A Sunday call on same-sex marriage

I was talking with a young woman last Sunday afternoon. She had called me because she read the column I wrote here last month, about Sinai Temple’s decision to perform same-sex weddings. She said she’s gay and came out to her family a year ago. They’re Iranian Jews who care a great deal about the judgment of their friends and relatives. They’ve given her untold amounts of grief for the shame they think she’s brought on them. They tell her she’s ruined the family name, made her sisters and female cousins unmarriageable, bitten the many hands — the grandparents’, the aunts’ and uncles’, the friends of friends’ — that have reached out to save her from her own foolishness. 

I’m neither the village elder nor the town psychologist. I listened to this woman’s story because she sounded sincere and spent and terribly, tragically sad. Like so many traditional Jews who still live under the illusion that they can re-create, in Los Angeles, the suffocating, male-dominated, vicious-aunt-and-mother-in-law-operated households of the old ghetto, her family had raised her to be seen and not heard, obey but not think, get married and have children, and live happily ever after no matter how she really felt. She had done all that, even married, up to her mid-20s. In the last year she divorced her husband, came out first to her family and then in a public way, and was abandoned and denounced by the older members of her extended family. 

I’ve never met this woman, but I know her well. She’s the Ashkenazi girls I meet at USC, who tell me they’ve had to break a dozen taboos just to avoid being married right after high school. She’s the Iranian girls I hear about who might have two doctorates and a silver star for community service, but whose families are ashamed of them because they remain, in their early 30s, still unmarried. It’s true that coming out, especially for a woman, is a much more drastic, even shocking, step than choosing school over marriage, but at their core the two are really not that different: a 1,000-year-old taboo; a trembling, terrified individual mustering the courage to cross a barrier; a family that wants the best for its children, that believes it knows best. 

Forget the wicked witch of an aunt who takes advantage of a family crisis to vomit her own, bottled-up grief and insecurity on a helpless niece, the washout uncle who has no power in his own house and decides to be king in someone else’s. Forget the friends who suddenly crawl out of the bushes to warn of the seven plagues. The parents of these defiant girls, I know, love their children as much any of us. What they do, right or wrong, is what they believe is right. 

Often, they’re right; sometimes, they’re not. 

I said this to the young woman on the phone last Sunday — that as parents, we fail not as much in our love as in our wisdom. “You can judge a man by what he does,” a character in a novel once said, “or you can judge him by what he would have done had he been aware of all his options.” So often, I told this woman, I’ve erred with my own children because I didn’t know better. Then, as now, I wished for nothing more than a voice that would save me from my own, so-called, wisdom. 

Maybe, I said, your parents don’t know there are other respectable, happy families in their community who have accepted and even embraced their children’s homosexuality. Maybe they don’t realize that the world is infinitely bigger than the few dozen self-appointed “leaders” they think they should follow. 

I received a great many e-mails and Facebook messages in response to the article about same-sex marriage. A few Ashkenazi readers warned me of heavenly wrath and earthly pestilence. One Iranian man complained that the Conservative movement is responsible for the fact that his daughter has gone to college and, as a result, remains unmarried in her 20s. Another berated me for calling some Orthodox Jews intolerant, then went on to say that the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements were all “European garbage.” There’s only one kind of “real” Judaism, he said, and that’s what he practices. But by far the great majority of writers expressed support and appreciation for Rabbi Wolpe’s decision to perform gay weddings at Sinai Temple. And by far the great majority of these writers were Iranian Jews who were glad to see their point of view reflected in the article. One woman stopped me on the street to say how proud she is that her daughter is involved in her school’s gay-straight alliance. A man wrote to say he attends an Orthodox shul, but that if his own children turn out to be gay, he would want to have a place like Sinai for his whole family to attend. 

Maybe, I told the woman on Sunday, your parents would act differently if they were aware of other possibilities. 

No one has asked me for advice here; even if they had, I doubt I’m qualified to offer it. But just in case my Sunday caller’s parents find themselves in the same dark valley where I often reside, in case they, like me, long for some hitherto hidden pathway to make itself visible, I thought I’d offer these small bits of truth: 

• Your daughter is not as small or large as her sexual orientation. She has a thousand other emotional and intellectual facets and capabilities. She’s the same child you deemed worthy of your love and protection before she, or you, knew she was gay. She is more precious, more important to you than all the wagging tongues and trigger-happy fingers who’ve suddenly decided that their own limited lives would improve if only someone else’s child would be banned by Rabbi Wolpe from marrying in Sinai Temple. For every one of those soap-box preachers in this town, there are dozens of intelligent, educated, wise men and women who accept and embrace your daughter and support her quest for personal fulfillment. 

