October 22, 2019



“Evan Almighty,” a sequel of sorts to the 2003 hit film, “Bruce Almighty,” is a comic updating of the biblical story. In it, God (Morgan Freeman, reprising his role) orders newly elected U.S. Rep. Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) to build an ark and fill it with animals.”

Director Tom Shadyac wanted the ark to be as biblically authentic as possible, within the strictures of the film’s budget and shooting schedule. The Book of Genesis describes the ark as 300 cubits long (approximately 450 feet), 50 cubits wide (about 75 feet) and 30 cubits high (45 feet). It consisted of three decks, with a large door/ramp on one side of the hull, through which people and animals boarded the boat.

“We actually only built half an ark,” said Linda DeScenna, the film’s production designer. “While the second and third levels of the ark were added digitally … we built [a good part] of the bottom portion, from the ground up to the first deck. We built a 220-foot section of the hull to the right of the ramp [i.e., toward the ship’s bow]. The bow itself was constructed of Styrofoam.”

“The bow was not a computer-generated image,” she said. “It took four days to move all the foam sections into place. To the left of the ramp we built out only 15 feet. They added the rest of the hull — all the way to the stern — in the computer.”

The ark was erected — using cedar instead of the “gopher wood” mentioned in the Bible — on a parcel of land that borders Virginia’s magnificent Shenandoah National Park. Its final dimensions were 260 feet long, 80 feet wide and 59 feet high, although it looks almost twice that size on screen, thanks to the magic of digital technology.

Interiors of the ark, as well as scenes that took place on its deck, were filmed on three soundstages at Universal Pictures. But the exterior construction was all done in Virginia. Obviously, it had to mirror the story line on a quotidian basis. The camera would roll as the film’s characters “built” the ark using hollow, lightweight pieces of wood. After filming wrapped each day, the construction crew would replace the hollow boards with steel-reinforced pieces of wood.

DeScenna praises the production’s “amazing” construction, art and visual effects departments. They didn’t get the go-ahead to start building the sets until mid-February, yet everything was ready by the film’s April start date. And that’s nothing short of miraculous.

Jean Oppenheimer writes for American Cinematographer magazine, The New York Times Syndicate and the New Times Corp., as well as serving as a film critic on “Film Week” on KPCC-FM. 89.3.

The grunion were running last weekend, so I went down to the Venice Beach breakwater just before midnight to watch them mate. The sight of thousands of slim, silvery fish wiggling desperately out of the surf and struggling to spawn before the next wave crashed upon them made me think, of course, of those birthright Israel trips.

This summer, a record 23,500 participants are expected to visit Israel as part of TAGLIT-birthright Israel. The program offers free 10-day tours of Israel for Jewish young adults, 18 to 26. This year, the organization received nearly 32,000 applications — also a record high.

Part of the success is undoubtedly the attraction of all-expense-paid foreign travel. When I was in college the simple words “free trip” would have had me packed and ready to go to Jonestown without thinking twice.

But birthright’s success is more genuine: it combines education and spirituality with a search for roots and meaning, and anchors the whole experience in a 10-day nonstop party.

It’s no wonder that birthright, founded seven years ago by philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, can count as one of the few unmitigated successes the Jewish establishment has had in involving younger Jews in Jewish life.

Since 2000, the program, jointly funded by private philanthropists, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israeli government and the North American federation system, has sent more than 120,000 young Jews from 51 countries to Israel for free.

But let’s be honest about what accounts for a good part of the program’s runaway success — hormones.

“No one tells you it’s about hooking up with other Jews,” one 20-something participant told me, “but there’s plenty there to make it happen.”

There is no curfew, chaperones who are in some cases only a couple of years older than the visitors and lots of booze.

“What happens among the Diaspora,” one happy birthrighter from Pittsburgh told me, “stays among the Diaspora.”

Which is why I’m not quoting anyone by name here.

One 21-year-old UC San Diego sophomore I spoke with said the subtext wasn’t that hidden. Her Israeli organizer told the group the best thing about birthright and Israel is that they could hitch up with other Jews and make Jewish babies. She recounted his exact words in a thick Israeli accent: “When you see a cutie on the beach in Tel Aviv and you say, ‘Hey, what’s cooking?’ you know you’re talking to a Jew.'”

Her friend, a young man who also attends UC San Diego, said the message wasn’t covert, and it didn’t bother him at all.

“I was fine with it,” he said. “We get to go on this great trip, and they get to tell us what they want.”

The message, he said, is that you need to make Jewish babies, because Jewish babies will save the Jewish people. If birthrighters needed any more nudging, each trip culminates in a kind of mega-meet-up. Held in Jerusalem, it brings every birthright group together in an amphitheater in Jerusalem, the Holy City, where they hear some great rock music, then adjourn into a raucous, beer-fueled party. (The party is free, the beer you pay for).

“I faked an Israeli accent to hit on girls,” another birthrighter told me. “It works better.”

