To everything — even your colors — there is a season


Spending five hours discussing your clothing, colors and style preferences may seem like a nightmare to some. But it’s all in a day’s work for Wendy Lehmann, a veteran professional image consultant from England who lends her passion for fashion to remaking your look in Israel. And while Pesach cleaning doesn’t usually mean editing your wardrobe, it’s as good a time as any to eliminate what doesn’t serve you. (Or at least contemplate it.)

Lehmann is the official representative of the United Kingdom’s leading image analysis company, the House of Colour, which recently opened its first branch in the Holy Land. Over the good part of a day, she shows clients how to create a personal brand. A recent immigrant from London to the Merkaz, in the central region of Israel, Lehmann caters to everyday individuals and groups as well as fashionistas, designers, celebs and public figures. Her clients are both men and women. 

Getting your “colors done” has never been a big business in Israel — until now. With infectious enthusiasm and flair, Lehmann runs the Israel branch of House of Colour as a one-woman operation from a new studio in B’nai Tzion, near Kfar Saba. For Lehmann, it’s a given that the color and style of what you wear can boost a mood, enhance natural looks and lend confidence to your style at work, home or play.

Her timing couldn’t be better. The country’s burgeoning fashion industry, which produces about $1 billion a year in exports, has won rave reviews. It generated significant media buzz over the first Tel Aviv Fashion Week in 25 years, held this past November. Representatives of leading fashion magazines from the United States and Europe, including Vogue, were in attendance. The guest of honor was designer Roberto Cavalli. He wasn’t the only name gaining recognition. Dodo Bar Or, Israel Ohayon, Tamar Primark and Mira Zwillinger were among the Israeli designers garnering media attention. 

All that was good news for Lehmann. And me. This past summer in Israel, I broke my leg in a hiking accident and ended up spending months recuperating. When I learned about the House of Colour’s new Israel’s operations, Lehmann and I were both game to guinea pig me and update my wardrobe beyond the trifecta I was eager to leave behind: wheelchair, crutches and cane. To delve into this British system, Lehmann suggested I bring along from Jerusalem a couple of pieces that I love and a few that I dislike. One more cardinal rule: no makeup.  

Once Lehmann positioned me in Israel’s House of Colour HQ, in front of a mirror in natural daylight, she instructed me to pull back my long hair and draped me in a white apron. I felt about as attractive as Lucy and Ethel when they bungled the chocolate assembly line. But instead of snatching up pralines, Lehmann armed herself with swatches of fabric in a wealth of colors. In seconds, she showed me how they seem to affect my naked complexion, lifting my appearance or draining it, making my eyes seem brighter or duller. The first step, which is the same for everyone, was to determine if my undertones were yellow or blue. It soon became apparent that Lehmann, whose undertones are yellow and who classifies herself as an “autumn,” knew exactly what she was doing. Her conclusion? Out of the four seasons, my undertones are blue. I am a “winter,” confirming a similar analysis I had done years prior in California. 

The House of Colour system, however, includes not only a prescription of the colors one should wear, but why and how. With that in mind, Lehmann then examined a wide spectrum, holding approximately 30 swatches next to my punim. Recording her findings in a chart I would take home, she ranked each color within my season, giving me easy-to-follow guidelines. “Wow” colors that work great from head to toe rank 100 percent. Those that lend themselves well to dresses and coats 75 percent. The best colors for tops are designated 50 percent and those for accessories 25 percent. My all-time best colors are rich, dark jewel tones: such as bordeaux, plum, deep green and navy, but I can also rock hot pink, every shade of gray, true white and barely-there icy pastels in pink, mint and faint blue. Relying on the top picks in my season could create what Lehmann calls a “capsule wardrobe” of minimal pieces in which every item works with every other. She also convinced me I could carry unusual colors I would have previously never considered for anything beyond a T-shirt, including a brilliant kelly green. Sold! 

Despite the popular opinion that everyone can wear black, in the House of Colour everyone actually cannot. Only winters can. And although we can all get away with more when we are young and dewy, it’s easy to see that over time, and for every season, black washes out complexions and makes the other seasons look too formal or stern. That’s one reason why Lehmann says she wishes she could make over Israel’s Charedi population. But there is good news, too. As Lehmann says, “The one color everyone can wear is true red.” 

In both individual and group sessions, Lehmann also offers personal style analysis, often in the company of other clients, in what becomes a riotously fun experiment in what looks wrong and what looks right. Group sessions are “demand led.” And Lehmann, who can easily entertain an audience, is clearly of the “more, the merrier” philosophy. 

As I did, each House of Colour client departs with plenty of tips for successful shopping and a style booklet, fashion guide and wallet full of color swatches to demystify the process when shopping. Makeup, scarves and other items are available online and from a handful of consultants working in the United States at houseofcolour.co.uk. The company also provides expert complimentary guides such as an electronic “what to wear” guide for every occasion. 

In addition to my colors, Lehmann made suggestions for my style of clothes, taking a look at my facial features, general proportions and preferences culled from a series of questions listed in the massive binder she referred to throughout the instructional part of our session. In the end, she deemed me a “natural romantic,” combining my love of natural fabrics and down-to-earth styles with my affinity for very feminine looks. She suggested I think of natural as the cap on my romantic pen, adding that I might best avoid sharp angles, on a jacket lapel, say, for unstructured softer edges instead. 

In the weeks since, I’ve turned to my House of Colour wallet of color swatches while shopping and experimented with Lehmann’s advice to edit my wardrobe. Besides drawing interest from fellow shoppers and shopkeepers, her tips have earned me heaps of positive feedback from the new combinations I’ve created from my wardrobe as well as the successful, though sometimes painful, letting go of things that just aren’t right. It’s a bit like letting chocolates pass you by on a conveyor belt. Sometimes the best answer is “No.” 

Five hours never passed so quickly.


When you go: 
Prices range from $130 for color analysis to $190 for personal style, with discounts for packages and groups. Discounts are available if people book both style and color consultation, and if they reserve as a group of three or more participants. Lehmann also offers personal shopping and wardrobe edits. For more information, call 011-972 (54) 427-2809 — within Israel, dial (054) 427-2809 — or e-mail wendy.lehmann@houseofcolour.com.

Old favorites take on fresh roles in fall TV season


After a summer filled with Olympics, political conventions and bizarre reality shows (“I Survived a Japanese Game Show” anyone?) TV viewers are aching for something different. The new offerings this fall range from international imports like “The Ex List” and “Life on Mars” to surprise comebacks like “90210” and the mini-turned-maxi series “The Starter Wife.” This new crop of shows featuring Jewish actors or characters joins returning favorites such as “Big Bang Theory,” “Pushing Daisies” and “Heroes.” So peruse our guide, pick up that remote and get ready to record your soon-to-be favorites.

Show: “90210”
Channel: The CW
Airs: Tuesdays, 8 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
The rich, hormonal guys and gals at West Beverly are back, but this time the student body actually reflects the real Beverly Hills High’s large Iranian-American population. While tuning into this re-launched Aaron Spelling guilty pleasure won’t curb your longing for the days of Andrea, Brandon and Steve, the return of Kelly (Jennie Garth) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) might help. Throw in David and Kelly’s half-sister, the rebellious Silver (Jessica Stroup), and “Arrested Development’s” Jessica Walter as an alcoholic former-actress grandmother, and those thoughts of Dylan’s sideburns should fly right out of your head.

