Gunter Grass Admits to SS Past


Gunter Grass Admits to SS Past

Nobel Prize-winning author Gunter Grass’ admission that he was an SS member has drawn both rage and defenses of the writer.

While some say the revelation devalues his life’s work, others are showing more understanding for the pressures faced by the teenager who later would write such modern German classics as “The Tin Drum.”

Grass, 78, whose autobiography is due out this fall, told the Frankfurter Allegmeine Zeitung in an interview published last Friday that he was drafted into the Waffen SS in the final months of World War II.

The Waffen SS was the elite fighting force of the SS, the Nazi Party’s quasi-military unit, and was declared part of a criminal organization at the Nuremberg Trials. Grass was interned briefly in a POW camp in Bavaria after the war.

Literary critic Helmuth Karasek told the radio program BDR that Grass should have revealed the truth sooner, and suggested that the Nobel Prize committee might not have honored someone “whom they knew had been a member of the Waffen SS and had long denied it.” Grass won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

Grass biographer Michael Juergs said he was “personally disappointed,” and has called into question the validity of Grass’ life work. But German writer Erich Loest told the Tagesspiegel newspaper that Grass’ admission should be “accepted without condemnation. He was very young and there was no one to influence him in the opposite direction,” he said.

Grass told the Frankfurt paper he was drafted as a 17-year-old following a stint in a support unit for the German air force, and was brought to serve in a Waffen SS tank division in Dresden. In the forthcoming autobiography, “While Skinning an Onion,” he writes that the past had “oppressed him. My suppression of this through the years was among the reasons why I have written this book. It had to come out, finally.”

Grass said he originally had volunteered to serve in a Nazi submarine unit, which was “just as crazy.”

Until now, his biography has shown that Grass was drafted in the support unit for the air force in 1944, then served as a soldier. In the new book, he writes about how he was 15 when he tried to volunteer with the submarine corps and was rejected because of his age. He was called up in 1944, as were all boys born in 1927.

He was assigned to the Waffen SS, which “in the final year of the war took draftees, not only volunteers,” he said in an interview with the German Press Agency.

Grass said he never had tried to hide the fact that as a youth he was vulnerable to Nazi propaganda. He also told the Frankfurt paper that he never actually served in the Waffen SS division to which he had been assigned. He ended up behind the Russian front on reconnaissance patrols, witnessing what he described as gruesome scenes and surviving by pure chance. During his brief internment as a POW, Grass says he met the similarly interned Joseph Ratzinger, who now is Pope Benedict XVI.

Israelis Arrested for Allegedly Running U.S. Hooker Ring

Two Israelis are under arrest for allegedly running a sophisticated, multi-million-dollar prostitution ring in four Western states, employing up to 240 women.

Boaz Benmoshe, 44, and Ofer Moses Lupovitz, 43, the alleged leaders of the ring headquartered in Palm Springs, are now in a local jail, Sheriff Bob Doyle of Riverside County announced Monday.

Also arrested were two Russian nationals, Moti M. Vintrov, 33, and Eliran Vintrov, 28, together with their spouses.

According to authorities, the two Israelis ran the sex ring under the cover of Elite Entertainment, an adult escort business, which dispatched prostitutes to clients in California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon.

The Press-Enterprise news service in Riverside described the ring’s Palm Springs headquarters as a glass-walled office in a quiet open-air business complex, which also included the district office of U.S. Republican Rep. Mary Bono.Elite Entertainment allegedly operated 80 phone lines, over which clients ordered sexual services through their credit cards. Rates varied from $200 to $2,000, “depending on what you’re getting done,” Doyle said.

Local authorities and U.S. Secret Service agents arrested the suspects after a two and a half year investigation and seized $5 million in assets and more than a dozen computers.

The suspects used their income to fraudulently obtain loans to buy luxury homes in the Palm Springs area, authorities alleged.

An arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 21.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

AIPAC Judge Won’t Broaden Case

The judge in the classified information case against two former pro-Israel lobbyists rejected a prosecution attempt to broaden the indictment. Prosecutors had sought to redefine as classified a document described as unclassified in the original indictment.

Judge T.S. Ellis III rejected the request last Friday, saying it would unconstitutionally alter the indictment.

