Peers give Orthodox teens lesson in drug use and abuse


“We were a group of kids who were dying inside, but we didn’t know it. We just thought we were a lost cause.”

With these words, Koby, a teenage yeshiva drug user, sets the level of earnestness and intensity on a new video that he and four of his friends produced under the auspices of Aleinu Family Resource Center, the Orthodox Davening Under the Influencearm of Jewish Family Service, an agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The video will be the centerpiece of “Davening Under the Influence,” a program of Aleinu workshops for parents and educators on Feb. 18 that will feature Dr. Joshua Lamm, medical director of an Orthodox adolescent addictions center in New York. The workshop will delve into parenting issues and is meant for all parents, not only parents of children who are already at risk.

Aleinu is focusing on drug use and high-risk behavior among teens this year through workshops and Shabbat of Awareness, which in the past has stirred community understanding on topics such as sexual abuse and Internet issues. Alcohol abuse also came up this year because of incidents involving 150 yeshiva kids who drank excessively this past Simchat Torah.

For many years, at-risk behavior and drug use among yeshiva high school students has been an open secret, but only in recent years have kids and their families had anywhere to turn.

While most of the efforts so far have focused on boys, the problem is prevalent among yeshiva girls as well.

Aish Tamid, an independent organization that runs classes, support services and social outlets for hundreds of teens, opened its doors about seven years ago under the leadership of Rabbi Avi Leibovic, an attorney and product of local yeshivas.

In the last few years, Aleinu has also ramped up its activity in this area. The organization holds seminars in local yeshiva high schools to talk to students and faculty about drug use. Fourteen middle and high schools have signed on to Aleinu’s mandatory drug policy, which outlines when and how yeshivas should refer a student for drug-use assessment, while remaining supportive and nonpunitive, and what paths of treatment, if any, might be recommended. Failure to comply with the recommendations — or distributing or selling drugs — could result in expulsion from school.

Last year, Aleinu started Issues Anonymous, where about 25 high school-age boys who have abused drugs or alcohol and are now committed to sobriety meet to support each other, hang out and work through the issues that led to their high-risk behavior.

As part of their healing process, the boys produced this video, which will be aired at the workshops Feb. 18 and will be available for other educational programs.

“This is not about placing blame…. This is about taking responsibility, to raise awareness in the Jewish community,” the boys begin in the video, each one adding another thought to the sentence. “We know that we can’t make this never happen again, but if we could just help prevent one beating, one less alcoholic binge, one more good day at school, one less drunk driver, one less overdose to prevent more cases of ending up here,” they say, as the scene flashes to a cemetery.

The video is dedicated to the memory of Yitzchak Meir Mermelstein, a young man who died of a drug overdose.

“What they are saying is see us, look at us, interact with us, care about us — see what it is like to be on the inside of us,” said Aleinu director Debbie Fox.

It is a video that every parent should see, because the issues the boys bring up are hauntingly universal.

One boy speaks of never feeling satisfied with what he had, though his parents gave him everything. Another talks of something as simple as not being able to keep up during davening, of always feeling different. School was never fun, one boy says.

A third says he had a vibrant and close-knit extended family, but his parents were clueless. And yet another talks of never getting along with his parents, while another says his father beat him.

With remarkable candor and self-awareness — and with the blessings of their parents — five boys share how and why they descended into drug abuse.

One boy shared shots with every cousin and uncle at his bar mitzvah.

A 9-year-old was handed a joint on Simchat Torah. Jewish summer camp was a good place for another boy to get hooked. Many of these kids have become sophisticated at “pharming,” scavenging prescription drugs at home and at friends’ homes. They talk of praying and studying Torah while high.

“We have a lot of alcohol out in the open in my house — vodka, whiskey and scotch — because my parents never thought that would be me. They trusted me,” one says.

They urge parents to be vigilant about their kids’ behavior — if they are sleeping too much, locking themselves in their rooms or experiencing mood swings. Always know with whom your kids are hanging out, they warn.

They urge parents to talk nicely to their kids, to have real conversations and to be proud of even small accomplishments. And they urge kids who are struggling not to push away the help.

They have some harsh words for teachers and rabbis, as well.

“The rabbis never noticed when you were depressed or on drugs or using or suicidal, but they noticed when you weren’t wearing a kippah. Rabbis can’t help me now,” one of the boys says.

Fox says the video is being released in two versions — one for parents and one for rabbis. The one for parents does not include some of the harshest indictments of the rabbis, because Fox wanted the rabbis to be open to receiving the message without feeling they were under public attack.

A group of Los Angeles rabbis was overwhelmingly receptive to the video when it was shown at a luncheon a few weeks ago.

Creative Judaica Takes Different Path


 

Walk into any Judaica store looking for a Kiddush cup, candlesticks or spice boxes and you’ll find yourself confronted with a plethora of silver and wood and an abundance of carved or engraved Jewish symbols from Stars of David to Lions of Judah.

Painter and sculptor Tobi Kahn tries to break that mold with his innovative ceremonial objects which eschew kitsch and present Judaica in an entirely new light.

“I want to make people realize that creating ceremonial objects can be special and transformative,” Kahn said in a recent interview from his home in New York.

The fruits of Kahn’s labor can currently be seen in his national touring exhibition, “Avoda: Objects of the Spirit,” at USC’s Doheny Memorial Library.

The exhibit is a collection of Judaica the 52-year-old Kahn created over the last 20 years to be used in private ritual ceremonies for either his family or his friends. There is not a single identifiable Jewish symbol on any of his pieces — no Stars of David or Hebrew text.

Every time the exhibit arrives in a new place, Kahn holds workshops for students to create their own ritual objects.

“I tell them to try and be honest with what interests them, to make something that they can relate to,” he said.

