Haredi man indicted for harrasment after insulting female Israeli soldier on bus


A haredi Orthodox man who insulted a female soldier after she refused to sit in the back of a city bus was charged with sexual harassment.

Shlomo Fuchs, 44, was indicted in a Jerusalem court Thursday, a day after he was arrested by Jerusalem police for calling the soldier, Doron Matalon, 19, a “whore” and a “shiksa” on a Jerusalem bus; he was joined in the insults by other passengers. The bus driver pulled over and called police.

Also on Thursday, female members of the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women rode on a segregated bus from Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem.

Haredi Orthodox male passengers reportedly called out insults to the women, who sat in the front of the bus, and complained of provocation. Some saw the television cameras and opted not to get on the bus, according to reports.

Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Wednesday called on the public to file complaints with the police over such harassment, Ynet reported.

Thousands gathered in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh on Tuesday night to protest the exclusion of women in the public sphere.

Body of Munich man found in Ecuador river


The body of a 21-year-old Jewish man from Munich was found by residents of a town along Ecuador’s Pastaza River.

Family spokesman Marc Schmerz announced the death of Jonathan Simon on Facebook Aug. 13, saying “Unfortunately we have to announce that Jonathan´s dead body was found tonight.” Rescue and recovery teams had searched for several days.

Simon, whose family lived in Munich and in Israel, reportedly fell off a footbridge while crossing the river near Devil’s Cauldron waterfall on Aug. 6. The body is to be sent to Germany.

Israeli rescue specialists had joined in the search last week, flying in with Simon’s parents.

A massive plea for help in locating Simon had been launched Aug. 9 on the Internet. The website of the Jewish community of Munich posted the announcement as well.

Thousands of people had joined the Facebook group “Missing – Jonathan Simon – Missing,” and by Sunday hundreds had responded to the news.

The website that the family set up to keep friends and family informed announced that the body of “Jonathan Noach Ben Ronit Simon” had been found.

“The purpose of human life is to serve, show compassion and the will to help others,” the family’s statement read in part. “Jonny would be astonished to see how many people—family, friends and many strangers—have come together and put their personal matters aside for this cause. You have been in the minds of thousands the last week and you will never be forgotten.”

Dating Creeds


Believe it or not, I’ve never felt quite as valuable, attractive and desirable as the times I’ve gotten dumped. Well, sort of.

According to some once-doting men, I’m terrific. I’m also beautiful, talented, smart, sassy, funny, dynamic, cute and sweet. To make matters worse, I’d make a fantastic mother. And the final blow? Apparently … I’m a catch.

I listen intently to my lover-gone-evil dumper’s compliments — and cringe. Somehow my fairy tale has gone awry.

See, trailing the flattery describing my laundry list of potential partner credentials — the same saccharine methods that wooed me into that first kiss — lay an inevitable “but,” and some rambling, seemingly canned, statements.

In reiterating his appreciation for me, his desire to spare me pain and reasons why we — theoretically — should be together, suddenly my dumper’s not good enough, (“it’s not you, it’s me”), and reeeeeeally wants me to be happy (and move on). “I’m amazing, but [insert canned line here].”

Now clearly not everyone is a match. But instead of feeling empowered and desirable by my heartbreaker’s sweet lines, I am condemned to doubt not only him, but also our time together and, regrettably, my wonderful self. If I were a complete loser, I’d understand. But if I’m so swell, well … seems like I’ve been dating some — literally.

Take “Bob,” the professional with political aspirations. He fell quickly for me; we enjoyed each other, shared similar values and a distinct joie de vivre. He claimed I was everything he looked for in a woman. We talked about the future. And, importantly — we both loved sushi.

When I sought more “us” time to determine our true compatibility, Bob, the great orator, eloquently expressed his feelings for me: He relayed my wonderful attributes, my incomparable spunk and wished upon me the greatest happiness (without him). Apparently, he didn’t want to waste more of my (or his) very precious time (with me).

Guess my joie didn’t match his vivre.

“George,” a younger man (and baseball enthusiast) said I was the most beautiful, hilarious woman he had ever met. He’d gaze lovingly at me over dinner, swoon when we danced and high-five my ball-tossing ability. He reinforced my goodness and thought I’d make a beautiful bride.

Six months into it, when gazing, swooning and high-fiving left me out of a family gathering, I questioned my ranking. George stumbled to the plate, uttered something witty and reinforced my beauty. After two weeks of overtime? He was still charming and I was still “gorgeous” — just not for him.

I suppose even a great lineup can’t win a series without chemistry.

While a canned phrase certainly trumps a “fizzle,” where phone calls stop or rumors start, what if — instead of this PR-driven, cautious fantasy — we just said it: “You’re attractive, but I’ve found someone more so,” “Your neuroses were endearing; now, they’re just annoying,” “I wanted someone motivated and sassy; turns out I’d rather have a trophy wife who’ll focus more on me, ” “You’re incredible, sexy and I just don’t want to marry you.”

It may hurt, but you’ll at least have something to work with (and keep some shrinks in business). And after building your “qualifications,” seeking the “perfect” match (when perfection simply doesn’t exist), you’ve paid your dues. There’s got to be a takeaway. Otherwise, the faux-ex-fan club seems vacuous and wasteful, which simply seems frivolous.

So post-George, I reflected on men I passed up: “Jim” was great (but I wasn’t attracted to him), and “Josh” was terrific (but too goofy for me); “Brian” was really unique (but too scattered for me); “Ian,” while just OK, had amazing potential (just hadn’t gotten there yet); “Dan,” was the entire package — I just hadn’t reached the right place in my life.

So in full disclosure, I complimented my soon-to-be-ex-beaus like heck, and then dumped them. Not in a swift, clear way, but in some rambling, incoherent way. I explained issues as I saw them: “It’s not you, it’s me,” “You’re terrific, but I’m not in that place.” “I just don’t think it will work out. I can’t say why.”

Oh, no. Am I just as bad as Bob and George? Yikes.

I (and many like me) probably won’t and maybe shouldn’t ever know the whole story. But we should know something: Heartbreakers, while sometimes a fairy tale’s villain, were indeed “good” credentials. And with them, I not only learned to enjoy good food, follow baseball, work a room, and to appreciate cl-ar-it-y, I also learned “what I do/don’t want” and, importantly, to care.