Again, I think of the grunion. If you haven’t seen them, it’s worth grabbing a warm coat and a thermos of mint tea and heading down to the beach during mating season, which occurs between May and September during the full and new moon.

The fish, which are relatives of smelt, ride the waves onto shore. The females use their tails to wriggle down until only their heads, bug-eyed and vulnerable, poke from the sand. Into this nest, they squeeze their eggs.

Meanwhile the males find females to squirm around, and in a frenzied swarm release their milt. The murky liquid slides down the females’ backs and onto the eggs. Some females deposit eggs though no males surround them — but I’m sure there’s a guy for them on some other beach.

Two weeks later the fertilized eggs, hidden under the feet of countless sunbathers and sea gulls, hatch, and a new generation of grunion swarm the tides.

It’s remarkable — the utter implausibility of fish finding one another on dry land, the rush to hook up, the race to meet and secrete. That there are still grunion in the world is nothing short of miraculous — and one could say the same of the relatively few Jews who manage, against the odds of persecution and assimilation, to reproduce. If the alcohol-fueled all night hotel room parties that our philanthropic dollars support help, who’s to quibble? If the birthright mega-gathering is closer to a grunion run at low tide than a Zionist congress, so what?

Like most Jews in a generation that missed out on the birthright junket, I’m jealous, but supportive. I understand that, as my friend Jon Drucker is fond of saying, Jewish survival is not in the genes, but in the jeans.

But I do wonder if the message is getting through that there is more to Jewish survival than hooking up. The rabbis teach that all the Jewish souls that ever were, were present at Sinai. But us plodding literalists would argue that it is the unerring emphasis on Jewish values — or rather, the debate over those values — and on Jewish deeds, or mitzvot, that determine, truly, how many Jews there are in this world.

Two Jews can create such a person, but a non-Jew can become that person too.

For ultimately, unlike grunion, Jewish souls are made, not spawned.

New video of Taglit-birthright trip. Contains no spawning

I took a break from the hood the other night to speak to a large Conservative synagogue in Palos Verdes called Congregation Ner Tamid — and I used a word that got me in trouble. The occasion was a showing of “Obsession” — a documentary on the rise of radical Islam and the worldwide terror that has accompanied it — and it was sponsored by CAMERA, an organization that counteracts anti-Israel bias in the mainstream media.

“Obsession” assaults you with the hatred that fuels the fire of radical Islam.

The film points out that the majority of Muslims are not radical Islamists, but when it hones in on the radicals, the words and images make your skin crawl.

You see an old sheik, speaking to what looks like 100,000 people, pulling out a sword and exhorting his screaming flock to kill every Jew they can find. One radical Muslim after another is shown giving motivational speeches on the fine art of Jew-hatred. And Jew-killing. Lots and lots of Jew-killing.

But here’s the crazy part: There’s not a word from the Jew-haters about the dreaded Occupation. Not a peep about roadblocks or fences or the oppressive policies of the Zionist occupier, which, as we are so often reminded, lie “at the heart” of our enemies’ discontent. The Jew-haters are honest: they want Jews dead. All Jews. Roadblocks or no roadblocks. West Bank or no West Bank.

Talk about an inconvenient truth.

When you see all this Jew-hatred, it’s tempting to be dismissive and say “These are only the radicals; there are many more moderates.” Or to get all cynical because “The radicals will always want to kill us. So what’s new?” These are great coping mechanisms that help us maintain our composure. But here’s what’s new: The radicals aren’t just getting bigger and bolder on the battlefield, they’re also, amazingly, winning the PR war.

Who would have figured that two years after our heart-wrenching evacuation of Gaza — two years of continued relentless attacks from an enemy that brazenly calls for our destruction — we’d be the target of a boycott from British professors? Again, it’s tempting to get all blasé and say “Been there, done that.”

But this blasé attitude is a reason why we are losing the PR battle: We assume that getting all worked up about stuff doesn’t really make a difference, or that it’s not very becoming of Jews. The practical thing to do is to stay composed and look for solutions.

Well, here’s a practical idea: Let’s all take a time-out from “solutions” and get a little worked up. Let’s stop being so composed and start being outraged.
Because if we continue like this, the whole world, except for America and Micronesia, will be boycotting Israel.

Israel needs the Diaspora to get more emotional right now — because emotional outrage wins PR battles. Our enemy understands that a lot better than we do.
The most effective TV interview I ever saw happened about five years ago on a major network, while Israel was in the midst of numerous suicide bombings. The anchorman asked Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, a very composed and sophisticated man, why Israel could not arrest these suicide bombers. Well, you should have seen the outrage on Mr. Burg’s face.

With clenched fists and an almost growling voice, he said something like: “But how do you expect us to do that when they can blow up in one second?”

It was visceral, it was sincere and it didn’t come from talking points. It came from his heart, and I guarantee you it played well in Wisconsin.

After seeing the Jew-hatred in “Obsession,” it was hard not to get worked up when I spoke at the Palos Verdes synagogue. I wanted the Jew-haters of the world to know that we have as much passion to defend Jewish lives as they have passion to destroy us.

