Hot tips for keeping your house warm this winter


By the looks of all the people on the streets wearing scarves and down parkas, Southern California is deep in a cold spell, with temperatures sometimes plunging below 65 degrees. Brrrrr! Let’s face it, we’re just not used to the cold here in L.A. And to be fair, temperatures do drop into the 40s at night, and even lower in the Valley. So how can we keep our houses and apartments warm without cranking up the heat? Follow these helpful tips to stay warm and cozy all winter long while saving money on your energy bill.

Let the sunshine in

Natural sunlight is free, so open the drapes and blinds during the day to let in the warmth. It does seem counterintuitive because the tendency is to close up everything during the winter to keep out the cold, but sunlight will warm up things no matter what the temperature is outside. You can also open certain drapes during different parts of the day to follow the sun. For example, I expose my east-facing windows in the morning, and my west-facing ones later in the day. 

Bundle up the windows

Of course, close the drapes at night. Drapery fabric acts as insulation for your windows. And when it gets really cold, consider layering on top of the drapes additional curtain liners, fabric or blankets. I lived in Boston for two years while attending college, and I fought off the cold there by hanging a Miss Piggy comforter in my apartment window. I didn’t care what the neighbors thought. 

Winterize your bedding

On chilly nights, getting into bed can feel like jumping into a cold pool. Change out your crisp, cotton sheets for velvety-soft flannel bedding. (I have a set of flannel sheets on my Amazon wish list — hint, hint.) Make use of the blanket or a faux fur throw at the end of your bed that you’ve been using just for decoration. Or warm up your bed before you get into it with an electric blanket. There are differing opinions about the safety of electric blankets, but it’s fine for taking the chill off of the sheets — you can turn off the blanket as soon as you climb into bed.

Get a humidifier

You know how in the summer people say, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”? Humidity makes you feel warmer. Put a humidifier in your room, and the moisture helps retain heat — while helping your sinuses. You can also put a pot of water on the stove at a slow simmer. I add orange peel, cinnamon sticks, cloves and a touch of vanilla extract in the water, and the scent adds to the warm feeling.

Reverse your ceiling fan 

Most ceiling fans have two settings so that you can change the direction the blades spin. In the summer, the blades should turn counter-clockwise to blow cool air downward. In the winter, set the blades to turn clockwise to take up cool air and push the warmer air that’s near the ceiling down into the room. Put the ceiling fan speed on low so the room doesn’t get too drafty.

Use incandescent light bulbs

I know it’s not very eco-friendly of me to recommend incandescent light bulbs when there’s such a big push right now for fluorescent or LED bulbs. The thing about incandescent bulbs, though, is that they are warm. They’re downright hot, as a matter of fact. So, just for the winter, switch out your bulbs to incandescents, and let their heat radiate in the room. I have a soft spot for incandescent light bulbs. After they stopped making the 100-watt version, I bought a case of them to stock up. That should do me for a few more years.

Cover bare floors

Rugs aren’t just for decoration. They insulate our floors to keep the warmth from escaping. And besides, they feel great against our cold feet. So if you have hardwood or concrete floors, make sure you have area rugs covering them. I got rid of all my carpeting years ago and installed hardwood floors throughout my home. With area rugs, I actually feel even cozier because they are more plush than the carpet I used to have.

Start baking

Wintertime means baking time, and whenever you whip up a batch of cookies or brownies in the oven, you’re heating up your home as well. When you’re finished baking, leave the oven door open so you can make use of the heat that’s still emanating from inside after you turn it off. 

Shower with the door open

If you live alone or live with someone who doesn’t mind, leave the door open when you shower to let the heat and moisture spread outside the bathroom. You can also close the stopper to trap all the hot water in the tub (if you don’t mind standing in water). The tub of hot water acts as a heat source that gradually cools down, at which time you can drain the tub. 

Test for drafts in windows and doors

Hold a candle around doors and windows, and look at the flame to see if it moves because of drafts. Besides installing some good weatherstripping, you can stop drafts with some door and window snakes — those long tubes of fabric with padding inside. They’re available in stores, but you can take a DIY approach and make your own with rolled-up towels or T-shirts. 

Close the doors to unused rooms

If there are rooms that you rarely enter, close the doors to keep your home’s heat contained within the areas you are in. The reverse also holds true: If you’re staying put in one room, close the door and keep all the heat to yourself.

Hold on to something warm

Fosse and Gershwin, the author's personal heaters. Photo by Jonathan Fong

A portable heat source that you can carry around the house is indispensible on cold nights. Sure, it’s fine to have a sweetheart to keep you warm, but sometimes a good, old-fashioned hot-water bottle is even better — especially if it’s got a cashmere wool cover (which I have). I have also used a microwaveable neck wrap, and that feels like a big, warm hug from your favorite nana. And, of course, dogs and cats are snugglers that are bundles of fur-covered warmth. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

In Europe, new kosher ski options that won’t break the bank


Skiing has always been something of a rich man’s sport.

Between the costs of travel, accommodations, lift tickets and lessons, a family with children can easily drop upward of $6,000 for a few days on the slopes. If you keep kosher, the costs can be even higher.

No longer. Over the past decade, Jewish entrepreneurs have been crafting affordable alternatives to Europe's handful of $250-per-night kosher ski lodges. The result is that nowadays, hundreds of observant middle-class families flock each winter to Europe’s Alpine slopes.

