Klezmatics bringing a healthy dose of heresy on tour


Grab your children and your grandparents! A band of Yiddish heretics are zingen their way to Southern California!

Not that you should worry. These heretics, the Klezmatics, are happy and coming to share their zest for Eastern European Ashkenazi-inspired music.

What is so heretical about a long-established Grammy-winning group setting out on its 30th anniversary tour with December stops in Los Angeles and Costa Mesa? Along with the usual Yiddishe party music — which also includes songs by Woodie Guthrie — the band will perform songs from its new album, provocatively titled “Apikorsim/Heretics.”

For many Jews, the Yiddish word apikorsim — used as a cutting term by one Jewish denomination to describe the perceived religious deficits of another — is mostly familiar through its use in Chaim Potok’s best-seller from the mid-1960s, “The Chosen.” But Lorin Sklamberg, the Klezmatics’ longtime lead vocalist and accordion, guitar and piano player, doesn’t see it that way. For him, the word’s meaning moves beyond a Jewish showing of disrespect to representing one of the joys of the Jewish world.

“It’s not unusual for us to take things that have a stereotypically negative connotation and turn them around,” Sklamberg said in a recent phone interview the morning after he had flown to New York following a Klezmatics performance in Poland. 

As Sklamberg explained, the band likes to find a “positive aspect of something that might be somewhat controversial.” For instance, the title track of the new album, “Apikorsim,” represents the coming together of a traditional Yiddish dance tune by Klezmatics co-founder, vocalist, and horn and saxophone player Frank London with lyrics by contemporary Yiddish linguist Yuri Vedenyapin, who the band asked to write on the topic. “They just completely went to town on it,” Sklamberg said. And with lyrics like “Happy heretics don’t think about God … Happy heretics have no rabbi … Happy heretics don’t get circumcised,” it’s clear the writers not only had “gone to town,” they had left the shtetl

“You could take it literally or you could take it metaphorically,” Sklamberg said when asked about the song’s provocative lyrics. For him, the song invokes the thoughts that “you don’t need to have all those strictures in your life to enjoy life” and that “you don’t have to abide by Orthodoxy,” he said. 

“One of the nice things about the Jewish world,” he added, “is that there is a tacit acceptance that people allow everyone else to be Jewish in their own way.”

Sklamberg described the band’s following as comprising “everything from religious Jews with yarmulkes and beards to hipsters with tattoos and beards.”

“All of these Jewish worlds have been allowed to co-exist. I think that’s one of the delights of being Jewish,” said the musician, who had a Conservative upbringing at Temple Beth Torah in Alhambra.

Another song on the “Apikorsim/Heretics” album shows the group’s knack for turning around meaning. “Ver Firt Di Ale Shifn?” (Who Guides the Ships?) — with Yiddish lyrics by Zishe Landau (1889-1937) and music by Chava Alberstein — asks, in the form of a riddle, “Who plays with the children, and takes some of them away?”

Sklamberg said initially he was puzzled by the song’s lyrics. “As it turns out, Landau had lost a child, an infant when he was young,” and the poem “was kind of a lullaby for the child,” Sklamberg explained. But he sings the song with a broader meaning. It’s “for all parents who have had the tragedy of losing a child,” he said. “It’s one of the most well-received songs in our concerts.”

Growing up in Monterey Park, Sklamberg was in high school when he began playing accordion in a band called Rimonim that performed Israeli folk-dance music at weddings and bar and bat mitzvah parties.

“I didn’t know how the music was connected to my heritage and how the music I was hearing in shul was related to what we were playing,” he recalled. “There were people around I could have asked, but I didn’t think to do it.

“When I moved to New York and started studying Yiddish and getting involved with the Klezmatics, I started to see how all these things that I had grown up with were interconnected,” said Sklamberg, who as an original member has been with the band for 30 years.

His experience with listening to Chasidic music in shul and studying Hebrew at his synagogue’s school and Los Angeles
Hebrew High School helped ease his evolution to klezmer. “All these tools were really helpful in becoming proficient in Yiddish instrumental and vocal music,” he said, voicing a conclusion he laughingly acknowledged would make his Hebrew school teachers happy.

One of the ways the Klezmatics keep their audiences happy is when they conclude each show with “Mazel Tov,” a “little lullaby waltz” written by Yiddish singer, actor and impresario Boris Thomashefsky. The group plays it at the end to “wish everyone well and off into the night,” said Sklamberg, who sings it sweetly and innocently — without a heretical note.

“Every star that shines above us,” it begins, “should always shine on our future.” 

The Klezmatics will perform Dec. 19 at the Pico Union Project in Los Angeles and Dec. 22 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. For more information, visit Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa or Pico Union Project.

Netanyahu launches Africa tour with Entebbe commemoration


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a tour of East Africa by marking the 40th anniversary of the raid at Entebbe that killed his brother.

“We were powerless no more,” Netanyahu said Monday of the July 4, 1976 Israeli commando raid on the Ugandan airport where German and Palestinian terrorists were holding more than 100 Israelis hostage after having hijacked a plane.

His older brother, Yoni, who commanded the rescue unit, was killed in the raid.

Netanyahu laid a wreath at a plaque marking the rescue. Also speaking at the commemoration was Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

On his tour traveling with 80 businessmen in order to cultivate trade ties in Africa, Netanyahu will also visit Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia; he will address the Ethiopian parliament. In Uganda, the prime minister will meet with leaders from countries as well as Zambia, Tanzania and South Sudan.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to visit sub-Saharan Africa since 1987.

Backstreet Boys scrap Israel shows due to Gaza crisis


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Backstreet Boys canceled three sold-out concerts in Israel due to the Gaza conflict.

The American pop band posted a message Sunday on its official website announcing the cancellation of the July 29-31 concerts at the Raanana Amphitheater “to assure the safety of the audience.” New dates will be scheduled for the spring.

“This is a major disappointment for the band and fans as this was to be our first visit to Israel and we looked forward to meeting our fans,” the message said.

Canadian singer Paul Anka also canceled two concerts set for this week in Tel Aviv. The concerts will be rescheduled “once the local situation is resolved,” according to a statement issued by his representative.

Earlier, the Gaza conflict forced the cancellations of a Neil Young concert in Tel Aviv and a performance by the band America.

Romney tours site of future Polish Jewish museum


Mitt Romney toured the site of the future Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, completing the third leg of a three-country tour that also included Britain and Israel, on Tuesday met with museum chairman Piotr Wislicki, deputy chairman Marian Turski, interim director Waldemar Dabrowski, exhibition director Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, and representatives of the museum’s two largest benefactors, the Taube Foundation and the Koret Foundation, Helise Lieberman and Yale Reisner.

Also present during the tour was Romney’s wife, Ann.

The museum, which is to open in 2013, is near the site of the city’s Holocaust-era ghetto.

Kicking off tour, Madonna shows she’s no lady (Gaga)


Pop superstar Madonna kicked off a new world tour on Thursday wishing peace on the Middle East even as she showcased grim dance routines depicting violence and bloody gunmen among her more colorful numbers.

Madonna, 53, mixed hit songs over three decades in music with tunes from her recent album, “MDNA,” before a packed audience, and she took a sly dig at younger diva, Lady Gaga.

“She’s not me!” Madonna sang at the end of “Express Yourself,” which she had reworked to include a sampling of Lady Gaga’s recent “Born This Way.”

That song from Lady Gaga, who emerged on the pop music scene about four years ago and has enjoyed a huge following in recent years, has been cited by many music fans and critics as being very similar to Madonna’s late 1980s dance club smash.

Since Lady Gaga, 26, released “Born This Way,” fans and music lovers have speculated that a generational challenge was in the works between the two women and comedians have poked fun at any imagined rivalry between the two.

Despite occasional lighthearted touches such as a baton-twirling routine in cheerleader formation and a psychedelic homage to Indian philosophy, the dominant mood at Thursday’s concert in Tel Aviv seemed more grim with a stage shrouded in black and red and costumes that often appeared ominous.

VIRGIN SACRIFICE

“Like a Virgin,” a dance tune that helped propel Madonna to stardom as risqué pop ingénue in the 1980s, was performed as a mournful cabaret with violin accompaniment. At one point, the singer was trussed up and hoisted into the air by four male dancers, then lowered onto a platform as though into a volcano – a virgin sacrifice.

For “Gang Bang,” Madonna wrestled with armed intruders whom she then dispatched with a pistol – their “blood” spattering across an enormous video backdrop. In a routine for “Revolver”, she wielded a Kalashnikov rifle, used by many modern-day insurgents, while one of her dancers favored an Israeli Uzi.

The exertions never sapped her confident singing, though she did become somewhat breathless during remarks to the audience at Ramat Gan stadium on Tel Aviv’s outskirts.

“I chose to start my world tour in Israel for a very specific and important reason. As you know, the Middle East and all the conflicts that have been occurring here for thousands of years – they have to stop,” she said to cheers.

A devotee of Jewish mysticism, Madonna had dubbed the first leg of her 28-country “MDNA” tour the “Peace Concert” and distributed free tickets to some of the Palestinians who attended from the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Among them was a woman named Yasmine, who declined to give her last name in light of Palestinian calls to boycott the Madonna concert and other cultural events in Israel. She offered a mixed assessment of the show.

“I wasn’t a fan of the intro. It was too aggressive and massacre-like,” Yasmine said. “Her (Madonna’s) speech about peace and the mention of Palestine was heartfelt, though.”

Avihay Asseraf, an Israeli who dedicated a Facebook page to Madonna’s visit, was more sanguine about the darker displays.

“That’s how she chose to express herself this time,” he said. “Ultimately this is a show, a spectacle, and it’s all for fun.”

Reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

Viva Israel: Tour bringing Elvis fans


Some Elvis fans will be making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land rather than Graceland.

The Elvis Presley Holy Land tour in May 2013 will take 100 Elvis fans on a traditional tour of Israel that will include a stop at the Elvis Inn in Abu Gosh near Jerusalem, a diner cum shrine to “The King.”

The connection between Elvis and Israel appears to be his love of gospel music. Though gospel music does not come from Israel, “Elvis fans, a good majority of them, are church people, so it’s a good fit,” Brian Mayes, co-founder of Israel Theme Tours and an entertainment publicist, told The Associated Press. “A large portion of fans are evangelical: Christian, Catholic, Jewish. The Holy Land is an interesting destination for them.”

Three gospel singers who performed with Elvis will accompany the tour. Elvis won three Grammys for his spiritual recordings.

KISS reunion tour in Haifa: Gene Simmons goes home


The most well-circulated piece of trivia about Gene Simmons, former member of the band KISS, is that he was born in Haifa, Israel. For years Simmons’ birthplace and Israeli heritage were rumored to be true, but in the Digital Age it would be confirmed with Wikipedia and video interviews on YouTube.

Now there is no question that the aging rock star, who is starring in his own reality TV show, “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” traces his roots to Israel.

In back-to-back recent episodes, Simmons ventures back home to Haifa. With son Nick and soon-to-be wife Shannon Tweed, a former Playboy Playmate, along for the trip, Simmons takes an El Al jet to Tel Aviv en route to his birthplace, where he receives the City of Haifa’s Medal of Honor from the mayor.

Simmons had left Israel as an 8-year-old, moving to the United States with his mother, a survivor of Auschwitz.

In the episode appropriately titled “Blood is Thicker than Humus,” Simmons explains that he is reluctant to return to Israel, but his fiancee convinces him to go. When he arrives at his hotel, the cameras are in tow for his first experience speaking to Israelis.

Using a perfect Hebrew accent, Simmons checks into the hotel with the pseudonym Oy Vey. But it isn’t long until the memories of his childhood lead him to a very emotional moment when he proclaims, “Hashem sheli [my name is] Chaim Veitz,” using his birth name Witz and expressing that he would be nothing without his birthplace.

Simmons and his entourage get a VIP tour of the important sites in Israel, including Yad Vashem and the Western Wall. He also visits Cafe Nitza, the bakery where his mother worked. Sitting down to enjoy a pastry, the aroma from the cafe revives memories for Simmons.

On a nostalgic tour of his childhood, Simmons visits Rambam Hospital, where he was born in 1949. He returns to his childhood house in Haifa and speaks in Hebrew with Chaya Cohen, his neighbor growing up.

