The Circuit


Una-Daters Unite

Nearly 1,600 people packed Sinai Temple Oct. 10 for the Westwood synagogue’s monthly “Friday Night Live” singles summit, where a Toronto transplant said she was, “looking for modern, chivalrous men.”

The temple’s hallways were “like a Fellini film,” said a bachelor navigating a thoroughfare of short, fat, tall, petite, pink-booted, shy, arrogant, on-the-prowl, starting-over, major-attitude, rail-thin, obese, brunette, red-haired, balding, blonde, dirty-blonde and bottle-blonde Israelis, Persians, Russians plus Commonwealth, American, Westlake Village and Westside Jews.

The evening’s highlight was Rabbi David Wolpe’s chat with Journal singles columnists Carin Davis, Mark Miller, J.D. Smith and Teresa Strasser.

“I think that alcohol should be involved in all blind dates,” Davis said jokingly.

The discussion took a loud turn when a 30-something man in fraying blue jeans, old sneakers and worn sweater rose from a front-row seat where he sat on a thoroughly read newspaper, approached an over-modulated, questions-from-the-audience microphone and said, “I’ve literally been to 57 Friday Night Lives. I’ve run personal ads for 10 years. What am I doing wrong?”

“I can’t imagine,” said Strasser in total deadpan. As he returned to his newspaper-covered lair, Strasser commented, “That’s the Una-Dater.”

Wolpe’s dating advice to the panel’s overflowing crowd was simple: “You can go out with someone casually, but you can’t treat someone casually.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Brainy Fun

Art of the Brain, a nonprofit that raises money for the UCLA neuro-oncology program, celebrated the talent and zest for life of brain cancer patients at its fourth annual gala fundraiser, “The Bravery of the Brain,” at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall in September. The gala attracted some 500 people, who enjoyed food donated from some of Los Angeles’ top restaurants.

The event raised $300,000 for brain cancer research.

A Time to Mourn

The High Holidays are generally a time for reflection and prayer, which is why 2,500 SoCal Jews made their way to the Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries on Oct. 5 for the traditional Kever Avot (grave of our fathers) service.

During the service, the 50-voice Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale sang and Rabbi Sheree Z. Hirsch delivered the memorial address. Cantors Joseph Gole, Ira Bigeleissen and Chayim Frenkel sang the traditional prayers of “El Malei Rachamim” (“God Full of Mercy”), “Adonai Roi” (“The Lord Is My Shepherd”) and “B’Yado” (“In His Hand”).

A similar service was conducted at Mount Sinai’s Simi Valley location where Cantors Rochelle Kruase and Rickie Gole led the prayers and Rabbi Naomi Levy delivered the memorial address.

As part of the service, many of the attendees bought food for the SOVA Food Pantry in Los Angeles.

Hammer Time!

The audience of almost 250 at the University of Judaism’s Oct. 9 screening of the action-hero spoof, “The Hebrew Hammer” roared with laughter when “Hammer” star Adam Goldberg — the Jewish “Shaft” — guns down neo-Nazis while shouting, “Shabbat Shalom, mother——!”

The tattoo-covered Goldberg sat on a post-screening panel with the “Hammer” team, taking questions via Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman. As a few audience members left, Goldberg eyeballed them and said mockingly, “maybe we should talk about Christianity.”

In a distribution plan unique for a low-budget independent film, “Hammer” will premiere on Comedy Central around Chanukah and then open in art-house theaters. Filmmaker Jonathan Kesselman said that in Israel, “they loved it — an ass-kicking Jew in a country of ass-kicking Jews.”

When Eshman asked why he made a 1970s-style blaxploitation movie about a Jewish superhero, the Van Nuys-bred Kesselman said, “Because I’m proudly Jewish. I wanted to make a lot of money — sell [“Hammer”] T-shirts to Jews.” — DF

What Do YouTHink?

Styrofoam heads, tzedakah boxes and student-produced public service announcements were all part of the social commentary art on display at the youTHink’s Open House Event at the Zimmer Children’s Museum on Oct. 1. YouTHink, a statewide education program sponsored by the museum and the Center for American Studies and Culture, uses the power of art to foster critical thinking and serve as a tool for social change. The program, which is directed by Shifra Teitelbaum, services public schools in Los Angeles. Each lesson in the program is divided into three parts. During the first, students view social commentary art on a theme, such as civic and social responsibility or education, and then after discussing it, they create tangible artwork.

Middle school educator Chris Saldivar said the youTHink program motivated his students to “think about the world in which they live and how they can be empowered to make a difference.”

Power of Song Gives Hope to Mourners


A project that began 10 years ago as a tribute to a dead brother has been expanded as a memorial to the victims of terrorist attacks in Israel.

Chayim Frenkel, cantor at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, conceived “Nishmat Tzedek” (“A Righteous Soul”) in 1993 after his brother Tzvi, 39, died suddenly, the victim of an undetected blood disease.

He commissioned his friend, Meir Finkelstein, then cantor at Sinai Temple in Westwood, to write new settings for the liturgical passages of the Yizkor memorial service. The cycle — set for solo voices, choir and orchestra — filled with soaring melodies and lush harmonies, was first performed in November 1993.

