Rabbi David Hartman’s learned students remember their rebbe


An Advocate for Divine Honesty

David Hartman was sui generis; he was a unique individual who was very excited about ideas and at the same time pragmatic. Who believed that believing is best expressed in behavior. To believe is to behave.

This is very clear in his latest book, “The God Who Hates Lies.” It was his opportunity to express the great hope that he had for a renaissance of Jewish life in the State of Israel, and his frustrations at the people who were returning to an ideological, self-centered kind of life that was very disillusioning to him.

His great teacher was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and he told me as he was working on this book, “I have to break with Soloveitchik.” In his treatment of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, Soloveitchik said this was the glory of a divine absurdity; the act of being about to do something that is against logic itself. 

Hartman chastised Soloveitchik for this. He said that this is not what we need; we need divine truthfulness and honesty.

He literally gathered hundreds of rabbis, gathered them together and enabled them to speak together without any of their insularity — Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist were able to speak, to present, without hostility and without denigration.

He had a remarkable, charismatic approach to the teaching of Judaism. When he was on, it was sheer idealism and enthusiasm. From my point of view, it’s a monumental loss in the Jewish community. He was able to see within Orthodoxy a liberation. 

— Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Valley Beth Shalom, as told to Susan Freudenheim


‘The crown has fallen from our head’ — Lamentations 5:16

There was a man and he is no more.

A thinker, a teacher and a lover of humanity. My teacher and friend, Rabbi David Hartman.

He was larger than life: a dynamic force; a public figure with an international following. But when you became his student, he attached himself to you; he became your rebbe. I was privileged to be one of his students for almost 35 years. He was my rebbe. He was my mentor. He shaped my thinking, and he touched my soul.

My mother passed away just over a month ago. Losing David Hartman feels like I’ve lost my intellectual and spiritual father. 

What made David Hartman so special was that he was a yeshiva bocher who gained enlightenment but never stopped being a yeshiva bocher. And so he was at the same time both critical and loyal. He encouraged us to boldly challenge the tradition but never stop loving it. He gave us the greatest gift that a teacher can bequeath: the freedom to inquire, to ask, to probe and to speculate. He accompanied us on the journey — he wrestled with us — all the while reminding us that our personal growth was bound up in a collective responsibility. He so loved the Jewish people. And he loved humanity.

When I first met R’ Duvid, as I fondly called him, he asserted that the most serious religious question that the Jewish people had to confront was how to rule over a minority as Jews. It was the critical question back in 1978, and it continues to be the most vexing moral issue that we face. 

That’s why I became David Hartman’s student, and that’s why he will always be my rebbe. 

— Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Executive Director, UCLA Hillel


The Holiness of Now: A Memory of David Hartman

Torah commands: “You shall follow after the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 13:5) So the Talmud asks: “God is a consuming fire! How is it possible to follow after God?” It answers: Follow the ways of God. My teacher David Hartman offered a different answer: Become the fire! Reflect God’s passion, God’s rage, God’s vision into the world. He was a blazing fire, and learning with Hartman was always an adventure. He thundered. He raged. He wept. Torah meant that much to him.

Hartman’s passion rose from his belief in the singular spiritual significance of this moment in Jewish history. For Hartman, our emergence from the Holocaust and the rebirth of Israel initiated a new stage in the unfolding covenantal drama of the Jewish people. There was Sinai, the revelation of the Written Torah, expressed in the language of Mitzvah. There was Yavneh, the revelation of the Oral Torah, expressed in the language of Midrash. And now there is Israel, the revelation of a Living Torah, expressed in the textures and rhythms of Jewish life reborn in its land. Our return to sovereignty in Israel redefines the collective Jewish project. It reshapes our relationship to God. Israel redefines what it means to be a Jew. The holiness of this moment was his Torah. And his fire was our blessing, bringing new life to the soul of the Jewish people. 

— Rabbi Ed Feinstein


A Mensch

Rabbi David Hartman told it like it is. He didn’t mince words. He argued with Maimonides, as if he were living and shouting back.

When he spoke of his love for Israel and the challenges it faces, his words were strong and backed up through action — by educating the Israeli community and military. He didn’t hesitate to share his ambivalences with Orthodox Jewry as we know it; he welcomed women into the Bet Midrash at the Shalom Hartman Institute over 25 years ago. I’m so grateful to have studied with him every other year for those 25.  

A Man, a Mensch, a Visionary.

— Rabbi Karen L. Fox, Wilshire Boulevard Temple


Hartman and the Orthodox Discourse

Figures of great influence and authority within contemporary Orthodoxy, (such as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on religious pluralism and Rabbi Yehuda Amital z’l on non-messianic Zionism) have shared ideas that Rabbi David Hartman had developed years earlier. His intellectual legacy is broad within Orthodoxy and his ideas are easy to find. But it is harder to find the voice of Rabbi Hartman himself. There is much to celebrate in his legacy after such a productive and rich life, but for the Orthodox community, the absence of Rabbi David Hartman from our communal discourse is a warning for the future.

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, Center for Jewish Life, Hillel at Princeton University. Excerpted from “Reflections on Rabbi David Hartman z’l.” The full text can be read on the Morethodoxy blog.


A Voice That Was Freed — and Now Is Silent

Rabbi David Hartman has gone to his eternal rest, but not before making a monumental contribution to Jewish life and Jewish thought.

Best known for his pioneering work as founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute,  an innovative and original think tank and teaching center of pluralistic religious Zionist thought and perhaps Israel’s leading institution for  teaching Torah to Diaspora leadership, both rabbinic and lay. In all its programs, and especially within teacher-training programs, it conveys the majesty of tradition, and its many texts [speak] to students often alienated from those traditions and put off by the parochialism of Israel’s religious establishment and by the extremism of some of the most vocal religious voices. It engages modern thought and contemporary thinkers, offering them the insights of traditional learning and engaging traditional scholars with the finest of contemporary thought. For that alone, David Hartman must be revered.

Yet Hartman never aspired to be an institution builder. He wanted most of all to be known as a Jewish philosopher.

For most of his career, he paid homage to his masters. His work on Maimonides was less a pristine work of scholarship than a work of dialogue between a 20th century thinker wrestling with 20th century problems and grappling with the ethos and the thought of the pre-eminent 12th century Jewish philosopher. His treatment of Yehuda Halevi was an extended essay on the Jewish encounter with history: Hartman in dialogue with Yehuda Halevi. His work on his own teacher conveyed the brilliance of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, mediated through the inquisitive mind of one of his most gifted pupils. A protector of his teacher’s honor, he defended his thought against all critics until … until he could no longer defend it.

As he approached 80, and as illness forced him to confront his own mortality, he began to speak in his own voice, accepting some basic categories of modernity, including the transformed role of women, the empowerment of the Jewish people in Israel, an acceptance of the dignity and decency of non-Jews and an overwhelming desire for a synthetic religious worldview. Unlike the Charedi world of his youth, he would not withdraw from the modern world. Unlike Modern Orthodoxy, which seems to want a faith untainted by modernity and a modernity untouched by faith, Hartman looked for integration between life and faith. And unlike Conservative Judaism, he did not make history paramount and push the halachic worldview to the side. A generation ago, he would have been heralded within his own community for that attempt at synthesis and harmonization. Not so today.

He continued to grow to the very end. One can only celebrate his achievements, yet deeply regret his untimely passing, for there was much that he left unsaid, once he was free to speak out.

Read the full text of this reflection.

— Michael Berenbaum, Director, Sigi Ziering  Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics, American Jewish University


Remembering David Hartman

As I enter the courtyard of the Hartman Institute, I am always moved first by the warmth and beauty of its welcoming presence and then by the excitement and challenge of its covenantal drama.   

Rabbi Dr. David Hartman was a master of haknassat orchim — welcoming and gathering countless Jewish — and non-Jewish — guests into his pluralistic beit midrash.

He was also a master of intellectual haknassat orchim.  With passion and drama and humor, he knew how to bring learners to the table so that they would “feel intellectually empowered to participate in Judaism’s ongoing interpretive tradition.”  

On the one hand, he championed the modern virtues of creativity, interpretive freedom and self-assertion, proclaiming: “A discussion concerning Jewish tradition is open-ended.”

On the other hand, in his beit midrash, you felt claimed by the voices and concerns of significant others, who engaged your own limited perspectives and challenged you to deepen your dignity and expand your covenantal responsibility.  

— Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, Rabbinic Director, Milken Community High School

Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas and secular universities


The Wall Street Journal recently published a column about ultra-Orthodox (Charedi) Jews in Israel who do not work for a living. Sixty-five percent of ultra-Orthodox men ages 35-54 do not go to work. Instead, they study Torah while demanding increasing amounts of money from the taxes paid by Israelis who work for a living.

The author of the column, Evan R. Goldstein, wrote: “Voluntary unemployment has become the dominant lifestyle choice for [Charedi] men. And even if there was a desire to work, [Charedi] schools leave students unprepared to function in a modern economy.”

If these data are correct, this is not only a problem for Israel, it is a problem for Judaism.

It is a problem for Israel for the same reason that able-bodied citizens receiving welfare has been a problem for America. It is economically unfeasible to support large numbers of nonworking citizens, and it is morally wrong for citizens who work and pay taxes to have their money forcibly taken from them (i.e., taxes) to pay to people who could work but who choose not to.

The reason for this problem in Israel is that in 1948 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion excused 400 yeshiva students from serving in the army, arguing that after the Holocaust it was critical for the Jewish state to support some of its citizens to concentrate on Torah study.

Few Jews, inside or outside of Israel, would oppose continuing this policy for a handful of scholars. But for hundreds of thousands of able-bodied Jews to demand to be supported — and protected — by other Jews (and, for that matter, the non-Jewish citizens of Israel as well) is entirely different.

It is also a problem for Judaism. It presents religious Jews, Torah and Judaism in a terrible light. Of course, most Orthodox Jews in Israel work as hard for a living as other Israeli citizens. But the largest group of Israelis that chooses not to work while demanding public funds to sustain them is the ultra-Orthodox, who also constitute an increasingly large percentage of the Israeli population.

As Goldstein notes in his article, the Shulchan Aruch, the Orthodox compendium of Jewish law, declares that “a respected and impoverished scholar should have a trade, even a lowly trade, rather than being in need of his fellow man.”

Goldstein quotes Israeli Orthodox scholars who claim that there is no precedent in pre-1948 Jewish history for an entire community devoting itself to Torah scholarship, let alone getting paid to do so:

“ ‘Torah study has always been for spiritual, not material, sustenance,’ Zvi Zohar, a professor of law at [the Orthodox] Bar-Ilan University, tells me. Moreover, the notion that a man’s primary obligation is studying, and not providing for his family, is ‘diametrically opposed’ to Jewish tradition, Mr. Zohar says.”

Goldstein cites an additional problem for Judaism in state-supported Torah study for vast numbers of men: He quotes professor Shlomo Naeh of the Jewish Studies Department of the Hebrew University, who says that it has harmed the quality of Jewish thought. Writes Goldstein: “Ultra-Orthodox self-segregation has cut ‘learning off from life,’ he wrote in a recent essay. As a result, the current generation of Torah scholars ‘is far from being one of the greatest … despite the existence of tens of thousands of learners.’ ”

This “self-segregation” — these ultra-Orthodox men rarely interact with non-Orthodox Jews, let alone with non-Jews — has another negative consequence: These men gain and therefore impart little wisdom. One might say that insularity and wisdom are mutually exclusive.

The irony here is that a similar problem exists at Western universities. There, too, many individuals who teach in the liberal arts or “social sciences” live off public funds (they get paid to teach a few hours a week, but otherwise the parallel is apt), and spend nearly their whole life in a cocoon (a secular left one), interacting almost only with people who live and think as they do, just as the Charedim do.

Most secular left professors and most ultra-Orthodox yeshiva scholars are mirror images of one another: A life devoted to the study of increasingly irrelevant matters, with the result that both groups usually lack wisdom and therefore too often produce nonsense, sometimes harmful nonsense.

Both groups venerate brainpower and knowledge over wisdom and common sense. The fact that Jews are drawn to each of these lifestyles — that of the yeshiva scholar and secular professor — reflects a real problem in Jewish life, whether ultra-Orthodox or ultra-secular, namely, worship of the intellect.

I saw this at an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva I attended and at the Ivy League university I attended. Men with fine brains and immense knowledge about narrow areas of life taught me little about real life.

The intellect cut off from the real world, whether in a Charedi yeshiva in Israel or at almost any modern Western university, is not good for society. The issue is not Charedim or professors per se. The issue is Charedim and professors who leave the world to live in yeshivas or academia their whole lives. Thus, ultra-Orthodox like Chabad and others who do not want their followers to spend their lives only studying, and professors in junior colleges, who often come from outside of academia or who combine outside work with teaching, are not the problem.

The lesson is that far more important in life than intellect are common sense, goodness and the wisdom produced by a life that comes into regular contact with the Other. The Other in the Charedi yeshiva world is the non-Orthodox Jew and the non-Jew; the Other at the university is a conservative Christian or a conservative, period.

There is, however, one important difference between ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and universities. Yeshivas are honest about their primary goal: to produce an Orthodox Jew. Universities never acknowledge their primary goal: to produce a secular leftist.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is dennisprager.com.

Reading ‘Jewish’


I heard recently that some people have complained that this column is too “Orthodox” — that there’s too much focus on the frum and kosher side of Judaism. Since thiscolumn is about an Orthodox neighborhood, that’s like complaining that a hockey writer spends too much time writing about hockey, but nevertheless it got me thinking about how Jews read about other Jews.

This was on my mind when I walked into Delice bakery the other day and saw a copy of Jewish Life magazine. Jewish Life is a monthly published by The Jewish Journal to appeal to religiously observant Jews. I’m not here to critique it or promote it, but it struck me that the magazine is like a microscopic view of the world that I write about every week.

If you think this column is too religious, wait until you see Jewish Life. If I snorkel into observant Judaism, then it goes deep-sea diving. If this column is “the hood,” then Jewish Life is the hood on steroids.

Take the latest issue. At first glance, it looks like another general-interest magazine with a self-help cover story: “Why Aren’t We Happier?” But open it up and you’ll see the kind of things that matter most to observant Jews.

On Page 4 of the first column (Ask Dr. T, a parenting advice column), a reader worries about the “chronic” problem of what her children should do with their Chanukah gelt. (Dr. Sara Teichman gives a six-paragraph answer to this “complex” problem).

In the next column, Marriage Matters, a “lovely single girl in her 20s” laments her single status:”The wait is killing me. It feels never ending and hopeless. Isn’t there something I can do? I mean, I know I have to daven hard, network with people and hope for the best, but isn’t there any more?”

Below the article is a little section on a new book titled, “Shidduch Secrets,” which includes practical advice on using one’s time productively while waiting for one’s beshert.

On the next page is a column called Shirmas Halashon with the headline, “Beware: Words Can Hurt” and this announcement right below: “With this column, Jewish Life begins our regular column on Hilchos Lashon Hara.” Below the announcement are these untranslated words: “Lilui Nichmas Masha Ruchama bas Shmuel.” The author of the column — across from an ad for Frumster.com that has a picture of a happy-looking newlywed couple (“Idith and Eli, match No. 93”) — is the dean of Valley Torah High School.

As you continue flipping through Jewish Life, you see these kinds of headlines: “What Exactly Is Mussar?” (Hint: it’s a system of ethics, not a new kosher hair gel), “The Advent of Chasidism” under the column History L.A. and in the society gossip column is the headline “A Tzadik Pays a Visit,” about Rav Yitzchak Grossman’s visit to Los Angeles.

In the food section, there’s a “Grateful Letter From a Duncan Hines Fan,” thanking my former employer (Procter and Gamble) for bringing back Duncan Hines pareve cake mixes (“They are a great resource for us here in the Orthodox Jewish community”), and a recipe called “Nat’s Brownies/My Frosting.”

In the Kashrus Concerns column, you’ll find a series of announcements from the Kosher Information Bureau, such as: “Salad Mate Salad Dressing is no longer under CRC certification,” “Flora Foods Italian Breadcrumbs bears an unauthorized OU,” and “Sandy Candy Co. now produces cotton candy sugars certified by the Star-K.”

The last section, Kosher Road Trip, is on travel, and here you’ll see a column by a homemaker and mom named Cinnamon Shenker on winter trips, with the headline: “Grab Your Sled and Head for the Hills.” She even quotes Tehillim to help make her point that it’s “a glorious thing that we can experience snow and ice first hand, rather than just look at pictures.”

So you can see I’m not kidding when I tell you that Jewish Life is the Jacques Cousteau of Orthodox Jewish reporting in Los Angeles. But there’s another side to this story.

If you read Jewish Life without any preconceptions about Orthodox Judaism — out of simple curiosity, for example, or even a desire to learn something helpful and interesting — it will probably surprise you.

For example, once you get past the annoying absence of translation in the beginning of “Beware: Words can Hurt,” you can’t help but be moved by the life-changing possibilities of the message, whether you are ultra-Orthodox, Reform or even a Zen Buddhist.

The same can be said for several articles in Jewish Life, like the idea of “living in the moment without acting on impulse” in the cover story on happiness, or the universal system of ethics developed by our very Orthodox sages, called Mussar.

Even the reader’s question on the “chronic” problem of what kids should do with Chanukah gelt — which I poked fun at — actually led to an incisive take on the complicated relationship between people and money.

That’s why I’m ambivalent about this whole notion of having different publications for different Jews. There is so much we can learn from each other, why can’t we all read the same paper?

The marketing side of me — the one that learned at places like Procter and Gamble the importance of “market niches” — understands why having different publications makes good business sense. People like to read about themselves.

But the “Jewish unity” part of me would love to see Jews of all denominations show more curiosity towards one another, whether it’s nonobservant Jews reading about Orthodox ideas, or Orthodox Jews reading things that have nothing to do with Orthodoxy, but that are still very much part of the Jewish experience. It’s like the interest you would show toward a beloved family member who has a completely different lifestyle from your own.

And of course, the self-absorbed part of me would love to see every Jew read this column, even if it’s a little too, you know, Orthodox.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Nessah president blazing trail for Iranian women


Dr. Morgan Hakimi has a variety of roles — psychologist, Jewish activist, wife and full-time mother. But it’s her position as president of the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center in Beverly Hills that has captured the attention of the L.A. Persian Jewish community.

In this Persian Orthodox culture, where leadership is traditionally dominated by men, opposition followed Hakimi after she was first elected president in 2004. However, Hakimi’s recent reelection has inspired her to step up her challenge to other women to get involved.

“I have always felt that Nessah could be an incredible bridge for more women to participate in our community, for younger American Jews of Iranian descent to connect with her heritage and for American Jews to become more familiar with us,” she said.

Skepticism from critics has died down since her initiatives have led to a substantial increase in membership within the last two years. People are packing Nessah’s two sanctuaries during Shabbat services, and crowds of previously disenfranchised women — both younger Persian Jews and non-Persian Jews — are participating in greater numbers in center programming Hakimi developed.

