The unlikely candidate


I’ve always admired investment banker/doctor/accountant/lawyer/teacher/artist-types those who’d set their paths out early on and pursued their objectives outright
I, on the other hand, have had a seemingly somewhat … unexpected career path.

Since graduating college (with an English degree) I’ve changed jobs on average every two years. I’ve worked in media, nonprofit, consulting and even finance. I’ve considered an MBA, an MSW, the LSATs; I’ve been a junior this, a senior that, a teammate, a leader, a student, a freelancer, a mentor, a consultant and a peon. I’ve bookmarked mediabistro.com and hotjobs.com, and my resume is typically updated.

And at each point that I’ve begun a new job — and new job search — I grieve, I deny, I regret, I celebrate, I cling and, eventually, I let go. Then, I chalk it up to life experience.

The process is at once thrilling as it is exhausting. It’s also strangely familiar.

See, my love life has followed a somewhat parallel track.

By the time I started dating, most of my peers were also already well into their relationships. So while they were eventually settling down, I was first learning how to be a girlfriend.

I’ve been exploring my opportunities ever since.

Problem is: Unlike prepping for eventual retirement, at some point, we stop being too green.

Sometimes — like when I’m juggling too many half-committed plans, and I really just want to go home — I’ll reflect on some peers, and I’ll envy their peace of mind and seeming satisfaction.

It’s never been intentional, but I’ve dated assorted beaus for weeks, months even years. I’ve had heartbreaks and have broken hearts. I could go months alone or date constantly; I’d stay focused for periods, but experience life’s inevitable blips, followed by the required recovery period.

To me, mere satisfaction — in job or life — has always meant stagnancy. But, as we all know, the interview process is exhausting. Besides being on your best behavior, you’re subject to constant judgment. Confidence is imperative, and things are often not as they seem.

Plus, while what’s up-front might rock your world, it may be only part of what you’re seeking; a person may seem ideal, but the timing isn’t right; you might be willing to “compromise” (or sacrifice) some characteristics but not others. You may, simply, not be in love.
And so on.

“Mere” satisfaction seems increasingly appealing.

But I wonder if and when the interviews will really end?

True, most candidates eventually land some kind of job. They’re typically imperfect, but some just enjoy the steady income/benefits until something better comes along; others will be satisfied — awaiting vesting and plaques and anniversaries. Many do it for their family. For some candidates, the search concluded years ago. For others, it lasts years.

And the more baby announcements I get, the more I’m reminded that I’m still in the early rounds. For now, my family still consists of … myself.

I’ll admit that as I get older, spending weekends in Home Depot and on play-dates seems less appealing. But that’s not to say that spending my time arranging my own play-dates (and writing these articles) are my end-goals.

I still go home not to change diapers, but rather to obsess about my too many plans for the week. I can be lazy or hyper. I can date or be single. I can grab last minute drinks or hit the gym. It’s my choice.
With this admirable freedom, however, come shackles of the unknown — from which I may never break free.

Yes, each of my breakups has engendered more self-sufficiency and direction. It’s also made me increasingly both selective and open-minded. I can more easily identify what I do and don’t want and remain willing to explore.

A few years ago — after over-working as an underling, I took a position with more reasonable hours. I soon outgrew my position, but the job market bubble had burst. I started stressing about wasting my time, wanting to know exactly where I’d be in five years.

At some point I, too, would like to know the joys of marital spats and family vacations. I’d like to experience why people get wedding-obsessed. I want to use my vacation days for a vacation with someone special.

More than ever, I envied my directed peers.

I wanted a life-plan.

Ultimately, I followed my heart, using my spare time to pursue my hobbies, volunteer and write. I also had my longest relationship to-date.

And when we broke up, I found a job I finally adored, but not before considering moving abroad, joining four sports leagues and tearing a ligament.

Alas, seems to me, my life plan is not having one.

From a romantic standpoint, I have opportune experiences that inspire and educate.

But the blips all too often throw off even my unplanned plan. (Luckily, details like this don’t typically show up on resumes.)

So years after my first peon job, and at the wings of an overwhelming yet rewarding new one, I am finally perfectly more-than-merely satisfied.

Sure, I wake up earlier than I’d like, but I get to travel and love what I do. Plus, I finally have my very own office.

