Humor thrives in ‘Divorce Party: The Musical’


Divorce can be a devastating experience, but one can get through it, survive and even thrive, according to Amy Botwinick, co-author of “Divorce Party: The Musical,” currently running at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. 

The story centers on Linda (Janna Cardia), whose marriage ended when her husband came out of the closet and left her for another man. Linda is wallowing in misery and devouring Chubby Hubby ice cream. Enter her sister (Mary Jayne Waddell), her cousin (Samara Dunn) and her friend (Soara-Joye Ross), who have come to throw her a divorce party and lift her spirits. By the show’s end, Linda has been transformed, physically and emotionally, and is living a full life.

Botwinick, a former chiropractor, went through her own traumatic divorce some 12 years ago. She went on to become a divorce coach, helping other women get through their breakups. After five years of coaching, Botwinick wanted to do more, and the idea for a play came to her as an outgrowth of her therapy.

“My divorce took three years, and I remember going to my therapist, and she said, ‘You’re killing me. I don’t know what to do with you.’ She suggested that I start journaling my thoughts down on paper. I started writing my heart out, and the first thing was a book, ‘Congratulations on Your Divorce.’ That book was a little piece of me, but I interviewed a lot of other men and women, and I said, ‘Please tell me how you made it through this, because I need help.’ And they shared their stories of love, of loss, of why they stayed together, why they chose to leave, and what their lives looked like.

“I think the play was just me writing about what I learned from all these women that I coached, what I learned about myself and how you put your big-girl pants on and start over again.”

Botwinick had never actually written a play, so when she discovered that Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Mark Schwartz was at an event she was attending in Palm Beach, Fla., she introduced herself to him and said she had written a book on divorce and felt the subject would lend itself to a musical. As it happened, Schwartz, who had produced the off-Broadway hit “Menopause: The Musical” and was trying to decide what subject to tackle next, was thinking along the same line. The two ultimately got together and began to collaborate, with Schwartz guiding Botwinick in structuring a script and writing dialogue. He also brought in Jay Falzone to work with them on the book, direct the production and create lyrics that parodied popular tunes, a device modeled on the musical numbers in “Menopause.”

After honing the material for a few years, they premiered the play last January in West Palm Beach, Fla., breaking every box office record for the last 20 years. There was also a production in Toronto, which Schwartz said sold more than 20,000 tickets. 

The producer, who has divorced twice, is quick to emphasize that the show is not just aimed at divorced people. “This is really, really important. It doesn’t matter if you’re single, married or divorced, this is one funny, funny time at the theater. Everybody knows someone who’s been through a divorce, or is going through a divorce. It’s a very normal part of our lives.” 

Although the play unfolds from a woman’s point of view, the show includes about nine “boy toy” characters, all played by actor Scott Ahearn.

“It’s a tour-de-force performance,” Schwartz remarked, “and the audience loves him at the end. But h interacts with the women only as a third person. He’s not their friend; he doesn’t know them. He’s a pizza delivery boy; he’s a massage therapist; he’s a yoga master; he’s a makeover artist. He comes back in different guises.”

Although it is not a specifically Jewish play, Botwinick, who now lives in Florida and is remarried to “a nice Jewish attorney,” said her approach was heavily influenced by the values she learned as a Jewish girl from New Jersey. 

“Growing up as a Jewish girl with this idea of always trying to be the bigger person, always trying to do the best you can, not being mean or vicious, a lot of that is in there, because a lot of people go through difficult times and they lash out, or they go for revenge. I just think about how I grew up, what I learned in Hebrew School and my bat mitzvah, about always giving back, whether it’s to your friends or your family, and just trying to be supportive and helpful.

“Things get hard,” she continued. “We always have hard times as Jews, right? We always have issues, but what do we do? We always pick ourselves up, and we move on, and we move on with a good heart, and with humor. Humor is everything.”

“Divorce Party: The Musical” runs until April 14 at the El Portal Theatre. For tickets or more information, call (866) 811-4111 or visit 

www.elportaltheatre.com.

