Miranda Richmond Mouillot’s fascination with an ancestral divorce


Acknowledging her own anger frightens Miranda Richmond Mouillot more than she realizes, as we discover in her new book, “A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War and a Ruined House in France” (Crown).  And she has plenty to be angry about.  She grew up a nervous and anxious child in a family riddled with dysfunction and unresolved grief and toxic secrets that resulted in her compulsion to keep things in her room in immaculate order.  If something fell out of place, so could she.  A child of divorce, she was close to her stepfather whom she thought of as her “heart-father,” since he was there for her when she felt most vulnerable.  She is almost peculiarly silent about her mother.  Her biological father, whom she saw sporadically, seems to have often been distracted.  Her most pervasive love was for her maternal grandmother.  She writes about her with awe: “Grandma and I were so close that when I shut my eyes, I can still feel her silver hair, which even in extreme old age was soft as silk and streaked with coal black.  I can see her before her mirror in a pale pink slip, rubbing face cream on her high cheekbones and into her neck, all the way down her graceful shoulders, doing “face yoga” to keep away the wrinkles, her gold and turquoise earrings quivering in her ears.  They had been in her ears since she was eight years old, when her ears were pierced in the Romanian Jewish equivalent of a bris for a girl.”   

Miranda was obsessed with what her grandparents, Anna and Armand, had endured during the Holocaust.  But she was even more preoccupied with fantasies of the romance they once shared before their union bitterly shattered after just a few short years of marriage.  That was when her grandmother left her grandfather and fled to Asheville, North Carolina with two children in tow; one of them Miranda’s mother.  Both her grandparents had escaped Nazi-occupied France for Switzerland where they each were individually sent to separate refugee camps.  After the war, there was a reunion and they married and bought a majestic old stone house in horrible disrepair in a picturesque village in the south of France, but their marriage did not survive long enough for them to make a home there.  Her grandparents hadn’t spoken in over 50 years, and neither of them ever remarried.

There was something about their courtship took hold of Miranda’s young imagination.  Like a detective, she attempted to put the pieces together.  Her grandmother, optimistic and resilient by nature, would answer her questions skittishly leaving question marks floating everywhere.  Miranda stayed in touch with her grandfather in Geneva by writing him letters which he would send back to her marked up in red where she had errors in spelling or punctuation.  He would visit every few years and stay for a few days and leave abruptly and often without notice.  If she or her mother mentioned grandma in his presence, he would immediately leave the room looking frazzled.  Miranda became certain that some sort of grotesque misunderstanding had taken place between them, and perhaps could be repaired, which she felt would lessen the suffering that rippled through their family.

At 14, she got her chance.  Her mother sent her to boarding school in Geneva so she could be near her grandfather and spend weekends with him.  She found him difficult at first since he was demanding and distant, and often seemed on the verge of losing control.  When she shyly suggested they light Shabbat candles, he resisted and then relented, and soon found himself drawn back to this ritual of his childhood.  Miranda remembers looking up after saying her prayers and seeing his eyes brimming with tears but he said nothing and she knew better than to ask.  When she did mention her grandmother, he grew agitated and spoke in a stilted heated language that frightened her but convinced her he must still care for her.  Her grandfather spoke impeccable English unlike her grandmother who never lost her Austro-Hungarian German accent.  He did not believe in God like her grandmother did, and was continually reading books about the persecution of the Jews.  He never spoke of his own parents whom he lost during the war.

One day he drove Miranda to the village where they had bought the old stone house in southern France to show it to her.  It was still in terrible shape but the serenity it evoked in Miranda was life-changing.  She remembers thinking immediately “I want this place to be my home.  It was an odd, disorienting thought to have, but I could not make it go away.”  She began to see a possibility for a future for herself that would embrace her family’s legacy, but also allow her to escape it.   She writes perceptively about her shaky journey towards selfhood with a shy elegance and graceful restraint.  We watch her attempt to come to terms with the role she seems to have been assigned within her family; which was to act as a repository for the family’s grief.  It gave her star billing but threatened to swallow her.

Still, the psychological pull of her grandmother’s story loomed large in her psyche and Miranda’s anxieties continued unabated.  She enjoyed just thinking about her grandparent’s early love affair; imagining their love “as dizzy and spectacular, with an ache behind it I couldn’t identify.”   She tried to distract herself with boys and dates and teen-age antics but couldn’t let it go.   She took her 87-year-old grandmother to visit the house in Geneva and was distraught when her grandmother’s usual cheeriness turned dark.  Going to sleep in a bleak hotel room, her grandmother grabbed her hand and mumbled softly to her about what she had endured saying softly “They killed so many people…we were so frightened….we wouldn’t make it….I was so frightened.”  Her grandmother, a physician, spent many years as a supervising psychiatrist at Rockland State Mental Hospital in America.  But on their trip in France, she was thrust into despair by memories she had long buried; traumatized again by what she had experienced.

Her grandfather, after the war, served as an interpreter and translator for the Nuremberg Trials where he was forced to question the most brutal Nazis about their crimes.  She recognizes the trauma this must have inflicted upon him writing “Who could wear a wedding band, after learning of the stacks of them stripped off perished fingers?  Who could read by the light cast through a lampshade?  Coats, hats, children’s toys-everything had been marked, stained, destroyed.  My grandfather’s personality could not withstand it.”

Mouillot has written on her blog that she has synaesthesis; a condition where one can see numbers as vivid colors, and actually smell sounds, and practically taste words, and this quirky vibrancy is present throughout her narrative.  We sense we are in the presence of an eccentric soul who can become overwhelmed easily; sometimes with joy and sometimes with sadness.  She is open to the pain of others but this makes her vulnerable to their manipulations.  She has to work hard to stake out her own terrain, and struggle to hold on to it.

In her writing, she rarely makes overt declarations but reaches us more deeply by her perceptive reactions to the world around her.  And those reactions are charged with a unique sensibility.  We are interested in what she has to say.  And her mind has free range over a multiplicity of topics.  She can become entranced by simply looking at a bunch of marbles in a jar charmed by their “pure color” and “unassuming beauty,” and the next moment be smitten by a vending machine she discovers that actually pops out a pizza pie you can take home and heat up.  She spends most of her time now working as a translator in France where she  lives in a small village with her new Catholic French husband and baby daughter.  Her husband works restoring old houses and they are now working on restoring their own home and transforming it into something spectacular.  It is not the home her grandparents bought, but is similar in its charm and beauty, and more importantly, it is finally a home of her own.

Elaine Margolin is a frequent contributor of book reviews to the Jewish Journal and other publications.

An age of broken glances: On ‘Why Love Hurts’


Each time I officiate at a marriage, I perpetrate a small fraud. I read the ketubah, the marriage contract, in its original Aramaic and then I read the “translation.” The translation is actually a confection of sweet-spun phrases about creating a home of warmth, openness, and commitment based on mutual emotional support. The original Aramaic, on the other hand, mostly explains financial obligations the husband owes the wife in case of divorce, and the property the wife brings to the marriage. In other words, the Aramaic is legal and the English is therapeutic. When the rabbis drafted the ketubah in the first centuries of the Common Era they neglected to include quotations from Maya Angelou.

Yet the more comforting translation, with its echo of pop music promises, is what the couple — and the daters they were before — thought they were getting, not transactions but transcendence, less the assurance of financial stability than the wild endorphin circus of new love. The couple heard the fusty, older/wiser warnings but clung tightly, and appropriately, to the exceptional character of their love. When prenups or family quarrels intruded on the bubble, it felt less like reality than an unwonted violation.

For most couples, the little fraud is emblematic of a bigger one. Romantic love is a foreshortened story: the princess is carried from the tower or awakened with a kiss. The prince shines, full of dash, bravery, and brio. The story stops before that same princess spends her days working and childrearing, and they both realize she actually prefers sleeping late to a princely, wakening peck on the cheek as the kids run off to school. In the tower there were no soccer shuttles or bills to pay. Fairy tales end at the beginning because the ending is not so enchanting. Even in the age of perilous sea voyages and daring rescue on horseback, romance too quickly ebbed. So how long can we expect it to endure in the rapidly accelerated age of texting, sexting, and tweets?

The path to love is strewn with paradox. According to most studies marriage benefits men more than women, yet men are less inclined to marry. The same qualities — beauty, power, wealth, wit, charisma — which make a partner attractive may render them unsuitable as a mate. Romantic failure, which used to be blamed on the other person’s inadequacy, is now an arrow to the heart of self-esteem. As for healing from the wound? There are almost as many books about romantic healing as there are diet books, and for the same reason. When no single cure works, you can count on endless suggested treatments. Often the pain endures whether one is the breaker or the breakee — as Iris Murdoch said, “jealousy lasts forever — bad news for the young.”

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I read Eva Illouz’s Why Love Hurts with both personal and professional interest. As a divorced rabbi who meets with hundreds of singles and couples, I hear the same promises and plaintive cries: “Why can I not meet the man I seek?” “Why are men incapable of commitment?” “What is wrong with me/her/him?”

Why Love Hurts looks at the social conditions that affect our romantic lives. Illouz’s book is full of arresting ideas about love in our time, even as it staggers under some academic prose and doctrinaire commitments. Hers is the book of a sociologist. What we might see as personal traits, she enlarges to social trends. You think your boyfriend is a jerk; Illouz may agree, but sees him as succumbing not to selfishness alone, but also to a widespread pathogen.

Illouz draws the contrast between an age in which choice was limited to one’s social class or village, to the modern era, when no one is, in theory, off limits:

Pickiness, which seems to plague the entire field of romantic choice, is not a psychological trait, but rather an effect of the ecology and architecture of choice: that is, it is fundamentally motivated by the desire to maximize choice in conditions where the range of choice has become almost unmanageable.

Modern romance is like dinner in Beverly Hills, always looking over one’s partner’s shoulder because someone important or alluring might enter the room. Who can commit in an age of broken glances?

Add to that uncertainty the promise of self-realization, the idea that all of us should be changing, progressing, improving — and throughout our lives. This is the Heraclitus theory of personality — you never meet the same person twice. Solidity is staying in place and in Oprahville we must all grow. The ideal self is not a stable self but rather one that can perpetually create itself anew, be reinvented tomorrow. As Illouz writes, “The cultural ideal of self-realization demands that one’s options should be kept forever open.” By definition romance involves commitment and limitation. The ever-expanding self requires boundarylessness. No surprise then that the marketplace has become a mess.

Of course if you fashion who you are, you also bear the consequences. Individuality and autonomy place the burden of one’s fate on oneself. Fault lies not in one’s social conditions (although parents still come in for a proper beating) or what Henry James called one’s “envelope of circumstances.” In a world of individuals, when romance is less about social station than interiority and emotion, if you don’t accept me, it is all about me. Illouz points out that when Jane Welsh first rejected Carlyle in the mid 19th century, he assumed it was his financial woes and not his personality. (To be fair, Carlyle thought quite well of himself.) In the marketplace of choice, with outsized emphasis on the individual, we assume an acceptance or rejection says something essential about our very self. We are more likely to feel the way Bridget did in the bestselling Bridget Jones’ Diary:

When someone leaves you, apart from missing them, apart from the fact that the whole little world you’ve created together collapses, and that everything you do or see reminds you of them, the worst is the thought that they tried you out and, in the end, the whole sum of parts which adds up to you got stamped “REJECT” by the one you love.

Rejection is not new. Shakespeare knew of the “pangs of despised love.” But the deeply personal wound, Illouz believes, is largely a product of modern social arrangements.

Marriage keeps slipping down the statistical slope. Without the societal assumption that everything leads to marriage, there is a paradoxical pas de deux: each person acts as though commitment is not part of the opening negotiation, the man because he does not wish it and the woman because she does. The calculation of how to pressure, when to pressure, to coax, to cajole, or to strategically retreat can lead romance columnists to sound a little like von Clausewitz. And that those same writers view the whole enterprise, with men skittish and evasive, and women strategic, has led to a flourishing of aquatic imagery, with reeling, hooking, baiting and (at times) gutting — clear signals that all is not well in the land where there are “always more fish in the sea.” Dating seems less The Little Mermaid than Jaws.

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As love has shifted from a social enterprise to the individual, Illouz writes, we have learned to evaluate according to categories that are intangible, like “sexiness” which (unlike beauty) was not a marker in an earlier age. These categories entail a relentless disenchantment of love. In high school, savvy teens already know that attraction is only a rush of chemicals in the brain, or nature’s way of fooling us into reproduction. We study love as if it were botany, abandoning poetry for pathology. When we seek to understand the overwhelming emotion that drove Shelley to write, “Its passions will rock thee / As the storms rock the ravens on high,” by shoveling infatuated undergrads into MRI machines, their temporal lobes may be illuminated but little else is. Something has been lost.

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The infamous internet dating profile requires a still greater intellectualization of love, with lists of categories and attributes. Modern love: science abetted by a checklist. There are few things more essentially unromantic than a multiple-choice exam.

Mass entertainment, so much more pervasive and potent than the romantic novels that sent Emma Bovary over the edge, teaches us the lesson of perfect, temporary bliss. When at the end of Ghost Patrick Swayze ascends to heaven, his soul at peace, leaving Demi Moore to tearfully wave goodbye, I recall leaving the theater thinking that I pity her next boyfriend. He will have to compete with an angelic Patrick Swayze. And then it hit me — so will the boyfriends of every woman in the theater. Not that people are so literal, but the repeated images of beautiful human beings speaking laboriously polished lines with carefully directed expressions and accents cannot help but make the guy beside you, well, a bit of a shlub. Especially if within you lurks the suspicion that he was on the shlubbish side to begin with. Besides, the qualities that promise dependability are rarely the same as those that dazzle.

Illouz explains that she has written this book primarily for women. Therefore in some deep way it is about men. In an epigraph to one of her chapters, she quotes Julian Barnes from Love, etc.:

I book that marriage therapist, naturally.

We last about 18 minutes. I explain that basically my problem with Stuart is getting him to talk about our problems.

Stuart says, “That’s because we don’t have any problems.” I say, “You see the problem?”

Men. Is the problem of love the problem of men? Illouz struggles with two consistent tensions. First is her commitment to feminism, which teaches that “power,” in her words, “must be tracked down and expelled from intimate relations.” But as everyone who has ever been in love knows, power — the having of it, the losing of it, the renouncing of it, the reclaiming of it — is the delicate heat without which the soufflé flattens. If you cannot be powerless in love you cannot know bliss. Tracking down and expelling power from intimate relations is simultaneously blindly authoritarian and sweetly naïve. The French proverb has it right: “In love there is always one who kisses and one who offers the cheek.” Illouz acknowledges the reality of power imbalances and male/female differences, but there is a schoolmarmish, vaguely censorious undertone, suggesting they shouldn’t really be there if all was well with the world. (What to make of this? “Instead of hammering at men their emotional incapacity, we should invoke models of emotional masculinity other than those based on sexual capital.” In other words, I suppose, since men are actually romantically stunted, let’s encourage them to be good fathers and cry at sad movies. Workable on the page, but I doubt this epicene ideal is going to persuade in the bedroom.)

The second tension is her commitment to Marxist analysis, which erases the individual. It pushes the puzzle of sociology to the brink: if this is all about society, then is the individual a helpless agent of larger forces? “The widespread literature of Mars and Venus is nothing more than an attempt to understand in psychological terms what is in fact a sociological process,” she writes.

Illouz tries to qualify the conclusion that individuals don’t matter but she is too subtle and too smart to miss the complexity of the questions. And she is surely correct that something large is going on when romantic disappointments are soothed by “hooking up,” and sex, instead of being the volcanic core of romantic mystery, is reduced to a form of advertising.

We have learned the lesson from DVRs and Netflix that everything can be revisited, nothing is lost, nothing should be missed and it is easy to live alone and have needs provided for. The essential human need, to love and be loved, suffers from each technological boost to the energies of autonomy. Into this jaded and self-sufficient world, what chance love?

