UK police ‘stop plane on runway’ to detain Syria-bound teenager


British counter-terrorism officers stopped a plane as it taxied towards the runway at Heathrow to prevent a 15-year old girl from traveling to Syria to join Islamist fighters, the Evening Standard newspaper said on Wednesday.

The girl, from east London, had saved up and bought a ticket to Istanbul without her parents' knowledge, the paper said.

She was removed from the flight and has since returned home but another girl, also aged 15, who was taken off the plane with her, managed to leave before police could intervene, it added.

Asked about the report, police said they had received reports about a girl missing from Tower Hamlets on Dec. 6.

“Officers were able to locate her and she has since returned home safely,” a spokeswoman said, without elaborating.

No further details were immediately available.

A British Airways spokeswoman confirmed that one of its flights to Istanbul had had to turn back on Dec. 6.

“There was a flight that had to turn back because two passengers were removed from the plane,” she said.

Officials estimate that over 500 British citizens have travelled to Syria, where the Islamic State group has seized large swathes of territory, and London's police chief Bernard Hogan-Howe has said some 250 have since returned.

Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that returning militants could launch attacks at home.

Local teens to compete for gold at Maccabi Games


At the same time Southland Jewish Olympians like Jason Lezak and Dara Torres medaled in Beijing, the next generation of local athletes was preparing to compete in events of their own.

More than 200 teens with Maccabi teams from the Westside Jewish Community Center, Milken JCC in West Hills and Alpert JCC in Long Beach will join an additional 300 athletes in Detroit to compete in 25 Olympic-style tournaments Aug. 17-22.

The JCC Maccabi Games, held each summer at several locations around the United States, will feature 14 sports categories, including track and field, swimming and tennis. The athletes, ages 13 to 16, will share the field with teens from Canada, Great Britain, Hungary, Israel, Mexico and Venezuela.

While students hope to medal in their respective events, the games also emphasize charitable programming, as well as the importance of teamwork and building strong Jewish identities.

For many adults, including Milken’s girls basketball coach Bruce Lang, these games demonstrate something beyond athletics. Maccabi shows that there’s more to being a Jewish teen after becoming bar or bat mitzvah, Lang said.

“There is a misconception — a lot of people think it’s just a sporting event,” he said. “That’s 40 to 50 percent. The rest is doing what kids want to do: They want to socialize with other kids. They want to play rock music…. This is a wonderful program that keeps kids in touch with their heritage and their culture. Not all kids get it.”

Lang said one player who gets it is Danielle Bush, one of two returning players who took silver medals last year. He said that Danielle uses the games to quench her desire for more Jewish knowledge, asking questions of coaches, athletes and Israelis.

“That was rare,” he said.

During recent team meetings at the Westside and Milken JCCs, parents and teens talked with coaches about what to expect at the games.

For several parents, the concern was how much or little access they’ll have to their children in Detroit. An information packet given out at the Westside meeting revealed several nights devoted to youth-only activities — no parents allowed.

Lang, who has coached at 16 Maccabi Games, said he understands the plight of parents who travel to Detroit and want to spend as much time as possible with their youngsters.

“For the week that they are gone, they are not your children,” he said. “They are my children.”

For the Westside girls basketball team, the meeting meant receiving their uniforms and bag. When 15-year-old guard Shoshanna Seidenfeld saw the matching cardinal-and-gold and blue-and-white jackets, shirts and tops, she shrieked.

“I love these! They are so cool,” she said. “We didn’t have jackets and bags [on other teams], so I feel I’m part of something bigger.”

The Maccabi games were first established in the United States to act as a feeder to the World Maccabiah Games in Israel, with the first North American Youth Maccabi Games taking place in 1982 in Memphis.

Three cities hosted the JCC Maccabi Games this year, including San Diego, Aug. 3-8, and Akron, Ohio, Aug. 10-15.

Given Los Angeles’ proximity to San Diego — and rising travel costs — it left some wondering why the Southland teams are going to Detroit.

Alan Goldberg, vice president of the JCC Association’s Mandel Center for Excellence in Leadership and Management, said several factors, including when school begins, what sports the teams are competing in and where the contingent requests to go determines which team plays in which city.

“It’s a very complex process,” Goldberg said.

Detroit will welcome 60 athletes participating in basketball, soccer, swimming and tennis from Team Westside.

“We’ve gone from zero to a full-fledged program in three years,” said Brian Greene, Westside JCC’s executive director.

But the numbers at Westside JCC and Long Beach JCC, which have less than two dozen athletes this year, are a far cry from Milken’s 140 athletes in baseball, softball, basketball, track and field, tennis and table tennis.

Snejana Evans, Milken’s Team L.A. organizer, said the West Hills center will have the largest delegation in Detroit. It’s likely the team will bring some medals back to Los Angeles.

Lang said the success of his team, which did not win medals on only two occasions, is renowned. During the 2005 games in San Antonio, he recalled, the crowd rooted for the Israeli squad, shouting, “Beat L.A.”

He said there’s nothing like being on the receiving end of such a cheer.

Heroic parents, we salute you!


Being a parent is a heroic act. Being a parent of a teenager sometimes makes us feel less than heroic. Indeed, we, as parents, often become an embarrassment.

Congratulations to those of us parents who “embarrass” our kids in a manner that shows how much we love them.

To parents who “embarrass” teenagers by actually walking into the home where your children’s friends are holding a party in order to meet the parents or supervisors, nice going! To parents who supervise use of the Internet, well done! To parents who demand a curfew, regular accountability for a child’s whereabouts, way to go! And to parents who say “No” when recognizing that a reasonable boundary needs to be set, you have engaged in a heroic act.

Yes, you will get the “eye roll”; yes, you will get the “I don’t believe you are actually doing this to me”; yes, your teen might be upset. But, in a private moment years hence, when reflecting on his or her teenage years, your child might say, “Well, yes, my parents embarrassed me at the time, but I certainly knew they cared about my well-being. My friends’ parents didn’t check up on them; they thought I was the lucky one.”

Each high school year brings its own special parenting challenges. Ninth grade is the big transition from middle to high school. It is the year when some teens believe that going to a raucous party is the high point of what it means to “really be in high school.” It is a time of increased independence, yet it is also a time that demands tremendous parental focus to help your kids navigate the transitions, the social pressures, the new academic challenges and the process of really becoming independent by solving their own problems with teachers and friends.

Tenth grade brings most teens into striking distance of the magical age of 16 — more universally understood as the “Age of the California Driver’s License.” It is the moment some of us provide our callow youth with 3,000 pounds of metal to maneuver on city streets. It is a time we learn the true meaning of prayer and hope. It is a time to balance our kids’ need for independence with close supervision and a recommitment to curfews and to saying “No.” (The “No” often deserves some careful parental reasoning to convince the child of its wisdom; and sometimes the answer is simply “No, because I said so” — and that is also OK.)

By 11th grade, something miraculous happens: Some of our children begin reading the newspaper, or take a serious interest in the world beyond. We now get two years while they are still at home to engage in fabulous discussions about life, politics, religion, values and so forth. For those parents who were especially blessed, this moment may have happened at an earlier age.

There are no absolutes in child rearing, just some general guesses and a vague sense that things are all right. Most of the time, they are. From a school perspective, the big discussion about college begins in earnest in 11th grade. This is fun, daunting and demands parental clarity and balance. The key is the right “fit” for your child. In other words, fit the college to the child, not the child to the college. The college guidance counselor now becomes a very good friend.

By 12th grade, we have arrived. But where? There is nervousness about college admissions; there are sometimes the beginnings of separation anxiety on the part of both parents and children. The child wants to leave home (but, deep down is not sure; having laundry done and meals prepared is starting to look really good).

For parents, feelings are mixed: We are proud of our newly independent kids and their achievements; we want them to go off to the world, yet there is the “tug of emotion.” Not to worry: while they are in college most of us are still paying the tuition, car insurance, plane fares home and cell phone bills. They are not really gone, just temporarily absent with constant reminders of their presence, monthly.

But, for now, we still have the entire year together. Be sure not to miss some form of “tuck-in time.” Debrief, ask about their days, their vision for their futures, their thoughts on life. This is a delicious time not to be wasted. And, by the way, as prom approaches, the children’s job is a final bonding moment; the parents’ job is safety. “After-Prom” parties, meaning high school seniors going to hotels or clubs after midnight, are generally a fabulous opportunity for parents to say “No.” Invite small get-togethers at your home for a few good friends and a great breakfast in the morning.

Without a doubt, parenting is an art. More precisely, it is a strategic art. Decisions you make today have great impact over time. The emotion or demands of the moment may engender immediate decisions that have negative results.

Let’s support each other in thinking long-term; let’s partner as a true “village” and send a solid message of love to our kids by setting clear boundaries, by saying “No” when called for and showing our children how much we really do care

Indeed, parenting is a heroic act — and I have loved (almost) every minute.

Bruce Powell is founding and current head of New Community Jewish High School. The youngest of his four children is still a teenager.

The Parent Trap


Teenagers in Tennessee who want tattoos need a note from Mom or Dad. A minor in Indiana had best have parental permission if he of she is planning to pierce anything other than ears.

In both Israel and America, parents and politicians alike are searching for some solution to the plague of outrageous crimes committed by teens. In classrooms, state houses and homes, arguments rage about whom or what is to blame. What causes youngsters, especially youngsters from “better homes,” to harm each other? Too many guns? Too few dress codes? Two-income families? A permissive society?

Predictably, teenagers have responded that parents don’t know what they are talking about, that their views are Victorian, if not moronic. I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s famous quip about his father: “When I was 17,” he is reputed to have said, “my father knew nothing. But when I turned 22, I was amazed to discover how much my father had learned in just five years.”

Although all parents who have raised teenagers — and all children who have survived their teen years and reached adulthood — can recognize the truism in this quip, we currently seem more perplexed than ever by the challenge of child rearing; by the dynamics involved in the “generation gap” that has led to the current gory headlines. Why are children deaf to the advice parents offer, and why does it take so many years before we understand the true value of our parent’s wisdom?

It is these questions that are answered in this week’s Torah portion. The Torah, in the third among the numerous mitzvot recorded in this portion, instructs us about the disturbing law of the ben sorer umoreh, “the stubborn and rebellious son,” whose terrible behavior causes him his life at the hands of the high court (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

But who is to blame for such a wicked son? Is it the child’s fault, the parents’ fault, or a combination of both? Maimonides declared that a son becomes “stubborn and rebellious” when parents are too permissive and allow him to lead a life of irresponsibility. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, an earlier 12th-century biblical commentator, agreed with this position and claimed that the Torah did not place the burden of responsibility entirely on the child. Based on the Talmud, he argued that the son could justifiably be tried and punished only if the conduct of his parents has been beyond reproach. If they did not provide a good example for him to emulate, then they have no right to bring him to court for “stubborn and rebellious” conduct.

The Torah notes this cause and effect when it states, “If a man has a rebellious son that hearkens not to the voice of his father or the voice of his mother….” Who, we must ask, is the Torah referring to? Who hasn’t hearkened to the voice of his parents? The simple answer is that this is referring to the child.

Perhaps, however, the Torah means that the parent himself didn’t listen to the voice of his parents. The “stubborn and rebellious son” never sees a living example of parents showing respect to grandparents. Is it surprising, therefore, that the Talmud instructs us to call our parents by the titles, Avi Mori — my father, my teacher — and Imi Morati — my mother, my teacher? A parent is supposed to teach, and teaching means setting an example for our children to emulate.

A philosopher once said, “Example is not the main thing, it is the only thing.” Although rearing children has never been easy, no child becomes suddenly intractable. The process of education begins at the very moment the child is born, and parents have to set the example for children to follow. If we do not do this, we shall produce what the Torah calls “the stubborn and rebellious son,” which will result in one more battle line across the “generation gap.”

This column originally appeared in The Journal on Aug. 20, 1999.

Rabbi Elazar R. Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Briefs: Winning essays, scholarships, tikkun olam, kosher winners, saving singers


A $5,000 Essay Contest

A citywide essay contest will offer students in first through 12th grade a chance to win prizes for themselves, their teachers and their schools, and see their winning work published in The Jewish Journal.

The contest is being held in conjunction with American Jewish University’s Celebration of Jewish Books Festival, which will take place Nov. 5-11, 2007.

Students must write brief essays of no more than 450 words on the theme, “Jews are the People of the Book. What does this mean to you today?”

A panel of judges, arranged by The Journal, will select four winning entries in each grade category. The winners will receive a $250 Borders bookstore gift card, a $250 Borders card for their teachers and a $750 Borders card for their school library.

The Journal will publish the winning essays in print and at jewishjournal.com. All L.A.-area students are eligible. The deadline for entries is Oct. 17.

Visit www.jewishjournal.com for entry form and rules or call (310) 440-1246.

Scholarships Help Create New Lives

The Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) celebrated the accomplishments of the 2007-2008 JVS Scholarship Fund awardees in a ceremony at UCLA Hillel on July 12.

The recipients shared their personal stories to highlight the unique challenges the scholarships helped them overcome.

Alice Feldman was raised by a single mother with a lifelong struggle against severe depression. She moved in with her grandparents at the age of 16 and worked her way through Valley College and then UCLA, where she received her bachelor’s degree in 2004. Feldman is now a second-year doctoral student at Western University of Health Sciences-College of Pharmacy.

With the help of JVS scholarships, Jonathan Franks completed his undergraduate work at UCLA. His father is disabled by chronic back pain, and his mother was supporting a family of five as a preschool teacher. Also with the help of JVS, Franks is entering his second year at the UCLA School of Medicine, where he hopes to study surgery.

Jamie Zimmerman, a three-time recipient, is completing her final year at UCLA. Zimmerman grew up in an abusive single-parent home and even endured homelessness. At 15, she was the sole supporter of her family, while achieving As in school. She eventually became independent and in her years at UCLA, became a leader of the Jewish community there and worked in Peru and Zambia on humanitarian missions. She was accepted for early admission to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

In addition to financial aid, JVS offers job search assistance to the recipients’ parents, an internship program for students interested in Jewish community service and other career-focused and mentorship programs.

Jewish residents of Los Angeles who plan to attend full-time programs are eligible for the scholarships, which are entirely need based.

For information, visit http://www.jvsla.org/.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Tikkun Olam Pays Off

Two Los Angeles teens are among the five recipients of the first annual Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards. Erich Sorger, a 17-year-old Beverly Hills resident, and Shira Shane, a 19-year-old Encino native, each a won a $36,000 grant to use for college or to further implement their tikkun olam visions.

Beginning this year, up to five Jewish teens from California will be selected annually to receive a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award funded by the Helen Diller Family Foundation through the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.

Sorger, a student at Beverly Hills High School, founded a program called Dollars for Dwayne, named after a homeless man he befriended. He and a group of volunteers collected items that UCLA students left on the sidewalks of Westwood at the end of the semester, including furniture, clothes and appliances, and donated them to the National Council for Jewish Women’s thrift shop.

The store sells the items and donates the proceeds to charity. Sorger estimated that his items have raised about $16,700 so far.

While a student at New Community Jewish High School, Shane, who now attends Stanford University, formed Teens Against Genocide, a coalition of 25 high schools throughout Los Angeles. Led by Shane, Teens Against Genocide organized a rally and raised $10,000 that will be used to build wells and medical clinics in the Sudan.

For more information, visit http://www.sfjcf.org/diller or e-mail Robyn Carmel at RobynC@sfjcf.org.

— Derek Schlom, Contributing Writer

Kosher Winners

Two sisters from Torrance, Abby and Sarah Sanfield, are among the winners of the first annual Orthodox Union Kosher Essay Contest.

Students in grades four through 12 nationwide were asked to write either a short fictional story featuring characters that face obstacles in their observance of kashrut or an essay about the importance of a kosher diet in their own lives.

Sarah, a fifth-grader, wrote “The Pot,” a story about a young girl named Anya who obeys her mother’s dying wish by taking a pot with her when she is forced to live in an orphanage, where she struggles to maintain a kosher lifestyle.

