At Sababa Surf Camp, in front from left: Toby Winiarz, Eva Chriqui, Lian Ben-David and Bryanna Zweig. In back from left: Camp co-director Lynn Lancaster, camp staffers Nicole Goodman and Jessica Fishel, and instructor Michael Chittenden. Photo by Ryan Torok

Sababa Surf Camp connects kids with surfing, sand and Judaism


Danny Mishkin had just one question for the 14 teens and tweens in his Sababa Surf Camp in Malibu over Labor Day weekend: “What’s your sababa level?”

Sababa is Hebrew slang for “cool,” “all good,” “no worries.” At Sababa Surf Camp, a New York-based camp for tweens and teens combining surfing with Jewish spirituality, if a person’s sababa level is 1, it means they are chill, in the moment, embracing their surroundings. If a person’s sababa level is 10, it means that person is too stressed out, needs to stop thinking so much about schoolwork and social drama and just hang 10.

Hannah Baron, an 11th-grade student at de Toledo High School, came to the Sept. 3 camp, which continued on Sept. 4, not having been on a surfboard for two years. She was happy to get out and hit the waves at Malibu’s Zuma Beach.

“A lot of the time, I am worried about everything else — school and friends — but surfing uses all your focus,” Baron said. “You don’t realize it until afterward, [but] the feeling you get when you catch the wave is the best in the world.” 

This was the first time the New York-based camp came to Southern California after launching three years ago on the East Coast. The camp will return to the Los Angeles area in October and during Passover.

Mishkin said he and his co-director, Lynn Lancaster, worked with many partners in bringing the program to Southern California, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ L.A. Jewish Teen Initiative, the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.

Mishkin, 38, is the former director of the Waxman Hebrew High School and Teen Engagement program at Temple Israel of Great Neck, N.Y.  Lancaster is the educational director of the religious school at the Forest Hills Jewish Center, a Conservative institution in New York. Their goal is to provide young people with an alternative method of Jewish engagement.

“This is Jewish spirituality by connecting with nature,” Lancaster said.

Eva Chriqui, 11, whose family belongs to Shuvah Israel Torah Center in Pico-Robertson, said she decided to participate in the camp because, “I’ve always wanted to surf, and I felt like it would be a really good experience.”

Lian Ben-David, 10, said the camp altered her thinking about the beach and the ocean.

“Before I came here, I didn’t like the beach. And now I want to kiss the sand,” she said.

From left: Sababa Surf Camp co-directors Lynn Lancaster and Danny Mishkin. Photo by Ryan Torok

 

Mishkin and Lancaster arranged for transportation to pick up participants from locations in Pico-Robertson and the San Fernando Valley in the morning, in time for the 9:30 a.m. start. The camp usually begins with meditation, followed by surfing. The morning’s high tide provided the necessary wave breaks for the group of beginners to test their skills on long foam boards under the guidance of instructors from the Malibu Makos Surf Club.

“We’re always tide-dependant, we’re always wave-dependant,” Lancaster said.

After three hours of surfing, the camp broke for lunch, followed by meditation. Mishkin told group members to close their eyes and breathe. Life and surfing, he said, have a lot in common.

“The more crazy it is out there [in the ocean], the more calm you have to be. The worst thing you can do is panic,” he said. “Take deep breaths and capture the moment.”

While Mishkin spoke, he struggled to be heard over the roar of the waves and the buzz of surrounding beachgoers — it was Labor Day weekend, after all. As Lancaster watched, she commented that achieving the ultimate sababa level meant nothing if it didn’t come with challenges.

“That’s part of sababa,” she said. “We work with what we have.”

Farrah Zweig, a personal trainer and children’s wellness expert who signed up her daughter, Bryanna, for the camp, said it provided an important life lesson that you can’t be in control of everything. Bryanna is a competitive gymnast, spending 16 hours a week on the extracurricular activity.

“You can’t tell the ocean what to do,” Zweig said. “You have to let go of yourself.”

The campers eventually split into two groups, with half of the campers forming a circle with Lancaster on the wet sand during low tide. Lancaster distributed worksheets featuring quotes from Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Encino’s Valley Beth Shalom, about how prayer is not about asking God to change but about creating change within ourselves. There were references to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, about how marching for social justice is like praying with one’s feet. And there was text  from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) about how the person who is wise is one who learns from everybody. Lancaster asked each kid to pick a quote to adopt as a “mantra.”

Meanwhile, the other group continued guided meditation with Mishkin, before breaking off with Lancaster to pick mantras of their own.

When the groups came back together before the day concluded at 3 p.m., Mishkin checked in with each of the campers, again asking the only question that really mattered on this particular afternoon of surf, sand and spirituality.

“What’s your sababa level right now?”

“Two!” Baron said.

“Minus one thousand!” Ben-David answered.

Doc Paskowitz, 1921-2014, Rode the Zionist Wave in Post World War II Hawaii


Surfer legend Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz—“a modern-day Duke Kahanamoku”—was one of two members of a “mighty minyan” of Jews who, after World War II, helped found Temple Emanu-el in Honolulu and then played a significant role in the Zionist movement during Israel’s birth pangs and early years. The other was far-sighted businessman Nathan Liff.

Paskowitz’s recent obituaries, including one in the Jewish Journal,  largely emphasized the second half of his life when he relocated to California and, with his third wife, Juliette, a statuesque Mexican-American beauty with both indigenous American and Jewish converso roots. She bore him a daughter and eight sons—a blend of the Brady Bunch and Beach Boys—whose quixotic twenty-year travels in a cramped family camper between Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf Coasts made them “the first family of American surfing.” Patriarch of a charismatic clan made up of trailer-educated kids, Paskowitz emerged as the original Jewish soul surfer, a countercultural icon before there was a counterculture, and a guru of holistic health care married to the surfer cult. See the movie, Surfwise (2008).

Less attention has been given to the first half of his career in Honolulu and Israel. Born in Galveston, Dorian became “Doc” Paskowitz in 1942 when he graduated Stanford’s Medical School, but he had earlier been drawn  to Oahu’s pristine beaches, arriving in steerage on the President Taft in September, 1939.  After Pearl Harbor, he became a public health doctor and president of Hawaii’s branch of the American Medical Association. Paskowitz met Nathan Liff in 1946, the year he arrived from Indiana with a government contract to buy  surplus war materiel stored at the naval air station.

Liff as a teenager in Russia after the Kishinev Pogrom hid weapons in an abandoned well for Jewish villagers to use in self-defense. As an immigrant to the U.S., he decided to learn English by joining the Army, serving in the Panama Canal Zone before and during World War I.  After Liff’s family were Delphos, Ohio’s only Jews, the heavily-accented Liff was elected president of the Chamber of Commerce.  In 1929, he persuaded the Kiwanis Club to pass a resolution urging the State Department to do what it could to help “the Jews in the Holy Land” who were under attack by Arab rioters. 

