Teaching our kids how to give

As a child, I hated having my birthday fall in the middle of December because it meant that no matter when Chanukah began, my birthday gifts were somehow expected to count for Chanukah, too. It just didn’t seem fair that I had to give up some of my gifts because of a glitch in the calendar.

I never told anyone about my frustration, except perhaps a therapist or two along the way. But recently, I heard a story from my friend Rachel about her daughter, Hannah, who also shares the December birthday dilemma that gave me a new insight about birthday gifts and giving.

After Hannah’s third birthday party, Rachel surveyed the room and realized that among the decorations and leftover cake were enough presents to fill a small toy store. And it bothered her that her own child should have so much when there were so many others who have so little. So she came up with a plan that was both ingenious and Jewish-minded to the core.

She told Hannah about all of the children who didn’t have any toys for their birthdays or for Chanukah and asked her what she thought they could do to help. With some “gentle parental maneuvering,” it didn’t take long for Hannah to suggest that she give up a present from the pile on the floor. Hannah chose a Care Bear, a talking doll and a child’s tea set, and together mother and daughter re-wrapped the gifts.

A few days later, Rachel drove Hannah to Jewish Family Service with the presents. When Rachel arrived, she asked a staff person if she would tell Hannah about the families who needed the presents and how much it would mean to the children who received them. A few weeks later when Rachel drove past Jewish Family Service, Hannah looked up in recognition and asked her mom, “Do you think the kids are playing with my Care Bear right now?” Rachel nodded and smiled. It was one of those rare and precious moments when being the parent of a toddler seems like the easiest thing in the world to do.

Tzedakah, or the Jewish commandment to give, has been a quintessential Jewish value since the beginning of time. The Torah teaches: “If there is a needy person among you … you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against him. Rather, you shall open your hand and lend him whatever he is lacking” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).

Giving tzedakah is one way to achieve tikkun olam, or the Jewish obligation to repair what is broken and lacking in the world. Both affirm our responsibility to give a part of what we have to take care of others who are less fortunate. We do this because Judaism views individual wealth as neither a right nor a privilege but a form of stewardship for which we are charged to care for the world.

Rachel’s family began to put money in a tzedakah box every Friday night before Shabbat and Hannah knew that the box was for the people who didn’t have toys or food or a place to live. When Hannah was 5, she saw pictures of the victims of Hurricane Katrina on television and came running into the kitchen to find Rachel.

“Mommy,” she asked in a worried voice, “don’t we need to give our money to the children in the hurricane?”

Rachel emptied out the tzedakah box and took Hannah to the Jewish Federation with more than $80 in change.

It is difficult, almost impossible, to convey to our children how horrible it is for others who live in poverty, and don’t have families, friends or resources to turn to for help. Not only is the concept foreign to their lives, but it runs counter to contemporary expectations in today’s youth culture of buying more, owning more and having more.

But we can start at an early age like Rachel did with Hannah, by modeling our values and teaching our children the responsibility we have as Jews to care for those in need. And in doing so, we will empower our children with the awareness that they, too, can do something, even at a young age, to make the world a better place.

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a nationally syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney. She can be reached at alederman@cox.net.

A Jew, a Catholic and a film crew walk into a born-again summer camp

What are a secular Jew and a lapsed Catholic doing making a film about born-again Christians?

“We were interested in exploring children and faith,” explained Rachel Grady, co-director of “Jesus Camp,” a documentary about a summer program at which evangelical children are taught to “take back America for Christ.” Grady and co-director Heidi Ewing, her partner at New York-based Loki Films, became intrigued with the subject while making their last documentary, “The Boys of Baraka,” which featured a 12-year-old boy who had already found his “calling” in preaching.

L.A. Gafni Event Canceled

Revelations about sexual misconduct have led to the cancellation of an upcoming local event featuring prominent Rabbi Mordechai Gafni.

Gafni had been scheduled for a public talk at Stephen S. Wise Temple on June 9. Over the past two years, since being appointed to the Wisdom Chair in September 2004, Gafni has returned every few months to the Bel Air shul, where he’s had a loyal following.

Last week, four women in Israel — students and staff members at Tel Aviv’s Bayit Chadash, the Jewish renewal center that Gafni co-founded — filed complaints of sexual misconduct with Israeli police. In a public letter, Gafni, 46, admitted to being “sick” and promised to seek therapy. Leaders of Bayit Chadash immediately dismissed him.

Gafni was appointed to the Wisdom Chair at Stephen S. Wise two years ago — despite anecdotal allegations that he had a history of sexual misconduct. The temple’s senior rabbi this week issued a short statement denouncing Gafni.

“It is with a deep sense of shock and disappointment that I have learned of the sexual misconduct that has led to Rabbi Mordechai Gafni’s dismissal from Bayit Chadash,” senior Rabbi Eli Herscher said in a written statement responding to an inquiry from The Journal. “His actions, including vast deception, are indefensible.”

Herscher declined further comment, but the temple canceled Gafni’s June participation in a public conversation with commentator Dennis Prager.

Before being appointed to the Wisdom Chair, Gafni had been a regular scholar-in-residence at the 3,000-family Reform synagogue since 2002. His lectures and sermons attracted thousands.

Congregant Alan Finkelstein said he remembers Gafni’s 2003 Rosh Hashanah sermon as, “my finest moment in shul. He involved the crowd, He helped you connect with the person next to you. It was one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard.”

Finkelstein said he was moved to go back to hear Gafni on several other occasions.

But Gafni’s popularity was undermined by persistent rumors that he had, in the past, manipulated women into sexual relationships. In October 2004, The Jewish Journal reprinted a Jewish Week article exploring allegations that Gafni had inappropriate sexual contact with students when he was 19.

Attendance reportedly decreased at Gafni’s events following the publication of the article.

At the time, Herscher said he had discussed the rumors with Gafni and, after investigating them on his own, found them baseless. Herscher was in good company defending Gafni, as some of the country’s top Jewish thinkers, of all denominations, called Gafni a remarkable teacher who was the target of a malevolent campaign. Herscher also decried Jewish newspapers for printing lashon harah (malicious gossip).