Abby, who is in the seventh grade, wrote “Kamp Kosher,” about a girl who decides to follow the laws of kashrut after attending a Jewish summer camp and subsequently convinces her father to transform his restaurant into a kosher eatery.

For more information visit http://www.oukosher.org/.

— DS

Singing to Save

A group of students at New Community Jewish High School raised $4,000 at a benefit concert, “Singing to Save,” on June 14 to support Jewish World Watch’s mission to end the genocide in Darfur. The members of two of the school’s clubs, United Students With a Cause and Club Kodesh, planned the event, which was held at the school’s campus in West Hills. The concert featured performances by Eleventh Hour Ash and Todd Herzog.

For more information, go to http://www.ncjhs.org.

— DS

Sulam Summer Service Corps puts Jewish learning into play


Above the din of screeching shoes, cheering kids and the staccato reverb of every sound, there was a buoyant excitement on the basketball court at Robertson Recreation Center.

But when the calls from the sidelines morphed into panicked directives — “Wait, run that way! No, THAT way!” — it was clear there was also, well, a bit of confusion.

When the final buzzer rang, the scoreboard’s illuminated “15-18” was of no help — no one was sure who’d scored what for whom. But the kids all high-fived each other anyway, amid good-natured shrieks of “We won!”

This game took the concept of teamwork to new heights.

Which is exactly what the teams’ mentors, a group of high school-age kids participating in a Bureau of Jewish Education-sponsored service learning program, had been working toward since they’d come to the rec center nine days earlier.

As part of Sulam Summer Service Corps, the teens, who come from Jewish day schools and public schools throughout Los Angeles, have been spending their days with local kids who attend the center’s day camp. The emphasis for the day camp’s elementary school kids is on sports, teamwork and friendship; for the mentors, on giving back.

But the teens are also being asked to reflect thoughtfully about their service experience. As one of a growing number of programs incorporating the methods of a burgeoning field known as “service learning,” Sulam requires its teen volunteers to examine their motivations for serving, their interactions with the campers and the ramifications of their shared experience.

Sulam is largely the handiwork of Phil Liff-Grieff, Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) associate director. Concerned that educators weren’t mining the full power of tikkun olam (repairing the world), he began looking a few years ago for ways to help teens make connections both “between their actions and Jewish teachings and between their actions and who they are as human beings,” Liff-Grieff said.

In service learning, he found an existing educational model that fit the bill.

Although the term “service learning” was coined in the mid-1960s, the intellectual underpinnings date back to the 1920s, when John Dewey pioneered the concept of “experiential” education. Dewey’s model of “learning by doing” has become common even in mainstream education, but his idea of connecting service with personal and social development has been less widespread.

In recent years, however, service learning has been gaining popularity in schools across the country, with organizations like the National Service-Learning Partnership — an 8,500-member national coalition of educators, policymakers, community partners and researchers — supporting their efforts.

In most schools, service learning is a way to enhance classroom curriculum. Jewish educators have been tweaking that model by both reversing the order — starting with the actual service — and then anchoring the learning and reflection in Jewish sources.

The field has been growing, as evidenced by regional and national organizations that offer resources, consultations and support for Jewish programs (e.g., Spark: Partnership for Service); intensive full-time service learning (e.g., Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps), or increasingly blend study with their existing service programs (e.g., KOREH LA).

Liff-Grieff and his staff launched their umbrella program, Sulam: The Center for Jewish Learning, in January 2006. Funded largely by a three-year grant from the Covenant Foundation (with additional support from The Jewish Federation and the BJE), the result is a multifaceted portal for disseminating information about service learning. Sulam offers online resources for students, parents and teachers; consultations and workshops for educators and administrators; and Spotlight Awards that recognize students for achieving a high level of service.

In the Web site’s first year, more than 1,000 users have accessed the vetted and categorized 200-plus agencies offering service opportunities; another 2,500 have used the pedagogic resources. Sulam staff also maintains a resource library of about 250 volumes at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles, supplementing the Web site’s virtual holdings with additional Jewish sources and materials for educators.

This summer, for the first time, Sulam is offering two sessions of two-week programs, each with a different focus — from the environment to homelessness to sports and mentorship. In the first session’s environmental track, students spent one week replanting and clearing brush in Griffith Park after recent fires and a second week at the Ballona Wetlands.

Most of the teens who chose this session’s mentorship track at Robertson Recreation Center did so because they have a passion for working with younger kids; some, like Sara Fletcher, also happen to love basketball. Although Sara said her mom signed her up because she needed community service hours for school, her experience exceeded her initial expectations.

“It’s great when the kids see me and run up to me and they’re so excited,” Sara said. “And it feels like I’m making a difference.”

Sara’s friend, Maxine Bani, also loves the closeness she’s developed with the kids, many of whom she says are now “hugging and kind of sticking to” her and other teens. The two Shalhevet 10th-graders say they’ve found the study component helpful, though the topical secular sources (e.g., John Wooden on teamwork) more readily so than the Jewish sources.

“When I actually help the kids, some of the stuff we learned pops into my mind, like when we talked about teamwork and discipline — I use it in how I talk to the kids,” Maxine said. She also values “reflecting afterwards, because it makes me think about the things I did with them and [the] affect it has.”

Although the Jewish sources “seemed random at first and didn’t really seem to fit,” Sara said “when we talked about it [as a group], it made more sense.”

Fifteen-year-old Arthur Schtrickman is relieved the Jewish learning isn’t “just the boring stuff like history. It applies to life in general and to me now, helping these kids.”

Most of these teens were enrolled in Sulam by their parents, and while they’re uniformly enthusiastic about their interactions with the day campers, not all of them are equally enamored of the structured discussions and exercises. Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman, the sports and mentorship track leader, said this is one of his biggest challenges.

I’m ready to take the wheel


I turned 16 on June 26. After so many years of impatiently waiting, and six months of misjudging left turns and getting away with some pretty serious traffic violations while my mother sat horrified in the passenger seat, I am finally eligible for my driver’s license. Sayonara, learner’s permit. I can, in theory, do as I please, whenever I please. I am, in short, free.

I had been looking forward to getting my license for so long, because you need to be able to drive yourself in Los Angeles, right? Isn’t it necessary to show off your car to your friends, to finally give your parents a break from chauffeuring you everywhere, to get from Point A to Point B? Isn’t that what driving is all about? As I thought about this milestone, I realized that driving is symbolic of something much greater.

In Los Angeles and at my school, Harvard-Westlake, driving has become a deplorable status symbol, and I fell into the trap. I used to gaze in admiration at the juniors and seniors rolling onto campus in their shiny cars. They all noticed the mesmerized faces of the underclassmen, but they always maintained an air of nonchalant coolness. I could practically read their minds: “I am so awesome because I drove to school. I even picked up a latte on the way here.” Those people were my heroes. I used to think that when I turned 16, my moment in the spotlight of the school driveway would arrive, and I was going to milk it for everything it was worth. I, too, wanted to be awesome and put lattes in my cupholders.

When I finally got behind the wheel of a car myself, conceit and self-importance set in. If ever I saw someone with that familiar awe-struck gape staring at my car during one of my innumerable driving lessons, I would think, with a shameful amount of pride, “I am cooler than you because I am operating a motor vehicle right now.”

Now that I actually am 16 and will soon be taking my driving test, I realize how arrogant I was as I pondered the significance of getting my license. Driving isn’t about showing off or feeling cool. To me, driving represents the freedom I have been given to choose how I want to live my life.

Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben once said that with great power comes great responsibility. I say that great responsibility comes with great freedom. Driving, in a way, is my platform to make an impact on my own in the world. I now choose what to do with my time, but too much independence too soon can be overwhelming. The laminated card entrusted to me by the Department of Motor Vehicles gives me the opportunity to pick a side in the epic battle of right and wrong. Like the aforementioned web-slinger, I want to use my newfound powers for good.

Before I turned 16, I would often use my inability to drive as an excuse for laziness. If I was sitting at home watching television on a Saturday morning instead of feeding the homeless, I could justify it. “My parents don’t have the time to drive me there,” I told myself. “I don’t want to inconvenience them.” At 16, my inactivity is no longer defensible. I now have the option of either driving to the mall to have fun or driving to an animal shelter or a food bank to volunteer my time and have a rewarding experience. It seems obvious, but I’m not a saint, so I plan to find a balance between serving myself and serving the community. I expect the choices I will have to make about where I will drive to be a source of some serious angst — I’ve never had to make these kind of decisions for myself before, but I’m ready to take the wheel.

I used to wonder why you had to wait until you were 16 to get a driver’s license. I now realize that an incredible amount of responsibility is involved in being in the front seat because of what driving means. Driving shouldn’t be a method of flaunting yourself, but it shouldn’t just be about reaching your destination either. For me, driving means having a choice about what to do and where to go and, at 16, I’m ready to choose for myself.

Derek Schlom will be a junior at Harvard-Westlake this fall. He is interning at The Jewish Journal this summer.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the August issue is July 15; Deadline for the September issue is Aug. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Books: Czech teen’s words and art put a face on the Holocaust for me


I attended grades one through eight at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Los Angeles during a time of great unrest in our country — the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., police brutality against war protesters during the Chicano Moratorium. Yet one of my strongest memories is reading excerpts from Anne Frank’s diary.

I remember being moved by the words of that remarkable little Jewish girl with large eyes who hid from the Nazis for two years. I also remember the horror of learning that the Nazis eventually found Anne and her family and that she died in a typhus epidemic that ran through the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Anne’s diary spoke to this Los Angeles classroom across the decades, across an ocean, across cultures, across religions.

And that little Chicano boy never could have imagined that someday he would grow up and fall in love with a Jewish woman, marry in a temple, convert to Judaism and send his son to a Jewish day school for eight years.

But what did Anne Frank’s story offer me and my classmates at that time? The nuns who set the curriculum knew. While it is pretty near impossible to comprehend the annihilation of millions, Anne Frank offered us a face, one child to whom we could relate. And of course, the questions came. Who would want to kill this little girl? Will it happen again? Could it happen to us?
Atlantic Monthly Press now brings us the English translation of “The Diary of Petr Ginz: 1941-1942,” which, as with Anne Frank’s diary, puts a face on the Holocaust through the words and artwork of a precocious teenager. Simply put, this book should be read by everyone.

Ginz was a Czech Jew, born in 1928, who died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz at the age of 16. His diary had been lost for 60 years but resurfaced in 2003. Ginz’s younger sister, Chava Pressburger, edited her brother’s diary entries, which were translated from the Czech by Elena Lappin. They cover the 11 months before his deportation from Prague to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Also included are poems, an excerpt from one of Ginz’s unfinished novels, articles from Vedem (a weekly magazine Petr started in Theresienstadt), as well as linocuts, sketches and watercolor paintings. There is little doubt that if Ginz had survived, he would have developed into an accomplished writer and artist.

Ginz’s entries recount the daily routine of a teenager attending school and spending time with friends and family. But interspersed among the quotidian details are observations that illustrate the tightening Nazi noose: “In the morning I did my homework. Otherwise nothing special. Actually, a lot is happening, but it is not even visible. What is quite ordinary now would certainly cause upset in a normal time. For example, Jews don’t have fruit, geese, and any poultry, cheese, onions, garlic, and many other things. Tobacco ration cards are forbidden to prisoners, madmen, and Jews.”

And there are poems with lines such as these: “Today it’s clear to everyone / who is a Jew and who’s an Aryan, / because you’ll know Jews near and far / by their black and yellow star.”

Yet, despite all this, Ginz loved to play pranks and possessed a wicked sense of humor, as shown by this observation written on April 20, 1942: “Every building has to hang out a swastika flag, except for the Jews, of course, who are not allowed this pleasure.”

Aside from his writings, Ginz’s artwork is noteworthy for its detail and sophistication. There is an eerie 1943 watercolor titled, “Ghetto Dwellings,” that captures a foreboding atmosphere difficult to replicate in words.

Ginz had a particular love for the linocut, which requires great control over the tools needed to carve images into small pieces of linoleum, a process similar to making woodcuts. In one of his Vedem articles, Ginz describes this art form: “As the entire linocut technique shows, a linocut is the expression of a person who does not make compromises. It is either black or white. There is no grey transition.”

In another Vedem piece, Ginz explains that even in the squalor and deprivation of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, creativity can thrive: “The seed of a creative idea does not die in mud and scum. Even there it will germinate and spread its blossom like a star shining in the darkness.” Ginz proved this to be true as he founded a magazine and continued to write and create artwork while in the camp.

Also included in this book are photographs of Ginz and his family. There is one from February 1933 of Petr and Chava holding hands, walking toward the camera, both dressed in thick coats, knitted caps and scarves to protect them from the Prague winter. The 5-year-old Petr has a determined look in his eyes, lips tight with purpose, as he leads his younger sister along the city street. His face is the face of all children whose lives were cut short by the Nazis. And it is a face that implores us to remember two essential words: Never again.

Daniel A. Olivas is the author of four books of fiction including, “Devil Talk: Stories” (Bilingual Press). His book reviews have appeared in the El Paso Times, The Multicultural Review, La Bloga, The Elegant Variation and elsewhere. He makes his home in the San Fernando Valley. His Web site is

How to reduce restlessness among tweens and teens at services


Before any bar or bat mitzvah student walks onto the bimah to read from the Torah, Wilshire Boulevard Temple goes into high alert.

Three weeks before the service, the child’s parents must submit the names of three adult guests who will sit close to the younger guests to make sure they don’t disrupt the service.

Additionally, two ushers are placed on back-up duty to combat loud talkers, gregarious gigglers and super-fidgety seventh- and eighth-graders. Besides the usual reminder for guests to turn off cell phones, the rabbi also requests that youngsters refrain from text messaging during their pal’s Jewish rite of passage.

“Since we have implemented [these] … measures, the [children’s] behavior has improved,” said Rabbi Steve Leder, whose synagogue has used these tactics for the last three years.

The rules were adopted following a dramatic increase in the number of kids attending the ceremonies. The youngsters tended “to group together, at which point it is virtually impossible for them to remain attentive,” Leder said.

As Generation Y Jews filter though their bar/bat mitzvah years, the young guests now seated in the sanctuary have grown up speaking their minds and questioning their parents. With this kind of confidence, it is small wonder that preteens are pushing boundaries more than ever.

And this tendency carries over into shul.

“The days where you could gather a bunch of kids in a room and expect them to behave well seem to be gone,” said Gail Anthony Greenberg, author of “MitzvahChic: How to Host a Meaningful, Fun, Drop-Dead Gorgeous Bar or Bat Mitzvah” (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

Greenberg, who lives in Elkins Park, Pa., attributes the change to a societal trend empowering kids to make their own decisions. “These days, we give children more latitude,” she added.

As a result, many rabbis, administrators, parents and even bar mitzvah party vendors take preventative measures to quell chatty, restless or precocious preteen guests from being disruptive at bar mitzvah ceremonies and receptions.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino expects and understands the need for preteen bar/bat mitzvah guests to chat during the often-lengthy service.

“There are certain rabbis in the community who demand silence [during bar mitzvah services],” he said. “That’s not going to work.”

Feinstein insists that socializing during services is age-appropriate behavior for seventh- and eighth-graders.

He suggests that religious leaders make adjustments to accommodate the children’s needs during the long bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies.

“Let’s be a little more realistic, giving and forgiving, and find ways to include [children] in the service so they can feel that [the synagogue] is their place,” Feinstein said.

At Valley Beth Shalom, Feinstein encourages bored youngsters to take breaks and explore the shul’s garden before returning to the service. Another tactic is for kids to skip the beginning of the service to keep things shorter and more manageable.

For many preteens, a bar or bat mitzvah is the first formal event they will attend without their parents, and expecting them to behave appropriately may be a tall order.

“It’s a quantum leap from a party at Chuck E. Cheese,” said Greenberg, who also runs the Web site www.mitzvahchic.com. The author suggests that parents prepare their children for the event, letting them know ahead of time that the service will be long and that they’ll need to dress up.

“Tell your child the basics: behave decently, don’t use foul language, thank the host and behave the way I’d want you to behave if I was there watching you,” Greenberg suggested.