Show: “Sons of Anarchy”
Channel: FX
Airs: Wednesdays, 10 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
Ron Perlman (“Hellboy”) heads a gun-running motorcycle club in a rural California town, and his nephew, Jax, is having second thoughts about joining “the family” — much to the chagrin of Jax’s mom (Katey Segal). For those who miss “The Sopranos,” including Drea de Matteo, this could become your next addiction after second two of “Mad Men” ends in October.

Show: “Dancing With the Stars”
Channel: ABC
Premieres: Monday, Sept. 22, 8 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
The folks behind “Young Frankenstein: the Musical” said Cloris Leachman, 82, was too old to handle eight performances a week. Tune in to the seventh season of “Dancing With the Stars” to see the original Frau Blucher, the oldest dancer on the show thus far, compete against Susan Lucci and Toni Braxton to become the queen of the dance floor.

Show: “The Ex List”
Channel: CBS
Premieres: Friday, Oct. 3, 9 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
Just like with “Numb3rs,” CBS once again puts a Jewish show on Friday night (thanks guys). Be sure to record this adorable import from Israel about a city-dwelling single gal named Bella Bloom (Elizabeth Reaser), who learns from a fortune-teller that Mr. Right was a former boyfriend. Thus, the “ex list” comes in to play for Bella and her friends (Rachel Boston, Adam Rothenberg, Alexandra Breckenridge and Amir Talai). It made it big it Eretz Yisrael as “Mythological X,” and considering the “Bachelor” doesn’t start until January, this romantic dramedy makes a great substitute.

Show: “Kath & Kim”
Channel: NBC
Premieres: Thursday, Oct. 9, 8:30 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
Another import, this time from Australia, features recent newlywed-turned-divorced daughter Selma Blair and mom-who-won’t-grow-up Molly Shannon. Sandwiched between network hits “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office,” the scheduling could prove promising for this bawdy comedy.

Show: “Life on Mars”
Channel: ABC
Premieres: Thursday, Oct. 9 at 10 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
If you’re feeling nostalgic for the 1970s — especially now that “Swingtown” is off the air — the American version of this BBC show might fill the void. Sam Tyler, a police detective in 2008, lands in 1973 after a car crash. Harvey Keitel plays Sam’s boss who, of course, doesn’t believe this “I’m from the future” shtick. But how will Sam’s love life with 21st-century girlfriend Lisa Bonet play out in the space-time continuum?

Show: “Testees”
Channel: FX
Premieres: Thursday, Oct. 9, 10:30 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
“South Park” writer and “Kenny vs. Spenny” creator-star Kenny Hotz enters the world of experimentation, where 30-something roommates Peter (Steve Markle) and Ron (Jeff Kassel) work as human guinea pigs at TESTICO, a not-quite-normal product testing facility. Every week the two test a new product — with ridiculous side effects — and then have to live their lives as best they can. It’s a comedy. No, really.

Show: “The Starter Wife”
Channel: USA
Premieres: Friday, Oct. 10, 10 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
Emmy-winner Debra Messing returns in the show based on Gigi Levangie Grazer’s best-seller about a divorcée who restarts her life when her husband dumps her for a younger woman. Many Angelenos should be able to relate to this humorous hit mini-series turned maxi-series that pokes fun at all things Hollywood. Of course, it’s another one that’s on Friday nights, but, luckily, DVRs can record two shows at once.

Show: “Surviving Suburbia”
Channel: The CW
Premieres: Sunday, Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Why You Should Watch:
Bob Saget slips back into the dad role sans Olson twins. Given the lack of hit family sitcoms, the show’s premise about a normal family and their crazy neighbors with the distractingly hot daughter could be fun to watch. Think “Married With Children,” but in reverse.

The ‘Show’ behind the show


Irving Berlin was right on the money when he wrote about life on Broadway: “

Even with a turkey that you know will fold, you may be stranded out in the cold. Still you wouldn’t trade it for a sack of gold.”

When the curtain rises on a new production, the audience sees only a fraction of what it takes to put a show together. They don’t witness the fights, the number crunching or the lives of actors who count on their role to pay the rent. They see what the backers, directors, producers, crew and actors want them to see: the onstage magic.

The documentary, “ShowBusiness,” captures the behind-the-curtain drama of the 2003-2004 Broadway season, illustrating the ups and downs the public isn’t privy to – from blockbusters that shine to “turkeys” that crash and burn.

Tony-winning producer Dori Berinstein (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”) had no idea how the season would play out when she directed the film, which opens in Los Angeles on June 1.

“I fell in love with theater early,” said Berinstein, who was born and grew up in Brentwood. “I had a tremendous desire to bring that world to life in a film. I wish I could say I knew it was going to be a genius year; it just happened.”

Berinstein’s inspiration also came in the form of William Goldman’s book, “The Season,” which tracked Broadway shows from 1967 to 1968. Berinstein film, created from 250 hours of footage, is the closest anyone has come in 40 years to following a Broadway season the way Goldman did.

The end result is a remarkable tale of four musicals: “Taboo,” a controversial cult favorite that closed after a few months; “Caroline, or Change,” a critical favorite that L.A. audiences loved but New York didn’t; “Wicked,” the lavish record-breaker critics thought would tank, and “Avenue Q,” the sleeper hit that no one expected would win the Tony.

The musical-focused format wasn’t necessarily what Berinstein had in mind (plays like “Golda’s Balcony” and “I Am My Own Wife” also opened that season), but the narrative took shape with the contributions of editors Richard Hankin (“Capturing the Friedmans”) and Adam Zuker (“Broadway: The American Musical”).

“I wanted it to be a celebration about theater and the incredible talent onstage and behind the curtain,” said Berinstein, who is on Broadway this season with the Tony-nominated “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” “I wanted it to be really, really honest. It was a particularly brutal season.”

The film highlights the ongoing clash between the “show” and “business” aspects: The musical that has to close because it isn’t making money, the pure elation from two young creators the morning the Tony nominations come out and the heartbreak when the “sure thing” doesn’t win.

As a documentary, “ShowBusiness” doesn’t pull its punches. A montage focuses on shows with a short shelf life — some closed after only one night — while “Fiddler on the Roof’s” “Sunrise, Sunset” plays in the background.

Meanwhile, one of the more ironic moments involves five critics Berinstein assembled at various points during the season. While the quintet dishes at a New York restaurant, they pan the “Wizard of Oz” prequel, “Wicked.” Berinstein juxtaposes their comments with footage of the show’s growing fanbase backed by the “Wicked” tune, “Popular.”

After all her hard work, Berinstein has created something that draws in its audience until the final curtain call. But would she do it again?: “In a flash. I would love to.”

“ShowBusiness” runs June 1-8 at The Landmark, 10800 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.

For more information, visit ” target = “_blank”>http://myspace.com/showbusinessmovie

Affordable winter escapes are but a snowball’s throw away


Now that the holiday season is upon us, it’s time to do a little carving — and we’re not talking brisket.

The recent tease of fresh powder has left rippers and freeriders hopeful that there won’t be a repeat of last season’s half-open San Bernardino snow farms.

