Words from the heart

The nerve-wracking morning of a bar or bat mitzvah will eventually be all that’s left standing between a student and his or her catered night of extravagant partying. The b’nai mitzvah coach already has helped detangle the Hebrew and trope, but the pressure of reading the Torah portion and haftarah, as well as delivering a speech in front of hundreds of family members, friends and congregants, might make even a usually unassuming bimah look terrifying.

That’s where Jane Jacobs of Speak the Speech comes in. An experienced communication coach, Jacobs provides performance training to public speakers—from corporate professionals to brides and grooms. She also works independently with b’nai mitzvah students across the San Fernando Valley. What she offers is quite different from the Hebrew-focused preparation of a b’nai mitzvah coach; it aims to create performances and speeches that leave remarkable impressions.

Whatever You’re Feeling Is What Your Listeners Get

Jacobs, a trained actor and singer, believes in the power of building any performance from the inside out. Of initial importance in this process is pinpointing the true motivations behind a young adult’s desire for a bar or bat mitzvah. If a teenager is acting only out of obligation or pressure, he or she may be unlikely to give a heartfelt speech or reading; personalized meaning and passion must be woven into every step of the performance.

“If you give a word meaning, the rest takes care of itself,” Jacobs said. “You’ve got to connect with your meaning first. If you connect with your meaning, you’ll connect with your listeners.”

A Little Fear Is Healthy

According to national surveys, the fear of public speaking tops fears of illness, flying, terrorism and even death itself.

“In other words, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy,” comedian Jerry Seinfeld has joked.

Jacobs points out that, although partially a self-fulfilling prophecy in our culture, the fear of public speaking stems from the fact that a speaker’s body, voice and presence is left completely vulnerable to judgment.

Genuine confidence during a speech or Torah reading may be a great line of defense, but fear doesn’t always have to play the role of the enemy. Jacobs emphasizes that, when channeled correctly, a little stage fright is actually good for a performance.

“Adrenaline expresses itself in many ways: One is fear, one is excitement,” she said. “Which do you want to choose? It’s the same chemical.”

The type of energy created by converting anxiety into excitement often works to keep speakers on their toes and fully present during a rare moment that begs to be savored.

Winging It Is for the Birds

Preparation fosters the very confidence vital to all the day’s feats: a meaningful speech, a smooth performance, a feel-good sense of excitement and a relative amount of relaxation in an otherwise stressful situation.

“If you’ve rehearsed this thing enough, you’ve rehearsed successes,” Jacobs reminds her students.

Aside from repetitive practice, Jacobs encourages young people to set themselves up for success in every way, from the clothes they wear (“Dress for the part”) to what they eat and drink before standing up in front of an entire congregation.

Success Is Not Going to Be Perfection

Even the most prepared, articulate and confident student is fair game for the occasional slip-up—but it doesn’t matter. As with any public performance, many elements are out of a performer’s control, and audiences are particularly quick to forgive mistakes after they’ve been successfully distracted by something truly moving.

“People don’t remember what you tell them; they remember how you made them feel,” Jacobs said. “If you make a mistake [but] you’ve got them in the palm of your hand, they won’t even remember it.”

Ruminating on insignificant performance details not only diminishes the much higher importance of meaningful emotion, it also tends to be a fairly certain way to instantly kill a speaker’s focus.

The Parents’ Speeches Are Just As Important

Jacobs tells the story of one bar mitzvah student whose parents’ performance on the big day was just as shaky as their child’s: “It was time for the parents’ speech. The son was looking for approval in the room, the mother was looking at her notes—looking up and dropping her eyes and reading off the piece of paper—and the father stuck his hands in his pockets and rambled for 15 minutes. I don’t know what he said!”

In Jacobs’ experience, problems like severe stage fright tend to become more deeply ingrained in adults over time. Parents could take a cue from their kids by using the same methods of practice—and even coaching—to bring their own speeches to a heightened standard. The entire event will come together beautifully when every speech moves the listener. Maybe more important, if a bar or bat mitzvah is looking for an example of an effective and confident performer to emulate, who better than Mom and Dad?

For more information about Jane Jacobs and Speak the Speech, visit speak-speech.com

Giffords speaks for first time since shooting

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords spoke for the first time since she was shot.

C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for Giffords (D-Ariz.), told CNN on Wednesday that she had asked for toast.

Giffords is in a recovery facility in Houston. She was shot in the head on Jan. 8 as she met with constituents in Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed.

Giffords is the first Jewish congresswoman elected from Arizona.

Track Giffords’ progress

Jan. 27Giffords upgraded to ‘good,’ begins rehab

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, her condition upgraded to “good,” has been moved from a hospital to a rehabilitation center.

Jan. 11-13Giffords opens eyes for first time

President Obama went off script last night to let the crowd in Tucson know that Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since last weeks shooting.

Jan. 8Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critical after being shot in the head

Giffords was outside one of her signature “Congress at your corner” events outside a Safeway in Tucson, the district she represented, when a gunman approached and shot her in the head.

Clinton, Bush to Appear Together During 2010 AJU Lecture Series

Two former presidents will share the stage when American Jewish University’s (AJU) Public Lecture Series returns in early 2010. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are scheduled to appear together at Universal’s Gibson Amphitheatre on Feb. 22, the university announced Monday.

Clinton has made several appearances during the series’ history, and in 2004 he spoke with Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas), former Senate Majority Leader and GOP challenger to Clinton during the 1996 presidential election. The Feb. 22 event will mark President Bush’s first appearance with the high-profile lecture series, which is organized through the AJU’s Department of Continuing Education.

Past political speakers at the AJU series have included Vice President Al Gore; Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell; White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove; White House Press Secretaries Ari Fleisher and Dee Dee Meyers; Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres; and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Tickets for the Feb. 22 Clinton-Bush event go on sale Nov. 5, with prices ranging from $75 to $125.

For more information, call (310) 440-1246.

To read a background article about the AJU lecture series, from 2001, click

Safire Says Book of Job Political

The Book of Job is commonly — and mistakenly — seen as a story of the “patience of Job.” And sometimes people have trouble locating its place in the Bible.

Asked by reporters last January to name his favorite book in the New Testament, Howard Dean answered, “The Book of Job.” He was one testament off, and returned later to tell reporters he knew it was in the Hebrew Bible. He said he liked it because it “sort of explains that bad things happen to very good people for no good reason.”

Dean’s confusion about the location of the Book of Job generated a fair amount of ridicule at the time from commentators — but not from William Safire, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of The New York Times, who is speaking next week about Job at Sinai Temple.

In his column that week, Safire said that Dean, in his description of Job, was “on to something.” The book, Safire wrote, is the “most controversial book in all theology” — the outraged cry of a blameless sufferer, a call for someone to “take God to court on a charge of moral mismanagement” (and perhaps breach of contract).

The story of Job is one of a righteous man from whom everything is taken — all his sons and daughters, all his wealth and then his health — and who rejects the comfort and counsel of his friends, with their established wisdom about God.

Job’s friends tell him he must have done something wrong (“Happy is the man whom God corrects”), that the experience should lead to greater piety (“If thou wert pure and upright, surely now God would awake for thee”), that in the end everything will be all right (“though there be darkness, it shall be as the morning”).