“Rabbi Gafni coming to teach here makes a deeply important Jewish statement – that if rumors and allegations and innuendo are allowed to destroy someone who only wants to teach, Jewishly, that is tragic,” Herscher said in October 2004.

This week, Hersher’s sympathies lay elsewhere.

“I pray that all who have been misled and hurt by him — first and foremost the women he has harmed — will soon recover,” Herscher wrote.


Class Notes – National Nachas for Shalhevet

Shalhevet School is on a winning streak, bringing the Los Angeles yeshiva high school to national prominence in the areas of ethics, politics and sports.

Shalhevet is the only Jewish school and the only school in Los Angeles included in a national report on how to produce students who are not only intelligent, but have a sense of moral maturity.

The 14-year-old high school is one of 24 schools from across the country included in “Smart and Good High Schools: Integrating Excellence and Ethics for Success in School, Work and Beyond,” a 225-page report recently published by State University of New York College at Cortland.

Researchers spent time at Shalhevet to observe how it builds character in its students — for example, through its weekly town hall meetings and moral discussions that permeate the classroom and extracurricular activities.

“In a ‘Smart and Good High School,’ all things in the life of the school — routines, rituals, discipline, curriculum, co-curricular activities and unplanned ‘teachable moments’ — are intentionally utilized as opportunities to foster excellence and ethics,” the report reads.

Two seniors from last year, Leor Hackel and Sara Hoenig, served on the National Student Leaders Panel for the study.

Shalhevet also chalked up a win in Yeshiva University’s Model United Nations, where about 40 Jewish high schools faced off in debates on issues such as the crisis in Darfur, how to define terrorism and providing nutritional support to alleviate the HIV crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.

Shalhevet’s win continued a long Model U.N. crosstown rivalry with YULA High School, which came in second. In the last five years Shalhevet has placed first twice and YULA three times.

Phu Tranchi, adviser to the 14-member Shalhevet team, notes that aside from spending many hours preparing, students hone their persuasive abilities at town hall meetings.

And, Tranchi added, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we have great overlap between the Model U.N. and the drama club — they can really get up and put on a show.”

The same can be said for Shalhevet’s Lady Firehawks, who won first place in the Hillel Community School invitational basketball tournament in Florida last month, where teams from Jewish high schools across the country competed. This was the second consecutive year that the Lady Firehawks won the tournament. Tamar Rohatiner, a Shalhevet senior, won tournament MVP.

Sun Strong for Camp Ramah

Camp Ramah in Ojai will be getting some new décor atop the Gindi Dining Hall this summer — about 250 photovoltaic panels to generate enough solar energy to cut the camp’s energy bill by about $30,000 a year.

This is phase one of a three-part project that will eventually save the camp up to $75,000 a year and will reduce toxic emissions by approximately 15 million pounds of carbon dioxide, 37,800 pounds of nitrous oxide and 121,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide over the 50-year life of the installation.

The camp received a $500,000 gift from alumnus David Braun to begin construction on the $1.3 million project. Camp Ramah expects reliance on solar power to insulate tuition against future energy cost spikes.

“By both using and educating about solar energy during future encampments, we believe we will create generations of Jewish leaders who are environmentally conscious and who will seek to move more and more Jewish and non-Jewish institutions to environmentally friendly energy options,” said Ramah’s Executive Director Rabbi Daniel Greyber.

Greyber has been working with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) to obtain IRS approval of a strategy to offer nonprofits the same tax incentives currently given to for-profit companies to build solar installations.

For more information about Camp Ramah or the solar energy project, call (310) 476-8571.

YULA Girls Face History

Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based organization dedicated to teaching morality and tolerance through the study of the Holocaust, will hold a seminar for teachers this summer at the YULA girls’ school. The five-day workshop will be geared toward, but not limited to, teachers at Orthodox schools.

“What I hope people come out with is a better way of teaching about this history and also a way to help students think about their own participation in the society in which they live,” said Jan Darsa, director of Jewish education at Facing History.

The conference runs June 25-30 and costs $500 for the first teacher and $400 per teacher after that. Applications are due April 15. For more information, contact Jan Darsa at (617) 735-1613, or visit www.facinghistory.org.

Jewish Peace Corps

Looking for a great summer experience of hard physical labor and few amenities? American Jewish World Service, an organization dedicated to sustainable development, will bring 16- to 25-year-olds to Africa, Central America and Asia to engage in tikkun olam, repairing the world, in the most literal sense.

The seven-week program couples intense physical work — building schools, water systems, homes and agricultural projects — with Jewish study and community experience.

The program is open to high school juniors and seniors, and adults 18-25. The application deadline is March 31. For more information, contact Sonia Gordon-Walinsky at (800) 889-7146, ext. 651, sgw@ajws.org or visit www.ajws.org.

Prejudice Awareness Summit

More than 300 middle school students from area public and parochial school participated in a Prejudice Awareness Summit at the University of Judaism (UJ) last month. UJ undergraduates led the younger students in exercises that encouraged honest and open dialogue and allowed them to explore their own feelings about prejudice. Workshops focused on reducing harmful actions and developing techniques to resolve conflicts. For more information on the summit, call (310) 476-9777.


A Prayer for Victims of Hurricane Katrina

Are You watching, God?

Have You seen the innocent swept away?

Are You listening, God?

Have You heard their cries?

Be with them, God.

Be their strength and their comfort.

Let them know You are near.

Work through us, God.

Teach us to be Your messengers on earth.

Wake us up, God,

Show us how to help.

Use us, God, shine through us,

Inspire us to rebuild the ruins.

Open our hearts so we can comfort the mourning.

Open our arms so we can extend our hands to those in need.

Shake us out of our complacency, God.

Be our guide,

Transform our helplessness into action,

Our generous intentions into charity,

Turn the prayers of our souls into acts of kindness and compassion.


Rabbi Naomi Levy is spiritual leader of Nashuva (www.nashuva.com). She is the author of “Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration” (Doubleday, 2002)


Schools to Teach Ein Bisel Yiddish

Linguists have predicted that within 100 years, more than half of the 6,000 languages that exist today will disappear.

