Lying for the cause


There are many admirable values. The list includes, of course, goodness, integrity and compassion.

But there is one value without which civilization cannot survive, and without which evil is inevitable: truth.

I cannot think of a 20th-century evil not predicated on lies. It was years (if not centuries) of lying about Jews that enabled the Holocaust to take place. Otherwise, “ordinary men,” to use the title of historian Christopher Browning’s work on the perpetrators of the Holocaust, would not have slaughtered Jewish men, women, not to mention children and babies, had they not been brainwashed into believing that Jews were not human and were the source of Germany’s and the world’s problems.

The same with communism. Every communist regime was totalitarian — meaning, among other things, that it controlled what was deemed true. The Soviet Communist Party newspaper was therefore named “Pravda,” the Russian word for truth. But there was no pravda in Pravda.

Given the horrors that result from lies (I am referring largely to societal lies; in personal life, there are times when truth is not the highest value, such as when maintaining shalom bayit, peace in the home, or when lying to a murderer to save an innocent’s life), one would think that more people would value it. But not many do.

And the reason is simple: Most people think that their cause is more important than telling the truth.

The most recent example occurred this past weekend when Congressman Todd Akin (R-Mo.) was asked about his position on abortion for women who had become pregnant as a result of rape. The Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Missouri responded, in part, that “from what I understand from doctors, that [pregnancy as a result of a rape] is really rare …  the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Now, if a lie is something one knows to be untrue, then, technically speaking, Rep. Akin wasn’t telling a lie. After all, he claimed that he understood this “from doctors”– and it is quite possible that someone did tell him that some doctors had made that claim.

What we have here, rather than a lie in that technical sense, are two other, more common assaults on truth:

First is the lack of desire to know the truth in order for the individual to continue to believe what he wants to believe, even when, as in the Akin claim, it is obviously absurd. Mr. Akin is undoubtedly familiar with the massive amount of rape committed by victorious armies throughout history. Does he believe that almost none of the victims got pregnant? And is he not aware of the tragedy of the women of Darfur raped by Sudanese Arab soldiers — and then abandoned by their families for getting pregnant out of wedlock?

As a member of the United States Congress, he surely knows about such things. So, what we have here is reason number one for the assault on truth: People believe what they want to believe more than they want to know, let alone assert, the truth.

And why this lack of desire to know the truth? 

The answer brings us to the second reason so many people don’t value truth: Their cause is always higher than truth telling. It’s permissible to lie on behalf of one’s noble cause (and what cause isn’t noble in the cause-holders’ eyes?)

I’ll give another conservative example: the claim that viewing pornography leads to rape. While many feminists also make this claim, it is mostly associated with religious conservatives. That the claim is patently false is easily demonstrated. First, the countries with the most lax laws governing pornography have the least rape, and many of the countries that ban pornography have the highest rates of sexual and other physical abuse of women. Second, the vast majority of men who look at pornographic images have never, and would never, commit rape. The fact that virtually all rapists have viewed porn is as meaningless as the fact that virtually all rapists are meat eaters.

But for many religious conservatives who regard pornography as a major sin against God, and feminists who regard it as major sin against women, truth telling is less important than their cause — fighting pornography.

This phenomenon is at least as common on the left. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman made up the false charge that Jared Loughner, the mentally deranged man who tried to kill former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (and killed six others) did so because of Republican Party hate rhetoric. Why did Krugman write this lie? Because it served his great cause: demonizing the right.

And progressives in California’s legislature have passed laws governing what goes into history textbooks from elementary school through high school — a certain amount of space must be allotted to blacks, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered. For many progressives, making students feel good about their ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation is more important than historical truth.

So, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approaching, here’s a suggestion for any rabbi searching for a High Holy Day sermon topic: The primary importance of truth telling. Lies built Auschwitz.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

A time for truth


It is time for another Durban Conference.

No, I’m not asking for a repeat of the U.N.-sponsored festival of Jew-hatred that took place in South Africa in 2001.

The last thing we need is to have Israel demonized by Islamists and their allies in the West.

We do not need another conference where so-called human-rights activists lament the fact that Hitler did not “finish the job” and where Arab lawyers hand out booklets with swastikas superimposed over the Jewish Star of David.

What we need is a human rights conference worthy of the name.

We need a conference that speaks the truth about the impact of Islamist ideology and Shariah law on human rights, not just in the Middle East, but also in Muslim-majority countries throughout the world.

We need a conference where adherents of the Baha’i faith describe the persecution they have endured in Iran.

We need a conference where Baha’i leaders tell the world about the destruction of their national center in Iran with pickaxes in 1955.

We need a conference where Iran’s leaders are confronted with the executions of more than 200 followers of the Baha’i faith since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

We need a conference where Assyrian Christians can tell their story of oppression at the hands of Islamists in Iraq who are trying to drive them out of their homeland.

We need a conference where Assyrian Christians can talk about the bombings, the shootings and the abductions they have endured regularly over the past decade.

We need a conference where Iraqi Christians, who numbered 1.5 million in 2003 and now number less than 500,000, can explain why they are leaving the country of their birth. They need a chance to make their case for an autonomous province in Iraq where religious and ethnic minorities can gather together against Islamists who are intent on making them disappear.

We need a conference where Coptic Christians in Egypt can describe the humiliation and acts of violence they endure daily in their homeland.

We need a conference where Coptic Christians can describe the ongoing attacks on their churches and their very lives.

We need a conference where Coptic Christians can describe the church bombings, the abductions, the rapes and forced conversions they endure at the hands of Islamists in Egypt.

We need a conference where Christians, whose churches have been destroyed in Nigeria and Ethiopia, can describe the attacks they’ve endured at the hands of Islamists.

We need a conference where activists from groups like Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs and Christian Solidarity International can testify to the suffering Christians have endured under Shariah law throughout the world.

We need a conference where women who have endured beatings at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan can tell their story.

We need a conference where women who have been beaten and punished for refusing to wear burqas can speak of the oppression they have endured.

We need a conference where women who have been set on fire or have been splashed with acid by their relatives can tell their story.

We need a conference where victims of rape who have been charged with adultery by the police who should have arrested the rapists, can testify to the injustice.

We need a conference where Christian men from the Philippines who were castrated after marrying Muslim women can tell their story.

We need a conference where gay men and lesbians can speak of the violence they have endured under Islamic regimes throughout the world.

It is a time for truth. People of good will throughout the world have a right and an obligation to insist that Muslim leaders of all stripes take an honest look at what is happening in the countries they lead and govern. We need to ask them if this is the type of world a loving God would have us live in.

In praise of falsehood


What is it with people telling the truth all the time? I don’t mean under oath, or even in response to a question that has been posed to them; I mean when they just come out of the blue and dish out a nice, hefty portion of truth because they love you too much to lie to you.

For years, the first thing I heard from some of my favorite aunts upon greeting them was, “You look awful.”

They said this no matter how hard I had tried to fix myself up, or how good I thought I looked when I came through the door.

“I’m telling you the truth because I love you,” they added. “You’re too thin, you must be working too hard, you should eat more, wear some makeup, cut your hair or something.”

I was wearing makeup. I didn’t think I looked so bad.

“Well, you’re wrong. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you. You really shouldn’t let your husband see you like this.”

How can you get mad at someone who’s telling you the truth for your own good? And besides, these ladies were older than I. Among Iranians, few transgressions are as grave as talking back to an older person, especially a family member. To say you disagree with them is bad enough, but there’s no way you can tell them to mind their own business and be able to hold your head up in the family afterward. So I tolerated the love talk for about a decade, then heeded the advice of my husband. He grew up in England, where he was taught not just respect, but also diplomacy.

“I appreciate your concern,” he suggested I tell these honest, loving people, “but what you tell me makes me feel bad.”

That might have worked for Diana. For me, it was a nonstarter.

“I’d rather you felt bad and fixed yourself up, than felt good and looked bad,” my loving elders said. 

That finally stopped when I became old enough that to look good, all I have to do is maintain a pulse. Nowadays, I feel pretty safe at “hello,” but it’s anyone’s guess what happens from then on. Truth telling, it seems, has become a national pastime, with all that reality garbage constantly on television, all those celebrities bearing their hearts out for Dr. Drew, and every middle-aged, unemployed man and woman signing up with some online university for a degree in marriage and family therapy, then graduating with honors and charging the world with their professional wisdom.

I had an hour of this last Saturday when I went to a Shabbat luncheon at a family member’s house. I arrived at 1:30 wearing heels and makeup and — tell me this isn’t making an effort — a red dress. It was a large gathering, and I didn’t know most of the guests, so I managed to get in a good three minutes without being told I was late or I looked awful or I had offended someone by failing to “convince” my kids to come with me, but then I got overly confident and made the mistake of approaching a cousin. She’s the effusive type and always full of compliments. She saw me and declared, loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, “Now this is a good color for you!”

In case you’re too self-confident to grasp the nuance, the implication there is that whatever else I’ve worn over my lifetime was not a good color. This same cousin had told me, a week after my older son’s bar mitzvah, that the dress I wore to the party made me look “dead.”

“And your hair looks good, too,” she now added. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t like it before.”

Before what? I’ve had the same hair since I was 22 and had it cut to within an inch of my scalp.

“I hope you don’t mind my telling you this. I don’t like to lie.”

Me neither. So I left the cousin and went outside into 100-degree heat, hoping to find shelter among people who didn’t love me and didn’t feel compelled to tell the truth. I had spent five minutes making small talk with a stranger before a woman I barely knew came up and asked, without the smallest bit of preface, “How do you rate your books?”

How do I rate them?

“I mean, what do you think of them?”

I think they’re terrible — badly written and pointless — and so do the publishers and critics and the buyers, of course. 

“I ask because my daughter read one of them and didn’t like it. I hope you don’t mind my being honest.”

Among Iranians, the polite response to such honesty is to thank the person and acknowledge their feelings. Anything else would be considered rude, tag you as a shrew and ruin your children’s chances at marriage.

OK, so maybe strangers’ truths aren’t any better than friends’ truths, I thought, and went back inside, sat down with my Orthodox cousin’s five kids, all under the age of 6, each brighter and more beautiful and charming than the rest. A few minutes later another cousin, a newly minted marriage and family therapist, joined us. We talked about how cute these children were, how quickly they grow up. I said something about missing my younger son who just moved out of the house to go to college. I thought that was rather innocuous, but it seems Antioch University disagrees. My cousin boiled with outrage.

“Let him go!” she yelled like Moses at the Pharaoh. “You’re castrating the child!”

Really? Castrating?

“That’s the trouble with Iranian men: They’re all castrated by their mothers.”

I looked around at the dozens of castrated men and all the castrating women in the room. I considered telling my cousin that I had studied all about castration in Psych 101 a thousand years ago at UCLA, and that there’s a slight difference between loving a child and wanting to own him, but that would have been rude of me; it would have hurt her feelings, meant that I was an ingrate and a shrew. It’s a “Catch-22” I think anyone in a caring, close-knit community has experienced and I, at least, have no idea how to solve it or where to find the right balance. I can’t blame people, because I think they mean well, so I’ve decided the fault lies with the truth itself. I therefore recommend the following prayer before and after each social gathering:

Dear God, give us this day our daily dose of denial. Keep us safe from love, truth and honesty. Lead us out of the light and into the darkness; let us remain ignorant of our failings, unpopularity and good colors. If possible, impose some minimal requirements for becoming a marriage and family therapist. And whatever you did with my hair this past Saturday … keep that up until further notice from my cousin.

What is art good for?


Still, the question remains: What, in this world filled with strife and need and uncertainty, is the use of art?

The planet’s on the verge of destruction, entire nations are starving to oblivion, man’s cruelty to man has reached new heights, and yet we persist — writers and musicians and painters and sculptors — telling stories in one form or another when we all know they’ve all been told before, that nothing we could invent would rival the truth in its enormity and outrageousness, that on any given day there are bigger, more urgent tasks at hand.

What is the wisdom, I ask myself every day, of working so hard (and we do work hard) to offer the world something it has not asked for and probably doesn’t want?

It is true that I write because I can’t help it, that every artist is compelled by a wanting that is more forceful, more insistent, than good old common sense. But it is also true that I wake up every day to the same question that haunted me the day before: to what end?

Years ago, on a perfect spring afternoon in Los Angeles, I had occasion to sit next to a very elegant, very quiet gentleman at a luncheon on an outdoor patio. He was introduced to me by one of his fawning, breathless fans as “Jack Boul, a great artist, exceptional, really, though he doesn’t like to talk about it, he lives in Maryland, he’s had a retrospective at the Corcoran, and would you believe that Paul Richard, dean of the capital’s art critics and longtime critic for The Washington Post, said his work ‘delivers to the brain bracing little jolts of a strong emotion sensed seldom in contemporary art.’ Can you imagine? Sensed seldom in contemporary art?”

Graciously, if a bit embarrassed, or so it seemed to me, Boul shook my hand, then looked away. For the rest of the afternoon, he listened politely to the conversation but spoke little, giving the impression that he was thinking of other, more significant matters; that he was looking through his surroundings at deeper, more remarkable places. Just when I thought he had had enough of the shallow, West Coast — it’s all about me and my social ambitions — talk that is the hallmark of all such luncheons, I heard the click of a camera and turned to see that Boul was taking pictures — of me, of all people — just shooting away without a word until, satisfied with what he had captured, he put the camera down without an explanation.

“He likes to study things,” the fan volunteered. “The walls in his studio are covered with photographs.”

Weeks later I would receive a picture of myself in the mail: I’m sitting under a tree with very green leaves; it’s a bad hair day, and I have no makeup on, and I’m wearing something dark and simple, which makes me look even more washed up, and yet, this is the best picture of myself I’ve ever seen. It’s more real, more familiar, more I know this person than any image I could find, even in a mirror. I put the picture in a frame directly outside my office.

Is this, I wonder every time I go into and out of the office, what art is for? To capture the truth of a person or a thing? To tell that truth in unexpected ways to people who expect it least?

This month, the Museum of the Holocaust in Los Angeles will feature 17 monotypes by Boul. Titled, “Responses of the Innocent: American Jewish Artists and the Holocaust,” the exhibition also includes works by two other artists, Lee Silton and Rifka Angel, and will run from Dec. 14 to Feb. 27.

Boul’s monotypes are of dark, shadowy figures that linger in the memory long after they’ve been viewed. Eric Denker, senior lecturer at the National Gallery of Art, wrote about them in his book, “Intimate Impressions”: “While the subject of the set is the nightmare of the Holocaust, the more universal content examines man’s inhumanity to man.”

Is this, I ask myself as I sit down to search again for the right words, the right voice with which to tell a story, the purpose of art? To study the nature of man, understand its failings, expose its vices?

Boul was 19 years old, the son of a Russian émigré father and a Romanian mother, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1946. He was born in Brooklyn, had grown up in the South Bronx. When the Army called, he was studying at the American Artist’s School in New York. But the Army sent him to Europe, to a prisoner of war camp outside Pisa, Italy, where he served as a sergeant in the Army Corps of Engineers.

“I remember showing German prisoners of war pictures of the liberated concentration camps,” he says of his time in Italy. “They refused to believe the pictures. ‘You have your propaganda, and we have ours.'”

Back in the United States after the war, he finished art school, became a highly successful painter and printmaker. He taught art at the American University in Washington and later at the new Washington Studio School. He painted landscapes, urban sites, the human figure in its many forms and manifestations.

Mostly, he sought to reveal the core of his subjects, to overcome the physical details that set one apart from another and arrive instead at their collective truth. In 1987, many shows and exhibits and years of teaching behind him, he went to see a film, “Shoah,” and remembered the German soldiers at the prisoner of war camp. Forty years had passed since he heard the soldiers deny the Holocaust.

“I was very moved,” he says of the film. “It showed the cattle cars that transported people to the concentration camps, the furnaces where people were cremated and the fields where the ashes were scattered. It never showed the victims. I remembered the photographs I had seen in Italy 40 years earlier and decided to look for other photos of the camps.”

In the U.S. Archives in Washington, he found hundreds of photographs from different concentration camps.

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“I looked at the photos for days and made drawings. In my studio, I made these monotypes from the drawings. I wanted to make something that would help to keep that memory alive.”

The result was the 17 monotypes that will be on view at the Holocaust Museum. This is only the second time (the first was at the Corcoran) that Boul has allowed the collection to be shown, and it’s due in no small part to the efforts of Mark Rothman, the museum’s executive director, who has made every attempt to craft an exhibition that stays true to the intent of the artist and the merit of the art.

Perhaps, then, this is what art is good for: to bear witness to the truth, no matter how often it is denied? To remind those of us who want to forget? To tell a story — yes, a story that has been told a thousand times before — one more time, to one more person.

“Responses of the Innocents: American Jewish Artists and the Holocaust,” Jack Boul, Rifka Angel, Lee Silton,” runs Dec. 14 to Feb. 27 at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 6435 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 651-3708. http://www.lamoth.org.

Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in The Journal.

‘Teenism’ gives young adults an undeserved rep


Teenagers. The word strikes fear into the hearts of most parents and adults. I bet you get shivers down your spine as you’re reading this. Though most teenagers are perceived as reckless, raucous, recalcitrant, rowdy and riotous, the truth is that for the most part, teenagers exercise a natural responsibility that is occasionally eclipsed by their more immature moments. It is because their wild outbursts draw more attention that they are blown out of proportion and overshadow the maturity that teenagers portray most of the time. While the adult perception of youthful rebellion may seem justified, it can be damaging and hurtful to those who pride themselves on being as mature as any adult.