“With the financial crisis, few can afford a Jewish four-star hotel,” says Dolly Lellouche. She and her husband, Chlomo, run D'holydays, a travel agency that operates a two-star “kosherized” hotel — a regular hotel that is temporarily made kosher to accommodate an observant clientele. This year, D'holydays took over the Hotel Grand Aigle at Serre de Chevalier, a major resort in southeast France.

The newer, cheaper alternatives to all-year kosher hotels include kosherized hotels like the Grand Aigle, which are typically available to kosher travelers for just a week or two; do-it-yourself options, where agencies or groups of friends rent ski apartments and prepare food themselves; and discounted kosher trips run by Jewish nonprofits.

Ideal Tours, a Jerusalem-based travel agency, lists several kosherized ski hotels operating in world-class ski locales such as Courchevel, in France’s Tarentaise Valley, the Crans-Montana resorts in Switzerland and Pinzolo in Italy.

But nowhere are low-cost solutions and workarounds more abundant than in France, a country of more than 550,000 Jews and home to some of the largest ski resorts in the world.

Eli Club, a Nice-based kosher ski agency, will set you up at the Serre de Chevalier at Hotel La Belle Etoile, a three-star establishment, while Club J, another agency, will send you to Hotel La Ruade — both kosherized hotels. Toruman, a Belgium travel agency, and Maagalei Nofesh in Israel offer a range of hotels in which a family of four can expect to bid adieu to $3,000-$4,000 for a week of skiing, Jewish hospitality and certified glatt kosher cooking.

Though still a handsome sum, it is far less daunting than the $6,000-$8,000 price tag for a family of four to vacation at one of Europe’s four-star kosher ski hotels, like My One Kosher Hotel in Italy or Metropol Hotel Arosa in Switzerland.

That’s especially true considering that accommodation is only the beginning. Ski passes can cost an adult another $250 or more per week. Renting gear can pile on another $100 per person. Ski lessons for kids can cost $300. But there are ways to cut down on those costs as well.

“A good hotel should be able to get you a good discount on these expenses,” Lellouche said.

Still, no matter how many stars they have or what peripheral discounts they offer, kosher ski lodges tend to cost substantially more than their non-kosher equivalents, according to Pinchas Padwa, an Amsterdam-based rabbi who has been providing kosher certification to ski resorts in Europe for two decades.

“The overhead of running a kosher hotel in the Alps is overwhelming,” Padwa said. In Switzerland, where ritual slaughter is prohibited, all kosher meat and many other kosher products need to be imported. On top of that are kosher certification costs and special expenses associated with finding cooks capable of making Jewish foods.

To keep expenditures down, some skiers get together and rent non-kosher vacation units for a lower rate. The downside there is vacationers need to bring their own kitchen equipment and a taste for vegetarian home cooking, as they are likely to depend for their nourishment on the limited supply of certified kosher products available at the local supermarket.

“In renting an apartment or choosing a hotel, it’s important to check how close the locale is to the actual piste,” or slope, Lellouche said. Another complication to watch out for is that most ski apartments are rented for one week starting Saturday, an arrangement that deprives observant families of two skiing days.

Young adults or couples without children have more options — especially in Holland, where for the past two winters, Jewish organizations have subsidized a ski getaway organized by the Maccabi Skijar group for about 60 young Jews. Participants pay only $650 for flights from the Netherlands, food and accommodations for eight days in France’s Tarentaise Valley.

The Maccabi Skijar group is predominantly but not exclusively Dutch, with some participants coming from England and Israel, according to one of the group’s three leaders, Maxime van Gelder. This year, skiers will descend on two chalets, one reserved for kosher eaters.

Van Gelder plans to buy kosher meat in Lyon, some 50 miles away, and deliver it himself. “The idea is to help Jews be together and have fun together,” he says.

For Shabbat, the group will be joined by Rabbi Menachem Sebbag, the Dutch army’s top Jewish chaplain and rabbi of the popular AMOS shul near Amsterdam.

The Israeli organization Keneski runs a similar program for singles, but for more money ($1,000-$1,250, flight not included) and in more luxurious surroundings. This year the “Keneskiers” — an international group with a strong Israeli contingent — will stay at the kosherized four-star Royal Olympic Hotel in Pinzolo, Italy.

For the past two years, Keneski brought skiers to My One Kosher Hotel, a permanently kosher, four-star establishment in Canazei, Italy. The hotel owners, Avi and Belinda Netzer, opened their hotel four years ago.

“At first other hotel owners seriously resented us coming here,” Avi Netzer recalls. “They didn’t understand this kosher business and thought competition was fierce enough without our 50-room hotel. It took a while before they saw our hotel brought in clientele that would otherwise never come.”

Menachem Glik, an Israeli who participated in Keneski’s 2011 trip, said his vacation was filled with “suspense, emotions” and even “romance growing on the slopes and on the lift.” At the same time, he says, it was a chance to get in touch with “young people from all over the world, from different cultures and backgrounds and speaking different languages, but with one common denominator” — a love for skiing.

Madeleine Albright reveals secret past in ‘Prague Winter’


Madeleine Albright and Christopher Hitchens are two famous figures who discovered their Jewish ancestry only in adulthood. The discovery did nothing to temper Hitchens’ harsh view of religion in general or the State of Israel in particular. For Albright, by contrast, the belated disclosure of her Jewish identity has prompted a remarkable work of self-revelation.

Albright explores and honors her Jewish legacy in “Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948” (HarperCollins, $29.99), co-written with Bill Woodward, a blend of history and memoir that reveals in rich, poignant and often heartbreaking detail a story that had been hidden from her by her own parents.

