Religious children less generous and altruistic than secular ones

A new study finds that contrary to conventional wisdom, children raised in nonreligious homes are more generous and altruistic than their peers who receive a religious upbringing.

Called “The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism across the World,” the study of 1,170 children found that the children from secular homes were more likely to share with their classmates and less likely to endorse harsh punishments for those who pushed or bumped into others, the Los Angeles Times reported. The respondents came from a variety of religious backgrounds.

The results “contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others,” said the study published Nov. 5 in the journal Current Biology.

The research team, led by University of Chicago neuroscientist Jean Decety, studied a diverse group of children aged 5-12 from seven cities: Chicago; Toronto; Amman, Jordan; Izmir and Istanbul in Turkey; Cape Town, South Africa, and Guangzho, China.

Forty-three percent of the subjects were Muslim, 24 percent Christian, 2.5 percent Jewish and 1.6 percent Buddhist. Twenty-eight percent of the children came from families that identified as “not religious.”

In one component of the study, researchers found that secular students were 23 to 28 percent more likely than religious ones to offer to share. Regardless of the particular faith with which a child identified, the more religious the family, the less generous the child.

In another part of the study, the researchers described scenarios involving bumping, pushing or other types of “interpersonal harm” and asked the kids to rate the meanness of the offenders. Muslim children judged the offenders most harshly, followed by the Christians and the secular. The sample of Jewish children was small, and the study did not compare Jewish children to those of other faiths.

The findings “call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that the secularization of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness — in fact, it will do just the opposite,” according to the article.

Survey: Half of U.K. Jews not overly concerned by rising anti-Semitism

Nearly 70 percent of Jews in the United Kingdom believe anti-Semitism is on the rise, a new survey found, but half of the respondents are not overly concerned.

Approximately half of the 1,468 respondents said anti-Semitism was “a fairly big problem,” while another half said it was “not a very big problem” or “not a problem at all,” according to the email study conducted by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research and released earlier this month.

Religious Jews were more likely than secular ones to be concerned about anti-Semitism.

The three groups considered most likely to commit anti-Semitic acts, the respondents said, are extremist Muslims, individuals with left-wing political views and teenagers.

Among the findings, 75 percent of respondents indicated that anti-Semitism on the Internet is a problem, half stated that anti-Semitism in the media is a problem, and half said they avoid wearing or carrying a distinctive Jewish item, at least on occasion, out of fear for their safety.

Asked if they feel blamed by others for actions taken by the Israeli government, nearly two-thirds of the respondents said it never or only occasionally happens.

With an estimated 300,000 Jews, the U.K. has the world’s fifth-largest and Europe’s second-largest Jewish population.

Pew study finds a vibrant Jewish community

Over the past week, I have seen a flurry of writing about Pew Research Center’s study on American Jews. Several scholars and communal leaders have taken an alarmist stance toward the findings, calling the increasing rate of intermarriage “devastating” and describing non-Orthodox Jews as “demographically challenged.” As an adviser to the Pew study and researcher of American Jewish communities, I would like to offer a more optimistic analysis.

Some of the articles have looked for the most dramatic findings to report. The Forward focused on the fact that in 1957, Jews made up 3.4 percent of the U.S. population, compared to 2.2 percent today. This decrease can be explained by the steady streams of mostly non-Jewish immigrants from Latin America and around the world, which have increased the U.S. population at a higher rate than the Jewish population. To quote the Pew report, “The number of adult Jews by religion rose about 15 percent over the last half century, while the total U.S. population more than doubled.”

So how many Jews are there? It depends on how you count. The study estimates that there are 8 million people in the United States who are willing to tell a phone interviewer that they are fully or partly Jewish. But many of those are also Christian or have no Jewish ancestry and have not converted. The researchers realized that different readers would want to apply different definitions, so they provided a handy calculator where we can check off boxes and come up with our own estimate. (Missing from that tool is a halachic definition: There are no checkboxes for having a Jewish mother and/or conversion.) If we include only people who say they are Jews and do not also subscribe to another religion, we find 6.7 million. Just people who say their religion is Jewish (called “Jews by religion”): 5.1 million. No matter how you calculate our population, we still have an impressive representation.

The New York Times and other venues reported a 71 percent rate of intermarriage among non-Orthodox Jews, a number I have already heard discussed with concern in various Jewish circles. I contacted the Pew researchers to verify this statistic, as it does not appear in the report. It is accurate (actually, it’s 71.5 percent), but it is a bit misleading. First, it includes only people who have married since 2000 and whose marriages are still intact. Second, it includes Jews of no religion. The sample size was too small to calculate the percentage of non-Orthodox Jews by religion who have married non-Jews in the last 13 years. But if we look at all Jews by religion, we find the recent intermarriage rate at 50 percent (marriages from 2000 to 2004) and then 45 percent (2005-2013); note the drop in the last several years. Third, these calculations include many people who themselves have mixed ancestry. If we look only at Jews with two Jewish parents — common practice in demography, as my colleague Bruce Phillips has explained — we find the intermarriage rate is 37 percent, compared to a whopping 83 percent of those with only one Jewish parent. I asked Pew to calculate the intermarriage rate for non-Orthodox Jews with two Jewish parents, and they complied: 43 percent. Again, the sample is too small to divide these results by year of marriage or even age, but it is clear that the “intermarriage rate” can vary widely depending on how it is calculated.

Instead of bemoaning or even debating the numbers, an alternative response to the survey would be to marvel at the fact that so many Jews still marry other Jews. We live in an age of acceptance: Not only are Christians willing to marry Jews, many (an estimated 800,000) feel so connected to Jews or Judaism that they tell a phone interviewer that they are Jewish, even if neither of their parents is Jewish. Why don’t the vast majority of Jews marry non-Jews? I would suggest it is because synagogues, schools, youth groups, Hillels and other Jewish organizations are creating opportunities for Jews to get to know other Jews.

According to conventional wisdom, Jewish organizations are no longer touching most Jews. The survey finds the opposite: 58 percent of all Jews report that they attend Jewish religious services at a synagogue or other place of worship at least a few times a year. There is little difference among age groups in synagogue attendance.

We see similarly high numbers for Jewish education: 67 percent of respondents participated in some kind of formal Jewish education. And when we look at Jewish day school attendance — the most exclusive and demanding form of Jewish education — we see an increase based on age: Only 17 percent of those 65 and older attended day school, compared to 35 percent of those 18-29. (Note that these statistics include many people of mixed ancestry, and the numbers for “Jews by religion” are significantly higher.)

Synagogues, schools and other organizations are, it seems, succeeding in fostering friendships among Jews: 79 percent of Jews say that at least some of their close friends are Jewish. Interestingly, this is the only item for which the report mentions regional differences. In the West, only 67 percent say that at least some of their close friends are Jewish, compared to 77 percent in the Midwest and South and 85 percent in the Northeast. These numbers are likely much higher in densely Jewish parts of Los Angeles, but to confirm this we’ll need to wait for the next (much-needed) L.A. Jewish Population Survey.

To sum up, yes, the report finds that the Jewish population is changing. Boundaries between Jews and non-Jews have become more porous, and Jews continue to marry the people they love, whether or not they are Jewish. This trend may lead to decreasing numbers of non-Orthodox Jews in the future. But the numbers seem less alarming with a bit of explanation. The Pew study clearly shows that we are still a robust and vibrant community, numbering in the millions — no matter how you count.

Sarah Bunin Benor is Associate Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Jewish Nonprofit Management and Louchheim School for Judaic Studies at USC.

Polishing jewels of Elul

What is the art of welcoming?

In the eyes of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, it’s his responsibility “to create a better place, foster an open and welcoming city and find the prosperity that lifts us all for generations to come.”

For music legend Quincy Jones, it’s the act of “looking until you find a door of welcoming that’s opening up.”

And for spoken-word artist Andrew Lustig, “It’s when you’re all around a dinner table. / Sitting. / And talking and laughing. / When nobody has their phone on.”

These are excerpts from just three of the contributions featured in this year’s “Jewels of Elul,” a program created by musician Craig Taubman to fulfill the mitzvah of preparatory study during Elul, the month leading up to the High Holy Days.

Taubman has compiled a series of “jewels,” or inspirational anecdotes, focused on a central theme. Now in their ninth year, they come from a wide range of famous and under-the-radar individuals. Past contributors include President Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

“In trying to get inspiration for the High Holy Days, we can look to many different perspectives,” Taubman said. “We live among different types of people, so we can get inspiration from different types of people, too. I try to reach out to a variety of people [in collecting passages for ‘Jewels of Elul’]. They don’t have to be Jewish, as long as they have something to say about that year’s topic.”  

Free daily e-mails, each with a unique jewel, are available by subscribing at They began to be delivered to inboxes around the globe on Aug. 7, and will continue until the first day of Rosh Hashanah, on Sept. 5. A complete collection of 29 jewels is available for purchase in a printed booklet from the same Web site.

Development is under way for a “Jewels of Elul” app, “A Daily Cup of JoE,” which Taubman hopes will be released in the month of September. Inspiration will no longer be limited to the High Holy Days season — the app will serve up daily inspiration year-round, with new jewels added every day of the year, he said.

In previous years, proceeds of  “Jewels of Elul” — the booklets sell for $18 each — have gone to organizations such as Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, Beit T’Shuvah and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. This year, they will benefit Tabuman’s latest project, the Pico Union center.

Located in the building that served as Sinai Temple’s original home more than 100 years ago, Pico Union is an interfaith community center that strives to unite Jews and people of other religions in a variety of ways. Congregations of all faiths are invited to reserve the space for prayer, attend concerts and performances that the center plans to host and learn to cook as a community in the center’s Holy Ground Cafe, a teaching kitchen and full-service cafe. Since its opening earlier this year, Pico Union has been reserved by Korean and Hispanic churches for worship, in addition to several Jewish congregations, Taubman said.

“With Pico Union, we are fulfilling the mitzvah of bringing light unto all nations,” Taubman said. “Pico Union is about being gracious — not only to other Jews, but to humankind.”

This year, Pico Union will host a number of festivities during the High Holy Days. A Selichot service will feature dance, theater, music and spoken-word performances. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, there will be services led by Rabbi David Lazar from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by a lunch catered by Paper or Plastik Cafe, Mama’s Hot Tamales Cafe and Art’s Deli. Later that day, 10 speakers will give their insight on how to start fresh in the New Year. Finally, the center will host a break-the-fast bash at the close of Yom Kippur. The party will feature comedians, mariachi and Israeli bands, and a DJ.

Taubman plans to split his time between the events at Pico Union and services at Sinai Temple, which he has helped to lead for 11 years. He will be at Sinai for erev Rosh Hashanah and the first day of Rosh Hashanah and during day services on Yom Kippur.

In other words, Taubman plans on doing a lot of welcoming in the coming days and weeks.

Schoolbooks ingrain Israeli-Palestinian enmity, study says

Israelis and Palestinians depict each other in schoolbooks as an enemy and largely deny their adversary's history and existence, according to a U.S. government-funded study published on Monday.

Young minds are inheriting a century-old struggle for land and legitimacy through their schoolbooks, said a panel of Muslim, Jewish and Christian social scientists from the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.

Countries who give donations to the Palestinian Authority have studied Israeli allegations of incitement to violence and even anti-Semitism in Palestinian schoolbooks for over a decade, but the report said both sides bore blame for ingraining enmity.

“The schoolbooks offer narratives to motivate members of society to be part of the conflict,” Daniel Bar-Tal of Israel's Tel Aviv University, one of the lead researchers, told a news conference. “In conflict societies, people not only shoot at each other, but struggle for the narrative, the image of the other and of themselves.”

The conclusions drew strong reaction from the governments of each side, with Palestinians happy to have Israel included in a comprehensive study and Israel, which boycotted the investigation, calling it “biased and unprofessional”.

