Obama to meet with Ehud Barak


Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will meet with President Obama on Friday morning, according to sources.

The meeting will come shortly before President Obama’s address Friday afternoon to the biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism, which is being held in nearby National Harbor, Md.

In an address Thursday night to the organization, Barak said it’s important not to remove any option from the table when it comes to Iran. Barak also praised Obama for opposing Iran’s quest for nuclear capability and said U.S.-Israel defense cooperation is stronger than ever.

“The unshakable bonds between Israel and America and their respective defense establishments under the guiding hand of President Barack Obama are stronger and deeper than ever and we are very thankful and appreciative of that,” he said.

Barak also alluded to the controversy over proposed Knesset bills that critics say would undermine Israeli democracy by targeting certain NGOs and minority groups.

“Homefront peace includes the maintenance of our liberal democracy where the rule of the majority will never be at the expense of the rights of the minority,” Barak said.

“I will stand rock solid against any attempt to curb freedoms or undermine our democracy,” he said. “The only Jewish democratic state in the world must remain exactly that, a Jewish and a democratic state.”

He also said American Jews should not shy away from expressing their opinions about internal Israeli matters. “Your presence and voice is essential to our decision-making. It gives us all one more perspective,” Barak said. “We welcome the debate and highly value your input in our internal debate in Israel.”

PETA says Agriprocessors misled rabbis about slaughter procedures [VIDEO]


Love, Journal Style?


Did you meet the love of your life through The Jewish Journal’s personals? Was it lasting devotion or did it crash and burn? We’re compiling the best stories of people who met through The Journal to run as part of our 20th anniversary edition. Send your stories — happy or horrid — to letters@jewishjournal.com with the subject line: JJ Love. Be sure to include your name, since we will not run anonymous submissions.

Deadline is May 31.

 

Unhappy New Year!


OK, I’ll be absolutely honest — I spent this past New Year’s Eve alone. Sure, I could have salvaged the situation with a round of frantic last-minute calling, but I never got around to it because I had to go and get into a fight. Fortunately, I was the only one who got hurt. You see, I picked a fight with myself. And on New Year’s Eve day, no less. Almost out of nowhere and with virtually no warning, I started in on myself.

So, who’s your lucky date for New Year’s Eve?

Please. You know darn well I don’t have any date tonight.

What? The Duke of Dating flying solo on New Year’s? I’m stunned. How can it be?

I don’t want to talk about it. It just worked out that way.

It doesn’t “just work out that way.” You worked it out that way. How many coffee dates have you had this past year?

Too painfully many to remember.

And not one of them was available for New Year’s Eve?

You don’t just ask someone out on a date for New Year’s Eve. It’s a very meaningful night. A very expensive night. It’s not for “a” date; it’s for “the” date.”

So with all those coffee dates, how come none of them worked out into “the” date?

You want a reason for each? She wasn’t attracted to me. I wasn’t attracted to her. She wanted someone who made more money. I wanted someone who talked about something other than herself. She wanted to have more kids. I wasn’t communicative enough for her. She didn’t have a sense of humor. I didn’t have a passion for four cats. Shall I continue?

You know what you’re doing, don’t you?

What am I doing?

It’s so obvious. For every woman you meet, you’re finding some reason, any reason, to keep you from starting a relationship.

That’s ridiculous.

Is it? You mean to tell me you meet a woman who’s perfect in every way, except she has four cats, and that’s the deal-breaker?

Look, I never said she was perfect otherwise. And besides, if I didn’t want a relationship, what am I doing spending all this time and energy meeting women?

You really want to know?

I asked, didn’t I?

You’re addicted to dating.

Get out of here.

Exactly. That’s the message you’re giving these poor women: “Get out of here.” For you, it’s all about the thrill of the chase. Ms. Right’s just around the corner. The next one’s going to be flawless. Well, get this, oh Sultan of Singles: There is no Ms. Right; there is no flawless, and there is no satisfaction for you if you keep on this way. One day you’re going to wake up to find yourself 78 years old and on your way to your next coffee date. That what you want, Pops?

Of course not. But none of the ones I’ve met this year feel right. I’ve had coffee dates where everything just clicks, we start dating, and before long, we’re in a relationship.

Sounds lovely. And where are those “everything-clicks” women now?

They didn’t work out.

They didn’t work out? Or you subconsciously torpedoed the relationship so you could get back to your addiction?

I, uh…

You know, I’ve about had it with you. You disgust me. Get out of my sight.

I can’t. I’m you and you’re me.

What did I do to deserve this?

Well, come on, don’t give up on me. What do you suggest?

I don’t know. Since I am you, I’m somewhat limited in my perceptions and insights.

You don’t have to insult me.

I’m sorry. OK, look, let’s try something different this year. One word: “Stop.” Stop the coffee dates. Stop the singles Web sites. Stop the matchmaking services. Stop the personals ads. Stop the singles parties and dances. Just stop.

