Teaching teenage girls self-esteem


During a self-empowerment workshop titled “You Are Beautiful,” a 13-year-old girl raised her hand and asked, “Have you ever hurt yourself?” 
 
Gabby Diaz, the counselor moderating this particular workshop and a radio host at 105.9 FM (Power 106), was at a loss for words as the room fell silent. Astonished and concerned, she asked, “Sweetheart, did you get to that point?” 
 
The eighth-grader spoke slowly with eyes cast down when she responded, “I gave up on the world, and it gave up on me.”
 
It was for teenage girls in need like this that Donna Maher organized this event — an afternoon completely devoted to them. It took place Dec. 14 as she stood behind a podium at Hillel at UCLA and spoke to 35 girls, ages 13 to 17. The day’s topics covered everything from social media safety to self-empowerment.
 
 “Every action we do has an impact,” she told the assembled girls before the workshop officially began.
 
Maher, 26, grew up in Orange County as a first-generation American; both of her parents were born in Iran. She grew up speaking Farsi and Hebrew at home, and as a result, felt extremely connected to her culture but estranged from her peers at school. She knew what it was like to be an outsider. 
 
Maher, who now lives in Bel Air and works as a marketing strategist at a tech startup, said she was moved to plan the event by a sense of tikkun olam (repairing the world). So, she collected a group of like-minded friends, started a crowdfunder (where, in Maher’s words, “complete strangers covered the costs for the event”), reached out to Power 106 and marched forward.
 
The day began with a speech by Maher, followed by a PowerPoint presentation and three workshops. It was topped off by a dance party (music supplied by Power 106).
 
During the PowerPoint presentation, the image of a piece of pottery was projected onto the front wall. In the cracks, a gold lacquer was used to piece together the fragmented pottery.
 
“Kintsukuroi is an old Japanese technique that repairs broken pottery with gold and silver,” explained Shalyn Tharayil, a high-school counselor at Alliance Ouchi-O’Donovan 6-12 Complex, part of a network of free, public charter middle schools and high schools in the Los Angeles area. “A lot of times you’re not broken, you’re just going to be fixed into a better version of yourself.”
 
During a “cross the line” activity, Tharayil read 15 statements as the 35 girls stood in a line. Whenever a statement applied to an individual girl, she was told to take one step forward.
 
“I am a girl,” Tharayil said as her first statement. All the girls stepped forward. 
 
“I am an only child.” Some girls took a step. 
 
“I have felt betrayed by a friend.” Half the girls stepped forward. 
 
“I cried in the last two weeks.” Most girls took a step as they looked around, gauging the other responses.
 
“When Shalyn asked if any of the girls had ever felt unworthy and all of them stepped forward, I was really holding back tears,” Maher said. “Partially because I’ve been there and I can relate to that, but I was also really proud of them for admitting it.”
 
One soft-spoken high-school senior who asked to remain anonymous, the oldest of four siblings, said she plays the matriarch in her family unit. During a social media workshop, she was the only participating student who didn’t have a Facebook account — because of the ruthless cyberbullying by her high-school peers, who taunted her by spreading vicious rumors. 
 
Maher said in today’s world, social media make it particularly hard to be a teen and that she hoped these classes would provide them with the tools to succeed. “You don’t get these lessons in school,” she added.
 
After the nutrition workshop, one high-schooler said she once suffered from anorexia and bulimia and that she had gone on an extreme water diet. Other girls also admitted to extreme dieting tactics.
 
“It was comforting to see other people who experienced the same situation as me,” said the girl, who asked not to give her name.
Participating schools included Alliance Ouchi-O’Donovan 6-12 Complex, Alliance College-Ready Middle Academy 5 and Alliance Susan & Eric Smidt Technology High School. 
 
“I wanted a multicultural, diverse audience,” said Maher. Much like herself, a majority of the girls attending her workshop were first-generation Hispanic Americans. 
 
During the self-compassion workshop, Diaz told a group of students, “You are all strong in here. You know why you’re strong? Because you came here today.”

Jewish humor in ‘Tent: Comedy’


Actor and comedian Jon Lovitz once offered this reason why so many Jews are funny: “To be funny, you have to suffer, suffer, suffer,” he said. “Jews, blacks, we’ve suffered a lot in the past. That makes us funny, I guess.”

Maybe this talent is also a survival mechanism; as Milton Berle famously quipped: “I live to laugh, and I laugh to live.”

The origins of Jewish humor also have become a serious topic of study, in academe and elsewhere.

“I think it mainly has to do with historical conditions around Jewish immigration to the United States, and the ways in which Jews adapted to life in America,” said Tony Michels, a professor of American Jewish history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who teaches classes about Jews in comedy. 

Michels will lead a group of 20 aspiring humorists from around the country chosen to participate in “Tent: Comedy,” Oct. 18-25, at the Silverlake Independent JCC, now in its second year.

“Jews in their 20s want to connect with Jewishness in ways that are a little different from the ways their parents did,” said Josh Lambert, director of the national Tent program and academic director of the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass. “A lot of young Jews care about being Jewish, but haven’t found natural homes in Jewish institutions that are religious or political in focus, or which were built on old models. With “Tent,” we’re creating new kinds of Jewish communities around the issues and cultural areas that are most relevant to this generation.”

Mornings are spent discussing readings by the likes of Groucho Marx, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and Phyllis Diller, as well as watching vintage performances and listening to classic LPs. Participants also read academic papers, such as Sigmund Freud’s “Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious.” In that essay, Freud offers several examples of Jewish jokes, pointing out that jokes made by Jews are usually funnier than those made about them. “Jewish witticisms,” he wrote, “are made exclusively by Jews themselves, whereas Jewish stories of different origin rarely rise above the level of the comical strain or of brutal mockery.”

Guest speakers will also address the group, including Jill Soloway, creator/writer/director of the critically acclaimed new Amazon Prime show “Transparent,” which New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum called, “the most Jewish show I’ve seen on TV.” Soloway also met with the group last year, at which time her feature film “Afternoon Delight” was coming out.

Among last year’s speakers were screenwriter and New Yorker contributor Yoni Brenner, and actress Michaela Watkins, a former Saturday Night Live cast member. This year, Jason and Randy Sklar, hosts of the sports and pop-culture podcast, “Sklarbro Country,” will offer their own lessons on finding success in show business.

The nights include soaking in L.A.’s stand-up scene. Last year, Sarah Silverman entertained the group with a typically risqué set at the Largo, along with “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Jeff Garlin and comedian Tig Notaro.

Among the students this year will be Matthew Epstein, who has been writing comedy since moving to Los Angeles seven years ago to attend college, and has honed his stand-up and sketch comedy chops at Improv Olympics, along with some television writing.

“My characters tend to be Jewish, because I base a lot of what I write on my own life,” Epstein said in an interview. A script he wrote for a show called “Missionaries” helped him break into the comedy scene, and got him an agent. 

“It was a mockumentary about evangelical Christian missionaries in South Central Los Angeles, except the main character was actually a Jewish kid who was going on a mission [in order] to win over his Jewish girlfriend,” Epstein said. “I actually went to Catholic school, so I’m very familiar with Christian theology. I dated a Catholic girl, and I definitely had a hard time being the one Jewish kid,” he said, laughing.

Being able to tell jokes, Epstein said, helped him get through high school and land him a career.

“Comedy has definitely helped me my whole life, by giving me an honest way to relate to people,” he said. “If you can make people laugh, you can get them on your side, and that’s how it’s always been for me.”

Epstein said that because writing can be a solitary process, he finds that networking is one way to create a much-needed support system. The fact that everyone is Jewish in the “Tent” workshop, he said, can add to that bond.

Among last year’s participants was Jessie Kahnweiler, creator of the web series “Dude, Where’s my Chutzpah?” and other comedy shorts that confront taboo subjects, like rape and eating disorders, from a Jewish perspective. One of the classmates she met at the workshop is acting in her current project.

“I’m a film director, so it’s really nice to be in groups of people, because I’m used to being on my own,” Kahnweiler said. “So it was cool. I like that shared learning.”

