The value of voice

As we prepare for the High Holy Days, we often do not consider one aspect  of ourselves, our voice. I’m taking about our actual vocal cords; our means of producing sound. 

We use our voice to chant along with or respond to the cantor, but many of us will also use our voice minimally, as we let the cantor and choir fill our ears and hearts with deep meaning, letting us sit there and contemplate our lives, our loves and our transgressions.

Never before (most likely) has anyone said lift up your voice in song like your life depends on it! Even as cantors encourage you to sing, they don’t tell you that in doing so — by truly engaging your physical voice — you will create a physically healthy and rejuvenating experience. They also don’t tell you that psychosomatically engaging your voice will help you release fears and emotions stored in the voice and mind, and therefore help bring you to new levels of self-realization (what the High Holy Days are about).

It is true: Singing relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, simultaneously engages your left and right brain to build your intelligence and creates a vibration of your vocal cords that resonates throughout your entire body, that creates a positive, healing response in your mind, body and spirit. 

Not to mention, when a community sounds their voices together, the room shifts from a bunch of people with different lives and problems, to a kehillah (community) with a common intention for healing and peace. 

And here’s where I get personal: Having studied and taught voice for a decade, I know many of you believe “you can’t sing” or “you have a bad voice.” That’s OK. You can think that, but realize you’ve helped make the belief a reality by believing it. 

The ultimate truth is that you can sing. It is your birthright. Why do I know this? Simply because you have a voice. 

Cantor Neil Newman, my first cantorial mentor, reminded me to tell the congregation that it’s not singing we’re doing; it’s praying. This will make people more comfortable to join in the song. And while he is right, I cannot help but remember that singing and praying are often deeply connected. It often doesn’t matter if I’m singing an Italian aria, a Spanish rumba or the Avinu Malkeinu; to me, it’s all prayer.  

These High Holy Days, please give yourself permission to use your voice a little more assertively than you have in the past. I promise that the people sitting next to you won’t mind or judge you. It is most likely that you’ll motivate your neighbors to sing as well (they may be too nervous or uncomfortable to use their voices in the first place). 

It’s wonderful that your cantor has a great voice. But so do you. It’s yours!  

And as a cantorial soloist, sure, I love singing from my heart so that all can hear. But the magic truly happens when I succeed at leading the community in song; when they lift up my voice so I can continue to lift up theirs. 

We then become individual prayers as one voice. 

That, is ruach.

Ariella Forstein is a cantorial soloist, performer and vocal empowerment coach based in Los Angeles and in Minneapolis. Find out more about Forstein’s work at and about her performing at

Anti-Semitism charge colors liquor license fight in City of San Fernando

Real estate developer Sev Aszkenazy recently settled a lawsuit with the city of San Fernando over a liquor permit he was denied for a planned steak house. He said the denial was due, in part, to anti-Semitic bias.

City Administrator Jose Pulido confirmed as much, testifying that City Councilman Jose Hernandez, who led the majority that denied the permit, had once said about Aszkenazy: “He’s being greedy. He’s Jewish, you know.”

The city — a 90 percent Latino municipality in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley — agreed to pay the builder $750,000, based on lost revenue and court costs.

It could appear to be a clear-cut instance of a Latino city official displaying bias against a Jewish builder. But almost nothing about this case is what it seems. For one thing, Aszkenazy, 47, grew up Catholic in Pacoima. For another, Hernandez has been a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue with Jews.

And Get Thee Out: Jews and Hollywood

Rob Eshman, whom I admire a lot, and who argued strenuously — even pleaded — for his name not to be mentioned in this (but clearly lost), was nice enough to ask if
I would write something for this special issue of The Journal (which I admire — and read — a lot), and I was very flattered.

He suggested, as a general topic, Jews in Hollywood. Being a Jew in Hollywood myself, this sounded dandy to me.

Since life in general (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) is more or less constantly ironic, it made me shake my head to think how odd it is that every single person around the world, from Europe to Africa to the remotest parts of Asia, even to places there has never been electricity, let alone movies, would feel instantly and unshakably certain the words “Hollywood” and “Jews” were not only synonymous, but interchangeable.

You could find a tribe of 30 short, naked, isolated people near the Amazon (the river, not the bookseller), who don’t speak English and have never even seen another human for 700 years, and who are pretty sure the entire world actually ends at the edge of their forest; and if you parachuted into their village in the middle of the night, woke them up and screamed, “Quick! Who runs Hollywood?” every confused one of them would look at each other, shrug, and say, “Why, the Jews, of course. Everyone knows that.”

You could probably do the same thing on Mars.

Only we Jews would say, “Actually, that’s not true.”

Ah, well. Not the first time, eh?

I remember when the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ” came out. Now, there wasn’t one element of this movie that involved Jews. The book (a beautiful story, by the way, by Nikos Kazantzakis) and the screenplay were not written by Jews, the stars were not Jews, the director (Martin Scorsese) was not a Jew, the producer was not a Jew, the cinematographer was not a Jew — well, you get the idea. But the head of Universal at the time, Lew Wasserman (who has since passed on), was Jewish, and that was enough to get lots of folks saying, “Aha! The Jews in Hollywood have done it again.”

Done what? I don’t know. I guess we just did it again.

I’ll bet if you went to the bar Mel Gibson got drunk at that night and looked hard enough, you could find a guy — three landlords and two owners and seven property managers ago — whose daughter’s old freshman roommate took an adult education pottery course in the ’70s from a Jew. Close enough. “The Jews did it to Mel!”

The only thing I know about being a Jew in Hollywood is that, to me, they are two completely separate and distinct things. Whatever the word “Hollywood” actually means, I’m an actor, a writer and a comic, and I love it all. I love show business. I’d be a hand model if anyone ever asked. (No one has, so far, but then again it’s only Monday morning.)

Being a Jew is different, and that’s why I titled this column, “And Get Thee Out.” As many of you know, we just read Lech Lecha this past Shabbos. (I still pronounce it “Shabbos,” because it reminds me of my parents.) This part of the Torah, with Vayerah coming right after, is some of the most shatteringly powerful Jewishness in my life, year in, year out. The Torah, and the Psalms, and so much else in the liturgy is often so moving to me I have to put it down and take a breath. It seems so real, so clearly “of God.”

I’m bringing that up because it was still so strongly with me this morning, I really wanted to talk about it with someone, even for just a couple of minutes; someone in my work, my world, the creative life. The Business. Someone I deal with all the time. Someone who would get it, who feels the same way I do, who hears the same music.

Well, my agents are Jews, and my manager is a Jew, and my entertainment lawyer is a Jew, and my publicist is a Jew, and the agent in New York who negotiated my book deal with Regan for “Spoiled Rotten America” is a Jew (Come on, folks, you didn’t expect me to go a whole article without getting a plug in, did you?) and the producer, director, stars and writers of a movie I’m in that screened Saturday night are Jews, and I really, really like them all, and respect them all, and admire their work and their families and their hearts very, very much.

But I couldn’t talk to them about Lech Lecha. They would have politely listened if I insisted, but have had no idea what I was so lit up about.

So I called my friend Jonathan Last in Washington, a great writer. He’s Catholic and religious, but I can talk to him about God and Jewishness in the greatest depth, and he always gets it. There are folks I could call around here, of course, and they’re Jews. Like my rabbi. But they’re not in show business.

This morning, I dropped my kids off at school but had to miss the minyan, because one of them had a thing in class he was doing. It’s a Jewish school, so I had my tallis and tefillin with me and figured I’d daven in the chapel alone. This happens a lot.

As I was going in, Cantor Judy Aronoff was coming out, someone I admire immensely, whose Jewishness and knowledge and kavanah shine like a sun. We talked for a moment, and then I went in and stood before the ark and davened. Then I got a cup of coffee at the cart Crystal runs out front every day, and drove to Universal.

So if someone asks me what it’s like to be a Jew in Hollywood, I swear I don’t know. I know what it’s like to be a Jew, and how far I’d like to go. I know what it’s like to be in “Hollywood,” and how far I’d like to go. But I don’t have the slightest idea of how the twain shall meet; unless, as Lou Costello once said, it’s “the twain on twack twee.”

So every day, as long as God gives me life, I’ll listen to His order, and “Get thee up, and get thee out.” Like today: I davened and came to work.

And decided to write this and tell you about it.

Actor, writer and comedian Larry Miller, whose next movie, “For Your Consideration,” opens Nov. 17, is the author of the new book, “Spoiled Rotten America” (Regan Books), but I guess you already know that.

My Superpower: Datedar

Some folks claim they have “gaydar” — they can tell whether someone is gay.

Some folks claim they have “Jewdar” — they can tell whether someone is Jewish.

got “datedar” — I can tell if a couple is on a first date.

It’s kind of a cool power … I mean none of the X-Men, Superfriends or wizards in “Harry Potter” have ever shown the ability to tell instantly if they are in the presence of a couple on their first date.

I was recently in line with my boyfriend at the Farmer’s Market Coffee Bean, when I overheard a young couple (probably early 20s) in front of us. Both wore jeans: He had on a nice T-shirt with a plaid shirt over it, she had on a baby doll T-shirt. I turned to my boyfriend and told him: They’re on a first date.
He looked at me with a slightly bewildered expression and asked how I knew. I then told him what confirmed it: He offered to pay for both of them; she politely said that wasn’t necessary. He insisted. She relented. While waiting for their coffee, he informed her about his car; she remarked how nice that model of car is. The kicker: They never touched, but their body images totally mirrored each other.

I tried to stop looking in their direction while I waited for my mocha — but I couldn’t help it. My curiosity would not allow me to let it go. I watched them get their drinks and walk out the door (he held it open for her). I smiled and secretly wished them a good date (I couldn’t very well say it out loud, now could I?).

Sometimes I don’t even need the datedar — just a really good ear. One night at a sushi restaurant in Woodland Hills, I watched a nicely dressed woman sitting in the waiting area. She kept futzing with her hair and looking at her watch. A few minutes later, a nicely dressed man walked in. He looked at her and said, “Linda?” She stood up from her chair and said, “David?”

They shook hands and did an awkward half-hug thing, and I thought: “Hmmm? JDate?” They took their seats at the sushi counter, and I spent the remainder of my meal stealing glances at their interaction. And to confirm my suspicions, the word JDate was mentioned twice.

When I see a couple on their first date, I have to restrain the urge to walk up to the female half and ask (in my mother’s voice), “So, how’s it going? Do we sense a second date here?” I think people on their first date are so cute — like “adorable outfit in the window of Baby Gap” cute — that you just can’t help but say, “Awww, cute!”

But why should I care so much about two people whom I’ve never seen before and — more likely than not — will never see again? Is it the relief that “thank God it isn’t me?” Is it the sense of nostalgia — thinking back on my first date with my boyfriend (also a coffee date)? Is it our desire to know everything about everyone (thank you, Google)? Is it that Cupid has come through and put another couple on the road to love? I think it might be a smidge of all four.
Unfortunately, my datedar doesn’t work beyond date No. 1. If you are on your second date or beyond, mazel tov — but I wouldn’t be able to tell. It’s like my Kryptonite kicks in after the couple says, “Good night.” However, the datedar does have the ability to morph into “newlywedar.”

When I was on a cruise with my best friend, I got to put my newlywedar to the test. We were sitting in the ship’s theater, waiting to watch a show, when a young couple holding hands walked down the stairs and sat two rows ahead of us. A few minutes later, the guy stood up and began walking back up the stairs — but not before he gave his ring a couple of turns. As he passed me, I said, “Congratulations.”

His new bride heard me and turned around.

“How did you know?” she asked.

“He was playing with his ring,” I told her with a smile.

Newlywedar is nice because you actually can talk to the couple — the only problem you’d encounter would be if you were wrong and he was twisting his ring because he was having an allergic reaction to something that made his hands swell up. Luckily that rarely happens.

It isn’t hard to increase your datedar — or newlywedar — powers. All you need is the ability to observe little details about those around you — a la Hercule Poirot or Nancy Drew. However, make sure not to stare too long at the couple or you will just creep them out.

Having datedar won’t make you famous, it won’t save the world and you don’t even get to wear a cool costume — but it is free, and it makes you feel good. And maybe that’s enough.

And to all you singles who will be embarking on first dates this weekend, look for me — I’ll be the smiling blonde waiting for her Banana Mocha.

First Person – God Laughs?

This column first ran on July 26, 2002, and is one of a series that the beloved former managing editor of The Journal wrote about her life and her battle with cancer. She died on Sept. 5, 2002. She was 54.

My girlfriend “E” was the first to declare what others had been observing for a while.

“God sure is having a good laugh,” she said. “You write a column called ‘A Woman’s Voice.’ And yet you have no voice.”

The irony had crossed my mind.

Lance Armstrong, the bicyclist, had testicular cancer. Beverly Sills, the opera singer, has two daughters who are deaf. Is there “meaning” in the fact that I, who have for some years traveled the country public speaking, and whose professional identity is hung up on the moniker of this column, cannot be heard?

I haven’t had a speaking voice in more than a month. I whisper, a frog croaking through the bulrushes.

My right vocal cord is paralyzed. While speaking, which I assure you doesn’t hurt, I puff like I’m running a marathon. I take an hour to eat scrambled eggs.

Still, if you ask me, God has nothing to do with it.

The loss of a voice carries a surprising spiritual threat: friends act as if some crucial part of me were gone. Inside my head, I still yammer away, brilliant on the topics of WorldCom, ImClone and Israel. But when I open my mouth, I become like Hannah before the Tabernacle. My every chortle and grimace is subject to misinterpretation.

The phone rings. The caller is disoriented: Who am I? I rush to reassure them: I’m OK. I feel fine. When I had chemotherapy, I continued to sound like myself. I would call my parents in New York right after treatment ended. Sitting tall, I was convincingly strong and congruent.

These days, without a voice, identity is not so much gone as taken on faith. I have faith that the situation is only temporary. My community has faith that I’ll be restored to myself, New York accent and all.

We are known by how we sound. Sound — our laugh, our cry, the song we hum — is the beginning of identity.

