At Camp Gilboa near Big Bear, younger campers can experience sessions as short as four nights. Photo courtesy of Camp Gilboa

Camp: Welcoming the youngest charges — and their nervous parents


Wondering if your child is ready for overnight camp?

A sure sign, according to Karen Alford, a sleepaway camp consultant, is that he or she has grown tired of day camp.

“At 9, you’ve probably been doing day camp for several years, and there’s just a natural progression to sleepaway camp,” she said.

Of course, Alford added, some kids aren’t ready until they’re older.

“You have to know your child and what they can handle,” she said, adding that “some parents with kids who have trouble separating find camp even more helpful at a younger age because it builds independence.”

Luckily, most Jewish summer camps pay close attention to easing their youngest kids into the sleepaway experience. From pre-camp meet-and-greets to special presents for first-time campers to the common availability of ultra-short sessions — from five to 11 days — camps are acutely aware of the need to gently transition their littlest and newest campers into the culture of overnight camp.

In addition to providing additional resources for the young newbies — and, of course, their anxious parents — many camps also hire additional staff and train them in some hand-holding.

Take Camp Judaea, a pluralist Jewish camp in North Carolina. It offers a Taste of Camp Judaea, an 11-day program for kids as young as 7. Unlike older campers who can “specialize” in certain activities, the youngest campers, called Rishonim, get to sample all of the camp activities, including zip-lining and horseback riding. The Taste program is available for kids until the fourth grade.

“To be honest, in some ways, it’s more for the parents than the campers,” said David Berlin, assistant director of Camp Judaea. “The parents tend to be more nervous. This is our way of hooking them into camp.”

The ratio of campers to counselors is lower for the Camp Judaea’s Rishonim campers, hovering around 3 to 1, as opposed to about 4 1/2 to 1 for the older kids.

To prepare the first-timers, Camp Judaea holds parlor meetings for new families, most of whom come from the southeastern U.S., Berlin said. New campers get to watch a video, hear about a typical day at camp and have their questions answered.

“It allows the families an opportunity to meet the staff before the summer begins,” Berlin said.

They also used to send first-timers a book about sleepaway camp — “Sami’s Sleepaway Summer,” by Jenny Meyerhoff — but it’s out of print. Berlin said the book was a great way to get young campers excited and have them learn what to expect; he’s looking for a replacement.

At Camp Gilboa, located near Big Bear and part of the progressive Zionist Habonim Dror movement, younger campers can experience sessions as short as four nights.

“We focus on easing them into camp,” said Executive Director Dalit Shlapobersky.

But because Habonim Dror offers year-round programming, kids can get involved before  starting camp, and therefore become acquainted with other Gilboa campers and counselors well ahead of time, she said. The camp also invites families to visit during the year for weekends and retreats.

Shlapobersky said campers typically start Gilboa at age 8.

“At that point they’ve already gone through quite a few separations — they’ve had to get used to a new community at preschool, and then a new one at kindergarten/elementary school,” she said. “These things are all about practice. The more time we practice doing something different, the more ready we are to take something new on.”

But Shlapobersky gives campers and families added support through the preparation process, including, beginning in May, weekly emails that focus on different aspects of camp — like what to expect on the first day of camp, what sort of communications there will be to and from camp and a glossary of camp lingo. New campers also receive introductory phone calls from counselors a couple of days before the session begins.

Additionally, Gilboa calls new parents to find out more about individual campers, making the camp more prepared for them when they arrive.

“For example, if we know they’re really into magic, we can have one of the counselors who loves magic tricks ready,” Shlapobersky said.

Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement, offers a seven-day Ta’am Ramah (Taste of Ramah) to children entering third grade.

Rabbi Ethan Linden, the camp’s director, said there’s a higher ratio of staff for the youngest kids.

“We’ll have 20 to 25 kids and 10 staff counselors, plus a group leader,” he said, adding that for older kids, there are typically 14 kids to four counselors per bunk.

“We usually have more experienced counselors for the little ones,” he said. “We know we have to hold their hands more.”

Linden said he’s found that most kids are ready to start camp between the ages of 8 and 10 — and agrees with other directors that parents are sometimes the last to be ready. But Ramah in the Berkshires pays extra attention to first-time campers regardless of age.

“We’re particularly sensitive to issues of homesickness and integration,” he said.

Linden said the camp employs staffers called “yoetzim” — people who are a little older, usually parents — who can get involved in tough situations. The camp also does “a lot of training on bunk dynamics, trying to make sure that no campers slip through the cracks,” he said.

“We work to find that one thing the kid loves to do and then use that to ease the transition,” he said.

At Camp Modin, a pluralistic sleepaway camp in Maine and the oldest Jewish camp in New England, the youngest campers are 8. Director Howard Salzberg said Modin used to have even younger campers, but found they weren’t quite ready for the experience.

While Modin doesn’t have extra-short sessions for first-timers — the shortest “regular” session is 3 1/2 weeks — counselors for younger kids are trained to give more personalized attention, Salzberg said.

“We don’t expect these kids to unpack their trunks or do their own laundry,” he said. “We recognize that these kids need extra help changing out of their wet bathing suits, that we need to make sure they’re showering, that they know how to open their soap in the shower, that they’re combing their hair.

“With older kids, it’s more about mentoring. For younger years, it’s more parenting.”

And in some ways, the younger kids are easier, Salzberg added.

“They present different challenges, but honestly, younger kids can be a lot easier than hormonally challenged teenagers,” he said, laughing.

At Modin, newbies are matched with returning campers in a “big brother, big sister” program — the older campers call the younger campers before the session starts, and at camp, they meet on opening day. The older group gives the younger charges a small gift, like a goody bag or a Modin bracelet.

Regardless of what age a child starts camp, the camp directors have noticed that first-born kids tend to start camp older, and slightly more nervous, than their younger siblings.

“Younger siblings have parents more prepared for the sleepaway camp experience, are often familiar with the campgrounds from visiting day,” Alford said. “Plus, they’ve seen how much fun their older siblings have at camp.”

Israeli who murdered his parents used tips he found online


An Israeli who stabbed his mother and father to death was convicted of murder on Monday partly because he searched online for tips including “how to kill your parents and get away with it.”

Daniel Maoz, 29, wanted money from his inheritance in order to pay heavy gambling debts, the Jerusalem District Court found. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 2011 murders.

The case presented an unusual challenge to the prosecution: DNA evidence linking Maoz to the killings was found at the murder scene, his parents' apartment, and he tried to explain that away by accusing his identical twin brother of the crime.

In its decision, the court cited other physical evidence and an examination of the defendant's computer to refute that.

The incriminating Internet searches also included “can soap clean DNA from a knife?” and “murder for inheritance”, a transcript of the ruling showed.

Maoz said he made the searches out of “academic curiosity.”

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Louise Ireland

Video of American gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents goes viral


[UPDATE: Aly Raisman leads U.S. to gymnastics team gold]

A clip from NBC showing Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents’ reaction to her uneven bar routine has garnered more than 25,000 hits on YouTube.

The clip shows Raisman’s mother and father commenting on Raisman’s routine from the stands. Her mother, Lynn, says, “Let’s go, let’s go,” and “Come on, come on” while shifting in her seat, and her father, Rick, remains silent until yelling “Stick it, please, stick it!” at the end of Raisman’s routine.

Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., is Jewish and has been honored by the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Her performance in the qualifying round in the London Games earned her a spot in the all-around finals on Tuesday.

Chasing parental boredom while catching some foreign films


I was in seventh grade when my dad took me to see a Turkish movie exploring the lives of five prisoners given a week’s home leave in the aftermath of a coup d’etat.

Why did he take a kid to see the movie “Yol”? To teach me a valuable lesson about suffering? To expand my world-view beyond Brandeis Hillel Day School and ballet class and working weekends at my mom’s coffee shop? No. My dad wanted to see the movie.

And if I wanted to hang out with my dad, that was the deal. Yol.

Not only did I see that movie — which consisted mainly of tight shots of tortured souls walking up hills into wind — but also a multitude of other age-inappropriate films, thanks to my Pops and his bi-weekly Sunday visits during which he dragged me to everything from documentaries about coal mining and obscure folk singers to lengthy Swedish films. At the time, I really cared more about Swedish fish.

Now that I am a parent, I realize that my dad was onto something, and I’m looking for ways to emulate him.

My dad’s concept was to choose an activity that he loved and bring me along, thus he would never be bored or resentful that he was doing something lame like hanging out watching me try on clothes at Wet Seal. If he could convince me to share his love of art house films, he could kill two birds with one long, boring cinematic achievement: He could spend time with his kid while enjoying a favorite pastime.

You might think, wow, what a selfish dude.

Maybe his daughter was exposed to things that were adult and therefore disturbing. Or maybe his daughter was bored. Or maybe he should have sucked it up and gone to the mall, or perhaps to see “Footloose,” which involves teens in perhaps emotional prisons, but not actual prisoners.

To that I say, yes, it was uncomfortable watching some of the films, and confounding at times. On the other hand, I loved hanging out with my dad on Sundays, and I didn’t really care what movie we saw. Maybe, to his credit, because he was doing exactly what he wanted to do, he exuded a certain happiness and calm. And kids read that kind of vibe. So, I never got the feeling my dad didn’t want to hang out with me.

There should be a word for that in Turkish.

As the mother of a 2-year-old, I thought it was a stroke of genius when I saw a father at a skateboard park with his toddler. This little girl was an incredible skateboarder, shredding, as one might say, on a giant half-pipe. When I spoke to the dad while marveling at his girl, he told me they go there four afternoons a week. This guy, I realized, had found his Yol, an activity that wouldn’t suck the life out of him, something that might somehow enrich his daughter’s life (while maybe jacking up her shins or teeth) and one that he could do without too much personal sacrifice. Sure, this guy could have sat through an endless series of tea parties, but he would have hated that, so he taught his daughter to skate and now he has a skate partner for life. Or at least until she is old enough to decide whether to resent him.

So I continue searching for my Yol.

Loving my child is no problem. However, filling toy dumpsters with torn-up bits of paper towel before dumping them over into a plastic garbage truck is more depressing than an Ingmar Bergman film festival (yes, my dad took me to one, so I know). At this point, the things my boy likes to do — play with trucks, fill pails with sand and water to make sand castles, your basic hide-and-seek — well, those are wrenchingly, painfully dull.

Turns out, the word Yol is actually Turkish for “the way,” and I need to find mine. Hopefully, it won’t be headed uphill into the wind.

I can’t be the badly dressed mom at pickup time


Today, I stopped home to change my outfit before picking up my kid from day care.

What, because you never know who might snap a photo as I lure my child into his car seat with the whispered promise of a Grover juice box? No one cares. Except now that I’m a parent, I care deeply about lots of things that are totally meaningless. For example, what I wear when I fetch my kid.

It’s not that I want to impress the other moms, or the woman who runs the place, or her assistant. It’s that on some level, I need to impress them.

Or at least that describes the urgency with which I want to stroll in wearing skinny jeans tucked into high-heeled brown suede boots with a casual but clearly expensive T-shirt.

It was one thing for me to show up places with a guacamole stain on my sleeve when I was only representing myself. Maybe it was even cute, not Zoey Deschanel in a romantic comedy cute, but I like to think it was close. Now that I’m a mom, for some reason it seems important to look important, or at least like I don’t eat in my car and buy accessories at Claire’s.

Yep, get ready, because this is one of those mom moments triggered by one of those daughter moments. Get cozy, it’s blame mom time!

It may not surprise you that keeping up appearances wasn’t exactly a thing to my mom, and bless her heart for being all free-spirited, but her free-spiritedness cost me big time.

My mom wore what she wanted, regardless of the setting. Graduation from Confirmation class at Temple Sherith-Israel, the other moms wore knit separates and wrap dresses, my mom wore something with a batik feel, something Mrs. Roper might have sold at a yard sale after placing it in her “too loud” pile. My mom never shaved her armpits, but always wore sleeveless. Granted, it was San Francisco and the hippie thing was arguably fashionable, but not at Hebrew school.

Part of me wished she would see that, and bend to the obvious notion that all kids want to fit in, and by extension, they would like their parents to blend.

Blending is an important skill I had to teach myself, the way I taught myself table manners and cursive, because counterculture childhoods kind of skip those stops on the growing-up train.

Looks matter. And by that I mean the sideways looks you get when your mom is sporting an exotic beetle-sized amethyst brooch to the dentist’s office.

What never fails to surprise me is the pressure I put on myself not to make a single mistake my mom made.

No epiphany about perfectionism or how shallow wardrobe is as an assessment of a person’s character is going to stop me from being aware of my wardrobe choices from now until I’m dropping my son off at his college dorm room (or visiting him in prison; I don’t want to jinx anything). I can’t hide how deeply I want to do better than my own mother, because I’ll be wearing it.

Ironically, I’ll be wearing wrinkle-free and appropriate clothing as I make a bevy of other untold errors in judgment that my son will go out of his way to avoid when it’s his turn. That’s how it is. We over-correct. In doing so, we make all sorts of other gaffes. There’s a closet full of ways to under-achieve, so grab whatever is on the rack. There’s something to fit everyone.


Teresa Strasser is a Los Angeles Press Club and Emmy Award-winning writer and the author of “Exploiting My Baby: Because It’s Exploiting Me” (Penguin). She blogs at ExploitingMyBaby.com.


Seth Menachem is on paternity leave and will return at the end of April.

West Bank haredi parents ordered to jail


Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered haredi Ashkenazi parents who refused to send their daughters to school with Sephardi girls to go to jail.

The Slonim Chasidim kept their daughters segregated from other girls at the school in the West Bank settlement of Emanuel, going so far as to have separate entrances and a dividing wall through the school’s courtyard.

After the courts ordered the school to remove the separation, the Chasidic parents kept their children home from school. The case has gone through months of court hearings, rulings and mediation, culminating in the court’s ultimatum late Tuesday afternoon.

The parents, who were required to inform the court in writing by Wednesday that they would abide by the court’s ruling, sang a song of faith in the courtroom following the justices’ decision, and they have vowed to march to prison on Thursday.

“No one has yet to die from a fortnight in prison,” parent Avraham Luria told the Jerusalem Post. “But I certainly hope that the government of Israel will have the tools to take care of the hundreds of children whose parents are going to prison and find enough foster families on such short notice.”

Why Should Teachers, Parents and Tutors Be Frenemies?


During her first week as a seventh-grade English teacher, Anna Taggert discovers her colleague, Randi Abrahams, at Starbucks writing a paper for one of her students, while the kid sips his peppermint mocha and texts his friends. The most popular English teacher in the school, Abrahams dresses like a fashionista on the $250 an hour she earns moonlighting as a tutor.

When Taggert objects, she is told to keep quiet if she wants to keep her job. Her students are too sleepy from weekends of bar mitzvah hopping to concentrate in class. When her creative assignments inspire her students to work hard, their parents petition her to stop overloading them. A month later, Taggert sells out, learns the ropes and becomes one of the hottest tutors in New York.

Former Dalton School English teacher/tutor Anisha Lakhani explores the corrupt New York prep school scene in her satirical novel, “Schooled” (Hyperion, 2008), which targets parents who pay big bucks for tutors to do their kids’ homework. Despite the caricatures, stereotypes and exaggerations, the book tells some hard and unpleasant truths.