Newly arrived in Honolulu in the wake of the Holocaust, Liff stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel where pineapple juice flowed from the drinking fountains. But Liff soberly focused on the debate over Palestine’s future, soon to reach the new United Nations. In Palestine, the Jews fighting for self-determination  were embattled Davids, partly because of their prewar preference for investing in “farms not arms.” The fledgling Haganah trained not with rifles but broomsticks.  

Liff had learned of David  Ben-Gurion’s 1945 trip to the U.S. to establish an American support and procurement network for the Haganah. Jewish businessmen created the Sonneborn Institute, and a distribution network, Materials for Palestine (MFP) which sent tents, clothing, radios, and ambulances to the Holy Land. It acquired ships like the famous Exodus, with 4,500 Holocaust Survivors and Displaced Persons aboard, to try to run the British blockade. On a trip to New York, Liff connected with the Sonneborn Institute.

Back in Hawaii, Liff met Hank Greenspun, later famous as the courageous anti-McCarthy Las Vegas publisher, but in 1947  a former Captain in Patton’s Third Army. Greenspun had been sent to the Islands by Al Schwimmer, a wartime TWA flight engineer who set up a small aircraft business in Burbank to recondition C-46 and Constellation transports and B-17 Flying Fortresses for eventual shipment to Palestine. Liff had Pratt and Whitney engines in his yard, but what impressed Greenspun, a veteran of the Normandy Campaign, were the hundreds of surplus .50 and .30 caliber machine guns.

Seeing the furnaces in Hawaii for smelting down aluminum scrap into ingots, he murmured to Liff that they reminded him of the Nazi gas ovens. “Don’t believe for one second,” Liff responded, “that I am not remembering also.”

Greenspun noticed open crates of new machine guns and gun barrels still wrapped and coated with grease as Liff’s yard. Wearing an aloha shirt, Liff told him:  “take what you need. Forget about money. It’s all yours.” Actually, Greenspun  paid $1700 to ship 58 crates stateside, with an additional $5,000 paid by Honolulu Jews like Paskowitz.

By the time the 35 tons of armaments had reached Los Angeles for transshipment to Mexico and then on to Palestine, the UN’s 1947 Partition Resolution had been passed. To circumvent the continuing U.S.arms embargo, Greenspun put the crates on a yacht that almost sank in San Pedro Harbor. Ultimately, the cargo was transported to the port of Tampico for loading on the Kefalos. The machine guns reached the Haganah, renamed the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), in October, 1948, just in time to play a role in Israel’s defeat of an invading Egyptian Army in the climactic Battle of the Negev.

In 1949, this gun running episode landed Greenspun and Schwimmer in federal court where Liff was subpoenaed to testify. Schimmer and three other were convicted of the most serious charges, though with a jury recommendation of leniency, Greenspun pled guilty to a lesser charge. President Kennedy ultimately granted pardons. 

In the early 1950s, Nathan Liff returned to the Mainland, dying in Nashville in 1963. Yet he left his mark in Hawaii. Temple Emanu-el’s organ still bears a plaque inscribed in honor of Liff’s wife, Fanny. His generosity is also imprinted on the memories of  surviving Jewish refugees from Shanghai, who, after being packed like cattle for weeks aboard the President Line, arrived in Honolulu in 1947. The Honolulu operation was an early marker on the road leading Al Schwimmer to his role helping found the Israeli aircraft industry.

In 1956, “Doc” Paskowitz left Hawaii, his medical practice, and his loveless second marriage, for a year in Israel where he brought six surfboards to train Israeli lifeguards how to surf the Mediterranean. Half a century later, he returned to Israel where he cofounded Surfing for Peace to put boards in the hands of unemployed, boardless Palestinian surfers. A noble but naïve project that Nathan Liff would probably have “kicked the tires” and refused to embrace.  As Dorian always said,  “Shalom-Aloha”

*Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of  'From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans'  (Africa World Press, forthcoming).

Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz, surfing pioneer, 93


Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, the Jewish,  Stanford-educated surfing pioneer, died on Monday in Newport Beach, California at age 93.

“My angel, My daddy Died tonight, He is with Ha Shem,” his daughter Navah Paskowitz posted to her Facebook account announcing his death. 

According to Navah Paskowitz, her father had been ailing for some time after undergoing hip surgery this fall.

Paskowitz was a revered figure in the surfing world, who came to international attention with the 2007 release of a documentary about his eclectic and colorful life, “Surfwise.” 

Born in Galveston, TX to Jewish immigrants from Russia, Paskowitz earned his medical degree at Stanford University. In 1956 he left his second wife and travelled, along with six surfboards, to Israel, where he helped jumpstart the sport there.

Back in the states, he married Juliette, and embarked on a nomadic surfing lifestyle, eventually having nine children. The 11-person family lived in a tiny, 24-foot camper, foraging for food and making do on what they could make by teaching surfing. Paskowitz occasionally took small jobs helping out as a physician in deprived communities, but only to keep the family from starvation.

In a 2010 interview with the Jewish Journal,  Paskowitz reflected on his family’s alternative lifestyle.

“My kids lived a charmed life,” he said, “and if they hadn't, I wouldn't have continued it for five minutes, and my wife would not have allowed me to live a lifestyle where our kids were unhappy.”

Jewish kids growing up in a materialistic world, he said,  ” can become awfully over ripened … like a plum … too sweet and gushy. Spoiled rotten. That wasn't going to happen to my kids. I said my kids are gonna live like animals and puppy dogs — and I found a wife that would do that with me.”

Paskowitz retained a strong Jewish identity throughout his life, laying teffilin, lighting Shabbat candles in the camper on Friday nights, and visiting Israel. In one sequence in the documentary, Paskowitz, on a cane after having hip replacement surgery and suffering chronic asthma, is supported by two of his sons as he walks painfully to the Western Wall.

After their travels the Paskowitz family opened a surf academy in San Clemente, CA, which is still under the management of some family members. 

Paskowitz became an advocate for healthy living, authoring a book, “Surfing and Health.”

“All I had was a way of life that I made up as I went along,” Doc Paskowitz told the Journal.  “It seemed to be healthy, peaceful, happy, humane and loveable … and that's the way it came out.” 


Beautiful memorial for Doc Paskowitz in Tel Aviv on Shabbat–hundreds of surfers paddled out in his honor:

For more information:

http://www.jewishjournal.com/film/article/dark_currents_surface_in_surfing_clans_idyllic_life

Surf, suits and sailing — Jews making waves on the waterfront


As the summer heats up and we head for the beach to tan, swim or just cool off, we might ask: Has the Pacific coastline always been such a splashy draw for Los Angeles Jews?

In Venice, Jews have worshipped at Mishkon Tephilo since its formal founding in 1918, and on Ocean Front Walk at Temple Beth Yehuda (built in 1940), which closed in the early 1970s. But for the rest of us, aside from using the shore on Rosh Hashanah as a place to toss our sins away at tashlich, how have we given a Jewish touch to all that vaser?

For starters, let’s give the swimsuit a try-on.