We know that God stands watch at night by the natural and unnatural sounds of the universe: the roar of the wind, the bray of the ass, the bark of a dog, the sound of a baby’s cry.

I listen for God’s comfort at night, and offer the silence of praise.

But is God laughing?

Judaism has struggled since the Holocaust to remove God from the nation’s “Most Wanted” list — the “intervening punisher God” with a wicked sense of humor.

As for you and me, the good people that bad things happen to, we’re our own worst enemy: We keep asking “Why?” as if there’s an answer. We remain committed to a God who can’t wait to pull the tablecloth out from under us.

We seek out “God the sadistic entertainer” when all other explanations fail. Lacking all other reasons, we fall back to a punitive concept, that we deserve punishment; that perhaps God never liked us to begin with.

But illness has shown me another God, one of comfort. The “loathsome trickster God” offers nothing, not even to say, “I don’t know.”

There is no reason why this has happened. Life is inherently unpredictable. Diseases, like lung cancer, have more ups and downs than a soap opera. Like “Anna Karenina” you laugh or cry, and sometimes both.

It’s funny, at least to me, that since losing my voice, I can’t interrupt anyone, not even to tell a joke. I have learned to listen to news reports rather than comment on the haircut of the newscaster. Now that I listen to conversation, I’m no longer the smartest person in any room, so far as you could tell.

The condition won’t last forever. Soon, I’ll have a silicon implant that has nothing to do with breast enhancement. I’m told it will smooth out my vocal cord and will restore my voice to normal. I’m saving my best repartee until then.

“Man plans and God laughs,” is what we say in difficult times, as if God were Henny Youngman.

If so, God can find me right here.


7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, February 4

It’s the year of the gay cowboy, so why not the privileged lesbian? Head to the Geffen Playhouse for the Los Angeles premiere of David Mamet’s,”Boston Marriage” titled after the Victorian euphemism used to describe a long-term, intimate relationship between two unmarried women. The play about two upper-class women involved thusly is also directed by Mamet and stars Rebecca Pidgeon, Alicia Silverstone and Mary Steenburgen.

Through March 12. $35-$69. 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-5454.

Sunday, February 5

Israeli musician Ehud Banai comes to the Avalon Hollywood. Hear songs from the folk/rock/traditional songwriter’s album, “Answer Me” which won Best Album of the Year at the 2004 Israeli Music Awards, and other favorites tonight only.

9 p.m. $45. 1735 Vine St., Hollywood. (323) 462-8900. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, February 6

See “Lady and the Tramp” fall in love again on the big screen this week. Coinciding with the DVD release, Disney screens a digitally restored Cinemascope of the film at the El Capitan through Valentine’s Day, complete with live visit by Mickey and Minnie before every show. Never have meatballs and spaghetti been more romantic.

$8-$9. El Capitan Theatre, 6838 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (800) 347-6396.

Tuesday, February 7

Valley Beth Shalom and L.A. Jewish Symphony bring piccolos and bassoons to the young masses today. “Linking Our Heritage: Songs of the Generations” is a free educational concert, with special guest artist Sam Glaser, that aims at bringing second- and third-graders and their parents and grandparents together through music. An instrument petting zoo precedes the show.

10 a.m. (petting zoo), 11 a.m. (concert). Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P., (818) 728-1923.

Wednesday, February 8

The Gerard Edery Ensemble winds Ladino, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew cultures and languages through their latest CD of songs, “Amid the Jasmine.” Unifying the recordings is the group’s particular sound, as well as Edery’s distinctively deep voice. It is released this week.

$15. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, February 9

L.A. Jews head south this week for the 16th annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival. Catch up on Jewish films you’ve been meaning to see, including opening night movie “Live and Become” and closing night’s,”The First Time I Turned Twenty.” Bonus: get your parents off your case by attending the singles-aimed Flix-Mixer on Sunday night.

Feb. 9-19. Various locations and prices. (858) 362-1348. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Friday, February 10

Don the walking shoes for tonight’s interactive entertainment, care of Collage Dance Theatre. You won’t be dancing, but you will be walking through parts of Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club, for the site-specific dance company’s production of it’s opera: A Dance Opera.

Feb. 9-12, 16-19. (In case of rain, performances rescheduled to Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays.) $25-$40. 1880 N. Academy Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Hey Kids!

What’s Your Name?

Welcome. On the last Friday of every month, this page belongs to the kids of Jewish Los Angeles, so we’d like you to name this page. Please send your ideas to, with the subject line: New Name. We’ll pick the best one, and you’ll get all the credit.

Kein v’ Lo:

New Year’s

This section of the page will be a way for you as kids to sound off on an issue. This month’s kein v’ lo (yes and no) is about New Year’s. Should Jews care as much about the regular New Year as we do Rosh Hashanah? Here’s some info for both sides of the argument.

The Kein Side:

We live in the United States, and while we are Jewish, our day-to-day experiences do revolve around the regular, solar calendar and not the lunar Jewish calendar. (Although, coincidentally, this year, because of the timing of the lunar calendar, Dec. 31 is also the last day of Kislev, making it a Rosh Chodesh — new moon/new month — on both calendars.)

Celebrating two New Years gives us a chance to create some new resolutions twice a year.

There’s nothing religious about celebrating this New Year, because most people spend New Year’s Eve with friends and New Year’s Day watching football games and various TV show marathons. (FYI, when New Year’s Day is a Sunday, the Rose Parade falls on a Monday.)

The Lo Side:

There’s nothing really new that happens in the winter. The idea of this winter holiday started as a pagan celebration of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. We as Jews celebrate creation during Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei.

The concept of making resolutions was started by the Babylonians, and like theirs, the resolutions we make too often are self-centered — losing weight or exercising more — rather than focusing on tikkun olam (healing the world) and making the next year better for others.

New Year’s parties are used by many people just as an excuse to drink and celebrate.

We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. E-mail your thoughts to with the subject line New Year’s. We’ll publish your opinions next month.

Believe It or Not

"It’s All True" (Simon & Schuster, 2004) by David Freeman offers us a portrait of an outsized Hollywood, so unbelievable that it must be dead on. It is, more precisely, a novel, lovingly unfolded about the movie business: How it works and how its players — adults spoiled by too much money and power — act out their lives. "Oh me-oh, my-oh," as Henry Wearie would say.

Wearie is the novel’s hero. He is actually a fictitious character, a screenwriter trying to hustle a script idea into a movie deal, but in a voice that sounds eerily like that of Freeman, who himself is a screenwriter. In its way, this book serves as a more knowing successor to Freeman’s earlier work, "A Hollywood Education," published 18 years ago, after the author had moved to Los Angeles from New York.

Wearie’s stance in the face of outrageous behavior is one of wry amusement as he contemplates these men and women who seem to be willingly trapped in the movie business. It is a form of entrapment with more than its share of perks: an obscene amount of money, a highly structured pecking order and a set of rituals and forms of behavior that would not be out of place in the French Court of Louis XIV.

Freeman admits us, occasionally with a touch of shame, into the routines that defines a screenwriter’s life: the daily 9 a.m. coffee gatherings with his friends at Farmer’s Market, made up mostly of other writers and film people who have been banished from Hollywood’s Court; the upscale power luncheons with producers, studio heads and movie stars at the de rigeur restaurant off Sunset Plaza; the round of endless parties where it is important to be seen with the "right people"; and the on-location film shoot in Mexico where Wearie has been summoned by the director to function as both a script doctor and a psychological handler of the film’s out-of-control star.

When he can force himself to attend to it, Wearie’s focus serves as a mantra for "the business": How to acquire heat — i.e., be in demand — and how to use this newly acquired heat to move a script idea from an improvised one-sentence pitch to a motion picture deal. Along the way, Wearie, always amused and always disenchanted, sees himself as a character in a comedy of manners that, at times, is so bizarre and absurd, that it can only be true.

For example, on location in Mexico, the movie star’s wife, Lilah, picked up the phone, which was patched through to the hotel and asked the operator to get her the Michael Singer Agency in Beverly Hills. "Mike Singer, please," Lilah said, and waited until someone came on the line. "It’s Lilah for Mike. Hi. Things are looking good…." Then Lilah asked her husband’s agent in Beverly Hills to call room service at their hotel in Mexico and have somebody bring them over six bottles of beers and some chips.

All of Freeman’s characters are captured (for us) by Wearie’s disengaged voice, as they exhibit different forms of Hollywood largesse often disguised as vanity. There is the pecking order in restaurants; the one-up behavior of the celebrities — one famous actor comes to lunch at a fashionable restaurant with his own chef and makes his entrance into the dining room through the kitchen, pausing for a fraction of a second to bestow favor on the assembled diners — and the lessons offered by a top producer to Wearie on the proper way to generate heat, to recycle a script, to pitch and pitch again, until the initial treatment finally finds its proper resting place, all the while generating work, lunches, maneuvers and the circulation of hope, money and opportunity.

Wearie’s voice is appealing — he is both an observer and part of the scene, detached and involved at the same time. He is unexpectedly moved by a director-friend who dies of complications from AIDS, and surprised to discover that he is capable of so much feeling. When he and his wife embark on a search to adopt a baby — only to discover that the birth mother and her boyfriend are hustlers looking for some quick money and that the young teenage mother is having second thoughts — he comes out into the open air long enough to realize that the self-defining rules and antics of Hollywood, where anything outrageous, even monstrous, is how life is played out as realism, has suddenly become unacceptable. For a brief instance, a shade of morality, of human dignity, matters to him — even though, all things being equal, the only thing he actually cares about, even more than his feeling for his wife, is his old, classic beat-up automobile, a Jaguar which "was about two dings away from being a used car that once was fashionable."

What distinguishes Freeman’s Hollywood comedy of manners from that of some of his predecessors is that surprisingly he views the cast of characters with affection. The novels of other writers lured to Hollywood — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Daniel Fuchs, Nathanael West — tended to be filled with shame, despair and disgust. Partly, they saw themselves as outsiders. Not so Freeman. He is aware that he is part of the scene as well; unabashedly so. And never more so than in his fond, thinly disguised portraits of friends: There is director Tony Richardson (called Rolf Shilling in the novel), a wise, gifted Machiavellian who turns out to be both likeable and a more talented game player than nearly everyone else; and Freeman’s Farmer’s Market friend, director Paul Mazursky, warmly sketched in as a director who once made "comedies and dramas about adult life." Now he was out of fashion. "The audience had turned into teenagers who wanted to see other teenagers having sex, outwitting their parents, and running from explosions."

But throughout it all, Mazursky never loses his manic sense of fun, quickly turning riffs into comic sketches that edge towards lunacy.

Ex-girlfriends and agents and writers — some friends of Wearie, some not — are perhaps less clearly identifiable. They are present in the novel, more as assemblage portraits; but there is little doubt they are the real thing and that whatever they say and do, unbelievable as it may seem, they all ring true.

A Resonant Voice

The first thing one notices about Theodore Bikel is the voice.

As he settles on a divan in his book-filled West Hollywood apartment, chatting about his upcoming 80th birthday gala, it’s not so much his strapping frame, white beard or sharp blue eyes that make an impression as his voice.

This is the resonant baritone that has sung countless folk music concerts, recorded 27 albums in 21 languages and performed in approximately 35 films. This is the actor who has appeared more than 2,000 times as the milkman Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” besides playing Captain Von Trapp in Broadway’s “The Sound of Music” and opposite Bogie in the film, “The African Queen.”

Bikel has also used that commanding voice to speak out for diverse causes, serving on the boards of Amnesty International and the American Jewish Congress and as a proponent of Yiddish, among other activities.

“I bridge worlds,” he says. It’s an appropriate endeavor for an artist who was born in Vienna, raised in Palestine, educated at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and has summer performances scheduled from Connecticut to Krakow.

On June 6, his destination will be the Wadsworth Theater in Brentwood, where celebrities will fete him in a tribute, “Theo!!! The First 80 Years,” to benefit Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Performers such as Leonard Nimoy, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary and comedian Larry Miller will laud Bikel’s distinctive Jewish voice and his status as perhaps the last of a unique breed of Jewish entertainer. &’9;

They point out that Bikel performs in Yiddish and Hebrew as well as English; that he is as comfortable in the Jewish theater as on the non-Jewish stage; and that he declined to change his name or downplay his heritage to land movie roles, although many others of his generation did so.

“Theo is iconic in that he broke through in Hollywood while remaining a visible Jew,” Miller says. “He’s done very mainstream things as the exact person he is: an active, committed Jew.”

Actor-director Nimoy, a Yiddishist whose parents were raised in the shtetl, has been a fan since discovering Bikel’s recordings in the 1950s.

“I listened to them over and over again, because his music just struck a chord,” he says. “His voice captured a flavor that meant something to me; it made me feel like I knew who he was, because he presents himself in a way that evokes such credibility and authenticity. He’s always been that kind of performer; he’s filled that niche for us, connecting us to tradition, to roots.”

Bikel says that he is connected to roots in a direct fashion. As a boy, he visited the Ukrainian town where his grandfather kept an inn, battled anti-Semitism and conducted Tevye-like tiffs with God.

“He read forbidden books,” the artist says, his voice now a whisper. “There was a whole period when he refused to go to synagogue because he felt that God did not treat his people right. More than a year later, his family was stunned to find him with his prayer shawl on, davening; without breaking stride he shrugged and said, ‘Maybe this will help.'”

It’s no wonder Bikel commands such authority when his Tevye proclaims: “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”

Yet when asked if his 80th makes him think of words like “legacy,” he initially replies with a joke.

“This milestone makes you instantly wise,” he says. But then he reflects that he has, in fact, “spent a lifetime guarding a legacy, the Jewish legacy specifically. And because I am a universalist, I’ve also tried to encourage others to guard and cultivate their legacy. I call this my ‘anti-Phoenix’ crusade; many people these days seem to feel their birth was like the birth of the mythological Phoenix, that suddenly one day they sprang up without memory or parentage. But I feel you must explore your roots in the past in order to pinpoint your place in the present, and to ensure that you have a future.”