For a long time, it’s looked as though Yiddish was among those bound for extinction, but scholars and Yiddish speakers, as well as some Jews who remember their parents speaking Yiddish, have never given up on the language.

And now there’s a better chance that a new generation of Jews will understand Yiddish and the Jewish culture it embodies. This fall, three local Jewish day schools will offer their middle and high school students classes in Yiddish, the language spoken for 1,000 years by Ashkenazi Jews of eastern and central Europe.

The three schools represent a spectrum of Jewish education and geography in Los Angeles: New Community Jewish High School in the west San Fernando Valley is non-denominational, Shalhevet School in the Fairfax district is Orthodox and Sinai Akiba Academy in West Los Angeles is Conservative.

“The purpose of this course is to give [students] the key to unlock the vault that contains the history of their people,” said Dan Opatoshu, who sits on the board of Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, a nonprofit that develops programs to preserve and transmit Yiddish language and culture, which will administer the classes.

About 11 million Jews spoke Yiddish before World War II. Today, the number has dwindled to 2 million, comprising mostly elderly and ultra-Orthodox Jews scattered in the United States and around the world, said Aviva Astrinsky, head librarian at the YIVO Institute in New York, which studies the Yiddish language, Eastern European Jewish life and the American Jewish immigrant experience.

The very existence of the YIVO Institute, an organization founded in Europe in 1925 and moved to New York in 1940, is evidence of concerted efforts to pay homage to, preserve and even revive Yiddish. The National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., founded in 1980, has rescued more than 1.5 million Yiddish books, sending them to libraries around the world, from Harvard to Hebrew University in Jerusalem and national libraries in China and Japan.

Learning Yiddish will give young people access to a vibrant culture, a wealth of literature, film, theater and music that has largely been forgotten, Opatoshu said.

Opatoshu came up with the idea for a high school Yiddish curriculum when he realized that day-school students were learning “a truncated history that goes from the Bible to the Holocaust to the establishment of the state of Israel” and skips a millennium of Jewish culture in between.

The Jewish narrative places too much emphasis on the attempted annihilation of the Jews and too little emphasis on how Jews lived before World War II, Opatoshu said.

“For some reason, we’ve decided as a people to commemorate, study, learn every detail, honor the extinction of our civilization … and we don’t spend any time to examine what that history actually was, how we lived, what we created,” he said.

Opatoshu wanted to see Yiddish in the Jewish day school curriculum, not as an after-school program but as a central part of Jewish learning.

The resulting program is called Take [pronounced tahkah] Yiddish, meaning Really Yiddish, as in “not just the punch-line-of-the-joke Yiddish, not just what’s-the-difference-between-a-schlimazel-and-a-schlemiel Yiddish,” Opatoshu said.

The curriculum is being developed from scratch, because while there are a few good Yiddish college textbooks, no new, innovative ones exist for younger students, Opatoshu said.

Hannah Pollin, 23, will teach the classes at all three schools. She has organized her material around themes such as “greetings and introductions,” “time and seasons,” “emotions and sensations” and “holidays.”

Pollin, who majored in Yiddish at Columbia College, said her courses will combine language principles with historical context. While students will study vocabulary and the grammatical structure of Yiddish, a language derived from German and written with Hebrew letters, they will also learn about Yiddish culture. When teaching the days of the week, for example, Pollin said she will talk about the daily routine of Jews in Eastern Europe. She would explain, for instance, how Jews prepared for Shabbat and how they celebrated it. Using photographs, films and songs, she would illustrate the way life was.

This summer, Pollin scoured the archives of the National Yiddish Book Center, for teaching materials. Among the piles of books and magazines through which she had been sifting, she came upon a Yiddish comic strip from the 1940s and ’50s, “Moishe and Friends,” a sort of Yiddish equivalent to “Calvin and Hobbes.”

In one scene, Moishe and his buddies climb atop a statue of Abraham Lincoln, where they discuss the end of slavery and the importance of social equality. In another, Moishe plays baseball with a black friend, who, like everyone else in the comic strip, speaks Yiddish. Pollin said she would use the Moishe and Friends cartoon to spark a discussion about what it means to be Jewish in Los Angeles.

“There are lots of different people out there,” she said she would tell her students. “You live among them, but you go to a Jewish school. How do you balance the two?”

“I’m very excited about it,” said Bruce Powell, 57, head of New Community Jewish High School. He said he expected a dozen students to sign up for the class this fall.

Yiddish does not have to be practical to be worthwhile, Powell said. Some students might go on to become scholars of the language, but for others, “this can just be fun,” he said. Why study Yiddish? “It’s almost the same question as saying, why do we study American history,” Powell said. “It’s extremely important to know from where you came.”

Opatoshu, 58, grew up in New York speaking Yiddish to his grandparents. His grandfather, Joseph Opatoshu, was a leading Yiddish novelist. Friday nights, poets and artists, including the Russian-born painter Marc Chagall, would gather round his grandfather’s table, discussing intellectual ideas in Yiddish.

Opatoshu also learned about Yiddish culture from his father, actor David Opatoshu, who appeared on the Yiddish stage in the 1930s and later became a Hollywood actor, playing the leader of Zionist activists in the 1960 movie “Exodus.”

After years in the movie business as a screenwriter, Dan Opatoshu decided to go back to school to study history, discovering along the way that he had “Yiddish somewhere inside me, in my blood, in my bones.”

Opatoshu started attending Yiddish festivals joined a Yiddish reading group, and got involved in Yiddishkayt Los Angeles.

Opatoshu brought his idea for a Yiddish curriculum to his brother-in-law, Steven Spielberg, who pointed him in the direction of the Righteous Persons Foundation. Opatoshu ended up securing a $130,000 grant for Yiddishkayt Los Angeles to launch a three-year pilot program.

Yiddish experts say the decline of the language can be traced to a number of factors: the Holocaust, Jewish immigrant assimilation and the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language in the 19th century.

The “Take Yiddish” project description warns of the “imminent danger” of Yiddish “being forever lost” and says the program’s goal is to create a “revitalized Yiddish education” as a means of “fostering Jewish identity” for “generations to come.”

