Single, 60, and invisible no more


I’m over 60, single, considered sexy by some and ignored by others.

My experience is that if you are over 60, single and a woman
you’re somewhat invisible. Unfortunately, we live in a youth-oriented society where emphasis is placed on the young. So I started to make mental notes comparing similarities or differences between the under-60 singles and the over-60 singles.

I’m one of the over 60 “frontier generation” singles, someone who didn’t want to stay in a broken marriage. Before I pursued my new career — acting — I was a domestic engineer and political activist; I’m better educated than my parents’ generation, youthful, independent, in good health, vivacious and financially in a good place. I have a busy and somewhat active life with a small circle of friends. I have some baggage — I’m divorced, have married children who don’t live near me, and grandkids I don’t see very often unless I get on a plane. My youngest son, daughter-in-law and two darling grandchildren will be going to Uganda for two years, leaving early next year, so there is travel in my future. I see myself as somewhat of a risk-taker and adventurous, but I did not know what was awaiting me when I ventured out into the singles world after a long-term marriage, having been taken care of for many years.

All age groups seem to want the same thing: a soulmate, a soft shoulder to lean on occasionally, companionship for dinner in or out, theater, movies, and travel. I still enjoy cooking (and I’m good at it). I’m not too old for cuddling and hugging, and I happen to enjoy it.

I kept hearing about people meeting and connecting online, so I signed up. Well, my experience was like a bad dream, perhaps even a nightmare. Most men live in fantasyland and haven’t looked in the mirror enough to realize they are no longer 30-something. They all seem to be looking for younger women and a lost youth. My question: If these divorced men think they are God’s gift to the world, why are they single now?

One man I spoke to said music was his whole life, and he was looking for someone with the exact same interest and level of knowledge. I appreciate classical music, but that wasn’t good enough. He also had been married four times. Then there was a pharmacist who took me to lunch; he had had four marriages, although he didn’t go into any details — he didn’t want to talk about it. Then there was a widower who’d had a long-term, happy marriage and now wanted to just go out to have fun. Nothing wrong with that. He took me to dinner, a movie and then kept hinting about coming back to my place. Never happened. We couldn’t go back to his place, even if I’d wanted to, because his daughter and family had moved in with him as his caretakers. He’d fallen a few times in his house. We agreed to stay in touch. I haven’t been sitting by the phone waiting.

A date took me to the movies at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and treated me to matzah ball soup at Canter’s. I arranged to meet him in Santa Monica, because he doesn’t like to drive at night. After the movie, we got back about midnight to where my car was parked, when he started to insist I come up to his place for soy ice-cream. Didn’t happen.

Then I met a friendly, interesting lawyer. We enjoyed walking, hiking and talking; occasionally he would take me to lunch. He would eat his lunch and half of my lunch. One evening I invited him to a theater event. He said he was going out of town. That evening he showed up at the event with another woman.
After reading many profiles, I got the impression that many men — and possibly women — are still looking for their Prince/Princess Charming and want to be swept off their feet. Love at first sight.

Realistically, I’m not sure it’s going to happen, since relationships consist of someone else’s mishegoss. I came to realize that I needed to find a nice person with a good heart and to look beneath the surface. Massage the friendship, allow it to grow and develop. I think all of us need to compromise.

I now have an ongoing friendship. The Internet didn’t bring us together. It was an interesting first meeting at Starbucks; he did a reading chart based on my handwriting. He was correct about many things. It certainly caught my attention. He calls me almost daily.

We e-mail, we date occasionally, share a lot about our lives and thoughts. He travels a good deal — it’s part of his job. Recently, his daughter went off to college, so now he’s home alone with his dog.

He’s a few years younger than me, but so what.

What can I say but the beat goes on.

He’s a nice person with a good heart.

Esther W. Hersh is an actress who lives in Los Angeles.

The Trailblazer’s Toolbox: Programs That Grab


Here’s a brief rundown of the national synagogue revitalization programs that have arisen since the early 1990s.

  • Billed as the first such initiative, the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE) was created in 1992. It strives to popularize Jewish learning among congregants while encouraging synagogues to embrace fundamental and long-lasting change.

    Fifty-five synagogues have participated in ECE, which has a yearly budget that generally ranges from $500,000 to $750,000. Chief funders have included The Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Mandel Associated Foundations, the Covenant Foundation and the UJA-Federation of New York. Contact Rob Weinberg at (847) 328-0032 or rweinberg@huc.edu.

  • Synagogue 2000, which began in 1995, developed a wide-ranging curriculum that more than 100 synagogues have used to rethink their overall approach and to deepen their congregants’ spiritual engagement.

    This influential program recently morphed into Synagogue 3000, whose mission is to train synagogue and academic leaders in order to better implement the goals of Synagogue 2000. Among those goals: Demonstrate that synagogues do not exist just to serve the needs of congregants, according to program co-founder Ron Wolfson at the University of Judaism, but rather to motivate them to “do tikkun olam, God’s work on earth.”

    Synagogue 2000, whose annual budget topped out at roughly $2 million, was funded by several major donors, including the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Righteous Persons Foundation, the Whizin Foundation, the Rose Family Foundation and the UJA-Federation. Contact Ron Wolfson or Joshua Avedon at (310) 553-7930 or info411@synagogue3000.org.

  • Three years ago, in 2003, a Minneapolis-based initiative known as Star, or Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal, created Synaplex, which helps synagogues supplement regular Shabbat services with diverse programming, including films, music, meditation, lectures and arts and crafts.

    Synagogue
    One of three Star programs, Synaplex is based on the principle that some of today’s Jews need a variety of entry points into Jewish involvement, and that those portals — artistic, academic, activist and ritual — are equally valid vehicles for engaging Jewishly. More than 100 congregations have signed on.
    Synaplex has an annual budget of around $1 million, and its main funders include the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Jewish Life

    Network/Steinhardt Foundation and the Samuel Bronfman Foundation. In addition, the UJA-Federation of New York helps underwrite Synaplex at three participating synagogues.

    Contact Rabbi Hayim Herring at (952) 746-8181 or hherring@starsynagogue.org.

Class Notes


New Yeshiva Flying SCY High
Founding board members of the new Southern California Yeshiva High School (SCY High) for boys in La Jolla knew that with a history of failed yeshiva high schools in the area, they had to offer the community something new and innovative. So they, along with headmaster Kevin Cloud, developed a school that utilizes high-tech project-based learning to integrate all disciplines — from science to literature to Gemara.

The school, the only Orthodox boys high school in the San Diego area, attracted 17 boys in ninth and 10th grades last year, its first year of existence, and next year between 25 and 30 are expected to be enrolled in the ninth through 11th grades. One Los Angeles boy boarded with relatives, and next year several families are opening up their homes to students who want to board.

As a school starting from scratch, teachers were able to take novel approaches to study.

The ninth graders, for example, read Goethe’s “Faust,” then rewrote it as short film. They created sets — some using “South Park”-style puppets, some using stop-action dolls and action figures — set it to music, and filmed short movies. The 10th graders read Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus,” then rewrote a modernized version then studied and debated the moral implications of making Faustus Jewish.

“What you do in project-based learning is you take the ability the students have in one subject and you bring that enthusiasm into another subject,” Cloud said.

The students also get traditional instruction, but even there things tend to blend.

In Rabbi Moshe Adatto’s Gemara class, students had to present talmudic arguments in a PowerPoint flowchart. Each student is given a Dell laptop when they enter, and the school is wired for high-speed wireless Internet access.

To Adatto, who previously was a teacher at the Valley Kollel, it’s all part of making kids love school and love Judaism.

“We’re trying to create lifelong learners, and to me that has two components: They have to know how to learn, and they have to want to learn,” said Adatto, who organized Shabbatons and other events to build school spirit.

All but one student has reenrolled for next year, and an anonymous survey that all of the parents filled out brought back astonishing results for a Jewish school: No one — not one family — reported being anything less than satisfied.

For more information on SCY High School, contact (858) 658-0857 or visit www.scyhigh.org.

Follow the Fellows to Israel
Three Southern California teens were among 26 selected nationally to visit Israel on a five-week Bronfman Youth Fellowship this summer. Priscella Frank of Calabasas High School and Benjamin and Mitzi Steiner of Shalhevet were selected following a rigorous application process. They will participate in an intensive program of study and travel in Israel designed to develop leaders committed to Jewish unity.

The fellows participate in seminars and dialogues with diverse rabbinic faculty and spend a week with a group of Israeli peers who have been chosen through Amitei Bronfman, a parallel Israeli program. Bronfman Youth Fellows are asked to complete 40 hours of community service when they return home at the end of the summer.

3 Books = 31 Flavors
Students at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy have another reason to pick up a good book — to satisfy their sweet tooth. As part of the Be a Star Reader program, elementary and middle school kids who read three books this spring were awarded a free ice cream cone at any Baskin-Robbins. Arna Schwartz, the school librarian, has run the Be a Star Reader program for several years, purchasing Baskin-Robbins gift certificates. This year, Robert Schwartz, who owns the Baskin-Robbins on Kinross Avenue in Westwood, offered to sponsor the program. Other Schools or youth organizations interested in participating in the Baskin-Robbins Reading Rewards Program can contact Robert Schwartz at (310) 208-8048.

To Bee or Not to Bee
More than 150 boys from Chabad schools across the world gathered in Los Angeles in April for a battle of wits on Maimonides’ Sefer Hamitzvot. Cheder Menachem in Los Angeles was the host school of the chidon, or bee, which attracted 1,000 spectators to the finals held at Emerson Middle School. The girls’ competition was held the week before in New York. Local winners were Sender Labkowsky, first place, older division; Mendel Mishulovin, third place, older division; and Shmully Lezak, third place, younger division.

ADL Reaches 700,000 Students
As part of LAUSD’s Live Violence-Free Day, 35,000 teachers in the district were urged to use materials and activities they received from the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) A World of Difference Institute, impacting more than 700,000 K-12 students in one day. The activities and lesson plans were designed to assist educators in addressing issues of bias, discrimination, bullying and violence, and focused on empowering students to become agents of change on their campuses. For more information on ADL education programs, contact Jenny Betz at (310) 446-8000, ext. 233.

 

Jazz and Classical in Perfect Harmony


Throughout his career, musician Uri Caine has gambled that he could find a niche in unconventional musical settings — and he’s usually won. His body of work includes hard-swinging jazz, contemporary imaginings of Jewish musical themes and controversial reworkings of hallowed masterpieces by Bach, Beethoven and Mahler. Not only has the 49-year-old Caine dared to alter the notes written by classical masters, but he’s also incorporated decidedly nontraditional sonic elements into his recordings — like D.J. effects and the voice of a Sephardic cantor.

For his next daring feat, as the composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO), Caine will debut a concerto for two pianos and chamber orchestra this month in Los Angeles, incorporating improvisation between his piano and the piano of LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane, as part of a salute to Mozart in the year marking the 250th anniversary of his birth. Caine’s piece is hardly a clichéd “jazzing up” of Mozart. Instead, the new composition uses the Austrian master as a point of departure for a composition written in a contemporary musical language that is very much Caine’s own.

“People ask me, ‘How do we categorize this music?'” says Caine, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with his wife, artist Jan Caine. “‘Should we put it in the classical department or put it in the jazz department?’ As an idealist, I say put it in both. See what happens.”

LACO’s Kahane, whose musician son Gabriel first urged his skeptical father to explore Caine’s music, says that because of the composer’s unusual level of mastery in multiple genres, Caine does far more than simply translate a classical style into a jazz idiom.

“He’s literally reimagining the music and placing it in a great many different contexts,” Kahane says. “His stylistic vocabulary is so vast, and he’s so skillful in moving from one vocabulary to another, that he’s able to use all these different languages as commentary on the piece — and uses the piece to comment on other pieces, and other pieces besides the piece to comment on it. One of the wonderful things about Uri is that you don’t know what’s going to come out.”

Caine has had his ears wide open to a broad musical palette ever since he was seduced by the jazz, classical, funk and pop music of Philadelphia as a teenager in the mid-1970s. His musical education also had a distinctive Jewish flavor; as the son of two professors who diligently taught their children “Eliezer Ben-Yehudah” Hebrew, Caine ended up hearing a lot of Israeli pop and Sephardic music. The family would sing Jewish folk songs together around the table.

“My parents grew up in the generation of young people after the Holocaust — and they were embracing the Hebrew movement,” Caine says. “They weren’t religious necessarily, but at some point they thought about moving to Israel, even though they never left — they still live in Philadelphia.”

After studying with prominent composers George Rochberg and George Crumb at the University of Pennsylvania, and heading off to nighttime jam sessions that sometimes included jazz legends Philly Joe Jones and Hank Mobley, Caine spent time finding himself. After stints in Philadelphia and Israel, Caine decided in 1985 to move to New York City, perhaps the most vibrant but challenging jazz city in the world.

Caine credits his successes today to a willingness to stick with his musical vision through lean times.

“Follow that instinct,” he urges young musicians. “It’ll happen, if you work hard, and you can keep moving somehow.”

Caine’s critical buzz arrived with the release of Urlicht/Primal Light, a bold re-imagining of various Mahler compositions, released in 1997. While tradition-minded listeners objected — some walked out in protest at a 1998 performance in Toblach, Italy — the piece received a composer’s prize for best Mahler CD of the year.

Caine thought of the Mahler project in the manner of a jazz musician interpreting an established work. Just as in the 1960s, Miles Davis would reconceive a tune written by Cole Porter, so Caine would transform Mahler’s teeming stylistic soundscapes. Inescapably, some listeners saw the piece as an artistic reaction that embodied Caine’s Jewish identity, because of Mahler’s ultimate conversion to Christianity.

“Maybe, if you’re a German, you’re looking at the project as this New York Jewish person reinterpreting Jewish music — on the one hand, that seems very racist, because everything is reduced to that,” Caine says. “On the other hand, I understand it. Mahler’s life is a very interesting subject from that point of view.”

Caine is fascinated by the complexities of Jewish identity, but resents having the aesthetic breadth and complexity of his work reduced to a simple religious or political message: “The artist should be free — I mean everybody should be free — to like what they like, and not have to be pressured by the group.”

Still, Caine is hardly dismissive of his Jewish background: “It’s that conflict between an individual just trying to embrace different things and use everything that is out there. And also the reality that you come from a tradition. A very long, proud tradition of survival and innovation and creativity.”

