The price for success: Bad PR


“Never mind the collapse in confidence in Europe, the Palestinian proposal for United Nations recognition and heightened tensions with neighboring Egypt and longtime ally Turkey. The Israeli economy just keeps growing faster than the rest of the developed world.”

Those were the opening lines of a Sept. 26 report in Business Week titled “Israel Punches Above Weight as GDP Beats Developed World,” which detailed Israel’s economic accomplishments and included facts such as these:

“Israel’s gross domestic product will expand 4.8 percent this year, according to the Washington-based lender [the International Monetary Fund]. That’s up from an April forecast of 3.8 percent and triple the pace for the average of the 34 advanced economies.”

Triple the pace for the average of the 34 advanced economies! You can’t make this stuff up.

Of course, the picture in Israel is not all rosy. The tent revolution over the summer revealed many social ills, such as a growing disparity between rich and poor and a sharp rise in the cost of living and housing that is shrinking the middle class. But in the spirit of free societies, the wheels of change have been put in motion. Even at its worst, Israel has a built-in “corrective mechanism” that shows a robust democracy in action.

So, how do we explain this little democratic miracle in the Middle East? Here is a tiny nation under siege, surrounded by hostile neighbors, under assault by a boycott-happy world, condemned beyond all reasonable measure by the United Nations — and still, it finds a way to grow faster than most countries, make more than its fair share of contributions to the world, create an open, civil society and rank among the highest nations on the “happiness scale.”

How does Israel do it? I have a theory, but you might not like it.

Here’s what I think: Israel’s success is directly related to its failure at public relations.

Yes, all these complaints you’ve been hearing for years about Israel’s “terrible hasbarah” are directly related to its phenomenal success. Here’s why: PR is the creation of emptiness, the emptiness of promises. A PR mentality creates a society that cares more about its image than about delivering real things to its people. PR is like showing a menu and never serving the food.

Israel was built not by people who knew how to promise, but by people who knew how to deliver.

Israel wasn’t worried about PR as it built the strongest economy in the Middle East; it wasn’t worried about image-building as it built the strongest army; and it certainly didn’t create an open society — where brutal criticism of the state is the natural order of things — because it thought that would help its image.

In fact, Israel’s determination not to be a victim has been a key contributor to its bad PR. Let’s face it: Victims and underdogs get good PR. This is a major reason why the Palestinians have been winning the PR war — they have nurtured their image of victimhood. Weak people attract sympathy. Strong people don’t.

Of course, none of this means you can’t aim to have a strong, successful country and good PR. Israel has made moves in that direction over the years: the offers of peace under Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert were helpful. So have the country’s efforts to help disaster areas throughout the world, particularly after the Haiti earthquake, as well as Israel’s cultural exports and technological innovations, especially medical advances.

Sadly, though, Israel’s greatest PR boost in the last decade came when suicide bombers were murdering Israelis during the Second Intifada, and when rockets were falling on Sderot after the disengagement from Gaza. In other words, Israel got the most sympathy when it was a clear victim.

Is Israel doomed, then, to have to choose between success and good PR? Can it ever hope to have both?

Achieving both goals would surely be the biggest miracle yet for this little country of miracles. Can you imagine if Israel were celebrated around the world for its numerous and valuable contributions to humanity? Can you imagine if Israel became a democratic model for other countries in the Middle East?

But here is the impossible question: If peace is not in the cards with the Palestinians (and I don’t believe it is), can Israel still find a way to improve its image? The odds are not good. The world’s obsession with creating a Palestinian state — against all evidence that it is feasible at this point — is just too strong. As long as the Palestinians are seen as the victims, Israel will be fighting an uphill PR battle.

Perhaps if Israel were to make a dramatic move, like a specific peace proposal, that might help. More likely, only a dreaded renewal of terrorist attacks against Israel would generate sympathy — and even that sympathy would dissipate once Israel retaliates.

To have any chance at good PR, Israel must find a way to reclaim the emotional high ground — not by being victims of terror but by reclaiming the emotional idea of “justice.” The Palestinians should not “own” justice. Israel can make a strong case that its cause is just and that the treatment it gets at the United Nations is a gross injustice. Framing its narrative around justice is a lot more powerful than framing it around physical security.

But let’s not fool ourselves: As long as Israel is seen as the strong one, facing societies who revel in victimhood and have been taught to hate the Jews, Israel will not win the PR war. It might win a few battles, but not the war. That will only come when Arabs of the Middle East realize that their problems have nothing to do with Israel — and that Israel is really the cure, rather than the curse, of the Middle East.

In the meantime, Israel can live with the consolation, and it’s not a small one, that it has created the strongest and most successful country in the Middle East. And that, in itself, is a miracle.

Marty Kaplan: The Naked Nielsens


The metrics are wearing no clothes.

How would you react if you found out that the basis of your business model was bogus?  That’s the nightmare that the television industry is finally waking up to, and I bet that online media won’t be far behind.

The TV business is built on advertising.  Except for premium cable, the money that networks get for selling audiences’ eyeballs to advertisers is the mother’s milk of the industry.  Networks set the price of ads on their shows using demographic information about the age and sex of those shows’ viewers.  And the company that pretty much has a monopoly on furnishing those metrics is Nielsen.

So a few weeks ago, at the Marriott Marquis in New York, it must have felt like pitchfork time when a respected TV network figure in charge of analyzing ratings, CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack, ” target=”_hplink”>Ad Age, Nielsen executives at the convention reported that “ratings demographics by age and sex had a… 0.12 correlation with actual sales produced by exposure to TV ads, where 1.0 is complete correlation and 0 signals no relationship whatsoever.”  Zero-point-one-two! You’d do better using a Ouija board than Nielsen demos. 

It’s particularly ironic that this paradigm-popping confession came from CBS.  From 1955 to 1976, before any network thought in terms of age cohorts, CBS “was the undisputed king of the ratings hill,” writes Neal Gabler in ” target=”_hplink”>Wall Street Journal, “which made them without value to the networks.”  The numbers tell the story: A 30-second ad on Fox’s young-skewing Glee costs $47 per thousand viewers, while a spot on CBS’s The Good Wife, 60 percent of whose audience is 55-plus, costs about half that. 

But now the jig is up.  “Reliance on the 18 to 49 demographic,” Ad Age reports Poltrack saying, “is hazardous to all media and marketers.”  It may be just a coincidence that CBS, which these days runs about even with Fox in overall prime-time viewership, is now being killed by Fox in 18 to 49.  But it’s no coincidence that 80 million baby boomers are aging out of the desirable demo.  To sell air time to reach the fastest-growing part of its audience, the industry needs a new metric. 

So exit demographics, and, just in time, enter psychographics.  That audience-segmentation tool, which collects people into taste and behavior clusters, has been around for a while; if you want to try an online-era version, check out hunch.com. CBS and Nielsen, in what Poltrack calls a “historic move,” have now come up with six audience segments to sell to advertisers instead of age and sex cohorts:  TV companions; media trendsetters; sports enthusiasts; program passionates; surfers and streamers; TV moderators.  The developers of those segments claim that when ad agencies start buying spots on TV shows using these metrics instead of the ones that were fabulous until five minutes ago, there’ll actually be a relationship between seeing ads and buying products.

It can’t be any worse than what they’ve been using until now.  If you talk to network executives privately, and to account managers at ad agencies, doubt about the utility of Nielsens is a poorly-kept secret.  I’m not talking about weaknesses like undercounting racial and ethnic groups, and missing out-of-home viewing in airports and bars, and being clueless about online TV viewing, both legal and not.  I mean the conspiracy of silence about the whole premise of demographics.

Why hasn’t anyone blown the whistle?  Because the whole network-advertising-marketing-research village is in on it, and they’ve been afraid to burn the house down without some new roof to put over their heads.  Poltrack’s salvo suggests that CBS and Nielsen are confident enough about what they’re touting now to admit that their old model was built of straw. 

I suspect that this new metric won’t be nearly as useful as the “taste community” analytics still waiting to be born – a transnational audience analysis that mines all the rich new data available about socially-networked online entertainment consumption.  But for that to happen, the Web analytics that currently pass for measuring engagement – hits, clicks, visits, visitors, pageviews, uniques, repeats and the rest—may also have to bite the dust. 

Marty Kaplan holds the ” target=”_hplink”>USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com

A birthday gift


Here we are, Jews in every corner of the world, awash in a frenzy of celebrations for Israel — all because of a birthday. And not just any birthday, mind you, but one that ends in a zero.

In a marketing-obsessed world, milestones give us an easy way to promote our brands. For lovers of Israel, promoting the brand of Israel is important business, especially since the country has taken a real beating over the years. So naturally, when a chance comes up to give that brand a little shine — like a 60th birthday — we run with it.

That’s why this year, Israel@60 has become the hot Jewish brand.

Every Jewish newspaper in the world has devoted a special section. Every Jewish community is doing multiple celebrations. Israeli embassies and consul offices are busy squeezing every ounce of Israel@60 good will from their local communities. World leaders are sending messages of congratulations. Elites from everywhere are gathering in Jerusalem at the invitation of President Shimon Peres. And, of course, every Jewish writer of note is weighing in with their personal reflections on the state of the Zionist project. (My favorite is Yossi Klein Halevi’s piece in this week’s issue.)

There’s something intoxicating about all this activity. I feel like I’m getting drunk on Israel. The Jewish world is rising up and giving my cherished Israel a celebration for the ages.

So why, then, do I also feel a certain emptiness?

Is it because I’m too aware of the growing dangers that Israel faces? Or that I know most of the world will go right back to hating us once the party’s over, or that these kind of big-bang celebrations just leave us with one big hangover?

Maybe, but I think there’s more. I see a missed opportunity. I love the sense of pride that the celebrations have fired up, but I wish someone had launched the Israel@60 campaign with this theme: “What will you give Israel for her birthday?”

That’s right: What will you give Israel for her birthday? What I think is missing from all the hoopla is a birthday gift from each of us to the Israel we love.

And I don’t mean money. Money is the gift for normal times. A 60th anniversary is not a normal time. It’s a time to celebrate, yes, but also to reflect, take stock, look deep inside of ourselves — and offer a special gift.

Imagine going to celebrate your parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. What kind of gift would you bring? Would it be personal? Would it have special meaning?

Now imagine going to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. What’s the most personal and meaningful gift you can make? What is your unique passion or talent? What can you bring to the party to show your love for the honoree?

Whatever your thing is, it’s worth bringing. If you’re a musician, organizer, writer, artist, environmentalist, cook, teacher, activist, comedian, doctor, architect, rabbi, Web designer, business tycoon or filmmaker, whatever your passion, it can become your personal gift to Israel.

Make a film. Write a poem. Start a Web site. Help at a soup kitchen. Organize a trip to Israel. Find a cause dear to your heart. In short, look at what Israel needs, and see how your talents match up.

So, what about me, what’s my “thing” for Israel?

These days, the advertising guy in me would love to promote a side of Israel the world rarely sees — the good side. God knows the anti-Israel propaganda machine has done a remarkable job of turning Israel into a globally reviled country. And God knows Israel has more than enough critics who expose her many mistakes and weaknesses. But who is balancing the picture? Who is showing the other side? Who is spreading the word on Israel’s many contributions to the world?

Of the $1 billion a year in Jewish philanthropy, how much do you think goes to advertise in the mainstream media the numerous contributions Israel makes to humanity? Virtually zero.

So this is my birthday gift to Israel: Ads4Israel.com.

It’s a new organization whose mission will be to create and run ads worldwide that show Israel’s incredible gifts to the world, in such areas as combating disease, developing alternative fuels, fighting world hunger, creating life-changing technologies, revolutionizing agriculture and much more. There are literally hundreds of areas where Israel has helped make the world a better place, and Ads4Israel will do its share to let the world know. The Web site will offer a variety of ads that donors will be able to support and help run.

Why ads? They’re dramatic, quick and efficient. You can reach 100 million people with a powerful message in a few seconds. Grass-roots efforts, conferences, articles, books, Web sites, etc., are all valuable, but when 99 percent of the planet has been poisoned by three-second visual sound-bites about Israel, the best way to fight back is with equally powerful sound-bites.

Will this solve Israel’s image problem overnight? Nothing can. But we can at least raise immediate awareness of Israel’s value to the world, and that’s a gift.

We each have a gift. What will be your birthday gift?

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Daze of Awe


After two days of talking marketing with Jewish organizations, I’ve come to appreciate that marketing is not a very Jewish idea. Think about it. Marketing is all spin and presentation. What did we, the Jews, do at our first great marketing opportunity?

The year was 70 C.E. The center of our existence — the Holy Temple — had just been destroyed. Did we reach out to the world and strengthen our standing by launching an “image campaign” to attract more adherents to our faith?

Or did we go off and spend 1,900 years trying to improve our product?

Indeed, for centuries, our Jewish sages worked to interpret, refine and better understand our Holy Book. And, in the process, they taught us that the Jewish way has little to do with the flash and seduction of marketing, and a lot to do with the substance of introspection and refinement.

Having said that, most Jewish organizations today will tell you they “need marketing.”

Maybe that’s why fellow marketer Gary Wexler and I got an enthusiastic response to our Days of Awe offer of free marketing advice to the Los Angeles Jewish community.

A total of 26 Jewish nonprofit organizations registered for individual sessions on Sept. 18 and 19 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Beverly Boulevard at the corner of Pico.

It was an intense and dizzying experience. For two days, while Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz was giving out New Year blessings in an adjacent area, Gary and I huddled in a bunker-like conference room where we engaged in “speed meetings” with a wide cross-section of the Jewish world — and had to come up with marketing ideas on the spot.

We could probably write a book about our two-day whirlwind, and maybe one day we will. But for now, here’s a taste of some of the groups who came and what we said to them.

We met a hospice group that deals with one of life’s more sensitive areas: helping people who are at the end of their days. They wanted their specialty to become more recognized. Our suggestion: Create a new mitzvah for the Jewish world. Just like you have bar mitzvahs and shivas, this mitzvah would be called “The Last Cycle.” It would have its own rituals and receive the same reverence and attention to detail given to other life cycles.