She credits outreach to and inclusion of the larger Jewish community for the synagogue’s growth. Hakimi has turned to a more American model of running a synagogue — setting up a membership system, establishing support groups for single parents and adding more events for its younger congregants.

“My greatest asset is having a diverse staff of Iranians, Americans, Hispanics and African Americans that are not afraid to work together,” Hakimi said. “We purposefully chose a new executive director in Michael Sklarewitz and new program director in Robin Federman, who are American, in order to better serve our community and bring us closer to the greater American Jewish community.”

Nessah’s Rabbi David Shofet praised Hakimi’s outreach efforts to younger Iranian Jews and said he has noticed more women at the center since she took office.

“In my eyes, women are more important because they are the mothers of the next generation,” he said. “If they are committed to Judaism and are affiliated, they can hand it on to the next generation. Otherwise there will not be a continuity of Judaism.”

After Hakimi’s election two years ago, participation of women in religious services became a lightning-rod issue on both sides of the mechitza in the Orthodox congregation. Traditionalists sought to keep women out, and more liberated women demanded greater involvement. Hakimi has approached such situations with diplomacy in mind, talking with both sides to find acceptable common ground.

“I am not here to create a revolution. I’m here to bring awareness and understanding about a lot of issues in our community, including those involving women,” Hakimi said. “I was raised in an egalitarian family, so I’m not bitter toward men, and I don’t have an attitude of fighting when I approach the rabbis or men. That’s why they are welcoming of my suggestions to include everyone in our programs.”

Hakimi’s election as president set a precedent at Nessah, which she continues to build on slowly. Eight women now sit on the center’s board of directors, with more women serving in committee and staff positions. At the congregational level, young women are now welcome to celebrate a bat mitzvah by giving a d’var Torah during the daytime Shabbat service.

Nahid Pirnazar, a member of the Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization, said that Nessah could stand to have greater inclusion of women in religious services.

“But Dr. Hakimi has certainly helped [us] take a lot of positive steps toward greater participation of women,” she said.

Pirnazar, a UCLA professor of Judeo-Persian history, said Hakimi is the first from her generation to achieve a leadership role in the local Iranian Jewish community, and that she shares good company with Jewish women in Iran who took leadership positions in the early 20th century.

Hakimi is also encouraging young women to develop their own programs at Nessah and to make their voices heard.”Dr. Hakimi has been an incredible mentor in my life in demonstrating to me the unique qualities women in leadership can bring,” said Rona Ram, a 22-year-old Nessah volunteer. “What we, as young females, have noticed is the overriding respect and appreciation the entire congregation gives her as she speaks.”

Hakimi said that when issues of change come up, she anticipates resistance. But she says her aim is to slowly press for greater involvement of women in community activities.

“The Iranian Jewish woman has a quiet strength that is only now coming to the surface. I’m here to say they can have it all, but it will take time _ it will not happen overnight, and they must show a desire and commitment to taking part in leadership roles,” Hakimi said.

For more information about the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center, visit www.nessah.org or call (310) 273-2400.

Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Amar to visit Los Angeles


The Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel will visit Los Angeles next week for the first time, a move that signifies the growing importance of the religious community here around the world. Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who has been serving as chief rabbi since 2003, along with Ashkenazi counterpart Rabbi Yona Metzger, comes to Los Angeles Oct 22-28 to meet with leaders of Los Angeles Jewish community — both Ashkenazic and Sephardic — to offer religious and spiritual support.


“This is the first time he’s coming to the West Coast, and he will learn about the vast Jewish activity here, from the schools and the shuls to the institutions and the mikveh and the eruv,” said Rabbi David Toledano of Magen David, the Sephardic Syrian community of Beverly Hills, who is coordinating and hosting the trip.

Amar, also respectfully referred to as Rishon L’Tzion, will meet with community leaders from the Wiesenthal Center, the Rabbinical Council of California and various Sephardic rabbis. He will also visit several Los Angeles’ ultra-Orthodox schools (including Hillel Hebrew Academy, Torath Emet, Etz Jacob Hebrew Academy, Yeshiva Gedola, Chabad, Ohr Eliyahu, Bais Yakov and Yavneh), as well as staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Israel Consul General Ehud Danoch, who is also helping plan the trip, has set up an interfaith meeting between Amar and 100 Christian clergy.

“This will help open dialogue with different religions,” Toledano said.

He is also set to meet with government officials such as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and hold “kabbalat panim” reception hours in Toledano’s home by appointment. In addition to his lectures and shiurim Torah studies, Amar will be honored on Thursday, Oct. 26, by Em Habanim in North Hollywood. Amar will spend Shabbat in the city at Mogen David in Pico-Robertson and will appear on a panel open to the public on Saturday afternoon.

Amar is the first Sephardi chief rabbi not of Iraqi descent (he is Moroccan). He is known in Israel for his changes to the conversion and divorce laws, which are administered by the Israeli government. According to an announcement from the Rabbinate last December, Jews converted in the Diaspora by rabbis not recognized by the religious courts will have to undergo another conversion in Israel in order to be recognized by Rabbinate courts as Jews.

Women granted a get, or Jewish divorce, by rabbis not recognized by the courts, will also have to go through the process again.

Toledano stressed that by setting down standards and a list of accepted rabbis, the chief rabbi has streamlined the process and eliminated corruption from the system.

“The most important thing is the proper approach,” he said. “It’s not random anymore, not anyone can [do a conversion or divorce] so it’s more kosher.”

Ask A (Different) Rabbi

Can a religious businessperson keep his Internet site open on Shabbat? What about a Web site uploaded on Shabbat — can a religious person look at it? Are you allowed to watch television on Shabbat if the set has been on since before sundown?

These types of modern-day halachic questions aren’t addressed in the Talmud or the ancient rabbis’ books of wisdom, but they are at Jerusalem’s Eretz Hemdah Institute, The Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies.

Rabbi Yosef Carmel, dean of the institute, which trains rabbis for advanced, post-ordination study (equivalent of a Ph.D), will be visiting Los Angeles this week.

The Institute, which opened in 1987 to train future Zionist rabbinical leaders of the State of Israel, has graduated some 100 rabbis from its seven-year course. The institute also grapples with modern-day questions of Jewish law. Its Web site, “Ask A Rabbi,” which is affiliated with the Orthodox Union, has answered more than 1

1,000 questions pertaining to Jewish law.
Last summer, when Israel was at war with Hezbollah, Eretz Hemdah (“beautiful land”) opened a special hotline for soldiers. Some questions: What should a soldier do with his car if he has to drive to base on Shabbat? How can a man in combat celebrate his son’s pidyon ha-ben (redemption of the oldest son).

Carmel will lecturing at Rabbi Daniel Korobkin’s school, Kehillat Yavneh (5353 W. Third St.) on Friday Oct 27 and Shabbat Oct. 28, on topics such as “Dilemmas in the World of Halacha” and “Indirect Business Transactions on Shabbat.”

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Ignorance is not really bliss, as current events have proved. Rather, knowledge brings about understanding and peace, especially when it comes to faith and religion. That’s why Wilshire Boulevard Temple has opened up The Center for Religious Inquiry, an adult education institution hoping to build bridges between all faiths.

Partnering with the Center for Religious Inquiry at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York and St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, Wilshire Boulevard’s new center will feature religious leaders, scholars, ethicists and scientists from different religious backgrounds and is open to Angelenos of all faiths. Its motto is “Mipnei d’archei shalom” (Because it leads to paths of peace).

“After 144 years, we are recommitting our historic temple campus not just as the center of Jewish life and practice, but, now, as a home to all religious exploration,” said Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein, director of the Center for Religious Inquiry.

Programs include the tried and true, such as “Intro to Judaism,” and special lectures such as “The Jewish Bible in Christmas Art,” and a lecture series titled, “America: The Moral Nation,” whose last panel discussion, “What Is a Just War?” is scheduled for Nov. 14. Next semester’s programs will include a deeper look into different faiths, as well as classes on Jewish topics, such as “Not Madonna’s Kabbalah,” an introduction to Jewish mystical literature.

The center is one of a number of Los Angeles Jewish organizations featuring lectures and classes for adults, but hopes to be different because “rather than presenting a speaker on a topic or himself, we’re hoping to thread these into a larger socio-cultural context,” Stein said.

“It’s necessary because the world is an increasingly complicated place,” he said. “It’s becoming ever more focused on religious ideas. And in our small, humble way, we hope to be a center where people can come and encounter learning and explore religion in a safe environment.”

Letters 06-30-2006


South Central Farm
Ralph Horowitz’s claim of anti-Semitism simply serves to inject ethnic conflict into a debate it does not belong (“A Harvest of Conflict,” June 23).

As part of our senior project, I and my friend, Deepak Seeni, interviewed some of the people involved in the farm. I suffered no anti-Semitism. On the contrary, some of the people seemed interested when I explained why I could not eat the food that was being sold there.

To portray Horowitz negatively at a time of negotiations was foolish, but to judge on the basis of what a hate group the leadership condemned said is ridiculous. If Horowitz was interested in negotiating in good faith but found current leadership distasteful, I don’t understand why he didn’t accept the deal negotiated by the city and nonprofit groups on the basis that the city or another neutral agency be in charge of running the urban garden.

Throwing out misleading accusations doesn’t show good faith, and the fact this piece of land was not saved, in the end hurts only the kids whose closest alternative for play is an empty parking lot, while the parties unproductively blame each other.

Horowitz now has the chance to be a true mensch by simply reentering negotiations and finding a way to save that space for the community.

Charlie Carnow
Northridge

Assemblymember Monta?ez
In a column providing all sound bites and no substance, Jill Stewart offers comments disparaging Assemblymember Cindy Monta?ez (“These Dems Could Help Unlock Gridlock,” June 16). These comments are both mean-spirited and baseless.

Stewart’s first barb that Monta?ez (D-Mission Hills) is “an emotional hyperpartisan” is both sexist and false. Exactly how does one measure emotional hyperpartisanship? First, Monta?ez is a policymaker; [L.A. City Councilman Alex] Padilla is a power broker with little interest in real policy.

Next, Stewart makes claims like “[Monta?ez] proved incapable of working with both sides of the aisle in Sacramento.” Stewart, unsurprisingly, provides no support for this claim. Indeed, were Stewart an informed journalist, she would know that Assemblymember Monta?ez has co-authored 12 bipartisan pieces of legislation this session alone (AB547, AB568, etc). And readers should know that her legislation, signed by the governor, was, by definition, acknowledged by Republican leadership as necessary and important work.

Stewart is also off base in her ludicrous assertions that Monta?ez’s pro-labor position hurts her Latino constituents. In fact, being pro-labor and a being a friend to small business are not mutually exclusive. Rather, the reason that major labor organizations support Monta?ez is that she takes on, not kowtows to, big business. Stewart needs to do her homework.

Roy Kaufmann
Field Representative
Office of Assemblymember
Cindy Monta?ez

Jews and China
You’ve got it partially right — the next revolution in Jewish life is already taking place relative to China, but in a very different way than you describe and for a very different reason. (“This Week,” June 16).

Let me explain. Both traditional Judaism and the predominant Chinese philosophies are unbroken traditions addressing the whole person — intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Traditional Chinese medicine, based upon that premise, is truly holistic and integrative in both theory and clinical practice.

For this reason, an ever-increasing number of Jews seeking to bring balance to their lives and wellness to their health are attracted to Chinese medicine. Also, an ever-increasing number of Chinese medical practitioners and students are Jewish.

Yehuda Frischman
Los Angeles

You are not alone in your envisioning of Jews in China. In 1970, plus or minus a few years, Max Dimont, the author of “Jews, God and History,” was the speaker at a Temple Soleal retreat in Santa Barbara. He ended his talks with the prediction that the next great revival of Jews would be in China. Needless to say, most of us were dumbfounded. But the thought remained with me ever since.

Stan Burney
Via e-mail

Campus Activism
In his op-ed, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller mischaracterizes pro-Israel campus activism and ignores its importance and effectiveness (“Different Tack on Campus Challenge,” June 23). UCLA, in the heart of Jewish Los Angeles, does not always reflect what is happening nationally and internationally.

The rabbi’s approach certainly can enhance these efforts, but contrary to his charge, activist groups like StandWithUs promote coalition and bridge-building as a necessary part of activism. If the pro-Israel/pro-peace community abandons activism, it will do so at great risk.

Roz Rothstein, National Director
Dr. Roberta Seid, Educational Consultant
Esther Renzer, President StandWithUs

Kosher Entity
I am perplexed as to where the millions –if not billions — of dollars in profits that the “strongest and wealthiest entity in the Jewish world, ” except for Israel, as described by Rabbi Jacob Pressman, reside. Is there a secret bank account in Switzerland for the Orthodox Union (OU), the largest kosher certification entity?

The OU is a registered not for profit, so Pressman could easily check its financial documents (Letters, June 23).

While a few purveyors of kosher food –many of them non-Orthodox Jews or non-Jews — may make a handsome profit, the idea of a massive, megawealthy Orthodox “kosher entity” is as mythical as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

As an admirer of Pressman’s many contributions to L.A. Jewry and a member of a Conservative congregation, I am sorely disappointed that the rabbi has chosen to engage in what can only be called Orthodox bashing. And his words reinforce the negative canard that kashrut is “all about the money.”

Jodie Davidson
Woodland Hills

John Fishel
While the article titled, “A Private Man,” about John Fishel that ran May 26 was informative, it did not highlight one of Fishel’s key strengths.

Expert after expert has declared that a vital dynamic causing growth and change in 21st century Jewish life is directly proportional to the successful rise of entrepreneurial, Jewish, social venture startups. Jewish Los Angeles has spawned more of these new and creative organizations that address the myriad interests and needs such a diverse population requires than any other area outside of New York.

A great deal of these initiatives are being adapted and re-created in cities across the country, such as new spiritual communities, organizations that decry global genocide and serve the special needs of Jewish children among many others. Fishel has consistently taken the position that new organizations can and should arise and that their existence alone adds immeasurable value.

This is not true in most places. I believe the prolific number of creative ventures attest to the success of this position and must be noted.

Rhoda Uziel
Executive Director
Professional Leaders Project

Correction
In “Young Lawyer Has a Ball With Bet Tzedek” (June 23), The Journal incorrectly reported that Jeffrey A. Sklar is an attorney at Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP. Although he once worked at that firm, he is now an associate in the corporate practice of Loeb & Loeb LLP in Los Angeles.

In “Jesus’ Man Has a Plan” (June 23) the Rev. Rick Warren received his kippah from Jimmy Kolker, former U.S. ambassador in Uganda, not from the country’s president, as reported. Additionally, the invitation to Warren came from Rabbi David Wolpe, Craig Taubman and the ATID program at Sinai Temple, not from Synagogue 3000.

 

Evangelicals Slate Pro-Israel Lobbying


Some 2,000 extremely pro-Israel community and religious leaders will meet in Washington on July 19, fan out across Capitol Hill and, in effect, tell their legislators: If you want our political backing, you must support the Jewish state — no ifs or buts.

There won’t be a single Jew among the citizen lobbyists. They will all be evangelical Christians, mainly ordained and lay pastors, embarking on the first major public action of the newly formed Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

The founder and leader of the group is the Rev. John C. Hagee of the 19,000-member Cornerstone Church of San Antonio, Texas, and a televangelist whose broadcasts reach millions in the United States and 120 other countries.

In 1978, in the first of his 21 trips to Israel, “I went as a tourist and returned as a Zionist,” Hagee said.

Last week, Hagee visited Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego to enlist support for his 4-month-old organization –both among fellow evangelicals and in front of generally enthusiastic, but occasionally skeptical, Jewish audiences.

Addressing the Board of Rabbis of Southern California at the L.A. Jewish Community Building, Hagee outlined two major projects, in addition to the July summit in Washington:

  • Expand the existing “rapid response network” of 12,000 pastors, who can mobilize their congregations instantly to flood the White House and Congress with e-mails on any legislation affecting Israel’s security and well-being.
  • Institute an annual “Night to Honor Israel” in every major American city to assure Israel and Jews everywhere that “you do not stand alone.” The emotional event is already a fixture in large Texas cities and in other Southern states.

Hagee and his followers have given a total of $8.5 million to Israeli causes, including an orphanage and for absorption of Russian immigrants, he said, but the major impact of CUFI is likely to be on the political scene.

The pastor didn’t spell it out, but his associates made clear that they view CUFI as a kind of super American Israel Public Affairs Committee, representing some 50 million evangelical Christians. This constituency, in sharp contrast to the Jewish community, shares the conservative social outlook of the present administration and represents its hardcore political base.

This kind of influence cannot be ignored by U.S. Jews, said Shimon Erem, founding president of the Israel-Christian Nexus, who introduced Hagee.

“We don’t have too many friends; we cannot prevail without them,” said Erem.

CUFI’s purpose, according to its official brochure, is “to provide a national association through which every pro-Israel church, parachurch organization, ministry or individual in America can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters related to biblical issues.”

The last six words may sound vague, but they are key to the evangelicals’ deeply rooted advocacy for Israel. As unquestioning believers in the inerrant truth of Scripture, Hagee and his followers are convinced that every inch of the God-given land belongs to the Jews alone and forever.

Hagee insists that he never interferes in the decisions of the Israeli government, but his opposition to the withdrawals in Gaza and the West Bank, for instance, gives concern to liberal Jewish organizations.

However, it is mainly Orthodox spokesmen, who otherwise agree with Hagee’s social and biblical views, who have publicly questioned whether the pastor’s underlying motive is the conversion of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.

The Rabbinical Council of America, representing Orthodox rabbis and congregations, has officially protested the Israeli government’s license to Daystar, the second largest Christian network in the United States, to broadcast 24/7 over an Israeli satellite network.

Hagee, a major Daystar supporter and on-air personality, has consistently affirmed that he will not proselytize Jews, although the network’s lineup also includes “messianic” Jews with long pro-conversion records.

When Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, head of the anti-cult Jews for Judaism, raised this issue with Hagee at the Los Angeles meeting, the pastor did not respond directly, but his genial Southern folksiness took on a harder edge.

“If rabbis would put more emphasis on putting Jewish kids into Jewish schools, young Jews would never want to become Christians,” Hagee said.

 

Modern Orthodoxy’s Marriage Crisis


Hard-to-marry-off children have been worrying parents since Genesis, when Leah, her eyes tender from the sadness of being unwanted, took part in a hoax to trick Jacob — her younger, prettier sister’s suitor — into marrying her. There’s no indication of how old Leah was at betrothal, but the tone of the text prompts a mortifying thought: Had she lived in our time, the future matriarch of the Jewish people would likely be another tough case for the matchmakers.

Or so I surmised a few months ago after a crowded panel in Manhattan on what has come to be known as the “shidduch crisis” in Modern Orthodoxy. Over the past decade, rabbis, activists and parents have been wringing their hands over the “ever-burgeoning number of religious singles and rising percentage of failed marriages” in the community. This event was only the most recent of many discussions devoted to the topic.