But I got a little carried away. I said that we need to have our own Jihad — a Jihad for life — and to show the enemy that we believe in it as much as they believe in their “Jihad for death.”

A fellow Jew rose up in indignation. My clever twist did not amuse him. No matter how much I tried to explain the subtleties of turning our enemy’s word on its head to convey our own “noble struggle,” the word went too far for him.

I understood his discomfort, but maybe that’s precisely why we need to go there.

Our PR timidity has backfired on us. I’m not saying we should emulate “Wrestlemania” announcers (how sincere do they look?), but I am saying that we need to get bolder and more emotional. It makes us more human.

For example, when the bombs fall on Sderot, instead of empty clichés like “no terrorist is immune” and “this is unacceptable” and so forth, we should have the guts to run ads all over the world and get on CNN and the BBC and say things like: “We gave them land, and they gave us war.” “This proves that the occupation was never the key problem,” and “How would England respond if the same amount of bombs fell on Manchester?”

These are not think-tank words, they’re real words. If we can deliver them with the same intensity Mr. Burg used five years ago, the world will better understand the justness of our cause.

The amazing thing about the PR battle is that it’s probably the only area right now where we can win. The political, military and diplomatic landscapes are a mess, but the PR landscape is wide open. Especially post-disengagement, there are numerous PR victories that are ours for the taking.

In a brilliant article in Haaretz, Moshe Arens explains why you can’t deter terrorists, you can only fight them. It’s time for Jews of all stripes to get their mojo back, and join the PR fight.

Even if your only weapon is your PC, and your mouth.

The ‘Obsession’ trailer

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Click to take a video tour with Orit Arfa

With style, fanfare and fireworks, the $400 million Mamilla Alrov commercial and residential quarter opened its Jerusalem stone doors to the public on May 28.

The only completed portion is a small section of the outdoor mall, but among its anticipated 138 stores are Israeli fashion chains and boutique shops, as well as high-end retail outfits like Tommy Hilfiger, MAC, Bebe, H. Stern and Ralph Lauren. To use a Los Angeles analogy, it may be fair to say that the Holy City has just welcomed its equivalent of The Grove.

Unlike The Grove, however, the Mamilla Alrov Quarter need not create artificial facades to evoke a historical texture. Built on the historic Rehov Mamilla, the quarter has been a restoration project as much as an effort in capitalism.

It served as the first trading center outside the Old City walls at the turn of the century.

Visitors can walk along a street where Jordanian snipers fired at indigent Israelis who lived there in the years following the War of Independence. The French Catholic Convent of Saint Vincent de Paul stands oddly between the Israeli clothing shop Renuar and Erroca Eyewear. Even though the Old City is a tourist magnet on Shabbat and holidays, all stores will be closed on the holy days.

One aim of the project is to contribute style to an area associated more with political and religious tension rather than colorful trends: the Jaffa Gate right outside the Old City walls.

By 2008 the complex will include 50 luxury residences and the five-star Alrov Mamilla Jerusalem Hotel, all designed by world-renowned Israeli Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. The hefty price tags of the condos range from $1.1 million to $13 million. Today, roughly 35 percent of the Mamilla properties have already been sold, mostly to foreign residents.

The project has been many decades in the making and is considered among the most ambitious and contentious enterprises ever undertaken in the city. The visionary behind the project is real-estate magnate Alfred Akirov, who built Tel Aviv’s Opera Tower and Treetop Towers. He and his associates endured long battles with government bureaucracy as well as environmental and religious groups objected to the construction of such a massive complex in an archeology-rich, hallowed neighborhood.

Safdie designed the project with sensitivity to the site’s archeology and history. Many of the historic structures have been restored or reassembled, using the original Jerusalem stone. One such structure is the Stern House, where Theodor Herzl stayed overnight during his visit to Jerusalem in 1898. The mall is generally proportionate with the architecture of the immediate environs. The greatest challenge in creating the complex has been “patience,” Safdie said.
In a city often touted as one of the poorest and politicized in Israel, Safdie believes the project will bring a much-needed revival to the commercial and cultural landscape in Jerusalem.

“I think the project is a bridge and connection, by uniting the Old City with the new city, the Arab side with the Israeli side. I think it will bring life to the entire central business district,” he said.

Those who still prefer the traditional Israeli shopping experience, where they can find bargains through old-fashioned haggling, can easily take a short walk down the path of the promenade, past the Jaffa Gate into the bustling shuk in the Arab Quarter.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Safdie said.

Saturday the 9th

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The Greek myth of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice is a tale about love, life and death. When Eurydice dies, her bereaved husband follows her down to the underworld, the realm of Hades, and with his angelic singing, convinces the god of death to return Eurydice to the world of the living. The only condition is that Orpheus not look back at his wife as they make their way home. At the last minute, he violates the rule and his wife fades away. “Sliding Into Hades” is playwright Aaron Henne’s modern exploration of the myth, dealing with our own attitudes toward mortality.

