Dr. Ruth

Dr. Ruth’s mission: Sexual literacy


Ruth Westheimer is not someone who gets embarrassed easily.

At 88 years old, the therapist, author and media personality better known as Dr. Ruth still is giving the kind of frank sex advice that would make some people half her age blush.

An iconic figure in the art of sexual-health straight talk, Dr. Ruth is known for her pioneering 1980s radio show “Sexually Speaking,” television programs such as “The Dr. Ruth Show,” her globally syndicated advice column “Ask Dr. Ruth,” and more than 40 books, including “Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition” and her latest, “The Doctor Is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life and Joie de Vivre.”

On Feb. 4, Dr. Ruth will bring her expertise to Los Angeles, appearing as the keynote speaker at the annual Sexual Health Expo, an upscale sex-education event at the California Market Center. Her talk is titled “Dr. Ruth on Sexual Literacy: The Knowledge Base You Need to Have Terrific and Safer Sex.”

Notwithstanding her impressive career in sex therapy, Dr. Ruth’s life has been far from one-dimensional. Born in 1928 in Germany, she was evacuated to a children’s home in Switzerland at the age of 10 to escape the Holocaust. In her late teens, she went to Israel and became a sniper for the Jewish underground army, Haganah, and was injured by a bomb. After spending time in France, she moved to the United States in 1956 and obtained a doctorate in education from Columbia University. She went on to study human sexuality at the New York Hospital-Cornell University Medical Center, and she worked for Planned Parenthood and as an adjunct professor at Lehman College in the Bronx before rising to fame with her “Sexually Speaking” radio show.

In a phone interview with the Jewish Journal from her home in New York, Dr. Ruth spoke about her upcoming West Coast trip and offered some of her trademark sex advice.

Jewish Journal: What do you plan to talk about at the Sexual Health Expo in Los Angeles? 

Dr. Ruth Westheimer: I will talk about sexual literacy. I will talk about many of the things that we now know. [In the United States], we have the best scientifically validated data about human sexuality. [But] there are still things that have to be researched, and we still need some more good studies in order to have everybody have the best sex life possible.

JJ: What is sexual literacy? How can people become more sexually literate?

RW: Sexual literacy is that people have to know about their own bodies, what they need, what is pleasurable to them. And once they are in a relationship, they have to know about their [partner’s] body’s needs and desires.

One of the reasons that I have been talking so openly for the last … maybe 50 years about issues of sex is because, for us Jews, sex has never been a sin, but always an obligation to be engaged in by a couple and to make sure that they do have sex on Friday night — that it is a mitzvah.

I’m old-fashioned and a square, and I believe that the best sex is in a relationship, not necessarily marriage, but in a relationship — that people know each other and trust each other.

JJ: What’s your single biggest piece of advice for people looking to improve their sex lives?

RW: To read some books. They don’t have to be just my books. And to make sure that they say, “I would like to pleasure my partner as best I can.” With these good intentions, people can learn. … They can look at some movies, but they shouldn’t think that movies depict a realistic picture of sex. Any of the sexually explicit material is exaggerated. Nobody can have sex like [that].

JJ: You’ve been giving people sex advice for a long time. How have attitudes toward sex changed? 

RW: The attitudes have certainly changed. People are much more willing to learn, much more willing to ask questions, and even a fair like this one in Los Angeles shows that there is a thirst, a desire for people to be better lovers. And I welcome that. I think that is wonderful.

One thing that certainly has changed: Women have to take the responsibility for their sexual satisfaction. They can’t say, “If he loves me, he has to know what I need.” That doesn’t work.

Then there’s a whole body of knowledge that women have to know because very often they don’t know that just before an orgasmic response there is a moment where nothing happens. … Very often a woman says, “OK, it’s not going to happen.” She gives up. She has to know that [in] that moment where nothing happens, she just has to continue to be stimulated or to stimulate herself in order to be sexually satisfied.

JJ: What progress do you think still needs to be made when it comes to sexuality?

RW: I think that people still have to learn when they are in a relationship not to be bashful, but to make sure that the partner knows what they would like. And if they would like something that the partner does not want to do, then they have to accept that. In the olden days, that would have been about oral sex. These days, I hear that more about anal sex. … Nobody should ever be pressured into an activity that they don’t want.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer will speak at 2 p.m. on Feb. 4 at the Sexual Health Expo at the California Market Center, 110 E. Ninth St., Los Angeles. For free tickets, visit this story at jewishjournal.com .

What sex in the Book of Ruth can teach today’s teens


As Jews, we tend to pride ourselves on our tradition’s values and how we pass them on to future generations; values such as education, tzedakahloving the stranger, pursuing justice and tikkun olam, “repair of the world.” But if you were to start a conversation today with a teenager, would you be ready to articulate Jewish values related to dating and sexuality?

Several such values can be gleaned straight from the Book of Ruth customarily read during the holiday of Shavuot, which begins this year on the evening of June 11Best known for its embrace of Ruth as a convert to Judaism and its emphasis on loving-kindness, the Book of Ruth also includes interactions that have a potentially sexual cast to them. It is a text that names what it sees rather than sugarcoats.

For example, here we read about Boaz, a wealthy kinsman of Ruth’s destitute, widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. Boaz invites Ruth, along with other young women, to collect unharvested produce in his fields. He tells Ruth that he has instructed his men not to molest her. Naomi, hearing later that day about Ruth’s gleaning in Boaz’s fields, admits her relief that young men from another field won’t be touching her daughter-in-law.

Later Naomi counsels Ruth to make herself as attractive as possible, to seek out Boaz after his dinner, and to “uncover his feet and lie down.” Boaz was a sexual hero to our ancestors — one who manages to restrain himself for the sake of the dignity and welfare of another. When Ruth identifies herself that night, she calls Boaz her redeemer — someone who can save her, legally, from continued widowhood. But he points out there is an even closer relative in the town, whom he goes to look for as soon as day breaks. We can also infer that nothing of a sexual nature happens between them because of what we know about Boaz from the start: He considers everyone created in the image of God.

This basic Jewish value, in turn, can lead us to Judaism’s view of the potential sacredness of all relationships, including sexual ones. As Rabbi Paul Yedwab teaches in “Sex in the Texts,” his guide for Jewish teenagers, “In our sexual activities, we need to retain our human character – indeed our divine imprint.”

Finding a potential for divine connection in sexual encounters does not make Jewish tradition averse to sex and sexuality; it encourages sexual pleasure. But the Jewish context is bigger than two consenting adults in a bed. It includes remembering in whose image we are created, that we are God’s partners in improving and sanctifying life, and that freedom and responsibility are both essential for authentic relationships that help both partners grow.

Jewish teens, living in a complex world full of competing values, need to hear that the more they are able to connect sex to love and love to respect, the more deeply satisfied and whole both they and their partners will feel. Jewish Women International recently produced “Dating Abuse: Tools for Talking to Teens,” an online video course for parents and teens about healthy relationships, prevention of abuse and proven interventions.

The curriculum notes that teens, especially girls, are “bombarded with the glorification of idealized, romantic, obsessive love” and that many boys are “inundated with hyper-sexualized messages reducing relationships to degrading sex, glorifying control of women’s bodies, and promoting violence.” But it also reminds parents and other trusted adults that they can counteract these influences by sharing their own values with their children.

Although the Book of Ruth is an ancient text told in only four chapters, it can be a source of Jewish values for teens entering the world of dating today. These include the importance of giving actions their right names; for instance, naming any form of coerced or non-consensual sexual activity as abuse. Another is that every human act, even one that seems instinctive and often depicted as a purely physical transaction, deserves the dignity that comes from our being God’s partners. A third is that sex is potentially holy and not something innately shameful.

Of course, the story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz has much to teach everyone about healthy relationships. JWI’s holiday guide, “Rethinking Shavuot: Women, Relationships, and Jewish Texts” (available as a free download), provides excerpts from the Book of Ruth along with contemporary commentaries and conversation starters, especially for college-age students and adults at all stages of life.

As the Jewish world prepares to celebrate revelation at Shavuot, may we all continue to learn and teach enduring Jewish values that continue to be revealed to us through our conversations with and about our texts.

Rabbi Donna Kirshbaum is a member of JWI’s Clergy Task Force on Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community.

Calendar: February 26 – March 3


FRI | FEB 26

AMI SHABBAT DINNER

Join AMI for an interactive and family-friendly service, followed by a Shabbat dinner and kids program. The evening will illuminate the meaning of Shabbat — sanctifying the week and unifying the Jewish people. 5 p.m. service, 5:30 p.m. dinner and kids program. $70 per couple; $15 per child; free for children 3 and under. Pat’s Restaurant, 9233 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 278-1911. ” target=”_blank”>sexfaithplay.com

SAT | FEB 27

NATHAN MILLER

Come hear what this experienced writer and commentator has to say. Nathan Miller is president of Miller Ink, a strategic communications consultancy, but he has served as the policy director of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and as the director of speechwriting for Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations. As a senior communications adviser and the chief speechwriter for Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor, he was instrumental in crafting some of the most acclaimed and highly scrutinized speeches delivered on the floors of the U.N. in recent memory. 10:30 a.m. Free. The Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-4246. ” target=”_blank”>malibuplayhouse.org.

HAVDALAH AND HOT DOGS

Enjoy Havdalah and a hot dog dinner! This year’s theme: #BeJewish24/7. There will be crafts and activities for the whole family. Hot dog dinner will be served from 5:30-6:15 p.m. followed by a service and evening festivities. 5:30 p.m. $7. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891. SUN | FEB 28

“MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED”

The feature-length documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” examines the history of education and reveals the growing deficiencies of the school model in today’s world. For most of the last century, entry-level jobs were plentiful and college was an affordable path to a fulfilling career, but that is no longer the case. The film explores compelling new approaches in project-based learning that aim to revolutionize teaching as we know it. This event is presented by the Sholem Community. 10 a.m. coffee and bagels; 10:15 a.m. screening. Discussion to follow. Free for members and pre-registration; $5 donation at the door. Westside Neighborhood School, 5401 Beethoven St., Los Angeles. (818) 760-6625. ” target=”_blank”>vistadelmar.org.

BETZALEL ARTS FESTIVAL

Kehillat Ma’arav is launching a new program, JAWS (Jewish Arts Workshop Series), with a Betzalel Fest! There will be activities for all ages, such as candle making, kosher wine tasting, silk challah cover making, challah baking, arts and crafts, and a musical performance featuring flutist Susan Greenberg and pianist Louise Lofquist. 1 p.m. Free. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566. MON | FEB 29

EVE JOCHNOWITZ

Eve Jochnowitz, the author of “The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook: Garden-Fresh Recipes Rediscovered and Adapted for Today’s Kitchen,” will explore Fania Lewando’s extraordinary Yiddish vegetarian cookbook from 1937. Lewando’s cookbook is filled with recipes from Jewish tradition, European cuisine and the booming 20th-century health food movement. Jochnowitz also will engage in conversation with Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s “Good Food.” 12:30 p.m. Free. Tutor Campus Center at USC, 3607 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. (213) 740-2311. WED | MARCH 2

CALIFORNIA-ISRAEL WATER SUMMIT

While California is in the midst of its worst drought on record, Israel has emerged from years of chronic water shortages thanks to its water management and technology. Seth M. Siegel, author of “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution For A Water-Starved World,” will detail how Israel’s expertise can help solve water problems around the world. Hosted by the Jewish National Fund in collaboration with the Consulate General of the State of Israel, the City of Beverly Hills and the City of Los Angeles. 9 a.m. Free. RSVP by Feb. 29. Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 964-1400. ” target=”_blank”>bethjacob.org

THUR | MARCH 3

BALADINO AND SPECIAL GUEST LA VICTORIA

Baladino combines everything from Egyptian darbuka to Armenian duduk, from Ladino classics to rare tunes. The Israeli group has stunning vocals, unexpected instruments and a perfect sense of arrangement. During their live performances, there are often instrumental improvisations driven by Mediterranean-Gypsy grooves with rock and electronic influences. Their vibrant and organic sound will be accompanied by special guest La Victoria. 8 p.m. $25. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. (818) 760-1077.

Neither Trump nor ISIS is going away soon


There are three things most young men want – need really – so much so that it’s seemingly part of their DNA:  1) to feel relevant, to have status of some sort; 2) to be able to give vent to their aggressive tendencies, up to and including sometimes, killing; 3) to have sex, pretty much by any means possible.  In civilian society, there are a limited variety of ways to eventually get to a place where these three urges can be satisfied; mainly they involve succeeding at something either pretty high profile or that is inherently violent to begin with like say, law enforcement, the military, or pro football (Ray McDonald – late of the San Francisco 49’ers and Chicago Bears – was recently arrested for raping a woman he thought was dead).  Otherwise, music (seen “Straight Outta Compton” lately) and other entertainment industry pursuits often seem to fill the bill, as well as business success.  Between them all, there are enough scandalous anecdotes on the wires to start your own tabloid. 

So where do ISIS and Donald Trump fit into this equation? 

