Are high school reunions going extinct?


I was part of the infamous Class of 2000, the class that everyone has been watching since the time we entered kindergarten in 1987. Back then, it seemed almost impossible to imagine what the world would look like in 2000, but everyone was certain that the turn of the millennium would be momentous, and our class would be front and center as we graduated high school and headed out into the world. Well, the year 2000 has come and gone — anticlimactically — and over Thanksgiving weekend, I attended my 10-year high school reunion for Cleveland High School, a public school in Reseda.

For all the pomp and circumstance that was expected of the Class of 2000, only 50 of our classmates — out of a graduating class of close to 500 — turned out for the reunion, which I’d helped organize. I’m not one to measure the success of an event by the number of attendees (I happen to think it was a great night), but the general lack of interest from our class got me thinking about the significance of high school reunions in our hyperconnected era, and whether the prominence of social networking sites like Facebook would herald the death of this American tradition.

I always felt pretty certain that I would be at my high school reunion, and as 2010 approached, I started looking forward to it. My expectations were admittedly high. I knew it wasn’t going to be anything like “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.” Nor would it be like the formal affairs our parents attended at fancy hotel ballrooms. Still, I was eager to see how much those notions had changed and if the reunion still held meaning as a kind of rite of passage in American culture — a rite I wanted to experience for myself. After all, we graduated on the cusp of the Internet explosion, and technological advancements have redefined how we interact with one another.

There is no doubt Facebook, founded in 2004, has changed the role of high school reunions. Facebook affords us the opportunity to avoid awkward small talk and skip straight to satisfying our curiosity about how an acquaintance from high school turned out. Those now graduating high school won’t ever lose touch with one another entirely. They’re a click and an update away. So, it begs the question: What’s the point of reunions nowadays?

After going to my own high school reunion and talking to friends about theirs, I have come to the conclusion that there is still value in the ritual. While I’m as guilty as the next person of looking through hundreds of photos of a friend of a friend’s wedding on Facebook, I mostly use it to interact with close friends. The rest of my 300 or so “friends,” I rarely connect with. Sure, there’s that quick thrill of looking at an old classmate’s profile and catching yourself up. Occasionally there’s a short exchange acknowledging how nice it is to reconnect, but it never goes beyond that. Facebook interactions tend to be cursory. So despite knowing who got married, who had a baby and who moved where, Facebook didn’t take away the intrigue of seeing my classmates in person after all that time.

There was still a good deal of excitement in catching up and reminiscing with my teammates from swim team face to face, or chatting with someone who now lives near me in New York. There were some genuine, in-depth conversations that took place, and meaningful connections were definitely formed. Did Facebook take away some of the curiosity that used to make high school reunions so compelling? Absolutely. But I’m OK with reunions becoming more low-key. There was something nice about not putting on a big dramatic production, and just gathering for drinks and food with some old friends at a Mexican restaurant.

I actually think there are many ways that Facebook is contributing to the continuation of high school reunions. We used the site to do all our outreach, which eliminated the need to hire a service that tracks down people’s home addresses. We were able to quickly communicate with classmates and deliver information about the reunion by creating an invitation directly on the site, updating it in real time. Another element that enhanced the experience was forming a community around a group page for our graduating class where people have reconnected, commented and reminisced, and will do so long after the 10-year reunion has passed. And, I’d like to think that no matter how connected we are online, there will still be a Cleveland High School reunion in 2020. 

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Reunion Re-Kindles ‘Miracle on Florence’ Memories


It was called the “Miracle on Florence Avenue,” a small, humble synagogue that thrived for 50 years before shuttering its doors in 1986, a victim of old age and changing demographics. By all accounts, Huntington Park Hebrew Congregation, the second Conservative synagogue established in Los Angeles, should be buried in the sands of oblivion by now. And yet, 30 of us — all fiercely loyal former members, ranging in age from 50 to 97 — gathered on Jan. 7 at the home of Elliot Monka in Sierra Madre for a reunion that brimmed over not only with nostalgia, but with insight into how this tiny Jewish enclave could produce an unprecedented number of successful professionals and deeply committed Jews.

“In spite of being from poor immigrant families, the Jewish community in Huntington Park gave its children an extraordinary core set of values that we’ve all carried through the years,” said Ben Tenn, an entertainment executive whose father served as a synagogue president.