“I had no idea that my family heritage was Jewish or that more than twenty of my relatives had died in the Holocaust,” she writes about her understanding of her origins on the day she took the oath of office as Secretary of State in the Clinton administration at the age of 58. “I had been brought up to believe in a history of my Czechoslovak homeland that was less tangled and more straightforward than the reality.”

“Prague Winter,” in fact, is Albright’s courageous effort to reveal the real history of her family. She was raised as a Roman Catholic and converted to the Episcopalian church when she married. Not until 1997 did she learn conclusively from an investigative report in the Washington Post that three of her grandparents, along with numerous other relatives, were Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Albright reaches back into the early history of the Czech people in order to explain the upheavals in the 1930s that prompted her family to flee, first to London and then to America. Thus, for example, she first mentions Terezín (known in German as Theresienstadt) as the military fortress erected by Emperor Joseph II in the late 18th century to reinforce his authority as the ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Only later would the old fortifications be re-purposed by Nazi Germany as a “model” concentration camp where Jews were displayed to the International Red Cross before being sent on to die at the death camps further east.

As a veteran diplomat, Albright is attuned to the frictions among peoples and nations, including the ones that boiled up among the Czechs, Slovaks and Germans who found themselves living together in the territory that would later (and briefly) comprise Czechoslovakia. Caught among them was an ancient, accomplished but endangered Jewish community. “Poor Jews, where should they stand?” Theodor Herzl mused. “Some tried to be Czechs; these were assaulted by the Germans. Others wanted to be Germans, and both the Czechs and the Germans attacked them. What a situation!”

Albright’s father and mother, Josef and Mandula Korbel, found themselves in a similar predicament. A Jewish background was an impediment to the career that her father was pursuing in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Korbel family was highly assimilated long before the Nazis arrived in Prague in 1939. “On the marriage certificate,” Albright reveals, “my parents were identified as bez vyznáni: without religious confession.”

His disavowal of his Jewishness, of course, was not enough to save her father’s job. Within two weeks after Czechoslovakia was dismantled in a cynical deal struck between Hitler and the Western democracies, her father was dismissed from his post. Many years later, Albright saw with her own eyes the official letter that explained why he was fired: “Dr. Korbel and his wife are Jews.” By April 1939, when Prague was under German occupation, the family managed to reach London, where her father joined the Czechoslovak government-in-exile and served as an announcer on the Czech broadcasts of the BBC. Thus was Albright cut off from her doomed Jewish relations and her own Jewish identity.

Only in England in 1941 did her father and mother formally convert to Catholicism, a decision that Albright struggles to explain to herself. One factor, she speculates, “might have been my parents’ desire to underline our family’s identity as Czechoslovak democrats.” Then, too, she speculates that “my parents thought life would be easier for us if we were raised as Christians instead of Jews.”

Intriguingly, she concludes that “my parents would not have made the choice they did had they waited four more years,” that is, until the details of Nazi genocide were fully revealed. “When viewed through the lens of the Holocaust, the moral connotations of such a choice had been altered irrevocably.” She also cites the Holocaust as the reason why her parents never revealed to her that she was a Jew. “Before the slaughter of six million Jews, they might have found the words,” she writes. “[A]fter it, they could not.”

Albright herself reveals the fate of the relatives who remained behind with candor and compassion. She discovered that her maternal grandmother, Růžena Spiegelová, was arrested in 1942 and shipped first to Theresienstadt and then to a destination in Poland, perhaps Trawniki, where she was murdered. “At the time of my birth, she had helped to care for me and was the first to call me ‘Madlen’,” Albright recalls. “In the frightening days after Hitler’s invasion, she had taken me in again while my parents moved about Prague, devising a plan for escape.”

“Prague Winter” is largely a work of diplomatic and political history, but the beating heart of the book is Albright’s searing account of her intimate family saga. She was too young to have first-hand memories of their fears and hardships, and her own parents concealed the truth from her throughout their lives. To her credit, she has worked hard — and courageously — to retrieve and share the things that were kept from her.

Her reminiscence about her murdered grandmother, for example, rings with the rachmones that suffuses the book in its entirety: “I have also remembered a detail: as a child, I loved to swim in cold water. When I did, my mother used to exclaim: ‘You are just like your grandmother,’ ” Albright writes. “I only wish that her fortunes had more closely resembled mine.”


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. His next book is “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan,” which will be published by the Horace Liveright imprint of W. W. Norton to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Kirsch can be reached at book@jewishjournal.com.

Winter brings out Israel’s unique charms


Despite being about the size of New Jersey, Israel has a winter season that offers tourists a unique opportunity to experience the country’s mystical meteorological rollercoaster in different urban and suburban settings.

During the winter months, you can ski on the snow-clad slopes of Mount Hermon in Northern Israel in the early morning hours, hop a midday flight to Tel Aviv, where you can enjoy a delicious outdoor lunch along the Mediterranean beachfront in near-70 degree temperatures, then leisurely board an afternoon Jerusalem-bound train or bus in order to imbibe the crisp and mystifying evening air that envelops the holy city.

“Jerusalem is much more mysterious during the winter months, because most of the time the city is surrounded by fascinating clouds. But you won’t see more than one or two days of consecutive rain, or feel an icy chill running through your bones during the winter,” said Ilan Brenner, the Inbal Laromme Hotel’s executive assistant manager of marketing and sales. 

Jerusalem is also a mecca for thousands of families who jet over during the annual January winter break, in order to reconnect with siblings who attend the various post-high school yeshivot and universities in the metro region. 

“Celebrating Shabbat at a luxurious hotel and partaking in the lavish Mediterranean-themed buffet meals prepared by award- winning chefs, has in recent years become an annual rite for many visiting families and their friends,” Brenner said.