 

Awakening schmawakening, Darfur’s hope is grass-roots action


The Great Awakening

ALTTEXT

Am I the only reader who finds your celebration of the Rev. Rick Warren’s interviews with our presumptive presidential candidates very chilling (“The Great Awakening,” Aug. 15)?

The first nationally televised meeting of these candidates in a religious setting is frightening. It indicates again the growing erosion of our valued separation of church and state.

Is no one outraged by Rev. Leah Daughtry’s Faith Based Convocation before the Democrat’s Convention in Denver? Since when are Democrats the party of the religious? I thought Republicans had that franchise.

This is such pandering to religious voters right, left and center, it makes me wonder, where are our civil libertarians?

Please, wake up. Warren is not bringing the “Great Awakening.” He is dismantling our Constitution while too many of us sleep.

June Sattler
via e-mail

I almost always enjoy your column, and I did this one too. But to the best of my knowledge, including Internet research, Billy Graham is not “the late.” He is reported to be alive at age 89 and retired.

Michael Leviton
via e-mail

Dear Condi:

As your readers well know, Jewish World Watch has been at the forefront of Darfur activism in Los Angeles for the past four years. During those four years, our coalition of almost 60 synagogues has demanded from President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Chinese President Hu Jintao and many others, immediate and significant action to stop the ongoing slaughter of innocents in Darfur, Sudan. We have done it through letters, phone calls, rallies, marches, and vigils. Those actions have led to incremental successes.

We are pleased to now have David Suissa participating in our calls for action, through his “Live in the Hood” column. (“Dear Condoleezza Rice,” Aug. 15)

We all know the frustration of continuing to watch this genocide enter its sixth year. In fact, last year we witnessed first-hand the suffering of the survivors by visiting the Darfuri refugee camps in Chad. The Darfur activist community knows that Sudan will not be stopped without significant international pressure, not only from the United States, but from China, Russia and, significantly, other African and Arab nations.

The only way to get this kind of international pressure is through persistent grass-roots movements, like ours, that make action in the face of genocide a domestic issue, with political consequences. It is the grassroots work that will, more likely than not, serve as the impetus for and foundation of whatever action our government takes in response to genocides like the one in Darfur.

We welcome Suissa’s letter and hope that it contributes to re-energizing our community in what may well continue to be a long road ahead.

Janice Kamenir Reznik
Co-Founder and President
Tzivia Schwartz Getzug
Executive Director
Jewish World Watch

In his column, David Suissa wrote movingly about his recent experience learning about the horrors of the Darfur genocide from a Darfuri refugee speaking at Beth Jacob Congregation. Suissa was so moved he felt compelled to write an open letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to intervene.

I couldn’t agree more with his passionate plea, but I was taken aback by his cavalier dismissal of the community-wide efforts that are so crucial to persuading policymakers here and at the United Nations. Suissa writes that when people asked what can be done, “The answers, of course, were weak. How could they not be? … typical activist ideas like ‘write a letter to your congressman’ (sic) ‘get on the Web and make a donation’ and ‘tell everyone you know’ are simply no match for this level of crisis.” I beg to differ.

While it’s possible that all it will take to move Rice to act is to hear from Suissa, those of us who have been working to end the genocide for years are in our turn skeptical of this strategy. I have the privilege of representing Temple Israel of Hollywood on the Jewish World Watch Synagogue Council, and we are among those thousands of activists who have been writing letters to our members of Congress, making donations and organizing community events and activities to tell everyone we know.

As someone who has been an advocate for civil rights for more than 25 years I know that success is not only difficult but a long-term proposition. Ending the genocide in Darfur is only possible if we are working on all fronts because this is what keeps the pressure on policymakers and leaders like Rice. It is our thousands of voices, letters and postcards that create an atmosphere in which it is impossible for Rice to turn away. Without them, it’s just Suissa’s voice crying in the wilderness, and while he’s both persuasive and important it’s hard to believe his column alone can do what all these other voices have yet to be able to accomplish!