“Fiddler” has helped do just that for diverse viewers — among them the Asian Amerians who surrounded Bikel after a Hawaii performance.

“Many of them had tears in their eyes,” he says, quietly. “I asked what the play meant to them. And they said, ‘Tradition.'”

If preserving Jewish legacy has been one of his missions, Bikel was born for the role. He shares a May 2 birthday with his namesake, Theodor Herzl; throughout his childhood, a picture of the Zionist leader hung over his bed.

Bikel’s own father was a Hebraist and Yiddishist who taught him Jewish songs and “insisted that a Hebrew teacher come to the house, even before I was sent to grade school.”

When his family fled the Nazis to Palestine in 1938, the idealistic Bikel dutifully set off to study agriculture, although he says, “I was lousy. I would stand around on heaps of manure and sing songs about the beauty of the work I wasn’t doing.”

When kibbutz leaders sent him to a theater seminar, hoping he would return to stage pageants, he instead fell so in love with the stage that he left to join Israel’s Habimah Theater. After he finished polishing his craft in London, Sir Laurence Olivier hired him to star opposite Vivien Leigh in a 1949 production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Over the years, he says, he was not so much a leading man as a character actor: “I’m able to change walks, gaits, faces, accents,” he explains. “I find that stimulating, because it’s the same attitude I have toward music: You don’t just sing one song, you sing many songs, in many different languages.”

Certainly he has been typecast, although “That is Hollywood’s fault,” he says, his baritone rumbling. People would say, ‘To play the Russian, get Bikel…. the Jew — get Bikel.’ It’s been an uphill fight, but it was their problem, not mine. Of course my agents had a problem. They had to fight with producers who said, ‘No, he’s not right for this role.'”

Bikel was thrilled when director Stanley Kramer cast him in his 1958 film, “The Defiant Ones”: “I played an American Southerner, with no ethnicity attached, and for that I received an Academy Award nomination,” he says. “That puts the lie to anyone who says an actor can only do one thing.”

Despite the casting issues, Bikel never downplayed his Jewishness; for example, during the Soviet Jewry movement, he was among the most vocal of advocates, demonstrating at rallies and recording an album of underground refusenik songs.

Of course, he understands why actors might choose to remain in the Jewish “closet”: “But why should the Italian American let me know of his background, in the food that he eats and in the rhythms that he speaks, and I shouldn’t let people know who I am?” he asks. “Even if I assume that I am going to be discriminated against, I sleep better at night. I’m the man who sang Hebrew and Yiddish songs at Buckingham Palace,” he adds.

For his work onstage and off, Bikel has earned accolades. Artist-activist Yarrow, for one, considers Bikel a role model: “His commitment to tikkun olam, to repairing the world, is impressive, whether or not he’s doing it under the banner of being Jewish or as a citizen of the world,” Yarrow says.

Actor Edward Asner, who will also appear at the tribute, agrees: “Theo’s just had such an unbelievable history of good works and good causes.”

As for his advice to young performers who happen to be Jewish, Bikel emphasizes, “You don’t necessarily have to do the Jewish ‘thing’ in your work at all times, although you do it when it’s called for.”

He pauses, then raises his voice for the first time during the interview. “But you certainly have to do it in life — at least in my book. You have to be who you are.”

“Theo!!! The First 80 Years” will be held June 6, 5:30 p.m. at the Wadsworth Theater, 11310 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. $50-$250. For tickets, call (310) 229-0915.

Theodore Bikel Career Highlights:

1943: Joins Israel’s famed Habimah Theater as an apprentice actor; a year later, co-founds the Israeli Chamber Theatre, the “Cameri.”

1948: Graduates with honors from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

1949: Stars as the second male lead, Mitch, opposite Vivien Leigh, in Sir Laurence Olivier’s landmark London production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

1951: Plays a German officer in his first film, “The African Queen,” with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.

1956: Makes his concert debut in a folk song program at Carnegie Hall; helps found the Newport Folk Festival several years later.

1959: Receives an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Southern sheriff Max Muller in Stanley Kramer’s “The Defiant Ones,” about two escaped convicts, one white (Tony Curtis) and one black (Sidney Poitier).

1959: Creates the role of Captain Von Trapp opposite Mary Martin’s Maria in the original Broadway production of “The Sound of Music.”

1967: Debuts as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

1988: Wins a Los Angeles Emmy Award for his titular role in PBS’ “Harris Newmark’s Los Angeles,” about the 19th-century pioneer Jew. (Other Bikel TV roles over the years have included Lt. Worf’s adoptive father on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Henry Kissinger in “The Final Days,” a Holocaust survivor battling memories on “L.A. Law” and a space rabbi on “Babylon 5.”)

1994: Publishes “Theo: The Autobiography of Theodore Bikel,” (rereleased in 2002 by Universtiy of Wisconsin Press) recounting his life as an actor, activist, singer, guitarist, writer, lecturer and raconteur.

2002: Completes his 2,000th turn as Tevye on yet another national tour, which earns kudos for his restrained but poignant portrayal of Sholom Aleichem’s besieged shtetl Jew.

2004: Records two major works for the Milken Archive of American Jewish music, including narration for Ernst Toch’s “Cantata of the Bitter Herbs,” a concert work based on the Passover Hagaddah, and David Diamond’s “AHAVA — Brotherhood,” which celebrates the first Jews to arrive in America 350 years ago.

Matzah, Matzahman

“Everyone wanted to clone our mother, which is why wecreated our Dancing Matzahman, said Davida Lampkin-Tydings. Actually, thesinging, swaying doll — voted best new Passover item at the 2003 Kosherfest –looks like a male chef wearing matzah print. But press his foot, and the plushfigure raps in the voice of Lampkin-Tydings’ mother, Pauline S. Lampkin, whosephoto is on the tag. The tag also credits Lampkin as the “vocalist”: “I becamea rapper at 94,” she said, looking impeccable in a blue velvet pants suit.

Her matzah doll, which  is available at Ralphs and Judaicashops, is the latest matzah mania product by Lampkin-Tydings’ company, DavidaAprons & Logo Programs Inc., which specializes in “kitchen kitch.” Thedoll’s song is composed by Jewish musician Craig Taubman.

But long before Matzahman, the elderly Lampkin was making animpression. At trade shows, she stood out as Davida Aprons’ indefatigablebookkeeper: “People call her the ‘human calculator,’ because she still does allthe figures in her head,” her daughter said.

Mom continued manning the company’s Huntington Park office,even while battling cancer in the 1990s. She’s one of the oldest people ever tohave completed AIDS Walk Los Angeles. And she regularly participates whenDavida and her sister, Sybil Lampkin-Rubin, brainstorm new Passover products,for example, an award-winning matzah ball timer.

“But at trade shows, people would always say, ‘We love yourmother. Can we buy her?'” Lampkin-Tydings said.

That question started the matzah doll rolling. Yet one couldvery well wonder: If Matzahman is inspired by Lampkin, why is he male? Thereason, according to Lampkin-Tydings, was that the doll was originally supposedto sing a parody of the Village People song, “Macho Man”; by the time shediscovered the royalties would be prohibitive the figure was already designedas male.

“So we decided to make him my boyfriend instead, ” Lampkinsaid.

Now her daughters are designing a new line of products thatwill feature mom’s photo, including a mug, a menu chalkboard and, of course,something Passovery.  “You know that elderly woman who used to say, ‘Where’sthe beef?'” Lampkin-Tydings said. “Mom could say, ‘Who’s hiding the matzah?'”

For more information, visit .

Pullman Stars on the Drive Home

When Jason Pullman worked at a country radio station in St. Louis, he used a different name and kept his Judaism on the down low.

"Not that I wasn’t proud of it, but I just let it go," said the 31-year-old disc jockey. "People in country music are different, a little more anti-Semitic than they are in other formats. From time to time they would say a Jewish joke, and I was just little afraid of a backlash."

Now working as the co-host with Lisa Foxx on the drive time "Afternoon Shift" on top-rated radio station Star 98.7 in Los Angeles, Pullman can — and does — talk about his Jewishness as much as he wants. Whether it is telling listeners that he won’t be celebrating Christmas because he has Chanukah to worry about, or kibitzing with Jewish rockers like Adam Levine of Maroon5 about a shared heritage of overanxious parents, Pullman’s Jewish background has a good chance of being thrown into any on air conversation.

"I am very proud of my Jewish heritage," he said, talking to The Journal from the Clear Channel offices (Star’s parent company). "I used to use stage names, but then as of four or five years ago [I decided] I am myself, and that is only person that I want to be."

Pullman is a relatively new voice on the Los Angeles radio, but he stepped into some big — or at least very trendy — shoes. In December 2003, when Ryan Seacrest left the station for a new position as the morning DJ at KIIS-FM and — in addition to his hosting duties with "On Air with Ryan Seacrest" and "American Idol" — the Star’s producers needed another fresh young voice to take his place behind the microphone. They received about 3,000 audition tapes from DJ hopefuls, but Pullman got the job. He had worked at the station before, doing weekends and occasionally filling in for Seacrest and Foxx, but he had never worked with Foxx. The producers didn’t think that mattered. They were so sure of his talent that they threw him into the booth with Foxx without a test run, and the partnership worked.

Although he is anxious to differentiate himself from Seacrest, it is easy to find similarities between the two. Both are from Atlanta. Both have boyishly cute faces and spiky hairdos, but Pullman doesn’t have highlights in his. Both wear ultramodish T-shirts. Both have slick and easy tongues and similar voices, but Pullman’s on-air personality is nicer — it doesn’t have what some might consider a cheeky, malicious edge sometimes found in Seacrest’s talk. Pullman also steers clear of the more raunchy conversations — he’s a nice Jewish boy.

"I wouldn’t want to ask something that my mom would not be proud of me asking," Pullman said. "Especially now with the FCC and fines — I don’t want to embarrass myself like that. It’s not the kind of radio that I want to do."

"Pullman gets a lot of grief for sounding like Ryan Seacrest, but he is quite a bit different from Ryan," said Lindsay Lawler, a producer for the afternoon shift. "Ryan is more of a metrosexual, and Jason’s more of guy’s guy. He’s also a little more vocal on his views."

"People are comparing me to Ryan, but [sounding like him] is not intentional at all," Pullman said. "I just think that I am down-to-earth guy who listeners can relate to. I’m just a Jewish guy who grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta who loves this business and wants to achieve more."

Pullman grew up in a Reform family in Atlanta that celebrated all the holidays and had a strong Jewish identity. His father was a general sales manager at a radio station. From the time he was 5, Pullman knew that he wanted to be on the air. He would tag along to work with his father and spend his free time emulating on-air personalities. In high school he interned at Power 99, a popular Atlanta station. He told them that when he was older he would come back and be on the air. They didn’t believe him, but after he went to the University of Florida and majored in communications and broadcast journalism, he came back to Atlanta and got the midnight-6 a.m. shift at the station. Since then, he has worked on-air in radio stations all over the country.

"Radio was the only thing I ever wanted to do," Pullman said. "I have a passion for music and very eclectic tastes. But I love what goes on between the songs, and I love the interaction with people on and off the air."

Now Pullman is trying to parlay his voice into other opportunities. He is the host voice of the Sci-Fi Channel’s house of horror reality series, "Mad Mad House," and TLC’s "Faking It." But his on-air Jewishness is brings him opportunities of a different kind. He received a Passover dinner invitation from someone on the sales staff in his office who never knew he was Jewish until he brought it up on air, and other people call the station offering to set him up with Jewish girls they know.

"My mom and dad would love for me to wind up with someone who is Jewish, and I would want that too," he said.

Jason Pullman can be heard on 98.7 FM on weekdays from 3-7 p.m.

No Half Love!

Will I fall in love again?

After 17 years of marriage? At 42?

Will I even recognize the feeling? How soon will I allow myself to feel that vulnerable? That trusting?

Here’s a shocker: I’m cynical. I tend to regard women who come into my life with the narrow-eyed acuity of a fact checker. I have quickly become an instant documentarian, a sharp-eared debriefer in the Guantanamo Bay of the heart.

An astute interviewer, I listen for instant disqualifiers — gross insecurities, knee-jerk judgmentalism, debt, uncontrollable recoiling at the mention of sex.

Call this the Yiddish model of wary romance. At best, this model is worldly and practical.

"Love is a fine thing," the Yiddish saying goes, "but love with noodles is even tastier."

At its worst, this model is as despairing as Kafka, who let us know that "there is infinite hope — just not for us."

My Yiddish model admits that there is indeed infinite love between men and women, but that I’m destined for membership in the other 99.8 percent of the population.

It’s a seductively comfortable working model for dating. Why? Because it begins in fear, and so keeps me armored, garrisoned, provisioned and snugly out of the range of fire.

But, as Goethe’s Faust famously cried, "Two souls dwell, alas, in my breast."

And so my Yiddishe kop rides atop a body suffused with a Hebraic soul. Built of love, not fear, it belts out the Hebrew of the Song of Songs — "Love is stronger than death," and "Let me lean against the stout trunks, let me couch among the apple trees, for I am sick with love."

My Hebraic heart doesn’t fact check women, it listens optimistically for a singing partner — for spontaneous appreciation of beauty, for playful verbal dexterity, affection, exuberance, sensuality, beneficence.

This Hebrew model of love is far more uncomfortable. It pounds at the ribs. It is a ready conflagration under the skin. It is a psycho inner-puppy that persistently leaps to imagine a future of conjugal bliss. Hebraic love, as the Song of Songs reminds us, is a promise of love that, in its fullness of heart, is so expansive, so complete, that it can serve as nothing less than a metaphor for God’s love of us and for the human love of God.

Whoa. Yeah. I want love like that. And outsinging Kafka, there’s an optimistic voice in me that believes I, single, unfettered, can have it.

Because the great thing about starting out fresh at this point in my life is that, past the anxieties of youth, and before the frailties of age, I’m at full power.

For the first time in almost 20 years, unable to blame someone else, unburdened of the need to please someone else, I get to create the life I want. As ideal as I want to it to be.