Are you heading for a celibacy thing? Because that’s not what…

I’m trying to keep you from a celibacy thing. Just live your life. Do your work. Be with your friends and family. Volunteer for something. Be out in the real world. She’s out there, but you’re trying too hard. Stop trying. Start living.

I don’t know. I’ll think about it.

That’s all I ask. Now let’s get some Thai food, and for the love of God, no “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”

I was in no mood to fight with myself any more. I picked up some Thai food. I called a few loved ones. I watched a Marx Brothers movie. And I gave some serious thought to what I’d said to myself. It wasn’t so bad. Yes, I was alone, but not lonely, really. And maybe next New Year’s Eve, I’ll have a date. She can even bring her cats.

Mark Miller, a comedy writer and performer, can be reached at

Love ‘n’ Bloomers


The tomb of a venerated rabbi has become the apparent final resting place for the underwear of hundreds of Israeli women looking for husbands.

Israel’s Maariv newspaper reports that authorities have collected around 400 pairs of knickers and bras from the grilles of the tomb’s window and on nearby trees.

According to believers, an unmarried person will meet his or her soulmate and marry within a year after visiting the grave of Rabbi Yenothan Ben Uziel in northern Israel.

But as for leaving undies behind at the tomb, that’s going way too far, say local clerics, who want to nix that ritual.

In fact, Rabbi Israel Deri, who has jurisdiction over protecting holy sites in the north, suggested to Maariv that would-be romantics risk a sort of love curse if they insist on dropping off their unmentionables.

“Having consulted with the chief rabbis, I can say with certainty that not only are these women guilty of a profanity, but they will also never gain benediction,” Deri said.

 

A Challenge to Cowards


 

In the play “2 Across,” a man and a woman — who have nothing in common but their crossword puzzles — are on a 4:15 a.m. train leaving San Francisco International Airport for the East Bay. She takes crosswords (and life) very seriously; he treats everything like a game. By the time they reach East Bay 80 minutes later, their lives have changed. And it all starts with the man taking the first step: making a light comment to her.

It got me thinking about the times in my life when I failed, for various reasons, to take that first step of reaching out to someone I wanted to meet. Coming back from college one day, I struck up a conversation with an attractive woman my age at the bus station. We had a nice rapport but when it came time to part, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for her number. So our brief relationship ended there — and, of course, I’ve never seen her again.

This was back when I was still shy. I’ve since gotten over my shyness. These days, I’m perfectly comfortable crossing the room to ask for a supermodel’s phone number while she’s chatting with Hugh Grant. After all, she can meet wealthy and famous movie stars any day. How refreshing would it be for her to hang out with a struggling Jewish writer. I’d even let her use my apartment’s parking space and access to the building’s washer and dryer. I’m a giver.

But say I had reached out to that woman at the bus station that day, asked for her number and called her. There might have been one of many responses. She could have said, “Thanks but I’m already in a relationship.” She might have said, “Thanks but I’m not interested.” She might have offered her phone number but when I called it, I find I’m connected to her local police department.

Of course, something positive might have resulted, as well. We could have gone out, hit it off, entered into a long-term relationship, gotten married, had kids, lived happily every after.

The point is, I’ll never know what might have happened with that woman who could have turned out to be the love of my life — simply because I was too chicken to ask for her number. And when you think about it, my cowardice doesn’t make sense, because in a situation like that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s all about taking that leap of faith and reaching out.

OK, so if you’re rejected, perhaps your self-esteem takes a little hit. If you’re rejected a lot, perhaps it gets bruised. And if you experience nothing but rejection, maybe your self-esteem ends up in the trauma ward of Love General Hospital. But enough about my pain.

Eventually someone is going to open her arms and her heart.

Let’s get back to that supermodel. How many times have we read interviews with supermodels, gorgeous actresses and other high-profile beauties, in which they complain that they sit home alone, because for whatever reasons — fear, intimidation, assuming women that lovely must already have boyfriends — they’re just not asked out on dates?

Well, I say to my fellow male daters — let’s end that fear here and now. Whether she’s an average woman doing a crossword puzzle on a commuter train, or Gisele Bundchen doing a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue shoot on a Jamaican beach — reach out. Put those insecurities on hold.

The Talmud states: “To facilitate a union between man and woman is as difficult a task as parting the Red Sea.” Granted. But if you don’t take that first step, the union is downright impossible.

“2 Across” is on stage at the Santa Monica Playhouse through Dec. 19. $25. 8 p.m. (Fridays), 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. (Saturdays), 6 p.m. (Sundays). $25. 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. For tickets, call (800) 863-7785.

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net.

 

Superflirt


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B’nai Mitzvah Planning Guide


At Birth

When the child is born, start saving! It’s not a bad idea to start two savings accounts; one for college and one for the bar or bat mitzvah.