You are not as small or large as your daughter’s sexual orientation. Even the town lunatics who try to cow you into “controlling” your children because they’re afraid of losing what little control they have over their own wives and daughters know this. They realize, even if you don’t, that the era of collective shame and inherited guilt, of an entire family being blamed for one member’s deeds or misdeed, has long passed. 


• There was an age in which most Jewish parents would rather see their daughter dead than divorced. The fear then — public embarrassment, social isolation, loss of status for the family and eternal misery for the divorced woman — was remarkably similar to the fear now. But times have changed for divorcees and, believe it or not, at least in California, for gay women and their families. 

It’s not easy to stand back and watch while one’s children make choices that we believe are wrong. The key is to remember that not everything we know is right. Outside the shtetls and the ghettos and the limited minds of big-mouth crusaders, there’s often more than one possibility.

Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in the Journal.

Orthodox Jews among candidates running for SoRo neighborhood council seats

Four Orthodox Jews are among the candidates running in the Oct. 28 election for the board of South Robertson Neighborhood Council (SoRo), the 10-year-old organization that aims to give residents and stakeholders in the neighborhood a voice in community and city decisions.

One of 95 neighborhood councils in the City of Los Angeles, SoRo covers a stretch of the city that includes the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, which has a high concentration of Jewish residents and Jewish-owned businesses. SoRo extends from Beverly Hills to Culver City; Motor Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard are the Western and Eastern boundaries, respectively. 

Eighteen candidates are running for the 14 open seats on the 25-member board. In presentations at SoRo’s most recent meeting on Oct. 18, each of the four Orthodox candidates cited a desire to increase SoRo’s profile in the local Orthodox Jewish community as part of the reason for running for the board. 

SoRo has had a say on matters of interest to the Jewish community in Pico-Robertson, most notably on matters of land use and development. Expansion projects by the Museum of Tolerance, the Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YULA) high schools, and Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy have all been subjects of discussion at SoRo in recent years. 

The existing SoRo board does have Jewish members, but no Orthodox Jews are currently on the board.

Though they are all Orthodox, the SoRo board candidates come from different segments of that community. Bloom is very active in his Chabad-affiliated synagogue. Bethie Kohanbash, who is running for an at-large seat, described herself as an Orthodox Persian Jew. Kevin Gres, who also goes by Arie, attended YULA Boys High School, and is running for the open seat representing Zone 1, which traverses Pico Boulevard. David Mattis, who is also running for one of two at-large seats, is a relative newcomer to Los Angeles, having lived here for only four years.

All of these candidates have at least one other candidate running against them; Mattis and Kohanbash are running along with one other candidate, Garr Montalbano, for two open at-large seats. Montalbano was not present at the Oct. 18 meeting. 

For more information, please visit http://www.soronc.org/.

Leiby Kletzky’s killer pleads guilty

Levi Aron, the Brooklyn man accused of killing 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder and kidnapping.

Aron is facing at least 40 years in prison, according to The New York Times. Originally he had pleaded not guilty to eight counts of murder and kidnapping.

Despite Aron’s history of mental illness, New York State Supreme Court Justice Neil Firetog told the defendant on Thursday that “a defense of not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect would not be a viable defense,” the Times reported.

“Today we close the door on this one aspect of our tragedy and seek to remember only the gifts that God has bestowed,” Brooklyn state Assemblyman Dov Hikind said Thursday, “including the nine years Leiby was with us.”

Aron, 36, was charged with murdering Leiby near his home in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn in July 2011. The boy, making his first attempt to walk home alone from camp, had stopped to ask Aron for directions and entered his car. Less than 48 hours later, the search for Leiby came to a grisly conclusion when parts of his dismembered body were found in the freezer of Aron’s apartment in the Kensington section of Brooklyn.

Pittsburgh rabbi files federal lawsuit over Pa. funeral policy

An Orthodox rabbi from Pittsburgh filed a federal lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Board of Funeral Directors for requiring the oversight of licensed funeral directors in Jewish burials.

