Two Jews shot with BB guns in Orthodox section of NYC in past 10 days


Two Jews were shot with BB guns in a heavily Orthodox neighborhood of New York City.

City Councilman Rory Lancman said that the victims, neither of whom was seriously injured, were shot over the past 10 days in the Kew Gardens Hills section of Queens, the Queens Chronicle reported Monday.

The New York Police Department is investigating the incidents as potential anti-Semitic hate crimes.

A spokeswoman for Lancman told the paper that the first incident was approximately 10 days ago, but she was not sure of the precise date. The second incident occurred on Friday.

Both victims were wearing clothing traditionally worn by Orthodox Jews. The gender of the first victim was not specified, but the second one was male.

New York State Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz issued a statement saying, “I am deeply saddened to hear about the recent incident that betrays an unfortunate prejudice alive in our neighborhood. We live in a community that should celebrate and be proud of our diversity. Acts of bigotry will not be tolerated or go unpunished. I am confident that all perpetrators will be brought to justice, ending a recent string of shameful crimes.”

Queens, one of New York City’s five boroughs, is one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the United States. Kew Gardens Hills, which is home to Lander College for Men and various yeshivas, has a large haredi Orthodox population.

Founder of L.A. Kabbalah Centre dies


Rabbi Philip Berg, founder of the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles and a spiritual adviser to A-list celebrities such as Madonna, has died, according to an announcement made on the Kabbalah Centre’s Web site on Sept. 16.

“Today we believe the Rav has begun to share with us from above, and we will all happily remain connected to and inspired by the Rav’s soul and his vision,” the center said in a statement.

The center did not specify the cause of death, but Berg — who was known as “The Rav” among his followers — suffered a stroke in 2004. He was 86, according to the statement, but the Los Angeles Times reported that public records reveal he was 84.

His wife, Karen, and two sons, Yehuda and Michael, survive him. Berg’s family has been leading the center ever since Berg’s health began deteriorating nearly 10 years ago.

[LISTEN to Jewish Journal publisher and editor-in-chief Rob Eshman discuss
Rabbi Berg at 4:55 and 6:55 p.m. on KCRW, 89.9 FM and kcrw.com]

Born Shraga Feivel Gruberger in New York in 1928, Berg was ordained at an Orthodox seminary in Queens. He sold insurance for a living until a visit to Israel during the 1960s introduced him to kabbalist Rabbi Yehudah Zvi Brandwein, to whom he became close.

After Brandwein’s death in 1969, Berg declared himself the heir to the kabbalistic dynasty of Brandwein, according to a 1997 Journal article by now editor-in-chief Rob Eshman.

In 1995, Berg founded the movement’s Los Angeles headquarters — formerly a youth center — on Robertson Boulevard. The center is one of 40 brick-and-mortar locations that are a part of the movement, a Jewish mystical tradition that combines elements of astrology and numerology with speculation about the creation of the universe, God and the soul.

Over the years, the center in Los Angeles gained worldwide attention as celebrities, including Madonna, Britney Spears and Demi Moore, became involved with it. These endorsements, coupled with Berg’s embrace of new-age teachings, helped draw in legions of followers.

“Thousands of people take its classes, buy its books and tapes, and participate in [its] services,” Eshman reported.

But its success is only one part of the story. Orthodox rabbis have denounced Berg’s methods, arguing that he has been teaching a watered down method of kabbalah, which should be reserved for talmudic scholars, and in 2011, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began investigating the L.A. center for tax evasion. It is unclear how Berg’s death will affect the ongoing investigation by the IRS, the Times reported.

Additionally, former followers of Berg have provided stories about the center leading to divisions within their families, and Berg’s critics have claimed to be threatened by the organization.

The center did not respond immediately for comment about Berg’s death, but in its statement wrote: “[He] created a path for millions to learn and live Kabbalah … through thousands of hours of teachings, examples of courage that we will never forget, and the comfort of a Kabbalah centre that we can all call home.”