The notion of a long-term stint is both thrilling and unnerving, and it’s hard to say whether this will be the last place I’ll ever work.
But while I’m fairly certain I’ll always go for the brass ring; it’s the platinum one I’m really waiting to be sure about.

D. Lehon is a freelance writer living in New York City. She can be reached at dlehon@yahoo.com.

Wanted: 20-something year-old JJ seeks SJF or SJM (20s-120s) for romantic, funny or poignant columns about finding -- and losing -- love in L.A. and environs. Open to all ages and interests. If you can wow me with your story, insight and writing, send your column (850 words), name and contact info to singles@jewishjournal.com; put SINGLES in subject line. No Phone Calls Please.

Tribe


Cheating: The dreaded problem that faces every school across America — and not just the obvious sneak-a-peak-at-your-neighbor’s-quiz cheating. With thousands of essays, articles and book summaries at their fingertips, American students have discovered the Internet, expanding the opportunities both to cheat and plagiarize.

According to a survey by the National Educational Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey, 75 percent of 45,000 students surveyed partake in “serious cheating.” Many rationalize cheating by considering it something that competition forces them to do, and don’t even give their actions a second thought.

But cheating can quickly progress from bad choice to bad habit to addiction. If students become accustomed to dishonesty at a young age, what’s to prevent them from becoming dishonest adults? Although you may intend to only “semi-cheat” one time, each time you cheat it becomes a little easier, and the boundaries you once would not cross become a little more blurred.

Yet high school students today feel so much pressure to succeed that they aren’t even uniformly convinced that cheating is wrong.

“I know that a lot of people at my school copy other people’s homework when they don’t have time to do it — people now think that’s OK,” said Olivia Coffey, a senior at Marlborough School, a private girls school in Hancock Park.

Students “have so much stress and work that they are constantly overwhelmed, and feel that if they don’t do well on everything — which is most of the time impossible — then they’ll die,” Coffey said, echoing thoughts expressed by students at both private and public schools.

“It’s quite common around here, because it is common for all teenagers,” said Beverly Hills High School Senior Lisa Gross.

When students look around them and see other students doing well by plagiarizing off the Internet, or using work of students from previous years, they are encouraged to do the same — especially when that is the message they are getting from the wider society.

“I think students cheat because they learn from their mentors that cheating works and gets you ahead in life,” asserted Roni Cohen, a senior at Shalhevet School, a centrist Orthodox high school in Los Angeles. “Take sports for example. Steroids are being used by top athletes, and some of them are getting away with it.”

There also is not agreement as to what constitutes cheating.

Most people would agree that using an essay found on the Internet is a form of plagiarism, whether it is purchased from a Web site or lifted from, say, an encyclopedia site.

But what about using study guides?

Shalhevet sophomore Gaby Grossman thinks that using an Internet service like Sparknotes as “an outlet to review” is not cheating.

“If an author has a difficult-to-understand writing style, Sparknotes is almost necessary,” Grossman said. It does become a problem when students read Sparknotes in lieu of actual books, she added.

The Torah does not suffer from this confusion, said Rabbi Avi Greene, director of Judaic studies at Shalhevet. Cheating is “taking credit for any work that is not your own, knowingly or unknowingly. There is a concept in the Gemara of genevas da’as, which can be either keeping people from actually learning, or misrepresenting work. I think that’s what applies here, and it’s obviously unacceptable.”

Dr. Jerry Friedman, Shalhevet headmaster, adds that “cheating contradicts everything we stand for as a school, as a community and as Jews.”

James Nikrafter, a senior at the Orthodox high school YULA and an editor of the YULA Panther, believes that the root of the problem is competition, especially in Jewish schools.

“You’re doubling up on curriculum, work and time in school, and you still want to participate in extra-curriculars,” Nikrafter said. “What ends up happening is that students don’t have the time, patience or energy, but at the same time they are so scared to fail that they’ll go for the easy way out.”

Shalhevet senior Tamar Rohatiner suggests that schools should incorporate more things like tutoring or a place like her school’s Writing Center, where students help each other, so people don’t feel the urge to cheat.

“Let’s support the people who need help,” she said. “Kids need to learn how to deal with these struggles now, so they’ll be ready for the real world.”

Molly Keene, a senior at Shalhevet, is life editor of The Boiling Point, where a version of this article first appeared.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the December issue is Nov. 15.

To participate in the Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee, submit up to 200 words on why you should be considered.

Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Youth Groups Are Worth the Fight


Here is a dreaded conversation familiar to most parents of Jewish teens:

Them: “Hi, this is your synagogue youth adviser calling to make sure you received the flyer about our upcoming youth group event. Will your child be joining us?”

You: “Thank you for your phone call. I talked with Jordan (or David or Rafi) about this, but the thing is, he is already over-booked. With soccer practice, homework, birthday parties and baseball games, he has too much on his plate and doesn’t want to go. I’m choosing my battles, and I don’t want to fight this one.”

Come to think of it, I’m not especially fond of that conversation either, because I’m the person on the other side, the one urging you parents to send your child to the Jewish youth group.

Everyone who has ever worked with Jewish kids will tell you that Jewish youth group, camping and informal education are influential and meaningful activities, more so than many competing ones. They create memories, friendships and a positive Jewish identity. It is during these informal experiences that learning is truly natural and exciting. Kids form friendships with Jewish peers that might not develop in the classroom. And hanging out with positive Jewish role models creates lasting bonds and deeper levels of understanding and appreciation for Jewish culture.

Most of us who are youth advisers have chosen this profession because of our experiences. Ask us — we’ll gladly tell you about that amazing sleep-away camp we attended or about the kids from youth group that we are still “best friends” with today or about the religious school weekend retreat we attended in the seventh grade that opened our eyes to Judaism.

Yes, your child has been playing on the same soccer team since the second grade. Yes, school, homework and grades are important. Yes, sports, drama and clubs look good on college applications.

So where does youth group or camp fit into this equation?

My response is this: Parents must choose to fight this fight. I say “must” because the teen years are the most critical socializing years in anyone’s life. Your child’s peer group during these years can determine what kind of Jewish life your child will lead in young adulthood and beyond.

Don’t you want to know that your children are in a safe, nurturing environment where positive Jewish role models, Judaism and acceptance are the norm? (By the way, these experiences, too, hold weight on a college application and provide great material for essays.)

It might be hard to get your child to attend those first few events, which don’t start at age 4, like soccer practice. But it’s worth the push, because if your child does not attend youth events, the chances of him or her continuing Jewish involvement past confirmation get much slimmer.

To this day — more than 10 years later — my closest friends are not the kids from my sports teams, my clubs, auxiliary or classes. My closest friends are still the people I knew from youth group and camp.

At a youth group event not long ago, a parent offered the sort of analysis I love to hear. “Why wouldn’t I want my daughter coming to this event?” the parent said. “There are other Jewish teens, and an adult adviser I trust looking out for her. She feels comfortable enough to come to you if she needs anything. Plus, you’re celebrating Shabbat. Of course I want her with you!”

Later on that night, as the teenage board members reminisced about the event and their youth-group lives, they began to talk about how youth group put them on a path they never knew existed.

“For some reason, I feel closer with you guys than my friends at school,”one said.

Another said: “This is the only place that I felt truly accepted.”

A third voice added: “I see us still being friends in 30 years.”

When asked if any felt that youth group was too much on top of sports, drama, school and other activities, one teen responded much as I would have hoped and predicted.

“God no!” she said. “At first, when I didn’t know anyone it was a bit intimidating, but then I realized that everyone was in the same boat.

“From then on, I always looked forward to coming to meetings and having events. Youth group has always been the calming part of my week. We have so much stress in our lives, coming to youth group is sometimes the only peaceful thing I have.”

Lisa Greengard is youth and camp director for Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles and a member of the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Youth Professional Advisory Council.

 

Sharon Pushes for Labor, Likud Union


 

Convinced that 2005 will be a year of great peace opportunities, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is throwing his considerable political weight behind a coalition with the Labor Party.

Sharon sees a Likud-Labor partnership, bolstered by at least one ultra Orthodox party, as the ideal tool for carrying through his disengagement plan and beyond. To that end, Sharon is following a two-stage strategy: first, ensuring that the centrist, secular Shinui Party, which has refused to sit in the government with ultra Orthodox parties, leaves the coalition, and then breaking resistance in Sharon’s own Likud Party to a partnership with Labor.

The first stage of Sharon’s strategy already has gone off nicely. Shinui pulled out of the government last week over a deal between Likud and the ultra Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party, under which the government would allocate about $65 million in next year’s budget for religious institutions and needs.

