Hebrew Playboy coming to Israel


A Hebrew version of Playboy magazine is coming to Israel.

Attorney Daniel Pomerantz, an Israeli immigrant from Chicago, has negotiated the rights for the Israeli version of the men's magazine, Haaretz reported. There is no launch date yet but eventually it will be available in print and online.

“We went to Hefner’s estate with the Israeli team to learn from the Playboy experts,” said Pomerantz, speaking of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. “Hefner was very excited that there was a word [for bunny] in Hebrew – it proved that there is a cultural link between the Playboy brand and Israeli culture.”

The magazine will have articles from international versions of Playboy translated into Hebrew, and also will feature Israeli writers. The nude models featured also will be Israeli.

Pomerantz said the magazine will be “sexy” but “not about sex.”

“It will be inspiring and broadcast quality and beauty,” he said. “For me this is an opportunity to show the world the nice side of Israel, the culture here.”

The Israeli version will cover leisure areas for men such as gadgets, style and food, as well as investigative and feature articles on culture, sports, politics and economics.

Circulation of Playboy, which was founded in 1953, has dropped in recent years, to 1.5 million last year, amid increased competition.

Profile: Josh Neuman


It might raise an eyebrow or two that Josh Neuman, former editor and publisher of Heeb magazine — the irreverent, youth-oriented Jewish magazine that shut down its print operations in 2010 — is now in charge of editorial content at GOOD, a multiplatform media outlet dedicated to helping “people who give a damn” do well by doing good. 

GOOD, a lifestyle magazine for the well-intentioned (but not overly self-righteous), might seem a strange fit for a guy who brought the world a view of Sarah Silverman’s breasts — seen through a hole in a bed sheet — and who had Jonah Hill photographed holding a well-lubricated bagel. 

But Neuman has grown up some since those early days of deliberate Jewish-informed provocation. He moved to Los Angeles. He turned 40. He got married. He’s about to resume work on a long-simmering short-film project about his younger brother, a would-be punk rocker who died of leukemia right around the time Heeb was getting off the ground. 

And since July, Neuman has been working as head of programming and editorial director at GOOD, which last month officially launched its new online platform, good.is, while still putting out a quarterly magazine. Neuman said he’s hoping to bring to GOOD part of the playbook that worked for him at Heeb, which will mean treating readers not as an “audience” but as part of a “community.” It will also mean spending as much energy on planning the next party, conference or Web video series as on publishing words and pictures.

“Heeb wasn’t something that resided on the page,” Neuman said, sitting in GOOD’s Wilshire Boulevard office earlier this month. “It was something that happened in real time.” (Full disclosure: This reporter was at one time an unpaid occasional contributor to Heeb.)

In June, when Neuman’s predecessor, Ann Friedman, was fired from GOOD, along with six of her editorial colleagues, it seemed to many media watchers that GOOD was about to reside less on the page and more in real time — and on the Web — than ever before. 

The move made waves, in part because of how the news was delivered to the employees — at a meeting the day after a party celebrating the publication of the Summer 2012 issue — but also because magazine lovers saw it as the demise of yet another journalistic outlet. (“BAD! Major Editorial Layoffs Hit GOOD,” wailed one blog’s headline.) 

Neuman said he has been a fan of GOOD since its beginning — in 2007, co-founder Ben Goldhirsh was featured as one of the “Heeb 100” list — and Neuman says he is still committed to journalism, even if he’s not quite sanguine about the sustainability of the print model. 

“As much as print is dead, Adbusters launched Occupy, and Mother Jones got that ‘47 percent’ video,” Neuman said. 

But Neuman, who was teaching philosophy of religion as an adjunct professor at NYU when he joined the Heeb editorial team, said he intends to steer GOOD in a direction that won’t include the kind of long-form journalism of the magazine’s previous incarnation. 

“For the former editorial board, GOOD just meant journalism,” Neuman said. “For me, journalism is one of many ways to deploy interesting content.”

It’s worth noting that Friedman, who declined to comment for this article, doesn’t appear to have arrived at GOOD an overly sentimental editor attached to traditional journalism and deaf to the needs of the Web, either. 

“Here, we all understand that ‘magazine’ doesn’t refer to the paper-and-ink product sitting on your coffee table,” Friedman wrote in a post on good.is that appears to date back to when she started as executive editor, around March 2011. “It’s also a way of describing a community and daily reading experience.”

What shape GOOD will take in the coming years remains to be seen, but Neuman talked  less about the upcoming print issues of GOOD — the Winter 2012 issue is set to include the GOOD 100, a list not unlike the one Neuman was known for at Heeb — than about the work taking shape on GOOD’s new Internet platform. 

Posts are organized into two categories: Learns, which teach and inform, and Dos, which are aimed at spurring readers to some kind of action — anything from moving their cell phones and tablets out of their bedrooms to signing an anti-corruption pledge to get the money out of politics. 

“Anyone can submit Learns and Dos,” Neuman said. From there, a team of about eight full-time editorial staff based all around the country, called curators — “kind of the midpoint between an old-school editor and a community organizer,” Neuman said — take the content and present it on GOOD’s platform, alongside their own writings and any new content that the magazine commissions. 

One of the newest bits of original content — a Web video featuring actor Rainn Wilson of “The Office” — is part of a GOOD campaign urging voters to “Take Back Tuesday,” and “make voting less of a pain in the ass.” 

And on the other side of the technological spectrum, GOOD subscribers will soon receive a packet of postcards in their mailboxes, each one with a rumination on the history of good. 

Both comprise GOOD’s coupling of learning and doing. The video is part of a multipost series urging readers to turn Election Day into a national holiday. The postcards are designed to be sent by the recipient to another person — “Send this to a politician who puts people before politics,” reads the legend at the bottom of the postcard about direct democracy. 

And both fit neatly into the overall framework of GOOD’s goal of being a community dedicated to organizing active citizens by deploying various media, which is, Neuman pointed out, exactly what he did with Jews and Heeb — mobilize a community of people with a shared interest in Judaism, pushing them to have fun together on a weekday evening or a Christmas Eve. 

Among Neuman’s curators at GOOD are some journalists he worked with at Heeb. He said that everyone he’s hired is very much on board with the new model for what GOOD is becoming. 

“Maybe it’s just because it’s a job, so they’re excited about anything,” Neuman said, “but a lot of them say, ‘I think this may be the future of journalism.’ ”

Jewish English-language magazine launched in Germany


German-Jewish author Rafael Seligmann has launched a Jewish quarterly magazine.

Jewish Voice From Germany, a private initiative started last week, is aiming to convince English-speaking Jews around the world that there is a future for Jewish life in Germany.

Seligmann, 64, a native of Israel who came to Germany with his parents in 1957, said it pains him that many Jews outside Germany associate his country only with the Holocaust.

“The fact is, we are a small but a very fast-growing Jewish community in Germany,” Seligmann said in a telephone interview. “We have a vivid community — it is a shadow of what it was — but it blossoms again.”

About half of the initial run of 30,000 copies went to Jewish households in the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and Canada. Several thousand were distributed to politicians and other leaders in Germany, and also are on sale at sites such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

Seligmann, who is funding the initial print run with his own savings and advertising revenues, has made the first edition available online by request. Each issue is slated to cost about $4; annual subscriptions are available, too.

Germany is home to an estimated 240,000 people of Jewish background, but less than half affiliate with Jewish communities. About 85 percent have come to Germany from the former Soviet Union since 1989, bringing their own cultural traditions. The next edition of Jewish Voice will focus on them, Seligmann said.

“There are some Jews who say, ‘That is not our culture, not our people,’ but that is nonsense,” he said. “I think we should take it and enjoy it.”

Seligmann noted that while there are conflicts, “They are our Jewish brothers and sisters, and it is an enrichment.”

UNESCO cut finding for a Palestinian magazine in which a teenage girl appears to express admiration


The magazine, Zayzafouna, published an article earlier this year from a high-school-age contributor in which she describes four role models.

One of them is Adolf Hitler, who comes to her in a dream and says he killed Jews “so you would all know that they are a nation which spreads destruction all over the world” and counsels her to be “resilient and patient concerning the suffering that Palestine is experiencing at their hands.”

The Associated Press on Friday quoted UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural and scientific arm, as saying it “deplores and condemns” the article and would cease funding for the magazine.

The article was first brought to light by Palestinian Media Watch, a group that tracks Palestinian incitement.

The AP quoted the magazine’s editor as saying that the article is “accusatory” toward Hitler, although he did not dispute the translation.

The Palestinian Authority, which also funds the magazine, said the article was “unacceptable” and that the editor would in the future show greater care.

Chanukah: The musical


There are many ways to tell the story of Chanukah. Tap dancing is not usually one of them.

“I don’t know of any other congregation on the planet where both rabbis and their cantor are doing a tap number together,” said Cantor David Shukiar of Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.

The cast of temple clergy and congregants will strut their stuff on the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza stage Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 11 at 2:30 and 7 p.m. in the original production “Benjamin and Judah: A Chanukah Musical,” the only Chanukah event at the venue for the entire holiday season.

The musical, set in modern times, tells the story of a 13-year-old boy named Benjamin who is bullied at school because he is Jewish. After deciding he doesn’t want to be Jewish anymore, Benjamin has a dream in which he is Judah Maccabee and relives the story of Chanukah. The experience revives his confidence and pride in his religion.

The show promises to be an epic one, and not just because of the subject matter. Between cast members and a choir, there will be almost 100 people involved, ranging in age from 3 to older than 70. Add in the congregants from the 700-family Reform synagogue who are designing the set, making the costumes and providing props, and the number of participants nearly doubles.

“It’s a very big production,” said Shukiar, who wrote the musical and is co-directing it with his wife. He also stars as Benjamin. Shukiar is a composer of Jewish music and musical theater. He has twice been honored by the Guild of Temple Musicians as best young composer.

The lead characters have been practicing since June, and the rest of the cast has been working on their parts since September. Shukiar is pleased with the progress.

“When people are really passionate about something, you can come up with some pretty remarkable results,” he said.

Stylistically, the cantor describes “Benjamin and Judah” as a mix of up-tempo, high-energy tunes and dramatic, soft ballads. There’s liturgical music, traditional Israeli folk dance, a march in the tradition of “Les Miserables” and even a “STOMP”-style number in which cast members use their bodies to create rhythms.

And don’t forget the tap dancing.

