Bette Midler sings to dying fan over the phone (VIDEO)

Hope you have a tissue handy.

In this heartbreakingly sweet video, Bette Midler makes a special phone call to superfan Anna Greenberg, who is dying in the hospital with cancer. Midler thanks Greenberg for her support and praises her for her courage. “You're such an angel,” Midler tells Greenberg in the tearful exchange. “Such a wonderful soul.”


Greenberg passed away shortly after the video was filmed. She was 29.

NOTE: We're aware that the video in this post is upside down. That is the way the video was filmed, it is not an error.

Fighting for religious pluralism in Israel

[UPDATED on Nov. 15, 2012 at 11:50 a.m.]

The arrest of Israeli feminist Anat Hoffman at the Western Wall last month sent ripples of alarm across the Jewish world, and leaders in Los Angeles will address their concerns about religious pluralism in Israel to Los Angeles’ Israeli Consul General in a public forum Nov. 26 at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills.

Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and founder of the monthly prayer group Women of the Wall, was arrested Oct. 16 while leading 250 women in prayer at Jerusalem’s iconic holy site. Israeli law forbids women from wearing prayer shawls or reading aloud from the Torah at the Wall; Hoffman was arrested for allegedly disturbing the peace.

Hoffman alleges that she was handcuffed, strip-searched and dragged across the floor before spending the night in a tiny cell. Israeli police say her account is not accurate.

She was released on condition that she not pray at the wall for 30 days.


Anat Hoffman’s arrest at Western Wall galvanizing liberal Jewish groups

Last week’s episode was hardly the first time Israeli police stopped activist Anat Hoffman while she was leading a women’s prayer service at the Western Wall in violation of Israeli law.

But this time, police actually arrested Hoffman — a first, she says — and the incident appears to be galvanizing liberal Jewish groups in the United States and Israel.

In the United States, the Union for Reform Judaism called for a police investigation and expressed its dismay to Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador in Washington. The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism announced a global “Shema flash mob” for Monday — a nod to the prayer Hoffman was reciting when she was arrested.

In Israel, the Israel Religious Action Center, which Hoffman leads, launched a petition to the Supreme Court requesting that the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which runs the holy site also known as the Kotel, change its decision-making process to include non-Orthodox Jews.

“There is no voice around that table for women, for the paratroopers who liberated the Wall, for the variety of pluralist voices,” Hoffman, who is also chairwoman of Women of the Wall, told JTA. “We want to dismantle this body. If the Wall belongs to the Jewish people, where are the Reform, Conservative, secular?”

For now, however, there is no grand coordinated strategy to challenge the laws governing Israel’s holy site, which bar women from praying while wearing a tallit prayer shawl or tefillin, or from reading aloud from the Torah. In a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court decision, those rules were upheld on the ground that “local custom” at the Wall did not allow for such practices.

So with Women of the Wall intent on continuing its practice of organizing a women’s prayer service at the site every Rosh Chodesh — the beginning of the Hebrew month — another incident likely is not far off.

Hoffman’s arrest during last week’s Rosh Chodesh service on the evening of Oct. 16 garnered more attention than previous incidents in which Hoffman was detained but not arrested. Hadassah, which was holding its centennial celebrations in Jerusalem, had sent some 200 women to pray with Hoffman, giving a significant boost in numbers to the service, which totaled about 250 women.

After Hoffman was arrested, she claims Israeli police chained her legs and dragged her across the floor of a police station, leaving bruises. She also claims that police ordered her to strip naked, and that she spent the night in a cell without a bed. She was released the following morning after agreeing to stay away from the Kotel for 30 days.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said Hoffman’s claims about her treatment are “not accurate and not right.”

As the incident received wide coverage in the American Jewish media, the condemnations of Hoffman’s arrest poured in, particularly from women’s groups such as the Women’s Rabbinic Network and the National Council for Jewish Women. Hadassah’s national president, Marcie Natan, told JTA that Hadassah “strongly supports the right of women to pray at the Wall.”

Yizhar Hess, executive director of Israel’s Conservative movement, said that if Hoffman actually is charged with a crime, it would force a reexamination of the rules governing the Western Wall.

“It’s not an easy experience to be accused in criminal law, but it will take this debate to a different phase: What can be done and what cannot be done in the Western Wall plaza,” Hess said.

Hoffman says she wants the courts to allow her group to pray for one hour per month at the Wall, and ideally wants the Wall’s council to allocate some time for prayers without mechitzah — the divider that separates men and women. She sees an opening in the Supreme Court’s reliance on “local custom” as the basis for upholding the current rules. The The Israel Religious Action Center's petition aims to change who defines “local custom.”

Shari Eshet, director of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Israel office, said legal initiatives are the best way to effect change on the issue.

“With all of the screaming and yelling and American Jews banging on the table, at the end of the day this is a land with a court system,” Eshet said. “We need to find another way to bring this back into the court system.”

Leaders of some religiously pluralistic American Jewish groups admit that their efforts to date on this issue have not worked. Some hope that Hoffman’s arrest will galvanize their constituents anew.

“This is a moment for us to think differently,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. He said his organization was considering an array of options and that more details would be forthcoming in a matter of weeks.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said a new strategy is needed.

“We’ve been very reactive thus far to these circumstances when they come,” he said. “Whatever strategies that we’ve been doing previously are not enough because this issue in recent years is getting progressively more difficult and troublesome.”

In Israel, groups working for religious pluralism face a dual challenge: They are fighting legal and legislative battles on a range of issues, and most Israelis are not motivated to join the fights — especially when it comes to the Western Wall.

“Israelis view the Wall as something not relevant to day-to-day life,” Hess said. “What could have been a national symbol to connect Jews from all over the world is now only an Orthodox synagogue.”

Women of the Wall could attract more of an Israeli following if it linked its cause to other religious freedom issues, said Rabbi Uri Regev, president and CEO of the Israeli pluralism organization Hiddush. “As emotionally attractive and justified as Women of the Wall is, there are bigger and more compelling issues,” like legalizing non-Orthodox Jewish marriage in Israel or funding non-Orthodox Jewish rabbis, he said.

Hoffman says she hopes Diaspora Jews will push the issue with Israeli leaders. Wernick says he wants the Jewish Agency for Israel’s board of governors to put the issue of women praying at the Western Wall on its agenda. He also is pushing for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about it. USCJ, however, will not press for a new Israeli law on the matter, he said.

“We’re not Israeli citizens and we respect Israel’s right to determine its own course,” Wernick said.

Hoffman says, “The Western Wall is way too important to be left to the Israelis.”

The value of voice

As we prepare for the High Holy Days, we often do not consider one aspect  of ourselves, our voice. I’m taking about our actual vocal cords; our means of producing sound. 

We use our voice to chant along with or respond to the cantor, but many of us will also use our voice minimally, as we let the cantor and choir fill our ears and hearts with deep meaning, letting us sit there and contemplate our lives, our loves and our transgressions.

Never before (most likely) has anyone said lift up your voice in song like your life depends on it! Even as cantors encourage you to sing, they don’t tell you that in doing so — by truly engaging your physical voice — you will create a physically healthy and rejuvenating experience. They also don’t tell you that psychosomatically engaging your voice will help you release fears and emotions stored in the voice and mind, and therefore help bring you to new levels of self-realization (what the High Holy Days are about).

It is true: Singing relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, simultaneously engages your left and right brain to build your intelligence and creates a vibration of your vocal cords that resonates throughout your entire body, that creates a positive, healing response in your mind, body and spirit. 

Not to mention, when a community sounds their voices together, the room shifts from a bunch of people with different lives and problems, to a kehillah (community) with a common intention for healing and peace. 

And here’s where I get personal: Having studied and taught voice for a decade, I know many of you believe “you can’t sing” or “you have a bad voice.” That’s OK. You can think that, but realize you’ve helped make the belief a reality by believing it. 

The ultimate truth is that you can sing. It is your birthright. Why do I know this? Simply because you have a voice. 

Cantor Neil Newman, my first cantorial mentor, reminded me to tell the congregation that it’s not singing we’re doing; it’s praying. This will make people more comfortable to join in the song. And while he is right, I cannot help but remember that singing and praying are often deeply connected. It often doesn’t matter if I’m singing an Italian aria, a Spanish rumba or the Avinu Malkeinu; to me, it’s all prayer.  

These High Holy Days, please give yourself permission to use your voice a little more assertively than you have in the past. I promise that the people sitting next to you won’t mind or judge you. It is most likely that you’ll motivate your neighbors to sing as well (they may be too nervous or uncomfortable to use their voices in the first place). 

It’s wonderful that your cantor has a great voice. But so do you. It’s yours!  

And as a cantorial soloist, sure, I love singing from my heart so that all can hear. But the magic truly happens when I succeed at leading the community in song; when they lift up my voice so I can continue to lift up theirs. 

We then become individual prayers as one voice. 

That, is ruach.

Ariella Forstein is a cantorial soloist, performer and vocal empowerment coach based in Los Angeles and in Minneapolis. Find out more about Forstein’s work at and about her performing at

Military chief slams settler rabbi over women’s singing

Israel’s military chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, slammed a settler rabbi’s claim that religious soldiers would rather face a firing squad than attend a ceremony in which women sing.

Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, head of the Elon Moreh hesder yeshiva, said in a Nov. 18 interview on the haredi Orthodox Radio Kol Chai that soldiers must “give their life for this issue.” He was responding to the expected recommendation by a Gantz-appointed committee that would require religious soldiers to attend official ceremonies in which women performed.

Levanon also said that should such a recommendation be made, he would order his students to stop entering the Israel Defense Forces, saying it would no longer be a Jewish army.

“Never mind forcing soldiers to attack against their will, but this is about listening to a female singer! Is this what the army is about? Is this what makes a person a better soldier?” the rabbi said. “This whole issue is clearly an attempt to harass religious soldiers.” 

Gantz said Sunday that “In the IDF one serves a national service. Everyone together, religious and secular, women and men. Those who contribute are important, not those who don’t.”

The religious Jewish law, or halachah, of kol isha prohibits men from listening to a woman sing. Last month several religious army cadets left an official ceremony because women were singing. Some returned upon orders from their commander, but two did not and were punished.

Winners of Jewish song contest to make aliyah

The top two finishers in an international Jewish singing contest are immigrating to Israel.

Adam Kleinberg, 21, of Mexico, who won the first place in the Hallelujah music contest in August, will be studying music in Israel, according to Ynet. Kleinberg, 21, whose great-grandmother was the first cousin of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, beat out 30 finalists from around the world.

Oliver Ghnassia, 20, from Brussels, the contest’s first runner-up, told Ynet he will be making aliyah in the coming months.

Kleinberg won the top prize of $8,000 and the opportunity to record a duet with a popular Israeli singer; the song will be distributed to Jewish radio stations throughout the world. He also was scheduled to go on tour, singing in Jewish venues around the world.

‘Israeli Idol’ Diana Golbi brings act and message to U.S.

For her first visit to New York and the United States, Diana Golbi adopted the unofficial uniform of most city dwellers—head-to-toe black. Black shirt, black top and tight black jeans. Her long brown hair was straight and hung past her shoulders.