“Tent participants take away a community,” Lambert said. “They form a group of peers, across the country but connected online, from vastly different backgrounds, but who are all interested in the same questions and are fighting some of the same battles personally and professionally.” 

In addition, Michel said, participants leave with “some knowledge of this history, and they’ll continue to think about it, and hopefully if some of them go into comedy, that Jewishness will, in some way, be a meaningful part of the material.”

To learn more about “Tent: Comedy,” visit tentsite.org.

Jerusalem film program focuses on young, aspiring cineastes


Los Angeles may be the home of filmmaking, but Israel isn’t far behind. In recent years, movies made in Israel have been nominated for Oscars in the foreign-film category, and works coming out of that country are being included in film festivals worldwide. 

This summer, young aspiring filmmakers will be able to travel to Israel for the first-ever Jerusalem Film Workshop, a four-week-long program — July 6-31 — for participants ages 18 through 26. The workshop will include filmmaking master classes; lessons on how to use camera, sound and lighting equipment; and will allow students to direct their own short films as well as tour the country and meet with influential directors and producers. Students will reside in the Hebrew University dorms in Jerusalem and attend classes at the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts. 

“The history, culture and inner conflicts that exist [in Israel] serve as inspiration for storytelling like few other places in the world,” said Gal Greenspan, operations director and creator of the Jerusalem Film Workshop. “There is really no better city and country to learn this craft.”

Greenspan, CEO of GREENproductions in Israel, started the Jerusalem Film Workshop with his colleagues Roi Kurland and Kate Rosenberg. The three of them have brought in some of the country’s top film professionals, including cinematographer Yaron Scharf of the Oscar-nominated movie “Footnote,” to teach the courses. 

Guy Myerson, a screenwriter and instructor with the program, spoke of Israel’s diverse terrain as ideal for shoots: “We have deserts, forests, beaches, urban settings and ancient walkways, all within a couple hours’ drive from each other, and that really doesn’t exist in many places outside of Israel. We’re also a ‘pro-film’ environment, with the government and authorities working to make our city and country attractive to both local and foreign filmmakers.”

The Jerusalem Film Workshop is for beginners and young filmmakers just starting out. The four-week program costs $6,150 ($5,900 if applicants register before March 8) or $4,550 ($4,150 before March 8) for two different two-week courses focusing on documentary and feature films. Twenty to 30 applicants will be selected.

ADL successfully expands Holocaust education workshop


For nearly 30 years, Los Angeles secondary-school educators have attended the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) annual Holocaust Education Workshop as part of their professional development. During the month-long series, L.A.-area teachers learned the history of anti-Semitism, listened to survivors’ firsthand stories and visited local Holocaust institutions, leaving them better equipped to teach the Holocaust to their students.

This year, the ADL has revamped its workshop to appeal to educators pressed for time as well as those who might feel that they might already know enough about the Holocaust. Renamed the Holocaust Education Institute, the workshop’s emphasis this year is on multimedia approaches to teaching the Shoah, increasing the convenience factor by stretching attendance over five months and allowing educators to attend as few or as many sessions as they like.

The overhaul of the program is exciting — and necessary, said Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest regional director.

“There’s a certain point in any innovative program’s life where it’s like the same people who are interested in it have already gone to it one or maybe even two times, and you’re starting to really struggle for membership and attendance,” Susskind said.

“The four-night thing was starting to get hard to sell … [and] if no one is coming, I’d rather change it to get more people in the room,” she said.

Until 2009, the program included four weekly sessions, each lasting about four hours, and attendance for all sessions was mandatory. Last year, the ADL squeezed the four workshops into one week.

Starting this year, the ADL is stretching the program over five months.

Serving as the kickoff event for this year’s program, the ADL will hold a seven-hour seminar, “A Multimedia Framework for Teaching the Holocaust,” on Nov. 4 at USC, followed by four four-hour sessions at various sites.

Co-sponsors for the Holocaust Education Institute include the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education; the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance; the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust; and the Center for Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance.

Experimenting with the content and structure seems to be paying off for the new Holocaust Education Institute. Alison Mayersohn, senior associate director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region, said registration numbers are up. The Nov. 4 session is almost filled — nearly 60 people had signed up as of Oct. 28 — and Mayersohn said the attendance for the following sessions looks to be strong.

Katharine Guerrero, a teacher at Alverno High School in Sierra Madre, an all-girls Catholic college-preparatory school, has participated in several ADL Holocaust education programs for teachers in the past several years, including the organization’s Bearing Witness Institute, an overnight seminar that teaches the Holocaust to parochial schools. Guerrero said she plans to attend the Nov. 4 kickoff event.

“I like hearing this stuff over and over again for some reason,” said Guerrero, who has woven what’s she learned at these workshops into her classes — world religions and U.S history — at Alverno. She said the chair of her school’s theology department recommended that she get involved with the ADL workshops.

“I really took the [workshop] curriculum and I found a way to adapt it across the curriculum with my theology and world history course and my United States history,” she said.

During the Nov. 4 “Multimedia Framework for Teaching the Holocaust” at USC, an ADL staffer will introduce and give a sample lesson from “Echoes and Reflections,” an award-winning multimedia curriculum that features a DVD of survivor video testimony with accompanying maps, photographs and poetry. The curriculum is designed to be used by high-school teachers in various subject areas.

After the “Echoes” lesson, teachers will learn how to use iWitness, a new Web-based application for teachers and their students – developed by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute — that has 1,000 unedited survivor testimonies. Each video on iWitness has been indexed, making navigating the testimonies easier.

Dan Leshem, associate director for academic outreach and research at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, also will lecture on “Holocaust Denial, Multimedia and the Internet.” 

The four remaining sessions — offered from Nov. 17 to March 15, each beginning at 4:15 p.m. — closely resemble what the ADL has offered in previous years. These workshops are: “The History of the Holocaust,” during which attendees will tour the Museum of Tolerance and examine artifacts, including a four-page 1919 letter by Adolf Hitler that documents his anti-Semitic views; “The History of Anti-Semitism,” featuring a discussion on Catholic-Jewish relations; “Teaching the Holocaust Through Art,” highlighted by a tour of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, where teachers will view a picture diary of the Theresienstadt concentration camp; and “Making the Connection From Past to Present,” which will include discussions on genocides in Rwanda and Darfur.

This is also the first year that teachers can attend as many, or as few, workshops as they like. However, LAUSD educators and librarians must attend the four sessions after Nov. 4 in order to qualify for one unit of Article Six multicultural credit. A book review, a lesson plan and an overall reflection on the course are also required for the credit.

The kickoff session at USC is $20 per person, which includes meals, materials and parking. Individual sessions after Nov. 4 are $15 each, or $50 to attend all four.

For more information about the Holocaust Education Institute, visit this story at adl.org/lah olocaustinstitute.

Class Notes


Deep Thoughts for Teens
Teens searching for meaning and direction — and what teen isn’t? — can find some Jewish guidance at Nativ-Jewish Teen Seminars, a new nondenominational weekend workshop program affiliated with the West Valley’s JCC at Milken with the goal of helping teens navigate big decisions and difficult issues in a Jewish context.

The two-and-half-day or four-day seminars are facilitated by Jackie Redner, rabbi of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services and former campus rabbi at Kadima Hebrew Academy, and by Beth Freishtat, who developed the program and who has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and adolescent and family therapy.

Through discussions and activities, the groups will explore themes such as peer relationships, family conflict, spirituality, self-image, sex, love, individuality and belonging, anger, discrimination, drugs and alcohol, and hopes and dreams. The semiars take place at the Westside JCC and at the JCC at Milken. Upcoming Nativ dates are April 13-15, May 18-20, June 22-24 and July 6-8.

For more information, visit www.nativseminars.com.

Preschool Teachers Get Basic Training
Close to 1,000 preschool directors and teachers attended a day of Judaic, pedagogic, and child development workshops at the Bureau of Jewish Education’s annual Bebe Feuerstein Simon Early Childhood Spring Institute last month.

Nationally renowned early Jewish educator and author Bev Bos led sessions in her field of expertise — “Memories and Traditions,” “How Children Grow” and “Creative Art, Music and Language.” Forty other presenters led sessions on a range of topics.