Thurs.-Sun., through June 17. $12 (under 25), $22.50 (weeknight), $25 (weekend). Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Robert Shapiro”>

Radio personality and serial bad boy Danny Bonaduce will go head-to-head with high-profile attorney Robert Shapiro (see photo) in a charity boxing match this evening. The “Sports Sweepstakes” fundraiser benefiting Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services promises to be quite punchy — with Monty Hall of “Let’s Make a Deal,” Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord, fabulous prizes and three sanctioned bouts. I’ve got my money on Bonaduce — the former “Partridge Family” member destroyed fellow child stars Donny Osmond and Barry Williams (a Brady) in previous charity boxing events.

5:30 p.m. $1,250. Beverly Hilton, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 996-1188.

Tuesday the 12th

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Wednesday the 13th

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Thursday the 14th

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Friday the 15th

After eating a large Shabbat meal you often want to do nothing more than sit back and be entertained. And entertained you shall be by Barry J. Hershey’s “Casting About,” a documentary chronicling the agony, frustration and hilarity of casting calls, told from the perspective of a filmmaker. In the vein of “American Idol,” footage includes interviews, monologues and audition sessions with more than 350 actresses trying out for a dramatic role.

Various show times. $7-$10. Laemmle Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 274-6869.

Daniela and Kuba — Jewish in Poland: Two Polish students describe how they came to be interested in Jewish life and culture.

Is it time to stop hating Poland?

Last summer, as Hezbollah rockets rained down on northern Israel, a group of 15 Israeli teenagers from Nahariya were whisked away for two weeks’ respite in Poland. In Israel, they’d spent their time hiding in bomb shelters; in Poland, they became guests of Lodz Mayor Jerzy Kropiwnicki and were treated to horseback riding, rock concerts, sightseeing trips and even Shabbat dinners complete with kosher food.

Many Jews still view Poland as the land of pogroms, persecution and prejudice; a terminally anti-Semitic and blood-drenched country where 3 million Jews were mercilessly murdered during World War II; a land dotted with death camps, desecrated cemeteries and deserted synagogues. What most Jews don’t know is that Poland has changed radically over the past couple of decades, and these days, it is reaching out to Israel and to Jews –and not just socially, either.

As a member of the European Union, NATO and the World Trade Organization, Poland has become a land of economic opportunity. In fact, since the collapse of communism in 1989, many Israelis have been heavily investing in the country.

Elite Coffee purchased Poland’s MK Café brand and has become one of the country’s top coffee producers; Israel’s Elran Group is a major financial partner in the newly opened Warsaw Hilton Hotel and Convention Center; and Israel’s Elbit Systems has engaged in a joint venture with two Polish companies to produce unmanned reconnaissance aircraft for the Polish army and police.

Even Poland’s public radio now broadcasts a daily 30-minute program in Hebrew, partially funded by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Poland is the most pro-Israeli country in the world,” said Jaroslaw Nowak, deputy to Lodz Mayor Kropiwnicki in charge of relations with Israel and the Diaspora.

Yet many Jews harbor a seething, deep-seated hostility toward Poland that won’t dissipate, no matter how many decades have passed since the Holocaust and or how markedly it contradicts the attitudes and behavior of present-day Poles.

“Jews in Poland felt they were betrayed by their neighbors, by people who had been their friends, and that betrayal looms larger than the betrayal by the Nazis, from whom they expected nothing,” said Michael Berenbaum, Holocaust scholar and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University (formerly the University of Judaism).

Berenbaum also explained that the totality of the violence in Poland — the scope, intensity and speed, with essentially 90 percent of Poland’s more than 3.3 million Jews wiped out in a matter of 14 months — also fuels the intense loathing. And since a majority of the world’s Jews trace their roots to Poland, the impact is personal and enormous.

Additionally, many questions concerning Poland’s role in World War II remain unanswered. What really happened on July 10, 1941, in the town of Jedwabne, where at least 340 Jews were murdered by the local population, about 300 of whom were burned alive in a barn? And what instigated the pogrom at Kilce on July 4, 1946, where, of the 200 Jews who had returned home after the war, a Polish mob murdered 37 and wounded more than 80?

While Poland has passed legislation dealing with the return of communal Jewish property, survivors and heirs remain frustrated that the government still has not devised a way to compensate individuals whose private property was confiscated by the Nazis or later by the communists. And many people believe that anti-Semitism is too embedded in the Polish psyche to ever be overcome.

Still, 62 years after the Holocaust — almost three generations later — and more than 17 years after the fall of communism, Poland is a place where each summer since 1988 the Jewish Festival of Culture in Krakow has attracted thousands of visitors. A new Museum of the History of Polish Jews will break ground this summer, for which the land and much of the $33 million cost were donated by the Warsaw City Council and the Polish government.

And because it is a place where Jewish life flourished and enjoyed relative safety for 800 to 1,000 years, a place that gave birth to the Ba’al Shem Tov and modern Chasidism and a place where more than 60 percent of all Jews can trace their ancestry, there is tremendous potential for tourism. So, naturally, Poland wants the word out.