More recently, the current intifada and the pain it has caused spurred the two cantors to revisit their collaboration and produce a new CD “Nishmat Tzedek.”

“Meir and I realized that we needed to make more of an impact than the few dollars we could give to Jews in crisis, using Meir’s talent as a composer and my talents as a chazzan and producer,” Frenkel told The Journal. “It was important to give these families something that would help them on the road to recovery.”

To that end, Finkelstein, currently senior cantor at Congregation Beth Tzedec in Toronto, composed three more movements for what he calls a “choral symphony,” including a setting of “Avinu Shebashamayim,” the prayer for the State of Israel found in most contemporary siddurim.

While pieces such as “Mima’amakim” (“Out of the depths I called”), “Kaddish,” and “Eil Malei Rachamim” are somber in tone, much of the music is optimistic in sound and impact, expressing hope rather than dwelling on the sorrows caused by death.

At the same time, Frenkel and Finkelstein, along with the project’s producer, Ellen Rudolph, decided to make “Nishmat Tzedek” a “multidimensional work.” They created a companion book of poems by local and national figures, including rabbis Steven Leder, Sheryl Lewart, Steven Carr Reuben and David Wolpe, artist Judy Chicago and Elie Wiesel, with the texts translated into Hebrew alongside the English.

“I feel your presence in a hundred comforts/Wrapping me in confidence/I concentrate on staying with you/A continuing act of will,” Lewart wrote in a passage.

The poems are illustrated by photos of Israel taken by award-winning local photographer Eric Lawton, images originally commissioned by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to honor the 50th anniversary of Israeli statehood in 1998.

Poignantly, the book includes a list of Israelis killed during the intifada from September 2000 to mid-March of this year. The project is dedicated to Frenkel’s mother, Shari, who died last December.

Because they want Jewish communities around the world to be able to perform the music in “Nishmat Tzedek,” the two cantors also prepared a piano reduction of Finkelstein’s score.

The CD, book and sheet music comprise a package that will be sent to the family of every Israeli victim of the intifada.

“From the get-go, the concept was not just to create the CD, the companion book and the music score, but to have them given to the victims’ families,” Rudolph said.

To locate the families, Rudolph got in touch last year with The Federation and the Israeli consulate. A Federation contact led her to Terror Victims Association (TVA), a support and advocacy group, whose Los Angeles staffer, Rachel Harari, happened to meet Reuben and others at Kehillat Israel around the same time and became interested in the “Nishmat Tzedek” project.

While families of terror victims receive financial help from the Israeli government, Harari said emotional support is harder to come by. TVA, founded in 1986, arranges for counseling for victims’ families, brings them together for social gatherings, organizes public memorials and lobbies on behalf of victims. Proceeds from American sales of “Nishmat Tzedek,” once costs are recouped, will benefit TVA.

Harari sees “Nishmat Tzedek” as a gesture that can have some real effect on the families’ spirits.

“They’re never going to be 100 percent,” she said, but “music itself is something that can help … so they’ll be able to get back to life.”

Frenkel said he sees the music, poetry and artwork of “Nishmat Tzedek” as “very universal in [their] healing powers for those who have suffered loss…. The project’s power goes beyond the loss that these families have suffered.”

Harari expressed wonder at how Frenkel was able to take his own grief and turn it into something positive.

“He found a way to express himself and feel something in common with the terror victims,” she said.

“It’s about finding light in darkness,” Frenkel said.

The “Nishmat Tzedek” package is on sale for $50 at
Village Books in Pacific Palisades and through the “Nishmat Tzedek” Web site,
www.arighteoussoul.org. Information about the Terror Victims Association is
available at www.terrorvictims.org .

Moments of Silence


There were a lot of moments of silence this week.

There was the one early Saturday morning when you firstheard the news of the space shuttle Columbia’s disappearance. Whoever told you,whomever you told, there was that instant of disbelief, that moment when wordsfailed you.

As the reality hit, the white noise of wall-to-wall newscoverage filled our cars and living rooms. But off the air, the rest of us hadfew words to say.

The tragedy, which would have been awful under anycircumstances, stung Jews especially deeply. Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli inspace, was also the first Israeli to die in space.

As rabbis and their congregants filtered into synagogues forShabbat services Saturday morning, they entered shaking their heads, ready tocry, unable to express the sadness and loss. Synagogue turned out to be aperfect place to be.

A full-to-bursting schedule of planned events this pastweekend brought Jews together, where they could, among other things, be silenttogether.

Saturday night, just hours after the tragedy, Israeli ConsulGeneral Yuval Rotem and his wife, Miri, were honored by Pressman Academy Jewishday school at a ballroom dinner dance. It was a celebration singed with sorrow.

Organizers, said Rabbi Joel Rembaum, debated whether tocancel the music and dancing. They decided that, in the end, strength came fromboth mourning and celebrating. Rotem delivered a powerful eulogy for Ramon (seepage 9), whose picture stood propped up on the stage above a row of yahrtzeitcandles. There was a moment of silence, then, as the dancing began, PiniCohen’s band shared the stage with the smiling image of the astronaut.