Placing paint, glass, wire and beads in front of those who take his workshops, Kahn said many have argued that they did this kind of thing in second grade.

“But I say to them, ‘You first tied your shoelaces in second grade, too; it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever do it again.’”

As adults, Kahn said, we interpret things differently and it’s important to put our own personal touch on our work.

Kahn says his ritual objects must work on three different levels: “They must work visually, be functional, and meet halachic standards, so there’s not a Jew anywhere who can say ‘It looks great, but it doesn’t fulfill halachic obligations.’”

Although the New York-based Kahn described himself as “committed to traditional practice,” he still believes it’s important that his work appeal to Jews of all denominations. “I am Jewishly educated but I’m also artistically educated. I’m as fascinated by Frank Lloyd Wright as I am by midrashim. My work is an amalgam of both.”

Kahn also said it was serendipitous that his exhibition arrived in Los Angeles in time for Passover. One of his works is a three-tiered seder plate with Egyptian figurines holding it up.

“The tiers are designed to hold the three matzot,” he explained, “and the Egyptian figures are there because I do believe we were slaves in Egypt.”

The whole mystical idea of moving from slavery to freedom is also at the heart of this particular piece. As such, Kahn chose gold and lead as the colors.

“The gold represents redemption and the lead color represents the chains that the slaves wore,” he said. “It was important to me that the plate looked ancient.”

Kahn is also keen for people to create their own objects for their seders.

“I think making your own objects helps you experience and define the holiday differently,” he said. “It adds to the dialogue, and brings a whole other element to the festival. If you start to think visually about every experience, it then makes it a core experience.”

He has even taken this idea one step further, holding an “Artists Seder” every year for the last three years where different artists attend and interpret the different parts of the seder through their

medium and without the use of a haggadah.

Kahn said he would like people to contact him directly and tell him how the creation of ritual objects impacted their seder and their personal experience.

“Anyone can do this and create a wonderful, meaningful Jewish experience,” he said. “You don’t have to have had an art show at the Whitney to make a ceremonial object.”

Contact Tobi Kahn about your seder creations via e-mail at agarbowit@avodaarts.org. “The Avoda: Objects of the Spirit” exhibit is on display until May 31 in the Ground Floor Rotunda at the USC Doheny Memorial Library, 3550 Trousdale Parkway, University Park Campus, Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 740-2070.

 

Calendar


The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed or

faxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least three

weeks in advance to:
calendar@jewishjournal.com
.

By Keren Engelberg

Calendar

April 2 /SATURDAY

SHABBAT

B’nai Tikvah: 6:30 p.m. Hot Dogs and Havdallah Under the Stars. Candle- and spice box-making follows. $15 (per family). 5820 W. Manchester Ave., Westchester. R.S.V.P., (310) 645-6414.

LECTURES

The Emmis Foundation: “The Big Lie: News, Media and the Fiction of Nonfiction” featuring Harvey Sheldon on the untold story of the news media and the Holocaust. 7855 E. Horizon View Drive, Anaheim Hills. (714) 281-5929.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Consulate General of Israel L.A.: 2003 Israeli Academy Award-winner “Nina’s Tragedies,” a film about an Israeli boy, opens this week. Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. www.laemmle.com.

April 3 /SUNDAY

PASSOVER

Skirball Cultural Center: 10 a.m.-
4:30 p.m. “Discover Your Personal Exodus Story: A Passover Seminar for People of All Faiths.” Lectures on history and art history, a writing workshop, hands-on ceramics and tour of the holidays gallery. $20-$60, plus $10 for ceramics workshop. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4651.

EVENTS

Hillel Foundation of Orange County/ Israel on Campus Coalition of Orange County/Caravan for Democracy/ StandWithUs: 8:30 a.m. (Sun.)-6 p.m. (Mon.). “Making the Case for Israel: A Two-Day Conference Presenting an Accurate Picture of Middle East Reality.” $36 (students), $75 (per day, nonstudents). UC Irvine and Merage Jewish Community Center, 1 Federation Way, Suite 200, Irvine. (800) 969-5585, ext. 247.

Beth Hillel Day School: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Designer Apparel Fundraiser with up to 93 percent off the original retail. Free admission. Temple Beth Hillel Activities Building, 12326 Riverside Drive, Valley Village. (818) 986-9052.

Temple Isaiah: 11:30 a.m. Steve Platt memorial “Par-tee” Golf Tournament. Golf, light lunch, refreshments, tee prizes and buffet dinner with awards and drawing. $250. Canyon Country Club, 1100 Murray Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. (760) 325-2281.

Valley Beth Shalom Jewish Vegetarian Society: 2 p.m. Dr. Shirley Hon discusses “Protein – Myths and Facts.” Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 349-2581.

Workmen’s Circle: 4 p.m. Comedian Howard Berger opens for Jeff-Chaim Goldberg, who performs original songs and Jewish music. $5-$10. 1525 S. Robertson Ave., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 552-2007.
Congregation B’nai Emet: 7 p.m. Barbara Lanzet leads a discussion on “The April Dilemma” for interfaith families celebrating Passover and Easter. Part two of an interfaith program sponsored by Jewish Federation.
4645 Industrial St., No. 2C, Simi Valley. (800) 581-3723.

New Community Jewish High School: 7 p.m. Students perform Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” with lighting, sound, sets and choreography by industry professionals. Also, April 4, 7 p.m. $7-$12. The New JCC at Milken, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills.
(818) 348-0048.

April 4/MONDAY

CLASSES

Bais Chana of California Women’s Yeshiva: 11 a.m. “Painlessly Preparing for a Panic-Free Pesach” with Esther Simon. $18. Los Angeles Residence. R.S.V.P., (323) 634-1861.

