Eric Garcetti: up close


Someone in the audience asked the mayoral candidates about the county’s foster children program. Eric Garcetti answered in a particularly well-informed manner, mentioning that he and his wife have cared for seven foster children.

“I didn’t know that,” I said to City Councilman Garcetti’s media aide, Jeff Millman, who was sitting next to me at a mayoral candidates forum earlier this month. Garcetti doesn’t bring it up much, he replied. 

I was curious. It seemed like an admirable act and one that would shed light on the character and personality of the city councilman. Those qualities are important in a race where stark policy differences between the candidates have not yet emerged. So when I interviewed Garcetti a few days later, my first question was about the foster care given by him and his wife, Amy Elaine Wakeland. Wakeland is co-chair of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which works with labor, environmentalists and immigrant rights groups for the living wage and other progressive causes.

“What prompted you to do that?” I asked. 

“My wife grew up in a household with half- and step- and foster siblings, and I think it is something she has always wanted to do,” he said. “She’s cared a lot for children who are, quite literally, the least among us.”

Wakeland was the eldest child, Garcetti said. “There were multiple kids around at any given time, and when I looked into it, I was very compelled as well, so a few years ago, we became accredited foster parents.”

He explained that, after a background check, “You have to take … six or seven classes over a period of a couple of months. It is a relatively straightforward and easy process. … I think a lot of people could do it.”

Is he encouraging foster parenthood? “Absolutely,” he said. “When we had our training, we had grandparents whose kids had grown up, we had single men, single women, straight couples, gay couples, we had couples with kids, couples who have never had kids; it was the full range.” He said the system tries to accommodate the needs of foster parents who may say, “ ‘I’m interested in older kids, and helping them bridge those teenage years, or I want to have a newborn, or I can take siblings who sometimes get separated or special-needs kids.’ You can [say], ‘This is what I can or cannot do,’ and they will just let you know of the possibilities of children who are in need [and] ask if you can take them in.”

I also asked about his views on his Jewish background, hoping it would shed some light on the inner Garcetti. This happens to be a very Jewish mayoral election.   Garcetti and Councilwoman Jan Perry are Jewish, and City Controller Wendy Greuel is married to a Jewish man. For many in our community, these Jewish connections are of interest.

“I always felt myself to be Jewish and Latino very comfortably,” Garcetti said. “Weekends were both filled with bowls of menudo and lots of bagels.” His father, Gil Garcetti, the former district attorney, is of Mexican and Italian descent. His mother, the former Sukey Roth, is Jewish. 

“My parents aren’t practicing, either of them,” Garcetti said. “We celebrated Passover and Chanukah. I went to Jewish camp. I think I have become more of a practicing Jew or observant later in life. I came to my faith in college.” He is a member of IKAR, where he attends High Holy Days and some Shabbat services.  “I go to other places as well, because of my work and my job,” he said. Garcetti’s wife, whom he met at Oxford when they were Rhodes scholars, is not Jewish.

I asked him how being Jewish has influenced his public life. He told me a story about his grandfather, Harry Roth, who headed the big Louis Roth clothing firm. Roth “was tailor to the president of the United States, President [Lyndon] Johnson, yet he was opposed to the Vietnam War,” Garcetti said. “He took out a full-page ad in The New York Times urging President Johnson to withdraw the troops, knowing he would never be invited back to the White House.” He said stories like that taught him to “give back” to the community and to be “fearless.” 

“Also intellectually for me, at Columbia, which has a very strong Jewish population, being in New York, and at Oxford … we had a minyan every week with those of us who were Rhodes scholars and other Americans and some British Jews. We had a lot of conversations about faith, about Judaism, the world. Judaism helps me think through the world, not just ethically but intellectually.”

Intellectualism and conscious ethical behavior can be rare qualities in City Hall, as Garcetti must know from his years as councilman and president of the City Council. There he had to preside over some of the best and worst that government has to offer. His supporters feel he will bring those qualities to the mayor’s office if he wins. But he’ll also need the guts of a grandfather who publicly defied LBJ on the Vietnam War.

This is one in a series of interviews by Boyarsky with Los Angeles’ mayoral candidates. For more from this columnist, visit 

Benjamin Reznik: L.A. based lawyer who takes on Goliath


Among land-use attorneys working in Los Angeles, Benjamin Reznik is better known than most, perhaps because of his success at suing the City of Los Angeles. In 2009, the partner in the firm of Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP told the Los Angeles Times he had probably sued the City of Los Angeles about five or six times a year.

Reznik, 61, leads a 15-lawyer team that focuses on government, land use, environment and energy cases, and he has represented major clients, many who have changed to the shape and skyline of the city. A little more than a decade ago, Reznik helped one developer get more than 3,000 apartments approved downtown. 

So how did this powerhouse attorney come to be in Los Angeles’ City Hall on two successive days in June, arguing on behalf of a partially built Chabad synagogue in Sherman Oaks that will have a capacity of about 200 people, and will stand barely two-stories tall? 

“I believe that these kinds of institutions belong in neighborhoods and they’re very difficult to get approved,” Reznik said, sitting in his corner office in Century City. Reznik describes himself as “not a good board-member type person,” so he said he instead chooses to support Jewish communities by offering to help them gain approval, occasionally dealing with neighborhood opposition, often working on a voluntary basis or for reduced rates. 

He’s worked with a number of synagogues, including the one where he and his family are members, Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. He’s worked with other Chabad communities, and in Chabad of Sherman Oaks’ case, though the scores of religious Jews in the community who came to the two hearings certainly helped persuade the Los Angeles City Council to allow the project to go forward, Reznik’s simple testimony, which focused on what the law allowed, no doubt prepared the ground for the approval. 

Reznik doesn’t consider himself an ideologue or a “rabid property rights advocate”; there are certain clients he won’t take on, and though he’s usually representing the interests of builders, he has argued on behalf of clients who oppose developments, as well. Reznik pointed out the windows at a neighboring vacant lot on Avenue of the Stars, where a developer is seeking permission to build more office space than the current city plan allows. The owners of every adjacent office building teamed to hire Reznik’s firm to oppose that effort. 

“There’s a balance between community and development,” Reznik said. 

So-called NIMBY activists — the acronym stands for “Not In My Back Yard” — regularly oppose the building of senior residential facilities, a stance that Reznik said was not in line with the needs of the whole community. 

“I don’t think we have to house all our elderly on major boulevards,” Reznik said, “just because that way the neighborhood doesn’t have to see them.” Rather, Reznik said, there should be some consideration to having such facilities built in residential neighborhoods, which are, of course, the neighborhoods where those people grew up and lived. 

“I think those are Jewish issues,” Reznik added.

Reznik began his own law practice in the San Fernando Valley by taking on the kinds of clients who couldn’t pay the rates that firms like JMBM charge, and he still sees himself as something of an upstart — even when representing developers who might appear to have tremendous resources and power at their disposal. 

“Compared to the city, the developer is David and the city is Goliath,” Reznik said. “The city’s resources are endless.”

In September, Reznik was in the familiar position of arguing against a Los Angeles city attorney in court, this time at a hearing regarding a planned single-family project in the exclusive neighborhood of Benedict Canyon. Reznik’s client, a Saudi prince, has faced relentless opposition from a billionaire couple who once tried to buy the property, and September’s hearing was aimed at forcing the city to drop a technical objection holding up the project. 