Sharon may not have planned Shinui’s walkout, but he did nothing to stop it. It was a question of simple arithmetic: Likud and Shinui together had 54 seats in the Knesset, a minority in the 120-member house, but Likud and Labor would have a majority of 62.

Replacing Shinui with Labor will be a bit trickier, though, because of opposition within Likud to an alliance that party hard-liners fear will drag the government leftward. But Sharon was strengthening his hand ahead of a key Likud Central Committee vote this week.

A defeat in the Central Committee almost certainly would lead Sharon to go to new national elections. A victory and a coalition with Labor would enable the prime minister to push forward on peace moves with the Palestinians, Syrians and others.

At a business conference Monday in Tel Aviv, Sharon spoke of “restoring Israel’s regional and international position” and declared that it would be “a terrible mistake” to miss opportunities in 2005, because of petty party political squabbles.

According to aides, Sharon is particularly buoyed by what he sees as a potential strategic partnership with Egypt for promoting regional stability. Given Egypt’s leadership position in the Arab world, Sharon believes the recent sea change in relations between Cairo and Jerusalem could create an atmosphere conducive to accommodation with Israel throughout the region, and that this could come to fruition next year.

Analysts see the new Egyptian attitude toward Israel as especially significant, given the ostensibly more pragmatic Palestinian leadership that has emerged in the wake of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s death and ongoing Syrian efforts to renew a peace dialogue with Israel.

These developments have encouraged some outside players to start thinking in terms of a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. In an article in the Washington Post last week, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argued that the internationally backed “road map” peace plan no longer was relevant.

What is needed, Kissinger wrote, is a more detailed blueprint for a comprehensive peace agreement that the United States and Europe should impose on the parties. The Europeans, who want to hold a Middle East peace conference, seem to be thinking along similar lines. The key probably lies with the Bush administration, which so far remains wedded to the road map’s more incremental approach.

In pursuing a stable coalition with Labor, Sharon hopes to be able to exploit the winds of change on the Arab side and, at the same time, resist international pressure on Israel to make concessions that Sharon believes are too risky. The stronger and more stable his government, Sharon reasons, the better Israel’s chances of making the best of what 2005 has to offer.

Still, Sharon needs his party’s support for an alliance with Labor, and he was playing hardball ahead of the Thursday Central Committee vote. He warned that he would “punish” Cabinet ministers who didn’t do enough to bring out pro-Sharon voters, and warned Knesset members that if he has to go to national elections, there’s no guarantee they would be re-elected.

The strong-arm tactics seemed to be working. Ahead of the vote, all the Likud Cabinet ministers, including Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had lined up behind Sharon, and the group of rebel Knesset members who opposed Sharon over his Gaza withdrawal plan also seemed to be disintegrating. At its height, the rejectionist group numbered around 20 of the Likud’s 40 Knesset members; this week, its was down to fewer than 10.

It all could come down to voter turnout. In last month’s election of Likud officers, more than 90 percent of the Central Committee voted.

Similar figures this time around would seem to assure a Sharon victory. But it will be Chanukah, and in the Prime Minister’s office, the worry is that personal holidays could conflict with what Sharon sees as the national interest.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

 

Hebrew, Anyone?


If you thought Hebrew school was just for bar and bat mitzvah students, think again. This fall, tens of thousands of Jews around the United States and Canada are learning to read and write Hebrew through Read Hebrew America/Canada. The campaign, which is made possible by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP), a New York-based organization that provides Jewish educational opportunities, is now offering its annual free Hebrew crash course in Los Angeles and other cities across the country during the month of November.

“Hebrew is the language of the Jewish people, yet in America we don’t know if more than 20 or 25 percent of Jews can read it,” said Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum, NJOP’s program director.

The organization created Read Hebrew America/Canada 16 years ago with hopes of combating this trend and helping Jews feel more connected to Judaism and Israel.

Classes are taught by volunteers, rabbis and Jewish educators and are being offered at more than 30 different locations around the Southland. The Level One Hebrew Reading Crash Course consists of five 60- to 90-minute classes. Each student receives a free textbook and is encouraged to practice at home for 15-20 minutes each day. Teachers use simple tactics like mnemonic devices to help readers memorize letters and sounds.

Additional Read Hebrew America/Canada classes include the Level Two Hebrew Reading Crash Course, the One-Day Review and the Hebrew Writing Crash Course.