Already some local ski resorts, like Mountain High and Bear Mountain, have reported base depths of more than 2 feet at their upper elevations. Mammoth was the first ski resort to open in California on Nov. 9, hot on the heels of its record-setting 52 feet of snow during 2005-06. And with the last of the Rocky Mountain resorts set to open this week, it’s beginning to look a lot like ski season.

Even though most resorts currently have less than 50 percent of its trails open, don’t put off planning your getaway until the powder drops. Plenty of Jewish ski packages are already filling up, and this year’s bevy will be kinder to you wallet since much of the action is being kept fairly close to home.

Southern California
San Bernardino Mountains

Chabad on Campus and Chabad of California are reaching out to Jews of all denominations with its men-only and women-only Winter Break Ski and Learn Experiences. Geared toward Jewish undergraduate and graduate students (ages 18-26) with little or no background in formal Jewish learning, the six-day trips will feature morning Jewish learning sessions on three different tracks with rabbis and Chabad staff from Southern California, Oregon and Washington. After 11:30 a.m., the mountain is yours until the last run of the day. Subsidized pricing will include transportation to and from the slopes, kosher meals, lodging, alternative outdoor activities and a full Shabbat service. There is no dress code, however you will have to arrange transportation to the Kiryas Schneerson Lodge in Running Springs and pay for your own lift ticket and rentals (three-day package for $160).

Dates: Dec. 21-27, 2006 (men), Dec. 27, 2006-Jan. 1, 2007 (women).
Cost: $50.


For more information, call (213) 748-5884, or visit www.winterbreak.info.

For high school students, West Coast NCSY is hosting a Ski Shabbaton in February. The Orthodox youth group is renting a group of cabins near Wrightwood and Big Bear, and will feature skiing and snowboarding all day Friday, Saturday night and all day Sunday. For tuchus-draggers and frum bunnies, optional snow tubing and alpine sliding will be available Saturday night. A reduced rate is available for students who wish to join the group after Shabbat ends.

Dates: Feb. 17-19, 2007.
Cost: $125 (full Shabbaton), $60 (post-Shabbat).
For more information, call Ouriel Hazan at (310) 876-6631.

Northern California
Mammoth Mountain

Leave the car at home and let someone else do the driving. Now in its 12th year, JSki is the only L.A. Jewish ski group that puts its 20- to 40-somethings on a luxury bus, complete with videos and a bathroom. Cost includes two-nights lodging in a luxury condo with fireplace, kitchen and Jacuzzi; transportation to and from the slopes; dinner and hors d’oeuvres party. Bus picks up and drops off at Van Nuys Flyaway, Federal Building and Irvine Transportation Center.

Dates: Jan. 19-21, 2007; Feb. 9-11, 2007 (joint trip with Mosaic, Kesher Israeli and Nexus); March 2-4, 2007; March 23-35, 2007.
Cost: $199.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail jskila@aol.com.

Lake Tahoe

Want to schmooze on the slopes with the high-tech crowd? The Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley’s Young Adult Division is sponsoring its annual ski trip to Northstar-at-Tahoe. Price includes housing, lift ticket, food, drinks and a cocktail reception.

Dates: Jan. 26-28, 2007.
Price: $255.
For more information, call (408) 357-7503 or visit www.jvalley.org/svyad.html.

Colorado
Breckenridge

Steppin’ Out Adventures is planning a trip for Jewish singles to Breckenridge with a seven-night or four-night option. Breck’s Victorian charm is complimented by its renowned nightlife. While accommodations at The Village at Breckenridge are renown for being a bit austere, its prime location and recent $2 million facelift might make your stay a bit more tolerable. Price includes lift tickets to Vail, Keystone, Beaver Creek or A-Basin; transfers to and from Denver airport; lodging; full breakfast; two dinners and planned optional activities.

Dates: Feb. 4-11, 2007; Feb. 7-11, 2007.
Cost: $1,290-$1,650.
For more information, call (866) 299-5674 or visit steppinoutadventures.com.

Copper Mountain

Just 75 miles west of Denver, Copper Mountain is known for its accessibility — beginner, intermediate and expert skiing trails naturally separated into three distinct areas. The resort also features some of the best early and late season snow, along with four alpine bowls and renowned terrain parks. This JSki trip includes roundtrip air from Los Angeles or San Diego, transportation from and to Denver airport, three nights lodging (double occupancy) at Best Western Lake Dillon Lodge, three days lift tickets, round trip shuttle to slopes and a daily breakfast.

Dates: Jan. 12-15, 2007.
Cost: $699.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail jskila@aol.com.

Vail

Vail’s Bavarian-style resort is regularly ranked as one of the top ski destinations in the United States. Boasting 5,289 skiable acres and one of the largest networks of high-speed quad lifts, Vail offers greater room for skiing or snowboarding and more time on the slopes. This Steppin’ Out Adventure package features accommodations at the Lion Square Lodge in LionsHead Village, which includes a fitness club, spa and complimentary Internet access; transfers from Eagle Airport (30 minutes from Vail); lodging; lift tickets to Golden Peak, Vail Village, LionsHead Village or Cascade Village; full breakfast and two dinners; and planned optional activities.

Dates: March 18-25, 2007; March 20-25, 2007.
Cost: $1,955-$2,330.
For more information, call (866) 299-5674 or visit steppinoutadventures.com.

Utah
Salt Lake City

The New Year’s trip with JSki drew 130 people last year and this year is filling up fast. The roundtrip flight chartered by New Horizon Tours has already sold out, but no worries — simply book your own flight Salt Lake City. There’s still room on the bus from and to the airport and in the hotel, but that won’t last long. The trip includes five nights lodging at the Marriott (double occupancy); five days of lift tickets to Alta, Solitude and Snowbird (tram extra), Deer Valley and The Canyons; transportation to the slopes, daily buffet breakfast and a welcome dinner party.

Dates: Dec. 27, 2006-Jan. 1, 2007.
Cost: $705.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail jskila@aol.com.

Faith and Season


In Minneapolis-St. Paul, Somali Muslim immigrants, who make up the majority of airport cab drivers, are refusing to take passengers carrying alcohol.In the gripping, must-see documentary “Jesus Camp,” 9-year-old children are whipped into a glassy-eyed religious fervor against abortion and secular society.
 
In the run-up to the November elections, evangelical Christian pastors are using their pulpits to exhort believers to turn out in force against Democrats, in the name of Jesus.
 
Meanwhile, the pope — who himself is not exactly at the vanguard of critical thinking — has been furiously apologizing for comments he made during a speech on religious understanding that many Muslims took to be blasphemous.
 
For people who think that religion is not the cure but the cause of human misery, this month has provided plenty of proof.
 
It is easy to read the headlines and conclude that if religion would just go away, all would be well. But humans are hard-wired for belief. If it is suppressed, as in communist China, faith comes roaring back once the lid is off. If religion falls out of favor, as it did in the secular, God-Is-Dead 1960s, the pendulum eventually swings back until we end up with a president discussing, rather hopefully, the possibility of a Third Great Awakening of Christian fervor, as George W. Bush did with a group of journalists last month.
 