Keith Weissman, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s former Iran analyst, asked Larry Franklin, a Pentagon Iran analyst who since has pleaded guilty, for the document in June 2003.

It’s the only document that Weissman or his former boss, Steve Rosen, actively solicited, according to their August 2005 indictment.

In pre-trial rulings, Ellis has made clear that at trial he will expect a higher bar of evidence to prove that defendants knew they were hearing classified information in conversations, as opposed to receiving documentation.

Holocaust Cartoon Exhibit Opens in Iran

Iran opened a competition for the cartoons in reaction to last year’s controversy over the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper about the Islamic prophet Muhammad. One of more than 200 cartoons displayed shows the Statue of Liberty holding a book on the Holocaust in one hand and giving a Nazi-style salute in the other, The Associated Press reported.

Scandal Over General’s Stocks

Israel’s military chief drew fire following revelations that he sold an investment portfolio when the Lebanon war erupted. Within hours of a Hezbollah border raid July 12 in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two abducted, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz sold off some $25,000 worth of stocks, Ma’ariv reported Tuesday. Halutz confirmed the sale, which came shortly before markets tumbled at the prospect of major unrest in the Middle East, but said he did not know at the time that there would be a war. Ma’ariv’s revelations further stoked Israeli ire at the military’s handling of the offensive against Hezbollah, which ended this week in a cease-fire. Lawmakers from across Israel’s political spectrum called for Halutz’s resignation, and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was asked to investigate whether the stock sale constituted a criminal breach of trust.

Jewish Greeks Advocate for Israel

Jewish fraternities and sororities are launching an Israel advocacy push on college campuses this fall. Alpha Epsilon Pi and Alpha Epsilon Phi, the two largest Jewish Greek organizations, brought 90 students to Louisville, Ky., from Sunday through Tuesday to learn about building support for Israel.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

No Religious Bias in Racy ‘Bodice Rippers’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Romance Books Follow Novel Paths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Love and Lust From the Bible


“The Song of Hannah” by Eva Etzioni-Halevy (Plume, $14).

Biblical fiction is enjoying a renaissance. Some say it began in 1998, with Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent” — a fictionalized account from Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, of daily life with her aunt Rachel and mother Leah. For the last few years, writers have started mining the Bible for similar stories — that they could rewrite into a Harlequin-type romance, replete with heaving bosoms and burning loins. The stories of Queen Esther and matriarchs Sarah and Rebecca, to name a few, have been rewritten in this manner.

The latest addition is “The Song of Hannah,” Eva Etzioni-Halevy’s debut novel about the mother of Samuel the prophet, the man who anointed both King Saul and King David. Hannah earned her own place in Jewish history through the power of her prayer. Bereft at not conceiving children, Hannah went to God’s tabernacle in Shiloh and prayed for a son, promising God that if He would grant her a son, she would give him up to serve God for all the days of his life.

The presence of Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, in the biblical text is brief — the account is written in 28 sentences in Chapter 1 of Samuel I, while her famous “song of joy” is 10 sentences in Chapter 2.

“The Song of Hannah” as imagined by Etzioni-Halevy, tells the story of two women — Hannah and Peninah, Elkanah’s other wife — and its chapters alternate between their two voices. It is essentially the tale of two young women who find themselves wedded to a faithless husband, in a community where women have few rights. Although both women are scribes, their status depends on Elkanah, who is portrayed as a cruel, polygamous beast and expects servile obedience, while he sleeps with and impregnates his many maids. The only reason he marries Peninah (in the novel) is because he has impregnated her out of wedlock. And at their wedding, he spies out Hannah and starts wooing her. Soon after he marries Peninah — once she is pregnant with their child — he tells her that there will soon be three in the family, and no, he is not referring to the fetus she carries. He means Hannah, who is Peninah’s childhood friend.

He marries Hannah, giving her a far more beautiful bedroom than Peninah, and his relationship with his wives, and their relationship with each other, is forever tinged with jealousy and some bitterness. Peninah satisfies Elkanah’s lust, but he loves Hannah. Yet his love for her doesn’t stop him from sleeping with the maids (whom he admits mean nothing to him) or from spending most nights of the week in Peninah’s room.