Caine’s own work is also marked by inventiveness. And yet, say admirers, he’s the rare bird who can take on intellectually demanding projects without drowning in pedantry. His work can be complex without losing its playful vitality.

Uri Caine will premiere his “Concerto for Two Pianos and Chamber Orchestra” on May 20 at 8 p.m. at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Boulevard, Glendale, and May 21 at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA campus. $22-$80. For more information, call (213) 622-7001 ext. 215, or visit

Humor in ‘Eat’ an Acquired Taste


When Rabbi Mordecai Finley, leader of the nondenominational congregation Ohr HaTorah, saw the new Passover comedy “When Do We Eat?” — he loved it.

“I laughed and laughed and laughed,” he said. He saw the movie three more times, and each time he liked it better.

Hap Erstein, the film reviewer for Florida’s Palm Beach Post, had a different reaction.

Since seeing the movie about a dysfunctional family trying to make it through a Passover seder, “a bad taste has been left in my mouth,” Erstein said.

Where Finley saw a story about the “redemptive power of a seder,” Erstein saw “mean-spirited and low-targeted humor.”

By now, the creators of the film, which has played in film festivals around the country and opens in theaters today, have come to expect such polarized reactions to their movie. Viewers either love it or hate it.

“When Do We Eat?” centers on the Stuckman family, which includes grandfather Artur (Jack Klugman); father Ira (Michael Lerner), who tries to lead “the world’s fastest seder”; his neglected wife, Peggy (Lesley Ann Warren); and their children.

Daughter Nikki (Shiri Appleby) works as a sex-surrogate. Son Ethan (Max Greenfield) recently became Chasidic, but has a hard time resisting the wiles of his sexy cousin, Vanessa (Mili Avital). Youngest son Lionel (Adam Lamberg) is an autistic obsessed with the number seven. Jennifer (Meredith Scott Lynn), Ira’s daughter from a previous marriage, is a lesbian and brings her African American girlfriend, Grace (Cynda Williams), to the seder. Zeke (Ben Feldman), a teenage stoner, slips his father some ecstasy halfway through the meal.

Salvador Litvak, the film’s 40-year-old director and producer, co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Nina Davidovich, 38. The way they see it, “When Do We Eat?” fits into a current trend of “in-your-face, proud-to-be Jewish” cultural statements, from Matisyahu, the Chasidic reggae singer whose latest album topped the charts last month; to “Go for Zuker,” the recent German Jewish comedy about a dysfunctional family; to the irreverent, New York-based Heeb magazine.

“Some people get it, some people don’t,” said Litvak, an observant Jew who wears tzitzit and wakes up at 6 a.m. everyday to study Talmud. While “When Do We Eat?” opened the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, it did not make it into the Boston or New York Jewish film festivals.

“The people who get it,” he said, “are the people who can laugh at themselves.”

Erstein, in his review in The Palm Beach Post, labeled the movie “lowbrow sitcom” and charged Litvak with “trafficking in broad caricatures and ethnic stereotypes.” In an interview, Erstein said the movie reminded him of “Meet the Fockers” and “There’s Something About Mary,” comedies that use crude jokes to target the lowest-common-denominator viewer.

What bothered him about this movie, Erstein, 56, said, was the way it portrayed Judaism.

“It’s taking cheap shots at it,” he said.

Here lies the central contention, the age-old question: Is this movie, ultimately, good for the Jews?

“Some people seem to have a reaction that it isn’t good for the Jews,” said Davidovich, who co-wrote the film. “I think that’s a short-sighted reaction, because the cause of anti-Semitism through the years — well, a large part of it — has been people’s perception that we think we’re better than them. In this movie, we’re portraying Jews as no better than anybody else.”

But no worse than anyone else, either, Litvak added, explaining that the family was made to be outrageously dysfunctional for comedy’s sake.

Davidovich stressed that she went out of her way to contradict stereotypes.

“What drives me nuts,” she said, banging a fist on her skirt, “is in popular culture, Jewish women are always portrayed as unattractive, big-mouthed, annoying, bossy women” and “Jewish men are always portrayed as dorky, nerdy, nebishy, insecure, self-effacing.”

So, she chose an all-Jewish, good-looking cast.

Davidovich and Litvak insisted that in the end, their film comes down on the side of Judaism. The movie shows that the Jewish religion, and the Passover seder in particular, can provide a framework for personal redemption, Litvak said.

Rabbi Mark Blazer, the 38-year-old leader of Reform Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita, agreed: “This [movie] can really show people what the Passover seder can do, that it can be a really transformative experience.”

Blazer also sees the movie as part of a trend toward Jews’ opening up about Judaism in popular culture. For years, Jews who produced TV shows and movies shied away from discussing their Jewishness on screen, he said. But today, Jews are finally willing to explore the essence of their religion in their art.

Blazer attributed the opposing reactions to the movie to “a generational gap.” Younger Jews do not feel as anxious about seeing Jews portrayed in a negative light as those born closer to the time of the Holocaust, he said.

“Some see this movie, and they worry about the message that it sends,” he said. “They’re worried that it’s going to contribute to anti-Semitism.”

But “for us,” he added, “we don’t have that same level of discomfort.”

For more information on showtimes, visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=15595

 

PASSOVER: Myriad Ways to Tell an Ancient Tale


 

Every haggadah has a story, its own story, beyond that of the exodus from Egypt. Depending on illustrations, design, typesetting, additions, where the edition is printed and who commissioned its creation, each version is a marker of Jewish history. In some cases, the wine stains on the pages tell stories too; they appear as family emblems, carrying generations of memories.

New Editions of Old Favorites

Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi’s splendid book, first published in 1975, “Haggadah and History” (Jewish Publication Society) is now back in print. The book is scholarly, intriguing and beautiful, an aesthetic timeline of Jewish history and culture. Featured are 200 facsimile plates, depicting haggadah pages from the early days of printing in the 15th century to the 1970s, with explanations of their context.

As Yerushalmi — the Salo Wittmayer Baron professor of Jewish history, culture, and society at Columbia University, who specializes in medieval and modern Jewish history with an emphasis on Spanish, Portuguese and German Jewry — notes, the haggadah is the most popular and beloved of Jewish books.

“Scholars have meditated upon it, children delight in it,” he writes in the book’s introduction. It has been reprinted more often than any other classic text, and is the most frequently illustrated.

A haggadah printed in Poona, India in 1874, with text in Hebrew and Marathi (the language of the Bene Israel) opens with a full-page illustration showing women in saris, flowers in their hair, preparing and baking matzah, seated in classic Indian positions familiar from Hindu painting. The illustrations are modeled on an earlier version of the haggadah printed in Amsterdam, although they are Indian in tone and detail.

Other highlighted editions include the earliest illustrated haggadah, with decorative woodcuts. Its place and date of origin are unknown; it may have been printed in Spain or Portugal in the last decade of the 15th century before the expulsions, or by Sephardi exiles in Salonika or Constantinople. Also included is a version reproduced by mimeograph in North Africa in 1942 by the Palestine Jewish Brigade.

Selected from the collections of Harvard University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, the haggadahs featured here are only a small percentage of the number of editions that have been published. Since Yerushalmi wrote his book, many new versions — with folk art designs, environmental themes and computer-generated illustrations — have been created.

Also new this season is “Festival of Freedom: Essays on Pesah and the Haggadah” by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Ktav), including 10 essays drawn from the writings of the late scholar and leader known as “the Rav,” who died in 1993. This volume, part of the series MeOtzar HaRav, was edited by Joel B. Wolowelsky and Reuven Ziegler, prepared from handwritten manuscripts and tapes of the Rav’s lectures.

The first essay, “An Exalted Evening: The Seder Night,” begins on a personal note, as the Rav recalls his childhood fascination with the nights of the seder and of Kol Nidrei. He felt “entranced by these two clear, moonlit nights, both wrapped in grandeur and majesty.” Enveloped by a “strange silence, stillness, peace, quiet and serenity,” he would “surrender to a stream of inflowing joy and ecstasy.” On those nights, he sensed the presence of God; the commonality of the two is man’s encounter with God. In this and the other far-ranging philosophical essays, he goes on to explore the experiential and intellectual dimensions of the seder and the major themes of Passover.

New Haggadahs on the Shelf

“Touched by the Seder” by Rabbi Yechiel Spero, with an introduction by Rabbi Nosson Scherman (Artscroll) is a haggadah featuring inspiring stories and commentary, compiled by the author of the “Touched by a Story” series. The book includes the Artscroll translations and seder instructions. The selected stories — whether about Jews baking matzah in the Warsaw Ghetto, families showing great strength in the face of tragedy, two friends caring for a third friend immediately after he is wounded in battle while fighting in the Israeli army or Rav Chaim Berlin’s experience on Yom Kippur in the late 1800s — are a vehicle for emphasizing the teachings of the holiday

“The Chazon Ish Haggadah” (Artscroll) features the traditional haggadah text, highlighted with the writings and teachings of the late Maran Hagaon Harav Avraham Yehaya Karelitz, who was known as the Chazon Ish and died in 1953. During his lifetime, much of his work was anonymous, unsigned commentaries, and here Rabbi Asher Bergman compiles his rulings and customs regarding the seder.

An introductory section that lists the halachic rulings and practices of the Chazon Ish on preparing for the holiday notes that he ruled that “one must search books for the possible presence of crumbs.” He would set aside the books he planned to use on Pesach and, beginning several days before the holiday, would check them page by page.

On the page of text with the words “Whoever is hungry — let him come and eat,” Bergman illustrates the generosity of the Chazon Ish, who comforted and helped many Holocaust survivors who came to Israel. With money sent to him from Jews all over the world, he married off more than 100 orphan girls to young Torah scholars. He himself lived in poverty, while channeling money to Torah institutions and to the poor and sick.

“The Liberated Haggadah” by Rabbi Peter Schweitzer (Center for Cultural Judaism) is different from other haggadahs in its humanistic approach, geared to secular and cultural Jews. This haggadah acknowledges early on the author’s view that of the Exodus story as mythical rather than historical. Schweitzer, who leads the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Manhattan, recasts the story as a humanist parable, highlighting contemporary relevance.

Rituals are connected not to the historical Hebrews, but rather to an ancient springtime celebration. In addition to the traditional Four Questions, he offers translations in Ladino, German, Yiddish, Russian, French and Arabic and a set of modern questions, framing contemporary issues. He asks, “Why can we get people to the moon but we can not get the homeless adequate shelters?”

He also offers discussion questions for after the meal, raising timely issues including immigration, modern-day sex slavery and forced labor. Included are traditional and new songs, with touches of lightness and humor.

Also available this year is the “Internet Hagada” by Rabbi William Blank. The text is an edited version of the traditional text, set in contemporary English that reads well, with some Hebrew and transliteration. He also pays attention to page design, creating an attractive haggadah.

Here, the traditional four sons are four students: “One is diligent, one couldn’t care less, one is uncomplicated, one is too overwhelmed to ask questions.” Blank explains that there are no external themes imposed on the traditional material as many modern editions do; he emphasizes the universal values and deeply resonating spirituality of the seder.

Blank, who lives in Sacramento, says that he grew up Orthodox, was ordained as a Reform rabbi and now belongs to a Conservative synagogue. He is the author of “Torah, Tarot & Tantra: A Guide to Jewish Spiritual Growth” and “Soon You Will Understand the Meaning of Life.”

This haggadah, suitable for groups where participants are at different levels, is available only through the Internet. Readers are required to buy one (in .pdf format) and then can make as many copies as they need.

Haggadahs for the Kinder

“Max’s 4 Questions” by Bonnie Bader, illustrated by Bryan Hendrix (Grosset & Dunlap) tells the basics of the Passover story through the adventures and questions of Max, the youngest of four brothers who lives in a chaotic house, where they host a joyous seder crowded with relatives. The youngest seder attendees might enjoy the stickers included for decorating the book’s seder plate.

“More Than Matzah: A Passover Feast of Fun, Facts, and Activities” by Debbie Herman and Ann Koffsky (Barron’s) is designed to engage, teach and keep young kids busy.

 

Other Picks for Passover


Everyone can easily participate in the seder with Rabbi Nathan Goldberg’s 98-page newly translated, large type and transliterated “Passover Haggadah” (KTAV Publishing House) complete with numbered lines. www.ktav.com

Two books in one, “Haggadah” by Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Continuum) contains a Hebrew-English Haggadah, with attractive Hebrew typography and accompanying commentary as well as 21 insightful and wide-ranging Passover essays, all written by Sacks. www.continuumbooks.com

Harriet Goldner created and self-published the 18-page illustrated and color-coded “Please, Don’t Pass Over the Seder Plate” to keep her grandchildren entertained while they learned the Passover traditions. www.jewishfamilyfun.com

Fully illustrated and easy to understand, Rob Kopman’s “30 Minute Seder,” downloadable in minutes, provides abbreviated and slightly non-traditional seder basics for impatient participants. www.30minuteseder.com

The Hebrew-English “Hamsa Haggadah,” beautifully illustrated by Eduard Paskhover (A.G.N. Ltd., Israel, 2005) and shaped like a hamsa, highlights the 12 stones of the high priest’s breastplate, each stone representing one of Israel’s 12 tribes. Distributed through Alef Judaica, Inc., in Culver City. — Compiled by Jane Ulman, Contributing Writer

PASSOVER FOOD: Treats to Leaven Desire for Dessert


Passover desserts are a challenge to the cook because so many ingredients are forbidden, among them flour, grain, cornstarch, baking powder or baking soda. So we substitute matzah meal, potato starch and versatile fresh egg whites to bake all of those traditional favorites — and lots of new ones, too.

The good news is that it is not difficult — all of these carefully tested delicacies are fairly simple to prepare and will be a welcome addition to your seder dinner, as well as for family meals during Passover.

For all the chocolate lovers, the food processor Cocoa-Pecan Cookies will become a favorite. Just prepare the dough and have the children or grandchildren help by dropping them by the spoonful onto the baking sheets. The batter can be kept in the refrigerator and a fresh batch of cookies can be baked each day.

Something new for the holiday, use the charoset ingredients to make a Passover Fruit Cake filled with nuts and dried fruit that offers a tasty and a crunchy treat. It is similar to the Italian delicacy known as Panforte that originated in Sienna. The mixture is tossed together in a large bowl, spooned into parchment-lined baking pans, and baked for an hour and a half. The good news is that these loaves will easily keep for the eight days of the holiday.

