Israel rabbi: Deadly parking garage collapse due to Shabbat desecration


An Israeli rabbi said the collapse of a parking garage under construction in Tel Aviv that killed six was due to lack of Sabbath observance.

Rabbi Meir Mazuz, the head of the Tunisian Jewish community in Israel, made the comments during a lecture he delivered Saturday night in Bnei Brak, Ynet reported.

“What happened, the disaster this week — nothing like this ever happens. There are engineers, there are smart people, there are inspectors — and dozens of people are buried underground. It all comes because they disrespect Shabbat,” he said, according to Ynet.

“Running away from Shabbat is the largest mistake in the world … prime ministers need to understand that the Shabbat will not forgive … the Almighty gave us a good gift, the Shabbat … you must not harm the Shabbat.”

His remarks came following a government crisis over Saturday repairs to Israel’s railroad.

Haredi Orthodox political parties had called for a halt to the work and threatened to bolt the ruling coalition if it was not cancelled, which could have toppled the government.

The rabbi’s remarks reportedly were directed at state-sponsored work, not individual observance.

He also blamed the pre-launch explosion of Israel’s Amos 6 satellite on Shabbat desecration. The launch was scheduled for Shabbat. He said a previous Amos satellite was deployed successfully because it had not been launched on Shabbat.

Mazuz is the spiritual leader of the Yachad party, founded by former Sephardic Orthodox Shas Party leader Eli Yishai. The party did not receive enough votes in the last election to gain any seats in the Knesset.

Hours before Mazuz spoke, search and rescue workers removed the sixth and last body from the rubble of the collapsed garage.

Three of the dead workers have been named as: Oleg Yakubov, 60, of Tel Aviv; Dennis Dyachenko, 28, a foreign worker from Ukraine, and Ihad Ajhaj, 34, a West Bank Palestinian.

A fourth worker has been identified as Muhammad Dawabsheh, 29, from Duma in the West Bank. He is a relative of the family members who were killed in a July 2015 firebomb attack on their home allegedly by right-wing Jewish extremists.

Nevada Jewish vote in question due to Shabbat date, caucus confusion


Jewish voters in Nevada suffer the same affliction as anyone else ahead of caucuses in the presidential race: No one is quite sure how the damn system works.

“A big part of what we do is to educate people about what a caucus is,” said Joel Wanger, the point man for the Hillary Clinton campaign in this city’s Jewish community.

The Democratic caucus takes place on Saturday — a problem for Sabbath-observing Jews. Orthodox groups, including the Orthodox Union, have registered complaints. Republicans will hold their caucus on the following Tuesday.

Wanger, who is also the Clinton campaign’s regional organizational director, enumerated the questions he encounters: “What is a caucus? How does it work? Will Hillary be there? Does it cost any money?”

This is how it works for Democrats: Party voters meet and talk until a majority in the room is ready to elect delegates to a county convention. The presidential candidate who accrues the most delegates is the winner.

Clinton may turn up at one or two caucuses. One need not pay to vote, one has only to register with the party – allowed even on the day of the caucus.

Wanger said he gets those questions at get-togethers targeting Latinos, blacks or Jews. For the Jews, Wanger, who has been in the state since last summer, has organized Sukkot parties and run an explanatory session at the Adelson Educational Campus, a Jewish school. Students who will be 18 by November are eligible to vote in the caucuses. Wanger says he’s probably reached 300 Jewish voters.

Republican Jews say it’s no different for them.

“The average person I talk to doesn’t know what a caucus is,” said Sandy Mallin, who has headed Jewish campaigns in the state for Republicans in previous elections.

“I don’t know anybody who is going to caucus,” she said, quickly adding that she likely will.

Carolyn Goodman, the mayor of Las Vegas, poses with a photo of her family in her office, Feb. 10, 2016. (Ron Kampeas)Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, showing a family photo in her office, says the “Clinton names means a whole lot here,” Feb. 10, 2016

Part of the problem is that caucuses are a relatively new phenomenon out here. Until 2008, the state held regular primaries. Statewide caucuses were established that year to help raise Nevada’s consequence as the “first in the West” state — the third nominating state after Iowa and New Hampshire.

Nevadans, unlike Iowans, have yet to internalize the hours-long experience of meeting in a living room, school auditorium, storefront or church hall and grouping themselves according to preferred candidate.

Another problem is the state’s turnover. Unlike Iowans, who might be part of generations-old families in the state, the Nevada population is much more transient, with population booms when times are good and decreases when the economy sours. For many voters, the caucus will be a first-time experience.

“At one point we were the fastest-growing community in the country,” said Todd Polikoff, the CEO of the Las Vegas Jewish Federation. “In 2004, 6,000 people were coming to Nevada a month, 600 of them Jews.”

Then came the bust in 2007-08. Polikoff thinks the current Jewish population of the state is well below the 89,000 assessed the last time the federation commissioned a study, in 2005.

The departure of voters and their replacement by others make it hard to figure exactly what the political composition of the Jewish community is at any given moment, said Michael Green, an associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who specializes in the state’s history.

More recently, he said, there appears to be an influx of Orthodox Jews and retired Jews, suggesting the community is likelier to tack further to the right than other Jewish communities.

“Democrats in that demographic tend to lean more conservative,” he said of Jews over 55. Regarding the Orthodox, he said: “There are more Republicans here in the Jewish community than there used to be, and they’re not all named Sheldon Adelson.”

Adelson, the Jewish casino magnate who is worth some $18 billion, is a major Republican backer.

Clinton’s campaign has attracted some out-of-state Jews to push for her in Nevada.

At a debate party at a Clinton campaign office in suburban Las Vegas on Feb. 11, there were at least four out-of-state Jews. Three were women who had just graduated from Northeastern colleges, and the fourth was Randy Gingiss, a 70-year-old law professor from the University of South Dakota who was exploring retirement opportunities in Las Vegas and was lured into working the phone bank.

Until Clinton was trounced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the New Hampshire primary, Nevada was seen as a likely easy win for the former secretary of state because of its substantial population of Latinos, blacks and union members. But absent accurate polling over the last couple of months, it’s hard to tell if that is still the case. Sanders signs have popped up throughout the city since the New Hampshire vote, especially on the UNLV campus.

The preferences of Las Vegas’ wealthiest Jews are well known – particularly those of Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who are kingmakers in Republican politics. They reportedly are wavering between Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The newspaper Adelson recently acquired, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has endorsed Rubio.

Brian Greenspun is among the city’s most prominent Jewish friends of the Clintons (and the son of a Hank Greenspun, who helped smuggle arms to the nascent State of Israel). The head of the Greenspun Corp., which is deeply involved in an array of Las Vegas entertainment and media businesses,  the younger Greenspun roomed with Bill Clinton at Georgetown University and has been close to the couple for decades.

“Bill Clinton would come out with regularity and stay with the Greenspuns,” Carolyn Goodman, the city’s mayor and herself the matriarch of a prominent Las Vegas Jewish family, said in an interview in her high-rise office overlooking the strip. “The Clinton name means a whole lot here.”

Shelley Berkley, a former Democratic congresswoman who is now CEO of the Touro University campus in neighboring Henderson, said the failure of the Democrats to find a solution to the Shabbat problem is likely to exacerbate the aggravation arising from tensions between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over last year’s Iran nuclear deal.

“I offered to open up Touro after sundown to enable practicing Jews that want to participate in the process to caucus, but I was told that was not possible,” she said of the state Democratic Party.

“There’s a large segment of the Jewish community that is very unhappy because of the vote on the Iran agreement” — most Democratic lawmakers in Congress backed the deal, though many with trepidation. “Those that are chafing because of the vote, followed by the Democratic Party caucusing on Saturday – it’s left a bad taste in a number of people’s mouths,” said Berkley, who is backing Clinton.

Ben Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist. Here’s why it matters


When Joe Lieberman became the first observant Jew with a reasonable chance at being president – after Al Gore named him his vice presidential running mate in 2000 – he faced a host of questions about how his Sabbath observance might impact his presidential duties.

Now that Ben Carson, a Seventh Day Adventist, has emerged at the top of the polls in the Republican presidential primary, he’s facing similar questions about his religion.

So far, Carson’s faith — which, like Judaism, celebrates the Sabbath on Saturday and abjures eating the non-kosher animals listed in the Book of Leviticus — hasn’t been an impediment to his campaign.

The neurosurgeon-turned-candidate doesn’t seem to be a Sabbath-observer in the strictest sense: He has held campaign rallies on Saturday and made Saturday stops on book tours. But Carson says he tries to respect the day of rest.

“Sabbath is still a precious day for us. We go to church as often as we can,” he told the Adventist News Network in 2013. “Even if we’re on the road we treat it as a different day than all the others.”

Carson is a member of the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Spencerville, Md. As a Seventh Day Adventist, Carson adheres to a little-understood Protestant religious group that emerged in mid-19th century America and now has some 1.2 million members nationwide and more than 18 million around the world.

While the religion shares some commonalities with Judaism, Adventists believe the second coming of Jesus may be imminent. The Adventist church also focuses on health and wellness, and members are encouraged, but not required, to forgo alcohol, tobacco and meat.

Carson is on a mostly vegetarian diet, but he does eat milk and egg products and occasionally chicken.

More relevant politically, Carson frequently cites his faith as the reason for his policy positions. On taxation, for example, Carson has proposed a tithing system.

“When I pick up my Bible, you know what I see? I see the fairest individual in the universe, God, and he’s giving us a system. It’s called tithes. Now we don’t necessarily have to do it 10 percent, but it’s the principle,” Carson said in a 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. “You make $10 billion, you put in a billion, you make $10, you put in one. Of course, you’ve got to get rid of the loopholes.”

Like many other Christian candidates, he also cites religion for his opposition to abortion, including in cases of rape or incest (though not if the mother’s life is in jeopardy).

“All you have to do is go and look up the many stories of people who have led very useful lives who were the result of rape or incest,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” this week.

Carson, who cites Jesus as his role model, also has some pronounced views about Americans of other faiths. He suggested in September that he’d have trouble with a Muslim in the White House, saying that any Muslim who became president would have to reject certain tenets of Islam that are incompatible with the presidency.

“I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam,” Carson explained on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “If they are not willing to reject sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about in the Koran — if they are not willing to reject that, and subject that to American values and the Constitution, then of course, I would.”

He also believes Jews shouldn’t take offense if someone wishes them a “Merry Christmas.”

“People are afraid of saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at Christmastime,” he said in his 2013 National Prayer Breakfast speech. “It doesn’t matter if the person you’re talking to is Jewish or whether they’re any religion. That’s a salutation of greeting, of goodwill. We’ve got to get over this sensitivity.”

More controversially, Carson suggested in a new book and in interviews in early October that gun control was partially responsible for Hitler’s slaughter of Europe’s Jews, allowing the Nazis to “carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance.” His comments came as part of his reaction to the deadly mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., after which Carson argued that better armed citizens, rather than gun control, is the best way to stop such mass killings.

Several weeks later, Carson defended his comments, saying on “Meet the Press,” “I’ve heard from many people in the Jewish community, including rabbis, who said, ‘You’re spot on. You are exactly right.’”

Like many devout believers of all faiths, Carson attributes his successes in life to God.

“There’s no question God sets these things up. My whole life, I feel, has been orchestrated by him,” Carson said in 2013. “We always have to remember that no matter what’s going on, no matter how much of a spotlight we have, that all of that comes from God and everything we do should reflect glory on his name.”

The Shabbos Project at Nessah


Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills drew more 1,000 people for a Shabbat of global proportions on Oct. 24 and 25, as it participated in The Shabbos Project, a worldwide movement initiated last year in South Africa.

Locally, Friday night’s celebration was still going strong into the early hours of the morning, when Nessah had to close its facilities and cut the party short. Activities resumed later on Saturday. 

“We had to kick everybody out at 2 a.m.,” said Josh Golcheh, president of Nessah’s event committee, who organized the sold-out event, one of more than 1,000 that took place across the globe. Tickets ranged from $26 for both days to $101 for VIP tickets. 

