Letters to the editor: Missionaries, Kindertransport and more


Addressing the Bigger Wrong

Rob Eshman is right to question George W. Bush’s decision to address the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (“Why Bush Was Wrong,” Nov. 15), but I feel there is another issue that he should have addressed in this context: the Jewish position toward Evangelical Christian movements. On this second issue there has been no debate: Israeli prime ministers, some observant rabbis, and even Jewish entertainers have emphasized their gratitude to Evangelical Christian movements for their support of Israel. Yet those movements, like their messianic Jewish cousins, seek to supplant traditional Judaism with a vision that is heretical to it.

The reason commonly given for this otherwise strange Christian-Jewish alliance is political: Since Israel has tended to be politically isolated in the world, it needs all the allies it can obtain, from any source. According to this thinking, we should embrace any group, including messianic Jewish groups that support the State of Israel. As Eshman indicates, the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute supports the State of Israel by spending money in it.

I would argue that, given the long-term threat that messianic Jewish and Christian groups pose for Jews, the State of Israel should work harder to be less politically isolated, so that it can more easily obtain support from organizations and countries that do not represent a challenge to Jewish beliefs and survival.

Barry H. Steiner, political science professor, California State University, Long Beach


The Real Danger of Christian Missionaries

Dennis Prager wrote a very important article on the dangers of Christian missionaries who try to convert Jews by telling them that “you can believe Jesus is the Messiah and still stay Jewish” (“Jews for Jesus,” Nov. 22). The problem, however, goes way beyond this deception. What missionaries conveniently leave out in their deceptive scheme is the Christian belief that Jesus is … God. Yes, it is this idea, above all, that crosses the line for virtually every Jew: Not just that Jesus is the messiah, but that the messiah will be God in a body.

In my four decades of dialoguing with Jews who have converted to Christianity, my No. 1 argument for bringing Jews back to their faith has been that very point: Jews can believe a human being is the Messiah but never that he is God. That is beyond the Jewish pale. It is idolatry of the highest order. The founder of Jews for Jesus was well aware of this danger when he told his followers, “Make sure you don’t tell them that Jesus is God until much later.” 

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, Jews for Judaism

Dennis Prager responds: 

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz makes an important point. Years ago I wrote a column in which I suggested that Jews make a deal with Jews for Jesus: If you continue to believe that Jesus was the Messiah but drop belief in Jesus as God, we will embrace you as fellow Jews. Jews have believed in any number of Jews as the Messiah – from Bar Kokhba to Shabtai Tzvi – and have always been considered Jews. But they never believed that anyone was God. 

Having said that, I also want to clarify that I do not believe that Christians are idolaters.


Now Is the Time to Preserve Jewish History

As an English Gentile, I first became fascinated about the Kindertransport after seeing the memorials at Liverpool Street Station in London (“Survivors to Mark 75th Anniversary of Kindertransport,” Nov. 22). The Holocaust was not really covered in our history lessons at school, and it has only been [depicted in] the documentaries (“Into the Arms of Strangers” and “Auschwitz: The Nazis and ‘The Final Solution’ ”), various books and the films like “Schindler’s List” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.” This chapter must be kept alive. I am moved by it and I feel that we all have to be reminded about it more and more as those who were part of the Kindertransport grow older. Memories will fade, the message will lose impact with time, but whilst it is still possible, there must be a serious attempt to make the Holocaust a permanent part of world history, so that it will never happen again — something that unfortunately has happened since the demise of the Eastern Bloc.

Richard Hood via jewishjournal.com


Beautiful ‘Walk’

I can’t wait to see it (“ ‘Walk’ Changes a Life,” Nov. 22). I was in the congregation when Rabbi David Wolpe told this profound story. I knew then that I would never, ever forget it. Mesmerizing and absolutely inspirational. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story with the world!

Jennifer Malvin via jewishjournal.com


corrections

The byline on an interview with author Mitch Albom (Nov. 22) should have been Dora Levy Mossanen.

An incorrect photo accompanied chef Michel Ohayon’s recipe in the story “Eight Chefs’ New Chanukah Delights, One for Each Night” (Nov. 22). This is the correct photo.

Valley-based group’s walk highlights atrocities in Darfur, Congo


As a high school freshman, Katie Hoselton decided to join an extracurricular club called “End Worldwide Genocide.” She didn’t know much about the issue at first but read up on conflicts in Eastern Europe and Africa and became a passionate activist for the cause.

“The whole concept is shocking to me,” said Hoselton, 17, now a senior at Agoura High School. “How can such a tragedy go on for so long and so few people my age know about it?”

To help raise awareness of global violence among her peers, Hoselton is recruiting friends to walk with her in the fourth annual Walk to End Genocide organized by Encino-based advocacy group Jewish World Watch (JWW). The walk, which will take place April 18 at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills, aims to draw attention to atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and to raise money for JWW’s refugee relief programs in those areas.

Over the approximately two-mile route, participants from across the Southland will march alongside local dignitaries to show solidarity with Darfuri and Congolese refugees. The only requirements to get involved, said JWW Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, are walking shoes and a taste for tikkun olam (repairing the world).

“This is an opportunity for whole families to become involved in activism to combat genocide,” Schwartz-Getzug said recently. “Everyone from children on up can use this as a chance to do what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said -— to ‘pray with your feet.’ ”

Participants have ranged from mothers pushing strollers to students to senior citizens. Many come from JWW’s 64 member synagogues in the Los Angeles area, but past walks have also drawn members of the Armenian and African American communities, church groups, school clubs and individuals passionate about the issue. People can march alone or on teams and can raise money by asking for sponsorships.

Last year the walk drew a crowd of about 2,000 and raised more than $125,000 for JWW programs, Schwartz-Getzug said. These include the group’s education campaign, featuring its ACT project (Activist Certification and Training), a workshop that teaches advocacy skills to students in high schools, middle schools and religious schools; and its range of refugee relief and empowerment programs in Darfur and the DRC, many targeted toward female victims of widespread sexual violence.

