Morrie and Betty Markoff, 103 and 100, respectively, in their downtown Los Angeles condo. Photo by Olga Grigoryants

As time goes by, centenarians savor life together


When Morrie and Betty Markoff talk about their marriage, they hold hands, laugh and finish each other’s sentences. They behave as affectionately as newlyweds.

Which clearly they are not. Morrie is 103; Betty is 100. They have been married for 78 years.

Many factors contributed to their long marriage, they said, but one of them played the biggest role.

“We’re just lucky,” Morrie said.

They met in 1938 at a mutual friend’s wedding party in the Bronx, N.Y. Morrie was seated between Betty and Rose, a pretty girl with long nails.

“Next to her, I thought I had no hope,” Betty said. “The competition was rough.”

Morrie, who at the time worked as a machinist in Philadelphia, was “adorable, tall, with dark,  curly hair.” 

After the party, he drove Betty home to College Point in Queens. Along the way, his car broke down, and he repaired it effortlessly, leaving a deep impression on his date.

“He fixed it quickly, with no complaints,” she said.

Her girlfriends didn’t believe the machinist was “marriage material” and a good match for Betty.

“They were wrong,” Morrie said, laughing.

Their courtship didn’t last long. Morrie moved to Los Angeles, where he had been offered a better-paying job. When he arrived in L.A., he purchased bus fare from New York to Los Angeles for $35 and asked Betty if she wanted to join him.

“I guess that was his marriage proposal,” she said.

About 10 months after their first date, Morrie went “shopping for a rabbi” in Los Angeles and found someone who charged only $25 to perform a wedding ceremony. At Woolworth’s, the couple purchased wedding bands made of fake gold for 10 cents.

When the rabbi wished for their marriage to be as pure as the gold in their rings, they glanced at each other and smiled. The next day, they headed to Tijuana for a two-day honeymoon.

Despite his training as a machinist, Morrie found a job selling vacuum cleaners. He later opened his own air conditioner and appliance company; Betty was a stay-at-home mom, raising their two children.

Throughout their long life together, the Markoffs said they never felt bored, always finding a new book to read or a new place to visit.

The couple’s passion for traveling took them to many places, including Europe and Latin America, with each trip well-documented, by Betty in her journals and by Morrie with his camera.

In the early 1950s, they traveled to Moscow and Leningrad (now called by its original name, St. Petersburg). As a member of the Communist Party USA, Morrie was curious to visit the Soviet Union. But after spending a month in Russia, he grew disillusioned with Soviet-style socialism.

“Someone told me that even a rabbi in our synagogue was a KGB agent,” he said.

Betty grew up in a middle-class family in Queens, where she moved with her family from Toronto when she was 10. Morrie grew up in East Harlem, where he became a shoeshine boy at the age of 8 to help his family.

Later, he discovered a passion for sculpting scrap metal. Many of his creations were inspired by people and places he had encountered decades earlier.

One of them was a sculpture of a shoeshine boy who polished the shoes of a man who had given him two nickels —  one for service, the other as tip. Another sculpture depicted chess players in Griffith Park, a scene he encountered many times during hiking trips.   

Those artworks were on display a few years ago, among Morrie’s paintings and photographs, at the Red Pipe Gallery in Chinatown at an exhibition commemorating his 100th birthday.

Today, the couple live in a one-bedroom condo with a panoramic view of the downtown Los Angeles skyline, as well as The Broad museum and Walt Disney Concert Hall. Besides photos of the couple’s two children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, Morrie’s metal sculptures and photographs decorate the shelves, and Betty’s travel journals line up along the wall in their bedroom.

For their longevity, Betty credits good nutrition. Since her youth, she has cooked balanced meals that included protein, vegetables and salads. But Morrie believes there is more to it.

“Many people had a good diet and passed away,” he said. “We are just lucky.”

After nearly eight decades together, the Markoffs said their marriage wasn’t always a smooth ride.

“Don’t get deceived; we had our battles,” Betty said.

Relationships require work, she said, and the two always have strived to maintain patience and appreciation for each other.

“We always respected each other, no matter what,” Morrie said.

It’s important to agree to disagree, he said, and move on when facing a major quarrel.

Still, despite his deep feelings for Betty and a long life together, he prefers to avoid the word “love” because it’s possessive and not lasting.

“I prefer to use the term ‘caring,’ ” he said, “I would care about her even if we were divorced.”

Lynne Goldklang with her husband, Don, at their 1963 wedding (left) and in 1996. Photos courtesy of Lynne Goldklang

Meant2Be: After a lifetime together, a reluctant farewell


My husband lived with me for decades in our little house in the Hollywood Hills. It was supposed to be our “starter” home, but it was so cozy and full of life that we never left, as our two children were born, thrived and moved on to adulthood, and made us thrilled grandparents five times over.

At that point, it was just the two of us in that house — same as it was when we were a young couple filled with dreams for our budding life together.

Everything was fine until a few years ago, when cancer and Alzheimer’s came calling. We kept going together until the day Don fell and suffered a serious injury that required hospitalization and, eventually, the need for a place that wasn’t the home he knew and loved.

He hated that we no longer lived together.

Time passed and adjustments were made as the two of us spent hours together every day and said goodbye every evening. I missed the man I used to know, but fell deeply in love with this new, vulnerable guy who never gave up in his efforts to return to normal everyday living.

The staff at his excellent facility looked to us as an example of a loving couple with more than 50 years of a good marriage under their belt. They witnessed the devotion we felt for each other and our pain when parting each day. These caregivers were young and saw in us what they wanted in their relationships.

I tried to tell them that, in 53 years of any marriage, there are many peaks and valleys — that I could be the partner from hell when my frustrations were running the show. They didn’t believe me and fussed over the photos in his room showing a happy young couple with their smiling family. They saw our children and grandchildren visit and show so much affection to Don and me. The kids often would leave handwritten notes, drawings and even stuffed bears. 

I have been living alone in our house for more than a year now. There are so many little things I took for granted before illness took Don away from me. I didn’t realize how those little everyday things were the fabric that held us together so securely. 

He was everything around that house, including the gardener who made beautiful roses bloom for more than 50 years. Those roses faded as his days were running out. 

He was my handyman, ready to fix anything that broke with his golden hands and keen mind. He was my exterminator — if a bug appeared in the house, all it took was one scream from me and he came running.

He took care of the difficult financial matters, leaving me feeling free from worry. He was an entertainer, making our grandchildren giggle with his crazy humor.

He was the family sage, as our grown children turned to him for strength and wisdom. And he made sure I got my quota of hugs every day and told me he loved me each night.

Most of all, when I came home, he was always there. I didn’t have to experience the loneliness of an empty house. He was always waiting for me.

I wish I had fully appreciated all those little big things every moment we had together.

A few weeks ago, when my husband was put in hospice, I went to the mortuary without him to purchase our “home” for eternity — something we always planned to do together. It is about a mile away from our little house where we lived for so many years.

It gives me comfort to know that Don — dearest grandfather, father and husband — has come back home to his beloved Hollywood Hills. He died on March 27.

I don’t know what happens next, but I would like to think of him at peace, waiting for me.

Do you have a story about dating, marriage, singlehood or any important relationship in your life? Email us at meant2be@jewishjournal.com.


LYNNE GOLDKLANG is a psychotherapist, author, mother, grandmother and recent widow.

Gerard and Teri Sulc. Photo courtesy of Teri Sulc

Meant2Be: A joyful Jewish love story


I’m so in love with my husband. What a magical, mystical journey it was to find each other. We each wandered through our metaphorical desert for more than 40 years, finally meeting a decade ago. Now, we’re about to celebrate our third wedding anniversary.

My husband, Gerard, is from Jewish, French immigrant, Holocaust survivor parents. His father and mother, Joseph and Lydia, arrived in the United States after World War II. Gerard was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the ’60s in the Fairfax District among the Orthodox rabbis at Poinsettia Park, where he worked out as a gymnast.

Gerard remembers how the rabbis would lift him to reach the high bar. One day, a rabbi showed up at Gerard’s house with a radio, which the rabbi had promised him if he mastered a trick. “This is for Gerard,” he said. It became a big part of his Jewish education, learning that the rabbis cared about him.

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in an American-Jewish family. My parents, Richard and Lee, were born here. My Russian-Polish grandparents came to the U.S. before the Holocaust. My mother emphasized Jewish philosophy more than ritual, although lighting Shabbat candles and singing the blessing remains a favorite childhood memory.

Like Gerard’s, my formal Jewish education was spotty. We weren’t regular temple-goers, but Judaism was a defining part of my parents’ values. I have a vivid memory of my mother teaching me all the Yiddish words to “Tumbalalaika.” My father, a professional musician, gave me piano lessons.

As I grew, I yearned for the perfect someone to share my love of Judaism and a full life of Jewish celebration. After years alone, in walked Gerard. The magnetism between us was overwhelming.

We met, at John Pisano’s Guitar Night in Sherman Oaks, brought together by a friend, Larry Stensvold, and music. He heard the vibration between Gerard and me, but it was the Jewish connection that was deeper than the musical one. Meeting Gerard was like coming home to my ancient soul mate.

Early in our relationship, Gerard began asking me questions about Judaism. As an adult, I studied and learned more about Torah, Jewish practices and synagogue music. One day, Gerard asked me, “I remember there was one holiday when my Grandpa Jacques took me to shul and the Jews were dancing around with an apple on a stick. What holiday is that?”

It must have been Simchat Torah.

Gerard learned about God from his Grandpa Jacques, who told him the story of his “God of Abraham.” The Nazis were going door to door in the building where the family lived in Paris, looking for Jews. Grandpa stood in front of his family’s front door, spread his arms wide and prayed: “God of my father, God of Abraham, they won’t come in.” The Gestapo skipped their door.

With all that Gerard’s family endured in escaping the Nazis — Gerard’s mother hid in a Catholic camp; Gerard’s father, in a forest —  in the U.S. they weren’t eager to focus on their Jewishness. They were struggling to raise a family in a foreign land and learn English. There were Passover seders and Chanukah candles but not a formal education or regular shul attendance.

Despite our music connection — Gerard and I both play guitar, and we teach music and play and sing together on the first Saturday of each month at sing-along night at Henri’s in Canoga Park — Gerard wanted to connect more with his Judaism. My way of relating to the traditions fit for him. I continue to teach him about home rituals. We don’t do all the prayers, but we tie a little bow around each week together with Friday night Shabbat candles, “A Woman of Valor” and the Kiddush.

When we were visiting his mother’s grave early last year, I read “A Woman of Valor.” Then, I told him that traditional Jewish husbands recite it for their wives every Friday night. “Why don’t you let me read it to you?” he asked, and he’s read it to me every week since then.

He makes me feel so loved. My girlfriends are jealous. I’ve given their husbands copies of this poem from Proverbs and suggested they honor their wives with it.

Traditions keep our Jewish marriage strong. We passed the ultimate test last year when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Gerard embraced me through treatment. He helped me become stronger and healthier than ever.

I am blessed with the most devoted, caring, loving husband. Our sharing of prayers and stories in the Torah every week connects us closer each day. My heart is bursting with the peace and joy of a Jewish woman, completely fulfilled and in love.

Episode 27 – Unholy Matrimony in the Holy Land with Jessica Fishman


The right of return for the Jewish people states that anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent may become a citizen of the State of Israel. The reasoning: this was the criteria by which the Jews were persecuted under the Third Reich.

On the other hand, if you want to have an ordained marriage in the State of Israel, the par is set a little higher: your mother must be Jewish.

This dissonance leads to an inevitable rift in Israeli society: people who live here as lawful citizens, but are unable to legally marry their partner.

Jessica Fishman, author of the new book “Chutzpah and High Heels”, joins Two Nice Jewish Boys to share her story of Aliyah and talk about her devastation at the hands of this little known discrepancy in Israeli law.

Listen here:

Jessica’s book tour dates.

My unwanted adventure


Based on our ages, her long-lived parents and the fact that women tend to live longer than men, my wife should have outlived me by 20 years. Sadly, fate had different plans, and I found myself, suddenly and unexpectedly, a widower. Looking back to the days and weeks following Liz’s passing, I don’t know how I survived my shock and overwhelming depression.

With the passage of time, the shock dissipated and, with the help of many friends, especially compassionate female friends, the depression became more manageable. It was time to embark on something I thought I would never again experience — a re-entry into the dating scene, which I christened “My Unwanted Adventure.”

Finding intellectual, emotional and physical compatibility in a new mate after so many years appeared to be an incredibly daunting task. Even though I’ve worked for what seems like forever to stay in good shape, what would it be like to take off my clothes for the first time with another 60- to 70-year-old? Yikes!

Although I prefer the old-fashioned ways to meet other singles, most of my dates during My Unwanted Adventure have been via the internet, which begs for answers to the following: How do I construct an appealing profile? How do I send out appealing messages to desirable women? For the former, I asked some women friends with lots of common sense to vet my profile. For the latter, I tried to devise catchy openings to my messages. I’m not above employing puns: “When I first read your profile, it was love at first site.” 

The internet social scene is full of surprises. The women I’ve encountered included one who asked me for thousands of dollars on our third meeting; another who told me how her daughter and son-in-law, acting as sleuths, discovered that two men she dated had criminal records they hadn’t divulged; and another who, at the age of 61, was contacted and dated by men in their 30s.

Adding to the continuing adventure, many untruths find their way into online profiles. Lying about one’s age is probably the most common. But I have encountered other quite frequent but unanticipated untruths. One example is a woman’s marital status. The possibilities include widowed, divorced or never married. Surprisingly, some senior-age women who fall into that last category write “divorced” instead, because they fear — probably correctly — that being “never married” in one’s 60s will scare off many men.   

As a longtime college professor, it is in my DNA to try to help people become smarter, or at least better educated. I have thoughts I hope will be helpful to women seeking dates online.

Arguably the single most important items in a woman’s profile are her pictures — we men are visual beings. Simply transferring 20-25 pictures from Facebook to a dating site is not the way to go. I can guarantee that men are not interested in seeing your dogs, cats, children, other relatives and friends, or your flower arrangements. All that we are interested in is you, preferably both a facial close-up and a full body shot. If you fail to provide the latter, then many men will wonder what you are trying to hide. Also, it is well worth your time, and perhaps money, to have professional-looking photos. Casual, sloppy “selfies” do no good and may well do harm. When I see such photos, I wonder if the person taking them is really serious about finding a partner or is just playing (narcissistic) games.

Many profiles begin with a list of meaningless adjectives (e.g., “My friends tell me I’m attractive, kind, trustworthy, happy …”). It makes no difference what your friends may think of you; all that matters is what your prospective date thinks. Rather than mere adjectives, better that the words in your profile focus on a variety of activities you like to engage in, along with some qualities you are looking for in a mate. Should a physical (sexual) component of a relationship be important to you, words along the lines of “I am affectionate and enjoy physical as well as emotional intimacy, and am looking for a like-minded partner” should get your point across.

Reputedly, there are many more widows than widowers in the U.S., with a similar gender imbalance among divorcees. However, women are typically more skilled at building a support and friendship network then are men, who seem to have more need for traditional, exclusive partnering (count me as one). Although some women bemoan the number imbalance, I think the fact that many more senior women than men prefer to remain single goes a long way toward balancing the playing field. This field is one big game and I do not know where My Unwanted Adventure will take me.