In Andrew Trees’ “Academy X” (Bloomsbury, 2007), another “tell-all” novel by a New York teacher, honest students rarely get into great colleges, while honest teachers rarely tell the truth. “It’s the whole culture,” a bright student explains to the protagonist, an English teacher who almost gets himself fired for accusing a board member’s daughter of plagiarism. “Everyone games the system. You have to admit that it is hard to resist with the Internet putting it all at your fingertips. And don’t think it’s just papers written at home. Students use their cell phones to instant message notes to each other during tests.”

The inevitable consequences of a dysfunctional system — whether it’s an economic system or an educational system — are the same: corruption, infighting and scapegoating. The most disturbing truth exposed by these books is the combative relationship that develops in school communities between parents, teachers and students — frenemies who on the first day of school kiss each other on the cheek only to later stab each other in the back. Moral compromises result in embattled worlds dominated by a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. The frustrated school populations of “Schooled” and “Academy X” point their fingers at one another, not knowing who else to blame. Unable to recognize their common enemy, they perceive each other as the enemy. And it is most often the parents, particularly “pushy Jewish parents,” who get cast as the villains in faculty lounges, just as they do in the pages of exposés by disillusioned teachers. Conversely, it is most often those “lousy teachers” who are scapegoated in homes, tutoring centers or wherever parents congregate to share their troubles.

Parents, teachers, tutors and, yes, even administrators have the same goal: to educate kids. We should be allies, not antagonists; advocates, not adversaries.

Our oppressors are bigger, stronger and tougher than totalitarian dictators. Like all tyrants, they wage war on great books and free minds — for such minds will always resist domination and enslavement. Marketing strategists are clever and skilled at dissuading students from reading great books, distracting them with mind-numbing alternatives, from video games to plot summaries. How many gadgets, products and services can be purchased and consumed in the hours, days, weeks it takes to read, digest, not to mention write a thoughtful essay about a Shakespeare play or a Dickens novel?

Iran’s mullahs were not strong enough to prevent a group of college girls from meeting in secret at their teacher’s house in Tehran to discuss the masterpieces of Western culture. Neither the threat of beating nor beheading could keep Azar Nafisi, author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” (Random House, 2003), from opening the minds of her students to “Pride and Prejudice,” “Madame Bovary,” “Daisy Miller” and “The Dean’s December.” These students got no college credit for reading and the teacher no paycheck for teaching. They had no fancy classrooms, PowerPoint technology, lesson plans or study aids. Yet the rewards were priceless: “When my students came into that room, they took off more than their scarves and robes,” Azar Nafisi explains in her memoir. “Gradually, each one gained an outline and a shape, becoming her own inimitable self.”

The amorphous enemy of American parents, educators and students alike is best described by William Greider in his book, “One World, Ready or Not” (Simon & Schuster, 1998), as our “wondrous new machine, strong and supple, a machine that reaps as it destroys,” with no “skillful hands on board,” and “no one … at the wheel … sustained by its own motion, guided mainly by its own appetites.” The goals of consumerism are incompatible with the goals of liberal arts, a term which, in classical antiquity “denoted the education of a free man (Latin, liber for free) unlike the vocational education proper to a slave.” The goal of liberal arts — to form free minds — is incompatible with the goal of mass culture — to form shopaholics. The liberal arts value individuals; market culture values consumers. Liberal arts value tradition; market culture values novelty. Liberal arts inspire thinking; market culture inspires buying. Liberal arts champion originality; market culture inspires conformity. Western humanism celebrates humans; modern consumerism celebrates gadgets. Parents and teachers want to educate children; market culture wants to package products. 

The mother who sent her seventh-grader for tutoring at Starbucks with Randi Abrahams in “Schooled” is familiar. She is not as rich as Anna Taggert thinks she is; both she and her husband are killing themselves to pay those school and tutoring bills. And despite it all, their seventh-grader is not as educated as his teacher imagines him to be when she asks him to write a summary of the first act of “Romeo and Juliet.” There is no way Benjamin can figure out how to condense those pages or put the Elizabethan English into his own words — not words ripped off SparkNotes or MonkeyNotes. Smart as he is, he just doesn’t have the writing skills — not to mention the vocabulary and attention span — to get through the first act of a Shakespeare play on his own. But his school, which markets itself as “top college prep,” must pretend its 12-year-olds can do just that. It wouldn’t be surprising if by next year they’ll claim he can read 700-page Victorian novels, and the year after “The Norton Anthology of English Literature.”

Benjamin’s mother sees her son as overwhelmed. She, too, is overwhelmed with everything a parent has to do to package kids for the college market. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that nothing is more important to her and her husband than Benjamin’s education. She learned that from her mother, who learned it from her mother. “We should, I say, put ourselves to great pains for our children, for on this the world is built….” wrote one of those pushy mothers, Glückel of Hamelin, a German Jewish superwoman of the late 17th and early 18th century, who managed to raise 12 children, run a business and write her memoirs for future generations.

The stories, values and messages Glückel transmits to her children are meant to provide them with a shelter in the storm, an armor that will shield them against the destructive forces of their times. Many parents today choose to provide their children with a religious education for the same reason. Glückel’s dominant culture, anti-Semitic as it was, revered her role as parent. It empowered her to see herself as a transmitter of civilized values, rather than as a provider of goods and services. Some Jewish parents today don’t realize that Judaism and the humanities go hand in hand; our children need both in order to humanize an increasingly dehumanizing culture. 

The role of Judaic studies teachers is clearly perceived as enriching students’ lives, rather than getting them into college. And the market has not yet come up with SparkNotes for Tanakh.

Parents and educators who resist the pressures of the market champion the same values that have always been upheld by the world’s great writers, thinkers and theologians. They choose substance over surface, mind over matter, quality over quantity. The most meaningful choices always require the most time. And the most valuable commodity mass culture steals away from us is time. The greatest gift parents and educators can give themselves, their students and each other is the gift of time. Reading and writing skills grow over time. It takes time to assimilate an idea; time to formulate a thought; time to express it clearly; time to teach a book thoroughly; time to grade a paper carefully. It takes time to form a cultured mind, an educated mind, a thoughtful mind — the kind of mind that will resist tyranny and keep freedom and democracy alive in the 21st century.

Irina Bragin is an L.A. tutor and writer who teaches English and public speaking at Touro College Los Angeles. She can be contacted at irina.bragin@touro.edu.

Parents cash in on kids’ Birthright


Jenny Meyer was feeling guilty, and she was willing to use that guilt to get what she wanted — a free trip to Israel for her parents.

Judy and Wayne Meyer live in La Grange, Ill. (about 13 miles west of Chicago) — the nearest synagogue is 30 minutes away — and had been talking about fulfilling a lifelong dream by going to Israel this October. The Meyers had never been out of the country (well, Toronto) and their daughter was excited that they would finally experience the ancientness and diversity of Israeli culture, as well as the comfort of being surrounded by Jews, as she had when she went on Taglit-Birthright Israel with a young professionals group from Los Angeles in 2007.

Then Meyer, who lives in Sherman Oaks and works for Princess Cruises, got engaged and, with a February wedding to be paid for, talk of the Israel trip dropped.

Until she heard about “Let My Parents Go.”

Birthright sponsored a video contest for alumni of the program to convince Birthright to send their parents on the same 10-day trip that energized their kids.

Meyer submitted a video that spoofed a political press conference, as she stood in front of an American flag and took questions from reporters about why her parents should win the trip.

When the Meyers found out they had made it into the finals — 18 videos from the 80 valid entries submitted were selected by Birthright staff — they sent out an e-mail to everyone they knew asking for their votes on the Birthright Web site, where a public tally was to determine the winner.

Aside from everyone in La Grange, they got votes from their dry cleaner’s family in Korea, friends of friends of friends in Hong Kong and Turkey, and soldiers in Israel who were on Jenny’s Birthright bus. This month, the Meyers joined eight other winning families in Israel.

Others on the trip include the Feinman family of Clearwater, Fla. Daughter Rachel Blatt, who is entering American Jewish University in Los Angeles as a rabbinic student, and son, Mark Feinman, who is studying jazz in New York, submitted a video in which they conspire over an early morning (really early for Blatt, on Pacific time) phone call to send their parents to Israel as a 30th wedding anniversary gift.

The phone conversation is interspersed with clips of the parents talking about their opposite likes — Renee Feinman is a biology teacher who loves people, hiking and eating in. Alan Feinman is a human resource manager who moonlights as a drummer in a klezmer band and likes quiet weekends, urban vacations and eating out. One thing they can agree on: They want to go to Israel.

“It’s unbearably exciting,” Renee Feinman said in a whole-family phone interview before the trip. “I saw how exciting and inspiring it was for my children, and how when they came they had been changed, and I’m looking forward to being that person.”

Obituaries


Werner Anders died Sept. 27 at 91. He is survived by his wife, Lily; daughter, Rachel (Leo) Woss; son, Gideon (Leslie); five grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchildren.
 
Roberta “Bobbie” Bernstein died Sept. 25 at 67. She is survived by her husband, Hy; sons, Steve and Keith; daughter, Deanna; and four grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha
 
Shari Cohen died Sept. 25 at 78. She is survived by her husband, Harry; daughters, Barbara Racklin, Margie Baumbac and Debra (Stuart) Blum; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai
 
Jonathan Comras died Aug. 8 at 44. He is survived by parents, Jackie and Richard; and brother, Lawrence. Mount Sinai
 
Selma Comsky died Aug. 24 at 79. She is survived by her daughters, Michelle Margolis, Jan and Andrea; sons-in-law, Mark Margolis and Jack Cousin; and two grandchildren.
 
Harry Drucker died Sept. 8 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Sylvia; and son, Barry. Sholom Chapels
 
Mae Falikoff died Sept. 20 at 95. She is survived by her son, Marvin. Sholom ChapelsJordon Feldman died Sept. 27 at 70. he is survived by his wife, Bette; son, Adam; and daughter, Abbie. Mount Sinai
 
Isaac Fields died Aug. 26 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Dora; son, Allan (Elyse); daughter, Pauline (Milton) Zablow; six grandchildren; and brothers Max (Betty) and David (Gladys).
 
Mildred Handelsman died Sept. 17 at 91. She is survived by her husband, David; and sons, Burton and William. Groman
 
Jeffrey Michael Harman died Sept. 22. at 48. He is survived by his wife, Debbie; son, Eric; parents Martha and Sam; brothers, Harvey and Steven; and friends. Beth Israel Cemetery
 
Alice Horowitz died Sept. 14 at 90. She is survived by her son, David (Miriam); daughter, Phyllis (Dr. David) Katzin; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Sholom Chapels
 
Ayouch Yechiel Ifrah died Sept. 18 at 85. He is survived by his sons, David, Albert, Gabriel, Raphael and Max; daughters, Jacqueline, Annette, Helen, Tersa and Judith; 14 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Chevra Kadisha
 
Herman Klein died Sept. 10 at 91. She is survived by her daughters, Jenny (David) Cohen and Rose Margolis; son, Larry; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels
 
Semen Khanukayev died Sept. 20 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Olga; sons, Josef and Igor; daughter, Anna; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha
 
Aaron Phillip Moss died Sept. 19 at 89. He is survived by his son, Jack Crayne; daughter, Phyllis; and stepson, Richard Cohen. Groman
 
Herbert “Lou” Press died Sept. 25 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Ina; daughter, Susan Shulman; son, Evan (Isis); four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; sister, Evelyn Lehman; and brother, Burt (Trueen). Mount Sinai
 
Martin Alden Rohrlich died Sept. 17at 87. He is survived by his daughters, Janice Lang, Linda Cohn and Andrea Cohen; and six grandchildren.
 
Alfred Ross died Sept. 12. He is survived by his brother, Max (Doris). Sholom Chapels
 
Martin Saben died Sept. 26 at 82. He is survived by his sons, Jack and Gary; and cousin, Glenda (Larry) Carver. Mount Sinai
 
Diana Ruth Siegel died Sept. 21 at 98. She is survived by her sons, Robert (Sally) and Allan (Melinda); daughter, Elaine (Harry) Smith; seven grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; and brother, Al Powell. Mount Sinai
 
Sarah Silverberg died Sept. 17 at 88. She is survived by her nephews, Marvin Kay, Howard Rudnick and Jeff Monka. Sholom Chapels
 
Bess Smith died Sept. 25 at 89. She is survived by her sons, Murray and Barry (Denise); three grandchildren; and brother, Max Muravnick. Mount Sinai
 
Judith Tiger died Sept. 26 at 74. She is survived by her husband, Siggy; sons, Michael and Peter (Lynn); daughters, Inez (Mark) Tiger-Lizer and Leone (Etai) Zion; son-in-law, Drummond; and six grandchildren. Mount Sinai
 

When Birthday Party Blowouts Blowup


The wedding invitation convinced me that modern moms and dads have officially lost their gumballs regarding children’s birthday parties. “Master Jacob Estroff” read the ivory parchment envelope; it took a moment to register that the addressee was in fact Jakey, my 5-year-old. The bride-to-be (Miss Sophia Rosenthal) was Sophie, his toothless classmate.

The party lived up to its invitation. There were bridesmaids, groomsmen and, of course, a mini groom and a mini chuppah. There was even a wedding cake taller than the birthday bride herself.

In all fairness, Jewish parents come by it honestly. We’ve barely cleared labor and delivery before we’re expected to be on the phone with the caterer ordering bagels and lox for 200 for the bris or baby naming.

It seems a natural progression to plan a three-ring circus in the cul-de-sac when that bundle of joy turns 6. It’s just that somewhere between the petting zoo, the pony rides and the moonwalk we end up with an empty wallet, a giant headache and a kid who is so overwhelmed by the hoopla, he can barely enjoy his big day.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we bail on our kids’ birthday parties altogether. On the contrary, these annual rites of passage are much-anticipated events in our children’s lives. But going to the opposite extreme isn’t the answer either.

Fortunately, it’s perfectly possible to plan a kid-friendly birthday bash without compromising our values, sanity and pocketbook. All it takes is a little panning for gold.

You know when you take a big clump of mud and swoosh it around in a pan until a few glistening specks of gold are all that remain. Well, we’re going to do the same thing here. Only instead of mud, we’re going to swoosh a big, mushy mess of modern birthday party madness.

Are you swooshing yet? Do you see those overpriced invitations and goody bags spilling over the sides into a bucket by your feet? Great, keep swooshing. But don’t go peeking at those golden nuggets yet. Not until we’ve spent some time looking at the slush in the bucket, and have a clear grasp on what exactly our child’s birthday party does not need to be (regardless of what parenting magazines, party planners or other parents might think):

  • It does not need to be a reflection of our parental prowess. We accomplish lots of amazing feats as parents. Getting our children out the door and into school every morning; keeping them safe, healthy and happy. Our child’s birthday party is but one little parenting accomplishment in a year of millions; it’s hardly a manifestation of our maternal savvy.
  • It does not need to be a Martha Stewart masterpiece. Have you ever bought a magazine based on the teaser “foolproof birthday party ideas” only to realize a page and a half in that you are a fool for buying the magazine in the first place? Not only is making tulip-shaped cupcakes not foolproof, but it takes a degree from the World Culinary Institute. Besides, our kids couldn’t care less if their cupcakes are shaped like tulips or toilets, as long as they’re yummy, icing-soaked and flanked with the right amount of candles.
  • It does not have to be an unprecedented concept. Do you know that sinking feeling we get when we learn another kid is having a birthday gala at the same secret site we’ve booked for our own child’s party — only a week earlier. “The nerve!” we think to ourselves. “I’ve had that inflatable jumpy place booked for a year and that parent stole the idea right out from under me.” But the reality is our kids love playing on inflatable jumpy stuff. They would do it day in and day out if we’d let them. I must ask you this: Would you turn up your nose at an opportunity to go to a spa just because you did the same thing last weekend? I think not.
  • It does not need to go off without a hitch. For my niece’s sixth birthday, my sister-in-law booked a highly acclaimed magician, months — if not years — in advance. You could taste the excitement as the guests counted down the seconds until he arrived. And then they counted some more. And some more. Until it became painfully evident that the magician had taken his vanishing act to the next level.