I’ll absolutely take those lessons and since it’s ultimately (supposedly) worth it, I’ll tirelessly plug along in pursuit of my perfectly imperfect match. As for my ever-growing list of selling points? I’ll happily add “strong” and “wise” to my register of attributes. It’s — and here’s the hard part — adding “frustrated” and “cynical” that I’d like to avoid.

After all, I’m a catch. As-Is. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

Dara Lehon, a freelance writer living in New York City, can be reached at dlehon@yahoo.com.

 

My New Muse


A funny thing happened on the way to becoming a regular Jewish Journal singles columnist.

Curse you, JDate.

I was just getting my mojo working on writing these — although I’m better known in these pages for my “Greenberg’s View” editorial cartoons and for the occasional cover illustration. But emboldened by a few forays into writing — a few pieces for Mad magazine, a couple of scripts for “Goofy” comic books, a column for a cartooning journal, plus a couple of Op-Ed pieces for my day-job daily newspaper — I ventured into this untried realm for The Journal.

With beginner’s luck on my side, I wrote a well-received column about the “Geographic Undesirability” of being out in the boonies — in my case, western Ventura County — and the difficulties this posed for dating and socializing: “You came to this Westside event from where?!”

The piece generated numerous e-mail responses — about 30. Curiously, they were all from women who lived in various other outlying places who liked the piece and identified with the sentiments. Several of these responders even wanted to meet me, as in dating.

Hey, this writing stuff is pretty powerful!

My next column, about the stigmas attached to being in one’s upper 40s or older and never having been married, elicited a smaller response but still drew a few women interested in meeting me.

I began to plan other columns — one on the tsuris of being a short guy when women only seem to want them much taller, and one on the advantages of dating women older than 40. I suspected the latter one, in particular, might result in a swarm of single mature women e-mailing me and expressing interest.

But there was a problem: I was starting to date Roberta. Steadily, in fact.

This remarkable new power I had unearthed, finding unseen female strangers suddenly interested in me via my columns, clearly wasn’t going to fly too well with Ro. I had already assured her I was backing away from JDate, SpeedDating and other such enticements, so dabbling with a potential written-word aphrodisiac would not be looked upon favorably.

Not that Roberta was bad for other aspects of my fledgling writing career. We took some short trips together that turned into self-illustrated travel section stories at my daily newspaper.

But I could no longer aspire to get the “I saw your column!” compliments I’d received when attending Jewish singles events. Well, OK, some of the comments were more like accusations: “Hey, that wasn’t me you referred to, was it?”

But the point is, I was no longer attending those events in the first place. I was no longer in a position to meet babes. Even worse, as the new-writer’s muse learned, I wasn’t getting any new material for columns.

But did it matter? Couldn’t I still keep this gig going — relying on past experiences, a fertile imagination and wit. I thought about Cathy Guisewite, creator of the comic strip “Cathy,” who continued scripting her main character’s single-woman’s tribulations about dieting, dressing and preparing for dates, even as the strip’s creator lived a real life that involved raising a kid and having a husband. Perhaps as long as one had lived the life, even in past tense, one could still write about it.

Maybe I could keep writing columns even after the marriage. After all, aren’t all children’s books actually written only by former children?

But I suspect that wouldn’t be, well, kosher. I can just about hear the accusations of “Fraud!” and the publication referees blowing their whistles and screaming: “Disqualified! Get off the field, rookie!”

As the months passed and Roberta and I spent more time together, I found myself ceding (with mild envy) The Jewish Journal’s singles column space to the able hands of writers like Carin Davis and Teresa Strasser.

And now it’s come to this: Roberta Rubin and I are engaged, with a wedding scheduled and imminent. And I’m happy about that. Really. Even if it means giving up on being a Steinbeck of singledom.

The best I can manage is perhaps a column or two before my waning singlehood hourglass runs out.

So, to Elite Jewish Theatre Singles, Jewish Singles Meet (or is it “Meeting Place”?) and all the other groups and venues I attended: Well, thanks for being there and hosting all those activities (even if your events never panned out for me, datewise). To the various women I dated: Thanks for the coffee meetings, and no, really, I wasn’t writing about you. It was about some other date from when I lived in another city.

And to all you other guys (and gals) who think they have something worth writing about: Hey, give it a shot. Writing can be amazing stuff.

Steve Greenberg contributes editorial cartoons and illustrations to The Jewish Journal. His e-mail is steve@greenberg-art.com. But, please, no more e-mails from eligible women.

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He’s my …


 

The term “boyfriend” is like the knee joint on someone who is morbidly obese. It is being asked to do way more than it was designed

to do. It is buckling under the pressure. Where it once could do the job, it is now carrying too much weight.

Example: My grandma had a companion with whom she would converse and play bridge after my grandpa died. They had long phone conversations, saw movies together. He accompanied grandma to certain family events. He was over 90, he used a walker, but, technically, Roy was grandma’s boyfriend.

Something about the word is just so precious. And misleading. Unless you’re safely within the confines of a sorority house or discussing someone you met in a chat room last week, that word just doesn’t work. No matter how serious or long-standing the relationship is, once you refer to him as your boyfriend, it sounds all fluffy and insignificant — and gives me the distinct sense a pillow fight is going to break out any second.

So what should you call him if “boyfriend” doesn’t seem right to you, as it never has to me?

Let me help you avoid a mistake I recently made: do not say “my friend” when referring to your romantic partner. If you refer him simply as a friend, you might as well take him for a salt scrub followed by a matinee of “Miss Congeniality 2”; that’s how emasculated he will feel. This is because, sadly, “friend” is also the word used to describe male friends with whom you have no intention of having sex, so you see the problem here. It may be satisfyingly vague and pretty much accurate, but it’s also eunuch-izing.

Moving on. Let’s get into the novelty options: there’s “my old man” and “the old ball and chain.”

I like the former, as it seems to conjure a Hell’s Angels clubhouse and leather pants. Although it’s nice to use the argot of an extra in the movie “Mask,” it can seem somewhat out of place if your “old man” drives a Camry and invests regularly in his 401(k).