Whether teaching Yiddish to middle and high school students can stem the decline of the language is up for debate.

“If you don’t catch the kids early and teach them basically from the cradle, then they never really become fully fluent speakers,” said Doug Whalen, president of the Endangered Language Fund in New Haven. But “if teenagers are still using [the language] on a daily basis, then it’s fairly safe.” Whalen considers Yiddish “moderately endangered,” because some parents are still teaching it to their children.

“We want to see if we can make this work,” said Aaron Paley, 47, founder of Yiddishkayt Los Angeles.

The alternative could be devastating.

“When you lose a language, you face the extinction of an entire … perspective, a worldview and a history,” Paley said. “All of that — all at once — disappears.”

For more information on Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, call (323) 692-8151 or visit



The Fire of Money

In Parshat Ki Tisa, each Israelite is instructed to give a half-shekel to the “temple fund” every year. There is a midrash – a story told by rabbis to teach a lesson – about this portion. Rabbis say that God took a fiery coin from under His heavenly throne, showed it to Moses and said: “Like this shall they give.”

What can we learn from the image of a fiery coin? The rabbis say that fire can be destructive if misused, but can be very useful and beneficial if used properly. And so it is with money. Perhaps money is – or can be – the “root of all evil,” but it can also be used for charity and acts of kindness.

Back Words

Solve the clues. The second answer is the first answer written backwards!

Give money

– – –

A high-pitch bark

– – –

A Yiddle Riddle

Turn the following description into two words.

A scratchy inflammation in the middle of your body.

Now, put the two together to get one Hebrew word and one big prize!

Being Jewish in America

Written by a fifth grade,

Emek Hebrew Academy

It is difficult sometimes to be one of a small number of Jews in America and in L.A., especially around Christmastime, when a lot of stores are sporting trees, lights, etc. Yet, somehow, my family manages to celebrate Shabbat, keep kosher and go to a Jewish school. There are lots of churches in L.A., but there are also a lot of shuls and Jewish organizations that make it easier and more fun to be a Jewish American!


For the Kids

We Love to Laugh

Jews have always used humor to get themselves through difficult times. And you better believe that Jews have had difficult times! Maybe our humor is what has kept us alive as a people for more than 5,500 years. Certainly, our humor has been used to teach the world a great deal about humanity.

Jammin’ Jokes

Some of our very own Jewish comedians have this to say:
Q: What do you get when you squeeze
a synagogue?

A: Fresh Jews!

Sent in by Raquel Rosen, 12,
Beverly Hills

A Divine Call to Action

Once, on a mission to Israel, we needed a minyan for a prayer service during the airplane flight. We were a total of six men in our group, so we began to scan the plane for the remaining four for the requisite 10 men.

As I went up and down the aisles, one fellow turned to me and said, “Rabbi, make sure you get Jews for the minyan.”

I looked at him in astonishment and assured him that I had no other plans. But why was he worried? He replied that many years ago on a flight to Israel they also needed four men to complete a minyan. They went around calling out “We need four for a minyan — four for a minyan.” Before they knew it, four guys got up and joined them. They handed the men kippot and started the service. Suddenly the newcomers stopped the proceedings and asked what was happening. The others explained that they needed four more men to make the minyan. The newcomers, astounded, said, “We thought you were asking for four Armenians, so we joined you. We are not even Jewish.”

These fellows responded to the call but misinterpreted the message. This week’s Torah portion teaches the same lesson about the importance of hearing the call correctly. The portion begins with the words: “And the Eternal called unto Moses,” (Leviticus 1:1). Our sages point out that this wording is unusual. Generally, in Scripture, we encounter the expression that “God said to Moses” or “God spoke to Moses.” As one rabbi noted, you don’t have to be a biblical scholar or even barely familiar with Hebrew grammar to appreciate that the phrase “and He called” suggests that the mind of the person addressed is not attuned to or in communion with the mind of the speaker. One doesn’t call a person with whom one is in intimate conversation or rapport. One calls a man to attract his attention.

The midrash in the Yalkut Shimoni uses this insight to provide a beautiful homily. The midrash points out that the one who flees from positions of honor and authority, achieves honor and authority. The Yalkut provides many examples of great Jewish leaders who illustrate this principle and comments that Moses represented the best example of all.

The Yalkut tells us how Moses tried to reject the appointment to be the savior of the Jewish people and lead them out of Egypt. God, however, was adamant, and Moses performed admirably. At this point the Midrash comments:

“In the end he brought them out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, brought down manna from heaven, provided water from the well and quail from heaven, caused them to be surrounded with the clouds of glory and erected for them the sanctuary. Having reached this stage, Moses said, ‘What more is there for me to do?’ And he sat in retirement. Thereupon the Holy One, Blessed be He, reproved him saying, ‘By your life! There is still a task for you to perform that is even greater than that which you have done until now — to teach my children my laws and to instruct them how to worship Me.'”

If “Vayikra,” the call to continue his task, applied to the greatest leader we ever had, how much more does it apply today?

Why, for example, is philanthropy for Jewish causes suffering among the most affluent and generous of Jewish generations?

Why is higher education in Jewish studies absent among the most educated and cultured in Jewish history?

Why is commitment to a Jewish homeland missing after only one generation past the Holocaust?

At a similar juncture in Jewish history, the great sage Hillel asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” That question challenges us today to go back to work, “Vayikra,” to achieve a positive response to God’s call.

Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Five Steps to an Ethical-Action Child

Everything teaches something. Here are five ways to help your children develop an ethical-action consciousness in their everyday lives.

First, be an ethical-action cheerleader and acknowledge your children’s positive behavior. Few learning experiences are as effective as being caught in the act of doing something right. One of the most important things you can do is to simply make sure that your children know that you notice their ethical behavior.

Look for opportunities to acknowledge their ethical decisions and praise them for good moral judgments. When a child offers to help a younger sibling with homework or spontaneously does a favor for someone without expecting anything in return, that child deserves recognition for behavior that reflects good character and values.