More than 400,000 Darfuri civilians have been killed as the conflict in that region enters its seventh year, according to JWW, and 5.4 million Congolese civilians have been killed during 10 years of tribal warfare. Millions more are facing brutal atrocities or displacement to already-saturated refugee camps.

Through its landmark Solar Cooker Project, JWW has distributed 46,000 solar cookers to Darfuri families in refugee camps across the border in Chad, which help reduce women’s dependency on collecting firewood outside of camp borders, where they are susceptible to rape. JWW has also begun to fund the first burn center in the eastern DRC, in partnership with the Israeli organization Moriah Africa and Mashav, the Israeli government’s foreign aid agency.

The atmosphere at the annual JWW walk is a mixture of gravity and levity, Schwartz-Getzug said, as activists from across the L.A. area meet one another for the first time and march in solidarity.

“There’s a sense of excitement at being part of a community of activists who are all on the same page,” she said. Participants usually carry signs bearing phrases such as “Stop Genocide Now” and sing songs like “Lo Yisa Goy.”

Local officials are expected to attend, including California Assembly Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass, L.A. City Council members Jan Perry and Dennis Zine, and Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, Schwartz-Getzug said. JWW founder Rabbi Harold Schulweis, of Valley Beth Shalom, will also speak to participants.

There will also be several musical treats for walkers, including a drumming performance and an interactive drum circle after the walk ends.

In previous years the event was called the Walk for Darfur, but this year the name has been broadened as the organization’s focus expands. By the date of the walk, Schwartz-Getzug and JWW founding president
Janice Kamenir-Reznik will have returned from their second visit to the DRC and will talk about JWW’s work in the region.

Outside Los Angeles, second-annual sister walks will be held in Santa Rosa and Orange County. JWW organized the Orange County walk, scheduled for April 25 at Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley, while in Santa Rosa, the walk was founded by 15-year-old Gabe Ferrick of Congregation Shomrei Torah to benefit JWW.

“A walk is a very democratic kind of event — anyone and everyone can participate, without regard to age, income, gender, race or religion,” Schwartz-Getzug said. “It brings our community of activists together in a big way that really empowers and energizes the group and allows them to see they’re not the only ones working for this issue. That’s a very encouraging feeling.”

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Dec. 6 – 12: Poetry of La Norte, love and latkes


SAT | DECEMBER 6

(BOOKS)
Whether or not you’re a firm believer in life after death, screenwriter and playwright Dan Gordon has a message for you: People in heaven might be sending you postcards. In his new book, “Postcards From Heaven: Messages of Love From the Other Side,” Gordon explains how a “whisper, a familiar smell in the air, or just the feeling of a presence” can indicate a message from above. This weekend, Gordon is part of Temple Menorah’s second annual “Authors, Books, and Conversations” event. Ariel Sabar, author of “My Father’s Paradise,” will speak about the search for his Kurdish Jewish roots. And on Sunday, children’s book author Kathy Kacer, an expert on writing about the Holocaust for children, will be featured. Sat. 5 p.m. $25-$36 (includes dinner). Through Dec. 7. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.sijcc.net.

(MUSICAL)
“Fiddler on the Roof.” Enough said. You know the story, you know the songs, you know you’re going to enjoy the performance. The Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities presents their production of “Fiddler,” starring Thomas Fiscella as the endearing Tevye and Richard Israel as Motel. Sat. 8 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Dec. 21. $40-$65. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. (310) 372-4477. marciar@jccoc.org. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>raise $400,000 for the nonprofit Jewish Home — the largest single-source provider of senior housing in Los Angeles. But it’s not all just physical activity. The fun-filled day comes complete with music, food and clowns! The event is open to all ages and will begin and end at the Jewish Home’s Eisenberg Village Campus. Sun. 7 a.m. (registration); 8:30 a.m. (opening ceremony). Eisenberg Village Campus, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. (818) 774-3324. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.nbn.org.il.

(KIDS)
Rabbi Mordechai Dubin’s upbeat songs have 3-year-olds quoting from Genesis and Maimonides. The fourth-grade teacher at Maimonides Academy received a $10,000 grant from the Milken Family Foundation Jewish Educators Awards for his excellence in teaching and used it to produce a children’s CD that has become the buzz of day schools across the country. Bring your tots to see Rabbi Dubin live, singing holy hits from his CD, “I Made This World For You,” at the Jewish Community Library. Sun. 3-4 p.m. Free. JCLLA, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. #300, Los Angeles. (323) 761-8648. resource@jclla.org. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.pjtc.net.

MON | DECEMBER 8

(POETRY)
Transit prose queen and performance artist Marisela Norte will not only read selections from her poetry collection, “Peeping Tom Tom Girl,” at ALOUD, she will perform them with longtime friend and talented collaborator Maria Elena Gaitan. “An Evening of Spoken Word and Cello” features two unique female artists ” target=”_blank”>http://www.libraryfoundationla.org/aloud.

WED | DECEMBER 10

(DIALOGUE)
Esther Jungreis once trembled, starving and terrified in Bergen-Belsen. Many years later, she flew over Germany on the president of the United States’ plane. The world-renowned spiritual leader and speaker, who comes from a rabbinical dynasty tracing back to King David, has come a long way from the death camps of dgreenbaum@sinaitemple.org. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.wisela.org.

(DOCUMENTARY)
Imagine growing up knowing that your father was brutal Nazi leader Amon Goeth. Monika Hertwig learned at a young age of her father’s history and his eventual hanging as a war criminal. But Hertwig didn’t simply try to forget the past; she went on to search for one of her father’s victims and found Helen Jonas, a woman rescued by Oskar Schindler. Directed by Academy Award-winner James Moll, the meeting of the two women captured in the film, “Inheritance,” “unearths terrible truths and lingering questions about how the actions of our parents can continue to ripple through generations.” Wed. Airs nationally on PBS’ series, “Point of View.” Check local listings at ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewsforjudaism.org.