Rabbi Daniel Wasserman of Shaare Torah Synagogue in Squirrel Hill and head of the chevra kadisha, or Jewish burial society, for the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh, alleges in his lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in Scranton that the policy mandating that licensed funeral directors oversee all burials infringes upon his constitutional rights to religious freedom and equal protection.

In 2009, Wasserman was contacted by an investigator from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Enforcement, who conducted an investigation of the rabbi for “practicing as a funeral director without a license.” According to the lawsuit filed Monday, the state board told Jewish families that their burials would be illegal without a licensed funeral director.

Wasserman’s suit also states that rabbis are not eligible for licensing owing to a religious prohibition against embalming. His complaint expresses that the state board’s implementation of the oversight policy is “for no other justification than personal profit,” noting that Amish burial societies are not subject to similar restrictions.

“The State Board of Funeral Directors selectively enforces Pennsylvania’s Funeral Director Law in a way that violates the religious freedom of the state’s clergy, and all of the religious persons they serve,” said Efrem Grail, an attorney who is representing Wasserman pro bono in the lawsuit.

Israel’s military service law for ultra-Orthodox expires

An Israeli law that exempts ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students from military service expired on Wednesday under a court ruling, a highly emotive issue that has shaken Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.

The majority of Israeli men and women are obliged to serve in the military from their 18th year and there is growing pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to strip religious students of their draft exemption, one of the social privileges reserved for many ultra-Orthodox.

But Netanyahu’s coalition partners have been unable to overcome differences with influential religious parties to reform the law. Last month, his largest coalition partner, the centrist Kadima party, quit in protest over his rejection of proposed legislation to curtail the draft exemptions.

The August 1 expiry of the so-called Tal Law, which Israel’s High Court found unconstitutional earlier this year, was unlikely to have any immediate effect on army demographics.

Israel had for years been exempting most ultra-Orthodox Jews from military duty before the law was adopted a decade ago, by giving generals the discretion to choose new recruits.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the Israeli military would continue to seek a plan to reform the draft, to codify what he called a “principle of burden equality, and the duty to deal individually with each and every new recruit.”

In the meantime, judging by the scene outside the main draft board office in Jerusalem, military recruitment deferrals seemed to be available as usual, with observant Jewish men wearing traditional clothing queuing up for their notices.

“You need to fight physically and you need to fight spiritually, so the spiritual role is played by the yeshivas,” one of the young men told Reuters, explaining why he thought religious men did not need to serve in Israel’s armed forces.

Mickey Gitzin, an Israeli activist opposed to draft exemptions, said in an interview: “It doesn’t matter whether someone is ultra-Orthodox or not, anyone who lives here, as long as there is a mandatory draft, should be recruited.”

Israel’s Arab citizens, who make up about a fifth of the population, are also largely exempted from military duty. Many Israeli Arabs are related to Palestinians or other Arabs living in neighboring countries.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Hikind, prominent N.Y. Dem, won’t endorse Weprin to replace Weiner

Democratic New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, an Orthodox Jew, announced that he will not support the Democratic candidate to replace former Rep. Anthony Weiner.

Democratic candidate David Weprin, is also a New York assemblyman and an Orthodox Jew, but the influential Hikind objects to his strong support of gay marriage.

Hikind also hinted that he would endorse Republican candidate Bob Turner in next month’s special election, the New York Post reported.
“Weprin basically used his Jewish orthodoxy to say gay marriage is OK. He used his orthodoxy to say gay marriage is kosher. That crossed the line,” Hikind told the Post.

Hikind’s wavering comes as polls show the two candidates statistically neck and neck.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.)  endorsed Weprin last month, and New York City mayor Ed Koch, a Republican, endorsed Turnerin the special congressional election that has been characterized in the media as a Jewish referendum on President Obama’s Israel policies.

Weiner resigned in June in the wake of a scandal in which he lied about sexually explicit exchanges on social media outlets.

‘Who is a Jew’ crisis moves into aliyah sphere

Thomas Dohlan, who converted to Judaism in an Orthodox Canadian beit din, never anticipated that Israel’s Interior Ministry might question his Jewishness and block his bid to make aliyah.

But that’s what is happening because of what appears to be a new policy that gives Israel’s Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate, and not the Interior Ministry, the ultimate authority to decide which Orthodox converts are kosher enough for immigration purposes.

The new policy is another sign of the Rabbinate’s strengthening power over Diaspora Jewish affairs, according to Rabbi Seth Farber, the director of ITIM, an organization that helps people deal with citizenship and religious issues in Israel.