The day also featured awards presentations. The Lainer Distinguished Educator Awards for Early Childhood Educators, which include a cash gift of $2,500, were presented to Jeri Dubin, a preschool teacher at the Adat Ari El Rose Engel Early Childhood Center; Miri Hever, a Gesher teacher at University Synagogue; and Hilary Steinberg, a 20-year veteran educator at Valley Beth Shalom Nursery School. Some 15 teachers also received The Smotrich Family Educator Awards, which recognize innovative Judaica curriculum projects.

For more information, visit www.bjela.org.

YULA Scores Diplomatic Coup
For the sixth time in the last eight years, Los Angeles’ YULA yeshiva high school was named best delegation at the Yeshiva University National Model United Nations. Students from more than 40 Jewish day schools from across the United States and Canada participated in the conference, representing 46 countries and international agencies. They spent three days analyzing and developing solutions to such problems as global warming, the distribution of power within the United Nations, gender discrimination in the world community, and the international response to natural disasters.

YULA’s 18-member delegation, led by senior co-captains Ari Platt and Adina Wolkenfeld, represented India, Belarus and Uruguay. The team brought home four best delegate and six honorable mention awards.

For information visit www.yula.org or www.yulagirls.org.

New Educational Leadership at HUC-JIR
Michael Zeldin, professor of Jewish Education a the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles, will succeed professor Sara S. Lee, who will retire after 27 years as director of HUC-JIR’s Rhea Hirsch School of Education (RHSOE) on June 30. Lee and Zeldin have worked together as colleagues for the past 25 years.

“The appointment of Dr. Zeldin signals that the distinguished legacy of professor Lee will be carried forward,” HUC-JIR President David Ellenson said. “As a renowned scholar, gifted teacher, and passionate advocate for Jewish education, Dr. Zeldin will sustain the RHSOE as a model of integrated learning and excellence that has inspired others in the field of Jewish education.”

Lee will continue to teach and guide special projects part-time as a professor emeritus. More than 275 graduates of the RHSOE lead Jewish educational programs in Reform congregations and day schools throughout North America.

For more information, visit www.huc.edu.

Hi-Tech Jetsetters
Two students and a professor from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology visited the Western states last month as guests of the American Technion Society.

Anat-Anna Gileles a third-year student, who studies molecular biochemistry, and Reuven Nir, who is pursuing a doctorate in medicine and conducting research on the neurological mechanism underlying pain and the processing of pain itself, toured with professor Shimon Haber, the Technion dean of students, and a member of the faculty of mechanical engineering. The students met with supporters not only to share their research, but to add a personal element to the connection between Technion and the United States.

For more information, call (323) 857-5575 or visit www.ats.org.

Free Holocaust Workshop for Teachers
Educators are invited to a free workshop that will present “Echoes and Reflections: A Multimedia Curriculum on the Holocaust,” developed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Yad Vashem and USC Shoah Visual History Foundation.

The workshop, sponsored by the ADL in partnership with the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, will take place at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 6435 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 303, May 6, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. R.S.V.P. required by April 20, at (310) 446-8000 ext. 241 or vmorishige@adl.org.

Holocaust Workshop
Last month, 30 educators from across Los Angeles participated in a five-week workshop, “The Relevance of Teaching the Holocaust in the 21st Century,” co-sponsored by the ADL, the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance and the Center for Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance. Teachers from public, private and religious schools learned the historical background of the Holocaust, as well as practical ways to introduce their students to this material.

For further information visit www.adl.org or www.echoesandreflections.org.

College Shabbaton
EdJewCate, a new organization bringing Torah-observant teachers, information and programming to college students and young adults, is holding its kickoff Shabbaton weekend retreat in Los Angeles April 20-22 at the Westin LAX Hotel. Featured speakers include rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, author of “The Committed Life” and “Life is a Test”; Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Wenglin, author and presenter of “Full Contact Judaism” and Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld, author of “The Art of Amazement.”

For more information visit www.edjewcate.com.

Preteens Get a Taste of the Future
Middle schoolers at Pressman Academy took part in the daylong Total Teen Expo last month. Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer was the keynote speaker, and she used a personal story, a Chasidic tale and popular music to help students understand their power to improve the world. The day’s sessions included a police detective, author Dana Reinhardt, screenwriter Ed Solomon and L.A. City Council Chief of Staff David Gershwin, leading sessions on Internet safety, fitness, etiquette, nutrition and budgeting. The day ended with a poetry slam led by Eitan Kadosh and a drumming circle.

Israeli entry ‘Mud’ wins at Sundance


‘Mud’ Wins at Sundance

Two Israeli films taking critical looks at the Jewish state’s society and institutions have won major prizes at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival at Park City, Utah.

“Sweet Mud,” or “Adama Meshugaat” in Hebrew, a top-grossing film in Israel, follows a 13-year-old boy coming of age in a 1970s kibbutz while coping with a mentally unstable mother. Director Dror Shaul was honored with the World Cinema Jury Prize for best drama film. It had been Israel’s entry for Oscar honors in the foreign-language film category but was not named among the five finalists.

“Hot House,” directed by Shimon Dotan, received a special jury prize in World Cinema Documentary competition at Sundance. The film depicts Israeli prisons as a breeding ground for future Palestinian leaders, as well as terrorists.

The Sundance awards illustrate both the festival’s growing role as a showcase for independent foreign films and Israel’s rising prestige in the world of cinema.

Last summer’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival, for instance, featured an Israel Day for the first time, with the screening of an unprecedented 15 Israeli films.Sundance gave one of its highest honors, the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary, to Jason Kohn, a young New York expatriate. In “Manda Bala” (“Send a Bullet”), his first feature-length work, Kohn explores the violence and corruption of Brazilian society.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Reich’s Pearls of Music

Disney Hall was packed for the West Coast premiere of “Daniel Variations” by composer Steven Reich.

As Reich, one of America’s greatest composers, watched from his perch in the control room, conductor Grant Gershon led the L.A. Master Chorale through the haunting, evocative work Reich wrote in honor of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Afterward, VIPs gathered in the Founders Room to honor Reich, who turned 70 this year. The composer, clad in black and wearing a signature baseball cap, spoke of the emotional pull the story of Daniel Pearl had for him.”I’m also a father,” he said.

Judea Pearl, speaking on behalf of his wife, Ruth, and daughter, Tamara, who were also in attendance, praised Reich’s “dark and exuberant” work, which was commissioned in part by the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

“I was totally impressed by how you expressed the darkness turning into hope,” he said.

Pearl, himself a musician, said he realized how Reich did this, by using violins to weave light, upbeat notes through the 20-minute work.

“I kept saying, ‘Danny, this is your humor,'” Pearl said.

— Staff Report

Pepperdine Connects Genocide and Religion

On July 6, 1941, Simon Wiesenthal was arrested with other Jews in the Ukraine and ordered to line up in rows to be shot by Nazi forces. The shooting lasted through the afternoon — but suddenly stopped when a church bell rang and the soldiers had to stop for prayers.

Wiesenthal’s life work as a Nazi hunter embodies issues such as these, at the crossroads between genocide and religion: justice, vengeance and forgiveness, justification and responsibility.

Now, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Pepperdine University School of Law will explore many of these issues in an upcoming conference, “Genocide and Religion: Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders and Resisters,” on Feb. 11-13 at both the Wiesenthal Center and the Pepperdine campus in Malibu. The conference will explore all the components of genocides in the 20th and 21st centuries, beginning with Armenia and continuing today in Sudan. The conference will examine what role law should play in mediating this intersection between religion and genocide.

Speakers include Hebrew University professor Israel Charny, president of the International Association of Israel Scholars; Bruce Einhorn, U.S. immigration law judge, and Michael Bayzler, a Pepperdine Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law who was a fellow at Yad Vashem.