THU | DECEMBER 11

(ISRAEL)
In its brief 60-year history, Israel has undergone enormous changes and even greater threats. What will the Holy Land look like at 100 years? None of us can say for certain. But that doesn’t stop Israel experts from pondering the question. Rabbi Daniel Gordis tackled the issue on Nov. 13 in part one of Temple Beth Am’s Israel 2048 Master Teacher Series, “Envisioning the State of Israel on the occasion of its 100th Anniversary.” Tonight, another brilliant scholar shares his insights on the future of the Jewish state. David Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, has published numerous books and is the co-editor of the Jewish Quarterly Review. Thu. 7:45 p.m. $15 (Temple Beth Am members), $25 (nonmembers). Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. required, (310) 652-7354, ext. 215. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ecogift.com.

Holidays not on the calendar


JCLLA’s Dog-Day Afternoon

The Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles had a furry good time on Feb. 4 when Cantor Marcelo Gindlin, above, came by to sing and read a new book called “Alfie’s Bark Mitzvah.” The book, written by Shari Cohen, includes a CD with five of Gindlin’s songs.

Holidays NOT on the Calendar

In addition to the holidays you might already be celebrating in March, like Purim, why not add some of these?

March 3: National Anthem Day — On this day in 1931 “The Star Spangled Banner” was adopted by Congress as the national anthem. So try and hit that high note; we won’t tell anyone if your voice cracks.

March 9: Barbie’s Birthday — Ruth Handler’s Barbie came to stores on this day in 1959. This blonde-haired, blue-eyed gal can “do anything” with a smile. Ask your mom or aunt about her first doll (and if she still has it).

Do you think history is just a thing of the past? Think again!

Publishers of the “Blast to the Past” chapter-book series (Aladdin, $3.99), about a group of time-traveling third-graders, just released book No. 7: “Washington’s War.”

Will Abigail and her friends convince George Washington to fight the Revolutionary War, or will the father of our country just pack his bags and go home? The series, by Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon, is a fun way to learn about some of the most famous people in American history — such as Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin — and is a great adventure for anyone in second through fifth grade.

To learn more, visit ‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.ccrf-kids.org.

YeLAdim will be mixing it up this year with more reviews of movies, books, music and TV shows than ever before. If you have a review you’ve written (or want to write) or have heard of something that you want us to know about, e-mail kids@jewishjournal.com. You’ll be famous, and your parents and grandparents will have something to hang on their fridge.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 7th

Take a stroll for a good cause at today’s 14th annual Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk. More than 100 teams are scheduled for the 5K recreational walk around Hollywood Park racetrack, and those wishing to register today are also welcome. Also ambling are celebrities Peter Gallagher, David Hyde Pierce, Leeza Gibbons and Lea Thompson.

7 a.m. (registration), 8:30 a.m. (opening ceremonies), 8:45 a.m. (warm up). 9 a.m. (walk). 10:15 a.m.-noon (health expo, live entertainment, celebrity autographs and prizes). 1050 S. Prairie Ave., Inglewood. (323) 930-6228.

” TARGET=”_blank”>www.actoberfest.com.

Monday the 9th

Sneak behind the curtain into the life of Pulitzer and Tony award-winning playwright Tony Kushner in the new documentary, “Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner.” Following the writer from just after Sept. 11, 2001 to the 2004 presidential election, cameras captured Kushner’s work on the Broadway musical, “Caroline, or Change.” and the children’s Holocaust opera, “Brundibar,” as well as his “humor, ambition, vision and dazzling braininess,” according to Newsweek.

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Jewish Renewal leader Rabbi Shefa Gold debuts her first book, “Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land,” this month. Described as an approach for using the Torah as a path for spiritual growth, the text has been praised by Renewal leaders like Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Gold visits Los Angeles this week, offering workshops in conjunction with the release. Tonight, she is at B’nai Horin/Children of Freedom.

Oct. 10: (310) 441-4434 or e-mail PeggiS@mac.com.

For other workshop dates, visit ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.uclalive.org.

Thursday the 12th

Storytelling for grownups comes courtesy of UCLA Live this week. “The Moth,” a New York storytelling organization, comes west for a night at Royce Hall titled, “Out on a Limb: Stories From the Edge.” The show of real-life narratives will include host Andy Borowitz (creator of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”), Jonathan Ames (author, “Wake Up Sir!”), comedian Margaret Cho, Cindy Chupak (writer and executive producer, “Sex and the City”), RUN DMC’s Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Steve Osborne (retired NYPD lieutenant).

8 p.m. $25-$35. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101. ” target = “_blank”>Loudon Wainwright III (photo below), read theirs tonight.

7:30 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

‘Sex and the City’ Workout


“You’re joining a gym again?” I laughed. “If you could get back even half the money you’ve spent on gym memberships, you could go to Hawaii!”

“This time it’s different,” my friend said. “I’m joining that new one right by the mall. It’s so convenient, I can’t not go! And I’ll even use my free sessions with the personal trainer. I swear to you I am not throwing my money away this time.”

Where have I heard that before? Gym joiners are a dime a dozen here in fitness-obsessed Los Angeles. And you can’t drive three blocks without seeing some kind of gym or studio. Where I live, every time a new Starbucks pops up so does another gym. But I gave up on gyms long ago.

I joined my first gym while in college. My friends and I signed up for a three-month trial together, intending to rid ourselves of the proverbial freshman 10 — the end result of late-night doughnut runs.

We went religiously for three weeks, and then at least twice a week for three weeks after that, and then once in a while for three more weeks, and then we took a break for finals. After finals, the excuses began: “I have too much studying to do.” “I have a date.” “My sister has my car.” “I need to go shopping.”

We didn’t sign up again when the three months ran out.