The book has some feminist points: As many characters point out — it’s unfair that ancient Israel was a polygamous society but not a polyandrous one. Of course, what the author does not say is that had that society been polyandrous, a person’s paternity could never have been established.

But Elkanah is not the only character who needs to repent. The book is full of sex — and purple prose. Perhaps the best pick-up line is by a priest to Hannah: “Come with me and I will show you how beneficial my priestly blessing, my triple priestly blessing, can be.”

Peninah takes a lover of her own, and Hannah helps her keep the secret from Elkanah. Meanwhile, Hannah’s son, the prophet Samuel, grows up and marries a woman whom he impregnated before their wedding, and then falls in love with Peninah. In this ancient Israel, all the men, it seems, lust after women who are not their wives, while the idol trade does good business among the sinning multitudes.

Etzioni-Halevy, a professor emeritus of political sociology at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, admits that there is no evidence in the Torah for Samuel’s attraction to Peninah (nor is there evidence of him getting his wife pregnant before he married her), and the description of Elkanah as an imperious, lustful cad is at odds with the Elkanah of Samuel I. Traditional commentators note that Hannah was Elkanah’s first wife, not his second, and it was only at Hannah’s urging — because she saw that she was barren, that Elkanah took a second wife. Elkanah was, according to tradition, kind to Hannah and a God-fearing man, who bought his children to God’s tabernacle in Shiloh because he wanted to instill in them fear of God.

“The Song of Hannah” might inspire readers to study the source, but as biblically inspired material, such books can come across as either religiously superficial or so filled with melodramatic guesswork that their value as something more than light entertainment is open to question. Taken seriously, it’s a fairly dispiriting look at the origins of Judaism — presenting our forefathers and mothers as adulterers and worse. Perhaps the next wave of biblical fiction will have something deeper and better to offer.

Eva Etzioni-Halevy will be appearing Sept. 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Library, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Free, but reservations required at (323) 761-8644 or resource@jclla.org.

 

‘L-Words’ in a J World


The 2000 book “Best Lesbian Erotica” includes Jewish writer Joan Nestle’s short story and its provocative, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination title referencing sex with World War II pinup Rita Hayworth.

“Desire and passion are a very big part of my life. I am a Jewish woman and I refuse to give up that part of my territory,” said the 63-year-old author of short stories in the anthologies “Queers Jews” “The Oy of Sex” and “Friday the Rabbi Wore Lace.”

It is two decades of work from such writers that is being honored Sunday at the USC-affiliated gay and lesbian ONE Institute & Archives. The event celebrates ONE’s long-running Lesbian Writers Series and also coincides with the institute’s Feb. 29-April 10 photo exhibit, “Image from Sapphic L.A.’s Photography Community.”

Nestle is one of many Jewish lesbian writers with work catalogued at ONE, an archive similar to New York’s Lesbian Herstory Archive, which Nestle co-founded in 1973.

“I’m a secular Jew, but memory is how I live the history of the Jewish people as I know it,” she told The Journal.

Other Jewish writers to be highlighted at Sunday’s retrospective include Alice Bloch, Elizabeth Nonas and Robin Podolsky, an aide to state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles).

For writer Sarah Schulman, crafting stories about her sexual identity has isolated her from prominent publishers.

“It’s not because I’m Jewish, it’s the gay part,” Schulman said. “It’s very hard to know what I would do if I felt free. I’ve had so many problems with censorship that I write very defensively at this point.”

For a lesbian writer, she said, isolation also can be felt through Judaism’s family-centric institutions.

“Women are supposed to reproduce the Jewish culture,” Schulman said. “It’s one of the few cultures that has no role for single people.”

Nestle said Schulman seeks, and deserves, popular acclaim that older Jewish lesbian writers like her are not as drawn to.

“She has a sense of entitlement that is perhaps much more healthy than mine,” Nestle said. “I’ve never been really bothered by competing identities but I don’t expect my work to be ‘mainstream.'”

“20 Years of L-Words!” will be held Sunday, March 28 , 2
p.m.-4 p.m. ONE Institute & Archives, 909 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles. For
more information, call (213) 741-0094 or visit

No Half Love!