That’s when they started building Oreo towers. Those kids went through package after package of double stuffs until they’d constructed a bona fide chocolate cookie Camelot. And then it was time to go home. “Thanks, that was fun,” the children told my catatonic sister-in-law as they exited.

Lesson learned? Despite a catastrophic birthday party disaster, my niece turned 6, the guests were happy and we had a family memory that would last years beyond the applause after a perfectly executed magic show.

OK then. I think we’re finally ready to peek at the golden nuggets. At those few precious, glimmering things our child’s birthday party should be. They look something like this:

  • A fun, memorable day spent with family and friends.
  • A means of making them feel happy, proud and loved.

  • A celebration of their development, uniqueness and existence.

Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning Jewish educator and mother of four. Her first book, “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? The Essential 411 on Raising Modern Jewish Kids” will be published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House in 2007.

Saying Goodbye to Mom


The phone woke me at 3:45 a.m.

It was Joanne, the owner of my mom's board and care.

“Ellie, it's time,” she said.

“Time for what?” I asked.

She paused and then said, “Your mother's gone.”

Maybe I was still asleep — or in denial. I thought, “Gone where? Back to the hospital?”

Joanne waited patiently until my ability to process information kicked in. This wasn't unexpected, but I felt unprepared –and robotic.

“What should I do?” I asked Joanne.

“Nothing,” she said. “The hospice nurse is coming. I'm so sorry for your loss.” My loss. My mother's dead. The words were like a newspaper headline about some distant stranger's life and loss.

I forced my body toward the guest room where my sister was asleep.

“Sue?” I whispered. She woke up immediately. “Mom just died.”

My big sister opened her arms. I sat down on the bed, and we hugged each other for a long time. We didn't cry. We didn't talk. We just held each other, maybe trying to let reality sink in.

Sue and I had been like bicoastal co-parents for our mother over the past eight years. Once it was clear that Mom's memory was seriously starting to go — when she got lost returning from lunch with friends or she couldn't remember if she'd fed her dog — we agreed that she could no longer live alone.

Mom lived with Sue for two years. Then six years ago, when she was 82, Mom agreed to move to a board and care in Los Angeles.

She was terrified at being “left” by me in the care of strangers, and she couldn't remember why she was there. She was furious that she couldn't have her Scotch in her room. She ranted. She begged.

“How could you do this to me? Please take me home with you!”

I often drove home weeping, frustrated and guilty.

But for the past three years, with the right cocktail of medications, Mom settled in. Although she had no short-term memory, she still knew me, still had a great sense of humor and even an ability to give good advice about my love life. I felt very close to her.

On Mother's Day, Mom started to slip away.

She couldn't stay awake, was hardly talking or eating. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, which, in older people can cause extreme confusion until the infection clears up.

Over the next three weeks, Mom was hospitalized twice, but she didn't improve. When I visited, I squeezed myself onto the bed, between her frail body and the bed rail, so I could be closer to her. We held hands, and I talked. She barely moved. She stared at me when I spoke but rarely replied.

One time, my boyfriend told Mom how much he loved me; she got tears in her eyes, smiled and said, “I'm so happy for you.”

Another time, I told her a joke about President Bush, and she laughed so hard she started choking. I decided to stop telling her jokes.

The doctor said Mom might need a feeding tube. I asked her if she wanted one. She said, “No.” I wasn't surprised. Her living will was very clear.

“I'm so sorry you're having to go through this, Mom,” I said.

She didn't miss a beat. “I'm so sorry you're having to watch me go through this.”

When Mom was discharged on June 7, I told Joanne I didn't want her going back to the hospital.

“I have to call paramedics again if she's unresponsive,” Joanne said, “Unless she's under hospice care. Then I'll call hospice instead.”

This was bittersweet news. Hospice would spare my mother further pain. And hospice meant Mom was dying.

I guess I started grieving then. I cried with my boyfriend and on the phone with my sister. Sue decided to fly out on June 13. I couldn't wait for her to arrive. The hospice nurse came and truly educated me.

“Your mother is in end-stage dementia,” she said, “which explains her swallowing problems, decreased speech, constant sleeping and the increased risk of infection. Hospice care includes a hospital bed, all necessary medications and our examinations. It's covered by Medicare. I don't know how long your mother has left, but your sister should come immediately if she wants to interact with your mother.”

Sue arrived June 9.

Mom seemed to know Sue, and when we both kissed her and said, “We love you,” Mom responded weakly, “I love you, too.”

These were the last words Mom spoke.

Over the next four days, Mom was kept comfortable with pain and anxiety medication.

The hospice nurse said Mom could still hear us, so Sue and I sat by her bedside, reminiscing about funny and important experiences we'd all shared. The ski trip where Mom had to drive through the blizzard. The Broadway songs we sang together. All the dogs we'd known and loved.

We told her we loved her and that she'd been a wonderful mother.

We also said that it was OK for her to go, that there was nothing else she needed to do here, that we would miss her and that we would take care of each other.

On June 13, at 3:45 a.m. Mom let go.

Later that day, Sue and I went through Mom's few things, cried a little and hugged a lot. I'm so thankful we went through this together.

The next day, we decided to celebrate Mom. We went out to lunch, saw “Akeelah and the Bee,” which Mom would have loved, and we had a manicure, as Mom had done every week of her adult life — until she forgot that it was something she did.

In her honor, we both picked Mom's favorite gaudy orange color — one that neither of us would ever wear. We giggled a lot and agreed that we looked ready for Halloween. The manicurists clearly thought we were crazy, laughing when our mother had just died the day before. But we knew Mom definitely was somewhere, laughing with us.

For the past six years, my mother's often challenging journey and our evolving relationship have inspired much of the writing in my column. Although she's no longer here in my life, she's definitely still alive in my thoughts and memories.

I love you, Mom.

Ellie Kahn is an oral historian, founder of Living Legacies, at ekzmail@adelphia.net.

Leaving the Fold — Not the Family


My father doesn’t believe in Father’s Day.

I mean he knows it exists, but he doesn’t celebrate it because it’s not a Jewish holiday.

When my three siblings and I were growing up in Brooklyn, he wouldn’t allow us to go to New Year’s parties, because they celebrate the birth of JC, as he was referred to, if he were referred to at all. Ditto, Halloween and trick or treating, because the whole thing was pagan. Whatever that meant. Goyishe was the term we used: gentile. Not Jewish. Not Religious.

For us, it was all the same thing. Everyone we knew was religious. My family, my friends, my parents’ friends, my schoolmates, everyone.

Maybe you think it’s weird to grow up so sheltered, among such homogeny, maybe even I think it’s weird, but that’s only now, only sometimes. Then? Then it was all I knew. It was normal. We were normal.

Normal back then meant Modern Orthodox — that we kept kosher and celebrated Shabbat and holidays. We went to coed yeshivas and sleepaway camps; we wore skirts to school, pants and shorts at home and bathing suits at the beach.

There’s a joke about religion that anyone more religious than you is crazy, and anyone less than you — a goy! And that was our family: not super-religious black-hat like most of my father’s family, who attended separate schools and studied in kollel yeshivas instead of college, and definitely not Conservative or “not religious,” as we equated it, like much of my mother’s family, who went to Solomon Schecter and drove on Saturdays. (Not to our house; they weren’t allowed.) We weren’t like them. We were just … normal.

In today’s increasingly polarized religious world, the Modern Orthodoxy I grew up with hardly exists, but that’s nishta hin, nishta heir — Yiddish for neither here nor there — because I’m no longer Orthodox. How I left Orthodoxy, why I left Orthodoxy, well, that’s a long story, and a different one. This is the story of how it affected my relationship with my family, particularly my father.

See, he was the driving force behind our religious education.

My father always says that he became more religious in Vietnam. After attending Yeshiva University — he was captain of the wrestling team — he went to dental school at Temple University in Philadelphia. “It wasn’t easy for us then,” he liked to tell us, about being the only religious Jew, forced to attend classes on Shabbos and holidays. In fact, one of the reasons he decided to become a dentist instead of a doctor was because he didn’t want to deal with the halachic problems — the religious conflicts doctors must face. He served in the Vietnam Medical Corps from 1967-1968. He never really talked much about his years in Vietnam, except to say that the experience strengthened his faith and practice of a religion that, I assume, might have been strictly rote beforehand.

Maybe that was why it was so difficult for him to see me leave something he’d fought so hard to keep. But I suppose — and I can only say this now, 10 years later — my choice may also have felt like a bitter slap in the face to a parent who has worked so hard to inculcate his own values in his child.

But it wasn’t personal. Not really. Hardly at all. I mean, I wasn’t becoming less religious to rebel against him — although now I can see with clarity that there was a time when I certainly didn’t mind taunting him. On my yearly visits to America, when I was in my 20s and living in Israel, we went at it like Talmudic scholars while the rest of the family sat around the Shabbos table trying to enjoy their meal in peace. My father’s wife would clear the table (he and my mother divorced when I was 23), and my younger brother and sister would roll their eyes in frustration, helpless to stop the degeneration of the conversation, which predictably descended into feverish debate at first opportunity.

“The rabbi made an interesting speech today in shul,” my father would say, as he’s said at every Saturday meal I can ever remember. Usually a sentence or two later, and we’d be off: “How dare the rabbi talk about Israel and the settlements when he lives comfortably in America?” I’d say, because prior to my religious transformation, my political convictions had shifted seismically left, as well. Or, “I’d like to see what the rabbi would do if his son came home and announced he was gay; then how easy would it be to denounce homosexuality?” I’d say, proud of my newfound liberalism.

Those early years of debating always seemed to focus on external issues — Israel, abortion, homosexuality, tolerance, feminism, equality — but we were dancing around the edges of the heart of the matter: What was this religion he had taught me, and how much of it was I going to accept? How much would he accept me, even if I weren’t what he wanted me to be? It went on like this for years, me insisting I was happy with my career, my friends, my single life and him unable to accept my version of a happy life, warning me I should work on getting married and building a family, a bayit ne’eman byisrael. A home faithful to the traditions of Israel.

“Wouldn’t you rather I be happy than shomer Shabbos?” I finally screamed. It was a seemingly ridiculous question because, of course, every father wants his child to be happy.

“I think you should be shomer Shabbos,” he replied; for him, it wasn’t an either/or question. He lived in both worlds — interacting with people from all walks of life in his dental practice, going to the movies, playing golf, reading news magazines — so why couldn’t I?

They say that the Jewish people keep Shabbos, but Shabbos keeps the Jewish people. Which means that although we “sanctify the Sabbath,” in the end, by keeping Sabbath, we remain Jewish. It is the cornerstone of the religion, and it is usually one of the last things to go for an X-O, an ex-Orthodox person.

Not that I was ex-anything. By age 29, when I was back in America, I wasn’t sure what I was or wasn’t, and my father and I kept a “Don’t ask, don’t tell policy.”

“Secret Shabbos Breakers?” my father said to me during our weekly conversations, referring to an article I wrote for The Forward about how people hid from their relatives the fact that they were no longer observant in order to keep the peace.

And that was that. After all those arguments, all those years, it was anti-climactic. I had outted myself.

“You’re an adult now, you can do what you want,” he said, sadly.

Somehow it was worse than all the fighting, all the debate, all the times I wanted to rip every single hair out of my head waiting for three stars to come out in the sky so that Shabbos would be over, and I could get out of Brooklyn.

Of course, that wasn’t it; that wasn’t the end of the debate. But in a way we had reached an impasse: He was trying to let go, and I was beginning to realize that I didn’t need to prove my life to him, I just needed to accept it for myself.

There were other hurdles — like him allowing me to come for only part of the weekend, as opposed to from Friday sundown to Saturday night — and I’m sure there will be many more in the future: Would he come to my wedding if a Conservative rabbi officiated? Would I be able to wear strapless? What if I married someone who converted through the Reform movement? The list goes on and on.

But that’s always the way it works between the more religious and less; my family — my siblings are also observant — doesn’t seem to understand that sometimes it’s just as hard for me to accept them as it is for them to accept me. When I sit around their Shabbos tables, no longer debating anyone, I often wonder how it would all sound to an outsider: The Torah portion, Talmudic references, Hebrew and Yiddish phrases interspersed casually in conversation, like seasoning. (Do they think it will be easy to describe to a future husband that my family’s not exactly homophobic, they just think being gay is an abomination as it is stated in the Torah?)

Look, it’s not as if I’m secular; I’m the most religious non-Orthodox person I know. I’ve worked in Jewish journalism for the last 10 years, and not a week goes by where I’m not flipping through the Bible, the prayer book and, more recently, the Internet in search of a quote or a phrase to fit a story I’m writing about the holidays, religion, Jewish life.

Most times, though, I find it’s easier to just call my father.

“What’s a phrase that talks about the sins of the father on the sons?” I ask him for this article. We don’t even say hello anymore on these calls; when he sees it’s from my office, and it’s not our pre-Shabbos calls, he knows I’m about to pump him for a Jewish source.

“Lo Yumtu Avot al Banim? he asks.

“No, that’s not what I’m looking for.”

“V’Heshiv Lev Avot al Banim?” he suggests, and I sing it, the song about how fathers and sons will be reunited during the time of the Messiah.

We have a symbiotic writing relationship here. He provides me with quotes, sources, even divrei Torah, if I have to deliver a speech at a religious person’s house. And sometimes, I even publish his writing — such as his essay on his daily Daf Yomi classes (although his essay on finding the afikomen is still in the slush pile).

For this essay, though, it’s not a biblical quote I’m looking for. After all, when I think about how, after years of separating myself from the religious community, years of living apart — now in Venice Beach, running marathons, surfing, skiing, studying literature, engaging in as many secular activities as possible — I am at times a stranger in this strange land. And when I’m at a religious event — a Shabbat dinner, a shul Kiddush, a Pico-Robertson barbecue — I no longer feel such hostility. I actually feel a kinship. Is it nostalgia? Is it familiarity? Is it because I’m among friends? Or, as my brother might say, is it because I have a Jewish soul?

It turns out the line I’m looking for comes from a novel, Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History”:

“I have come to realize that while for years I might have imagined myself to be somewhere else, in reality I have been there all the time.”

Who knows where I will end up? What my future family will be like?

As for me, right now, without children and without a husband, I am very close to my family, to my father. They’re observant, and I love them. I’m not observant, but they love me, too. I know they hope I will become more observant, and I haven’t given up on them either: I still try to open their minds to my way of thinking. Who knows what effect we have on each other?