But Job is not consoled. On the contrary, he is outraged at the injustice. “The tents of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure.” But as for him, “I looked for good, and then evil came. When I expected light, then came darkness.”

Job curses his life and dreams of escaping God: “For now I shall lie in the earth; thou wilt seek me, but I shall not be.” Above all, he wants it known that “God has wronged me” — and that God should respond.

At the end, after a series of speeches by Job of unusual power and eloquence, God does appear. In the longest speech by God in the Bible, Job receives his response — and it is a non-answer. God simply invokes sheer power and superior knowledge: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have the understanding.”

As Safire noted, not everyone thinks God comes off well in that response. Others fault Job for his confrontation with God, or for his subsequent response to God’s speech. The ending to the story is controversial. But what is indisputable is that the confrontation caps a literary, religious and political story that is among the greatest of all time.

Even if viewed only as literature, the Book of Job is extraordinary. Thomas Carlyle said there is “nothing written, I think, in the Bible or out of it, of equal literary merit.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson called it the “greatest poem of ancient and modern times.”

Cynthia Ozick went even further. In an essay devoted to Job, she says the words in the book spring from “an artistry so far beyond the grasp of mind and tongue” that we think of the Greek plays; we think of Shakespeare — and still that is not marvel enough.”

Safire added a new perspective on Job, interpreting the book as a political parable. Since his college days, Safire had been collecting books about Job, and in 1992 he published a remarkable book titled “The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today’s Politics” (Random House). Reviewing Safire’s book in Commentary, Edward Luttwak called it a “profound discourse on politics and theology.”

Safire viewed the story as a victory for Job — because Job called the Lord of the universe to account. It was the archetypal dialogue between a powerless individual and an all-powerful authority — a model for the miraculous things that, in modern times, powerless individuals had achieved, standing only on the moral questions they raised: Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union, Ghandi in India, Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States.

Job’s questions of God — why do the wicked thrive, why do the innocent suffer — endure (in Ozick’s words) in “death camp and hatred, in tyranny and anthrax, in bomb and bloodshed.”

In Archibald MacLeish’s “J.B,” a character notes how many modern Jobs — blameless sufferers caught in unspeakable conditions — there have been:

Millions and millions of mankind

Burned, crushed, broken, mutilated

Slaughtered, and for what? For thinking!

For walking round the world in the wrong

Skin, the wrong-shaped noses, eyelids:

Sleeping the wrong night wrong city —

London, Dresden, Hiroshima.

And after Sept. 11, we can add: for going to work on time in Manhattan on a beautiful fall day; for boarding a plane in Boston on a trip to the coast; for dancing in a discotheque or eating at a pizza parlor in Tel Aviv. The world is not just. It is not Eden. But that awareness is the beginning of the story, not its end.

Safire’s book drew from Job a message about political injustice: It need not be accepted. On the contrary, justice must be pursued, and established authority confronted. One person can make a difference — and ultimately justice in this world is not God’s responsibility, but our own.

In his 1999 book, “Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times” (Riverheads), Rabbi David Wolpe drew a similar message from Job about confronting life’s inexplicable injustices. His book did not seek to explain God, but rather mapped a path to making our inevitable losses meaningful, even absent an explanation for their origin or cause. He saw in Job a larger lesson about the nature of our lives and our relationship with God.

Written thousands of years ago, with literary beauty, religious insights and political lessons still relevant today, it is hard to think of a more remarkable book than Job, or more important books than the ones Job has inspired.

On Nov. 20, William Safire will speak at a luncheon at Sinai Temple on “The Book of Job and Today’s Politics,” followed by a dialogue with Rabbi David Wolpe. He will speak at a brunch on Nov. 21 on “The Significance of the Election on the Next Four Years.” Reservations are required. To R.S.V.P., call (310) 474-1518.

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday, November 20

Why just dust off that same old menorah when you can ring in this Chanukah with a shiny new one, too? The 24th annual Festival of Jewish Artisans comes to Temple Isaiah this weekend, featuring Judaica and decorative fine art by more than 30 artists. Kicking off the festivities this evening is a concert titled, “Miracle: A Chanukah Celebration,” by Angel City Chorale and Cantor Evan Kent, followed by a reception and artists preview, and the festival takes place tomorrow, too.

Nov. 20, 8 p.m. (concert), $15-$18. Nov. 21, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (festival), $2-$5. 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772.

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Then later, attend the American Cinematheque’s screening of “El Abrazo Partido” (“The Lost Embrace”), part of its “Argentina: New Cinema III” series. The film, which screens at the Egyptian Theatre, is described as “a Woody Allen-like portrait of a young Jewish man working in his father’s lingerie shop in Buenos Aires” and is the official Argentine submission for next year’s Oscars.

5 p.m. $6-$9. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-3456.

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Berman ‘Rocks’ Boston

At French Connection on Boston’s fashionable Newberry Street this past Tuesday evening, L.A. native Lindsey Berman is juggling. A song by the band Journey blares out of her satchel shaped like a guitar each time her cell phone rings. People are calling — friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends. Everyone wants a ticket to the Black Eyed Peas concert that evening, the hot after-party sponsored by the organization Rock the Vote at the Democratic National Convention. Inside French Connection, vendors are hawking their black T-shirts that read, "FCUK you! I’m voting," referring to the brand French Connection United Kingdom. Art Alexakis, the lead singer of the pop band Everclear, is singing. Berman is making sure everything goes smoothly, firing up the volunteers on the street, and figuring out how she’ll get credentials for young people so they can get on the floor for the convention’s speeches that evening.

Berman, spunky with deep ties to Judaism (she went to Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu and participated in the Brandeis Collegiate Institute program in Simi Valley), only graduated from Brown University last year. But she is already a political force nationally — literally. She is the tour manager of the Rock the Vote bus, which, since its send-off from Los Angeles on June 16, has made 53 stops across the country, registering young people to vote. It is a nonpartisan effort aimed at ending political apathy among MTV watchers (the network is a partner in the effort). The bus, which was parked outside the Fleet Center this week, will travel to New York for the Republican Convention in late August. It was at a Bush rally in York, Penn., recently, and in Detroit John Kerry paid a visit. (Berman says she hopes Bush will come take a tour, too.)

So far, Berman says, they have registered 3,000 at the bus stops, and 400,000 have registered online at www.rockthevote.com. Berman herself is no stranger to politics — her father is Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys). She says her job is not only to persuade young people to register, but to get people excited about the political process and their ability to effect change.

"This is the most important job I’ve ever had," Berman said.

The Gospel Truth

Just before midnight on Monday the phone rang at our house. It was a guest booker from ABC’s "Good Morning America," asking if I would speak that morning to Diane Sawyer, live on air, about Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ."

The booker, Asa, sounded young, and he spoke with nervous, job-on-the-line urgency. He made clear that he had wanted to get an East Coast Jew, but it was almost 3 a.m. He dialed all the West Coast Jews he knew and came up blank, then stumbled across my name.

As ego-boosting as it was to be Asa’s absolutely last choice at the end of a disappointing search, I told him I had still not seen "The Passion of the Christ," and I wouldn’t comment on a movie I hadn’t watched in full. Fine, he assured me, what Sawyer wanted was to speak to me about the controversy the movie has already created. Was I aware of the controversy?