April 5 /TUESDAY

EVENTS

Stanford Jewish Alumni of Los Angeles: 7 p.m. Book signing with Vincent Brook, author of “Something Ain’t Kosher Here: The Rise of the ‘Jewish’ Sitcom” followed by vegetarian appetizers and Herzog Cellars’ kosher wines. Beverly Hills residence. $24. R.S.V.P. by April 1, (213) 763-7377.

April 6 /WEDNESDAY

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Jewish World Watch: 7:30 p.m. Ruth Messinger discusses “Genocide in Sudan.” Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.
(310) 474-1518, ext. 3243.

Cinema Bar: 8:30 p.m. Peter Himmelman concert. 3967 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (310) 390-1328.

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APRIL 7/THURSDAY

University of Judaism: 8 p.m. “Memory and the Monument After 9/11” a slide lecture by James E. Young. Free. Gindi Auditorium. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (213) 470-3405.

Noy Productions: 8:30 p.m. “Rita: The Concert.” See page 31 for more information.

APRIL 8 /FRIDAY

SHABBAT

Ahavah (20s-30s): 7:30 p.m. Shabbat by the Beach potluck dinner for young professional women. $5. Marina Del Rey residence. ahavah_la@hotmail.com.


UPCOMING:

April 11

Chapman University: “An evening of Remembrance and Hope” black-tie dinner with Elie Wiesel. For information call (800) 253-8569.

Singles

APRIL 2 /SATURDAY

New Age Singles: 4 p.m. No-host movie and dinner in West Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 874-9937.

The New JCC at Milken (21+): 6:30 p.m. Syrah wine tasting. $25 (members), $35 (public). 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3269.

APRIL 3 /SUNDAY

Singles Helping Others: 9 a.m.-noon. Sort food items at the SOVA food bank. Light physical activity required. 6027 Reseda Blvd., Reseda. (818) 884-5332.

Elite Jewish Theatre Singles: Noon. American-style Sunday brunch at the Magic Castle. $41.50 (includes admission, brunch, tax and tip). 7001 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles. Prepaid reservations only, (310) 203-1312.

Jewish Singles Volleyball: Noon-3 p.m. Weekly coed beach volleyball game. Court 11 or close to it. Playa del Rey, where Culver Boulevard meets the beach.
(310) 402-0099.

Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza: 3 p.m. Israeli singer Noa Dori joins Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble in “Neshama: Stories of the Soul.” $26-$72. 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (805) 449-2787.

Chef Richard’s: 6 p.m. (reception), 6:45 p.m. (dinner) Family-style Chinese dinner with wine reception. Free parking. $30 (prepaid reservations only). Uncle Chen’s, 16624 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P.,
(818) 995-3455.

New Age Singles: 7 p.m. Starlight Ballroom Dance with mixers and line dances, wine and refreshments. $10-$12. University Synagogue, 11960 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood. (310) 472-1391.

The New JCC at Milken: 8 p.m. Swing dancing workshop with an introduction to jitterbug/East Coast swing, foxtrot, waltz, cha cha, rumba and more. $5-$10. 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills.
(818) 464-3269.

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APRIL 4/MONDAY

Singles Helping Others: 7 p.m. Monthly meeting to socialize, meet others and hear about new events. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 591-0772.

Coffee Talk (30s and 40s): 8 p.m. Weekly discussion group. $7. 9760 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-4595, ext. 27.

APRIL 5 /TUESDAY

L.A.’s Fabulous Best Connection: Pizza supper and conversation at La Piazza for all ages. 6301 W. Third St., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 782-0435.

Westwood Jewish Singles (45+): 7:30 p.m. “Being real.” $10. West Los Angeles.
(310) 444-8986.

APRIL 6/WEDNESDAY

Nexus: Wed., April 6, 7-9 p.m. The first meeting of the Nexus OC book club will discuss Alan Dershowitz’s “The Case For Israel.” Also, Schmooze and Java Coffee House Night happens on the first and third Wednesday of each month from 7-9 p.m. Coffee Plantation, 18122 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley. www.jewishnexus.org.

APRIL 7/THURSDAY

Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “Calling in ‘The One.'” $15-$17. 639 26th St., Santa Monica. (310) 393-4616.

UCLA Hillel (18-26): 7 p.m. “Turbo-Dating,” spend seven minutes with seven single guys or gals. Limited seating; first come, first served. Free mocktails and light refreshments. Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. by Wed., April 6, uclaturbodating@yahoo.com.

APRIL 8/FRIDAY

Beach Hillel/Jewlicious: 6 p.m.-Sun., April 10. “Jewlicious @ The Beach” a gathering of the tribe weekend with students and young adults from California and Arizona. $36-$100. Alpert Jewish Community Center, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. jewlicious.beachhillel.com.

ATID: 7:30 p.m. Friday Night Live Shabbat service and after event with Rapid Networking. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3244.

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Strike a Jewish Pose

Done with downward-facing dog? Try an Aleph instead. This Sunday, Bat Yam Hadassah’s “Under 50” group does Jewish Yoga. Yoga Garden owner Ida Unger leads a one-hour introductory session in “Yoga and Judaism,” which combines discussion and practice of yoga postures that correspond to letters from the Hebrew alphabet. A social hour and light refreshments follow.

Sun., April 3, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. $18-$20. 30s and 40s. Yoga Garden Studios, 2236 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 478-6596.