A bilingual research team examined 168 textbooks, homing in on cases in which the other side is discussed and assigning the passages with one of five labels, from “very negative” to “very positive.”

In a double blind study, researchers agreed on the designations in over 90 percent of cases, a degree of unanimity that authors say lent a degree of scientific rigor lacking in previous, more subjective examinations of the subject.

Among passages describing the other, the study classified 84 percent as “negative” or “very negative” in Palestinian books, compared with 49 percent in Israeli state schools and 73 percent in Israeli religious schools.

But of the passages designated “very negative,” most characterized the other “as the enemy,” rather than “de-humanizing” or “demonizing” them, the study by the Jerusalem-based think-tank found.

Along those lines, a 12th-grade Palestinian textbook described “Zionist occupation and its usurpation of Palestine and its people's rights” as “the core of the conflict”.

A fourth grade Israeli religious textbook teaches that “Israel is a young country surrounded by enemies, like a little lamb in a sea of seventy wolves.”

The study also found that Israeli state schools more directly tackled negative aspects of its own past – such as a 1948 massacre of unarmed Palestinian civilians – than Israeli religious and Palestinian schools did.


A vast majority of maps in Israeli and Palestinian textbooks either totally omitted the other side, or showed interim borders without naming the other side.

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in a 1967 war. It annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and has accelerated settlement in the West Bank, while withdrawing from Gaza in 2005.

Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as their capital. Peace talks have been frozen since 2010.

Exercising limited self rule in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has struggled to build a national identity and institutions.

It recycled Jordanian and Egyptian schoolbooks until it began to write its own curriculum in 2000, progressively erasing confrontational references to Jews and celebrations of martyrdom.

But Israeli and U.S. officials have not been convinced by these changes, and say that Palestinian school materials continue to promote hatred.

Israeli non-governmental organizations have repeatedly presented findings alleging incitement to the U.S. Congress as well as the European and Canadian parliaments.

The U.S. State Department provided $500,000 for the latest research, after a study it performed itself in its annual rights review of the Palestinian Territories in 2009 faulted Palestinian textbooks for “imbalance, bias and inaccuracy”.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad “welcomed” the results of the new study, according to a statement from his office, saying it “absolved Palestinian textbooks of the flagrant accusation that they incite hatred toward the other”.

Israel's education ministry said that the findings' “attempt to draw a parallel between the Israeli and Palestinian education systems is baseless and has no grounds in reality.

“The result of the 'research' shows that the decision not to cooperate with the investigation was justified,” the ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters.

Reporting By Noah Browning; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Study: Obama’s middle name influences Israeli perceptions

President Obama’s middle name, Hussein, can influence the way he is perceived by Israelis, a new study found.

Researchers at the University of Haifa and University of Texas found that when Obama’s middle name was used to identify him, Israelis saw him as less pro-Israel.

Results of the study, which was published in the journal Political Behavior, were announced Wednesday in a news release.

“Even though the Israeli public has extensive information about the American President and his positions, their opinions can still be swayed by cultural cues, such as a name that in this case is perceived as Arabic,” said the University of Haifa's Israel Waismel-Manor, a co-author of the study, in the news release.

For the study, groups of Israeli Jewish students and Israeli Arab students were shown a 3-minute, 40-second news clip of Obama speaking at an official meeting with Israeli Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Half of each group saw a video in which the president was identified in a caption as “President Barack Obama” and the other half saw him identified as “President Barack Hussein Obama.”

Both the Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews who viewed the video with his middle name saw the president as less pro-Israel than did their counterparts who watched the video that omitted his middle name. But the Israeli Arabs who viewed the video with the middle name also saw Obama less favorably than their counterparts who watched the video without his middle name.

The study also included groups of American college students who sympathized with either the Israel or the Palestinians. Inclusion of Obama’s middle name had no effect on the views of the American students toward him.

Overall, Israeli Jewish participants were more likely to see Obama as less pro-Israel than were Israeli Arab participants, though the Israeli Jews also viewed him more positively than did the Israeli Arabs.

Genetic study offers clues to history of North Africa’s Jews

A new genetic analysis has reconstructed the history of North Africa’s Jews, showing that these populations date to biblical-era Israel and are not largely the descendants of natives who converted to Judaism, scientists reported on Monday.

The study also shows that these Jews form two distinct groups, one of which is more closely related than the other to their European counterparts, reflecting historical migrations.

The findings are the latest in series of genetic studies, which began in the 1990s, indicating that the world’s Jews share biological roots, not just cultural and religious ties. In many cases the analyses have confirmed what scholars had gleaned from archaeological finds and historical accounts.

“This work demonstrates a shared genetic history among the Jews of North Africa and strengthens the case for a biological basis for Jewishness,” said medical geneticist Harry Ostrer of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who led the study.

For the new analysis, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ostrer and his colleagues examined the genomes of 509 Jews and 11 non-Jews from North Africa, which is home to the second-largest Jewish diaspora. Only the European diaspora, which includes American Jews, is larger.

The scientists found that the Jewish populations of North Africa became genetically distinct over time, with those of each country carrying their own DNA signatures. That suggests they mostly married within their own religious and cultural group, said Ostrer. “They lived in ghettos,” he said, “so their mobility was quite restricted, and by marrying each other they became as closely related as first cousins once removed.”

The analysis showed that all North African Jews are descended from forebears in the Middle East, supporting the hypothesis that biblical-era Israelites among Phoenician traders established colonies along the North African coast.

Common DNA signatures also show that some groups are closer, genetically, to their European co-religionists than expected. That suggests “a shared set of founders,” said Ostrer, presumably Jews from the Middle East who migrated west.

If Jewish populations in North Africa and Europe shared ancestors, then Sephardic Jews who settled in Africa after being expelled from Spain during the Inquisition originated in North Africa more than 1,000 years earlier. “The Sephardic Jews show significant North African ancestry,” said Ostrer. “That could reflect bidirectional migrations” to and from North Africa and Europe over the centuries.


DNA evidence lends credence to accounts that in 312 BC Egypt’s king settled Jews in Cyrenaica, in what is now Tunisia. According to the Jewish historian Josephus (born in AD 37), by the first century AD there were 500,000 Jews there. The DNA that Tunisian Jews share with those of the Middle East supports accounts that, after the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, 30,000 Jews were deported to Carthage, in what is now Tunisia.

North African Jews fall into two genetically distinct groups: those of Morocco and Algeria and those of Tunisia and Libya. The former are more closely related to Europeans, suggesting that when the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497 most of those escaping to North Africa put down stakes in the first lands they reached rather than traveling farther east.

Experts not involved in the new study saw no major surprises but credited it for the breadth of its findings.

“What’s new here is the inclusion of several Jewish communities whose DNA had not been studied before, such as those of Tunisia and Georgia,” said geneticist Marcus Feldman of Stanford University, co-author of a 2009 study that found significant genetic similarity between European and Middle Eastern Jews.

Including Georgian Jews led to one surprise: that they are closely related to those of the Middle East, including those in Iraq and Iran. “That shows there was significant migration of Jewish populations along the Silk Road beginning in the Persian Empire,” said Ostrer. “Just a small number of founders started Jewish communities in India, Burma, and Georgia.”

The Jews of Ethiopia are so distantly related to other Jews that their community must have been founded by only a few itinerants who converted local people to Judaism and then married within the local population. It also suggests the founding was more than 2,000 years ago.

That antiquity helps explain why Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel during “Operation Moses” in 1984 had no idea about the holiday of Hanukkah, which commemorates events of the second century BC—long after their ancestors had left Israel. (Editing by Douglas Royalty)

Leading Jewish demographer disputes study of N.Y. Jews

Len Saxe, a leading Jewish demographer, said a widely cited survey on New York Jewry overestimated the number of Orthodox Jews in the city and its environs.

Saxe, a demographer at Brandeis University, told The New York Jewish Week that the data on the Orthodox in The Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011 clashed with that reported by the Avi Chai Foundation in 2009 on the number of Orthodox children in day schools.

The newer survey, which was commissioned by the UJA-Federation of New York and released last month, found that about 1.5 million Jews are living in New York City and three surrounding counties, and that about one-third are Orthodox. Saxe agreed with the finding that the city’s overall Jewish population has grown.

[Related: Rosner-Cohen ‎Exchange: So, how many Jewish people are there exactly?]

“Key outcomes of the study don’t seem to reconcile with ‘hard,’ non-survey data,” Saxe told The Jewish Week.

Steven M. Cohen, one of the study’s authors, told The Jewish Week that “the main contours of our findings” were correct.

Five steps to studying and learning from the Torah

Observing my kids playing, I notice how the same toy, no matter how many times they play with it, can reveal the most remarkable things. My daughter, with the vocabulary befitting a 1 1/2-year-old, will bring her ball over to me and point to a mark on it with a delighted grunt.

“How remarkable!” I will say with (feigned) enthusiasm. But to her it is remarkable; she had never noticed it before.

When I hear the phrase from Pirkei Avot (the Teachings of our Fathers), “Turn it around and around, for everything is in it” (5:21), the image of a toy jumps to my mind.

The rabbis of the Mishnah, however, were writing at the beginning of the Common Era in the Land of Israel and not in 21st century playrooms of North America, so I’m not sure they share the same association. Surely they were referring to the Torah and the revered text’s limitless insights and wisdom.

There is, however, something playful about the phrase. If we studied the Torah the way a child plays with a toy—repeatedly and open to the possibility of discovering something remarkable—then perhaps we would discover something remarkable.

Why should we make this ancient scroll our own? For starters, the Torah tells us we should.

In recounting the story when the Torah was revealed to Moses, the text begins by describing the journey of the Israelites to Mount Sinai.

“In the third month after the children of Israel went out of the land of Egypt, the same day [‘bayom hazeh’] they came into the wilderness of Sinai,” it says in Exodus 19:1. If the Torah were retelling something that already took place, it should say “on that day” not on “this day.” Rashi, the 12th century French commentator, says we should look to the Torah as if it is being given on this day. The Torah is being given, and revelation has the potential to happen anew each day.

Nice words, but how might we really experience this? While Shavuot offers us a moment to focus our attention on Torah study—all-night learning tikkun style awaits at many area synagogues and JCCs—the esoteric musings of a Talmud scholar at 3 a.m. may not be the kind of revelation we seek.

Try this activity (which I learned from dear friends Rabbi David Ingber and Ariel Rosen.) It’s called “Find your (Uni) Verse.” Here’s what you do:

Step 1: Open the Torah (the scroll, book or even an online version).

Step 2: Randomly point to a verse (this may be easier with a book version).

Step 3: Read the verse a couple of times. The first time is to understand the plain meaning. The second and third times are to play with different interpretations of what the verse might be saying. Consult commentary on the verse if you like.

Step 4: Consider the lesson that you might learn from this verse. What wisdom might it impart?

Step 5: Try to apply the lesson to your life in the coming weeks.

Some Torah verses may have immediate relevance to you than others. “Honor your father and mother” and “Love your Neighbor as Yourself” may be clear at face value and easy to apply. Other verses from Leviticus, like ones that speak about people stricken with tzara’at, may take a bit more parsing. (Luckily, commentators understood tzara’at as “motzi shem ra,” one who does not speak truthfully about another person, an aspect of gossip to which we may relate more readily.)

Even (or especially) if you don’t think the verse relates to you on face value, sit with it for a while. I promise, you will find some meaning.

My husband and I did this activity last year with our community. We just had a disagreement about some household matter and were a little tense going into the holiday. The verse he selected was “Together with your households, you shall feast there before the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 12:7).

The lesson was clear: Don’t let the everyday stresses of your life cloud the experience of these precious holidays. Safeguard them, honor them. You can get back to your stress when the holiday is over, but for now, let it go and rejoice!

How a verse selected at random can be personally relevant speaks to the power of the Torah and the potential for its wisdom to be revealed to us.