One to three years ahead

  • Set the date.

  • Set a budget.

  • Reserve the synagogue.

  • Reserve the hall for additional receptions.

  • Arrange for caterer, party planner and band or DJ.

  • Buy a loose-leaf binder or start a filing system on index cards.

Ten to 12 months ahead

  • Begin b’nai mitzvah lessons.

  • (Continue to) attend weekly Shabbat services as a family.

  • Arrange for photographer and videographer.

  • Book hotel accommodations and investigate transportation for out-of-town guests.

Six months ahead

  • Plan colors and theme.

  • Arrange for florist and make guest list.

Four to five months ahead

  • Order invitations and thank-you notes, imprinted napkins and personalized party favors.

  • Shop for clothing and shoes.

  • Purchase a tallit and tefillin, if applicable.

  • Choose a calligrapher.

Three months ahead

  • Plan Sunday brunch, if applicable.

  • Order printed yarmulkes.

Two months ahead

  • Meet with photographer and videographer.

  • Meet with florist and/or decorations coordinator.

  • Mail out-of-town invitations.

Six weeks ahead

  • Order tuxedos.

  • Take care of clothing alterations.

  • Order wine for Kiddush.

  • Mail in-town invitations.

Four weeks ahead

  • Prepare speech.

  • Finalize reservations and transportation.

  • Meet with caterer.

  • Make welcome gifts for out-of-town guests.

  • Arrange aliyot.

  • Send honorary gift to synagogue.

  • Meet with rabbi.

  • Make seating charts for reception (and dinner).

Two weeks ahead

  • Give final count to caterer.

  • Check with florist.

  • Meet with rabbi.

  • Order cake, cookies and pastries for Friday night oneg Shabbat.

A few days ahead

  • Have rehearsal and take bimah photographs.

  • Make copies of speeches, room and table layouts, and give them to a friend to hold for you.

Special day

  • Enjoy your simcha!

Monk Could Be Way to Mideast Peace


Next week, I am sponsoring a group of Israelis and Palestinians to spend a few weeks in a small village in southern France with a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. These two disparate groups of people do not know each other, but often feel hatred toward each other. Some of them have been hurt in the war.

But by the end of the two weeks, under the guidance of the monks, the Israelis and the Palestinians will learn to listen to, understand, forgive and maybe even like each other. They will be at peace.

Could this work on a larger scale for their respective countries? I think so.

There are only two ways to ever make peace in the Middle East, and both are extreme. One is for one side to obliterate the other in a military conquest. The other, far more favorable approach, is for an unrelated third party to broker peace. For this to succeed, this person must come with absolutely no agenda — not one of country, religion, politics or money. Just peace.

That’s the one we are going for, because we have found such a person.

Nhat Hanh is a world-renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, scholar, poet and peace activist who lives in Plum Village, France. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace prize. He has written almost 100 books. All over the world, he teaches what he calls mindfulness — peaceful, joyful living.

He is in a unique position to help the world now. We are trying to help him.

I met him because I read one of his books and it really helped my life as a movie producer. I learned to listen more, scream less, appreciate everything around me and focus. I even learned to "de-multitask." And now I get more done, and am happier and calmer about it.

I figured if it worked for me, it could work for my friends in the entertainment business, who could sure use his help. So I offhandedly suggested he do a seminar in Hollywood.

Three months later, he called and said, "How’s next Tuesday?" I had Nhat Hanh and 15 monks over to my house to meet about 50 agents, producers, directors, studio executives and actors. I love these people, but they would stab themselves in the back if they could.

In one night, he changed some of their lives. Nhat Hanh does not try to convert people to Buddhism or get them to shave their heads. He teaches them how to listen to others and appreciate life more.

I thought it amazing what he did in Hollywood, but there are people with a lot more to be angry about than their TV series getting cancelled. He has done this for senators, cops, prisoners, people battling AIDS, victims of prejudice and hate crimes. And for Palestinians and Israelis.

Every summer people come from all over the world to Nhat Hanh’s retreat center in France to learn from him and his spiritual sidekick, Sister Chan Khong. A few years ago, they invited some Israelis and Palestinians — a few severely wounded in their war with each other. They forgave.

That gave me the idea to try this on a larger scale, and to tell the world about it. If everyone sees what can happen next week in Plum Village, it could then be done on a much larger scale. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, so I asked friends, advisers and mentors — some of whom run charities. What really convinced me was their answer.

They all said, "No, don’t do it."

They said don’t bother. It will never happen. They hate each other too much. It’s too late. One person even argued that if it cost a Palestinian more to fly to France than an Israeli, it wasn’t fair. Everyone was so far into their anger they didn’t even want to try.

That convinced me that we have to.

Nhat Hanh has no agenda other than peace. He has a great expression: There is no way to peace; peace is the way.