Attendees flooded in from surrounding areas, including Beverly Hills, Pico-Robertson, Beverlywood and Westwood, and they ranged in level of observance from secular to Orthodox. The days included Shabbat meals, lectures, music and dancing.

Debbie Yeroshalmi, who helped Golcheh organize the event at the Iranian synagogue, reflected simply on what she saw: “I was in awe.”

More than 460 cities in 64 countries participated in The Shabbos Project over the weekend when, from sundown to sundown, Jews around the world united to observe the Sabbath. Although Shabbos Project organizers do not have a final count, they guess that no fewer than 1 million people participated overall.

Even musician Paula Abdul joined in. In a YouTube video uploaded by The Shabbos Project, Abdul explained, “I first heard about The Shabbos Project from the chief rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Warren Goldstein. He contacted me personally and invited me to join this phenomenal project. And when the chief rabbi calls … what? Like I’m going to turn him down?” 

Last year, Goldstein came up with the idea that all of South Africa’s Jews would unite and collectively observe one Sabbath together, whether they were observant or not. As a result, 20,000 Jewish South Africans kept Shabbat. It was so successful that this year his project went global. 

As an executive board member of Aish LA, an organization that works to get Jewish people involved on their own terms, Golcheh was approached by The Shabbos Project to organize an event in Los Angeles. Eventually, he rounded up eight co-sponsors, which included the young professionals program MyAish LA, Yachad Kollel and Outreach Center, GoSephardic, Hillel at UCLA, Haichal Moshe, Young Adults Living Life According to Hashem and Jewish Unity Network.

Overall, the event cost approximately $50,000 and was funded by The Shabbos Project, Nessah and event co-sponsors, according to Gocheh. 

In order to prep for the two-day Shabbat extravaganza, hundreds of women gathered on Oct. 23 for the Great Big Challah Bake at Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu on South Detroit Street. The Shabbos Project also hosted challah bakes in Irvine and Valley Village, according to the website TheShabbosProject.org.

Then, at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nessah’s front doors opened for check-in, followed by services, candle lighting, shmoozing and dinner. Inside, the subtle decor was accented with white tablecloths paired with white lanterns. Catered food included platters of rice, meats and stews. Alcohol was in abundance, and by the end of dinner, Yeroshalmi said, people were dancing on tabletops. 

“Everyone was outside, people were sitting with random people, getting to know each other. Honestly, it was really beautiful,” Yeroshalmi said.

The keynote speaker, Rabbi Chaim Levy, director at GoSephardic, a nonprofit for Sephardic youths ages 18 to 36, flew in from Jerusalem and spoke both Friday and Saturday. Saturday began at 9 a.m. with morning services and, followed by another day of festivities, was book-ended with a Havdalah service at 7 p.m.

“This was truly one of the most amazing Shabbats of my life,” Gocheh kvelled

Believing is Seeing (Exodus 33:12-34:26)


The reading for Shabbat Chol HaMoed, the Sabbath of the intermediate days of Pesach (and Sukkot), describes one of the more exciting moments in Torah: the closest encounter any human has with God.

Following the sin of the Golden Calf and Moses’ advocacy for the people, he makes a personal request. He asks to see God. This is somewhat surprising, as we have just been told that God, in the form of a cloud, regularly meets with Moses “face to face” in the Tent of Meeting.  But this is apparently not enough, or not the real deal. Moses ups the ante and requests to see God’s kavod, a term usually translated as “honor,” but in this context, clearly refers to God’s physical being. 

Impossible, retorts God, “Humans may not see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20).  This lesson is learned later by Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu, after they bring an unauthorized sacrifice in the Tent of Meeting. Explaining their resulting death, God says, “Through those close to me, I am sanctified” (Leviticus 10:3), intimating that those who get too close to the Holy One are no longer for this world.  

But the danger does not deter Moses. It is easy to understand why. This is the apogee of the spiritual quest: to be close with the Source of all.

Contrast this with the great distance between the Israelites and God during the Golden Calf episode.  God is absent; the relationship with the people is broken by their sin. Afterward, the relationship is renewed but reflects the distance.  The stern, punishing Judge exacts a terrible price for idolatry and disobedience (Exodus 32:35).

In this context, Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai is especially instructive. God agrees to Moses’ request, and after Moses climbs the mountain, God places him in the cleft of the rock. There he is protected from direct contact with God’s “face” or front as God passes by, but Moses is able to see God’s “acher,” apparently God’s back (there are numerous interpretations).

That is as close as any human can be to God’s direct, unmediated presence. The message is clear. There are limits to the encounter with God. There are limits to our understanding. The “face” of God remains a mystery.  

Still, not all is mystery. God communicates with humans. The revelation on Sinai shows that God’s ways can be known.  

The gap between two humans in a relationship can be measured by physical proximity, and it can also be measured by the emotions and behaviors in a relationship — expanded by hatred and jealousy, or closed through love and respect.  

So, too, in the relationship with God. In the next chapter, the question of how to maintain the proper distance with God is fleshed out in non-physical terms: Eschew other gods, forsake idols, bring first fruits, appear before God three times a year (a reference to later times when Israelites went up to Jerusalem on the pilgrimage festivals) and, during Passover, refrain from leavened foods (Exodus 34:10-26).  

Perhaps this is why we read of Moses’ encounter with God on the Shabbat of Pesach. Chametz, the yeast, the defining characteristic of that which we are forbidden to eat on Passover, puffs up the dough. It is likened in our sources to an unhealthy, infatuated-with-oneself ego, the urge that leads people to overreach, even if reaching for the holy.  

Chametz also symbolizes human creativity. While God is responsible for wheat, we humans make bread. We are so successful in manipulating our world, we might think that humans can truly be independent and in control. But once a year (and every Shabbat) we accept God’s limits on our industry, reminding ourselves that we can easily forget God’s role and become obsessed with our part of the creative process and the illusion of our power.  

The proper relationship with God — close but not too close — is the fruit of what the Torah later calls Moses’ greatest virtue: humility.  

On the mountain, when Moses is near, yet far enough away to be protected in the cleft of the rock, God proclaims what we humans can know: God’s attributes and God’s ways, “… compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity … (Exodus 34:6-7).” 

Here we do not see the harsh Judge, but the Compassionate Leader or Parent. As God describes it, when we are close but not too close, “I will make kol tuvi, all My goodness, pass over you” (Exodus 33:19).

Tel Aviv allowing some stores to do business on Shabbat


Tel Aviv will permit a limited number of grocery and convenience stores to stay open on the Sabbath and holidays.

The municipality’s City Council approved an amendment on March 24 giving the stores the go-ahead, but the country’s Interior Ministry also must approve.

It is illegal in Israel to open retail businesses on the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday and ends after sunset on Saturday.

“We mustn’t turn this issue into a religious war,” Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said during council debate on the issue, according to reports.

Huldai also said, “The principle that led to this bill is keeping the Tel Aviv spirit, one that cares for the Shabbat as the day of rest, as a social value in the Jewish state, and also allows for the provision of services and the freedom for everyone to use this day of rest as they wish.”

Ynet reported that Charedi-Orthodox Councilman Rabbi Naftali Lubert said the vote was “a black day,” and called those who voted for the amendment “traitors.”

Last June, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality to enforce a bylaw that bans its businesses from opening on Saturday.

The high court ruled that the municipality and two large supermarket chains violated the municipal by-law against opening on the Sabbath. The court suggested the city could change the bylaw to allow businesses to remain open on Saturday.

The owners of the small shops claimed they were losing customers to the chains that could afford to remain open on Saturday and absorb the modest fines levied for their transgression.

The guy who missed the Malaysia Airlines flight


The popular travel discount blog Dan’s Deals is circulating a story that a Jewish passenger who was supposed to be on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane was switched to an alternative flight because his Orthodox Jewish travel agent in Israel refused to book him on an itinerary that would have him traveling on Shabbat.

Under Orthodox Jewish law, facilitating someone else’s Sabbath desecration — boarding an airplane — is as forbidden as desecrating the Sabbath oneself.

Here’s the email exchange on January 13 and 14 between the passenger, identified as Andy, and the travel agent. The emails were posted online by Dan’s Deals with the identifying details removed.

Andy: One amendment, I need the KUL-PEK flight a day later. I need the extra day in Kuala. once that is set you can lock in.

Travel Agent: I wish I can give you a day later, but you know I just don’t like flying Jews on Shabbat. I can take that leg out if you want and you book yourself.

Andy decides to book the flight himself but later changes his mind:

Andy: I reconsidered, you are right I should be more observant, I’ll manage without that day in Kuala. Since I’ll have an extra night in PEK Any recommendations for a good Friday night dinner in Beijing?

Agent: Ok, glad to hear. Try this: http://www.chabadbeijing.com/

Then, on March 8, Andy writes:

Holy God,

You sure heard what happened to MH370

I cannot stop thinking about this.

This is a true miracle for the books. You are a true life saver…

I cannot think anymore! We’ll talk later this week. Don’t know how to thank you enough

(See the full email exchange here.)

When I tried to verify the authenticity of the story with Daniel Eleff of Dan’s Deals, he sent me this message:

At this time the travel agent and the passenger are opting to remain anonymous. There has been a fair amount of negative feedback and they are choosing to wait until the fate of the flight in known to determine if they’ll go public.

I have personally verified the story and can vouch for its authenticity.  The emails I posted with time stamps are unaltered except to remove identifiable information.

Man gunned down as gangland crime wave rocks Israel


Two gunmen on a motorcycle killed a man as he drove near Tel Aviv's bustling beachfront on Saturday, in what Israeli police suspected was the latest in a wave of gangland murders and attacks.

The drive-by shooting took place in broad daylight, as families and tourists walked nearby on the afternoon of the Jewish Sabbath.

This month alone, there have been three car bombings, two of them deadly, aimed at underworld figures, bringing back to the streets of Israeli cities the sounds of explosions that were once almost solely the hallmarks of Palestinian attacks during a 2000-2005 uprising.

Israel's Internal Defense Minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, described the outburst of violence as “terrorism plain and simple” during a parliamentary address on Wednesday, stepping up pressure on police to catch the culprits.

Police said the man killed on Saturday was known to police, without going into further details.

“The murder is suspected to be part of a criminal turf war … The shooters fled the scene in a getaway vehicle,” the force said on Twitter.

“We heard the shooting when we were on our way here and couldn't believe it was happening so close to us,” an Israeli woman called Dana told the Ynet news website.

A number of recent car bombs went off in residential neighbourhoods, one of them exploding at night near a kindergarten. In November a device was detonated in the vehicle of an Israeli prosecutor who dealt with high-level criminals.

Briefing parliament this week, police said explosives were widely available and relatively cheap.

Police chief Yohanan Danino said most of the explosives used by criminals came from army stockpiles.

“This has been going on for years but the phenomenon is growing,” he told reporters this week, adding that police were working with the military to prevent explosives reaching the streets.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Heavens

On the eighth day, God made oxycodone


New York City narcotics agents announced the indictment of five Brooklyn men yesterday, members of a Sabbath-observant drug ring that operated out of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

Defendants Jack Zibak, 28; Jack Zaibak, 24; Eduard Sorin, 38; David Gerowitz, 37; and Philip Mandel, 25, were charged with multiple crimes, from illegal possession of narcotics to illegal possession of a weapon, according to CBS news.

Police reportedly seized around 900 doses of heroin, as well 335 oxycodone pills, cocaine, Xanax, Suboxone and Klonopin from the group during their initial arrest in April. They also found a sawed-off shotgun and ammunition.

The name of the NYPD sting operation that led to the drug bust? Only After Sundown.

Though cavalier about New York’s drug laws, the group was scrupulous about observing the Sabbath. Text messages from members of the gang show them alerting their clientele of their weekly sundown-to-sunset hiatus.

“We are closing 7:30 on the dot and we will reopen Saturday 8:15 so if u need anything you have 45 mins to get what you want,” they wrote in a group text-message to clients.

Tel Aviv eyeing way to let businesses open on Sabbath


The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality is working to change a city by-law that bans businesses from opening on the Jewish Sabbath.

