D’var Torah: Me, myself and I


Tom Wolfe dubbed the ’70s the “Me Decade.” A poor economy sent Americans away from the social caring of the 1960s and into a retrenchment of insecurity and self-focus.

Today, along with massive economic setbacks, we are enduring a decade of almost endless self-aggrandizing. We feel empowered by our consumer choices; there are millions of things to buy and watch and listen to, such that we spend our days jam-packed with stimulation. But what does this really bring us?

Beneath the barrage, our hearts feel unfed and unloved. Interest in social action has gone out of style, as has involvement in spiritual community, as we withdraw into our homes, replacing friendship with Facebook.

Los Angeles Times Op-Ed columnist Meghan Daum dubbed us a “nation of jerks” for our collective addiction to social media. Instead of connecting when we leave our homes, we “bang into each other when we exit movie theaters because we’re buried in our iPhones.” Almost daily we hear of new mass shootings, perpetrated by people whose only motivation is emptiness.

I propose we call the 2010s the “I Decade.” The individual has moved from “me,” the object of everything, to “I,” its subject. Generosity of spirit, the will to see all people as equal creations of God and to connect with them from a place of depth — the “Thou” of relationship as explained by Martin Buber — is gone from our popular culture.

By admiring self-determination and callous manipulation, and filling every millisecond of our time with shallow interactions, we worship the ultimate non-God: stuff. This is idolatry, the real meaning of the “I Decade.”

“Aleinu, it is upon us,” as we say at the end of every prayer service, to take direct action against this cancer on the Earth we call “I.” We need to restore the “Thou,” and fast. Doing so starts with us — each and every “I” — and the will to want to relate to others, and to God, as a truth as equal and as beautiful as our own. To find the strength to overcome shallowness and truly be present, to trust and to love, is the central struggle of life today for the spiritually alive person.

This is what we learn in this week’s Torah Portion, Shoftim, or Judges. In it, God lays out the key elements for living a good life, a life deserving of the land that God is about to give the Israelites. Central among these is the tenet to never set up a post as a thing of worship, or to bow down to foreign gods. The person found guilty of this must be stoned to death, God adds through Moses. “Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst.”

Yes, that’s harsh. God wants us to know that it takes a hard-line policy to make a system function. In this case, the system is ourselves and our willingness to be distracted from truth and connection. To take a call in the middle of a conversation. To text while driving, watching movies, sitting in synagogue or taking a hike in the hills. To fill our time with pettiness, instead of giving our minds time to be open to the world, to think about our lives and how we are behaving in them, to truly connect through love. To be.

But how do we overcome so pervasive an addiction, especially when it involves devices and information we do need in order to get by in this modern age?

Medieval kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Vital finds the answer in our parasha, which begins, “Appoint judges at all your gates.” Vital notes that this is phrased in the singular (you, a specific individual), because it is meant to address each one of us, and our work to overcome the sin of chronic distraction.

We all have six “gates,” Vital says, namely, our eyes, ears, mouth, nose, hands and feet. At each portal, we must “station a judge,” a metaphoric guard, to enforce upon us limitations on what we look at, listen to, say, touch and run toward.

As the High Holy Days approach, take some time today to ask yourself — what am I doing to ensure that I spend my time meaningfully?

“Every intelligent person should take this [teaching] to heart, while he is still alive,” Vital said. “He will then merit to have the gates of righteousness open before him (at the time of death).”

Shabbat Shalom.


Rabbi Avivah Erlick is president of L.A. Community Chaplaincy Services (LACommunityChaplaincy.com).

Hacker releases Israelis’ personal data


A hacker has released credit card and other personal data of dozens of Israelis and is threatening to leak more.

The hacker published the information on the website Remember Emad, referring to the operational chief of Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed Feb. 12, 2008 in Damascus by a car bomb. Hezbollah blames his killing on Israel. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in the hit.

The hacker on Wednesday released credit card numbers, Facebook passwords, copies of checks and identification numbers of dozens of Israelis. It also released the database of The Israeli Presidential Conference, an annual program hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The information comes from WebGate, an Israeli data center, the hacker reported on the website. The hacker reports, “We have terabytes of data from WebGate, but uploading the whole chunk of data on our servers will take time, so we decided to publish them gradually.”

In January, Saudi Arabian hackers published the credit card information and personal data of thousands of Israelis. Many of the cards were expired or the numbers were repeated on several lists.

Child Holocaust survivors speak up for those who can’t


Only a precious remnant of Holocaust survivors is alive today, and many of them were just children when they went into hiding or ended up behind barbed wire. Indeed, there’s a heartbreaking irony in the fact that the last survivors are the ones who were the most at risk, precisely because the Germans had no use for youngsters who could not perform heavy labor.

The story is told in the first person in “How We Survived: 52 Personal Stories by Child Survivors of the Holocaust,” a publication of an organization called Child Survivors of the Holocaust Inc. ($30, ” title=”www.jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve” target=”_blank”>www.jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at books@jewishjournal.com.

It’s not about a plan


“Remember a time that you felt everything was right. The world just worked. You were in the moment. You felt calm, alive, complete. There was no other place you wanted to be but right there. Everything about that moment worked,” Rabbi Sherre Hirsch writes in her new self-help book, “We Plan, God Laughs: 10 Steps to Finding Your Divine Path When Life is Not Turning Out Like You Wanted” (Doubleday).

What Hirsch most wants is for people to find their “sparkle,” as she writes in Step 7, “Finding Your Divine Spark.”

That’s why she left her job as rabbi at Sinai Temple a year and a half ago. Although she had wanted to be a rabbi since she was 19, after serving at the Conservative synagogue in Westwood under Rabbi David Wolpe for eight years, she decided to move on.

“It was an incredible position for me, and I loved my congregants, I loved teaching and counseling,” she said. But “there were other things I wanted to do,” including spending time with her husband and three kids, and, it turns out, broadcasting her messages of spirituality and hope to a much broader audience.

On a recent day that meant a morning interview with Sam Rubin at KTLA and an afternoon at CBS, with The Jewish Journal sandwiched between—and there have been appearances on “The Today Show,” “Tyra,” Naomi Judd’s “Good Morning” and PBS’s “Thirty Minutes.”

Which may be because Hirsch does sparkle. In a black satin shell and immaculate ivory pants, the 39-year-old’s blue eyes, framed by purple mascara, shimmer as she talks about her message.

“I want people to take a risk, to believe that life may not have turned out like you planned,” she said, leaning forward eagerly on her hands. “I wanted people to have hope more than anything, in an age where people lose hope and get stuck.”

Hirsch knows from plans and getting stuck. Her mother was a small-town Midwesterner who met her knight in shining armor when she was 15. She got married at 19 and had two kids by the time she was 24. But her husband lost his job, became depressed and verbally abusive. After Sherre and her brother left for college, her mother, in her early 40s, finally left her husband. Eventually she rebuilt her life and remarried.

“When I officiated at [my mother and stepfather’s] wedding, my mother wore my wedding dress. What I said then under the chuppah was that, at her first wedding, she was waiting for someone to rescue her. But at this wedding she had rescued herself,” Hirsch wrote in her book. “She had taught us all that to live the life you want, you have to be willing to leap. You have to be willing to realize that your life is not scripted. The happy ending starts with you.”

In recent years many self-help gurus—and rabbis—have taken on the subject of happiness in books and lectures. So what makes this one any different?

“I think that when people say something in a new way, people hear it in a new way,” said Hirsch, who lists Rabbi Harold Kushner (“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”) and Rabbi Ed Feinstein (of Valley Beth Shalom) as inspirations. She also admires Oprah and Katie Couric as “communicators,” which is how she sees herself.

“Do I think I’ve written Aristotle’s new treatise?” she asks. “No.”

She focuses on tried-and-true concepts, such as “finding meaning” and “celebrating the divine in you.” But Hirsch said she didn’t want to write a “rabbi’s” book—i.e., a Jewish scholarly book.

“I wanted them to feel like they were talking to their friend, not being preached at by a rabbi. ‘What would I say to my best friend, and what would they say back to me?’ I wanted a different level of intimacy.”

Every chapter is infused with personal stories—of herself, her family, her congregants and Judaism. She chattily intersperses stories about God’s 13 attributes to teach about our own 13 positive attributes. She uses the Jewish new moon to show how we express our faith in the future, and shows how Moses’ doubting God means that only with doubt can one gain true faith.

What may appeal to a national TV audience—and on the Web site momlogic.com—is that Hirsch, in her own words “is a Midwestern girl.” (She was born in Ohio, although she grew up in Palos Verdes.)

That and the fact that she’s a female rabbi.

“Many of the audiences are women. I’m relatable, a mother with kids, I dated a ton—I struggle with the regular challenges that everyone struggles with, and I’m not afraid to be vulnerable or real,” she said. “I hope that people feel my authenticity.”

“I think everyone makes plans and things don’t go the way we plan,” she said.

People need to stop being so focused on the plan and just take action and see where it unfolds: “We’re not in charge—we can control our actions, but we can’t control our results.”

For her, spirituality is part of the equation, something that should be more than a yearly event on holidays.

“People can incorporate faith into their daily lives,” she said.

“I’m interested in helping people come closer to their faith,” she said. “If you find your faith, you find a way back home.”

How Hollywood’s Hunt ‘Found’ Elinor Lipman’s novel


Elinor Lipman, writer of smart and often hilarious modern-day social satire, considers herself “the luckiest writer.” Her first novel, “Then She Found Me,” well-received when it was published in 1990 and selling steadily ever since, has inspired the film of the same name — starring, co-written and directed by Helen Hunt — that opens in theaters this Friday.

But fans of Lipman’s novel should be forewarned: Don’t judge the movie by its book. Hunt spent nearly 10 years nurturing this project and in the process changed many of the novel’s particulars — adding and deleting characters and sub-plots, altering motivations. Yet the film is faithful to the heart of the story and retains Lipman’s signature balance of wit and pathos.

In the novel, 36-year-old, never-married high school Latin teacher April Epner, adopted daughter of Holocaust survivors Trude and Julius, is a no-nonsense, plain-Jane kind of gal — but one with a sure, quiet sense of self and a quick wit. Out of the blue, shortly after Trude dies (and less than two years after Julius’ death), a mysterious stranger appears with a message from April’s birth mother, employing stealth and melodrama to tell her, “I represent someone from your past … would that be welcome news?”

Thus begin the misadventures of the shy schoolteacher and her overbearing, confessional-talk-show-host birth mother, Bernice Graves. In Lipman’s novel, April struggles for self-definition — and compassion — in the face of Bernice’s glaringly different personality. Her turmoil is buffered by a blossoming love she shares with the equally retiring yet charmingly wry school librarian, Dwight Willamee.

Lipman, though neither adopted nor an adopter of children herself (she and her husband have one son), had nevertheless long been intrigued by the emotional conflict and drama inherent in birth-parent/adoptive-child reunions. When a friend found his birth mother when he was in his 40s, Lipman decided to further explore the subject and make it the focal point of her novel.

In Hunt’s film version, Bernice (Bette Midler, delivering some of the film’s funniest lines) and April (Hunt) similarly navigate the minefield of their budding mother-daughter relationship, but there’s no shy librarian in sight. Instead, April marries, then is summarily dumped by, her man-child fellow teacher (Matthew Broderick) and subsequently falls in love with the also recently dumped, nurturing father (Colin Firth) of one of her kindergarten students. The film’s April, nearing 40, desperately wants a child; this becomes a central theme in the movie.

Hunt explained that she was drawn to the originality of the novel and to “the way Elinor surprised me in the story.” She initially tried to acquire the film rights in the early 1990s, but the book had already been optioned — before it had even hit bookstores — by Sigourney Weaver’s production company, which rebuffed Hunt’s overtures for involvement.

Several years later, after Hunt had won four Emmys for her role in the NBC hit comedy series, “Mad About You,” and the 1997 Best Actress Oscar for her performance opposite Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets,” she was finally able to secure the rights to Lipman’s book.

Meanwhile, not surprisingly, Lipman had been wondering if the film would ever be made.

“I got a call from Helen Hunt’s manager on the day my mother died [in 1998],” Lipman said; the call “was like a little ray of sunshine in an otherwise sad time.”

Despite Hunt’s fondness for the novel (“the novel is perfect,” she said), she wrestled with the screenplay for nearly five years, trying to translate what she considered a “subtle, internal” story into an external, visible story that would work on screen.

One solution was to have April want a baby; Hunt felt that would externalize a longing that remains inchoate in the novel. It was also a deeply personal addition for Hunt, who said she “wanted a baby very much during the time I was working on the script.” She now has a 3 1/2-year-old daughter with television producer and writer Matthew Carnahan.

When Hunt read an essay on betrayal by Jungian psychologist James Hillman, she finally “found her north star about what she wanted to explore in the film,” Lipman said.

The central theme of the film became, “You can’t really love until you’ve made peace with betrayal,” Hunt said.

So, in the film, April becomes both a victim and perpetrator of betrayal, who at times feels betrayed by God.

Hunt, whose paternal grandmother was Jewish, also made April more of a religously observant Jew, in order to give her protagonist “a deep sense of tradition [and] a specific version of faith that doesn’t back away from the difficult questions,” she said.

Accountability


As usual, it started out with questions.

“Where do you work? What do you do? Have you been on any trips lately?”

I was all for talking about myself, what I do, where I’ve been, where I’m going. But then it got personal.

“Are you renting? How much do you pay per month?”

Real estate is a touchy subject. But it’s one that anyone in any major city discusses. I used to feel guilty about renting a place, what with everyone and their mother owning property, but now with the subprime mortgage rates and the housing market crash, I feel smugly superior that I didn’t fall prey to the greed. Yes, I rent! Isn’t that great?

And then it got really personal.

“And are you still single?”

It was that one word that really got to me. Still Single. Still. As if I hadn’t accomplished anything in the last year. As if I hadn’t published articles, essays — been on NPR, for God’s sake! — influenced people with my writing. As if I hadn’t started teaching at a university, traveled around the world, lost 10 pounds, learned how to surf, counseled countless friends and family members through countless crises. It all had been erased to nothing — nothing! — with that one question: “Are you still single?”

OK, so what if it was my accountant who was doing the asking?

For the last six years I’ve been doing my taxes with this seemingly sweet older lady. She is tall, white-haired and stooped over, with blue eyes that might be described as kindly if you’ve never sat down with her for a tax interview. If you had, you might say her eyes were steely blue and her demeanor hawkish. The woman, God help her, will ferret out any and every possible deduction known to mankind. Especially if you’re an artist, which many of her clients are. Why, then every activity you do, from reading newspapers to traveling, to meeting with people to anything that might have a direct influence on your art is fair game.

(But, Mr. I.R.S., if you’re reading this, she and her firm are totally and completely legal. Case in point, many of my seemingly “social” interactions are part of my writing. Most of them are, since I write about myself.)

But deductions are not the point. The point is that when she asks me if I’m still single — she has to ask me, it’s part of her job — it chafes. It brings up a lot of issues for me. Am I still single? Am I in the same job as last year? The same house? The very same life? What have I done with the last 12 months of my life that we can tell the I.R.S.?

I imagine my accountant saying, “They’re going to audit you because everything in your life sounds suspiciously similar to last year and beyond!”

Mind you, she asks, “Are you still single?” in the same tone she asks, “Are you still driving a Volkswagen?” and “Are you still subscribing to The New York Times? And The New York Review of Books? (I let the latter lapse because it was just too dense, and there’s no one in L.A. bars to discuss it with.)

But as I answer, “Yes, still single. Same job. Same car, same house,” in my mind I picture others who file with her from year to year, making dozens of changes and updates to their files: Change of name (married), change of residence (bought a house), change of mortgage (paid in full), sale of stocks (to pay for house), number of dependents (one, two, three).

Look, it’s not necessarily any cheaper to file as a married person than as a single person.

But we’re not talking about money here (Mr. I.R.S., I definitely am talking about lots of money from you!). We’re talking more than financial accountability. We’re talking life accountability.

