many Kiddushes are sponsored in honor of an event, or a person.

If the event is a happy occasion, you’re joining in a celebration. It’s a mitzvah, like dancing at a wedding. But if it’s in memory of a person, just being there could be even more significant, because when you say the blessing over the wine or the bread or even the Costco celery sticks, you are adding that prayer to all the prayers being said sort of on behalf of the departed. Which somehow — I was never quite clear on this or on any part of the hereafter where our peeps are concerned — can help the dearly departed only in the afterworld. (Which we don’t believe in. Or do we?) Anyhow, it’s like the dead man given an enema in the classic Jewish joke: Even if it can’t help, it couldn’t hoit.

Then, too, adds Gigi Cohen, a Chicagoland mom of three, quoting her cousin the rabbi, who gets things going Saturdays at 9 a.m.: “If you want a one-hour service, come at 11.”

Vermont rabbi (and stand-up comic) Bob Alper agrees: Shorter services make folks more punctual. But he also reminds us of the quote from writer/publisher/convict/satirist Harry Golden, whose atheist father attended synagogue religiously: “One day he asked his dad why, if he didn’t believe in God, he went to shul. The reply: ‘Everyone goes to synagogue for a different reason. Garfinkle goes to talk to God. I go to talk to Garfinkle.’”

Exactly! And if I am one of the last to arrive at synagogue, I should add that I am also one of the last to leave, because my synagogue is full of Garfinkles. I love talking to them, hearing all the news, being part of an ongoing community. If I also happen to be surrounded by bagels and lox, well, my heart opens wide.

And sometimes, so does my tote bag.

Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and author of the book Free-Range Kids (Wiley, 2010) and of the blog of the same name.

The Circuit

Speak Up, Speak Out

Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills hosted an overflow crowd of 600 guests for a community conversation about Jihad, the riots in France and the threats to Israel posed by Hamas and Iran. Sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition L.A. Chapter and the Israel Christian Nexus, the program featured unique insights from noted columnist and historian Victor Davis Hanson, former PLO terrorist and anti-radical Islam activist Walid Shoebat, and French journalist Philippe Karsenty, who revealed the fraudulent story that young Muhummad Al Dura was killed by Israelis at the start of the second intifada.

The speakers proclaimed deep concern about European anti-Semitism, Arab militarism and the failure of liberal minds in the West to recognize the dangers of Muslim tyranny.

Hanson detailed the twin threats of U.S. oil addiction and nuclear proliferation in Iran; Shoebat explained that he runs a security risk due to his revealing the nature of Palestinian terrorism, to which he was committed as a youth, and Karsenty said that the riots in France continue, but the French government and media hide the nature and effects of Islamic radicalism in Europe from the French people. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Love From Hate

About 200 police officers, federal agents and community leaders attended the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Feb. 16 Sherwood Awards luncheon at the Skirball Cultural Center, honoring local law enforcement agencies’ hate crime investigations.

“When my wife and I started this, we thought we’d run out of bad guys, but apparently there’s still a lot to go around,” said family patriarch Joseph Sherwood, who with his wife, Helene, created the award to highlight hate crimes-focused police work in the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region.

The U.S. attorney’s public corruption and civil rights section was honored for building federal indictments against four Highland Park Latino gang members who assaulted African Americans. Last June also saw federal indictments against an L.A. man for allegedly mailing out 52 syringe-filled manila envelopes to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, a congressional office in Lakewood, a federal customs office in Georgia and randomly selected L.A. home addresses with traditionally Jewish last names.

“Typically the letters started with the words, ‘Die Jew Die,’ in red and black letters,” said Los Angeles Police Department First Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell before presenting the Sherwood award to civil rights section chief Tom O’Brien and U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang.

Also honored were the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI and arson and hate crimes tasks force comprised of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, FBI, Riverside Police and Fire departments and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. Those Inland Empire task forces successfully coordinated the felony arrests of 18 white supremacists and a separate arson investigation of a targeted mosque and a church.

The ADL prize’s reputation among police is growing. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke on “Hate Is an Emotion as Old as Mankind.” There was a large contingent of Riverside sheriff’s deputies who, after the ADL luncheon, posed with their Sherwood medallions. Also at the event was Marianne, the ATF L.A. field division’s bomb-sniffing black Labrador. — David Finnegan, Contributing Writer

Tiffany’s Love Match

The recent kickoff reception and official unveiling of The Billies Award, which reccognizes media excellence in women’s sports and physical activity, took place at Tiffany & Co. Beverly Hills.