We also met a leader of an old, run-down shul in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood that had lost its rabbi and many members and was desperate for any idea. We suggested banners on their storefront to promote the shul as the “real shtibl in the hood” with “nothing hip,” just “davening and a little herring.”

A JCC in the San Fernando Valley, which had lost use of its key asset — the swimming pool — was also eager for a big idea. We suggested having kids build the world’s biggest Chanukah menorah in the empty pool using recycled soda cans, inviting the mayor and the city’s press , and creating a rebirth of excitement based on unique community-wide events.

A small Holocaust museum had a problem: What do you do when the city already has one of the world’s best, the Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance? Our suggestion: Instead of playing up the notion of a “martyr’s memorial,” play up the more dynamic idea of “survival” — and make it a more hopeful, universal and future-oriented experience.

The Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys wanted to continue to pull the two communities together. Our idea: Do an event — like a community Passover seder — right at the border of the two areas, and continue the “Events at the Border” theme throughout the year.

The Israel Institute Green Technology Fund came in with a PowerPoint presentation outlining how they can harness the skill of Israeli scientists to contribute green technology to the world. We gave them a new name for their pitch — “A Convenient Truth” — and helped them with strategies for high-powered fund-raising.

For a group that wanted to keep the Yiddish language alive, we suggested having “Yiddish Cooking Nights,” in homes throughout the community, that would combine the Yiddish language with the all-time No. 1 Jewish marketing hook: food.

On and on it went like this, with one group after another sharing their stories and challenges, and each hoping for a little marketing injection — in thirty minutes.

We saw all kinds of groups: a new community mikveh; a Reform temple; an Orthodox high school; college and high school outreach groups; two Jewish universities; a Chasidic Jew’s Kung Fu program for disabled kids; the Board of Jewish Education; Jewish World Watch; Koreh LA and even venerable institutions like Hadassah.

Each cause had its own drama.

Some touched us especially deeply, like the Jewish group that travels to tiny villages in Ethiopia to care for fellow Jews. We suggested they create Ethiopian events and Shabbatons throughout the Los Angeles Jewish community to build awareness for this unique culture, and start a campaign asking for Jews to help out another “old Jewish neighborhood.”

In truth, Gary and I were touched by all the groups, and the gratitude they showed us. At the end of two days, although we were in a bit of a daze, we felt exhilarated — and hopeful God would go easier on us on Judgment Day.

Looking back, we were also struck by the candor of the people we met. Many of them admitted that marketing was out of their comfort zone. They felt it was too intangible — they were more comfortable just servicing their cause.

Of course, they also realized that if not enough people knew or cared about their cause, there would be no cause.

We wanted them to see that it’s not either/or. You can be wildly imaginative and successful in marketing and “presenting” your cause, yet still continue to develop the Talmudic-like substance to back it up.

Jews, of all people, should feel no guilt about marketing. Seriously: We spent 1,900 years refining and improving our product. It’s not like we haven’t earned the right to show it off — even if that’s not exactly, you know, the Jewish way.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

‘Gary Wexler Is Miserable’


t was one of my favorite ads. At the time, my upstart ad agency was competing with a hot shop called Wexler & Shalek. They had a reputation for always winning creative awards. But one year, for some reason, they struck out. So what did their creative head, Gary Wexler, do? He took out a full-page ad in the local trade publication, Adweek, put a picture of himself in the middle of the ad, and did something rarely seen in the business.

He spoke the naked truth.

The boldfaced headline read: “Gary Wexler Is Miserable.” The rest of the ad explained why.

If you’ve ever seen the fragile egos of the ad business – and the fake posing that covers up one’s insecurities – you’d understand why that was a brilliant ad. It reached the soul of the reader. It spoke to our deepest fears and desires. It held a message that couldn’t be ignored.

Sweep wipe 20 years later to a corner table at Shilo’s, and there’s Gary, complaining about the same old stuff. “There’s not enough soul in marketing today,” he likes to say.

It’s just that today Gary’s not talking about diapers, laundry detergents or breakfast cereals. He’s talking about the Jewish community and the hundreds of Jewish organizations that struggle every day to market themselves to get people to support their cause.

You see, when Gary left his ad agency, he switched from the world of award shows, black Armani suits and martinis at the Four Seasons to fried eggs at Nate ‘n Al’s, tiny ad budgets and the kind of awards you only get from High Above for the mitzvah of helping your people. For more than a decade now, Gary’s Passion Marketing outfit has been one of the premier names in anything having to do with marketing Jewish causes.

But still, Gary kvetches.

He is one of the Jewish world’s great kvetchers. How do I know? We’ve been kvetching together for 20 years. We would kvetch at Chinois on Main during the 1980s about how shallow our advertising business was, while reassuring ourselves that – thanks to our Judaism – we had so much more substance than our materialistic colleagues. That was baloney, of course. We were just as materialistic as they were – we just felt guilty about it.

When I was relatively new in town and told him I’d love to spend a Sephardic Yom Kippur, he invited me to stay at his house in the San Fernando Valley so I could walk over to a Sephardic synagogue. The breaking of the fast at his house marked me with an image I’ll never forget: 100 Ashkenazic Jews of all ages all speaking at exactly the same time.

The years passed, and still we kvetched.

We kvetched about politics, our employees, clients, rabbis, family, therapists and life in general. One night, I took him to a midnight meditation and dance session on a beach in Malibu with a group of Chassidic mystics. If I recall, we found time to kvetch.

In the 1990s, his kvetching took on a decidedly Jewish tone. Gary was now a fledgling marketing macher in the Jewish world, and this seemed to take the kvetching to new heights.

For business meetings, that was an adjustment. I’m sorry to say, but non-Jewish clients who want you to increase their sales for, let’s say, a cat litter product (“Our edge is clump integrity!”) just don’t appreciate a good kvetching session. It’s all business with them.

With the Jews, schmaltz at meetings is allowed, even encouraged. Every Jewish nonprofit feels that the future of the Jewish people rests on their cause – which it does – and they will kvetch that it’s simply not fair that they are not as well known as, say, the Wiesenthal Center.

In Gary, they had found a kindred kvetcher. The problem is that Gary’s kvetching was often directed right back at his clients. He wanted to instill in them a greater marketing discipline. With the limited budgets of non-profits, it wasn’t enough to aim for nebulous goals like “branding.” Their marketing needed to get results. Gary was giving them tough love.

So when we caught up with each other the other day at Shilo’s, Gary’s brand of endearing kvetching was still on display.

But this time, after his fourth or fifth iced tea, Gary came up with an idea.

“Suissa,” he said, “you and I are both marketing experts. Why don’t we do something special for Rosh Hashanah for the Jewish community? Let’s book a conference room in a hotel during the Days of Awe and spend one day giving free marketing advice to any Jewish organization that needs it!”

I paid the bill and asked the waiter what he put in the iced tea.

Ah, but lest you forget, Gary’s in the persuasion business, so after a couple of weeks of back and forth and noble talk of mitzvahs and obligations, somehow the “are you kidding mes?” became “why nots?” And before you know it, guess what happened?

We booked the hotel.

No, I’m not kidding. If you have a Jewish organization and you think free marketing ideas from Wexler and Suissa are worth something, we’ll be there for you on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at the Crown Plaza Hotel on Pico and Beverly boulevards.

Conditions? You must be a Jewish nonprofit and attendees must include a senior manager. Just send us your key marketing objective and any marketing materials. We’ll review what you send us and give you our ideas. To register, go to Freeonthe18th.com. There are 10 slots available, so it’s first come, first served.

Oh, one more thing. These are the Days of Awe, so the incomparable Rabbi Shlomo “Schwartzie” from the Chai Center will be on hand with blessings to help you and your organization be inscribed for a good year.

And for those of you we’ll see on the 18th, remember to tell Gary how much you love his ideas. You wouldn’t want him to get all miserable.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Dumbing Down Judaism


You can’t talk about Jewish philanthropy without talking about Jewish priorities. For many years now, a huge priority for the American Jewish community has been to fight assimilation — what is elegantly called “Jewish continuity.” It’s a priority that is rarely challenged. How do you argue against Jewish continuity?

Well, the other day, I had lunch at Shilo’s with a Talmud professor who’s not overly worked up about Jewish continuity. In fact, my lunch guest, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen of the Shtibl Minyan, wouldn’t mind if the Jewish world lost its obsession with Jewish continuity and started worrying about something he considers more important.

What kind of Judaism the Jewish world wishes to “continue.”

In this view, Judaism itself has been diminished by our obsession with “survival” and “continuity.” By coddling and pandering to keep Jews from leaving the faith, we have trivialized our faith and turned it into fluff. Look around and you’ll see how Judaism has slowly evolved into a consumer brand of sweetness and convenience — into Judaism lite.

Not crazy about doing Shabbat? Come Friday night for a fabulous musical and social experience. No tickets for High Holy Day services? Just show up at any Chabad and they’ll treat you like royalty. Never been to the Holy Land? If you’re young, no problem — it’s your birthright and you can go for free.

If you find synagogue services too boring or complicated, we have an array of “spiritual” services where all you have to do is read English and hold hands and chant in unison. If you’re single and you want to meet someone but your time is precious and limited, come have a latte and “speed” through a string of possible Jewish mates.

You know nothing about your Judaism? Don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. There are hundreds of introductory classes for you to choose from. There’s Judaism for the “Clueless but Curious,” “Kabbalah for Dummies,” even a user-friendly “High Holiday Survival Guide.”

If you’re more into culture and attitude, there are magazines and Web sites that will show you how to be Jewish and cool. You don’t believe in God? Don’t worry, there’s a whole movement for you with the word “human” in it. Just remember: our No. 1 concern is that you stay Jewish, even if you know nothing about your Judaism.

It’s almost as if American Judaism, in its desperate struggle to keep Jews from vanishing into the gentile mainstream, has become a marketing carnival. And Jewish philanthropy — driven by a Holocaust-level fear of losing Jews — has helped fund this carnival.

At our lunch, Rabbi Cohen lamented the price we have paid to reach this point: the dumbing down of Judaism. In twisting ourselves into pretzels to reach out to vanishing Jews, we’re marketing Judaism as a faith that can comfort, entertain and even elevate you — but will rarely challenge you or make too many demands, intellectual or otherwise.

We are nurturing a generation of Jewish noshers who only want to lick the icing off the Jewish cake. Even the budding spiritual revival we hear so much about is based more on the need for personal empowerment and self-fulfillment than it is on deep knowledge of the Jewish tradition.

Our marketing of Judaism has created consumers, not thinkers.

My neighbors and friends who live a few doors from me, Rabbi Joel Rembaum and his wife, Fredi, told me on a recent Shabbat afternoon that the Jewish world needs to do more inreach, and less outreach. What they and Rabbi Cohen were saying is that we need to create a new generation of educated Jews from kindergarten up, rather than expend so much of our resources on throwing lifeboats to unaffiliated and disconnected grown-ups.

For me, that’s probably going too far, because I’ve seen how outreach has brought so many young adults to reconnect with their Judaism. As I see it, any connection is better than no connection. Still, there is one mantra that I hear everywhere I go — whether we’re talking about outreach or inreach.

This is the mantra: Thousands of Jewish families cannot afford to send their children to Jewish day schools, and it is outrageous that the Jewish community cannot raise the money to subsidize these children.

It’s so obvious that it’s almost embarrassing: Is there a better antidote to the dumbing down of Judaism, and the eventual assimilation of Jews, than having Jewish kids get a Jewish education? Maybe the reason Jewish continuity efforts have been so unsuccessful (half of our adults still marry outside the faith) is that it’s hard to stay connected to something you don’t know much about.

For the large number of Jews who stay committed to their Judaism after getting a Jewish education, you can bet that when they grow up they’ll demand more from their spiritual leaders than “Judaism for Dummies.” If they have studied Talmud and other texts, they will be more likely to introduce knowledgeable debates into their congregations and communities, and, generally, add more depth and vibrancy to the Jewish conversation.

When we lament the lack of great Jewish thinkers in our generation — who are the Heschels, Soloveichiks and Bubers of our day? — we are also lamenting what Judaism has lost through their absence. I don’t know about you, but I’d pay anything to hear what someone like Heschel would have to say about the great Jewish issues of our day. The knowledge that one can only get from a Jewish education is the first step to creating great Jewish thinkers, rather than simply clever ones.

But as we know, “Jewish education” is not as sexy a fundraising hook as “we’re losing Jews!” “the world hates us!” and “we can never forget!” Never mind that Jewish education holds the secret to a stronger Jewish continuity: It strengthens Jews by strengthening Judaism, and it strengthens Judaism by strengthening Jews.

The real dumbing down of Judaism today is that the Jewish philanthropic world hasn’t figured that out yet.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

The kreme de la kreme of kosher kooking mix it up


When Michaela Rosenthal threw some leftover gefilte fish into her potato knish recipe, she never imagined it might be worth $20,000.

“I didn’t want to waste the one piece I had left,” said the Woodland Hills housewife and mother of two grown children.

It turned out to be a good move for Rosenthal, whose whitefish and potato knishes in lemon horseradish sauce took one of two first-place spots at the Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off Western semifinal at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa earlier this month.

The veteran of cooking challenges competed against nine other California amateur chefs at the last of three regional contests sponsored by the nation’s largest processed kosher food manufacturer.

She and co-winner Andrea Bloom of Long Beach, who earned accolades from the judges for her savory pea and fennel soup, will fly to New York in February to compete in the finals for a $20,000 grand prize package, including a GE Profile kitchen and cash.

The first-ever national kosher cook-off is intended to demonstrate to consumers the flexibility, speed and convenience of kosher cooking, while showcasing the Manischewitz label.

“When people think of kosher, they think of a slow process, like briskets,” said David Rossi, Manischewitz vice president of marketing. “We wanted to break that mold and give our core Jewish consumers new ideas about how to use our products.”

Thirty recipes were selected from more than 1,000 entries to compete in semifinals in New Jersey, Florida and Costa Mesa this fall. To qualify, recipes had to be original, kosher, limited to eight ingredients, including at least one Manischewitz product, and preparable in one hour or less. A panel of food experts, including Cooking Light magazine’s executive chef, Billy Strynkowski, selected the semifinalists.