Was he kidding?

The movie, which opens Feb. 25, has WMD, Israel and Kerry vs. Edwards as Topic A. People are telling me they’re worried, but when I ask, "About what?" the worry turns inchoate. No, they don’t expect to be in physical danger after the movie comes out. No, they don’t expect mass rallies, or even anti-Semitic attacks. They’re just … worried.

In my pre-Sawyer screening interview, Asa asked me how I thought Jews should respond to the movie. The answer to that question resides on the front of this week’s Journal, which admittedly is an unusual choice for the cover of a Jewish periodical.

I told Asa that, if I had my druthers, Gibson would have made a different movie, maybe a watchable version of "Wild Wild West." But this is the movie he made, and it is up to us to deal with the product of this man’s midlife crisis. Gibson told Sawyer during a "Primetime Live" interview that he has battled numerous addictions. Indeed, this movie is the result of the kind of single-mindedness — and money — that only a man addicted to faith could pull off. That is noble, and it is frightening.

For hundreds of years, the Gospels, in the wrong hands and hearts, have been weapons of hate. Gibson’s movie might just become a kind of 21st-century Gospel, eventually leaving its quaint home at the local bijou (so 20th century) for a digital eternity on DVD and online. We will once again be witness to the power of the Gospels, like Frodo’s precious ring, to bring out the best and worst in humanity.

It would be nice if Gibson, to demonstrate his awareness of these concerns, used some of the proceeds from his movie to support educational programs that address the misuse of the Gospels.

As for Jews, calling Gibson names doesn’t seem to have helped. The actor and his publicist Alan Nierob, the son of Holocaust survivors, have played the Jewish community like maestros. They have curried the few non-Christian voices of support and, perhaps in an attempt to forestall a boycott, stonewalled the rest, including the Jewish press.

A cynic would say that at some point both sides realized that a full-frontal face-off would be, on Gibson’s side, good for box office and, on the Jewish organizational side, good for visibility and fundraising. But I’ll be more pure of heart and say that both sides missed opportunities for a rapprochement that would have made for smaller headlines but lesser tensions.

And those dissenting non-Christian views are worth noting. After viewing an early version of Gibson’s movie last November, Dennis Prager wrote in these pages that Jews and Christians watching Gibson’s movie, "are watching two entirely different films." For Jews it is a movie about Jews killing Jesus. For Christians it is a foundation story of faith and sacrifice. Our reporter Gaby Wenig saw the movie in North Carolina this week while covering a Christian broadcasters convention. Gaby, who is observant, found the movie dealt in abhorrent "Christ-killer" stereotypes of Jews. But the Christians she interviewed said it was the word of God, and didn’t in the least implicate "the Jews" in Jesus’ murder. Perhaps Prager is on to something.

So if protest, fear and trembling are not suitable responses, what are?

One answer is education. That’s why The Journal asked Getty Center scholar Jack Miles, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "God: A Biography" and former book review editor of the Los Angeles Times, to write this week’s cover story. The only important work that Jews know less about than the Torah are the Gospels, and that is a handicap in discussing this movie. Jesus as man, Jesus as arguably the most famous Jew in history, Jesus as — in the brilliant scholar Daniel Matt’s words, "a Galilean Chasid" — is a figure we should study and understand. Gibson’s movie won’t destroy decades of fruitful Christian-Jewish dialogue; it will simply prove how crucial that dialogue is.

Funny thing: Eventually the producers of "Good Morning America" found a local New York Jew, David Elcott, U.S. director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, to speak with Sawyer, and I got to sleep in. And what did Elcott say? About what I just wrote.

100 Lessons

While studying for rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva University in the late ’70s, I was at the main study hall dedication where the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik spoke, honoring the great philanthropist, Joseph Gruss, who underwrote the project.

On that occasion, Rabbi Soloveitchik discussed the role of the baal ha-bayit, the Jewish layman, in Jewish history. Rabbi Soloveitchik stated his belief “that our miraculous survival throughout the millennia … is due not only to the rabbinic scholars, but also [to] the Jewish baal ha-bayit [who] enabled us to survive because of his discipline, intelligence and readiness to suffer.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik suggested three characteristic traits that marked the baal ha-bayit: first, a commitment to the Jewish people in its totality; second, a pragmatic mind capable of making decisions and third, a sensitive heart.

As I sat listening to his marvelous description, I wondered if I would ever meet someone who possessed all of these qualities and was truly an amazing baal ha-bayit?

Well indeed I did. It all happened in Palm Springs 18 years ago. It was during Passover and I was invited to lecture at the Kosher Tours Passover program at the Desert Princess Hotel. I was to speak right after dinner on the topic, “Vegetarianism and Judaism.” When I agreed to accept this invitation, I had no idea that right before my lecture a big barbecue was going to be held, featuring steaks, ribs, hot dogs and every other culinary meat delight possible. When I witnessed this massive carnivorous feast that I am certain hadn’t been eaten in the desert since the Exodus from Egypt, I suggested to the program director that we cancel the lecture on vegetarianism. It was simply inappropriate and I was sure no one would attend.

The director insisted that I ignore the setting and that I lecture as planned.

“Don’t worry, people will come,” he told me.

I was right and he was wrong. The audience was sparse. Vegetables simply aren’t able to wage a successful war against good ribs.

Sitting in the front row, however, was a lovely elderly couple. At the time I had no idea who they were. As I spoke, both husband and wife absorbed every word and when it came time for questions, they asked excellent and insightful ones. The wife buttressed her comments with extensive quotes from the Bible and rabbinic literature, all from memory, while the husband added pragmatic contemporary comments. It was right then and there that my friendship with Simha Lainer and his wife, Sara, may she rest in peace, began.

Every time we would talk they insisted that we speak Hebrew. It dawned on me that it was their way of connecting our present discussion with Jewish history. We would discuss questions on the Bible and issues pertaining to Jewish law. But what always fascinated me was their total immersion in communal life. They knew every concern facing the Jewish community — both locally and internationally. Their scope was amazing and their command of the issues was always impressive.

Over the years I have carefully listened to Simha Lainer, for he has taught me the proverbial “100 lessons.” A successful businessman, Lainer loves telling me how blessed he is. His perception of his blessings, however, is what makes him the true baal ha-bayit.

He says, “God has blessed me with three gifts. He has given me good health, good wealth and the desire to share my wealth with others.”

Indeed, he shares his largesse generously. One of the leading philanthropists in our community, Lainer is among the foremost donors to Jewish education in Los Angeles, and he distributes his monies in a most unusual fashion. He doesn’t care if the educational institution is Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or just plain Jewish. What counts is Jewish education and that is what he supports.

Jewish unity isn’t some slogan for Lainer. Rather, it is a description of the way he lives his life. Perhaps that is why rabbis of every denomination are represented on the banquet committee honoring Lainer’s 100th birthday.

As the community salutes Lainer on his special birthday, I recall Rabbi Soloveitchik’s salutation in honor of Gruss. He said, “Whenever I met him, I was reminded, spontaneously, of the outstanding baalei batim of Jewish history. The name of Moses Montefiore comes to my mind … and Amschel Mayer Rothschild.”