“We’d heard that the Interior Ministry has been handing over some converts’ paperwork to the Rabbinate on an ad-hoc basis, but until last week this wasn’t a written policy,” Farber told The New York Jewish Week. “Now we have proof.”

Read more at thejewishweek.com/editorial.

Gangsta rapper Shyne, now an Orthodox Jew, plans comeback

It was early on during his difficult, isolated years in prison that the former gangsta rapper known as Shyne decided to formally take on the laws of Judaism as his own.

Shyne, who legally changed his name in prison from Jamaal Barrows to Moses Levi—Moses is one of his favorite biblical heroes, and Levi is for the Levites who were musicians during Temple times—remembers the initial skepticism he encountered from prison rabbis at New York’s Rikers Island, where he was first incarcerated, and the other prison rabbis that would follow.

“In prison culture, everyone is trying to make a scam, everyone is a con artist, so who is this dark-skinned guy they wondered? Does he just want the Jewish food?” asks Levi, now cloaked in the black garb of a Chasidic Jew and living in Jerusalem.

“A guy with payes? Maybe they might believe him,” he tells JTA, laughing.

Levi, 32, a former protegee of the hip-hop mogul Sean Combs (aka P Diddy), found himself drawn to Judaism ever since hearing Old Testament stories from his grandmother as a boy. He was with Combs and then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, the singer and movie star, the night of a 1999 shooting at a Manhattan nightclub that left three injured and resulted in a trial that became a media circus.

Combs was acquitted, but Levi was found guilty of opening fire in the nightclub. In 2001 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. After serving nearly nine years he was released last year.

Levi credits Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, one of his attorneys, with helping him gain access in prison to prayer books and other religious items like a tallit and tefillin.

Now, as he walks through the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City on his way to the Western Wall, he clutches a worn prayer book whose maroon leather cover was torn off by prison officials for security purposes.

Adhering to an Orthodox approach to Judaism made the most sense to him, said Levi, who is studying with several haredi Orthodox rabbis from some of the most stringent yeshivas in Jerusalem. A few months ago, Levi said, he underwent a type of conversion called a “giyur l’chumra”—a conversion usually for those who likely are Jewish but undergo conversion “just to be on the safe side.”

“I’m looking for a connection to Hashem,” Levi says, using the Hebrew name for God. “I am not trying to weaken it. I want to know what is done, then I can decide if I’m up to it. What did Moses do? What do the sages say to do?”

Levi feels like he’s returning to the fold. His days are spent in study and prayer. Reminders of his newly acquired Jewish education come out in his rapid fire, Brooklyn-accented speech smattered with Hebrew words and Talmudic and biblical references.

Levi is an anomaly in more ways than one.

His father is a prosperous lawyer who currently is the prime minister of Belize, in Central America. When Levi was a child, his mother took him from Belize to the United States. They settled in New York, where she worked as a house cleaner to support them.

But Levi soon was enamored with life on the streets, becoming a gang member. He was in and out of trouble, and at the age of 13 he was sent away to a juvenile center. By 15 he had been shot.

These days, after spending time in prison, adopting Judaism and moving to Israel for a few months, Levi is talking about a musical comeback.

He plans to release two albums this spring that are part of a joint venture with Def Jam Records, the major hip-hop label. Gone is some of the harsher and misogynist language of his previous two albums, one of which came out while he was in jail. While not explicitly religious, the lyrics do have a spiritual bent.

In Jerusalem, where Levi says he plans to stay for the next few months, he appears nonplussed by the second glances he attracts. But as a black man in the clothes of a haredi—complete with long black wool coat, fedora, knickers and black ribbed socks—Levi indeed stands out.

At the Western Wall plaza he encounters a group of young, religious Ethiopian Israelis. Levi’s great-grandmother was Ethiopian, and he thinks she may have been Jewish. Exploring his possible Ethiopian Jewish heritage intrigues him.

Levi plans to travel to Ethiopia in the spring, and says he’d like to help fund a yeshiva for Ethiopian immigrants in the town of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem.

“The Israelites won’t be whole and Messiah won’t come until all the tribes are connected to Hashem,” Levi says, referring to the Ethiopian Jews as a lost tribe—an originally Jewish community cut off from the rest of the Jewish world for generations.