For more information, call (310) 506-7635.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Teen Readers and Writers Talk Shop

Teens and young adults, and authors who aspire to write for them, are invited to attend Sinai Temple’s “Focus on Young Adult/Teen Literature” conference, Sunday, Feb. 4, 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m., at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd. The panel of young adult authors will include Sarah Littman, Debra Garfinkle, Dana Reinhardt and Simone Elkeles, and will be moderated by Linda Silver, editor of New Jewish Valuesfinder. An afternoon program will feature an interactive historical survey of Jewish literature for children. Participants can shop at a children’s book sale and marketplace, or they can try to improve their own marketing by meeting with an editor available for manuscript consultations ($40 fee).

For reservations and information, call (313) 474-1518 or e-mail lsilverman@sinaitemple.org.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

So many authors, so little time


Chick lit, pulp comics, historical fiction, gumshoe action and a dash of Los Angeles noir.
 
Add celebrities such as Jackie Collins and Tommy Chong and you begin — just barely — to get a taste of the eclectic stew that will be the fifth annual West Hollwood Book Fair, Sept. 17, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in West Hollywood Park. Up to 20,000 participants are expected to check out what’s become perhaps the second largest local event of its kind, after the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books: more than 200 authors in dozens of workshops, performances and panel discussions on subjects ranging from architecture, first novels, poetry, true crime and the vampire tome.
 
Plenty of Jewish authors will be in the mix, including former New Yorker Jerusalem correspondent Amy Wilentz, as well as Bernard Cooper (see story on Page 40), who’ll talk about memoir writing at an event moderated by Jewish Journal religion editor Amy Klein.
 
Fair organizers even moved the event up from its usual October date in deference to the High Holidays.
 
Here’s a sampling of other Jewish authors who may be of interest to Journal readers:
 
Author: Tod Goldberg
Panel: “The Short and Short of It: Writing the Short Story”
Time: 11-noon
Buzz: Goldman’s quirky short story collection, “Simplify,” with tales almost all told from the first person, spotlights young men who experience odd (and univited) apparitions — from the Loch Ness Monster to Jesus to a bleeding picture of Elvis, according to the Los Angeles Times. Goldberg will show a more familial side of himself on the panel “Sibling Writerly” (1-1:45 p.m.), with his sisters, the nonfiction authors Karen Dinino and Linda Woods and his brother, Lee Goldberg, who’s written novels based on his own TV shows, such as “Monk” and “Diagnosis Murder.”
 
Author: Rosa Lowinger
Panel: “Cuba: Fact or Fiction?”
Time: 12:15-1 p.m.
Buzz: Lowinger’s “Tropicana Nights,” co-written with Ofelia Fox, describes a chic pre-Castro cabaret from the point of view of the owner’s wife (Fox), who recounts its glory days as a hangout for socialites, gangsters, artists, models and celebrities such as Hollywood bombshell Carmen Miranda.
 
Author: Peggy Lipton
Panel: “Shining the Spotlight: Life Stories by and About Great Actors”
Time: 1:30-2:30 p.m.
Buzz: Lipton (yes, she’s Jewish!) may have become the ultimate 1970s It Girl and fashion icon for her role as Julie on the hit series, “The Mod Squad”; but while her memoir, “Breathing Out,” dishes about the expected experiences of psychedelia and sex (with Elvis, among others), it also describes her battles with depression and memories of child abuse in a striking yet volatile era.
 
Author: Allan Heinberg
Panel: “Pulp, Grind, Manifesto: Writing the Monthly Comics”
Time: 1:30-2:30 p.m.
Buzz: Heinberg wrote and co-created “Young Avengers” for Marvel Comics and “Wonder Woman” for DC comics and — in a decidedly noncomic endeavor — now writes and produces for the hit ABC medical drama, “Grey’s Anatomy.”
 
Author: Bettina Aptheker
Panel: “Left Is Right: Progressive Voices on the State of our State”
Time: 3-4 p.m.
Moderator: Erin Aubry Kaplan, Los Angeles Times columnist (and occasional Jewish Journal contributor)
Buzz: Aptheker’s autobiography, “Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech, and Became a Feminist Rebel,” will be out next year.
 
Author: Aimee Bender
Panel: “Faces and Places: Breathing Life into Characters and their Stories”
Time: 3:30- 4:30 p.m.
Buzz: Bender’s “Willful Creatures,” just out in paperback, is another surreal and transcendent short story collection. Sample: A jilted bride drives through the desert, the road spreading before her “like a long, dry, tongue” until she suddenly — and excruciatingly — craves a mango.

 
Jewish Journal September 15, 2006 43

We Were Slaves in Westwood


 

Southern Californians can travel from Pharaoh’s palace to Midwestern wheat fields to a rain forest — all without leaving Westwood. The journey is furnished courtesy of West Coast Chabad Headquarters, which annually creates its Model Matzah Bakery for two weeks prior to Passover.

After witnessing several of the 10 plagues and gaining their release from Pharoah, participants proceed through each of the steps required to make matzah: They separate wheat kernels from stalks of wheat; see the wheat ground into flour; travel to an ersatz rain forest for water; watch as the water and flour are mixed to create dough; and roll their dough into matzahs which are placed in an oven to bake.

Program coordinator Yossi Burston notes that Chabad has created similar programs worldwide.

“We want to provide the holiday experience in an educational, fun and interactive way,” he said. “This program brings everyone together — Reform, Conservative and Orthodox; young and old; special-needs children and many others.”

Public and day school students are among the more than 4,000 people who will experience the Los Angeles program during its two week run. Over the course of its 20-year tenure, the Model Matzah Bakery has drawn participants from as far as Palm Springs and Tijuana. Similar programs are also offered at Rosh Hashanah (a shofar-making workshop) and Chanukah (an olive oil workshop).

While it might not have been produced by Cecil B. DeMille, Chabad’s presentation nevertheless exhibited its own special brand of production value, from the professionally produced back drops of pyramids to the “special effect” of turning the water blood red. And it was “leavened” with plenty of humor for children and adults alike. Burston insists it’s a collaborative effort: “We didn’t write the script. It comes from the Bible.”

The Model Matzah Bakery is open to groups Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and to the public on Fridays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m, and Sundays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., through April 17. To make a reservations (required) call, (310) 208-7511, ext. 270.

 

Ex-Communist ‘Burb Makes Menorahs


 

The model suburb of Nowa Huta was built here under a Communist philosophy of atheism.

Now it houses a workshop that manufactures menorahs — popular with both Poles and tourists.

Metalodlew, a private company that was started 10 years ago, rents space from the Nowa Huta steelworks, a factory that is part of a complex established in the 1950s on the outskirts of Krakow.

In the workshop, menorahs are produced alongside plaques for Catholic cemetery plots and life-size bronze figures of Pope John Paul II.

The menorahs were originally designed by an artist; now they’re cast into a mold.

Menorahs are made and sold year round, alongside Metalodlew’s larger business of ship parts, plaques and smaller artistic pieces.

Other Judaica items can be custom-made but requests are rare, according to Pawel Bieniek, export sales manager for Metalodlew.

Waldemar Pietras, who runs the workshop, said all kinds of people buy the menorahs, which are sold in the gift shop located at the factory site.

“They know what they’re buying,” Bieniek said. “People like to have these things. They know about Jewish history.”

All the menorahs made at the factory have seven branches, a departure from the nine-armed versions most American Jews light to celebrate Chanukah.

Karolina Komarowska, a master’s student in Jewish studies at the Jagiellonian University here in Krakow, says most American Jews are largely unfamiliar with their design.

Komarowska, who also works at the Galicia Jewish Museum, says many Eastern European Jews traditionally used the seven-branched menorah.

“When Poles think about symbols of Judaism, they think Magen David and seven-armed menorah,” she said.

The custom is ancient: The Temple contained a seven-branched menorah, although the nine-branched version — for the eight days of Chanukah, plus the shamash, or lighting candle — is now more popular worldwide.

That the workshop is in Nowa Huta is something of an irony.

Nowa Huta was designed in the 1950 as a garden city, with housing blocs and greenery sharing space in a series of neighborhoods that spun out from a central plaza.

The centerpiece of Nowa Huta was the steelworks, which is located far from any mines or ores but which sought to offset the intellectual atmosphere that pervaded Krakow.