Indeed, we can say that Simha Lainer continues to excel in that tradition and is our outstanding baal ha-bayit.

Elazar Muskin is rabbi at Young Israel of Century City.

God’s Conversations With Allah

Documentary filmmaker Ruth Broyde-Sharone’s latest work, "God and Allah Need To Talk," will make its Los Angeles debut Sunday, Sept. 14, with the 18-minute film being central to a three-hour interfaith celebration highlighting common bonds between Muslims, Christians and Jews.

"A lot of people have awareness at these events, but they’re not changed," said Broyde-Sharone, who from her Culver City home office has coordinated the afternoon slate of film, dance and music at the Laemmle Fairfax Theater. "The film, plus everything else, equals social, spiritual change in a positive way. I don’t mind putting the film in a secondary way. It didn’t seem enough just to show my film."

So far, she said, about 300 people have contacted her to confirm they will come. The interfaith event follows similar outreach through the Islamic Center of Southern California, Reform synagogues such as Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills and Southern California’s liberal-activist mainline Protestant churches. Broyde-Sharone documentary, the event’s short centerpiece, details post-Sept. 11 interfaith relations between Southern California’s Muslims and Jews. Its title comes from a billboard Broyde-Sharone saw in Hollywood.

Somewhat shaky handheld camera work gives the film a home movie feel as it shows non-Muslims — notably a Jewish couple — visiting the Islamic Center during observances of a Muslim holiday. The film then details this year’s April 11 Muslim-Jewish seder, "Breaking the Silence: A Passover Celebration Seeking Peace and Reconciliation," at Temple Kol Tikvah. (The film says 150 people attended; The Journal reported the crowd was closer to 80.) After trying some matzah, a Muslim African American boy says to the camera, "It’s kinda hard and crispy, but it tastes real good."

Broyde-Sharone completed the short film in four months.

"For me to do this in four months was a revelation and remarkable," she said, adding that interfaith activists in Detroit and Philadelphia want to screen it. "It was almost like this was being propelled beyond me. It was a really a series of events that just pulled together for me to finish this."

The filmmaker said the Sept. 14 event will also ask participants to make some kind of a serious commitment to remaining involved with people they met that day from other faiths.

"For some people it will require a big stretch," she said. "It’s not about holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya.’ It’s about really being able to move yourself beyond your comfort zone. I think that’s the part that’s usually neglected at these events — ‘What next?’"

Performers for the Laemmle Fairfax Theatre event will include a Palestinian violinist, an Iranian singer, Ladino singer Stefani Valadez and L.A. composer Steven Longfellow Fiske.

"It’s through the artists of our community that we’re going to move this entire agenda forward," said Broyde-Sharone, who is also an interior designer and freelance journalist who has written for The Jerusalem Post. Her short films include the Encyclopedia Britannica educational film "Israeli Boy: Life on a Kibbutz," and the 13-minute video, "Children of the Dream … the Reality," which was commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League’s Los Angeles office.

Broyde-Sharone also has filmed more than 30 seders for an upcoming documentary about how feminist and gay Jews and non-Jews use a seder dinner as a metaphor to discuss their own particular suffering.

"So when I went to these two events [at the Islamic Center and Temple Kol Tikvah], I was thinking about them as a larger film," said Broyde-Sharone, who attends Ohr HaTorah in West Los Angeles.

Expected at Sunday’s event are clergy and laypeople, like Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah and Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Santa Monica’s Beth Shir Shalom; local Pakistani community representatives; David Lehrer and Joe Hicks of Community Advocates, Inc.; and peace activists from groups such as the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

Speakers will include author Jack Miles, UCLA public policy analyst Xandra Kayden and CSUN assistant professor of religious studies Amir Hussain. They hopefully will move interfaith issues, "from the head and slowly thru to the heart," Broyde-Sharone said.

Would the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be discussed? "No," said the filmmaker/event organizer. "The way to get people to come together is to find common areas where they don’t feel they already have to defend themselves or attack."

Though Broyde-Sharone said the West Bank and Gaza, are, "like the white elephant that nobody wants to talk about in the room," as for her event, "the day is apolitical."

But in dialogue with Muslim friends, the filmmaker makes it clear that it is wrong for Americans to have as, "their entire frame of reference of who a Muslim is to be Sept. 11 and Muslim extremists." She said it is also wrong when Muslims in Southern California do not denounce suicide bombers and other terrorism far away. She said she tells Muslims, "it’s important that we hear you say ‘we will not accept this.’"

The premiere of "God and Allah Need to Talk" will be held on Sept. 14 at noon (screening begins promptly at 1:30 p.m.). $10 (suggested donation). Laemmle Fairfax Theatre, 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 837-2294.

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 www.s2k.org. For more information on Breeyah, contact (310) 572-7969. The organization’s Web site,
www.breeyah.org, will be up in mid-May.

Up Close and Comical

”I’m a ham,” said legendary actor-writer-director Carl Reiner.

“When you’re a showoff, you’ve gotta get on that platform.”

Which is why 80-year-old Reiner is eager to regale theaudience with tales of his life in a speaking engagement at the Orange CountyPerforming Arts Center on Dec. 9. He’ll cover everything from working on SidCaesar’s TV shows to playing straight man to Mel Brooks’ 2,000-Year-Old Man towriting semi-autobiographical novels such as “Enter Laughing.”

“The only thing I’m an expert on is me,” he said of hischoice of a lecture topic. “And I’m a fairly good interviewer from myexperience with the 2,000-Year-Old Man. I know what I’m curious about, so I’llask questions of myself and give all the answers.”

Expect to enter — and exit — laughing.

Bronx-bred Reiner, whom Brooks calls the “tall, bald Jew,”has been funny practically since birth. “As a kid, I could always make peoplelaugh, and I could perfectly tell and retell jokes I heard at the movies,”Reiner said.

His first performance occurred when he put one leg behindhis head and hopped on the other in front of his rapt kindergarten teachers andclassmates. A smaller crowd watched his Orthodox bar mitzvah, which he saystook place “on a Thursday morning before mincha, with just a minyan of old Jews.”

By 1950, Reiner was writing and performing on Caesar’s “YourShow of Shows,” where he met a short, outrageous fellow writer named MelBrooks. “Mel Yiddishized everything,” Reiner says. “I’ll never forget he usedto do this character called The Jewish Pirate. Instead of a Jolly Roger, he hada Jolly Magen David.”

While hanging out in the writers’ room one day, Reiner madehistory when he turned to Brooks and ad-libbed, “Here is a man who was at thescene of the crucifixion 2,000 years ago. Did you know Jesus?” Brooks instantlylapsed into a thick, Yiddish accent and replied, “Thin lad, wore sandals, cameinto my store, but he never bought a thing.”

Over the next 10 years, Reiner shlepped a tape recorder toparties to capture their 2,000-Year-Old Man shtick, although he says he andBrooks refused to cut a record because “we were afraid the accent would playinto anti-Semitic stereotypes.” It wasn’t until after they had recorded thealbum in 1961 that Reiner received the penultimate confirmation that the 2,000-Year-OldMan was universal.