Pointing to her stiletto heels, which added at least four inches to her diminutive stature, she explained, “I’m in New York, so I have to be feminine.” She drew out the “f” sound as though she found the very concept of femininity distasteful. Or perhaps Golbi was merely playing with her English, a third language after her native tongues, Russian and Hebrew.

Golbi, 19, and the winner of the 2010 season of “Kochav Nolad”—the Israeli incarnation of “American Idol”—had just performed a short set of songs at City Winery on behalf of ELEM, a nonprofit organization that assists and rehabilitates “distressed youth” in Israel with programs ranging from counseling and social services to vocation and job training. She herself had benefited from the two-decades-old organization’s services as a teenager wandering the streets late at night in Holon.

Since winning the competition, the Russian-born Golbi has become something of an ambassador for ELEM, which runs programs in 28 cities across Israel. They include the night vans that she and her friends discovered driving around Holon, a low-income suburb of Tel Aviv.

Like many immigrants and children of immigrants, Golbi found it difficult to transition into the mainstream of Israeli society. The alienation and depression were exacerbated following the death of a friend, who died of a drug overdose. It was around this time that Golbi was introduced by some of her friends to ELEM and its night vans.

“I had a lot of friends who spoke constantly about ELEM, so I came there with my friends and saw how they deal with their problems,” she recalled. “I had my own problems, and I found people who I can trust and talk to.”

“Problems” was about as much as Golbi was willing to divulge. Asked for the specific nature of her issues, Golbi politely demurred, referring to it as “the past.”

It was an ELEM social worker who spotted her nascent artistic talent and helped get the young Golbi into a theater program. The rest is (televised) history.

Owing to her experience performing for an audience of thousands on live television week after week, Golbi despite her youth took the stage of her first U.S. show with such aplomb. She played the guitar only on her first song, relying on the backing of her band for the rest.

Golbi let her rasp-tinged rock vocals do all the work, especially on “Little Children” (“Yeladim Ketanim”), which she also performed during the singing competition. The composition, which is all inspirational power cords, is something of an anthem to children-centered nonprofits with its emphasis on the strength of the young.

Asked who are her favorite musical artists, she at first seemed annoyed.

“I hate that question,” Golbi said, but eventually answered if not with an artist at least with a genre. “Glam rock,” she said, “and old stuff.”

She acknowledged that her music style has shifted as she has gotten older. In high school with her former band, HaRusim (The Russians or The Ruined Ones).

“We did metal music and we were screaming all over the place,” she said.

If her City Winery set is any indication, Golbi has veered into a more commercial Top 40 pop/rock sound. That, too, is subject to change.

“I’m 19. When I’m 30 …,” she said, shrugging.

This sort of artistic flux is certainly understandable in one as young as Golbi. After all, if she were an American of the same age she’d be in college, changing her major for the umpteenth time.

Instead, Golbi is now serving in the Israeli military. In fact, she was on loan for the night; the Israeli army had given her special permission to travel to New York and perform at the gala.

Golbi ended her set with an English song, the endlessly covered “Hallelujah.” The Leonard Cohen song works in nearly any context—an animated feature film (“Shrek”), the “American Idol” stage or a room full of Jews who had just opened their checkbooks to help underserved and underprivileged Israeli youth.

VIDEO: Sukkot services with the Happy Minyan

The spirited, eclectic Happy Minyan of L.A. davening Hoshana Rabba concluding Sukkot. Guest chazans, New York’s Yehuda Green and Lazar Wax, lead and deliver the cantillation.


VIDEO: Moroccan Jewish sacred singing

Leon Azancot, a wonderful 80 year old Tangerine Jew (he should live to 120), sang some piyyutim in Hebrew and explained them in Spanish at his insurance office over the Socco Grande (entrance to the souk) in Tangier, Morocco.

Video by Vanessa Paloma.

Vanessa wrote about her visit for The Journal.


Gole to lead Cantor’s Assembly

Cantor Joseph Gole of Sinai Temple will be installed as president of the international Cantors Assembly during the organization’s convention in Los Angeles, at a time when the profession is facing changes and challenges.

Highlight of the May 6-10 meeting will be “On the Wings of Song,” a public concert of the cantorial art, or hazzanut, at Sinai Temple on May 7. Guest performers will include Theodore Bikel and Mike Burstyn, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Israel Air Force Memorial and Heritage Project.

“Cantorial music has always reflected the world around it, and while retaining the traditional chants, is today strongly influenced by pop and folk music,” Gole said.

The Cantors Assembly’s 450 members represent mainly Conservative synagogues, but include every other Jewish denomination.

“The trend among cantorial groups today, as in day schools and at American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism), is toward communal inclusiveness, beyond denominational lines,” Gole said.

One of the challenges facing the Conservative movement, according to those familiar with the demographics, is that both the membership and spiritual leadership are aging.

As a result, there is some concern that as older cantors retire, they may not be replaced by congregations.

More than 250 cantors from the United States, Canada and Israel are expected to attend the assembly’s 60th convention and will participate in Gole’s installation as president. Also to be honored will be Cantor Nathan Lam of Stephen S. Wise Temple.

Gole was 18 when he first led the congregation of Burbank’s Temple Emanuel in prayer as cantor. Now, at age 59, he sounds better than ever, according to Sinai Temple worshippers.
Recognized for his lyric tenor voice and musicianship, Gole has also performed, among others, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, American Youth Symphony, and numerous opera companies in this country and Europe.

“There is a tremendous satisfaction in the cantor’s role of infusing spirituality into the service, in touching people in a significant way during lifecycle events, and in preparing boys and girls for their b’nai mitzvah,” said Gole.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple expressed his congregation’s pride at Gole’s election to the assembly presidency. “Cantor Gole’s musical and religious leadership, which has long been recognized in the Los Angeles Jewish community, is now being acknowledged nationally, and indeed internationally,” Wolpe said.

The May 7 concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, preceded by a 6 p.m. dinner.

For ticket information, contact Maureen Rosenberg at (310) 481-3235 or by e-mail, Tickets can also be ordered online at

Voices of women loud and proud with ‘Vox Femina’

More than a decade ago, when Gay Men’s Chorus director John Bailey lobbied Iris Levine, chair of the music department at Cal Poly Pomona, to start up a parallel women’s group, she balked. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do,” she said over the phone recently, recalling how Bailey envisioned a large, all-lesbian group.

Later, Levine said, Bailey approached her again, having realized that a women’s group might be different in nature from the men’s group — more intimate and “about being women, not about being lesbian.” With this new premise and a grant from the Gay Men’s Chorus, Levine founded Vox Femina, which will be performing “Nerli,” a children’s Chanukah song, at the 47th annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration on Dec. 24 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Now in its 10th year, Vox Femina recently staged its season opener, “Defying Gravity: Flying High on L.A.,” focusing on music about the heavens. One song on that bill, “Sky Dances,” also appears on Vox’s new CD, “Still I Rise.”

“Sky Dances” seems emblematic of the music sung by the 38-member women’s group — choral music with lyrics limited to a large extent to the refrain and with an emphasis on high soprano singers. Yet “Still I Rise” also includes the Marvin Hamlisch-Edward Kleban “A Chorus Line” tune “At the Ballet”; a snappy folk-rock number, “Closer to Fine,” and the titular gospel song, “Still I Rise,” all three of which feature soloists, alto singers and, in one case, an acoustic guitar.

Despite its eclectic repertoire, Vox Femina is not to be confused with the Whiffenpoofs, a Broadway chorus or a 1960s girl group. It is not an a cappella group; it almost always receives accompaniment on piano. The members are primarily interested in world music composed by women, not Cole Porter or Bob Dylan.

Levine is not only the founder of Vox Femina, she is also its artistic director. She chooses the themes of the performances, the music and even the singers. She also sometimes does the arrangements of the songs, such as that of “Hinei Mah Tov,” which the group once sang in Hebrew. For that piece, she provided group members with transliterated Hebrew; she herself knows the language from studying at a kibbutz ulpan.

Although Vox Femina will be singing “Nerli” in Hebrew, it is not in any sense a Jewish singing group. The women in Vox come from all backgrounds, not only in their sexuality, but also in ethnicity, race, religion and age. They sing in many foreign languages and even gave one concert entirely in Spanish at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, where they practice.

“We want to give the women of Los Angeles a voice,” said Levine, pointing out that every world song in their repertoire “has a population right here” in Los Angeles. She added that world music is “the music of the people.”

Levine began her musical career by taking the obligatory piano lessons at age of 5 or 6. Later, she sang in or accompanied choruses in high school.

When it came time for her to go to college, her mother encouraged her to pursue her love for music. After getting a B.A. in music at the University of New Hampshire, the Boston native followed up with a master’s degree from Temple University and then a doctorate at USC.

When she is not teaching music to college students or conducting Vox Femina, Levine directs the choir at Stephen S. Wise Temple, a job she has held for nearly two decades.

One gets the sense that she has almost no time for leisure. Given her schedule, it is perhaps not surprising that she had a cold when she spoke to a reporter recently, which affected her voice. But she is not a singer. She is a conductor, arranger, choir director, professor and artistic director, a Renaissance woman of the people.

Vox Femina will perform along with more than 40 other ensembles, including the Gay Men’s Chorus, the TishTones, the Beth Shir Shalom Choir, the Burbank Chorale and the Universal Dance Designs Kennedy Tap Company at the L.A. County Holiday Celebration on Sunday, Dec. 24, from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. For information, call (213) 972-7211 or go to

Songs of the South

It appears Fox TV’s “American Idol” has a Jewish contestant heading to the finals. Twenty-seven-year-old Elliott Yamin from Virginia, auditioned for the pop star search and singing competition in Boston, and has gone on to make it into the top 24, and then, on March 9, into the top 12.

With eliminations weekly, it’s still open how much farther Yamin will go. As of press time, he remains in the game, however eliminations now take place weekly on Wednesdays, with the public voting by telephone Tuesday evenings to determine who moves on to the next round.

If commentary by judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell are any indication, Yamin should continue to do well. Their remarks have been almost unanimously favorable, and even notoriously harsh Cowell strongly praised Yamin in two out of three recent performances. After Yamin’s performance of Stevie Wonder’s “If You Really Love Me,” Cowell went so far as to tell him, “I think potentially you are the best male vocalist we’ve ever had.”

Yamin has never had any formal vocal training, but keeping up on American Idol isn’t the first hurdle he’s faced in his life. The young singer is open about his struggle with juvenile diabetes, for which he wears an insulin pump. He also recently revealed on the air that he is 90 percent deaf in one ear.

Regardless of the final outcome, however, Yamin said in an interview on the show’s Web site he feels “a total sense of pride and accomplishment” for making it this far.

Two Shows Set the Stage for Chanukah

Two winters ago, in one of its traditional Victorian teas, A Noise Within (ANW), the classical repertory theater company in Glendale, staged a series of holiday readings from actors as varied as Ed Asner and Fred Savage. One of ANW’s own troupe members, Len Lesser, in his inimitable New York accent, read a Chanukah story about a boy in the Bronx who, if memory permits, floats in the Big Apple firmament, going on a magical Chagallesque voyage through the city night.