Sometimes, I believe my father was right about many things — about getting married early before it became too difficult, about keeping Shabbat, keeping kosher and a half a dozen other things he tried to warn me about. But that’s only sometimes. Other times, I love my life and all the opportunities I’ve had since I branched out into the world.

Anyway, I’d never tell him he might be right. Not to his face, anyway. So here it is:

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

 

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

yeLAdim


Mighty Glad to See You!

It was great seeing so many of you at the Israel Independence Day Festival on May 7 (we hope you enjoyed the fans). Be sure to check out our yeLAdim page on June 30, as we will be printing many of the essays you wrote for our 20th anniversary!

Kein v’ Lo:

Parental Spying?

There’s been a lot of talk in the news about people listening to other people’s phone calls, and some people say parents need to check what their kids are doing online and who they are chatting with — because not everyone on the Internet is telling the truth. Should parents be allowed to do that?

The Kein Side:

  • A lot of kids don’t talk to their parents, and the parents want to make sure their kids are safe from drugs, alcohol, bullies and other things that can hurt them.
  • It is your parents’ house, and you have to live by their rules — when you have your own house, you can have your own rules.

The Lo Side:

  • Parents need to trust their kids — otherwise how will the kids ever learn to be responsible for themselves?
  • It is invasion of privacy to listen to their phone calls and look at someone’s things when they aren’t there.

We want to know what you think. E-mail your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com, with the subject line: Parents.

We’ll publish your opinions on a future yeLAdim page.

Pages & Picks

This month’s pick is the very cute “Kvetchy Boy” by Anne-Maire Baila Asner — the latest from Matzah Ball Books.

Kvetchy Boy joins his friends Noshy Boy, Shluffy Girl, Klutzy Boy and Shmutzy Girl in bringing Yiddish expressions to young Jews (don’t worry, each book includes a glossary of words) and teaching everyone about being a better person:

Even at his birthday party, Kvetchy Boy kvetched and kvetched.

“This ice cream made my cake soggy. I hate soggy cake,” said Kvetchy Boy.

“But Kvetchy Boy,” said Noshy Boy, who loves to eat. “The cake tastes even better that way.”

Kvetchy Boy didn’t agree.

If you haven’t seen your favorite Yiddish expression yet, don’t worry — there are more books on the way, including some for grown-ups like “Mrs. Mitzvah” and “Bubby” and “Zaida Kvelly.” You can even buy T-shirts with the different characters on them!

For more information, visit

Jewish Studies Bug Bites Parents, Too


Eighteen months ago, when Lenard Cohen’s 4-year-old daughter was enrolled in the family’s congregational preschool, the Philadelphia-area father of three decided to go back to school himself.

He signed up for the Florence Melton Parent Education Program, a Jewish adult education course for parents of preschoolers.

Raised as a Reform Jew, Cohen said he was on the “lower end” of the observance scale when he signed up for the course, which meets once a week, 30 weeks a year, two hours at a stretch, for two full years.

His goal, he says, was to “increase my knowledge of Jewish practice, Jewish history and Jewish ethics, and to be able to pass it on to my children better.”

The course has done that and more, he says, bringing together a group of parents with disparate backgrounds and experiences.

“We’re all there because we’re parents of preschoolers and we want to learn,” he says.

With a number of recent studies showing that preschools have a profound effect on the Jewish life of the entire family, and that greater linkage is needed between preschools and the rest of the Jewish educational and communal network, educators and philanthropists are engaging in new initiatives to bring parents of Jewish preschoolers into the process.

Some of those initiatives are formal, such as the Melton program, which operates in 15 cities, and some are more informal, involving interaction and greater outreach between parents and their children’s school.

“There’s a sense of fragmentation,” says Lyndall Miller, coordinator of the Jewish early childhood education certificate program at Gratz College in Melrose Park, Pa. “Parents don’t have models of how to parent. People don’t talk to each other about how they can build relationships with their children. Schools must become communities, and they don’t know how.”

Simply making the effort to reach out is a crucial beginning, educators say.

Ina Regosin, founding director of the Early Childhood Institute and dean of students at Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., says that when she was director of a Jewish preschool 30 years ago, she’d routinely invite parents into the building when they dropped off their children, “to educate them, of course.”

The school sent home weekly newsletters for the parents to read, and held evening programs on Jewish holidays and other topics.

The best Jewish preschools today all engage in that kind of active outreach to parents, and try to make it part of the natural rhythm of family life.

“Whatever we do for the children we do for the adults,” says Helen Cohen, who 12 years ago founded a preschool at Temple Israel, a large Reform congregation in Boston. Teachers send home weekly newsletters on the Torah portion, with the Hebrew words translated and transliterated. They hold family Havdalah services, and send parents home with clear instructions on how to do the ritual themselves.

Taking part in a Jewish learning experience at their child’s preschool is a nonthreatening way for many parents with little or no Jewish education to increase their own knowledge and feel more at home with Jewish observance.

Sometimes preschools run separate, adults-only classes for parents to study Torah or learn Jewish parenting skills.

“Our families are so assimilated, a lot of them are not comfortable with the rituals,” says Shelley Smith, preschool director at Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Portland, Ore. “We create a safe zone for them to learn from the ground up, together with their children.

Sending kids home on Friday with “Shabbat boxes,” which typically include candles, transliterations of the blessings and challah baked by the child that day in class, is popular at many preschools.

“Who won’t hang the mezuzah your child made on the bedroom door?” Smith says. “Who on Friday night won’t stick candles in the Shabbat candlesticks your child made out of Play-Doh?”

At the Osher Marin JCC preschool in San Rafael, director Janet Harris stands in her front lobby every morning to greet the children and their parents. She shakes their hands and personally invites them to the school’s family programs.

The Osher Marin preschool is one of 12 schools involved in a pilot project by the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative, which was launched in 2004 to develop models of preschools that bring the entire family into the project of Jewish learning.

Mark Horowitz, the initiative’s executive director, says that each school receives funding and coaching to deepen the Jewish and developmental content in the classrooms, and to build strong relationships with the parents.

Next year, the program will add 10 to 20 new preschools to the project.

“If we can create communities of Jewish families around these preschools, then they will want to continue their connection with Jewish education and institutions,” he says. “We will have created a craving for Jewish life. It might mean congregational affiliation, or membership in Jewish Community Centers, or Jewish day school — some meaningful way to continue the communities in which they have been flourishing.”

The Melton Parent Education Program is one of two formal initiatives to emerge in recent years. The program, based at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and run out of its North American office in Northbrook, Ill., is modeled after the successful Florence Melton Adult Mini-School curriculum.

“We promote pluralism, text-based study and interactive learning,” says Mitch Parker, director of the program for preschool parents.

“We encourage the parents to realize that what they learn in class is relevant to Jewish family life, and to take the lesson home. We don’t teach the how-tos, but the whys of Judaism and the importance of it.”

This spring, 450 parents are enrolled nationwide. And it’s having an impact.

More of those parents are enrolling their children in day school — the stated goal of the Avi Chai Foundation, which subsidizes tuition for the program. The program is also, in some cases, open to parents of children in the younger grades of day school.

And, Parker says, “We definitely see behavioral changes” among the parent-students. “They admit that after two years, they are doing more Jewish things.”

Deborah Bradley of Walled Lake, Mich., outside Detroit, is in her second year of the program. Her three children all went to a Conservative congregational preschool. The two oldest are now in day school, and the youngest will start next year. The decision to put her kids in day school “evolved,” she says, as she and her husband saw how much they were learning in preschool.

She decided to take the Melton program “not only because of my love of studying, but to be able to delve into topics my children were getting introduced to in Jewish day school.”

Her 10-year-old had been asking difficult questions about Jewish beliefs regarding afterlife, cremation and where she stood on abortion.

“I came in with good knowledge, but getting Tanach references was helpful,” she says, referring to the Bible. “It helps me communicate better with the kids.”

Another formal education program operates in the Boston area and western Massachusetts. Ikkarim, an adult learning program for parents of 1- to 5-year-olds, is run by Hebrew College and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston. The Ikkarim program operates at several local synagogues. Focusing on Jewish text study, it targets parents of preschool-age children in its exploration of how Jewish values apply to contemporary family relationships.

Regosin of Hebrew College says that it’s critical to offer this kind of outreach to young Jewish parents, because they’re at the point in their lives when they’re making decisions that will affect the Jewish nature of their home for years to come.

“You’ve got families that are so open at this point, especially when it’s their first child,” she says. If the preschool experience is good, they’re more likely to continue that child’s Jewish education, and to send their younger children to preschool as well.

“When a young family makes that choice and walks through the door, it’s a tremendous opportunity,” she says. “If you have teachers and directors committed to strong Jewish education, they can have tremendous impact.”

 

First Person – A Coming Out (of Egypt) Story


Sixteen years ago this month, I planned to take the Passover message of liberation to heart. I was going to come out of the closet to my sister and my parents and, in doing so, free myself from the bondage of keeping this huge and personal part of me from them. I was going to verbalize the secret I had feared revealing to them for more than 15 years since I first was able to put words to the feelings.

I grew up in a small, quaint New Jersey suburb of New York, a commuter town ideal for raising children. Since having moved to Los Angeles in 1987, at the age of 25, I generally visited my parents and sister back in New Jersey an average of once a year. That once a year was usually Passover time, since I had the time off from my work as a day school educator (and would enjoy the additional bonus of being able to lock up my home for the holiday and sell my chametz without having to go through the cleaning and other laborious pre-holiday preparations and rituals).

Perhaps my plan to come out during Passover was just practical, since that was when I typically returned home; or perhaps it was a flair for the dramatic or symbolic, since I had come to think of the emotional bondage of keeping my secret as a modern-day equivalent to the physical slavery of my ancestors. Either way, it was during Passover of 1990 that I had planned to come out to my parents and tell them I’m gay. I returned to my childhood home that year armed with several articles and a book titled, “Now That You Know: What Every Parent Should Know About Homosexuality,” all designed to prove how normal it was to be gay.

I had come out a year earlier (also at Passover) to Rob, one of my best friends from college on whom I had had a crush. We got in his car, and I asked him to pull over on the way to wherever it was we were going because I had something really important and serious to tell him. He pulled into a parking lot (my elementary school parking lot) and turned off the engine. I loosened my seatbelt, turned to face him, took a deep breath and said, “I’m gay.”

To which he responded, somewhat anticlimactically, “Is that all?”

I don’t know if I was more relieved or disappointed, but there was no rejection. My first coming out was successful.

It took an entire year after that to muster the courage to tell my sister — who responded, “I still love you, and of course I won’t tell anyone.” To this I said that I wasn’t telling her so that she would now have to keep the secret. Coming out to my sister was planned to precede the coming out to my parents by several days. It was my warmup, my practice. But anticipating these two experiences, as anxiety-filled as they were, was nothing compared to the immeasurable angst I felt as I practiced and replayed over and over how I would reveal my secret to my parents.

The day I was going to tell them, I went to New York City to visit friends. I took the commuter train back to our town and felt the rumbling in my stomach as I anticipated freeing myself from my personal Egypt. The train sped closer and closer to home. With each station the train pulled into I could feel the rumbling in my stomach increase, and as I walked to my parents’ home (my childhood home) my stomach was on the verge of exploding. I tried to eat normally, but my appetite was limited. The meal, the conversation were overshadowed as I got closer to the point of expelling my truth, all the while wondering whether I would actually be able to follow through on my plan.

After dinner, I told my parents that I had something I wanted to say. They sat down at the table, dishes already cleared. With the gasses in my stomach doing triple axels, I mustered the courage — more courage than I had ever needed to do anything to that point in my life — and I said the words that liberated me from the self-imposed oppression that I had endured since realizing years earlier (beginning in third grade, if not even before) that I felt different than what I thought others felt: “I have something that’s really hard to say … I’m gay.”

Silence. Unbearable silence. To fill the silence I gave them the book and articles that I had brought. Perhaps I had brought them as much to help my parents through this new world as to prove to them that I was serious and that this was thought out. My father’s first words were: I’m shocked but I’m not shocked. (I had never really dated girls and though not effeminate, I fit some of the stereotypes.) My mother, tears filling her eyes, expressed her fears and her anxiety for me — I wouldn’t have a happy life, I would be alone — I did my best to assuage the concerns, but I had, after all, been working toward this moment for years and for them it was all new. And, frankly, I hadn’t thought through the post-liberation experience. The idea of telling my parents that I’m gay was so overwhelming that I hadn’t thought past anything but their initial reactions.

My father left to go to a meeting. My mother went to the sink to do the dishes. There was quiet again, but this quiet was the aftermath, the quiet that occurs when the truth and all of its realities, some becoming known and others not yet thought, become real, and we are trying to make sense of the implications. I felt a confusing mix of feelings – relief, anxiety, disappointment – and freedom from the mitzrayim, the narrow places, in which I had been stuck all those years.

On reflection, I wonder whether, thousands of years ago, the Israelites, too, didn’t experience the disappointment that the liberation wasn’t quite as easy and complete as expected. I suppose the fantasy was that I would come out of the closet and would be told, “Is that all?”

But my parents had more invested than my college friend. Their picture of my future, and by extension their future, would take longer to sort through, reimagine and come to terms with. The beginning of my liberation was now, in some ways, their new wilderness. It would be up to them whether they would turn it into a self-imposed bondage.

Due — in no small part — to my coming out, I have come to believe that our primary task in life is to know ourselves, accept ourselves and to love ourselves and to hope that those who love us will do the same. Each year we are to imagine ourselves as slaves in Egypt and to re-experience the bitterness of the oppression symbolically through retelling the story and through the sensory experiences of the seder. We are to think about the way we are enslaved and oppressed today, how we oppress ourselves and how we can help end the oppression of others. How we can take ourselves out from our personal house of bondage. How we can free ourselves and how we can come out.

Jeff Bernhardt is an educator, Jewish professional and writer living in Los Angeles.

Mommy, Me & Cheesecake Makes 3


OK, mom, so what part of eating that cheesecake is making you feel guilty?

If you fear that little bubbela is annoying the other customers in the bakery, your worries are over.

The Essential Chocolate Collection, a Culver City bakery, is for parents who want an alternative to dragging their babies to Starbucks for an afternoon pick-me-up amid unsympathetic non-parents. Here, moms can indulge while their babies can crawl and play — or make a fuss. It’s OK because Fridays from 1-3 p.m., in the bakery’s annex, are reserved for just this crowd.

“It’s nice to have a latte and not have someone glaring at you,” says event organizer Lara Sanders Fordis, who has an 11-month-old son. Her sister, shop owner Melissa Sanders, has added incentive to be welcoming: newcomers may get hooked on the goodies.

The free get-together (you do pay for drinks and dessert) is called Coffee, Mommy & Me, but it’s not really a Mommy & Me class. Still, the organizers do schedule “programs.” The recent schedule has included “Funtime with Nanny C,” a “Free Organic Baby Food Tasting” and “Mommy Chair Massages.” The Passover event on April 14 is pretty much all about food — featuring chocolate macaroons, chocolate-dipped fruit and other treats. (The ingredients are kosher, but not certified kosher for Passover.)