Maintaining Manischewitz’s strict standards of kashrut for the multivenue event was no small task for the Secaucus, N.J.-based company.

“A lot goes on behind the scenes in a kosher cook-off,” Rossi said. “We essentially set up 10 kosher kitchens in the ballroom.”

“All stages of preparation for the event and the actual event itself were in accordance with traditional Jewish law,” said Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, who supervises kashrut for Manischewitz.

Cook-off co-sponsor GE provided 10 stove-top ovens that were kashered and transported cross-country for the semifinals. New utensils and cookware were cleansed in a mikvah and labeled dairy, meat or pareve, and all ingredients were purchased and supervised by local mashgichim. Judges tasted the dairy offerings first and then the pareve and meat ones.

Inventiveness was on the menu, with offerings ranging from modern twists on traditional favorites, like almond milk-infused simcha sweet potato soup served up by Redondo Beach’s Terry Gladstone, to Mexican-influenced dishes, such as Los Angeles resident Ellen Burr’s “zesty Mexi chicken and matzah ball soup.” Organizers and judges got a literal and figurative kick out of the local zest.

“I love the spirit of the contestants and the creativity we’re seeing,” said Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the R.A.B. Food Group, which owns Manischewitz. “We’re seeing different flavors out here than we saw in other parts of the country, more heat, more jalape?os. ‘Zesty Mexi chicken soup,’ you don’t see that in New York.”

Another south-of-the border-inspiration was Lowell Bernstein’s “matzah-males,” a creative take on traditional tamales. The education consultant and only male competitor developed the recipe after mastering Mexican cooking, because he was looking for something “bready” to eat at Passover.

“I substitute matzah meal for corn meal and wrap it in a banana peel, instead of a corn husk. It’s glatt kosher and kosher for Passover. It’s where a matzah ball and a taco meet.”

Bernstein’s creativity was not lost on the judges.

“Tamales made of matzah is close to brilliant,” said OCR Magazines publisher Chris Schulz.

Joining Schulz on the panel was an eclectic group of foodies and nonfoodies, both Jewish and non-Jewish, including cookbook author and Jewish Journal contributor Judy Bart Kancigor. Some, like Cooking Light magazine’s Kyle Crowner, had limited experience with kosher cuisine but were impressed.

“This food is much lighter for the most part,” Crowner said, noting the consumer trend toward flavor without added calories. The contest was further proof that kosher cooking has become mainstream, she added.

While contestants said they had been making their recipes long before they knew of the cook-off, some admitted having tweaked their ingredients to feature more Manischewitz products.

“After I saw the ad for the contest, I added the lemon horseradish sauce,” Rosenthal said. “It went ‘click’ and all fit together. I’ll be serving it with the sauce from now on.”

Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off Western Semifinal Winning Recipes:

Michaela Rosenthal’s Whitefish and Potato Knish

2/3 cup instant mashed potatoes
2/3 cup boiling water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 can (2.8 ounces) french-fried onions
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 jar (24 ounces) Manischewitz whitefish, drained and patted dry
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 box (17.03 ounces) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
2 teaspoons Manischewitz fish seasoning
8 teaspoons Manischewitz creamy horseradish sauce with lemon

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a large, rimless cookie sheet with parchment paper or grease with butter. Place instant potatoes in a medium bowl. Add boiling water and stir to combine.

Measure two teaspoons of the melted butter and set aside. Add remaining butter to potatoes and mix well. Stir in fried onions and parsley.

Mash fish and add to potato mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Remove both pieces of puff pastry onto a floured board. Unfold and cut along natural folds to form six equal rectangles. Remove two rectangles for another use. With a floured rolling pin, roll remaining four rectangles slightly to flatten.

Spoon one-quarter of potato-fish mixture onto each of the four rectangles and level to within half inch of the edges. Fold edges of dough and roll each piece into a log (like a jellyroll). Pinch seam lightly to seal. Trim unfilled dough ends.

Billboard mystery ends with interfaith twist


The mysterious billboards went up across the Los Angeles area just after the High Holidays. Each used a variation on the same theme, juxtaposing illustrations: Latkes or fries? Bagels and lox or sushi? Yarmulke or cap?

They carried no other information, and from the beginning it had the Jewish community guessing.

Was it a new kosher deli appealing to ba’alei teshuvah? A catering outfit hoping to penetrate the interfaith market?

Try Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries.

Yes, the big reveal last week that stretched from Westwood to Westlake Village featured the name of the Sinai Temple-founded cemetery, which has locations in the Hollywood Hills and Simi Valley. And the edgy twist is that Mount Sinai is reaching out to interfaith couples.

While many Jewish cemeteries with consecrated land bury Jews only, non-Orthodox cemeteries are increasingly making arrangements to include interfaith couples and families.

Given that 47 percent of all newlywed Jews and one-third of all married Jews are intermarried, according to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey, Jewish cemeteries like Mount Sinai are marketing to interfaith couples who would otherwise turn to secular or non-Jewish burial sites.

“In my travels around this community, there were tremendous misconceptions as to what most Jewish cemeteries in Southern California, and especially Mount Sinai, would or would not do. And I felt very strongly, as does my board, that we need to set the record straight,” said Len Lawrence, Mount Sinai’s general manager. “This was an opportunity that we took to tell the community that the rules are different for Mount Sinai.”

According to Rabbi Paul J. Citrin, an L.A. native and pulpit rabbi at Reform Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego, it is acceptable to bury a non-Jewish spouse in a Jewish cemetery. When Jewish cemeteries disallow burial of non-Jews, they are citing custom, not Jewish law.

The Talmud states that for the sake of peaceful relations, non-Jews can be buried in Jewish cemeteries (Gittin 61a). However, non-Jewish clergy are not allowed to officiate in a Jewish cemetery.

The Mount Sinai advertising campaign was developed six months ago by GSS Communiqations, and the revealed billboards will remain up until mid-December.
Mount Sinai’s Lawrence is satisfied with the buzz generated by the campaign, and he expects to see a bump in traffic on the cemetery’s Web site in the next month.

Before the reveal last week, Lawrence said he heard speculation from colleagues and his own college-age sons that the billboards likely had something to do with interfaith couples.

“We think it did what it needed to do,” he said.


The Tangled Web


Google got you down?

Looking for that special Jewish link and have to sift through dozens of unrelated Web sites — or even worse, anti-Semitic ones — just to find what you’re looking for?

It’s probably old news to report that there are specialized Jewish search engines — there have been since the earliest days of the Web — but there are still new ones emerging.

Machers.com, an all-Jewish search engine, recently joined the fray of Jewish sites with technology that can search tens of thousands of Jewish and Israeli Web sites, allowing users to search within the Jewish Web, as well as within the world of Jewish bloggers. (You know what they say: two Jews, three bloggers).

Machers.com joins a growing list of Web sites that purport to be the Jewish search engine, from zipple.com to JewGotIt.com to Jewish.com. (Some popular ones are already defunct, like the Golem search engine.) In addition to the all-things Jewish search engines, there are also even more narrower niche engines and Web sites hosting links, such as Ahuva.com, the worldwide directory of synagogues, shuls, temples, federations and foundations (jewishdirectory.com); “Jewish Reunion UK,” a finder service for Jews looking for friends and relatives with a United Kingdom connection; and the All Kosher Index, a database of Kashrut organizations, mikvahs and kosher restaurants throughout the world .

Speaking of kosher search engines, the Orthodox Union (OU) recently announced its own Kosher search feature on its Web site www.oukosher.org. Not only does it list all OU-certified products, but it allows consumers and companies to search through ingredients to see if they’re kosher.

Rabbi Yonatan Kaganoff, rabbinic coordinator and marketing specialist for OU Kosher, said that the site can aid companies searching for a kosher acid or enzyme. Stearic acid, for example, is often used in vitamins but can be manufactured from a beef derivative. He added that even if a company uses all-kosher ingredients, its product can’t be OU certified until it is applied and reviewed by OU.

 

U.S. Studios Court Israeli Programmers


Danna Stern, head of acquisitions at YES, Israel’s only television satellite company, was surprised to see that Mark Burnett, reality TV guru and producer of hit shows like “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” had only one framed press clipping in his office: a feature on him that had appeared in Ha’aretz, an Israeli daily.

Stern and her associates get wined and dined every year by television network executives at a weeklong Los Angeles screening of shows in May, during which 2,000 television executives from all over the world sit all day in front of studio screens to view the new fall season pilots for sale.

Hollywood exports are a big business, and U.S. studios sometimes rake in more from international licensing than domestic. Even though Israeli acquisitions account for only 2 percent of overseas television exports, Stern thinks Israel gets special attention.

“They’re always interested way beyond our share in the market — and the same goes for the talent,” she said. “Because we’re a very recognizable country, they’re very accessible to us.”

In addition, she added, most of the marketing people and executives are Jewish, and are “always interested in Israel.”

Stern has mingled with Geena Davis, Teri Hatcher and Jennifer Garner, who take the time to meet with the foreign visitors at studio parties.

“The stars are really interested in hearing what works well,” she said. “They always promise to come [to Israel], but they never do.”

Last month, YES held its first-ever press screening at Israel’s largest cinema complex, Cinema City, in Herzilya, modeling it after the Los Angeles screening, to show-off its newest acquisitions. Among them are: “Prison Break,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “My Name Is Earl,” “Commander in Chief,” “The War at Home,” “Supernatural Invasion” and “How I Met Your Mother.” YES directors believed that the number and quality of acquisitions justified its screening, in which dozens of Israeli reporters got to watch U.S. television for an entire day.

While the new shows will be broadcast early next year, the turnaround time between a show’s U.S. premiere and its Israeli premiere is much shorter than in the past.

YES was founded about five years ago, increasing competition in the Israeli television market. Before that, only one cable company and two Israeli networks, Channel 2 and IBA, vied for U.S. and European shows. Now, YES competes with a whole slew of television outlets: a new Israeli network (Channel 10) and locally run niche channels for lifestyle, music, action, children, comedy, parenting, sports, documentaries and even Judaism.

Prior to this television growth spurt, visitors or immigrants to Israel were hard pressed to find their favorite U.S. TV show on Israeli channels, and if they did, they were stuck with shows from a season or two earlier. “Seinfeld” first aired only after the third season premiered in the United States.

“Everyone is trying to shorten the time because of piracy — people are already downloading shows the next day, so we can’t afford to wait as we usually did,” Stern said

The YES executive said that the current delay of a few months still has advantages. Israel does not air reruns, and a U.S. buzz around a show has enough time to echo in Israel.

YES has been the leader in importing U.S., as well as British, TV shows, including “The West Wing,” “Weeds,” “Entourage,” “The Sopranos,” “The Comeback,” “Arrested Development,” “The O.C.,” “Hope and Faith,” “Scrubs” and more. Last year’s acquisition, “Desperate Housewives,” is the biggest hit. Other shows, like “Nip/Tuck,” “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Lost,” were picked up by other Israeli networks.

Sometimes Israeli buyers view new shows via broadband, but May is the time the big sales occur, when Stern and her associates choose among 30-40 programs. She noted that shows with religious themes, like “7th Heaven” and “Joan of Arcadia,” don’t do well in Israel.

“I think Israelis are a little more sophisticated than the average American viewer,” she said. “They tend to like things with an edge.”

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at arfa@netvision.net.il.

 

A Surprise Might Attract More To Shuls


In many synagogues across the country today, the $64,000 question is the same: How can we get more people to come more often?

Unlike the old days of quaint ghettos and neighborhoods, Judaism has become a choice. Synagogues today compete against Starbucks and other distractions, as much as they compete against themselves.

So how can we better compete?

Everyone seems to agree, whatever the denomination, that we should make the synagogue experience more enjoyable, more engaging, even more spiritual. You want to feel like you got something more than the fulfillment of an obligation.

As someone who’s been immersed in consumer marketing for 20 years, I want to throw one little insight into the mix, and invite anyone who’s interested to build on it.

If there’s one thing in marketing that piques interest, it’s the element of surprise. For synagogues, however, this is easier said than done, because so much of a prayer service is based on repetition. And repetition itself has an emotional benefit: It makes us feel safe and comfortable.

But still, wouldn’t it be interesting if we could add a dash of anticipation — a sense of pleasant unpredictability — to the synagogue experience?

One way would be to not get stuck on the same prayer melodies. Why not have our chazans constantly mix it up?

I was invited to an ultraliberal Ashkenazi Friday night service recently, and out of the blue came this hard-core Sephardic melody that my grandfather used to sing in Morocco. It blew me away, because I hadn’t heard it in years. It was totally against type.

It’s hard to overstate the delight of discovering a new melody or rediscovering an old one. I have a friend who would sometimes sing “Lecha Dodi” to the tune of “Michelle, Ma Belle.”

You don’t have to go that far. You could have a repertoire of three or four melodies for each prayer, and decide on the spot which one to sing. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the standard melody of “Ein Keloheinu,” it’s like a double shot of Valium. I once heard a Chasidic version of that prayer that really brought the words to life.

You get the picture. Mix it up, add, delete, go as far as you can without creating a shul mutiny.

Melodies can surprise and delight the heart, but what can surprise the mind? Most synagogue sermons connect with the calendar, either with the Torah portion of that week or with a specific holiday. It would be silly of me to challenge that imperative, but I do think there is an opportunity to break with the calendar, not just to surprise but to inspire.

We make a big deal about keeping the lessons of our holidays in our hearts at all times. So why couldn’t we pull the holidays out of their time zones and make them more visible throughout the year? In the same way that we can mingle our timeless melodies, why couldn’t we mingle our timeless holidays?

For example, any given Shabbat could honor a different holiday, and weave it into the discussion of the weekly Torah portion. I can envision a very powerful sermon on the subject of Yom Kippur — one month after Yom Kippur — that would play up the continuing relevance of the Day of Atonement.

At the beginning of an actual holiday, why not create a miniceremony that would honor the previous holiday?

When we’re so used to going forward, it really gets people’s attention to go backward, especially when it makes sense. We all have a tendency to go through our holidays and then put them away in storage. Wouldn’t it make sense to keep bringing them back, to follow up and make sure that we are still living their message?