Second, reinforce integrity. Every day is filled with opportunities to teach lessons in integrity and trust. Begin by giving children small, easily managed tasks, such as carrying silverware to the dinner table or putting laundry away, and then let the chores become increasingly complex as they grow older.

Every time your child completes an assigned task, tell her how proud you are that she can be trusted to keep her word and follow through on her commitments. This creates a link between integrity, trustworthiness and earning the respect and admiration of loved ones.

Third, use your children’s heroes as teaching examples. Integrity is one of the main ingredients of which children’s media heroes are made — and so, for that matter, are courage, honor, altruism and other positive ethical values. One good way to begin instilling these values is to bring their attention to the way they are expressed by Batman, Superman or other heroes from cartoons, TV and movies.

Any time these heroes act in a way you want your child to emulate can become a teaching moment.

A simple comment like, "What I like most about Steven Seagal’s movies is that he always helps people in need," or "Isn’t it neat how in all the Batman movies he will do just about anything to help the people who need it the most?" will get them thinking in the right direction.

Fourth, find teachable moments in popular culture. Helping your children identify the negative messages they encounter in song lyrics or on TV will to some degree help mitigate the negative effect of the messages themselves. For example, you might ask your children to share with you the words to some of their favorite rock songs, then ask them what they think your impression might be and why. Their answers will reveal much about their attitudes toward the values you think are important, and about how effective you have been in instilling these values in them.

Fifth, nurture your child’s awareness of self. To lead an ethical life, children must be taught the skill of stepping away emotionally from their actions, looking at them objectively and making intelligent choices about whether or not they want to repeat them in the future.

Most children act without examining what they are doing. Teaching them the skill of self-examination and reflection is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

This article originally appeared at jewishfamily.com.

Steven Carr Reuben is senior rabbi at Kehillath Israel in Pacific Palisades.

The Blow by Blow on Shofarim

Yossi Mizrachi stood in front of a class of second-graders at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy with a dark, ridged, 4-foot-long buffalo horn in his hand.

"Can we use this for a shofar?" he asked the class, who started cooing in awe at the enormous horn.

"The buffalo is a kosher animal," Mizrachi said, before taking the horn and putting it over his shoulder so it looked like a shofar musket. "But did you ever see a rabbi carrying a shofar that looked like this to shul?"

Mizrachi was at Harkham Hillel with his colleague, Alti Burston, to teach the second-graders how to make shofars. The two men, both in their early 20s, have been traveling all over California for the past couple of weeks with a mobile shofar factory, stopping in different classrooms and synagogues to give people a chance to make their own shofars for Rosh Hashanah.

A shofar is a hollowed-out animal horn, that has a hole pierced through the cartilage end. When air is forced through the shofar, it acts as an instrument of sorts, emitting a plaintive wail. By controlling the amount of air going through the shofar, the wail can be manipulated to create different sounds.

Blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a mitzvah from the Torah, and, as Mizrachi told the class, the reason we blow it is because it acts as a spiritual "alarm clock," reminding us to wake up and to repent.

While most of the shofars being blown in synagogues are slick and shiny factory processed ram’s horns, the coarse prototypes produced in this makeshift factory (sponsored by Chabad Youth Programs) are just as kosher, and create a sound that is as sharp and clear.

In the classroom, Mizrachi and Burston use a display of pictures of different horned animals and two stuffed sheep busts on loan from the Museum of Natural History to tell the class which animals can and can’t be used to make a shofar. Animals like giraffes and deer are out because the protrusions on the top of their heads are not actually horns but ossicones (for giraffes) and antlers (deer). However, the kudu — an African animal with a long curly horn that Sephardic communities prefer to use as their shofar — the ram, the gemsbok and the ibex, all have the rounded horns that can be used as a shofar.

Despite its impressive size, the buffalo horn, it turns out, is not permissible to use as a shofar, because the buffalo is from the cow family. As Mizrachi explained to the class, we tend to steer clear of cow-related shofars because we don’t want to remind God of the sin of the Golden Calf on the day we are hoping to get into His good graces.

"The significance of the shofar being curved means that sometimes we take our will, and we don’t do only what we want to do, but we do what Hashem wants us to do," Mizrachi said. "We bend our will to do what Hashem wants."

To make the shofar, Mizrachi took a ram’s horn, which unlike the light yellow shofars seen in synagogues, was a blackish gray, and called for a strong volunteer from the class. A student named Amanda stood up to the challenge, and with Mizrachi assisting her, used a pair of pliers to extract the bone inside the wide end of the horn. The class gave her a round of applause.

Mizrachi called for more volunteers who took turns sanding down the horn with sand paper. Mizrachi then took a piece of plastic and stuck it through the wide end of the horn to measure for cartilage, noting where the cartilage began. He handed the shofar to Burston, who used a little saw to cut through the cartilage.

Then the drilling began. Mizrachi dressed Avi, another student, in safety goggles and a helmet, and together they held the electric drill, using the cone bit to create the mouthpiece on the shofar. With a great flourish, Mizrachi blew through the hole, ostensibly to see if it had gone all the way through. A cloud of keratin (the substance ram’s horns/shofars are made of) dust filled the air and the class clapped wildly.

Apparently, the hole had gone all the way through. Burston then used a mechanical sander to smooth out the rough edges, and the shofar was sprayed with varnish and left to dry.

Burston then taught the class on how to blow a shofar. He held his middle finger and his index finger together, and used them to cover three quarters of his lips.

"People think that you have to blow, but you really have to go like this," said Mizrachi, before forcing the air through the opening in his lip. Without the shofar at his lips, it sounded something like a whoopee cushion. With the shofar, it sounded religiously melodic.

Where You Stand

We are standing before God and God is standing before us — especially during this particular time, when certain fundamental liberties are being denied individuals and when justice is being withheld from specific groups — all in the name of "homeland security." This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, comes to teach us — all of us without exception — that we are obligated to build a just society not only for ourselves but for all people.

Thus, our reading, studying and thinking about the essential lessons found in Shoftim are of great importance right now.