Levi finishes his evening prayers at the Western Wall before paying a visit to the protest tent next to the prime minister’s residence that calls for the immediate release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held captive by Hamas in Gaza for more than four years.

Noam Shalit, the captured soldier’s father, is in the tent, and Levi is anxious to speak with him.

“I know what it’s like to suffer and not be with your family, and heaven knows what kind of pain and torture they are doing to him,” Levi says after the two shake hands and sit down. He adds, “All we can do is pray.”

“We need more than prayers,” a polite but terse Noam Shalit replies.

From the Shalit tent, Levi heads out into a chilly Jerusalem night to meet with one of the rabbis with whom he studies regularly.

Every day, he says, the tenets of Judaism help him become closer to the kind of person he strives to be.

“The bottom line is not to be a Chasid,” he says. “Some people can dress up and look the part, but sometimes they don’t behave that way and the person you never expect turns out to be the mensch. Right?”

Not your average ‘schlub’ — a memoir

“From Schlub to Stud: How To Embrace Your Inner Mensch and Conquer the Big City” by Max Gross (Skyhorse Publishing, $12.95).

Max Gross, by his own admission, used to be your average schlub: He sported an unkempt Jewfro, the bottoms of his jeans were tattered and he’d gamely put a good burger before a diet. In Gross’s first book, “From Schlub to Stud: How To Embrace Your Inner Mensch and Conquer the Big City”, he tells the tale of how some of this has changed: Now the burger and the diet are in a dead heat.

“The title is slightly misleading in that it’s about reveling in your schlubbiness, not purging it from you,” Gross said in a recent interview.

Indeed, the book is rife with advice on how to become a more functional schlub, rather than a former one. For instance, Gross advises his protégés, become a writer: “Dress code is flexible. As are working hours. And all the time you spend goofing off reading anything from Dostoevsky to Maxim magazine can legitimately be called research.”

Before Gross joined the staff of the New York Post, where he is currently a reporter, he authored a column called “The Hapless Jewish Writer” for The Forward in Manhattan, while fielding phone calls from subscribers. Max discusses here the nuances of schlubbism.

Marissa Brostoff: Is there a paradox inherent in being a schlub with a book contract?

Max Gross: Maybe. There was something in ‘The Hapless Jewish Writer’ where I was supposed to fail horribly, and I succeeded — it was either a horse race or a poker game — and [an editor] said to me, ‘We’re going to have to change the name of the column.’ But I don’t think that schlubs are necessarily failures in life. They’re a little disorganized, but that doesn’t necessarily mean living at home with their parents.

MB: Who are some schlubs who have made it big?

MG: I think you can find them all throughout history. My father thinks that Kaiser Wilhelm II was a big schlub. When you think about it, here was a guy who had this incredible empire — I mean, maybe it wasn’t as great as the British or French empires, but he had a country that was going good, and he screwed it up forever.

My father also thinks Marion Barry is a schlub, because he got caught on film smoking crack. I’m convinced that makes him more of a schlemiel.

Golda Meir [was] a schlub. She’s a successful schlub. And very unique in the sense that she’s a badass schlub. She might be the only schlub that has ever had codes to nuclear weapons.

MB: Is there a schlub-Jewish connection beyond the fact that ‘schlub’ is a Yiddish word?

MG: I think most schlubs are Jews, but there are plenty of non-Jewish schlubs, just like I think most schlubs are male but there are certainly female schlubs. In a way, Judaism really values certain schlub characteristics. We were people that for centuries just sat around the prayer house and read. We weren’t out, like, building…. And we all looked like the Satmars in [Brooklyn’s] Williamsburg.

MB: Maybe being a schlub has something to do with not being assimilated.

MG: Actually, I think that I’m probably more of a schlub than my ancestors. My parents are extremely unschlubby. My mother is a fashion editor and my father is just a cool guy. They have no idea where I came from.

MB: You write that in ‘a world of schlubby newspapers, the Forward is amongst the schlubbiest.’ What makes you say that?

MG: Well, [the Forward] cover[s] a lot of schlubs. I think that, to a large extent, everybody that the Forward covers is a little bit schlubby. They’re these organizations that are obsessed with one little thing that almost nobody else in the world is obsessed with.

MB: The cover of your book features an attractive, blond, un-schlubby-looking woman with her arms around you. Do you feel like you’re more oriented toward women who are themselves schlubby, or women like the girl on the cover?