According to the Jerusalem Post, Berg will be buried in the Israeli city of Safed. The historical center of the tradition, Safed is known as the City of Kabbalah.

Chanukah lessons in a post-Sandy world


Late last month, I was in Breezy Point, the isolated beachfront neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., that has become an iconic image for the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Breezy Point was hit full force twice — first by the storm’s surge and then immediately after by a fire that consumed more than 80 houses in one part of the neighborhood. 

Nearly a month later, residents could still be found wandering through the burned section, seeking remains from their incinerated homes. Looking around, I could only make out a few recognizable objects: mangled bicycle frames, tangled bedsprings, charred washer-dryer units, the occasional sink or tub. All were covered in rust. 

At the late-afternoon hour when I visited, light was fading, and the shadows were getting longer. Earlier in the day, Rockaway Point Boulevard, the main street that runs through Breezy Point, had been packed with recovery and relief traffic — trucks, big and small, many with out-of-state plates — but now the lines of vehicles had thinned. 

I’d come to visit this and other Atlantic beach towns thinking about Chanukah, which was soon approaching. Although not many Jews live in Breezy Point proper — it’s known as the whitest part of New York City, and one longtime resident described it to me as “a good Christian community” — still, this town, one of a few that got the worst of Sandy and was blasted by the surge from two sides, sits on the far western edge of the Rockaway Peninsula, a thin spit of land off the coast of Long Island that is home to many, many Jews. I’d also made stops in Far Rockaway, Woodmere and Lawrence earlier in the day, and while they were not as ravaged, it was clear that, throughout the region, celebrating Chanukah will certainly be uniquely challenging this year. 

The holiday, which starts on Saturday evening, Dec. 8, is, on one level, a celebration of  bringing light into the darkness. This year, light’s preciousness will, no doubt, be acknowledged by all: These days, when the sun goes down, the streets of the Rockaways quickly become dark, empty and cold. 

Symbolic rituals may offer only limited comfort to Sandy’s victims. Chanukah candles are traditionally lit at home, and an untold number of residents — thousands of Jews among them — are still not living in their homes, more than a month after the storm. Many whose electrical systems were damaged by flooding during the storm, particularly in the areas I visited, are still without power. 

Even many who are in their homes are struggling with extensive and expensive repairs that may not be covered by their insurance policies. Payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can help, but for people who lost everything on the lower floors of their homes to the storm — couches, tables, chairs, beds, large appliances of all types and one or two cars — the replacement costs can be staggering, possibly unachievable. 

And yet, as I talked to people in and around the areas affected by Sandy, they displayed such generosity and resilience that, even in the path of the second-most-destructive weather event in American history, I found myself thinking that Chanukah in these parts of New York and New Jersey may not be quite so dark this year, after all. 

In the spirit of Chanukah —– and hinting at five of the holiday’s most salient themes — here are their stories. 

Light 

Rabbi Zalman Wolowik, the director and spiritual leader of Chabad of the Five Towns, wasn’t available when I traveled through his neighborhood on the day before Thanksgiving. But when I reached him by phone soon after, he told me that the Five Towns will see more public menorah lightings this year than usual. “So we can light up the community,” Wolowik said. 

Wolowik has been lighting up — and powering up — his community since the Chabad house reopened just 24 hours after the storm hit. 

“I wouldn’t call it a homeless shelter, but it became a place where people could get a meal; recharge their phone, their computer, their iPad; get a warm blanket, clean socks, Pampers, cleaning supplies,” he said. Even now, his Chabad is still distributing items to people who may not have what they need. 

Cindy and Peter Grosz, whose devastated house in the Five Towns was being gutted by volunteers when I visited, said they had visited Chabad soon after the storm. There, a tent had been set up in the parking lot, and local merchants were distributing all kinds of necessities for storm victims. The two halogen heating lamps now being used to warm the Groszes’ living room had come from that event. 