That was the thinking recently when Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited a group of 11 American Jews — including Rabbi Steve Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Cantor Roz Barak of Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco, members of the American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles and Houston, as well as this reporter — on a trip to explore Jewish life in Poland today.

Accompanied by Los Angeles Polish Consul General Krystyna Tokarska-Biernacik, the trip was designed to show Poland’s vibrant and emerging Jewish life. Its mission was also to dispel American Jews’ stereotypes of Poland and Poles by examining historical fact and fiction, as well as modern misconceptions.

For starters, there is Jewish life in Poland.

Just walk into the Lauder-Morasha Jewish Primary and Middle School in Warsaw, which began as a preschool with seven children in 1989. Today, 240 students, ages 3 to 16, are actively engaged in Jewish and secular learning. Student-made Stars of David and mezuzahs adorn the hallways, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet circle the classrooms like wallpaper borders and the boys sport brightly colored kippahs.

The new head of school, Rabbi Maciej Pawlak, 29, who took the helm in September 2006 and who was educated at New York’s Yeshiva University, is the country’s first young Polish-born rabbi since World War II.

At Beit Warszawa, Poland’s first post-war liberal synagogue, on any Friday night, 50 or more primarily young, casually dressed Jewish Poles welcome Shabbat by singing “Hinej Ma Tow” and “Szalom Alejchem,” among other songs and prayers, the Hebrew words transliterated into Polish.

The Rita show in Rio de Janeiro this February

Only Rita could have pulled it off.

Her famous “One” concert was the first time any Israeli recording artist has attempted such an extravagant, multimedia performance. With its crew of 50 tumbling dancers, grandiose costumes, pyrotechnics and video art, the $5 million production looked like it came right off the Las Vegas Strip.

Last summer’s show at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center, which took its inspiration from Céline Dion’s year-round Caesar’s Palace concert, “A New Day,” drew close to 100,000 fans over a period of one month. That’s a lot of concertgoers for a country with a population of some 7 million, especially considering the concert was held during the height of the second Lebanon War.

“It was like a miracle,” said Rita, who much like Madonna and Cher eschews her last name. “It was a huge success.”

The concert proved that after 25 years on the stage, Rita is Israel’s most beloved diva. And at 45, the daring performer shows no signs of slowing down.

This month, Rita has something more intimate planned for Angelenos. Only 500 tickets are available for her June 5 performance at the American Jewish University’s (formerly the University of Judaism) Gindi Auditorium.

“My desire in bringing Rita to this location, as opposed to a larger venue which we could have easily sold, is to provide people the unique opportunity to experience an intimate evening with one of Israel’s best,” said Gady Levy, dean and vice president of the AJU’s department of continuing education. “What I believe Rita does best is connect with her audience during a show. The close, informal setting will allow her to connect with the audience even more.”

The Tehran-born singer, known for her passionate love ballads, already enjoys a built-in Los Angeles fan club. After the Islamic revolution in Iran in the late 1970s, most of her family in Iran split between Israel and Los Angeles, and she maintains close ties with her Los Angeles family, not to be confused with her Jewish fans abroad, who she also terms “family.”

Born in 1962, Rita Yahan-Farouz dreamed of performing from the time she was 4, when she sang into a microphone at her uncle’s engagement party, while standing on a chair.

“While singing, I remember it very clearly … very, very, very clearly…. I knew that that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt like I was home,” she said.

Her Zionist father felt it was time to pack their bags in 1970 after Rita’s sister came home crying because she refused to recite a Muslim prayer at school. The singer moved to Israel with her family at age 8.

As a teenager in Israel, Rita worked her way through dance school, acting school and voice lessons. The day after performing one of her singles for the Israeli Pre-Eurovision Song Contest, the Persian beauty was mobbed on the bus by new fans.

“It was a Cinderella story,” she said. “I didn’t know that it became that I could never go on a bus again. I got out after two stations. The entire bus was on me, touching and asking, and I didn’t know what happened. It was strange, very strange, very new, very frightening.”

But Rita didn’t set out to be the Israeli idol she is today.

“You don’t think big,” she said. “You’re innocent. It’s not like now that everyone sees all these contests, like ‘American Idol.’ It’s much more something that burns inside of you that you want to sing to people — you don’t think about big success, fame, nothing like that. It’s much deeper.”

Rita is flattered by her comparison to Canadian American legend Celine Dion, although when asked who her American idols are, she answers with little hesitation: “Beyonce. I don’t know whether to kiss or hit her because she’s amazing. She’s really something. She sings, she dances. I like very much the last record of Christian Aguilera.”

She counts Kate Bush and Barbra Streisand among her earlier influences for their multifaceted talents.

Of Dion she said, “I think [she] has a great voice — a great, great voice — but I never sat and cried when I heard her.” Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny the similarities.

As a thespian, Rita has starred in Israel’s stage musicals of “My Fair Lady” and “Chicago.” Despite the occasional provocative, sexy dress, Rita, a mother of two (Meshi, 15, and Noam, 6) radiates a pure, “put together” image.