And so, when I met a woman with an inspiringly buoyant, happy heart, I found myself blurting to her, "No half love." I was spontaneously striking a deal right from the start. A veteran of an increasingly listless marriage herself, her whole face lit up.

"No half love," she repeated. We weren’t in love yet, but if we were going to be, we were pledging ourselves at this important threshold to an idealism of, well, biblical proportions. What does that translate to in everyday life? To me, it means drawing from a bottomless well of generosity; it means kindness under stress, patience when gloom visits, quiet amid chaos and an almost giddy joy in the other’s happiness. All in all, it means maintaining a steadfast X-ray vision through the inevitable husks of daily imperfection to the divine creamy filling within.

Will I fall in love again? Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know that though I crack wise in Yiddish, my heart soars with a more ancient yearning…

Set me as a seal upon thy heart

As a seal upon thy arm

For love is as strong as death…

Many waters cannot quench love,

nor can the floods drown it.

Undrownable. Amen.

Adam Gilad is a writer, producer and CEO of Rogue Direct, LLP. He also
teaches creative writing based on Jewish texts at the UJ and privately. He can
be reached at

A Voice of Democracy Where None Exists

Tashbih Sayyed believes in democracy as a way of life. He can be counted among the few Muslims in America who believe that modernism, free-thinking and education are keys to rid Muslims from the morass of extremism.

Sayyed was the keynote speaker at a two-hour discussion on the Middle East crisis during a July 27 Laguna Beach Havurah gathering at a private residence in Monarch Bay.

The discussion, organized by Rabbi Stuart Altshuler, head of Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, explored ideas and exchanged views on how to tackle the growing fanaticism in Islam and how to alert the Muslim world that their biggest enemies — imams and emirs — lie within.

“I have to challenge the enemy of Muslims, the enemy of Islam, who is also the enemy of Israel and enemy of [the] USA,” said Sayyed, who once served in Pakistan’s government and is now editor of Pakistan Today.

Sayyed also blamed the United States and its Western partners for installing corrupt dictators in the Islamic world and giving them billions of dollars in aid.

Due to a lack of education and social services in the Middle East, according to Sayyed, Arab and Muslims are trying to qualify for eternity by doing what they determined to be God’s work, which is to make war on those who ignore or question divine authority.

For extremists it is not about killing Jews per se, but a means to purchase a heaven filled with women, he said.

Sayyed, who has been harassed and threatened by fellow Muslims, spoke out vehemently against some Islamic rights organizations in the United States. He said such organizations — many of which are funded with Saudi money — should be banned.

He also said the time had come for the United States to be vigilant at mosques and other Islamic institutions where Saudi-funded literature is being distributed and Saudi Arabia’s Whabisim is spread, in the name of Islam, to the mostly peaceful and educated North American Muslim community.

Sayyed also said he strongly opposes the creation of a separate homeland for Palestinians, saying that another Islamic state is not going to help Muslims, Islam and the world when so many other Islamic countries are already failing to do good. He said he feels this way not out of favoritism for the Jewish state, but because a Palestinian nation is just not ready for a separate country.

It will just be another state on the world map, spreading the message of hate, he said.

Sayyed added that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who can easily pass as a personal stenographer of Yasser Arafat, could hardly be an example of leadership and that the world was just wasting time dealing with him. However, Sayyed couldn’t elaborate on whom among Palestinians to deal with.

For more information about Tashbih Sayyed, e-mail Rabbi
Stuart Altshuler at .

Hearing God

Watching the sunrise over Lake Tahoe is one of my great summer pleasures. I usually awake before my family and, in solitude, watch as the contours of the lake begin to take shape in the morning light. The serene stillness of this mountain silence is punctuated later only with the distant sounds of speed boats and water skiers, the mute screams of glee from those sailing beneath billowing parachutes pulled by fiberglass vessels. And if it is quiet enough, I can hear the flapping sounds of sails riding on crafts as they slowly pass me.

I have always had sensitive ears. I don’t enjoy loud cacophony. My taste in music tends toward the classics and jazz. I prefer the mellifluous to the abrasive. Additionally, I enjoy sitting in a quiet place to listen to the sounds of my own breathing, as if to reassure myself who I am and from whence I’ve come, who is my Creator and what is my unique and special truth.

I thank my colleague Rabbi Levi Meir for sharing with me years ago his translation of an essay on the significance of the sense of hearing written in 1928 by Dr. Adolf Altmann, the late chief rabbi of the town of Trier, Germany. Altmann concluded in his essay that the command "Hear, O Israel" — which appears in this week’s Torah portion — is more than a mere call to the people to pay attention. Rather, he explains, something deeper was being articulated. Altmann notes that the command "Shema!" is an appeal not only to the abstract realm of concepts, but also to one of the senses, that the keenest perception of all must embrace both the realm of thought and the sensory experience of hearing.

Altmann argues that hearing is the only sense through which God’s presence was revealed to the Israelites directly and definitively. At Mount Sinai the people apprehended God through the voice of the prophet Moses. The "Shema" in effect affirms that those who heard God’s voice must continually "hear" God’s word everyday.

But why hearing? Why not touch, sight, taste or smell? Altmann suggests that the tonal stands nearest to the purely spiritual among the senses. Tradition understands hearing to be, therefore, the best medium of sensory revelation, the most easily amplified into the infinite. As Mozart understood only too well, hearing is the means through which sense and spirit touch and the corporeal and incorporeal are joined.

Jewish mystics speak of the religious seeker’s goal of hitbodidut (solitude) — i.e., communion with God — of reaching outward and inward to that moment of meeting in which simultaneously God hears the stirring of the human soul and we humans hear God’s voice. Some say that God’s voice in this instance is the kol d’mama daka (still, small voice), like the sounds of a baby’s breath, or that which is produced as air passes quietly through the lips. In that moment of God hearing, Israel becomes aware of God’s unity.

Our tradition understands that each mitzvah (commandment) is a living transference of God’s voice that once sounded to Israel at Sinai. Every word and letter of Torah is the encasing vessel of God’s holy sparks, preserving them so that they may be rediscovered as they are articulated in the ears of every generation. Rabbi Leo Baeck taught that in encountering the God of Israel, the Jew discovers both the mystery and the commandment. Thus in the mitzvot are the spiritual and ethical linked, the metaphysical and the moral joined together.

Altmann has written: "Through the silent walls of hard prison cells hear the sighs, Israel; out of the lonely huts of deserted widows and orphans; from the bed of pain of the sick and suffering; from the quietly restrained anguish of the rejected and disenfranchised; from the mute looks of the timid and sorrow-laden; from the pale lips of the starving and needy, you, Jew, shall hear the cries of pain, without their having to be emitted. The cry of the suffering is the cry of God, which emanates from them to you. As the psalmist lets God speak: ‘With the oppressed, I am one in suffering’" (Psalms 91:15).

We Jews who say the "Shema" and understand its spiritual dimensions and ethical obligations become witnesses to God in the world. It is not an accident that the two enlarged letters of the "Shema" (the ayin and dalet) spell "witness."

The silence of a Lake Tahoe sunrise; the still, small voice in every life breath; the God- filled words of Torah; the screams of human suffering — all command our attention as if we, too, stood with our people at Mount Sinai.

John L. Rosove is senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

Shearer Enjoyment

On the sunny porch of his Santa Monica cottage, a scruffy-looking Harry Shearer, Los Angeles’ preeminent satirist, is describing his fascination with an all-male power retreat called the Bohemian Grove. It began about nine years ago when the caustic, 58-year-old humorist started interviewing Grove guests — and hookers — about the super-exclusive Northern California resort. The interviews eradicated every conspiracy theory he’d had about the place: "These guys aren’t micromanaging the world," says Shearer, best known for voicing myriad "Simpsons" characters and for his National Public Radio program, "Le Show."

Instead, the big shots — who’ve included Henry Kissinger and Robert F. Kennedy — liked to cavort naked through the woods, visit prostitutes, pee on redwoods and dress in drag. "What I found peculiar is that if you call a group of the richest and most powerful men in America and say, ‘Here’s a week apart from the cares of the world,’ what they choose to do is to regress to the status of college sophomores," he says with a laugh. "I think that’s funny. I find it a bit ‘twee,’ a British word meaning sort of silly and a bit below one."

So Shearer did what humorists are wont to do: He wrote a spoof of the Grove and turned it into his feature film directorial debut, "The Teddy Bears’ Picnic," which opens April 5 in Los Angeles. In the sharp but slowly paced comedy, chaos ensues when outsiders crash a fictional retreat called Zambesi Glen. Shearer says he picked the name, "Zambesi," "because the idea of these white guys choosing something African had a sort of class obliviousness that I liked."

To fact check, he finagled an invitation to the Grove; while he didn’t see any nude frolicking, he did note bacchanalian feasting and the imbibing of a "house drink" named after the narcotic drug Nembutal. The high point of his visit: finding a major corporate executive face down on the golf course, sleeping off his Nembutals. The low point: performing some of his irreverent humor — "a bad idea as evidenced by the lack of laughter and applause," he says.

Not that arch, wry Shearer is afraid of a little rejection. After all, he’s the guy whose politically incorrect fare has included a "debate" between Jesse Jackson and Jerry Falwell over whether a movie should be colorized.

After the Sept. 11 tragedy, he was perhaps the first satirist to officially skewer President Bush, doing one of his "Le Show" conversations between "43" and "41," as he refers to Bush junior and senior, the 43rd and 41st presidents of the United States. "I found my mission," 43 tells 41. "I haven’t been this focused and determined since the fourth time I quit drinking."

Even the Chabad Telethon — which Shearer actually likes — isn’t safe from his barbed wit. With a mischievous smile, he admits he hosts an annual Chabad telethon party where he "gets up and dances every time they show the tote board. I love watching Rabbi Cunin’s progression as a tummler each year. I remember times when he would literally engage in grabbing contests for the microphone with [telethon supporter and mega-producer] Jerry Weintraub; we’d just slow-mo the tape for the body language."

Shearer’s large hazel eyes turn serious when he describes how his Austrian father and Polish mother separately fled Nazi-occupied Europe in the late 1930s (they met in Havana). "The rest of my relatives were supposed to follow, but time just ran out," he says. "When my parents talked about losing their families, there was a lot of emotion so obviously it was painful."

The Shearers were also political and radio junkies who listened to everything from the satirists Bob and Ray to the Jewish Theological Seminary’s weekly show. By the age of 3, young Harry could not only name all his favorite radio programs, but what city they originated in and the times they were on. By age 7, he was a child actor on "The Jack Benny Show." The year after his father died of a brain abscess in the mid-1950s, he became bar mitzvah at Hollywood Temple Beth El.

After a brief political career, he turned up in the radio comedy group, "The Credibility Gap," on "Saturday Night Live" and as the horny bass player Derek Smalls in Rob Reiner’s 1984 rock mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap," which he also co-wrote. Around the same time, he launched "Le Show," which he still does for free every week so no one can tell him what to do.

Shearer can afford it. He reportedly makes at least $50,000 per "Simpsons" episode, though he says he’s chagrined that many Hollywood executives still view him as "one of their refined tastes they’re not willing to share with the masses." He’s been accepting roles in blockbusters such as "Godzilla" to prove he can be, well, commercial: "Fame is a tool in this town," he says. "I need to become more famous to do the projects I want to do."

But he’s not averse to working in the margins, if necessary. When studios eschewed "Picnic," Shearer used the new digital production technology to make the movie independently, on the cheap. Like all his work, "Picnic" skewers political and pop culture establishments on the left and the right. "It’s like we used to say in The Credibility Gap," he says. "In my stuff, everybody’s an as—–."

Water Years

Remember Hanna-Barbara’s "Squiddly Diddly?" Well, a new cartoon cephalopod has come to town, and his name is Oswald the octopus. Voicing the title character on "Oswald," Nickelodeon’s new addition to its children’s line-up, is a Valley boy who has been a popular actor since childhood, Fred Savage.

Savage had captured the hearts of millions of viewers on the nostalgic ABC series "Wonder Years" (1988-1993), with his vulnerable portrayal of Kevin Arnold, a boy just trying to make sense of growing up. Now 25, Savage sees "Oswald" as an opportunity to do it again, albeit with a much younger audience in mind.

"I knew more of what I didn’t want Oswald to be," Savage told The Journal. "I didn’t want the show to talk down to kids."

"Oswald" centers around the cartoon’s eponymous eight-tentacled hero, a sensitive, positive-thinking big blue octopus who, with canine companion Weenie and friends Henry (a penguin) and Daisy (a flower), goes on adventures in Big City. Plots include the search for an ice cream truck, flightless Henry’s dream to fly and Daisy’s flirtation with the bongo drums. The series stresses themes of teamwork and tolerance.

Savage’s greatest challenge on "Oswald" might be refraining from going off the scripted page, playing opposite talented cut-ups David Lander (Squiggy of "Laverne & Shirley" fame) who voices Henry, and Laraine Newman ("Saturday Night Live") as Madame Butterfly.

Originally from Chicago, Savage and his family moved to the Valley when he was 12, after he landed the "Wonder Years" part. While Savage was growing up, his family attended Stephen S. Wise Temple for holiday services, and he participated in activities at the campus Hillel as a student at Stanford University.

Savage still stays in touch with former "Wonder Years" castmates, including Danica McKellar (who played love interest Winnie Cooper). McKellar went on to become a brilliant mathematician in real life. So, was it unnerving playing opposite a genius for five years?

"I think if I were in math class with her, it would have been more intimidating," said Savage, who directed episodes of TV shows such as "Boy Meets World" and, this year, "All About Us."

While he portrays an octopus on TV, Savage won’t be acting like one on any blind dates. He’s been dating a "nice Jewish girl" from Chicago’s North Shore. Savage said that his friendship with this woman, a former childhood acquaintance, has blossomed into his first serious relationship.

Sounds a lot like the plot to a "Wonder Years" reunion special. "Oswald" airs at 10:30 a.m. weekdays on Nickelodeon.