Nowadays, biases against blacks or homosexuals are tiptoed around, while biases against teenagers are left unchecked, proliferating everywhere, because hardly anyone gets taken to court for discriminating against a teen. Since every adult has been a teen once in their lives, they believe they’ve had enough personal experience to speak about all teenagers, when really they are merely projecting their own past onto all teenagers. Parents who went wild in their youth will watch their children like a hawk, never trusting them, accusing them of being disrespectful not because of hard evidence, but because that’s how they were when they were young. Often young adults are given a blanket diagnosis of being stuck-up and caustic, anti-parent, anti-school, anti-everything. From parenting magazines to primetime television, teens are portrayed as a pack of self-centered ingrates who let their emotions run wild with abandon, and it’s time someone said something about it.

Are teenagers reckless? Of course. That is, some of the time. But in our modern world, applying ideas that are true “some of the time” to every case is no longer acceptable, even in as small a way as believing all teenagers are rebels.

Of course, other discriminations are much more pressing in nature. Racism has more dire consequences than believing that your teenager is hot-blooded, when he is not. But discriminations against teens still deserve attention because of the simple fact of how many people are being discriminated against. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 20.2 million people in America aged 15 to 19, and they are 7 percent of the population. So be careful what statements you make, or what biases you might allow yourself to believe. Your ideas about teens will reflect greatly in your treatment of them, and the consequences of this (whether good or bad) could be much more far-reaching than you realize.

Almost as much as people falsely believe teenagers are terrible, people falsely believe that adolescence (and especially childhood) is the best time of a person’s life, when worries are few and far between. But this just isn’t true. In 1998, about a third of all victims of violent crime were ages 12 to 19, and almost half of all victims of violence were under age 25 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice). In addition, one in eight teenagers suffers from depression, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. (And, sadly, the sixth leading cause of death for people aged 5 to 14). As Bill Watterson (of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame) once said: “People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.”

Adolescents face almost all the same problems that adults do and engage in the same unhealthy quick fixes, but it is only young adults who must handle these things sans experience. Without the bedrock of age and wisdom to tread on, high schoolers are left to trail-blaze through their lives haplessly, like the first pioneers of the American West.

A massive leap has occurred in our modern world, far wider than generation gaps of old. The epidemic of multitaskism, the intensity of grade-amassing and the all-around increase in schoolwork has created a miasma of anxiety for the American student, making all previous generations of schooling look like cakewalks in comparison. Those who want to answer the clarion call of college must prepare themselves for an Olympic level of competitiveness. A few examples: Yale’s acceptance rate this year was 9 percent, down from 11 percent in 2006, while Stanford’s rate reached the lowest in it’s history at 9.5 percent. In addition, tuition for four-year colleges has gone up 35 percent in the past six years, making the fight for financial aid all the more arduous.

Obviously, there isn’t much we can do to alleviate this situation. It is the face of our modern reality, for better or for worse. But there is something that can be done.

As with a lot of things, the most helpful solution is a simple change of attitude. Life for teens will always be a little on the rough side, but perhaps treating them with less pigeon-holing and more empathy is all that’s need it to smooth it out.

Justin Morris is in the 10th grade at Shalhevet School and a columnist for the Boiling Point newspaper.

Speak Up!

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

I’ve never had real heroes


If you grew up as I did, on more than one continent and surrounded by people of different faiths, you know what I mean when I say I’ve never had real heroes: For every truth in one place, I’ve encountered doubt in another; for every icon in one culture, I’ve met iconoclasts in another.

As I look back, I realize that the only public figures I have admired and perhaps trusted were authors — those authors, that is, who wrote about the time and place they lived in, whose purpose was to discover the truth, bear witness, unveil secrets, no matter what the cost to themselves or others. Most of these authors — Albert Camus, Marguerite Duras, Oriana Fallaci — lived through World War II. Most of them explored the mysteries of the human soul — how it’s at once capable of great kindness and unspeakable cruelty, how it tends to shy away from taking ownership of its sins.

Among them, of course, was Gunter Grass, Germany’s greatest author since World War II, who wrote “The Tin Drum” and a dozen other books; who has dedicated his career and his public life to exposing the dark corners of his nation’s psyche, making sure it doesn’t forget, doesn’t rationalize, minimize or move on from — the Holocaust.

Grass has been quick to denounce hypocrisy and deceit anywhere he has found it, and he has done so with a vigor — some would say brutally — that has not softened with his advancing age. He has pointed a finger at the mighty and the weak; deplored the lack of moral righteousness in Europe and the United States. Most of all, he has held his own people accountable for crimes against humanity. As recently as 2002, he wrote, in “Crabwalk”: “History, or, to be more precise, the history we Germans have repeatedly mucked up, is a clogged toilet. We flush and flush, but the shit keeps rising.”

Born in 1927 in the then-German city of Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland), Grass had, until this year, always maintained that he was recruited by and served in the German army in the last days of the war, but that he was not a part of the SS. He made a point of this, in fact, when he spoke in Israel in 1967: “You can tell by the date of my birth that I was too young to have been a Nazi but old enough to have been molded by [the Nazi] system. Innocent through no merit of my own, I became part of a postwar period that was never to be a period of real peace.”

That he refused to take credit for not having joined what he calls the “Nazi system” is one reason he was admired the world over — enough to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s also one reason he has been denounced so vehemently in some circles by what he revealed this year in his memoir, “Peeling the Onion,” that he had, in fact, willfully joined and served in the Waffen SS during the war, that he did so in spite of opposition from his parents, that he had admired Hitler and never believed the stories about concentration camps until later, during the Nuremberg trials.

Suddenly, the man who has made a career out of digging for truth in other people’s lives turns out to be a liar himself.

In the memoir, he speaks movingly of the suffering of the German people during the war, while admitting that it paled in comparison with that of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. He talks, with not a trace of self-pity, about how he suffered from hunger and loss and fear, how he lived as a refugee for years after the war, how he learned later that his mother had been raped repeatedly by Russian soldiers.

Perhaps, understandably, he stands at a safe distance from the young man whose story he has set out to tell, reminding the reader often that he is not — doesn’t even recognize — the 15-year-old who joined the Hitler Youth. He says he was called up by the SS only when Germany had lost the war and never actually fired a shot. He says he kept silent about his past because he was ashamed. He says that his confession now, when he is 84 years old and near the end of his life, is impelled by a conscience that has weighed on him from the start.

Publicly, Grass has insisted that his books and his involvement in German politics for over half a century should serve as proof that he had learned the lessons he has tried to teach others; that he should be judged for all the good he has brought to the world through his work and not for his personal conduct.

No wonder he wrote in “The Tin Drum”: “I expected more from literature than from real, naked life.”

Do I believe him?

I’m not sure. But I don’t think it matters. Too old, perhaps too cynical myself to look for heroes anywhere, I think Grass has taught us, through his own life, a lesson that transcends his influence as an individual.

Asked to comment on the Grass controversy, Italian playwright Dario Fo, also a Nobel laureate, responded: “Pity the land that needs heroes.”

It is true that Grass has brought much good into the world by his writings. It is also true that his late-in-life revelation calls into question or, depending on your point of view, entirely invalidates his right to the high moral ground he has for so long occupied. But in doing so, he has proven to those of us who have followed his life and career what he says he learned as a POW after the war: That no truth is ever entirely true, that what we revere today may become indefensible tomorrow, that the wisest path through life is to distrust certainty and instead to walk, in Grass’ own words, “the long route, paved with doubts.”

Gina B. Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel, “Caspian Rain,” was published this fall. Gina Nahai’s column appears monthly in The Jewish Journal.

We should speak out for HR 106


Notably absent from the disagreement over whether Jewish organizations should support HR 106, the congressional resolution recognizing the genocide of almost 2 million Armenians in the early 20th century, is any debate about the truthfulness of the resolution. Virtually every historian acknowledges that this genocide is an irrefutable fact. Instead, the controversy swirls around the question of whether it is in the interest of the Jewish community to take a position that might provoke anti-Semitism in Turkey or harm Turkish-Israeli relations.

HR 106 already has 227 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and is supported by a majority of Jewish senators and congressmen across the nation, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Jane Harman (D-Venice). Most of the Jewish organizational establishment, however, is either waffling or desperately trying to avoid the issue. The facts are embarrassing.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, initially declined to take a position on whether the Armenian genocide occurred. When the ADL’s executive director in Boston publicly criticized the refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide and called it “morally indefensible,” Foxman fired him. Shortly thereafter, two ADL board members resigned in protest.

As a result of the ensuing criticism, Foxman modified his position to acknowledge that “there was an Armenian genocide,” but continued to refuse to support the congressional resolution that “there was an Armenian genocide.”

His rationale was that the congressional resolution is a “counterproductive diversion” that would offend Turkey’s government and people, which could lead to violence against Turkish Jews and damage to Turkish-Israeli relations.

The ADL is not the only Jewish organization that has vacillated or is paralyzed by fear of exacerbating anti-Semitism. The reason these organizations have chosen to remain silent has nothing to do with the merits of the congressional resolution. It has everything to do with their being intimidated by anti-Semites, in this case Muslim extremists.

It is a tragic truth of Jewish history that there is nothing unusual about the inclination of Jewish leaders toward such appeasement. In the years leading up to and during World War II, the Jewish establishment – led by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise – refused to protest the Roosevelt administration’s failure to take action to rescue the Jews of Europe.

They castigated and marginalized as extremists Jewish activists, such as Peter Bergson and Ben Hecht, who publicly demanded that the government take action to stop the ongoing Holocaust. The Jewish establishment was fearful that it would make things worse to antagonize the Nazi leadership and to embarrass the American government by publicizing the terrible events unfolding in Europe.

In the 1970s, when the oppression of Soviet Jewry became an issue of moment, the Jewish establishment again demonstrated its lack of nerve. Most Jewish leaders were fearful of participating in large public demonstrations and eschewed taking a position on the Jackson-Vanik legislation that was designed to punish the Soviets unless they relaxed their restrictions on Jewish emigration. The rationale was that aggressive action would inflame Soviet anti-Semitism. Once again the policy of timidity was proven to be wrongheaded.

More recently, Jewish, Israeli and American leaders opposed implementing federal law requiring that the U.S. Embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem because of fear of provoking Arab terrorism. Despite this capitulation to Muslim pressure, both Israel and the West have experienced a dramatic increase in terrorism.

If a Christian leader were to refuse to acknowledge the Holocaust out of fear of antagonizing Germany, Jews everywhere would justifiably be outraged. We would reject as unacceptable the excuse that “the Holocaust is only a Jewish issue.”

The failure of the Jewish establishment to support congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide is similarly shameful. Given our history, the Jewish people should be in the forefront of speaking out against genocide.

Jewish leaders should refuse to be blackmailed by Muslim extremism. Turkish threats of retribution against Israel and Turkish Jews must be confronted and condemned.

History teaches that flinching in the face of anti-Semitism is cowardly, unprincipled, ineffective and dangerous. As Winston Churchill observed, “Those who appease the crocodile will simply be eaten last.”

Steven M. Goldberg, an attorney, is vice chairman of the board of the Zionist Organization of America, Southern California Region.

Truth and Consequences


From 2000 to 2002, I led a graduate seminar titled, “Post-Holocaust Ethical and Political Issues,” at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Among the topics covered was the politics of memory.

One of the case studies we explored was the controversy surrounding language and its power. We looked in depth at the massacre of Armenians and how its depiction had become a subject of fierce debate, primarily between Armenians, who insisted on calling the events of 1915 a genocide, and Turks, who adamantly refused to countenance the “G”word.

Essentially, this was a zero-sum game. Either one supported the Armenian or the Turkish position, whether for historical or political reasons, but neither side allowed room for compromise.

The basic Armenian argument was that up to 1.5 million Armenians were deliberately targeted and massacred by the Ottoman Empire, eight years before the modern Turkish republic came into being. At the time, the word genocide didn’t exist. It was Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-born Jew, who coined the term.

The Holocaust was the most immediate frame of reference for him, but he was also haunted by the slaughter of the Armenians – and by the need to prevent a repeat of any such occurrences – throughout his career. But had the word been in use, it no doubt would have been invoked by Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. envoy to Turkey at the time and one of the primary sources on the tragedy cited by the Armenians.

No, replied the Turks. This was a time of war. The Armenians sided with Russia, the enemy. Many people, both Turks and Armenians, were killed, but that was the regrettable, if inevitable, consequence of conflict and not a deliberate campaign to wipe the Armenians off the face of the earth, as the Nazis later sought to do to the Jews.

In recent years, of course, the survivors and eyewitnesses have disappeared. But each side has marshaled as much documentary evidence as it can to buttress its assertion. Yet neither side has been talking to the other. Instead, both have been appealing to the rest of the world, seeking supporters.

Not surprisingly, each has sought to draw the Jews to its ranks. The Jews’ moral voice, they reckoned, far exceeds actual numbers. The people of the Shoah are best positioned to tip the scales in one direction or the other.

The Armenian position has been straightforward. As victims of the Holocaust, who can better understand the Armenian ordeal and anguish than the Jews? Fearful of the danger of Holocaust denial, aren’t the Jews most aware of the slippery slope of distorting historical truth? And wasn’t it Adolf Hitler who reportedly asked, “Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?” – in effect, paving the way for the Final Solution?

Meanwhile, the Turkish stance has been that Jews shouldn’t simply accept the Armenian version of history lock, stock and barrel, as it’s fraught with distortion and deceit, but rather bear in mind the traditional Turkish welcome of minority communities, especially the embrace of dispersed Jews from Spain by the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 15th century.

Moreover, Turkish leaders have also at times taken a tougher line, suggesting, in barely veiled language, that a Jewish acceptance of the Armenian version of history could have negative consequences for other Jewish interests, whether in Turkey or beyond.

And it is in this vise that many Jews have lived for years, essentially pitting principle against pragmatism. For armchair observers, that may look like an easy choice, but in the world of policy, where actions can have real-life consequences, it’s anything but.

Look at successive governments of the United States, whether under Democratic or Republican leaders. All have reached the same conclusion: Turkey is of vital importance to U.S. geo-strategic interests, straddling as it does two continents, Europe and Asia, bordering key countries – from the former Soviet Union to Iran, Iraq and Syria – and serving as the southeastern flank of NATO. Each administration has essentially punted when asked about the Armenian question, seeking to discourage Congress from recognizing the events of 1915 as genocide, while arguing that a third-party parliamentary body isn’t the right venue to settle a heated historical dispute.

And now I come back full circle to my Johns Hopkins classroom. I had four or five Turkish students in the course. All but one proudly defended Turkey’s historical record, stubbornly refusing to consider any competing narrative.

But there was one young woman who, on reading the assigned material and much more, came to me and said that for the first time, she doubted the official Turkish version of events. There were simply too many compelling accounts of the suffering of Armenians to swallow whole the Turkish line.

She then went a step further and shared her thinking with our class. Regrettably, the other Turkish students distanced themselves from her, but the other students admired her for her courage. They instinctively understood that it wasn’t easy for her to express her sorrow and confusion, but that, under the circumstances, it seemed the right thing to do. I, too, admired her.

I have a strong connection to Turkey, a country I have visited on numerous occasions and to which I feel very close. Few countries have a more critically important role to play in the sphere of international relations.

I remain grateful to this day for the refuge that the Ottoman Empire gave to Jews fleeing the Inquisition. I am intimately connected to the Turkish Jewish community and admire its patriotism and enormous contribution to its homeland.

I deeply appreciate the link between Turkey and Israel, which serves the best interests of both democratic nations in a tough region. And I value Turkey’s role as an anchor of NATO and friend of the United States.

At the same time, I cannot escape the events of 1915 and the conclusions reached by credible voices, from Ambassador Morgenthau to Harvard professor Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum about the nature of what took place: It was a genocide, they determined, albeit one that occurred more than 30 years before the term was coined.

Israel fights 24/7 infowar against Iran in cyberspace


In response to the Iranian government’s recent media war against Israel on satellite television and the Internet, Israel’s Foreign Ministry last month launched its own offensive — a Persian-language pro-Israel Web site. Although the site’s first aim is to teach Persian-language readers about Israel, it also gives Iranians in Iran a different perspective on their own government’s activities. And for all these reasons, the site, Hamdami.com — Persian for “camaraderie” — is also of great interest to Los Angeles’ large Iranian community.

Hamdami has been praised by local Iranian Jews and Muslims for reaching out to average Iranians who are constantly fed anti-Israel propaganda by Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime.

“I believe it’s a well-designed, balanced, factual and informative site,” said Sam Kermanian, Secretary General of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation. “The content is less about Israel and more about political issues relevant to all people of the Middle East.”

Politically active Iranian Muslims in Southern California who have used the Internet to reach out to Iranians, particularly the student-run opposition groups, see opportunities in Hamdami.

“A site like this can definitely influence everyday Iranians and brings them closer to Israel despite the negative brainwashing they might have received from the government,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, head of the Marze Por Gohar Party, an Iranian political opposition group based in Westwood.

Farahanipour said the reach of the Iranian regime’s anti-Israel campaign goes beyond its own hate-filled Web sites; it has also provided financial backing for multiple anti-Israel, pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic blogs through the Orkut.com Web site. Orkut is a free international social networking Web site for non-Westerners set up by Google.