His notoriously cheap neighbor, Cary Grant, had shnorred adozen copies of the album to take along on a trip to England; when he returned,he knocked on Reiner’s door. “She loved it,” Grant gushed. “Who?” Reiner asked.”The Queen Mother,” Grant replied.

“The biggest gentile in the world,” marveled Reiner, whobecame a founding father of the TV sitcom when he created “The Dick Van DykeShow,” based on his home life during “Your Show of Shows.”

In 1979, Reiner again made history by directing “The Jerk,”the movie that catapulted Steve Martin to superstardom. He went on to directthree more films with the Texas-born comic (“Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” “TheMan With Two Brains” and “All of Me”), who proved to be a very different kind ofcollaborator than Brooks. “Mel is loud, abrasive and hilarious, while Steve isquiet and hilarious,” Reiner said. “But funny is funny.”

The octogenarian could say the same of himself. Last year,he elicited yuks with his hilarious turn as a grumpy, Rolaids-popping, has-beencrook in Steven Soderberg’s heist flick “Ocean’s 11.” Recently, he signed withLittle, Brown and Company to write a children’s book, “Tell Me a Scary Story,But Not Too Scary!” prompted by a request from his grandson, Nicky (the middlechild of Reiner’s director son, Rob Reiner). Now he’s finishing anautobiography, “My Anecdotal Life,” spurred by fellow comedy writers at TheFriars Club.

“We have this alter-kacker lunch — we calls ourselvesROMEOS, Retired Old Men Eating Out — where everyone kept telling me to writedown my stories,” Reiner said. “I started and pretty soon I was adding andadding to the list.”

He’ll tell a number of those stories in Orange County, wherehe hopes to elicit more yuks. “Although I’m older now, I still have the need toget up in front of people and make them laugh,” he said. “That’s what I like tohear.”  

Community Briefs

Valley Beth Shalom Tackles MedicalEthics

Valley Beth Shalom will assemble a group of doctors, therapists, scholars, lawyers and rabbis for a “Medical Ethics Beit Din.” The panel discussions will be held on three consecutive Thursdays — Nov. 14, Nov. 21, and Dec. 5 — and will address beginning of life details; the changing role of the doctor; and end of life issues, respectively. Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Edward Feinstein, who coordinated the panels, observed that as medical science becomes more advanced and accessible, “Torah-relevant issues become part of people’s daily lives.” Topics to be covered include extending medical care; responding to emergencies; life and death issues; and infertility and the manipulation of the process. “These issues of medical ethics were once abstract, but now families deal with them all the time,” Feinstein said. “I wanted to create a program where people in the community can learn how to make such decisions.” For more information, contact Ilana Zimmerman at (818) 788-6000. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

New Consul for Communications TakesOffice

Yariv Ovadia has joined the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles here as Consul for Communications and Public Affairs. Ovadia, 30, is a Jerusalem native, whose parents arrived as children in Israel, his father from Iraq and mother from Morocco. Accompanying him are his wife Daphna — to whom he proposed at India’s Taj Mahal — and their 4-month-old daughter, Romi.

As a high school student, Ovadia aimed for a career as computer scientist, but changed his mind after serving three years with an infantry unit in Gaza.

“I wanted to learn more about the roots of the conflict between us and the Arabs and study their language, history and religion,” he said, sitting in his Wilshire Boulevard office with a view of the Hollywood Hills.

He enrolled at Hebrew University, focusing on studies of the Middle East, Islam and sociology, and after graduation, joined the diplomatic corps in 1999.

For the past two years, Ovadia served as second secretary at the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, India. As part of his responsibilities, he headed the embassy’s cultural and scientific affairs department.

Ovadia said that he is eager to meet with the Jewish and general communities in Los Angeles and throughout six Southwestern states. In the meanwhile, he urges people to take five to 10 minutes a day to do something to help Israel, for instance, “call or write an editor or organize a group to hear a speaker from the consulate.” — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Muslim Journalist Calls Islam Founder Source ofAnti-Semitism

Recently in Los Angeles, as the guest of the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations, Muslim journalist Dr. Mohammad Amiri spoke to a large audience at Sinai Temple and at the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and visited the Museum of Tolerance.

Amiri was named by his parents in Iran for the Prophet Muhammad, but today, he considers the founder of Islam as the source of modern anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in the Middle East.

The Jews of the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century C.E. “sinned” against Muhammad by rejecting his teachings, according to Amiri, and he retaliated by demanding the Jews’ property and killing many of them. Since then, anti-Semitism in Islam, as in Christianity, has found racial and political expression, but the wellspring remains the original religious bias, Amiri said.

By an unlikely route, Amiri has become an expert on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Born in the Kurdish region of Iran 57 years ago, he followed “the dream of all you young Iranian men to go to Europe,” and received his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in philosophy at the University of Cologne.

For his doctoral thesis, he analyzed the philosophy of the Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt (“Origins of Totalitarianism”) and from there, embarked on lifelong studies of the tensions between freedom and religion, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

He is now a reporter and analyst for German radio, broadcasts for the Farsi-language service of Israel’s Kol Yisrael and is a research fellow at the Institute for Culture and Philosophy in Cologne.

While in Los Angeles, Amiri also participated in three talk show programs on local Farsi radio stations, which serves the Southern California Iranian community.

Looking at conditions in his native land, Amiri said that a certain sympathy for Israel, based mainly on the traditional Iranian dislike of Arabs, has been overridden by the even more pronounced religious hatred of Jews by Muslim fundamentalists. — TT

To Live Again

Yom Kippur is much more than saying, I’m sorry, said Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, the well-known theologian, author and speaker who will be in Orange County on Aug. 12 to talk about preparing spiritually for the High Holidays.

Kushner, 59, who has championed institutional and personal spiritual renewal, said his view of the holidays has evolved since studying kabbalah, Jewish mysticism about self-knowledge, and Chasidism, which values piety, extreme traditionalism and separatism.

"I became increasingly aware of the necessity of letting go of one’s old self in order for a new one to grow," said Kushner, who recently accepted a new position as rabbi-in-residence for San Francisco’s vibrant Congregation Emanu El.

He believes the holiday’s culmination should be embraced as an opportunity for a mental metamorphosis, a dying without being dead. Themes of death, transformation and rebirth are hinted at in many of the traditional prayers read during the holidays, he said. He plans to assist his audience in studying the themes through kabbalistic and Chasidic texts, through stories and with theological observations about how the world works. "I want to explore that for contemporary Jews," Kushner said.

Kushner is a guest speaker the following day at the annual sermon seminar at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles. By booking nationally prominent speakers locally, Arie Katz, the founder of the scholar program, hopes to instill enthusiasm for Jewish scholarship.

"On Yom Kippur, by the end of the day — not having showered or eaten — they’re dressed up like their own corpses; it’s a rehearsal of death," said Kushner, noting that the Day of Atonement should serve as a figurative milepost for a new direction, a rebirth.

American Jewry is in the midst of its own rebirth, Kushner contends. He recently returned from Santa Cruz after teaching a three-day seminar for members of Reform congregations on an introduction to Zohar, the principal source of kabbalah. Although he was prepared to teach the topic in English, the group ended up studying in Aramaic, the international trade language of the ancient Middle East and the dominant language for Jewish worship, scholarship and everyday life for centuries.