Will I fall in love again?

After 17 years of marriage? At 42?

Will I even recognize the feeling? How soon will I allow myself to feel that vulnerable? That trusting?

Here’s a shocker: I’m cynical. I tend to regard women who come into my life with the narrow-eyed acuity of a fact checker. I have quickly become an instant documentarian, a sharp-eared debriefer in the Guantanamo Bay of the heart.

An astute interviewer, I listen for instant disqualifiers — gross insecurities, knee-jerk judgmentalism, debt, uncontrollable recoiling at the mention of sex.

Call this the Yiddish model of wary romance. At best, this model is worldly and practical.

"Love is a fine thing," the Yiddish saying goes, "but love with noodles is even tastier."

At its worst, this model is as despairing as Kafka, who let us know that "there is infinite hope — just not for us."

My Yiddish model admits that there is indeed infinite love between men and women, but that I’m destined for membership in the other 99.8 percent of the population.

It’s a seductively comfortable working model for dating. Why? Because it begins in fear, and so keeps me armored, garrisoned, provisioned and snugly out of the range of fire.

But, as Goethe’s Faust famously cried, "Two souls dwell, alas, in my breast."

And so my Yiddishe kop rides atop a body suffused with a Hebraic soul. Built of love, not fear, it belts out the Hebrew of the Song of Songs — "Love is stronger than death," and "Let me lean against the stout trunks, let me couch among the apple trees, for I am sick with love."

My Hebraic heart doesn’t fact check women, it listens optimistically for a singing partner — for spontaneous appreciation of beauty, for playful verbal dexterity, affection, exuberance, sensuality, beneficence.

This Hebrew model of love is far more uncomfortable. It pounds at the ribs. It is a ready conflagration under the skin. It is a psycho inner-puppy that persistently leaps to imagine a future of conjugal bliss. Hebraic love, as the Song of Songs reminds us, is a promise of love that, in its fullness of heart, is so expansive, so complete, that it can serve as nothing less than a metaphor for God’s love of us and for the human love of God.

Whoa. Yeah. I want love like that. And outsinging Kafka, there’s an optimistic voice in me that believes I, single, unfettered, can have it.

Because the great thing about starting out fresh at this point in my life is that, past the anxieties of youth, and before the frailties of age, I’m at full power.

For the first time in almost 20 years, unable to blame someone else, unburdened of the need to please someone else, I get to create the life I want. As ideal as I want to it to be.

And so, when I met a woman with an inspiringly buoyant, happy heart, I found myself blurting to her, "No half love." I was spontaneously striking a deal right from the start. A veteran of an increasingly listless marriage herself, her whole face lit up.

"No half love," she repeated. We weren’t in love yet, but if we were going to be, we were pledging ourselves at this important threshold to an idealism of, well, biblical proportions. What does that translate to in everyday life? To me, it means drawing from a bottomless well of generosity; it means kindness under stress, patience when gloom visits, quiet amid chaos and an almost giddy joy in the other’s happiness. All in all, it means maintaining a steadfast X-ray vision through the inevitable husks of daily imperfection to the divine creamy filling within.

Will I fall in love again? Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know that though I crack wise in Yiddish, my heart soars with a more ancient yearning…

Set me as a seal upon thy heart

As a seal upon thy arm

For love is as strong as death…

Many waters cannot quench love,

nor can the floods drown it.

Undrownable. Amen.


Adam Gilad is a writer, producer and CEO of Rogue Direct, LLP. He also
teaches creative writing based on Jewish texts at the UJ and privately. He can
be reached at adamgilad@yahoo.com

Foregoing the Test-Drive


It may come as a surprise that in today’s post-sexual revolution world there are still men and women who don’t have sex before their wedding day. These otherwise modern, cell phone-carrying individuals choose to adhere to the 3,000-year-old Jewish tradition of sexual piety.

When I first presented this idea to my weekly class of twentysomething Jewish singles, they were incredulous. They argued, understandably, that there has to be sexual compatibility before making a commitment. How else but through pre-marital sex could you know this? Would you buy a car without a test-drive?

