Hebrew word of the week: Ge’eh

Like any modern language, Hebrew has to have words that reflect modern-life attitudes and concepts. The English gay, which meant “lighthearted” in previous times, has come to mean “male homosexual.” Many universities have a department for gay studies, usually now known as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender).*

New Hebrew words either translate the English term (such as kef for “fun”; zmanekhuti for “quality time”) or use a word that sounds like the English, as with ge’eh and gay. The feminine form is ge’ah, and the “gay pride parade” is mits’ad ha-Ga’ava. Universities, including the religious Bar-Ilan, have ha-ta’ ha-ge’eh “The (Proud) Gay Club.”

*LGBT is abbreviated in Hebrew as ב״טהל (lesbiyot, homo(seksual)im, transjenderim, bayseksualim); ga’avah lahtabit is “LGBT pride”; agudat ha-lahtabim is “(the Israeli) LGBT Association.”

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

When Birthday Party Blowouts Blowup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • A celebration of their development, uniqueness and existence.

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

Farmar Trades Bruin Blue for Laker Purple

What could be better? Los Angeles’s own Jewish Jordan — Jordan Farmar — is here to stay.

The Los Angeles Lakers has drafted Farmar, who made headlines as a sophomore point guard at UCLA, in the first round and as the No. 26 overall pick. Thus, though the Bruin bear must wave his paw goodbye to Farmar, L.A. fans can rejoice in the up-and-comer’s continued presence here.

The 19-year-old Farmar is a native Angeleno; he grew up in Van Nuys and graduated from Taft High School, where, as a senior, he averaged 27 points per game and became a Valley superstar by leading the school to its first Los Angeles City title. As a freshman at UCLA, he averaged 13.2 points and 5.3 assists and earned the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honor. In his sophomore year Farmar averaged 13.5 points and 5.1 assists, led the Bruins to their NCAA championship game against the Florida Gators and was named a first-team All Pac-10 performer.

A self-described non-religious Jew, Farmar told The Journal’s Carin Davis in a prior interview that he is proud of his Jewish heritage. His mother and stepfather, Melinda and Yehuda Kolani, raised him in a Jewish home, and his upbringing was complemented by both a bar mitzvah at Temple Judea in Tarzana and trips to Israel. Farmar’s biological father, Damon Farmar, a former minor league baseball player, is not Jewish.

Farmar stands a natural leader at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds and has been extensively covered in the Daily Bruin since before his entrance into “>Farmar told The Journal in March. “To always have some people behind you is a great thing. It helps you out defensively, with intensity, and gives you that extra edge.”

The (Very) Few, the Proud

When Jeffrey Ullman’s son broke the news, Dad was more shocked at his own reaction than he was at the actual decision itself.

Drew Ullman, age 20, after two years at college in Santa Barbara, had announced that was putting college life on hold and would join the Marines. He heads to boot camp in January, and said he wishes he could go sooner. His father, a former anti-war activist and full-fledged liberal, said at one time he would have talked his son out of it. Now he realizes he couldn’t be prouder.

“My father and I have similar thinking,” said Drew, who grew up in Beverly Hills and the West Valley, “what we call our 9-10 and our 9-12 thinking. I feel like I owe a lot to this country, more so than someone who needs to go into the military as a way out. I grew up with money, with a great education, had a lot of advantages that other kids don’t have, so I really owe a lot to this country.”

Drew’s parents now live in Brentwood. His dad explained it this way: “For years I thought the military wasn’t the right thing for ‘my kind of people.’ That came from my politically liberal background and socioeconomic class…. I was a big anti-war activist and student radical at USC and Berkley. I continued my political activism throughout the ’70s. But now my thinking about many things in the world has changed, including my thoughts about the military. In World War II, where my dad was a doctor with the Navy and the Marines, it was good versus evil. The only right thing to do was to participate, whereas in Vietnam and other battles, even Afghanistan, I wasn’t a supporter. Now, again, it’s very clear-cut. It’s a matter of morality. Drew is beginning a journey that few Jews choose to make.”

Only some 3,000 out of 1.4 million active duty servicemen and women are Jewish, about two-tenths of one percent. When it comes to Marines, the numbers are even more startling. It’s one out of 1,000. One-tenth of one percent. That gives new meaning to the term “minority.”