Yeladim


TAKE A LOOK, IT’S IN A BOOK
On Sunday, Nov. 14,
come to the second annual
Jewish Children’s Bookfest
from 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.,
at the Triangle, Mount Sinai Memorial Park
(6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley,
exit the 118 West at Yosemite).
Children and their families are invited to celebrate: “350 Years of Jews in America” with their favorite authors and entertainers, and participate in fun workshops.
You’ll get a free gift if you complete the following puzzles and bring it to Debra at the Jewish Journal workshop.
For more information on the Bookfest, call (866) 266-5731 or visit www.jewishchildrensbookfest.org.
350 YEARS OF JEWISH ACHIEVEMENT

“Tiby” Eisen will actually be at the festival.
1) “Tiby” Eisen’s given name is:
a. Martha
b. Thelma
c. Louise
2) The movie based on her team’s experiences is called:
a. A League of Their Own
b. Ladybugs
c. Quarterback Princess
3) From 1946-1953, she played professional:
a. Soccer
b. Football
c. Baseball
Mail your cartoons, drawings, puzzles, etc. to The Jewish Journal, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010. E-mail your written answers to our contests, or your jokes, riddles, poems, etc., to kids@jewishjournal.com. Make sure you write your name and address in your e-mail. See you next time!

Adults-In-Training Hopes and Fears


"Why are you having a bar or bat mitzvah?" Larry Kligman, dean of students at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, asks the school’s 65 seventh-graders.

"Tradition."

"Fun."

"Identity."

"Heritage."

The students are attending a one-day retreat, an event the school has sponsored for more than 10 years, enabling them to reflect on the ritual’s meaning as well as the concomitant anticipation and anguish.

"It’s a difficult year," Kligman explains, "as the students have to cope with their own bar or bat mitzvah in addition to a heavy academic load and the pressures of attending a friend’s bar or bat mitzvah almost every weekend."

This year, Jerry Brown, senior rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, has volunteered to host the retreat at his synagogue as well as lead one of the discussions.

"Why 13? It’s an interesting age, but why 13?" Brown asks the students.

"We become teenagers," Joshua I. Goldberg says.

"Teenagers," Brown says, grimacing as he emphasizes the first syllable. "What’s different about these teenage years?"

"We learn differently."

"We have more ability to understand things."

"Puberty."

He tells them that everything is changing — physically, psychologically and emotionally — faster than anytime in their lives except infancy. And that the ancient sages came up with the same number we have — 13 — to mark the beginning of adolescence.

"Why do you think the word teenager has a bad connotation?" he asks. "What kinds of things happen at bar mitzvah services and receptions?"

"Destruction."

"Food fights."

"Drinking."

"If you see somebody getting into something, do you want to do a very hard thing and say something to them?" Brown asks.

"Yes, because the bar mitzvah is only fun if everybody is having a good time," Benjamin Selski says.

"A successful bar mitzvah depends just as much on your friends," Hal Greenwald, Heschel’s rabbi-in-residence, adds.

Brown tells the students that they are becoming adults in terms of participating in Jewish religious life, but otherwise he considers them "adults-in-training."

He explains that the bar and bat mitzvah is essentially "a big time-out," a chance to think about what adolescence means and to start learning to take on adult responsibilities.

"To be in charge of your own lives is the best thing that you can want. I invite you to take that seriously," he says. "And a bar or bat mitzvah is the perfect place to start."

In another workshop, students are invited to grapple with real life scenarios. "What do you do when you’re invited to two bar mitzvahs on the same day?" Kligman asks them.

"If people know there’s a conflict far enough in advance, maybe one person can change the date. That happened to me," Samantha Hay says.

"You can go to one person’s service and one person’s party," Aviva Fleschler says.

Kligman presents another dilemma. "It’s 9 p.m. The party’s a little boring, but it’s not over until 11. What do you do?"

"You should put yourself in the bar or bat mitzvah’s place. You don’t want that person to feel bad if all the kids are leaving," Alex Kaplan answers.

"And if you’re going to be there, you need to be there more than just physically," Betty Winn, Heschel’s head of school, adds.

In the sanctuary, Judaic studies teacher Jodi Lasker helps the students "get a feel for the choreography" of the service, first showing them how to put on a tallit.

"Why does a tallit have an atara [collar]?" she asks.

"So you know where to hold it when you’re putting it on," Benjamin Wenger answers.

She explains that an atara is not required to have the tallit blessing on it and also tells the students that Torah is read on Mondays and Thursdays, in addition to Shabbat, because those were the traditional market days when people gathered together.

She then asks Josh Goldberg to demonstrate reading from the Torah and shows students where to stand if they’re called up for an aliyah.

After lunch, the students break into small groups where they write responses to specific questions. The answers to the first question — What are you looking forward to? — are read anonymously.

"The best thing is completing my Torah and Haftarah portion."

"The smiles on my family’s faces."

"The party."

"Giving my d’var Torah."

What are you afraid of?

"I’m afraid that at the service only two of my friends will be in the sanctuary when I’m reading my Torah portion and the rest will be in the bathroom."

"I’m worried my friends will be disrespectful."

"I’m afraid I’m going to mess up during the service and my friends will laugh."

"I wish people would not chew gum and talk."

"I’m afraid my dress will rip."

Students then write down their suggestions for invitation etiquette as well as appropriate behavior at both the service and the celebration. These are presented to the entire class, and copies are later distributed to all seventh-graders and their parents.

"We all now know what to do," says Kligman at the retreat’s finish. "Let’s do it."


Bar and Bat Mitzvah Dos and Don’ts

DO mail invitations; DON’T give them out in school.

DON’T leave out just a few classmates if you cannot invite the whole class.

DO R.S.V.P. promptly, before the cutoff date.

DO personally apologize and explain to your classmate why you cannot attend if there is more than one bar or bat mitzvah on the same date, it is a good idea to make your decision about which event to attend independently.

DO be respectful in services:

1. Don’t walk in and out of the temple, especially in large groups.

2. Do participate in the service.

3. If you know you have trouble sitting for a long time, consider coming a little later in the morning, perhaps at the start of the Torah service.