Indeed, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) became a bar mitzvah in Huntington Park, as did Lee Bycel, my old next-door neighbor, who has become a well-regarded rabbi. Religious school graduates also fill the ranks of doctors, attorneys, entrepreneurs and professors around the country.

According to my mother, Evelyn Rosenwein, who spearheaded the reunion, her parents and the other founders “wanted the temple’s foundation to be built on Torah [education], tzedakah [justice], avodah [ambition ] and ahdut [unity]. I think they succeeded.”

A strong connection to Judaism has proven another hallmark of Huntington Park Hebrew Congregation alumni. Besides producing a rabbi, the temple inspired several members to make aliyah. My brother, Lloyd, lived in Israel during the Yom Kippur War and screenwriter Dan Gordon is a captain (reserve) in the Israel Defense Forces.

The neighborhood of Huntington Park, located in a lower-middle-class area seven miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, was never a “Jewish” area. Today, in fact, the population is almost entirely Latino, and our little two-story synagogue has morphed into a Seventh-day Adventist church. But when my grandparents, Albert and Lillian Brownstein, settled there around 1915, they met with a handful of enterprising Jews on Aug. 10, 1927, to establish a Jewish community. The new group called itself B’nai Yehuda Congregation, after my great-grandfather, and looked for members by finding Jewish names in the telephone book.

“Solomon Israel gave my dad an earful. Turns out the guy was Lutheran,” chuckled Paul Brownstein, my uncle, who served as keynote speaker at the reunion, along with Dr. Gerald Turbow, a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Historical Society, and the son of temple founder Dr. Arthur Turbow.

The fledgling congregation persevered, in spite of the Great Depression, the city’s refusal to zone a building and, finally, the 1933 earthquake. On March 27, 1938, Huntington Park Hebrew Congregation finally opened at 2877 Florence Ave., becoming the community’s spiritual center for the next 50 years.

During the following two decades, the synagogue flourished, and by the mid-1950s, its membership surged to 180 families with a religious school boasting 130 students. This was the time I remember best — Hebrew school three times a week (we would have rather been home playing, but no one asked us); Rabbi Harry Hyman glowering as my still-best friend Clare (Zellman) Reider and I giggled during Friday night services. But somehow, in spite of all our worst childish intentions, we learned about responsibility and loyalty and Jewish identity.

There is a cycle of life and death, and our congregation reached the end of its cycle with the mass migration of Jews to the Westside and Valley in the mid-1960s. The temple lingered on until 1986 — hence the moniker “Miracle on Florence Avenue” — but fewer than 30 families had remained. It was a sad time, but we vowed to get together again, and 12 years ago we had our first reunion. This time around fewer people came — many have died, some were away “repairing the world.” But they vowed to come to our next gathering.

People left the January reunion with a glow that, after so many years, seemed surprising. Was it seeing our beloved Sunday school teacher, Henrietta (Kartin) Zarovsky, who remembered us all? Was it just hearing the name of Irving Jacobs, our spiritual and sweet-voiced cantor who volunteered his services for 46 years? It was more. There was something indefinably satisfying about knowing that there are still people around who understand, truly understand, quality of life and qualities of life worthy of pursuing. Huntington Park Hebrew Congregation is no longer a place; it is a collective memory. When the old timers are all gone, and we baby boomers have joined them, that memory will be obliterated. But what will remain for our children and children’s children will be a legacy of Jewish values, blended with small town ideals. It’s worth glowing about. l

Andrea Rosenwein is a writer and adjunct English professor at Pierce College.

Rescuer and rescued reunion aids Polish talks on Shoah claims


Arranging a reunion between a Jewish woman hidden during the Holocaust and her Catholic rescuer might have paid unseen dividends for Jewish organizations fighting a property restitution battle in Poland.

A day after Jozefa Tracz Czekaj and Miriam Schmetterling saw each other for the first time in more than 60 years, pictures of the women embracing graced the front pages of Poland’s largest newspapers and were shown on every television channel.

The meeting between Czekaj, the rescuer, and Schmetterling, who had not been in Poland since the end of World War II, was the main event at a Feb. 27 luncheon, held at the Lauder Morasha Jewish School, for 60 Poles recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations — non-Jews who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.

The event was organized by the Claims Conference, whose representatives met with Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski less than 24 hours later.

“Clearly, having this event a day before such an important meeting and having the prime minister see these newspaper articles made the climate of such difficult talks more positive,” said Gideon Taylor, Claims Conference executive vice president.