“It was as if you were buying something,” Wolowik said, “but everything was free, from clothing to household goods.”

Luck

Whenever I asked someone involved in the post-Sandy recovery effort about their experiences, more often than not I would hear some variant of this phrase: “I consider myself lucky.” 

There was Stuart Slotnick, the managing partner of the New York office of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a large law firm. He and other lawyers recently held a pop-up legal clinic in Moonachie, N.J., to help members of that hard-hit community fill out forms to send to FEMA. 

Among the secretaries who work in his office, one still didn’t have power as of Nov. 21. Another was still heating her apartment by boiling water on the stove. 

Slotnick had to move his family out of their house, temporarily. “I only lost power for 10 days, so I consider myself lucky,” he said. 

There was Cindy Grosz, the homeowner in the Five Towns, who was visibly distressed by the extent of the damage to the first floor of her home. Volunteers from NECHAMA, a Minnesota-based Jewish disaster response nonprofit, were prying wood panels off the walls of the house and removing the lower sections of the drywall, which was soaked and had begun to grow moldy. 

Volunteers had helped Grosz’s husband pile up furniture and other large items, all of it destined for the landfill. Meanwhile, in the living room, Grosz and her husband had salvaged a few items that hadn’t been destroyed by the storm. A lot of it appeared to be glassware. 

“I’m trying to be positive,” she said. “Thank God, we’re all alive. It could’ve been worse.”

Gimel

I met New York State Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder in Far Rockaway at 10 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving, as he, along with New York City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, was helping distribute kosher turkeys in plastic shopping bags from the side door of the Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula (JCCRP). 

Goldfeder, who wore a kippah and a fleece-lined windbreaker, said his family of four had been sleeping “in different beds, on different couches” since the storm. They only got back into their home after Thanksgiving, about a month after Sandy struck. 

And yet, because Goldfeder represents a district that includes most of the Rockaway peninsula — 80 percent of it, he said, had been damaged either by storm or fire — he, too, considers himself lucky. 

“I think about what I’m going through, and it just means I have to work harder to make sure everyone else is taken care of,” he said. 

The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty helped to organize the turkey giveaway, one of many efforts it has undertaken since the storm; William Rapfogel, the organization’s CEO, was on hand, as was Lisa Gaon, the director of Met Council’s Jewish Community Network.

Gaon said she had been barred from her apartment in Long Beach — the building’s electrical system sustained significant damage — for more than three weeks and didn’t expect to be back in for another month. In the meantime, she and her 6-year-old daughter are staying with friends. 

“The biggest issue is the kids,” Gaon told me, “keeping them in schools and getting them to school.”

The school bus that normally picked up her daughter won’t come to the house where they are staying, across the border in Nassau County. So Gaon drives her daughter — using a loaner car from Met Council because she lost hers in the storm — to and from school every day. And instead of working out of Met Council’s main offices in Manhattan, Gaon said she had been working out of the Rockaway Peninsula location since the storm.

“I’m an easy one; I only have one kid,” Gaon said. “It’s hard for a lot of families. I don’t even talk about myself, because everybody else has it so much worse.”

Courage 

The lucky ones know they’re lucky because they’re meeting people who’ve lost everything — people like Janis. 

I met Janis, a middle-aged white woman with a gravelly voice who wouldn’t give her last name, at the Habitat for Humanity tent in Breezy Point. 

MaccabeeJanis has spent summers at Breezy Point for 57 years and has been living there year-round since 2001. She had come to Breezy Point to check on her house, which she said had been pushed about 15 feet off its foundation by the storm surge, out onto the sidewalk. 

“We’ll survive,” she said as she handed out chocolate-covered marshmallows to the other members of the Habitat team. “We’ve got Jim.” 

“Jim” is James Killoran, executive director of the Westchester, N.Y., chapter of Habitat for Humanity, which has been on the ground in Breezy Point since Nov. 2, just four days after the storm hit. 

