Calendar Picks and Clicks: May 4-10, 2013



America’s largest community service festival, which started in 1999 as Temple Israel of Hollywood Mitzvah Day, attracts nearly 50,000 people from every neighborhood, race, religion, ethnicity and socioeconomic group to hundreds of projects in communities across Southern California. Volunteer projects include such activities as planting gardens at schools, fixing up homeless shelters and sprucing up dog parks. Big Sunday Weekend also features concerts, book fairs and blood drives. Fri. Through May 5. Various times. Free. Various locations. (323) 549-9944.



Fueled by the artistic vision of choreographer-philosopher Boris Eifman, who told the Journal that he creates “Russian ballets with a Jewish soul,” this acclaimed dance company showcases “Rodin,” an expedition set at the crossroads of passion and insanity, based on the turbulent relationship between famed French sculptor Auguste Rodin and fellow artist Camille Claudel, his mistress and muse. Through May 5. Sat. 2 p.m., 7:30 p.m. Sun. 2 p.m. $29-$109. Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 556-2787.


West Coast Jewish Theatre presents the story of a friendship between two elderly men — Nat Moyer (Jack Axelrod), a feisty, eccentric Jewish leftist who weaves good-natured con games in order to get his way; and Midge Carter (Carl Crudup), a cantankerous African-American who is afraid that he is going to be put out to pasture as his age becomes an issue at his workplace. Through June 23. Sat. 8 p.m. $35. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 860-6620.



The Brooklyn-born Jewish composer, violinist and improviser delivers a solo performance during “VLN & VLA,” an epic concert of music for violin and viola. Other guest performers include Andrew Tholl, CalArts violin faculty Lorenz Gamma and CalArts alum Andrew McIntosh. Mon. 7 p.m. $10 (CalArts students/faculty/staff), $16 (students), $20 (general). Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, Walt Disney Concert Hall Complex, 631 W. Second St., downtown. (213) 237-2800.  



Israeli native Javier Orgman, who was raised in Uruguay, received violin training in El Sistema, the same place where Gustavo Dudamel learned to play. He and guitarist Tom Farrell make up this musical duo. Specializing in global post-rock, Duo del Sol performs tonight in Los Feliz. Tue. 8 p.m. $12. Rockwell: Table and Stage, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 661-6163.



Chef and restaurateur Judy Zeidler teaches the “Italian” way to prepare pastas of all shapes and sizes during her monthly live cooking demonstration, “Cooking ‘Around the World.’ ” Zeidler, a Journal contributor, author of “Italy Cooks” and an instructor at American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education, will be joined by a surprise guest Italian chef. The meal concludes with dessert. Wed. 10 a.m-1 p.m. $64. Location provided upon RSVP (e-mail (310) 440-1246.


Pro-Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs presents an evening of comedy at the Hollywood Improv with stand-up comedians Avi Liberman, a regular on E!; Mark Schiff, who has opened for the likes of Jerry Seinfeld; Chris Spencer (“Vibe”); and Michael Loftus, a writer on the FX sitcom “Anger Management.” Proceeds benefit The Koby Mandell Foundation, which provides support to Israeli families affected by terrorism. Wed. 7:30 p.m. $80 (advance purchase), $90 (door), $100 (VIP). Improv, 8162 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. (310) 836-6140.


A new collection of essays, “On Sacred Ground: Jewish and Christian Clergy Reflect on Transformative Passages From the Five Books of Moses,” features more than 100 clergy sharing the passages from the Torah that have brought meaning to their lives. Tonight, a diverse panel of local contributors — including Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and professor of philosophy at American Jewish University; the Rev. Janet Bregar of Village Lutheran Church of Westwood; the Rev. Thomas Eggebeen, interim pastor at Calvary Presbyterian Church; and the Rev. Sylvia Sweeney, dean and president of the Bloy House/Episcopal Theological School of Claremont — read from their reflections, answer questions and engage in an interfaith dialogue. The book’s editor and publisher, Jeff Bernhardt, appears as well. Wed. 7:30-9:30 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039. S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7354, ext. 215.



L.A. Unified School Board member Steve Zimmer; Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of Community Coalition; Nancy Ramirez, western regional counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); and John Rogers, UCLA associate professor and director of the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, discuss “California Schools in Crisis: Closing the Achievement Gap.” Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry moderates the panel, which is co-sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles; the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, MALDEF, the Los Angeles Urban League and the Anti-Defamation League. Thu. Noon. Free. NCJW/LA Council House, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 852-8503.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Mar. 24-30, 2012


Soulful Yemenite singer Achinoam Nini, aka Noa, has experimented with folk, rock, Arabic pop and more during her 20-year career. Tonight, she performs classic Israeli songs, such as “Hayu Leilot” “Mayim Rabim” and “Ruach Stav,” from her latest release, “The Israeli Songbook,” with a mix of Middle Eastern and Latin percussion. Sat. 8 p.m. $20 (general) $15 (UCLA students). Royce Hall, UCLA Campus, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.


What happens at TribeFest stays at TribeFest. More than 1,500 young adults (ages 22-45) from across the nation converge on Las Vegas for a three-day conference exploring social justice, Israel, faith, culture and innovation. Speakers address such topics as “From Bernstein to Beasties: The American Jewish Music Experience,” “Jewish Vote in 2012,” “Pitchfest! Jewish Stories Go Hollywood” and “Meet the Change: Jews Battling Hunger.” A clergy track and a Leadership Development Institute also available. Entertainment includes appearances by Moshav, Aya Korem, DJ Diwon, Hatikva 6 and Kosha Dillz. Sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America. A party for TribeFest participants hosted by The Jewish Federation of Las Vegas at the Venetian’s Tao precedes the event on Saturday night. Sun. Through March 27. 3 p.m.-midnight. $499 (not including hotel accommodations). Venetian Sands Expo Center and various locations. (888) 889-6406 (registration and housing).

Knitters of all experience levels participate in an afternoon of stitching, done Jewish style. Twenty-something knitting maven Jenni Romano teaches and provides yarn for beginners. The group meets at Michaels Arts and Craft Store in Encino and then goes to a patio, Starbucks or a park to knit. Ages 21-39 only. Sun. 3-6 p.m. Free (bring $5-$10 for beginner needles). Michaels Arts and Crafts Store, 17230 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 835-2139.

Journal contributor Sonenshein, the executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, discusses the 2012 elections. He examines “The Republican Challenge to President Obama,” “Issues Central to the Campaign” and “Role of and Impact on the Jewish Community.” Sun. 10:30 a.m. (lecture), noon (kosher luncheon), 1 p.m. (Q-and-A). $20 (Ameinu and Na’amat USA members), $30 (general). Institute of Jewish Education, Library, 8339 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (323) 655-2842.


Discuss Sephardic Passover traditions, customs and halachot with Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, director of the Sephardic Educational Center. Tue. 7-10 p.m. Free (RSVP by March 26 and bring photo identification). The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 272-4574. RSVP to


The comic and author discusses his recently released memoir, “Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy From Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16.” In the book, Kasher traces his journey from troubled youth to up-and-coming comedian. Kasher also appears at Book Soup on March 30. Wed. 7 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble, The Grove at Farmers Market, 189 Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 525-0270.