Even if all of the other stories were about Christmas, this one Jewish tale stood out, if only because it was so unique, so rare, in a Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s climate in which Jews and other non-Christians are bombarded with Christian iconography, animated TV specials, carols and merchandise.

If it’s OK for storekeepers to say “Merry Christmas,” as Kinky Friedman contends, then it is also OK for theatergoers to get a taste of Jewish entertainment in the midst of all the “Christmas Carol” and “Nutcracker” productions.

Guggenheim Entertainment and the National Jewish Theatre Festival have adapted Tchaikovsky’s ballet into a Chanukah-themed musical, “The Meshuga Nutcracker!” Shannon Guggenheim, one of the creators of the show, disputes the misconception by some that “if it’s a Chanukah show, it must hate Christmas”; this show’s edgiest moment comes in a good-natured opening song with a couplet about “Santa having the last laugh, this holiday lasts a month and a half.”

Although Tchaikovsky composed the music, many of the big, splashy numbers owe more to Andrew Lloyd Webber than the 19th century romantic giant. It’s not the music alone that’s changed; the story has, too. Now, instead of the songs being about sugar plum fairies, rat kings and nutcrackers, they are about menorahs, dreidels and Judah Maccabee. More broadly, Guggenheim says, “it’s about finding the soul in our lives.”

“The Meshuga Nutcracker!” features eight principal characters, symbolizing the eight days of Chanukah, who must wait for the “director” to show up, so that they can light the menorah. While the “director” sounds like Elijah or Godot, Guggenheim says that the character and plot device derive from the movie “Waiting for Guffman,” not the Torah or Samuel Beckett.

Dancing and singing in front of a giant dreidel, the performers, inhabitants of a mythical shtetl, wear garb almost as colorful as that of the Technicolor Joseph, and the stage floor in its multihued mosaic resembles a Wolfgang Puck eatery.

This is kid-friendly theater, which is not surprising since Guggenheim, along with her husband, Scott, and brother-in-law, Stephen, conceptualized the show around the time her 3-year-old daughter was born.

“Where are we going to take a child?” she used to ask herself, given the historic lack of Jewish holiday theater.

Coming to Los Angeles for the first time after two years of exclusive dates in the Bay Area, the show has yet to penetrate “the public-school sector,” although that is the next step, says Guggenheim, who views her role as being that of an educator. If she succeeds, “The Meshuga Scrooge” may be next.

“The Meshuga Nutcracker!” opens Thursday, Dec. 22, at the Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. Plays Through Jan. 1. 7:30 p.m. (Tues.-Thurs., Sat.); 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. (Sun.). $18-$36. The Jewish Journal sponsors the Sunday, Dec. 25, 1 p.m. show. For tickets, call (877) 456-4849.

Tchaikovsky has always transcended religion and ethnicity, so it’s not surprising that Zinovy Goro, a Ukrainian Jew, studied clarinet and composition at the State Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Kiev. Goro, along with Miamon Miller, who plays violin and mandolin, form a klezmer orchestra in Theater 40’s premiere of “Simcha,” another Jewish-themed play being staged during the holidays. From an elevated platform, they perform their admixture of plaintive yet heartening Jewish folk tunes before the actors arrive onstage, during intermission, and at pivotal narrative points.

Subtitled “An Evening of Jewish folklore,” “Simcha,” like “Meshuga Nutcracker,” is set in the shtetl, that fabled, liminal land in the Pale that captured the imagination of artists like Sholom Aleichem and Chagall. Indeed, “Simcha,” an original production written by Ross Pavis and Howard Teichman, bears the influence of both of these Russian-Jewish luminaries.

With a setup so classic that it has been used by everyone from Chaucer to Eugene O’Neill to William Inge, the play begins when a drifter named Simcha, part troubadour, part hobo, pleads his way into an inn. Though he has no groshen to pay for bread, he convinces the denizens of the inn that he can recompense them with a story. Make that three stories.

Despite his tatterdemalion rags and scruffy stubble, Simcha carries the promise of dream to these miserable inn dwellers, and is soon distributing copies of a script to each of them — the young boy and girl, in the bloom of love; the old man and woman, ignored by all; the termagant who runs the inn, and the meek owner who submits to her will.

They may seem like stock characters, but, as portrayed by Theater 40’s fine cast, they have the timelessness of archetypes. Maybe, it’s because all of these actors have great faces, in the way that John Garfield and Edward G. Robinson had great faces, etched with character and depth. None of the actors would be considered conventionally attractive; even the ravishing young girl, played by Karla Menjivar, possesses more of the exoticism of an Old World Jewess than the glamour of a runway model. But their faces tell of their suffering and longing for a new life.

Twirling about the stage like a dreidel, while the klezmer musicians play, Simcha looks upward as if picturing the magical skyscape of Chagall. And he weaves tales not unlike those of Aleichem, rife with matchmakers and Kabbalistic potions.

Teichman, a heavyset, bearded man who resembles Jon Lovitz, shines in the title part, narrating and directing the characters in the play within the play, a role that must come easily for him, given that he is also credited as director of the play itself. When each tale ends and he is asked questions about the story’s characters, he issues the caveat that he is “just a storyteller, not a philosopher.”

If there is any criticism of the play, it is its length. Holiday entertainment needs to be light, and this production would have been more effective as a one-act.

“Simcha” plays 8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.); 2 p.m. (Sun.), thru Dec. 18, at the Reuben Cordova Theater, Beverly Hills High School, 241 Moreno Drive, (310) 364-0535.

Secular Fans Hip to Religious Rapper


He’s into rap, hip-hop, reggae — and religion. He’s not a Christian rocker; he’s a Chasidic reggae/hip-hop musician.

Matisyahu is the artist formerly known as Mathew Miller — until he found God, Lubavitch-style, almost five years ago.

The 25-year-old certainly beats to his own drummer. Over the last several years he’s played packed houses, garnering a following with Jews and non-Jews. He’s a regular on the New York club circuit, and always takes to the stage in the requisite black suit and white shirt. And he gets his groove on with a kippah on his head and his tzitzit flying.

On April 10, Matisyahu will work his magic in Los Angeles at a sold-out concert at the University of Judaism.

There are a handful of Orthodox musicians who use their Judaism in their lyrics, but Matisyahu seems to be one of the few who has managed to appeal to both Jewish and secular audiences. After Matisyahu performed at a secular nightclub in Iowa in January, an online magazine review said, “The crowd responded equally to his religious and secular utterances. Matisyahu certainly made converts of a few from the crowd, but whether it was to reggae or to Judaism is impossible to say.”

Matisyahu doesn’t appear to find anything incongruous about his hip-hop Chasidism. The soft-spoken young artist said it’s what has made him so successful.

“There’s never really been a religious Jewish voice that modern-day Jews and non-Jews alike can relate to,” he said.

The Lubavitch-style tradition, he said, is something others who have taken the same path can connect with: the heritage, the religion. “While this is the focal point of my life, at the same time I’m still a person that grew up with American culture and listening to American music, and I combine the two.”

The lyrics used in traditional reggae music, he says, originate from the same place as his own work: the Torah. “The Rastafarians base a lot of their on the Psalms and King David.”

In “King Without A Crown” Matisyahu sings:

What’s this feeling?
My love will rip a hole in the ceiling
Givin’ myself to you from the essence of my being
Sing to my God all these songs of love and healing
Want moshiach now so it’s time we start revealing

Many of his other songs speak of the yearning to connect with God and change the world. “Having one God is not just a Jewish concept,” he said. “Everyone can connect with that.”

While growing up, Matisyahu was heavily into all forms of alternative music, particularly reggae.

“A person’s life is in phases,” he said. “When you go through a new phase, you don’t kill the old you or forget who you were or where you came from.”

Mathew Miller came from White Plains, N.Y., where he grew up in a traditional Jewish household. His main Jewish education was twice-weekly Hebrew school classes, for which he came close to being expelled because of his disruptive influence.

A restless teenager with little interest in his studies, he turned to music, finding solace in beat-box rhythms, hip-hop and reggae.

Like many youth searching for something, Miller’s journey from Matthew to Matisyahu was an evolution and included a life-altering 11th-grade trip to Colorado, where the vast landscape made him realize there was a God.

Nonetheless, he dropped out of high school, turned to drugs and alcohol, and drifted aimlessly. But a trip to Jerusalem, and a chance Shabbat evening service at the Carlebach Shul on New York’s Upper West Side, eventually put Matisyahu onto the path he now treads today. He calls Crown Heights home.

The Chasidic melodies, raucous singing and the flower-power vibe of Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s legacy, helped Matisyahu delve deeper into both his musical and Jewish soul, ultimately finding peace, solace and meaning in his life in the Lubavitch world.

Today he focuses on spreading the message of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe — with his music. “He said we’re supposed to take the things that we do and tell the world about the moshiach, and about God.”

At his concerts, he uses psalms, quotes from the Torah and anything else to fulfill the commandment to be “a light unto the nations” — albeit with a heavy Jamaican tone.

How does he reconcile Orthodox Judaism with performing on stage — particularly when he himself has said he has to avert his eyes at some clubs because the women are not dressed modestly enough?

“Those who know me know that as an artist this is my way of fulfilling my role and doing tikkun olam,” he said, referring to the Hebrew for “healing the world.”

One of his greatest supporters is his wife. A little-publicized fact, Matisyahu was married last August to an NYU film student. The couple is expecting their first child later this year.

In the meantime, Matisyahu is busy touring the country.

“I hope that people will enjoy my concerts and come away with a sense of truth and pride in who they are and where they come from,” he said. “And everybody can hopefully learn and discover what their mission is here.”

The 8 p.m. show has sold out. A 10:30 p.m. show has been added on Sunday,
April 10 at the UJ. Tickets are $25 each.


Roll It, Pat It and Mark It With a ‘B’

For the birthdays of each of her grandchildren, Babulinka used to bake a krendel, a traditional Latvian cake in the shape of a B. The classic shape was really a figure eight; it just looked like a B to Babulinka’s youngest grandchild, and so it became “the B cake.”

The cake isn’t what most children might imagine for a birthday cake. After all, it has no frosting, no layers, and no candles. Krendel (pronounced kryen-dzel) is low and yeasty with a streusel topping, more like coffee cake or a babka.

On the day of the celebration, the cake would sit on a wooden board on my grandmother’s kitchen counter, covered by a white dishtowel. Once the table was set and the guests arrived (usually a small gathering of family), we would sing a song reserved only for birthdays. It was a Russian ditty that, roughly translated, went like this: “One time for Gabi’s birthday we baked a birthday cake. Look how wide it is, look how narrow it is! Look how high it is, look how low it is! Birthday cake, birthday cake, choose whomever you desire. Of course, I like everybody here, but I love this person most of all….”

I can’t remember the last time we ate a krendel on a birthday, or the last time we sang that song, but I’m sure it wouldn’t sound the same without Babulinka’s enthusiasm and her thin Yiddishe trill.