Workers were given jobs in various parts of the steelworks, and were assigned apartments nearby for convenient access to the factory.

Today, the factory languishes, buildings stand empty and many of the former workers and their families are unemployed, Bieniek said.

While communism has fallen, Poland has become infatuated with its Jewish past — Poland, currently home to fewer than 5,000 Jews, had 3.5 million Jews before World War II.

In Krakow, one can find many examples of Judaica sold on Krakow’s main market square and in museums and specialty shops throughout the city, including Jewish stars, Torah-reading pointers, carved wooden figurines of old-fashioned Jews as well as menorahs.

Komorowska says the menorahs manufactured in Nowa Huta are often bought by Polish merchants who sell souvenirs to tourists and interested Poles.

“When people come to Krakow, [Kazimierz, the city’s historic Jewish district] is something they all see along with the city center and Wawel Castle,” Komarowska said. “Tourists buy these things because they like Jewish people.”

 

Catholic Teachers Learn Shoah Lesson


Early in her teaching career, Marilyn Lubarsky introduced her ninth-grade history students to the Holocaust by showing “Nuit et Brouillard” (“Night and Fog”), a 1955 film containing vivid images of the horrors endured by Jews in concentration camps.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to make my students feel my pain,'” Lubarsky, an Upland High School social studies teacher and Mandel Fellowship graduate of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C., told a classroom of Catholic educators at Mount St. Mary’s College Chalon Campus in July. “But I’ll never forget when my most gifted student put her head down on her desk [during the movie].”

Lubarsky’s anecdote about a misguided attempt to teach students about the Shoah was met with sympathetic nods and collective sighs from the Southern California-based participants in the Anti-Defamation League’s Bearing Witness Institute, held July 26-30. The four-day workshop focused on the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and addressed the issues of diversity, prejudice and bigotry and how to teach these topics in a Catholic school setting.

As global anti-Semitism continues to rise and the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States remains constant, Holocaust education for non-Jews is more crucial than ever.

“In some ways, it’s more important for non-Jews than Jews to study the Holocaust, just like the issue of racism,” said Deborah Lipstadt, the director of the Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University and a council member of the USHMM. “It’s more important for the perpetrators to study it than for the victims to study it.”

With Pope John XXIII’s admittance of the church’s anti-Semitism and failing to help the Jews during the Holocaust, as well as Pope John Paul II’s recognition of the State of Israel, the Vatican has legitimized Catholics’ responsibility to learn about the Shoah and the religious group’s moral failure during that time period.

Lipstadt feels that when Catholics study the Shoah, it is not necessarily a lesson in Jewish history for them.

“Catholics learning about the Holocaust are learning about what Christian Europe allowed to happen in that period. They’re not learning about Jews,” said the historian. “It’s important to Catholics and Christians as Catholics and Christians.”

Many of the teachers at the Bearing Witness Institute felt that this newfound knowledge made them accountable.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure our students are aware of the past and make sure the future isn’t repeated in this manner,” said Bryant Jozef Begany, a religion teacher at St. Pius X School in Santa Fe Springs.

“Teaching [Catholics students] about the Holocaust is important because they must understand our common heritage with the Jews,” said Marisa Meyka, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at St. Mary of the Assumption in Whittier. “Finally we have this opportunity to undo the mistakes from our past.”

While finding a connection to the Shoah is clearly a crucial component within Jewish identity, is there such a thing as “too much” when it comes to Holocaust education?

“No,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “In Judaism the view is that every life is precious.”

Rather than worrying about an over-abundance of information on the Holocaust, Cooper is more concerned about the victims’ memories being manipulated to decouple the continuity of Jewish history.

“There are universal lessons to be learned by the Shoah, but we have to be on our guard to be sure the non-Jewish world does not see a connection with [the idea that] we don’t need a Jewish homeland,” Cooper said. “For someone to say they relate to the victims of the Shoah, but they’re not sure that Israel has a moral right to exist, that person hasn’t really learned a thing.”

The existence of Israel was not a key topic during Bearing Witness, but the connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment came up during some of the discussions. While the workshop focus was Holocaust education, the idea of eliminating prejudice and bigotry serve as a backdrop for the experience.

Back in the classroom, Lubarsky discussed the idea of translating statistics into people, avoiding the comparison of pain endured during the Shoah versus other suffering in history and other sensitive and thorough methods of relaying the information.

“I don’t give a test on [the Holocaust] unit and I urge you not to,” Lubarsky said. “I don’t want a child who has decided to eliminate a particular vulgar word from his vocabulary to then get a C on a Holocaust test.”

For more information on the program, visit www.adl.org/bearing_witness .

Students Spread Light in Ukraine


Osik Akselrud got a little help from his friends in staging a recent workshop designed to teach students to teach others about the history and traditions of Chanukah.

That’s because the head of the Hillel office responsible for Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova was able to use, as instructors and assistants, students who’d already completed the first two installments of the program.

"We had two instructors from Hillel in Israel, as well as the Hillel students who’d gone through the first and second generations of seminars — and they know everything," he said. "I say, ‘Hey, you guys have become professional Jews.’"

About 140 students took part in the weeklong workshop that wrapped up Nov. 10.

They came by train to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev from cities across the country — Lvov, Odessa, Kharkov, Simferopol and Sevastopol — as well as from Minsk, Belarus, and Kishinev, Moldova. And it’s to those regional Hillel centers they’ll return to pass along what they’ve learned to their fellow Hillel members and then out to Jews in communities across the three countries.

Speaking at Kiev’s Sunflower Community Center after the seminar, Akselrud said such education is sorely needed. He said that despite the efforts of the past decade, following the break up of the Soviet Union, more time is required to make up for the 70 years of suppression that succeeded in alienating most Jews from their culture and religion.

"Only about 15 percent of Jews are involved in Jewish community programs," he said. "Sunflower has about 400 or 500 regular visitors, but there are between 80,000 and 100,000 Jews living in Kiev."

Hillel is banking on a combination of education and outreach to increase those numbers. It is using a hands-on approach to education to get the message across.

The Chanukah seminar opened in a traditional way, with a song performed by instructors from each regional Hillel office. That was followed by presentations by the regional groups — through songs, dances or performances.

First-time participants were taught the Chanukah and Israeli songs that would be sung together throughout the week. The following days followed a similar pattern — a combination of learning and fun.

"Our seminars are not only religious but also holiday-oriented for people who’ve lost their traditions," said Yulia Belilovska, the seminar’s coordinator. "The idea is to provide the education and, after that, if some want to go to synagogue, they can."

In a novel approach to learning about Chanukah, Hillel also arranged public relations and advertising training for the students. Belilovska explained that the idea was to get the students thinking about imaginative ways to present the meaning and traditions of Chanukah and how to attract community members to attend workshops on the topic. Half the group focused on video presentations, and the other half on dramatic presentations.

"One group presented a commercial containing ‘positive and negative PR,’" Belilovska said. "One girl explained that candles should be lit during Chanukah because they’re beautiful, amazing, a miracle and a good tradition, while one boy countered by saying, ‘Yes, but on Chanukah there are a lot of house fires.’" The positive argument won the day.

Dennis Bainkovsky said he felt like a winner, too. The 21-year-old economics student at the International Solomon University in Kiev was attending his third Chanukah seminar but serving as an instructor for the first time. He said he enjoyed the opportunity to teach others who’d taught him previously.

"The most important part of the seminar for me was acting as a madrich. I felt like a leader," he said, using the Hebrew word for guide or counselor. "I was helping teach some students who’d taught me at other seminars in the past — and while that was difficult, I was ready, and it worked out well."

His schoolmate at Solomon University, 19-year-old Yevgenia Soloviyova, was also attending her third Chanukah seminar. But her experience of Chanukah goes well beyond that, since she also grew up as an active Jew in her native city of Khmelnitski.

She said she enjoyed the opportunity to share her knowledge with the approximately 70 percent of the seminar participants who were learning the details of Chanukah for the first time. She said it was interesting to compare and contrast the styles and attitudes of various Hillel members.