Stories of Jewish immigration, identity and intermarriage are told in home movies. The lives of ordinary families unfold on three giant screens, exploring the dynamic interplay between personal memories and collective history and focusing on Jews in the West. Features an online multimedia archive compiled by The Labyrinth Project, an art collective at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. Attendees can add their own family stories and images to this ever-growing exhibition. Thu. Through Sept. 2. Noon-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Friday), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturday-Sunday). Included with museum admission: $10 (general), $7 (seniors and full-time students), $5 (children, 2-12), free (members and children under 2), free (to all on Thursdays). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

The stand-up comedian and podcaster (“WTF With Marc Maron”) brings his thought-provoking, honest and frequently laugh-out-loud act to The Ice House. Thu. 8 p.m. $20 (two-drink minimum not included). Ice House, 24 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. (626) 577-1894.

Israel social protesters arrested in first violence

Israeli police arrested some 40 demonstrators in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, police said, after the first violence seen during weeks of social protests that have called for lower living and housing costs.

Protesters held up traffic on a main street and broke into city hall after municipal workers dismantled some makeshift huts and tents and removed furniture from two locations where tent protests had been set up.

The grassroots movement has swollen since July from a cluster of student tent-squatters into a countrywide mobilisation of Israel’s middle class. Until Wednesday’s clash, none of the protests had been violent.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands marched for lower living costs in the largest such rally in Israel’s history, bolstering a social change movement and mounting pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take on economic reform.

Social media also played a role in the Israeli protests, inspired partly by the impact of Arab Spring demonstrations and it has posed the greatest challenge yet to Netanyahu halfway into his term.

Netanyahu’s governing coalition faces no immediate threat, but the protests have underscored the potential electoral impact of a middle class rallying under a banner of social justice.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Rosalind Russell

The Hebrascope: Signs of the Jewdiac


(February 19-March 20)
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Josh Groban

There’s a study that shows that lab rats don’t get as stressed from being shocked as they do from not knowing when the shocks will come. Put that rat on a regular shocking schedule, and it doesn’t freak out. How does this apply to the human Pisces? Some of your anxiety right now comes from a simple lack of knowledge. Get more information. The more you know, the less you will suffer from the fear of how and when that shock will arrive. This week, make a special effort to befriend casual business contacts. A stream of new work may be coming your way, and you never know whose friendship will yield rewards.

(March 21-April 20)
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Matthew Broderick

That whole “pay it forward” thing is pretty easy, as far as good deeds go. If someone is prompt, warm or even excellent in a service they provide, it’s all about referrals. Your generosity will come back to you. Aries employees may face a heavy workload this week to due the absence or illness of a co-worker. Still, if you start a project this week, it’s likely to come to fruition. Here’s the bad news: Mercury turns retrograde until March 25. That means details regarding travel, mail and technology may become frustrating. What’s an Aries to do? Back up all computer files and dip into your reserves of patience.



(April 21-May 20)
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Barbra Streisand

Business and pleasure – two great tastes that don’t always taste great together – may combine this week as someone from your social circle introduces a business proposition. The catch is that dastardly “hidden agenda” friends can have. You can’t play “hide and seek” with someone else’s agenda, but you can gently suggest that all parties show their cards and express their real desires. If you have any important messages to send, do so before Thursday. Be certain to be very clear in your communications; that funny, sarcastic e-mail that sounds hilarious in your head may be misunderstood.

(May 21 – June 20)
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Barry Levinson

Information you are getting this week is just a lot of blah blah blah until you confirm and clarify what you are hearing. Someone may be using verbal skills to manipulate your mind. Here’s where you throw down with your research skills and separate fact from fictions. Unattached Gemini may want to attend a social function with work colleagues. While it may not be the best idea for you to “dip your quill in the company ink,” don’t rule out the possibility of a co-worker bringing along a cute and appropriate-to-date friend.

(June 21-July 20)
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Sydney Pollack

Intuition has many faces. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling, or a voice whispering in your head (not the kind that happens when you forget your meds), or a nagging thought. Sometimes, intuition is just a flash. However it shows itself, this is not the week to second-guess it but to act on it. Whatever feels right is right. It’s that simple. In career matters, this is a week to embrace the old cliché about “it’s not what you know but who you know.” Information gathered privately from inside sources will help you make bold moves in your career. Who do you press for information? It’s gut check time.

(July 21 – August 21)
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Monica Lewinsky

Money may not be the root of all evil, but it is certainly the root of many a trivial argument. This week, you may find yourself at odds with a personal or professional partner about just how the cash is getting doled out. Fortunately, when it comes to dealing with banks, creditors or outstanding debts, this is an excellent week for these kinds of financial dealings. Also, this week may find you daydreaming more than usual. One second you’re getting on the freeway, the next, you’re already at your exit and have no idea how you got there. Harness your daydreams; they are filled with creative ideas. And try not to get too lost.

(August 22-September 22)
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Adam Sandler

Any Virgo who is studying, learning or composing simply must have privacy. Annoying roommates? Get away from them, sling the laptop in a bag and get to a coffee shop. If the family is around, hole away in a separate room for a couple of hours and get the alone time you need to focus. As for your emotional life, think of it this way. Why do athletes stretch before a big game or event? So they don’t break. Flexibility is key to your emotional health this week. Bend, stretch and don’t jump into an emotional situation ice cold. You don’t want to pull a mental hamstring and end up on the injured list. 

(September 23-October 22)
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Michael Douglas

Going to the gym and starting a fancy new workout regime in January is for suckers; that’s when everyone is trying to act on their secular New Year’s resolutions and the line for the treadmill is worse than the IKEA checkout line on a Saturday afternoon. Good thing for Libra, now is the time to start a routine with the stars supporting your efforts. Normally indecisive Libra may have a more difficult time making decisions. Should you have the mint chip or the rocky road? It all seems so critical and hard to maneuver. Just remember, all the flavors taste good – not to mention giving you extra encouragement to stick to your new workout plan.

(October 23-November 22)
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Jonas Salk

Welcome to a cosmic carnival of amusements. This week will be a delight for the senses, some cotton candy, a few rides and lots of pinball in your brain. There’s nothing to do but enjoy the frenetic energy and all the bright lights and colors. Oh, there is one thing to do: start up a romantic affair. If you’re in a relationship, this is a good time to win her a stuffed animal or buy him a stupid t-shirt. Basically, anyone you love or would like to love into your world, invite them to your carnival and show them a good time. If it’s unexpected or bizarre, embrace it.

(November 23-December 20)
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Harpo Marx

Watch out for savvy salespeople. You know the type; they tell you to get the timing belt changed when you just needed an oil change. They encourage you to buy the foundation primer when all you needed was the $10 makeup sponge. You may be especially susceptible to buying things you don’t need. Do not be “upsold.” This is also a good time to watch your money in other ways. Keep your purse on your lap instead of on the floor and keep your wallet safe. You may have big, inspiring dreams filled with metaphors and ideas. Keep a journal by the bed and write them down.