Why Love Hurts is not an easy read but it is an important book. Illouz does not pine for an earlier world. Modernity brought untold blessings to us all. But even its greatest goods come with serious costs. She quotes literature, as if uneasily aware that artists have done much of her sociological work before she got there. But she doesn’t address the spiritual condition of human beings, which does not change — that yearning for something greater than ourselves. Having lost classical faith, people often seek its substitute in romance. But as Borges taught us, falling in love is creating a religion with a fallible god. Sooner or later the worshipper will be disappointed and be forced to readjust expectations.

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The movie Quartet is based on a Somerset Maugham story that tells of a man whose wife publishes a book of poetry. He soon learns that all of London is talking about the work. In striking images, the poems describe a torrid affair. The husband grudgingly attends a party to celebrate his wife’s success and hears someone remark that such a book could only have come out of real experience.

He confronts his wife. She begs him to forget it, but he will not. Finally she confesses, yes they are based on reality. “Do I know the man?” he thunders. In a meek voice, she admits that he does and begs him not to go any further. But he cannot stop and demands to know who it is.

Finally in a soft voice, his wife answers, “It was you. It was you — as you were — all those years ago — in those happy days when we first met, and you loved me.” Her husband responds incredulously that the poems say that the lover died. He did, replies his wife. “The man that loved me died.”

The deepest magic of love is not first love but continuous love, which we know is not easy. But in our day even first love is not easy, either. Perhaps the title answers itself. Asking why love hurts is a little like asking why rain falls. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t love.

One more time around


Stuart Miller was not looking for a wife. After two failed marriages over the course of 15 years, the Arcadia doctor and father of two was content with his newfound bachelorhood and independence. But when he met Stacy, the widowed mother of one of his daughter’s Hebrew school classmates, his plans fell by the wayside.

“I just knew that she was different, and we really fell in love,” said Miller, 54. “I wasn’t looking to get married. It just fell in my lap.”

The couple married in 2005.

Finding love a second or third time is not always so effortless, but 52 percent of men and 43.5 percent of women remarried in 2004, according to a 2007 U.S. census bureau report. And Jews are no exception.

While religions like Catholicism frown upon the idea of divorce, Judaism is accepting of the end of a marriage as a fact of life, albeit an unfortunate one, and embraces the concept of remarriage.

“The Jewish tradition understands that there’s a place for divorce in the world,” said Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. “If the first marriage does not last a lifetime, the idea of remarriage is certainly a mitzvah.”

But when one or both spouses have already had a big wedding — rented out the country club, wore the fancy white dress and registered at Macy’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond the first time around — is it acceptable to have a large-scale event a second time?

In short, yes. While many second or third weddings are smaller and more modest than first weddings, it’s not necessarily the rule. Stuart and Stacy Miller’s backyard wedding had nearly 300 guests — the largest ceremony for both.

Most of the guests were members of the couple’s shul, the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, as the Millers met through the synagogue and both are extremely active in the community. The service was also Stacy’s first Jewish wedding and she had just begun cultivating her Jewish identity.

Second-time bride-to-be Vivian Guggenheim, 57, of Los Angeles, is thrilled to be planning her upcoming nuptials. Guggenheim’s first wedding took place in a Jerusalem yeshiva and was planned almost entirely by her late husband’s father. This time, Guggenheim has enjoyed working with her husband-to-be, Michael Marcus, in choosing the details for her ceremony, which will take place in a backyard in Hancock Park. The reception will be in Congregation Shaarei Tefila’s catering hall, Kanner Hall.

While some Jews claim that there are different ceremonial requirements in second Jewish weddings — including the idea that second-time brides should not wear white or take part in a bedeken, a veiling ceremony — they have no basis in Jewish law. Jewish communities have different marital traditions, but the wedding ceremony is the same for all spouses-to-be, with one small exception. On a ketubah (marriage contract), a woman who has never been married is indicated using different language than a woman who has been married before. For example, the ketubah for a second marriage changes be’tulta da (maiden) for armalta da (widow) or matarakhta da (divorcee).

When it comes to gift registries, some second-time spouses feel they have everything they need and skip it, while others wish to make a fresh start. Although a gift registry for a second marriage might seem unusual or even tacky to some, Sarah Dakar, owner of Under the Chuppah, a wedding and event production company in the Pico-Robertson area, said that many of her second-time spouse clients opt for the registry.

“Every marriage is a celebration,” Dakar said, “and a celebration deserves gifts.”

For the Millers, registering for new household items was a way of starting anew with their blended family, which included Stacy’s son, then 14, and Stuart’s two children, then 11 and 13.

“I tried to make it fun, so that the kids could get new stuff, too,” Stacy said.

Regardless of the ceremony and the gifts, Valley Beth Shalom’s Feinstein recommends that second-time spouses reflect on their previous relationships in preparation for the new commitment. Before marrying a couple, he counsels the spouses-to-be about what marriage means to them.

“Where you came from makes a difference in terms of where you’re going,” the rabbi said. “I ask the couple to tell me what happened in the first relationship and then I know that they’re prepared for another relationship.”

From the location to the ceremony to the guest list, many second-time brides and grooms struggle to make their second weddings significantly different from their previous wedding.

While Dakar has noticed this trend among her clients, she feels that things often fall into place naturally.

“Every wedding we plan is unique, totally reflective of the relationship and personality of the bride and groom, so it’s not hard to differentiate them,” Dakar said.

She also noted that second-time brides are often calmer and more definitive about what they want because the experience is not so new or intimating to them.

Looking back, Guggenheim realized that she overlooked some communication issues before marrying her first husband.

“This time it’s about addressing our differences and making sure our communication is good,” the bride-to-be said.

She also remembers being “swept up” in the event itself and is determined to be present on every level for her upcoming nuptials.

While having a Jewish wedding was a new experience for Stacy Miller, having her son and stepchildren be a part of the ceremony made the simcha extra-special. Her son walked her down the aisle and the three children did the seven blessings.

No matter what wedding choices a couple makes, Judaism fully supports the idea of re-entering into the state of marriage.

“There’s no such thing as a second wedding,” Feinstein said. “It may be the second time a person stood under the chuppah, but at that moment, at least in the imagination of the Jewish tradition and the couple, it’s brand new and miraculous and a gift of God.”

Films: Romantic triangle survives in the midst of hell


“I’m a very special Holocaust survivor,” Jack Polak says. “I was in the camps with my wife and my girlfriend, and, believe me, it wasn’t easy.”

This may sound like a line from the new genre of Holocaust films with humor, but Polak (who is Jacob on his birth certificate, Jack in America, Jaap to his Dutch friends and Jab to his wife) is just stating the facts in the documentary feature, “Steal a Pencil for Me.”

Another shorthand way of summarizing the storyline: Jack, an accountant in Amsterdam in the early 1940s, is married to Manja, but falls in love with Ina. All three are deported to Bergen-Belsen, where Jack and Ina carry on an intensive romantic correspondence.

The three survive, Jack divorces Manja, marries Ina and they move to the United States.

The story doesn’t end there. We caught up by phone with Jack, who will be 95 on Dec. 31, and Ina, 80, at their home in Eastchester, a New York suburb, shortly after they celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary.

Not slowed down by some hearing problems, Jack recalled his odd experiences with gusto, though, as with most old married couples, Ina had to correct him occasionally on a few historic points.

Fame has come late to the Polaks, but both obviously enjoy starring in their own life story.

“I’m the oldest-working actor in America,” Jack remarks proudly.

Their story, and the film, begins during the Nazi occupation of Holland in 1940. While many Jews were deported and, like Jack’s parents, subsequently murdered, the young accountant manages to keep going, though locked into an incompatible marriage.

At a birthday party in 1943, he meets Ina, a 20-year-old beauty raised in a wealthy diamond manufacturing family, and it’s love at first sight.

The looming love affair appears aborted when a couple of weeks after Jack meets Ina, he and his wife are deported to the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork.

As fate would have it, two months later Ina is deported to the same place, where the rules allow Jack to spend some time with both wife and girlfriend until the 8 p.m. curfew.

Soon the trains started rolling from Westerbork to the concentration camps, and in February 1944, Jack and Manja are sent to Bergen-Belsen. Jack says goodbye to Ina, with the words, “I hope you will soon follow me.”

Three months later, it’s Ina’s turn and she is put in a boxcar headed for Auschwitz. At the last minute, orders are changed, and the train is routed to Bergen-Belsen in northwest Germany.

Though the regime there is much stricter and more brutal than in Westerbork, Jack and Ina manage to see each other occasionally, and, under the circumstances, they are fortunate in other ways.

Jack is assigned to work in the camp kitchen, and Ina, who knows German shorthand, to office work at a diamond plant set up by the Nazis.

At every opportunity, the two write long impassioned letters to each other, to the point that Jack’s one pencil stub is soon worn down to the nub. Since Ina works in an office, Jack begs her in one letter, “steal a pencil for me.”

Manja becomes increasingly suspicious and annoyed with Jack’s liaison, but is generous enough to share some of her scarce bread with Ina when her rival falls ill.

Most concentration camp recollections speak of unbearable filth, degradation and, foremost, the constant hunger that obliterated all other thoughts.

But for Jack and Ina, their love was even stronger.

“It was this love that kept us alive,” they say.

As the British army neared the camp in early April 1945, the lovers’ luck seemed to run out. The Nazis put Jack on a train going east, and Ina on a train going in the opposite direction.

Ina’s train was liberated within a week by American troops, and she remembers marveling at the great teeth of the GIs, wondering “whether they all went to the same dentist.”

Russian soldiers freed Jack’s train a week later, and by summer, husband, wife and girlfriend were back in Amsterdam.

In August 1945, Jack divorced Manja, he and Ina became engaged two months later, and married in January 1946.

“Like any good Dutch Jewish girl, Ina came to her wedding night as a virgin,” Jack said .

They moved to the United States in 1951, and have three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The family maintained friendly relations with Manja, who never remarried and died two years ago in Holland.

A fellow prisoner in Bergen-Belsen was Anne Frank, and although the Polaks never met her, Jack headed the American support group for the Anne Frank Center for many decades. He was knighted for his services by the Dutch government.

Eventually, the Polaks decided to write down their experiences, and their book, “Steal a Pencil for Me,” was published in the United States in 2000. Manja had asked that the original Dutch version of the book not be published in Holland in her lifetime, and Jack and Ina honored her request.

“I never thought our story would be made into a movie,” said Ina, but life had yet another surprise in store for the Polaks.

Their daughter, Margrit Polak, had become an artists’ manager in Los Angeles, and an active member of Temple Israel of Hollywood. Her daughter attended the synagogue’s day school and was in the same class as the daughter of filmmaker Michele Ohayon.

Born in Casablanca and raised in Israel, Ohayon is a noted director of offbeat documentaries, whose 1997 film, “Colors Straight Up,” received an Oscar nomination.

Margrit, who had helped translate her parents’ book into English, mentioned their story to Ohayon. Although she was working on another project, Ohayon put everything aside for the next five years to research and film “Steal a Pencil for Me.”

In directing the film, Ohayon lets her two lively and expressive narrators, Jack and Ina, carry the action, while never stooping to sly winks or cheap humor. Historical footage of the concentration camps and 1940s Holland complement the narration.

The Polaks are among the film’s most ardent fans.

“We have seen the picture six times, and we always have our handkerchiefs ready when we go,” said Ina. Added Jack, “I like it better each time I see it.”

The film opens Nov. 9 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and the Town Center in Encino. For additional background information, visit http://www.stealapencil.com.

The Connector


I love my neighbor. Not, as it says in the Torah, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” But literally, I love him. It’s not only because he helps me with manly activities, like moving furniture, killing cockroaches and opening jars (how do single women do these things alone?) but because Eric is a real man of character.

Here’s the thing about being neighbors in a claptrap house, where the walls are as thin as silk: I can hear everything that’s going on. Like when his young son visits for a month, and he is staying up in the middle of the night with him because he has a bad dream. Eric is a real mensch.

He’s also not Jewish. So I decided to do what any nice Jewish girl would do: I set him up with my friend, Genevieve. She’s also not Jewish, so they should be perfect together. Ha! If only matchmaking were so simple. Yes, the truth is, their non-Jewishness is not enough to make them a match (see: my single status), but they’re both smart, attractive, earthy, intellectual and worldly.

Besides, at synagogue on the High Holy Days I discovered a couple I’d set up. I’d gone out with David, thought he was great but not for me — so I’d introduced him to Risa.

“I hope I get credit for this,” I tell them after shul.

But they can’t give me credit — only God can. It says if you make three successful shidduchim, three matches, you automatically go to heaven. And this High Holy Day season I was thinking that I’d really like an automatic pass. (“Go directly to heaven. Do not pass hell; do not collect $200.)

Three should be easy enough. I meet so many guys who just because they aren’t for me doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be good for someone. What if this is my purpose in life? What if the point of my meeting so many people is to serve as what Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, “The Tipping Point,” calls “The connector?” I feel heady with possibilities.

I decide to connect my ex, Ben, with my friend’s friend, Deb. Deb’s a smart, sassy lawyer whose really into good wine and food; Ben’s also a lawyer who likes the good life and always says he needs a woman who will not put up with his … with the behavior he pulled on me, and I put up with.

Then I visit friends in D.C., and I run into Sara, a woman who just moved there from Los Angeles. She’s into Jewish education and is really tall and slim. She’d be perfect for Marc, this guy I meet in synagogue who works in aerospace and is … really tall. OK, so I don’t know either of them so well (at all), but isn’t it better to be introduced to someone through a friend than through a profile that may or may not resemble their actual brick and mortar selves?

I guess not. Sara wants to see a picture of Marc before she commits to anything — even though she’s new to town, and Marc figured the least he could do was introduce her around.

Ben, my ex, did see a photo of Deb on her law firm’s Web site and is not sure he wants to take her out — this is after I’ve given him her number and told her he’d call.

“Is she a good listener?” he wants to know. “Are you?” I want to reply, but I know he isn’t.

“I don’t want a loudmouthed woman who is going to always be telling me what to do,” he says explaining a Jewish stereotype without actually using the actual word.

“I thought you didn’t want a shrinking violet, a woman who wasn’t going to let you push her around,” I say. He couldn’t explain it.

But Genevieve could. She thinks my neighbor is nice, but she doesn’t want someone like her ex-boyfriend; she doesn’t want to like anyone too much because she acts silly. She doesn’t want someone to like her too much, because it makes her nervous; she wants to be friends first with everyone because…

OMG! People are crazy! Is this how insane I sound when talking about my dates? As I watch these dramas unfold around me, I am yet again amazed by the complex nature of human beings; is it a complexity we bring on ourselves?

For example: Eric and Genevieve. After every date, I get the story from both of them — believe me when I say I ask neither. One night, at midnight, there’s a knock on my door. They come in, we hang out, they leave. Ten minutes later, another knock. It’s Eric. He wants to talk. But the phone rings. It’s Genevieve. Eric leaves. I talk to Genevieve. I go to Eric’s after.

“What should I do?” he asks me.

I don’t know what to tell him. Or Genevieve, who is freaked out because he likes her. Or my ex, Ben, who has now put me in the awkward position of not wanting to take my setup. Or the couple in D.C., who are interrogating me like I’m applying for a job with the CIA.

Why am I doing this again? What was the reason I yetna-ed my way into these people’s lives? I am beginning to think they are all single — we are all single — for a very good reason. And I’m not sure I’m up for dealing with other people’s mishegoss (on which the Jews have no monopoly.)

So I give the D.C. couple each other’s online profile numbers; I tell Ben to do what he likes with Deb; but I also tell her to not expect his call; and I tell Eric and Genevieve they’re on their own.

I don’t have time to worry about them anymore. I’ve got to find someone for myself.

What do men want?


In April 1994, at a Hillel lecture in Westwood, the topic was: “The Relationship Between Jewish Men & Jewish Women: Love or War?” On the “war” side of that discussion was Dr. Herb Goldberg, a practicing psychologist, professor and writer.

Goldberg told the 500 or so people in that hall that he had “worked in therapy with numerous Jewish men … who had never married. While most of them wanted to have a relationship with a Jewish woman, the relationships many did manage to sustain were often with non-Jewish women, the ‘Shiksa Goddess,’ or ‘Gentile Queen.'”

Goldberg said that the Jewish male gravitated to the ‘Shiksa Goddess’ because “she rarely, if ever, made him feel guilty, did not pressure him for marriage and was not preoccupied with status. For the Jewish male … this was a relationship of instant gratification and low stress, compared to his experiences with Jewish women.”