City officials told the Israeli Supreme Court late Tuesday night that the municipality would not fine businesses that until now have opened consistently on Saturday.

In June, the court ordered the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality to enforce a by-law that bans its businesses from opening on Saturday.

On Tuesday, the municipality said it would fine new businesses that open on Saturday in contravention of the law. The by-law also will be enforced against businesses that disturb the public order.

At the same time, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai asked the city’s attorney to create an amendment to the by-law that “enables the existence of a day of rest alongside each resident’s freedom to enjoy it as he or she sees fit,” Haaretz reported.

The high court justices ruled in June that the municipality and two large supermarket chains violated the municipal bylaw against opening on the Jewish Sabbath. The court suggested the city could change the by-law to allow businesses to remain open on Saturday.

The owners of the small shops claimed they were losing customers to the chains that could afford to remain open on Saturday and absorb the modest fines levied for their transgression.

The justices also suggested that the municipality continuously violated the by-law in order to collect the fines.

Seeking a shul’s history


When Henry Leventon, his wife and three daughters attended their first Sabbath service at Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock (TBI) in 1976, the gabbai at the synagogue immediately approached.

“Just what we need: a young man and his family!” the sexton greeted them enthusiastically. Leventon, considering himself hardly youthful at age 49, saw the aging worshipers and understood the intent.

The synagogue in northeast Los Angeles was fading. The migration from the small Jewish communities in the two neighborhoods, and the larger one in nearby Boyle Heights, had started in the 1950s to western parts of the city and the San Fernando Valley. By the 1970s, assembling a minyan was difficult. And the situation worsened through the 1990s. 

Still, the synagogue hung on, its members resisting calls to disband or merge with other congregations.

In recent years, though, TBI, as it is known, has experienced a revival. Young couples and their children are moving into the area and coming to the synagogue from more distant areas. TBI now has approximately 170 families as members, services are held every Sabbath morning and two Friday nights each month, a Hebrew school operates, and b’nai mitzvah and adult education classes meet.

Against the odds, TBI is poised to celebrate the 90th anniversary of its founding, which occurred on Dec. 23, 1923. 

To mark the occasion at this year’s Chanukah party, one of TBI’s recent arrivals, Delaine Shane, is assembling an exhibition of the synagogue’s history. She is soliciting items that help document the history — “anything that connects the people to the temple,” she said. Photographs, home movie clips, journals, letters and stories preserved by congregants and their descendants, wherever they may be — Shane wants them all. 

High on the wish list are the magazines published jointly by TBI and a local B’nai B’rith lodge in the 1940s and 1950s, The Jewish Observer in Highland Park, and photographs from the official opening of the TBI building — the only one built by the congregation — in December 1930. She’s hoping to come up with any printed material from the dedication event, too.

Poking around closets, she found 1930s-era lighting fixtures, an American flag presented to TBI in 1939, a wooden synagogue sign from the late ’40s and beautiful stained-glass windows removed for safekeeping. Her search of United States census records and city directories, as well as building permits and maps, provided insight into the synagogue’s founders and its early years.

One nugget she uncovered: A founder asked the local mailman to provide the Jewish names and their addresses of those living along his route. The information helped in recruitment.

All the information, and any donated mementos, will be preserved for TBI’s newer generations.

The effort to document the synagogue’s rise, fall and ascent anew “underscores the fallacy that Los Angeles and California have no history, let alone Jewish history,” said Stephen Sass, the president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California.

The central story, he said, is the congregation hanging on long enough to see better times.

“A few years ago there was a film, ‘The Miracle of Intervale Avenue,’ about the last congregation in the South Bronx,” Sass said of the New York neighborhood. “Well, this is the miracle on Monte Vista Street.”

By contrast, he said no congregations remain in Boyle Heights, the hub of early-20th century Jewish life that once boasted more than 30 synagogues. Sass has been a leader in the efforts to restore the neighborhood’s Breed Street Shul as an art, culture and education center in what has long been a largely Latino community.

Shane chairs TBI’s history committee, whose members are deciding how to organize the exhibition. The synagogue’s interior is just 3,800 square feet, so the exhibition will not be permanent, although historic photos will continue to adorn the social hall. 

Shane, an environmental specialist for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, personifies the synagogue’s renaissance. She and husband Russell, along with their daughter, Sarah, now 10, stumbled upon the building in 2008, when they began considering a move closer to the city from suburban Sherman Oaks. Their home in South Pasadena is a five-minute ride from TBI.

“As a young person, I was always looking for a temple I could click with,” said Shane, who was raised in a Conservative synagogue; TBI first affiliated with the Conservative movement and now is independent.

“I walked in [to TBI] and it was very warm, haimish,” she said, using the Yiddish word for homey. 

“Since so many shuls in Los Angeles are gone now, but TBI remains, I think that it is imperative to preserve this temple’s history,” she said. “I also think it is a great example for our current members and future congregants that their participation, volunteerism and overall involvement does make a significant difference [to] this temple. Were it not for the people of the past, my family would not be able to celebrate and cherish the Jewish community we now have at TBI.” 

Leventon, 83 and a widower, is among those who kept things going for people like Shane. The native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, occasionally has to rebuff his daughters’ pleas to move from the city. In that way, he exemplifies the will of those who welcomed him to the congregation long ago.

“We struggled along and struggled along, and now we’re having an upswing with young families,” said Leventon, TBI’s president from 1987 to 2005.

“To have family services [the first Friday each month], for an old-timer like me, is a novelty,” he said. “We’ve had a few bar and bat mitzvahs in the past year, when we hadn’t had any for decades.”

For further information and to donate/loan memorabilia, contact Delaine Shane at tbihistory@earthlink.net.

Beren loses quadruple overtime thriller


Beren Academy, which made international headlines last year with its battle to avoid a forfeit in the Texas state boys' basketball tournament over a Sabbath scheduling conflict, lost a quadruple overtime game in the state semifinals.

Beren lost by one-point to Boerne Geneva after a last-second layup to win the game rimmed in and out. The Houston Jewish day school was down by three points in the closing seconds of the third overtime, but kept thier chances alive with a running three-pointer to tie the game at the buzzer.

The schools were playing a semi-final game in Fort Worth in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools 2A tournament — for schools with enrollments of 55 to 120 students. Supporters say Beren would have been the first Jewish school to win a state championship.

Beren lost in the 2A title game last season after initially being forced to forfeit its semifinal because the game, scheduled for Friday night, conflicted with the Sabbath. The academy fought TAPPS to have the game rescheduled to Friday afternoon and eventually won the battle.

Following the controversy, TAPPS instituted a new policy, posted on the association’s website, stating that religious accommodation “shall be the standard as TAPPS prepares for state competitions that are accessible to all member schools and the students that they serve through team activities.” The new policy went into effect for the 2012-13 school year.

Meanwhile, Chicagoland Jewish High School is set to play Saturday night for a trip to the Class 1A state semifinals in Illinois.

Nice Jewish goys


On a recent Friday night, a group of 20-something foodies gathered to celebrate Shabbat. Well, maybe not 'celebrate' in the traditional sense of prayers and candles, but a Sabbath meal all the same. In the back of a thrift store in downtown Manhattan, two long wooden tables had been erected for a family-style eating experience among the displays of distressed jeans and vintage belts.

Several times a week, the store is turned from a Soho boutique into City Grit, a 'culinary salon' founded in 2011 by Sarah Simmons, an emerging chef recently named one of “America's Greatest New Cooks” by Food & Wine magazine. Ms. Simmons was standing in front of a comfortably packed room, explaining the genesis of her 'Southern Shabbat' dinner, which we'd soon be tucking into.

“Tonight is really special for me, which is funny, considering that I'm a Presbyterian from North Carolina,” she told the assembled, who had each paid $55 to attend the dinner (pricey wine assortment not included). “But I've been going over to friends' houses for years for Shabbat, and hopefully soon I'll become an honorary Jew myself.”

“Though I'll have to wait till my grandmother dies,” she added ruefully. “And I don't want that to happen anytime soon.” Ms. Simmons' take on the classic Sabbath meal featured a buttermilk-dressed salad, a thick chickpea stew–or “hummus soup,” as Ms. Simmons put it–that included rice grits and kofta meatballs, a barbecued main course from the newly opened BrisketTown and a dessert of chocolate mousse over mini-latkes. “I always loved dunking Wendy's fries into Frosties,” Ms. Simmons offered by way of explanation.

Was it traditional? Well, no. Was it kosher? Well, it was kosher-ish, and no one was complaining. “When Shabbat is offered to you, it's hard to say no,” said Stephanie Feder, a series producer at ITV Studios. Also in attendance were a New York Post features reporter and a relocated Australian couple who had scoured the Internet to find an inclusive Shabbat meal in the city.

“We try to go to Shabbat dinner every week,” said Jordana Shell, a social media consultant who had run the online division of a fashion magazine back in Australia. Her husband, Adam Shell, works in finance. “It's a good excuse not to cook at home,” she said.

“It's not like there are a lot of Jewish people in Australia,” Mr. Shell grinned.

Shiksa Simmons's concept of a culinary Shabbat–more of a meal than a Sabbath–was something she picked up from the Young Manhattanite Shabbat. So was mine.

The first time I ever heard of lobster kugel was at the home of Andrew Krucoff, web content director of 92Y and founder of New York's most brutal media Tumblr gang, Young Manhattanite (YM). It was 2011, and I was in awe of the individuals who would come over to Mr. Krucoff's cramped Lower East Side apartment and linger in the 7-by-3-foot kitchen. On any given weekend, you could find Sloane Crosley (who did, in fact, bring cake–a flourless chocolate one, to be precise), various Gawker alums and performance artist Nate Hill, infamous for dressing like a dolphin on the subway and offering free lap rides, as well as for putting up posters in Williamsburg for a “crack” delivery service. (The crack was candy, but people seemed to love the novelty of ordering it anyway.)

The whole YM Shabbat scene was as treif as can be, and not just in the kugel sense. Non-Jews frequently outnumbered the Jews, or at least the practicing ones–though you could always count on at least one person to remember the blessing over the wine, if not the theme of his bar mitzvah. One time, I proudly slaved for 20 whole minutes on matzo ball soup mix, only to have it served with a pepperoni pizza that had just been delivered. A Coke cake–the kind that comes from a can, not a Colombian cartel–stands out as a particularly delicious example of the flagrant disregard for tradition, both cultural and culinary.

“I was purposely putting out nonkosher food like shrimp cocktail,” said Mr. Krucoff, who began having “YM Seders” in 2006. “But I wouldn't say I was trying to have Shabbat ironically. The parties wouldn't have been fun if [The Forward cartoonist] Eli Valley hadn't been there, doing the hamotzi [blessing over the challah] and reading and interpreting the d'var Torah [Torah portion] of the week.”

Of course, what counted as a d'var Torah had a very loose definition; in one notable instance, BlackBook senior editor Tyler Coates just read aloud the climatic scene from Sophie's Choice. One night there was no food, and everyone just sat in a circle and took turns reading their favorite portions from the erotica collection Coming and Crying.

“We weren't that religiously observant, but we liked the idea of this self-created religious ritual,” said Mr. Valley. “For me, it's about carving out a space of personal ownership with friends. It's a way of connecting to each other but not abiding by any of the rituals that we don't consider necessarily holy, in and of themselves.”

But if YM Shabbat was on the fringe edge of hipster sacrilege–enough to warrant a small piece in The New York Times and a much longer piece on The Awl–it was reflecting a larger movement in millennial culture. After two decades of Wall Street-like ambition, in which having your BlackBerry on-hand during family meals and working through the weekend was en vogue, the events of the early 21st century hit urbanites where it hurt.

We weren't, as Tom Wolfe put it, “Masters of the Universe.” The world would keep revolving if we took it easy on a Friday night or, hell, the whole weekend. There was the 'slow' movement in food and lifestyle (the latter adopted by Arianna Huffington and promoted on her 24/7 newsicle website, which always seemed a little suspect). Self-help gurus like Timothy Ferriss urged us to work less and take short cuts. It doesn't take a leap of logic to figure out why the idea of Shabbat–literally, a day of rest–would be appealing, no matter what your religion.