That, Reznik explained, “is why so many of my cases ended up in court — because that’s where my client can get a fair hearing with the politics removed.”

Reznik hasn’t met this particular client — he deals with an intermediary — but he’s fairly certain that, ironic though it might seem, the Saudi prince is aware that the lawyer representing him is not only Jewish, but an Israeli-born Jew who is fluent in Hebrew. 

“I’m sure I was vetted,” said Reznik, who has Hebrew listed as his foreign language on his resume.  

Born in Haifa in 1951, Reznik said his parents came to Israel from Poland after the Holocaust. His father, who survived by “hustling on the black-market routes in Russia” as a young teenager, selling coffee, tea and tobacco, worked as a truck driver in Israel. 

But he was ambitious, and in December 1960, when Reznik was 9, the family moved to the United States. After a few years in Rochester, N.Y., they moved to Los Angeles in 1962. Reznik’s father bought an interest in a liquor store in South Central — Reznik worked there as a stock boy during summers and when he wasn’t in school — and managed to send his children to college and law school on the proceeds. 

Reznik went to UCLA as an undergraduate — he met his wife, Janice Kamenir-Reznik, at the Hillel there — and then on to USC for law school. The Rezniks have, over the years, gotten involved in a number of political causes — they were active in the movement to free Soviet Jewry — and Janice went on to become the founding president of Jewish World Watch. 

Not surprisingly, starting in 1975, when they helped recruit volunteers for Zev Yaroslavsky’s successful campaign for Los Angeles City Council, the Rezniks have also involved themselves in supporting candidates running for various offices. They recently held a fundraiser for Jackie Lacey, who is running for Los Angeles County district attorney. 

And the Rezniks, who built up their practice in the Valley together, look like they’re about to have one more lawyer in the family; their youngest son just started law school. 

Reznik, when he was just starting out, said he went into business for himself, in part because he enjoyed all different aspects of legal work, but also because he had a good deal of his father’s independent personality in him. So I asked if — in 2012, in today’s economy — a young lawyer, like his son, could set up shop on his own and have the kind of success Reznik has. 

“Absolutely; clients are rate-sensitive,” Reznik said, thinking back to his own experience of taking on the clients who were priced out of bigger firms. “You just have to work, really, really hard.”

Rahm Emanuel is a fighting policy wonk with a Jewish soul


Political insight, killer in a fight, Yiddishkayt — it’s an inseparable package when it comes to Rahm Emanuel, say those who know President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to be the next White House chief of staff.

Since his days as a fundraiser and then a “political adviser” — read: enforcer — for President Bill Clinton, Emanuel has earned notoriety as a no-holds-barred politico. Accept the good with the bad because it’s of a piece, said Steve Rabinowitz, who worked with Emanuel in the Clinton White House.

“He can be a ‘mamzer,’ but he’s our mamzer,” said Rabinowitz, using the Yiddish term for “bastard,” speaking both as a Democrat and a Jew. “Sometimes that’s what you need.”

The apocrypha is legendary, if somewhat hard to pin down: Jabbing a knife into a table screaming “Dead!” as colleagues shout out the names of political enemies, sending a dead fish to a rival, screaming at friends and enemies alike for no good reason.

Even his allies acknowledge that Emanuel, 48, can be on edge at times.

“He’s not running for Miss Congeniality, ever,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has known Emanuel since they worked at Illinois Public Action, a public interest group, in the early 1980s. “He is relentless; he doesn’t give up, but in a strategic way. He’s good at figuring out other people’s self-interest and negotiating in a way that comes out in his favor.”

Emanuel, an Illinois congressman who boasts strong ties to his local Jewish community and the Jewish state, also can be seen as embodying Obama’s stated commitment to Israeli security and diplomacy: During the first Iraq War, Emanuel flew to Israel as a volunteer to help maintain military vehicles. Two years later, he was an aide to Clinton, helping to push along the newly launched Oslo process.

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Ari, Rahm recalled, “beat the crap out of him” — not because of the bike, not to protect his brother, “but because of what he said about black kids.”

Rahm defended his brother in terms he might have applied to himself: “Where others see fierceness, I see loyalty. Where others see intensity, I see passion.”

In general, Emanuel is fiercely loyal to his family, and they were a consideration in his hesitation to take work he’s always dreamed of having — he waited two days to say yes. Obama, in his statement announcing the pick, recognized the pain it would cause Emanuel’s wife, Amy, and “their children, Zach, Ilana and Leah.”

Emanuel, born to an Israeli doctor who married a local woman after he moved to Chicago in the mid-1950s, speaks Hebrew and fondly recalls summering each year in Israel as a child — including just after the 1967 Six-Day War. He attends Anshe Sholom, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Chicago, and sends his children to Jewish day school.

His rabbi, Asher Lopatin, recalls Emanuel approaching him just before Rosh Hashanah this year, telling him that an effort to put together a bailout package for the hard-hit stock market before the holiday had failed and asking whether it was permissible to take conference calls on the holiday in order to salvage the bill.

“I asked, ‘Is it as serious as people say it is?'” the rabbi recalled. “He said, ‘Without this bill there could be a meltdown of the financial system.'”

Lopatin considered the effect such a failure would have on children and the poor.

“I felt it was a case of pikuach nefesh, the commandment that places the saving of life above all other commandments,” Lopatin said, and gave Emanuel the OK.

The somberness of the request couldn’t quell Emanuel’s acerbic wit. Lopatin recalled Emanuel’s teasing, wondering whether the status of the rabbi’s 401(k) investments wasn’t also behind the heksher.

“He kibitzed with me about that,” the rabbi said.

Emanuel repeated the story, to raucous laughter, in caucus meetings on the Hill — an example of how he will skid in the same sentence from Judaism to a liberal commitment to social reforms to hard-nosed politics, Schakowsky said.

“There’s barely a caucus meeting where he doesn’t make some reference to being Jewish, often in a humorous way,” she said.

But his Jewishness does more than inform his sense of humor, Emanuel’s rabbi said.

“He has a very deep commitment and feel for Yiddishkayt,” Lopatin said, “and it’s a Yiddishkayt that’s about tikkun olam, having a positive effect on the world.”

Leading . . . by pulling back


When Lori Schneide was 16 years old, she lived in India for the summer.

“I had this deep impression of calling,” she said. “There’s something we all can humbly contribute.”

When she finished college, the Reform Jew from Long Island decided she would travel the world to continue studying arts and literature. But when she landed in Ireland on Yom Kippur, she decided to go to synagogue. “I sat up and opened the old machzor covered with peach fuzz and started crying,” she said.

Six months later she ended up in Israel, first on a kibbutz, then in Jerusalem, then in the spiritual city of Safed at a yeshiva for newly observant women. Over the next decade and a half, Schneide’s religious journey took her to Chasidic, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist institutions, from Israel to New York to Philadelphia and now Los Angeles, the place she hopes to make her spiritual home — at Temple Shalom of the South Bay, to be precise. The Hermosa Beach-based synagogue recently hired Schneide, now 36, to lead the burgeoning synagogue, which is in the process of officially joining the Reconstructionist movement.

Which is precisely the outlook that appeals to Schneide, after her long and diverse religious journey. For example, her immersion in Orthodoxy — learning with the Breslover Chasidim in Israel and studying at Drisha in New York — was only part of her educational process. “I always knew I was just passing through,” she said.