Ben Zuckerman is a UCLA astronomer.

Do women need men?


If you ask a healthy man, “Does a man need a woman to lead a fulfilling life?” he most likely will answer in the affirmative. Most men know how much they grow in terms of maturity and happiness, as well as ethically, psychologically and even professionally after they marry.

But since the beginning of the feminist movement, it has become less and less common for well-educated women to acknowledge that a woman needs a man. The famous feminist slogan “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” encapsulated the dominant feminist view.

Women used to need men for their incomes, the feminist argument goes, but with women now capable of earning a living on their own, men are just not that necessary. 

Not even as fathers. A few years ago, The Atlantic published an article by Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, titled “Are Fathers Necessary?” She summarized academic studies that purport to show that lesbians do a better job at raising children than a woman married to a man, and that single mothers are superior parents to single fathers: “Two women parent better on average than a woman and a man. … The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there’s nothing objectively essential about his contribution.”

Two generations of women have been told over and over at college — as well as by their feminist mothers (and, increasingly, their feminist fathers) — that a successful career should be their goal. Marriage to a man is secondary. If a woman really wants children one day, it is very easy to have them without having a man in her life, let alone being married to one.

I regularly ask young women (usually 18 to 25 years of age): “If you could be guaranteed a great career or a great marriage, which guarantee would you take?” I explain that neither guarantee means that the other choice cannot be attained, but only one of them is guaranteed. The responses are evenly divided. What is particularly instructive is that the more educated the woman — that is, the more time she has spent (being indoctrinated) at a university, the more likely she is to choose the guarantee of a great career.

For two generations of educated women, it has been deemed a sign of weakness to admit to preferring marriage over career. (Just imagine a young woman at college announcing in a women’s studies class that her greatest hope is to marry a man and make a family.) More than anything else, feminism has taught young women that their goal should be “independence”; dependence on anyone, especially a man, is weakness.

As one female psychotherapist put it in Time magazine: “The message is clear: It’s O.K. to feel a void if you don’t have a job you love, but it’s not O.K. to feel a void if you don’t have a man you love — because healthy, successful women shouldn’t need men.”

While some women are happy never to have married, this feminist thinking has produced a lot of unhappy women. Many never-married women acknowledge in midlife that they were sold a bill of goods: returning to their apartment with no man in it isn’t quite as satisfying as they were told it would be. And more than a few other women without men are simply angry. You can see their anger in the disproportionate number of women leading and participating in protests for every imaginable cause. It would seem that they have channeled their unhappiness into anger at society. It is probably not a coincidence that Black Lives Matter, as angry a group as exists in America today, was founded by three single women.

The happiest women are women in happy marriages. Just ask happily married women to compare their happiness now with their happiness when they were happy and single. More importantly for society, they also are the most mature women, just as married men are widely, if not universally, regarded as likely to be more mature than single men. So, too, men who have never married also are likely to be particularly angry. 

Let me offer an example. In 2016, Prager University had more than 200 million views on YouTube and Facebook. Every week, it releases a video on the most disparate subjects, most of them controversial — the Middle East, abortion, God’s existence, the minimum wage, marriage, race, Islam, etc. Guess which subject garners the most angry and even hate-filled comments, by far? They are the videos advocating that men marry. Many single men literally curse us for releasing such videos.

At least with regard to the 97 percent of the population that is heterosexual, it is simply a truism that men need a woman and women need a man. That feminism has told generations of women that the latter statement is nonsense is one of the saddest, and most harmful, developments of the modern era.

A final note: Given the number of Jews who have attended college and graduate school, and the high esteem in which they therefore hold feminism, many Jewish readers will dismiss the thesis of this column. 

I have a question for these individuals: From time immemorial, Jews have wished parents of newborns that their child grow up to “Torah,” “chuppah” and “ma’asim tovim” — Torah, the wedding canopy and good deeds. Should we drop the second?


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com)

Meant2Be: Why we both cried over his first love


When I first met my husband, we were both in our 40s and full of stories of the lost and found loves that preceded finding each other. I was mostly the one with the found loves; his were mostly the lost. When he told me the woeful tales of the women who hadn’t noticed him, who didn’t want him, who ditched or disappointed him, I told him he needed a new PR department. From my perspective, he was wickedly smart, handsome, had a gap-toothed smile that telegraphed how incredibly genuine and sweet he was. And come on, he was a successful doctor.  

Eventually, the sad stories stopped. Only one remained, the one about Peggy Buckley, the Irish Catholic girl he met in college who was the single exception to his roll call of disastrous romantic life. Theirs was a mighty attraction and they would have married but the pope said ‘no.’ So did the rabbi, Peggy’s parents and my husband’s parents. 

I, too, had my share of romantic woes. I’d loved and lost, loved and won, loved and checkmated but the good news was he and I … oh, never mind!

Eleven years ago, we’d been married for a decade, and my husband popped into the kitchen and said brightly (a little too brightly), ‘Today is Peggy’s birthday!’ ”

 “Why don’t you find her?” I said, thinking that talking to Peggy again might give him some closure. Thus he dutifully contacted her college alumna association and placed a call to her in Boston. 

“So, did talking to Peggy help?” I asked after the hour they spoke. 

“Yes!” He was jazzed. 

I didn’t say, “Maybe now you can concentrate on how much you love me?”

A few weeks later, he was asked to fly to Boston on a business trip. He made a reservation for two at the best restaurant in Boston. 

He called later and told me he sat at the bar and spotted a beautiful young woman with short, dark hair who looked exactly like Peggy. It was only after awhile in this dreamy state that a middle-aged woman tapped him briskly on the shoulder and said, “Hey! Didn’t you see me walking back and forth?” 

He finally got to talk to Peggy about those days of confusion and longing. He asked if she ever came to enjoy sex. If she thought about him, and all the questions we’d like to ask our old flames who’ve left skid marks on our souls. 

After dinner, they took a walk. Peggy had married a Jewish man, after all. Apparently, she was over my husband and also over the pope.

At last, mystery had a face and the face had wrinkles, 30 extra pounds and unbecoming shoes. Five more years passed. Cut to Thanksgiving 2012. 

We were hanging around the house. My husband had never learned to use Facebook, so I showed him how to search for friends. Naturally, he looked up Peggy Buckley. 

A screen appeared with a year-old article about her from The Boston Globe. My husband stared ahead in stony silence. It took me a minute to understand why: We were reading Peggy’s obituary. It spoke of her extraordinarily loving heart and her service to her community. She clearly was a terrific woman. Now, that beautiful, if unwilling girl, was gone. 

But in an instant, she became newly alive to my husband. The mourning began. He was crying. He talked to a therapist. He emailed old friends. He retold the Peggy stories and included some I’d never heard. When he said, ‘This is ridiculous, she wasn’t in my life. Why am I so upset?” I told him the truth: She’d always be in his life; she was an important figure to him. It moved me to see the depth of heart he was capable of. 

But then, I realized I wasn’t doing very well myself. What could the loss possibly be to me? I couldn’t concentrate, became withdrawn, then I, too, began to weep. That really made no sense. Peggy was his youth, his frustration, his football games. Peggy was his story.

I realized that in a life littered with despicable prom dates, disinterested coeds and haughty nurses, Peggy was the first person who truly got him, got his humor, his shyness, his slightly offbeat ways. I was grateful to her for loving him.

Meanwhile, he was walking around the house singing, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain” … specifically the line that goes: “But I always thought that I’d see you, baby, one more time again … ”

Finally, it came to me; on a soul level, Peggy was a kind of sister to me. She made a lonely college kid happy; she centered him, helped make him real in his skin. I was bereft because I’d lost a “sister wife” who I’d never have the chance to meet. This was my loss, my Peggy Buckley story. We two were the women who saw the magic in this person who needed our love and who loved us both. 

Thank you, dear Peggy. Rest in peace. 


Barbara Bottner is the author of more than 45 books for children (some she illustrated), has had short stories published in national magazines and articles appear in the LA Weekly and Miami Herald, and has written for television.

This column is part of our new series, Meant2Be, stories of love and relationships. Do you have a story about dating, marriage, singlehood or any important relationship in your life? Email us at meant2be@jewishjournal.com.

The defense of (converting for) marriage act


Last July, I converted to Judaism after five years of studying and undergoing major lifestyle changes: I moved to a Jewish neighborhood, started keeping kosher, took off for Shabbat and the holidays, joined an Orthodox synagogue and learned with a chavrusa

Today, my observance has grown, and I keep taking on more and more mitzvot. I feel closer to Hashem than ever. 

None of that has stopped the outside world, however, from questioning just how legitimate my conversion actually was. At times throughout the process, and even after, I’ve been asked, “Did you convert for your husband?” and then was told — yes, told — that I only converted because I was in love. 

As if that’s a bad thing. 

As a writer, I’ve covered conversion a lot, profiling the spiritual journeys of others and offering my own personal essays. I know how tough it can be to go through the process, and I want to show support to my fellow gerim. When I’ve told my own story, though, I’ve gotten my fair share of negative feedback, which ranged from passive-aggressive to downright venomous. 

On a recent piece I published, one of the comments posted online read, “So you fell in love with some guy and decided to start living your life by his club’s rules and regs. Not exactly a shocker. Lots of women do this.” Another lovely commenter stated, “I would’ve appreciated this more if she had just admitted that she was doing it pretty much entirely for her husband.”

Internet trolling aside, there is a huge stigma in Jewish culture and society at large surrounding the concept of converting for love. But, given the right circumstances and right person, I think it’s entirely OK.

With Shavuot approaching, I found myself thinking about the story of Ruth, perhaps the Torah’s most famous Jew by choice. She converted to Judaism after following her widowed, impoverished mother-in-law, Naomi, to a strange new land — Bethlehem. 

According to Dina Coopersmith, a writer for

One-of-a-kind weddings in Israel


Israelis love come-as-you-are weddings, where guests are welcome to bring along a friend, there’s no color scheme and the groom wears an open-necked shirt. But whether it’s a jeans or black-tie affair, in many cases the venue itself provides the Israeli wedding’s wow factor because of its great religious or historical import or its stunning natural backdrop.

“I find most people who do an event in Israel want it to be more meaningful and significant, as opposed to focusing on décor and other extraneous values,” said Judy Krasna, co-partner in Celebrate Israel.

In addition to copious wedding halls, wedding gardens and hotel ballrooms across the country, Israel offers many one-of-a-kind places to get married. For engaged couples abroad, wedding planners who speak their language can take care of all the arrangements.

“We have an insane amount of gorgeous ideas for parties in Israel,” said Adena Mark of A to Z Events Israel.

Mark has hung chandeliers in Zedekiah’s Cave under the Old City walls of Jerusalem, creating a fancy, festive wedding inside this legendary 2,000-year-old limestone quarry. She has staged weddings among the ancient Roman ruins in Caesarea, and decorated forest clearings with twinkling lights in the trees and straw mats on the bare ground.

Mark even has schlepped flowers and portable air-conditioners or heaters to marriage ceremonies on the cliffs of the Judean Desert. “At night it’s magical, with a view of the Dead Sea and the rolling hills,” she said.

Krasna especially loves weddings at wheelchair-accessible Genesis Land (Eretz Bereshit) in the Judean Desert.

“The view from the chuppah over the desert at sunset is the most spectacular backdrop for a wedding ceremony I’ve ever seen,” she said.

“You can choose to do an upscale wedding or a funky one with camel rides for the guests and waiters in biblical garb. For guests coming from outside Israel, it’s a really Israeli experience.”

It’s possible to arrange a wedding on just about any Israeli beach or national park, Krasna said. She recommends a beachfront with a hotel or restaurant in which the reception can be sheltered from the strong sea winds — such as Herzliya’s Daniel Hotel, Al Hayam in Caesarea or the Rimonim Palm Beach Hotel in Acre.

For nuptials in nature away from the waterfront, Krasna likes the historic Hulda Forest in central Israel, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens or Ein Gedi Botanical Garden near the Dead Sea.

What about a wedding in a winery? Several Israeli wineries can accommodate parties of various sizes, including the Tishbi and Binyamina wineries in the Zichron Ya’akov area and the Psagot Winery overlooking the mountains of Jordan.

Krasna’s favorite spot for a dream wedding in Israel is the Bell Cave at Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park.

“It’s so incredibly different! The guests always rave that they’ve never been to such a cool wedding,” said Krasna, though she warns that the venue does present limitations. “Because it’s a national park, you can only have acoustic music, and the terrain is uneven so if you have elderly guests they might have trouble walking,” she said.

For those who prefer to be above ground, Alon Rosenberg of Danny Marx Productions recommends the Ottoman-period Tower of David citadel in Jerusalem and the historic Masada cliff on the road to the Dead Sea.

Rosenberg said a wedding at the Tower of David is “very, very expensive, and you need to bring everything in,” but for those who can splurge, “it’s like you’re entering a castle surrounded by the Old City walls. It’s a historical site that enables you to have an amazing event in an enclosed structure.”

Danny Marx, who often arranges celebrity affairs, including actress Gal Gadot’s nuptials five years ago at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, added that venues combining an atmosphere of history with modern elegance make Israeli weddings unique.

Jerusalem resident Reuven Prager aims to put some history back into the ceremony itself. His Biblical Weddings re-creates the ancient custom where every bride in the land of Israel wore a Jerusalem of Gold crown and was carried to the ceremony on a royal litter called an aperion.

Prager built a replica of the crown and the aperion as described in the biblical Song of Songs and Talmudic sources. Ten strong men carry it to the accompaniment of shofar-blowers and harpists. (Prager charges $1,500 but says he never turns anyone away for lack of funds.)

“We dedicated the aperion in a ceremony at the Bible Lands Museum during Chanukah 1992, and the next day we used it for the first wedding,” Prager said.

About 100 Israeli and foreign Jewish couples have used Prager’s aperion for their weddings, while Christian couples from abroad have made Biblical Weddings the highlight of their honeymoon or anniversary trip.

Prager hopes to work with the Tourism Ministry to launch a national competition encouraging the creation of hundreds of aperions and golden bridal crowns across Israel to broaden the availability of this unusual package. The Jerusalem municipality and the Israel Museum stand ready to host the competition. If Prager’s dream comes true, the aperion could usher in a unique wedding startup industry that could happen only in Israel.

Power plays


I want to share a story about a couple who’ve been married for 19 years.

Their relationship is a series of power plays in which they subtly and sometimes not so subtly try to control one another.

They're’ from the Boston area. 
They have 2 kids
. Both have special needs – one learning, one emotional. She used to work outside of the home, has a PhD in science, but stopped working when her children’s needs became a full time job.

He makes a good living in law.

Here’s where their control issues come to play: She wants to move from the big city, to be in a house surrounded by trees, have a less-stressful life, downsize their financial pressures and be able to reconnect with her professional passion.

He says she’s not realistic, he needs to work long hours in his big-city practice to support their family’s needs. How could she insist that they move away from his parents just because she’s unhappy with the big city? How could she uproot their family right at the time their kids are finally enrolled in suitable schools that address their learning and emotional challenges?

She says he doesn’t consider her feelings, wants and needs. Though she loves him, she’s lonely and disconnected from her husband.

He says he doesn’t want to leave his city of birth and won’t move just because she’s unhappy.

