Calendar Picks and Clicks: Feb. 25-Mar. 2, 2012

SUN | FEB 26

American Friends of Tel Aviv University holds mini-classes with renowned Tel Aviv University academics, including “Birds: The Middle East’s Peacemakers” with ornithologist Yossi Leshem, “Should You Know Your Genome?” with genetics professor Karen Avraham, “Human Rights in a Multicultural Society” with law professor Nili Cohen, “A Simple Blood Test to Detect Cancer (Really!)” with chemistry professor Fernando Patolsky, and “What Will the ‘Arab Summer’ Bring?” with Middle Eastern and African studies professor Uzi Rabi. Sun. 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. $54. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 553-5232.

The new exhibition by artists Lauren Evans, Carol Goldmark and Jamie Sweetman opens today. Their drawings, paintings and sculpture/installations draw on nature in unexpected ways. Today, the public is invited to a free “meet the artists” reception. Sun. Through May 18. Reception: 4-6 p.m. Regular gallery hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. (Sunday-Thursday), 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Friday). American Jewish University, Platt and Borstein Galleries, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777.

Clergy and scholars appear during tonight’s discussion, which seeks to break barriers between religious faiths. Participants, including IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous, the Rev. Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries, Muslim Public Affairs Council President Salam al-Marayati, Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw and Princeton University religion professor Jeffrey Stout, explore the interplay of cultures, peoples, and faiths in Los Angeles and beyond. Diane Winston, the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at USC, moderates. Organized by the UCLA Center for the Study of Religion, and co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies. Sun. 5-7 p.m. Free. UCLA, James Bridges Theatre, Los Angeles. (310) 206-1396.

TUE | FEB 28

Gabler, author of “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” is joined by a star-studded panel that includes actor-director Carl Reiner, Leonard Nimoy (“Star Trek”), Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Marta Kauffman (co-creator, “Friends”) and Philip Rosenthal (creator, “Everybody Loves Raymond”). Tue.  7 p.m. Free (Temple Israel of Hollywood members), $10 (general). Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. RSVP by Feb. 27. (323) 876-8330.

Satirist, writer and stand-up comedian Borowitz, editor of New York Times best-seller “The 50 Funniest American Writers: An Anthology of Humor From Mark Twain to the Onion,” dishes on politics and humor with the infamously witty stand-up comedian Oswalt, who recently authored, “Zombie Spaceship Wasteland.” Tue. 7:30 p.m. $20. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. writersblocpresents.

The Clippers play the Minnesota Timberwolves during Jewish Pride Night at Staples Center. An Israeli dance team performs at half time, and attendees receive a free T-shirt. GesherCity Long Beach, a young adults organization, provides discounted tickets. Tue. 7:30 p.m. $28 (GesherCity), $15-$1,500 (Ticketmaster). Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles.  (562) 426-7601 (GesherCity), (888) 895-8662 (L.A. Clippers).

The veteran Israeli hip-hop ensemble performs tonight at The Colony in Hollywood. Hadag Nahash blends Western pop influences, funk and world music. The group also leads a free interactive workshop—including informal acoustic demonstrations and a discussion on the group’s history, musical influences and engagement with social issues—at UCLA earlier in the day (1-2:30 p.m., visit for details). On Wednesday, Rutgers University Jewish studies professor Azzan Yadin discusses the use of the Hebrew literary canon in the band’s lyrics (noon-2 p.m., free, also at UCLA). Concert: Tue. 8 p.m. $20 (UCLA students), $40 (general), $100 (VIP). The Colony, 1743 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 525-2450.


Friends of Ma’aleh Film School screens three short films produced by the school, including “Barriers,” which took the top prize for best short film at the Jerusalem Film Festival, “A Jerusalem Tale” and “The Breakfast Parliament.” A panel discussion with Neta Ariel, Ma’aleh’s school director, as well as “Barriers” director Golan Rise, producer Ohad Domb and actor Hillel Kabub follows. Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman moderates. Co-sponsored by the Museum of Tolerance and The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Thu. 7-10 p.m. $10 (Museum of Tolerance members), $15 (general). Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2505.

Brides reflect: the most important takeaways for wedding planning

On my wedding day last fall, I was very nervous. My husband and I planned our celebration, to be held in Chicago, entirely on our own and all the way from Boston. We were also combining a Russian-Jewish family with a Sabra-Israeli family, and members of each took long flights to the U.S. for the wedding.

Needless to say, there were cultural and logistical difficulties from the start. Add to that the typical “Murphy’s Law” of weddings (our rabbi’s computer broke on the day, deleting all the notes he made for our ceremony)—and it was a stressful prologue to the big day.

While the actual wedding was ultimately a happy occasion, looking back, there were things I wish I had known or done differently to ease my stress during the planning stages.

JointMedia News Service decided to collect advice from a few brides to save future ones unnecessary angst. Follow their advice, and aside from potential technological glitches, your wedding day should be stress-free and extra special.

Hire a wedding planner: it will save you money

“We used a wedding planner, which I would highly recommend to other brides if you find the right one for you,” said Amy Beth Green Sayegh, an actuary from Chicago, Ill., who got married in August of 2010. Using the planner turned out to be cheaper, Sayegh said, because she was well acquainted with the vendor packages in the area, and knew how to get the biggest bang for the buck.

Sayegh saw the value of a planner’s experience first hand when she decided to select a photographer on her own. At their reception, the photographer wasn’t cooperative. He later refused to deliver on a promised photo-book and lost some of their pictures.

Make your friends and family more than just spectators…

Nurit Friedberg, a social worker from Cincinnati, Ohio, got married in June of last year. She said it’s important to involve both families in the celebration. “We accomplished this by inviting both of our rabbis to co-officiate…They were able to give us great advice on how to incorporate special details in the ceremony, such as my husband’s Zaidy’s tallit or my great-grandmother’s candlesticks.” For Friedberg’s ceremony, her grandmother wove the chuppah, her aunt created the ketubah, and family friends were involved in other aspects, such as playing the music. “Everything was more meaningful because it was created by someone we love,” she said.

Yael Mazor-Garfinkle married her husband in July 2011 in Lawrence, Mass., and asked a close friend from cantorial school to officiate their wedding. “She took our vision for our ceremony and transformed it into a communal celebration.” The wedding processional was sung by the bride’s sister, the groom’s aunt, and the officiator, and was accompanied by the groom’s uncle on guitar. The couple also asked seven sets of loved ones to read personally written blessings.

… but be prepared for the ensuing difficulties

Still, sometimes incorporating different families into one celebration, and ultimately one life, can be difficult. Sayegh’s husband is Sephardic and a son of immigrant parents from Syria and Egypt. Initially her in-laws were worried about losing their son and it took time for everyone to establish a good relationship. “One thing my mother kept repeating, starting very early on in the process, was that weddings bring out the worst in people…be prepared for that,” she said.
Remember, your wedding day is about YOU and your beloved; make it a day you will love
Alexander Polatsky and Inna Yalovetskaya from Phoenix, Ariz., got married in May of 2010 in an Orthodox ceremony, despite the fact that their families were mostly secular. “It was so hard to plan an Orthodox ceremony with parents who were so not into it. They knew nothing about it, they’ve never even seen one,” Yalovetskaya said. The bride’s mother found the experience especially stressful and weird, and had a minor emotional breakdown before the ceremony.

“We had a difficult time picking a rabbi who would want to do an Orthodox ceremony but would understand that the people would not be Orthodox and that the entire party hereafter would be held at La Mirage, which is a non-Kosher restaurant,” Polatsky also said. They also struggled to find an affordable kosher caterer to supply food just for those guests who require it.

At the end of the ceremony, the bride’s mother relaxed and decided she actually liked the wedding. “Make the wedding that you want to have for yourself and the one you want to remember. It’s ok if it’s the wedding that everyone else wants as long as it’s the wedding that you want.” At the same time “try to be nice and accommodating as possible because it supposed to be for the whole family,” Yalovetskaya said.

At my own wedding, everything ultimately came together into the most beautiful day of our lives. The rabbi somehow ad-libbed a wonderful chuppah ceremony, my parents got over “losing” their only daughter and I married my best friend.

As Sayegh beautifully said, “it’s your life together that’s important, and the marriage, not the wedding day.”

Thanks Anyway, But We’ll Plan Our Own Wedding

One of the first things I learned about wedding planning is that it’s not as easy as I thought it would be. Oh, I knew it would take time, money, teamwork and a slew of help from my family and friends, but what I never took into account was just how political the entire process would become. Having never been a big fan of politics — personal or otherwise — I was less than thrilled at this discovery.

More than my fiancé and I joining our lives together — as if there needed to be more — it began to feel like we were putting together our own political party. Everyone had ideas, thoughts, tidbits, traditions or lack thereof to contribute. A band or a DJ? Flowers or other centerpieces? A Conservative rabbi or a Reform one?

After a few weeks of “they want this,” “they suggested that,” “he loved this idea,” “but she wanted that idea,” my fiancé and I made a command decision that has kept each of us happy, smiling and sane (for the most part) throughout this process. We decided that we were planning this wedding, the wedding was not planning us.

We promised each other — and made it breaking-the-glass clear — that we were the only two people who mattered in the entire process. This was going to be our day and we were going to celebrate it in our way. Not to say that we were rude when other people voiced opinions, or plugged our ears shut when we heard someone say, “What I would do….” We were just honest with ourselves and each other about our feelings and what things were or were not important to us.

We decided that if people raised an eyebrow at a DJ instead of a band, then raise an eyebrow … we would be busy dancing. If someone looked at the centerpieces and wondered why we didn’t have flowers, they could wonder. We were not going to let other people’s opinions and ideas take over our special day.

So you won’t find me walking down the aisle to the usual wedding march, or the tried-and-true safe instrumental music. I’m picking a song that means something to me, and my fiancé is picking a song that means something to him.

My fiancé and I will not repeat vows; we are writing our own. I won’t have the veil on throughout the ceremony, I definitely will not be fasting the day of the wedding and we will not be separated from each other for a few days before. All of these traditions, though important to others, are not finding their way into our celebration.

The only thing that matters at the end of the day is that I will be married to him, my soul mate, best friend and absolute love of my life, and he will be married to me. Some people go through the wedding process and lose themselves in the color of the ribbon, the texture of the tablecloth and the scent of the roses, and they forget what it is that they are really doing. They are getting married, not just having a wedding. 

As I went to the post office this past weekend and dropped our invitations into the slot, I felt such a sense of accomplishment. Were the invitations individually crafted by a world-renowned calligrapher? Nope. They were personalized and ordered online, the labels were “mail merged” by yours truly and the entire process was done with a sense of love, commitment and happiness. Because at the end of the day a wedding is just one day of your life, while a marriage lasts forever. Our story began on July 15, 2007, and will be sealed in a ketubah (also purchased online) on May 31, 2009. As our invitations say, somewhere in the heart, deep in the soul, love finds a way to be forever….

Caroline Cobrin is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles and eagerly anticipating her wedding day. She can be contacted at {encode=”” title=””}

The high cost of dying

A traditional Jewish funeral is simple and not ostentatious good news for people concerned about the high cost of dying. But while Jewish law doesn’t require embalming, elaborate floral displays or 16-gauge metal caskets with tufted crepe interiors, it does require Jews to be buried in the ground. And that costs money.

“You have to be realistic. We happen to live in an area where even a small piece of real estate is expensive,” said Mark Hyman, senior rabbi at Tikvat Jacob in Manhattan Beach, who also serves as chair of the Funeral Practices Committee of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

But many Jews don’t want to be realistic when it comes to paying for funerals.

Perhaps it’s denial, a sign of reluctance to accept death, let alone finance it. Never mind that other lifecycle observances b’nai mitzvah and weddings, for instance come with concomitant costs.

Or perhaps it’s a fear of the potential ruses and abuses we’ve heard about in the funeral industry, many of them exposed in Jessica Mitford’s 1964 groundbreaking book titled, “The American Way of Death.”

Today, however, the funeral industry is highly regulated by both the federal and state governments many say as a result of Mitford’s book.

The “Funeral Rule,” stipulating how funeral professionals deal with consumers, was enacted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and put into effect in 1984. This has brought transparency to practices previously shrouded in secrecy; “Funerals: A Consumer’s Guide” is available online.

The Funeral Rule also requires funeral homes to give consumers who appear in person a detailed, printed list of merchandise and services, known as the “general price list.” If requested, a funeral home director must also quote prices over the phone. This allows consumers to more easily and accurately compare prices among funeral homes so they can select only those goods and services they want. Caskets and other items also must be allowed to be purchased from outside sources without incurring a handling fee.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Cemetery and Funeral Bureau’s “Consumer Guide to Funeral & Cemetery Purchase,” spells out state law. Although those laws are applicable to all mortuaries, they do not pertain to cemeteries operated by religious organizations. That booklet, too, is available online.

In Southern California, the Board of Rabbis’ Funeral Practices Committee works with clergy, funeral industry representatives and the Jewish community to set standards, address issues and, as best as possible, nurture “a sacred and positive spirit of cooperation,” according the committee’s mission statement.

To that end, the committee has set a standard honorarium of $500 for unaffiliated families to pay ordained rabbis for officiating at Jewish funerals. Hyman said it is meant to represent the “time, energy and commitment that a rabbi should be giving to a family.”

The committee is also looking into the status and condition of various distressed or closed local Jewish cemeteries, among other priorities.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to know what funerals generally cost. The national average cost of a Jewish funeral is not available, as the Jewish Funeral Directors of America keeps no records, according to executive director Florence Pressman.

And the national median cost of a funeral in America which according to the National Funeral Directors Association totaled $7,323 in 2006, without including the cost of a plot is not relevant, as it encompasses nontraditional Jewish items, such as embalming, viewing and metal caskets.

In Los Angeles, estimated costs for a traditional Jewish funeral range roughly from $3,500 to $4,500, including the casket but not the plot or the rabbi’s services. The price can be less, with package deals available through some mortuaries. But higher costs can also be easily incurred.

For example, a plain pine casket costs $700 to $900, while some all-wood caskets still considered traditional can exceed $12,000. And a customized nonkosher casket can top $30,000.

As for land, the price for a single plot can range from around $2,000 in some cemeteries to as high as $35,000. And the price of a large estate, depending on the number of spaces allotted, can go as high as a family wishes to spend, commanding as much as half a million dollars.

“It’s location, location, location,” Mount Sinai’s general manager Len Lawrence said.

Despite the familiar real estate refrain, however, it’s worth noting that what you’re buying is the right to inter not actual property. Plot prices do not fluctuate with downturns in the real estate market.

The cost of a plot, by law, also includes a certain percentage mandated for endowment care to ensure cemetery upkeep in perpetuity. That amount for ground plots a minimum of $2.25 a square foot, according to California’s Cemetery & Funeral Bureau, though cemeteries can collect more is monitored by the state, and only its earned interest can be spent on maintenance.

Some cemeteries, such as those owned by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary, are nonendowment care entities.

“Our cemeteries are older and more Orthodox,” said Yossi Manela, a Chevra Kadisha funeral director. “They’re more affordable, but they’re not for everyone.”

A burial vault is another expense that is often questioned. The container, which is usually made of cement and encloses a coffin, is not mandated by California law, but is required by many cemeteries to prevent the ground from settling and forming sinkholes and to facilitate maintenance. “Most cemeteries are referred to as memorial parks and have beautiful grounds. The vault allows for the park-like atmosphere,” said Ira Polisky, Eden’s family service manager.

To save money, some people buy plots from third-party sources. Plots offered for sale can be found in the newspaper classified ads including this newspaper as well as online, on sites like Craigslist and eBay. People sell plots because they decide to move, for example, or divorce and no longer want to share eternity. Or sometimes financial concerns force them to cash out.

Caskets also are sold through online distributors or retail stores. ABC Caskets Factory, for example, located in downtown Los Angeles, is a casket manufacturer and not merely an online store. The company offers same-day delivery to mortuaries within a 30-mile radius, accommodating families who are arranging next-day funerals in accordance with Jewish tradition.

“Our Jewish caskets are all ready. It’s no big deal,” said Isabelle Conzevoy, wife of owner Joey Conzevoy.

Online and retail sellers, however, are not regulated by the same federal and state laws that govern funeral establishments, though they are subject to state and local business laws.

However, a concern was voiced about third-party purchases. “But what do you do if the casket arrives dented or damaged?” asked Moe Goldsman, funeral director and mortuary manager at Sholom Chapels Mortuaries and Sholom Memorial Park.

For the indigent, the Jewish Community Burial Program, offered through Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, provides a traditional Jewish burial at no cost, with participating Jewish mortuaries and cemeteries donating many of their services. (The toll-free contact number is (887) 275-4537.)

“No one should have to make an un-Jewish and undignified choice because of cost,” Funeral Practices Committee chair Hyman said.

Additionally, some cemeteries, including Hillside and Mount Sinai, do not charge for the burial of a child. “The family has enough tzuris (trouble). They don’t need any more,” Mount Sinai’s Lawrence said.