And although she grew up Reform and even worked as assistant principal at an Upper East Side Reform school, “I knew it wasn’t Reform.” When she decided to become a rabbi, she went to the Conservative-affiliated University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University) for a year of prep work. It was there she studied the writings of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionism.

“It was so clear to me this was my ethos,” she said. “I see Judaism as dynamic. The reason why we are still here is because we are not monolithic,” she said. Jews are like light through a piece of glass, “a spectrum.”

Schneide, a vivacious and passionate woman with curly long brown hair, worked as education director at Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Pacific Palisades, and then attended the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia for four years and is finishing her master’s degree there. She is completing her rabbinic training at the nondenominational Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles.

“AJR reflects Reconstructionist values,” she said. “Judaism is a living dynamic, and every community defines that dynamic.”

And that is what she is hoping for Temple Shalom. “What’s deepest in my heart is creating a place that reflects the South Bay community,” she said. “I don’t want to teach them what to think,” she said. She wants the congregation to learn and make their own choices, “something that reflects 21st century values.”

Temple Shalom was founded three years ago as a religious school and later became a synagogue. Founders had always wanted it to be a Reconstructionist synagogue, but the most recent rabbi was affiliated with the Jewish Renewal movement. When he resigned in December, “We felt this is our chance,” said board member Carol Risher, who has attended the synagogue since its first service.

“There is an interest in Reconstructionism,” Risher said, noting that when the synagogue held adult education classes on the subject, “many people said, ‘Hey, this is where I’m at, this is who I am.’ With Reconstructionist synagogues an hour away — Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades and University Synagogue in Irvine — Temple Shalom fills a need,” she said.

Temple Shalom has 85 families and about 100 children.

The last piece of the puzzle was hiring Schneide.

“She brings an energy and enthusiasm that is infectious,” Risher said. “We think she will help us grow and flourish.”

Schneide represents a new generation of rabbis who want to integrate technology with religion. For example, she creates a blog for each of her b’nai mitzvah students about their training process. “In the end, the community will get a really refined sense of who the child is as they go through the process.”

She is also concerned with her own generation, X, and the next, gen Y.

“What is the spiritual practice of this Internet generation who have as-of-yet come out as ‘culturally Jewish?'” she wrote in a 2005 Jewsweek article, “A Truly Hip Chanukah.” “I ask you, Jewish-hipster: how do you do Jew?”

Her answer draws on her multidenominational education: “We need to explore our place as inheritors of a Jewish tradition that has privileged us with identities as highly educated, manifestly creative and lustful-for-life hipsters.”

Schneide does feel privileged, even though she lives at a crossroads of generational Judaism.

“Being a rabbi is the most unbelievable privilege of a lifetime,” she said. She compared it to how God created the world by tsimtsum — pulling back — so that the universe could be created.

“All you do as a rabbi is pull back, pull back, and make space to shine,” she said.

“It’s so not about me.”

Meet the multitalented, endlessly energetic Zane Buzby


There are not enough hours in the day for Zane Buzby.

At 5:30 a.m., fully awake, she sits in her home office atop Mount Washington, with a view of downtown Los Angeles’ skyscrapers, checking the news and drinking from a large mug of coffee. Her husband, Conan Berkeley, and their 15-year-old Blue Russian cat, appropriately named Blue, are both still asleep.

Once she is confident that the world didn’t explode overnight, she immerses herself in the Survivor Mitzvah Project — reading translations of the survivors’ letters and composing replies. A stack of envelopes sits on a nearby desk, a High Holy Days mailing to survivors in Ukraine and Moldova that was halted when she ran out of funds. Now she’s aiming for Chanukah.

She also worries — about Fanya K., who is borderline blind and needs an eye operation, and Elke F. who is now living alone since her husband’s death. She finds $80, emptying the Survivor Mitzvah Project’s bank account, to send to Elke to reimburse her for the burial.

Buzby logs in all the transactions in the computerized database and files all the survivors’ letters — originals, translations and envelopes — in sheet protectors in a large binder, filling a new one every four months. If there’s time, she makes final edits on a book she has compiled of their letters and photos, which she offers as a gift to donors contributing $1,000 or more and which she hopes to publish.

“Nothing I can say compares with their words,” she said .

But the Survivor Mitzvah Project is only one of her full-time pursuits, and at 9 a.m., she turns to “Stomp the Run,” a serialized live-action comedy that she and Berkeley have been creating for the past three years, serving as directors/producers. Preproduction for 100 episodes began in November.

“It’s the first totally interactive show,” Buzby said, explaining that it will appear on “new media” such as cell phones and Web sites. For “Stomp the Run,” Buzby answers e-mails and fields calls to and from New York. Later she attends editing or casting sessions as well as other meetings and often works out of her production office in Hollywood.

Buzby, who grew up in East Meadow, Long Island, began her entertainment career as an actor, songwriter and film editor. She was also a singer and moved to Los Angeles in 1977 with Berkeley and their rock band B & B.

From there, Buzby began acting, with credits that include Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke,” John Ritter’s “Americathon” and “Oh, God!” with George Burns.

“I was always the crazy person,” she said.

In the 1980s, she moved into television, training in multicamera direction under “Cheers” co-creator James Burrows. She went on to direct about 200 comedic episodes, including “Newhart,” “Golden Girls” and “Married … With Children,” as well as other pilots and comedy series. Now “Stomp the Run” occupies all her time.

But along with her passion for comedy has been a passion for history — for her own Jewish heritage and for the “great immigration” and the Holocaust. She devours non-fiction and is currently reading “Women in the Holocaust” and “Minsk Ghetto.” On a trip to Hawaii, for beach reading, she brought along “The Destruction of Lithuanian Jewry.”

It was family history, however, that prompted the 2001 trip to Belarus to visit the former shtetls of her two grandmothers.

In Vishnevo, where the Jewish population was completely wiped out, she set out to find the grave of her great-grandmother, Basha Ita. Buzby and a guide searched all day for the cemetery. Finally, an elderly non-Jewish lady took them to a hill outside the town to an area, strewn with garbage and overgrown that is now the town dump. Crawling underneath the dense brush, they discovered the cemetery.

Determined to restore it, Buzby teamed up with an Israeli couple, originally from Vishnevo, and together they raised enough money to have the trees and trash removed and the tombstones righted. Four hundred graves were discovered, which were all photographed and mapped, although Basha Ita’s grave was never found.

Buzby’s passion for Jewish history also led to her business of selling and restoring samovars, candlesticks, Kiddush cups, menorahs and other Judaic ritual items, primarily from the late 1880s to early 20th century; many of them are museum-quality pieces.

She does much of the repair work herself in a home workshop equipped with the necessary tools, including a drill press she requested for one birthday.

“I’m the only one on this planet who has parts for samovars,” she claimed. Some items, such as wooden knobs and handles, she makes herself. She outsources other repairs to a few metalsmiths but laments that the profession is dying.

Buzby acquired her inventory in 1996 when she chanced upon a Judaic shop going out of business in New York’s Lower East Side. Hundreds of samovars, candlesticks and other items were slated to be melted down and sold according to weight. Buzby couldn’t allow it. She purchased the inventory from the shop’s owner and paid his rent for two months while she arranged to ship everything to California. Two years later, she opened her own business.

“I was compelled to save these things and get them back into modern life,” she said.