“Certainly tap dancing is beyond my comfort zone,” said Senior Rabbi Ted Riter, who will be tapping his way across the Thousand Oaks stage. “It’s fun to learn something new, and I’m very lucky that I get to be on stage with people who really know what they’re doing, and I get to fake it along the way.”

Just as important as the dance steps, however, is the symbolic value of the production, said the rabbi, who appears as Benjamin’s friend and Judah’s brother.

“It’s just exciting to know that there is a Chanukah show,” Riter said. “It’s a wonderful idea that there’s someplace in December that Jews can say: Hey, this is our story.”

That is what prompted Shukiar to create the piece years ago.

“With the influx of holiday programming focused on Christmas and all the wonderful music and feelings that are out there, I always felt very isolated,” he said. “‘Benjamin and Judah’ is my answer to that.”

Shukiar found the process of writing the musical about the Maccabean rebellion enlightening.

“When I first started researching this back in 1996, the first thing I found was how little I knew about the story of Chanukah,” he said. “This was really a struggle for religious freedom — not just Jewish freedom but religious freedom.”

The show highlights a historic struggle that is often overlooked by many who may be familiar with the miracle of the oil lasting eight days but who do not understand the surrounding circumstances, Shukiar said.

The temple’s goal in staging the production at the 400-seat Scherr Forum Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza is to bring the story to the entire community. “Benjamin and Judah” will be surrounded on the schedule by Christmas classics such as “The Nutcracker” and “A Christmas Carol.”

Tom Mitze, the cultural affairs director for the City of Thousand Oaks, said he’s excited to have the show.

“I think it will get a very good response. I’m happy to see it here,” he said. “Hopefully this will be a big hit and it will become an annual event.”

This is not the first time “Benjamin and Judah” has been performed. Some of its previous incarnations have taken place in New York, San Diego and, three years ago, at Temple Adat Elohim, where it was performed in the sanctuary.

Congregant Mitch Schwartz can’t wait to reprise his role as Antiochus.

“I very much enjoy being on the stage. It’s a wonderful thing,” he said.

As someone with experience juggling, doing magic tricks and performing as a clown, Schwartz is no stranger to the limelight. There’s something different about this show that touches his heart, though.

“One of the beauties of this production is the fact that we have so many segments of our temple community that come together,” he said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful warm feeling to be involved.”

And, Schwartz said, there’s a universal — and modern — message that makes this telling of the story more relevant than ever.

“There’s a contemporary component to the show, and there is somewhat of an anti-bullying message and to stand up for your beliefs and your rights,” he said. “It’s the Chanukah story told in a way that I think adults and children alike will embrace.”

A season of change


Lunch in the small, red-tiled Paprika Grill in Tarzana, with its short, kosher Mediterranean menu, seems like a simple proposition. But everything looks and smells so good: shwarma, shakshouka, sabich, pargiot and three kinds of crispy schnitzel. Although owner-chef Tommy Marudi was previously a chef at Aroma Bakery and Café — which has one of the biggest, most overwhelming menus in town — he is doing something different here at Paprika, making big changes in his cooking and in his life, and they begin with the small, well-edited menu choices.

Marudi knows that these Mediterranean favorites can be done well if they are freshly made, carefully spiced and artfully presented, and the selected items are what he is going to stick to for the moment. On Fridays, there is a selection of prepared foods on display to take out. On Saturdays, he is closed all day, at least until the sun sets a little earlier.

One clue to what makes Paprika Grill different from other local restaurants serving Israeli food is that the ubiquitous television is tuned to the food channel instead of soccer. Marudi, 28, is the cook, greeter, manager and owner, and he is always there. Slim and intense with wide blue eyes and dark hair, he could easily be a guitar player in a local band, another L.A. hopeful in a dark T-shirt and camouflage pants, but, in fact, the young man already has seven years of serious cooking experience behind him.

Marudi has big American dreams, but they’re grounded in the reality of his experience in the kitchen. He is rightly proud that Paprika Grill already has been recognized by Los Angeles Magazine as serving the best Israeli breakfast in town. Astute food chronicler Linda Burum writes, “The brightly spiced mix of fresh tomatoes, onions, and chiles known as shakshouka is cooked down to a bold stew in which eggs gently simmer. At Paprika Grill a primo house-baked baguette sops up the yolk-enriched sauce.”

For lunch, Marudi recommends the pargiot, spicy bite-sized pieces of dark meat chicken, chopped and grilled Jerusalem style, with caramelized onions, lemon, garlic and parsley. It is presented with two kinds of cabbage salad — one bright purple and creamy, one green and sharp; crisp Israeli salad; creamy, house-made hummus; and a soft, pillowy,  hot pita. It took Marudi a while to find the right pita, one that resembled the pitas he ate in Israel. The source he finally found here is also an Israeli transplant, also just starting out, and he makes the pitas on machines he brought directly from Israel.

Marudi was born in California, but grew up in Tel Aviv. As a teenager, he worked as a dishwasher in his uncle’s Tel Aviv restaurant, learning to cook from the man who Marudi says is still the best chef he knows. Returning to Los Angeles at 21, he got a job as a cook at Aroma, the locus of Israeli activity in the Valley, and helped develop the big, photo-heavy menu. He discovered as he worked that he had a gift for invention and presentation, which he now puts to use on catering jobs, finding ways to reinvent skewers and make sabich sandwiches into smaller, more sophisticated bites. 

Working at Aroma was an invaluable learning experience, but the demanding work schedule took its toll on him. Marudi missed the rhythms and practices of his religious family back home. This past summer, he left Aroma to open his own kosher place. Now, in addition to managing the kitchen, he is also learning “front of the room” (eight tables, six seats at the counter) customer relations and financial management. This winter, he will be marrying a fellow Aroma alum, and in the late summer he will become a father.

On the verge of starting his own home and family, the ambitious young restaurateur seems to be changing everything in his life at once, but he is doing so carefully and thoughtfully, the way he arranges food on a plate. Being closed Friday night and all day Saturday is tough for business, not to mention the rabbi’s prohibition on having the place redecorated during the holidays, but Marudi trusts that in addition to his hard work and innovation, somebody is watching over his venture and it will lead to a good way of life for himself, his new family and his delighted customers.

As with many good things, Paprika Grill can be a little hard to find. The restaurant’s name was not yet on the mini-mall marquee when I visited, and the banner hanging at the entrance had been flipped up by the wind. But drive slowly as you approach the corner of Corbin Avenue and Ventura Boulevard and follow the delicious aroma to the door. 

Paprika Grill
19657 1/2
Ventura Blvd., Tarzana
(818) 344-1687
paprikagrill.net

Shop for you, shop for the world


Consumerism is often dubbed the antithesis of all that is good, but that doesn’t have to be so. More and more, businesses are adopting ethical labor practices, Earth-friendly materials and altruistic causes. We found a few ways for you to flex your consumer power — with a conscience.

Photos by Courtney Raney

1. Want to shop at a fabulous New York boutique from the comfort of your Valley home? Jewish-owned retailer Lonnys recently launched lonnys.com, where you can give back while browsing designer brands. Supporting charities is a large part of the company’s mission, and all proceeds from the Lonnys Denim Peace Bag ($20) are donated to Katz Women’s Hospital at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. lonnys.com

2. The local and Jewish-owned boutique, Green Denim Initiative, features products created with both fashion and the environment in mind. Tags, buttons and zippers are recycled, cold-water washing saves energy, natural fibers and vegetable dyes reduce chemical use, and the store partners with like-minded designers such as Alkemie Jewelry, which donates a portion of its online sales to a different charity each month. Handmade in Los Angeles and created with 100 percent reclaimed metal, Green Denim Initiatives’ newest featured item is this stylish Alkemie Six Shark Tooth Necklace ($209). greendeniminitiative.com

3. Who knew that building a miniature bonsai forest in your home could also help green Israel? At ababyatree.com, you can get this bonsai tree kit ($78), or any other gift, and the Jewish National Fund will plant a tree in Israel in honor of someone you love. The kit includes everything you need to maintain a healthy bonsai tree, and even the box and ribbon it’s wrapped in are made of recycled U.S. steel and plastic bottles. ababyatree.com

4. Jewish ceramicist Robert Siegel drew inspiration from his berry bowl-collecting bubbe when he created this limited-edition pink-and-white Baba’s Berry Bowl ($75) for breast cancer awareness. Twenty percent of the proceeds from this bowl will go to The Pink Agenda (thepinkagenda.org), a nonprofit breast cancer research and awareness organization. Available through December 2011, the bowl is hand crafted and made with lead-free porcelain. rshandmade.com

5. “How can we add a little ‘ooh-lah-lah’ to our cars?” asks Jewish entrepreneur and physician Dr. Beth Ricanati, who runs carlahlah.com, a sustainable family business creating car magnets with messages of peace and love. Using only local manufacturers, each magnet purchased ($8.99) will offset 20 miles of carbon emissions from your car. carlahlah.com

6. Famously founded by a German-Jewish immigrant in 1853, Levi Strauss & Co. has recently pioneered a way to produce the same fabulous jeans while conserving water. With Water

levi.com/waterless

Commentary magazine donates archive to University of Texas


Commentary, the seminal neoconservative magazine, has donated its archives to the University of Texas at Austin.

Founded in 1945, the New York-based magazine has played an outsized role in American intellectual life as a venue for essays on politics, culture and Jewish issues. Commentary moved rightward along with its editor Norman Podhoretz, who took the helm in 1960, and the magazine became a leading voice of the emerging neoconservative movement.

The Commentary archive that the University of Texas is receiving spans material from 1945 to 1995, including correspondence with S. Y. Agnon, Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, William F. Buckley, George Orwell, Philip Roth and Tom Wolfe.

The archive will be housed at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum that already houses the papers of a number of prominent American Jewish writers, such as Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud, David Mamet, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Leon Uris.

“The early decades of Commentary, especially its first 25 years, should prove to be an invaluable resource for the social and intellectual history of the postwar years and the gradual assimilation of Jews into the mainstream of American life,” said Morris Dickstein, distinguished professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said in a statement released by the Ransom Center on Monday.

Commentary was long published by the American Jewish Committee, though it had editorial independence. Commentary became fully independent of AJC in 2006 and is today edited by John Podhoretz, Norman’s son.

Something special


Stephen Michaels’ fondest memories of his Aunt Lisa are of watching movies with her.