One group that tends to be on their best behavior is non-Jewish children. “They’re afraid that they’re going to inadvertently do something wrong,” Greenberg said.

With Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan as fashion icons, it is not surprising that appropriate synagogue attire is an issue.

Rabbi Feinstein is appalled by current teen fashion. “Dress for young people is ridiculous and it’s actually psychologically damaging the way we force young girls to dress,” said Rabbi Feinstein, referring to skimpy, tight and “over-sexualized” clothing.

“Appropriate synagogue dress is counter to the way the fashions are, so I’m always impressed when a kid is dressed appropriately,” he said. “I give them credit for bucking the trend.”

At Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the bar or bat mitzvah family is given a dress code for family members and those who will approach the bimah. Women and girls must wear appropriate necklines and hemlines; men and boys should wear a dark suit, a tie, a white shirt and dress shoes. Rabbi Leder said that in general, young guests come dressed “fairly respectfully.”

If parents are concerned that a bar or bat mitzvah student’s tween or teenage guests may dress improperly, Greenberg suggests giving the parents a heads up beforehand, which could mean a conversation, an e-mail, note or manual detailing what is expected. “The more you can do to inform people is part of good hosting,” she said.

Keeping kids quiet and involved during bar mitzvah ceremonies continues to be a challenge for shuls across the Southland. But many agree that the struggle is worth it, saying it’s important that Jewish children return to shul and participate as adults.

“If we tell kids ‘Be quiet! Be quiet!’ and if that’s your memory [of the synagogue], why would you want to come back?” Feinstein asked. “So we have to create a happy situation.”

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Bar Mitzvah 101 for the Non-Jew

Know a non-Jew attending his first bar or bat mitzvah?

Here’s what he or she needs to know:

  • Bar or bat mitzvah means “son or daughter of the commandment.” The bar or bat mitzvah ceremony marks the time when a boy or girl begins to observe the commandments and commits to studying Jewish beliefs.
  • At a Reform, Reconstructionist or Jewish Renewal synagogue, the service often lasts 60 to 90 minutes. For other branches of Judaism, like Conservative and Orthodox, the bar/bat mitzvah service can last at least three hours.
  • Non-Jews should stand when the other congregants stand during the service, but they are not expected to recite prayers or perform rituals.
  • Women and girls should wear dresses, suits or pantsuits and men should wear suits.
  • Bar and bat mitzvah guests should bring a gift. The same kinds of gifts one might give a 13-year-old on his/her birthday are appropriate for a bar/bat mitzvah. If giving a cash gift, it is traditional to give multiples of $18 since chai, the Hebrew word for “life,” has the numerical value of 18 in Judaism.
  • Anyone can wear a yarmulke (skullcap), but the tallit (prayer shawls) are for Jews only.
  • In general, it’s OK to leave the sanctuary during the ceremony, but know that there are a few moments when it is not. An usher will usually keep the doors closed during this time.

Affluent Teens: Do polished exteriors hide impoverished interiors?


Adolescence.

The mere thought of it strikes fear in the heart of many a parent.
A tumultuous time of intellectual, physical and moral growth, adolescence can be wondrous, exciting … and terrifying. Teens and their parents find themselves negotiating every rule — “Sara’s mother lets her stay out until midnight on school nights!” — each desperately trying to decipher the other’s actions, a futile endeavor that often ends when the teen shouts: “You just don’t understand me!”

Yet these interactions, parents are told, are part of the normal struggle for autonomy and independence inherent in the teen years. While some of this angst can become fodder for entertainment — dramatic and/or comic — this “developmentally appropriate” stage can also trigger a host of psychological problems, particularly depression, substance abuse, aggression and anxiety.

The incidence of psychological problems in teens has been increasing at an alarming rate over the last decade, recent research suggests, especially in a specific — and some say surprising — segment of the population.

Nationwide studies of teens from upper-middle-class, well-educated families show they have some of the highest rates of substance abuse, anxiety disorders, depression and psychosomatic complaints of any group of adolescents.

In her recent book, “The Price of Privilege,” psychologist Madeline Levine explores these problems through the lens of her clinical practice and a rich body of research, offering sound guidance for both individual and cultural change. The result is a deeply compassionate, insightful, alarming yet hopeful exploration of what Levine defines as “a growing public health concern.”

Not surprisingly, in her 25 years of clinical practice Levine has always seen what she calls “a lot of unhappy kids.” But in the mid-1990s she noticed changes in her clients’ presentation. Instead of showing classic signs of depression — disregard for personal appearance, a drop in grades, a change in or loss of friends — her new patients were “well-groomed, popular, played sports and often maintained their grades, but they had a vacant, bland, anhedonic quality,” Levine said in an interview. In short, these kids took no joy from their lives.

A number of factors came together in the 1990s that set the stage for this change, Levine said, among them baby boomers having families of their own, creating a new “boomlet” of kids competing for limited space at elite schools — both public and private. And although research shows no correlation between the particular college one attends and life-long happiness or earning power, Levine said, parents developed a heightened sense that a successful life is dependent upon early achievement and the advantages of a status education.

Parenting styles had changed, as well. Baby boomers who grew up in the “do your own thing” 1960s have “more ambivalence about discipline,” Levine said. “Parents want to be friends with their kids; they can’t tolerate the rupture with their children that occurs with discipline and limit-setting.”

In addition, the heady financial years of the 1980s ushered in an era of unprecedented national wealth and a culture that glorifies materialism, which, Levine said, “encourages people to believe that happiness can be bought.” Add to this the “hand of capitalism,” seen in the developing industry that feeds on parent’s anxieties by publicizing college rankings and packaging test prep courses, college tours and counseling, and you’ve got what Levine refers to as “a perfect storm.”

In 2002, Levine had a particularly revelatory experience with one client: A teenage girl arrived at Levine’s office wearing a typical “cutter T-shirt” — long sleeves pulled down over her wrists, holes cut out for the thumbs. She spoke for a while, then pulled back her sleeve to reveal the word “empty” incised in her forearm. Naturally the girl’s self-mutilation disturbed Levine; it also, she said, “epitomized the dangerous shift I’d seen taking place, in which kids look incredibly good on the surface, but roll back their sleeve — metaphorically — and you see they’re bleeding.”

At around the same time, a number of researchers were examining thousands of affluent families across the country. Columbia University’s Dr. Suniya Luthar, in particular, quantified the very phenomena Levine and others had been observing with their own clients. As cited in Levine’s book, Luthar’s research was startling: Among teens in affluent families, girls are three times more likely to suffer clinical depression than girls from any other socioeconomic group, and boys, who tend to externalize their discontent, have substantially higher rates of substance abuse than any other group of teens. In addition, both girls and boys experience anxiety disorders at twice the rate of the general population, and approximately 30 percent to 40 percent of teens from affluent homes exhibit symptoms of “significant emotional impairment.”

The confluence of her client’s disturbing revelation and the new research “helped crystallize my thoughts,” said Levine, prompting her to explore a series of related questions: Why would affluent teens — the very kids who seem to “have it all” — be more prone to emotional problems than kids from other socioeconomic groups? What are we doing as parents, and as a culture, that drives our kids to such desperate behaviors? And perhaps most importantly, what can we do to reverse the trend?

Affluent parents often “pay a lopsided attention to two facets of development — academics and athletics — while underemphasizing other areas of growth such as social skills, altruism, self-management skills and creativity,” Levine said. Without the freedom to explore a range of their interests and abilities, teens are deprived of crucial steps necessary to develop a healthy, authentic identity.

By offering material goods to assuage problems — a practice Levine said is common among busy, often guilt-ridden parents — parents prevent their children from developing “their own inner resources for managing distress, which will provide a safety net when they are struggling.”

Without these resources in self-management, teens become anxious and therefore are more likely to resort to self-destructive behaviors — often progressing from excessive perfectionism and depression to drug use and cutting — when faced with life’s inevitable disappointments and frustrations.

Gap-Year Kids Leave to Study For A Year in Israel


Many college-bound high school graduates are packing up their inflatable sofas and plan to stay abreast Middle East news using wireless laptops. But some of their peers will get a real-time glimpse of current events as they prepare for a year of study in Israel.

In the wake of the recent eruptions of violence in the region, the resolve of students intent on spending a “gap year” between high school graduation and freshman year of college engaged in study or service in Israel has remained strong. While most are relieved that the cease-fire has eased immediate threats, they know that the situation is far from over.

The war in northern Israel has left her feeling “no different than before” about studying in Jerusalem, said Adina Stohl, who graduated from the Yeshiva of Los Angeles Girls High School (YULA) in June and is starting at the Michlalah women’s school in Jerusalem in September.

Alison Silver, an alumna of Shalhevet High School who left for Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim in late August, shares Stohl’s conviction that her year in Israel will remain relatively unaltered despite recent turbulence in the region.

“I think that in the beginning the seminaries are going to be stricter,” she said, “but I was already anticipating a year of ‘You shouldn’t do this, it’s not safe.'”

julief@jewishjournal.com.

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets


 

Stand on any corner in Hancock Park or Beverlywood, says Avi Leibovic, and within 10 blocks you can find Orthodox teenagers engaged in weekly poker games, drug use, underage drinking and reckless sex.

Not much has changed since Leibovic was a teenager in L.A.’s Orthodox community 15 years ago.

Now 32, a lawyer, rabbi and father of six, Leibovic has made it his life’s mission to find these youth and to pull them back toward a life where they can envision a future with regular employment, a strong sense of self and a sincere love of Yiddishkeit.

Five years ago, Leibovic was approached by the prodigal son of a prominent Orthodox family for help and inspiration. Soon, their one-on-one Torah study grew into a larger group, made up mostly of recent alumni of Neve Zion, the yeshiva outside Jerusalem where Leibovic had formative experiences as a teen and young adult.

That group grew into Aish Tamid, a nonprofit that now has a staff of part-time counselors, therapists, social workers and rabbis that in the last five years has served 400 young men and teens.

At a recent free workshop in Excel that Aish Tamid offered in a mid-Wilshire office building, Leibovic is working the room, making sure everyone is set up and liberally slapping on warm handshakes, high fives and “Howah YOUs.”

He looks tired but energized, with rings of red around eyes that are the same color as his trim auburn beard. His large black velvet kippah sits low across his forehead.

Leibovic, a doting perfectionist, teaches Torah, runs a Friday night service and holds court at a “tisch” at his home, where dozens show up every Shabbos for songs and inspirational story-telling. His “guys” are anything from hard-core addicts to kids who just didn’t fit the yeshiva mold, and he helps them finish school, find jobs, go clean, reconcile with family or get back into Judaism.

Last year Leibovic took a sabbatical from his job in his family’s law firm to build Aish Tamid’s infrastructure, but he is now back at work full time. He sets aside every night from 5:30-8 p.m. for his wife and their 6-year-old triplets and three younger children.

And from 8 p.m. on, and often well into the morning, he’s there for his guys.

He can do it because he gets them. He knows their insecurities and their haunts. He speaks their language — from his dude-laced lingo with a Brooklyn accent to his knowledge of the latest music.

“If not for Avi, I would be wandering the streets of Brooklyn,” says Yitzy, a 17-year-old who now has a job and is working toward getting his high school diploma.

Leibovic has never taken a salary from Aish Tamid, and he admits the work is taking a toll on him and his family.

But he’s sticking with it.

“If you give the kids time and if you give them love, if you give them the opportunity to express themselves in a way that is not cookie-cutter, you see tremendous success,” he says. “Guys who have been written off by their schools, their family and their community, we find that we are able to rekindle their aish tamid [eternal flame].”

For information call (323) 634-0505 or email to info@aishtamid.org.

 

MORE MENSCHES

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Between the Pages for Young, Young-at-Heart


Let’s face it. Many people go to synagogue on the High Holidays because they have to. A feeling of poorly understood and unappreciated obligation can pervade this time of year. But it doesn’t have to. You can put yourself or your children in the spirit and in the know with help from this by-no-means-comprehensive list of titles that elucidate the prayers and customs of the holiday.

For Young Children:

“My First Book of Jewish Holidays”
by Shmuel Blitz, illustrated by Tova Katz, (Artscroll Mesorah, 2004)

“My First Book,” which is beautifully illustrated, explains the historical significance of the holidays (i.e., the world was created on Rosh Hashanah, as well as the laws). In addition to their regular text, the pages have “Did you know?” boxes. It is not a storybook, but it is written clearly and its pictures are mesmerizing.

“Rosh Hashanah With Bina, Benny, and Chaggai Hayonah”
by Yaffa Ganz
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1990)

“Rosh Hashanah With Bina, Benny, and Chaggai Hayonah” is one in a series of books about Jewish holidays, in which two young children and their talking dove go on a learning mission. In this pleasantly illustrated book, children can learn about holiday customs, such as dipping an apple into honey, and different names of Rosh Hashanah. For example, Yom Hakeseh is called the Day of Concealment, because the moon is concealed on that day — just a sliver in the sky. And metaphorically, the outcome of the new year, too, is concealed from us.

For Teenagers:

“Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit” by Shimon Apisdorf
(Leviathan Press, 1997)

The “Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit” is aimed at those who

would really rather be elsewhere during the services — sound like any teenager you know? The book gives tips about how to make the service meaningful, without being bogged down with effort. (Sample tip: “Five minutes of prayer said with understanding [and] feeling … means far more than five hours of lip service.”)

It also offers cute factoids about Rosh Hashana, presenting an easy and fun-to-read overview of the prayer service and Torah readings.

Don’t be fooled by its simplicity — “Survival Kit” does not shy away from the weightier matters; it offers compelling expositions on teshuva (repentance) and personal development.

For College Students:

“60 Days, a Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays”
by Rabbi Simon Jacobson
(Kiyum Press, 2003)

In “60 Days,” Jacobson looks at the months of Elul (the Hebrew month preceding the High Holidays) and Tishrei (the Hebrew month in which the High Holidays occur) as a period for self-improvement. Basing many of his teaching on Kabbalah, Jacobson goes through each day of the two months, explaining the historical significance of the day well beyond the obvious holidays. For example, the 18th of Elul is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism.

But he also describes exercises to enable the reader to use the 60 days for introspection. Jacobson wants us to be our better selves, and to use that improvement for an enhanced relationship with God.

For the Prayerfully Challenged:

“Pathway to Prayer: A Translation and Explanation of All the Amidah Prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur”
by Rabbi Meir Birnbaum
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1997)

Even for those familiar with the daily prayers, the Rosh Hashanah service can seem formidable. It is long, different and should ideally be infused with enough kavannah (concentration and devotion) to change the destiny of the upcoming year for the better.

In “Pathway to Prayer,” Birnbaum explains the prayers line by line — often word by word. He is not merely content with translating. Rather, he explains what the thought process should be when each word is said. For example, in the musaf prayer, the repeatedly used word. “Hagadol [the Great One], referring to God, really means God who is great “in exercising the attribute of kindness.”

“A Guide to Jewish Prayer”
by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
(Schocken Books, 2000)

“A Guide to Jewish Prayer” provides great background reading for those interested in the history and development of prayer in Judaism. The chapter on Days of Awe, as the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known, provides a brief overview of the holiday and the origins of the prayers that developed in conjunction with it.

This book will not necessarily help you navigate a machzor (special prayer book for the holidays), but it does outline what we will be saying on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., which prayer comes after which, when the shofar is blown, etc.) as well as explanations and customs of shofar blowing. Steinsaltz also explains differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazic nusachs (the order of the prayers).

For Meaning Searchers:

“Days of Awe: Sfas Emes, Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes on the High Holy Days”
by Rabbi Yosef Stern
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1996)

The Sfas Emes, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Alter of Ger, became leader of the great Gerer Chasidic dynasty in Poland in 1870, when he was only 23. Under his guidance, Ger became one of the biggest Chasidic groups in Poland.

In this volume, Stern distills the Sfas Emes’ Chasidic teachings into illuminating essays on topics such as “The Omission of Hallel on Rosh Hashanah” to the “Symbolism and Significance” of Shofar blowing.