Newspaper stories credited the Claims Conference with uniting the women. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous contributed to the planning of the event.

The Claims Conference, which was holding its first executive board meeting in Warsaw, and the World Jewish Restitution Organization had come to press their case for compensation for private property looted by the Nazis, then taken over by the communist regime and never returned.

Restitution has been an unpopular cause in Poland, but extensive television and newspaper coverage showing the rescued hugging the rescuer, feel-good stories about Polish efforts to help Jews during the Holocaust and Claims Conference gratitude to the righteous Poles set the tone for the meeting with Kaczynski.

“The prime minister said he was committed to passing a law on compensation this year and seemed genuinely affected by the positive feelings about Poland we expressed,” Taylor said.

Poland is the only country in the former Eastern Bloc, besides Belarus, that has not passed a restitution or compensation law on private property confiscated by the Nazis and then the communists. In the case of Poland, it’s estimated that only 20 percent of the property nationalized by the communist regime was owned by Jews before World War II.

However, since Jewish groups have been the most vocal in pushing for restitution, media coverage of their demands has suggested that Jews consider Poland anti-Semitic and hold it responsible for their suffering during the Holocaust. Such charges make conservative nationalistic politicians like Kaczynski particularly uncomfortable.

The Claims Conference salute showcased how Polish citizens took tremendous risks to save their Jewish neighbors.

Schmetterling, 83, who now lives in Germany, was ushered into a room amid flashing cameras, tape recorders and an audience of approximately 160 guests to meet Czekaj, 79, who helped her parents hide Schmetterling and her husband for 10 months in the eastern town of Kopyczynce.

Originally from Lvov, Schmetterling fled as 50,000 Jews from the city were sent to the Belzec concentration camp. She, her husband and his parents hid in the attic of the Tracz home only a few feet from Gestapo headquarters. Czekaj would play the piano when visitors came, to prevent them from hearing the strangers upstairs.

Schmetterling and Czekaj had not seen each other since 1944, when Soviet troops liberated Kopyczynce from the Nazis.

“I am here today only because she and her family risked everything to save us,” Schmetterling told the crowd, looking at Czekaj. “Now, to see her here in Poland, is more than I could have imagined.”

Schmetterling thanked not only Czekaj but everyone in the room who had saved Jews. Taylor lauded the rescuers, too.

“In Jewish teaching, we say to save a life is to save the world. You in this room have saved the world many times over,” he told the elderly guests.

Taylor noted the symbolism of holding the luncheon in a Jewish school. He said that through the efforts of rescuers, people like Schmetterling, a mother of two, could bring a new generation of Jews into the world.

Before Schmetterling entered the room, Czekaj sat nervously, eager with anticipation. The events of the week had forced her to recall the horrors of the Holocaust: classmates she saw being carted off to camps or Jews rounded up and killed by the Nazis in front of her house, which was next to the town hall.

But Czekaj’s unease turned to elation when Schmetterling embraced her. Asked why her family risked their lives and the lives of their children to help a work acquaintance — Czekaj’s brother-in-law worked for Schmetterling’s father-in-law, a doctor — Czekaj answered, “I am a Catholic; everything we did was on a religious basis. That is all I need to say. If a situation like that occurred again, I would not hesitate to do what we did again.”

At a time when the League of Polish Families, a Catholic-oriented party with a history of anti-Semitism, is in government and several incidents of anti-Semitism have occurred in Poland, the Claims Conference’s focus on the righteous garnered intense media attention for a country still coming to terms with its past.

There were approximately 3 million Jews in Poland — more than in any other European country — before the Holocaust. About 90 percent of them were killed.

However, Polish politicians noted that more Polish citizens are recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations than any other nationality. Approximately 6,000 Poles have been so recognized; an estimated 800 are still alive and living in Poland.

Most of the week’s honorees were children of parents who hid Jews.

The children helped obtain food for the Jews and sometimes invented elaborate ruses to keep the Germans at bay.

A Deux Ex ‘Mashina’ You Wouldn’t Believe


The Rolling Stones have done it. Cher has done it.

The comeback — that big farewell concert tour followed by a reunion and a new album — is about as American as apple pie.

It’s not unheard of in Israel, either. While solo artists like Arik Einstein, Shlomo Artzi, Shalom Hanoch and Rita have all had their ups and downs, they remain superstar commodities and churn out a new album or collection every few years. Israeli bands, on the other hand, hold their “very-very-last” concert and then reunite years later, probably less because their fans are clamoring for it than because it makes economic sense (those who were once young teenagers now have disposable income).