Buzby, who is named Zane after her great-grandmother Zipra, credits her family for her various passions and pursuits.

It was her father who told her, “You have a right to paint your dreams,” and her mother who instilled in her an avid desire to read. One grandfather, an eccentric, fun-loving man, taught her the importance of eating ice cream at 3 p.m. — every day. One grandmother, who died with a list in Yiddish of everything she planned to do for other people that day, modeled for her the value of doing mitzvot.

In the evenings, if she is not in the editing room for “Stomp the Run,” Buzby is back at her computer working on the Survivor Mitzvah Project. And while there’s always more to do, she tries to turn in before midnight.

“I have no problem sleeping,” she said.

Books: Oren ‘Tempts’ Israeli readers and defies critics


When Ram Oren helped define a new generation of Israeli “airplane reads” in 1994 with his fast-paced best seller, “Temptation,” he faced a challenge: to persuade the Israeli elite that his book did not signal the demise of literature and the erasure of Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Agnon or Amos Oz.

“The critics received ‘Temptation’ very harshly,” he said with an undertone of glee. “By then in the United States and Europe, authors of popular light-reading novels, like John Grisham and Tom Clancy, were flourishing. But in Israel there was an outcry. As if books are not allowed to have high ratings. It took a while for the hysteria to subside and for people to understand that easy reading does not place a threat on classic, high-quality literature, just as reality TV does not erase shows like ‘The Sopranos,’ and Rita’s tunes do not threaten the eternalness of Verdi’s operas.”

More than a decade after the release of Oren’s first book, he seems to have achieved a level of acceptance. Bookstands in Israel are filled with dozens of thrillers, many of them brisk reads published or written by Oren.

However, the man who has written 16 titles, sold more than 1 million copies in Israel and set up his own publishing house (Keshet) doesn’t care to have his titles labeled “airplane books,” a term used to describe a novel so fluffy it can be read entirely on a single flight.

“I don’t understand what an ‘airplane book’ is supposed to mean,” he said with a grunt. “It should be simply referred to as ‘popular literature,’ but I guess people have a need to label it in a demeaning way. It’s OK, I’m not fighting it anymore.”

While almost every book Oren writes becomes an instant best seller, others who try to ape his style remain obscure.

“This is proof that maybe it is not as easy to write popular literature as people think, just as it is not easy for Shlomo Arzi to invent a popular tune that will appeal to a broad audience,” Oren said. “My books are easy to read, but not easy to write. You have to feel your reader, you have to research a lot of the incidents you discuss in the book, sometimes for a full year or two. And you have to acquire full proficiency in the art of light writing.”

As a longtime Israeli journalist, Oren certainly understands his readers.

He started out in 1950 as a messenger boy for Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s leading daily, before becoming its legal correspondent for three years until 1955. After writing for Bamahane, the Israel Defense Force’s weekly newspaper, and studying law at Hebrew University, he rejoined Yediot Aharonot in 1964.

Oren served for years as the editor-in-chief of Seven Days magazine, the immensely popular Yediot Aharonot weekend supplement. Under Oren, Seven Days was a skilled barometer of the Israeli street — a melange of feature stories that spread from political profiles to interviews with models, from riveting crime stories to sometimes yellowish celebrity accounts. He was 60 years old when he finally left journalism after his first books took off.

“I always wanted to write books,” he said. “And I got to do what I really set out to do very late in my life. I always considered journalism as a time-out that lengthened and lengthened. But by the time I finally left it, I knew exactly what the readers want to read.”

Judging by his two latest books, “HaRamatkal” and “The Oath,” both released last year, his readers like stories based on factual events that feature lots of surprises and a somewhat flat, almost journalistic language with very few wisecracks and minimal metaphors.

“HaRamatkal,” the title taken from the acronym for the IDF chief-of-staff, is an account of events largely drawn from the Second Lebanon War, with easily recognized characters (the prime minister is a lawyer, a member of a new Kadima-like party who inherited the job after the old prime minister was gravely injured; the defense minister was a union leader and knows nothing about managing the defense forces, etc.). “The Oath,” based on a true story, recounts the unique bond between a Jewish boy and his Christian nanny as devastation and despair grow in Europe during World War II.

“I wasn’t influenced by Grisham or Clancy, but rather by the Israeli realm,” Oren said. “I think my style is mostly Israeli, and even when the story occurs overseas it reflects my Israeli agenda.”

As for the reason why his version of the Lebanon War resolves better and with a brighter future then the real-life war, he attributes that to his journalistic past.

“I have a tendency to try and improve Israel in my books and to suggest a different path for the real Israel even in a fictional story. That’s why I wrote a book about black medicine — to expose to light many of the bad sides of the medical system; and that’s why I wrote a novel about the judicial system — to put a finger on the corruption related to the justice process. I want people to pay attention, but without preaching.”

As for the critics, he said, he has long given up on them. “I don’t read reviews anymore,” he said, adding a cliche many pop-culture artists like to use. “I don’t really care if they don’t appreciate my writing. It is enough for me that I contributed to the success of pop literature.”

Ram Oren will be a guest speaker in a four-part lecture series at the American Jewish University during the Celebration of Jewish Books. Oren’s presentation on Nov. 7, 7 p.m., will be in Hebrew.

Actor-writer pens memoir of life marred by murder


“Bigger Than Life: A Murder, a Memoir,” by Dinah Lenney (University of Nebraska Press, $24.95)

For the past 10 years, Dinah Lenney, author of the memoir, “Bigger Than Life,” has lived with the memory of the murder of her father, a prominent New Jersey businessman and onetime senatorial candidate who was knifed to death by three teens in Manhattan.

Lenney says that she is a “spiritually challenged” person. Still, as she wrote, she once contemplated the possibility that a wounded white pigeon that had adopted her backyard as its home might be her father. When reminded of this during a visit to her Los Angeles home, the author smiles and jokes that Sully, her barking dog, might be her father. If so, he is a cheerful, rambunctious spirit.

That is not so far from the man Lenney describes in her book. Although her father could be a scoundrel — he served six months in federal prison for campaign fraud and always made her know how important his golf game was, even when he visited Lenney and her children — he nonetheless was, she said, “incredibly charismatic.”

A tall, burly real estate tycoon, Nelson Gross had always been able to control anyone and anything. He delivered Bergen County in northern New Jersey for Nixon in 1968, served as assistant secretary of state in the Nixon administration, and even conferred in the Oval Office with the president and John Ehrlichman.

To his young daughter, Gross seemed all the more omnipotent and exotic because he was rarely around. He and Lenney’s mother divorced when Lenney was a toddler, and growing up with her mother and stepfather she was “brainwashed,” as she put it, to think of her father as a “bad guy.”

Inside Lenney’s Echo Park living room, books are piled everywhere — stacked on the floor, tiered up on a shelf and placed inside a glass bookcase. There’s also a photo of her father inside that bookcase, a dark-haired, handsome man standing by a squash court at what looks to be a private club. Even at the time of the photo, when Gross was probably in his 60s, he looks daunting and muscular, 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, with biceps palpable under his sleeve and a strong torso.

It still boggles Lenney that three “punks,” not one of them taller than 5-foot-8, could have overcome such a powerful figure.

One of the ironies of Lenney’s life, as she reveals in the book, is that she was more fearful of facing her own family than the killers when she appeared in the courtroom at their sentencing. The book indeed deals more with this toxic brew of upper-class Jews than it does with the three Latino felons.