Let’s begin by stipulating that it would be worth a lot – perhaps even another world war – to obliterate ISIS.  They have megalomaniacal ambitions; they operate across borders and are a barbaric threat to destabilize several countries; they kill wantonly in the most brutal fashion; they obliterate cultural patrimony; they force women into sexual slavery; they commit terrorist atrocities.  That a world-wide armed operation hasn’t risen up to cauterize them from the body Earth is a testimony, sadly, to their current locale – the Middle East, where we’ve grown accustomed to both conflict and atrocity, and comfortable with the delusion that trouble there doesn’t threaten Western civilization (only its relics) – and the evolutionary divisions of 21st Century politics.  

I’m going to further stipulate that I am not equating Donald Trump with ISIS and therefore not calling for a world war to have him obliterated.  However, it’s pretty clear that just about everyone has underestimated the staying power of both.  Both are doing something that people did not expect – drawing people to them like a giant magnet – because both have tapped into something fundamental in the mass psyche – our motivational trifecta.  Admittedly, with Trump (entertainingly megalomaniacal in his own way), it’s not limited to young men (as are not, exclusively, those impulses themselves); the tea party crowd has adopted these aggressive motivations, from grey-haired ladies to soccer moms, to screeching adolescents, to feel relevant and give vent to their aggressive tendencies.  Has there been anything more aggressive in his campaign than Trump’s calling out an entire nationality as rapists and murderers or calling for the mass deportation of 11 million people.  What better way to feel relevant than being in the vanguard of cleansing your country and “restoring its greatness.”  As for the sex, well, you can choose your poll, women rank confidence and power interchangeably one/two for on the sexy scale, and as for the men, maybe it’s the vicarious identification of being the guy with the supermodel wife. 

Just as clearly, ISIS has tapped into something so fundamental in the psyche of young Islamic men, that God only knows what percentage of them you’d have to eliminate to destroy its farm system.  ISIS goes a conventional military one better in providing for our core motivations.  Any military will convey status: even a private wears a uniform and carries a gun for his country, and those upper ranks system, don’t get me started.  Venting your aggressions?  Check and double check.  But the only organization on Earth that offers virtually instant gratification in all three arenas is….ISIS. 

First, join up and you’re in a perpetual state of war (battle is actually the point) and not just any war – the war for world domination promised in the book.  Sure, some ISIS recruits come on board because they fervently believe in the brutal, ultra-conservative Islamic brand “Caliph” Baghdadi is peddling, and the glory of the Caliphate I’m sure stirs the imagination of more than a few.  After all, their dreary lives as marginalized young men in various Western European or Third World countries  don’t offer much to stir their emotions – as with the un- and under-employed white people backing Trump.  Join ISIS, and you’re an instant soldier for the cause, conferring instant status.  Your friends back home, suffering through school, toiling in dead-end jobs, surviving on petty crime – who are they compared to you?  Do you want news of them, or do they want news of you? 

But just as powerful, I’m sure, is the promise of a high caliber automatic weapon.  Come to Syria, be a soldier for the cause, and tote an AK-47, or a nice, American AR-15 looted from the Iraqis, or better yet, a .50 caliber mounted on a pickup truck.  (Donald Trump, by the way:  “I’m a big Second Amendment guy”)  You, young man, get to shoot at, maim, and kill people with impunity.  You are Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt and Napoleon Solo, and whoever Vin Diesel is this week, and if you’re blood is really up – yes, you may even get to cut off someone’s head.  Rare air indeed. 

Don’t think that’s a big psychological draw?  Re-examine movie billboards.  There is not one TV program or movie, that can possibly support the logic of an image of a weapon, that does not include one.  Ever.  Speaking of Vin Diesel, notice how the Fast and Furious franchise graduated from hot girls, guys, and cars, to a prominent display of weaponry as we got to “Fast Five” and beyond. 

But here’s the icing on the cake; here’s where ISIS puts the U.S. Army and the NFL to shame.  You get to be a gun-toting warrior for the cause, and it comes with your own sex slave.  You don’t have to worry about your parents narrow ideas of sex before marriage, meeting someone, overcoming resistance, moral qualms, societal taboos, the law, the cops – you can get a sexual slave and get laid all the time.  It’s sanctioned, dude.  The Caliph says it’s in the book.  This is even better than Trump, who merely disparages and degrades women, though admittedly, that seems to be working so well across his supporters’ demographics, he hasn’t yet needed to up the ante. 

And just as Trump makes it okay for the disaffected class to support someone more like Romney than they promised themselves they would ever put up with again, ISIS makes it okay to indulge those base, secret longings you always suspected were the core Islam now been validated by a rogue revolutionary that has actually claimed and held real estate – as Trump has claimed and held political real estate, despite the worst examples of public behavior in recent history for a mainstream candidate.  

If you need it in simpler terms, here it is from one Roger Stone, who worked with Nixon, Lee Atwater, and at one time, Trump, and the author of the still unpublished, “Stone’s Rules for War, Politics, Food, Fashion, and Living.”  Rule: “hate is a stronger motivator than love.”  By the looks of things, he knows what he’s talking about, and while a case can be made that for Trump, it’s more disdain than hate, it’s why we can expect both ISIS and Trump to be with us for quite some time. 

Mitch Paradise is a writer and producer living in Los Angeles.

Calendar: October 18-24


SAT | OCT 18/SUN | OCT 19

STEVE ISSERLIS

Hello, cello! He’s not The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, but this is a British import we’re just as happy to welcome. Recognized worldwide as a soloist, chamber musician and author, Isserlis has worked with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Philharmonic Orchestra, and both the Cleveland and NHK orchestras. His passion for children’s-book writing and period instruments are just a couple of his unique traits, and maybe the reason he’s one of only two living cellists inducted into Gramophone magazine’s Hall of Fame. Both nights will be conducted by Douglas Boyd and include Hadyn’s Cello Concerto No. 2. Sat. 8 p.m. $26-$120. Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Sun. 7 p.m. $26-$120. Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Westwood. (213) 622-7001. MON | OCT 20

“RITA: UP CLOSE & INTIMATE”

Sometimes, people are so good they don’t even need a last name. As one of the most celebrated Israeli singers today, she’s the only Rita on our radar. Her musical career began in the Israel Defense Forces, and she since went on to voice Pocahontas in the Hebrew dub of the animated feature, be named Singer of the Year by Israel’s national radio station and release more than 10 studio albums. Sounds promising to me. Mon. 7:30 p.m. $60 (unreserved seating), $100 (reserved seating and pre-concert reception). The Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. (818) 760-1077. ” target=”_blank”>international.ucla.edu.


WED | OCT 22

GARY GULMAN

Gary Gulman is as funny as he is tall — and he’s 6-foot-6. A finalist on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” for two seasons in a row, this comedian is known for his absurd observations on the everyday. He’s appeared on many incarnations of late-night talk shows, hosted New England Sports Network’s “Comedy All-Stars” and has released a number of comedy albums, including “Conversations With Inanimate Objects” and “All I Want for Christmas in Chanukah!” If you think he’s big now, this guy is only gonna get bigger. Wed. 7 p.m. (doors), 8:30 p.m (show). $30. Largo at the Coronet, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 855-0350. THU | OCT 23

“SEX, LIES AND TORAH”

Tonight marks the beginning of an American Jewish University eight-part series on family matters, sibling rivalry and our Jewish tradition. Tonight’s session is called ““Love, Anger and Consequences: God as our Father/Mother,” headed by Rabbi Bradley Artson. The series will feature other leading rabbis on topics such as “The Rape of Dinah: Horrible Violation or Love Story Gone Bad?” “What Do You Do with a Jealous Husband?” and more. Participating rabbis include (but aren’t limited to!) Laura Geller, Zoe Klein and Elliot Dorff. If you thought Jewish learning was prudish — think again. Thu. 7:30 p.m. Through Dec. 18.  $25 per session or $118 for all eight. Locations vary. (310) 476-9777. ” target=”_blank”>writersblocpresents.com.

“LIGHT & NOIR: EXILES AND ÉMIGRÉS IN HOLLYWOOD, 1933-1950”

In an almost ironically dramatic fashion, some of Hollywood’s leading actors, directors, writers and composers had to escape Nazi persecution in order to make the cinematic contributions they eventually did. The exhibit, co-presented with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, locates the stories of Franz Waxman, Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Marlene Dietrich and many more, to discover — through footage, photos, costumes, clips and posters — how the journey of the émigré informed the journey of film in America. The exhibit is complemented by two others: “The Noir Effect” and “Café Vienne.” Thu. Various times. Through March 1. $10 (general), $7 (seniors, students, children over 12), $5 (ages 2-12), free (members, children under 2). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

‘The Fame Lunches’: Daphne Merkin is still wishing for mother’s love


If you were the wild child among more submissive siblings, who refused to be silenced and cried continually, and fought with all the others about their glaring hypocrisies; chances are you were not your parents’ favorite child.  If you sometimes made disturbing comments about wishing to harm yourself while broadcasting to anyone who would listen your opinion about your parents’ deficiencies, you were probably the cause of much familial stress.  If the confusion that swirled around in your head escalated to the point where your parents sent you to a psychiatric facility when you were only 8 years old, you probably only grew more despondent.  By the time adolescence beckoned, the die was cast: You were known only as the anxious and nervous one, a little troubled girl who simply needed too much.

But what if you’re not.  Maybe you were just an exquisitely sensitive and creative little girl who was able to disarmingly articulate your family’s massive dysfunction.  Maybe not getting enough love from your mother and father was simply too much for you to bear.  Maybe you’re Daphne Merkin. 

Merkin, author of  “The Fame Lunches: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Brontes, and the Importance of Handbags” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), is an extremely engaging and empathetic writer.  She doesn’t allow herself to form fixed notions about others, but instead wrestles with how most of us choose to present ourselves to the outside world, along with the forces that have shaped our individual self-presentations.  She is acutely aware of the difficulties involved in all human relationships but also sees tenderness and beauty where others don’t even think to look.  Brought up in a Modern Orthodox, wealthy Jewish home in Manhattan, Merkin struggled with a father who had little patience for her and a mother who seemed overly concerned with the aesthetics of their home while ignoring the emotional turbulence lurking beneath it.  There was little talk about God or spiritual matters of any sort.  Their Judaism was expressed mostly by rituals and celebrations and life at the synagogue, which Merkin disliked since it seemed to her the men had all the good parts.  What she did enjoy was studying the Talmud, which stimulated her active mind with its never ending labyrinth of puzzling arguments.  But she studied privately and eventually gave it up.  As for God, he always either ignored or eluded her.

Mostly, she tried to get her mother’s attention, an exercise that resulted in repeated frustration and disappointment.  But Merkin never stopped trying.  She writes about her mother with an almost uncomfortable intensity, one that seems to elude her in other relationships.  Her mother passed away years ago, but is still dominant in her thoughts and misgivings.  She misses her. Perhaps misses what she never had.  They shared a turbulent relationship, but one that Merkin counted on, even though her mother continually disappointed her. The only possible gift bestowed upon Merkin from this ferocious attachment is that it seems to have imbued Merkin with the ability to look at others through a psychological lens that is filtered by kindness and compassion.

In “The Fame Lunches,” her new outstanding collection of essays, Merkin offers us her take on everything from the allure of lip gloss and its relationship to the demise of civilized society to vividly personal and perceptive essays that resulted from her lengthy interviews with everyone from Madonna to Kate Blanchett.  She tries to dissect the enduring legacy of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana and Courtney Love while offering up thought-provoking pieces about the Bronte sisters, Bruno Bettelheim, and Henry Roth.  She allows space for her own meditations on mental illness, psychoanalysis and the hardships of mothering after divorce.  She is equally adept at highbrow and lowbrow subjects, because she is fascinated by both, and brings an observational sharpness to whatever she is writing about.  Some of the best pieces here have to do with the hunt for a perfect handbag, reality television, and the obsession women have with holding on to their beauty.

What amazes the reader about Merkin is how open her heart has remained, even with age and after several extreme episodes of emotional distress.  Her heart has not hardened, and that is truly a writer’s greatest asset.  She has written at great length in the New York Times about her over 40-year participation in psychoanalysis and its disappointments for her, but the miracle of Merkin is really her resilience in spite of her duress. She perseveres. She writes. She travels. She teaches. She mothers her beloved daughter. She confides in friends.  And, for the most part, she remains afloat.

In one of the most revealing pieces, she tells us about sending a letter to Woody Allen telling him about her adoration for him.  She included a poem for him that ended with these two short sad lines: “You are my funny man.  You know you can be sad with me.”  Woody wrote her back and encouraged her to keep writing.  This led to a friendship of sorts, where they would occasionally meet for lunch.  At one meal, she told him that she was feeling more depressed than usual.  Woody asked her all the appropriate follow-up questions in a clinical fashion and suggested she consider electroshock therapy.  She was furious with him.  She thought, “I don’t know what I had been hoping for — some version of come with me and I will cuddle you until your sadness goes away, not to get hooked up to electrodes, baby — but I was slightly stunned.  More than slightly, I understood he was trying to be helpful in his way but it fell so far short. …Shock therapy?  It wasn’t as thought I hadn’t heard of it or didn’t know people who benefited from it.  Still, how on earth did he conceive of me?  As a chronic mental patient, someone who was meant to sit on a thin hospital mattress and stare greyly into space.  Didn’t he know I was a writer with a future, a person given to creative descriptions of her own moods?  Shock therapy, indeed; I’d sooner try a spa.  It suddenly occurred to me, as I walked up Madison Avenue, that it might pay to be resilient, if this was all being vulnerable and skinless got you… .Indeed, maybe it was time to rethink this whole salvation business.  Or maybe I was less desperate, less teetering on the edge than I cared to admit.  Now that was a refreshing personality.”