“The old ball and chain” has some camp value. But like “my old man” it can be tricky using a term to refer to your partner that contains the word “old.” If he actually is old, that’s uncomfortable. If he’s much younger, in the Demi/Ashton sense, no need to bring that into relief. I’ll throw in “my main squeeze” here as another troubling novelty term. The modifier “main” suggests you have numerous other “squeezes.” Is it just me, or does that sound like “Meet Joe, he’s my main squeeze. I have so many ‘squeezes’ I have to break them down into main, secondary and auxiliary”?

Above, I used the word “partner,” which I will lump in with “companion” as totally useless if you happen to be straight, because everyone associates these expressions with same-sex couples.

Here we head into the category of sugary terms: my sweetie, my honey, my cutie pie. These make me long for the relative class of “my baby daddy.”

A nickname that is used privately is one thing, but I’m talking about the need for a public term. He can be monkey, puppy, bobo or baby in private, but when it’s time to introduce him at a party, you will need a descriptor.

“This is my little puppy pants” is just not going to do when introducing him to your boss. Here is where “my honey” nauseates anyone within earshot, “my friend” pisses him off, “my old man” is trying too hard and “my baby daddy” only works if you have kids. You are stuck with boyfriend, which will make you feel like you’re in the 1950s. Or you’re 15. Or you just wrote his name on your sweatshirt in puffy paint.

If there’s one good reason to get married, it is simply to be able to use the dignified moniker “my husband.” Even “my fiancé” has limited appeal, but husband is solid, works for all ages (except maybe under 15, like in Appalachia, when it’s creepy).

This brings me to “my man,” which has a certain twangy charm. If you can pull it off, good for you and Tammy Wynette, but it’s a bit country for most of us. There’s always “beau,” which is old-fashioned and sweet, but also cloyingly French. “Lover” barely rates a mention, because even in the 1970s it was way too ’70s.

This is where I’m left. Lucky to have the guy, but wishing I had something better to call him.

Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?”

But I notice he didn’t call his play “Ralph and Bertha.”

Teresa Strasser is a TV host and Emmy Award-winning writer. She’s on the Web at teresastrasser.com.

 

Learning to Breathe


 

For the last several years I have had a relationship with a man in prison, and I have seen how his soul has become anguished and diminished by sitting in that cell.

I met William after he was released from prison the first time, and I helped him get back on his feet. Now I write him words of comfort from the Psalms, from the Torah and from meditations that I have found to enhance an ailing spirit.

However, I have never been in prison and can barely imagine what it must be like. The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that the soul can be compared to a piece of coal. If even the smallest spark remains, it can be fanned into a large flame; but if the spark is extinguished, the coal’s life is over. In attempting to keep William hopeful, I have learned a great deal about the human will and the effect of enslavement on the soul. In that, William’s story relates to this week’s parsha.

After 400 years of slavery in Egypt, Moses is sent to redeem the people. “And Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel and they couldn’t hear Moses because of an impoverished spirit and difficult work” (Exodus 6:9). I have long been fascinated by this existential verse in the midst of the redemption drama. Rarely do we as readers get an insight into the inner life of an individual character in the Bible, let alone into the psyche of the nation as a whole. Rashi teaches that kotzer ruach, the “impoverished spirit,” refers to “anyone who is troubled; they have short wind and breathing, and are not able to take a deep breath.” Rashi creates this drash by relating the word for short (kotzer) and troubled/despair (maitzar). In addition, maitzar is the same root as the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim. When we are enslaved, our breath, our neshimah, is shallow and our soul, our neshamah, is unable to expand to its full potential.

Judaism offers us an exodus from our mental slavery, but many of us are too stuck in our ways to hear the call. We are begging for ways to make our lives more meaningful, richer in spirit, holier in essence. Yet, when I suggest Shabbat, prayer, tikkun olam, a life of mitzvot, the most common answer I hear is, “Sounds great rabbi, but I can’t. It is too different or too difficult. I don’t want to make changes that will make my life unfamiliar.”

This is our contemporary slavery — our Egypt is familiarity and complacency, and they are hard shackles to break. However, if we do not break them, our souls perish from lack of air and shortness of breath.

William’s incarceration is perhaps easier to understand than the spiritual enslavement I believe keeps the souls of many supposedly free people locked away. So many of us are living, without really knowing it, in our own Egypt. And the scariest part is that we do it voluntarily. Unlike my friend, William, whose imprisonment is an easily recognizable consequence of his actions, many of us have unwittingly allowed our souls to be shortened and our breath squelched in our pursuit of “happiness.” We are all slaves to something — time, work, bad habits, money, greed, insecurity, whatever. But our souls cannot survive without being nourished; and when they are not, it becomes almost impossible for us to realize that freedom, spiritual freedom, is attainable. The Israelites couldn’t hear Moses because their souls were buried and their breath, the source of life, had been shortened; likewise, we cannot hear the cry of our spirits because we are too busy and too afraid to truly listen to our own hearts.

In his comment on this verse, the Sfat Emet spells it out for us: hearing requires being empty of everything. How difficult this was for the enslaved Israelites, and how difficult for us; our inability to empty ourselves, to forget this world’s vanities, prevents our hearts from being empty and free to hear God’s word. This is why we mention the Exodus in the blessing after the Shema — we must remind ourselves daily to strive for freedom in order to hear, and to strive to hear in order to be free.

Every morning when I open my eyes, I say the words, “Elohai neshama shenatata bi tehorah hee” — “My God, the soul which you placed in me is pure.” This short meditation is what helps me to keep from drowning in my own slave mentality. I sent this message to William in my last letter; I reminded him that the Israelites, in their slavery, forgot to breathe and lost touch with their eternal, spiritual freedom. I prayed that he would keep breathing and expanding his soul so that when his physical freedom came, he could be ready to make the most of it. And that is my prayer for all of us, as a community, a nation and a universe. When redemption calls, may we have sufficient breath to answer.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the spiritual leader of the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center. His first book, “Seeking Holiness,” has just been published and is available at www.pjtc.net. He is a certified Jewish meditation instructor and a member of the Southern California Rabbinical Council of Americans for Peace Now.