But who ever thought Mashina would reunite?

That seminal ’80s pop-rock band — their run was actually from 1985-1995 — stood the test of time, putting out eight albums in 10 years and performing hundreds of packed shows.

Mashina had light lyrics about love and relationships and pajamas and zebras — as opposed to war and politics and death — and a synthesized beat to rival the best of the ’80s bands, like, say, Erasure or Hall & Oates (who are, in fact, back on tour for their own comeback.)

Mashina injected new sounds and new life into the Israeli music scene. Founded in 1985 by Shlomi Bracha and Yuval Banay — the son of famous actor Yossi Banay and cousin to many other Banay singers like Meir and Evyatar — it took 10 years and a couple of bombs but mainly hits for the band to run its course. When they were done, though, it seemed like they were done — forever.

But never say never. Especially in showbiz.

Mashina reunited in 2003, coming out with a new album, “Future Romanticism,” and playing, once again, to packed houses in Israel and America. They are headlining the Israel Festival in Los Angeles on Sunday, May 7.

“In the past few years we’ve been concentrating on Mizrahi music,” said Guy Kochlani, director of entertainment for the Israel Festival, referring to Middle Eastern-influenced music. “We wanted to give a new twist and also have an actual band.”

In the past, the festival has brought in solo artists such as Yehoram Ga’on and Sarit Hadad. “Mashina is a fairly old band — they’ll attract 15-45-year-olds, because back in the’80s they used to rock out Israel; they have a huge fan base that will definitely come support Mashina,” Kochlani said.

Mashina band member Banay has been rather shocked by the number of young people who attend their concerts, both here and in America. “It’s amazing how many young people come to see us,” he told The Journal by phone from Israel. “Sometimes we play at clubs, and it’s only teenagers; apparently our songs were passed down from fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers — there are people who are there who were never even born [when Mashina first came out]. But the people who come see the Rolling Stones were not exactly born either [when the Rolling Stones came out].”

Their decision to reunite wasn’t one of those things where a band reunites for one concert and then fades away into the background again.

“We were together for many years — we got tired, and everyone went their own way,” Banay said. But “we were always friends helping each other,” he said, not exactly answering why they decided to reunite. “We are good together, and we enjoy playing together,” he said, as if that were answer enough.

Was it difficult to come back a decade later to an entirely different music scene — one with hip-hop bands like Subliminal and Dag Nachash and ethnic groups like Tipex and Idan Reichl?

“There is rap and hip hop — the Israeli music scene has changed the same way that it changed in Europe and United States. There was rock ‘n’ roll and then dance and then hip-hop, but one thing is for sure, like Neil Young said, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll can never die.'”

Even though Mashina has toured the States since it reunited, coming to Los Angeles, Boston, Florida and New York, Banay says they don’t plan to record in English, like other Israeli artists such as David Broza and Ahinoam Nini (known here as Noa).

“We’re too old for that,” Banay says wistfully. “Sometimes it pains us that we’re not a rock band in America — but you can’t have it all. We are a bit less rich than we could be in America,” he says, noting that there’s only about 100,000 people who buy rock music in Israel. On the other hand, he says, “America is a hard place — you have to work all the time to chase money. It’s true you live there and you live well, but you always miss Israel,” he said, and referred to Mashina’s most popular new song, the trance-like “There’s No Other place”:

“It’s true that the days
Are so short
And the songs that I love
Are no longer played
But there’s no place else.
Nothing else.”

Reunion Doc Strikes Political Chord


When Danae Elon, daughter of famed Israeli journalist and author Amos Elon, was 6 months old, a Palestinian Muslim knocked on the door of her home in East Jerusalem and asked for a job.

He was hired on the spot and for the next 20 years, Musa Obeidallah was Danae’s nanny, caretaker, confidant and second father.

Eventually, the girl went into the army and then became a documentary filmmaker in New York. Musa went back to his village on the West Bank and the two lost track of each other.

Three years ago, as the intifada raged on, Danae began to look for Musa, and she has documented the search and reunion in “Another Road Home.”

The film is difficult to categorize. Many viewers in Israel, America and elsewhere have been touched by its intimate, often painful, exploration of relationships within and between the Israeli and Palestinian families.

The same or other viewers have felt uncomfortable or outraged by the implicit ideological message that in the Mideast conflict — the Israelis are the oppressors and the Palestinians are the victims.