“Your Testimonies are my delight/play thing, they are my counselors,” it says in Psalms 119:24. On Shavuot, turn your selected phrases of the Torah around and around in your mind. The words will become for you a beloved toy.

Advanced Talmudic study program for women to close

The Advanced Talmudic Institute at MATAN, one of the few programs for women in Israel that focuses on high-level Talmud study, is closing.

MATAN, the Sadie Rennert Women’s Institute for Torah Studies, was established in 1988, and the Advanced Talmudic Institute, a leading program in advanced study for women, began its first cohort in 1999. The institute was started with funds from the Avi Chai Foundation and other funders.

Fellows learn in the institute for three years, using traditional and modern methods to understand the Talmud, in exchange for a living stipend.

The closing at the end of the current school year was announced in an Op-Ed on the Times of Israel website written by three members of the sixth and final cohort of fellows. There are 12 women in the current cohort.

“Closure of the Talmudic Institute will be a huge step back in the world of Torah study for women,” Moriah Be’er Chriki, Yedidah Koren and Davida Klein Velleman wrote. “Not only will those seeking to learn suffer, but there will be a community-wide impact as well. “This powerhouse for training women to be educators in institutions of Torah study will no longer be able to provide the Jewish community with talented and able female leaders.”

The column did not specify why the program is closing.

Study: Birthright alumni better Israel advocates, marry Jewish

The impact of a Taglit-Birthright experience is significant and lasts for years, according to a new study.

Participants in the 10-day Israel trips are more confident advocates for Israel, are more likely to feel very connected to Israel, and are 51 percent more likely to marry a Jew than their peers who applied for but did not go on a Birthright trip.

These are some of the findings of “The Impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel: 2010 Update,” a recently released study by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies. It is a follow-up to the center’s 2009 report, “Generation Birthright Israel,” and looks at 2,000 young Jews who applied for and/or took part in a Birthright trip between 2001 and 2005.

According to these findings, trip participants were 46 percent more likely to feel “very much” connected to Israel and 28 percent more likely to explain with confidence Israel/Middle East issues. They are 35 percent more likely than non-participants to consider it highly important to raise Jewish children, and if they marry non-Jewish spouses, that spouse is four times more likely to convert to Judaism.

Noting that this study compared trip participants to those who applied but did not ultimately go, usually because there was no room for them, Birthright Israel Foundation President Robert Aronson said the findings demonstrate how greatly “the lives of those who were turned away from the trips would have been changed.”

The research was sponsored by the Robert K. and Myra H. Kraft Family Foundation, the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center Fund and Taglit-Birthright Israel. The full study is available here.

Israeli students protest yeshiva stipend

Thousands of Israeli university students gathered in Jerusalem to protest a bill that would provide stipends to yeshiva students.

As many as 10,000 students from universities throughout the country arrived by chartered buses to the capital Monday evening for the protest march from the prime minister’s official residence to Zion Square.

The protesters carried signs reading “We’re not suckers” and “Haredim—go to work” and chanted slogans such as “Students are worth more” and “We’re hungry for bread, too.”

The demonstration was protesting Knesset approval of the first reading of the 2011-12 state budget, which includes stipends for married full-time yeshiva students.

The amendment to the budget granting the stipends, proposed by Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism Party, comes after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in June that paying stipends to yeshiva students and not to university students constitutes discrimination.

Cedars-Sinai studies liver transplants for HIV patients

Although he was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1991, Brent Carrillo had been well enough to pursue careers in custom stone and tile installation and interior design with relatively few health setbacks. A lifelong resident of Burbank, Carrillo moved to Portland in 2005 to enjoy a home set on half an acre of forested land.

But right about that time, a blood test revealed that Carrillo had elevated liver enzymes. He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, but the medication he was prescribed made Carrillo’s blood so thin that he had to discontinue taking it. His condition worsened, and in the fall of 2007, Carrillo’s doctor said his liver would cease functioning in about a year.

“The doctor said there was nothing more they could do,” Carrillo said. “He didn’t give me any options.”

Like Carrillo, many others with HIV are living decades after their diagnosis, thanks to the development in the mid-90s of a new class of AIDS drugs, which drastically slow the progression of the virus. But while the threat posed by infection has declined, the danger of organ failure has become more likely.

“As treatment has improved, patients are not dying of HIV complications but from liver disease and cirrhosis complications,” says Dr. Nicholas N. Nissen, assistant surgical director of the Multi-Organ Transplant Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Center for Liver Diseases and Transplantation. “Individuals with HIV should know that, despite excellent control, liver disease and liver cancer are increasingly likely.”

Carrillo, 46, had resigned himself to the idea of having a year to live, but his mother, Sandy, was unwilling to accept such a fate for her son. While scouring the Internet for information, she found a study involving liver transplantation for individuals with HIV. One of the study locations was Cedars-Sinai.

The medical center is participating in a National Institutes of Health-sponsored clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of liver transplantation among HIV-positive patients. Cedars-Sinai is one of only 11 hospitals in the country and two in the state participating in the study. The other California facility, University of California San Francisco Medical Center, is also studying the effectiveness of kidney transplantation in HIV-positive patients.

“This is a tremendously important question,” Nissen said. “Patients ill enough to be a candidate for liver transplantation are out of other options. This is the best and sometimes only option they have.”

Nissen says that many transplant centers have been reluctant to perform transplants in HIV-positive patients with liver failure because little is known about how they fare afterwards. In addition, it had been assumed that the immune-suppressing medications required for an organ transplant would “allow HIV to run wild.”

Patients who are part of the study have agreed to be monitored for effects of the transplant and immuno-suppression drugs for five years following their transplant. As with any liver transplant recipient, their status on the waiting list for an organ is based on a numerical score determined by medical tests.

“Liver transplantation is a well-established procedure,” Nissen said. “We are not comparing two types of therapy, as is often done in a clinical trial. Rather, we are evaluating how these patients do when transplanted.”

Patients admitted to the study must have a strong enough immune system and no severe infections or malignancies. Carrillo underwent a series of tests to assess his health status before being accepted to the study.

An earlier study published this year in The American Journal of Transplantation concluded that liver transplantation was “an option for selected HIV-infected patients cared for at centers with adequate expertise.” However, it involved only 11 patients. The current, multicenter study will follow 125 liver transplant patients and publish findings next year.

The biggest challenge, Nissen says, is integrating the combination of medicines this group of patients requires after transplant. The combination includes those designed to prevent organ rejection along with medications addressing HIV and other recurrent disease. “It’s not just the transplant itself, but the effect of medication on HIV…. Any change in medication would require involving [a team of] physicians.”

Cedars-Sinai has assumed some risk by being part of the trial since the hospital’s overall liver transplant results — available online to the public — could be negatively affected were the HIV positive group to show poor results.

Carrillo is glad the hospital was willing to take that risk. His condition had been deteriorating since he was accepted into the study in January. On Sept. 10, he received a new liver, and was discharged from the hospital a week later.

He says he has more energy and feels like “a whole new person.”

“This has given me another 20 or 30 years that I didn’t know I would have,” Carrillo said. “My brother has two young children, and now I have hope of seeing them grow up.”

Campus groups offer students cash for Torah study

Several years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Levin hit on a new way to attract students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to classes at his nearby Orthodox synagogue. Instead of spending money on eye-catching advertising, Levin reasoned it would be simpler just to give the money directly to the students in exchange for attendance.

Though the sums involved were relatively modest, the initiative was a success.

“My thinking was very, very practical,” Levin said. “Instead of spending all that money on elaborate publicity, just give the money to the people who come to the program. They’ll be happier.”

Not everyone was happier. Some board members at the rabbi’s Lake Park Synagogue were uncomfortable from the start, Levin said, and after the local newspaper reported on the project, the synagogue shut it down.

But the idea of paying college students to attend Jewish studies classes has not only survived, it has expanded to more than 70 campuses across the country and attracted support from major Jewish philanthropists.

And though the programs are justified in terms similar to Birthright Israel — the massive philanthropic undertaking that provides young Jews with all-expenses-paid trips to Israel — they provide not only a free service but cash rewards to students who complete them.

“This was an idea to get students involved in learning Judaism, learning about their heritage, and as an incentive, in order to give them the amazing knowledge and to give them right mind-set, it’s to lock them in,” said Fully Eisenberger, an Orthodox rabbi at the University of Michigan who runs the Maimonides Fellowship program on the Ann Arbor campus.

The program, which was launched in 2001 by Jewish Awareness America and is supported by the New York City-based Wolfson Family Foundation, offers participants $400 or a free trip to Israel.

In exchange, Eisenberger said, students “have to commit to 10 classes and come to weekend getaways,” including a trip to Toronto — all expenses paid.

Providing financial support to students who engage in Torah study dates back more than a century. In Europe, kollels provided an annual salary to married men who studied full time, a practice that has continued among the Orthodox in the United States and elsewhere.

Organizers of the college student fellowships describe their programs in similar terms — as “stipends” to enable Torah study free from the pressures of earning supplementary income. But payments are being used increasingly to attract unaffiliated Jews who may not otherwise attend a Jewish class.

“I had a friend who was doing it,” recalled Elise Peizner, who participated in the Sinai Scholars Society, a program run by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, as a sophomore at Boston University. “But to be quite honest, I heard there was a $500 check that went along with it. So it sounded intriguing — the check.”

Founded in 2005, Sinai Scholars will be offering students at more than 40 universities $500 to attend classes in the upcoming semester. The program is supported by the Rohr Family Foundation and developer Elie Horn.

One of the leading non-Chasidic Orthodox outreach programs, Aish Hatorah, also has adopted the pay-the-participants approach. In an article last week, The Associated Press reported that AishCafe, a Web site run by Aish Hatorah, offers students $250 cash or $300 toward an Israel trip for completing its program and passing two tests.

Rabbi Avraham Jacobovitz, who started the first Maimonides Fellowship at the University of Michigan, said he screens participants in his program to weed out financially motivated students.

“The financial offer was only an additional incentive,” he said. “Someone that comes only for the financial benefit is not really the quality student we’re looking for.”

Still, Jacobovitz acknowledged that the payments have boosted participation in his programs. Indeed, that was precisely why he founded the fellowship after noticing that a federation stipend program was drawing students to a combination of Jewish studies and leadership classes.

Andrew Landau, a sales representative for Google who completed the Maimonides Fellowship during his sophomore year at Michigan, said he was looking to advance his Jewish education and meet new friends. The money, he said, was not a prime motivator.

“It’s sort of like a coupon,” Landau said. “Why does a pizza place offer a buy one, get one free? It’s to get them in the door, and then if they like it, they’re going to stay.”

Both Landau and Peizner, neither of whom are Orthodox, said they are glad they took part in the program, though they added that they haven’t made any lifestyle changes as a result.

Eisenberger, the rabbi running the initiative at the University of Michigan, said that alumni of his fellowship program have become more observant, and he believes he has even prevented some intermarriages. He also claims that about a third of students donate the money back to the program.

“This thing works,” Eisenberger said.

Defenders of the programs note that the payouts are not that different from college scholarships, which also provide cash incentives unrelated to financial need. They also note that providing free food is a time-honored method for attracting hungry college students.

“God forbid you give them cash, that’s very, very bad,” Levin said sarcastically. “But if you give them this gigantic food thing, like some of the organizations bring in a Chinese food chef and have a whole Chinese thing, that’s not seen as unseemly or a bribe. I really don’t understand totally the difference.”

Neither does Randy Cohen, who writes The Ethicist column for The New York Times Magazine. Cohen said he saw little difference between offering food and offering cash.

“Ethics, like most law, makes no distinction between incentives in the form of cash or cash equivalent,” Cohen said. “Some corporations, for example, forbid employees from accepting gifts from suppliers above a certain cash value. Some campaign law does likewise. When it comes to food, I’d be particularly wary of any diamond-encrusted chicken legs.”

But Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox author and host of the TLC television program, “Shalom in the Home,” said that while providing refreshments is an accepted social norm, money crosses a line.

“It trivializes Judaism, and it portrays secular Jews as people to be bought off,” said Boteach, who once ran a popular campus outreach program at Oxford University. “It’s insincere. It sends all the wrong signals, that we don’t think the material alone would be compelling, that we need to buy you off.”

Shuls to observe Tisha B’Av through study, films

Tisha B’Av the ninth day of the month of Av is a day of fasting and mourning to commemorate some of the greatest tragedies to befall the Jewish people, among them the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem and the expulsion from Spain in 1492. But despite this litany of sorrow, many contemporary Jews are left wondering how to connect to these millennia-old tragedies that seemingly have no bearing on their lives. To assist in internalizing the message of this day, synagogues across the region and across the denominations are hosting Tisha B’Av programs on Saturday, Aug. 9 and Sunday, Aug. 10.

Like most traditional synagogues, the Westwood Kehilla will read the book of Eicha (Lamentations) on Saturday night, followed by a talk about striving for the final redemption. The Kehilla, an Orthodox synagogue, and the Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel (LINK) follow their long-standing annual tradition of hosting a full day of programming. After morning services on Sunday, the congregation will join in reciting and analyzing the Kinot, elegies that bemoan tragedies including the Crusades, pogroms and the Holocaust. After an ease-the-fast nap break, “Leaving Envy Behind,” a two-part video, will explore the importance of being worthy of a final redemption and feeling true love for fellow Jews. The day will conclude with a lecture and a light break-the-fast.

Many congregations use Tisha B’Av as an opportunity to offer joint programming with other synagogues, sending an important message about ahavat Yisrael, loving your fellow Jews a central theme of Tisha B’Av. Adat Ari El in Valley Village and Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino, both Conservative synagogues, will engage their congregants in a joint community study, discussion and reading of Lamentations, lead by Rabbi Elianna Yolkut (Adat Ari El) and Rabbi Ed Feinstein (VBS) at Adat Ari El on Saturday night. Morning and afternoon services will commence the following day at each temple.

Young Israel of Century City (YICC) and B’nai David-Judea, two Orthodox synagogues in the Pico-Robertson area, are joining for services at YICC. The eve of Tisha B’av will include the reading of Eicha at 9 p.m. on Saturday, and on Sunday, the reading of Kinot and learning will begin at 8:30 a.m., led by Rabbis Elazar Muskin, Nachum Braverman, Ari Leubitz and Jason Weiner. Following the recitation of Kinot, a video from the Chofetz Chaim Foundation will be shown at 11:45 a.m.

IKAR and Shteibl Minyan, both on the Westside, are also joining forces at the Workmen’s Circle on Saturday at 9 p.m. (bring cushions for sitting on the floor).

Shomrei Torah Synagogue and Temple Aliyah, both in the West Valley, continue their tradition of a joint program, held this year at Shomrei Torah on Saturday night. At University Synagogue of Brentwood, a Reform congregation, Rabbi Morley Feinstein and Cantor Jay Frailich will provide a lesson and prayer on “Jerusalem, Then and Now” at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

If Lamentations and elegies just won’t hit home for you, JconnectLA will be showing the film “I Have Never Forgotten You,” a documentary on the life of Nazi-hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, narrated by Academy award-winner Nicole Kidman, at 12:30 p.m. at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

For teens, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) runs a program at Shaarei Tzedek in North Hollywood from 9:30-11:30 p.m. on Aug 9. Solly Hess, the Los Angeles director for NCSY, and Derek Gorman, the director of education for the Jewish Student Union, will show video clips and speak about the importance of having a profound connection to the land of Israel. “The idea is for the kids to feel a loyalty to Israel and really understand why we should feel so upset on Tisha B’av,” Hess said.

This year, Tisha B’Av begins at 7:49 p.m. on Aug 9. The fast ends at 8:30 p.m. on Aug 10. The rabbinical prohibitions on Tisha B’Av include: no eating or drinking, no wearing leather shoes, no bathing, no application of ointments or lotions, and no sexual relations.

Tisha B’Av guide:

New kosher cooking school steps up to the plate — and that’s not chopped liver!

On the first day of class at a new kosher cooking school in Brooklyn, 22-year-old Erica Zimmerman carefully slices raw potatoes into a stainless steel bowl.

Zimmerman, a student at New York University, says she’s always been interested in cooking, but as an observant Jew only wanted a kosher school.

“The only kosher cooking school is in Israel, and I can’t take off a year to go,” she said. “Then I heard about this new school on Facebook, and I jumped at the opportunity.”

Last week, the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts opened in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Flatbush. The $4,500, six-week intensive course, run in cooperation with the continuing education department of Kingsborough Community College, is the only professional kosher cooking school in North America.

According to director Jesse Blondel and founder Elka Pinson, it is the only one in the world besides the Jerusalem Culinary Institute, a 5-year-old school in Israel.

Pinson has been dreaming of establishing such a school for years. Last year she took over the top floor of her husband’s housewares shop on Coney Island Avenue and advertised for a chef/teacher on craigslist.

Blondel, a 26-year-old Brooklyn native, responded. The kitchen manager at the Culinary Center of New York, he was seeking a new position. Organizing and directing a new cooking school seemed just the ticket.

“I realized there isn’t any other kosher cooking school, I’m Jewish, and I grew up not far from here,” he says.

Thirteen people showed up for the course, which teaches basic French culinary skills, from making sauces and soup stocks to cooking the perfect omelet, as well as applying kosher laws in a commercial kitchen.

If you keep kosher, Pinson says, you might shell out $40,000 or more to attend the Culinary Institute of America or one of the other prestigious cooking schools, and never be able to taste what you’re learning to cook.

“Then you go home, buy the ingredients, and cook and taste it there, double the work,” she says.

Pinson says that’s the experience of many, if not most, of the chefs working in kosher restaurants in this country. The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts is the first step in changing that, she says, by providing professional training for the kosher cooking crowd.

The center’s six-week course can only cover the basics, but it’s a start.

“We’re on the crest of this new interest,” Pinson says. “Guaranteed in six months somebody else will do it, too. Good luck! It’s a lot of work.”

Small Mac attack, Wright flap, too much tolerance

The Professor Anti-Semites Love

I was shocked to learn that an article I had published in 1972 is being cited by anti-Semites to support their twisted ideas (“The Professor Anti-Semites Love,” May 9).

I wonder how many people have actually read my article. Essentially, I analyzed aptitude test data from a nationwide study of 12th-graders.

The main finding was that gender, not ethnic identification, accounted for the most of the differences in scores: boys doing better in general knowledge, math and spatial relations; girls in English and memory. On the average, Asian students (boys and girls combined) did much better than the other groups in math (although the Jewish kids were close) and English; the Jewish youngsters surpassed the others in general knowledge; the majority whites in spatial relations. However, when ethnic groups were divided by sex, differences related to ethnicity were way overshadowed by the differences between males and females.

Just because racists cite my study does not mean they are doing it correctly or honestly. It is a complex area deserving of understanding. The original tests, whose scores I analyzed, were administered way back in 1960. Let us hope that we have made progress since then helping our children learn according to their needs.

Margaret E. Backman
New York

Professor [Kevin] MacDonald’s racist rantings and xenophobia would best be addressed by a concerned coalition of Jewish, Latino, African American, Asian and other minorities in academia. Giving him a cover story in The Jewish Journal does nothing except provide a wider platform for his ridiculous ramblings.

This editorial decision makes about as much sense as The Journal’s recent publication of a thick “green” issue, thereby destroying even more trees than usual in order to decry the destruction of our environment.

Paula Van Gelder
Los Angeles

On college campuses today there is zero tolerance for anything that can be even remotely construed as derogatory toward blacks, gays, Latinos, gay Latinos or any other group you can think of — except Jews. Jews are fair game.

When it comes to slamming Jews, all of a sudden everyone is concerned about “academic freedom.” If MacDonald had published similar “academic” findings about anyone else but Jews, he would no longer be drawing a paycheck from California taxpayers.

Frederick Singer
via e-mail

Ziman and Lee

Our views regarding the fallout from the Ziman-Lee kerfuffle (“We Don’t Need More Gabfests on Diversity,” May 2) were only confirmed by the absurd comments attributed to Rabbi Marc Schneier in The Journal (“Ziman, Lee Hold Hands, Pledge Friendship,” May 9).

His version of black-Jewish history is flat out wrong: “Fifteen years ago, I couldn’t have called on the leader of the SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] to join me because there were no communications between African Americans and Jews.”

We aren’t sure what kind of communication devices he was using at the time, but a simple telephone would have made contact with African American leaders possible 15 years ago, 20 years ago and beyond.

As leaders of the black and Jewish communities in Los Angeles over the past 30 years, we were there at countless meetings with lots of “communication.” There were black-Jewish coalitions that involved us, The Jewish Federation, the American Jewish Committee, the SCLC, the Urban League and many others. Contacts occurred often and were substantive.

His observations aren’t any more accurate for other cities around the country, where similar coalitional efforts were undertaken, including New York.

The good rabbi ought to get his history right, especially before he starts to offer advice on a very difficult issue.

David A. Lehrer
Joe R. Hicks
Vice President
Community Advocates Inc.

Too Much Tolerance?

David Suissa misses the point completely (“Museum of Too Much Tolerance?” May 9).

What better way to commemorate the memory of 6 million than to celebrate the reemergence, continuity and vitality of Jewish life celebrated by weddings and bar mitzvahs. Shame on those who refuse to revel in the celebration of life.

Anybody who has been to the Museum of Tolerance recognizes that it not only commemorates the dead but celebrates the triumph of the human spirit. Should the museum succeed and celebrations be held within, the 6 million will be dancing along.

Max Gottlieb
Los Angeles


The latest ad run by the Republican Jewish Coalition, featuring one of their converts, shows how flimsy the GOP knows its ideas are (Advertisement, May 9).
Why else would the nice lady spend a few sentences merely hinting at tricky issues that good people can disagree about and the rest whining about liberal self-righteousness and playing the abused underdog like one of her talk-radio heroes?

In my political life, I’ve found that everyone who cares deeply about the issues is pretty self-righteous about it. The liberals just happen to be right, in addition. You know people don’t have a leg to stand on when they make such clumsy, pandering appeals to readers of a serious publication.

David Meadow
Los Angeles

Golden Boy

Brad Greenberg’s eulogy of Art Aragon neglected the fact that since Aragon was raised in Boyle Heights, he was obviously no stranger to Jewish customs and undoubtedly had “noshed on a pastrami” at Canter Bros. on Brooklyn Avenue on occasion, and I’m surprised he wasn’t buried at Home of Peace Cemetery (“‘Golden Boy’ Keeps Faith,” May 2).

Eddie Cress

The Wright Flap

Kudos to Raphael J. Sonenshein for his comments on “

Pico-Olympic traffic plan on hold after judge’s decision

Granting a temporary victory to neighborhood councils, a judge today ordered the City of Los Angeles to conduct a new environmental impact report (EIR) before implementing the Pico-Olympic traffic plan.

For the last six months, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Jack Weiss have been promoting a three-phase plan to change traffic through portions of the city and Beverly Hills. But a preliminary injunction filed by the Greater West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (GWLACC), which has served as a spokesperson for its member businesses as well as numerous homeowners groups, has stopped the plan.

“The city of Los Angeles is ordered to fully comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act by conducting an appropriate, complete and comprehensive environmental study for the project,” Superior Court Judge John Torribio worte in his decision. “Respondents are restrained from any actions in furtherance of the project unless the resulting document has been prepared, publically circulated, and approved in a manner required by law.”

Jack Weiss said, “While still looking closely at the decision, I’m inclined to move forward with the environmental review to get it done as quickly as possible to relieve traffic in West L.A.”