Lenney, who is tall and dark-haired like her father, is a longtime TV actor who teaches acting at UCLA. She also has a background as a writer, having received an MFA in creative writing from Bennington College. Last year she published her first book, titled, “Acting for Young Actors: The Ultimate Teen Guide.”

“Bigger Than Life” gives her more of an opportunity to display her literary chops.

Consider her description of the cast of characters in her family to whom her husband, then boyfriend, Fred, was introduced one Christmas: “Iris … a renowned archaeologist who wore the family kilts with a crested dagger in her sock … Audrey, Noel’s mother, whose hair shone shoe-polish black and whose skin stretched like an old flesh-colored bathing cap across her narrow skull. She was in her nineties with toothpick arms, and she trembled when she spoke, beautifully, with a mid-Atlantic lilt. Her escort … was a man in his sixties, slim, coiffed, and affable, like something out of a Noel Coward play.”

Lenney said she had several premonitory nightmares about her father in the days when he was missing, nearly all of them involving death. In the book, she dramatizes her “conjecture” about the final moments of her father’s life, the dialogue and action that may have transpired between him and the three punks, one of whom is named Christian.

In the dramatization, she depicts her father as a mensch even in the face of his impending death, as he defends his son, Neil, whom she speculates may have been involved in drugs.

“Listen,” he says, “you leave Neil alone. You don’t deal with my son. Ever. Just deal with me. I’ll take care of you.”

Unfortunately, punks of the 1990s and 2000s, nihilistic Generation Y-ers, are not like the punks of Gross’ youth in the 1940s and 1950s, who might have cut your face with a knife and left you with a mark but probably would not have killed you.

Though not religious, Lenney says that she respects most of all what one rabbi told her, that what happened to her father was “simply evil” and that there is no such thing as an afterlife. She said, however, that “I carry my father in my genes — he’s bound to turn up here and there, in this one’s smile, that one’s reticence, this one’s athletic ability, that one’s lack of sentiment….”

At the end of her memoir, Lenney writes about how in a summer stock production of “Peter Pan” the director came up with the idea of having “a shadow, a stagehand dressed in black,” help each performer simulate flying through the air. Then she writes about how her own shadow appears more confident now when she goes for a walk in Elysian Park, near her home.

It leaves open the possibility that that shadow may be a spirit of a sort, like the wounded pigeon that healed and flew away, and the dolphin who leaped by a boulder out at sea after Lenney tossed her father’s ashes into the Pacific, and Sully the dog who is no longer barking.

Like the Ghost of Hamlet’s father at the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Nelson Gross may finally be at rest.

Sex and The 30-Something Professional


Before David Rouda became a stage director and writer, he was an internationally ranked rower who placed 17th in the 1999 World Rowing Championships. Rouda, who started training as a sculler at 13, won six Gold Medals at the Maccabee Games and just missed qualifying for the 2000 Olympics.

The discipline he brought to rowing informed his years as a lawyer and his current work as a dramatist, whose plays “Pomp & Circumstance” and “Sperm Warfare” are being staged at the Matrix Theater. While these two one-acts do seem to go on a bit long, they both feature a great deal of humor and revolve around the issues of 30-something men as they attempt to make it in the worlds of law and business.

The set of “Pomp & Circumstance” is a courtroom, surrounded by two law offices. Like David E. Kelley and many lawyers before him, Rouda knows his way around a trial scene, but he also knows his way around the Bible and Jewish law. Perhaps the funniest part of “Pomp & Circumstance” is the denouement when an Orthodox Jew who has been victimized by Viagra becomes entranced by the Song of Songs, which he recites for his sex-starved wife.

Rouda says he grew up “Reform, meaning I had a Christmas tree,” but he understands the Talmudic distinctions regarding a Jewish marriage. He also understands what it’s like being a single guy dating older women in San Francisco, where he lives as a fourth-generation San Franciscan.
“Sperm Warfare” focuses on a couple seeking in-vitro fertilization. Like “Pomp & Circumstance,” it deals with phallic concerns. At one point, the lead refers to himself as “an emasculated hermaphro-dad.”

Rouda might overdo it on occasion when his characters complete each others’ sentences with a flourish of alliteration, but he will make you laugh with lines like, “You’re not just a sperm dispenser to me.”

The 40-year-old playwright, who has a degree in rhetoric from UC Berkeley and a law degree from the University of San Francisco, says that one of his frustrations with law was spending “two years of drudgery” and then “right before the premiere” the other side settles out of court and “you don’t get to show” your work to anyone.

Rouda is now based in Los Angeles and the Matrix shows mark his Hollywood premiere. He still has a home in San Francisco but he says that being a writer isn’t so easy in the Bay Area: “In San Francisco, it’s outside the scope of what other people are doing.”

“Pomp & Circumstance” and “Sperm Warfare” play through April 15 at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. For reservations, call (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Matrix Theatre
” target=”_blank”>www.davidrouda.com

To Tell the Truth


Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised, tucked into a secret room in the dark corridors of Hogwarts, allows the person who looks into it to see what they most desire to be. There seems to be a similar notion in the world of online dating.

A computer becomes a tool to create a “new and improved” version of yourself.

Short people become “not overly tall,” shy people become “pensive and thoughtful,” unemployed becomes “self-employed,” and living with the folks becomes “family oriented and saving for the future.” Delusional becomes creative. And dating reaches some desperate lows.

A little embellishment here and there isn’t so bad — creativity and a sense of humor are always great things. But there are just certain things that you should never lie about.

1. Physical attributes.
How many times have you opened the door to find a person 4 inches lower to the earth than what they had told you? One person I agreed to meet told me he was 5-foot-6 — exactly my height — so I was a bit annoyed when, even wearing lip-flops, I turned out to be a good 2 inches taller than him.

“My eyes are only blue with certain outfits” is actually a buyable lie. But height is pretty much set in stone once you exit the teens.

Then, of course, there is the touchy subject of weight. Most people probably post their wishful driver’s license weight, thinking at least they have “proof” in writing.

One guy admitted to me that although his profile said he was 170 he was more like 190, and honesty is a good thing, right? So how was he to explain the additional 45 pounds that followed him to my door on our first date? Did he think that I just wasn’t going to notice, or believe that he went on a crazy pre-date jitters eating binge that made 45 pounds show up overnight?

2. Pictures
There are those online who are honest and upfront enough to post recent and un-Photoshopped, untouched up, non-photo shoot, actually-looks-like-me pictures. And then there are those who are not.

I’ve had too many dates start with a smile and confusion as I have an inner dialogue: That’s who I’ve been talking to? Did I remember to ask him if his photos were recent? How fast can I eat this ice cream and leave without getting brain freeze?

3. Age
Like it or not we were all born on a certain day of a certain year, and that (along with your height) is set in stone. The people who have lied to me about their age all have their own reasons. Usually it’s the younger guys who make themselves a few years older so that they will show up in my search preferences. Then three or four dates down the road they give me the, “Oh, by the way….”

One guy who was already four years older then me lied and made himself even older! When I asked him why, he said that he looked older anyway so he changed his age to match what people usually said. Excuse me? I mean I’ve been told oodles of times that I have a baby face, but you don’t see me telling people that I’m 300 months old to somehow get that infantile sense.