Elon makes no secret that her sympathies lie with the “victims,” but she denies that she has made a propaganda movie.

“This is a very personal film,” she said. “I set out to make a people film, not a political film for leftists.”

Though Musa’s home in the village of Battir is only a short drive from Jerusalem, Elon found it easier to track him down and meet him in Paterson, N.J., where six of his sons (out of 11 children) have settled down and established families of their own.

Most of the film’s encounters take place in Paterson, now home to some 30,000 Palestinians, who have recreated much of the sounds, smells, shops and street life of their homeland.

Paterson gained some notoriety after Sept. 11, when the Palestinian community was accused of harboring terrorist Muhamad Atta before he led the attack on the World Trade Center.

In the film, after Danae wins the confidence of the six brothers and their families, the grand reunion is arranged. Musa arrives in Paterson from his West Bank village, while the Elon parents, Amos and Beth, fly in from Europe.

The affection between Danae and Musa is palpable and the film is at its warmest when the Arab, like a Jewish mother, worries aloud that the 34-year-old Israeli woman is still unmarried.

But the conflict back home cannot be ignored and Musa describes some of his problems matter-of-factly.

Since he was not allowed to fly from Ben-Gurion Airport, he had to sneak around two road blocks and into Jordan to fly to America. He worries that the security wall will cut him off from his fields and prevent him from visiting the hospital in nearby Bethlehem.

The most searing indictments and most profound pessimism comes from the writer Amos Elon, who has given up hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict and has moved with his New York-born wife to a small Italian town.

“Until 1967, Zionism represented Jewish nationalism; after the ’67 war it became a messianic religion,” he said. “Now there has been too much blood, too much anger. It is a tribal war, and they are the worst.”

For Danae, who acknowledged the difficulties of growing up in the shadow of a famous father, the second reunion is that with her parents.

Amos Elon, who advised his daughter against making the documentary, “is a very private person … that he consented to go before the camera is the greatest love he could show his daughter,” Danae said.

The film has been aired on Israeli television and found its warmest response among Palestinians and right-wing Israelis.

The former understandably like the sympathetic portrayal of one of their own. The right-wingers, said the filmmaker, “saw the movie as an expose of the hypocrisy of Israeli left-wingers, who hold protest rallies for peace but send their sons and daughters to serve in elite army units.”

“Another Road Home” opens May 6 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Town Center in Encino. For additional information on the film, visit www.anotherroadhomethemovie.com.

High Marks for Jewish Swimmers


 

“Watermarks” is a life-affirming documentary that celebrates the constancy of courage and grace, from youth to old age.

Its setting is the waltz-loving Austria of the 1920s and ’30s, where the lithe young swimmers of the fabled Hakoah (“the strength”) Vienna sports club are beating their “Aryan” rival clubs year after year.

Freestyler Judith Deutsch alone breaks 12 national records in 1935 and is the toast of the town, until she refuses to compete for Austria at Hitler’s 1936 Olympic Games. As punishment, she is barred from competition for life and all her marks are erased from the official record books.

After the Reich’s takeover of Austria in 1938, the swimmers scatter to Palestine, the United States and England, marry and establish professional careers.

Some 65 years later, Israeli director Yaron Zilberman decided to track down eight of the swimmers, now in their 80s, in their adopted countries.

He persuaded them to return to Vienna for a reunion and one final lap, in custom-fitted swim suits, in the swimming pool of their glory days. One is Annie Lampl of Los Angeles, who didn’t let her blindness keep her away.

The reunion has its bittersweet remembrances, but few moviegoers are ever likely to encounter as feisty, feminine and fun-loving a bunch of octogenarians.

In 1995, the Austrian swimming federation invited Deutsch to travel from Israel to Vienna to have her medals and records restored in an official ceremony.

Deutsch declined, so the Austrian delegation traveled to Israel to do the honors.

“Watermarks” opens April 1 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills (310) 274-6869, and on April 8 at the Fallbrook 7 theaters (818) 340-8710 in West Hills.

 

Fate With a Frummie


A funny thing happened on the way to the Old City. Well, technically, it happened in the Old City. My friend, Matt, invited me to Shabbat lunch at his rabbi’s house. I covered my cleavage and accepted the invite. Packed with kids and black hats, this third meal was standing-room only. I was balancing a Kiddush cup in one hand and the rabbi’s baby in the other, when Matt introduced me to Yakov. Yakov was a tall drink of Manischevitz. A bearded yeshiva student about my age, he took one look at me and said: "Carin, are you from Chicago?"