They’re literally stuck, frozen in their apartment and their marriage – because neither one is willing to compromise. Like two people in a boxing ring they stand in position waiting to see who will fall first.

Their power play deeply upsets me – as hear about how they manipulate each other in order to control their family’s future. Rather than work together as a unit, their marriage is game of who will win and who will lose.

Listen, marriage can be difficult –anyone who tells you otherwise – is lying. But frankly, ALL relationships have the capacity to lure us into power plays – in which we try to gain control over another person or a situation.

These dynamics play out at work and school, between genders, in social media, over the environment, among nations, and between religions.
Exerting one’s control over another is pervasive. And as a result it can rip apart our homes, our character and our world.

Now it’s true that sometimes it’s necessary to control and dominate another person if we’re bullied or if a nation feels its safety is endangered. But today I’d like to look at the many power plays we partake in that destroy our souls, and offer 3 some ways we can avoid the allure of trying to dominate and control others.

Let’s start with Torah.
Unfortunately Torah’s very familiar with power and control. In Deuteronomy, Moses blesses the Israelites:
“Be the head and not the tail.” (Deut. 28:13)

It’s as if to be blessed we need to be both in control of our subordinates, and be controlling of them.
The head looks forward, not back.
The head advances onward, without negotiating with its tail. Yet effective leaders are often those who use their positions of power to empower others.

What about taking the back seat sometimes or listening to the opinion of those we lead?
How about the value of being a follower or collaborator?

It’s a tough tension, because even God teaches us to relish power. Torah describes how God encourages Adam to name all the animals of the earth – an ancient tactic of acquiring control over living beings.

And frankly the power to name, can be a very positive tool of control even today.
As of this February, Facebook gives everyone the option of choosing to name oneself from 51 gender categories.

A person can be: Agender, bigender, cis, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, gender variant, intersex, pan gender or transgender (to list a few) – & if you don’t know what some of these gender categories are – you’re not alone.
 The point is – I imagine that those of us who are one of these genders feel validated when we can actively name ourselves. (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/15/the-complete-glossary-of-facebook-s-51-gender-options.html).

Yet naming others in a demeaning or controlling way can be used as a way of exerting power over someone else. Perhaps you’ve heard of how ISIS “educates” their soldiers to name their captured women ibadah – meaning “worship,” and then instructs their soldiers to pray before they rape them, and then pray after they rape them –
justifying their violation as a “prayer to God,”
telling the women that they are their ibadah – their tools of worship. I find this obscene … (NYT, Enslaving Young Girls, Aug 14, 2015)

The Torah also gives many examples of power plays between brothers and sisters.
Remember when the siblings Miriam and Aaron criticize Moses for having a close relationship with God? (Numbers 11)

It’s as if they’re vying for “Big-daddy-in-the-sky’s” attention. Sounds like the dinner fight my brothers and I would have around our table –
who got to sit at the head, how much extra food were we served, who was mom and dad’s favorite & who had to wash the dishes.

And the competition and one-upmanship sadly continues when we become “grown up” siblings:
•Like the tension when a father dies and leaves his children unequal inheritance without an explanation. • or a sister- in-law who’s controlling and pushes her spouse into a family feud…..

These power plays are usually about attention and love ….. and often they leak into our bedrooms.

Think of the power and manipulation our patriarch Jacob held over his two wives -who were sisters – Rachel and Leah.
I imagine they wondered who he’d go home to each night and if he favored one over the other.

Today there are many spouses who wonder whether their partner is out late at a business meeting -
or finding intimacy with someone he met on-line
or through work.

How about the manipulative power in the business world? Think of Korach, in the Torah, who wanted even more control than he already had as a Levite (Numbers 16:1+).
He criticized Moses for being power hungry
even though it’s clear that Korach was really interested in promoting his own ego needs.

This type of power-play in the office is all too common today. Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook and author of Lean In, cited a recent study that found that when women executives speak more than their peers,

They’re punished with 14% lower ratings,
but when male executives speak more than their peers, they’re rewarded with 10% higher ratings of competence. Sexual hypocrisy has not disappeared from our conference rooms.
(NYT “Speaking While Female”, Jan 12, 2015).

And how about domination over women in many parts of the world today?
 Should we take literally, the Torah’s teaching that when a man goes to war he can take any woman he wants by power after 30 days of bringing her into his house… or should we follow other biblical injunctions that teach that all human beings are created in the image of God? (Genesis 1 and Deut. 21:10-14)

The 14.2 million women and girls who are sold into slavery each year are told they are a man’s booty, while I assume most of us understand this as an outdated justification of holy texts to manipulate and control the vulnerable.

(UNFPA, 2012, Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage. New York: United Nations Population Fund).

Then there’s the power we humans have wielded over our environment.

Remember what the Torah teaches: after humanity was created God told us “to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and watch over it.” (Gen 1:28)
But what’s going on today?!
We’re not protecting our environment.
Instead of watching over our earth
we’re watching as we level our forests,
strip the earth of its resources
and create a global warming disaster.

Let’s not ignore our children –
how about the power-plays in our schools?
It’s no wonder many public & private schools have instituted uniforms to try to level the playing field –
and even then it becomes about what shoes you wear,
your haircut or jewelry –
anything to show your status.

Or consider how social media has become a tool to manipulate and influence one’s “friends.”
Now with a swipe of a finger 25% of teenagers report that they’ve experienced repeated bullying via their cell phone or on the internet, and of the teens who reported cyber bullying incidents, 33% of them said that their bullies issued online threats. (http://nobullying.com/cyber-bullying-statistics-2014/

Power in marriages, among friends, between family members, in the work place, between men and women, over the environment and on social media – are constant tightropes we all traverse. How much we dominate, pull, push back, speak out, submit, or resign ourselves to the allure of participating in these power dynamics- constantly changes.
At work we may be submissive, while at home very dominant – Or vice versa….

This year in America, we can’t ignore the light that’s exposed the power-plays between white and black people.
The Midrash teaches that the reason one “Adam”, one person, was created first, and not two people – not Adam and Eve – was so no person could say “My ancestors are greater than yours.”(Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

In other words, no matter our color, race, culture or gender – we all come from the same place and we’re all equal.
Yet – that’s not the world we live in.
Just look at the streets of Ferguson, Mo where Michael Brown was killed, or Staten Island where Eric Garner was choked to death.

As a white women reading Ta-Nehisi Coats’ book Between The World and Me I felt embarrassed.
He shares that “To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology.
The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.”

His words upset me.

I wondered as a white, relatively privileged American – what I do, subconsciously, to promote and accept racism around me?

Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress, taught: “racism is so universal in this country,
so widespread and deep seated, that it’s invisible because it is so normal.”

And I wonder: how have I actively or passively participated in the invisible nature of racism?
Am I engaged in my own power-plays and not even aware of them?

Talking about race in America – and how it’s connected to power is very uncomfortable.
I confess with shame that when I worked in Central Park for 3 summers during high school, I resented and felt deep dislike toward the Puerto Rican community.
You see every year, in early June, there was a Puerto Rican parade down 5th Avenue – right next to the park – and the whole surrounding area would get trashed.
After the parade, the community would go into the park and BBQ (which was illegal),
leave their garbage everywhere (also illegal)
and drink alcohol in public (illegal).
I deeply resented the Puerto Ricans.
And then…. And then a close relative, who I love dearly, married a Puerto Rican. And she’s wonderful.
And her sister and parents are good, kind, caring people.

I had to confront my racism and rework how I viewed the Puerto Rican community.
I was forced to see them as individuals, rather than as one group of people.

And of course I have to make note of some radical Jewish extremists whose warped power-play deeply embarrassed me this year.
Though as Jews we don’t promote racism as part of our ideology, as say ISIS does, I was horrified when a Jewish extremist at this summer’s LGBT parade in Jerusalem stabbed Shira Banki to death, a 16 year old girl.
And then on that same weekend in July, a group of Jewish radicals threw two firebombs into 2 Palestinian homes, in the West Bank, in the middle of the night, killing an 18-month-old boy and his parents.
That’s a sick corruption of Jewish power!

In all these examples of control, dominance and power – whether it’s in a relationship, in the office, between genders, of the environment, among races, religions and nations – what’s gained?

Why is the allure of control so seductive?
And why do we continually fall into the trap of participating in power plays?

Well, first – Clarity.
Being right is so satisfying.

But sometimes our ability to distinguish right from wrong becomes blurry:
whether it’s a spouse gone astray,
a boss who favors men,

a white cop who strangles a black guy,
an ISIS solider before he rapes his “wife”…
we believe we are right because we justify our actions with human desire, history, culture, society or religion on our side.

What else is gained? –
the self-indulgent notion that the most important person is me, my wants, my desires, my point of view.
When we put “me” at the center –
we misled ourselves into thinking that everything that goes my way, is the best way.
And when we only look at one side,
our side,
we strip away any hope for sympathy, empathy and respect – ingredients for a balanced relationship.

And with these false gains of power plays, what’s lost? So much more.

As Yehudah Amichai, Israel’s poet laureate once wrote: From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right is hard and trampled Like a yard.

God made the world with different people, holding several points of views and various dispositions to teach us that one way isn’t the only way.
And ironically – when we focus on dominating or manipulating others, our relationships feel disconnected, stuck and stagnant.

The author Shannon L. Adler describes the effects of yielding our power in relationships:

“When you think yours is the only true path you forever chain yourself to judging others and narrow the vision of God. (You see) The road to righteousness and arrogance is a parallel road…. but what makes them different is the road to righteousness is paved with the love of humanity — while the road to arrogance is paved with the love of self.”

I’d like to offer some ways we can walk the road of righteousness and escape the allure of the road of power- plays- to improve our relationships and the world we live.

First — I’ve found that the less I take the bait of a power-play, step back, take a pause, and recalibrate my goal of connecting rather than dominating, the more I deepen my relationships to those I love.

It’s really about walking the road of Teshuvah. And I don’t mean Teshuvah as a noun – it’s not “say you’re sorry.”
Instead it’s Teshuvah as a verb:
●It’s the act of taking a deep, honest, hard look at oneself.
●It’s the proactive review of one’s strengths and weaknesses. ●It’s the courageous act of sharing those insights with someone you trust or with God.

●And it’s the counter cultural choice to change what’s not working in your life, rather than blaming others.

If we really do this, it’s no longer about whose on top,
who’s right, or who’s winning the competition-
instead it’s about uniting, joining & coming together with those we love, those with whom we work, or those who have a different skin color, gender, culture or religion than we do.

It’s no wonder the NYT Modern Love column “Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” generated more than 5.2 million visits since its publication in January.
In case you missed it, Mandy Len Catron described a Cupid— like technique she developed of 36 questions,

which get increasingly intimate in nature,
that 2 people can answer while facing each other.
Apparently, if you follow her list of questions, any two people, even strangers, can fall in love! (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love- to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html)

The reason this technique is so powerful is because it’s really an act of Teshuvah. Teshuvah as an honest self-assessment
and Teshuvah as a turning toward the person you want to become – which has temporarily been covered with layers of arrogance or inflexibility…..

Take out your mirrors for a moment. (Note: mirrors with questions on the back were put on everyone’s seat)
The ones on your seats.
This is my gift to each of us: Our Teshuvah mirrors.

On it you’ll find 5 questions – like the 5 books of Moses. Each one focuses on a different aspect of our lives that may have succumbed to the allure of power.

The first is about an interpersonal relationship:

1. Think of one person you have hurt this year. How can you address this wound?

The second asks us to focus on our character:

2. What is one realistic change you can do to make yourself a better person this year?

The third challenges us to look at our professional life:

3. What can you do this year to become a better student, professional, parent or retiree?

The fourth expands our hearts to the greater world:

4. What is your prayer for the world this year?

And the last one invites us to open our souls toward a force or power beyond ourselves:

5. What is one thing you can do to strengthen your relationship with God this year?
(based on Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe by Erica Brown, page 126)

Let’s spend the next 10 days between RH & YK contemplating our answers to these questions with humility—
as we walk the road of righteousness.

Our challenge is to remember to not take the bait when it comes to power-plays, control and dominance.
It’s so alluring,
So easy to succumb to its self-satisfying pull, but it leaves us lonely, disconnected, and keeps us from looking at ourselves.

Instead, look into your Teshuvah Mirror, Carry it with you the next 10 days.

I wish each of us the strength to be honest on our journey. Shannah Tova.

Ladies: It’s not you. It’s the ratio.


When journalist Jon Birger worked in the newsrooms at Fortune and Money, he noticed that most of the guys either had wives or long-term girlfriends, whereas most of the women were single and “had dating histories that made so little sense to me,” as he put it in a recent interview in Los Angeles.

His new book, “Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game,” attempts to address the question of why it seems so hard for women in their 20s and 30s to find a life partner. The answer? There are significantly fewer men on the market. 

Specifically, Birger found, significantly fewer college-educated men than college-educated women. He cites U.S. Census data and other publicly available sources indicating that among college graduates between 22 and 29, there are about four women for every three men. And between 30 and 39, there are five college-educated women for every four college-educated men. 

As Birger points out, this wouldn’t be a problem “if we were all more open-minded about who we were willing to date and marry.” But in a world where college-educated men and women are more likely to live in the same neighborhood and congregate at the same bars, the imbalance Birger explains in “Date-onomics” has significant implications. Particularly in big cities where the imbalance strongly favors men (such as Manhattan and Los Angeles, where there are 39 percent and 24 percent more women than men with college degrees, respectively), guys tend to play their market advantage by keeping their options open, he argues.

In an interview with the Journal while in town from New York to promote his book, Birger suggested some solutions to the gender imbalance, offered some practical advice for women and discussed how demographics have even influenced the dating markets of Orthodox Jews:

Jewish Journal: For a female college grad in her 20s who wants to find a husband in today’s dating market, what’s one suggestion you have based on your research?

Jon Birger: If marriage is a big priority for you, I guess I might suggest getting serious about dating younger instead of putting it off until you’re in your mid- 30s. And the reason I say that is, every year the dating math is going to get more challenging. In the book, I liken it to musical chairs. In the first round of musical chairs, only the kid who’s not paying attention doesn’t get a chair, but by the last round of musical chairs, you have a 50 percent chance of losing, and something similar happens in dating. If you start out with a dating pool of 14 women and 10 men, once six women and six men pair off together, the ratio among the remaining singles becomes 2-to-1. Every time two people pair off and pull themselves out of that lopsided singles market, the math gets more challenging for the women and better for the men. 

JJ: Is there a point where physically relocating can improve a woman’s odds? 

JB: Clearly, a woman who doesn’t put a maximum priority on marriage is probably not going to pick up her whole life and give up her job and her friends and family just to move someplace where the odds might be better. But if it’s a situation where maybe she was thinking about moving anyway and, as your question kind of assumes, marriage is kind of a really high priority for her, yes, I can see moving to Denver, Seattle, Silicon Valley — because the dating math is more appealing there. One smaller move they can make, it’s not even a move … in general, suburbs tend to have less imbalanced sex ratios among college grad singles than urban centers do. So if you’re online dating, even just expanding your geographic search to include outlying areas, that’s an easy way to take advantage of more favorable sex ratios. 

JJ: Are there any macro solutions to this imbalance?