4. Personal Habits
I had one man tell me that he was a nonsmoker, though four conversations later he divulged that he did smoke, just not cigarettes. Then another told me he was a nonsmoker, to later go into detail that he was actually just “working on trying to start convincing himself that he should really begin to seriously think about” quitting. Or some other equally far-fetched story that left me rolling my eyes and politely declining plans to meet.

5. Odds and Ends Details
One of my personal favorite stories was a man who told me that he had never been in a serious relationship before, so one could understand my confusion when during our first date he mentioned his exes. When I finally asked him what he meant, he said that since he wasn’t with them anymore it just didn’t count. Oh, if only the world worked that way.

The bottom line is just don’t do it. Do you really think people aren’t going to notice those few inches, those extra pounds that cloud of smoke around your head? What do you expect will happen when you start a relationship by completely misrepresenting yourself?

Most of the men I’ve confronted about it just got mad, hoping that I would “give this a chance.” Give what a chance? The delusional version of yourself that you created in your own Mirror of Erised? I don’t think so. The next upgrade that online dating needs is a giant red stamp saying liar that a person can vote to place over your profile, warning the next innocent online dater of what is really going on.

Caroline Cobrin is a writer living in Van Nuys and can be reached at carolinecolumns@hotmail.com.

 

Singles – Imperfect One and Only


Sometimes, just for fun, I look at the singles ads. I play a game of wondering which one I would respond to. The answer is a resounding zero. That’s because they all sound too perfect, which makes me think they’re lying.

When a man describes himself as “Looking for someone who can indulge their longing for fine dining, travel and theater,” I suspect the reality is more like warm beer, dirty underwear and reality TV.

I have a friend who answered one of these “too-good-to-be-true” ads. They met for brunch and she knew right away it wasn’t going to work out because he glanced at the menu and then said, “So, do you want to split an order of toast?”

She said, “Why don’t you have the whole order, and I’ll just split?”

I can’t say I blame her, although in general I think single people have totally unrealistic expectations of perfection in a mate. I fixed up two friends of mine, and they seemed to be getting along fine. Then the woman told me that she didn’t think the relationship was going to go any further, because he didn’t own any classical CDs, just jazz. I told her she should be looking for a partner, not a clone. And there’s nothing wrong with jazz: It’s not like he had a collection of polka music! She could go to the opera with her girlfriends. Fortunately, she listened to me, and they are living happily ever after.

I don’t envy anyone who’s playing the dating game: It can be nerve-wracking and heart-breaking. As for me, I was never very good at the quality men admire most in women, which is keeping your mouth shut. If I disagree, I voice my opinion. I just happen to believe the world would be a better place if everyone would just do what I tell them. Plus, I only laugh at jokes I think are funny. So I guess I don’t fit the standard profile of someone who wants to please men.

So there I was on a blind date one February, meeting a man who needed his Green Card, which is why we got married in April.

My friends thought I was taking a big chance, that he might disappear as soon as he got his papers. That was more than 40 years ago, and we’re still going strong. Truth be told, sometimes we’re going weak — but at least we’re still going. In this game of singles, you just never know.

My husband, Benni, seems to like me just the way I am — even though we argue constantly.

If I say it’s too cold in the house, he says “Oh please, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

If he says no one’s dressing up for the party, I say, “Oh please, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

It’s become a knee-jerk reaction — even when it makes no sense. Once, I was telling some friends what a wonderful father Benni is, and he interrupts me, “Oh please, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The Danish philosopher S?ren Kierkegaard said, “Marry or do not marry, you will regret it either way.”

But the Larry David of existentialism was wrong. I do not regret it — even though we have our differences. In my performances, I want to make people laugh, but here’s a more serious song I sing for couples like my husband and me. We’re like most married people I know — including the jazz vs. classical friends I fixed up.

We seldom have heart to hearts,

We rarely see eye to eye,

But when we’re hand in hand,

It’s grand that he’s my guy.

I like Broadway, he likes jazz,

He wants simple, I need pizzazz.

There’s only one thing on which we agree,

I like him, and he likes me.

He likes home, I like out,

He’s kinda soft-spoken while I tend to shout,

The future looks grim, our chances are slim,

But he likes me and I like him.

He washes the cars, he opens jars,

He keeps the books and feeds the cat,

He doesn’t bring flowers or valentines,

But I’ve learned to read between the lines.

He keeps me safe, he keeps me sound,

I’m not myself when he’s not around,

We’re as different as two could be,

Still I love him and he loves me.

We’re day and night; we’re black and white,

Still I love him and he loves me.

The good news? When it comes to finding the love of your life, all you need is one.

Annie Korzen’s latest show is “Straight From the Mouth,” at the Acme Theatre every Thursday through March 16. 135 N. La Brea, Los Angeles. $25. For information, call (323) 525-0202 or visit

Meow With a French Accent


Comic books aren’t just for kids anymore. In both the United States and France, they’ve been enjoying a popular explosion among readers of all ages.

One of the stars of the explosion in France is Joann Sfar, an enfant terrible whose work has become so popular, that it can be found on the bookshelves of hip intellectuals there.

The prolific Sfar, 33, at last count is the author of 40 different comic-book series, including the wildly popular “Little Vampire” and “Big Vampire.” But only two of them — “Dungeon” and “Little Vampire” — are available in English, and they have been aimed mainly at young adult readers.

This summer, however, Sfar’s profile in the English-speaking world is likely to be raised: The first volume of “The Rabbi’s Cat,” one of his best-loved series in France, will be released in English by Pantheon Books in August. Translations of “Big Vampire” and “The Tree Man” are in the works.

“The Rabbi’s Cat” chronicles the adventures of a talking cat, who lives in Algeria with a rabbi and his daughter. The first volume in the series recounts the cat’s desire to have a bar mitzvah. Along the way, it tells the story of how the cat learned to talk — he ate the parrot — and how he took on “the rabbi’s rabbi,” chiding his master’s teacher for his narrow, dogmatic approach to Judaism.

When asked about the abundance of Jewish themes and philosophy in his work, Sfar, who was born to an Ashkenazi mother from Ukraine and a Sephardi father from Algeria, says that for him, Judaism isn’t “an all-consuming passion” it’s just what he knows best. — Lauren Elkin, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

 

Commitment’s Price


These days, many women complain about the epidemic of males who run in terror from the thought of a committed relationship.

But there are plenty of guys out there who are eager to commit. I know, since I just found one.

Like many people searching for love, I found Ken through an online matchmaking service. As soon as I clicked on his profile and photo, I knew that any guy with a face that honest and eyes that sincere wouldn’t steer me wrong.

After a bit of research, I had it on good authority that Ken didn’t smoke, drink, bet the mortgage at the racetrack or chase women. He didn’t care if a woman looked like Jennifer Lopez or Kathy Bates. He was just a sincere guy looking for a little honest love in his life.

There was only one thorny issue: What would my husband say about all this?

Clandestinely, I offered to meet Ken. We took a walk around the neighborhood and hit it off. I invited him home to meet the family, but warned him that my husband might not go for this arrangement.

I realized that Ken’s manners could appear a little crude and urged him to be on his best behavior. Yet despite my admonitions, Ken behaved badly during his trial run with the family. It did not help that one of his first acts as a guest in our home was to appear in the living room, chewing on a pair of underwear that he had lifted from the laundry.