The most poignant segment of the two episodes is the reunion dinner secretly convened by Tweed that allows Simmons to meet his Israeli family 50 years since he left the country. He meets his half-brother and three half-sisters for the first time. Together with his half-siblings—his father’s children from subsequent marriages—Simmons visits their father’s grave and says the Kaddish memorial prayer.

Say what you will about reality TV, the Gene Simmons nostalgia tour to Haifa is must-see television before the High Holidays. If watching a former rock star tour Israel as the distant memories come back in a cloud of nostalgia doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps the message of reconnecting with family will.

As Simmons puts his father’s yarmulke on his head, he suddenly realizes how important his roots are to him.

Rabbi Jason Miller is an entrepreneurial rabbi and blogger. He is the president of Access Computer Technology, an IT and social media marketing company in Michigan. Follow him on Twitter (@rabbijason) and at http://facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller.

Bibi cancels Bieber meeting over reported snub of beleaguered kids


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly has canceled a meeting with pop star Justin Bieber after the singer refused to meet with children from southern Israel.

Netanyahu, who was scheduled to meet Bieber on Wednesday night, a day before his concert in Tel Aviv, invited children living in communities that have been hit by rockets fired from Gaza to join the sit-down. Bieber, however, refused to meet with the children, according to Israel Channel 2, causing Netanyahu to cancel the meeting.

Bieber and his manager reportedly asked for the meeting with Netanyahu.

The teen idol arrived Monday in Israel and is scheduled to tour the country. His itinerary includes visits to Christian sites in the Galilee, the Dead Sea, Masada, Acre and Caesarea. He has complained in tweets on Twitter that the Israeli paparazzi have forced him to hole up in his hotel room.

Meanwhile, some 700 children from southern Israeli communities that have been hit by rockets and missiles from Gaza were given free tickets to the Bieber concert.

The tickets for Thursday’s show in Tel Aviv, as well as transportation, are a gift of The Schusterman Foundation-Israel, The Morningstar Foundation and ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators.

For top stars like Madonna, Israel gig becoming more common


Madonna managed to sprinkle some of her fairy diva dust on Israel during her recent tour, calling the Jewish state the world’s “energy center,” wrapping herself in the flag on stage and even lighting Shabbat candles with Sara Netanayahu.

Audiences, local promoters and officials are hoping her magic will linger and boost an already emerging trend in which Israel is becoming a draw for big-name artists in relatively large numbers.

“Anytime you have a successful concert or artist of that caliber here, people will take notice,” said Jeremy Hulsh, a concert promoter who also founded Oleh Records, a company that promotes Israeli artists abroad.

“This year was particularly strong and next year looks to be strong, too. There are lots of newcomer promoters willing to take risks because they are seeing great potential,” he said, noting that Israelis are willing to pay top dollar for tickets and thus help the bottom line. “Israelis are both excited and grateful to see any big names coming to Israel.”

September alone is seeing the likes of Madonna, Leonard Cohen, Julio Iglesias, Dinosaur Jr. and Faith No More performing here. Earlier this summer, the Pet Shop Boys played, as did the new pop sensation Lady Gaga.

Madonna played two concerts last week to a total of some 100,000 fans, while Cohen’s performance for 47,000 sold out in 17 hours—faster than his shows anywhere else in the world.

As promoters and agents talk among themselves, word seems to be spreading that Israel can be a lucrative and successful new stop for performers. Logistics and facilities are top rate, fans pay as much as $400 for good seats for a big name and, despite an uncertain security situation, artists realize when they arrive that the country belies its image as a war zone.

In an age where Israelis feel particularly besieged by international criticism amid calls for cultural and other boycotts, the celebrity acts and the glamorous star power they emit feel especially welcome.

“Madonna is the best ambassador for the Jewish people,” gushed Liav Mizrahi, a 31-year-old art teacher from Tel Aviv who saw her first of two concerts here and was still breathless the next day.

Andy David, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said he hoped the message that Israel is a “normal” country was a happy by-product of high-profile acts like Madonna coming to the country.

“We are a normal country where people enjoy music and performers understand there is a market here for their music, he said, adding later that “it’s good business and a good place to come.”

“We are not some crazy corner of the world where everything is upside down,” David said.

Madonna in particular has forged a unique connection with Israel following her involvement with the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles. Although her last performance here was 16 years ago, she has been to Israel several times in recent years on private visits that included the Western Wall in Jerusalem and the graves of mystics in Safed.

Although the average Israeli seems a bit befuddled by the Queen of Pop’s interest in Jewish mysticism, especially the Kabbalah Center’s version—serious Jewish scholars have dismissed it as a flashy and inauthentic New Age perversion—they have embraced her all the same.

Officials also have embraced the celebrity fawning with enthusiasm. Madonna dined with Tzipi Livni, a prime ministerial hopeful and leader of the opposition, at a trendy Tel Aviv restaurant. Last Friday evening the singer met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. Madonna, who reportedly knows some Hebrew, recited the blessing over the Sabbath candles with the first lady.

One major paper featured Madonna’s arrival on its front page, overshadowing news that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had been indicted on corruption charges the day before.

In a column in the weekend magazine of the daily Ha’aretz titled “You Really Like Me,” Gideon Levy described the history of Israeli politicians seizing photo ops with stars. A photo spread showed Golda Meir shaking hands with Kirk Douglas, Menachem Begin kissing Elizabeth Taylor’s hand and Shimon Peres visiting Jaffa with Sharon Stone.

“We have always longed for the world’s love, or at least the love of those of its stars who bothered to come here,” a sarcastic Levy wrote.

The occasional big-name music act certainly isn’t new to Israel. Paul McCartney performed last year, and Roger Waters, the late Michael Jackson and Elton John also made their way here over the years.

What is new, industry insiders say, is the volume of such performances, due in part to Israel’s sound track record as a place where fans will pay relatively high prices for tickets.

Performing in Israel involves not only security considerations and the extra insurance necessary to cover them, but the expense of flying in equipment, crew and backup musicians from Europe, as most performers include Israel as part of their larger European tours.

“It’s easier now because promoters are not afraid of Israel and the insurance companies are covering the risks of such shows,” said Perla Mitrani, a project manager for Israstage.com, a site that features Israeli concert dates. “Israel is now becoming a market like anywhere else, a normal stop on people’s tours. The question is how much people are ready to pay for this or that performer.”

According to Avisar Savir, a promoter who is arranging an upcoming concert here of the Chasidic reggae musician Matisyahu, the world economic crisis also has provided an opportunity for Israel.

“People need to open new markets,” he said, “and Israel is seen as a legitimate place to come in a way it wasn’t before.”

Book Tour Blues


“Never again,” I swear every time I’m on book tour.

I’ll never do this again, I don’t care if I sell one book or 10 million, I’m not getting on another 6 a.m. flight out of an airport that’s been closed for two days due to bad weather and is therefore mobbed now with livid travelers — 10 cities in 12 days; nice hotels, but I can’t sleep at night because the windows are sealed shut (is it to prevent authors whose books have tanked from throwing themselves out?), and I get claustrophobic; friendly escorts, but they feel an obligation to talk to you, and I’m too tired from the flight to make conversation; radio and press interviews that I could have done from home, on the phone and who knows if anyone out there is listening to these shows?; bookstores where I’m alone with a salesclerk, a couple of homeless people and one other person — there’s always one person — who’s been sent by God, I know, or by one of the two or three authors in this country who, on a bad day, might consider me a worthy competitor and pray that my book will fail, to witness my mortification before the salesclerk and the homeless guys.

I’ll never do this again, I swear to myself and my husband and children and to all my students whether they want to hear it or not, and they all nod and say, “yes, of course, of course you won’t, it’s not as if you’ve ever made and broken this promise before….”

I’ll never do this again.

Till I’m three months away from the publication of another novel, and my publisher asks if I’ll agree to appear at the Jewish Book Council’s (JBC) Fourth Annual Live Auction (that’s not the real title for the event, but it really should be) in New York.

The JBC, in case you didn’t know, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of “Jewish interest” literature. It operates through a network of Jewish Federation chapters, Jewish community centers, Jewish book festivals, libraries and synagogues around the country, giving awards and reviewing books in its magazine. It is just about the most organized, well-run machine in the publishing industry today, and it’s one of the most effective, as well. If you’re an author with a book to promote, and the JBC likes you and decides to send you on tour, chances are,you won’t spend too many lonely nights in empty bookstores, in freezing weather, in strange cities, wondering why you didn’t go to law school or get a broker’s license or sell shoes at Neiman Marcus when you still had a chance … anything, really, instead of this.

I’ll never do this again.

Yes, I tell my publisher, I’ll gladly appear before the representatives of the JBC in New York. I’ll be one of a few hundred authors, each given a maximum of two minutes — that’s 120 seconds — in which to introduce his or herself, talk about his or her book and make enough of an impression to be invited to participate in subsequent events. Never mind that this means I’d be committing to going on tour again (that is, if anyone from the JBC wants me after the live auction). Never mind, either, that I have no clue what to say about myself or the book during those fateful 120 seconds. Or that I’ll be doing this the night before the opening of Book Expo America, where hundreds of publishers — Jewish and non-Jewish — will be promoting thousands of upcoming books (I swear, there are more authors in this country than there are readers), all to no avail, really, because every one of those books and authors and publishers has already been eclipsed by two upcoming titles: Harry Potter No. 17, or No. 80, or whatever it is; and the new book by the guy who wrote “The Kite Runner.” The rest of us, ladies and gentlemen, might as well go home.

Yes, I say, I’ll appear before the JBC in New York.

The event unfolds over three consecutive evenings in the main sanctuary of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Manhattan. I’ve been scheduled to speak during the last half-hour of the last night. I arrive two hours early, as instructed, and check in at the door. I’m handed a badge and led into the sanctuary, where I sit in the front row of the “N through Z” section, directly across from the “Ls” and “Ms” of the “A through M” group. I’m easily one of 100 authors here, and I get the feeling that every one of them is looking at me with a mixture of bitter suspicion and indignant disregard. They’re all thinking what I’m thinking — there are too many of us in this business, and certainly in this room. Mine is the only book anyone should read, and it would be, too — the only book anyone read this year — if not for “Harry Potter,” “The Kite Runner,” and all these other people whose last names are not Nahai.

The moderator explains the rules: Two minutes, she says. Go over the limit, and you’ll be hauled away from the podium in disgrace, never to be invited to speak before the JBC again, or to be sent on tour by the JBC, or to sell another book to a Jewish reader. OK, fine, she doesn’t really say that. But that’s what she means when she says that the two-minute rule is “strictly enforced.” She shows us large yellow signs — “one minute,” “30 seconds,” “10 seconds” — that she’s going to hold up as reminders throughout each presentation, and this makes some authors chuckle nervously, or snort disdainfully, because, of course, we each have so many thousands of hours’ worth of interesting things to say about ourselves and our work — but no one’s about to object. Partly, this is because they don’t want to offend the JBC or be labeled “troublemaker.” Partly, too, we each see the wisdom of keeping everyone else’s presentation short. As for me, I have no trouble settling in for the long evening. I don’t know about the others here, but I’m quite used to this — the two-minutes at the podium, preceded by years of toiling in solitude and hoping for the best, followed by months of waiting and watching and wondering why I didn’t finish law school while other authors, whose last names are not Nahai, are called up to the podium. l

Gina B. Nahai’s new novel “Caspian Rain” will be published this fall. Her column appears on the first Friday of every month. She will write more about the evening at the Jewish Book Council next month.

Mehta and Israel Phil triumphant at Disney Concert Hall


The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Zubin Mehta received a rapturous reception by some 2,000 Angelenos, undeterred by a group of protestors, unusual security measures and tight parking.

Mehta opened the Monday evening concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with stirring renditions of the American and Israeli national anthems, followed by a program of Beethoven, Schoenberg and Berlioz.

Finally, giving in to prolonged standing ovations, Mehta and the orchestra added an encore.

Outside Disney Hall, Women in Black rallied some 50 supporters of both genders for a protest.

The vigil was silent, but demonstrators conveyed their sentiments through large signs with such messages as “End Israel Apartheid in Palestine” and “Boycott Israel Philharmonic.”

Last October, Women in Black sent a letter to the Israel Philharmonic, asking its members to publicly oppose “Israeli apartheid.”