And say you really could sweep away religion. What then? The secular dogmas that have replaced it — Nazism, Stalinism and Maoism, among the more recent examples — have wreaked even worse havoc on humanity.
 
The problem, it seems to me, isn’t religion, but belief itself. There are, after all, two types of people: those who think about everything they believe, and those who believe everything they think. If there is a human curse to be broken, it is the curse of dogma.
 
How to wrest people from the grip of their dogmatic beliefs is the problem of our century. It is religious dogma that seems to drive the president of Iran toward a nuclear confrontation with the West. He will sacrifice his nation’s economy, and maybe Iran itself, to the idea of bringing about the incarnation of the Mahdi.
 
Scary as hell, yes. But just as scary is the huge swath of Americans, the kind who have made best-sellers of the apocalyptic “Left Behind” novels, who believe we are overdue for a confrontation between civilizations that will hasten the Second Coming. Those of us who find some comfort and some answers in religion can only wonder: How can you make moderate belief? How can you inject dogma with reason? There is no single answer, but I do have one small proposal: Sukkot.The holiday of Sukkot is coming up this week, and if you’ve never celebrated it, make this the first year you do.
 
To my mind, Sukkot comes each year to rescue us from the severity of faith. The High Holidays are so … high. They are meant to be demanding and claustrophobic, as we fast and self-assess and go back and forth in our heads over where we’ve erred and how we can repair our souls.
 
Then comes Sukkot.
 
On Sukkot, we construct temporary booths — the Hebrew word for huts is sukkot — and sit and eat and drink and pass as much time as possible in them. The huts must have impermanent walls and roofs of leaves and branches that allow the rain to enter. The idea is to remind us of the time the Children of Israel wandered homeless in the desert, protected only by God.
 
The effect is to get us out of our heads and into our bodies, into nature. That is why, bar none, it’s my favorite Jewish holiday, the one I would take with me on a desert isle (where I’d probably have to construct a bamboo hut, anyway).On Sukkot we read from the book of Ecclesiastes, the most existential of prophets. He looks at the darkness of the world and the brevity of our small lives, and comes up with this conclusion: “It is good, yea, it is beautiful, to eat and drink and to experience goodness with all his toil that he toils under the sun.”
 
In short, you might as well enjoy it while you’re here. It’s true that Sukkot, like any other religious ritual, can be hijacked by extremism or the baser instincts. There’s usually a scandal in Borough Park around unscrupulous sale of holiday items. To this day I’m still unclear why the etrog, a simple citrus fruit used as part of the Sukkot ritual, should cost several hundred times more than a lemon from Gelson’s. But if you build a sukkah, or sit in a friend’s, you will find that such concerns ultimately provoke laughter, not anger.
 
Sitting under the stars, it is hard to feel outraged, or even pessimistic. It is easier to realize that life — including our beliefs and our dogmas — is shaky, like the sukkah itself. It is easy to see our most deeply held beliefs as temporary shelters, something we erect to keep the darkness at bay, but hardly as lasting as the darkness that surrounds it, and the mysteries therein.
 
Author Sam Harris has been making the rounds lately promoting his newest screed against religion, “Letter to a Christian Nation.” In this book and his first, “The End of Faith,” Harris argues for people to abandon faith-based belief systems. Harris is a smart man, but how stupid is that? Thousands of years of evidence suggest it just won’t happen. A better idea is to encourage beliefs, rituals, practices and leaders that lessen the harsh decree of dogma. Harris doesn’t spend much time attacking Judaism, because Judaism, though it has its share of mindless extremists, has struggled to combine faith with critical thinking to together serve our souls, lift up our lives.
 
Perhaps Jews should take it upon themselves to find an empty piece of property and erect a huge, community sukkah, a place where people of all faiths, and the faithless, can sit, eat, enjoy, play music, hold classes, and talk about these issues, a shelter of moderation in a world gone extreme.
 
It’s too late to do it this year, but maybe next? The City Sukkah could be a gift of the Jews, a small attempt to show how faith can be both grand and humble.
 
Or in the words of poet Philip Appleman:
 
“…before our world goes over the brink,
Teach the believers how to think.”
 
Happy Sukkot.

Sukkot: the beauty of fragility


Nine years ago, my wife and I returned home from lunch in a friend’s sukkah on the first day of Sukkot. The phone was ringing as we walked in, and since we’d only
just arrived in Los Angeles we didn’t have an answering machine set up yet. Since we don’t use the phone on Shabbat or holidays, I did nothing as it rang four, five, six times.

I had gone to lie down for a nap when the phone started to ring again. Figuring it was a persistent telemarketer, I rolled over and tried to ignore it. The phone stopped again after another five or six rings. But a few minutes later, the phone rang again. This time I was worried.

I answered the phone and on the other end of the line was my sister, an internist in San Jose.

“Grandma is in the hospital; she is really sick. You should come,” she said.
Since my sister deals in matters of life and death, I knew it was serious.
I don’t travel on Shabbat or Jewish holidays, so after I hung up the phone I walked a few short blocks to Rabbi Elliot Dorff’s home to discuss my options.

If I waited until the end of the first two days of the festival, and then Shabbat, which followed immediately thereafter, I would likely be too late. We decided that, although we observe the second day of Jewish festivals, since the second day of Sukkot has a different status according to Jewish law than the first day and Shabbat, when the first day of the festival ended that night I would take the last flight out of LAX.

When I arrived that night in San Jose, I went immediately to the hospital to visit my grandma Lillian (z”l), who was in a coma. I made arrangements to spend Shabbat in the hospital, in her room at her side, an intimacy that the stringencies of Jewish law gifted to me.

Friday night, I prayed Kabbalat Shabbat at her side and made Kiddush with her. The next morning I donned my tallit, prayed the morning prayers and studied the weekly portion to the rhythm of a ventilator and heart monitor.

That afternoon, after one of many visits to my grandma’s side, my mother, sister and I, along with other close relatives, walked away from her door toward the waiting room for a few minutes of relief. As we headed past the nurse’s station, a nurse called out, “She is fading — you should come quickly.”

We hustled back to the room. I knelt down, took out my siddur, and began to recite the Vidui — the Jewish deathbed confessional — and concluded with the Shema. Before I finished those words, she had died.

I am grateful for many things from that weekend. I am grateful for the guidance and compassion of a wise teacher and friend in Rabbi Dorff. I am grateful for the gift — as Rabbi Ed Feinstein, a teacher of mine, would describe it a few weeks later — of holding my grandmother’s hand as she slipped from this world into the next. And, as the years have gone by, I am even grateful that she died during this season, on the third day of Sukkot, for through her death she taught me the true essence of what it means to dwell in a sukkah.

Martha Nussbaum, author of a book titled, “The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy,” once wrote, “Part of the peculiar beauty of human excellence just is its vulnerability.”

Part of what gives this world its beauty, its goodness, is its vulnerability. Beauty in this world cannot be made invulnerable. We cannot be invulnerable, even though we try. We try so hard to protect ourselves, to protect our children. We build walls. We build strong, comfortable houses with roofs and heat for shelter and quiet. But we cannot be made invulnerable; we cannot keep ourselves safe and truly celebrate the beauty of this world.