Something extreme must be done and will be. I vote we try extreme peace before the other alternative.

I hope the world watches what happens at Nhat Hanh’s village next week. Who better to do this, who could be more agenda-less than a peaceful Buddhist monk with unique gift for teaching people to listen and be mindful, who has no country, no desire for wealth, no stake in politics?

This is not about who is right or wrong or who started it or who is hurt the most. It is about peace.

It can happen.

Watch.

Film producer Larry Kasanoff is chairman and CEO of Threshold Entertainment.

A Rough-and-Tumble Return


Actress Jessica Lundy was mostly working TV guest starring roles when she landed the part of Roberta in John Patrick Shanley’s "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" last month. The searing play spotlights two survivors who meet, clash, have sex, reveal secrets and begin to heal one another. Lundy’s character, an incest victim, cajoles and physically tussles with Danny (Matthew Klein).

"Initially, I thought, ‘My God, I don’t know if I can do this; I’m really scared," said the Jewish actress, who played Gloria on the hit sitcom "Hope & Gloria." "I’m not known for theater and the role is much darker than anything I’ve ever done."

Klein, however, thinks Lundy "brings a wonderful, unpredictable quality to the role. She can switch in an instant from one emotional extreme to another."

If the fictional Roberta is a scrappy survivor, so is Lundy. With her Catholic mother and Jewish father, she grew up in a "preppy, WASPy" Avon, Conn., where Jews weren’t allowed to play golf at the country club. Nevertheless, she said, she "always strongly identified with being Jewish…. Jewish survival despite centuries of persecution is inspirational because there’s been no surrender or sense of defeat."

Lundy had an easier journey as a young actress. By 21, she was playing Jackie Mason’s daughter in "Caddyshack II"; in 1991, she landed her first sitcom, "Over My Dead Body."

When the film and TV jobs began dwindling several years ago — partly because of the dearth of roles for women over 30 — she began looking for theater work.

Her career angst helped her to identify with the desperate character of Roberta: "I’ve had moments of despair when I’ve felt ‘This is the end of the road for me,’" she said.

Rehearsing the play has proved intense.

"Every day I’d come home exhausted and dirty because we were crawling on the floor and sweating and battered from the raw, ugly emotions," she said, hoarse from shouting her lines. "Sometimes I find myself thinking like the character offstage: Everything feels more sensitive and irritating and I can’t hold back my anger, frustration or disgust quite as well…. But while this kind of role can strip you bare, it’s also thrilling. When I said I wanted to be an actress as a child, this is what I meant."

The play runs Oct. 7-28 at Stage 52, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, call (310) 229-5295.

Turn the Tide


One of the best things about being the editor of a Jewish paper is I get to meet a lot of Jews.

Looking back over the past year, I see it’s a fascinating perk of the job.

Just in the past two weeks, for instance, I danced (poorly) at the Chabad Telethon when the tote board hit $3.4 million, met with two powerful state legislators, hobnobbed with celebrities and entertainment industry machers, lunched with Israeli diplomats and Jewish professionals and educators, cocktailed with Israeli diplomats and Persian businessmen — you get the idea.

Old, young, secular, black hat, poor, rich, gay, straight, engaged, apathetic, famous and, in one case, infamous: When I say I meet a lot of Jews, I mean a lot of different kinds of Jews. It is a pleasure too few of us enjoy. As Jewish life in Los Angeles has grown and diversified, it has also become increasingly particularized.

Part of this phenomenon is reflected in the recently released National Jewish Population Survey, which shows that a majority of Jewish institutions serve a minority of Jews: synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and federations draw about 40 percent of the Jewish population, and the number of truly active participants is probably far less. That means there is a minority of Jews engaged in what we call, with increasing optimism and inaccuracy, "the Jewish community." Yet most Jews remain outside.

Even among Jews who do, as the jargon goes, "affiliate," the distance among them is great. Of this there is no measurement in the NJPS, but I can tell you anecdotally it is a common phenomenon, and a sad one.

There are 600,000 Jews in Los Angeles, and most of us get to know only one kind among them. Because we are not just Jews, but human, our knee-jerk reaction to these other Jews is to regard them as the Other. The natural result of joining one group is to look askance at all the ones you opted out of. When I told some people I spent last Sunday evening with Chabad, they regarded me as either a dupe or a traitor. I’ve told others about the preschool at Kol Ami, a gay and lesbian synagogue, where children (many adopted from the four corners of the world) discover Judaism as a faith of warmth and inclusiveness — and you’d think I was speaking of the Amalekites. The Jewish communities of greater Los Angeles rarely touch, and even more rarely interact. Many of us don’t approve of the Other, as if we are viciously competitive teams in a regional league, and our common sport is Jewish.

So there are two problems here. On the one hand, we have divided ourselves into Jews on the inside of Jewish life and Jews on the outside, the affiliated and the unaffiliated. On the other hand, within the affiliated groups, we have divided ourselves from one another.