Yet for Drew and his father, who both have a strong Jewish identity, that wasn’t really a factor. To them, the idea is to serve your country as an American who’s Jewish, not as a Jew who’s American. At his first interview with the recruiter, Drew remembers them asking: “Do you want to be one of the best or one of the rest?”

Drew said: “That helped clinch it for me. If I can be a Marine I can do anything. Being Jewish in the Marines wasn’t really an issue. I can’t imagine too many boys like me that are raised to be doctors, lawyers or accountants becoming Marines, but if I’m going to serve my country let me serve my country. I like defying stereotypes. That’s my favorite thing to do. There’s a stereotype, more of an American stereotype, that Jewish men are not tough, they’re nerdy. That’s not true.”

Of course, with the current war in Iraq, and with troops on the ground in Afghanistan, being a Jew is very much an issue. Jews have taken steps to protect their religious identity in case of capture by the enemy. The chances that we’ll still be fighting in those locations by the time Drew finishes 13 weeks of boot camp and further training is remote, but real. He claims he’s not worried.

“Most likely I’ll be initially be stationed in Camp Pendleton. I could be on ship duty, embassy duty or, yes, I could be in a war like Iraq. I’m not looking for a fight, but I’m not signing up to sit on my ass stateside,” he said.

Sounds like he’s already a soldier.

Dad put it this way: “My attitude is this — to the extent he’s able to wear his yarmulke and practice Judaism while fighting under the American flag, then do that. He always calls me every single Friday night … so I asked him ‘Are you still going to call me? You better call me or you’re in trouble.’ He said ‘I’ll do what I can.’ So no, I’m not worried about him being a Jew going into the military. He’s going to be part of an elite club. Many of my friends, both liberals and those who are conservative politically, might be surprised by my new attitude. They think they know me so they would not have expected it. I say to them, ‘what are your sons and daughters doing for this country?'”

Good question.

Phil Shuman is a reporter and substitute anchor for Fox 11 KTTV News. He is also hosts news programs for Channel 35’s “L.A. Cityview.”

A Father’s Daughter

I am a Jew, a journalist and a professor, but I also am an anguished and proud father. Last month, my wife and I welcomed our daughter back to Los Angeles for her annual visit to observe the High Holidays with our family. She will not be coming home. Home for her is Israel, where she has lived for 23 years.

We hope to talk about things other than the subject, but who’s kidding whom? After all, we are Jews. Inevitably, we will banter about politics, be it the wackiness of California’s recall election or the tragedy of Israel’s dead-end policy in the territories.

Aliza Ben Tal left Los Angeles as Lisa Fromson after her 1980 graduation from Palisades High School to participate in a Machon program. That began her aliyah process largely, it turned out later, on behalf of a Soviet Jewish family we befriended when I was the CBS News correspondent in Moscow 30 years ago. That family, the Yakirs, waited 14 years to obtain exit visas and when they arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, Aliza and her brother, Derek, were at the foot of the airplane ramp to welcome them to Israel.

Aliza maintains an abiding belief in the viability of a Jewish homeland. She has lived through the war in Lebanon, the Gulf War in which wearing gas masks became a frightening daily ritual, and the first and second intifada. In 1993, her mother and I sat with Aliza in her kibbutz apartment, watching the televised coverage of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shaking hands on the White House lawn. Her hopes for peace soared, only to be crushed two years later when she attended the rally where Rabin was assassinated. Peaks and valleys are a curse experienced by every Israeli, sometimes more than once daily. Like so many Israeli wives, Aliza has had to say farewell to her husband countless times when he was activated by the Israel Defense Forces to serve in Gaza or in the West Bank. In what seemed to me like a moment of despair, she recently wrote the family:

“I can’t say that any great love will ever be shared by Israelis and Palestinians, but dialogue between people, trying to overcome stereotypes, break down barriers, listen to one another’s narratives … this and only this is our way out of this madness. What worries me most is not the sad reality of our neighbors, but the disintegrating moral fabric of our country — the values that those who are only 10 years older than I tried so hard to create and preserve, the ‘beautiful Israel’ going up in dust…. We are becoming a nation suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder … and at every assassination, every attack, our Palestinian counterparts grow more and more enraged. No wonder the kids here like trance music and that hard drugs are so rampant today among our youth in Israeli society. Blast the reality out of your head. Angry Palestinian kids, on the other hand, are recruited to blast our reality out of their lives. Are we in fact doomed to kill one another?”