On Sukkot, the time tradition tells us is zman simchateinu, the season of our joy, we dwell in a fragile hut, open to the winds and rain and cold of the world, to remind ourselves that our joy is enriched, is deepened, when we glimpse, if only for a moment, how weak and fragile we are.

Rabbi Israel Mayer HaCohen asked why it is that we celebrate Sukkot in autumn. Leviticus 23:42-3 teaches: “You shall live in booths seven days, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I am Adonai your God.”

If Sukkot commemorates what God did after the Exodus from Egypt, let us celebrate Sukkot in the spring. Alternatively, if Sukkot commemorates the clouds of glory with which God sheltered us in the wilderness (as Rabbi Akiba argued in the Talmud), let us celebrate Sukkot in the summer when the clouds protected us most from the searing midday summer sun.

Why autumn?

The Chafetz Chaim answers that we were not commanded to make Sukkot during the spring or summer because that was when most people would make sukkot for shade.

Instead, we make them specifically when the rainy season begins and the weather grows colder during the fall to remind others and ourselves that what we are doing is a mitzvah, a commandment from God. This mitzvah asks us to see and feel the world in all our weakness and vulnerability. The sukkah invites us to make our home amid the elements, to experience the chill of autumn, to get damp and wet and cold. After that we can feel the true joy of having lived another year in God’s beautiful world.

Rabbi Daniel Greyber is the executive director of Camp Ramah in California and the Max & Pauline Zimmer Conference Center at the University of Judaism.

Seven-Year Switch


We want to have everything, and we want it better, bigger and more spectacular than everyone else. Gas-guzzlers roam the roads, and our oil dependency forces us to redefine values and ideals, like democracy and freedom. In Las Vegas and Palm Springs, we must have lusciously green golf courses and lawns watered generously, while other areas are pumped dry or threatened with drought. We demand constant availability of fruits and vegetables, regardless of the season.

As the sages write in Pirke Avot: “Greed, desire and arrogance drive people out of this world.” Indeed, if we don’t wake up, these traits will drive the world away from us.

The first role God designated for humankind is the one we most blatantly ignore. When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, He ordered him to cultivate and protect the planet. And while we have cultivated the rich soils of planet Earth, in the last couple of decades it is achingly clear that if we do not do our best to keep the second part of the commandment — to guard the planet — we might lose it altogether.

This week’s parsha offers inspiration for re-establishing this much-needed balance. The Torah orders the Israelites to fallow the land every seventh year — the Shemita, or Sabbatical year. During that year, naturally grown crops are divided evenly among the whole population. There are no class differences. Even the animals are not prevented from taking their share. This idea must have been shocking and disturbing to agrarian societies in ancient times, and it is still revolutionary today.

The benefits of the seven-year cycle are immeasurable. First, the land recovers the trace minerals it needs without using ammonium-nitrate-based fertilizers, which endangers the aquatic ecosystems. Second, the social structure is corrected every seven years; the differences between the classes are eroded and a sense of unity and togetherness takes over. Lastly, the seventh year provides an opportunity to stop the insane race for provisions, power and glory. It allows people to reconnect to the precious gifts of their family and their inner self.

After seven cycles of Shemita, or 49 years, the Jubilee is to be celebrated. During the Jubilee year, not only would the land be fallowed but all slaves would be released and all nonresidential properties that were previously sold would return to the original owner.

The Jubilee made sure that there would be no lifetime slaves. Since absolute slavery was prevalent in biblical times, this system was a lesser evil that eventually paved the way to total abolishment of slavery in Judaism, long before slavery was relinquished in the rest of the world.

The Jubilee also guaranteed that shrewd businessmen and moneylenders would not be able to amass huge estates and create feudal societies. Instead, every 50 years, land distribution would go back to the beginning, when each household was granted land according to its size.

As urban dwellers, we are far removed from the daily reality of agrarian life, but the message of Shemita and Jubilee goes beyond the agrarian framework. Early mystics pointed out that the Shabbat, the Shemita and the Jubilee are part of the same seven-stroke cycle that extends to greater, cosmic cycles beyond our comprehension. Tuning in to this cycle, mentally and physically, blesses us with inner calm, with love and caring toward planet Earth and toward all humans. It teaches us the real values in life and pulls us away from greed, desire and arrogance.

And while modern life doesn’t permit many of us to take a sabbatical, we can turn our free time into quality time, helping ourselves and the planet. Spending more time with your kids, eating wisely and educating yourself about organic agriculture, global warming and air and water pollution are good beginnings.

Haim Ovadia is rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation, a Sephardic congregation in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at haimovadia@hotmail.com.

Clearing the Air About Allergies


Scary statistic to contemplate: About 10 to 15 percent of kids suffer from allergies, and the rate has been rising steadily for the past 20 years. Though no one knows why allergies are skyrocketing, we do know what causes them. Allergies are an immunological “overreaction” to a substance that enters the body through airborne particles such as pollen, skin contact, or ingested foods. Though this may sound quite simple, allergies are notoriously tricky to diagnose. The symptoms are remarkably diverse, varied in degree, and easy to confuse with other ailments.

1. If your child has cold symptoms that seem to drag on forever, allergies may be the real culprit. Does your child get endless but fever-free head colds — complete with sniffling, sneezing, itchy nose, watery eyes, and noisy mouth-breathing? Could be that she’s suffering from perennial allergic rhinitis, the body’s unhappy response to such year-round allergens as dust mites and animal dander.

How to handle: Talk to your pediatrician about whether your child should be evaluated by an allergist/immunologist; a skin test can identify what triggers your child’s symptoms. Once the results are in, you can work on minimizing the presence of the offending triggers. But unless you plan to lock your child in a mold-free closet for the rest of his life, complete elimination isn’t always possible. Over-the-counter oral antihistamines and decongestants can help, but they can be sedating. Ask your doctor whether the prescription drug Claritin, a nonsedating antihistamine, is an option; it’s approved for use by children age 6 and older.

2. If your child experiences these same symptoms, but they always strike in spring or summertime, you’re probably dealing with seasonal allergic rhinitis. Sometimes inaccurately called hay fever, this kind of allergy can actually be triggered by an array of pollens that become airborne as plants bloom. Need further help diagnosing your child? Look for this give-away, says Dr. June Engel, a biochemist and author of “The Complete Allergy Book”: Since your child’s nose will be itching like crazy, he may well do what’s known as “the allergic salute” — he’ll rub the palm of his hand upward against the tip of his nose to relieve the itching.

How to handle: Electric bills be damned: You may want to shut the windows and run air-conditioning during the height of the season to minimize pollen entering your home, says Dr. Francis V. Adams, pulmonary specialist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at New York University Medical School. Check with your pediatrician for advice on which antihistamines to try, and keep in mind that this medication actually prevents symptoms rather than cures them, so use them at the first hint of seasonal rhinitis.

3. Wheezing, coughing, tightness of the chest, and shortness of breath are usually hallmarks of asthma, an allergic condition in which the bronchial tubes narrow and the lungs become congested due to inflammation. Triggers may be anything from dust mites to mold to animal dander to cigarette smoke. Complicating matters still more, exercise has been known to bring on episodes, and in about 80 percent of cases, a viral infection will kick off the reaction. Typically, a child with asthma will experience his first symptoms before age 3.