Still, the fact is, sooner or later, all of us are going to deal with the reality and the expense of death.

“It’s part of our life experience. Death is really another chapter in our life and is to be treated with the utmost sanctity,” Hyman said.

Caves of Abraham, Mount Sinai Memorial Park, Simi Valley

Planning Ahead

Rabbis and Jewish community professionals have long trumpeted the advantages of preplanning for end-of-life exigencies.
It’s not always an easy sell.

“We live in psychological denial that we are going to die someday, although we mentally understand,” said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and philosophy professor at American Jewish University, who also serves as halachic consultant at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries.

“That’s perfectly healthy, but not OK if it prevents us from making preparations for death,” he added.

The Funeral Practices Committee of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, which acts as a liaison among clergy, families in need and the Jewish funeral industry, takes a strong stance on this issue.

“For parents, [planning ahead] is a gift of love for your family, not just financially, but also spiritually and emotionally,” said Mark Hyman, senior rabbi at Tikvat Jacob in Manhattan Beach and Funeral Practices Committee chair.

Ron Sobol, 54, took action after his mother’s death, soon after which he also received a flyer from Adat Ari El announcing a sale of cemetery plots the synagogue had purchased at Eden Memorial Park.

“When a parent dies, you feel a little bit more mortal,” Sobol said.

Sobol met an Adat Ari El representative at the cemetery, viewed plots in three locations and purchased companion side-by-side plots for himself and his wife, Leah.

“It seemed like the right thing to do,” Sobol said.

For people who want a traditional burial, selecting a cemetery is usually the first step. Choosing a particular plot or crypt, which is a space in a mausoleum or other building, follows.

Those set on Hillside Memorial Park or Mount Sinai Memorial Park’s Hollywood Hills location might not want to drag their feet. In 25 years or more, both expect to be out of room.

“Sold out, not filled,” Mount Sinai general manager Len Lawrence specified.

But the situation isn’t dire.

Mount Sinai opened its 160-acre Simi Valley location in 2002, giving it space for the next two centuries, according to Lawrence. Hillside is actively looking for new property, CEO Mark Friedman reported. And Eden Memorial Park, which was purchased by Service Corporation International in 1985, is “good for 100 years-plus,” said general manager Anthony Lempe.

No national statistics are available concerning the number of Jews who make advance burial preparations, but according to representatives at Mount Sinai, Hillside and Eden, the three largest cemeteries that serve the multidenominational Los Angeles community, it’s a clear majority.

“This is going to happen to all of us, and if you do your thinking and decision making at a time when you can all be open and rational and truly together, you make much better decisions,” Hillside’s Friedman said.

In addition to the plot, preplanning can include selecting the casket and, if desired, a shroud. Plus, certain services, such as taharah (the ritual cleansing) and shmira (guarding the body) can be prearranged. Even flowers can be ordered in advance.

Mortuaries generally take care of the casket and additional services. Certain cemeteries, including Hillside, Mount Sinai and Sholom, have their own mortuaries. Others are independent but work cooperatively with all cemeteries.

Fewer people, however, prepay the mortuary expenses.

“It’s really a personal decision based on a family’s current financial position,” said Helaine Cohen, a certified public accountant.

She explained that families struggling with mortgages, college tuitions and other day-to-day expenses may be better off waiting until the children leave home. Other families, with one or both spouses working, may be better positioned to pay for these expenses when their income is more substantial, before they retire.

Cohen herself admits that she and her husband have not discussed buying plots. “We just turned 50,” she said. “That’s the age to address long-term health insurance.”

But people can make many end-of-life decisions without actually prepaying for them. Most mortuaries, in fact, will

keep these preferences on record. Additionally, writing wills and creating other financial and health care directives are really part of the preplanning process, with some of these documents not subject to delay.

“I frankly think and people look at me cross-eyed when I say this that as soon as a person gets a driver’s license that person should fill out a durable power of attorney of health care,” Dorff said. He believes it’s important that parents know their teenager’s wishes in the rare case of a debilitating accident.

Dorff also recommends that parents, as they get older, write an ethical will, essentially a letter to their children specifying their life values. Additionally, he advises compiling a family history.

But people can’t preplan in a vacuum.

“It’s interesting. We encourage people to preplan, but first you have to do education,” said David Zinner, executive director of Kavod v’Nichum, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring Jewish death and bereavement practices.

Generally, end-of-life education takes place in the synagogue, encompassing a session or two in a Jewish life-cycle curriculum. It’s also a popular sermon topic during the Yom Kippur Yizkor (memorial) service.

Kavod v’Nichum itself sponsors an annual conference on chevra kadisha (a holy society that prepares the body of the deceased for burial) and related topics such as chaplaincy. The organization’s next conference, in June 2009, is targeted for the West Coast, possibly Los Angeles, according to Zinner.

Moe Goldsman, funeral director and mortuary manager at Sholom Chapels Mortuaries and Sholom Memorial Park, holds a seminar annually after the High Holy Days to educate people about preneed. This year it’s scheduled for Oct. 26 at Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City.

And Sinai Temple is hosting a one-day seminar on death and dying on Feb. 22, 2009, open to the community. “We hope to help people begin a discussion,” said Terry Wohlberg, co-founder of the synagogue’s chevra kadisha.

A conversation about these issues, whether people actually make advance arrangements or not, can do more than ease future burdens on the survivors. It can have real-time and unexpected benefits for the people themselves.

Producer Cathee Weiss works with individuals who want to create film biographies, sitting down with them to discuss the life lessons they wish to impart to their progeny.

“There’s always reflection on the big values,” Weiss said. “The notion of what we’re going to leave behind makes all of us a little more conscious of living a life of worth, of value, of integrity.”

The unlikely candidate

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve been exploring my opportunities ever since.

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

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

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

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

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

“Mere” satisfaction seems increasingly appealing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than ever, I envied my directed peers.

I wanted a life-plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affordable winter escapes are but a snowball’s throw away

Now that the holiday season is upon us, it’s time to do a little carving — and we’re not talking brisket.

The recent tease of fresh powder has left rippers and freeriders hopeful that there won’t be a repeat of last season’s half-open San Bernardino snow farms.

Already some local ski resorts, like Mountain High and Bear Mountain, have reported base depths of more than 2 feet at their upper elevations. Mammoth was the first ski resort to open in California on Nov. 9, hot on the heels of its record-setting 52 feet of snow during 2005-06. And with the last of the Rocky Mountain resorts set to open this week, it’s beginning to look a lot like ski season.

Even though most resorts currently have less than 50 percent of its trails open, don’t put off planning your getaway until the powder drops. Plenty of Jewish ski packages are already filling up, and this year’s bevy will be kinder to you wallet since much of the action is being kept fairly close to home.

Southern California
San Bernardino Mountains

Chabad on Campus and Chabad of California are reaching out to Jews of all denominations with its men-only and women-only Winter Break Ski and Learn Experiences. Geared toward Jewish undergraduate and graduate students (ages 18-26) with little or no background in formal Jewish learning, the six-day trips will feature morning Jewish learning sessions on three different tracks with rabbis and Chabad staff from Southern California, Oregon and Washington. After 11:30 a.m., the mountain is yours until the last run of the day. Subsidized pricing will include transportation to and from the slopes, kosher meals, lodging, alternative outdoor activities and a full Shabbat service. There is no dress code, however you will have to arrange transportation to the Kiryas Schneerson Lodge in Running Springs and pay for your own lift ticket and rentals (three-day package for $160).

Dates: Dec. 21-27, 2006 (men), Dec. 27, 2006-Jan. 1, 2007 (women).
Cost: $50.

For more information, call (213) 748-5884, or visit

For high school students, West Coast NCSY is hosting a Ski Shabbaton in February. The Orthodox youth group is renting a group of cabins near Wrightwood and Big Bear, and will feature skiing and snowboarding all day Friday, Saturday night and all day Sunday. For tuchus-draggers and frum bunnies, optional snow tubing and alpine sliding will be available Saturday night. A reduced rate is available for students who wish to join the group after Shabbat ends.

Dates: Feb. 17-19, 2007.
Cost: $125 (full Shabbaton), $60 (post-Shabbat).
For more information, call Ouriel Hazan at (310) 876-6631.

Northern California
Mammoth Mountain

Leave the car at home and let someone else do the driving. Now in its 12th year, JSki is the only L.A. Jewish ski group that puts its 20- to 40-somethings on a luxury bus, complete with videos and a bathroom. Cost includes two-nights lodging in a luxury condo with fireplace, kitchen and Jacuzzi; transportation to and from the slopes; dinner and hors d’oeuvres party. Bus picks up and drops off at Van Nuys Flyaway, Federal Building and Irvine Transportation Center.

Dates: Jan. 19-21, 2007; Feb. 9-11, 2007 (joint trip with Mosaic, Kesher Israeli and Nexus); March 2-4, 2007; March 23-35, 2007.
Cost: $199.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail

Lake Tahoe

Want to schmooze on the slopes with the high-tech crowd? The Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley’s Young Adult Division is sponsoring its annual ski trip to Northstar-at-Tahoe. Price includes housing, lift ticket, food, drinks and a cocktail reception.

Dates: Jan. 26-28, 2007.
Price: $255.
For more information, call (408) 357-7503 or visit


Steppin’ Out Adventures is planning a trip for Jewish singles to Breckenridge with a seven-night or four-night option. Breck’s Victorian charm is complimented by its renowned nightlife. While accommodations at The Village at Breckenridge are renown for being a bit austere, its prime location and recent $2 million facelift might make your stay a bit more tolerable. Price includes lift tickets to Vail, Keystone, Beaver Creek or A-Basin; transfers to and from Denver airport; lodging; full breakfast; two dinners and planned optional activities.

Dates: Feb. 4-11, 2007; Feb. 7-11, 2007.
Cost: $1,290-$1,650.
For more information, call (866) 299-5674 or visit

Copper Mountain

Just 75 miles west of Denver, Copper Mountain is known for its accessibility — beginner, intermediate and expert skiing trails naturally separated into three distinct areas. The resort also features some of the best early and late season snow, along with four alpine bowls and renowned terrain parks. This JSki trip includes roundtrip air from Los Angeles or San Diego, transportation from and to Denver airport, three nights lodging (double occupancy) at Best Western Lake Dillon Lodge, three days lift tickets, round trip shuttle to slopes and a daily breakfast.

Dates: Jan. 12-15, 2007.
Cost: $699.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail


Vail’s Bavarian-style resort is regularly ranked as one of the top ski destinations in the United States. Boasting 5,289 skiable acres and one of the largest networks of high-speed quad lifts, Vail offers greater room for skiing or snowboarding and more time on the slopes. This Steppin’ Out Adventure package features accommodations at the Lion Square Lodge in LionsHead Village, which includes a fitness club, spa and complimentary Internet access; transfers from Eagle Airport (30 minutes from Vail); lodging; lift tickets to Golden Peak, Vail Village, LionsHead Village or Cascade Village; full breakfast and two dinners; and planned optional activities.

Dates: March 18-25, 2007; March 20-25, 2007.
Cost: $1,955-$2,330.
For more information, call (866) 299-5674 or visit

Salt Lake City

The New Year’s trip with JSki drew 130 people last year and this year is filling up fast. The roundtrip flight chartered by New Horizon Tours has already sold out, but no worries — simply book your own flight Salt Lake City. There’s still room on the bus from and to the airport and in the hotel, but that won’t last long. The trip includes five nights lodging at the Marriott (double occupancy); five days of lift tickets to Alta, Solitude and Snowbird (tram extra), Deer Valley and The Canyons; transportation to the slopes, daily buffet breakfast and a welcome dinner party.

Dates: Dec. 27, 2006-Jan. 1, 2007.
Cost: $705.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail

B’nai Mitzvah: Ten ways to slash the cost of a big party

Do you have to spend a king’s ransom to have a fabulous bar or bat mitzvah for your child? Absolutely not, but remember that not all money-saving tips are created equal. This one — which I’ve read in several places — wins my top prize as the silliest: Have your party on a Monday and you’ll get a slightly better price from the caterer.

That’s true. In fact you’ll save a fortune, because no one will be able to come! How expensive could it be to feed six people?

In an effort to be Coco Chanel, I have coined an expression: If you have taste, you don’t need a lot of money, and if you don’t have taste, money isn’t going to help. Good taste and style are timeless and transcend matters of price. The simplest table decoration — if rendered with sincerity and a bit of aesthetic charm — is as authentic an expression of chic as the most expensive Paris couture.

The biggest unavoidable costs of a large party are food and music. We’re not even going to discuss music because the role of the music leader — as the person who runs your party — is so important that I wouldn’t recommend economizing there.

The following, though, are some great ideas that will save you money — even if you have more than six people:

1. Host a Joint Party

If your child has close friends who share the same social circle, organize the parents to throw one big party for all the bar/bat mitzvah kids. Then you can afford the best DJ, the best everything. On your child’s actual bar/bat mitzvah day, have a modest party that includes your child’s closest friends.

2. Pick a Hall That Doesn’t Have an ‘Approved Caterer’

Many synagogues require you to choose from a list of approved caterers if you want to use their hall for an event. If your budget is modest and the list doesn’t include a vendor who will work within it, you’ll be forced to spend more if you want to use that room. Some communities don’t have a lot of options, but think creatively and look around — you just need a big room somewhere. If you really want to have your party in your own synagogue and there’s no budget-friendly option in caterers, organize like-minded congregants to talk to the administrators about adding a caterer who will enthusiastically work with modest budgets. Or perhaps even change the policy to let you bring in your own food.

3. Organize Your Own Food

The least expensive caterer I know in my area charges a minimum of about $35 a person for a sit-down meal. Imagine how much great take-out food you could buy each person for that. Order trays from all the local restaurants: sushi, Chinese dumplings, gourmet pizza. Hire some college kids and/or local moms to take care of heating and serving the food.

4. Keep It Simple and, Perhaps, Exotic

Keep the menu simple. Have meatless dishes — you may save a little and you’ll please all the vegetarians and people who observe religious restrictions. Have a different (less expensive but still quality) menu for the kids. Serve inexpensive and unusual ethnic foods. It will be a culinary adventure and no one will be able to determine if the food is cheap or not.

5. Let Them Eat Cake

Shop for a cake at your neighborhood bakery, not the local “bakers to the stars.” They may have very nice designs but no budget to advertise them. If you’re buying a cake, tell the caterer you don’t want dessert — it’s often served before the cake and the cake then goes uneaten. Best idea of all: buy pretty individual cakes and use them as the centerpieces — the culinary equivalent of “multitasking.”

6. Buy Co-Op China

Every parent planning a bar or bat mitzvah knows several other parents who are doing the same, so this is easily arranged. If you’re planning to cater your own party, you’ll need china, utensils and glassware. These are usually supplied by the caterer and can be costly to rent. Far better: get a group of parents together to buy one big set of china from a restaurant supplier and take turns using it. Buy extra –there will be breakage along the way.

7. Buy Your Own Liquor

There are many options in how you handle drinks at your party. You can have a simple wine, juice and soda bar or an expanded version where you have the setups and alcohol for the six to 10 most popular mixed drinks. You do not need to offer a full-service bar to be considered a good host. Hire your own server. See if the wine vendor delivers, if he includes the use of wineglasses and if he will allow you to return unopened bottles for a refund.

8. Make Decorations and Party Favors Yourself

Get your friends to help you — you’ll have so much fun! Don’t worry that they won’t then be surprised by the décor when they come to the party. The thrill of an opening night is never diminished for the actors just because they’ve rehearsed it a zillion times.

9. Having Flowers? Arrange Them Yourself

If you have a good eye, buy flowers in bulk and make the arrangements yourself. If you don’t have a good eye, get potted flowering plants or get large bunches of one beautiful flower and place them in simple pots. Make simple topiaries by bunching one kind of long-stemmed flower together and tying raffia around the “trunk” of stalks to keep them upright. Jam the bottoms into wet floral foam in a pot and cover foam with moss.

10. Make Entertainers Do Double-Duty

If you’re hiring entertainment in addition to the music, get someone who will create a giveaway, thereby eliminating the need for a separate party favor. At this writing, some of the hot entertainment/giveaway-producing ideas are the classic photo-booth buttons and photo strips, magnets and magazine covers; or a tape of the guest singing karaoke or doing “Dance Heads.”

Gail Greenberg is the author of “MitzvahChic, How to Host a Meaningful, Fun, Drop-Dead Gorgeous Bar or Bat Mitzvah.” For more great ideas, free planning e-mails and other fabulous services for b’nai mitzvah families, visit Tyler Joseph Carl

Schools Give Prum-Hess High Marks

Last year, two Los Angeles schools applied for and won MATCH grants, which are awarded each year by a consortium of Jewish education foundations that reward day schools for cultivating new donors. The grants brought in more than $100,000.

This spring, 13 day schools were awarded the same grant, bringing in $1.5 million.

What changed?

Miriam Prum-Hess, director of day school operations for the Bureau of Jewish Education, entered the Los Angeles Jewish day school picture, and she alerted schools to the opportunity and guided them through the process.