“He’s just nervous,” I said, trying to excuse the inexcusable. “Besides, he’s an orphan. It’s not his fault that he didn’t have anyone to teach him the finer points of social etiquette.”

“Next thing you know, he’ll be chewing up the furniture,” my husband said. “Let’s send him back.”

“No!” the children shouted in unison.

This was the only thing they had all agreed on since the night I suggested they eat Corn Pops for dinner. They thought Ken’s manners were charming, probably because he made their own behavior look classy in comparison.

We overruled my husband, but our victory came at a price. As Ken began to feel more comfortable, he revealed a kinkiness that I would never have imagined.

He lapped water from the toilet, filched snacks from the garbage, including things too repulsive to mention, and jumped on the kitchen table when our backs were turned and ate all the cheese off our just-delivered pizza. These boorish behaviors made a black mark on Ken’s record.

“I’m sure he’ll learn to behave eventually,” I said, doubting whether this was really true.

Ken may have been cute, but based on what we could glean of his intelligence, he was unlikely to ever qualify as a Fullbright scholar. One day, I came home to find that my husband’s prediction had come true: Ken had tunneled through one of the living room couches, his face still full of couch stuffing. I wondered: Could this relationship be saved?

Reprimands did no good. If we shouted, “Ken, drop that calzone, right now!” or “No making woo woo in the shoe!” he seemed genuinely contrite, if not a little confused. His expression seemed to ask, “Did you think I’d sit here reading the Wall Street Journal? I’m just a beagle, for God’s sake!”

This explains why for years I flatly refused my kids’ pleadings to acquire a canine companion. I envisioned cleaning up messes throughout the house, pitching good shoes into the trash that the puppy had chewed and trying to stop his insane barking at the mailman.

Essentially, I envisioned the very life I am living now. We’ve had fish and turtles and still have a hamster that has enjoyed surprising longevity, given our previous adventures in pet ownership. However, I fear that one day soon we will arrive home to discover the hamster has died of a heart attack while running on his wheel, terrorized by our new puppy, who thinks the rodent is lunch.

Under the force of my kids’ grinding, incessant pleas (a specialty of the house), I buckled. In a moment of insanity, I agreed to hunt with my youngest son on the Internet, clicking on dozens of doggie profiles. We immediately had to dismiss several inappropriate candidates.

“Hairball came to us with a bit of an attitude problem, but with a lot of work, he’s sure to become a reasonably lovable companion,” was one honest description of a terrier. Just what I needed: another personality with attitude.

One handsome lab came with this caveat, “Shaquille is recovering from a mastectomy and is fearful of children. Takes antidepressants daily. Would do best in a quiet, adult-only home.”

Most of these darling doggies were not destined for our family, including a skateboard-riding Lhasa Apso that nipped at young children; Leroy and Estelle, a pair of yappy Chihuahuas that had to be placed together or they would commit suicide, and an aged rottweiler named Boo recovering from a broken leg. All things considered, Ken seemed the best of the bunch.

True, since he joined the family we are down by one couch, three shoes, two pizzas and an unquantifiable pair of socks and underwear.

But at least he wasn’t afraid to commit.


Judy Gruen writes the popular “Off My Noodle” humor column, available on her
Web site, www.judygruen.com. She is also
a columnist for Religion News Service.

Red Flag From Cupid


Oh, sure, it started promisingly enough. Rhonda and I had each seen the other’s photo and profile on a singles Web site, granted one another profile approval and were now talking on the phone for the first time.

Things were going pleasantly until Rhonda suggested that I choose a place for us to meet. I suggested a coffeehouse with outdoor tables at The Grove. She reacted unimpressed. I then mentioned a charming little place on Melrose Avenue with a Japanese tea garden in the back. She yawned. Finally, I offered a second Melrose locale — a quaint French cafe with outdoor porch seating and fabulous homemade desserts. The silence was deafening.

“Problem?” I inquired.

“Those places just aren’t very romantic,” she informed me.

Not very romantic? I was stunned. Did I miss something here? Is it our anniversary? It’s our first meeting, for crying out loud! We don’t even know if we have any in-person chemistry. I told Rhonda that, to me, any “romance” occurs as a function of the chemistry between the two people. And that chemistry happens (or doesn’t) whether the people are meeting at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Ritz in Paris, or at Taco Bell in Pacoima. She mumbled an unconvinced, “I guess so,” told me she was on her cell phone in the car, about to park in her garage and would call me back as soon as she got in the house. I never heard back from her.

I briefly envisioned how I might have salvaged this particular relationship. A romantic gondola ride in the Venice canals, with me feeding her grapes while comparing the texture of her skin to velvet? But if it turned out there was no or very little chemistry, as is often the case, we’d merely be two people in a romantic setting, eager for the date to end. I just didn’t get it. What was she thinking?

And then it occurred to me that this whole episode with Rhonda had been a gift to me from Cupid. You see, sometimes Cupid allows weeks, months, even years to go by before your romantic partner reveals his or her dark side. The longer it takes for the reveal, the harder and more painful its effects on you when it all comes crashing down.

Other times, as with Rhonda, Cupid is kinder and allows the red flags to reveal themselves right from the start. So you’re privy to your partner’s deepest dysfunctions early on, in the harsh morning light of her true self. Her high-maintenance, humorless, judgmental, controlling, quick-tempered, dull, deceitful, insecure aspects rear their ugly heads. And at that point, you can decide if all her other wonderful qualities make up for this — or if you would be far better off heading for the hills.

What fascinates me about all this is that these red flags are revealed despite their owner’s intentions of putting a best foot forward during those first few all-important, making-a-good-impression encounters. Sometimes, thankfully, their true colors can’t help but slip through as merciful little advance relationship warnings (“The Crazies are coming! The Crazies are coming!”) thereby saving you all that time, money, effort and emotional involvement (and subsequent hurt) for however long you might have become involved with them before the bad stuff surfaced.

Therefore, I thank you, Rhonda. You did me a favor, and I wish you nothing but the best. I sincerely hope you meet that guy who will be able to suggest a first-date locale sufficiently romantic for your deepest needs and desires. All I ask is that once you’re seated with him at that charming seaside bistro on the French Riviera, with doves circling gently overhead and a strolling violinist playing “La Vie en Rose,” you’ll think of me kindly and wish me luck in my attempt to drum up a modicum of romance in some desolate Starbucks in Culver City.


Mark Miller is a comedy writer who has written for TV, movies and many celebrities, been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, contributed to numerous national publications and produced a weekly comedic relationships feature for America Online. He can be reached at markmiller2000@attbi.com.

Politics, Israeli Style


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Photo by Peter Halmagyi

Some of you may have caught last week’s New Yorker (May 25) with journalist David Remnick’s profile of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. If not, I urge you to call the magazine’s offices in New York and order a back copy, or simply visit your local library.

Remnick offers us a portrait of Bibi as The Outsider.

“The riddle of Netanyahu is that so many Israelis find him personally insufferable, and yet if there were an election tomorrow, he would almost certainly defeat the Labor standard-bearer…. The Orthodox know all about Bibi’s secular indiscretions — the pandering, the philandering. The far-right nationalists cannot yet decide whether he wants to kill the Oslo peace process [as they would like] or not. Both the Russian émigrés and the Sephardim know that he is not one of them. Nevertheless, these outsider constituencies believe that Bibi is better for their interests than the Ashkenazic elites of the Labor Party.”