Janis’ home is sure to be demolished — she knows this — and there’s not a lot that Killoran and his volunteers can do for her. Killoran stayed upbeat, though. 

“Just being here is a victory,” he said. “It’s not about the walls, it’s about each other.”

Norma Silva, a member of the Habitat chapter’s board who was spending her 18th day in Breezy Point, reinforced that message — that whatever help she and the other volunteers can offer, even if it isn’t much, is really appreciated by residents. 

“Some of them, I get their name and address, and then I ask them, ‘What is it that you need to be done?’ All of a sudden they just start crying,” Silva said. “Because they don’t even know where to start.” 

Gifts

So far, Habitat volunteers — a group that here often includes some experienced responders from Israel — have mostly been focused on clearing homes of flooded belongings and removing the lower drywall to expose the wooden studs of a house. It’s as if everyone in the region is throwing away half — or more — of their belongings: I saw piles of toys and furniture and sodden boxes at the ends of driveways, and one large public park on the peninsula had been converted into a temporary landfill. Among the first things Killoran brought to Breezy Point were 500 boxes of heavy-duty plastic garbage bags, knowing they’d be needed. 

GiftIn normal years at Chanukah, these people might have been considering what trinket or video game to buy for their friends and family. This year, some organizations are making efforts to help people replace at least some of what they have lost and offer a few gifts, as well. 

At the “shopping” night organized by Chabad of the Five Towns, every kid who came left with a watch. (“There was enough disorientation that they didn’t even know what time zone they were in,” Wolowik said.) At the JCCRP in Far Rockaway when I was there, a couple of staffers from a state senator’s office in a nearby district showed up with a dozen kosher turkeys and about as many comforters — all new, still in their original packaging. 

People are in need of food and new blankets, Met Council’s Gaon told me, but that’s only the beginning of what will be required. 

“Nobody has beds; nobody has a table to sit at when they move back in; nobody has a chair to sit on,” she said. “Real basic, basic stuff.” 

Gelt 

The recovery from Sandy — and, eventually, the rebuilding — will cost tens of billions of dollars. 

As of Nov. 30, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was asking for $36.8 billion for his state, and New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg each had asked for more than $40 billion in federal emergency assistance for New York state. 

GeltThe sense from those working in the trenches is, however, that those funds — and the millions being directed from Jewish organizations to the region — won’t be enough for many victims. 

Wolowik outlined some of the requests he’s received since the storm: Requests for funds from people whose homeowner’s insurance policy doesn’t cover flood damage, from people whose automobile insurance won’t cover the cost of replacing their lost cars, from people who don’t have enough money to pay their deductibles. 

“What people need most is financial aid,” Wolowik said. “With that they can do whatever is needed.” 

Chanukah begins at sundown on Saturday, Dec. 8. 


To learn more about the organizations responding to Sandy in New York's Rockaway Peninsula, visit

For those in or near the affected areas, the UJA-Federation of New York has compiled a list of volunteer opportunities here:

For an in depth list of 63 synagogues affected by Hurricane Sandy, visit The Forward here:

Opinion: Teach children to be their own Internet filters


Tens of thousands of Jews filled Citi Field in Queens on Sunday and heard from haredi Orthodox leaders that the Internet should be avoided in the home at all costs and used sparingly at work, and then only with a filter blocking content that could be damaging spiritually.

Debate as you will what some may see as draconian edicts to protect the Jewish community from moral corruption. But at the heart of the matter is a question that should concern us all: How do we keep our children safe on the Internet?

We know that we cannot work around the Internet. Research from the Pew Foundation indicates that 54 percent of children say they go to Google first when they have a question, as opposed to only 26 percent who say they go to a parent and 3 percent to a teacher. Rather we must figure out how parents and teachers can make this important tool work safely and effectively for our kids.

The difficulty is that even the simple solutions are incredibly complicated. Powerful filters can block illicit images and material, but those filters often block out the good with the bad and limit far too much useful information. This solution has been discussed and debated on our own campus concerning Internet access in dormitories.