The Circuit

It’s ‘Theo’ Time

The 80th birthday of actor, singer, Soviet Jewry champion and Yiddish language true believer Theodore Bikel was marked by more than 1,300 well-wishers with the June 6 concert, “Theo! The First 80 Years,” at Brentwood’s Wadsworth Theater.

The fluid 90-minute show was directed by Milken Community High School middle school drama director Rachel Leah Cohen, who expertly included collages of Bikel from his 2,000 stage performances as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” plus memorable film roles in, “My Fair Lady,” “The African Queen” and his Academy Award-nominated Southern sheriff performance in “The Defiant Ones.”

With actors Leonard Nimoy, Larry Miller and Mare Winningham, plus the Stephen S. Wise Temple’s elementary school chorus, the $50-$350 tickets filled the Wadsworth seats as “Theo!” raised funds for Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

The VIP tent reception attracted Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), concert sponsors Jona Goldrich and Trudy and Lou Kestenbaum, plus “Fiddler on the Roof” creator, Sholem Aleichem’s granddaughter, Bel Kaufman, who said the real-life shetl milkman who inspired Tevye “wasn’t at all like this handsome Theo.”

The evening had singing by Chicago cantor Alberto Mizrahi and folk legends The Limelighters and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary.

“Thank you, Theo, for turning 80, and keeping your hair,” the balding Yarrow said of the white-bearded, full-head-of-hair octogenarian.

At the show’s end, Bikel came onstage to thunderous applause. As for what he would want on his gravestone, Bikel said, “I’m not there yet. I’m 80 years and four weeks old. I don’t aim to be there for a long time. If there is anything to be written there, I would like it to be at least partly in Yiddish, because Yiddish is the language of my people.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Israel Bonds Aloha

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle was greeted with a flower lei, hula dancers, orchid centerpieces and Hawaiian print tablecloths as she walked into the Beverly Hills Four Seasons banquet room for the State of Israel Bonds Golda Meir Club’ s annual spring luncheon on May 13.

The Jewish Republican was in town for a weeklong visit of her old mainland stomping grounds, before embarking on her first trip to Israel, courtesy of the Israel consulate.

Honored alongside Lingle as a “Woman of Power” at the luncheon was Jean Friedman, founding president of the Zimmer Children’s Museum, founding vice president of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and vice president of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, which sponsors the Jewish Image Awards. Friedman’s passion for the arts and education — she helped husband Jerry found Shalhevet High School — has enabled her to develop inspirational programming.

“I wanted to create inventive programs … to connect people to their Jewish background,” Friedman said.

After accepting the Golda Meir Award, Lingle drew parallels between Israel and Hawaii — “both are isolated: one by water, the other by their neighbors” — and took the election year opportunity to stump for her GOP colleague, President Bush.

“We don’t agree on everything, but he stands behind Israel,” Lingle said.

Lingle was born in St. Louis and moved to Los Angeles with her family when she was 12, splitting time between Encino and Brentwood after her parents divorced. The Birmingham High grad went on to study journalism at CSUN and then moved to Hawaii, where she started her own newspaper, the Molokai Free Press. In her 2002 campaign for governor, she promised voters a “new beginning” for Hawaii by taking on government corruption and reforming education.

“Jewish groups across the country have adopted me and don’t care what my politics are,” said Lingle, who meets with her rabbi on Monday mornings and receives challah from a Chabad rabbi every Friday.

The governor initially registered as independent in 1976, but switched to the Republican Party in 1980 to run for a Maui County Council seat.

“We as Jews identify with the poor and underprivileged,” said Lingle, who is pro-choice and favors domestic partnership. “Republican rhetoric has not been inclusive of all people historically, but we need to look beyond the old labels.”

She isn’t thinking about a higher office yet, focusing instead on a run for a second term in 2006.

The annual event is the largest that Israel Bonds’ Women’s Division puts on.

Music for the luncheon, co-chaired by Beverly Cohen and Iris Rothstein, was provided by Temple Aliyah’s Cantor Mike Stein and his family band, The Rolling Steins.

Notables in attendance included Marjorie Pressman, founding chair of Friends of Sheba; Marilyn Ziering, philanthropist and University of Judaism board member; Jewish Federation President John Fishel; Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance Executive Director Carol Koransky; and Noreen Green, conductor and artistic director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.

Also, Esther Netter, executive director of the Zimmer Children’s Museum; Barbara Yaroslavsky, former chair of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee; Meralee Goldman, former mayor of Beverly Hills; Janet Salter, former first lady of Beverly Hills; and Michele Kleinert, Jewish liaison to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Others were Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem and wife, Miri; Rabbi Marvin Heir, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob Congregation; game show host Monty Hall; and fashion critic Mr. Blackwell.