Participating moms said they appreciated a chance to get out of the house and relax. And it’s safe for baby: There are no sharp edges — especially on the chocolate.

The Essential Chocolate Collection, 10868 Washington Blvd., Culver City. For information on Coffee, Mommy & Me, call (310) 287-0699.

 

‘Kitchen’ Lets Kid Chefs Cook Up Fun


Before I had a chance to flip through Susie Fishbein’s new “Kosher by Design: Kids in the Kitchen,” my 9-year-old, Yair, had swiped the hardcover off the pile of mail and bookmarked the recipes he wanted to try.

And try — and succeed — he did.

In “Kids in the Kitchen,” best-selling author Fishbein has translated into kids lingo her formula for great cook books: interesting recipes that tweak the traditional, with points for presentation and originality. The full-color photos and cutesy thematics in this book are as bright as her others (her “Kosher by Design Entertains” is known universally as “The Pink Book”), with a few more smiley faces.

But what’s really nice about this book is that the recipes aren’t for silly foods that let kids patschke (mess) around but don’t actually get them cooking. As Fishbein says in her introduction, no gummy worms crawling out of cookie crumbs in this book.

Rather, she includes recipes for kid-friendly real food like burritos and meatballs and breaded cauliflower and lots of desserts. What makes this book for kids is that the recipes are written in a way that any beginner — even a latecomer adult — can easily understand and follow.

Fishbein has an intro for parents and one for kids, and each recipe is rated with one to three chefs’ hats to show the level of difficulty. She gives great advice — like read through the whole recipe before you start, set out your tools and pre-measure your ingredients. She has a pictorial glossary of kitchen gadgets and basic safety and kashrut rules, and starts every recipe with an equipment list.

So when Yair set about making alphabet vegetable soup for Shabbat, he needed only hovering supervision from me. While an adult recipe might read, “one onion, diced,” she starts off with “on the cutting board, use the sharp knife to chop the onions into small pieces.”

In no time, Yair and his helpers, Ezra, 7, and Neima, 4, were chopping, sautéing, measuring and simmering, all with an eye on the timer so as not to overcook the creation.

The soup was fantastic, as was the chocolate cake Yair made for dessert. But what was even better was his newfound confidence in the kitchen. And my favorite part: He did his best to follow Fishbein’s “clean as you go” rule, and took to heart her advice that “leaving your kitchen clean is key if you want to be invited back into it to cook.”

Carrot Muffins

Level of Difficulty: One Chef’s Hat

Equipment list

Measuring cups and spoons
Medium mixing bowl
Small silicone spatula or spoon
Electric mixer
Paper muffin cups
Cupcake or muffin tray
Toothpick

Ingredient list

1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup canola oil
12 ounces baby food carrots (usually 3 jars)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place the sugar, flour and oil into a medium mixing bowl. Add the baby food carrots, using your small spatula or spoon to get all of the baby food out of the jar.

Add the baking soda, cinnamon and eggs.

Mix with an electric mixer at medium speed for three minutes, until the batter is smooth.

Place the paper muffin cups into a muffin or cupcake tray.

If your bowl has a spout, pour the batter from the bowl into the muffin cups; if not, use a large spoon. Fill the muffin cups almost to the top.

Place the tray into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Open the oven and carefully pull out the muffin tray. Stick a toothpick into the center of a muffin; it should come out clean. If it comes out gooey, return the muffins to the oven for another two to three minutes. When the muffins are done, remove from the oven and allow the muffins to cool.

Makes 12-14 muffins.

 

Out of the Picture


Summer’s over, and I just got round 10 of Beth’s camp pictures. She’s made new friends, and seems to be learning a ton. She has that youthful exuberance. Adorable, no?

Well, sort of.

Beth is not cute. She’s not small. And she’s not particularly — well — that young. Beth is my 32-year-old former friend from college. She’s a wife and homemaker. And — more to the point — she’s the mother of Sammy.

For the past few years, Beth’s been documenting her experience for me and an undisclosed number of recipients. Gone are the days when she sent pictures of dresses and beaches; now it’s onesies and playgrounds. Each month, I get an electronic update of little Sammy smiling, crawling, bouncing, bathing, clapping, eating, playing, pooping, swinging, singing, sitting, sleeping.

And for the past 10 months, I’ve responded with the requisite “CUTE!” “Wow, she looks just like you!” and “You must have your hands full.” On cue, over and over again, I’ve cooed over the pudginess of her baby’s cheeks.

Here before me is digital proof — over and over again that Beth (and others like her) has moved on. It’s like I’m reading the same inscription with each new album:

“Dear XX, Isn’t my life swell? We’re super busy with other people, so I don’t really have time or care to hear about your life if it doesn’t involve me or my child. You understand, right? Hope you’ll still send me gifts when my kid turns 1! See you next month! KIT, YY.”

See, while Beth gleefully went off to Camp Wedding-Marriage-Mommy (WMM), I’ve stayed put in Camp Single-Dating-Old Friend (SDOF). Like getting picked last for the kickball team or being the last to couple-off, I’d never quite broken into the schedule of coupled events of lazy dinners nearby, or conversations obsessing over diamonds and centerpieces and — recently — diaper brands.

And yet, just clicking through my snapfish.com library, you’d think I was wedding and baby-obsessed. I am barraged by an overwhelming selection of shared albums from Beth, and Allison, and Josh and Nicole … friends who’ve not only moved away — from New York to Connecticut, California, uptown, the ‘burbs, wherever it may be — but who’ve moved on. I click through pictures of babies and people I don’t — and might never — know. True, technology has made it simple to KIT (keep in touch). But it’s also become an impersonal show-and-tell for haves to impose their joy on the have-nots.

Still, I’ve fussed over Beth (and others’) “crowning” achievements, one after another, starting with that “successful” boyfriend: “I love him if you do” (let’s do dinner); “OMG, your ring is gorgeous” (here’s a gift); “I’d be honored to wear a $350 pink dress” and “you’re the most beautiful bride ever” (here’s a check); “love the house” (here’s a plant).

I’ve smiled in all the appropriate photos. I’ve attended the functions.

But what I’m realizing (a bit late) is that by the time I wed, Beth will celebrate her 10th anniversary; when my kids are in diapers, she’ll be a soccer mom; when I finally buy a house, she’ll be on her second. Our kids will never be friends. And it’s likely that, in the long haul, neither will we.

Of course I’ve accepted that my existence has become de facto second fiddle. I understood when Beth didn’t show for my 30th because she was due in two weeks. I realized that to some, my reconstructive knee surgery (as an athlete), buying a studio apartment (alone), getting published (as a side job) and changing careers (for something I enjoy) — all of which changed my life forever — never quite equaled a marriage, buying a new house, pregnancy and raising a child.

In hindsight, it seems that for its minimal return on investment: the money, time and energy invested in others’ weddings, dresses, visits and gifts could have bulked up my apartment’s down payment, paid for my own fancy vacations and my own diamonds. Instead of getting the serving tray and wasting time at rehearsal dinners, I could have been feeding the hungry, attending charity events or enjoying more fat-free smoothies.

Sure, the pictures are sort of nice. And perhaps I should be sending my own monthly SDOF camp updates. Perhaps I should be visually recording all the new restaurants that I try with the new friends I’ve had to make. I’d include snapshots of my dating experiences and everything new that I’m learning at work. I suppose my inscription might read a bit differently though:

“Dear YY, Isn’t my bridesmaid costume a hoot? Sorry for not calling — but life has been busy. Listen, if you could just refund me that money for your engagement, wedding and other assorted gifts, that’d be great! I could use a new couch. Oh, and your kid’s cute. See you next month! SWAK, XX”

Don’t get me wrong: I know WMM camp, while seeming fun, is expensive and certainly not always a picnic. Still seems to me the SDOF campers are just destined to get shafted. See, while the married can relax with their fancy china and 400-thread sheets, I’m on constant hyperdrive, hand-me-downs and a futon. My sheets are not CK, and I don’t rehearse dinner — I just have it.

Funny, I often hear people say they felt empty before they found love and had kids. I guess that was before e-mail. According to my inbox, life is very, very full.

Dara Lehon, a freelance writer living in New York City, can be reached at dlehon@yahoo.com.

 

Ways to Care for a Parent Who Didn’t


Some 10 million older Americans need some kind of assistance to get through every day. Family members (mostly grown children) provide about 80 percent of that help. Lots of those adult children welcome the opportunity to give back to their parents a portion of the love and care they received as a child.

But what happens when an abusive or absent parent, now well along in years, turns to his or her adult child for help? How in the world do you care for an elderly mother or father who showed you no love, compassion or understanding when you were young?

A sense of moral obligation and love motivate many people to take care of such neglectful parents, but no law says that you must provide financial, emotional or physical assistance to a parent. Whatever you choose to do, it’s wise to be clear about expectations.

Providing care in the hopes of finally getting a parent’s approval or love may be a set-up for disappointment.

If you find yourself in this predicament, it’s more useful to attempt to understand the roots of your resentment, heal your old hurts and move toward forgiveness and acceptance.

Because angry feelings are far less painful than hurt feelings, many of us turn childhood disappointment, rejection, abandonment, humiliation, betrayal and abuse into angry resentment. Figuring out exactly what it was that hurt you so much when you were a child is the first step in letting go of the anger that stands between you and your elderly parent.

If you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions, your resentment and anger are providing a “reward” you can do without:

• Do I believe that by staying angry I am maintaining my principals and standards (thus not condoning what my parent did or did not do in the past)?

• Do I think that I must receive amends (apologies, special considerations) to compensate for the wrong I suffered and to stop feeling resentful?

• Does holding on to my resentment make me feel morally superior to my parent?

• Do I think I will be free of anger when my parent shows guilt?

• Do I think that anger is my only way to punish him or her?

• Do I believe that “letting go” of my anger means I am weak?

Admitting to yourself why you are holding on to resentment is courageous. It is also good for your health and the health of your other relationships.

A heart-to-heart talk with your elderly parent may lead to new understanding for both of you. Or perhaps it will help you finally realize that nothing will change, no matter what you do. The following are some guidelines for your attempts at finishing unfinished business and letting go of anger:

• Approach your parent with the understanding that you don’t know everything, and your elder probably had very limited power to do better at the time.

• Voice your hurt instead of your anger. It may feel safer to express anger instead of hurt, but anger is usually met with a heated, defensive response.

• Once you show your tender spots, you become more vulnerable. So make it short.

• Don’t expect a sea change. Rejoice in the smallest acknowledgement of wrongdoing, even if it’s only half-hearted.

• Acknowledge that the two of you will forever disagree on certain issues.

• Don’t regret that you didn’t or couldn’t express exactly what you wanted.

Anticipating or hoping that your older person will react to you positively will throw up a barrier to the good feeling you’re longing for. Approach your elder with a positive upbeat attitude — but don’t expect him or her to respond in the same way. Suspend your current viewpoints about your elder. No doubt your elder has had heartbreak, trauma and disappointment, too.

Try to insert yourself into your parent’s experience, imagining what he or she felt, feared or thought in the past. Being able to do this, even a little bit, helps increase empathy. Every situation is different, but empathy (the ability to appreciate another person’s suffering) is one doozy of a place to start. Whether it works is less important than the fact that you tried. The healing process begins when you make the attempt.

Repairing the deep-seated hurts and anger between an elderly parent and grown child can occur as the end of life approaches, but it doesn’t always happen. On the brighter side, the experience of forgiving a parent — and expressing long-buried questions and feelings — may be one of the most satisfying experiences of your life.

Letting go of years of anger and underlying hurt takes time. The following steps can help speed the process:

• Share your feelings with a support group. You’ll likely be surprised that others have similar experiences.

• See a professional counselor.

• Share your thoughts with someone you know is understanding and a good listener.

• Seek religious guidance.

• Try to understand what shaped your parent to behave as he or she did. Inviting the opinions and viewpoints of others can give you a fresh perspective.

• And finally, don’t expect anything to change. Just hope for it.

Should the words “forgive me” or “I’m proud of you” not come as you hoped, you can say to yourself and your parent, “I regret that we have had our problems.”

It’s true and it’s tender, and most of all, it’s nonblaming — a fact that may open up possibilities in the days to come.

Dr. Rachelle Zukerman, a Fulbright scholar and gerontologist, is the author of the 2003 book, “Eldercare for Dummies.”

Few Females Filling Mohel Role in U.S.


When Dr. Debra Weiss-Ishai watched her son’s brit milah two years ago, she thought to herself, I could do this better. Not just technically, although as a pediatrician she had done numerous medical circumcisions. She felt she could bring a warmth and spiritual beauty to the ritual in ways her old-school mohel, who she said “rushed through” the ceremony, did not.

Last April, Weiss-Ishai completed the Reform movement’s Berit Mila program, an intensive 35-hour certification course for physicians and nurse-midwives at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. She now has performed seven or eight Jewish ritual circumcisions in the San Francisco Bay area.

Weiss-Ishai spends hours preparing for each brit milah, working with the family to make sure the ceremony fits their needs, determining the level of Hebrew they want, incorporating friends and relatives and personalizing it with readings and poetry. Doing this work is her way of helping to ensure Jewish continuity, she said.

Weiss-Ishai is one of just a few female mohels in the United States. There are about 35 Reform female mohels and just four trained by the U.S. Conservative movement, as well as a handful who learned outside the United States.

It’s not surprising that throughout Jewish history mohels have been men. Circumcision is, after all, a guy thing. Beyond the obvious anatomical requirements, it’s something the Torah commands a father, not a mother, to do for his son on the eighth day of life.

What is surprising, however, is that while half of all new non-Orthodox rabbis and cantors in this country are women, few women are choosing to become mohels.

Yet unlike rabbis and cantors, there is no halachic prohibition against female mohels. Every Orthodox authority consulted for this story agreed on that point, although most asked not to be quoted. Jewish law states only that if a Jewish male is present, it’s preferable that he do the brit milah.

“It’s a custom, a strong custom, but there’s no law except that the mohel be Jewish,” said Rabbi Donni Aaron, director of the Reform Berit Mila program. “People assume it’s not according to halacha, but they just haven’t encountered it. Some people think it’s a man’s job, that it just feels weird” for a woman to do a brit milah.

Unlike physicians, mohels in the United States are not regulated, and technically, anyone can act as mohel if the parents trust him or her to perform the operation on their infant son. Traditionally, it’s been a profession passed on from father to son; even today, Orthodox and many Conservative mohels learn by apprenticing with a senior mohel, usually in Israel.

The Reform and Conservative movements set up their training programs because there were so few traditionally trained mohels available to serve the non-Orthodox community. The non-Orthodox movements, especially the Reform movement, needed their own mohels because Orthodox mohels generally are reluctant to circumcise the son of a non-Jewish mother.

The Reform program, which has trained about 300 mohels since it began in 1984, and the Conservative Brit Kodesh program, which has trained about 75, both accept only physicians or nurse-midwives who already are experts in medical circumcision. The programs teach them the relevant halacha, rituals and textual background to perform a Jewish brit milah.

The training is similar, though Conservative mohels generally won’t circumcise the son of a non-Jewish mother unless the parents intend to convert the child.

Rabbi Joel Roth, professor of Talmud and Jewish law at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), said there was no problem admitting women to the Conservative program, which is run jointly by JTS and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

“We considered it, we deliberated it and then we said, frankly it’s easier to train women for this role than to count them in the minyan,” Roth recalled. “We know it hasn’t been done historically, but there’s no earthly reason why we shouldn’t.”