Some yeshivot have considered avoiding technology altogether and sticking with books and blackboards. But that would leave students without the digital competence required to succeed academically in college and beyond, not to mention that it would rob teachers of increasingly exciting and effective educational tools.

The only real answer is that as parents and teachers, we must instill in our children a strong value system based on Jewish morals and traditions that allows our children to become their own filters when exploring the Internet. That would be far more powerful than any protective software.

The onus is clearly on us because it seems that children will listen to our rules, at least when it comes to the Internet. Only three in 10 young people reported to a Kaiser Foundation survey that they are given clear rules about how much time they may spend using a computer, watching TV or playing video games. The average child with no rules spends more than three hours per day on such media. Those who are given rules spend considerably less time.

Yeshiva high school students said they would be receptive to rules. More than half of those surveyed by researcher Debbie Fox, director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center, a program of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, said that they would welcome more guidance from parents regarding Internet use.

These same students, in fact, said that they would be far stricter with their own future adolescent children regarding responsible Internet use than their parents, and would monitor their children much more closely.

The dangers of the Internet are not limited to challenging content. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study showed that about half of students in grades seven through 12 said they do their homework with media open that do not pertain to their task at hand. In other words, about 50 percent of middle and high school students are doing homework with divided attention. And while some kids may believe that they are being more efficient, multitasking has been proven in adults to cause higher levels of stress and lower levels of efficiency.

While some kids can multitask well, it’s up to parents to actively determine if their children work more efficiently while doing so or while focusing on their work without interruption. Parents should collaborate with their children to test whether they are more efficient when not being interrupted or distracted, and then meter their background activity accordingly.

The greatest challenge of all, however, may be making sure that our kids completely separate from the Internet at times.  According to the Pew Foundation, 75 percent of American teens prefer texting to in-person contact with friends. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this generation’s empathy levels among adolescents are significantly lower than those of previous generations.

It may seem that adolescents in every generation feel isolated and tuned out at some point or another. But it turns out that their computer habits may be compounding the problem. Parents need to teach children that some of their relationships must include direct face-to-face interaction without the distraction of text messages and cell phone calls.

While some of what occurred at Citi Field this past weekend might seem foreign, we must work to ensure that our students and our children can grow up as highly moral and successful Jewish digital citizens.

Dr. Eliezer Jones is the educational technology specialist at Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership. Dr. David Pelcovitz is the Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus chair in psychology and Jewish education at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. For more information about safe Internet rules and guidelines, visit www.yuschoolpartnership.org/parentguidedigitalage.

Haredim fill N.Y. baseball stadium to decry error of Internet’s ways


The sellout crowd that filled Citi Field on Sunday night wore black and white, not the New York Mets’ blue and orange.

And instead of jeering the Philadelphia Phillies or Atlanta Braves, they faced a foe that was, to hear them talk about it, far more formidable: the World Wide Web.

“The Internet even with a filter is a minefield of immorality,” said Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, a haredi Orthodox lecturer. “This issue is the test of the generation. Your strength at this gathering will determine what Judaism will look like a few years from now.”

The rally to caution haredi Orthodox Jews about the dangers of the Internet drew a crowd of more than 40,000 men to the stadium, most of them wearing black hats. The group organizing the rally, Ichud HaKehillos LeTohar HaMachane, or Union of Communities for Purity of the Camp, barred women from attending—consummate with the haredi practice of separating the sexes.

In Yiddish and English speeches, rabbis from haredi communities in the United States, Canada and Israel decried the access that the Internet gives haredim to the world outside their community. Speakers called the Internet “impure,” a threat to modesty and compared it to chametz, or leavened bread, on Passover.

Almost no rabbi directly addressed pornography, which is prohibited by traditional Jewish law. Several speakers also lamented the Internet’s potential to distract men from learning Torah.