4. Consider going to the service as an important part of the celebration.

5. Dress appropriately in the synagogue — covered shoulders, no jeans, etc.

6. If you must arrive late, do not be disruptive when greeting your friends.

7. Don’t bring or use your cell phone or pager.

DO be a considerate guest while at the party:

1. Don’t be wild in the hallway or restrooms.

2. Stay in the party room, dance, celebrate with your classmates.

3. Thank the host family before going home.

4. Stay for the whole party; don’t decide to leave early, especially in a group.

DO remember, your actions should reflect how you want everyone else to behave when it is your special day. — JU


Jane Ulman lives in Encino and has four sons.

New UCLA Sukkah Is a Work of Heart


As Sukkot approached, UCLA Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller was reluctant to take Hillel’s old canvas-and-metal sukkah out of storage.

“I felt we were in a new building,” he said of the $10 million Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish life on Hilgard Avenue. “We should go beyond prefabricated sukkot and create something special.”

So he picked up the telephone and called artist Tobi Kahn, renowned for his transcendent abstract landscapes and, in some circles, for his Jewish ceremonial objects. A week earlier, the rabbi had met the painter-sculptor in the meditative space Kahn had designed for New York’s HealthCare chaplaincy.

“I was struck by the combination of artistic and religious feeling,” said Seidler-Feller, who also knew Kahn had built dozens of sukkahs around New York. Would the artist be willing to help UCLA students create a sukkah?

Kahn, 51, immediately warmed to the idea. The proposed project jibed with a national arts and education program he co-founded that uses his Judaica show, “AVODA: Objects of the Spirit,” as a springboard to help young adults develop a sense of cultural identity. Since 2000, Kahn has traveled the country with the exhibit, conducting workshops in which participants create their own ceremonial objects. But while he was excited about adding a Sukkot project to the mix, he had some conditions.

“I wanted the sukkah to be used daily by people from as many backgrounds as possible, because one of the most beautiful things about the holiday is that it’s very much about inclusiveness,” Khan said.

He also wanted to work with art students, although he didn’t intend to dictate to the undergraduates. Rather, he hoped to serve as a technical adviser, providing the blueprint of a sound structure but allowing participants to make their own creative decisions.

“I believe that the more beautiful you make something, the more power it has for you,” he said. “I wanted the students to make the sukkah their own.”

On a recent hot Monday afternoon, Kahn sat on the Jerusalem stone foyer at Hillel, poring over the blueprint with five art students, Jewish and non-Jewish. Amid the whine of power tools, he pointed out the structure’s halachic dimensions as participants heaved huge plywood panels upright, sawed two-by-fours and drilled nails into beams.

He listened like a proud parent as they made aesthetic choices, cutting slits in the walls to compliment the long, slender windows of the Hillel building. He was enthusiastic when they voted to cover the walls with a rough, off-white cotton fabric that “gave the structure an unrefined but still elegant look,” said Mimi Lauter, Hillel director of art.

Lauter, 21, who chose the participants from among fellow art majors, said the plan included hanging light bulbs alongside fabric pomegranates to “create the illusion of illuminated fruits.”

For the observantly Jewish Kahn, the bustling activity brought back memories of Sukkots past. He especially recalled helping to build his family’s sukkah while growing up the son and grandson of German Holocaust refugees in Washington Heights, N.Y.

“The walls were covered with crushed velvet of a deep crimson,” he said with relish. “My grandmother would make little rods and sew white lace curtains, and there was a lovely light fixture with tiny little crystals.” Artwork related to the holiday adorned the walls.

Kahn went on to create his own sukkot yearly as he studied Talmud in Jerusalem, earned a master of fine arts degree from the Pratt Institute and burst onto the national scene in the Guggenheim Museum’s 1985 group exhibit, “New Horizons in American Art.”

Along the way, he built the 400-seat sukkah for Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue and privately created ritual objects for his family, including spice boxes and a circumcision chair for his son. But it was only after his solo exhibition, “Metamorphoses,” was included in Art In America magazine’s 1999 list of best shows that he felt more comfortable about exhibiting his Judaica without being labeled a “Jewish artist.”

“I came to feel that if a ritual object works as art, you should put it out in the world as art,” he said. “I feel that modern art and ancient ritual can enhance each other. I see all my work as a prayer.”

At UCLA, the sukkah project had different meanings for the diverse student participants, Kahn and Lauter said. For non-Jewish sculptor Ryan Lieu, 19, the halachic requirements of the structure made sense as a harvest dwelling. For Michael Bauer, 21, previously uninvolved with Hillel, the project helped tie him in to UCLA’s Jewish community.

“It’s helping to further the goals of our art program, which aims to bring unaffiliated art students into Hillel and to introduce Hillel students to a broader culture,” Lauter said.

Seidler-Feller, for his part, hopes the sukkah will show that “Jewish life is not divorced from the artistic life. It shows that ritual is itself artistic and that beauty can enhance one’s spirituality.”

Sukkah programs will include a wine and cheese soiree for graduate students and young professionals on Oct. 13, 4:30-6:30 p.m.; Seidler-Feller’s weekly Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) class on Oct. 14, 7:30-8:30 p.m.; a party to create baby quilts for those in need on Oct. 15, 6-8 p.m.; an evening of arts in the sukkah on Oct. 16, including a conference call with Tobi Kahn; and a question-and-answer session on the holiday, moderated by non-Jewish students.

The sukkah will be open throughout the week for students and community members to bring their lunch or dinner. UCLA Hillel is located at 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. For information, call (310) 208-3081.

You Gotta Be in it to Win it


Want to win a full day school scholarship? Or maybe free synagogue membership?

Now you can, in the new Jewish community raffle, Arie Katz, chair of the Jewish Community Scholar Program (CSP), created the raffle to raise awareness of adult Jewish learning in Orange County and what he calls the “amazing infrastructure in our Orange County Community.”