Frederick (Fred) Cole (1901-1964), who changed his name from Cohn, was an actor in such silent films as “The Dangerous Blond” and “Two-Fisted Jones.” Nudged by family members to get into something more stable, he didn’t have to look far.

In the 1890s, his father, Morris Cohn, and mother, Edith, had established in downtown Los Angeles one of the city’s first clothing manufacturing firms, West Coast Manchester Knitting Mills, which was a maker of men’s long knit underwear.

In 1925, Fred convinced them to start making swimsuits as well. Capitalizing on the allure of Hollywood glamour — one of his first suits was called the “prohibition suit” because it was so revealing — by 1941 the line had become so successful that Cole changed the name of the company to Cole of California.

Cole of California magazine ad, April 1948 (Michael and Benjamin Levin)

According to Elizabeth A. Greenburg, the author of the entry on fashion in the Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture, Cole’s company, which reflected the Southern California lifestyle, “transformed women’s swimwear through important innovations,” including in the 1920s “the lower back and defined bust”; in the 1930s, Matletex, “Cole’s exclusive process of stitching rubberized thread through fabric” (which helped achieve a close fit); and, the 1940s, the two-piece “Swoon suit.”  The latter “laced up the sides of the trunk and featured a tie-bra,” wrote Greenburg, who was one of the curators for the Yeshiva University Museum show “A Perfect Fit: The Garment Industry and American Jewry, 1860-1960.”

Less famous, but creating his own wave in swimwear, was Harvey Cooper (1907-2004), whose company Maxine of Hollywood, after World War II, produced suits that fit the average woman and were sold nationally at Sears, Montgomery Wards and Macy’s.

“He followed the trends,” said Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association.

“He had a devoted group of employees,” Metchek recalled. “He was a bon vivant, a joy to be around, unless you crossed him,” she added. “Also a good dancer,” said Metchek, who, beginning in the early 1960s, worked for Catalina, a leading Los Angeles swimwear and sportswear company.

So now that you are stylishly attired, it’s time to set sail.

In 1952, “five Jewish men,” Louis J. Rosenkranz, Charles E. Leveson, John R. Sahanow, Joseph Weiss and William C. Stein, “got together and said we’re going to make a yacht club,” said Susan Artof, who has been a member of the Del Rey Yacht Club in Marina del Rey since the mid-1970s.

Jason and Veronica Artof – May 6, 2007

“They were not allowed to join any other yacht clubs,” said Artof, who, along with her husband, Paul, owns a 42-foot sailboat. “Joe Weiss wanted to enter the Ensenada [sailboat] race and was told that he couldn’t. He needed to belong to a recognized club, and it seems no one would take him,” Artof said.

By 1953, Weiss and the other four founders had signed up enough additional members to satisfy the Southern California Yachting Association membership requirement of 25 and were able to enter the race.

After meeting in “people’s living rooms and restaurants,” they opened their first club building in Marina del Rey in 1964, said Artof, who confided that the only boat her grandparents were on “was the one coming over from Europe.”

In its early years, the club’s membership was 80 to 95 percent Jewish. Today, “it’s more like over 60 percent,” said Artof, whose son had his wedding at the club and used his boat instead of a car to make his reception getaway.

Over the course of the club’s history, the members have shared seders, Rosh Hashanah dinners, and hosted an annual Federation fundraiser, as well as bar and bat mitzvahs. Some club members have a mezuzah on their boat, and there’s even a weekly Yiddish class.

Not all their sea-faring neighbors have been happy about the presence of a Jewish yacht club, however.

According to Artof, it was not until 1990 that the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, established in 1916, granted reciprocal privileges with them, something other clubs, including the California Yacht Club (their neighbor) had done earlier, said Artof.

On other occasions, she also has heard that the phrase “bagel bay” has been used in reference to her club.

“We’re haimish, there’s a friendly, open Jewish flavor,” said Artof. “There’s not as much drinking here. At the bar, we sell a lot of seltzer,” she added.

 Finally, for Jews not content to sail the waves, there is surfing.

According to author and surf journalist Paul Holmes, several Jews have figured prominently in California’s surfing scene, including Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz (born in 1921), a doctor who left his practice and founded California’s first surfing school in the early 1970s, and Nachum Shifren (born in 1951), who grew up in the San Fernando Valley to become a Chasidic surfing rabbi. Then, there’s Gidget.

Cowabunga!

The fictional character Gidget (short for “girl midget”) was based on Kathy Kohner, a Jewish 15-year-old, the daughter of a Czech-born Jewish refugee screenwriter, Frederick Kohner, who lived in Brentwood.  As reported in the Jewish Journal, in 1956 Kohner’s daughter was hanging out with a bunch of Malibu surfers and came home speaking their lingo. Seeing an opportunity, her father converted his daughter’s name to Francis Lawrence and wrote a novel titled “Gidget.” Thus, an American surfing fad was born.

A more recent legend on the Southern California surfing scene is Joseph Wolfson. Known especially in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach as “Dr. 360,” for his ability to completely spin around while riding a big wave, Wolfson was one of the pioneers of body boarding and a winner in national and international competitions both in that sport and body surfing.

Wolfson, who lived in Manhattan Beach and was known simply as “Wolfie,” would get up by 6 a.m. and “howl his way to the surf at Marine [Avenue],” his sister, Paula Ethel Wolfson wrote in an email. “He would also howl his way back.”

“He began body surfing and fell in love with belly boarding before the invention of the modern-day boogie boards,” she added. “He and friends split surf boards in half,” she wrote.

At 13, Wolfson, who was born in Brooklyn in 1949, had a “cultural” bar mitzvah at the Long Beach Jewish Community Center,” Wolfson recalled.

“He worked full time” as the parks and recreational director of the City of Carson, and “was in the water most every day.”

“He would sit on a board and spin three, four or five times across the face of a wave,” Kevin Cody wrote in the South Bay’s Easy Reader.

In 1998, Wolfson was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and quietly began giving away his savings as well as his car and home in Mexico, “Casa de 360,” to those who could use them.

One night, according to reports, Wolfson, intending to end things, left behind a note and $5,000 for a party, then paddled out and tied himself to a buoy and went to sleep. Found the next morning by a lifeguard, he was just barely alive. Three days later, when he was released from the hospital, he grew concerned about the impression his suicide attempt might make on children. He had been a teacher of water safety, and after the attempt, many children had sent him letters, writing of his positive influence. Wolfson decided to live on and catch a few more waves.

The incident received national attention on TV’s “20/20” and “Prime Time Live,” and his legend grew. However, in 2000, he died at age 50, when his car veered off the Marina Freeway, went down an embankment and hit a tree.

He called himself the “Aquatics Peter Pan,” his sister said.

A plaque placed by Wolfson’s friends in front of the lifeguard station at Marine Avenue in Hermosa Beach reads, “Married to the Sea. A true Waterman. AAAHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!”

A grieving father’s mission to encourage positive choices


The words on the other end of the phone line punctured the warm, Montecito spring day and shattered Shaun Tomson’s world in an instant.