Los Angeles Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch said the Hamdami site is the first effort by Israel’s Foreign Ministry in nearly 30 years to open a direct channel of dialogue to Iranians in Iran.

“We have always distinguished completely between the people of Iran — who we believe are striving for peace — and the Iranian regime, which is very radical,” Danoch said. “We believe that it’s a tremendous step in Israel’s public diplomacy when it comes to the issue of Iran.”

The Hamdami site offers information in Persian about the Holocaust, a response to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denier’s convention in Tehran last year. The site also gives readers opportunities to interact directly with Israeli officials.

“There will be a Q-and-A for people from Iran to ask questions from the government of Israel through this Internet site, and they will receive answers from us directly,” Danoch said.

Various online surveys and estimates indicate that as many as 11 million people from among Iran’s population of 70 million use the Internet. Farahanipour said even though the Iranian government may be able to block the Israeli site, Iranians will find ways to gain access.

“I think this site can still be very beneficial even if blocked, as it is likely that other Persian-language sites that are not blocked will reference it as a source — so Iranians may ultimately obtain this information from the Israeli government one way or another,” Farahanipour said.

According to a poll of Iranians living in Iran conducted by the Center for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights (CFPD), an L.A.-based Iranian American nonprofit, 70 percent of Iranians do not agree that Israel should be destroyed and another 65 percent do not believe Ahmadinejad’s statements about the Holocaust.

Danoch said that later this month the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles will have its own formal event to launch the Hamdami site and welcome local Persian-language newspapers, radio programs and television stations to attend. A year ago, the Consulate first reached out to Los Angeles’ Persian-language media outlets broadcasting into Iran by holding a press conference responding to Iran’s leaders who were calling for Israel’s destruction. The gathering was the first public interaction between the Israeli government and the Iranian media in more than 25 years.

Local Iranian Jewish leaders said that while the Hamdami Web site is a productive first step by the Israeli government to reach out to Iran’s population, the Iranian government is still winning the public relations war in the United States and Europe.

“They [Iranian officials] seem to be very effective in arguing their half-truths, untruths and proliferating them into the Western media, which in turn feeds it to Western public opinion,” Kermanian said. “They are also gaining momentum in their direct and indirect lobbying efforts in Western capitals, including Washington D.C.”

To Hear or Not to Hear


If your life could change in a moment, what would you want it to be?

Most of us quickly consider what we’d want from the world or
from another person: more love, more money, more respect, more health, more learning, more time.

Now, instead of changing factors outside of your life, think about your own character. What would you change about yourself?

Having a clear answer to that question helps define a serious Jew. When we study the expanse and depths of Jewish moral literature, we see that its words are reaching out to us to transform us.

Jews who take the tradition seriously allow and invite its wisdom to reach into and transform us. We can live with greater truth and less falsehood, with greater compassion and patience and less anger, with greater perspective and less “judgmentalism,” with greater wisdom and less small-mindedness.

Here, of course, is the problem with life-changing wisdom that comes from a tradition, or from any source. Unless you want to change, unless you can clearly detect the ways in which you need to transform yourself, you will experience such wisdom directed at you as misaddressed, mistaken and misconceived.

How many of us can remember cogent and timely advice given to us, but we could not understand how crucial it was for us at the time? How many of us have given advice to another out of true love and concern, and seen our advice misunderstood or ignored? We need to be spiritually and morally ready, it seems, to hear the truths we need to hear.

Back in Torah portion Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35), the Israelites were not ready to hear. When Moshe came down from Mount Sinai, the Israelites were cavorting with the molten calf. If we understand this psychologically and archetypically, this cavorting with the calf was a way of not listening, of making ourselves too busy to attend to the truth that was presented to us.

The Holy One has redeemed us from slavery; not just political oppression, the rabbis remind us, but also from a spiritual death. We were steeped in sin. I think of cultures and subcultures today that have gone bad, of nations and neighborhoods where basic human values are forgotten. I think of individuals I have known, wracked by anger, envy, resentment or fear, taken far from the center of their being.
The Holy One addresses us, calling us to lives of nobility, but we don’t hear; a “not hearing” that continues in each of us at one time or another.

And then there are moments when we do hear. This week’s parsha, Vayakhel-Pekudey, is such a moment. After the disaster of the molten calf incident, Moshe provides forgiveness from God for the people. He ascends Mount Sinai and receives another set of tablets, engraved with words that evoke the wisdom of the divine implanted in each person’s heart.

This time, we don’t shut out those words that evoke us into full being. In this week’s parsha, we find the people of Israel donating of their wealth — not to an idol that helps mute the divine, but rather to building a sanctuary that will keep the divine word alive in their midst.

That sanctuary we built in the desert thousands of years ago seems to be the key. There are words in our tradition that can alert each of us to full consciousness — a different word for you, a different word for me. What makes us fellow Jews — Jews in fellowship with one another — is that we listen to the same tradition together, we study together, we work together to keep each other awake.

We must build sanctuaries — communities of learning and devotion, fellowship and service — in which this holy wisdom is preserved and lived out. The Hebrew word root of the name of our parsha, “Vayakhel” also gives us the word kehilla, which means congregation or community.

From a Jewish perspective, from the wisdom of our parsha, these must be communities of meaning, where we are taught how to change our lives, where we are given a vision of what our lives could be become. Our communities can be places where the divine word given to each of us is heard and lived, lifting us to the lives to which God is calling us all.

Mordecai Finley is the rabbi of Ohr HaTorah congregation, as well as provost and professor of liturgy and mysticism at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus.

Clergy abuse — the cover and the story; Anti-Semitic road rage — do the right thing?


Cover Choice

It is appalling to me that you should depict this dreadful image on your cover (“Don’t Kid Yourself,” Jan. 12)

I understand your exploring the topic in an article, but to put this image and headline on the cover of The Jewish Journal when you describe plenty of anti-Semitism incidents causing us problems already is really inappropriate. As a subscriber of several years, I am really disappointed in your choice of covers, to say the least. You could use some better editorial advisers.

Fleurette Hershman
Sherman Oaks

While The Jewish Journal should be commended for addressing this issue, the cover photo illustration was not necessary.

Harry Green
via E-mail

I wanted to personally thank The Jewish Journal for having the courage to publish the entire JTA series, “Reining in Abuse” (Jan. 12). You have helped to break the taboo of silence and secrecy. Awareness and education are the first steps in making changes in hopes of ending sexual violence and bringing healing to our communities.

In the article, “Awareness Center and Blogs Draw Praise, Criticism,” I wanted to point out a fact that was omitted. The Awareness Center has posted our polices for removing alleged and convicted offenders from our Web page (www.theawarenesscenter.org/policies.html).

Vicki Polin
Executive Director
The Awareness Center Inc.
(Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)

I was so moved by the writings and revelations of clergy abuse within the Jewish community. Someone was finally telling the truth. Someone had managed to put into print what has been taboo for so long. This article brings to light that rabbis, cantors and Jewish religious educators are just as capable of committing this horrendous sin of abuse.

I feel it is [also] important that the Jewish community realize that one in three women and one in seven men have been sexually abused at some time during their childhood. Just as Jewish clergy are not immune from clergy abuse, the Jewish community as a whole is not immune to incest.

Rabbis, cantors and chaplains need to confront their own feelings and fears about incest in order to provide pastoral care to their congregants in need of being heard. This cannot be pushed aside any longer.

Bonnie Leopold
Via e-mail

Ride on Wild Side

While I truly empathize with Gary Wexler’s rude awakening to anti-Semitism, I cannot help but ask, what took him so long (“Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” Jan. 12, 2007)?

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles

I was shocked that in Gary Wexler’s column, “Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” there would even be a question about reporting the Jamaican car service driver who threatened his life and spewed anti-Semitic remarks on the way to the airport.

No mention was made of reporting this incident to the police or even contacting the car service that employs this driver.

Sometimes we meet evil incarnate, and we have a responsibility to confront it. It is very unsettling that someone could have this experience and not feel a responsibility to act.

Doesn’t Wexler realize that an irrational anti-Semite serving the public makes everyone who uses that service unsafe and that Wexler and his family’s safety is not increased by not reporting this incident to the police?

Pamela Abramovici
Pasadena

Gary Wexler reports on his brush with an insane anti-Semite and his dilemma about a proper reaction.How about reporting this lunatic to company management, then consider appropriate legal proceedings. The district attorney can decide on a proper course of action, especially if there is a pattern of such abuse.

I emigrated from France as a teenager, so I never got too used to the golden age of acceptance Wexler mentions. Most Jews outside the United States know anti-Semitism as a fact of life. No, they do not like it.

But, despite lacking a full embrace by much of the rest of the world, Jews throughout the ages have chosen to celebrate and perpetuate Judaism. This is what many of us continue to do today.

So, Wexler, do not feel afraid, guilty or ambivalent. Be proud. Defend yourself, your family and your people. As a Jew, you deserve as much respect as any other human being. Do not settle for less.

Stephan C. Schonbuch
Culver City

I read your article and would like to raise several issues with you (“Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” Jan. 12, 2007):

Why didn’t you use your cellphone to call the cab company and complain while riding? After all, I can guarantee you the driver would not have killed himself to kill you.

When you got out of the taxi, you should have told this fool that his table would be turning fast, when the authorities knock on his door.

Your apologetic and no-courage sentence: “You have no idea who I am or who my people are. All you did was spew hate,” was much redundant. Who cares what he knows. Could you educate and turn around a fool?

And, as this idiot asked, “Are you going to report me like the Jew did about Mel Gibson? Are you going to get all your Jewish organizations after me now?” you should have said: “You bet I will and more.”

I hope no tip was included!

And with the self-pity one reads in between these lines, you should have then turned around and asked yourself, “What am I going to do about the Mel Gibsons of the world; about people like Judith Regan; about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threats to have a world without Israel and the U.SA.; about the brutal torture and killing of Ilan Halimi in France and the like; about all the recent pronouncements of anti-Semitism throughout the world. What are you going to do about it all?

What is your contribution besides self-pity? I would like to know!

And nothing but the truth


Internet dating — everyone does it, and everyone complains about it. Why? The guys think the girls lie, and the girls think the guys lie. And the truth is: everybody lies.

Well, almost everybody — not me, of course.

It’s a familiar problem that both genders complain about: the photos aren’t current, the ages aren’t accurate, the incomes aren’t honest and half the time the people don’t even write the profiles themselves. Did you know you can hire someone to write your profile? A “regular” profiler is $59 — but if you want a “master” profiler — it’s $299.

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So just imagine: You walk into Starbucks and scour the place for that gorgeous, young, rich and intelligent hottie you found on the Web.

Who taps you on the shoulder? Your “perfect match”: 20 years older, 40 pounds heavier, and who, according to their profile, sounded like the funniest, most clever and romantic person in the world.

But face to face, your “hottie” is a boring dud who can’t put two sentences together.

How can people lie like that? And what do they expect their “match” to do when they meet them? Fall in love? I don’t think so.

So, after much thought, careful consideration and a gigabyte of not-so-perfect “perfect matches,” I have decided it makes much more sense to have a dating Web site that not only requires people to tell the truth, but emphasizes that its precise mission is for people to list in complete and larger-than-life detail all their flaws. Even the very worst ones. Consider what a delight it would be to meet people and think, “Hey, you’re really not as bad as you said!”

Here’s an example of what some of the profiles might include:

His

Screen name: Mr. Hunky — oops, I mean Mr. Chunky
I snore.
I have a beer belly.
I get drunk every night.
I have a hairy back.
I’m bald.

Hers

Screen name: Real Fox — oops I mean, Real Lox
I snore.
I have a beer belly.
I get drunk every night.
I have a hairy back.
I’m bald.

There are all these “reality” TV shows. Why not have some “reality” dating sites?
Here’s a comparison of how people’s descriptions might differ on these Web sites:

What MEN say:

MillionaireMatch.com — I make more than $500,000/year.
TruthfulLosers.com — I’m on unemployment.
Matchmaker.com — I want a woman who’s independent, strong and feisty.
Tell-It-Like-It-Is.com — I want a doormat who will cook, clean and slave for me.
JDate.com — My interests are cross-country skiing, the opera and the symphony.
BrutallyHonest.com — I watch Jerry Springer every day, and at night I go for lap dances.

What WOMEN say:

Match.com — I’m toned and athletic.
I’mNotLying.com — I’m flabby with sagging buns and cellulite.
DreamDate.com — I’m 36.
Old-Maids-R-Us.com — I’m 52.
AmericanSingles.com — I like to eat healthy.
If-I-Don’t-Meet-Someone-Soon-I’ll-Kill-Myself.com — I’m anorexic, so you won’t have to spend money on dinner dates.

So you’re wondering: Would anyone ever want to meet someone on my Truth-in-Advertising website?

Sure. Myriad women who aren’t tall, blonde, blue-eyed, silicone-breasted beauties. And all the shy geeky guys with heart and no hunk. Not to mention all the gals and guys who auditioned for “Extreme Makeover,” “Average Joe,” “The Swan” and “The Biggest Loser” — but didn’t get on.

I believe there is hope and love out there for everyone. When I went to New York last year, I saw the revival of the musical “Cabaret.” There was a wonderful song in it, called “Meeskite” — which is a Yiddish word meaning “ugly.” It told a charming tale about two lovely but ugly people, who meet, fall in love and get married — and then have a baby who turns out to be … gorgeous. I loved that song!

It gave hope to all the people who weren’t born (or transformed by plastic surgeons on reality shows) — beautiful.

Whoever you are, know that there is a soulmate — young or old, tall or short, skinny or chubby, obnoxious or timid — waiting for you somewhere! Whether you’re at a party or a bar, on a blind date or on “Don’t-give-up-even-if-you’re-homely.com” — someday you’ll meet them and happily ride off into the sunset together. Just remember, you don’t have to lie to find love — so tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

Marilyn Anderson is 25, blonde, blue-eyed, toned & athletic, and loves to cook….

P.S. On I’mNotLying.com: Marilyn is over 40; brunette; brown-eyed; average build; and the one time she tried to cook dinner for a guy, she cut her finger opening a can of Spaghettios and had to go the emergency room to get 10 stitches. And that’s the truth!

Marilyn Anderson is the author of “Never Kiss A Frog: A Girl’s Guide to Creatures from the Dating Swamp.” Her website is www.neverkissafrog.com.

Deal or No Deal


Some women would argue that your expectations should go down the longer you are single. I say a deal breaker is a deal breaker, and the fact that you have turned 28
for several years in a row doesn’t mean you should dismiss core things you want in a guy.

Let’s start with the no-brainers: A suitable suitor should have the following qualities: intelligence, sense of humor, financial stability, emotional stability and passion. I also require my mate be heterosexual. He also should not be hygienically challenged, an addict or a felon.

The other thing that is near the top of my list is height. I like guys who are tall, but, more importantly, I prefer guys who tell the truth about their height. I met Bill through my friend’s aunt. He had recently moved to town, and we had two weeks of conversations before we were able to meet. He said he was 5-foot-8. He wasn’t. First words out of his mouth when we met were, “You are not 5-foot-6. You are at least 5-foot-8.”

I was not taller than I claimed to be, it was Bill who was shorter.

All right, so, maybe my list is a bit longer than the average. Some say we tolerate more when we’re younger; we have lower expectations. I say we’re just more apt to know what we want after dating for a decade or so.

We all have a list of qualities essential for a potential mate. A cat person can’t date a dog person. A neat freak does not want a slob. A person who likes to drink socially wants a designated driver.

Some … many … most of us have at least one item on our list of attributes a loved one cannot possess.

For one friend of mine, Shakespeare is his deal breaker. He had been seeing a woman for three months before he took her to see a Shakespearean play. He loved it. She hated it. They were over. He said it would have saved him three months had he taken her to a play when they first started seeing each other.

My friend Kate dated musicians when she was in her 20s. She managed bands and was a bit of a groupie. Kate had a hard and fast rule, though — she could never date a guy who did his hair or makeup better than she.

Another female friend had a problem with her beau’s table manners — or lack thereof. They had just started dating, so rather than making waves, she figured they’d just break up sooner rather than later. Before she could end it, he did the unthinkable: He asked her if something was wrong. So, she said, “Yes,” told him about her “needs,” and he said he was glad she told him and instituted change. While etiquette was a deal breaker for her, he wouldn’t let it be their breaking point.

Not all confrontations fare so well.

Mike was a friend of a business associate, who knew I was looking to meet someone. Mike called, and we had great phone chemistry. I knew he had been divorced and had kids. He came with a good recommendation. You can’t beat that.

Mike had been used to online dating, so he asked me a laundry list of easy questions, before getting to the tougher ones.

“Have you ever been married? Do you have kids? Do you want kids?” he asked. “No, no and yes,” I said.

At that point Mike suggested we stop talking, because he had kids and was done.

The call was over — just like that.

Wow. That was the shortest not-a-blind-date I ever had. I appreciated Mike’s honesty, but couldn’t help but wonder if things would have been different had we met in real life.

So, here’s the thing. If we all were to lay our cards out on the table, we would save a lot of time. If we know up front that a person has a deal-breaking habit, pet or attribute, then we don’t have to waste time dating a Mr. or Ms. Wrong.