Gurevich Family Krendel

1 1/4 cup of milk
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs lightly beaten at room temp
1 cup golden raisins
4 1/2 to 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for brushing on top

Streusel topping

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Melt one stick of butter in 1 1/4 cup of milk and set aside to cool to a temperature between 105 F and 115 F. Sprinkle one tablespoon of yeast into the cooled milk mixture, and whisk it in. Set aside for about five minutes, or until the yeast has dissolved.

In a large bowl, whisk in the milk mixture, sugar, cardamom, salt and eggs. Switch to a wooden spoon, add 2 cups of the flour and beat it until smooth. Mix in 1 cup of raisins, then add as much of the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough is stiff. (It will still be sticky.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead, adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it is smooth and no longer sticky, about 10 minutes.

Shape the dough into a ball. Place it in a lightly greased bowl, turn the bowl to grease the entire surface and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature 45 minutes to one hour.

While the dough is rising, make the streusel topping. Mix the flour and sugar, working the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until large moist clumps form.

When your dough has risen, punch it down and let it rest. On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a long rope, about 20 inches, stretching it gently and rolling with your hands. Place on the buttered baking sheet in the shape of a big pretzel (a figure eight). Butter the outside of two soufflé ramekins (or empty tuna cans), and place them in the open parts of the pretzel to prevent them from closing during baking.

Cover the krendel loosely with plastic and let it rise until almost double in bulk. Brush the top with egg wash and scatter streusel over the top.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 F. Bake the krendel for about 45 minutes, or until it is golden.

Transfer to a wooden board to cool, then cover with a clean dish towel to rest until ready to eat. It tastes best the next day.

Gabriella Gershenson is a restaurant reviewer and food columnist with the New York Press — and a sometime-compulsive eater.

Aroeste Gives New Life to Ladino Tunes

Purists were skeptical when Sarah Aroeste debuted her Ladino rock ‘n’ roll band back in 2001. Most artists singing in the fading Sephardic language were traditionalists, performing classical versions of songs dating to the Jews’ expulsion from Spain in 1492.

But here was Aroeste, mixing rock and jazz with the flamenco and Middle Eastern-tinged music of her ancestors, singing those same lush romances accompanied by electric guitar as well as oud. And, the New York press noted, she was doing so while performing with a bare midriff and gyrating hips — moves that led several publications to label her “The Jewish Shakira.”

During a recent phone interview from her Manhattan apartment, the 28-year-old singer expressed distaste for the “Shakira” label.

“People tend to harp on that, as if I’m being deliberately exploitative,” she said with a sigh. “But why shy away from the sensuality that is actually in this culture?”

Yet, when she quit her day job to found the band, “people thought I was nuts,” she said. “I mean, a Ladino rock group — who had ever heard of that? So I was charting new territory. I was afraid of the critics, and I struggled to find a balance I hoped would work.”

Mission apparently accomplished. Aroeste’s 2003 CD, “A La Una — In the Beginning,” sold out its initial run and now shares shelf space with CDs by classical Sephardic artists, such as Isabel Ganz. Her band regularly performs not just at nightclubs but at Jewish venues across the United States.

In Los Angeles this week, she played at the Temple Bar, a rock nightclub, and Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel; tonight she’ll appear at Sinai Temple’s young adult service, Friday Night Live.

Observers have noted her crossover appeal: “I am stunned … at how successfully Aroeste has succeeded in setting this music in a way that makes it contemporary, without losing the very traditional feel of the music and the music’s roots,” Ari Davidow wrote in Klezmer Shack magazine. “Until [‘A La Una’], I don’t think I could have pointed to a sharp, contemporary, danceable Sephardic music album. Until I heard this particular album, I don’t think it would have occurred to me that the category was necessary.”

“Sarah has really cornered the market on Ladino rock,” said Randee Friedman of Sounds Write Productions Inc., a distributer of her CD. “A lot of Ladino comes across my desk, but it’s old-style, and Sarah is really hip. She’s reaching out to the younger generation, and I think she’s been very successful at that.”

If Aroeste has successfully conveyed her enthusiasm for Sephardic music, it’s virtually in her blood. She grew up in a “big, fat Jewish Greek family” in Princeton, N.J., where Ladino songs graced the record player and the Shabbat dinner table. The Yale-educated soprano further fell in love with the ancient art form while studying at a Tel Aviv opera summer program eight years ago.

But when she organized a new Jewish music project for the National Foundation for Jewish Culture in 1999, Aroeste grew “frustrated and disappointed” by the dearth of novel Sephardic fare. The klezmer-fusion renaissance was thriving in Ashkenazi circles, courtesy of artists such as Frank London and John Zorn, “but there was nothing Sephardic that I could relate to as a modern, American woman,” she said.

“I felt, this music is in danger of disappearing within a generation unless we do something to reach new people,” the performer continued. “And that became my mission.”

To reach as wide an audience as possible, Aroeste focused her Sephardic fusion on secular, rather than liturgical songs. “The themes are totally universal and contemporary, like bad breakups, blinddating, crushes, long-distance relationships,” she said. “In fact, if you walked into one of my shows, you might not even realize it’s Jewish music, because it doesn’t sound the way most people think of Jewish music, meaning klezmer.”

“Yo M’enamori” (“Moon Trick”), for example, is more reminiscent of contemporary rock; Aroeste’s trance remix of “Hija Mia” (“The One I Want”) sounds practically psychedelic.

Yet all her songs are grounded in the original, ancient melodies and lyrics, which has apparently satisfied would-be critics.

“At first, people wanted to see if I was going to completely change and popularize the music, but they’ve seen that’s not the case,” she said. “I’ve worked hard to maintain the integrity of the music and to use my work to preserve and revitalize the tradition.”

Sarah Aroeste will perform Sept. 10, 7:30 p.m. at SinaiTemple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. For more information, visit .

The Circuit

It’s ‘Theo’ Time

The 80th birthday of actor, singer, Soviet Jewry champion and Yiddish language true believer Theodore Bikel was marked by more than 1,300 well-wishers with the June 6 concert, “Theo! The First 80 Years,” at Brentwood’s Wadsworth Theater.

The fluid 90-minute show was directed by Milken Community High School middle school drama director Rachel Leah Cohen, who expertly included collages of Bikel from his 2,000 stage performances as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” plus memorable film roles in, “My Fair Lady,” “The African Queen” and his Academy Award-nominated Southern sheriff performance in “The Defiant Ones.”

With actors Leonard Nimoy, Larry Miller and Mare Winningham, plus the Stephen S. Wise Temple’s elementary school chorus, the $50-$350 tickets filled the Wadsworth seats as “Theo!” raised funds for Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

The VIP tent reception attracted Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), concert sponsors Jona Goldrich and Trudy and Lou Kestenbaum, plus “Fiddler on the Roof” creator, Sholem Aleichem’s granddaughter, Bel Kaufman, who said the real-life shetl milkman who inspired Tevye “wasn’t at all like this handsome Theo.”

The evening had singing by Chicago cantor Alberto Mizrahi and folk legends The Limelighters and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary.

“Thank you, Theo, for turning 80, and keeping your hair,” the balding Yarrow said of the white-bearded, full-head-of-hair octogenarian.

At the show’s end, Bikel came onstage to thunderous applause. As for what he would want on his gravestone, Bikel said, “I’m not there yet. I’m 80 years and four weeks old. I don’t aim to be there for a long time. If there is anything to be written there, I would like it to be at least partly in Yiddish, because Yiddish is the language of my people.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Israel Bonds Aloha

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle was greeted with a flower lei, hula dancers, orchid centerpieces and Hawaiian print tablecloths as she walked into the Beverly Hills Four Seasons banquet room for the State of Israel Bonds Golda Meir Club’ s annual spring luncheon on May 13.

The Jewish Republican was in town for a weeklong visit of her old mainland stomping grounds, before embarking on her first trip to Israel, courtesy of the Israel consulate.

Honored alongside Lingle as a “Woman of Power” at the luncheon was Jean Friedman, founding president of the Zimmer Children’s Museum, founding vice president of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and vice president of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, which sponsors the Jewish Image Awards. Friedman’s passion for the arts and education — she helped husband Jerry found Shalhevet High School — has enabled her to develop inspirational programming.

“I wanted to create inventive programs … to connect people to their Jewish background,” Friedman said.

After accepting the Golda Meir Award, Lingle drew parallels between Israel and Hawaii — “both are isolated: one by water, the other by their neighbors” — and took the election year opportunity to stump for her GOP colleague, President Bush.

“We don’t agree on everything, but he stands behind Israel,” Lingle said.

Lingle was born in St. Louis and moved to Los Angeles with her family when she was 12, splitting time between Encino and Brentwood after her parents divorced. The Birmingham High grad went on to study journalism at CSUN and then moved to Hawaii, where she started her own newspaper, the Molokai Free Press. In her 2002 campaign for governor, she promised voters a “new beginning” for Hawaii by taking on government corruption and reforming education.

“Jewish groups across the country have adopted me and don’t care what my politics are,” said Lingle, who meets with her rabbi on Monday mornings and receives challah from a Chabad rabbi every Friday.

The governor initially registered as independent in 1976, but switched to the Republican Party in 1980 to run for a Maui County Council seat.

“We as Jews identify with the poor and underprivileged,” said Lingle, who is pro-choice and favors domestic partnership. “Republican rhetoric has not been inclusive of all people historically, but we need to look beyond the old labels.”

She isn’t thinking about a higher office yet, focusing instead on a run for a second term in 2006.

The annual event is the largest that Israel Bonds’ Women’s Division puts on.

Music for the luncheon, co-chaired by Beverly Cohen and Iris Rothstein, was provided by Temple Aliyah’s Cantor Mike Stein and his family band, The Rolling Steins.

Notables in attendance included Marjorie Pressman, founding chair of Friends of Sheba; Marilyn Ziering, philanthropist and University of Judaism board member; Jewish Federation President John Fishel; Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance Executive Director Carol Koransky; and Noreen Green, conductor and artistic director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.

Also, Esther Netter, executive director of the Zimmer Children’s Museum; Barbara Yaroslavsky, former chair of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee; Meralee Goldman, former mayor of Beverly Hills; Janet Salter, former first lady of Beverly Hills; and Michele Kleinert, Jewish liaison to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Others were Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem and wife, Miri; Rabbi Marvin Heir, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob Congregation; game show host Monty Hall; and fashion critic Mr. Blackwell.

“I wasn’t expecting Mr. Blackwell,” Lingle said. “I would have taken more care in what I wore.” — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Long-Hair Music Gets Kid’sBuzz Cut in ‘Beethoven’s Wig’

Move over Baby Mozart and Baby Bach. If you really want your children to learn the classics — and know the composer’s name to boot — check out “Beethoven’s Wig, Sing Along Symphonies.” The Grammy-nominated release by Richard Perlmutter adds witty lyrics to some of classical music’s best-loved pieces.

The CD’s title, for example, is from the lyrics set to the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony: “Beethoven’s wig, is very big.” And while the lyrics are fun for children, adults will appreciate the droll humor. Regarding the finger speed of pianist Franz Liszt, Perlmutter croons that Liszt “could play the minute waltz so quickly that he’d end in 30 seconds flat.”