“This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared — The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation”
by Alan Lew
(Little Brown and Company, 2003)

“This Is Real” follows no ordinary Rosh Hashanah book path, because it encompasses so many different elements. Part memoir, part Zen mediation, part rumination on life in general, interspersed with Torah readings, Jewish teachings and Zen parables (Lew considers himself a Buddhist rabbi), this is a book that describes a soul’s journey from Tisha B’Av through Yom Kippur, as it “heads home.”

Lew sees the High Holidays as a metaphor for life itself, and he wants us to experience “oneness with everything.” Rosh Hashanah is a time that we can “experience the truth of our lives.”

Though the title is ominous, the book is ultimately uplifting, about a person’s power to transform sadness to joy.

For General Background:
“Days of Awe: A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days”
by Shmuel Yosef Agnon
(Schocken, 1995)

This is a collection of writings on the Days of Awe culled from traditional sources, such as the Torah, Talmud and Zohar. Agnon lets the writings speak for themselves, but he compiles them in a way that tells the history of the holidays.

In the section on Rosh Hashanah, he starts with the commandment from Leviticus to observe Rosh Hashanah (“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns”).

He then moves on to descriptions from Ezra in Chronicles of the Jewish people bringing sacrifices on Rosh Hashanah, and then quotes from the Mishna and Talmud about what Rosh Hashanah means.

The book is a fascinating compilation, perfect for those who want to understand the meaning of the holiday from original sources.

For Contemporary Approaches:

“Celebrating the Jewish Holidays: Poems, Stories, Essays.”
edited by Steven J. Rubin
(Brandeis University Press, 2003)

“Celebrating the Jewish Holidays” is not a book for those who simply want laws or traditions laid out for them. Rather it’s for those seeking creative or artistic musings on the holidays.

Gathering verse from poets as diverse as Solomon Ibn Gabirol (an 11th-century Jewish Spanish scholar) and Emma Lazarus, the poems convey a range of experience, from the spiritually awesome to the skeptically modern. The stories and memoirs are evocative. Eli Weisel tells of Rosh Hashanah in the concentration camp, others of Rosh Hashanah in the shtetl.

“The Jewish Way, Living the Holidays”
By Rabbi Irving Greenberg
(Simon and Schuster, 1988)

In “The Jewish Way,” Greenberg explains the holidays as “the quintessential Jewish religious expression, because the main teachings of Judaism are incorporated in their messages.”

In his essay on Rosh Hashanah, he explains that it is a somber time when we must confront our own mortality, since one’s life “is placed on balance scales.” In addition, Greenberg gives a summary of the prayers and customs of Rosh Hashanah.

 

Shining a Light on Prostitution


I’m an extreme person,” activist-filmmaker Keren Yedaya said.

So extreme that she shot her stark anti-prostitution drama, “Or,” without ever moving the camera, enhancing the claustrophobic milieu. The film revolves around Or (Dana Ivgy), a teenager whose struggle to survive echoes the Dardenne Brothers’ “Rosetta.” While Or’s hooker mother, Ruthie (Ronit Elkabetz), smokes on the couch like a haggard odalisque, the 18-year-old washes dishes in a fast-food restaurant, collects recyclables and unsuccessfully tries to keep mom from turning tricks. But as bills pile up and Or is overwhelmed by her responsibilities, she considers following her mother onto the streets.

Although more minimalistic than other recent movies involving prostitution, such as Amos Gitai’s “Promised Land,” “Or” has become perhaps the most honored Israeli film in history, winning five awards at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, including best first feature.

“Keren is very precise about where she puts the camera and about composition, so the action unfolds realistically and you’re in the moment all the time,” said Tzipi Trope, an NYU film professor and Israeli Oscar-winning director. “And she doesn’t let her characters evade who they are. She confronts them, revealing their inner worlds in an uncompromising way.”

Yedaya, who has worked with prostitutes for more than a decade, did not have accolades in mind when she shot “Or.”

“I wanted to show that prostitution is one of the worst forms of slavery that exists,” she said. “Israelis are much more willing to deal with rape victims, because everyone agrees that’s terrible. So I go to the place no one else is willing to go.”

Yedaya, 32, spoke from her apartment in Jaffa, where she moved to learn about Arab culture. As the Muslim evening call to worship wailed in the background, the blunt director described spending the day cleaning the room an ex-prostitute shares with her 4-year-old daughter. Yedaya helped the woman escape the streets by paying all her expenses; she said she’s donating her “Or” proceeds toward building a shelter for such women, since none exists in Israel.

Before “Or,” Yedaya spent years lecturing against prostitution with her short films on the subject, supporting herself by teaching cinema and cleaning houses. Yet she found the right tone for her debut feature only upon viewing 1999’s “Rosetta.”

“At that moment, I understood I should create an atmosphere of someone fighting for her life, like an animal,” she said.

Her decision to keep the camera static during long takes was vintage Yedaya: both political and aesthetic.

“I’m trying to learn the language of cinema, because filmmakers today use that language like retards,” she said. She believes directors aim to please the Hollywood audience, which Yedaya compares to the gluttonous plant in “Little Shop of Horrors” — perpetually hungry for snazzier stories and special effects. “But I want to provoke viewers by saying I have no intention of satisfying their needs,” she said.

The message parallels her attitude toward the johns in “Or,” who care only about their own desires.

“The [rigid] frame also works well emotionally because Ruthie is always in the center of the picture, and Or is on the periphery, without space for herself, which reflects their relationship,” the director said.

The frame often fragments parts of Ruthie’s body — capturing close-ups of her cellulite-dimpled behind, for example — “because that is what her life is like,” Yedaya said. “Someone cuts her everyday, just as some very cruel frames slash her body.”

Yedaya’s Cannes acceptance speech proved cutting for many observers when she dedicated the movie “to all those living in slavery,” including the Palestinians.

“People tell me, ‘Or’ is not a political film, so why did you talk about the Palestinians?'” she said. “But how can I be empathetic to the suffering of women and not the Palestinians? I love my country, but I feel like s— living here. I’m in Jaffa but I can’t be happy knowing I took someone else’s house.”

Thus it’s no accident that Or’s Arabic co-worker is a mensch and that a soldier character is obnoxiously aggressive.

“The message is to help the ‘other,’ and to give a damn,” Yedaya said of her film.

“Or” opens today in Los Angeles.

 

A Mother’s Reward


Normally, a parent might agonize over her teen’s decision to defer her freshman year of college. But when my 18-year-old daughter Lauren left recently on a flight to Israel — deferring her first year at college for yet a second time — I was thrilled.

As a young couple, my husband Mark and I, like so many of our generation, began to live as more observant Jews. We wanted more than anything for our two daughters to benefit from the richness of a lifestyle that includes the warmth of community, commitment to tradition, and strong Jewish values.

My daughters attended Jewish day schools that provided academic excellence but lacked the joyousness for which I had hoped. By high school’s end, Lauren was a Torah-observant girl who looked longingly at the secular world’s definition of fun.

I started thinking that it would be a mistake to send her straight to college. Despite her initial protests, we presented Lauren with the "opportunity" to devote a year of religious study at a seminary of her choosing in Israel. We hoped that the warm blanket of Israel would strengthen her spiritual connection to her people and help her find greater happiness in her traditions. She chose Michlelet Esther, a seminary known for warmth, but a "hands-off" approach to religious "coercion."

The summer before she left was filled with angst. Lauren was reluctant and scared, my in-laws told me I was crazy and my husband and I were plagued with safety concerns. How would we survive our fears?

Almost immediately I began an ongoing correspondence with her spiritual advisers — two gifted rabbis talented at appeasing nervous long-distance parents, and able to relate to their student’s reluctant beginnings.

My daughter felt so lost during her first few weeks in Jerusalem. She was distressed that she could jog through surrounding observant neighborhoods only if dressed modestly in a skirt. She found more comfort in the familiarity of beaches, malls and restaurants. I lobbied intensively in my e-mails to her rabbis so that my daughter could progress beyond the modern attractions of Israel to find ecstasy in her spiritual growth. Quietly, without fanfare, the magic that is Michlelet Esther took hold. Friendships developed, mentors emerged and the learning jumped off the page into real life examples of Torah-observant joy.

When my family and I visited her that January, I saw a self-assured young woman, maneuvering easily through the streets of Jerusalem, chatting confidently with shopkeepers and taxi drivers and hosting her friends for get-togethers in our rented apartment. There was so much hugging, kissing, crying and laughing during that visit I had little chance to scrutinize my daughter’s progress. Still, I witnessed enough to know that Lauren had grown a lot on the inside.

"Mommy, you were so right about coming to Israel," she said before we returned to Los Angeles. Breathing easier now and confident that the Israel opportunity was being fulfilled, I set about making arrangements for her freshman year in college.

However, my daughter surprised us with her decision to return to Israel for a second year of study. In explaining this she was levelheaded and controlled, clearly sure that her year’s discovery deserved more exploration. I was proud of this decision, but others were not so sanguine.

My very even-tempered husband greeted this news with stunned silence. Her sister urged her to come to her senses. My relatives expressed concerned opposition. Even the observant friends who I expected to share my happiness seemed tentative. They offered sympathetic looks, assuming that I was distressed by this unexpected development. Implicit in those worried looks was the query: When is she going to get down to business and get her college degree?

What’s the rush, I wondered? Time spent in Israel and her college education are not mutually exclusive. I consider this experience an investment in her soul. My daughter is not deferring her education, but continuing the learning and the spiritual growth, which will bring her happiness and guidance for a lifetime. Lauren has said that the highlight of her year in Israel was feeling "comfortable in her own skin" and she just wants time to continue the journey that brought her to that place.

This first year in Israel brought incredible changes. Lauren now has a distinctive inner glow and there is a special quality to her demeanor as she incorporates prayer, ritual and continued learning into her day, along with generally more appreciation for her family. This next year will solidify the groundwork that Michlelet Esther laid, by breathing more joy into her observance, answering the questions that confront her and helping her deal with the challenges that will surely be in her future.

Last year, I tearfully asked my daughter’s high school principal if I was doing the right thing.

"You will see, you will be rewarded," she said.

As we saw Lauren off for this second odyssey, we gave each other our signature bear hug and kisses on both cheeks (so we won’t be lopsided) and she said to me, "Mommy, I love you, thank you so much for this opportunity to return Israel."

With that statement I can assure you, I am richer than any lottery winner.


Phyllis Folb is principal of The Phylmar Group, Inc, a public relations firm specializing in arts, education and nonprofit organizations. She is also a member of the Westwood Kehilla Synagogue.

Teens Aid Russian Children


Knowing little about Judaism, 11 Russian immigrant families in the Los Angeles area began meeting in 1991, holding Shabbat dinners together and learning Jewish teachings from their children, many of whom were enrolled in Jewish day schools.

Among them was Olga Belogolova’s family, which had emigrated from Kiev and settled in Irvine. Last year, one of the havurah’s teens learned that a 9-year-old cousin, Alona, hospitalized with pneumonia in St. Petersburg, was going untreated because her parents lacked money for medicine.

Together, the families pooled $3,000, and forwarded the funds to St. Petersburg’s rundown Children’s Hospital No. 19. Just $500 was needed for Alona’s recovery. The havurah’s generosity was acknowledged with a long list of supplies purchased by the hospital. Antibiotics for an ear infection, for example, cost $3.

“We realized we could help more people than just the family friend,” said Belogolova, 17, co-founder and president of the CureKid Foundation, established last year to assist one ill-supplied Russian hospital. Her mother, Alla Korinevskaya, teaches math at Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School; her father, Igor Belogolov, is a programmer.

The teenager and her friends identify with the plight of Russian children. For the last year they have been sharing their cause at community events, such as the recent Israel fair, and also organize fundraisers, such as an arrangement last month with a local restaurant that agreed to contribute a percentage of one night’s receipts.

“I always tried to find a community service,” said the Woodbridge High senior. “I never found anything that interested me.”

Information about the foundation can be found at

Time to Transition From Day to Night


This summer, Jacqueline Berlin, 7, will leave her mom, dad
and younger sister to enter the world of overnight camp for the first time.

“As soon as she found out that she would be old enough to go
[to Camp Ramah in Ojai] this summer, she wanted to go,” said Jacqueline’s
mother, Robin Berlin of Beverly Hills, who attended the Jewish residential camp
for 10 summers as a child and teenager.

But is Jacqueline, who will be 8 by summertime, really ready
to be away from home for a whole week?

“I don’t know,” Berlin said with a sigh, “but I think it’s
good that it’s coming from her.”

According to the American Camping Association, more than 10
million children and adults attend an estimated 12,000 camps each year. Of
those facilities, approximately 7,000 are residential camps and 5,000 are day
camps. While experts agree that camp can increase self-esteem and foster
independence and lifelong friendships, finding the right time when a child is
ready to transition from day camp to overnight camp is challenging.

“The two major issues for kids are being comfortable with
sleepovers and having the desire to go [to camp],” said Wendy Mogel, a local
clinical psychologist, parent educator and school consultant.

Still, the therapist says that the older a child is, the
more likely he or she is to adjust to living away at camp. Having an older
sibling at camp or going with a friend can also make the transition easier.

After spending several summers at day camp in Malibu, as
well as frequently sleeping over at friends’ houses, Andie Natis of Mission
Viejo knew her daughter Blaine, 14, was ready to attend overnight camp.

“She’d been ready for years, but I just didn’t have the
money,” said Natis, whose daughter attended Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu for the
first time last summer.

“I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know anyone else
going, but I met people on the first day,” said Blaine, who will return to the
camp for a second summer this year. “In the end, I made lots of best friends
and had the time of my life.”

Blaine was so enthusiastic about the camp that her younger
sister, Brooke, 12, decided to go with her this summer.

Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute — Camp
& Conference Center said that most campers tend to make the switch to
overnight camp in fifth or sixth grade.

To ease the transition, Camp JCA Shalom offers minicamp programs,
which usually appeal to first- through fourth-graders. In these short sessions,
campers stay for five days. The hope is that the exposure will prepare them for
a longer camp session down the road. JCA Shalom also offers weekend camp
programs during the fall and spring.

“We find that it’s a great way for kids to transition
without committing for a one-week or two-week session,” said Kaplan, who added
that most weekend campers sign up for longer sessions or they realize that they
are not ready for overnight camp just yet.

Zach Lasker, assistant director of Camp Ramah, believes that
the experience of settling in depends on the child.

“There are kids who are loving it from the time they get
here, kids who take a few days to transition and kids who struggle throughout
the session,” Lasker said. “As an educator, I see more growth from the kids who
struggle and end up making it and finding out what they’re capable of.”

Berlin is anticipating that her daughter will struggle with
a bit of homesickness during her time at camp.

“I would be very surprised if she wasn’t homesick at all,”
Berlin said. “I think it’s just getting to the other side of missing the
comforts of home, being able to comfort herself and knowing it’s OK.”

Lasker noted that the summer separation can be just as hard
on parents as it is on campers.

“One mom said to me, ‘My daughter wants to go to camp for
four weeks and she thinks she’s ready, but I don’t know if I am,'” Lasker
recalled. “We talked about what the camp involves and handling the separation
from her daughter.”

Still, not every child is suited for residential camp.

“There are few kids where camp is a bit overwhelming for
them and it gets to the point where it’s not the right match and we might have
a camper who goes home early,” Lasker said.

Kaplan advised parents not to give their children the option
of coming home.

“For a child to transition, he or she needs time,” said the
administrator. “Camp JCA Shalom starts on a Tuesday. If the child doesn’t [feel
better] by Shabbat, we’ll contact the parents.”

In the meantime, Kaplan advises concerned parents to send
their children care-packages and letters reassuring them that they will have a
great time.

While Berlin is nervous about Jacqueline’s first summer away
from home, she is still confident that it will be a positive experience.

“I think she’s ready for a change,” Berlin said. “I think
she will feel a certain sense of accomplishment if she goes and has a good
time.” Â

Raising Kids Right


Jill Sherman’s high school years are anything but carefree. Last year an older classmate, who talked openly about his anti-Semitic attitudes, tried to ignite her clothes with a self-described “Jew burner.” Physically, Sherman was unhurt by the attack with a cigarette lighter.