In trendy Tel Aviv, one hotel marketing executive remarked that she actually looks forward to the winter vacation period when “snowbirds” from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada quickly discard their puffy winter coats, change into summer shorts and sandals and make a beeline to the beachfront.

“I’ll be sitting at my desk, trying to warm myself up with a glass of hot tea, but for many of our guests 70-degree weather is warm enough for them to change into summer gear and head straight to the beach or nearby Dizengoff Street in order to do some serious shopping,” she said.

Almost all of the major five-star hotels highlight first-class spas and health clubs, where winter-themed treatments have also become a popular attraction.

Here’s a brief rundown of what some of the better-known hotels are offering tourists during the winter respite:

JERUSALEM

Inbal Laromme Hotel

The family-oriented hotel is promoting its “Triple Free” program, which includes a free Hertz rental car for each night’s stay, free parking at the hotel and free WiFi. The package requires a minimum three-night stay. The Inbal Jerusalem Hotel features a heated indoor pool as well as a renowned spa that rotates its menu of body and facial treatments for men and women. Inbal Jerusalem’s executive chef Moti Buchbut recently upgraded the menu in the hotel’s Sofia Restaurant, a fish, pasta and patisserie bistro. And the Inbal is the first hotel chain in Israel to offer tech-savvy guests a wide range of services via its online Digital Concierge application. inbalhotel.com.

Atrium lobby of Tel Aviv’s David InterContinental Hotel.

Dan Boutique Hotel

The impeccably designed facility highlights “Go Dan” five- and seven-night special packages through the end of February that are based on a bed and breakfast program. As the Dan Boutique is part of the large Dan hotel chain, which features impressive facilities across Israel, tourists can combine the “Go Dan” packages among various danhotels.com.

Mamilla Hotel

The city’s newest upscale hotel, located within the chic Mamilla shopping mall, is promoting a “Discover Jerusalem” winter program. Guests who book a double studio room will be entitled to dinner at the Mamilla Cafe during weekdays (fixed dairy menu) and/or dinner on weekends in the main dining room, plus a complimentary drink in the ultra-cool Mirror Bar. The package, which also includes free use of the gym or steam room, requires a minimum three-night stay and will not be available Dec. 19-27. mamillahotel.com.

TEL AVIV

David InterContinental Hotel

Extremely popular among business travelers, this hotel is located in Tel Aviv’s revitalized Neve Tzedek neighborhood. The city’s bustling Shuk HaCarmel outdoor market, trendy Sheinkin Street fashion stores and the historical Jaffa Port are all within walking distance. The beach is located directly across the street. The hotel boasts a remodeled business lounge and atrium lobby as well as several swanky bars and restaurants. intercontinental.com.

Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel and Towers

The newly renovated Sheraton Towers — a hotel within a hotel — offers a private reception area; a new lounge, including a private boardroom facility for meetings of up to eight participants; butler service; and other extra amenities. The hotel’s Olive Leaf signature restaurant, helmed by chef Charlie Fadida, is touted as one of the finest kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv. starwoodhotels.com.

Dan Tel Aviv

The legendary luxury hotel, which plays host to many prominent business moguls, celebrities and politicians, is also offering its regular customers a four-night winter package that runs through the end of February. The package is based on a standard bed and breakfast program. The hotel features a high standard of service, plush rooms and suites, an indoor pool and several dining experiences, including the chic Hayarkon 99 restaurant. danhotels.com.

DEAD SEA

Prima Spa Club indoor pool.

Prima Spa Club

For couples who endeavor to get away from it all and enjoy a reinvigorating body-and-soul winter experience, the Prima Spa Club boutique luxury hotel highlights a Moroccan spa, wellness programs, spa parties and VIP services. There are discounted rates available for vacationers who wish to spend seven consecutive nights in the hotel. prima-hotels-israel.com.

Rimonim Royal Dead Sea

The Rimonim chain, which recently assumed control over this five-star facility, has upgraded the Dead Sea region’s largest hotel. The Royal highlights 46 private treatment rooms, an indoor saltwater pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and gymnasium. There’s also an outdoor pool and kids’ pool. During the winter season, the hotel is featuring “Royal Serenity Indulgence,” two- and three-night packages aimed at couples who wish to enjoy a romantic getaway. The midweek and weekend packages include various perks, including a bountiful breakfast and dinner (half-board). rimonim.com.

Israel’s first winter storm causes damage


Israel’s first real winter storm caused major damage throughout the country, especially to the Tel Aviv beachfront and an ancient pier in Caesaria.

The storm which began Sunday and continued on Monday, included heavy rains and damaging winds of up to 75 miles per hour, which caused huge waves to wash up on Tel Aviv beaches, breaking restaurant windows, throwing café furniture, and scattering a thick layer of sand along the Promenade in Tel Aviv.

The storm caused a modern-day sea wall protecting the popular Caesarea archeological site to fall down early Sunday, exposing the walls of the ancient port and raising fears that the waves crashing on the site could cause irreparable damage.

Ben Gurion Airport closed to some flights on Sunday evening due to bad visibility conditions. Several planes were diverted to Cyprus.

A Moldovan cargo ship sank off the coast of Ashdod due to the raging sea conditions; its crew of 11 was rescued.

Thousands of homes were without power due to downed electrical lines and damaged generators.

Two people were seriously hurt when trees fell on their cars, and another at least 30 people were injured in weather-related incidents.