How to handle: If your child wheezes or you have any other reason to suspect asthma, contact your pediatrician right away.

Obviously, you’ll want to keep your child away from the specific allergens and irritants as much as possible (warning: this may mean finding the family pet a new home). Beyond that, your child should have a bronchodilator spray available to be used whenever he feels wheezy and take an anti-inflammatory drug on a regular basis to keep his airways open. If your child ever seems to be struggling for breath and his medication doesn’t bring relief, bring him to the emergency room immediately.

4. When raised red patches crop up on your child’s skin, you’re probably dealing with hives. Hives can be an allergic reaction, commonly to an insect sting or food (peanuts, for instance).

How to handle: Of course, avoiding your child’s triggers is the best defense. But if your child is afflicted, be on the lookout for those cases of hives that can turn deadly: “If your kid brushes up against a tree and gets only a hive or two, it’s nothing to be concerned about; treat the itchiness with an over-the-counter oral antihistamine such as Benadryl,” says Dr. Jack Becker, chief of the allergy section at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. “But if all of a sudden he feels funny — that’s how a child will typically describe the sensation — has trouble breathing and is breaking out in hives all over, that’s extremely serious.”

This can progress to a potentially deadly condition known as anaphylactic shock, in which the tongue and throat swell up, cutting off the child’s air supply. If your child ever does show these symptoms, call for an ambulance immediately.

The deadly stage of the reaction might not hit until 10 hours later — when you mistakenly think everything’s back to normal. Also, get a Medic Alert bracelet or some other kind of identification that will let emergency workers know what the problem is in case you’re not present.

Beth Levine is a writer whose essays have appeared in Redbook, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, the Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend and Newsday.

 

Faith, Fans Keep ‘Everwood’ Climbing


 

Everyone knows about Grace Adler and Seth Cohen. The Jewish characters of hit shows “Will and Grace” and “The O.C.” have already become a part of the cultural zeitgeist.

But completing its third season this week is one more show featuring Jewish characters, called “Everwood.” The slightly under-the-radar one-hour family drama has a strong teen following and has been making it’s own inroads in developing complex Jewish characters.

Set in the fictional town of Everwood,

Colo., the show centers on the Brown family. The father, Andrew Brown (Treat Williams), is a famed New York surgeon who moves his kids to Everwood after his wife dies in a car accident. The kids, Ephram (Gregory Smith), 15, and Delia (Vivien Cardone), 9, are resentful of the move and of their father, who up to this point focused on his career and left the parenting to his wife.

Adding another layer of complexity to the relationships between the characters, Dr. Brown is a pragmatist and a nonreligious Christian, while his wife was Jewish. The kids were raised with both religions, and, in the wake of their mother’s death, they make different decisions about the role religion will play in their life.

Interfaith relationships have always been a popular way of integrating Jewish storylines into shows. Sitcoms of the past like “Mad About You,” and the contemporary “The O.C.” are just two examples. While some Jewish critics may object to this depiction, “Everwood” executive producer Rina Mimoun asserts that the interfaith storyline allows more potential for conflict between the characters.

“That was always a part of the show since the pilot,” Mimoun said. “Exploring the different faiths and the dynamics of having an interfaith marriage offers up a lot more story opportunities.”

In the context of “Everwood,” Ephram rejects religion, but in a poignant first-season episode titled, “The Unveiling,” Ephram recites Kaddish for his mother on the anniversary of her death. It was a rare moment for Ephram, whose feelings on religion run closer to those of his father’s.

Delia, however, is another story.

“We have our fair share of Jewish writers and we always enjoy throwing out our share of Yiddish terms,” said “Everwood” executive producer Rina Mimoun. “But I think when we get to explore the religion itself, I think it’s been mostly through Delia.”

“Delia, as a way of staying close to her mother, has chosen Judaism,” Mimoun said.

Mimoun noted that in the first season, Delia “figured out the miracle of Chanukah.” And this year, Delia made a point of wanting to be a Maccabee rather than an angel in the school Christmas play.

(“How could I miss you! You were the only Maccabee in the manger. You stole the show, kiddo!” Dr. Brown tells Delia.)

Going into its fourth season, “Everwood” is gearing up for Delia’s bat mitzvah next year.

“That’ll be a big part of the year next year,” Mimoun said. “It’s something that Andy will have to struggle with.”

In short, more than just throwaway lines and Yiddishisms, the Jewish content in “Everwood’s” scripts runs deep. Sure, Mimoun admits, “Yiddish is funny. Bottom line, tsuris will always get you laughs.”

But, she said, “Delia exploring her faith and trying to figure out if she believes in God. I thought it was a small subtle story. I don’t think we make caricatures out of it.”

Mimoun notes that no one has ever had an issue with integrating Jewish content into the show. It has been supported at every level, all the way up to Warner Bros. Studio head Peter Roth.

“When I tell him I want to do a Passover show next week, he’s down with it,” she said.

‘The season finale of “Everwood” airs Monday, May 23 at 9 p.m. on the WB. For more information, visit

Yeladim


 

This month, Tevet is the darkest month because the days are shortest. And, in this month, a siege began on Jerusalem, which eventually led to the destruction of the Temple. That is why we had a fast day on the 10th of Tevet (Dec. 22).

But here’s an interesting fact about Tevet and the holiday we just celebrated – Chanukah. If you count the number of candles we lit (not including the shamash) you get 36. If you count the number of days from the beginning of Chanukah (25 Kislev) until the last day of Tevet, you get – 36. Pretty cool, huh?

This is the season of lights.

It’s also the season of presents.

Follow the lines to find who is holding the ribbon to which present:

I was at the Westside JCC’s 50th anniversary the other day. There was a big cake and a lot of Chanukah fun. And guess whom I got to stand next to on stage?

Follow the clues to answer the question:

1) A rainbow drops into a pot of__________

2) How many fringes on a tallit? ___________

3) Part of his name sounds “Krazy!”

5) His first name rhymes with Penny _______

6) An event that started in ancient Greece ___________

Who is he and what did he do? Send your answer to abbygilad@yahoo.com for your prize!

 

Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor


 

Q: When does a Christmas tree become a Tu B’Shevat tree?

 

A: When a Westwood church and a Santa Monica synagogue decide that having one tree do double duty is good both for the environment and the spiritual awareness of their congregants.

 

After the hard-working tree has done its dual job, it will be planted in a public park for everyone to enjoy.

Fifty Jewish families from Beth Shir Sholom and 50 Christian families from the Westwood Hills Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ are each contributing $36 to jointly purchase one tree, for a total of 50 trees.

The trees, in planters, were delivered to the church on Dec. 12, during a joint celebration with temple members.

After the Christmas season, on Jan. 9, the trees will be delivered to Beth Shir Sholom families, who will care for them for the next three weeks.

Although Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of Trees, falls on Jan. 25 this year, the actual tree planting will be delayed until Sunday, Jan. 30.

On the morning of Jan. 30, the Christian and Jewish families will meet at the temple and nosh on the fruits symbolic of the holiday, after blessings by the rabbi.

Immediately afterward, the trees will be transported to the Ed Edelman Park in Topanga Canyon and planted there with the help of the TreePeople, Malibu Creek State Park and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

“This project marks the convergence of two traditions, without detracting from the integrity of either one,” said Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom, the “Progressive Reform” congregation long active in interfaith relations. “In both traditions, trees symbolize new life and hope.”