We don’t need more gabfests on diversity

The details of the ugly dustup between a leading local Jewish philanthropist, Daphna Ziman, and the local African American head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Eric Lee, are still at issue. Ziman disseminated her account of the encounter in a widely distributed e-mail. She claimed that Lee gave a speech at a local fraternity function rife with anti-Semitic statements. Lee strenuously denied the charges, and no independent corroboration exists.

But what is of greater interest than what actually transpired at the Kappa Alpha Psi gathering is the response from the leadership of our community to Lee’s remarks and what that portends for intergroup relations in this city.

Predictably, the civil rights leadership of our communities seems to be responding to the incident just as they have in the past — with dialogue groups and resurrected “roundtables” aimed at convincing participants of the value of diversity and of our historic and present commonalities.

What ought to distinguish the response of today from those in the 1970s and 1990s is the context of our very changed society.

Society has caught up and passed well beyond dialogue groups and the need to justify and rationalize the value of diversity. Every major study conducted in this field has revealed an amazing attitude of acceptance of differences by today’s young people. As Morley Winograd and Michael Hais observe in their just-published book, “Millennial Makeover,” “the great diversity of the Millennial Generation [born between 1982 and 2003] and its experiences growing up in a multiracial society is reflected in their relatively color-blind attitudes on racial relations.”

The Pew Center concluded in its multiple surveys of millennials that “they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.” One example documented by the Pew Center (dealing with a historically incendiary issue) found that that between 1987 and 2003, attitudes toward interracial dating among 18-25-year-olds underwent a sea change — those approving such activity rose from 56 percent to 89 percent. Those completely agreeing with interracial dating rose from 20 percent to 64 percent.

The data of a profound change in attitudes is incontestable and is manifested across racial and religious lines. The Reboot study of millennials, “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era,” found that today’s youth are “fully integrated into diverse social networks. While previous generations often lived in homogenous religious communities, among Generation Y [born 1980-2000], only 7 percent of youth report that all their friends are the same religion as themselves. Even the most religious youth maintain diverse networks of peers.”

The study oversampled Jewish and black youth to confirm their findings.

Even the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) study of anti-Semitic attitudes indicates a decline in anti-Semitic attitudes among the African American population, historically among the most problematic cohort it surveys. Unfortunately, the ADL study does not disaggregate data for younger blacks and their attitudes.

If one believes the myriad studies that confirm the exceptionally positive trends of the new generation, how should one respond to the Lee incident? More dialogue groups that devolve into vehicles to preach to the converted seems to be what we have in store for us. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and its friends will be busy singing the same old songs.

What ought to inform any actions that grow out of the Lee-Ziman incident is the profound change that has taken and is taking place around us. Young people today don’t need a “coalition” to talk about how to live together — they do it 24/7. Their world isn’t circumscribed by their faith, their race or their ethnicity.

Nor should we trudge out the old nostrums and activities and think that the Lees of the world will change their version of history or their attitudes — nor should we really care. They are not the future, and their historical notions are virtually irrelevant.

Our communities’ leadership has to absorb the reality that the next generation of open-minded young people sees diversity as a plus, not as a burden to be overcome. We need to offer them activities that confirm their positive outlook and involve them in doing, not talking, about things, much as Temple Israel’s Big Sunday program does — people working together as equals, improving our community for everyone. We don’t need more gabfests or sessions of self-flagellation.

Millennials believe that they live in an exciting time, two-thirds rate their lives as “excellent or pretty good,” let’s give them reason to confirm those positive attitudes.

David A. Lehrer is president and Joe R. Hicks vice president of Community Advocates Inc. (, a Los Angeles-based human relations organization headed by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.

Some retirees make aliyah to San Miguel de Allende

This coming week, Angelenos of all races and creeds will join in Cinco de Mayo celebrations that the local Mexican American community has adopted as its major holiday (even though it is different from Mexico’s actual Independence Day, which is Sept. 16; May 5 marks a victory of the Mexican army over French invaders during the U.S. Civil War).

Two weeks later, the Jewish community will celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday, which falls on May 14, according to the Gregorian calendar but is celebrated on 5 Iyar, or May 18, this year.

Although the history of Mexican-Israeli relations has sometimes been strained — while several Central American countries voted in favor of the U.N. partition plan creating the State of Israel, Mexico abstained — the two L.A. communities get along just fine. Moreover, a growing number of American Jews have chosen to retire to Mexico, creating a different kind of dual allegiance than the one usually associated with moving to Israel.

Two of the largest American expatriate communities are located in the charming city of San Miguel de Allende, three hours north of Mexico City, and Ajijic, a lakeside community near the city of Guadalajara. The latter has a retired Reform rabbi to lead the community, while the former has gone through some turbulent times while attempting to establish lay spiritual leadership.

Just like the proximity of the Mexican and Israeli celebrations this month, in the early fall, the Jews of San Miguel de Allende celebrate Sukkot, while the city as a whole celebrates its name day. Jews join in, as well, because unlike many of Mexico’s often religiously tinged fiestas, San Miguel de Allende’s autumn celebration is not marked by pilgrimages carrying crucifixes and religious images. Instead, native residents from the state of Guanajuato and beyond flood into the narrow, cobble-stone streets of historic San Miguel dressed in traditional Native American garb, typically wearing flamboyantly feathered headdresses and dancing with abandon to occasionally frenzied drumbeats.

It is a three-day spectacle that rivals the most famous of the world’s storied carnivals, and it is capped off by a spectacular display of fireworks, featuring whirling rockets that take off from temporary pillars erected in the city’s fabled central square.

The Jewish community of San Miguel de Allende is almost as unique as the city itself, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its distinctive beauty and history as a cradle of Mexican independence. Virtually all of its members are North American retirees: San Miguel de Allende is consistently ranked by American publications as one of the top retirement cities outside the United States for its affordable quality of life and pleasant year-round climate.

With but a few exceptions, no Jews lived in San Miguel de Allende prior to 30 years or so ago; nor has there ever been any more than the handful of Jewish children that are there today.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there is no synagogue in San Miguel de Allende. Organized Jewish life was never a priority for American Jewish retirees relocating here, compared to the city’s other attractions, including a vibrant arts community. For this reason, it is extremely difficult even to estimate the number of Jewish residents. The best guesstimates are several-hundred souls marginally identified as Jews. In the winter months, known as the “season,” the arrival of American and Canadian snowbirds multiplies this number several times over.

In recent years, an organized Jewish community of sorts has emerged. For several of the initial years, the community identified more or less with the Jewish Renewal movement. Then a traditional, egalitarian American Conservative-style minyan began operating on Shabbat mornings. For some reason, as tiny as the number of actively engaged Jews is, a serious schism developed, with the result that today, these two groups do not talk with one another.

The mantle of an organized Jewish community now rests on an entity called Shalom San Miguel, which itself has already seen splits and defections among its small board of directors. Nevertheless, Shalom San Miguel has managed to score some impressive accomplishments: It has secured a meeting place at the downtown Quinta Loreto Hotel, where services and adult education classes are held, and a sukkah is built in the courtyard.

Twice weekly classes in Talmud and Kabbalah are led by Shalom San Miguel President Larry Stone, formerly of Pittsburgh. He and his wife, Carole, also teach Hebrew to the community’s children. According to Stone, the crowning glory of Shalom San Miguel’s activities is the weekly Torah study shiur held at 11:15 a.m. every Saturday.

“In the season, we have been known to attract more than 50 people to Torah study,” he noted, adding that High Holy Days services drew similar numbers from residents in San Miguel de Allende and cities up to several hours’ drive away.

The star of High Holy Days services is clearly the Jewish community’s elder statesman, Sidney Yakerson. At 91, he blows the shofar effortlessly, sounding clear blasts whose length would be the envy of many a younger man.

Stone envisions Shalom San Miguel as an umbrella organization comprising secular individuals, as well as groups representing both Reform and Conservative services: “Ideally, we would like to see a Reform Friday night service that would complement nicely the Saturday morning Conservative service,” he said.

In the meantime, according to the organization’s weekly e-newsletter, several Shalom San Miguel families, including the few who drive to Mexico City from time to time to purchase kosher provisions, are planning to hold monthly Kabbalat Shabbat services and dinners in members’ homes. The community also occasionally invites visiting scholars-in-residence and receives visits from Chabad emissaries. .

Finally, San Miguel de Allende may not have a synagogue, but it does boast an interesting landmark building in the downtown area with the intriguing name of Casa Cohen. Adorned with a Magen David and a frieze referencing the Arca de Noe, Casa Cohen houses a decorative metalworking shop where a shopper may find a chanukiah or mezuzah for sale.

The building is owned by a Sephardic Jewish family with roots in the large Mexican city of Guadalajara. True to Mexican form, whether or not the local Cohens choose to travel to Guadalajara to celebrate the Jewish holidays, they would not be found worshipping with Ashkenazic Shalom San Miguel de Allende.

Buzzy Gordon is a travel writer who writes frequently about Jewish communities around the world.

LimmudLA: 4,000 years of Jewish history in one hour

David Solomon

With white butcher paper stretching around the room, David Solomon hurriedly scrawls timelines with his thick black marker, delineating 250-year blocks of time.

“Dudes, don’t try this at home,” he jokes with the audience of mostly 20- and 30-something participants.

In the space of the next hour — plus an extra 10 to 15 minutes thrown in for good measure — Solomon outlines the 4,000 years of Jewish history, from 2000 B.C.E. to the present. Each white paper wall represents 1,000 years, and as Solomon moves from Abraham to the 12 tribes, Moses, the prophets, the First and Second Temples, the Babylonian exile and the “PR stunt” of Chanukah, he works the room, swiveling the audience in its seats as he races from one side of the room to another.

“There’s a purpose to the Jewish people besides handing down the recipe for gefilte fish,” he tells the rapt group. “You don’t have to be frum to believe that the Jewish people have a purpose in the world.”

Welcome to “The Whole of Jewish History in One Hour” and the Solomon agenda, if this charmingly disheveled teacher has one. The 45-year-old Aussie, who says he feels — and acts — much younger than he is, utterly believes in the absolute necessity for Jews to know and understand Jewish history. Dividing the Jewish history timeline into phases provides people with a framework, Solomon says, and shows them “how amazing our history is.”

Solomon will be one of dozens of teachers at LimmudLA Feb. 17-20 in Costa Mesa. The conference will feature a weekend packed with everything Jewish, from text studies to meditation minyans to arts performances. About 600 people are expected to attend the three-day President’s Day weekend event, the first time the worldwide phenomenon is hitting the West Coast.

“In One Hour,” as produced by Solomon and his wife, Marjorie, started out as something of a joke. At the end of 2004, the Solomons had returned to his native Perth after he had spent several years doing postgraduate research in Jewish mysticism at University College London. When Solomon was invited to address a conference of Jewish high school students, he somewhat flippantly came up with the idea of covering the whole of Jewish history in one hour. As the date neared, he found that his talk was being billed as such, and the idea caught on as a more permanent concept.

“It’s really just … a way of making sense of it all, so that people are able to contextualize and comprehend the history,” Solomon says.

“In One Hour” is designed for a wide range of people, Solomon says. Some participants may simply want a better understanding of the framework of Jewish history, others may have a more solid background but haven’t been able to envision the entire timeline.

During the talk, Solomon throws in Hebrew terms and names and does not translate. He sees the use of Hebrew as an important part of acculturating his audience to “speak about Jewish things in Jewish terms.”

“There may be a gap between who it was designed for and who turns up,” Solomon says. “It’s a talk that attempts to give meaning; you don’t have to believe in God.”

In some ways, Solomon’s “In One Hour” is the Jewish History 101 of the Taglit-Birthright Israel age. While successfully branding a new approach to a subject that may have faded in popularity, Solomon is very serious about his desire to use Jewish history as a method of propelling students toward more serious Jewish study.