During Passover last year we were invited to the home of Alice and Nahum Lainer, who love to entertain. Alice served a delicious Apricot Torte, and I persuaded her to share her recipe for this wonderful pastry. Because some Jewish households do not use matzah meal or cake meal, the combination of egg whites, apricot puree, spices and a topping of apricot jam make an ideal dessert. It is the perfect after-dinner pastry to serve your guests, accompanied by a glass of sweet wine or hot tea.

For another sweet treat, pass a plate of Rocky Road Clusters, everyone’s favorite. They are made with only three ingredients, chocolate, marshmallows and pecans. Simply melt the chocolate, add marshmallows and nuts, and fill small paper cups with the mixture. This is another great project to do with the children.

Bring a platter of the Cocoa Pecan Cookies or Rocky Road Clusters as an edible gift to share with friends and family at the Passover seder meal.

Alice’s Apricot Torte

1 1/2 cups blanched whole almonds, plus 1/4 cup sliced for garnish
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine for pan (one-quarter)
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups diced dried apricots
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
8 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup apricot jam
Passover powdered sugar (recipe follows, optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place whole nuts in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and sliced nuts in a single layer on another baking sheet. Toast nuts until golden and aromatic, five to eight minutes. Shake the pans halfway through toasting to make sure nuts brown evenly. Set aside to cool.

Brush a 10-inch spring form pan with melted butter or margarine, sprinkle with sugar and tap out excess. Set aside.

Place 1/4 cup sugar, whole almonds and apricots in the bowl of a food processor; process until finely chopped, one to two minutes. Add lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and pulse to blend. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites with salt and lemon juice until frothy. Slowly add 1/4 cup sugar, and continue whisking until peaks are stiff but not dry. Fold beaten whites into egg yolks. Add apricot and almond mixture, and fold in until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. If necessary, cover torte lightly with foil to avoid burning. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the torte, and release from pan. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Place apricot jam in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and strain. Brush onto cooked torte. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.

Makes one 10-inch torte.

Passover Powdered Sugar

1 tablespoon Passover potato starch
1 cup sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, combine potato starch and sugar. Process until very powdery and resembles powdered sugar, about two minutes. Let sugar settle for about one minute before removing processor cover.

Makes about 1 cup.

Passover Fruit Cake

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
2 cups pitted dates, thinly sliced
2 cups dried apricots, quartered
1 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups toasted whole almonds
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts pieces
3/4 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate, optional
3/4 cup matzah cake meal
1 tablespoon potato starch
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or orange juice

Heat the oven to 300 F. Brush one (5-by-9 inch) loaf pan or two (3-by-7 inch) loaf pans with melted unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine and line with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dates, apricots, raisins, almonds, walnuts and chocolate, if using. Combine the matzah cake meal, potato starch and sugar and mix well. Add to fruit mixture and mix evenly. Beat eggs and vanilla to blend. Using a rubber spatula or hands, stir into fruit mixture until well blended. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and spread evenly, press into corners of pan.

Bake until golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pan. Peel off paper and let cool on rack.

Wrap in plastic wrap and foil. Chill at least one day or up to two months. To serve, place cake on a wooden board, and using a sharp knife, cut in thin slices.

Cocoa-Pecan Cookies

1 1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup matzah cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
5 large egg whites
1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine pecans, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, cocoa powder, matzah cake meal and potato starch in a food processor and pulse on and off until nuts are finely grated. Add 1/2 cup of egg whites and pulse to blend.

Transfer batter to a large bowl and stir in the nuts and chocolate. In a separate bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the remaining egg whites until soft peaks form, add the remaining sugar and beat until a stiff meringue forms. Using a rubber spatula, mix half of the meringue into the pecan/chocolate mixture and then fold in the remaining meringue.

Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving 1 inch between cookies.

Bake for eight minutes. Cookies should be dull, but very soft. If not dull, bake for one more minute. Transfer parchment to a rack to cool, before removing.

Makes about two- or three-dozen cookies.

Rocky Road Clusters

1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup miniature marshmallows or large marshmallows cut in quarters
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate, melted

Place small paper candy cups on top of a large tray and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss pecans and marshmallows together. Add melted chocolate and mix well. Spoon chocolate mixture into the candy cups and refrigerate for several hours until firm. Store in refrigerator.

Makes about 24.

 

A Step Into Secular


Chaim breezes into a diner on the Upper West Side of Manhattan clutching two huge shopping bags.

“I got some clothes, this plaid shirt, two for $5, this leather jacket just $20,” says Chaim, 19, in the clipped, Yiddish-accented English of the Chasidic world he comes from. “I didn’t know what to buy, my roommate went with me, he told me what’s nice,” he says, fingering a sweater gingerly.

Chaim is — or was — a Skver Chasid, born and raised in the ultra-Orthodox enclave of New Square, N.Y. His world until recently was Torah, family and a close-knit community.

But now he’s entering the secular world.

In September, he shaved his beard, left his parent’s home and took a bus to Brooklyn, where he now goes to college and shares an apartment.

“I found it on craigslist,” he says with pride, referring to the online classified site.

His new life comes with help from Footsteps, a 2-year-old Manhattan-based nonprofit group that helps dropouts from the Charedi world transition into secular society.

No one knows how many American Jews have left the ultra-Orthodox fold, although most are believed to have come from the New York area. There are no statistics, and, until Footsteps was created, no organization to help them learn how to make it on the outside.

While the organized Jewish world doesn’t usually think of Chasidic dropouts as “Jews in need,” outsiders can’t begin to imagine how frightening and complicated the everyday world can seem to a person who only knows the carefully controlled cocoon of Satmar, Skver or Bobov.

Particularly for a young person, whose departure can be hasty and unplanned, the road out of the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg or Crown Heights is fraught with confusion and loneliness — and sometimes drug abuse.

“People who have decided to make this transition don’t have a place to go,” says Hella Winston, the author of “Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels” (Beacon Press, 2005).

Chaim isn’t using his real name out of respect for his family still in the community. His journey from ultra-Orthodoxy to young, secular Jewish New Yorker didn’t happen overnight.

A year and a half ago, he says, “I heard there was such a place as a public library,” where he could find a computer and Internet access.

“I didn’t know how to use the mouse. I started tapping on the screen,” he says, smiling in embarrassment.

He began reading about the world outside New Square, and soon realized “it’s not all drug dealers and crazy, like they say in our community.”

Slowly, he felt more and more alienated from his Chasidic world.

Although he lived at home until this fall, last year he was already sneaking into Manhattan after work to walk the streets and look at people. He let his hair grow longer under his yarmulke, and bought black jeans, sneakers and a baseball cap to wear on his urban forays.

“I’d changed in my mind a long time ago,” he says. “Something pushed me away, I don’t know what.”

He planned his departure carefully. His first step was to get his GED, or high school equivalency, so he could apply for a loan to go to college. But Chasidic boys receive very little secular education, and he didn’t know how to begin studying for the test.

In late February he met the founding director of Footsteps, 24-year-old Malkie Schwartz, an ex-Lubavitcher.

She introduced him to the few dozen other ex-Chasidim in her organization, and he enrolled in the GED class.

This summer, Chaim passed his exam. He’s in a liberal arts program, but hopes to major in math or science. He hasn’t gone on a date yet — “Socially, I’m very awkward,” he admits — but says he’s looking forward to that, too.

The transition can be difficult.

Winston recently heard from a young man who spent six months sleeping in New York City parks and subways after he left his Chasidic community.

“He had nowhere to go,” Winston says. “America is a very individualistic society, and for people leaving a community it’s important to have one to move into. Otherwise they run the risk of becoming lost.”

Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology and Jewish studies at the City University of New York, agrees.

“Missing their families [is a major problem],” says Heilman, the author of “Defenders of the Faith: Inside Ultra-Orthodox Jewry” (University of California Press, 1999). “For most people in the Charedi world, the single biggest part of their lives, and the part that outsiders are often envious of, is connection to family and community.”

And when they leave, those connections are radically broken. Even if the one who left remains in contact with family members, those contacts often have to be surreptitious, Heilman says.

A support system like Footsteps didn’t exist when Schwartz left Crown Heights five years ago.

She was 19, and knew she would be expected to marry soon. That’s often the point at which young Chasidim who are unsure about their faith or their lifestyle make the move to leave, Winston writes, before their decision will impact their future families.

“I felt I couldn’t make this decision for myself and for the large number of kids that would follow,” Schwartz says. “I wanted an education.”

She moved out, enrolled in Hunter College with financial aid and got a bachelor’s degree.

But it was tough to go it alone. In December 2003, she organized a meeting for what she hoped would become a support group for former Chasidim. Twenty people showed up, and Footsteps was born.

Schwartz runs everything out of her apartment. GED classes, support groups, art and writing therapy groups and discussions on health, sex and relationships are held at ad-hoc spaces around the city. Once a month there are sessions on life skills.

Footsteps has received grants from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Alan B. Slivka Foundation, the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women and an anonymous donor, and in early December was accepted into Bikkurim, a program that provides office space and technical support for Jewish start-ups in New York City.

More than 200 former Chasidim have passed through Footsteps; about 40 are currently active, mostly young Jews in their 20s. One thing Schwartz would like to offer is a halfway house, a temporary safe space for those just leaving their communities.

Many of the former Chasidim in Footsteps are not observant anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have strong Jewish identities.

Zelda Deutsch, 28, left her Satmar community in early 2003, along with her husband and their son. Leaving was, she says “a very complicated and lonely process,” and she wishes Footsteps had been around.

The Deutsches no longer go to synagogue, but they speak Yiddish at home and celebrate all the holidays.

“My son is very aware he is Jewish, the environment in our home is filled with the way we were raised,” she says.

In November they began hosting Friday-night dinners for fellow Footsteppers.

“The people who come don’t go to synagogue, they’re not religious,” Deutsch says. “We serve kugel, stuffed chicken, the traditional foods, and we sing all the zemiros,” or Shabbat songs they grew up with.

“For some people the singing brings up bad memories,” she admits. “But the Jewish life filled such a large part of our daily lives, now that it’s gone, there’s a huge void. As a rule, everybody wants some connection to a spiritual life.”

 

Watch Out Ladies, Dad’s Dating Again


Guess who has a new girlfriend? Well, besides me. And thanks in advance for your warm wishes. It’s the old man, actually. That’s right. Look out golden girls. Dad’s dating again.

Well, he was — until he met “the one.” Can you believe that? Six months and he’s off the market already. Now you can’t even get the guy on the horn. And when you do, his chick’s always beeping in on call-waiting.

“Tell her you’ll call back,” I plead.

Seniors today — always yapping on the phone.

Dad, or as I now refer to him, “Hef,” turns 80 this year. That just goes to show you how badly men want women in their lives. You think the urge would flame out at age 72? Please. 76? Hardly. The big 8-0 and still scoping out babes like Potsie on “Happy Days.”

A bit out of practice, yes, but give the guy some credit. Sure, he left the dating scene for a brief 52 years, but he returned stronger than ever. Scoured the online personals. Hung out at senior singles nights. Met and dated a number of women. My sisters started setting him up with prospects they came across.

I had thought about asking my female friends about their moms, but worried if things worked out a certain way, I could theoretically wind up as my own grandfather.

You’ve heard of the book, “He’s Just Not Into You”? Well, he’s really into this woman. It’s always “my girlfriend this” and “my girlfriend that.” Just like a teenager: No job. Obsessing over women. A really bad driver. I’m expecting the acne to start at any moment.

And get this — he’s asking me for advice! Me. The guy who once broke up with the same girl five times in seven months. I’m more confused than anyone.

Sure, I’ve dated a fair amount, but the over-70 age range is one even I haven’t yet ventured into. Don’t have a clue as to what those gals have on their mind. But judging from the women I do know, I’m guessing cats and jewelry wouldn’t be too far off.

Also Harry Connick Jr.

And the stories I hear. Once, he told me he met a woman who said she was 68. And guess what? That’s right — she was actually 71. Nice to see some courtship traditions last a lifetime.

Another time, I got the “why should I call her, let her call me” argument. Or “She lives too far away.” And “We don’t have anything in common.”

Now I know where I get my sunny disposition.

I’m glad he finally met someone. A nice, Jewish woman at that! She’s terrific. Pretty. Well-mannered. Early 70s. Marriage-minded, but not looking to have more children, evidently.

They’re having a great time. Even went to Disneyland the other day. The two of them flying down the Matterhorn like screaming kids. I’d suggest bumper cars, but it only promotes more bad habits behind the wheel.

Note to ABC: “The Bachelor — Senior Edition.”

Anyway, he’s happier now. That’s the great thing about finding someone — at any age. Gives you more reasons to keep going. Not that stamp collecting and watering the lawn aren’t enough. And the best part? It keeps him out of my hair.

Now I do the badgering: “How’s your girlfriend? How come I never hear from you anymore? When are you getting married? No, of course, I would never submit a story about you to a local publication read by all of your close friends and family members.”

I envy them. Seems to be a lot less pressure when you’re dating at their age. Fewer expectations and demands. They’ve been together a year and not one major fight, as far as I can tell.

Can’t wait for the bachelor party. Question: Do I hire dancers? Or their grandmothers?

I hope it lasts forever. I really don’t want to run into dad during happy hour at Hooters. At least not again.

Freelance writer Howard Leff lives in Los Angeles with one dog and two guitars. You can reach him at highway61x@gmail.com.

Pantry Gets a New Home to Help Hungry


This year, for the first time in SOVA’s 22-year history, food pantry volunteers won’t have to store and unpack thousands of grocery bags filled with High Holiday Food Drive donations in multiple cramped locations or larger rented spaces that are costly and inconvenient. Instead, SOVA volunteers will work at the new Daniel Lembark Distribution Center in Van Nuys, a cheerful 5,000-square-foot-plus warehouse with ample room for sorting and shelving the expected record-breaking 100,000 pounds of donated food and toiletry items.

The official dedication and community open house is Sunday, Oct. 9, though the center’s been up and running since Aug. 1. It’s named after Daniel Lembark, a passionate community advocate who understood the crucial need for a central warehouse to efficiently serve all three SOVA (Hebrew for “eat and be satisfied”) locations, one in the San Fernando Valley and two in Los Angeles.