Over the years I joined a few more gyms, always with the best intentions. But eventually my motivation to workout just wore out. For every reason there was to go, I had at least three reasons not to.

After I swore off of gym memberships, I decided that I needed to come up with different incentives to get moving. I used my dog. My dog loves to walk, and I love my dog. But dogs tend to stop frequently, and my dog must have been concerned that the female dogs on our block were not aware of his existence. So even though our walks were delightful, it became less of a fitness routine and more of a way for my dog to mark his masculinity.

Although the dog-walk routine didn’t pan out, a bit of canine inspiration led me to a workout regimen that finally worked.

When I next ran into my gym-joining friend, she was sipping a low-fat frap at the Starbucks next door to her new gym.

“Hey! How’s the new workout?” I asked.

“Um, good. The trainer was great, but kind of expensive once the freebees ran out. The locker room is very clean, and the juice bar totally yum,” she said, diverting her eyes and concentrating on the whipped cream oozing up her straw.

“You quit, didn’t you?”

“Not exactly,” she said.

“You stopped going?”

“I just needed a break.”

“I told you so,” I said as I ordered a tall decaf latte.

“OK, so you did,” she said defensively. “And what about you? What are you doing for exercise?”

I raised my eyebrows and smiled coyly. “I invented my own routine. I call it the ‘Sex and the City’ Workout,” I said.

“I’m intrigued,” she said. We took a seat in a quiet corner in the back. “How does it work?”

“Do you remember Pavlov? Well, I now am conditioned just like his dog.”

“You drool?”

“Don’t be silly. I developed a system so that I associate exercise with something I really want. I got an elliptical machine and put it in front of the TV.”

“I bet you hang your dirty clothes on it.”

“I do,” I admitted. “Exercise equipment always turns into a clothesline. Anyway, the trick to my workout is DVDs of ‘Sex and the City.'”

“I don’t get it.”

“I love watching ‘Sex and the City,’ right? Well, I allow myself to watch only if I am on the elliptical. So just like Pavlov’s dog learned to associate the bell with food, I associate exercise with my favorite show. If I want to watch, I have to workout. It’s that simple. I got caught up in season five one night, and when I looked down I had burned more than 3,000 calories.”

“That’s amazing!”

“It’s the best idea I ever had. My regular workout consists of two episodes — first episode on the elliptical and second episode stretching and lifting weights.”

“Wow,” she shook her head. “You do look, uh, pretty fit.”

I showed her my upper arm and allowed her to poke my bicep.

“I’m not only in shape,” I bragged, “I am also the ‘Sex and the City’ trivia game champion. I was the only one in my havurah who knew where Carrie and Miranda bought their cupcakes.” (Magnolia Bakery.)

“So you just watch ‘Sex and the City’ over and over?” she asked.
“When I could recite Carrie’s lines as well as she could, I decided to move on. So I addicted myself to ‘Gilmore Girls,'” I said.

“Ooooh, I love that show!”

“Then ‘The Sopranos,’ ’24,’ ‘Will and Grace’….”

Singles – Walk Out the Door


Mr. Chauvinist. Mr. Cheapskate. Mr. Paranoid. Mr. Habitually Late. Mr. Whiner. The parallel universe of “Little Men” of the 21st century are alive and well and living in Los Angeles — and my friends have, unfortunately, dated them all.

The friends I refer to (I’ll call them, “The Crew”) are all funny, attractive, nice, well-rounded, educated — who’ve stayed with Mr. Wrong far longer than they should have.

During a recent car trip, my sweet, insightful boyfriend of five months commented that it wasn’t fair that a girl he knows — cynical, sarcastic, not very personable — has a boyfriend, while the girls in The Crew don’t.

“Yeah, but look what’s she’s got,” I told him, referring to a guy so nebbishy that he makes Woody Allen look hip and so socially inept that even the guys from “Queer Eye” would throw up their hands. “Who wants that?”

Before I found my incredible guy, I was engaged to someone whom I went out with for two and half years — probably two years too long. Of course, after we broke up, everyone I knew said that he was just “OK” and that I deserved someone better.

My friends asked me why I stayed with him as long as I did when I knew I shouldn’t have. I told them that in this crazy, mixed-up world, perfectly smart girls stay in relationships they know they shouldn’t because it is easier to be a couple than solo — and to have to endure the dreaded dating game.

During silent prayer at Shabbat services, after I’ve prayed for the well-being of my family, I pray that all of my friends find love and happiness (if you ask that for yourself it is considered selfish for some reason, but I think it works if you delegate the good thoughts to a friend). And boy, could my friends use all the prayers they can get.

One of my L.A. Crew members went out on several dates with a guy — and things were looking good: He called her every day to see how she was and took her out on several fun dates during the week and on the weekend. Seemed like a prince until he turned into Mr. Paranoid and accused her of lying to him about everything and dating guys who had been her friends for years (which she didn’t do).

He then morphed into Mr. Stalker, calling her multiple times after she informed him that it wasn’t going to work. But before she pulled the plug, she asked me if she was doing the right thing.

This incredibly smart girl was second-guessing her gut reaction because of a larger nagging fear about being a single in a land of couples.

Another L.A. Crew member met Mr. Omission on JDate — he lied about being a smoker, then covered up by saying he was only an occasional smoker. She was so wrapped up in the idea that she needed a guy that she was willing to settle for this walking ashtray — until she met the guy she’s with now (we’ll call him Mr. Thank God, because he’s so much better than what she had).

My best friend dated a guy who was incredibly sweet, but she felt no chemistry. She told me that when they were alone he was fine — but she felt no sparks; when they went out with friends, he barely said anything. She broke up with him after several months of rationalizing.

This isn’t just a problem for the girls, either. How many guys out there have dated Ms. Clingy, Ms. Critical, Ms. Stalker, Ms. Shopaholic or Ms. Whiner — and stayed with them far too long? (I think my boyfriend’s exes fall under four of those categories, from what he’s told me.)