While flooding was feared in the Jordan Valley, the Judean Desert and the center of the country, nearly four feet of snow fell in the area of Mount Hermon. Light snow was also reported in Jerusalem.

The storm was predicted to abate by late Monday.

Snow Job


Maybe I’m crazy, but each winter I plan a family vacation that is fraught with danger. To reach our destination, we must drive up a perilous mountain road studded with hairpin turns. Oddly, during our ascent, this NASCAR-approved artery is usually choked with fog or hail.

But this is only the hors d’oeuvre: The entrée is when everyone except for me straps themselves to bulky planks of wood before hurtling at 50 mph down icy slopes with names like “Surrender Isle.” I drop everyone off at the ski resort and then hightail it back to the cabin, where Ken waits for me, wagging his tail.

Like me, Ken is risk-averse and agrees that skiing is sheer madness and folly. We cuddle on the couch, I pop in a DVD and wrap my cold hands around a cup of hot cocoa.

This is not laziness. It is a necessary mental health exercise to banish images of my next of kin putting themselves in harm’s way on triple-black diamond slopes. Oh sure, I tried skiing — once. It was a disaster.

My husband had summoned every ounce of perseverance and patience in his DNA to try to teach me this skill, but we were not on speaking terms by the end of the lesson. Falling down repeatedly like a rag doll and getting tangled in skis is not my idea of fun, and I concluded that only fools or suicidal thrill seekers could embrace skiing as a sport.

By my reckoning, a Boggle tournament with serious players ought to be enough excitement for anyone. It is a tacit understanding between my husband and me that he is never to attempt to teach me any other athletic skill ever again.

Our mountain jaunts usually last for three days, but for the life of me, I can’t manage to prepare for them in under a week. I need at least a day to dig up mismatched gloves, hats and mufflers, which otherwise have no purpose in Southern California; two days to shop and cook; and at least three days to closely study the available accommodations advertised on the Internet.

Cabins in our price range are kindly referred to as “rustic.” Last year, we agreed that Casa de Pine Cone, equipped with a miniature pool table and dusty dining room lamp etched with the Budweiser logo, was a touch too rustic for our taste.

This year, I carefully avoided any cabin with the word “Kozy” in the name, because anyone who thinks it’s cute to further degrade our language won’t get a dime out of me. Besides, “cozy” (no matter how you spell it) is code for “so tiny even short people will have to bend over when taking a shower.” I also learned to be wary of cabins with French names, since a “chateau” where we once stayed should really have been called “La Hovel.”

But this year, I succumbed to temptation and booked Bear’s Détente, hoping that the kids might fight less around a dining table where the grizzlies and the black bears finally signed a truce. Bear’s Détente didn’t really do much to engender greater sibling love, but it was definitely a classier joint than Casa de Pine Cone. It had a thick stack of Family Circle magazines dating from 1999 and, in keeping with the European theme, a table lamp etched with the Heinekin logo.

Unfortunately, these trips are working vacations for me. As shlepper-in-chief, I am forced to tramp around in the snow half the day delivering snacks at 10:30 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m. and hand lotion and dry socks at 3 p.m.

For some reason, our designated meeting place is always on the top level of the slope’s multitiered eating areas. Believe me, trudging up all those stairs at an altitude of 6,500 feet should be more exercise than anyone seemingly on vacation should have to endure.

At the end of the day, I collect the entire freezing crew and shuttle them back to our cabin, while the kids clamor for dinner immediately. Despite the multiple snack deliveries, everyone is starving.

All this personal valet service I provide cuts pretty deeply into my DVD watching and hot chocolate sipping time, but I am the mother, and this is my job. In fact, my life on vacation is pretty much just like my life at home, only with pine trees.

One night by popular demand, my husband kindled a fire. This seemed like the perfect cozy finish to a tiring day.

“I’ll just make sure the flue is open,” he said, fiddling around in the fire pit.

“Why is it so smoky in here?” coughed one of the kids, as a haze quickly billowed through the room and the smoke detector beeped in alarm. They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire but not at Bear’s Détente.

By the time my husband found the flue opening, we had smoked out every last bear left in those mountains, while also failing to stoke any meaningful flames. On a happier note, I discovered that one can avoid deadly smoke inhalation by flinging open the front and back cabin doors and allowing the bracing, 20 degree air to clear the place out. I promise you that after an hour and a half, the smoke will be gone and so will the kids, who will be huddled in the car with the heater on.

Still, I consider the trip a success. Even though one son went missing one day, no one ended up in the resort’s mini-hospital, either from skiing accidents or too much family togetherness. Two trips to the local supermarket assured that we had enough to eat, the dog only got sick once and I finally got to finish my movie after only six sittings.

We left in the evening, and I drove us down that harrowing road, trying to think of safer destinations for next year. But I think I am too late. All the kids consider themselves ski bums. But with this designation, they can rent their own locker for snacks and dry socks during the day. There’s only so many times a woman can be asked to interrupt her movie marathon and hot chocolate sipping.

Isn’t that what vacations are all about?

Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books. Read more of her columns on www.judygruen.com.

 

24-Hour Party People


There’s a guy in line behind me whose name I can’t remember but who is a good friend of a 50-year-old I once dated whose name I also can’t remember, which is kind of ironic — I stopped dating him because he’s too old, and it’s my memory that’s failing.

But that’s neither here nor there tonight as we wait outside in the wet foggy cold for one last winter holiday party. While something like 80 percent of Americans are enjoying their eggnog and recovering from time spent with their dysfunctional families, we Jews are smushing into a West Hollywood hotspot.