Meanwhile, this parsha reminds me of a very strange personal experience that occurred many years ago. It’s one that I’ll never forget.

While I was away from University Synagogue one afternoon, visiting a hospitalized congregant, a very well-known Catholic priest called me. When he realized that I wasn’t there, he left a message on my voice mail asking that I contact him as soon as possible, because a situation required an immediate collaborative interfaith response.

For reasons that I can’t technologically explain — but it may have been God’s handiwork — something extraordinary happened: Although my caller terminated his call, my message device recorded what happened next.

Once he hung up, he telephoned a prominent rabbinic colleague of mine. During their ensuing conversation, the non-Jewish leader indicated that he had tried to reach me, found that I was away from my desk, left a message asking that I contact him without delay and he said that he was certain that he’d hear from me as soon as I learned that he had reached out to me.

In turn, the rabbi expressed his doubts about my dependability and without hesitation he conveyed his feelings of disdain toward me by using that occasion to utter some very derogatory comments.

These unflattering remarks were instantly rebuffed by the priest, but they lingered in the air nevertheless.

Naturally, when I listened to their recorded discussion, I was deeply hurt and terribly confused because I couldn’t recall any incident that would have inflamed the rabbi’s emotions and cemented his negative opinions about me. And throughout the years we have worked together in the community, he had never led me to believe that we were anything but the best of friends.

A few days later, he and I happened to see one another at a public gathering where he greeted me with a bright smile, open arms and some affectionate remark.

"Oh," I thought to myself, "if he only knew that I was aware of his genuine feelings about me, which make this display of supposed fondness reek of hypocrisy."

As a result of a mechanical error — or did God provide me with an opportunity to hear words that would never have been uttered in my presence by someone who posed as a friend? — I had a chance to encounter the authentic nature of a relationship instead depending on some false pretense.

Now, what has all of this to do with our reading five particular chapters found in the Book of Deuteronomy this Shabbat?

Within Shoftim, we are instructed: "Zedek, zedek tirdof" ("justice, justice shall you pursue").

When we dig deeply into the parsha, we come to realize that not only are sacred and secular laws to be faultlessly carried out by government officials and interpreted by appointed and elected judges — all of them are expected to be unrelentingly fair and impartial — but you and I are instructed to treat everyone we encounter in our own lives in a similar fashion.

You see, it is not only justice that keeps chaos away and society afloat, but it is steadfast righteousness that should be ever-present in every interpersonal relationship we have — be it a casual contact or one which is intimate and enduring .

This is why Rashi taught: "Consider what you do and conduct yourself in every judgment as if the Holy One, Blessed be He, were standing before you."

Had the rabbi known that I would hear his candid opinion of me, or had he imagined that God was standing in front of him when he spoke in such a hateful way about me in one instance, and then so lovingly in my presence very soon thereafter, to what extent would he had been anxious to render harsh judgment?

And, that prompts me to ask: Do any of us have the right to be judgmental? Maimonides didn’t think so, because he observed that all of us are obligated (actually, he wrote: "commanded") to give each person the benefit of the doubt.

So, as we demand that ours must always be a "just society," and when we attempt to individually "pursue justice," it is necessary that we also rely upon that same concept to temper our own words and actions.

Much will be accomplished individually and collectively when we remember this lesson at all times, because we do stand before God and God stands before us. Under these circumstances, there simply is no room for injustice in any of its many forms — be it in our society at large or in the way we relate to one another.

Allen I. Freehling served as University Synagogue’s senior rabbi for 30 years before becoming that congregation’s first rabbi emeritus a year ago. He is now serving as the executive director of the Human Relations Commission of the City of Los Angeles.

Kids Page

Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the days between Pesach and Shavuot, will be celebrated on May 20. The letters lamed and gimmel, which spell the word “lag,” have a value of 33.
It’s a time to light a campfire with your parents and friends, and to make toy bows and arrows (my kids love to make foam-tipped arrows).

Here is a story told about Lag B’Omer: For many weeks, Rabbi Akiva’s students were struck by plague. It is said that it happened because they were disrespectful to each other; 24,000 students died. But, on Lag B’Omer, the plague stopped. Rabbi Akiva began to teach his five remaining students. From that day on, the light of Torah began to spread again. This is one reason given for lighting bonfires on Lag B’Omer.

Kids Page

Moms and Mitzvot

There is a lot of teaching going on in Parshat Emor. God teaches us many mitzvot. For instance, we learn that farmers must leave some of their harvest for poor people. God teaches Moses laws about the priests. Then he tells Moses to teach them. Then he tells the priests to teach their children the laws of purity. God is like a really big parent!

This Mother’s Day, which will fall on May 11, you will have a chance to appreciate the person who has taught you most in life: how to share, how to eat well, how to take care of yourself. Give her a chance to show her how much you’ve learned: make her breakfast, clean up your dirty socks and give her a big kiss!

Skittish With Yiddish?

Here is a hilarious Mother’s Day poem sent in by Jake Mogul, 11, of Moorpark.

Here are the Yiddish words you need to know: punim = face; shmutz = dirt; shayna = sweet.

Mom, my toys away you puts,

Mom, you clear my punim of the shmutz.

Mom, you are such a shayna,

You put my lunch

in a containa!

Palindrome This One, Pal

Palin what?

OK — a palindrome

is a word that is spelled the same forward and backward. So, here’s the question: Which two words in English are palindromes whose Hebrew translations are also palindromes? (Hint: One of those words has a lot to do with the subject of today’s page, and the other has a lot to do with the first answer.)

Cherishing Passover

As a child, Passover seders in my family were rushed affairs more about the meal than the meaning of the holiday. Hungry children and adults quickly read through the haggadah.

Surreptitious bites of matzah were silently swallowed. And all the while the aromas from the kitchen tickled our noses into reading as fast as we possibly could.

If you had asked me what Passover was about, I could tell you of all the delicious foods that were served, but not why my family gathered together to endure this strange ritual each year. And the finale was the biggest mystery of all. "Next year in Jerusalem" was a meaningless phrase we all shouted with glee — probably because we knew the night was ending.