Learning to Listen

Abraham Joshua Heschel would begin his lectures with a startling announcement: “Ladies and Gentlemen, a great miracle has just happened.” People would immediately sit forward, eager to know what happened. “The sun just went down,” he’d say. They would stare at him, wondering if he’d lost his mind. Some would laugh, others would shake their heads. Then he would begin to describe the inner life of the religious person. What does it mean to be religious? How does a religious person sees the world? He’d challenge the audience: What have you lost when you lose the capacity to wonder at a sunset? What sort of person are you when you’re no longer surprised or impressed, no longer compelled to stop and notice the sun setting? What do you lose when life becomes so dull?

“Wonder, or radical amazement,” Heschel wrote, “is the chief characteristic of the religious man’s attitude toward history and nature. One attitude is alien to his spirit: taking things for granted, regarding events as a natural course of things. As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Mankind will not perish for want of information, but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.”

Jewish prayer is a spiritual discipline for regaining wonder each day. One hundred times a day we are instructed to stop and recite a bracha recognizing the miraculous in each moment of life. Twice I’ve had cancer surgery. Twice I’ve been through chemotherapy. I remember the healing process. I prayed that I would never forget the feeling of each small victory — to sip water without pain, to get out of bed and walk around, to see the sunshine on the day I was released from the hospital. In those circumstances, the most mundane and common events become the most momentous gifts. And I prayed that no routine, schedule or hurried deadline would erase the sweet victories of those moments. God speaks to us in such moments: moments of joy, triumph, redemption, closeness, promise. We hold these moments close and call them to mind when we need strength, courage, inspiration. Prayer is a way of realizing and recognizing the power of moments. Prayer is a way of holding moments, preserving and cherishing them. Prayer saves moments, allowing us to visit them when we are dry, lonely and empty.

How do you begin and end your day? At day’s end, most American adults watch the 11 o’clock news: 30 minutes of murder, rape, corruption, desolation, destruction, sports and weather. Good night! We awaken with a clock radio pounding the day’s news into our heads even before our eyes have opened: murder, rape, corruption, desolation, destruction, traffic, sports and weather. Do you know why you’re depressed?

Sanity, if not spirituality, demands that we learn to lie down and wake up differently — not with the hopelessness of daily news, but with a few moments of meditation and reflection. Recollect the passions that brought us to this point in life. Reconnect with our deepest values. Evaluate where we are in life, and where we’re going. Listen to the voice of the soul. Stand, if for but a few moments, in the presence of God, before sitting on the freeway on-ramp for half an hour.

Our Torah portion begins with the words: “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting” (Leviticus 1:1). According to the medieval commentator Rashi, the verse specifically mentions the Tent of Meeting to teach that God’s voice, though it was a voice powerful enough to smash mountains, stopped at the edge of the tent and could not be overheard beyond. But this was no miracle.

God’s voice could not be heard because no one except Moses knew how to detect it amid the noise of daily life. Only Moses knew how to listen for God’s voice. Vayikra — God is still calling us today. But few of us can hear amid all the noise. Prayer teaches us how to listen.

Reality-Based Schooling

One of the most engrossing reality-based television shows is the thrice-weekly KLCS public broadcasting program, “Conversation with Roy Romer.” Unlike “Survivor” and “Temptation Island,” where contestants wearing cruise and safari garb compete against each other and the weather, “Conversation” features little more than a white-haired man in a black suit talking to off-camera live callers wearing who knows what. Nevertheless, the sharks are out. Romer is superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and what is at stake on the show is the education of some 700,000 Los Angeles children.

Romer is cool. Monday night, the former governor of Colorado handled questions about completing the mid-city Belmont High School, the newly passed 15 percent pay increase for teachers and where the money will come from, the problems of new teacher accreditation, and whether giving teachers PalmPilots would help automate classroom grading. These, of course, are the high-visibility problems that preoccupy the district, along with an (unmentioned that night) embarrassing accounts payable meltdown, which renders LAUSD unable to buy desks from Office Depot because of unpaid bills. Romer took it all in stride, referring obliquely to the efforts of an unnamed Valley newspaper to exploit LAUSD problems to build a city-secession movement.

Moments before the show ended, however, Romer’s passion showed when he spontaneously unfurled what he saw as the top priorities of the district, ones that supersede even the important problems that callers were raising. Incredibly, the top three of four were aimed at improving teaching.

“We need to improve reading and to give teachers skills to teach math,” he said. “We need to improve our teachers’ professional development.” It was a rare reality-based moment in which what happened in the classroom, to children, was made of paramount importance.

As it happened, I’d spent much of the past week considering this very issue, the politics of education and what is happening to our students. My friend Marlene Canter is running for the LAUSD school board in the Westside/Valley district. She’s got an uphill battle against incumbent Valerie Fields, who has the support of Jewish machers and the teachers union. Real estate developer Matthew S. Rodman is endorsed by Mayor Richard Riordan (who deserted Fields at the last minute). Rodman’s claim to this support is that, presumably, he can help the crowded school district pick new construction sites. New school development was the fourth and last of Roy Romer’s agenda items on KLCS.

Nevertheless, Canter, a Jewish community activist (on such boards as the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College) deserves your attention for the same reason that Roy Romer had a fix on mine: she alone in this race is focused on educating children and improving teacher skills. Moreover, she alone is an educator with business skills and a parent, and she is beholden to no one. With eight years as a classroom special-education teacher, she became CEO of an educational training company built with her former husband that specialized in classroom conduct problems (at which she employed her mom and dad). The company was recently sold to Sylvan Learning Systems.

“We’ve got archaic teacher training,” she told me over tuna salad last Thursday. “We’re going down the wrong track. Just look at all the students who are now being tested for ‘special education,’ as if they can’t learn. We’re creating a stigma that is unnecessary, and we’re creating an incentive for schools to create costly new programs that drain the budget.

“The truth is we could teach almost all these students if teachers were taught about students’ differing learning styles.”

The system does parents and children no favors when it imposes exit testing on students whose education was doomed to begin with. A better option, as Canter said, would be to test for reading and math skills at third grade, the age when they can quickly and easily catch up.

The lunch with Canter was entirely reality based. Her own two children are recent high school graduates, like my daughter, and we know the practical and philosophical limitations of a two-tiered educational system that breaks the heart. We know the pressures on students for prestigious colleges and to go an academic route for lack of respected alternatives, about the biases in our own upward-striving Jewish community toward “gifted” programs because the rest of the system is so inadequate. We talked tachlis, the way parents all over this community are doing.

Canter discussed LAUSD successes, including the charter-school movement. “We’re riding on a wave of hope and opportunity,” she said. “The problems are fixable. I believe that we should set our sights on proving what excellence can do.”

The LAUSD 4th district, in which Canter is running, has 100,000 students. The problems of our educating our children are nothing but real.

The Clinton Years

Nostalgia for Bill Clinton? Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Even as George W. Bush takes office, the Jewish community is weeping sentimental tears for the almost lethally charismatic president who, in the words of The Forward, “had come to embody the hopes of Jewish liberals in America and Israel during the 1990s.” Clinton, who is no stranger to schmaltz, had policy wonks and foreign affairs careerists alike publicly weeping when he chose the Israel Policy Institute as the site of his last address last week, hinting that yet one more attempt at an Arab-Israeli solution was still in the works.

It will take time to assess the Clinton years, to understand how the Man from Hope changed the Jewish world. But here’s a first cast at what might stay in the heart and mind long after Clinton is gone.


Starting from ground zero, Clinton’s growing love for Israel was a thing to behold. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was, for him, like a death in the family. Observers said it was as if Clinton had lost his own father. Like much of the American Jewish community, a grieving Clinton went to bat for Shimon Peres, an uncharacteristic loss of political objectivity with disastrous consequences when Peres lost to Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Clinton years changed the face of Israel, as the Oslo accords brought an end to the Arab boycott. I personally witnessed the remarkable turnaround in Israel’s economic relationships as trade began with such stalwart pro-Arab nations as Japan and India. I’ll never forget a Tokyo trade minister’s glow as he praised the special qualities of oranges imported from Haifa. An economic miracle that even the prophets would enjoy has occurred; Israel has become a normal citizen of the world.

Madeleine Albright

Clinton may not have known that Madeleine Albright was a child of Holocaust survivors when he named her as secretary of state, but her appointment has been an extra-ordinary turning point for world Jewry. Through Albright, Jews have been able to look into their own family secrets about the Shoah, to acknowledge the ghosts, defeats and self-deceptions that still weigh so heavily on us.

As we look ahead to Bush II, with an administration apparently to be dominated by oil interests, the valor of the Albright years, with its high-minded — if imperfect — commitment to fighting tyranny abroad, will become more sharply lit. Historians, in fact, may see Albright’s years as a bookend to the career of Henry Kissinger, the first Jewish secretary of state, whose own talented demons, influenced by German experience, powerfully shaped American foreign policy.

The Jewish-Urban Connection

In a miracle of personal transformation, Clinton, the former governor from Arkansas, has strangely connected with the nation’s sophisticates and elites, of which the American Jewish community is one key part. Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan will get the credit for steering the U.S. economy through its greatest period of economic prosperity. Clinton was their boss. Right from the start, Jews voted for Clinton in big numbers and were frequent guests in the Lincoln bedroom. We have never felt as comfortable in our own skin, and may never again.

Locally, the Washington-Los Angeles axis was transformed. During the Clinton years, L.A. County was still digging out of a budget shortfall that threatened local services, especially the public health system. Time and again, Clinton bailed out Los Angeles County when it was on the brink of insolvency over Medicaid. Close ties between Clinton and L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky helped our community through the aftermath of natural and political disasters, including the 1992 riots and the Northridge earthquake. One wonders what’s in store for Los Angeles under George W. Bush, who lost California in the recent close-call election, and whose campaign visits to our area were limited to Burbank and Orange County.

Of course, Clinton was a phenomenal personal disappointment. Notorious lies and cover-ups sacrificed not only his reputation but his policies. What began as a man who didn’t inhale ended with a man who didn’t trust. He didn’t trust Americans to have grown up with him, to understand how the Vietnam war and the sexual revolution confused us all. His early waffling on gays in the military, the failure to defend or comprehend the issues facing contemporary women, starting with political appointments of Zoe Baird, Lani Guinier and Kimba Wood, were later to deteriorate into his extraordinary bad judgment with Monica Lewinsky. It’s hard not to shake the head at the shameful waste.

Yet Clinton’s intellectual sophistication was a wonder. Those coffees with the president may have turned into a political nightmare during the second Clinton Administration, but having been at one I will always remember his love of ideas and his antenna for what matters to people. Even as Bush II begins, we feel the difference.

A Divine Voice

God spoke to me once when I was 12 years old. Although it happened years ago, I remember it as clearly as if it were today. Revelation is a tricky thing. I am reminded of the Midrash that when God gave the commandments at Mt. Sinai, God speaks to the Children of Israel in a divine voice so powerful they are too terrified to hear anything beyond the very first word of the first commandment. Since even that was too much to bear, God arranged it so they only heard the first letter of the first word. The first word is Anohi (“I am”), and the first letter is an alef, which is silent. So the rabbis teach us that what the Jewish people heard when God spoke was the Divine Silence of the mitzvot. Within that Divine Silence, each woman and man experienced her or his own unique divine revelation.

That was my experience, too. It happened on a Boy Scout trip to the High Sierras in the summer after sixth grade. It should have been one of the great summers of my life. Instead it was a disaster. In that one summer, I went to camp in Catalina, Jewish summer camp in Saratoga and a High Sierra backpacking experience. I was miserable, anxious and homesick during each one.

I sat on the sidelines during the entire time at Catalina, depressed and unwilling to participate in much of anything. I was actually sent home early from Camp Saratoga (an experience that left me one of the few kids in history to be told he “failed” camp!), and I was profoundly homesick in my pup tent high atop the Sierra Mountains — even though my father went on the trip with us.

Now I suppose I could simply chalk it up to a summer of raging adolescent hormones. It was certainly that. But that wouldn’t really tell the whole story. For adolescence is not only a time of great physical upheaval, it is often the most emotionally disorienting and confusing time in our lives as well. It certainly was for me.

When I was growing up, I was always the smallest kid in class. Whenever we took class pictures and lined up according to height, I was inevitably at the end of the line. I’m not sure if anyone has done a double-blind study of such things, but I can tell you from personal experience that the simple logistical decision of lining up kids for a picture can seem to have near cosmic significance to the fragile ego of a child. I was certain that being at the end of the line was as much a judgment on my social stature as it was on my physical size.

It was this less-than-secure sense of self worth that I shlepped with me to all those camps that summer, particularly prevalent high atop the mountain in the Sierras.

It must be something about mountains. For it was there in this week’s portion that Moses had his encounter with God, and it was on a mountain that I had mine. I have often wondered how long Moses had to stand and watch before he noticed that the bush was burning but not burning up. The Torah tells us that only after his internal realization did God effect a divine revelation. In my case, I was alone in the tent when I heard God’s whisper. To this day I don’t know why. I only know I heard an unmistakable message to stop whining, and start worshipping — to stop focusing on all I wasn’t and start realizing all that I was and the miracles that were everywhere if I was willing to open my eyes and see them. I was only 12, but my life has never been the same.

Steven Carr Reuben is rabbi at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades.

The Exodus

My friend Susie asked me to recommend a “goodhaggadah” for her seder. Tell me first about your guests, I said. Arethere many children? Grandparents? Republicans? Buddhists? Today,selecting a haggadah is a form of Rorschach test, a unique,personalized snapshot of you in the here and now, never to beduplicated again.

The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a simple andstraightforward tale of degradation, resistance and rebellion, butthese days, the prisms we see it through could not be more complex.There are feminist, environmentalist, Reform, Conservadox andReconstructionist rewritings of the story – not to mention thespecial Holocaust evocation written by Elie Wiesel. I could no morepick out a haggadah for you than I could choose your wedding dress.No haggadah today is one size fits all.

But it’s not politics and lifestyle alone thatmandate different strokes of the haggadic pen; the Passover sederis an entertainment worthy of A&E. On the Internet, there aredirections for how and where to procure locusts and frogs for aminiature “sound and light” show of real plagues, an interactiveExodus for the kids. The adults must be kept awake, too.