I know in Judaism we review our year on Rosh Hashanah, and we tally up our good deeds and bad deeds before Yom Kippur. For our superficial — or more worldly — deeds, we use the Gregorian New Year to make resolutions. On our birthdays, we take stock, using the number of years as a measuring stick.

But on all those occasions it’s possible to fudge a bit. To make things look better than they are (“OK, so I wasn’t such a bad Jew this year — even though this is my first time in synagogue, I did give tzedakah to every homeless person who asked …”). In the run-up to April 15, though, it’s hard to lie. (Actually, it’s criminal.) It’s all laid out there in front of you in stacks of paper that you’ve finally separated, organized, catalogued and filed.

Still writing. Still renting. Still driving a VW. And yes, still, ahem, single.

It’s all naked and exposed before my accountant. But that’s what frustrates me so. There is so much beyond those cut-and-dried numbers. There’s poetry behind the columns. “Romeo and Juliet” can’t be summed up as, “Both Capulet and Montague family have one less dependent this year.”

And neither can my life. I may not be married yet, but I’ve met dozens of wonderful people — men and women — this year. I’ve deepened my relationships to dozens I’ve already known, been to fabulous places and, most importantly, learned so many new life lessons: on how to love, how to be loved, whom to love, whom to leave and to whom to give a second chance.

And these things can’t be measured on paper. No matter who — my accountant, my parents, my relatives, my so-called friends — is asking.

The cultivator


He saved a stub from Dec. 24.

I know this because I saw it on his desk.

After we’d broken up; when we shouldn’t have been talking, and
when I certainly shouldn’t have been in his home.

But we’d started as friends, and I foolishly thought we could stay that way.

The stub sat right where my extra hairbands once held court. And I remembered the night: We’d had an argument.

I don’t celebrate Christmas because I’m Jewish. He doesn’t because, well, he doesn’t. I’d made plans with my girlfriends; his had fallen through.

He wanted me to cancel. I wouldn’t.

Next thing I knew, he’d made a plan with “Michelle,” some girl he knew from work. We’d never met.

I first questioned the plan, but then — out of trust, and maybe ignorance — encouraged him to go out with this other woman, to whom, he said he wasn’t attracted. She was a friend, he said, who didn’t “have time” for or want a relationship.

Ryan had already told me he loved me, and I believed him. He dismissed my discomfort.

The fact that it was Christmas Eve was — most likely — a warning sign. But we hadn’t been dating long and came from different backgrounds. We needed to adjust. And learn.

So on Dec. 24, I went out with my girlfriends and vented about what had transpired. I begrudged the mood he had put me in, but tried to understand his side. I, after all, was being stubborn.

He, well, he just went on a date — with a girl — and enjoyed the movie. He even told me so.

And just like that, the seeds were planted.

See, Ryan and I were friends before we started dating. Not great friends, but friends nonetheless. We were both seeing people when we met through work.

Our occasional lunches, his random calls and his erratic invites seemed harmless. Sometimes, he’d bring up his then-girlfriend, whose name I didn’t know until we actually dated. He was thoughtful and seemed to confide in me, which I appreciated.

But when it came to his actual relationship with “Nameless,” it seemed he couldn’t commit; that he wasn’t into it; that he was only prolonging the anguish.

This, too, was likely a warning.

Seasons passed. Eventually — shockingly — Ryan and Nameless broke up. Eventually, things ended with my beau. Ryan and I remained “just friends.”

Then, one day, he asked to kiss me. I thought it was sweet and genuine. And so we did.

Six to nine months went by and we’d begun to talk about our future. “Girl stuff” and extra hair products began to populate Ryan’s apartment. I started wearing tighter jeans and higher heels — which he prefers. I bought travel Scrabble for the trips we talked about. I felt in love.

But soon enough, issues emerged: My inherent goofiness began to jar instead of entertain. His detail-orientation suddenly rendered him OCD. I enjoyed a good Reisling. He doesn’t drink. We never traveled.

We began to talk a lot about “us,” but IM’d more.

On weekends, I began to notice “borrowed” books cropping up in Ryan’s apartment. I saw “friendly” e-mails while leaning over his shoulder. I started hearing about occasional lunches and coffee breaks with “Michelle.”

First, I didn’t think too much of it. It seemed that we both wanted “us” to work.

But nearly a year later, I’d still never met this new companion who was absorbing my boyfriend’s limited attention. I finally wondered about his steadily declining interest in, well, anything related to me.

I questioned the accumulating books.

He insisted that they’re just friends; that he loved me. But the harder I tried, the more I realized he’d stopped trying.

Another season passed, and “we” gave up on “us” when I finally started saying no.

For a few weeks, we foolishly attempted to remain friendly — how we were before we started dating.

Until foolishly — or intentionally (after I dug) — the news emerged that he’d started seeing “Someone.”

I think that it’s awfully fast. But I also realize that sometimes, things just don’t work out. Maybe we should have never kissed.

My heart literally aches.

And, while in an apartment I shouldn’t have entered, near a desk I shouldn’t have touched, the truth becomes painfully clear: Perhaps Ryan and I were only meant to last one season.

Because all along, his newest crop had been skillfully cultivated over time. “Someone” is Michelle.

I imagine harmless lunches, and the takeaways. “It seems he can’t commit; he’s not that into it; he’s only prolonging the anguish.”

To Michelle, I might have been a placeholder, no more — or less — special than Nameless.

After all, for months, a very-loaded ticket stub dated Dec. 24 hid covertly in a desk drawer right below my extra hairbands.

I can’t help but question: What’s hiding under the stub now?

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

What makes a ‘real’ Jew?


After being alive for 16 years, I would think it would be easy to classify myself into a certain category, and that by now I would know what, who and why I am what I am. But as I grow older, it has become more complicated for me to label myself — secular, religious, Jewish American Mexican, Mexican American Jew.

This is probably a result of the fact that the older I get, the more in-depth I learn about my religion and the more I begin to formulate my own thoughts and opinions about it and about myself. While for a long time I have been able to articulate thoughts on certain religious matters, I have to admit that those opinions were, for the most part, strongly or loosely based on those of my parents and teachers. For example, I was a secular Jew because my mother told me that she was a secular Jew. I considered myself to be a Mexican American teenage girl, who happened to be Jewish, as well, because that was the way I was raised. We would celebrate Shabbat when it was convenient to, and would observe only the “famous” Jewish holidays — Chanukah, Pesach, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.

I considered a Jew to be a person who knew about the Torah, kept kosher, celebrated Shabbat and who went to temple every Friday night — and anyone who did not, was, in my eyes, not a “real” Jew. This consequently meant that I was not a “real” Jew. The thought of this not only made me hate the religion’s standards — which I myself had set — but it caused me to feel very confused about myself. I wasn’t sure which temple I liked, how to celebrate each holiday, and even how to eat. Everyone I met seemed to have different views than I did, and no one was able to help me understand where I fit in best.

When I started Milken Community High School’s middle school after finishing the sixth grade at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, I further realized how unacquainted I was with my own feelings toward my religion. Although we had Judaic studies every year, I felt unable to drift away from my parents’ beliefs and create my own.

Then, in 10th grade this past year, I was accepted into the Tiferet Israel Program, for which I left the comfort of my parents’ home and lived in Israel on my own for four months, along with 38 other Milken 10th- graders.

I was relieved to find that one of my friends, Tali, happened to be in Israel at the same time, on a separate school program. Tali, a girl I met at tennis camp, was one of the only people I knew who shared my beliefs — we both agreed that it was not necessary to follow all of the rituals of the Jewish religion. It was not until we reconnected in Israel that I found out her father is an Orthodox rabbi who works at Chabad. This immediately made me wonder how a rabbi, an Orthodox rabbi, a “real” Jew, could raise a “fake” one. I asked Tali what she considered herself to be, and whether or not she felt comfortable with her decision of moving away from her family’s opinions and creating her own. She answered that she respected her parents’ beliefs but did not completely agree with what they stood for. When I asked her if she felt as Jewish as her father, she responded without any hesitation, “I am just as Jewish as my father and mother and you are just as Jewish as them as well.” Hearing those words finally come out of someone’s mouth besides my own was like lifting the world off my shoulders. From that point on I no longer felt uncomfortable with my beliefs, and I no longer felt out of place.

Every day it became clearer to me that there was not one specific way to define a “real” Jew. By observing the amount of pride and devotion that all the Jewish Israelis felt toward their religion, I began to understand that simply believing in God and being proud of the fact that you are Jewish automatically makes you as Jewish as you can get. I was able to see on many different occasions the variety of Jews, and how I did not have to fit into any one of them in order to be Jewish. When our group went to the Kotel, for example, I was able to see ultra-Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews, and Jews that don’t fit into any of the categories praying toward the Wall, and every one of them accepts the other as a member of the Jewish faith.

All of my experiences in Israel made me able to officially classify myself under a category that I fit into. I now consider myself to be a Jewish Mexican American teenage girl, and I am proud to have it be in that order. I no longer feel disconnected from the rest of the Jewish people, and for the first time in my life, I feel as Jewish as any rabbi who works at Chabad — or any Jew in the world.

Rebecca Suchov just completed the 10th grade at Milken Community High School.<BR>

Family Feud — with my family, it’s no game


I would take my mom against Clint Eastwood in any movie. Sure, he usually plays a grizzled, gunslinger with cat-like reflexes and something to prove, but if you cross my
mother, you will find yourself, like the title of Clint’s greatest Western, “Unforgiven.”

Make no mistake; this isn’t a cute story about my “zany” Jewish mother and her unswerving ability to hold a grudge. Cute stories rarely involve relatives who suffocate themselves with plastic bags, but more about my Aunt Maurine’s untimely death in a minute.

No one really knows why my mother stopped talking to her sister. I think it was something about a china cabinet that once belonged to their mother. After my grandmother died, there was a duel over the mammoth piece of furniture. My mother got it (which I only know because I grew up with it in our dining room, our only piece of furniture not from a flea market). As anyone with even one screwed-up relationship in life knows, the squabble is never about the china cabinet, but about the heap of slights and injustices that could fill it. The cabinet just stores the resentments, puts them on display.

That cabinet was my grandmother’s favorite. So was my mother, so this isn’t a family feud syllogism that’s difficult to decode. Apparently, if your parents make it obvious that you’re the favorite, your siblings hate you, they unconsciously take out their feelings of rejection and hurt on you and you become spoiled and unpleasant. Put these feelings on simmer for about 30 years, and the flavors really intensify.

Here’s the thing. I’m just guessing and speculating about all of this. All I know for sure is that after a nine-year feud, during which my aunt and mother never once spoke, Aunt Maurine effectively ended the stalemate by killing herself about six years back.

I’ve never written about it before, nor did I give it much thought, until I got into my own feud with my mom two years ago and wondered who would get the last word — or leave the feud in a stretcher.

Back to my aunt and the resounding way she stuck it to my mom by offing herself.
I should mention here that I don’t mean to be cavalier about her death or her pain; but we’re Jews. That’s how we deal. Just the other day when I was sounding depressed on the phone with my dad he asked, voice filled with concern, “Are you eyeing your plastic bag collection?”

If we took every family tragedy seriously we’d be killing ourselves. I mean, in even greater numbers.

Aunt Maurine’s death didn’t seem like one of those “cry for help” suicides, because of the aforementioned plastic bag method, a technique she got from one of those “how-to-kill-yourself” books, which was found a few feet from her body.

She left a note, too, something about how her grown children didn’t love her (a feud may have been percolating there, too; feuds are big in my family). The suicide note contained no mention of my mother. My aunt had silenced herself yet still managed to get in the last word with one final snub. Score one: Maurine.

My mother went to Aunt Maurine’s funeral, but I don’t know if she regretted the feud.

Mom has about as much gray area in her personal relationships as the linoleum floor of a 1950s diner. The point is, like Clint Eastwood, she is not likely to be lukewarm on you. There are good guys and bad guys, and once you cross over, you are dead to her.

I lived in fear of saying no to her, displeasing her in some way as to flip the off switch on her loving me. Because she raised me alone and it was just the two of us, I was so close to her that the idea of her wishing me to her emotional cornfield rattled me to my core.

In essence, I should have spent my 20s wearing a yellow ribbon because I was a hostage; I did what she wanted, gritting my teeth every second of it, but complying nonetheless. I couldn’t lose her, but I also couldn’t stand her.

If she came to visit me, she stayed however long she wanted, we ate dinner when and where she wanted, she listened when she wanted (which wasn’t often), and I basically watered and manicured my grudge garden until it was overgrown and lush, and I was often petulant and bitter. She was the kind of mother, and lots of us have them, that demand we mother them. This so flies in the face of nature that you either become the codependent wife of an alcoholic or addict — continuing to mother people you shouldn’t — or you get very, very angry. Or you get yourself some therapy. I’ve done two out of three.

Here’s where I admit something. That part of me that loved “The Bell Jar” in junior high didn’t feel so bad about the incident with Aunt Maurine and the sinister feud preceding it. It added to my “crazy family” mystique. I didn’t choose to have a family chock full of the mentally ill, but once I realized there was no way of passing them off as normal, I decided to embrace it as part of my identity.

I had met my aunt only once at a family reunion when I was kid. I remember she had red hair, wore a crisp white pants suit, lived in Orange County, seemed like she couldn’t possibly be the sister of my hippie mother and generally seemed like a nice lady. I was 6; what did I know?

I certainly never predicted I would also have a blow-up with my mother leading to a long silent feud. Curiously enough, my feud also followed a funeral. Watch out for this; in my family, one of the stages of grief is creating a vendetta with someone living.

Here was our cabinet incident: Before my stepfather’s funeral two years ago, my mother insisted I speak at the ceremony.

Online social scene clicks with younger set


OK, admit it. You’ve breathed a guilty sigh of relief that your kids are still too young to have been bitten by the MySpace bug. You’ve relished the reprieve (if only temporary) from the mounting worries of parents of virtual-social-networking-obsessed middle and high schoolers.

But just because your child is still a few years short of acne and raging hormones doesn’t mean he or she isn’t involved with online social networking. In fact, tens of millions of elementary-age kids (6-years-old and up) have posted personal pages on Web sites that are — for all intents and purposes — mini-MySpace.coms.

On the wildly popular ‘ target=’_blank’>Millsberry.com (as in General Mills cereals), kids create cartoon-like “buddies” and custom-built homes, and then meander around town socializing with Millsberry’s bottomless bowlful of citizens.

On ‘ target=’_blank’>ClubLego.com members build Lego self-representations and then schmooze to their heart’s content about the plastic interlocking cubes.

Inching closer to prime-time MySpace in terms of logistics and curb appeal, At Party Time: Candy is dandy — charity is sweeter

Films: The ‘Little Miss’ that could maybe hopefully


When Peter Saraf signed on to co-produce the film, “Little Miss Sunshine,” he says he did so without hesitation. The script, about a dysfunctional family’s road trip, spoke to him immediately, and he was proud to bring his great-aunt and great-uncle to see it.

As the film began rolling, however, Saraf began to have some reservations. The family comedy features Alan Arkin as a grandfather who snorts heroin and yells obscenities. How would Saraf’s great-uncle, an 80-year-old concentration camp survivor, react?

“I kept looking over at him when Alan would go into one of his expletive tirades,” Saraf said. “He was just laughing!”

Audiences of diverse ages and cultural backgrounds warmed to “Sunshine,” much like Saraf’s relatives, after its July 26 opening.

The film first gained momentum with a standing ovation at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, which led to a bidding war for distribution rights. Box office success followed, with a domestic gross of more than $59 million as of Jan. 4, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.

The numbers are expected to keep growing, with “Sunshine” still being screened in some theaters, even as it was released on DVD Dec. 19. Not bad for a film with an $8 million budget.

The Fox Searchlight release has also been a critical favorite, garnering film festival awards, Top Ten of 2006 honors from the National Board of Review and American Film Institute, as well as multiple nominations for Gotham, Satellite, Independent Spirit, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe awards. In light of this, “Sunshine” is poised to be an Oscar contender, as well.