Interviewed recently at his home in Mount Washington, Goldberg says that he thought that the Hillel evening was “going to be great, we were going to have a great dialogue.”

Instead, it got very quiet.

“What I felt was a hush,” Goldberg says. “The reception got very cold. I felt that they [saw] me as very critical of Jewish men and women, what they would call a ‘self-hating Jew.'”

Even though his lecture was an attempt to “make sense of the underpinnings of the Jewish male/female relationship,” the issues he presented were those he’s grappled with all his adult life: Why do men and women — of any ethnicity or religion — have so much trouble relating to one another? Why are the results so often toxic and frustrating, ending in rage, bitter divorces and custody battles?

:::::::::::::::::::::::::

Herb Goldberg earned his doctorate in psychology at Adelphi University and until his recent retirement was a professor at California State University, Los Angeles. He’s written a number of books about what he calls the “gender undertow,” the unconscious elements that underlie men’s and women’s opposite reactions. His books have sold well, gone through many printings and been translated into various languages, including Hebrew.

Goldberg has now returned to his lifelong themes in the recently published, “What Men Still Don’t Know About Women, Relationships, and Love” (Barricade Books, 2007).

Over the years Goldberg has developed a vocabulary with which to understand relationships. “Content” is what takes place on the surface — our actions and words. “Process” is what’s really going on underneath. Your process is not perceptible to you because “it’s within your defense system, so you don’t see it in yourself.”

And here’s the key point: “If you look at pure process on the masculine and feminine level, men and women have two absolutely different ways of perceiving the world.”

To demonstrate the polarized ways that men and women see reality, as well as the contrast between content and process, Goldberg uses the example of the romantic date: “When a couple go on a date, the man is the actor: He makes the phone call, drives the car, chooses the restaurant, pays for dinner, makes the sexual advance … while the woman simply reacts to the man’s actions. If the movie is lousy, if the food is bad at the restaurant … if the sexual advance is poorly timed — who’s responsible? The man. Because he made all the decisions.”

So whatever happens, the man ends up feeling guilty. That is his process. And the woman? Because she makes no decisions and suspends her ego, she feels controlled by the man. She may not acknowledge it, but her unconscious process is that she feels angry.

“The actor/reactor dynamic, which characterizes the majority of romantic, intimate male-female interactions,” Goldberg writes, “is as entrenched as ever and is at the heart of the dysfunctional, painful experience of relationships.”

In spite of the changes that have taken place over the last 40 years, this dynamic is still in control. On the content level, both men and women have — for the most part — become liberated and aware of sexism and of the need for gender equality. So one would think that the experiences between men and women would be good.

“But what actually happens,” Goldberg says, “is exactly the opposite.”

Goldberg says that the actor/reactor dynamic exists even when — on the content level — the roles are reversed. “It doesn’t matter if the woman is a CEO and the man is a kindergarten teacher or a poet. It’s the how of the relationship, not the what, that creates its deeper dynamic.” Which is why one of the stages — sometimes the “endpoint” — of many relationships is an “angry, blaming woman and a guilt-ridden, self-hating man.”

Is there any way out of this scenario? Goldberg writes that it requires hard work. Most men still see the world as “a competitive jungle,” so they have to be willing to overcome their fear that change will lead to “humiliation [and] vulnerability.” Since women still see connection and closeness as the path to fulfillment, they need to overcome their fear that change will lead to “a loss of safety [and] security.”

“What Men Still Don’t Know” also has a lot to say about parenting. Goldberg writes about “mechanical fathers” who, on the content level, are actively involved in their child’s life but are seen — by the child — as being out of touch; and mothers whose content is selfless devotion but whose process stymies their child’s development.

Which brings us back to Goldberg’s 1994 Hillel lecture. He told an audience that was already “cold” to him that in many ways the Jewish woman is the psychological clone of the classic Jewish mother: “engulfing, monitoring, guilt-making, blaming, sexless and angry.” Is it any wonder that Jewish men “look elsewhere … for comfort and happiness?”

“It’s a very hard topic to talk about without … stepping on land mines,” Goldberg says. “I wish I could do it over again.” His wistful reflection seems to have deeper currents than the Hillel event.

Marry first, date later


It was a short but fascinating discussion. I had about a dozen singles over for Friday night dinner — as part of Lori Pietruszka’s “Shabbat in the Hood” program to connect Jewish singles with a Shabbat experience — when a cryptic exchange caught my attention.

Someone mentioned that a girl sitting to my right was “the new face of JDate,” whose picture was gracing those ubiquitous full-page ads. A girl to my left then asked the JDmodel if her prominent exposure made it easier for her “to find a husband.” At which point, a guy jumped in and snapped: “What do you mean, husband? You mean date, right?”

“No, I mean husband and soulmate,” the girl snapped back, coolly sipping her rosé.

Well, about half an hour, several digressions and many sips of wine later, a few of us had come up with a theory to help answer one of the great questions of the Jewish singles world: Why is it so hard to find a soulmate?

In fact, a few people suggested that I touch on the subject in my next column, and with the romantic winds of summer in the air, I couldn’t resist.

No one wanted to rehash the usual explanations for the failures of dating that have been covered in hundreds of singles columns — bad chemistry, different values, fear of commitment, gender and family conflicts and so on. Those are all valid, certainly, but we were looking for a different angle. We wondered: Is there something else going on, something in how we approach dating itself?

In his book “Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments” (Doubleday, 2000), Rabbi Shmuley Boteach explains that “to find the perfect soulmate, you should focus not on what you have, but on what you lack.” He goes on to say: “You don’t go into a relationship because you have something. Rather, you go into a relationship because you are missing something. And only by identifying that one big thing that we are missing are we guaranteed to find someone who actually makes us feel whole.”

The problem, of course, is that dating is rarely about showing off what we are missing. It’s more about showing what we have — and what we can get.

In this mating dance, we’re either seducing or evaluating. It’s a low-risk mindset. We put “our best foot forward” to show what we have to offer, and we constantly evaluate what we can get in return. There’s little room for weakness.

But this protective posing comes at a price. If we have passed the initial test of mutual attraction, we can end up in relationships where we simply float on the surface and never connect deeply enough to know if we are dating a potential soulmate. And when the inevitable break-up comes, even the explanations feel superficial: He wasn’t “emotionally available,” she didn’t really “get me,” we weren’t “on the same page,” etc. How many witty post-mortems have we all read in singles columns documenting these break-ups?

Assuming there’s some truth to this theory — that our dating has a tendency to be superficial — are Jewish singles doomed to squander millions of soulmate opportunities? Is there a way to create deeper connections?

At that point in our Shabbat dinner, with the wine continuing to flow, I blurted out the idea that maybe we ought to “marry first and date later.” Not literally, of course, but in terms of how we approach both dating and marriage.

Perhaps one reason why so many dating relationships peter out, I said, is that we are relating to a boyfriend and a girlfriend — a date — instead of a potential soulmate. If we’re really looking for a soulmate, shouldn’t we be looking for the soulmate inside the person we are dating?

Dating with a soulmate energy means having the courage to show that we are not complete — and knowing that we are looking for someone who will, as Rabbi Boteach explained, make us whole. With this approach, we can look for deeper, more meaningful things in our dates, and show the same. This means being more vulnerable, yes, but it also means getting closer to the soul of a person we might be spending the rest of our lives with.

But what if a guy is just not ready to make the commitment needed to become a soulmate, as one of my guests asked? Well, if you follow our theory, taking a deeper approach to dating will put people in touch with their deeper needs. The commitment-phobic guy won’t be the same after he realizes he is not complete without his soulmate, and that no serial dating will ever fill that emptiness. And if he still can’t take dating seriously and keeps floating on the surface, then he doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with a long relationship. (In other words, dump him.)

Ironically, the liveliest part of our singles evening came when we talked about married life. Someone who was previously married shared the insight that just as dating relationships can fail if they don’t incorporate a deeper soulmate energy, marriages can fail if they don’t incorporate a lighter dating energy. Like a friend once said to me, when you’re married, reality can beat “the crap out of you.” But that’s precisely when the seductive traits of dating are most needed: the courtesy, the caring touches, the cafes, the laughter, the flowers — that whole mating dance we did before going under the chuppah, when the electricity of romance made everything seem possible.

Thinking of seducing your spouse while immersed in the often mundane realities of marriage, like thinking of a soul connection during the dizzy swirl of dating, requires us to break our patterns — to leave our comfort zones.

So after finishing our last bottle of wine, at least some of us concluded that in relationships, whether you are married or just dating, sometimes the path of greater resistance is the most rewarding.

How very Jewish.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

I heart Hollywood endings


I met “Mr. Nice Guy” more than three years ago, and I cherish our special connection — he’s affectionate, understanding, a good listener, open-minded, practical …

I could go on and on. I felt fortunate that we found each other, and he indicated the same. We both want the best things life has to offer. At this time in my life he’s the kind of partner I’m looking for. With his work schedule and other commitments, I knew from the get-go I would have to be kind and very flexible. That’s not an issue for me.

“Mr. Nice Guy” said more than once, “I’ll always be your friend.” Now I’m puzzled and confused because I’ve received an e-mail from him saying, “I met someone.” What does that mean? Does it mean what I think it means? He seems to have an odd definition of friendship. I thought I misinterpreted the message, so I asked him to meet me for a face-to-face conversation. I received a reply that he had no problem with that idea and would e-mail me when he got back from his business trip. Well, I’m still waiting.

Our friendship has been somewhat nontraditional and had a life of its own. I’m guessing that this could be the end of “Mr. Nice Guy.” I cannot tell a lie; I’m very hurt — devastated. I feel as if I have been pushed off a cliff (while he was proclaiming friendship), landed on jagged rocks and broken glass and got bruised from head to toe. I lost 10 pounds (not from dieting). You may be asking what his issues are. I really don’t know. I feel I had a secret trial, was found guilty, convicted and sentenced.

In hindsight, I feel I was used and discarded like an old Costco catalogue. Apparently, I’m still naive and too trusting of people when they act sincere. I take people at their word. I don’t take friendship lightly; it’s serious to me. Friendship is a long-term commitment that has meaning; it’s being loyal and accepting the other person as is, the good parts along with the blemishes. Occasionally he mentioned our differences, but when I asked for specifics, I never got a direct response. I pointed out that differences add spice to a friendship.

The other side of it is, we both know we have many things in common. I suggested we focus on the things in common. Over the years, we have shared many things about ourselves and our families. We have traditional values, and family is important to both of us. However, I now have learned a lot about “Mr. Nice Guy’s” character. He’s good at hiding behind e-mail.

I believe our paths crossed for a reason — to bring both of us joy and happiness, not to bring me heartbreak and grief. Like everyone else, we both need to be needed and want to be wanted. Yet I think now it may be time for me to take the advice of a close friend: “Walk away. He’s not worth it.” However, my emotional side is a little slow at catching up with my intellectual side.

These days I’m getting my accolades from doing stand-up comedy. All my tears and pain provide lots of comic material. I’m definitely unique and have a niche. If someone had told me a few years ago that I would be doing stand-up, writing my own material and enjoying it, I never would have believed it. I’m starting to pinch myself occasionally — just to be sure this is really happening. I’m enjoying my new-found skin; however, inside I’m still the same down-to-earth, sensitive, friendly and generous person I’ve always been. I’m playful, fun to be with and funny — that’s all part of my charm and likeability.

And I’m an equal-opportunity offender: people I meet never know when they might become a one-liner in my routine. My friends think this is great — spunky and gutsy of me. They admit they couldn’t do it, and they are supportive.

I love the attention that the laughs and the applause bring. All friends (new and old) are welcome to come along on my journey — it’s an E-ticket ride, an unpredictable adventure, and I know my sons, their families, and my other relatives are proud of me and my many accomplishments. But in private I’m still a romantic, a daydreamer — and I still believe in the old notion of boy chases girl, boy catches girl. I guess that, despite the fact that I’m making my way in the modern world, I still want the old-fashioned, happy Hollywood ending.

Esther W. Hersh can be reached at EWH1121@aol.com

Silver screen love life


When I was 12 years old, I spent a steamy L.A. summer cooling off at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills watching old Oscar Best Picture

Award movies, including “How Green Was My Valley,” “Mrs. Miniver” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca.”

That was the first time I saw “Gone with the Wind.” As a pre-adolescent Jewish girl living in the middle of Los Angeles in the 1970s, I had absolutely nothing in common with Southern belles living through the Civil War era, however I was transfixed by the images of romance and drama. When I closed my eyes, I saw the movie image of Rhett and Scarlett standing at the bottom of Tara’s red-carpeted staircase as Rhett reached down to sweep Scarlett into his arms and carry her up into the darkness. To my innocent mind, it seemed the height of sexual passion.

But their ardor was short-lived. Gradually, Rhett became increasingly disengaged from Scarlett, frustrated by her refusal to stop taking him for granted and her inability to acknowledge any feelings of intimacy towards him. And for her part, Scarlett had never stopped pining away for the married, and very cool, Ashley Wilkes.

Of course, when I first saw the movie, I was positive that Rhett would return to her. Although he can’t be accused of giving mixed messages. I mean, how much more direct can someone be than, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” But this was Hollywood. Didn’t movies always have to end happily? Wasn’t that the rule? Obviously, I was still too young to realize that there are consequences for one’s actions, and that taking someone for granted is never a good idea — Hollywood or not.

It has always been easy for me to get caught up in the world of fantasy through movies. However, the problem with that is that it is easy to stay in a place of denial. In the world of Hollywood, time doesn’t move forward. People don’t age. Scarlett could take all the time in the world to figure out a way to get Rhett to fall back in love with her.

Unfortunately, in the real world, time passes whether we are ready or not. And we are sometimes stuck in a particular stage while others move on around us. This all reminds me of Internet dating. Single people are all too familiar with the pitfalls of the online dating experience. Internet dating creates the perfect backdrop to hold onto our fantasies of perfect mates, as well as project perfected images of ourselves. We airbrush photos. We subtract a few years. We refuse to see flaws, or we project them onto other people.

The entire process can become addictive. After all, most single people crave companionship. Yet while staring at the computer screen, it seems so hard to settle on one profile, when, with the click of a finger, you can move on to the next one. It’s like finding a new snack at Trader Joe’s. There is always the potential that the next profile will be better than the previous one.

However, the good news is that I am less likely to engage in this “grass is greener” phenomenon these days. Most of us assume that someone else is happier than we are. This way of thinking is rapidly becoming one of our favorite national pastimes.

I don’t know — maybe it is part of being a psychotherapist, but it is so easy to idealize others, until you actually hear the personal struggles of individuals who are sitting across from you in your office. It is the old adage about how we see people’s outsides, but we rarely have access to their insides. And I am grateful for, and humbled by, my clients’ willingness to share their pain with me.

The hardest challenge for me is staying open to possibilities and not shutting off my desires, even though they haven’t yet come to fruition.

On my good days, which are most of the time, I realize that I have succeeded in moving forward and achieving some of my goals. A while ago, I had an epiphany. I wasn’t going to wait until my honeymoon to travel to Italy. So I didn’t. I was standing in my darkened apartment when I heard the taxi honking its horn to take me to the airport, and I began to cry. In that moment, I felt an incredible sense of exhilaration that I was not waiting any longer to begin my life.

That experience helped me realize that there is no “perfect” moment, just like I have realized I don’t have to maintain the fantasy of being perfect for other people. A few years after my trip, I returned to graduate school to get my master’s in social work, and I now have a career that fulfills me completely.

I took a trip to Club Med Cancun and had a romantic fling with a Mexican aerospace engineer. I became a doting aunt. I went to the pound and found the perfect dog to help disarm typically wary Angelenos into spontaneously reaching down to pet him. (He is also the perfect icebreaker for approaching cute men.) I hike and work out regularly with a personal trainer. I have recently become involved in a growing synagogue community and have begun to discover the value of becoming a participant, rather than an observer, in most aspects of my life.

I’ve become increasingly grateful for my dear friends, family and health. For nontoxic hair coloring. For the 2006 mid-term elections.