“I remember being next to her, just being with her,” he said. “It was fun.”

One of her favorites was “Forrest Gump.” She could relate.

At age 12, Stephen is the same age that his aunt was when she entered residential care in 1979. Lisa Kaplan, who was born with three holes in her heart and Down syndrome, required round-the-clock care.

“Stephen was very young, but he understood her suffering,” said Marlene Michaels, Stephen’s mom and Lisa’s sister. “He would just hold her hand and watch movies. He would look into her eyes and sense what her needs were. He made my sister very happy.”

Lisa died from heart complications in 2002 at age 35, but Stephen is keeping her memory alive through his bar mitzvah project: he is working to make the residents of Valley Village — a Winnetka-based facility for the developmentally disabled where Lisa spent some of her happiest years —  happy as well.

“She gave me the motivation for all the stuff I’ve done for people with special needs,” Stephen said.

After a planned Purim carnival visit in mid-March was rained out, Stephen arranged for almost 100 Valley Village residents to attend a Sheldon Low concert at his synagogue, Shomrei Torah, a week later.

“Our clients had an amazing time,” said Anush Sumian, Valley Village’s development coordinator. “It was really special. They love to socialize and get out and be with society.”

Seeing the Valley Village residents singing along and enjoying themselves was also rewarding for Stephen, a seventh-grader at Colina Middle School in Thousand Oaks.

“It makes me happy that these people, who may not be able to experience something like this often, are having fun,” he said.

Sumian said opportunities like the concert are rare for Valley Village, since the nonprofit can’t afford the cost.

But Stephen raised $2,000 to give the residents of Valley Village the chance, and he plans to keep giving back to the organization that made his aunt’s life so much easier.

Lisa lived at Valley Village from 1990 to 1995 with her caretaker, Sujata Rawate.

“She was in so many different homes, but finally Mom found Valley Village, and it changed my family’s world, especially my sister’s,” Marlene Michaels said. “They were able to give her not only a safe place to live but also a place where she had activities, stimulation and warm, caring people to take care of her.”

Several months ago, Stephen and his family visited the home where Lisa lived, and spent time with Rawate and the residents, some of whom were around when Lisa lived there.

“It was fun interacting with them and seeing how they live, getting a taste of what it’s like for them every day,” he said.

Stephen realizes the importance of enriching the lives of special-needs individuals of all ages, and he has enjoyed the opportunity to participate in programs with the Tikvah campers at Camp Ramah for two summers running.

“I’ve been a Ramah camper for a while, so it felt cool giving back to Ramah,” he said. The highlights, he said, were filming skits and learning Israeli dancing and Krav Maga with the Tikvah campers.

“It was great to see him want to take that interest,” said his father, Randy Michaels, who serves as Ramah’s director of finance and administration, and helps ensure that programs like Tikvah have a place in the Camp Ramah community. “As a Ramah-nik myself at Ramah Wisconsin, I was buddied up with the Tikvah kids when I was a camper his age, so that, to me, is exciting.”

Although the Tikvah program has been in existence for several years, it wasn’t around when Lisa was young.

“When my sister was younger, there weren’t any organizations, including the synagogue, there to help her. It was mostly Catholic charities,” Marlene Michaels explained. “Now everything has changed. Especially within the Conservative movement, they are just completely there for helping kids with special needs.”

The Michaelses share their passion for people with special needs with Shomrei Torah Assistant Rabbi Erez Sherman, who is overseeing Stephen’s bar mitzvah training. Rabbi Sherman’s older brother, Eyal, is a paraplegic.

“We connected immediately,” Rabbi Sherman recalled of his initial meeting with the Michaels family in preparation for Stephen’s bar mitzvah this November. “He’s trying to open doors to the special-needs community. He doesn’t do this because he wants to get his name in the paper, he does this because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a legacy to his aunt.”

Rabbi Sherman hopes the association continues.

“I hope to hold annual events to connect the residents to us and us to them,” he said.

Stephen serves as a positive example to his 9-year-old brother, Alex, too.

“It makes me happy that he’s doing stuff to help kids, and he’s doing a great job,” Alex said.

Stephen plans to continue his efforts after his bar mitzvah in November. He still wants to see his original idea through, bringing the Valley Village residents to next year’s Purim carnival.

“If we can get that idea going, I feel like it would be fun for them. I want to keep on doing this and do more,” he said.

How to tame your bully


In the dictionary, a bully is defined as “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” It sounds likes an accurate definition, but it’s not absolutely true. Sure, there is always the stereotypical, all muscle and no brains guy walking around punching lockers and dunking kids in trash cans. And every school has the beautiful yet snobby rich girl who cheats on tests and calls everyone insulting names.

However, I know from personal experience that there are other kinds of bullies at school, too. There’s that friend who acts so sweet to your face, then backstabs you the second you turn away, telling your darkest secrets to others and ruining your social life.

There are kids who pretend to be “cool rebels” and beat your lunch box with a baseball bat on the soccer field just to “make a statement.” There are flirts who ruin your relationships, guys who push their bad influences on you, and girls who are so smart but refuse to tutor you because of how you dress. Some people even have a friend who constantly tears them or other people down. The list can go on and on.

I was bullied by these kids, and I wanted to learn how to take them down painlessly and innocently. In other words, without violence. I started to write and read and think, desperately trying to uncover clues for dealing with mean people. I began to understand that, while being bullied wasn’t my fault, I should at least try to understand the reasons I was being teased, and if I decided to change those things, whether it would benefit me in some way.

For example, now that I’m a little older and wiser, I can look back and see that my purposeful lack of social skills and “nobody gets me, so don’t bother” attitude made me an easy target for other kids. I started to understand that while I should never change myself for a bully, it wouldn’t hurt to look at myself critically from time to time.

I also realized the power of just walking away. I discovered that I won or prevented numerous incidents by raising the flag of firm peace and leaving the battlegrounds. My reaction to bullies went from sharp, biting comebacks to looking them in the eye and saying, “I do not consider your comment to be very nice,” before walking away. Not only have I stood up for myself, I also have infected them with my contagious positive attitude (hopefully). It’s a secret win-win, even though the teaser doesn’t see it that way.

I once got myself into a deep, dark place because of the bullies that tormented me, as well as other events in my life. Kids teased me for being “weak” and “emo” whenever I expressed any sad emotions. Although it would have been much nicer for my classmates to help me and respect my feelings as I was going through a hard time, bullies saw my vulnerability as a “Kick Me” sign.

To my surprise, I learned mean people will sometimes back off when they know the whole story. After a friend of mine and his little sister were killed by their father, I formed a silent but strong bond with one of his friends. Even though the kid was a bully and later expelled for harassment, he and his friends never said an unkind word to me. One time, I was frantically searching for my missing lock after someone had broken into my locker (and stolen my lunchbox and beaten it with a baseball bat). One of his friends (infamous for smoking and partying) came down the hallway, silently handed me the lock, patted my shoulder and walked away. It may not be easy to tell, but bullies have hearts, too.

I can’t sit here and claim that I know how to stop bullying forever. Even now, I face bullying at school, and it doesn’t hurt any less than it did in fifth grade. But with the few tricks I’ve learned over the years, I believe I have found a good strategy to manage the problem. It’s not a quick fix or a cure, and it’s not foolproof. It’s a large jagged pill that I’ve learned to swallow so I can raise my head, take a deep breath and not allow bullies to determine where my life is heading. 

Hannah Goldenberg is 14 years old and will be a freshman in the fall at Santa Susana High School in Simi Valley.

Go Kosher!


“That’s just the way we do it.”

You might have gotten this response if you asked your grandparents or parents why and how Jews keep kosher.

Sometimes, though, it’s nice to dig a little deeper into our long-held traditions. Contrary to what you may have heard, “kashrut [kosher] has nothing to do with biology or hygiene, though the practice does happen to be more hygienic,” said Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, who directs the Introduction to Judaism program at American Jewish University.

Kosher laws are based on Torah and other sources: Jews are commanded to keep kosher. But there are other practical reasons to consider having a kosher home.

“I think there is a renewed interest in spirituality today. It’s about living mindfully, being awake while you live your life,” Artson said. “Rather than just filling your stomach and not thinking about it, kashrut is a way to link your eating to holy living.”

Observing the laws of kashrut allows people to feed their souls as well as their stomachs, Artson said.

Another important consideration: “I believe that God is always inviting us to make the best possible choices,” Artson said. “More compassion, more love, more justice, more energy. [Keeping kosher] is a tool to help us clarify choice making. Every time we sit down to eat, we remind ourselves about these choices.” Part of thinking about your food involves having respect for where your food comes from. If your meal involves eating an animal, it’s important to think about the sacrifice involved in making that meal.

This concept also helps explain the kosher rules for the slaughter of animals. In order for meat to be kosher, the animal must meet the following qualifications: a land-based animal must have split hooves and chew its cud (cows, sheep and goats are OK; pigs are not). Chicken and turkey can be kosher, too. Slaughter must be humane and quick: Basically, in order for an animal to be considered kosher, it must be killed with a single cut to the throat with a very sharp knife. If an animal (even one that would otherwise be considered kosher) dies in any other manner, it is not kosher and may not be eaten. Interestingly, the slaughter rules do not apply to fish (which is considered pareve, neither meat nor milk; pareve items may be consumed with either meat or milk products).

Dairy and meat may not be eaten together, since the Torah proclaims “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Deuteronomy 14:21). A kosher kitchen, therefore, must include separate utensils, plates, and pots and pans for dairy and meat meals. In a perfect world, it’s great to have separate preparation areas for each type of meal, along with separate sinks, stoves and ovens. In a practical world, though, this isn’t always possible. There are loads of resources and guidelines for creating your own kosher kitchen, regardless of the space. One fun online tool is the Kosher Wizard at chabad.org (but your local rabbi can help, too).

If you don’t already keep a kosher home, making the transition can be intimidating, especially if you didn’t grow up observing kashrut. When Kimberly Stoner of Woodland Hills began her journey to convert to Judaism, she approached the “kosher question” with a bit of trepidation.

“I learned in my classes at the [American Jewish University] that it wasn’t an all-or-nothing issue,” Stoner said. “It was perfectly acceptable to ease into it, baby steps, if you will.”

Artson agrees, and tells his students to try different aspects of keeping kosher. He says many students who convert are not quite “there yet,” with respect to keeping kosher. He says people should celebrate the steps they have taken and are preparing to take.