True enough, but the analogy is faulty. People aren’t cars. For one thing, a prospective buyer need only take a car for one test-drive in order to make a decision. For another, cars tend to drive the same over time. Parts deteriorate and need replacement, but a Cadillac will always be a smooth ride, and a Ferrari will always be fast. Not so with people. Even if you do a test-drive, five years into a marriage your sex life will most likely be very different from that test.

Time, age and experience change a person. As an individual changes, so does their relationship. In a good marriage, as trust grows, love multiplies. A suitable couple might decide not to marry based on an unsuccessful test-drive that bears little resemblance to what their intimate life might have evolved into in a healthy marriage. In fact, it may be that the absence of commitment, mutual trust and enduring love are the very factors that contribute to a failed “test-drive.”

Okay, but what, my class argued, are they supposed to do with natural biological urges? That question begs another question. What’s behind the urges? What is our real desire? Is it for flesh or something deeper?

The Torah answers that we want something better. In Genesis 4:1 we read the first mention of sex in the Bible. Revealingly, the Hebrew word for sex is yadah, which means “to know.” Traditional Jewish sources tell us yadah means that Adam and Eve were connecting on a deep soulful level that transcended the flesh.

Sexual urges are natural, but they are not meant to remain without direction or purpose. We do not shy away from them, but the Torah teaches that our physical passions are a stimulus aimed at helping us develop and maintain a meaningful relationship between husband and wife.

We have become a society of sitcom sex. On television and in movies, most dates are only the appetizer before the main (inter)course. A few scenes or episodes later, that romantic interlude or wild bedroom romp is ancient history. There is no comparison between sitcom sex (even if it lasts half a season) and the richness of a physical relationship built on a foundation of commitment and trust.

In marriage, safe sex doesn’t just mean disease-free. It also means nobody is worried about “love me and leave me.” In “The Death of Cupid,” author Rabbi Nachum Braverman talks about the effects of misusing sex as the language of love. After a while there is an inevitable numbing effect. Compare this emotional numbness from too much loveless sex to the emotions of a couple who has never touched prior to their wedding ceremony. Those lucky enough to have experienced it can appreciate its wonder, depth and preciousness.

Hearing this, some of my students admitted they agreed. But they had one last troubling question. What if you tie the knot and sex is terrible?

Nobody is suggesting that chemistry isn’t important between potential spouses, or that a healthy sex life isn’t vital to a successful marriage. So what are the chances of a disappointing love life following marriage? To answer that, it’s important to understand one fundamental difference between secular-style dating and Orthodox Jewish dating.

Orthodox men and women date in order to find a suitable spouse. In their world there is no such thing as sport dating. When young Orthodox singles meet, their conversations are seriously focused on mutual goals and outlooks — and, of course, each one sees if there is attraction for the other. Years of education and upbringing have sculpted them into individuals committed to the idea of commitment. A 19-year-old orthodox man or woman is quite often mature beyond their years in their outlook on love and marriage. This maturity translates into a level of commitment to finding solutions to any problems that may arise, sexual or other.

Surprisingly, experience tells me that sexual incompatibility is much less likely when a couple has no experience to begin with. They have clean slates. They are not comparing their spouse to a past lover. They can grow together in their intimacy as they grow together in their emotional and spiritual lives. What begins as incompatibility may just be shyness or lack of trust. As the couple gets to know each other better, as trust grows, they will naturally become compatible.

What, in today’s secular style of sex, would be labeled incompatible, is more likely a product of loveless, trustless, sexual calisthenics.

Rabbi Baruch Gradon, a well-known local Rabbi who counsels hundreds of couples, says he has never seen a couple breakup only over sex. Bad sex is a symptom of other problems. In other words, while important, sex is but one of many elements that contribute to a healthy marriage.

I realize that in today’s modern world, marriage before sex is a hard thing to sell. But think about it before you take your next test-drive. Your best buy may be the one you never test.


Mark Firestone teaches “User Friendly Judaism” for twenty- and thirtysomethings. He can be reached at (310) 278-5943. Beth Firestone, the author of “Candles in My Window” (Targum Press), contributed to this article.


The Facts


Where does a parent — a Jewish mother — begin a frank consideration of her daughter’s sexuality? As the Zen master says, you have to start from where you are, and then let it flow.