“We tend to link Christmas and Chanukah because they happen around the same time,” said the Rev. Kirsten Linford-Steinfeld of the church. Linford-Steinfeld, who is married to a Jewish man, warmly endorsed the project. “I think it’s a neat idea to connect two of our holidays in a different way, especially since Tu B’Shevat comes exactly one month after Christmas this year.”

The project was the brainchild of Nurit Ze’evi, who thought of the idea when she remembered her childhood in Israel and the Tu B’Shevat holiday.

This year, the project will be on a trial run, but Ze’evi already has more ambitious plans for the future.

In a poem she wrote for the occasion, Ze’evi envisions that in the years to come, hundreds and then thousands of Christians and Jews will join hands in planting Christmas/Tu B’Shevat trees in Los Angeles, the United States and across the world.

 

Reality Doesn’t Bite


Even though 20 million people saw Adam Mesh take the walk of shame and ride the lonely bus home on the final episode of the first season of "Average Joe, " post reality show breakup, Mesh seems to be picking up the pieces very well.

Now he’s turning the tables: The 28-year-old Jewish Joe will star in his very own show, "Average Joe: Adam Returns."

Apparently, the ladies couldn’t get enough of Mesh: Women sent thousands of e-mails and letters wondering how they could get in touch with the mensch-turned-celebrity. Well, now some can — 20 to be exact.

The women, whose identities remain a secret until the show airs, will vie for Mesh’s love at a "dream house" in Palm Springs. The producers, Stuart Krasnow and Andrew Glassman, handpicked the ladies, seeking a grand match for the deserving stud.

"We know him really well," Glassman said, "it’s almost like fixing up a friend."

Raised Reform, Mesh attends temple for the High Holidays, but says that Judaism is not a necessary ingredient for his leading lady.

"Religion is not a criteria," he told The Journal.

Although TV is not the most traditional forum for matchmaking, his family is very supportive.

"My mom is in all her glory, and she sends mass e-mails to all her friends telling them to watch," he said.

The details of the show will be a surprise to Mesh — from the selection of women to the twists and turns for which the show is famous. But now that the world knows about his little fortune — Mesh is a partner in a trading firm in New York City — he is pretty sure that the producers will find a clever way to weed out which of the women is on the show for the wrong reasons. "I have always been a romantic…. What I am hoping for, and I don’t know if it could happen, is that I meet the one person who kind of stops me, and she is the only person I am thinking about," he said.

The program is already in production, ladies, so it’s too late to send in your resume. But you never know — with all the reality show hookups and breakups, he just might be available after the show….

"Average Joe: Adam Returns" premieres Monday, March 15, 10 p.m. on NBC.

The Other Seder


It may be the season for planting trees, but Yosef Abramowitz is pushing for sundae-making this Tu B’Shevat. In what he calls a "revamped" and "recast" seder in honor of the New Year of Trees, Abramowitz and the staff of BabagaNewz, an educational magazine for Jewish kids, are teaching would-be arborists to plant "seeds of hope" in the form of nuts and candy, using cookie crumbs instead of dirt, and wishes instead of water.

Spiritually devoid? Downright ridiculous?

Try uplifting and accessible, said Abramowitz, CEO of Jewish Family & Life!, an educational multimedia enterprise, who co-wrote the seder, "Seeds of Hope," with educator Marilyn Fine.

Looking like a toned-down supplement to the BabagaNewz magazine, the guide’s tan pages and illustrations of Israel differ from the rest of the magazine’s bright and graphics-heavy content. This Tu B’Shevat haggadah seems more tasteful than revolutionary, with photos of Israel, fruit and flowers gracing its margins.

But Abramowitz said his seder operates in markedly new territory.

The New Year of Trees, a relatively minor Jewish holiday, harkens the beginning of spring in Israel, and originally established the start of the tithing season.

Today, it is often recognized as a Jewish Earth Day.

Like its more-established and popular sister, the Passover seder, the Tu B’Shevat ritual revolves around four cups of wine. For Tu B’Shevat, the first glass is white, the next two are a mixture of red and white and the last is all red.

The custom, created in the 17th century by Jewish mystics in Safed, in what is now Israel, also features eating four different categories of fruit, distinguished by the edibility of the fruit’s flesh and pit, which are said to symbolize the four seasons.

Abramowitz’s lessons are imparted within the six-page, glossy haggadah distributed to 34,000 middle school students in 900 religious schools who subscribe to BabagaNewz, which is published monthly during the school year, in conjunction with the Avi Chai Foundation.

During the course of the seder, the traditional four cups of wine are drunk, and lessons on modern Israeli history pepper the liturgy. Students learn about Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and are prompted to act out stories and ask themselves, "Who inspires hope for you?"

Copies of the BabagaNewz seder can be found in BabagaNewz magazines or online at

How the Gonif


Every Jew in the temple

Loved Chanukah a lot,

But the town’s biggest Gonif

Most certainly did not.

The Thief hated Chanukah, the whole Chanukah story.

He hated the Maccabees and all of their glory.

It could be his mezuzah wasn’t screwed on just right,

Or maybe he wrapped his tefillin too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all,

Was maybe his kippah was two sizes too small.

Whatever the reason

The whole Chanukah season,

He stood all eight nights

Hating the menorah’s bright lights.

While staring down at the town

With his Gonif-like frown,

He knew the Jews in the shul

Were opening presents so cool.

“They’re playing with dreidels,” he snarled with a sneer.

“They’re making jelly donuts, like they do every year.”

He growled while his Gonif fingers were nervously drumming:

“I must find a way to stop Chanukah from coming.”

For tomorrow he knew all Jewish girls and boys

Would wait until sunset to play with new toys.

And with Chanukah’s start, the town’d fill with joyful noise,

That’s the one thing he hated noise, noise, noise, noise.

They would feast on latkes, for dessert chocolate gelt.

They would eat so much brisket they would all bust their belt.

And then they would do something he liked least of all,

Every Jew in the temple, the tall and the small,

Would turn off their cellphones to keep them from ringing,

They would light their menorahs and the Jews would start singing.

They would sing of their dreidels, their dreidels of clay,

And when their dreidels were ready, oh dreidel they’d play,

And the more the Gonif thought of the Chanukah singing,

The more the Gonif thought, I must stop this whole thing-ing.

Then he got an idea! An awful idea!

The Gonif, oy vey, got an awful idea.

"I’ll go house-to-house, quiet as a mouse,

I’ll act like a guest, but I’ll be just a louse.

While the Jews are singing ‘Oh Chanukah’ and dancing the hora,

I’ll blow out the candles burning on each menorah."

He entered the first house; he blew and he wheezed,

The candles went right out; “This will be such a breeze.”

He scooped up the gelt, the dreidels and kippahs.

The Gonif just knew this would surely end Chanukah.

"Pooh-pooh to the Jews!" he was Gonifly humming.

"They’re finding out now that no Chanukah is coming.

Their mouths will hang open a minute or two.

Then the Jews in the temple will all cry boo-hoo."

When he stared at the temple, the Gonif popped his eyes,

Because what he saw before him was a shocking surprise!