 

Superflirt


Faster than a benching rabbi. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall bachelors in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s SuperFlirt.

That’s right, I’m spending three days in San Diego at Comic-Con, the world’s largest comic book convention. Before you crack a kryptonite joke or ask me to beam you up, let me say that I’m a proud Con regular. I read graphic novels. I own Wonder Woman Underoos. I’ve got a Super Shin baby tee.

Many of the women at The Con are actually here with their husbands and boyfriends. I saw Neo and Trinity holding hands at the "Courtney Crumrin" booth, Legolas and Goth Chick macking down in the "Revenge of the Sith" shirt line and Batgirl and Chewbacca sharing churros at the food cart. (Wait, that might not be Chewie, just a hairy convention dude.)

I start to crack a joke about the star-crossed lovers, when it hits me: Who am I to poke fun? At least they’re in a relationship. They get to share their big day with someone else who, well, thinks of a Carrie Fisher autograph signing as a big day. Somehow in this crazy world, two people who can speak Klingon in the bedroom actually found each other. And I think that’s beautiful.

This goes to my Disneyland theory. When I’m standing in line at Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, it’s undoubtedly behind two sweaty, overweight people pulling the old "hand in the other’s back pocket" move. Even if these classy folks weren’t wearing matching Waffle House tank tops, I’d know they were meant to be together. This guy with his stone-washed cutoffs is not for me, but he’s perfect for his girlfriend, who he’s been kissing since we passed the "20 minutes from here sign" 30 minutes ago. They’re beshert, and not afraid to let everyone from Fantasyland to Tom Sawyer’s Island to the guy who sells the giant turkey legs know it. My Disneyland dictum? If these two Mousketeers somehow found each other, then I’m certainly going to find someone. Somewhere out there is a match for everyone. So rather than think I’ll never meet my man, I just wonder when I’ll meet my man.

No time like the present. I cruise the convention floor searching for cool comics and cute guys. And let me say to my fellow single chicks — this is where the boys are. Forget the bars. Ditch JDate. Those social scenes have nothing on The Con. It’s a whole convention hall packed with single guys.

The ratio of men to women here is about a zillion to one. Of course the ratio of men to Spider-Men is about 10 to one. But that’s part of the fun. Men in tights. Who cares if these single guys are dressed as Hobbits and Jedis — you should see their lightsabers.

I coast The Con with an open mind. My match could be here. I can picture it now: we’ll talk publishers, exchange a little ink and paint, then — Zam! — Wonder Twin powers activate! (I’m kidding — duh — everyone knows Zan and Jayna are siblings, not a couple. And that the Wonder Twins are from the planet Exxor, not Earth.)

I’m in line for the Warner Bros. panel when a built guy with a great smile and a Mariners hat asks, "Can I join you?"

His name’s Brian. He’s from Seattle, works in video games and is checking me out. Holy cow, Batman, this is it. My Comic-Con hookup. My potential beshert. Bring on the geek love, baby. He passes me a warm, unopened package of Red Vines.

"Can you hold these for a sec? You can have one if you want."

He shares; that’s good. I start to think of all the things Brian and I will share together — our favorite restaurants, our top five movies, our last name — when he starts wildly waving his now free hands to his buddies in the corner. They sprint toward us, jump in line and give each other lame high fives. I think I hear his short friend say, "Classic line jump, dude."

Armed with my Disney theory, I don’t get discouraged. It’s not that things will never work out with someone. It’s that Brian wasn’t that someone.

So look out beshert, there’s a new flirt in town.

Will Carin meet her mate at Comic-Con? Will she take to wearing a cape? Stay tuned for her next column. Same Jew time, same Jew paper.

Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

Wonderousness of the First Time


A bar mitzvah is a time of becoming an adult. While my son was ready to proclaim, "Today I am a man," he also had to go through life with his voice changing and the wearing of braces for a perfect smile.

My first experience with this momentous occasion was after our son celebrated his first birthday. His grandfather, marveling at how bright he was, told everyone, "In 12 years we will have a bar mitzvah!"

It was an occasion he longed to see and, fortunately for all of us, he did.

As the years progressed, each year he would remind Bobby. Each time there were similar remarks followed by, "I know, Papa. Only six more years!"

While his grandfather often went over the prayers with him and his grandmother was in awe of how tall he was growing, my concerns were more about planning the event. We had been to a few bar mitzvahs during the year and everyone seemed to be similar. I guessed one copied another.

When the date was set, everything came into focus. He really will become a bar mitzvah. How exciting the whole year became. Bobby knew his prayers and haftarah very well. No one was concerned about that. He began to work on his sermon and master that, too.

Our synagogue does not allow music during Shabbat, so this had to be our plan: After Friday night services we had the regular pareve desserts — since most who keep kosher have a meat meal on Friday night and could not have dairy afterward — fresh fruits and lots of pick-up desserts, which worked very well.

We had invited my parents’ friends and my in-laws’ friends, plus all of our relatives. In addition, there were our friends, plus our children’s friends. We were hoping for 100, but stopped counting as the response cards surpassed that number.

Two days before, I followed Bobby and his Papa to shul, where my father bought Bobby a tallit. On the bimah, before his lesson was to start, I was fortunate to be able to take pictures of Daddy as he unfolded the tallit and showed Bobby how to say the prayer and wear it. Since we could not take photos on Shabbat, I instead look back on this time with fond memories.

Because we had hired a fabulous caterer, I was not worried. The florist was also terrific. Friday night came and went and we were very proud. We were to have a quiet Shabbat lunch after services and since we can play music after Shabbat ends, following the evening service there would be a big celebration.

Saturday morning is a long service. As we sat in the second row, always reserved for the family, we were so proud of our little man. He chanted with great confidence. The aliyot went by very well. When it was time for his haftarah, he started beautifully. Somewhere in the middle, he paused and cleared his throat.

While he seemed to be searching for the next note, I was worried because his wonderful teacher, our cantor, did not jump in to help. Finally, he cleared his throat again and continued without a hitch. I felt so bad for him. There was too much for him to do, I whispered to his dad. He reassured me that all would be fine.