"The Hillel organizations are a little different and have different feelings of spirit," she said. "For example, the group from Kishinev seemed to be a little more religious," while in "Kiev, we have our own place and maybe consider ourselves to be a little more independent."

But with completion of the seminar, it will be up to the participants to pass on what they’ve learned. That is done with workshops within their regional Hillel organizations. Then with the start of Chanukah, they fan out to communities in their regions and beyond.

Members of the Kiev Hillel, for instance, will travel to Hesed community centers around the region, including the city of Zhitomir, before heading farther west to major centers like Ivano-Frankivsk.

"It can be challenging when you’ve got a mixed group of older people and children and have to find a way to keep them all interested and entertained," Soloviyova said. "But sometimes, it’s great where there are older people who remember what Chanukah was like during their childhood and want to tell you about it."

Soloviyova said enlightenment can also work both ways — as was the case when Kiev Hillel traveled to the western border city of Uzhgorod last year.

"We met a group of younger people who were telling us that life wasn’t very interesting for them, because they didn’t know what kinds of things they could do together in their community," she said. "So, of course, we told them all about what we do in Hillel and the programs we’re involved in."

It is just such interaction, education and growth that Akselrud said the Chanukah seminar was designed to encourage. He said that makes the efforts and the $20,000 cost of the initiative — funded in part by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee — worth it.

"For me, the most important part of the seminar was that I saw many, many new faces," he said. "And that means more students involved in Jewish life — and more potential."

Women Unite for Israel


Yehudit Eichenblatt wanted to do her part for Israel, but she just wasn’t sure exactly what that should be. She had been to protests outside of the Federal Building; written letters to President Bush, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and attended every Israel solidarity rally held in Los Angeles, but nothing, it seemed, was helping.

"People were still dying every day," said the 36-year-old mother of six from Hancock Park.

So Eichenblatt decided that a different tack was needed. Together with her colleagues from her Yeshiva organization, Bais Chana of California, Eichenblatt has organized a Day of Unity — a spiritual gathering for Jewish women from all religious affiliations, political spectrums and levels of observance in Los Angeles, to come together in support of Israel.

"Ever since I started working with women, I always wanted to do something that would unite Jewish women, and I realized that Israel is the cause that would make people come together," Eichenblatt said. "I think that spiritually we can be doing much more, and affecting the situation more than we are politically, and coming together in unity has a very strong spiritual impact, and more good will come out in the future with women doing good deeds."

Eichenblatt and her team of volunteers sent out invitations to all 700 Jewish organizations, synagogues and schools that are listed on The Jewish Federation’s Web site, and then followed up with phone calls.

"So far, the response has been great," Eichenblatt said. "The Hadassah women in Huntington Beach called and said they were coming. People from Sinai Temple are coming. Mordecai Finley from Ohr Hatorah is promoting it for us. Temple Emmanuel, Aish HaTorah, Anshei Emes, Torah Ohr, Bais Yehudah, Chabad houses from all over Los Angeles — they all say that they love the idea and are going to come."

The event, which will be held on Aug. 18 at the Women’s Club in Hollywood, is purposely not being held in a synagogue. "I did not want to alienate people, and that is why I am doing it in a ‘pareve’ place that is not affiliated with anything," Eichenblatt said.

While there are no speakers planned for the event — again, because Eichenblatt did not want to turn it into a political rally — there are workshops scheduled, with topics such as "Whose Land Is It? A Historical, Biblical and Practical Perspective of Jewish Rights" and "Finding God During a Terrorist Attack." There will also be an opportunity to write Rosh Hashana cards to Israel Defense Forces soldiers and terror victims, and a video presentation prepared by Mimi Baron Jankowitz on her visits with the families of terror victims.

"We are also going to be led in song, we are going to say psalms, we are going to dance and we are preparing a lot of food." Eichenblatt said.

The goal of the event is to form committees of women who will want to continue doing things for terror victims throughout the year, such as sending Purim baskets, Chanukah gelt and, if possible, mezuzot and tefilin. "Mezuzot and tefilin are two things that bring spiritual protection," Eichenblatt said.

She estimates that the event is costing somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000, and so far it has all been funded by credit cards.

"I applied to the Community Foundation for a grant, but they rejected it," she said. "So we are trying to get restaurants to donate food, and all the women are working to get as much support as possible. We are doing this on a limb, but we are putting our energies into making the programs great and getting the people to come, rather than doing a lot of fundraising.

"This year in the Jewish calendar is known as a year of Hakhel — a year of uniting," she said. "I think that we have a lot of strength when we come together, and I hope that by doing so, we will be able to give hope, healing and courage to those in need."

Festival Explores Identity


Actor-writer Doug Kaback never belonged to a synagogue while growing up in a non-Jewish area of Palos Verdes. He didn’t receive any religious education or become a bar mitzvah.

The void set him "on a course of wandering," says Kaback, 39, who dabbled in Eastern religions, married a Catholic Honduran and created theater with Koreans, Native Americans and other groups. "But recently, my children have been approaching religious school age and I’ve become increasingly aware that my identity remains unfocused, unknown."

The result is his playlet, "Who is a Jew?" to be performed at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, one of 21 productions in the Cornerstone Theater’s Festival of Faith running Oct. 18-Nov. 18. The piece revisits the turbulent year that Kaback courted his wife-to-be and agonized over whether or not he should wed a non-Jew.

Kaback will also teach a festival writing workshop, open to the public that will focus on Jewish diversity and culminate in a staged reading on Oct. 18. "The idea — which is behind the entire festival — is to explore how religion unites and divides us," he told The Journal.

It’s a natural preoccupation for the Cornerstone, which began when 11 Harvard graduates — including "Judging Amy" star Amy Brenneman — piled into a big old blue van to create theater with diverse American communities in 1986.

The Festival of Faith will be housed in five L.A. venues, including a Buddhist temple, a Muslim school and at Temple Emanuel, where others shows include "The Holographic Universe or A Day in the Life of Heeb and Sahib" and "The Shabbos Kept Them" a story about women and Shabbat. Laypeople will help create the shows and perform alongside the professional actors. "We’ll explore what it means to believe in one’s faith and also to make room for people who believe differently," says Cornerstone co-founder Bill Rauch. "After the Sept. 11 tragedy, that’s a crucial endeavor."

For information and to sign up for Kaback’s workshop, call (213) 613-1740.

Toppling the Chanukah Bush


Rabbi Eli Herscher is leading a discussion about the December holidays with about two dozen participants of Stephen S. Wise Temple’s Holiday Workshop Series. The class attracts a good number of intermarried couples and those considering conversion, but they are not the only ones who squirm over the topic.

The rabbi begins this session by asking participants whether they have any concerns about the upcoming holidays. It is a young couple’s turn to respond. Both are Jewish. The wife speaks first. “I don’t have any concerns,” she says.

Then her husband speaks. “I’m concerned that Christmas is my favorite day of the year.”

“OK, I do have concerns,” corrects the wife.

So begins another exchange for Herscher, who has led this session of the Holiday Workshop Series for the past 24 years.

After listening to the class members voice concerns ranging from how — and whether — to celebrate Christmas with non-Jewish relatives, to how to combat the materialistic spin of the holiday, Herscher goes straight for the jugular. He begins with the Christmas tree.

First he explains that the tree represents the wood of the cross. And while some Jews may feel that the tree no longer carries any religious symbolism and is merely a beautiful, fragrant decoration, Herscher poses this question to test such a conviction: if you saw a tree on the bimah of a synagogue, would you think it was out of place? If it doesn’t belong in a synagogue, it doesn’t belong in a Jewish home, he argues.

Herscher suggests that more often than not, parents’ insistence that their children will feel left out if they can’t celebrate Christmas is actually “an adult issue.”

“I can love the tree and the decorations; but they’re not mine,” he says. Herscher goes on to tell that he would explain Christmas to a child by comparing it to a friend’s birthday.

“You may look at your friend opening presents and you may feel a little jealous… but you know it’s not your birthday. And you know there’s going to be another day when it is your birthday… It’s kind of like that with Christmas. It doesn’t belong to us,” he says. If the child still objects, says Herscher, then it’s time for the parents to just say “no.”