We have such creative minds in our spiritual leadership that I can see a constant flow of holiday ideas at odd times of the year. If Rosh Hashanah is about personal renewal, why not surprise people by celebrating that holiday idea in the middle of the year? When it’s not Shavuot, why not celebrate the spirit of Shavuot with a Torah learning day? During the summer, why not do a spirit of Chanukah event for tikkun olam?

In other words, keep people on their toes and challenge their expectations. Bring back not just the biblical past, but the experiential past that we can personally relate to — our holiday treasures.

Ultimately, whether it’s through changing melodies or going back on holidays, people would get the comfort of the familiar, but they would also look forward to a touch of the unexpected. And who knows, they might even hold off on Starbucks for a few hours. What’s another boring latte?

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

 

Face It: Judaism Is Not Hip


This Rosh Hashanah I am praying to escape the tyranny of hip. Hip is infiltrating Jewish life like a migrating plume of acrid smoke meandering its way through our collective body and soul.

I know hip well. I know its insidious nature. I have seen its effect and its damage. I was surrounded by hip. I was taken in by hip. I yearned for hip. I searched for hip. I saw people’s lives and identities consumed by hip. Twenty years of my professional life were spent in the palaces of hip.

I was an advertising agency copywriter and creative director. I was trained to be one of the manufacturers of hip. I would sit in offices and create hip, and then watch all those people lust after the creations. I reveled in hip.

And then one day, it all came crashing down.

There was no earth-shattering event. It was just a moment of realization.

In the ad biz, you win awards for creating hip images. That’s all hip is. An image. A fleeting image. You can’t really describe hip. You can’t put your finger on what it is. What’s hip today is not hip tomorrow. You often here people say, “She’s the hippest person around.”

What does that mean? Nothing.

Absolutely nothing. When I happily left the ad agency business, I used to tell people, “It’s the ultimate liberation. I no longer have to direct my energies into the shallow, ridiculous waters of hip.”

I found salvation from hip in the Jewish world. It was a world of content. Meaning. Real connections to people, the earth, the heavens. It gave me roots into the universe in a way hip could never do.

It was such a refreshing departure from where I had been that I was determined to bring my professional skills into the Jewish world — as well as into other nonprofit organizations.

For years, it allowed me to escape even hearing the word “hip.” Then, hip began to seep out into a few Jewish crevices and corners.

Today, hip is everywhere in the Jewish organizational world. Federations want to be hip. Hillels want to be hip. Israel wants to be hip. Chabad wants to be hip. Aish HaTorah wants to be hip. Synagogues want to be hip. Day schools want to be hip. Jewish publications want to be hip. And the Jewish foundation world is clamoring to create and fund hip.

It used to be that Hollywood was going to be the magic bullet that would save the Jewish organizational world. Now Hollywood has been replaced by hip. At least Hollywood was concrete. It meant a person. Spielberg. Streisand. Seinfeld. But can someone please define or concretize hip?

What is this all about? If Judaism’s image — its brand — has become tarnished, is hip going to save it? Is this the point to which we involved Jews have arrived?

Hip is powerful. As a marketer of Jewish life, I am watching our leaders grapple and bow down to its power.

I am not denying that we have a problem in Jewish life with the products we offer and the images we create. Most are lackluster at best.

But if we think that hip is the solution, we are demeaning the essence of Judaism. We are trivializing its soul. We are convoluting Judaism as much as “haimish” has convoluted it for the past few generations.

Haimish was always an excuse for not being professional. As long as the organization was haimish, it believed it had fulfilled its mission.

Much the same mistake is happening with hip. If the organization is hip, if the offering is perceived as hip, then today the organization believes it is fulfilling its mission.

Hip is not about meaning. Hip is not about depth. Hip is not about the soul. Hip is not about connection to human beings and the world.

Hip is about shallow. Hip is about self-absorption. Hip is about today, this minute. Hip is not about the past and it is certainly not about the future.

This Rosh Hashanah, Jewish organizations need to realize that Judaism is not hip. It’s never going to be hip. It is not supposed to be hip. Judaism has too much depth to ever be hip. Judaism must be perceived as the antidote to hip. The products Judaism offers must be the escape from shallow hip. They must be the refuge, the other road, the real thing.

If we believe that the Jewish masses are looking for hip, there are plenty of places they can fill that need. They can go to the Gap. Now, that’s hip.

During the coming High Holidays, grant us justice and kindness. V’hoshiyainu — save us … from the tyranny of hip.

Gary Wexler is the owner of Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes based in Los Angeles.

 

The Passion of Mel Gibson


After watching Mel Gibson’s two-hour-and-six-minute “The Passion of the Christ” at the Fox Studio’s 200-seat Zanuck Theater, with barely a dozen carefully invited others in the audience, I came away with great admiration for Gibson.

Not for the film, I can assure you.

For while it is superbly photographed by Caleb Deschanel (“The Patriot,” “Being There” and “Black Stallion”) you can’t but sit in awe of Gibson’s brilliant publicity juggernaut that could teach Barnum and Bailey a thing or two about the not-so-delicate art of movie promotion and marketing.

This has to be the most brilliant marketing campaign in the history of movies. First, the story goes out: This movie will be in Latin and Aramaic and there will be no subtitles. The media swallows that one whole. Inevitably by the time the film is finished there are subtitles galore. Gibson may be a gambler, but he’s no fool, and there’s upwards of $25 million of his own money riding on this one. Then, there is the masterstroke of inviting a few token Jews to screenings. The inevitable cries of anti-Semitism guarantee ink in major newspapers worldwide — getting some Jews to cry anti-Semitism being only marginally more difficult than encouraging a yellow dog Democrat to attack Rush Limbaugh. Exhibit No. 1: When can you remember anyone securing a solid hour of “Primetime” puffery for an independent, unbelievably bloody (I defy anyone not to look away at certain points in this interminable torture) movie on a religious theme, in two dead languages yet?

So did we all fall into Gibson’s trap? Don’t bet the farm against it. This guy’s been around Hollywood for a long time. He knows what works.

Which brings us to the movie and the central issue — and no matter how much Gibson dodges the question that’s what the film is all about: Did the Jews kill Jesus? (Promotional postcards distributed by mainstream churches in North America do indeed provoke: “Who killed Christ?”) Gibson has removed from the subtitles the line in which the Jewish leaders, in encouraging Pilate to order the crucifixion, take the responsibility for the blood of Jesus into their hands and the hands of their children — the justification for centuries of Jewish persecution. The line remains “in the background” in the Aramaic dialogue. But he leaves no doubt whatsoever that the Jewish high priests under the leadership of the “ugly monster” Caiaphas, who on this evidence could have used a good dentist and cosmetic surgery, were the real instigators of the crucifixion. And that that perfectly decent chap Pontius Pilate, and his even nicer wife, really tried everything they could to talk some humanity into the bloodthirsty Sanhedrin.

The central problem with the film is that it is not the story of Jesus’ life. It is the story of his death: The slowest (all 12 hours of it), bloodiest, most painful death ever depicted on film. There are a very few fleeting flashbacks, all of which entirely, perhaps deliberately, miss any explanation of how we got to this point.

Why is this nice guy, who does nothing but preach sweetness and goodness and lovingkindness to everyone with whom he comes in contact, being treated like this? Why do the Jewish leaders want to get rid of him? One looks in vain for answers from the story “According to Gibson.” (He said the background is too well-known to anyone familiar with the Gospels so there was really no need to go into any explanations.)

In fact, it’s obvious from even a cursory viewing of the movie that he is not interested in historical niceties involving complex philosophical and cultural forces. His only answer — and it’s a lame one, even in a movie era obsessed with hobbits and goblins and child wizards — comes in the shape of a strange hermaphrodite, hooded creature that lurks on the edge of the crowd scenes and apparently represents Satan. For Gibson, the death of Jesus is a simple tale of good and evil — no further explanation required. His devotion to mediaeval nuns of 16th-century Spain and to his radical father for whom the current pope is a Polish heretic, gives him a simple, almost childlike black-and-white theology that is not too different from that preached by the Taliban.

Gibson, like most ludicrously powerful, rich, undereducated superstars, is immune to logic or history, and if he wants to propagate the “Gospel according to Mel” who can stop him? He’s the director and therefore entitled to shade his story as he sees fit. His version of the story of the Scottish rebel William Wallace in “Braveheart” — as any student of Scots history can attest — was no more accurate than his version of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. But his romantic ignorance of the struggles of the Highlanders against the English has considerably less serious implications.

As Jewish leaders cry for footnotes to accompany the movie, let me put in my suggestions: It would be nice if everyone who sees the movie was encouraged to go out and buy the best-selling book “The Sword of Constantine,” a scholarly and extremely readable account by James Carroll of the dealings of the Catholic Church with the Jews for the last 2,000 years. It would also be nice if just one Jewish leader had the guts to say we will hold Gibson personally responsible for any Jew who is injured as a result of this film, and that includes all the children who will run home from school having been accused — yet again — of “killing God.”


Ivor Davis writes for The New York Times and Los Angeles Times syndicates.

Q & A With Jewtopia Creators Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson


“Are you interested in a 29-year-old Jewish girl?”

I’m standing in the foyer of the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood talking to Bryan Fogel, the co-writer/co-producer/co-star of “Jewtopia” — a play that parodies dating, JDating, interdating, rabbis, Passover seders, Purim, Chanukah bushes, bar mitzvahs, shofar blowing, other types of blowing, goyim, Asian fixations, synagogue memberships and, most of all, Jewish women and their overbearing mothers — when this overbearing Jewish mother shamelessly accosts Fogel outside his dressing room to peddle her daughter to him.

“I tried to bring her today, but she couldn’t come,” the gray-haired woman continues, describing her daughter, eventually extracting Fogel’s information from him (“It’s on the Playbill,” Fogel says).

The whole exchange was all the more surreal because we had just spent the past two hours watching a play in which she could have been one of the characters.

That seems to be the thing about “Jewtopia:” it skewers Jewish stereotypes, and still leaves most of the subjects of the satire laughing (like the aforementioned unfazed pushy mother).

The two-hour play tells the story of Adam Lipschitz (Sam Wolfson), a Jewish guy facing extraordinary parental pressure (normal for Jewish parents) to marry a Jewish woman, who meets up with an old friend, Chris O’Connell (Fogel), a Christian obsessed with meeting a Jewish woman. They strike a Faustian bargain: Sam will help Chris pass as Jewish if Chris helps Sam find a Jewish woman to marry.

When The Journal first saw “Jewtopia” on opening night last May, it was originally set for a six-week run. Nine sold-out months later and 40 minutes shorter, the play is about to hit its 150th performance. Fogel and Wolfson, together with Clear Channel Communications, are taking “Jewtopia” to Chicago in April and, if all goes well, they plan to open in Boston, Miami and New York within the next year.

The Jewish Journal: What do you think of this “Jewtopia” phenomenon?

Bryan Fogel: When we wrote “Jewtopia” we were hoping it was funny, that people would have our sense of humor and our sensibility — but statistically, [knowing] L.A., we were holding our breath — and we were prepared to be $80,000 in debt.

Before the opening weekend we did a marketing thing with JDate and The Jewish Federation and other singles groups, and from that point on it just took off. Once the [Los Angeles] Times review came out [last May] we sold 1,500 tickets. From that Friday on, we were sold out two months ahead of time. It was just totally bizarre.

JJ: How do you account for the popularity of the show?

Sam Wolfson: Who knows why people laugh at what? [At] our show last night one-third of the people were between 20-30, one-third were between 30-60 and one-third were between 60-80 years old. [Comedian] Jan Murray brought like 12 people with him. They laughed as much as the 20-years-olds.

There’s been this wild age crossover.

BF: There’s our generation, and my grandparents’ and parents’ generation, who stayed where they were born. There was never any issue that they weren’t going to marry a Jew; our generation is the first generation — and I think it’s similar for Christianity, too. I love being Jewish, but I think that our generation is the first generation that crossed that line between being a cultural versus a practicing Jew. I think that our generation has started to question all that.

SW: A perfect example of why people are going nuts for it: This woman, she must’ve been 70 or something, and she said, “My son married a Mongolian [a character in the play meets a Mongolian woman]. I can’t believe it! How did you come up with Mongolia? This is my life!”

BF: We had the founder of JDate, Alon Carmel [and he said], “This is my Mongolian wife — she’s Japanese, and this is my half-breed child.” My character Chris [is based on my sister’s husband] — he had the same military/hunting/fishing background; he converted, and he’s more Jewish than she’s ever been.

I think that what’s working — everything we’re doing is in really, really good fun. The whole show comes from a love of Judaism. I love being Jewish. We’ve taken some stereotypes and turned them on their head in a way that everyone can identify. What we’re doing is not spiteful, it’s not coming from any other place but this zany, irreverence for our culture. When the Buddist says at the seder, “We can stop suffering and reach enlightenment, and the grandfather asks, “Stop suffering?” it’s about a love for our culture, and I think that the audiences love it. We’re pleasing most of the people. There’s always one person who says this is offensive. But I think that people can say that we’re not making fun.

JJ: People either love it or hate it. What offends people? And does this bother you?

BF: In my opinion, 97 percent love it. That 2 or 3 percent who hate it, I think that’s a small percentage. It seems to be the older people, or observant, who think we take it too far, that it reinforces Jewish stereotypes.

SW: These jokes have been going on for 100 years and suddenly we’re responsible for perpetuating it?

BF: Jackie Mason, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, this self-deprecating humor is Jewish humor, so when I hear that they are offended, I think they would be offended by Jackie Mason, too.

SW: I do feel like if a lot of these jokes were done by those guys — if it was in “The Producers” they [audiences] wouldn’t think twice. It’s OK if it’s an established comedian, but not from two punks who haven’t done it before. Nobody likes everything. But the fact that people who don’t like it really don’t like it — I think that it means we’re doing something right.

JJ: Speaking of offensive, I thought the play was a bit misogynistic. (Are Jewish women really that bad?)