Wherever Jews gathered this week, the rituals were similar.Sorrow, then business. Sorrow, then celebration. The image of Ramon — hispromise, his courage, his achievement — orbited each gathering.

At the annual meeting of the Jewish Historical Society ofSouthern California, held Sunday at the Japanese American National Museum, thehundred or so people gathered to honor Jerry Freedman-Habush began theirprogram with a moment of silence.

At a dinner Sunday evening for the University of Judaismhonoring Ruth Zeigler, UJ President Robert Wexler called for a moment silence.

Some 500 people attended the memorial service for theastronauts on Sunday at Adat Shalom synagogue in West Los Angeles. “It wouldhave been a tragedy even if Ilan Ramon wasn’t on board,” Rabbi Michael Resnicksaid. “We would have done something anyway. At difficult times we cometogether, we reach out for strength, for optimism.”

Resnick reminded the gathering of Ramon’s view from theColumbia. “There are no lines, there is just the world,” he said. “It becomesso clear that from space that we are one.”

At the home of Jean and Jerry Friedman, an elegant dinnerreception Sunday evening for some 200 major donors to Jewish education fromaround the country began with a moment of silence. And at a high-spiritedMitzvah Day organized by The Jewish Federation/South Bay Council, 500 peoplestopped to remember the astronauts.

One simple reason Ramon’s death provoked such deep reactionis that many people here knew him, and even more people felt as if they did.

Ramon’s death broke the hearts of students at ShalhevetSchool, who had sent Ramon a letter on Jan. 13, while he was still in orbit,thanking him for his achievement. “May you reach a clearer understanding of theuniverse through your unique vantage point on God’s creation,” they wrote.

Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita was aclose friend who celebrated this past Thanksgiving with the astronaut and hisfamily. At the end of the meal, Blazer had wished Ramon, “Nesiya tova,” Hebrewfor bon voyage. “I realized this was the first time I had ever said these wordsto someone going up into space,” Blazer wrote in The Daily News.

“It’s just terrible,” said William Elperin of the “1939”Club. “I couldn’t get him out of my mind all weekend. We were at his home inHouston and spent time with his wife and four children. He was such a wonderfulman.”

The “1939” Club honored Ramon in October 2000, presentinghim with a barbed-wire mezuzah symbolizing the Holocaust. The son and grandsonof Holocaust survivors took the mezuzah into space with him. 

Ramon’s picture adorned the walls of many Jewish schoolclassrooms. At Pressman Academy, educators added a prayer for peace and otherreadings in memorial of the astronauts, and students of all ages wrote e-mailsto the Ramon family to express their concern and thoughts. 

It was exactly a year ago that Kol Tikvah religious schoolstarted a letter-writing campaign to Ramon, sending him letters of support,following his progress and awaiting his visit after landing. Instead, studentswrote condolence cards.

At Universal Studios theme park, where Ramon went with hisfamily as a guest of honor during the park’s 2002 Chanukah celebration,employees remembered how Ramon had been scheduled to sign autographs for ahalf-hour. As the line grew, he refused to leave or even accept lunch untileveryone had a signed poster, nearly three and a half hours later. Ramon vowedto return after his flight so he could experience the park with his children.

Sarit Finkelstein-Boim had just seen Ramon when he served asone of the Executive Honorary Committee members for her installation aspresident of B’nai B’rith Shalom Unit. Her husband, Nahum, an aeronauticalengineer, was a friend of Ramon from the air force.

Carol Koransky remembered seeing Ramon at the GeneralAssembly of Jewish federations in Philadelphia this past December. Ramon satgood-naturedly through a program that ran on until midnight. When finallyintroduced to a much-dwindled audience, he came to the podium and said, “Goodmorning.” Then, Koransky said, he proceeded to astonish the audience with aheartfelt explanation of what his trip would mean to him as an astronaut and asa Jew.

For so many, Ramon was the poster boy for the ideal Jewishidentity. Two recently released surveys of American Jewish opinion found that66 percent of Jews believe anti-Semitism is the “greatest threat” to Jewishlife, 73 percent of Jews said caring about Israel was important. Half saidbeing Jewish is “very important” to them, while 41 percent said “being part ofthe Jewish people” defined their identity.

Here was Ilan Ramon to fill all those roles at once — awarrior, an Israeli, a proudly self-identified Jew who took a Torah and kiddushcup into space, a real-life mensch and a textbook hero.

The imagery of the catastrophe and its aftermath could havebeen a chapter from mythology. The heroes soaring through the heavens, theirfirey deaths as they sought to bring the secrets of the cosmos back to those ofus on Earth, the few sacrificing themselves for the many.

Not surprisingly, the memorials held in their honorthroughout the week, like President Bush’s initial announcement of thedisaster, shuttled effortlessly between the sacred and the mundane.

Ramon’s death was marked and mourned with such intensitybecause of how he lived his life, and because of how we dream of living ours.He asserted the importance of his Jewishness to his life’s mission,understanding that in serving his faith and his people, he was serving all ofhumanity; and in serving all humanity, he served his people.  

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