But it’s one thing to have ideas of what you do and do not want in a life partner, it’s another to dismiss someone without getting to know them just because, say, he has two left feet, doesn’t like classical music or has a few extra pounds.

By judging people before we meet them, we may miss out on a great new friend or an important love.


Debra L. Eckerling is a freelance writer, based in Los Angeles who leads a writers support group in Santa Monica.

Let’s confront, I mean, let’s talk


Men will do anything — and I mean anything, from changing their phones, emails and even primary residences, to joining the army during wartime — rather than
confront a woman. By “confront,” I mean, “talk directly to.” They just don’t like it.  

Finding Deeper Truths in Fiction — the Best About Israel


In recent weeks, many of us “Diaspora Jews” kept ourselves neck-deep in news from the Middle East: jumping out of bed to check the front page, keeping the television on all night, refreshing Web sites for the latest headlines. Of course, our routine paled in comparison to many Israelis, who were dashing into bomb shelters, being forced from their homes, arranging funerals. Still, it was a change, part of our anxiety-propelled, bottomless need for information.

But information does not necessarily breed understanding. This is especially true for us who are here and not there, and the distance is a complicating factor. Even those who have planted themselves firmly on one side or another of the political spectrum have been struck by new, different, often uncomfortable thoughts. (“How can I accept the killing of innocent Lebanese civilians, even by Israel?” one asks, while another wonders whether he should up the ante of his support by joining the Israeli army.) Behind these questions is the desire to get a better hold on the exact contours of one’s individual relationship to the State of Israel — not necessarily by figuring out one’s politics as much as by plumbing one’s emotional connection.

The answers to these questions cannot be found on CNN (thankfully). For this, we might be more successfully aided by fiction. One should read Israeli writers, of course — Agnon, Amichai, A.B. Yehoshua, Aharon Appelfeld, Orly Castel-Bloom, Etgar Keret. But the more appropriate template may come from fellow Americans, writers who, by exploring the Diaspora Jew’s relationship to Israel, have gone down this road before.

One of the best of these books is “The Counterlife,” Philip Roth’s 1986 masterpiece. Less a linear tale than five riffs revolving around the same set of characters, the book acts as a kind of narrative kaleidoscope on Jewish identity; with each slight shift of perspective, a whole new picture emerges (think “Sliding Doors,” but smarter). The structure is designed to put the author’s famed alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, face to face with characters who challenge his identity as a Jew — vis-?-vis signature Roth topics (sex, family, psychoanalysis, sex, assimilation, sex) as well as broader ones: the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and, most evocatively here, Israel. Nathan’s good, moderate, American values are challenged — from his resistance to religious ritual and distaste for the political right (“We do not wish to crush the Arab,” a settler leader explains, “we simply will not allow him to crush us”), to his subtle romanticization of Israeli life.

“Whenever I meet you American-Jewish intellectuals,” says his friend Shuki, a wearied Israeli journalist, “with your non-Jewish wives and your good Jewish brains, well-bred, smooth, soft-spoken men, educated men who know how to order in a good restaurant, and to appreciate a good wine, and to listen courteously to another point of view, I think exactly that: We are the excitable, ghettoized, jittery little Jews of the Diaspora, and you are the Jews with all the confidence and cultivation that comes of feeling at home where you are.”
The book is not exclusively about Israel, but those were the sections that moved me. And they are what I’ve found myself rereading over the past weeks.

“The Counterlife” is only one of many, many books about Israel by Americans — from “Yehuda” (1931) by Meyer Levin to “Exodus” (1958) by Leon Uris to “Light Years” (2005) by Tamar Stein (see sidebar). Perhaps it is this kind of reading that can begin to provoke understanding of the conflict a continent away. l

To push fiction as a complement to the newspaper, the television and the Internet in our quest for information and understanding about Israel, we asked readers to help us create a list of the best novels and short stories about Israel written by Diaspora authors:

  • “Yehuda” by Meyer Levin: Based on the author’s own experiences, this book is the first known novel depicting life set on a kibbutz in then-Palestine of 1931 (1931).
  • “Exodus” by Leon Uris: A detailed account of the transition from the ill-treatment of Jews in Europe to the founding of Israel sets up a fictional background for political arguments on issues of the 19th and 20th centuries (1958).
  • “A Weave of Women” by E.M. Broner: A group of very different women band together to save a shelter for wayward Jewish girls (and learn a lesson or two in politics, when they change its official name to “Home for Jewish Future Homemakers”). “Life’s contradictions live throughout this novel,” wrote one reviewer (1978).
  • “Preparing for Sabbath” by Nessa Rapoport: A young woman’s spiritual quest, set in Jerusalem (1981).
  • “The Hope” by Herman Wouk: An epic novel about Israel’s fight for statehood. The author delves into the personal lives of the dramatis personae, including Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and Anwar Sadat (1993).
  • “Operation Shylock: A Confession” by Philip Roth: An impostor, calling himself “Philip Roth,” causes a furor in Israel by advocating “Diasporism,” the polar opposite of Zionism, encouraging Israelis to return to Eastern Europe (1993).
  • “The Jewish War” by Tova Reich: A radically religious, polygamous man, Jerry Goldberg transforms from a mere social worker in the Bronx to a terrorist leader of a group of American Jews in Israel who secede a portion of the West Bank to form their own nation in this satire (1995).
  • “From a Sealed Room” by Rachel Kadish: The lives of a young woman from New York, a Holocaust survivor and an Israeli housewife intersect (1998).
  • “Damascus Gate” by Robert Stone: A journalist in Jerusalem, reared both Jewish and Christian, feels devoid of a true sense of identity, despite the fact that he is surrounded by some of the most devoutly religious peoples in the world. “The characters in ‘Damascus Gate’ may be ‘God-struck,'” wrote Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times, “they may dream insistently of a better world, but like so many Stone characters, they end up captives of history and their own very human illusions” (1998).
  • “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges” by Nathan Englander: “A debut collection of nine stories that explore the condition of being Jewish with an often hallucinatory, epigrammatic eloquence that is, as advertised, reminiscent of the fiction of Isaac Singer, Saul Bellow, and especially Bernard Malamud,” noted Kirkus (1999).
  • “The Family Orchard” by Eve Nomi: Spanning six generations, this epic follows the lives of one family grounded in Jerusalem (2000).
  • “House of Guilt” by Robert Rosenberg: Police detective Avram Cohen goes on a hunt to find a tycoon’s wayward son, with his search leading him right into the heart of the West Bank (2000).
  • “Strange Fire” by Melvin Bukiet: A dark comedy about a speechwriter for the Israeli prime minister (2001).
  • “Crimes of the City” by Robert Rosenberg: Police detective Avram Cohen must track down the killer of two nuns in Jerusalem while contending with a host of religious and political tensions (2001).
  • “The Ascent of Eli Israel” by Jon Papernick: In seven modern-day stories, the scene is established in Israel, and the plots are mostly driven to underscore hypocrisy, touching on cultural tensions and war (2002).
  • “Quiet Street” by Zelda Popkin and Jeremy A. Popkin: A woman living in the suburbs of Jerusalem must come to terms with reality as she watches her 18-year-old daughter take on the role of soldier instead of farmer (2002).
  • “Seven Blessings” by Ruchama King: Set in an Orthodox community in Jerusalem. King has been described by writer Wendy Shalit as “a writer who writes about a devout lifestyle that she actually lives” (2003).
  • “The Dialogues of Time and Entropy” by Aryeh Lev Stollman: “An expert weaver, Stollman brings together themes of religion, science, and love into an emotional whole,” noted Kirkus (2003).
  • “Welcome to Heavenly Heights” by Risa Miller: A cohort of Jews from the United States ventures to the West Bank to build a new community, but their settlement becomes a primary target of violence (2003).
  • “The Butcher’s Theater” by Jonathan Kellerman: A chief inspector of police who is also a Yemenite Jew begins work on a case involving the death of an Arab woman. After a second killing occurs, the inspector bears witness as Jewish-Arab conflicts ensue (2003).
  • “Ten Thousand Lovers” by Edeet Ravel: A novel, set in the 1970s, about the relationship between a Canadian émigré and an army interrogator. “The tragedy here is both anticipated and inevitable,” said Booklist, “but the textured personal story rises above its political context like a melody soaring beyond the steady rhythm pulsing below it” (2003).
  • “An Hour in Paradise” by Joan Leegant: This collection of 10 short stories covers a breadth of characters — from the secular to Orthodox, young to old — through whom Leegant poses questions about faith, love and change (2003).
  • “The Place Will Comfort You” by Naama Goldstein: In this collection of short stories, American Jews make aliyah and Israelis immigrate to America (2004).
  • “Faith for Beginners” by Aaron Hamburger: An American Jewish family teeters on the edge of collapse. In a last resort, they travel to Israel on a package tour with a mission to reinvigorate their spirituality (2005).
  • “The Task of This Translator” by Todd Hasak-Lowy: According to Publisher’s Weekly, “Hasak-Lowy artfully reveals layers of personal and national identity,” including one story about an Israeli ex-journalist working in the cafe at Yad Vashem who clashes with an American businessman over a stale pastry (2005).
  • “The Covenant” by Naomi Ragen: Set in 2002, a pregnant Israeli woman, her husband and their child are abducted by Hamas (2004).
  • “Light Years” by Tammar Stein: A 20-year-old woman leaves Israel for college in the United States after her boyfriend is killed by a suicide bomber in a Tel Aviv restaurant (2005).

— Compiled by Elisha Sauers

Article reprinted courtesy The Forward

Gunter Grass Admits to SS Past


Gunter Grass Admits to SS Past

Nobel Prize-winning author Gunter Grass’ admission that he was an SS member has drawn both rage and defenses of the writer.

While some say the revelation devalues his life’s work, others are showing more understanding for the pressures faced by the teenager who later would write such modern German classics as “The Tin Drum.”

Grass, 78, whose autobiography is due out this fall, told the Frankfurter Allegmeine Zeitung in an interview published last Friday that he was drafted into the Waffen SS in the final months of World War II.

The Waffen SS was the elite fighting force of the SS, the Nazi Party’s quasi-military unit, and was declared part of a criminal organization at the Nuremberg Trials. Grass was interned briefly in a POW camp in Bavaria after the war.

Literary critic Helmuth Karasek told the radio program BDR that Grass should have revealed the truth sooner, and suggested that the Nobel Prize committee might not have honored someone “whom they knew had been a member of the Waffen SS and had long denied it.” Grass won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

Grass biographer Michael Juergs said he was “personally disappointed,” and has called into question the validity of Grass’ life work. But German writer Erich Loest told the Tagesspiegel newspaper that Grass’ admission should be “accepted without condemnation. He was very young and there was no one to influence him in the opposite direction,” he said.

Grass told the Frankfurt paper he was drafted as a 17-year-old following a stint in a support unit for the German air force, and was brought to serve in a Waffen SS tank division in Dresden. In the forthcoming autobiography, “While Skinning an Onion,” he writes that the past had “oppressed him. My suppression of this through the years was among the reasons why I have written this book. It had to come out, finally.”

Grass said he originally had volunteered to serve in a Nazi submarine unit, which was “just as crazy.”

Until now, his biography has shown that Grass was drafted in the support unit for the air force in 1944, then served as a soldier. In the new book, he writes about how he was 15 when he tried to volunteer with the submarine corps and was rejected because of his age. He was called up in 1944, as were all boys born in 1927.

He was assigned to the Waffen SS, which “in the final year of the war took draftees, not only volunteers,” he said in an interview with the German Press Agency.

Grass said he never had tried to hide the fact that as a youth he was vulnerable to Nazi propaganda. He also told the Frankfurt paper that he never actually served in the Waffen SS division to which he had been assigned. He ended up behind the Russian front on reconnaissance patrols, witnessing what he described as gruesome scenes and surviving by pure chance. During his brief internment as a POW, Grass says he met the similarly interned Joseph Ratzinger, who now is Pope Benedict XVI.

Israelis Arrested for Allegedly Running U.S. Hooker Ring

Two Israelis are under arrest for allegedly running a sophisticated, multi-million-dollar prostitution ring in four Western states, employing up to 240 women.

Boaz Benmoshe, 44, and Ofer Moses Lupovitz, 43, the alleged leaders of the ring headquartered in Palm Springs, are now in a local jail, Sheriff Bob Doyle of Riverside County announced Monday.

Also arrested were two Russian nationals, Moti M. Vintrov, 33, and Eliran Vintrov, 28, together with their spouses.

According to authorities, the two Israelis ran the sex ring under the cover of Elite Entertainment, an adult escort business, which dispatched prostitutes to clients in California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon.

The Press-Enterprise news service in Riverside described the ring’s Palm Springs headquarters as a glass-walled office in a quiet open-air business complex, which also included the district office of U.S. Republican Rep. Mary Bono.Elite Entertainment allegedly operated 80 phone lines, over which clients ordered sexual services through their credit cards. Rates varied from $200 to $2,000, “depending on what you’re getting done,” Doyle said.

Local authorities and U.S. Secret Service agents arrested the suspects after a two and a half year investigation and seized $5 million in assets and more than a dozen computers.

The suspects used their income to fraudulently obtain loans to buy luxury homes in the Palm Springs area, authorities alleged.

An arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 21.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

AIPAC Judge Won’t Broaden Case

The judge in the classified information case against two former pro-Israel lobbyists rejected a prosecution attempt to broaden the indictment. Prosecutors had sought to redefine as classified a document described as unclassified in the original indictment.

Judge T.S. Ellis III rejected the request last Friday, saying it would unconstitutionally alter the indictment.

Keith Weissman, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s former Iran analyst, asked Larry Franklin, a Pentagon Iran analyst who since has pleaded guilty, for the document in June 2003.

It’s the only document that Weissman or his former boss, Steve Rosen, actively solicited, according to their August 2005 indictment.

In pre-trial rulings, Ellis has made clear that at trial he will expect a higher bar of evidence to prove that defendants knew they were hearing classified information in conversations, as opposed to receiving documentation.

Holocaust Cartoon Exhibit Opens in Iran

Iran opened a competition for the cartoons in reaction to last year’s controversy over the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper about the Islamic prophet Muhammad. One of more than 200 cartoons displayed shows the Statue of Liberty holding a book on the Holocaust in one hand and giving a Nazi-style salute in the other, The Associated Press reported.

Scandal Over General’s Stocks

Israel’s military chief drew fire following revelations that he sold an investment portfolio when the Lebanon war erupted. Within hours of a Hezbollah border raid July 12 in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two abducted, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz sold off some $25,000 worth of stocks, Ma’ariv reported Tuesday. Halutz confirmed the sale, which came shortly before markets tumbled at the prospect of major unrest in the Middle East, but said he did not know at the time that there would be a war. Ma’ariv’s revelations further stoked Israeli ire at the military’s handling of the offensive against Hezbollah, which ended this week in a cease-fire. Lawmakers from across Israel’s political spectrum called for Halutz’s resignation, and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was asked to investigate whether the stock sale constituted a criminal breach of trust.

Jewish Greeks Advocate for Israel

Jewish fraternities and sororities are launching an Israel advocacy push on college campuses this fall. Alpha Epsilon Pi and Alpha Epsilon Phi, the two largest Jewish Greek organizations, brought 90 students to Louisville, Ky., from Sunday through Tuesday to learn about building support for Israel.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

We’d All Rather Be in Venice


“What a bunch of shleppers,” my father remarks, his head doing a 180-degree pan as he takes in the view. “Not one of them has anything unique to say. Such
conformists. Just looking at them makes me nauseous.”

I turn to look, so that I, too, can take in the same view. Yes, we’re at the cemetery, looking at a hillside dotted with graves marked with headstones. It’s a quiet, pastoral setting. No one is saying much, except my father, who as usual can’t — or won’t — stop talking. This particular rant has been a perennial, ongoing drama in my family’s life, ever since my mother died.

It’s been two years this week since my mother, Betty Switkes, died, and we still haven’t had the unveiling. Jewish custom dictates that you unveil the headstone a year after the person dies, but my father has not found the right stone or the right words to inscribe on that stone, so she rests in this unmarked grave. People who pass by this spot might suspect the person buried here is a forgotten soul, but nothing could be further from the truth. She is the focus of his obsession.

He explains to me and anyone else who cares to listen: “The stone should tell the world what a unique person she was. Not just her name and her dates, but it should say something about her.”

“How about beloved wife and mother?” I offer.

“No! Every headstone says that. Look around you. Beloved wife and mother. Beloved wife and mother. Dime a dozen. Not at all unique.”

“She was uniquely your wife and my mother.”

“You don’t understand what I’m trying to do,” he stresses.

Actually I do. He doesn’t want to say goodbye. Once we have the unveiling, then what? As long as he can put this final ritual on hold, he can postpone that final farewell.

“When Betty died, half of me died,” he says.

He talks about her: “She did so much with her life. We threw the best parties. She was the greatest hostess. And her charity work. Always volunteering, always helping someone. And her exercise. She was a pioneer. She developed special exercises for the elderly. Seniorcize. I want to put all that on her headstone. So people know who they are dealing with.”

Note the present tense.

“Do you really want the headstone to look like a resume?” I ask. “Besides, everyone who knew her knows what she accomplished. And everyone who didn’t know her never will.”

He doesn’t hear me.

My father has decided on a double headstone, and that makes sense. They shared a bed for 56 years, so they should share a grave.