BF: I don’t think the play is misogynistic at all. There’s no gray area in the play — we just decided to make everything zany and over-the-top. Obviously in real life you don’t get peed on [as Sam does on one of his 150 JDates] but I don’t think that the stereotypes are directed at Jewish women…. Just overall craziness, rather than anything grounded in reality.

SW: Stereotypes are so ridiculous. We made a conscious decision never to make the Fran Drescher-type, “Friends” Janice-type. In terms of presenting the Jewish girl … when I’m on the phone [making dates with 150 Jewish women] I’m happy about it! I’m excited! I break down because I’m broke and haven’t had sex for six months…. We never wanted it to be “Jewish women are bad and evil.”

BF: It’s coming from the two guys that wrote it, and the single dating world. My mother is my best friend. There was nothing in our writing spiteful. Sam’s last three girlfriends have been Jewish.

JJ: Go Sam! Perhaps misogynistic is the wrong word. Perhaps it’s just uneven — skewering Jewish women and not Jewish men.

BF: We did write about Jewish men. He has the pressure of marrying a Jewish woman. These two guys have a lot of flaws. You couldn’t look at these guys and think they’re the ideal guy.

SW: No Jewish women were harmed when writing this play.

JJ: What is the message of this play? Is Adam’s statement at the end, that “we’re all people and we should all get along,” a statement in favor of intermarriage?

BF: It’s a reality, that last monologue, that for better or for worse, it’s more grounded in the real world. In the ideal world, I’d find a Jewish girl and you’d find a Jewish guy, but the importance has diminished because there hasn’t been the threat of persecution — that we have to stay together or we’ll die. If I could just find a Jewish girl that I was into, wouldn’t my life be easier. Well, that’s not as exciting.

SW: I’m sure it’s the same for everyone and every religion. It’s a part of the culture, I guess.

JJ: Has this gotten you more dates?

SW: Well, it hasn’t been bad. We have both met girls through the show.

JJ: Bryan, would you go out with that girl whose mother was peddling her the day I saw the show?

BF: I would certainly entertain the idea.

“Jewtopia” plays at 8 p.m. (Thursdays-Saturdays) and 3
p.m. (Sundays) at the Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood.
Tickets are $27.50 and can be obtained by calling (800) 595-4849 or visiting www.jewtopiaplay.com .

The Circuit


Juniors Rule!

Rachel Firestone and Michel Grosz, both juniors at Milken Community High School, were among the 26 teenagers across North America to receive 2003 Bronfman Youth Fellowships that entitled them to spend five weeks in Israel this summer. Firestone and Grosz were chosen from 197 applicants. The fellowships were started by Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress.

Ladies First

AMIT Los Angeles Council held its annual Mother and Daughter Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. The event was co-chaired by Gertrude Fox and Janice Fox-Kauffler. (From left) Sondra Sokal, AMIT national president; honoree Renee Firestone; presenter, Oscar-winning movie producer Branko Lustig (“Gladiator,” “Schindler’s List”); and honoree Klara Firestone.

Kol Rockin’

Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood’s Reform synagogue, honored Howard Bragman, Marianne Lowenthal and Steve Tyler at a Beverly Hilton gala. (Back row, from left) Rabbi Denise Eger, Alexandra Glickman, Bruce Vilanch, Andrew Ogilvie and Cary Davidson. (Front row, from left) Judith Light, Lowenthal, Tyler and Bragman.

Garden Groove

(From left) Marilyn Ziering; Hanna Khoury, AICF violin scholarship recipient; and Janet and Max Salter. AICF is a privately funded financial supporter for talented Israeli youngsters and cultural institutions.

The America-Israel Cultural Foundation’s (AICF) Los Angeles Chapter held its annual fundraising event at a Beverly Hills garden party and dinner in honor of Max and Janet Salter.

East Coast Represents

Rabbinical students Michoel Lerner, 21, of Brooklyn, and Shmuel Cohen, 20, of Montreal, spent three weeks at a Chabad center in Thousand Oaks training to distribute Jewish resources.

Heavy Medals

A scene from Aviva’s 2003 Triumph of the Human Spirit Award Gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. (From left) Honoree Wallis Annenberg, Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson and honoree and Olympic gold medalist and UCLA softball coach Lisa Fernandez.

Funky Cold Medina

Hashalom, which offers free Jewish education for children in public school, held its third annual banquet. Israeli singer Avihu Medina (“Al Tashlicheni”) and local crooner Pini Cohen performed.

Chai Note

Chai Lifeline’s 4-year-old West Coast office will now be known as the Sohacheski Family Center, in honor of benefactors Marilyn and Jamie Sohacheski. (From left) Marilyn and Jamie Sohacheski receive a plaque from Rabbi Simcha Scholar, executive vice president of Chai Lifeline, and Randi Grossman, West Coast regional director.

Boat Trip

Some 75 singles strapped on their sea legs for Aish Los Angeles’ sunset cruise aboard the RegentSea, one of FantaSea Yacht Club’s sailing vessels. The four-hour Marina del Rey cruise featured games and a dinner under the stars.

Ink Tank

This year, Jewish journalism’s big night took place in our own backyard — make that backlot.

The Grill at Universal Studios served as backdrop for the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) annual conference’s 2003 Awards Banquet, where the prestigious Simon Rockower Awards were presented. This was the first Los Angeles visit of the AJPA conference, with The Journal welcoming 140 editors and journalists — representing Jewish newspapers nationwide — to the Beverly Hilton for industry-related symposiums.

“It’s been a wonderful year,” said Mark Arnold, the newest publisher of the 26-year-old Jewish Journal of North of Boston.

The conference offered some charged discussions. Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman moderated “Screen Shots: Pop Culture, Hollywood and The Jews,” a lively exchange between entertainment industry liaison Donna Bojarsky; screenwriter Andrea King; Endeavor Agency partner and former Jewish Federation Entertainment Division Chair David Lonner; and “Sex & The City” creator Darren Star. Panelists discussed the paradoxal tightrope of working in a Jewish-built, Jewish-dominated business that tends to shun Jewish culture in favor of other ethnic stories.

“The Jewish community is completely separate from the Hollwyood community,” observed Bojarsky on Jewish Los Angeles’ divide.

Lonner blamed Tinseltown’s “narcissistic society” as the reason why many Hollywood Jews do not explore or support issues pertaining to Israel.

“It’s just not as important in their day-to-day world,” Lonner said. “It’s all Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.”

Star joked that Hollywood Jews are “too busy getting behind France like Woody Allen,” then observed, with seriousness, “as much as they’re Jews, they do not want to be defined by their Jewishness.”

The panel acknowledged a palpable stigma surrounding telling Jewish stories. King could see why Hollywood does not find Jews courting Jews romantic comedy fodder.

“As a writer,” she said, “I can see how it’s more interesting to have two characters on ’30-Something’ having the Christmas tree/menorah debate rather than two people making latkes together.”

A Jewish-Latino relations panel found writer Gregory Rodriguez walking his Jewish audience through issues affecting Latinos via the prism of the Mexican American immigrant experience. Beginning with the mestizo (“mixed heritage”) origins of Mexicans, Rodriguez compared and contrasted his group with the Jewish community.

“Jews are the most highly organized ethnicity in America,” he said, before expressing his frustration with polite, pro forma Jewish-Latino dialogues, and Los Angeles’ Jewish elite as power players reluctant to own up to its profound socio-political influence.

“If we can’t discuss Jews honestly,” he said, “that does a disservice to everybody.”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency Editor Lisa Hostein presided over the Rockowers with Awards Committee chair Neil Rubin. Up-and-coming comedian Joel Chasnoff kept the audience plotzing. Keynote speaker Alvin Shuster, senior consulting editor for banquet sponsor, the Los Angeles Times, was “definitely impressed by this cross section of talent.” AJPA President Aaron Cohen won the Joseph Polakoff Award and a raffle prize. Among 2003’s multiple winners was The Journal — congratulations to Managing Editor Amy Klein (“Sin”); contributing writer Gaby Wenig (“Jerusalem Mayor Visit Sparks Snub”); and Art Director Carvin Knowles, whose cover designs won first place in the “Excellence in Illustration” category.

A Buttons-Down Affair

Comedian and Oscar-winning actor Red Buttons with Ruta Lee at the annual fundraiser for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center support group, The Thalians, which also included Debbie Reynolds, Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor.

Students Score

Downey B’nai B’rith Lodge 1112 awarded Al Perlus scholarship awards of $50 to five outstanding area high school students: Edith Moreno of South Gate High School, Carlos Avelar of Bell High School, Juan Pasillas of Huntington Park High School, Roselyn Ithiratanasoonthorn of Downey High School and Franchesca Gonzales of Warren High School. n

Love, American Technion

A total of 44 American Technion Society supporters took part in the organization’s annual mission to Israel. Among the participants pledging a total of $6 million to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology at its Mount Carmel campus in Haifa: Inga Behr of Pasadena, Rodica and Paul Burg of Palos Verdes Estates, Chuck Levin of Beverly Hills, and Sherry Altura and Rita and Steve Emerson of Los Angeles.

Medical Mission

Dr. Lawrence Libuser of Marina del Rey was among a group of doctors and volunteer medical personnel sent on a mission to aid refugees in Ghana. The United Nations-run refugee camp has over 50,000 people, most natives of Liberia. The medical envoy will treat as many of these refugees as possible during their summer mission.

Wise Guys

Youth volunteers from the Stephen S. Wise Temple Summer Camps volunteer at the Union Rescue Mission. (From left) Lily Tash, Loren Berman and Alex Alpert.

A Syn’s Big Win

Shomrei Torah Synagogue of West Hills won the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s (USCJ) Solomon Schecter Award for Excellence. The award will be presented at a USCJ convention to be held in Dallas in October.

Bank’s Boost

From left) Dan Meiri, regional director of Bank Leumi USA-California, celebrates with Bank Leumi supporters Jan Czuker and Max Webb the American subsidiary’s second quarter upswing — a yield of $9.5 million in net income; an increase of 2.2 percent from 2002’s second quarter.

Flag Day Fete

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary dedicated a monument with Jewish War Veterans (JWV) in honor of Flag Day. Participating (from left) Jerry King, color guard; Ralph Leventhal, past JWV department commander; Lt. Col. Rabbi Alan Lachtman of Temple Beth Torah of Temple City; Steve Rosmarin, past California JWV commander; Mark Freidman, CEO of Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary; California JWV Commander Odas Flake; and Mel Margolis, color guard.

A WINNICK-WINNICK SITUATION

Donors Gary (far left) and Karen Winnick (second from right) congratulate the first researchers to receive the Winnick Family Clinical Scholar title at the naming of the Winnick Family Clinical Research Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: Daniel Cohn, PhD, (second from left), an expert in the genetic causes of dwarfism, bone development and short stature; and Kidney Transplant Program Director Stanley Jordan, MD, (far right). The third Winnick Clinical Scholar, human autoimmune disease specialist Sandra McLachlan, PhD, is not pictured. The Winnick Family Clinical Research Center at Cedars-Sinai is primarily engaged in translating human genome research into treatment against a gamut of diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

Slicing the Kosher Cheese Market


At a cheese plant in Compton, Rabbi Avraham Vogel, a mashgiach (kosher supervisor) from OK supervision, adds a bucket of culture to a 780-gallon bath of hot milk. A table nearby is spread with cheese curd, which a worker cuts and then puts through a cooker stretcher that bathes the curd in hot water and then stretches it to produce the stringiness endemic to mozzarella cheese. Another worker slowly dips a small plastic ladle into a giant vat of small lumpy curds swimming around in yellowish whey. These are curds of ricotta cheese, which is made from the milk after the mozzarella has been extracted. The smell of hot milk is overpowering and soporific.

This production will yield 12,000 pounds of cheese for a small company called Anderson International Foods (AIF) that is trying to carve out a portion of the kosher cheese market for itself.

Brigitte Mizrahi, a French woman who now lives in Los Angeles, co-founded AIF in 1995 with the aim of producing quality kosher cheeses in attractive packages. The company currently sells kosher cheese under four labels: Natural and Kosher, which makes Mozzarella and Ricotta cheese; Les Petits Fermier, which produces "everyday" cheese such as Colby and Monterey Jack; Monsey Dairy, a line of specialty cheese such as Swiss cheese and Havarti; and La Chèvre, which is a line of goat cheese made from the milk of Chilean goats. Although AIF distributes several millions of dollars worth of cheese every year to kosher markets, supermarkets, restaurants and industrial clients, making a real dent in the kosher cheese market is a task that faces several obstacles.

Unlike other foods, which only require kosher certification of the ingredients and machinery in order to be considered kosher, cheese needs an onsite mashgiach who supervises all aspects of the production and who participates in the cheesemaking process. In that sense, cheese is like wine. Although a wine can be made of all kosher ingredients, it will not be considered kosher if made by a non-Jew without Jewish supervision.

The apocryphal story is that cheese was invented 6,000 years ago after an unknown Arab took a walk across the desert carrying milk for the journey in a pouch made of the stomach lining of a cow. When he arrived at his destination, the milk had coagulated, leaving him with cheese curds and whey. The stomach lining of an animal — which contains a chemical known as rennet casein — has been used in cheesemaking ever since, and it was for this reason that the Talmudic rabbis prohibited eating hard cheese that was not made by Jews. The rabbis feared that unless properly supervised, the rennet would come from either a non-kosher animal or an incorrectly slaughtered animal, which would make it non-kosher. Today, although many cheeses are made without animal rennet (cheesemakers use a microbial rennet instead) the prohibition against eating products of non-Jewish cheese production still stands.

Kosher cheese is thus known as gvinas Yisroel (cheese made by a Jew). There are many Orthodox Jews who use a still stricter stringency when it comes to dairy products known as cholov Yisroel (Jewish milk), which requires all milk and milk products to be supervised by a Jew from the time of milking — again, to prevent drinking kosher milk that might have been contaminated by non-kosher milk. (Two AIF cheese lines — Natural and Kosher and Le Chevre — are cholov Yisroel in addition to being gvinas Yisroel.)