I have managed, if not mastered, the art of single life in a major metropolitan city in the 21st century.

Now I am more ready than ever to have a relationship with a real, flawed, man — not with the idealized fantasy of perfection epitomized by Ashley Wilkes.

I just hope he speaks English.


Roni Blau is a psychotherapist living in Los Angeles.

Friendship — and pain


I don’t date much. I have all the usual excuses – too busy, not into “the scene,” but really, I’m just a lazy dater. I’m like the fisherman who waits for the fish to jump into
his bucket. I don’t go to bars or join groups, but if someone comes my way, I happily pursue.

That’s what happened with Patrick. In December, 2004, a friend offered to put my profile on a dating Web site. Easy enough. I’d wait for the fish to come to me.

And a few did. Including Patrick.

Patrick is caring, intelligent, well-read and fun-loving. He’s tall, lean, muscular, sports short straight blond hair (except when it’s long, curly and mussed up) and is about 18 years my junior.

He responded to my profile, and soon I found myself in a virtual world, instant messaging until 3 a.m., as we got to know one another. I’d go to bed each night with the swirling, euphoric feeling that I’d found true love — or that it had found me.

You’re probably thinking: Get a clue, Jeff. Surely you know that virtual words and pictures are anything but reality. But as someone who hadn’t been dating much (read: My last relationship was when a Democrat ran the country), I was determined to approach this optimistically.

After several weeks, I was determined to turn this relationship from virtual to actual. But Patrick (code-named Aharon by friends who couldn’t accept that I might date a non-Jew) wasn’t ready. I was reluctantly patient, overly empathic and beginning to doubt we’d ever meet.

Then, two months after our virtual relationship began, I again suggested meeting, and instead of no, he said, maybe. As fast as you can say Rip Van Winkle, he was driving to my house for our first date.

I prepared with eager anticipation. He arrived, we talked, the chemistry seemed an extension of our up-to-then instant messaging relationship, and six hours later he left, I knew that what I felt in our e-mails was becoming reality.
We shared guilty pleasures like “Survivor” and “Desperate Housewives,” had many common interests and on and on. Our second date also lasted six hours.

Sometimes, it seemed, the fish does jump into your bucket.

Well, before the third date, he e-mailed that my bucket wasn’t the one he was looking for. In person, he said he felt I was too emotional and our ways of looking at the world were too different.

I was sure there was something he wasn’t telling me.

“Is it our religious differences?” (He’s agnostic and was expelled from Catholic preschool.)

“No.”

I summed up my courage: “Are you not attracted to me? If not, just say so. It’s really OK.” (We all know how OK that would be, but I needed the truth.)

“No,” he said.

My ego breathed relief.

I became lead attorney for my own defense, while trying to remain unemotional.
“Well, that doesn’t seem like a deal-breaker. A deal-breaker would be if we weren’t attracted to one another, or if I were a sociopath. And I’m not emotional. I don’t cry. Not when it counts, anyway. Maybe at a Hallmark commercial….”

Anyway, there was an unspoken agreement to continue to give it a try. Unspoken because he didn’t say it until six months later.

In the intervening months, we got together once a week or so. It was always wonderful, and I always ended the “seems-like-a-date-but-is-it-a-date?” hoping it would lead to more.

June 30, just before I went to Israel for a month, we had the most memorable romantic “is-it-a-date-date-to-date”: a hike in Topanga Canyon (seeing deer up close); a picnic lunch on the beach; drinks at the LAX bar; Encounters; and dinner. Afterward, as we walked to his car, I felt the sadness that the day had to end and the ecstasy of this perfect day.

Patrick was my fish. We hugged at his car, and he said the hope-filled words that would echo in my head ever since: “I’m really going to miss you, Jeff.”
OK. So it wasn’t a vow of love. But it expressed to me how much our relationship meant to him.

After a month of little communication, I returned with purposely understated but meaningful gifts for Patrick. He was in and out of town in August, and I was disappointed that his e-mail responses were few and my voice mail messages went unreturned. Yet I thought about him all the time, and “I’m really going to miss you, Jeff” continued to echo.

In September, we finally saw one another for the first time in more than two months. I was clearly more excited to see him than he seemed to be to see me. When he left that night, I was heartbroken. I spent that week wallowing in self-pity and resolved that I would ask him the question to which I already knew the answer.

At the end of our next get-together, I told him I wanted to talk. Patrick told me he had in fact given it a try (who knew?), and he wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, but that our friendship was really important to him. (I think they call this the consolation prize, though it offers little consolation.)

Ironically, I felt better when he left that night. I knew where we stood. Patrick and I continue to get together weekly, and he continues to be among my first thoughts every day. I know that he likely doesn’t think about me as much, and that when he does, it isn’t the way I think of him.

Some friends believe that I shouldn’t see him again; that it would be easier. But I’m not ready to do that. Perhaps I think I should be stronger than that. Perhaps my heart simply refuses to accept the telegram from my head that says: It’s over. Stop. He’s not interested. Stop. He never will be. Stop.

I love my friendship with Patrick. Perhaps one day my heart will catch up with my head.

Jeff Bernhardt is a writer living in Los Angeles. He has written “Who Shall Live…?” a play for the High Holidays, and his work appears in the books “Mentsh” and “Rosh Hashanah Readings.”

Book review: The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide


Divorce attorneys. Are there two dirtier words in the English language? Thoughts of them conjure up images of circling human sharks, cold-blooded assassins and profiteers feasting on the misery of others. Turning to them for suggestions on how to stay married would seem about as useful as seeking out Donald Trump for tips on humility or former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair for advice on journalistic ethics.
 
Sometimes, though, the conventional wisdom misses the mark. Drawing on interviews with 100 prominent divorce attorneys nationwide, author and former practicing attorney Wendy Jaffe has written an interesting and illuminating work called, “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide to Staying Married.” Apparently, those with ringside seats in divorce court, a place where couples venture to shred their wedding vows and one another, have a special insight into how not to behave in marriage.
 
In her book, Jaffe outlines how to diagnose and treat myriad union-killers, ranging from no-sex marriages to infidelity to unrealistic expectations. Beyond that, she argues that many couples who end up in divorce court could have, and should have, worked harder to save their unions.
 
In Jaffe’s view, marriage, except in cases of physical or verbal abuse and untreated drug and alcohol addiction, is worth fighting for. She argues that the fact that about half of all marriages in the United States don’t last is less a reflection of widespread incompatibility than an indictment of a disposable American culture that encourages folks to trade in their old-but-perfectly good cars, computers and, yes, even spouses for newer, fresher models. All too often, Jaffe argues, mates in the process of shedding their significant others come to realize too late that they’ve made a terrible mistake, especially when children are involved. The grass might appear greener elsewhere, but that, like a waterhole in the desert, is often only a mirage. The proof: Two of three second marriages end in divorce.
 
Jaffe’s starts her book detailing all the ways sex can kill a marriage. Why start with sex?
 
“It is rare that someone who is having good and regular sex will come to me for a divorce,” says Miami family law attorney Maurice Kutner, one of several lawyers Jaffe quotes.
 
Couples having infrequent intimate relations should beware, Jaffe warns. Sex, she writes, is an integral part of most marriages, and its absence augurs poorly for their survival. There are myriad reasons why married couples’ love lives can cool, including familiarity and the exhaustion of parenthood. Still, a no-sex marriage is far from the norm. As Jaffe notes, just because married spouses have stopped making love with one another doesn’t mean they have stopped making love.

Take the case of Steve and Linda, one of several case studies Jaffe sprinkles throughout her book. The couple married in their mid-20s, had three kids in six years and moved to the ‘burbs. To the outside world, they appeared to have the perfect union. However, behind the smiles, Linda felt increasingly disconnected from her spouse, and her interest in intimacy dwindled markedly with the birth of her children. Over time, Steve also became more disenchanted, especially after his wife rejected repeated requests to discuss her waning drive with a gynecologist. Steve eventually left a “shocked” Linda for a work colleague.
 
So what to do if sex begins to vanish from the bedroom? Jaffe suggests the road to recovery begins with recognition.
 
“Even if sex is not important to you,” she writes, “you have to realize that it might be extremely important to your spouse, and that it is a significant cause of divorce.”
 
Throughout the book, Jaffe encourages readers to consult a therapist. She also offers a helpful list of reference books readers might want to peruse.Infidelity is another sex-related marriage-killer with which Jaffe grapples. On the upside, she argues persuasively that many marriages can withstand cheating. If both spouses figure out what caused the straying and address the problem; if the victim spouse can forgive the affair; and if the adulterous husband or wife truly recommits to the marriage — a lot of ifs — the couple might salvage the union. On the downside, Internet chat rooms and dating services have made it easier than ever for bored spouses to find a playmate.
 
Many marriages, Jaffe writes, are in trouble even before they begin. That’s because one or both partners bring unrealistic expectations to the altar.
 
Couples who expect the romance and fires of passion to burn indefinitely set themselves up for their marriage to flameout. Similarly, men and women who believe marriage will magically transform their significant other are deluding themselves. Her insane jealousy won’t suddenly vanish, just as his verbal abuse and alcoholism won’t disappear. The bottom line: What you see is generally what you get. A caveat, though: People often do change over the course of a marriage, for better or for worse, Jaffe says.
 
Even those who’ve never married, as well as people considering getting hitched for the second or third time, could benefit from “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide.”
 
Jaffe and the attorneys she interviewed counsel against getting married at a young age. A little life experience, they argue, allows a person to grow up and figure out what they want from themselves and from a prospective spouse. It is no surprise, Jaffe writes, that Oklahoma, despite its location at the heart of the Bible Belt, has the second-highest divorce rate, according to 1990 stats. The reason: One of the lowest average ages for first marriages, at 22 for women and 24 for men.
 
As for remarriage, Jaffe warns against the “clone syndrome.” That is, finding a new spouse with a similar personality to the person just left behind. To avoid making the same mistakes again and again, such as repeatedly hooking up with alcoholics, Jaffe suggests seeing a therapist to “understand why your marriage broke down and how your selection of your spouse played a part in it.”
 
Jaffe’s book makes a surprisingly good read, considering that many lawyers tend to write in a turgid, tangled legalese. Still, Jaffe does trip up a few times.The lawyer in her devotes an entire section to prenuptial agreements. She argues that men and women with substantial assets need to protect them. Rational?

So sorry, wrong numbers


There are so many choices of singles events, but most of them don’t seem to work for me: SpeedDating — concept is interesting, but my age range and location
never seem to match my availability; outdoor sports — not my thing, and it’s not that I’m out of shape, I’m just a fair-skinned California girl who, in addition to not wanting to be burned to a crisp, has never shown much talent for volleyball or hiking; social dances — I went to enough of those alone when I was in junior high. Enough said.

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Avoiding Heartbreak No ‘Petite’ Feat


The 18-year-old heroine of Karin Albou’s film, “La Petite Jérusalem,” spurns love and sex.

“Passion is an illusion, entailing a loss of autonomy and freedom,” she tells a hapless suitor. “I don’t want to be a slave to my senses.”

Albou, 38, admits this theory is “nonsense.” At least that’s what she says today, but there’s a resonance between the younger Albou and the fictional Laura (Fanny Valette), who is struggling to find her own voice within her North African Orthodox family. Although they live in close quarters in a Paris ghetto apartment, Laura refuses their strict religious observance and her grandmother’s wish that she find a husband; marriage doesn’t look so good given her brother-in-law’s infidelities and her sister’s sexual hang-ups.

Laura protects herself from heartbreak by adopting the emotion-stifling philosophy of Emmanuel Kant. But even Kant can’t stop her from succumbing to desire and entering a star-crossed romance with a Muslim co-worker.

Albou says the character’s emotional journey parallels her own. Although the filmmaker was raised in a secular North African family, Albou’s Jewish grandmother relentlessly tried to set her up with potential husbands in her late teens. Like the fictional Laura, Karin heard the click of the telephone as grandma anxiously listened in on her dispassionate conversations with men.

Albou had her own reasons to be wary of romance. She was well aware of the consequences that had ensued after her Algerian-born father fell for her then 15-year-old, secular Catholic mother. When the girl soon became pregnant with Albou, his Jewish family pressured him to take responsibility and marry her. Young Karin grew up in their impoverished household until her parents divorced when she was 7. When her mother remarried and had another child, she slept on the couch in mom’s chaotic, two-room flat.

At 17, she finally fled the noise and the claustrophobia by moving in with her grandmother. Socially, she fell in with a clique of similarly bookish, celibate teens. They fervently discussed philosophy in cafes: “We knew nothing of life and love, but we thought we knew everything,” Albou recalls, with a laugh.

“I personally was very vulnerable, and I used my words and thoughts as a defensive shield because I was afraid to love and to be hurt,” she adds. “Boys liked me a lot, but I was very discouraging to them. When a man tried to love me, I’d tell him that passion was unhealthy.”

Her outlook began changing when Cupid finally smote her during film school in her early 20s. It was during this romance that she formally converted to Judaism; she was drawn, in part, to the religion’s healthy sexual attitudes and caveats about emotional and physical slavery.

“But I always remained cautious with men,” she says of subsequent lovers. “I never slept with anyone immediately.” Even her Israeli husband-to-be, Ilan, had to become her friend first. (They married in 2002 and now live in Paris and Tel Aviv).

Yet even as the budding filmmaker settled down with her future hubby, she created characters who fear that love will entrap them. Albou’s 2001 feature, “Aid el-Kebir,” set in her ancestral homeland of Algeria, spotlights a modern Muslim tormented by her father’s dying wish that she seek a matchmaker and marry.

“La Petite Jérusalem” began around the time Albou turned 30 and “looked back with tenderness and amusement at all my adolescent theories,” she says from her Tel Aviv home. “I started writing about two sisters who each develop a different alibi in relation to desire, one turning to philosophy, the other to religion.”

The central character, Laura, constantly dresses and undresses, a metaphor for how her theories cloak and protect her naked psyche. To help emphasize her vulnerability, Albou set the story in 2002, when repercussions from the second intifada targeted French Jews. She also placed the character in a decrepit, Jewish neighborhood nicknamed “La Petite Jérusalem” — the first of the so-called French banlieue (crummy suburb) films to profile poor Jews, she says.

The movie earned good reviews and box-office success in France.

Actress Fanny Valette, who is not Jewish, believes the story is universal: “I worked more on the inner aspect of my character and Laura’s determination rather than on the Jewish perspective,” she told CineEuropa.

Albou agrees: “It’s crucial for every human being to feel free in body and spirit. And not to unduly protect oneself from love.”

And that is a decidedly different place from where both she and her protagonist started.

The film, in French with English subtitles, opens Friday in Los Angeles.

You’re Scentsational!


When a guy — let’s say me, for the sake of argument — is lacking a romantic partner, every bit of attention I get from any woman, even a complete stranger, takes on heightened significance and pleasure. Because I don’t have a wife, girlfriend or lover, a simple smile from any woman passing me on the street is very likely to be the only, and certainly the most intimate, female contact I can expect all day. You might think that’s sad. You might feel sorry for me. And, yet, I accept it. I more than accept it — I appreciate it, am grateful for it — OK, I even treasure it. Yes, that’s right — I often treasure the smile of a woman I don’t even know. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, she’ll both smile and say “Hi,” “Hello” or “Good morning.” So I get to experience both her smile and her voice — double bonus. Triple bonus if you factor in the visual pleasures of seeing her. And a big quadruple bonus if all the above is combined with what is perhaps my favorite of the four elements — her fragrance as she passes by. That’s right, the scent of a woman.

OK, I know what you’re thinking: “This guy’s creepy. Some unsuspecting, innocent woman passing him on the street smiles, says good morning and had the audacity to apply perfume — and suddenly he thinks he’s in a relationship.”

First, in my defense, I’m not quite that delusional. I realize I mean nothing to these women beyond being a friendly smiling face. And yet … sometimes, as that powerful quadruple bonus kicks in — the visual, the smile, the greeting and the fragrance — I’ll close my eyes, inhale that fragrance deeply as we pass one another on the sidewalk, and allow myself one quick and innocent indulgence — the momentary fantasy of what it might be like to be in a romantic relationship with this particular woman. And I would guess a lot of guys do this. Hey, come on, can you blame us? In ancient Egypt, women used perfumed creams and oils as a prelude to lovemaking. Am I expected to wipe that thought from my mind as a woman’s lingering fragrance envelops me as she walks by? Of course not. In fact, if you were to order a transcript from my brain describing a few of these “encounters,” you might find something of this nature….