Think about it: The networks spend millions of dollars on new shows every year, but are perfectly OK with canceling something that isn’t pulling the ratings. If they don’t feel bad about canceling “Emily’s Reasons Why Not,” surely we shouldn’t feel bad about the time and money we lost on a bad relationship, when in the long run a better show will come along.

The key is knowing when to say adios — and sometimes it takes a nasty wake-up call.

Think Chris Parker in “Adventures in Babysitting,” who discovers her boyfriend at a romantic restaurant with the school slut — on their anniversary. Or Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City,” who let Mr. Big toy with her heart for years, much to the chagrin of her friends. Luckily, after several years, their relationship ended up working out — maybe because Aleksandr Petrovsky was so much worse.

I’m not a matchmaker, but the Dolly Levi in me thinks everyone should have someone — just make sure you aren’t settling for Mr. OK when you deserve Mr. Wonderful.

Fit L.A. – Let’s Take a ‘J-Walk’ Around the Block


I enjoy walking if it’s through a store during a sale or to show off a grandchild. But walking for the pure fun of it isn’t fun for me. The last time I exercised was when Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles, and I jumped up and down in the living room as they played.

Enter the Neshoma Orchestra and their two CDs to walk by, “J-Walking” and the recently released “J-Walking the Next Step.”

After schlepping 40 years in the desert, it’s hard to imagine a CD to exercise by coming from a people who have harbored a subconscious distrust of walking. But with my daughter’s upcoming nuptials, my unending kvetch about fitting into the dress won out over my skepticism.

Tuesday, 8 p.m.

I dusted off the portable CD player, stuck an earphone in my ear, put on as flattering an outfit as I could conjure up and hit the open road, one foot in front of the other.

Before I knew it, I had gone a block, then two, humming along with the familiar Yiddish melodies that played faster and more upbeat than I ever remembered. Strains of “Chabibi” coursed through my veins.

My mother’s Yiddish musical selections ran more toward, “My Yiddish Mama” and “Make Mir a Bisala Yingala” from The Barry Sisters. “Sob Your Heart Out Greatest Hits.”

So there I am, walking along at a jaunty pace, humming and moving without my usual stops to check the time, but actually enjoying the pace.

At three blocks I began forcing myself to ignore the objections of my feet and focus on the beat.

I had made it through four songs and I was feeling empowered. Suddenly, the old anti-exercise gene kicked in and my body began to rebel and slow the pace. I fought valiantly and luckily, the next selection was more upbeat. I kicked into overdrive to “Reb Shlomo’s Niggun.”

I was feeling good, and a bit shocked that I had just absorbed five Yiddish songs without shedding a tear.

I decided to push my luck, so I kept walking, farther than I had planned. I wasn’t sure if it was endorphins or the music, but I was feeling good; so good in fact, I pressed forward, another street, another, until I had gone farther than ever before.

I was pretty sure that by now, my pushy Jewish genes had taken hold, awakened by the chemicals released in my brain to combine with more than 5,700 years of feistiness.

Whatever it was, it was working, so I tested myself even more and attempted an uphill walk. This was major since the flat terrain was enough of a challenge.

I looked up toward Sunset Boulevard. It could’ve been Mount Sinai. Oy, that’s steep, I thought. But I was pumped with Yiddishkayt and defeat was not an option. I began the ascent. Gevalt, could I be this out of shape?

The songs had gotten to me and Yiddish was flowing out of my mouth now like lies from a politician. “Hodu” suddenly kicked in, and so did I. Breathing heavily, I climbed ever upward, inspired, pumped, lungs aching, feet screaming obscenities. I could not be stopped. I was a Jewish walking machine, sucking in air as I ascended higher and higher toward Sunset Boulevard. Mouthing silent oys as I schlepped, the beat growing faster and more upbeat, I was inspired and — oy, was I tired. Could I reach the promised land of Sunset Boulevard? I knew I would pay for this the next morning, but I didn’t care. I refused to look upward and focused on my feet so as not to notice how high I was climbing. I wondered how long I might lie on the street if keeled over before someone would find me.

I could be lying there, Yiddish music blasting from my unconscious ears, my headband covering my eyes, just another exercise victim who had crossed a threshold of pain.

This daydream diverted my attention long enough to get my second wind and I was off. Huffing and puffing nearing the top, almost there, thousands of years of Jewish determination pounding in my veins, two feet more, one, I was there. I stood on Sunset Boulevard and peered downward like Moses glimpsing the River Jordan.

The beat compelled me onward, so I walked along Sunset, so filled with accomplishment I thought I would burst.

I walked toward home until I found a downhill street on which to begin my descent. Whoa, this downhill was almost as hard. I fought to keep the rhythm, until I reached Santa Monica Boulevard. I trudged up the steps and tore my shoes off, the music still filling my ears, joyous, upbeat. I had done three miles and walked uphill. There was no talking to me now. I was filled with hope. Tomorrow I could do this again. I felt it; I knew it.

Wednesday, 8 a.m.

I opened my eyes, and flush with optimism I stepped out of bed. Oy, flush with pain.

But there was no stopping me. I was a Jew with her music and a worthy goal of fitting into the dress for her daughter’s wedding.

 

Tightrope of Life


In the days of communism’s fierce grip on the Soviet Union, there lived a Chasidic Jew named Reb Mendel Futerfas. Reb Mendel repeatedly put his life at risk with his efforts to promote Jewish education behind the Iron Curtain and for some 14 years was incarcerated in prisons and labor camps for his “crime” of teaching Torah. While in the Siberian gulags, he spent most of his free time studying and praying, but he also interacted and conversed with other prisoners — some Jewish, some not. Among these prisoners was a circus performer whose claim to fame was his incredible skill as a tightrope walker.

Reb Mendel would often engage this man in conversation. Having never been to a circus, Reb Mendel was totally baffled by the man’s profession. How could a person risk his life walking on a rope several stories above ground? (This was in the days before safety nets were standard practice.)