The mohelot interviewed for this article said most clients choose them because of their reputation, not because they’re female.

“It works both ways,” said Ilene Gelbaum, a certified nurse-midwife in Anaheim, who became a mohel in 1986 and has since circumcised both her grandsons.

“Some people are pretty up front when they call,” she said. “They say they chose me because I’m female. And sometimes, you do what you think is a beautiful service and the grandfather comes up to you afterward and says you shouldn’t be doing it because you’re a woman.”

Dr. Lillian Schapiro said she “braced for a backlash” when the Atlanta Jewish Times ran a front-page story on her four years ago. It never came.

“There was one op-ed against me, but I didn’t feel personally attacked,” she said.

Gelbaum wasn’t as lucky. Beginning with a lecture she delivered in 1990 at the American College of Midwives conference in Atlanta, she’s been steadily targeted by the anti-circumcision movement. Protesters showed up at that first lecture bearing placards calling her a baby mutilator, she’s been vilified online and in print, and worst of all, she said, “They called my house, they talked to my children. They said, ‘Do you know what your mother does?'”

Gelbaum said she was targeted because she was so public. Although she’s now stopped lecturing about circumcision, she said it’s still not easy to talk about the campaign against her.

“I knew these people personally,” she said quietly. “And how much of it is anti-Semitism? Not only am I the vocal midwife, I’m the Jewish midwife.”

Female mohels said that as physicians, they feel comfortable doing circumcisions, and want to bring a Jewish aspect to what they already are doing.

Dr. April Rubin, an OB-GYN in Washington, had been doing circumcisions for more than 20 years when she became more observant. Two years ago, she completed the Conservative Brit Kodesh program, and has since done about 70 britei milah.

Some traditionally trained mohels look askance at these physician-mohels.

“They really don’t have a very solid background in the halacha,” said Rabbi Paul Silton, a Conservative rabbi in Albany, N.Y., who apprenticed with an Orthodox mohel in Jerusalem. “They’re physicians who want a sideline in brit milah, and I feel that’s unfortunate.”

The Conservative program requires applicants to be practicing members of Conservative congregations and ritually observant. The Reform program requires applicants to belong to any congregation, Reform or not, but makes no stipulations about ritual observance.

Some people choose a female mohel because of her gender, like Bay Area resident Nicole Sorger, who asked Weiss-Ishai to circumcise her son last November.

“The idea of having an old, bearded man was disconcerting, not being very religious,” Sorger said. Having Weiss-Ishai do the ceremony “broke up the idea of it being a male event, a patriarchal celebration. It made the ceremony so much more accessible to me.”

Dr. Laurie Radovsky, a Conservative mohel in St. Paul, Minn., circumcised her son 11 years ago in rural Wisconsin because no mohels lived nearby. Nine years later, she became a mohel herself.

Her male rabbi told her that women bring “a gentleness, a sensitivity” to the ceremony, but she said there are other advantages.

“With men, when you talk about circumcision, there’s an instinctive protecting of the genitals,” she said. “And as a mother, I can empathize with that mother’s feelings and tenderness toward that child. I can reassure her, perhaps more than a male mohel can.”

At the end of every brit milah, “sometimes surreptitiously,” Radovsky said she kisses the baby’s head to welcome him into the Jewish community.

“I really feel I can make a difference in the world,” she said.

 

South African Judge Inspires Redemption


When he turned 6 in 1941, Albie Sachs received a birthday card from his father, Solly, a union leader in South Africa. The card read: “Many happy returns, and may you grow up to be a soldier in the fight for liberation.”

It would be less a wish than a prophecy. The younger Sachs would grow up to become a leading civil rights lawyer and activist as South Africa successfully struggled to free itself of the taint of legally sanctioned racial segregation and the violence it took to deprive the nation’s black population of its basic human rights.

Today, Sachs is a justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, appointed to the bench in 1994 by President Nelson Mandela and playing a leading role in writing the nation’s new constitution after the fall of apartheid. But like many soldiers, Sachs was injured in the fight. He was jailed without trial twice and spent months in solitary confinement. He lived in exile in Mozambique for decades. In 1988, he was almost killed when agents of South Africa’s security forces planted a bomb in his car. The attack left him without sight in one eye, tore off his arm and required a grueling rehabilitation, during which time Sachs had to learn to walk and write again.

This month, Sachs is in the U.S. sharing his experiences — and his message of how societies can rebuild in the aftermath of violence and injustice — during a series of community conversations sponsored by the educational organization, Facing History and Ourselves, supported by a grant from the Allstate Foundation. On Jan. 23, Sachs will arrive in Los Angeles for a talk at the SGI World Culture Center.

Sachs says his Jewish heritage has played a part in informing his activism. His parents — like most of South Africa’s Jews of that time — fled pogroms in Lithuania as small children with their families. The family’s experience of escaping violence and discrimination fostered Sachs’ parents’ political activism, which in turn ignited his own commitment to justice.

“They had a freedom-loving spirit that came through to me,” Sachs says of his parents.

He recalls that the only book he was allowed to have in solitary was the Bible.

“I was struck by the Old Testament,” he says. “Some parts are very punitive — smiting every man, woman and child, every cat and dog,” he says.

But then there is also the opposite: the words of hope in the Song of Songs, the Psalms and the prophets, Sachs says. Faced with the contrast between redemption and anger, Sachs chooses redemption.

Sachs recounts the time he met with the man who organized the car bombing that almost cost him his life. The man was about to go before South Africa’s famed Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“I didn’t feel I was ‘forgiving’ him,” Sachs says. “I was trying to establish a human relationship. He won’t be my friend, but if he sat next to me on the bus, I’d say, ‘Hello, how are you doing?”

Of his assailants, Sachs says: “We’re sharing one country. That’s much more powerful than vengeance.”

Justice Albie Sachs will speak at the SGI World Culture Center, 525 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, on Monday, Jan. 23, 7-9 p.m. The program is free and open to the public. For more information, call (626) 744-1177 ext. 22.

Laureen Lazarovici is a writer and social activist who lives in Los Angeles.

More Blessing, Less Bragging on Bimah


One mother thanked every one of her daughter’s teachers by name and grade, beginning with preschool. A father enumerated the scores of all his son’s soccer games. And another mother, with tear-filled eyes and a choked-up voice, used the occasion to present her daughter with her first diamond.

Ever since parents began speaking at their children’s bar and bat mitzvahs, they have raised the ante on length, competition and ostentation to the point where, according to University Synagogue’s senior rabbi, Morley Feinstein, we find that every child is more compassionate than Mother Teresa, a faster swimmer than Mark Spitz and a better mathematician than Albert Einstein.

But increasingly, rabbis have taken steps to reclaim the bimah. They have reined in parents’ freedom to present a laundry list of their child’s achievements, awards and, occasionally, shortcomings. Instead, they are requiring or strongly encouraging parents to reshape their speeches as blessings and keep their focus on the child and the sanctity of one of Judaism’s most significant rites of passage.

Donald Goor, senior rabbi at Temple Judea in Tarzana, instituted the practice of parent blessings eight years ago “out of an attempt to ensure the holiness of the service.” He gives parents multiple examples and wording specific to blessings. He even provides a structured, fill-in-the-blank “create-a-blessing” guide that helps them express their love, pride and dreams for their child in the mandated 300 words.

For Kaye Bernstein, whose third child, Jeffrey, became a bar mitzvah at Temple Judea on Dec. 18, adhering to the guidelines was not a problem.

“I tended to focus on what’s distinguishing about his life, his personality and what he brings to the family mix,” she said.

For her husband, Fred, giving a blessing made him think about his words in a different way.

“It’s not a time to tell anecdotes or give a toast,” he said.

Goor does not vet parent blessings. Neither does University Synagogue’s Feinstein, who also provides parents with examples and who counsels them to keep their talks short and sweet and to recognize the holy nature of the day.

“I still have to trust parents. I don’t want to be a censor,” he said.

But at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, Rabbi Paul Kipnes insists that parents give him a copy of their remarks — limited to one double-spaced typed page — at least a week in advance. He is especially concerned that they not tease or embarrass the child, however subtly, humorously or unintentionally. He also wants parents to share words of praise with their child before coming on the bimah because he believes that it’s easy to compliment publicly, but the compliments that really matter are the private ones.

Most rabbis estimate that parents, primarily in non-Orthodox congregations, began giving speeches 10 to 20 years ago.

Many trace the custom to the traditional Baruch She-P’tarani blessing, dating back to the Middle Ages, that the father recited to mark his son’s bar mitzvah. This blessing — “Blessed is He who has now freed me from the responsibility of this boy” — has been omitted, reframed or replaced by both parents reciting the Shehecheyanu in most Reform and Conservative services.

Some rabbis also believe speeches may be modeled on the blessings Jewish parents give their sons and daughters at the Shabbat table on Friday evenings.

Additionally, Jeffrey Salkin, senior rabbi at The Temple in Atlanta and author of “Putting God on the Guest List” (Jewish Lights, 2005) sees parent speeches as part of a trend in customs that used to occur at the celebration, such as a parent’s toast, being moved into the service.

“I’m tempted to say that it’s because people want to own the experience, to have more of a personal investment,” he said. For him, the practice isn’t problematic as long as parents don’t use the opportunity to competitively troop out their child’s talents.

In Orthodox shuls, parent speeches are generally not an issue as the predominant model, according to Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, since only the bar or bat mitzvah and the rabbi speak at the service. And at Muskin’s synagogue, that occurs after the service.

But it’s quite accepted that parents speak during the celebration, and, even there, Muskin believes it’s important that they incorporate some religious content, such as a d’var Torah or a spiritual charge to their child.

Sally Olins, rabbi of Temple B’nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks, asks parents to speak on two occasions — on Friday night when they read the dedication that they have written in the siddur they give to their child and on Saturday mornings when they present the tallit.

Olins offers guidelines both individually and in classes she holds for pre-bar and bat mitzvah parents. She asks them to keep their words short and to focus on the child, not the congregation. For her, the worst — long-winded but not inappropriate — was a parent who began her remarks with a description of the child’s nine months in utero.

“I try to say, could you start a little later in life?” she said.

The process seemed overwhelming at first for Susan and Jeffrey Osser, whose daughter, Melissa, became a bat mitzvah at B’nai Hayim on Dec. 10. But it turned out to be very simple because they both, unintentionally and separately, wrote the siddur dedication and the tallit presentation and then melded them together.

“We both sat down at a time that was perfect for us individually when the creative juices were flowing and wrote from our hearts,” Susan Osser said. “It was so unplanned that it was authentic.”

In general, most rabbis believe that parents are becoming more aware of the significance and sanctity of bar and bat mitzvah. And while their words may not always be exactly in the language in blessing, parents are speaking less and less in the language of competition and aggrandizement and more and more in the language of love and support.

Said Salkin, “Every time I think of getting rid of this custom, I think of all the nice stuff I hear. I realize I would be punishing some very fine speeches if we decided not to allow this.”

 

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home


 

When the doorbell rings at the Cohens’ Pico-Robertson home — or more accurately when the door edges open, since it’s almost never locked — the littlest of Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen’s six kids grab their shoes. If it’s someone dropping off donated food or clothing, they start shlepping things in while the older ones begin sorting and organizing. If it’s someone coming to collect those items, the kids take them through the living room and yard to help them pack up the day’s offerings — unserved food salvaged from caterers; groceries donated by local markets; or furniture, clothing, toys and electronics that the area’s wealthy families don’t want, and that one of the 52 families that depend on the Cohens sorely needs.

The Cohens’ cramped three-bedroom home is the headquarters, warehouse and distribution center for Global Kindness/L.A. Chesed, the network the Cohens founded less than three years ago.

With caring brown eyes peeking out of her broad face, Yaelle, in her late 30s, is a pint-sized Moroccan tornado in bright yellow-and-orange sneakers. In a perpetually hoarse voice, she answers about 35 phone calls a day from donors and people desperate for help.

The Cohens understand desperation. Eight years ago, Nouriel’s beauty supply business went under, and the family had to give up their Beverly Hills home. He hasn’t had steady employment since then and has had to rely on his parents and family to get by.

“But now when you look ahead, you can see that was all for the purpose of good, because we had to really feel what was going on in people’s hearts and minds when they are really down,” says Nouriel, whose distinguished gray beard and smiling blue eyes do little to attest to his Persian ancestry.

The Cohens raise money to help families with rent, bills, day-school tuition or transportation. They help with bar mitzvahs, and have sent families housekeepers and gardeners to restore dignity to rundown homes.

Late every Friday afternoon the family gets a load of challah the kosher bakeries didn’t sell, and the kids, ages 1 through 12, wheel strollers and carts through the neighborhood doling out the loaves.

They host huge Shabbos lunches and singles events and help a handful of families in Canada, New York and Israel.

Often, they become de facto social workers, referring families to resources for abuse, addiction or mental health issues.

The Cohen operation shuts down from 5-8:30 p.m., so the family can have dinner, do homework and get through bedtime. But other than that, they’re on.

And on Chanukah, the Cohens sent their clients’ wish lists to Chabad of Malibu, where families purchased and wrapped the gifts. Those packages were set up in a dream-like display on the ornate furniture left over from wealthier times in the Cohen’s living room/dining room.

Recently, Nouriel started a new business and it seems to be taking off. While he looks forward to giving his family more comfortable quarters, he thanks God for the new sensitivity they have.

“We see what people throw away — thousands and thousands of dollars worth of beautiful clothing,” Nouriel says. “Why would someone throw it away? Because it means nothing. Money comes and goes. The main thing is what you are doing in this life.”

For more information call (310) 286-0800.

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen and family

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?


 

To try to figure out all the volunteer projects social worker Karen Gilman is involved in — and where she finds the time to do them all — is to sift through a complex maze of stories of individuals who need help, or organizations that need help, or a volunteer staff that needs organization, or funds or whatever she can give.

For her job, Gilman is a social worker, who deals with parents of developmentally disabled children ranging in age up to 3.

“Some of my work-work interferes with my volunteer work,” she joked.

That volunteer work is vast. She served as the sisterhood president of Temple Israel of Hollywood and currently co-chairs its AIDS lunch project, which distributes food once a month. Gilman is also social action chair for the Western Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, which presents the women’s positions on legislative policy.

She also works with Shane’s Inspiration, a nonprofit group that creates handicapped-accessible playgrounds around Los Angeles, and serves on the Special Olympics Mini Meet committee, as well as Fiesta Familiar, a yearly training program for parents of children with disabilities.

There’s more — like volunteering at her temple gift shop and working with the day school children on volunteer projects — but the real questions are: How does she do it? How does she not get burned out?

By way of an answer, she tells stories of second-graders who donated money anonymously so a poor person could celebrate Purim, the school lunch lady who called her to find out what to do for a severely lactose-intolerant child on pizza day and the parents who advocate for their children and “turn their pain in something for their families. That keeps us going,” she said, although even the mere question of what motivates her is curious to her.

“Once in a while, someone will do something out of the kindness of their hearts for someone else,” she said. “When you’re able to pull together the research and make something happen for someone, and they can utilize the resources, it’s gratifying.”