But that further complicates the problem of finding the appropriate inscription. If there’s a unique inscription on my mother’s side of the stone, then there must be a comparable inscription on my father’s side. It has to be balanced. Maybe the inscription should be about their life together.

“Write one inscription that applies to both of you. Perhaps something about your marriage,” I offer.

His face lights up. I suggest: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
He rejects it: “Absolutely not. That’s on every ketubbah ever written. C’mon. Think outside the box.”

Here we come to the crux of the problem. Joe Switkes is loud, fun and eccentric. He’s brilliant, expressive and totally unreasonable, a man of action, bold action. And death is the state that has no verb. Talk about irreconcilable differences.

He’s thinking about their marriage and fondly recalls the days they spent at Venice Beach, playing in the sand with their granddaughter.

How about, “We’d rather be in Venice,” I offer.

He laughs.

“That’s good. It takes it away from all this depressing stuff you see around here. I want our headstone to be unique and fun,” he explains.
But then I have second thoughts. When I’m looking at my parents’ grave, I don’t want fun.

He takes another stab at it. How about, “Betty was beautiful and caring, and Joe was smart and humorous.”

I say, “Dad, don’t clutter up the headstone with a lot of adjectives, it’ll read like a profile on JDate.”

He comes back with, “Together they lived a life that was a joy, an adventure and lots of laughs.”

I don’t think so. “Keep it dignified and sparse. Think poetry, not prose.”
Valiantly, the whole family pitches in, making suggestions. My husband suggests, “Beauty and the Beast.” Mom was like Belle – beautiful, well read and independent. Dad is like the Beast, a true prince with a heart of gold, but one must first deal with his hideous temper.

We all howl with laughter. It seems perfect, but then Dad has second thoughts. Beauty and the Beast strikes him as juvenile, and he’s not convinced that all of their friends will “get it.”

I turn to Ecclesiastes and read this beautiful passage:

theellenloop@hotmail.com.

Hush Falls Over Jewish Hollywood Post-‘Mad Mel’


Mel GibsonHollywood’s top guns have been quick to answer a vicious anti-Semitic slur, attributed to actor-director Mel Gibson — by staying mostly mute.

Gibson, the director of the controversial “The Passion of the Christ,” was pulled over in the early hours of July 28 while speeding along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and booked on suspicion of drunk driving.

In the original report filed by the arresting officer, Gibson was described as belligerent and cursing the “F*****g Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”

He then asked Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Mee, “Are you a Jew?” (According to an Associate Press interview with the deputy, Mee is Jewish.)In a contrite apology Tuesday to “everyone in the Jewish community,” Gibson admitted his anti-Semitic slur and asked to meet with Jewish leaders “with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.”

Gibson added in his statement that “There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.”

Prior to this statement, attempts to elicit reactions from some 15 leading Jewish producers, directors, actors and writers proved fruitless. A remarkable number were said to be on vacation or out of the country, others did not return phone requests.

Even Alan Nierob, who is Gibson’s official spokesman and Jewish, was said by his office to be on a two-week vacation, although he did make statements to other news outlets.

Well-connected entertainment industry journalists ran into the same shyness. Michael Speier, managing editor of the trade publication Variety, explained the reluctance to speak out in this way: “In Hollywood, you can never help yourself by saying something critical on the record. You don’t want to piss anyone off because you never know when you might need him later on. Who knows, in a few years Gibson might be a changed man and give $10 million to the Anti-Defamation League.”

Bernie Brillstein, a veteran talent agent, manager and resident iconoclast, said, “Hollywood is a small company town and you figure everyone is entitled to his position. Anyway, everybody takes it for granted that Gibson is an anti-Semite, so people say, ‘Well, he did it again.'”

However, he added, “if Gibson’s statement, if true, had been anti-gay or anti-black, there would be an uprising in Hollywood like you’ve never seen before.”

One widely admired exception to the general public silence was talent agent Ari Emanuel, the model for agent Ari Gold in the HBO series “Entourage” and brother of Illinois Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel.

In a widely circulated statement to The Huffington Post blog, Emanuel said, in part:

“At a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements. When ‘The Passion of the Christ’ came out, Gibson was quoted as categorically denying any anti-Semitism attributed to him…”Now we know the truth…. People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line. There are times in history when standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money.”

Emanuel declined to elaborate on his statement.

While many in Hollywood have privately praised Emanuel’s gutsiness, hardly any are willing to emulate him. It has been left largely to some outspoken bloggers to hold Gibson to account.

After scourging Hollywood executives and talent for lack of moral courage and putting dollars ahead of principle, commentator and author Arianna Huffington, of the eponymous huffingtonpost.com, urged Disney studios to scrap plans to distribute Gibson’s next film “Apocalypto” and to cancel his miniseries on the Holocaust on ABC-TV. (On Tuesday, the Disney-owned ABC network announced that it canceling the Holocaust series, although Disney itself is going ahead with the film.)

In a phone interview, Huffington said, “With rising anti-Semitism and the situation in the Middle East, [the Gibson incident] is not a minor issue, and not a freedom of speech issue.”

“People in this country are becoming so fearful, and Hollywood is the most fearful of all,” she said. “There is a real unwillingness to say in public what they say in private.”

As to Gibson’s future, “it depends on how much pressure Hollywood people will exert in this case,” she said,Such pressure will have to come mainly from the public, said Meyer Gottlieb, president of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

“Personally, and as a child survivor of the Holocaust, I find Gibson’s statement despicable and unforgivable. But the public generally forgives a celebrity if he shows contrition and apologizes for his trespasses,” Gottlieb said.The day after his arrest, Gibson issued a written apology, blaming his heavy drinking and history of alcoholism for acting “like a person completely out of control…I said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said.”

Huffington expressed skepticism of Gibson’s sincerity and noted that he did not specifically apologize for his anti-Jewish slur.

“What will happen is that he’ll make some even more fulsome apologies and then he’ll write some checks to Jewish charities,” Huffington said.

Some observers have also questioned whether Gibson was so drunk when he was pulled over that he had no idea what he was saying. A field test at the time of his arrest showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent, while the legal limit for driving in California is 0.08 percent,Dr. Joel Geiderman, co-chairman of the UCLA Department of Emergency Medicine, said that a 0.12 percent level is not particularly high, especially for chronic alcoholics, and was equivalent to consuming three drinks in an hour.

Cultural critic and Hollywood historian Neal Gabler, in an analysis on www.salon.com, saw the Gibson incident as a symptom of the “radicalization of America” under the Bush administration, which has “given license to hatemongers… hate does not carry the stigma it once did.”

However, were Disney to back out of distributing Gibson’s next film, or not air his Holocaust miniseries, “Gibson could be screaming that he is once again suffering for his faith and at hands of the infidels,” Gabler said.

Jewish defense organizations, usually quick to respond to anti-Semitic slurs, have also been largely inactive, perhaps preoccupied with the shooting at the Seattle Jewish federation and the Israel-Hezbollah fighting.

But Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a fierce critic of Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” said, “We would hope that Hollywood now would realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from this anti-Semite.”

On Tuesday, after Gibson’s specific apology to the Jewish community, Foxman said that apology “sounds sincere” and that “after [Gibson’s] rehabilitation for alcohol abuse, we will be ready and willing to help him with his second rehabilitation to combat this disease of prejudice.”

David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, also welcomed the apology and said “We look forward … to Gibson matching his contrition with his own deeds.”

Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who were in Israel, urged Gibson “to drop any plans to produce a miniseries on the Nazi Holocaust — [you] do not have the legitimacy to make a film about Jewish martyrdom and suffering during the Nazi era.”

Gibson entered an alcohol rehabilitation center over the weekend and was not available for comment. He is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 28 on the drunk driving charges.

Cover Story


From: "Joel Bellman" Date: Thursday, July 20, 20068:39 AM Subject: An Open Letter to Ramona RipstonFriends:I thought you might be interested in seeing the followingletter, which I sent today.Joel Bellman*****************************************Ramona Ripston, Executive Director ACLU of SouthernCalifornia 1616 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

Dear Ramona:I write with a heavy heart, as a long-time ACLU member ofmore than 30 years' standing, to express my most profounddisappointment and strenuous disagreement with the ACLU ofSouthern California's decision to honor Salam Al-Marayatiwith a "Religious Freedom" Award at this year's upcomingGarden Party on September 10http://www.aclu-sc.org/Events/101851/. I'm not sure when heand MPAC would legitimately deserve such recognition, but itmost certainly is not a time when MPAC is falsely blamingIsrael for defending herself in a two-front war launchedwithout provocation by Islamic terror organizations with thesupport and sponsorship of two rejectionist Islamic nations.As a consequence, this will be the first ever Garden Partythat I intend to boycott, and I will urge all of my friendsto do the same.I've known Salam personally for nearly 20 years. Underordinary circumstances, I can tolerate his posturing onMPAC's behalf as the voice of "moderate" Islam, although hisactual political positions are scarcely distinguishable(except in tone) from those of most of the anti-IsraeliMuslim world. Today, Israel finds herself under fiercemilitary attack across two internationally recognizedborders by guerrillas from Hamas in Gaza, and from Hezbollahin Southern Lebanon. In both cases, Israel had unilaterallyrelinquished territory (even dismantling settlements andevicting Israeli citizens), and watched while free anddemocratic elections welcomed violent extremists into thepolitical fold, and in Gaza even put them in charge. Andthen, rather than moderating their behavior and assuming theresponsibilities of civilized governance, these groupsinstead took the opportunity to mobilize and mount armedassaults that killed and captured Israeli militarypersonnel.The inevitable and entirely predictable military responsehas called down terrible death and destruction throughoutthe Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon, bringing ruinto large portions of a nation that sought no war withIsrael, but which has been effectively hijacked byextremists supported and controlled from Syria and Iran.The blood is entirely on their hands, yet when even Arabnations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were able, atleast initially, to recognize and condemn Hezbollah'saggression, MPAC has once again laid the blame squarely atIsrael's doorstep. In a July 16 communiquehttp://www.mpac.org/article.php?id=378 MPAC willfullydistracts us from the real issue by asserting, "Regardlessto the role of Iran and Syria in this conflict it isillegitimate for pro-Israeli sympathizers to skirt fromIsrael's responsibility for escalating the level of fightingwithin the region," and then for good measure makes apositively Orwellian bid for spin control by adding that"MPAC also calls upon all those who are engaging in ananalysis of the current situation to cease the use ofIslamic terminology to explain this very clearly politicalnarrative."In a July 19 communiquehttp://www.mpac.org/article.php?id=380 MPAC calls on "allpeople of conscience" to oppose a congressional resolutionin support of Israel and instead "to demand an immediate andunconditional ceasefire and condemn the continued Israeliaggression against the Palestinian and Lebanese people." Init Salam is quoted as saying, "We must make our voices heardin order to do all that we can to bring an end to thismerciless round of violence, and to restore the sanctity ofall civilian life."Not a word, of course, about the culpability of Hamas andHezbollah, not to mention Iran and Syria, in fomenting andexacerbating this crisis. Last Friday, Hezbollah leaderSheik Hassan Nasrallah blustered, "You Zionists, you wantedan open war and you will have it." Today, Hezbollah'sapologists are pleading for relief and rescue from thecalamity it brought down upon itself, but it is universallyrecognized that any ceasefire leaving Hezbollah's weaponsand warmaking capacity intact would be merely setting thestage for a future attacks and ongoing suffering andcivilian casualties on both sides.Salam's statements are perfectly consistent with MPAC's,CAIR's (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and otherMuslim propagandists' post-9/11 efforts to recast the globalstruggle against radical Islamic terrorists as somehowhaving little or nothing to do with Islam per se, when intruth it has everything to do with Islam in its mostvirulent and dangerous form. We are meant to believe this issimply one more post-colonial liberation struggle, like somany others long sentimentalized by the Left -one in whichIslam plays at best an incidental part - rather thanproperly recognizing it as the epicenter and flash-point ofradical Islam's war on the West, war on modernity, and evena nihilistic war against itself.It is particularly repellent to me that not only Salam, butRabbi Beerman and Rev. Regas are similarly to be honoredwith this award - when all three recently participatedtogether in the farce of MPAC's " Interfaith Vigil to Endthe Occupation" following the initial attacks on Israel. Toreiterate: Israel no longer occupied Gaza or SouthernLebanon. Free elections had been held, after which Israelwas attacked first from those territories withoutprovocation. And amid all the crocodile tears shed by MPACover civilian casualties, it is Hamas and Hezbollah whosecrete their weapons and mount their rocket and missileattacks from within civilian neighborhoods, using thePalestinian and Lebanese populations as both willing andunwilling "human shields," and who target civilian, notmilitary, areas inside Israel.Hezbollah and its sponsors have put civilians on both sidesof this conflict squarely in harm's way - and yourprospective honorees have turned the situation on its headto cast the principal victims as the aggressors. At thiscritical juncture, these three are those whom the ACLU ofSouthern California has seen fit to honor in the name ofreligious freedom? For shame, Ramona. For shame.In frustration and sorrow,Joel BellmanSubject: RE: No Honor for MPAC's Al-Marayati Date: Thu, 20Jul 2006 12:38:30 -0700 From: "Bellman, Joel" To:Elizabeth -I will look forward to that. I've been getting anunbelievably enthusiastic response from everyone to whom Ihave sent it (virtually all on the Left).Back in 1978, she kindly took the time to write me a verythorough two-page personal letter attempting to defend theACLU's position on the Nazi Skokie march, which as you knowcost the ACLU many members (including me for a couple ofyears, as I think you and I once discussed). That said, Iwas disappointed that she focused relentlessly on the issueof whether Nazis should have free speech rights, not on thespecifics of how they should be allowed to exercise them inthis unique situation - thus entirely missing the point,because I agreed with her that they should have thoserights. But for me, it was instead a time/place/mannerissue, and that didn't include a residential street whereHolocaust survivors would be forced to see uniformed Nazismarching past their front windows. I know the courtseventually agreed with the ACLU position (anyone can bewrong), but I objected to the way she mischaracterized theobjections that many of us had to the ACLU position.I mention all this because I will be very unhappy, again, ifRamona responds with boilerplate about the right to dissent,the need to maintain open dialogue, etc. etc. - and does notsubstantively address my objection to singling out forspecial honors this particular trio - and most especiallySalam and MPAC which he represents, when they are engagingin such an outrageous and disingenuous media blitz in themiddle of a terrible and entirely unnecessary shooting warwhere his constituency are clearly the aggressors.Of course they all have their rights to speak, which Icontinue to defend. I am explicitly objecting to the ACLU ofSo Cal decision to pay them special tribute in the midst ofthis deplorable propaganda campaign.Cheers,Joel

Power of Vows


I have twins who are almost 5 years old. One of the things that my wife and I are trying to teach them is the power of words, both for the positive and the negative.

They are learning that words can inspire, motivate and excite a situation, as they discover new and innovative ways to talk to each other, to us as parents and to the people with whom they interact. They are also learning the harder lesson that words can just as easily hurt, insult and change a situation for the worse in just a matter of moments. It is a lesson that we all learn; yet, how we carry forth these critical childhood moments of language education and speech management can determine the kinds of lives we lead, and the kinds of interactions we have with one another.

Parshat Matot opens with a lesson in the power of words. God commands Moshe to speak to the leaders of the tribes, saying, “If a person makes a vow to Adonai or takes an oath imposing an obligation on him/herself, he/she shall not break that pledge; he/she must carry out all that has crossed his/her lips” (Numbers 30:3). I am leaving aside the sexist language of this parsha, where women cannot make vows, and am operating with the knowledge that we have moved past the ancient subjugation of women. Having said that, the power of the word is what matters here.

Our ancestors understood that when we make a vow, promising to give something to God, or take an oath regarding our own actions, this was the highest and most serious endeavor, as the power of speech is what separates us most critically from the animal world. “Baruch She’amar V’hayah Ha’olam, God spoke and the world came into being.”

In the first of his two important comments on this section of Torah, the Chatam Sofer, 19th century sage and scholar, teaches that “the entire Torah is dependent on this matter of vows, for it is the foundation of foundations, for if we don’t keep our word through the vows we make, then there is no foundation for our receiving Torah in the first place” (Iturei Torah).

How many of us say things that we don’t mean? How many of us use words or phrases like, “I swear…”or “I promise…”or “You have my word…” in a colloquial or trivial fashion? I catch myself doing that all the time. Our society has lost the power of our word and that is a detriment to our ethical composure. With all of the scandals that have rocked us, from Enron on down, we know that our capitalist nature has in some ways affected our ability to be honest; making the most money at any cost drives people to make false promises or lie about the situation. That is why Torah is so important and the cycle of our religious life is so necessary in today’s world; we must all work hard to ensure that we are all leading lives founded in truth, dedication to keeping our word and thinking before we speak.

In noticing that the Torah calls on Moshe to speak to the “heads of the tribes,” the Chatam Sofer says, “People in high public office are more often tempted to make promises that they cannot keep. Their behavior could lessen the respect others have for the spoken word.”

Our public figures, to a large extent, operate on saying things in order to keep power. While this is not true for all leaders, too many have been found guilty of lying, misrepresenting the facts, making empty promises and not keeping their word. Of all the terrible things happening in the world today, two stand out in this regard.