The rest of the service was wonderful. Soon we were down in the sisterhood hall, enjoying the compliments from everyone on the services, and the beautifully served food. Some time later, I asked him if he hesitated because he was nervous or because he forgot the words.

Bobby laughed and leaned over.

"The reason I paused," he told me, "is because I swallowed one of my rubber bands. Darn braces!"


Joan G Friedman, lives in Reading, Penn., and can be reached at joan@friedman.net.

The Haunted Divorce


She was beautiful. She was sweet, smart and reflective. She was a devoted mother of a little girl, clearly able to love and to carry on a bright, thoughtful conversation. We connected, and, in first moments made drunk by hope, we discovered a shared passion for the poet, Rumi, and told each other favorite lines…

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways

to kneel and kiss the ground!”

And…

“Don’t run around this world

looking for a hole to hide in.

There are wild beasts in every cave!”

There was spark between us. There was energy. There was a bucketful of that holy grail of dating … chemistry.

And then the conversation turned to what happened to “the marriage.” I told my sad story. And she told her sadder one — of her tender ex-husband, a loving, charismatic man who also happened to be bipolar. And who, on one bad day, off medication, killed himself.

A ghost.

As a new dater, I suddenly became afraid of ghosts.

Not the transparent kind that say “Boo,” but the opaque presence of lost love, something fleshy that sits in the room between the two of you, crooning to only one of you, “I still love you.”

Setting out onto the yellow brick road of singlehood at 40, I could already see it would be a haunted trail. Those of us, man or woman, who have been married a long time, who have birthed children together, dandled and diapered them together, those of us who thought we were building lifelong partnerships before we were betrayed or bored or desolate or dead inside, cannot help but be haunted.

Clearly, however, there were going to be all kinds of ghosts. To start, married — especially with kids — ghosts feel different than old boyfriend/girlfriend ghosts.

To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, marriage is based on the exaggeration of the virtues of one woman above all others. Jewish tradition might put it this way: marriage is a decision to hold before you the purest soul that dwells within your partner — no matter how cranky or depressed he or she may be at times — and by this practice, you will weather the inevitable storms of life, and perhaps touch the Divine.

“Harei at mekudeshet li, b’tabaat zu.” With this ring, I make you holy to me.

With apologies to the Catholic Church, you might say marriage, therefore, makes holy ghosts.

For while love — untended — dissipates, holiness is forever. Holiness hands you the parting gift of a permanent spectral companion who whispers in your ear, “Because you knew me, no matter what you hope or dream or believe about yourself — doubt it!”

By this early date, I already knew that I was accompanied by my own ghost, one made faint by long-palsied love. I would get used to it. But across the table, stoked by love interrupted, hers burned with the chilling luster of still holy love.

It was suddenly very cramped. Me. Her. My fading ghost. Her blazing one.

When I was married and miserable, I never understood why people said they hated dating. It looked like so much fun. Bodies in motion. Now I saw that when it’s more than fun, that when something deeper in you suddenly touches something deeper in another, ghosts come out to call and feed.

Clearly, I was a novice at this dating thing in more ways than one. I knew I wasn’t ready for this table for four, so I didn’t call her back. At least I could curl up with my Rumi, who whispered something more encouraging….

“Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.

Don’t try to see through the distances.

That’s not for human beings. Move within,

But don’t move the way fear makes you move.”

It was going to take a lot of practice.


Adam Gilad is a writer, producer
and CEO of Rogue Direct, LLP. He also teaches creative writing based on Jewish
texts at the UJ and privately. He can be reached at adamgilad@yahoo.com

.

Finished


It has been said that a man is not complete until he is
married. Then, he is finished.

Well, I got married.

When last we visited these pages, I was on my way to the
altar. My long-suffering girlfriend — lets call her Alison, although I can’t
see why we should, when her name is and always was Amy — agreed to the terms.
She has since told me there was nothing in the ceremony about “obey,” and you
can only imagine how much I wish I had paid more attention before the rings
were exchanged.

The wedding was lovely. Not a lavish, all-night affair, but
very lovely and intimate. Thirty-five people at one long table. The pictures
look great.

I would tell you about one of the funny toasts, but then if
certain unnamed people who were not invited knew that a certain other person
was, there would be trouble. I don’t understand any of this, but Amy says so,
and she usually knows what’s what, so I’m keeping my trap shut until she gives
me the go-ahead.

The honeymoon was short but sweet. We went to Lanai in Hawaii.
I figured if it was good enough for Bill Gates, it was good enough for Mr. and
Mrs. J. D. Smith.

We had a wonderful time, but the hotel was a little frayed
around the edges. We wrote a letter to the hotel manager voicing our several
complaints. We hoped they would reward our keen sense of observation with a
free stay at another one of their seedy hotels.

I always think that getting twice as much junk is not any
better than having a little less junk, but it didn’t work anyhow. No dice.

We’ve been busy little honeymooners since our return. Amy
had a career change — not a big one, and a good one at that, but it’s been a
little anxious.

She sold her condo. You’ve got nowhere to go now, honey. Now
we’re really, really married, and you’re stuck with me. Ha!

We had a bit of a tiff over something one day, and I,
predictably perhaps, found it funny. “What’s so funny?” she said.

It occurred to me that we were going to probably get over
every tiff, disagreement, dispute, fight and contretemps over the next 40 or so
years. There would be no winning or losing, some I’m sorrys, some tears, some
giggles, some hard feelings, some regrets, but we would get over all of it. You
gotta. You just gotta. It’s part of the deal. (Sometimes you can’t tell when
I’m paying attention.)

We’ve been together almost two years now, and we’ve both
noticed that it is entirely possible for a person to tell the same story on
more than one occasion. I’ve asked her to please try to seem like she hasn’t
heard the same old crap before, or we’ll run out of things to talk about in
year two. Just pretending is a big part of a happy marriage.

My wife (I love saying that: “my wife”) likes to do the
laundry. As a guy, it’s never been much of an issue with me either way.

Alison, or Amy or whatever her name, is could survive well
with only one set of undergarments — that’s how often she does the laundry. I
thought the name of the game was to see how much stuff you could save up and
fit into a single load. The things you learn when you get a wife.