JB: No. 1 is a long-term solution. It’s getting more young men, more boys to go to college. That won’t solve the dating problem for people who are single in their 20s and 30s now, but it’s not a good thing either for the dating world or for the economy, frankly, that boys aren’t going to college in the same numbers as girls. There’s a lot of research, neuroscience, showing that boys’ brains mature at a slower rate than girls’. Both intellectually and socially, they lag about a year behind girls, and there are some countries where both boys and girls start first grade later than they do here in the U.S. Interestingly, in those countries, the college gender gap is more narrow, and that tells me that if you give the boys a little more time to catch up, they will. So, one idea here would be to basically “red shirt” boys. This is something that would have to come from the parents because under Title IX, public schools could not say boys are starting at 7 and girls are starting at 6. 

JJ: Can you explain the so-called “shidduch crisis” in the Orthodox community?

JB: Each one-year age cohort in the Orthodox community has about 4 percent more people than the one that preceded it. That only matters because within one part of the Orthodox community, what I call the “yeshivish” community, some people call it Lithuanian … there’s a traditional age gap at marriage, so you’ll have 21- or 22-year-old men marrying 18- or 19-year-old women. … As a result, there’s about 10 to 15 percent more women who are entering the matchmaking process than there are men who are entering the matchmaking process. And the “shidduch crisis” basically refers to these excess women who are unable to find marriage matches, and within the community it’s become a source of great angst, particularly for the young women and their parents. 

JJ: But this “crisis” doesn’t exist in the Chasidic Jewish community, right?

JB: Their tradition is, while everybody marries young, they marry people their own age. Eighteen-year-olds marry other 18-year-olds, so even though they have a very high birthrate, too, you don’t have this demographic mismatch of lots of 18-year -olds trying to find matches with too few 21- or 22- or 23-year-olds.

JJ: You suggest in the book that the “marriage ultimatum” can be a useful tool for women, particularly in this imbalanced market. Can you explain that?

Birger: It’s kind of mean for a guy to be dating a woman in her late 30s for two full years without actually marrying her. I interview a really smart young matchmaker in the book … she has a line, she calls guys like these “time thieves,” and she’s right. For a woman in her late 30s or early 40s who really wants to have kids, and she hears her biological clock ticking, letting these relationships drag on without getting a ring, it feels counterproductive. 

From the guy’s perspective, in business and politics, you hear all the time, “You should never make a decision sooner than you have to.” And that’s actually good life advice, but when you apply it to dating from the perspective of a man, a man might conclude, “Well, I’m going to keep my girlfriend as an option while continuing to survey the market, because I don’t have to make a decision.” What an ultimatum does is force him to make a decision and it creates artificial scarcity in an otherwise abundant marketplace. Essentially, it makes you want more of what you fear you may lose. So, I think ultimatums work in business, they work in all kinds of life contexts. It does seem as if the women who are firm are more likely to be successful in getting the guy to settle down. 

Don’t make me shlep my heart: Breaking down the Jewish dating scene


Dating. It’s like going out for ice cream. That’s right, ice cream, the official food of heaven (idk probably). Sometimes you’re craving a certain flavor, sometimes it makes you sick, other times it’s too much like “Whoa these are the size of your scoops, how does anyone ever finish that?” That last one wasn’t even a metaphor, it’s just something that is said every time my family gets ice cream.

Similar to dating, you, naturally, want to try the flavors before you commit, you want to know that the “ice cream” is right for you, but instead of the end result being mint-chocolate chip, it’s a human being spending the rest of your life with you – same thing though, right?

As a twenty-something, “going out for ice cream” has been something that has crept into my mind more than once. Maybe it’s all the rom-coms (that I don’t watch), perhaps it’s all the engagement pictures flooding my timeline (congrats, btw, entire world) or, at the end of the day, maybe it’s hearing my grandma’s voice at every family gathering, “Jon, excuse me, Jon, how are the women? When are you going to bring a girlfriend home? Can you pass the potato salad?” And then I start messing with her out of frustration, “What do you mean grandma? This is my girlfriend, do you not like her? Is something wrong with her?!” (Pointing to a plate of cheese and crackers). IK I’m embarrassed for me, too.

The point is, I’m not worried about dating or relationships or eventually getting married, and you shouldn’t be either. The way I look at it is if I find the right person, great, and if not, I’ll be able to catch up on A LOT of TV shows. Win/win I’d say.

No, the thing that is more frightening to me is something I came across the other day. 

A statistic that read, “There’s an 84% chance that if you’re 21 & older, you’ve already met the person you’ll marry.”

Now, I saw this on Twitter, which in all fairness is the same place where you can find endorsements for Donald Trump, so keep that in mind. But naturally I started freaking out.

I started recounting all of the people I’ve met up to this point in my life. There was that girl from the grocery store…my prom dates…Robin Roberts from Good Morning America. Wow am I going to marry Robin Roberts? Should I tell my parents? I mean there’s an age difference but idk. Could I handle the spotlight? I already have enough stress in my life between watching people’s Snapchat stories and finding what songs to listen to on the way to work, and that’s when it hit me.

I have to date Jewish.

I just have to. You have to. We all have to.

And it has nothing to do with religion. I like to consider myself a pretty open and tolerant person. In fact, I’ve dated Non-Jews in the past, and it was great. I went hunting, I introduced someone to bagels & lox (changing their life forever), I was on time for things, and I didn’t have to constantly Wiki what Larry David was up to. No, it’s not a religious thing. It’s a laziness thing.

Falling in love takes a lot of work – and who has time for that these days with Netflix and those electronic soda machines at restaurants (they’re tricky). These days we have to be careful as far as what we use our cognitive resources for.

Meeting new people, no offense new people, sucks sometimes. You have to do things like introduce yourself, and say where you went to college, and pretend to laugh at bad jokes. No thanks. It’s like the longest, worst icebreaker ever…and you know what they say about icebreakers. They should be illegal and whoever initiates them should go to jail for longer-than-eternity without access to the new Full House spinoff if it happens. 

So, how does this all tie back to dating Jewish? Great question, the three people who are still reading. It’s quite simple, actually. It’s just easier, and isn’t that what life is about? Isn’t that the reason why Google exists? 

Now, I’m not a scientist or God so I’m not sure why, but this is the way it is.

If you’re Jewish…chances are you already know 85% of the other Jews in your community (but as high as 100% if you leave the house. ever). You probably have a similar sense of humor and an understanding of the various Judaic holidays  – or you at least know that Yom Kippur means, “I better eat a lot the night before.” Regardless of who you go on a date with, you most likely awkwardly danced with them during the bar/bat mitzvah circuit days, and you probably remember, yet never talk about it. You’ll know all the same lingo, like, “Stop kvetching!” or “Oy vey!” or “Jon Savitt is so funny!” Your parents definitely somehow know each other. Literally, I don’t know how, but they will know each other – which is great because it will save a lot of stress in the future. And, finally, you either went to summer camp with one another or have mutual friends who did, so yeah, they’ll know your level of color war competitiveness. 

The Jewish dating scene can be both a blessing and a curse. But with increasingly busy lifestyles for college grads and beyond, you can’t deny the clear benefits: History, brisket, and a much less awkward intro to the family.

But I’ll never join JDate. 

Women want to be chosen


What women would give to be lusted after today.

Women are not looking just for love in a marriage. They are primarily looking for lust. A woman wants to be wanted, needs to be needed, desires to be desired. A woman does not go into marriage principally to be loved. She goes into marriage to be lusted after, to feel that there’s a man who has a magnetic attraction for her. It’s an easy point to prove. 

If a woman wanted primarily to be loved why would she ever leave the comfort of the parental home? No one’s ever going to love her more than her parents. Her parents are never going to divorce her. Her parents aren’t going to cheat on her. Her parents are going to love her unconditionally. She doesn’t have to dress up for them; she doesn’t have to impress them. If you want to be loved, you stay at home. 

So why is it that by the time she’s a teenager her parents have to threaten her to be at home? Whey does she trade in the unconditional love of her parents for the very conditional love of a man?

When her parents tell her she’s the prettiest girl in her class she just rolls her eyes. They’re just saying that because they’re her parents. They have a genetic AK-47 to their heads making them love her. There is no choice in the matter and therefore her parents’ love for her can’t make her feel special.

But when a man says that to a woman it must mean that she’s special, she’s unique. Her parents can give her love but they can’t give her what she really wants, which is to be chosen. 

Every woman wants to be chosen. Our parents can give us the gift of love but not the gift of chosenness.

In the Hebrew language there is a specific word for “husband” (baal), but no specific word for “wife.” The word used to identify “wife” (ishah) is the exact same as the word “woman.” A “wife” is in essence a “woman.” A woman is always a woman, no matter who she is and what role she plays in life. She can never be fully possessed, even in marriage, which, ironically, is a good thing. It means that no husband can ever take his wife for granted. Even after you marry her she never fully becomes your wife. She remains a woman who can only be won over not by the commitment of the marital institution but through the daily solicitation of emotional devotion and affection. Women are drawn to men who desire them. 

The point is best illustrated by the story of Bruriah, wife of the Hebrew sage Rabbi Meir. A daughter of the respected martyred sage Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradion, Bruriah is one of the few women singled out in the Talmud as being herself a sage. She was an intellectual and a paragon of faith who proved her mettle in soothing her husband’s grief with complete acceptance of the will of the Almighty when their two sons suddenly died in tragic circumstances.

A curious story referred to in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 18b) only as “the Bruriah incident” has much to teach us about the traditional Jewish attitude toward women’s sexuality. The eleventh-century canonic Jewish scholar Rashi comments on this cryptic reference as follows:

One time [Bruriah] mocked the Sages’ saying “Women are suggestible” (Kiddushin 80b, Shabbat 33b). [Rabbi Meir] said to her: “In your lifetime, you will eventually affirm their words.” He instructed one of his disciples to seduce her. [The student] urged her for many days, until she consented. When the matter became known to her she strangled herself, and Rabbi Meir fled out of disgrace.

Much ink has flowed over this unusual and heartrending account throughout the centuries. I’ll give you my take on it. Bruriah heard her husband teaching his students the passage from the Talmud (Kiddushin 80b) that says “Nashim da’atan kalot aleihen.” It literally means that women are “suggestible” or “lightheaded,” but Rashi explains this to mean that they are sexually uninhibited and receptive, and indeed this appears to have been Rabbi Meir’s intention.

Women are easily much more sexual than men. I imagine Rabbi Meir telling his students that husbands must not take for granted that their wives are permanently faithful. RatherRabbi Meir taught, women are profoundly romantically impressionable. A woman find its challenging to resist when a man focuses his starry-eyed attention on her, and therefore a husband must ensure that he himself is his wife’s seducer.

Bruriah took issue with the Talmud’s assertion that women are readily seduced. You’re insulting women, she told her husband, by insinuating that we’re not innately moral and some Don Juan can come along and sway us; it’s not true. I am not primarily an emotional person, she said; I’m an intellectual like you. When I know something is wrong, it’s an iron-clad conviction.

Now, all this is obvious. Women are as intelligent, driven, and ambitious as men. But they are also in love with love, which make them more humanly responsive. 

B’chayecha,” in your lifetime, Rabbi Meir replied; in your lifetime you will bear witness to the truth of this aphorism.

Rabbi Meir set out to prove to his wife the Talmud’s wisdom, tragically recruiting one of his students to seduce her to demonstrate the point. Bruriah resisted the young man, just as she had said she would. But the student was persistent. We don’t know whether the student had feelings for her or whether he acted only out of a sense of duty to his teacher. We also do not know whether she actually succumbed to the seduction. 

Either way, the resulting shock apparently caused her to take drastic action. Why was she so irretrievably humiliated? One explanation is that she had compromised her moral core and couldn't live with herself. Another explanation is that she was afraid people would find out. I don’t accept either of those answers, because this is the same Bruriah who buried two of her sons and saw her father burned alive for teaching Torah, yet she persevered in her faith. 

I think the reason she was so crestfallen to the point of wanting to end her life was that her husband had been proven right. For all her pretensions to being someone who could overcome emotions and passions and choose her own path, someone who was a master of her own destiny, guided only by the cold, hard facts of logical principles, she discovered that human passion in fact trumps intellect.

And that is true for both men and women.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, winner of The London Times Preacher of the Year Competition, and recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He has just published “Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer”. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley

Israel moves to ease path to conversion for those not considered Jewish


The Israeli government has adopted a major reform expected to ease the path to conversion for hundreds of thousands of Israelis now prohibited from marrying in the Jewish state.

In the most significant response in decades to the estimated 400,000 Israelis who are not considered Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate, the Cabinet expanded authority for conversion beyond a small group of approved haredi Orthodox courts.

Since only Orthodox Jewish marriage is permitted in Israel, such Israelis — the majority of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union — must convert if they wish to be married in Israel.

Under the new law, which was passed Sunday and became effective immediately, the conversion process is expected to get significantly easier.

The measure, which allows any city rabbi in Israel to perform conversions, is expected to pave the way for the elimination of some provisions seen as overly stringent, such as the Chief Rabbinate’s requirement that converts send their children to Orthodox schools.

Currently, only four rabbinic courts appointed by the haredi-dominated Rabbinate are authorized to perform conversions.

“Every rabbi in every city will be able to set up his own tribunal according to Jewish law,” said Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who brought the bill to a Cabinet vote along with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. “It also gives a choice. People will be able to choose the tribunal they want to go to, and warm, friendly tribunals will be used more than others.”

Conversion policy has dogged Israel since the 1990s, when about 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union entered the country. The immigrants qualified for citizenship under the Law of Return, which requires immigrants to have just one Jewish grandparent. But hundreds of thousands did not meet the Chief Rabbinate’s stricter standard for Jewishness — either having a Jewish mother or undergoing an Orthodox conversion — and thus could not marry in Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate’s stringencies led many to balk at the process entirely, in many cases choosing instead to marry abroad. Israel recognizes non-Orthodox conversions performed overseas.

The Cabinet vote on Sunday is the latest attempt at a compromise to make the conversion process friendlier.

In 1999, the government established the Joint Institute for Jewish Studies, a body intended to teach potential converts about Judaism from a range of non-Orthodox perspectives in preparation for an eventual Orthodox conversion, but the effort foundered.

In 2010, the issue heated up again after Yisrael Beiteinu became the Knesset’s third-largest party. The party, focused on Russian immigrant interests, proposed a measure similar to the one that just passed, but a provision would have given full control over conversions to the Chief Rabbinate. That provoked the ire of non-Orthodox groups and the law was shelved.

“This government resolution doesn’t give more power to the Chief Rabbinate,” said Seth Farber, the founder of Itim, an organization that aids Israelis with personal status issues. “The hope is that this bill will enable a much more understanding and friendly set of rabbinical courts to emerge without the Chief Rabbinate imposing their monolithic view on every conversion.”

The reform chips away at longstanding haredi Orthodox dominance of conversion policy. Both of Israel’s chief rabbis, who are haredi, oppose the new law. Should the chief rabbis attempt to block the conversions, Farber has pledged to petition the Supreme Court.

The passage of the law marks the end of a lengthy legislative process. Though it passed an initial Knesset vote last year, a ministerial committee vote required to move the measure along was postponed continuously until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu removed it from the legislative agenda entirely two weeks ago, reportedly to appease haredi parties.

A group of ministers led by Bennett and Livni responded by pushing the law through the committee anyway, and a modified version passed in the Cabinet.