"Do not separate yourself from the community," said the sage Hillel, "and do not be sure of yourself until you are dead." Every day I see any number of examples of us doing just the opposite.

What we don’t seem to understand is that while Judaism may offer immutable rituals and beliefs (itself a notion open to challenge), humans by nature approach faith and ritual as part of their journey through life. The extent to which we become partners in shaping and encouraging someone’s journey to be a Jewish one depends on how open we are to understanding and participating in the Other’s journey. If you want to pull your friend out of the mud, said a great rabbi, first you have to step into the mud yourself.

The nature of religious experience in our postmodern world is personal, mutable and somewhat mysterious. As our choices and freedoms expand, our varieties of Jewish experience will become even more varied. We will have to fight against our instinct to disparage the new and different. Few among us adhere to a form of Judaism that some other Jews, at some point in history, didn’t regard as treif.

Without stretching beyond our immediate Jewish community — whether that community is a mega-shul, a mini-shtiebel, a social action group or a choir — we are unwittingly participating in the diminishment of Jewish life. "If you stop dialogue and debate, you start talking to yourself," said Rabbi Harold Schulweis, "and that is the first sign of insanity." It is also a ticket to self-righteousness and extremism, something we’ve seen enough of in 5763.

Meeting Jews is easy — this town is full of them. Meeting and getting to know and appreciate different kinds of Jews is a challenge, but a crucial one.

Try it once this year.

Shanah Tovah.

Turn the Tide


One of the best things about being the editor of a Jewish paper is I get to meet a lot of Jews.

Looking back over the past year, I see it’s a fascinating perk of the job.

Just in the past two weeks, for instance, I danced (poorly) at the Chabad Telethon when the tote board hit $3.4 million, met with two powerful state legislators, hobnobbed with celebrities and entertainment industry machers, lunched with Israeli diplomats and Jewish professionals and educators, cocktailed with Israeli diplomats and Persian businessmen — you get the idea.

Old, young, secular, black hat, poor, rich, gay, straight, engaged, apathetic, famous and, in one case, infamous: When I say I meet a lot of Jews, I mean a lot of different kinds of Jews. It is a pleasure too few of us enjoy. As Jewish life in Los Angeles has grown and diversified, it has also become increasingly particularized.

Part of this phenomenon is reflected in the recently released National Jewish Population Survey, which shows that a majority of Jewish institutions serve a minority of Jews: synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and federations draw about 40 percent of the Jewish population, and the number of truly active participants is probably far less. That means there is a minority of Jews engaged in what we call, with increasing optimism and inaccuracy, "the Jewish community." Yet most Jews remain outside.

Even among Jews who do, as the jargon goes, "affiliate," the distance among them is great. Of this there is no measurement in the NJPS, but I can tell you anecdotally it is a common phenomenon, and a sad one.

There are 600,000 Jews in Los Angeles, and most of us get to know only one kind among them. Because we are not just Jews, but human, our knee-jerk reaction to these other Jews is to regard them as the Other. The natural result of joining one group is to look askance at all the ones you opted out of. When I told some people I spent last Sunday evening with Chabad, they regarded me as either a dupe or a traitor. I’ve told others about the preschool at Kol Ami, a gay and lesbian synagogue, where children (many adopted from the four corners of the world) discover Judaism as a faith of warmth and inclusiveness — and you’d think I was speaking of the Amalekites. The Jewish communities of greater Los Angeles rarely touch, and even more rarely interact. Many of us don’t approve of the Other, as if we are viciously competitive teams in a regional league, and our common sport is Jewish.

So there are two problems here. On the one hand, we have divided ourselves into Jews on the inside of Jewish life and Jews on the outside, the affiliated and the unaffiliated. On the other hand, within the affiliated groups, we have divided ourselves from one another.

"Do not separate yourself from the community," said the sage Hillel, "and do not be sure of yourself until you are dead." Every day I see any number of examples of us doing just the opposite.

What we don’t seem to understand is that while Judaism may offer immutable rituals and beliefs (itself a notion open to challenge), humans by nature approach faith and ritual as part of their journey through life. The extent to which we become partners in shaping and encouraging someone’s journey to be a Jewish one depends on how open we are to understanding and participating in the Other’s journey. If you want to pull your friend out of the mud, said a great rabbi, first you have to step into the mud yourself.

The nature of religious experience in our postmodern world is personal, mutable and somewhat mysterious. As our choices and freedoms expand, our varieties of Jewish experience will become even more varied. We will have to fight against our instinct to disparage the new and different. Few among us adhere to a form of Judaism that some other Jews, at some point in history, didn’t regard as treif.