Prum-Hess, an experienced and admired Federation executive, took on a new role working on behalf of day schools last year, an effort to increase the level of professionalism and efficiency in all nonacademic areas. She has become the central address for day schools looking for expertise on operational issues — fundraising strategies, legal advice, business decisions, purchasing, and human resources. During the past 18 months she has examined the big picture of what the city’s 37 days schools — of all denominations — need, and has run seminars, consulted with the school administrators and lay leaders and opened up new resources to meet those needs.

Since Los Angeles’ Federation is the first to fund such a position, national Jewish leaders have trained their eyes here to see how things turn out.

“The whole model that undergirds Miriam’s position, which is that a central agency should have a professional dedicated to helping day schools build their capacities, is from our perspective just 100 percent sound,” said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Boston-based Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), which works off a similar model on a national scale. “It is a very important strategy in enabling day schools to grow themselves from the inside by focusing on all the things they need to be strong.”

Local educators have welcomed Prum-Hess, who visited all of Los Angeles’ Jewish schools in her first few months on the job, which she started in December 2004.

“I have been involved with the Bureau [of Jewish Education] as a head of school here for 20 years, and for me adding Miriam was the most significant change in the entire time I’ve been here,” says Lana Marcus, head of school at Adat Ari El, a Conservative kindergarten through eighth grade day school in Valley Village. Marcus credits Prum-Hess for enabling her to win a MATCH grant worth $275,000.

One of Prum-Hess’s primary goals is to bring more money into the schools to bring relief both to parents struggling to pay tuition and administrators struggling to make the budget. She is working with The Federation, the Jewish Community Foundation and BJE Executive Director Gil Graff to set up a $20 million community endowment fund.

But while that is in the works, she is helping schools tap into government and foundation money they can access immediately.

To qualify for the MATCH grants, funded by a consortium of foundations under the leadership of PEJE, the Jewish Funders Network and the Avi Chai Foundation, schools had to generate gifts of at least $25,000 from donors who had not previously given a major gift to a day school.

A BJE-sponsored seminar in November 2005 helped schools gain enough confidence and expertise to approach new donors. Twenty-three schools attended, and more than half of those received one-on-one coaching as a follow-up.

Thirteen schools — of all denominations and sizes — were able to raise a combined $1 million, and the foundations matched 50 cents to the dollar.

In addition, 12 schools this year brought in more than $1 million in grants from the Department of Homeland Security.

Schools credit the BJE-sponsored seminars for giving them the information and know-how to pursue these opportunities.

“It forced a lot of the schools to go outside of their comfort zones and look for new donors or push people they were working with before to go above and beyond what they were doing,” said Alain R’bibo, a lay leader at Or Hachaim Academy, a 3-year-old Sephardic elementary school in North Hollywood. The school, affiliated with Adat Yeshurun Congregation, qualified for the MATCH grants. “Miriam reaches out to make sure we get information and find out about what programs are available.”

In December 2004, the Federation transferred Prum-Hess, then vice president of planning and allocations, into the BJE, where she took on the newly created portfolio of Day School Capacity Building to deal with operational issues for 37 schools, which have a combined budget of $138 million. The Federation funded her salary for two years and BJE funded her expenses such as office support and travel. A Jewish Community Foundation grant of $50,000 provided much of the programming fund.

Federation President John Fishel said that senior Federation leadership has asked the planning and allocation committee to continue funding Prum-Hess’s position past the initial two-year commitment.

“Her work is extremely important and she’s making a difference in the day schools,” Fishel said. “She has accomplished more in a year and a half then I would have anticipated. It’s very impressive.”

Prum-Hess says that every one of the day schools in the L.A. area has participated in at least one of her programs over the past year, most of them in more than one.

“The really exciting thing for me is how open and hungry for this the schools are,” said Prum-Hess, who herself has two kids in day school.

The BJE has hosted seminars on board development, fundraising, legal and tax issues, management training and grant-getting. All of these came with follow-up one-on-one consulting, providing the schools enough expert guidance to implement what they learned at the seminars.

Prum-Hess has also negotiated joint purchasing for items such as copier contracts — a huge budget item for schools — and is looking into jointly purchasing employee benefits. A consortium of lawyers specializing in school issues is now available at a minimal cost.

She has launched a marketing campaign, starting with research aimed at decoding why so many parents who send their little ones to Jewish preschool pull them out for grade school.

These are questions that all Jewish schools share, and Prum-Hess is happy to be there to answer. For the first time, principals and directors say, they feel like they know whom to call with questions unrelated to pedagogy or curriculum. They know they have someone who can take a step-back and evaluate objectively.

“What she has done in 15 months for a system with 37 schools is remarkable,” PEJE’s Elkin said. “At PEJE we see this as one of the really outstanding models for helping to grow and sustain strong and excellent Jewish day schools in North America.”


Throw a Party With a Purpose

“I’ll call your bet and raise you two,” the sequin-clad woman said.

“Go for it,” I said, only to see my winnings swept up moments later by a poker-faced dealer.

“You may have won this round,” I told my chip-hauling opponent. “But just wait until after the Motzi!”

Having one son rounding the final stretch of his bar mitzvah year and another warming up in the bullpen, I’ve been privy of late to many a post-game celebration that would have Moses rolling over in his grave: everything from casino get-ups that could rival Caesar’s Palace to midriff-baring Britney Spears clones (in her prepregnancy form) beckoning guests to the dance floor.

How did this happen? How did the guests who came to witness our child take part in a multimillennium-old Jewish tradition end up playing limbo draped in glow necklaces and feather boas? How did our resolve to remain focused on what really mattered evolve into a safari-themed ballroom and five cases of leopard-skin-print kippahs?

The answer is not difficult: We got lost. Lost in intense societal pressure to follow up our kid’s Judaic rite of passage with a killer party. Lost in a sea of products at the local bar mitzvah expo with no apparent link to the Jewish religion. Lost in our child’s insistence that she’s “only been looking forward to having a safari-themed bat mitzvah for her whole entire life!”

It’s not that glitz, glamour and secular themes at b’nai mitzvah are inherently problematic, like in the soon-to-be-released one-upsmanship film, “Keeping Up With the Steins,” but when they’re inadequately balanced with Jewish values we can be left with an empty shell of a party that undermines the entire point of these meaningful milestones.

“The way we choose to celebrate sends a message to our child,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, author of “Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1998) “It’s not fair to leave our values at the front door.”

Here are some practical ways to help ensure the spiritual core of your child’s big day doesn’t melt away faster than the custom designed ice sculptures at the Kiddush luncheon:

At the Service

Include the whole mishpacha. Whether reading from the Torah or leading songs and prayers, when the whole gang gets involved, the experience becomes exponentially more meaningful.

“A bar or bat mitzvah should be a spiritual, passionate journey for the entire family,” said Rabbi Analia Bortz of Atlanta’s Congregation Or Hadash.

Link the generations. When my son’s bar mitzvah tallit was made, we had a piece of each grandfather’s tallit sewn in, so he was literally wrapped in the traditions of his forefathers as he read from the Torah.

Give them a lift. Praying and partying need not be mutually exclusive. Why not get the celebration started right away?

“Just as we lift the Torah, we lift the child,” said Rabbi Bortz, who gives b’nai mitzvah kids the option of being raised in a chair after reading from the Torah while congregants sing a hearty round of “Siman Tov, Mazel Tov.”

Share the spotlight. When Salkin’s son celebrated his big day recently, he symbolically shared his bar mitzvah with kids from New Orleans who were unable to celebrate their b’nai mitzvah due to Hurricane Katrina.

Shower them with sweetness. Celebrating the sweetness of the Torah by throwing candy (preferably the soft gummy kind) at the star of the show is a festive and fun tradition.

At the Party

Put tzedakah center stage. Rather than spending hundreds of dollars on throwaway centerpieces, build your tables’ focal points from donatable items. And you needn’t bail on your party theme to do so! My sports-obsessed son’s centerpieces were built from sporting goods and supplies that he later delivered to a camp for sick children.

Dinner, dancing and donating. Help your child pick a charitable cause of special interest to him or her — or one that incorporates the theme of your party — and set up a collection station at the big event. Guests at a safari bat mitzvah for example, might be asked to bring supplies for a local animal shelter or make a monetary contribution to the zoo.

Feed the human spirit. Becoming an adult in the eyes of the Jewish religion entails a social conscience. Salkin recommends that kids donate 3 percent of their bar or bat mitzvah money to MAZON-A Response to Jewish Hunger.

Hire a party planner. When someone else is taking care of the nitty-gritty details it’s easier to stay focused on what’s really important.

Think futuristically. If during your planning process, you feel the need to snap yourself back into focus, picture your child years from now thinking back on her big day. Do you want her to remember a posh party that could have easily doubled as a Sweet 16 or a spiritual journey that paved the way toward a committed Jewish adulthood?

Links related to this article:

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Avoid an Oops in Shooting Your Video

Little Rachel takes her first steps — but your camcorder battery dies before you get the shot.

Your family reunion includes Grandma Shirley, whom you haven’t seen in 15 years and, frankly, may never see again. You interview her on video, but when you sit down later to watch it, the sound is so bad you can’t understand a single word.

At my brother’s bar mitzvah, a family member showed up late with the video equipment, set up the camera and forgot to push record.

Whether you’re trying to capture a wedding, b’nai mitzvah or 50th anniversary celebration, the day will come and go whether you’re ready for it or not. Unless you’re prepared, the opportunity to capture family history can easily slip through your fingers.

Losing such precious moments can be depressing. But with a little advance planning, attention to detail and some practice, you can shoot home videos your family will kvell about for years to come. Here are some tips:

1. Don’t forget to push record. Once you push “record,” confirm that you are recording. Every video camera features a recording indicator, typically located in the viewfinder or the view screen. As you get ready to focus on your subject, the first thing you should do is look in the viewfinder or on the screen and note whether the recording indicator is on.

2. Charge your batteries. This is one of the most common mistakes. The battery that came with your video camera will not last longer than one hour. In addition, after a few years, rechargeable batteries don’t hold their charge well. Even buy an extra battery pack or two, charge them and have them on hand in case your primary battery loses its charge.

3. Focus on sound. Bad sound is often the biggest killer of home videos. Are you only using the standard built-in microphone? Be conscious of its limited range. If you’re recording someone nearby, try to get as close to the person as possible. If you’re at a gala event and someone is using a microphone, try to get close to the electronic amplification speaker.

4. Stabilize your shot. All modern video camcorders have a stabilization option. Turning this option on will improve your shots tremendously. I require my professional videographers, who shoot everything from wedding videos to commercials, to turn this option on.

5. Use both hands. Shaky camera work can give friends and family headaches. Do not hold the camera in one hand, stretching your arm out in front of you. Instead, hold the camcorder with both hands, and hold the camera against your body. For even greater stabilization, lean your back against a wall.

6. Forget the zoom. Don’t use the zoom. Instead of constantly zooming in for closeups and then zooming out for wider shots, try holding the camera against your body, framing your shot like a still photograph. To get closer to the image, simply walk closer, using your body as a large stabilization weight. To get a wider shot, simply walk backward — but be careful.

7. Look in two places at once. This is a more advanced move. Learn to keep one eye watching your camcorder’s viewfinder or screen and the other eye looking outside the field of the screen to see what person or object may soon be coming into your frame. This allows you to anticipate and prepare your camera move.

8. Learn from your mistakes. Take some time out a few days before an event and shoot some practice footage. Spend a few minutes reviewing a short piece of it, and note how you could improve.

Also, don’t save the camera for special events. Keep practicing your video skills by recording everyday family moments. After all, you don’t want to be scrambling for footage 10 years from now, when you want to create a video montage of your child to show during a bar or bat mitzvah.

David Notowitz is owner of Notowitz Productions, a video production company that specializes in corporate videos, weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. His Web site is

This Time They’re Ready for the Wave


A Developing Reputation

Special Report – A Jewish Appeal to Remember and Rebuild

Women’s Lib Rises in Wake of Disaster

Some 50 South Indian villagers are spread out along the sandy beach. Women clad in brightly colored saris converse in groups, while men repair fishing nets. Teenage boys playfully tackle each other.

Then, the residents of Vellakoil get some news from fellow clansmen: Dangerous weather is on the way.

A year ago, when the tsunami hit, 19 died in this village of less than 500; 14 were children. And everyone’s house and belongings were washed away.

This time, they are ready.

As the storm descends, men, women and children fan out, each with a task. Some run into the Sea of Bengal to save those stranded in the water. They use rafts and life preservers made of readily available local materials, such as empty plastic water bottles and bamboo branches. Using makeshift stretchers — blankets stretched across tied bamboo — others carry the injured to a first-aid station.

Welcome to an emergency preparedness exercise organized by an Indian nonprofit, with support from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS).

The effort was launched about a decade ago in another part of India, after a devastating earthquake, through Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), which stands for “self-learning through empowerment.”

Funds contributed after last December’s devastating tsunami are helping to pay for training and travel to make the program work. The idea is for villagers to help teach people from other villages, a concept central to the ideology of nonprofits funded by AJWS.

Vellakoil residents are serious about the drill. Beforehand, they proudly announce their duties — monitoring weather systems, performing first aid, documenting damage — to a group of visitors.

Of course, it’s hard to prepare for a tsunami that strikes on a clear day and sweeps inland across 4 kilometers of land, as happened here a year ago. But the planning already has paid dividends. Even though the region and the village suffered severe flooding during recent rains, residents successfully removed themselves and their belongings out of harm’s way.

This exercise begins and ends with villagers lined up along the beach, their arms outstretched as they pledge loyalty to their village and to each other.

In disaster drill, Vellakoil residents use supplies at hand — water bottles and bamboo — to fashion a rescue raft. Photo by Howard Blume

When they first performed the exercise about a month ago, at least one resident broke down in tears as memories resurfaced. Just two weeks before, a man who had lost two sons in the killer wave hanged himself. On this day, one woman recalls trying futilely to save two grandchildren.

For some, however, the emotions are beginning to subside. Several teenage boys wear excited smiles as they carry the “wounded” to safety.

Even psychological benefits are no small thing.

“Now we have confidence that we can escape,” says Kuppamanikkam, the woman who lost two grandchildren. “Now we no longer have to fear.”

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site:

American Jewish World Service
Web site:
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site:
Regional office:
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site:
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site:
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site:
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site:
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site:
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355


Web site:
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site:

American Jewish World Service
Web site:
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site:
Regional office:
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site:
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site:
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site:
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site:
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site:
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355


Web site:
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site:

American Jewish World Service
Web site:
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site:
Regional office:
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site:
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site:
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site:
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site:
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site:
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355


Web site:
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Kosher Stylin’

If we are what we eat, then at this moment I’m a big fat Gordo’s burrito with extra cheese. But I’m a veggie burrito because for the past several years, I’ve been cultivating my own brand of kosher. I like to call myself “kosher style.”

It’s a phrase that’s apt to confuse, so let me explain. No pork. No shellfish. No conscious mixing of meat and dairy. I’ll eat meat out, and though I pass on cheeseburgers at Barney’s, I wouldn’t ask Alice Waters to hold the butter in preparing my filet of beef ? la ficelle (assuming ficelle isn’t bacon). My theory: Unless I see dairy, it’s kosher enough.

I have plenty of friends who keep more strictly kosher than I do, but even some of them make exceptions — like bouillabaisse in France or lobster in Maine. I deviate when I’m the guest in someone’s home, and the options are slim — my rationale being that it’s better to not shame a host than to stick to my half-baked rules.

There are those who may cringe at my interpretation of Jewish dietary laws, but it’s not like I eat this way because the Bible tells me to. Nor do I see it as a mitzvah commanded by the God I’m not always sure I believe in. And it certainly isn’t because I grew up this way.

It began with a request from a Holocaust survivor who once advised, “Order kosher meals on airplanes, because the day you stop ordering them is the day they’ll stop making them.”

Forgoing regular airplane food was a sacrifice I could make.

I remember the first time a flight attendant called out, “Ravitz, kosher meal?” Heads of passengers whipped around to look at “the Jew,” and there I sat, donning my jeans, fleece and baseball cap, looking like any other 20-something American.

I didn’t want the attention, but when it came, I kind of liked it. That nasty little packet of excessively wrapped, overcooked — and yet simultaneously frozen — meat sparked conversation. People would ask me about my kosher meals: “I’ve always wondered what this is all about.”

I even got confessions: “You know, I recently found out my grandfather was Jewish.”

I felt like an ambassador for my people, called forth to enlighten flight passengers over stale rolls.

Soon I was changing the way I ate on the ground, pork products being the first to go. Then I struggled to relinquish shrimp, New England clam chowder, steamed mussels. California rolls were missed, until I found salvation in “imitation crab.” Then came the meat-and-dairy conundrum, which wasn’t that bad, barring the loss of chicken Caesar salads and my mom’s grilled bleu cheese steak. The mere thought of it still makes me drool.

At a crawfish boil I attended in Alabama this summer, people around me snapped off heads, slurping the prawns’ insides, while taking turns asking me questions.