Having once been both single and Modern Orthodox, I recognized many of the audience members — not exact faces, of course, but types: The knitted-browed parents, bantering anxiously among themselves; the fresh-faced Stern and Yeshiva University students who seemed too young to take the bus themselves, let alone join in holy matrimony; a handful of older singles brave enough to show their faces at such a gathering.

The evening’s discussion traversed a lot of ground, but it was clear that among its primary goals was the prevention of those too-often-seen tragic situations — “marriages that end, God forbid, in divorce” and “people who are in their late 20s, even 30, and not married.”

The timing could not have been better — or worse: Three days earlier, I had signed divorce papers; six days later, I turned 30.

Of course, the world is filled with singles wishing to be part of doubles. Since the fate of every society turns on the success or failure of its particular set of mating rituals, each one develops its own specialized system of coupling. But what happens when those rituals erode?

This is the bind in which Modern Orthodoxy has lately found itself. Over the past decade, the movement has drifted to the right — adopting, along the way, the belief that greater stringency in Jewish law and ritual equals greater religiosity. Distinctions that might seem infinitesimal to an outsider — “she’s a Bais Yaakov girl,” “he wears a kippah sruga” — have become fundamental differences, and competitions have sprouted up over who follows which obligations more strictly.

Along with new perspectives on the legality of singing in the shower and smoking cigarettes on Passover, there also has emerged a more exacting code of modesty and celibacy for singles. In response, ever younger people have begun racing to the chuppah, with many of us discussing potential mates as early as high school.

This is the system used successfully by the ultra-Orthodox, who place more emphasis on God, family and community than on individual choices: Each person has confidence in her mate not only because he is right for her, but because he is right for everyone and everything in her life. On the other end of the spectrum, the secular world offers a method based on individualism: Release yourself from everyone else’s expectations, and date as many people as it takes to find the one.

The problem is that both of these opposing philosophies are now circulating in the Modern Orthodox community, and their coexistence is causing static — mixed signals, false expectations, miscommunications. The confusion might be surmountable, but muddling through it requires two things that Orthodox Jews who’d like to remain marriageable don’t have: experience and time.

The first inkling that I did not have nearly enough time to find a mate was in my junior year of yeshiva high school. We were learning about Amuka, an area in northern Israel where the prayers of people looking for their besherts (destined partners) allegedly are answered, when I was seized with confusion.

“Can each person only have one beshert?” I asked.

“I think so,” said the rabbi.

“But what about a woman who remarries after her husband dies? Which one was her beshert?”

“Only God knows,” came the reply.

“What if my beshert lives in, like, Pakistan?”

“You have to just believe, Alana.”

I can’t, I thought suddenly. I don’t know enough about the world.

And with that, Amuka became my Archimedean point, the place where I stood when I inadvertently lifted my entire religious world off its axis. After that, the questions came quickly — even leading, briefly, to a period of greater observance.

By the time I started my second year at Barnard, I was taking classes on other religions, had an Episcopalian best friend and regularly attended non-Jewish campus events on Friday night, as long as I could walk to them.

But as my curiosity about the larger world expanded, the atmosphere of Modern Orthodoxy contracted. I wanted to engage with the secular world — to learn about it as well as to experience it — but the same adventures that might have once been par for the Modern Orthodox course now threatened to make me an outcast.

I was too attached to religious life and thought to abandon it entirely. Instead, I made the kind of unspoken compromises with my parents (and, by extension, the community) that some people make with God: I will not go to services often, but when I do, I’ll attend Orthodox synagogues; I will eat nonkosher in restaurants but at home will abide by rules strict enough that the rebbe could snack in my kitchen; I will avoid premarital sex, but won’t follow the laws of negiah.

This last item was, in fact, the only one for which I had an intellectual defense. I was shy and insecure about sex and knew enough to fear its power as an obfuscating force in relationships. The more I knew, I thought, the better my chances that I wouldn’t mistake lust for love.

Fooling around before marriage has, historically, not been an uncommon practice among Modern Orthodox Jews. After all, they gave the world the “tefillin date,” so named for the men who brought along their phylacteries in hopes they wouldn’t be home in time for morning prayers.

By my early 20s, the community had moved significantly to the right. People found themselves caught between rules of the old world and the kind of curiosity about sex and dating fostered in the new one.

“It is bad enough to be alone, but to be not sexual is almost as bad, and the two together is terrible,” writes an anonymous Orthodox blogger. “I have had fantasies of killing myself. I have considered hiring a male prostitute and getting it over with. No, I have not tried either of those last two things, chas vishalom…. To all the married people out there telling older singles that they should deny themselves, I wish I could respond, ‘Let he who is 34 and never been kissed cast the first stone.'”

I was 25 when I married — a bit old compared to my yeshiva classmates but still within respectable limits. To a casual observer, Daniel might have seemed like a rebellious choice: He did not grow up Orthodox; his father is not Jewish; his last name is Scotch-Irish. But he was almost as connected to the community as I was, having just gotten out of a relationship with another Orthodox woman.

He had started learning Hebrew, loved Shabbat and had relatives in Israel. And, unlike me, he had yichus, a distinguished lineage: His grandfather was a famed civil rights lawyer and Zionist activist. He was different enough, and yet similar.

After a year of dating, we wanted to move in together, but I knew this was unheard of in our circles. So I made another silent compromise: I’d marry the person of my choosing, but at an age and in a way that would be acceptable within the community.

Daniel and I married before we should have, a step that put undue pressure on a young relationship and two people still struggling to define themselves. When the marriage ruptured, so did the thin thread holding me to Orthodoxy. I became angry at the community for depriving me of my adolescence or, rather, for being too rigid to encourage it.

As psychologist Naomi Mark said at the panel on the shidduch crisis that I attended, the community expects young adults to have marriage, education and careers settled, or at least on track, by their early 20s, leaving no time to make the kind of mistakes that teach us who we are. My effort to avoid these mistakes — to experience the world but not so much that I’d be forced from the community’s safe corral — threatened to split the baby. And the baby was me.

In the end, I chose self-definition over religion. As Plato promised, the examined life is indeed fulfilling — firsthand experience of oneself trumps guesswork any day — but it’s not nearly as pretty as the brochure implies. For me, the ugliness lies not in the fact that by opening the door to all experience I’ve ushered in pain as well as joy, or because in the course of learning about myself, I’ve unearthed a few things I’d rather never have known — though both have certainly happened.

What most disquiets me is the limbo. Unlike my Orthodox peers, who can be sure of the basic contours of their lives, I writhe with uncertainty: Where will I be living 10 years from now? What school will my kids attend? How kosher will my kitchen be?

Sometimes, the fog gets so intimidating that I start to wonder if there’s still time to go back, to abandon all this liberty and just get comfortable again. Alas, I fear all this experience has ruined me; I’ve lost too many virginities — intellectual, emotional, psychological and, well, otherwise — to mesh again with that life. Plus, as the panel proved, the community hardly needs another 30-year-old woman in need of marrying off, especially one without a younger, prettier sister to use as bait.

Alana Newhouse is the arts and letters editor at The Forward.

Reprinted from

Unraveling the Red String


It’s just before midnight, and the Pico-Robertson neighborhood is bustling. Teenagers are hanging out on corners near the pharmacy and suited men and high-heeled women are walking from synagogue to synagogue to attend the lecture of their choice.

It’s the first night of Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates when the Jews received the Torah, and it’s customary to stay up all night studying Jewish topics in what’s called a Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, which literally means a repair (as in tikkun olam). It’s a repair for the fact that the Israelites fell asleep the night before the Torah was given; they were not excited enough, so now Jews, throughout the centuries, have studied, sometimes in a private chevruta but often by listening to scholars speak.

Around this neighborhood — and the city — the standard lectures were being given on topics ranging from the Book of Ruth to Israel, but something off the beaten path was taking place on Robertson Boulevard in a lecture at Anshei Emet Synagogue. The subject was “Kabbalah and the Red String.”

Kabbalah is not often a topic studied by the Orthodox (who believe, according to tradition, that the mystical studies should only be done by scholars older than 40), and this was not necessarily a lecture one would expect to be delivered by Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, who is the head of Jews for Judaism, an anti-missionary and anti-cult center.

Jews for Judaism was founded 21 years ago “to keep Jews Jewish and defend the community from threats and missionaries.” Its primary purpose has been to train Jews to ward off traditional missionaries, such as Jews for Jesus (which its name seems to parody), messianic Jews, Mormons and Evangelical Christians.

But kabbalists?

At the late-night lecture addressed to some 40 men and women — seated separately on wood benches on the men’s side of the synagogue — Kravitz never mentioned any kabbalah institution by name. Well, not exactly. But add up the references to red string, Madonna, Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher, expensive holy water and you can put it all together. The rabbi was alluding to the controversial practices of The Kabbalah Centre, whose L.A. base is on Robertson Boulevard.

“If Madonna can wear a T-shirt saying she’s a cult member, who am I to argue with her?” Kravitz said.

Kabbalah is a library of Jewish mystical writing initiated in the 12th and 13th centuries of the common era in the books of the Zohar. The Zohar tells you the mystical reasons of the commandments, and that when you follow these commandments, you hasten the bringing of the Messiah.

During the hourlong midnight lecture Kravitz discussed why the kabbalah being promulgated by celebrities at the Kabbalah Centre is not the real kabbalah of ancient Jewish mystics. He talked of what true mystical study really is and how religious Jews can benefit from it in their own spiritual practices.

He spoke of what it means to have spiritual kavanah, or intention, when you do something. Spiritual intention is good, he said, but intention without action is meaningless. Take charity for example. One can be meditating kabbalistically on charity, “but if there’s a person sitting opposite you starving to death, you’re commanded to actually feed them.”

Mystical thoughts can enhance spiritual practice, “but the action is always the main thing,” he said. “And without mentioning names, when people take the action out of it, they’re missing the purpose of why we do mitzvot and connecting to God.”

At the center, a common practice is to read letters and words repeatedly, including the Zohar, the original kabbalistic mystical text.

Kravitz earlier told The Journal in a phone interview that he didn’t want to focus on The Kabbalah Centre by name because “I’m not interested in giving them more publicity. It’s giving them credibility — they don’t belong in the paper — every time some star decides to do something with them, they deserve space in a Jewish paper?” he asked, referring to The Jewish Journal. “To me, they’re no different than Mormonism or Jews for Jesus or Scientology. They’re using the terminology to make themselves look Jewish, but they’re not part of it.”

This was not the first time Kravitz has delivered his lecture “Kabbalah and the Red String,” whose advance flyer included questions: “Why are people seeking answers to modern-day issues in an ancient Jewish wisdom? Why has kabbalah left so many disillusioned, angry and confused?”

In the last couple of years, he’s delivered the same talk at synagogues and institutions like the University of Judaism. But Kravitz’s open questioning of the center represents a shift in the notion of what constitutes today’s missionaries and today’s threats to Judaism.

“I don’t think cults have become less of a threat today; there are just different kinds of cults,” he said. “There are psychotherapy cults, freedom of mind cults…. People being pressured to volunteer and get their friends to join — if you’re told that you can’t benefit from the program, that may be a form of manipulation,” he said.

“I don’t need to call [The Kabbalah Centre] a cult. They don’t understand what a cult is. A cult is a group that uses deception and manipulation to keep members in its group.”

Rabbi Michael Berg, co-director of The Kabbalah Centre, was not available for comment as of press time. He has denied in the media that The Kabbalah Centre is a cult and rejects the idea that anyone is being brainwashed. In 2000, he told New Times, “One of the basic teachings of the center is, ‘Don’t accept a word that anyone tells you; you have to come to your own understanding and live with it.’ Unlike many other religious organizations, there’s no coercion. It’s the opposite of that. We’re very open that we need financial support to continue publishing books and running the organization, but there’s no push. It’s more like, ‘If you have a chance, please help us out.'”

Kravitz, of course, is far from being the first Jewish rabbi or academic scholar to denounce the center.

For example, in February, the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies hosted Rachel Elior, a professor of Jewish philosophy and Jewish mystical thought, and chair of Hebrew University’s department of Jewish studies, to discuss “The History of Jewish Mysticism and West Coast Kabbalah.” Elior was much more direct than Kravitz. She said that The Kabbalah Centre is “part of the new age phenomenon, when ideas are for sale. The center would not be spending one day on this if they couldn’t sell it. Kabbalah was once a matter of defiance and freedom of creativity; nowadays it is www.kabbalah.com — not ‘dot-edu’ and not ‘dot-org’ — but commerce. The center is part of the new age, part of globalization. They are trying to couple spiritual grace with material success.”

“The Kabbalah Centres today have nothing to do with the Divine Plan for hidden meaning of the text or with any of that,” Elior said. “They are basically about selling books for people who don’t read them … or for people who believe that by having a red string or drinking holy water they are connecting to the mysteries of the world.”

But not all rabbis and scholars in the Jewish mainstream agree with Kravitz’s dire assessment.

Jody Myers, professor of religious studies and coordinator of the Jewish studies program at CSUN, is writing a book about the popularization of kabbalah in America. She doesn’t believe that there is any such thing as authentic kabbalah, and she points out that The Kabbalah Centre doesn’t claim to be part of the Jewish community. Myers says she neither condemns nor condones The Kabbalah Centre.

In terms of its fundraising, Myers says that The Kabbalah Centre needs to raise funds, as do all Jewish organizations; it’s just doing it differently.

“I think that the American Jewish community puts a lot of pressure on people to raise money. It costs an awful lot of money to be Jewish today,” she said. At The Kabbalah Centre, “there are no membership fees, there is no annual membership, they get money from selling stuff and charging for lectures and classes. And they get money asking people to donate to a good cause, which is them.”

The participants, she said “give their money freely; they feel very grateful for [the center] and they are getting something from them that they are not getting from somewhere else.”

In the past, The Kabbalah Centre has shrugged off its critics.

At one Shabbat service in 1997, which The Jewish Journal attended, center founder Philip Berg sermonized that rabbis who oppose the center “don’t want you to know the truth. They want you to live in chaos. They are the enemies of enlightenment.”

During the last two decades, Kravitz said that Jews for Judaism has worked with thousands of people — people targeted by missionaries and cults and their concerned family members — and in recent years, these have included people from the center. “The people that I’ve come into contact with clearly accuse The Kabbalah Centre of being very manipulative and being very deceptive with their promises,” he said.

What advice does Kravitz offer to those at risk of an unhealthy involvement?

“Always use critical thinking,” the rabbi said. “Always question. Don’t accept what people say because it sounds good at first.”

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz will be teaching a countermissionary survival seminar Tuesday evenings through June 27 at 7:30 p.m. To register, call (310) 556-3344.

 

This Week – In and Out


Last Friday, when the sun went down in Los Angeles, the Jewish community came alive.

At Sinai Temple in Westwood, 2,000 people packed the sanctuary — standing-room only — to hear Elie Wiesel speak during Friday Night Live services as part of the temple’s centennial celebration (see story on page 13). Afterward, hundreds of 20-somethings stayed for a special Q-and-A session with Oprah’s favorite Holocaust author.

Not three blocks away, Israeli novelist Amos Oz held an overflow Shabbat evening crowd of 800 in his thrall as Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel’s guest speaker.

I stopped in at two other synagogues that night: at Leo Baeck Temple, a Reform shul in Bel Air, a capacity crowd attended the usual, uplifting service, and on La Cienega Boulevard, at Conservative Temple Beth Am, 100 United Synagogue Youth from around California greeted Shabbat on the rooftop, a foretaste of raucous summer camp nights to camp.

On the way home — you may have gathered that, yes, I drive on Shabbat — I took Pico Boulevard, quiet but for the dozens of Orthodox Jews walking home from services.

That’s just a few square miles of L.A. Jewry — I never made it over the hill, or even to the hill, where hundreds flocked to services at Stephen S. Wise Temple.

There’s only so much herring one Jew can eat, my grandfather used to say; it’s hard to be two places at once.

You’d think by now the fact that Jewish life is lived so intensely in Los Angeles would cease to amaze me — after all, this is the second largest Jewish population in the United States. But there remains such a constant wailing over the state of Jewish life that I occasionally have to wonder whether the worriers actually know any, um, Jews.

The latest round of “Oy Veying” was transatlantic. Two weeks ago, the profoundly talented Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua told an audience of American Jews in Washington, D.C., that Jewish life is experienced more completely in Israel than anywhere else.

There is, he said, “a fundamental boundary between Jewish identity in Israel and Jewish identity in the Diaspora.”

The former, he argued, was richer, more meaningful and authentic, rooted in the land and language of the Jewish people. The latter, he said, led to an attenuated sense of Jewishness.

“I cannot keep my identity outside Israel,” he said.

Outside Israel, Yehoshua argued, one wears one’s Judaism like a coat that can be taken on or off. Inside Israel, one wears it like skin.

The remarks before the American Jewish Committee touched off a war of words among Israeli and American Jews. The Israeli daily Haaretz ran essays with supporting and competing views. Yehoshua apologized for the bluntness of his remarks in subsequent interviews, but held to them in a more refined way. It’s an argument Yehoshua and a certain stream of Zionists has been making for years. And while I logically rebel against it, there’s a part of me that understands Yehoshua.

Many years ago, I met him while he was on a speaking tour in Los Angeles. We stepped outside his Marina del Rey hotel so he could smoke his pipe. We spoke, in Hebrew, about how the feeling of one’s Jewishness is of a different quality and intensity in Israel, where I had just been living, than in, say, Marina del Rey.

There was a bit of silence. He knocked the dottle from his bowl and turned to me.

“You have to come back,” he said, then walked inside.

If there weren’t a grain of truth in what he’s still saying, people wouldn’t be so upset. But there are other truths as well about Jewish identity: competing, confusing, contradicting ones that I have come to appreciate in the years since. Having lived in Israel, I can tell you the Jews there don’t all walk about aglow with the flame of their Jewishness. Yehoshua’s novels are populated with characters as spiritually bereft in Tel Aviv as Philip Roth’s are in Newark.

As it happens, I do meet Israelis all the time who are leading rich Jewish lives — they’re in Los Angeles.

Diaspora just may be as important to the Jewish existence, and the Jewish psyche, as Zion. There is a practical aspect — money and political support from outside Israel helped create and helps sustain the state — as well as a more ethereal one. The power of being the landless outsider, some might argue, roots us in ideals.

“In the name of nationalism,” wrote Douglas Rushkoff in “Nothing Sacred,” “Jews abandon iconoclasm, the long-standing insight into the false idols of land-based peoples…. Zionism has become a mantra for Jews fighting against assimilation. But Judaism itself was formulated as a way of transcending the obsession with physical territory and focusing instead on the supremacy of time and the realm of ideas. What’s more assimilated than rallying around a flag and fighting for a plot of land, just like everybody else?”

Yehoshua isn’t saying that our existence depends on in-gathering — he knows that argument falls flat in the face of 2,000 years of Jewish existence in exile. But he fails to appreciate the fact that so many of us live in the tension between his truth and Rushkoff’s, belonging everywhere and nowhere, forever trying to be in two places at once.