The movie begins with the shabby Arizona home of the misfit, middle-class Hoover family. Richard, played by Greg Kinnear, is the motivational speaker dad who can’t get his book published; his wife, Sheryl (Toni Collette), is depleted from years of running and supporting the family; Uncle Frank (Steve Carell), is a gay Proust scholar, who recently attempted suicide after being jilted by his lover; hedonist Grandpa has been kicked out of the nursing home for his heroin vice; son, Dwayne (Paul Dano), is an angry teen who’s taken a vow of silence; and then there’s Olive (Abigail Breslin), the heart of the film, a pudgy, bespectacled 7-year-old innocent whose dream is to win the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant.

When Olive learns she’s won a last-minute spot to compete in the pageant, she has two days to make it to the competition in Redondo Beach. The family piles into their broken-down yellow Volkswagen minibus and heads west.

The minibus that chugs along despite falling apart through the film is a metaphor for the troubled Hoovers. And “Little Miss Sunshine’s” promoters have enjoyed drawing a parallel between the family’s hard-won personal triumph and the success of this “little indie flick that could.” While an Oscar win might seem like a long shot, dismissing “Sunshine” would be a mistake.

The Golden Globes singled out directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris for a best musical or comedy nod, as well as Collette for best actress in a comedy or musical. And tradition has it that the Globes, to be held this year on Jan. 15, are fairly good predictors of Academy Award nominations.

Another Oscar bellwether is the Producers Guild of America, which included “Sunshine” as one of five feature films nominated for the Darryl F. Zanuck producer of the year award. The Producers Guild Awards will be held Jan. 20.

The film’s universal appeal seems to tap the same spirit that propelled audiences of every background to see “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” another indie feature that toyed with universal themes of family dysfunction. Saraf credits “Sunshine” screenwriter Michael Arndt for writing family relationships that ring true for all audiences.

“There is an honesty in the dynamic in that family,” Saraf said. “The script has a wonderful sense of humor as well as a real emotional underpinning, and I think that’s what people are really responding to.”

Co-producer David Friendly also sees the appeal of “Sunshine” in this light. The son of legendary CBS News president Fred Friendly, David personally identified with the script’s complicated father-son relationships.

“I did have a powerful father figure,” he said, describing his dad as a “larger-than-life character.”

One scene that felt particularly reminiscent for Friendly occurs toward the end of the film, as the family is nearing the freeway offramp for the pageant. Richard, who is driving, can’t figure out the exit, and thus keeps circling, while a cacophony of direction-yelling ensues around him.

Friendly fondly recalled being lost in Portland, Ore., with his father behind the wheel.

“Dad was sort of commander in chief insisting he knew his way around…. Doing loops around the airport,” he said.

The ability to channel such real human moments is what audiences of all demographics have embraced in “Sunshine,” and both Friendly and Saraf say that is enough, regardless of any awards buzz.

Friendly says that’s part of the moral of “Little Miss Sunshine” — to enjoy the experience, rather than being focused on winning — and it’s also something he absorbed from his Jewish upbringing.

“You learn from all the seders around the table. You get a good sense of what’s right and wrong, and the ethics of a good life,” he said.

“I think that also fundamental to the theme of the movie, we all want to succeed, but at what price? If you get too focused on the wrong things, it begins to corrupt other things.”

Second-class Conservative citizens


When I first read that there would be a vote by the Conservative movement’s Committee on Law and Standards regarding homosexuality and Jewish law, I was of
course interested.

I’m a gay man, and I have had both personal and professional ties to the Conservative movement since I was a child. In fact, some of my closest friends (and colleagues) are avowed Conservative Jews.

I grew up in the late ’60s and ’70s in a Conservative synagogue in northern New Jersey. It was a dying synagogue due to shifting demographics. My religious school class was made up of about eight students. My venerable, grandfatherly rabbi and the young, well-groomed cantor knew all of us by name. Having always been drawn to Jewish ritual, one year I volunteered my house for the religious school sukkah (much to my parents’ chagrin). My seventh-grade class, along with my teacher, Rabbi Zitter, a 20-something guy sporting tzitzit, built a sukkah in my backyard. The Sunday of Sukkot the rabbi, cantor and religious school principal all visited the synagogue’s “satellite” sukkah. I felt so honored. (And for years after that my family built a sukkah.)

As a middle school and high school student I often attended services at my Conservative synagogue and likely brought the average age of the congregants down to 65. The only other young congregant was a handsome, strapping young college-aged guy who was often called on to lift the Torah. This was the time when I first began to feel the stirrings of same-sex attraction. I didn’t understand it but knew that something was different for me. I imagine that neither the rabbi nor the cantor had a clue that any of his students was beginning to come to terms with anything other than a heterosexual identity. If “gay” was on their radar, I imagine it was “out there,” outside the austere stone building in Paterson, N.J.

I was an active, practicing Conservative Jew. I belonged to USY for a time, I went to USY Summer Encampment, and I went to Israel for the first time with USY’s Israel Pilgrimage. During my college years, I regularly davened with the Conservative minyan at Brandeis University, and upon graduating taught at a Conservative Jewish day school in the Boston area. When I moved to Los Angeles, I began teaching at Adat Ari El in the day school and also taught b’nai mitzvah students there for many years; in addition, I taught at L.A. Hebrew High School. I am currently on the professional staff of Temple Aliyah. My Conservative movement ties run deep.

Honestly, I’m glad that the recent vote of the Conservative movement has opened the door a bit toward acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews. Now that this teshuvah, or legal interpretation, was one of two that received a majority vote, I know that this helps some of my gay “friends and family” squeeze sideways through the now partially open door. I nevertheless remain sad and disappointed that the door has only opened a little, and the idea that it is a qualified acceptance is troubling to me. (Let alone that it rests side by side with a standing ruling of nonacceptance, or that a third accepted teshuvah purports that individuals — I assume “straight” people too — can control their sexual orientation.)

I understand the notion of baby steps, and I understand the notion of compromise in the name of baby steps. But I don’t have to like it. I think this decision perpetuates a system in which gays and lesbians continue to be second-class citizens. It also perpetuates one specific interpretation of a biblical text, which has been interpreted in other ways. Take me for who I am or don’t take me at all. I too am created in God’s holy image.

When I came out I never felt an incompatibility between my Jewish identity and my sexual identity.

Perhaps I was lucky, perhaps naïve. Who knows? I never doubted that God loves me for who I am. I am a Jewish educator and a Jewish communal professional. And I am gay. I hope that my students have experienced me as someone who is caring, compassionate and dedicated. I hope they have seen me as a role model. And I believe that I am these things not despite the fact that I am gay, but in large part because I am gay. My identity as a gay man has helped me to learn to be more empathic, to embrace differences and to overcome my own prejudices.

While I am pleased that the Conservative movement has inched forward in the direction of inclusivity, I find it difficult to rejoice. When I am allowed to sit in the front of the Conservative bus (without being singled out to pass a litmus test; without being subjected to the whim of the driver of that particular bus), then I shall surely rejoice, and I will be at the front of the line chanting the “Shehecheyanu” blessing.

Jeff Bernhardt is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He works as a teacher, social worker and Jewish communal service professional with Reform, Conservative and trans-denominational Jewish organizations.

Attention, menschen! CAIR; Michael Richards; Shoah survivors


In 2005, The Journal profiled 10 “Mensches of the Year ” and it became one of our most popular and widely appreciated cover stories. We plan to make this an annual feature … and we’d love your help.If you know someone whose great work on behalf of others goes unsung, who doesn’t get paid for what he or she does (or doesn’t get paid near enough), whose life is the embodiment of the values of tzedakah — please pass their name and contact info to us with a very brief sentence or two describing why they should be featured as one of our 10 mensches of 2006.

Send your nominations to: letters@jewishjournal.com. Names must be received Dec. 15 in order to be considered.

CAIR

Your publication of the inflammatory rhetoric of CAIR-L.A.’s Executive Director Hussam Ayloush as if it were a reliable source of fact or reasonable opinion makes one question your editorial judgment (“Letters, Nov. 17).

It is very peculiar that Ayloush and his organization, who claim to promote “dialogue, mutual respect and trust and cooperation,” would resort to ad-hominem attacks against Steven Emerson, actually calling him “America’s most vicious Islamophobe.” Moreover, incitement and provocation are not constructive tactics. If CAIR is truly serious about promoting mutual understanding, Ayloush would not have written a letter that clearly defeats CAIR’s stated objectives. Furthermore, the letter serves as a form of psychological warfare, which attempts to erode the credibility, trust and reputation of Emerson with your readers and the general public.

Based on Ayloush’s unfair characterization of Emerson, it appears that he and CAIR have one primary objective, which is to discredit and silence anyone who dares to identify terrorists who happen to be connected to a radical Islamist network. This should be of great concern to the entire community, Christian, Muslim and Jewish alike.

Margo Itskowitch
Beverly Hills

The Survivors

“The Forgotten Survivors” (Nov. 24) raises some crucial issues for the Jewish community, which must decide if it will make a concerted effort to endow the last days of these victims of Nazism with a greater measure of dignity and peace.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) established the Holocaust Survivor Services program of the Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles more than a decade ago. Last year, the Claims Conference allocated approximately $1.5 million to JFS, from various sources of Holocaust restitution funding. This financial support is absolutely critical to the work of JFS in assisting and supporting needy Jewish victims of Nazism.However, the Claims Conference needs partners in this endeavor. It is important for the larger Jewish community to recognize the need and to respond.

Hillary Kessler-Godin
Director of Communications
Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

Thank you for remembering “The Forgotten Survivors” in this week’s cover story. We at New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) agree that it is our responsibility to offer support and companionship to impoverished Holocaust survivors, both locally and worldwide.

We have recently joined in a collaborative effort with a local organization called The Survivor Mitzvah Project, which sends money and letters to survivors living in Eastern Europe. This project is both educational and philanthropic, offering a unique exchange between the American Jewish community, and Jewish individuals living in their original Eastern European hometowns. Their stories give us singular insight into the vast changes of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before, during and after World War II.

Students in Russian and Yiddish classes at NCJHS are volunteering their time to translate letters to and from the survivors in Eastern Europe, enabling international Jewish friendships to form. We are incredibly proud of these young people and encourage the community to get involved with the Survivor Mitzvah Project, as well as the local organizations listed in the original article, through zzmail@sbcglobal.net or (800) 905-6160.Hannah Pollin
Yiddish Teacher
Lisa Ansell
Head of World Languages
New Community Jewish High School

I estimate that in Los Angeles 47 percent of Holocaust survivors, or more than 4,000 survivors, are currently living in poverty. During the past eight years, the L.A. community has experienced a significant increase in the proportion of Holocaust survivors in poverty from the 32 percent in poverty found in my 1997 research, that was cited in the cover story by The Jewish Federation, to 45 percent of L.A. holocaust survivors in poverty, as compared to 35 percent of Holocaust survivors in poverty nationally in 2005.

An additional $1,000 a year allocated to each impoverished Holocaust survivor in our community would cost $4 million, and during the next 10 years progressively less, as the median age of Holocaust survivors is 81. [For a Federation] that raises $55 million dollars a year and boasts more than $600 million in its Jewish Community Foundation, this would be a good initial gesture of concern for this regrettable situation where the most traumatized and weakest among us grow poorer as they grow older.

Pini Herman
Phillips & Herman
Demographic Research

Thank you for your Nov. 24 cover story “The Forgotten Survivors,” which recognized the vital work of Jewish Family Service (JFS) and others in assisting the aging and impoverished Holocaust survivors in our community.

We are deeply grateful to The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany for its generous and crucial support of our JFS/Holocaust Survivor Services program. In our last fiscal year, the Claims Conference provided $1.5 million to help us meet the needs of survivors living in Los Angeles. We are also appreciative of the ongoing support by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and The Morgan Aging with Dignity Fund that helps us maintain and sustain our work with survivors of the Holocaust.

We encourage the entire community to continue to support us in this important mission.

And Get Thee Out: Jews and Hollywood


Rob Eshman, whom I admire a lot, and who argued strenuously — even pleaded — for his name not to be mentioned in this (but clearly lost), was nice enough to ask if
I would write something for this special issue of The Journal (which I admire — and read — a lot), and I was very flattered.

He suggested, as a general topic, Jews in Hollywood. Being a Jew in Hollywood myself, this sounded dandy to me.

Since life in general (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) is more or less constantly ironic, it made me shake my head to think how odd it is that every single person around the world, from Europe to Africa to the remotest parts of Asia, even to places there has never been electricity, let alone movies, would feel instantly and unshakably certain the words “Hollywood” and “Jews” were not only synonymous, but interchangeable.

You could find a tribe of 30 short, naked, isolated people near the Amazon (the river, not the bookseller), who don’t speak English and have never even seen another human for 700 years, and who are pretty sure the entire world actually ends at the edge of their forest; and if you parachuted into their village in the middle of the night, woke them up and screamed, “Quick! Who runs Hollywood?” every confused one of them would look at each other, shrug, and say, “Why, the Jews, of course. Everyone knows that.”

You could probably do the same thing on Mars.

Only we Jews would say, “Actually, that’s not true.”

Ah, well. Not the first time, eh?

I remember when the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ” came out. Now, there wasn’t one element of this movie that involved Jews. The book (a beautiful story, by the way, by Nikos Kazantzakis) and the screenplay were not written by Jews, the stars were not Jews, the director (Martin Scorsese) was not a Jew, the producer was not a Jew, the cinematographer was not a Jew — well, you get the idea. But the head of Universal at the time, Lew Wasserman (who has since passed on), was Jewish, and that was enough to get lots of folks saying, “Aha! The Jews in Hollywood have done it again.”

Done what? I don’t know. I guess we just did it again.

I’ll bet if you went to the bar Mel Gibson got drunk at that night and looked hard enough, you could find a guy — three landlords and two owners and seven property managers ago — whose daughter’s old freshman roommate took an adult education pottery course in the ’70s from a Jew. Close enough. “The Jews did it to Mel!”

The only thing I know about being a Jew in Hollywood is that, to me, they are two completely separate and distinct things. Whatever the word “Hollywood” actually means, I’m an actor, a writer and a comic, and I love it all. I love show business. I’d be a hand model if anyone ever asked. (No one has, so far, but then again it’s only Monday morning.)

Being a Jew is different, and that’s why I titled this column, “And Get Thee Out.” As many of you know, we just read Lech Lecha this past Shabbos. (I still pronounce it “Shabbos,” because it reminds me of my parents.) This part of the Torah, with Vayerah coming right after, is some of the most shatteringly powerful Jewishness in my life, year in, year out. The Torah, and the Psalms, and so much else in the liturgy is often so moving to me I have to put it down and take a breath. It seems so real, so clearly “of God.”

I’m bringing that up because it was still so strongly with me this morning, I really wanted to talk about it with someone, even for just a couple of minutes; someone in my work, my world, the creative life. The Business. Someone I deal with all the time. Someone who would get it, who feels the same way I do, who hears the same music.

Well, my agents are Jews, and my manager is a Jew, and my entertainment lawyer is a Jew, and my publicist is a Jew, and the agent in New York who negotiated my book deal with Regan for “Spoiled Rotten America” is a Jew (Come on, folks, you didn’t expect me to go a whole article without getting a plug in, did you?) and the producer, director, stars and writers of a movie I’m in that screened Saturday night are Jews, and I really, really like them all, and respect them all, and admire their work and their families and their hearts very, very much.

But I couldn’t talk to them about Lech Lecha. They would have politely listened if I insisted, but have had no idea what I was so lit up about.

So I called my friend Jonathan Last in Washington, a great writer. He’s Catholic and religious, but I can talk to him about God and Jewishness in the greatest depth, and he always gets it. There are folks I could call around here, of course, and they’re Jews. Like my rabbi. But they’re not in show business.

This morning, I dropped my kids off at school but had to miss the minyan, because one of them had a thing in class he was doing. It’s a Jewish school, so I had my tallis and tefillin with me and figured I’d daven in the chapel alone. This happens a lot.

As I was going in, Cantor Judy Aronoff was coming out, someone I admire immensely, whose Jewishness and knowledge and kavanah shine like a sun. We talked for a moment, and then I went in and stood before the ark and davened. Then I got a cup of coffee at the cart Crystal runs out front every day, and drove to Universal.