Rita married her teenage sweetheart, singer-songwriter Rami Kleinstein, who has written, arranged and produced many of her albums and who has performed at American Jewish University in the past. Their musical marriage is one of the most celebrated and enduring in Israel.

Rita’s attempt to break into the international market was cut short, in part, by her commitment to her family. She became pregnant with her second daughter while on tour in Europe promoting her English album, “A Time for Peace,” which sold just 20,000 copies.

“I think this is a very important decision to make,” she said. “I decided that I didn’t want to be famous and miserable when I come home alone. That’s why I had to decide that my main career will be in one place, so I could build a family with children and a husband.”

Old-school Rita at Eurovision 1990

Click on the BIG ARROW for Orit Arfa’s video showing the inside of the portable shelter

On May 20, Operation LifeShield, a nonprofit organization founded to provide emergency relief from missile attacks in Israel, unveiled in Jerusalem its transportable bomb shelters, dubbed “LifeShields,” for use in public areas such as parks, school, playgrounds, hospitals and busy intersections.

Each shelter is made of 12-inch-thick steel-reinforced concrete, is large enough to accommodate 30 people and is built to withstand direct hits from both Qassam and Katyusha rockets.

With the recent onslaught of Qassam missiles into the western Negev and predictions of another conflict in northern Israel, Josh Adler and Shep Alster, both Israeli Americans, founded Operation LifeShield in hopes that the portable shelters will provide some solution to the scarcity of adequate shelters in Israel, offering both physical and psychological cover. LifeShields are the only portable bomb shelters of their kind in Israel and can be transported and deployed as needed.

“We saw the overall general problem of shelter in Israel, the lack of shelters, their stuffiness and the poor conditions of the shelters,” said Adler, who, with Alster, conceived the idea while volunteering in northern Israel last summer during the Second Lebanon War.

“Worse than that, if you want to have a routine and live an everyday life, you have to get out of the shelters,” Adler said. “You need to go to the park, the playground, shop and get some air.”

Adler, a contractor and construction supervisor by profession, put on hold plans to build vacation homes in northern Israel to focus instead on building the portable shelters, which he viewed as a national and Jewish mission.

The factory in Bet She’an in northern Israel has already constructed more than 20 shelters. Each takes about two weeks to build. They were designed according to specifications set by the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command and have received its stamp of approval.

Operation LifeShield is seeking funding for the shelters from Jewish communities abroad. Each shelter costs $36,000, including delivery costs. Each shelter weighs 42 tons and must be transported on truck and installed with a crane.

Three shelters are already stationed in Safed, Karmiel and Alma, and LifeShield has received dozens of requests from regional councils and municipal offices. A fourth shelter was installed May 20 at the Kalanit nursery school in Sderot, near a house recently struck by a rocket.

Sderot residents are usually given just 10 to 30 seconds advance notice before a missile falls. A drill conducted after the installation found that it took about 18 seconds for children to leave the nursery and enter the shelter.

Shmuel Bowman, spokesperson for Operation LifeShield, will speak on Saturday, May 26, at 7:30 pm. at Young Israel of Century City, 9317 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 691-3901.

lifeshield portable bomb shelter

A shelter being installed May 20 at the Kalanit nursery school in Sderot, near a house recently struck by a rocket.

Click here to make a donation to the Israel Emergency Fund for Sderot

Bombs and Panic in Sderot — amateur video
Click the BIG arrow to view (1 min. 11 secs.)

Israel Under Attack — official (?) video
English and Hebrew with English subtitles
Click the BIG arrow to view (2 mins. 52 secs.)

Amateur musical tribute to Sderot’s children — “Let Us Grow Up in Quiet”
Hebrew with English subtitles (3 mins. 42 secs.)

Click here to make a donation to the Israel Emergency Fund for Sderot

Crazy Jewish surf music from the Bay Area

Oojam at last year’s Ren Faire
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The women of Oojahm undulate on a makeshift stage of Oriental rugs at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire’s main entrance. Peasants and beggars hoot and holler while perched on nearby bales of hay as the turban-clad drummers provide the beat for this flirtatious performance.

But these belly dancers aren’t quite what you’d expect. For one thing, they don’t show any actual belly.

While squeezing into cleavage-popping bodices might be de rigueur for the commoners, the members of Oojahm buck the trend for the sake of historical accuracy. The dancers leave almost everything to the imagination, since their outfits must hem close to modesty standards of the 16th century Ottoman Empire. They don hair coverings, long fabric skirts, pantaloons (so the women don’t show skin when they twirl) and tunics that cover the arms and torso.

The dance troupe also sports another unexpected flourish: Jewish characters.

“We are a caravan [from the Ottoman Empire], and we have come to England to trade on the shire,” says Natalie Luskin, who plays Hadarah, the daughter of a Jew who died during childbirth.