“It is no easy task to keep the seder experienceperpetually meaningful,” writes Rabbi David Blumenfeld and his eightco-authors in the introduction to “Keeping the Spirit Alive,” asupplement to the seder published by The United Synagogue ofConservative Judaism. The call of “when do we eat,” once a Passovertradition, is now an insult to the seder leader, an indication thathe or she has failed to ascend the ladder of spiritualinsight.

Picking out a haggadah and leading the seder was asimpler task in my grandfather’s day: there was the version we called”the whole thing.” Boredom was an expected part of seder, part of itsdelight.

But uniformity was not the whole story. Thoughthere were no choice in the matter of liturgy, interpretation wasanother matter. And this is as it should be: The haggadah says we aremandated to tell the story to fit the specific needs of those at thetable as the story of the Four Children implies. But like children,adults also want to be catered to.

I’ve been thinking about the seders long past, andsee them bathed in the glow of their specific eras. Not acookie-cutter seder among them. Here are a few:

A New Deal seder. Myparents were children of the Depression, and the seders of mychildhood were a cram course in Democratic New Deal-type politics,with a pro-labor pitch. Sure we Jews were slaves in Egypt, as theHaggadah says. Yes, Pharoah was an evil ruler. But there werecompensations. Somehow I had the distinct impression that buildingthe pyramids was one vast Works Projects Administration program. Atour seder table, unemployment was one of the Ten Plagues. And theclimax of the story was when the workers, er, slaves, organized andappealed to God for their freedom.

A post-Korean War seder. My uncle Bernie served in Korea, arriving after the UnitedNations cease-fire. Thus our seders in the late 1950s weremini-courses in American foreign policy. When he read “With a mightyhand and an outstretched arm,” my uncle clearly was indicating thatGen. Douglas MacArthur had a role in the Exodus and that Americanmilitary might helped part the Red Sea.

A civil rights seder. As a teenager in the 1960s, I went to Jewish summer campwhere Peter, Paul and Mary tunes of social action were part of thesong leader’s repertoire along with “Hatikvah.” At the seder tablethe following spring, I introduced “If I Had a Hammer,” with its callfor “love between my brothers and my sisters” of all races andcreeds. “Go Down Moses,” became a fixed part of our song list, rightafter “Chad Gadya.”

The dumbed-down seder. I was married now, and my friends and I had youngchildren. The seders were by definition short. I distributed crayonsand haggadah coloring books. The father of the youngest child readthe Four Questions. Soup was the main course and everyone was home inan hour. What was lost in detail we made up in passion anddirt.

Refusenik seders.The seders start to blend together now, as the tyrants come swiftlythroughout the 1980s. “In every generation” they rose up against us,first imprisoning Anatoly Sharansky in Siberia, the Chinesedissidents in Tieneman Square, and Nelson Mandela. But the times werechanging. My guests stopped relating to political enslavement, andstarted thinking of the psychological variety.

Creativity seders.During the years of feminist empowerment, I wrote my own haggadah,eliminating sexist language and avoided overt reference to God.Somehow the miracle of freedom occurred, because the Jews wanted itstrongly enough.

The spiritual seder.Today, our seder leaders reclaim Jewish ritual by going back to theHebrew. The seders that bored us as children are now filled withscintillating detail. We know 15 different interpretations of theword “Mitzrayim”– the Egypt of our enslavement that also means birth canal, thechannel through which all new life must flow. And chametz is not just the yeastedbread we can’t eat for eight days, but also a metaphor for ego, forambition, for the false idols which bulk up our lives. Many of uscan’t get enough of the sayings of Rabbis Eliezer, Joshua andTarphon.

Maybe next year we’ll be ready for the MaxwellHouse “unabridged deluxe” version – the “real thing.” In the meantime, the best way to enjoy your seder, is to be here now.

Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of TheJewish Journal. She hosts a Thursday evening chat room on AmericaOnline at 8 p.m. EST. Keyword: JEWISH CHAT. Her e-mail address


April 3, 1998A Worrier’sDelight


March 27, 1998Clinton and theFeminists


March 20, 1998Shabbat, AmericanStyle


March 13, 1998The PublicMan


March 6, 1998Taster’sChoice


February 27, 1998 ALiberal Feminist Meets Modern Orthodoxy


February 20, 1998Spinning theWeb


February 13, 1998How Do We DoIt?


February 6, 1998One by One byOne


January 30, 1998TheDaughter


January 23, 1998Babysitters NoMore


January 16, 1998FalseAlarms


November 28, 1997As AmericanAs…


November 21, 1997The ThirteenWants


November 14, 1997Music to MyEars


November 7, 1997Four Takes on50


October 31, 1997ChallengingHernandez


October 24, 1997CommonGround


October 17, 1997Taking Off theMask


October 10, 1997Life’s a MixedBag


October 3, 1997And Now ForSomething Completely Different


September 26, 1997An OpenHeart


September 19, 1997My BronxTale


September 12, 1997 — Of Goddesses andSaints


August 22, 1997 — Who is Not a Jew


August 15, 1997 — A LegendaryFriendship


July 25, 1997 — A Perfect Orange


July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own


July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes


July 4, 1997 — Meet theSeekowitzes


June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life


June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites


A Woman’s Voice

My Passover seder was once again acclaimed by oneand all as the best ever. Good thing, too, since, as befits a holidayfilled with questions, anxiety had dogged my every step — rightuntil the last moment.

First, I worried about the weather. Passover felleven later last year than this, and though there was not a sign of ElNiño and it had been unseasonably warm, I, of course, wasconcerned about the possibility of rain. And I worried about thetable setting, for this was to be my first seder al fresco, served not onlyoutside but on plastic.

“I’m sure everyone will understand,” said mymother. But I was not so sure. Fearing that my friends would think Iwas cheap or lazy, and not nearly the Martha Stewart I pretend to be,I left frantic messages of warning: This seder would be “casual”; besure to bring sweaters and dress for the chill.

Then, I worried about the food. Wendy gave methree kosher chickens; Alice was bringing two briskets. But what ifit still wasn’t enough?

“You’re worried for nothing,” my mother said. Butby now, she was worrying too — not about my seder in Los Angeles butabout my cousin Lorraine’s in New York, to which Mom and Dad werebringing a platter of fruit. We spent hours debating the relativemerits of pineapples, strawberries, cantaloupe or a mix of all threeand grapes. A worrier’s delight.

With my mother thus preoccupied, I turned tocousin Rita. She was busy fretting about the table settings for herown second-night seder, and hadn’t caught up to the matter of food.So I went on alone. Beyond the natural concern that my guests woulddie of starvation, I was agitated about one cousin who eats onlykosher, another who eats only vegetables, and those friends who areallergic or who are on the Zone Diet or the protein diet or puttingtheir faith in Phen-Fen before its link to heart-valve irregularitieswas revealed. I felt the kind of apprehension that made me long forYom Kippur, when no one eats at all.

When my worries had boiled and condensed into afine fumé, I baked a turkey breast and, for good measure, apotato kugel (doubling the recipe) and an extra dessert — an orangenut cake.

Little did I know that, in the midst of myobsession, my friends were worrying too. The day before, Laura hadcalled, tormented about the shape of the hard-boiled eggs she hadbeen requested to bring.

“Why did you give me something so easy to do?” sheasked, in exasperation. “I’m only good at hard tasks. I couldn’t peelthe eggs without leaving half the white in the shell. I threw out abunch, and those that I kept are so deformed, they’re practicallyabstract.”

Finally, it was 6 p.m., Erev Pesach. Wendy, whose matzoballs are internationally celebrated for flotation, came through thedoor frothing about her soup.

“Tasteless,” she declared it, and the matzo balls,she insisted, were like lead. So she salted the pot, added water toit, and nursed it like a baby, worrying, all the while, that she hadpaid too much for the chickens, and vowing that next year she wouldbuy them closer to yuntif, when the kosher market sells them at half price.

Alice and Ted arrived, their brisket kept warm ina huge brown insulated box. Alice declared the meat stringy and hersauce “too intense.” By turns, she threw herself into apoplexy,worrying that the meat would be either too hot or too cool andwondering why she couldn’t turn my stove top to “On.”

Meanwhile, Kari came in, disturbed to find thatthe chicken would be served unheated: “It’s fine with me,” she saidwith a glare of disapproval so firm that I threw the chicken into themicrowave, returning only to see her and Judy eyeing each other’scarrots with suspicion. Whose would be best?

Then, in sauntered Mary, warning one and all thather chocolate cake “is much better than it looks.” Debra, not to beout-mortified, suffered the indignity of contributing only bottledgrape juice. “I can cook, too, you know,” she said.

And with that, the seder itself began.

You’d think that my worries would end there andthen, but you underestimate my talent for a good hard-boileddistress. Last year, as seder leader, I kept my worries about theHaggadah to a minimum, refusing to rewrite it completely, making duewith the one I had first compiled when all my guests were feminists.I felt queasy about forgoing the washing-of-the-hands ritual, and, asfor music, my company never gets beyond the first verse of “Chad GadYa.” I am a worrier, not a perfectionist.

But Marty, who co-leads the seder each year, hadbeen worrying for me. Concerned that the seder would go over theheads of the children, he brought along “Uncle Eli’s Haggadah,” fromthe Internet. Every ritual, every historic reference had its own Dr.Seuss-like rhyme.

“I think the seder is for children,” he said, hisvoice filled with obligation.

What are these worries about? My mother says thereare “good problems” and “bad problems,” and these about Passover areof the first, happier, variety.

How wonderful it is to worry about such smallthings. The weather, the table, the food and the guests. Even thepossible closing of Pacific Coast Highway in the event of mudslide –these are the concerns, the privileges of love.

Bad problems, of course, we know all too well.Heart conditions, unemployment, death. To know only good worries isto be in a state of bliss, to be part of a natural order in which theminutiae of life is resolved by time, and to learn once again thatGod is in the details.

The first night of Passover turned out to be thehottest night of the year. We sat on the patio, telling the story ofthe Exodus to freedom, by the light of the full moon. Warmed bygentle breezes, we ate eggs (deemed perfect), soup (thick andflavorful), brisket (masterful), carrots (both recipes divine) andthe world’s greatest Passover chocolate cake. The children understoodit all.

“The best Passover ever!” they all declared. I’mworried that this year’s won’t be half so good.

Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist for TheJewish Journal, is preparing for Passover. This is her updated columnfrom last year. Her e-mail address is


March 27, 1998Clinton and theFeminists

March 20, 1998Shabbat, AmericanStyle

March 13, 1998The PublicMan

March 6, 1998Taster’sChoice


February 27, 1998

ALiberal Feminist Meets Modern Orthodoxy

February 20, 1998Spinning theWeb

February 13, 1998How Do We DoIt?

February 6, 1998One by One byOne

January 30, 1998TheDaughter

January 23, 1998Babysitters NoMore

January 16, 1998FalseAlarms

November 28, 1997As AmericanAs…

November 21, 1997The ThirteenWants

November 14, 1997Music to MyEars

November 7, 1997Four Takes on50

October 31, 1997ChallengingHernandez

October 24, 1997CommonGround

October 17, 1997Taking Off theMask

October 10, 1997Life’s a MixedBag

October 3, 1997And Now ForSomething Completely Different

September 26, 1997An OpenHeart

September 19, 1997My BronxTale


September 12, 1997 — Of Goddesses andSaints


August 22, 1997 — Who is Not a Jew


August 15, 1997 — A LegendaryFriendship


July 25, 1997 — A Perfect Orange


July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own


July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes


July 4, 1997 — Meet theSeekowitzes


June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life

June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites

Four Takes on Fifty

Four Takes on Fifty

Take No. 1: Round Numbers

I was too young to turn 30; I was still a child,vacillating between independence and rebellion, even though I wasalready married and a property owner. At 30, I believed that love isall there is, that politics could be an extension of love, and thatpsychotherapy was the pneumatic drill capable of tunneling through aclosed heart. Foolish, of course, but also sweet. As I say, I wasstill so young.

Ten years later, I was too old to be merelyturning 40. I had buried my husband and watched my 5-year-olddaughter turn a shovel of dirt on her father’s grave. I was olderthan everyone; older than my parents, who, after all, still had eachother; older than all my friends, who still played tennis and seemedto think that life was fun. I was older than the world.

At 40, I believed that duty is all there is, thatpolitics is an extension of obligation to others, and that ritual andspirituality are the escalator we ride when our feet are incapable ofwalking. Recalling this, I feel bitter, as if life did me a bad turn.As I say, I was already old.

Fifty, which I will turn next August, feels good.The number 50 seems full and round and open. Like my life. At almost50, I’m tempted to quote the Zen master and say that the present isall there is. Or to quote the psychologist and say that our historydetermines our fate. Neither is completely true. The present, unlessenriched by history, can make us desperate for results. And history,unless sweetened by ongoing good work, community and friendship, canmake us sad.

I believe now that politics is what happens whenproblems can’t be solved by people on their own; that psychotherapyleads to insight only if there is enough will; that you don’t have toscream in order for God to hear you, but it’s not enough to talk toGod alone. Most of all, I believe that I deserve to be happy. Neitherpolitics, psychotherapy nor spirituality is a substitute for a lifefully lived.

Take No. 2: The Man/Woman Seesaw

Interestingly, my father established theoptimistic tone by which I greet maturity. He never had the slightestword to say about 30 or 40, maybe because I was such a lost cause hecouldn’t reach me, or because he was such a young man himself, stillengrossed in his own vision.

“A woman gets better as she gets older,” my fathersaid one day. “A man of 50, if he hasn’t made it, he’s finished. But a woman just begins to fly.”

This, of course, was my father’s tribute to mymother, our own Amelia Earhart who has never lost her way. Mom waitedmany years to take flight. At 50, her career in insurance had begunto drag, and she went back to school. By 60, when Dad was exhaustedfrom a working life, she finished college and became the financialwizard she was always meant to be. He turned inward, but she wasraring to go.