So if someone asks me what it’s like to be a Jew in Hollywood, I swear I don’t know. I know what it’s like to be a Jew, and how far I’d like to go. I know what it’s like to be in “Hollywood,” and how far I’d like to go. But I don’t have the slightest idea of how the twain shall meet; unless, as Lou Costello once said, it’s “the twain on twack twee.”

So every day, as long as God gives me life, I’ll listen to His order, and “Get thee up, and get thee out.” Like today: I davened and came to work.

And decided to write this and tell you about it.

Actor, writer and comedian Larry Miller, whose next movie, “For Your Consideration,” opens Nov. 17, is the author of the new book, “Spoiled Rotten America” (Regan Books), but I guess you already know that.

51 Birch Street: House of Blocks . . . House of Cards?


We all know about “the generation gap.” The “mother-daughter bond.” Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons.” Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” or any number of his plays for that matter. Our literature and our language are rife with expressions of the struggles inherent in that most primal bond Doug Block with his fatherbetween parents and children.

In his personal documentary, “51 Birch Street,” filmmaker Doug Block sets out to explore his relationship with his father. His mother has died, and Block wants to document the dismantling of the family home before it is sold. A “baby-boomer” who came of age in the “let it all hang out” ’60s, Block is taken aback when he learns that his parents’ 54-year marriage was not at all what it seemed. Wrestling with disturbing revelations, Block’s film questions how well any of us truly know the people we love, how well we might really want to know them, and perhaps most importantly, what right we have to know.

On the surface, the Block family is a typical, post-war, middle-class suburban Jewish family. Mike Block and Mina Vogel married shortly after World War II, had three children over the course of four years and moved from Brooklyn to a brand-new house in the suburbs to raise their family. They were among the founding families of a Reform congregation that became the center of their social lives. Their children — two girls and a boy — went to (or more accurately “suffered through,” as son Doug describes it) Hebrew school through confirmation. Mike worked long hours as a mechanical engineer while Mina stayed home to raise the children, working outside of the home only as the children grew up. Mike and Mina were “inseparable.”

Mina’s death was shocking not only in its swiftness, but for the maelstrom of unexpected revelations that followed. Three months after his wife’s death, Mike Block traveled to Florida, returning only to announce that he was moving there to live with Kitty, his secretary from 40 years earlier. They wed shortly thereafter. As if this wasn’t enough for the Block siblings to absorb, Mike and Kitty decided to sell the family home on Birch Street. It fell upon Doug and his sisters to help their father sort through the accumulated detritus of 50 years of family life.

Block, a documentary filmmaker by vocation (“Home Page” and “The Heck With Hollywood!”) and an inveterate home-movie-maker by avocation, always felt close to his mother; her death left him bereft. In contrast, he felt both very different than and distant from his father. He hoped to use his camera, as was his wont, to help him get to know his subject — in this case his father — better.

As we travel with Block through his arduous path of discovery, watching long-buried secrets of his parents’ unhappiness slowly come to light, we see his family struggle with their newfound knowledge. And we struggle alongside them, wrestling not only with our own fears about trust and intimacy, but with questions of privacy and disclosure.

These questions come to a head when Block uncovers volumes of personal diaries his mother had written over a three- year period. Pained as his father obviously is by seeing them, he nevertheless tells his son to “save them.” Block is both drawn to and fearful of reading them, and decides to consult an “expert” on the ethical issues involved.

He turns to Rabbi Jonathan Blake, a young rabbi with a warm smile and quick wit, who Block felt was “wise” beyond his years. Asking Blake if it’s “right” to read his mother’s diaries (the mention of which causes an amusing moment of eyebrow-raising by Blake on camera), Blake first answers in true Rabbinic fashion, with another question: “What does your heart tell you to do?” Yet after wrestling a bit with the dilemma, Blake tells Block that learning more about one’s parents can be valuable, if the knowledge is used for “a holy purpose.”

Thus encouraged, Block decided to forge ahead — at times ambivalent, at times stunned.

“From the outside, to us, we thought they were actually wonderfully compatible. They had similar interests, they traveled, they bickered a bit but never argued,” Block said in an interview.

But as his mother’s diaries revealed, she was deeply unhappy in her marriage.
Block searched for ways to reconcile his image of his parents’ “model marriage” with the emerging picture of discord, anger and infidelity.

Although the film contains no explicit explanation of how Block, a “cultural” but non-observant Jew, interpreted the rabbi’s words, Block said he believed the rabbi “meant if I’m using it to honor and celebrate my mother’s life … it’s a holy thing.”
Yet, during the process of making the film, it wasn’t always clear to Block that his work hewed to this “holy” purpose.

“There were many times I thought it was a holy mess! I thought, all I’m going to do is burn in hell,” he said. “My mother will come off looking horribly, and I’ll look even worse for doing this.” He said he spent “many sleepless nights feeling the weight of picking out the right phrases and words of all the volumes of writings, to honor her complexity, her intelligence, to show her as a rounded human being.”

“On one level,” Block said, his film “is a story of assimilation, of city Jews moving to the suburbs and trying to fit in,” the pressures of which were one source of his mother’s unhappiness. Block says it’s also “very Jewish” that his family “covers up a lot of stuff through sarcasm and humor.” And he believes that his film was a profound act of teshuvah, a concept he discussed with Los Angeles Rabbi Judith Halevy while filming. Creating a portrait of his parents’ lives, including their fallibility, was for Block an “act of coming to forgiveness, and somehow getting cleansed in the process.”

Yet “51 Birch Street” is also a universal tale. Ultimately the story is — like the complex lives it reveals to us — a mass of contradictions. On the one hand, it is a truly sad story: of thwarted potential, of betrayal and of the defeat of good intentions. But it is also a story of redemption, of two men who manage to transcend the pain of their lives to forge new relationships: Mike Block with Kitty, and Doug Block with his father.

Movie on pedophile priest puts a face on evil


In October 2004, journalist Amy Berg cold-called a defrocked priest she has nicknamed the “Hannibal Lecter of pedophiles.” While serving Central California parishes in the 1970s and ’80s, the Rev. Oliver O’Grady allegedly molested dozens of children — boys and girls, infants and adolescents — according to Berg’s new documentary film, “Deliver Us From Evil.”

He did so with the knowledge of church officials — including Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony — who moved him from parish to parish when parents complained, O’Grady alleges.
 
After months of phone conversations, Berg persuaded the priest to appear in a documentary that “has heightened interest among law enforcement officials … in considering a criminal case against [Mahony],” The New York Times reported on Oct. 8.
 
In a Journal interview on Oct. 9, Tod M. Tamberg, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, called the movie “very heavily biased.”
 
“This film was heavily edited and weighed in favor of Amy Berg making the cardinal the culprit and completely ignoring … that O’Grady is a skilled liar and a master manipulator,” Tamberg added.
 
“Evil” — which won the nonfiction prize at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival in July — presents for perhaps the first time a convicted pedophile speaking graphically about his actions on camera. O’Grady’s words provide “the backbone of a deeply disturbing documentary about the Roman Catholic clergy abuse crisis,” the Associated Press said.
 
When O’Grady first answered Berg’s call with a cheerful “Hello and good evening,” to her surprise he didn’t curtly dismiss her as had other pedophiles she had telephoned to be in her film. Berg believes he ultimately agreed to talk, in part, because he was angry with church officials.
 
“I should have been removed and attended to,” he says in the film.
 
O’Grady, who arrived in California in the early 1970s, remained a parish priest until he was convicted on four molestation counts in 1993. After seven years in prison, he was deported to his native Ireland.
 
In the movie, O’Grady describes having been molested by an older brother as a boy, and how he, in turn, abused a younger sister. As a priest, he says he sometimes started fondling children while sleeping over at their homes: He would often begin by hugging a child, then let his hand stray if they did not protest.
 
He recollects his crimes in a detached or avuncular tone that contrasts with anguished testimony from his victims. In the film, one father cries and screams as he blames himself for allowing O’Grady to abuse his daughter: “At 5 years old — for God’s sake, how could that happen?” the father says.
 
The film also includes never-before-seen taped depositions in which Mahony says he was unaware of the abuse and did not know O’Grady well when he served as bishop of Stockton from 1980 to 1985. But in the movie, excerpts from court documents, superimposed over Mahony’s testimony, suggest otherwise.
 
In response, Tamberg said Mahony’s testimony was heavily edited and facts omitted to make Berg’s points. Tamberg said Mahony did not know O’Grady had committed abuse until the former priest was arrested in 1993 and that “Evil” largely presents the opinions of plaintiffs’ attorneys, who stand to gain financially by suing the church.
 
Tamberg said he believes the documentary poignantly depicts the victims’ anguish, which is “its greatest strength but also its greatest failing. Because then we are asked to put all of O’Grady’s lying and manipulation aside and believe him…. [But] he lied to his bishop, he lied to the families, he lied to victims and I believe he even manipulated the filmmakers.”
 
Berg indignantly denied that she was ever manipulated, and that her documentary takes undue potshots at the church.
 
“If this is the best they can come up with, then let them respond to the allegations in the film, for once,” she said.
 
She wants church officials to answer questions such as “‘Why didn’t you take O’Grady Out?’ ‘What are you hiding?’ ‘[And] how many are still out there?'”Despite her bravado, Berg admitted she previously declined to tell reporters she is a Jewish, divorced single mother (she lives with her young son, Spencer, in an apartment in Santa Monica). She worried that the information might make her appear biased against the church and that the diocese might somehow interfere with the release of her film, since it successfully delayed the airing of some of her CNN pieces.
 
Tamberg said Berg’s news pieces were delayed because “we asked for fairness, and CNN management agreed.”
 
The 36-year-old filmmaker was raised Reform in Valley Glen; she attended Jewish Camp Swig in Saratoga and became a bat mitzvah at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village. But when public high school proved too large and overwhelming for young Amy, her parents enrolled her in a Catholic school because it was affordable and many other Jewish students were enrolled there, as well. All students were required to attend religion class, but Berg said she used to ditch because she did not believe some of the teachings after having been raised Jewish. “Children were saying ‘Hail Marys’ to be forgiven for chewing gum or not brushing their hair,” she recalled of her school.
 
Years later, while producing for CBS and CNN, Berg was drawn to covering the church’s pedophilia crisis because victims exuded “this unbelievably raw, lonely, ‘Where do I turn?’ mentality.”
 
She convinced O’Grady to allow her to film him only after speaking to him every Sunday for five months. In December 2004, she flew to Dublin to meet with him in the city center (he would not tell her where he lived.) The eight-day shoot in April, 2005, was “brutal,” both physically and emotionally, she says. For example, O’Grady nonchalantly spoke of his attraction for children as kids were playing in a nearby park; in the film he even peers over the fence to look at them.
 
To keep herself calm during the process, Berg turned at the end of each day to meditation, including exercises from Melinda Ribner’s “Everyday Kabbalah: A Practical Guide to Jewish Meditation, Healing and Personal Growth.” After a week of listening to O’Grady describe his molestations of children, she said, “I was completely overwhelmed and exhausted.”

Life at 85: what a trip!


I was born in Chicago some 85 years ago. My home was Jewish Orthodox and consisted of my mother, her two brothers and their father, my grandfather. I specify
my grandfather because, in those days, nobody ever thought of placing their old father in an old folks’ home.

My closest friend while growing up was Alan, who lived across the street. Each evening, we would go for a walk — generally lasting about two hours. He and I really liked each other, but this walk was a very silent one, neither of us had much to say.

In 1943, I left Chicago and moved to Los Angeles. It was during the war, and I became a flight test engineer and copilot on the airplane known as the B-25. From then on, Alan and I spoke on the phone but also had personal visits during the years.

The other day, I got a call from Alan, who is now 87 and a widower.

Now, not as before, there was ongoing conversation. Not silent anymore. But what did we have to talk about? The talk ran easy. We spoke for a long time about his hip problems and my back and other health problems. The opening, “How are you?” was for one minute, and the health conversation lasted for one hour.

Now you may ask, why I am telling you the story of my friend? It has to do with my past. When he and I were growing up, how in the world would we ever know or think about hip problems at the age of 87? We would have asked: What do you mean by “the age of 87?” It was another world. A world of which we had no knowledge.
My reaction to our long conversation was very emotional. I was in tears when it was time to say goodbye. I said, “Alan, you have my love.”

BR>
But this is what the past does for you — it is really another life; it’s gone but never forgotten. That thought will always put a tear in your eye.

The goodbye was so different than our youthful, nonspeaking days.

The conversation with Alan opened the door of my brain. I suddenly realized I am 85 and part of another world: It’s called the present. I have gone through the youth time, the middle time when I was 40 to 60 and, now, I find myself in the third stage. What a trip! Really unbelievable.

We look back on the past because it was another era. In our youth and young years, life included activities you chose. Your responsibilities were minimal compared to those as you grew older. Being young and thinking young allowed you to exist in a world that is the start of the middle age.

Of course, there are exceptions, and some people are required to give more of themselves as required by family obligations. But those times somewhat establish the makeup you will carry the rest of your life.

From the middle age, we enter what is called the old-age era. Old age is intended to slow the flow of time so we can get back to the real “hopefully pleasant” moments of the past.

How do I handle belonging to the senior group? How do I accept the present? It is very, very hard to say to myself: “You are old.” Stepping into this stage is not easy; it’s difficult to accept the number 85.

At 85 I have given up driving. I just can’t see well enough. There are two other “loves of my life that also went by the wayside: tennis and jogging. My eyesight also contributes to hardship in reading the newspaper. I find it difficult to really accept the fact that I can no longer do all of the middle-life chores or continue with many of my chosen activities. I find myself thinking about the activities that came so easily in my middle life.

But in the “old age” category, one must force oneself to realize the here and now. Activities must conform to the present place you are in life, both physically and mentally. When you come to accept the present position, time wise, I think you can then enjoy what you have — and prosper with all the good things that are there.

You can take advantage of the knowledge of the past, an example of which is the seven-member men’s club I belong to. It used to be that each time we met, the opening welcome was a cordial handshake. The past brought me to ask this group of men, a gender that often refuses to show hidden emotions, “Are you glad to see each other?”

The answer was, of course, “Yes.”

So I suggested a hug in place of a handshake — and the hug has taken over.
I find others, friends not in their 80s, display emotional tenderness to me and my wife, who is 84. I detect my friends thinking that age brings great knowledge not present in the early years. Another great experience is having our family close by and the joy they exhibit at having us with them.

The past is very important; it contributes to the actions of the present. Look back and enjoy your thoughts, but the present is here and now. Live it up, take pleasure in your friends and do not feel bad thinking about who you are today. Tell your thoughts and become a charter member of “Senior Time.”


Red Lachman is a short-story writer.

Faithful, happily ever after, right?


It’s 8 p.m., and it’s about that time for me to change the topic of conversation.

 
“I know a dozen quality women but really very few men,” says
some guy named something, I don’t catch it.

 
That’s because I’m sitting on a couch at a house party with my girlfriend trying to catch up with her and enjoy my crudités when this guy comes over and somehow — I don’t know how it always comes back to this, like bad celery repeating on you — the topic in question is the dating world.

 
“All the good guys I know are married — or completely not marriage material,” he says, scooting himself next to us on the couch.

 
He, ostensibly, is one of the good guys: taken. The gold band on his fourth finger waves in the air like a “sold” sticker slapped on a piece of real estate. If there’s one thing that’s more painful than listening to single people lament the lack of good men around, it’s a married person commenting on the fact.

 
“Hey, did you ever read Bridget Jones?” I asked.

 
This fast-talking entertainment lawyer hadn’t, of course, nor had he seen the movie, and so I enlightened him on the concept of Smug Marrieds, and how Bridget taught us that it’s as unacceptable to ask a “Singleton” how her love life is as it is to ask a “Smug Married,” about his sex life.
 
Which is exactly what I did. OK, not exactly. But I turned the conversation around to Mr. Lawyer’s own marriage. Turns out he wasn’t a Smug Married at all. He wasn’t even happily married. Not the way it sounded to me.
 