That’s Gilman’s main motivation. She was raised by socially conscious and politically active parents and grandparents in Chicago.

“They set the stage that this was the right thing to do,” she said.

“She doesn’t seek the limelight,” said Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood. “She really does it modestly. She just cares a lot — she knows she has the ability, and she knows a mitzvah and how to do it.”

That’s why the temple decided to surprise her by honoring her — only her — last year.

“They really shouldn’t have done it,” Gilman said, more embarrassed than upset. “Everyone works together on all these projects, and no one person is more deserving than another for praise. The highest form of giving charity is doing so anonymously, so it’s not really good to draw attention to oneself in one’s charitable work.”

For Gilman, volunteering is a team effort, one that requires motivating others to join her: “They are doing something good together with their friends, you get to spend a great time together with your community and it will make you feel good. People love giving anonymously and selflessly. Usually, Jewish people are easy to convince. They usually understand the concept of charity pretty well.”

Karen Gilman

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Hey Kids!


It’s Your World

Welcome to your page in The Jewish Journal. The last Friday of every month belongs to the kids of Jewish Los Angeles. In honor of the New Year and new look of this page, we want you to come up with a new name for it. Please send your ideas to kids@jewishjournal.com with the subject line New Name. We’ll pick the best one and make it the new name for the kids page (and you’ll get all the credit).

Kein v’ Lo

The Kein Side:

Many children use the evening to collect tzedakah for different charities instead of asking for candy — or they donate the candy to a food bank. For most people, the holiday has nothing to do with religion or real witches or saints. It’s more of a chance to go out with friends, have fun and decorate. Besides, it’s a great way to meet your neighbors.

The Lo Side:

It is a pagan holiday (a night when people believed the spirits of the dead would contact the living) and a Catholic holiday (candles are lit Nov. 1 on All Saints’ Day to honor the dead), but Jews are not supposed to celebrate non-Jewish holidays. Asking strangers for candy is rude; and tricks are mean. Jewish children have Purim as a day to dress up.

What do you think. E-mail your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com with the subject line

Kein V’Lo: Halloween. We’ll publish your opinions next month.

Stump Your Parents

Enjoy these facts about autumn — test your parents, grandparents and older siblings and see who gets the right answers first.

1) Which Hebrew month do we welcome in November?

2) How many weeks of autumn are there?

3) What is the full moon that follows the beginning of autumn?

4) What were the first jack-o-lanterns made from?

5) Who first suggested using Daylight Saving Time?

6) Why do the leaves change color?

7) In the Torah Portion Noach (which we read Nov. 5), God put up what object to show that everything was OK after the flood?

Answers: 1) Cheshvan; 2) Thirteen; 3) Harvest Moon; 4) Turnips; 5) Ben Franklin; 6) As the leaves lose chlorophyll (which makes them green) their other pigments
are exposed.; 7) A Rainbow

Wine, Women, Song


As the daylight hours dwindle down to a precious few, and hurricanes, fires and floods give the distinct feeling that the world is indeed coming to an end, let’s turn our thoughts to two of the things that make so many Jews so happy: wine and Hawaii.

That’s where Judd and Holly Finkelstein come in. The Journal sat with the young couple over coffee at downtown’s Angelique Café, and tried to keep track of their interests and projects.

Judd’s parents, Art and Bunnie, have been making wine in Napa Valley for 25 years, first creating the Whitehall Lane label, then Judd’s Hill. After training as a journalist, that same Judd recognized maybe there’s a reason people dream of retiring to the place he grew up, and he moved back to join the family business.

The family has numerous ties to Los Angeles, and Judd met Holly, a former program officer for the Steven Spielberg Righteous Persons Foundation, on a 2003 visit here.

Now the two form the center of a Jewish-winemaking-experimental-entrepreneurial-Hawaiian music-making community in Napa.

Along with expanding and marketing the critically acclaimed Judd Hill line, the two are marketing Napa Valley Custom MicroCrush. Customers pay to make their own wines, selecting grapes and overseeing the process from picking to labeling.

“Crushing grapes is nasty, grungy work,” Judd said. “It’s barely pleasant.”

MicroCrush customers can have others do this part, but otherwise, for about $20 per bottle, make their oenophiliac dreams come true. The idea sounds prime for a nonprofit group to use as a fundraiser — anyone for a case of ’06 Jewish Family Service Pinot Noir?

When not promoting wine, Holly and Judd perform in a Hawaiian lounge band they created, The Maikai Gents, featuring the Mysterious Miss Mauna Loa. Holly, a trained hula dancer (a.k.a. Miss Mauna Loa), and Judd, an expert on the ukelele, perform at clubs, parties and the rare bar mitzvah in the wine country.

Their new CD, “Wiki Wiki Grog Shop,” will take you back — to somewhere between Kapalua and Trader Vics.

These days, that’s a good place to be.

For more information, visit www.juddshill.com.

 

‘Call Waiting’ Rings Emotional Bell


There’s pain and then there’s the big pain.

Pain is what happens in a regular life — the predictable illnesses, disappointments and aggravations. The big pain is something like the Holocaust and the aftermath of surviving it.

The larger pain makes the regular mode of suffering seem unworthy, even whiny.

Coming to terms with someone else’s anguish is one subject of “Call Waiting,” a new film about the bedridden daughter of Holocaust survivors. The film stars Caroline Aaron, who recreates her successful turn from the stage version. Aaron can relate to the material, both because she is Jewish and because her family has its own significant pain.

“It’s odd how life morphs into art,” Aaron said.

In the film based on Dori Fram’s play, the fictional Judy Baxter (played by Aaron) is paralyzed not only by her excruciating bladder disease, but also by her inability to write her parents’ Holocaust story. There’s also a wartime secret that threatens Baxter’s relationship with her sister.

“So she represses her feelings, which makes her ill,” said playwright Fram, who also wrote the movie.

Aaron performed the hilarious, poignant play to rave reviews in 1994 and 2001. And she could personally identify with her character’s belief that as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, her own suffering doesn’t count.

Aaron’s late mother was a survivor of another sort. A Virginia civil rights activist, she had to endure cross-burnings on her front lawn and, more tragically, the loss of her husband and both parents at the age of 38.

“You don’t feel entitled to your pain when you come from the big pain,” Aaron said.

Aaron also related to the movie character’s sibling rivalry, because she, too, had a difficult relationship with a strong-willed older sister, Josie Abady — a prominent director. Abady resisted employing her sister because they were related.

“I wanted nepotism to be on my side, but it was not,” Aaron said.

Her resentments melted away when Abady was diagnosed with terminal cancer some years ago.

“I realized I didn’t have time for sibling rivalry, because the luxury of growing old together was off the table,” she said.

The Los Angeles-based actress often flew to New York to spend time with her sister, attending every medical procedure and caring for Abady in the months before her death in May 2003.

She’d already been cast for the film version of the play, but had second thoughts after her sister died, because the material hit so close to home. Aaron was uncertain about whether she wanted to proceed when she met with director Jodi Binstock (“Boy Meets World”) and producers Dan Bucatinsky (“All Over the Guy”) and Don Roos (“The Opposite of Sex”).

“I thought the film would either give me a safe, constructive place to express my sorrow, or it would expand it into a gaping wound,” she said.

In the end, Aaron decided to use her anguish. She believed her performance would be more convincing, because she connected to the material in a new way: “For the first time, I understood what it meant for Judy to challenge her sister and risk losing her forever,” she said. “I knew the stakes, and it heightened and intensified my work.”

The 48-year-old Aaron (“Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Bounce”) recently discussed the movie — which has won awards on the festival circuit — in her homey Hancock Park living room, surrounded by photographs of Abady and other family members. She exudes the same manic Jewish humor and melodramatic flair as her character, and like her character, also seems addicted to the phone, cocking her head each time the answering machine picked up (which it did four times in a half hour).

Dressed in black sweats and heavy silver jewelry, she recalled how she was startled when the producers said they wanted to shoot “Call Waiting” as a one-person movie. She had assumed that they would hire other actors to portray the characters on the other side of her character’s phone conversations. After all, one-person films are rare (one example is Robert Altman’s acclaimed “Secret Honor” (1984) starring Philip Baker Hall as Richard Nixon).

The producers believed such a movie would work, because “Caroline’s conversations in the play are so vivid, it feels more like a show with a dozen characters,” producer Roos said. Even so, the producers planned to make the monologue more cinematic by adding several scenes with one new character, who also is played by Aaron.

The new character is “desperately afraid to admit she’s needed by others, while Aaron’s character is scared to death to acknowledge that she needs her sister,” producer Bucatinsky said.

For Aaron — who often talks about how much she misses Abady — the film did not provide any kind of emotional catharsis.

“I don’t feel like I’ll ever completely work through the loss of my sister,” she said. “But at least the movie gave me a safe place in which to express those feelings.”

“Call Waiting” screens Oct. 5 at the Arpa International Film Festival. Other Arpa Jewish films include the documentaries “Between Two Worlds,” about a Jewish World War II pilot, and “American Holocaust,” which draws parallels between the Nazi and Native American genocides. For information, go to www.affma.org

“Call Waiting” will also screen Oct. 7 at the Majestic Crest Theater in Westwood: www.westwoodfilmfestival.com.

 

Anticipating Orphanhood


Over coffee at Panera, my friend Ellen and I discussed our children’s school, her career options and my recent dating adventures. And we laughed about the policeman who didn’t give Ellen a ticket because he liked her “Beat Bush” sticker. We laughed a lot, as we usually do.

Then we started to talk about our aging parents.

“There’s so much I still want to share with them,” Ellen said. “What I really wish is that my kids would have meaningful conversations with my parents someday — when they don’t find my mom and dad so boring! I just hope they’re around long enough for that to happen. I really can’t picture my life without them. I don’t want to.”

I know how she feels. I started to imagine being an orphan after visiting my 87-year-old father in Ohio.

Maybe it’s like sneaking a look at the ending of a scary or painful novel to see what’s coming. (Yes, I’ve done that.)

In the case of a parent’s mortality, however, we do know what’s coming.

Many people with aging parents don’t want to face their eventual death, said Rachelle Elias, a licensed marriage and family therapist and grief specialist in Santa Monica. “We believe that, since they’ve been here all of my life, they’re a fixture. They’ll always be here.

“Also, the small child part of us sees our parents as a buffer between us and anything bad that might happen. They’re sort of a place of refuge, even if it’s just in our mind.”

There is probably no one who will ever love me as much as my parents do. In spite of my arguing as a teenager, and the disappointments or criticisms, I never believed that my mother or father would leave me, or stop loving me because of some flaw in my personality, or some irritating way I do things. If I really, really consider not having that reliable, unconditional love anymore, it makes me gasp for air. If I imagine the void it will leave not seeing my mother’s face, not hearing my father’s greeting when I call — “Hey, sweet love!” — I start to cry.

So, if it’s that painful to imagine, why do it?

Elias said it’s an important part of the relationship: “Old age should be treated like a terminal illness. If you find out someone you love has cancer, you don’t ignore it. You try to have meaningful time with that person, while you still can. We should do the same thing with aging parents.”

Years ago, while working in a psychiatric setting, I noticed how many people were filled with regrets over what they had or hadn’t said to someone who died.

All that unfinished business over harsh words left hanging and kind words never said, seemed like such a burden — one that I wanted to prevent in my own life.

This means really noticing the last words I’ve said to my parents or loved ones — in case one of us gets hit by a toilet seat falling from the Mir space station (a reference to my favorite TV shows, “Dead Like Me.”) — because then it’s too late.

I guess it’s like not going to bed angry.

“When a parent dies,” Elias said, “it gives people comfort if the last thing they ever said to their mother was, ‘I love you, Mom.’ It’s also important to ask yourself what your parent would want to hear — things like: ‘I’ll never forget you,’ or ‘I’ll never let my kids forget you. I’m going to tell them your stories.’ This gives them a sense that they will live on.”

A woman once hired me to do an oral history with her father. But she asked me to pretend I was doing the interviews for my dissertation (my nonexistent dissertation) to protect her father from guessing that she considered him not long for this world. At 96, I imagine this wasn’t news to him.

My father sometimes jokes about aging and death. He also expresses sadness at what he won’t be able to do… like take my son, Ben, skiing.

I know how much he would want to shout instructions at my son as he did with my sister and me. His words force me to imagine his absence, but his sharing also adds to our closeness.

I asked my friend Ellen what she would miss when her parents are gone.

“My mom’s my biggest fan,” she said. “It’s really nice that she thinks whatever I do is great! She laughs at all my jokes. She’s just part of the fabric of my life. And my dad is always there … like a rock.”

My mother just had her 87th birthday. My son, Ben, and I arrived at her board and care with flowers and chocolate cake, singing “Happy Birthday.” Mom started to cry when she saw us: “Oh! I’m so glad you’re here!”

As always, she seems to think I’ve traveled from the moon to see her, rather than the mile from my home. I put “South Pacific” into the VCR, and we sang together (much to Ben’s horror) as I held her hand.

And when we said goodbye, I told her how much I love her.

Ellie Kahn, a freelance writer and oral historian, can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net or www.livinglegaciesfamilyhistories.com

 

Obituaries


Gerald Albert died Aug. 26 at 76. He is survived by this wife, Estelle; son, Jeffrey; daughters, Marilee and Raquel; and two grandchildren. Groman

LARRY ALLEN died Aug. 15 at 48. He is survived by his wife, Traci; two sons; parents, Charlotte and Herb Beatus; parents-in-law, Eddie and Myrna; and sisters ,Tami Jones and Michele Wagner. Hillside

RUTH ALTMAN died Aug. 19 at 87. She is survived by her sisters, Beatrice Baron and Mary Berton; and nephew Ross Berton. Hillside

Hannah Dora Angress died Aug. 17 at 85. She is survived by her daughter, Lillian (Luis) Macias; son, Robert (Gail); and six grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Zelda Barton died Aug. 22 at 84. She is survived by her nieces, Sharon Levine and Marsha Besheff. Groman

Ann Bernstein died Aug. 14 at 93. She is survived by her son, Howard; daughter, Marsha Hervey; and four grandchildren. Groman

Audrey Blanchard died Aug. 11 at 85. She is survived by her friends. Malinow and Silverman

Gertrude Bohm died Aug. 18 at 89. She is survived by her son, Fred Graff; four grandchildren; one great-grandchild; and sister, Sylvia Sussman. Groman

LILLIAN BOLKE died Aug. 17 at 97. She is survived by her sons, Donald and Edward; two grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Hillside

Julius Cohen died Aug. 17 at 79. He is survived by his wife, Marjorie; daughters, Jeri Sue (Marty) Serota and Judith (Michael) Goldman; sons, Lawrence (Ginger) and Martin (Debbie); seven grandchildren; and sister, Jean Bonus. Malinow and Silverman

Mordechay Cohen died Aug. 17 at 94. He is survived by his daughters, Yardena Cohen, Erela Levin and Anat Finck; and three grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha

Lucille Cooper died Aug. 12 at 84. She is survived by her daughter, Harriet. Malinow and Silverman

Janet Critchfield died Aug. 11 at 94. She is survived by her daughter, Susan Milstien; son, Bill (Leslee); and five grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Jean Davidow died Aug. 11 at 89. She is survived by her husband, Solomon; and son, Robert. Malinow and Silverman