Synagogues and Jewish institutions will help sell tickets, which can be purchased via credit card through The Jewish Federation of Orange County.

Funds raised from raffle sales will go to a variety of local institutions, including Jewish day schools, the Jewish Community Center, local synagogues and day camps. The bulk of the funds will go toward expanding CSP, which brings the world’s leading Jewish thinkers, scholars and artists to Orange County for a series of lectures, workshops and classes. Funds from the raffle will also partially underwrite the costs of a May 2004 community retreat and a proposed community Shabbat celebration in June.

“If the raffle is successful, then the whole community wins,” Katz said.

Tickets for the raffle, which will go on sale from Sept. 1 through Nov. 12, will cost $100. The winner, which will be selected Nov. 14., will be published in the December issue of The Jewish Journal of Orange County. For more information about CSP and the raffle, visit www.occsp.org or call (949) 682-4040.

Community Briefs


Music, Israel Bring 950 Educators to BJEConference

Participants at the Bureau of Jewish Education of Los Angeles’s (BJE) 23rd annual Early Childhood Spring Institute had the opportunity to take a special journey to Israel through music. In a workshop called “A Musical Trip to Israel,” three music educators from the Ministry of Education in Jerusalem demonstrated an entertaining way to teach children about the Holy Land through song and movement.

“I think the exposure to meeting the people from Israel and talking to them is important [for Jewish educators],” said Esther Elfenbaum, director of BJE early childhood education services. “I think we have to focus on the positive to help kids deal with what’s going on in Israel.”

More than 950 nursery school and kindergarten educators from Southern California gathered at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills for the conference on Monday, March 10. Participants had the opportunity to attend more than 60 workshops led by educators, rabbis, child psychologists and children’s book authors, where topics included “Creating a Jewish Environment in Your Classroom,” “Bringing Music and Drama to Every Subject” and “Talking to God: Teaching Children to Speak From Their Souls.”

During the conference, the BJE presented select teachers and administrators with special awards. The BJE Lainer Distinguished Educator Awards went to Tara Farkash, teacher at Temple Adat Elohim Preschool in Thousand Oaks; Kimberly Shapiro, teacher at Westside Jewish Community Center Nursery School in Los Angeles; and Audrey Freedman-Habush, director at Valley Beth Shalom Nursery School in Encino. Several educators from various Southland schools received BJE Smotrich Family Foundation Early Childhood Educator awards. Highest distinction: Debra Cohen, Niki Egar, Susana Ezon, Laurie Healy, Wendy Smith, Miri Hever and Michelle Stein; excellence: Esther Posin and Kimberly Shapiro; and merit: Terri Sigal and Diana Pakdaman.

Sherry Fredman, principal of Temple Israel of Hollywood Nursery School, said she and her staff were inspired by the conference and look forward to enhancing the Judaic aspects of their program.

“My teachers came back [from the conference] motivated with excellent ideas,” she said.

For more information, visit www.bjela.org . — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

Camp Gets ‘Creative’ at WilshireBoulevard

While most camps boast activities like swimming, archery and arts and crafts, campers at Creative Space Summer Camp will learn break dancing, aromatherapy, yoga and fencing. Creative Space, the award-winning Hollywood enrichment school, has teamed up with Marcia Israel Day Camp of Wilshire Boulevard Temple to create a new summer camp, which will be housed at the shul’s Irmas Campus in West Los Angeles.

Creative Space, a unique children’s program, is owned by three Jewish women who believe that creativity fosters self-confidence. Building on this principle, they are taking their imaginative classes into a camp setting.

While the new camp prides itself on artsy activities like stunts, hip-hop dance, cheerleading and magic, the summer program will also offer sports. And rather than recruiting recent high school graduates or college students as counselors, Creative Space Summer Camp has hired many of the professionals who teach their classes during the school year. The creative arts camp will be open for 4- to 12-years-olds for a series of two-week sessions. A separate camp, with age-appropriate programs, is open for 3-year-olds.

When Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple approached Creative Space about coming together to create an arts-based camp, the owners knew he was onto something.

“For the temple and for us it’s an opportunity to expand community,” co-owner Gayle Baigelman said.

Baigelman said that the nondenominational environment will be a plus for campers and their parents.

“I think that is the beautiful thing about the Jewish tradition — it’s all-inclusive,” she said.

For more information about Creative Space Summer Camp,call (323) 462-4600 or visit www.creativespaceusa.com . — SSR

OU Offers Jewish Parenting 101

What do you do if your child refuses to listen to you? More than 125 parents attended the Positive Jewish Parenting Conference on Sunday, March 2 to address this common dilemma and others like it. The conference, which was put on by the Orthodox Union (OU) with the support of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, included a series of interactive workshops led by psychiatry, psychology and social work experts.

Attendees gathered at the Museum of Tolerance and the Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Nagel Campus with hopes of strengthening their parenting skills and incorporating Jewish values into child rearing. The keynote speaker was Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the OU’s executive vice president, a clinical psychologist who combined the worlds of Torah and psychology for parents.

Workshops included topics like “Bringing Spirituality Into Our Homes,” “Conflict Resolution in the Family” and “Overcoming Sibling Rivalry.”

“By participating, parents learn that a lot of what goes on in their house is normal,” said Frank Buchweitz, director of special projects for the Orthodox Union in New York.

“I got a few pieces of practical advice,” said Irwin Nachimson, a father of two who lives in the mid-Wilshire area. “But more importantly, I was impressed to see that there are people who focus on [parenting topics] on a daily basis. It’s not something readily offered in any other segment of the Jewish community that I’ve seen.”

Dr. Larry Eisenberg, president of the West Coast OU, feels that the religious slant of the program drew the community in.