I am a single mom, and as a single mom, my sex life is pretty much on display. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve known single mothers who crawl out of the window at midnight to visit their lovers, but I’m not good at taking off the screens. I have secrets from my daughter, but they happen during the daylight.

Because I’m a single mom, in some ways it is easier for me to discuss the facts of life with my daughter. My mother left this particular job to my father, and, finally, just the other day, he got around to asking if there’s anything I’d like to know about men.

Avoidance just doesn’t work with Samantha and me. We’re not obsessed with the mechanics of sexuality (she gets too much of this from reality-based TV, see further on) but, rather, with its operational flow. Samantha looks at my life, a virtual relationship laboratory right in her own home. She sees me dating, making my own mistakes, frisky in perfume one minute, wearing my heart on my sleeve the next. She notices when a guy comes by, bringing flowers, and she’s right there when the flowers stop. Recently, when I was on the phone with a guy for a full hour, she came in to give me a hug. The lesson my mother could never teach me — that the heart is a sexual organ — my daughter already knows.

Sometimes, I feel I’m a failure in this department, but it’s as much history’s fault as my own. Sadly, the “sexual liberation” that I’d hoped to bequeath to my daughter doesn’t mean much in today’s terms. For my generation, the “Fear of Flying” crowd, liberation means the freedom to participate in one’s own sex life, to enjoy passion and fantasy, to understand lust as a natural hunger, as related to but distinct from love. See, it still casts a romantic glow.

I was hardly a libertine; I wanted then what I want now: a stable partner with a great imagination. I’m a ’60s Gal, electrified by the right to be alive during lovemaking, to choose my partners (rather than to be commanded by them), to own a wakeful body, and to never fake satisfaction just to be polite. The other side of the equation, the part I try to stress to Samantha, is that I believe in self-protection, taking responsibility for bad choices and learning from my mistakes. No matter what has happened since — no matter how naïve we were about the fragility of males, no matter that even great sex sometimes pales next to good companionship — I still regard the women’s movement as the purest time of my life, when the battle was waged for a full definition of female adulthood, a battle only yet partially won.

In my fantasies, I’d hoped my daughter’s generation would take up the fight. But woman plans, and God laughs.

One day, when she was in fourth grade, Samantha came home from school with the report that Magic Johnson got AIDS from unprotected sex. All her life, we had been talking about sexuality, body parts, where babies come from and the rest. But nothing like this. Looking at my little girl, my heart sank, and I still think of that moment as the true “fall from grace.” Her news (she said it just this way, “Magic Johnson got AIDS from unprotected sex”) meant that Samantha, along with every little girl and boy in America, was learning about sex not as joyful, loving, free and natural (if strained with emotional complications), but as a health crisis, tainted, diseased, stained. I flew the flag for sexual freedom at half-staff.

Even today, so many years after accommodating to our new, darker era, I still well up in a protective rage on behalf of our young girls. The bad news broke too soon. Samantha didn’t yet know what love means, what physical ecstasy evokes. Before she could develop her own unique metaphor — a fantasy of bliss or a vision of herself locked in a “From Here to Eternity” love embrace on a pristine beach –she was already thinking mechanically, clinically, of sex as “safe” or “unsafe.”

She knows too much about the wrong things, and not only about AIDS. She has been warned against child abusers, sexual disease and sexual harassment in a wide variety of forms. A macabre sideshow of twisted sexual images come to her from “Jerry Springer,” MTV, Angelyne, Michael Jackson’s androgyny. She’ll never be allowed a moment’s purity, naivete or nonchalance. I grieve for her imagination’s prematurely lost virginity.

I’d be less than forthright if I said that being a Jewish parent provides security, or spiritual advantage, in this regard. Like every parent, I worry about my child’s friends and her values, and I seek to insulate her from the dangers of the cruel world. Where Jewish tradition helps is: 1) in providing a long list of women who survived their own child’s teen-age years, and 2) in offering stories that encourage independent thinking, even in the midst of chaotic times.

Increasingly these days, I use both parts of that heritage: I think of my own mother, scared to death throughout my adolescence, while I felt certain I could take care of myself. And I

The Birds


Rabbi Baruch Finkelstein has an unhappy revelation for his fellow Modern Orthodox Jews: Your teen-agers are dating, fooling around, perhaps having sex. They are no different from non-Orthodox Jewish teens.