All of which isn't to say that traditionalism has flown out the window, or that every Sabbath dinner is some freaky free-for-all. Take Zachary Thacher. A 39-year-old with his own digital ad agency, Mr. Thacher has spent every Friday for the past 11 years holding his own form of Shabbat dinner in a “traditionalist egalitarian” community he created on Manhattan's Lower East Side, called Kol haKfar.

“It does matter to me that it's all in Hebrew, that people are actually following the traditions,” he said. “But it's equally important to be progressive. We have women leading the service, and we have had a long-time member of the minyan who is African-American and converted to Judaism. And we've had other women of color as participants. so we're very open to any kind of people, as long as they are open to learning and being serious.”

At first blush, Messrs. Thacher and Krucoff may seem to exist on separate ends of the theological spectrum, yet they are both examples of how the rules of Sabbath can become flexible when adapting to modern times. Yes, even in the Orthodox community. If you don't regularly attend temple, for instance, you can just log on to Shabbat.com, a sort of Airbnb for Jewish dinners. And while inviting total strangers into your home might seem unnatural to New Yorkers–who tend to avert their eyes in the elevator to avoid knowing their neighbors–one member who contacted me over the phone claimed that the honor system works. “You can leave reviews for people, and to join the site you need to have some Jewish references,” said the man, who only wished to be identified as a 'practicing Orthodox' individual.

“We open our home to everyone, gay or straight, man or woman,” he said, noting, however, that the people would have to be either Jewish or seriously interested in Judaism. Not that he would pass judgment on someone else's version of Shabbat.

“There's a whole Jewish universe, and one of the nice things about Shabbat.com is that it's open to everybody,” he stressed. “We don't have someone at the door checking ID.”

When asked what kind of people usually sign up to attend, rather than host, meals, our source made Shabbat sound like JDate. “Oh, it's usually young, single people,” he said. “And you sound like a nice, young Jewish girl” he trailed off.

And there it was, as brazen as the gefilte fish matzo tacos that once sat as a centerpiece at a YM Shabbat: the implied question that every young person will find herself being asked on a Friday night, no matter what her religious beliefs happen to be.

“You're single, right?”


 

This article first appeared in the New York Observer, Jan. 23, 2013.  Reprinted by permission.

How to bring religion into politics


For nearly two millennia politics was poison for the Jewish people.  The principle aim in understanding the machinations of power was to make oppression less onerous.  Great swaths of tradition that spoke to the exercise of power lay mostly unexplored.  Today there is a resurgence of interest and I would like to highlight three crucial lessons from the anomalous historical experience of Judaism.

Vote not veto.  Religious convictions cannot be exiled from the public sphere.  To ask someone to set aside their religion is to exile passion, conviction and principle.  Imagine the analogy; we would say of a candidate, or a voter, “you may enter public life, but whatever you believe deeply you must set aside.”  It is ludicrous.  So a public declaration of faith as a determining factor in a vote on an issue or a candidate is both sensible and inevitable.

At the same time, my religious conviction cannot serve as argument in the public discourse.  Religion is not an irrational belief, but it is an orientation of soul.  To ask you to see with my eyes, or vote with my conscience, is tyrannical.  This is not to discount the ability of religion to persuade; it is a caricature that it relies only on unfounded assertions.  But the argument must follow the same rules as political argument in general and work by persuasion, not prophetic fiat.

Against the tyranny of majority or minority.  The first is clear and arises as a special fear from Judaism as a minority tradition in every land except for modern Israel.  In religion the majority will inevitably set the parameters but precisely because we are dealing with the deepest convictions of a community, special care must be taken to carve out the greatest possible space for the minority. 

These are easier principles to enunciate than to practice.  Is not working on the Sabbath a ‘right’ such that an employee cannot penalize a worker for his refusal?  Does covering one’s face with a veil in public impinge on the public’s right sufficiently to warrant prohibition?  The decision in such cases is of course a balance, but I am arguing for the weightiness of the minority community, whose unusual practices are too often unsupported because unsympathetic.

However we are familiar with the phenomenon of minority groups so passionate that the numbers of the many bow before the frenzy of the few.  Intensity of belief is a delicate calculation in politics because often the indifference of the many is due to failing to envision the consequences of lassitude.  When the law is enacted or fails, suddenly there is recognition of what is at stake. Jews, along with many others, have been as often victimized by a galvanized minority as by a cruel majority. 

Mutability.  The Jews passed through innumerable lands and saw many different political configurations.  Even today in Israel the situation has changed often and is still in flux.  So here is a plea for something in politics that we could use more of in religion as well – epistemological humility.  These are complicated questions and we are unlikely to get them right without many wrong turns. Moreover, they are questions whose surrounding conditions will change, so even if we did get them right, they will not necessarily be right in changing circumstances.  An indulgence that may be permitted a small minority for example (use of a drug in a religious ceremony is one example) may prove impossible if the minority grows larger.

“Teach your tongue to say ‘I don’t know’” is some wise and often unheeded Talmudic advice. 

What is most needed?  Clichéd though it may be, civility and an assumption of goodwill.  Respect for the other is a constant challenge as we encounter the other in an age of immigration and the growth of cities.  We will increasingly jostle up against each other.  The difference with religion is that as it poses the problem it also suggests the solution.  There is nothing in the ideology of nationalism that encourages amity. Different cities or sports teams spur division but do not instruct us on tolerance. But religion, while sometimes serving as a generator of differences, also teaches that all human beings are in God’s image.  So as it divides it provides the impetus for uniting.  It is up to us to be faithful uniters and that begins by making the public sphere open, raucous, opinionated, respectful and kind.

Perspectives: Religion and Public Life is a blog series about the relationship between religion and secularism run by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. The aim is to offer a wide range of opinion and expertise on the subject, drawn from around the world. Rabbi Wolpe’s reflection is part of this series. Find the latest blogs here (http://www.tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/religion-public-life)


David Wolpe is senior rabbi at Sinai Temple. This article is excerpted from a longer essay written for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation as part of its ongoing series, “Perspectives: Religion and Public Life.”

[UPDATED] Highway construction downs L.A. Eruv for Sabbath


The Los Angeles Community Eruv, which allows observant Jews to carry items within its restricted boundaries on the Sabbath, will not be in operation on the Shabbat that starts at sundown today, June 15 due to a break caused by construction on the 405 Freeway, according to a posting on the eruv’s website.

A rabbinic work-around to the prohibition of carrying in public spaces on the Sabbath, an eruv symbolically transforms the area it encloses into a space where carrying is permitted, allowing parents to push children in strollers, synagogue-goers to carry prayer shawls and youth to play basketball in a public park, if they so choose.

While many such enclosures are often simple constructions of fishing line or wire, Los Angeles’s eruv, which has a circumference of about 40 miles, uses a 10-mile section of the 405 as its Western boundary. With construction on parts of the 405 ongoing for the past three years, the fences and guardrails that make up parts of Los Angeles’s eruv have occasionally been altered in ways that have put the entire eruv out of commission for a Sabbath on a few occasions.

Highway construction last downed the eruv for one Shabbat in late-October 2011, according to the Los Angeles Eruv Facebook page. In that case, though eruv administrators had thought the boundary might stay down into November, the eruv was back up and running again the following week.

Signs have been posted around the heavily Orthodox Hancock Park community – including at La Brea Kosher Market in Hancock Park and at synagogues Bais Yehuda and Kehilas Yaakov – that read, “Due to the ongoing construction on the 405 freeway, the eruv is down. Please spread the word.”

Community members, shopping for Shabbat groceries at La Brea Market, expressed frustration.

Story continues after the video.

“My friend is making [her son’s] bar mitzvah this Shabbos, so I know she has a lot of friends coming in from of town with babies, and it’s going to be complicated,” said Faigie Brecher, who was shopping with her 18-month-year-old son and lives around the corner from the market. “All of us would like to go…and we’re going to be stuck at home having to make arrangements to watch our children.”

Adinah Mahfouda, a cashier at the La Brea market, sent text messages to her friends to notify them.  She said she also her rebbetzin whether a certain stoller could be used by a friend, and was told it wasn’t kosher.

Elly Rubin, 57, a member of Congregation Or Hachaim, had a different take on the situation. “It’s actually a good thing occasionally when the eruv is down,” he said, “so people remember the rules and how it works.”

Eruv adminstrators could not be reached for comment on Friday.

 

Joe Lieberman scaled political heights, but wants his legacy to be the Sabbath


Call Joe Lieberman the unlikely evangelical.

The Independent senator from Connecticut—and the best-known Orthodox Jew in American politics—is probably more cognizant than most of his Jewish congressional colleagues about rabbinical interdictions against encouraging non-Jews to mimic Jewish ritual.

Yet here he is, about to release a book advising Christians and others not to drive to church, to welcome their Sabbath in the evening, to cut off the wired world and to, umm, enjoy your significant other.

Upon meeting with Lieberman in his Senate offices last week, before the Aug. 16 release date of his new book, “The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath,” he laughed at the term evangelical. But he also embraced it.

“In a way it is” evangelical, he said.

Not that he wanted to convert anyone, Lieberman emphasized.

“This gift, I wanted not only to share with Jews who are not experiencing it, who haven’t accepted it, but also in some measure to appeal to Christians to come back to their observance of their Sabbath on Sundays,” he said.

Lieberman does so in a surprisingly engaging read—surprisingly because books by politicians fronted by photos where they pose in studied, open-collared casualness are usually a recipe for a surfeit of encomiums packed with feel-goodness but bereft of intellectual nourishment.

Instead, melding an unlikely array of tales ranging from 16th-century Safed to tension-soaked Republican and Democratic back rooms, Lieberman makes the case for a structured day of rest that offers freedom within iron walls.

The book also provides a glimpse into how religion shaped this most adamant of congressional centrists, whose stubborn hewing to his beliefs brought him within shouting distance of the vice presidency before propelling him toward the end of his political career (Lieberman announced in January that he will not seek re-election in 2012).

One potent example of Lieberman’s championing of freedom through restrictions is how the dictates of the holy day liberate him from his BlackBerry.

“Six days a week, I’m never without this little piece of plastic, chips and wires that miraculously connect me to the rest of the world and that I hope makes me more efficient, but clearly consumes a lot of my time and attention,” he writes. “If there were no Sabbath law to keep me from sending and receiving email all day as I normally do, do you think I would be able to resist the temptation on the Sabbath? Not a chance. Laws have this way of setting us free.”

As it turns out, this has been a book Lieberman has been considering for a while. He says the seeds of it reach as far back as his first run for state senator in 1970, when his Sabbath observance first created logistical problems for his campaign staff.

It emerged full force when Al Gore named him as his running mate in 2000. In Lacrosse, Wis., on a Saturday after the announcement, he found people coming out of their homes to greet him and wish him well as he walked to the local synagogue.

Conversations with Christians and their curiosity about his observance crystallized the idea for the book, he told JTA in an interview.

“This is something I thought about doing for a long time,” Lieberman said, “because the Sabbath has meant so much for me. It’s real been a foundation for my life.”

The book is published by Simon & Schuster’s Howard imprint in conjunction with OU Press. Lieberman co-wrote it with David Klinghoffer, a conservative (and Orthodox Jewish) columnist and author, and consulting with Rabbi Menachem Genack, who runs the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division and with whom Lieberman takes a weekly telephone class.

Genack in an interview downplayed the book’s outreach to Christians.

“He really wants Jews to read it; he wants to bring the beauty of Shabbos to his own constituency,” Genack told JTA. “But that message and that beauty has a universal theme as well.”

Each chapter ends with a list of “simple beginnings”—practices that could launch a reader’s observance: “Turn off the TV, computer, cell phone or all three”; light two candles; bless your children, “placing your hands on their head or shoulders”; and “consider choosing a congregation close enough that you can walk there and home again.”

In one chapter he describes God’s “brilliance” in mandating conjugal sex during the Sabbath.