MG: A lot of shiksa-type women I’m not as into. I like talking about Jews and Jewish topics, and it just doesn’t go over as well with non-Jewish people. Like if you want to talk about Israel all the time, and Saul Bellow, it’s hard to find a shiksa who looks like that to be your soul mate.

Article courtesy the Forward, where this originally appeared.

Call Me Classic

It’s got to be one of the toughest marketing problems of all time: selling Orthodox Judaism. You gotta hand it to Chabad. They’re making amazing progress, especially when you think about what an unmarketable name they have to deal with: Orthodox Judaism.

Just think about it. Let it roll off your tongue: Orthodox! Orthodox! Orthodox! I’m sorry. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t roll off the tongue. It stumbles. It tumbles. It lands in a puddle with a splat. But it doesn’t roll. Oh, there are other names for people who keep the Shabbat, lay tefillin, etc: observant, shomer Shabbat, ultra-Orthodox, Chasidic, machmir. Yup. Lots of names. None of them good. Or at least not attractive, anyway.

As if observant Judaism wasn’t a tough enough sell to begin with, I should state right here, that I am (damn, I hate these names — I guess I have to pick one) observant. And it really is great. Not at all what it looks like. And I know what it looks like. After all, I grew up with Saturday morning cartoons, especially the “Superfriends.” My mom made bacon for breakfast, a lot of it. So believe me when I tell you that I know what Orthodoxy looks like from the outside. You’ve got the long black coats, the long beards, the long hair locks, all this long black stuff.

But the truth is that it’s really awesome. Most people think about all the things you can’t do, that limit you. But it’s just the opposite. Instead of limiting you, it opens you up. It relaxes and renews you in ways vacations are supposed to but don’t. It’s contemplative — and the food’s great. Really great. It’s kind of like a cruise, but you get a Torah reading instead of parasailing.

I just wish that secular Jews could see the things that I see. But it’s a hard sell, starting with the name. Let’s face it. Names are superimportant. Just look at the global marketplace. Look at the success of the GameCube, Air Jordans and Eminem. Good names sell.

And then I look back at the word: Orthodox. No wonder we don’t have Reform Jews beating our doors down. The only other group that uses that word is the Greek Orthodox Church, not exactly a flattering comparison. They wear weirder-looking hats than we do. That is if you don’t count the furry streimels. And then there is the other usage: Orthodox, as in the way it’s always been done. Now, that may be accurate, but it’s not exactly a selling feature.

I have to admit, I have been thinking about this for a while, ever since I first started keeping Shabbat. I didn’t call myself Orthodox. I called myself a student of mysticism, making “connections.” Sounds groovy, doesn’t it? Maybe I should have stuck with that. But I wanted to fit in, so finally I became comfortable with observant. But then there came the moment I had to check the appropriate box on JDate and “observant” was not one of the choices. That was rough. I couldn’t do it. In fact, I didn’t do it. Not for weeks anyway. Finally, after being stuck in limbo land forever, seemingly, I sucked it up, took a stiff drink and checked the Modern Orthodox box with my eyes half closed. It was tough, although I have to admit, a little liberating, to finally get past that label that bothered me so much.

But that doesn’t mean that I think it’s an attractive label. It’s not. Frankly, it sucks. And you know what? Judaism doesn’t deserve that. It deserves a moniker that sounds awesome, or at least good. You might not believe me, but “traditional, walking on Shabbat, keeping kosher, putting on tefillin” Judaism rocks. So, I’ve decided to give it a good name.

My first idea was Judaism — The Real Deal, which I really liked right away. I thought it was catchy. I mean, I thought we could shorten it:

“What are you?”

“The Real Deal.”


“You know, Jewish.”

But that just brought me back to the O word. So it didn’t really work. Then, I really had a brainstorm: Judaism Classic. Pretty good, huh?

Think about it. Roll that one around your tongue a few times.

“What are you?”

“I’m a Classic Jew.”

“Wow! Really? What are you doing later? Want to grab a drink or something?”

See, just look how well that works. And think about the meaning. Classic usually means the original and still the best. Just look how well Coke Classic is doing. New Coke was a disaster. Customers were leaving in droves. Coke Classic rescued the company — just the name alone.

And haven’t you ever heard something described as a classic? It’s usually good, isn’t it? 1. Mustangs. They’re classic. 2. Instant classic — usually something new and awesome. 3. “Dude, that’s so classic!” meaning that’s perfect. 4. Then there’s the all-time classic: Classical Music. I mean, look how long it’s lasted. Not as long as us, but a while, anyway. And they can still charge quite a bit for a ticket to the symphony. You think that has nothing to do with the name? Of course it does.