Last month, Perlmutter released a follow-up album, “Beethoven’s Wig II, More Sing Along Symphonies,” which proves equally amusing and addicting. Listen a few times and you’ll find yourself singing along with such lyrics as those accompanying Mendelssohn’s Wedding March: “Oh, what a wedding cake, it stands over six stories high….” In both CD’s, the sing-along versions are followed by orchestral versions without lyrics.

As a child, Perlmutter built his own guitar (“It was pretty bad,” he admitted) and later worked as a song leader at Stephen S. Wise Temple and other area synagogues in the 1980s. Perlmutter, who has produced several albums for children, was educated at the business and architecture schools at Yale.

“Music didn’t seem like the type of thing you could do as a career,” he said. Looks like he’s turned that theory on its head.

Selections from “Beethoven’s Wig” will be performed at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA, Reading by 9 Stage, on Saturday, April 24, at 12:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 25, at 1:30 p.m.

For more information, visit .

Matzah, Matzahman

“Everyone wanted to clone our mother, which is why wecreated our Dancing Matzahman, said Davida Lampkin-Tydings. Actually, thesinging, swaying doll — voted best new Passover item at the 2003 Kosherfest –looks like a male chef wearing matzah print. But press his foot, and the plushfigure raps in the voice of Lampkin-Tydings’ mother, Pauline S. Lampkin, whosephoto is on the tag. The tag also credits Lampkin as the “vocalist”: “I becamea rapper at 94,” she said, looking impeccable in a blue velvet pants suit.

Her matzah doll, which  is available at Ralphs and Judaicashops, is the latest matzah mania product by Lampkin-Tydings’ company, DavidaAprons & Logo Programs Inc., which specializes in “kitchen kitch.” Thedoll’s song is composed by Jewish musician Craig Taubman.

But long before Matzahman, the elderly Lampkin was making animpression. At trade shows, she stood out as Davida Aprons’ indefatigablebookkeeper: “People call her the ‘human calculator,’ because she still does allthe figures in her head,” her daughter said.

Mom continued manning the company’s Huntington Park office,even while battling cancer in the 1990s. She’s one of the oldest people ever tohave completed AIDS Walk Los Angeles. And she regularly participates whenDavida and her sister, Sybil Lampkin-Rubin, brainstorm new Passover products,for example, an award-winning matzah ball timer.

“But at trade shows, people would always say, ‘We love yourmother. Can we buy her?'” Lampkin-Tydings said.

That question started the matzah doll rolling. Yet one couldvery well wonder: If Matzahman is inspired by Lampkin, why is he male? Thereason, according to Lampkin-Tydings, was that the doll was originally supposedto sing a parody of the Village People song, “Macho Man”; by the time shediscovered the royalties would be prohibitive the figure was already designedas male.

“So we decided to make him my boyfriend instead, ” Lampkinsaid.

Now her daughters are designing a new line of products thatwill feature mom’s photo, including a mug, a menu chalkboard and, of course,something Passovery.  “You know that elderly woman who used to say, ‘Where’sthe beef?'” Lampkin-Tydings said. “Mom could say, ‘Who’s hiding the matzah?'”

For more information, visit .

Exile the So-So Seder

Some people like their Passover seders just as they remember
them: the same lines recited by the same relatives with the same emphasis, the
same songs, jokes and foods, the same delicate glassware that picks up the
light in a certain way, reflecting past and present.

David Arnow treasures his memories, too. But for him, the
seder is also about creating new memories, doing things differently each year
so that each person present indeed can taste the feeling of having left Egypt.
Although it’s possible to use a different haggadah every year given the large
number of editions now available, Arnow believes that it’s not about the
haggadah, but how it’s used. He suggests that people follow the traditional
narrative and add texts for discussion, stories, participatory activities and
much that goes beyond reading what’s printed on the page.

His new book “Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook
of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities” is an outstanding resource for
enhancing seders. It’s not a haggadah but a companion volume that’s best read
before the seder, with certain passages shared at the table. One of Arnow’s
strengths is drawing on the haggadah text, midrashim and traditional
commentaries, and juxtaposing them with contemporary and historical issues. He sees
this telling of the story in a creative, interactive way as very much in
keeping with the Mishnah’s approach.

Arnow, a 53-year old psychologist by training and a communal
activist and writer, explains in an interview that he has been amending his
family’s seders with meaningful readings and discussion questions since 1988.
In 1994, he expanded those readings into a seder booklet for the New Israel
Fund, an organization he had served as president. For eight years, Arnow, who
also served as vice-president of UJA-Federation and as a Wexner Heritage
Leadership Fellow, produced the widely praised booklets, highlighting a
different passage each year, and thought to develop his ideas further into a

At his family seder, which this year will be held in his Scarsdale,
N.Y., home, the intergenerational group first gathers in the living room, for
about an hour’s worth of discussion before moving into the dining room. Once
they begin the formal part of the seder at the table, they follow the haggadah
text, pausing for questions and dialogue. He admits that these gatherings,
although great, are far from perfect. Even at his table, people ruffle through
the pages looking for the cue to serve dinner.

“One of the things I realize,” he said, “is that what
happens at the seder recapitulates what happens at the Exodus. We’re supposed
to be celebrating freedom and soon we start complaining and grumbling about
wanting to eat. The seder leader gets a bit of the experience of Moses, trying
to lead an unruly group that takes freedom for granted very quickly.”

Arnow’s family sings the Passover songs with great spirit.
He noted that when most people recall seders of their childhood, they remember
the singing with particular fondness. The first song mentioned in the Bible is
after the crossing of the Red Sea; he explains that after having such an
overwhelming experience, it was as though the Israelites took a huge breath and
out came a song to God. He quotes Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “We sing to Him
before we are able to understand Him.”

The author acknowledges that there’s much too much
information in this book for any one seder, and suggests that people might
focus on a different chapter each year, selecting from the supplementary

Even those readers who can’t imagine their guests marching
around the house, led by children singing “Let my people go” en route to the
table, will find possibilities of interest here — from discussions that tie
together Passover, spring and the environment to bibliodrama to a chapter on
the women of the Exodus who are missing from the traditional text. He includes
a quartet of 20th century voices on redemption, with quotes from Rabbi Mordecai
Kaplan, Martin Buber, Heschel and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, along with
questions leading to dialogue.

Many of Arnow’s discussion topics touch on politics and
peacemaking, but he is not preaching a particular point of view.

“I am saying that one of the lessons to remember is that we
were strangers in the land of Egypt and, therefore, we have the responsibility
to treat strangers among us fairly.”

Arnow and his wife, the parents of two sons, are members of
Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations in Westchester, N.Y. He has no
formal training in Jewish studies and spent a year and a half doing research,
studying on his own and with others, and says that he loved the process. In
talking with the author about the book and the upcoming holiday, he continues
to generate new ideas, new topics and approaches, beyond what’s in the book.

For more information about the book, visit

New Haggadahs

“The Holistic Haggadah: How Will You Be Different This
Passover Night?” with commentary by Michael Kagan, (Urim) is a guide to the
inner journey of Passover, with contemporary spiritual commentary, geared to
individuals of all denominations. Throughout, Kagan reflects on the meaning of
freedom and its relation to serving God. This volume makes for meaningful
pre-Pesach preparatory reading; the traditional haggadah text is translated by
Kagan, with new translations of the Hallel and other sections by Reb Zalman
Schachter-Shalomi. Kagan, who leads experimental workshops and lectures on
holistic Judaism around the world, lives in Jerusalem and describes himself as
“an Ortho-practicing, but unorthodox Jew.”

“The Pesach Haggadah: Through the Prism of Experience and
History” by Rabbi Berel Wein (Artscroll) features classic commentary and
stories, along with background and history of the holiday. Wein is the author of
several well-received books on history and Jewish texts.

“The Gurs Haggadah: Passover in Perdition” edited by Bella
Gutterman and Naomi Morgenstern (Devora Publishing, in cooperation with Yad
Vashem) has its origins in a detention camp in southwestern France where, in
1941, the Jewish inmates held a seder, declaring their own freedom from
oppression. This volume is a significant addition to holiday literature.
Included is a facsimile edition of the actual hand-written haggadah used,
photographs and other materials from the Yad Vashem archives and several moving
essays commenting on the haggadah and on the ordeals of life at Gurs, with a
piece by the son of Aryeh Zuckerman who wrote the haggadah by hand from memory.
After the seder, one inmate wrote, “Passover was but a brief respite from the
fleeing and wandering, yet closer than previous Passovers to the ancient-new
prayer: ‘Next year in Jerusalem.'”

Of Passover Interest:

“Make Your Own Passover Seder: A New Approach to Creating a
Personal Family Celebration” by Rabbi Alan Kay and Jo Kay (Jossey-Bass) is a
guide that covers every aspect of making a seder and is useful for someone
making one or participating for the first time, as well as for those who are
veterans and want to enhance their efforts. Included is information on
selecting a haggadah, tips for including children and guests from different
backgrounds, personal stories, guidance on rituals and more. Rabbi Kay serves
as spiritual leader of Temple Beth Emet in Mount Sinai, N.Y., and Jo Kay is director
of the School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
in New York.

“Had Gadya: The Only Kid” edited by Arnold Band (Getty
Publications) is a facsimile edition of Russian avant-garde artist El
Lissitzky’s 1919 edition of lithographs. His colorful, bold prints interpret
the traditional Passover song; the illustrations are crowned with architectural
frames with the verses printed in stylish letters, in Yiddish, with some
Aramaic text at the bottom of the page. Only 75 copies were published in the
lifetime of the artist — this work was part of his engagement with Judaica
before turning to abstract painting. In this volume, a separate section
includes a translation of each verse and notes on the images. Band is professor
emeritus of Hebrew and comparative literature at UCLA. In her introduction,
Nancy Perloff, collections curator at the Getty Research Institute, notes that
Lissitzky chose to publish these artworks in their own publication rather than
as part of a haggadah, indicating that he “viewed the song both as a message of
Jewish liberation based on the Exodus story and as an allegorical expression of
freedom for the Russian people.”

For Children:

“Matzah Meals: A Passover Cookbook for Kids” by Judy Tabs
and Barbara Steinberg, illustrated by Bill Hauser, (Kar-Ben) includes
easy-to-follow recipes for banana pancakes, gefilte fish kabobs, matzah pizza,
meringue kisses and more.

“It’s Seder Time!” by Latifa Berry Kropf, photographs by Tod
Cohen, (Kar-Ben) documents a class of young children learning about and
participating in Passover rituals — collecting chametz for a food bank, making
matzah, singing, dancing, posing as frogs. The full color photographs are full
of smiles.

VBS Reaches Out With Tunes and Tie-Dye

Jewish tunes, Grateful Dead-style tie-dyed T-shirts and rows of singing, swaying, arm-in-arm Jews gave a summer camp feel to Valley Beth Shalom’s (VBS) "25th Hour" event, which marked the end of the Valentine’s Day Shabbat.

Nearly 400 people came to the Conservative Encino synagogue’s festive but compact Feb. 14 outreach to the 90 percent of San Fernando Valley Jews not affiliated with a synagogue.