Sally Citrus — A refreshing fragrance for an energetic, sporty woman. We bond over tennis, hiking and biking. Over the years, we travel to exotic, little-known locations and thrill to new experiences. Eventually, we tire of one another and each drift into a series of meaningless affairs before bidding one another a deeply saddened farewell forever.

Leslie Lavender — A warm and caring scent of a woman who finds genuine fulfillment in giving to others. Together, we offer our free time to a multitude of charitable organizations, and then come home and offer ourselves freely to one another. Our relationship is founded on such honesty that even after she decides to return to her first husband, I share with her my progress on the anti-depression medication I take daily.

Olivia Oriental — A blend of excitement and mystery. Musks and precious woods are complemented by exotic essences. Our lives are luxurious, dramatic, sexy, sensual. We live fast, eat well and drive expensive sports cars. Unfortunately, one of these sports cars crashes suddenly while taking a mountain curve in Monaco, killing us instantly.

Have you picked up on the pattern? Each one of my romantic fantasies starts out with great promise and excitement, and ends disappointingly, if not tragically — just like my actual romantic relationships! What gives? Aren’t fantasies supposed to be all good? Well, I can’t worry about that right now. I’ll let my shrink sort it out. And I especially don’t want the women I encounter to worry about it. To them I’d just like to say it’s not you; it’s me. I’d also like to thank them. For their appearance, smile, greeting and fragrance. And Sally, Leslie, Olivia — to the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world. Even if it is just for 30 seconds — and even if you don’t even know his name.

Comedy writer Mark Miller can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net or at

Relationships 101


Why is finding and sustaining a successful romantic relationship so difficult? I blame the American education system. It teaches us a world of information we most likely will never need unless we’re either settling a bar bet, appearing on “Jeopardy” or helping our children with their obscure, fact-laden homework. By the time I graduated from college, I knew an impressive amount about ancient Greek history, subtext in Shakespeare’s “Richard III” and a frog’s intestines. Don’t ask me when I last used any of it.

As for creating and sustaining a romantic relationship, though — I pretty much knew, and still know, squat. Why do we spend so much time and energy teaching our children so much Trivial Pursuit-like “stuff,” while disregarding vital life skills they so desperately need? All that’s going to change when I become czar of education. You can bet that changing a tire, balancing a checkbook and cooking a meal will be part of my curriculum. And there’ll especially be a wide variety of courses available dealing with romantic relationships, including the following, taken directly from my proposed Relationships 101 syllabus:

Geography of Romance: A course dealing with the best places to meet your romantic partner. Certain locales lend themselves to greater relationship success — churches and temples, the homes of friends and relatives, bookstores, supermarkets, restaurants, parks and beaches. Other places tend to be riskier — prison, tattoo parlors, methamphetamine labs, mosh pits, wife-swapping parties, Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, gatherings of arms dealers. You can’t find the “wow” unless you know the “where.” But enough quoting Aristotle.

Interrogatory Land Mines: These refer to specific questions your romantic partner will be asking you. The most important thing to remember is that any response you give, no matter how carefully considered, how sensitive or how loving — will anger your partner and put your relationship at risk. Such questions include, “Do you think our waitress is pretty?” “If I died tonight, which of my girlfriends would you most want to date?” and, of course, the ever-popular, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Learn invaluable techniques for changing the subject, distracting with compliments and faking a seizure.

Handling Rejection I: Why you still have value as a human being despite being turned down as a romantic partner. Why a woman who turns you down may not necessarily be a lesbian. Why a man who turns you down may not necessarily have a fear of commitment — he just may not want to commit to you. Why when your romantic partner says “I’m not in the mood,” it does not mean you have a license to leave the house angrily and find someone who is in the mood. (Trust me.) Why your only true friend being your dog may not necessarily be a bad thing — for the dog, that is.

Handling Rejection II — Inappropriate Responses to Being Dumped:

Guest lecturers who have actually either made or received these inappropriate responses will discuss: Keying his car, posting embarrassing nude photos of her on the Internet, committing ritual Japanese suicide (appearing via video made shortly before his demise), weeping loudly and completely out of context for months, burning down his house, kidnapping his children, reporting her to the Department of Homeland Security and losing interest in everything in life except the reality show, “Dancing With the Stars.” Bitter students with an axe to grind are more than welcome.

Things to Make Sure Your Romantic Partner Doesn’t See the First Time She Visits Your House: For men only. The first part of the course will identify those things that most men are unaware tick women off, including: dirty dishes in the sink, dirty underwear on the floor, dirty dishes on the floor, dirty underwear in the sink, other women in the bed, other men in the bed. The second part of the course will deal with methods you can use to salvage the relationship once she is completely grossed out by your disgusting habitat. In addition, each student receives a complimentary subscription to Martha Stewart Living, a clothes hamper and a huge, scent-concealing empty box into which you can dump all your dirty clothing and dishes until you have the time and energy to deal with them.

Now, you gotta admit — all that is education you can use.

Mark Miller, a comedy writer and performer, can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net.

Age Apparent


Of all the May-to-December romances that were not meant to be, mine must top the list.

For starters, I met Rick in a hot tub — a cliché I was sure we could never get over. We found ourselves at the same party, where he was being accosted by a woman who kept sidling close to him and saying, “When I was at Harvard…” and “At Harvard, my friends and I would blah-blah-blah…”

Finally, I went in for the rescue: “When I was at Florida International University, we took classes in trailers,” I said, trying to mimic her smug tone and referring to a school so new that it barely had walls, much less Ivy-covered ones.

He was so grateful that, as we climbed out of the water, he thanked me and began to make conversation. Somehow, it came up that the following week was my birthday. “How old will you be?” he asked.

“Thirty-two,” I answered.

“Wow, you look way too young to be in your 30s,” he said.

“And you?” I inquired.

“Twenty-three,” he said.

Rick was visiting South Florida because he and his fiancé had recently called it quits. A mutual friend of ours had sent him a plane ticket to break the cycle of self-pity and draft ale that had been taking place in a bar in Pittsburgh, the city where he lived and worked.

In the days that followed, Rick and I spent quite a bit of time together. I worked nights as a reporter, so our friend asked if I’d entertain him during the day while she was stuck in the office. We had lunch, went for walks, visited museums.

He was charming but not the kind of guy I usually went for, with his Coke-bottle glasses and geeky clothes.

And yet before Rick’s weeklong visit was over, we found ourselves in the midst of a flirtation — even if it was one I wasn’t taking seriously. After all, Rick was on the rebound. He lived 1,200 miles away. And, most frightening of all, he was nine years younger than me.

At the time, I knew no one involved with a man that much younger. I had heard, of course, of some celebrity pairings: Cher was famous for dating men half her age, and Susan Sarandon had been with Tim Robbins, 12 years her junior, for quite a while.

But in my mind a match between an older woman and a younger man conjured up little more than “The Graduate.” I wanted none of it.

In fact, I indulged in the flirtation in large part because I believed it wouldn’t go anywhere. It was a mild distraction, safe and fun.

But Rick had other plans. After heading back to Pittsburgh, he began a long-distance courtship. He called. He wrote beautiful letters. And he kept his local florist incredibly busy.

One day, I walked into my office to find a dozen red roses sitting on my desk. The card read, “When you’re 109 and I’m 100, it won’t matter.”

Slowly, the unthinkable began to happen: I was falling for Rick. But I was also nervous — very nervous.

Were we moving too quickly? What about the geographic distance between us? And then there was the toughest hurdle of all, at least for me: our ages.

It wasn’t the inevitable cradle-robbing jokes that bothered me. I was more worried about the day-to-day realities of such a match. If this were the real thing, what would we do about having children? I was ready. Was he?

Then there was my vanity. Sure, a nine-year spread was no problem while I still looked youthful. But what about later, when my age would begin to show?

And that’s when my mother — a perfect mix of pragmatist and romantic — reminded me of something: Men have forever been leaving women for younger women.

“Dating a man your own age is no guarantee that it will work out,” she said. “He’s either a mensch or he’s not.”

While I couldn’t yet fully attest to Rick’s character, I knew deep down that he was nothing if not a mensch.

In a matter of months, Rick and I decided to start a life together in Los Angeles. Before we left for Los Angeles, we visited his parents in Baltimore. It had not been long since his former fiancé had vanished with the string of pearls they had given her to mark her engagement to their son. And now here I was at her heels — and nine years older. What could they be thinking?

“Are you kidding me?” an old friend of Rick’s said. “They won’t care if you’re the same age as his Aunt Lil. They’ll be so happy that he finally found a woman who is Jewish, they’ll be dancing ‘Hava Nagila’ on the dining room table.”

I’m not sure about “Hava Nagila” on the dining room table. But 18 months later, they danced the hora at our wedding. And now, 15 years and two children after that, I am sure Rick was right: When you’ve found the right person, age is beside the point — whether you’re 109 or 32, or somewhere in between.

Randye Hoder is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, The Wall Street Journal and other publications.

 

‘Fools’ Writer Seeks Happily Ever After


“I’m more sensual and romantic than sexual,” 50-something author Evelyn Duboff says.

One might assume otherwise upon viewing “Fools in Love,” a theatrical performance of 10 Duboff short stories about her colorful (and sometimes off-color) love life.

In her racy, witty tales — which open Sunday at the Odyssey Theatre — her alter-egos often pursue experience rather than relationships, kicking more than one suitor to the curb. One character feels liberated as she provocatively dances at a Halloween party, ogled by men. Another lies about seducing a friend’s intense, Cuban ex. (“There is so much to learn in this world,” Carlos gushes. “I wanted to learn more about Carlos,” the character notes.)

A third stalks a boyfriend to see if he is cheating, but is amused when she catches him with a plump blonde who exclaims, “Danny boy, you slay me, baby!”

Yet another protagonist gasps upon viewing a 6-foot-4 hunk in a crowded Beverly Hills cafe: “One head across the room rose inches above the others,” she says, double entendre intended.

On a recent sultry afternoon, Duboff smiles as actress Andrea Walker describes her motivation for that scene.

“It’s holy s—-, this guy is hot,” Walker says. “I’m treading the fine line between being crude and wanting to get laid.”

During a rehearsal break, the author says she was more sedate while meeting that hunk (a magician with a Ferrari), and admits amping up the sexual and comic content of her stories. But she’s hardly prudish in the bedroom, and she loves when the actresses wonder about her sex life: “I tell them, ‘Good, keep wondering,'” she says. Duboff enjoys remaining mysterious — and she relishes the surprise people express when they meet her in person.

Rather than a sex goddess reminiscent of Samantha, the leggy, lascivious commitmentphobe from “Sex and the City,” the author is petite, shy, endearing, even girlish, wearing a funny lavender hat over close-cropped brown hair. She blushes, giggles and claps her small hands, pink nail polish flashing, while describing aspects of her love life.

“If you didn’t know Evelyn, you’d think she was a wild woman,” “Fools” director Whitney Rydbeck says.

In the Odyssey’s green room, Duboff demurely explains that she’s actually a nice Jewish girl from a kosher home in Montreal, where her grandmother served in a leadership position at their traditional synagogue. In that community, the life proscribed for Jewish women included “going steady” at 15, marrying at 17 or 18, immediately starting a family and never, ever divorcing. But young Evelyn was a free spirit (albeit a quiet one) who didn’t want a future as balabusta-for-life.

When she discussed her dream of pursuing the arts, her mother begged her to “get married first.” She didn’t listen. Like one character in “Fools,” she declined to wed the lanky boyfriend who proposed to her at age 15. She was relieved when her family moved to Los Angeles that same year, because “I was now free to just be myself and not feel I had to marry so young,” she says.

Alarmed by her single status, Duboff’s father clandestinely placed a Jewish Journal personal ad in her name some years ago.

“He gave me the stack of responses like a gift,” she recalls, tenderly. “But I had lots of boyfriends, so I thought ‘What made him think I needed these?'”

While Duboff has never married, she is content to have spent her adult life modeling, acting, painting, working as a court reporter — and writing slice-of-life stories about her beaus.

One was a Jewish-Hungarian doctor she was too shy to approach in a Montreal restaurant during a visit home decades ago. Duboff was shocked, a few days later, to meet him on a blind date: “The next time I see you, I’ll never let you go,” he said, after their torrid 10-day romance. “He’d then call me every Saturday morning, and I’d wake up to the paradise of his voice — with that accent, can you imagine?” Duboff recalls with a sigh.

She says she was crushed when he dropped a bombshell several months later: Although he very much loved Duboff, he was obliged to marry someone else for reasons beyond his control (the author declines to offer details).

Perhaps she never married because he was “The One,” she says; she nods at the suggestion that perhaps she used that fantasy relationship to ensure she never had to marry anyone at all. Duboff has never experienced psychotherapy, so the best explanation she can offer is: “There’s so much in life to explore, if you’re with just one person, it can prevent that.”

Even so, she turned her Hungarian into a poignant but funny story, “Darling,” which caught the eye of spoken-word artist Sally Shore in 2000. Shore performed the piece at her New Short Fiction Series, where it became a Los Angeles Times pick. More staged readings followed at the NoHo Theatre & Arts Festival (“Fools” is the first full-scale production of Duboff’s work).

“Evelyn’s writing is short fiction’s answer to ‘Sex and the City,'” Shore says. “I love her women and their sexuality and their humor.”

Walker agrees, adding that she enjoys how unapologetic the characters are about sex.

“I don’t have a spotty past by any means, but I have a lot of anecdotes, and some people think women with experience are sluts,” Walker says. “But I say, ‘No, we live our lives and we live them colorfully and unashamedly.'”

That’s exactly how Duboff intends to continue her journey.

“I’m sure if I met the right person I’d have loved that, too,” she says. “But I love my life, and I love meeting different people and having stories to write.”

“Fools” opens Sunday at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles. For tickets and information, call (310) 477-2055.

 

Singles – Notes to Self


Note to Self: Do not date a man who says that he can’t be in a relationship. Do not go out with him after he tells you he wants to go out with you — but only casually. Even if everything he says or does proves to the contrary — like for example, he calls you every day and wants to snuggle all the time and bring you flowers and treats you well. Just take him at his word.

Note to Self: Do not psychoanalyze this person’s motivations. Do not reason to yourself that he has issues with his mother/father/pet gerbil. Yes, he might — OK, he does — but are you his analyst or his date? (If you lie on the couch together, chances are you’re not his shrink.) A man will always reveal himself in the first few dates. A woman will wave away his concerns with her “I need a relationship” magic wand. She can also cover her ears and say, “Nyah-nyah-nyah kishkes.” But neither tactic will change his words: “I’m not interested in a serious relationship right now.”

Note to Self: Do not stick with him hoping that he will change his mind, hoping that as he gets to know you things will change and you will convince him how fabulous you are. You are very fabulous, but it is not up to you to be a PR firm for yourself. The Constitution said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” (Or maybe it was the Declaration of Independence — even better.) The point is you can’t wait around just one more date hoping he will get the memo.

Note to Self: Do not think you can save him. You will not save him; he will drown you first. You entered this arrangement with high self-esteem, so you think you can handle his “casual.” But by the second month of this thing — not a relationship, definitely not a friendship — you will be too weak to assert yourself. Think of the frog boiled to death in the gradually heated water. A gross, but apt, metaphor. Not that you are a frog.

Note To Self: Do not focus on the short-term in the relationship, like how good you guys have it together, how he makes you laugh, how you enjoy his company, how you are just taking it one day at a time. This is what he says, unoriginally — as in: “I’m just taking it one day a time.” Is there anyone who can live two days at a time? All of his “one days” turns into three, four, five months. Five months of limbo.

Note to Self: After you’ve been with this man half a year, you won’t want to let him go, and you start believing that having someone is better than having no one. Listen: Having no one is better than having half a person. Let him go so you will get your full self back.