Abby J. Leibman
Los Angeles

David Suissa’s open letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strikes a personal chord. As a member of the board for Jewish World Watch, I have struggled with similar frustrations throughout these long years of combating genocide in Darfur. The work to end the genocide is daunting to say the least — it is difficult to continue work when successes are small, infrequent and feel only slightly incremental.

Within the already daunting task of ending genocide, it is easy to discount a donation to refugee relief as a Band-Aid solution. But Band-Aids serve their purpose — they staunch bleeding while we wait for a doctor. Refugee relief work in Darfur is having a very real — and very essential — impact. Solar cookers are protecting women and girls from rape by reducing their reliance on firewood.

Water reclamation projects are teaching long-term skills of conservation and helping to irrigate much-needed vegetable patches. Backpacks filled with school supplies and hygiene items are giving children an opportunity to see a future as doctors, teachers and translators, not soldiers in rebel armies.

Relief work won’t end the genocide. We must certainly continue our education and advocacy work worldwide in an effort to bring long-term solutions to Sudan. We must continue pressure on our government and international players to implement these long-term solutions. And in the meantime, we must work to ensure that the people of Darfur stay alive, safe, and are able to live with dignity while the work to end genocide continues.

Joy Picus
Board Member
Jewish World Watch

David Suissa adds his voice to the chorus demanding that something be done to stop the genocide in Darfur. He advises Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to “go to Darfur” and “make a stink. Knock a few heads. Expose the criminals…. Create an urgent global coalition to save the Darfurians.”

The criminals have already been exposed. A global coalition to do what? I am still waiting for a prominent Darfur activist to call for what would actually stop the killings: A U.S./NATO-enforced no-fly zone, and U.S./NATO peacekeepers who would shoot back if the janjawid attacked them or attacked the refugees.

Without these, the genocide will go on until the killers decide to stop. Let’s not pretend; let’s not fool ourselves.

Paul Kujawsky
Valley Village

Meet Harry Schwartzbart — defender of the First Amendment


Harry Schwartzbart proselytizes as hard as any Christian clergyman in this country.

He makes about 2,000 phone calls a year. He speaks two or three times a month at various houses of worship within a 100-mile radius of his Chatsworth home. And he books lunch or dinner engagements with any clergy member of any faith who will give him 90 minutes of his undivided attention.

To date, he counts more than 500 meals with individual priests, rabbis and ministers.

But Schwartzbart isn’t on a religious mission. Rather, he said, “I am determined to keep the United States from becoming a theocracy.”

To accomplish this, the 84-year-old retired Rockwell engineer and metallurgist consultant works tirelessly as president emeritus of the San Fernando Valley chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a national education and advocacy organization of 75,000 members that “devotes 100 percent of its time and resources to church-state separation.”

The group meets quarterly at varying Jewish and Christian sites. At its most recent meeting on Jan. 28 at Temple Judea, the San Fernando Valley chapter featured as its guest speaker Nick Matzke, an expert in debunking “intelligent design” claims.

A member almost since its establishment in 1947, Schwartzbart did not become active until 1994, when Pat Robertson was “scaring the hell” out of him. At that time, he founded the San Fernando Valley chapter, which quickly became the largest and one of the most active of the organization’s 70-some local chapters.

Strictly a volunteer, he served as president until two years ago. Now, as president emeritus, he retains his position as the one-man membership committee — which he considers his most important duty — as well as the sole speakers bureau representative.

From the first meeting on Oct. 5, 1994, Schwartzbart’s single, unstoppable focus has been to make as many Americans as possible aware of what he considers the 16 most important words in the English language, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

While his success is difficult to measure definitively, he claims to have enlightened a significant number of people.

“I’m persistent as hell; I never give up,” he said, explaining that he calls himself Harry “Nase Shmate” Schwartzbart, translating the Yiddish as “wet rag.”
“Some of my very best friends won’t take my calls anymore,” he added.