"We wanted to create the world’s most user-friendly, welcoming Jewish experience," said VBS Rabbi Ed Feinstein, who led young singles, middle-age parents and their kids in songs, stories and prayers in the shul’s Malkin Hall.

The "25th Hour" positions Shabbat’s final hour as a first hour for unaffiliated Jews looking for community. With two more such music-filled hours set for this spring, the targeted demographic — professional Jewish singles and couples — has given way to a Ventura Boulevard "25th" billboard near VBS, plus some free event advertising in Los Angeles Family Magazine. Feinstein’s largest out-of-pocket "25th Hour" expense were the musicians, notably Craig Taubman, who in 1998 joined Rabbi David Wolpe to create the popular monthly "Friday Night Live" singles gathering at the Conservative Sinai Temple in Westwood.

"I didn’t expect there to be this big a turnout," said David King, a young attorney who sat in one of the "25th Hour" back rows with his Valentine’s Day date.

After starting exactly at 5:05 p.m., the Saturday evening hour moved swiftly. Aside from the musicians and T-shirts, the cozy gathering was a stripped-down operation lacking the sweets, cookies and beverages common at shul events. It also avoided the formal, religious air of the prominent Conservative synagogue.

"Don’t go to the temple unless you’re a guest of that bar mitzvah," Feinstein jokingly said to his casually attired, early Saturday evening flock.

The hour focused on a podium hourglass, of which Feinstein said, "the grains of sand come through the hourglass and you don’t grab every one of them."

About 30 of the "25th Hour" revelers came from Beit T’Shuvah, the Jewish, faith-based addiction treatment facility in West Los Angeles. Joanna G., a 28-year-old recovering addict, arrived at the "25th Hour" in a Mercedes-Benz filled with three other Beit T’Shuvah women ready to party with Feinstein and Co., their sedan’s speakers blasting MC Hammer’s, "U Can’t Touch This." After a quick cigarette break, the quartet crossed over from the parking lot to the synagogue hall for the lively hour.

"It’s really nice to have fun and be spiritual in sobriety," Joanna G said. "I would celebrate Shabbat at camp and things, but never at home."

With some children in the aisles almost swimming in their tie-dyed shirts, Feinstein told the crowd that he recently noticed, and also disagreed with, a book on Eastern spirituality titled, "Wherever You Go, There You Are."

"Wherever you go is not where you are," Feinstein said. "I’ve been lots of places where I wasn’t, [such as] high school. Sometimes if you’re really blessed, somebody comes and turns your shoes around. We just want to turn your shoes around, so you might really learn."

Karen Sonnabend, a Jewish Community Center program director at the West Hills campus, said she appreciated the hour’s summer camp sentiment with people singing and swaying.

"What grabbed me was the energy and the lightheartedness," she said.

The hour ended with the Hebrew song, "Am Yisrael Chai."

For more information about the March 13 and May 8 "25th Hour" events, call (818) 530-4092.


"A voice from the heavens/

Carries down to the whole world/

The angel is crying above/

Lamenting his son’s image."

Israeli countertenor David D’or might be singing about himself in the ethereal song, "A Voice From the Heavens." With a three-and-a-half-octave range, the crossover pop and classical star has been compared to Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli with a Middle Eastern flavor.

This month, D’or joins the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble to celebrate its 20th anniversary, with "Neshama: Stories of the Soul," a multimedia production focusing on the central importance of Jerusalem as a symbol and experience of human life. "Neshama," which is funded in part by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, a Jewish Federation beneficiary, uses music, song, visuals and narration spanning the time of creation until present day.

With six gold albums to his name in both the classical and popular genres, D’or is a perfect candidate to bring Jerusalem to life. Last month, the angelic singer was selected to represent Israel at the 49th Eurovision, the international song competition. Although Eurovision is often scoffed at internationally, and virtually ignored in America, a number of stars have gotten their start from the contest, like ABBA, Celine Dion and Julio Iglesias. Since it began competing in 1973, Israel has won the contest three times, most infamously with transsexual Dana International in 1998.

D’or’s upcoming performance in Los Angeles is par for the course. He has often collaborated with other artists, beginning in the army and later at Habima Theater, with such artists as Habreirah Hativ’it, Shlomo Bar and Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. But neither Los Angeles nor Eurovision should make D’or sweat, because he has performed in the Vatican for the pope since 1995.

While D’or’s eclectic performances of "Amazing Grace," "Phantom of the Opera" and original songs to classical works by Bach and Handel have brought him worldwide attention in the classical world, back home with the younger crowd, he’s become a radio star with timely tunes like this one:

"Protect the world, little boy/

There are things that should not be seen/

Protect the world, little boy/

If you see you’ll stop to be/

Hero of the world, little boy/

With the smile of angels,

Protect the world, little boy/

Because we already haven’t succeeded."

"Neshama: Stories of the Soul" with David D’or and the Kesehet Chaim Dance Ensemble, Feb. 21, 8:30 p.m. ICC, L.A. Scottish Rite Auditorium, 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, visit or call (818) 986-7332.

Livin’ La

Singer-songwriter Diex sees himself as an ambassador, a
bridge between the unlikely worlds of the prayer filled synagogues and the
groove-shaking beats of J Lo, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin.

Since he moved to Los Angeles from Buenos Aires 18 months
ago, Diex’s reggae and jazz-tinged Latin melodies like “Desde Aca” (From Here)
and “Cuidad De Nostalgia” (City of Nostalgia) have been stealthily invading
college and noncommercial radio stations across the country. And while the
musical influences of his catchy songs come from Anglo and Latino songwriters
like the Beatles, Oasis, Fito Paez and Charles Garcia, it is also his Jewish
roots and his work as a musical arranger for synagogues in Argentina and Los
Angeles that inspires Diex.

“My mother is a singer who sings tango in Yiddish,” said
Diex, 30, who is known to his mother as Diego Goldfarb. “I have a lot of
melodies in my mind from her singing. I also like the Sephardi stuff — the
rhythm and percussions of Mizrachi music.”

Snatches of synagogue melodies too have insinuated
themselves into  Diex’s music. When he was 20, Diex started a decade long stint
as musical director in different synagogues. In Los Angeles, he worked at
Temple Etz Chayim in Thousand Oaks, but he says the American style of synagogue
music is too conservative for his tastes.

“I was more used to the Latin style with everyone singing,”
he said. “It is more messy, and more happy for my ears.”

Now Diex sees himself as a world citizen, a person whose
roots come from more than one place. His songs have a playful ambiguity about
them that reflect his roving identity and musical tastes, and he is not worried
that he sings in a language that many Americans don’t understand.

“Even if people don’t know what I am saying in the song,
they know that it is a love song or whatever,” he said. “I think there is
something international about music, and even without knowing the lyrics,
people can still feel the music.”

Diex will be performing at the Latin-Alternative Holiday
Party on Dec. 19 at the Alterknit Lounge in The Knitting Factory, 7021
Hollywood Blvd., at 9 p.m. $10. For tickets, call (323) 463-0204. He will also
be performing on Dec. 26 at Fusion at Club Good Hurt, 12249 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles,
at 11 p.m. (310) 390-1076.

For more information go to .

7 Days In Arts


More More. Celebrity Staged Play Reading producer-director Alexandra More presents another installment in the series tonight and tomorrow. “The Floating Lightbulb” is a bittersweet coming-of-age comedy penned by Woody Allen that revolves around a Canarsie family in 1945. The title references the older son’s dream of becoming a magician as a way out of his depressed surroundings. Alan Blumenfeld, Richard Fancy and Katherine James star.$10-$14. Nov. 22, 7:30 p.m., Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 786-6310.Nov. 23, 2 p.m., Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-2531, ext. 2225.


The Skirball shows the accordion due respect this evening as they present Grammy Award-winning accordionist Flaco Jimenez in concert. Jimenez and his ensemble perform traditional South Texas conjunto and Tejano music as part of the cultural center’s ongoing American Dream Music Series, which coincides with its exhibit, “The Photograph and the American Dream.”7 p.m. $10-$18. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8587.


Neile Adams — singer, horse breeder, trapeze aficionado and ex-wife of Steve McQueen — clearly wears many hats. Tonight, she tips hers to Broadway songwriters Jerry Herman, Rodgers and Hart, Lieber and Stoller and Mel Brooks, performing their songs in “Neile Adams: The Child in Me.” Her show at the Gardenia continues for two more Mondays through Dec. 8.9 p.m. $15 (cover). Tom Rolla’s Gardenia, 7066 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 467-7444.


In the aptly titled “Timekeeper” exhibition, Stephen Cohen Gallery displays a retrospective of photographs by Anthony Friedkin. His 30 years as a fine-art photographer, film unit still photographer and photojournalist (Newsweek and Rolling Stone) are all represented in the collection. There are images from projects including The Gay Essay, The “Le Mer” Series and The Beverly Hills Essay. Tony Friedkin’s art also hangs in LACMA, George Eastman House and the J. Paul Getty Museum, but Cohen Gallery features a considerable selection through Dec. 31.11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday). 7358 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-5525.


Chanukah comes early this year for choral Yiddish musiclovers. Thank Mark Zuckerman and the Goldene Keyt Singers for this miracle. TheCD is titled “The Year in Yiddish Song,” because, Zuckerman writes, “thesequence of the songs reflects the calendar (more or less) of the EasternEuropean Jewish immigrants to America.” It includes old faves like “Ikh bin akleyner dreydl” (that’s “I am a Little Dreydl,”) and “Bay mir bistu sheyn.” $



You’ve been giving thanks all damn day. Take a timeoutwith this week’s Jewish Book Month suggestion: Sol Wachtler’s and David S.Gould’s legal thriller “Blood Brothers.” Legal wizzes Wachtler and Gould, whoserved as New York State chief judge and assistant United States attorney,respectively, put their knowledge to good use for this courtroom drama thatreunites childhood “blood brothers” who have taken different life paths. $ .


For those predisposed to road rage or parking lot paroxysms, may we suggest avoiding the malls in favor of a second look at one of LACMA’s collections. “Revisiting the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection of Photographic Self-Portraits” runs through Jan. 11, and gives you the opportunity to do just as the title suggests. Divided into thematic sections, the exhibit illustrates the ways in which artists have explored ideas of “identity, culture and art-making itself.”Noon-9 p.m. (Friday), noon-8 p.m. (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday), 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday). Free (children 17 and under), $5-$9 (general). 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000.

7 Days In Arts


A documentary about an old-age home. Sound like asnoozefest? Au contraire! More like the IFP’s L.A. Film Fest. By showing thelives of Lucille Alpert, 95, and Irja Lloyd, 81, two spitfire old ladies livingin a politically progressive L.A. retirement home, today’s film screeningchallenges those preconceived notions — about both documentaries and theelderly. Alpert and Lloyd’s incredible friendship and dependence on one anotherin the face of failing mental and physical health becomes the inspirationalfocus of “Sunset Story.” 2:15 p.m. (June 14), 7:30 p.m. (June 20). $10. LaemmleSunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (866) 345-6337.