The Man/Woman Seesaw — men go down just as womengo up — has not been easy to accept. After my husband, Burton, died,I said to myself, “No more older men,” because why would I need them?Men find younger women attractive as a symbol of youth. Women seek older men as a symbol of strength. I wanted to meet a man on levelground.

Why hadn’t my father told me then about life’s ironies? Men get shaky in their 40s just as women get stable. Send inthe clowns.

The midlife crisis is making mincemeat of most ofthe men I know. Meanwhile, the women get stronger by the day. Oneday, we will meet again, on our own vulnerable terms. I hope it doesn’t take 10 years.

Take No. 3: Mother/Daughter Reunion

“Matrophobia,” a word coined by Adrienne Rich, isthe fear of becoming one’s mother, and it is particularly relevant towomen about my age, who hope to make peace and move on. The secondvolume of “Lifecycles,” edited by Rabbi Debra Orenstein, has a wholechapter on it.

I have become a lot like my mother. Perhaps I wasimplanted with a time-release capsule making me interested infinancial investments and the recipe for mandelbread. Were I not tobe like her, who would I be? The self-made woman is great in her 30s;she is free of guilt, a tiger of talents and desires. But by 50, thisself-made woman has nothing more to prove. My mother’s fierceindependence, her physical strength and determination — those traitsthat I once considered overbearing and suffocating — have magicallyappeared in me, and I’m glad.

Take No. 4: Celebrating the GoodLife

When my husband was 50, I made him a lavishsurprise party, including a gourmet dinner, a pianist, and guests inblack tie. My friends and I, celebrating our own half-century, areoff to Palm Springs soon, for a weekend at the spa.

How great we look, my friends and I. How luxuriousthe companionship feels. Once I looked at older women, and nearlycried. They weathered badly, or so it seemed. Now it doesn’t mattermuch at all, and, anyway, what can I do about it?

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of TheJewish Journal. Her e-mail address is

October 31, 1997ChallengingHernandez

October 24, 1997CommonGround

October 17, 1997Taking Off theMask

October 10, 1997Life’s a MixedBag

October 3, 1997And Now ForSomething Completely Different

September 26, 1997An OpenHeart

September 19, 1997My BronxTale

September 12, 1997 — Of Goddesses andSaints


August 22, 1997 — Who is Not a Jew


August 15, 1997 — A LegendaryFriendship

July 25, 1997 — A Perfect Orange

July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own

July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes

July 4, 1997 — Meet theSeekowitzes

June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life

June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites

June 13, 1997 — The Family Man

Of Goddesses and Saints

In the aftermath of thedeaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, every woman I know hasparticipated in some version of “The Goddess or the Saint.” We’vetaken sides, debated our husbands and boyfriends, our mothers, ourfriends. At Torah study last Saturday, we weighed the two women interms of a moral dilemma: The princess or the nun, the glamour or thegrit. Our choice of icons defines our lives.

But beyond psychodrama, my response to the deathsof Princess Diana and Mother Teresa is not about either/or. I’m notlooking to them for meaning or relevance to my days. Instead, Irespond to these two women primarily as a mother of a teen-age girl.And my bottom line is, as a role model, I’d choose neither: Iwouldn’t wish on my daughter the life of either one of them.

I don’t want Samantha to be as famous, asbeautiful, as sought after, as besieged, as critiqued, as confused asour departed Cinderella. The cost of glamour is too high. Nor do Iwant her to be as selfless, as holy, as driven or, yes, as pious asthe 87-year-old saint from India. Devotion has its perils too.

From the prism of parenthood, I’m asking: Arethese two icons fitting role models for a sensitive young woman?Could I really place my daughter in front of their lives and say,”There, go follow?” No, no way.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Jewish mother that I’vecome to dread life at the edge. Judaism has no saints, no nuns, nomonks, no superstars; it exalts no one. A normal life without Jobianpersecution is blessing enough for us. A normal life, I was taught,means working hard, but not too hard; pursuing justice, but notdriving ourselves into poverty. A life grounded in the here andnow.

But normal life was not what these women wereabout. Ultimately, Diana belonged to no one. She had no immediatefamily, no religious community (the Anglican Church apparently readher out of its prayers after the divorce), no homeland. Rumor had itthat she was moving to New York, or wherever. Her new love, DodiFayed, though nominally of Moslem descent, belonged to no country orculture; he spent a lifetime jumping from resort to resort, hotelroom to hotel room, woman to woman. Diana and Dodi were spiritualvagabonds, having nothing in common but love. She had money, gownsand even a new sense of self, but by the time her car crashed in thetunnel, she was cast adrift from her moorings.

Mother Teresa, from the opposite end of thespiritual spectrum, was also essentially alone. She had a spiritualfaith, a community, identity and purpose. All things that I hope mydaughter will cherish. But I would not wish on her the weight of sucha burden.

The need for balance, the danger of life at theextremes, is the hardest lesson a parent can teach. Certainly, I wasa difficult student myself. In my teens, only slightly older thanSamantha is now, I craved a life of excitement, romance, intrigue,professional advancement and intellectual idiosyncrasy. I eschewedmarriage, family and sought novelty. I thought I’d travel widely andnever stop.

At the same time, almost in the same breath, Iwanted work that would be a “passion,” a career that wouldn’t let mesleep, that haunted me with its creative demands. I didn’t care if Imade a living, so long as I helped change the world.

And I got what I wanted! I worked on nationalholidays; sometimes, mine was the only car in the office garage. Iturned down invitations to family gatherings to finish articles onlaw reform that no one ever read. My ambition was one part PrincessDi — I’d have great clothes, and terrific men would be attracted tomy youth and passion — and one part Mother Teresa, selfless as theday is long.

My mother spent those years holding her breath,waiting for me to come down to earth. While I swung from theextremes, her hope was that I would know the stability of the middle.Life on the edge gives no peace, she would say.

It is my turn now to fret over the Goddess and theSaint. Samantha, at 15, is every bit the dreamer her mom was. One dayshe wants to be Madonna or Celine Dion, a big-name singer,transported by stretch limo from one SRO crowd to another. The nextday, she cries for the poor and homeless on the street and says she’dlike to live among them, if only for a week, so that she’ll know howthey feel.

She is caught between Princess Di and MotherTeresa. I pray that she veers from the edges and finds the middleground. And lets herself be.

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of TheJewish Journal. Join her Oct. 5 for the next in her “Conversations”series at the Skirball Cultural Center. Her guest will be Dr. JanetHadda on “Passionate Women, Passive Men.”

A Legendary Friendship

Linda Deutsch and Theo Wilson livedacross the street from each other for most of the past 21 years. Theywere trial reporters who met in the Charles Manson courtroom,competitors and best friends. On Jan. 17, Wilson called Deutsch fourtimes while anxiously awaiting the limo that was to take her from herHollywood Hills home to a CBS interview — the official start ofpromotion for her new book, “Headline Justice,” which had taken her10 years to complete.

On the third call, Deutsch told her not to worry:”You’re a star.”

On the fourth call, Wilson told her: “The limo ishere, and I can’t get into it. I think I’m having an attack.” A fewhours later, she was dead.

This is the story of two legends: Wilson, who diedat 79, and her friend, the equally respected Deutsch, 53, of TheAssociated Press, who has labored to keep her colleague’s memoryalive.

Though her byline was best known to readers of theNew York Daily News, Wilson covered Los Angeles trials — notablySirhan Sirhan and Manson — for more than 30 years and lived heresince the mid-1970s. She was a roving reporter whose trials take usdown the memory lane of American crime: Sam Sheppard, Carl Coppolino,Candace Mossler, Jack Ruby, Patty Hearst. Readers hung on her everyword: Her front-page coverage of Jean Harris’ conviction for killingthe Scarsdale Diet Doctor, Herman Tarnower, sold an additional 50,000copies of the Daily News. The paper ran her photograph on the sidesof city busses.

I met her briefly when I was a young trialreporter sitting in on the Pentagon Papers case. Born TheodoraNadelstein, the youngest daughter of 11 children, she was, at5-foot-1, no-nonsense, unflappable (the air in the Ellsberg courtroomwas electric, and I broke a sweat), able to dictate stories from araft of notes on deadline. She was known for her chutzpah: She oncetook a $200 cab ride from Los Angeles to Chowchilla to break thekidnapping story, and once told Manson to shut up. People thought ofher as a “tough broad.”

She was a journalistic god when I was growing up.She and the New York Post’s Dorothy Schiff were the rare women in abusiness I longed to enter. She gave a would-be writer hope.

Wilson understood the romance of trial coverage,and how what takes place in the courtroom informs America’s view ofitself. She had less patience for the jaundice and self-servingnature of her peers. In “Headline Justice” (dedicated to her son,Delph, a local attorney), Wilson compares press advocacy in the O.J.Simpson trial with her own notorious cases.

“Countless times in my career,” Wilson wrote, “aprosecutor or defense attorney offered me an ‘exclusive’ tipbeneficial, of course, to his side. And every time, I said: ‘That’sgreat. When it comes out in court, I assure you it will be my leadthat day.’ Usually the exclusive never surfaced again.”

“She played it straight,” Deutsch told me lastweek. “She wanted the reader to know both sides, and to make up hisown mind.”

I met with Deutsch days after the Los Angeles CityCouncil created Theo Wilson Square (Camrose Drive and Glencoe Way) inthe Hollywood Hills. Her dining-room table was covered with mountedphotos and Daily News billboards that Theo would have used on hernational book tour. Instead, Deutsch uses them herself as she travelsthe country, promoting the memory of her friend.

After 30 years with AP, Deutsch has becomeAmerica’s premier trial reporter, still covering the Manson andSirhan parole hearings (“some cases never leave you,” she says) anddoing another of her one-on-one interviews with O.J. Simpson asrecently as last week.

When Wilson died, Deutsch was at loose ends.Although Wilson had retired from daily journalism in 1984, she keptup to date. While Deutsch sat in the Simpson courtroom, her mentorwatched the proceedings, gavel to gavel, at home. Every night, nomatter how late Deutsch was with filing her stories, they’d havedinner and compare notes.

Burned out and grieving, fielding endless phonecalls from colleagues around the nation, Deutsch wondered how shecould pay tribute. Deutsch turned down coverage of the TimothyMcVeigh case in Denver to spend most of the past year promoting”Headline Justice” on a national tour that she’s arranged and paidfor herself. (She’ll be in Sacramento in November for the Unabombertrial.) The book sold out immediately, but Deutsch had to pushpublisher Thunder’s Mouth Press for the second printing, which shehopes will pay for a scholarship for women journalists at theUniversity of Missouri. She has done more than 50 personalappearances, including “Today” and National Public Radio. (She’llspeak to a group of young leaders on Monday at the Skirball CulturalCenter.) The book, she acknowledges, is a way of refocusing herlife.

“People called us ‘Thinda,'” she said. “We wereboth New Yorkers, both Jews, and both short. We saw life through thesame lens.”

The trial world is cutthroat, in which everyparticipant — attorneys, defendants and reporters — has an ulteriormotive. That’s why Deutsch’s efforts have won the awe of colleaguesin the press and law alike. We’ll let one of them have the last word.”She’s the best,” says Laurie Levenson, a national legal commentatorwho has known Deutsch for years. “She’s doing this as an act of loveand friendship, to keep Theo alive.”

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of TheJewish Journal. Her e-mail address is

All rights reserved by author.


Read a previous week’s column byMarlene Adler Marks:

July 25, 1997 — A Perfect Orange

July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own

July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes

July 4, 1997 — Meet theSeekowitzes

June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life

June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites

June 13, 1997 — The Family Man

Back of the Bus

True story. Last week at the Westside Pavilion, just
outside Nordstrom, six women, dressed in the garb of
Islam, were standing by the mall’s ATM. Four wore
colorful scarves, exposing the face and a bit of hair; two
were completely in black, with only small slits, 1 inch by
4 inches, revealing huge, dark eyes. From a distance, the
human form disguised, they looked like a gathering of

I needed to use the bank machine, but the women did
not move. They blocked my way. I was irritated. They
stood around, yakking in an Arab dialect I couldn’t
understand. In a flash, a whole feminist discourse popped
into my head; I split into two, debating with myself about
the rights of women under religious totalitarian societies.
Better come back later, when they’re gone.

As I walked away, I heard the familiar metallic tinkle
of nervous female giggling. I looked back over my
shoulder. The older of the women — the grandmother? —
was clearly trying to make a decision.

“Can I help you?” I said, walking up to them. They fell
on me like a sister. Grandma forced a Visa Gold Card into
my hand. “Machine,” she said. She wanted to take $5,000
out of her account. Impossible, I know. I went through
the motions of making a withdrawal anyway; she adroitly
entered her PIN number. The machine rejected her
request. We repeated the process three times — seven
women trying to conduct business. My shoulders relaxed.
Though we failed in the attempt, we were happy in the
effort. Behind the slit, a young girl’s eyes were bright.

“Bye,” the women said, gaily. I wondered who among
us was liberated.

No doubt, you’ve heard: In Israel, women are moving
to the back of the bus. We’re not so different from
fundamentalist Arab states after all. The policy, approved
last week by the Israeli Cabinet, calls for separate
entrances and seating for women in the rear of Egged
and Dan buses to B’nai Brak. Unless overturned by the
Supreme Court, it would immediately apply only to
transit lines through observant communities. But who
knows where it will end: Separate seating on El Al?

Of course, we are aghast, we American Jewish liberals.
We speak out, in the name of Rosa Parks, and against Jim
Crow. A shiver goes through those of us who remember
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We’re heading backward, into
the darkness.

But even as we are preparing to fight this bus policy,
as part of the larger battle on behalf of religious
pluralism in Israel, I detect a tonal difference among
those who are battling the political forces of extreme
Orthodoxy. I hear anger, yes, but also compassion, a
declaration of understanding that the enemy is not the
woman in veil or the sheitel. It is the dogmatic mind that
abuses her in its pursuit for power.