“What, you don’t like this stuff?” “You allergic?” “What’s wrong with you?”

I stammered, embarrassed by the repeated calls of attention. “Well, you see, I sort of keep kosher.”

“What’s that?”

I blathered about split hooves and chewed cuds before someone interrupted, “But why do you keep kosher?”

I gave the best answer I could come up with: “Because it reminds me of who I am.”

In September, Sophia Café, a new kosher restaurant, opened on Solano Avenue in Albany, walking distance from my home. When I first spotted it, I was floored. How could a glatt kosher restaurant survive in a place like this? It’s not like the Bay Area is a bastion of religious observance.

I walked inside and got my answer.

There was the visitor from Los Angeles who said her son passed up going to Cal because kosher food was so hard to come by. There was the woman planning for observant houseguests from the East who will need places to eat. There was the father in an Orthodox family who kept thanking the owner for his restaurant’s presence.

The mashgiach, who oversees kosher practices in the kitchen, said it’s the only glatt kosher restaurant in the East Bay. He also said it wouldn’t survive on kosher eaters alone.

I have a feeling that a certain Holocaust survivor would have something to say about that. Lucky for me, the restaurant’s meat was served hot and without wrapping.

Jessica Ravitz completed her masters in journalism at UC Berkeley and currently is a staff writer at The Salt Lake Tribune. She can be reached at

Will She Marry Him?

In my last Singles column, “Change of Heart,” I left off with one important question for my girlfriend, Carrie: “Will you marry me?”

Did she say yes?

Well, let me back up a bit.

A few days before the column came out, I drove over to Carrie’s parents to ask for their blessing. Carol and Roy were watching “24” when I got there, so I waited until the commercial break — odd priorities, but I suppose it’s more riveting watching Kiefer Sutherland trying to stop the explosion of a nuclear warhead than watching me trying to stop the nervous trembling in my right leg.

Roy stood. Carol took a seat. I dove right in.

“You guys know I love Carrie very much, and I’m going to ask her to marry me. I’d like to get your blessing.”

They both seemed to gasp slightly, but then Carol gave me a hug and began repeating the phrase, “Oh my God!” Roy stiffened his body and seemed to freeze slightly. He didn’t give me a hug. Luckily, I did see some blinking. Carol teared up a little, and I answered all her rapid-fire questions about the ring, and how I was going to propose.

And then suddenly, she admonished me for coming in the middle of her favorite TV show: “You better save it on your TIVO for me.”

Roy relaxed a little, “It’s too bad you couldn’t come on a Friday, when there’s nothing on TV.”

I laughed, although I’m not sure he was joking. Carol hugged me again, and they quickly ran back to catch the last 10 minutes of their show.

The next day, Roy called me to meet him for lunch. I got a little nervous as I drove over to meet him. I get along well with Roy, but wondered what kind of warnings would he have for me before I married his daughter. Although he’s a peaceful man, I imagined him chasing me through the house, swinging his belt if ever I hurt his baby girl.

It turned out he just wanted me to know that he was happy for us. “I don’t show a lot of emotion,” he confessed. “Do you believe how Carol was acting?” he asked me, referring to her “overemotional” display of teary eyes and a hug. I nodded knowingly. I mean, this is my future father-in law. As we left, I thanked him for lunch. Then, just before getting into my car, I grabbed the guy and gave him a big, fat hug.

The morning that the column came out, I drove over to The Jewish Journal office to get a fresh copy of the newspaper. Jumping back into my car, with a new parking ticket flapping on my windshield (so maybe I don’t always read the signs), I drove over to the Farmers Market to pick up some food.

I really wanted to take Carrie on a picnic, but it was still drizzling outside. I stayed optimistic and went to Loteria, our favorite Mexican place to get two of their finest burritos (considering the cost of the ring, I contemplated buying one burrito and splitting it in half).

I picked up Carrie from work and, amazingly, as she walked out the door, the rain suddenly stopped. I quietly thanked God. We drove to a nearby park and spread out the picnic.

“Oh, before you eat, guess what?” I said nonchalantly as we sat down. “I wrote another column in The Jewish Journal,” and gave it to her. Of course, given my last columns, she didn’t know what was coming — especially with this one titled, “Change of Heart.”

She took one look at the title and said, “Uh oh.” I hovered nervously behind her, waiting to pop out the ring. As she read, she occasionally looked up to laugh or nod her approval. And then I saw her body stiffen as she got to the last line. She froze, just like her dad.

“Oh my God,” she gasped, just like her mother.

I grabbed the ring, got on one knee and asked, “Will you marry me?” She cried and answered, “Yes.”

We kissed. Two pot smokers nearby clapped. I waved back to them.

Then Carrie went through a rainbow of emotions, the likes of which I have never seen. She laughed, she argued, she protested, she cried, she smiled, she didn’t know what to do with herself.

Suddenly she stammered, “Ar … re you sure about this? We’ve been arguing lately.”

We had been arguing, but mostly because I was sneaking around trying to deal with the engagement preparations. We’ve never really had secrets before, and the months I was planning all of this were hard for me. It’s strange to not be able to discuss one of the biggest decisions of your life with the woman you love. But Carrie had always wanted to be surprised.

Carrie started to cry. “I love you so much. Of course I want to marry you,” she said.

“Then why are you crying?”

“I guess I don’t really like surprises,” she said. Speaking of which — she hadn’t even looked at the ring on her finger.

“Do you like it?” I asked.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “Is this real or is this cubic zirconia?”

Was she kidding me? “Cubic zirconia? I sure wish I had the option….”

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer who lives in Los Angeles.

Create Festive Table in a Blue Mood


Following are pointers on livening up your Chanukah table from “Kosher by Design” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah, 2003).

1. In the Beginning: Dress your dining table with a snazzy tablecloth. A gold one will glitter. Using narrow runners and/or yards of wide ribbons, preferably in shades of blue and gold, weave them under and above each other, creating a lattice effect.

2. Gifted Settings: Create place settings that look like Chanukah presents by using placemat-sized rectangles of Styrofoam (about 2-inches thick). Cover them with blue fabric. Straight pins will secure the fabric to the underside of rectangles. To simulate a bow, wrap gold tulle ribbon on a diagonal around two opposite corners of rectangles.

3. Box Appeal: Find boxes about 3-inches square. Cover boxes with Mylar foil wrapping paper. Tie a bow around them with gold ribbon. With two-sided tape, attach them to the upper left-hand corner of placemats.

4. Got the Gelt: In front of each placemat, situate a gold netted sack of Chanukah gelt. Write each guest’s name in gold ink on place cards. Then, with narrow gold ribbon, tie place cards to gelt sacks.

5. Twinkling Fantasy: Flood the center of the table with as many blue votive candleholders as you can find in every size and shape. Fill them with candles and light just before guests arrive.

6. Gaming Table: Scatter around dreidels in varying sizes and shapes, ones made from silver, gold, porcelain, plastic, wood — and anything blue. Antique dreidels are particularly decorative.

7. Blue Plate Special: Set the table with blue dishes, preferably ones that mix and match. Place a salad plate of one pattern over a dinner plate of another. Wal-Mart sells glass blue plates for $1.25 each.

8. Color Wave Silverware: Set the table with gold-plated flatware or stainless steel with blue plastic handles.

9. Crystal Collection: Buy glasses and wine goblets with blue striations or purchase glassware with a blue tint, found at stores such as Crate and Barrel.

10. Clear Water: Buy mineral water in blue bottles.

11. Fruit of the Vine: Buy wine in blue bottles.

12. Congratulations: You’ve created a show-stopping setting! Photograph your table for inspiration when planning your next holiday meal.


Did You Know…?

Did You Know…?


• Sometimes the marriage ceremony is held outdoors. Particularly in ultra-Orthodox and Chasidic weddings — but anyone can do this — the marriage ceremony is performed outside at night. The custom developed because the stars are associated with God speaking to Abraham: “I will bless thee and multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven and as the sand of the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).


• The bride stands to the right of the groom because of a biblical verse is Psalms (45:10): “The queen stands on your right hand in fine gold of Ophir.”

In Jewish tradition, the bride is a queen and the groom is the king.


• A light bulb is often substituted for a glass during the ceremony. Since many believe the main purpose of breaking the glass is to create noise (to scare away the demons), some prefer a light bulb because it is easier to break and usually makes a louder noise.

Will You Marry Me?

Grooms are making big productions of their proposals these days. Sometimes they rent a billboard; sometimes they pop the question at a quiet, intimate time; sometimes it is in a restaurant while a violinist plays their favorite song.

What’s in Style Today?


• Bridal suits are making a comeback.


• Rosette details on sleeves, bodices and backs are in the news. Rosettes are also used on the headpiece and accessories to complement the wedding gown.


• Pink, peach, and other pastels are a fashionable alternative to traditional white, ivory and silky white.


• Beads, lace, sequins, pearls and embroidery are used for embellishments.


• In place of a regular wedding album, you might also choose a “storybook” plan, where the photographer takes continuous pictures so that you end up with a copy of a picture of each event and each shot. (This produces a very large and thorough album, and is more expensive than a standard album.)

Little Tricks of For a Great Wedding

For Him:

If you are able to control the music, select a romantic one. She will always remember the song that played when he proposed — and it is bound to become “your song.”

For Her:

Are you going to have a “Presentation of the Bride?” The groom is brought into a room before the ceremony. There he finds the bride, looking her most beautiful, in her wedding attire. The couple has some time to spend together, after which they have the signing of the ketubah and take photographs.

Other Kooky Wedding Customs


•Couples in 18th-century Mexico shaved their heads to signify their adulthood.


•French suitors sent their nail clippings to their betrothed.


•In 18th-century England, a new bride’s mother-in-law broke a loaf of bread over her head to bring luck and happiness to the couple.


•Polish brides brought luck and happiness to their new homes by walking around a fire three times and kicking each door with their right foot.


•Prenuptial agreements, which have enjoyed a resurgence, actually date back to ancient Jewish and Roman marriages.

How To Get Through the Day


• Stay Calm.


• Break away for a few minutes


• Take some deep breaths.


• Keep focused and avoid problems before they become problems.


• Just remember: The most important parts of planning an event is having fun and enjoying the benefits of all your hard work. With careful planning, even the most elaborate and glamorous affair can be a dream.

Joan Greenberger Friedman lives in Reading, Pa., and can be reached at

No Rush

Lately it seems as if everyone I know is interested in me getting married. In fact, the person pressuring me the least is my girlfriend,

Carrie. She’s still working on her independence, having recently moved out of her parents’ house for the first time.

Like many women, Carrie looks forward to wearing a wedding gown, but she needs more time to work on her growth as a woman. At least that’s what I’ve been telling her in the hopes it buys me some more time.

Recently, I had Shabbat dinner at a couple’s house — Chasidic friends in their early 20s with a newborn. While the wife was burping her baby, she asked when Carrie and I were going to get married. Her husband quickly joined in.

“Why?” I asked. “What’s so great about being married?”

The baby spit up onto her shirt as her husband fielded the question; only he did so in a very Chasidic fashion — no answers, just more questions: “What are you waiting for? Why are you so scared? Will you pass the gefilte fish?”

“What does marriage offer me?” I asked him. I tried to explain to him the difference between our situations. He is a Chasid who avoids shaking hands with a woman in order to avoid getting excited. When he met his wife, he was expected to avoid touching until marriage. So, marriage came fast. I, on the other hand, am dating Carrie, who, being the woman of loose morals she is, allowed me to not only kiss her within the first week of dating, but also to hold her hand. Three years later, we’ve gone so far I can now hold the hands of other women. “So what’s the rush?” I asked him.

My friend looked at me pensively, sat quiet for a moment and then said, “Seriously, I’m still hungry. Will you pass the gefilte fish?”

One day, Carrie’s grandmother pulled me aside. “Do you planning on marrying Carrie?”

“I don’t know, lady” I answered. “We’re not really up to that.”

“Well you better get up to it, funny guy. I want to see great-grandkids before I die.”

“And I want you to live a long time, so for you I’m going to hold off,” I said.

She shook her head and walked away muttering to herself.

Why would anyone in Carrie’s family want her to marry me? I look decent enough and am occasionally funny but I’m a 30-year-old struggling actor, getting by on the bare minimum, and living in a rent-controlled apartment in Silver Lake. On paper, I sure don’t sound that great. I don’t think I’d do too well on JDate, where women decide whom to date based on a picture, career choice, yearly income and a list of my hobbies, which oddly enough include going to restaurants and listening in on other people’s conversations.

Carrie spends three to four nights a week at my apartment. We have a great relationship. Sometimes we bicker too much, but I love her and I’m pretty sure she loves me. The thing is, the nights she isn’t with me I don’t really mind. In fact, I enjoy having the nights off. It’s not that I’m unhappy in the relationship — I just like my freedom. I don’t have other women sneaking over in the middle of the night, but I like the feeling that I could if I wanted to. I’ll probably never act on it, but I want the option. Even though I have no interest in dating anyone else, I’m still a little frightened by the idea of dating one person for the rest of my life. So, maybe I need a little more time. Is that bad? Is there something wrong with me because I’m not ready to be married? I feel like I’ll know when it’s time. I’ll be a little more settled in my career and hopefully be ready to have children — or at least a houseplant.

So if Carrie and I are both not ready to buy into marriage, why is everyone else so interested in selling? Are they getting commission?

I once knew a woman who got wrapped up in some cult-like business seminars — Anthony Robbins kind of stuff where she kept paying more and more for these seminars and then would hold meetings where she would try to recruit other people to join. She invited me to one and I went there already knowing there was no chance they were getting me to sign up. But she begged me and I gave in out of respect for her. Midway through the introductory course I realized something. These people, who were charting their happiness with multicolored markers on gigantic pieces of paper that sat on easels, were not trying to convince me to join because their lives were now so enriched. They were convincing me to join because they needed to convince themselves.

My married friends are all newly married and, therefore, are still getting used to the idea. By convincing me, and others like me, to go down the same road as quickly as possible, it validates their decision. And it’s not necessarily a bad decision — just one I’m not ready to make. I’m sure as they grow more comfortable with their decision the less they will feel the need to convince others to do likewise. And who knows — by then I might be ready to go down that road with them. As for Carrie’s grandmother, well, she just wants to see a baby. I can get one for her on the black market within a week.

I picked up the phone and called Carrie. “I just wanted to say I love you and I’m glad we both agree on how things are going. We care deeply about each other but aren’t in a rush to get married. We have plenty of time and can take things as they come.”

“Well,” she said. “Don’t get too comfortable.”

Seth Menachem is an actor living in Los Angeles. You can currently see him on TV hawking such fine luxuries as fast food, beer and cellular service.

A Single Thread Links Generations

Becoming a grandparent is a very exciting event. Being able to create an heirloom pillowcase out of heirloom pieces for the britim, or covenant ceremonies, of our first grandchildren was an equally humbling and exciting adventure.

Our daughter and son-in-law, Alisha and Ahud Sela, became the proud parents of twin babies, Yael Shira and Gavriel Yair Sela, on May 4, 2004. Knowing beforehand that they were giving birth to twins, a girl and a boy, set the wheels in motion for planning a brit milah, ritual circumcision, and brit mikvah, ritual purification — a relatively new ceremony for a girl, for the two babies. It was planned that the babies would be carried in on pillows for the ceremonies.

While researching what should be written to enhance a bris pillowcase, I found the suggestion of using old family tablecloths for the construction of the pillowcase. I had a tablecloth and napkins given to us by my husband’s grandmother for our wedding, which were now 33 years old. I contacted Ahud’s mother, Rita, and found out she had tablecloths from her grandmother and mother that they had used regularly and were packed up in her attic. Rita sent me a full box of beautifully cross-stitched tablecloths, well worn with loving holes from regular use. I looked at the cloths for two weeks before I had the nerve to make my first cut.

I carefully looked at the cross-stitch designs, imagining what would be the best use of the pieces so lovingly stitched so many years ago. Making the first cut was the hardest, but once that was done everything else fell into place. The back of the pillowcases consists of the edge of a green tablecloth with white fringe and white thread on the cross-stitch design. This was stitched by the baby’s great-great-grandmother, Minnie Aronow (mother of Joel, father of Rita).

Attached to this is a piece from the center of a white cloth with brown cross-stitching created by the baby’s great-grandmother, Yetta Aronow (mother of Rita).The bottom portion of the front of the pillowcase is a white cloth stitched with Shabbat symbols in many colors by Yetta. Rita remembered using this cloth “all the time.” I attached a white napkin from the set given to my husband, David, and myself by the baby’s great-great-grandmother, Anna Robinson (mother of Sandy, mother of David). In one corner of the napkin I attached three white crocheted rosettes that were part of a tablecloth made by great-great-grandmother Anna Robinson and great-aunt Rachel Vorspan (David’s sister). In the other corner is part of an embroidered and crocheted doily made by Bessie Wolfson, first cousin of great-great-grandfather Kopel Kaminsky, who died in the Shoah (father of Sime, my mother).