“I’m happily married…compared to most people,” he said, therein taking us into a terrain into which I am completely unfamiliar. How happy are married people? What happens after the “‘Til Death Do Us Part?”
 
Not what Mr. Lawyer expected. His wife of 10 years was once his “best friend” and also a powerhouse attorney who said she always wanted to work. But after they had kids, she stopped working and now spends her days in the Valley carpooling, housekeeping, lunching and shopping (on an allowance from him). Now they have nothing to talk about, he says, but it’s OK, because “she lets me do what I want.”
 
What he wants is to stay out working — or taking meetings — until midnight, traveling around the world on various projects and throwing himself into his work, which he “loves.”
“What about real love?” I ask him. “What about companionship?”
 
This, he has, I find out from his raised eyebrows. His is a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” marriage, where as long as the bills are paid, the beds are made, everybody is happy. (By happy he must mean satisfied or some other definition of the word.)
 
“Look, it’s better than my best friend,” he says, telling me about a guy who seemed to be in love with his wife of a decade, but then announced one day he was leaving her for his mistress.
 
“Big mistake,” Lawyer says.
 
Within two months the mistress dumped him, and he went back to his wife to work things out, “but things will never be the same.”
 
I’m having so many problems on so many levels with this conversation that I’m not sure where to begin. As I’m mulling it over, my girlfriend returns, and she joins in.
 
“It’s really hard to be with the same person for more than four years,” she says. She cheated on her boyfriend of six years, even though she still loved him.
 
“Look, everyone does,” she says. “Best if you just don’t know.”
 
Everyone cheats? Surely I’ve been living in a sheltered world. Where I come from infidelity is the rare exception to the rule; and yet, in the world I live now, the distinction seems to be between people who admit they cheat and people who don’t. In the new movie, “The Last Kiss,” infidelity is treated as something inevitable to be dealt with, like hair loss or chicken pox.
 
Perhaps now is the time to rail against society’s expectations for matrimony. I’m comfortable doing this when it suits my purposes, i.e., when I don’t want to be pressured into marriage or ostracized for singledom. But when it comes to society’s expectations for monogamy, I’m on board. I believe in “the last kiss,” that there will be one person I’ll want to spend the rest of my life with, and he with me.
 
Am I an idiot? Am I bourgeoisie and conservative? Na?ve and romantic? Now that I’m older, I’m realistic enough to know that maybe at times it will be hard — hard to keep the romance alive, hard to find time for love in the midst of kids and bills and work and community obligations, hard not to want to kill the person you’re with at least, say, once a week — but is it really impossible? Is adultery inevitable?
 
I’ve spent so much time looking for Mr. Right, but what does it matter if Mr. Right is going to be the guy flirting with some single girls at a house party while his wife waits at home thinking he’s at a meeting?
 
I look at Mr. Lawyer and think, “Is this what I have to look forward to?”
I also think, “Is your hand on my knee?!!”
 
Quickly, I take it off, excuse myself and leave the party, thankfully, this time, alone.

 

Barbara “Bobbi” Asimow, Former Jewish Federation Women’s Campaign Director, 63


Barbara “Bobbi” Asimow, former Woman’s Campaign director for The Jewish Federation died Aug. 22 of cancer at 63.

Bobbi was born in Brooklyn in 1943 and came to Los Angeles as a teenager, attending Fairfax High School. She received an masters in psychology from San Francisco State and an MBA from the University of Judaism. For the past 22 years, she worked for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as a professional fundraiser. She directed the Metropolitan Region and, for the last 12 years, the Women’s Campaign. She was a legend in the Women’s Campaign, raising more than $12 million a year for Jewish causes, supervising a devoted staff and mobilizing an army of dedicated volunteers. She was one of the most respected professionals at The Federation.

In her honor, an endowment will be established, within the Jewish Community Foundation, to fund the Bobbi Asimow Award for the best Jewish communal worker of the year. This award will recognize the person who best exemplifies Bobbi’s spirit, leadership, teamwork, dedication, love of Judaism and deep concern for those in need.

She is survived by her husband, Michael; sons, Ian Lennard, Daniel (LeAnn Bischoff) and Paul (Colette Caggiano); daughters, Hillary (Peter Blum) and Courtney (Craig Broscow) Lennard; sister-in-law, Myra Bennett; brother-in-law, Steven; former husband, Colin Lennard; and seven grandchildren.

In her memory, donations can be sent to the Women’s Campaign of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 750, Los Angeles, CA 90048.

I fell in love with Bobbi Asimow the first time we met. I had just come to Los Angeles from the East Coast, was brand new to our professional field and a stranger here. Bobbi flashed her famous contagious smile and welcomed me with open arms.

It didn’t matter to Bobbi that she was a senior pro and I was young and inexperienced, or that she was a top fundraiser and I was working with college students. That day, for the first time, I knew that I had made the right career choice, because Bobbi became my mentor. In our short exchange, she modeled the Jewish values, which I spent years learning, with astounding beauty, grace and passion.

Over the years that followed I watched Bobbi develop hundreds of community leaders. In her quiet way, she helped shape much of the professional landscape of Jewish Los Angeles.

How many of us went to Bobbi when we needed advice, a shoulder to cry on, or to admit mistakes? How many times did she look deep into our eyes with both love and wisdom and guide us? How often did we then get back on our feet and aspire to be even half as talented a professional as Bobbi?

And finally, how did she make the time to help us all, while living her personal life with immense passion as wife, mother, grandmother, relative and friend.I sat a week ago in awe of what you accomplished, Bobbi, in your 63 years. Your funeral was not an ending, but truly a map for living, loving, leading,and not giving up.

It’s fitting that you left this difficult world at the start of Elul, the opportunity for a new spiritual beginning. Bobbi, your life lessons are guides to better ourselves, one another, and the Jewish community you deeply embraced for so long.

You are with us in our hearts. Shalom dear mentor.

— Rhoda Weisman Uziel, executive director of the Professional Leaders Project at the Jewish Federation.

HENRIETTA ACKERMAN died Aug. 5 at 84. She is survived by her son, Robert (Jan); and grandsons, Adam and Brian. Hillside

DOROTHY BERMAN died Aug. 8 at 79. She is survived by her husband, Wally; daughter, Ellen (Tom); son, Andrew (Erin); and four grandchildren. Hillside

PEGGY BERMAN died Aug. 6 at 69. She is survived by her husband, Donald; son, Ray; daughter, Robbi Barthe; two grandchildren; and sister, Linda Leva. Groman

HERBERT BRASLAW died Aug. 6 at 86. He is survived by his son, Michael; and daughter, Erica Olinick. Malinow and Silverman

FLORETTE CARLSON died Aug. 2 at 84. She is survived by her husband, Robert; stepdaughters, Kristine (Andy) Hetzel, Robin Dickson, Karen Thompson, Debbie (Kippen) Perrot and Sally; stepson, Richard; 11 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. Hillside

DANIEL GIBGOT died Aug. 8 at 79. He is survived by his friend, Leeann Donohue. Groman

ALAN GLEITSMAN died May 19 at 76. He is survived by his partner, Cheri Rosche; daughters, Joan Huber, Judy (Jim) Kaplan and Lisa McCloskey; son, Rick; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Hillside

JEANNE GOREN died Aug. 6 at 91. She is survived by her brother, Ben Bernert; and sister, Helen Antler. Groman

GERTRUDE HEICHMAN died Aug. 1 at 81. She is survived by her husband, Julius; daughter, Hollis; son-in-law, Steven Levy; grandchildren, Jennifer (Matt) Jones, Wendy Levy, Robert Levy; and brother, William Strull. Hillside

BENJAMIN JACOB KAMRASS died Aug. 6 at 90. He is survived by brothers, George and Meyer; sister, Etta Tudzin; nieces and nephews. Hillside

BELLE LEWIS died Aug. 7 at 91. She is survived by her sisters, Ida Wolf and Margaret (Jack) Farbstein; and brother, Dan (Helen) Levine. Malinow and Silverman

RAOUL LOWENBERG died Aug. 6 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Hilda; daughter, Dana (Steve) Weinberg; and granddaughter, Rachel Weinberg. Mount Sinai

AARON MAGIDOW died Aug. 7 at 78. He is survived by his wife, Joann; daughter, Karen; sons, Stephen (AnnSofie) and Anthony (Kimberly); stepdaughters, Robin (Leslie) Stevens and Toni Schuster; seven grandchildren; and brother, Norman (Carole). Mount Sinai

ROSE MENDELSOHN died Aug. 7 at 92. She is survived by her nephew, Robert Horowitz; and nieces, Eleanor Horowitz and Myra Lax. Hillside

ELI MIDLER died May 16 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Betty; children, Sheri, Karen, Jackie and David; and eight grandchildren.

POURAN MOGHAVEM died Aug. 8 at 68. She is survived by her husband, Ehsan; and daughters, Catherine Cahen, Roya Hekmat, Ramesh Levi, Nazanine Shamsian, and Chehreh Soleimani. Malinow and Silverman

ABRAHAM CARL PRESSER died Aug. 7 at 84. He is survived by his wife, Kitty; daughters, Bobbi Presser and Jan (Alan) Raphael; four grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and brother-in-law, Andrew Perlmutter. Hillside

PHILIP RAFF died Aug. 8 at 84. He is survived by his friends. Hillside

DEVORA ROSENBLUM died Aug. 3 at 68. She is survived by her husband, Sherman; son, Greg; daughters, Cheryl Honig and Sandra; two granddaughters; sisters, Rose Goldsteen and Sharon Specktor; and brothers, Burton (Shirley) and Philip (Patricia Kenton) Politz. Malinow and Silverman

RONALD ROYS died Aug. 4 at 70. He is survived by his wife, Marjorie; daughters, Mindy Stein and Alissa; two grandchildren; brother, Richard Roys; and sister-in-law, Barbara Mahler. Hillside

IRVING SACKS died Aug. 7 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Jean; son, Neal; daughters, Joy Lynn Rotkin and Pamela Bouganim; and five grandchildren. Groman

MORRIS SCHWARTZ died Aug. 7 at 69. He is survived by his son, Michael (Brandie); and daughter, Jennifer (Joel) Harris. Hillside

LOUIS SEGAL died Aug. 8 at 88. He is survived by his daughters, Anne (Philip) Klahr and Frances (Michael Friedson); and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

RUTH ELIZABETH SERBER died Aug. 8 at 93. She is survived by her son, Ron (Corliss) Willins; and daughter Barbara Willins. Hillside

ROBERT STEINMAN died Aug. 7, at 88. He is survived by his sons, Gary (Jane), Alan (Dallas Powers), David (Lydia) and Howard (Diedre); six grandchildren; sister, Ruth Blumberg; sister-in-law, Aviva Steinman; companion, Litzie Friedman; and many nieces and nephews. Mount Sinai

MARTHA WALFORD died Aug. 16 at 81. She is survived by her sons, Peter (Bruce Rudy) Walford and Morgan (Michelle); and daughter, Lisa. Mount Sinai

DAVID CARL WEINSTEIN died Aug. 5 at 42. He is survived by his sister, Ellen. Hillside

SARA WINER died Aug. 3 at 89. She is survived by her son, Burton; daughter, Helene; three grandchildren; and great granddaughters, Paige Sexton and Megan Cobble. Hillside

DR. ELIOT WOLK died July 20 at 96. He is survived by sons, Sheldon(Helaine) and Dr. Roger (Marilyn); four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Groman

IRVING SAMUEL ZALMA died Aug. 8 at 69. He is survived by his wife, Sylvia; son, Jacques; daughters, Juliette (Jim) McKenzie, Marlyne and Carolyn; four grandchildren; mother, Sarah; brother, Barry (Thea); sister, Starr (Joe) Rofe. Malinow and Silverman

FREDA ZEGMAN died Aug. 7 at 86. She is survived by brother, Harry Kleiman; and sister, Olive Sugar. Groman

FRADELLE ZOLOT died Aug. 6 at 88. She is survived by her daughters, Carol (Ron) Harris, and Lauren (Rollie) Younger; three grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and sister, Abigail Cohen. Mount Sinai

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Public Reactions Are Strong to A Personal Journey


Los Angeles photographer Naomi Solomon capped off her informal summer presentation series “Settlers: A Photographic Journey of the Life and Disengagement of the Jews Living in Gaza” at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills last week, drawing more than 150 people.

Her evocative slide-show was a culmination of her personal explorations of life in Judea, Samaria and Gaza that began with her initial visit in 2002 to the mixed secular-religious Judean outpost, Ma’aleh Rechavam, and continued through the Gaza disengagement of August 2005.

After months of post-production since her return to Los Angeles, Solomon created a show of 100 select photos, which she has presented largely to Orthodox synagogues in the L.A. area. However, she says her mission to portray the diversity, humanity and culture of settlers and settlement life through her photographs is far from complete.

“My focus now is to branch out of local synagogues,” Solomon told the Jewish Journal in a telephone interview.

Predicting a particularly strong anti-Zionist sentiment on campuses this year, she plans to secure speaking engagements at universities, as well as at Reform and Conservative synagogues. Synagogues of all streams, however, have sometimes been reluctant to host her, as they fear that her presentation is too “political,” a fear that Solomon attributes, in part, to her provocative title.

While in her presentation Solomon makes clear her stance against unilateral withdrawals, she asserts that her aim is to “share her experience” rather than her political opinions.

“My goal is to unravel a human story within a political tornado,” she said.
Her photographs range from romantic scenes of settlers building homes, tilling land, playing guitar and surfing on the Gaza coast, to the more emotion-packed scenes of settlers protesting and soldiers evacuating settlers and demolishing their homes.

Solomon cannot say with any certainty that the recent war in Lebanon has drawn more interest in her work, although she believes her presentation is already changing perceptions. At the end of the recent show at Nessah, which climaxed with the image of the gates of Gaza closing, many congregants were tearful and the hall was silent. She related that on several occasions audience members came up to her afterward and retracted their support for the disengagement.

Rosenbergs’ Granddaughter Tackles Washington ‘Hill’


What do you do for an encore when your first work is a powerful, heart-wrenching documentary about the life of your notorious grandparents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg?

The Rosenbergs were executed for spying for the Soviet Union in June 1953. Their personal story was told 51 years later by their granddaughter, Ivy Meeropol, in the powerful 2004 documentary, “Heir to an Execution.”

Ivy Meeropol
Now the 36-year-old filmmaker has followed her ground-breaking and very personal film with a six-part cinema verite-style political series, “The Hill,” which begins airing on the Sundance Channel on Aug. 23. It gives viewers an unprecedented look into what goes on in the office of Florida Jewish Congressman Robert Wexler and the way in which his young staff dictate his actions.

At the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Spa in Pasadena, Meeropol talked easily about her new film, in which she takes a “fly-on-the-wall” approach capturing the behind-the-scenes intrigue and intimacies of the office of the Democrat Wexler, who is a strong supporter of Israel.

Meeropol lives on the East Coast with her husband, Thomas, a production designer in films and commercials, and their 15-month-old son, Julian. She is the first to admit that it was the emotionally stirring documentary about her grandparents that was instrumental in persuading the congressman to allow her and her all-seeing cameras into his inner sanctum.

Meeropol said she discovered her love of politics after working in Washington as a legislative aide and speech writer for Democratic Rep. Harry Johnston, Wexler’s predecessor.

“It makes sense that I would want to do ‘The Hill.’ I was feeling some nostalgia for my time in Washington,” she said. “I loved working there. And I was always amazed that people really don’t know what goes on. They don’t know that it’s all these very young people who are advising members of Congress — for better or for worse — on how to vote. It’s a compelling story.”

Wexler and his team gave her the green light after viewing “Heir to an Execution.”

“They all felt I had dealt with the subject very sensitively and I wasn’t someone who would exploit things,” Meeropol said. “And they quickly forgot that I was in the room with a camera. Since I had worked in the same capacity as some of the people you see in the film, I was able not just to gain access but tell the story in a way that others wouldn’t be able to do.”