Lembark was the first chairman of the JFS/SOVA Advisory Committee, formed in January 2002 when SOVA came under the auspices of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. Even when diagnosed with cancer, Lembark continued to work toward the goal of a needed warehouse, forming the Daniel Lembark/SOVA Facilities Fund and even helping to draw up plans for the building. Shortly before his death on Feb. 3, 2003, Lembark instructed his wife, Connie: “You will raise the money for this building.”

The Daniel Lembark Distribution Center is part of a 10,000-square-foot building at 16439 Vanowen St., which also serves as the new location of SOVA’s Valley food pantry and administrative offices. The center was refurbished and equipped partially by $175,000 raised though Facilities Fund donations and the sale of artworks donated by established artists. That effort, called SOVArt, was the brainchild of Connie Lembark, a retired art consultant.

The entire facility — from the calming and uplifting color scheme to the semiprivate meeting areas, from the client sitting area and bathroom to the corner stacked with new and gently used books for children to read and take home — is designed to provide clients with comfort and dignity.

“We give people as much control as possible,” said Leslie Friedman, who has worked for Jewish Family Service since 1986, serving as director of SOVA since January 2002. SOVA also gives clients help beyond food, which is reflected in the name change from SOVA Food Pantry Program to SOVA Community Food and Resource Program.

SOVA’s clients include the elderly, low-wage earners, the recently or long-time unemployed, and those suffering from serious illness or coping with physical or mental disabilities. SOVA provides them and their family members with a monthly allotment of healthy foods — including fruits, vegetables and high protein items — that last about four days, with more available for those who are homeless or in crisis.

SOVA provides kosher foods as well as baby foods and diapers and personal hygiene products. The agency recently started stocking special foods and liquid supplements for those living with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, high blood pressure or other medical conditions.

The warehouse shelves are stocked with foods from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and Westside Food Bank. These sources provide free surplus commodities and lower-than-warehouse-priced case goods. SOVA also benefits from four community food drives — during the High Holidays, Thanksgiving, Passover and June — that are supported by more than 60 affiliated congregations and schools. Individuals, vendors and grocery stores also regularly donate foods and ancillary items.

Both new and returning clients meet with intake volunteers on every visit, completing or updating information forms and filling out personal grocery orders with needed and requested items, as all bags are individually packed.

Additionally, clients can meet with SOVA information specialist Eilat Gutman, who has set up resource centers at all three locations to help them find various low- or no-cost community services. In a private room, with a computer and telephone for client use, Gutman or one of her volunteers refers people to places that can help with housing, transportation, medical and dental treatment, legal issues and other needs. This assistance includes providing vouchers to the National Council of Jewish Women thrift shop to obtain clothes for interviews or school.

Also, on certain days, clients can meet with a representative from the Department of Public Social Services to determine food stamp eligibility or a counselor from Jewish Vocational Service regarding employment.

“We empower people to take steps to better their situation,” Gutman said. “A lot of them are really just surviving.”

SOVA opened its first pantry in July 1983 when members of the Jewish community discovered that seniors in the Santa Monica/Venice area, because of a recession and cuts in public welfare programs, were going hungry, having to choose between health care and food.

Since then, Los Angeles has become the hunger capital of the United States, with one out of every 14 hungry Americans living here, according to a Los Angeles Department of Health Services 2001 report. That amounts to more than 775,000 low-income adults living in Los Angeles County hungry or at risk of going hungry, according to a study released by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research in June 2004. And employment is no guard against hunger, with almost 30 percent of employed low-income adults classified as food insecure.

The SOVA Pantries and Resource Centers are open four days a week, including Sunday mornings. In addition to the 10 full- and part-time staff members, more than 120 core volunteers, some in their upper 80s, work at least one day a week.

“These are nice people to work with,” said Jerry Cohen, 73, a twice-weekly Valley volunteer for 10 years. “It’s a mitzvah.”

Additionally, hundreds of other volunteers from schools and organizations pitch in.

SOVA is funded by The Jewish Federation, the Harold Edelstein Foundation, government grants and other foundation, corporate and private donors. In addition, the organization offers tribute cards and now sponsors Baskets of Hope, custom-decorated baskets of canned and packaged foods that can be rented for centerpieces for b’nai mitzvah or other events. And Connie Lembark continues to raise funds through her SOVArt Project, with artists lined up to donate works for sale through 2007.

When Daniel Lembark became the founding chairperson of the JFS/SOVA Advisory Committee in January 2002, the organization was providing food for about 2,000 people a month. Now it supplies food to about 3,500 a month, with the numbers certain to increase. But SOVA can effectively meet that need, thanks to Lembark’s vision and persistence.

 

Channel Surf With the Tribe


Welcome to fall: The time of High Holidays, contemplation, repentance and really, really long services.

And did I mention TV?

OK, we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure your calendar is marked with things like “bake brisket, 350 F for five hours” and “bring challah to Goldbergs for break the fast” and “climb neighbor’s palm for sukkah fronds.”

But just maybe you’re also tuned in to another new year. And you’ve also scribbled in: “Watch new ‘Will and Grace'” and “TiVo ‘Alias.'”

With so many returning and premiering shows, it’s hard to know what will make you want to celebrate or just repent the time wasted. Here’s the lowdown on what some of the Jew crew is up to: the shows, the times and, the nu, why you should care. Look fast — some of these won’t be around come Passover.

ABC

“Desperate Housewives”
Sundays, 9 p.m.

Joely Fisher joins the cast this season as Nina, Lynette’s (Felicity Huffman) boss, who is said to be the new “witch with a B” in town. But come on, do you really need a reason to watch this guilty pleasure?

“Commander-in-Chief”
Tuesdays, 9 p.m.

Creator Rod Lurie brings a new look to the White House with a female president (Geena Davis) who takes over when the current prez dies in office. The buzz on this political drama could keep the show in office for a long time.

“Boston Legal”
Tuesdays, 10 p.m.

After this David E. Kelley show was held to make room for “Grey’s Anatomy,” the cast is ready to go — which means less repeats and more hijinx from Denny Crane (William Shatner) in and out of the courtroom.

“Alias”
Thursdays, 8 p.m.
Dead or alive, bad or good, Michael Vartan’s Vaughn is still hot. But is he a hot double agent? And is that bad or what?

“Hot Properties”
Fridays, 9:30 p.m.

“Sex and the City” meets the world of real estate in more ways than one. Evan Handler (Charlotte’s hubby Harry Goldenblatt on the HBO series) plays the psychiatrist next door.

CBS

“How I Met Your Mother”
Mondays, 8:30 p.m.

Five hip 20-somethings on CBS. And they said it couldn’t happen. In this “flashback” show, cutie patootie Jason Segel plays Marshall, whose engagement prompts his friend, Ted (voiced as an adult in 2030 by Bob Saget), to jump on the get-married bandwagon. The sitcom tells us how it went.

“Out of Practice”
Mondays, 9:30 p.m.

What if the Fonz was married to Rizzo and both became doctors. Besides forming the greatest match in pop culture, you’d have a new sitcom starring Henry Winkler as a Dr. Dad with three Dr. Kids and a Dr. Ex-Wife. (Winkler is also putting in an appearance on NBC’s “Crossing Jordan,” Sundays, 10 p.m.)

“The King of Queens”
Mondays, 8 p.m.

How will Arthur (Jerry Stiller) react when his daughter starts taking a pole-dancing class? Probably not so good. But will his displeasure be related to her skill at pole dancing or something else?

“Still Standing”
Wednesdays, 8 p.m.

This season Jami Gertz’s Judy has to deal with a son who just lost his virginity to an Italian con artist. Then there’s the neighbor who has a “Field of Dreams” complex — he builds a whiffle ball field next door. If he builds it, they will whiff?

“Criminal Minds”
Wednesdays, 9 p.m

Special agent Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) heads the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, after coming back from a sabbatical for post-traumatic stress. Yes it is another crime drama, but anything with Indigo Montoya is worth watching.

“Numb3rs”
Fridays, 10 p.m.

Dad Alan (Judd Hirsch) watches as brotherly love turns to sibling rivalry between FBI agent Don (Rob Morrow) and his numbers-loving brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz). Oh, and the two investigate a possible terrorist attack on the L.A. subways. Hmm. Wonder where they got that idea?

FOX

“The War at Home”
Sundays, 8:30 p.m.

Michael Rapaport plays a politically incorrect father of three in this sitcom. Think Bunker meets Bundy, minus some much-needed laughs.

“The Simpsons”
Sundays, 8 p.m.

Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner), Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria), principal Seymour Skinner (Harry Shearer) and the rest of the Springfield gang are back for a 17th season of spoof, satire and, of course, a new “Treehouse of Horror” special.

“Family Guy”
Sundays, 9:30 p.m.

The Griffins, including Lois (Alex Boorstin), Chris (Seth Green) and Meg (Mila Kunis), are up against “Desperate Housewives,” but don’t think that means the folks behind this clever animated show are worried — they’ve got Phyllis Diller.

“Arrested Development”
Mondays, 8 p.m.

Jew-by-choice (sort of) George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is under house arrest in the third season (and his wife decides to do some dating). So plan on some interesting scenes as he attempts to circumcise — er, make that circumvent — the situation.

“That ‘70s Show”
Wedensdays, 8 p.m.

Josh Meyers joins the cast in what is likely its last season — otherwise it would have to become “That Early ‘80s Show.” Look for Jackie (Mila Kunis) to have a run-in with Mary Tyler Moore (who plays a perky news anchor) while Donna (Laura Prepon) tests her love for the missing Eric, who heads to Africa.

“Stacked”
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.

This season the bookstore-themed show focuses less on plot and more on character, so look for less Pamela Anderson chest jokes (Get it? Stacked?) and more background on Marissa Jarret Winokur’s Katrina and Elon Gold’s Gavin. Yeah, right.

“The O.C.”
Thursdays, 8 p.m.

So much drama, so little time. Creator Josh Schwartz says tragedy will mix in with the romance and fun this season — but let’s hope Linda Lavin’s Nana is back for some more guilt, too.

NBC

“Las Vegas”
Mondays, 9 p.m.

After the Montecito imploded last season everything changed for surveillance chief Ed Deline (James Caan). He now has to worry about the “extreme makeover,” missing staff, a new boss and Vegas tourists who attempt to find this fictional casino, which is actually located in Culver City.

“Medium”
Mondays, 10 p.m.

Emmy-winner Patricia Arquette is back as a secret psychic who catches serial killers — say that five times fast — in this spooky sci-fi drama.

“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”
Tuesdays, 10 p.m

The Dick Wolf franchise, which never gets tired of spin-offs, begins season seven with a bang — literally. It’s rumored that one of the detectives will get shot. (Hope it isn’t Richard Belzer’s detective John Munch, whose wry observations offset some of the squad room drama.)

“Will and Grace”
Thursdays, 8:30 p.m.

Creators say after the live season premiere, the quartet — plus Karen’s maid Rosario (Shelley Morrison) — get back to their roots as this sitcom gets ready to say “Shalom.” Grace’s (Debra Messing) ex-husband, Dr. Leo, returns for four episodes and she still has that little problem of having kissed her very married ex-boyfriend.

“The Apprentice”
Thursdays, 9 p.m.

The Donald is back for more fired-up fun, but keep an eye out for 22-year-old Adam, a risk manager from Atlanta, whose family is from Israel and said his background had a “tremendous influence on his values.” Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

“The Poseidon Adventure”
Sunday, Nov. 20, 8 p.m.

This remake of the 1970s Irwin Allen disaster flick version is missing the huge wave, Maureen McGovern’s “Morning After” and Shelley Winters. Instead, we get Steven Guttenberg and terrorists. Welcome to the new millennium.

The WB
“What I Like About You”
Fridays, 8 p.m.

Holly (Amanda Bynes) follows the love of her life on a cross-country trip. The problem is that he’s taking it with another girl. Also watch this season for a mini-90210 reunion.

“Living With Fran”
Fridays, 9:30 p.m.

Fran (Fran Drescher) finally introduces her non-Jewish younger boyfriend to the rest of the mishpacha at a family bar mitzvah. Meanwhile son Josh (Ben Feldman) hits a quarter-life crisis.

F/X
“Nip/Tuck”
Tuesdays, 10 p.m.

Rumor is Joan Rivers is back for more nipping and tucking. And just in the nick (and tuck) of time.

HBO

“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Sundays, 10 p.m.

Is Larry (Larry David) adopted? His father (Shelley Berman) seems to think so. But would either set of parents want to claim him. Plus, watch for Larry to have a religious experience beyond having “Hava Negilah” as his cell phone ringtone.

 

Shticking It to the Classics


My 5-year-old thinks “My Yiddishe Mama,” the soulful ballad immortalized by Sophie Tucker in 1928, is a rock anthem. The version he learned didn’t come from a dusty old record, but from a CD released in 2004 by the group, Yiddishe Cup, called “Meshugeneh Mambo.”

This is not your grandmother’s Jewish music. Like other recent Jewish parody CDs, “Meshugeneh Mambo” carries on the tradition of Jewish humor popularized by such forbearers as Mickey Katz and Allan Sherman. Although the lounge acts of the Catskills have all but vanished, a few intrepid souls are bringing a modern brand of Borscht Belt humor to a whole new generation.

Yiddishe Cup’s album combines soulful klezmer ballads, doo-wop and, of course, Latin flair. The title track sets the tone, promising “No frailech [joyful] hora can compare/ to shaking your Yiddishe dierriere/ to the lovely Mesugheneh Mambo.”

The group’s rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama” throws in homage to James Bond’s “Goldfinger” and the theme song to “The Patty Duke Show.” Listen closely and you will hear spoofs of “Star Trek,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Outer Limits” scattered about in the traditional melodies and remakes of comedy routines created in the 1950s.

Newer artists like Yiddishe Cup have learned from the old comedic masters that classic Jewish humor relies on cleverness rather than anger. The best comics “tell a story that is visual and makes you think,” said Simon Rutberg of Hatikvah International on Fairfax Avenue. “Using the word ‘shmuck’ doesn’t make it Jewish.”

Instead, skilled artists allow listeners to recognize themselves and the universal truths behind the tales and tunes.

One artist who stresses ruach (spirit) over raunch is Michael Lange. The director, whose credits include “Life Goes On” and “The X-Files,” has released several titles under his Silly Music label. In November, Lange will release “A Kosher Christmas,” a collection of popular yuletide melodies coupled with decidedly Jewish-themed lyrics. It’s a strange experience indeed to hear the traditional orchestrations — think bells, trumpets and choral harmonies — as singers croon about litigation, food, guilt and family (categories that Lange refers to as “the four cornerstones of the Jewish experience.”)