“Mathew is dead,” came the voice of Tomson’s wife, Carla, who was 10,000 miles away in South Africa while their son attended school there for a semester. 

It seemed impossible. Just two hours earlier, Tomson — a world champion surfer and successful businessman living in Santa Barbara — had spoken by phone with his 15-year-old son. It had felt like Mathew was sitting right next to him, and Tomson’s heart swelled with pride as his son read him an essay he’d written about the spiritual nature of surfing. 

“Deep inside the barrel, completely in tune with my inner self …” Mathew had read. “My hand dragging along the wall, the light shines ahead.”

The last four words had struck Tomson as particularly beautiful. But now, his smart, handsome son with a whole life ahead of him was gone, accidentally asphyxiated while playing a dangerous choking game sometimes practiced by teenagers in an effort to induce a temporary high.

“Our lives, like that, were destroyed,” said Tomson, snapping his fingers in the air as he recounted the 2006 ordeal late last year during a talk to members of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “Losing a child — it’s the worst thing that can happen. Your life is destroyed, and then you have to try and understand why.” 

And in Tomson’s case, it also meant trying to do something to prevent others from suffering the same fate.

Now 58, he grew up a Reform Jew in Durban, on the east coast of South Africa. His parents were frequent beachgoers, and from an early age the ocean was a big part of Tomson’s life. At 10 he began surfing and fell in love with the feeling it gave him.

“You’re out there in this enormous ocean, this insignificant, floating object,” he said. “That sense of exhilaration you get that very first time grips you, and it never lets go.”

In the decades that followed, Tomson became a legendary surfer, winning the International Professional Surfers World Championship in Hawaii in 1977, followed by wins at 19 other major professional surfing events. He developed a revolutionary technique for riding inside the most challenging part of a wave, called “the tube,” and is considered one of the architects of professional surfing. He was inducted into both the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the South African Sports and Arts Hall of Fame and has been described as one of the greatest surfers of all time. In January, he was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He also became a businessman, founding and managing two multimillion-dollar apparel companies — Instinct in the 1980s and Solitude in the 1990s — which he eventually sold.

When Tomson talks about surfing, it’s not as a sport but as a kind of mystical experience, a means of connecting with the universe and a higher power. Surfing teaches you about life, Tomson insists, and those lessons of honor, integrity, empathy, commitment, courage and perseverance have helped him weather life’s toughest challenges, he said.

It was around 2003 that Tomson, now retired from professional surfing, decided to share those lessons with the world. A friend had invited him to meet with a group of young people at a surfing contest in Santa Barbara and asked Tomson to give them something as a reminder of the day. Tomson chose to offer advice. He printed lessons he’d learned from surfing — 12 sentences beginning with “I Will” — on cards and handed them out at the event. Soon, everybody wanted a copy.

“It turned into a groundswell,” Tomson recalled. “It changed my life.”

Tomson became a sought-after motivational speaker for businesses, students and others. He eventually made the lessons into a book, “Surfer’s Code — 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life.” It came out shortly after his son died.

Unsurprisingly, Mathew’s death dealt a gut-wrenching blow to Tomson and his wife. It also pushed the surfer to think more deeply about the hazards of poor choices — drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviors — especially among young people. These poor choices kill millions of people every year, Tomson said. And, as he’d become so painfully aware, just one bad decision can destroy an individual’s life and that of the entire family.

“Teenagers are way more at risk for bad decisions because their brains are not [fully] developed,” Tomson explained. “They don’t have the same awareness of risk and consequence.”

Today, Tomson is on a mission to teach teenagers and others about making positive choices and thinking twice before making a decision. His second book, “The Code: The Power of ‘I Will,’ ” shares stories about his life, what he’s learned and what happened to his son. He speaks to students and businesses and asks people to write their own version of the surfer’s code, a list of 12 promises to themselves beginning with the words “I will.”

“When you sit down and just write 12 promises to yourself … they develop force and power,” he said. “When you put ‘I will’ in front of them, it’s a commitment. It’s a bond between you and the future. … You’re not going to make a promise to yourself and flake out of it.”

Tomson’s message is powerful and necessary, especially for teenagers who face many risks in their daily lives, whether from prescription-drug abuse, dangerous driving or social media, said Rocky Murray, principal at Huntington Beach High School. Tomson spoke in November to the school’s 2,900 students and, in a separate event, to parents. Murray said the talk was so successful, he is now encouraging other schools in the area to invite Tomson to speak. He said the message of making good choices is something teachers at his school try to instill in students, but hearing it from an athlete of Tomson’s caliber, backed up by personal experience, carries a lot of weight.

“I know he touched more than one student there. It was very effective,” Murray said. “It’s something that students can benefit from, hearing that message. The more you hear a consistent message like that … the greater the opportunity there is for it to sink in.”

Tomson, a practicing Jew who attends the Community Shul of Montecito and Santa Barbara, said he turned to his religion to help him cope with the death of his son. Nevertheless, Tomson said he shuns labels when it comes to Judaism, preferring a broader, more practical interpretation of spirituality.

“How you pray and what traditions you use have no relevance to our soul,” he said. “Being a good Jew is about being empathetic, respectful, honest, having integrity, giving back and, hopefully, inspiring positivity in the social context. My mission is to inspire people both young and old with the story of my journey and how I’ve overcome adversity in my life, like so many Jews have.”

As he describes it, for Tomson and his wife, the journey to healing from the loss of Mathew has been marked by a series of auspicious occurrences that he sees as evidence of a greater, spiritual power at work. 

One of these events was the adoption of another son in late 2009, who, it turned out, shared the same birthday as one of Tomson’s surfing heroes and whose actual due date was Mathew’s birthday, Tomson said. The couple instinctively named the little boy Luke, only to find out later that the name means “light” or “bringer of light.” Luke is now 4 years old.

“Luke, for us, was a miracle,” Tomson said. “For anyone that is just suffering loss and enduring a tough struggle, what this name means is representative of the hope that we all have to have for the future. That light that shines ahead.” 

Israelis seek promised wave in Costa Rica


Zula is a delightful beachside restaurant where you can breathe in the salty air as Eyal Golan songs play in the background. It also advertises the best falafel in town, made with local garbanzo beans.

Only Zula, Israeli slang for “relaxation,” is not located in Tel Aviv. It’s off the dusty road of Santa Teresa, a trendy beach town near the southern tip of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.

For Israelis who have settled here over the past decade, life in this tropical destination is sweet and natural.

The town’s molasses “strip” — the road is paved with this eco-friendly sealant to keep down dust — is lined with more than two dozen Israeli-owned businesses, including hotels, hostels (for post-army trekkers), eateries (a pizzeria, a Tel Aviv-style cafe, a bakery) and bars, clothing boutiques and surf shops.

Santa Teresa is a paradise for Israeli surfers. Almost every day, an hour before sunset, surfers flock to its sands for what one Jewish American resident calls the “chosen wave” — the best surf break.