He also laments that he has never succeeded in engaging any Orthodox rabbi in dialogue. The Orthodox, he said, primarily because of the voucher issue, side with the Robertson supporters.

Having discovered early on that his most useful tool is the telephone, Schwartzbart calls every person on his mailing list no less than once a year. The number has remained steady at about 2,000 names, with a turnover of about 5 percent each month.

A self-professed Luddite, Schwartzbart keeps all his contact information on 3-by-5 cards he arranges alphabetically in five long file boxes, meticulously logging every phone conversation, donation and even “do not call” request. His wife, Mary, backs up all the data on a computer.

“Harry is literally an organizational genius, and he was one even before anyone invented the Internet,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United. Lynn frequently dispatches Schwartzbart to other parts of the country to help volunteers establish new chapters.

In addition to his phoning, Schwartzbart speaks as often as possible. He says he requires five hours to do his subject justice. He’s happy to talk that long or as little as five minutes.

Preferring to run a lean organization, he eschews fundraisers, but he does hold four general meetings a year. He also actively monitors Establishment Clause law violations and intervenes when necessary.

“Being a Jew” is Schwartzbart’s short answer to what motivates him to do this work, maintaining that any Jew who does not support separation of church and state is an “idiot.”

And while he admits to being raised Orthodox, he won’t discuss his theological views, claiming they are irrelevant to his work in Americans United, which counts in its membership a cross-section of believers of all faiths as well as nonbelievers.

Pressed further, he explains that he was the first in his family to be born in the United States. His parents left Ukraine, escaping political persecution, and settled with their four children in Altoona, Pa., in 1921. Schwartzbart was born two years later.

While the United States has had its share of fundamentalists and religious extremists throughout history, Schwartzbart believes that “the religious right has a degree of political power unprecedented in this country.”

He sees today’s hot-button issues as women’s reproductive rights, gay rights and the teaching of intelligent design. Additionally, sex, prayer in school and the flag remain continuing concerns.

Outside of Americans United, his only organizational commitment, Schwartzbart is devoted to his family. He has been married for 53 years and has three grown children.

Music is Schwartzbart’s avocational passion. In fact, he met his wife while playing viola in the Altoona Symphony Orchestra, where she played the violin. Until about 10 years ago, they played string quartets in their house at least once a week.

Additionally, Schwartzbart is a staunch Shakespeare buff. He reads some of the Bard’s work each day and has been diligently keeping a journal for the last two decades — one for each year — titled, “My Daily Shakespeare,” in which he enters quotations pertaining to historic or personal events.

Schwartzbart’s biggest worry is the future of Americans United in the San Fernando Valley, even though the current president is actively engaged.

“I am sorely afraid that when I am gone, the chapter will die,” he said.

In the meantime, showing no signs of slowing down, Schwartzbart intends to keep working on behalf of Americans United.

“There’s nothing that drives me harder. I do whatever I think it takes to help the cause,” he said.

For additional information on Americans United, visit the San Fernando Valley chapter at www.ausfv.org, where you can read Schwartzbart’s monthly commentaries, or the national organization at www.au.org.

Friendship — and pain


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

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

And a few did. Including Patrick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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

“No,” he said.

My ego breathed relief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pink Floyd’s Waters Caught Red-Handed


“No thought control.”

The famed lyrics from rock band Pink Floyd’s much beloved “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” make for a powerful statement regardless of context. Scrawled last week in red paint on a concrete segment of Israel’s security fence in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem by Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters himself, though, the poignancy of the verse is undeniable.

Waters visited Israel to play a concert June 22 at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (literally Oasis of Peace), a cooperative Jewish-Palestinian Arab village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Originally scheduled to perform at the much more mainstream Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Rogers moved the concert to the fields of Neve Shalom in response to pressure from pro-Palestinian musicians.

“I moved the concert to Neve Shalom as a gesture of solidarity with the voices of reason — Israelis and Palestinians seeking a non-violent path to a just peace between the peoples,” Waters said in a press release.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the concert in its makeshift venue drew more than 50,000 attendees and became the cause of one of Israel’s worst traffic jams to date. Waters performed the album “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety, along with many of Pink Floyd’s greatest hits, including “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here” and the especially iconic “Another Brick in the Wall.”