(December 21-January 19)
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Dave Attell

Don’t dismiss the oldsters in your world. Someone with far more experience than you do may have wisdom to impart this week. When it comes to work, you may have been coasting and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and dig into it. Are you working as hard as you can, or breezing out at exactly 5 p.m. after a solid half hour of checking e-mails and reshuffling papers? If you leave late and get to work early, your superiors will notice. What’s more, you want get that icky feeling that comes from wasting time on someone else’s dollar.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 18)
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Ted Koppell

Tuesday is the day if you are planning a small celebration for a loved one. I don’t mean a gigantic surprise party with a piñata or girl jumping out of a cake. If it just means ordering a pizza and renting a favorite movie, make it happen. Take care of the little details so a special person in your life can feel valued. As for the rest of week, you will feel more comfortable and aligned if you make sure you household chores are complete. Wash those last couple of dishes, take in the dry cleaning, wash the bath mat and all will be slightly better with the world.

The Slop Sink

At the heart of the tenement kitchen was the slop sink, a metal basin maybe a foot shorter than a standard bathtub, but a few inches deeper. Here the woman of the house washed vegetables and clothes, and on occasion herself and her children. Before indoor plumbing, that water came from a pump outside. It was carried up in heavy buckets for five floors of dark stairs, heated, then put to a multitude of uses.

I stood looking at a slop sink while touring the Lower East Side Tenement Museum this week and thought: Well, there’s a perfect metaphor for the illegal-immigration debate.

That debate is about preserving the economic viability of our local governments. It’s about providing health and education for the poorest among us. It’s about bilingualism and it’s about terrorism — who knows who’s sneaking across our borders. It’s about keeping America “American” and about doing justice to our own immigrant past. It’s about the faceless muscle of the agriculture and construction industries — and it’s about the face of the men and women who make our food and mow our lawns and watch our children.

Like the slop sink, a lot of stuff gets dumped into the illegal immigration debate.

The issue has been played out in recent weeks in the halls of Congress, where a House immigration bill aims to make it harder for employers to hire illegal immigrants and more difficult for illegal immigrants to stay here.

Democrats, who tend to favor more liberal amnesty policies for those here illegally, are looking on gleefully as the Republican Party splits over this issue, with the more hardline wing clinging to a no-amnesty position even as it alienates Latino voters. How do you say schadenfreude in Spanish?

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan is worth a visit for several reasons, not least of which is the light the museum’s dark hallways can shed on one of today’s most contentious issues.

The museum itself is housed in a tenement originally built in 1865. Until its upper floor apartments were closed down by the landlord in 1935, 97 Orchard St. was home to some 7,000 people from more than 20 countries.

Visitors to the building see the apartments and hear the stories of two families, the Gumpertzes and the Baldizzis.

The Jewish Gumpertzes arrived around 1870 from Prussia. Their three-room, 350-square-foot flat lacked light, heat, running water, plumbing and gas. After her husband Julius mysteriously disappeared one October morning in 1874, Nathalie Gumpertz supported her four children as a seamstress. She heated the water for her slop sink on a coal stove in a room with no windows or ventilation. The only bathrooms were four wooden stalls down the stairs and outside. Nathalie’s youngest child, Isaac, died of dysentery.

The Catholic Balidizzis arrived just in time for the Depression. Thanks to public-health laws, their flat had ventilation, gas, running water and electric light — a palace compared to a generation earlier. But the family struggled to make ends meet, going on and off the public dole as Adolpho Baldizzi roamed Lower Manhattan with a toolbox, looking for work as a day laborer.

One lesson of the museum is how unromantic our immigrant past was. It was short, nasty and brutish — filled with the pain of leaving family and the familiar behind for a long shot at economic opportunity or freedom.

I’m one of those who fails to see how today’s illegal immigrants are that much different from the Gumpertzes and Baldizzis.

Well, the hardliners could respond, our people came here legally, with papers and a name on microfiche at Ellis Island to prove it.

But that’s only partially true. As Tamar Jacoby of the conservative Manhattan Institute has pointed out, Americans did little to control immigration until the mid-19th century. But beginning in 1840, anti-immigrant sentiment grew, often linked to anti-radicalism, anti-Catholicism, protectionism and, in many cases, such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, bigotry.

Still, illegal immigration persisted. The Baldizzis came to America in 1923 in defiance of immigration quotas against so-called undesirable races, such as Sicilians like themselves.

And the Chinese population of New York nearly tripled in the decade following 1882 — and we all know what a drain the superlative children and grandchildren of those illegal Italian and Chinese immigrants have been.

None of this takes away from the serious social and economic problems illegal immigration now presents.

But as Jacoby has pointed out, we as a nation — conservatives like herself included — are better off focusing on assimilation. Business needs a flow of immigrant labor, immigrants need legal rights and protections and we all benefit when the Garcias — and others from points around the globe — have a way to move from the untouchable caste to citizenship, just as the Gumpertzes and Baldizzis did.

Yes — you knew I’d say this — we’re all in that slop sink together.

Bob Dylan: In His Own Lyrics

Torah References:

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”

Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”

God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”

God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but

The next time you see me comin’ you better run:

Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killing’ done?”

God says, “Out on Highway 61.”

— From “Highway 61 Revisited” on the album, “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965)

Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed

Dignity never been photographed

I went into the red, went into the black

In the valley of dry bone dreams

…Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take

To find dignity

— From “Dignity” on the album, “Under the Red Sky” (1991)

Reference to Jewish Liturgy:

May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you….

— From “Forever Young” on the album, “Planet Waves” (1973)

Christian Reference:

I was blinded by the devil

Born already ruined

Stone-cold dead

As I stepped out of the womb

By His grace I have been touched

By His word I have been healed

By His hand I’ve been delivered

By His spirit I’ve been sealed

— From “Saved” (with Tim Drummond) on the album, “Saved” (1980)

Allusions to Jesus:

You’re a man of the mountains, you can walk on the clouds

Manipulator of crowds, you’re a dream twister

You’re going to Sodom and Gomorrah

But what do you care?

Ain’t nobody there would want to marry your sister

Friend to the martyr, a friend to the woman of shame

You look into the fiery furnace, see the rich man without any name

— From “Jokerman” on the album, “Infidels” (1983)

Pro-Israel, Pro-Jewish Reference:

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land

He’s wandered the earth an exiled man

Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn

He’s always on trial for just being born

He’s the neighborhood bully

— From “Neighborhood Bully” on the album, “Infidels” (1983)

On Social Justice:

Come you masters of war

You that build all the guns

You that build the death planes

You that build the big bombs

You that hide behind walls

You that hide behind desks

I just want you to know

I can see through your masks

— From “Masters of War” on the album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (1963)

On Faith in God:

Father of grain, Father of wheat

Father of cold and Father of heat

Father of air and Father of trees

Who dwells in our hearts and our memories

Father of minutes, Father of days

Father of whom we most solemnly praise

— From “Father of Night” on the album, “New Morning” (1970)

Source: “Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001” (Simon & Schuster, 2004)


How Do We Pass on Our Jewishness?

All of us struggle with the problem of how to transmit our commitment to Judaism to the next generation. There are all sorts of suggestions — but no solutions. How do we reproduce ourselves Jewishly?

I have a passion for Jewishness, for every manifestation of it, from Workmen’s Circle to Chasidic shtibls. My passion came to me as mother’s milk, from wanting to emulate the Jews around me.