"That was an amazing thing, an amazingly high level of literacy," Kushner said. "We’re living through a time of real renaissance in Jewish learning."

In fact, Kushner, who spent 30 years in the pulpit, is both a product and a cause of such a trend, as is Stuart M. Matlins, publisher and editor in chief of Jewish Lights Publishing, based in Woodstock, Vt.

Kushner’s owes his second career as a speaker in large measure to Matlins’ willingness to follow his own thirst for knowledge.

In 1990, Matlins, a former management consultant, established Jewish Lights to publish books that focus on the quest for self, the meaning of life, personal growth and religious inspiration. "I didn’t know what I was doing," he concedes. "I was my audience."

With guidance from a multidenominational rabbinic advisory board, Matlins started the imprint with a nearly finished Kushner manuscript rejected by other publishers and three out-of-print Kushner books originally published by Harper & Row, a mainstream trade book publisher. "We couldn’t find material we were looking for to enhance our spiritual life," said Matlins, who helped establish a synagogue in Woodstock.

While sales of 5,000 copies would be considered a Jewish best-seller by even a mainstream publisher, each of the original Kushner quartet has sold more than 20,000 copies and has been translated into three languages, Matlins said.

Kushner, Jewish Lights and other best-selling authors such as Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, whose "God’s Paintbrush" was rejected by 18 publishers, are byproducts of an American Jewry that is highly educated, economically successful and has leisure time to devote to personal interests. "Now we can focus on what it means to be a Jew," Matlins said. The consequence is a thirst and demand for resources largely ignored by traditional publishers, he said.

Over the last 10 years, about 1.5 million Jewish Lights books have been purchased, mostly through chain bookstores such as Barnes & Noble. These include 200 different titles, including 25 new editions that will be published this year, said Matlins.

"There’s something terribly important going on," he said. "We’ve never had a broad mass of people being educated. It was only for rabbis.

"It’s not a rebirth," Matlins said, disagreeing with Kushner’s description of the trend. "It’s a beginning."

Barak Better Than Before

The struggle for peace in Israel may take years or even generations, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told a crowd of over 6,200 people at the Universal Amphitheater on April 21. Barak was the final speaker in the University of Judaism’s (UJ) department of continuing education lecture series, which featured Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright and James Carville. The sold-out series, organized by the dean of UJ’s continuing education department, Gady Levy, has brought much money and prestige to the university, and will be continued next year, Levy said.

Introduced by former Rep. Mel Levine, Barak was by no means the most electrifying of all the speakers, and yet he portrayed a more convivial, articulate persona, both in his hard-line speech and in the Q-and-A session with UJ President Dr. Robert Wexler that followed.

"I have a special place in my heart for California," the former Israel Defense Forces chief-of-staff said, recalling his two years as a grad student at Stanford University. "I even learned how to drive politely," he joked. Barak, who became a first-time grandfather three months ago, wondered, "What kind of world has this baby been born into?"

The former Labor party head, who lost the election to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001 following the outbreak of the second intifada, has toughened his rhetoric since the rejected peace offering at Camp David. He dismissed Arafat as a legitimate peace partner, blaming him for the current cycle of violence: "He deliberately dragged the world into this." But Barak said we should not focus on one man: "A future leader will emerge," he said. Barak said he does not consider Camp David a failure for three reasons:

1) The offer will serve as the basis for a future settlement

2) It "unmasked" Arafat

3) It grounded both sides of the Israeli political camp, he said, explaining that the far right will have to give up the dream of the greater Israel, and the far left will have to realize they are not living in the Midwest and there are some tough security issues to deal with.

Practically preaching to the choir, Barak emphasized the struggle Israel faces, and the justness of the military response. Barak, who in a meeting with The Journal prior to his speech did not rule out a future run for premiere ("I am retired now," he told The Journal), outlined his plan for Israel:

To strike hard at all terrorists

To always leave the door open for negotiations, on condition of ending the violence

To create a unilateral separation, which would include some 80 percent of all Israeli settlers.

"This is going to be a long struggle. Not years, but half a generation. Many innocent civilian lives will be lost along the way. But we have to win the first war of the 21st century, and we will win."

Earlier this week, Barak also addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee national conference in Washington on Sunday, which included a satellite speech by Sharon, and an address by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


At my college newspaper, new writers all received the same encouraging spiel. "We want you to start writing for us immediately," the editor would say. "We’re not like the Harvard Crimson, where you have to scrub floors all semester before anyone even talks to you."

I doubt the Crimson really used Ivy League freshmen as tile washers, but the notion has stuck with me as the very image of the entrenched hierarchical East Coast, where a young person with dreams and energy is told to grab a mop and wait his turn.

I thought of this image again last week, as I witnessed three events so common in L.A. Jewish life we hardly stop to realize just how remarkable they are.

Two occurred last Thursday. At noon, at the offices of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), 80 of the Industry’s busiest actors, directors, agents, producers and screenwriters gathered to hear a rabbi speak about rejuvenating Jewish life.

In the history of Hollywood, there has never been an event quite like it: not a self-selected group meeting for lunch-and-learn Torah study, or a charity fundraiser, but a mid-afternoon, turn-off-the-cell phones discussion at the top echelon of the Industry on what it means to be Jewish.

The speaker flown in for the occasion was Rabbi Irwin Kula. Kula could easily go head-to- head with his audience for intensity. He prowled the stage of a corner auditorium, asking these mostly young players to throw out what they think Judaism is — "Why would you even sit through High Holy Day services if you get nothing out of it?" he demanded — and recognize it as a living, changing tool. "The goal of Judaism is to make you better humans," he said, "not to make you better Jews."

For years Jewish groups had sought to reach just this kind of crowd, and most have all but given up. But four graduates of the Wexner Fellows Program, CAA agents Dan Adler and Rick Kurtzman, Endeavor agent David Lonner and activist Donna Bojarsky, decided to take it upon themselves to try. Invitations went out, assistants were pressed into service, and the group waited for what they expected would be 15 or so positive reservations. The turnout was five times that.

"Sept. 11 is really what did it," Adler said.

People came hungry for words that could make sense of the attacks. There was a modicum of schmoozing. Kula spoke for most of the hour, leaving many in tears, and, judging by post-event e-mails, an audience eager for more. "I’d been dreaming of doing something like this for a long time, " Bojarsky said. "It worked."

Then came Thursday night at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Zimmer Jewish Children’s Museum’s first banquet honored museum president Jean Friedman and Sesame Street president and CEO Gary Knell. The 10,000-square-foot museum on the ground floor of The Jewish Federation building was founded by Esther Netter several years back in a corner of the Westside Jewish Community Center. Since copied by communities from New York to Scotland, it began as a simple idea, a way of giving children a hands-on experience of Jewish tradition and values. Now, thanks to a league of donors, volunteers and staff, thousands of children of all faiths attend the museum year-round.

Finally there’s the story in this issue on the New Community Jewish High School (see page 16). Two years ago, a group of parents in the San Fernando Valley recognized the need for another Jewish high school there. They organized, they worked like dogs, they made it happen.