“[My instructors said] if parting with a cheeseburger was too difficult, giving up pork was at least a start,” Stoner said. “I was grateful for turkey bacon!”

Artson, whose book “It’s a Mitzvah: Step-by-Step to Jewish Living” (Behrman House Publishing, 1995) devotes an entire chapter to keeping kosher, says that kashrut shouldn’t be a mystery. He tells his students: “It’s a lifelong growing process. I try to plant seeds and trust that people want to live lives of goodness.”

Finally, Artson says that keeping a kosher home makes your home a base for any Jew. “You make your house a portable Jerusalem. Everywhere you eat is holy … it creates a bond between generations.”

Tribe Calendar: May 2011-June 2011


SUNDAY, MAY 1

UNITED BLOOD SERVICE BLOOD DRIVE
The community is invited to do a mitzvah, either by donating blood or holding the hand of someone who is. 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. To make an appointment, call (805) 497-6891. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. ” title=”mountsinaiparks.org” target=”_blank”>mountsinaiparks.org.

“THE FIRST MASSIVE JEWISH DEPORTATION: TO CAMP DE GURS IN 1940”
Werner Frank, a founding member of the JewishGen’s German Special Interest Group, recounts the story of this little-known tragedy. 1:30 p.m. Free. Co-sponsored by Temple Adat Elohim and the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (818) 889-6616. ” title=”history.ucsb.edu” target=”_blank”>history.ucsb.edu.


FRIDAY, MAY 6

JCA FAMILY CAMP
Enjoy Shabbat, Havdalah, gourmet kosher food, yoga, arts and crafts, song sessions and more with your family in Malibu Canyon. Through May 8. $170-$205 (adults), $130 (children, 4 and older), free (children, 3 and younger). Camp JCA Shalom, Shalom Institute, 34342 Mulholland Highway, Malibu. RSVP to (818) 889-5500. ” title=”bigsunday.org” target=”_blank”>bigsunday.org.


SUNDAY, MAY 15

SANTA BARBARA JEWISH FESTIVAL

” title=”sbjf.org” target=”_blank”>sbjf.org.

A lack of funding has forced organizers to cancel this year’s Israel Independence Day Festival in Woodley Park.

SANTA CLARITA JEWISH FOOD AND CULTURAL FESTIVAL
Come hungry to the third annual festival that celebrates the best of Jewish food trucks from around Los Angeles and the Santa Clarita Valley, including Takosher, Canter’s, Yalla Falafel, Sweet E’s Bakery and more. Then stick around for Israeli dancing, a Mitzvah Alley, Mad Dog Gaming truck, face painting, bouncer and more. Sponsored by Temple Beth Ami. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. $5 (door), free (children, 12 and younger). College of the Canyons, Lot 7, 26455 Rockwell Canyon Road, Valencia. (805) 964-5577. ” title=”templeetzchaim.org” target=”_blank”>templeetzchaim.org.


WEDNESDAY, MAY 18

UNDERSTANDING PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY
Psychiatrist Lance Steinberg will address the benefits and risks associated with medication for children with special needs. Sponsored by HaMercaz. 7 p.m. $10 (per person), $15 (for two). Milken JCC, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (866) 287-8030. ” title=”valleyperformingartscenter.org” target=”_blank”>valleyperformingartscenter.org.

CALIFORNIA STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL
Have a “berry” nice time with celebrity cooking demonstrations, musical performances, a Herzog-sponsored wine pavilion, food and art contests, arts and crafts booths, Strawberryland for Kids, special appearances and more. 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. $12 (general), $8 (seniors, 62 and older), $5 (children, 5-12) free (children, 4 and younger). Strawberry Meadows of College Park, 3250 S. Rose Ave., Oxnard. (888) 288-9242. ” title=”skirball.org” target=”_blank”>skirball.org.

Air France-KLM rapped for in-flight reading


The Paris-based Simon Wiesenthal Center wants an Air France-KLM affiliate to stop selling a French magazine with a cover article that the center says targets Israel.

The article featured on the front page of the Le Point weekly “targets Israel, the Jews of France and the Holocaust,” the Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, wrote in a letter to Air France-KLM last week.

Samuels asked Air France-KLM to take disciplinary measures and apologize for choosing the magazine for flights to and from North Africa by its low-cost affiliate Transavia.

The magazine cover headline reads “Gaza, Shoah, Jews of France—Debray’s Accusation against Israel.” An Israeli flag and a pensive portrait of the French philosopher Regis Debray are pictured.

The article, published originally in May, reviews a book by Debray that includes excerpts of the author’s work in which he claims that Israel has “never stopped colonizing and expropriating and uprooting” its Palestinian neighbors. Debray says refugees in Gaza have been victims of “brutality,” and that Israel has humiliated its neighbor while being “blinded” by the Holocaust.

It notes Debray’s criticism of French Jewish leaders for joining political protests in favor of Israel and mixing religion with politics.

The magazine issue also provides follow-up criticism of Debray’s book.

Despite publishing opposing views on Debray’s work in the same issue, Samuels says the damage is done by simply showing what he calls an inflammatory reference to the book on the magazine cover, printed on an in-flight menu, where “it has no place.”

“It concerns me that Air France chose that cover,” Samuels told JTA. “In this case it isn’t the content, it’s the subliminal message.”

The center works particularly hard to “assuage tensions” between French Jews and North Africans, Samuels said, and offering the article as in-flight reading “undermines what we’re trying to do.”

“It is like showing a movie of a plane crash during a flight,” he said.

MICHAEL JACKSON: Memories of my Childhood


This column originally appeared in OLAM Magazine, a journal of Jewish spirituality.  Reprinted here with permission of the editor, David Suissa. To read David Suissa’s reflection on meeting Jackson, click here.

When I look back on my childhood, it is not an idyllic landscape of memories. My relationship with my father was strained, and my childhood was an emotionally difficult time for me. I began performing when I was five years old, and my father – a tough man – pushed my brothers and me hard, from the earliest age, to be the best performers we could be.

Although we all worked hard to perform, he never really complimented me. If I did a great show, he would tell me it was a good show. And if I did an OK show, he didn’t say anything at all. He seemed intent, above all else, on making us a commercial success. And at that he was more than adept. My father was a managerial genius, and my brothers and I owe our professional success, in no small measure, to the forceful way he pushed us. He trained me as a showman, and under his guidance I couldn’t miss a step.

Those of you who are familiar with the Jackson Five know that since I began performing at that tender age I haven’t stopped dancing or singing. But while performing and making music undoubtedly remain among my greatest joys, when I was young I wanted more than anything else to be a typical little boy. I wanted to build tree houses, have water balloon fights and play hide-n-seek with my friends. But fate had it otherwise, and all I could do was envy the laughter and playtime that seemed to be going on all around me.

There was no respite from my professional life. But on Sundays I would go “Pioneering”, the term used for the missionary work that Jehovah’s Witnesses do. It was then that I was able to see the magic of other people’s childhood.

Since I was already a celebrity, I had to don a disguise of fat suit, wig, beard and glasses, and we would spend the day in the suburbs of Southern California, going door-to-door or making the rounds of shopping malls, distributing our Watchtower magazine. I loved to set foot in all those regular suburban houses and catch sight of the shag rugs and La-Z-Boy armchairs, kids playing Monopoly and grandmas babysitting and all those wonderful, ordinary and starry scenes of everyday life. Many, I know, would argue that these things are no big deal. But to me they were mesmerizing – because they symbolized, to me, a home life that I seemed to be missing.

My father was not openly affectionate with us, but he would show his love in different ways. I remember once when I was about four years old, we were at a little carnival and he picked me up and put me on a pony. It was a tiny gesture, probably something he forgot five minutes later. But because of that one moment, I have this special place in my heart for him. Because that’s how kids are, the little things mean so much to them and for me, that one moment meant everything. It was a gesture that showed his caring, and his love. I only experienced it that one time, but it made me feel really good, about him and the world.

And I have other memories too, of other gestures, however imperfect, that showed his love for us. When I was a kid, I had a real sweet tooth – we all did. I loved eating glazed doughnuts, and my father knew that. So every few weeks I would come downstairs in the morning and there on the kitchen counter was a bag of glazed doughnuts – no note, no explanation, just the doughnuts. It was like a fairy godmother had visited our kitchen. It was like Santa Claus. Sometimes, I would think about staying up late so I could see him leave them there, but as with Santa Claus, I didn’t want to ruin the magic, for fear that he would never do it again.

I think now that my father had to leave the doughnuts secretly at night so that no one would catch him with his guard down. He was scared of human emotion, he didn’t understand it, or know how to deal with it. But, he did know doughnuts.

And when I allow the floodgates to open up, there are other memories that come rushing back, memories of other tiny gestures, however imperfect, that showed that he did what he could.

With hindsight and maturity, I have come to see that even my father’s harshness was a kind of love. An imperfect love, sure, but love nonetheless. He pushed me because he loved me. He pushed me because he wanted me to have more than he EVER had, and he wanted my life to be better than his EVER was.

It has taken me a long time to realize this, but now I feel the resentments of my childhood are finally being put to rest. My bitterness has been replaced by blessing, and in place of my anger, I have found absolution. And with this knowledge, that my father loved his children, I have found peace.

Local Israelis dig glossy ‘zine


“Anachnu Beh America!” “We’re in America!” proclaims the title of the nine-month-old Hebrew-language monthly glossy aimed at Los Angeles’ Israeli community.

The magazine, which averages around 40 to 50 pages, is eye-catching. The February issue shows a boy kissing a girl holding a rose; December had a large white dreidel on the cover; last September, the second issue, showed Israeli supermodel Noah Tishby.

Inside, the pages are also splashed with colorful headlines, bright photos and cartoony illustrations.

B’America is being distributed to more than 200 locations locally, targeting where Israelis shop, dine, learn and gather. An employee at Super Sal, an Israeli grocery store on Ventura Boulevard in Encino, said they receive weekly deliveries of about 100 to 150 magazines on Wednesday, and by Friday the waist-high stack of free glossies just outside the main doors vanishes.

David Mashiah, a 28-year old Israeli who works in private security, explains what compels him to pick up the magazine nearly every month.

“First, it catches your eye because of the colors,” he said. “Second, it’s interesting to read and it offers something that the Israeli newspapers here don’t offer. Articles that are easy and fun to read. They’re lighter than newspaper articles.”