So think about it. Classic Judaism. Some may be Orthodox. But I’m a Classic Jew. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Do me a favor, start using it.

“You see that dude? He’s a Classic Jew.”

“Really? Cool.”

But if you print up some T-shirts, just make sure I get my cut. After all, it is an instant classic.

Matt Lipeles is a screenwriter, a poet and an English teacher in a neighborhood you’re probably too scared to drive into.

Oscar buzz for ‘Beaufort’ builds

Oscar nominees of the Tribe

By Jay Firestone

Best Film
Ethan and Joel Coen – “No Country for Old Men”

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis – “There Will Be Blood”

Best Director
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, “No Country for Old Men”
Jason Reitman – “Juno.”
Julian Schnabel – “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”

Best Adapted Screenplay
Ronald Harwood – “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen – “No Country for Old Men”

Best Foreign Language Film
“Beaufort” – Israel
“The Counterfeiters” – Austria

Best Original Song
“So Close” – Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz
“That’s How You Know” – Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz
“Happy Working Song” – Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz

Produced by
Gil Cates

Hosted by
Jon Stewart

Joseph Cedar, director of the Oscar-nominated Israeli film, “Beaufort,” and an Orthodox Jew, has resolved a thorny Shabbat dilemma.

Traditionally, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences holds a high-profile public symposium for the five finalists vying for the best foreign-language film Oscar on the day before the award ceremony.

This year, the symposium will be on Saturday morning, Feb. 23, and Cedar was uncertain whether he could participate on a Shabbat.

“I had a long talk with my rabbi in Israel,” said Cedar, 39, who is in Los Angeles with his family. “He decided that I could attend as long as I didn’t use a microphone and walked to the event at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Cedar figures he can cover the two-mile distance in about an hour, an almost unheard of feat for pedestrian-phobic Angelenos, but no big deal for Israelis.

Even for an Israeli who was born in New York, but whose parents made aliyah when he was 5.

Meanwhile, the excitement in Israel about its film industry’s first Oscar nomination since 1984 is building up.

Gilad Millo, the resident Israeli consul for public affairs, said that more than a dozen of the main Israel media outlets will send television and print reporters to cover the Oscar ceremonies.

In addition, some 30 cast members and financial backers of “Beaufort” will arrive in Los Angeles on Feb. 20.

The social component of the Oscar award season kicked off for “Beaufort” Tuesday evening (Feb. 12) with a screening and reception sponsored by the Israeli consulate and the entertainment division of The Jewish Federation.

Topping the parties will be an Oscar night bash for Israeli and Hollywood filmmakers in one of the city’s poshest private homes.

Cedar, who is not given to hyperbole, said that he and his family were very happy about the nomination, but his main satisfaction was that the film could now be assured a bigger exposure and longer life.

He described his reactions in a phone call last week, after spending the day on the obligatory Disneyland tour with his wife, journalist Vered Kelner, 6-year old daughter, Amelia, and 3-year old son, Levi.

A paratrooper during the first Lebanon War, Cedar has infused “Beaufort” with gritty realism in depicting that conflict, not in the glory of victory but in its indecisive, exhausted end.

The movie is based on the novel, “Im Yesh Gan Eden” (If There Is a Paradise), by Ron Leshem, who co-wrote the screenplay with Cedar.

Cedar’s first two films, “Time of Favor” and “Campfire,” were both voted Israel’s top films and Oscar entries in 2001 and 2004, respectively.

Millo termed the Oscar nomination a “landmark event” and an auspicious beginning of Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

Taken together with the successes of other current Israeli entries at prestigious European film festivals, optimists are foreseeing a breakthrough for the country’s film industry, akin to the golden ages of French and Italian films in the 1950s and ’60s.

So far, no Israeli has ever won an Academy Award, but Millo believes this is about to change.

Asked what kind of celebration he has planned if “Beaufort’s” title is pulled out of the envelope on Feb. 24, Millo answered, “It’s not a question of ‘if,’ but of ‘when.'”

The trailer

Jewish Journal Contributing Writer Orit Arfa ran into the ‘Beaufort’ gang at Ben Gurion Airport as they prepared to fly to Hollywood. Orit’s report is here.