First, the war in Iraq — which has taken 2,500 American lives and tens thousands of Iraqi lives, and cost us our reputation in the world through Abu Ghraib — was based on false premises and lies. How can we trust a leader who lies in regard to the highest level of commitment, war and peace? The amount of misconception in this war, and in the whole “war on terror,” speaks volumes to what the Chatam Sofer was warning leaders against.

Second, the response to Hurricane Katrina. After failing to adequately respond to the crisis while it was happening, the federal government made promise after promise to the recovery and rebuilding of the devastated Gulfport region, only to renege or abandon most of those promises. Nearly a year after the hurricane, whole parts of the area still look like a war zone. There is no better illustration of false promises than what has not happened in New Orleans. Thankfully, religious groups, including our own Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and local synagogues have been partnering with other religious institutions to do our small part. But promises not kept are failing thousands of innocent and needy people.

As I try and teach my children to speak kindly and wisely, I am thankful for the words of the Torah and the comments of the Chatam Sofer, who guide me in offering a legacy of honesty and commitment to the value of integrity. May we all find ways to keep our word, imitating God, by whose word our entire existence was created.

Advice and Reality Face a Moment of Truth in Israel


“Just don’t take the bus.”

As I left on a trip to Israel a couple months ago, this was the advice I got from everyone. Even then, a time of relative peace, the
ersatz front-page pictures of terror-torn Israeli commuter buses surrounded by wounded people being moved to ambulances were still too fresh. Suicide bombers, not rockets, were foremost in our minds. And we all know that suicide bombers target buses and cafes — public places where innocent people gather.

So as I took off in late spring, leaving behind my young daughter and husband, I thought about this simple panacea — “Avoiding buses and cafes, how hard is that?” Did I expect to see buses blowing up all around me as I stayed safely on the sidewalks? Not really. But traveling to a land that has been beset by terrorists carries with it added anxieties, so why take chances?

Then I arrived in Jerusalem.

My first instinct in any new city is to mingle. I like to walk the streets, stop into ordinary shops — grocery stores and electronic shops, not just the Judaica stores or Dead Sea skin care outlets for tourists. I like to take public transportation.

My instincts set in. I wanted to see what it is like to live in Jerusalem. So first thing, instead of a taxi, I took a shared cab from the airport to my hotel — an amazing ride where everyone made friends during our 40 minutes together. A psychologist from San Diego was chatting with an ecologist who split her time among Israel, the United States and Latin America. The clearly religious were giving advice to the traveling bohemians. Lively chatter among complete strangers filled the minivan, and when I arrived at my hotel without the exact fare — upsetting the cab driver — someone I’d never met before paid my part without a question.

“Just being in Israel replenishes my soul,” the woman who’d just spent $10 on me told me as I took off gratefully with her card so I could send her money back.
It was dusk, and darkness was falling over the city. I asked at the hotel’s front desk whether it was all right to walk in the neighborhood to find a place to eat; the manager assured me it was. Out I went, jet-lagged but invigorated, into the heart of Jerusalem. And even at 9 p.m., many many people — young and old — were walking everywhere. I was especially struck by the women alone on the streets. I’m used to Los Angeles, where first, no one walks, and second, no one walks alone. At night, Jerusalem seemed so safe.

I saw buses drive by filled with commuters. I wondered.

A mini town square, Ben Yehuda lies at the heart of the tourist district and at the heart of where young Israelis hang out. In the course of the 10 days I was in Israel, I went there many times — for a falafel on my first night, to shop for souvenirs on another, for a late-night dinner after Shabbat. For several blocks the street is cordoned off from cars, like Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, so vendors and performers fill the public spaces.

It was an easy walk from my hotel.

The question of the bus came up really only on my third day in Israel. I’d made a commitment to meet a friend in Tel Aviv, and I was not about to pay $60 to $70 each way to take a taxi there. I rose early on Sunday morning, a regular workday in Israel, and set off for the bus station, where I’d been told I could catch a gesher — a shared cab or minivan available to all, much like the one I’d taken from the airport. I walked to the bus station, a longer hike than I’d expected, because I wanted to get a glimpse of a different part of Jerusalem, particularly the regular, working-class neighborhoods.

Getting where you want to go is easy, because everyone helps anyone asking directions, even when you speak only English. However, having misjudged the distance, I made my way to the bus station with little time to spare. And then I couldn’t find where the geshers were stationed. And no one knew enough English to know what I was asking about. I was really in Israel now. Suddenly, I was in line to go through the metal detectors to enter the terminal, and once inside, even with my limited Hebrew, I could easily see that a bus was leaving for Tel Aviv in just a few moments.

I stepped up to the ticket line. Flashes of my daughter went through my mind. I pushed away thoughts of the final blackout scene in the Oscar-nominated Palestinian film “Paradise Now.” I accused myself of being ridiculous and went up and bought my ticket — $3.50 for a ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv on the bus. Door 15 the ticket seller told me.

I was taking the bus.

Not so easy, I soon saw. So was everyone else. The bus hadn’t arrived and dozens — maybe even a hundred — Israelis were pushing toward the doorway to be first in line. The danger now, I realized, was getting crushed. My New York bus instincts began to take over. My Los Angeles freeway driver gusto came into play, too. I was going to get on that bus.

As it turned out, I did. One of the last to get a seat, I sat next to a gun-toting soldier returning to his base who had two cellphones ringing constantly, which he could only answer after removing his iPod earphones, which were already projecting loud enough for me to share his music. In the aisle next to us, a mother with her two young girls sat on the floor. The bus was packed with what looked like workaday commuters. We arrived in Tel Aviv on time and without incident.

When I was returning to Jerusalem later that day, my friend escorted me to the gesher, and I sort of regretted getting the help. I e-mailed my husband that night that I’d done exactly what everyone told me not to do and was none the worse for wear. He was shocked. I was proud. It was such a simple thing.

Maybe, sometimes, overcoming your fears and joining in is an accomplishment. I say this as many of my friends are considering whether to travel to Israel right now. Maybe it’s important to go, now more than ever. To be with the Israelis who are continuing their daily lives there, despite the threats. Maybe sometimes taking the bus is the best way to go.

Converts’ Hardships Expose Truth


“My father didn’t survive the Holocaust to have his grandson marry a shiksa.”

Alison, my classmate from the University of Pennsylvania who is currently in the process of converting to Judaism, gasped at the harshness of the words delivered stoically by her boyfriend’s mother.

He succumbed to intense pressure from his parents to end the relationship, while she was subjected to a cascade of accusations:

“Converts are not welcome in my family.” “No Jewish boy will ever want to marry you.” “You are inadequate to raise Jewish children.”

“I felt like someone was putting a knife through my heart,” she told me. “When you’re so passionate about something, and you know you will never be accepted…. I’ll always feel inadequate.”

As I had recently discovered, Alison’s case was not an isolated incident in Penn’s Jewish community. I vividly remember my first Friday night at Penn. It was a huge event organized by Hillel, and swarms of Jewish students were packed in.

Noticing that I was a freshman overwhelmed by the bombardment of new faces, a junior whom I had never met before took my hand and said, “Are you Laura? I’m Julie. I’ve heard so much about you! If you want, I saved you a seat on that table over there.”

We soon became friends and particularly bonded during our weekly swim in Penn’s pool. One day, as we sat chatting casually in the sauna, she confided to me that although she observes the law according to Orthodox traditions, she technically isn’t Jewish yet.

Julie hails from a small, white Christian town, and spurred by her own spiritual quest, she had found Judaism. We had been close for two months by this point, and I was shocked that she had kept this from me. She explained that she has learned to keep her conversion secret from her Jewish acquaintances, because the reactions have been so discouraging and unwelcoming: “The overwhelming sentiment was that converts are not wanted, and they are a burden. And that’s what I was.”

Intrigued and appalled, I tried to probe the issue. A torrent of emotions and stories poured out, reflecting her relief in expressing her feelings to a sympathetic ear.

“I was taunted, like the fat kid in third grade” Julie recalled. “It was always, ‘Well, you’re not Jewish, so you shouldn’t come to davening.’ Students wouldn’t hand me a bentscher, or they would tell me to step out of the line to wash [ritually], because I was just wasting everyone’s time. Just lots of constant, intentional reminders that I was not chosen to be part of this people as they were.”

Julie’s list of painful interactions went on and on, as I sat in numbed silence, hugging my knees to my chest and absorbing the oppressive heat of the room.

“I have been told not to touch the Torah and to go back to my own religion” she relayed to me matter-of-factly.

“Wasn’t there anyone you could confide in?” I asked.

“I could confide in some more than others, but when it came down to it, no one really cared whether I converted or not.”

“So … how did you cope?”

“I cried and wondered what I did wrong to merit not being born Jewish.”

Just then, someone entered the sauna, bringing in a chilling draft and an abrupt end to our conversation.

I was introduced to Alison several weeks after I met Julie. Again, I discovered she wasn’t born Jewish only after knowing her a couple of months. When I finally mustered the courage to approach her about her experiences converting, I found her surprisingly open as well.

“When I went to shul, people asked me why I was there,” she revealed. “People would ask me to press the elevator button for them on Saturday … to be their Shabbos goy. Why didn’t I just abide by the seven Noahide laws, they asked. There’s no reason for you to convert. They called me a shiksa…. That was very hurtful.”

In addition to justifying their change of faith to their families, friends and local communities, Julie and Alison absorb the added hardships inflicted by the intolerance of the Jewish world they seek to enter. As converts, they feel that they undergo constant scrutiny and consequently abide by the strictest interpretations of Jewish laws and customs.

“I feel like I have to prove myself” Alison told me. “Because I wasn’t born Jewish, I have to do more to make up for it.”

She noted the paradox that it is usually the people less comfortable with their religiosity that give her the hardest time; they feel “threatened” by a convert who is more religiously inclined.

My friendship with these girls has exposed me to what it feels like on the outside of the Jewish community, and it disturbs me how callous and cold we can be to those who sincerely find meaning in the Jewish faith.

“I am not going to fight for [my boyfriend] anymore,” she replied. “I don’t want to be a burden on him…. I love Judaism and have sacrificed so much for it. I really wish people could be more accepting.”

Laura Birnbaum is a student at the University of Pennsylvania and a freelance journalist.

 

To Tell the Truth


Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised, tucked into a secret room in the dark corridors of Hogwarts, allows the person who looks into it to see what they most desire to be. There seems to be a similar notion in the world of online dating.

A computer becomes a tool to create a “new and improved” version of yourself.

Short people become “not overly tall,” shy people become “pensive and thoughtful,” unemployed becomes “self-employed,” and living with the folks becomes “family oriented and saving for the future.” Delusional becomes creative. And dating reaches some desperate lows.

A little embellishment here and there isn’t so bad — creativity and a sense of humor are always great things. But there are just certain things that you should never lie about.

1. Physical attributes.
How many times have you opened the door to find a person 4 inches lower to the earth than what they had told you? One person I agreed to meet told me he was 5-foot-6 — exactly my height — so I was a bit annoyed when, even wearing lip-flops, I turned out to be a good 2 inches taller than him.

“My eyes are only blue with certain outfits” is actually a buyable lie. But height is pretty much set in stone once you exit the teens.

Then, of course, there is the touchy subject of weight. Most people probably post their wishful driver’s license weight, thinking at least they have “proof” in writing.

One guy admitted to me that although his profile said he was 170 he was more like 190, and honesty is a good thing, right? So how was he to explain the additional 45 pounds that followed him to my door on our first date? Did he think that I just wasn’t going to notice, or believe that he went on a crazy pre-date jitters eating binge that made 45 pounds show up overnight?

2. Pictures
There are those online who are honest and upfront enough to post recent and un-Photoshopped, untouched up, non-photo shoot, actually-looks-like-me pictures. And then there are those who are not.

I’ve had too many dates start with a smile and confusion as I have an inner dialogue: That’s who I’ve been talking to? Did I remember to ask him if his photos were recent? How fast can I eat this ice cream and leave without getting brain freeze?

3. Age
Like it or not we were all born on a certain day of a certain year, and that (along with your height) is set in stone. The people who have lied to me about their age all have their own reasons. Usually it’s the younger guys who make themselves a few years older so that they will show up in my search preferences. Then three or four dates down the road they give me the, “Oh, by the way….”

One guy who was already four years older then me lied and made himself even older! When I asked him why, he said that he looked older anyway so he changed his age to match what people usually said. Excuse me? I mean I’ve been told oodles of times that I have a baby face, but you don’t see me telling people that I’m 300 months old to somehow get that infantile sense.

4. Personal Habits
I had one man tell me that he was a nonsmoker, though four conversations later he divulged that he did smoke, just not cigarettes. Then another told me he was a nonsmoker, to later go into detail that he was actually just “working on trying to start convincing himself that he should really begin to seriously think about” quitting. Or some other equally far-fetched story that left me rolling my eyes and politely declining plans to meet.

5. Odds and Ends Details
One of my personal favorite stories was a man who told me that he had never been in a serious relationship before, so one could understand my confusion when during our first date he mentioned his exes. When I finally asked him what he meant, he said that since he wasn’t with them anymore it just didn’t count. Oh, if only the world worked that way.

The bottom line is just don’t do it. Do you really think people aren’t going to notice those few inches, those extra pounds that cloud of smoke around your head? What do you expect will happen when you start a relationship by completely misrepresenting yourself?

Most of the men I’ve confronted about it just got mad, hoping that I would “give this a chance.” Give what a chance? The delusional version of yourself that you created in your own Mirror of Erised? I don’t think so. The next upgrade that online dating needs is a giant red stamp saying liar that a person can vote to place over your profile, warning the next innocent online dater of what is really going on.

Caroline Cobrin is a writer living in Van Nuys and can be reached at carolinecolumns@hotmail.com.

 

Dad’s Gone, but His Melody Lingers On


When a person is slightly famous mostly for one thing, that thing becomes the one thing about him when he dies. So it was that Dave Blume, my father, over and over again in late March was noted as the composer of that likably odd 1966 hit, “Turn Down Day,” a pop turn on what began as one of his jazz compositions.

He used to joke that every middling musician had one good tune in him, but he wasn’t actually talking about himself, because he wrote many good songs, even if that added up to just one hit record.

But even one song, even one moment, can encapsulate a lot if you probe beneath the surface, or, in this case, beyond the catchy but saccharine arrangement by the Cyrkle. The song’s lyrics, written by Jerry Keller, portray the languorous side of the anti-war, anti-age, free-love 1960s, the part of the youth culture that wanted sometimes just to tune out instead of tuning in:

Soft summer breeze and the surf rolls in
To laughter of small children playin’.
Someone’s radio has the news tuned in,
But nobody cares what he’s sayin’.
It’s a turn-down day,
Nothin’ on my mind.
It’s a turn-down day,
And I dig it.

There was something of dad in that easygoing, live-and-let-live frame of mind. It was, in a way, a jazz sensibility set down to words. But the melody, dominated by minor chords, also hinted at something more — something a little deeper, a little melancholy.

The tune originated during dad’s Army days in Fayetteville, N.C., where the draft had dragged him, a native of Boston, and his wife, Charlotte, during the Korean War. Dad was a noted hater of needless exercise and early morning schedules, so he devised a night-owl gig for himself. He persuaded the brass and a local radio station that soldiers on the graveyard shift needed something to keep them alert. Did they really want these sleepy soldiers to be a safety hazard on duty or on their commute? How about some music?

Officers already knew of dad’s musical skills. By this time, he’d sort of conned his way into the coveted base orchestra by presenting himself as a glockenspiel player — it was the only opening. He’d given himself a crash course in the instrument and played a passable glockenspiel — but it wasn’t long before the orchestra took advantage of his jazz keyboard, arranging and conducting skills.

The overnight radio show followed. He wrote and performed, with some pals, the theme song: “680, 12 to 5.” The song got its name from the station’s place on the dial and the airtime: midnight to 5 a.m. Because of the show and his frequent performances — all on behalf of the U.S. government, of course — dad didn’t meet at least one of his commanding officers until his day of discharge.

My parents were both building a notable life in this small Southern city all the while. In the 1950s, my mother used her talents to open a dance school and start a ballet company. Her first classes outside the base had only black students, because she refused to segregate or teach only white students. Dad, meanwhile, soon opened the region’s first bowling alley, to which he attached the region’s first jazz club. And he also refused to segregate.

At one point, the city informed him of a regulation that kept blacks out of white restrooms. If his new business were not to be “whites only,” he’d have to build four restrooms. Dad responded by asking if there was a law saying that men and women had to have separate bathrooms. A city official replied that no such law was needed, because no one would ever put men and women in the same bathroom.

In that case, dad said, he would have one bathroom for black men and women and another for white men and women. The city official left in frustration, and when the business opened, dad simply had a men’s room for all men and a women’s room for all women. His key innovation, however, was in The Groove, the music club where the staff, musicians and audience all were integrated.

Neither of my parents ever got into trouble for this. One reason, of course, was that they were white — and maybe being Jewish separated them from a sort of peer pressure. It didn’t hurt that my mother could stare down a charging bull, and dad could accomplish the same with charm and a silly pun.

Dad had a fine old time in Fayetteville. He was the first public address announcer for the city high school’s football games. And his jazz band was the talk of the town and beyond. He made fast friends with the local rabbi, a Holocaust survivor who’d been a writer and radio man himself in pre-war Germany, when that was still possible. And dad had two sons, who were growing up in a white house across from an elementary school that had two sapling maple trees in the front yard.