I’m here with my friend Jon, my former trainer, whom I’d “won” at a Jewish Federation auction. It’s a good thing he’s with me because that will help me get through meeting every guy whose name I can’t remember. (“This is Jon,” I will say, hoping the other person will then introduce himself.) Jon also is on hand to shield me, as needed, from the plethora of men here.

There’s 1,000 people, a fair amount of sleaze, and I’m almost afraid to walk alone in the throngs. The ratio is 2-to-1 men. Still, I confess I’m happy with the crowd. Sometimes it’s nice to go to a Jew party in Hollywood: Among the short, the dark-haired, the rhythmically challenged, I might rate a 9, as opposed to a mere 6 among the Amazonians of Shiksaville.

Jon gestures over to a Steve Wright-look-alike at the bar.

“There’s that frizzy-haired guy we see at every party,” he says disdainfully.

Just then it hits me: If we see Frizzy-Haired Guy at every party, doesn’t that mean that he sees us at every party? Am I the type of person who is at every single party? It’s true that I’ve already been to the Progressive Jewish Alliance party, and will probably also attend the Chabad, Kabbalah Centre and various house parties, but does someone walk into a party, spot me, and say, “Oh no, she’s here; I guess it’s that kind of party?”

I see other familiar faces, too. There’s the Israeli guy I walked out on at my date at the Coffee Bean. There’s this girl whose e-vites and e-mails I’ve been assiduously avoiding for years. There’s that NRA sympathizer whom I got into a fight with at a Shabbat meal. And there are also my friends, lots of them, and we gather in the less-crowded rooms upstairs for some air. It seems one of those nights when there are so many people — too many people — no one will meet a soul, so you might as well just have fun.

“Let’s play a drinking game,” I tell my friends. “For every person whose picture you’ve seen on JDate, take one sip.”

My friend Tom pipes in: “For every girl — or guy — you’ve gone out with, that’s two sips.”

“What about people you’ve slept with?” Tom’s friend asks.

“That’s a whole drink, my friend,” Tom says.

“As long as you’re driving me home,” he replies.

“What about a girl you’ve gotten a marriage proposal from?” Eric asks me quietly as the others scope the room. It turns out that this woman — he once went out with her, sort of — cornered him a few minutes ago and told him she thinks she loves him and wants to marry him.

“I think you’ve automatically won the game,” I tell him.

Just then Sharon walks by.

“Hey Eric, do you know Sharon?”

They do that dumb thing where they act like they don’t know each other because they obviously do, and Eric shoots me a look.

Too late I realize that this is the girl who cornered him. But I know her. I know she was probably drunk and probably kidding — but still I see how that kind of situation might be a little “Fatal Attraction.”

Enough games. It’s time to head downstairs again, where Jon and I dance for half a song at a time till the DJ ruins perfectly good ’80s music with cuts of house music (are we so old?). By about 2 a.m., Jon and his friend want to leave, but I haven’t met one new person all night. I have a rule of three: Three new guys a party.

Someone is taking a picture of me. So I go over and introduce myself. Conversation runs dry like a martini, but still, that’s No. 1.

Israeli guy comes over with his friends; he’s forgiven me for running out on our date — actually, I think he likes me more — but he introduces me to his South African friend. That’s No. 2.

I’m tired. I sit down — my heels have only a four-hour standing time on them. Then a guy named David approaches. Unfortunately he’s wearing a chain, but still, he’s No. 3.

Jon and his friend and I head to a deli for a post-mortem on the party: it looks like quite a number of others are there doing the same thing. Around California the holidays are winding down, but could it be that for us Jews, the fun times have only just begun?

Flying Solo This Winter? Head South


The leaves have turned, the days are shorter and Chag Urim, the Holiday of Lights, glimmers ahead. In the meantime, if you’re single or a student, and itching to plan a winter getaway, we’ve rounded up a pair of juicy possibilities. Singles might consider a luxury Caribbean cruise packed with excursions. And students looking to explore an exotic destination may decide to join the like-minded in Latin America. So read on, plan ahead and enjoy your first big escape of the new year. Or make a booking for a loved one and surprise him or her with an unexpected post-Chanukah adventure.

Que Bueno

From Dec. 29, 2004 to Jan. 3, 2005, teens and young adults can explore Latin America through a seven-day educational program called Argentina Discovery. Sponsored by Israel-based Oranim Educational Initiatives, the trip brings together young Jews from around the world with their Argentine counterparts. The program includes touring urban Buenos Aires and the surrounding region. Oranim also offers an option to travel to Iguazu Falls, a natural wonder located on the border between Brazil and Argentina.

The Buenos Aires itinerary includes a tour of the city’s Historical Colonial Museum, La Boca, Palermo Park, Recoleta, and Jewish sites including the AMIA building and Tango Club. Friday night combines Kabbalat Shabbat at a local synagogue with a New Year’s Eve “Fiesta Gaucha” party with Argentine cowboys. For those who do not wish to travel on Shabbat to Iguazu, alternative programming will be offered in Buenos Aires. Those travelers opting for the Iguazu extension will explore both the Argentine and Brazilian sides of the falls and a enjoy a Macuco sailing safari.

Ground costs are $610 for the Buenos Aires program, based on three-star accommodations, double occupancy. (All rooms include air-conditioning and bath.) The option to travel to Iguazu Falls is an additional $200, which includes a two-night stay in Iguazu (three travelers per room) and round-trip domestic flights. Both prices include a $100 non-refundable registration fee. Daily breakfast and dinner, entrance fees to all sites, parties, events and English-speaking guides for all tours is included in the program price.