One slight caveat on the laundry front, however: It seems
that my wife is not terribly good at doing the laundry. She’s like a guy who
cuts himself shaving every morning. Oh well, at least I don’t have to do it.

Although the name Smith is quite common, my wife has not
quite mastered its pronunciation yet. When we show up at a restaurant for
dinner, the maitre d’ can’t seem to find us in the book. “I don’t see a Smith
here, but you’re in luck: there is a Sniff party which hasn’t shown up yet for
their 8 p.m. reservation — I could seat you at that table.”

One day she turned to me and said, “Are you surprised we’re
married?” I knew what she meant; that we were total strangers not so very long
ago, and now look at us. But the answer was a definitive “no.”

I went to a lot of trouble to get an engagement ring made to
spec. We spent a lot of time planning the wedding. Then there was the wedding
and the honeymoon and everything, so, no, I was not surprised we were married.

A week later, I looked at her with a puzzled expression on
my face and said, “You’re still here?”

We’ve been married about five months now, but it doesn’t
matter. It’s a drop in the bucket. We ain’t going anywhere. Please don’t tell
anybody, but I’m pretty happy with the arrangement.

We agreed that we wanted 40 good years together, then I can
do whatever I want. In 2043 I’m going to start riding a motorcycle and take up
smoking. Until then, I’ll be home with my wife.  


J.D. Smith is finished at www.carteduvin.com
and
elsewhere.

The Multifaceted World of Wiesel


One of the most interesting aspects of "Elie Wiesel: First Person Singular," a one-hour autobiographical television documentary, lies in revealing the many aspects of a man, revered mainly as the most authentic voice of the Holocaust.

Wiesel’s first love was music and, in one of the many anecdotes scattered throughout the PBS special, he recalls that his first violin teacher was a musical Romanian policeman in his hometown of Sighet. The cop was paid for each lesson with a bottle of plum brandy, and when he finished drinking it, the lesson was finished.

As the film and Wiesel’s life progresses, from the closed Chasidic milieu of his shtetl, to Auschwitz and Buchenwald, to France, Israel and the United States, so do the different facets of Wiesel’s personality.

After his liberation, he vows "to remember every face, every eye of our agony … and to bear witness"; as a student in Paris, he falls in love with every girl in his class but is too shy to approach any of them ("the worst sins are those you don’t commit"); and as a university professor himself, he is the caring teacher ("when a student speaks, he is the most important person in the class").

He becomes, ultimately, a fighter against injustice anywhere, and is recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize ("I must work for the Jewish people, but not ONLY the Jewish people.")

For devout believer and atheist alike, there is much to be learned from Wiesel’s ongoing dialogue with God.

He tells the Almighty, "You didn’t behave well [during the Holocaust] … but I never divorced God. I believe in God, but I have the right to protest his ways." The documentary spans Wiesel’s 74 years, from a warm, cheder- bound childhood to the world after Sept. 11, and he speaks, lyrically, about his love for three countries, Israel, the United States and France.

Director Robert Gardner wisely keeps the camera focused tightly on Wiesel’s creased face and sad eyes, which seem to have seen everything and forgotten nothing. The only other voice is that of actor William Hurt, reading, sensitively, selections from Wiesel’s works.

"Elie Wiesel: First Person Singular" airs on KCET on Monday, Oct. 21, at 10 p.m. His latest work "Judges: A Novel" (Knopf, $24) is available in bookstores.

SJM Seeks Perfect Woman


Joanne, my relationship advisor, insists that the source of my problem is that I don’t know what I want. “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there,” she said. I brought Jo in after reading that Lizzie Grubman and Gary Condit have hired “crisis managers” to help them through their times of need. My particular crisis is a little less immediate — I just need someone to love — but I always say: When in doubt, call in a pro.

Joanne said that I was too fickle, but I take exception to that characterization. Fickle, according to my Webster’s dictionary, means: changeable, especially regarding affections or attachments; inconstant, capricious. Anyone who knows me would disagree. I am as constant as the stars above, and the older I get, the more fixed, rigid, and utterly without caprice I become. I may vary the object of my affections from time to time, but I myself, remain remarkably unyielding. If anything, I ought to be more fickle.

In some ways, it’s easier to identify the things you don’t like in a person, and use those traits to whittle down the list of prospects to a manageable number. It may not be an exact method, but I tend to take the approach that you can disqualify a candidate for the things you simply cannot abide. Any one of these things individually could be forgiven, but if a woman has two or more in any combination, let’s just shake hands and call it a day.

So, what do I want? Hmmm….Let’s see….I think it’s very important that she speak English with reasonable fluency. I seem to be casting as wide a net as possible, while excluding most of the world at the same time. For simplicity’s sake, she has to live in an adjacent area code — geographical desirability further narrowing the search.

No extremes. No drunks, gluttons, religious fundamentalists or vegans need apply. She shall not be indigent, flatulent or otherwise unusually odoriferous. She may not smoke during daylight hours. She may have pets, but no more than two. The same goes for children and ex-husbands.

She can’t work as a prostitute or terrorist, or be involved with cock fighting. She should not currently be married. She cannot be a convicted and/or escaped felon, or a Nazi sympathizer. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s important to maintain exacting standards like these to weed out the riff-raff.

Certain things are matters of taste. She must not listen primarily to rap, country, heavy metal or Streisand, nor may she like Steven Seagal movies. She can’t wear caftans or drive a truck. She may not have more than one small tattoo (placed somewhere discreet), nor any piercings in the middle of her head. Toe ring = good; nose ring = bad.

A woman can’t be any of the “Seinfeld” things: low-talker, close-talker, high-talker, a nudist, or a “Yada Yada.” She can’t have man-hands, eat her peas one at a time, or have ever dated Newman.

In Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” confirmed bachelor Benedick considers the charms of fair Lady Beatrice: “Till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace. Rich she shall be, that’s certain; wise, or I’ll none; virtuous, or I’ll never cheapen her; fair, or I’ll never look on her; mild, or come not near me; noble, or not I for an angel; of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be of what colour it please God.”