“I wasn’t expecting Mr. Blackwell,” Lingle said. “I would have taken more care in what I wore.” — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

An Unkosher Affair

“Enjoy your dessert,” Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra Maestro Zubin Mehta told benefactors at a dinner following a performance at Disney Concert Hall last month, “although I’m sure it will be pareve.” Mehta assumed that after a meal serving meat, a non-dairy dessert would follow, according to the laws of kashrut.

“It’s not pareve!” someone called out from the audience.

“It’s not?” Mehta said.

Mehta might not have been so surprised if he had attended more Jewish functions in Los Angeles, where many Jewish organizations are inconsistent at making their official functions adhere to the laws of kashrut.

Just this week, at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) luncheon for combating hate, held at the Skirball Cultural Center, a reporter was told the luncheon was kosher and later found out it might not have been.

To go kosher or not to go kosher — it doesn’t seem to be a major question for Jewish organizations here in Los Angeles.

While there are plenty of Jewish groups in the city that have a policy to only serve kosher food at their events — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Home for the Aging, the Los Angles Hillel Council and American Red Magen David for Israel, to name a few — there are others whose policy regarding kosher is an irresolute one. The ADL, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, B’nai B’rith and Hadassah all say they endeavor to make the majority of their events kosher, but they will still hold events in venues that do not have kosher caterers and will not accommodate outside food being brought in. At such events these organizations serve dairy, or kosher-style food — in other words, no pork or shellfish, but nothing that a rabbi supervises.

Why not serve kosher at a Jewish event? Some organization leaders cite cost as a factor. In some venues, like the Millennium Biltmore Hotel where The Federation is going to be holding its “The Return to Passion: A Call to Action” young leadership conference this weekend, kosher food is available, but it costs significantly more than the kosher-style continental breakfast and lunch that the conference organizers chose to keep the cost down.

At the Skirball Center, events with rabbinical supervision, which need to be specially requested, cost $8 more per head. Nevertheless, these organizations will provide a strictly kosher meal at a non-kosher event if someone requests it.

Others cite venue as a factor. For example, country clubs — which are not kosher — do not allow outside catering.

Community leaders say that this inconsistent approach to kashrut marginalizes those who are strictly kosher.

“Serving ‘kosher style’ is like serving a Hindu a hamburger with an OU on it. It means absolutely nothing,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein of Project Next Step. While serving non-kosher food might be expedient or cost-effective, it also may backfire in the face of organizations that hope to attract and serve the entire Jewish community.

“I was seriously considering going to the ‘Return to Passion’ conference until someone told me that it was not going to be kosher,” said Yechiel Hoffman, 25, an entertainment consultant who lives in Pico-Robertson. “By not arranging kosher food to be available for the entire conference, The Federation is telling the Orthodox community that they are outside of Federation interests, that we are not their constituency. For a leadership conference, it is very sad that they seem to be saying that they don’t want our future leaders to come from the Orthodox community.”

Craig Prizant, the senior vice president for financial resource development at The Federation, said that The Federation tries to be inclusive.

“We always strive for our events to be kosher; we always try to be inclusive of everybody,” he said, “but those [events] that aren’t kosher are dairy.”

Many organizers of the events say that they have little incentive to change their policy and make everything kosher because their constituents do not demand it. In Los Angeles, some American Jewish Committee (AJC) events are kosher style, because that is all their constituents require. In New York, however, all AJC events are glatt kosher, because those members call for it.

In Los Angeles, spokespeople from B’nai B’rith and the ADL told The Journal that they would reconsider their kosher-style policy if enough people complained about it.

“We would hope that [our kashrut policy] would not prevent strictly kosher Jews from joining the ADL,” said Alison Mayersohn, associate director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region. “But if kosher was becoming a consistent issue, then we would re-address our policy.”

Still, many say that for Jewish organizations to be truly inclusive, kosher needs to be a necessity, not an adjunct.

“If you go to these [nonkosher] events and receive a different meal, you feel like a second-class citizen, an afterthought,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City. “There are many Jews who keep kosher and they are not all strictly Orthodox-observant Jews, and you are excluding them as soon as you serve nonkosher. You are making a statement that the dietary laws of our faith are not important.

“I promote and encourage [my congregants] to be totally committed and involved with the [wider] community,” he continued. “But if the community doesn’t want to accommodate them — then what should they do? Not everyone can eat nonkosher, but everyone can eat kosher.”