The Israeli Supreme Court’s Conscience


The conscience of the Jewish state has spoken through the recent landmark ruling of Israel's Supreme Court. It has taken an important step toward removing the pariah stigma from tens of thousands of Jews who converted to Judaism by the rabbinic authority of non-Orthodox rabbis, but ignored by the Jewish state.

With this new ruling, Israel's Interior Ministry is to register Israelis converted under Reform or Conservative auspices as Jews. That earned identification, previously denied them, will henceforth be inscribed on their national identification card. Jews in limbo have returned to their chosen home.

Imagine the joy of Russian Jews who made aliyah, fought in the wars to defend the State of Israel — some of whom were slain in battle and refused burial in Jewish cemeteries because they were not regarded as Jews — and who now will no longer suffer from such humiliating disenfranchisement.

What fulfillment of dreams does this ruling promise for themselves and their children? The ruling, of course, is a first step. Regrettably, these converts can be married only by Orthodox rabbis who alone are authorized to perform marriages legally recognized by the state and who alone have in their power the decision as to who is a Jew. The evolution of a democratic, pluralistic Jewish state requires time, vigilance, courage and unflagging effort.

The decision of Israel's High Court of Justice has regrettably met with predictable partisan denominational responses. Orthodox leaders regard the Supreme Court decision as a secular transgression of Orthodox halachic jurisdiction; non-Orthodox leaders understand the ruling as strengthening religious pluralism and as an act of Jewish unification.

In my view, the ruling embodies the moral and legal tradition of Judaism that — no less than 36 times throughout the Torah — mandates us to love the stranger, to know the heart of the stranger and, following many ethical imperatives, reminds us that we too were strangers.

Moreover, the rabbis of the tradition induced in the thrice daily “Amidah,” the 13th petition of which appeals to God to let His tender mercies be stirred for the gairei ha-tzedek (faithful proselyte). The Supreme Court's ruling expresses a transdenominational judgment that offers a healing balm to the self-inflicted wounds of sectarian denominational politics.

In these parlous times, when the enemies from without seek to tear us apart, this momentous ruling points the way to peace from within. When the rabbis in the Talmud (Yoma 9b) speculated as to the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the second Temple, they did not point to the external factors of the superior military might of the Romans. Nor did they point to the lack of the study of Torah and ritual practices by Jews. The second Temple fell, they maintained, because of groundless hatred; because of internal factionalism that stemmed from disrespect for the judgments and perspectives of others. How then does one rectify the sins of groundless hatred which is still within us? Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Palestine, answered, “The sin of groundless hatred can be overcome only with the mitzvah of causeless love.”

The Supreme Court's ruling should be greeted by all segments of world Jewry — secular and religious, left and right — as a therapeutic gesture toward the healing of our divided people. Through embracing the stranger in our midst, we may overcome the estrangement between us.

The Supreme Court ruling has deep traditional roots. Obadiah the proselyte once asked Talmudist and philosopher Moses Maimonides whether he could halachically pray, “Our God and God of our fathers.” Since Obadiah was a Jew-by-choice, he was informed by other rabbinic authorities that he was prohibited from reciting such a prayer. Maimonides ruled as follows: “By all means you are to pray 'Our God and God of our fathers.' If we trace our descent from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your ancestry is from Him by whose word the world was created.”

The Supreme Court decision continues the spiritual and halachic tradition of Jewish moral sensibility. The Supreme Court's decision augurs the dawn of a harmonious state.

No Longer Alone


Murray Cohen and his wife of 52 years, Lillian, were both Holocaust survivors. Since Lillian’s death nine months ago, Murray spends most of his days inside. Without the attention of his daughter Barbara, Murray would hardly eat, shower or speak.

Murray is a fictional character who might resemble an elderly neighbor, parent or relative you know. His story is not uncommon from many unwritten stories unfolding behind locked doors throughout the Los Angles area. For individuals like Murray, who are suffering from loss, and for those like Barbara, who care for them, The Maple Counseling Center (TMCC) in Beverly Hills provides a service that hopes to unlock the hearts of these pained individuals.