“To just go out there and walk on a rope?” Reb Mendel challenged incredulously.

The performer explained that due to his training and skill, he did not need to be held up by any cables and that, for him, it was no longer all that dangerous. Reb Mendel remained skeptical and intrigued.

After Stalin died, the prison authorities relaxed their rules somewhat and the guards told the prisoners that they would be allowed to stage a makeshift circus on May-Day. The tightrope walker coordinated with other acrobats in the camp, but there was no doubt that his famous tightrope act would be the highlight of the show. The tightrope walker made sure that his friend, Reb Mendel, was in the audience.

After all the other acts finished, the lights came down; everybody waited with baited breath. The tightrope walker climbed the tall pole to the suspended rope. His first steps were timid and tentative (after all, it had been several years) but within a few seconds, it all came back to him. With his hands twirling about, he virtually glided across the rope to the pole at the other end, and then, in a flash, made a fast turn, reversed his direction and proceeded back to the other side. Along the way, he performed several stunts. The crowd went wild.

When he was done, he slid down off the pole, took a bow and went running straight to Reb Mendel.

“So?” he said. “Did you see that I was not held up by any cables?”

A very impressed Reb Mendel replied, “Yes. You’re right. No cables.”

“OK. You’re a smart man. Tell me, how did I do it? Was it my hands? Was it my feet?” the man asked.

Reb Mendel paused for a moment, closed his eyes and replayed the entire act back on his mind. Finally, Reb Mendel opened his eyes and said, “It’s the eyes. It’s all in your eyes. During the entire time, your eyes were completely focused and riveted on the opposite pole.”

“Exactly!” said the performer. “When you see your destination in front of you and you don’t take your eyes off of it, then your feet go where they need to go and you don’t fall. OK, now one more question. What would you say is the most difficult part of the act?”

Again Reb Mendel thought for a moment. “Most difficult was the turn; when you had to change direction.”

“Correct again!” he said. “During that split second, when you lose sight of that first pole, and the other pole has not yet come into view, there is some real danger there. But… if you don’t allow yourself to get confused and distracted during that transition, your eyes will find that pole and your balance will be there.”

This special Shabbat — the bridge between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — is referred to as “Shabbat Shuva.” In this week’s Haftorah, we hear the words of the prophets — exhorting us, pleading with us, beckoning us to improve the quality of our lives; to even change direction if need be.

It is also noteworthy that this week’s Torah portion — in which we learn about the events that transpired on the last day of Moses’ life on earth — is called “Vayeilech Moshe” (And Moses went). The commentaries point out that even on the last day of his life, Moses was on the move — walking forward, achieving, growing — making the most of every precious moment of life. Moses’ message to us being that so long as we have a breath of life, there ought to be “Vayeilech” — explorations of new horizons, journeys to new frontiers.

How do we walk this tightrope called “life” without stumbling? The answer is: by establishing clear and proper goals and remaining focused on those goals like a laser beam.

The Torah provides us with a road map to a meaningful and fulfilling way of life. It sets down goals and defines purpose.

When you know what your purpose and destination is, and you do not take your eyes off that pole, then you know where to put your feet. Even when things turn, and we momentarily lose sight of the pole, we need not despair. Shabbos Shuva teaches us that a change of direction ought not to send us plummeting. On the contrary, we can and should shift gracefully with changes of circumstances, catch our balance and let the next pole come into view.

Rabbi Moshe D. Bryski serves as the executive director of Chabad of the Conejo and dean of the Conejo Jewish Day School.

 

Fox Takes ‘Walk’ Down Provocative Path


 

Israeli director Eytan Fox makes films that open on a rousing patriotic note of rugged Israelis battling the enemy, before gradually exposing the chinks in his country’s macho culture.

His widely acclaimed “Yossi & Jagger” began with an elite Israeli unit facing infiltrators from Lebanon on a snowy mountain top and evolved into a clandestine homosexual love affair between the company commander and his sergeant.

His current film, “Walk on Water,” lures the viewer by posing as an old-fashioned thriller, in which a hard-as-nails Mossad operative, who specializes in quietly terminating terrorist leaders, is assigned to finish off an aged Nazi war criminal.

By the end of the film, Fox has cast a provocative eye on the awkward relationship between today’s Germans and Jews, Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians, the gay scenes in Berlin and Tel Aviv night clubs and the psychology of a professional killer in the service of his country.

At the opening, top Mossad agent Eyal, played by Lior Ashkenazi, one of Israel’s most popular actors, is in Istanbul, stalking and quietly eliminating a terrorist leader in front of his wife and young son.

Feted with champagne toasts by his colleagues on his return, Eyal is given an unwelcome new assignment by his boss — to find and kill Alfred Himmelman, an aged Nazi mass killer of Jews, who has been in hiding since the end of World War II.

When Eyal demurs that the Nazi is old and sick and will die soon anyhow, his boss answers curtly, “I want to get him before God does.”

Himmelman’s blonde granddaughter, Pia, has rebelled against her background by living and working in a kibbutz, and is visited by her brother, Axel, who wants to persuade her to return to Berlin for their father’s birthday party.

Hoping to learn the Nazi’s whereabouts, Eyal poses as a tourist guide and he and Axel embark on a trip from the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee. Although the young German declares himself an expert on circumcised penises across Europe, it takes Eyal an astonishingly long time to catch on that Axel is gay.

In another scene, a young Palestinian tells Eyal, “You Jews are so obsessed with the past — if you could just let go….”

The brief exchange reflects Fox’s own outlook.

“The Holocaust has been so implanted in our souls that we feel constantly under siege and that the whole world is out to get us,” he said in an interview. “We Israeli men feel that we have to be tough all the time, which blinds us to the pain we inflict on others and cripples us emotionally.”