I wonder how many other parents are reading messages or letters of this kind from their sons or daughters who made aliyah? I wonder, too, about the silence of the tens of thousands of Israeli university students and compare them to the raucous Vietnam-era students I covered in the 1970s. Many of the Israelis had gone off to war, returned from the territories or Lebanon and, since then, act as if they have nothing to say. Is this part of an unwritten bargain with the government that underwrites most of their education?

But then must we in the Diaspora also remain silent? I think not. Israel does not need cheerleaders for a bankrupt policy led by a man whose gross miscalculation in 1980 took the country into the quagmire of Lebanon, causing countless Israeli lives for 20 years. Shortly after the Six-Day War in 1967, Moshe Dayan told me the occupation would prove to be like an incurable cancer and he was right.

Yet, the so-called Jewish establishment shushes us, cautions us against criticizing Israeli policy, arrogantly presumes to speak for all American Jews and then kowtows to one faction-ridden government after another in Jerusalem or fetes its leaders here in lavish fundraising dinners. Once, I agreed with that policy, but not anymore.

My wife and I travel to Israel every year. We support a wonderful university where Aliza earned her undergraduate degree. Most importantly, we have our blood invested there in the body of our daughter, whom we love and admire with all our hearts. We want Aliza and Shai Ben Tal to live out their lives in peace, security and happiness. We will not pretend that we were overjoyed to see them board an airplane to return to an Israel that we once thought was beyond reproach. The prospects for peace now are at best gloomy.

As a journalist, I’ve been eyewitness to a dozen wars in my lifetime. I’ve seen and smelled too many deaths on the battlefields of three continents. I stood on the Golan Heights in 1967, believing that it was the conflict that might finally bring peace to Israel. It did not happen then and it will not happen now. The eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth tactics of the present government remind me of a conversation I had in Saigon in 1956 with a French Foreign Legion colonel as the Tricolor was being lowered for the last time in Indochina. As a warning to Americans he told me, “We could go on killing the Vietnamese, but eventually we discovered there were just too many of them willing to die for what they believed in.” It took us 16 years to discover his truth.

How long will it take the hawks in Israel and the United States to wake up to the obvious?

Murray Fromson is a professor of journalism in the
Annenberg School of Communication at USC and a veteran foreign correspondent. He
can be reached at FromsonM@aol.com


Waking Up With Giselle

Even a casual viewer of KTLA’s “Morning News” knows this much about co-anchor Giselle Fernandez: she’s informed, attractive and very proud of her Latina and Jewish culture.

Since she joined the breezy, ratings-leading Channel 5 newscast in October to replace founding co-anchor Barbara Beck, Fernandez — who helms the 7 and 8 a.m. editions with Carlos Amezcua — has felt at home on the multiethnic program. She has found a place on television where her ethnic beauty and her dual heritage are actually an asset.

“I just kibitzed naturally,” Fernandez told The Journal of the trial shows that snagged her the job over five other candidates. “They’re very talented, goofy, real,” she said of the other members of the “Morning News” team.

For Fernandez, the program heralds a return to broadcast news after having left for a few years to create Latina-empowering Internet ventures and seminars.

“I hadn’t done live TV in a while,” Fernandez said, but added that she had no problem getting her news groove back.

If the high-profile program is a major comeback for Fernandez, it is perhaps a bigger coup for KTLA. The Emmy-winning newswoman — a seasoned veteran at just 40 — brought with her two decades of on-air experience as an anchor, host and correspondent. Her career highlights include work on NBC (“Today,” “Nightly News”), CBS (“Face the Nation,” “CBS Evening News,” “48 Hours”), “Access Hollywood,” The History Channel (“This Week in History”) and anchoring and stringing gigs for local news stations in Miami, Chicago and Santa Barbara. Fernandez has gleaned valuable experience covering the Gulf and Bosnian wars, the 1993 World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, and a rare English-broadcast interview with Fidel Castro. Not that she ever anticipated any of this.

“You know the old adage, ‘Life is what happens after you’ve made your plans,'” Fernandez asked rhetorically. “Nothing has turned out how I planned.”