Lieberman’s growth as an observant Jew and his frustrations and triumphs as a politician weave through the book. His Sabbath observance appears to be inextricable from his public career: He withdrew from observance at Yale University, writing in the book that he continued to lay tefillin because it was a private act, but Sabbath observance seemed too public for him.

It “interrupted the weekend social flow of college life,” he writes.

The death of his beloved maternal grandmother—his “Baba”—in 1967 returned him to the Sabbath observance of his upbringing. Within three years, at age 28 and with the campaigning skills of his Yale Law buddy Bill Clinton assisting him, he won his first elected office, Connecticut state senator.

“I began to see myself in the larger context of history,” Lieberman said. “I came back step by step to observance.”

In the book, he says his Sabbath observance “has made it easier for me to be different in my political life when being different is where my beliefs have taken me.”

His Jewish observance inevitably seeped into his public life, writing vividly of how it influenced his decision in 1998 to chastise Clinton from the Senate floor for his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. He recalls discussing with his family whether to be the first major Democrat to speak out. His four children said he should; Hadassah, his wife, was torn; his mother, who adored Clinton, urged him to keep silent.

In the end, his rebuke that the president’s behavior was “immoral” and “harmful” and “too consequential for us to walk away from” made history.

This break with the Democratic consensus helped lead Gore to choose him as a running mate in 2000; Lieberman represented a clean break with the scandals that had dogged Clinton.

Many of these episodes seem bittersweet. He writes of the celebratory Sabbath he shared with Al and Tipper Gore on Dec. 7, 2000, when the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of a recount that almost certainly would have propelled Gore to the presidency and Lieberman to the vice presidency. The Liebermans rushed to the Naval Observatory, the vice president’s residence, just in time for Shabbat candle lighting, and after dinner the two couples walked the mile or so back to the Lieberman home in Georgetown.

“It was a night when we felt at the door of history and also very close to these two fine people,” he writes, and stops there. It’s as if he can’t bring himself to the denouement: The door that history opened was not to occupancy of the Naval Observatory but to a profoundly divisive U.S. Supreme Court decision overruling the Florida court that would put George W. Bush in the White House.

It’s a fluke of the fates keenly felt by his friends; Genack corrects me when I call Lieberman “the first Jew on a major ticket.”

“He was the first Jew elected vice president,” he says. “He was elected vice president.”

The same bittersweet sense borne of lost opportunity informs another recounting in the book of a failed vice presidential bid. Staff for the McCain-Palin campaign urged Lieberman to give then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin a pep talk at a low point in the campaign, when she seemed unable to absorb the briefing material for her vice presidential debate with Joe Biden.

Lieberman talked of how the biblical Esther’s fate as a Jew differed from her destiny as a savior of Jews. The former was a covenant thrust upon her, while the latter was a covenant that handed her a choice. Palin, like Esther, now had a moment of choice: “The covenant of destiny is what we make of ourselves.”

Palin ate it up, he said.

How Lieberman concludes this tale, however, again suggests his frustration with history. The Republican candidate, his close friend Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), reportedly wanted to take Lieberman as a running mate, but the Republican establishment convinced McCain otherwise.

Lieberman recalls urging Palin to “use all the ability you have to take advantage of the moment and realize your destiny,” and then concludes, “And she did.”

Lieberman laughed when asked if what he meant was that losing was her destiny.

“I meant that she worked hard and did pretty well in the debate,” he said.

The book’s political content is hardly a settling of scores. If anything, it is what Israelis call a “heshbon nefesh,” an accounting of a soul.

Lieberman ends the Lewinsky episode by emphasizing that he did not vote for impeachment and regarded the former president as “capable of genuine goodness, even greatness.” He is effusive in his praise of Gore, although the former vice president shocked Lieberman by endorsing Howard Dean, Lieberman’s nemesis, in the 2004 election.

The book’s fond recollections of Democrats throughout—particularly Donna Brazile, Gore’s campaign manager—obscure his painful break with the party in 2006, when he lost his state’s primary election and ran for senator as an Independent. Oddly, that episode is not mentioned.

The decor in Lieberman’s Senate office is a testimony to the path he chose right through the center of America’s deeply partisan divide. Dominating the entry wall is an invitation to an 2006 event he once hosted marking the 1787 Connecticut Compromise that set up America’s bicameral parliament, and “compromise” defines the photos below it: One of Lieberman with George H.W. Bush, one with Bill Clinton, two each with George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The magazine basket is topped with the conservative Weekly Standard; nosing out beneath it is the liberal American Prospect.

Occasionally a regret seeps through: Describing the village-like atmosphere of his Washington synagogue, Lieberman notes in the book that he and a journalist he once regarded as a friend now barely exchange hellos, and that another friend still chides him for voting to go to war with Iraq in 2002—a war that most American Jews eventually came to oppose.

That’s not the only hint of the Joe Lieberman that has driven crazy many liberal American Jews who otherwise felt great pride in his rise. Lieberman praises John Hagee, the evangelical pastor who founded Christians United for Israel and whose excoriations of President Obama and other Democrats have turned off much of the Jewish establishment.

And there’s material to drive Jewish conservatives crazy. Explaining his Sabbath compromises, he says that voting for social welfare programs on Shabbat amounted to “pikuach nefesh,” saving of lives, which mandates violating Sabbath prohibitions.

Lieberman says he does not regret striking his own path down the middle.

“It’s certainly made me more productive as a senator,” he says.

Perhaps, but it was his closeness to Bush and his Iraq War advocacy that drove him out of contention for the presidential nomination in 2004. The legacy he now longs for, exemplified by this book, has supplanted the legacy that his independence cost him: first Jewish president.

“I feel that this book may be one of the most important things I do in my lifetime,” Lieberman said. “It’s from really inside me. I hope it affects people’s lives.”

Lieberman writes book on Sabbath


U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman is writing a book on the benefits of the Sabbath.

Lieberman (I-Conn.), who recently announced he will not run again, is co-writing the book with David Klinghoffer, according to Howard Books.

“In this book, Lieberman will offer the gift of Sabbath observance—a gift that has anchored, ordered, and inspired his life—to readers of all faiths,” said a release this week from the publisher, a Christian imprint of Simon & Schuster.

The book will appear in August. In 2007, Howard published “An Amazing Adventure” by Joe and Hadassah Lieberman, an account of the 2000 election, when Lieberman was the first Jewish candidate on a major presidential ticket.

Lieberman left the Democratic Party in 2006 when he lost its primary. He regained his Senate seat running as an independent.

How the Sabbath keeps the Jewish people


From Haaretz.com:

To love Judaism is to know how much the Sabbath matters. But neither knowledge nor love is quite enough to move many Jews, perhaps most Jews, to observance, or even to the level of observance they feel, deep in their hearts, commanded to achieve.

This state of cognitive dissonance prevails even in Israel, where the non-enforcement of the many Sabbath laws on the books has the effect of deepening the divide, every Saturday, between observant Jews and everyone else.

Read the full article at http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1160647.html

Music lovers get presents for composer Reich’s birthday


Sometime in the 1970s, composer Steve Reich found himself looking for spiritual sustenance.
 
“Like many people in the ’60s,” he says, “I got involved in Hatha Yoga and Northern Buddhist meditation and Southern Buddhist meditation. It did a lot of good for a high-metabolism New Yorker like me. But after about 10 years, I felt ‘something is missing.'”
 
Reich, who turned 70 this week with elaborate celebrations in New York and London, grew up in Reform Judaism, at a time “when Big Bad Reform was really Big Bad Reform,” he jokes. “Religiously speaking,” he says, he was “a blank slate.”
At a certain point, however, he felt that the spirituality he sought might, in fact, be “in my own backyard.”
 
An ardent admirer of oral transmission of cultural traditions, Reich suddenly realized he was “a member of the oldest tradition on earth,” and didn’t know anything about it.
 
So he set out to fill that gap.
 
Today Reich is an observant Jew. He keeps kosher, observes the Sabbath and studies Torah weekly. And his growth as a Jew has filtered into his music in works like “Tehillim,” “Different Trains,” “You Are (Variations)” and his collaborations with Beryl Korot, a video artist who is also his wife. But he is adamant that he is not a Jewish composer.
 
“I am Jewish, and I am a composer,” he says. “I don’t write Jewish music. The only true Jewish music is hazanut [cantorial music].”
 
“Setting a Hebrew text is very important to me,” Reich says. “But that’s concert music using a religious text. Stravinsky wrote a mass, and that’s religious music because it’s used in the Catholic Church, but to me Jewish music is one man chanting Torah. The rest is folklore.”
 
Still, Reich won’t downplay the significance of his Jewishness in his life.
“This has made a tremendous improvement in my life,” he says emphatically.
Is there a New York component to his music to match the Jewish component? Reich acknowledges, “Everyone is shaped by when they’re born and where they live,” yet he doesn’t have an easy answer to the question. “Fish swim in the water but they don’t know much about the water. But if you take it away, they’re dead. I think the energy, the rhythmic energy in the music is me — Hashem’s plan for me included that — but New York certainly fueled it. It’s a city of enormous energy.”
 
And true to its form, in October, Reich’s hometown will be resplendent with birthday tributes, including programs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the Whitney Museum, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and a retrospective of his video work with Korot at the Whitney.
 
In addition, Reich’s new opus, “Daniel Variations,” written in memory of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by terrorists, will have its world premiere Oct. 8 at the Barbican Centre in London.
 
Reich admits that he is dazzled, amused and delighted by the fuss.
 
“If you’re going to turn 70, that’s the way to do it! I’ve been very fortunate,” he admits. “So many wonderful things have happened.”
 
But Reich is hardly resting on his birthday laurels. Where is he headed next musically?
 
The answer to that question is, he says, a bit complicated.
 
“‘You Are (Variations)’ was written after ‘Cello Counterpoint,’ which is a highly tooled, precision piece,” he says. “When I started ‘You Are,’ I said to myself, ‘I’m just going to do what I know how to do and follow it wherever it leads. I’m going to see what happens.’ I had never consciously had that attitude composing. In the past I always felt I had to set a problem for solving. Lo and behold, the harmonies begin to get very dissonant, and you end up doing something you didn’t know you knew how to do. That is only possible after years and years of work. And it’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever written.”
 
As an example of the way that his working methods continue to evolve, he offers both, “Daniel Variations,” the vocal piece he wrote for the Daniel Pearl Commissioning Project of Meet the Composers, and “Sinfonietta,” a recent instrumental piece.
 
“Daniel Variations” uses four texts, two from the Book of Daniel, one from Daniel Pearl himself and a fourth that is Pearl’s paraphrase of a jazz song title from the ’20s.
 
Reich explains, “Whenever you choose a text, the text forces you to do things you might not otherwise do. The whole idea of a four-movement piece came out of choosing those texts, and the fact that it’s about a person who was murdered affects the way I wrote. With a text, you find yourself asking, ‘Bach did this, Stravinsky did this, what have you got in mind?’ And you are forced by the text to make [musical] decisions that if you were writing instrumental music, you might not do.”
 
By contrast, he continues, “The Sinfonietta piece is completely instrumental, a bit closer to my earlier pieces. It’s more repetitive, does things I haven’t done in years. But it fills out the harmonies in ways I wouldn’t have done when I was younger.”
 
In December, Reich will begin working on a piece for Eighth Blackbird, a contemporary music sextet based at University of Richmond in Virginia and the University of Chicago.
 
“They are a flute, clarinet, viola, cello, piano and percussion,” he says. “That is an instrumentation I would never write for, ordinarily. I’m going to have them do a recording of themselves, then play against it. I’ve been working in these interlocking pairs for [decades], and I’m still married to it, but I’ll be working with strict contrapuntal ideas that I haven’t thought about for a long time.”
 
Reich’s formula for keeping the music and him fresh after all these years is simple.

The Sabbath Rap


The service begins with “Shalom Aleichem,” but there’s a twist: Injected between the traditional verses are some fast-talking, spoken-word interludes with messages for those entering into the ritual. “So recline, right after you drink this wine/ See this time is a gift from the mind of the Divine.”