Confident my Chicago accent didn’t come out during ‘da Hamotzi, I wondered how he knew.

"I went to high school with you. My name back then was Jake."

Of all the Jew joints, in all the towns, in all the world, I walk into his. The artist formerly known as Jake didn’t just go to my high school. I was a freshman cheerleader in a sophomore geometry class and Jake was the hot football player who sat next to me. He barely noticed me. But every Friday, game day, he’d wear his jersey, I’d wear my cheerleading skirt, and we’d talk through morning announcements about how Deerfield High School football rules. I had a major crush on Jake, I passed notes about Jake, I dreamed he’d ask me to homecoming. Then I learned he was dating Risa Rosen — a sophomore. I cried, I sulked, I couldn’t eat for days. And today I’m eating lunch with him in Israel. Someone call VH1, I know where he is now.

After each of my high school heartbreaks, my mom would say, "Ten years from now you won’t remember this boy. Who knows where you’ll be by then? Who knows where he’ll be by then? Forget about looking back on this and laughing. You won’t even look back."

She’s right, I’m not looking back. I’m looking across the table — at Jake, his sweet religious wife and their adorable baby. Talk about a high school reunion. What are the chances? I try to figure out the probability of our random meeting, but can’t run the numbers in my head. I should have paid attention to something in math class besides Jake’s profile.

I have a million questions for my hometown hottie. When did he become observant? When did he move to Israel? Does he still play football? Can frummies play football? When did he get married? How did he pick this yeshiva? How many licks do talumudic scholars say it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

I can’t ask him that. I can’t even hug him. I can’t even shake his hand. If I don’t know the hummus fork from the salad fork, how am I supposed to know how to greet a long-lost, now deeply observant friend? I should have brushed up on my Shabbat etiquette. Where’s Martha Schwartz when I need her? Do I sit next to him or next to his wife? Do I bring up old times? Should I bust out a DHS cheer? Of course, the rabbi would see doing the splits as working on Shabbat, so I settle on a smile and say, "What have you been up to since grunge was in style?"

We exchange a decade of Cliffs Notes over cucumber salad. We’ve got a lot in common. He’s married, has a son, lives in Jerusalem. I’m single, have a plant, live in a studio. OK, not so much in common. Except that we’re both happy. As the great sage Peter "Pinchas" Brady once said, "When it’s time to change you’ve got to rearrange who you are and what you’re gonna be."

Jake is an Orthodox yeshiva student in Israel. I’m, well — I’m still figuring things out. But I have figured out we weren’t meant to be together. I couldn’t have known that in high school. I didn’t even know it an hour ago. Actually, I’d forgotten about Jake until an hour ago. But seeing him made me realize that things happen — or don’t happen — for a reason. Even running into Jake had a purpose, if only to hear him say, "Wow, you look just like you did in high school."

Seeing Jake also gave me a fresh perspective on my boyfriend shortage. I used to blame myself for my single condition. Why am I alone? What’s wrong with me? What does Risa Rosen have that I don’t have?

But now, I’ve kicked the habit. Instead of crying into my kugel, I think of Jake. I can’t get down on myself every time some guy doesn’t want to date, commit or ask me to a semi-formal, buy me a corsage and take awkward photos under a balloon arch. I can’t get my fringes in a knot over every unrequited crush.

Maybe we just aren’t meant to be together. Maybe life has a different path for me — or him — that I just can’t see yet. And maybe, like Jake, our paths will cross again sometime.

As for Jake, well, we’ll always have geometry.


Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

The Editor’s Corner


When the invitation to my 50th high school reunion in New York City arrived in the mail earlier this year, I knew I would attend. I just wasn’t sure why. Friends in Los Angeles were amused. I did not seem the type. Was there a special girl I wanted to see after all these years? Old friends? None of the above, I laughed.

Which one is The Jewish Journal’s editor, Gene Lichtenstein? (see bottom of page)

I should have explained that mine had been a special school, the Bronx High School of Science. An exam was required for admission, and only one in six passed. But everything about Bronx Science — classes, teachers, other students, college preparation — suggested it would be our ticket out of the Bronx and into America. This was not without its own sense of anxiety. If we did well, there was a good chance that we would leave behind our friends, our family and our home. And, indeed, after high school, we rarely saw one another again.