Fernandez grew up in both Los Angeles and Mexico City. Her father was a flamenco dancer from Mexico when he met her mother, an Ashkenazi Jewish Angeleno.

Fernandez, who was born part-Catholic, practices Judaism.

“I’ve always felt so at home with Jews,” she says. “I felt comfortable with their commitment to family, food.”

A turning point in Fernandez’s life came in 1991, during a month-long assignment in Israel. From her taxi drive from Ben Gurion Airport, it was Judaism by fire. As Iraqi Scud missiles rained down on Tel Aviv, Fernandez watched her Yemenite driver abandon their cab. A citizen gave her a gas mask, and she hid under a bench during the attack.

The assignment not only won Fernandez an Emmy, it developed her connection with her Jewish side. Upon her return to the States, she began studying intensely with Rabbi Howard Bald. Fernandez found the experience “active and cerebral and engaging and exciting. It taught me how to think in a different way. I consider it some of the greatest study I’ve undertaken, in the greatest way. It was not just memorizing. I know more about halachic law than most Orthodox Jewry.”

Fernandez, who spent Passover with Moroccan Jews from Spain reading the haggadah in Hebrew and Ladino, said that she prizes her Jewish Latino friends of Mexican and Argentine descent, as well as the good friends she made while in Israel.

“I can discuss a tomato with them and it will be fascinating conversation,” Fernandez said. “I feel way at home culturally with my friends in Tel Aviv.”

The laid-back style of “Morning News” may not be for everyone, but it is original. In the 1950s, before video, when television still relied on kinescope, KTLA, with Hal Fishman and Stan Chambers, pioneered serious television news. In 1991, KTLA pioneered once again with the light-hearted “Morning News,” introducing a ratings-grabbing format that has since been replicated nationwide.

Producer Rich Goldner observed that the format could only have emerged from Los Angeles’ early 1990s tumult — the riots, the Northridge earthquake, the Malibu fires, the floods, the O.J. Simpson trial. “The anchors had an opportunity to ad-lib so much,” Goldner said.

There are viewers who might find the tone of the broadcast — where entertainment fluff is often sandwiched between sobering, tragic stories — too glib or flip. Fernandez doesn’t mind the contrast, which she adds reflects life itself.

“It’s been a family of characters for 11 years,” Fernandez said. “While it has weekly irreverence and deviations, it also has a strong commitment to news.”

Executive Producer Marcia Brandwynne, who calls the show “a breakfast club,” believes that deeper, analytical coverage should be reserved for outlets such as The New York Times and The Jim Lehrer Report. She doesn’t make any apologies for the airy program, especially with capable professionals such as Fernandez behind the desk.

“It’s light at heart,” Brandwynne said, “but when it takes the news turn, she’s smart. She asks the right questions. She brings a great presence to every interview. She does a lot of homework.”

Goldner noted that Fernandez comes to KTLA with more than just an impressive resume.

“We weren’t looking for just a news reader,” Goldner said of Fernandez, who is at home doing one-on-ones with Sting or Kobe Bryant as she is conversing with heads of state.

“She’s really raised the bar with that type of breadth of experience,” says KTLA News Director Jeff Wald. “She has been to most of the places she’s talked about, and brings with her that insider knowledge. She’s also brought more male viewers into the tent. They find her appealing.”

So which type of male does Fernandez find most appealing? The vivacious Latina, who has alluded to her single status on the air, told The Journal that she is still looking for Mr. Right. But the majority of guys out there who would love to wake up next to Fernandez every morning can turn on their bedroom TV sets — she will not settle for anything less than her ideal.

“I want a man who can add to my experience,” she said, “and has a sense of life and adventure, an intellect. Someone who can spice up my life. I know I can spice up his.”

If KTLA’s “Morning News” has brought any spice to its medium, it is news mixed with personality, spontaneity, honesty, self-deprecating humor and ethnic diversity — all of which Fernandez’s colleagues say describe the newswoman herself.

“She’s an informed anchor, and totally unafraid to be Jewish on the air,” Brandwynne said. “There was a time when it wasn’t such a hot idea to admit that you were Jewish. We’ve come to another place.”

“I love our history, our perseverance, our individuality and devotion to family,” Fernandez said. “I’m very proud of the Jewish people and [their] contributions to society and world culture.”