Is klezmer sexy? Probably depends who you ask. But it hasbeen proven, according to a study by University of Chicago’s National OpinionResearch Center, that the annual sexual activity of people who listen to jazzmusic is higher than the national average. Thus accounting for this weekend’spairing of a certain men’s magazine with the popular centerfold and really greatjazz music. The Playboy Jazz Festival offers an impressive lineup today,including Al Jarreau, The Dave Brubeck Quartet and, yes, The New Orleans KlezmerAllstars. You can test out the theory for yourself. We’re sure Hef wouldapprove. 2 p.m.-10:30 p.m. (Sunday), 2:30-11 p.m. (Saturday). $15-$100.Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (310) 449-4070.



Gregg Marx, grandson of Marx Brother Gummo, follows in his famous forefathers’ footsteps by taking the stage. But don’t expect to be rolling on the floor. His chosen media are straight acting — he was a regular on popular soaps “Days of Our Lives” and “As the World Turns — and singing. His new cabaret show, titled “Wet Night … Dry Martini — Love: Shakin’ … Stirred … and on the Rocks,” is more Gershwin than Gummo.8:30 p.m. Mondays, through June 30. $20 (cover, plus $15 food or drink minimum). Feinstein’s at the Cinegrill, Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 769-7269.


Got $1,250 to drop? Spend “An Evening with Carl Reiner” courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League. The Emmy and Grammy Award-winning actor, director, writer and producer presents stories from his new book, “My Anecdotal Life,” followed by a book signing and dessert reception tonight. The aforementioned price tag is the minimum donation required to attend said event. But the upshot: It’s a darn worthy cause, and Reiner will have you laughing all the way from the bank.7:30 p.m. R.S.V.P. for location,(310) 446-8000, ext. 263.


Gossipmongers delight this week with a movie Oliver Stone undoubtedly wishes never got made. “Controlled Chaos” is a roman à clef based on Azita Zendel’s experiences as Stone’s personal assistant. Seems scandal coverups don’t just happen in his movies. The film runs this week at Laemmle’s Fairfax 3.June 13-19. $5.50-$8.50. 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 655-4010.


Dads not lucky enough to be Mr. Moms can still get some quality time with the kids today. All it’ll take is a little ingenuity (read: “sick day”). For their part, the Skirball has made the theme of their “Toddler Time” class “Father Time” this month. That means the focus is on pops for the 75 minutes of stories, songs, arts and crafts, museum tours and snacks with educator Sharon Tash. Go on, make the call. It is Father’s Day week, after all.10-11:15 a.m. $60-$80 (each monthly series). For ages 2 and 3 with an adult. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 440-4636.


At turns dreamy, dramatic and oom-pa-pa laden, theEastside Sinfonietta’s new CD, “Don’t Be Afraid: Music From ‘Happy End,’ ‘ThreePenny Opera,’ and ‘The Hollywood Elegies,'” is a trip back to the ’20s, ’30s and’40s. Weba Garretson lends her rich voice to updated versions of songs by KurtWeill, Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler, including “Moritat (Mac the Knife),” aSeven Days personal favorite. $12.


Cantor Steven Puzarne of Breeyah.

Carole Levine had been a member of Temple Israel of Hollywood for 28 years. During that time, she attended temple only during the High Holidays. Recently, Levine has started going to temple more often. As a flautist for The Chai Tones, a 10-piece temple band, Levine finds herself at the temple now at least once a month, playing jazzed-up versions of the regular synagogue melodies.

“I’ve felt more connected to the temple since I started playing there,” said Levine, a professional musician. “I know all the songs now and I know all the prayers I didn’t know before.”

To counter declining attendance during regular services, several temples are regularly holding arts-enhanced services — such as The Chai Tones at Temple Israel, Friday Night Live at Sinai Temple in Westwood, Shabbos Fest at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and services at Temple Shalom for the Arts — to get the crowds in the door. Typically, these services increase the temple attendance by at least 25 percent and, for many, they facilitate an entree into synagogue life that they might not have experienced before.

“Friday Night Live [FNL] has made a tremendous difference,” said Rabbi David Wolpe, who started FNL with musician Craig Taubman as a way of appealing to the single and childless post-college population to attend temple. With its mixture of live music, Israeli dancing, singing and speakers, FNL now draws about 1,500 people to Sinai Temple once a month.

“It gives a lot of people the chance to be part of our community, and most come to other events at the temple as well,” Wolpe said.

“[These programs] attract people who are peripheral members of the temples, Jews-by-choice, people on their way to conversion as well as active members,” said Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom of Temple Israel of Hollywood.

In fact, these ventures have been so successful that there are two Los Angeles synagogue revitalization organizations — Synagogue 2000 and Breeyah — that are devoted to helping synagogues and temples develop arts-based services. Synagogue 2000 has already consulted with 95 synagogues in Los Angeles and 23 in other cities, and they use the arts as one of the ways to help synagogues give their congregants a more authentic spiritual experience. Breeyah, which was started by Cantor Steven Puzarne, has already assisted in the creation of 10 temple bands around the country.

“We have a theory that every synagogue should be a Jewish arts center,” said Puzarne, whose experiences at Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica — where only 30 people would attend regular services, but 300 came to the musical services — led him to start the organization. “The synagogue should be an extremely creative place that uses the arts as the center of that activity…. Every cantor should be the artist-in-residence.”

Arts-based services tend to be held in Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues. Although halachic restrictions prevent Orthodox synagogues from having live music, the success of congregations like The Happy Minyan in Pico-Robertson, where standing-room-only crowds regularly enjoy the extended singing and dancing, suggests that there is a place for a less traditional service in the Orthodox world as well.

“A lot of artists are soul-searchers and dreamers, and so, too, are people on a religious path,” said Rabbi Zoe« Klein of Temple Isaiah. “There are lots of different windows into the soul, and one of them is creativity.”

For more information on Synagogue 2000, visit For more information on Breeyah, contact (310) 572-7969. The organization’s Web site,, will be up in mid-May.

Oh So Sorry

I’m sorry I haven’t eaten more hot dogs.

Saturday is Selichot, the time when the whole Jewish world sings with Connie

Francis, “I’m sorry,” and vows to do better next time. Many of us are focused on the wrongs we’ve done to others, or even to God.

This year, however, as I contemplate in yet a new way the impact of lung cancer, there’s no one to whom I owe apology more than myself.

Yes, many of my apologies go to me. I should have eaten more hot dogs, with mustard and sauerkraut. And even more hush puppies, which in Jewish delis are hot dogs wrapped in potato knish, served best (if not only) in New York.

I know what you’re thinking: you were only watching your health. But if you want a hot dog and never give yourself a hot dog, what are you accomplishing? Fear of food is, I think, a crime against the soul, the shutting down of the appetite by which we show our confidence in being alive.

For years I refused to eat popcorn at the movies. I was a college student and deemed myself too good for plebeian food. That year, a New York theater started popping its kernels and brewing its own coffee to sell with the latest Belmondo film. Popcorn brought great enjoyment to my next James Bond movie. Sean Connery is such a hunk, and I apologized profusely to myself for having missed out on the great all-American experience — albeit without butter.

If I’m going to keep the appetite going, I have to respond to where the taste buds tingle.

Since I received a lung cancer diagnosis, I’ve been macrobiotic, lived on smoothies, Chinese herbs, Ensure shakes. But even before I was fanatic. I ate pasta with broccoli. Broccoli, with Vitamin C, may reduce breast cancer. I never smoked cigarettes, which is linked to 85 percent of lung cancers.

Today, when it might help, my body is in overdose. I avoid any food colored green. I’m no doctor, but any one of these regimens destroys appetite in all its meanings faster than a hot dog now and again. It’s the luck of the draw. Eat a hot dog or not, you can get cancer anyway. Might as well live.

And although early on I cut out sugar and dairy, ice cream is now my dinner of choice.

I begrudge myself nothing. If you don’t express your appetite, what comes next? Soon you won’t have any. A friend will ask if you want to eat by the ocean, and you won’t know. Soon enough, you miss the summer sunset, and the blooming begonia, and the loveliness of a child’s smile. It takes will to live.

More hot dogs. More fun.

Lung cancer taught me that what we do today is fun. Tomorrow the bill comes due. Develop taste. Don’t be a snob. Don’t live in regret. Don’t worry about where your cancer is going to come from. When you have to know, you will.

One year, when I was new to Selichot, I sent around a list. I knew what I had done to everyone. They, of course, had long ago forgiven me. But it’s different to pardon myself.

At the base of the apologies I owe myself, is a youth spent trying to stay in control. I thought I had it covered. I didn’t know anything.

S’lach lanu. Forgive us. Forgive me for thinking I had anything under control.

That’s not the only amends I owe myself. I’m sorry I kept slipcovers on the living room couch for more than a decade. I regret that it took me years to decide to paint the kitchen, and less than a month to get the job done.

I underestimated the pleasure that comes from pleasure; that playing the piano badly is not a crime against humanity; that nothing beats the joy of making up my own mind and paying my own way.

I’m sorry, but I’m not guilty. I’m sorry for the false truths accepted and fun cut short without thought. I’m aware of hours spent trying to explain myself — what a waste. Years spent pursuing trivial goals — why? I was definite about ideas I knew nothing about.

So much gets squeezed on to a hot dog.

7 Days In Arts


Step away from the Raid can and lean in for a closer look at that bug you’re about to zap into oblivion. After all, that cockroach is in the same scientific class as Jiminy Cricket and deserves some of your respect. Not convinced? Well, we can’t say we blame you. But before you go spray-crazy, head to Pages Books in Tarzana today for a little reminder that we are all a part of the kingdom animalia. Storyteller Shari Sack tells tales of “Bugliest Bug and Other Creepy Crawlies.” The kids’ll enjoy the craft project that follows, and you’ll emerge enlightened, feeling as warm and fuzzy as a tarantula.11 a.m. $3 (materials fee). Ages 3-8. 18399 Ventura Blvd., No. 15, Tarzana. For more information, call (818) 342-6657.


You may think of a rotating exhibition of gallery inventory as a fancy term for “leftovers on display.” But we prefer to think of it as an all-you-can-eat art buffet. Check out galerie yoramgil’s current smorgasbord of Israeli and American art. You’re bound to find something you like at this “Group Show.”Runs through Sept. 1. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (Sundays), 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Tuesdays and Wednesdays), 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. (Thursdays-Saturdays), closed Mondays. 319 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 275-8130.


Tonight, the The Jewish Federation’s Legal Division and Bet Tzedek Legal Services sponsor a panel discussion addressing constitutional issues and a presentation on Holocaust reparations. But starting out the evening is the play, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” The one-act drama is sure to keep the legal mumbo-jumbo in proper perspective, as it chronicles the story of life behind the walls of the Terezin ghetto, as seen through the eyes of the children.6 p.m. (outdoor barbecue dinner), 7 p.m. (program). $35 (pre-registration), $50 (at the door). Santa Monica College Main Stage, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. For reservations, call (323) 761-8297.