There is a steeliness about her that allows her to see things clearly even in the throes of despair.  Merkin’s capacity to analyze her response to Allen’s well-intended advice demonstrates an inner resilience that has undoubtedly saved her many times over.  She knows firsthand the dark forces that can invade your psyche, but she also understands healing and reinvention and transformation.  There is no malice or bitchiness or vengeance present in her work; even towards those whom she knows have caused her the greatest harm.  Even when she senses people are being deceptive or manipulative, she does not castigate them. Instead, she seeks answers as to why she believes they feel they need to be inauthentic at a certain point in time.  She wants to understand, not attack.

For example, when writing about Mike Tyson and his new wife, she senses that Tyson is playing her.  She believes this is simply another incarnation of his continual act, which she describes as a “construction every bit as deliberate as he claims his Invincible Iron Mike persona was.”  Merkin does not challenge him directly about her perception but instead writes about how impressed she is that he is attempting to create a persona that is less violent and self-destructive than he has been in the past.  She wants him to succeed, although she recognizes the fragility of his battle.  Merkin reaches similar conclusions about Marilyn Monroe.  She wonders at first if Monroe was really the victim she is often portrayed to be, or a manipulator of the finest order.  She reviews her background, which includes severe maternal and paternal deprivation, mental illness, and bouts of terrible instability and depression.  She offers up compassion, as she does for Princess Diana, whom she describes as a “knot of contradictions: impossibly glamorous, yet disarmingly self effacing, bold, yet riddled with self-doubt, worldly yet naïve.”  

There are times when Merkin seems to get swept up in a dreamy romantic longing for a world that is less cruel and more forgiving.  On Charles and Diana’s failed union, she writes, “I find myself wondering how Diana’s life might have turned out if she and Charles had bonded over their shared lack of childhood, their virtual abandonment as children. …What would have happened if they had the patience (on his side) and endurance (on hers) to address their mutual longings for love and nurturance in each other?”

And I find myself wondering what Merkin’s life might have been like if she had received more of the nourishment she craved?  Would she have been a writer?  Would she have had an emotional radar as sharp and perceptive as hers is now?  Would she have been happier?  Does her exquisite artistry only come from having experienced such acute pain?  It’s hard to know.  What is clear is that she is one of our best narrative nonfiction writers.  Merkin’s voice is secular and modern and yet filled with some sort of ancient wisdom, and coupled with intellectual and emotional honesty, while maintaining a pureness of heart.  That is no easy feat.

She once wrote this about her mother in her semi-autobiographical novel “Enchantment”: “I want ­­– have always wanted — her to listen to me forever.”  I don’t think her mother could, or did, for reasons that remain mysterious, but we listen and will continue to do so.


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

Amidst celebrity, Daphne Merkin is wishing still for mother’s love


If you were the wild child among more submissive siblings, who refused to be silenced and cried continually, and fought with all the others about their glaring hypocrisies; chances are you were not your parents’ favorite child.  If you sometimes made disturbing comments about wishing to harm yourself while broadcasting to anyone who would listen your opinion about your parents’ deficiencies, you were probably the cause of much familial stress.  If the confusion that swirled around in your head escalated to the point where your parents sent you to a psychiatric facility when you were only 8 years old, you probably only grew more despondent.  By the time adolescence beckoned, the die was cast: You were known only as the anxious and nervous one, a little troubled girl who simply needed too much.

But what if you’re not.  Maybe you were just an exquisitely sensitive and creative little girl who was able to disarmingly articulate your family’s massive dysfunction.  Maybe not getting enough love from your mother and father was simply too much for you to bear.  Maybe you’re Daphne Merkin. 

Merkin, author of  “The Fame Lunches: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Brontes, and the Importance of Handbags” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), is an extremely engaging and empathetic writer.  She doesn’t allow herself to form fixed notions about others, but instead wrestles with how most of us choose to present ourselves to the outside world, along with the forces that have shaped our individual self-presentations.  She is acutely aware of the difficulties involved in all human relationships but also sees tenderness and beauty where others don’t even think to look.  Brought up in a Modern Orthodox, wealthy Jewish home in Manhattan, Merkin struggled with a father who had little patience for her and a mother who seemed overly concerned with the aesthetics of their home while ignoring the emotional turbulence lurking beneath it.  There was little talk about God or spiritual matters of any sort.  Their Judaism was expressed mostly by rituals and celebrations and life at the synagogue, which Merkin disliked since it seemed to her the men had all the good parts.  What she did enjoy was studying the Talmud, which stimulated her active mind with its never ending labyrinth of puzzling arguments.  But she studied privately and eventually gave it up.  As for God, he always either ignored or eluded her.

Mostly, she tried to get her mother’s attention, an exercise that resulted in repeated frustration and disappointment.  But Merkin never stopped trying.  She writes about her mother with an almost uncomfortable intensity, one that seems to elude her in other relationships.  Her mother passed away years ago, but is still dominant in her thoughts and misgivings.  She misses her. Perhaps misses what she never had.  They shared a turbulent relationship, but one that Merkin counted on, even though her mother continually disappointed her. The only possible gift bestowed upon Merkin from this ferocious attachment is that it seems to have imbued Merkin with the ability to look at others through a psychological lens that is filtered by kindness and compassion.

In “The Fame Lunches,” her new outstanding collection of essays, Merkin offers us her take on everything from the allure of lip gloss and its relationship to the demise of civilized society to vividly personal and perceptive essays that resulted from her lengthy interviews with everyone from Madonna to Kate Blanchett.  She tries to dissect the enduring legacy of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana and Courtney Love while offering up thought-provoking pieces about the Bronte sisters, Bruno Bettelheim, and Henry Roth.  She allows space for her own meditations on mental illness, psychoanalysis and the hardships of mothering after divorce.  She is equally adept at highbrow and lowbrow subjects, because she is fascinated by both, and brings an observational sharpness to whatever she is writing about.  Some of the best pieces here have to do with the hunt for a perfect handbag, reality television, and the obsession women have with holding on to their beauty.

What amazes the reader about Merkin is how open her heart has remained, even with age and after several extreme episodes of emotional distress.  Her heart has not hardened, and that is truly a writer’s greatest asset.  She has written at great length in the New York Times about her over 40-year participation in psychoanalysis and its disappointments for her, but the miracle of Merkin is really her resilience in spite of her duress. She perseveres. She writes. She travels. She teaches. She mothers her beloved daughter. She confides in friends.  And, for the most part, she remains afloat.

In one of the most revealing pieces, she tells us about sending a letter to Woody Allen telling him about her adoration for him.  She included a poem for him that ended with these two short sad lines: “You are my funny man.  You know you can be sad with me.”  Woody wrote her back and encouraged her to keep writing.  This led to a friendship of sorts, where they would occasionally meet for lunch.  At one meal, she told him that she was feeling more depressed than usual.  Woody asked her all the appropriate follow-up questions in a clinical fashion and suggested she consider electroshock therapy.  She was furious with him.  She thought, “I don’t know what I had been hoping for — some version of come with me and I will cuddle you until your sadness goes away, not to get hooked up to electrodes, baby — but I was slightly stunned.  More than slightly, I understood he was trying to be helpful in his way but it fell so far short. …Shock therapy?  It wasn’t as thought I hadn’t heard of it or didn’t know people who benefited from it.  Still, how on earth did he conceive of me?  As a chronic mental patient, someone who was meant to sit on a thin hospital mattress and stare greyly into space.  Didn’t he know I was a writer with a future, a person given to creative descriptions of her own moods?  Shock therapy, indeed; I’d sooner try a spa.  It suddenly occurred to me, as I walked up Madison Avenue, that it might pay to be resilient, if this was all being vulnerable and skinless got you… .Indeed, maybe it was time to rethink this whole salvation business.  Or maybe I was less desperate, less teetering on the edge than I cared to admit.  Now that was a refreshing personality.”

There is a steeliness about her that allows her to see things clearly even in the throes of despair.  Merkin’s capacity to analyze her response to Allen’s well-intended advice demonstrates an inner resilience that has undoubtedly saved her many times over.  She knows firsthand the dark forces that can invade your psyche, but she also understands healing and reinvention and transformation.  There is no malice or bitchiness or vengeance present in her work; even towards those whom she knows have caused her the greatest harm.  Even when she senses people are being deceptive or manipulative, she does not castigate them. Instead, she seeks answers as to why she believes they feel they need to be inauthentic at a certain point in time.  She wants to understand, not attack.

For example, when writing about Mike Tyson and his new wife, she senses that Tyson is playing her.  She believes this is simply another incarnation of his continual act, which she describes as a “construction every bit as deliberate as he claims his Invincible Iron Mike persona was.”  Merkin does not challenge him directly about her perception but instead writes about how impressed she is that he is attempting to create a persona that is less violent and self-destructive than he has been in the past.  She wants him to succeed, although she recognizes the fragility of his battle.  Merkin reaches similar conclusions about Marilyn Monroe.  She wonders at first if Monroe was really the victim she is often portrayed to be, or a manipulator of the finest order.  She reviews her background, which includes severe maternal and paternal deprivation, mental illness, and bouts of terrible instability and depression.  She offers up compassion, as she does for Princess Diana, whom she describes as a “knot of contradictions: impossibly glamorous, yet disarmingly self effacing, bold, yet riddled with self-doubt, worldly yet naïve.” 

There are times when Merkin seems to get swept up in a dreamy romantic longing for a world that is less cruel and more forgiving.  On Charles and Diana’s failed union, she writes, “I find myself wondering how Diana’s life might have turned out if she and Charles had bonded over their shared lack of childhood, their virtual abandonment as children. …What would have happened if they had the patience (on his side) and endurance (on hers) to address their mutual longings for love and nurturance in each other?”

And I find myself wondering what Merkin’s life might have been like if she had received more of the nourishment she craved?  Would she have been a writer?  Would she have had an emotional radar as sharp and perceptive as hers is now?  Would she have been happier?  Does her exquisite artistry only come from having experienced such acute pain?  It’s hard to know.  What is clear is that she is one of our best narrative nonfiction writers.  Merkin’s voice is secular and modern and yet filled with some sort of ancient wisdom, and coupled with intellectual and emotional honesty, while maintaining a pureness of heart.  That is no easy feat. 

She once wrote this about her mother in her semi-autobiographical novel “Enchantment”: “I want ­­– have always wanted — her to listen to me forever.”  I don’t think her mother could, or did, for reasons that remain mysterious, but we listen and will continue to do so. 

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

EVENT: Hot & Holy — A provocative discussion on sex and spirituality


A provocative discussion on sex and spirituality. Whether you are single, married, have a great sex life, or want one — join the conversation as we talk about what sex means to a relationship and how it is reflected in our faith.

Moderated by Ilana Angel, panelists are Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom, Sex Therapist Dr. Limor Blockman, Dating Coach David Wygant, and Hollywood Jew Danielle Berrin.  Ticket price includes admission and hors d'oeuvres.  Cash Bar. Special Valet Rate of $7.00.

Click here to buy your ticket online and secure entry. Some tickets will be available at the door. First come, first served.

Relationship advice: Marry young


I know the arguments that people give for delaying marriage: 

“I’m not ready.”

“I need to be financially secure first.”

“Right now, I’m preoccupied with ____” (fill in the blank).

“To tell you the truth, I’m having too much fun to settle down.” (This argument is usually offered by males — and generally told only to other males.)

Others cite data suggesting that marrying later means less likelihood of divorcing.

I would like to make some arguments on behalf of early marriage.

The first and best argument for early marriage — providing, of course, that one meets a good person and believes this person will also be a good parent and/or provider — is that it forces you to grow up.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — makes us grow up as much as marriage does. Children are a close second, but the maturity leap from singlehood to marriage is still greater than the maturity leap from marriage without children to marriage with children.

The problem today is that becoming mature is not even on the list of most young people’s life goals. If anything, staying immature — committing to no one and remaining dependent on others — is more of a goal.

That is what “not ready” usually means.

Putting aside the financial issue, which we will address, “not ready” almost always means not willing — not “not ready” — to take on the permanent commitment to someone else that marriage entails.

Why were people throughout history ready to commit to marriage at a much younger age than people today? Only because society expected them to become adults at a younger age than today. Nothing makes you an adult as much as responsibility does. And no responsibility makes you an adult as much as marital responsibility.

And why, even today, are religious Jewish and Christian young men and women ready to marry in their early 20s? Because their values and their culture expect them to.

Let’s be honest. “I’m not ready” is usually a statement of emotional immaturity even when the person is otherwise a wonderful and responsible man or woman. 