“This magazine is not about Israel,” said Ori Dinur, Anachnu’s editor-in-chief. “It’s about Israelis that live here in America.”

Dinur has a background in theater and has been living in Los Angeles for seven years; she said the target audience has been living in the United States for more than six months — people who are building careers and families here and have no immediate plans of returning to their homeland.

Articles have included coverage of the Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, advice on how to be a successful salesperson, a calendar section called “Poking Your Nose Out of the House,” a regular feature answering immigration-related questions and a first-person narrative about a failed intermarriage.

“Our contributors write from their hearts about very personal things that Israelis here can relate to,” Dinur said. Most of the magazine’s regular contributors (there are 17 listed on the masthead), live in Los Angeles. They are not paid for their contributions and most have never been published elsewhere. Despite this, and the fact that the masthead lists a staff of just four, with only Dinur on the editorial staff, the magazine does not appear amateurish.

“We wanted to do everything top of the line,” said Eddie Grimberg, one of the founders and owners of the publication. A Russian-born Israeli who has been living in the United States for 20 years, he said the magazine was not a commercial venture.

“We’re doing this as a service to the Israeli community,” he said. “We’re filling a need.”
Grimberg is very active in the Jewish community and is this year’s chair of this Sunday’s Israeli Independence Day Festival in Woodley Park.

“Our purpose is to entertain, educate, touch and improve people’s lives., ” said Dinur. And with characteristically Israeli passion, she added, “It’s my baby! I’m in love with it!”


For more information, visit

Sheinkin Street meets superhighway


Sheinkin Street is not what it used to be.

At least that’s the common sentiment among those who remember the street’s heyday in the late 1980s to mid-’90s, when the neighborhood was Israel’s bohemian center — hip, funky, free-spirited, and on the vanguard. It is often dubbed the Soho of Israel, or, in L.A. terms, Israel’s answer to Melrose. But in the last decade more commercial fashion chains have moved in, and the young, rebellious artsy crowd flew south to Florentine.
 
But Michael Simkin, CEO of C-Do Networks, who describes himself as a “little Jew from Liverpool,” believes that Sheinkin still retains enough of its eccentricity and bustle to perpetuate its mythic status.
 
“Sheinkin is a symbol of what is going on in modern secular Israel,” he explains, sipping coffee at a Sheinkin cafe. And he wants to share those qualities with the rest of the world, so he’s created a Web site: www.sheinkinstreet.com.
 
Offered in both Hebrew and English, the site is an “e-street” — part magazine, part online community, as well as event guide, map and online shop — and it may be the first of its kind for a single street. Ironically, the site has turned Sheinkin into brand name by highlighting its noncommercial icons: fashion boutiques, street jam sessions, the tattoo parlor, the record shop and the generally weird people walking around, particularly the Breslav Jews, who have made a hub for themselves on the street.
 
Simkin made aliyah to Israel about two years ago from Great Britain because, he said, “here I’m just a human being, as opposed to a Jew.”
 
His offices these days are right off Sheinkin, and his staff is quickly becoming Sheinkin lore. Video and photo director Arnon Maoz strolls around Sheinkin almost daily to make punchy clips about the passersby, shoppers, celebrities, shops, store owners, and landmarks that have made Sheinkin the legend.
 
“Oh, it’s you again? The Sheinkin Street people?” store owners sometimes say, with more delight than annoyance. The “Sheinkin Street people” remind them that the locale is still cool, even though so far the site has generated more online publicity than online business for them.
 
Sheinkinstreet.com is an experiment, a news-oriented way of doing e-commerce, but the one-stop information and shopping center may be a risky business strategy.
 
“We broke the rule in terms of Web sites, which says either have an information site or business site, but not both,” Simkin says.
 
Indeed, the mix of elements can be a bit overwhelming: The boutique and designer shops on Sheinkin can serve as a unique online warehouse, particularly to Jews abroad eager to “try on” Israeli trendiness, but the effectiveness of the virtual shop is easily trumped by magazine content. Since its launch in May, over 120,000 unique visitors have visited the site, but less than a dozen online purchases were made.
 
Simkin is not too bothered.
 
“I treat my business somewhat as an artist,” he says. His philosophy is to bring reality to the Internet, and he sees “reality Internet” as the next trend in cyberspace. He cites Google Earth as one example of literally bringing one location to cyber users’ fingertips, but he goes further by focusing on one location.
 
Once he nails down all the kinks, he plans to set his lens on the streets of the Big Apple for the big buzz and bucks.

Spectator – ‘Devil’ Is in the Details


The film adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 New York Times best-selling novel, “The Devil Wears Prada,” which hits theaters on June 30, follows recent college grad Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) as she takes on the dubious job of assistant to the editor-in-chief of the most prominent fashion magazine in New York: Runway. Her job, as it turns out, is not at all about journalism, but rather catering to the boss from hell, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), who makes absurdly vague demands and expects immediate results. After nearly a year, Andy must decide whether succeeding at her career trumps keeping her sanity.

An enjoyable chick-lit book, “The Devil Wears Prada,” in movie form follows the novel’s storyline, with slight modifications to the plot that only enhance our understanding of Andy’s dilemma. And for the fashion buff, the insider’s view of the inner workings of a haute couture, albeit fictional, fashion magazine are amusing.

One dramatic difference, however, is that in the film, Andy is no longer identified as Jewish. Ditto for the Miranda Priestly character, rumored to be based on legendary Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who was born Miriam Princhek into an Orthodox Jewish family. Despite the importance of Judaism to the main characters in the book version, Fox 2000 opted to exclude any religious references.

Hollywood is actually quite adept at changing Jewish literary characters into generic, unaffiliated characters on screen. “In Her Shoes,” for example, a 2005 film based on the book of the same title by author Jennifer Weiner, successfully glossed over the fact that the protagonist and her sister were Jewish. The only glimpse of explicitly Jewish content was the kippot worn at a wedding.

Although unavailable for comment at press time, in a 2005 interview with the Jerusalem Post, Weisberger noted how Jewish characters are a necessary element to her work.

“I can’t imagine constructing a single’s life and her family’s life without them being Jewish,” Weisberger explained.

And despite the producers’ efforts, the on-screen character of Andy Sachs remains true to her roots and comes across as a Jewish girl all the same.

“The Devil Wears Prada” opens this week in theaters.

 

Proud to Have Guilt


Once Mireille Silcoff had been hired to edit a new quarterly Jewish magazine for young people, she needed to give it a name.

“At one point I just started asking people, ‘What are the first things you think of when you think about your Jewishness?'” Silcoff recalled. “You can’t imagine how many times ‘guilt’ came up. And ‘pleasure’ came up enough to be interesting.”

Guilt & Pleasure — “A magazine for Jews and the people who love them” — hit newsstands across North America last month, offering readers content ranging from long-form essays and memoirs to fiction, comics, photography and archival material.

The magazine aims not only to inform and entertain, its creators say, but to get Jews talking about issues they think ought to be more fully explored.

Each issue of Guilt & Pleasure will revolve around a theme. The first, called “Home & Away,” will examine issues of “place and identity and the nexus between them,” publisher Roger Bennett said. It includes original contributions from novelists Gary Shteyngart, Lara Vapnyar and Etgar Keret as well as graphic artist Ben Katchor. The second issue will look at fights and battles; the third will be about magic.

Each edition will be connected to interactive Web-based discussion guides.

As a “strong proponent” of secular Jewish culture, Shteyngart — who wrote the best-selling “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook” — says typical Jewish newspapers, emanating from a “very organized community basis,” don’t speak to him. Guilt & Pleasure, which he called a Jewish Paris Review, does.

“For as long as there have been Jews in America, there have been Jewish secular cultural enterprises,” he said.

Still, he sometimes wonders what, if anything, binds non-religious Jews.

“What among secular Jews makes us a community? Are we a community? I don’t have an answer for that,” he said.

But he’s hoping Guilt & Pleasure will spur some discussion on the topic.

For more information, visit

Heeb Teens Get Zine of Their Own


 

For years, young Jews have voted with their feet after their bar or bat mitzvahs, with about half of those in non-Orthodox synagogues’ religious schools leaving before the 12th-grade confirmation.

Some synagogue schools are starting new, nontraditional programs to bring teenagers back to tradition, but one media company thinks all they need is a good magazine.

Despite declining Jewish ties among young Jews and the financial risks of magazine startups, Jewish Family & Life Media, a nonprofit organization based in Newton, Mass., is launching a print version of its Web site JVibe, which is aimed at Jewish teenagers between 13 and 16 years old.

“JVibe is supposed to help kids maintain a Jewish connection with the community, post-bar mitzvah, through pop culture, by weaving in Jewish values and morals,” said Stewart Bromberg, the group’s director of development.

Slightly more than a year ago, Jewish Family got a $125,000 grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund of San Francisco to do market research on these teenagers to figure out what they thought about JVibe. The same fund gave $75,000 to help bankroll JVibe in the heady dot-com days of 1998.

At a time when teens hardly are considered People of the Book, a series of focus groups conducted over the past year revealed a surprise.

“What came out is that they wanted a magazine, something portable so they could share it with friends, read it on the bus or in bed at night,” Bromberg said.

That comes as other publications backed with private money or public funding have struggled to find an audience.

In the late 1990s, the San Francisco-based magazine, Davka, which featured Jews with tattoos, provocative articles and beat poetry, folded after a few issues — though it did give birth to the term “Generation J” to describe young, alienated Jews.

A more recent survivor is Heeb, a magazine aimed at hipster Jews in their 20s and 30s — though its circulation has been less impressive than the media coverage it received.

Now a group of young Jewish philanthropists in Los Angeles, the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, has awarded Jewish Family $125,000 to redesign JVibe’s Web site and launch a print version as a pilot program. The Web site currently attracts 20,000 to 25,000 visitors a month, but Bromberg said the new online version will be linked thematically to the magazine. The magazine will include advertising and features such as a CD-ordering club.

In the eyes of Jewish teens, the ads “legitimize” the publication, he said.

The 32-page JVibe magazine hopes to reach 20,000 teens in its initial print run, with several hundred free subscriptions to youths in the Los Angeles area, Bromberg said.

The plan is to publish six times per year, with updates and added features going online, he said.