The kosher hard-cheese market — as opposed to soft cheese, such as cottage cheese or cream cheese — is valued at $50 million a year, and is increasing at a rate of 40 percent annually, according to Kosher Food Industry reports published in 2000. However, industry experts say it is unlikely that kosher cheese consumption will ever come close to mainstream cheese consumption, due to laws of kashrut dictating that consumers need to wait six hours after eating meat before they eat dairy, and many large Orthodox families are too price conscious to shell out for expensive specialty cheese items.

However, new companies like AIF face fierce competition from World Cheese, a Brooklyn-based company that experts say controls 70 percent of the kosher cheese market. World Cheese currently distributes Haolam, Migdal and Millers brand of cheese. Sholom Halpern, sales and marketing director of World Cheese said the company distributes 8,000 packets of cheese every week in California alone. Another spokesman for the company, who declined to be named, said they are unfazed by competition.

"We pride ourselves on fair pricing, and one of the reasons why many a competitor have had a hard time breaking into the market is that to undercut us they would be working at cost," he said. "And the market for kosher dairy is much smaller than you and I think."

But AIF has grown by 50 percent every year that the company has been operating, and they are planning to develop other lines of luxury cheese such as Camembert and Parmesan.

Although Goodis has no illusions about becoming the next Miller’s cheese, she is confident that her cheese is good enough to win over many kosher consumers.

"We are trying to make people realize that there is good kosher cheese," she said. "There is a market for kosher specialty cheese, and it is starting to develop more and more."

The Circuit


Keepin’ it Real Estate

Becker General Contractors’ Sandy Becker was happy to be at what is known in the real estate and construction business as a “sunriser” — an early morning get-together. With a 4-month-old baby at home, Becker has, in recent weeks, been out of the loop regarding the regularly held sunrisers staged by The Jewish Federation’s Real Estate and Construction Division.

But Becker was one of many real estate-related entrepreneurs packing the 6505 Wilshire Blvd. boardroom for a special dor v’dor panel focused on relatives working together in real estate, which Victor Coleman, president/COO of Arden Realty, moderated.

Robert Gluckstein, owner of Robert I. Gluckstein Investments, shared with the in-the-know industry intelligentsia his highs and lows in the business, as well as some insights into the cyclical nature of Los Angeles’ real estate world. He also traced the career trajectory of his son, Brad Gluckstein, who went from Frisbee-flinging frat boy at Berkeley to becoming the self-made owner of Apex Realty and, more recently, CEO/managing partner of the Conga Room nightclub.

“I’m very proud of my son, because most of what he has accomplished, he’s done on his own,” Robert Gluckstein said.

Brad Gluckstein confirmed that autonomy in a parent-sibling relationship is critical to their healthy working relationship, and that keeping offices and dealings separate has helped achieve those ends.

Melissa Bordy talked about coming aboard as CFO of Held Properties Inc., founded in 1952 by her father, Harold Held, only after working her way up the field of finance at other companies. Unlike the Glucksteins, the Held family works together in the same office.

“Give them the authority to accomplish that responsibility and don’t stand in their way” was Held’s sage advice on how to foster a successful second-generation real estate kin.

Mark Lainer of Lainer Investments spoke of working with son-in-law Brian Fagan. Like the Glucksteins, whose real estate roots go back to 1918, the Lainers are third-generation real estate businessmen who still turn to to 99-year-old patriarch Louis Lainer for Solomonesque advice. Fagan spoke of the savvy and experience he has gleaned working alongside Mark, who in turn spoke about the hands-on nature of their business, which includes investing in properties and managing them.

“As my father liked to say,” Mark Lainer said, “‘I’m the president and I’m the janitor.'”

Raising Bar on Closets

While some Hollywood Jews are coming out of the closet to support Israel, others are going into the closet — but with good reason.

Doorset Closet Mobel prides itself on premium closet spaces manufactured in Israel, where the company has been based since 1986.

LA Architect magazine recently spotlighted Doorset with a special reception at Doorset’s Beverly Hills showroom. Playing hostess that evening was Netaly Bar, the showroom’s sales and marketing manager and the daughter of Doorset founder Amos Ayzenberg, who, with wife Lily Ayzenberg, attended the Beverly Hills reception.

Also in attendance, noshing on hors d’oeuvres courtesy of The Grill: Michael Kienzl and Aaron Alfi, partners in Bradco Kitchens and Baths, another L.A.-based importer of Israeli home design products; Yariv Ben-Yehuda, an Israel Defense Forces Radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles; Ashley Lowengrub, representing products designed by his mother, Israeli sculptor Ilana Goor, and clothing designer James Perse, creator of the Los Angeles-based IAMGE T’s casual clothing line, which LA Architect invited to take part in the evening.

Saluting Kraus

Some 150 members and friends of the Shomrim Society of Southern California, the fraternal society for Jewish law enforcement personnel, gathered at Sinai Temple on April 29 to honor Rabbi Henry E. Kraus for his long service as chaplain to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Among those on hand to honor the rabbi were Police Chief William Bratton; Sheriff Lee Baca; Rabbi David Wolpe; Shomrim President Marvin Goldsmith; Sinai President Abner Goldstine; Dr. Alfred Pasternak, Kraus’s brother-in-law; and his grandsons, Jerry and Dr. Daniel Janoff. Kraus, 88, a survivor of Auschwitz, once served as chief rabbi of the western region of Hungary. — Staff Report

Made in Israel


On a typically bustling weekday morning at Elat Market onPico Boulevard, regular shopper Boris Sinofsky was at the fish counter,ordering several pounds of tilapia. He had seen a pamphlet for Fine Foods FromIsrael — a campaign to support Israel through the purchase of its goods — buthe didn’t pay it much mind.

“I shop at Elat, Kosher Club, Koltov all the time. I alreadybuy a lot of Israeli products.”

Over by the meat counter, Gila Mehraban had not even heardof the campaign.

“I usually buy kosher products,” Mehraban said. “But I getall kinds of brands.”

Nobody she knows, she added, is consciously buying Israeliproducts to support the Jewish State.

Fine Foods From Israel — a citywide awareness campaignrunning March 19-31 — hopes to change Jewish consumer patterns. The marketingcampaign was launched earlier this month in a collaboration by the SouthernCalifornia Israel Chamber of Commerce, The Jewish Federation of Greater LosAngeles, the Government of Israel Economic Mission and the Israel Export andInternational Cooperation Institute. More than 60,000 pamphlets weredistributed throughout Los Angeles, listing participation of 90 markets,including 56 Ralphs supermarkets and independent outlets such as Elite Marketand Sami Makolet.  The campaign’s goal: to coax customers to buy products fromIsraeli companies such as Adin Ltd., Segal Wines and Wissotzky Tea.

Fine Foods is one of many ways American Jewish communitieshave been rallying support through Israel, using financial and educationalprograms. But unlike victims of terror funds such as The Jewish Federation’sJews in Crisis, Fine Foods’ objective is not to raise proceeds for specificcharities, but to boost revenue of Israeli companies and, by extension,Israel’s economy. Israel — which has experienced a steady economic downturnsince the second Intifada began in September 2000 — ships about $38 billion intotal exports, an estimated $1 billion of that food-related. Israel exports toNorth America decreased from $76 million in 2001 to $70 million in 2002.

Fine Foods is one of many recent “buy Israel” efforts.Another food-related initiative involves Osem USA  — the American branch of Israel’s largest food manufacturer — which has partnered with Jewish NationalFund (JNF) to launch the Passover campaign Matzah With a Mitzvah. For everyfive boxes of Osem products purchased, Osem will make a donation to JNF toplant a tree in Israel. Osem will also promote facts on its packaging aboutJNF, the century-old organization that has developed more than 250,000 acres ofIsraeli land. Major supermarket chains nationwide — including Ralphs andAlbertsons — are endorsing this endeavor.

“This is a great way to support Israel,” Osem’s PresidentIzzet Ozdogan said. “With one purchase, you are helping Israel’s economy,fulfilling the obligations of Passover and planting trees in Israel — threemitzvot for the price of one.”

“Buy Israel” programs are also transcending the foodindustry. American Jewish Committee devoted part of its Web site to a “Made inIsrael” section that identifies Israeli cosmetics and clothing brands, andincludes links to other “buy Israel” Web sites, such as ShopBenYehuda.com andUSAIsrael.org.

Consumers have also been supporting Israel in the homeimprovement arena, where Israeli companies have a prominent local presence.Doorset Closet Mobel, manufacturer of custom closet and storage systems, openeda Beverly Hills showroom in 2001, while Caesarstone — pioneers of quartzsurfaces — has based U.S. operations in Sun Valley. Meanwhile, Bradco Kitchens& Baths has become the exclusive U.S. distributor of Israeli companiesTopaz Kitchens and Harsa Sink.

Doron Abrahami, consul for economic affairs at the SouthernCalifornia Israel Chamber of Commerce, believes that word is slowly gettingout. He was encouraged by the 160 people who attended a Fine Foods “food expo,”held March 24 in Beverly Hills. The networking party attracted store owners,distributors and buyers for Ralphs, Albertsons and Trader Joe’s.

“It’s too early,” Abrahami said, “but from the feedback thatwe’re getting, we’re considering holding this campaign again next year.”

Midway through this attempt to boost the quotient of Israeligoods, the Fine Foods campaign’s effectiveness is difficult to separate from anoverall, pre-Passover trend. Participating retailers endorse the marketingendeavor, but report conflicting feedback on its effectiveness. David Eskenazi,manager of Kosher Club in Los Angeles, noticed a small spike in the shape of afew phone calls.

“Overall there’s been a general increase in the purchase ofIsraeli goods even before the campaign,” said Eskenazi, who added that,conversely, “there’s been a drop in the sales of all of our French products.”

As a result of demand, Kosher Club will carry four moreIsrael-imported wine brands this Passover.

“Consumers are making a choice to support Israel, and we’remaking an effort to purchase these products,” Eskenazi said.

Noori Zbida has seen a bump in interest since the campaignbegan at his Fairfax Avenue store, Picanty.

“People want to choose more Israeli products than before,”Zbida said.

Tzvi Guttman of Mr. Kosher in Encino, felt otherwise.

“I sell the same amount around the year,” said Guttman, who”didn’t feel a difference.”

Abrahami cautioned against looking for instantaneous resultsfrom this inaugural Fine Foods.

“It might take a year to measure this campaign,” he said.”It’s a big community. I think there’s a big potential.”

Chamber of Commerce executive committee member BennettZimmerman agreed.

“If we could reach 100,000 people in California with ourcampaign,” he said, “that’s $100 million worth of goods. If we can replicatethis across the country, that’s a very significant impact on Israel’s economy.”

For more information on the Fine Foods from Israel campaign, call (323) 658-7924; visit www.finefoodsisrael.com. For more information on Jewish National Fund, call (800) 542-8733; visit www.jnf.org. For more information on American Jewish Committee’s Made in Israel program, visit www.ajc.org.

An Enabler of Genocide


Edwin Black’s new book, "IBM and the Holocaust" (Crown) has generated significant interest. Full-page advertisements in the New York Times and other prestigious newspapers and interviews on the "Today Show" and other prominent television programs have all been part of its marketing program. Despite its many substantial problems, the work is important.

All governments gather information about their citizens. Census data, tax records, driver’s licenses, birth certificates and property transfers are significant raw material that bureaucracy collects, organizes, uses and disseminates in the course of its operations. Germany was no exception. Between 1933 and 1945, however, the Germans used statistics in a lethal way. Because of Nazi ideology, the German government was interested in identifying, locating and ultimately deporting Jews and other victims.

Such a task would have been exceedingly more difficult, tedious, time consuming and inefficient — perhaps even impossible — without the employment of data-processing equipment developed by IBM and manufactured by its German subsidiary, Dehomag.

The work of identifying Jews was done with the help of the Hollerith machine, one of the earliest punch-card sorters, which was made in Germany and engineered in the United States. Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft, called Dehomag, a company in which IBM held a 90 percent share, manufactured the Hollerith machines used by the Germans. The machine made it possible to process vast quantities of data fast.

Black demonstrates conclusively that IBM was aware of how its technology was being used and that it was essentially unconcerned. According to Black, the American company was not interested in Nazism or anti-Semitism, but in making money. And by cooperating with the Nazi government, much money could be made.

Thomas Watson, the legendary founder of IBM, positioned his German subsidiary so that it had the appearance of being a German company until the United States entered the war. Even then, it used neutral Switzerland as the nexus of its global operations, in an attempt to keep control of the day-to-day management of the company and its assets in equipment, leasing contracts, and patents.

Watson personally received the Merit Cross of the German Eagle with Star honoring "foreign nationals who made themselves deserving of the German Reich," the highest medal that could be conferred on a non-German. He opposed American entry into the war until 1941. When war seemed inevitable, he returned the medal.

In the United States, IBM was manufacturing machine guns, but in Germany its machines were used to coordinate the railroad stock that brought Jews to the concentration camps and to keep track of the working schedules within the camps and the arrival, departure and deaths of prisoners.

Because this data processing equipment was leased, IBM could immediately identify each piece of equipment and where it was located, Black says. More important, because IBM and its subsidiaries individually designed and supplied the punch cards to be processed, they were intimately aware of the specific needs of their diverse clients for data, and thus they were in a position to understand the full scale of Nazi operations. The Hollerith machines were used in Auschwitz and Dachau, Mauthausen and Buchenwald, Ravensbrück and Flossenberg. The Reichsbahn, the German railroad system, and the Luftwaffe, among other German clients, also used the machines.

Ironically, after the American victory, IBM was regarded as an American corporation and therefore could receive its holdings in Germany. It sequestered those employees who needed corporate protection, got rid of those considered troublemakers (whose service to the Nazis could be used as a means of dismissal) and continued business as usual.

Black alludes to similar situations regarding other American corporations when he describes the role of Standard Oil of New Jersey, which was castigated by a Congressional Committee in 1942 for turning over synthetic rubber processes to the German Navy while withholding such information from the Americans and the British. In fact, then-Sen. Harry S. Truman called Standard Oil traitors. One suspects that a similar history of Ford or General Motors and a host of other global corporate holdings in Germany would also reveal intimate connections with the Nazi regime. But he makes his case where IBM is concerned.