Costs do not cover international flight, lunch and tips. Travel insurance is available for an additional charge. Note: all rates are subject to change based on the fluctuations of the rates of exchange.

For more information, reservations and for assistance booking international flights, call (440) 720-0222 or (888) 281-1265, visit info@jewishadventures.com.

Tropical Sailing

Celebrity Cruises is the luxurious venue for a kosher Caribbean cruise for singles Jan. 16-23, 2005 organized by JSinglesCruise.com. Experienced cruisers will delight in the highly rated, five-star Millennium, a ship I personally recommend based on my experiences on its (general audience) maiden voyage of the Baltic Sea in 2000.

This upcoming kosher singles sailing features group parties, as well as the usual extravagant dining traditional to the cruise industry. In addition, special on-board guest Sheryl Giffis, a professional life coach, is offering a complimentary one-hour session to all singles cruise participants.

The ship departs from Ft. Lauderdale and includes several days at sea as well as international ports of call. These include Caso De Campo in the Dominican Republic; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Nassau, Bahamas. Guests can explore ports independently or book group excursions. Like all leading cruise ships, Millennium offers a staggering variety of options, including guided shopping, city tours, sightseeing, parties and sports. Most excursions are usually two to four hours in duration.

In Casa De Campo, the many possible shore excursions include a catamaran Sail & Snorkel ($54), skeet and trap shooting ($88), horseback riding ($60), a countryside tour ($45),a 4 x 4 Cane Adventure ($59) and a Water Eco Adventure ($64). The latter begins with a bus ride to a beach. There, speedboats shuttle guests to Palmilla, located at the entrance of Catuano channel. Aboard wooden boats, guests explore among the mangroves. These amazing structures grow amidst a rich variety of fauna. Wooden oars allow visitors to explore this home to red-breasted frigate birds and jellyfish.

Next up, guests depart via motorboat to a natural swimming pool, where guides dive to collect starfishes. A Dominican band serenades aboard while guests swim in shallow waters or relax with on deck with complimentary soft drinks, beer and rum.

The second port of call, San Juan, also offers a variety of excursions. Guests may opt for the Bioluminescent Bay Kayak Tour ($77) located at the Bioluminescent Lagoon of the Las Cabezas Preserve in Fajardo, about 90 minutes outside of San Juan. Kayaking here offers up close glimpses of wildlife, including the stunning, glowing effect of microorganisms.

These and other excursions are available for purchase online up to 10 days prior to departure. After that date, excursions may be purchased onboard.

For kosher cruises, Millennium’s dramatic two-story, white linen restaurant serves up ocean views with glatt kosher, cholov yisroel, award-winning gourmet cuisine prepared under the strict supervision of Maritime Kosher International under the guidance of world renowned master chef Michel Roux. An extensive breakfast buffet will be served in a special dining room area reserved especially for guests of JSinglesCruise.com. And like any great sailing, the cruise also includes afternoon tea as well as “midnight nosh.”

Prices start at $1,110 for an inside stateroom, based on double occupancy. Cabin and all meals are included. Spa services, excursions and flight to Ft. Lauderdale are not.

For more information and reservations, call (323) 640-7230 or (917) 952-4033 or visit JSinglesCruise.com. To learn more about life coach Sheryl Giffis, visit Luminarious Life Coaching at www.luminarious.com.

Chill Out This Summer

From June 26 to July 4, 2005, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and Amazing Journeys invite Jewish singles in their 30s, 40s and 50s to visit Iceland, the Land of Ice and Fire, on a nine-day, seven-night tour.

Travelers will visit the historic city of Reykjavik, go whale watching, drive across glaciers and see the two-tiered Gullfoss Waterfall. They will also have a chance to swim in the famous Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal pool; take a boat trip amidst floating icebergs; and visit an Icelandic horse farm and the Folk Museum.

Group airfare is available from many U.S. cities for as little as $895. Those who register before Dec. 12, 2004 can save $100 off the package price, which includes first-class accommodations, 12 meals, sightseeing tours, transportation, baggage handling and all taxes and service charges. There will also be Shabbat and Havdalah services, special gifts, contests and prizes and VIP treatment throughout the trip. Roommate matching is available upon request.

For reservations, pricing information and further details, visit www.amazingjourneys.net or contact Bill Cartiff at (800) 734-0493 or bcartiff@jccpgh.org.

Lisa Alcalay Klug is a former staff writer for The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times.

Changing Porcupines Into Family


It was unseasonably cold on the eve of the New Year. The lakes were frozen; the sun retreated from the heavens on erev Rosh Hashanah. A group of porcupines noted for their rugged individualism were caught shivering in wintry storms. They decided to huddle together and thereby find warmth in each other. But as they drew closer, their sharp, stiff quills tore into their flesh and caused them considerable pain. They then separated but were again punished by the icy winds. Such is the dilemma of porcupines: isolated they freeze, united they suffer.

What should be done to alleviate the human “porcupine condition?” Not to pluck out the armaments, but the quills need to be bent, the needles softened. Much of the society which we are thrown into is hard, competitive and angry. For all our vaunted individualism, human porcupines are imperiled by loneliness and our celebrated privacy turns into brooding isolation.

We seek an oasis from the biting cold, and where better than in the synagogue whose metaphor is family? What unites us is less rigid dogma than the warmth of mishpacha (family).

Synagogue is a promise of an extended family. This we have learned from the Bible, our family album, and this remains our secret expectation. We want to belong more than we want affiliation with an organization.