A few things strike me about these examples of dreams made real. One is that these projects brought together Jews from across the religious and political spectrum. At CAA, Jewish men in kippot learned together with Jewish women in short skirts. We’re no longer so intent on organizing according to old categories, but according to new needs.

Another point is that in the case of the museum and the school, organizers relied on existing institutions like the JCC, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Federation to provide expertise and some funding. The new communal institutions don’t replace the old, but give them new purpose, maybe even new donors.

The proof is all around us: This is a Jewish community where people with good ideas can make them happen — no permission necessary, no standing in line, no scrubbing floors. There is energy, there is money, and, of course, there is much more to be done.

Sign of Hope

The sign to the left, posted by Israeli Jewish and Arab students at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology around the elite Rehovot campus, reads: "We, the Arab and Jewish students of the Technion, who daily sit together in the same classrooms in cooperation and friendship, express our pain over the recent outbreaks of violence in our country. It is up to us to continue living here in mutual dignity, peace and security. We call on every Technion student to speak out against violence, and on every citizen to work on behalf of good neighborly relations."

Becoming a Best Seller

While cities such as Detroit and St. Louis were holding major Jewish book festivals year after year, drawing celebrity authors such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, observers here asked, Why isn’t there a Jewish book festival in Los Angeles?

Seville Porush and her colleagues at the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles decided to change all that last year, and proceeded to create a book festival from scratch.

They formed a committee, polled existing festival directors and decided what they didn’t want in a book fair. “Many festivals emphasized selling books, while we wanted to emphasize transmitting Jewish culture,” Porush says. She was rewarded when more than 5,000 participants turned out to last year’s fair.

This year, “People of the Book: The Jewish Book Festival” is back, Nov. 14-22, bigger and better than before. Porush and the JCCs have put together a veritable literary feast.

You can catch Rich Cohen talking about his book, “Tough Jews,” which outlines the personalities and bloody deeds of criminals such as Meyer Lansky.

You can hear Thomas Cahill speaking of his tome, “The Gifts of the Jews”; Rabbi Naomi Levy on “To Begin Again,” her book about faith and loss; and Rochelle Krich on her Orthodox potboiler, “Fertile Ground,” a tale of murder inside a posh Brentwood fertility clinic.

Also among the some 40 speakers will be talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Rabbi Stewart Vogel, co-authors of “The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life.”

There will be a family storytelling day at My Jewish Discovery Place Children’s Museum and even a screening of an “X Files” episode involving a golem, with author Howard Gordon on hand for the Q and A.

One hub of the festival will be the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, where the lobby is being transformed into a bookstore, with hundreds of titles provided by Barnes & Noble. Watercolor landscapes of the Galilee and the Negev, Dorothy Rice’s travelogue of her trip to Israel (the artist will be on hand for a book signing Nov. 15), will be on display in the boardroom. Also on Nov. 15, the West Valley JCC will house CyberFest, featuring a wide range of computer hardware and software and Judaic Internet web sites. A multicultural day will spotlight authors who have been published in Hebrew, Russian, Farsi and Spanish.

“We want people to become aware of the wealth of Jewish literature that is out there, and is coming out every day,” Porush says.

For festival tickets and information, call (818) 464-3353. To volunteer, call (818) 587-3277.

A family storyelling day is part of festival events. Last year’s festival attracted more than 5,000 participants. Painting by Max Liebermann, “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife and Granddaughter,” 1926 from “Jewish Art,” 1995.

Schedule of Events

Saturday, Nov. 14

Reception: 7:00 p.m.

Program: 8:00 p.m.

Dvorah Menashe Telushkin

“Master of Dreams: Anecdotes and Tales of Isaac Bashevis Singer”

West Valley JCC

Sunday, Nov. 15

10:00 a.m.

Shira Schmidt

“Old Wine, New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition”

(slide show)

Valley Cities JCC

10:00 a.m.-noon

Character Breakfast

Lori Hartz

Live storybook characters & storytelling (ages 3 to 8)

West Valley JCC

11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.


Computer hardware, software and Internet demonstrations

West Valley JCC

4:00-6:00 p.m.

Howard Gordon

“The Golem”

Screening and discussion of “X-Files” episode with screenwriter

West Valley JCC

5:00-6:30 p.m.

Pajama party with storyteller Amy Koss

Storytelling (ages 3 to 8)

Hollywood-Los Feliz JCC

6:30-8:00 p.m.

Pajama party and storytelling (ages 3-8)

Bay Cities JCC

7:30 p.m.

Carol Orsborn

“Return From Exile”

Westside JCC

7:30 p.m.

Rich Cohen

“Tough Jews”

Valley Cities JCC

Monday, Nov. 16

1:00 p.m.

Faye Levy

Jewish cooking

North Valley JCC

7:30 p.m.

Joan Nathan

“Jewish Cooking in America”

Stephen S. Wise Temple

Tuesday, Nov. 17

10:00 a.m.-Noon

Jeffrey and Craig Weiss

“I Am My Brother’s Keeper”

West Valley JCC

7:30 p.m.

Rabbis Edward Feinstein, Steven Carr Reuben, Chaim Seidler-Feller, Dr. Elliot Dorff

Moderator: Gladys Sturman

Preserving Judaism in the next millennium

(panel discussion)

Stephen S. Wise Temple

7:30 p.m.

Mystery Night:

Janice Steinberg

“Death in a City of Mystics”

Rochelle Krich

“Fertile Ground”

Temple Emanuel

7:30 p.m.

Jerry Bobrow, Bea Gordon, Bobbi Yanke

Selecting and Preparing for a Career

West Valley JCC

6:30-8:00 p.m.

Phyllis Rose Eisenberg

Bedtime stories for children (ages 6 to 8)

Valley Cities JCC

Wednesday, Nov. 18

1:00 p.m.

Carol Diament

“Jewish Women Living the Challenge”

North Valley JCC

7:30 p.m.

Thomas Cahill

“The Gifts of the Jews”

West Valley JCC

7:45 p.m.

Dr. Paul Krivonos

Are Teens Being Censored by Society?

West Valley JCC

Thursday, Nov. 19

11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.

Lunch and Learn program

Dr. Ron Wolfson

“First Fruit: A Whizin Anthology of Jewish Family Education”

Kol Tikvah

7:30 p.m.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Rabbi Stewart Vogel

“The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life”

Temple Aliyah&’009;

7:00 p.m.

Janet Bode with Rabbi Edward Feinstein

“Food Fight: A Guide to Eating Disorders for Preteens and Their Families”

West Valley JCC

Friday, Nov. 20

1:00-2:30 p.m.

Rabbi Naomi Levy

“To Begin Again”

West Valley JCC

Saturday, Nov. 21

8:00 p.m.

Jonathan Kirsch

“Moses: A Life”

West Valley JCC

7:00 p.m.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Florence Weinberger, Malgert Cohen, Sam Applebaum, Richard Grosslight, Sherman Pearl

Poetry readings on the Jewish life cycle

Westside JCC

Sunday, Nov. 22

1:00-4:00 p.m.

Jewish Family Storytelling Festival

Storytelling and related activities

My Jewish Discovery Place

2:00 p.m.