“The Orthodox community has been ignoring this,” says Finkelstein, 38, who teaches Torah and Talmud at Shalhevet High School. “They dismiss the topic as ‘forbidden.’ But we have to talk about it, and openly. We have to deal with the reality of what kids are doing today.”

Finkelstein and his wife, Michal, a registered nurse and midwife, have a solution that some may consider controversial. They are applying for a $20,000 grant to develop a unique, six-month sex-education curriculum — one that combines explicit clinical information with Jewish thought — for Jewish day schools, from Reform through Modern Orthodox.

In the meantime, Michal has been teaching a sex-education class over the past two years at Shalhevet. The focus, so far, has been on the 12th-grade girls (the Finkelsteins will write the boys’ curriculum later). The experience has been eye-opening for the couple, who have also co-authored a book on pregnancy and childbirth for observant Jews.

While teaching her course, Michal learned that the girls were confused. On the one hand, parents and teachers were stressing to them “abstinence before marriage.” On the other, they had been hanging around in coed groups since they were 12 or 13. Maybe a boy had come by a girl’s locker, precipitating a case of nerves. Maybe he had called on the telephone or invited her to his bar mitzvah.

All the while, the girls were seeing the sexualized images of young women in movies, in glamour magazines, on billboards and on “Beverly Hills 90210.”

“They are told, ‘Don’t touch.’ But they want to touch,” Michal Finkelstein says, acknowledging these are delicate issues, but crucial. “They feel uncomfortable in their bodies. They feel they don’t yet ‘fit’ the new womanly shape.”

Michal, 37, attempted to address the confusion during her program last year. She began by emphasizing that the class was strictly confidential and that she was not going to force her Orthodox point of view on the young women. Rather, she wanted to hear what they were feeling.

Most of the girls, she discovered, had only “peripheral” relationships with boys, though some weren’t sure they wanted to wait until their wedding night to lose their virginity. Michal told them that she wanted to give them the knowledge they needed to make good decisions in the world.

First, she explained the nitty-gritty of how a woman works. Amid the diagrams and the talk of PMS, yeast infections, breast self-exams, AIDS and menstruation, the girls’ questions were frank. Where is my uterus? Where is my clitoris? What is the physiology of orgasm? And why do I feel this way about boys?

“We discuss masturbation as normal, nothing to feel guilty about, and the girls wanted to hear they’re not the only ones thinking about it, lying awake at night,” Michal says. “I legitimize awakening sexual feelings; that it’s important to feel attracted to certain boys more than others; that it’s crucial you have sexual chemistry with any potential partner in life.”

When the girls asked, as they often did, “How will I know if he’s the one?” Michal reiterated the importance of physical attraction.

She also stressed how the sexual union between husband and wife is holy in Judaism. And how having sex can make the emotional havoc of breaking up with a boyfriend even more difficult.

The class went on to discuss date rape, childbirth and birth control; Michal brought in various contraceptives and displayed them on the classroom table.

The students queried the midwife about how pregnancy feels; how one makes a Jewish home; and how the sheitl -wearing Michal balances her career with six children. They also wanted to learn how to tell the mensches from the jerks.

To this end, there was a workshop and role-playing about how to judge character and develop trust in a relationship: What happens when boy meets girl and how to deal with guys in coed college dormitories were among topics discussed. After one student recounted how she was stood up on a date, the class role-played that too.

Through it all, and in a nonjudgmental manner, Michal Finkelstein presented the Jewish point of view about love, sex and commitment. She brought in psalms and segments of the Gemara, and took the girls to the mikvah. She presented biblical heroines such as Devorah as alternative role-models to the “Friends” or “Baywatch” babes.

So far, the Shalhevet parents have been thrilled with the program. And Dr. Jerry Friedman, Shalhevet’s president and educational adviser, believes that the curriculum is a must for Jewish schools.

“Our mandate is not only to prepare students with good Jewish and general studies, but to prepare them for the outside world,” he says. “We have to be pragmatic and give young people what they’re going to need out there. We can’t stick our heads in the sand.”