The first episode, set in November 2004, focuses on Wexler’s support for the Kerry-Edwards presidential ticket. He and his staff go to a Boca Raton temple — along with actor Mandy Patinkin — to try to sell a “why I trust John Kerry on Israel” message to voters. Wexler discusses attending an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference and refusing to deliver a soft speech. But all of his staff are utterly devastated when Kerry loses.

Wexler, his foreign policy adviser, Halie Soifer, and his staff come across loud and clear on their strong support of Israel, their opposition to Supreme Court nominee John Roberts and President Bush’s Iraq policy — although Wexler originally supported the war.

Meeropol, an open, friendly young woman talked enthusiastically about her new film series, as well as her pedigree. While she had come to Pasadena to talk about “The Hill,” the conversation inevitably turned to “Heir,” her critically acclaimed film that humanized but didn’t lionize the grandparents she never met.
That first documentary gave her career as a fledgling moviemaker a huge boost. It was the calling card the young filmmaker needed, but it came with some built-in insecurity.

“I was essentially elevated immediately to the status of successful filmmaker on my first one out of the gate, and I wondered if that had more to do with who I am — that kind of celebrity status that came with it — or was it a good film as I thought,” she said.

Though she didn’t start out life to be a documentary filmmaker, her future was almost dictated by her history.

“I had been grappling with the story of my family for years as a writer, trying to figure out what I would contribute that would really demonstrate what I would have to say about it,” she said.

The documentary idea evolved, she said, “in part because I realized there were people out there who knew my grandparents who weren’t going to be around much longer. I knew if I didn’t get these people’s stories, then they were going to be gone, and I’d never forgive myself. So that’s how it started.”

After her grandparents were arrested during the height of the Cold War, the ensuing scandal stunned and rocked Jews in America. Her father, Michael, was only 7 when his parents were arrested, and he and his 4-year-old brother, Robert, soon discovered that their relatives didn’t want to have anything to do with them. In 1957, the boys were legally adopted by Anne and Able Meeropol, who were not related to the family.

Growing up, Meeropol said, “We were quite cultural Jews, not religious, very secular. Passover was the only Jewish holiday we celebrated, because it was kind of cultural, historic. So we had seders. But I was never bat mitzvahed. Ironically, though, I’m very identified as a Jew because of the Rosenbergs. You can’t get rid of it. You’re Jewish royalty, even though my mother is a Lithuanian-Irish Catholic,” she said with a laugh.

The fly-on-the-wall approach to “The Hill,” she said was a direct result of the personal nature of her first film.

“I wanted to do something very different,” she said. “I wanted to do the political series as pure verite as possible.”

Meeropol now says she feels comfortable about revisiting other periods of her life.

“I worked as a nursing assistant at a nursing home because my other grandfather, Abel Meeropol [who died at 78 when she was a freshman at college], ended up in a home suffering from Alzheimer’s.

She visited him regularly and said she wanted to work in the home to make sure her grandfather was well cared for: “I had no idea what that really entailed. They were so desperate for nurses’ aides they hired me without any experience, and I was thrown right into that.”

Now Meeropol said she’s interested in making the nursing home experience the topic of her next film.

“I’d like to tell the story about life in a nursing home — focusing more on the people who work there,” she said. “It’s a very contemporary issue, and more and more people are going to have to deal with it. It’s a fascinating world — just like ‘The Hill.'” l

Ivor Davis writes for The New York Times and Los Angeles Times syndicates.

Dear Mr. Sensitive


Jokes survive on the Internet like Styrofoam in a landfill. Perhaps you’ve already read these “Actual Personal Ads in Israeli Newspapers”:

  • Professor with 18 years of teaching in my behind wants American-born woman who speaks English very good.
  • 80-year-old bubbe, no assets, seeks handsome, virile Jewish male under 35. Object: matrimony. I can dream, can’t I?
  • Sensitive Jewish prince whom you can open your heart to. Share your innermost thoughts and deepest secrets. Confide in me. I’ll understand your insecurities. No fatties, please.

dlsaltzberg@gmail.com.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Donation Match


Call him a personal shopper, a matchmaker or a boutique investment adviser. However he is described, Joseph Hyman is trying to chart a new course in the world of Jewish philanthropy. A longtime Jewish organizational professional and fundraiser, Hyman last year launched the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy (CEJP) to support and advise philanthropists who are considering major gifts to Jewish and Israel-related causes.

Hyman acts as the middle man between donors and organizations, working with philanthropists to understand their particular interests, then he hits the pavement to locate worthwhile organizations that meet their philanthropic requirements.

The center’s goal is simple: to attract dollars to Jewish groups that might otherwise have gone elsewhere.

“If successful, we believe that CEJP will help to create a new paradigm in Jewish giving,” said Hyman, who is going public about his organization for the first time. “One that empowers and inspires a new generation of philanthropists to participate because they want to, not because they have to.”

His endeavor comes at a time when wealthy American Jews make a disproportionately high number of large gifts in United States but overwhelmingly make them to non-Jewish institutions. It also comes as philanthropists are increasingly looking to have a say in exactly where their dollars go.

The approach seems to be working.

Since its launch 19 months ago, the center already has facilitated more than $10 million in philanthropic donations to Jewish and Israel-related causes. Recipients include some well-known projects, such as Birthright Israel, which provides free, 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. They also include some lesser-known ones, including Meshi, a center in Israel offering the parents of special-needs children a break from child care, and Project Kesher, a group devoted to Jewish education and advocacy for women in the former Soviet Union.
“CEJP is revolutionary,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president and founder of The Israel Project, which has received two six-figure, multiyear commitments from donors working with the center.

“What it is doing,” she said, “is taking the desires of the philanthropists to heart and saying, ‘What is the outcome that you want? What is the investment that you want to make so that you can make positive change? And what’s the most cost-effective, reliable way to achieve those goals?'”

“There are people out there who are not giving to the level that they’re capable of giving,” said Adam Frieman, a longtime investment banker on Wall Street and a financial sponsor of the new center, said, Some portion of that group would give meaningfully more if somebody were able to connect with them on a personal level and make the giving personal.”

Hyman hopes that his efforts to eliminate much of the work involved in finding worthy causes will attract new dollars to Jewish groups.

“Beginning with the creation of Birthright about 10 years ago, it has been a core group of committed Jewish philanthropists who have challenged the community to move forward,” said Hyman, who stresses that his work is meant to complement that of the federations and other more traditional fundraising arms, not replace them.

“We are now beginning to see a new generation of megadonors emerge whose support is crucial to our future.”

The center today is working with nine North American philanthropists, including real estate developers, senior management of Fortune 500 companies and hedge fund managers, according to Hyman. And while all have donated to Jewish causes before, some now are giving at a much higher level.

Hyman likens the philanthropists “to world-class athletes who, with the proper support and coaching, can become Olympic gold medalists.”

Donor-advised funds are not new, say philanthropy insiders, and in fact have become increasingly popular over the last number of years in Jewish philanthropic circles.

However, said Sue Dickman, executive vice president of The Jewish Communal Fund, which facilitates and promotes charitable giving through donor-advised funds, the center is doing something different.

“What we do and what other donor-advised funds do is simply facilitate people’s philanthropy,” she said. “We don’t provide advice and input into the direction of their philanthropy. What Joe does is help people think strategically about their philanthropy and maximize the input that they can have.”

Other Jewish groups, notably the Jewish Funders Network, offer some donor advice. And several organizations are doing similar work in the general philanthropic world – among them the Wealth and Giving Forum, Rockefeller Advisory Services and the Philanthropic Initiative in Boston.

The center is also seen as attractive because it is supported by investors and does not charge for its work. Donors say that for this reason, they feel the group’s advice is objective.

“We felt that he could offer us something that we needed” because Hyman is “not connected to any particular organization but very well connected in the greater Jewish community both here in the U.S. and in Israel,” said the administrator of a private family foundation in the Chicago area, who requested anonymity for reasons of privacy.

Nearly two years ago, shortly before the center was launched, Hyman sat down with a Chicago-based private investor Robert Sklare to chat about philanthropy. They spent about 10 hours talking, Sklare said, discussing the Jewish philanthropic interests he and his wife, Yadelle, shared, the areas that got them excited and the problems they hoped to help solve. Then Hyman got to work tracking down a series of organizations that fit their bill.

Several did. In fact, Sklare said, since then, he’s donated a “substantial” amount of money to Israel-related organizations – certainly more than he’d have given had he never met Hyman.

He has since funded, among other groups, Birthright Israel; Karev, an after-school enrichment program for inner-city youngsters in Ashkelon, and Meitarim, a group of pluralistic schools that attempt to bridge the gap between religious and secular students.

According to Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, general philanthropy has nearly doubled in the last decade, and the growth of Hyman’s center reflects that trend.

“I think we’re going to see more and more different kinds of approaches to specialize it, make it more strategic, capture it,” he said. “This is the first one that is specifically aimed at Jewish philanthropy.”

Still, asked if this sort of philanthropy is the wave of the future, Solomon demurred.

“It’s hard to know what would have happened had CEJP not been there,” he said. “Would that money have gone to different Jewish organizations? To general charities? Would it have been given at all? While helping to direct millions of dollars is very impressive, it’s hard to know what would have happened had it not been there.”

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, said that Michael Steinhardt, a megadonor to Jewish causes, was not initially convinced about Hyman’s efforts, but after he demonstrated that “he had a little bit of a track record, Michael became a funder.”

“I think it’s very significant,” Greenberg said of Hyman’s approach. “My guess is that this has not only got legs, but that this is the wave of the future.”

Letters to the Editor


War Is Not the Answer

To the well-meaning Rachel Ben Dor and like-minded people who think war is not the answer (“War Is Not the Answer,” July 21), consider this: On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese raided our naval base at Pearl Harbor.

I remember the date because it was just before my 15th birthday. The response of the United States to this one attack was to make all-out war on the Japanese, destroying their infrastructure (to say the least!). It culminated with dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities. Was this an overreaction? Should there have been a cease-fire negotiated between the parties and a diplomatic solution sought (such as the infamous Munich agreement of 1938)? Maybe we could have avoided war by ceding the Philippines to Japan.

Marshall Giller
Winnetka

I couldn’t agree more with Rachel Ben Dor’s “War Is Not the Answer” in your July 21 issue. Israel should no more want to fight fanatical enemies for whom beheading captives and blowing up buses full of children is the highest expression of idealism than the Allies should have fought the equally peaceful Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Rabbi Josh Grater

How ironic that in an issue of your paper where the supporters of Rabbi Jacob Pressman placed a full page response to the ad hominem attack on him by a purported Orthodox Jew, and in which the concepts of lashon hara, bearing false witness and other violations of Jewish law were explained, Rabbi Grater chose to use his Torah Portion to call President Bush a liar and mount a political attack. He already did that in his letter to the editor — but he nonetheless decided that a double hit in a single issue was needed. You have several sections devoted to op-ed type pieces.

The fact that WMD were not located does not mean that Bush knew that at the time we invaded. In fact Colin Powell has made the case clearly that faulty evidence may have been used. That does not a liar make…

At a time when our future as a nation is at stake we need to be loyal and grateful to our friends. And the page devoted to Torah should not be used to advance political agendas. There are several important and inspiring themes in the portion that could have been chosen instead and which would not have been offensive.

Selwyn Gerber
Beverlywood

Ed. Note: Rabbi Joshua Grater’s letter was written and received before Hezbollah attacks provoked an Israeli response. We regret the confusion.

Cover Photo

Thank you for the cover picture of the Israeli soldiers praying (July 21). It was your best yet. Even Rob Eshman’s column was positive. I hope the trend will continue.

S. Alpert
North Hollywood

Jewish Republicans

Last week (July 21), the Jewish Republicans sponsored a full-page ad in The Jewish Journal lauding and thanking George Bush for his support of Israel. They ought to be ashamed.

Support for Israel transcends party politics. We all stand together in our efforts to insure that Israel will survive. To reduce our solidarity of opportunistic party politics is sleazy. As they did after Sept. 11, Republicans are taking an issue about which we should stand together and dividing us into camps, politicizing what should be a cause that unifies all of us.

We Americans, Jew and gentile, Republican and Democrat, stand with Israel. Let us not weaken this support by promoting fragmentation.

Dr. Allan Pogrund
Huntington Beach

Ha’Am at UCLA

This past week I came across Julie Gruenbaum-Fax’s article of June 30 and caught mention of her work at Ha’Am, UCLA’s Jewish newsmagazine (“It’s Personal, It’s Family and It’s Me”).

I was saddened, although not entirely surprised to see her refer to the publication as dormant. In May 2003, The Jewish Journal printed an article announcing the return of Ha’Am to print after four years on the Internet alone. Now, three years later, the mission of Ha’Am remains the same, to allow for a Jewish student voice on campus, but dwindling student interest and a decreasing advertising base coupled with budget cuts experienced by UCLA’s student media has made it increasingly difficult to go to print. However, with the continued dedication of a small, but hardworking staff, Ha’Am has kept its place on campus and is certainly not extinct.

Hopefully, a continued following and support of the campus and Los Angeles Jewish communities will help Ha’Am back to its former glory at UCLA.

Moshe Moskovitz
Editor-in-Chief
Ha’Am

Los Angeles Apartheid

Apartheid is alive and well at Sinai Temple. As a 38-year-old woman, it is unsettling to know that in less than a year I will no longer be welcome at Friday Night Live. The sweet little 23-year-old bouncers manning the door at the “ATID Lounge” are certainly only pawns at the hands of Sinai’s “Leadership” committee. I was surprised that they were not asking for identification cards at the entrance.

Since Rabbi [David] Wolpe and Craig Taubman are certainly over 39, I’m wondering why they are still running the service.

You might answer me by saying that the 20-something women were tired of being “hit on” by 50-year-old men, and action needed to be taken. We have all been approached by those we are not interested in, and dealing with that is part of growing up.

It is horrifying to me that such a policy of exclusion is accepted in the L.A. Jewish community

Separate but equal was abolished by the government, but it apparently is being encouraged in Westwood.

Name held on Request
Westwood

Converts

It is unfortunate that Laura Birnbaum’s friends have had to experience discrimination from a people whose religion they have fallen in love with (“Converts’ Hardships Expose Truth,” July 7) . It is, however, somewhat comforting to know that this is not an attitude that is common across the board and that there are people who are ready to embrace newcomers to our religion with love and encouragement.

Josh Cohen
Los Angeles

How YOU Can Help Israel; Electronic Devices


How YOU Can Help Israel

Kids in Los Angeles can send letters to kids in Israel by e-mailing elka1@jdc.org.il. The letters will be printed out and inserted into “care packages” that are beng sent out to families in shelters in Northern Israel. When you send an e-mail, include your name, age and address.

  • In addition to expressing support, you can write about whatever it is that you, as kids, like to talk about.

  • Ask that the children e-mail or mail you back.
  • It is important that spelling and grammar are correct (have an adult or older sibling read it first), otherwise it can be difficult for the Israeli children to understand.

Remember: Tikkun olam comes in all shapes and sizes.

Kein v’ Lo: Electronic Devices

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. This month’s Kein v’ Lo (yes and no) is about personal electronic devices. Are kids spending too much time on iPods, PSPs and cellphones?

The Kein Side:

  • The obesity rate among children is growing because many are sitting down (or standing still), playing games on their PSPs and texting their friends via their phones and not getting enough exercise.

  • A lot of kids listen to their iPods all the time — even in public — and are not learning to how to interact with people. The headphone volume could also cause many of them to have hearing problems.

The Lo Side:

  • Kids are learning to be technologically savvy — skills that are very important for doing homework and will later be used to get good jobs.

  • By texting their friends and talking on cellphones, kids are socializing all the time. Playing games on PSPs keeps minds sharp because players have to constantly think. Some teachers even use iPod podcasts (streaming video or audio) as learning tools for class.

Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to Kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Pages & Picks

Shabbat candles you don’t have to light? A shofar you can drop and it won’t break? A pyramid that you can build without breaking a sweat? Impossible you say! Not so with Joel Stern’s “Jewish Holidays Origami” (Dover Publications, $5.95). In addition to the step-by-step craftmaking, the book includes background on eight holidays — as well as on the objects for that holiday. And because the crafts come in beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, younger kids can make a siddur, while the older ones create a Torah scroll. And the best part? No messy glue — although parents might want to check to see that kids’ report cards don’t turn into a paper hamantaschen.

Cover Story


From: "Joel Bellman" Date: Thursday, July 20, 20068:39 AM Subject: An Open Letter to Ramona RipstonFriends:I thought you might be interested in seeing the followingletter, which I sent today.Joel Bellman*****************************************Ramona Ripston, Executive Director ACLU of SouthernCalifornia 1616 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

Dear Ramona:I write with a heavy heart, as a long-time ACLU member ofmore than 30 years' standing, to express my most profounddisappointment and strenuous disagreement with the ACLU ofSouthern California's decision to honor Salam Al-Marayatiwith a "Religious Freedom" Award at this year's upcomingGarden Party on September 10http://www.aclu-sc.org/Events/101851/. I'm not sure when heand MPAC would legitimately deserve such recognition, but itmost certainly is not a time when MPAC is falsely blamingIsrael for defending herself in a two-front war launchedwithout provocation by Islamic terror organizations with thesupport and sponsorship of two rejectionist Islamic nations.As a consequence, this will be the first ever Garden Partythat I intend to boycott, and I will urge all of my friendsto do the same.I've known Salam personally for nearly 20 years. Underordinary circumstances, I can tolerate his posturing onMPAC's behalf as the voice of "moderate" Islam, although hisactual political positions are scarcely distinguishable(except in tone) from those of most of the anti-IsraeliMuslim world. Today, Israel finds herself under fiercemilitary attack across two internationally recognizedborders by guerrillas from Hamas in Gaza, and from Hezbollahin Southern Lebanon. In both cases, Israel had unilaterallyrelinquished territory (even dismantling settlements andevicting Israeli citizens), and watched while free anddemocratic elections welcomed violent extremists into thepolitical fold, and in Gaza even put them in charge. Andthen, rather than moderating their behavior and assuming theresponsibilities of civilized governance, these groupsinstead took the opportunity to mobilize and mount armedassaults that killed and captured Israeli militarypersonnel.The inevitable and entirely predictable military responsehas called down terrible death and destruction throughoutthe Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon, bringing ruinto large portions of a nation that sought no war withIsrael, but which has been effectively hijacked byextremists supported and controlled from Syria and Iran.The blood is entirely on their hands, yet when even Arabnations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were able, atleast initially, to recognize and condemn Hezbollah'saggression, MPAC has once again laid the blame squarely atIsrael's doorstep. In a July 16 communiquehttp://www.mpac.org/article.php?id=378 MPAC willfullydistracts us from the real issue by asserting, "Regardlessto the role of Iran and Syria in this conflict it isillegitimate for pro-Israeli sympathizers to skirt fromIsrael's responsibility for escalating the level of fightingwithin the region," and then for good measure makes apositively Orwellian bid for spin control by adding that"MPAC also calls upon all those who are engaging in ananalysis of the current situation to cease the use ofIslamic terminology to explain this very clearly politicalnarrative."In a July 19 communiquehttp://www.mpac.org/article.php?id=380 MPAC calls on "allpeople of conscience" to oppose a congressional resolutionin support of Israel and instead "to demand an immediate andunconditional ceasefire and condemn the continued Israeliaggression against the Palestinian and Lebanese people." Init Salam is quoted as saying, "We must make our voices heardin order to do all that we can to bring an end to thismerciless round of violence, and to restore the sanctity ofall civilian life."Not a word, of course, about the culpability of Hamas andHezbollah, not to mention Iran and Syria, in fomenting andexacerbating this crisis. Last Friday, Hezbollah leaderSheik Hassan Nasrallah blustered, "You Zionists, you wantedan open war and you will have it." Today, Hezbollah'sapologists are pleading for relief and rescue from thecalamity it brought down upon itself, but it is universallyrecognized that any ceasefire leaving Hezbollah's weaponsand warmaking capacity intact would be merely setting thestage for a future attacks and ongoing suffering andcivilian casualties on both sides.Salam's statements are perfectly consistent with MPAC's,CAIR's (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and otherMuslim propagandists' post-9/11 efforts to recast the globalstruggle against radical Islamic terrorists as somehowhaving little or nothing to do with Islam per se, when intruth it has everything to do with Islam in its mostvirulent and dangerous form. We are meant to believe this issimply one more post-colonial liberation struggle, like somany others long sentimentalized by the Left -one in whichIslam plays at best an incidental part - rather thanproperly recognizing it as the epicenter and flash-point ofradical Islam's war on the West, war on modernity, and evena nihilistic war against itself.It is particularly repellent to me that not only Salam, butRabbi Beerman and Rev. Regas are similarly to be honoredwith this award - when all three recently participatedtogether in the farce of MPAC's " Interfaith Vigil to Endthe Occupation" following the initial attacks on Israel. Toreiterate: Israel no longer occupied Gaza or SouthernLebanon. Free elections had been held, after which Israelwas attacked first from those territories withoutprovocation. And amid all the crocodile tears shed by MPACover civilian casualties, it is Hamas and Hezbollah whosecrete their weapons and mount their rocket and missileattacks from within civilian neighborhoods, using thePalestinian and Lebanese populations as both willing andunwilling "human shields," and who target civilian, notmilitary, areas inside Israel.Hezbollah and its sponsors have put civilians on both sidesof this conflict squarely in harm's way - and yourprospective honorees have turned the situation on its headto cast the principal victims as the aggressors. At thiscritical juncture, these three are those whom the ACLU ofSouthern California has seen fit to honor in the name ofreligious freedom? For shame, Ramona. For shame.In frustration and sorrow,Joel BellmanSubject: RE: No Honor for MPAC's Al-Marayati Date: Thu, 20Jul 2006 12:38:30 -0700 From: "Bellman, Joel" To:Elizabeth -I will look forward to that. I've been getting anunbelievably enthusiastic response from everyone to whom Ihave sent it (virtually all on the Left).Back in 1978, she kindly took the time to write me a verythorough two-page personal letter attempting to defend theACLU's position on the Nazi Skokie march, which as you knowcost the ACLU many members (including me for a couple ofyears, as I think you and I once discussed). That said, Iwas disappointed that she focused relentlessly on the issueof whether Nazis should have free speech rights, not on thespecifics of how they should be allowed to exercise them inthis unique situation - thus entirely missing the point,because I agreed with her that they should have thoserights. But for me, it was instead a time/place/mannerissue, and that didn't include a residential street whereHolocaust survivors would be forced to see uniformed Nazismarching past their front windows. I know the courtseventually agreed with the ACLU position (anyone can bewrong), but I objected to the way she mischaracterized theobjections that many of us had to the ACLU position.I mention all this because I will be very unhappy, again, ifRamona responds with boilerplate about the right to dissent,the need to maintain open dialogue, etc. etc. - and does notsubstantively address my objection to singling out forspecial honors this particular trio - and most especiallySalam and MPAC which he represents, when they are engagingin such an outrageous and disingenuous media blitz in themiddle of a terrible and entirely unnecessary shooting warwhere his constituency are clearly the aggressors.Of course they all have their rights to speak, which Icontinue to defend. I am explicitly objecting to the ACLU ofSo Cal decision to pay them special tribute in the midst ofthis deplorable propaganda campaign.Cheers,Joel

Feds Indict Suspect in Prison Murder of JDL’s Krugel


Almost nine months after the brutal prison-yard slaying of Earl Krugel, the longtime No. 2 man in the Jewish Defense League (JDL), federal authorities have indicted an inmate with no apparent ties to Krugel.

The suspect, David Frank Jennings, 30, allegedly attacked Krugel from behind with a piece of concrete hidden in a bag while Krugel was using an exercise machine at a federal prison in Phoenix.

The indictment, issued by a federal grand jury on July 19, offers neither details nor motive, asserting that Jennings “with premeditation and malice aforethought willfully kill[ed] and murder[ed] Earl Leslie Krugel.”

Jennings is the only person charged in the killing, which took place in plain view. Authorities contend that Jennings acted alone.

“He was the only one charged. There was no conspiracy,” said Ann Harwood, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix,
Authorities would say little else, including anything about the motive of the alleged killer, a small-time repeat offender with nothing in his rap sheet to suggest either this level of violence or any particular animosity toward the 62-year-old Krugel.

Krugel had been transferred to the Federal Corrections Institute (FCI) Phoenix, a medium security prison, just three days before the assault. To date, there is no indication that Krugel and Jennings knew each other.
“My husband was brutally murdered just a few days after he was sent to that prison,” Lola Krugel said. “He wasn’t there long enough to make any deadly enemies.”

At the time of the attack on Krugel, Jennings was serving a 70-month sentence at FCI Phoenix for a 2003 bank robbery in Las Vegas, which netted him $1,040. Because Jennings had threatened the teller during the robbery, authorities eventually extended his plea bargain sentence from 63 months to 70 months.

Jennings, who lived in Oregon before moving to Nevada, has multiple convictions, but court records reviewed by The Journal did not indicate any association with racist or anti-Semitic groups in or out of prison.

In 1993, Jennings was convicted in Oregon on an Assault III charge; a “class C” state felony, which resulted in an 18-month state prison sentence. In 1994 he was arrested and convicted for unauthorized use of a vehicle and sentenced to six months in jail. In 1995, a probation violation cost him another six months.

He had apparently moved to Nevada by 1996. That same year he was arrested and pleaded guilty to state charges of grand larceny and unlawful possession of a credit card, for which he received a sentence of 16 to 72 months in state prison.

Krugel was transferred to the Phoenix facility to serve out the balance of a 20-year sentence, following his negotiated guilty plea to conspiracy, weapons and explosives charges. The high-profile case against Krugel and the JDL involved an abortive bombing plot against possible targets that included a Culver City mosque and the field office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), an Arab-American of Lebanese descent.

A fitness fanatic, Krugel was using exercise equipment when he was blind-sided between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Nov. 4, 2005. Details of the assault did not emerge in previous reports; a review of the autopsy depicts a vicious attack.

His main injury was the initial blow to the back of his head, which crushed the left side of his skull and severely damaged his brain and brain stem. But his attacker also delivered multiple blows to Krugel’s skull, face and neck, according to the autopsy, which was performed by the Maricopa County medical examiner and obtained by The Journal. Krugel suffered multiple skull fractures, internal bleeding and multiple lacerations to his head, face and brain. The beating knocked out teeth and also fractured one of his eye sockets.
Krugel was pronounced dead at the scene.

His death marked the violent end, in prison, for both local leaders of an organization that advocated the use of violence, as necessary, in defending the interests of Jews. JDL head Irv Rubin died in 2002, at 57, from injuries he suffered after jumping or falling from a railing inside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. Authorities ruled Rubin’s death a suicide, though family members contested that finding. Krugel, a dental technician by trade, was Rubin’s longtime close friend and second-in-command.

Krugel and Rubin were arrested in late 2001. They were accused, in the months following the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes, of plotting violent revenge against Muslims and Arabs. No attack was carried out. Krugel spent four years in federal lock-up in Los Angeles. It was the resolution of his case, with the guilty plea to reduced charges, that landed him in Phoenix.

Lola Krugel said she’s relieved that someone has finally been charged in her husband’s murder. But she and Krugel’s sister, Linda, both expressed frustration and anger over the time it took to make an arrest, as well as the FBI’s unwillingness to share information with the family.

“He did it right there in the open,” said Lola Krugel, referring to the attacker. “There had to be witnesses and cameras. So why did it take so long for them to charge this man?”

The delay was not foot-dragging but a desire to get it right, said Patrick Snyder, assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of the criminal division in the Phoenix office: “Since the murder occurred in prison, we know the assailant is already in custody. So we’re not under the same kind of time pressure to make an arrest that we are when a killer is still at large.”

Lola Krugel filed a wrongful-death claim against the federal government in February, which has since been denied. The family says it’s now preparing to file a civil lawsuit. The rejected claim had asked for $10 million for personal injury and $10 million for Krugel’s wrongful death.

“It’s an ‘outrage figure,'” said family attorney Benjamin Schonbrun, a partner in the Venice-area firm of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris and Hoffman. “A figure to illustrate the outrage Lola Krugel feels over the murder of her husband, plus the anger she felt over her inability to get any information from the government.”

Israelis Bring Situation Close to Home for Campers


When news of Israel filters through to Camp Hess Kramer, the kids do what is only natural — they turn to the Israelis who are spending the summer with them to make sense of what they’re hearing, and to bring it home in a way that is intensely personal.

“Because my campers know actual Israelis, they can make that connection in a way that they can’t by just reading a news story or going through an intellectual exercise,” said Doug Lynn, director of Wilshire Boulevard Camps, which includes Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop, both in Malibu.

Like most camps, Hess Kramer, has a staff of Israelis who work as counselors and educators. This summer, 1,400 Israelis, most of them between the ages of 19 and 22, are staffing 200 Jewish day and sleep-away camps, according the Jewish Agency, which coordinates the stays.


Some Counselors Return to Israel

While no Israeli staffers have been called to active duty while already here for the summer, several who were close friends or family members of bombing victims went back to Israel.

In a normal summer, the Israeli staff’s mission is to bring Israel closer to the kids, and that has become more powerful this summer, as rockets rain down on Haifa in Israel’s north and pound Sderot in the south.

The Jewish Agency has been offering the shlichim, or Israel emissaries, programming ideas to help the kids understand the situation, and camps have modified and developed their own programs.

At Hess Kramer, kids took the opportunity to learn about the wider conflict in Israel and engage in informal conversations with Israeli staffers. At Camp Ramah in Ojai and at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, campers recited psalms and wrote letters to Israeli children in areas that were being attacked, an effort coordinated by The Jewish Federation. Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss will deliver the letters in Israel this week.

Younger campers can use the opportunity to talk about emergency preparedness, and in that way relate to Israeli children in bomb shelters, said Ariella Feldman, who coordinates Israeli volunteers for the Jewish Agency. Older children can dissect the intricacies of conflict resolution, on a personal level and on a magnified national level.


Anxiety Affects Campers, Too

But beyond these formal opportunities, it is simply feeling the anxiety and commitment of the young Israelis in camp that is affecting the campers.
At Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, the assistant director is from Haifa, and his mother flew in for the summer to be camp mom. The program director, a fighter pilot in the Israeli army, was supposed to arrive this week but was called up for duty. The camp has about 20 Israelis, including staff and some children.
The camps are all focused on providing comfort and support to the Israelis who are summering with them. Many are young and fresh off — or in the middle of — their own military duty, and have friends and siblings being called up to fight. Most know they will likely be called up when they get back to Israel.

Camps, normally stingy on allowing phone calls and access to electronic media, have allowed Israelis constant access to news and phone calls to Israel. Some camps have purchased phone cards for their Israeli staff.

Still, the Israeli counselors feel torn about where they are.

“Their families are under house arrest, they are stocking up on food, they are under attack — and they are here at camp,” said Feldman of the Jewish Agency.
Aside from the moral support they are getting from American campers, what is helping the Israelis is that this summer, the mission to educate and to personally touch American kids is even more vital.

“They are vacillating between feeling guilty about being here, and really understanding on a deep level why they are here,” Lynn said. “They are making these connections with Reform Jewish kids in a way that cannot be done unless they are here, so they are recognizing that at times likes these, their job here is even more important.”

Overcoming Germanophobia During the World Cup


It was more than six decades ago that the Germans were trying to kill me on a nightly basis. Every evening, my family and I would stand at the bottom of our garden in London and listen to the buzz bombs approaching.

Many were shot down, but many more pierced the defensive guns. And when those flying bombs — progenitors of the guided missile — ran out of fuel, they fell to earth, destroying houses, killing neighbors and turning streets into rubble. They whined, and then they were suddenly silent. It was that terrible silence that indicated they were about to drop.

During the heaviest bombardments, we would spend the night in the concrete shelter we’d built at the bottom of the garden. And this went on throughout the blitz.