My father, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, used to say, “I have a daughter. I love her dearly. And I would like her to obey the commandments of the Torah. I would like her to revere me as her father. And I ask myself the question again and again, what is there about me that would be worthy of her reverence? Unless I live a life that would deserve her reverence, I would make it impossible for her to live a life of Judaism.”

For both of my parents, childhood was not easy. My mother grew up during the Depression, and at the same time, her father lost his eyesight due to diabetes.

My grandfather died when my father was 9, and he and his mother and siblings were left in terrible poverty in Warsaw. Yet while my father was deprived of a father, he spoke of being surrounded by Jews who inspired his reverence and emulation. He often said that his greatest gift was to grow up around people of spiritual nobility.

He wrote, “In my childhood and in my youth, I was the recipient of many blessings. I lived in the presence of quite a number of extraordinary persons I could revere. And just as I lived as a child in their presence, their presence continues to live in me as an adult.”

I’ve often wondered how to explain the phrase “religious nobility.” What kind of person is worthy of that description? What inner sensibilities and values have to be cultivated to produce such a person?

Like my father, I feel I was privileged to have been exposed to people of religious nobility: my father, my uncle and a few other people, some of whom I met only very briefly. Each left me with a sense of awe that a human being is capable of such extraordinary spiritual refinement.

Jewish texts tell us that human beings are made in the image of God, and that it is our duty to imitate God in our lives. What is it to be created in the image of God?

To be a reminder of God, my father wrote, you should look at someone and think of God. And that, in turn, means that our imperative is to live our lives in such a way that if someone looks at us, they are reminded of God. Such are the people of spiritual nobility who surrounded my father.

Such was his life, too. The opposite of good is not evil, he wrote. The opposite of good is indifference.

When he looked at human beings, even the most dissolute, he saw the divine image. For him, it was impossible to be indifferent to the suffering in our society caused by social inequality and the civilian tragedies incurred by war. I saw him in pain, sleepless and agonizing over the miseries of human beings.

Simply to teach that human beings are made in the image of God is not a solution to the rising rates of intermarriage and assimilation. I don’t think there are any easy answers.

But I do believe that both of my parents taught me how I must transmit my Jewishness to my children: to lead a life worthy of their reverence and emulation. I want to expose them to people of religious nobility, of spiritual refinement and delicacy.

I want them to learn that the greatest gift is compassion, and that callousness and indifference are antithetical to the life of a Jew, who has commitments to society as well as family. Because I grew up in the presence of people who inspired me with awe, their presence continues in me, and one day, I hope, will become part of my children’s lives as well.

This essay originally appeared in Hadassah Magazine.

Susanna Heschel, Eli Black associate professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, will be scholar in residence at Pasadena Jewish Center and will speak on March 14, 2:30 p.m. at the center. For more information call (626) 798-1161.

Jews Say Bonjour to Club Lampadaire

In between the prayers at the Pinto Shul in the Pico-Robertson area, people who only speak English might feel a little lost.

Not because congregants there don’t speak English — they do, except they are likely to break off into French every so often, leaving behind the hapless English speakers. Likewise, if you are expecting cholent or kugel or any of the other regular foods that you find at an English-speaking shul, you have gone to the wrong place. "Kiddush" at the Pinto Shul has a North African flair. Instead of cholent, they serve salmon cooked in red sauce with garbanzo beans, rice sticky with prunes and apricots and boutargue, a special Tunisian delicacy of dried waxed fish (which to the uninitiated palate tastes like shriveled goldfish).

The Pinto Shul is one of several congregations in Los Angeles that serves the French-speaking Jewish community. Unlike other ethnic Jewish communities in Los Angeles, such as the Persian community, the French-speaking community does not have a cohesive origin. French speaking Jews in Los Angeles are predominantly Sephardic, but they emigrated from a variety of places — Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and France. Eager to escape the perceived and real hostility toward Jews in their countries of origin, and in some cases attracted by the greater personal freedoms that America offered, French-speaking Jews have been coming to Los Angeles for several decades now. They view Los Angeles as a good weather alternative to Montreal, where the French community is the largest outside Israel and France. In Los Angeles, despite their disparate origins, French-speaking Jews tend to stick together, united by the language and a shared cultural affinity.

In 1997, there were approximately 2,500 Jews of North African or French origin in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey. Today, some estimate that the number has grown to 5,000.

Up until now, this community’s organized communal life has been relegated to the synagogue. Shuls like the Pinto Shul; Congregation Em Habanim and Adat Yeshurun in the Valley; the Baba Sale Shul in the Fairfax district; and the West Coast Torah Center in Beverly Hills have predominantly French-speaking congregations.

This Chanukah, however, marks the emergence of Club Lampadaire (The Lamp Club), a new French community group in Los Angeles, which aims to unite the French Jewish community with social, spiritual and cultural events.

"I think a lot of Jews living in France see California as an antidote to the stuffiness and formality of French society, and the pleasant weather reminds us of our childhood on the Mediterranean, and it appeals to our sense of nostalgia," said David Suissa, one of the founders of Club Lampadaire, who was born in Morocco. "But at the same time, the way the city is so spread out it does not encourage the fathering of the community which would otherwise happen naturally. So we have to compensate for that by creating this organization to make it easier for us to get together on a regular basis."

Club Lampadaire currently has a membership of 600 families, and has already raised $25,000 for its events from French Jews. Suissa said that Club Lampadaire was inspired by a conference given to French-speaking Jews in Los Angeles by Yechiya Benchetrit, one of the leading rabbis in France. "During this talk he brought up the word lampadaire, lamp, and suggested that Jews are like lamps and our mission in life is to light up the world," Suissa said. "So we decided to start an association which would bring together all the different synagogues and create a family of French Jews in Los Angeles. Our slogan is Alluman Le Foi et La Joir — light up faith and joy — and our first event will be to light up the first night of Chanukah. We want to seek out all the French Jews in Los Angeles, affiliated or nonaffiliated, and tell them that they have a home."

"I have a lot of American friends, but because of the wittiness of the French language, I feel more at ease on a cultural level with Jews who are French speaking," said Lolita Engleson, a psychologist, who was born in Lebanon but moved here from France while trying to market a documentary film she made about the Jews in Lebanon.

In Los Angeles, many French-speaking Jews find it difficult to get working visas or green cards, so they attempt to network in the community to find employment and sponsors that will allow them to do so. "They love it here," said Rafael Gabay, a French Moroccan who is president of the Baba Sale Shul. "If they can live here free without having a problem with a green card, then this place is a paradise."

Moment of Truth

Here’s what I used to eat at Café Moment: a melted cheese toast sandwich with fresh basil and roasted red peppers on white focaccia, with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Nearly every Friday, on my day off, I’d crowd into the small cafe at the corner of Aza and Ben-Maimon streets in the upscale Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem, say hello to other Israeli reporters — radio, television, newspaper — and stand by the bar reading a section of a discarded Yediot magazine, while being bumped and pushed as I waited for a table, preferably for one in the sun.