 

Wandering Jew – Spiritual Headliners


Dozens of young giggling girls dressed in their finest skirts and blouses crowded the front of the Universal Hilton ballroom, which was hot and stuffy and filled to standing-room only capacity with women in anticipation of the big event.

When the music started all the girls and women jumped to their feet and started clapping, beatific, expectant smiles on their faces.

It could have been a rock concert — perhaps the debut of famous boy band — but it was not that kind of music and these were not that kind of girls. For most of the 3,000 men and women — seated in separate rooms, with a video screen for the women — the happening was one of the most important ever in Los Angeles and in the lives of these ultra-Orthodox Jews.

These members of Los Angeles’ ultra-Orthodox community had come together for an asefa, a spiritual gathering, to see and hear two of Israel’s greatest rabbis speak words of Torah and offer spiritual reinforcement to this far-flung Diaspora community.

These were gedolei hador, luminaries, leaders of the generation and the heads of the two separate — and often divided — factions of the ultra-Orthodox communities. Rabbi Yakov Aryeh Alter, known the Gerrer Rebbe, represents the Chasidic faction, and Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman leads the Litvak, or Lithuanian (non-Chasidic) faction.

To the outsider, the sea of black hats might look monolithic, but these were worlds among worlds gathered in the room. The Chasidim, with their long curly peyos (sidelocks), furry streimel hats and shiny black kaputa coats, came from a long tradition that began in the 17th century, one that emphasizes spiritual joy in addition to academic Torah study.

More austere in trim beards and black suits were the Lithuanians, or Mitnagdim, literally meaning opponents to Chasidism. But today the word usually refers to black-hat non-Chasidic Jews who have a more analytic approach to learning, as practiced in their yeshivas.

It was like the Jets and the Sharks coming together. In the men’s section, a three-level podium contained a veritable who’s who of the Los Angeles rabbinical world: Rabbi Avrohom Union of the Rabbinical Council of California, Rabbi Meyer May of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Sholom Ginsberg of Toras Emes, Rabbi Eleazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, Rabbi David Toledano of Adat Yeshurun Sephardic Congregation, Rabbi Avrohom Czapnik (an actual Gerrer Chasid). There, too, standing out in a black hat and startlingly royal blue tie, was Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

To start things off, a number of rabbis spoke leading up to the two luminaries. They explained the significance of the evening.

“How could we be zocheh [meriting] for two gedolei hador to come here?” Rabbi Baruch Yehuda Gradon, from the Los Angeles Kollel, asked in that English-Hebrew-Yiddish mixture so prevalent in the ultra-Orthodox community.

“It’s hard to believe we’re on the West Coast of the United States,” he said.

Rabbi Ginsberg took pride in the growth of the community in this nonheavenly city.

“We in Los Angeles, we are not Eretz Yisroel [Israel], we are not New York, we are not even Lakewood,” he said, referring to the New Jersey community where the men learn full-time in Kollel yeshivas.

But, he said, this city has its own network of Kollels, yeshivas and outreach institutions.

In recent years Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest Jewish community, has become a stop for visiting Jewish dignitaries — especially politicians, hoping to tap into the fundraising network here. The visit of these two luminaries — together for the first time — also put Los Angeles on the map as an up-and-coming spiritual center. And perhaps, this appearance also was a testing ground for such an unusual pairing, an event that might get out of hand in a community as big as New York or New Jersey or Israel.

The occasion was also an effort to show unity between the two factions.

“There is no division between a Chasid and a Mitnaged, between Ashkenaz and Sephard, and between a businessman and yeshiva man,” Rabbi Ginsberg said.

There were some divisions, of course, with the men and women in separate rooms. According to the Israeli press, the two rabbis chartered a special El Al flight with no women stewardesses and no women in first class — and without movies. But this is de rigueur for a community accustomed to segregation (especially the Chasidic community).

The main purpose of the evening was to offer a lifeline of spiritual support to the Los Angeles community — a soulful community in a city of soul-seekers and religious innovators.

Rabbi Steinman, 93, clutched the podium, his face pale as paper, flanked on each side by rabbis for support. He spoke for 20 minutes in Yiddish. The Gerer rebbe, Yakov Alter, a more robust man with white hair and peyos and heavy lidded eyes, delivered a short, one-minute speech from his chair.

Both men’s words were translated by Rabbi Usher Weiss in a crisp, booming European-accented English.

“If all we would do here tonight is look and listen, then this effort would be in vain and this trip would not have achieved its goal,” he said to the rapt audience, some of whom were taping the remarks on their PalmPilots and other electronic devices.

Weiss was mostly translating the words of Rabbi Steinman, but he seemed to intersperse his own comments, as well: “A person must feel every day that our worship of yesterday is not enough. Every day is a new responsibility. The angels are great but they have no tests. For us it’s all about [personal] growth.”

“What matters is not how big you are but how much you grow,” said Weiss in his translation/commentary.

It was no accident that this gathering fell on the holiday of Lag B’Omer, a celebration in the middle of a mourning period, the 49 days of counting the omer. Jewish groups around the city made traditional bonfires to mark the holiday, which, by some accounts, marks the end of an ancient plague that killed thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students.

At the Universal Hilton, Weiss spoke of Rabbi Akiva, whose most famous teaching was love thy neighbor as thyself.

“Mutual respect, this is the lesson we have to learn on this day,” he said.

He blessed the rabbis and the audience, his voice ringing out loud and clear: “I am confident that each of the participants will remember this day to the last of his days.”

 

Another Tendler Steps Down


The longtime principal of one of Los Angeles’ largest Jewish high schools is leaving to start a new school. Rabbi Sholom Tendler resigned last week as Hebrew principal of Yeshiva of Los Angeles (YULA) and as rabbi of Young Israel of North Beverly Hills. He said he plans to open a new yeshiva boys’ high school elsewhere in Los Angeles.

Tendler’s resignation comes shortly after his nephew, Rabbi Aron Tendler, resigned under pressure as rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village. Meanwhile, Tendler’s other nephew, Rabbi Mordechai Tendler was suspended this year by the board of his New York City-area synagogue as a result of longstanding allegations about alleged sexual misconduct.

Sholom Tendler, 61, says his departure is a matter only of his desire to start a new high school.

Sholom Tendler has been YULA’s rosh yeshiva, Hebrew for principal, for the last 26 years, including in 1987, when the school hired attorneys secretly to investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior against Aron Tendler. The internal probe yielded inconclusive results, but Aron Tendler was moved from the girls school to the separate boys school.

“I was aware of that investigation,” Sholom Tendler told The Journal, adding that he recused himself from the situation because his relative was involved.

After news of the investigation came to light in recent months, YULA alums and parents expressed outrage that the school dealt with the matter privately. Some clamored for “accountability.” Sholom Tendler’s resignation, so soon after the disclosures, has inevitably invited speculation that his departure is, in effect, the school’s response to community pressure.

Not so, Sholom Tendler said.

“There is absolutely no connection whatsoever between [what happened with his nephews] and my decision to build this new school,” he said. “It’s unfortunate how unfounded rumors can blacken even the most beautiful of endeavors.”

Sholom Tendler also expressed sympathy for his nephews’ ordeals: “It’s very painful, and I’m supportive of them and their families in this terrible time of agony that they’re going through.”

Aron Tendler has declined interview requests; Mordechai Tendler has been more vocal, denying any wrongdoing.

YULA officials also emphasized that Sholom Tendler’s exit is voluntary.

“He helped create YULA,” said Rabbi Meyer May, the executive director of YULA’s boys division. “He could have stayed at YULA for his entire career.”

So why is Sholom Tendler leaving?

He replied that there is a shortage of yeshiva high schools in Los Angeles.

“Anybody will tell you there are not enough high school desks in Los Angeles. It’s a healthy sign, but a serious problem,” Sholom Tendler said.

His added that his new school will fill a niche for the more “ultra” side of the Orthodox community, while also stressing a serious academic curriculum.

Sholom Tendler is calling his new high school Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok — named for his father, Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler, a rebbe who inspired “a joy of learning,” as Tendler put it. He plans to open in September for about 10 to 15 ninth-graders. He said he is currently scouting for a location in the Pico-Robertson or La Brea area.

The school will provide both serious Torah study and strong secular academics.

“People who are observing the demographics in the Jewish community see that there are a growing number of people who are very serious about religious observance and at the same time want to live in the professional or business world, rather than the rabbinate. We want parents to have the opportunity to prepare their sons for either way of life,” he said.

Because of the labor involved in starting a school, Sholom Tendler also is stepping down from heading Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, where he has served as rabbi almost since its inception 13 years ago. He will stay on until the search committee finds a new rabbi. He said he expects to remain involved in the community, possibly as rabbi emeritus.

 

Campus Outreach Connects Orthodox


At the Enormous Activities Fair during UCLA’s Welcome Week last September, Sharona Kaplan stepped away from her own brochure-laden table to help out at the busier Hillel table.

A first-year student perusing Hillel’s sign-up sheet seemed stuck on one question.

“So what kind of services are you looking for? Liberal, Conservative, Orthodox?” Kaplan asked her.

“The least religious,” the girl said, and Kaplan helped her mark the box for “Reform.”

That doesn’t bother Kaplan at all — each student should find what’s appropriate for him or her, she believes.

But her particular mission is to serve Orthodox Jews and to encourage observant Judaism.

Sharona Kaplan and her husband, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, both 26, arrived in September 2004 through the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus(JLIC), a program sponsored by the Orthodox Union, Hillel and the Torah Mitzion organization to serve the needs of Orthodox students.

Since the program began five years ago, it has anchored couples on 12 U.S. campuses — three of them newly placed this past September — as well as at Oxford University in England. Each couple is a young rabbi and his wife, charged with teaching classes, running Shabbat programs, ensuring that religious services and kosher food are available and providing a frum-friendly atmosphere for students coming out of the Orthodox day school world.

Over the past year the Kaplans have instituted weekly Shabbat lunches and holiday meals at Hillel, and they invite students to their home for Shabbat meals when the university is closed.

They also strengthened the daily minyans, Sharona Kaplan says, noting that her husband “wakes the boys up and drives around picking them up” to make sure they get to shacharit services on time.

In many ways, the JLIC program is similar to campus programs run by the Chabad organization. The JLIC couples, however, are sent mainly to serve students who already are Orthodox, whereas Chabad couples actively reach out to the entire Jewish spectrum.

Though JLIC couples welcome every Jew to their programs — and would be happy to shepherd nonobservant young people down the frum path — that’s not their mandate.

“The primary purpose is to serve the needs of the Orthodox population,” says Rabbi Ilan Haber, the program’s national director, who works out of Hillel headquarters in Washington. “It’s not an outreach program, it’s an in-reach to Orthodox students.”

Haber says an important aspect of the program is sending a couple to each college: “We feel there’s a need for both male and female role models for the students.”

This point is driven home on a September afternoon at Brooklyn College in New York where Nalini Ibragimov is teaching Torah to nine young women. It’s the students’ two-hour free period, which the college gives twice a week to encourage clubs and sports.

Instead of eating a longer lunch or going swimming, these nine modestly dressed students are discussing with Ibragimov, their rebbetzin on campus, the finer points of the 39 malachot, or acts of labor forbidden on Shabbat.

Nalini Ibragimov, 28, and her husband, 30-year-old Rabbi Reuven Ibragimov, were sent to Brooklyn College three years ago.

Four of the nine women in Nalini Ibragimov’s class spent last year studying in Jerusalem at all-girls seminaries. All say they’re thrilled to have the Ibragimovs on campus.

Meira Sanders, 19, says she likes “just having a rabbi you can ask questions.”

Sarah Roller, 18, says, “It’s really important to have an Orthodox woman to look up to.”

Several of the young women say the JLIC presence eases their transition from high school, where at least half their classes were on religious subjects. One-third of Brooklyn College’s 10,000 students are Jewish, but this is a first experience in a primarily secular world for these nine students, and they’re anxious for regular doses of Yiddishkeit.

“If there weren’t religious studies here, I don’t think I would have come,” Roller says.

Haber, the national program director, says that as more and more Modern Orthodox began attending universities other than Yeshiva University and its affiliate for women, Stern College, the traditional choices for this community, Orthodox leaders and parents saw the need to provide ongoing religious counseling and services to them during their campus years.

Some Reform and Conservative students look at the JLIC program and wish their movements would fund professionals on campus, too. Both the Reform and Conservative movements depend on student volunteers to do campus outreach.

“Between JLIC, Chabad and JAM,” a Southern California-based Orthodox outreach program, “the Orthodox are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the Reform and Conservative are giving zero,” says Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, UCLA’s longtime Hillel director.

“If a kid wants to study Talmud,” he can benefit from the Orthodox rabbi, Seidler-Feller says. “But what if he wants to study Buber?”

The answer, for now, is that such students will have to rely on secular coursework.

Still, the goal of funding campus professionals is “important” to the Conservative leadership, says Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism. “We are trying to find the financial wherewithal to do it.”

A Reform movement leader considers such aspirations a “fantasy” for his movement, given that there are Reform students on several hundred campuses.

“I even question the efficacy of it,” says Rabbi Daniel Freelander, vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, adding that a Reform rabbinic presence on campus wouldn’t solve the challenge of keeping Reform students Jewishly involved through their college years.

“The involved students are wonderful, and they crave as much rabbinic input as we can give them, but they’re a tiny minority” of the overall student population, he says. “If we put a rabbi on every campus, would [involved students] increase from 5 percent to 10 percent or 20 percent? I doubt it.”

For more information on Camp Gan Israel Running Springs, call Chabad Youth Programs at (310) 208-7511, ext. 1270.

 

Choosing Pluralism


We were all seated in our respective minyanin when a large outburst sounded from the Orthodox group down the hall. Within a few moments, teenagers were running out from every direction, anxious to see what the excitement was about. As I edged closer, I realized it was not disagreement, but joyous celebration filled with shrieks and songs.

Before I could gather my thoughts, someone grabbed my hand and I was swept up in a whirlwind of excitement and shoved against Jewish teenagers of every denomination in a celebration of Shabbat, Israel and Jewish pluralism.

Attending the North American Association of Jewish High Schools’ (NAAJHS) leadership conference last year awakened me to the great possibilities of Jewish pluralism. NAAJHS was founded as a forum for Jewish community high schools to exchange ideas and work toward the betterment of Jewish education.

Sensitive to the needs of students that affiliate themselves with different denominations, the heads of the program offered a variety of minyan choices, from liberal nature services to Orthodox services with a mechitza. However, as Shabbat approached and we gathered in our separate alcoves, a spark of enlightenment surged across the room as we felt the need to enact the Jewish pluralism that we discussed in our daily seminars.

Clasping hands with Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist Jews, we proclaimed our love for Judaism in an outburst of song and dance, putting our differences in belief behind us.

Hidden beneath such Jewish rituals and celebration lies the true nature of pluralism. As Rabbi Harold Schulweis discusses in his essay, “The Pendulum of Pluralism,” the Talmud prescribes benedictions for all of life’s wonders — upon seeing a rainbow, nature, the ocean — but upon witnessing a Jewish audience we are commanded to pronounce: “Blessed is he who discerns secrets, for the mind of each is different from the other, as is the face of each different from the other.”

Are we living up to this commandment?

Earlier this year, Rabbi Schulweis came to Milken Community High School to engage in a discussion with teachers and students about pluralism. As a school that prides itself on pluralism within a community setting, Milken sought clarity and distinction about a concept that can become cloudy and convoluted.

I was seated on a panel with other students and faculty members, and after our prescribed questions were asked and answered, one teacher in the audience asked a monumental question, one that broadened the question of internal Jewish pluralism to our place in a larger, pluralistic culture: How can we truly embrace pluralism within our society if we are the chosen people, deemed by God to be prosperous and blessed?

Rabbi Schulweis answered the question without hesitation.

“I don’t believe that any religion is chosen by God,” he said, “I believe that we are a choosing people, not a chosen people.”

If we as Jews were to walk around deeming ourselves higher than our surroundings, we would fail to accept others as equals. However, the first step in solving this problem of universal pluralism is addressing the problem of denominational pluralism within our own faith.

Too often we neglect the tension that exists between the Jewish people in order to focus on more prominent, global concerns. By choosing to engage in study and discussion with Jews from all denominations, we will instead model the very behavior we wish to incorporate into larger American society. As the modern enactors of our ancient covenant with God, we must emphasize “choosing” over “chosen,” equality over factionalism and denominationalism.

This transition from passivity to action must first be implemented in solving what Rabbi Schulweis identifies as a key tension within Judaism — the sectionalism among Jewish youth. Conservative teens attend United Synagogue Youth (USY) events, Reform teens attend North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) events, and Orthodox teens attend National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY). Each youth group provides a comfortable environment for teens to interact with one another, forming friendships that emphasize Jewish values and the importance of Israel. After reviewing the mission statement on each group’s Web site, I found an abundance of overlap and commonality. Each group aims to develop a strong attachment to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel by engaging in study, participating in services, and living a Jewish life. Why don’t these groups explore their own beliefs and values through interaction with each other?

As a student of Milken Community High School, a school in which Reform, Conservative and Orthodox teenagers study together, I have made it my personal goal to traverse the boundaries of my affiliation with the Conservative movement. If we take a step back from our differences in opinion — take a step back from the confines of our denominations, the limits of our beliefs and the restrictions of our own subjectiveness — we will truly be able to embrace pluralism. As Rabbi Schulweis writes, “Pluralism is not the surrender of debate or the bleaching of passionate conviction … pluralism calls forth an ethic of openness, a disposition to inclusiveness.”

Ashley Reich is a senior at Milken where she is co-editor of The Roar, the school’s newspaper.

Community Briefs


After 22 years as head rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village, Rabbi Aron Tendler resigned last weekend.

“It is with mixed emotions that I write you today to let you know of my decision that, after 22 wonderful years, I have decided to step down as rabbi of Shaarey Zedek,” Tendler wrote in a letter to the 400-member families of the Orthodox synagogue.

“This has been a decision I have contemplated for some time, and after great soul searching and deliberation and with the full support of Esther and the family, I decided that it was time to explore other opportunities and embark on a new aspect of my personal and professional life.”

Tendler wrote that he intends to stay in the community but wants to spend more time with his family and pursuing writing, teaching and other projects.

“On occasion, I would like to sleep for more than four hours. Selfishly put, I want more time, and if not now when?” he wrote. Tendler will stay on through the High Holidays and help the search committee in its quest to find a new rabbi.

“Rabbi Tendler turned innumerable lives around, and it will be a great loss for us,” Brad Turell, Shaarey Zedek’s communications director, told The Journal. “He’s very talented and we wish him the best.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Sharansky Visits Southland

Israeli politician Natan Sharansky spent a quick two days in Los Angeles last weekend, giving four speeches on Jan. 22 calling for more American Jewish involvement in the upcoming World Zionist Congress.