“We need this generation of Israelis to tear down walls and make peace,” Waters told the audience before his post-midnight encore.

Waters’ performance received much acclaim in Israel, but it is his spray-painting stint at the security fence in the West Bank the day before the showcase that is making lasting waves there and abroad. The artist’s paint and pen additions to the already graffiti-laden wall marked Waters’ first stop after arriving in Israel. According to reporters present at the Palestinian town of Bethlehem when he made the markings, Waters likened the barrier to the Berlin Wall, adding that “it may be a lot harder to get this one down, but eventually it has to happen, otherwise there’s no point to being human beings.”

The musician’s deliberately provocative gesture prompted right-wing activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir to call for the artist’s detainment.

The pair submitted an accusation to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court June 23 alleging that Waters destroyed Israel Defense Forces property, according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Israeli authorities have not yet issued a response to the singer’s graffiti or to Marzel and Ben-Gvir’s retaliatory petition.

The fence that Waters dubbed “a horrible edifice” is being constructed in the hopes of preventing Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers, who have killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis in the last six years, from entering Israel proper.

Additional information courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz.

 

O’Connor Played Key Church-State Role


The modern-day legal guidelines on how religion fits into the American public square have largely been the creation of one woman: Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been fiercely divided for a quarter-century, with four justices opposing religious images in the public square and all federal money to religious organizations, and with four allowing for both.

At the center has been O’Connor, the first woman on the high court, who announced her resignation last week.

O’Connor’s view — allowing for religious funding but crafting strict rules for religious symbols — has tipped the balance in many of the church-state cases since she joined the court in 1981. It has been her analysis that has led to federal funding for school vouchers, but has limited public displays of religious symbols.

“She feels government money doesn’t make anyone feel unequal,” said Noah Feldman, a law professor of New York University. “Symbols have the capacity to make people feel excluded.”

Numerous interest groups, including a wide range of Jewish organizations, are expected to mobilize for and against President Bush’s choice to replace O’Connor, 75. The stakes are high, because a conservative jurist, which Bush has suggested he would nominate, likely would change the court’s stance on some of the issues the Jewish community cares about.

Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor, said O’Connor “single-handedly kept the wall of separation between church and state standing.”

“If she had not been on the court, we would have Christian prayer in the schools, Christian religious symbols displayed in public places,” he said.

On many issues, O’Connor split the difference between the court’s ideologues. Lawyers and activists say they often tailored briefs to court her vote, even including many of her previous opinions as background material, knowing she would be the swing justice on the issue.

“There was a joke among lawyers that you would just file briefs in her chambers and ignore the other eight justices,” said Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress.

O’Connor established an “endorsement test” on religious symbols in 1984, suggesting that the message a religious icon conveys is as important as the intent of those who crafted it.

“What is crucial is that a government practice not have the effect of communicating a message of government endorsement or disapproval of religion,” she wrote in Lynch v. Donnelly. “It is only practices having that effect, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that make religion relevant, in reality or public perception, to status in the political community.”

That analysis led to split decisions on the public display of nativity scenes. A cr?che by itself was seen as religious, but incorporating other religious and secular symbols changed the context and made the display more about a holiday season.

At the same time, O’Connor sided with conservatives and members of the Orthodox Jewish community, who argued in favor of permitting school vouchers and government funding for computer equipment to religious schools.

“The fact that she was a justice on the court while this evolution was going on meant it happened at a more moderate pace and more moderate tone than if you had a bloc of conservative justices,” said Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs.

O’Connor also was a strong proponent of religious liberty, arguing that the government must show a compelling interest before infringing on religious exercise.

In one of her final opinions last month, O’Connor argued against the public display of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses.

“It is true that many Americans find the commandments in accord with their personal belief,” she wrote in McCreary County v. ACLU. “But we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment.”