I couldn’t agree more, Bill, but she can’t be a redhead, whether it pleases God or not.

There’s a bad old joke that says the perfect woman is a mute nymphomaniac who owns a pizza joint and a liquor store. While that may be too much to hope for, it is important to know what you do want in a partner.

I’m afraid that anything else I might say here could lead some to call me a shallow, controlling elitist. And so what? I’m sorry, but she can’t be much taller than I am. Does that make me a heightist? I wouldn’t mind having these people in my neighborhood, I just don’t want to put any of them in a position to kill me in my sleep.

The math says that it’s next to impossible to get two people together who don’t have at least one thing driving the other crazy. No one can honestly say “None of the above” on the Things One Cannot Abide Test. So, it turns out that after all the searching, the most attractive person to you is actually the one you find least objectionable.


J.D. Smith is @ www.lifesentence.net.

What is Your Name?


God created the animals and brought them, one by one, before man to see what he would name them. Man examined the essence of each creature and assigned its name. So teaches Genesis.

The midrash goes farther: When all the animals had been named, God asked man, “What is your name?” And he said, “Adam.” Then God asked, “And what is my name?” And he answered, “Adonai, the Eternal.”

We spend a lifetime learning the names of everything around us. We acquire the survival skills of our culture — social codes, business skills, street smarts. We master the science of our generation. We earn creden-tials and degrees. We amass great quantities of knowledge and then discover that we’ve never learned the answer to the one real question — What is your name? Who are you? What are you made of?

It is a question each one of us must face. But it is unanswerable. At no point are we ever finished, at no point is our story ever complete. “You cannot measure a living tree,” wrote Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser, “only a fallen tree. A living tree is in a state of growth, and we cannot assess its stature. What it is at the moment is transitory, and it gives way to the tree’s continuous unfolding. And so it is with people.” The meaning of today is determined by tomorrow. The meaning of one’s life is held in the hands of others.

I stand before a bar mitzvah to offer him the responsibilities and blessings of Jewish adulthood. But before I begin to speak, I catch a glimpse of his grandparents sitting in the first row. They are survivors — the holy remnant of European Jewry. Their eyes have seen what no eyes ever should see. These people, who stood at the gates of hell, in the presence of Mengele himself, today sit here to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of a grandson. Suddenly, the moment takes on a new meaning.

Has this boy in his shiny new Bar Mitzvah suit any clue what torturous choices had to be faced, what perilous risks confronted, what agonies endured so that he could stand here today? Should he? Does he recognize his own role in this? He is, after all, the reason they lived. It was for him that they persevered. His life — the choices he makes — either justifies their courage or throws it into absurdity. Surely it is unfair to lay upon his delicate shoulders such a burden. But it is a reality he must grow to understand. And one day, he may find dignity and courage, purpose and vision in upholding this legacy.

Kohelet, the author of the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes, found bitter irony in this: “I loathe all that I had toiled for under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will succeed me — and who knows whether he will be wise or foolish? And he will control all I toiled for under the sun … that too is futile!”

No, not futile. This is faith. We can never answer God’s question because the answer is always beyond us. We entrust the answer — our identity and eternity — to the hands of others.

Even God knows this. “What is My name?” God asks us. What will you call Me? What will you make of My name in your world, your life? The fate of God lies in our hands. “Where in the universe does God dwell?” asked the Kotzker Rebbe. And then he answered his own question: “Wherever we let God in.”

“I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make myself known to them by My name”(Exodus 6:2). So begins this week’s Torah portion. Then God reveals the Name. But though the letters are spelled out, the name cannot be pronounced. In Judaism, God’s name cannot be uttered. Because God is never finished. We’re never finished. Our story, our history isn’t over. We worship a God whose name we cannot articulate. Ours is a God who offers a future eternally open, a future of infinite possibilities and promise. Ours is a future whose name cannot be pronounced.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

In Praise of the Righteous Enemy


Once again, the anniversary of the Holocaust is upon us (April 13), and, once again, the commemoration taunts me. “Go preach the goodness of God.” “Go praise the crown of God's creation made but little lower than the angels.” “Speak to the world of faith and hope in the wake of the terrifying knowledge: 1.5 million children murdered because of their Jewishness, nine out of every 10 European rabbis slaughtered, one third of a people decimated.”

In the wake of such unspeakable atrocity, the judgments of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Nietzsche and Freud about human nature seem indisputable. Man is little lower than the beasts.

“The only difference between man and other beasts,” Tennessee Williams writes, “is that man is a beast who knows that he will die…, the only honest man is an unabashed egoist…the specific ends of life are sex and money, so the human comedy is an outrageous medley of lechery, alcoholism, blasphemy, greed, brutality, hatred and obscenity.” Which honest man or woman can deny his sorrowful verdict?

In this sense, the Holocaust mocks me and my faith. I would counter this baleful judgment upon humanity with even few flashes of human decency, to somewhat balance the disproportionate weight of evil with gestures of human kindness. Someone advised that if you would search for sparks, you should sift the smoldering embers in the crematoria. I look among the ashes. I search not for grandiose acts of superhuman heroism but for simple acts of goodness, a boiled potato, a piece of bread, a mashed strawberry given to the forlorned. I reread the section from Primo Levi's great book, “Survival in Auschwitz.” Levi, a survivor of Auschwitz, speaks of Lorenzo, a Christian Italian civilian worker who brought a piece of bread and the remainder of his rations to the starving Primo every day for six months in the concentration camp. Levi reflects on his Auschwitz incarceration. “I believe it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me, by his presence, by his nature and plain manner of being good, that there still exists a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt and savage…something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good but for which it was worth surviving. Thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to forget that I myself was a man.”

It is important to know that Lorenzo was not alone. There were many citizens of Italy like Lorenzo, but this knowledge is, sadly enough, muted. Let it be known in the sanctuaries of the Synagogue and the Church that 85 percent of Italy's 50,000 Jews were helped to rescue by the extraordinary deeds of ordinary Italian men and women, including many priests and nuns who in their lives fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah: “They turned themselves into hiding places from the wind and shelter, from the tempest.” It must be remembered that while the Vatican was a neutral state during the war, many Catholic monasteries, convents and buildings became havens for Jewish refugees. In Rome alone, more than 150 convents and monasteries offered hiding places to Jews. No Jews were deported as long as Italy was a sovereign nation.