“People have a need to strengthen their bond, somehow feel themselves part of a bigger family,” Sharansky told The Jewish Journal. “It doesn’t matter what origin; it doesn’t matter whether they are right or left; more and more Jews feel the need to become close to Israel. Before you are looking for the new way with your connection with Israel, what about the most traditional way?”

The prominent Likud party member was brought to Los Angeles last weekend by the West Coast chapter of American Friends of Likud. He encouraged Jews here to get more active in the quadrennial congress this summer of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), which controls the multimillion dollar budgets for The Jewish Agency.

Organizers said Sharansky spoke to about 35 Likud supporters at a Sunday breakfast, then to 100 people at the Hillcrest Country Club, plus more than 200 people later Sunday afternoon at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and finally another 90 at a private dinner at a television producer’s home.

Since last November, the WZO’s American branch has been selecting delegates for this June’s 35th WZO Congress in Jerusalem. Voting ends in late February with U.S. candidates from Likud, Russian, Green Zionist, Meretz, Harut and other Jewish movements. Sharansky wants more U.S. Jews to sign up with the $7 registration fee on the WZO’s American Zionist Movement Web site and then vote for delegates concerned about WZO spending.

In an interview between two of his speeches, Sharansky criticized the WZO Congress as a, “narrow group of people without broad involvement of Jews [worldwide]. So people simply don’t know, its connection of involvement and distribution of funds. Jews have an opportunity to participate in it, but they’re not using this opportunity. One percent maybe knows about its existence.”

Sharansky quit his minister-without-portfolio post last May in protest to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s pullout last August of Gaza settlers. While Sharon’s former Likud party sponsored Sharansky’s two-day L.A. visit, the onetime Soviet dissident said, “When speaking abroad, I’m trying to speak as little about splits in Israel as possible. When speaking to the Jews of Diaspora, you have to speak about building bridges between Jews of Diaspora and Israel.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

A Dozen Nonprofits Get Foundation Grants

The Jewish Community Foundation recently awarded grants totaling $116,000 to 12 mostly local nonprofit organizations to support a variety of services, ranging from suicide prevention hotlines to dental care for the poor and counseling and tutoring for abused and neglected children.

The Foundation’s grants ranged in size from $5,000 to $20,000 and will help fund valuable services that government money alone cannot underwrite, said Marvin I. Schotland, foundation president and chief executive.

“There are vast pockets of need that cannot possibly be met at this time by the public sector,” he said. “Support by our organization to the greater community is more critical, and immensely gratifying, than ever and remains a vital part of our mandate.”

The foundation, created in 1954, is the largest manager of charitable assets for Greater Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists. With more than $590 million under its management, the Foundation distributed last year $58 million in grants to more than 1,300 organizations.

Among the nonprofits that received grants in January:

  • The Los Angeles Free Clinic received $10,000 for its dental program. This year, the clinic, which provides health and other services to the uninsured and the working poor, expects more than 3,500 children and adults to make more than 9,000 visits for dental services.
  • Trevor Project Inc., based in Beverly Hills, received $10,000 for a suicide prevention hotline and educational programs that promote tolerance for gay teens and those questioning their sexual orientation.
  • New Ways to Work in Sebastopol, Calif., received a $10,000 grant to help prepare children in foster care for independence at age 18. Over the next four years, nearly 4,000 Los Angeles youths currently in foster care are expected to become emancipated and leave the foster care system.
  • Inner-City Arts received $10,000 for a hands-on arts program designed to improve literacy among grade school students enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Chabad in the House

What is “The Rebbe’s Gelt?”

Literally, “the rabbi’s money,” it’s the name of a new Chabad program unveiled last week at the annual West Coast Convention of Chabad/Lubavitch for Shulchim, or emissaries. The new initiative will provide grants and loans to those rabbis who need short-term financial aid.

More than 170 Chabad rabbis and emissaries gathered at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel and the Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach, for the Jan. 15-16 convention. Chabad West Coast unveiled Camp Gan Israel Running Springs, a new Jewish overnight camp located on Chabad’s Kiryas Schneerson mountaintop campus. Chabad also announced its plan to organize the first ever Woman’s Convention of Shluchos on the West Coast, tentatively scheduled for May in San Diego. — Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Thousand Oaks Temple Teacher Receives Award

Bobbie Match, who has spent 10 years at Temple Adat Elohim’s Early Childhood Center received the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education presented by the Jewish Education Service of North America, Inc. The award recognizes outstanding classroom-based teachers in formal Jewish educational settings. It includes a $1500 grant for continued professional development. Last year Match received the prestigious Lainer Distinguished Early Childhood Educator Award from the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles (BJE).

Other recent BJE Award winners from Temple Adat Elohim are Michelle Princenthal, winner of the 2005 Smotrich Family Education Award; Tara Farkash, winner of the 2003 Lainer Distinguished Early Childhood Educator Award; and Marcy Goldberg, winner of the 2004 Lainer Distinguished Educator Award. — NZ

Yago Joins Israel Securities Authority Board

Glenn Yago, director of Capital Studies at the Milken Institute in Los Angeles, was appointed to the International Advisory Board of the Israel Securities Authority (ISA), the government body that oversees and regulates the Israeli capital market and serves the same function as the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States.

Yago joined key Israeli economic policy makers, including ISA chairman Moshe Tery, Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer and Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange chairman Yair Orgler, for the first meeting of the International Advisory Board in New York. Other board members from the U.S. include Leo Melamed, chairman emeritus of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange; Douglas Shulman of the National Association of Securities Dealers; Bill Brodsky, chairman of the Chicago Board Options Exchange; Milton Harris of the University of Chicago School of Business; and David Loglisci, deputy comptroller of the State of New York.

Appointing Yago, Tery said that he wanted the economist’s experience and insight “to help build the legal and economic infrastructure to advance Israel’s capital markets and its standing as a venue for global investment.”

Yago is a leading authority on financial innovations and capital markets and specializes in privatization projects to improve the economic climate in the Middle East. He has experience working with municipal, government, business and academic leaders in the region to promote economic reform. He is a senior Koret Knesset Fellow and teaches at Tel-Aviv University and the Interdisciplinary Center-Herzliya. He is the author of numerous books and studies, including “The Economic Road Map: Beyond the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” (Milken Institute, 2005). —NZ

Bubis Honored for Community Service

Professor Gerald Bubis, founding director of the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service (SJCS) at the Los Angeles School of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), was honored recently when the school celebrated its 36th Anniversary at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Two-hundred guests turned out for the event, including colleagues, community leaders, fellow SJCS alumni and old friends, saluting Bubis’ efforts at the school and in the field of Jewish Communal Service.

The (SJCS) was founded in 1968 and is the oldest professional school of its kind. Its inter-disciplinary approach combines study of Jewish tradition and text with tools from the fields of the social sciences and business. Open to students from all areas of religious thought and communal life, the School seeks to be inclusive and pluralistic. Since its inception, 650 people have graduated from the school.

More than 300 SJCS graduates hold dual master’s degrees from USC. Twenty-five rabbis hold degrees from the school and 37 SJCS graduates have received dual degrees in Jewish Education from the HUC-JIR/LA Rhea Hirsch School of Education.

Concurrent with the celebration, alumni and friends of the School of Jewish

Communal Service raised more than $135,000 in scholarships in honor of Bubis. —Norma Zager

Stan’s Customers Go Bananas Over Reopening

Asked about the past three and a half months, shopper Kathy Mannheim said, “I hated it. It has not been a happy time in my life.”

She’s referring to the period of time she endured without her favorite local produce store, Stan’s. A Pico-Robertson neighborhood fixture, Stan’s closed after the High Holidays, when owner Stan Pascal got sick and was unable to carry on his usual six-day-a-week schedule.

Earlier this month, Pascal reopened and was greeted with the kind of enthusiasm normally reserved for rock stars.

“I’m thinking of giving autographs,” he joked.

Feyge Yemini, who patronizes the store twice a week to supply her large family, said she was “extremely happy” about Pascal’s return.

“I never found a comparable high-quality fruit store,” she said. “I had to go to five places to get what I can get here.”

Pascal started in the produce business as an 8-year-old in Windsor, Ontario, where he would help his father out on the weekends. In 1957, he came with his family to Los Angeles, and worked at his father’s three produce stalls at the Grand Central Market downtown. After his father died, Pascal and his wife, Susan, opened their own store on Fairfax Boulevard, where they remained for more than two decades before moving to the current location.

Fairfax resident Miriam Fishman continues to shop at Stan’s despite the distance.

“It’s a haimisch place,” she said. “There’s no other fruit store like it in town.”

In a time of big box markets and megastores, Stan’s has remained a place where retailer and customer maintain a personal relationship. Pascal greets customers by name, allows regulars to purchase with IOUs, and has been known to weigh a customer’s new baby on the produce scale.

During his absence, rumors circulated that he had sold the store, and in fact, he almost did. “At the last minute I changed my mind,” Pascal said. “I missed the people.”

The feeling is mutual. “I went to other places but it wasn’t the same,” said customer Mannheim. “It wasn’t Stan’s.” — Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer

 

Letters


Focus Attention

“After reflecting for a few painful and difficult days, I feel I should address some mistatements I made (“Uncertain Time for Likud in America”, 1/13/06).” Rather than spending precious resources on the symptoms of intermarriage, I was trying to focus attention on support for Israel as a basis of instilling Jewish identity.

The Jewish lay leaders and rabbis I know wholeheartedly love and support Israel and are instilling Jewish identity in our entire diverse community. In addition, all Jews, no matter what their sexual orientation, as well as Jews by choice, are sincere and dedicated Jews and should be respected. I sincerely apologize for the comments reflecting otherwise.

Myles L. Berman
Los Angeles

Great Cover

I applaud your great cover of Jan. 6 (“L.A.’s Top 10 Menches). It does not matter to me if you call these outstanding examples “menchen” or “menches.” What I find very important is that your cover and inside story focused on people doing great things for others.

Many times I find that the covers reflect a sensational aspect more in keeping with a magazine at a market checkout stand, than a vibrant Jewish community. Keep covering positive issues. Thank you

Esther Tabak
Beverly Hills

Wow! What a great choice for your [Jan. 6] cover. The Orthodox Jewish community is grateful to you for highlighting Avi Leibovic and the extraordinary work he does. The other community lights were an inspiration, and choosing among these heroes for the cover must have been a challenge.

Nevertheless, your choice was much appreciated as the Aish Tamid program has truly established itself as a essential and effective community resource.

Rabbi Meyer H. May
Los Angeles

Orthodox Women

As Amy Klein reported, the Friday night panel of the OU convention indeed featured a robust exchange concerning the place of women within Orthodoxy (“Orthodox but Not Monolithic,” Jan. 6). Though my views on the issue were described by as being “far left,” I would imagine that many readers would find them to be quite consistent with mainstream ethical and Jewish religious thought.

These views (all of which have been translated into practice at B’nai David-Judea) are a rooted in the fundamental idea that women should be able to exercise all of the religious opportunities that the halacha provides them with.

These include the opportunity to carry, dance with and (in a women’s service) read from the Sefer Torah; to pray in a women’s section that is an exact mirror image of the men’s section; to study Talmud without restrictions or limitations; to recite Kaddish for a deceased parent, and to be chosen for any position of lay leadership for which they are qualified.

If indeed there are “far left” views, then I suppose I must humbly accept this label.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
B’nai David-Judea

I write in response to Amy Klein’s thoughtful article on “Orthodox but Not Monolithic.” While your reporter generally presented both the spirit and the substance of my remarks on the issue of women in Orthodox Jewish communal life, I was misquoted as stating that no women currently serve on the board of the Orthodox Union.

While I noted that there are currently no women officers in the Orthodox Union, I did not suggest that there aren’t any women board members. I know better than that. My wife, Vivian, is one of the most active members of the Orthodox Union’s board of governors.

David Luchins
National Vice President
Orthodox Union

Westchester’s Bright Future

While I thank The Jewish Journal for commenting on B’nai Tikvah’s commitment to the Westchester community, I have to take issue with the statement: “The expanding airport and white flight reduced the once-thriving synagogue to a skeletal congregation” (“Still Strong in Westchester,” Jan. 6).

Our congregation is tightly woven with 100-plus families. We have actually bucked the trend by increasing our membership by over 10 percent since Reb Jason joined us. Our award-winning nursery school is going strong, and our religious school boasts over 40 children. The future is very bright for this “skeletal congregation.”

Art Wexler
Westchester

Links

Thank you for your very brave and truthful article, “Too Jewish to Play Myself” (Dec. 16, 2005). Hollywood’s weak link to reality is driving Jewish and non-Jewish actresses nuts. There seems to be a general dislike of what is really female, even including female old age. So go forth and be a strong link and seek other strong links; create a new Hollywood. There are many of us on your side.

Theresa Merrin
Thousand Oaks

‘Singlehood’

Thank you. Each week when I take The Jewish Journal, I always begin by reading the back page singles section. The singles section is my corner, even when I don’t like what someone writes, it still gives me food for thought about my own experiences of “singlehood” in Los Angles. While I often relate to the experiences of the columnists, I don’t often relate to their philosophies.

How refreshing it was to read Mark Miller’s thought (“Unhappy New Year!” Jan. 6). No, I am not desperate. Yes, I am living. Dating is about feeling comfortable in our own skin, leading an active social life, which can include, but is not limited to, attending cultural events and volunteering opportunities and meeting people along the way.

So thank you for the fresh perspective. It’s nice knowing that I am not alone in how I live out my “singlehood.”

Deborah Graetz
via e-mail

Reaction to Rosove

Rabbi John Rosove in his opinion, “IRS Errs on Endorsing Candidate Charge” (Jan. 6), commits an error of omission in not sharing with your readers how most of his congregants reacted to his extraordinary erev Rosh Hashanah sermon. Yes, undoubtedly a few congregants were alarmed that his “speaking truth to power” could threaten the temple’s 501(c)(3) status.

But the vast majority in the sanctuary responded very differently. They heard his prophetic reminder that Jewish values and traditions speak to our communal responsibility for caring for “those who are in the shadow of life.” They understood it to be a call to action, and they applauded!

Marjorie B. Green
Los Angeles

Sharon’s Legacy

Rob Eshman seems bewildered by the rehabilitation of Sharon’s legacy (“Scheinerman/Sharon,” Jan. 13). He doesn’t clarify that Sharon was truly despised by the Muslims and the European, as well as the Jewish left. History has proven that Sharon was ahead of the curve: He was the first true counterrorist leader, and worst of all, he was successful.

Though Eshman considers the Lebanon incursion to be a “disaster,” he is only viewing it from the point of view of Israeli public relations. The true reality was, in fact, a disaster for the PLO, whose murderous rampages in the Lebanese civil war against Christian, as well as Muslim Shiite Arabs, and cross-border rocket attacks against northern Israel came to a crashing halt as Sharon exiled Arafat and the Palestinian leadership to Tunisia.

It is no coincidence that bin Laden has repeatedly harped on this fact in his diatribes. Ariel Sharon was more accurate in his assessment of future threats to Israel than the Western world was to the threat of Islamo-fascism. He should be credited for this in his legacy,

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles

 

Orthodox But Not Monolithic


The last place most people probably wanted to be on the morning of Dec. 25 was at a convention in a Beverly Hills hotel.

But for Orthodox Jews the time and the place, the Crowne Plaza, worked fine for wrapping up the Orthodox Union’s 15th Annual West Coast Torah Convention, called “The Polarization of Orthodox Judaism: Finding Harmony Within Diversity.”

The four-day conference highlighted the diversity — and at times the tension — in what might appear to be, from the outside, a monolithic community.

The most observant of the four main denominations of Judaism, Orthodoxy in the last decade and a half has shifted further to the right. The basis of Orthodoxy is an adherence to halacha — Jewish law as interpreted by Orthodox authorities — but Orthodoxy still encompasses a wide swath of opinions.

While Orthodox tensions might seem like insider baseball to non-Orthodox Jews, there is often a trickle-down effect on all Jewish denominations, especially on issues such as teaching creationism in schools and forbidding exposure to certain books. Another ongoing issue is how much dialogue should there be withnon-Orthodox Jews and how much engagement is the right amount with the world outside Judaism.

An ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox representative faced off in the first night’s “Fireside Chat” featuring two perceived “factions” of Orthodoxy. Representing the more “modern” faction was Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the national executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU); representing the more haredi, or “Ultra-Orthodox,” faction was Rabbi Avrohom Teichman Mora D’asra (head rabbi) of Agudas Yisroel of Los Angeles. The two erudite, bearded men expressed opposing positions on issue after issue.

For one thing, while Modern Orthodox Jews support Israel as the Jewish State and hold as a goal aliyah, or moving to Israel, ultra-Orthodox Jews do not put as much focus on aliyah as a mitzvah; nor are they necessarily proponents of Zionism. Also, Modern Orthodox Jews support secular education, and unequivocally send their children to university while the ultra-Orthodox often view a secular education as presenting a danger to the religiosity of their children.

The discussion between Weinreb and Teichman remained calm and civil, but the discourse grew more impassioned at a panel the following night, after Friday night Shabbat dinner at B’nai David Judea.

“How Flexible is Orthodoxy?” featured four rabbis, but it was the two local ones who ended up most at odds, when moderator Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, of Kehillat Yavneh and the OU, asked, “How is Orthodoxy meeting the needs of the modern Jewish woman?

A woman’s role in the synagogue should not change, said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, of the Young Israel of Century City. Period.

But Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, of B’nai David reiterated his position that there are troubling issues regarding women that must be reconsidered. Kanefsky has drawn fire here for a number of his liberal practices, such as holding a woman’s-only prayer group. The interchange between the rabbis prompted a barrage of questions from the audience, blowing the lid off a volatile issue. The views of Kanefsky, who is currently serving as president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, represent the far left of West Coast Orthodox rabbis, and even cause controversy within the modern faction of Orthodoxy.

Another perspective on women’s issues was offered in a Sunday lecture by David Luchins, OU national vice president and chairman of the Political Science Department at Touro College for Women. He placed the matter in the context of Orthodox Jews’ broader view of engagement in the secular world, citing the example of secular education. Some Orthodox regard a college and professional education as an ideal; others accept this outside education as “necessary” for a professional life; and some reject it entirely. Rejection has long been popular among many Orthodox in Israel, and has become so among some American students who study at Yeshivas there.

On the matter of secular education, he said, the battle is now being fought. Not so, in his view, when it comes to support for Israel and women’s issues.

On the matter of Israel’s centrality, Luchins said, the Modern Orthodox have won. The ultra-Orthodox – who decades ago viewed Israel dismissively as a “Zionist entity” — now are as supportive as the Modern Orthodox.

But on the matter of women, he said, the ultra-Orthodox have prevailed. In 1976, he said, there were three women on the OU board. There are none today. The OU conference featured no women panelists, save for one all-women panel (“The Orthodox Women’s Influence on Her Community”) that was closed to men at the request of the women on the panel.

“Why have we relegated our women to third-class citizens?” Luchins asked. “We’ve done it for the tradeoff,” he posited.