That, of course, is Remnick’s view, a summary analysis of his interviews in Israel. But his sources are all there for us to read, boldly on the record: no reticence, no polite euphemisms, no political side-stepping by Netanyahu’s colleagues, either in Likud or in his government.

David Bar-Illan, for example, is one of the prime minister’s key aides, and a good friend as well. When Remnick asks about Bibi’s attempts to win over the Orthodox voters, given both his record of adultery and his reputation for being ultra-secular, Bar-Illan rolls his eyes.

Then, speaking directly, he tells the American journalist about his boss: “Finessing his being secular was nothing compared to other things, like adultery,” Bar-Illan tells Remnick. “One thing is to have an affair with a shiksa — but a married woman. With a shiksa, even the rebbes do it. But a married woman! Now Bibi’ll go to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, maybe he’s gone to the Western Wall, or he’ll say the phrase ‘With God’s help.’ But he’s not fooling anyone.” All of this from the prime minister’s press secretary. (As The Journal went to press, word reached us that Bar-Illan denied all of the passages attributed to him. However, Remnick stands by his quotes.)

Party support and collegiality apparently also play a bit differently in Israel than, say, in the United States. Remnick calls Yitzhak Shamir, the former Likud prime minister, shortly after arriving in Jerusalem. “Bibi?” Shamir said in his exhausted Old World accent. “He is not a very trustworthy man.”

Shamir pauses for a moment. Perhaps he suddenly realizes that he is speaking on the record to a journalist. But, no. “He’s too egotistical,” he continues. “He had many advantages. But people don’t like him. I wouldn’t say he is admired. I don’t believe he believes in anything. He has a huge ego. People don’t like such people. I don’t like him.”

It’s difficult thinking of any Republican — Pat Buchanan and Bob Dole come to mind — saying such things on the record about George Bush, or even about the late Richard Nixon.

We, of course, do not experience a shy press in the United States. The running saga of Monica Lewinsky is evidence of that. But we are not particularly blessed with forthright public officials, from the president on down. Evasion, prevarication, just plain stalling when nothing else will help are the order of the day, whether it come from staff, public relations advisers or party stalwarts. Perhaps that is one reason the turnout for the primary election this Tuesday is expected to be so low.

Is there a lesson here for us? Do we want such forthrightness from our political leaders and their associates? Those of us who answer affirmatively presumably believe that candor and truthfulness can only be healthy for the body politic. That an end to political lying, along with those bland messages that ring out with sincere piety and patriotism, can only benefit political consumers like us.

But, of course, it is not quite that simple. Israeli politicians attempt to manipulate the voting public no less than do their American counterparts. There is no absence of “politicalspeak” in Hebrew, and, certainly, there is a comparable amount of chicanery and influence peddling within government.

The differences appear to present themselves among the political professionals — those inside the Jerusalem beltway, so to speak. From Remnick’s account, at least — and from other stories that have appeared in the press over the last decade — Israeli politicians feel little need to disguise their feelings when talking about one another. No velvet glove here.

Perhaps we can attribute this to the comparative smallness of numbers, perhaps to the familiar stereotype about Israeli brusqueness. In any event, to this American reader, it comes across as human and, just for the minute, a bracing dash of reality at a time when language looks to have lost its meaning. —Gene Lichtenstein

David Remnick’s Profile of Prime Minister Binyamin


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Photo by Peter Halmagyi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of you may have caught last week’s New Yorker (May 25) with journalist David Remnick’s profile of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. If not, I urge you to call the magazine’s offices in New York and order a back copy, or simply visit your local library.

Remnick offers us a portrait of Bibi as The Outsider.

“The riddle of Netanyahu is that so many Israelis find him personally insufferable, and yet if there were an election tomorrow, he would almost certainly defeat the Labor standard-bearer…. The Orthodox know all about Bibi’s secular indiscretions — the pandering, the philandering. The far-right nationalists cannot yet decide whether he wants to kill the Oslo peace process [as they would like] or not. Both the Russian émigrés and the Sephardim know that he is not one of them. Nevertheless, these outsider constituencies believe that Bibi is better for their interests than the Ashkenazic elites of the Labor Party.”

That, of course, is Remnick’s view, a summary analysis of his interviews in Israel. But his sources are all there for us to read, boldly on the record: no reticence, no polite euphemisms, no political side-stepping by Netanyahu’s colleagues, either in Likud or in his government.

David Bar-Illan, for example, is one of the prime minister’s key aides, and a good friend as well. When Remnick asks about Bibi’s attempts to win over the Orthodox voters, given both his record of adultery and his reputation for being ultra-secular, Bar-Illan rolls his eyes.

Then, speaking directly, he tells the American journalist about his boss: “Finessing his being secular was nothing compared to other things, like adultery,” Bar-Illan tells Remnick. “One thing is to have an affair with a shiksa — but a married woman. With a shiksa, even the rebbes do it. But a married woman! Now Bibi’ll go to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, maybe he’s gone to the Western Wall, or he’ll say the phrase ‘With God’s help.’ But he’s not fooling anyone.” All of this from the prime minister’s press secretary. (As The Journal went to press, word reached us that Bar-Illan denied all of the passages attributed to him. However, Remnick stands by his quotes.)

Party support and collegiality apparently also play a bit differently in Israel than, say, in the United States. Remnick calls Yitzhak Shamir, the former Likud prime minister, shortly after arriving in Jerusalem. “Bibi?” Shamir said in his exhausted Old World accent. “He is not a very trustworthy man.”

Shamir pauses for a moment. Perhaps he suddenly realizes that he is speaking on the record to a journalist. But, no. “He’s too egotistical,” he continues. “He had many advantages. But people don’t like him. I wouldn’t say he is admired. I don’t believe he believes in anything. He has a huge ego. People don’t like such people. I don’t like him.”

It’s difficult thinking of any Republican — Pat Buchanan and Bob Dole come to mind — saying such things on the record about George Bush, or even about the late Richard Nixon.

We, of course, do not experience a shy press in the United States. The running saga of Monica Lewinsky is evidence of that. But we are not particularly blessed with forthright public officials, from the president on down. Evasion, prevarication, just plain stalling when nothing else will help are the order of the day, whether it come from staff, public relations advisers or party stalwarts. Perhaps that is one reason the turnout for the primary election this Tuesday is expected to be so low.

Is there a lesson here for us? Do we want such forthrightness from our political leaders and their associates? Those of us who answer affirmatively presumably believe that candor and truthfulness can only be healthy for the body politic. That an end to political lying, along with those bland messages that ring out with sincere piety and patriotism, can only benefit political consumers like us.

But, of course, it is not quite that simple. Israeli politicians attempt to manipulate the voting public no less than do their American counterparts. There is no absence of “politicalspeak” in Hebrew, and, certainly, there is a comparable amount of chicanery and influence peddling within government.

The differences appear to present themselves among the political professionals — those inside the Jerusalem beltway, so to speak. From Remnick’s account, at least — and from other stories that have appeared in the press over the last decade — Israeli politicians feel little need to disguise their feelings when talking about one another. No velvet glove here.

Perhaps we can attribute this to the comparative smallness of numbers, perhaps to the familiar stereotype about Israeli brusqueness. In any event, to this American reader,it comes across as human and, just for the minute, a bracing dash of reality at a time when language looks to have lost its meaning. —Gene Lichtenstein