Note to Self: Breakups aren’t easy, even if you knew the whole time it wasn’t going to work out. Even if you knew from the start. Especially if you knew from the start. Although why would you go out with someone whom you knew a priori wouldn’t work out? Maybe you should write a note to yourself not to do this anymore.

Note to Him: Dear John, I had such a nice time hanging out with you. But if it’s true that you don’t want to be in a relationship, I guess we’re going to have to stop seeing each other. I’m sad because it’s rare to meet someone you connect with, and it’s hard to pass up. But I can’t start a relationship with preconditions. I can’t have a relationship with someone who doesn’t want a relationship. I’d love to have that chance with you, so if you change your mind about your state, about me, about us, give me a call.

From,

Self.

 

Boutique Teaches Brides Love Lessons


Where there’s a bride to be, there’s a bachelorette party. And for many Los Angeles women, that party means just one thing: The Love Boutique. For 25 years, the shop has entertained and educated parties of women about sexuality and sensuality. The Love Boutique parties are like Tupperware parties, but instead of selling kitchenware and sharing recipes, the consultants are selling romance gear and exchanging advice on how to heat things up in the bedroom.

“We provide women with an honest, authentic sexual education,” Love Boutique founder Judy Levy said. “We teach women everything their mothers didn’t and discuss everything that women are afraid to talk about.”

Levy, who describes herself as a nice Jewish mother, wasn’t always in the sexuality business. A graduate of Palisades High, this former B’nai B’rith Girls chapter president spent 15 years as a schoolteacher. While teaching in Europe, she was inspired by stores that sold sexual goods in a traditional retail environment. In January 1981, she brought her version of that liberal European attitude to the Los Angeles area, opening The Love Boutique in Tarzana and hosting home parties. Levy, who celebrated the shop’s 25th anniversary with a charity gala on Feb. 2, has since opened a second shop in Santa Monica and now hosts more than 100 parties each month.

The Love Boutique sells everything from massage oils to lingerie and romantic board games to self-help books. In keeping with the store’s philosophy, these items are merely tools to help women feel elegant, sexy and self-confident.

“The nighties are just the wrapping paper, you are the gift inside,” said Love Boutique party consultant Sophia Silver, who attends Stephen S. Wise. “We want to help women feel good about themselves and their relationships.”

But Levy’s Love Boutique parties aren’t promoting promiscuity or suggesting that women play the field.

“When women understand and respect their bodies, they will find partners who honor, appreciate and respect them,” Levy said. “Only men who understand this will get to be with us.”

Love Boutique consultants teach that sexuality is normal, healthy and fun. They explain that women will feel more powerful, creative and happy when they are comfortable with their sexuality, and that this sexual knowledge will lead to more successful relationships.

While Love Boutique’s parties and shops will have its detractors, Levy believes this education is important for all women, but especially young brides.

“Girls tend to focus on their wedding and forget about their wedding night and the nights after that,” said Levy, who was a virgin bride at 21. “It’s important that women think about how they’ll keep up that connection in their relationship.”

That’s where the Love Boutique’s bachelorette parties come in. The parties teach women to open up lines of communication and be proactive in their requests for what they want emotionally and physically. And attendees say they’re just plain fun. Hostesses invite 25 to 30 friends (over the age of 18) for lots of giggly, girly bonding and what else — shopping.

A love consultant arrives at the hostess’ home with a tablecloth, products and goodies. The party opens with a sexuality quiz. From there, the consultant opens up the conversation, allowing women to share stories and ask questions in a comfortable environment. The consultant leads the guests in games and discussions that help women learn about their own romantic needs. Then she walks the guests through the products available at Love Boutique.

The goods range from aphrodisiac candles to edible body frosting and some items that made this reporter blush to witness, let alone write about. Party consultants are aware that hostesses’ comfort levels may vary, and they will work with the hostess before the party to find a tone that works for her and her guests. At the end of the party, the consultant discretely meets with each guest individually to take orders to ensure that each remains private. The bachelorette receives a free hostess gift and a gift certificate valued at 10 percent of the party’s total sales.

Levy, who participates with ORT and Hadassah, believes her business meshes well with her Jewish beliefs. Many of her party consultants and hostesses are Jewish, and she says her work helps Jewish couples fulfill a Shabbat mitzvah.

“Every Friday night, my husband and I light Shabbat candles and stay home together,” said Levy, who belongs to Makom Ohr Shalom in Tarzana.

For Levy, who recently spent two weeks in Israel, tikkun olam (healing the world) is personal passion. The Love Boutique’s recent 25th anniversary party at the Jewish-owned Erotic Museum in Hollywood doubled as a benefit for Children of the Night, which rescues children from prostitution. During the month of February, 2 percent of all party, online and Love Boutique sales will go to the nonprofit.

Levy is thrilled to be helping the community at large and Jewish couples in particular through her business.

“We’re helping couples connect emotionally and physically, and it’s that connection that sustains a marriage,” she said.

To book a Love Boutique bachelorette party, call (310) 586-0902 or visit

Written in the Jewish Stars


We’re not saying we believe any of this, mind you, but, yes, Jews, too, like to peek at horoscopes. But up until now, something’s been missing — that Jewish touch. Sure, you could count on Bubbe and Zayde to dispense career advice and to forecast general doom, but that hardly suffices. And, yes, there are always those well-meaning, pushy relatives to talk up eligible singles as the man or woman of your future.

But it’s time for some counsel that’s neutral, detached, learned, authoritative — and perhaps as equally useless but infinitely more entertaining. So, starting Jan. 1, we present for your weekly consideration: Jewish Horoscopes.

They are a Web-only exclusive feature of The Jewish Journal at jewishjournal.com/horoscopes.php — authored by the soon-to-be-famous Minnie Mankowitz.

You’ll have to log on to find out how Karl Marx, Erica Jong and Bob Dylan fit into the picture. Or what to buy or not at Trader Joe’s and IKEA. Or the role of chocolate and romance in the week to come. Should you buy a bra? Whiten your teeth? Go into seclusion?

Log on and start planning your future — before someone else does.

Too Picky


A few weeks ago, I had just returned from a trip to New York to meet someone my rabbi tried to set me up with — a member of his

former congregation there. On my first Friday night back in shul, I was confronted by close married friends of mine with the question.

“So-o-o …,” the wife sweetly crooned, “how did it go?”

“Things went very well,” I replied coyly. “We went to see ‘Wicked’ on Broadway and took in a full day of the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows. We ate pizza in Brooklyn and walked back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge under a clear, crisp, starlit night. The New York City skyline was spectacular!”

My friend raised her eyebrow with the unspoken question I hadn’t yet answered.

“We had a good time together,” I responded to her inquiring look, “and she’s a very nice person. But I’m afraid nothing is going to happen.”

“Tsk-tsk,” she practically spat at me. “You’re just too picky!”

You know, I have never figured out why such well-meaning folks so quickly jump to that conclusion. As far as I know, my friend had never even met the woman in question or known anything about her. Does she assume that our rabbi, because he has such an intelligent, charming and attractive wife himself, obviously has the ability to pick out the perfect person for me?

Sometimes I think the erstwhile matchmaker’s calculus goes something like: “She’s single and Jewish and I like her; he’s single and Jewish and I like him — so why not?”

Usually that simple Jew math just doesn’t add up, and the “why not” becomes crystal clear less than five minutes after she opens the door. By now, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve ended up forcing my way through the rest of a painful evening, wondering to myself, “What were they thinking?”

Part of the problem is their thinking is based on a false syllogism: Just because you like Seth, and you like Rachel, doesn’t mean Seth will like Rachel, much less fall in love with her. Needless to say, we human beings are a lot more complicated than that. The real point, though, is that this sort of math, simple or otherwise, is the wrong method to employ anyway. It’s rarely what “looks good on paper” that seems to work in romance; it’s much more about finding the right chemistry.

Trying to predict what will attract two people to each other is a difficult task. But that doesn’t mean you just throw two essentially random people against the wall and hope they stick. That’s like throwing two random chemicals into a beaker and hoping you’ll get the cure for bird flu. It’s theoretically possible, but it’s more likely to blow up in your face.

Please don’t misunderstand. It’s not that I don’t appreciate folks’ good intentions. I’m just suggesting the more successful fix-ups I’ve had have worked better because the fixer-upper has also thought with her head along with her heart. A few minutes of thought should reveal that in putting two otherwise perfectly “nice” people together, certain matches will have predictably poor results. Why put together a man who is complex and has lots of cultural interests with a relatively simple woman who is basically a homebody? Or a super-fit gal who spends a lot of time at the gym and likes hiking and the outdoors with a paunchy guy whose passion for “lifting” and “surfing” involves nothing heavier than a can of beer and nothing more adventurous than the remote control?

I’m sure you could find couples like those who do work. But the odds are against it. Contrary to “good sense,” two high-maintenance people get together all the time, for example — witness all the Hollywood marriages between two high-profile stars. But how many of those are healthy relationships that last the test of time, instead of imploding before the next issue of the Enquirer hits the newsstands?

If you think that all seems fairly obvious, you should hear some of the stories my single friends and I tell of some of the futile, blind-date goose chases we’ve been sent on.

Now, I’m not saying any of this happened with my recent New York connection. “Laura” is, in fact, not only a very nice, but also an attractive and intelligent woman, with whom I share many interests. So I don’t think my rabbi could have so easily predicted in advance that we weren’t each other’s beshert. Ah, but no sooner had I admitted that to my friends, than what did I hear next from them?

“Nu? So if you’re not so picky, what’s the matter with her?

Glenn Gottlieb is a professional mediator and corporate attorney practicing in Los Angeles. He can be contacted at gmgottlieb@hotmail.com.

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No Religious Bias in Racy ‘Bodice Rippers’


Fess up or don’t, a lot of us are reading romance novels — otherwise known as “bodice rippers.” The numbers speak for themselves, accounting for 48 percent of all popular paperback fiction published, according to the Web site of the Romance Writers of America.

And that “us” includes more than a few Jews.

While there are no statistics to prove it, the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Typing “Jewish romance novel” into Google calls up dozens of bodice rippers featuring Jewish themes or characters, and not all published by small presses. And since publishers make their decisions based solely on a manuscript’s marketability, the romance novel industry is as democratic as it gets. Bottom line, these Jewish-themed books are getting published because editors know there are readers who will buy them.

Just who these readers are is hard to say, according to Mark Shechner, professor of English at State University of New York at Buffalo and co-editor of “Jewish Writing and the Deep Places of the Imagination” (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). Jewish-themed pulp fiction is prevalent and has a loyal following, it’s just not singled out in reviews, Shechner said.

“There are even writers of Chasidic romance fiction, like Pearl Abraham, author of ‘Romance Reader,'” he noted.

Recently published Jewish-themed romances include Persian Jewish writer Dora Levy Mossanen’s “Harem,” and her 2005 follow-up, “Courtesan”; Australian Jewish author and screenwriter Tobsha Learner’s “The Witch of Cologne,” and Southern Jewish writer Loraine Despres’ “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell.”

The list goes on, with titles also including works that seem to be a part of an emerging genre fondly termed “biblical bodice rippers” by Abigail Yasgur, executive librarian at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.

Anita Diamant’s 1998 best seller, “The Red Tent,” a fictional retelling of the biblical story of Dinah, seems to have set off the trend. Two recent releases include Eva Etzion Halevy’s “The Song of Hannah” and Rebeca Kohn’s “The Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther,” which both came out in the last two years.

A Jewish tradition of romance writing may help account for this trend, Shechner said. “The earliest Yiddish writing we have is from the early 16th century, ‘Bovo of Antona,’ a Yiddish translation of the Anglo-Norman romantic epic.” Moreover, “there were courtly romances with names like ‘Pariz un Vyene’ (Paris and Vienna). There were early translations of Arthurian tales into Yiddish — very early.”

And while the genre is easy to mock, consider this before you do. Shechner believes that the Jewish culture has an intrinsic relationship with romance.

“Maybe after all, romance is one of the authentic undercurrents of the Jewish imagination,” he said. “Isn’t romance the underside of piety, the negative, the shadow, the suppressed yearning that follows duty and restraint around? That is how I look at it.”

Three Romance Books Follow Novel Paths

“The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell” by Loraine Despres (Willaim Morrow, $23.95).

Incorrigible Belle Cantrell can’t seem to help being bad — or is it just that she’s ahead of her time? Women combating social repression are a common theme of historical romance fiction, and “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell” is no exception.

The protagonist of Loraine Despres’ latest book lives in 1920s Louisiana, and whether it’s fighting for women’s suffrage or against the Ku Klux Klan, this Scarlett O’Hara with a sex drive always seems to be getting herself into trouble.

It doesn’t help that she’s fallen for a handsome Jewish Yankee with a wife back in Chicago.

Spitfire Southern girls and genteel Jewish men seem to be Despres’ specialty, having written for television shows like “Dynasty” and “Dallas” — including penning the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” episode. Despres is currently a producer living in Los Angeles, as well as a romance writer.

In 2002, she published her novel, “The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc,” and has followed it up this year with a prequel, “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell.” Both feature Christian Southern belles with affections for Jewish men.

But while the protagonist of Despres’ “Bad Behavior” may seem a bit of the Southern girl cliche, the book’s sexy love scenes aren’t too purple and should leave regular romance readers satisfied. So will a host of other kooky characters and a happily-ever-after ending.

“The Witch of Cologne” by Tobsha Learner (Forge, $14.95).

Interfaith love sits at the heart of Tobsha Learner’s dark historical romance epic, “The Witch of Cologne.” The starkness of mid-1600s Germany is brought into focus through the eyes of Ruth Bas Elazar Saul, a learned midwife and the daughter of the chief rabbi of the Jewish quarter of Deutz.

At 23, Ruth is still unwed, after running away to Amsterdam to escape having to marry a man she did not love. Ruth’s rebellious nature also leads her to study Kabbalah and modern birthing techniques in Amsterdam.

However, her inability to live a quiet life, coupled with her maternal family’s unfortunate history with an evil Spanish friar who has since become an inquisitor under the Inquisitor-General Pascual de Arragon, puts Ruth face to face with the Inquisition.

This chain of events will bring Ruth face to face with true love — in the form of nobleman and Christian canon Detlef von Tennen — and, ultimately, her greatest tragedy, as well.

As defined by the Romance Writers of America’s Web site, this story isn’t considered a romance: “In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.”

But apparently, emotional justice isn’t to be had in 17th century Cologne. Still, considering this book remains in good company with other “nonromances” like the film, “Titanic,” and the book, “The Bridges of Madison County,” we feel fine including it just the same.

Moreover, readers who enjoy hints of magic and circles of political intrigue woven through their romances will be pleased with this choice.

“Courtesan” by Dora Levy Mossanen (Touchstone, $14).

The exotic lives of Parisian courtesans in the Belle Epoque provide the backdrop for Persian Jewish author Dora Levy Mossanen’s latest novel, aptly and simply titled, “Courtesan.”

Mossanen’s protagonist, Simone, is yet another headstrong girl. But what’s a girl to rebel against when she has been raised in a brothel by her famous grandmother, the courtesan Gabrielle?

Simone’s best way to defy her grandmother, and the mother who followed in her footsteps, is to embrace what her grandmother rejected, namely a Jewish upbringing and a more conventional life.

Simone chooses to follow love, rather than follow their ways. And so she does, all the way to Persia, where she marries Cyrus, a Persian Jew and the shah’s jeweler. But that is just where Simone’s adventure begins, eventually taking her back to Paris and to the diamond mines of Africa.

While certainly lighter than “The Witch of Cologne,” “Courtesan,” to its credit, also does not provide the formulaic happy ending. However, its flowery prose is occasionally too much, and Mossanen’s tendency to imbue her women’s sexuality with supernatural qualities can seem silly at times.

Still, it is refreshing to find a romance that does not rely on its characters’ opposing religions to provide the story’s major obstacle.

Uma Thurman, Shiksa Goddess


Sandra Bullock was all set to take the role of Rafi Gardet in the movie “Prime,” playing the 37-year-old woman who falls in love with a 23-year-old Jewish artist. But two weeks before shooting, Bullock pulled out. The actress told the trades the script hadn’t been revised to her satisfaction, although writer/director Ben Younger insisted that he had gone over all script changes with Bullock. He also said he was perplexed by Bullock’s sudden, lurching departure.