There are about 5,000 Jews living in Costa Rica, many of whom belong to Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica, the main congregation and political body in the capital city of San Jose. According to Jaime-David Tishler, a former board member of the Jewish Museum in San Jose, the country’s longstanding Jewish community has few formal ties with its burgeoning Israeli community. Most Yordim (Israelis who leave Israel) raising families in Costa Rica home school their children or send them to international schools, keeping Hebrew culture alive in the home.

Avi Avraham, 42, of Bat Yam, owner of the Zula Restaurant and Zula Inn Aparthotel in Santa Teresa, came here eight years ago “for the waves.” He has since married a tica (slang for “local”) and is raising a 10-month-old daughter.

“I’m living the dream of many people,” he said.

Avraham counts roughly 120 Israeli residents in Santa Teresa, about 5 percent of the multinational surfing community, which consists mostly of Americans, Canadians, Argentinians, Brazilians, Italians, French and Swedes. Although their presence here is small, the Israelis are notable. As Amit Londner, a former Israeli surf champ who now runs Del Soul surf school, put it, “Israelis make a lot of noise.”

Mali and Avi Tal, originally from Moshav Ganot, came to Santa Teresa seeking the great surf and pura vida — the Costa Rican slogan “pure life.”

“There was nothing here. It was a natural jungle. Nothing, nothing, nothing,” said Tal, sunbathing poolside at Luz de Vida Surf Resort, the beachfront hotel she owns with her husband.

Story continues after the jump.

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Del Soul Surf & Yoga Retreat
(506) 2640-0267
(506) 8878-0880
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JACO

Cabinas Las Orquideas – Izu’s Place
(506) 2643-4056
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SAN JOSE

Jabad Lubavitch de Costa Rica
20 Metros Al Norte
(506) 2296-6565

Olmert offers civilian service plan as military draft alternative; U.S. to train Palestinian troops


Olmert Promotes Civilian National Service

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office announced this week that it had formed an administration to accommodate Israelis who, upon reaching draft age, prefer a civilian version of national service to the standard military conscription. The administration, which begins operations next year, will mostly cater to Israeli Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews and draft-age youths who cite personal or political reasons for not wanting to wear a uniform. It is expected to offer them options such as community service or medical posts, with similar commitment periods and benefits as conscripted soldiers. Israelis who do national service enjoy later perks such as tax breaks and student stipends.

State Dept. to Train P.A. troops

U.S. State Department officials will train Palestinian troops assigned to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The course work and practical exercises will enhance the abilities of the Presidential Guard to carry out their primary function — VIP protection,” a department statement said Sunday. “This training is part of a series of courses that will be offered this fall through early 2008.”

The training will be carried out by the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which trains security details around the world. It is part of an agreement signed this month by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the statement said. The statement said that both sides have “worked closely” to design the program. Gen. Keith Dayton, the top U.S. security envoy to the region, had been ready to train pro-Abbas troops in June, when forces loyal to Hamas, a terrorist group, drove Abbas loyalists out of the Gaza Strip.

The U.S. focus is now on bolstering Abbas in the West Bank and is part of a wider effort that includes the European Union, Egypt and Jordan.

“The rule of law and security must be the foundation of any successful Palestinian government,” the statement said. “The training and assistance that is being provided will help improve the Palestinian Authority’s capacity to deliver security for the Palestinian people and fight terrorism, build confidence between the parties, and ultimately help to meet the security needs of Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

Hezbollah Computer Game Based on War

“Special Force 2” — a computer game based on its war last summer with Israel and launched last week in Beirut in Arabic, Persian and English-language editions — awards points for killing Israeli soldiers. It retails for about $10.

“This game presents the culture of the resistance to children: that occupation must be resisted and that land and the nation must be guarded,” Hezbollah media official Sheikh Ali Daher told Reuters. “The features which are the secret of resistance’s victory in the south have moved to this game so that the child can understand that fighting the enemy does not only require the gun. It requires readiness, supplies, armament, attentiveness, tactics.”

Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist group based in Lebanon, launched the war on July 12, 2006 with a surprise raid into Israel, killing eight Israeli soldiers and capturing two. Its leaders later said they were surprised by the ferocity of the Israeli response. About 160 Israelis and 1,200 Lebanese died in the war.

Israel Drafts Interim Deal for Survivors

Israeli survivors of Nazi concentration camps and wartime ghettoes are to receive increased state subsidies under an interim deal forged by Ehud Olmert. Sunday marked the deadline set by the prime minister for settling the demands of Holocaust survivors who had protested a government plan to grant them just $20 a month in subsidies. Under a draft deal, those survivors who were in concentration camps or ghettoes will now receive between $200 and $300 a month in addition to standard welfare payouts for the elderly.

Israeli Welfare Ministry Director General Nahum Itzkowitz, speaking on Army Radio, said the deal “could change someone’s life and give him a feeling of stability and security, in comparison with the present situation.”

But a resolution is still pending for the majority of Israel’s 250,000 survivors who were dispossessed by Nazi Germany’s onslaught but never incarcerated. Israeli officials suggested they might attempt a compromise whereby state funding for a central trust catering to the needs of Holocaust survivors would be significantly raised.

Sen. Obama Praises Israel Aid Hike

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) welcomed a raise in defense assistance to Israel. The Bush administration this week signed an agreement with Israel increasing its assistance from $2.4 billion a year to $3 billion a year over 10 years. The assistance is part of a package that uses incentives to encourage multiple parties — the Palestinians, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Israel — to move forward on Israeli-Palestinian peace. Obama, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the assistance was necessary because Bush administration policies had endangered Israel.

“The Administration’s failed policies in Iraq, in a war that never should have been authorized, have strengthened Iran and emboldened Hamas and Hezbollah,” he said in a statement Thursday. “That makes it more important than ever that the United States live up to its commitment to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in a dangerous region. For that reason, I support the agreement on military assistance reached today.”

Shul Can Help You Live Longer, Study Suggests

A Hebrew University of Jerusalem study suggests that people who attend synagogue regularly live longer than those who do not.

Professor Howard Litwin of the university’s Israel Gerontological Data Center studied 5,000 Israelis aged 60 or older over a seven-year period, according to an article in Ha’aretz. He compared various factors influencing their longevity. His findings, published in The European Journal of Aging, showed a death rate 75 percent higher among those who did not attend synagogue regularly.

Litwin suggested several reasons: Faith may help people survive psychological pressure better; observant Jews walk to shul on Shabbat, thus maintaining an exercise routine; and a supportive community helps people live longer.

Cozy Kosher Surf Shack — Observant Oasis in the ‘Bu


Joyce Brooks Bogartz’s look isn’t quite what you’d expect from the owner of a kosher restaurant. Adorned with brown and cream dreadlocks, the nearly 50-year-old proprietor of Malibu Beach Grill would at first glance seem to fit in better with customers sporting board shorts than black hats. But this post-punk Gidget is the kind of ‘Bu Jew who is as comfortable around Chabadniks as she is with surfers.