Too often that expectation of friendship leads to disappointment. The human porcupine murmurings are heard in every denomination. “It's cold!” The complaint is not about the synagogue's ventilation but about its felt alienation. Gaining admission, they find the synagogue inadvertently turned into “theater,” the people standing at its door “ushers,” the seats all facing a “stage,” the choir, cantor and rabbi talented “performers.” The synagogue sanctuary is rectangular and vertical, all eyes look uniformly straight ahead and upward. But the secret of the heart's eye gazes horizontally, yearning for contact with the “other” who prays and studies and reads along side us. Soon the service is over, the “Adon Olam” and the “Neilah” sung, the aliyot fulfilled and the hasty exodus into the frozen forest.

The porcupines grow dejected. Their souls ache. Something lacks. Not the soaring sermon, the chorale harmony, the cantorial flourish. What is missing is friendship, family, belonging, home.

On Rosh Hashanah, the annual reunion of people takes place, and once more the expectation of friendship is anticipated. They will leave as they entered, quills bristling, frost and dust on their paws. Shall the quills retain their sharp, unbent posture?

Some wise porcupines gather to analyze their Jewish condition. They conclude that Jewishness cannot begin nor end in the sanctuary. They conclude that Jewishness must be experienced before we cross the threshold of the synagogue, that it must begin before “Mah Tovu” and after “Yigdal.” Its season begins at home because the center of Judaism is the home, and the altar of Judaism is the table. That home is not a fortress. It must be opened wide to others with whom we sing and eat and study and drink together. The home warmth must be brought into the sanctuary to thaw out the frozen pews.

We need not rip out the quill from its skin, but we must be gentle with them. The stranger will not feel at home by shaking his hand and offering formulaic greetings, distributing a prayer book and prayer shawl. The synagogue needs the softness of havurah (community). The congregation needs the ambiance of Jews who experience the depth and warmth of family with each other at home, and enter the synagogue together as mishpacha. Midway between the home and the kehillah (congregation) is the havurah. A havurah is comprised of a minyan that does not meet in the boardroom or social hall or chapel. In the tent of the home, eyes face each other, the quills are bent, the sound of dialogue is made audible and the meeting is personalized. It can transfigure the shul. Heat rises from below. It cannot come from the pulpit above. It begins below, between and among the family whose history and destiny we study and whose blessings we seek. We are mishpacha; we are not porcupines.

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis is the spiritual leader of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

The Two Sides of the Street


The only thing Jerusalem’s Jewish and Arab shopping malls had in common when news broke last Friday of the Wye II deal was that no one was dancing in the streets. There was relief that something at last was about to move on the Israeli-Palestinian front, but it takes more than Madeleine Albright playing what she fetchingly called an American “handmaiden” to disperse the suspicions of half a century.

As if to underline the dissonance, the two sides of town were operating on different time zones. For reasons known only to a handful of kabbalistic sages, Israel has put the clock back for the winter while temperatures are still topping 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The Palestinians are still on summer time. Seasons apart, Jews and Arabs are still trying to fathom Israel’s tenacious new prime minister, Ehud Barak.

“Every step is one-sided,” said a grumbling Aharon Ringwald, locking his watchmaker’s shop for Shabbat on Ben-Yehuda Street. “It can only work to the Palestinians’ advantage. They haven’t kept any agreement they’ve signed, right from the beginning. They don’t recognize our right to be in this land. They would still like to drive us out. And we’re making it easier for them.”

His neighbor, Herzl Muthada, confessed to mixed feelings. “We give, but we don’t get,” he said outside his narrow flower shop, which overflows with bronze, purple and white chrysanthemums, Michaelmas daisies and stately gladioli. “But it’s too soon to know whether we’re going to fare better under Barak. We have to wait — and give him credit.”

Avi Ben, a liquor store owner, had more faith in his prime minister. “Barak’s done an excellent job,” he argued. “He’s playing tough, and it’s working. It’s the same in the way he handles his coalition. He’s somebody with guts. It’s important that he’s strong, that he’s a leader. That’s how he has to be.”

At Cafe Atara, the manager, Yehudit Levisohn, was cautiously pleased with the deal. “We have to aim for peace,” she said, “but I hope Barak will do it in the right way, even if it takes time.” Two years ago this month, Levisohn was wounded by a Hamas suicide bombing outside the cafe. “I’m sure crazy people will continue to cause problems, but we mustn’t let them succeed.”

Yair Baruch, an 18-year-old who’s waiting to start his three years’ army service, had no reservations. “This agreement,” he said, “is a good move for both sides. What’s important is to create a better atmosphere. If there is an atmosphere of welcoming peace, that should work. The details are less important.

“Barak’s already proving better than Bibi Netanyahu. Netanyahu wasn’t consistent, so nobody trusted him. Barak is trying to do just the opposite.”

Across town, on Saladin Street, Wahib Tarazi, an Arab veterinarian, was less confident. “At least we’re getting something,” he said. “But the Palestinian street won’t be satisfied that they’re only freeing 350 prisoners. It’s ridiculous that we’re making peace, and our prisoners are still in jail.”

What did he make, I asked, of Barak? “Netanyahu was better,” he said. “He presented the real face of Israel. They want to take everything, but they don’t want to deal with the Palestinians as human beings. Barak is more pragmatic. We all know how it’s going to end. There’ll be a Palestinian state. So why is he making it take so much longer than necessary?”

We met in a bookstore, where Tarazi was looking for an Arabic-French dictionary. I asked the woman behind the counter, a Christian Arab with a cross hanging from her neck, what she thought of the peace agreement. “What peace?” she said. “What agreement?”

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