Nathan Lewin, an Orthodox attorney who argued before the Supreme Court on numerous occasions, said O’Connor was the observant Jewish community’s best friend on the combination of the establishment clause and issues tied to the free exercise of religion.

“She is very understanding and sympathetic of the needs of religious minorities and the ability to display those needs publicly,” Lewin said.

O’Connor’s appointment was historic. Nominated by President Ronald Reagan, she became the first woman on the high court.

“She’s been a role model, a distinguished jurist and furthered the advancement of women through her decisions, personality and presence,” said Judge Norma Shapiro, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Court analysts say O’Connor made decisions based on fact, not ideology, and looked at each case on its merits. She also looked to ensure that the court did not move too quickly. She provided the swing vote in many of the civil rights reforms of recent years, including repealing sodomy laws and upholding the principle of limited affirmative action.

“She came in as a moderate conservative,” said Steven Green, former general counsel of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “She quickly fell under the influence of Justice Lewis Powell, who was the preeminent fence sitter and saw issues in shades of gray.”

When Powell retired in 1987, O’Connor became the court’s center.

O’Connor’s moderate positions won her many fans in the American Jewish community. While she did not go as far as many liberal Jewish groups wanted on church-state cases, she was seen as preventing a total erosion of that constitutional separation.

“There’s no question there is more left of the high wall of separation because O’Connor was on the court,” Stern said.

Orthodox leaders also cite her as the reason that vouchers and other programs for religious schools are available today.

O’Connor traveled to Israel in December 1994 with the National Association of Women Judges. In Jerusalem, she read a psalm at the women’s section of the Western Wall and was so moved at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, that she nearly collapsed, said Judge Shapiro, who was on the trip.

“She’s not anti-religion, but she respects the separation of church and state,” Shapiro said.

Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas and staff writer Rachel Pomerance in New York contributed to this report.

 

When Parents Get Preschool Jitters


It was the first day of preschool and 2-year-old Jessica didn’t know any of other children in her new class at B’nai Tikvah Congregation Nursery School. But the child’s anxiety paled in comparison that of her mother.

“I worried that Jessica would get her feelings hurt or that she would physically get hurt and I would not be there to comfort her,” said Sherri Cadmus. “I am used to protecting her. Now I need to give up some of that control and hope that she will be comfortable enough with her teachers to be comforted by them.”

As many preschool teachers know all too well, school separation anxiety is often harder for parents than children. Adjustments to preschool are always difficult, and for children — and parents — in Jewish days schools, the interruptions of the holiday often make it harder.

“Sometimes parents worry that they are abandoning their child even though intellectually they know the children needs to be in an environment with [his or her] peers,” said veteran preschool director Marla Osband of B’nai Tikvah in Westchester.

To ease the transition easier, Osband encourages parents to visit the school with their child before the child’s first official day. When the child starts, Osband’s “open-door policy” allows parents to either drop by or call in as often as needed. The staff often helps children write letters to their parents to bring home. Teachers take pictures to show that the child had a successful day. Parents can also leave a “transitional object,” like an article of the parent’s clothing or a picture, to remind the child that the parent will return.

According to Wendy Mogel, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist, parent educator and school consultant, the length of a child’s distress holds important information.

“The key question for the parents to ask is how many minutes does it take the child to recover after the huge show of anguish and agony when parent leaves,” Mogel said. “That’s always the key indicator for me.”

If the child cries for just a few minutes and is soon able to calm down and play or socialize, he or she is probably OK. However, if they child dreads going to school and constantly complains of headaches and stomachaches, he or she might be too young.

Mogel advises parents to be cautious about projecting their own fears.

“Children are wonderful at reading cues and playing a part at full theatrical flourish,” warned the therapist.

Since children tend to be more emotional with their mothers, sometimes having the father take the child to school can make for an easier experience.

At some Jewish preschools like Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Early Childhood Program in Encino, life without mom and dad is introduced at age 2 in the toddler-transition program. Since most VBS preschoolers come from this program, which is specifically geared toward separation, starting preschool is usually an easier adjustment.