In “Such a Loyal Son Am I,” a take-off on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” a mother and son alternate kvetching about one another: (Him:) Not so easy with this mother/Still a loyal son am I. (Her:) Not a doctor like his brother/Such a shanda [shame] I should cry. “Greensleeves” is re-imagined as “Greenstein,” an ode to the singer’s childhood crush, Tiffany Greenstein.

And, of course, food plays a significant role, as in “Harvey Weisenberg” (to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”): “[which] Soup would he pick, wondered he:/Lentil, borscht or chicken/As he ate he thought with glee:/This is finger lickin’….

Lange previously created two Broadway musical parodies. “Goys and Dolls,” released in 2002, uses the original melodies of “Guys and Dolls” to tell the story of a young man who begins dating a non-Jewish woman, while “Say Oy Vey” re-imagines “Cabaret” as the story of two seniors who find romance at synagogue bridge night.

Musicals are also the targets of spoofs created by the group Shlock Rock, whose founder, Lenny Solomon, hails from a long line of cantors. Their 2003 release, “Almost on Broadway,” transforms “Maria” from “West Side Story” to “Tekia”: “Tekia! I’ve just heard the sound called Tekia!”

Shlock Rock boasts 23 albums to its credit, ranging from original compositions to children’s music to parody. The group’s nine other parody CD’s display an impressive range of musical styles, Judaic knowledge and humor. In one, for example, Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” becomes “49 Days to Count the Omer,” while in another, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin morphs into “Learning to Do the Hora.” And you’ve got to wonder what kind of mind would think of transforming the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” into “Rabbi Akiva”: “Rabbi Akiva had straw for a bed/Love thy neighbor like thyself is what he said.”

While they’re amusing to listen to, be forewarned: The lyrics stick with you. So when the time comes for my son to join his kindergarten classmates for the annual holiday assembly in December, he’ll be easy to pick out. He’ll be the one singing “Goys Rule the World.”

 

A Place of Worship Where We Belong


It baffled my parents that I went with my husband and his family to Christmas Eve services, but he didn’t accompany me to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah.

“That doesn’t seem fair,” my mother pointed out. “You’re celebrating his holiday, but he’s not celebrating yours.”

We do hold to my parents’ tradition of a festive erev Rosh Hashanah meal, complete with white tablecloth, fancy china, and ritual foods (wine, challah, apples and honey), and I reminded her of that. Synagogue or no, we were welcoming the Jewish New Year together in our home.

So she tried another tack: “Wouldn’t he go with you if you asked?”

The answer, of course, was yes; but I didn’t want to ask. I wanted his engagement with Judaism to be his choice — not because he felt obligated to my family, my tradition or me.

Besides, my Rosh Hashanah observance was pretty variable. I had tried one synagogue, then another. One year I barely went to shul at all, spending the day outside instead, reading poems and prayers alone under the trees. It was easy to include my husband in the home-based rituals I felt grounded in, but synagogue attendance was another thing entirely. How could I help him feel welcome in a congregation if I didn’t belong anywhere myself?

Year after year, the synagogue portion of Rosh Hashanah got more and more frustrating. I cut my attendance shorter and shorter, wanting to escape so I could do my homegrown Tashlich ritual with my friends. The nadir was the year I tried the temple nearest our house, got stuck in the upper balcony of the sanctuary and didn’t know a soul.

My resolution that High Holiday season? To find a congregational home by the following fall. I’ve lived in this cluster of small towns for almost a decade: people know me on the street, at the grocery store, at the community-supported organic farm. It felt wrong to be so rootless when it came to religion.

So I drove around. I sampled the area options: Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform. I liked the idea of attending services in the town where both my husband and I work, so I went to lunch with the rabbi there. I liked him immediately, but was nervous about explaining our situation: I still remembered our wedding-officiant search, when rabbis hadn’t always been kind.

It turned out that the rabbi had written his rabbinic thesis on intermarriage; that one of the congregation’s co-presidents is married to a Christian man; and that the congregation, although small (many Friday nights we have to skip the prayers that require a minyan), is welcoming and friendly. They use a siddur and a machzor, that they compiled themselves: a fair amount of Hebrew, and a lot of singing, but also excellent translations and transliterations. They’re user-friendly.

I started going to Shabbat services there, maybe once a month. And, as Rosh Hashanah approached, my husband asked, casually, whether I wanted company that year.

The congregation’s new building was under construction, so we met to worship in the ballroom of the Holiday Inn downtown. Several people shook our hands as we walked in, and greeted us by name. My resolution had worked: I wasn’t a stranger anymore.

We ducked out shortly before the end, and stopped for lunch together on the way home. He spoke of how the rabbi seemed smart, the people seemed friendly, the liturgy wasn’t impenetrable and he might go with me once in a blue moon.

Maybe the best part was the follow-up letter we got from the membership chairwoman, who had noticed us in the crowd. The synagogue’s standard membership form includes room for two adults’ names, birthdays and religious affiliations. Even as a non-Jew, my husband is welcome to be a member; when we join, both of our names will appear on the roster. It’s a far cry from the shul of my childhood, where at my bat mitzvah, my sister-in-law (then in the midst of her conversion process) was denied the chance at an aliyah because she “wasn’t Jewish yet.”

I doubt my husband will ever choose to consider himself Jewish, and I suspect I will always find special resonance in the home-based rituals we celebrate together with our circle of family and friends. Still, there’s something wonderful about finding a Jewish community, without changing — or hiding — who we are.

Reprinted courtesy

Wild Ride With Wildlife in Miami


 

Stretching along the popular beachfront area of Miami, approximately 650,000 Jewish residents support more than 100 synagogues, several Jewish community centers and abundant kosher restaurants, including authentic Thai food. The South Florida city even employs a full-time kashrut supervision department.

So on a recent trip to Miami, I indulged in Thai food and a few other favorites. Along with spotting baby alligators in the wild, viewing ancient art and other treasures, that meal was one of many memorable highlights.

We couldn’t skip the Everglades, one of the most well-known sites in Florida. Since we were on limited time over a long weekend, a friend and I opted for an airboat ride in the Everglades Alligator Farm.

With 10 other passengers, our craft launched from a canal filled with adult and adolescent alligators swimming just feet away. Their amphibious compadres, soft-shelled turtles, resemble snakes swimming with their heads above water.

As we took off, the boat’s engine roared so loudly that our driver instructed us to stuff our ears with complimentary cotton balls. We floated along as he pointed out the wildlife, alligator tracks and a breeding den. He spoke so loud, we could hear him even with the cotton.

When we neared an expansive glade he warned us to hold on. Suddenly, as if levitating on a flying carpet, we were airborne. The sensation was remarkable; the moment magical. We were weightless, skimming along gentle curves, skirting above the water and the abundant grasses. As far as the eye could see, there were only the Everglades: a clear blue sky, water and grasses spreading in every direction.

Then suddenly, the driver changed course, taking us in a 180-degree turn. He immediately accelerated again, then spun us in full circle. After a handful of more wild spins that created giant splashes and left us laughing for more, we headed back to an open stretch that led to the mainland.

There we took in a snake show, where we handled a magnificent albino python with striking yellow and white skin that was cool to the touch. We also toured the breeding ponds on a nature trail. Covered with a bright green moss, the alligators lay still, many of them just visible with their scales skimming the surface and their beady eyes staring above the water.

On our return trip, we dropped anchor at Robert Is Here, which specializes in exotic fruits. With delicacies such as monstera deliciosa, which looks like a giant green ear of corn but tastes like banana-pineapple pudding, you could easily say the blessing for tasting new fruits again and again. Mamey, atemoya, longan, canestel, anon, sapodilla, sapote and many other natural treats all qualify at this “Shehecheyanu store.”

Our next unique destination was Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a majestic bay-front villa established between 1914 and 1916 by American farm equipment manufacturer James Deering as his winter home. Designed in the style of Italian Renaissance villas, the estate originally spanned 180 acres and resembled a typical northern Italian village with a dairy, poultry house, mule stable, greenhouse, machine shop, paint and carpentry workshop and staff residences.

The fully restored mansion was made to look as if a family had lived in it for 400 years, adding its own period furnishings, neoclassical, rococo and much more. As a result, Vizcaya contains one of the finest collections of European decorative arts from the 16th through 19th centuries. Vizcaya was purchased by Miami-Dade County in 1952 and now functions as an art house museum.

We capped off our Florida adventure at Thai Treat & Sushi, located just a few minutes drive from The Shul at Bal Harbour, where we spent Shabbat. Opened two years ago by a Thai and Indian couple, June and Naresh Choudhury, the kosher restaurant’s extensive menu features truly authentic Thai specialties.

We were sold on two superb dishes. Rich and flavorful Tom Kha Kai soup featured chicken in coconut milk, fresh mushrooms, lemongrass and lime juice. The exceptional Thai Basil Special featured chicken (or tofu or beef) sauteed with bell peppers, mushrooms and onions, chili paste and fresh herbs.

We were so taken by the captivating Thai flavors, we gave the sushi only a taste. The yummy vegetable combo, like all the sushi platters and bento boxes, was beautifully presented (and available with brown rice instead of white). We washed it all down with refreshing Thai iced tea.

The chef also recommended chicken and beef satay, montod — fries made from sweet potato and coconut — and spring rolls. We were far too stuffed for more. At least we know what we’ll try when we return — as if we really needed a reason.

Thai Treat & Sushi. Sans Souci Plaza, 2176 N.E. 123rd St., North Miami. (305) 892-1118.

The Everglades Alligator Farm. 40351 S.W. 192 Ave., Homestead. (305) 247-2628; everglades.com.

Robert Is Here. 19200 S.W. 344th St., Homestead. (305) 246-1592; www.robertishere.com.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. 3251 S. Miami Ave., Miami. (305) 250-9133; vizcayamuseum.org.

 

Time to Go Home


 

When my wife and I woke up on the day we made aliyah, we talked and decided that we felt good. Natural. Normal. A little excited. A bit eager. Somewhat tired from some late-night, last-minute packing. Above all, we were ready. It was time to go.

The family dressed in T-shirts that we had made for the day. The white shirts were emblazoned in blue with our Hebrew slogan for the trip: “Bashana Hazot,” which in English means “this year.”

Our shirts were inspired from the central motto of the Jewish people: “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Thanks to some terrific support from friends and family, “Next Year” was now.

We had been staying with my parents, who could not have been more encouraging and supportive, for a last precious drop of a week with them. We will next see them in three months, at our new home, in Israel.

At LAX, our porter saw the boxes we were sending, asked a polite question or two and soon knew that we were moving. Before he left us, he said something very formally in Gaelic, which he translated as: “Have a safe trip home.”

Once at the gate, my 4-year-old saw the El Al plane with the giant Jewish star on the tail. He yelled: “Abba, that’s a Israel plane.” Exactly.

As the plane thundered down the runway, my wife looked a question: “Can you believe this is happening?”

I smiled and shook my head from side to side.

Like all flights to Israel, this one lasted a long time, but it did not end until I filled out the Israeli visa entry forms. Under reason for visit, I wrote, “Aliyah.” Under planned departure date, I wrote, “None.”

As we approached Israel, we dropped through a storm. Our 4-year-old saw a rainbow. I held my wife’s hand.

When we crossed over the Tel Aviv coastline, I experienced a flurry of emotions, which were magnified by a sense that this return was final.

I felt a great, humbling appreciation that I was now doing what so many of my ancestors had wished to do for thousands of years. I thought of the millions of Jews who had prayed to God for the existence of a Jewish state in Israel. I was grateful for the sacrifices of the early Zionists, who took sand and mosquitoes and made milk and honey. I considered the multitudes of people, both in America and around the world, who have prayed and worked for Israel’s safety. I recalled all of our friends and family who wished us the absolute best. And, I understood that the thoughts, prayers, dreams and hopes of all those people, going back all those years, were with us, right at that moment, right at that single point in our lives. It was overwhelming.

When our plane landed, my wife and I said the “Shecheyanu” blessing, and thanked God for allowing us to reach this day.

As we entered the terminal, we were met by a smiling official from the Ministry of Interior, who was holding a big blue and white welcome sign, and a volunteer who had previously made aliyah from the United States.

At the airport office of the Ministry of Interior, the kids got candy, flags and pins, and the parents got a new-immigrant identity card called a Teudat Oleh. My cousins brought us not one, but two cakes welcoming us to Israel and drove us to our new home.

As we left the airport, some 26 hours after our day had begun, our boys tried to imitate Hebrew. They laughed as they babbled together: “Cha-cha-cha, cha-moosh, cha-cha-cha.”

They sounded just great.

Nathan D. Wirtschafter lives in Rehovot, Israel.

 

Fritter Away Your Time for Chanukah


 

We just returned from a trip to Italy, concentrating on the provinces of Puglia and Campania close to Naples. It is a region that we enjoy because of the diversity of the foods and wines available.

We visited several new places but returned to one of our favorites, La Caveja, a country restaurant with eight rooms, in the village of Pietravairano. It is owned by Antonietta Rotondo and Berardino Lombardo. They hosted us two years ago, when we had a remarkable experience that lasted past midnight, observing just-picked olives being crushed into olive oil.

However, since our last visit, they have remodeled their farmhouse into a wonderful villa. It is a bed and breakfast, and includes six additional rooms. In Italy, it is called an agri-turismo.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner that they cooked in their newly restored kitchen, and for dessert, Antonietta served us honey-glazed fritters fried in olive oil. She called them Scavatelle and said they were made from a traditional recipe that was handed down from her grandmother.

I couldn’t help but think how perfect these fritters fried in olive oil and dipped in a honey syrup would be to serve for our Chanukah celebration. She was happy to share the recipe with me, when I told her that I would like to serve them to our family.

This pastry is easy to make, and it is a project that you can share with your children or grandchildren. Baking helps teach children to follow directions, how to measure and weigh ingredients, tell time and other useful skills. So, let them help in the shaping and dipping of these delicacies.

The dough can be rolled out several hours in advance and covered with a dry towel. Fry and dip in the honey syrup just before serving, so they will be warm and crisp.

Remember, Chanukah begins at sundown on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Happy Chanukah!