As for the financial aspect of “not ready,” this is puzzling. People who say this may be entirely sincere, but they may also be fooling themselves. For one thing, two people living together cuts many costs almost in half. For another, nothing spurs hard work as much as marriage (and family) does. Married men make more money than single men. Moreover, many of the happiest and most bonding memories of couples are the early days when they financially struggled.

Another argument pertains to each sex separately. 

To women, I would argue that:

a) More good marriageable men are available when a woman is 23 than when she is 33, not to mention 43. To deny this is to deny reality. To dismiss this as “sexist” is to complain that life is sexist. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether it is “sexist”; all that matters is whether it is true.

b) She will learn little more about men and relationships by either going from relationship to relationship after college or by living with a man for many years without marrying. In other words, all those years a woman spends avoiding looking for a man to marry are largely wasted. There is rarely major emotional growth — this is just as true for men — during those unmarried years. And, in the meantime, she might have been able to find a good man and begin the most satisfying thing in life — making a home and, hopefully, a family. 

c) The notion that marriage will interfere with her career means she believes that, in the long run, career success will bring her greater joy and happiness than marital success. For the vast majority of women, this is not true. Young women who do not believe this should speak to successful single women in their 40s.

To men, I would argue that:

Guys who spend their lives avoiding marriage are, as a general rule, not impressive. That is one reason committed bachelors rarely get elected to high office. Neither sex thinks much of them. I understand men “sowing their wild oats” in the belief that it can help later on in life if they are plagued with curiosity about what it would be like to be with another woman. But after a certain age, chasing women is quite pathetic, and men doing so are spinning their wheels in terms of personal growth. Unfortunately, not all men want to grow up — just ask all the women looking for a man who complain of a surfeit of “man-boys.” 

I learned all this first from traditional Judaism, and later from life and from callers to my radio show. 

In order to be a judge on the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, a man had to be married and a father. Also, in traditional Jewish life, a man could not wear a tallit (prayer shawl) in synagogue until he was married. It was the community’s unsubtle way of telling males that until they committed to a woman in marriage, they were still considered a boy.

There are, of course, exceptions. But in general, boys and girls stay single. If they want to become men and women, they marry.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

The shandah factor: What makes Jewish sex scandals different?


The guy with the socks up. The guy with the pants down. The guy with the headlocks. The guy who tweets and deletes.

What is it with these male politicos? And why are they all Jewish?

The cloistered community that is Washington’s Jewish elite collectively choked a little Saturday morning as it progressed through a column in which Gail Collins of The New York Times named the protagonists of what she dubbed the “Weiner Spitzer summer.”

“Ever since the Clinton impeachment crisis, we’ve been discovering how much personal misbehavior we’re prepared to ignore in elected officials,” Collins wrote. “Hypocrisy, for sure. Adultery, definitely. Chronic lying, maybe. Financial skullduggery, possibly.”

Those seeking absolution this month for past misdeeds include Anthony Weiner, now running for New York mayor, who quit Congress in 2011 after he was caught saluting a female Twitter fan in his boxer briefs; Eliot Spitzer, now in a bid to be Gotham’s comptroller, who quit as the state’s governor in 2008 after the revelation that he patronized high-priced call girls — and allegedly kept his knee-highs on while doing so; and Bob Filner, who quit Congress last year to become San Diego’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years and is now facing a welter of sexual harassment claims, including allegations involving something called the “Filner headlock.”

[Related: Weiner acknowledges latest revealed lewd exchange]

Rounding out the sordidness is the baffling case of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who was caught tweeting and deleting messages to a bikini model during the State of the Union address in February. Turns out she was his recently discovered love child. Then it was discovered she wasn't. Then he commented on the looks of a female reporter who asked him about the situation.

In her column, Collins did not identify the protagonists as Jewish, but their collective appearance in print unsettled Jewish political players who were whispering their names at social gatherings over the weekend.

“If we need a reminder of how Jews are like everyone else, this is a useful one,” said Ann Lewis, who as White House communications director managed the fallout from President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal and whose brother, former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, was caught up in a scandal in the 1980s involving a gay escort. “It does help bring us down to earth.”

Unlike other lawmakers caught in scandal, Lewis said, Jewish politicos are less likely to face the charges of hypocrisy that have afflicted others caught with their pants down.

“Jewish politicians by and large have not been huge advocates of patrolling other people's sex lives,” Lewis said.

The cases all have their own particularities.

Spitzer's lapses were crimes, though he was never prosecuted for them. Filner's might yet land him in court; his former communications director said this week that she was suing the mayor for sexual harassment. And the ones with Weiner and Cohen are just bizarre, though no one has suggested they are criminal.

Filner thus far has rejected calls for his resignation, while Spitzer and Weiner are both trying to rehabilitate their political careers after retreating from the spotlight in the wake of the scandals. On Monday, however, Weiner acknowledged that he had sent more explicit photos and texts to a woman, though the exact date of the exchange was unclear.

The Cohen saga began in February, when reporters noticed his tweet to bikini model Victoria Brink, who had told Cohen via Twitter that she had seen him on TV. “pleased u r watching, ilu,” he replied, using the shorthand for “I love you.”

The unmarried Cohen had a relationship with Brink's mother, who had told the congressman that the model was his daughter. CNN reported last week, however, that a DNA test showed Cohen and Brink are not related.

Asked about the situation by a young female reporter, Cohen said, “You're very attractive, but I'm not talking about it.” Cohen almost immediately sought out the reporter to apologize, saying he had not meant anything untoward.

“Been tough week, then this,” Cohen said in a tweet. “Sad 2 say I'm not perfect.

Political observers attribute the various scandals to the same factors that have led other politicians into the halls of shame: arrogance, insularity and just plain loneliness.

“Anyone who wants to run for Congress has to be a little bit crazy, and that includes Jewish members of Congress,” said a longtime Capitol Hill staffer who has worked for a number of Jewish lawmakers — none tinged by scandal.

The perpetual fundraising, unfettered accolades from supporters and the rarity of staffers who push back when a boss crosses the line insulate lawmakers from reality checks, according to a number of Hill staffers. The rigors of living one's life under the constant glare of media scrutiny may also be a factor.

“When people are separated from their families for a long period of time, things occur that wouldn't necessarily occur if your family was there,” said Robert Wexler, a former congressman who described his first months in Washington as hellish, eventually leading to his decision to move his family north so he could spend more time with them.

The move was not without a price. In 2008, Wexler came under fire when it was revealed he no longer maintained a residence in his Florida constituency.

“Eventually, your political opponent will claim you are of Washington,” he said.

Sex scandals have not always sounded the death knell for political careers.

Frank continued to serve in Congress for more than two decades after revelations that he patronized a male escort and then hired him as a personal aide. Weiner is leading in several recent polls, and has never polled lower than second since declaring his candidacy in May. And Spitzer enjoys a commanding lead over his Democratic primary opponent, Scott Stringer, the Jewish Manhattan borough president.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Lewis said. “They have a lot of work to do, but if I go back and think about Jewish tradition, you are encouraged to give people another chance.”

But the scandals have certainly exacted a price. Barbara Goldberg Goldman, a leading Democratic fundraiser, said the Weiner scandal was a factor in her decision to fundraise for one of his opponents, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“Because I am Jewish, because I am a Democrat and I am active in that arena, I see it as a tragedy” that Weiner and Spitzer are running again, Goldman said.

“There are many fine qualified candidates out there who do not come with the baggage,” she said. “Find another day job. It’s chutzpah.”

Weiner acknowledges latest revealed lewd exchange


New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner acknowledged that he participated in a newly revealed, sexually explicit social media exchange.

“I said that other texts and photos were likely to come out, and today they have,” Weiner, a former U.S. congressman, said Tuesday after The Dirty website released screen grabs of the chats.

Weiner has said that he expected more chats of the kind that led to his 2011 resignation from Congress to emerge. The Dirty claimed that the new set of chats were from 2012, after he had resigned.

Weiner in his statement did not say when he had the latest conversations to be revealed.

“While some things that have been posted today are true and some are not, there is no question that what I did was wrong,” he said. “This behavior is behind me.”

[Related: What makes Jewish sex scandals different?]

You are a felon


“You are a felon.”  Those were the words texted by one high school kid to another after the boy bragged via text about raping an unconscious 16 year old girl in Steubenville, Ohio.  The phrase was echoed again on Sunday when the verdict was handed down – guilty.  “You are a felon.”  It is a powerful phrase, an accurate phrase and we are undeniably caught in its crosshairs.

The case came to light through social media – images of a passed out girl being dragged from one party to the next to be violated.  Real time text messages gave a moment-to-moment account of the atrocity witnessed by countless teens.  One of the rapists sent a text describing his victim as “a dead body.”  Yet the girl’s level of intoxication ended up at the center of the trial – the determining factor in whether this was rape or not.  “How drunk was she?”  And somehow, even asking that question sounds stomach-turningly similar to “what was she wearing?”  The text says it all, “a dead body.”

When I read that phrase, “a dead body,” images instantly flashed through my mind – snippets of scenes I’ve seen on screen a million times.  Rape scenes, sex scenes, violence passed off as sex – a limp body beneath a thrusting male.  It was all too familiar.

Read more at hollywoodjournal.com.


Aimée Lagos is an award winning writer and director, a storyteller, an activist and an entrepreneur dedicated to a life of adventure and raising her daughter with her soulmate.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: March 16-22, 2013


Looking for Passover events? Check out our Passover calendar.


SAT MARCH 16

“LOVE FROM JEWISH KITCHENS”

Storyteller Karen Golden takes a food-centric journey through the holidays with a buffet of traditional and original stories that highlight how recipes bond generations. A catered nosh — including kugel — follows the performance. Sat. 2-4 p.m. $20. Institute of Musical Arts, 3210 W. 54th St., Los Angeles. (323) 300-6578. lovefromjewishkitchens.eventbrite.com.


SUN MARCH 17

“CONCENTRATIONARY CINEMA/CONCENTRATIONARY MEMORY”

Alain Resnais’ “Night and Fog,” one of the most screened films about the Holocaust, is often criticized for its failure to confront the specificity of the genocide. “Concentrationary Cinema” authors Griselda Pollock and Max Silverman, both professors at the University of Leeds, present their argument that the film’s political aesthetics of resistance might better be approached through the prism of the camps as the core instrument of totalitarianism’s assault on the human condition. Sun. 2 p.m. Free. Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000. hammer.ucla.edu.

“MURDER ON A KIBBUTZ”

Michele Paskow, a lecturer in the Jewish studies department at California State University, Northridge, leads a discussion on “Murder on a Kibbutz: A Communal Case,” a murder mystery by late Israeli author Batya Gur. Today’s event is the first meeting of a book discussion group at CSUN featuring the university’s Jewish studies faculty facilitating conversations about interesting reads. Sun. 2-4 p.m. Free. California State University, Northridge, Oviatt Library, Jack & Florence Ferman Presentation Room, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. (818) 677-4724. http://www.csun.edu/~jsprogr.

DANIEL KAHN AND THE PAINTED BIRD

Fusing klezmer, political cabaret and punk folk, this internationally renowned ensemble, led by Detroit-area native Daniel Kahn plays West Hollywood. The set-list draws on material from the group’s newest album, “Bad Old Songs,” which features polyglot reinventions of Yiddish folk songs and covers of classics from Leonard Cohen and Franz Josef Degenhardt. Notable Russian-Jewish songwriter Psoy Korolenko appears as a special guest. Sun. 7-8:30 p.m. $10. Plummer Park, Fiesta Hall, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (213) 389-8880. yiddishkayt.org.


MON MARCH 18

“TECHNOLOGY … DOES IT FREE US OR KEEP US ENSLAVED?”

Rabbi Mark Borovitz, spiritual leader of rehabilitation center Beit T’Shuvah, and Cambria Gordon, co-author of “The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming,” discuss mindfulness in navigating today’s technologically dense world during an evening of dinner and learning. Gordon, wife of “Homeland” producer Howard Gordon, who lost control of her SUV while reaching for her cell phone and struck an elderly man in 2011, shares her personal story on the dangers and consequences of distracted driving and the faith-based lessons she learned. Mon. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Free. Beit T’Shuvah, 8831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 204-5200. beittshuvah.org.

HARPER SIMON

The singer-songwriter, son of folk-rock icon Paul Simon, moves away from his alt country-flavored debut to explore a modern psychedelic folk-rock sound driven by electric guitars as he plays material from his forthcoming sophomore album, “Division Street.” Willoughby, Henry Wolfe and Heather Porcarro also perform. 21 and older. Mon. 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Free. The Satellite, 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 661-4380. thesatellitela.com.


TUE MARCH 19

DORA LEVY MOSSANEN

The Women’s International Zionist Organization hosts a special dessert reception and Q-and-A with the acclaimed Israeli writer. A Jewish Journal contributor, Mossanen is author of the historical novels, “The Last Romanov,” “Harem” and “Courtesan.” Tue. 7 p.m. $36. Light in Art Gallery, 8408 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 378-2312. wizola.org.