But Fayetteville could not contain dad’s musical drive, and he’d leave home to travel long distances for gigs, especially ones that offered a chance to break through, like his “Today Show” appearance in 1962. And then came the 1966 hit “Turn Down Day” — a re-imagined pop version of his old theme: “680, 12 to 5.”

He expected his wife and two boys to follow him north when the time came. His wife expected that a man in his 30s could settle for a stable life in Fayetteville, where she’d built a formidable dance school.

The truth is, my parents never really belonged together in the first place, even though the marriage seemed so perfect when the glamorous young ballerina married her college sweetheart, the same wunderkind who wrote and conducted the college musicals in which she’d starred. In the end, neither was inclined to follow the other’s star.

I was 6 when the divorce became official in 1967. My father ruefully told me years later that it was the hardest thing to leave town at the end of his visits, when I’d start crying. David Blume wanted to be the best dad possible, which, to him, included being around. He fulfilled this ambition in his second marriage, the one that gained me a wonderful stepmother and, eventually, two delightful kid sisters. My mother never forgave him for the marriage that failed or the unsteady financial contribution, but I concluded long ago that, sometimes, even for devoted parents, leaving is the best option available.

My brother Leo and I got by with phone calls, letters and a few weeks a year with dad. Occasionally we took trips with him, but it also was fun just to be where he was, romping around New York City and later Los Angeles, after dad moved west. We’d hear a lot of music, stay up way past midnight, play with his Persian cats, discover food they didn’t have in Fayetteville and stage an annual World Series with made-up teams, a plastic bat and a ball made up of paper encased in masking tape. Leo and I played the parts of all the players. Dad was the umpire, a gravel-voiced character who took the name Gower Cahuenga, after two streets in Hollywood.

He was cool, with his long hair and leftie politics. He wore a bolo tie and a black leather cap, and tied his black locks into short ponytail in the back. And he could identify the year, make and model of virtually any car on the road — and recite chapter and verse on the world’s greatest ocean liners, its tallest buildings and the major suspension bridges.

And he never failed to do interesting things — like running Café Danssa, an Israeli folk-dancing club in West L.A., or quietly lobbying to save a majestic bunya-bunya tree that the city was going to cut down.

He never had another hit like “Turn Down Day,” but he forged a respectable career as a composer, producer and collaborator with his second wife, singer Carolyn Hester. And he eventually got that stable job, as a copy editor with the Los Angeles Times. In truth, he didn’t especially like the implied message of “Turn Down Day” if applied beyond a day or so. His lyrical essence was more rooted in another song, “I Have a Dream,” a plea for justice and family, which he wrote with Jerry Keller the night the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. died.

At the close of our visits, dad would send us home with records he’d produced or custom-made tapes of songs he liked: He didn’t want us growing up with unsophisticated musical tastes. But without his steady presence, our piano lessons lapsed.

And though he laughed with us as we told tales of mom’s unlucky second marriage to a man who turned out to have mental health issues, I’m sure he was worried. But at an elemental level, he trusted his first wife to take care of his boys.

My brother and I never felt we quite got enough of him, which, in recent years, had more to do with managing our own families and careers than him not being available. This sense of needing to catch up for lost time partly explains why my brother, the informal family archivist, started interviewing dad on videotape. Dad would complain, mostly in jest, that the process implied that his demise was impending.

I always assumed that someday there would be time to catch up properly; he’d probably felt the same way watching his boys grow up, mostly from far away. Too late, I realized that in the last year, he was slowly leaving us, as his health problems mounted. When he died, his wallet contained a list of favorite songs that he could refer to if called on to play at any moment.

My brother and I were in Fayetteville early this month, and we stopped by the old white house. Our grade school across the street has become the campus for teenage “delinquents” — information provided by the security guard who accosted us when she noticed us taking pictures.

The two sapling maple trees are giants now, dominating the yard, if not the neighborhood. I couldn’t recall whether it was dad who’d planted the maples. Leo didn’t know either. There was no doubt that dad had nurtured these trees when they were small. It was in his nature to care about such matters.

In past years, dad would ask us how the maples were doing. We’d show him pictures.

This year, so far, the maples are doing fine. Maybe they haven’t been looked after every moment, but they’re green and strong, and making it on their own.

Howard Blume is the former managing editor of The Jewish Journal.

 

Spectator – The ‘Truth’ That Lies Beneath


For Josh Bernstein, host of The History Channel’s “Digging for the Truth,” myth-dispelling, artifact-hunting and body-straining adventure are part of his regular routine.

“Digging,” now in its second season, has taken Bernstein from Peru to Greenland to Zimbabwe and Egypt searching for answers to archaeological mysteries, such as locating the lost tribe of Israel and uncovering the Holy Grail.

This Jewish Indiana Jones seems to have the travel bug in his DNA. Bernstein says he traveled from his home in New York to Israel to see family several times prior to age 2.

“My father was born in the Old City of Jerusalem, and I think just by nature the Israeli culture is very pro-travel. They still are today,” he explains. “As far back as I can remember I have always been on airplanes and in other countries.”

Bernstein grew up in a Conservative Jewish household on the Upper East Side, attended Hebrew school, was bar mitzvahed and enjoyed Shabbat dinner Friday nights. After he graduated from Cornell, where he majored in anthropology and psychology, Bernstein spent a year studying Judaic texts for at least 12 hours a day at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem.

While the majority of his fellow classmates continued their studies in rabbinical school, Bernstein opted to explore a different profession: “I wanted to pursue a career in the outdoors and get my knowledge from the same place.”

Bernstein soon began working at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) a program that teaches a field-based, hands-on curriculum of wilderness survival skills. After moving up the ranks to CEO, and establishing himself as an outdoor survival expert, Bernstein added another occupation to his resume: Television show host.

On “Digging for the Truth,” he is able to integrate his interest in the social sciences and his love of frequenting remote destinations.

“I’m actually physically there with the experts … exploring the actual tombs, temples or pyramids and bringing that to life in a very physical and hopefully accessible way,” he said.

When he’s not filming for the History Channel, Bernstein may be found in New York or Utah, or in Colorado, where four times yearly he continues to run courses for BOSS.

“Digging for the Truth” airs on The History Channel Mondays at 9 p.m., check local listings for additional times. Shows are also available on DVD.

Rabbi Gafni Ousted for Misconduct


Mordechai Gafni, 46, a rabbi whose charisma and brilliance dazzled students and large audiences in spiritual renewal communities in Israel and America, even as he dodged rumors and accusations about improper sexual behavior for more than 25 years, has been dismissed by the leadership of Bayit Chadash in Israel, a Tel Aviv-based prayer and study group he co-founded and where he served as teacher and religious guide.

Gafni also has had a large following in Los Angeles, where he frequently preached and served as a scholar-in-residence at the Stephen S. Wise Temple. During one such stay, 1,000 people came to hear him even on the second day of Rosh Hashanah — traditionally a low-attendance day at Reform congregations — and hundreds more came to evening lectures during the week.

Gafni’s dismissal came last week after four women, including students of his and a staff member, filed complaints of sexual misconduct against Gafni with the police in Israel.

“We feel we were deceived,” Jacob Ner-David, a co-founder of Bayit Chadash, told The Jewish Week, which first reported on allegations against the rabbi in September 2004.

“He should not be called a rav [rabbi], his was not the behavior of a rav and he should not be in a teaching or counseling position,” said Ner-David, who noted that the incident “is my worst nightmare come to life.”

He added that Gafni is “a sick man, and has harmed so many.”

A statement issued by Ner-David and his Bayit Chadash co-founder Avraham Leader said “there is no place for relations like this between a rabbi and his students or between an employer and his employees, whether consensual or not. It would seem that this is the opinion of Mordechai, since he swore all the women involved to eternal and absolute silence.”

Gafni achieved much attention here and in Israel as a leader of the New Age Jewish movement. He taught classes, led retreats, wrote several books and appeared in a PBS documentary about the quest for spirituality.

In a statement this week to his followers, he took blame for his actions and said he was “infinitely saddened and profoundly sorry” for the pain he had caused. He acknowledged that he was “sick,” and said he planned to enter a treatment center and leave his “rabbinic teaching capacities.”

Gafni, who was divorced from his third wife about a year and a half ago, said in 2004 that he had “made mistakes in my life” and had “a sense of exaggeration” and was “too ambitious.” But he insisted he had done teshuvah (repentance) and was the victim of a longstanding “witch hunt” from a small cadre of women accusers and Orthodox rabbis jealous of his success.

“I am moral and ethical,” he said during a series of conversations with this reporter in 2004, during which he asserted that he was sharing his “deepest truth.”

Ner-David said that one of the women involved with Gafni over the last 18 months came forward to Leader, and that soon after, another woman spoke out about her relationship with the rabbi.

“And then we discovered there were two more,” he said.

Leader and Ner-David asked the women to give sworn statements to an attorney, which they did. At this point the police have not acted on the complaints, which address the boundaries of relationships between teacher-student and employer-employee.

“We have no doubt that they [the women] speak the truth, and willingly risk our personal credibility and integrity in support of their testimony,” Leader and Ner-David said in their signed statement.

“For us it was a complete surprise,” Ner-David said, noting that as recently as a month ago he had a conversation with Gafni affirming that immoral behavior could never be tolerated within Bayit Chadash.

Ner-David, who first met Gafni when he was a 13-year-old at summer camp in the United States and the rabbi was his counselor, said he had long known of the allegations about the man born Marc Winiarz in the Midwest. Winiarz moved to Israel in 1991 and took the Israeli name Gafni after a series of controversies about sexual improprieties dogged him when he was a youth leader and later a rabbi in several U.S. communities.

He was ordained by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, founder of Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City and now chief rabbi of Efrat, in the West Bank. Riskin revoked his ordination in 1994 after his former student, in a lengthy interview in the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, called for restoring a balance between the erotic and the spiritual in Judaism.

Gafni’s response was that he had other ordinations and had moved beyond Orthodoxy.

Ner-David said he was guilty of having relied on information from others in seeking answers to questions about Gafni’s past. Several prominent Israeli educators hired the rabbi as a teacher despite complaints from some women and rabbis who asserted he was unfit to work with students. Those who hired Gafni said he was a gifted teacher, that he acknowledged past wrongdoings (though he was vague about them) and that they could find no current cases of women with complaints against him.

Some of the charges went back more than two decades.

Ner-David said he realizes now that Gafni was “a master manipulator,” but in the past he had felt justified in working with him because no one had come forward with recent complaints about the rabbi’s behavior.

Rabbi Saul Berman, the founder and director of Edah in New York, has been an outspoken defender of Gafni. In a letter taking this reporter to task for writing about the controversy in 2004, Berman, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone and ethicist and author Joseph Telushkin said they had looked into past allegations and found them “totally unconvincing.” They described the article as “unfair” and “scandalous.”

This month, Berman said he is “deeply regretful” of his prior support for Gafni, and worried that his past defense may have prolonged the rabbi’s “predatory behavior against women.”

“I was clearly wrong in stating that Rabbi Gafni’s continued role as a teacher within the Jewish community constitutes no risk to Jewish women,” he wrote in a statement.

Berman said he had felt the earlier accusations “were not justifiable foundations for public disgrace and exclusion,” and noted that he will “continue to struggle with the ideal line between presumption of innocence and protection of potential innocent victims.”

He said the Gafni case underscores the ongoing need for a mechanism to investigate allegations against rabbis “in a way that the community has confidence in, so that when it’s over, it’s over.”

He said that rabbis are “not capable of enough objectivity to handle such matters themselves,” and called for a collaborative effort of rabbis, lay leaders and professionals in the health care field who deal with abuse.

Other institutions and individuals who had supported Gafni in the past also spoke out this month. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia said he felt “sad, angry and betrayed” by Gafni’s behavior, noting that it “raises questions once again about how to walk that thin line between spiritual ecstasy and the domineering frenzy that is not only damaging in itself but sometimes even leads to sexual abuse.”

One of the criticisms of the spiritual renewal movement is that its emphasis on charismatic teachers and the search for religious bliss lends its members to being emotionally manipulated.

Ner-David, acknowledging that he will be asking himself “for a long time what lessons can be learned” from the Gafni episode, said that Bayit Chadash “must make sure not to allow anyone to become a guru.”

He said the members of the group, which includes hundreds of Israelis who pray and study together, are determined to go on with their work even though Gafni, their spiritual leader, has been removed.

As for whether Gafni truly understands the pain he has caused and can be rehabilitated and return, Ner-David said it was too early to say.

“It is hard to tell if he really means it or not,” he said.

This article appears courtesy The Jewish Week.

Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of The Jewish Week.

 

yeLAdim


Mighty Glad to See You!

It was great seeing so many of you at the Israel Independence Day Festival on May 7 (we hope you enjoyed the fans). Be sure to check out our yeLAdim page on June 30, as we will be printing many of the essays you wrote for our 20th anniversary!

Kein v’ Lo:

Parental Spying?

There’s been a lot of talk in the news about people listening to other people’s phone calls, and some people say parents need to check what their kids are doing online and who they are chatting with — because not everyone on the Internet is telling the truth. Should parents be allowed to do that?

The Kein Side:

  • A lot of kids don’t talk to their parents, and the parents want to make sure their kids are safe from drugs, alcohol, bullies and other things that can hurt them.
  • It is your parents’ house, and you have to live by their rules — when you have your own house, you can have your own rules.

The Lo Side:

  • Parents need to trust their kids — otherwise how will the kids ever learn to be responsible for themselves?
  • It is invasion of privacy to listen to their phone calls and look at someone’s things when they aren’t there.

We want to know what you think. E-mail your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com, with the subject line: Parents.

We’ll publish your opinions on a future yeLAdim page.

Pages & Picks

This month’s pick is the very cute “Kvetchy Boy” by Anne-Maire Baila Asner — the latest from Matzah Ball Books.

Kvetchy Boy joins his friends Noshy Boy, Shluffy Girl, Klutzy Boy and Shmutzy Girl in bringing Yiddish expressions to young Jews (don’t worry, each book includes a glossary of words) and teaching everyone about being a better person:

Even at his birthday party, Kvetchy Boy kvetched and kvetched.

“This ice cream made my cake soggy. I hate soggy cake,” said Kvetchy Boy.

“But Kvetchy Boy,” said Noshy Boy, who loves to eat. “The cake tastes even better that way.”

Kvetchy Boy didn’t agree.

If you haven’t seen your favorite Yiddish expression yet, don’t worry — there are more books on the way, including some for grown-ups like “Mrs. Mitzvah” and “Bubby” and “Zaida Kvelly.” You can even buy T-shirts with the different characters on them!

For more information, visit

Pentecostal Revival Embraces Israel


In uncounted speeches before diverse audiences, Ehud Danoch, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, would never have expected such an enthusiastic reception.

Addressing 16,000 Pentecostal Christians in the jam-packed L.A. Sports Arena last week, Danoch pledged, as he has done time and again, that Israel would never give in to terrorism.

His listeners, a rainbow of races and ages, rose as one, raised their arms heavenward and shouted “Hallelujah,” while two dozen large shofars joined in the joyful noise unto the Lord.

A few minutes later, the scene repeated — when Danoch mentioned Israel’s upcoming 58th Independence Day celebration. Cheers even rung out from beyond the building, with an overflow audience of 4,000 in the adjoining L.A. Memorial Coliseum joining in as they watched on giant video monitors.

For Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, believed to number some 500 million to 600 million around the world, the exhilaration and exuberance of the reception was a trademark of their worship and faith, and a reaffirmation of their fervent support for Israel.

The all-day prayer service at the Sports Arena climaxed a weeklong celebration by 35,000 of the faithful from 113 countries, who had gathered for the Azusa Street Centennial and Revival in downtown Los Angeles. The numbers were impressive, though considerably less than the 100,000 predicted in advance publicity.

Pentecostals trace the official beginning of their “belief system” to April 1906, when William Seymour started preaching at a ramshackle building at 312 Azusa St. in what is now Little Tokyo.

The remarkable Seymour, the son of slaves, was contemptuously described by that era’s Los Angeles Times as “a one-eyed illiterate Negro preacher,” who attracted throngs of worshippers “breathing strange utterances and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand.”

Seymour’s basic doctrine remains the common bond among many independent Pentecostal and Charismatic groups and churches. They affirm that through baptism they receive the spiritual gifts of speaking in “unknown” tongues, prophesy, healing and performing of miracles, as an inheritance from Jesus’ first apostles.

An official pamphlet at the Centennial described the revival’s central message, as fostered by Seymour, as “receiving Holy Spirit Baptism with the accompanying initial evidence. Shouting, dancing, ‘falls under the power,’ weeping and prophetic testimony and speaking in tongues.”

While Seymour’s first followers were poor blacks, he soon attracted many white adherents, in the process forming the first inter-racial church in Los Angeles.

The common bond of the fastest growing segment of Christianity in the United States, Asia and Africa is the hunger for an emotional, spontaneous expression of faith, and a rejection of the formal, institutionalized worship of the old, established denominations.

The focus of the centennial celebration was on exuberant worship services and prayer. For these unshakeable believers in the literal truth of the Jewish and Christian bibles, a kinship to Jews and especially Israel is a given.

An almost constant refrain was the admonition that he “who blesses Israel will be blessed, and he who curses Israel will be cursed.”

A concrete indicator could be found in the vast exhibit at the L.A. Convention Center. Amid the booths selling Christian videos, books, T-shirts and $20 Virtuous Woman dolls, were stands offering Israeli-made shofars and tallitot, and banners urging shoppers to “pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. They Shall Prosper Who Love Thee.”