“I think it’s the fact that it was done under an Orthodox program and people could ask questions that were religious,” he said. — SSR

L.A. GOAL Opens ‘Doors’ at Skirball


Sherrie has cerebral palsy, which causes her hands to tremble. So when she was hired to work as an artist for L.A. GOAL in Culver City, she was concerned.

"I can’t paint a straight line, because my hands shake," Sherrie told Susan Wilder, L.A. GOAL’s art director.

"Well, then don’t," Wilder replied. "Use the shaking in your paintings, because that will be part of your language. Rather than fighting it, you can incorporate it."

A door that was closed suddenly opens.

The key? An extraordinary program for adults with developmental disabilities, many of whom haven’t had much success in a job before, let alone one where they are paid as artists.

Forty L.A. GOAL members will be demonstrating their artistic success in "The Drama of the Door," a unique exhibit opening April 30 at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Ruby Gallery. The intention of the exhibit is to provide an opportunity to understand how the doors we open every day determine the lives we live.

The artists have worked diligently on the Skirball exhibit for the past year, exploring and discussing the theme of doors — doors in their lives that are open for them, doors that create barriers, doors that leave them feeling isolated and doors that give them freedom.

The discussion opened the way for the artwork that emerged: brilliantly colored paintings, black-and-white photographs, richly symbolic, hand-painted boxes and intricately designed wall hangings. Each piece tells a story.

The painted boxes have a door that opens and closes. The outside for some represents what is seen and known by others, while the inside depicts a more private self that can be hidden when the door is closed.

"I never thought that I could be a professional artist," said Lisa, who though visually impaired, has always enjoyed drawing. "My artwork has taken a new direction because of this job. It gave me a whole new life. I was very happy when I discovered I could paint."

Unlike workshops for the handicapped, the employees at L.A. GOAL must adjust to high expectations: to be on time, to do quality work and to negotiate with the staff when something upsets them. According to Wilder, this isn’t easy for many people with developmental disabilities.

"They have been ignored or coddled by society," she said," probably because that’s the easiest way not to deal with them."

Elaine, another artist who has her work in the show, accepts the responsibility and sees the payoff. "L.A GOAL has meant a lot to me," she said. "I’ve never been able to do something I really liked before and not fail at it. I do what they ask. I don’t always like it, but I do it anyway, because it’s a job."

On a typical day in the art studio, Sherrie, Lisa and Elaine sit at a large table covered with works in progress, bottles of bright paints, drawing paper and assorted books. The room is alive with the exciting artwork created here: vibrant designs for note cards, baby blankets and hand-painted furniture.

There are eight artists working at the table, and as they draw and paint, they chat, sometimes about the content of their work or techniques the staff has shown them. Though they’re hard at work, laughter often fills the room — a response to a joke or to someone sharing a recent life challenge met in an amusing way. It’s clear that this is a work setting where ideas blossom and creative juices flow, and where disabilities are not the focus of attention.

"I usually painted flowers and pretty things," Lisa said. "For this exhibit, Susan said, ‘Why don’t you paint something that’s hard for you, something that you haven’t done before?’ I decided to do a trapdoor and paint something I don’t like to talk about. I call it my Worry Box."

"I get very frustrated sometimes, and carry things around inside," she added. "I represented that with a dragon, because a dragon breathes fire and fire is very hot, and can burn you. My worries can burn me and hurt me."

The artists at L.A. GOAL often work collaboratively on projects. For this exhibit, a painting by D’Marcus, titled, "The Boxer Rebellion," was also made into a quilt.

"It makes me feel recognized to have people noticing my work and the things that I have done," D’Marcus said. "It’s a new feeling. It feels really good."

D’Marcus said that the door in his painting opens to another world, one that is relaxing and away from pressure.

"My art is the strongest passion I’ve ever had since I was little," he added. "It helps my fear. I feel calm coming here every day and I try to help other people here to be more relaxed. I feel like part of a family."

L.A. GOAL’s "The Drama of the Door" exhibit will be at the Skirball Cultural Center, April 30-June 29. For more information about the exhibit, call (310) 440-4500. For more information about a reception and silent auction hosted by Sean Penn, Thursday, May 8, 5:30pm, call (310) 838-5274.

The Safe Spot


“How do you explain breast cancer to your 3 1/2-year-old son?” asked Susan Cohen of Woodland Hills. “How does your spouse feel about becoming your caretaker?” These are some of the questions addressed at The Safe Spot. “The things we shared with other families [who] were on the same difficult journey as us,” said Cohen, a USC professor and breast cancer survivor.

The second annual Safe Spot, a daylong camp for families coping with a cancer-stricken parent, will be held on Sunday, June 9, at the JCC Shalom Institute in Malibu. A day of workshops, seminars and entertainment, The Safe Spot cultivates open communication and healthy attitudes. “It’s important to find spiritual wellness and psychological wellness in the face of physical illness. And in families where a parent is sick, this mental fitness is as crucial for loved ones as it is for the patients,” said Sally Weber, The Safe Spot founder and director of community programs at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles.

As an opportunity to explore unspoken fears amongst peers, the camp the brainchild of Weber and Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Feinstein. “We wanted to create a place that fostered communication among family members, but also a place with Judaism at its core. We use Jewish music and spirituality to open up to others,” Weber said.

A colon cancer survivor and father of three, Feinstein said he longed for a place where children learned how to survive their parents’ cancer. “Kids tend to think they are the only one whose parent is sick,” Feinstein said. “At The Safe Spot, they can get together with other kids in the same situation. Suddenly, they are in an environment where they can tell their parents all the things they’ve kept inside,” added the former camp director.

“One 9-year-old boy said the gift of cancer is that his dad is home more,” Weber said.