Moment was a café for the Jerusalem branja, the inner hip coterie of mostly secular, Israeli journalists who were responsible for the plethora of mainstream news. (Israel has three major dailies, radio reports on the hour and two major networks with morning, afternoon and evening news.) The other primary hangout of this elite Jerusalem group is Caffit, a soup/salad/sandwich restaurant on Emek Refaim Street in the German Colony. Both places were great not only because they were hip — God knows it wasn’t for the food — but because they were an alternative to the touristy downtown Ben Yehuda Street, which, since the Sbarro bombing in August, many had assiduously avoided, more than they had before.

Last weekend, the Palestinian terrorists smartened up and attacked both places. Fortunately, the attempted bombing on Caffit last Thursday was thwarted by vigilant pedestrians who thought a bulky winter coat on a summery day seemed suspicious; they defused his bomb. But on Saturday night, luck ran out and a terrorist blew himself up at Moment, killing 11 and wounding dozens more. Both terrorists — failed and successful — brought the war home to every niche of Israeli society.

Here’s how you live in a war zone: You make the circle around you smaller and smaller, so that the things that can affect you are limited. First you say: "But that happened in Gaza or in the settlements. That can’t happen here." Then you say, "OK, so it happened in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but that was the center of town, and I don’t go there."

You try and reason yourself out of it, the way I did when I stopped taking public transportation in 1996 after the triple city bus bombings. I figured, "If I don’t take the bus, I’ll be safe." One doesn’t do this to be cruel or insensitive, nor to blame people for their own deaths, but to survive, to keep sane. It’s an attempt to assume a modicum of control over a situation that has none.

But now? It may be petty to say, but all my friends are saying it, and that’s exactly how I feel. Now that they’ve hit our places, my friends said of the ones they pretended were completely safe, they feel as helpless as the rest of the country.

I imagine that the bombing two weeks ago in Beis Yisroel, the religious neighborhood in Jerusalem, had a similar effect on the ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel and in America, the ones who thought their places were safe because of its tight-knittedness; the immediate recognizability of a stranger. Not so. A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a shul, killing 11.

Of course the Beis Yisroel deaths were horrific to everyone. But it wasn’t the same as on Saturday, when I first heard about the attack on Moment. I called my best friend and former roommate of five years, and I didn’t get an answer. I panicked. She might be there, I thought, the tears starting to come. I know that she never goes to town, doesn’t ride the buses, won’t go to the mall. But she goes to Caffit. She goes to Moment. What if?

It didn’t happen this time — to her. She had been in the German Colony that night, but was just as shaken up as I was, 10,000 miles away. "That settles it. I’m not going out anymore. Ever," she told me. "I’m just going to invite people over to my house, a minicafé, but not a real café, because then someone would come and bomb that, too."

After Sept. 11, we in America discovered that there wasn’t quite so far away. Six months later, most people have returned to their daily routines — such is the nature and the beauty of life. But routine has not resumed for Israelis, and for those in America with ties to Israel. We are constantly reminded that war is on its way, no matter what precautions you take, no matter how far away you live. But what can we do about it? We hope to provide some answers on page 10. On page 31, The Journal, like many Jewish newspapers, will start printing profiles of some of the Israeli victims of terror attacks.

As Shlomo Artzi sings in his song, "Moon": "Lo nishar lanu elah, lechabek et hatza’ar."(There is nothing left for us to do, but to embrace the pain.) Here in Los Angeles, we can expand our consciousness to remember all the victims, the wounded, the displaced, the people whose lives are affected daily. We can be with them, even if we aren’t there.

Still Got ‘Game’

Like Budd Schulberg’s “What Makes Sammy Run?” Phillip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” and other milestones of Jewish American literature, Will Eisner’s “Name of the Game” explores the depths of Jewish self-loathing and assimilation. But what separates “Name” — a tale chronicling two immigrant families that merge through marriage for social advancement and then suffer destructive consequences — from the others, is that Eisner’s work is a comic book.

Make that a “graphic novel” — the term attributed to ambitious comics with mature themes and a traditional bound format. Graphic novels have become a multimillion-dollar cash cow. Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” revolutionized comics in 1986 with its brooding, cynical interpretation of Batman. Art Spiegelman’s nonfiction Holocaust opus, “Maus,” won the Pulitzer Prize.

“I was frankly enthused when Spiegelman got the Pulitzer,” Eisner told The Journal from his Florida studio, “because it gave the medium the credit it deserves.”

Eisner’s latest is a 160-page saga in which the destinies of two social-climbing immigrant families collide. It’s a stunning study of disconnect, in which characters choose money over love, practice infidelity in the bedroom and in the boardroom, and embrace assimilation over identity. “Name” comments on the American Dream, and the lengths some will go to deny themselves in their quest to obtain and maintain it. It was inspired by folk tales, as channeled through the prism of Eisner’s Jewish American experience.

“Jewish and Russian folk literature, they had a similar thread to all of them,” said Eisner, married to wife Ann for 52 years. “Everybody succeeded in elevating themselves, and that’s through marriage — certainly in Yiddish folklore. Nobody succeeds in fairy tales unless they marry the prince or the princess.”

Eisner, who has been writing and drawing graphic novels since the 1970s, actually created this genre. The first graphic novel, his landmark “A Contract with God,” was originally published by Baronet Books in 1978. The Jewish-themed, Bronx-set story depicted protagonist Frimmer Hirsh’s relationship with his Maker.

Eisner also authored a seminal textbook, “Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling,” and taught popular cartoonists such as Drew Friedman and Pat McDonnnell at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Since 1988, the Eisner Awards, named in his honor and held annually in San Diego, have become the industry’s Academy Awards.

However, his major contribution to his industry is his classic strip “The Spirit.”

Conceived in 1939 for a newspaper comics supplement, “The Spirit” told the tale of Denny Colt, a policeman reborn as a Stetson-wearing masked detective superhero. Eisner used the strip to redefine the medium by employing cinematic compositions and pacing, noir design sensibilities and a cartoon realism unseen in comics back then. His storytelling style reflected the moviemaking of his day — Fritz Lang, Jacques Tourneur, bringing to comics what Orson Welles brought to movies with “Citizen Kane”: sophistication.

Both “The Spirit” and its creator were a product of what is now called the Golden Age of Comics — a time when New York Jews ruled an industry that was beneath most non-Jews; the same era explored in 2000 by Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” for which Eisner was a consultant.

Since 1978, Eisner has explored his most personal art through his graphic novel format, works that capture facets of his upbringing as the son of Jewish immigrants in 1920s-30s New York. “The Heart of the Storm,” for example, tells his parents’ story — his father was a fine artist from Vienna; his mother of Czech descent.

The Jewishness of Eisner’s tale was never an issue for his publisher.

“They were very supportive and never attempted to make editorial content,” Eisner said, singling out his longtime DC editor Dave Shriner.

Unlike DC’s flagship characters “Superman” and “Batman,” “The Spirit” never materialized in Hollywood, save for an unaired 1984 TV pilot produced by DC’s parent company, Warner Bros. Eisner doesn’t believe “The Spirit” translates to other mediums.

Nor does he even want to return to his iconic character in his own medium. His list of upcoming project ideas has grown too long for him to look back.

“There would only be two reasons I would revisit ‘The Spirit,'” Eisner said. “To prove that I could still run a quarter mile and to make money. I don’t need either.”

Learn more about Will Eisner at

Lotta Y.A.D.A.