I have my theories on why this sensitivity is emerging

The fact is that Jewish liberalism, feminist or
otherwise, has failed to take itself, and the issue of
religious expression in Israel, seriously. It
underestimated both the anti-Semitism on the left and
the forces of theocracy on the right. Jewish liberals were
comfortable, even arrogant, for too long, and the
important work of coalition building with moderate
religious forces in Israel was not done. The Who is a Jew?
battle over religious conversions has pit Reform and
Conservative movements against the triumphant haredi.
These movements are coming alive late in the game

Let one case make the point: For a decade, Women at
the Wall has fought the lonely battle for rights of
religious access in Israel. Painted as an obscure group of
fringe feminists, Women at the Wall got little organized
support in its lawsuit demanding the right to pray at the
site of the ancient temple. (The noted exception is ARZA,
the Reform Zionist organization.) As it became clear that
the women worshipers were not bra-burning radicals but
serious religious adherents, insisting on their equal rights,
liberal Jewish groups in America were even more at a
loss to see the relevance of their plea.

The American liberal community could have been
making common cause with religious Israelis for years
but did not. Only this past spring did it awaken to the
real danger to civil liberties in Israel, when Conservative
Jewish men and women were accosted on Shavuot while
trying to hold religious services at the old Temple site.

In conversations and in news reports last week with
liberal Jewish activists, I detected a new respect for
Israeli Orthodox women, even to the point of
“understanding”why some may want separation. This
makes political sense: in fightingto get the bus policy
overturned, American Jewish groups must get the
approval of women in a community they have long

In the ongoing war for Israel, you can’t tell a friend or
foe by sheitel or veil. Those of us who seek to create a
tolerant Israel are going to have to practice tolerance

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The
Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is

All rights reserved by author.


Read a previous week’s column by Marlene Adler Marks:

July 25, 1997 — A Perfect Orange

July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own

July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes

July 4, 1997 — Meet the Seekowitzes

June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life

June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites

June 13, 1997 — The Family Man

The Facts

Where does a parent — a Jewish mother — begin a frank consideration of her daughter’s sexuality? As the Zen master says, you have to start from where you are, and then let it flow.

I am a single mom, and as a single mom, my sex life is pretty much on display. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve known single mothers who crawl out of the window at midnight to visit their lovers, but I’m not good at taking off the screens. I have secrets from my daughter, but they happen during the daylight.

Because I’m a single mom, in some ways it is easier for me to discuss the facts of life with my daughter. My mother left this particular job to my father, and, finally, just the other day, he got around to asking if there’s anything I’d like to know about men.

Avoidance just doesn’t work with Samantha and me. We’re not obsessed with the mechanics of sexuality (she gets too much of this from reality-based TV, see further on) but, rather, with its operational flow. Samantha looks at my life, a virtual relationship laboratory right in her own home. She sees me dating, making my own mistakes, frisky in perfume one minute, wearing my heart on my sleeve the next. She notices when a guy comes by, bringing flowers, and she’s right there when the flowers stop. Recently, when I was on the phone with a guy for a full hour, she came in to give me a hug. The lesson my mother could never teach me — that the heart is a sexual organ — my daughter already knows.

Sometimes, I feel I’m a failure in this department, but it’s as much history’s fault as my own. Sadly, the “sexual liberation” that I’d hoped to bequeath to my daughter doesn’t mean much in today’s terms. For my generation, the “Fear of Flying” crowd, liberation means the freedom to participate in one’s own sex life, to enjoy passion and fantasy, to understand lust as a natural hunger, as related to but distinct from love. See, it still casts a romantic glow.

I was hardly a libertine; I wanted then what I want now: a stable partner with a great imagination. I’m a ’60s Gal, electrified by the right to be alive during lovemaking, to choose my partners (rather than to be commanded by them), to own a wakeful body, and to never fake satisfaction just to be polite. The other side of the equation, the part I try to stress to Samantha, is that I believe in self-protection, taking responsibility for bad choices and learning from my mistakes. No matter what has happened since — no matter how naïve we were about the fragility of males, no matter that even great sex sometimes pales next to good companionship — I still regard the women’s movement as the purest time of my life, when the battle was waged for a full definition of female adulthood, a battle only yet partially won.

In my fantasies, I’d hoped my daughter’s generation would take up the fight. But woman plans, and God laughs.

One day, when she was in fourth grade, Samantha came home from school with the report that Magic Johnson got AIDS from unprotected sex. All her life, we had been talking about sexuality, body parts, where babies come from and the rest. But nothing like this. Looking at my little girl, my heart sank, and I still think of that moment as the true “fall from grace.” Her news (she said it just this way, “Magic Johnson got AIDS from unprotected sex”) meant that Samantha, along with every little girl and boy in America, was learning about sex not as joyful, loving, free and natural (if strained with emotional complications), but as a health crisis, tainted, diseased, stained. I flew the flag for sexual freedom at half-staff.

Even today, so many years after accommodating to our new, darker era, I still well up in a protective rage on behalf of our young girls. The bad news broke too soon. Samantha didn’t yet know what love means, what physical ecstasy evokes. Before she could develop her own unique metaphor — a fantasy of bliss or a vision of herself locked in a “From Here to Eternity” love embrace on a pristine beach –she was already thinking mechanically, clinically, of sex as “safe” or “unsafe.”

She knows too much about the wrong things, and not only about AIDS. She has been warned against child abusers, sexual disease and sexual harassment in a wide variety of forms. A macabre sideshow of twisted sexual images come to her from “Jerry Springer,” MTV, Angelyne, Michael Jackson’s androgyny. She’ll never be allowed a moment’s purity, naivete or nonchalance. I grieve for her imagination’s prematurely lost virginity.

I’d be less than forthright if I said that being a Jewish parent provides security, or spiritual advantage, in this regard. Like every parent, I worry about my child’s friends and her values, and I seek to insulate her from the dangers of the cruel world. Where Jewish tradition helps is: 1) in providing a long list of women who survived their own child’s teen-age years, and 2) in offering stories that encourage independent thinking, even in the midst of chaotic times.

Increasingly these days, I use both parts of that heritage: I think of my own mother, scared to death throughout my adolescence, while I felt certain I could take care of myself. And I

Reality Bites

Are seniors at Milken Community High School really “Wildcats” after all?

Aaron Fishman, outgoing student body president, told me that earlier this year, students tried to change the school’s sports mascot from the Wildcats to “something more Jewish.”

“We wanted a symbol that would represent us as Jews out in the world,” he said. The Wildcats had an extraordinary year, winning league championships in basketball, softball, swimming and baseball. “But after talking about it a long time, we said, ‘Being Jewish is not in a symbol; it’s in our behavior, the things we do in the world.’ So we kept the name.”

The story, posing the conflict between Jewish and secular values, seemed apocryphal last week after Senior Prank Nite got out of hand.

Here’s what happened, in an incident that has been the subject of rumor and hyperbole throughout the last week: Prank Nite, that venerated tradition of seniors cutting loose after final exams, has been an accepted, if problematic, institution at Milken. Students talked openly in front of faculty about plans to “T.P.” (toilet paper) several school buildings and to bring four chickens onto campus, cooping them up in an area large enough to make it appear they were being set free. Milken students are, God knows, a sweet bunch, a tame bunch, destined for fine careers as rabbis, lawyers and community leaders. There are five prayer minyanim on campus (including one for “doubters.”) These students are so committed to Jewish learning, they spurned Ditch Day because it competed with the Senior Sermon (on the Torah portion of the week).

And they’ve got great ruach, school spirit. They raised $1,000 in a two-day “Tzedakah Fair”; held a walk-a-thon for camp scholarships in memory of Jamie Silverman, the Milken student killed on TWA Flight 800; and wore black tape on their sports uniforms to signify the year of mourning for Silverman and two other students, Avi Gesundheit and Michael Lewis (the latter two killed in a car crash soon after graduation). The yearbook is dedicated to the missing three.

The seniors never considered anything as risqué as making a fish pond out of the campus driveway or dragging a cow upstairs to school headquarters, as other Los Angeles seniors have done. If the Milken administration objected in advance, it looked the other way. A joke’s a joke. Chickens are funny.

On the evening of June 4, 38 of the 53 seniors built the chicken coop, T.P.’d the school and doused the campus in shaving cream, spraying the words “Class of 1997 rules!” After 25 minutes, the job was done. Everyone left but a small group of students, a security guard and several of his adult friends. The next morning, there was glue in three door locks and thumbtacks on at least one door knob (obscured by shaving cream); garbage buried the campus driveway; broken beer bottles were strewn on the teacher parking lot; dog feces was left in a bag in the faculty lounge.

Lee Chernotsky, senior class vice president, picks up the story. “When I got to campus the next day, I was horrified. We all were. I was in a suit, but I immediately changed my clothes and got to work, cleaning up. All of us did. We worked for hours.”

Nevertheless, the administration went ballistic. There were three senior-class meetings, a parent-administration meeting, and each student was brought in individually to see Headmaster Bruce Powell, who concedes, “I was upset.” You can imagine what was on his mind: In this community, bad P.R. can be lethal. The five-year effort to create a viable Jewish community high school (with 560 students expected next year, Milken is the largest non-Orthodox high school in the nation) could be ditched in a garbage heap.

Powell ordered every student who was on campus during Prank Nite to do teshuvah (repentance) — to pay $50 (toward an estimated $2,000 in cleanup) and to complete 40 hours of community service; the main culprits got 100 hours. The Grad Night party was canceled for all but the handful of students who had stayed away. The security guard was let go.

When my phone began to ring after Prank Nite, the rumors I heard were unbelievable: that the students had spray-painted swastikas on the school buildings, that a Torah had been defaced. Parents and community members alike were wondering “what’s going on at Milken” that Jewish students could go off that way?

I have to inform my readers that the rumors aren’t true. Compare Milken’s Prank Nite with that at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. Seniors there brought manure, fish heads and a dozen chickens, plus they T.P.’d the campus, glued locks and scratched graffiti on the walls. At Mira Costa, 30 students were disciplined with either a $75 fine or 15 hours community service, Principal John Giovati told me. He termed the Milken punishments “understandable,” if somewhat excessive.

“This incident’s been a tremendous learning experience for me,” Fishman told me. “Even though it was only a tiny handful of students who lost control, we all take responsibility for them and their actions. For this, we’ll make amends.”

These Milken students are responsible, sober, concerned young adults. I’ll remember them that way.

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is

All rights reserved by author

The Family Man

The restaurant billboard advertised its Father’s Day brunch in letters too large to miss.

“If I had a father, we could take him out to eat,” my daughter, Samantha, said, as we drove by.

Samantha’s voice held no accusation; she was entirely matter of fact. But I took it personally anyway; her words signaled that my severed ties with Jim could hurt her as well.

I squirmed helplessly. I can squirrel and save for her hiking boots, singing lessons, the dress for the family party; I’d move the world for my girl. But there’s nothing I can do about getting her a dad.

My friends get angry with me when I turn on myself.

“So what,” says Nessa, her voice growing tight. “So you couldn’t get her a dad. She had her own dad, and she’ll remember him.”

And Arlyne, newly single, gets practically frantic at my self-castigation.

“Listen,” she says as we sip our lattes, “I can’t stand it when a guy uses my children to get to me.”

If that’s what happened, I was a willing co-conspirator.

It is true and can be said without a trace of shame: No mother can resist a family man. I loved the man who loved my daughter. I couldn’t help it.

I had relegated Father’s Day to the ranks of unobserved customs, like Christmas or Chinese New Year, one that others might honor with full regalia but that we, in our family, spent at the movies or otherwise ignored.

And then came Jim. Whatever a dad could mean, he was it.

Last Father’s Day, Samantha and I took Jim to the Getty Museum and then out to dinner. We each felt audacious, risky. Jim had never been a dad. Samantha hadn’t had a dad in a long time. And, after so many years going solo, I no longer knew what a dad to my daughter might be.

“You’re not my father, and you never will be!” Samantha screamed at him outside the Getty parking garage.

“You’re right,” Jim said. He didn’t want to be her father, full of fearsome duty and overweening expectation. But being her dad — authoritative, respecting, care-giving in a benign sort of way — this was something he might be able to do well. He assisted with her homework, discussed her music, attended her concerts and singing lessons. He bought her a guitar. There was no “we” without her; wherever Jim and I went, Samantha was expressly invited to come.

“Don’t you two want to spend more time alone?” she asked. “Don’t you need some personal space, some private time together?”

If only we’d listened.

Our three-way connection seemed preordained, like a trinomial equation set into motion long ago; he was the kind of man I’d promised Samantha years before, one who could love us both.

At the Getty, Jim showed Samantha the red figures painted on black fragments of Greek urns, the remnants of a great civilization that had come and gone. At dinner, he let her taste his wine. I watched them from my side of the triangle and felt myself begin to breathe. We were a threesome; the number three, in Hebrew, is gimel, meaning full and ripe.

He was among the few “dads” to attend the high school parent meetings. He knew the dean, the music coach and her instructors by sight. He e-mailed the math teacher on her behalf, arguing that Samantha understood more algebra than her grades indicated. Sometimes, he spoke for me. Samantha judged her success by his approval and was crushed by his criticism. He was a dad in every way.

We were a family, but not a couple, and that’s why we hung on so long.

Now comes the sad part. The end.

When love fades, is it God’s error? Our own fault? Or just a fact of life?

I give the three of us this much: We meant it for good. Jim loved being a dad. Samantha loved having a dad. He loved being part of “us.” She loved having a larger “us.” And, among everything else, I loved saying, “Table for three.”

Even when things grew bad between Jim and me as man and woman, when our conversations became increasingly about Samantha and less about ourselves, as a dad, he kept at it. Up to the last minute, he judged her party dress for appropriateness, escorted her to family dinners, and gave her guidance on hiking gear; Samantha was still telling her friends about going to the movies with her “parents,” taking great pleasure in an extra “s.” She didn’t lose faith.

“I only want what makes you happy,” Samantha said.

“But Jim…” I started to say.

“I’ll get over it,” she said. “I’m stronger than you think.”

But what about me?

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is

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