While the reform doesn’t go as far as recognizing non-Orthodox conversions — a step many non-Orthodox and Diaspora groups would liked to have seen — those groups nevertheless heralded its arrival. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, CEO of the Israeli Reform movement, said he supports any reform that eases conversion as long as it doesn’t hurt non-Orthodox streams.

“Now there are no more excuses for [Religious] Zionist rabbis,” he said. “Now is the time for them to deliver.”

 

On a Birthright trip, love is born


Sagi Alkobi almost didn’t go on the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip.

It was August 2008, and the then-20-year-old student at The City University of New York had applied months in advance to participate in the educational tour of Israel for young Jewish adults. But a problem with his paperwork kept the application on hold, and, five days before the trip was about to begin, he assumed he wouldn’t be on it. Then he got a call.

“It was from Birthright,” recounted Alkobi, “They said, ‘We have an open spot for you. If you’d like, you can get on our Birthright trip. It’s on Monday.’ ” 

Perhaps it was destiny. Alkobi didn’t know it yet, but his life was about to change forever.

That change had a name: Daniella Elghanayan, a 21-year-old recent UC Santa Barbara graduate. They fell in love on the Birthright tour, and Sagi and Daniella, now 26 and 27 respectively, married last month at the Spanish Hills Country Club in Camarillo. 

It’s not the first time a Birthright experience has led to a wedding, said Pamela Fertel Weinstein, acting director of communications for Taglit-Birthright Israel. A recent request on the organization’s Facebook page for love stories from Birthright participants who met on the trip yielded more than 50 replies. 

Fertel Weinstein said studies of the program also show that Birthright participants are 46 percent more likely than non-participants to marry a Jewish spouse, and 25 percent of alumni are married to other Birthright alumni, although not necessarily from the same trip.

“People often look for similarities and common interests in their partners and Birthright Israel is becoming a more common experience,” she told the Journal in an email.

For Alkobi and Elghanayan, their love story began on the second night of their 10-day trip to the Holy Land. Their group of about 40 young people from the United States was camping with Israeli soldiers near the banks of the Jordan River. It was hot, people were snoring, and Alkobi and Elghanayan couldn’t sleep. As they sat with a small group of fellow sleepless campers, the two began to talk, and their conversation lasted all night.

“It just felt so natural and easy to talk to each other,” said Elghanayan, who is Persian. “There was definitely a spark.”

In the days that followed, Alkobi and Elghanayan grew closer. At first, Elghanayan felt a little shy, but slowly she let her guard down, and the pair became inseparable. 

“I would always look for her, I was always trying to see where she was. … It was like I was drawn to her,” Alkobi said. “I wasn’t really thinking straight, because I knew she lived in California, but I didn’t really care about that at all. I was like, whatever is going to happen, it’s going to happen. I just have to get to know her.”

When the time came to return home, it didn’t seem right that things should end there. 

“After we got back, it was like, wait, but, we’re not finished yet,” Elghanayan said. “I just couldn’t wait to talk to him again.”

Back home in the United States — but on opposite sides of the country — the couple stayed in touch with regular phone calls. Within a month, Alkobi had booked a flight to California, but he was still nervous. Getting to know Elghanayan amid the wonders of Israel had been magical; would that same spark still be there when he saw her again on her home turf?

He needn’t have worried.

After about 2 1/2 years of long-distance dating, Elghanayan moved to New York City to be closer to Alkobi, who had opened his own jewelry store, while also working for his family’s real estate and property management business. Then, around the fifth anniversary of their Birthright trip, the couple decided to take another trip together, back to Israel and also to Italy. 

They returned to their old haunts in the Jewish state, where their love had blossomed on Birthright, and visited Alkobi’s relatives. All the while, Alkobi carried a ring with him, waiting for the just the right moment. 

The young man’s original plan was to pop the question at the top of Masada, but with the August weather unbearably hot, he decided to wait until they reached Italy. After dinner on their first day in Rome, the couple headed to the famous Trevi Fountain. As they stood there admiring its majesty, a man came up and offered to take their picture. 

“Is this your wife?” he asked, causally.

“Not yet,” Alkobi said.

“I just kind of laughed and brushed it off. I didn’t think anything of it,” Elghanayan said. “Then as soon as he took the picture, [Alkobi] went down one knee. … I just stared at him with my mouth open.”

When Elghanayan finally said yes, it seemed the whole crowd of tourists surrounding them had been listening in. People began to clap. Somebody threw them a rose.

“It was really romantic,” Elghanayan said.

The couple were married Aug. 17 in a traditional Jewish wedding officiated by Rabbi David Zargari of Torat Hayim in Los Angeles. Prior to the big day, they held a celebration in Israel with Alkobi’s family, a Moroccan henna party, to honor his relatives’ cultural traditions.

The couple now lives in Santa Barbara, where she is a public relations consultant for several companies; one of her clients is Tel Aviv University. He works in real estate development and property management. They said they’re grateful to the Birthright trip for bringing them together.

“I really had no expectation at all. I was just going to see this country that obviously we had a connection to, and to see a new place that I’d never seen before,” Elghanayan said.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Alkobi agreed. “I just thought it would be a cool trip, and I happened to meet my future wife.”

Ensuring the spirit of halachic marriage


Each time we hear of yet another heart-wrenching and infuriating agunah story, we tend to point an accusing finger at the Jewish legal system that has created these circumstances, in which spiteful, angry husbands can cynically abuse the divorce laws to extort and torment their wives. And this is not an unreasonable reaction. It is true that within halachah, the husband alone possesses the legal authority to issue the Jewish writ of divorce, a get. A wife cannot issue a get, nor can a rabbinical court. Yes, the category of annulment exists in the Talmud, but centuries of legal precedent agree that annulment does not apply to such cases. So it can be stated fairly and accurately that the law itself, without intention to do so, has created the circumstances that enable these abuses to occur. 

In the minds of some, this leads to the ineluctable conclusion that we ought to simply abandon the religious law. This, however, is a tautological nonstarter for Orthodox Jews.  For us, the halachah is “our life and the length of our days.” A much more subtle and plausible version of the idea though, has begun to circulate within our community, namely, that if we are to remain committed to halachah as a system, then we have no choice today but to avoid creating halachically valid marriages. There are indeed any number of ways that a couple and a rabbi can purposefully subvert the halachic validity of a marriage ceremony, and any one of these ways would be sufficient to obviate the need for a get, should the couple separate later on. The justification for this proposal is simple and straightforward. If we have no way of ensuring a halachic off-ramp, then we simply have to avoid getting onto the halachic on-ramp. 

On a visceral level, I understand why this proposal is appealing. There is even a sense of justice about it. Yet, I shudder to think about its possible unintended consequences. For as much as we are stymied by halachah in these awful agunah situations, we are thankful to halachah for having created the marriages and the families that so many of us enjoy. 

While the Torah itself spoke of marriage in only a legalistic way, the talmudic literature reinvented marriage as a deeply committed, truly covenanted relationship. The rabbis of the Talmud utilized the verse “Love your friend as yourself” as the legal framework regulating the marital relationship, and they described the marital bed itself as a place where the presence of God should hover. And these were no mere homiletics. The Talmud legally mandates that spouses cherish and respect one another, and take responsibility for the other’s material and emotional welfare. In addition, the Talmud imposed the institution of the ketubah with an alimony payment at its heart, to prevent husbands from seeing their marriages as being easily disposable. In this way, it protected wives and protected the institution of marriage from being undertaken — and from being regarded — casually. Long-term commitment was bred into the system so that marriage would have the strength to endure the crises and conflicts that invariably affect every marriage at some point or another. And this is the legal and ethical nature of halachic marriage.

What might the consequences be if we began to advise our daughters to avoid entering halachically binding marriages? Even though it might seem a sensible and practical idea for any given woman, what would the impact be if it became the practice of the entire community? The same halachic system that frustrates us when we rally against a recalcitrant husband also produces the kinds of marriages that we desire to have for ourselves, for our children and for our community. This is part of the reason, after all, that we are committed to halachah to begin with. 

The existence of agunot is the ugliest moral scar on the face of Orthodox Judaism, bar none. And each one of us who upholds halachah bears personal responsibility for mitigating the unintended yet devastating damage that it allows to occur. A couple of centuries ago, in a different time and place, this was easier to do. When a husband was tormenting his wife, or leaving her chained to a dead marriage, the local rabbinical court utilized various kinds of social, economic and even physical pressure to induce him to give his wife a get. But in our time and place, in which religious courts do not wield legal enforcement powers, and recalcitrant husbands can simply leave the social and economic orbit of the Jewish community, the old ways do not serve us nearly as well.

Today, in our time and in our place, the responsibility falls squarely upon the shoulders of each one of us. The first thing we each need to do is insist that every single couple that marries signs the halachic prenuptial agreement (go to rabbis.org). The halachic prenup is not a panacea, but it has the civil legal capacity to profoundly discourage husbands from withholding a get.  Years ago, our synagogue board at Congregation B’nai David-Judea modified our bylaws to prohibit any rabbi ever employed by the synagogue from performing a wedding without a halachic prenup. Please check to see that your synagogue has a similar policy. And if you are already married and don’t have a halachic prenup, circle Sept. 7, 2014, on your calendars. This is the day on which the Pico-Robertson Orthodox community will be hosting a mass halachic postnuptial signing. 

No less important, each and every one of us must also commit — fully and without any exceptions — to the watertight policy that there is never, ever an excuse or justification for extortion. No one, not our brother, nor our son, nor our rabbi, can ever attach conditions of any kind to the delivery of a get. Not a financial condition, not a child custody condition, not any condition of any sort. And we have to possess the moral vision and religious courage to loudly and publicly label any effort to impose such conditions for what they are — extortion — plain and simple. We can’t let ourselves be fooled or hoodwinked. 

Extortion can hide even in the folds of piety or behind the mask of rabbinical ordination. We cannot fall for it. We have to call it out when we see it, for it may be up to you and you alone to save a woman from becoming an agunah.

We cannot have it both ways. If we choose to live according to halachah, we must take responsibility for halachah.


Yosef Kanefsky is senior rabbi at B’nai David-Judea (bnaidavid.com), a Modern Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Cartoon: 12 or whatever Years a Slave


Israeli couples say ‘I don’t’ to Orthodox Jewish weddings


For most Israelis in the Jewish state, there is one legal way to get married – God's way.

Israeli law empowers only Orthodox rabbis to officiate at Jewish weddings, but popular opposition is growing to this restriction and to what some Israelis see as an Orthodox stranglehold on the most precious moments of their lives.

Some of Israel's most popular TV stars and models have come out this week in an advertisement supporting a new bill allowing civil marriage. A political storm is likely when it eventually comes up for a vote in parliament.

The Rabbinate, the Orthodox religious authority that issues marriage licences in Israel, says it is charged with a task vital for the survival of the Jewish people, and a recent poll showed more Israelis oppose civil unions than support them.

Nevertheless, many Israelis want either a secular wedding or a religious marriage conducted by a non-Orthodox rabbi. Facebook pages have been popping up, with defiant couples calling on others to boycott the Rabbinate.

In September, Stav Sharon, a 30-year-old Pilates instructor, married her husband in an alternative ceremony performed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi.

“We wanted a Jewish wedding despite being secular. We feel connected to our Judaism, even if we are not religious. It is our people, our tradition,” Sharon said.

Weddings such as Sharon's fall into a legal no man's land. They are not against the law, but neither are they recognised as valid by the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for registering marital status on the national identity card every Israeli is required to carry.

In a twist in the law, the ministry will register as married any Israeli couple that weds abroad – even in a non-religious ceremony – outside the purview of the Israeli rabbinate.

Some couples hop on the short flight to Cyprus to marry. The Czech Republic is another popular destination for Israelis wanting a civil wedding.

Sharon and her husband decided against that option. “Marrying abroad means giving in. We wanted to marry in our own country,” she said.

No formal records are kept on the officially invalid alternative ceremonies held in Israel. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, nearly 39,000 Jewish couples married via the Rabbinate in 2011. About 9,000 couples registered that year as having married overseas.

Muslims, Druze and Christians in Israel are also required to marry through their own state-recognised religious authorities, making interfaith weddings possible only overseas.

WHO IS A JEW?

Secular-religious tensions have simmered in Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state, since its establishment in 1948.

About 20 percent of Israeli Jews describe themselves as Orthodox while the majority of citizens are only occasional synagogue-goers. There are also non-Orthodox communities such as Reform and Conservative, but these are proportionately smaller than in Jewish populations abroad.

Ultra-Orthodox zealots have drawn anger in recent years for separating men and women on some public buses and harassing women and girls for what they see as immodest dress. Orthodox rabbis insist that brides take ritual baths to purify themselves before marriage, a practice to which some Israeli women object.

Immigrants to Israel, which since its inception has appealed to Jews around the world to live in the Jewish state, can find marriage through its Rabbinate a gruelling process.

Anyone wed by the Rabbinate is required to provide evidence of being Jewish, usually a simple and quick process.

But when it comes to new immigrants, the Rabbinate requires an affidavit, usually from an Orthodox rabbi in their home country, attesting they were born to a Jewish mother – the Orthodox criterion for determining if someone is a Jew.

And, Orthodox authorities in Israel can pile on more problems by digging even deeper into Jewish roots by requiring additional documentation proving that a bride or bridegroom's grandmother was Jewish.

“It took a year,” said a 34-year-old Argentinian immigrant to Israel, who asked not to be identified.

“They said the papers I had were not sufficient. They kept asking for more and more crazy documents. At one point they wanted me to provide a witness, from Argentina, who knew my grandparents and who had seen them, inside their home, celebrating a Jewish holiday,” he said.

His case was ultimately brought before the Chief Rabbi who ruled the man was Jewish and could marry his bride-to-be.

Israel's government is less strict in determining “who is a Jew” and therefore eligible to immigrate to Israel. Under its Law of Return, proof that someone has at least one Jewish grandparent is enough to receive automatic citizenship.

The Rabbinate says it is charged with preventing intermarriage and assimilation with non-Jewish communities which would endanger their people's survival.

Ziv Maor, the Rabbinate's spokesman, said strict adherence to Orthodox ritual law and practices had bonded Jews across the globe and set common rules for all.

“A Moroccan Jew knew he could marry a Jewish woman from Lithuania,” he said. “Rabbinical law guides us in a very clear way on who is Jewish and who is not … and we do not have permission from past or future generations to stray even a hair's breadth from those criteria,” Maor said.

According to the Rabbinate, only two percent of the men and women who apply to it for a marriage licence are turned down because they are found not to be Jewish.

GAY MARRIAGE

There are other groups to whom marriage is forbidden by rabbinical law.

Same-sex marriage, as in other religions, is out of the question as far as the Rabbinate is concerned. Israel's Interior Ministry recognises gay marriage – but only if it is conducted in a foreign country where it is legal.

Margot Madeson-Stern, a business consultant, was wed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi at a celebration attended by more than 300 guests. The ceremony had no legal foundation in Israel.

“The (Rabbinate) would not marry me. The person I fell in love with was a woman,” said Madeson-Stern, 30. “I'm Jewish. I wanted a Jewish wedding. It's my family, my tradition, it's how I grew up.”

She later travelled with her wife to New York for another wedding ceremony. New York recognises gay marriages, so Israel's Interior Ministry did the same, registering them as a couple.