As an adult I made a conscious effort to learn about my Jewish roots, which commence with the reason we commemorate the events of the very first Passover.

One of the purposes of the Passover seder is to teach our children the story of how the Jewish people came to be. Passover is a history lesson taught not by impersonal teachers in a sterile classroom, but by our families seated around the dining room table. When done correctly, the Passover seder should instill a sense of pride. Because with knowing who we are, we should feel proud to be Jews.

Passover commemorates the departure of the Jewish people from Egypt some 3,000 years ago and marks the birth of a nation. This is as much a celebration of our spiritual freedom as it is a jubilation of our physical liberation from slavery.

During our time in Egypt we were greatly afflicted. We were slaves of the lowest order. The men and women were separated so that no new Jews would be born. Yet, the women defied this pharoah’s edict. They snuck into the fields where the men slaved away and had relations with their husbands. No matter how hard pharoah tried, Jewish babies continued to be born. The women recognized that the nation’s existence was in danger and they took action to assure that not only would the nation continue to subsist, but it would grow and thrive as well.

We can easily draw a parallel to the Holocaust. Despite the attempts of Hitler to wipe out European Jewry, babies continued to be born in the camps, in the ghettos and in the forests.

One of the Passover lessons we need to teach our children is that the will of the Jewish people does not crush easily. We are a people to be reckoned with and we do have a place in this world. Just look at Israel today. Despite the constant threat of terrorist attacks, life goes on, babies are born.

This year, we mark the one-year anniversary of the Passover massacre at the beachside Park Hotel in Netanya, Israel. On the day we commemorate our roots and proclaim our physical and spiritual endurance, a terrorist walked into the dining room of the hotel and detonated an explosive device. Of the 250 people attending the seder, 29 were killed and 140 people were injured, 20 seriously. Victims ranged in age from 25 to 90, and Holocaust survivors were among them.

Yet, we continue to defy our enemies. In Egypt we slaughtered sheep, the animal most worshiped by the Egyptians. In essence, we threw their holy sheep in their faces. We defied Hitler by surviving. Today we defy the Arabs by our very existence.

The Passover seder is instrumental in strengthening our will and our continued defiance of our enemies. It is at the seder that our children learn who we are and where we came from. They hear the first instance of a nation’s defiance and the miraculous way in which our nation was born. The seder you have today will shape the Jew your children will be tomorrow and will ultimately affect the future path of all Jews.

Passover is a yearly proclamation to the world, but more importantly, to ourselves, that the Jewish nation is alive and well and will continue to exist and thrive despite the best efforts of our enemies and detractors. Passover is our yearly reminder to ourselves that to be a Jew is something special to be cherished and protected, nurtured and prized, relevant and treasured.

And we finish each seder with the words "Next year in Jerusalem." Next year — meaning we will be around next year, and we will continue to outlive our enemies, to defy all predictions of our demise.

Marisa N. Pickar is a freelance journalist living in Laguna Woods.

A Solid Gold Artist

Not long ago, Jeffrey Gold disappeared from Los Angeles’ art scene.”I just buried myself in my work,” said the 45-year-old artist. “I didn’t let people see the work. I was kind of struggling.”

The impressive results of his 2000-2002 artistic hibernation will show at Forum Gallery beginning Oct. 18.

Gold is preoccupied with the human figure. Yet unlike many artists, his work eschews irony. Gold paints what he sees and relishes.

“I paint from my own personal experiences,” said Gold, whose works also feature friends, lovers and family, even if those moments are personal and painful.

Gold experienced emotional turmoil as a child when his parents divorced. The son of an observant Russian-Polish mother and a secular English-Romanian father, Gold and his two sisters grew up in the Miracle Mile district.

“We were very kosher.” Gold said. “Following the divorce, my dad gave us bacon. When we first tasted bacon, we wanted to kill my mother!”

After Beverly Hills High School, Gold attended Art Center College of Design, where he clashed with the commercial art curriculum.

“I wound up teaching myself how to paint,” said Gold, who vowed to return one day to the college and share his experience. That circle closes in November, when he will teach advanced painting at his alma mater.

Gold wasn’t always a figurative painter. He began as a photo-realist, depicting toys, Archie Comics and Red Hots. His joy came in capturing the plasticity and color of kitschy objects.

“It was almost a challenge,” he said, “to see if I could put them down on canvas as they were.”

The novelty wore off after a 1989 exhibit by Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum that changed Gold’s artistic life. From Nerdrum’s figurative paintings, Gold derived “such an emotional impact that kind of jolted me into realizing that I was happier painting figures than painting toys.”

At the end of the day, what you see is what you get in Gold’s work — albeit filtered through the artist’s emotional state.

“I paint from my life,” Gold said. “If I paint a lot of tulips, it’s because I love tulips.”

“Jeffrey Gold: Recent Paintings” runs from Oct. 18-Nov. 16 at the Forum Gallery, 8069 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. Opening reception is Oct. 18, 6-10 p.m. For information, call (323) 655-1550.

Tangier’s Casualty

In these past 19 months, I have sadly watched my faith in the effectiveness of liberal humanist values falter. They have not provided me an adequate framework to deal with the latest intifada, Sept. 11 and, above all, my year teaching in Morocco.

Most of my background — childhood in Santa Monica, high school at Harvard-Westlake, classics degree from Harvard University — reinforced certain principles: tolerance, the equal value of all cultures, the idea that sympathy, discussion and negotiation can solve most grievances and that force should rarely be used.

But in the fall of 2000, I began teaching junior high at the American School of Tangier, whose students were primarily Moroccans hoping to go on to U.S. colleges. I was joined by a cadre of young American college graduates, all equally dedicated to the same values and all certain that a year in this former Beat Mecca would only bolster our deep-rooted relativism.

It did not. Instead, it profoundly challenged our convictions.

Upon our arrival, a rasping secretary urged us to "start off like Hitler and end up like Patton" in the classroom. But we were reared in the tradition of giving respect in order to get it, and the admonition fell on deaf ears. So did my later calls for discipline. My students were disrespectful, and they often cheated and baldly lied when caught red-handed. My threats to fail them, an American disciplinary tool, met with indifference. Finally, incensed, I became Draconian. My classroom was docile for that whole week.