FRI MARCH 22

“DORFMAN IN LOVE”

Set in Los Angeles’ revitalized downtown and a highlight of the 2012 Los Angles Jewish Film Festival, this indie romantic-comedy follows a nebbish-y young Jewish woman named Deb (Sara Rue). Trapped in the role of caretaker of her unappreciative family, Deb suddenly gets her own life when she volunteers to cat-sit at her unrequited love’s downtown loft for a week. Oscar nominee Elliott Gould costars as Burt Dorfman, Deb’s cantankerous widowed father. Fri. Various times. $11 (general), $8 (children younger than 12, seniors). Laemmle’s Noho 7, 5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. laemmle.com


ALL WEEK

PASSOVER

Celebrate the Jewish people’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery with Pesach events that begin well before the first seder on March 25. Highlights include musician Craig Taubman’s interfaith experience, drawing Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy to downtown’s Pico Union neighborhood; acclaimed restaurant Jar’s kosher-for-Passover menu, which features crispy potato pancakes, Alaskan halibut and horseradish mash potatoes; and the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles’ women’s seder, which aims to inspire and educate about social justice issues. With events for children and their parents, the elderly, young professionals and for all denominations, there is something for everyone.

View more Passover events here.

My Single Peeps: Becca M.


Becca is a close friend. My daughter, Sydney, saw me hug her hello one day and said, “Becca’s your best friend.” I felt a little pushed into it, but maybe she’s right. We’re BFFs — best friends forever.  And Sydney knew before we did.

Becca’s the kind of girl guys love to hang out with. Her two roommates are both guys. All of them have been friends since at least high school. One of them, Jason L., was also a Single Peep.

My wife and I had our nanny come last Saturday — a rare treat. My sister’s looking to move to Los Angeles, and my wife gave her a tour. I had an audition and had to stay back. Also, being trapped in the car with my sister and wife while they tour houses I can’t afford seems like an awful way to spend a Saturday. So I met up with Becca for lunch. Then we got my car washed. We killed time by going shopping. I bought my wife a dress. I helped Becca pick out an outfit for an upcoming date. We drove to Fat Dog and ordered a beer and oysters. We had a great time. I told my wife.  She said, “Sounds like you had a pretty nice date.” I laughed. Then I realized she might have been right. I did have a great date. Except for the fact that I’m sometimes happily married. And I have kids. And I love my wife. And although I love Becca, I don’t want to make love to Becca. I want someone else to. So I’m putting her on My Single Peeps.

Becca, who’s 27, grew up in Agoura. She works as a nurse — she’s with hospice now, but she’s moving to Children’s Hospital in March. Her father, a Dutch Jew, is an oncologist, so she grew up seeing her father care for the sick, and it rubbed off on her.  She’s caring, but not weak. She’s tough. She’s beautiful. She’s very smart. She worked extremely hard through nursing school and always worried about failing tests that came back almost perfect. She’s funny. She can handle guys being guys. But she likes to be treated like a lady. I can tell by her horrified face every time I push the envelope … which is pretty often. I tend to treat her like my little sister, but not every girl appreciates the delicate comedic nuances of a “noogie.” Especially when she’s trying to flirt with a guy at a bar.

Becca likes good, solid guys. Feet firmly planted on the ground with an eye toward the future. She wants a family and wants him to want one, too. He should be nice. He should be funny. But he should have some edge. Just slightly unpolished and quirky enough to keep him cool and interesting while he reports on a war in the Middle East, separates conjoined twins in a dangerous and rare surgical procedure or finishes Mrs. Goldman’s taxes.  

He also needs to pass my test — much more stringent than hers. Because whomever she marries will be friends with us forever. Because we’re BFFs. And Becca and I take that last F very, very seriously.

After this week, My Single Peeps will be on hiatus for a few weeks while Seth Menachem pursues his acting career. Expect to see more again in March. 


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

 

At one-film-a-year pace, Woody Allen not slowing down


Funny, serious, and controversial, Woody Allen’s films evoke many emotions—but his Jewish upbringing sticks out in them like a matzo ball in chicken soup.

With Allen’s new movie, “To Rome With Love,” opening this summer and his “Bullets Over Broadway” set for a musical theater adaptation, this 76-year-old American filmmaker is not slowing down and remains at the top of his game.

According to Leonard Quart, professor emeritus of cinema at the City University of New York Grad Center and contributing editor of Cineaste, Allen’s comic style and vision differ significantly from other Jewish filmmakers like Mel Brooks.

[The Woody Allen Israel Project: Help #sendwoody to Israel for his next film]

“Allen, in his middle period, was the more controlled, stylistically rich, and gifted director,” Quart told JNS.org. “His works then seamlessly combined the comic and pathetic, with characters who had internal lives, and weren’t merely cartoons. Brooks is the more manic and anarchic, and he can provoke belly laughs that Allen rarely does. Both engage in social criticism, though Brooks’ use of pop culture makes his work broader and less subtle. For a time, these two Brooklyn products, who did stand-up comedy and wrote for Sid Caesar, were, albeit in different ways, the two best American directors of comedy.”

Born Allan Konigsberg in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn (the son of Nettie, a bookkeeper at her family’s delicatessen, and Martin Konigsberg, a jewelry engraver and waiter), Allen’s parents were born and raised on the lower east side of Manhattan and his grandparents were German immigrants who spoke Yiddish. He pays homage to New York City in many of his films, including the critically acclaimed “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

Bespeckled, diminutive, and neurotic, Allen makes many short lists of the most important comedy directors of all time. A writing, acting and directing triple threat, he has received 15 nominations for Academy Awards, winning three.

For years, Allen has managed to release one film annually, oscillating between brainy comedies and stark dramas, full of funny wordplay and incisive characterizations. According to Foster Hirsch, author of Love, Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life: The Films of Woody Allen, Allen carved out a unique place for himself in American movies, becoming our national auteur as well as the most prolific director in the country, and creating a singular world with each film released since his first in 1969.

Hirsch said he was drawn to Allen’s films when he saw “Annie Hall.” “Something about that film struck a nerve,” he told JNS.org. “In my work I usually avoid comedy but something about his New York Jewish humor I respond to. It’s very fresh.”

Allen’s Jewish background has a total impact on his work, Hirsch said.

“Everything he writes and acts and films has direct roots in a New York Jewish sensibility, which he presents to the world, and he then becomes an ambassador of that sensibility,” Hirsch said. “In literature Philip Roth would be a good equivalent. What does that mean? There are a litany of complaints, grievances, family trauma, the over-possessive mother and the distant father, the feelings of exclusion and inferiority. All of the angst associated with being Jewish is transformed in Woody Allen and lit by his radiant humor.”

Allen is typically inspired by European filmmakers.  When “To Rome With Love” opened in June, he told Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times how profoundly Italian filmmakers influenced him.

“They invented a method of telling a story, and suddenly for us lesser mortals it becomes all right to tell a story that way,” Allen told Itzkoff. “We do our versions of them, never as shockingly innovative or brilliant as when the masters did them.”

Always serious about his art but never self-involved, Allen’s best work, like the masters he idolizes, touches deep human issues. Although rooted in a Jewish sensibility, his subjects are universal. For example, in Hirsch‘s favorite film, “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the universal issue of self-forgiveness resonates.

“It’s about a person forgiving himself for committing a horrendous crime,” Hirsch told JNS.org. “This is the one film of his that has continuing resonance for me. I cannot get the Martin Landau character out of my mind.”

Additionally, Allen’s “schlemiel” character—the outsider, apparent loser, underdog, and person not part of the dominant culture—is indeed imprinted on our collective consciousness.

“With his figure of the schlemiel, Woody Allen has made a permanent contribution to the history of American film,” Hirsch said. “His artistry is inseparable from his Jewishness.”

 

My Single Peeps: Guershon M.


The most embarrassing aspect of Guershon’s life is that he’s 34 and lives with his mom, so of course I’ll lead with that. “I started film school and I [moved in with my mom], and the hardest thing for me was it seemed like [my friends] had all their s—- together. It was really hard for me to really go out a lot and date … and it’s gotten progressively harder. It’s kind of hard to say, ‘Yeah, I live at home.’ It was really embarrassing — especially when I hit 30. Then I started seeing my friends where I lived saying, ‘I got laid off. I can’t believe it, but I have to live with my parents again.’ So I said, ‘OK, this leveled the playing field a little for me.’ ”

Guershon’s not a lazy guy. He and his writing partner had some heat on a script, and when it fell through, they sat back down and kept writing. “I picked up the book ‘The Perfect Pitch’ and [the author, Ken Rotcop] had a workshop, and I called him, and he was like, ‘Yeah, come in.’ ” Ken has become a mentor to Guershon. “We got an agent through him, and our writing’s gotten better — more commercial. I’m right on that cusp — it’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when.” 

Guershon’s family is from Mexico City, though he was born in Houston. He was raised Jewish, went to a Jewish day school and had a bar mitzvah’d — but he never felt that he fit in. “I kind of had this disdain for the religion or how judgmental I felt people on Pico were, because they’re like, ‘You speak Spanish and you’re Jewish?’ ” A lot of that changed when he met Rabbi Drew Kaplan, the rabbi for Southern California Jewish Student Services. “I started connecting as a Jew, not because it was forced on me. And while I’m not a perfect fit, it is my community, and I do care about it.

I look to his feet. He’s wearing what appear to be shoes, but they’re in the shape of feet — Vibram FiveFingers. I imagine they make sense for a guy who works out as often as he does, but there’s no hiding the fact that they’re ugly. “You’d wear them on a date?” I ask. “Yeah, I would. I even have a suede pair.” I guess he saves those for finer dining.

“I want a serious relationship. I’m not playing anymore. I haven’t wanted to play for a long time. And I’m not a huge drinker — I don’t like going to the bars or clubs. So if that’s what I wanted, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you. I’ve never really had a problem getting a date; it’s, ‘What kind of date?’ Truth is, every one of my girlfriends have been beauty queens and models. I admit I’m vain. That’s what I like.  That doesn’t matter as much anymore, but I like a girl who’s thin and athletic.”

“What kind of person are you?” I ask. “I really care about people. If you’re my friend and you call me at 2 a.m. because there’s something wrong, I’ll get my ass in the car and drive down just to make sure you’re OK. I can sometimes come across as very forward or cocky, but it’s just because I’m very open. You always know where you stand with me. I’m never going to hide how I feel. If I’m sad, you know I’m sad. If I’m happy, you know I’m happy. If I’m angry, you know I’m angry. I’m the worst poker player in the world.”

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

My Single Peeps: Isaac S.


When Isaac sits down to speak with me, I see the rugged beard with a shot of gray around the chin, the athletic build and the tight-fitting Israeli-style clothes, and I think, “I know exactly who this guy is.” He has an Israeli accent, so when he first says to me, “In Israel I was in the army and then came here and worked as a professional dancer,” I’m not sure I’ve heard correctly. A dancer? I ask him to repeat himself.

“Ballroom dancing. I got an offer to come here and dance with a company, but after two months I didn’t like their style, so I opened up my own group.”  Two things about that sentence make me smile. One, the fact that this macho guy loves to ballroom dance. And two, I’m always impressed by the Israeli chutzpah to be in a new country for only two months, and, not liking the way something is run, they’ll start their own company.

“At that time, I was working two jobs — dancing and woodworking. [Carpentry] was my father’s work; since 10 years old, I was working with him.  And I was running from it.  I hated it.  But when I came here, I thought, ‘Let’s make money doing something I know.’ The dance group was running — it was my passion — but the woodworking was doing well.”

Although his company was growing, he hit a wall. “I felt stuck. Then I was introduced to Landmark Forum [and it] changed my life. I understand that I’m capable, and I can do way more, [so] I opened another company. And [with] this company right now, I’m actually living my dream. I know what my path is. I’m very successful — 2011 was really bad for everyone, and mine was the best of the 11 years I was here.” His new business helps brand companies, as well as build and design their facilities — often kiosks, or retail stores, restaurants and malls.  “What I like here in L.A. is there are more opportunities than [in] Israel. When you want something, go and do it. No one will stop you. No limitations. If I see any limit, I lose my drive. If I don’t see any limit, my drive can go on and on and on.”

I ask him about women. “I want a woman who has her own life, and [we] can grow from there.” He doesn’t want a woman who’s getting into a relationship from a needy place. “I want to wake up in the morning and see a beautiful woman who takes care of herself and cares about herself.” Isaac is 34 but thinks 27 or 28 is a good age for a woman: “A good state of mind for a girl. But if I meet a great girl, I’m really open [to any age].”

I ask him what he’s like as a boss; I think it says a lot about a person. “I’m very understanding, because I came from where they come from. Everyone says the customer is the first thing. For me, it’s my workers. I’ve done jobs where they mistreat my workers, and I leave the job. They are like my family — no matter what position they are.

“My vision is 10 years from now I live in my house in Costa Rica, my kids running around and a beautiful wife in a bikini running on the beach. I already have land over there. My vision is to make good businesses that work without me, and then I can really enjoy the time. Go back and forth. And that, for me, would be a good success.”

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

My Single Peeps: Lawrence J.