The book is not without its flaws. Black presumes that the Nazi plan for the destruction of the Jews was evident to even a disinterested observer far earlier than even the most discerning comprehended the scope of the "Final Solution." He presumes that an occasional story in the New York Times placed on page 12 or 14 would have had the impact then that it has today, when we read it with full knowledge of what was happening. He is wrong on some dates; he describes advance knowledge on the part of many historic personalities, when the record indicates otherwise. Too often, he engages in hyperbole.

Yet "IBM and the Holocaust" is an exceedingly timely work as it examines the role of American — or, more correctly, global — corporations in perpetrating the Holocaust, and its implications for contemporary discussions of corporate and governmental ethics are significant. In an age when so much information is available about each and every one of us, it underscores the importance of knowing that although information is neutral, the use of such information is not.

This book demonstrates that regulation cannot be left solely to market forces and that public pressure, boycotts and other means of imposing moral restraints on corporations may be important. One hopes that IBM will respond to this work by telling the truth about its past, openly and fully.

Hollywood Jews and the FTC Report


Leading Jewish Hollywood executives and directors responded with a sense of shame this week to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) report criticizing the marketing of media violence to minors. Reached by phone, they spoke with The Jewish Journal about how they struggled to reconcile their sense of social and moral responsibility with the demands of the marketplace. Many felt the challenge of balancing the task of self-regulation from within the industry against the evil of censorship from the outside. Others spoke of a more personal balance, played out against a highly charged political atmosphere: deciding how much of the entertainment industry’s product their own children can watch.

Jeff Sagansky, CEO of Paxson Communications and former president of TriStar Pictures and CBS Entertainment, was outspoken in his criticism of the media for injecting children on a daily basis with what he dubbed “a very toxic cocktail of violence and general irresponsibility.”

He pointed to a score of studies over the past 20 years that link media violence with violent behavior. “You can quibble with any single study,” Sagansky stated, “but the net effect, if you read all these studies, is a direct correlation between violent behavior and the amount of violence the kids consume in the media. For 15 years we’ve been fighting cigarette advertising to minors. But I think this is just as harmful, maybe more harmful.”

Sagansky called for a self-policing policy on media violence. “I don’t believe,” he said, “that any government board can necessarily sit there and determine things for us. But on the other hand, there have got to be very, very frequent reviews to see how the industry is coming along. Because we’ve talked about this self-restraint now for seven or eight years. I don’t see any change whatsoever in what’s coming out; in fact, it seems to be worse.”

Even getting executives to speak about the issues as Jews proved difficult, as most of the executives reached preferred not to comment.

“One, they’re a part of the system that propagates all this,” Sagansky said. “And two, I think everyone in Hollywood is very, very afraid of government censorship. Which, by the way, they should be.”

Sagansky mused that the best thing Washington might do would be to mandate that every executive in the entertainment industry be required to have their children watch “all the TV programs and movies and music videos that they’re putting out. That would put a real quick end to it.”

In fact, Sagansky does not permit his children to watch any programs or films with violent content. He and his wife screen every program beforehand.

Robert Greenwald, prominent producer and director of the new film biography of Abbie Hoffman, “Steal this Movie,” also emphatically criticized the level of violence in media and called for self-regulation on the part of the industry.

“For me, it certainly is an issue of responsibility and influencing people with our work,” he said. “I would like to think that in the film and television world we hold ourselves to a higher moral responsibility than the cigarette industry or the Firestone people.”

Opposing government regulation or censorship, Greenwald stated that government could not create “the perfect set” of rules and regulations.

“But we can’t on the one hand argue that in our movies we should depict somebody recycling garbage and say this character will affect audiences positively, and then argue that when we have a character who shoots people, that doesn’t also affect audiences,” said Greenwald. “It has to. I believe our work does have an effect. And because of that, there is a sense of personal responsibility that we all have to have about where we draw the line in terms of influence and profits.”

Greenwald pointed to a moral schizophrenia in the culture that extends far beyond the entertainment industry: “It’s not just film,” he said. “There are decent people who make cigarettes that kill people. There are decent people, I think, who go to work for HMO’s.”

In his own home, Greenwald said that he monitored the amount of film and TV his children are allowed to watch.

“If it’s excessively violent,” he said, “I don’t let them watch it at all. I’m very, very strict about it.”Veteran film director Lionel Chetwynd, whose forthcoming movie, “Varian’s War,” is an account of a rescuer in the Holocaust, Varian Fry, also spoke out for self-regulation. “Regardless of what the FTC can or cannot do, the larger reality is that anything the popular culture can do to try and help restore civility to American public life, they should at least seriously consider and examine doing,” he said. “As a First Amendment absolutist, I’m not looking to my government to cure society. Because the evidence is that it really cannot, no matter how well-intentioned it is. It’s absolutely up to us. Only we can make the difference by doing the right thing.”

But there is a longer view, one that usually goes missing in the politically charged debate over family values and entertainment. “A lot of this is in the eye of the beholder,” said Neal Gabler, author of “An Empire of Their Own,” an account of the history of Jewish participation in the creation of Hollywood, and the new book, “Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality.”

Gabler pointed out that many gangster films of the 1930’s that were once singled out for excessive violence now seem “highly moralistic and very, very tame.”

Popular culture, he said, “is a kind of contrarian form. It challenges the status quo. I, for one, believe that when you really cross the line, the moral boundary, that those kind of movies, songs and television programs tend to be ghettoized and marginalized.

“There’s a kind of self-regulation to all this,” he continued. “And it all depends on where you set your own meter in terms of what you find offensive or not. Because popular culture is always offensive to somebody. It is always a form of rebellion, of outlawry.”

Gabler cited Elvis Presley as an example. “Twenty years after Presley first appeared, he was singing in Las Vegas, and his audience was not young people any longer,” said Gabler. “They were middle-aged types from the Midwest. And that’s the nature of popular culture. What begins at the margins gets domesticated in the middle. I guarantee you there will be rap singers in Vegas 10 years from now. Their music will have become so domesticated that their audience will be essentially middle class.”

Nevertheless, as a Jewish father, Gabler was less than sanguine about exposing his own children, ages 13 and l5, to violence in the media. “This is my responsibility,” he said passionately. “You watch your children. I know what movies they go to. I know what TV programs they watch. When they’re on the Internet, their computer is across the desk from mine. I’m not sitting there confining them to Walt Disney fare, but what I am trying to do is keep them from seeing things that I know are ugly and heinous. I do not want to raise my children to be callous.”

Challenging Content


Hollywood may be taking a drubbing lately for its content and marketing practices, but if you ask Mark Honig, the industry has no one to blame but itself.

Honig, the executive director of the Los Angeles-based Parents Television Council (PTC), a national watchdog group, says, “Hollywood doesn’t have a monopoly on the First Amendment. They have every right to put out whatever product they want, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit by and keep quiet when they broadcast atrocious and violent program-ming to our children at 8 o’clock in the evening.”PTC, founded in 1995 by noted conservative Brent Bozell, is chaired by Steve Allen and has grown to 535,000 members nationwide. Its rapid expansion stems largely from the organization’s national full-page newspaper ad campaign, which has run more than 1,000 times. In the ad, Steve Allen urges parents to join PTC, thus sending a message to Holly-wood that “we’re not going to stand by and accept their raunchy programming any longer.”

Clearly, PTC is swimming against the cultural tide. Its staff must watch the very shows they abhor in order to tally the acts of violence, vulgarities and sexual references that appear every hour on prime-time television. For example, during four weeks of programming last fall in the 8 p.m.-11 p.m. time slot, PTC counted 1,173 vulgarities, nearly five per hour on six net-works, and a rate five times higher than in 1989. Honig, who is Jewish, admits that despite the work of PTC, the overall quality of television continues to decline. Still, he can point to some successes. After Allen showed up at an MCI Worldcom shareholders meeting and blasted the company’s advertising support for UPN’s “WWF Smackdown!,” the company pulled its advertising dollars. PTC efforts also led to others doing the same, including Ford, Coca-Cola, M and M Mars, and the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.

PTC worries about what it considers the inappropriate content of much of today’s tele-vision offerings. Their newsletters warn parents about particularly sleazy shows, and lists names, addresses and phone numbers of companies advertising on them. However, they also laud shows they consider wholesome, such as “7th Heaven,” “Touched by an Angel,” and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.”

Honig claims that it isn’t sufficient to tell people to just turn off the TV. “Even if your own kids aren’t watching, your neighbors’ kids are being influenced by it.”

Honig also points to several studies, including a University of Michigan researcher’s 22-year study which linked prolonged television exposure with violent acts committed by youth, such as rape and murder. In the past 18 months, four people have been killed imitating wrestling matches from the popular and ultraviolent wrestling programs, such as “WWF Smackdown!” For this reason, “Smackdown!” continues to be a prime target of PTC’s efforts to wean advertisers off programming.

Honig disagrees with Hollywood claims that warning labels and ratings should be enough. “V-chips and warning labels are only Band-Aid approaches, and they have the unintended conse-quence of giving the industry a protective shield without addressing the underlying problem of the sexual and violent content.”Besides, Honig says, many parents complain that the ratings system is complicated and confusing. “For some reason, networks now feel they have to offer edgier and shallower content, which often deals flippantly with issues of teen sexuality, incest and violence.”

As a nondenominational group, PTC includes people of all faiths. But Honig’s Jewishness motivates his work with the group. “My Jewishness affects my entire life,” he says. “I believe that as Jews we should try to set examples that are moral in nature. The popular culture has become so powerful that this is one way where I can effect change for the better.”

Some prominent Jews on PTC’s advisory board include Michael Medved, Mort Sahl and Senator Joseph Lieberman, whose vice-presidential candidacy thrills Honig. “He has seen the content that he speaks about and has raised this in the national debate,” Honig says. “I hope all the candidates continue to address it.”Honig says he is sometimes “saddened” by the number of Jews involved in writing and produ-cing some of what he would call Hollywood’s worst products. “Unfortunately, most Jews in Hollywood don’t ask themselves, ‘How can I as a Jew put out a product that will uplift us?'” He hopes that Jews in Hollywood might band together in an organized way to work toward that goal, just as more than 1,000 Christian actors, writers and producers have in the group Intermission.

“We want to reach out to all who are concerned about the direction of our popular culture, and that obviously includes the Jewish community. For thousands of years, Jews have helped shape values that know no time constraints. Therefore it’s very important that we address this issue, especially considering the large Jewish contingency in Hollywood.”

For more information about Parents Television Council, visit www.parentstv.org

Raising Boys


This past year, Toys R Us was excoriated for proposing and, in some instances, constructing separate “Boys World” and “Girls World” sections. But public outrage quickly forced the 707-store retailer to abandon this gender-based marketing concept, which it euphemistically referred to as “logical adjacencies.”Twenty years ago, I would have vehemently condemned Toys R Us’ discriminatory actions, perhaps even joining the ranks of the politically correct protesters. Girls, I would have argued, have as much right to play with a Tonka truck as boys with a Little Tikes vacuum cleaner. And not only a right, a need.Twenty years ago, I was single, childless and clueless.

But I had come of age in the late 1960s and 1970s, witnessing the birth of the pill, Ms. Magazine and Helen Reddy’s hit song, “I am Woman,” watching a total upheaval of traditional sexual roles, rules and expectations.

By the early 1980s, I had seen Sally J. Priesand ordained as the first female American rabbi, Sandra Day O’Connor appointed as the first female United States Supreme Court justice and Sally Ride launched into space as the first American female astronaut. And I firmly believed the slogan – before I met my husband, Larry, of course – that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

The truth is that the feminist movement, especially during the last 30 years, has brought women unprecedented and very necessary civil rights. It has increased our pay, our sense of confidence and our reproductive options. Clearly, in the words of Bob Dylan, “the times they are a-changin’.”

Changing so much that by late 1983, married and pregnant, I envisioned raising my first son in an idyllic, egalitarian environment. I would teach him to be vulnerable and sensitive, to share his toys graciously with his playmates and to assist me joyfully and willingly with household chores. My future daughter-in-law, whoever she might be, would sing the praises of my parenting skills.

Then Zack was actually born – and I watched the powers of the Y chromosome unfold before me. I watched him hide his favorite toys before a friend would come over. And even more horrific, in our then-adamantly pacifistic, weapon-free home, I watched him fashion guns out of Legos or pieces of toast. Or shoot with a pointed forefinger and raised thumb.

In 1987, Gabe was born. As a toddler, he transformed his cute, cuddly Care Bears into deadly weapons to hurl against his older brother. Later, he used his artistic skills to draw guns and forts and armed castles. Then, in 1989, with the birth of Jeremy, I learned the true meaning of the word risk-taker. Barely walking, he regularly climbed atop the kitchen table and marched across it. Worse, before he learned to swim, he jumped fearlessly into the deep end of swimming pools. He also wrapped Levolor cords around his neck and headed for electrical outlets with letter openers.

By the time my fourth son, Danny, arrived in 1991, my feminist outlook had flip-flopped. I had accepted the reality of innate, intrinsic and God-given gender differences, differences not easily altered by well-meaning and enlightened parents and parenting manuals, differences fundamentally immune to social and cultural influences.

The Talmud agrees. “It is the way of man to subdue the earth, but it is not the way of a woman to subdue it.”

My friend Doug Williams also agrees. Recently comparing our respective hormonally charged home environments, Doug, the father of three daughters, said, “At our house, we have talking, talking, talking. Everything has to be processed.””Come to our house,” I offered. “We have punching.”

“Boys are just hard-wired a certain way,” my husband, Larry, says. And studies confirm this. Males have 10 to 20 times higher testosterone levels than females as well as lower levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that reduces confrontational and impulsive tendencies.

Overall, men are more competitive, aggressive, physical and prone to taking risks.That’s why, with four boys, we have plastic surgeons on call.And that’s why females, who have been trying for the past several decades to remake males in our image, to make them more communal, cooperative and compassionate, have been unsuccessful. Indeed, no matter how much we ask our husbands and sons to talk about their feelings, how often we ask them to process and not necessarily solve problems or how many pink polo shirts we buy them, biology trumps behavioral influences, nature trumps nurture.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t passionately and unequivocally believe in equal civil, social and religious rights for males and females.