Every Jew in the temple, the tall and the small,

Was singing even though no candles were burning at all.

He hadn’t stopped Chanukah from coming! It came!

Somehow or other, it came just the same.

And what happened then? Well, in the temple they say,

Even a Gonif can become a mensch when he sees the light of day.

And the minute his tefillin didn’t feel quite so tight

He brought with him matches to give back the light

The Jews in the Temple celebrated Chanukah that year

As always, the Festival of Lights was happily still here.


Matthew Wunderlich, a seventh-grader at Beverly Vista School in Beverly Hills, wrote this poem last year when he was at Walter Reed Middle School. He will be bar mitzvahed in May at Temple Isaiah.

The Basketball Diaries


Two standout Jewish hoop stars headlining the Pac-10 basketball tournament? It’s all part of March Madness. David Bluthenthal, USC’s 22-year-old small forward, and Amit Tamir, UC Berkeley’s 22-year-old forward/center, each look to lead their team to the conference title at the March 7-9 tournament at Staples Center.

Tamir, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound freshman, is thrilled about the tournament, the first held since 1990. "I’m excited to compete in L.A. I’m going to have fun and enjoy my first college tournament," said Tamir, whose team entered the Pac-10 tournament ranked second.

The Jerusalem native earned Pac-10 Player of the Week and ESPN National Player of the Week honors (Feb. 11) for his performance against the University of Oregon. He posted a Cal freshman record 39 points, shooting 14-of-19 from the floor, including 5-of-6 from three-point range and 6-of-8 from the line. Tamir clinched Cal’s first five double-overtime points, leading the Golden Bears to their eventual 107-103 victory. He also snagged five boards.

Tamir recognizes that his exceptional play means more than just a phenomenal night on the court. "I got a lot of attention after Oregon and I know that made Jews, especially Israelis, proud. There’s something nice about being an Israeli ambassador of college ball," Tamir said.

Tamir almost missed his NCAA opportunity. While serving three years in the Israeli army, he earned a spot on the Israeli League’s Hapoel Jerusalem. Tamir said he wasn’t paid by Hapoel, but he did play with a professional on his team. This NCAA amateurism rule violation jeopardized Tamir’s eligibility. But Cal coach Ben Braun successfully fought to reduce Tamir’s potential seasonlong suspension to eight games.

Braun, who is also Jewish, discovered Tamir while coaching a youth team in Israel. The coach and player attended High Holy Day services together at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland. "It was important to me to celebrate the holidays, and meant a lot to share them with Coach Braun," Tamir said. "It’s great playing under a Jewish coach because there’s so much he can relate to. We share a heritage, traditions and holidays."

Braun is not the only Golden Bear who puts this Israeli import at ease. Berkeley coeds make an extra effort to embrace Tamir.

"Students on campus come up and talk in Hebrew or just let me know they share Judaism with me. It’s made me feel at home," said Tamir, who played for the Israeli National under-18 and under-22 teams and led his 1997 ORT High School team to the Jerusalem city title.

Tamir’s teammates also contributed to his smooth continental transition. "Whenever there’s violence in Israel, the guys on the team want to know if it’s near my home, if my family is OK. It’s really nice, and I feel like I can help them understand what’s going on over there," Tamir said.

Tamir left more than heated conflict behind. His father, Asher, an electrician; his mother, Shula, a homemaker; older sisters, Rozit and Gal, and 11-year-old brother, Daniel, all remain in Jerusalem. "I miss my family and friends. And the food: the hummus, mmm, and, oh, the bourekes. My mom’s cooking especially," said Tamir, who does not keep kosher. "She’s a great cook," added the dutiful son, who claims he was overweight until age 15.

Tamir, who grew up watching televised Israeli League and NBA games with his father, aspires to be the first Israeli to play in the NBA. "It’s always been a dream of mine, and I think it would bring a lot of pride to Israel and the Jewish people," Tamir said.

Bluthenthal has similar NBA dreams. "I’ve wanted the NBA since I was 5, and am excited to have been invited to draft camps. After the season, all my efforts will go toward it. But now, I’m focused on the team and our tournament success," said Bluthenthal, a senior whose Trojans entered this weekend’s tournament ranked third. "We’ve got a great team and a shot at winning the title," added the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Los Angeles native.

The lifelong Lakers fan will enjoy his hometown advantage. "We don’t have to travel, and our L.A. fans will be there to support us," said Bluthenthal, who attended both Venice and Westchester highs.

A talented three-point shooter and aggressive rebounder, Bluthenthal got his career third Pac-10 Conference Player of the Week nod (Feb. 18) for his Arizona series performance. He came off the bench against Arizona State and earned his third double-double of the season, posting 21 points and 10 rebounds. In an upset victory over the Arizona Wildcats, he seized nine rebounds and collected a career high 31 points, making 7-of-12 from three-point range.

After an up-and-down season, the history major credits his success against Arizona, ASU and Stanford (22 points) on his strong mental attitude and work ethic. "I haven’t had the best season, but I stay positive and practice a lot," said Bluthenthal, who hits the gym by 7 a.m. daily and takes 500-700 shots before class. "I love shooting, so practice comes easily to me. And I think it’s paid off," added Bluthenthal, who recently became the 26th USC player to earn 1,000 career points.

Bluthenthal admits it’s difficult to fit Judaism into his current schedule. "I’ve gone to services a few times, but there’s not really time between school and basketball. But I’ve been thinking about going more after the season’s over," he said.

He is, however, a proud Maccabiah Games participant. He played at the 1996 New Jersey games, earned bronze at the 1997 Israeli games and gold at the Pan-American Maccabiah Games in Mexico City. "My Israel trip was an amazing experience. I played with great older players, saw incredible sites and learned about the heritage and history," said Bluthenthal, who withdrew from the 2001 games due to an injury.

This preseason Wooden Award candidate, who holds the Trojan record for most game rebounds (28), has become a Jewish phenomenon. "I receive a lot of attention for being a Jewish basketball player. I was fortunate to be born with my height and a love for the game. If my success — getting to play college ball — inspires other Jewish athletes, then that’s great," Bluthenthal said. "I’m happy to be some sort of role model to young Jewish players," he added, blushing almost as much as he does when asked about a girlfriend.

Raised in Marina del Rey, Bluthenthal wanted to stay in Los Angeles for college, the weather and his family. His father Ralph, a retired L.A. County Sheriff’s Department officer; younger sister, Evelyn, who plays volleyball for Venice High School and the 2001 Maccabiah Team, and two older siblings live in Los Angeles.

Though Bluthenthal’s great-great-great-grandfather, Wilshire Boulevard Temple past president Isaias Hellman, was one of three original USC land donors, Bluthenthal once dreamed of playing for UCLA. "The Bruins have a great basketball tradition. But now I’m glad I went to ‘SC, where we started a new tradition," he said proudly. Last year, USC went to the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time since 1954. Bluthenthal earned East Region All-NCAA Tournament Team honors.

"Because this is my senior year, I want us to win the Pac-10 Tournament and go even further than last year in the NCAA Tournament," Bluthenthal said.

Jewish basketball fans everywhere hope to see both Bluthenthal and Tamir achieve their hoop dreams.

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