To a man, each of the rabbis who spoke said that Jewish law forbids Jews from browsing the Internet without a filter that blocks inappropriate sites. The speeches in Yiddish were broadcast with English subtitles on the stadium’s JumboTron.

Rabbi Yechiel Meir Katz, known as the Dzibo rav, compared the threat of the Internet to the dangers that Zionism and the European Enlightenment posed in the past to traditional Jewish life.

“A terrible test has been sent to us that has inflicted so much terrible damage” on haredim, Katz said. The Internet poses a greater threat to haredim than secularism did, he said, because “in previous challenges we knew who the enemy was. Today, however, the challenge is disguised and not discernible to the naked eye.”

The crowd ranged in age from small children to senior citizens. One participant, Yitzchak Weinberger, said that although the speakers focused on the Internet problem rather than solutions, the event was “inspiring.”

“This is a beginning,” said Weinberger, 43. “They’re coming to raise awareness. Every situation is different, everyone requires some filter.”

While haredim must limit their internet access, “many people do need to use it,” he added.

Before the rally began, about 50 people protested the event across the street from the stadium. Later, the counter-demonstration reportedly grew to some 300 people. Many of the protesters came from Footsteps, a local organization that helps those who leave haredi Orthodox life integrate into non-haredi society. In particular, they complained that Ichud HaKehillos invested money in the rally rather than in preventing child molestation in the haredi community.

“Their priorities are messed up,” said Ari Mandel, a former haredi. “Not only do they ignore child molestation, but they intimidate victims. If your house is on fire, you don’t worry about leaking pipes.”

The rally came after a series of reports in The New York Jewish Week, the Forward and The New York Times about haredi intimidation of victims of sexual abuse who have gone to the police to report their haredi tormentors.

Jon Huntsman visits the Lubavitcher rebbe’s gravesite


Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman visited the New York gravesite of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, visited the Queens gravesite of the late leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement last week. He was accompanied by his wife, Mary Kaye, and a number of movement luminaries, including Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the chairman of Chabad’s educational and social services network, and Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the director of its Washington office.

Huntsman was friendly with Chabad’s outreach effort in Utah when he governed the state from 2005 to 2009.

Most recently the U.S. envoy to China, Huntsman is among the lowest polling in a field of about 10 candidates for the GOP nod, but has carved a niche for himself as a relative moderate on foreign policy and social issues.

Melancholy Russian soul flourishing in immigrants


The Russian soul, that hard to define, but deep and informed melancholy, is flourishing in Rego Park, Queens, N.Y.

To the title character in Irina Reyn’s new novel, “What Happened to Anna K” (Touchstone), the velikaia russkaia dusha, Russian soul, transplanted to America might be embodied in the way Russians avoid voicing public praise, rebuke strangers in public and show a fondness for politically incorrect jokes.

Shards of it are locked up even in Anna, who wakes up optimistic to a new day, yet loves to drink, even if it makes her argumentative or depressed afterward and tends to see things in binary mode — as either wonderful or terrible. An overall feeling of doom is never far away.

“The Russian soul had come to claim her, extinguishing all that was sanguine and buoyant, all that was American inside her, leaving only the Siberian Steppes, the crust of black bread, the acerbic aftertaste of marinated herring, the eternal, bleak winter,” Reyn writes.

In an interview, the Moscow-born author, who immigrated to the United States at the age of 7, admits that she, too, has a lingering Russian soul. Her well-written and very enjoyable first novel recasts Tolstoy, as its title suggests, observing immigrants from the former Soviet Union, body and soul.

Reyn said in unaccented English that she began writing some stories and sketches that would become pieces of this novel during graduate school, when she reread “Anna Karenina.” As she was thinking about issues of identity for her characters, of integrating tradition and modernity, she realized that Tolstoy had dealt with some of the same concerns, and her questions overlapped with some of his.

“Once I decided that I was going to draw attention to a dialogue with Tolstoy, the challenge was how far to go with this. I didn’t want to literally transpose his story,” she explains, but, rather, wanted to find moments that would inform her novel. She took care to be sure her novel had its own identity, even while calling attention to this other great work.