But the lingering trauma from last year’s incident was evident in Sherman’s response before leaving for Anaheim’s Esperanza High School on Sept. 11. The cautious 17-year-old confided she intended to defy a school ban on cell phones that day by tucking one in a book bag. Better to risk school discipline than risk lacking a lifeline for help if there are reprisals against Jews, the 11th-grader told her mother. "Somehow, it’s going to be Israel’s fault," the teen predicted.

Even before the terrorists struck U.S. soil, teens in Orange County, like their peers elsewhere in the country, already attended campuses sobered by harsh realities. A rash of school shootings in recent years means students here regularly practice a lockdown drill for a new school emergency: someone on campus armed with a gun.

Like parents elsewhere, the county’s Jewish parents struggle to inject a spiritual dimension into their children’s complex lives, a whirl of sports, arts, social engagements and ever escalating academic demands.

"Today, parents and children have too many choices," said Margalit Moskowitz, education director for about 50 children who attend Temple Beth Emet, a Conservative congregation in Anaheim. "We’re fighting for the child’s time. If they have to make a choice, religious school is not the first choice.

"The world has changed; the secular world is very important to be successful," explained Moskowitz, who three decades ago supervised 300 youth in after-school Hebrew classes. Today, Beth Emet’s congregation is aging as the county’s population surges south, drawn to new towns carved atop the coastal foothills.

The county’s 800-square-mile sprawl splinters the estimated 100,000 Jews who live here between 33 cities and 27 synagogues. With the Jewish community yet to reach a critical mass in most neighborhoods, parents’ resolve to connect their children with their faith is easily undermined.

"It’s very easy in a place like Orange County to completely assimilate," said Jay Lewis, assistant director of Costa Mesa’s Bureau of Jewish Education, which provides countywide religious instruction for 175 ninth-graders and organizes retreats, leadership groups and social activities for teens. "Kids are thirsting for a connection," Lewis said, "but it doesn’t exist anywhere here, not just for Jews."

Some working parents find the logistics of religious activities so much of a challenge they have forsaken it altogether. "It doesn’t make me feel less guilty," said Ellen Pickler Harris, a Laguna Beach stockbroker.

She and her husband, Ron, have two sons, Graham, 10, and Ryland, 14, who both are involved in time-consuming, extracurricular activities. As it is, the family frequently relies on friends for assistance with their sons’ transportation needs, but have yet to make similar arrangements for synagogue attendance. "I don’t want my kids to go into a temple and have it be a foreign place," Harris said. "As a working parent, it’s hard to work it in."

Given the distances within the county, integrating Jewish activities into the lives of over-scheduled children often is subordinated, particularly among the county’s many interfaith families, like the Harrises, where parents are unequally committed to raising Jewish children.

Some interfaith couples rely on visits with family and friends, where Jewish holidays are celebrated, to strengthen their children’s bonds to Judaism. "To make that social connection helps," said Kathy Selevan, who attended Catholic mass regularly, growing up in Boston. She and her husband, James, eventually joined a Reform congregation, Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine, as the oldest of their three boys neared bar-mitzvah age.

"I felt the kids needed some spirituality in their life," said Selevan, adding that her husband would have opposed church attendance. Even so, she regrets the family regularly skips lighting Friday night candles together. "There’s usually a baseball game."

Unlike Jewish neighborhoods in Los Angeles — where public schools close for major Jewish holidays, businesses close regularly in observance of Shabbat and residents walk to neighborhood shuls — signs of Jewish life in Orange County are harder to detect outside temple walls. As far as eating kosher in Orange County, O.C. Kosher Market in Tustin and PJ Bernstein’s in Laguna Niguel are two of the handful of eateries scattered throughout the county.

"The Jewish community is so spread out, you have to make a conscious effort to be connected," said Toby Spiegal, an Irvine claims examiner and divorced mother of a 7-year-old son. Two years ago, she organized a single-parents’ group through the county’s Jewish Community Center, where she serves as a director. The group’s functions, such as Doheny Beach picnics or ice-skating, often also include a Jewish holiday celebration at a member’s home. For many members who are unwilling to join a synagogue and are not observant in their own home, the singles group is their child’s only exposure to Jewish practices. "If you’re not affiliated, you’re not taking part in anything," Spiegal said.

Where the county’s Jewish life is flourishing is at three Jewish day schools attended by about 1,000 children. Building expansion is under way or recently completed at each. The largest is Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah. It anchors the western corner of a planned mega-campus for the county’s Jewish agencies, which is to include relocating the current JCC from its present digs in an airport commercial district.

The state-of-the-art school has 511 students who receive daily lessons in Hebrew and Jewish studies alongside an academic curriculum based on state standards. Its cafeteria is kosher and mezuzot line each classroom doorway. But the private school also hosts dances and a cheerleading squad, and fields a basketball team.

While a "normal" school is what most parents seek, Tarbut’s Jewishness is what appealed to the Greene sisters, Rachael, 17, and Lisa, 16. After visiting the school during visits to their grandmother, the Greenes enrolled their daughters earlier this month, after the family relocated from Topeka, Kan. "I don’t think I’d established a strong sense of Judaism until we moved to Kansas," said the girls’ mother, Jane Greene, who attended a Los Angeles public high school where 75 percent of the students were Jewish. In Kansas, Greene was dismayed when a request for matzah was met by a grocer’s blank look, and when school tennis tournaments were held on Yom Kippur. "I took it all for granted," she said.

Day schools offer another protection from more subtle outside slights. "A lot of negatives are out the window here," said Cherille Berman, Tarbut’s librarian and mother of Glenda, a 17-year-old Tarbut student.

Smallness means there is less competition among students for leadership roles, such as yearbook editor or playwright, and the small group of parents is easy to get to know, Berman said. "When my daughter has social arrangements, I don’t have any worries."

The county’s Jewish Diaspora is a mixed blessing, depending on one’s viewpoint.

Jill Sherman’s mother, Barbara, worries about her battle-scarred daughter dealing with teachers and students who question her absence during holidays.

Others see being a minority in Orange County as no different from the Jewish experience throughout much of the world. Lee Drucker, a musician and performer who lives in Laguna Beach with his wife, Deborah, said the couple rejected enrolling their children, Sadie, 9, and Justin, 11, in a Jewish day school. "To put them into such a protected bubble doesn’t prepare them for reality," Drucker said.

Some parents take the view that their children’s Jewish heritage is a liberating gift that will nurture character.

"What you can give your children is permission to be different," said Rita Conn, a semi-retired marriage and family therapist, who resides in Laguna Beach with her husband, Howard, and their two children, Elliot, 15, and Lisa, 12. The couple consciously create Jewish community within their art-filled home by inviting other Jewish families to share holiday and Shabbat dinners.

"Creative thought comes from being able to stand up for your own values," Conn added. "It’s a virtue to be different from the mainstream." (See page 32 for Jewish resources in Orange County.)

Addressing Anxieties


Each November, Valley Beth Shalom holds a meeting at which its youth director urges parents to send their teenagers on a summer trip to Israel. In 1999, more than 100 families attended. This past November, there were only eight. The low turnout appears to reflect parental anxiety over safety issues in the Middle East. Lisa Kaplan, who heads The Jewish Federation’s Israel Experience Program office, explains that “in times of peace, the students make the decision. In difficult times, the parents make the decision.”

Currently, many families seem to be having second thoughts about Israel trips for their teenagers. Maya Foner, shlicha for the West Coast branch of Young Judaea, notes that by now she’s usually deluged with inquiries about teen summer travel options. This year, she says, “The phones aren’t ringing.”

Other youth leaders are facing similar problems. That’s why a number of Jewish organizations that have long sponsored teen trips to Israel are going out of their way to woo reluctant parents.

Every organization enumerates its security procedures. These include well-guarded buses, itineraries that bypass trouble spots and constant checks with Israeli authorities about the safest routes for travel. Various groups have instituted new policies, including deposits that are fully refundable almost until departure time.
Young Judaea’s Foner tells nervous parents that “there is no financial risk whatsoever until June 1.” Thereafter, up until the planes take off in late June, families will be charged only $500 if they pull their children out of a program that costs participants nearly $5,000 to attend.

Young Judaea, which also sponsors a year-long Israel program for high school students, sends parents regular security bulletins. This gesture has earned them the gratitude of many worried families. Lorri Lewis, mother of a Palo Alto student on the Young Judaea Year Course, told the organization that “your daily updates have been a boon to my sanity.”

Foner insists that “we know how to keep them safe.” She reminds families that Young Judaea’s parent organization is Hadassah, and “a million Jewish mothers would not risk kids’ lives.”

United Synagogue Youth (USY), affiliated with the Conservative movement, recently held a free four-day trip to Israel for parents from every USY region. These parents, all of whom had committed to sending their own children to Israel this summer, were given an on-the-spot security briefing so that they could reassure other families when they returned.

The Los Angeles Ulpan, sponsored by the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), has been sending local teens to Israel for 37 summers, regardless of the political climate. Two weeks ago, the BJE’s David Ackerman and Stacey Barrett held information sessions at which moms and dads could ask the tough questions. Attendance was low, but those parents who showed up — many of whom had been to Israel themselves — seemed seriously interested in sending their children. One father asked if the travel restrictions necessitated by the current unrest would diminish his child’s Israel experience. To this Barrett replied that the crisis would actually enhance the ulpan, giving teens a stronger sense of Israel’s role in the Jewish world.

Barrett, who alternates with Ackerman in chaperoning Ulpan trips, says, “We know this year that it will be a smaller group. And it will be a more intense group. We’re sure they will bond and it will be an amazing experience. I wish I could go with them this year.”

Board Meeting


Skate Roc ‘n Jam, an event held Nov. 5 at the Hollywood Los Feliz JCC, drew about 100 skateboarding enthusiasts who tried their luck on newly built ramps and rails borrowed from Oasis in Hollywood; listened to music by the group Custom; talked shop with DV8, a skateboarding shop in Eagle Rock; and basically allowed one and all a place to jam.

The event was the brainchild of Pamela Boro, director of the Silverlake facility, in conjunction with Jeff Kaplan of JCC Teen Services. They set up an advisory board, with six teens, to design the architecture of the skate park – held in the parking lot of the JCC – and to have input on sponsorship and advertising.”It was a way to draw teens to the center. The entire community was welcomed,” Boro said. “We’re hoping to make this a monthly event.”

“It’s cool,” said Pablo Goldstein, 11. “We usually skate in the street.”

What to Do With Your Kids

A selection of this week’s Jewish events for children:

Saturday, Nov. 11:
Enjoy local talent in a special youth production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” $8. Saturdays through Dec. 16. 2 p.m. Morgan Wixon Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. For more information, call (310) 828-7519.

Sunday, Nov. 12:
“Sundays Are for Stories,” at the Slavin Family Children’s Library. A free children’s storytelling event today, featuring a presentation of “Under the Story Hat” by Kathleen Zundell, helps to kick off Jewish Book Month. 3 p.m.-4 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd. For more information, call (323) 761-8648.

Sunday, Nov. 12:
Hand-clapping and foot-stomping are part of Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin’s “Portraits in Song,” a concert of Hebrew and English songs for all ages. $5. 2 p.m. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. To reserve, call (310) 440-4636.

Boys Wonder


Joe [incredulous]: Jewish superheroes?

Sammy: What, they’re all Jewish, superheroes. Superman, you don’t think he’s Jewish? Coming from the old country, changing his name like that. Clark Kent, only a Jew would pick up a name like that for himself.

A day after Yom Kippur, Michael Chabon, with his telegenic looks – long dark locks, piercing clear eyes – does not stand out amidst the young and the beautiful circulating through Chateau Marmont. However, as a writer, the 37-year-old – best known for the 1995 novel “The Wonder Boys” – has stood out in the publishing world since graduating from college in the mid- 1980s.

Chabon’s latest, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” (Random House), chronicles the rise and fall of Sammy Clay and his Czechoslovakian refugee cousin, Joe Kavalier – cartoonists who create, then lose control of their biggest creation: the Escapist. Set in the World War II-era Golden Age of comic books – when Jewish American males thrived, conjuring up dime store escapism – the story echoes the real-life tragedy of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the Jewish teenagers who concocted Superman, only to naively forfeit the rights.

Five years in the making, Chabon’s novel not only encapsulates the author’s childhood-forged passion for superhero comics, but also his recent rediscovery of his own Jewish culture. The book’s strength lies in its rich universe of Jewish characters and metaphors, as the Golem of Prague, Harry Houdini and Europe at the dawn of World War II all figure prominently. And while some publishers might consider a saga containing the double whammy of overtly Jewish themes and comic books as an elixir for disaster, Chabon was surprised by how receptive his associates were to his concept.

“I was sort of talking initially to my agent about various book ideas,” Chabon told The Journal, “and it was the one she jumped on right away. My editor had the same reaction. She’s not Jewish, she never read a comic book in her life.”

Researching “Kavalier & Clay,” Chabon conducted firsthand interviews with legends of the field: Marvel Comics’ guru Stan Lee, “The Spirit” creator Will Eisner, Martin “Green Lantern” Nodell, and on and on. As Chabon learned, “Almost all of the major characters – with the possible exception of Wonder Woman – were created by Jews. I wondered, ‘What was that about?’ As soon as I started thinking about it and doing some reading into the history of comics, especially superhero comics, it’s immediately apparent.”

Indeed, the Golem of Prague looms large in Chabon’s book, as symbolic of the Jewish storytelling tradition; as precursor to the modern superhero idiom; as a reminder of Kavalier and Clay’s Ashkenazi roots. While Chabon originally included the Golem in a passing reference, his chat with Eisner, who referenced the legendary champion of the Jewish people, led Chabon to reevaluate the clay giant. Several drafts later, the Golem had insinuated itself into a greatly expanded role. Like the original Golem rising in a besieged medieval shtetl, Chabon said the character “popped into my life kind of right when I needed it.”

The link between the Golem and the American superhero is clear to Chabon, who cites the “messianic” component of early Superman editions, when the Man of Steel – with powers less godlike and more earthbound (Superman originally did not fly) – served as a champion of the oppressed.”It was not about fighting supervillains,” said Chabon, “but rescuing people from bosses that were exploiting them.”

One eye-catching item in “Kavalier & Clay” comes at the end of the lengthy acknowledgments, where Chabon dedicates not only this comics-themed work but every story he has ever written to Jack Kirby – co-creator of Captain America, the Hulk, the X-Men, and hundreds more. Chabon never did meet the prolific cartoonist, a tough Depression-era New Yorker born Jacob Kurtzberg who died in 1994.

“The greatest thing about Kirby that I ultimately find so inspiring,” said Chabon, “is the sheer fecundity of his imagination. The way he could just toss off, in a throw-away story, seven or eight different ideas that other writers would be happy to have an entire series built around. He was such an unstoppable force.”

For years, Chabon was somewhat disconnected from his own Jewish heritage.”As I had children, I found myself coming back to it and looking at it in a whole different light,” said Chabon, who lives in Berkeley.

With his novelist wife, Ayelet Waldman, and their children, Sophie, 6, and Zeke, 3, Chabon actively attends a Jewish Renewal congregation called Kehilla Community Synagogue and sits on the synagogue’s board.

“It is through Kehilla that I see myself, at least in the foreseeable future, defining my Jewish identity,” said Chabon.

Like many young men of his generation, Chabon’s entry into literature began with comic books, particularly the steady diet of Marvel titles he avidly consumed in the 1970s. By his own account, his childhood was “a standard suburban Jewish upbringing in Columbia, Maryland,” where his family occasionally attended synagogue. Chabon’s parents have Polish, Lithuanian and Russian roots. His father, a former pediatrician and lawyer, now works as an executive for Mutual of Omaha, his mother as an attorney. The family name is either Moldavian or Belarussian and means “shepherd.”

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1984, Chabon attended the University of California at Irvine, where his professor, MacDonald Harris, forwarded Chabon’s thesis to a literary agent. That project became Chabon’s well-received 1988 debut, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” and that literary agent, Mary Evans, represents the writer to this day.