A news stand featured an Israel Today magazine, whose color cover featured, instead of the usual mayhem, a photo of a young Israeli solder leading a wizened Arab man across the street.

The staff of the Israel Ministry of Tourism assisted potential pilgrims who sought “to set foot on the land where Jesus trod,” and the effort to reach Christian travelers seems to be paying off. According to government statistics, of the 1.9 million tourists to Israel last year, 48 percent were Christians, with about a quarter of that number identified as “pilgrims.”

The official “Israel track” at the Centennial was organized by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), whose centerpiece consisted of the pageant “The Covenant,” performed twice daily by a 50-person cast of Christians who live in Israel.

In a remarkable feat of chronological compression, the two-hour show, in English and Hebrew, spanned 4,000 years of Jewish history, from Abraham and Moses through the Babylonian exile, the Inquisition and Holocaust, the birth of Israel and the present.

It is unlikely that any current Jewish community center or Israeli high school would dare to present so idealized and chauvinistic a drama, but the audience of white, black, Latino and Asian Christians from around the world loved it.

The emotional highlight came at the end. As the cast sang the opening bars of “Hatikvah,” the entire audience stood and sang the anthem, in Hebrew, with a fervor I haven’t experienced since the state’s struggle for independence in 1948.

Despite the unstinting support of Israel by evangelicals in the United States, Europe and Asia (the world’s largest Christian congregation, I was told, is in Seoul, South Korea with 750,000 members), many American Jews view the movement with skepticism. One factor is the conservative politics and social views of Pentecostals and other evangelical Christians, which are hardly in tune with a predominantly liberal Jewish community. There is also widespread suspicion that these Christians are fueled by the belief that at the end of days, when Jesus returns, all Jews will be converted, if not killed, in line with the “replacement theology” that Christians have replaced Jews as God’s chosen people.

Malcolm Hedding, the South-African born IJEC executive director, has obviously heard such reservations repeatedly and was at pains to dispel the “misconceptions,” as he put it. Pentecostals, he said, have no history of anti-Semitism and have always rejected replacement theology.

However, when asked about the presence of some messianic or Christian Jews at the meeting, Hedding said that he “would fight for their right” to accept Christianity. The issue of individual conversion is distinct from support for Israel.

“Our love for Israel follows God’s promise to his people and is based on the prophecies of the bible,” he said.

But if God promised the entire land of Israel to the Jews, do fundamentalists oppose abandoning Gaza or the West Bank? Hedding was asked.

“No, we do not meddle in Israel policies,” he responded. “It is up to the Israeli government to determine its boundaries.”

David Brog, who spent the last four years researching and writing his just -published book “Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State,” backed Hedding’s assertions from the perspective of a Jewish writer.

“We have a hard time accepting that with the growth of fundamentalism, many Christian churches have undergone an organic change in their attitude toward Jews, even more profound than the change in Catholic teaching brought about by Vatican II,” said Brog in a call from Washington.

“It would be a big mistake to reject a coalition with these Christians because we might differ, say, on abortion or gay marriage,” Brog added. “I worked for seven years as a counsel and chief of staff for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and learned about coalitions. You form a coalition to push the one issue you agree on.”

IJEC leaders and spokesmen seemed largely unfamiliar with the makeup and leadership of the Jewish community in Los Angeles. Although told that a number of Jewish religious and lay leaders would attend a special reception, the only Jews present were Simon Erem, an Israeli-American long active in interfaith activities, and Moshe Bar-Zvi, CEO of the Jerusalem Post, which recently launched a Christian edition of the newspaper.

One meeting did take place Friday morning at The Jewish Federation building on Wilshire Boulevard between Hedding and some 30 Jews, predominantly conservative and, except for philanthropist Newton Becker, not in the top leadership ranks.

Larry Greenfield, California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he was particularly impressed by the work of Hedding and other Christian Zionists in defending Israel’s position in Europe and in fighting against the divestment by some American and British churches from companies doing business in Israel.

Allison Taylor, associate director of the American Jewish Congress’ Western region, said she wished that “Jews would be as pro-Zionist as Hedding and share his deep commitment to Israel.”

Barbara Yaroslavsky, one of the few liberal participants, said she welcomed the outreach to the Christian community, but needed to learn more about the relationship.

For his part, Consul General Danoch, after his talk to 16,000 at the Sports Arena, harbored no doubts.

“I really felt their warmth, friendship, and love for Israel,” he said. “We don’t often get that feeling in some other parts of the world.”

 

Three Madelehs of the Written Word


Jewish women have prominent roles in several new novels this season, penned by young Jewish writers with impressive track records — Ayelet Waldman, Allegra Goodman and Lara Vapnyar. The three have written urban stories, focused on relationships, and the books are closely observed slices of life.

The Jewish background and sensibility of these writers comes across on the page, although with varying degrees of transparency. Both Waldman and Vapnyar were born abroad: Vapnyar grew up in the former Soviet Union and came here as a young woman, while Waldman was born in Israel, came here as a child and grew up in New Jersey, although she lived in Israel again in high school and college and returns there often. Goodman may be the only well-known Jewish writer to hail from Hawaii.

“Love and Other Possible Pursuits” by Ayelet Waldman (Doubleday), who will be appearing at the L.A. Times Festival of Books this weekend, is a novel of marriage and motherhood that is also a love story and a New York story. Emilia Greenleaf, the narrator, is a Harvard Law School graduate who meets her soul mate, Jack, at her first job. He is a Syrian Jew, a partner in the firm and he’s married with a young son. He leaves his wife for Emilia, and they live in elegant comfort, but all is not happily-ever-after.

They lose a newborn daughter — the reader learns this early on, as the novel skips back and forth in time — and Emilia struggles with her new stepson, William, a precocious preschooler. She finds the boy to be insufferable, even as she tells herself that as an adult she should be able to love this innocent 5-year-old who corrects her pronunciation and rebuffs with a smirk her attempts to please him. Emilia also has to deal with the child’s overprotective mother and the mother’s friends who watch her every step, even as she picks him up from his high-achievers’ nursery school. But in small ways, Emilia and William find their way toward bonding.

The novel is funny and a quick read, and although it might look like chick-lit, Waldman goes deeper, conveying emotional complexity. Even though Emilia has the profile of the kind of woman others sometimes can’t abide, she is likeable in her imperfections and growing self-awareness.

The author, who also graduated from Harvard Law School, keenly portrays the life of well-to-do professionals who strive for the best for their children, unable to see the downside of their single-minded pursuits.

A resident of Berkeley, where she lives with her husband Michael Chabon and their four children, she captures New York in its splendid beauty, particularly the charms of Central Park in all seasons. Waldman, author of “Daughter’s Keeper” and the Mommy Track mystery series, takes on in this novel many of the themes of romance, relationships and parenting that she writes about in her essays on Salon.com and in The New York Times, Child Magazine, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

For years, Allegra Goodman was the poster child for the youngest generation of Jewish writers. She published her first story in Commentary during her freshman year at Harvard and her first book of stories on the day she graduated in 1989, and she has had a string of successes since then. She’s been applauded for her luminous style and originality, her humor, and her embrace of Judaism in her fiction. Now 38, she’s no longer the child at the literary table and has just published her most ambitious book to date, “Intuition” (The Dial Press).

Named by the New Yorker as one of the 20 best writers under 40, Goodman is the author of two collections of stories and two novels, “Paradise Park” and “Kaaterskill Falls,” a National Book Award finalist. She has also won a Whiting Writers Award, National Jewish Book Award and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Jewish Cultural Achievement Award.

Goodman was born in Brooklyn, lived briefly in Los Angeles as a toddler and grew up in Hawaii, where she sets many stories and her novel “Paradise Park.” Her parents, who taught at the University of Hawaii, lived there for 25 years and, although the Jewish community was limited, they consciously chose a Jewish lifestyle — they attended synagogue and imported kosher meat from California. As a child, Goodman often would visit Los Angeles, where her father grew up and her grandfather still lives. “Intuition” is, in fact, dedicated to her grandparents, Calvin and Florence Goodman (her grandmother died recently).

While her previous novels involved Jewish communities, “Intuition” is about a professional community, although several characters are Jewish. Compellingly told from several points of view, the novel is set at a prestigious research institute in Cambridge, Mass., where a team of scientists does sophisticated cancer investigations. Goodman shows readers the inside workings of a lab, from how projects are assigned to how mice are sac’ed — or sacrificed — to how scientists compete for funds. The cast of the novel is something of an ensemble, functioning in certain ways as a family, with relationships based on power, love, ambition and shared interests.

The novel has elements of mystery, as one postdoc raises questions about whether a colleague, her former boyfriend, may be falsifying his data. She acts based on intuition, which, in the lab, as Goodman writes, “was a restricted substance. Like imagination and emotion, intuition misled researchers, leading to willful interpretations.”

In a telephone interview from her home in Cambridge, Goodman explains that although the subject of this novel may be different, she remains interested in themes of “ritual, hierarchy, closed communities, questions of doubt and belief, who you believe in, what you put your faith in.”

This book is less comic than her others, but the distinctive Goodman voice — attentive to all details, wise, inventive, strong on characters’ inner and outer lives — is recognizable.

“I’ve been surrounded by scientists all my life,” she says, referring to her mother, sister, brother-in-law and husband.

She also spent time observing in an actual lab to understand its rhythms and mindset. As a writer who works in solitude, she is envious of the close collaborative nature of scientific work and sought to explore that. As a writer, she seeks truth, as scientists do — but she recognizes that she gets to make things up.

Goodman never shies away from writing about religious themes or religious people and sees this as “a very Jewish book. My subject in all my books is the American Jewish community, which is huge.”

In the book, both lab directors, Sandy Glass and Marion Mendelssohn, are Jewish. While Glass (who shortened his name from Glazeroff “not just to forget that his grandparents were Eastern European Jews, but for aesthetic reasons. He could not countenance living and working in such a Russian bear-coat of a last name, and so he’d distilled Glazeroff to its purer form”) is intermarried and assimilated, Mendelssohn is neither, but Glass tries to use his Judaism when questions are raised about lab results. For several characters, their religion is science.

In conversation, Goodman, the mother of four children who range in age from 3 to 13, is upbeat — with a personality that matches her writing. She seems easygoing, likes to laugh and is drawn to the philosophical side of things. She has a doctorate in English and as a reader, she favors writers like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and George Eliot, as well as Katherine Anne Porter and Eudora Welty. Among the contemporary writers she cites are Marilynne Robinson and Kazuro Ishiguro.

She’s not a confessional sort of writer; her novels aren’t memoiristic: She’s more interested in writing about other people. About her own writing, she thinks she’s getting better, having matured as a craftsman: “I’ve grown more patient, more willing to spend time to get things right. That comes with age.”

Lara Vapnyar, a Russian American Jewish writer, is at the forefront of a new generation of immigrant Jewish writers. Like Goodman, she has published stories in The New Yorker. Her first book, “There Are Jews in My House” a collection of short stores set in the former Soviet Union and in New York, won awards and much praise.

In her first novel, “Memoirs of a Muse” (Pantheon), Vapnyar again turns to the world of immigrants. With the understated humor characteristic of her stories, she portrays a young immigrant woman named Tanya who as a child in the Soviet Union developed an obsession with Dostoevsky and the woman who was his muse. In New York, she is determined to become the muse of a great American writer. When she meets a novelist at an Upper West Side reading, she becomes his live-in girlfriend, earnestly trying to help him. But she finds that while he goes to book parties and the gym and visits his analyst, he does little writing. As she learns English, she comes to understand all sides of her new world, and she learns about genuine artistic inspiration.

Published in 2003, “There Are Jews in My House,” received the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Prize for Jewish Fiction by Emerging Writers. The novel, like her stories, touches on issues of alienation, identity, contrasts between East and West.

From her well-tuned prose, it’s hard to believe that English is not her first language. Vapnyar went through the Moscow school system and earned a master’s degree in Russian language and literature before moving to New York, where she largely taught herself English through reading.

Ayelet Waldman will be a panelist on the “Fiction: Reinventing the Family” event at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 29.

 

First Person – A Coming Out (of Egypt) Story


Sixteen years ago this month, I planned to take the Passover message of liberation to heart. I was going to come out of the closet to my sister and my parents and, in doing so, free myself from the bondage of keeping this huge and personal part of me from them. I was going to verbalize the secret I had feared revealing to them for more than 15 years since I first was able to put words to the feelings.

I grew up in a small, quaint New Jersey suburb of New York, a commuter town ideal for raising children. Since having moved to Los Angeles in 1987, at the age of 25, I generally visited my parents and sister back in New Jersey an average of once a year. That once a year was usually Passover time, since I had the time off from my work as a day school educator (and would enjoy the additional bonus of being able to lock up my home for the holiday and sell my chametz without having to go through the cleaning and other laborious pre-holiday preparations and rituals).

Perhaps my plan to come out during Passover was just practical, since that was when I typically returned home; or perhaps it was a flair for the dramatic or symbolic, since I had come to think of the emotional bondage of keeping my secret as a modern-day equivalent to the physical slavery of my ancestors. Either way, it was during Passover of 1990 that I had planned to come out to my parents and tell them I’m gay. I returned to my childhood home that year armed with several articles and a book titled, “Now That You Know: What Every Parent Should Know About Homosexuality,” all designed to prove how normal it was to be gay.

I had come out a year earlier (also at Passover) to Rob, one of my best friends from college on whom I had had a crush. We got in his car, and I asked him to pull over on the way to wherever it was we were going because I had something really important and serious to tell him. He pulled into a parking lot (my elementary school parking lot) and turned off the engine. I loosened my seatbelt, turned to face him, took a deep breath and said, “I’m gay.”

To which he responded, somewhat anticlimactically, “Is that all?”

I don’t know if I was more relieved or disappointed, but there was no rejection. My first coming out was successful.

It took an entire year after that to muster the courage to tell my sister — who responded, “I still love you, and of course I won’t tell anyone.” To this I said that I wasn’t telling her so that she would now have to keep the secret. Coming out to my sister was planned to precede the coming out to my parents by several days. It was my warmup, my practice. But anticipating these two experiences, as anxiety-filled as they were, was nothing compared to the immeasurable angst I felt as I practiced and replayed over and over how I would reveal my secret to my parents.

The day I was going to tell them, I went to New York City to visit friends. I took the commuter train back to our town and felt the rumbling in my stomach as I anticipated freeing myself from my personal Egypt. The train sped closer and closer to home. With each station the train pulled into I could feel the rumbling in my stomach increase, and as I walked to my parents’ home (my childhood home) my stomach was on the verge of exploding. I tried to eat normally, but my appetite was limited. The meal, the conversation were overshadowed as I got closer to the point of expelling my truth, all the while wondering whether I would actually be able to follow through on my plan.

After dinner, I told my parents that I had something I wanted to say. They sat down at the table, dishes already cleared. With the gasses in my stomach doing triple axels, I mustered the courage — more courage than I had ever needed to do anything to that point in my life — and I said the words that liberated me from the self-imposed oppression that I had endured since realizing years earlier (beginning in third grade, if not even before) that I felt different than what I thought others felt: “I have something that’s really hard to say … I’m gay.”

Silence. Unbearable silence. To fill the silence I gave them the book and articles that I had brought. Perhaps I had brought them as much to help my parents through this new world as to prove to them that I was serious and that this was thought out. My father’s first words were: I’m shocked but I’m not shocked. (I had never really dated girls and though not effeminate, I fit some of the stereotypes.) My mother, tears filling her eyes, expressed her fears and her anxiety for me — I wouldn’t have a happy life, I would be alone — I did my best to assuage the concerns, but I had, after all, been working toward this moment for years and for them it was all new. And, frankly, I hadn’t thought through the post-liberation experience. The idea of telling my parents that I’m gay was so overwhelming that I hadn’t thought past anything but their initial reactions.

My father left to go to a meeting. My mother went to the sink to do the dishes. There was quiet again, but this quiet was the aftermath, the quiet that occurs when the truth and all of its realities, some becoming known and others not yet thought, become real, and we are trying to make sense of the implications. I felt a confusing mix of feelings – relief, anxiety, disappointment – and freedom from the mitzrayim, the narrow places, in which I had been stuck all those years.

On reflection, I wonder whether, thousands of years ago, the Israelites, too, didn’t experience the disappointment that the liberation wasn’t quite as easy and complete as expected. I suppose the fantasy was that I would come out of the closet and would be told, “Is that all?”

But my parents had more invested than my college friend. Their picture of my future, and by extension their future, would take longer to sort through, reimagine and come to terms with. The beginning of my liberation was now, in some ways, their new wilderness. It would be up to them whether they would turn it into a self-imposed bondage.

Due — in no small part — to my coming out, I have come to believe that our primary task in life is to know ourselves, accept ourselves and to love ourselves and to hope that those who love us will do the same. Each year we are to imagine ourselves as slaves in Egypt and to re-experience the bitterness of the oppression symbolically through retelling the story and through the sensory experiences of the seder. We are to think about the way we are enslaved and oppressed today, how we oppress ourselves and how we can help end the oppression of others. How we can take ourselves out from our personal house of bondage. How we can free ourselves and how we can come out.

Jeff Bernhardt is an educator, Jewish professional and writer living in Los Angeles.