The ultra-Orthodox accepted Israel as a central ideal, and in return, the Israeli community’s conservative attitude toward women has prevailed overall in most of the Orthodox world, he said.

“We’re so busy fighting over the form of where women sit in shul that I think we’ve lost the substance. There was a time that women were the pillars of the Orthodox community,” Luchins said. “We’ve lost on that issue, big.”

Off the record, one rabbi expressed concern about schisms within Orthodoxy. “Sometimes,” he said, “I think the movement is going to have to break into two.”

But OU President Steven Savitsky talked about such divides as challenges to be managed, rather than as a looming crisis.

“How do we find cohesiveness and harmony?” Savitsky asked, when he addressed the opening night dinner of 150 at Beth Jacob synagogue in Beverly Hills.

The short answer, Savitsky later told The Journal, is tolerance.

“We need to see the bigger picture: There are very few of us in this world, and we better find ways of working together,” he said.

 

Rabbi Expelled Over Sex Abuse Claims


 

The decision of a leading association of centrist Orthodox rabbis to expel one of its members has highlighted for some in the community the difficulties of addressing sexual abuse in the Orthodox world.

Following an investigation into allegations from several women of sexual harassment, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) announced last week that it had expelled Rabbi Mordecai Tendler.

Tendler had “engaged in conduct inappropriate for an Orthodox rabbi” and refused to cooperate with the committee investigating the claims, the RCA said in a statement.

Tendler referred JTA to his spokesman for comment on the case, though he did say that members of his synagogue, Kehillat New Hempstead, located near Monsey, N.Y., have been “very supportive.”

Asked if he plans to remain in his pulpit, he replied, “Of course.”

Hank Sheinkopf, Tendler’s spokesman, said the RCA procedure leading to Tendler’s expulsion was “reminiscent of the Salem witch trials,” referring to fraudulent trials in colonial America.

“A decent man has been smeared, his family damaged irreparably and a community injured after a prolonged witch hunt,” Sheinkopf told JTA.

He complained that Tendler was not permitted to confront his accusers and that information on the case was leaked to the media.

The charges against Tendler include claims that over the last few years, he engaged in sexual affairs with several women, among them women who had come to him for rabbinic counseling.

Brian Leggiere, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan whose clientele is comprised largely of Orthodox abuse victims and offenders, said the case highlights the fact that the Orthodox community is beginning to “wake up” to issues of abuse among its leaders, but still has “a ways to go.”

“We imbue our leaders with a great sense of kavod, respect, and usually it’s deserved,” he said. “It’s a wonderful value, but when you have a community that over-idealizes [its leaders at times,] that’s a recipe that allows abuse to occur.”

In the Orthodox world, where marital matches, or shidduchs, are highly valued commodities, even the victims of abuse often remain silent for fear they will damage their chances to find a husband or wife.

Tendler’s expulsion reportedly went into effect immediately, though expulsion from the RCA does not necessarily entail removal from the pulpit. Some 1,000 ordained rabbis in 128 countries have membership in the RCA.

“Synagogues and institutions are entirely independent entities,” Rabbi Basil Herring, the RCA’s executive vice president, told JTA. “Therefore, it’s up to every synagogue to decide how it will wish to deal with its rabbi or its clergy or employees.”

Herring declined to comment directly on the case, as did several other RCA members complying with official RCA policy.

One Orthodox rabbi who requested anonymity said it was the first time the RCA had expelled a member following sexual abuse allegations.

The expulsion was based on protocols, instituted in April 2004 for addressing accusations of sexual impropriety against RCA members. The new protocols followed the highly publicized conviction of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, an Orthodox Union official who is serving seven years in prison for sexually abusing a student when he was principal of Hillel Yeshiva High School in New Jersey.

The Lanner case, in which allegations emerged that victims’ complaints had gone unheeded, has been seen as a watershed in the way the Orthodox community addresses sexual abuse.

Tendler’s expulsion is a particularly sensitive issue for the RCA, Orthodox insiders said, because he comes from an important family of respected rabbis. His father is the well-known bioethicist and Yeshiva University teacher Rabbi Moses Tendler. His grandfather, the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, was among the Orthodox world’s leading experts in Jewish religious law.

Orthodox movement insiders said Tendler gained respect for his work on women’s issues within Judaism, particularly his approach to helping agunot, women unable to secure divorces from their husbands.

“As painful as it has been” for the community to start coming to terms with abuse issues, “I think it’s helpful when it comes to the fore because it helps people respond,” Leggiere said. “Generally, people aren’t going to respond to a situation until you get past a level of denial.”

 

What’s Next for Shalhevet?


 

Sitting at the back of a large multipurpose room packed full of students and staff at Shalhevet’s weekly town hall meeting, Jerry Friedman is kvelling at a level usually reserved for grandparents at a bar mitzvah.

Someone taps him on the shoulder, and Friedman reluctantly excuses himself to take a phone call.

A half-hour later, back in his office, he says that during the interval he nailed a $500,000 donation. It’s good news for a hand-to-mouth school that for the past few years has suffered an enrollment and fundraising slump.

Despite its fair share of controversy and assaults on its reputation, the school Friedman founded 13 years ago has established itself as an innovative, liberal Modern Orthodox high school with high academic standards, where kids for the most part really love the school.

Now, as it reaches the traditional age of maturity, Shalhevet is working hard to ensure its continuity, as it determines what role the man who gave birth to and still controls the school should play.

Friedman’s silver convertible Jaguar, parked right at the school’s front doors, sports “SHLHVT” vanity plates. He has been the head of school, the president of the board, the executive director and the main fundraiser — and he has never drawn a salary.

Friedman acknowledges that for the good of the school, he must allow others to take over critical tasks. This year, the school hired an executive director for the first time, taking all operational and financial issues out of Friedman’s lap. An active lay board has taken shape, and a nominating committee will soon tap a president so that Friedman can vacate that position as well. He says he will focus all of his energies on the educational and moral development of the students and, of course, still have his hand in some fundraising.

But whether those changes will be enough, and just how far Friedman is willing to pull back, could play a role in determining how the school faces some of the biggest challenges in its short history.

This year’s ninth-grade class represented the lowest number of applicants the school has received since it became firmly established. While there are between 50 and 60 students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades, there are only 36 ninth-graders, and that number represents a significantly higher percentage of acceptances out of the total pool of applicants than in previous years.

Quality and quantity among applicants has improved for next year, according to Beatrice Levavi, director of admissions.

Friedman attributes the dip to years worth of communal lashon harah, or slandering. Shalhevet challenges local religious norms by being a coeducational yeshiva where girls learn Gemara, and some segments of the Orthodox community have been maligning the school since before it opened.

Teachers at the Orthodox feeder schools have actively discouraged students from going to Shalhevet. Parents and students report of hearing a teacher at a day school call Shalhevet girls “sluts,” and of getting the heart-to-heart from concerned teachers when a student professes interest in Shalhevet. One parent said his daughter’s eighth-grade mentor refused to write a recommendation when she wanted to go to Shalhevet, and others report transcripts being withheld.

All of this has put Shalhevet constantly on the defensive, but more telling than the communal bad-mouthing is the fact that former Shalhevet supporters have defected. A number of younger siblings of Shalhevet students have gone instead to YULA, a more traditional Orthodox yeshiva and Shalhevet’s primary competition.

How did a school that nearly everyone agrees fills a much-needed niche for a more open-minded Modern Orthodox education, and has been quite successful in secular academics, lose so many supporters — both in terms of donors and students?

Families who spoke to The Journal strongly support the school’s vision and philosophy from the nonjudgmental Modern Orthodoxy to the passionate Zionism to the focus on moral development where kids participate in democratic decision making. They said that their kids came out with a sense of confidence and respect for intellectual curiosity.

But, they said, the school was run so sloppily at every level that disorganization and flakiness dominated the operations and even some academic aspects of the school (most parents spoke on condition of anonymity, since some have students at school).

“What frustrated a lot of parents was that this was the only school with a mission we believed in, but the problems overwhelmed the mission,” said one father who sent a child to YULA after other children were already at Shalhevet.

Just how much of the disorganization can be attributed to Friedman’s omnipresence — and his reputed abrasiveness — is a matter of opinion. Friedman admits that operations suffered because he was spread too thin, and that he lacks the diplomacy sometimes necessary to stroke the egos of parents and big donors.

“After 13 years I’ve made a dozen or so enemies, but I’ve always been consistent on principles,” he said. “I understood that if we are building a school based on morality and ethics, then the greatest hypocrisy would be to say, ‘write a check and I’ll do what you want.'”

Several parents question whether the current changes are enough, as long as Friedman remains head of school.

“As a personal achievement for Jerry and in filling a community niche it is remarkable,” said one former parent, who is a prominent community leader. “But it is an institution dominated by one individual who can’t seem to let go or create an organizational structure that allows it to be a normal place. That is really the issue. Everything else is small. Everything else would fall into place if it were allowed to develop in a natural way.”

Friedman, a successful real estate developer and philanthropist, got his doctorate from Harvard when he was 50 with a thesis focusing on the moral development of day school kids. He came back to Los Angeles and poured millions of his own money into creating Shalhevet.

Students are passionate about the school.

“There are so many terrible rumors, but nobody sees how amazing Shalhevet is from the inside. Kids come to school, and they are happy and love being at Shalhevet,” said Sarah Honig, an 11th-grader who started an external-affairs committee to counter community badmouthing. She points to the plethora of opportunities in the arts and social action, and the mutual respect and caring among teachers and students.

“Certainly it’s not perfect and lots of kooky things go on in the school, but it really is a vibrant community where a lot of wonderful things happen,” said senior Leor Hackel, who plans to spend next year in yeshiva in Israel and then to go to Yale, were he got in early admission.

After so many parents complained — or just left — Shalhevet has worked to tame the atmosphere of a free-for-all, where classes were often canceled, rules were loose and changed often, and Judaic studies weren’t taken seriously, according to parents and students interviewed.

Two years ago, Friedman instructed general studies principal Sam Gomberg to tighten things up, and students and staff admit it took a while to find the right balance between having a disciplined atmosphere and maintaining the commitment to a democracy in which students play a role.

Judaic studies are also being beefed up, with more advanced classes, more Gemara and more demands in existing classes. The school is searching for a rosh yeshiva to end the revolving door of Israeli rabbis who have traditionally filled the position for two- or three-year stints.

Administrators acknowledge that admissions had gotten out of hand in the past few years, with Friedman not wanting to turn away students who might not get a Jewish education otherwise. He acknowledges that he let in students who were unqualified and handed out scholarships with little or no system.

This year Levavi, who has been on the administrative staff for seven years and is the mother of four Shalhevet graduates and two current students, is being very selective in admissions.

“We’re interviewing amazing kids,” she said. “I have every belief that we are going to have a remarkable ninth grade next year.”

New structures are also being implemented to tighten tuition collection and how scholarships are awarded. For years the school ran at a deficit and fundraising was a frantic pursuit, born out of starting out undercapitalized and then straining to buy the $6.8 million Westside Hospital building on Olympic Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in 1999.

Four months ago, Ken Milman, who had been head of the collections department for IDT Telecommunications, was hired as executive director to put the house in order.

“If you come in and see stacks of bills not getting paid and check requests sitting there and teachers wanting books and things not getting fulfilled on time, it is a matter of putting in business processes to solve those problems,” said Milman, who handles all nonacademic operations and reports directly to the board, not to Friedman.

Friedman and others hope that empowering a lay board of 22 people — larger and more diverse than the school has ever had — will help take the focus off Friedman and put it back on the school.

“It is part of the maturation of the school that after some period of time the person who really is the school starts looking to others to take over responsibility, while maintaining the basic reasons for why the school was set up,” said Marc Rohatiner, a board member who has had three daughters at Shalhevet. “This is not a model that can survive as the school grows, where there is one person responsible for all aspects. There has to be checks and balances, formally and informally, and Jerry recognizes that because he is the one who initiated this.”

 

See Change


 

About 6,000 people pass through the doors of the University of Judaism (UJ) each year, 13,000 if you include the people who catch its high-profile public lecture series at the Universal Amphitheatre. Significant as that number is, it means tens of thousands of other Los Angeles-area Jews have yet to figure out what that campus just off the 405 in the Sepulveda Pass can do for them.

Peter Lowy wants to change that. The recently named chairman of the board of the institution is that rare bird in nonprofit institutional life: a breath of fresh air.

He is young: at 45, practically a teenager compared to the aging membership of many boards. He isn’t from here. Lowy and his wife, Janine, moved to Los Angeles 14 years ago from Sydney, Australia. Not only does that mean Lowy speaks in that chummy, endearing accent, it means he enters his post with a new and expanded perspective.

He is a poster child for the post-denominational Jew. Two of the Lowy’s four children attend a Conservative Jewish day school, and two attend a pluralistic high school affiliated with a Reform congregation. Lowy himself attends an Orthodox synagogue, as does the UJ’s president, Rabbi Robert Wexler.

“When you consider that the president and chairman are secular but daven in Orthodox shuls while running a Conservative institution, that’s where the world’s moving,” Lowy told me during a talk at his Brentwood office. “That’s where the community’s moving.” Lowy doesn’t just walk the walk, he, like so many Jews today, walks many walks.

Finally, he is wealthy and connected. Lowy’s father, Frank, fled Europe for Palestine, fought as a Golani commando in the War of Independence, then moved to Australia, where he built shopping centers. Lowy is now managing director of the Westfield Group, a global real estate investment trust (think Century City Shopping Mall, Westside Pavilion, Woodland Hills’ Shoppingtown). Someone with the head to run a multifaceted, multibillion dollar international business just might be able to move the University of Judaism and L.A. Jewry forward.

But it won’t be easy.

The UJ has been around since 1947. My office window in Koreatown overlooks the block of Ardmore Avenue where it was originally housed. The university followed the Jewish community west in 1979, settling in to the expansive Familian campus, where it fulfills a unique but hardly problem-free niche in a unique Jewish community.

Running a full-fledged undergraduate school — deans, professors, classes, dorms — for a limited number of students is a daunting task. Meanwhile, Conservative rabbis have leveled public and private criticisms that the UJ has veered too far from its roots in the Conservative community.

Some critics have taken to task the UJ’s department of continuing education for offering courses exploring edgier, controversial topics like homosexuality and astrology. The Orthodox community is still leery of a school whose cafeteria, not to mention its courses, is not kosher enough for them.

Lowy said he wants to build on the work of leaders like Frank Maas and Dena Schecter to stabilize the UJ internally, then enable it to reach out to all parts of the community.

On the first front, Lowy and others on the UJ board saw the importance of bringing business-world models of financial accountability and corporate governance to the nonprofit world. They instituted training programs for Jewish day schools on finance and made sure they took their own advice. Lowy said the school’s budget is in the black for the first time in recent memory.

He believes the costly undergraduate school is an asset, one part of a “three-legged stool” that includes the graduate programs and the department of continuing education, which together give the UJ gravitas and reach.

“You couldn’t get the quality of programs and lectures without the university underpinning it,” Lowy told me. “For instance, how would you get Elliot Dorff to come to a lecture on bioethics if he wasn’t part of the institution serving the community?”

His vision is to open the UJ’s resources to the community.

“The UJ needs to be viewed as a community institution,” he said. “We need to be able to give these benefits to the Orthodox community, the Reform community, the Conservative community and the Reconstructionist community. We need to change the mindset of the community. It’s a very difficult job to do.”

One way to do it is to offer these various facets of the community services they need. Jewish unity motivates in theory, good programming motivates in fact.

One place where Lowy hopes the UJ can contribute to the wider community is in tackling the problems facing day school education.

“If you look around, we have a growing system that is very good,” he said. “But the teachers aren’t paid enough, because the schools can’t afford to pay them. The schools can’t expand, because they’re undercapitalized. And the parents are paying too much to send their kids. Those are major issues, but the schools still grow because there is demand.”

Along with the nuts-and-bolts seminar for administrators, the Lowys funded a UJ program to help day school teachers get their masters’ degrees in Jewish studies. Teachers with advanced degrees earn more, and better quality attracts more parents, which brings in more money.

“Let’s make the Jewish day school system the best so people want to go to it, and not just because they believe in Jewish education,” he said.

If Lowy succeeds, it will prove a few things. One, that boards should make way for youthful leadership and diversity. Two, that breaking denominational barriers pays off. And three, that megadonors can have a megaimpact on their community.

I hope this last point resonates. The Lowys give more than 90 percent of their personal philanthropic dollars to Jewish causes. (Westfield Corp. supports charities of all types). A study of Jewish megadonors last year found that just 6 percent made their megagifts to Jewish causes and institutions, which often struggle for funding. The Lowy’s are a rare exception, and a welcome one.

 

Examining the Jewish Vote


Like many Jews, Paul Kujawsky is a vociferous supporter of Sen. John Kerry. But at Shaarey Zedek Congregation in the Valley, he stands out as such an anomaly that his rabbi refers to him as “the one Democrat in the shul.”

The reason? Kujawsky is Orthodox. According to a recent poll by the American Jewish Committee, 60 percent of the Orthodox vote is going to President Bush. Orthodox Jews tend to be more sympathetic with the Republican Party’s positions on gay marriage, abortion and school vouchers, and they also see Bush as the strongest supporter that Israel has ever had in the White House.

According to the poll, while Kerry commands 69 percent of the overall Jewish vote, his support in the Orthodox community is just 26 percent.

Jay Footlik, senior adviser for Middle East and Jewish Affairs for the Kerry/Edwards campaign, told The Journal the campaign had been reaching out to Orthodox groups, and has met with representatives from the Orthodox Union, the Agudah, and the National Council of Young Israel.

Janna Sidley, the Democratic National Committee’s political director and community liaison for California and Jewish community liaison for Kerry-Edwards, said that the campaign had “overall community support” in the Jewish community. However, she could not give any figures on how many Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles supported Kerry, because the campaign did not track support across denominational lines. However, Kerry supporters in the L.A. Orthodox community believe they are few and far between.

“I get a lot of teasing for supporting Kerry,” said Kujawsky who is president of Democrats for Israel Los Angeles. “In my [Orthodox] synagogue most of the people are Bush supporters, even though they remain Democrats. I haven’t counted [how many Orthodox Kerry supporters I know], but if I had to, I could probably round up a minyan.”

“We put a Kerry sticker in our living room window in Pico-Robertson, and we got a lot of comments from people,” said Daria Hoffman, a member of B’nai David Judea who, along with her husband, Yechiel, will be voting for Kerry this election. “A friend who goes to Anshei Emes said, ‘What’s the deal with the Kerry bumper sticker?'”

Kerry’s Orthodox supporters say that his stand on Israel is as strong as Bush’s, and that Bush’s support is more hype than deed. Further, they say the Orthodox position on abortion, which permits it if the mother’s health is endangered, is more in line with left-wing, pro-choice views than right-wing ones.

Footlik also said that Orthodox Jews should support Kerry because, if he is elected, they will receive more governmental assistance for their large families.