At least two parties in the coalition government are promoting a bill to allow civil marriage in Israel, including for same-sex couples. One of them is Yesh Atid, which tapped into anti-religious sentiment in last January's national election and finished in second place.

“It cannot be that people who do not believe or whose lifestyle does not suit the Rabbinate will be forced to get married by people whose way is not their own,” Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid told Israel Radio this month.

But tradition could die hard in Israel. A poll published in November in the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, showed that while 41 percent of Jewish Israelis supported Yesh Atid's Civil Union bill, 47 percent objected.

Such bills have been floated at Israel's parliament before. But for the first time in years, ultra-Orthodox parties, which oppose civil marriage, are not in the government.

Yesh Atid believes it has enough votes from lawmakers across the board to pass the law in the next few months. The Rabbinate says it will oppose the measure strongly.

“Matters of marriage, divorce and conversion are our most important fortress. It must not be touched and we will defend it fiercely,” said Maor.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Stamp

Hearts remarried


Marriage means so much, to all of us. Including to unmarried people. We all want to live paired up, don’t we? To die not alone? What’s sadder than a grave all by its lonesome? Two side by side, we feel we can protect each other through all eternity. 

Marriage is also the inner pillar of our psyche. We think of it all the time, even more than of sex. Why we have marriage, why we don’t, why and when did it become better, at last? Look around. Marriage is our life’s top ingredient, as guaranteed as the sun on a bright day.

I could go on. You see my wife and I just rededicated our vows. I’m still bubbling.

Rededication, by the way, is an American invention we should applaud. Even if one remarries not 50, just five years in, those would be some important five years! In the case of Iris and I, we clocked 30 and then decided: We’re redoing it, in Europe where I’m from — where she stems from, too, one generation past. 

I do remember the times when she, or I, doubted that we would last. A counselor told us to beware when you stop fighting, when you have “peace.” Peace means the end of being unique to each other. Better unique and bleeding. So we rededicated — bleeding and all. We have littler fights these days, and better friendship in between. 

Thirty years. And we’re hoping for another 20.

Wow. 

In honor of our roots, we flew to Eastern Europe. Iris comes from Holocaust survivors. I’m from the other survivors, the runaways from communism. 

The logistics were complex. We’re an interfaith marriage, although we don’t live interfaith; the blood that lost the most is the blood whose traditions we follow. So we were looking for a Jewish environment to remarry. 

For our first vows all those years ago, we eloped to Utah, of all places, because I’d been invited to Robert Redford’s Sundance writer’s workshop. We were married by Brother Johnson, a colorful Mormon judge, and enjoyed a Hopi dance and a bridal suite, both arranged by Mr. Redford, on our first night. 

This second time, we wanted something more traditional. But who would marry two Americans — one a Jew, one not — in Hungary or the Czech Republic, lands where my wife’s folks survived? 

Answer: Uh, apparently not anyone mainstream.

We were thrust from something we expected to be so intimate and personal into hectic East European, post-communist politics, with a very bitter-before-sweet feel of déjà vu. 

Europe is not America; its Judaism, like its Christianity, is barely beginning to become flexible. Liturgical adjustments, so familiar in California, are unheard of. My wife researched a comprehensive number of congregations, which would not deal with interfaith couples, period. Discouraging. But at last, a congregation that called itself Reform agreed to revow us. Its leader, guide and navigator came to talk to us at the apartment we had rented in a street behind Budapest’s Belle Epoque parliament building.

“Hi, I’m Ferenc,” the rabbi said to us, walking in.

He was a robust 60-year-old with a light Hungarian accent, friendly, hands-on, beaming American nonconformity. Rabbi Ferenc Raj, whose stature in today’s Judaism I’ll not detail — Google him if you want; he’s far from being obscure — was the only congregation leader who agreed to remarry us despite the interfaith kink. 

We’ll make the service quintessential, he told us. When the groom (me) is told to say, “According to the law of Moses and Israel,” we shall say, “According to the law of God.” For God — he smiled at both of us — is God for all, not for the chosen alone. At last, the groom crushes the glass. (I’d always wanted to do that!)

Surely, this felt so momentous because Iris’ family memories drifted so richly above this city by the Danube — where her mother and uncles hid with fake papers in 1944, helped by the occasional well-meaning Catholic. Iris and I visited the Dohany Street Synagogue, one of the largest in the world, where footsteps from the past resounded in our minds. Compared to the tests and trials of 1944, this year of 2013 should be like a breeze of reconciliation. Well …  

On this mild September afternoon, up in the Buda Hills, in a family’s backyard, standing inside a sukkah — the model of all sacred Jewish spaces, even the wedding canopy, Rabbi Raj explained — Iris and I were rejoined. In attendance, including our son and daughter, were some 30 people only. Careful they were, almost like refugees. Because they were Reform, a sect still fighting to be officially recognized in today’s Hungary. 

I felt so many things on that afternoon. 

I felt the presence of my own tragically departed ones, starting with my deceased twin brother, whom communism killed. I felt reconnected with my wife, and with my deepest lone self. The ritual was too primal not to touch hidden-most memories, which unlocked and flowed in abundance. We drank blessed wine, my woman and I, surrounded by unprepossessing Reform worshippers who deserve to be accepted even if there were just a handful of them. 

To my readers: Take note that such exclusions still exist. Help leaders like Rabbi Raj — through inclusiveness of them and others, the past might have been different. Help people like Rabbi Raj, even if you’re not Reform or not even religious. 

I could write more about the passive-aggressive relationship of Europe’s Eastern lands to their Jews. Hungary’s erraticism is up there, and then some. When you pass the plaques on this and that building, you’re reminded that Budapest birthed Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb — on the plaque, his name is duly Hungarized, Teller Ede. Equally honored, Herzl Tivadar. Huh, who? THEODORE HERZL? Hey, you’re ours again, Tivadar! I felt like moaning: Would the real Europe ever stand up and say, “I regret that I oppressed my Jewish sons and daughters who so often carried my name to the heights. I repent, I do. Deeply and sincerely, I weep over my cruelty and vow not to restart it!” 

Oh well. Evil didn’t stop in 1945, and doesn’t target Jews only.  See what’s happening right now to the ancient minority Christians, burned in their churches, routinely killed, in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, while the world is in busy conference talking about anything else but that. 

Let’s all do the little that we can do. Like, let’s all remarry. 

You know what I mean.


Petru Popescu is a Romanian-born, best-selling novelist. He lives with his family in Beverly Hills.

Knesset approves marriage registration reform law


The Knesset approved the so-called Tzohar Law, which would allow couples to choose the city in which to register their marriage.

The law passed its second and third readings Monday evening, over the objections of the country’s two chief rabbis, by a vote of 57 to 14, with one abstention. All of the no votes were from haredi Orthodox lawmakers.

Couples previously had to register their marriage in one of the communities in which they live. The new law allows them to choose a marriage registrar with whom they are more comfortable or who may be more lenient in cases that involve converts or immigrants.

There are 60 offices for the registration of marriages and conversions throughout the country.

The new law will also create a computerized database for the registrations, making the records accessible to all of the registrars.

“The revolution in religious services is underway,” Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on his Facebook page following the vote.

The bill is named for the Tzohar organization, a group of rabbis that works to make rabbinic services more user friendly for all Israelis.

Letters to the Editor: Judaism in Poland, Jewish values and cleaning up Mount Zion


Judaism in Poland

I want to thank and congratulate you for again getting it right (“It’s Warsaw, Jake,” Oct. 18). It’s amazing what happens when power and authority are motivators. Since the Twarda has dealt with only the Orthodox community under Rabbi Michael Schudrich for years, it’s an uphill dynamic to move the pendulum at all or at least incrementally. Protectionism at its worst has allowed the selling off of valuable resources, but times may be changing with articles like this and the tireless effort of Severyn Ashkenazy, Rabbi Dov Beliak and a few others. Terrific insight, thanks.

Barbara Yaroslavsky via e-mail

The future of our people is in danger if we keep silent when such massive corruption is exposed.

Gil Nativ via jewishjournal.com


The Changing Face of Judaism

In David Suissa’s column “Can Common Sense Save Judaism” (Oct. 11), he states that Judaism in America is in trouble. I must tell you, with all due respect to the excellent job the Jewish Journal does in addressing the various issues and concerns of the Jewish community in Southern California, that I find both the ancient and recent reportage of this kind a lot of paranoid hooey.

I grew up in politically conservative Orange County in the early 1960s, at a time when Orange County’s residents were not exactly welcoming of Jews, and there were only two Jewish synagogues in the entire county. Now, they dot the map there, and I have no doubt that every one of them was packed to the gills on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I accompanied my parents to their synagogue there for High Holy Days and took note of Hispanic, Korean and Japanese converts to our faith. Surely, that must tell you something. I would not be surprised if what I observed played out all over our nation in spite of intermarriage and other factors that Jewish pundits continue to cite.

Marc Yablonka, Burbank


A Plea for Funds to Repair Cemetery Damage

In May, the Journal printed articles describing the destruction of graves at Mount Zion Cemetery, one of the oldest burial sites in Los Angeles. At the time, three men donated $285,000 of the estimated $750,000 needed. 

In “Funds Needed for Mt. Zion Gravesites” (Oct. 11) it states they have only raised $300,000. In this city of hundreds of thousands of Jews, only an additional $15,000 has been contributed to this important cause. This is shameful and an embarrassment.

Please donate at RestoreMtZion.com so Mount Zion Cemetery can be a place of peace and rest for those buried there.

Ilene Karpman, Woodland Hills


Why Marry Young?

Dennis Prager’s column on the advantages of early marriage (“Marry Young,” Oct. 11) constitutes a powerful argument for same-sex marriage. It is a positive gain for the entire community when all couples experience the benefits of marriage that Prager enumerates: accelerated emotional maturity, responsibility, hard work, career success and a stable home life.

Donald Bing, Moorpark


Religious Disconnect

Dennis Prager is right again.

In the article on Erica Hooper by Kylie Jane Wakefield (Conversion, Oct. 11), Wakefield writes: “Hooper, 30, grew up in East Los Angeles in a Catholic home. She attended Catholic school and considered herself religious — that is, until she went to college.

“ ‘There was this disconnect between things I learned in high school and the questions I asked as I got older,’ she said. ‘I didn’t feel like I was getting answers to certain things, and it made me feel disconnected from religion.’ ”

That is a perfect example of what Prager has written about in the past: Our education system and our colleges are indoctrination centers designed to discredit religion and morality in order to advance their leftist agendas.

Please ask Dennis to write more on this subject.

Mike Mains via e-mail


Heartfelt

Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt and beautifully written piece about your dear son (“A Mother’s Prayer,” Oct. 18). This makes me proud to work in clinical research.

Juliet Reiter via jewishjournal.com


‘Monday’ Cookbook Great Every Day

I have been cooking nonstop with this cookbook [“Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Food, The Stories, The Sisterhood”] since I purchased it at the book signing at Joan’s on Third a few weeks ago (“Australia’s Jewish Cooking Club,” Oct. 18). Everything I have made has gotten five stars in our house! This is a great go-to cookbook for everyday as well as Shabbat recipes. I have the orange cake in the oven right now!

Wendy Perla Klier via jewishjournal.com


correction

In “Who Decides Who’s Hungry” (Sept. 27), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program passed the House of Representatives on Sept. 19. 

correction

An article about Cantor Joel Pressman (“Unafraid of Death, Cantor Offers a Philosophical Love Fest,” Oct. 4) mistakenly reported that a cover story on Pressman had appeared in the Beverly Hills Courier. It was the Beverly Hills Weekly that published the story. 

How to buy the best diamond wedding ring for your buck


When Jeremy Ziskind of Pico-Robertson proposed last year to his then-girlfriend, Allyson Marcus, he had a basic idea of what kind of engagement ring he would give his future wife.

“Allyson told me pretty early on in our relationship that she loved the idea of a heart-shaped ring,” he said. “So I knew that’s what I wanted to get.”

Relying on a tip from a friend, Ziskind searched for rings on

I am my beloved’s: How to avoid making your wedding day one to forget


It’s no secret that all the planning and decisions required to pull off a wedding can cause stress and worry. From flower designs to musical selections, there are a million things that might drive you meshugge.

But that doesn’t mean you have to accept that there will be unavoidable hiccups and “oy vey!” moments. With a few insider tips, you can avoid some problems the way you avoid Aunt Helen’s chopped liver.

No matter what happens, remember to enjoy the experience. At the end of it all, you still get to marry the love of your life. 

Stay on your chair

During the horah, tradition calls for the newlywed couple to be lifted up in chairs and raised above the crowd like royalty. It’s fun! It’s festive! It could leave you with a co-pay at the ER! 

No need for that. Just make sure your venue has two armchairs. The arms keep you stable, and you’ll also have something to hold on to as your tushee gets bounced around. Be sure to tell your venue coordinator or wedding planner that this is a must-have and that your designated lifters should grab the correct chairs.

Keep your dress white

During your ceremony, you’ll be instructed to take sips of wine. But in all your excitement to get down with a little “borei p’ri hagafen,” you might giggle or get shaky and then — drip! — wine on your dress. Avoid a mess and heartache. Use white wine in your Kiddush cup so that if any spills, it won’t be as obvious. 

Think about your ink

When it comes to your ketubah, you should use only the best pen to sign your John Hancockstein. After all, you’ve spent a lot of time selecting the right words and artwork, and most likely you’ll want to hang it in a special place in your home. So why would you use an office pen? Or a permanent marker? 

Those inks will fade or ruin the fine ketubah paper. Make sure to use an archival pen with a fine point. Go to your local art supply store. They’ll point you in the right direction. 

Break the glass, not your foot

At the end of the ceremony, the groom stomps on the glass that’s wrapped in a cloth or bag and the guests yell, “Mazel tov!” That’s a perfect scenario. What if the groom steps on the glass and then … crickets! … It doesn’t break?

Avoid this scenario or you’ll have over-eager bubbes shouting, “Mazel tov!” over whole, unbroken glass. Grooms, take note: Use your heel — not your toe — when stepping on the glass. More pressure and control can come from the heel, and you’ll hear that perfect crunch that leaves no doubt that you just tied the knot. For bonus points, step on the glass with your heel on a hard surface. Avoid sand or grass, and try to make sure your chuppah ceremony takes place somewhere paved. 

Why you should yichud

After your ceremony, you’ll be giddy with hot-off-the-presses newlywed excitement. You’ll probably want to join your guests and start the party off with drinks and appetizers at cocktail hour. I urge you: Wait. Take a breath. Enjoy some private time with your spouse. 

This period of seclusion is called yichud, and it’s a special moment to be alone together after you leave the chuppah. Back in the day, this would be the time that the couple would consummate their marriage, but if that doesn’t sound all that sexy to you, that’s OK. No pressure. Consider this as your time to savor all that you experienced together under the chuppah. Your guests will be fine, and you won’t miss out on much. 

Have the venue coordinator or your wedding planner bring you a special spread of food and drinks so you can share your first married bites and sips together. Take a few minutes alone together to reflect and collect yourselves — and finally relax! Then you can rejoin your friends and family and continue the party.


Alison Friedman is owner and editor-in-chief of The Wedding Yentas (theweddingyentas.com), an online guide for Jewish brides. She lives in Thousand Oaks. 