He wants them to learn Hebrew and Jewish history as a “method of self empowerment,” because he believes that the Jewish people have “lost” their “perspective.” Looking back at Jewish history — the Golden Age of Spain lasted a mere 700 years –Solomon wants to show the Jewish community outside of Israel that nothing lasts forever.

Learning Hebrew is a crucial part of Solomon’s proposed framework. He sees the Hebrew language as the “gateway to Torah” and believes that Hebrew and living in Israel are the only ways to “authentically renew” Jewish spirituality.

Solomon himself took what he calls “a spiritual exile” from the Jewish world for some 10 years and now calls himself a secular Jew who keeps mitzvot (commandments). He grew up in a Sabbath-observant family in Perth, attending Jewish day school and then a Lubavitch-run college in Melbourne, followed by yeshiva in Israel. After living in London and Australia, he and his wife moved to Israel late last year after it became “increasingly apparent that we didn’t feel at home anywhere except Israel.”

Now living in Tel Aviv, the Solomons travel regularly, bringing “In One Hour” to communities in England, the United States and Australia. The format has evolved into an entire series, branching into other subjects, including Bible, philosophy, women in Jewish history and Hebrew, as well as an expanded, nine-session version of the history course.

“I’m not interested in hoisting my own petard,” says Solomon, as intense in conversation as he is in teaching. “There really isn’t a script to this. The narrative just comes out, and these,” he says, pointing at the time-lined walls, “are the headlines.”

For more information on LimmudLA, visit

Before and after

While studying this Torah portion several years ago, I enjoyed one of those peculiar delights vouchsafed to those who learn to study great Jewish texts in the Hebrew original — the discovery a great mistranslation. The concept is “ein mukdam u’m’uchar ba’Torah” — usually mistranslated as “the Torah [often] is not written in chronological order,” or more literally, “there is no before and after in the Torah.”

The term is used when Torah scholars, in their careful analysis of passages from the Torah, see that certain events seem out of order. They often resolve this problem by teaching that the way the Torah presents a series of events or teachings is often by an inner logic other than chronological (for those of you who like non-linear thinking, this is a concept for you).

We see this concept of “no chronological order” displayed well in our parashah, Yitro. In Exodus 18, the b’nei Yisrael arrive at Har Sinai, and Moshe is greeted by his father-in-law, Yitro, the Midianite priest. Yitro blesses God for all good done for the people Israel; Yitro makes offerings to God, and Moshe, his brother Aharon and all the elders feast with Yitro (verses 18:1-12). Starting in verse 13, we see Yitro correcting Moshe for trying to judge all the people by himself, all day long, making known one by one “the statutes of God and God’s teachings.” Yitro has Moshe appoint a judiciary, saying that Moshe will impart “the statutes and the teachings … the path they should follow, the deeds they should do,” but that those whom Moshe will appoint will decide the lesser cases. The problem is, Moshe is adjudicating legal cases, making known the statutes and teachings of God in Exodus chapter 18, but the Ten Commandments aren’t given until Exodus chapter 20, and the main body of the laws of the Torah until after that.

Most traditional commentators agree that Exodus 18:12-27 is a narrative that actually took place where we see Exodus chapter 35 today — when Moshe came down from Mount Sinai with the second tablets. It is hard for the tradition to conceive of Moshe teaching law before the law was given — hence ” ein mukdam u’m’uchar ba’Torah.” But in today’s spoken Hebrew, the phrase would be understood as “there is nothing early or late in the Torah.” In other words, things happen right on time. So if things happen right on time, why does the Torah want us to know that Moshe was teaching law right before the Torah was given?

First of all, they had to know law already, and virtually all the Ten Commandments. We already know murder is wrong, because we know that Cain killing Abel was wrong. We already know you don’t steal, hence the protestations of Jacob’s brothers that they did not steal Joseph’s divining cup. We already know you don’t commit adultery — witness God’s displeasure when a Pharaoh in Genesis wants to sleep with Sarah. In short, the main contours of the law were already known — promulgated into the heart of every moral and rational human being.

Here is what was happening, in my mind. After the brutality of slavery — imagine the pent-up rage for justice, the need to settle scores, the rage to finally get your own. Imagine the moral chaos that was taking shape. One thing I have learned from counseling others is that wounded people wound people — and in some way, we are all wounded. What stops wounded people, who are only trying to get some justice in their lives, from clawing at others with whom they have conflict? Only the prior commitment to virtue, to principle, a commitment that overrides the wounds we suffer in life.

I imagine a crisis. I imagine Moshe suddenly discovering the pent-up moral rupture and the outpouring of people seeking redress. Moshe follows his father-in-law’s advice and appoints others to help him. And I imagine a tragedy that every counselor has seen — a person so hurt, or better put, a person so conscious of only their own hurt, that the law makes no difference to them. A commitment to virtue and principle becomes an obstruction, an abstraction, a mere impediment to saying or doing whatever they feel. “Teaching the path that they should follow” does little good.

When does transformation occur? I know from my own experience and from working with others that true transformation happens when a teaching becomes an epiphany, a light shining through from within. I can teach over and over again — “it doesn’t matter what the other person said; what matters is this: what kind of person do you want to be?” — and it will do no good until a person experiences a moment of enlightenment and knows what kind of person they want to become.

I imagine the people, people like us, not able to hear the teachings of Moshe and the judges he has appointed; I imagine a welling sea of moral chaos beginning to erupt into a storm (as it did in the story of Molten Calf, the story of the Spies, the story of Korach….) when God forces an epiphany through creating a Theophany — the Divine shining through. “The way in which we should go” is not advice we can accept or reject; it is a divine law that will guide us into our realization as human beings. The law becomes Revelation — the Divine yearning its way into our hearts.

Our work as Jews is to evoke that holy light that rests in Torah and coax it out into our lives, a light that can guide us to our fulfilled nature as human beings.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley is the spiritual leader of Ohr HaTorah Congregation, and provost and professor of mysticism and liturgy at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California campus.

Veggie lovers could fare better in cancer fight

If you’re a middle-aged man (or already past it) here’s what should be on your menu today: tomato sauce, watermelon, stir-fried tofu and veggies, selenium and vitamin E. Wash it all down with a swig of green tea or pomegranate juice and you may be able to ward off prostate cancer.

New and better information is coming to light every day about ways to prevent this common disease. Since doctors are getting better at catching it early, fewer men are dying of prostate cancer. But one in six men will still develop the disease in their lifetime.

Eat your Veggies, Drink Tea

Luckily, if you are at risk, there are things you can do. Prevention may be as simple as eating better, exercising more and taking a few key supplements. Many of these remedies, which cut inflammation, may also help men struggling with a benign enlarged prostate.

For example, eating a lot of red meat, processed foods, alcohol, sugar and high-fat dairy products can lead to inflammation in the prostate gland (and other parts of the body).

“It’s best to have an overall healthy lifestyle,” said dietician Dee Sandquist, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). “You need to eat a balance of foods in moderate amounts.”

Processed meats and high-fat dairy have more chemical residues, which also may be related to cancer risk. Instead, Sandquist suggests, eat lower on the food chain. Add more grains and legumes. Go vegetarian a couple of times per week.

One of the most promising natural compounds for prostate cancer prevention is lycopene, Sandquist suggested. You can find it in cooked tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Sandquist recommends shooting for two to four servings of lycopene-rich foods per week. Since the body needs a little fat to absorb lycopene, have some olive oil with your pizza or spaghetti sauce.

Green tea can help, too. It’s full of antioxidants that appear to fight cancer. In particular, studies show, it has a lot of promise for preventing prostate cancer cells from growing into a threat.

“Green tea leads damaged cells or cancer cells to commit suicide,” said University of Wisconsin Cancer Center researcher Dr. Hasan Mukhtar.

He points to several epidemiological studies that show people who drink two to four cups of green tea per day have a lower incidence of prostate cancer (men in Asian countries, for example).

A 2005 study by Mukhtar showed pomegranate juice (the equivalent of two fruits per day) has anti-inflammatory effects that may also help with benign swelling of the prostate and cancer prevention.

Cruciferous vegetables — such as broccoli, cauliflower, radish, turnip, cabbage and brussels sprouts — also have cancer-busting qualities, studies show. Soy may help, but since it contains natural plant estrogens — and prostate cancer is tied to hormones — more study needs to be done. All of these foods should be part of a varied diet, Sandquist said. “We get the most health benefits from the overall variety,” she said. “There’s a synergy when these foods work together in the body. No one food has all the nutrients we need.”

Does Selenium + Vitamin E = Prevention?

Meanwhile, a Phase III clinical trial of 35,000 men sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is underway. Scientists want to know if a mix of selenium and vitamin E prevents prostate cancer. Doses used in the study include 400 milligrams per day of vitamin E and 200 micrograms per day of selenium (selenomethionine, not the yeast kind). Some of the subjects will take a placebo. Results for this longterm study, known as SELECT, will be released in 2012.

Researchers started the SELECT trial after previous smaller studies revealed benefits — almost by accident. One study (which was actually looking at lung cancer) found men who took vitamin E had 30 percent lower incidence of prostate cancer. Another study (originally aimed at skin cancer) showed a 50 percent decrease in prostate cancer in men who took selenium.

“These are interesting agents that deserve study,” said Dr. Howard L. Parnes, chief of the cancer prevention division of NCI’s Prostate and Urologic Cancer Research Group. “They’re both antioxidants, but that may not be how they work. They might interrupt the process in other ways.”

Zyflamend Shows Promise

Another promising supplement is Zyflamend, a cluster of anti-inflammatory herbs such as tumeric and ginger, for sale by New Chapter ( in most health food stores. Dr. Aaron Katz, director of Columbia University’s Center for Holistic Urology, discovered Zyflamend when many of his patients said they were trying it for prostate problems. His initial research showed the mix of herbs in Zyflamend could stop cancer cells from growing.

“To date, 91 percent of the patients have not converted to cancer,” Katz said.

He estimates 40 percent would have developed prostate cancer if they did not take Zyflamend. The men in the study took the compound three times a day, Katz said.

Mixed Results for Proscar

The only scientifically proven way to reduce the odds of prostate cancer is the conventional drug finasteride (Proscar). It’s currently approved by the FDA to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate and male-pattern baldness.

A recent NCI clinical trial showed finasteride reduced the relative risk of prostate cancer by 25 percent. But research also showed the men who took finasteride had a 1.3 percent higher risk of having high-grade prostate cancer — the kind that is more deadly. More studies are underway that may explain the high-grade cancer risk, Parnes said. Studies of a similar drug, dutasteride, may offer additional hope.

Back to Basics

For now, making lifestyle changes and maintaining a healthy diet may be the most effective ways to prevent prostate cancer, experts say. “Obesity is actually an inflammatory state, so being physically active is incredibly important,” Parnes said. “It’s all about the balance between how much we eat and how much exercise we get.”

In other words, get off the couch. And eat your vegetables. Especially the broccoli and tomatoes.

Melissa Knopper is a freelance writer specializing in health and science issues.

Torah study builds unshakable conviction in faith

As the ’07-’08 school year is well under way, are you sure you’ve got everything you need? Pens? Check. Cool new backpack? Check. New makeup set? No need, I go to an all-girls school. Cute shoes? Check. A real understanding of the significance of a Jewish education? Eh, not so much.

With a modicum of disbelief, I have embarked on my senior year at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles. While printing out applications for colleges and seminaries in Israel — which will likely stay on my desk until immediately before their due dates — I ran across an interesting question: “What do you believe to be the most essential thing you’ve learned throughout your high school career?” I was truly puzzled. They see my grades and SAT scores, and now they actually want me to remember what I learned?

I have been fortunate enough to attend Orthodox private schools for my entire life, privy to an in-depth study of scripture. As I entered high school, and the learning became both more challenging and fascinating, I wondered whether my rapid note taking was simply in order to pass a test or for true spiritual enlightenment. The lives of Abraham and Sarah? The importance of lighting Shabbat candles? The mitzvah of buying new clothing for a holiday (which for any Jewish girl is almost every day)? What is the most important thing I have learned?