It doesn’t mean that I condone rude, offensive, outlandish or inappropriate behavior. Or that I ever accept the excuse that “boys will be boys.”

But it does mean that no matter how generically, unideologically or “illogically adjacent” Toys R Us arranges its thousands of toys, my sons, every time, will make a beeline to the weapon aisle.

It’s Just Business


“Do they all have to be Italian?”

This is the question the network executive asked the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond” as they were casting Ray Romano’s family. A dumb question? If what was going on here was finding the best possible cast for a particular show, then, yeah, it would be a dumb question. But this is network television, where the marketing department has as much, if not more, to say about which shows will get on the air as the creative department. In order to deliver viewers, the network will do anything it can to avoid alienating the majority of Americans, who happen to be white Protestants. And conventional wisdom dictates that these people want to see themselves reflected on TV. So maybe asking whether all the Romanos have to be Italian was not such a dumb question, after all.

There’s been a lot of angry and disappointed reaction to the new TV shows for fall. The NAACP is protesting this television season’s all-white look. Hispanics and Asians are absent in leading roles, just like they usually are. And are there any Jews this year? I can’t think of one.

While I personally think this situation is deplorable from an aesthetic and cultural point of view, I honestly don’t believe the decision-makers at the networks are sitting around, wondering how they can keep ethnic groups off television. What they are sitting around and thinking about is money. Their own and the corporation’s, which, of course, are intimately connected. Millions, no, make that billions, of American advertising dollars ride on a hit TV show, and a hit TV show rides on only one thing: the numbers. If this is starting to sound more like a Vegas crap shoot than electronic theater, you’re following perfectly.

For the corporation to make money, those networks have got to sell commercial time, and the more viewers they can deliver, the more they can charge for that commercial time. See, it’s not politics; it’s math.

Since we’re talking about economics, remember the “trickle down theory?” Here’s how it works in TV: As a producer and writer of network television shows, I want to keep my checks rolling in, so I’ve got to deliver what my boss wants. I can start out creating a Jewish character, but by the time it’s on the air, she’ll be a white Protestant.

I created a character named Cassandra Kaplan. She lived on the Upper West Side of New York and was a literary agent in the publishing business. Could you get more Jewish? This was a pilot script — i.e. a template episode for a potential show. CBS liked it and wanted to shoot it. The network M.O. that year was to only develop shows that had a star in the lead role. This was not because Les Moonves, the president of the network, wanted to create jobs for out-of-work stars. No, he believed that the most reliable way to get people to tune in was to give them a familiar product, someone they already knew and loved.

OK, if we want the Cassandra Kaplan project to move forward, we need a star. Fran Drescher: already got a show. Bette Midler: developing her own project. Barbra Streisand: Get real. She’s not gonna do episodic TV. I think we’re out of Jewish stars. What’s annoying is that it’s self-perpetuating. Few obviously Jewish actresses are cast in leading roles; therefore, few have the opportunity to become stars. So then when you need a star, you haven’t got a Jewish one, and you have to go with someone who’s not. We cast Kathy Baker, the Emmy-winning star of “Picket Fences.” The network was happy; the project moved forward.

Kathy is a wonderful actress, and we were lucky to get her. She brought warmth and depth and humor to the role, but she certainly isn’t Jewish. So Kaplan became Cassidy, and that, as they say, is show business. Jewish writers, Jewish producers, Jewish network executives, but the audience is not Jewish. Nothing personal, just business.

When I was growing up, my father had a jewelry store in Sioux City, Iowa. He was Jewish and half the people who worked in the store were Jewish and a lot of the companies that supplied him with merchandise were run by Jews, but come December, he didn’t sell Chanukah gifts; he sold Christmas gifts because he was running a business and that’s where the money was. Well, TV is a business, no different then my Dad’s jewelry store, except the grosses are a whole lot bigger.


For the past two years, Ellen Sandler has been co-executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which airs Monday nights on CBS.

Sealing the Breach


This Father’s Day, I’d like to say a word about masking tape.

My father sold masking tape in about 30 different sizes and textures, as part of his business, selling industrial supplies. Putty colored, silver-grey, clear; half-inch, 1, 2, 3 inch; available by the case and the bundle. Though he went every day to his office, our basement was filled with staple guns of every size, plastic filament and all kinds of fastening equipment, the business that helped pay the mortgage. I understood not a bit of it: not just the business, but the inspiration behind it. When my parents suggested I help them with the paper work, implying that one day this could all be mine, I practically sneered at the drudgery.

The packing business was a natural for Dad, but what could it mean to me? His own father owned a woman’s lingerie shop on Orchard Street in the Lower East Side, but Sam’s real gift was in tying a mean knot. When I asked him for words of wisdom, Grandpa told me, “Save string. You never know when you’ll need it.”

When my father sold his business and retired, he asked what I might want to save from it. I had to think hard. I was an intellectual and wanted to talk ideas. Why couldn’t he leave me a first edition Henry James? What could I possibly want as a momento of those long hard years selling, packing, bundling the materials that belted down Long Island industry?

I’ll take a six pack of tape, I said finally.

This year I started a small business and I could eat my words. My father’s merchandise was a gold-mine, even if it took me decades to realize it. Dad had corrugated boxes, electric staple guns and tape. The putty colored tape was great for shipping, while the electric tape was good for wiring and the clear-plastic was good for mending. My heart soars to think what labor-saving devices were sold off before I knew what they were for.

I could reach heights of sentimentality over the lost time, but here’s the thing — it’s not too late at all. For here we are, in endless meaningful conversation about postage rates and packing labels, which are today’s coin of the realm for those doing business, like me, in the new internet world. He knows everything, let me tell you, especially for one who knows nothing at all. How to develop a market niche, how to ship a package; how to collect from a client, how to track inventory; what to charge for handling fees. How to ride out the low ebb in sales and keep going when you’d rather quit, and when to give up a product line; the difference between making money and wishful thinking.

“Packing and shipping is boring, back-breaking work. Hire someone to do it for you,” he says. When it comes to drudgery, he really knows me.

But did I really know him? Throughout my childhood, for as long as I could remember, my father seemed to groan under the weight of his labor. The sound of his footsteps climbing our apartment stairs signaled the arrival of a man who carried the world home with him. At dinner, he and Mom would discuss the clients of the day. His exhaustion was total.

What could I think but that he hated the enterprise? One day I found a series of his youthful drawings. Dad was an artist with a pencil! I exulted. See, he was made for something better than the toil of business!

So I come to the myths and self-delusions of childhood. Like many other second-generation Americans, I thought I was made for better things, because certainly my parents deserved better than the cards they were dealt.

I went off to college seeking an escape from the labor of the real-world, yearning for a life with status and class — I would fulfill my father’s drawings through my own art. The world of ideas beckoned me because it was unpredictable, creative, filled with what I hoped would be a life of growth and joy.

One mistake I made was in confusing the process from the purpose. Regardless of what course we chose, there will always be some drudgery. Even classical music soloists must practice, no one lives in inspiration all the time.

But one day, a few years ago, I heard myself coming home from the work I love, the work of words and ideas. I groaned into the house and through my briefcase onto the table with exhaustion. I carried the weight of the world into my home. What would my daughter think of me and the world I had chosen for myself?

So when it came to my dad, I could not know the whole story just from the results.

As for business, I was wrong about that too. Business, I have discovered, is fun. Finding a market for a product is creative. And making money through a good product is nice work, not a capitalist tool.

“What would you do if you could start over again?” I asked Dad.

“Oh, the same,” he said. “I was good at it.”

Waste no sympathy on the days gone by.

But save string. You never know when you’ll need it.


Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, is author of “A Woman’s Voice: Reflections on Love, Death, Faith, Food & Family Life” (On The Way Press.)

Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.

Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.com. Her book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.

Shabbat Across Los Angeles


It’s finally happened. Marketing gurus have gottentheir hands on Shabbat, taking it off dining-room tables and throwingit up onto billboards across the nation — in the hopes of bringingit back down to more tables.

With dozens of red-and-blue signs around town,radio jingles, and ads in national publications such as Newsweek andSports Illustrated, Shabbat Across America is leaving its mark on LosAngeles — even before the event takes place on March 20.

Marsha Rothpan, assistant director of theCouncil on Jewish Life, and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, chair of ShabbatAcross Los Angeles, expect 6,000 local participants.

Organizers are expecting 65,000 under-affiliatedJews to attend Shabbat services and dinner at about 630 synagoguesnationwide — more than double last year’s participation.

“We have shown American congregations that if theyreached out and did something nontraditional like marketing Shabbat,people would heed the call and would come,” says Melanie Notkin,marketing director for the National Jewish Outreach Program, theorganization that is sponsoring the event for the second year.

In Los Angeles, 6,000 people are expected at 60synagogues of all denominations, thanks to a strong local push by theJewish Federation’s Council on Jewish Life.

“My hope is that people who go will be introducedto a friendly, nonthreatening Jewish environment so that they canbegin to get a grasp of what Shabbat could be in their lives,” saysMarsha Rothpan, assistant director of the Council on JewishLife.

According to Notkin, Los Angeles was the onlycommunity where the local federation joined in on thecampaign.

“We are a midsize organization based in New York,trying to reach synagogues across America and Canada. We’re not inL.A., we don’t have staff there, so it’s wonderful when we haveregional organizations helping us,” says Notkin, who hopes that otherfederations will get involved next year.

Rothpan points out that there was also a deeperreason for the Council on Jewish Life getting involved: Jewish unity,a demonstration that, despite differences, the concept of Shabbatunites all Jews.

At an organizational meeting, Rothpan says, “itwas amazing to see a Chabad rabbi talking to a female Reform rabbiabout how they would get people to come, and what they were going todo there,” Rothpan says.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea, who ischairing the Council on Jewish Life’s Shabbat Across Los AngelesCommittee, says that the message going out to community leaders andaffiliated members is just as important as attracting theunaffiliated.

“Over the last year, so much has been writtenabout the division and the rifts within the Jewish community,”Kanefsky says. “Some of us — not enough of us — were saying thatarea of common concern overshadows the areas concerning which wedisagree. Shabbat Across America popped up as the perfect opportunityto actually demonstrate that we share a great deal, not just insocial-action projects but in religious areas.”

Shabbat Across America works so well, he pointsout, because while everyone is participating in the same program,each venue can design a service that best fits its philosophy andtarget audience.

And synagogues across the Los Angeles area aretaking advantage of that opportunity for diversity, offering upeverything from traditional services followed by chicken soup andkugel, to dairy potluck followed by creative spirituality.

At the Jewish Home for the Aging, Rabbi WilliamGordon is hoping to see family members who are usually apart onShabbat come celebrate together. The oldest residents at the twocampuses — a 111-year-old and a 107-year-old — will lightcandles.

Temple Israel of Hollywood is hosting RabbiSheldon Zimmerman, president of the Reform movement’s seminary,who’ll talk about “The Spiritual Life of the Reform Jew: Can We BeBoth Traditional and Modern?”

The West Valley Jewish Community Center is usingShabbat Across America as an opportunity to reach out to the manyRussian families in the area, according to Stacey Barrett,educational director for the Jewish Community Centers Association ofGreater Los Angeles.

Other JCCs are conducting lay-led services, someof them with creative touches such as poetry and storytelling.

“The centers are offering an alternative to thesynagogue for those who are unaffiliated or under-affiliated who wantto try things in smaller steps,” Barrett said.

Of course, for those who want the full-blowntraditional Shabbat, there is Chabad, which offers beginner-friendlyservices.

“The best way to experience Shabbos is whileenjoying delicious food, talking, laughing, singing,” says RabbiMoishe Gutnick, Chabad of Northridge. “It’s not just an academicexercise. It’s experiencing it and enjoying it.”

And it might not matter where or how.

“It says that if all Jews keep just one Shabbos,Messiah will come,” Gutnick says. “This is a good start.”

For more information, call (888) SHABBAT or (213)761-8325.

L.A. 5758 Briefs

What Women Need to Know

Take the long-held image of a typical sisterhoodevent — bagels and book review, a shmatte sale — and toss it outthe window. Temple Beth Am’ssisterhood has something for everyone inDiscovery ’98, “What Every Jewish WomanReally Needs to Know.”

The all-day program, on Wednesday, March 18, willfeature a choice of morning workshops on everything from Judaism andpsychoanalysis to a history of Jewish music, from women and the lawto balancing family and work.

“Jewish women have different interests, differentneeds. And they certainly don’t all think the same way,” says FriedaOrner, who is chairing the event for the sisterhood.

Laurie Levenson, dean of academic affairs atLoyola Law School, will offer opening remarks, and Rabbi Laura Gellerof Temple Emanuel will speak on “Looking Forward to the 21st Centuryand Beyond.”

Wednesday, March 18, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., $25admission, $45 sponsorship, Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd.(310) 652-7353.

JTS Scholar at Adat Ari El

Rabbi Neil Gillman isn’t interested in fancytopics. He just wants to talk about whatever people want to hear whenhe comes to Adat Ari El as scholar-in-residence this weekend.

Gillman, chairman of the department of philosophyat the Jewish Theological Seminary, is a prominent religious thinkerand author. He will spend the weekend leading discussions on God, thedilemmas of Conservative Judaism and the afterlife.

“The things he speaks about are exactly whatpeople need to be hearing in the Conservative movement,” says RabbiJonathan Bernhard, a former student of Gillman’s and assistant rabbiat the North Hollywood congregation. “He is willing to articulate hispoint of view and challenge people to formulate their own thoughts onissues of the day.”

Friday, March 13, through Sunday, March 15,Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. Call for times andprices: (818) 766-9426.

It Happens Here Too

Orthodox rabbis across the city are beingencouraged to speak on domestic violence next Shabbat, in an effortto make congregants more aware about — and more comfortable indiscussing — this topic. The Shalom Bayis Shabbos (literally, peacein the home) is coordinated by Nishma, an Orthodox hot line forabused women sponsored by Jewish Family Service.

The Nishma hot line number is (818) 623-0300.For more information, call (310) 285-0909.— J.G.F.