Before our grandchildren were born, I embroidered in Hebrew, “L’Torah, ul’chupah, ul’ma’asim tovim” on the napkin portions of the pillowcases. This is a prayer for them to study Torah, arrive to the marriage canopy and do good deeds in their future life. I used blue variegated Brazilian embroidery floss for one pillow and a pink, yellow and lavender variegated floss for the other pillow. After the babies were named, I was able to fill in their names in English and Hebrew with their English and Hebrew birth dates. I will be stitching a label inside each case that identifies who made each piece.

Rita and I had the privilege of carrying the babies into the ceremonies on these pillowcases lovingly stitched by the generations that came before them. How delighted these ancestors would be to know that the work of their hands would embrace the future of our families with such love. Our husbands, Nadav and David, held the babies during their britot cradled in the pillowcases.

Alisha and Ahud asked each of the grandparents to share a blessing with their grandchildren. They wanted the blessing to take place under a canopy held up by the baby’s aunts and uncles, Ben Vorspan, Shaina Vorspan and Amitai and Rebecca Sela. I was asked to make this canopy during Passover when Alisha could have had the babies any day (they were born three weeks later). Stitchery was out of the question, so I painted a family tree on a Battenburg lace small round tablecloth. I was able to include some names of great-great-great-great-grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles. What a holy moment to stand under so many generations and bless our precious jewels.

David and I and Rita and Nadav are truly blessed with these new additions to our beloved families. I can’t wait to add more names to the heirlooms we have created, but for the time being, we’re all very delighted to enjoy the newest blessing.

Bonnie Vorspan is an educator at Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills.

Give Your Sukkah a Shot of Style

After the high of the High Holidays, twice-a-year Jews hang up their kippot for another 354 days, or so, and in the process miss out on the lesser-known treat of Sukkot. While not a "High" holiday anymore, Sukkot used to be one of the big three back in the time of the First Temple. The harvest festival was one of the shalosh regalim, or three pilgrimage holidays, when Jews would bring offerings to the Temple. While this ritual has changed, the main one — that of dwelling in a sukkah, or booth, as our ancestors did in the wilderness — remains. It’s a commandment from Leviticus — we’re required to eat our meals in the sukkah, to actually live in it as much as possible, for eight days.

Besides it being a mitzvah, the idea of living closer to the natural world for a period can have spiritual resonance. And with stars visible through the foliage of your roof, and endless possibilities for festooning your sukkah with lights, flowers and traditional fruits, bringing family and friends together for an elegant outdoor dinner party only adds to that. For those of us who are used to thinking of the sukkah as something that more resembles a hut with Hebrew school decorations thrown on the walls haphazardly, here we offer tips for what is decidedly not your momma’s sukkah — and it turns out, it only requires a little more planning to create.

Theme-ing the Cube

Deciding on one thematic element is the first step to creating a cohesive design for your sukkah, according to interior designer Miriam Montag, owner of Memphis Lily Interiors in Los Angeles.

Floral, fruit or harvest themes are all good choices, according to Montag. Last year, she said, she used plastic grapes.

"I draped the grapes … and clustered them down each pole and then linked them around the sukkah with vines," she said.

A friend of Montag’s chose a different unifying element: "She draped tulle from the center out, kind of like a tent feeling, and tulle draped down the sides," Montag said.

Rita Milos Brownstein, author of "Jewish Holiday Style" (Simon & Schuster, 1999) goes one step further. Her book offers suggestions for three very disparate sukkot: a "garden sukkah," a "sukkah by the sea" (which needn’t literally be seaside) and "the penthouse sukkah." From the materials she uses to build the sukkah, to the booth’s interior, each design is customized according to theme: lattice and pine and floral bounty for the garden variety, bamboo and canvas for the seaside sukkah and silvery beads and corrugated fiberglass for the penthouse.

"The biggest key is the more the better. You need to make it bold … and stick with one theme," Montag said.

Schach Talk

Impossible to pronounce, but essential to your sukkah is the schach, or roof covering. While the walls of your sukkah can be made of just about any material — the only directive is that they should be solid enough to inhibit the wind from blowing out a candle — the schach, by contrast, must be porous enough to be able to see the stars from inside the dwelling. It also must be made of items that grow from the ground, and cannot become tamei (ritually unclean), but can no longer be attached to the ground, either. Only organic materials may be used on the roof, which means no staples or nails.

Brownstein offers various suggestions depending on the theme. A roof of aromatic young pines or branches accented with bunches of dried herbs or hydrangeas is perfect for a garden feel, she writes. Roll-up mats, which are a traditional choice, "have a clean, uncluttered, almost Japanese-screen flavor," as is bamboo, which "gives your sukkah a rustic, island look," she writes.

Here in Los Angeles, palm fronds abound and are another attractive way to crown your sukkah, and Montag stresses that any of these choices work beautifully.

"It’s all preference, and what’s easiest…. Whatever it is, you have to work it into your theme and it’s you," she said.

Wall Flowering

Your walls, unlike your ceiling, are literally a blank canvas. Both Montag and Brownstein suggest splatter painting canvas walls for a kind of modern art look as one option — one the kids will no doubt want to help out with, as well.

Montag again stresses practicality as the essential guide in choosing the material for the walls of your sukkah, which can be the same material as your roof. (Jewish law only requires that there be between two and a half and four walls.)

Brownstein suggests various options for different effects. For a Japanese-inspired look, she writes, opaque fiberglass walls give "the look of shoji screens," while "clear plastic sheeting is inexpensive and gives your sukkah a greenhouse look."

Woven lattice is Brownstein’s choice for the garden-themed sukkah, with plastic sheets stapled to the outside of the walls to block the wind, and canvas or ripstop nylon for the "sukkah by the sea."

"If you use white nylon sides," she writes, "tie back your entrance flap for a look of casual elegance."

Decorations and Centerpieces: Be Fruitful and Multiply

Building on the theme through decorations is essential. For a harvest motif, Montag suggests placing wheat stocks on either side of entry, and then around the sukkah.

As many florists have taken to doing these days, Montag suggests incorporating fruit like grapes or pomegranates — which are two of the sheva minim (seven species of fruit associated with the land of Israel in the Bible) — with flowers, for distinctive centerpieces.

Hanging fruit and spice garlands, flanking your entryway with appropriate potted plants or flowers, or decking the ceiling with silvery beads are some of Brownstein’s suggestions for adding atmosphere.

Night Light

Lighting, of course, adds the final touch of ambiance. In some sukkot she’s visited, Montag said, "sometimes you have this ugly bulb," but "run twinkle lights all around the sukkah and you don’t even need other lights."

She also suggests Moroccan lanterns, which come in all shapes and sizes.

"You can get one big one, or you can do three" she said. "They’re fun to mix and hang at different heights. They’re not cheap, but it’s an investment you use in your sukkah forever."

Brownstein suggests a romantic candelabra, "taking care to use short votives that won’t place the flames too near the greenery," or seaside, Chinese bamboo lanterns inside and tiki torches outside as "a dramatic way to welcome your guests at night."

Kids Stuff

There is, of course the question of what to do about the children’s decorations. Montag is quick to emphasize that the kiddie art doesn’t have to be trashed to achieve a look of elegance.

"You should have your kids’ stuff hanging there. That’s the beauty of Sukkot," she said.

Of her mother’s sukkah, Montag said, "The whole thing is decorated with things that we made over the years," and added to avoid a messy, haphazard look, a unifying element once again does the trick. "You can run ribbon around. You can use gold ribbon … to hang all the same little decorative things."

Brownstein notes that with all of the decorations you make to hang in your sukkah, "most important, share the fun and creativity with the ones you cherish. These are the rituals that create the memories."

Groundwork Laid to Evacuate Gaza

Despite political hurdles, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is forging ahead with his Gaza disengagement plan, giving various government agencies the green light to prepare for the evacuation of settlers — using both carrots and sticks.

Even as Israeli police begin laying the groundwork for evacuating Gaza, an interministerial team of some 70 officials is working out details of a bill to compensate evacuees in hopes that the prospect of money and alternate housing will help avert a violent confrontation between settlers and police.

Despite police objections — "no budget, no manpower" — the Cabinet decided that Israeli police would perform the actual evacuation.

Tzachi Hanegbi, who recently resigned as minister of internal security, wanted the army to do the job, as it did in the evacuation of Yamit in northern Sinai 22 years ago. But most ministers preferred to spare young soldiers the experience of a potentially violent confrontation with Jewish citizens.

So police have begun making necessary preparations. Step one: allocating the funds.

Not only will the government need to pay generous compensation to evacuated settlers — about $400 million — the actual process of evacuation will require substantial funds. Police Inspector General Moshe Karadi met Sept. 5 with senior officers to assess the costs involved.

The cost of the evacuation will depend on the scope of resistance, both in Gaza and in Israel proper. No one knows for sure how many people will actively resist the evacuation, or over what period of time. Therefore it’s not only a matter of budget but of recruiting the necessary manpower.

It’s assumed that large police forces will be kept busy not only in the Gaza Strip but also within Israel, dealing with demonstrations against the disengagement.

Police were planning to set up an "evacuation administration" comprising two arms, one responsible for planning the evacuation and the other for carrying it out. The Border Police, which usually is deployed in the territories to deal with the Palestinian population, has been selected to evacuate the settlers.

The Border Police plans to reinforce its 12 companies with an additional 20 reserve companies, which will free up regular forces to cope with the evacuation.

Sharon hopes to create sufficient motivation among settlers to evacuate their homes willingly in exchange for generous compensation packages, avoiding violent confrontations like those in Yamit.

An interministerial team is working out details of the compensation bill. The general idea is to offer settlers a house in exchange for a house; they also will be given the option of relocating en masse to communities in Israel.

Government assessors were instructed to appraise the houses according to equivalents in regions that are better off than development towns, but not as upscale as Tel Aviv.

The evacuation administration already has proposed advance payments that would be deducted from final compensations, but advances can’t be handed out until the complicated legal procedure behind them is finalized.

The government will commit itself to paying out the full value of compensation packages even if the disengagement plan eventually collapses. Settlers also will receive special compensation worth six months’ salary to find alternative employment.

Eran Sternberg, spokesman for the Gush Katif settlement bloc, insisted in an interview with JTA that only a handful of families have expressed interest in entering negotiations on compensation.

"We regard this entire talk on compensations as psychological warfare," Sternberg said. "Sharon in his desperation shoots in all directions."

The overarching imperative in preparing for the evacuation is to avoid civil war. Policemen in the evacuation task force will undergo special psychological seminars, preparing them for confrontation with their "brothers."

When will all this take place? Sharon recently told his Likud Party’s Knesset faction that he did not intend to "drag out the disengagement plan over a long period of time."

He has presented the following timetable for the disengagement:


• By Sept. 14, the prime minister will present the Cabinet a blueprint for evacuation and compensation of the settlers.


• By Sept. 26, a draft disengagement bill will be presented to the Cabinet.


• By Oct. 24, the financial compensation bill will be brought to the Cabinet.


• On Nov. 3, the compensation bill — "The Law for Implementing the Disengagement Plan" — will be brought to the Knesset.

It’s assumed that the actual evacuation would take place no later than February 2005.

After Likud voters rejected Sharon’s disengagement plan in a May 2 party referendum, and following the impressive human chain protest of some 130,000 people in late July, settlers now are planning additional anti-disengagement campaigns, including an upcoming massive protest in downtown Jerusalem.

"Over 3,000 children and youths began the school year this week at our schools," Sternberg said. "I’m sure we will all be there to open the next school year."

Wonderousness of the First Time

A bar mitzvah is a time of becoming an adult. While my son was ready to proclaim, "Today I am a man," he also had to go through life with his voice changing and the wearing of braces for a perfect smile.

My first experience with this momentous occasion was after our son celebrated his first birthday. His grandfather, marveling at how bright he was, told everyone, "In 12 years we will have a bar mitzvah!"

It was an occasion he longed to see and, fortunately for all of us, he did.

As the years progressed, each year he would remind Bobby. Each time there were similar remarks followed by, "I know, Papa. Only six more years!"

While his grandfather often went over the prayers with him and his grandmother was in awe of how tall he was growing, my concerns were more about planning the event. We had been to a few bar mitzvahs during the year and everyone seemed to be similar. I guessed one copied another.

When the date was set, everything came into focus. He really will become a bar mitzvah. How exciting the whole year became. Bobby knew his prayers and haftarah very well. No one was concerned about that. He began to work on his sermon and master that, too.

Our synagogue does not allow music during Shabbat, so this had to be our plan: After Friday night services we had the regular pareve desserts — since most who keep kosher have a meat meal on Friday night and could not have dairy afterward — fresh fruits and lots of pick-up desserts, which worked very well.

We had invited my parents’ friends and my in-laws’ friends, plus all of our relatives. In addition, there were our friends, plus our children’s friends. We were hoping for 100, but stopped counting as the response cards surpassed that number.

Two days before, I followed Bobby and his Papa to shul, where my father bought Bobby a tallit. On the bimah, before his lesson was to start, I was fortunate to be able to take pictures of Daddy as he unfolded the tallit and showed Bobby how to say the prayer and wear it. Since we could not take photos on Shabbat, I instead look back on this time with fond memories.

Because we had hired a fabulous caterer, I was not worried. The florist was also terrific. Friday night came and went and we were very proud. We were to have a quiet Shabbat lunch after services and since we can play music after Shabbat ends, following the evening service there would be a big celebration.

Saturday morning is a long service. As we sat in the second row, always reserved for the family, we were so proud of our little man. He chanted with great confidence. The aliyot went by very well. When it was time for his haftarah, he started beautifully. Somewhere in the middle, he paused and cleared his throat.

While he seemed to be searching for the next note, I was worried because his wonderful teacher, our cantor, did not jump in to help. Finally, he cleared his throat again and continued without a hitch. I felt so bad for him. There was too much for him to do, I whispered to his dad. He reassured me that all would be fine.

The rest of the service was wonderful. Soon we were down in the sisterhood hall, enjoying the compliments from everyone on the services, and the beautifully served food. Some time later, I asked him if he hesitated because he was nervous or because he forgot the words.

Bobby laughed and leaned over.

"The reason I paused," he told me, "is because I swallowed one of my rubber bands. Darn braces!"

Joan G Friedman, lives in Reading, Penn., and can be reached at

B’nai Mitzvah Planning Guide

At Birth

When the child is born, start saving! It’s not a bad idea to start two savings accounts; one for college and one for the bar or bat mitzvah.

One to three years ahead

  • Set the date.

  • Set a budget.

  • Reserve the synagogue.

  • Reserve the hall for additional receptions.

  • Arrange for caterer, party planner and band or DJ.

  • Buy a loose-leaf binder or start a filing system on index cards.

Ten to 12 months ahead

  • Begin b’nai mitzvah lessons.

  • (Continue to) attend weekly Shabbat services as a family.

  • Arrange for photographer and videographer.

  • Book hotel accommodations and investigate transportation for out-of-town guests.

Six months ahead

  • Plan colors and theme.

  • Arrange for florist and make guest list.

Four to five months ahead

  • Order invitations and thank-you notes, imprinted napkins and personalized party favors.

  • Shop for clothing and shoes.

  • Purchase a tallit and tefillin, if applicable.

  • Choose a calligrapher.

Three months ahead

  • Plan Sunday brunch, if applicable.

  • Order printed yarmulkes.

Two months ahead

  • Meet with photographer and videographer.

  • Meet with florist and/or decorations coordinator.

  • Mail out-of-town invitations.

Six weeks ahead

  • Order tuxedos.

  • Take care of clothing alterations.

  • Order wine for Kiddush.

  • Mail in-town invitations.

Four weeks ahead

  • Prepare speech.

  • Finalize reservations and transportation.

  • Meet with caterer.

  • Make welcome gifts for out-of-town guests.

  • Arrange aliyot.

  • Send honorary gift to synagogue.

  • Meet with rabbi.

  • Make seating charts for reception (and dinner).

Two weeks ahead

  • Give final count to caterer.

  • Check with florist.

  • Meet with rabbi.

  • Order cake, cookies and pastries for Friday night oneg Shabbat.

A few days ahead

  • Have rehearsal and take bimah photographs.

  • Make copies of speeches, room and table layouts, and give them to a friend to hold for you.

Special day

  • Enjoy your simcha!

The Last-Minute Pajama Party

The Invitation Process

“It’s already been decided,” my 6-year-old announces with an impish smile and a green-eyed glint.

“What’s been decided, honey?” I ask.

“My first sleepover party. I invited Julia, Emma and Rachel to sleep over this weekend.”

“Noa,” I say slowly, wondering who has a slumber party in kindergarten. “Do their mothers know about this?”

“Don’t worry. Their mommies will know tonight,” she says, patting my arm.

And then suddenly I remember: I’m the Mommy: “How about asking me first?”

Her voice softens, her eyes widen and twinkle: “Can I? It will be so much fun. Please, Mommy.”

Fun. It’s not her birthday, or any special occasion, but on the other hand, I haven’t seen her look so excited since the divorce.