“Having a kosher place, you can only be so risqué in your appearance,” she said.

Situated a quick jaywalk across Pacific Coast Highway from Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Pier, Malibu Beach Grill is a kosher oasis in a town renowned for breathtaking seaside vistas, A-list celebrity sightings and new-age crunchiness. And nearly two years after the controversial ouster of Malibu Chicken by building owner Chabad of Malibu, Malibu Beach Grill is well on its way to carving out its own niche with an eclectic menu that can best be described as California fleishig (meat).

But the road to winning over the locals wasn’t easy.

Brooks Bogartz and her husband/silent partner, Gary Bogartz, each worked full-time jobs in addition to the restaurant during the first year. Malibu Beach Grill was open 16-hour days in the first six months, and differentiated itself from many area restaurants by offering delivery.

“I thought I worked hard before this. I had no idea,” said Brooks Bogartz, a former entertainment publicist and Chabad Telethon coordinator.
“For a year we were the walking dead,” she said. “I was sleeping four hours a night.”

Business is starting to pick up at this cozy kosher surf shack, both from word-of-mouth in the observant world and hipster bon mots in the L.A. Weekly last summer.

To compensate for being closed Friday night and Saturday, the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, making it a favorite with Pepperdine students, especially during winter months. The free wi-fi doesn’t hurt, either.
The novelty of buying kosher food at the beach keeps observant families showing up en masse on Sundays and on weeknights during the summer. More than a few put Malibu Beach Grill on the itinerary so out-of-town guests can savor the SoCal ta’am (flavor).

“It’s a small place, but it’s better than what we have in Philadelphia,” said Shira Weitz, 22, who was visiting with friend Este Kahn.

“They put an interesting twist on everything,” said Kahn, a 22-year-old Fairfax resident. “It’s different from what you get at other kosher restaurants. It’s not just a plain burger.”

The burgers at Malibu Beach Grill offer a Cali twist: the Sunset features sundried tomatoes, caramelized shallots and basil aioli. And when the kitchen staff asked Brooks Bogartz how she wanted to prepare the Mexican food, in Jewish fashion she answered the question with another question: “How does your grandmother do it?”

Kashrut for the restaurant is handled by Rabbi Levy I. Zirkind out of Fresno.
Brooks Bogartz identifies as shomer Shabbat, and as a resident of the Malibu area since 1994, she attends services at Chabad of Malibu, whose sign featuring a surfing rabbi has graced PCH since 2001.

Despite the dread cred and her sister Collette’s local notoriety as a surfer, Brooks Bogartz has yet to actually grab a stick and hit the waves.

“My dream is to learn how to surf in Hawaii, where it’s warm,” she said.
Instead, Brooks Bogartz spends her time working alongside her dedicated kitchen crew, which has remained the same since its opening, slowly building up the restaurant’s catering and walking the tables to make sure her customers are happy.

“I have the Jewish mother inclination to feed everybody,” she said.

Cozy Kosher Surf Shack: An Observant Oasis in the ‘Bu


Joyce Brooks Bogartz’s look isn’t quite what you’d expect from the owner of a kosher restaurant. Adorned with brown-and-cream dreadlocks, the nearly 50-year-old proprietor of Malibu Beach Grill would at first glance seem to fit in better with customers sporting board shorts than black hats. But this post-punk Gidget is the kind of ‘Bu Jew who is as comfortable around Chabadniks as she is with surfers.

“Having a kosher place, you can only be so risque in your appearance,” she said.
Situated a quick jaywalk across Pacific Coast Highway from Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Pier, Malibu Beach Grill is a kosher oasis in a town renowned for breathtaking seaside vistas, A-list celebrity sightings and new-age crunchiness.

And nearly two years after the controversial ouster of Malibu Chicken by building owner Chabad of Malibu, Malibu Beach Grill is well on its way to carving out its own niche with an eclectic menu that can best be described as California fleishig (meat).

But the road to winning over the locals wasn’t easy.

Brooks Bogartz and her husband/silent partner, Gary Bogartz, each worked full-time jobs in addition to the restaurant during the first year. Malibu Beach Grill was open 16-hour days in the first six months, and differentiated itself from many area restaurants by offering delivery.

“I thought I worked hard before this. I had no idea,” said Brooks Bogartz, a former entertainment publicist and Chabad Telethon coordinator.
“For a year we were the walking dead,” she said. “I was sleeping four hours a night.”

Business is starting to pick up at this cozy kosher surf shack, both from word-of-mouth in the observant world and hipster bon mots in the L.A. Weekly last summer.

To compensate for being closed Friday night and Saturday, the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, making it a favorite with Pepperdine students, especially during winter months. The free wi-fi doesn’t hurt, either.

The novelty of buying kosher food at the beach keeps observant families showing up en masse on Sundays and on weeknights during the summer. More than a few put Malibu Beach Grill on the itinerary so out-of-town guests can savor the SoCal ta’am (flavor).

“It’s a small place, but it’s better than what we have in Philadelphia,” said Shira Weitz, 22, who was visiting with friend Este Kahn.

“They put an interesting twist on everything,” said Kahn, a 22-year-old Fairfax resident. “It’s different from what you get at other kosher restaurants. It’s not just a plain burger.”

The burgers at Malibu Beach Grill offer a Cali twist: the Sunset features sundried tomatoes, caramelized shallots and basil aioli. And when the kitchen staff asked Brooks Bogartz how she wanted to prepare the Mexican food, in Jewish fashion she answered the question with another question: “How does your grandmother do it?”

Kashrut for the restaurant is handled by Rabbi Levy I. Zirkind out of Fresno.
Brooks Bogartz identifies as shomer Shabbat, and as a resident of the Malibu area since 1994 she attends services at Chabad of Malibu, which has featured a sign with a surfing rabbi has graced PCH since 2001.

Despite the dread cred and her sister Collette’s local notoriety as a surfer, Brooks Bogartz has yet to actually grab a stick and hit the waves.

“My dream is to learn how to surf in Hawaii, where it’s warm,” she said.
Instead, Brooks Bogartz spends her time working alongside her dedicated kitchen crew, which has remained the same since its opening, slowly building up the restaurant’s catering and walking the tables to make sure her customers are happy.

“I have the Jewish mother inclination to feed everybody,” she said.

Jewish Federation Raises $10 Million for Israel

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles recently announced that the organization has raised $10 million in pledges just three weeks after launching its Israel in Crisis Fund.

All of the monies raised will go toward supporting direct services to Israelis who have suffered during the recent crisis, including providing counseling for terror victims, aiding the elderly, disabled and other at-risk populations with intervention programs, and helping to underwrite the cost of sending thousands of young Israelis from the north to summer camps in safer parts of the country.
“This is a time to do two things,” Federation President John Fishel said. “If you feel like you want to or can, you should get on an airplane and stand in solidarity with Israel. Even if you can’t, it’s a time to respond by making a generous donation to the state of Israel.”