“I think that Bush’s support for Israel is one of the biggest myths that the community has propagated,” Hoffman said. “I don’t think Bush has done that much for Israel over the past four years. I mean, he made a few speeches, but nothing much has been accomplished.”

“I don’t believe that there is anything in the Torah that tells you which political party to support,” Kujawsky said. “There is nothing in Orthodoxy that demands you be a Republican, and it’s a misunderstanding that all Orthodox Jews are politically conservative.”

“While it is true that Orthodox Jews tend to be Republican,” he continued, “obviously when you have someone like Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is obviously Orthodox and a Democrat, plainly there is a long tradition of Orthodox Jews supporting democrats.”

Irvine Orthodox Plan to Erect Eruv


Ten years ago, Sean and Linda Samuels moved to Irvine, home to both a Chabad center and the Modern Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation, along with other synagogues.

As the couple grew more observant and had children, they wanted the family to be part of their journey, which, of course, included weekly walks to shul.

But how? Irvine had no eruv, an unbroken boundary that uses existing electrical lines and fencing to encircle a synagogue and neighboring homes, which, according to rabbinic law, encloses a “private” space where observant Jews may carry objects on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays. Without an eruv, people who need to carry, or push strollers or wheelchairs, are stranded at home.

Sean Samuels, a Beth Jacob board member, was instrumental in the quest to erect Irvine’s eruv, which should be operational by Rosh Hashanah. His initiative underscores Irvine’s reputation for welcoming people of many faiths and how the Orthodox community aims for inclusiveness.

At least eight others eruvs are in the works around Southern California, too, a reflection of observant communities taking hold outside urban areas. With an estimated 5-mile perimeter, Irvine’s boundary is a triangle bordered by the San Diego Freeway between the Michaelson and University exits, and University and Harvard avenues.

“It’s going to make Irvine this whole new playground,” said Samuels, who still needed to raise two-thirds of the eruv’s projected cost, $27,000.

“Having an eruv is a huge attraction,” he said, claiming property values will increase within its boundaries because of demand by observant Jews. Howard Shapiro, the project manager of a 50-mile perimeter eruv in West Los Angeles completed in January 2003, is now consulting on eight projects regionally. Most are on the scale of Irvine’s, he said.

“An eruv becomes another sign the community is coming of age,” said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, the West Coast director of the Orthodox Union, whose members are Modern Orthodox synagogues. “It’s a very important sign that people don’t look singularly in Pico-Robertson and North Hollywood,” he said, where eruvs have existed for at least 20 years.

The number of observant Jews and their proportion among American Jewry appears to be increasing, as does the potential for municipal clashes over eruvs.

An eruv is a modern phenomenon, Kalinsky said, which was unnecessary in Europe’s walled cities and enclosed ghettos, but were erected beginning 40 years ago in the New York area. The highest-profile and longest-running eruv battle divided Jew against Jew and sparked charges of anti-Semitism in Tenafly, N.J. Although the resulting court case focused on the legality of allowing a religious use of public property, proponents say the eruv’s critics, including some Reform Jews, exploited the constitution to bar Orthodox Jews from their neighborhood. Opponents of the eruv said their opposition was not based in anti-Semitism, rather in the fact that Orthodox Jews often spoiled community endeavors, such as public schooling (they send their children to private school) and local politics (they don’t participate).

Orange County’s Jewish denominations lack the rancor seen in Tenafly and other Eastern cities, said Benjamin Hubbard, chair of Cal State Fullerton’s comparative religions department. “Here, there is not the same history of bad will; interreligious feuding is the nastiest kind,” he said.

Without dissent, the eruv was approved on the consent calendar by the Irvine City Council on July 13. Even so, the project took two years to complete because of the number of public and private entities involved, including supervision by an eruv authority, Rabbi Gershon Bess of the Rabbinic Council of California, whose members are Orthodox rabbis. Besides stringing fishing line between 58 Edison poles, Bess required installation of five new poles and the addition of four poles to existing fences.

Samuels said Irvine’s Chabad is considering expanding the eruv to encircle its location in Woodbridge. The Chabad’s Rabbi Alter Tanenbaum could not be reached for comment.

While in some areas of Los Angeles an eruv tended to buoy property values in a flat market, Ethyl Krawitz is uncertain Irvine will experience such a phenomenon. “It’s only appealing to the very observant; it means nothing to anyone else,” said Krawitz, a RE/MAX Realtor in Irvine whose clientele is 80 percent Jewish.

Irvine’s new Jewish Community Center already is a more potent magnet, she said. Krawitz sees the JCC’s location influence housing decisions of people relocating to the area, as well as Jews relocating internally from Anaheim, Orange and San Juan Capistrano.

“It’s a wonderful draw,” she said.

To maintain the eruv, the line’s integrity will be checked weekly. Once the eruv is up, results will be disseminated by e-mail and at www.irvineeruv.org. For more information, e-mail drsamuels@pacbell.net.

The Arts


The three A’s in “Natasha” are filled in by tiny stylized Matryoshka dolls, the traditional Russian stacking dolls,
on the book jacket of David Bezmozgis’ radiant debut (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $18).

In this collection of linked stories, the three figures at the center are a mother,
father and son who leave Riga, Latvia, for Toronto, Canada. The stories are told from
the point of view of the son, Mark Berman, who observes everything and helps interpret the New World for his parents.

Like his narrator, Bezmozgis is an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. He left Riga in 1979 and arrived in Toronto
in 1980 at the age of 6. But the stories are “not very autobiographical – they are only superficially based on my family.
It’s a combination of incidents that happened, things I misremembered, stories that happened to other immigrants,” he said.

Bezmozgis writes with a beautiful economy of words, and with warmth, wit and loyalty toward a community he feels very much part of.
The first story opens soon after the family arrives in Toronto, and they live “one respectable block” from the center of the Russian
community with its “flapping clotheslines” and borscht-smelling hallways. Through the stories they struggle and progress to better
apartments and to a suburban house “at the edge of Toronto’s sprawl.”

Each story is a fully lived moment on the Berman family’s journey toward fitting in. In Latvia, Roman Berman was a massage therapist, a
trainer of Olympic athletes. Sometimes, when the father isn’t around, the young boy takes out and studies an old photo of his father in Riga,
his face carrying the “detached confidence of the highly placed Soviet functionary.” For the boy, “it was comforting to think that
the man in the picture and my father were once the same person.”

In the story “Roman Berman, Massage Therapist,” the father passes difficult certification exams, sets up an office with his name on
the door and then waits for clients. A rabbi suggests advertising, and they pass out copies of a flyer full of newly acquired superlatives.
When a doctor calls and invites the family to Shabbat dinner, they accept, full of hope.

He writes, “Before Stalin, my great-grandmother lit the candles and made an apple cake every Friday night. In my grandfather’s recollection
of prewar Jewish Latvia, the candles and apple cakes feature prominently. When my mother was a girl, Stalin was already in charge, and although
there was still apple cake, there were no more candles. By the time I was born, there were neither candles nor apple cake, though in my mother’s
mind, apple cake still meant Jewish. With this in mind, she retrieved the apple cake recipe and went to the expensive supermarket for the
ingredients.”

They arrive at Dr. Kornblum’s home with “feigned confidence” and a warm apple cake. The doctor means well, but is patronizing, even insulting,
sending the family home with their cold apple cake. Fearing more bad luck and rejection, they dump the cake, expensive ingredients and all.

With poignancy, Bezmozgis shows how the yearnings of the immigrants and the good intentions of others don’t quite match. Other stories
reveal gaps of understanding between the family and friends they left behind, and between members of the larger family.

Bezmozgis, Gary Shteyngart and Lara Vapnyar are a troika of young Russian Jewish émigré fiction writers of considerable talent. They
write of a sense of being between worlds, although each is quite different: Shteyngart is the satirist of the group. Bezmozgis and Vapnyar,
who has also published a collections of stories, are more similar in their spare, understated style, although most of Vapnyar’s stories are
set in the former Soviet Union, while Bezmozgis portrays one émigré family, and through them, the larger community.

The three follow in a long, respected line of Jewish writers who have creatively mined their immigrant pasts and ethnic neighborhoods
in fiction. Writers like Philip Roth, Grace Paley, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Mordecai Richler and Bernard Malamud come to mind.

“It’s a dream to be part of that tradition,” Bezmozgis said, although he feels most akin, stylistically and thematically, with writers
like Isaac Babel and Leonard Michaels.

For the author, being Jewish is very important. “I’m an atheist. I think that limits what kind of religious life I can have without
being a tourist or hypocrite. Being part of a community, at synagogue, gives me pleasure.” He added, “You put me in a synagogue with old
Eastern European Jews, and I’m likely to break down in tears. That is my idea of Jewish tradition and my identity.”

Growing up, he was the family’s translator and since he was 10, he would write letters for his father, a massage therapist like
Roman Berman. The author attended an Orthodox Jewish day school for eight years and then a public high school. After graduating from
McGill University in Montreal, he received an MFA in film. He worked in Los Angeles for five years as a documentary filmmaker before
moving back to Toronto.

He admittedly has a poor memory, and finds that can be valuable. About Latvia, he remembers nothing. “It allows me not to be too
deeply connected to things. I can’t be faithful to something I can’t remember.” In writing he tries “to find the emotional truth,
not a documentary truth,” he said.

Frum Frenzy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article reprinted courtesy The New York Observer.


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

Rabbi Leaving Beth Jacob for Israel


Joel Landau has the credentials to access the power centers of his rabbinic peers from divergent theological camps.

Landau, rabbi of the Modern Orthodox synagogue, Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine, is the only non-Chabad member of the all-Orthodox Rabbinic Council of Orange County. With the exception of Landau, its 18 members are leaders of Chabad shuls and school and have shouldered responsibility for providing kosher supervision for stores, caterers and hotels and arranging beit din, or rabbinic courts, for religious divorces. But Landau also is a member and current president of the county’s Board of Rabbis, made up of clergy from Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative shuls.

With entrée in both spheres and his own bent for community involvement, Landau’s influence is felt far beyond Beth Jacob, which was his first full time pulpit 11 years ago.

Colleagues respect and admire his diplomacy, which has instilled a culture of collegiality and cooperation here between Jewish denominations that are often fractious and insular elsewhere.

As a result, peers already mourn losing Landau, who announced Jan. 13 that he intends to return to Israel, a move now postponed for tax reasons until sometime this summer.

"I think it’s a big loss," said Rabbi David Eliezrie of North County Chabad Center in Yorba Linda, the Rabbinic Council’s president.

"He served as a bridge to the Orthodox and the Jewish establishment," said Eliezrie, who recently was asked to join the local board of the O.C. Jewish Federation. Eliezrie serves as a national liaison for New York-based Chabad-Lubavitch to United Jewish Communities, the 156-community federation system.

Landau made a unique contribution by helping sensitize the non-Orthodox to the beliefs and needs of those who are more observant, Eliezrie said. For example, he said, Landau played a persuasive role in recent discussions over whether the new Jewish Community Center in Irvine would be open on the Sabbath. "He really was a partner."

"Landau sees the importance in being part of the community," said Rabbi Shelton Donnell of Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom. "This doesn’t happen in many Jewish communities. Pressure is brought on the Orthodox to not in any way give legitimacy to other streams [of Judaism.]"

"It doesn’t mean he accepts the beliefs," Donnell said. "He’s able to participate without agreeing with our religious position."

A consequence, Donnell said, is that "Eliezrie participates more because of Landau."

"He opened the door," agreed Rabbi Heidi Cohen, also of Beth Sholom, who will succeed Landau on July 1, becoming the non-Orthodox rabbinic board’s first female president. "We need to make sure we continue it," she said, referring to Chabad participation in communal Jewish activities. "The bridge has to come from more than one man."

Landau, 40, self-assured and given to button-downed formality, possesses a knack for anticipating needs small and large.

"He had a vision for the community," said Joan Kaye, director of the Bureau of Jewish Education, who sought Landau as a study partner. She remembered calling him on a Friday afternoon as he was attending to seating arrangements for a Shabbat dinner. When she suggested delegating the job, Landau told her, "I’m the only one who knows everyone. I want to make sure they’re comfortable."

He omitted mentioning that lack of an executive director means the rabbi assumes many administrative functions at Beth Jacob, a congregation that grew to 300 families from 100 during Landau’s tenure. A synagogue search committee is beginning its work to find a replacement, he said.

A combination of events has propelled Landau to make a major career transition and return to Israel, where he was educated, served in the military and where all of his 60-member immediate family reside. He has dual citizenship, having moved at age 11 to Israel with his parents.

"I have spoken about the importance of living in Israel on numerous occasions over the years," he said in a letter to congregants. "Well my friends, the time has come for me to practice what I preach."

Landau intends to redirect his ease at connecting with Jews of differing religious views to speed financial help to intifada victims reportedly neglected by Israel’s government.

Beginning last June, Beth Jacob’s monthly bulletin went beyond its typical content about an upcoming holiday and honoring contributors. Instead, Landau profiled the plight of a different Israeli receiving aid from All For Israel, a New York-based nonprofit run by volunteers. Congregants consistently wrote checks for about $4,000 each month for individual victims, one of very few synagogues around the country making such sustained contributions.

"I’m very proud of the fact that Beth Jacob has done that," Landau said. "I’d like to facilitate more congregations doing it. The government is overwhelmed by the crises."

The all-volunteer group has distributed about $4 million to victims of terrorist attacks since the intifada’s start in September 2000. The group has matured enough that organizers want to hire their first leader.

"I asked an innocent question, ‘Do you need help?’ They said, ‘Funny you should ask,’" Landau said in describing how the opportunity surfaced.

Landau’s familiarity in Israel and within the American Jewish community make him a natural for the job.

"I’d like to go to Reform and Conservative synagogues on Shabbat and talk about relations in the Jewish community and Israel, to bridge gaps both in America and Israel," Landau said.

Over the next few months, Landau plans to line up institutional support from philanthropists or foundations to underwrite All For Israel’s administrative costs and his own salary.

"I have very strong feelings about pure giving. By this I mean 100 percent giving to the victim," he said, adding that the lack of transparency over distributing donations by some institutions is breeding distrust with grass-roots givers.

Landau and his wife, Johni, expect to live in Ramat Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem. Their youngest child will enter high school next fall and is begging to attend in Israel like two older siblings.

Landau hopes to find a weekend pulpit to reach secular Jews, who he believes are alienated. "I’m not looking for them to become Orthodox but to enrich their Jewish identity, which I think is deficient," he said.

Aside from occasional trips to U.S. congregations for financial support, Landau anticipates his new job will include investigating and validating the claims of victims. Some endure years of financial hardship while seeking government aid, because of contradicting eligibility standards of Israel’s Social Security and Health ministries.

For example, he said, mental trauma is not considered a disability by the Social Security Ministry. Yet, post-traumatic stress can be as disabling as physical injury, he said.

"If you die in a terrorist attack, the government makes a payment to the family. If you’re injured, you’ll get money immediately," he said, but obtaining ongoing aid requires establishing disability through a review panel, a process that can take years.

"These are real, serious life problems," Landau said. "Diaspora Jews can help — have a responsibility to help."

Conservative Death Prophecy Draws Fire


A top Reform rabbi is predicting the death of Conservative Judaism, drawing protests from the Conservative movement’s leadership.

The objections surfaced this week in response to an essay by Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis. The essay argued that within several decades, Conservative Jews likely will move either to the more liberal Reform movement or to the more traditional Orthodox world.

Major wedges between the modernist movements will force this exodus, Menitoff argued, including the Conservative movement’s opposition to intermarriage, its ban on ordaining homosexual rabbis and same-sex marriages and its opposition to patrilineal descent, all of which the Reform movement supports.

The Conservative movement may continue to attract those for whom Orthodoxy remains "too restrictive" and Reform "too acculturated," but a more likely outcome will be "the demise of the Conservative movement," Menitoff wrote.

"If the Conservative movement capitulates regarding these core differences between Reform and Conservative Judaism, it will be essentially obliterating the need for its existence," he wrote. "If, alternatively, it stands firm, its congregants will vote with their feet."

Conservative leaders called the argument "delusional" and the product of "immature" analysis.

"His description of the future is rather silly," said Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly. The essay "is an immature look" at the currents shaping American Jewry, "or maybe it’s wishful thinking."

Unusual in its bluntly pessimistic predictions, Menitoff’s essay comes as Conservative Jewry, which once dominated the American Jewish landscape, is facing major challenges. In the past few years, the movement has been split over major issues, including its stance on homosexuality, and some rabbis have accused the movement’s leadership of lacking vision.

Menitoff’s predictions came in a January missive to the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ 1,800 members. He later outlined the premise at a joint meeting of the western chapters of the rabbinical group and its Conservative counterpart, the Rabbinical Assembly, in Palm Springs in January.

Within a few decades, "you’ll basically have Orthodox and Reform," he said. "This is in no way an attack, it’s just a reasonable analysis of how things could work out. I hope I’m wrong. I’m just looking at the landscape and providing a perspective."

Some signs lend weight to Menitoff’s theory. Last September, the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey found that of the nation’s 4.3 million Jews with some religious or communal connections, the largest group — 39 percent — identified as Reform, while 33 percent called themselves Conservative.

That represented a major decline from the 43 percent that the Conservative movement polled in the 1990 survey. By contrast, the Reform movement rose during that period from 35 percent, and Orthodoxy grew to 21 percent from 16 percent. The Reconstructionist movement rose from 2 percent to 3 percent.

Though Menitoff lamented the blurring of denominational lines as the result of "extreme assimilation" — 44 percent of Jews do not align with any movement, according to the survey — his Conservative counterparts believed they were being attacked.

"The Talmud says prophecy has been taken away from the prophets and given to children and fools," said Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean and vice president of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, one of the Conservative movement’s two main seminaries. "No one can predict the future."

Artson and others pointed out that a century ago, many predicted the death of the Orthodox movement and were proven wrong.

Conservative leaders also maintain that their movement’s communal organizations are thriving.

Of the approximately 120,000 students in Jewish day schools, more than 50,000 are in the Conservative movement’s 70 Solomon Schechter Day Schools, while 8,000 youngsters attend the movement’s Camp Ramah system each summer. Another 20,000 youngsters participate in the movement’s United Synagogue Youth organization, and many adults are "engaged in lifelong Jewish study," Schorsch said.

Rela Mintz Geffen, president of the nondenominational Baltimore Hebrew University and a Conservative scholar, also rejected Menitoff’s argument.

If "there are clear lines of demarcation" between all of the movements and they maintain theological differences, "I don’t think they will merge," she said. More likely, she added, is that traditionalists in the Conservative movement might merge with the modern Orthodox movement.

However, Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, agreed with Menitoff. In 2001, Shafran wrote in Moment magazine that the Conservative movement was a "failure."

"It does seem the Jewish community is heading for a crystallization between those who affirm the full truth of the Jewish religious tradition and those who, to one degree or another, don’t accept that," Shafran said.