Receiving no response, the group followed up with a letter to Los Angeles Philharmonic president Deborah Borda and music director Esa-Pekka Salonen demanding cancellation of the two concerts.

Borda rejected the demand, writing that “We will never support the silencing of artists from any culture as a means of political action.”

Security was noticeably tight, with random body checks at the entrance and the closing of the 2,000-car garage underneath Disney Hall.

Inside the hall, Mehta and the orchestra performed Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 with great strength, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht with great subtlety and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique with great — but wholly appropriate — bombast.

During the Schoenberg, only the renowned string section performed. During the Berlioz, the orchestra expanded to include a full brass section, two harps and at least five percussionists, among them, one man sporting a full beard, payes and a yalmulke. Schoenberg’s grandson E. Randall Schoenberg, the lawyer who recovered Nazi looted artworks by Gustav Klimt from the Austrian government, listened from the front row.

After repeated standing ovations, Mehta raised his baton and led the orchestra through the Donner und Blitzen Polka by Johann Straus the Younger — a rousing end to a thrilling evening.

The orchestra’s American tour, which included performances in New York’s Carnegie Hall and San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, were part of the Israeli Philharmonic’s 70th anniversary celebration.

Israeli official woos expats — you <I>can</I> go home again


The message from the high Israeli official addressing more than 100 Israeli expatriates at Stephen S. Wise Temple was simple and direct.

“We want you to come back.”

Catchy slogans are one thing, translating them into reality is vastly more complex, Zeev Boim admitted.

Boim is Israel’s minister of immigration absorption, and he was in Los Angeles with a backup team of government and private industry representatives as part of a concerted campaign that touched down in seven U.S. and Canadian cities.

In the early decades of the Jewish state, Israelis abandoning the homeland were scorned as weaklings, traitors and “yordim,” those “going down” from the peaks of Israel to the depth of the Diaspora.

Ostracism didn’t work in stemming the outflow, and for some time the Israeli government has been wooing, rather than denigrating, the growing number of Israelis abroad. Boim’s North American tour, toward the end of last year, represented Israel’s strongest signal yet of its earnest intent to welcome its departed sons and daughters back into the family fold.

For any campaign, it is useful to know the size of your target audience, but pinning down the number of Israeli expatriates in any given country or city is the despair of demographers. Do you count only native Israelis or include those who, for example, went from Russia to Israel, became citizens but then moved on to Europe or the United States? And what about the American-born children and grandchildren of Israelis?

During an interview at the Israeli consulate, Boim offered a relatively straightforward criterion: All holders of Israeli passports, including those with dual citizenship, are considered Israelis.

Boim, who should know, estimated that there are 700,000 to 1 million Israeli expats in the world, of whom some 600,000 are in North America, including 150,000 to 200,000 in the Los Angeles area. Some local Israelis maintain there are as many as 300,000 of their compatriots in Los Angeles, which would represent more than half of all Jews here.

More realistically, Boim’s ministry has given out considerably lower figures than the boss, and local demographer Bruce Phillips of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) insisted that the count is completely out of line, with only 26,000 Israelis in the Los Angeles area.

Whatever the number, Boim argued that the key to luring back expats lies in providing decent jobs, and that Israel’s strong economy, especially in the high-tech sector, is in a position to offer such employment.

In each of the cities Boim visited and after his pep talk, seriously interested expats could talk to specialists from his ministry and private industry about jobs, establishing businesses, housing, government assistance and liaison with local Israeli consulates.

Although the expats, classified as “returning residents,” would not receive as much government aid as new immigrants, Boim held out inducements in the form of tax relief, cutting bureaucratic red tape and even deferment from mandatory military service. Additional sweeteners are reserved for those willing to settle in the underpopulated Galilee and Negev regions.

The “come back home” push aims for long-range, not immediate, results, Boim said. He cited the return of some 6,000 expats in 2005 as a promising sign. On the flip side, however, around 8,000 to 9,000 Israelis left for overseas residence during the same year.

A large majority of those attending the Los Angeles meeting with Boim came on a look-see basis, but about 10 percent stayed to talk about the nuts and bolts of returning home.

Among them was Angie Geffen, the American-born daughter of Israeli parents, who traveled from Scottsdale, Ariz., with her husband, Amir, an Israeli electrical engineer.

Contacted a week after the meeting, she was bubbling over with enthusiasm, praising the excellent organization and helpfulness of Boim’s support staff. She said the meeting had saved her weeks of research.

“We’ll move in a couple of months,” she said confidently.

During a follow-up call two months later, Geffen had come down from her high. She complained about protracted disputes with Israeli housing authorities about obtaining land and shelter for her and 32 other families in a Galilee community.

She, her husband and their young son still hope to leave for Israel before Passover, “but we will have to rethink our finances,” she said.

Another participant was “Ehud,” a 31-year-old teacher at a Jewish day school here, who left Israel as a child and asked that his real name not be used. Ehud said he was impressed by Boim’s talk but not by a 10-minute follow-up interview with one of the minister’s assistants.

“When I talked about available job opportunities in Israel, I was told, ‘We’ll try to find you something when you get there,'” Ehud said. When he pressed the matter, the interviewer told him, “We don’t start the process until you get there.”

Ehud still wants to marry and start a family in Israel, but he might first visit on his own to check out the job situation.

What keeps Israelis in the Diaspora, and what draws them back home? The individual answers and motivations differ, but talks with expats yield some common themes: The big draw in coming to the United States is almost always economic opportunity. The big pull to return is the sense of social intimacy and togetherness few expats can find elsewhere, and the worry that their children and grandchildren will lose their feeling of Israeli connectedness.

Ravit Markus is an independent producer who dreamed of going to Hollywood while a film student at Tel Aviv University.

Since arriving here more than two years ago, she has produced some well-received documentaries, most recently, “Yiddish Theater: A Love Story,” in collaboration with fellow expat, director Dan Katzir, and she is now turning her hand to a romantic comedy.

Now in her late 20s, Markus considers herself quite typical of the local expats, both in their ambitions and conflicts.

Eighth ‘Crazy Night’ for Jewish punks


A unique combination of mosh pits and hora dancing was one of the many cultural clashes during the last leg of the “Eight Crazy Nights” tour.

Local punk bands brought their own followers to the Workmen’s Circle on Robertson Boulevard, and a swarm of people flooded the building as the lights dimmed and the stage settled. Members of the Australian group, Yidcore, passed out kippot to the crowd, and once the last Chanukah candle was lit, the band launched into a cacophonous “Salaam” and “Mao Tzur.”

It was unclear who was there for the punk and who was there for the Judaism, but everyone seemed to be there for the music.

Hosted and funded by Workmen’s Circle, the seemingly unlikely marriage of Judaism and punk brought bands like Yidcore, Oakland’s Jewdriver and the Zydepunks from New Orleans to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood on Dec. 22, the last night of Chanukah.

The idea was “to put culture back into punk,” said Aaron Brickman, the Workmen’s Circle youth programmer who envisioned the tour last Purim.

But “Eight Crazy Nights” provided more than punk with a Jewish face. It was also intended as a vehicle to expose Jews to different ways of being Jewish and to engage a more culturally diverse audience to the high-intensity music of punk rock, Brickman said.

The tour started on Dec. 15 in San Francisco, before moving on to punk venues in Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Las Vegas, Tucson, San Diego and Pomona.

As the intensity of the music increased at the Workmen’s Circle, the crowd’s energy grew. It didn’t take long for a slab of hummus from the snack table to end up across the room and on several fans, creating what can only be described as a “nosh pit.”

The madness continued with the Manischewitz-drinking melodies of Jewdriver, and the show wrapped with the klezmer tunes of the Zydepunks.

One of the main values of the religion is to constantly challenge convention, said Brickman, a University of Judaism graduate who added that Jewish punk rock can provide a unique path that is both educational and enjoyable.

Although at times the lyrics were drowned out by yelling and screaming, Jewish punk appears to offer its own very clear message that this ancient religion can continue to survive through continuous reinterpretation and musical transformation.

Web links:

‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.yidcore.com

‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.zydepunks.com

Coast-to-coast U.S. tour trumpets Philharmonic anniversary


Since the festivities kicked off in mid-December with a series of concerts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has been celebrating its 70th anniversary in style, hosting appearances by many of the orchestra's friends from over the years.

The celebration continues with an American tour stopping in New York, San Francisco and, on Feb. 5-6, Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“Everybody who is here has a history with the orchestra,” Avi Shoshani, the flamboyant secretary general of the orchestra, said the day before the celebration's Dec. 26 gala in Tel Aviv. “I want the orchestra's friends to be here … the music making is for real here.

People come here because they want to be here for the music, for Israel and whatever that stands for. Each of them is what we call a mensch.”

Indeed, that roster of mensches included violinists Maxim Vengerov and Gil Shaham; cellist Mischa Maisky; pianists Yefim Bronfman and Evgeny Kissin; conductors Lorin Maazel, Gustavo Dudamel and Valery Gergiev, and Daniel Barenboim on double duty as both conductor and pianist.

The festive gala concert at Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium marked the anniversary of the orchestra's inaugural concert in 1936 and opened with celebratory excitement as Zubin Mehta, the orchestra's music director for life, conducted Pinchas Zukerman in the Bruch Violin Concerto.

When Zukerman began to play, the sound of his virtuosic violin rose into the air like a fiery klezmer from the past, with all the humor and musical interplay that only old friends can produce. The music was completely and irrepressibly Jewish, and at times conductor, orchestra and soloist seemed on the verge of laughter. Zukerman swayed with his violin in time with the conductor's baton, all the while grinning mischievously.

Outside it was raining, but inside the auditorium the thunder was from the enthusiastic applause of a delighted audience.

Next, maestro Mehta conducted a bombastic and decidedly unorthodox rendition of Ravel's “La Valse” that sent the critics screaming. Yet for a gala concert, it proved a crowd-pleasing treat.

The concert concluded with Barenboim at the piano performing Brahms First Piano Concerto in D Minor, with the audience reveling in a performance both strong and majestic and rising to their feet at the conclusion with a loud ovation.

After many bows and congratulations, Mehta wheeled out an enormous cake lit with 70 candles, as the orchestra struck up an impromptu “Happy Birthday to You.”

The American tour portion of the celebration begins in New York's Carnegie Hall on Jan. 30, with Maazel conducting Beethoven's Violin Concerto, featuring soloist Vengerov; Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3 and Mussorgsky's “Pictures at an Exhibition.” On Feb. 1, Mehta will conduct Weber's Der Freischütz Overture, Mahler's “Rückert Lieder” and Berlioz' “Symphonie Fantastique.”

On Feb. 4 the tour continues at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall, where Mehta will conduct Beethoven's Leonore Overture, Schoenberg's “Verklärte Nacht” and reprise Berlioz' “Symphonie Fantastique” from the Carnegie Hall appearance.

The tour comes to Los Angeles' for two nights, with Mehta repeating the San Francisco program on the first night, followed on the second by Maazel conducting Mendelssohn's Fourth Symphony and the Hebrides Overture, Tchaikovsky's “Romeo and Juliet”

Click the BIG ARROW to view the IPO perform the Fourth Movement of Berlioz' 'Symphony Fantastique'

Noteworthy sessions and events at the G.A.


SUNDAY, NOV. 12
10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Tour of the Skirball Cultural Center
Note: Tour leaves from Westin Bonaventure and returns to the L.A. Convention Center.