Suddenly, it dawned on me. On Yom Kippur afternoon, we read the book of Yonah, a minor prophet with a major message. All too well do we know the story of Yonah being swallowed by a whale and saved from the fury of a terrible storm. But right before Shamu entered this story, the sailors who suffered due to Yonah’s indiscretions cast lots to find the perpetrator who caused this storm to befall only their ship. As each lot fell on Yonah, the sailors asked what big “no-no” he had committed to incur the wrath of God. “Tell us now, because of whom has this evil befallen us? What is your trade? And from where do you come? What is your land? And of what people are you?” (Jonah 1:8). In Yonah’s reply, I found the answer to my intriguing question and a potentially great college essay.

“I am a Hebrew and I fear Hashem, the God of the heavens, Who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9).

I know what you’re thinking: How is that an answer? Was Yonah’s seasickness affecting his thought process? Nope. Before understanding the brilliance of this answer, think for a moment about how you would answer these questions. “Well, um, I didn’t follow what God told me to do. I’m, um, a student and I hail from the Valley. And, oh yeah, I am of the Jewish people.” That’s all I’ve got. But no, in Yonah’s answer he searches within himself to find who he truly was — a God-fearing Jew.

Our sages pass down the idea that only through concentrated learning of the Torah and other books in scripture can we truly understand our world and how we must survive within it. By means of learning we come to understand laws, philosophy, and develop a true pride in being a son or daughter of Israel; thus, becoming more than just what we are, we can become who we are.

As I begin my college search, there is one question I can’t help but ask myself: Will living in a world where language, fashion and food are constant battles lead me to forget my upbringing? Will I be just another addition to the melting pot? No, I assert, I will not. And I know why — because of everything I learned throughout my long years in Jewish day school.

Voila! I finally had an answer. Through myriad hours of learning, I have managed to cultivate a strong conviction in the Jewish faith that I am sure cannot be damaged. Every time that I open the Torah and learn the secrets that lie behind each word, I feel a great surge of pride that I can call myself a Jew.

So, what will I tell the seminaries (when I finally get around to filling out my applications)? There is not one thing that has changed me or led me down a God-fearing path, but, rather, it is the accumulation of my many years of Torah study that have come together to define my true persona, that of a modern Jewish woman.

My advice to teens and adults alike is to take advantage of every moment you can learn, whether through speaking to someone knowledgeable, reading a book, or even taking a quick peek at the explanation of the week’s Torah portion online. You will be surprised how quickly these fragments influence your daily life and improve the foundation of your faith and Jewish identity.

Now, equipped with new notebooks, a laptop, and an understanding and appreciation of talmudic study and my role as a Jewish woman — I’m off.

Jina Davidovich is a senior at YULA Girls High School.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the November issue is Oct. 15; Deadline for the December issue is Nov. 15. Send submissions to

New study finds 1 million more Jews in U.S.

A new study gives fairly concrete evidence that the American Jewish population could be more than 1 million people larger than believed — but if so, it means efforts to engage them may have been less successful than the community realized.

The United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01 (NJPS) was widely viewed as flawed. Still, the Jewish community held to the survey’s estimate that there were 5.2 million American Jews.

But even using the same criteria as UJC did to define who is Jewish, it’s more likely that there are 6 million to 6.4 million American Jews, according to a Undressed up

How to choose an Israel summer program

Josh Ungar will never forget the first time he laid eyes on the Western Wall.

“It was right before Shabbos and [the tour leaders] led us to the Wall and had us close our eyes and then open them when we were right in front of the Kotel,” remembered Ungar, 16, of his experience with Ramah Israel Summer, which is affiliated with Camp Ramah. “It was an amazing feeling, after hearing and reading about this place for all this time and finally being there.”

After spending last summer touring Israel with his peers, the Playa del Rey resident feels a stronger connection to the country and his Jewish roots.

Ungar is not alone. The Jewish Agency of Israel reports that in 2006, 7,870 high school students participated in Israel programs. But while the decision to go may be an easy one, the process of selecting a program is not always so simple. Countless organizations offer a variety of different types of programs, making overwhelming the task of finding the right fit. So, how can a prospective traveler narrow down the options?

“First [interested teens] should think about their goals in going to Israel,” said Sara Polon of Tlalim Tours, a Washington, D.C.-based company that creates tours for the Passport to Israel summer program of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO). “Are they looking for a religious experience, a more outdoorsy adventure, an educational experience or maybe a community service experience?”

Teens can also start with programs aligned with the branch of Judaism with which they affiliate. Another consideration is the amount of time the youngster is willing to spend on his journey, as the programs range from a quick 10-day excursion to six weeks or more.

Jewish youth movements like USY (United Synagogue Youth), BBYO, Young Judea, Habonim Dror, NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) and NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth) offer a variety of programs that are often open to both members and nonmembers. In fact, 50 percent of BBYO’s Passport to Israel participants are not affiliated with the organization.

In general, these trips offer a combination of sightseeing, outdoor adventures, community service and Jewish education. But some of the youth movements also offer programs that emphasize just one of these aspects. USY offers Etgar! Outdoor Adventure Israel for teens who would like to spend the summer hiking and exploring the outdoors. Similarly, NCSY’s G.I.V.E. program focuses on community service.
In addition, some of the youth movement trips include Eastern Europe. Participants often visit concentration camps before making a pilgrimage to Israel.

The highlight of 16-year-old Daniella Kaufman’s NFTY trip last summer was a re-enactment of the liberation from Terezin, a Prague concentration camp, and then a cruise to Israel, mimicking the boat ride refugees took.

“We had a chance to arrive in Israel just as so many Jews did so long ago, and experience the feelings they felt when the port of Haifa, their gateway to freedom, came into view,” remembered the Valley Village resident.

For students in search of an academic experience, there are plenty of options. The Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel, a five-week program for high school juniors, selects 26 applicants from diverse Jewish backgrounds to study Jewish texts and explore Israel.

InnovationIsrael is a four-week program in which students take courses at Tel Aviv University and visit environmental, high-tech, bio-tech, medical, art and film studio facilities. For those looking for religious academia, NCSY offers Kollel (for boys) and Michlelet (for girls). Both programs focus on Torah study. NCSY also offers “Shakespeare in Jerusalem,” an Israel experience coupled with an “on-the-road” English literature course.

Students who want to spend their summer doing community service can explore Sar-El (the National Project for Volunteers for Israel), an Israeli non-profit that offers adults and teens 17 and older the opportunity to work in Israeli army bases and hospitals. Camp Tawonga, a Jewish summer camp based in San Francisco, is offering a Teen Service Learning trip to Israel where participants will work four days a week with locals on important community projects.

While programs vary in cost, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE) program offers financial aid for many teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 26 who have not yet visited Israel.

“We want to help every young person go to Israel for the first time,” said Deborah Dragon, The Federation’s vice president of public relations. ICE offers grants and scholarships with the help of more than 80 local Jewish agencies. The group funds 250 to 300 trips per year. The Jewish Free Loan Association, also a Federation agency, offers interest-free loans for Israel trips.

No matter which options young travelers choose it is clear that a summer in Israel makes a profound impact in the life of a Jewish teenager.

After her USY trip last summer, Daniela Bernstein, 16, of Los Angeles is already thinking about returning. “The trip cultivated my love of Israel and the complete realization of how crucial Israel is to Judaism and the Jewish people,” said Bernstein. “I am already planning my next visit.”

For information on financial aid and referrals for a variety of Israel programs, call The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE) office at (323) 761-8342.

For information on Ramah Israel Seminar, visit

For information on BBYO’s Israel programs, visit

For information on USY’s programs, visit

For information on Young Judea, visit

For information on Habonim Dror, visit

For information on NFTY in Israel, visit

For information on NCSY’s summer programs, visit

For information on the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel, visit

For information on InnovationIsrael, visit

For information on Sar-El, visit

For information on Camp Tawonga’s programs, visit

For information on the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE), visit

The promise of ‘Peace in our Time’

The Iraq Study Group on the face of it seems to be a well-meaning enough document put together buy a well-meaning enough group of elder statespersons.

One of the Study
Group’s co-chairs, Lee Hamilton, is a good, decent and principled man. The other co-chair is James Baker, who is to diplomacy what J.R. Ewing was to oil.

Regardless of what you think or don’t think of the war in Iraq, you will delude yourself if you believe that it is not a major battle in the ongoing war pitting Islamo-terrorism against us. You will delude yourself at your peril. Do not believe me, listen to the terrorists themselves. As soon as the Iraq Study Group’s report was out, out came the response of Abu Ayman, a senior leader of Islamic Jihad, “The report proves this is the era of Islam and of Jihad. It is not just a simple victory it is a great one…. It is a sign to all those that keep saying that America, Israel and the West in general cannot be defeated on the ground, so let us negotiate with them … the next step would be a total defeat on their [American] land.”

What is the strategy suggested by the report, which so encourages Abu Ayman and his like-minded Jihadis? There are three big ideas: Withdraw combat troops by 2008, engage Iran and Syria and include the Israel-Palestinian/Israel–Syria conflict into the mix.

Withdrawing combat troops by 2008 means quite simply that by 2008 you intend to stop fighting. Clerk typists are not going to engage in combat.

Recommendation 10, the issue of Iran’s nuclear programs should continue to be dealt with by the United Nations Security Council and its five permanent members (i.e., The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) plus Germany.”

“Recommendation 11: Diplomatic efforts within the support group should seek to persuade Iran that it should take specific steps to improve the situation in Iraq.”

This then is the Jim Baker back-room deal. By committing the United States to assigning the issue of Iran’s nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council, we are virtually guaranteeing that no action will be taken to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon! That is, as Daddy Bush liked to say, the quid pro quo. Iran gets a nuclear weapon in return for buying us just enough stability in Iraq to pull out and thus stick the next administration — which would either be a Democrat or John McCain — with the consequences.

But, like the famed Ginsu knife set commercial, that’s not all! What else do you get if you’re one of the first two state sponsors of terror to call the 1-800 number? Well, if you’re Iran and Syria you get Lebanon and the Golan Heights!

Recommendation 13: “There must be a renewed and sustained commitment from the United States on a comprehensive peace plan on all fronts: Lebanon and Syria and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.”

Now that’s interesting. What do Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Syria and Israel and the Palestinians have to do with Shias killing Sunis in Baghdad? The tip-off is including Lebanon in these conversations. Lebanon is not at war with Israel, and Israel is not at war with Lebanon. Hezbollah, Iran and Syria’s terrorist army proxy, dragged Israel and Lebanon both into a war which neither one wanted as a way of changing the West’s conversation away from the topics of Iran’s nuclear aspirations and Syria’s assassination of Lebanon’s president!

The only reason for including Lebanon in the conversation at all is to signal to Iran and Syria that it will be offered up for grabs to them on a silver platter as well. It will be done under the guise of encouraging a more representative government in Lebanon, a truer Democracy that recognizes Hezbollah’s legitimate rights and interests.

But that’s not all! No! If you’re amongst the first two callers not only do you get the Ginsu knife set, Shia domination from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, and the government of Lebanon; if you’re Syria you get the Golan Heights! And again, all you have to do is buy just enough time to give W a fig leaf, and then you can stick it to the next Democrat or John McCain.

The first page of the letter from the co-chairs, at the very beginning of the report, states “Our political leaders must build a bipartisan approach to bring a responsible conclusion to what is now a lengthy and costly war … the aim of our report is to move our country toward such a consensus.”

The tone is remarkably similar to another report presented to another body of legislators “Therefore … we should quickly reach a conclusion so that this painful and difficult operation … might be carried out at the earliest possible moment and concluded as soon as was consistent with orderly procedure, in order that we might avoid the possibility of something that might have rendered all our attempts at peaceful solution useless … every one of the modifications is a step in the right direction.”