Scavatelle (Fried Pastries)

Adapted by Judy Zeidler from Antonietta Rotondo at La Caveja.

Antonietta said that these pastries are traditionally served on a large lemon leaf.

1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons water

1 cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon olive oil

Peel from 1/2 of a lemon

1 tablespoon sugar

Pinch of salt

1 cup flour

Syrup

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon sugar

Peel of 1/2 a lemon

1 tablespoon water

Olive oil for frying

In a saucepan, place water, cinnamon stick, olive oil, lemon zest, sugar and salt. Boil for two or three minutes. Remove zest and cinnamon stick. Add flour all at once, and using a wooden spoon, mix until dough comes together. It will be lumpy.

Spoon dough onto a floured board, punch down and knead into a flat disk to remove lumps. Pull off pieces of dough and roll out into thin ropes.

Cut into 6-inch ropes and working with one rope, bring one end of rope around to form a loop, crossing over the other end (leaving 1/2-inch ends) and pinching to resemble a bow tie. Place on paper towels and cover with a dry dish towel.

In a saucepan, place honey, sugar, lemon peel and water. Mix well and simmer over low heat.

In a deep fryer or heavy saucepan, heat oil and fry pastries until browned. Dip in honey syrup and serve at once.

Makes about four dozen.

Antonietta Rotondo and Berardino Lombardo can be contacted at:
La Camere della Locando
La Stalla della Caveja
Via s.s. Annunziata
Pietravairano (ce), Italy
Telephone (0823) 984824, fax (0823) 982977.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999). Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.

 

Creative Chuppahs Are Labor of Love


Nancy and Kim Goldov wanted to personalize everything about their wedding. She sewed her own gown. He composed music for the ceremony. They both created a new last name to share: combining Stolov and Goldschmidt into Goldov. So it probably didn’t surprise anyone that the couple spent months crafting a one-of-a-kind chuppah to say their vows under.

“The rabbi used the image of weaving our lives together,” when he commented about the way Nancy and Kim carefully planned their creative wedding, with the help of friends and family. Nancy says they decided to make their own chuppah out of hand-dyed silk and handcrafted wood in part because they wanted to create a lasting memory.

“The wedding became a focus for all of our creative energy,” she explained.

They also were able to take such a creative approach to the chuppah because they had lots of time and friends who were craftspeople and willing to help with the woodworking and dying of the silk.

“It wasn’t a sudden wedding. It was a very planned wedding,” Nancy said. “It’s not something every couple could do or want to…. We kind of went overboard.”

But now, thanks to their hard work, Nancy and Kim also have a beautiful canopy over their bed. They can look up and see the magical “tree of life” with pomegranates, apples and figs. The tree surrounds a Star of David made from a piece of spallted maple wood found in a park. The four posts of the canopy are a delicate combination of several different kinds of wood.

Nancy says the chuppah cost a few hundred dollars to make, but is now considered a priceless family heirloom. She is having a quilt made for their bed that mimics the design of the tree. Someday she may change the chuppah in some way to signify their children.

One of the questions Nancy asked concerning her creative chuppah was whether it adhered to Jewish law concerning wedding ceremonies. According to The Jewish Catalog and Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s book, “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage” (Jonathan David, 1991) the chuppah is affected more by tradition than law.

Traditionally, the wedding ceremony took place under the stars as an omen that the marriage should be blessed with as many children as stars in heaven. To create a more intimate space for the ceremony, rabbis in the Middle Ages allowed the use of a chuppah, which symbolizes the groom’s home into which he invites the bride. It is required only for the seven blessings and only the bride and groom need to stand under it.

“It teaches that this simple, fragile room which is now common to both partners launches the marriage,” Lamm explained.

As with any wedding ceremony decision, it is best to discuss chuppah ideas with your rabbi before you start collecting materials and assembling the structure. Depending on whether the rabbi is Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative or Orthodox, he or she may have different ideas about what is required.

Some of the more common kinds of chuppahs involve a tapestry or tallit fastened to the top of four poles. The poles can be held by four friends or put in some kind of stand. Keep in mind the length of your ceremony before making a decision about whether to have people hold the poles. Some brides prefer to decorate the tapestry with flowers.

How elaborate a chuppah you choose also depends on how much time and energy you want to put into the project. A combination of creative energy and a little chutzpah helped Jenifer Thornton and her mother create a special chuppah for her wedding.

“I’m in a creative field and I knew that I didn’t want to just do the standard,” Jenifer said, adding that they researched whether they could rent a creative chuppah but found nothing to their liking.

“We just kind of thought, if it works out, great.” The only problem was — and this would be a big problem for many brides — they didn’t know what the chuppah was going to look like until an hour before the wedding. They couldn’t put it together in advance and then move to the location of the ceremony.

Jenifer and Philip Thornton’s chuppah consisted of plaster columns; adorned with lace netting, green plants, ivy and copper ribbon.

“It was beautiful and everyone loved it. The only thing I would change would be the lighting,” she said, indicating she would recommend backlighting the chuppah for a greater impact.

She says it wasn’t expensive, but warns that finding proper columns can be a challenge. Most replicas that can be rented are too light and easily toppled by sudden movement.

“It’s difficult to rent them,” she said. “They have to be heavy. You definitely don’t want them to fall over.”

She rented the columns from a friend who doesn’t usually loan them out.

Another approach to creating your own chuppah is to consult with an architect or a landscape designer. When Julie Israel got married about five years ago she was lucky enough to have an architectural designer right in the family, her mother, Linda Haugen.

The chuppah for Julie’s wedding to David Israel consisted of “marbleized” wooden columns and a trellis covered in ivy and flowers. The structurally dramatic chuppah fit in well with the architecture at Temple De Hirsch Sinai.

“It was a very dramatic and important structure and it added considerably to the whole ceremony,” she said.

Fitting the chuppah to the setting and the personalities of the bride and groom is very important, but perhaps the most critical aspect of the project is getting prepared to build it the night or morning before the wedding in just a few hours.

Her experience in architecture and the theater prepared Linda for the project.

“If someone wanted to have a chuppah like ours, they should turn to someone with our level of experience,” she said. “It would be difficult for the average person to do it. It really involves a lot of thought and coordination.”

When asked if such a structural chuppah could have a second life after the wedding, Linda said one could consider reconstructing it in their garden: “It’s your first house and that’s what’s so lovely about it.”

B’nai Mitzvah for the Young at Heart


Last February, a class of 17 retirees jumped at the chance to pursue a Jewish rite of passage bypassed in their youth by circumstance or cultural rigidity.

One student was 90; the youngest, 63. One is a Holocaust survivor; another uses a wheelchair. Since sessions commenced, one student died, another was stricken by cancer and a third dropped out after an extended vacation.

The 14 who persevered conducted an unusual joint b’nai mitzvah service on Aug. 14 at Laguna Woods’ Temple Judea, near the retirement community where they all reside. Proudly intending to wear their newly earned fringed trophies to High Holiday services this month, most anticipate experiencing the holiest days of the Jewish year with a new sense of entitlement. For others, their achievement yields a palpable connection to previous generations that eluded them over a lifetime

Entering synagogue used to feel like a foreign experience to Roslyn Fieland, 76, a lifelong New Yorker who moved to Leisure World five years ago.

“I felt I was in a place I didn’t belong, an immigrant,” she said. “Without a doubt, the holidays will be more meaningful. I’ll have much more understanding than I’ve ever had before. Now, I’m comfortable.”

Fieland’s formal Jewish education ended at age 9 when she and her sibling were expelled from religious school. She had grabbed a ruler from a teacher, who had slapped it across her brother’s face, still tender from surgery.

Her single mother arranged for a Hebrew tutor, but just for her brother.

“Girls didn’t matter,” Fieland said. She retained that meager schooling and ended up tutoring some classmates in the b’nai mitzvah class because of her ease relearning Hebrew.

“Here, I have a closeness to my religion I never felt before,” Fieland said.

After learning and rehearsing the proper delivery of transliterated Hebrew, the class was divvied up into foursomes that took turns at the pulpit, reciting their selection of the morning Sabbath service in unison. Laura Feigenbaum, 63, dutifully attends High Holiday services. But she expects to absorb a different spiritual pitch this time. She can picture herself at services draped with a hard-earned tallit.

“Now, I’ll feel like I’m a bigger part of it,” said Feigenbaum, who suggested the b’nai mitzvah class to the chair of Temple Judea’s religious committee, Ed Fleishman. The last b’nai mitzvah class at Judea — a multidenominational synagogue of 1,000 members, whose average age is 68 — was offered in 1995. Their instructors were congregants Rachel Jacobs and Jack Falit, the Torah reader at the synagogues’ Monday and Thursday minyans.

Feigenbaum, née Levitt, was raised in the Toronto home of her grandparents, whose level of observance included cutting toilet paper before Shabbat. As a child, she learned Yiddish in an after-school class. Although when Hebrew was introduced, she was banished. As an adult, she felt a similar sense of exclusion at the synagogues where her children were enrolled.

“I always felt like an outsider,” she said.
Her hunger for Jewish rituals began in Judea’s welcoming environment.

“When we came here,” she said, referring to her husband, Paul, “we were taken in like family.”

Faithfully rehearsing her prayer portion even while vacationing this summer in Europe, Feigenbaum said becoming a bat mitzvah intensified her Jewish identify and fulfilled an unrealized longing to belong.

“Now, I feel part of the religion,” she said. “I’m going to start Hebrew classes next. That’s the last link in the chain. I think we need it.”

Toby Weiner, 66, also never felt at home in synagogue.

“I felt like I didn’t belong because I didn’t understand,” said Weiner, who quit attending temple out of anger over the death of her husband, Harold, in 1986. Her own family was secular.

Thrilled at the opportunity to at last learn the sanctuary rituals, she is looking forward to the High Holidays with new pride in her own traditions.

“The reason we do rituals, I’m learning why and asking questions I never did before,” Weiner said.

The class’s only male member was Arthur Oaks, who dropped out of religious school at age 13, the same year his grandfather died. His mother thought continuing would be disrespectful to his grandfather’s memory. Growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia, Oaks recalls feeling he missed a milestone. As an adult, he’s been called to the Torah many times since.

“At age 76, I’m finally coming of age,” said Oaks, who read directly from the Torah during the b’nai mitzvah service, which is more traditional. “I never thought I would have the opportunity. When they announced the class, I jumped at the chance.”

Maryan Feingold, 90, suffered a stroke six months ago and was told she wouldn’t walk again. Defying the dire forecast, Feingold ascends the bimah with unsteady legs and pronged cane in hand. She said: “I’m taking the class to thank God I’m walking and talking again.”

Irvine Campus Set for Grand Opening


The Bermans and Michaels expect their daily routines and social lives will alter substantially mid-August because of membership in the county’s greatly expanded Jewish Community Center (JCC), relocated in Irvine.

"I’m looking forward to that sense of community, of running into people and they are not in their cars," said Jackie Michaels, of Irvine, whose family of six were JCC devotees elsewhere.

"It’s exciting for us to have everything so central to us," added Mark Berman, 37, of Newport Coast, whose first JCC experience was at the Costa Mesa facility’s preschool where his wife, Sharon, volunteered. Their third son is among 230 preschoolers who will be the first to swarm over the center’s pristine playgrounds and classrooms.

Four years after its genesis, the community building for the JCC and six other Jewish agencies officially opens Aug. 15. It is the centerpiece of the nearly $70 million Samueli Jewish campus, a symbol both of the community’s maturation and a hoped for renaissance of Jewish cultural life.

Met initially with skepticism by many of the community’s leaders, the project’s principal champion gradually won support for an envisioned Jewish neighborhood.

"That was my motivating factor," said Ralph Stern, of Tustin, who shouldered the task of raising the center’s $20 million tab, defining how it would run and reshaping its staff.

Since 2000, Stern, who runs a dental financing business, seized every business trip as a chance to scrutinize other JCCs. Such an undertaking didn’t faze the center’s president, either. Mary Ann Malkoff develops buildings for religious clients. (A tribute lunch for Malkoff is scheduled Sept. 12 as new JCC board members take office.)

The center’s catalyst was the constraints on growth at nearby Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. Its founder, Irving Gelman, coveted six adjacent acres for expansion. As the landowner refused to subdivide the parcel, industrialist Henry Samueli bought the adjoining 20 acres and an anonymous donor agreed to underwrite the upper-school expansion, a combined gift of $40 million.

"It’s the kind of opportunity you can’t let go by," Stern said.

Since he likens philanthropy to investing, Samueli said the community building is already a success. "It’s rallied so much support; the community has really stepped up. To contribute time and money, you know they all believe in it," he said.

A month of special events will follow to showcase the sort of services possible. A full fall programming catalog is to be distributed in August and most programs would start next month. Sampler programs include pilates, chamber music, a mitzvah camp, swim teams and a triathlon.

Also new is the hiring of Rabbi Rebecca Schorr as the center’s director of Jewish education, a move that initially raised territorial hackles by some pulpit rabbis. Allaying competitive concerns, Schorr said she’s focused on one-day adult education topics, preschool Judaica and serving as the staff’s pastoral counselor.

Despite higher annual fees that upset some members of the former Costa Mesa facility, more than 760 "units," comprised of singles or families, were committed as of mid-July. The tally includes 100 seniors, 40 of whom took advantage of scholarships, said Dan Bernstein, the center’s executive director.

Bernstein hoped for 500 members as of Aug. 1. His first year target is a 1,000-unit average, which he predicts will be reached by August 2005 as the roster ascends to 1,300 units.

"Nobody doesn’t come here and go ‘wow,’" said Bernstein, hired in December for his know-how opening a similar sized facility around an aging JCC in Sarasota, Fla.

With characteristic reserve, Stern is not yet popping celebratory corks.

"The feeling of exhilaration, I haven’t felt it yet," he said. Several loose ends remain, such as delivery of a $15,000 Holocaust monument. "When you have 25 of those details, there is still a lot of work to be done," he said.

Some gifts toward a $3 million endowment for the center’s overhead are still to be finalized, Stern said, though one significant piece recently fell into place. The former Jewish campus, a gift from Sandy and Allan Fainbarg and Ruth and Arnold Feurstein, was sold for $5 million to a developer. Proceeds will fund the center and the agencies’ transition costs, Stern said.

Even before the doors open, Michaels can anticipate a sense of entitlement: "It’s a place where you know you belong."

Commitment’s Price


These days, many women complain about the epidemic of males who run in terror from the thought of a committed relationship.