Particular mention must be made of the Italian army, which, from 1941 to 1943, saved thousands of Croatian Jews and Serbs from certain death at the hands of the murderous Croatian Utashe. The post-Holocaust world must remember Gen. Mario Roatta, who, with his staff, persistently sabotaged Mussolini's decree to turn over the Jews to the Nazis. The Italian military, in all ranks, ignored and defied the Nazi orders to round up and deport Jews. Italian diplomats wrote thousands of false documents to save Jews from the sinister final solution of Nazi Germany.

We must recall priests such as Father Don Arrigo Beccari and the people in villages near Medina who rescued 110 Jewish orphans who had escaped to Italy from Germany between 1941 and 1943.

In no other occupied Catholic country were monasteries, convents, shrines and religious houses opened to fleeing Jews and their needs attended to without any overt intention to steer them away from their ancient faith.

The children must be taught the courage and conscience of Giorgio Perlasca, the Italian business man who posed as a Spanish diplomat and falsified papers for 10,000 Jews in Bulgaria.

Goodness must not be forgotten. On Friday evening, April 16, at 8:15 p.m., Valley Beth Shalom will be celebrating a Sabbath service in recognition of goodness, in honor of those citizens of Italy who risked life and limb to protect the victims from Nazi predators. At that service of gratitude and courage, the consul of Italy, an Italian rescuer and an Italian Jew rescued will reveal their testimony. The Congregational Choir will chant the music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, an Italian Jew forced to flee his beloved city of Florence because of the fascist racial laws of 1939.

The entire community is invited to this evening. In this post-Holocaust era, we are mandated to both remember the evil and never to forget the good. This is the sacred double memory that we must carry into the 21st century.

A Better Strategy


History never precisely repeats itself. I was cleaning up after dinner the other evening when I heard my daughter, Samantha, now nearly 17, on the phone; she was talking with a guy named Vinnie.

“Vinnie?” I said, as she hung up. “I think we should be focusing on Jewish guys now, don’t you?”

“He’s a friend, Mom,” said Samantha.

And to my surprise, I let it go at that because I wasn’t sure what else to do.

I had had my own Vinnie when I was just about Samantha’s age: an Elvis look-alike, down to the huge, dark pompadour over his forehead. I thought he was earthy and exotic, exciting, if not dangerous. He worked in the gas station across the street from the bakery where I did the afternoon shift. I could see him, and his black leather jacket with the turned-up collar, through the window, as he washed windshields and pumped fuel. It made the hours fly by.

Vinnie was a secret. I told him never to call me at home. I knew that a trial awaited me if Vinnie’s existence was revealed. Yes, a trial, literally speaking. Our dinner table would convene as night court. I would present my own lawyerly defense of Vinnie, citing my rights as a free woman in America to explore the vast terrain of good-looking guys before I settled down with a nice Jewish man. But the court would not be moved, and, eventually, I would burst into angry tears. Before I could finish presenting my logic and my evidence, my parents would invoke the name of my grandfather, who, they promised, would sit shiva for me if I married “out.” Truly, I was lost.

Now that I’m a mother myself, I understand my parents’ concern. I, too, hope that my daughter will marry a Jewish man, and for most of the same reasons. The best of those reasons remains that it is easier for a husband and wife to get along in the storm-tossed seas of marriage if their values, beliefs and rituals are similar. Though opposites do attract, intermarriage remains a hard business, at times requiring the suppressing of spiritual growth of both parties. A parent can argue, without a trace of ethnocentrism or paranoia, that a marriage and a home life organized around Judaism’s ethical principles, its calendar, Shabbat, and its love and concern for family harmony has a wonderful future going for it.

And, yet, I don’t want to guilt-trip my daughter, either, since that would certainly backfire.

What to do?

Just a few days after the call from Vinnie, I saw a newspaper advertisement paid for by the New York branch of the Conservative movement. The ad was selling, of all things, the benefits of Jews marrying Jews. And the ad’s tone was, with but one exception, so balanced, so smart, that it can only help those who, like me, are struggling for the right strategy on this ticklish issue.

“When You Tie the Knot, Don’t Break the Chain,” the ad’s headline read. And then it went on to make the common-sense argument that marrying a Jew is good for you. Here’s a line or two that I liked:

“If you were born Jewish, the rich and remarkable heritage that is Judaism is yours. All that is wonderful, all that is joyful, all that is sacred in Judaism belongs to you and to those who come after you.”

This ad is quite a distance from the “your grandfather will sit shiva” approach of a generation ago. In fact, the ad succeeds, I believe, because it captures the way many of us — especially those who are now parents — regard Jewish life today: “wonderful,” “joyful” and “sacred.” We are committed to community, to raising Jewish children, and to providing the spiritual and educational experiences that will be of lasting value in our children’s lives.

Yet, strangely enough, though we are much more fully engaged in Judaism than we ever expected to be when we got married, many of us parents are still “laid back,” hesitant to force Judaism upon our children where their own future marriages are concerned. We want them to choose it naturally, as we did.

But maybe saying nothing is as bad as saying too much. Maybe our children need to know what is expected of them, and that we’re looking to them to keep the faith, indeed.

To be candid, I’m not thrilled with the ad’s declaration that “interfaith marriage dilutes Jewish identity and removes future generations from the Jewish fold” — since this is not provable and disregards the great contribution of Jews by Choice toward the very renewal so many of us are enjoying. I think the attack on intermarriage is ill-considered and wrong.

Nevertheless, with that exception, it’s a relief to hear the other words, which break the ice and encourage parents and children to discuss marriage and Jewish family life in a new and thoughtful way.

“Don’t be a weak link in a chain that has proven unbreakable for more than 5,000 years,” says the ad. “Marriage within the faith. It really does matter.” That’s the point, indeed.


Join Marlene Adler Marks, senior editor of The Jewish Journal, this Sunday morning at the Skirball Cultural Center when her “Conversations” guest will be Los Angeles historian Mike Davis. Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com>