Without stretching beyond our immediate Jewish community — whether that community is a mega-shul, a mini-shtiebel, a social action group or a choir — we are unwittingly participating in the diminishment of Jewish life. "If you stop dialogue and debate, you start talking to yourself," said Rabbi Harold Schulweis, "and that is the first sign of insanity." It is also a ticket to self-righteousness and extremism, something we’ve seen enough of in 5763.

Meeting Jews is easy — this town is full of them. Meeting and getting to know and appreciate different kinds of Jews is a challenge, but a crucial one.

Try it once this year.

Shanah Tovah.

Red Flag From Cupid


Oh, sure, it started promisingly enough. Rhonda and I had each seen the other’s photo and profile on a singles Web site, granted one another profile approval and were now talking on the phone for the first time.

Things were going pleasantly until Rhonda suggested that I choose a place for us to meet. I suggested a coffeehouse with outdoor tables at The Grove. She reacted unimpressed. I then mentioned a charming little place on Melrose Avenue with a Japanese tea garden in the back. She yawned. Finally, I offered a second Melrose locale — a quaint French cafe with outdoor porch seating and fabulous homemade desserts. The silence was deafening.

“Problem?” I inquired.

“Those places just aren’t very romantic,” she informed me.

Not very romantic? I was stunned. Did I miss something here? Is it our anniversary? It’s our first meeting, for crying out loud! We don’t even know if we have any in-person chemistry. I told Rhonda that, to me, any “romance” occurs as a function of the chemistry between the two people. And that chemistry happens (or doesn’t) whether the people are meeting at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Ritz in Paris, or at Taco Bell in Pacoima. She mumbled an unconvinced, “I guess so,” told me she was on her cell phone in the car, about to park in her garage and would call me back as soon as she got in the house. I never heard back from her.

I briefly envisioned how I might have salvaged this particular relationship. A romantic gondola ride in the Venice canals, with me feeding her grapes while comparing the texture of her skin to velvet? But if it turned out there was no or very little chemistry, as is often the case, we’d merely be two people in a romantic setting, eager for the date to end. I just didn’t get it. What was she thinking?

And then it occurred to me that this whole episode with Rhonda had been a gift to me from Cupid. You see, sometimes Cupid allows weeks, months, even years to go by before your romantic partner reveals his or her dark side. The longer it takes for the reveal, the harder and more painful its effects on you when it all comes crashing down.

Other times, as with Rhonda, Cupid is kinder and allows the red flags to reveal themselves right from the start. So you’re privy to your partner’s deepest dysfunctions early on, in the harsh morning light of her true self. Her high-maintenance, humorless, judgmental, controlling, quick-tempered, dull, deceitful, insecure aspects rear their ugly heads. And at that point, you can decide if all her other wonderful qualities make up for this — or if you would be far better off heading for the hills.

What fascinates me about all this is that these red flags are revealed despite their owner’s intentions of putting a best foot forward during those first few all-important, making-a-good-impression encounters. Sometimes, thankfully, their true colors can’t help but slip through as merciful little advance relationship warnings (“The Crazies are coming! The Crazies are coming!”) thereby saving you all that time, money, effort and emotional involvement (and subsequent hurt) for however long you might have become involved with them before the bad stuff surfaced.

Therefore, I thank you, Rhonda. You did me a favor, and I wish you nothing but the best. I sincerely hope you meet that guy who will be able to suggest a first-date locale sufficiently romantic for your deepest needs and desires. All I ask is that once you’re seated with him at that charming seaside bistro on the French Riviera, with doves circling gently overhead and a strolling violinist playing “La Vie en Rose,” you’ll think of me kindly and wish me luck in my attempt to drum up a modicum of romance in some desolate Starbucks in Culver City.


Mark Miller is a comedy writer who has written for TV, movies and many celebrities, been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, contributed to numerous national publications and produced a weekly comedic relationships feature for America Online. He can be reached at markmiller2000@attbi.com.

On The Road


Here’s what you miss when you go on an organized mission to Israel: You miss the closed-top market in Rosh Ayin, where sellers out-shout
each other over megaphones, "Underwear, girls’ underwear, three for 10 shekels."

If you participate in an "emergency weeklong mission" — where you eat in your hotel and other tourist spots — you might miss the fresh souk limonana (a thick, icy, Slurpee lemonade with grated spearmint) and the toasted cheese and tomato sandwich cobbled together on fake kosher-for-Passover "bread" made from matzah meal, and the guy who sells them to you while making fun of your Hebrew — which has somehow deteriorated to your first-grade teacher’s bad American accent.

"Are you a new immigrant?" he asks, and you’re amazed at his chuzpah-like optimism, his complete faith that even at times like these he believes — perhaps correctly? — someone would still move to Israel in its perpetual state of war. You want to tell him you’re a tourist, because you hope it would make him feel almost as good to know that at least people are still visiting Israel, but it’s more complicated than that.

"I used to live here, but now I live in Los Angeles."

"You lived here? What happened to your Hebrew?"