Writing your perfect wedding speech


You’re getting married! He finally popped the question: “Will you sign the prenup here and here?”  

Oh, and he asked The Big One, too. Since you said yes, Vera Wang has been gowning, Jimmy Choo, shoeing. Mothers have been kvelling. Daddies have been liquidating portfolios — and that’s just for the cake.    

Now you have to write your speech. And you want it to be worthy of your sparkling day. Here are a few suggestions that never miss.   

Dig for original thoughts, not what the rest of the world has already recycled. Aren’t you more special than that? Surely you don’t want your speeches clogged up with clichés. 

Don’t expect your remarks to pop out whole and perfect in 10 minutes. Start jotting down notes. In those notes, make a list of things you might want to include. Like a grocery list. Don’t cross anything out. Save it all. There are no wrong answers. You can choose the best items later; now you’re just scribbling down ideas and feelings. 

On your “grocery list,” instead of “linguini, zucchini, scaloppine and gum,” you might write, “Just thinking about you makes me happy.” Then start a new page for all the reasons you’re honored to be your fiancé’s life partner. After that, tell a story or two about your courtship, and you’ve already got a good start on your wedding speech. See?   

Procrastinating is normal. Even with everything you do to avoid writing, the warm-up is part of any creative process. Each warm-up is different. While you’re doing it, you will feel completely nuts. But you aren’t.    

As an example, here’s what I do. While getting ready to write, I go shoe shopping, take long walks, devour candy corn (Brach’s brand only), lock my phones in the trunk and grab my writing ritual stuff: a blue glass of water, a second chair on which I rest my right foot, and Post-its saying “I can do it I can do it I can do it” that I hang around my computer monitor. Next, I roll my shoulders backward and forward, stretch my jaw six times, and finally type something silly, like, “If Brad Pitt divorced Angelina Jolie and begged me to marry him on Wilshire Boulevard in rush hour traffic, I’d have to say no because I love you and…”

At that point, I actually have something on paper, and I’m playing with the words, instead of clobbering any syllable that isn’t perfect. I revise and revise and revise. Eventually, something clicks in my gut saying I’m finished.      

Here are five additional tips for writing your wedding speech.   

• Start early. Don’t wait until the flowers flop over before you commit quality time to what you want to say. As soon as that ring is on your finger, set aside five minutes a day.       

• Practice. Once your speech is finished, rehearsing will help you relax. Honest.  

• Be brief. This is about love, not a debate on health care.     

• Say what you feel, what only you can say because nobody but you is you.         

• Be a little funny, a little teary, and finish on a happy note.  

To show you the importance of choosing every word carefully, I was contacted many years ago by The Hershkowitz (not his real name). He had already asked a remarkable lady to marry him, twice, and got “no way” both times. So he asked me to write his marriage proposal.         

I did. She said yes. He and Julie have been married 27 years.                                 

Now the pressure of the proposal is behind you and your fiancé. And as you approach your wedding, you have all the tools to be sure that somewhere inside you there’s a basket of beautiful words from which to choose just the right syllables for your one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime wedding speech.


Molly-Ann Leikin is an executive speechwriter and Emmy nominee living in Santa Monica. Her Web site is anythingwithwords.com.

Outmoded divorce law leading to back-alley beatings a real shandah


The FBI arrested two prominent Orthodox Jewish rabbis and two of their associates overnight Oct. 9 in New York. Allegedly, these rabbis arranged back-alley beatings for men who refuse to divorce their wives. Understanding their alleged crimes requires a short background in Jewish law.

Jewish law recognizes that some marriages may end in divorce, and includes provisions for how it should be done. In order to divorce in Jewish law, the husband, who accepted the responsibilities of marriage and the financial obligations of divorce at the wedding ceremony, must formally end the marriage with a divorce document, a “get.” This document must be given by the husband to the wife.

Most divorces go smoothly, with the parties in full cooperation. The husband gives the get and all ties are severed. However, there are a significant number of cases in which a recalcitrant husband refuses to give the get. It can be for financial reasons, it can be for vindictive reasons and it can be simply because the husband is holding out hope for reconciliation. Whatever the reason, when a husband does not give his wife a get, she is chained to him and cannot remarry under Jewish law. We call this woman an agunah.

Few things play at the heartstrings in a more profound way than the agunah. The woman is a double victim. She is a victim of an arcane, one-sided system of dissolving a marriage, and she is a victim of a husband who is taking advantage of that system.

A woman can become desperate for her get. It can begin to consume her life. Protests and social pressure might help, but sometimes the recalcitrant husband digs in his heels.

In extreme cases, the woman in these dire straits would call the two rabbis who were arrested on Wednesday evening. For a fee, the FBI describes, these rabbis would make the husband “an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Allegedly, the rabbis’ thugs would physically coerce deadbeat husbands to give their desperate wives a get. Using props more familiar to mob films and torture scenes, the FBI complaint describes, the thugs would beat husbands until they actually handed over a signed get. Perhaps most shocking of all is that their actions, according to the complaint, were sanctioned by a rabbinical court.

It’s a clumsy solution, but it has precedent in Jewish law. It has its roots in the Talmud and is explicitly codified by Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorce 2:20).

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin explains the precedent well in his book “Jewish Wisdom”:

“Because the Rabbis were conscious of the inherent unfairness in divorce laws, over the centuries they established new laws to protect women. The tenth-century Rabbi Gershom, who also issued a decree against polygamy, legislated that it was illegal to divorce a woman against her will, a law that has remained in effect since. During the twelfth century, Maimonides ruled that if a man refused to grant a divorce to a woman who was entitled to it, he was to be whipped without mercy until he did so (Mishneh Torah, “Laws of Divorce,” 2:20). The legal precedent for his ruling was the talmudic law, “If a man refused to give a woman a divorce, he is forced until he declares ‘I am willing’ (Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 50a). That Maimonides was willing to accept as voluntary a statement elicited by whipping indicates how anxious he was to assist a woman who was being mistreated.”

However, in the United States this kind of activity is illegal, and the public is painting these rabbis as villains.

It’s not so simple. In the ugly mess of the agunah crisis, these rabbis could be a woman’s only hope. While I can’t condone violence, and while I can’t support thuggery, we must see these rabbis for what they are. They are knights in shining armor for these chained women. Like our favorite fictional vigilante, they may not be the hero that we want or deserve, but sometimes they are the hero that we need.

Disgusted might not adequately describe our feeling over the allegations of violence and Mafia-like tactics toward recalcitrant husbands, but these rabbis were heroes to women left with no options.

There is no doubt that these arrests will serve as another wake-up call to the Orthodox Jewish community. The agunah crisis must be solved.

One solution for preventing an agunah crisis is the Halachic Prenup. This is available and comes recommended by foremost rabbinic authorities. The prenuptial agreement triggers a daily fine of $150 if a husband withholds a get. It’s not a very elegant solution, but it works. The Halachic Prenup is gaining traction and hopefully our discomfort with violent solutions will push more rabbis to insist on it at every wedding they officiate.

Perhaps there is also an alternative solution: a conditional get that triggers after an agreed-upon event. There are halachic nuances that would be required to make it work, but I believe there is a way. Perhaps all Orthodox Jewish marriages should include a conditional get that triggers with a specific future event. If the husband refuses to give a new get during subsequent divorce proceedings, the conditional get takes effect. I think it’s at least an option worth exploring.

Until such time that all Orthodox Jewish marriages are subject to the Halachic Prenup or some other preemptive solution we will have an agunah issue. That it came to violence in the most recently reported case is a very sad commentary on what it feels like to be an agunah.

That rabbis were inflicting violence is a terrible consequence. But the real villains are the recalcitrant husbands. Let’s not forget that these rabbis were heroes to the chained women. But at the same time, we should not need such complicated heroes. There are preemptive solutions, and they must become universally instituted.

A version of this column originally appeared in Haaretz.


Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D., is the rabbi at Pacific Jewish Center/The Shul on the Beach in Venice. Connect with Rabbi Fink through Facebook, Twitter or e-mail. He blogs at finkorswim.com

Gay candidate blazes new trail in Israel mayoral race


As a candidate to become the Middle East's first openly gay mayor, Nitzan Horowitz is hoping his bid to run Israel's famously liberal city of Tel Aviv will help homosexuals across a region where they are widely frowned upon.

The left-wing legislator is not predicted to defeat the incumbent, the well-established ex-fighter pilot Ron Huldai, in an October 22 municipal vote.

But the 48-year-old remains upbeat, pointing to an opinion poll his dovish Meretz party commissioned last month that gave Huldai only a five-point lead.

A survey in the Maariv newspaper last week predicted a Huldai victory, but found 46 percent of voters were still undecided.

“I'm going to be not only the first gay mayor here in Israel, but the first gay mayor of the entire Middle East. This is very exciting,” Horowitz told Reuters.

Horowitz's prominence in Tel Aviv is not altogether surprising. In a region better known for its religious and social conservatism, it is dubbed the “city that never sleeps”.

With a population of 410,000, it was also ranked in a poll by Gaycities.com last year as a top gay destination.

By contrast, more than 800,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews wearing black coats and hats poured on to the streets of Jerusalem last week for the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a divisive figure whom critics called “Israel's ayatollah.”

Huldai, Tel Aviv's mayor since 1998, already apportions city budgets for its annual beachfront gay pride parade, and there is a gay film festival and municipal center for the gay community offering cultural and athletic programs for teenagers and young adults.

“You can't take away the fact that gay life has blossomed in the city under Huldai,” said Itai Pinkas Pinkas, 39, a onetime city councilor who worked with the mayor.

DISCRIMINATION

As a measure of how far Tel Aviv has come, rabbis who held sway in the Mediterranean city in 1955 blocked a bid by a woman to win election as mayor. Golda Meir later went on to become Israel's first woman prime minister.

“That's why his (Horowitz's) candidacy is not raising a firestorm, because many already see Tel Aviv as the gay capital of the Middle East,” Israeli political blogger Tal Schneider said.

But Horowitz, a former television journalist who as a lawmaker has largely championed social issues and advocated for African migrants who have flocked to Tel Aviv, says discrimination against gays in the city lingers on.

Just last month, Horowitz said, a landlord cited a party colleague's gay lifestyle in refusing to rent him an apartment.

The task of improving policy toward gays in the Jewish state is “very challenging, because this is a country, a region with a lot of problems concerning the gay community, discrimination, even violence,” the candidate said.

Israel's military made inroads decades ago by conscripting gay men and women alongside other 18-year-olds for mandatory service.

And even the holy city of Jerusalem, with a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, holds an annual gay pride parade.

But the gay community hits a roadblock when it comes to the issue of marriage.

Gay marriage — and civil ceremonies in general — that take place in Israel are not recognized by the authorities. Horowitz, who has lived with his partner for more than a decade, wants that to change.

“I hope once I'm elected this will contribute to tolerance and understanding, not just in Israel, but in the entire region,” Horowitz said.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mike Collett-White

Married and dating: Polyamorous Jews share love, seek acceptance


Bud Izen wasn't prepared for the reaction he received the first time he brought his two girlfriends with him to synagogue in Eugene, Ore.

The rabbi stopped the trio in the parking lot outside the synagogue and grilled Izen’s partners about whether or not they were really Jewish. Izen hasn't been back since, but he and his girlfriend — now his wife — still engage in polyamory, the practice of having more than one intimate partner at a time.

A number of partners have been part of the couple's relationship since Izen, 64, and Diane Foushee, 56, first got together 3 1/2 years ago. Now they are seeking a third partner in the hopes of forming a stable three-way relationship, or triad.

“We want to use the relationship that we have to bridge our way to the next relationship,” said Foushee, “so that each of us in turn is given strength.”

Polyamory, often shortened to poly, is a term that first came into circulation in the 1990s. It is distinct from swinging in that it typically entails more than just sex, and from polygamy, where the partners are not necessarily married. Polyamorous relationships often are hierarchical, including a “primary” relationship between a couple that can be supplemented by a “secondary” relationship with a girlfriend, boyfriend or both.

Such arrangements remain far from mainstream acceptance. But in the wake of the progress made by gay and lesbian Jews in winning communal recognition for non-traditional partnerships, some polyamorous Jews are pushing to have their romantic arrangements similarly accepted.

“The only kind of queers who are generally accepted in some sects are monogamous married queers, upstanding queers,” said Mai Li Pittard, 31, a Jewish poly activist from Seattle. “Judaism right now is very oriented towards having 2.5 kids, a picket fence and a respectable job. There’s not a lot of respect for people on the fringe.”

A former editor of ModernPoly.com, a nationwide polyamory website, Pittard has been polyamorous for 10 years and is currently involved with three partners — two men and one woman. She is a violinist and vocalist in a fusion hip-hop klezmer band, the Debaucherantes, and likes to engage in culture jamming, the mixing of seemingly disparate cultural elements. Combining polyamory and Judaism is one example of that.

“For me, polyamory and Judaism make a lot of sense together,” Pittard said. “When I’m singing niggunim or hosting people at my Shabbat table, it’s just another way of experiencing a connection with a group of people.”

Pittard is frustrated by what she describes as a “white-bread,” conformist Jewish culture that refuses to accept polyamorous relationships. But some Jewish communities have been more accepting than others.

“It's easier to be open about polyamory at temple than it is with my professional colleagues,” said Rachel, a 28-year-old San Francisco business owner who asked that her last name be withheld. “My particular segment of the Jewish community likes me because I’m different and they accept that being poly is part of that.”

Others are more conflicted about their polyamorous and Jewish identities.

Ian Osmond, 39, a Boston-area bartender and former Hebrew school teacher who has been in a polyamorous marriage for 10 years, says he believes the rabbinic ruling that prohibited polygamy nearly a millennium ago has expired. Still, Osmond worries that his behavior is inconsistent with Jewish law.

“I do feel there’s a conflict between polyamory and Judaism,” said Osmond, who is dating several women. “I feel that what we are doing is not supported by halachah.”

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of American Jewish University in Los Angeles and a longtime champion of gay inclusion in the Jewish community, draws the line when it comes to polyamory.

“First of all, the depth of the relationship is much greater if it’s monogamous,” Dorff said. “The chances that both partners are going to be able to fulfill all the obligations of a serious intimate relationship are much greater in a monogamous relationship. I would say the same to gay or straight couples: There should be one person you live your life with.”

But some poly Jews say they have pursued other relationships precisely because their partners were unable to fulfill all their needs. Izen began exploring polyamory because his wife has crippling migraines and other health problems that make sex impossible. Osmond did so because his wife is asexual.

“She’s just not interested in sex, and therefore it didn't bother her if I was interested in sex and had sex with other people,” Osmond said. “Lis and I are comfortable with each other, and emotionally careful.”

For more than a decade, poly Jews have connected with one another on the email list AhavaRaba — roughly translated “big love” in Hebrew. The list’s 200-plus members come from across the country and use the forum to discuss jealousy, breakups, child rearing in multiple relationships and, in one case, a poly gathering in a sukkah. They also address the challenges of being poly in a community in which monogamy and marriage are still considered the ideal.

That tension manifested itself for Pittard in a recent discussion with poly friends who were considering attending a couples wine-tasting event hosted by JConnect Seattle, a networking site for Jewish young adults.