Before the film ends — and we won’t give away the ending — Eyal undergoes a lengthy soul-searching process in which he must re-examine his role in the Mossad and his prejudices against Germans, Palestinians and gays.

As a bonus, scenes of idealized kibbutz life and of swinging Tel Aviv at night should boost tourism to Israel.

Fox is one of a trio of American-born Israeli filmmakers who are sharply questioning Israel’s predominant social and political beliefs in critically and commercially successful pictures.

Joseph Cedar is an Orthodox Jew, whose unsparing examination of national religious groups, the backbone of the settlers’ movement, keynotes both his earlier “Time of Favor” and the current “Campfire.”

Eytan Gorlin, also from a yeshiva background, is the third director, whose “The Holy Land” probed the danger of religious zealotry.

It is to Israel’s considerable credit that such self-critical films are not only accepted by the public, but are largely subsidized by government funds. Would that Hollywood and the National Endowment for the Arts, in the powerful and secure United States, showed a similar level of moral courage.

“Walk on Water” opens March 4 at three Laemmle theaters — Sunset 5 in West Hollywood, Town Center 5 in Encino and Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. For additional information, visit www.laemmle.com.

 

I Love a Parade


I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t love a parade. The first one I remember attending was as a 10-year-old. My parents took my brother and me to what was then called the “Santa Claus Lane Parade,” which took place just after Thanksgiving Day and made its way down Hollywood Boulevard. There were movie and TV stars as well as the people on horses and floats. I remember it being a lot of fun.

Until last July 14 I had never attended a military parade. You know the kind where soldiers and sailors walk in a procession down a large, wide boulevard. They are typically accompanied by a very awesome display of military firepower, such as tanks and missiles and rockets of all sizes and descriptions. The highlight of a military parade is usually not what is on the ground but rather what files overhead. At the end of the parade one hears from a distance a sound of approaching aircraft and then — to everyone’s amazement and delight — a squad of jets fly over in a precise formation, usually leaving behind a plume of colored smoke. Everyone cheers and yells and then leaves the parade route feeling quite proud of the strength and power of the military branch or country that sponsored the event.

This past July 14, Carol and I were in Paris and attended the Bastille Day parade commemoration of French Independence Day. Hundreds of thousands of people were in attendance lining the Champs Elysees. The weather was perfect and the participants were dressed in all their military finery. Actually, the group that got the largest round of applause didn’t come from the military but rather from the fire department. The event was a lot of fun and I was glad that I took the time to see it.

What do we have in Judaism that comes closest to a military parade? It occurred to me that every Sabbath morning, when we take out the Torah and walk around the sanctuary, we are actually simulating a military parade. No guns, not tanks, no jet planes to impress onlookers. But when the Torah is carried down the aisles of the temple, people of all ages stand at attention and show it the highest form of respect. Many even are eager to touch or even kiss what is contained on that long roll of parchment: commandments and laws and guidelines for living a moral and satisfying life. We also know that the Torah we are viewing is but one in a long history of Torahs that have been carried from one country to another as we Jews have been exiled and escaped from the power of ruthless and evil leaders.

One of the biblical prophets once declared: “Not by might, nor by power — but by my spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.” The spirit of God is found in the Torah. We Jews have rarely given over our trust to weapons of mass destruction. For we know that stronger and more powerful weapons are always being created. Egypt was defeated by Assyria and Assyria by Babylonia and Babylonia by the Romans and on and on and on. But we Jews are still alive and our survival can be attributed to the most portable weapon ever created: the Torah. We have carried it from one land to another. Other armies may defeat armies with more potent weapons. But any army that relies on the word of God is invincible.

So the next time you see the Torah being marched around think of it as the major weapon in the battle for goodness and justice. Salute the Torah, cheer the Torah and, above all, honor the Torah for it is the greatest safeguard and protection we have.

Lawrence Goldmark is the rabbi at Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada.

Bus Girl


The fictional Carrie Bradshaw saw her image on a bus placard because she wrote a popular sex column.

But Carol Taubman sees her image go by each day on the side of MTA buses for a very different reason.

Three years ago, Taubman, an industrial real estate broker, participated in her first Avon 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk, a 60-mile event that begins in Santa Barbara and ends at Zuma Beach in Malibu. She signed up not only for the physical challenge, but also because her mother, Rebecca Bekhor, is a breast cancer survivor.

After three months of training and raising $7,000 in sponsorships, she walked the three days with a friend, and found the experience exhilarating and deeply moving.

The following year she assembled a team of 25 women — the “Bosom Buddies” — and raised in excess of $110,000.

“After the 2002 Walk I thought I had hung up my running shoes and then the bug hit me again,” she said.

Last year she opted for new scenery, and so, together with a friend, Taubman walked her 60 miles in San Francisco. This year Taubman was sure she’d had enough — until last week.

That’s when Taubman’s daughters, Laura and Dani, spotted their mom on the side of a bus advertising the 2004 Walk. Organizers had serendipitously selected a candid photo taken at last year’s walk that showed the fit, enthusiastic Taubman in joyous midstride, making her the walk’s unofficial poster girl-around-town.

“Laura told me that I need to walk again since I’m on all the buses,” Taubman said. “Oy! I think she’s right.”

To join thousands — and probably Taubman — at the Oct.
8-10 walk, go to www.the3day.org .

A Class Trip to Remember


Yossi Sevy is the son of two Holocaust survivors who met and married in Israel. His father survived the infamous death march from Auschwitz to Germany, and his mother survived Bergen-Belsen.

Next month Sevy will relive, in part, his parents’ journey with his 18-year-old son, Nadav, as they traverse the 2-mile walk from the so-called “death gate” of the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp to the International Monument of Holocaust Victims of the Birkenau death camp.

Nadav is one of about 23 students committed to a three-week senior class trip planned for the fourth graduating class of Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. Their sobering itinerary includes Auschwitz, Schindler’s factory and the Warsaw ghetto, followed by Israel’s modern cities, historical sights and natural beauty.