In the early 1990s, Chabon agonized over, then abandoned his original follow-up to “Mysteries” after amassing thousands of pages. His critically acclaimed sophomore novel, “Wonder Boys,” hit movie theaters earlier this year starring Michael Douglas and directed by Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”). While the film version failed to find its audience, Paramount believes in it enough to rerelease the movie this month, in time for Oscar consideration. And producer Scott Rudin has tapped Chabon to adapt “Kavalier & Clay” as a motion picture.

“It’s going to be incumbent on me not to be too protective as a screenwriter,” said Chabon, who was pleased with Steven Kloves’s “Wonder Boys” screenplay.

By translating his book to celluloid, Chabon hopes to direct new interest to the long-maligned medium he cherishes.

“Comics had already existed for 40 or 50 years as this art form that nobody had paid attention to,” said Chabon. “There was never a critic who stood up and had the guts to say, ‘I read comics. I like comics.'”

Fortunately for comic book fans, one writer has.

Challenging Hate


Two teenage boys were arrested Sun., Sept. 24, in connection with the ransacking of classrooms and painting of swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of the West Valley Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills.

Police officers, responding to a call from a neighbor who apparently heard glass breaking, found the two running from a classroom. They were charged with burglary, vandalism and hate crimes.

“I feel saddened, shocked, frustrated and upset,” says Rabbi Zvi Block, principal of West Valley Hebrew Academy, which offers schooling from kindergarten to eighth grade.

“The school children feel violated,” the rabbi continued. “To have a swastika painted on your siddur [prayer book], it caused some children to cry.”

The two boys, ages 14 and 15, are accused of breaking into and ransacking 14 classrooms. Police found several windows broken and computers spray painted. “Kill Jews” was also found painted on part of the school. The amount of damage is estimated at $75,000-$80,000, according to Rabbi Block.

The vandalism of the school comes one year after a white supremacist attacked the North Valley Jewish Community Center, wounding students and teachers at the center and killing a postal worker nearby.Neither juvenile is a known member of a white supremacist group. The two were living in a nearby “Sober Living House,” a home for wayward youth, according to Officer Jason Lee.

“I think this shows that the community is not immune to anti-Semitism,” says Aaron Levinson, director of the Valley office for the Anti-Defamation League.

In the aftermath of the attack, neighbors gathered to help prepare the school for the next day’s classes.”We would have never been able to open the school without them,” says Block.

“There is a groundswell of support,” continues the rabbi, who adds that local businesses have offered to help in the repair of the building and the computers. The school has also received $5,000 from an anonymous donor.

Ninety-eight percent of the school’s 200 students attended classes on Monday, according to Block. “I believe it is a testament to the courage our parents have.”

“I spoke with the students. I told the kids there is a lot more good in the world then evil,” says the rabbi.During a school assembly, Block told the students, “How do you fight back? By attending classes and learning Torah better and being more Jewish. They wanted to disrupt class, to close the school. We beat them.”

A Place for Teens, Torah and Hanging Out


While the adults are talking up the “sense of permanence” and “central address,” Miriam Segura has a simpler way of expressing the significance of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth’s (NCSY) new building – hanging out.

“When you ask teens what they like to do, they say hang out,” says Segura, a high school senior who is on the West Coast regional board of the NCSY. “Hanging out can be destructive or can be constructive. What NCSY is trying to do is make constructive hanging out more fun.”

The Orthodox Union (OU), NCSY’s parent organization, recently purchased a two-story building on Pico west of Roxbury, where 90 percent of the space – about 4,000 square feet – will be dedicated to teens.The building will house a teen drop-in lounge with pool table, pingpong table, pinball machine and lots of comfy couches to sprawl out on; a year-round sukkah; a library and learning center; and rooms for offices, classes, and more hanging out.

The OU’s West Coast offices will take up one suite in the building.

“We really want to grow into the building,” says OU West Coast director Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, walking through the garden courtyard enclosed in the squat building. “We want the kids to determine how to use the space.”

The OU is a national umbrella organization for Orthodox synagogues and has had a West Coast representative for 30 years. West Coast OU represents 30 shuls, in a swath covering San Diego to Vancouver, and east to El Paso, Texas.

OU spent about $1 million to purchase and renovate the 1950s office building across the street from the Museum of Tolerance .

NCSY is also getting a new director this year, as Rabbi Steven Burg arrives from Detroit at the end of the summer, bringing with him a solid reputation as a skilled youth leader.

The new building and change in leadership came at an opportune moment, offering parents and teens a natural forum for communicating with the professional and lay leadership about the abuse and harassment allegations toward national NCSY figure Rabbi Baruch Lanner (see accompanying story).

There will be a reorganization of the youth commission and several parent meetings, Kalinsky says.NCSY, which serves about 3,000 kids in this region, runs weekend retreats on large and small scales and runs programs where yeshiva kids mix with public school kids to learn about Judaism. The teens also participate in charity and volunteer programs.

Aside from the drop-in center and educational and social programs, Kalinsky says health-care and mental health professionals from the community have volunteered to come in occasionally to talk with kids in groups and privately.

“We want to provide an environment for kids to come to feel safe and inspired,” Kalinsky said.For information call (310) 777-0225, or go to www.ncsywest.org

Best & Worst of Times


It’s been a month of extremes for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) on the West Coast. As the Orthodox youth group basks in the joy of moving into its own building, it is also reeling from the shock of a scandal involving an East Coast regional director allegedly abusing teens.

Last month Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week, published an article exposing 25 years of possible sexual harassment, assault and emotional abuse by Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who immediately resigned from his position as director of regions for the NCSY, a division of the Orthodox Union (OU). The OU – the same organization that grants kosher certification to 20,000 food products – has set up a counseling hotline and an independent commission to investigate the OU’s role in the Lanner situation.

According to Rosenblatt’s article, in which alleged victims from the past three decades revealed their identity to expose Lanner, the OU was long aware of the accusations but did not remove him from the organization, and only after many years did they prevent him from working directly with teens.Even according to the alleged victims – many of whom became Jewish educators – Lanner was a dynamic and magnetic leader in the movement. For years he served as regional director in New Jersey, where he was also a yeshiva high school principal.

“Our goal is to restore the public’s confidence in the Orthodox Union and NCSY, and to preserve and improve the programs that have benefited tens of thousands of young men and women involved in NCSY since its inception in 1959,” said Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, national president of the OU.

Dr. Larry Eisenberg, president of the West Coast region of the OU, says the incident has dealt a blow to the faith and goodwill the community has toward the organization.

But, he says, the incident has already led regions around the country to compare notes on how they ensure the safety and well-being of the NCSYers.

“The organization is being upgraded and modernized, all of the systems and procedures and policies. NCSY is an institution that has been around for a long time, and sometimes you run a certain way based on how you’ve been doing it for decades,” Eisenberg says. “When a problem comes up, you realize you have to set things up based on the realities of today.”

For businesses as well as organizations, that means policies and training regarding harassment, he says. What has always been practiced as proper decorum and sensitivity now needs to be formalized.Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, West Coast director of the OU, says the region, with its joint professional and lay leadership, parent involvement, and ongoing staff training and oversight, is a safe and inspiring environment for the roughly 3,000 teens it serves from Vancouver to El Paso.

“I am very confident that the necessary safeguards are in place,” he said. “My office is always open to the kids.” Eisenberg cautions that despite the sense of betrayal, the community should withhold judgment until the commission issues its final report. According to The Jewish Week, NCSY’s largest synagogue-affiliated chapter pulled out of the group last week, and the sponsoring synagogue, Congregation Beth Aaron in New Jersey, voted to withhold all fees paid to the OU.

Several OU-affiliated Los Angeles synagogues said their boards would discuss the incident, but none expected any actions would be taken. “I think the process should be given a chance to run its course before we disconnect from an organization that has done a lot of good,” said Marc Rohatiner, president of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, where he said a handful of people have brought up the notion of withholding fees form the OU.

Eva Yelloz of North Hollywood, whose three older children were enriched by their involvement as teens and later as advisors with NCSY, says her trust in the group has been shaken, but she will not keep her youngest son, 14, from getting involved if he wants to.

“I believe it was one person like this, and the administration who let it go on surely has learned its lesson,” says Yelloz. “After this has come out, they will clean up their act in every way possible and do their utmost to keep a clean record and do better than their best.”

Kalinsky says none of the kids withdrew from local summer programs, including a boys’ camp for 60 kids. In fact, according to Sharyn Perlman, director of public relations for OU, not one of the approximately 1,000 teenagers signed up for NCSY’s Israel trips or local summer programs pulled out.

NCSY, working with volunteers from Nefesh, the association of Orthodox mental health professionals, has set up a toll-free hotline (877-905-9576) for present and former NCSYers to call for counseling on religious or psychological issues.

The investigative commission is headed by Richard Joel, international director of Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and includes professor of psychiatry Rabbi Abraham Twerski, several lawyers, business people and philanthro-pists, and the former consumer affairs commissioner of New York City.”The Commission will explore past actions of Orthodox Union employees and lay leaders to determine what remedial action should be taken and will formulate new guidelines for our personnel to ensure that these circumstances will never be repeated,” Ganchrow said.

Gary Rosenblatt’s article, “Stolen Innocence,” (New York Jewish Week, June 23) is available at www.thejewishweek.com. The OU’s comments are at www.ou.org. Any information for the commission can be sent to inquiryncsy@yahoo.com

The Jewish Cop


3:45 a.m. I am walking down a very dark, silent alleyway in Oakwood, a two-square-mile, mostly low-income community in Venice, behind police officer Robert Eisenhart. A 16-year-old boy, a member of the Venice Shoreline Crips gang, has been shot in the shoulder and in the middle of his back by a member of the same gang. Eisenhart is looking for the shooter, who may be at a party in a nearby darkened house. The silence is almost surreal. I am afraid of what may appear, or explode, out of the darkness. We arrived at the scene minutes before, and I see the boy wheeled out on the stretcher and placed in the ambulance as his brother, his sister and other gang members watch without overt emotion, in dazed silence. I am surprised at the dewy youth of the gang members, and by their glazed faces and darting eyes. The scene has the hopeless, listless feel of the ghetto: some lawns with piled-up rusted machinery, nails, weeds, tubs, broken bicycles, old porcelain, busted mattress springs. An old mattress is stuffed into the window of one house to keep out the cold and prying strangers.

After the ambulance leaves, Bob Eisenhart notes that the victim’s brother appeared to be going about his business. “Don’t you want to be with your brother at the hospital?” he asks him.

“Yeah,” the boy replies. “I just got to make a phone call.”

“I hope your brother gets better,” Eisenhart says.

“Thanks,” the brother answers. It is the only human note at the scene. By this point I have already come to expect it of Eisenhart.

I am on a ride-along with Eisenhart and Officer Steve Fahrney, Eisenhart’s partner that night, on the graveyard shift. I am wearing a bulletproof vest. I had asked to meet a Jewish cop, to find out what it felt like to be a Jew in the L.A.P.D.

At 9:45 roll call, the captain tells the men and women: “Things are heating up with the gangs. Two shootings with kids in a week. We know Culver City is active.” As we drive, Officer Eisenhart points out street memorials to shootings composed of “all kinds of flowers and little Virgin Mary candles.”By 3 a.m. we have already dealt with a couple falsely accused of child abuse (they were in fact rescuing the child from the woman’s alcoholic sister), a woman in a hotel stranded by a lover whose dreadlocks she had pulled in anger, and a domestic abuse case in which a husband literally kicked his wife out of bed after she refused to have sex with him.

As we approach the area of the shooting, Eisenhart and Fahrney fill me in on the three major gangs of the area: the Shoreline Crips, the Culver City Boys and V-13 – V for Venice. “They fight back and forth,” Eisenhart explains. “Here in Oakwood the Shorelines are for some reason killing off some of their own people. They do a lot of drug dealing, and there’s the possibility someone might be holding out money on the main dealer. Basically they may get rid of their own personnel and recruit new personnel.”

Nearing the shooting scene, Eisenhart turns off the car lights. “When we approach them,” he says, “you don’t want to backlight any officers. So we kill our lights. Also at night you don’t want a blast of light; it screws up your night vision. If anybody popped out to possibly confront us, we wouldn’t see them right away because we have a glare in our eyes.”

Within the intimacy and camaraderie of the police car in the still of the night, I am suddenly pulled into a world of split-second alertness, military precision and scrupulously observed rules and procedures. At each stop, we lurch out of the car. A second cannot be lost. Whatever the shambles of the Rampart case, it is clear that cops like Bob Eisenhart and Steve Fahrney are still putting their lives on the line for the community.

Before the police academy, a life

Bob Eisenhart is, without doubt, a true mensch and a wonderful cop. The man’s had a life, and he knows who he is. He has a gentle, soft-spoken, strong way about him – a “bedside manner learned when he was a chiropractor,” says his father, Al. Now 48, he hails from East Flatbush, Brooklyn.His first love was songwriting. He started hanging out at Folk City in Greenwich Village at 13, performing his own songs. He was once the opening act for Tim Hardin.

The highlight of those years was a letter from the legendary head of Columbia Records, John Hammond. “He wrote me the nicest letter saying he thought my songs were delightful,” Eisenhart recalls. “He said some songs sounded a little bit like Springsteen, but he said stick with it. He was right; I don’t think my songs were quite ready. But he recognized that there was something there, and I was thrilled, and I kept that letter.”

Realizing he could not make a living with his songs, Eisenhart went on to get his B.A. in English from State University of New York at New Paltz and got a job on a CETA federal grant teaching writing at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

After Eisenhart’s parents moved to Los Angeles, he decided to migrate here himself in 1978. He became an ESL teacher at night. “I loved it. I worked with a lot of El Salvadoran students, Farsi, Iranian, Vietnamese boat people.” During the day Eisenhart went to chiropractic school.

“My mother kvelled when I opened my office,” Bob said. He was a chiropractor for 10 years. Then his mother died, the earthquake hit and his house burned down. Those events propelled him to quit chiropractic, run a marathon, learn the saxophone, and write six novels in three years. Running low on money, he looked around, wondering what to do next.

Attending a martial arts class, Eisenhart met many people from law enforcement. “I saw they were happy with what they were doing.” At 42, he applied to become a cop. He graduated from the police academy at 43. He is stationed at the Pacific Division.

His father, a retired postal superintendent, notes that “Bob picks the lousiest hours and the worst areas. I asked him why. He said, ‘It’s good experience.’ But it’s just like when he was a chiropractor and chose the lousiest neighborhoods. Because he said the people needed it, even when they couldn’t pay.””Are you close with Bob?” I ask.

“We are now,” Al Eisenhart says. “We have a deal. He’s through at 7:30 in the morning. I said, ‘When you get home, give me a call.’ He said ‘Why? You worried about me?’ I said, ‘No way. You can take care of yourself. But I have nobody to talk to. So you give me a call and we’ll chat for a couple of minutes. And then you can go to sleep or have your breakfast or whatever you want. I look forward to talking to you.’ So that’s how it works out. He calls me every single day when he’s finished with his tour of duty.”

The rules of the game

Back in the alleyway, we don’t find the shooter. He is apprehended the next day. Why the shooting? The victim’s sister was dating a gang member who had just been released from prison because of being a jailhouse snitch on another Shoreline Crip. Eisen-hart explains, “So apparently in retribution they put out a hit on the snitch or anyone he was associated with. It was a jailhouse hit.”

“They thought this kid was the snitch?” I ask him.

“No. They knew who he was. But the sister and the brother and the boyfriend are all staying together. So they were all designated as targets. And the brother stands on the street and sells coke at night, so he’s an easy target. The girlfriend I.D.’d the shooter.”

When Eisenhart and I talk the next day, I also learn that on the same night we were out together, a Long Beach officer was ambushed and killed.

In the course of the night I spent on patrol with Bob Eisenhart, I learned about a Jewish cop and I learned about the life of the police officer in general. There are endless possibilities for misunderstand-ings of police behavior. When we said goodbye to the black couple earlier that night, the Nigerian man held out his hand and Eisenhart shook it. It was an exception.