Such behavior may be typical of hormone-ridden adolescents anywhere, but it also revealed fundamental cultural differences. In Morocco, lying and exaggerating are far less stigmatized (no George and the cherry tree); shame in the eyes of others motivates far more than inward-directed guilt (no Abe and the library book); gentleness in an instructor is not respected (no "Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.")

Morocco is a moderate Muslim country. Tangier itself was once a cosmopolitan international zone in North Africa. But the past 50 years have witnessed a rise in Muslim fundamentalism, increasing poverty and the departure of most Europeans and Jews. Today Tangier, separated from liberal Spain only by the eight-mile Straits of Gibraltar, has developed characteristics we found difficult to accept.

Anti-Semitism thrives. I am a Jew, by the way. I mention it so late because I did not used to think it mattered.

Several weeks into our tenure, the Palestinian intifada erupted. In solidarity, an angry mob marched around the school chanting for Jihad against Jews and Americans. They smashed windows in the town’s only remaining synagogue. In response, King Mohammed VI urged his citizenry not to hurt Jews and placed guards with machine guns at the gates of the school. I alone was in charge of the dormitory that weekend, and my fears were eased by the king’s measures. But they were also heightened by the fact that he felt such precautions were necessary.

No further violence followed, but the vilification continued. When I hitchhiked from the beach one day, several men lectured me that "everybody in all the world is good people, except the Jews. Jews are horrible." A guide summed up the Moroccans’ magnanimity: "Jews are very bad people, but we treat them well."

At the school, the rabbi’s third-grade son (one of six Jewish students) was beaten by a band of sixth-graders in the year’s only violence. Though the boys were suspended, the sixth-grade lionized the instigator, a Palestinian student. Another student announced that Hitler was his hero and heckled me for being Jewish when I substituted in his class.

I tried not to absorb the lesson that such hate could fester even among children. I tried not to be appalled by the gender inequity: respectable women are hardly able to work or leave home. I tried to overlook the absence of political discourse: opposition to the king is not tolerated.

I failed on all counts.

When we arrived, my colleagues and I would never have criticized a foreign culture. That was what we had learned in America. In endless talks, we struggled to reconcile this standard with aspects of Moroccan culture we found reprehensible. My tolerance had met intolerance, and I found myself becoming intolerant. I am disappointed to hear myself say so.

I cherish many memories of my year in Morocco. I still believe in tolerance and in the use of negotiation instead of violence. But I fear these basic principles can be self-defeating in conflicts with people who do not share them and who co-opt and pervert them.

I, and perhaps the world, have slipped through Clinton-Barak’s open arms and landed in the strong arms of Bush-Sharon. It is with alarm and great sadness that I find myself welcoming their grasp. I am often haunted by suspicions that their approach is wrong. I am even more frightened that it might not be.

Charting a New Course

About 60 people, mainly women, listen intently to Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg as she teaches her class on the weekly Torah portion at the Jerusalem College for Adult Education.

University students sit next to retirees, young mothers and professionals as Zornberg discusses Exodus and what is meant by the Jews having left Egypt b’hipazon (hastily).

She calls upon the traditional commentaries — midrash and Rashi. But her signature is also mixing in heavy doses of original interpretations, pulled from the secular disciplines of psychology, philosophy and English literature. Zornberg contrasts the closed, self-contained Egyptian pharaoh, who could not admit to human needs, to the human trait that allows for doubts, passions and limitations.

Zornberg touches on emotions that speak to her students’ life experiences. This is why Jerusalemites of all ages and backgrounds stream to the Torah classes she gives almost every day in different institutions of higher education throughout the city. Hundreds of English-speaking Israelis attend her classes weekly. But her Torah insights now reach an even wider audience with the publication of her books on the Torah. Her volume on the first book of the Torah, "Genesis: The Beginnings of Desire" (Jewish Publication Society, 1995), won the National Jewish Book Award, and her work on the second, "The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus" (Doubleday Publishers, 2001), hit bookstores in February.

Zornberg is becoming known by the Torah lessons she delivers at synagogues, universities and Jewish community centers throughout the United States. A woman who guards her time and carefully chooses the locations of her Diaspora lectures, Zornberg has taught Torah at Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia, as well as the 92nd Street Y. She is also a regular visiting lecturer at the London School of Jewish Studies.

Zornberg, 56, who wears a long, dramatic sheitl — a wig worn by some Orthodox women as a sign of modesty — is enthusiastic about the new flourishing of women’s study. "These young women are creating a seedbed out of which creative Jewish women’s thinking and scholarship will grow," she says. "Women are opening things up."

Raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Zornberg did not grow up in a place or era where high-level Jewish study was expected of — or even made accessible to — women. But like many traditional learned women, she had a scholarly father, Rabbi Wolf Gottlieb, head of the city’s rabbinical court, who studied with her.

Zornberg attended Gateshead’s Women’s Seminary in northern England, where she imbibed the "religious seriousness" that informs her life. She then went to Cambridge University, where she earned a doctorate in English literature, and began acquiring the tools of literary analysis that serve her well in her interpretations of Torah texts.

In 1969, Zornberg made aliyah, and taught English literature at The Hebrew University. She married and had children with American-born Eric Zornberg, but her family responsibilities prevented her from pursuing an academic career.

However, Zornberg feels that this was serendipity, providential. "I began teaching Torah to a few women, and it mushroomed," she says — as did her reputation as an exciting Bible teacher. Women began coming to Jerusalem from hundreds of miles away to hear her ask questions seldom heard before in Bible class.

"I have greater freedom to follow the lines of thought that interest me," she explains. "In the university there is an unspoken consensus as to what questions to ask."

Avivah Zornberg, will speak April 14, 7 p.m. at Kehillat Ma’arav: "Ruth and Boaz: The Paradigm of Love." $18. 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. For more information, call (310) 829-0566. She will speak April 16, 4 p.m. at UCLA’s Royce Hall: "The Pit and the Rope: Judah Discovers Joseph." For more information, call (310) 825-5387.