Jessica Freedman felt like neither fish nor fowl while pursuing her degree in Jewish studies at UCLA, and her social life was even less uplifting. During Rush Week on campus, Freedman looked into joining a Jewish-founded sorority. To her dismay, she discovered the house was awash in self-loathing — members vigorously suppressed their Jewish identity to the point where wearing a Star of David or a chai was a faux pas. So Freedman joined a different sorority, only to discover later that the social order was insensitive to Jewish concerns, holding meetings on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Freedman never found that group she was looking for, so she decided to start it. Now 22 and an administrative assistant at Bnai Zion, Freedman merged the U.S.-Israel humanitarian group’s thirst for a youth program and her own personal interest to create Y.A.D.A. — an acronym for Young Adults Dedicated to Altruism.

Freedman herself grew up with a strong sense of cultural identity. She was raised in Hollywood (the other Hollywood, in Florida) in a Reform home. Her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, her mother born in a German liberation camp after the war.

Her mandate for Y.A.D.A. is to develop "a social group that will do charity at the same time. It’s a great way to meet people, and it doesn’t feel like a chore." Her idea is to mix tikkun olam and fun in a way that is attractive to postcollegiate young adults who are at a vulnerable time in their lives and careers when "they’re still trying to find themselves. But if you start now to care about your identity, you’ll do it for life."

At their initial get-together, about 25 young professionals met to discuss the direction of the group and to party down at a private reception at Yuu Yuu Karaoke Studio on the Westside. Since that Dec. 15 outing, Y.A.D.A. has received a surge of response from young Jews looking for a fun and constructive way to meet their peers.

The timing of Y.A.D.A. is just about right. According to Freedman’s boss, Bnai Zion’s Western Regional Director Gail Bershon, the 92-year-old organization is ripe to embrace the future through youth participation.

"It has always been my dream and my passion to have a young adult group," said Bershon. "We were blessed to get Jessica and have Y.A.D.A."

Y.A.D.A’s next social gathering will be a trip to an L.A. Kings hockey game on March 26. Y.A.D.A. currently meets the first Tuesday of every month to make sandwiches for the needy. The next sandwich-making effort is April 3. Y.A.D.A. is also looking for people to help plan the upcoming Y.A.D.A. Bowl-A-Thon event in September. For more information, call Jessica Freedman at (323) 655-9128 or

On Jewish Liberalism–and Power

Several weeks ago, the eminent Harvard sociologist Nathan Glazer, one of the renowned New York intellectuals chronicled in the film “Arguing the World,” came to town for a lecture and seminar at UCLA. The question that Glazer raised in his appearance in Los Angeles reflected the trajectory of his own life, which has moved between the poles of a progressive and a neoconservative political stance: namely, how are the persistent liberal proclivities of American Jews to be explained?

While the connection between Jews and liberal politics made perfect sense in the Golden Age of American Jewish immigrant life, it makes less sense in an age of Jewish affluence and social integration. Should not an increasing level of material comfort incline Jews toward conservative rather than progressive politics?

Notwithstanding the logic of this inference, in the recent presidential elections, Jews voted Democratic (a fair though hardly faultless marker of liberal sentiments) in the same high percentages as they have done traditionally. Moreover, in our own Southern California, Jewish politicians at local and statewide levels tend to be among the most progressive political figures around.

In seeking to explain the apparent anomaly of an affluent and liberal American Jewry, Nathan Glazer followed the path of other scholars by inquiring into the Jewish past. Is there a bedrock liberal foundation at the core of the Jewish tradition, one that predisposes Jews to a progressive political agenda in the present? Glazer suggested that there is not, that Jewish liberalism was but a reflection of “the living interests and values of living Jews,” in his words.

This point has been made in even more systematic fashion by Marc Dollinger, a young historian teaching at Pasadena City College, in his recent book, “Quest for Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism in Modern America.” Dollinger chronicles the contours of American liberal commitment from 1933 to 1975, arguing that the vaunted values of prophetic Judaism — preeminently, tzedakah (charity) and gemilut chasadim (kindly acts) — did not leave much of an imprint on second-, third- or fourth-generation Jews in America. Rather, liberalism was, for them, a strategy of social inclusion, a means by which to push for a tolerant and pluralistic society open to all comers — and hence assure their own integration.

But by almost every measure, Jews have truly arrived in American society. Does that mean that the liberal disposition of Jews will now wane? Despite their Democratic voting preferences, one need not look far to see signs of retreat: the dissolution of the black-Jewish alliance so prominent in the 1960s, the ambivalent posture toward issues such as affirmative action in the 1980s and school vouchers in the 1990s, and the general reticence to embrace the agenda of multiculturalism. Undoubtedly, such a retreat, if it continues, will have serious repercussions for Jews as they seek a place in the evolving political world of Southern California, with its ever-expanding Latino presence.

In thinking of this retreat from liberalism, it is difficult to avoid contemplating a more global cause of it: the assumption of political power by Jews, in the form of the State of Israel, after two millennia of statelessness. In the most immediate instance, the election of Ariel Sharon exposes the gulf between the harsh realities of Israeli politics and core liberal values such as tolerance and respect for human rights. This gulf is hardly narrowed by the equanimity and even enthusiasm with which the organized American Jewish community, including the one in Los Angeles, has received Sharon’s election.

And yet, the question of Jewish power and liberalism extends beyond Sharon. Does political power, by its very nature, incline one toward a conservative rather than a progressive stance? As a historical matter, it can certainly be argued that the absence of political power led Jews in the modern age to adopt liberal, progressive, and radical positions precisely in order to improve, challenge, or overturn the status quo. Now that Jews have assumed political power, have we entered a new conservative era of Jewish politics?

I do not mean to suggest that powerlessness is preferable to power. Such a claim lacks both pragmatic political and moral grounding in the wake of the Shoah. I wonder, for instance, if the best hope for a Jewish state is not to be a light onto the nations, as liberal Zionists from Buber to Brandeis once dreamed. But I do believe that the best hope for a Jewish state lies in not being a light unto the nations, but rather in being a normal society, intent more on assuring its own survival than on tikkun olam (repairing the world).

It is this very issue that stands at the center of a remarkable volume of texts and commentaries titled “The Jewish Political Tradition,” produced by a group of Jewish philosophers and political theorists based at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Animating this group was the desire not only to salvage a liberal Jewish politics, but to root it in the rich sources of the Jewish legal and philosophic traditions. For all the ingenuity of the volume’s commentators (including Los Angeles’ own David Ellenson), the mission of scouring the Jewish past for the roots of a liberal politics, comfortable with power, may be a thankless task. Because political power and a liberal commitment to social change simply may be irreconcilable, especially in the dangerous environs of the Middle East. If so, what will be the fate of our own American Jewish community? Will the momentous assumption of power by Jews in the form of the State of Israel prompt a rethinking or even outright rejection of the historic link between Jews and liberalism? Or have more native forces — economic affluence and neoconservative political currents — already severed the bond? The coming years of Dubya and Arik should provide some very revealing answers.