VBS transition classes are offered two days a week, adding a third day in the middle of the school year. Parents attend the class for a portion of the day with the child and leave together as a group at a certain point. Parents often stay on site to monitor their children’s progress until they feel comfortable departing for a brief period of time — leaving a cell phone number, of course.

“Some children separate easily and some need a longer time,” said Michelle Warner, who runs the VBS toddler transition program. “The same goes for the parents.”

The school brings in speakers who discuss parenting issues while the parents congregate in another room on site.

According to Mogel “interviewing a child for pain” is a common mistake parents make when a child starts preschool.

“The child comes home at end of day and the parent says, ‘How was it this morning — a little better than yesterday?'” Mogel explained. “If you want to talk, tell them about your day. Be quiet and then they’ll tell you about their day.”

By Jessica’s third day at B’nai Tikvah, she no longer needed her mother to stay with her in the morning. While there were a few small setbacks and meltdowns — particularly with the interruption of the holidays — Jessica is now a well-adjusted preschool — a concept that Cadmus is still getting used to.

“On the first day she stayed alone in the class I gave her a sticker for being so brave,” Cadmus said. “Now when she wakes up, she says ‘Sticker, no mommy day’ and sometimes ‘Sticker, no daddy day.’ This makes us think of all the experiences she will be having on her own that we will only learn about secondhand.”

Letters to the Editor


Orthodox Numbers

As a sociologist of American Jews, I read the three articles (“Setting the Record Straight,” “Flawed Methodology” and “Standing by the Data,” Sept. 15) with great interest. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, along with Anthony Gordon and Richard M. Horowitz, raised important methodological issues which – if unaddressed – do indeed have the potential to undercount the Orthodox population. These Orthodox advocates also correctly pointed out the explosion of Orthodox Jewish institutions in numerous neighborhoods. Nonetheless, I would tend to agree with Pini Herman that the numbers of Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles has not increased in recent years.

How can this be? How can these two facts exist simultaneously? The answer lies in understanding important generational differences in the social construction and definition of Orthodoxy. For the older (65 and over) generation of Orthodox Jews, historical and sociological conditions in the U.S. dictated a more integrated, acculturated approach to American life. These Jews, for example, would often attend public schools, eat in restaurants not under rabbinical supervision and cover their heads while in synagogue or at home, but not at work or in the street. For younger Orthodox Jews, by contrast, individual and institutional distinctiveness, visibility and separation (parochial day schools, kosher pizza parlors and even Hatzolah ambulances, to name but a few examples) are fundamental elements which shape their understanding of contemporary American Orthodox life.

A drive down Pico Boulevard reveals the strength of the younger generation of American Orthodoxy. But the older, less visible – yet demographically substantial – Orthodox generation is dying out. Recent community and national studies, such as the 1990 National Jewish Populations Survey, have consistently demonstrated that older American Jews are more likely to self-report as Orthodox than American Jews of any other age range. In the short term, at least, the quantitative state of L.A.’s Orthodox Jewry will not change significantly. In qualitative terms, however, it has already dramatically redefined what it means to be Orthodox in American society.

Jonathon Ament, Instructor
American Jewish Studies/Modern Jewish Sociology University of Judaism

One of the many problems with this type of study is that the respondent defines himself subjectively rather than by any objective criteria. As a day school principal for 27 years, numerous parents told me that they came from Orthodox families. Subsequent discussion revealed this to be inaccurate. However, parents or grandparents who attended an Orthodox synagogue more than twice a year and kept some form of kosher observance were considered Orthodox even if they worked on Shabbos.

For many years, I worked for a large Orthodox congregation of 700 families, of whom perhaps two dozen were actually Orthodox. Yet the members clearly identified themselves with the Orthodox movement. Such congregations and even Orthodox day schools where the large majority were not observant in the Orthodox manner were very common 30 years ago. Today, this is not common partly because of the rise in the number of non-Orthodox schools. Most Orthodox congregations today have only a few non-Orthodox members.