But there are plenty of guys out there who are eager to commit. I know, since I just found one.

Like many people searching for love, I found Ken through an online matchmaking service. As soon as I clicked on his profile and photo, I knew that any guy with a face that honest and eyes that sincere wouldn’t steer me wrong.

After a bit of research, I had it on good authority that Ken didn’t smoke, drink, bet the mortgage at the racetrack or chase women. He didn’t care if a woman looked like Jennifer Lopez or Kathy Bates. He was just a sincere guy looking for a little honest love in his life.

There was only one thorny issue: What would my husband say about all this?

Clandestinely, I offered to meet Ken. We took a walk around the neighborhood and hit it off. I invited him home to meet the family, but warned him that my husband might not go for this arrangement.

I realized that Ken’s manners could appear a little crude and urged him to be on his best behavior. Yet despite my admonitions, Ken behaved badly during his trial run with the family. It did not help that one of his first acts as a guest in our home was to appear in the living room, chewing on a pair of underwear that he had lifted from the laundry.

“He’s just nervous,” I said, trying to excuse the inexcusable. “Besides, he’s an orphan. It’s not his fault that he didn’t have anyone to teach him the finer points of social etiquette.”

“Next thing you know, he’ll be chewing up the furniture,” my husband said. “Let’s send him back.”

“No!” the children shouted in unison.

This was the only thing they had all agreed on since the night I suggested they eat Corn Pops for dinner. They thought Ken’s manners were charming, probably because he made their own behavior look classy in comparison.

We overruled my husband, but our victory came at a price. As Ken began to feel more comfortable, he revealed a kinkiness that I would never have imagined.

He lapped water from the toilet, filched snacks from the garbage, including things too repulsive to mention, and jumped on the kitchen table when our backs were turned and ate all the cheese off our just-delivered pizza. These boorish behaviors made a black mark on Ken’s record.

“I’m sure he’ll learn to behave eventually,” I said, doubting whether this was really true.

Ken may have been cute, but based on what we could glean of his intelligence, he was unlikely to ever qualify as a Fullbright scholar. One day, I came home to find that my husband’s prediction had come true: Ken had tunneled through one of the living room couches, his face still full of couch stuffing. I wondered: Could this relationship be saved?

Reprimands did no good. If we shouted, “Ken, drop that calzone, right now!” or “No making woo woo in the shoe!” he seemed genuinely contrite, if not a little confused. His expression seemed to ask, “Did you think I’d sit here reading the Wall Street Journal? I’m just a beagle, for God’s sake!”

This explains why for years I flatly refused my kids’ pleadings to acquire a canine companion. I envisioned cleaning up messes throughout the house, pitching good shoes into the trash that the puppy had chewed and trying to stop his insane barking at the mailman.

Essentially, I envisioned the very life I am living now. We’ve had fish and turtles and still have a hamster that has enjoyed surprising longevity, given our previous adventures in pet ownership. However, I fear that one day soon we will arrive home to discover the hamster has died of a heart attack while running on his wheel, terrorized by our new puppy, who thinks the rodent is lunch.

Under the force of my kids’ grinding, incessant pleas (a specialty of the house), I buckled. In a moment of insanity, I agreed to hunt with my youngest son on the Internet, clicking on dozens of doggie profiles. We immediately had to dismiss several inappropriate candidates.

“Hairball came to us with a bit of an attitude problem, but with a lot of work, he’s sure to become a reasonably lovable companion,” was one honest description of a terrier. Just what I needed: another personality with attitude.

One handsome lab came with this caveat, “Shaquille is recovering from a mastectomy and is fearful of children. Takes antidepressants daily. Would do best in a quiet, adult-only home.”

Most of these darling doggies were not destined for our family, including a skateboard-riding Lhasa Apso that nipped at young children; Leroy and Estelle, a pair of yappy Chihuahuas that had to be placed together or they would commit suicide, and an aged rottweiler named Boo recovering from a broken leg. All things considered, Ken seemed the best of the bunch.

True, since he joined the family we are down by one couch, three shoes, two pizzas and an unquantifiable pair of socks and underwear.

But at least he wasn’t afraid to commit.


Judy Gruen writes the popular “Off My Noodle” humor column, available on her
Web site, www.judygruen.com. She is also
a columnist for Religion News Service.

Seattle Reform Camp Gets L.A. Support


Reform Jewish parents from the Pacific Northwest who are not willing to put their children on an airplane or drive 15 hours to California so they can go to camp will have an alternative by summer 2005, thanks to the generosity of a Los Angeles family.

The Kalsman-Levy family has donated $5 million to the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) to buy the property for a new camp in Washington state. Camp Kalsman, named for grandparents Lee and Irving “Red” Kalsman, will become the movement’s 13th camp in North America.

Mark Levy, who along with wife, Peachy, donated the money to buy the camp, says the idea of helping build a new camp in the Pacific Northwest was very appealing to the family.

“As we grew more and more involved in Jewish life, we become convinced that the most important things to keep Jewish kids involved in a Jewish life are Jewish camps and trips to Israel,” Levy said. Their children and all their grandchildren, including one family living near Seattle, have been to Jewish summer camp when they were old enough and Levy adds that Peachy’s parents were also sold on the importance of Jewish camping.

Irving Kalsman and Levy were both real estate developers and Peachy Levy is a Jewish textile artist. The family has made numerous generous gifts to Jewish causes, including a naming gift for the new UCLA Hillel, and a $3 million gift to establish the Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health under the auspices of the Union for Reform Judaism. The institute operates on Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Los Angeles campus.

More than 10 years ago, the family set up the Levy Youth Fund to distribute hundreds of scholarships to enable teenagers to participate in youth conclave weekends, summer camp and high school programs in Israel. The family also has set up a program to enable teens with various physical challenges — mobility and visual impairments as well as autism and other disabilities — to enjoy summer camp at one of the union camps. At last fall’s annual meeting of the URJ in Minneapolis, Mark and Peachy Levy were awarded one of the movements highest honors, the Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award for work in service to the Reform movement.

Levy said he knew the movement was hoping to build two new camps in the near future. They were attracted to help build the camp near Seattle because they have a number of connections to the Pacific Northwest, including their daughter, Janet Levy Pauli, who lives with her family on Bainbridge Island and is involved in both the Bainbridge Reform synagogue, Congregation Kol Shalom, and a Conservative shul in Seattle, Congregation Beth Shalom.

Pauli, who grew up in Los Angeles but has lived in Washington for 25 years, has not put her kids on a plane to attend camp in California. Both her boys have attended the Conservative movement camp near Olympia, Wash., Camp Solomon Schechter, but her family has participated in Reform family camps both in California and Washington.

She is looking forward to having a new place for both kids and families to go to camp in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s exciting because I so believe in camp. That’s something that has been passed on to me and my generation and I’ve passed it on to my kids,” Pauli said, adding that she also enjoyed hearing at the Reform biennial in Minnesota last fall how excited Jews from Alaska were to have a camp a few states closer to them.

For 10 years, Rabbi David Fine, URJ regional director, and others have been pushing for a new Reform camp in the Pacific Northwest. During that decade, the region has grown from 20 to 33 congregations, with two more due to affiliate within the next year. The number of children and families interested in Reform Jewish camping has grown along with the congregations, Fine says, noting that two Seattle synagogues run their own 10- or 11-day summer camps and 200 people attend a Seattle family camp outside of the city every Labor Day weekend.

“Eric Yoffe, president of the URJ, has expressed a desire for increased camping beds,” Fine said. “Camp is where our young leaders are nurtured and grown. The majority of rabbinical, educator, cantorial and communal service workers grew up in the camping movements.”

The URJ runs 12 camps across the country, including two in Northern California, which attract some young people from Washington, Oregon, Montana and Alaska. Fine said he looked at 35 properties over the past three years before a bankruptcy sale made the beautiful and spacious Love Israel property a bargain the movement could not refuse.

The new camp will be about 60 miles northeast of Seattle, between the towns of Arlington and Granite Falls in Snohomish County, on the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains. There’s a natural lake on the property and it’s less than a mile from a river.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s a wonderful place for reflection,” Fine said. Surrounded mostly by farms and government property, the camp will also be a great place for kids to make noise and have fun during the summer.

Pauli is the only member of the Kalsman-Levy family to have seen the new camp property and gives the site rave reviews.

“It is just spectacular. The group that’s been there — the Love Israel — people have clearly loved the property, their gardens, the fruit trees, the grape arbors,” she said. “When I left I had this feeling not in the people that I met, but in the physicality of it, that the property was kibbutz-like.”

The URJ paid $4.2 million for the 300-acre property as part of Love Israel’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan to pay off a $5.2 million debt. The alternative Christian community, called a cult or commune by some, has nothing to do with the Jewish state or the Jewish people, but rather is a different way of saying the phrase, “love is real,” which is the group’s founding vision. Their beliefs are tied to the 1960s counterculture and the Bible.

The leader of the Love Israel family, who is also called Love Israel, was the only person willing to say anything amusing about the coincidence of the organization’s name and the new owners of the property. When asked by a local newspaper, The Everett Herald, where the group would be going when they left their bucolic Arlington, Wash., ranch after living there for 20 years, he replied, “It’ll be an orderly retreat, an exodus, leaving Egypt for the country. I’ve been able to live in a park. Now I’ve got to park myself somewhere else.”

Rabbi A. James Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, wrote in a Jan. 2 column distributed the by Religion News Service that there is nothing very amusing about the Love Israel family. He calls the group a cult and describes them as a “bizarre combination of Christian beliefs and New Age ideology, with a charismatic, dictatorial leader.” He expressed his pleasure that the beautiful camp property would now come under the stewardship of the real “Children of Israel.”


Donna Gordon Blankinship is a free-lance writer living in Seattle.

Passover Show Honors Oppressed


“The boy never spoke to anyone about why he didn’t want to go home after school….

Slowly his anger became his new best friend.

He started to beat up on girls, kill chickens, steal bikes and clothes.

He would sneak into people’s homes just to destroy them.” –Daniel Cacho

Until he discovered poetry while he was in juvie for gun posession, Daniel Cacho felt enslaved by severe childhood abuse.

When he recites his searing work at the theater event “Doikayt: A Los Angeles Passover” on April 1, he’ll recall how an uncle molested him and hung him from trees in his native Belize.

The abused Cacho felt worthless and powerless, even after he joined his mother in Los Angeles at age 15: He packed guns and courted danger, and landed himself in the juvenile detention center a few times.

It was there that the teenager chanced to attend a DreamYard/L.A. writing class three years ago.

“Poetry allowed me to take my power back,” said Cacho, 22, who now teaches DreamYard workshops. “It’s been my freedom song.”

Overcoming oppression, both internal and external, will be the focus when Cacho and 20 other artists perform at Doikayt, produced by the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and AVADA, a Yiddishkayt Los Angeles project to engage people under 35.

Passover, the holiday of redemption, celebrates many different types of freedom. “Through theater, poetry and music, we’ll recontextualize Passover’s themes of slavery and liberation within the framework of Los Angeles,” said Tali Pressman, AVADA’s founder and a PJA spokesperson.

The event’s title, “Doikayt,” refers to the philosophy espoused by Yiddish-speaking Jews who established unions while toiling in sweatshops a century ago. “It means ‘here-ness,’ or being present, as in fighting for social justice and making life better for everyone right where you live,” Yiddishkayt’s Aaron Paley said.

For “Doikayt,” Paley and Pressman selected performers who are doing such work here and now. Phranc, the self-described “Jewish lesbian folk singer,” will perform heart-wrenching Yiddish songs that could describe sweatshop conditions today in Los Angeles; soprano Gwen Wyatt will sing African American spirituals, many of which use imagery from the biblical Exodus (think “Go Down, Moses”); the Yuval Ron Quartet will gather Jewish and Arab musicians to perform a fusion of Bedouin, Sephardic and other music; and Marisela Norte will read from her play, “Scenes From the Dining Room,” which explores questions of power and powerlessness raised by her waitressing experiences.

“You are the server, so people talk to you in a certain way,” said Norte, 48, a prominent East Los Angeles writer. “I’ve had people snap their fingers at me, pull on my clothes, speak slowly because they don’t think I speak English. Or they’ll say, ‘Wow, you don’t even have an accent,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Yes, I was born here.'”

Norte — whose Mexican forbears include one Jewish grandmother — said her play’s narrator is the fictional restaurant’s dishwasher, an undocumented worker, “the invisible man.”

“I like my work to give voice to the voiceless,” she said.

Nobuko Miyamoto, 64, shares a similar goal; for “Doikayt,” she’ll perform her poignant song, “Gaman,” (“To Endure” in Japanese), written around 1990 during the call for reparations for Japanese Americans interred during World War II.

The poised, soft-spoken Miyamoto was just a baby when her family was ordered to report to the holding camp at Santa Anita racetrack in the early 1940s. “Ganan” draws on her vague memories, such as being carried on her uncle’s shoulders to mess hall and her allergic response to sleeping on hay in a horse stall: “I was covered in eczema from head to foot,” she said.

Miyamoto and her mother were the only women at the Montana beet farm where her father was eventually sent as a slave laborer. Her family’s experience, and that of other Japanese Americans, ultimately helped prompt her to found Great Leap, an organization that uses the arts to promote understanding between diverse groups. Thus Doikayt is her kind of event: “It’s important to find these kinds of opportunities to identify with each others’ culture,” she said.

Paley believes that Passover is perfect timing for such an endeavor. “The holiday has universal themes of slavery and liberation,” he said. “It’s a reminder that we can never be completely free until everyone is free.”

As the intense Cacho says in his poem, “Lost & Found,” “Until I weep for 9-11, mourn for Vietnam and breathe for Iraq, I’ll be trapped in this human maze, chased by time, searching for a rhyme to lead me back home.”

The event takes place April 1, 9 p.m., at The Echo, 1822Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. A dance party with the band, the Alef Project, willfollow the performance. $20. For tickets or information, call (323) 692-8151 orvisit www.avadaproject.org .

Israeli Movies Break in With Self-Criticism


The news that three Israeli movies are about to open at local commercial theaters may not shake the foundations of Hollywood, but for the small Israeli film industry, it’s a big breakthrough.

For years, Israeli producers have been trying to show their wares to American audiences, beyond the limited Jewish film festivals. With few exceptions, American distributors, the crucial middlemen, have not been willing to risk their time and money on Hebrew-language pictures.