“We were talking and we said, well, does this also make you slightly uncomfortable, having to choose which of your partners to bring to something like this? Do you feel like if you showed up with both of your partners, or all three, they’d look at you weird?' Pittard recalled. “A lot of people are closeted for fear of judgment.”

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi at New York’s gay synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, says she tries to avoid that sort of judgment in her rabbinic practice. Polyamory, she says, is a choice that does not preclude a Jewishly observant, socially conscious life.

“People make all different kinds of choices, and many choices have complex issues related to them,” Kleinbaum told JTA. “The important thing is for all of us to be asking ourselves hard questions about how to create non-exploitative, profoundly sacred lives within the different choices that exist.”

Poly Jews occasionally invoke the multiples wives and concubines typical of the biblical patriarchs as evidence that their relationships can indeed be sacred. But one poly Jew who asked to remain anonymous because of her connections to an Orthodox institution said those role models only go so far.

“I acknowledge that in some sense there’s an inherent conflict, there is a sense in which classical Jewishness is built in separation, reservation, the enforcing of boundaries,” she said. “I think there has to be some more work towards an authentically Jewish way of constructing the notion of polyamory beyond the superficial answer of 'hey, that’s how they married in the Torah, right?’ ”

Relationship advice: Marry young


I know the arguments that people give for delaying marriage: 

“I’m not ready.”

“I need to be financially secure first.”

“Right now, I’m preoccupied with ____” (fill in the blank).

“To tell you the truth, I’m having too much fun to settle down.” (This argument is usually offered by males — and generally told only to other males.)

Others cite data suggesting that marrying later means less likelihood of divorcing.

I would like to make some arguments on behalf of early marriage.

The first and best argument for early marriage — providing, of course, that one meets a good person and believes this person will also be a good parent and/or provider — is that it forces you to grow up.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — makes us grow up as much as marriage does. Children are a close second, but the maturity leap from singlehood to marriage is still greater than the maturity leap from marriage without children to marriage with children.

The problem today is that becoming mature is not even on the list of most young people’s life goals. If anything, staying immature — committing to no one and remaining dependent on others — is more of a goal.

That is what “not ready” usually means.

Putting aside the financial issue, which we will address, “not ready” almost always means not willing — not “not ready” — to take on the permanent commitment to someone else that marriage entails.

Why were people throughout history ready to commit to marriage at a much younger age than people today? Only because society expected them to become adults at a younger age than today. Nothing makes you an adult as much as responsibility does. And no responsibility makes you an adult as much as marital responsibility.

And why, even today, are religious Jewish and Christian young men and women ready to marry in their early 20s? Because their values and their culture expect them to.

Let’s be honest. “I’m not ready” is usually a statement of emotional immaturity even when the person is otherwise a wonderful and responsible man or woman. 

As for the financial aspect of “not ready,” this is puzzling. People who say this may be entirely sincere, but they may also be fooling themselves. For one thing, two people living together cuts many costs almost in half. For another, nothing spurs hard work as much as marriage (and family) does. Married men make more money than single men. Moreover, many of the happiest and most bonding memories of couples are the early days when they financially struggled.

Another argument pertains to each sex separately. 

To women, I would argue that:

a) More good marriageable men are available when a woman is 23 than when she is 33, not to mention 43. To deny this is to deny reality. To dismiss this as “sexist” is to complain that life is sexist. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether it is “sexist”; all that matters is whether it is true.

b) She will learn little more about men and relationships by either going from relationship to relationship after college or by living with a man for many years without marrying. In other words, all those years a woman spends avoiding looking for a man to marry are largely wasted. There is rarely major emotional growth — this is just as true for men — during those unmarried years. And, in the meantime, she might have been able to find a good man and begin the most satisfying thing in life — making a home and, hopefully, a family. 

c) The notion that marriage will interfere with her career means she believes that, in the long run, career success will bring her greater joy and happiness than marital success. For the vast majority of women, this is not true. Young women who do not believe this should speak to successful single women in their 40s.

To men, I would argue that:

Guys who spend their lives avoiding marriage are, as a general rule, not impressive. That is one reason committed bachelors rarely get elected to high office. Neither sex thinks much of them. I understand men “sowing their wild oats” in the belief that it can help later on in life if they are plagued with curiosity about what it would be like to be with another woman. But after a certain age, chasing women is quite pathetic, and men doing so are spinning their wheels in terms of personal growth. Unfortunately, not all men want to grow up — just ask all the women looking for a man who complain of a surfeit of “man-boys.” 

I learned all this first from traditional Judaism, and later from life and from callers to my radio show. 

In order to be a judge on the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, a man had to be married and a father. Also, in traditional Jewish life, a man could not wear a tallit (prayer shawl) in synagogue until he was married. It was the community’s unsubtle way of telling males that until they committed to a woman in marriage, they were still considered a boy.

There are, of course, exceptions. But in general, boys and girls stay single. If they want to become men and women, they marry.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Married, but not in Israel


Located in the eastern Mediterranean, the island of Cyprus feels very familiar to Israelis, due to its warm climate, arid stretches of mountainous land filled with olive trees and beautiful beaches.

Not a bad place for a wedding, right?

Every year, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, about 20,000 Israeli couples get married outside of Israel, many of them in Cyprus. But it wasn’t the dream of a destination wedding, or of getting married in far-flung yet familiar-seeming territory that shaped the decisions.

Many simply felt they had little choice but to marry abroad: Israel’s religious authorities — the only entities authorized to perform weddings in Israel — are prohibited from marrying couples unless both partners share the same religion. To have their marriages recognized by the Ministry of the Interior for the purpose of spousal benefits, mixed-religion couples must have civil marriages abroad. 

“Civil union” has been available since 2010, but only for the very small number of couples of which both partners have “no religion” listed on their government I.D. cards. As of early this past summer, only about 80 couples have entered into an Israeli civil union, most likely because anyone born into a family with a stated religion isn’t eligible. 

Israel actually has a common-law arrangement through New Family, an organization that advocates equality for all families. Partners are issued Domestic Union Cards, which serve as legal proof of status as common-law spouses in most (though not all) institutions in Israel and many abroad. But it is not the full-fledged marriage that most Israelis and their parents have long dreamed about.  

A growing number of couples — no one knows how many — of the same religion, who could therefore marry in Israel, also fly abroad for a quick civil marriage ceremony to avoid having to deal with the notoriously bureaucratic Orthodox rabbinate, or its Muslim and Christian equivalents.

An entire industry, most notably on the island of Cyprus and in the Czech Republic, has grown up around the phenomenon of overseas weddings. And it doesn’t cater just to Israelis.

The Web site of Cyprus Wedding Celebrations, a company based near Limassol, offers information in a variety of languages, including Russian, Ukrainian, Dutch and Hebrew. Dina Martjens, the company’s founder, said in a phone interview that she annually arranges 50 to 80 weddings for overseas couples, many of them from Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.

There are thousands of couples who are eligible to be married in their home countries, “but want to avoid the Big Fat Greek Wedding so common in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon and Israel, where you have to invite the whole kibbutz,” Martjens said, referring to the lavish affairs common in many societies.

Because Cyprus issues a marriage certificate the same day as the wedding, most Israeli couples return home the day of the civil ceremony. A small number stay longer to enjoy a honeymoon by the beach or head for one of the many quaint villages that dot the countryside. 

Companies based in both Israel and Cyprus arrange flights and ground transport, book the wedding venue, and secure the wedding license and marriage certificate. They can arrange for witnesses and post-wedding fees and ensure that all the documentation gets to the right clerk. 

“Those who come just for the day get married at the municipality. They wait their turn, and the actual ceremony takes seven minutes,” Martjens said.

Wedding in Cyprus, an Israeli agency that specializes in weddings on that island and in the Czech city of Prague, serves 1,200 couples a year, roughly 60 percent of them unable to marry through the rabbinate.  

“The rest are Jews who don’t want to make a wedding via the rabbinate, and there are also a small number of Arab couples — one spouse Muslim, one Christian,” said Igal Lukianovsky, the agency’s owner.

Eighty percent of Lukianovsky’s clients marry in Cyprus because it takes less than an hour to fly there from Tel Aviv and it is relatively inexpensive. Wedding in Cyprus, for example, offers a one-day, all-inclusive wedding package starting at 520 euros ($690) and a two-night package for 570 euros ($755). A single day in Prague will cost a couple 700 euros ($928).   

Arranging a wedding in Prague is more complicated, Lukianovsky said, because Czech authorities require more documents than the Cypriot authorities.

That didn’t deter Roey Tzezan, a Haifa-based scientist, from having a civil ceremony in Prague three years ago, despite the fact that both he and his now-wife, Gali Alon, are Jewish.

“We don’t like the way the rabbinate has a monopoly over marriage and its attitude toward women and human rights in general,” Tzezan said.

The couple also opted for a Masorti/Conservative wedding in Israel, even though it wasn’t recognized by Israeli authorities.

“We’re extremely connected to the deep roots of Jewish tradition and feel it’s important to remain part of the Jewish world. At the same time, as long as the rabbinate dictates norms to the Israeli nation, we cannot consider ourselves fully part of Israel’s Jewish community.”

Uri Regev, president of Israel’s Hiddush-For Freedom of Religion and Equality, said marrying abroad isn’t a solution to the religious establishment’s “monopoly” on marriage and divorce.

“Many Jewish couples don’t realize that marrying in Cyprus doesn’t exempt them from falling into the rabbinical courts if the marriage ends in divorce. And if they’re not Jewish, dissolving the marriage is even more complicated.”

Regev said that opinion polls show that “a clear majority” of Israelis “want freedom of marriage” — the right to an Orthodox, non-Orthodox or civil marriage that will be recognized by the state.

“Israelis want the same rights people enjoy in every normal democracy,” Regev said. 

At long last, lasting love


Encino lawyer Jeremy Karpel’s home has an art gallery feel to it, with an eclectically decorated living room spilling out into an elegantly landscaped yard. During one recent weekend, it was the perfect backdrop for a party commemorating his grandparents’ anniversary, filled with the sounds of big band-era greats, as spun by a 9-year-old DJ.

But this was no ordinary anniversary. Eddie and Ruth Elcott of Arleta, both in their 90s, were marking 70 years of marriage.

While laying down their own roots — resulting in a fleet of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the precocious DJ — the Elcotts contributed to a number of San Fernando Valley Jewish organizations as well, among them their longtime congregation, Adat Ari El in Valley Village.

Still, the visual centerpiece of the Aug. 24 anniversary party was purely personal: a suitcase packed with 1940s wartime correspondence between the couple, then barely in their 20s. The suitcase lid is adorned with a portrait of the then-newlyweds and promotional material for a book that features them, “Project Everlasting: Two Bachelors Discover the Secrets of America’s Greatest Marriages,” written by Mathew Boggs and Jason Miller.

While the Elcotts have been in the public eye of the local Jewish community personally and professionally for decades, one of the most defining moments, according to the couple, took place while promoting the book on CNN. The reporter asked the Elcotts if they ever considered divorce. Not missing a beat, Ruth replied, “Divorce? Seldom … if ever. Murder? Often!” 

“It made people around the world laugh, but it also made them think,” Eddie said following their anniversary party, lounging comfortably in the living room of their home of 60-plus years. It is covered wall-to-wall and table-to-table with decades’ worth of framed photos and albums and a sculpture of a young girl dancing that Ruth’s family smuggled out of Germany.

The couple first met back in 1940 at a Jewish United Service Organizations (USO) party in New York City. That’s when a streetwise young soldier from Harlem set his sights on a delicate beauty whom he later learned got herself and her family out of Germany when Hitler came to power, thanks to forged documents, a job opportunity to work on a farm in England and other twists of fate.

“I still remember that when you got out of Germany, you really made a vow, that you would not let Hitler win,” a still-inspired Eddie told his wife. “That’s been basically what our lives since the war have been about. Rather than shy away from the past like other survivors, Ruth made it a point to tell the story to our children and family, as well as high school kids all over Germany, explaining the Holocaust and what she needed to do to survive. Ruth was and is very much a model for how to survive.”

After her father was imprisoned in 1938 and the freedoms of Jews became unbearably restrictive, Ruth decided to take action. When she heard about job openings in England, the 17-year-old obtained a passport and then forged paperwork to indicate she was the required age of 18, she said.  


The couple first met during World War II — a recent German immigrant and a streetwise young soldier from Harlem.

During the train ride to Amsterdam, en route to England, she feared that the German conductor would discover her forgery and send her to her death. Instead, once the train crossed into Holland, Dutch authorities threw the German personnel off the train. Ruth’s job in England involved hard work on a family farm, but she ultimately obtained the means to get her mother, father and sister out of Germany. 

No one in the extended family survived the Holocaust, however, according to the couple’s daughter, Diane Karpel of Northridge.

Later, Ruth’s wedding to Eddie was an almost spontaneous affair, consisting of the couple and two witnesses they randomly met shortly before Eddie shipped out. Although wartime romance inspired many Hollywood movies in the early 1940s and the USO gained iconic status through its entertainment and social gathering opportunities, reality put Eddie and Ruth’s relationship to the test. 

“We all grew up during that war,” Ruth said. “Soldiers came back and realized the world had changed a great deal. Young women realized that they not only had children to take care of, but husbands as well, especially those injured during the war. We had nothing when we started out, and yet we did it — we got through it. [Eddie] did not come home to a wife happy to see him and a rosy future, but instead home to [a reality that he had] a child and no money.”

War separated the couple during the critical first years of marriage, but they wrote each other every day, chronicling an eventful time in world history and their own lives. Shortly after Eddie’s departure, Ruth learned she was pregnant with their daughter, Diane. Soon after, Eddie’s unit was torpedoed on the way out to the Pacific Theater. Dozens of Ruth’s letters finally got to Eddie a month later, after Diane was born.

“When we wrote to each other every single day, we realized how little we knew about one another … and that our family structures and upbringings were completely opposite,” Ruth said.

That didn’t stop them from dedicating themselves to the task of maintaining a family once Eddie returned.

“We had to start all over again, and when Eddie was in school, I did everything needed to maintain the household,” Ruth said. “Two and a half years later, our son David was born, and we now had two children to care for on my beautician’s job.”

What each one of them separately went through gave them the backbone to weather the challenges, said their son, Shalom Elcott, president of the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County.

“My parents were both street fighters determined to survive,” he said. “My father grew up in Harlem in a working-class family, while my mother grew up in a well-to-do family in Germany who lost everything and [she] had to get her family out to safety.”

Among the things the family did manage to get out was a crystal bowl that survived the war and several moves, only to be destroyed by the Northridge Earthquake. Its remains have been incorporated — as a symbol of endurance — into 14 statues held by multiple generations of family members. The sculpture was commissioned by Diane Karpel.

Shalom Elcott views his parents’ marriage through the lens of their devotion to building the Jewish community in the San Fernando Valley. His father, a political science educator at West Los Angeles City College, taught confirmation at Adat Ari El, and his mother was active in Sisterhood. She also was a religious school teacher at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and spoke about her experiences in Germany locally and abroad. Shalom Elcott also remembers heeding their encouragement to get involved in different community and philanthropic organizations.

“We had that strong Jewish upbringing in part because it was my mother’s way of continuing the now ongoing joke she played on the Nazis [by] getting herself and her family out. This now includes 18 great-grandchildren who exist because of my parents’ will to survive,” he said. “All of us and many of our children are involved in some form of Jewish education.”