"It will come back soon," you tell him, and hope that like your sleeping pattern, somehow, your language will adjust.

If you went on a "solidarity" mission to visit terror victims/Hebron/Ramallah — depending on which political group you’d like to bolster — you might miss the sandwich guy’s friend, who takes you by the elbow and steers you to the bitan ha’lo ye’uman (the unbelievable stand) of cloths from India. He has gauzy, colorful curtains, tablecloths, napkins and runners embroidered in gold and silver, which sell for $100 at Pottery Barn in the United States, but are on sale today for 20 shekels ($5). You quickly buy the last red ones before the Israeli woman does, and convince the busy merchant (who’s eyeing the two teenage girls on Pesach vacation) to sell you the blue-and-gold pillowcase without the bulky pillow.

"But it’s my last one," he says.

"Exactly, then why do you need a floor sample?" you think is what you said in Hebrew.

You hand him the 30 shekels even though you’re positive he’s ripping you off; despite what Eric Idle says to Graham Chapman in "The Life of Brian," Middle Easterners don’t like to bargain all that much. But you have to leave the incredible booth before your house will look like Calcutta, and because you have to catch the train to Tel Aviv since you promised people at home you wouldn’t take buses.

If you were on a tight security mission to Israel to meet with mayors and ministers and hear the speeches of the particular group that sponsored you, you might miss the experience of trying to tremp (hitchhike) from the gas station where your friend drops you at instead of leaving you at the deserted train station. You might not know that rush of excitement at the possibility of getting a free ride with a cool couple or family and learning the secret of what Israelis talk about these days. But you wouldn’t miss much because the only people stopping are skeezy Israeli men who ask as their car slows, "Where do you want to go?" because they’d probably go out of their way to take the American girl in the short dress even if it wasn’t en route. No thanks, you tell the third guy and flag a cab.

If you spent your week in Israel visiting tourist sites in a van, you would definitely miss the Yemenite cab driver in Rosh Ayin who tells you he has 10 children — eight daughters and two sons – and 21 grandchildren, who all came to his big house (four bedrooms!) for Pesach, where he had his yearly custom of slaughtering a sheep for the seder.

"The sheep costs 400 shekels ($85) and it’s worth it," he explains at your exclamation of horror as he discusses the different parts of the sheep. "I give the head to the slaughterer, as a reward," he tells you, adding that for himself he keeps the innards — kidneys, liver, etc.

He came to Israel from Yemen with his parents ("May they rest in peace") when he was 6, and moved to Rosh Ayin, which was mostly Yemenite, until foreigners started moving in some 10 years ago. "At first there were big conflicts," he explains to you, dangerously taking his eyes and hands off the wheel to turn around and gesture the clasped hands sign of confrontation, "because they always think they know better than us, but in the end we learned to live together."

The kippah-wearing driver doesn’t talk about politics with you except to say that some of his kids are religious, some aren’t, but he doesn’t care, "as long as they’re happy." Maybe he would have talked politics, if you hadn’t already arrived in Tel Aviv.

If you went on one of the many missions to Israel, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, though you’d probably miss out on actually experiencing Israel — but I guess it would certainly be better than not going at all.

Shut Up, I Love You!


What is it about the mitzvah of loving our fellow Jew thatis so complicated?

This question was on my mind recently when I witnessed anextraordinary event. A group of Sephardic, Chasidic, Reform, Orthodox,Conservative, Reconstructionist, unaffiliated, atheist, right- and left-wingJews were gathered at a private dinner  — and no one had to call security. Weall sat at a large table, and shared our thoughts with each other. What struckme was how intently everyone listened. There was a holy glow to the evening, asense that something special was unfolding.

So I thought: Wow, that was a piece of cake. What happenedthat created this little miracle of Jewish unity? How could we bottle it so wedon’t have to wait for private dinners to bring out, in the words of AbrahamLincoln, the “better angels of our nature”? And then I mused: If I was a rabbi(scary thought), what kind of sermon would I give to describe the specialmindset that promotes true ahavat Yisrael (love of the Jewish people)?

So here, my friends, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, is alayman’s sermon and contribution to this mysterious subject of ahavat Yisrael:

Good Shabbos, and to our Sephardic friends, Shabbat shalom.

Today, I want to challenge you to see love in a differentway. For years now, you have heard about the importance of ahavat Yisrael. Butnow I will stick my neck out and tell you how I think we can live out thisgreat mitzvah of love: We should stop giving to each other and start takingfrom each other.

Let me explain. It’s easy to love in the abstract, when yourlove is never tested. It’s easy to say “I love every Jew” when you are doingall the talking (shut up, I love you!). It’s easy because you’re the one incontrol.

But easy is not the Jewish way, and ahavat Yisrael iscertainly not easy. You see, life gives us a choice. We can spend the rest ofour days with people we always agree with, people who laugh and live and thinkthe way we do. In this cubicle of isolation, we feel safe and comfortable. That’seasy love.