Fishel recently went on a mission to Israel. During a visit to the northern Israeli city of Naharya, he spent several hours huddled in a hospital basement while Hezbollah missiles exploded nearby.

The local Federation hopes to contribute a total of $15 million to United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of the nation’s federations that is coordinating the fundraising efforts.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has raised more than $100,000 for the AJC’s Israel Emergency Assistance Fund, also a national campaign. Like the Federation, 100 percent of the AJC’s proceeds go to Israel, said Saundra Mandel, the local chapter’s acting director. Local money has helped purchase two mobile
intensive-cardiac-care ambulances for Magen David Adom, Israel’s Red Cross, and 500 first-aid kits to bomb shelters, Mandel added.

Another organization, the American Friends of Magen David Adom, has raised $700,000 locally since kicking off a war-time campaign on July 12, according to Ellen Rofman, the group’s Western regional director. That money has gone toward purchasing ambulances and medical supplies, as well as toward testing donated Israeli blood for viruses and other requested items, she said.

To attract funding, Rofman said she has sent out e-mails to rabbis throughout Southern California, advertised in the Jewish press and contacted Jewish country clubs and private foundations. Given the needs of the Israeli people, she said the fundraising drive, named Code Red Alert, will continue until mid-October.

To make a donation to the Federation’s Israel in Crisis Fund, call 866-968-7333 or, visit www.jewishla.org.

To make a contribution to the American Jewish Committee, visit www.ajc.org.

To make a donation to American Friends of Magen David Adom/ARMDI, call (818) 905-5099, or visit www.afmda.org.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Spielberg Adds $1 Million to Relief Funds

Steven Spielberg is giving $1 million for relief efforts in Israel during the current conflict, with the initial $250,000 going to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Additional future gifts are earmarked for the liberal-oriented New Israel Fund and other relief organizations in Israel, Marvin Levy, the filmmaker’s chief spokesman, announced this week.

Spielberg’s is among the major gifts to the Los Angeles Jewish Federation’s special crisis fund and is being donated through his Righteous Persons Foundation, capitalized entirely through his personal profits, estimated at around $40 million, from his Academy Award-winning movie, “Schindler’s List.”

Fishel said that the crisis fund concentrates on alleviating the devastating effect of Hezbollah rocket barrages on northern Israel, particularly on children, the elderly and disabled.

In addition, Spielberg’s grant will be used to retrofit Haifa’s three hospitals with shatterproof glass and for emergency assistance to the main hospital in the hard-hit town of Nahariya.

The unspecified donation to the New Israel Fund will go for emergency assistance to communities in northern Israel through support of crisis hotlines, economic help and improved food distribution.

At the same time, another Jewish high-profile Hollywood personality is disbursing $1 million.

Barbra Streisand is giving that sum to former president Bill Clinton’s Climate Change Initiative, which seeks to create a consortium of major cities around the world to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Steisand recently announced plans for a concert tour in October and November, whose proceeds will go to organizations concerned with environmental, women’s health and educational issues.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

New Program Welcomes Learning Disabled Students to Day Schools

A year-old program for children with learning disabilities at Los Angeles Orthodox day schools has room for a few more kids for this September.

Kol Hanearim — Hebrew for all the children — started last year to meet the challenge of keeping children with learning disabilities in Jewish day schools. The children, who have all left or been asked to leave Jewish day schools, have their own class embedded in a host school. A special education teacher and trained aides teach classes in academic subjects as well as social and study skills.

“The unique thing about what we’re doing is the kids will develop a sense of belonging within the host school, and that will lead toward the class being integrated as much as possible within the host school,” said headmaster Rabbi Levy Cash.

The Kol Hanearim curriculum and schedule is designed to flow with the host schools, so that kids join their grade for classes like art, computer and physical education, and for prayers, lunch and recess.

Last year, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy hosted the first class of six fourth-graders, who are generally two to three years behind grade level academically and might also have behavioral issues. This year, in addition to the fourth- and fifth-grade class at Hillel, the program will offer a second- and third-grade class at Maimonides Academy, and a sixth- through eighth-grade class at Perutz Etz Jacob Academy. Each cohort will stay within the host school from year to year, so they can benefit from stable friendships and consistency of educational approach.

“There is a lot our kids can gain from their peers, and there is a lot their peers can gain from us being in the school,” Cash said, noting that the host schools have been welcoming and cooperative.

For information, contact (818) 536-9741 or e-mail Kolhanearim@gmail.com.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Singles – Soulmate Surfing


Dating can be scary. Dating in a foreign country can be petrifying.

When I arrived in Los Angeles in 2003, going on dates was the farthest thing from my mind. I came here for love — my love of the entertainment biz, but more importantly (and naively), my love for a guy.

Unfortunately, my dreams of a fairy-tale ending with my long distance-turned-local beau were dashed when our relationship went sour a few months after my arrival.

Fortuitously for me, although my life — with the same boyfriend for three years –was drastically altered, I was offered a job in show business (my career of choice at the time). I conveniently threw myself into my work but soon found that there was a void: I had no man to call my own.

My entire dating life, I had been what some relationship cynics call a serial monogamist. By the time I was 24, I had been in a relationship for nine years. Not with the same person. Actually, four different ones — with gaps between of just a day, a week, or a month.

When the oozing wound of the latest breakup began healing, I decided it was time to find someone new. But my desire to start dating again overwhelmed me with fear because I did not have the faintest idea how to meet someone.

As a Canadian living in Los Angeles, I didn’t have a network of friends to introduce me to eligible bachelors. The only people I knew were friends of my ex. And so, I reluctantly resorted to online dating.

The first challenge was to build an online profile. The Web site asked me to create a personal essay — the first tidbit that a prospective suitor would ever learn about me. But what could I possibly say that wouldn’t turn someone off?

After pondering the content of this paragraph for a couple of days and filling out the rest of the information in my personal Web page, I chose to write a short but to-the-point introduction that simply stated that I was Canadian and looking to meet someone new.

Once my photo was uploaded, my journey of online dating officially commenced. I immediately began to worry that no one would contact me.

All my concerns about online dating were for naught. After about a week, I was a pro. I realized how scrolling down the pages, looking at photos of available Jewish men, was similar to online shopping. This “shopping” experience became one of my favorite pastimes.

Online dating even gave my bruised ego a boost. I began receiving compliments about my looks and my accomplishments from potential suitors almost daily. I began to feel hopeful that I would find my Prince Charming within this brand new group of available bachelors.

I was soon going on dates three to five times a week. I met all kinds of men: short, tall, hirsute, skinny, gorgeous and not-so-hot; lawyers, doctors, students, businessmen and, of course, actors. It is Los Angeles after all.

Dating was no longer frightening. It actually became enjoyable, and I eagerly anticipated meeting cute, single, Jewish men, in the hopes that one special guy would win the coveted title of Melanie’s Boyfriend.

Cut to: Two Years Later.

I created my third “new” profile on the same online dating site.