Now, a year later, as the film is being released to good reviews, there’s just one word for the Bullock fiasco: Whatever.

That’s because, shortly after Bullock’s resignation, Uma Thurman signed on for the role.

In a role that seemed to be calling for the ultimate shiksa — the unattainably perfect tall, blonde, very not Jewish woman, who could imagine anyone more perfect than Ms. “Kill Bill”/”Pulp Fiction”/”Truth About Cats and Dogs” Thurman?

“She’s a shiksa goddess,” Younger told The Journal.

“She’s someone who would be irresistible to a nice Jewish momma’s boy,” said the director, who grew up Modern Orthodox and went to yeshiva for elementary and high school.

Uma’s character, Rafi, is for the most part, oblivious to the religious conflict raging between her boyfriend David Bloomberg (Bryan Greenberg) and his mother Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep).

“There’s a huge theme between the fact that she’s sort of agnostic, probably a WASP, non-religious, and he comes from a strong Jewish background and heritage — and that means a lot to him and his family,” Thurman said. “And she’s kind of outside…. In some way she’s not welcome.”

Thurman said her character is “just a typical open person who’s not brought up with religion.”

But that doesn’t mean she won’t fall for a Jewish boy. At one point, Rafi says to her therapist Streep (before confessing that she is dating the therapist’s son): “You were so right about Jewish men. He’s so attentive. I mean, of course, you know, you’re married to one.”

(The Streep character, more to herself than her client, says: “Yes, but he has A.D.D.”)

Younger said Rafi is just expressing what’s out on the street: “Non-Jewish women talk about it, how [Jewish men] are not afraid of closeness and intimacy.”

So what is it about the shiksa goddess type that appeals so much to Jewish men?

“I don’t think it’s the taboo thing,” Younger said. “I think it’s about getting as far away as possible from what you grew up with. It’s probably genetically healthy. I think everyone wants something different.”

“Uma’s the poster child for different as far as Jewish boys go,” Younger said. “You don’t see Uma at the Young Israel.”

Mamet Serves Feast of Foul Language


When actor Steven Goldstein started reading David Mamet’s new play, “Romance,” he was thrown by the relentlessly foul language.

“I read it, and I thought, ‘Ohmygod,'” said the actor who plays the role of a defendant in a court case. “At first, I didn’t know what to make of it. I thought people are going to be in hysterics, or they are going to be offended.”

Reviews of the play, which ran in New York for two and a half months, generally appreciated the humor in the obscenity and racial-epithet laden play. And many in the audience laughed raucously, although others exited the theater by the second act.

Now, L.A. theater patrons will be able to judge for themselves. The play opened this week at the Mark Taper Forum.

The courtroom farce manages to hurl insults at Jews, Arabs, Christians, homosexuals and liberals. The plot, which lurches violently in unforeseen directions, is loosely held together with stream-of-consciousness rants against the above-mentioned groups — and more.

The plot revolves around a chiropractor on trial for some undefined crime for which he may or may not be guilty. The judge is a brain-addled pill-popper, whose mental state is far from the trial at hand.

How offensive do things get? Well, in the second scene, the defense attorney (played by Ed Begley Jr.) reveals his anti-Semitism while yelling at his client, the defendant. Then, he sort of apologizes, explaining that he’s upset because he could be late for taking his son to the “church youth hockey game.”

The defendant pretends to accept the apology, and then volleys back with an explicit remark about the sex act the priest will be inflicting on the boy if the father arrives late. And that’s one of the tamer exchanges.

The two reach a truce when the defendant claims that he has a way to solve the Middle East crisis, and the defense attorney agrees to help him. As it happens, peace talks are taking place in that very city. The two return to the trial, seeking a stay so they can intervene in world events. The denouement has all the characters yelling at each other.

The play says something about American hubris. That is, how is it possible for the United States to be the big peacemaker in the world when its own citizens are so beset with prejudice and anger?

“Mamet wrote this at the height of the Iraq War,” said Goldstein, who has acted in many Mamet productions, including the films “The Untouchables” and “The House of Games.”

“I think he was saying, ‘What right do we have to try to solve the problem in Iraq, when we can’t even solve the problems here?'” the actor said. “I think that is a very Jewish thing — shalom bayit — peace begins at home. It is a truth that can be brought into comedy, because comedy teaches us better in the long run.”

Goldstein, an observant Jew, has taken an apartment downtown so that he can walk to the theater when he is performing on Shabbat. On Yom Kippur, his understudy will take his part.

Theatrically, Goldstein is a devoted Mamet acolyte who calls the playwright his “rebbe.” He took the part because “it is a very true and funny piece that allows us as a community to come to an understanding of ourselves.”

“Basically, I would take anything that Mamet wrote, and I feel honored that he considered me for this,” Goldstein said. “But because he wrote it, I trusted it more.”

Begley expressed a similar confidence in Mamet. To his mind, “Romance” uses humor to make the audience uncomfortable about its latent bigotry.

“David Mamet allows us to recognize that racism is real; that anti-Semitism is real,” Begley said. “It is cathartic to bring some of these words out, which people are probably uttering in country clubs and board rooms. And those people aren’t saying them to take the weight off them, but to give them additional weight.

“To bring it out in the daylight and laugh at people who have those kinds of prejudices, that is kind of healthy,” he said, adding that in the hands of a lesser playwright, such humor would fall flat.

“There is a danger to trifle with these things,” Begley continued. “If you have someone who doesn’t have the skills of David Mamet, that can be dangerous. I think ‘Romance’ is very funny. There is a great relief in laughter. It is quite an elixir, and it can also be quite healing.”

“Romance” is playing at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. For tickets go to

Channel Surf With the Tribe


Welcome to fall: The time of High Holidays, contemplation, repentance and really, really long services.

And did I mention TV?

OK, we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure your calendar is marked with things like “bake brisket, 350 F for five hours” and “bring challah to Goldbergs for break the fast” and “climb neighbor’s palm for sukkah fronds.”

But just maybe you’re also tuned in to another new year. And you’ve also scribbled in: “Watch new ‘Will and Grace'” and “TiVo ‘Alias.'”

With so many returning and premiering shows, it’s hard to know what will make you want to celebrate or just repent the time wasted. Here’s the lowdown on what some of the Jew crew is up to: the shows, the times and, the nu, why you should care. Look fast — some of these won’t be around come Passover.

ABC

“Desperate Housewives”
Sundays, 9 p.m.

Joely Fisher joins the cast this season as Nina, Lynette’s (Felicity Huffman) boss, who is said to be the new “witch with a B” in town. But come on, do you really need a reason to watch this guilty pleasure?

“Commander-in-Chief”
Tuesdays, 9 p.m.

Creator Rod Lurie brings a new look to the White House with a female president (Geena Davis) who takes over when the current prez dies in office. The buzz on this political drama could keep the show in office for a long time.

“Boston Legal”
Tuesdays, 10 p.m.

After this David E. Kelley show was held to make room for “Grey’s Anatomy,” the cast is ready to go — which means less repeats and more hijinx from Denny Crane (William Shatner) in and out of the courtroom.

“Alias”
Thursdays, 8 p.m.
Dead or alive, bad or good, Michael Vartan’s Vaughn is still hot. But is he a hot double agent? And is that bad or what?

“Hot Properties”
Fridays, 9:30 p.m.

“Sex and the City” meets the world of real estate in more ways than one. Evan Handler (Charlotte’s hubby Harry Goldenblatt on the HBO series) plays the psychiatrist next door.

CBS

“How I Met Your Mother”
Mondays, 8:30 p.m.

Five hip 20-somethings on CBS. And they said it couldn’t happen. In this “flashback” show, cutie patootie Jason Segel plays Marshall, whose engagement prompts his friend, Ted (voiced as an adult in 2030 by Bob Saget), to jump on the get-married bandwagon. The sitcom tells us how it went.

“Out of Practice”
Mondays, 9:30 p.m.

What if the Fonz was married to Rizzo and both became doctors. Besides forming the greatest match in pop culture, you’d have a new sitcom starring Henry Winkler as a Dr. Dad with three Dr. Kids and a Dr. Ex-Wife. (Winkler is also putting in an appearance on NBC’s “Crossing Jordan,” Sundays, 10 p.m.)

“The King of Queens”
Mondays, 8 p.m.

How will Arthur (Jerry Stiller) react when his daughter starts taking a pole-dancing class? Probably not so good. But will his displeasure be related to her skill at pole dancing or something else?

“Still Standing”
Wednesdays, 8 p.m.

This season Jami Gertz’s Judy has to deal with a son who just lost his virginity to an Italian con artist. Then there’s the neighbor who has a “Field of Dreams” complex — he builds a whiffle ball field next door. If he builds it, they will whiff?

“Criminal Minds”
Wednesdays, 9 p.m

Special agent Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) heads the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, after coming back from a sabbatical for post-traumatic stress. Yes it is another crime drama, but anything with Indigo Montoya is worth watching.

“Numb3rs”
Fridays, 10 p.m.

Dad Alan (Judd Hirsch) watches as brotherly love turns to sibling rivalry between FBI agent Don (Rob Morrow) and his numbers-loving brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz). Oh, and the two investigate a possible terrorist attack on the L.A. subways. Hmm. Wonder where they got that idea?

FOX

“The War at Home”
Sundays, 8:30 p.m.

Michael Rapaport plays a politically incorrect father of three in this sitcom. Think Bunker meets Bundy, minus some much-needed laughs.

“The Simpsons”
Sundays, 8 p.m.

Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner), Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria), principal Seymour Skinner (Harry Shearer) and the rest of the Springfield gang are back for a 17th season of spoof, satire and, of course, a new “Treehouse of Horror” special.

“Family Guy”
Sundays, 9:30 p.m.

The Griffins, including Lois (Alex Boorstin), Chris (Seth Green) and Meg (Mila Kunis), are up against “Desperate Housewives,” but don’t think that means the folks behind this clever animated show are worried — they’ve got Phyllis Diller.

“Arrested Development”
Mondays, 8 p.m.

Jew-by-choice (sort of) George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is under house arrest in the third season (and his wife decides to do some dating). So plan on some interesting scenes as he attempts to circumcise — er, make that circumvent — the situation.

“That ‘70s Show”
Wedensdays, 8 p.m.

Josh Meyers joins the cast in what is likely its last season — otherwise it would have to become “That Early ‘80s Show.” Look for Jackie (Mila Kunis) to have a run-in with Mary Tyler Moore (who plays a perky news anchor) while Donna (Laura Prepon) tests her love for the missing Eric, who heads to Africa.

“Stacked”
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.

This season the bookstore-themed show focuses less on plot and more on character, so look for less Pamela Anderson chest jokes (Get it? Stacked?) and more background on Marissa Jarret Winokur’s Katrina and Elon Gold’s Gavin. Yeah, right.

“The O.C.”
Thursdays, 8 p.m.

So much drama, so little time. Creator Josh Schwartz says tragedy will mix in with the romance and fun this season — but let’s hope Linda Lavin’s Nana is back for some more guilt, too.

NBC

“Las Vegas”
Mondays, 9 p.m.

After the Montecito imploded last season everything changed for surveillance chief Ed Deline (James Caan). He now has to worry about the “extreme makeover,” missing staff, a new boss and Vegas tourists who attempt to find this fictional casino, which is actually located in Culver City.

“Medium”
Mondays, 10 p.m.

Emmy-winner Patricia Arquette is back as a secret psychic who catches serial killers — say that five times fast — in this spooky sci-fi drama.

“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”
Tuesdays, 10 p.m

The Dick Wolf franchise, which never gets tired of spin-offs, begins season seven with a bang — literally. It’s rumored that one of the detectives will get shot. (Hope it isn’t Richard Belzer’s detective John Munch, whose wry observations offset some of the squad room drama.)

“Will and Grace”
Thursdays, 8:30 p.m.

Creators say after the live season premiere, the quartet — plus Karen’s maid Rosario (Shelley Morrison) — get back to their roots as this sitcom gets ready to say “Shalom.” Grace’s (Debra Messing) ex-husband, Dr. Leo, returns for four episodes and she still has that little problem of having kissed her very married ex-boyfriend.

“The Apprentice”
Thursdays, 9 p.m.

The Donald is back for more fired-up fun, but keep an eye out for 22-year-old Adam, a risk manager from Atlanta, whose family is from Israel and said his background had a “tremendous influence on his values.” Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

“The Poseidon Adventure”
Sunday, Nov. 20, 8 p.m.

This remake of the 1970s Irwin Allen disaster flick version is missing the huge wave, Maureen McGovern’s “Morning After” and Shelley Winters. Instead, we get Steven Guttenberg and terrorists. Welcome to the new millennium.

The WB
“What I Like About You”
Fridays, 8 p.m.

Holly (Amanda Bynes) follows the love of her life on a cross-country trip. The problem is that he’s taking it with another girl. Also watch this season for a mini-90210 reunion.

“Living With Fran”
Fridays, 9:30 p.m.

Fran (Fran Drescher) finally introduces her non-Jewish younger boyfriend to the rest of the mishpacha at a family bar mitzvah. Meanwhile son Josh (Ben Feldman) hits a quarter-life crisis.

F/X
“Nip/Tuck”
Tuesdays, 10 p.m.

Rumor is Joan Rivers is back for more nipping and tucking. And just in the nick (and tuck) of time.

HBO

“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Sundays, 10 p.m.

Is Larry (Larry David) adopted? His father (Shelley Berman) seems to think so. But would either set of parents want to claim him. Plus, watch for Larry to have a religious experience beyond having “Hava Negilah” as his cell phone ringtone.

 

Why Women Stray


“Undressing Infidelity: Why More Wives Are Unfaithful” (Adam Media Corp, $14.95)

Diane Shader Smith is a fearless Jewish mother, or would that be redundant? Smith, with her new, hot-selling book, “Undressing Infidelity: Why More Wives Are Unfaithful” has gone where very few have dared go in unmasking the myth that women don’t stray and actually have fun while doing it.

Women are cheating in every section of the country and in every walk of life, she reported.

“It’s happening in both affluent communities and in areas where money is an issue,” Smith said. “The temptation to stray is part of the human condition.”

Why do wives stray?

“Some women have made the decision to marry a man for security and do so at the expense of passion. Once they have what they thought they always wanted, they still feel something is missing,” she said.

Smith said a woman told her she’d have sex in the afternoon with her lover and sex with her husband at night to ensure he never suspected.

“Women are smart,” Smith said. “They know the warning signs when a man wanders, and they are careful to cover their tracks. Women don’t want to get caught, because they love their husbands and their lives. Their affairs are relationships they claim have nothing to do with their marriage.”

Smith believes women get caught when they want an exit strategy, but when they want to keep the marriage intact, they are very careful. She thinks it’s a misconception that more men cheat than women, and that in reality, for every man who cheats, there’s a woman who cheats, as well — and that includes Jewish women.

“No one should assume married men are sleeping with just single women,” Smith said. “Single women don’t make good partners for married men; they want a date on Saturday night … they want flowers. Married women don’t want things they’d have to explain to their husbands. If they’re smart, they don’t tell their friends, because there is too much at stake, and they have too much to lose.”

The author found cases where women ruined their lives by telling a friend.

“It’s hard for people to keep secrets,” she pointed out. “You wouldn’t want something like that hanging over your head.”

In looking at the generational aspects of adultery, Smith said she was surprised to find women in their 70s admitting to affairs.

“A small percent of older women cheat, but this generation [of younger women] had birth control readily available on campus and grew up reading ‘The Joy of Sex.’ They feel more comfortable with infidelity, more sexually entitled.”

The author said many admitted to enjoying the added drama that comes with an affair, as well as the sex and emotion.

“Women speak about the ritual of anticipation,” she explained. “They dress for their affairs, they bathe for them, they perfume and coif themselves. The process of preparing increases the sense of anticipation.”

The writer reported that most women she interviewed were not having affairs throughout their marriage. However, at some point, she said, they allowed themselves to get close to another man.

“The vast majority of women are not serial cheaters,” Smith explained. “Women said they stepped out once or twice during their marriage, but not time after time.”