Stan Mack

“The Story of the Jews”

Valley Cities JCC

2:00 p.m.

Multicultural Programs

Nouri Kharrazi (Farsi)

“Tattooed Arms — Punctured Souls”

Dr. Zvia Ambar (Hebrew)

Stress Management

Dr. Andrea Labinger (Spanish)

Translator of “Musicians and Watchmakers” by Alicia Steimberg

Marina Genchikmakher (Russian)


West Valley JCC

2:30-3:30 p.m.

Maralyn Soifer

Creative writing and poetry workshop for children (ages 8-11)

Conejo Valley JCC

7:30 p.m.

Dr. Sam Kunin

“Circumcision: Its Place in Judaism Past and Present”

with Rabbi Brad Artson

“It’s A Mitzvah”

Valley Cities JCC

All events are subject to change. For additional information, contact the festival hot line at (818) 464-3353.


Bay Cities JCC: 2601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica

Conejo Valley JCC: 5004 Lewis Road, Agoura Hills

Hollywood-Los Feliz JCC: 1110 Bates Ave., Los Angeles

Kol Tikvah: 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills

My Jewish Discovery Place: 5870 West Olympic Blvd. Los Angeles

North Valley JCC: 16601 Rinaldi St., Granada Hills

Stephen S. Wise Temple: 15500 Stephen S. Wise Dr., Los Angeles

Temple Aliyah: 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills

Temple Emanuel: 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills

Valley Cities JCC: 13164 Burbank Blvd. Sherman Oaks

West Valley JCC: 22622 Vanowen St. West Hills

Westside JCC: 5870 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles

Dance With Them That Brung You

Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says that he’s opening up a new front in his organization’s 85-year campaign to protect Jews from defamation. This new fight is a little different from battles past, though, because its target is other Jews.

Foxman wants Jews to watch their language when they talk about fellow Jews. Otherwise somebody could get hurt. Another Israeli prime minister, for example.

As his first salvo, Foxman has issued an unusual public statement, calling on American Jewish community leaders to rein in “inflammatory rhetoric” and “hate speech” when debating Israeli policy. “Irresponsible and inflammatory opposition leads to irresponsible and inflammatory action,” he declared.

What worries him, Foxman said in an interview, is the flood of vitriol directed against Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu since he signed the Wye Memorandum and agreed to hand over 13 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian control.

It’s reminiscent of “the days before the Rabin assassination,” Foxman said. “It’s all the same words — ‘traitor,’ ‘enemy,’ ‘needs to be silenced.’ I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of Israeli press coverage I’m reading of hate rhetoric, of violent rhetoric, as if we didn’t learn anything the last time.”

What set off Foxman’s alarm bells, though, was some home-grown American rhetoric. In a statement issued last week, several prominent American Orthodox rabbis declared that the Israeli concessions contained in the Wye accord were “prohibited by Jewish law.”

The Wye agreement “poses a life-threatening danger to all of the residents of Israel,” the rabbis’ statement said. “Therefore, we have determined that it is prohibited by Jewish law to participate in this tragic and terrible agreement.” Also “prohibited by Jewish law” was Israeli government ratification of the pact.

The signers included two of America’s most respected talmudic authorities, Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik of the Brisk Yeshiva in Chicago and Rabbi Moshe Tendler of Yeshiva University in New York. A third signer, Rabbi Herschel Reichman of Yeshiva University, was said to be the statement’s initiator.

The statement appeared in Sunday’s New York Post as an ad, showing the National Council of Young Israel as sponsor. Young Israel denied any connection, however. The real sponsor, sources say, was a pro-settler group linked to right-wing philanthropist Irving Moskowitz.

Foxman says that the rabbis’ statement shocked him. “They’re speaking as though this is God’s word, God’s truth,” he said. When that kind of political absolutism enters political debates, impressionable youngsters sometimes decide to do God’s will with a bullet. It happened once in Israel already, when Yigal Amir decided to murder Yitzhak Rabin.

“What’s happening now is a continuation of what happened before,” Foxman said. “We have learned that words can kill. Right now, the rhetoric of hate is escalating rather than abating. People must stand up.”

The problem is more serious in Israel than here in the United States, of course. It’s in Israel, not here, that lives are at risk if Israel makes the wrong decisions. It’s there that politicians might get shot over it.

What concerns Foxman as an American Jew, though, is this: Israelis have begun to talk about the problem. “I don’t see any of that here.”

“Now,” Foxman said, “is the time to speak up.”

If anyone could rally American Jews to such a moral accounting, it’s Foxman. A Polish-born Holocaust survivor, head of the ADL since 1987, he is one of the few American Jewish community leaders whose name is known beyond inner leadership circles. The agency he runs is one of the Jewish community’s most trusted and best funded.

This isn’t the first time Foxman has tackled Jew vs. Jew hate speech. In September 1995, just weeks before Rabin’s assassination, Foxman publicly resigned from his Orthodox synagogue in New Jersey to protest the rabbi’s inflammatory anti-Rabin rhetoric. In May 1997, he presented an ADL “Courageous Jewish Leadership” award to Yeshiva University president Norman Lamm, to honor Lamm’s calls for Orthodox soul-searching in the weeks after Rabin’s murder.

The efforts never gathered momentum, though. It’s hard to imagine this latest one doing better. American Jewish leaders see their first duty as uniting the community, not dividing it. Organizing a broad Jewish front against overzealous Orthodox rabbis is way out of character.

Foxman doesn’t want to divide the community, of course. He’d like to see everyone join hands against hate rhetoric, starting with the rabbis who’ve been spewing it. “It is time for them to show they’ve learned from the past,” he said.

But the main offenders aren’t interested. Tendler, for example, says it’s “unfair and intellectually dishonest” to say that Orthodox rabbis’ rhetoric may have created an atmosphere that incited Yigal Amir to murder. In fact, he said in an interview, “I don’t believe anyone really believes that.”

It’s important to point out here that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews are not extremists or absolutists. Most value democracy. Most don’t share Tendler’s apocalyptic view of the peace process. Even Rabbi Soloveitchik, who consigned last week’s inflammatory statement, has reportedly backed away. A spokesman suggested that Soloveitchik, 82 and ailing, had been manipulated into signing something he hadn’t read.

It’s also important, however, to note that the extremists and absolutists aren’t being made to pay a price for their words and deeds. Abraham Hecht, the Brooklyn rabbi who lost his pulpit in 1995 after telling an interviewer that Rabin should be killed, retains his post as president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. The alliance is a small Orthodox group based in Brooklyn.

Foxman acknowledges that the absolutists among us aren’t about to turn around and embrace moderation. What he’s hoping for is greater boldness from everyone else, starting with other rabbis.

“We are a people who say, ‘Keep my tongue from speaking evil,’ in our daily prayers,” he said. “We believe in the power of words for life and death. If we didn’t believe in the power of words, we wouldn’t have prayer. Who more than our spiritual leadership ought to have that respect for words? They certainly need to speak out, because of the past.

“But then there are all those who have been silent. Those who looked for rationalizations why they don’t need to speak out. They must speak out now. We are in a crisis.”

J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.