2:30 p.m.
Opening Plenary: “One People, One Destiny, One Great Day in November”
Greetings: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Keynote Speaker: Israel Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Breakout Session: “We Are Not Alone: Allies in Making the Case for Israel”
Speakers: Joe Hicks, vice president of Community Advocates, Inc., and former executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission; Randy Neal, California regional director, Christians United for Israel; and Nancy Coonis, superintendent of Secondary Schools for the L.A. Archdiocese

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Jewish Learning: Activism and Social Justice”
Speaker: Rabbi Miriyam Glazer of the University of Judaism

MONDAY, NOV. 13
8:30 a.m.-9:45 a.m.
Plenary: “The Jewish Future: Where We Are as a People”
Moderator: Dr. Beryl Geber, associate executive vice president of policy development, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los AngelesSpeakers: Rabbi Norman Cohen, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Dr. Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary; and Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University in New York

10:15 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Plenary: “Emerging Global Realities and the Challenge of Radical Islam”
Speakers: Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International; and Bernard-Henri Lévy, author of “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” and “American Vertigo: Traveling in the Footsteps of Tocqueville”

2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Media Lessons Learned From the War”

Speakers: Aviv Shir-On, deputy director general for media and public affairs, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Jeffrey Goldberg, New Yorker staff writer and author, “Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide;” and Irit Atsmon, former Deputy IDF spokesman

2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Anti-Zionism as the New Anti-Semitism”
Moderator: Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
Speakers: Steven Emerson, executive director of The Investigative Project; Aviva Raz-Shechter, director, Department of Anti-Semitism & Holocaust Issues, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Charles Small, director, Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, Yale University

3:45 p.m.-5 p.m.
Plenary: “Challenges of the Jewish People at the Beginning of the 21st Century”
Speaker: Likud Chairman and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Dr. Irwin Cotler, Canadian MP

8:15 p.m.- 10 p.m.
Event: “A Once in a Lifetime Evening at Walt Disney Concert Hall”

Background: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music will co-host a concert of Jewish music at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The program will include selections by Leonard Bernstein and Kurt Weill. Performers include Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy, Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, an 85-member chorus and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Gerard Schwarz.

TUESDAY, NOV. 14
8:30 a.m.-10 a.m.
Plenary: “Challenges and Opportunities: Israel 2006”
Moderator: Judge Ellen M. Heller, president, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Speakers: Israel Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog and Israel Education Minister Yuli Tamir
Special Guest: Moshe Oofnik, Sesame Street Workshop

2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Understanding Islam: Current Trends”
Speakers: Menahem Milson, professor of Arabic studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and chairman of The Middle East Media Research Institute; Norman Stillman, professor and chair of Judaic history, University of Oklahoma; Irshad Manji, author, “The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith”

2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Working to Save Darfur”
Speakers: John Fishel, president, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, co-founder, Jewish World Watch; and Ruth Messinger, president/executive director, American Jewish World Service

4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Plenary: “The New Frontlines: Facing the Future Together”
Keynote Speaker: Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15
8:30 a.m.-Noon
Meeting: “Translating the GA Into Action: Open Board of Trustees & Delegate Assembly Forum”
Goal: Coming up with an action plan based on issues addressed at GA.

Come dive with me — Israeli skydivers training in SoCal


You do it … you can never go back,” Israeli Sharon Har-noy said recently of her passion for the sport of skydiving. She and teammate Adi Freid met with a reporter during a break from training at Perris Valley Skydiving, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Har-noy and Freid make up the only all-female Israeli skydive team in the advanced category, which includes just six teams. They came to Perris to prepare for their nationals, set for April 2007, and hopefully the world competition in Australia to follow. Their U.S. training tour, sponsored by Israeli American Dr. Avraham Kadar and his company, BrainPOP.com, included stops at Skydive Cross Keys in New Jersey, Skydive Arizona Eloy, as well as Perris, before they returned to Israel Oct. 19.

The team’s home drop zone, Paradive, at Habonim Beach, between Haifa and Tel Aviv, is only open four days a week, and it lacks the opportunities available in the United States. At Perris, they trained seven days a week on faster planes that could carry more people, and they utilized a wind tunnel that simulated skydiving. The teammates said that during one week of training at Perris, they got in 70 jumps and made progress that would have taken them at least three months in Israel.

In Israel, the pair train on the weekends. During the week, Freid is a senior psychology major at Tel Aviv University and Har-noy produces animated films for BrainPOP.com, an education service.

The pair, both now 24, met about 3 1/2 years ago at Paradive and became quick friends. They had both done diving before — Har-noy took her first jump at the drop zone after high school and continued on weekend breaks from the army, while Freid’s first skydiving experience was in New Zealand, during her post-military travels in 2002.

“Two girls in the drop zone, we had to get together and start jumping,” Freid said.

About a year ago, while on a trip to Perris, they met manager Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, a world champion diver who is also Jewish, suggested they team up and start competing.

“To be a good skydiver you have to jump with someone good, and if there is no good people in the drop zone, then nobody can get ahead,” Har-noy said.

Among those helping them prepare is coach David Gershfeld.

“They have that finesse that … drive and energy … to get better and actively progress,” Gershfeld said.

Freid and Har-noy say the sport is safe, more so, they argue, than driving a car.And while Paradive closed for a month during the recent war, both women say they didn’t feel threatened.

“Maybe it’s easier to skydive in Israel because you are used to being afraid, or used to being in dangerous situations. Skydiving really isn’t that dangerous,” Freid said.

— Sara Bakhshian, Contributing Writer

Russian Singer Goes From Defector to Cantor


“I was born in the 1960s into a typical Soviet Jewish family,” says Svetlana Portnyansky. “We never went to synagogue, never were religious. At family events at home, we sang Jewish songs sometimes, but we’d close all the doors to make sure no one heard us.”

Given Portnyansky’s non-Jewish upbringing, it’s odd that this interview is taking place at Newport Beach’s Temple Isaiah, where she’s the cantor. How did she go from being a popular singer in the Soviet Union to a defector who had to leave her family behind, to a cantor at a shul in Orange County?

Like just about everything else in Portnyansky’s life, the answer has to do with music. Her father was “a musician at heart” who made a living as an industrial engineer in Moscow. “He taught me piano,” she says. “I grew up with music and absorbed it in my soul. I knew that I was born to be a professional singer. So I went to the Moscow Conservatory of Music, graduated with honors and became a singer who specializes in Jewish songs.”

After graduating, she was invited to sing at the Moscow Jewish Theater. This was in the late 1980s, during Perestroika, and it was the theater’s grand reopening after having been closed for 40 years.

“I sang a solo concert,” Portnyansky says, “and my musical career took off. I became a public figure, sang on nationwide radio and television. It was wonderful to be popular, but it was also dangerous: I received threatening letters saying things like, ‘Jews are supposed to be in Israel. Go home! This is our country!'”

Portnyansky felt it was time to leave. “I didn’t see any future for myself in the Soviet Union. I couldn’t see how I was going to live that way, being threatened. Besides, I’d always wanted to go to America.”

Ever since she was a little girl, she says, she dreamed of coming to the United States. “My parents used to get a magazine called Amerika. It had photos and articles about the U.S. In my mind I was already there, from the first grade.”
The opportunity came in 1991, during the last throes of the Soviet Union: She received an invitation from the U.S government to do a concert tour.

“My musicians and I got theatrical exchange visas. I knew I was going to defect. I talked it over with my family. I said to them, ‘It’s our only chance. I have to take it now.’ They understood. They blessed me.” Portnyansky was in her mid-20s then, with a 4-year-old son who stayed in Moscow with her husband and her parents.

“In the U.S. we had some very successful concerts, East Coast to West Coast. The tour lasted two months. When it was over, I told my musicians I would go back [to the Soviet Union], but not just yet. Of course, I knew I wasn’t going back.”

She defected, and during those first few months in New York it was very difficult not being with her family. But she had some money, and she had friends who let her stay in their place. “That was the hardest time of my life,” she says. “I called my family very often. It was also a period of concern, whether I would make the right choices. I was determined not to do certain things, like wash dishes or sing at a restaurant.”

After much thought, she decided to pursue a second Jewish musical track, one that paralleled her pop singing career: She would study to become a cantor at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary.

In order to become a legal resident of the United States, she contacted the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and told them that she could not go back to the Soviet Union. She showed them the threatening letters she’d received. HIAS took up her case.

During the months she was in New York without her family, Portnyansky got word that her father had died in Moscow. She couldn’t risk going to the funeral. “I didn’t have the green card,” she says. “I was afraid I might not be permitted to come back to the United States.”

But in early 1992, Portnyansky’s family found a way to join her: Her husband, son and mother came to the United States on tourist visas. They moved to Southern California, where Portnyansky gave birth to a second son and continued her cantorial studies.

During the early 1990s, though she was not yet a legal resident, HIAS’s advocacy bore results: She was permitted to work in the U.S. She gave “jazzy, cabaret-style” concerts; and, after completing her liturgical training, she started to work as a cantor. “I was busy at that time,” she says. “My only problem was that I couldn’t leave the United States.”

Getting her green card took more than five years. She later found out that the process had been delayed because her file had been lost. After Portnyansky became a legal resident in 1996, her first trip was to Israel. Since then she’s continued her dual career: cantor in Newport Beach … and

Happy Birthday from Berlin


At precisely 8 a.m. one day last year, I was awakened by a phone call. When I picked up the receiver, I heard a man’s voice say “Happy Birthday from Berlin.”

Since I
knew no one there who could possibly know my birthday, I took it to be a practical joke. But it wasn’t. The caller was Ruediger Nemitz, an official of the Senate of the Federal State of Berlin calling to invite me to come “home” as a guest of my native city.

Along with some other German cities, Berlin, since 1969, has had a program to invite “former Berlin citizens who were persecuted or forced to emigrate during the National Socialist period.” By the time I received my call, more than 33,000 former Berliners had been invited, and now, finally, it was my turn. I left Berlin in 1933, when I was just 3 years old, and I have visited the city a number of times as an adult on business, but I had no memories of my life there. I accepted the invitation and considered it a wonderful birthday present.

When my wife and I reached the London airport en route to our Berlin flight last spring, we noticed a small cluster of people with luggage tags similar to ours.

“Those must be our people,” I said to my wife, and went over to introduce myself. They were, indeed, part of our group, and we quickly played “Jewish geography.” As it happened, one of the couples lived within a block of my first London home after leaving Germany, and another, now thoroughly British, knew Los Angeles well, having worked there on several movies, most notably the James Bond series.

We were all roughly the same age, and at least one member of each couple was a Berlin native. Our group of 84 came from nine countries, with the “U.S. delegation” numbering just eight. The largest group came from Israel, followed by Chile, Argentina, England, South Africa, Australia, Canada and Belgium.

Our common origin notwithstanding, we all had become totally assimilated into the countries in which we live, and we stuck together with those who spoke our language. Moreover, I found it remarkable that we all got along well, and that there was not a single “kvetch” among us.

Yet we all came to Germany with our own “baggage.” Some knew the country from previous visits or military duty and felt no animosity toward the present generation of Germans. Others, a number of whom had lost family members or experienced Nazi atrocities themselves, were still bitter and unforgiving. Still others had lived a life of denial in their new homelands and didn’t want to admit their origins, even to themselves.

Our program included several receptions with speeches by senior government officials — all women. They expressed their gratitude that we returned to a city from which, as Mayor Karin Schubert put it, “you were driven away … exposed to profound hostility … humiliated, excluded and persecuted.”

One speaker characterized the Berlin Jewish community as “a piece of the mosaic that makes up our history” and emphasized the importance to the city of today’s Jewish community, which numbers approximately 30,000. Schubert also said that the city goes to great lengths to promote integration among various groups, including the Muslim community.

“We made mistakes in the past,” she said, “believing that different cultures can live peacefully in parallel. We have learned that integration is essential!”

Nevertheless, I found it quite remarkable that today’s Berlin contains so many reminders of the Nazi regime. Among them a billboard in front of a railway station listing the names of concentration camps to which Berlin’s Jews were deported, and so-called “Stolpersteine” (copper memorials in the shape of cobblestones) embedded in the sidewalk in front of the former homes of many Nazi victims. Our tours included these and many other important landmarks of “Jewish Berlin.”

My most indelible memories, however, are focused on three extraordinary experiences.

Visit With a German Family

We spent one afternoon with a German family, Cato and Annette Dill, two young lawyers who live in a delightful home in a Berlin suburb with their two children — their daughter, Benita, 18, and son, Dario, 14. All speak English well and have traveled widely.

Cato, 49, is treasurer of the Liebermann Society, which operates the country mansion of the German Jewish expressionist painter, Max Liebermann. Together we visited this spectacular home, filled with the artist’s paintings and located on the shores of Lake Wannsee — not far from where the site of the infamous conference where the “The Final Solution of the Jewish Problem” was planned.

The mansion and its gardens have been beautifully restored and only recently opened to the public. Our time together ended at the Dill home, where we got an insight, if ever so brief, into a sophisticated young German family whose interests and values were similar to ours and far removed from the Germany of the Third Reich.