A class member remains unconvinced. She explains that her husband is not Jewish, although they have agreed to raise their children as Jews. “It’s my husband’s tradition,” she says, asking whether it’s fair to deprive children of their father’s customs. Herscher responds by saying that celebrating both holidays is often confusing to children. As evidence, he holds up three Rosh Hashanah cards produced by children in the temple’s religious school. They say “Happy New Year,” but all three are illustrated with Christmas trees.

While Herscher draws the line at celebrating Christmas within a Jewish home, he sees no problem with sharing the holiday with non-Jewish relatives or friends. In many intermarried families, for example, one set of grandparents will celebrate Christmas. “The grandparents should be celebrating it,” he says. Herscher says parents need to be clear in explaining that while their family does not celebrate Christmas, the grandparents do, and they get pleasure by sharing the celebration with their grandchildren.

Nor is it a crime to enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas, says Herscher, who admits that he likes most Christmas carols and takes his kids for drives to admire Christmas lights. As a child, he even helped decorate a friend’s tree.

But no Christmas trappings “cross the threshold” of his home, Herscher says. “[American] culture has a lot we can enjoy without it being mine.”

For this reason, Herscher suggests declining invitations to celebrate Christmas with other Jews, unless it is necessary to preserve family relationships.

As for the commercialism of Chanukah, Herscher feels that gift giving is not necessarily bad if it is done in a context where it does not overshadow the message of the holiday. He recommends that presents not be opened until after the candles burn down, and that the time in between be used for singing, playing Chanukah games or telling the Chanukah story. Gifts need not be lavish, and one night the gift should be a gift to charity, suggests Herscher.

The rabbi readily admits that, taken on its own, Chanukah cannot compete with Christmas. But he stresses that when a family celebrates the Jewish holidays throughout the year “as they’re meant to be,” then Chanukah won’t need to compete. Herscher contends that regularly making Shabbat and celebrating the other Jewish holidays will provide children with moments of celebration, family closeness and memories that are much richer than anything a Jew can get from celebrating Christmas. “And,” he boasts, “I’d hold a sukkah up to a Christmas tree any day.”


Mideast An Understanding Teacher


Jewish and Arab youth visit Yad Vashem as part of a course onthe Holocaust run by the Ghetto Fighter’s Museum at Kibbutz LahameiHageta’ot. Photo by Isaac Harari

 

It’s a hot summer day and 16 teen-agers are walking through YadVashem in Jerusalem with a handful of adults. The scene is acommonplace one until you look a little closer and listen morecarefully. Half of the group is speaking softly in Arabic amongthemselves and they come from villages with names like Julis and KfarYassif. The Arab and Druze teens in the group, as well as the Jewishones, are wearing long white T-shirts displaying the name of theGhetto Fighters’ House and the word “guide” printed in large blockletters across the back.

The group’s tour is the culmination of a year-long after-schoolprogram that teaches Arab, Druze and Jewish high school studentsabout the Holocaust. All 113 participants volunteered for theprogram.

“What happened to the Jews — this painful thing —made me feel I had to know more,” said Rania Sakas, 17, from KfarYassif. “I knew the Holocaust happened, but I didn’t understand itsenormity. I didn’t realize how many innocent people died and how hardit was for the Jews.

“Before this workshop, I identified with the Jews, but now Iunderstand more about their pain,” she said.

Rania, along with 19 other students from Kfar Yassif, 24 from theDruze village of Julis, 39 from Akko and 30 from kibbutzim in thenorth, spent one afternoon a week from October to March studyingabout the Holocaust at the Ghetto Fighters’ House in Kibbutz LohameiHageta’ot. At the end of the program, those who wished continued onfor four day-long sessions during the summer in which Druze, Arab andJewish students learned together about subjects not heretoforecovered, such as Holocaust denial and the Armenian genocide.

The project is the brainchild of Raya Kalisman, a former historyteacher and school principal from Misgav. She said this is the firsttime in Israeli history that Arab youth are learning about theHolocaust (aside from the little bit they learn in 11th grade fortheir matriculation exams).

During a sabbatical year in Washington D.C., Kalisman volunteeredat the U.S. National Holocaust Museum in a project that taught theHolocaust to African-American high school students.

“I saw what the program did for these kids, and I thought, if thisis so successful with children who have no connection with Israel,why not try it here?” she said.

The Holocaust Museum staff was excited about Kalisman’s idea andis supporting the project — though not financially. TheMinistry of Education paid Kalisman’s salary for a year while she setup the project and for the project’s inaugural program. Next year,her salary will be paid by the Ghetto Fighters’ House and the projectwill be subsidized by a grant from the Abraham Fund, which supportsArab-Jewish co-existence programs.

“We have to learn about the past in order to fix the future,” saidRachelle Schilo, director of the Abraham Fund’s Israel office. “TheHolocaust and its humanistic ramifications can help all of usunderstand the dangers of racism.”

At first, Kalisman did not know if high school students wouldrespond. “Teachers told me that kids wouldn’t come out in theafternoons,” she said. But after all the ninth graders in Julisvisited Yad Hayeled, the new children’s memorial at the GhettoFighters’ House, half of them volunteered.

“They hardly knew anything” before that first visit, Kalismansaid. “Yad Hayeled is a living museum that tells the story of theHolocaust to children from the point of view of children. We don’tuse much written material. Visitors listen to tapes from children’sjournals, children’s voices, video tapes of adults telling aboutthemselves as children during the Holocaust,” she added. After theexhibit, visitors participate in a workshop such as creative writing,drama or the plastic arts in order to integrate and express what theyjust saw.

Those who participated in the afternoon program also learned touse the Internet at the Oranim Teachers’ Seminary and communicatedthrough electronic mail with African-American children learning aboutthe Holocaust in Washington D.C. Kalisman hopes to someday bring thetwo groups together.

The highlight for students and teachers alike was the graduationceremony, during which the graduates guided their families around YadHayeled and exhibits at the Ghetto Fighters’ House museum.

“It was amazing to see these kids guiding their families, theirteachers, their friends. It gave them a lot. Each one seemed 10centimeters taller,” said Tzvika Oren, a teacher in the program.

“My mother cried at the graduation,” said Samahar Khirbawi, 16, ofJulis. “She said she didn’t know it would be so interesting andspecial.”

The graduates will escort younger classes from their schoolsthrough the museum next year. At the Holocaust Museum in Washington,the African-Americans who finish the course work become paid guides,but Kalisman said that is a luxury she does not have.

“Until now it was a taboo subject,” she said. “The Arabs said thatbringing up the Holocaust was manipulative and the Jews felt theydidn’t want Arabs to touch the Holocaust because it is holy and theywould politicize it. But we feel this is the way to real co-existence — learning together, discussing together. Because the story ofthe Holocaust is so strong, it opens the possibility for realdialogue.”

It seems clear that the Arab participants gain a greatersensitivity to the Jewish past and to Jewish pain. Said Khalil Ayoub,15, of Akko: “Everything I learned here helps me respect Jews aspeople. Before, I didn’t talk much with Jews. I didn’t have muchcontact. Now, when I meet a Jew, I speak to him, maybe even take aphone number. I see them as people. That’s what I learned from thiscourse — to respect people.”

 

Chabad’s Shofar Factory…


Chabad’s Shofar Factory…

It’s a Blast

Thousands of Los Angeles-area youngsters participate inhands-on workshops

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

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Quick, what’s a kosher animal with horns that can be used to makea shofar?

Uh, well, everyone knows the answer to that. A ram, right?

OK. Right. But name another kosher animal with horns good formaking a shofar.

Bzzzzzz! Your time is up.

But the several thousand Los Angeles-area day- and Hebrew-schoolchildren participating in Chabad’s Traveling Shofar Factory know theanswer: The long, spiraling horns of the male kudu, a type of Africanantelope, are often used to make the shofarim employed in Sephardicsynagogues.

The shofar workshops, at which each class cooperates in theprocess of sawing, sanding, shellacking and, of course, testing, havebeen proceeding for the past few weeks, leading up to the HighHolidays, with little fanfare (except of the musical variety) butplenty of bad puns.