Welcome to Hip Hop Shabbat.

Created to help make Shabbat services more appealing to a generation that would rather spend Friday night at a free-styling rap concert, the concept mixes expectations with surprises. It was conceived by a group of friends who grew up in Oakland and call themselves the Original Jewish Gangsters (OJG), a name they took on as a minority group of white Jewish kids attending a largely black public school.

“Hip-hop adds another element to the service — the power of the word — which is a very big thing in Judaism,” said Judah Ritterman, 25, who manages the OJGs, and also sings and raps for them. “Our lyrics add another layer of meaning to the prayer, so that [people] can understand it better.”

For Ritterman, hip-hop is a natural partner to traditional Judaism.

“There is an intimate connection between the Jewish and Black communities in this country, going back to New York where there were a lot of immigrant groups in general, but more specifically in my parents’ generation, when they were all fighting for civil causes,” he said. “But the history of hip-hop/rap has been disproportionately influenced by Jewish people, like the Beastie Boys and the Wu Tang Clan.”

Currently Ritterman and the other OJGs — Elana Jagoda and Jonathan Gutstadt –have been performing their service in Reform congregations, which have been the most accepting of the use of electronic music on Shabbat. But they are starting to get interest from Conservative synagogues as well, and they hope that eventually Hip Hop Shabbat will reach a broad segment of the community.

“Our goal is to create an experience that is as celebratory as possible, because Shabbat is about getting people out of their day-to-day mindset and breaking into a new space for the weekend,” Ritterman said. “We really want to create that.”

Hip Hop Shabbat will performed at the Friday night services of Temple Isaiah at 7 p.m. on Jan. 27; Sinai Temple on Feb. 10; and Stephen S. Wise Temple at 7 p.m. on Feb. 17. For more information, visit

On Shabbat, Stay Cool as a Cucumber


Miami is hot. In the summer, even sometimes in the winter, the air arches off the streets radiating heat circles that bend but do not break as you walk though them, slowly, slowly.

My grandparents, Oma and Opa, bought an apartment in Miami Beach that my family of eight piled into for visits. It was a small unit with one bedroom and a galley kitchen that emptied into a simply furnished dining and living area. But the center courtyard, where each of these tiny apartments faced, was opened to the sky and bathed in Florida sun. And the beach and the Atlantic Ocean were only two lazy blocks away.

So when we got our driver’s licenses, my brothers and sisters and I drove ourselves from our Atlanta home to Miami. Opa would find us a little room close by so we could run around all day and night and touch base for meals or chats in between. Oma, a fastidious and controlled woman, loved our visits. Her serious and beautiful face would break into a child’s laugh when my sister and I shared stories about the boys we met while strolling the beaches and dancing at nightclubs. And Opa, a sparkling and wise man, managed to find us once every day on the beach. From a distance, we would see him coming, wearing his summer suit and beige cap and carrying a brown paper bag holding our carefully prepared lunches of cold chicken, homemade challah, and light sugar cookies.

But for Saturday lunches, we came to them. Since they were Orthodox and didn’t use appliances on the Sabbath, Oma had an array of simple but wonderful dishes she prepared in advance to be eaten cold. In the Miami heat, her Cucumber Dill Salad was one of my favorites. It was always served in a rectangular glass container with gold flower foiling on the sides. The pale green slices were always perfectly thin and even. And when we sat together around the dim unlit dining table — me sunburned and tired from the day before — her cool salad felt like a mint mist, a slow fan. Outside their window, the palm leaves baked yellow in the sun, but inside, eating pale green cucumber circles with my Oma and Opa, I was filled by a moment where there was nothing I’d rather do.

Oma’s Cucumber Dill Salad

My grandmother marinated her cucumbers in distilled white vinegar, but I replaced it with rice vinegar for a less sharp taste. She also cooked with a very light hand when it came to spices, so play with the seasonings until it is perfect and refreshing for you.

2 large cucumbers (approximately four cups sliced)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon water

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Pinch of white pepper

Fresh dill (approximately 1-2 tablespoons)

Peel skin off cucumbers and slice thinly. Arrange in long rectangular sealable container. In small bowl whisk vinegar, water, salt, sugar and pepper. (Season to your taste, but don’t add too much salt as it draws liquid from the cucumbers.) Pour vinegar mixture over cucumbers and mix well. Cut fresh dill and sprinkle over cucumbers. Close container, toss to mix and refrigerate overnight to marinate. Toss again before serving.

Serves five as a side dish.

Bubbie’s Menorah Miracle


Bubbie, my sweet grandmother, is a small woman, barely
5-feet tall. Her candelabra wasn’t just a candleholder used for the Sabbath and
Chanukah lights. It was a family symbol; a magnet that brought family and
friends together. On Sabbath evenings Bubbie would don a special Shabbos
kerchief. With great fanfare she would light each candle. When she finished
lighting the last candle she stood in front of the candelabra and clenched her
eyes; tears ran down her cheeks. She prayed for her husband, her married children
and her grandchildren. She spoke in Yiddish, “Her mien tinere tata heat mien
kinder un de eynikloch” (Dearest Father, God watch and protect my children,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren. May it be Your will that they grow up to
be good people and are loyal to our religion. Please grant my dear husband a
livelihood and patience. Watch over us all.).

We all stood by the Shabbos table in awe. Bubbie looked like
a queen speaking to the King of Kings, the Almighty God. When she finished her
prayer, we began our Sabbath.

As our family grew, Bubbie spent more time with her candles.
By the time she reached the beginning of her 96th birthday, Bubbie had many
married grandchildren who also had children. There were five generations in
Bubbie’s family. When lighting the candles, Bubbie prayed for each family
member.

Her candelabra was made of solid silver with a heavy silver
base. It was 2-feet tall. Year round it had three branches of two candlesticks.
In the middle was a stem for another candle. The traditional custom for Shabbos
eve is to light one candle each for the father, mother and children. As each
child is born, another candle is added. Throughout the year Bubbie’s candelabra
was fitted for five candles.

During the week of Chanukah she added another branch of two
candlesticks each, making a total of nine candles. The candelabra was built in
such a way that the candle holders could be removed and oil cups could be
inserted for the special lighting on Chanukah. Our Shabbos candelabra became a
menorah.

During Chanukah the prized candelabra was given to my
grandfather. He used it to fulfill the commandment of lighting candles for the
holiday. Chanukah was the happiest time for the family. All the children,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to Bubbie and Zadie to receive
holiday gifts of Chanukah gelt and joined in the lighting of the menorah.

Imagine the menorah lit with nine candles shining in its
glory. Zadie stood like a Kohen, the Jewish high priest, when he lit it. He
would be dressed in a special fur hat, called a streimel, with a magnificent
long, silk caftan.

When Zadie died, Bubbie would spend her winters in Miami
Beach. She took her candelabra with her. Every Shabbos, Bubbie would polish
it and pray, “May my mazel (luck) always shine!”

All this came to an end when someone stole her candelabra.
Bubbie was livid. Her small body shook like a willow in a storm as she spoke
about her most prized possession. How could anyone steal it? Her only concern
was how she would light her candles.

She believed it would return.

“I have prayed that the menorah would protect us and I’m
sure that the menorah has done just that. Now I pray that the menorah protect
itself and be returned to me.”

With silent determination she prayed and prayed. We, the
family, did not know what to do. Unexpectedly, a childhood friend from Austria,
Bubbie’s birthplace, visited us and announced, “I have never seen another
menorah like yours until today. I always wondered if there was a second
majestic menorah. Surprisingly I just saw a menorah just like yours in the
window of a gift store. It is a replica of yours.”

We were dumbfounded. Could it be that our guest had seen the
stolen menorah? Bubbie jumped up and said, “Let’s get my menorah back! It soon
will be Chanukah and I need the menorah.”

Bubbie, my parents, Bubbie’s girlfriend and a policeman made
their way to the gift shop. With a gleam in her eyes and a shout of joy Bubbie
pointed to the menorah and said, “Yes, you have done well. You have protected
us and now you have protected yourself. Come back home to my family and me.”

Before anyone could say anything, Bubbie grabbed the menorah
off the shelf and held it close to her heart. Nobody was going to stop her.
Neighbors, Jewish and non-Jewish, joined her in her triumphant walk home. The
closer she got to her home, the more people that joined her. Bubbie, dressed in
the European manner, with her slight frame carrying a menorah that was almost
as big as her, with a procession of excited family and friends following, was a
sight to see. It truly was a Chanukah parade. The owner of the shop was
flabbergasted.

Needless to say, the menorah was given a special cleaning.
It became the most respected object of our Bubbie’s home. That Chanukah was the
brightest in Bubbie’s home. Who says that miracles can’t happen anymore?  


Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita.

Kick Off the Year Rolling in Dough


As most people know, challah is the braided egg-rich loaf of bread that we traditionally eat on the Sabbath and holidays — two loaves of challah at each of the three Shabbat meals. They help commemorate the miracles that the Jewish people experienced during their 40 years of wandering in the desert. While on weekdays they received one portion of manna from heaven, Friday God sent two portions.

Challah — especially homemade — is wonderful every week, but it resonates with deeper meaning at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when it is an age-old custom to dip it (at least the first piece) in honey after reciting the appropriate blessing to beseech God to grant us a sweet year.

For Rosh Hashanah, challah is often shaped into a crown or a turban, and raisins are often added to make it even sweeter. Throughout the whole holiday period — through Sukkot — many people follow the custom of preparing or buying round loaves instead of the traditional long, braided ones: a reminder of the cycle of the seasons. Some very ambitious people add a braid in the center in the shape of a ladder, in the fervent hope that we merit both physical and spiritual uplift during the coming year.

The round challah custom is ideal for yours truly: I confess to being braid-impaired. While every preschool child in Israel seems to know how to form beautiful, even braids, I never learned this in Minnesota. Even my three-part braids (I have rarely attempted anything like six or more braids) leave much to be desired in the evenly braided department.

My solution? Round challahs — they always come out nice, look impressive, and no one can believe how easy they are to make. You can either make one long braid and then roll it up, or use the following recipe and baking method. The smell is indescribable. For more details on challah — actually on all aspects of bread baking, see any Jewish cookbook: all the myriad details won’t fit into this article. The mitzvah of separation of challah must be observed along with Jewish law — ask your local rabbi for more information.

Challah should be allowed to cool completely before being well-wrapped for storage. Well-sealed challah can be stored for a day or so on the shelf, or frozen. It defrosts well, and no one can tell that it’s not freshly baked. You can even freeze the ready-to-bake dough. This is good to know in the busy preholiday period.

May this be a sweet year for the entire Jewish people.

Sweet Round Challah

2 tablespoons instant dry yeast

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup oil

Approximately 9 cups of flour (divided), sifted

1 tablespoon salt

5 eggs (divided)

2 cups warm water

1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)

Sesame seeds

Poppy seeds

Combine yeast, sugar and oil in a large bowl. Stir in about 3 cups of flour; combine well. Add salt and four well-beaten eggs, one at a time. Add water and mix in well. Sift in enough flour, 2 cups at a time, to form a dough for kneading, beating well after each addition. Add raisins, if desired.

Knead for eight to 10 minutes, adding a bit more flour if necessary. Place dough in a greased bowl and turn to grease all sides. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until double in bulk-about one and a half to two hours.

Punch down, fold in sides, cover and allow to rise for about another half hour. Punch down. Divide dough in half. Coat two 8- or 9-inch diameter pans (look for pans that are at least 3-inches high) with nonstick cooking spray. Form a ball of dough about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and place in center of pan. Divide rest of dough into eight even portions, forming eight balls of dough, and surround center ball of dough. Repeat with remaining half of dough.

Cover pans and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle both sesame and poppy seeds on the two middle balls. Sprinkle sesame and poppy seeds alternately on each of the outside balls of each challah. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and challah sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from pans immediately and cool on a rack.

Makes two round challahs.