Lawrence is a South African Jew who has been in Southern California since he was 10. I met him through his sister, Francine, who briefly dated my eldest brother after they met abroad on a high-school trip. I hadn’t seen Francine in years, so she tagged along for the interview.

Lawrence is wearing a “Cat in the Hat” T-shirt and a pair of flip-flops when we meet. He’s got sleeve tattoos and an eyebrow piercing. He makes statements like, “I really want to change the world,” and he says it so sincerely and with such excitement that he reminds me of a naive college freshman taking his first sociology class. But he’s a divorced 42-year-old father with three daughters, and he’s well aware of the complexities in the world. Six years ago, Lawrence was married and working six days a week running a very successful stone and tile business he had started at 21 — designing his own lines and distributing them around the United States. “I also have some retail stores.” He emulated his father. “The way we were raised in South Africa, you had kids, had a career and made a lot of money,” Francine says. But his divorce rocked him to his foundation. “I also got sober at the same time,” he adds.

“I restructured my business, so I put in 10 hours a week at the office. It always used to be just about money — that’s how I was raised. Now, I just want to love everyone.” His sister jokes with him, “Who are you? Do I know you?” He continues, “In my personal life I’m trying to be really honest and ethical and present, and trying to bring my business in line with that. I’m trying to have every person who works for me get paid days every month to go out and work in their community. We look for anyone who’s struggling and look for ways to help them. A couple of years ago, some of my staff who work in my San Diego store went on a mission to Mexico to help build houses for people who couldn’t afford to build their own homes.”

Lawrence tells me about getting his toenails painted with his daughters — “I don’t want to miss out on something if they’re doing it. My exterior looks like it’s really out there, but my values and everything are traditional. Family’s important to me. I’m looking for someone who’s close to their family — that’s really, really important to me. I’m looking for someone who’s spiritual, grounded and has a strong sense of self. Spiritual practice would be No. 1. Intelligence would be No. 2. What I’m craving more than anything in my life is connectivity — and the only part of my life where I haven’t found that is in a relationship.”

I ask him what he sees his life like with a girlfriend. “I’d love to travel with them, meditate with them, do yoga with them, camp and hike … do one of the trails — as long as they’ll protect me from the bears. I’m scared of the bears,” he says. Francine jokes, “and the dark.” He agrees, “A little bit. I slept with a light on until I was 36. It didn’t dawn on me that I wasn’t scared of the dark until I got divorced. I didn’t know I liked stinky cheese either. And olives.” He laughs. “I believe in fairy tales. I love romantic movies. My daughters look at me in the middle of romantic movies, and I’m crying.”

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

My Single Peeps: Alexa N.


Alexa initially wrote to me because she was interested in one of my single peeps. She attached a picture of herself — a headshot, where she looked like she was 14 years old. My friend never responded, probably fearful of getting arrested on a date with a ninth-grader. But I invited her to the Anti-Valentine’s Day event sponsored by The Journal. She came with a friend, and after the event they hung out with my crew at a bar. Apparently she’s of legal drinking age. Alexa’s kept in touch with a few of my friends. I saw her last week at my friend (and fellow single peep) Eli’s Shabbat dinner. She looks a bit like Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” — a cartoon character come to life. When she walked in, she said “hi,” then went to the kitchen and helped prepare the food. Because she’s sweet like that. Later, a girl I know leaned over me to dip a chip in guacamole and dropped a dollop of it on my shoe. She said, “Oh,” and then threw the chip in her mouth. Before I had the chance to stand, Alexa swiped off the guacamole with a paper towel, tossed it in the trash and went back to making the salad. I said, “You will make the greatest wife ever.” And then I turned to my friend. “And this is why you’re still single.”

Alexa’s parents are from Mexico City. She didn’t learn to speak English until she went to school. She’s wanted to be an actor and director since she was 9. She went to community college near her home in Irvine, but decided to drop out of school at 19 and move to Los Angeles to pursue acting full time.

“I live with my best friend and my brother. I enjoy yoga, I’m getting into kickboxing. I’m very healthy. I’m vegan because of a new discovery that I’m allergic to dairy. I haven’t eaten meat since I was 16. It’s easy to be kosher now,” she jokes.

“I want someone who’s smart, someone who’s funny, someone who’s ambitious and has a passion. A nice guy. If he’s being a [jerk] in some way, I get turned off. My friends think it’s attractive. I’m not like most 21-year-olds. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t party. I’m low-key. I don’t care about the finer things. I’d rather be eco-friendly than have a nice car or a big house. If I have a lot of money when I’m older, I don’t want to have more than I need. That’s why I don’t shop that much. I don’t spend money on stupid things.”

I make fun of the spandex pants she’s wearing. She laughs. “I hardly get dressed up. I’d love to be in yoga pants every day if I could. I hate jeans. I’ll wear them, but if I’m not comfortable in what I’m wearing, I’m very fidgety and [don’t feel] confident.

“I want to raise my kids in a suburban area. But you never know. I change my mind every day. The only thing I do know is that I want kids. And I want to marry a good, Jewish guy. And a huge thing for me is communication. If there’s no communication for me, then there’s nothing — because there are going to be arguments, but if we can’t see both sides of it, then it’ll build up. It’s like me and my roommate — the only way we get through things is by talking about our problems, talking about what we need to work on, and we grow from there. And that’s how I see my husband. We hit rough patches, but we’ll grow through it together, and we’ll become closer.”

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

My Single Peeps: Ruthie B.


Ruthie, who is 81 now, was raised in Chicago. An abused child, she was sent away to live on a farm called Glen Eyrie in Delavan, Wis. “You know what it was like in the ’30s if you had a mean mother — no one talked about it. I know how to milk cows, kill chickens.”

Although she’s Jewish, she learned every Christian hymn in the book there. “That’s where I started to become a musician.” She took the train there every weekend, and in the summers for many years. “I still take trains today.”

When she was 17, she went to a music school in Aspen, Colo., run by the folk singer Richard Dyer-Bennet. She lived with him way up in the mountains for two years, until she got a scholarship to Bennington College, where she majored in anthropology. Her teacher, a Nobel laureate, told her to major in literature and she responded, “No. If I major in literature, I’d have nothing to write about.” She flew out to California to finish a paper, and that’s where she met her first husband, a clinical psychologist and father of her three children. I say first husband, because Ruthie has been married three times. Her second and third husbands passed away; six years ago, she lost the husband she calls her beshert.

She speaks so quickly — and jumps from tangent to tangent so often — that I finally grab her by the arms to ask her something, hoping it will slow her down. I hold on as she answers, but this leads her to another story, and she’s off and running again. So I give up and let her speak.

Ruthie’s spent most of her life on the radio, where she got the nickname “Uncle Ruthie” after doing a sketch satirizing all the on-air personalities with the nickname “uncle.” At some point she got a teaching degree, with a focus in special education. “I have worked with every single kind of special-needs kid there is. For the last 10 years, I’ve been with blind kids. I’m a music teacher at the Blind Childrens Center. I teach children from birth to second grade.”

I ask her when she’s retiring. She says, “Someone asked me about retiring and I said, ‘Maybe one day,’ and the principal said, ‘Never. She won’t ever retire.’ ‘What if I were to drop over dead?’ ‘We’ll sit you against the couch and go on with the song.’ ”

Her philosophy about school is, “Learning has to be fun. If you’re not excited about what you’re learning, there’s no point. The purpose of school isn’t to have knowledge thrown into you, it’s to teach you to teach yourself. To be self-winding. All your life, you’re going to be learning.”

“What do you want in a man?” I ask. “He should be breathing,” she jokes. “He should be progressive and vital and living in the world. I will not go to football games. I like tennis, and track and field. I like Olympics. I want someone who’s a left-wing, politically active person who does not object to taxes being raised. I want somebody who likes theater, arts and music. And has a very active life of his own. I don’t want anyone who says to me, ‘How come you’re so busy?’ I want someone who’s also busy. Someone who’s had a happy marriage. Someone who’s had good relationships with women. At this point, I could sum it up in one word who I’d like to meet — anybody.”

If you want to hear more of Ruthie, tune in to “Halfway Down the Stairs With Uncle Ruthie” on KPFK 90.7 FM on 8:30 Saturday mornings.

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

Israel must criminalize purchase of sex


In Israel, an estimated 15,000 individuals are involved in prostitution, including 5,000 under the age of 18, according to reports shared with the Task Force on Human Trafficking by Knesset member Orit Zuaretz of the Kadima Party, as well as other experts and activists. The reports say that the average age of entry is just 14 and that more than 90 percent of those involved in prostitution in Israel are subject to severe physical abuse, often by their clients.

Justifications abound for having prostitution be legal. Some claim that prostitution is a source of easy money or that its lengthy history points to its inevitable continuity. There’s even the dubious claim that it is a necessary conduit allowing men to fulfill their biological needs. Such myths clash dramatically with the truth and conceal a sordid underworld of violence, rape and the worst forms of abuse.

Merely utilizing terms such as “employment” and “profession” to describe prostitution lends credence to a system that preys on women who have faced severe physical and emotional oppression. More than 80 percent of women in prostitution have been sexually or physically abused in their youth, often by family members, according to reports shared with the task force. Entry is not a matter of choice but an unwitting endpoint in a cycle of abuse and despair.

Even with its recent decline — attributed to pressure from civil society organizations and the United States — Israel remains a destination country for human trafficking. The industry thrives on the vulnerable and exploits the troubled past of victims of abuse.

So why, especially if the negatives are even more disturbing than we had imagined, is this practice allowed to continue — with emphasis on the word “allowed”? For in the most basic sense, not enough has been done to combat an “industry” that thrives on the degradation and abuse of women and is supported by human traffickers. Allowed because though it is illegal to traffic human beings, run a brothel or work as a pimp, becoming a “consumer” of prostitution is still legal in Israel.

Essentially, though it is illegal to sell women, buying them is deemed acceptable. Though the world of prostitution is a hub for physical abuse, the transmission of fatal diseases and the restriction of freedom, it is still legal to fuel this horrid practice. The result should come as no surprise.

With no attempt to reduce demand, there is a constant incentive for criminal bodies to provide the supply. Targeting pimps and brothel owners is simply not enough, as evidenced by an average of more than 1 million brothel visits every month in Israel and a trade that accounts for more than $500 million each year, according to the reports.

Some argue that regulation and control of prostitution is needed, not prohibition. It’s a route that could provide for safer environments, less criminal involvement and an end to human trafficking. However, when such laws were enacted in Germany and Holland, conditions for women failed to improve and the laws were proven to be abject failures.

On Feb. 12, Zuaretz will bring a law to the Knesset that places criminal responsibility on those who purchase sexual services. What’s more, the legislation, which was proposed in 2010 to a ministerial hearing and is based on a law that has been enacted in Sweden, Iceland, Norway and, most recently, France, would allow Israel to join the ranks of those nations working tirelessly toward a world free of modern slavery.

The result of this legislative action speaks of far more than simply whether we Israelis will choose to punish individuals who perpetuate these crimes. It will ask us to determine where we as a society stand in a debate centered on how we appropriate human rights. Do we feel that all individuals deserve liberty and justice, or have we set criteria that ultimately strip those less fortunate of the opportunities that freedom entails?

The challenge has been issued, but whether Israel decides to place itself on the right side of history has yet to be determined.

Gili Varon, an attorney, is the director of the Task Force on Human Trafficking, a joint project with ATZUM that aims to engage the Israeli public and government agencies to confront and eradicate modern slavery in Israel.

The Jewish Journal announces iPhone/Android apps


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My Single Peeps: Gary L.


Gary’s brother, Jason, is a recent single peep. And, like Jason, Gary’s a nice, easygoing guy. But, he tells me, this wasn’t always the case. In college, just as he was launching an online magazine, his personality started to shift. He became moody and paranoid, and he was riddled with anxiety. And then one morning he woke up with double vision. He went to a doctor, who thought it might have been from a hockey injury. During a CAT scan, Gary fell asleep and had a nightmare that he was being chased by the hospital staff. Suddenly he snapped awake, and found himself strapped down to a hospital bed. It wasn’t a dream. They ran tests, discovering his glucose levels had dropped so low that his brain was no longer functioning properly. They also found a tumor on his pancreas. It had been slowly growing for 10 years. As soon as it was removed, all the strange behavior disappeared and the old Gary came back.

Gary now lives with his younger brother, who is a partner in their T-shirt line, Nerdy Shirts. He is also relaunching his online magazine, A.Refuge — the Web site is arefuge.com. “The goal is to inspire people and motivate them to get involved with charities, and highlight artists that we look up to. I’m trying to focus on inspiring people. That’s my No. 1 goal.” I ask him what that means. “Inspire them to be better versions of themselves. I’m pretty persistent.”

When it comes to dating, he’s looking for a real relationship. “I’m like a prude in some ways. I’ve never had a one-night stand. If it’s something that’s not purposeful, it feels like a waste of time to me. Once I’m with a girl, if it feels like it’s building toward something, the whole prude title goes out the door. It’s like a two-stage process. Looks get them in the door, and personality keeps them there. And they’re both pretty rigid requirements, I guess. The last girl — who happened to be a model — loved comic books, video games, cartoons … all the goofy guy things that nerds like. I was like, ‘Oh rad, we’re gonna be best friends.’ All of a sudden she started flirting with me, and I realized she was into me. Then she bailed on me when I got sick. She was perfect except for that.”