“I was raised by the tribe, but because I am Jewish, I’ve been given the freedom to learn Torah,” she says, referring to her character’s biography.

Jews have participated regularly in RenFaire — which recreates with the greatest possible accuracy English life during the Renaissance — and actors like Luskin are now finding greater freedom to express their cultural identity in the roles they play. The main stumbling block to date had been that Jews were exiled from England 300 years before the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The trade mission storyline allows this Ottoman tribe of 35 performers to slip its Jewish characters into the formerly Judenrein shire. In keeping with its historical recreation, Oojahm features a detailed history that includes Jewish-Muslim coexistence and cooperation.

This inclusion reflects a dramatic shift in how Faire organizers focus on multiculturalism.

During weekends from early April to late May, 1,200 actors representing the various social classes of England’s Renaissance era wander through village streets filled with crafts, clothiers and games, interacting with the public. Staged performances and concerts are complimented by wandering minstrels and other street performers. And food vendors offer everything from turkey legs to falafel sandwiches, inspiring lines at Ye Olde ATM.

Dozens of such festivals are held nationwide and in Canada throughout the year, but Southern California kicked off the Renaissance Faire craze more than four decades ago. Teachers Phyllis and Ronald Patterson began staging small Renaissance pageants in the backyard of their San Fernando Valley home in the early 1960s, and the couple held the first Renaissance Faire in North Hollywood on May 11 and 12, 1963, attracting about 8,000 people.

From North Hollywood, the Faire relocated to Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino and then to its current site, the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale. Today, it attracts about 10,000 people daily.

Starting in 2005, Faire organizers began addressing ways to widen the event’s appeal among Los Angeles’ diverse communities. Spanish-language television advertisements began airing this year. Entertainment has grown to include Aztec dancers and Middle Eastern music ensemble Baba Ku, and jousting matches once reserved only for English lords now feature Italian, French, German and Ottoman champions.

The public is taking note, and more visitors are arriving in period outfits that fall outside the realm of Elizabeth’s England.

“I don’t think we can look on ourselves as a one-dimensional society any longer,” says Rikki Kipple, owner of Renaissance Pleasure Faire. “There’s so many fascinating cultures, and the world in Elizabethan times was amazing … because the trade routes had opened up.”

Not that Jews were waiting on the sidelines for an opportunity to take part in the festivities.

The dearth of Jews in Elizabethan England might have made for slim pickings in terms of Jewish roles over the last 40-odd years, but Jewish actors and crafts workers have been involved in the Faire since its earliest days.

Anita Honor, 78, a retired teacher, started attending the Faire as a craftswoman in 1968. She says her children would accompany her on the weekends, and they camped out together in her booth after she had spent the day making and selling rugs.

“It was like a vacation,” Honor says. “It was like being in a foreign country.”

Her daughter and granddaughter are RenFaire regulars, and she beams with pride as she recounts how her great-granddaughter started attending this year.

Lauren Chroman, a self-described “RenRat,” grew up as a participant. She says the Jews who work there definitely are aware of one another.

The 21-year-old student at Occidental College wears a Star of David on her necklace as she plays any one of three Irish or English characters. As a rabble-rouser at the jousts, Chroman keeps the audience entertained. While in character on the streets, she regularly taunts Puritans who make period cracks about Jews.

Chroman says that one of the anti-Semitic Puritans is, in fact, a Jew.

And if you happen to catch the Poxy Boggards, the “drinking group with a singing problem,” Chroman suggests you listen carefully for Hebrew being substituted for Gaelic verses.

“Only the Jews in the audience understand the joke when the singer puts on a yarmulke as he switches over to the Hebrew lines,” Chroman says. “Suddenly he’s joined by voices from the audience who don’t know a word of Gaelic.”

Renaissance Pleasure Faire ends this weekend, May 19-20.

Hadarah (Natalie Luskin), right, dances with Sari (Mercy) as part of Oojahm at Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

Hadarah (Natalie Luskin), right, dances with Sari (Mercy) as part of Oojahm at Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Photo courtesy of http://www.renaissancefaire.net Copyright © 2007 Richard G Lowe Jr.

Neal Katz runs up to the ark and opens the door. Blond-haired and bubbly, he points to the scroll, unable to articulate his desire.

“Do you want to touch the Torah?” Cantor Steve Puzarne asks.

The 13-year-old is autistic and nonverbal. Instead of using words, he mumbles enthusiastically.

It’s a typical Wednesday afternoon on the bimah at West Los Angeles’ Vista Del Mar, a onetime Jewish orphanage that evolved into one of the nation’s largest, most comprehensive child services centers. Puzarne and Neal are in the campus’ aging sanctuary as part of Nes Gadol, an effort launched by Vista Del Mar last February in conjunction with The Miracle Project to help children with varying degrees of learning challenges become sons and daughters of the commandment.

The cantor lifts the Torah out of the ark and into his own arms, resting its weight against one shoulder. He tells his student to kiss rather than handle it. Neal is carefully reverential as he leans in to make contact with the Torah’s cover.