Readers don’t need to have read the great Russian classic to appreciate Reyn’s novel. She says that many American readers have turned to Tolstoy after reading “What Happened to Anna K.”

Reyn’s Anna K., who had expected great love for herself and that she would shape great art reflecting her emotional life, “waited patiently for the call of the relevant lovers through her 20s and early 30s.”

Single at 36 and aware that her creative inspiration has yet to materialize, she settles into marriage with a successful Russian businessman. Even at her wedding at a Brighton Beach nightclub, she feels an uneasy desire for something more.

She and her husband move from Rego Park to the Upper East Side of Manhattan; their circle consists of his friends and their wives who speak “a Russian-English patois, Americanizing their Russian, Russifying their English. The women dressed themselves and their men and the result was bright pinks, pinstripes, matching necklaces and earrings, manicures, thick, visible lip liner. Gold was favored over silver, chunky pieces that screamed out for attention.”

Anna K. is drawn into an affair with the boyfriend of her Bukharan cousin — first glimpsed at a train station. With him she can talk about books and ideas, and she likes the notion of being his muse. Her cousin Katia marries Lev, a fellow Bukharan, who’s passionate about French film. But Anna K’s life resembles that of Tolstoy’s tragic heroine.

With humor laced into this story, Reyn explores aging, love and marriage, ethnic identity, the power of tradition and the pull of family and community. This may be the first novel, at least in English, to offer a glimpse into the lives of Bukharan Jews in Queens, where many thousands have settled. This is a community with great devotion to memory, which exerts strong efforts to maintain their religious and cultural traditions.

Katia’s father is so happy to be marrying off his daughter that he promises, on first meeting his son-in-law to be, free haircuts for life. Lev doesn’t have the heart to tell him that he has half a dozen barbers in his own family. Food is described in appealing detail, which may inspire readers to board a subway to Rego Park to try out a Bukharan restaurant.

“I think of myself as a Russian Jewish American writer,” Reyn says.

When she came to the United States from Moscow with her parents in 1981, she knew no English and found herself struggling through third grade in a Brooklyn public school. In the evenings, members of the family would quiz one another on vocabulary using homemade flash cards. By fourth grade, Reyn was the class spelling bee champ and, as her parents would say, soaking up the English language.

Her family moved from Flatbush to Rego Park when she was 9, where they lived among Bukharan families. Later on they moved to Fairlawn, N.J. She attended Rutgers University, and earned a masters in fine arts from Bennington College. Now 34, she teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh and divides her time between Pittsburgh and Brooklyn.

Reyn, along with her parents, sister and American husband, recently visited Moscow, and she was doubly struck — by seeing what her life might have been like had they stayed, as they visited family friends still living there, and also by the new wealthy, global and over-the-top Moscow.

Sandee Brawarsky is book critic for The Jewish Week.

N.Y. nostalgia with an egg cream chaser


“A lot o’ the tribe are here,” Stewie Stone said. The 68-year-old comic, who got
his start as a Borscht Belt tummler at the Concord Hotel, was one of many landsman stuffed into Beverly Hills High School for a reunion on Saturday night — the 23rd annual New York Day in L.A.

The event, which drew 1,500 transplants who attended New York high schools, also celebrates Hollywood stars from the Big Apple, amid deli food and egg creams.

“We’re not the New Yorkers who hate L.A.,” said Lou Zigman, chair of the New York Alumni Association. “We’re the New Yorkers who love L.A.”

Zigman first organized the happening in 1979 for other alumni of Abraham Lincoln High in Brooklyn. In 1985, the gathering was opened to anyone from the five boroughs (dues: $18 annually) to kibitz with old classmates and sit through more than three hours of a Catskills-quality gala toasting two ex-New Yorkers. Past honorees have included Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Rita Moreno and Mitzi Gaynor (the Chicago native was “adopted” by the group in 2006).