One of a Kind

The Shivyon Minyan may be a 4-year-old prayer group of about 65 people that meets at a hotel once a month, but it has many of the assets that older, more established synagogues recognize are requirements for success: strong lay leaders and a grass-roots base of committed members, the capacity to meet needs that are not being met elsewhere, and a history of challenges and struggles that have strengthened the group’s character.

Founded at Congregation Mogen David, then a Traditional congregation on Pico, the Shivyon Minyan — Shivyon is Hebrew for equality — is an egalitarian prayer, study and social group committed to providing a comfortable, intimate setting for Shabbat.

Annette Berman, who with her husband Abe founded the minyan, described for the Journal some of the minyan’s basic principles: being open and friendly, greeting newcomers, giving beginners a place to try out new skills. Every service is followed by a free catered lunch, since Berman believes the meal, with the singing and conversation it includes, is essential to the Shabbat experience.

And at the foundation of it all is the commitment to having women be full participants and leaders in a traditional service.

“I’ve been a shulgoer my whole life, and I never had the opportunity to lead services or be called up to the Torah,” said Cynthia Tivers, who has been a Shivyon member since its inception. “I led the Torah service one Shabbat, and that was a very big deal for me, and it was new and exciting,” she said.

Berman realized there was a need for such a service at her 60th birthday celebration six years ago, when she held a women’s Shabbat service and asked her friends to participate. Many ended up reading from the Torah, leading prayers or having an aliyah for the first time, after going to great lengths to acquire the necessary skills.

“It was quite an important day in quite a few people’s lives,” Berman said.

About two years later, Berman saw an opening for setting up a permanent venue at Congregation Mogen David, where she had been a member for nearly 50 years and had just received a service award.

Mogen David — which just last month became Orthodox — was confronting an aging and dwindling membership. And as the neighborhood grew more and more Orthodox, young families were choosing shuls that met their ideological needs, which did not include Mogen David’s services, which used an Orthodox prayerbook, but also used microphones and had no mechitzah separating men and women.

Rabbi Yisroel Kelemer, who was then the rabbi, decided to allow alternatives to help get people through the door. He oversaw the establishment of an Orthodox mechitzah minyan and six months later, with Berman’s prodding, the Shivyon Minyan.

“At the time they came into being, I felt that we wanted to give everyone a chance to give expression. We could be the all-purpose shul, with a mechitzah minyan, the Shivyon Minyan and the Traditional minyan in the main sanctuary,” Kelemer said.

The board agreed, thinking the auxiliary minyans would bring more people through the doors and attract more members.

But while the Shivyon Minyan was successful in attracting people — up to 40 or 50 at the monthly Shabbat service, 85 to one shabbaton on Sukkot — many participants, like their counterparts in the mechitzah minyan, didn’t join Mogen David.

At the same time, political infighting intensified as conflicting ideological factions tried to gain control over the future of the shul.

“As the Orthodox element got stronger and stronger, pressure was put on us that if this is going to become an Orthodox shul, we can no longer have the Shivyon Minyan,” Kelemer said.

And so 18 months after Shivyon Minyan began, it was terminated, along with the mechitzah minyan, and soon afterward Berman was removed from the shul’s board. The mechitzah minyan was restarted at Mogen David a few months later and eventually became the primary service when Mogen David erected its mechitzah in the main sanctuary. Shivyon met for a while at the Berman home, then found space another minyan had just vacated at the Holiday Inn Select on Beverly Drive just north of Pico Boulevard.

“It was a traumatic time, but I think there was a recognition by those involved that this was something that transcended location,” said Rabbi Tracee Rosen, who was then a rabbinic intern at the Shivyon Minyan. The minyan got prayerbooks from nearby Conservative Temple Beth Am and a Torah scroll from Temple Emanuel, a Reform shul in Beverly Hills, and members still sponsor a lunch each time the minyan meets.
Rosen, who is now a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, says that smaller services like Shivyon are becoming more and more attractive to worshippers. Even large congregations are setting up smaller alternative minyanim to meet that demand.

“People want a growing sense of community, of being able to participate, not having it be just about the big lifecycle events and wanting to do a little bit more singing, a little bit more learning and a lot more participation,” Rosen said.

And with nearly all of the shuls along the Pico corridor being Orthodox, Shivyon offers a liberal alternative. It also reads the full Torah portion each week, unlike many other liberal services, which read a fraction of the portion of the week on a triennial cycle.

Berman hopes that the minyan, with its strong core community and target audience, will continue to thrive, despite the rocky past.

“We’re grateful to Mogen David,” she said. “They gave us our start. If we hadn’t had a home for 18 months, we would not have been able to develop the core group that continued on.”

For more information about Shivyon Minyan, call (310) 556-2744.

Where Were the Rabbis?

Counselors and staff of the Jewish Community Centers in Los Angeles were overwhelmed by the kindness and support of local clergy in the aftermath of the Aug. 10 shooting, which left five wounded. But they were surprised and disappointed by the fact that it was almost exclusively Christian — not Jewish — clergy who showed up at the center in Granada Hills to talk to the children and staff, and to provide solace.

Where were the community’s most prominent rabbis? They certainly empathized with the plight of the families that were suffering, and some were quick to speak out in support of gun control and the need for greater security at Jewish institutions. But with few exceptions, they weren’t there to lend a personal touch in the days just after the shooting.

One rabbi told me his synagogue was quite some distance away. Another said he had been out of town. A third said he hadn’t thought to visit. Valid responses, all, but a number of priests, ministers and nuns with no connection to the center simply showed up in the two or three days following the shooting to offer their prayers and themselves.

“We needed our rabbis,” one JCC official offered, “and they just weren’t there for us.”

By contrast, staffers said that Rev. Gregory Frost of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Charles, next door to the North Valley JCC, was exceptionally helpful. He gave of his time, offered his church to be used for three days while the center was closed and spoke at a pre-Shabbat prayer and healing service at the center on the Friday after the shootings.

Similarly, while several restaurants and food chains each sent over hundreds of free lunches in the days after the shooting, no kosher establishment, including the pizza store from which the Jewish community centers regularly ordered, donated any food.

The media and communal story angle has shifted from the horrific shooting itself to broader concerns about security and anti-Semitism, but the people closest to the tragedy are still going through the healing process, and feeling sad, lonely and neglected by those they imagined would be most helpful at such a time.

Officials said that one local rabbi arrived at the JCC hours after the assault and seemed more focused on getting media attention, which he did, than offering solace to the campers and counselors. And on the day that the Rev. Jesse Jackson held a press conference at the center, a number of rabbis were on hand for the event, but none stayed behind to meet with the children and their families.

Still, Jewish officials said they did not want to appear cynical. They said they were truly moved by the outpouring of empathy from fellow social workers from Jewish family services and Federation and the Christian community. “We felt the hand of humanity,” one person close to the JCC said, “but the hand of God was not extended from our own rabbis.”

Perhaps the lesson here is that we sometimes become more involved in political or social issues than in caring about real people. We focus, for example, on the need for gun control, especially after a terrible shooting, but neglect to reach out to the actual victims and their families. That doesn’t mean we’re ogres, or even thoughtless people.