Later, he explained, “Generally I try to be polite to everybody, but on the street I don’t like to shake hands. You want to
keep your right hand free – I’m right-handed and my gun’s on my right side. I try to make it like, don’t take offense; I don’t shake hands on duty. There are a lot of ways where if people want to fight and they have a handshake, they can then pull you in and suckerpunch you. People can turn. They can seem happy but underneath be very hostile.”

Implicit in some of the remarks of Eisenhart and other officers, although they do not mention it, is the shadow of the Rampart investigation and criticism of the police. These are good men with a sense of shame about what others may have done to tarnish their image. About racial profiling, Eisenhart comments in the locker room, “First of all, we have to have reasonable suspicion to stop anybody. When we stop people, half the time we might not even know who it is, whether Black, Asian or Hispanic, until we’re up on top of them.”

A Hispanic officer joins in. “A good case in point: we stop a guy. Tinted windows, black Volvo. A crime had just occurred. We’re looking for any suspicious vehicles that might be taking off. A guy’s parked in a driveway, just sitting there, suddenly backs out and takes off. We decide we’ll check his plates, see what’s going on.

“We started getting behind him. He sees us behind him. We followed him for maybe half a block. He pulls over. First thing he did was whirl down the window and stick out his hands. A black guy. We run the plates, walk up next to him. We said, ‘What’s going on? You got any problems?’ He replies, ‘No, you stopped me because I’m black.’ I said to him, ‘A crime just occurred. You don’t even fit the description. Just keep on going. How in the heck are we gonna know you’re black? Your windows are tinted out and they’re rolled up. And it’s night time.’ “

Later, Eisenhart says, “I try to think I’ve developed some skills of diplomacy out here. Sometimes you’ll work with people – and I haven’t run into it for a while – but officers can actually exacerbate a situation, depending on how it is. The tone you use.”

But Eisenhart loves the job. “With some jobs,” he relates, “it’s like being a dishwasher. There’s always an endless supply of dishes. Here you handle a particular call. An entity unto itself. You never know what you’re going to run into with the call. And you always learn something from it.”

‘You can’t go back’

The camaraderie of the job reminds him of his old neighborhood in Brooklyn. “I’m not all that social,” Eisenhart says. (In fact, he seems almost monastic.) “I like the fact I can go to work and people will say, ‘Hey Bobby, how you doing?’ It’s like walking around the projects when I was a kid in Brooklyn and everybody would look out their window.”

He remembers that neighborhood with tenderness. “There was a vacant lot across the street from my house. We had junkyards, junkyard dogs, lots with rats and real bums, hobo-type bums. Canarsie was first being developed at the time. But to me, that was like – the woods! We would build treehouses in there. We would come home so dirty. We were lucky we didn’t step on rusty nails. That was our going off into the wilds; that was my ‘country.’ “

Eisenhart had a Bar Mitzvah, but his parents were not overly observant. He is certainly a proud Jew. His father was a forward observer behind enemy lines with the Third Armored Division in World War II and helped liberate two concentration camps. Bob has rarely encountered anti-Semitism. “People respond to authority mainly. They see blue.” Eisenhart’s mother died nine years ago. “She was a beautiful woman,” he says. “I put on her tombstone: ‘Beauty, Wisdom, Strength.’ Just those words. Three qualities I think she possessed a lot of.

“My life has been a circuitous route, but it’s taken me finally to something that I enjoy. Once you do this, you can’t go back to a regular job. And I think I have somewhat of an advantage, coming on the job later in life, in that I know my personality already. I know how I handle things. I’m not suddenly going to develop a drinking or gambling problem. I know my parameters. I’ve worked in jobs that had authority: the doctor, the teacher. The source. My job entails a lot of teaching. As a training officer now, I work with new recruits and try to teach them the ropes. You get a lot of cases where I find the old bedside manner comes in handy when talking to people. Whether it’s talking to a suspect and trying to find out what happened, or talking to a victim and having him calm down. But it doesn’t always happen that way. There’s somebody who can push everybody’s buttons. If you run across a person who you right away sense there’s too much friction – for whatever reason – you usually count on your partner to step in and say, ‘Okay, Bob, I got this one.’ And he’ll talk to them.”

At 7:30 a.m., Bob Eisenhart, Steve Fahrney and I wind things up at a coffee shop. I am almost dizzy with exhaustion. Fahrney has his daily chocolate milk, Eisenhart has blintzes. Fahrney shyly shows me a bracelet he wears in memory of his friend, Officer Brian Brown, killed in the line of duty. Brown had heard automatic gun fire, saw a car squealing out. The gunfire had killed a child standing on the corner of Venice and Centinela. Brown gave chase to the gunman, who shot and killed him.I am sure that 24 hours before, the officer would not have shown me the bracelet. I could not have understood its meaning as I do now.

Dropping Out


Elliot Maltz had a Bar Mitzvah two years ago, but he says his Hebrew school experience was “really boring” and “discouraged me from future practice.”

Maltz, a West Hartford, Conn., 15-year-old who spends most of his free time playing sports, says being Jewish is important to him, but “since I cannot really see its positive effects, it does not make me excited.”It has become a truism for many American Jews that the Bar Mitzvah is more a farewell ritual than a welcoming ceremony.

But now, amid national efforts in renaissance and outreach, Jewish organizations are looking for ways to reach the Elliot Maltzes.What is at stake, say educators, is keeping teens in the community and showing them how Judaism can make their lives meaningful at an age many believe is key in cementing lifetime values and behavioral patterns.

Adolescence is “a stage of life in which young people are beginning to make really important decisions for themselves and create their own affiliations,” said Robert Sherman, executive director of San Francisco’s Bureau of Jewish Education, which ranks outreach to teens as one of its top three priorities. The other two are family education and professional development for Jewish educators.The challenges in engaging teens are significant, with Jewish involvement – at least for non-Orthodox teens – dropping steadily throughout the high school years.

A recent study of 1,300 Jewish teens and their parents in Massachusetts – one of the only studies looking at a cross-section of teens, not just those who are active in Jewish life – confirmed that Jewish involvement steadily drops after the Bar Mitzvah.

According to the study, 86 percent of Jewish seventh graders participate in Jewish activities compared with 56 percent of 12th graders.

The study, conducted by Brandeis University, defines Jewish participation broadly – from participating in a youth group to attending a Jewish summer camp to using a Jewish community center at least once a year.Although focused on one state, the study, say researchers, likely reflects the experience of most non-Orthodox Jewish teens in America.

Some of the key findings of the Brandeis University study, which has not yet been published, include:

The drop in Jewish involvement is simultaneous with increasing amounts of time spent on homework and part-time jobs;

Girls are more likely than boys to express interest in going on Israel experience programs, and they participate at higher rates in formal Jewish education;

Most report they did not enjoy Hebrew school as much as regular school. (The majority of participants in the study, like most Reform and Conservative Jews, attended congregational schools rather than day schools.) Approximately 25 percent said they never enjoyed being in Jewish school, and approximately 30 percent said they seldom enjoyed it, although the majority said they sometimes, often or always enjoyed regular school.

Parental opinion strongly affects teens’ attitudes on intermarriage: 73 percent of teens whose parents say marrying Jewish is not important also believe this is not important, while 78 percent of teens whose parents say marrying Jewish is very important believe it is somewhat or very important to marry someone Jewish.

The Holocaust, anti-Semitism and “being ethical” are the most important aspects of being Jewish, say teens, while volunteering for Jewish organizations, observing Jewish law and contributing to Jewish organizations rank the lowest in importance. Israel ranked somewhere in the middle.

“There’s no question that the data we have is depressing. We have lost one third of the population before age 13 and another large chunk by the time they graduate high school,” Len Saxe, one of the researchers in the study and director of Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies told the North American Association of Jewish Youth Professionals, after presenting the findings at the group’s recent conference.

Jewish teens are hardly being lost to the streets, however, with most reporting they spend a lot of time on schoolwork, part-time jobs and other activities perceived as helping them to get into college, said Saxe.”These kids are highly motivated and success oriented,” he said. “After B’nai Mitzvah, their job is to be successful in school and they work hard at it. Also, they take jobs that earn money and obviously this takes away from involvement in other things.”

However, he said, the findings also point to ways the Jewish community might better reach teens, mainly by creating part-time jobs for them in Jewish organizations and selling the importance of Jewish involvement to their parents, who – according to the study – do influence their children’s attitudes.According to Rabbi Art Vernon, the staff person responsible for teens at the Jewish Education Service of North America, Saxe’s research shows that Jewish programs have to be more sophisticated nowadays than in the past to appeal to teens.

“Kids are sophisticated consumers. They shop for what they want, like everyone else in America, and content is important,” he said.

The Class of 2000


In this era of school violence and body piercing, teenagers, never the most applauded demographic segment of our society, have been getting some amazingly bad press. To hear the media tell it, adolescents who aren’t destroying themselves or others are just too lazy and apathetic to be bothered.And if Jewish teens aren’t filling up juvie hall, they’re not filling up the synagogues, either. After Bar and Bat Mitzvah, we’re led to believe, you never see them again. Why would Jewish kids hang out at shul when they can be cruising around in their parents’ Beemers, downloading porn from the Internet, turning their brains into Swiss cheese with drugs?

Are you scared yet?
Well, take a deep breath and relax. As the poet says, it ain’t necessarily so.Remember, bad news always drives out good; that’s why the evening news opens with murders and natural disasters. Hostile, alienated Jewish teenagers are much more fascinating than good, focused kids who do their homework, serve their communities, and go off to college, strong Jewish identities intact.The saving remnant is alive and well, and part of it is about to graduate from high school.

Concerned and committed
The 18-year-olds you’re going to read about are not Everykid, or even EveryJewishkid. They were contacted for interview through college counselors and the Hebrew high school programs run by the Conservative and Reform movements, so they skew toward youngsters who are bright, ambitious, bound for four-year colleges, and committed to Jewish learning and practice. But if you think of them as future Jewish leaders, well, we could do worse.

For one thing, they are not apathetic. The list of social and political issues that concern them includes racism, gun control, capital punishment, gay rights, homelessness and hunger, school prayer and human rights worldwide, to name just a few. “There are too many people walking around today who fail to care about anything, and it is not only degrading to them, but to the whole world,” said Millicent Marmer, a member of Milken Community High School’s chapter of the Junior Statesmen of America, a political debate club.

For most of the students, their interest is personal. “As a Jew growing up in a very Christian society, especially my area, I am very sensitive to the issue of church and state,” said Jackie Bliss, who is graduating from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach after organizing a Jewish Cultural Club at her school. “I do not believe that prayer of any kind belongs in a public classroom& and think that it is imperative that the separation be upheld.”

Beverly Hills senior Shelly Rosenfeld has a grandmother who lost her family in the Holocaust. Now Rosenfeld is a volunteer guide at the Museum of Tolerance. “I am driven by the awareness that the generation that can give a firsthand account of the Holocaust is diminishing in numbers and memory,” she said.

Rosenfeld sees her mission as larger than educating people about the Shoah, however. “Our society is a human kaleidoscope of color and culture,” she added. “The important factor is that one sees the differences as opportunities not to segregate others but as occasions to learn from one another.””There are many issues that concern me, but the ones that affect me the most are the shootings at schools, such as Columbine,” said Yevgeny Plotkin, a senior at Fairfax High School. “As a Jew I’ve been taught from birth the importance of trust and responsibility, and it hurts me to see how many teenagers have now lost this trust from parents, teachers, media, and others.”

No need to get a life – they’ve got them
The students also showed a high level of awareness about events in Israel and other Jewish issues. “Last summer, I went to Israel, which had a tremendous effect on me,” said Reina Slutske of Westlake High School. “My opinion is that my Bat Mitzvah never happened until I went to Israel.& I’m always concerned about Israel, because when I went, I adopted it as my home.”

“Israel does concern me in the way it is covered [by the media],” said Sam Rosenthal, who is graduating from Valley Torah High School, a yeshiva in North Hollywood. “I’m continually seeing Israel holding the red trident and & Palestinians repainted as downtrodden underdogs.”

“I think assimilation concerns me the most, because so many Jews have become High Holiday Jews, or they do not have any Jewish identity besides a Jewish mother,” said Melissa Orkin, a senior at Calabasas High School. Slutske concurs: “I think living in American culture makes you assimilated, and [you] forget who you are in the melting pot.”

These kids aren’t nerds. Many are involved in sports, from water polo to track to baseball. Jackie Bliss surfs, “although not as often as I would like.” Orkin has participated in the Maccabi Games. Jeremy Monosov, who is graduating from Calabasas High School, got his pilot’s license in December. “Flying, in my opinion, is the cure-all for anything from anxiety to depression to stress,” he said. “As you lift off the ground you leave all your problems on the ground for a couple short hours.”

Hanging out with friends and listening to music are also high on the list for these almost-graduates. “Almost all my friends whom I’ve grown up and gone to yeshiva with are into hard rock,” said Valley Torah senior Eli Julian.

Far from the stereotype of kids who don’t have two words to say to their parents, many of these teens expressed a close relationship with their folks. And they’re not rootless; most of them appeared to have lived in the same communities and gone through school with the same kids since way before high school.Maybe that’s why so many of them have mixed feelings about leaving high school and (as most of them are doing) leaving home to attend college. “Leaving school is an oxymoron: happy sadness,” said Plotkin, who was born in Belarus and plans to pursue a joint engineering program at Occidental College and Caltech. “Externally I’m excited, but inside I’m sad, because I’ll be leaving everything I worked so hard to get used to.”

“I worry that I won’t fit in or I won’t make friends or that I’ll shrink all my clothes and turn them pink,” Orkin said of her imminent shift to USC.

“I’m excited because I feel I have earned the opening of a new chapter in my life, and I can’t wait to see what I’m going to do with my life,” said Emily Rauch, a Harvard-Westlake senior who will attend George Washington University in Washington, D.C., this fall. “But I’m scared because the safety net – my house, my parents, my routine – won’t always be there.”

Ready to share their blessings
From all appearances, the teenagers who contributed their insights and opinions to this story (and the accompanying sidebars) are a lucky bunch of Angelenos. Few of them, in their comments, so much as hinted at trauma, grievous loss, or even serious disappointment. Blessed with brains, supportive families, and, for the most part, relative to absolute affluence, headed for some of the nation’s best universities, they have a leg up on the ladder of success. And many of them expect to be successful; no fewer than three mentioned that they’d like to be named to the Supreme Court.

Yet very few come off as spoiled, self-centered, or self-congratulatory. If they’re skittish about leaving home, it’s because they value their parents’ involvement in their lives. Many of them said they want to make the world a better place. There’s little sense of entitlement; they seem to understand how lucky they are. Their hopes for personal happiness and success are rooted in hard work, self-respect, and respect for other people.

They are Jewish kids with Jewish values, and they give every indication of carrying a conscious, active Jewishness into their adult lives. There’s a message here for parents of younger children: What do parents need to do for their kids to turn out like these kids, to have the same optimism, the same work ethic, the same tolerance for the rights and opinions of others, the same com
mitment to Judaism?

True, these teens may not be representative of all American Jewish adolescents, but they are not unique. There are many more like them in Southern California, west of the Mississippi, across the country. If they represent the best of our people’s future, we probably have a future.

Meanwhile, Solomon Mizrahi, graduating this month from Valley Torah, has summed up their anxieties, their dreams and their confidence. “Right now the world seems too big for me to leave a mark, let alone a difference,” he said. “I know, however, that the world conspires to help [people] in their endeavors, so whatever I choose to do, all I need do is work hard and work diligently, and I will succeed.”

Tribal Loyalties

Some Jewish teens are willing to interdate, but a Jewish home and Jewish kids are nonnegotiable.

With intermarriage rates a matter of paramount importance to American Jews concerned with Jewish continuity, Jewish leaders, parents and teens are trying to balance two conflicting dynamics: commitment to Judaism on the one hand and a universalist ethic of tolerance and respect for diversity on the other.Not surprisingly, interdating isn’t even a blip on the radar for Orthodox teens. “Dating a non-Jewish girl is something completely foreign to me,” one Valley Torah student said. “It saddens me to think that it is already so commonplace among Jewish teens that you would have to ask the question.”