Her sister, Maya, light-up sneakers planted firmly in the linoleum floor, grabs Noa’s arm. “But you can’t forget about me.”

Noa takes her 4-year-old sister’s hand. “You’ll get to sleep in the middle,” she says. “And I’ll make sure no one’s mean to you.”

My mini Powerpuff Girls. They know how to work me. No, I realize at that point is not an option.

“So who is coming to this slumber party?” I ask with a smile.

“Everyone,” Noa says.

“Noa,” I say, did you ask only those three girls?”

“Well, I did mention it to Alexandra, Sarah, Rosie and Danielle.”

“Is there anyone else I should know about?” I ask her.

It turns out she invited 10 girls. Ten girls in my house for one weekend. We didn’t send out invitations, didn’t do E-vite, just a formal word-of-mouth invitation. That’s how the party begins.

The Preparations

I am no longer the lone single mother in a class of 20. Overnight, thanks to my daughter, I have become Britney Spears’ mother — aka “kindergarten corrupter.”

When you have a slumber party, you’re not only inviting the kids, but involving the parents as well. For the next few days, the telephone rings incessantly.

• Alexandra’s mother: What time do you plan to send them to bed?

• Rachel’s mother: What movie are you showing them?

• Emma’s mother: What will they be eating and drinking?

• Danielle’s mother: What happens if she wakes up in the middle of the night?

I quickly improvise the party plan, and tell the mothers that the girls will be in bed no later than 10 p.m., they’ll have pizza, cut-up fruit, drinks and some junk, I’ll rent “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and if they wake up, I’ll put them back to sleep. I feel exhausted by the list of questioning, but then I realize that if I were sending Noa out, I’d do the same thing.

The phone rings again. It’s Lexy’s Mother, who lives in a mansion with two kids, no pets, a nanny and a live-in housekeeper. I repeat all the party plans.

“You’re so brave,” she says.

How ’bout loaning me your SWAT team for a night? I want to say, but instead say, “Thanks, I was a camp counselor for 10 years. I’m sure I can do it.”

Can I? Two days before the party I run into Sarah’s mother at the gym.

“Sarah’s been X’d off the list,” she says.

I tell her that’s impossible.

“Sarah went in front of the class yesterday to tell a story about how she is taking skating lessons,” her mother says. “Noa found out the story wasn’t true, and she told Sarah that people who lie are not allowed in your house.”

I laugh to myself, secretly pleased that my words actually do have an impact.

“I’ll talk to Noa,” I tell her.

Over dinner that night I tell Noa that no one is allowed to be X’d from our sleepover.

“It’s not nice,” I say, “It hurts people’s feelings — even if Sarah lied.”

Noa replies: “Well, that’s why I didn’t invite Nicole either. She lied about a library book.”

The dish in my hand falls to the sink. “Who’s Nicole?”

Pre-party Jitters

My girls and I head to the supermarket. We pick up enough junk food to feed an army and a navy. Then I remember allergies and put half the stuff back. I add products without peanuts, some lactose-free items and lots of junk.

We get home and unpack the goodies, and as I get ready to make dinner Noa turns to me and says, “Mommy, I don’t have a sleeping bag.”

Her sister: “Me either.”

Sleeping bags. How could I forget?

Noa: “And I want one that’s light blue with a big butterfly on it.”

Maya: “And I want one with a princess on it.”

Off to Target. Seventeen minutes, two sleeping bags, one with a butterfly and one with a princess. I turn to Noa, and see that the social butterfly’s eyes are tearing up.

I can’t think of anything we’ve forgotten.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“What if they don’t come? What if we buy all this food, make everything fun and nobody sleeps over? What if they don’t like the movie? What if….”

Maya wraps her arms around her older sister: “Don’t worry, I’ll be there.”

This doesn’t comfort her.

“Well, Mommy, I don’t want to have this party anyway,” she says. “It’s all your fault. You invited people I don’t like! You invited everybody!”

I glare at her, and borrow a line from a movie. “If you build it they will come.”

Her forehead crinkles: “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know,” I shrug. “But it sounds good doesn’t it?”

We return home. Bath, brush, book and bed. Finally, I can relax. The phone rings. It’s Molly’s mom: “Molly’s been throwing up all day. I’m sorry she won’t be there tomorrow.”

One down, 10 to go.

The Party

It’s Saturday, D-day.

What to wear? I’m opting for the authoritative-but-not-trying-too-hard look: Yes, I’m fun, but in control. I settle on slim black pants and a buttoned-down shirt. (The don’t-worry-your-daughters-will-come-back-in-one-piece look.)

6 p.m. Noa and Maya are so excited. I take a deep breath. Pizza’s been ordered, kid music is on, fruit and junk are evenly distributed around the room, the video is rewound: Showtime.

The parents arrive one by one, with nervous expressions. Three of them say they are going to pick up their kids at 10 p.m. but brought their sleeping bags just in case.

6:45 p.m. Finally all the girls are here — filed with giggles and stories. Noa is ringleader; Maya, her devoted lieutenant. Everyone is ready for pizza, movie and sweets (fruit is ignored). The night flows from food and flick to charades and freeze-dance to getting ready for bed. The girls are so unexpectedly well-behaved and fun that I pinch myself.

11:07 p.m. After telling five stories, all the girls are down. I mentally pat myself on the back: I did it. I check on the girls once again and then crawl into bed.

2:45 a.m. I am awakened by a shrill scream: “I want my mommy!” I race to get the crying girl out of the room, fearing a domino reaction. I bring her to bed, tell her a story and rub her back. She puts her thumb in her mouth and bobs her head. Twenty minutes later, she’s down.

3:30 a.m. “Where’s Poppy?” Another little girl howling for her stuffed animal. I find Poppy at the bottom of the sleeping bag, rub her back and she’s down.

4:15 a.m. Maya stumbles into my room. “Mommy, why is Sarah in your bed? She’s in my spot. Move her over.” I shift Sarah to the far side of the bed. Maya recovers her territory. Within minutes, she, too, is down.

5:20 a.m. Noa opens my crusty eyelids with her fingers: “Mommy, they all slept over. You were right.”

Me: “I know honey, now go back to sleep. Please.”

7:37 a.m. Everybody’s up and hungry. I fix breakfast: french toast, eggs (cooked three different ways), cereal, juice, milk — something for everyone. Of course, I am wrong. Everyone has a special order. I become a glorified servant.

8:30 a.m. Breakfast is over. Everyone’s happy. Dishes are thrown in the sink. Girls are engaged in a tea party with water and cheerios, which spill all over the floor.

11 a.m. Parents arrive. None of the kids want to leave.

Noon: It’s just me and my girls. The house is quiet.

Noah says, “I did it, Mommy.”

“You sure did, honey,” I say.

Maya chimes in: “Can I have a sleepover party, too?”

Noa takes her hand. “Sure you can, Maya, don’t worry, I’ll organize it. We can do it next weekend. Right Mommy?”

The 10 Sleepover Commandments

Thou Shalt Not give kids chocolate after 9 p.m.

Thou Shalt remind all parents to send their child’s favorite stuffed animal to the party.

Thou Shalt read only happy ending books to kids before bed, and no scary movies during the course of the night.

Thou Shalt Not let kids know you’re nervous about letting them sleep out overnight — your confidence begets confidence.

Thou Shalt make sure all children go to the bathroom before getting into a sleeping bag.

Thou Shalt put no child on "the end" — sleep in a circular configuration (all heads facing inside).

Thou Shalt immediately remove "crying" child from premises and "chatterboxes" after "lights out" to avoid a domino reaction.

Thou Shalt not go it alone. Have a spouse, friend or relative help with the party.

Thou Shalt call all parents yourself when children are not in the room to let them know the kids are doing great (don’t mention you’re about to plotz).

Thou Shalt sleep well the night before the sleepover party — R.E.M. during "pajama night" is simply not an option. — LF

Wedding Woes and Chuppah Horrors

Warning: Article may contain graphic descriptions of wedding snafus. Content may be unsuitable for anxious brides, grooms or mothers-in-law. (But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending.)

It was a hot and sunny June afternoon, just hours before Julie Davine’s meticulously planned 1991 wedding at the Hotel Sofitel. The huppah stood festooned in tulle with pink and white roses for the evening ceremony. Upstairs, the tuxedoed and gowned wedding party posed for photographs on the balcony of the penthouse bridal suite. Suddenly, Julie said she saw a cloud of black smoke. "I said, ‘What’s that smoke?’ But everyone said I was being neurotic, so I dismissed it," she said.

The smoke came from the hotel’s blown power transformer. The back-up system could generate sufficient power for lights, but not for air conditioning. By the time the ceremony started, "we were schvitzing up a storm," Davine recalled. During the reception, a friend pointed out a butter plate with its contents pooling.

Cindy Petrack faced a different snag during her 1993 wedding. She had chosen a favorite neighborhood restaurant to cater her reception at Temple Emet (now Kol Tikvah) in Woodland Hills. When it was time to discuss final details, Petrack called numerous times but got no answer. She drove to the restaurant to discover an empty storefront. The owner had gone bankrupt and skipped town. It was eight days before her wedding.

When it comes to weddings, glitches come with the territory. Fortunately, most aren’t as major as a power outage or disappearing caterer.

"There are different levels of snafus," said Larry Gootkin of Larry Gootkin Music & Entertainment. "I always tell my clients that variables will come up."

At the same time, he points out, many potential problems can be remedied by professionals who are adept at improvising in a crunch. Gootkin recalled a reception where the cake failed to be delivered. To help out, he called his wife, who is a caterer. She instructed the maitre d’ to race out to the nearest grocery store and purchase three plain cakes. Then she talked his staff through the process of assembling and decorating them. The couple never knew the difference.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that cakes make up a high percentage of wedding snafus. At one event, a wayward champagne cork flew up, hit the chandelier, and sent a shower of crystal down on the cake. It wasn’t served. At another wedding, the cake turned out to come from a bakery that wasn’t kosher. The cake appeared in photos, but not on the dessert plates. One cake at an outdoor wedding attracted a trail of ants. The offending portions were excised, and small pieces of the remainder were served to the guests.

In another example of a professional averting a potential snafu, Rabbi Allen Maller of Temple Akiba in Culver City recalled an occasion when he spotted a fly in the kiddush cup. "So I made up a quick thing, saying ‘Before we share this cup of wine, we should share some with the potted palm here,’" he said. And early in his career, Maller performed a wedding where the groom couldn’t smash the glass, despite repeated attempts. "As a joke, one of his friends had put a whisky glass in the napkin," Maller recalled. Now, he said, he always checks how heavy the glass is and whether anything’s floating in the wine cup before starting a ceremony.

While officiants and vendors can cover many gaffes, couples themselves can avoid some potential pitfalls by planning thoroughly and thinking ahead. Cindy Hassel, president of S&R Originals, an event decorating and coordinating company, noted that while you can’t control the weather, you can’t ignore it, either. She was asked to do a Feb. 14 outdoor wedding in Hidden Hills. When workers arrived in the morning to set up, the temperature was 70 degrees. By the time the evening reception started, rain had given way to a freak hailstorm that collapsed the tent. "Don’t try to fool Mother Nature," Hassel advised. "Expect rain between December and April, and if you don’t get it you’re lucky. You always have to have back up plans or a great sense of humor."

Hassel also reminds men to try on their tuxedos prior to the wedding to ensure proper fit. One groomsman confidently told her, "I don’t have to try mine on. I own it." But on the day of the wedding, when he took it out of the dry cleaning bag, he discovered he’d taken his father’s much larger-sized tuxedo instead.

Bandleader Gootkin consults with his clients to prepare a detailed event schedule, which helps avoid timing problems. He also urges couples to select vendors with appropriate experience, including familiarity with Jewish weddings. (Once, a videographer asked him, "What’s a hora?") Gootkin once played at a wedding where the couple had also hired a classical trio — including a former member of L.A. Philharmonic — to play during the ceremony. The musicians played the processional, but the piece ended before everyone had reached the altar. When the coordinator whispered, "Keep playing!" they launched into the next piece. So the clergy got to walk down to "Here Comes the Bride," as the bride watched in disbelief.

Fortunately, most wedding glitches — even the big ones — become a source of humor immediately or soon after the event. Davine, whose guests endured sweltering temperatures, looks back on the day fondly. "It was still the best day," she said. "I don’t have any bad feelings or memories. And I know no one will ever forget it."

"In life and in marriage you have to try to take anything that’s negative and try to see a positive aspect," Maller suggested. "I would say that if you lose the wedding cake, just think of it as a contribution to the new low-carb diet."

He added, "Jews break a glass at weddings to remind us of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The lesson is that there are challenges in life and in marriage, and we can overcome them the same way that the loss of Jerusalem and the Temple didn’t mean the end of Judaism."

Wedding coordinator Hassel knows better than most what a real catastrophe is. At her own wedding, her father fainted, which was chalked up to the heat. But when he complained of indigestion later at the reception, a guest determined that he was having a heart attack and had him rushed by ambulance to the hospital. Fortunately, he recovered. But the incident gave her perspective. "I, more than anyone, understand that this is all stuff; it’s what I do for a living…. But you can get married in a rabbi’s study and it’s still a wedding."

When Maller counsels couples prior to their wedding, he urges them to keep matters in perspective. "I tell couples, ‘A wedding is one day of your life. Hopefully, you will be married for many, many years, which is thousands of days. So don’t lose balance.’"

In other words, despite any minor blunders during the wedding itself, there will still be a "happily ever after."

To help keep your wedding high on romance and low on horror, suspense or comedy, heed these tips from the experts:

Carefully choose vendors, such as coordinators, bands, DJs, photographers and caterers. Check references thoroughly and select people you feel comfortable with.

Make sure your vendors are familiar with the sequence and customs of Jewish weddings.

Verify that the vendors you meet with are the same people who will actually be working at your wedding.

Draw up an agenda and schedule so everyone knows what’s supposed to happen and when.

Share preferences and important information with your vendors. If your families are feuding, you despise the song "YMCA" or Uncle Harry is allergic to dairy, better to make accommodations in advance.

Prepare a checklist of all the items that need to be taken to the wedding location. Don’t forget a sewing kit and safety pins.

Appoint a trusted relative or friend to be your lieutenant on the wedding day. That person can oversee details and work with your coordinator and/or vendors so you can be free to savor your special day.

Don’t expect every detail to be perfect.

Enjoy yourself.

Settlers Threaten to Resist Withdrawal

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faces a new obstacle to his plan to evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank: right-wing rabbis who have ruled that dismantling settlements contravenes Jewish law. The rabbis are calling on soldiers to disobey orders and on settlers to forcibly resist evacuation.

Given the potential for confrontation, the army and police are training special forces to carry out the evacuation, and there is even talk of building detention camps for settlers in case of mass resistance.

The Israeli right wing is split on the issue, and left-wing politicians are warning the rabbis against creating conditions like those preceding the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, when some settler rabbis made religious rulings that seemed to condone violence against the prime minister.

No evacuation is scheduled to take place until next year, but the mood on both sides already is tense. In its worst-case scenarios, the defense establishment is not ruling out that some settlers will use guns against Israeli troops, and some legislators have warned settler leaders against following a path that could lead to "civil war."

The latest rabbinical ruling came from a former Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Avraham Shapira, now head of the Rabbis’ Union for the Complete Land of Israel and one of the National Religious Party’s most influential spiritual leaders.

In answer to a question from a follower, Shapira came out unequivocally against any evacuation of Jewish settlers in Gaza. "It is clear and obvious that, according to the Torah, handing over parts of our holy land to non-Jews, including parts of Gush Katif, is a sin and a crime," Shapira wrote, referring to one bloc of Gaza settlements.

"Therefore, any thought or idea or decision or any semblance of action of any kind to evacuate residents from Gush Katif and hand the land over to non-Jews is opposed to halacha," or Jewish religious law, he wrote. "Therefore, nothing must be done to assist the eviction from their homes and land, and everything done to prevent it."

Shapira’s call followed a similar ruling by the Yesha rabbinical council, which declared that "no man, citizen, police officer or soldier is authorized to help in uprooting settlements."

Not only the rabbis are taking a militant stand. In a mid-June interview with a national religious publication, Uri Elitzur, editor of the settler journal, Nekuda, declared that "the uprooting of a settlement is illegal and shocking and therefore justifies refusal to obey orders and violence, excluding the use of firearms."

Elitzur added that he would grant his "complete understanding to people who harm those who come to evacuate them."

Coming from a man who served as former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau chief and who ran the National Religious Party’s last election campaign, sympathy for violent opposition sent shockwaves through the political system.

Peace Now and legislator Avshalom Vilan of the Yahad-Meretz Party urged Israel’s attorney general to prosecute Elitzur for incitement to violence.

Ilan Leibovich of the Shinui Party told Israel Radio that "Uri Elitzur has lost his mind and must be stopped immediately before he starts a civil war."

Even Social Affairs Minister Zevulun Orlev, leader of the National Religious Party’s more moderate wing, dissociated himself from Elitzur, insisting that Elitzur doesn’t reflect the position of the national religious movement.