“Shofar so good!” the green sign blinked for correct answersduring last Sunday’s game-show-like quiz at Temple Akiba in CulverCity. The game followed a presentation on the relative merits anddemerits of various horned animals in shofar making. With more than60 fourth- through seventh-graders, plus several parents andteachers, in attendance, Rabbi Simcha Backman, using a long, thinhorn as a pointer, explained how the pronged horns of “Danny theDeer,” who was on loan from the Museum of Natural History, would notdo, even though Danny was kosher. “Rabon the Ram,” though alsomounted, looked happier than sad-eyed Danny. After all, his horns,which never fall off and are not pronged, are just right for making ashofar.

An elephant, the rabbi said, isn’t kosher, because it doesn’t havehooves or chew its cud. Even if it were kosher, its tusks are teeth,not horns. A giraffe, on the other hand, is kosher, but the knobs ontop of its head don’t qualify as horns. Now, the enormous, curvedhorns of the cape buffalo — a sample of which was passed around –look perfect for an oversized shofar, and the animal is kosher. Butthey can’t be used, because the buffalo is related to the cow.

“Many thousands of years ago, when the Jews came out of Egypt,they made a mistake — they built a golden calf,” Backman said. “Wecan’t use the cape buffalo, because it might remind God of the Jews’mistake.”

The high point, of course, was making a shofar. The process soundssimple, but it isn’t. Thankfully, the messiest part is accomplishedbefore the children ever got started. The horns, which come fromslaughterhouses (the meat is used for food, since, in Jewish law, theanimal can’t be wasted), are first boiled all day in water, and thecartilage is removed, explained Chaim Cunin, public relationsdirector for West Coast Chabad, which is orchestrating the travelingshofar factory’s busy Los Angeles schedule. “It smells pretty awful.”

At Temple Akiba, groups of children crowded around tables in thesynagogue’s auditorium as Backman and several other Chabad rabbis andrabbinical students circulated, pitching in when needed. First, thechildren, fitted with goggles, took turns sawing off the ends of thehollowed-out ram’s horns, which were secured in metal vices. “Itsmells, but it’s fun,” said teacher’s assistant Lauren Brody,wrinkling her nose.

After taking turns sanding down the horns’ rough, mottledexteriors with sandpaper, they handed them over to Backman and MendelZacklikovsky for further sanding on a machine. The process was usedto form a pointed mouthpiece, into which the hole was widened andshaped, then tested by the children.

Twelve-year-old Josh Salz, in a purple Lakers shirt and red cap,brought forth a startling blast as everyone clapped. “He’s anatural!” Backman said.

Shellacked with polyurethane, the shofarim were fitted ontoredwood plaques for classroom display, and accompanied bycertificates of authenticity.

For several hours after the Hebrew-school children had departed,individual families gathered around tables, making their own shofarimfor an extra fee. More than 100 children participated in all, saidMiriam Hamrell, director of religious education at Temple Akiba.Cunin estimated that close to 8,000 Jewish youngsters will take partin the workshops at synagogues, day schools and Jewish communitycenters, from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay, by the end ofthe month.

“We were searching for a creative way to get kids involved in theHigh Holidays — something more exciting than baking honey cake,”Cunin said. “If you want to take one thing that represents RoshHashanah, that represents tradition and heritage, it’s the shofar.”

For Chabad educational programs, call (310) 208-7511, ext.202.

At Chabad’s Traveling Shofar Factory, students saw, sand and doa sound check on their own shofarim. Pictured are students fromTemple Beth Am’s Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy in Los Angeles. Thelarge horn (left) is from a Cape buffalo and can’t be used to make ashofar.

Chabad’s Shofar Factory…It’s a Blast


Thousands of Los Angeles-area youngsters participate inhands-on workshops

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

Quick, what’s a kosher animal with horns that can be used to makea shofar?

Uh, well, everyone knows the answer to that. A ram, right?

OK. Right. But name another kosher animal with horns good formaking a shofar.

Bzzzzzz! Your time is up.

But the several thousand Los Angeles-area day- and Hebrew-schoolchildren participating in Chabad’s Traveling Shofar Factory know theanswer: The long, spiraling horns of the male kudu, a type of Africanantelope, are often used to make the shofarim employed in Sephardicsynagogues.

The shofar workshops, at which each class cooperates in theprocess of sawing, sanding, shellacking and, of course, testing, havebeen proceeding for the past few weeks, leading up to the HighHolidays, with little fanfare (except of the musical variety) butplenty of bad puns.

“Shofar so good!” the green sign blinked for correct answersduring last Sunday’s game-show-like quiz at Temple Akiba in CulverCity. The game followed a presentation on the relative merits anddemerits of various horned animals in shofar making. With more than60 fourth- through seventh-graders, plus several parents andteachers, in attendance, Rabbi Simcha Backman, using a long, thinhorn as a pointer, explained how the pronged horns of “Danny theDeer,” who was on loan from the Museum of Natural History, would notdo, even though Danny was kosher. “Rabon the Ram,” though alsomounted, looked happier than sad-eyed Danny. After all, his horns,which never fall off and are not pronged, are just right for making ashofar.

An elephant, the rabbi said, isn’t kosher, because it doesn’t havehooves or chew its cud. Even if it were kosher, its tusks are teeth,not horns. A giraffe, on the other hand, is kosher, but the knobs ontop of its head don’t qualify as horns. Now, the enormous, curvedhorns of the cape buffalo — a sample of which was passed around –look perfect for an oversized shofar, and the animal is kosher. Butthey can’t be used, because the buffalo is related to the cow.

“Many thousands of years ago, when the Jews came out of Egypt,they made a mistake — they built a golden calf,” Backman said. “Wecan’t use the cape buffalo, because it might remind God of the Jews’mistake.”

The high point, of course, was making a shofar. The process soundssimple, but it isn’t. Thankfully, the messiest part is accomplishedbefore the children ever got started. The horns, which come fromslaughterhouses (the meat is used for food, since, in Jewish law, theanimal can’t be wasted), are first boiled all day in water, and thecartilage is removed, explained Chaim Cunin, public relationsdirector for West Coast Chabad, which is orchestrating the travelingshofar factory’s busy Los Angeles schedule. “It smells pretty awful.”

At Temple Akiba, groups of children crowded around tables in thesynagogue’s auditorium as Backman and several other Chabad rabbis andrabbinical students circulated, pitching in when needed. First, thechildren, fitted with goggles, took turns sawing off the ends of thehollowed-out ram’s horns, which were secured in metal vices. “Itsmells, but it’s fun,” said teacher’s assistant Lauren Brody,wrinkling her nose.

After taking turns sanding down the horns’ rough, mottledexteriors with sandpaper, they handed them over to Backman and MendelZacklikovsky for further sanding on a machine. The process was usedto form a pointed mouthpiece, into which the hole was widened andshaped, then tested by the children.

Twelve-year-old Josh Salz, in a purple Lakers shirt and red cap,brought forth a startling blast as everyone clapped. “He’s anatural!” Backman said.

Shellacked with polyurethane, the shofarim were fitted ontoredwood plaques for classroom display, and accompanied bycertificates of authenticity.

For several hours after the Hebrew-school children had departed,individual families gathered around tables, making their own shofarimfor an extra fee. More than 100 children participated in all, saidMiriam Hamrell, director of religious education at Temple Akiba.Cunin estimated that close to 8,000 Jewish youngsters will take partin the workshops at synagogues, day schools and Jewish communitycenters, from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay, by the end ofthe month.

“We were searching for a creative way to get kids involved in theHigh Holidays — something more exciting than baking honey cake,”Cunin said. “If you want to take one thing that represents RoshHashanah, that represents tradition and heritage, it’s the shofar.”

For Chabad educational programs, call (310) 208-7511, ext.202.

At Chabad’s Traveling Shofar Factory, students saw, sand and doa sound check on their own shofarim. Pictured are students fromTemple Beth Am’s Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy in Los Angeles. Thelarge horn (left) is from a Cape buffalo and can’t be used to make ashofar.

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