It’s natural to shy away in such circumstances, to conclude that only the closest of friends or relatives should call someone at a time of grief or pain. But in Judaism, the shiva experience after a death, and the mitzvah of bikur cholim, visiting the sick, teach us that we act as a caring community by visiting when we are needed. We must overcome our tendency to pull back and leave the person in need alone. What is most important is not what we say to the mourner or one who is convalescing from an illness. It is simply our presence that speaks loudest, as a tangible way of showing our care and concern. Surely rabbis should know this.

Yes, security for our institutions is an important issue as we struggle to increase protection without giving in to paranoia. And in the aftermath of the JCC shootings, speaking out for gun control is more than ever an obligation. But it is particularly important on the eve of the High Holy Days season to remember that our No. 1 commitment is to our friends, our neighbors — and to each other.

Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, where this editorial appeared.

Read related stories:Gene Lichtenstein’s Counterpoint: Where Where The Journalists?and Julie Gruenbaum Fax’s Rabbis Respond with Concern

Where Nobody Knows Your Name

It was a Saturday night, and after watching the Lakers defeat the Warriors, I had no plans. I tossed out the encrusted remains of a Lean Cuisine lasagna and sat back in my sweats, surfing the channels in search of some juicy biography I hadn’t seen before.

It wasn’t so much that I was feeling sorry for myself or lonely, but that I couldn’t help but hear the sounds of Saturday night outside my window. Cars honking and heels clacking and my neighbor’s obligatory weekend salsa music blaring created this sort of moody soundtrack music that seemed to say, “Girl, you’ve got to get out more.”

I had nothing to do. Many of my friends are coupled and understandably prefer to spend their weekends with their significant others. But, to be honest, I was so busy working, I hadn’t even bothered trying to muster any weekend plans for myself beyond yoga and laundry.

As I listened to the goings-on outside my window, I remembered something a girlfriend had said earlier that week, “Sometimes, you just have to take yourself out for a drink.”

So I did.

I slapped on some perfume and lip gloss and headed out to a nearby bar. Alone.

On my way to the Formosa, a busy Hollywood bar, I developed a back story to explain, in case the need arose, why I was out by myself. My fictional plan was that I was “waiting for friends.”

Walking toward the bar, I was overcome with nerves. I told myself that I’d just have one vanilla martini and than go home if the experience was miserable. Jostling through the crowd, I had no idea which direction to face or where to sit or stand. I panicked. Then I heard a group of guys discussing the Lakers game, and I insinuated myself into the conversation. I was in.

For the rest of the night, I hung out with this group of strangers, excusing myself every now and again to look for my “friends.” I had a great time, thanked them for letting me into their circle and went home, my thirst for social interaction quenched.

Exhilarated from the success of my first solo bar foray, I did it again the following week. This time, I ventured into Jones, a slightly more upscale bar across the street from the Formosa. It was rocky at first, when I found myself attempting to make conversation with a couple of insipid schoolteachers from Oakland.

Before long, though, I was rescued by a trio of guys. They were smart, funny, good conversationalists. Last call came too soon. One of them offered to walk me to my car and asked for my phone number.

As it turns out, while he was polite, intelligent and charming, he was also “separated” from his wife, moving, “between projects” and generally had too much baggage to fit under the seat in front of him. He wasn’t Mr. Right, but neither was he “Mr. Goodbar,” the fictional bogeyman of the famous 1977 film about a woman’s desperate search for a meaningful relationship in sleazy pick-up joints.

I wasn’t necessarily looking for a meaningful relationship; I just wanted to get out on a Saturday night. If a guy can sit at a bar and drink a beer and just hang out, why can’t I? Because “good girls” don’t venture alone into drinking establishments?

When I told a couple of male friends that I had gone to a bar alone, they looked at me as if all of a sudden I was sucking down seven bourbons with Mickey Rourke and spiraling into the sexually dangerous and depraved lifestyle of a “barfly.” None of this is true. I’ve never had a one-night stand and don’t intend to, and I’m a nurse-one-drink-all-night kind of bar patron.

The fact is, when you’re alone, you’re more likely to interact with people you might never have met, and they are far more likely to talk to you, without a wall of friends to scare them away. Like traveling alone, it’s an adventure.

Is it dangerous? No more so than going to the grocery store, really. Is it scary? A little, just like a party or any other social situation can be nerve-wracking.

My point wasn’t necessarily to meet a man, but to enjoy the simple human pleasure of being among people, of being part of the pack. I wasn’t a woman on the prowl; I was just taking myself out for a drink. And while I wouldn’t make it a career and I know it makes some people uncomfortable, it beats sitting home and only imagining the good times going on outside my window.

Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.

‘Ballyhoo’ Fails to Inspire

“The Last Night of Ballyhoo” arrived at the Cañon Theatre in Beverly Hills last month with impeccable credentials. The author, after all, is Alfred Uhry, whose “Driving Miss Daisy” deservedly swept the New York and Hollywood award boards.

And “Ballyhoo” itself garnered the 1997 Tony Award for its Broadway production, in addition to a basketfull of other honors.

Regrettably, something must have happened on the transcontinental flight to the West Coast, even with the play’s original director, Ron Lagomarsino, on board.

The play is again set in Uhry’s native Atlanta, the time is December 1939, and two major events are agitating Georgia’s capital city and its Jews.

One is the world premiere of “Gone With The Wind;” the other is the upcoming Ballyhoo, the premier social event of the well-established and assimilated German Jews of the city.

Within the Jewish community, there are also “the others” — descendants of more recent immigrants from Eastern Europe. These Ostjuden, unfortunately, make a point of being Jewish and actually seem to enjoy their faith and culture. Fortunately, they reside mainly up north.

Lurking somewhere in the background — rarely mentioned — is Hitler, who has instigated World War II, which probably won’t be good for the Jews.

In the home of the Freitag-Levy clan, they’re busy decorating the Christmas tree. Members of the household are young first cousins, Lala (Perrey Reeves) and Sunny (Rebecca Gayheart), their widowed mothers Boo (Rhea Perlman) and Reba (Harriet Harris), and Uncle Adolph (Peter Michael Goetz), a lifelong bachelor and owner of the Dixie Bedding Co.

Cousin Lala is a bit of a neurotic and frets a great deal about looking “too Jewish.” Cousin Sunny is blonde, beautiful and studying at Wellesley. Mom Boo worries whether daughter, Lala, will get a date for the Ballyhoo, where she might even meet a potential husband.

Something doesn’t click in this production, as the perfunctory applause and post-curtain comments among the mostly elderly, mostly Jewish, crowd indicated. The reason, though, isn’t entirely clear. There is no doubt, as this reviewer knows from personal experience, that the type of German Jew portrayed here actually existed.

But at the Cañon, the emotional interplay among the characters — which rang so true and affecting in “Miss Daisy” — rarely enlists the concern and sympathy of the viewer.

The play closes with an astonishing scene, in which the whole clan, which has spent the last 90 minutes proving its indifference, if not embarrassment, at being Jewish, sits around the Shabbat table.

All link hands in a calendar-art painting of the devoted Jewish family. Some critics have found this scene affecting, but hokey might be more apt.

The stage setting by John Lee Beatty is brilliant, effortlessly switching from drawing room, to dance floor to a train compartment.

“The Last Night of Ballyhoo” runs through Jan. 3 at the Cañon Theatre. For information, call (310) 859-2830.