Now more than 60 years later, I had finally plucked up enough courage to visit Germany for the first time. Once again, they tried to kill me, but this time it was with kindness.

I must admit that in countless trips to Europe, I had carefully avoided visiting Germany, having no desire whatsoever to see the Fatherland that had left me with such dark memories. But then came the summer of 2006, and as a football (soccer to you) devotee, I headed to Germany to cover the World Cup for a Southern California radio station.

At the airport, everything was ultramodern, well lit, clean, efficient — “Like a giant Ikea,” one of my companions quipped. All pretty run of the mill until my entry into Nuremberg.

I’m a dual citizen with U.S. and British nationalities, so when I travel in Europe I do so on my Euro-British passport. It’s less complicated.
Not this time. The German passport control officer smiled, took one look at my British passport and politely asked me to step into a private room, where I was confronted by two British policemen in uniform.

With thousands of British fans expected in Germany for the “fussball,” the police were ready. English soccer fans have been known to imbibe alcohol excessively and then behave in a most disorderly fashion.

Some 70 British police officers had been loaned to Germany for the duration of the World Cup to help the local cops identify and detain the names on England’s “1,000 most-wanted thugs” list, who were to be made decidedly unwelcome in the Rhineland.

A few minutes later the constables admitted I was not an “undesirable” and then politely sent me on my way. And so I headed into the medieval city of Nuremberg, whose name carries such freight for anyone who was around in World War II — and for Jews so much more.

Bavarian history is steeped in anti-Semitism. Hundreds of Jews were massacred in the 13th century. And in the 20th century, the Nuremberg name was placed on a restrictive set of laws that marked the beginning of the end of life and liberty for Germany’s Jews.

In the ’30s, it was the place where Hitler displayed his might to the world, the scene of his most fervent rallies — the Nazi national shrine where filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl captured the frenzied Fuhrer in her 1934 propaganda movie, “Triumph of the Will.”

It was also in Nuremberg that from 1945-1949 the most heinous war criminals had their day in court. Where the “I was following orders” henchmen — Hess, Ribbentrop, Goring, etc. — tried to defend their bestial behavior. And finally, it was also a city that was totally decimated by British and American bombers. Now it had risen from the ashes to act as a World Cup host city.

Here we were in a downtown area known as “The Fan Zone,” and on a gorgeous summer’s afternoon, thousands of young Americans strolled happily through the streets, their faces painted red, white and blue, wearing the Stars and Stripes as a cloak, with some dressed as Capt. America, George Washington and a handful sporting Nixon and Elvis masks.

It was as if I had walked into a bizarre fancy dress party — an unreal carnival as the fans marched through the streets chanting, “U.S.A., U.S.A.,” before the American team took on Ghana. (They lost, in case you didn’t hear.)

It was hard to realize that 70 years ago, these self-same streets were filled with strutting, swastika-clad Germans in a preamble to what turned out to be the bloodiest chapter of a bloody century.

This summer, the Germans were on their best behavior, acutely aware of the need to project the image of the new Germany — friendly, hospitable, open, tolerant — greeting all comers, no matter their race or color, trying their best to demonstrate that at last, Germany is a nation just like any other: little Germany, normal at last.

German flags hung from houses, shops and car windows. Germans unselfconsciously sang their national anthem before their games. Germans painted their faces in their national colors, just like the Americans, the Brits, the Portuguese and the French, and they appeared to be enjoying themselves extraordinarily with good spirits and a complete lack of über-nationalism.

A local journalist explained: “There is such a history with our flag. Before the World Cup if you had a flag in your window, it meant you were a right-winger, possibly even a neo-Nazi. This is the hot topic being discussed on local talk radio every day.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told The New Yorker that the World Cup had finally enabled Germany to “reflect a beautiful sense of normalcy.”
A Jew can visit Germany today without that nasty feeling that a greater percentage of the population here wishes him ill than in any other European country.

It was impossible not to share in the Germans’ newfound delight in their relaxed position in Europe and their new image in the world. Unlike their former ally, Austria, which has somehow managed to sell the world on the idea that it too was a victim of Nazism, rather than an enthusiastic participant, Germany has confessed its sins, made its mea culpas and paid its reparations to the victims worldwide and to Israel.

Germans have made an attempt to educate their children about their awful history in the last century, and they have the most stringent anti-hate laws in the world. Expressions of racism, supernationalism or discrimination are jumped on quicker here than in any other country in Europe, certainly more than France and more than England.

In 2006, Germany is a beautiful country with nice people. Go and enjoy. While Germany didn’t win the World Cup, it reached the semi-finals, quite an achievement. But a far greater one was to run a World Cup without serious scandal or unpleasantness and to show the world that Germans know how to have fun.

“We were so serious before,” a German fan told me before I left, “but now we’ve shown that we can party. And we’ve surprised the world.”

Museums and Memorials Can Be Found Across Nation

I had limited time to check out Jewish museums in Germany, but there are many. There are museums and memorials around the country in Frankfurt, Munich, Buchenwald, Dachau, Wannsee and Bergen-Belsen.

What should not be missed is the Jewish Museum in Berlin (www.jmberlin.com) at Lindenstrasse 9-14, which tells the entire history of Jews in Germany. The subterranean museum designed by American architect Daniel Libeskind, who was born in Poland and is the child of Holocaust survivors, offers a unique underground series of hallways that house the Axis of Death, the Axis of Exile and the Axis of Continuity, chronicling the history of Jews in 20th century Germany. It also offers rocking horses and crawl spaces for kids, and an exhibition of household goods and personal family photos supplied by survivors of pre-war Jewish families, along with recordings of the voices of Max Reinhardt and Albert Einstein.

During the World Cup, there was even a special tribute in the museum garden to Walther Bensemann, a German Jewish businessman who brought soccer to Germany. He died in l934.

The museum is closed for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Christmas Eve.
Back on the streets of Berlin you can wander everywhere with a Jewish cultural map in hand, pinpointing memorial sites, shuls and cemeteries. You can also simply be a normal tourist and partake of the goodies at Gabriel’s Heimisch Bakery and Cafe on Konstanzer Strasse, Bagels and Bialys on Rosenthaler or the Kosher Beth Cafe on Potsdamer Platz Arkaden on Alte Potsdamer.

Jamie McCourt Proves She’s an Artful Dodger President


Bougainvillea and vines curl around a pergola at the Bel Air Hotel’s outdoor patio restaurant, a lunch spot for Westside powerbrokers. It’s 10:30 a.m., and powerbrokers are scarce at this hour, except for Jamie McCourt, vice chairman and president of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who is seated under a canopy at a private table. She smiles when asked what humanitarian work she and her husband, Frank, have done to earn the Scopus Award, an honor from the American Friends of Hebrew University, which they will receive in a ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in December.

“You don’t think saving the Dodgers is enough?” she quips.

Indeed, she is right, for the Dodgers, a legendary name in professional sports, a franchise once associated with excellence on the playing field, stability in the front office and a commitment to progressive causes, most notably the breaking of baseball’s so-called color barrier, fell on hard times during the Rupert Murdoch era.

Perhaps the beginning of the Dodgers’ decline dates back farther, to that moment in 1987 when longtime Dodger executive Al Campanis, given multiple opportunities by Ted Koppel to atone for his ignorance, nonetheless continued to deny the leadership qualities of African Americans on “Nightline.”

The Dodgers went on to win the World Series in 1988, but the architect of that team, Fred Claire, another longtime company man who had replaced Campanis as general manager, later made a number of unpopular trades, such as dispatching young pitching phenomenon Pedro Martinez for the forgettable Delino DeShields. Claire and manager Bill Russell were ultimately fired by Murdoch, whose cable apparatchiks inaugurated their tenure by trading slugger Mike Piazza, a future Hall of Famer, for five players who do not play any longer for the Dodgers.

Since 2004, when the McCourts purchased the team from News Corp, the Dodgers have had a mixed record. They won their division that first year, though they lost in the first round of the playoffs. By the next year, they had parted with clubhouse leader Paul LoDuca, most valuable player runner-up Adrian Beltre and local hero Shawn Green, three players who were critical to the team’s first win in a playoff game since 1988.

After a dismal season last year, which culminated in the firing of neophyte GM Paul DePodesta, the severing of ties with manager Jim Tracy and the hiring of their respective replacements, Ned Colletti and Grady Little, the team has rebounded surprisingly well. Although Eric Gagne, who is out for the season, is the only player who has been with the ball club for as many as three years, the Dodgers have jelled better than might have been expected.

Colletti spent an active winter acquiring a strong group of veterans, including Rafael Furcal, Kenny Lofton and comeback player of the year candidate Nomar Garciaparra, who have combined with some productive rookies and holdovers like Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew to lead the team to a spot near the top of the National League West Division.

So, Jamie McCourt, an attractive, petite woman with blond hair and an easy smile, has every right to argue that in resurrecting the Dodgers she and her husband have performed a public service worthy of the Scopus Award.

McCourt, who as president of the Dodgers handles much of the club’s business side, as opposed to its baseball operations, once attended the Mount Scopus campus of Hebew University. A native of Baltimore, from the same neighborhood as filmmaker Barry Levinson, she is Jewish and has raised her four sons as Jews.
On this midmorning at the Bel Air Hotel, she wears a brown suede jacket over a white top, sporty attire that gives one the impression that she has just come from working out. In fact, she swims every day and typically climbs the stairs at Dodger Stadium instead of taking the elevator.

She may be remarkably slim, like one of the social X-rays in Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,” but she is also athletic and looks like she might have been a coxswain on the college crew team. That is befitting a woman whose husband, Frank, rowed crew at Georgetown, where they met.

Like Levinson’s characters in his Baltimore-set movies, she speaks with a spirited yet soft voice, but she doesn’t accentuate her double O’s as Danny DeVito did when pronouncing words like “food” in Levinson’s “Tin Men.” Despite her Baltimore lineage, she says she has not seen “Diner,” Levinson’s iconic film about her hometown, because she feared that Levinson “wouldn’t get the diner right.”

McCourt’s father, an appliance discount king, worked near that diner, and she fears that her own memory and her father’s experiences have not been honored accurately.

She has, however, picked up on her father’s sloganeering, which included the priceless couplet, “Jack, you know, will save you dough.” She utters one-liners almost effortlessly.

When Danish pastries are brought to the table, McCourt cracks, “It’s all health food.”

When she recounts her first trip to Israel, in which she traveled around the country for several months on a bus, a mode of travel she abhors, she says, “That cured me of touring.”

When asked about her avid swimming regimen, she says, “There’s no talking to me if I haven’t gone swimming.”

If she is quick with a quip, she is no “screaming meanie,” as L.A. Times sports columnist T.J. Simers refers to her.

“I never scream,” she says. “If you want to pick a nickname, at least pick one that’s true.”

Especially during the McCourts’ first year of ownership, the Times sports section for the most part depicted Jamie and Frank McCourt, the latter known by Simers as the parking lot attendant, as carpetbaggers who have little interest in or knowledge of Los Angeles, social climbers who lack the financial resources to run the team and public relations novices. More recently, Times columnist Bill Plaschke expressed mock distaste for their smooching in public.

Although McCourt and her husband have indeed kissed in public, the rest of the charges don’t appear so valid.

On the issue of funding, Jamie McCourt says that no solo purchaser in the history of Major League Baseball has spent as much money by himself in purchasing a team as her husband did in buying the Dodgers. Unlike Yankee honcho George Steinbrenner and owners of other teams, the McCourts purchased the Dodgers without partners, she says, a statement that is not completely accurate, in that News Corp was a “minor, noncontrolling partner” at the outset of the deal, according to the Boston Globe.

While the purchase price, anywhere from $421 million to $431 million based on reports, may be higher than that paid by any one individual for a baseball team, the McCourts borrowed heavily in order to finance the acquisition. The structure of the deal, in which the McCourts put up their South Boston real estate property as collateral and assumed significant debt, including a loan of more than $100 million from News Corp, led some to speculate that they were arbitrageurs looking to game the market and sell the property after a year or so.

Though such speculation may have been unfounded, there was no denying that the deal was highly leveraged. No less than Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College professor and authority on baseball economics, has stated that Major League Baseball likely waived its debt percentage rule for the McCourts. That rule would have required the McCourts to have at least a 50 percent equity stake in the team at the time of purchase.

Now, more than two years after the purchase, the financing seems more sound. Earlier this year, the McCourts sold News Corp the family’s prized 24-acre waterfront property in the Seaport District of Boston. That sale reportedly satisfied all of their financial obligations to Murdoch’s company.

This past winter, the team also invested roughly $45 million, according to McCourt, in renovating the stadium, putting in new seats and restoring the original color palette to the famed venue that the New Yorker’s Roger Angell once called the “pastel conch.” The Dodgers also acquired numerous free agents during the off season to boost its payroll to a competitive level.

Nor have the McCourts shied away from personal expenditures. They purchased a home and the adjacent property in pricey Holmby Hills and send their youngest of four sons to the elite Harvard-Westlake private school.

In short, they do not look like they are on the verge of bankruptcy or about to leave town, particularly since McCourt says she loves Los Angeles and all its diversity: “There are so many immigrant populations. It’s sort of the way New York must have been once. It’s a place of opportunity. Every day you wake up, it’s ‘today’s the day I’m going to succeed.'”

Oozing optimism, McCourt and her husband have taken a leadership role in Los Angeles and in the Jewish community, joining the Temple of the Arts, where they were recently named founding members, as well as many civic organizations like the Leadership Council of the Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles.

She cares deeply about literacy and education, holding a bachelor’s from Georgetown, a law degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She also studied at Hebrew University for a semester of law school and at the Sorbonne while she was in college.
“Education is the great equalizer,” she says. “Everyone should have a fair shot.”

With the Dodgers’ Dream Foundation, she has helped award college scholarships named after Jackie Robinson to minority youth.

She has also reached out to women in the community. The highest ranking woman in Major League Baseball, McCourt says that women comprise 40 percent of the Dodgers’ fan base. “The female consumer,” she says, ruminating for a moment, “is critical.”

To tap into that critical base, the team has created the Dodgers WIN (Women’s Initiative & Network). Last year, the team held four events for women in the community. This year, there will be 11 events, McCourt says, where women and teenage girls can learn about the game and receive baseball clinics from players and coaches on the Dodgers.

She says that second baseman Kent, often characterized by the media as being gruff, is “an ardent supporter of our women’s initiative.” She adds, “If you have 150 women between 18 and 34 gawking at you, who could complain?”

Despite such good cheer, not all women have enjoyed a welcome in baseball. One woman in the Dodgers front office, Kim Ng, a vice president and assistant GM, was insulted a few years ago by Bill Singer, a former Dodger pitcher who was at the time a broadcaster for the New York Mets. More recently, a San Diego Padres employee was criticized by Keith Hernandez, also a Met broadcaster and a former National League MVP, for being in the dugout.

If the atmosphere for women in baseball remains less than optimal, McCourt still sees opportunity for prospective distaff employees. She has added several women to the Dodgers payroll, including chief financial officer Cristine Hurley and Camille Johnston, head of communications.

“You don’t have to just be a statistician,” she says.

You can even be an owner like McCourt, who wanted to write her thesis at MIT on buying a ball club or a new ballpark. With Wall Street the craze at the time, she had to settle for writing about “naked short selling,” but her interest in baseball goes back to her childhood, when she played shortstop in games in her neighborhood: “I’d come home when I was 7 years old and announce that I was buying a baseball team and a camp.”

Of course, that mirrors her husband’s interest. Frank McCourt’s grandfather owned a piece of the Boston Braves. As Jamie McCourt says, a love of baseball is “in his blood,” all of which runs counter to the skepticism of some critics who said that the McCourts, with their real estate background, would raze Dodger Stadium and build condos.

While the McCourts are showing that they care for baseball and Los Angeles, Boston has not completely left them.

Jamie McCourt says that she has to leave for lunch. Who is she meeting? Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is in town and whom she knew back in Beantown.

When asked if it’s a fundraiser for 2008, she flashes a smile that suggests more than she’s telling, and then she strolls out of the posh surroundings for her next engagement.