Martha Diamond died Aug. 16 at 89. She is survived by her daughters, Adele (Robert) Levine and Jackie Rosen; and two grandchildren. Mount Sinai

BERNARD MONROE EISENSTEIN died Aug. 19 at 84. He is survived by his wife, Lenore; daughters, Helaine (Michael) Lieberman and Michele (Michael) Evans; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Hillside

Edward Elkus died Aug. 12 at 72. He is survived by his brother, Philip; and sister, Florence. Mount Sinai

Ira Englander died Aug. 23 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Nancy; sons, Bradford, Mitchell and Craig; seven grandchildren; brothers, Wayne Englander and Ron Willens. Groman

Morris Fierson died Aug. 24 at 90. He is survived by his son, Walter (Carolyn). Malinow and Silverman

DR. DAVID FILS died Aug. 16 at 92. He is survived by his sons, Kenneth and Lawrence (Victoria); and four grandchildren. Hillside

Bess Finger-Zeitlin died Aug. 20 at 99. She is survived by her son, Sheldon Sills; daughters, Sherna (Howard) Hahn and Marsha (Bob) Allen; six grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Gerald Fischer died Aug. 23 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Phyllis; sons, Larry and Mike (Sandra); daughters, Janis (Ola) Nordquist and Sherry; five grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Harry Fisher died Aug. 20 at 93. He is survived by his companion, Sylvia Coonen; sons, Marc (Dale) Norman and Lance; daughter, Gail (Jeffrey Wohlgethan) Fisher; three grandchildren; and sisters, Marion and Dorothy Pine. Mount Sinai

Ira Charles Fishman died Aug. 12 at 53. He is survived by his sons, Matthew (Noemi), Jason and Adam; daughter, Nicole; grandson, Jack; mother, Pearl; brothers, Joel (Lenore), Allen (Dale) and Marty (Cheryl); companion, Matthew Blum; and former spouse, Susan. Mount Sinai

Seymour Fogelson died Aug. 21 at 90. He is survived by his son, Andrew (Susan); two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Lewi Fox died Aug. 22 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Rose; son, Jackie; daughters, Evelyn Reiser and Gladys; three grandchildren; and sister, Freida Schonbrun. Groman

Lee Freeman died Aug. 23 at 65. He is survived by his wife, Sylvia; children, Daphna (Eric), Ari (Jackie), Dani (Trisha) and Elana; stepchildren, Stephanie and Jeremy Balkin; granddaughter, Alexia; mother, Eve; and brothers, Larry and Matthew (Rebecca). Mount Sinai

Berton Donald Goldbaum died Aug. 18 at 76. He is survived by his wife, Adrienne; sons, Edward (Jennifer) and Steven (Teri); and seven grandchildren Mount Sinai

Elma Goldberg died Aug. 20 at 93. She is survived by her husband, W. Earl; four grandchildren; seven great grandchildren; and sister, Bonnie Flier. Malinow and Silverman

Dorothy Goldstein died Aug. 23 at 73. She is survived by her husband, Marvin; sons, Michael (Pamela) and Jerry (Kimberly); daughters, Gloria (Richard) Ring and Sherrie Price; nine grandchildren; and sister, Adele Golding. Mount Sinai

Fred Goldstein died Aug. 16 at 82. He is survived by his wife, Kathy Robinson-Goldstein; daughter, Elana; sons, Marc, Josh and Jon; and five grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Pearl Goldstein died Aug. 14 at 83. She is survived by her daughters, Arlene (Alan) Weingart and Nancy (Gary) Driscoll; son, Mark (Ellyn) Goldstein; five grandchildren; and sister-in-law, Vera Glassberg. Mount Sinai

ROSE GOODMAN died Aug. 14 at 92. She is survived be her sons, Robert (Doris), Martin (Bobbe) and Larry (Patty); eight grandchildren; 10 great grandchildren; and sisters: Frances Buchsbaum and Florence Kaplowitz. Hillside

SHEILA GOTTLIEB died Aug. 12 at 65. She is survived by her husband, Bob; and daughter Amy. Sholom Chapels

Frank Jacob Greenfield died Aug. 20 at 81. He is survived by his sons, Barry and David (Orit); daughter, Linda (Laurence) Bear; three grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and many other relatives. Sholom Chapels

Herbert Greenspan died Aug. 11 at 83. He is survived by his daughter, Dorothy; son, Frank; and granddaughter, Claire. Mount Sinai

Danny Inkelis died Aug. 26 at 94. He is survived by his son, Stan (Mary Beth); two grandchildren; and brother, Morris. Mount Sinai

Lillian Jacobson died Aug. 18 at 94. She is survived by her daughters, Eleda Matorin and Beverly Steinberg; six grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. Groman

Katherine Kadelburg Kadell died Aug. 20 at 90. She is survived by her son, Tony. Malinow and Silverman

Martin Kaplan died Aug. 21 at 91. He is survived by his daughter, Linda; and son Lawrence. Malinow and Silverman

BELLE KASHINSKY died Aug. 22 at 85. She is survived by her sons, Howard (Lisa) and Steven; daughters, Peggy (Mike) Pardue and Bonnie Grace; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

JOSEPH KIFFERSTEIN died Aug. 13 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Judith; son, Alan; daughter, Victoria Rossellini; four grandchildren; sisters, Elaine Manson and Claire Wolf; and many relatives. Hillside

HERMAN CHARLES KLEIN died Aug. 17 at 80. He is survived by his son, Steve; two grandchildren; and sisters, Anne Handler and Jyl Riendeau. Hillside

Herman Kutchai died Aug. 13 at 88. He is survived by his sons, Robert (Robin) and Martin (Judith); daughter, Gloria (Joel Schwartz); and four grandchildren

EVA LEV died Aug. 11 at 78. She is survived by her son, Michael; daughter, Judy; and brother-in-law, Abe Schwartz. Sholom Chapels

Florence Lewin died Aug. 18 at 93. She is survived by her daughters, Belle (Ed) Landa and Marianne (Jeff) Kast; six grandchildren; and great-granddaughter, Olivia. Mount Sinai

RITA KURTZ LEWIS died Aug. 18 at 85. She is survived by her daughters Jolie (Tom) Greiff, Amy Lynne Girling and Arla; four grandchildren; and sister, Adle Robbins. Hillside

Lawrence Loden died Aug. 11 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Carole; son, Jay; daughter, Harriet Minke; and one grandchild. Groman

Rebecca Lofchie died Aug. 18 at 85. She is survived by her husband, Leo; son, Bruce; daughter, Linda (Kenneth) Selander; two grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; two great-great-grandchildren; and brother, Van Kennedy. Groman

Stanley Marcus died Aug. 20 at 67. He is survived by his wife, Karen; daughter, Leigh; son, David; and sister, Marilyn Distler. Malinow and Silverman

Rhoda Margolis died Aug. 16 at 72. She is survived by her daughter, Zanne (Jeff) Kibbee; sons, Allan and Bruce (Jodie); three grandchildren; brothers, Fred and Maurice (Harriett) Donenfeld; and sister, Ann Cohen. Mount Sinai

Judith Marks died Aug. 14 at 83. She is survived by her husband, Melvin; sons, John (Audrey) and Richard; three stepgrandchildren; and sister, Florence Plotkin. Malinow and Silverman

BARBARA ANN MARSH died Aug. 15 at 80. She is survived by her husband, Steve; son, David; daughter, Judy; and brother, Jerry Korengold. Hillside

Ronald Wesley McGranahan died Aug. 17 at 72. He is survived by his wife, Carol; sons, Michael (Denise) and Mark (Jean); and five grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Norman Mehr died Aug. 13 at 89. he is survived by his daughter, Serlinda (Richard) Hadden; son, Charles (Janice); and nephew, Irvin (Rita) Benowitz. Mount Sinai

ALEXANDER MESZAROS died Aug. 23 at 72. He is survived by his wife, Liora; son, Amir; and daughter, Dr. Tamar (Dr. David) Silberstein. Sholom Chapels

ROBERT MORTON MEYER died Aug. 20 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Dusty; daughter, Nikki Maloney; one grandchild; and niece, Christine Janus. Hillside

Harry Moss died Aug. 24 at 94. He is survived by his wife, Frances; and sons, Mel (Janice) and Ron. Groman

Rose Noosbond died Aug. 19 at 79. She is survived by her daughters, Denise (Philip) Green and Marla Burgess; son, Jeffrey (DeDe); four grandchildren; and sister, Pearl Weiss. Mount Sinai

Harold Novak died Aug. 23 at 67. He is survived by his wife, Klara; and sons, Michael and Shay. Groman

Arthur Nozick died Aug. 14 at 73. Malinow and Silverman

Richard Oberman died Aug. 12 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Sandra; daughter, Vicki (Steve) McIntosh; son, Jeff (Kim); and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Sidney Olkes died Aug. 12 at 56. He is survived by his wife, Elyse; son, Ryan; daughter, Kacie; and brothers, Bob and Stuart (Susan). Mount Sinai

Sholom Ouaknine died Aug. 15 at 66. He is survived by his nephew, Asher; and cousins, Armon and Roni Vakneen. Chevra Kadisha

Lilyan Pell died Aug. 26 at 94. She is survived by her sister, Irene Bockoff; brother, Arnold (Margaret) Groveman; nephews, Daniel (Yeda) and Averill Strasser; and nieces, Naomi (Michael) Godfrey and Carol (Donald) Glaser. Mount Sinai

Ruth Pordy died Aug. 19 at 90. She is survived by her son, Bart (Harriet Scharf) Sokolow; and two grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Martha Pollack died Aug. 15 at 90. She is survived by her daughter, Judy; son, Ron (Deborah); five grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; brother, Jack (Karen) Rabin; and sister, Pearl Ann (Max) Marco. Mount Sinai

RACHEL PTASZNIK died Aug. 13 at 85. She is survived by her son, Jake; daughter, Lucy Fainzilber; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Hillside

Manuel Rabbani died Aug. 14 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Khanom; and son, Iraj. Chevra Kadisha

Gussie Ratner died Aug. 17 at 95. She is survived by her son, Irv (Tessa) Horwitz; daughter, Dolly Astor; seven grandchildren; and 18 great-grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha

Harriet Rawdin died Aug. 22 at 94. She is survived by her daughter, Lita Singer; sons, Robert (Helen) and Dr. Martin (Myrna); 10 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

CLAIRE KRONE RESNICK died Aug. 15 at 91. She is survived by her sons, Jules and Steve; and two grandchildren. Hillside

Ray Rosen died Aug. 26 at 93. She is survived by her daughter, Judith C. Wollman. Malinow and Silverman

Jack Jacob Rosen died Aug. 24 at 87. he is survived by his wife, Dorothy; children, Beverly Fleisher, Dale, Loren (Mary) and Sheldon (Rosie); eight grandchildren; sister, Jean; and brother, Douglas. Mount Sinai

Lillian Rosenberg died Aug. 18 at 95. She is survived by her daughter, Jane Rosenberg Porter. Malinow and Silverman

BLANCA ROSENBLATT died Aug. 19 at 67. She is survived by her husband, Edward; son, Fernando; daughters Carol and Astrid; and seven grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Ethel Rousso died Aug. 24 at 88. She is survived by her son, Victor C.; daughter, Suzanne; and brother, Harold Harrison. Malinow and Silverman

Fatholah Sadighim died Aug. 11 at 57. He is survived by his brother, Roohollah; and cousin, Shawn Tabibian. Chevra Kadisha

Alvin Saltzman died Aug. 23 at 76. He is survived by his wife, Irene; sons, Mark (Marla), Joel (Esther) and Steven; and four grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Beatrice Sarkin died Aug. 15 at 78. She is survived by her husband, Davis; sons, Allan and Ralph; daughter, Robin Haines; and six grandchildren. Groman

Stanley Sazzman died Aug. 18 at 68. He is survived by his wife, Raeleen; sons, Allen (Lori) and Marc (Rosemarie); and daughters, Laurie (Scott) Wallace and Sara. Groman

Louis Alan Schechter died Aug. 15 at 40. He is survived by his father, Morris; and brother, Todd. Malinow and Silverman

Thelma Shriftman died Aug. 14 at 82. She is survived by her son, Michael. Malinow and Silverman

EVELYN SILVER died Aug. 12 at 75. She is survived by her daughters, Sharon and Jodi; grandchildren, Philip and Emily Serebrenick; sisters, Ruth Gutkin and Hannah Steindel; 15 nieces and nephews; and her longtime companion, George Kaloian. Hillside

EVELYN SILVERMAN died Aug. 20 at 97. She is survived by her son, Marshall; daughter, Doralee Jacobson; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Hillside

Jeffrey Skversky died Aug. 15 at 37. He is survived by his wife, Roberta. Malinow and Silverman

Helen Dorothy Slotnick died Aug. 15 at 97. She is survived by her son, David (Terri) Stanton; daughter, Judy (Michael) Quinn; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Mera Soltes died Aug. 22 at 91. She is survived by her daughters, Alisa D’Alessandro Judith and Eva; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Groman

Fanny Spencer died Aug. 19 at 99. She is survived by her sons, Richard (Diana) and Howard. Mount Sinai

Sam Stein died Aug. 14 at 90. He is survived by his daughter, Nadine; and brother, Jack. Groman

ERWIN TARSKY died Aug. 16 at 98. He is survived by his son, Fred (Karin); daughter, Benita Young; two grandchildren; and brother-in-law, Morris Halford. Hillside

DR. STUART TURKEL died Aug. 25 at 76. He is survived by his son, John. Sholom Chapels

Morris Walman died Aug. 16 at 88. He is survived by his son, Mitchell (Michele); daughters, Tammy (Robert) Harrison and Linda (David); and seven grandchildren. Mount Sinai

RUTH WEIL died Aug. 20 at 93. She is survived by her daughter, Benita Cohen; son-in-law, Tylee James; three grandchildren; and two great grandchildren. Hillside

Mike Weinberg died Aug. 12 at 91. He is survived by his wife, Lili; daughters Anita (David) Heber and Ariella Weinberg Rutschman; and four grandchildren. Groman

Betty Weinberger died Aug. 26 at 92. She is survived by her daughter, Ruth Barnett; two grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Groman

Max Weinstein died Aug. 19 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Charlotte; son, Jeffrey; daughter, Shelley Opos; two grandchildren; brother, Murray; and sister, Cecil Taub. Groman

Harold Weinstock died Aug. 23 at 93. He is survived by his wife, Gertrude; sons, Michael, Arthur and Barry; five grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and sister, Ethel Ganberg. Groman

Samuel Weitzen died Aug. 18 at 82. He is survived by his wife, Rose; daughters, Monica (Ronald) Richterm, Deborah (Peter) Martin and Rita; four grandchildren; brother, Louis; and sister, Rose (Fred) Weiss. Mount Sinai

Estelle Williams died Aug. 26 at 73. She is survived by her husband, Jack; sons, Mitchell, Kenneth and Gary; and three grandchildren. Groman

Jerry Wolff died Aug. 12 at 76. He is survived by his wife, Arlene; sons, Steven (Gayle) and Mark (Lisa); daughter, Ellen; and six grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Jennie Youner died Aug. 17 at 97. She is survived by her granddaughter, Lynn Menlo. Chevra Kadish