Dr. Herman may be right in the number who identify with Orthodoxy, but there can be absolutely no doubt that the number of practicing Orthodox Jews is dramatically up. For him to simply dismiss the obvious realities in the number of day school and yeshiva students, synagogues, kosher restaurants, etc., without looking behind the facts or openly discussing the shortcomings of the methods employed smacks of arrogance.

Dr. George Lebovitz, Los Angeles

WJCC

I appreciate the opportunity to have contributed my thoughts to The Jewish Journal’s article on the Westside JCC (“In the Center of Controversy,” Sept. 22). However, there was such an expanse of time between my interview and publication that the situation is now noticeably different.

I wish to acknowledge the progress on security issues made by the center’s administration. I also feel that the core of my personal position was somehow lost in the editing process. I believe that the center is a place with great potential. My willingness to speak out is an expression of my hope for its future.

Karen Benjamin, Los Angeles

Jesus Day

If Fred Sands honestly wants to understand the brouhaha over Gov. George W. Bush’s calling June 10, 2000, Jesus Day in Texas (Letters, Sept. 15), I suggest that he give me a call at (310) 854-3381. I will introduce him to Zack, a 12-year-old boy from Texas. As reported on ABC’s “20/20,” three months before his Bar Mitzvah, Zack was invited to a Southern Baptist youth meeting and coerced by an adult into converting to Christianity. This Southern Baptist even told Zack that he could be Jewish and believe in Jesus at the same time. Zack and his parents will gladly explain the painful difference between “Jesus Day” and “Honor Israel Day.”

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz , Jews for Judaism

Fred C. Sands completely misses the point of the “brouhaha over Gov. George W. Bush’s proclamation calling June 10, 2000, Jesus Day in Texas.”

The point is separation of church and state. Anyone in public office in this country must never blur the line of separation of church and state or people of all religions – particularly the Jewish people – will be in serious trouble.

Sands asks, “Why are Jews so afraid of the mention of Jesus Christ?” It is not the mention of Jesus, but who mentions it and under what circumstances that is frightening. When people are truly religious, they don’t push religion everywhere they go. If they do, especially if they are in public office in this country, one has to question their motive.

Let us ask all politicians to respect and adhere to separation of church and state and live each moment of their lives in a religious way but not preach to us about how religious they are.

Roslyn Walker, Marina del Rey

KOREH L.A.

As the first year of operation of KOREH L.A. draws to an end, I wanted to share some interesting statistics with you. Close to 600 KOREH volunteers worked in over 30 schools throughout Los Angeles during the past year. Another 800 people indicated their interest and are waiting to be trained.

In order to evaluate this first year, KOREH L.A. hired two Cal Tech researchers to probe the response of volunteers, teachers and principals to the program. One of the questions posed to the volunteers was where they heard about KOREH L.A. You will be interested to know that over 20 percent of our volunteers first learned about KOREH L.A. from The Jewish Journal.

As we recruit for our second year, we are keeping careful records of where each prospective volunteer heard about the program. The informal information that the KOREH L.A. staff has gathered indicates that close to 25 percent of the prospective volunteers heard about the program from The Jewish Journal.KOREH L.A. has touched the Jewish community in a very deep way. It has allowed many people to put into action their commitment to education and literacy, and especially their commitment to the welfare of our city. As we look forward to a second successful year of KOREH L.A., we thank you very much for your ongoing support.

Elaine Albert, DirectorKOREH L.A.

Teresa Strasser

When I read the letter written by a reader in Mission Viejo (Letters, Sept. 15), I had to respond.This person claims to be “unprejudiced” but seems to be intolerant of interracial marriages. I was unsure from the letter whether this person was more offended by the picture of a white woman in the arms of a Black man or by an assumption that this man was not Jewish.

What I would really like to know is would this reader be offended by my wedding picture – a nice Jewish white girl in the arms of a Black man, who also happens to be Jewish?

Name withheld by request, Los Angeles