Shabbat Dinner

By sheer coincidence, the daughter-in-law of my oldest friend was in Berlin on business during our stay. Leah Salter is an observant woman who lives with her family in Alon Shvut, an Orthodox community in Israel. We arranged to meet her for Shabbat dinner at the glatt kosher restaurant Gabriel, located in the Jewish Community Center on Fasanenstrasse. The center occupies the lot on which Berlin’s largest synagogue stood prior to its destruction on Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938. Of that synagogue only a portion of the entrance arch remains and now frames the entrance to the center.

Leah and my wife, Barbara, began the evening by lighting and blessing the Sabbath candles, and we continued with my celebrating Kiddush. The restaurant has only about a dozen tables, and each was set in Sabbath finery, with starched white table linen. As the evening progressed, other family groups arrived, and the head of each household celebrated Kiddush at his table. Judging by the melodies they chanted, they were most likely from Eastern Europe.

The menu was traditional Eastern European: chicken soup, chopped liver, chicken and so on. But that was the least important element of the evening. I was deeply touched by the spirit of Shabbat, which was palpable, and the realization that here we were, all survivors, celebrating “Shabbos” on the very spot the Nazis had chosen to eliminate us. What a demonstration of “Am Yisrael Chai!” (the people of Israel live.)

Jewish Resistance Fighters

The final day of our tour began with a visit to Weissensee Cemetery. Since I believed I had no family members buried there, I remained near the entrance and admired some of the monuments to holocaust victims and Berlin’s Jewish aristocracy.

My lonesome vigil was soon interrupted by one of our guides, Caroline Naumann, a young woman active in Berlin’s nascent Jewish community, who approached me saying “Come, I want to show you something.” She led me a short distance to a memorial honoring about two-dozen young German Jewish men and women in their 20s who rose up against the Nazis during the war. They were members of a movement similar to the “White Rose” student uprising and, tragically, all were shot.

Among this small group, were three who bore my family name of Rothholz. Although I have no idea whether they were relatives or not, they made me feel very proud.

Some Final Thoughts

At our farewell reception in the ballroom of the Jewish Community Center, Dr. Otto Lampe, director of the “homecoming” program, promised to do everything in his power “to keep alive the memory of the Nazi terror and to pass it on to future generations.”

Dr. Gideon Jaffe, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany suggested that “we Jews are a warning system, because we are often the first victims of crimes, but usually not the only ones.” He concluded by saying “I hope you have convinced yourselves that Germany has changed a lot, and changed for the better.”

I, for one, left Berlin convinced.

Peter Rothholz, who headed his own Manhattan-based public relations agency, now lives in Santa Monica and East Hampton, NY and is a frequent contributor to Jewish publications.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 19th

Now extended through Sept. 30 is the Marvin Chernoff play, “Chaim’s Love Song.” In it, a 74-year-old Jewish man tells his life stories, tall tales and musings to a young blonde Iowan girl, whom he meets on a Brooklyn park bench.

Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 700-4878. ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.historychannel.com.

Monday the 21st

We can’t resist a clever promotion, nor free matzah balls for that matter. Head to Canter’s Deli today to partake in both. In honor of the DVD release of the Passover comedy, “When Do We Eat?” they’ll be setting the Guinness Book record for making the largest matzah ball ever. Moreover, those wishing to view the gargantuan ball may also partake of their own. There will be free matzah ball soup for all, between the hours of 10 a.m. and noon, and the band Chutzpah will also perform.

10 a.m.-noon. 419 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles.

Tuesday the 22nd

Enjoy live acoustic music by David Shepherd Grossman at the Sportsmen’s Lodge Muddy Moose Bar Tuesday nights. The guitarist plays Cat Stevens, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, as well as his own Grossman tunes. Then go for a stroll among the swans.

Tuesdays, 7-10 p.m. 12825 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 755-5000.

Wednesday the 23rd

Judging the album by its cover is encouraged at Tobey C. Moss Gallery. “We’ve Got You Covered” is their new exhibition (curated by RockPoP Gallery) of iconic album cover art. More than 40 works by prominent graphic artists and photographers in the music business are on view, including covers created for Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and Greenday.

Opening reception is Aug. 19. Through Sept. 7. 7321 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 933-5523.netflixroadshow@bwr-la.com. 8 p.m. 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach. “>www.soundNet.org.

Summer Tours to Israel Rerouted, But Not By Much


Most summers, the trip to the Naot Sandal factory on a kibbutz close to Israel’s northern border is a highlight of the teen tours run by United Synagogue Youth (USY). But this summer, with the north under constant threat of rocket attacks, the 400 USYers stayed in the central and southern part of the country, and Naot came to them, with a special sale near USY’s base in Jerusalem.

That was one of the easier adjustments to a constantly changing itinerary for USY kids and the other estimated 6,000 American teens on tours in Israel this summer.

“All of us that have kids in Israel are trying to make the best of the situation,” said Jules Gutin, international director for USY, the youth arm of the Conservative movement, which has about 50 California teens in Israel this summer. “We want the experience to be worthwhile and positive, as well as safe.”

So while kids may be missing out on trips to the Golan Heights, to the kabbalistic city of Tsfat, the Banias natural pools or Maimonides’ grave in Tiveria, tours are making up for it with extra time in Jerusalem and challenging hikes through the Negev.

Few Kids Have Returned Home

Most tours departed the United States before the violence escalated in Israel, and most of the teens have stayed. USY reports that as of early this week, three kids went home, and Young Judaea has a similar count, with six kids out of 470 being summoned home. Three of the 390 students on NCSY’s Europe and Israel trip did not continue on from Europe to Israel.

The Orthodox Union canceled a trip scheduled to leave this week with its Yad b’Yad program, where 15 developmentally and physically disabled adults were to be accompanied by 35 teenage counselors on a four-week tour of Israel.

Administrators worried about heightening participants’ anxiety, and about difficulties rerouting the group, or moving it quickly in case of emergency. The day before the trip, it was recast as a West Coast tour.

Israel Experience, the educational tourism arm of the Jewish Agency for Israel, coordinates programming and security for most of the trips that leave from North America.

“Trips are being rerouted based on the current situation, and it’s an hour-by-hour reevaluation,” said Rachel Russo, director of marketing for Israel Experience.

IDF, Police, Jewish Agency Monitor Tourist Itineraries

Israel Experience adjusts the groups’ schedules according to recommendations it gets from a situation room staffed by representatives from the Israeli army, the Israeli police, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Jewish Agency. Each teen tour group that signs up with Israel Experience — and most do — is tracked by GPS.

“They are really fluid in moving the groups when they need to move,” said Russo, whose daughter is in Israel with Ramah Seminar this summer.

Program operators have also been working overtime to keep in constant communication with parents. Young Judaea is sending out three email updates daily, in addition to photos and journals on its Web site. USY increased updates from the usual weekly to daily, and someone is available to answer parents concerns at all times.

Most teens also have cell phones with them, so parents are kept in the loop. So far, while parents have expressed concern, few are panicking. And by all reports, the kids themselves seem to be having a great time.

Bonnie Sharfman, whose 16-year-old, Zach, is on a trip with Nesiya, says she hopes the visit will have a lasting impact.

“We are choosing to look at this situation as an amazing learning experience for Zach and hope that he will return home in a month with much to say regarding the social, political and economic realities of Israel and the region,” she said.

— JGF

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday, July 1
In time for summertime, the Skirball has rekindled its weekly Café Z live music series. Take advantage today, and head down to groove to Elliott Caine Quintet’s Afro-Cuban jazz beats. According to Caine’s Web site, KCRW’s Bo Leibowitz described him as a “terrific trumpet player, bandleader and composer … deserving of wider recognition.”

Noon-2 p.m. Free. Zeidler’s Café, Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

 

Sunday, July 2
Miami City Ballet whoops it up for its 20th anniversary, with its tour of performances of signature pieces by Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Twyla Tharp. Included are Robbins’ classic “Fancy Free,” which was the inspiration for the musical, “On the Town,” and Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” accompanied, as you might’ve guessed, by songs by the blue-eyed crooner.

June 30-July 2. $25-$95. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500

Monday, July 3
Shaken or stirred, the martini is more than a drink today. It is a symbol. Sculptor Thomas Mann asked artists to riff on it, reinterpreting the conical glass’ shape and context. “The Martini Show” premiered in New Orleans as a benefit for Craft Emergency Relief Fund. It runs here at Altered Space Gallery, through July 24.

Contemporary art+craft+design, 1221 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 452-8121

Tuesday, July 4
What goes great with burgers and dogs? Your radio dial tuned to 89.9 KCRW-FM. Its special Independence Day programming features “a day of music by American artists who embrace the spirit of independence.” The lineup of musical patriots includes Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Roy Orbison, Patti Smith and the Dixie Chicks. The presentations feature music as well as interview clips and other materials.

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Wednesday, July 5
Collapsing just moments after a performance of his stirring trio, “In memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich,” at the Jewish Music Commission concert last month, professor Joseph Dorfman was unable to be revived. He died at age 65. In his memory, a concert will be held this evening at Valley Beth Shalom, to benefit the newly founded fund in his name.

7:30 p.m. Free (general), $15 (reserved seats). 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P., (818) 788-6000.

Thursday, July 6
Gay lovers struggle to deal with their oppressive societies against the backdrop of World War II France in the case of “A Love to Hide (Un Amour à Taire),” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the case of “Zero Degrees of Separation.” The two films are part of this year’s Outfest 24th Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which begins today.

Times, prices and screening venues vary by film. Abovementioned films screen at Directors Guild Theatre, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

Friday, July 7
More lovers caught on opposite sides of the political fence emerge in the film, “Only Human.” Opening today, the Spanish production tells the farcical tale of Jewish Leni, who brings home her boyfriend, Rafi, to meet the folks. But madness ensues when they find out Rafi is Palestinian.

Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino. (818) 981-9811. Laemmle One Colorado, Pasadena. (626) 744-1244. www.laemmle.com” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Israel Launches First Underwater Museum


It was the largest, most impressive port in the Roman Empire when it was inaugurated in 10 B.C.E. And some 2,016 years later, the ancient port of Caesarea — along the Mediterranean coast of Israel — was inaugurated again last month, this time as the world’s first underwater museum.

Divers can now don their wetsuits and tour the sign-posted remains of the magnificent harbor built by King Herod to honor his Roman patron, Caesar Augustus. The site has been excavated over the last three decades by a team led by the late professor Avner Raban of the University of Haifa’s Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies.

It’s not your ordinary museum tour. Visitors float from one “exhibit” to the next, marveling in silence at the untouched remains of a once-glorious harbor: a Roman shipwreck, a ruined lighthouse, an ancient breakwater, the port’s original foundations, anchors, pedestals.

“It’s a truly unique site,” said Sarah Arenson, a University of Haifa maritime historian and participant in the project. “This port was built as the state-of-the-art port of the Roman Empire, and made the other ports of the time, including those of Rome, Alexandria and Piraeus, look small and out-of-date by comparison.”

Arenson notes that the port is also unique today: “There are no other ancient ports in the world that are accessible to ordinary divers,” she said.

Some such ports are restricted to authorized scientists. Others may be open to any diver, but would be meaningless to such visitors “because,” Arenson explained, “all you would see is a bunch of stones.”

At Caesarea, divers view some 28 different sign-posted sites along four marked trails in the sunken harbor covering an area of 87,000 square yards. Divers are given a waterproof map that describes in detail each of the numbered sites along the way (currently maps are in English and Hebrew; within a few months they will be available in six additional languages). One trail is also accessible to snorkelers; the others, less than eight yards below the surface, close to the beach, are appropriate for any beginner diver.

And what does the visitor see?

In a sense, an abrogated history of this once prominent port town — from its entrance at sea (about 100 meters from the current shoreline) to the Roman shipwreck that signaled the demise of the port — probably due to an earthquake — about a century after its construction, researchers believe. And, in between, divers can view the remnants of the original foundations that made this harbor one of the wonders of the Roman Empire.

“This port was built using the knowledge and technology of Roman engineers,” said University of Haifa maritime historian Nadav Kashtan, a member of the team that excavated the site.

The port was built with a type of hydraulic cement, invented by the Romans, known as pozzolana.

“The Romans found that when they take the volcanic powder found around Mount Vesuvius and mix it with lime and rubble, the substance hardens in water,” Kashtan said. “This hydraulic concrete was imported to Casearea and used to fill wooden frames which were then lowered into the water to lay the foundations for the port.”