Looking for the Zabar’s bagel of theatrical experiences? Well, the Denver Post’s Alan Stern says he’s found it in Donald Margulies’ comedic-drama “Collected Stories.” Guess that makes his characters Ruth Steiner and Lisa Morrison the ultimate toppers. We’re just wondering which one’s the lox and which one’s the schmeer?Runs through Sept. 4. 8 p.m. (Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays). $15 (general), $7.50 (students and theatrical union members on stand-by basis). Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Located on the Beverly High School Campus. For reservations, call (310) 364-0535.


Any musician who pays tribute to the great Barry “Oh Mandy” Manilow deserves to be lauded. (Hey, bet you didn’t know he wrote the song that makes the whole world sing, “State Farm Is There.” That’s right, Manilow is responsible for lots of commercial ditties now part of pop-culture consciousness. So back off, man.) But back to the subject at hand. Dale Gonyea, who wrote Grammy-nominated song spoof, “I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow,” has been compared to Dudley Moore, Garrison Keillor and Victor Borge and is performing “Gonyeaville, Here I Come!” tonight at the University of Judaism.7:30 p.m. $12. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. For reservations, call (310) 440-1246.


Could be the Basque origins or the fact that you can’t understand what he’s singing about, but Kepa Junkera (with the help of his band) sure does put the “sex” in sextet. Playing tonight at the Skirball Cultural Center, Junkera blends rock, jazz and blues influences with Malagasy folk and Spanish pop trends. He apparently plays a mean trikitixas (that’s a two-row diatonic button accordion for you gringos). And the band accompanies on other well-named instruments, including the cuatro (Puerto Rican guitar) and txalaparta (percussion instrument). Don’t you just love the sound of that?7:30 p.m. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.


No excuses tonight. Take a nap when you get home and gear up for the Nuart Theatre’s midnight movie. Tonight only, super-Jew Alan Arkin plays Captain Invincible in the musical, “The Return of Captain Invincible.” It’s the 1980s and the captain is a washed-up former “Legend in Leotards” who’s forgotten how to fly. But when the evil Mr. Midnight (Christopher Lee) threatens to destroy the world with his hypno-ray, only C.I. himself can stop him.Midnight. $9 (general), $6 (seniors and children 12 and under). 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 478-6379.

Double Identity

Vocalist Vanessa Paloma can not wait to sing at Fiesta Shalom on June 30. For the Angeleno, who performs Ladino music with her band, Flor de Serena, Fiesta Shalom, a celebration of her Jewish and Latin ethnicities, is a far cry from the mixed feelings she used to experience about carrying passports in both cultures.

"I always wanted to feel like I had a country," said Paloma, who grew up in Puerto Rico and Colombia, "I have a country in Israel, but at the same time, my heart is pained by what has happened in Colombia," she said, referring to the political unrest there.

Paloma’s cultural ambivalence is not uncommon among Jewish Latinas. For many of them, hailing from places such as Mexico, Brazil, Venezuala and Argentina, moving to Los Angeles was an important step in a personal journey to reconcile what it means to be Latina and Jewish.

The Jews of Central and South America have their roots in the Spanish Inquisition, when 1 million Jews fled Spain. Over a 150-year period, Sephardim immigrated to destinations such as North Africa and Europe. Jews accompanied Christopher Columbus when he sailed to the New World from the Port of Palos on Aug. 3, 1492 — the day after the issue of the Edict of Expulsion. Prominent Jewish colonies were established in Brazil as early as 1548, the majority of them in the Dutch zone of Bahia, where Jews could observe freely. Jewish immigration followed to French Guiana in Cayenne and continued through Central and South America, with larger communities forming in Cuba and Argentina.

In 1996, Paloma and Los Angeles found each other, and that’s when her Judaism came alive following a University of Judaism class. Further exploration led Paloma to Ohr HaTorah and to Israel, where she traced her family’s roots back to Catalunya, Spain.

"It was like coming back home," Paloma said of her year-long stay in Jerusalem. "I thought, Oh, my God we’re all the same here. We’re all wandering Jews. That was very powerful for me."

Claudia Sobran and Nina Katoni, Brazilian Jews, met at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

"There is a lot of things we have in common — language, the way to relate to people," Katoni said.

Both Katoni and Sobral grew up in Brazil, where there are approximately 160,000 Jews — about 120,000 in Sãn Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and the rest in the small yishuvim — Recife, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Campinas.

Sobran grew up in Sãn Paulo feeling like a cultural pariah, but she maintained a Jewish connection through her mother, an executive assistant at a congregation. Katoni, an architect for Fox Studios, said it wasn’t easy growing up and dating Jewish men in Rio de Janeiro.

"It wasn’t very cool to be Jewish," said Katoni, 48, who grew up in a Zionist home and attended Rio’s Colegio Hebreu Brasileiro. "It was very difficult, the dichotomy of growing up Jewish in a Catholic country. Do you mix with the mainstream or do you maintain your traditions at home?"

Debi Mizrahi had a different experience, raised in a very Jewish enclave in Mexico City.

"I always went to a private Jewish school, and was not connected with Mexican culture at all," Mizrahi said. "It wasn’t till when I went to the University of Anthropology that I had connections with non- Jews."

Today, these Jewish Latinas have found solace in Los Angeles with mixed success. While Los Angeles does offer outlets where Jewish Latinas are embraced — Beverly Hills-based Sociedad Hebraica Latinoamericana, helmed by Martha Ziperovich; the Hispanic-Jewish Women’s Task Force, which will be honored at Fiesta Shalom — overall, living in Los Angeles has been an adjustment, where the culture is simultaneously more comfortable and more distant.

"It’s very hard," said Mizrahi, who on June 21, became an American citizen. A resident here since 1993 who married an Israeli, Mizrahi still grapples with the Jewish and Latina identities. Now add American to her list.

"On one hand, I feel very happy, but [on] another, I feel that I don’t belong here. Even relationships with friends are so different than what [I was] used to in Mexico. Much more close and much more in touch [there]; here more formality and privacy. That’s much harder for me."

Mizrahi stays connected with her Mexican side through cultural events and, to a lesser extent, the Americanized Mexican food. But she misses the close-knit Jewish community of her youth. Her girls, ages 8 and 5, enjoy speaking Spanish more than they do the Hebrew they learn through Chabad.

"I haven’t found a temple [where] I feel comfortable," Mizrahi said.

"Social action, tikkun olam — those are the things that really attracted me to the Jewish community," said Sobran, who connected after enrolling her children at the Silver Lake-Los Feliz Jewish Community Center. "As an immigrant, that really becomes very important. In the process, my Jewish identity became a lot stronger."

Katoni moved to Los Angeles in 1987, where she married her Israeli-born American husband. She found that "it was very interesting to come to America because over here, the Jewish values and culture is much more stronger. I think I’ve given up some of my Brazilian cultural values for raising my children in America," such as the Portuguese language, which her 12-year-old daughter and 8-year-old twins have not picked up. "Except for the music and going back to visit my parents and some foods, I don’t have anything that I brought with me."

Paloma, on the other hand, has found some cultural balance.

"I love arepas and watching soccer and speaking Spanish and Latin music," Paloma said. "But I also love that it’s so multicultural. That’s what I really love about Los Angeles"

She no longer craves to belong to just one place or culture.

"In a way there’s a completion of a circle," Paloma continued. "I don’t feel this bipolar feeling of being American and Colombian. I cook kosher Colombian at home. I’m more observant than my family. It has really come together in the last few years. It was very difficult, because I didn’t know where I came from. It’s about finding my place. I feel I am Jewish and American and Latina separately and together."

Estranged Bedfellows

Only in Israel would a government minister refrain from singing the national anthem.

Saleh Tarif, the first Arab appointed to the Cabinet in Israel’s history, refused to sing "Hatikvah" during an event at the Tel Aviv fairgrounds at the end of an intensive week of struggle within Israel’s Labor Party over whether to join the national unity government.

Standing among his proud, singing friends in the Labor Party, Tarif kept his mouth shut.

"Do you really think I could stand there and sing, ‘So long as still within our breasts the Jewish heart beats true?’" Tarif asked during an interview. "It is the Jewish anthem; it is not the anthem of the non-Jewish citizens of Israel."

It took the Arab citizens of Israel almost 53 years before they could finally have their own person in the Cabinet — even though they are 18 percent of the population. It was an impressive political achievement, but it could not have come at a more tense moment between Israel and its Arab citizens.

During the past five months, relations between the Jewish State and its Arab minority reached an all-time low, as Israeli Arabs rioted in solidarity with the first days of the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and police killed 13 Arabs in ensuing clashes.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat was one of the first to phone his congratulations to the newly elected minister in Tarif’s Galilee village of Julis. Tarif will be a minister without portfolio, responsible for Arab affairs.

But many among Israel’s Arab population doubt whether Tarif really represents them.

Tarif, 47, is a member of the Druse community, a secretive religious sect derived from Islam. Some 100,000 Druse live in 18 villages in the Carmel, Galilee and Golan.

Like their 300,000 brethren in neighboring countries, the Druse are ethnically Arabs. However, most of the Druse in Israel allied themselves with the Jewish State as early as Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. They perform compulsory military service, just like Israeli Jews.

Throughout the years, the Druse have emphasized their unique identity, disassociating themselves from the Muslims and Christians among Israel’s million-strong Arab population.

But Tarif, after Labor’s Central Committee elected him as minister, is emphasizing his Arab ethnicity rather than his Druse religion.

"I was well aware of the fact that many among Labor’s leaders treated the Druse and Arab members of the party rather as a decoration than as real colleagues," Tarif said the day after he was elected, "and I thought it was time to test our grass-roots support."

The Central Committee "did not support me because I am an Arab," Tarif said. "They elected me as an Israeli, because they thought I was fit for the job."

Tarif is married and the father of four. He advanced to the rank of major in the Israel Defense Force and went straight from military service to being elected mayor of his village.

As nephew of the late Sheik Amin Tarif, the legendary spiritual leader of the Druse, Tarif quickly climbed up the Labor Party ladder and became a Knesset member in 1991.

He was elected to prestigious Knesset committees such as the Security, Foreign Affairs, Interior and House committees. His Hebrew is impeccable.

In recent years, Tarif has worked on developing relations with leaders of the Palestinian Authority. "I definitely intend to serve as the mouthpiece of the Arabs of Israel," Tarif said. "It is high time that someone speaks for them along the Cabinet table."

After demanding for years that an Arab be named to the Cabinet, many Israeli Arabs distanced themselves from Tarif. "He does not represent us, but rather Sharon and his government," said Mohammed Barakeh, a Knesset member from the Communist Hadash Party.

"Tarif’s election is a personal achievement," said Knesset Member Talab a-Sana of the United Arab List. "But it is more a dirty trick of the Labor Party, which tried to cover its sins toward the Arab population by electing a minister without portfolio."

Dr. Nazir Yunis, a heart surgeon at the Hillel Yaffe Hospital in Hadera and a disenchanted political activist, said he could think of many others who could better represent Israeli Arabs. "Tarif is a compromise, and not necessarily the best compromise," Yunis said.

On second thought, Yunis added, "Perhaps there is no other way. Perhaps we need to settle for a Druse minister before we get a real Arab one."

Tarif conceded that it was "not easy" for him to join a government that is considered "rightist." However, he promised that he would fight for his views and would not adjust his positions to please his new boss.