I ask about personality preferences. “It’s like one of those things where you need enough of the pieces lined up, but a few jagged edges to show you new things.” He continues, “A good sense of humor, someone who understands sarcasm and is OK with a little bit of back-and-forth ribbing.” Ambition is also important to him. “I don’t care what it is. If you want to be the best goddamn waitress in the world, that’s fine. But aim for the top.”

I ask him what he’s learned from his experience with the tumor. He says, “There’s no way I don’t feel super lucky and appreciate that it was averted. No one would wish this on anyone, but it wasn’t a bad experience, because of everything I learned and the people I met. The hospital staff at Cedars-Sinai — I felt so loved. They’re strangers, but they’d come in on their off shifts just to say hi.

“My favorite thought to have in my head through it all was of Calvin’s dad from ‘Calvin and Hobbes.’ Every time something bad would happen, Calvin’s dad would justify it and make it OK by saying, ‘You’re building character.’ I love that. They’d say, ‘We’re taking out the catheter now.’ I’d say, ‘OK, I’m going to build some character now.’ ”

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

Shh! Don’t talk about sex at Yeshiva University


It wasn’t your typical college sex scandal. There were no accusations of molestation, inappropriate faculty-student relationships or date rape charges.

Instead, the precipitating incident was the publication by a student-run newspaper of a female student’s first-person account of a premarital sexual encounter.

But this is Yeshiva University, an Orthodox institution where the campuses for men and women are separated by approximately 10 miles, and the story’s publication in the YU Beacon newspaper prompted an intense, open discussion of a topic normally considered taboo in this conservative college community.

Following a cascade of negative comments by online readers of the piece, titled “How Do I Even Begin To Explain This?” the student council elected to withdraw its funding from the newspaper and several editors resigned. Meanwhile, stories about the clash between freedom of expression and fealty to Orthodox Judaism’s emphasis on modesty appeared in news outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Yeshiva University officials issued a statement noting that the decision about de-funding the Beacon was made by students, but Y.U. officials declined to be interviewed by JTA about sexual health practices at the school.

The university’s reticence to talk publicly about student sexual activity extends beyond the pages of student publications. A review of the Health & Wellness section of the school’s website found no discussion of contraception or other relevant information, and several students—including the anonymous author—said the school had not provided them with any sort of orientation on health issues related to sexual activity.

That’s not to say student health services doesn’t provide students with guidance or resources—it does—but the university’s low-key approach to sexual health issues stands in stark contrast to the approach of many U.S. colleges.

“The information should be available,” said Lisa Maldonado, the executive director of the New York-based Reproductive Health Access Project. “If you look at the data of who is having the most unintended pregnancies, it’s young women in their 20s.”

Sarah Lazaros, 21, a senior at YU’s Stern College for Women, said it’s clear why Yeshiva doesn’t have such material available online.

Having information on the website “would go against a lot of what the university stands for, which is total devotion to Jewish law. A lot of potential students would see that and not come to the university,” Lazaros said. “I think the main reason is that they don’t want to encourage these behaviors.”

Several YU students interviewed by JTA said it’s a mistake to pretend that the university’s students are not sexually active.

The sex essay “addresses something that we don’t often talk about in the Orthodox Jewish community, especially at YU,” Simi Lampert, 22, the Beacon’s editor, told JTA.

The Beacon, an independent, online newspaper launched in January by students at Yeshiva’s men’s and women’s colleges, will continue to publish, albeit without funding from the student council.

Lampert said she saw the story’s publication as an opportunity to start a conversation about sex among YU students.

“You have someone like me who went to a coed high school, has had boyfriends and has no intention of waiting until marriage for intercourse,” said S.B., a freshman at Stern who, like others interviewed for this story, asked to be identified only by her initials. “I don’t think anyone should go around denying that there are students having sex because that is not reality.”

The author of the Beacon story, a 20-year-old Stern student with the initials L.P., said her essay was true. She said she penned the piece, which was published in the literary section, where fiction and nonfiction appear, to help resolve her own complicated feelings about the experience.

“I was really kind of distraught about the whole thing,” L.P. said, her voice cracking.

Maintaining the appearance of the typical Orthodox Stern girl, L.P. said she felt like she could not talk to her friends about her night in the hotel room.

“It’s not like it was expected of me by how I dress,” she said. “I wear skirts. I do that whole song and dance.”

L.P. complained that the culture of the Orthodox institution makes it difficult to take effective safeguards when engaging in intercourse. When her period was late in coming after her sexual encounter, L.P. said she was worried about pregnancy even though she and her partner had used contraception.

Panicked, she went to Stern’s Health & Wellness Center, where she said she was counseled nonjudgmentally and asked for and received a pregnancy test.

“They’ll have a conversation with you about sex,” she said. “They’ll talk to you about the risks of being sexually active.”

Responding to a JTA inquiry about the contraceptive and counseling options available to students, YU’s senior director of media relations, Mayer Fertig, referred to the website of the Health & Wellness center. The site does not list contraceptives, Plan B or pregnancy tests as an available resource, unlike the websites of other major universities, and students say that Stern College doesn’t explicitly inform students that there are pregnancy tests and counseling about sexually transmitted infection available in the university system.

“From what I know, there is no information that has been made very accessible in terms of contraception, rape or pregnancy,” S.B. said.

Many Stern students hail from Orthodox institutions and thus are unlikely to have picked up knowledge about condom usage, pregnancy or the risks of disease transmission from their high schools.

Tamar, a senior at Stern who asked that her last name not be used, said she could recall just one event in her three years on campus in which women’s sexuality and health was discussed. As for contraceptives, she said, “It’s not something that’s talked about.”

Lazaros, a women’s studies major, said that a student-run women’s studies society on campus once brought a sex therapist to the college to speak. She also said the Health & Wellness Center does not provide a broad spectrum of services, probably because of limited demand and the school’s small size.

While L.P.’s essay did not go into much detail about the sexual encounter, several YU students described how their friends at the school attempt to skirt the Orthodox ban on premarital intercourse by being sexually active in others ways.

M.H., 27, who graduated from Yeshiva College in 2007, told JTA that he engaged in oral sex with girls from Stern and talked with friends about their similar exploits.

“I know that they were definitely hooking up—oral sex, kissing, touching,” he said. “I found that it was much harder to get a religious girl to actually have sexual intercourse because they place a premium on virginity.”

In public, at least, the rule at Yeshiva remains unchanged, students say.

“I know couples that behind closed doors, they’ll cuddle or they’ll make out,” L.P. said. “But when it comes to sitting in the student lounge, they sit five feet apart.”

Syracuse fires basketball coach Bernie Fine amid sex probe


Syracuse University fired assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine amid allegations that he sexually molested boys, rocking the multi-million dollar world of collegiate sports with more questions of sexual abuse and oversight, the university said on Sunday.

“At the direction of Chancellor (Nancy) Cantor, Bernie Fine’s employment with Syracuse University has been terminated, effective immediately,” the school said on its website.

Fine, who had been on administrative leave since Nov. 17, is the target of a grand jury investigation into accusations that years ago he molested a former ball boy, Bobby Davis, now 39, and at least one other boy, his stepbrother Mike Lang, now 45, when they were juveniles.

Fine’s boss for the past 35 years, Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, said on Sunday he supported the firing, withdrawing support he’d extended Fine when the allegations resurfaced this month. The university first investigated and dismissed the allegations for lack of corroboration in 2005.

“I have never witnessed any of the activities that have been alleged,” Boeheim said in a statement posted on the Syracuse Orange sports Facebook page.

“What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated,” he said. ” … I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse,” he said.

The firing came hours after ESPN reported it had an audio recording of a 2002 conversation between Davis and Fine’s wife Laurie in which she said she knew about the alleged molestation but felt unable to stop it.

Neither the tape nor any additional witnesses surfaced when the university conducted its own 2005 investigation into Davis’ allegations, Cantor said in a statement on the school website.

Now that a new probe is underway by Syracuse Police, the school has hired an independent law firm to “review our procedures in responding to the initial allegations. … We need to learn all we can from this terrible lesson,” she said.

Fine has called the accusations against him “patently false in every aspect.”

LATEST JOLT

The firing was the latest jolt to major college athletics already reeling from allegations of abuse and possible cover-ups at football powerhouse Penn State, where a former assistant coach faces 40 sexual abuse charges.

Those accusations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, charged by a grand jury with sexually abusing eight young boys, took down legendary football coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier.

They were fired for failing to tell police about the allegations of abuse once they learned of it years earlier. Two other Penn State officials were charged with perjury.

Syracuse is the third major American university to disclose alleged abuse since the school year began. South Carolina military college The Citadel also said it had failed to tell police about a student accused in 2007 of inappropriate behavior with children at a college summer camp.

In Syracuse, police have said they opened an investigation into Fine when Davis’ stepbrother came forward with his own allegations. The grand jury is also investigating those allegations but no criminal charges have been filed.

Fine’s lawyer, speaking on Sunday before he was fired, said his client would no longer speak publicly about the case.

“Mr. Fine will not comment on newspaper stories beyond his initial statement,” attorney Karl Sleight said in a statement in response to allegations by a third accuser, Zach Tomaselli, made on Facebook and carried in media reports on Sunday.

“Mr. Fine remains hopeful of a credible and expeditious review of the relevant issues by law enforcement authorities,” Sleight said. Attempts to reach Syracuse police and city officials on Sunday for further comment were unsuccessful.

Syracuse’s basketball team is currently undefeated and the university in upstate New York is widely heralded as having one of the top college basketball programs in the country. (Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Bohan)

Child sex arrests spike. Or do they?


Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes claims to have arrested an unprecedented 89 men on child sex-abuse charges in the ultra-Orthodox communities in Brooklyn over the past two years — but declines to provide any details backing up the numbers or to give the status of any of the cases.

Sexual abuse survivors and their advocates have long harried Hynes for allegedly overlooking molesters in the borough’s tight-knit, ultra-Orthodox communities. They charge that Hynes fears political retaliation from the borough’s powerful rabbinic leaders and their bloc-voting Orthodox voters.

Hynes heatedly denies this. And the data he offered the Forward seems to suggest a breakthrough. But his office’s refusal to provide even basic details on any of these cases makes it impossible to evaluate and confirm the true nature and extent of Hynes’ claim.

Initially, when the Forward requested data in mid-October on child sex abuse arrests in the Orthodox community, Jerry Schmetterer, the DA’s spokesman, said his office does not compile statistics based on the “race or religion” of people it arrests.

When the Forward brought to his attention that the DA’s office released a similar statistic in 2009 — of 26 Orthodox men who had been arrested for sexual abuse over the previous two years — Schmetterer said he would consult the DA’s sex crimes bureau.

In late October, Schmetterer said that 89 Orthodox men had been arrested and charged with sex abuse since October 2009.

He repeated the claim twice, in two separate conversations. But when the Forward asked for written confirmation and posed a number of follow-up questions, Schmetterer declined to respond.

“We are not prepared to discuss this at this time,” Schmetterer said in an October 27 e-mail. “Perhaps towards the end of November.”

Just why the DA’s office would be unwilling to respond is unclear, particularly because the staggering figure appears to bolster the DA’s claim that he is getting tough on Orthodox abuse.

In October 2009, the figure of 26 arrests was seen as a landmark following decades during which the DA rarely prosecuted sex abuse cases against Orthodox men despite advocates’ claims that the problem was rampant. The New York Times ran a Page One story trumpeting the change.

But the latest number — much like the 2009 figure — has proved impossible to verify.

The Forward combed through news reports and interviewed people who specialize in sex abuse cases.

Since October 2009, the Forward was able to find nine arrests and three convictions of Orthodox men, including that of Boro Park rabbi Baruch Lebovits, currently out on bail and under house arrest pending an appeal.

Asher Lipner, a clinical psychologist who is also an advocate for survivors of abuse, said he was not aware of anything near 89 arrests during the past two years. “If that’s the case,” Lipner said, “how come there haven’t been too many convictions?”

Ben Hirsch, president of Survivors for Justice, said the DA’s figures raised a “very troubling question.”

“At least some of these 100-plus cases [over the past four years] must have been resolved by now,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch, who said he regularly monitored new registrations of convicted sex abusers for heavily Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhoods asked, “Why haven’t we seen a marked increase in Orthodox perpetrators registered as sex offenders? Without public notice identifying dangerous predators, parents are unable to protect their children.”

He added, “We deserve public notice of the arrest and conviction of Orthodox sex offenders, not culturally sensitive policies that keep these cases from the public, thereby placing children in danger.”

The difficulties the Forward has had verifying the DA’s claims are reminiscent of issues that arose two years ago, when the DA claimed 26 child sexual abuse arrests in the Orthodox community between 2007 and 2009.

In October 2009, the Forward requested those arrest details from the DA’s office. It received a list of 26 cases, including charges, but without names and with a note that said, “There are a few cases which involve adult female victims.”