Two such frames were found, one almost perfectly intact, and are on view today.

Kashtan noted that thousands of men were recruited — both from Rome and locally — to build the port in the course of 12 years. Among them were many divers, who descended simply holding their breath, or possibly in a diving bell.

The Roman city of Caesarea was built on the ruins of a decaying Phoenician town called Straton’s Tower. Its builder, Herod, who also built the Second Temple of Jerusalem, was considered one of the most magnificent builders of the Roman era, Kashtan notes.

The Jewish king built the town — given to him as a present by Augustus — into a grand, fortified city that served as the capital of the Roman province of Judea for about 600 years.

The underwater park was developed with the financial support of the Caesarea Development Corporation.

Israel has long been known as a diver’s mecca because of the rainbow of corals and exotic fish found off the coast of the Red Sea resort of Eilat. But the country has more than two-dozen other diving sites along the Mediterranean coast — from the unique maze of chalky white caves of Rosh Hanikra in the north, to a collection of shipwrecks dotting the coast as far south as Ashkelon.

The sunken port of Caesarea — with its ancient sites and modern explanations — is sure to become one of the top underwater attractions.

Leora Eren Frucht is an associate editor of Israel21c.

 

Israeli Superstars Rock the Diaspora


Lo Ozev At Hair Avur Af Echad Anachnu Shnayim Tamid, Beneynu

(“I won’t leave the city/not for anyone/we are two, always/between us, one God.”)

— Shlomo Artzi and Shalom Chanoch, “Live at Caesaria”

Don’t believe everything you hear. Two of Israel’s greatest rockers — Shlomo Artzi and Shalom Chanoch — are leaving Israel, albeit briefly, pairing up for a joint three-concert tour to promote their new album, “Live at Caesaria,” in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, homes to Israel’s largest expat communities.

Although Israeli stars have toured America for years — consider Idan Reichl’s recent popularity at the Kodak Theatre — this tour will be the Israeli equivalent of say, Billy Joel and Elton John touring together. These two Israeli mega-singer/songwriters have produced hundreds of pop songs over more than four decades, and they continue to sell out concerts despite their advancing ages — both are nearing 60.

But unlike Joel and John, who are increasingly relegated to “soft rock” and appeal primarily to their original Gen-X and Baby Boomer fans, the Israeli rockers still enthrall their original fans from the 1960s and 1970s, even as they have captured the hearts of later generations. (This is particularly true of the blue-eyed, dimpled Artzi, who still draws a bevy of screaming, belly-shirted young things rushing the stage at his concerts.)

Part of the pair’s cross-generational appeal is, of course, due to the fact that Israel is a small country, without much room for niche markets: Rock is rock. (Not like America, with its hundreds of Grammy categories). But it’s also because the two men, in a way, are Israeli rock. No, they are Israel: Chanoch was born in 1946, and Artzi was born in 1948.

Chanoch jumped to fame when he teamed up with that other great Israeli star, Arik Einstein, in 1967. In the 1970s Chanoch became a star in his own right, but for the next years continued to write songs performed by other Israeli artists.

Artzi got his start in the army band and in 1975 was chosen to represent Israel at Eurovision. He lost the competition, and soon after recorded “He Lost His Way,” which was meant as a last hurrah, but instead reignited his career.

Each of the artists’ songs have flooded the radio waves for nearly five decades, a soundtrack, of sorts, to Israel’s many wars, casualties, celebrations, assassinations, and shifting moods — from hopeful to cynical and hopeful again.

“There has not ever been another man/like that man,” Artzi sang on the tribute album made following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, a song that became a mantra for the mourning peace camp.

In 1985 Chanoch came out with his humorous “Mashiach Lo Bah” — which became a pop sensation and later entered the lexicon, with its typically Israeli cynical chorus: “The Messiah isn’t coming — and he isn’t phoning, either.”

Neither artist’s lyrics seem particularly religious: (Consider Artzi’s song, “Here and There”: “Here and there the Messiah’s plane flits about/when will it land near us on the shore? She says: He who believes in lies will be disappointed.”) But their ironic faith reflects the tone of much Israeli culture. Many of their songs are about love, about friendship, about wars, and always with a little politics thrown in.

Last summer, Artzi and Chanoch performed together in the amphitheater in Caesaria, in Northern Israel. There, Chanoch played one of Artzi’s most popular songs. “Suddenly when you didn’t come/I felt like this.” Artzi later said it was best performance ever of the song. In turn, Artzi sang one of Chanoch’s songs, and a joint performance was born. After 42 performances in Israel, the duo comes to America (New York’s Beacon Theater on March 5; Miami on March 8; and Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre on March 11).

One problem with tribute albums, where artists sing another artist’s song, is that a fan has to be able to let go of the original version to appreciate strangers singing the familiar song. (Does one really want to hear Kate Bush singing “Rocket Man,” on the Elton John tribute album “Two Rooms”?)

It can be disconcerting to hear the two singing each other’s top hits on the album.

And yet, after five decades on the Israeli scene, their songs have become such a fabric of Israeli society, their fans overlapping, their voices sounding increasingly similar as age takes its toll (let’s not forget the smoking) that it seems somehow only fitting for Israel’s two great icons to merge their playlists.

And besides, in concert, they’re singing all the songs together.

Like this one, written by Chanoch, performed first by Einstein.

Kama Tov Shebata Habayta/Kama Tov Li’rot Otcha Shuv …

“How good it is that you’ve come home/How good it is to see you….”

The March 11 concert at the Kodak Theatre starts at 8:30 p.m. $47-$147. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. For tickets, call (213) 480-3232.

 

Teens Find Peace On and Off Stage


“We don’t care about politics; we just like each other,” says Shira Ben Yaakov, a cheerful brunette who is an eighth-grade student at Tel Aviv’s A.D. Gordon Junior High School.

Ben Yaakov is referring to Israeli-Arab friends she has met through the Peace Child Israel drama group, which meets weekly, alternating between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. The group consists of 20 Arab and Jewish teens from Jaffa and Tel Aviv, proof that friendship between Jews and Arabs can exist, even in post-Intifada Israel.

“Even though Arabs live close to me, I have never had the chance to get to know them. I have always been afraid of Arabs as a group and now I know this fear has been unjustified,” Ben Yaakov says.

Maya Smolian, another member of the group, says she was “thrilled” to meet Arab kids her age. Having the opportunity to perform together is just another incentive to be a part of the group.

Peace Child Israel was founded in 1988 by the late Israeli actress Yael Drouyanoff and uses theater and other art forms to encourage dialogue between teens who might otherwise never meet. So far, seven groups have been formed, pairing Jewish and Arab towns throughout Israel, among them Misgav-Sakhnin, Raanana-Qalanswa, and East and West Jerusalem.

In January, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa group toured the United States, visiting Philadelphia and communities throughout New Jersey. Their hosts were Jewish families in each of the cities, as well as students from Changing Our World (COW), a teen drama and arts group with similar methods and objectives. Students from the two countries bonded quickly.

Deb Chamberlin, a singer, songwriter and co-director of COW, initiated the venture. She contacted Peace Child after two visits to Israel, where she was touched by the country and its people.

“I looked to cooperate with a group similar to my own. Once I heard about Peace Child, I knew this was the group I was looking for,” she says. “When I returned to the States, I looked to share my feelings with other people, [to] let them know what Israel is all about.”

Chamberlin wrote Peace Child’s new anthem “The Time Has Come for Peace,” which the group sang on a Philadelphia television morning show and then subsequently recorded with help from some local singers.

“We made a beautiful CD and now wish to promote this anthem as a song for global tolerance and peace,” Chamberlin says.

The group’s original musical, “On the Other Side,” was also adapted for American audiences and has been performed in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The play is inspired by the students’ personal experiences in their native Israel and addresses the sensitive issue of Israel’s security fence from the teens’ point of view. The two groups found they share many of the same challenges in overcoming barriers between cultures.

“The COW group brings together students from different backgrounds,” Chamberlin explains. “Our group consists of Latin, Afro-American and Jewish students; they study in a public school of 3,000 students, most of whom are white Christian Americans. Before meeting with Peace Child, the students would usually socialize with their ‘own kind.’ When they witnessed the beautiful friendships that exist between the Jewish and Arab members of Peace Child, they realized what they were missing. As a matter of fact, many stereotypes were broken on that tour.”

“During one of our workshops, Hiba Salila an Arab student, admitted that before coming on the tour, she was convinced the Americans would prefer the Jewish students to the Arab ones,” Chamberlain says. “It surprised her when they didn’t. Another Jewish student says COW students form a bridge between Arab and Jewish students with their love for us.”

Language was not a barrier. “Though the Jewish kids had better English, the Arab students compensated with their Spanish, so they could all communicate,” Chamberlin says. “On the bus from Washington to northern New Jersey, the students cried because it was their last journey together. We promised to keep in touch and start making arrangements for our visit to Israel. The hosting families intend to help me found ‘The American Friends of Peace Child’. Knowing there are more people willing to work for the success of this project was quite a relief for me. I delivered this baby but now a whole new future awaits it.”

The 10-day tour culminated at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, where groups of American teens joined Peace Child along with an appreciative audience of 500.

“People were deeply touched by the show,” says Melisse Lewine-Boskowich, director of Peace Child, who noted that North Star, an African American teen group, and Intellectual Journey, a band of Jewish and Arab musicians working in the U.S., joined them on stage. “The tour opened many … opportunities for us and now the sky’s our limit.”

” target=”_blank”>http://www.thecowproject.com/

Sima Borkovski is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem.

 

Vienna Glories in Past and Present


Sixty years after the end of World War II, Vienna has reclaimed its roots as a city of culture. Not the culture of stoic monuments to faded glory or landmarks illuminated by historical plaques, but in a living, breathing, heart-still-pumping way. Grand-yet-graceful music, art and architecture are the lifeblood of this city and those fortunate enough to live here.

Strolling along the wide pedestrian mall of the Kartnerstrasse, you cannot help but feel swept up in the art and culture of this elegant city. The impressive architecture rises up and surrounds you as the beauty of the city embraces you.

As the sun sets on the Kartnerstrasse, Viennese girls window shop Euro chain stores for platform shoes and designer scruff denim, shadowed by elegant palaces that line the cobbled street. A girl plays Strauss on a grand piano. Down the street, a man plays a symphony on crystal glasses of water, as students in black tie and spiked hair saunter past with cellos. The street comes to life with people who seem to not be in a hurry to go anywhere in particular.

Music is at the heart of Vienna, and since 2006 is being celebrated as the Mozart Year in Austria, the most rewarding Mozart experience is the city that inspired him. By all means, visit Mozart’s statue and the house he lived in, but to really experience Mozart’s Vienna, wander the cobbled lanes like the Blutgasse, where Mozart lived and worked. While away a morning by lingering over café and strudel in a plush coffee house (complete with charmingly polite tuxedoed waiters).

The best way to discover Mozart here might be a night at the Vienna Opera. I was lucky enough to attend a performance of “The Magic Flute” during my visit, which was sponsored by Austria Tourism. This was classical Mozart through and through in terms of the music, but the performance was strikingly modern.

A minimalist industrial set was the backdrop for bearded ladies painted blue and dressed in 18th-century industrial corsetry, while the priests of Sarastro were done up in white, minimalist hazmat suits. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll concede, but that completely sums up a city that glories in its past but revels in its modernity.

Lets remember that Mozart was cutting-edge cool in his day. It’s fitting that this city still pushes the artistic envelope while embracing its artistic history. Vienna is a place where the elegant Hofburg Palace can stand alongside stunning Hundertwasser House.

Vienna’s influence as a cultural center also drew such Jewish composers as Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg and Alexander Zelimsky, in addition to numerous Jewish writers, actors, artists and doctors. And while the city’s Jewish history has been a tumultuous one — only 2,000 of the city’s pre-World War II population of 183,000 Jews survived the Shoah — Vienna today boasts a very active community of about 7,000 Jews.

The city features 15 synagogues (including a Sephardic congregation), a yeshiva, a Jewish museum and an office of Jewish Welcome Service. Most of Vienna’s Jews live in the city’s Second District, where you’ll find kosher supermarkets, butchers and restaurants.