“The Senior Peer Program aims to diminish the stigma and sense of shame associated with seeking mental health services later in life, through the use of senior peer counselors,” said Carol Katz, coordinator of the program. “Someone their own age is available to these individuals on an emotional level, and helps the individual feel less lonely in their experience of loss. Those who felt alienated in their experiences of loss and nearing the end of life are able to feel more understood and self-accepting after talking with senior peer counselors.”

The Senior Peer Program was created in response to a request by the Beverly Hills City Council to aid its substantial population of seniors; the program is available to all seniors residing in the Los Angeles area. Each counselor is required to be 55 years old and up, and the clients are a minimum of 62 years of age. In addition to one-on-one peer counseling sessions, bereavement groups are available throughout the year, as are senior adult support groups. The program also provides counseling for homebound seniors in Beverly Hills.

“We were approached by the City Council to provide a low-fee counseling program for the senior community,” said Astrid Schwartz, an MFCC with the center. “In the beginning, we were supported by both city and federal funding. Today, the only funding is given by the city, and TMCC absorbs the difference of the cost.”

A sliding-scale fee, starting at $10, is charged for each individual counseling session. The fee is based on each person’s ability to pay.

Those seeking to set the highly confidential and personal counseling process in motion should begin with a phone call to TMCC, at (310) 271-9999. Before counseling can begin, an intake session is required to establish the preferences of the individual seeking assistance as well as collect information about patient history for the counselor. Individuals may request male or female counselors and may also request counselors of similar faith and background. The counseling sessions begin once this information has been processed and a fee has been established. This entire process takes about seven to 10 days.

Schwartz, who is also the supervisor of the Senior Peer Counselors, has witnessed the transformation of some of those in need over the past 13 years.

“In dealing with loss, the individual is thrown back to unresolved losses. The issues of aging, death, grieving and loneliness come out. Seniors need to know that they don’t have to go through this process alone,” said Schwartz.

“It is never too late to change,” said Katz. “We all have things to work through, and we all struggle to embrace the end of life. The process of being heard by someone who cares and someone who can empathize has a tremendous value to the individual, no matter what their age.”

The Maple Counseling Center is located at 9107 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills. Carol Katz is in charge of coordinating intake appointments for Senior Peer Counseling and can be reached at (310) 271-9999.

LOVE


These are more stories of beshert, of relationships thatare “meant to be,” with a little help from The Jewish Journal. Overthe past year, at least five couples have called us to announce theirpersonal-ad-inspired nuptials. And, no, they weren’t ashamed to admithow they met. Gone is the stigma that ads are for people who arereally desperate, they insist.

Linda Frankeland Alan Sherry

Alan Sherry, 39, for one, calls personal ads “the greatequalizer.” The businessman, who also plays drums in a jazz band,used to hit “every singles dance from L.A. to Orange County.” But hetired of the posturing, the rejection, the mingling based only onlooks. With the personals, he found, “at least people met me andheard what I had to say.” One of those people was Linda Frankel, themanufacturer’s rep Sherry married in late1995.

Sam Mindel, 37, a computer consultant, answered Michele Gruska’sad in June 1996 and immediately knew it was beshert. The flash cameto him during their first date at a Valley coffee shop: He rememberedone day in the 1970s, when he was 15 and a guest at a party for aLatin-Jewish youth group. Suddenly, a sultry brunette in a sexy,chiffon, black-and-white polka-dotted dress took the stage and, in athroaty voice, began to sing “By Mir Bis Du Shayn.” All the smittenteen could do was stare.

Michele and Sam Mindel

Two decades later, Mindel couldn’t believe he was staring at thesame woman, now a professional singer, over coffee. On their weddingday, Sept. 28, 1997, he pulled a piece of the polka-dotted dress outof his pocket and told the story.

*********

Attractive, slim blond, 5’6″ JF interested in reading, dining,theater, movies & travel, seeks JM 5’10″+ 50-55, fit, honest,financially secure. (818) 555-@’$%

In November 1994, Vera Kauffman-Holzman, was a svelte, fiftyishdivorcee with a plan. The Paris-born executive assistant had beenmarried for 34 years to the wrong man, and she was determined tomarry the right one. So she placed three ads in The Journal, includedher real phone number, and carefully screened the numerous responses.