Dating many different guys had lost its luster, and I was ready for something serious. Yet, at the same time, I was on the verge of throwing in the towel on dating altogether. I was certain I’d exhausted the pool of single men that I had once been so anxious to dive into.

One lonely evening, I was looking for a beacon, or at least a glimmer of hope that my perfect match was out there. I began perusing all the dating success stories listed on the dating Web site. I started reading at “A” and only made it through “D” before I became slightly more optimistic about my dating future. I vowed that evening that one day, I, too, would have my own story posted there.

Nevertheless, two weeks and three first dates later, I was fed up again, and declared myself too busy to date. Just one day later, I found him.

Ironically, he was an acquaintance of the long-distance ex. Someone I’d even had a small crush on for years. He had just joined my online dating service and thought he’d say hello to a familiar face. I was the first person he contacted.

Eight months later, we’re going strong. I don’t know if I can impute our connection to my proclamation of having no time to date, or if my taking the success stories to heart ignited a cosmic force that ushered him into my life.

But how and why don’t matter. The point is: I met him. And now that I’ve found happiness, I advocate online dating to anyone who will listen and play matchmaker as a hobby. I’m just trying to spread the wealth.

Spiritually Found Among the Surf


 

Standing on a surfboard for the first time, it felt as if time stood still. I can recall the palm trees on the shore, the dusty blue of the island’s silhouette in the distance to my left, and my teacher afloat on his board to my right. That first, miraculous ride seemed to last forever. In one unforgettable moment, every stray thought inside me was quieted, pushed aside. All I knew was a sense of harmony between myself, the board and the wave. The water must have been slapping on the sand and the birds must have been chirping, but I heard absolutely nothing. A complete and total silence enveloped me and carried me closer and closer to shore, until the board stopped and I fell. The moment was gone.

Nothing in my experiences as a travel writer, which includes crazy stunts like flying in a skydiving simulator, produced the same kind of exhaustion and euphoria as surfing. My shoulders and arms ached from paddling out to catch waves. My skinny rib cage was terribly bruised from the hard board. Even laughing hurt. But it was better than any workout, any walk in the woods; I had fallen in love.

It had been a few years since those lessons on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. I tried surfing again during a visit to San Diego, but the waves were breaking short, a fierce riptide was raging and my rides seemed to last only split seconds. So when I recently visited Maui, I was eager to get back up on Hawaii’s easy, graceful surf. The islands, where modern surfing originated, boast long, steady waves that are a haven for beginners.

In the city of Lahaina, I joined a group class operated by Goofy Foot Surf School. We met at “505” (near 505 Front St.), where the Hawaiian Ali’i, or royalty, once surfed. Even if the rest of the island was quiet, the Ali’i would “hold court” here, because there always, always is a wave.

As our teacher, Carny, led us through the on-shore drill, I was amazed at certain similarities between surfing and Judaism. One of the first things he said was, “Be centered and don’t look down. Pick a point on the beach and focus on it because where you look is where you go.”

His words reminded me of the teaching of the legendary Reb Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810): “You are wherever your thoughts are. So make sure your thoughts are where you want to be” (“The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy,” Jewish Lights Publishing).

Carny’s emphasis on finding a focal point on the beach also made me think of the Jewish shiviti. This decorative drawing usually integrates geometric shapes and kabbalistic ideas with the Hebrew phrase, “Shiviti Hashem l’nagdi tamid,” “I have placed Hashem before me forever.” Tradition holds that gazing upon these words prior to tefillot or when an interruption occurs enhances focused kavana, or intent, during davening.

Once we hit the water, I found my own shiviti on the shore to stay focused. I was amazed. I got right up on the board as if no time had passed since my lessons in Kauai with Ambrose and rode wave after wave. It was so incredible I returned the next day for another lesson.

I made a mental note when the next teacher, Armadillo, explained how the board works. The small fins on the rear underside of the board are what give it control. “Without them,” he said, flapping his hand around without direction, “the board just slips around.” His description reminded me of how mitzvot are like the fins of Jewish life. Designed to make us a holier people, mitzvot give our conduct structure and meaning in what could otherwise be understood as a sea of chaos.

During my final lesson, Carny described the board’s sweet spot. Standing within the back half of the board — but not too far back — vastly improves your ride. The concept reminded me of the classic recommendation for both meditation and prayer. Conducting your practice regularly at the same place and time helps condition you. Each time you return to that place, you send yourself an unconscious signal that you are ready to remove yourself from your ordinary consciousness, which is also a fitting concept for surfing. Like many demanding sports in which you must maintain intense concentration, surfing allows you to enter into a quasi-meditative state. Repeatedly standing in the sweet spot makes that even more possible.

Although the associations between surfing and Judaism may seem foreign, veteran surfers have long recognized the connection between surfing and spirituality. In fact, Chabad Rabbi Nachum Shifren chronicles his journey from surfing to smicha, or rabbinical ordination, in his book “Surfing Rabbi: A Kabbalistic Quest for Soul” (Heaven Ink Publishing, 2001). As Shifren puts it: “What better way to experience the greatest act of Creation?”

Visit Goofy Foot Surf School online at

The Real Gidget


In June 1956, a Jewish 15-year-old girl named Kathy Kohner began tagging along with some of the neighborhood boys and driving out from her Brentwood home to the beach in Malibu. The sport of surfing intrigued her, and she convinced the boys to teach her. Because she was young, slight and a girl, the surfer dudes took to calling her "Gidget," short for "girl midget."

When she told her screenwriter dad, Frederick Kohner, a Czech-born refugee who fled from the Nazis, about the goings on, he wrote the 1957 novel, "Gidget," featuring the lingo and subculture she brought home from the beach.

The Laguna Art Museum’s current exhibit, "Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing," examines the impact of that subculture; it’s accompanied by a 240-page book that includes an essay, "The Real Gidget," by author Deanne Stillman. Stillman and Gidget (now Kathy Kohner Zuckerman) will appear at the museum Sept. 29 for an "All About Gidget" discussion.

The little Jewish surfer girl is still a pop culture icon. The novel inspired the first of many Gidget movies in 1959, starring Sandra Dee, then spawned two TV series, the first introducing a teenage Sally Field, as well as four TV movies.

When Kohner married Marvin Zuckerman, a Yiddish scholar (now a recently retired Los Angeles Valley College dean) in 1964, her fictional namesake had already gone to Hawaii and Rome. Now a 61-year-old grandmother, Gidget is an honorary member of the Malibu Surfing Association and still occasionally hangs ten.

Stillman, a sometime surfer, didn’t realize Gidget was a real person until she took a job writing for the 1980s TV series, "The New Gidget." As surf culture became more heavily commercialized in the mid-’80s, Stillman discovered the original "Gidget" book was out of print and campaigned for its re-release. In June 2001, the novel again hit bookstores, with an introduction by Stillman. "The real Gidget is a cultural treasure, and the book is like a message in a bottle," she says.

The museum is located at 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach. For information about the discussion and the exhibit, which runs through Oct. 6, call (949) 494-6531.

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