The Great Jewish Hope


Dmitriy Salita doesn’t fight on the Sabbath, which gives his competition a much-needed day of rest from this powerful junior welterweight. With a 13-0, 10 KO record, the 5-foot-9, 139-pound fighter who goes by the moniker "The Star of David," is a rising star in the boxing ring.

Salita, 21, studied karate in Odessa until age 9, when he and his family immigrated to the United States. Though his parents were not religious, they understood that as Jews in the Ukraine, their family could not live in complete freedom. They hoped Brooklyn would bring their sons better opportunities. With little money to spare, the new immigrants could not afford to continue Salita’s martial arts training. Four years later, acting on his brother’s suggestion, 13-year-old Salita walked into the Starrett City Boxing Club.

"That was it. I was hooked, addicted," said Salita, who won the 2000 U.S. Nationals Under-19 and the 2001 New York Golden Gloves amateur championship title.

Salita, who fights in shorts embroidered with a gold Star of David, was not always observant; he slowly grew into his relationship with Judaism.

"In the Ukraine, Jews were traditional in knowledge, but we weren’t religious," he said.

Salita rediscovered his religion when his mother, Lyudmilia, was diagnosed with cancer in 1998. Lyudmilia’s hospital roommate’s husband introduced Salita to the Chabad of Flatbush. There, under the mentorship of Rabbi Zalman Liberov, Salita studied and embraced Jewish practices.

"It didn’t happen overnight, it took years. Each week it was something different — no TV on Shabbat, no driving on Shabbat, keeping kosher and so on," said Salita, who prays at local Chabad houses when he’s on the road. "I feel comfortable at Chabad, they’re down with people."

Chabad is also down with boxing. It was Liberov’s brother, Israel, who introduced Salita to his promoter, Top Rank’s Bob Arum.

Arum, who is an active member of Chabad of Southern Nevada, has promoted numerous champions including Muhammad Ali, Oscar de la Hoya and George Foreman. Israel sent Salita’s tape to Arum’s rabbi, the rabbi showed it Arum, and Arum signed Salita immediately. Salita was thrilled with the match.

"Bob was raised in an Orthodox family, so he’s totally supportive of my beliefs. He understands my Judaism, my schedule, plus, he’s just a really good guy," said Salita, who won his U.S. Nationals title after rescheduling the final mid-Sabbath bout for Saturday night.

"I’m proud of my Judaism," he said. "When my parents came to this country, they came here for freedom. My Judaism is a part of that freedom."

Salita looks for another post-sundown win on Saturday, Sept. 20, when he meets Joe Bartole (8-2, 5 KOs) in the ring at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.

"I’ve been training hard and I’m looking forward to a good performance, to putting on a good show," Salita said. "And I’m happy to be in Los Angeles. It’s a great city, an exciting city, a glamorous city," Salita said.

Salita’s fight will be televised locally on KCAL 9, Sept. 20, 8 p.m. Tickets for the fight are available through TicketMaster.

Parshat Yitro


In Parshat Yitro, God gives the Israelites the Ten Commandments. Some are commandments of thought: “Do not covet your neighbor’s possessions.” Some are commandments of speech: “Do not swear with God’s name.” And some are commandments of action: “Do not steal” and “Keep the Sabbath.”

Creating a Sacred Space


In 1978, when I first applied to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to study as an undergraduate. I left the space blank on the college application form where I was supposed to indicate an intended major. Someone in the admissions office, based on my grade point average and my achievement test scores, took the liberty and placed me in a major called leisure studies.

At that time, there was a prominent belief that people would soon be working fewer hours each week due to technological advancements. Machine and computers would soon do much of the work that people were doing. As a result, the five-day work week would lessen to four or perhaps three days. What were we supposed to do with all of that free time? By majoring in leisure studies, I would be qualified to help assist people fill that time gap in their lives.

For many people today, the opposite has happened. Work has become even more of an obsession. As a result of technology, and a variety of other factors, many of us spend more hours per week at work, not less. Consequently, we often find ourselves with less time to devote to the things that are truly important in life. Many people on their deathbed express regrets about the life they lived. Many of the regrets people express deal with not spending enough time with family, friends and those that they loved. Rarely does a person express regrets about not spending enough time at work.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great Jewish theologian and civil rights activist, in his book "The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man," writes about two realms to human existence: space and time.

Under the category of space, a number of key words come to mind: property, material objects, money, status, prestige and power. In the realm of space, we try to acquire more and more of these items. We often do this by eliminating or controlling the elements of nature.

Under the category of time, other words come to mind: sacred moments, prayer, reflection, meditation, nature, history, acts of kindness and tikkun olam, meaningful human relationships. In the realm of time, we become aware and at one with the awe and wonder of nature and creation. We recognize and celebrate key transitional moments in our lives. We learn and commemorate history. We engage with other human beings, in what Jewish philosopher Martin Buber calls "I-Thou" relationships. We perform acts of kindness, care and compassion. In the realm of time, we try to create sacred moments in our lives.

In the contemporary world in which we live, our natural inclination is to sacrifice more and more of our time in order to acquire more and more space. What we should do, in order to live a more meaningful spiritual life, according to Heschel, is the opposite. We should sacrifice more of our space in order to elevate and sanctify time.

I would contend that this message from Heschel’s "The Sabbath" speaks to the hearts and minds of many people today just as strongly as it spoke to the generation that first read this classic literary work over 50 years ago when the book was first published. Work (and what we obtain through work) can easily become, if we are not careful, the idol that we worship in our lives.

Heschel’s message in "The Sabbath" also has something important to say about the longevity of Judaism and the Jewish people. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed close to 2,000 years ago. For most of the past two millennia, Jews have not had a country that they could call their own. The Greeks, the Romans and many other civilizations in history (civilizations that had had vast amounts of territory, that had expanding empires, that possessed huge military might, that built grand monuments and edifices) have come and gone. The Jews have remained.

To Heschel, Judaism and the Jewish people have survived, continued and prospered because of an emphasis — an emphasis in Judaism as a way of life that places the importance of time over space. The Sabbath, where we attempt to retreat from the world of space, and try to create a temporary palace in time (as Heschel puts it) is an embodiment, the ideal that we can strive for of this principle.

In Exodus, the building of the Mishkan, a portable sanctuary that accompanied the Israelites on their journey from Mt. Sinai through the Promised Land, is described in exhaustive detail.

In the middle of the Mishkan, in the holiest part of the sanctuary, stood an ark. In this ark was housed not an idol or an icon, not a monarch or a priest, but originally the decalogue, the two stone tablets of the Covenant that had written on them the Ten Commandments. Later in our history, an entire Torah scroll came to occupy residence in this sacred space.

Access to God in Judaism is gained not by worshipping idols that represent the pantheon of gods, nor by worshipping particular human beings who were viewed as gods or as intermediaries to the gods. God, in Judaism, is one. The Torah and its commandments represent access to the one God.

When we read, study and interpret Torah, and when we attempt to live a life of Torah by applying its lessons to our lives and by observing its commandments, we have an opportunity as Jews to establish a relationship with God. We have an opportunity to come to know the Divine in our lives.

Paganism was the religion and way of life of the ancient world. There was a great seductive lure to engage in the pagan cult. There was often material benefit and physical security showing allegiance to the pantheon of gods.

In building the Mishkan, our ancestors attempted to reject paganism, to assert their belief in the God of Israel, and to live a life in covenant with that belief. A generation of former slaves seems to take that covenant very seriously. According to the Torah, they gave "willingly and generously" from their meager possessions in order to build the Mishkan.

Stylistically, the Torah emphasizes the importance of what the Mishkan represented by the manner in which it describes its construction. In the very beginning of the Torah, in the Book of Genesis, it takes 32 verses to describe God creating the world. In the Exodus, it takes 64 verses to describe the construction, by human hands, of the Mishkan.

The Mishkan had a nickname. It was also called in Hebrew, hechal, which means in English "a palace." Heschel describes the Sabbath in his book as a "temporary palace in time." In calling Shabbat a palace, I can not help but think that Heschel is making, in his mind, a connection between these two great Jewish institutions. That there is a connection between the Mishkan and what it represented to our ancestors, and the Sabbath and what it can represent to us today.

Actor of ‘Favor’


"I am not Menachem."

So says Israeli heartthrob Aki Avni, referring to his character in "Time of Favor," the Israeli psychological thriller opening in Los Angeles movie theaters Feb 1. The film, winner of six Israeli Oscars last year, including picture of the year, tells the story of a religious settler army unit in which one student, Pini, takes to heart his rabbi’s ideological rantings about the Temple Mount, and crazily decides to blow it up.

Avni plays the lead character, Menachem, a religious company commander who must weigh his loyalty to the rabbi and the unit with his own sense of personal responsibility and his love for the rabbi’s daughter, Michal, and in the end, save Pini from himself.

Even now, pounds thinner, hair choppier (he’s just growing it back after shaving it all off for his last film) than when he played the 23-year-old religious commander, it’s hard to separate the actor from the character. That quiet confidence, charismatic goodness and soft-spoken assurance with which Menachem carried the film (he won an Oscar for best actor) comes across in person.

Avni, 35, in a typically Tel Avivian formal outfit of sleek black — collarless blazer, untucked buttoned shirt, stylish pants — stands at attention to demonstrate how he got into the role of Menachem. Chin raised, shoulders back, heels clicked together, instantly, he becomes the character, the one on the screen who stole the heart of Michal and the audience with his sympathetic portrayal of a conflicted man: religious, idealistic, but learning to doubt.

Very different from the real Avni, who in the past few years has started becoming observant.The boy who grew up in Rehovot in what he calls an "atheist house" now keeps kosher and observes the Sabbath, and has an older brother who’s a Bretslover Chasid living in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim. "I became interested in the wisdom in Judaism. … It would be a shame to lose it," he says.

His film character goes in a different direction. Menachem slowly disconnects from the spirited singing of his soldiers, his rabbi’s orders to soldier on and forget Michal — though it’s never clear how far Menachem breaks from it.

Playing the part of Menachem was no problem — he’d already starred in the popular weekly drama series, "Basic Training"; but to absorb the religious settler aspect, Avni spent time in yeshivas in Hebron and elsewhere. "I wanted to know the [behavioral] code between the students and the rabbi," Avni told The Journal.

Avni acts his part as convincingly as fellow actor Assi Dayan acts the role of Rabbi Meltzer, a chillingly sane man with a belief in the Greater Land of Israel, who holds sway over many impressionable yeshiva bochers (students), indirectly influencing Pini, a diabetic genius, to try to bomb the mosque after being rejected by Michal.

But did they play their parts too well? In Israel, during the year since the film has come out, many religious people were outraged because they felt the film portrays settlers in a negative light.

"All in all, it’s not a biography, it’s a movie," Avni says. "Even though the story could be realistic, in a far-off possibility, but it could be realistic."

The possibility of fanatical words leading to acts of terror isn’t really far off; it’s the world we live in today, post-Sept. 11, the world the film is being released into, even though it was made long before. But Avni is not concerned that "Favor," depicting Israel now to the world at large, depicts the nation in a fanatical light. "The movie clearly says there are extremists everywhere, but we [in Israel] don’t accept them."

Avni believes American audiences will appreciate the film more now. "There is a great parallel between the story [of the film and that of] every extremist," he says. "Of course," he adds, "there’s a big difference between Pini and terrorists."

Like most Israelis, Avni has a lot to say about the situation — about Yasser Arafat not being a partner, about the failed Camp David talks, the need for a Palestinian state so that Israel can act freely, and the effect on Israelis and Israeli culture. "Whenever the security situation is bad, luxury is the first thing that hurts…. Today there are fewer people going out," Avni explains. "But people always want to be entertained, and we have a nation that’s very, very strong; people are very strong in the State of Israel … and no one will break us. Everybody understands that now more than ever."

His patriotism aside, Avni plans on spending more time in — where else? — Hollywood. Avni’s wife, Israeli model Sandy Bar, will join him in their Marina del Rey apartment next month, and he is hoping to land work here. He has already signed with the Don Buchwald agency.

After nearly a decade of fame in Israel — in theater, television and film as, say, the Israeli equivalent of Tom Cruise — can the big fish from the small sea handle it as small fry here in Tinseltown?