“It will be an emotional and strong experience for both of us,” said Sevy, of Irvine. “It’s a wonderful way of summarizing 12 years of Jewish education.”

He thinks witnessing the residue of ferocious anti-Semitism will strip away students’ complacence about their Jewish heritage and instill a protective pride for Israel.

“I don’t blame them. They live in normal neighborhoods just like Jews did in Germany,” Sevy said.

Today, unlike then, Jews under threat can escape, like the modern-day exodus to Israel by Jews from the former Soviet Union and Argentina.

“It’s my duty to make sure his grandchild will keep the inheritance,” Sevy said.

Last summer when Rabbi Claudio Kaiser Blueth, the school’s director of Jewish studies, proposed the trip he hoped it would become a school tradition.

“We’re not going to Disneyland to have fun,” he said. “We are going to Poland to expose the seniors to the reality to be there. Then we go to Israel to see what has been created, to see the secret of survival. The theme is from death to life, from destruction to the future.”

Recalling the Holocaust is a recurring subject at the school, whose founder, Irving Gelman, outlived Nazi persecution by hiding underground. It’s also a subject woven into the dinner-table conversations of many students. Several grandparents of students in the 31-member class were concentration camp survivors.

Although most in the class are 18-year-olds that could take advantage of a free stay in Israel courtesy of the Birthright Israel program, administrators and parents think the $3,000-per-person class trip is a fitting finale to years of friendship, and will convert textbook learning into a behavior-altering experience. An early May 20 graduation ceremony is planned before the trip, which runs May 30-June 20.

“We want to walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau, walking in the footsteps of their grandparents,” said Kaiser Blueth, who will accompany the teens. Also going on the trip are a few parents; the school’s principal, Howard Haas; and its ever-present security guard, Shalom Shalev.

Thousands of youths from around the world take part in the “March of the Living,” on April 19, marking the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943.

Parent Sheila Stopnitzky, of Laguna Hills, expects the trip to give her son, Jesse, the grounding to assume similar roles as his parents, who support numerous Jewish causes and were founding members of Morasha Jewish Day School in Rancho Santa Margarita.

On a previous trip to Israel five years ago, the family felt the concussion of retaliatory bombing from Lebanon.

“They could see the necessity of protecting Israel,” Stopnitzky said.

But even more, she thinks the trip can solidify for her son his role in ensuring that Israel remains a haven for oppressed Jews.

“It’s a very real thing in this household,” said Stopnitzky, whose father-in-law, Karol, fled to Israel after surviving two concentration camps. His 11 siblings were exterminated.

“The most tragic part of all is the guilt that comes with survival,” he said. “The man could never just enjoy life because of the guilt that plagued him.”

The school is hoping to subsidize about half of each student’s travel costs through a $100-per-ticket raffle drawing this month for a 2004 Mustang.

For more information, call Tarbut V’Torah at (949) 509-9500.

Fearing Fear


My husband, Larry, and I had been training, or so I thought, for the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day, a 60-mile walk in from Santa Barbara to Malibu last October.

But now I realize that we were really training for a grave new world — for when an act of God, or more likely an act of godlessness, blindsides Los Angeles, shutting down our streets and transportation systems.

"I always wondered, if I could walk the 11 miles home from work in an emergency," Larry said before Sept. 11." Ñow I know I can," he says.

And now I know I can walk to my sons’ schools, the farthest being 13 miles away.

Worse, I know I might have to.

For on Sept. 11, with the force of a 767 hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center, reality slammed into our lives, forever destroying our concept of invincibility.

And so, with a Californian’s knee-jerk reaction to any crisis, I replenish the emergency backpacks with radios, batteries, work gloves, flashlights, flares, power bars, water and walking shoes. And I buy a longer-life battery for my cell phone.

But in truth, I don’t know how to prepare — or for what. I can only guess that the next attack will be unforeseen, unfathomable and deadly. And I wonder if I should be lining up my family for smallpox vaccinations or stockpiling gas masks, guns and canned goods — or merely praying.

As a mother, I have worked to create a risk-free world for my four sons, now ages 10, 12, 14 and 18. I have put them in car seats, seatbelts and helmets. I have removed alar from their apple juice, drawstrings from their sweatshirt hoods and second-hand smoke from their environments. I have taught them not to talk to strangers or pick up guns. And I have electronically tethered them with cell phones and pagers.

As a Jew, I have merely been following the danger-avoidance dictates of my religion. "One should guard oneself against all things that are dangerous, because ‘regulations concerning health and life are made more stringent than ritual laws,’ " the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, states.

Ironically, I also worry that I’m overprotecting my kids, doing them a disservice by destroying their sense of self-confidence. And I worry that I’m not concentrating enough on my sons’ emotional needs. My rabbi, Zachary Shapiro, associate rabbi at Los Angeles’ University Synagogue, tells me, "We need to give children constant reassurance that they’re in a safe place when they’re with us."

He recommends, especially for younger kids, a nighttime ritual that includes prayers such as the Shema and the "Hashkiveinu," a prayer for peace that includes the words, "Shield us and remove from us foe, pestilence, sword, famine and sorrow."

For the older kids, the rabbi advocates tzedakah activities, such as organizing a clothing drive, giving blood or collecting donations. This is in keeping with Judaism’s teaching, "Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20).

Meanwhile, as a parent, I take solace in the fact that the terrorist attacks, as well as most crises and disasters, are much scarier to me than to my sons. I have a greater ability to comprehend the seriousness, as well as the long-term ramifications. Or perhaps I’ve succumbed to "phobophobia," the fear of fear itself.

Also, I take solace in the fact that statistics are on my side. Yes, Rabbi Harold Kushner has indelibly and eloquently taught us that "bad things happen to good people." But they happen rarely and atypically.

But most of all, I take solace in the fact that anytime and anywhere, thanks to my training for the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day, I can grab my emergency backpack and walk to fetch my sons.

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