We lived, most of us, in the Bronx, first-generation Americans, 90 percent of us Jewish, all males and bound for college. We had been told, and believed somewhat naively, that this was meritocracy at work. Few paused to question the absence of women, or that there were only four blacks in our class, and no Asians or Hispanics.

Our teachers understood that we came from poor homes. My rough-hewn class background had been made clear to me by my freshman-year social studies teacher, Mrs. Friedenthal. We were required to wear ties to her class, she informed me, and if we owned one (emphasis on that word “owned”), a jacket as well.

Loftily, she explained that our speech needed improvement, as did our manners, if we wanted acceptance from the wider world out there — non-Jewish, well-mannered and not particularly sympathetic to Jewish outsiders like us. Our grades would be affected (slightly) by dress, speech, manners, she informed us. There was little doubt, she made clear, that our grade-point average and our extracurricular record were now the twin defining points of our life.

Despite Mrs. Friedenthal, my classmates and I made little progress with manners or dress; rather, we discovered the pleasures associated with learning. Our other teachers moved us along in a straighter line. They cared deeply about their subjects and were devoted to teaching…and to learning. And we fell into step right away: five years of science; four years of mathematics, English, history, foreign language. Homework became a serious matter and took more hours than we expected. Reading, writing and studying, these became our priorities.

Still, it was a schoolfriend who took me to see Clifford Odets’ “Waiting for Lefty,” and another who first played Billie Holiday’s records for me. It was my classmates at Science who mattered even more than the faculty. It was to them I turned as we came to share a set of values that differed from those we had brought with us from home.

It was not that we were necessarily happy at Bronx Science. I was not. Mostly, I was sex-starved and struggling with adolescence, two subjects that the school and my teachers treated with what I thought was profound indifference.

On paper alone, the reunion was a success. One hundred three filled out a registration form and signed on; half were accompanied by their wives. When you calculated that at least 24 had died and another 30 had been impossible to locate, the number of acceptances was more than 50 percent.

The reunion was scheduled for an entire weekend in May: an afternoon party, a lengthy four-hour brunch, a visit to Bronx Science itself. A casual glance suggested that most of us had landed somewhere near where we had aimed. Among the 103, there were 13 doctors, eight engineers and/or scientists, 16 attorneys, a handful of writers and theater people, a judge, a rabbi and even a West Point graduate. Not surprisingly, 15 were college professors. We were the American dream come true…even though a fair number had changed Jewish-sounding last names to something, well, more American.

I talked with Marty Zimmerman. He had been our star athlete, probably one of the most popular kids in our class. He had been genial, easy, practical, not particularly intellectual. He was our West Point graduate. But he also had become a computer specialist (a master’s degree from Stanford in computer science while still in the army) who wound up as a deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Army, retiring as a civilian but with the rank of a major general. He was now a highly respected computer consultant. He seemed comfortable in his skin. He asked questions of everyone, leaning forward and listening intently for the answers. He still seemed easy and genial. But thoughtful too. I liked him immensely.

Alfred Schwartz appeared the same, though. He had been quiet, serious, focused — a handsome kid with not much room for irrelevant or wrong choices. He became a lawyer, married a lawyer and retired at 53. For the past seven years, he had been teaching second-graders to read at P.S. 75 through the Gift of Literacy Program of the Jewish Community Center on New York’s Upper West Side. He still seemed serious and focused…and now a bit avuncular, probably still with little time for irrelevant projects.

Mingling with them, and others, I was surprised at how sweet the occasion had become, and also how intimate. The affection we felt for one another was palpable in the room. As boys, we had used humor and irreverence as defenses against that threatening world outside. And, now, almost unconsciously, we fell back upon jokes and banter, as though all the intervening years had suddenly melted away. We strained to recall classes, teachers, defining moments, trying to catch a glimpse of the boys we had once been. It was my 16-year-old self, I realized, for whom I was searching.

Of course, it was illusory. We were now grown men, each with a private and separate past. Nevertheless, chatting, hugging, touching one another, we could not help be wryly amused at how well life had turned out for each of us. Was it part of our affection for one another, that gift of bonding we had unthinkingly passed along at Bronx Science? Was it a reward for years of hard work and focused ambition? Or was it simply that this is what life is all about: growing up, letting go, caring about work, and finding friends and family to love? — Gene Lichtenstein

Gene Lichtenstein is bottom left.


Gene Lichtenstein is Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Journal