At first glance, Smith would appear to be like any other mother and housewife, with two children in Beverly Hills public schools and numerous after-school activities. She wrote the book to satisfy her curiosity about infidelity — when she was tempted to stray.

“I decided that before I did anything, I should talk to other women in the same situation,” Smith said. “There was no ‘Girlfriend’s Guide to Infidelity,’ so I set about to make the subject accessible to women everywhere.”

This led her to every corner of America, interviewing women from all walks of life and economic strata over a four-year period. In doing the research, she found that women cheat for a variety reasons.

“In some cases, it is dissatisfaction in their marriage,” Smith said. “In other cases, women are trying to escape their own personal demons. And then there are those who simply feel they are entitled to enjoy the same extracurricular activities as men.”

There are other contributing reasons for the increase in affairs, too.

“We have no-fault divorce, which means women won’t have their children taken away,” she pointed out. “And anti-depressants, which contribute to sexual problems in marriages. Women like sex — when they’re not satiated at home, they are more likely to stray. And the women who marry for security at the expense of passion find themselves seeking relationships purely for sexual satisfaction.”

Her research revealed that another reason women cheat is because in many marriages, “there is no place for sex and romance, while raising children, paying bills, making sure dinner is on the table and helping kids with homework.”

“A lot of women said their affairs made their marriage better — that it jump-started their own sexuality and helped revitalize the sex in their marriage,” the author found. “Many of the women said they didn’t regret their affairs, because they restored their sense of femininity, which had been diminished by all the demands placed on married women today.”

The author discovered the 40s to be a popular age for infidelity, noting, “Women seem to stray then, because their kids are a little older, and they are no longer so tired all the time.”

“However, it’s also easier to stray at the beginning of a marriage, when there aren’t children, and there’s less of a bond,” she said. “Women with small children are the least likely group to stray, because they are so tired and often less interested in sex, period.”

She said infidelity is a fact of life that people don’t really want to talk about.

“No one sits you down when you get married and tells you how to handle it when you are attracted to another man,” Smith said. “It’s difficult for some people to talk about.”

The interviews revealed that there seemed to be no difference between religious and nonreligious women, when it came to straying from the marriage.

“One woman who was religious said she believed God had led her to her lover, and she left her husband to be with him,” she said.

Smith has concluded infidelity is like a cancer and can take various forms.

“It can be caught early and cured or become malignant and deadly,” she said.

When children find out a parent cheated it is devastating, Smith found, adding that “women owe it to their children to get professional help. It’s wrong to assume they’ll get over it on their own. The world teaches us you do not cheat, so how does a child rationalize his or her mother’s [or father’s] infidelity?”

Smith said every woman has to make her own decision on straying. She believes that cheating is bad, but that women often think it’s better to have the affair than to break up their children’s home.

Her interviews led her to conclude that there are many cases in which a woman is happier if she is enjoying the company of other men. However, in other situations, she noted, an adulterous affair has dropped a bomb on the lives of those involved. Smith found that some women get caught, while others confessed their infidelities and hoped their husbands would forgive them.

After writing the book, Smith said the best advice she can give brides is to make sure they are marrying for the right reasons.

“It’s also important to carve out time for yourself and your husband and be attentive to the romantic and sexual parts of your relationship,” she emphasized. Communication between a man and woman is a great way to minimize the possibility of extramarital sex in a marriage.”

So, after all the interviewing, did Smith stray?

“You’ll have to read the book to find out,” she said with a laugh.

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Mama Said…


Taking relationship advice from your Jewish mother is like heeding a shiksa friend’s advice about curly hair gel. It’s not their area.

Besides, your mom has an agenda: to get you married. Sure, she wants you to be happy. But in her mind, the two may or may not coincide. Consider the following well-meaning but misguided maternal advice:

You Can’t Love Somebody Else Until You Love Yourself. Of course you can! Granted, you may not love the person in a healthy, much less reciprocal way. But you’ll think you’re in love, and the power of a delusional mind and desperate heart are a formidable combination. Besides, love and hate are far enough apart on the scale of emotions that they come full circle and become the same thing. Your self-loathing turns into other-loving, so that the more you hate yourself, the more you love the other person. Don’t wait for self-esteem to kick in before pursuing romance. That could take years of therapy and remember, you’re not getting any younger.

If You Marry for Money, You’ll Pay the Price. Not really. Money’s good and, the fact is, no matter whom you’re with, you’re bound to be disappointed eventually. Wouldn’t you rather be disappointed and rich than disappointed and broke? Think of it this way: You can be disappointed on an estate in Malibu or disappointed in a crappy, roach-infested studio apartment in Reseda. Besides, what better way to drown your disappointment than in a shopping addiction?

You Won’t Meet Anyone by Sitting Home Alone in Front of Your Computer. Actually, I’ve never met more people more quickly than by sitting home alone in front of my computer. It’s like being at a fabulous party, but looking my best (courtesy of a JDate photo taken three years ago) and not having to deal with freeway traffic or second-hand smoke. In fact, my fondest dating encounters recently have taken place from the comfort of my Aeron chair.

Just Be Yourself. Do our mothers really expect us to get to a second date by being ourselves? Will any guy show interest in a judgmental intellectual snob who visibly rolls her eyes when her date says he doesn’t know who Thomas Friedman is? On the other hand, most guys will go ga-ga over a woman who says, “No way! Me, too!” when her date declares that “Tommy Boy” is his all-time favorite movie. So if your date thinks David Spade is an underrated genius and you think David Spade is a moron, feel free to borrow your date’s opinions. If he gushes about Aqualung, gush back for the sake of simpatico. (“Aqualung? Yeah, I love Aqualung!” — even if you’ve never heard of Aqualung.) If he says his favorite movies are “A Clockwork Orange” and “Raging Bull,” there’s no need to mention that yours are “Amelie” and “Lost in Translation.” If he says he’s a vegan who doesn’t eat junk food, stop yourself from talking about your love of Big Macs and Cold Stone chocolate sundaes. (The implication being: We both like healthy food, therefore we like each other.) It’s advisable to take on alternate personalities as we try to guess what type of person might appeal to the object of our affection. Be yourself, on the other hand, and you’ll be by yourself.

If He Can Have the Milk for Free, He Won’t Buy the Cow. Our moms clearly forgot about the sexual revolution. Nowadays, no guy will marry you just for the nooky. So if you’re going to be manipulative, choose something else to withhold. Like the truth about who you really are. Because if you give him that, he’ll probably want to trade you in for a less dysfunctional cow.

Put on Some Lipstick, Mascara and a Cute Outfit When You Go Out for Your Morning Coffee — You Never Know Who You Might Run Into. Nobody wears makeup and a matching Juicy Couture get-up when they roll out of bed on Sunday mornings unless they’re Britney Spears or the Hilton sisters. If I’m all dolled up in the Peet’s line, it doesn’t matter who I run into — guys will be running away from me.

Honest Communication Is Key. Both honesty and communication can wreck an otherwise peaceful courtship. Nothing ends a relationship faster than getting the truthful answer to “What are you thinking about, sweetie?” and having him reply, “I was thinking about what the 19-year-old college student who works at Kinko’s looks like naked.”

Act Uninterested — It’s a Turn-on. A turn-on to whom? We’ve all had our objects of infatuation act uninterested, and it didn’t make us like them more — it just made us like ourselves less.

No disrespect to our mothers, but courtship rituals have changed since they were dating. So forget all their antiquated rules. Except the one about never criticizing your boyfriend’s mother, no matter what. If he secretly hates his mother, he’ll end up hating you instead for merely broaching the subject. In fact, he’ll probably accuse you of hating his mother, and say that he can’t love anyone who hates his mother, even though in truth he loves you and hates his mother. Or else he loves his mother so much that he hates you for demanding a portion of that love. Either way, you lose.

So shut up about his mother. Because this is one area Mom knows something about.

Lori Gottlieb, a commentator for NPR, is the author of “Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self.” Her Web site is www.lorigottlieb.com.

 

The Gold and the Beautful


 

“They hated me, didn’t they, because they barely laughed,” Elon Gold said fretfully after his audition on the new Fox sitcom “Stacked,” starring Pamela Anderson.

“That’s exactly the neurosis your character needs,” Executive Producer Steve Levitan told the 34 year old comic-actor (“You’re the One,” “The In-Laws”).

The anxiety factor is why Gold was hired as a last-minute replacement for Tom Everett Scott, who was deemed too laid back to portray Gavin, the tense bookstore owner employing party girl Skyler (Anderson).

In the promising pilot — which one critic called “‘Frasier’ with boobs” — Gold proved a hilarious comic foil for the vacuous yet surprisingly insightful Anderson. The ex “Baywatch” beauty whose, er, body of work has rendered her America’s iconic blonde bombshell, is the latest celebrity to essentially play herself on TV, albeit not on a reality show.

Gold, in part, is playing himself, too. The character “needs to be an uptight, neurotic intellectual, and I think that Elon can portray that,” Levitan told the New York Daily News.

The comic agrees that his “head is filled with all kinds of crazy problems”; the latest is Levitan’s idea about creating a Marilyn Monroe-Arthur Miller style affair between Gavin and Skyler.

“I’m almost hoping they don’t make my character Jewish, in case romance sparks and I get in trouble from all my relatives for marrying a shiksa,” said Gold, an observant Jew.

The relatives no doubt approve his take on landing the show to “a Purim miracle,” however. On that holiday, Levitan called him in for a meeting and the next night he was surprised in his synagogue parking lot by a Fox executive, with Gold’s contract in hand.

The comic said he was excited to land the sitcom because it’s “a throwback to shows like ‘Cheers’ and ‘Taxi'” and also because of ex-Playboy model Anderson, whom he had ogled on “Baywatch.”

“It doesn’t matter what she wears, she’s provocative,” he said of meeting her on the “Stacked” set. But he’s madly in love with his wife, Sacha, who does not feel threatened by Anderson.

“Her theory is, the more beautiful the actress, the less chance I’d ever have,” Gold said.

“Stacked” airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.

 

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday, March 19

Get straight talk this afternoon, followed by dance, comedy and more talk in this weekend’s “Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival: Roots and Identity.” The fest kicked off on Thursday, but continues through tomorrow, with solo performances of every variety by women from every walk of life.

$17-$20. Lee Strasberg Creative Center, Marilyn Monroe Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. (818) 760-0408. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Sunday, March 20

Go ahead. This is a safe space. Admit it. You are one of those audience members who sings along during musical numbers. Out there in the world, or on any other day in Seven Days even, you would be chastised for such unabashedly rude behavior. But not today. Today you find your niche. Your groove, if you will. Today you find the University of Judaism’s “Fiddler on the Roof” Sing-Along, where you, and others like you, can freely and loudly biddy-bum along with the music of the Oscar-winning movie musical.

$25. 7 p.m. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1547.

Monday, March 21

Four guys and one girl venture off to New York together after graduation to see if they can make it big in the Big Apple. But count on romance and insecurities to get in the way of these artists’ plans to get ahead and get the girl. The love pentagon story is called “Way Off Broadway,” and opens this week at the Laemmle Fairfax.

7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles.(323) 655-4010.

Tuesday, March 22

The acclaimed documentary “The Lost Wooden Synagogues of Eastern Europe” follows the stories of the demises of these sanctuaries. More than 1,000 existed before the Holocaust and the Russian Revolution. Theodore Bikel narrates the film by Albert Barry, who will attend today’s screening sponsored by the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language. It screens at 6:30 p.m. in Yiddish and 8 p.m. in English, with discussions with Barry following both screenings.

6:30-9:30 p.m. $5-$8. UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard, Los Angeles. (310) 745-1190.

Wednesday, March 23

Todd Solondz is an unusual guy. How else does one describe the mind responsible for movies like “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” “Happiness” and the soon-to-be-released “Palindromes”? For those who care to try a little harder, gaining insight may be possible this evening and tomorrow. He’ll be at the American Cinematheque discussing the aforementioned films, with the first two screening tonight, and a sneak preview of “Palindromes” scheduled for tomorrow.

$6-$9. 7:30 p.m. 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456.

Thursday, March 24

Drunken excess reigns tonight, as all the young Jews do Purim right at the Skirball. Roots and area Hillels, along with the Persian American Jewish Organization, Siamak and Bruins for Israel sponsor “Queen Esther’s Ball.” College students and young professionals don the masks and head out for a memorable night they won’t remember in the morning.

9 p.m. $15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Roots613@aol.com.

Friday, March 25

Harry Shearer, of “Le Show,” “This Is Spinal Tap” and “The Simpsons” fame introduces the Ernst Lubitsch/Jack Benny classic film “To Be or Not To Be” in his own voice tonight. It’s part of AFI and the Skirball’s series “Cinema’s Legacy: How Great Filmmakers Inspire Great Filmmakers,” and a discussion on the film led by Shearer follows.

$6-$10. 7:30 p.m. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (866) 468-3399.

The 99-Cent Solution


Dating a woman in Los Angeles can be an expensive proposition. But must it be one? Don’t all the greatest religious and spiritual masters tell us that true happiness comes from within? Does genuine dating success require that a man spend more than $100 on his date? Is not a man more than a wallet and some testosterone? Do I ask too many questions?

I decided on a dating expense experiment never before attempted (or at least admitted) in the course of human dating history: I decided I was going to have a wonderful first date, and spend less than $20 doing so. That’s right, less than $20 on a date in Los Angeles. OK, I know. I can hear women throughout the city exclaiming, “Cheapskate! Loser! No way!” Hey, they poked fun at Columbus, but he showed them. He found a way of impressing women without having to spend a fortune — simply by discovering a continent. Surely my date will admire my thriftiness, my resourcefulness, my imagination and creativity. I’ll discover a continent of inexpensive fun.

And so, armed with 20 big ones in cold, hard cash, I strode confidently and determinedly into the one place where I knew I’d get great value for my money — the 99-Cent-Only Store at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Sixth Street in Los Angeles. The store with not one — but two — mottoes: “Shop Us First! The Smart Shoppers Do!” and “Nothing Over 99 Cents Ever!” I felt at home. I looked for the “Cheap Daters Welcome Here!” sign, but apparently it was being repaired.

Flash forward to the date. I arrive at Sarah’s place wearing my playful Looney Tunes tie (a $9.99 value!), with a gift for her — an official Olympics Souvenir Program. A collector’s item! It originally sold for $12.95, but I got it for, yes, 99 cents. Oh, sure, it was for the 1984 Olympics, but that makes it a 20th anniversary collector’s item. Nor did I forget her cat, who I surprised with a Whiskas four-pack of Chicken and Seafood. Before we get in the car, I take out a big canister of 21 pieces of jumbo colored chalk, and right there on the sidewalk I create a multicolored heart with Sarah + Mark inside. I bet her wealthy boyfriends never did that! So far, so good!

We drive to the beach. (Free scenery!), where the heat is no problem because I’m thoughtful enough to bring along Pinnacle Drinking Water, six for 99 cents, with sports cap. We sit there munching on Granny Goose’s 13 oz. Size of tortilla chips and Sun Maid six-pack of raisins. I even immortalize our fun with my new 35mm “Famous Name” 99-cent camera containing 99-cent color print film.

By my count, we had only gone through $9 of my $20 of purchases, when Sarah said, “OK, what’s going on?” I said, “What do you mean?” all innocent-like. She mentions my tie, the chalk, the cat food and goes in my bag and pulled out the remaining purchases, including Sesame Street Chocolate Chip Cookies, Krazy Glue, a solar-powered calculator, Famous Publishers Books and Matchbox “Around the World” Cars.

“Are you losing it, Mark? What is all this?” I told her of my experiment and my plans later on for the Krazy Glue and the cars. And it’s not that she told me that this was to be our first and last date, but I inferred it from the lack of response to my subsequent 12 phone calls.

I’m sure Sarah told all her friends. And they told their friends, and so on. Because whenever I’m out in public, I get the strangest looks from women. As though they’re thinking, “So you’re the loser who took Sarah on the 99-Cent-Only Store date.” I still believe that true happiness comes from within. But I realize now that on the journey of romance, thrift and creativity will take you only so far — for the rest of the trip, you’ll need Visa and MasterCard.n

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net.