Among the other 12th graders who contributed insights, attitudes toward interdating ranged from a firm stand against, at least for themselves, to a willingness to date people from all cultures, usually in the name of experimentation and commitment to multiculturalism – and because they don’t see the dating they do now as serious.

“Yes, I date non-Jews. I don’t think about it; I just do it,” said Milken senior Cynthia Glucksman. “I feel I can learn a lot from non-Jewish people.”

“It’s hard to be raised knowing that all races and religions are equal and simultaneously reject romantic relationships based on religion,” said her classmate, Millicent Marmer.

“I am currently dating a beautiful, sweet Jewish girl and have always dated Jewish girls,” said Jeremy Monosov, who grew up Conservative. “However, I am not against dating a non-Jew.& Our different backgrounds might add fire and substance to the relationship and would encourage my growth as an individual.”

Melissa Orkin says she’s never dated a non-Jew, in part because she’s in a Jewish environment – which includes her public school, Calabasas High – so much of the time. “I guess part of what attracts me to a guy is that he is Jewish,” she said. “It is one of the things that I look for. I’m not against other people interdating, but up to this point in my life, it has not been a possibility for me.”In an interesting twist, Reina Slutske, a graduating senior at Westlake High, said, “I believe that unless you are confident in your Jewish identity and in who you are and where you are going, you can’t date non-Jews, because it’s too strong of an influence and would possibly end up in intermarriage.”In fact, almost all the respondents, from the most to the least observant, said they want to marry Jews, and the majority ruled out intermarriage as an option. And for every single respondent who dealt with this question, the creation of a Jewish home and the rearing of Jewish children in the future was nonnegotiable, even if he or she could entertain the notion of a non-Jewish spouse.

“When you’re young you have to experience the world and all different kinds of people,” said Rebecca Lehrer of Harvard-Westlake, who dates gentiles now. “But I am going to marry a Jew. I just know that’s something important to me. I want to raise my kids Jewish, and I think having a Jewish spouse makes that a lot easier.”

“My religion and its continuity are important, so I would only make a life commitment to someone who understood the importance of my religion and the importance of raising any children we were to have as Jews,” Lehrer’s classmate, Eric Rosoff, said. “I think it is important to distinguish between someone who is Jewish and someone who understands the need to continue Judaism.”Jackie Bliss, a Mira Costa senior, grew up with a non-Jewish dad, and although he participated fully in the Jewish life of their home and finalized a conversion to Judaism last year, she doesn’t see herself following her mom’s path.

“I would love to say that you should marry whomever you fall in love with and you can overcome any problems,” Bliss said. “But if you truly want to raise a practicing Jewish family, you have to have a Jewish husband or wife. Some people are willing to take that risk, but I don’t think I will. My mom overcame a lot of obstacles to raise my sister and me with a strong Jewish background, and I don’t intend to end it with my family.”

Keeping Faith

Not all teens flee Jewish life after Bar and Bat Mitzvah.

In contrast to the conventional wisdom that most teens make a quick exit from Jewish life at age 13, almost all the students interviewed for this story have active Jewish lives, most of them on the institutional level. Even the respondents who aren’t temple-involved said being Jewish plays an important role in who they are.

Rebecca Lehrer, a Harvard-Westlake senior who will attend Columbia University, hasn’t spent much time in synagogue since her Bat Mitzvah at Temple Israel of Hollywood, but her extended family has Shabbat dinner together every Friday night. “Just because I didn’t go to Hess Kramer [summer camp] has nothing to do with my Jewish identity. I strongly identify with being Jewish, and I think my peers identify me that way too.” Like many of the students interviewed, she said she intends to get involved in a Jewish organization such as Hillel once she’s at college.For the students graduating from Orthodox schools, of course, traditional observance is a given. Many will move on to yeshivot in Israel or in U.S. cities. Sam Rosenthal, who will spend a year at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, said he’ll start a Chabad unit at whatever college he attends for his B.A. if there isn’t one there already.

One yeshiva student credits his school with putting him back on the right path. Reared “strictly Orthodox” in Brooklyn, he went through a rebellious spell starting in eighth grade and “decided that I didn’t like religion, not really because of any deep questions or the like, but because it just was a pain and I didn’t want to bother.”

After flunking most of his sophomore classes and getting thrown out of summer camp for smoking marijuana, he asked his father for a change of scene, and his dad arranged for him to live with his grandmother in L.A. “[My school] has been the best thing for me,” he said. “I’ve gotten back into religion, haven’t touched a cigarette or even thought about smoking a joint in two years. I understand much more about Judaism, which has allowed me to really want to be religious, instead of pushing it away.”A Valley Torah senior, Solomon Mizrahi, is bucking the trend by going straight to UC Irvine this fall, but he believes it’s the right choice for him. “Going to a university that doesn’t have the greatest Jewish social opportunities will not detract from my level of religiosity or spirituality,” he said. “My connection with the secular world is important. In some ways it helps me improve my spiritual devotion to God.”

Most of the non-Orthodox students mentioned participation in Jewish youth organizations, Jewish educational programs for senior high schoolers, and involvement opportunities in their synagogues. Lisa Feigenbaum, Harvard-Westlake’s valedictorian, has read Torah at Stephen S. Wise Temple’s High Holy Days services since her Bat Mitzvah. Her classmate, Eric Rosoff, is a madrich (teacher’s aide) at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, working with religious school students, while Judith Spiro, graduating from Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, plays a similar role at Temple
Isaiah in Rancho Park. Jackie Bliss works three days a week at her temple, Congregation Tifereth Jacob in Manhattan Beach.

“Becoming active in USY [United Synagogue Youth] was the best thing I ever did,” said Melissa Orkin, a regional board member and president of Temple Aliyah’s chapter, who also spent six summers at Camp Ramah. “By attending USY events I was able to keep in touch with friends from camp and to make new friends. Spending weekends with other Jewish teens like myself was a great experience.& USY enabled me to stay involved in the Jewish community religiously and socially.”

That doesn’t mean these kids never ask questions, of course. Santa Monica High senior Rachelle Neshkes, who grew up at Adat Shalom on the Westside and just graduated from L.A. Hebrew High School, has been a bit alienated of late. “The void in spirituality hit me much later than most because I was always the most observant, and the most into it growing up,” she said. “But seriously, I don’t know a single Jew who is completely strong in [his or her] faith.& The faith has just seemed to roll out from beneath us.

“Judaism would keep more Jews if only it didn’t project such a, shall we say, outdated image,” said Neshkes, who is interested in Jewish mysticism. “Can’t we keep the Hebrew, and our traditions, and our beliefs, without being 19th-century Poles?”

“I spend Shabbat with my family and friends, keep kosher and celebrate all of the holidays,” said Milken senior Millicent Marmer, who attends Stephen S. Wise Temple. “However, I am also constantly challenging and questioning Judaism, not in a rebellious manner, but simply so that I can practice with kavanah [spiritual intention].”

“Too many Jewish people are only Jewish by culture, and they know nothing about their religion,” Eric Rosoff said. “I have a Jewish soul, and I know this only because I learned about Judaism.”

Picture Perfect


A bubbie standing in front of the colorful mural on the Workman’s Circle building in West Los Angeles. Shopkeepers on Fairfax Avenue. The Tel Aviv skyline lit by a thousand cars on a freeway at night. These are just a few of the images on display at the Finegood Art Gallery as part of a an exhibit of 100 photos taken by teenagers in Los Angeles and Tel Aviv.

A project of The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, the exhibit showcases the work of students from Milken Community Day School, Cleveland High School, Calabasas High School and other L.A. area schools alongside photos by students from the Yitzhak Rabin New High School and other Tel Aviv institutions of learning. It’s part of the Valley Alliance’s continuing effort to help young people forge relationships with teens in its sister city.

The photos represent the diverse experiences of Jewish cultures, with frequent references to modern life as seen through the eyes of a teenager. In one striking photograph by Ina Laks of the Rabin school, graffiti serves as a backdrop for the memorial to her school’s namesake. A photo by Lindsey Gelb of Mira Costa High School captures a man carving an ice sculpture of a menorah on Manhattan Beach, with a rainbow reflected through the sculpture like a prism.

“We’re very excited about the exhibit,” said Loren Fife, chair of the Picture L.A./T.A. 2000 committee. “It is a terrific example of the Los Angeles and Tel Aviv communities working together. It accomplishes a number of goals for us, educating our kids about photography as an artistic medium and teaching about the similarities and distinctions between our two communities. We’re also gratified at the quality of the photos that have come in from teenagers — there’s some fabulous work. We hope to do many more similar exhibits in the area of arts and culture, bringing Tel Aviv to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Tel Aviv.”

The exhibit will remain at the Finegood, located on the second level of the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, until April 16. Some of the photographs will also be displayed at the Skirball Cultural Center May 7-July 23. For more information on the exhibit or gallery hours, call (818) 464-3200.

Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore


Cult filmmaker Sarah Jacobson can one-up any L.A. Jewish reader who felt like an outcast in high school.

Her small-town Minnesota classmates told her she was going to burn in hell. “Everyone was really blond,” adds Jacobson, now 27. “It was like L.A., except in Minnesota, people are born that way.”

At Jacobson’s synagogue, meanwhile, “people were totally materialistic.”

And so, alienated from both sides of the mainstream, the honor student gravitated toward the fringe, driving her mom’s station wagon into Minneapolis to hang around the punk rock scene.

The filmmaker describes her teen angst in “Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore,” her gritty, ultra-low budget, sexually explicit film about a smart, suburban young Jewish woman in search of cool punk friends (and good sex) at the local B-movie theater.

Ranked by Spin magazine as one of the “50 Biggest Influences on Girl Culture,” the movie is not Jacobson’s first foray into guerrilla cinema. Inspired by her mentor, George Kuchar, “the King of trash filmmaking,” Jacobson scraped together $1,600 to make the half-hour “I was a Teenage Serial Killer,” when she was just 19. Film Threat magazine named the movie, about “a woman who kills dumb men,” one of the “Top 25 Underground Films You Must See.”

An unexpected business partner — her own mom — helped Jacobson raise the $50,000 required for “Mary Jane.” Unfazed by the flick’s mohawk-sporting stars, Ruth Jacobson moved to San Francisco and began sending postcards to strangers, asking for money. “My mom wanted me to have all the opportunities she never had for herself,” explains Sarah, who, in turn, offered her previously conventional Jewish mother a whole new career.

After “Mary Jane” played at Sundance in 1997, Sarah hauled the film to festivals around the country while mom worked on distribution.

Next up for mother and daughter: Sarah’s new movie, “Sleaze,” about “an all-girl band on tour in Missoula, Mont., who hook up with the town geek.” The name of the Jacobson’s production company: Station Wagon Productions.

“Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore” plays at the Nuart March 12-18.

A Goal Beyond Winning


Dr. Jerry Bobrow remembers it well. The year was 1990. The place: The Palace, in the Auburn Hills district of Detroit.

There in the bleachers, among 16,000 people at the Maccabi Games, is Bobrow and his youngest son, Jonathan.

As the Russian delegation of athletes entered the arena to the roar of the crowd, the younger Bobrow looked around himself in wonder, then turned to his father.

“You mean all the people in this row are Jewish,” the boy asked.

Recalls Bobrow, “I said, ‘Jonathan, all the people in the whole place are Jewish.’ And his eyes kind of lit up [as] he realized the magnitude of the whole thing.”

Jerry Bobrow has proudly served as the chairman of the Los Angeles Organizing Committee for the Jewish Community Center’s Maccabi Games for 11 years, dating back almost to the inception of the program. Created in 1982, the first Maccabi games were held in Detroit in 1984, and, over the years, the final competitions have moved around — Toronto, Chicago, Detroit again, Baltimore, Cleveland. Since 1982, over 25,000 Jewish athletes between the ages of 13 and 16 from all over the world — Israel, Britain, Mexico — have taken part in this program.

This August, two delegations from L.A., nearly 200 athletes, were dispatched to Rochester, New York, and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to compete. At each of these delegations, Team Los Angeles won medals in every division, including baseball, golf, tennis, table tennis, in-line hockey, volleyball, basketball, swimming and track and field.

Bobrow’s own three children have all enjoyed victorious stints with the Maccabi Games. Bobrow’s daughter, Jennifer, competed on the first girls soccer team and helped them win silver and gold. Older son, Adam, competed in four different sports and won medals in all of them. And his youngest son won silver medals in table tennis and a gold medal in baseball. But Bobrow is proud to say that he’s been involved with the Maccabi Games even before his own children ever started competing.

“It’s a wonderful, athletic experience, but it’s also a great excuse to get Jewish kids together,” says Bobrow, clearly enchanted with the concept. “You really can’t explain what the experience is like. It’s much, much more than just an athletic event.”

Technically, Phillip Bendetson, 48, is a real estate investment banker. But to the boys who’ve played over the last five years on the L.A. soccer team, Bendetson is better known as an outstanding coach who has led his team to gold medal victories every year, including 1999. But while Bendetson considers it a nice by-product, triumphing is not the primary goal of the Maccabi Games.

“Winning and losing aside,” says Bendetson, “it’s about the kids from different backgrounds coming together… It’s a lifelong memory that they will hold onto.”

Two weeks before competing, Bendetson’s team members live together and attend training camp twice a day.

Strengthening the bond between the kids is the program’s Jewish content. He says that this August, the Maccabi kids marched around Rochester from temple to temple, donating kosher canned goods for various food pantries. His players also met up for Shabbat dinners with the girls soccer team.

As a testament to the strength of the Maccabi program, several former participants have gone on to viable athletic careers, such as record-breaking swimmer Lenny Krayzelberg, who competed at Detroit. And many teens return to coach the new recruits.

Soccer player Itzik Rapaport, who this year made all three goals in the final, gold-winning game at Rochester, has nothing but praise for his three years with Maccabi. Says the 17-year-old Canoga Park resident, “We get really close. There’s a lot of unity…when you’re with the same boys, you form a bond…The people around us, they care so much about us.”

Rapaport, along with Amir Benakote, 16, and Bendetson’s 16-year-old son, Benjamin, are all captains on the L.A. boys soccer team. Rapaport singles out coaches Kobi Goren and Bendetson for making the Maccabi Games a great experience. He also adds that his involvement has taught him a lot about leadership and of friendship.

“My four best friends are from the program,” says Rapaport. “I would have to say it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Closing out his fourth year with Maccabi, Benakote says he loves what the athletic program has offered him.

“It’s always awesome,” says the Calabasas High School student. “The L.A. soccer team is really tight…so we have a really good time…When you’re with your team, it’s a lot better. Plus you’re with all Jewish people and you have a good sense of community.”

In December, when the West Valley Jewish Community Center opens their new gym, Bobrow says that two walls will be devoted to the Games. And the doctor is already looking forward to next year when he expects over 200 L.A. athletes to converge in Tucson, Cincinnati, and Richmond for competitions. After all, year in, year out, he observes firsthand the impact that this athletic experience makes on participating teens.

“Aside from the fact that they come out typically with a lot of friends,” says Bobrow, “I think they come out with a stronger sense of Jewish identity.”

Teens ages 13-16 interested in participating in the Maccabi Games can contact the West Valley Jewish Community Center at (818) 464-3294.



Medal count at this year’s Maccabi Games

August 15-20, 1999

Rochester, N.Y.

Boys Baseball (13-14) Gold

Girls Softball (16 and under) Gold

Boys Soccer (16 and under) Gold

Girls Soccer (16 and under) 5th place

Girls Volleyball (16 and under) Silver

Boys Basketball (13-14) Silver

Table Tennis 6 Gold, 4 Silver, 4 Bronze

Tennis 5 Gold, 5 Silver, 3 Bronze

Cherry Hill, N.J.

Boys Baseball (15-16) Gold

Boys Baseball (13-14) Bronze

Boys Basketball (16 and under) Silver

Girls Basketball (16 and under) Silver

In-Line Hockey (16 and under) Silver

Track and Field 12 Gold, 13 Silver, 8 Bronze

Swimming 8 Gold, 20 Silver, 17 Bronze

Golf (13-14) 1 Gold; (15-16) 4th place finish.