“The idea is that this will make people feel better about themselves and more comfortable in synagogue,” Rosenbaum said. “If you can’t read Hebrew, you feel closed off from it.”

For information on local Read Hebrew America/Canada
classes and locations, call (800) 444-3273 or visit www.njop.org .

Gold’s Hot Tip:Invest in Israel


For people who like to make money — and who take the long-range view — now is the time to invest in the Israeli economy, despite the current situtation, according to Stanley Gold, president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings, the investment arm of the Roy Disney family.

For some time, Shamrock has been the largest private investor in Israel. With a new capital-growth fund of $170 million fully subscribed, of which $65 million is earmarked for Israel, Gold is looking for new opportunities.

"The combined effects of the intifada and the world recession have stopped the kind of Israeli economic growth we saw in the mid-1990s, and a lot of investors got scared and ran away," Gold says. "We look on this as an opportunity to buy at bargain prices and reap the rewards later."

Putting his money where his mouth is, Gold has invested $700 million to $800 million in Israel on behalf of Shamrock over the past 15 years.

Gold’s confidence in the basic soundness of Israel’s society and industry is based on three factors, which, he says, underlie all economic growth:

  • The intelligence and educational level of the population.
  • An incorruptible judicial system.
  • A modern, cutting-edge technology that yields world-class products.

Because Israel rates high in all three categories, its economy will come back stronger than ever, predicts Gold.

One of Shamrock’s first major investments was to buy a controlling interest in Koor Industries in the early 1990s, which was sold two and a half years later in 1997, resulting in a total profit of $130 million.

Currently, Shamrock has a 46 percent interest in Tadiran Communications, which makes military communication systems, with Gold as the company’s chairman. Shamrock holds 50 percent of Pelephone Communications Inc., Israel’s second-largest cellular phone service, and 10 percent of Paradigm Geophysical, a geoscience software firm.

The company’s extensive real estate holdings include a substantial interest in the new Tel Aviv bus station, which is being remodeled as a retail shopping center and transportation hub.

One project Shamrock is not into, despite recent reports in the Israeli press, is the development of a $135 million Israeli Disneyland. "That story was made up," Gold says.

Worldwide, Shamrock has invested some $2 billion since its founding in 1978, and its Israeli investment decisions, like all others, are based purely on economic considerations.

"I don’t have a job unless I make money for the Disney family and our private investors," Gold says. "My Zionist impulses have nothing to do with it."

Participation in a Shamrock investment fund is not for the average Joe Blowstein, with the minimum stake running between $5 million to $10 million.

Gold, the profit-oriented capitalist, is also a self-described socialist, and when a visitor questions the apparent contradiction, he quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson that "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

He attributes his "philosophical socialism" to his parents, both good union members, and to growing up, 59 years ago, in South Central Los Angeles, when the population was one-third black, one-third Asian and one-third white.

"That [environment] was the best thing that ever happened to me," reminisces Gold, chewing on an unlit cigar while sitting in his sunny office in Burbank, a stone’s throw from the Warner Bros. studio lot. "I sold the old Los Angeles Mirror for 7 cents at the Coliseum, I got 3 cents per customer and a 1 cent tip."

He holds as his credo that society must provide a safety net for the less fortunate, and, even more importantly, a ladder to enable poor minorities to climb up into the middle class.

"If that doesn’t happen, if the gap between rich and poor keeps widening, then, ultimately, our society will be torn apart," he says.

Gold does not like to talk about his own community and charitable activities, but his support of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) is well-known.

He created a considerable stir in 1997, when as outgoing chairman of the HUC-JIR board he addressed the graduating class on the Jerusalem campus. In an impassioned speech, Gold warned of the danger facing Israeli democracy by the Orthodox insistence on dictating religious practice and he has since sought to "counterbalance this kind of poisonous attitude."

He is also recognized for his strong support of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership program, especially the three-month exchange program among Israeli and American high school students.

"This program gives Israeli youngsters a chance to witness the religious pluralism practiced here," he says. "They get the perspective that you don’t need to be a Chasid to be Jewish."

Given Israel’s current problems, Gold was asked what Los Angeles and American Jews can do to help the state.

"After 54 years, Israel has less need for charity and more for working partnerships on the economic, social, religious and cultural levels," he responds.

"If American Jews can find ways to participate on any of these levels, they will do significant good for the Jewish people."