She asked pointed questions, took meticulous notes, and met atleast 50 men at assorted coffee shops, sometimes scheduling datesback to back to back. Along the way, she kissed her share of frogs,such as the guy who took her to Jack-in-the-Box and scarfed severalhamburgers in a row.

Among the parade of men was Lewis Holzman, a manufacturer’sre-presentative and amateur ham radio enthusiast who was immediatelytaken with Vera. “I saw this gorgeous blonde stepping out of her car,and I went, ‘Yesss!'” he says of their first date.

Theirs was a whirlwind courtship, and, within three months, Veraproposed. But Holzman, a perennial bachelor, simply wasn’t ready.Whenever a previous girlfriend had given him the marriage ultimatum,he had hopped the nearest plane for Mexico or the Caribbean.

But Vera was patient, and after some months of premaritalcounseling, Lewis was ready to set a date. The couple was wed on Feb.11, 1996, after which they hopped a plane together for the Caribbean.

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<BruceSchweiger and Amy Brotslaw

They said it couldn’t be true: 43 yo SJM, great schmoozer, funshopping pal, wonderfully secure in life, eclectic in tastes. Seekingindependent, self-confident SJF who not only knows what she wants butlives it. If U want intimacy vs. neediness & friendship vs.infatuation laced together w/ humor & love, call NOW — only onemodel left!

Bruce Schweiger and Amy Brotslaw are getting married this Sunday,Feb. 15, exactly one year to the day that she answered his ad in TheJournal. The ad that brought them together will grace the cocktailnapkins at their nuptials at the Wilshire Ebell Theater.

It all began in January last year, when the public defender wasdining at Boxer with two galpals and discussing his “miserable lovelife.” His friends exchanged a conspiratorial glance: “You’ve beenvery whiny,” they chided Bruce, “so we’ve decided to place an ad foryou in The Jewish Journal.”

Had Amy leaned out of her bedroom window at that moment (shehappened to live just 150 feet from the bistro), she would have hearda man loudly exclaiming: “You did what?”

Later, a calmer Schweiger left a blunt message on his Journalvoice mail. “I don’t golf, ski or bungee jump,” he said,emphatically. “But I do like theater, restaurants, dinner parties andhanging out.”

Schweiger also had a personal caveat: No entertainment industrypersonnel allowed. “I once had a TV executive spend 45 minutestalking on her cell phone in my driveway before she actually knockedon my door for our date,” Schweiger says. He wanted someone with alife.

Coincidentally, Brotslaw, at the time, was a former TV associateproducer who had dropped out of show biz because it didn’t allow herto have a life, at least the one she wanted to lead. Instead, she wasworking as office manager for the Bella Lewitzky dance company whileearning her MBA in nonprofit management at the University of Judaism.”What I’d really like to do in the next two years,” she wrote afriend, “is fall in love, get married and have a baby. I’m 38 and theclock is ticking.”

Brotslaw co-wrote a screenplay about three women who form a datingclub, with rules about how many blind dates and personal-ad responsesrequired per month.

Life imitated art. Brotslaw went on “1 million blind dates” anddutifully perused the personals — until a fateful Saturday evening,when one ad practically jumped off the page. “I felt compelled topick up the phone and answer it,” says Brotslaw, who was so flusteredby the sound of Bruce’s voice that she forgot to leave her telephonenumber.

When the two finally “did lunch,” at Engine Co. No. 28 downtown,it was chemistry at first sight. “Before the date was over, I waspossessed to kiss her,” Schweiger says.

Turns out both had attended the same Allen Ginsberg performance;the same world music concerts; and both had 90-year-old Aunt Friedas.”Very quickly, we fell into each other’s life,” Bruce says,describing how the couple hosted dinner parties, traveled to Big Surand chateau-hopped in the Loire Valley.

Eight months later, at 1 a.m. on Oct. 5, 1997, Schweiger satBrotslaw down on his bed. He whisked out the antique Victorianengagement ring he had hidden in a tennis shoe, and asked her to behis wife.

“Now my Los Feliz bachelor pad is turning into a family home,”Schweiger says, “and I couldn’t be happier.”A sign now graces hisoffice: “10/5/97, 1 a.m.: Hell Freezes Over.”