Planned content includes a celebrity column about Jewish pop guitarist Evan Taubenfeld, who plays with Canadian pop star Avril Lavigne; what movies to watch after a break-up; and a teen philanthropy page sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

JVibe “seeks to create relevant and entertaining content that inspires a connection between Jewish teens and the Jewish community,” Bromberg said.

King of Hearts Loves to Play Matchmaker


He’s not your typical yenta, he’s not JDate and he’s certainly not your grandmother’s cousin once removed, but Asher Aramnia loves making love connections for local Jewish singles.

With countless successful matches to his credit, Aramnia’s matchmaking activities through the Iranian Jewish Chronicle (Chashm Andaaz) magazine, which is operated by the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana, has become something of a unique surprise in the local Jewish community, where women traditionally help Jewish singles find their soulmates.

"I know people think this [matchmaking] is for women, but I don’t care about that. What’s important to me is the mitzvah of two single Jews finding the loves of their life," said the nearly 70-year-old Aramnia, who lives in Westwood and also works full time as a manager downtown.

In the past four years , the magazine’s Peyvand-e-Delha (Union of Hearts) program has helped bring together 25 Jewish couples from various cultural backgrounds who were single, divorced or widowed, Aramnia said.

"After they fill out an application, I personally and confidentially interview them," Aramnia said. "Our whole objective is to make sure that if anyone does get married, that it will last forever."

The Union of Hearts was the brainchild of the magazine’s publisher, Dariush Fakheri. He said he developed the program 12 years ago to enable divorced Iranian Jews in Southern California to meet and later expanded it to include other singles.

"This program was first called ‘Another Spring,’ and we wanted divorced Jews to make connection with each other, because there was a taboo for divorced people to remarry in our community," said Fakheri, who is also co-founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center.

While a one-time $100 membership fee is requested by the magazine to cover its program expenses, Aramnia said he does not get paid for introducing couples, and the magazine makes no money providing the service.

Every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Aramnia is busy working the phones at the Eretz-SIAMAK offices and often stays up late weeknights to keep in touch with the singles he has introduced and to meet with new ones.

"The secret to our success is not asking them what they want, but rather asking what they don’t want in a mate or would despise in a mate," Aramnia explained. "This allows us to better match up couples."

Top requests from single men participating in Union of Hearts are for women with beauty and good families, while single women frequently ask for men who are not stingy or liars, Aramnia said.

Information sought by Jewish singles in the program includes age, height, weight, hair color, number of children and their ages, alimony receipt or payment, religious observations, education, occupation, hobbies, drinking limits, turn offs, smoking and priorities in a companion, according to the application sheet.

In addition, Aramnia said he does extensive background checks on singles participating in the program and works closely with them to ensure compatibility and that their relationships last.

"They [participants] become like members of my family, like my son or daughter, and that enables them to open up to me and nothing is hidden," Aramnia said.

Aramnia, who has been married for nearly 50 years, said he was first drawn to introducing Jewish singles after seeing the collapse of many marriages and families.

"When a couple divorces with one or two children, the weight of the break up is on the children’s shoulders who are tremendously impacted," Aramnia said. "This breaks my heart, and I’m willing to do anything to prevent that from happening."

Individuals collaborating with Aramnia said his unique, youthful spirit and desire to help others has been the main reason for his success in getting couples together.

"He’s just an angel, he does this [matchmaking] out of pure love," Fakheri said. "The man is remarkable. He does so many great things, like personally visiting patients at Cedars-Sinai out of the blue on a weekend."

While the Union of Hearts program has primarily introduced local Iranian Jewish singles, Aramnia said he frequently introduces other Jews from elsewhere in the country, Europe, Mexico and even parts of South America.

"We’ve had a couple of successful marriages recently between Mexican and Iranian Jews. Their cultures and families are very similar," Aramnia said. "We also have a lot of Iranians [Jews] who want to marry Americans [Jews] in L.A."

Jewish seniors as old as 70 who are seeking companionship have also been paired up, Aramnia said. He said will continue introducing Jewish singles, because of the joy he sees from happy couples.

"The greatest satisfaction for me is getting invited to the wedding and seeing the couples stand under the chuppah or when they call me up to tell me about the birth of their child," Aramnia said.

For more information on Union of Hearts, call the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center (310) 843-9846.

Karmel Melamed is an L.A. freelance writer and can be contacted at karmelmelamed@yahoo.com

Truthbusters


In the checkout line of any Whole Foods Market, you can pick up a copy of a magazine called Adbusters. It’s a 120,00-circulation leftist journal, published in Vancouver, with a corresponding Web site that prides itself on deconstructing the commercial forces its editors believe erode “our physical and cultural environments.”

The current March/April issue features a lead-in piece by editor Kalle Lasn titled, “Why won’t anyone say they are Jewish?” In it, Lasn points out the fact that of the 50 or so neocons influencing United States diplomatic and defense policy either within government or in media and think tanks, about half are Jewish.

“Deciding exactly who is a neocon is difficult since some neocons reject the term while others embrace it. Some shape policy from within the White House, while others are more peripheral, exacting influence indirectly as journalists, academics and think tank policy wonks. What they all share is the view that the U.S. is a benevolent hyper-power that must protect itself by reshaping the rest of the world into its morally superior image. And half of the them are Jewish.”

The last sentence wasn’t an aside, it was the point. To prove it, Lasn thoughtfully listed alphabetically every neocon he could think of (he missed some) and put a black dot next to the Jews (he missed some). The design department may have flirted with the idea of a yellow star, but decided to go for understated. The fact that many of these post-Cold War warriors are Jewish has been remarked upon and written about quite a bit since the lead up to the second Gulf War, especially in the European and Arab press. Pat Buchanan has been hyperventilating about it for years.

Lasn presented his point not in the spirit of revelation, but of social inquiry. “But the point is not that Jews (who make up less than 2 percent of the American population) have a monolithic perspective,” he wrote. “Indeed, American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat and many of them disagree strongly with Ariel Sharon’s policies and Bush’s aggression in Iraq. The point is simply that the neocons seem to have a special affinity for Israel that influences their political thinking and consequently American foreign policy in the Middle East.”

And the point of “The Passion of the Christ” was not to prove that heinous Jews dressed as medieval Shylocks killed Christ, just that the Temple priests had an affinity for power and money that led to the death of the Christian savior. Hey, as Mel Gibson says, the facts are the facts.

At the end of his piece, Lasn posed the question, “Does the Jewishness of the neocons influence American foreign policy in the Middle East? Or is this analysis just more anti-Semitism?”

I think on “Law and Order” they call that leading the witness. On the eve of Gulf War II, I wrote that if it were to turn into Vietnam II, fingers may very well start pointing at these Jewish neocons. After all, as David Brooks wrote in that Jewish neocon redoubt, The New York Times, in the code language of conspiracy mongers, “con is short for ‘conservative’ and neo is short for ‘Jewish.'” The hard left and hard right converge, as humorist Tom Lehrer always knew they would, in their suspicion of “The Jews.”

A policy maker’s religion can be relevant, whether you are Jewish, Muslim or born-again Christian.

Adbusters is free to single out Jewish names on a list, but to do so without a deeper, considered analysis of what that so-called phenomenon means is an invitation to anti-Semitism and conspiracy-mongering. It’s incitement under the guise of insightfulness.

We are on the cusp of Purim, a joyous, joke-filled holiday (see cover) that recalls a time Jews found themselves in the corridors of power yet faced with an existential threat. Then, as now, Jews were powerful and weak, poor and rich, assimilated and separate, liberal and conservative; yet the Hamans of the world were all too happy to scapegoat them all and be done with it.

“If you can give your foes a collective name – liberals, fundamentalists or neocons – you can rob them of their individual humanity,” Brooks wrote. “All inhibitions are removed. You can say anything about them. You get to feed off their villainy and luxuriate in your own contrasting virtue. … Improvements in information technology have not made public debate more realistic. On the contrary, anti-Semitism is resurgent. Conspiracy theories are prevalent. Partisanship has left many people unhinged.”

Happy Purim.

YM for the Bais Yaakov Set


Teen magazines like YM or Seventeen are usually aimed at young girls who can spend hours contemplating the deeper questions of life like “How can I tell if he likes me?” or “Is 50 Cent hot or not?” But now from Los Angeles comes Shoshanim, the Orthodox girls’ teen mag that dispenses with such asinine navel gazing and instead lures its modestly clad readers with articles that discuss “The remarkable chesed [loving kindness] of the girls of Gilo,” or “Halacha: Wronging Someone With Words.”

“Boys do not exist in this magazine,” said founder and editor in chief Sterna Citron, who started the magazine three years ago when she realized that there was no appropriately kosher magazine for Orthodox teenage girls. “But there is a lot to write about without writing about boys — there is conflict and competition and growing up and teachers and parents and issues. There is plenty to keep us busy.”

Shoshanim aims to be the magazine that will keep its female readers on the straight and narrow during the downtimes.

“We wanted to show the Torah way, not through a school curriculum, not through teachers, but in an entertaining way so that they can see that it is fun,” said Citron. Thus, Shoshanim features an advice column where girls can ask Rebbetzin Rochel what to do in situations where, for example, a girl is trying to stay on a diet but she doesn’t want to be rude to her grandmother who keeps pushing food in front of her. (Rebbetzin’s advice? “A diet is not as important as someone’s feelings.”) There are also short stories, health advice and book reviews. Citron welcomes submissions from her readers, and she will publish their short stories and their artwork as long as it meets her standard of quality.

Citron currently publishes Shoshanim — the Hebrew word for roses — quarterly. She has a couple of thousand subscribers in the United States and Canada, as well as a handful in other countries like South Africa and England. She does much of the work on the magazine herself, voluntarily, but she feels that the venture is worthwhile.

“I get letters from parents saying, ‘Thank you for a kosher magazine to help keep my daughter kosher,'” Citron said. “But the main way that I know I’m doing the right thing is when I see young girls sitting down and reading it.”

For information about subscribing to Shoshanim, send an
e-mail to subscriptions@shoshanim.net  , or mail a check for $22 and your address to 723 N. Orange Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90038.

The Circuit


HEEB Goes Deep

Call it the "Brooklyn Invasion."

All traces of the solemnity and sadness of Holocaust Remembrance Day were gone by nightfall when the gang from New York-based Heeb Magazine threw their first West Coast party at the Hollywood-and-Vine hotspot Deep. Palm Pictures, celebrating the DVD release of Henry Bean’s controversial 2001 film, "The Believer," co-sponsored the event.