Higher Ed. and the High Holidays


Do classes, study sessions and a budding social life conflict with observing the High Holidays? Not for these college students. Here’s how local coeds and young Angelenos attending out-of-state schools are planning to spend Rosh Hashanah.

Aaron Kachuck

Age: 18

School: Yale University

Year: Freshman

Hometown: North Hollywood

I volunteered to lead the davening for the Conservative and Orthodox minyanim here on campus. I’ll be leading the same service I led at home at Adat Ari El when I was the chazan (cantor).

Jan Epstein

Age: 21

School: USC

Year: Junior

Major: Film writing

Hometown: Mequon, Wis.

I plan to go to Hillel because I don’t have any family around here, so I always spend the holidays with my surrogate family. I’ll go with friends from my sorority, AGG [Alpha Gamma Gamma], which is a Jewish house.

David Buchwald

Age: 18

School: University of Judaism

Year: Freshman

Hometown: Torrance

Since the UJ only offers Yom Kippur services on campus, I’m going home for Rosh Hashanah. My dad and I will probably go to the Chabad temple. I’d like to try services here at the university for Yom Kippur since it’s my first year.

Maya Engelberg

Age: 22

School: University of Arizona

Year: Senior

Hometown: West Hills

Major: Physical education

I haven’t figured out where I’ll go for Rosh Hashanah because most of my of my friends at school aren’t Jewish. I’m thinking of going to Hillel or one of the temples around town.

Tami Reiss

Age: 21

School: UCLA

Year: Senior

Hometown: Hollywood, Fla.

Major: Physiology

Because UCLA starts so late, I’m normally home for Rosh Hashanah. This is the first time since my freshman year that I’m staying here. I will be going to services at Hillel and on one of the nights my friends are throwing a wine, apples and honey party.

David Fasman

Age: 19

School: University of Judaism

Year: Freshman

Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.

I’ll probably go to Temple Beth Am. Also, since my dad is a rabbi, these will be my first High Holidays without him leading the services I’m attending. When you’re part of the rabbi’s family, going to synagogue is like going to work.

Robert Diamond

Age: 22

School: CSUN

Year: Junior

Hometown: Granada Hills

Major: Kinesiology

I think I’ll end up at Hillel or I’ll go with my buddy, Sean, to Temple Beth Emet in Burbank. My parents don’t belong to a temple, but I like to get my “four-day Jewish status” of observing Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukah and Passover.

Alex Fern

Age: 18

School: Cal State Northridge

Year: Freshman

Hometown: North Hollywood

Major: Psychology

I’ll probably go home. My family usually goes to services and then has a big dinner. This is my first time away from home and I’m discovering the Jewish community here on campus. I have a decision between sticking with the community I grew up with or spending time with the new one here.

Joe Geffen

Age: 20

School: Occidental College

Year: Junior

Hometown: Savannah, Ga.

Major: Psychology

It seems like most people at Oxy who say they’re Jewish aren’t observant, but there are a fair number of us who are. My plans are to go with other “Hillelians” to the university of our choosing. Also, a number of professors have extended invitations to their own congregations.

Rise in Aliyah Rates From Frum


The Transcription Company, started by Rich Brownstein 13 years
ago, is the largest in the entertainment industry. Brownstein’s
business transcribes TV programs and radio shows from ABC, NBC,
CBS, Paramount, Universal and Disney.

It is a thriving business, and yet Brownstein is selling it and leaving
California in order to fulfill a lifelong dream.

It’s his dream of aliyah — moving to Israel. Despite the terror attacks, the threat of war and the economic uncertainty of Israel, Rich, his wife, Sara, and their two children will move there on July 13.

“We have always intended to go to Israel,” said Rich, an Orthodox Jew from Pico-Robertson. “And in terms of the perceived danger, I don’t think it is very different to any other time in Jewish history. They have always been shooting at us, there have always been wars and there have always been difficulties.”

The Browsteins’ move to Israel is typical of today’s aliyah reality — the majority of the Jews who choose to battle the odds and move to Israel are Orthodox.

Since the start of the intifada, Israel’s economic recession and the fear of terror attacks has kept many potential immigrants away. In fact, the number of people making aliyah has declined so sharply — from 377,000 in 1991 (when Russian aliyot was at its peak) to 35,168 in 2002, according to Nefesh B’Nefesh, a private philanthropic foundation — that last week Tzipi Livni, the Israeli minister of immigrant absorption told the Associated Press that immigration to Israel is in a “tailspin” and that her ministry needs to find ways to make the country more attractive to potential immigrants. On June 23, housing grants were reinstated to immigrants as a first step to keep them coming to the country, and a government task force was set up to study the immigrant needs.

But many Orthodox Jews aren’t waiting for the situation to get better or for the Israeli government to lure them to Israel. Of the 35,168 immigrants, 80 percent are estimated to be Orthodox. They see aliyah as an integral part of their Judaism; a halachic necessity they have aspired to their whole lives, reinforced by their education and communities. In Los Angeles, Orthodox Jews have even accounted for aliyah rates rising slightly over the past few years.

“The people who are going to Israel come from very committed backgrounds,” said Batya Dashefsky, the Israeli emissary for the Aliyah Center in Los Angeles. “I think they take the long view. They realize that things are difficult now, but [aliyah] fits into the way they see themselves as Jews, and they are able to see the bigger picture. Something that happens today or yesterday doesn’t affect what happens to the tomorrow, because they are going for the rest of their lives.”

Dashefsky said that the number of people making aliyah through her office has risen slightly over the past few years — 90 in 2001, 107 in 2002 and the prediction for 2003 is at least 120 — and about 90 percent of the Los Angeles immigrants are Orthodox. Dashefsky also attributes the slight increase in numbers to Nefesh B’Nefesh, which started in 2000 to provides financial assistance in the form of a grant to Jews making aliyah. The organization gives families making aliyah average grants of $18,000, and also assists with social integration and governmental processing. Last year, the organization sponsored a mass charter flight of people making aliyah; this year they have two such flights leaving in July.

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh said that of the olim (immigrants to Israel) his organization helps, 78 percent are Orthodox.

“It is a tremendously high proportion,” he said. “You just have to go to the theological schools of each organization and see where Zionism and aliyah play a role in its curriculum in order to understand this.”

Fass said that people making aliyah send a strong message of support to Israel and create good public relations for Israel around the world.

“When we did the charter flight in 2001, it was covered in Russia, China, Japan — all over the world, and it showed the world that Israel is strong, and that Israel has individuals who are choosing aliyah,” he said. “It also created a tremendous moral boost for Israelis, who have been experiencing a very tough time over the last two years. To have individuals come and live there is the ultimate expression of solidarity.”

Sarah Brownstein agreed.

“This is the message we want to tell them [Israelis]: You are not alone,” she said. “We are tired of sending checks to Israel. Now we want to send ourselves.”

For more information about Nefesh B’Nefesh, visit www.nefeshbnefesh.org or call (866) 425-4924.

Sunday ‘Nights’ Alright for Outreach


Craig Taubman has a knack for inventing Jewish pop culture.

In 1998, he co-created “Friday Night Live” (FNL), the ebullient, musically driven young adult Shabbat service that’s been snatched up by synagogues around the country. Since then, “FNL” has become part of the vernacular and was written up in Richard Flory’s book, “Gen X Religion” (Routledge, 2000).

But Taubman, an intensely upbeat singer-songwriter-producer, wasn’t content to stop there. This Sunday, he’s unveiling his new program to draw the young and unaffiliated: “Mulholland Nights,” a summer concert series at the University of Judaism (UJ), featuring hip, young Jewish artists. The June 22 lineup includes Lisa Loeb, guitarist-chanteuse; Gabriel Mann, a singer-songwriter-pianist reminiscent of Peter Gabriel; and Billy Jonas, an iconoclastic folk artist who performs on found objects.

The goal is to draw 22- to 39-year-olds who are so removed from the community they may not even have heard of “FNL.”

“‘Mulholland Nights’ is intrinsically Jewish on the inside, but not overtly Jewish on the outside, because otherwise this demographic won’t come,” Taubman, 45, said. “It’s not because they’re anti-Jewish; it’s because Judaism isn’t even on their radar. And since it’s not part of their vocabulary, we’re using a language and personalities they can relate to.”

In three concerts this summer, each “personality” will banter about his or her religious background between songs.

During a recent phone interview, Loeb — whose perky, retro-’60s look contrasts with her wistful folk-pop — said she’d recount how the culturally Jewish emphasis her parents placed on the arts encouraged her to become a performer. Loeb, 35, will also explain that Judaism continues to affect her songwriting in her tendency “to be very analytical, to ask questions and overquestion.”

Mann, 30, descended from three generations of Orthodox cantors, said he’d discuss how chazzanut influences his moody, intense work.

“When my father sings, it’s filled with passion, like he means every word, and the same thing happens when I’m on stage with my ‘congregation,’ the audience,” said Mann, a San Antonio native. The same fervor infuses his edgy lyrics: “I have a strong, internal ‘cheese’ monitor,” he said.

If “Mulholland Nights” proves successful, it’s because Taubman has something of a track record. Five years after he and Rabbi David Wolpe launched “FNL” to connect Generation X Jews to their faith (and to Jewish mates), the monthly Sinai service has become the largest Jewish singles event on the West Coast. In October, Taubman produced Hallelu, a Jewish concert at Universal Amphitheatre that sold nearly 5,000 tickets.

When observers noted that far more 40-somethings than 20-somethings had attended, Taubman decided to create a concert series especially for the elusive young adult set. The result is “Mulholland Nights,” designed to draw people who feel more comfortable in a nightclub than a synagogue.

His efforts reflect a national trend: “Years ago, people began doing ‘Jewish things’ earlier because they married and had kids younger which was the primary attraction for joining a synagogue,” Taubman said. “Because organizations no longer have that to fall back on, everyone is trying to find new and creative ways to reach out to this group.”

One such person is Gady Levy, dean of the department of continuing education at the UJ, who’s been working to increase the young adult turnout at UJ programs. Thus he was receptive when Taubman asked him to host “Mulholland Nights” and to put up a portion of its estimated $80,000 budget, along with other sponsors.

“Our goal is not to make money, but to bring new young people into the UJ and hopefully to see what else we are doing,” Levy said.

To draw a wide cross-section of Jewish Angelenos, Taubman hired a club-savvy 26-year-old to blanket L.A. hotspots with flyers. He’s also booked Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi artists — including legendary Israeli folk-rocker David Broza and the Middle Eastern quartet Divahn, voted 2001 best new band by the Austin Chronicle

Reggae artist Elan, an observant Jew who once fronted Bob Marley’s former band, The Wailers, will perform at the July 20 concert.

“I don’t blatantly talk about Hashem in my lyrics; it’s more cryptic,” Elan, 27, said. “Sometimes you think I’m talking about my wife, but it’s really about Hashem.”

Taubman will also take the subtle approach to introduce “Nights” patrons to the Jewish community. Rather than making speeches, he’ll prominently place pamphlets advertising “FNL”: “I want Mulholland Nights to be another Jewish point of entry for young people,” he said. “If we hit them once, twice, three times, there’s a better chance they’ll view this as not just another pickup event they do on the side, but that they do Jewish things.”

For more information about the concert series, call(310) 440-1246 or visit www.dce.uj.org .

Battle for the Truth


A prominent rabbi in Jerusalem’s Old City, who was rumored
to have sexually abused students at a California yeshiva 20 years ago, is
fighting new innuendoes that he wields inappropriate influence over students at
a Jerusalem yeshiva with which he is loosely affiliated.

Rabbi Mattis Weinberg, who founded Yeshivat Kerem in Santa
Clara in the mid-1970s, counts as some of his strongest supporters — and
detractors — former Kerem students and faculty members who now live in Los
Angeles.

The Kerem scandal reemerged from a two-decade dormancy last
month when Yeshiva University (YU) in New York severed ties with Yeshiva Derech
Etz Chaim (DEC) in Jerusalem, a post-high school yeshiva for about 35 American
boys founded five years ago by Weinberg’s students and where Weinberg taught a
class once a week. YU alleged that Weinberg has significant influence among
faculty and students and that both past and present inappropriate behavior
warrant caution.

Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual adviser to students at YU, said
that one current DEC student has come forward with allegations of sexual abuse.

He said another five victims from Kerem are willing to go on
record. Weinberg and his supporters have embarked on an aggressive campaign to
clear his name, calling all the allegations — past and present — ludicrous.

The decades-old scandal has resurfaced in a climate of
hypersensitivity to sexual misconduct in an Orthodox community where incidents
of abuse and cover-up have been exposed in the last few years. Some question
whether Weinberg’s case indicates that institutions wary of being accused of
complacency have confused caution with overzealousness, while others laud the
newfound imperative to clear up past wrongs and prevent future ones.

Weinberg is incensed by the accusations.

“Because of their desire to appear holier-than-thou, they
decided to embark on some type of witch hunt or McCarthyism,” Weinberg said in
a phone interview from Jerusalem. Weinberg and his supporters believe YU’s
reaction can be traced to the fallout from the scandal involving Rabbi Baruch
Lanner, who is free pending an appeal after being sentenced last June to seven
years in prison for sexually abusing two girls when he was principal of a New
Jersey yeshiva in the 1990s. The Orthodox Union, which employed Lanner as a
regional director of the National Council for Synagogue Youth, admitted in an
internal report to playing a part in covering up Lanner’s offenses in the youth
group for 20 years — a notion that Weinberg’s supporters say has sent the
Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University over the edge in caution.

“We checked the history to our satisfaction and we were
concerned that there might be a problem and we are not ready to have a
relationship with a school and put our name on an institution where there might
be something not healthy for student,” Blau said.

Blau said that reports from current students raised some
flags of concern, especially when taken in context of the Kerem scandal of 20
years ago.

He is confident that more victims — those who have already
spoken with professionals and those who have yet to do so — will come forward
soon. But so far, specifics are lacking.

The Commentator, YU’s student paper, reported on one case
where Weinberg took a student (not from DEC) to Safed for a weekend, and other
cases of Weinberg using inappropriate sexual references in Torah lectures.

Weinberg called the accusations ludicrous. He says the student
who went to Safed was a 20-year-old man who joined Weinberg — who has 10
children and many grandchildren — on a family trip, splitting the cost of the
rental car. As to sexual content in his lectures, Weinberg said that both Bible
and Talmud are full of such references, and he includes them where appropriate
and necessary when he delivers his many lectures at yeshivot throughout Israel.

The vagueness of the accusations have angered and frustrated
the administration at DEC, especially since they say DEC’s ties to Weinberg are
tenuous, and he holds no special influence over students.

“There is outrage amongst the present student population as
well as their parents, alumni and alumni parents about the way YU has conducted
itself toward DEC,” said Rabbi Aharon Katz, dean of DEC. “YU has stated to us
in conversations [as well as to others] that they have no allegations from
students who have attended DEC.”

DEC learned of the allegations only after the letter went
out to parents. As soon as the yeshiva heard the accusations it suspended the
weekly lecture Weinberg was delivering, pending an investigation, said Rabbi
Sholom Strajcher, Katz’s father-in-law and DEC president.

“What we want is to put it out on the table,” said
Strajcher, educational director of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Boys High
School (YULA). “Let’s create a mechanism of impartial professionals to look at
it so that we can feel that there has been a fair process,” he said.

YU has alleged that Weinberg holds cult-like sway over his
students.

Weinberg’s supporters, several of whom contacted The
Journal, say that kind of accusation stems from jealousy.

“What bothers people most about Rabbi Weinberg is that their
Torah is garden variety as compared to his…. He is a brilliant thinker. He
will not accept the usual approaches to Torah,” said Rabbi Ari Hier, director
of the Jewish Studies Institute at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who attended
Kerem for seven years.

“As soon as you are outside of the box, immediately the
Orthodox mediocrity has a problem with you,” said Hier, son of Wiesenthal dean
Rabbi Marvin Hier.

Kerem, which existed for seven years, employed some
well-known rabbis in Los Angeles, including Rabbi Shalom Tendler, now rosh
yeshiva at YULA; Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarei Tzedek Congregation; Rabbi
Daniel Lapin, formerly of the Pacific Jewish Center in Venice; and Rabbi
Eliezer Eidlitz, now director of development at Emek Hebrew Academy.

It is Eidlitz whom the Commentator quoted as supplying YU
with the ammunition to attack Weinberg and DEC. Eidlitz refused to comment for
The Jewish Journal.

In 1983, a year after Weinberg moved to Israel and soon
before the school closed its doors, major backers of Kerem and faculty were
vying for control of the institution, Weinberg said. Amid that atmosphere,
rumors emerged that Weinberg had sexually abused some of the students. No
charges were ever brought.

Rabbi Ari Guidry, a student at Kerem for seven years, who
has taught at several day schools in Los Angeles and now produces Torah CDs,
said he was the source of some of those rumors. But he says now he
misrepresented appropriate hugs from Weinberg to impress wealthy and powerful
backers who did not like Weinberg.

“There was never anything remotely sexually suggestive,”
Guidry said of his relationship with Weinberg.

But Blau of YU said there are more witnesses who are not
speaking publicly about what happened at Kerem.

Also in question is how the original allegations were
handled. Blau said that there is a letter signed by Weinberg and Rabbi Elya
Svei, a leading rabbinic figure from Philadelphia, stating that Weinberg would
not be involved in education.

“That is absolutely categorically insane,” Weinberg said. “I
would love for somebody to produce this document.”

One local rabbi familiar with the situation said that the
matter at Kerem was dealt with at a rabbinic assembly involving some of the
most elite rabbis in the United States at the time, including the late Rabbi
Yaakov Weinberg, Weinberg’s father and rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore.
Because of Weinberg’s lineage — he is the grandson of the highly respected late
Rabbi Yaakov Ruderman — Weinberg was quietly confined to a life without direct
influence over students so that scandal would not touch this respected Torah
family, this rabbi alleged.

“That never happened. It is absolutely, categorically,
simply totally untrue,” Weinberg said of such an assembly.

Weinberg said that all he is guilty of is possessing the
overconfidence of a 29-year-old in charge of a school and loving his students.
Kerem took in many students from broken homes, he said.

“I believe that when kids are shown, for the first time in
their lives, support and concern and actual love, it makes all the difference
to them,” he said. “When subsequently these accusations were made and the kids
were told that nobody loved you and cared about you and any sign of comfort was
because it was giving somebody a sexual charge — that such a devastating thing
to them,” Weinberg said.

Weinberg said his supporters are in negotiations with YU,
but if the situation is not resolved he will take legal action.

“If I had spent the years I spent being productive getting
involved in such nonsense, I would not have given thousands of classes or
published books. I would have become a bitter, small-minded person who worries
about what other people think and about their lashon hara [gossip],” Weinberg
said. “But I have been put into a position that if they continue this, it has
to be stopped.”

Blau said that YU stands by its actions, and that more
information will soon emerge. Meanwhile, Blau said, the students must be
protected.

“There is some level of suspicion and some level of risk,
and that is enough to react,” he said.