Last year, the Forward submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to see the names of the 26 men.

The Forward’s request was denied, as was a subsequent appeal. One of the reasons the DA’s office gave, in March 2010, was that the list had been compiled so long ago, without names or indictment numbers, that it would be “impossible to discern” the cases that were listed.

If the latest figure of 89 arrests during the past two years is correct, it would appear to suggest that the ultra-Orthodox community’s wall of silence has been breached once and for all.

Survivors and their advocates cautiously welcomed the figure. But they suggested that an increase in arrests may have as much — if not more — to do with grassroots pressure from within the community than from the DA’s work.

Luzer Twersky, who claims he was abused by a rabbi from the age of 9 until he was 12, said the DA has little influence within the Orthodox world.

“Everything is done in a Hasidic way,” Twersky said, referring to what he described as the community’s preference to handle matters internally and, occasionally, to pay victims for their silence.

In Twersky’s case, he said a threatening telephone call to his father from a prominent rabbi was enough to keep him quiet.

Today, claims abound that communities close ranks and that rabbis stifle abuse allegations.

Agudath Israel of America, the ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization, advised Jews in a recent statement to consult a rabbi before taking their allegations to police.

But in the predominantly Chabad-Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, attitudes appear to be changing.

In July, a Lubavitch religious court issued a ruling that stated unequivocally that families who suspect abuse should inform the police.

“The Beis Din [religious court] has become increasingly aware of severe incidents of child abuse that have occurred recently,” stated the ruling, which was reposted on Crown Heights Watch, an advocacy website.

The Crown Heights religious court said that because many victims had remained silent out of a “fear of stigma” or a fear of violating Jewish law, they had perpetuated “an environment of abuse.” The rabbis insisted that the prohibitions against Jews using secular courts “do not apply in cases where there is evidence of abuse.”

Eli Cohen, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, said the rabbis issued their ruling after they were “consulted by victims in a small number of incidents.”

Cohen said the rabbis “saw the need to go public with their ruling in case there were other victims that they did not know about who were still unsure about reporting abuse to authorities.”

Lani Santo, executive director of Footsteps, a not-for-profit organization that helps people who leave the ultra-Orthodox world, said her organization had noticed that its clients talk about abuse much more openly these days.

Santo said that last year, one-fifth of new Footsteps clients told of an episode of sexual abuse during their first interview with the group.

“People talk about it as a commonplace practice,” Santo said.

But in many cases, by the time a person reaches Footsteps, his or her abuse claim is too old to be prosecuted, Santo said.

Such was the case for Twersky, who is now 26. The statute of limitations has run out for pressing charges against the man he alleges abused him 14 years ago. But in December 2009 the same rabbi was arrested by the Brooklyn DA on charges of molesting another boy.

“He went on doing what he did for 15 years, with no one getting in his way, because he is the son of a very, very powerful man,” Twersky said.

My Single Peeps: Altara M.


Altara is an only child, raised in New York. She wants to find a man from the East Coast. And when she wants something, she goes after it. That’s how she got in this column.

“At 27, I bought myself a little Mercedes. I focused on something I was really good at. I sold advertising. Because I had so much success in that, I was able to go to Sundance and become a journalist, do my own radio show, do some acting work. Because I know my pattern of behavior, when I say I’m going to do this as my full-time job, it frees me up to do it.”

She’s 32 now and wants to get her real-estate license and start selling homes. But her passion is entertainment. “When you’re passionate about something, you’ll put all your energy into making it successful because you deem it important.” She tells me about the documentary she’s been working on — “It’s going to be out of this world.”

She’s an only child, and, unlike someone like me — the third of four siblings — she is brimming with self-esteem. She doesn’t seem to have a fear of failure, or any self-deprecation. “A casting director called me in to play the younger version of Barbra Streisand. So when I get things now, they’re pretty big.” I ask her if she got the job. “No. It went to a girl who had her nose and her eyes.”

She takes charge of the interview and asks me, “Do you want to know what I like to do?” I shrug. “Sure.” She says, “Hiking, working out, anything that has to do with working hard and pushing myself. I like to do Bikram yoga when I feel like being really cruel to myself. I hike Runyon [Canyon] five to seven days a week for about an hour and a half per day. I go to the gym for body-sculpting classes and Pilates classes, and I like to use the treadmill and talk to my friends. I love movies, of course. I love to do new things. When I go on a date, I like to do new things. If they do the same thing the last guy did, it’s unoriginal.”

“So, no dinners?” I ask. She says, “It comes down to original conversation. Show me your real personality. Even if it’s just grabbing a bite to eat, if the person is interesting, who cares what we’re doing.”

She wants to meet a man who isn’t on the same page as her — “maybe a little further ahead. Maybe a little older. I’d like to meet someone in the business out here, but I’m not opposed to meeting a doctor.” A Jewish woman looking for a doctor? Shocker.

“I’m looking for the real deal. I’m looking for a soul mate. My parents have been married for 39 years. I think they’re perfect for one another.”

Altara didn’t grow up religious, but she recently started going to Shabbat dinners hosted by a Chabad rabbi. “Everyone I met most recently in the Jewish community is amazing, and it’s like everyone knows each other. I realize I like having that “family” out here. I didn’t realize how powerful it could be. The people I’m hanging out with are amazing, and I guess I didn’t realize that until I needed it.”

She’s decided to start saying yes to more things in life. “I think that’s the moral of the story when it comes to my life. Sometimes you just have to keep moving forward when it comes to doing things. Choose new avenues — and keep yourself open and not be closed off.”

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

JDate study claims more Jewish marriage matches than its competitors


The Jewish dating Web site JDate recently announced results from a study that claims the site is responsible for facilitating more Jewish marriages than all other dating Web sites combined. The study, commissioned in-house by JDate’s parent company, Spark Networks, and conducted by the research company ResearchNow, reportedly was based on a survey of 948 Jewish Internet users who have married since 2003. Of those surveyed, 52 percent said they met their match on JDate, compared with Match.com, which facilitated 17 percent, and eHarmony, which can claim 10 percent.

Spark Networks released the results of the study on a single-page press release that contained several added statistics to support its claims, but did not provide any additional supporting materials, including how the participants were selected and specific details on what questions were asked. Requests to obtain the full study were denied by Spark Networks and by ResearchNow, which operates under terms of strict confidentiality.

Steven M. Cohen, a research professor of Jewish social policy for Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner, said that while the results of the study may be credible, they are not verifiable.

“The recently conducted study, while promising, doesn’t provide enough of the critical details that we need to assess the validity of its claims,” Cohen said during a phone interview. “It’s like getting an untested product from an unknown manufacturer — it may be a good product, but there could be serious flaws.”

In addition to claiming credit for the majority of Jewish marriages facilitated online, the study also notably claims that 63 percent of all Jewish dates since 2008 were fostered by JDate (up 6 percent since 2003), compared with Match.com’s 19 percent and eHarmony’s 7 percent; that 76 percent of those Jews who used an online dating service used JDate; and more than half the Jews who have married since 2008 report having used an online dating site in their search for a partner.

If true, those are the kinds of claims that JDate, which bills itself as “the premier Jewish singles community online,” should be proud to publicize. So why is the company refusing to disclose the full results of the study?

Cohen wondered whether JDate’s parent company fears subjecting the study to the academic community’s scientific standards. But he also said that it is not unusual for a commercial enterprise to conduct its own research and use select claims in their advertising. “The behavior is not the most admirable, but it is not illegal or unethical,” Cohen said.

Cohen said he sees value in the company regardless of the results, saying that the very existence of JDate promotes Jewish marriage at a time when more and more Jews are marrying later — or maybe not at all — or, alternatively, intermarrying. “Right now we are seeing significant adverse demographic consequences of nonmarriage and intermarriage for the Jewish population in America,” he said. “And JDate promises to promote marriage and probably in-marrying,” and that as long “as we can promote marriage and in-marriage, we can promote the stability, if not the expansion of, the Jewish population in the coming generations.”

My Single Peeps: Michele K.


As soon as Michele sits down with me, she says, “I’m crap at talking about myself.” Hear it with a British accent, and it’s 10 times cuter. I’ve known Michele for years — she’s a friend of a friend — and I realize I don’t know a whole lot about her. She really is crap at talking about herself. She’s a great listener. And unlike the rest of us who moved to Los Angeles because we’re desperate for attention due to getting lost in big, loud families and having dead fathers (just me?), Michele is quietly comfortable with who she is.

Michele grew up in England, in a small Jewish community outside of London. “We grew up kosher, Shabbat, and that’s kind of how everyone was there.” But, she says, “There were very few Jews in my high school.” To counter that, her parents sent her to a Zionist camp, “which was all about Israel. I spent a year in Israel when I was 18 and made aliyah when I was 27. I lived in Israel for seven years. I grew up to be a Zionist.”

She moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago. “Israel’s not an easy place to live. I had the best time, a great life socially, but work-wise and living-wise it’s a tough place. Israelis are tough. Energy’s tough.” 

Michele runs her own business, Mak Designs. “I do design consultancy. I go to homes or events and help people figure out what colors they want. I don’t even need to buy new stuff. I’ll help them organize their house. I do a lot of weddings.”

She’s 43, but is open to dating anyone between 35 and 50. “I want to have a family. I think that’s important. I’m definitely interested in someone who wants to have kids.” She’s also spiritual and looking for someone similarly minded, who’s “not just living in the physical.” Although she wasn’t raised in a spiritual home, it always appealed to her. “I was always interested in angels and going to psychics and meditation, and it just grew and grew. I was always looking for ways to change and ways to grow. I don’t think you can change in this world unless you have some kind of faith, some kind of spiritual path, some kind of connection to God initially.”

I ask her more about being spiritual, and she says, “I don’t want to freak people out. I wouldn’t use the word normal, but I’m a very grounded, practical person. I believe in the physical, I’m grounded, I’m on this planet. I think you have to balance the spiritual and the physical. Some people go off on a mountain and meditate, but what are they actually doing with their lives?”

I wind my way back to the subject of dating and ask her if she works at it. “Oh God, no one can fault me for not trying. I date. I’ve been in lots of relationships. I broke up with someone recently and started dating again. Even though I get to the point of ‘I’m not going on a f—-ing blind date ever again,’ I do. I just think I haven’t met the right guy. I’m not looking for Mr. Regular. I think I’m always looking for something more. And I think those guys aren’t easy to find.” 

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

My Single Peeps: Rachel C.


A close friend e-mailed me that he thought Rachel would be good for My Single Peeps.  “I think you guys will hit it off well, as you have a lot in common — a dead dad, childhood ADD, you both write and act, and you’re ‘good people.’ ”

Like me, Rachel moved from the Northeast to the Southeast when she was a kid. She was brought to the idyllic, suburban streets outside of Atlanta; I was brought to the multi-lingual, chaotic suburban hodgepodge of Miami. Still, we both ended up with ADD.  Blame television. Or Jew genetics.

She went to Yeshiva High School in Atlanta, where boys and girls were kept apart. “We had a kosher house, but we’d order cheese pizza and eat it on the porch. There was no kosher pizza in Atlanta then.”

She grew up with parents who dirty danced at bar mitzvahs and made out in public. “This is why I’m still single. My parents met. Ten day later, they were engaged. Ten weeks later, married. And they were happily married until my father passed away eight years ago.”

Her brother would bring girls home and run into her room whispering, “You have a stutter,” and she’d go with it, stammering through words as she introduced herself to his date. “We have fun like that. My family has food fights. We’d be at dinner, and my brother would turn to my mother and throw a drink at her. And everything would go flying. We’re crazy.”

Her first kiss didn’t happen until she was 18 because she thought it needed to be perfect. This time, television really was to blame. “So my first kiss was in Haifa, on a deserted beach, standing on a rock, with the waves crashing up, and Phil Collins’, ‘In the Air Tonight,’ was playing in the background.”

After the first kiss, she caught up quickly to the other kids her age. But her first boyfriend turned out to be gay. “For our first date, he sent me a note that said, ‘Please dress semi-formal with a casual flair.’ I don’t know how I didn’t know.”

An aspiring actor, she toured with a children’s play after college and got to see almost every state in the United States, except Hawaii. So, a few years ago, she flew there and ran a marathon. She’s run four half-marathons since then. Moving to Los Angeles was a good move for her acting career, but it hasn’t been great for dating.

“I’m looking for someone funny, and someone who makes me laugh and kind of gets that I’m super independent but still love to have the door held open for me. I want a partner in crime, really. I was driving back from Arizona once, and my wheel busted on a Sunday. It was a small town, and nothing was happening. I got a tow and sat in Wal-Mart for six hours. I called my friends and said, ‘Give me a list of items,’ and I created a scavenger hunt where I’d run around and grab things, take a picture, and call them when I found it. I want someone to do those things with me.”

She has no strict dating requirements. “Yes it’s about first impressions, but also so much more. A guy threw up on our first date, but we had great chemistry, so I went on a second date with him. That’s how good a dater I am.”

Contemplating what hasn’t been working up until this point she says, “I’m not going to the right store.” I feel like I keep on looking on Melrose, when I should be looking at the Beverly Center.” 

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.