About 50 yarmulke boys and Heeb-sters socialized over cigs and cocktails against the backdrop of the club’s trademark exotic dancers in glass displays. One table boasted Heeb stickers and tees, while pieces of Streit’s matzah could be found at every booth.

Heeb and "The Believer" may not be such strange bedfellows — both have garnered attention touting radical Jews on the fringes.

Launched in January 2002, with a grant from the San Francisco-based Joshua Venture fellowship program, Heeb — equal parts journalism and satire with a SPIN-style design and snotty, in-your-face celebration of Jewish culture — embraces a punk fanzine sensibility in its humor-laced coverage of pop culture and an idiosyncratic Jewish nexus.

Past issues have included pieces on beat poet Allen Ginsburg, filmmaker Todd Solondz and porn publisher Al Goldstein; a Neil Diamond centerfold; and tons of references to hip-hop culture. The current issue, No. 3, continues the eclectic tradition of articles played for laughs, including pieces on the world’s worst Jewish comedian and an homage to the late actress Nell Carter, who had converted to Judaism. The magazine’s slogan says it all: "We’re the kids your rabbi warned you about."

A quartet representing Heeb’s staff, including editor-in-chief Jennifer Bleyer and publisher Joshua Neuman, spent their week in Los Angeles holed up at the Grafton Hotel on Sunset Boulevard.

Neuman, happy to be back in Los Angeles, revealed plans to throw Heeb parties in Montreal, Atlanta and Las Vegas within the coming months. The Deep party was a priority, because Los Angeles is Heeb’s second-biggest market.

"It’s Tel Aviv to New York’s Jerusalem," he quipped.

Neuman, 31, who started out reviewing music for the magazine, recently became Heeb’s publisher when the magazine’s founder, Bleyer, decided to concentrate on her editor-in-chief role.

Bleyer, dressed in jeans and a Heeb T-shirt and sporting a tan from a recent assignment in Costa Rica, made some West Coast friends at the party. The brunette journalist, who last year gained the magazine some notoriety by talking openly about her sex life on Howard Stern’s radio and cable programs, spoke about the progress of her enterprise.

"Huge amounts of people are not Jewish who have enjoyed it," she said.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation: Bleyer, who is most proud of the Heeb articles focused on social justice, has no real use for the satire.

"I’m not into a lot of the humor stuff," said Bleyer, who considers this "the sugar to make the medicine go down."

Politically, Heeb makes no bones on its far left-wing stance. It flaunts it and flouts those who can’t deal.

"We want Jews on the left to realize that there are other Jews out there just like you," Neuman said.

Bleyer considered a recent Noam Chomsky article as one of her favorites.

"For me, as an activist," she said of Heeb’s political side, "it’s more important than anything kitschy and Jewish."

Neuman pointed to the late San Francisco Jewish radical rag Davka and Los Angeles’ own Asian cult favorite Giant Robot as kindred publications from which Heeb draws the most affinity. A personal Heeb highlight for Neuman, who teaches philosophy at New York University, was researching a piece on David Deutsch, "the world’s worst Jewish comedian." Deutsch got to hang out at the New York Friar’s Club and in the Catskills, and brush funny bones with the likes of Jack Carter, Pat Cooper and Soupy Sales

"We’re edgy and shticky," Neuman said, trying to bottle up the essence of Heeb.

As Heeb works out the kinks on an upcoming book deal and issue No. 4 in September, Neuman explained why he believes the magazine continues to fluff its ever-expanding subscription base, currently at 2,500.

"I think we have a really great sense of humor. We don’t take anything too seriously," said Neuman, in a moment of seriousness.

For more information on Heeb Magazine, visit www.heebmagazine.com.

Book ‘Em, Dena!

The Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA) has received a philanthropic gift from The Karma Foundation. Dina Karmazin Elkins, executive director of The Karma Foundation, presented the JCLLA with a check for $2,200. The gift will be used to develop and promote the JCLLA audio book collection. Dr. Aaron Willis, JCLLA chair, said that he is "delighted that the Karma Foundation sees such value in this new JCLLA project that promotes Jewish literacy to the blind, visually impaired and L.A. commuters."

Among the titles in the JCLLA audio book collection: "Bee Season" by Myla Goldberg and "The Diary of Anne Frank."

The Karma Foundation gift comes hot on the heels of several grants for JCLLA. The American Library Association presented JCLLA with $2,500 as part of the 2003 Gale Group Financial Development Award. That award will support JCLLA’s creative project, "One People, Many Stories," a radio series for public radio. JCLLA also received an undisclosed contribution from Richard and Lois Gunther to purchase materials for the library’s community beit midrash.

For more information, call the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles at (323) 761 – 8644; www.JCLLA.org.

Air Buds

More than 300 guests gathered at the Four Seasons in West Hollywood to honor "Temple of the Air," a program created by Rabbi David Baron of Temple Shalom For The Arts designed to reach the homebound and others unable to attend synagogue on the High Holidays. Monty Hall served as master of ceremonies, and several temple members entertained, including comedian Steve Landesberg (Det. Arthur Dietrich on "Barney Miller") and musical performers Theodore Bikel and Cantor Ilysia Pierce, who sang tunes from "Fiddler on the Roof." Anita Mann and Allen Kohl and Bobbie and Bob Stern were honored at the event.

Hawaiian Seder

Attorney Laura Stein of Beverly Hills, along with her mother and legal partner Sandra Stein, recently attended a seder hosted by Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle in the Governor’s Mansion in Honolulu. Lingle, who was elected in November 2002, became the first woman to govern Hawaii and the first Republican to hold the office in 40 years. The Steins have been long supporters of Lingle, dating back to her initial bid for governor in 1998.

"I’m just so proud to know her," Laura Stein said. "I think she sets the example for so many groups that are underrepresented." — Staff Report

ucla Block partY

World Briefs


Ramon Memorial Service Held

A state memorial service for Israel’s first astronaut was
held at an air force base near Ben-Gurion Airport. A plane carrying Col. Ilan
Ramon’s remains from the United States landed Monday and was taken to the base
for the ceremony. Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon were among those participating in the service.

“Your pain is the pain of the whole nation,” Sharon told the
Ramon family at the service. A private burial service, attended by Ramon’s
family and close friends, will be held Tuesday at Nahalal, a moshav in northern
Israel located near an air base where Ramon served.

Court Leaves Way Open for Sharon
Trial

Belgium’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon cannot be tried while in office for alleged war crimes,
but left open the possibility of a trial once he steps down. The court upheld Sharon’s
diplomatic immunity, but did say that charges could be brought against
nonresidents of Belgium. That means that there could be further legal moves
once Sharon retires. The court also ruled that investigations could proceed
against former Israeli army commander Amos Yaron, who was also named in the
original complaint filed with Belgian prosecutors two years ago.

Expanded Benefits for Some
Survivors

Some Holocaust survivors will receive an increase in
compensation payments as a result of an agreement negotiated Wednesday by the
Claims Conference with the German government. The Article 2 Fund, which
currently pays more than 46,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors in 40 countries,
will now distribute monthly payments of approximately $290, up from about $275,
according to the Claims Conference. Monthly payments from the Central and
Eastern European Fund, which pays 16,000 people in 23 countries, will increase
from about $137 to $145.

The programs are administered by the Claims Conference on
behalf of the German government. The negotiations also led to the expansion of
eligibility criteria for the two programs. As a result, some 4,000 additional
survivors, including some people from Romania, Hungary and some Western
European countries, may now get compensation.

Storm Over Quebec Jewish Magazine

The publisher of a Canadian Jewish magazine called Montreal
a “fascist and totalitarian” city because of recent anti-Semitic and
anti-Israeli incidents. Ghila Sroka, publisher and editor of Quebec’s
French-language Tribune Juive, wrote in the magazine’s recent issue  the cover
of which read “Montreal: Capital of Palestine” that the city’s facade of
open-mindedness hides a dark side of anti-Semitism in the trade unions,
universities and media. Her comments were criticized both within and without
the Jewish community.

“We don’t think that Quebec is fascist or anti-Semitic,”
said Joseph Gabay, president of the Quebec region of the Canadian Jewish
Congress. But Gabay did admit that the community was witnessing acts of
anti-Semitism. “It’s scary, it’s becoming worrying. Nobody is hiding,” he said,
but “the Jewish community cannot stay quiet. There is an ill-smelling smoke
over the city and over the country.”

Quebec Premier Bernard Landry and Montreal Mayor Gerald
Tremblay both said Sroka crossed a line. “Her language is clearly excessive and
unjust for Montreal. It saddens me and I hope that in other texts, her issues
will be more measured and in-line,” said Landry, who added that he considers
Sroka a friend.

A spokesman for Tremblay said, “We must wish that people
make efforts to not uselessly aggravate situations and conflicts that are
already quite complex.”

One-third of Tribune Juive’s funding comes from the Quebec
government and the separatist Parti Quebecois.

Changes in Mideast Panel

There are several new faces on the Mideast subcommittee of
the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee. The
subcommittee make up, announced Tuesday, now includes new members Nick Smith
(R-Mich.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Thaddeus G. McCotter (R-Mich.), William Janklow
(R-S.D.), Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.) and Katherine Harris (R-Fla.). Chris Bell of Texas
is the only new Democrat on the panel. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) will
replace retired Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) as chair of the panel, and Rep.
Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) will remain the ranking minority member. Reps. Brad
Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks.) and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) left the panel to become
ranking minority members of other subcommittees.

Briefs Courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Rabbi Makes “Movers and Shakers” List


Rabbi Arnold Rachlis, spiritual leader of Irvine’s
University Synagogue, earned a spot on OC Metro magazine’s “Hot 25” list of
people who are making a significant difference in Orange County.

“Our list has never been about income levels, political
power or social ranking,” Steve Churm, the biweekly’s editor, said in a readers
note. People are selected for “shaping the way we live and think.”

No other religious leaders are among this year’s group,
which includes Angels left-fielder Garret Anderson, Laguna Beach architect Mark
Singer, congressional sister act Linda and Loretta Sanchez and Bowers Museum
trustee Anne Shih. Each subject is profiled in the Oct. 31 issue, the
magazine’s most widely read issue.

Rachlis tells the magazine he rejected religion as a teenager,
unable to reconcile his understanding of Judaism’s supernatural theology with
his own intellect. Only in college did he discover Reconstructionism, the
newest of the four major branches of Judaism, which has a liberal
interpretation of Torah theology and embraces equality.