“Another son told his dad he knows he’s sick, so he shouldn’t be afraid to show he’s in pain,” Feinstein recalled.

The Safe Spot, a joint program of Jewish Family Service, The Jewish Federation and Valley Beth Shalom, addresses spousal relationships as well as parent-child ones. The children participate in art projects and long hikes with the Shalom Institute Camp staff, while their parents attend workshops with professional therapists and rabbis. “It’s the first place my husband, Steve, voiced his thoughts about how normal our home life felt, even while I was getting chemo,” said Cohen, a member of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. “The Safe Spot created an environment of deep sharing between people who were strangers beforehand, so you felt comfortable talking about these issues,” added Cohen.

The Safe Spot’s playful camp atmosphere provides critical support in a lighthearted environment. Robbo, whose singalong was the highlight of last year’s retreat, will headline this year’s event as well. “The day was fun for kids, but for the adults, too. We all laughed and sang, and knew that even with a life-threatening disease, we can still have fun,” said Cohen, who proudly celebrated her 50th birthday this month.

“And it was inspiring to meet other families with small kids, to see how they found the courage to face the disease,” Cohen said. “No one wants to join the cancer club, but once you become a member, you meet some incredible people, like the ones at Safe Spot” she said.

The Safe Spot, held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., includes kosher meals and snacks. For more information call (323) 761-8800 ext. 1256.

While far from exhaustive, the following is a starting point to find cancer-oriented services.

Cancer Resources

American Cancer Society

“>www.cancer411.org

Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive Cancer
Center


(310) 423-8030
(weekdays,8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.)

“>www.chailifeline.org

Childrens Hospital Los Angeles Childrens
Center for Cancer & Blood Diseases


(323) 669-2121

“>www.cityofhope.org

Israel Cancer Research Fund

(323) 651-1200

Walking My Baby Back Om


At a 1991 Jewish Renewal retreat in Pennsylvania, Rosalie Harris was in a Chevra Kadisha class, crying over the recent death of her sister, when Ephraim Eisen reached out to hold her hand. She had met him the day before and dismissed him as one of those nice guys who somehow fail to ignite romantic sparks. But “when he made contact with me, I looked at him as a compassionate person and thought, this is someone I should get to know,” she recalls.

When Ephraim took her hand, “I was not reaching out to her as a man does to a woman but as a soul reaching out to a soul in mourning,” he recalls. “I was very surprised when she wouldn’t let me take my hand back. She was giving me a green light, and I was intrigued.”

Five months after they met, Rosalie and Ephraim – who both lived in Oregon and marveled that no one had thought to set them up – got married. He had a 14-year-old son from a first marriage and a dog. She had a 13-year-old daughter and a cat. Together, they had another child and decided to devote their lives to helping single people find each other. For this work, they fashioned their own tool, called the Basherte Workshop, which firmly maintains that “to meet your soulmate, you must meet your soul,” according to their Web site, www.basherte.com

Essentially, the Basherte Workshop combines psychology, prayer, kabbalistic teachings, song, meditation, movement and storytelling to help people pinpoint who they are and what they seek in a partner. Since 1993, Rosalie, now 50, and Ephraim, 51, have conducted 36 workshops throughout the U.S., Canada and Israel and have gradually garnered a word-of-mouth buzz among those seeking an alternative to the usual offerings on the singles scene. A workshop that took place over Memorial Day weekend last year at the Jewish Renewal retreat center Elat Chayyim in upstate New York featured yoga and a drumming workshop led by a former member of the Jimi Hendrix band.

“We do yoga along with traditional davening. We cover both worlds, the world of spirit and of action,” says Ephraim, who considers himself a follower of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. “That’s when you optimize your possibility of meeting your soulmate.”

Max Rivers, a 49-year-old computer programmer, has attended several Basherte events and observes “the focus is on making a deeper connection with people within a spiritual context,” he says. “So many singles events focus on problem solving, on what’s wrong with you. A Basherte Workshop makes you feel that being single is just where you are on your spiritual path.”

Speaking by phone from their home in Northhampton, Mass., the Eisens, both friendly and relaxed, talk openly of their own spiritual path and note the importance of relaying their own love story in the workshops they conduct. “I think there’s something about working together as a couple that makes us seem relaxed and real to people from the get-go,” says Rosalie. “We talk about our journey, how our relationship isn’t perfect but that we feel like we’re each other’s basherts.”

While promoting coupledom, the Eisens also take care not to spread myths about leaving singlehood. “Being in a long-term relationship is not the easiest thing in the world, but we also believe that isolation is the greatest disease in Western culture,” says Rosalie, who quotes the late Mother Teresa. “We believe that people walk by their basherts all the time because they never took the opportunity to get to know one another. Our workshops focus on what is it that people are needing to start meaningful conversations.”Ephraim believes that the Hollywood myths of perfect love and the numbers of people who move far away from their families and feel “rootless make it more difficult today in lots of ways for people to meet. What we try to do, especially in a three- or four-day workshop, is create a community where people can share stuff that women never tell men and men never tell women,” he says.

Rivers recalls a workshop where he spent two to four minutes with a number of people asking a series of “deep questions like ‘what’s keeping you from finding your bashert?’ Afterwards, you’ve answered such deep questions with people so you feel like you have a story with them,” he says. “It’s not like dancing with someone and then going back to your respective corners.”

Rivers says he’s dated people he met from workshops, but they turned out not to be bashert. However, “some of my best friends have come from the Basherte Workshop.”This is exactly what the Eisens want to hear. “We want to help people explore what nurtures them. It’s not just about finding the right partner, it’s about being the right partner,” says Rosalie. “We want people to be in healthy, committed relationships, but you need to be in a healthy place yourself.”

Susan Josephs is staff writer for The Jewish Week of New York.