Distributors usually cite the alleged American public aversion to subtitled movies and, truth be told, the production values and storylines of most Israeli films haven’t been all that great.

The opening of “Broken Wings” on March 12, “James’ Journey to Jerusalem” on March 26 and “Alila” in April may not yet herald a new era, but surely it is an encouraging sign for the younger Israeli directors coming to the fore.

One aspect is common to all three films. They focus on family, neighborhood or domestic social problems, with only the most tangential references to terrorism, suicide bombers and other events that define the image of Israel for most of the world. The films are also, at least in Diaspora eyes, unsparing in the criticism of their own society.

“Broken Wings,” which won awards at international festivals in Berlin, Tokyo and Jerusalem, is being released by the prestigious Sony Pictures Classics.

A first feature by 34-year-old director-writer Nir Bergman, it chronicles the dissentions and, ultimately, loves of the Ullman family of Haifa, whose father died recently after a prosaic bee sting.

The tragedy leaves it up to the 43-year-old mother Dafna, superbly played by Orli Zilbershatz-Banai, to keep her family afloat by working nightshifts as a hospital midwife. During the day, she deals with her two teenagers and two younger kids, who have all been traumatized, in one way or the other, by the father’s death.

Much of the responsibility for looking after her siblings falls on 17-year-old Maya, who is torn between a budding career as a singer-composer and her unwelcome home duties.

Frequently agonizing, in the end the film finds the family healing and coming together.

“James’ Journey to Jerusalem,” which might be subtitled “An Innocent Abroad” or “Candide Meets the Israelis,” is likely to be enjoyed most by American audiences.

The title character is a young black from a remote and devoutly Christian village in Africa, who is chosen by his tribe to journey to the heavenly Jerusalem of the Bible and report back on the wonders he has seen.

Starry-eyed and wild-haired, James arrives in the Holy Land only to be clapped into jail as an illegal immigrant. He is bailed out by the boss of a house-cleaning service for wealthy Tel Avivians, but as a fast learner, James quickly organizes his fellow Africans into his own service crew.

Despite the film’s humor, Diaspora Jews are bound to wince as James makes his way in an Israel where everybody cheats a little and the greatest fear is to be played for a frayer, or sucker.

“Alila” is by veteran filmmaker Amos Gitai, who has been getting under the skin of his countrymen for 20 years with movies that dissect their warts, prejudices and insecurities.

Set in a shabby apartment building in a rundown Tel Aviv neighborhood, “Alila” is populated by a dozen characters who battle each other and their surroundings for survival and a small share of happiness.

As Israelis of many backgrounds, they fight and stick their noses in each other’s businesses, but when the chips are down they come together and lend a hand.

Why are Israeli films beginning to enjoy greater exposure in the United States? Why do they seem to focus on personal problems, in contrast to such recent political Palestinian movies as “Divine Intervention” or “Rana’s Wedding,” which deal, quite cleverly, with life under the occupation?

We put the question to director Bergman of “Broken Wings,” during his visit to Los Angeles last week; Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, the young director of “James’ Journey”; and Dan Fainaru, a veteran Israeli movie critic and editor of the magazine Cinematech.

Bergman believes that Israeli films are getting better, thanks largely to directors who trained in Israel’s many university film schools and who cut their teeth on television productions.

A second factor is money. Practically all Israeli producers draw their budgets from national, municipal or private support funds, and despite the harsh economic conditions, the subsidies have been going up.

As a result, more feature films are being made — close to 20 this year compared to half that number a few years back — increasing the chances that a few will be first rate.

The second question, on the personal focus of Israeli films, is harder to answer.

“In the 1980s, we had a lot of movies on Jewish-Arab relations, usually from a left liberal perspective, and Israeli audiences stayed away,” Fainaru said.

“We see news about terrorism and politics on television every hour on the hour, while our documentaries deal with the same subjects,” he added. “We don’t need any more of that when we pay a babysitter to go to the movie theaters.”

When Israelis really want to get away from it all for two hours, they go to see foreign films, overwhelmingly American, which account for a staggering 95 percent of attendance and box-office receipts, Fainaru said.

Alexandrowicz doesn’t think that Israeli pictures are too self-critical. “It’s my country and I love it,” he said. “But I think it’s healthy to put a mirror in front of your own society.”

Bergman defends his own focus on family life. “Since Rabin’s assassination, Israel has become a different country,” he said. “Now every family is a country of its own.”

From a Los Angeles perspective, Paul Fagen, the chief programmer for the upcoming Israel Film Festival, sees a quality improvement in the pictures he is checking out now.

“There have been a few lean years,” Fagen said. “But now the stories are more universally human and we have a very strong lineup.”

“Broken Wings” opens March 12 at Laemmle’s Music Hall inBeverly Hills and the Town Center in Encino. “James’ Journey to Jerusalem” opensMarch 26 at the same venues and the Playhouse in Pasadena. The exact April dateand location for “Alila” will be announced soon. For more information, visit www.laemmle.com .

Mizrachi Options to Liven the New Year


While apples and honey are de rigueur among Ashkenazim for celebrating the New Year, Middle Easterners turn to the more exotic, like dates, quinces or pomegranates during the High Holidays. So if you’re looking for some unique recipes this High Holiday season, you might want to turn to Faye Levy’s latest cookbook, "Feast from the Mideast: 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes from the Lands of the Bible" (HarperCollins, $29.95).

Levy lived in Israel for nearly 12 years, where she met and married her husband, Yakir. A cooking novice until her mother-in-law took her in hand, she soon developed a love for the varied, bold flavors of her adopted home. She went on to train at the renowned La Varenne in Paris and to produce more than 20 cookbooks and writes with authority and passion on the cuisine of the Middle East.

"It is amazing how all these people who can’t get along eat the same things," observed Levy, whose cookbook highlights cuisines of over ten countries.

"Eating together and discussing food and recipes is a great way to bring people closer," Levy continues. "Arabs and Jews share a lot of the same food. The Islamic rules of halal are similar to our laws of kashrut. We both don’t eat pork. Arabs do eat shellfish, and they don’t have a problem mixing milk and meat, but they hardly ever do it.

While the book explores the foods of all faiths and nationalities of the region, so many of the dishes are perfect for Rosh Hashanah because of the Middle Eastern fondness for incorporating local fruits, a perfect way to wish guests a sweet New Year.

"Sephardic Jews begin the Rosh Hashanah meal with dates, just as we do with apples and honey," Levy noted. "And in Greece, Turkey and Morocco, all around the Mediterranean really, quinces are really important for Rosh Hashanah. Moroccan Jews do dip apples in honey, then dip them in sesame seeds, symbolizing our wish that our people be numerous. Pomegranate seeds are traditional for the same reason."

Chicken in Pomegranate Walnut Sauce, a classic dish of the Persian kitchen, is appropriate for the holiday, Levy said.

"Pomegranate juice and paste are available in Middle Eastern and gourmet markets, because a lot of American chefs, like Bobby Flay, have suddenly become very excited about them. It has become trendy," she said.

If you can’t find either, Levy advises using pomegranate juice, now readily available in supermarkets, and adding less water.

Traditional holiday foods vary from country to country and from family to family. Some people avoid sour tastes for the holiday, like lemons and vinegar.

Persians, however, favor tart over sweet and love a splash of lemon juice on many dishes, Levy noted.

"In fact, I have a friend from northern Iran who says that the pomegranate paste available in this country is too sweet, so he asks his relatives from Iran to bring some from home when they visit." Some people avoid black ingredients for the New Year, so they use golden raisins instead of dark and do not serve eggplant. Since the word for leeks in Hebrew means "destroyed," many serve leeks to convey the wish that our enemies be destroyed.

Some people will not eat walnuts, but will use almonds; others eliminate nuts altogether.

"In our family we always have rice with toasted almonds and dried fruit for Rosh Hashanah," Levy said. "Middle Eastern cooks have so many delicious ways to do rice, and some, like Almond Apricot Basmati Rice, are so good you could consider them a dessert, a side dish or a main course.

"Sweetness for Rosh Hashanah is more of an Ashkenazi thing," she said, "though certain Middle Eastern Jews do it, too. Moroccans often serve vegetables sprinkled with sugar, but sometimes instead of making food sweeter, they might just tone down the spiciness."

For example, fish is traditional for Rosh Hashanah, particularly served with the head.

Moroccans might make Foil Baked Trout with Red Pepper and Garlic, but omit the jalapeño and lemon for Rosh Hashanah.

"It really depends on your family’s tradition," Levy said.

For Ashkenazim, Rosh Hashanah would not be complete without honey cake, but Sephardim of the Mediterranean may choose Citrus and Spice Quinces with Cranberries or Date Pinwheel Cookies. Honey isn’t found necessarily in desserts in the Middle East, Levy said, though some might use it as syrup on cake. Fruit with Honey, Figs and Dates will appeal to both camps as a sweet ending to the Rosh Hashanah dinner.

"It’s perfect for the season and really easy. And it goes well as a topping for traditional honey cake, too."

Dja’jeh b’Ah’sal (Chicken With Prunes and Honey)

Sauce:

2 cups pitted prunes, soaked in 1 cup cold water for 15 minutes

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Chicken:

5 to 5-1/2 pounds chicken pieces (white and dark meat), skinned

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onions

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Three 3-inch-long cinnamon sticks

2 cups cold water

Prepare the sauce. Place the prunes and soaking water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the honey and cinnamon. Mix well and simmer until the prunes absorb some water and soften (they should be soft yet retain most of their shape), about five more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Prepare the chicken. Rinse the chicken under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Place on a plate.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook the onions, stirring, until golden and soft, three to four minutes. Add the chicken pieces and brown, cooking for two to three minutes on each side. Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon sticks and water, stir well, and bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for one hour.

Uncover the skillet and cook until some of the excess liquid cooks off and the sauce has thickened to a gravy-like texture, an additional 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve on large platter, garnished with one cup blanched whole almonds, toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden.

Ka’ikeh b’Ah’sal (Honey Cake With Sesame Glaze Cake)

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)

2/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Glaze:

2/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon tahini

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare the cake. Combine the beaten eggs, tahini, honey and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth.

In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add to the wet mixture and mix well.

Pour the batter into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan or 9-inch Springform pan and bake until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 25-35 minutes.

When the cake is ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 45 minutes. With a knife, loosen the edges of the cake. Place a large plate on top of the cake pan and flip the pan upside down.

Prepare the glaze. Combine the honey and tahini in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until blended to a smooth consistency, four to five minutes. Add the sesame seeds and mix well. Remove from the heat and immediately pour the hot glaze over the top of the cake, allowing the glaze to soak in. Let cool for 30 minutes.

Cut into diamond shapes about two inches long and one inch wide and serve at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Faye Levy will be signing "Feast from the Mideast" at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles on Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.

For more information or to R.S.V.P., call (323) 761-8648.

Judy Bart Kancigor, author of “Melting Pot Memories,”
can be found on the Web at

The Circuit


Family Man

“There are three major religions and they all say the same thing: ‘You honor others and you will have others honor just as you do.'”

So sayeth Spartacus himself — Kirk Douglas — during a one-on-one discussion with Rabbi David Wolpe following a benefit screening on April 9 at Sinai Temple of his latest film, “It Runs in the Family.”

Douglas, 87, has played in more than 80 movies. Of those, Douglas said he liked only 22, and among them he ranked David Miller’s 1962 drama, “Lonely Are the Brave,” as his best.

“It Runs in the Family” — the story of three generations of a dysfunctional New York family coming together — signals several firsts: Douglas got to co-star opposite his son, Michael Douglas, and grandson, Cameron, 14, appearing in his first acting role. Douglas also got the opportunity to act once again with his ex-wife, Diana Douglas.

“It was very easy to play with Michael. Michael is a very good actor,” said proud papa Douglas, who also called Cameron “a natural talent.”

Actingwise, Douglas has led a charmed life, working with such legendary directors as Billy Wilder and Stanley Kubrick. His life off screen, however, has been marred by tragedy that has fueled his recent gravitation toward his Jewish faith. With Wolpe, he openly discussed his love of Torah, surviving a helicopter crash and a stroke, and the subsequent memoir, “Stroke of Luck,” those experiences informed.

“I think I am very lucky,” Douglas said. “In the helicopter crash, two young people were killed and I survived. I said to myself, ‘Why am I alive?’ Then my stroke happened, but I survived. I think that the most important thing that has happened to me is what my mother and my father did to come from Russia to America and give me the chance to do something. I am grateful for what they did.”

So grateful, Douglas named his production company after his mother, Brina.

“I was born in poverty,” Douglas said. “We did not have enough to eat; my parents were peasants from Russia. My son, Michael, was born in a much better situation. Now my grandson is in a much, much better situation.”

Douglas even weighed in on politics, noting that he did not vote for President Bush, but admitting that he supported the war effort.

“I think people already have forgotten Sept. 11,” Douglas said, “when we were attacked and 3,000 people were killed. America is the only superpower. It must make it happen to get rid of terrorism. And I think this war has only been the start of it.”

Overall, he said, making “It Runs in the Family” was a positive, bonding experience for the Douglas clan.

“I was very pleased to make the movie,” Douglas said, “because with all that is happening in the world today, with our troops far off, and while we waited for them to come back to their families, I thought it was very appropriate to make a movie about family, about the love that there is within a family and to show how important it is.” — Mojdeh Sionit, Contributing Writer

Building in the ‘Bu

The Malibu Jewish Center, which offers religious schooling, adult education and other services at the affluent beachside community, honored Jack Friedman for his support of the center at its 23rd annual Hard Hat Ball at the Hotel Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica on May 4. Friedman has been instrumental in helping the trailer-based center, which has never had its own permanent temple or offices, build a new temple, currently in progress.

His and Hearse Drawing Praise

David Rose, veteran illustrator and media graphic artist with numerous one-man shows on his resume, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles. Rose was cited for “outstanding contributions to the graphic arts and print media of the world, and in exemplifying the highest tradition of excellence in his field.” — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Broadcast News

Jewish Television Network (JTN) appointed Jayne Braiman Rothblatt as its new vice president of development. Rothblatt recently served as director of development and public relations for Vista del Mar Child and Family Services. At Vista del Mar, Rothblatt was responsible for the $2 million annual appeal. JTN was founded in 1981 as an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit production and distribution company — the only producer of Jewish television in the United States.

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