On the contrary, Orlev said, "we distance ourselves from any threat of civil war and bloodshed, as from fire."

What happens on the ground could depend to some extent on the National Religious Party’s leadership. But the party’s two senior figures, Orlev and party leader Effi Eitam, are sending out mixed signals.

Eitam resigned from the government over Sharon’s plan to evacuate settlements, while Orlev stayed on. Moreover, Eitam is championing legislation to bar the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from participating in the evacuation of settlements, while Orlev says the government has the right to use the army as it pleases.

In marked contrast to Eitam, who says soldiers from Orthodox or settler families would face an impossible dilemma if ordered to evacuate other settlers or even their own families, Orlev insists that "the IDF must carry out government orders without reference to the political beliefs of its soldiers. If it starts choosing assignments according to political beliefs, that would constitute an existential threat to the State of Israel."

The question is to what extent will settlers take their cue from National Religious Party leaders, and whether they will heed the moderates in their own leadership.

Bentzion Lieberman, chairman of the Yesha settlers’ council, echoed Orlev when he said that "uprooting settlements and expelling Jews is a historical and moral crime, but refusing to obey an order is an existential threat to the State of Israel."

But will settlers listen to Lieberman or to the radical rabbis? And what about settler extremists who, even if a minority, are bound to oppose evacuation with violence and create considerable mayhem?

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz estimates that thousands of settlers will resist evacuation forcibly, and the IDF is taking into account the possibility that settlers will use firearms.

The army and police both are training special forces to deal with expected settler resistance. The plan at present is for the soldiers to cut off the areas being evacuated and for the police to do the actual evacuating. A team planning the evacuation, led by Sharon’s national security adviser, Giora Eiland, even is considering building detention centers for settler resisters who break the law.

A decision on the first evacuations is scheduled for March. As the date approaches, signs are that the clash between government and settlers will go beyond anything seen in Israel until now.

To avert this, voices of reason and conciliation will have to come to the fore. But for the time being, it’s the radicals who are getting louder by the day.

Adding Mitzvah Multiplies Simcha

Sometimes the smallest details are the ones that make the biggest impression. You remember the pretty napkins or the mints with dessert. You remember the bride walking down the aisle with both her parents instead of just her father. You remember the way the bat mitzvah girl wore a hand-made yarmulke.

Chances are you don’t remember the decoration color scheme or what was served as a main course for dinner. But if a mitzvah project is part of the celebration, it will be one of the details noticed and appreciated no matter how small the effort.

When Debra Nielbulski came back from a family gathering in St. Louis, she remembered the unusual centerpieces on the tables at a family brunch. The beautifully decorated baskets of food served a dual purpose: as centerpieces and a mitzvah project.

Nielbulski has brought the idea back to Seattle. She put together a committee and created the fund-raising project that has been supporting the Jewish Family Service Food Bank for many years. The project has grown geographically over the years, with similar efforts in cities around the nation. Some families continue to put together the baskets on their own and donate the food to a food bank of their choice. On a related theme, depending on the time of year, baskets of school supplies or socks and other necessities would be appropriate for b’nai mitzvah decorations. How pretty the mitzvah is remains up to the family, so decorating the social hall with baskets instead of flowers doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your color scheme. You can even pay a private basket company to put the donation centerpieces together in an attractive way. Be sure to hang a pretty tag from the basket explaining where the food or other items will be donated.

Tables are the place to look for another celebration mitzvah project. One detail to think about while you are planning your simcha is what to do with extra food after the event. A number of organizations are interested in sharing your leftovers with others. For more information, look in the yellow pages for food banks and homeless shelters and ask any one of them if they take donations of party leftovers and if they know which organization does. In many cities, an organization will come to the synagogue or hotel to pick up the extra food that never made it to the table. In other places, you will have to drive the trays over to your local homeless shelter, but think of all the hungry people who will share your simcha with this simple effort. And don’t let anyone try to convince you that donations like this are illegal. You cannot be held liable for the food you donate, as long as it didn’t sit on someone’s plate first.

The national Jewish organization MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger offers another simple way to help the hungry while you are celebrating a joyous family occasion.

MAZON encourages families to donate 3 percent of the cost of their simcha to help feed the hungry. MAZON funds projects that deliver meals to the homebound, provides food to kosher kitchens, offers nutritional counseling for low-income women with children, and advocates for long-term solutions to hunger.

“MAZON is, of course, responsive to hunger among Jews; but in keeping with the best of our traditions, it also responds to all who are in need,” explains a MAZON pamphlet. The organization was founded in 1985 to “build a bridge between Jews who enjoy the blessings of abundance, and the millions of children and adults who are hungry, or who live at the very edge of hunger, each day.”

The MAZON Web site points out that more than 33 million Americans — including 12 million children — are hungry or at the very edge of hunger. The organization can be reached by calling (310) 442-0020, by visiting or by writing to MAZON at 1990 S. Bundy Dr., Suite 260, Los Angeles, CA 90025-5232.

For brides who have no real plans to wear their beautiful wedding gowns again, a mitzvah project in Israel might appeal to you. The Rabbanit Bracha Kapach gives used wedding dresses to brides who cannot afford their own, in addition to a wide variety of other relief projects she conducts in Jerusalem. Danny Siegel in his book, “Mitzvahs” (Town House, 1990) suggests sending your wedding dress to the rabbanit in the hands of a friend who is visiting Israel. The rabbanit also needs wedding rings. You can contact her at 12 Lod St., Jerusalem, 249-296.

This is only a small sample of the many possible mitzvah projects a family might do to celebrate a wedding or bat mitzvah. For additional ideas, ask your rabbi or read Siegel’s book.

Donna Gordon Blankinship is a freelance writer living in Seattle.

Rites Launch Israel Tolerance Museum

Amid a gaggle of Israeli security guards, bustling volunteers and California Highway Patrol officers wired up to communicate with who knows whom, Rabbi Abraham Cooper runs around the first two of about 50 rows of plastic seats temporarily set up in Jerusalem’s Cats Square.

"Bring me chairs over here," says Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, as he tries to move some seats to make room for one more.

"[Israeli Defense Minister] Shaul Mofaz is not going to be a happy man," he says aloud to no one in particular. "See this guy over here?" he tells his helpers, pointing to a flimsy seat that doesn’t look big enough to hold the name on the sign: "Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger," "this guy doesn’t move."

It’s Sunday, May 2, two hours until the official groundbreaking ceremony for the new $200 million Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance, and this game of musical chairs Cooper is finessing is the final touch to prepare for all the dignitaries, politicians, donors and supporters who all, it seems, will get to say a few words before about 1,200 people at a ceremony that will last about 2 hours.

So of course, Cooper wants to arrange the seats just right — does architect Frank Gehry sit to the left or right of the governor, and where do donors Merv Adelson and Gary Winnick sit? — because while the event signifies the culmination of seven years of planning that have been put into this ambitious project, it is also just the beginning.

T hese are heady days for the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC). Two months before the Jerusalem groundbreaking, the New York Tolerance Center, another SWC offshoot, opened its doors in Manhattan.

The Jerusalem and New York projects are outgrowths of the original Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Other cities are asking SWC founder and dean Rabbi Marvin Hier for his help and know-how in creating their own tolerance museums, but they will have to wait in line.

Quite a success story for the Wiesenthal Center, which opened in 1977 — on the wrong coast — as a one-man institution, operating with one phone and a very long extension chord. Since then, the SWC has evolved from a center for Holocaust remembrance to what its literature describes as an international human rights organization, which claims more than 400,000 family memberships.

From its Los Angeles headquarters, SWC maintains offices in eight U.S. and foreign cities. Its purview now includes Middle East affairs, fighting anti-Semitism anywhere it is a problem, tolerance education, producing documentaries and tracking hate sites on the Internet.

The SWC’s fundraising prowess, boldness, modus operandi and media savviness, which has made it arguably the most visible and vocal Jewish organization here, have understandably drawn criticisms and apprehension.

In an implicit tribute to the SWC’s clout and feistiness, critics generally prefer to remain unnamed or are highly circumspect in their language. Criticisms fall into a number of categories: Hier’s dual role as dean of both the SWC and of separate yeshivas for boys and girls; SWC’s adroit lobbying and ability to obtain funds from state government; high salaries for top executives; turning Holocaust remembrance into a high-tech, multimedia attraction; reportedly exaggerating the dangers of anti-Semitism, and its appetite for moving into territory claimed by established defense and communal organizations.

The outspoken Hier is willing to rebut his detractors point by point, but, overall, he tends to attribute their objections to "envy and jealousy." During a lengthy interview in his office, tied to the 10th anniversary of the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance, Hier, hyperenergetic at 65, commented on his motivating philosophy and the museum’s wide-ranging impact.

From the beginning, Hier said, the SWC based itself on two guidelines: "We were not going to be an abstract research institute but an activist organization, and we wouldn’t run the museum as a particularistic Jewish exercise."

True to this activist credo, in one of SWC’s first public actions, Hier and his longtime associate, Cooper, traveled to Germany and persuaded Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and parliament to lift the statute of limitations on the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. The story and photo made a splash in The New York Times, setting the pattern for constant and overwhelmingly favorable media exposure from then on.

In going beyond the Jewish experience, the SWC and its museum have expanded from the initial modest Holocaust exhibit to include past and present genocides around the world and have vastly expanded their outreach to the broader community. Liebe Geft, Museum of Tolerance director, said that about 4 million people, mostly non-Jews, have visited the museum in the past 10 years, while 110,000 public school students annually tour the exhibits as part of their studies.

The museum’s Tools for Tolerance program has sensitized thousands of law enforcement officers, educators, judges and other professionals in the United States and abroad, Geft said. Many more have been reached through Internet programs, documentaries, teaching guides, conferences and collaboration with ethnic community organizations.

One of the SWC’s major strengths is its instant reaction to world events — anytime and anywhere — touching on Jewish concerns. Though responsive to their board of trustees for long-range policy and spending projects, on the ground, Hier and Cooper largely dispense with committee meetings and bureaucratic processes that hobble more traditional organizations.

John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, attributed part of SWC’s speed in responding to the media and in implementing decisions to avoiding "communal processes, as compared to consensus-driven organizations."

Hier makes no apologies for his executive style, citing Dr. Samuel Belkin, a former president of Yeshiva University, as deploring too much democracy in an organization. "You can’t take a committee vote on every item," Hier said. "That paralyzes the system."

One of his more daring acts has been the decision to go ahead with the new museum in Jerusalem, despite huge costs, unsettled conditions in Israel and opposition by some Israeli voices.

Planned to be three times as large as the mother museum in Los Angeles and designed by architectural superstar Gehry, the Jerusalem center is expected to open in 2007. More than 40 percent of its $200 million objective has been raised from eight donors.

Its mission statement calls for "the promotion of civility and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths and creeds." The museum will include interactive exhibits tracing the history of the Jewish people and the key events that shaped their development.

"This is a project that will focus on today," Hier tells the crowd sitting in the open tent, whose black net tarp is shielding them from the stinging Jerusalem sun. "This a project that will expose the people of the world to the pillars of our faith: tolerance, unity and solidarity," he says, using Hebrew words like derech eretz.

Standing on the expansive black makeshift stage, Hier is dwarfed by the colossal photo tapestry dramatically unfurled moments before, which shows the chimerical structure: The seven-building, 232,500-square-foot project integrates salmony-beige Jerusalem stone, titanium and glass, and with its shimmery blue-and-white effect, open half-moon atrium and Louvre-like triangular glass wall, leaves an awesome impression of endless fluidity, like an ocean.

"The idea of building a building for people who have a lot bad feelings for each other was daunting," Gehry says. "It shouldn’t be one building. I thought it should be a complex … and I wanted from the beginning to have this accessible from all directions."

Breaking it down into small parts symbolizes pluralism, Gehry says, and "it stands for issues that he wanted," referring to Hier, who brainstormed with the architect on the building. Gehry, overcome with emotion, tells the crowd, "I was taught by my parents and grandparents about the people of Israel, and I thought when I was an architect, I would be able to build something for Israel … it is a dream come true."

For Gehry, Hier and the others at the ceremony, this is indeed a dream come true. And while it has been supported by two former Jerusalem’s mayors, Teddy Kolleck and Ehud Olmert, and the current one, Uri Lupolianski, their enthusiasm has not been shared by all.

Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial authority, let it be known early on that the Jerusalem did not need another Holocaust museum. After lengthy discussions between Yad Vashem and the Wiesenthal Center, both sides agreed that the new museum will not deal with the Holocaust.

Asked for comment, Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem directorate chairman, congratulated the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance on its 10th anniversary, adding diplomatically, "We acknowledge the importance of all organizations that promote Holocaust awareness — even when there are occasional differences of opinion between them on professional issues."

A persistent critic has been Esther Zandberg, architectural critic for the influential Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, who wrote on the day of the groundbreaking: "Jerusalem will get a spectacularly expensive showcase project whose content is not clear, even after the explanations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in California, which initiated and financed the project through fundraising, and whose name could not be more ironic in Jerusalem, a city where tolerance is zero."

"The outrageous cost of the structure — NIS 1 billion — is a mockery of the city’s large number of poor," she continued. "With that amount of money, it would be possible to make Cats Square [the museum’s site] shine for all time, and there would still be enough left over for other worthy causes."

Zandberg’s continual attacks demanding justification for the project raised the as-yet unanswerable question of whether Jerusalem actually needs a museum to teach tolerance (no one denies that it needs tolerance itself) but it also reflects a prevalent Israeli attitude of resentment toward American interlopers.

Cooper said they will "create an organic relationship" with existing Israeli tolerance-promoting organizations to develop programs specifically for the Israeli culture, and that the center’s creation in Jerusalem will not only infuse much needed cash and jobs into the capital, but will jump-start tourism, attracting the type of tourist who would travel to Jerusalem to see a Gehry marvel.

Hier is unfazed. "Are we prepared for skeptics? Absolutely. We’re prepared for an army of skeptics casting doubt on us," he told an Israeli reporter. "But I’ll tell you when that army will quiet down and go home. On the day the museum opens, and the first group of Israeli students walks in."

On the home front, one line of criticism has dogged the SWC from its beginning. When New York-born Hier, then the rabbi of an Orthodox congregation in Vancouver, Canada, decided to come to Los Angeles, it was to establish a yeshiva. Only after founding the Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA) did Hier move on to the second institution, then named the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.

Hier is the head and Rabbi Meyer May is the executive director for both institutions, and they receive separate salaries from the corporate entities for YULA and SWC. The overlapping leadership and close ties between a religious and secular-oriented institution have frequently raised questions about state support for the SWC, now totaling more than $50 million.

A number of critics have viewed the flow of government funds as a breach in the separation of church and state. Hier has consistently rejected such objections, arguing that state appropriations are earmarked for the extensive program of tolerance and diversity training for professionals.

A current criticism centers on charges by a YULA staff member that while huge sums are going to the tolerance museums in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, YULA is subsisting on a barebones diet. "We are treated as the poor stepchild," said Joel Fisher, YULA’s athletic director and a former math teacher at the boy’s school.

In a long list of alleged shortcomings, Fisher cited inadequate facilities, such as lack of a library, computer lab, cafeteria or gym; penny-pinching on such basic supplies as toilet paper and stationery; opposition to unionization of teachers; poor security, and excessive salaries and perks for the top leaders, who he said paid little attention to the yeshiva’s needs.

Fisher said that salaries for both rabbinical and secular teachers are good, but that pension and health benefits lag. Other YULA faculty members contacted declined comment or did not return phone calls.

May acknowledged that YULA suffered from a cash-flow problem and has had "to make some painful decisions." These have included consolidation of classes, elimination of two rabbinical faculty positions and some attrition of the secular teaching staff.

But May and Hier rejected all other complaints regarding inadequate facilities and benefits. "We’ve just put in $12 million for construction at the boys school and $6.5 million at the girls school," Hier said. May noted that "in 26 years, we have never missed a payroll for our faculty members," suggesting that a reporter check out whether other Jewish schools could make the same claim. He also asserted that during the past few years, he had brought down the school deficit from $500,000 to $150,000.

Hier, who has raised "hundreds of millions, maybe close to a billion dollars" for SWC and other Jewish causes, makes no apologies for drawing a very sizable salary. He rejects "the mentality of Europe, when the villages brought a nourishing meal to the rabbi on Shabbos, because he didn’t have any food in his pantry."

A cover story on Hier in the Los Angeles Times Magazine some years ago was headlined "The Unorthodox Rabbi," and the ecumenical style of the Orthodox rabbi has not endeared him to the Orthodox community.

Nor was The Jewish Federation among his early fans. However, time seems to have healed some old wounds, at least for the record. Fishel of The Jewish Federation said that "the Wiesenthal Center is an extraordinary resource in reaching many people, even if we do not agree on everything…. The center has not impacted on Federation activities, and I believe it respects the role of The Federation as spokesman for the organized Jewish community."