Our other choice is to jump the walls and engage the world.While staying true to our own beliefs and traditions, we can meet Jews we’renot used to meeting, sing songs we’re not used to singing, hear views we’re notused to hearing. In other words, we can take from our fellow Jew, even if itmakes us uncomfortable. That’s hard love, and it’s the true test of ahavatYisrael. Easy love keeps us apart, but hard love bonds us.

Feeling sorry for another Jew because he or she does nothave your truth is easy love (even if your truth is that there is only onetruth). Trying to save that person is easy love. Loving a million people fromafar is easy love. Hard love is when you recognize that your fellow Jews arealso created in God’s image, and you honor them by letting them give yousomething. Like Heschel said, the greatest need we have is to feel needed.

When you take from a fellow Jew (and I don’t mean money) youallow the person to give a part of himself, and that is the greatest gift. Byshowing genuine interest, you create a vessel for his giving to enter yourheart. You’re telling that person: “You’re worth a lot to me — I need you. I’msecure inside, so your differences don’t threaten me; they interest me. Show meyour mitzvahs; sing me your songs. I’m not tolerating, I am engaging. If wedisagree, we’ll do so with dignity, but we’ll never stop seeing each other.You’re family, and I am more than my ideology. I’m also curious, so tell memore. You’re enriching me.”

And guess what? Something miraculous happens at that moment:that person who you’re listening to and taking from, well, they’re now morelikely to listen to you and take from you. To take your views, your songs, yourmitzvahs. That is the climax of ahavat Yisrael: when the desire to receivebecomes our strongest link; when we stop competing with each other and startcompleting each other; when we open our eyes and realize that we each own apiece of the truth, and together we own the whole truth.

After 2,000 years of living apart, we are now face to face,Jews of all stripes and colors in virtually the same neighborhoods. If we cantake little steps and walk from the same neighborhood to the same table, andshare what we’ve learned and accumulated over those 2,000 years, we can transformthis moment in history into the ultimate family reunion. Yes, it’s a utopianvision, but so was the dream of returning to Israel, and God knows we rose tothat challenge.

So my friends, I’m inviting you this Shabbat to begin ourfamily reunion by taking from your fellow Jew. Instead of, “I’ll give to youso you can see what you’ve been missing,” let’s try, “I’ll take from you so Ican see what I’ve been missing.”

The path to true love is not through change, but throughexchange. And if this means that you’ll occasionally be taking from anothershul or another rabbi, you should know that I’ll be doing the same.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

To Elected Love


Once in a while, when you lose in politics, you can still
win. Even though Michael Wissot lost his bid for a seat in the state assembly
last fall, he found his beshert along the campaign trail.

Wissot, 28, recently announced his engagement to Stephen S.
Wise Temple Cantor Alison Weiner, 31, whom he met at a temple event in June
featuring keynote speaker Adam Goldman (President Bush’s then-liaison to the
American Jewish community). Wissot was there as a guest of the Republican
Jewish Coalition, to be introduced as a candidate for the 41st Assembly
District; Weiner sang “Hatikva” prior to Goldman’s speech. Both made note of
the other, but got lost in the crowd. So Weiner was surprised when her father
grabbed her to “introduce her to this nice young man” and it turned out to be Wissot.
The pair were, as each of them recalls, dumbstruck for about 20 minutes.

“I never really appreciated how powerful love at first sight
could be until I experienced it,” Wissot said.

Over the next few months, Weiner frequently accompanied Wissot
on the campaign trail. “She was great at precinct walking because a lot of
people recognized her,” he said. When election night came, and the Westlake Village
businessman realized he was not going to prevail against incumbent Fran Pavley
(she won with 64 percent of the votes), Wissot said he was “disappointed, but
not devastated. Winning the election would have been a consolation; I already
had the prize.”

Now it was his turn to keep up with Weiner’s schedule, which
ended up playing a part in their engagement. Weiner was in Nottingham, England
in December to participate in a cantor’s consortium and Wissot had been looking
for a romantic opportunity to propose. He concocted a scheme to lure her to London
just before the end of her trip. Using the power of e-mail, he pretended to be
a mutual friend and convinced Weiner to meet him at Trafalgar Square on Dec.
24. There, in one of London’s most famous spots, Wissot surprised Weiner and
ended up on bended knee amid carolers and snow flurries. Although some people
would call the timing of their engagement ironic, Weiner, who appreciates all
kinds of music, disagrees.

“To be surrounded by carolers and to be near St. Martin’s
Church with the most incredible four-part harmony escaping from it was one of the
most beautiful moments I could ask for,” she said.

As for that other non-Jewish holiday coming up, the one with
all the hearts and flowers, Weiner said, “I [have] no doubt Michael and I will
both find ways to be creative and express what we feel for each other.”