Actors Jack Klugman and Jerry Stiller were the honorees for 2008, and money raised during the gala will go to high school scholarships (New York schools, natch). This year’s event also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers leaving Ebbets Field in Brooklyn for Los Angeles.

“It’s an attempt at a bit of nostalgia,” said Abe Glazer (Haaren High School, ’49) as he shuffled into a courtyard ringed with banners identifying high schools — DeWitt Clinton, Erasmus Hall High, New Dorp — where former bobby-soxers sat with Shofar hot dogs or lined up at a vintage Carvel Ice Cream cart as a sextet of alumni/musicians whomped out big band sounds.

In the packed Beverly Hills High auditorium, a variety show featured alumni entertainers like Gary Marshall, Sammy Shore, Connie Stevens and Monty Hall.

Stone (Erasmus Hall) got laughs with his schtiklach about how Jews had to choose between matzah and white bread. “We chose matzah because there’s more pieces in the box. That’s it. So when Moses said, ‘Let my people go,’ he meant to the toilet. We’re a people constipated for 5,000 years,” he said.

But there wasn’t a dry set of eyeglasses in the house after Ed Ames sang, “Try to Remember.”

Backstage, by an overflowing spread from Junior’s, Freddie Roman and Mal Z. Lawrence (stars of “Catskills on Broadway”) were telling Budd Friedman (founder of The Improv) why they love to perform here.

“We’re still Jewish,” Roman said.

“That’s right, the piece hasn’t grown back,” Lawrence said, talking over Roman in Borschtsy banter.

“We’re very good between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” Roman added.

“But I’m not looking forward to the bris,” Lawrence said.

Len Lesser (Uncle Leo on “Seinfeld”) sidled over and put a topper on the appeal of the reunion.

“Like Norm Crosby used to say about New Yorkers in L.A.: ‘What are you hugging and kissing all the time? You knew each other in New York for years you never said a word to each other.'”

Kershaw Museum Plans Ethiopian Show


Timed to coincide with the Bowers Museum’s “Queen of Sheba” exhibit, the Kershaw Museum at Temple Beth El is organizing its own sampler exhibit of artworks by Jewish Ethiopians and Yemenites, who believe themselves to be the queen’s descendants.

The museum is seeking to borrow examples of Ethiopian and Yemenite art or artifacts from local collectors for possible exhibition, beginning Oct. 14. Descriptions and photos of the items should be submitted before Aug. 1 to Irene Breisacher, a volunteer at the Aliso Viejo synagogue, who is helping organize the exhibit.

“A lot of people went to Israel when the country was new and bought Yemenite art, but they didn’t tell you it was Yemenite,” said the museum’s director and founder, Norma Kershaw. “Ancient or modern, whatever people have” would be welcomed.

Typical works are silver Bible covers with fine filigree work. Ethiopian folk art is evident throughout Israel, produced by resettled Ethiopian Jews, who fled religious persecution and deteriorating economic conditions in their homeland en mass beginning in 1984.

Kershaw, who previously created exhibits on Chanukah and Israeli art with examples borrowed locally, hopes to fill three exhibit cases with at least 100 items. One person has offered Ethiopian costumes.

The exhibit’s logo is likely to be a pillow cover featuring King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, which Kershaw obtained recently in Los Angeles from an importer promoting modern folk art by Ethiopian Israelis.

The Bowers’ Sheba exhibit will open Oct. 17 and will feature 100 treasures, some from the first century, chosen from the vast collections of the British Museum.

As part of an archeology trip to Yemen in 1985, Kershaw said she looked without success for scientific evidence to support the biblical legend. According to legend, Sheba ruled an ancient kingdom that prospered as a trading crossroads between Jerusalem and the Roman Empire; she was seduced and married to King Solomon around 950 B.C.E.

Potential lenders should contact Irene Briesacher at
(949) 837-1005 or by e-mail, irene@fea.net before Aug. 1.