"I’m nobody here. No one knows me," he admits. "But I love challenges. You know what? I look at it as something very good that happened to me. Israel, it was like my laboratory. I learned what I should do and what I shouldn’t do," he says.

Avni started acting at age 12; his formal training began after his army service, studying at the Yoram Levinstein studio in Tel Aviv. For a few years Avni was pigeonholed as a TV show host ("The Price Is Right") before he got cast on the dramatic "Basic Training."

He doesn’t seem to care that he might have to start all over again. "To tell you the truth. I feel like I’ve done it already. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone," he says. "I know the feeling of going on the street when people want your autograph, I’ve done it already. I want to work in the biggest professional system that I can find, which is here, probably. That’s what interests me."

A Mostly Jewish Festival


Q: When does a fence equal freedom?
A: When it’s an eruv.

On Sun., July 2 the Jewish community of Northridge will celebrate the official initiation of its new eruv, allowing observant Jews the ability to carry on the Sabbath within its domain.The project was initiated more than 10 years ago by members of Young Israel of Northridge, at that time the only traditional Jewish community in the North Valley. They created the North Valley Eruv Society, which eventually expanded to include members of surrounding congregations, such as Temple Ramat Zion, Em Habanim and Chabad of Northridge.

Along the way, the group met with a number of challenges, according to Young Israel’s executive director, Rabbi Aharon Simkin.

“Eruvs normally take a long time because of the need to plan out a route that works along natural walls,” Simkin explained. “We also had a big delay because of the [Northridge] earthquake when a number of the walls we had planned to use fell down.”

There were also delays due to bureaucratic misunderstandings, Simkin said, such as when CalTrans denied a permit because they thought the group wanted to run pipes along freeway offramps. The group enlisted the help of local legislators, Councilman Hal Bernson and County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, to cut through the red tape.

“People don’t know what an eruv is and people are afraid of what they do not know. Once they understood that what we were asking for was simple and easy and on behalf of the public good, everybody was really very helpful. We just had to overcome the normal bureaucratic response of saying ‘no’ first,” Simkin said, adding that he couldn’t compliment Councilman Bernson and Supervisor Antonovich more, especially the councilman. “We couldn’t get a call through to [Antonovich’s office] and he stepped in and ever since the county has been very helpful.”

The physical boundaries run from the Wilbur Wash on the west, the 118 Freeway to the north, Bull Creek on the east and the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks on the south. The area includes Hillel at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School.

“Carrying from one domain to another is prohibited on Shabbat, which makes it difficult especially for families with small children,” Simkin explained. “An eruv makes the area like a large backyard, mixing everyone’s personal domain into one domain. But there has to be a ‘fence’ that surrounds the entire area. Ours is made up mostly of chain link fences along riverbeds and freeways, but in places where we have to go over a street or freeway entrance, we had to make sure we did so in accordance with the technical details of Jewish law and also in accordance with the rules of the city, county and state.”Simkin said that, although Young Israel made the push for the eruv, the intention was to bring together the entire Northridge Jewish community in a positive way.

“We consciously set up the North Valley Eruv Society in order to be inclusive to all Jews in the area,” he said. “An eruv is supposed to be a unifying idea, not something representing just one group.”The need for the eruv reflects the continuing growth of the Jewish community in Northridge, particularly the observant community. At its inception in the mid-1980s, Young Israel’s congregation consisted of about a dozen member households and met for services at the Hillel House on the CSUN campus. It now comprises about 100 families and singles, many of whom cross denominational lines from Sephardic, Conservative and even Reform backgrounds, according to founding member Richard Macales.

“It’s a very different culture here,” Macales said. “The community of the North Valley is against the vulgarity of conspicuous consumption. It’s haimish, very haimish, not a fashion show. The people here work together very nicely. Whether it’s Young Israel or Temple Ramat Zion or the Hillel out here, everything has been built very slowly and with a lot of thought toward our ability to maintain the expansion.”

With the eruv up, the Northridge community becomes the second “contained” community in the San Fernando Valley, although Macales said the North Valley is not looking to replace the longstanding Orthodox community of North Hollywood and Van Nuys.

“On the contrary, we want to see the Valley’s traditional community grow in both areas,” he said. “There are just certain advantages to living out here, like affordable housing and a nice, safe neighborhood. We’re basically here to provide an alternative with all the infrastructure the Jewish community relies upon.”

The North Valley Eruv Society invites the community to join its celebration of the new eruv on Sun., July 2 at 5 p.m. at Young Israel of Northridge, 17511 Devonshire St. For more information, call (818) 368-2221.

Creative Rest


During the past few months, I have had contact with a friendly pastor, who is sincerely concerned about the future of the Jewish people both here and in Israel. Immediately after the High Holidays, I received an unusual call from him. He asked: “Tell me, did you survive your holidays? Did you get any rest? Or was the interaction with your members on your Holy Days emotionally draining?”

First, I thought to myself, how would he know that feeling? Only a rabbi knows what it takes to survive the holidays. I then thought that he must be a Marrano rabbi who is hiding his true identity by claiming to be a pastor.

So, fascinated with his comment, I inquired what, exactly, he meant. He said: “You really had an onslaught of holidays over the past few weeks. That certainly is a heavy dosage of synagogue attendance for your members, and when they are in synagogue that much, they might be tempted to take out destructive frustrations on their rabbi.”

He then went on to say: “In our religion, we don’t have such an intensive holiday period, so my parishioners don’t see that much of me. It certainly is safer to be a pastor than a rabbi. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that pastors live longer than rabbis.”

He concluded his call with good advice: “Take a long vacation and don’t let your members know where you are. You need the rest.”

My pastor friend isn’t the only one wise enough to dispense such sound advice. Actually, this week’s Torah reading teaches the same lesson. The Torah recounts that creation ended on the seventh day, and God rested, stating: “And the heavens and earth and all they host were completed. And on the seventh day God finished His work which He made; and He rested on the seventh day from all of His work which He made. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, for on it He rested from all His work, which God created to do” (Genesis 2:1-3).

These verses, which constitute an integral part of the Friday-night liturgy and kiddush service, seem to contradict themselves. Don’t the words, “on the seventh day God finished His work,” imply that God created something on the seventh day itself? Wasn’t the seventh day supposed to be a day of total rest, when no creation was to take place?

The great contemporary rabbinic scholar Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik suggests that, with the assistance of the Midrash, the answer is apparent. The Midrash explains that God utilized two distinct types of creation. The first was called briah. This creative power built through destruction, by ripping down and building anew. The Midrash describes this process as one in which worlds were rearranged and destroyed, thus releasing tremendous energy.

But then came Shabbat, involving a totally different type of creative force. Now God used ytzirah, a positive force that represents rest, harmony and causality. Suddenly, everything found its place in the world, and Shabbat marked the end of briah and the initiation of ytzirah. It was on the seventh day that “God finished His work,” finished using the forces of briah, and instituted the restful, nondestructive creative process known as ytzirah.

Shabbat, therefore, teaches us much more than just physical rest from the frustrations and destructive components involved in a hard week of work. Rather, it challenges us to be creators who know the secret power of ytzirah. Man must improve the world by acting positively rather than by destroying in order to build. Shabbat offers the Jew the inspiration to be a yotzer all week long.

Perhaps because he recognized the need for the type of creative rest that defines the Sabbath, the brilliant Hebrew essayist Ahad Ha-Am, once remarked, “More than the Jews keep the Sabbath, has the Sabbath [observance] kept the Jews [alive].”


Rabbi Elazar R. Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Hostile Intimidation


Every Saturday afternoon, spot on 5 p.m., through the summer and into autumn, a squad of Jerusalem police clip-clopped on horseback past my house on Rehov Hanevi’im, the Street of the Prophets. Half an hour later, equally as prompt, dozens of fervently-Orthodox Jews in their Sabbath best gathered outside the Fresco fish restaurant, 100 yards up the road, and rioted till sunset.

The men, bearded patriarchs in long, black, tailored silk coats and cartwheel fur hats, sweltered piously in the hottest summer on record (up to 93 F). Their wives, wigged for modesty, sweated in floral prints with long sleeves and hems below the knee.

Small boys in black knickerbockers and velvet yarmulkes twirled their sidecurls and shrilled, “Shabbes! Shabbes!” whenever a car approached. Their elders took up the raucous refrain like a chorus from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Sometimes they surged forward, jeering and leering. One week I watched an Arab family, visiting a nearby maternity hospital, turn tail and flee down the hill to the sanctuary of the Old City. If the Jews were having an Intifada, they wanted no part of it.

The police, with batons drawn, forced the rioters back — and were cursed as “Nazis” for their pains. Things turned doubly ugly when secular Israelis drove up and down with their radios blaring heavy metal in counter-demonstration.

The religious Jews were protesting that the Fresco, a cool oasis in a restored 19th-century mansion, served non-kosher Mediterranean seafood, and on the day of rest too. The restaurant, truth be told, is tucked between Prophets Street and Jaffa Road, the main drag of Jewish West Jerusalem. It interferes with no one’s Sabbath.

The rioters’ real aim was to close Prophets Street, which runs near, but not through, the Orthodox ghetto of Mea She’arim, on Saturdays. In a holy city where logic-chopping has been raised to an art form, such distinctions dictate how the rest of us live.

Last year the rioters forced the town council to close another main road, Bar-Ilan, on Saturdays. Bar-Ilan has been engulfed over the past decade by the synagogues and seminaries of an expanding Haredi suburb. They are less likely to succeed in Prophets Street, where the only ecclesiastical buildings are the Anglican School, a French convent and the Swedish Protestant Theological Institute.

The zealots campaign with total conviction and no scruples. Yeshiva students harass the Fresco throughout the week. On Fridays, they call 20 or 30 times, always from public phone boxes so that they can’t be traced. They book tables, then don’t turn up.

“They threaten to burn us down,” said Udi Me’iri, the 26-year-old chef and part-owner. “They threaten to smash up the place. They yell that cancer will consume us, that we’ll be struck by lightning.”

When Nurit Rosenberg, a 25-year-old waitress, answers the phone she is cursed as a whore. “One Friday,” she said, “I just cried.” Occasionally, the students come to the door and spit on her. They call her a shiksa. “It’s frustrating,” she confided, “it’s insulting, it’s humiliating.”

The Fresco is one of dozens of Jerusalem restaurants open on the Sabbath. In the Russian Compound, just as close to Mea She’arim, discos rock till dawn. According to a survey published last spring by the Committee to Uphold the Sabbath in Jerusalem, the number of businesses open on Friday night and Saturday has doubled in the past three years.

They logged 43 restaurants, 13 coffee shops, 26 pubs, nine night clubs, three cinemas, eight kiosks, six fast-food and takeaway shops, and 10 taxi ranks. A local paper counted another 30 eateries the committee missed. You have to book if you want to be sure of a table.

Jerusalem is at once a holy city and a capital city, the home of countless yeshivas, but also of the Knesset and the civil service, the Supreme Court, the Hebrew University and the Bezalel Academy of Art. Jewish tradition speaks of two Jerusalems, the heavenly Jerusalem and the earthly Jerusalem. Despite the aggravation, they find ways to coexist.

Thousands of art-lovers troop every Saturday through the Israel Museum. The box office is closed in deference to the Sabbath, but they buy tickets from a “private” van in the parking lot. Jerusalem is home to Betar, the national soccer champions. Its Sephardi fans are celebrated for going to synagogue on Saturday morning and the match in the afternoon.

Yet the zealots, about 30 percent of Jerusalem’s 400,000 Jews, are slicing away at the resistance. Demography is on their side. More than 50 percent of this year’s primary school intake was Orthodox.

Fresco’s gentle chef, Udi Me’iri, is pessimistic: “They take one street after another. A lot of my friends are moving to Tel-Aviv. We tried to negotiate with a more respectable delegation that came to see us. But they wanted us either to go kosher or close. The gap is so wide that I don’t think it can be bridged.”

In the Street of the Prophets, that has a ring of self-fulfillment.