Betty Ehrenberg, director of international and communal affairs for the national Orthodox Union, lauded SWC’s activities as "extremely helpful to the entire American Jewish community," singling out the new New York Tolerance Center for special praise. "We have worked closely with Rabbi Cooper on many advocacy issues."

One veteran community observer, who requested anonymity, was not quite as enthusiastic. He questioned SWC’s constant "hyperbolic … the sky-is-falling" warnings about anti-Semitic threats and its expertise as a "human relations" agency.

However, he had admiring words for Cooper and praised Hier’s courage in rallying local Orthodox leaders to join in the community’s grief, following Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, an early rebel against the local Jewish establishment as a fire-breathing Soviet Jewry activist, observed that "as long as we understand that there is a role for both The Federation and the Wiesenthal Center, we can minimize the rivalries that naturally exist."

Yaroslavsky jokingly observed that the fiercest politics of all took place in three communities — religious, academic and Jewish. Taking the long view, he added, "The Wiesenthal Center’s establishment definitely filled a vacuum in the community. When people look back 50 years from now, they’ll say, ‘That was a good thing.’"

Amy Klein contributed to this story from Israel.

The Same Boat

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros once gave a speech about the tremendous growth of the Latino population in the United States.

"I hear what you’re saying," a non-Latino woman in the audience said, her voice filled with anxiety. "But can’t anybody do anything about it?"

Cisneros, who in 1981 became the first Latino mayor of a major U.S. city (San Antonio), didn’t share her fear. The enormous growth of the Latino population in the United States — and especially in the Los Angeles region — presents many challenges, but it also offers many opportunities. Not least among the latter is the opportunity for coalitions with other groups, like, for instance, us.

Many people in the Jewish community, to their credit, get this. Yuval Rotem, Israel’s ambassador to the Western United States, initiated a series of formal and informal gatherings with Latino and Jewish activists and politicians, including Cisneros and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys). This year, as in 2002, these culminated in a twilight cruise aboard Fantasea Charter Yachts out of Marina del Rey.

"The Jewish community has always understood it doesn’t have the numbers, and it has to be in alliance with people who do," Cisneros said during his speech on the cruise. "There is a practical reason to make common cause."

Here are a few other reasons: one out of every three Californians is of Latino descent. One out of every two kindergarten students is of Latino descent. There are 35 million Latinos in the United States. By 2050 there will be 100 million. By 2010 more than half Los Angeles’ population will be Latino.

Some see this reality not as a common cause but as a common threat.

In his new book "Who Are We?" Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington argues that Latino immigrants threaten America’s values, identity and way of life. In the March/April issue of Foreign Policy, Huntington presented the heart of his argument: that the contiguity, scale, illegality, regional concentration, persistence and historical presence of Hispanics in America make this immigration an imminent threat. Latinos are slow to assimilate, he argued, and the end result will be "a country of two languages and two cultures."

Huntington’s conclusions are highly arguable, and, to my mind, ultimately unpersuasive (for the piquant back-and-forth, visit He acknowledges that by the second generation, the overwhelming majority of Latinos — 93 percent, to be exact — are primarily English speaking.

Beyond that, as New America Foundation’s Gregory Rodriguez has long pointed out, Latinos are not a monolithic ethnic group, and have never built "parallel ethnic institutions," as have Jews and other minorities, or supported a separatist movement. Rodriguez wrote that Huntington ignores "Mexicans’ history of racial and cultural blending and the reams of survey data that show Mexican Americans place great faith in U.S. institutions."

The problem is not the numbers, but our fear of these numbers, and our lack of preparedness.

"Jews in Los Angeles can pull away from public schools and put gates on their communities," Berman said on the cruise, "but little by little the demographic and political complexion of our community is changing. For us to turn to a strategy of insularity when the country is changing is very dangerous."

We can choose not to engage for now, but the price for that will be grave. How well we manage the growth and change depends on how quickly we can fix four broken systems in our region — healthcare, housing, transportation and education — and how carefully we manage a fifth: our environment. Whatever coalitions we form should plunge headlong into these issues. Immigrants don’t trek to Los Angeles to become better Mexicans or Guatemalans; they come to be Americans. Improving these systems makes that task easier and faster.

Reading Huntington’s article put me in the mood, as theoretical treatises usually do, for reality. So last Sunday I took my daughter to Fiesta Broadway, the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in America. The street was closed to traffic for several blocks, and filled with 500,000 people. As far as I could tell, two of them were Jewish — us — and not many more were non-Latino.

They crowded around hundreds of booths offering product samples of everything from Wishbone dressing to Lactaid. They ate hot dogs and tamales. I didn’t see Samuel Huntington there, but no doubt he would have had a different perception of this uninterrupted flow of humanity. He might have seen a "beachhead," as he put it, of a half-million potential separatists. I saw a half-million Americans, which is to say, eager consumers.

"American Jews have taught us how to be part of America and still maintain our culture," Cisneros said. "These things happen in the American Jewish community not accidentally but because of planning and resolution."

With planning and resolution, Latino-Jewish coalitions can be instrumental in proving Huntington’s worst fears wrong. Because just as we were on the evening of Rotem’s cruise, we are all on the same boat.

Happy Cinco de Mayo.


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s impending visit to Israel could be a win-win for the governor, the Los Angeles Jewish community and for Israel, but first some fine-tuning is in order.

As we reported last week, the governor is scheduled to travel to Jerusalem May 2 to participate in groundbreaking ceremonies there for the $150 million Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance.

But as soon as reports circulated that the visit was on, eyebrows started shooting skyward. By the middle of this week, it looked like the governor’s trip to the Land of Milk and Honey was going to include a side order of sour grapes.

Why, asked some local Jews, did such a high-profile visit seem to exclude representation of a wider swath of the California Jewish community? Why should one Jewish organization take up the bulk of the governor’s agenda? Why was a trip by a politician not organized first through the normal political channels?

"He’s not some star popping in to help out some friends," said one local activist, clearly disgruntled. "He’s the governor of the State of California visiting the State of Israel." (This trip is privately funded, and does not use taxpayers’ money.)

Some of the concerns found their way into a March 24 Los Angeles Times article about the trip. The story, with its implication that the trip was stepping on toes and upsetting protocol, infuriated some Wiesenthal Center supporters.

"I don’t get it," one of them told me. "Here this popular governor is going to Israel at a time when Israel really needs all the friends it can get, and people are turning it into an issue. I’ve had it with the Jews."

You know emotions are running hot when Museum of Tolerance supporters start getting anti-Semitic.

But, exasperated joking aside, the Jerusalem brouhaha does threaten to mar what can be a flat-out success for all parties. So far, the mess is hardly anything that the governor’s office can’t quickly clean up. One experienced local pol — not Jewish — observed the dust-up with dispassion: "Arnold has a mix of politically experienced and politically inexperienced people on his payroll," he said.

When it comes to little things like visits to foreign countries, experience helps.

Simon Wiesenthal Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, who initiated the Jerusalem museum project, said he just can’t comprehend some of the reports and rumors that are circulating about the visit.

Most disturbing is the idea that the visit is some kind of quid pro quo. In the heat of the bitter recall campaign that put Schwarzenegger in office, Hier reiterated the results of a Wiesenthal Center investigation that cleared the Austrian-born governor’s late father, Gustav Schwarzenegger, of involvement in any World War II-era war crimes.

If the trip is seen as payback, it demeans both the governor and the center. "Quid pro quo applies when you don’t know a person," Hier told me by phone. "I’ve known the governor for 20 years. He has had cocktail parties and parlor meetings for us. He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to us and raised millions. He has participated in events of much less importance than [the groundbreaking], so it would be unusual if he didn’t participate in this."

Furthermore, Hier added, the center released all records it found pertaining to Schwarzenegger’s father to the media for public review.

The idea for trip is a year and a half old, Hier said. Schwarzenegger attended a parlor meeting in Miami for the Jerusalem museum long before his run for governor. At that meeting, Schwarzenegger promised to attend.

"He said, ‘You don’t have to tell me I’m going, I’m going,’" Hier said.

There has not been any indication that the recent State Department travel advisory against Israel and the prospect of violence in the wake of the assassination of Shiekh Ahmed Yassin will deter the governor. A spokesperson at the governor’s office said that trip was still in the planning stages, as are responses to security concerns.

"Everything is still being determined," the spokesperson said.

As to whether the Wiesenthal Center should have made sure to bring Israelis and local Jewish leaders in on the trip, Hier said he could only take responsibility for the part of the visit that concerned the groundbreaking ceremony and a Museum of Tolerance fundraising dinner that the governor was scheduled to attend. (The governor’s office would not confirm his attendance at the latter event.)

"I assume he has other components to his trip," Hier said. "We’ve always known he was going to do other things."

All official visits by governors include a meeting with the prime minister — true whether the governor is from California or Kansas — and a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum. (The Museum of Tolerance, which is being designed by Frank Gehry, will have no Holocaust-related exhibit.)

"My interest is that the governor is going to have an official, formal element to his visit to Israel," Israel Consul General Yuval Rotem said. The governor’s office said an itinerary is still in formation, and its release is two to three weeks off.

"Of course that should take place," said Hier, referring to a meeting between Schwarzenegger and the prime minister, "but I’m not involved in that."

Including other community leaders in the festivities surrounding the groundbreaking was not an option, Hier said. Invitees are people whom the center hopes will contribute toward the $200 million price tag of the museum and its endowment. So far, the center has raised $75 million for the project.

"On this occasion the shoe didn’t fit," Hier said. "We’re looking for prospects."

It’s no secret that a dram or two of bad blood has flowed between the Wiesenthal Center and some quarters of the community ever since Hier established the center and the museum here. As the center has become more of a presence in Jewish Los Angeles — many in the media see it as the major Jewish presence here — Hier and other Jewish leaders have worked to forge warmer bonds. Indeed, not everyone is ticked. "I think it’s fine," said Mel Levine, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of The Jewish Federation, regarding the trip. Levine, himself a former congressman, did not think a promise made as a private citizen should necessarily be negated once in public service.

"The governor, long before he was governor, was a supporter of the Museum of Tolerance here," he said, "and I believe it’s good whenever public officials go to Israel."

Officially, then, many community leaders are adopting a far-from-antagonistic approach to the visit. They want the governor, in the words of one activist, to see that "there’s more to the Jewish community than Marvin Hier," but they also don’t want to create any ill will so early in the administration. That makes sense. There are just too many important communal issues — poverty relief, medical funding, homeland security, to name a few — that rate higher on the agenda than this visit.

They also understand that, to borrow from the season we’re fast approaching, this governor is different from all other governors. "He doesn’t see himself as a politician," said the local pol, "and so far people don’t see him as one." Just as Schwarzenegger’s campaign circumvented normal channels of campaigning, so too his governance can bend the rules.

But as the governor moves forward, it must be with an understanding that as good a friend as he has in Hier, he has the potential to make many more in the Jewish community.

B’nai Mitzvah Planning 101

So you’re going to have a mitzvah — whether it is a bar or a bat, the planning begins early. Way before Hebrew school age, you will hear at least one grandfather wistfully thinking aloud at about age 5, "In eight years, we will have a bar mitzvah."

From there it continues directly to the child. "You’re 7 years old? Why, in only six years, you will become a bar mitzvah."

As the months go by, there will be similar remarks followed by, "I know, papa. Only six more years."

About two years before, the parents will begin to pay attention. The first thing to do is set the date. Once the community calendar has the date, usually around the child’s 13th birthday, you are on your way.

Never had a bar or bat mitzvah before? It’s a piece of cake (usually pareve, even if you don’t keep kosher, in the case of a meat meal).

First you have to decide: Do you want to do what everyone else is doing, or are you going to be different?

The next step is to choose the caterer. If the affair will be held at the synagogue, you will need someone approved by your board. Set those dates and choose your menus. You will usually need something for after service Friday night as well as Saturday noon. Some choose a Saturday evening meal as well.

The bar mitzvah usually consists of a Friday night service and kiddush afterward. Held in the synagogue, we usually assume the people have had a meat meal for Shabbat and will prefer a pareve dessert. The caterers have a wonderful selection of pareve desserts — gooey or not. Along with this, the actual bar mitzvah cake might be on display. Most popular are trays of fruits and small cakes, cookies, cupcakes.

Friday night, after services, also includes coffee, tea and sodas.

Some people have a luncheon and others have a dinner; some have both. For example, some synagogues allow music during the day. In that case, you might have a very celebratory luncheon, along with a band or DJ, and cut the cake along with cutting a rug.

Where music is not allowed in the synagogue, some people choose to take the affair to a restaurant, in which case the rabbi and teachers probably cannot participate. Others wanting to celebrate the bar mitzvah with everyone will have a quiet luncheon and come back to the synagogue — after sundown — for the big celebration with music.

For the luncheon or dinner, after the menu with the caterers is selected, the next step is flowers. You should offer one or two arrangements for the bima. After services, they can be brought down by the caterer or florist to be placed on the stage of the banquet room. Instead of flowers, some choose to have two big baskets filled with food items for the local food bank. What better time to do a mitzvah than when you are having your own mitzvah. Count your blessings by sharing with others.

Are you going to spend a fortune on centerpieces? Does your 13-year-old care about the flowers? Some choose to have the boy or girl’s favorite cake as a centerpiece. You can be sure that a centerpiece of a strawberry shortcake or a half sheet cake of a baseball diamond with bases loaded is very well appreciated by the teen set. When you use the cake theme, each table has a cake big enough for the people at that table.

You can choose to have music or not — and, most important, you can dance to your own tune.

Functional Seating to Avoid Teen Chaos

It had been perfectly planned. For my brother’s bar mitzvah reception, each member of our family was responsible for sitting with and entertaining a particular constituency. Eric had his friends and younger cousins. My parents had the adults. And I, the older sister, had everyone else.

That’s where the seating plans started to get a little complicated.

In the mania known as planning for a bar mitzvah party, no detail is too small, no nuance too insignificant to overlook. So, when my parents and I realized we had a minor ordeal at hand, we naturally begged the question: "How do we seat the older teens?"

The answer was not immediately apparent. Old enough to have finished their own treks on the bar mitzvah circuit, members of this group, comprising mostly cousins and family friends, might believe themselves too old for the kids’ table and probably would not be thrilled if seated with Mom and Dad and other adult guests.

For others now faced with the same conundrum my parents and I dealt with a year ago, I consulted with some party planning experts well-versed in the ways of the b’nai mitzvah seating arrangement.

I was hopeful that Lisa Iannuzzi, property sales leader of the Bethesda Marriott Suites, who’s "planned too many bar mitzvahs to count" would offer me a Ten Commandments of seating, some kind of seating doctrine those in her field follow religiously.

Much to my chagrin, no such thing exists, according to Iannuzzi, who says there "really are no set rules" for the hosts planning a seating arrangement. "It really just depends on what they feel will be most comfortable for the guests," she said.

That said, she does offer some advice.

Iannuzzi, with 22 years of hospitality experience, classifies b’nai mitzvah guests into four groups: kids, mitzvah kids, young adults and adults.

The mitzvah kids, who are the middle school and Hebrew school friends of the b’nai mitzvah, are typically seated at a U- or E-shaped table arrangement. Younger kids may or may not be seated with the mitzvah group, depending on their level of maturity, and those younger than 8 are often seated with their parents.

For young adults, a popular option for seating is a table near the mitzvah kids’ table and also in close proximity to the dance floor.

If there aren’t enough young adults attending to have a table solely for them, the host has a couple of options. The few young adults can be seated with their respective parents or seated together in a section of the mitzvah kids’ table. Iannuzzi generally advises against the later, however. "Most of the time, the young adults don’t want to sit with the mitzvah kids," she said.

The relationship of the young adults to the b’nai mitzvah can also factor in their seating, she noted. If there are only a handful of young adults, but most are cousins of the b’nai mitzvah, then a table for cousins, seating both kids and young adults, can be created.

Cara Weiss, owner and special event planner for Save the Date, a Potomac, Md., party-planning company, also had some seating advice when I spoke with her recently.

Weiss’ seven years of experience includes planning more than 200 events, of which most are b’nai mitzvah celebrations, including those where ‘NSYNC and Dave Matthews performed.

Like Iannuzzi, she notes that the kids’ table — "mitzvah kids" in her terminology — is usually a series of long tables in a geometric shape, although round tables for the kids are gaining popularity.

Also popular is the practice of using favors — chocolate bars, snow globes, etc. — as place markings for the kids. Young adults should get these as well, she advises, even if a young adult is seated with his parents.

Other than giving them favors, young adults should generally be treated like adults: adult meals, an adult round table, an adult centerpiece, she said.

If necessary, however, 14- and 15-year-old guests can probably be seated at the kids’ table without taking offense.

If unsure where to seat a specific young adult, Weiss said to keep this rule of thumb in mind: Adjustments in seating can usually be made at the party. "You want your guests to be comfortable," she said. "If they want to move, you move them."

An extra person or two can usually be seated at a round table if necessary, depending on the size of the chairs.

Above all, say Iannuzzi and Weiss, remember that a good seating plan is an important element in a successful party.

And even seating young adults is possible, with the right advice and some advance planning.