Drawn by a challenge, Rachlis left his Chicago congregation
in 1991 to start a Reconstructionist synagogue, now one of the county’s largest
and fastest growing.

No Vacancy


Last week, before the premiere of my new show “While You Were Out,” I got my first big national magazine review.

I wasn’t expecting it. I had just had a tooth pulled and my mom was in town for the day to take care of me. I was just minding my own business, sprawled on the couch, taking painkillers like Pez, flipping through a magazine. There it was: my name with the two-word description, “incessantly vacant.” Incessantly vacant.

Me? Vacant? I got up, gripping the folded-over magazine, and commenced one of those slurry, self-important monologues not uncommon to guys hanging out in front of a halfway house with no teeth (fitting, since I was down a tooth myself).

“I’m a lot of things, Mom, but vacant? I didn’t put down ‘The Bell Jar’ until the end of junior high. I won first and second place in a poetry contest when I was 9 — and both poems were about the Holocaust! Vacant! There’s no vacancy here!”

It wasn’t clear whether this was a review of the host I replaced or of me, but it didn’t matter. As I must have said 30 times in four minutes, pacing and stumbling around with that stupid magazine in my sweaty grip, “You can’t un-ring a bell.”

What I felt at that moment was so painful, it was hard to believe I was on painkillers. Sure, I thought, no one reads this crap, other than all of my peers. It was a humiliating sucker punch. It was picking teams and I was last, right after the kid with an inhaler in his pocket. It was what we humans live to avoid — being shamed in a public forum.

I sat down, looked at my mom, and realized I should do her proud by acting with grace and dignity. Instead, I got on the Internet and got the journalist’s home phone number in Staten Island, N.Y. He was going to get a piece of my drug-altered mind. I wrote his number on a scrap of paper and my mom gently suggested I wait 24 hours before making the decision to call. If you shouldn’t operate a car on Vicodin, you probably shouldn’t get behind the wheel of your career.

The longer I thought about it, two things became clear. The first was that, once and for all, I would have to accept the idea that not everyone was going to like me. I really hate that. But if I was visiting a mental hospital and a patient yelled, “You’re Marie Osmond,” would I start singing “I’m a Little Bit Country”? No. I don’t agree with that narrator. Do I honestly think I’m vacant? I don’t, and my opinion of myself has to matter more than some guy in Staten Island who doesn’t even know me.

The bigger lesson is that most painful things in life are eventually funny. My friend said to me, “At least you’re consistent. He could have called you ‘periodically vacant.'” Within two days, the review was becoming a funny anecdote, and that’s no small thing. That’s everything.

In college, I had this blond-haired, blue-blooded boyfriend from Massachusetts. I went to stay with his family for Thanksgiving and I was so in love and so nervous that I actually wet the bed. Yes, wet the bed. It traumatized me so much I’m pretty sure it actually changed my DNA. Five years later, I wrote a show about it. People loved that story. They could relate.

I finally understand the trick. If you can compress the amount of time from shameful incident to funny story, you’re golden.

In the recent flap about the movie “Barbershop,” Jesse Jackson took offense at comments in the movie about several black icons. “You would not make Golda Meir the butt of a joke — it’s sacred territory,” he said. Once again, Jesse is wrong about us Jews. I swear I’ve looked at myself with a severe hair-do and no makeup and sighed, “Ugh, I look like Golda Meir.”

Humor is healing and we’ve always needed it. My dad made a joke at my grandfather’s funeral. We joked when my aunt killed herself. We still joke about that, not out of disrespect but out of necessity. Taking tragedy and death and humiliation seriously won’t stop them, so it seems the only course of action is to feel, process, grieve and, finally, lighten up if you can.

I never called that writer in Staten Island. I did call to cancel my subscription to the magazine (I may not be able to chew solid food, but I do have my pride). The phone operator asked, “Why are you canceling? I have to put a code in the computer.”

“Well, I try to understand your magazine, but I’m too … vacant.”

Straight Outta Calabasas


Calabasas may sound like an unlikely origin for a rap magazine, especially one started by a young, Jewish teen.

But that didn’t stop 18-year-old Devin Lazerine, who founded Rap-Up, a nationwide hip-hop and R&B print magazine distributed by Time Warner. Launched in July, the full-color, glossy publication has a circulation of 200,000.

Lazerine is the creator and editor-in-chief of Rap-Up, whose staff of 16 includes freelancers who have written for hot music mags such as Vibe, Source, XXL and Rolling Stone.

Rap-Up evolved from Lazerine’s Web site, rap-up.com, which began when Lazerine was just 16.

“I always wanted to make a magazine out of my Web site,” Lazerine told The Journal. “But I pitched it to a few publishers.”

To his amazement and delight, Lazerine heard back from Illinois-based H&S Media a few days before the July 2000 launch of his Web site. He was awakened by a 6 a.m. phone call from Harvey Wasserman, CEO of H&S Media, who expressed interest in Lazerine’s concept of a hip-hop magazine targeting a 12- to 18-year-old suburban demographic.

“Who knows that target age better than someone that age,” Lazerine said.

Just as interesting as Lazerine’s magazine history is his family’s. His father, of Russian-Jewish descent, hails from Seattle. His mother comes from the first family of Jews to settle in India. Her Calcutta-born mother came from Singapore, and her father is of Spanish descent.

A Jewish connection has long been a part of rap’s history, from the members of the first all-white rap group, Beastie Boys, to Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin’s role in producing seminal Run-D.M.C. and L.L. Cool J records, to current Def Jam Vice President Lyor Cohen, the man responsible for discovering DMX and Jay-Z, two of the genre’s biggest-selling acts of the last five years.

Lazerine believes that, in addition to rap’s tradition of storytelling and word play, suburban Jewish kids like him are attracted to the musical genre because of its exotic cultural nature.

“What appeals to me,” Lazerine said, “is that it’s something that’s not too familiar to suburban teenagers and more of an escape to a different world.”

Calabasas has become a neighborhood where many rappers end up. Gangsta rap pioneer Dr. Dre currently is a Calabasas resident, as was his late N.W.A. groupmate, Eazy-E.

Lazerine, who grew up in Pasadena and Glendale and now attends Moorpark College, said his interest in rap began as a child, when he went crazy over Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Membrane.” That, Lazerine said, led to “Dr. Dre, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey — a lot of singers who incorporate hip-hop into the music.” Lazerine now counts Jay-Z and Ja Rule among his favorite rappers.

Sometimes, Lazerine’s youth is an asset, such as when it helped him land an exclusive interview with P. Diddy, the man formerly known as Sean “Puffy” Combs, two months ago. Lazerine’s interview, one of the best he said he’s experienced, will be next issue’s cover story. He even managed to sneak in a Jennifer Lopez question, despite being advised from doing so by P. Diddy’s publicist.

Last spring, Universal Music Group flew Lazerine to St. Louis to interview hot Midwest rapper Nelly.

But there are times when Lazerine’s age gets in his way, such as the time when Lazerine came home to learn that his mother had intercepted a return phone call and told Destiny’s Child’s marketing manager that he was still in high school. Lazerine was horrified.

“The marketing manager was shocked,” Lazerine recalled. “She thought I was just a high schooler who wanted to meet Destiny’s Child. At first she was really hesitant.”

Lazerine convinced the marketer that he was for real, and the fact the teen had been featured on VH-1’s “FanClub: Destiny’s Child” program did not hurt in smoothing things out. After several scheduling delays, the interview was completed by the R&B group at their Rolling Stone cover shoot.

In addition to his exclusive P. Diddy interview, the upcoming February/March issue of Rap-Up will feature stories on hot rappers Fabolous and Nate Dogg and rising R&B singer Toya.

Beyond Rap-Up, Lazerine hopes to one day run a music empire not unlike those run by Jewish music industry players such as Clive Davis and Cohen. “That’s the ultimate goal,” he said with an eye toward the future.

For more information on Rap-Up, go to www.rap-up.com .

‘That ’70s Show’ Star Enters Cyberspace


On Fox’s breakout comedy, “That ’70s Show,” Mila Kunis plays spoiled and sassy Jackie Burkhardt. But, in real life, she’s very much a child of the ’90s, down to her fascination with the Internet.

“I’m on AOL and Netscape every day,” the 15-year-old sitcom star told Up Front. “I’m addicted.”

Kunis recently participated in an online public-service campaign called “Turn On Your Light,” sponsored by Sparksmag.com, an electronic magazine for Jewish adolescents between the ages of 9 and 13. In the PSA, Kunis describes how human kindness can brighten up even the darkest moments: “Sometimes we benefit from the light of kindness, and sometimes we’re asked to shine it,” she tells her fans from cyberspace.

“I just I thought it would be fun to do,” said Kunis. “I thought that kids could relate to it.”

Sparksmag.com is the brainchild of Rabbi Mark H. Levine, who lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his wife and three children, ages 8, 11 and 15. Levine launched the http://www.sparksmag.com Web site address in late 1997 after he realized that newsstand magazines in the secular world were better executed than what was coming out of the Jewish sector. To save costs, Levine sought an online outlet for his cyber paper, itself an offshoot of Sparks Family of Media, Levine’s nonprofit organization dedicated to melding Jewish education with the entertainment world.

Says the 46-year-old Reconstructionist rabbi of his pet project: “It’s nondenominational. It tries to teach Jewish values. It is not a religious site per se…. For many kids…if you come on strong with the religious element, that’s really going to turn them off.”

Updated monthly, Sparksmag.com, according to Levine, helps children “see elements of the world around them through Jewish eyes.” It also appeals to the fact that, as Americans, “we live in two civilizations, not just the Jewish world.” In hitting up Sparksmag.com, Levine promises, Jewish kids will glean factoids related to their heritage and history.

Levine is now in the early stages of developing a radio show. He also hopes to enlist the talents of Marla Sokoloff (“The Practice”) to join Kunis on the “Turn On Your Life” spots.

As for Kunis, the sitcom star thinks that, as a young Jewish actress, it’s important to set a good example for her fans and Hollywood peers. Aside from more episodes of “That ’70s Show,” Kunis will grace the cover of YM magazine in September and, as her schedule permits, continue to participate in causes when and where she can.

“The more I could do to help people, the better,” said Kunis. “Every little thing counts.” — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor