Candidate Adeena


If you want to really annoy Adeena Bleich, just ask her what it feels like to be a young Orthodox woman running for City Council. I know, because when we satdown recently for lunch at Shiloh’s, the first thing I asked her is what it felt like to be a young Orthodox woman running for City Council.

She rolled her eyes like my teenage daughter Shanni does when I show off my knowledge of the latest music.

It’s clear that Bleich is leery of being stereotyped, or worse, becoming some kind of political curiosity whose main calling card is her youth (she just turned 31), gender and Orthodox religion.

What she is, she says, is something a lot less dramatic: A hard-working individual who knows how local politics work and who wants to bring a new, practical attitude to serving the people.

All the people, of course.

Although she estimates that nearly half of the registered voters in her 5th District (which cuts a wide swath from West Los Angeles through Westwood, Pico-Robertson, the Fairfax area and right up to Sherman Oaks) are Jewish, she’s savvy enough to realize that Jews alone won’t carry her to victory. So Bleich, who is single and belongs to three Modern Orthodox shuls in Pico-Robertson (Young Israel of Century City, Beth Jacob Congregation and B’nai David Judea) wants to reach out.

She’s not exactly a novice at this game. She spent years as City Council Deputy to Councilman Jack Weiss— and was knee-deep in the local dramas of neighborhood groups, pro-business groups and the maze of City Hall politics. She was also in the trenches with former Speaker of the California Assembly Bob Hertzberg when he ran for mayor of Los Angeles.

So she knows the lingo, and she also knows that she’s up against some serious competition — from, among others, former city councilman Paul Koretz and neighborhood activist Ron Galperin. But she has no qualms about asking for your vote, because, as she says, she’s got some great things cooking for your district and your neighborhood.

But wait. Haven’t we seen this movie before? Isn’t that what they all say?

The truth is, I’m probably the worst guy to do a story on politicians, because as a rule, I can’t stand them. Politicians remind me of one of my least favorite traits in people: When someone over-promises and under-delivers. (I once consulted with a politician in the heat of an election race, and I recommended that he be upfront with the voters and tell them what they should not expect from either him or the government. I never heard back from him.)

Candidate Adeena Bleich, earnest charm and all, overflows with promises. She says the Council Office should be the “Nordstrom of customer service” for the city — nothing should be “too big or too small to do, or to help find the resource to redirect to”.

She believes the council staff should be more proactive in the community and less reactive (“engage the community before they even call”); they should create public safety and community programs (example: free self-defense classes for teenagers and women with local karate studios), and education eco-programs in the schools where “volunteers teach and lead recycling and gardening and create clean-up and tree-planting teams for the neighborhood from both public and private school kids in the district.”

She wants to set up an online community service guide, which includes “nonprofit, government and other local organization resources all in one place”; a mentoring/intern program between the local schools and local business people; innovative solutions “to get people out of their cars and increase public transportation”; a program to engage business owners to “make business corridors more vibrant and neighborhood friendly”; and so on.

As I listened, over three long sessions, to this litany of perfectly balanced promises, I was torn between admiration for the idealism of an aspiring young politician and my innate cynicism about politicians getting anything done.

I admit, however, that one thing cracked some of that cynicism: In the thousands of words Bleich shared with me about her dream political journey, she never dwelled on the notion of actually winning. In fact, there was hardly any talk of strategy or tactics. Instead, she talked mostly about ideas — the ideas she wanted to implement as Council member.

Her campaign strategy seems to be embedded in those very ideas, which she plans to disseminate on her Web site (Adeena2009.com), and as she knocks on 10,000 neighborhood doors (not an exaggeration, she says) over the next several months.

When I asked her mother (a lifelong Orthodox Jew who lives in Connecticut) whether she could remember a story from her daughter’s childhood that would give us a sense of what kind of politician she might be, she told me several, but one stood out.

In her early teens, Bleich was on her school’s relay swim team. During one race against another school, the other team was way ahead of Bleich’s team. By the time Bleich, who was swimming the last leg, got her turn, something improbable —and embarrassing — had happened: The other team had already finished the race. Oblivious to any humiliation, Bleich dove in and eagerly swam the last leg. Without any second thoughts, her mother adds.

It appears, then, that Bleich’s passion is in the doing. You start a job and you finish it. You make a promise and you keep it. You don’t shy away from details. You knock on 10,000 doors if you have to. You keep your head on at all times. You fight for the little guy. And then, when your work is done, you let God worry about the winning and the losing.

If you ask me, it all sounds very Jewish. But shhhh, don’t tell anyone.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Frum Frenzy


Visitors trolling for casual sex on Craigslist.org last week were left scratching their heads over an unfamiliar reference that has surfaced in a flurry of recent postings.

"I keep seeing this term ‘Frum.’ Can somebody please clue me into what the hell that is?" wrote Jeff, a 30-year-old regular on the site.

"OK, I give up … what does ‘frum’ mean?" huffed another.

To the posters’ disappointment, frum (pronounced "froom") is not shorthand for a kinky new posture or adventurous attitude. It’s a Yiddish word that technically means "religiously observant," but for all intents and purposes is used by men and women who identify themselves as Orthodox Jews.

Jeff, an events planner who grew up Catholic in the Midwest, said he kept seeing requests from frum men and women seeking frum sexual partners.

"The only thing that was in my mind was ‘fru-strated, m-arried?’ I had no clue what it was," he said. "I didn’t realize it was an Orthodox Jewish person. From what I understand, they’re supposed to put a sheet between them when they have sex."

It turns out that the deeply religious have sexual tastes as mundane as the rest of us:

"Single frum guy for single frum girl for fun!" one 24-year-old wrote. "Married, frum guy looking for a frum girl (married or unmarried) for some NSA [no strings attached] fun. We can have good time ‘learning’ together," a 31-year-old posted.

"Frum married guy looking for frum guy to explore," wrote another, continuing: "I am a frum married 28-year-old guy … during the summer my wife will be upstate and I am looking to explore having sex with a man … please be frum."

That’s not to say that this frum frenzy hasn’t ushered in a whole range of heretofore unimaginable caveats such as "We could do as little as you want," written by a gentle soul seeking a frum woman, and "No Chasidish," written by a 24-year-old married Manhattanite, referring to the ultra-Orthodox denomination whose members wear black hats and suits and sport long sidelocks.

Or, less chastely, a poster seeking "Frum girls gone wild" for an orgy in Brooklyn, or another one advertising a Yahoo group for married frumsters seeking "extracurricular fun."

Though the posters are seeking members of their observant sects to romp in the sack with, none seem to be under the illusion that this is, well, kosher.

"Frum guy seeks frum girl for not such frum fun!" a 32-year-old wrote. And one might question whether picking someone from the notoriously tight-knit community would be a discreet move.

In case there were any doubts, Orthodox Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, confirmed that Jewish law prohibits such shenanigans — either in the form of extramarital affairs or premarital sexual contact.

"Rabbis have taught that there is a prohibition of all contact of a sexual nature between male and female prior to marriage," he said, referring to Maimonides’ encyclopedic code of Jewish law. "But we’re not talking here about a man and a woman who are emotionally bonded and have difficulty with a specific Jewish law. We’re talking about people who are completely disconnected and lonely. It’s sad; it reflects the reality of our time."

Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, director of organizational development for the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, added that while traditional Judaism discourages sexual relations outside of marriage, "Historically some were permitted if the relationship was ongoing and committed" in the case of concubines.

"I assure you, they know very well that society doesn’t approve it — that’s why they’re going to the Net," he added. "If they belong to parts of a classically frum society, they can’t exactly go to a party and say, ‘Do you want to come back to my place?’"

"That’s so funny," said Jessica Ressler, 26, a Modern Orthodox divorce lawyer. "I just posted an ad on there for a nanny. I didn’t know they went on there for that."

Of course, it was only a matter of time before a class of frum frauds emerged on Craigslist. But if the missives from Orthodox neighborhoods are to be believed, where there are frum, there is desire.

"Are there any frum men here that want to meet for real?" one single gal wrote. "I am sick and tired of all the fakes here."

Article reprinted courtesy The New York Observer.


Anna Schneider-Mayerson is a writer living in New York City.

Cape Town Clash


A controversial conversion has reignited a dispute over Orthodox Jewish standards between South Africa’s Orthodox establishment and one of the largest Orthodox congregations in the Southern Hemisphere.

Attempts to paper over the cracks between the beit din, or the Jewish law court, the Union of Orthodox Synagogues and Cape Town’s Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation had been made in August. At that time, Sea Point members, who had been considering pulling out of the union to set up their own rabbinical court, decided instead to give the parties six months to work things out.

However, the issue has erupted again as the result of an article in the latest issue of Noseweek, a South African publication known for investigative journalism. The article focuses on the validity of the conversion that Karin Berman underwent before her marriage to construction magnate Saul Berman, a prominent Sea Point member.

Karin Berman was married to the late Christiaan Barnard, who performed the world’s first heart transplant in 1967.

Members of the beit din reportedly told Karin Berman that they do not recognize her conversion or marriage and said the child she is expecting will not be recognized as Jewish. The credentials of the Paris rabbi who converted Berman were withdrawn 20 years ago, when he was discredited for having certified conversions for a fee, Noseweek reported.

However, Sea Point’s U.S.-born rabbi, Elihu Jacob Steinhorn, insisted that the conversion was valid. Noseweek reported further that the rabbi who married the Bermans in Rome said that he had accepted everything as kosher, based on an introduction from Steinhorn. Steinhorn denied the rabbi’s statement.

The conversion squabble, however, masks deeper issues that have been dividing the South African Orthodox world for some time. Steinhorn told Noseweek that the conversion was "the least of the issues" involved in the dispute.

The heart of the dispute centers on whether Sea Point must observe the standards of halacha demanded by the country’s chief rabbinate in Johannesburg, or whether it can adopt looser standards.

"The fact of the matter is that in the Orthodox world today outside of South Africa, which is very provincial, very closed and very British, there’s a whole world called modern Orthodoxy," Steinhorn said.

"We in Sea Point are its only representative in South Africa," he continued. Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris "can say what he likes, but he does not represent modern Orthodoxy."

Steinhorn disputed claims that the fervently Orthodox community was growing stronger in South Africa, dismissing them as "public relations." The fervently Orthodox, he said, are "disenfranchising most of Judaism."

The Noseweek article mentioned that Harris objected to an invitation that Sea Point extended to Tzili Reisenberger, an Israeli-born theologian at the University of Cape Town, to address the congregation.

"We see nothing wrong with inviting a professor who teaches Bible at the university to come and give a shiur [lesson]. That’s part of modern Orthodoxy," Steinhorn said.

A statement attributed to Harris in Noseweek, charging that Reisenberger officiated at same-sex marriages, was "baldly untrue," said Clive Rabinowitz, Sea Point vice president. Harris later apologized to Reisenberger and retracted the accusation, admitting that his statement had been incorrect and defamatory.

But Harris described as "patent nonsense" the notion that the beit din was being "unnecessarily harsh" and using the controversial conversion to "coerce" Sea Point into stricter observance. At issue, he said, is the fact that "there’s a lot of cheating going on here," with Sea Point congregants defining for themselves what modern and centrist Orthodoxy are.

"Modern or centrist Orthodoxy is observant," Harris said. "The only differences between it and ultra-Orthodoxy lie in attitudes to non-Jewish people and attitudes to general scholarship. They are not differences about the observance of Torah, and this is where both Steinhorn" and a prominent congregant, Judge Dennis Davis, "have got it wrong."

In that sense, Harris continued, Sea Point "is cheating by putting their own definition on modern Orthodoxy."

Harris described as nonsense the article’s assertion that Sea Point was "the last outpost of ‘liberal Orthodoxy,’" resisting "the flood of ‘fundamentalist pietude’ washing south from Johannesburg."

"They are defining Orthodoxy in their own way, and no one else in the Orthodox world will accept it," Harris said.

Rabinowitz, who proposed the resolution to disaffiliate from the union in August, said the public spat was "extremely unfortunate."

Negotiations between Sea Point and the union are "limping along," said Rabinowitz, who predicted that the talks "may yet lead to a resolution of the problems."

Steinhorn said he was not optimistic that things would be resolved between the beit din, the union and Sea Point. "We want unity," Steinhorn stressed, "but I don’t think they can live with modern Orthodoxy," he said.

Lost Tribes


The placard near the escalator of New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel directed seekers up to the ballroom level for the founding convention of Edah, the fledgling voice of Orthodox liberalism. Stenciled below the arrow in bold blue letters, as if to fortify the fainthearted, was the slogan: “The Courage to Be Modern and Orthodox.”

Upstairs, a crowd of some 1,200 Orthodox Jews — triple the organizers’ expectations — milled about in an atmosphere almost giddy with excitement. After years of retreating before rising religious and political conservatism in the Orthodox community, they had come from across North America to reignite the moderate spirit of what used to be called Modern Orthodoxy.

“It’s an amazing outpouring,” said Rabbi Chaim Seidler Feller, Hillel director at UCLA. “The Modern Orthodox community has come out in droves to cry out, ‘We are here; we can’t be ignored any longer.'”

Edah was formed two years ago to press for greater tolerance and openness in the Orthodox community. Run on a shoestring budget out of a tiny Manhattan office, the group sponsors lectures and seminars and runs a controversial internship program for Yeshiva University rabbinic students. The conference was its debut as a national membership organization.

Modern, Orthodox and Scared


The placard near the escalator of New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel directed seekers up to the ballroom level for the founding convention of Edah, the fledgling voice of Orthodox liberalism. Stenciled below the arrow in bold blue letters, as if to fortify the fainthearted, was the slogan: “The Courage to Be Modern and Orthodox.”

Upstairs, a crowd of some 1,200 Orthodox Jews — triple the organizers’ expectations — milled about in an atmosphere almost giddy with excitement. After years of retreating before rising religious and political conservatism in the Orthodox community, they had come from across North America to reignite the moderate spirit of what used to be called Modern Orthodoxy.

“It’s an amazing outpouring,” said Rabbi Chaim Seidler Feller, Hillel director at UCLA. “The Modern Orthodox community has come out in droves to cry out, ‘We are here; we can’t be ignored any longer.'”

Edah was formed two years ago to press for greater tolerance and openness in the Orthodox community. Run on a shoestring budget out of a tiny Manhattan office, the group sponsors lectures and seminars and runs a controversial internship program for Yeshiva University rabbinic students. The conference was its debut as a national membership organization.