That last bit of rhetoric was Neville Chamberlain as he sold out Czechoslovakia to Hitler in order to bring about peace in our time. When you think of it, from his perspective, he may have been cutting a better deal than the present one. He only sold out one country. The Baker report sells out four: Lebanon, Israel, Iraq … and the United States.

Dan Gordon is the writer of such films as “The Hurricane” and “Murder in the First.” In addition, he is the author of numerous articles on the Middle East conflict and served as a captain (Res.) in the IDF during the recent Israel-Hezbollah war.

Learning With the Learned; Virtual Hartman Institute; Jewish Law Course Offers CLE Credit

Learning With the Learned

Five of Los Angeles’ learned rabbis and teachers will share their wisdom in “Master Class,” an advanced Judaic continuing education class open to all at the University of Judaism (UJ), beginning Nov. 9. Each thematic section will meet for three sessions on Thursday evenings over the course of the fall and spring.

Moral questions define the first three elements: Rabbi Mordechai Finley of Ohr Ha Torah Congregation will speak on “Soul and Virtue: Inner Work from the Sources of Mussa and the Kabbalah” and will discuss both moral and spiritual growth; Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism, will explore the book of Leviticus, including “priests, sacrifices and the triumph of morality”; and Elliot Dorff, rector and distinguished professor of philosophy at the UJ, who also teaches law at UCLA School of Law, will tackle Jewish medical ethics and moral values.

A more historical approach will define the final two sections, with Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson teaching the medieval masters Saadia, Rambam and Ha-Levi, and Reb Mimi Feigelson discussing Chasidic views from Purim to Pesach.

The class curriculum, said Gady Levy, vice president for continuing education at the UJ, was designed around great teachers and their expertise.

“Great passion is infectious and relating to students makes it possible for enthusiasm to spread,” he said.

“The goal,” Levy said, “like Judaism itself — is simple, yet complex. The expert teachers guide students through the deep philosophies of ancient texts. The knowledge that is the result of this journey is then applied to contemporary experience, making it useful in daily life. This jibes with the overall goal of helping our community live richer, fuller lives through Judaism.”

This is the second year of the Master Class series; about 140 students participated last year, and approximately the same number are expected this year. Space is still open for registration, which costs $250 for the 15 sessions. Classes are held on Thursday evenings, 7:30-9:30 p.m. Call (310) 476-9777 ext. 473 for registration information.

— Susan Freudenheim, Managing Editor

Virtual Hartman Institute

Members of Temple Israel of Hollywood have an opportunity to study with some of the top teachers in Israel through a video class with the Shalom Hartman Institute, a pluralistic program of education, scholarship and leadership training in Jerusalem.

Beginning Nov. 12, Rabbis John Rosove and Michelle Missaghieh will together lead eight sessions over the year with a one-hour chavruta (study partners) session on a text chosen by the Hartman Institute, followed by a video lecture and Q-and-A with a scholar.

The theme of “The Foundations of a Thoughtful Judaism: Eight Dilemmas of Faith” will explore the questions of who is God and what is faith.

Missaghieh is particularly excited about this program, because she is participating in the Center for Rabbinic Enrichment, a Hartman Institute program that selects 30 rabbis from across the country to partake in weekly satellite classes, and winter and summer institutes in Israel.

“It’s an amazing, amazing gift,” said Missaghieh, who is in the third year of the three-year program. “The learning is on such a high level, and the camaraderie and connection between the rabbis is really fantastic.”

The video classes being offered to the congregation are an outgrowth of the rabbinic program.”The congregation is supporting us in allowing us to go to Israel twice a year and do this class every Monday for three hours,” Missaghieh said. “So the institute developed this opportunity for the lay leadership in our synagogues to understand the high level of learning and to buy into the whole Hartman philosophy and mission of pluralism, of high level learning, of really examining the text from all different points of view.”

Along with Missaghieh, Rabbi Sheri Zwelling Hirsch of Sinai Temple in Westwood and Rabbi Don Goor of Temple Judea in West Hills are participating in the rabbinic program, and Temple Judea last year ran the video class.

The Hartman class complements an already full calendar of adult education at Temple Israel, including a documentary film series for women that includes discussion and text study on the topic; Torah through visual and performing arts; Hebrew classes; basic Judaism; adult bar and bat mitzvah programs; and adult education for parents in the temple’s nursery, religious and day schools.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Jewish Law Course Offers CLE Credit

More than 20 Southland Chabads, from Thousand Oaks to Huntington Beach, will lawyer up during the second week in November with the introduction of a new class, “You Be the Judge: Behind the Steering Wheel of Jewish Law,” a six-week course that explores how secular and religious law relate by examining actual cases brought before a beit din, or court of Jewish law.

The class is modeled after one taught by Jeremy Rabkin, a U.S. government professor at Cornell University, and is being offered for the first time by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), a worldwide Chabad adult education program. Local attorneys can earn continuing legal education credit for the course, which has been accredited by the National Board of License.

The six classes will examine such topics as the enforceability of immoral contracts, Holocaust-related claims and distinguishing between creative opportunity and crass opportunism through the lens of talmudic law. “You Be the Judge” will be taught concurrently each week at more than 200 locations throughout the United States and at sites around the world, although days and times will vary.

However, once a student is registered, he or she can take the class at any location.

“If you’re taking this class in Agoura Hills, and if you happen to be traveling to Las Vegas the next week, you can pick it up there,” said Rabbi Efraim Mintz, JLI director.

Guide to Torah fleshes out flat characters in stories

“Between the Lines of the Bible: A Study From the New School of Orthodox Torah Commentary,” by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom (Yashar Books)

Besotted with Torah.

That’s the phrase that springs to mind when reading Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom’s “Between the Lines of the Bible: A Study From the New School of Orthodox Torah Commentary.”
The title is somewhat academic, and I have to admit that it does not make the book sound user-friendly. But make no mistake, this lovely and lively volume is a valuable addition to traditional Torah study and to the layman’s library.

One of the first maxims any budding Torah scholar learns is: Aseh L’cha rav — find yourself a teacher. For it is understood that no one can study Torah alone. The corridors of Torah study are an endless maze that can only lead to confusion and frustrating dead ends. Everyone needs a guide, and even the most brilliant talmudic students in the finest yeshivas must have a study partner.

Etshalom’s book cannot replace a study partner; no single book can do that. I’m sure that Etshalom would agree with me on this point, but his book is not meant to do that. Etshalom’s book is meant as a sort of introductory field guide to Torah.

Let’s admit something right away: When we read the narratives in the Torah, we often say to ourselves, “Gee willikers, this story is really weird; this narrative makes no sense. Do people really act this way? Did people ever act this way?”

This is why you have to study with a teacher. This is why you have to scrutinize the text using Rashi (Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac of 11th century France), the greatest of all commentators, so that you can, as Etshalom says, read between the lines.

I’m a screenwriter and novelist. I think in terms of fully realized characters. I insist on the primacy of characters that act and think in coherent ways, with what’s called in the trade: internal logic. I’m also conditioned to think in terms of plots that work in three acts and have setups and payoffs. I look for stories that end with neat fades to black; stories that are tidily resolved with no narrative problems left dangling.
This rarely happens in the Torah.

Thus, reading the stories in the Torah can be a frustrating experience. So much is left unsaid. Biblical dialogue is so spare it makes Hemingway look positively chatty.
But in truth, the bare bones tales are without literary peer — the basis for almost all Western literature. Etshalom uses traditional Torah sources, plus some of the newer disciplines of archaeology, philology, Assyriology, Egyptology, anthropology and literary theory to disclose the internal logic of the characters and to reveal the full magnificence and truth of the Torah narratives. He’s like a hugely gifted screenwriter filling out a skimpy outline stage by stage (on occasion, Etshalom even refers to the biblical characters as “actors”) so that finally the director can see the epic that he is going to shoot.

In his passionate and eye-opening second chapter, “Entering the Character’s World,” Etshalom analyzes the story of Joseph and his brothers. Here Etshalom introduces the reader to his principal methodology of parshanut — understanding the portions:

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Amy Klein’s bibliographical guide for the perplexed

“To the best of our understanding, God created the universe as an act of love. It was an act of love so immense that the human mind cannot even begin to fathom it. God created the world basically as a vehicle upon which He could bestow His good. But God’s love is so great that any good that He bestows must be in the greatest good possible. Anything less would simply not be enough…. God therefore gave man free will.” — “If You Were God” by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (Mesorah, 1983)
“Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: You have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run — in the long run, I say! — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.” — “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl (Pocket Books, 1984)
“When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator’s creativity within us and our lives; We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, our meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves; creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.” — “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron (Tarcher, 2002)
“Knowing your purpose gives meaning to your life. We were made to have meaning. This is why people try dubious methods, like astrology or psychics to discover it…. When life has meaning, you can bear almost anything; without it, nothing is bearable.” — “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” (Rick Warren, Zondervan 2002)
“Tradition teaches us that the soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination. I understand therapy as nothing more than bringing imagination to areas that are devoid of it, which then must express themselves by becoming symptiomatic.” — “Care of the Soul: A guide for cultivating depth and sacredness in everyday life” by Thomas A. Moore (HarperCollins, 2002).
“Many of us go through the rituals of survival with a deeper sense of something greater, or even something smaller. We may crave spiritual insight, or perhaps we yearn for simple pleasures, such as the time to close our eyes and take in the smells of a flower garden, feel the sun shining warmly on our faces, or to relish the comfort of a cozy oversized robe and good novel…. Indulge yourself by prioritizing self-nourishment — everyone benefits when you feel good.” — “The Book of Small Pleasures: 32 Inspiring Ways to Feed Your Body, Soul and Spirit” by Matthew McKay, Catherine Sutker, Kristin Beck (Barnes & Noble, 2001)
“God gave us a world that would inevitably break our hearts, and compensated for that by planting in our souls the gift of resilience…. If we could not temporarily put out of our minds some of the painful moments of our past, how would we find the courage to go on? … But if we would not remember, would we still be us? Those painful moments are such a large part of making us who we are….” — “Overcoming Life’s Disappointments” by Harold S. Kushner (Knopf, 2006)
“It is a fact that everybody wants happiness and does not want suffering; there is no argument about this. But there is disagreement about how to achieve happiness and how to overcome problems. There are many types of happiness and many ways to achieve them, and there are also many types of sufferings and ways to overcome them. As Buddhists, however, we aim not merely for temporary relief and temporary benefit but for long-term results. Buddhists are concerned not only for this life but for life after life, on and on. We count not weeks or months or even years, but lives and eons.” — “The Meaning of Life” by The Dalai Lama (Wisdom Publications, 1992)
“Human beings best qualify themselves for the world to come through a combination of studying Torah and good deeds…. Thus even the belief in the world to come is, in Judaism, a motivator to study Torah and to perform good deeds in this world.” — “To Do the Right and the Good: A Jewish Approach to Modern Social Ethics” by Elliot N. Dorff (The Jewish Publication Society of Philadelphia,
“We’ve forgotten that as mere mortals we are meant to search as much as to find. After all, each of us has had only a few decades of what has been a 14-billion-year evolution. We are finite creatures. How could we possibly have access to what is infinite: some all-encompassing Truth about the world or even our True selves? The fact is, there is no issue, large or small, that we can understand fully. When we think we’ve found the final truth, we’re a little less alive, a little less awake, and the world itself is diminished.” — “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life” by Rabbi Irwin Kula with Linda Lowenthal (Hyperion, 2006)
“Judaism has survived 4,000 years, including 2,000 years without a homeland, without the Temple in Jerusalem, without any common geographical location, without support from the outside. Judaism and Jews survived because of the Torah. No matter where they lived, no matter what historical horrors or joys they experienced, the heart of their faith was carried and communicated through the way, the path and the teachings of the Torah.”