The other must-see on any Austrian Mozart tour is the quaint city of his birth, Salzburg, where the Hohensalzberg fortress looms over the Salzach River, and the pastel shades of the shops in the Aldstadt are undeniably photogenic.

In Salzburg, you’ll have the opportunity to see the house where Mozart was born and visit the Mozart museum, which struggles to understand the composer’s genius. Both are worth a look, but the truly hot ticket in Salzburg is the Marionetten Theater, which regularly stages Mozart’s operas.

Appreciating the preservation of a centuries-old art is the key to enjoying Salzburg, a town that seems content to linger in its past. And provided that a look into a time capsule is all you expect, you may not be disappointed.

Jewishly speaking, Salzburg never fully recovered following the Holocaust. Only about 100 Jews inhabit the city, which features a single synagogue at Lasserstrasse 8. But despite its anti-Semitic reputation, the city was host to such Jewish luminaries as dramatists Max Reinhardt and Carl Zuckmayer, who were drawn to its Salzburg Festival and its cultural scene.

However, Mozart himself preferred the energy and vibrancy of cosmopolitan Vienna. Like a deep breath of fresh air, it’s a city that will make you sigh.

 

Lesson in Tolerance Seeks to Aid School


A group of students from Jefferson High School gathers around the tour guide, Jewish grandmother Diane Treister, at the Museum of Tolerance on a recent Friday morning.

While Treister talks about personal responsibility and respect, the students, many in jeans and T-shirts and carrying cellphones, chat among themselves, mostly in Spanish.

“This is going to be a tough group,” Treister whispers to an adult visitor. “You just hope the kids will remember what they see today. I try to tell them to be ambassadors of tolerance and to speak up. Because the Holocaust happened because no one spoke up.”

This tour is no typical high school field trip, with its predictable mix of unruly, disinterested teenagers. These students are here mainly because their school, Jefferson High, became a flash point last year for fights between Latino and African American students. The overcrowded, underperforming campus in South Los Angeles was 92 percent Latino, 7.5 percent black and, seemingly on a handful of occasions, nearly 100 percent out of control.

Since then, hundreds of students have transferred to a new school south of Jefferson, police have increased their campus presence and a new principal has taken charge. The school district also has arranged for human relations speakers to visit the campus.

Now, students are getting a special kind of training that officials hope will make a difference at school: They’re learning about human rights abuses and the fight for civil rights in the United States and, especially, about the Holocaust.

Throughout November and December, ninth graders from Jefferson High and eighth graders from Carver Middle School, which feeds into Jefferson, spent a day at the Museum of Tolerance, the educational arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

On this particular winter day, Treister leads the students into a room called the Millennium Machine, where they squeeze into six-person booths. Video monitors flash images of child abuse, including slavery, forced labor and pornography. The monitors ask, “What is the most common form of child abuse?”

The students overwhelmingly choose physical abuse. But they’re wrong. The answer is forced labor.

“I think it’s just sad,” says a girl with long brown hair, as she makes her way out of the room for the next exhibit. Here, 16 video monitors show historical film footage of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others fighting for civil rights.

Then, it’s time for the Holocaust section of the museum. Students sit on the floor, while Treister kneels, imploring them to pay special attention to this part of the tour. She explains anti-Semitism, using her own, expanded definition: “Anti-Semitism means hatred of Jews — and hatred of anyone of color.”

Two tall doors part, and the students walk into another room, where a reproduction of a Berlin street from the 1930s awaits. The ninth graders pass by a scene at a cafe, where sculpted figures sit at tables. A voiceover brings the scene to life, offering snippets of the cafe patrons’ conversations about the Nazis’ rise to power.

Less listless than before, the students eavesdrop on a recreation of the Wannsee Conference, where the Nazis determined that “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question” was to kill all Jews in German-controlled lands. In a Hall of Testimony that resembles a concentration camp gas chamber, students listen to survivors’ stories.

Leaving the exhibit, Treister asks, “Who was responsible for this?”

“Hitler,” a student says.

“Who else?” she asks.

“The people who followed Hitler,” answers Jose Albarran, 14.

“What could’ve been done?” Treister asks.

Tames’e Smith, 15, raises her hand and says: “Somebody standing up to make a difference.”

Smith seems to get the point of the tour. The question is how she, a girl who says she has grown weary of witnessing gang fights and parties “getting shot up,” will apply what she’s learned to life at school.

Ron Rubine, the 46-year-old head of Standing on Common Ground, an organization that trains students in peer relations, tried to make the connection.

“Today,” he told the students at the start of the tour, “is going to be a day for you to think about making Jefferson a place where everybody’s included and nobody’s left out.”

After the tour, Rubine led the ninth graders in a session on how to make the day’s lessons relevant. He also brought in guest speakers — a reformed white supremacist and a gay rights activist — to broaden the message of tolerance.

“In terms of acceptance and learning more about how to get along,” said Juan Flecha, Jefferson High’s principal, “I can’t think of a better opportunity” than a trip to the museum.

Flecha added that simply visiting the Westside was eye-opening. “It’s really important for our students to see a different part of the world,” he said.

With 30 buses provided by Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry (Ninth District) and free admission tickets offered by the Museum of Tolerance through a Wells Fargo Foundation grant, an estimated 1,000 students participated.

After this day’s tour, ninth-grader Smith explains that “standing up” means stopping child pornography, “babies getting exposed on the Internet,” as she puts it.

Another student, Mayra Rivas, 14, says, “I think it could happen again — to Mexicans.” Just as Jews could not escape Europe, her own grandmother, she says, cannot immigrate to the United States today.

A certain amount of confusion — as with this questionable analogy — is inevitable because many students arrive knowing little or nothing about the Holocaust, said Beverly LeMay, manager of the museum’s Tools for Tolerance program. She added that she hopes to follow up with students.

As the day wore on, most students had paid attention to substantial parts of the presentation, sometimes participating in discussions with enthusiasm. If all went well, they will take away something of lasting value — and Jefferson High will be a more peaceful, respectful place.

“You don’t come to the Museum of Tolerance in one visit,” LeMay said, “and be resolved on all these issues.

 

Glimpses of Jews’ Past in Andaluc­a


Spain’s Andaluc­a is romance. It’s orange blossoms perfuming the air. It’s golden drops of sherry sliding down your throat in a smoky bodega. It’s fingers dancing on the strings of a flamenco guitar.

This southern wedge of the Iberian Peninsula, known for whitewashed villages skirting the Mediterranean Sea, was once the center of a vibrant Moorish kingdom whose link with Jewish history is bittersweet.

When this Muslim region was known as al-Andalus, it was home to thousands of Sephardic Jews, who settled here after the fall of the Second Temple. Jewish and Islamic cultures entwined to produce a legendary golden age beginning in the 10th century, during which time Jews thrived as diplomats, physicians and poets. After Christians conquered Moorish realms, Jews found themselves expelled from Spain in 1492; the ordinance was not officially rescinded until 1968.

A tour of the region offers some tantalizing glimpses of the Jewish past, set against Muslim and Christian landmarks of incomparable splendor. But traces of modern Jewish life in Andaluc­a are harder to find.

At the heart of historic Cardoba, Spanish architectural traditions overlap and blend in impressive fashion. The huge Mezquita (mosque), built between the eighth and 10th centuries, is pierced at its center by a soaring gothic cathedral, added in the 16th century once the Christians had consolidated their power.

Not far away is the tourist-friendly La Judera quarter. A modern statue representing Maimonides, the great 12th-century scholar and physician who was born into a distinguished Cardoban rabbinical family, stands guard outside one of Spain’s few medieval synagogues, its stucco walls still etched with Hebrew phrases.

Seville, Andaluca’s largest city, is known for its enormous cathedral, flanked by the graceful Giralda bell tower that was once a minaret. Preserved in the cathedral’s treasury are, quite literally, the keys to its Jewish past. Two intricate iron objects on display are the ceremonial keys to the city’s Judera, as presented in 1248 to the conquering Ferdinand III of Castille by his new Jewish subjects. An inscription in both Hebrew and Spanish reads: “The king of kings shall open, the king of all the earth shall enter.”

Public buildings in Seville are painted in brilliant shades of yellow and red. After a visit to the opulent halls and lush gardens of the Alca¡zar palace, the traveler can slip through a narrow covered passageway into the quaint Barrio de Santa Cruz. Despite its very Christian name, this is Seville’s old Jewish quarter, now home to fine restaurants and the city’s best flamenco show. Where once Jewish scholars swayed over sacred texts, you can now hear the staccato beat of high-heeled boots on wooden floors, punctuated by shouts of “Olé! ”

Granada can boast one of the world’s architectural masterpieces, the breathtaking Alhambra. This hilltop fortress and palace complex covers a variety of styles, but its crown jewel is the 14th-century Nasrid Palace, a fantasia of vaults, domes, graceful columns and stucco friezes embellished with elegant tile work and swirling Arabic calligraphy.

Interlocking patios reveal a series of enchanting vistas. None is more delightful than the Courtyard of the Lions, whose central fountain is rumored to have come from the mansion of a powerful 11th century Jewish courtier, Joseph ibn Nagrella.

Off the Courtyard of the Lions is one of the palace’s most exquisite rooms, the Hall of the Ambassadors. Standard guidebooks don’t mention that this was the site where on March 31, 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella signed the decree banishing all Jews from Spain. Some commentators believe that the tragedy of that edict continues to haunt the Spanish people, many of whom have long-denied Jewish roots.

It’s heartening that King Juan Carlos, who ascended the throne in 1975 after the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, has been a staunch defender of religious tolerance. He freely displays his fascination with Spain’s Sephardic heritage, and his wife, Queen Sophia, attended a well-publicized service at Madrid’s modern synagogue.

Most visitors to Andaluc­a travel from Madrid by car or by rail, a trip of about three hours. A worthwhile stopover between Madrid and Cardoba is the magnificent walled city of Toledo, which contains two of Spain’s best-preserved synagogues (see sidebar). These historic landmarks, however, have not functioned as Jewish houses of worship since the time of the Inquisition.

Of functioning synagogues, Spain has only a handful, but Andaluca can claim two of them. One is in Ma¡laga, the seaside capital of the Costa del Sol. The other, a charmingly decorated building that includes its own mikvah, is just down the coast in the upscale resort town of Marbella.

Jaén, a small Andaluc­an city that calls itself the olive oil capital of the world, contains no synagogue. But in a quiet square far off the tourist route, the traveler to Jaén will stumble onto an unexpected sight. Atop a square column stands a seven-branched menorah, erected to commemorate the Jewish families dispersed from Spain after 1492. Below is a plaque, written both in Spanish and Ladino. Its message is poignant: “The footprints in which they walked together can never be erased.”

 

Get Enraptured With the Central Coast


 

California is beautiful. You can forget that sometimes, living in Los Angeles, fighting traffic, commuting past big-box retailers and strip malls and — does it get any worse? — Lincoln Boulevard.

But drive a few hours and you will find Beauty herself, and you will once again be certain few places on Earth are as spectacular as the state in which you live.

Case in point: a three-day weekend drive from Los Angeles to Half Moon Bay via Hearst Castle and Paso Robles.

Now is the time to take this trip, when the summer crowds have departed Mr. Hearst’s


California Thanksgiving Resources


Congregation Ohr Tzafon (Reform)
2605 Traffic Way
Atascadero, CA 93477.
For more information, call (805) 238-1502.

Hearst Castle
Tour reservations are highly recommended. Call (800) 444-4445, or reserve online at www.hearstcastle.com.

The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay
1 Miramontes Point Road, Half Moon Bay. For more information, call (650) 712-7020, or visit www.ritzcarlton.com/resorts/half_moon_bay.

Sea Otter Inn
6656 Moonstone Beach Drive, Cambria.
For more information, call (800) 965-8347 or visit www.seaotterinn.com.

Willow Creek Olive Ranch-Pasolivo
8530 Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles. Open Friday-Sunday and by appointment.
Call (805) 227-0186 or visit www.pasolivo.com.

homey little cottage near Cambria, when the olives are ripe and the extra virgin oil is flowing in Paso Robles, and when, at the end of the car ride, you can literally soak in the Martha Stewart-perfect holiday atmosphere of the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. Pumpkin facial, anyone?

Los Angeles to Cambria is an easy four-hour drive, along some of the world’s most beautiful, usually sunny, coastline. Numerous reasonable priced “inns” — actually gussied up motor lodges — line the shore drive just north of Cambria. Most feature swimming pools, quick access to a network of coastline trails, and views of cows meandering the hills opposite PCH. There are no kosher restaurants in town, but the elegant Sows Ear Cafe on Main Street and the more family-friendly Brambles Dinner House offer high quality fish and vegetarian dishes.

Arriving in the bustling tourist town by 2 p.m. still allows enough time to see Hearst Castle, just 20 minutes away. Make your reservations by phone or online, and secure a tour time. Many of the lodges in Cambria offer slightly discounted tickets to the castle, and will make the arrangements for you

Tour One, the basic first-timer’s tour, takes just under two hours. And for first-, second- or third-time visitor, the scope and design and ostentation of the castle never fails to impress. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst toured the castles of Europe as a young man, and set to emulate them on this windswept, untrammeled piece of coast. Beginning in 1919, Hearst built but never completed the castle on his 240,000-acre San Simeon ranch.

Take in the sumptuous furnishings, the elaborate outdoor pool where Winston Churchill and Cary Grant and others frolicked, the “guest cottages” designed down to the door jambs by Old World artisans, the mosaic tiled indoor pool and the landscaping of thousands of native citrus and other trees and shrubs — “unbelievable” is the word you will hear your fellow visitors whisper most.

For visitors whispering in Hebrew, the museum offers a translation of the salient points of the tour in pamphlet form — just ask for it in the beginning. And it might help Jewish visitors appreciate the site more if they gloss over Hearst’s early enthusiasm for Adolf Hitler and Italian fascism — the staunch anti-communist reportedly struck a newsreel deal with the Führer following the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, and used his media empire to justify the Nazi invasion of Ukraine. Take comfort instead that Hearst was an enthusiastic participant in the July 1943 Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe in New York City, which attempted to show the Roosevelt administration that saving European Jewry was not just a Jewish issue, but an American one.

Tour One will leave you with what the Hebrew pamphlet might call a ta’am shel od — a taste for more — but there is also more California to explore.

Lock the kids in the car and backtrack south through Cambria to Highway 46 East, one of the last and most beautiful underdeveloped agricultural byways in the state. Vineyards from such wineries as Eberle, Tablas and Tobin James give way to rolling pastureland, steep arroyos, olive groves and old farmhouses. Take it slow — you’re looking at Napa or Sonoma 30 years ago.

Just outside Paso Robles, tour the Willow Creek Olive Ranch, makers of Pasolivo, a superb native olive oil. You could spend thousands to fly to Tuscany for the same olive-crushing experience, and not taste any better oil.

You can stop for lunch in Paso Robles and, if there on Friday, attend the 7:30 p.m. Shabbat services at Congregation Ohr Tzafon.

Continue north from Paso Robles on Highway 101, then make your way west to Highway 1 and Half Moon Bay, about three hours away.

In October, this remarkably quiet and well-kept town just 40 minutes south of San Francisco hosts a pumpkin festival, drawing too many thousands of visitors from all over. But come November, the almost perennially foggy weather and non-freeway access ensure a quieter time.

There are a handful of quiet bed and breakfasts and some larger lodging alternatives in the area. For a splurge of opulence and natural beauty, nothing, however, surpasses The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay.

The relatively new luxury hotel can’t justify its existence based on resort weather or famous environs. Set on a cliff overlooking a turbulent and unswimmable portion of the Pacific, it is the epitome of a destination hotel.

Fortunately, it is self-contained.

There is a full-service spa that draws on a famous local resource to come up with a pumpkin-peel body scrub and pumpkin mask. An attendant spreads the mushed-up pulp on your skin and, lo and behold, you feel your carapace give way.

A cozy fire is always stoked in the lounge, and guests gather outside at night by fire pits — thick blankets provided — to look at the surf and the stars, or dip in a cliffside Jacuzzi.

The restaurant, Navio, offers a Sunday brunch of staggering quality, as well as special holiday meals. Kosher catering is available by special arrangement.

Thanksgiving time is celebrated here in a big way. A display of giant pumpkins welcomes visitors, and there are holiday cooking classes for adults and children (as at many Ritz Carlton’s, there is a schedule of high quality kids’ programming for ages 4-12).

In fact, the resort, which has all the signature Ritz amenities and luxuries, offers a complete Winter school of some 50 classes — from chocolate cookery to wedding planning.

Along with the a Scotland-like golfing experience (we watched many diehards tee off in light drizzle), there are many outdoor activities available — whale watching, mountain biking, hiking.

But our favorite, of course, was curling up under one of those blankets by the outdoor fire pit, and recounting our long trip through the beautiful parts of California.

The Circuit


Hope and Faith

Childrens Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) honored L.A. resident Doron Kochavi, for his participation in the Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope across America, headed by Lance Armstrong.

Patients in the Childrens Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases at CHLA sent off Kochavi with well wishes as he left to join a team of 24 cancer survivors, advocates, caregivers, physicians and researchers selected to ride 3,300 miles from San Diego to Washington, D.C.

The team of avid cyclists began their trip Sept. 29 — to share their experiences and inspire those they met along the way to learn more about cancer research.

Seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong led the team at the kickoff in San Diego and into Washington, D.C., as well as during other points along the route.

Kochavi’s son, Ari, is alive today because of the treatment for a brain tumor he received at CHLA. When asked about the significance of the holidays and what is he reflecting on Kochavi said prior to leaving, “The Jewish holiday is for laymen. It is a message of hope. You hope that the new year will bring all the good you hope for … health, family, a good life…. This year I will spend the new year on the road. I have the opportunity to send a message of hope across the country. We will be riding everywhere … there will be no religious boundaries and touch everyone north to south … rich to poor….. I get the chance to talk to millions of people through television, newspapers, etc. and deliver a message of hope for tomorrow.”

For more information, visit www.tourofhope.org.

Simply Remarkable

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles will award four new Jewish day school scholarships as a tribute to Mark Lainer, its chair from 2001 through 2004. The Mark Lainer Scholarships will provide assistance during the 2005 academic year to a deserving student with financial need at four local Jewish educational institutions where Lainer has played major leadership roles. These include Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School West and New Community Jewish High School, along with one recipient selected by the Bureau of Jewish Education.

The Foundation announced the scholarships at a gala dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire on Sept. 22 saluting Lainer’s dedication to The Foundation and the community.

“Mark’s energy and commitment are exemplary,” said foundation President and CEO Marvin I. Schotland. “We’re proud to honor him for both his outstanding guidance as immediate past chair of the foundation and for his passionate, dedicated service to the entire community.”

A leader in philanthropy and education, Lainer was also founding president of the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School and has played important leadership roles in the Bureau of Jewish Education, The Jewish Federation, University of Judaism, Valley Beth Shalom, United Jewish Communities, Jewish Education Service of North America and The Jewish Journal.

 

The Inner Sanctum


I had just finished up with a tour of the new Mormon Temple in Newport Beach when I came face to face with Kathleen. Forthright, with a shining smile, straight shiny hair and the physique of a beach volleyballer, she seemed to embody the ideal of young Mormon womanhood.

Kathleen grew up just blocks from where the temple now stands, and is looking forward to a life in its embrace. After spending three hours at the temple, I had a lot of questions, and Kathleen had answers.

The tour was part of a public open house that all temples hold just once. After a temple is officially consecrated, its inner sanctum is open only to Mormons in good standing. You need a bar-coded card, good for one year at a time, to get in after that.

But for a week before consecration, non-Mormons, called gentiles, are allowed to visit. Earlier this month, tens of thousands of people did. I joined in with a group from the American Jewish Committee, which has worked to enhance interfaith relations with the LDS Church.

The beautifully landscaped temple grounds were filled with tour groups; the parking lot seethed with cars and tour buses. The gleaming buildings, the immaculately laid out gardens and paths and the unfailingly cheerful tour guides in sensible dresses or suits and ties gave the day an efficient, theme-park feel. A dozen Jews at a synagogue Kiddush couldn’t maintain that kind of order.

To the uninitiated or unprepared, Mormon theology is weird. Not bad weird, or wrong weird, just strange to those who are used to God’s revelation coming to a close with Deuteronomy. Founding prophet Joseph Smith began receiving his revelation in 1823 in the form of a book of gold pages, presented to him on a hill in upstate New York by the angel Moroni.

The book detailed a strange and fabulous story of the former inhabitants of North America. Having left Jerusalem 600 years before the birth of Jesus, two tribes of Israel, the Nephites and the Lammanites, battle for supremacy until Jesus comes to America to make peace between them.

He leaves, then the Lammanites eradicate the Nephites, whose leader was Moroni’s father, Mormon. The Book of Mormon imparts this bloody story as well as Mormon’s wisdom, though Smith and his followers continued to receive divine messages.

The revelations led to strict codes of conduct: no alcohol, no caffeine, no tobacco, clear lines of patriarchal authority, a solemn and powerful church hierarchy and tithing — about half of all Mormons tithe 10 percent of their pre-tax earnings to the church.

The Mormon Church abandoned polygamy in 1890, and entered mainstream American religious life with what author Jon Krakauer, in his excellent study, “Under the Banner of Heaven,” called, “stunning determination.” They were the Lord’s Elect, or Latter-Day Saints (LDS), with the mission of establishing the One True Church, and preparing the way for the Second Coming.

What’s fascinating to me about the LDS Church is not its fabulistic ur-text. These are narratives, like the Bible and Quran, that believers take on faith. What’s almost unbelievable is the church’s newness. Now, 150 years after its founding, the LDS Church has 13 million members worldwide. There are about the same number of Jews in the world. (True, millions of us were murdered, but we also had a 4,000-year head start.) Now, the race for hearts and minds really isn’t even close.

Sociologist Rodney Stark estimates the LDS Church will grow to 265 million members by 2080. At any moment, about 60,000 Mormon missionaries are spread around the globe, proselytizing on behalf of their faith. “No other American religious movement is so ambitious,” wrote professor Harold Bloom in “The American Religion.” “And no rival even remotely approaches the spiritual audacity that drives endlessly toward accomplishing a titanic design.”

To the extent organized Jewry is organized and has anything approaching a “design,” it is merely to stop what is seen as the inexorable attrition of Jewish souls. Meanwhile, some 300,000 people join the LDS Church each year, the largest growth rates being in Africa and South America.

Touring the sanctum santorum of Mormon belief, I tried to divine what accounts for this appeal.

The rooms are large, though not cathedral grand. They have reproduction French furniture and crystal chandeliers. Large clerestory windows pour light onto simple religious-themed paintings and murals.

Other than the baptismal room, which features a Jacuzzi-like pool supported on the backs of huge oxen statues, the other rooms are — just nice rooms, decorated more like the Century Plaza Hotel than Lourdes or the Crystal Cathedral or, for that matter, Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

In these rooms, Mormons engage in distinct, personalized rituals — baptizing themselves or deceased ancestors in the True Church or sealing themselves in eternal marriage. One room, the Ordinance Room, is painted with bright murals of California landscape. It could be a Hollywood screening room — and it is, in fact, where Mormons sit and watch a movie about the founding of Mormonism.

Since that recent beginning, the LDS Church has splintered into numerous sects, some of which, as author Krakauer documents, can be as unbendingly fundamentalist as the Taliban. But within the mainstream movement, orderliness abounds. The ideals of 19th century America — hierarchy, the patriarchal family, charity, temperance, personal revelation — are enshrined.

“Salvation,” one Mormon leader told our group, “is a family affair.”

After the tour, when I found myself face to face with Kathleen, I asked her what happened to the golden tablets, which Joseph Smith said he translated from their original “Reformed Egyptian.” She explained that they had been lost.

I also had another question on my mind. I explained to her that a large segment of Jewry believes that while our holy books reflect eternal truths, they are not necessarily literally true. I wondered: Did Latter-day Saints believe in the literal truth of the Book of Mormon?

Kathleen’s smile didn’t waver, and her voice was strong and sure.

“I understand metaphor,” she said, “and I understand history. My degree is in history. But we believe in the revelation of the prophet as it is written.”

Combine that powerful belief with a duty to proselytize, and it’s no wonder this new religion will soon fill a far larger portion of the world and the religious firmament than our own.