“Do you want to try carrying it?” Puzarne asks.

But the teenager isn’t listening anymore. He takes off up the aisle, and Puzarne follows him outside, still carrying the Torah, hoping to reconnect with the boy in the foyer when he’s ready.

Neal’s mother, Elaine Hall, 50, is a children’s acting coach and founder of The Miracle Project, a theater and film arts program designed to help children with autism and other special needs. Hall said a bar mitzvah for her son seemed unrealistic until she received a phone call from Vista Del Mar CEO Elias Lefferman last October with the idea for Nes Gadol.
“I never conceived he’d ever have a bar mitzvah,” she said. “You never think about that.”

On May 28, Neal and 15-year-old William Lambert will become the first students from the group to be called to the Torah. For special-needs teens, the specifically tailored program represents a way to connect with a Jewish rite on their terms. And the parents say it’s particularly gratifying to find a way for their children to be included in the tradition.

Nes Gadol, Hebrew for “a great miracle,” is one of many outreach efforts in Los Angeles aimed at boys and girls with special needs, including synagogue programs like Temple Beth Am’s Koleinu, Valley Beth Shalom’s Shearim and Temple Aliyah’s Otzar. But Vista Del Mar’s program is the first nondenominational one, which organizers hope will allow them to reach special-needs families who might not have considered joining a synagogue for their child’s bar or bat mitzvah.

While Hall runs the program, she credits Vista Del Mar’s Lefferman with developing the concept. “He’s a visionary,” she said. “He’s really quite extraordinary.”

Nes Gadol is funded through a grant from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation.
In addition to Hall, the program’s staff includes Puzarne, founder of Breeyah, which develops creative worship services throughout the country; Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer, who leads Ozreinu, a spiritual support group for families with special-needs children, and Jackie Redner, rabbi of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services; Karen Howard, a music therapist; and Rachelle Freedman, a Jewish theater instructor. Volunteers and typical b’nai mitzvah students with mitzvah project assignments also participate in the program, and Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University (formerly the University of Judaism), serves as its adviser.

Currently seven students are enrolled in the program’s first year, all of them boys who live at home. More than 80 percent of Americans diagnosed with autism are male.

Children diagnosed with autism typically exhibit impaired social interaction, impaired communication as well as restricted and repetitive interests and activities. Social interactions can be awkward and conversations can elicit unusual, incongruous responses. Many autistic children have repetitive body movements, attachment to objects and an aversion to changes in routines. The disorder is usually diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 3 and can range from mild or high-functioning to severe in degrees of affliction.

In California it’s the leading disability among children, ahead of cancer, diabetes and Down’s syndrome, the state Department of Developmental Services reports. One in every 166 children today is born with the disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and some studies are now putting that number closer to one in every 150 children.
While there are a number of theories regarding the rise of autism, no definitive cause has been identified.

Hall adopted Neal from Russia through Vista Del Mar when he was 2 years old, and she said his small size made him look to be about 9 months old at the time. He was diagnosed with severe autism shortly before his bris, at 3 years old.

At 7, Neal’s body movements were so out of control that Hall couldn’t keep pictures or mementos on the walls of her home because he would knock them down, and she didn’t have time to cook while he was awake, because she spent her time trying to engage him and keep him safe.

After traditional therapy failed her, she implemented a “floor-time approach” with Neal and joined him in his world. “If he wanted to spin, we’d spin,” she said. “When he wanted to stack toy cars, we would stack cars with him until he one day gave us one of his cars and made eye contact.”

Despite his linguistic challenges, Neal can verbalize some words, like “momma,” and communicates with a portable TypeSmart keyboard that vocalizes his thoughts for him.

Now in Santa Monica’s Lincoln Middle School, he is enrolled in five regular classes with the assistance of an aide and two classes for learning-disabled students. He even has two friends who are typically developing teens.

“Everything with autism just takes more time,” Hall said. “But he wants people to know what he thinks.”

Jewish Mother 1 is from Italy
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Jewish Mother 2 appears in a public service announcement from Belgium
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My Yiddishe Mama 3 — Moscow Male Jewish Cappella sings ‘Yiddishe Mama’
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Last Monday, I took my ticket from the parking valet at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, turned, and came face to face with John Kerry. He was standing beside me, staring at his cell phone.

“Oh,” I said to the senator, at a loss. “Hi.”

“Hi,” he said, and turned back to his phone.

The doors to the hotel slid open. Former Secretary of Education William Bennett moved past me. We exchanged nods. I turned and ran into Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. Three steps behind him, Eli Broad whizzed by.

Just another 30 seconds at the Milken Institute Global Conference, the annual gathering that attracts everybody you’ve ever seen on CSPAN, the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and FOX, including the owner of FOX, Rupert Murdoch — I bumped into him coming out of the men’s room.

The annual conference marked its 10th anniversary last week, with three days of lectures, keynotes and seminars on the topics and trends that organizers at the Milken Institute believe will shape our global future.

The Los Angeles Times compared the gathering to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland or the Clinton Global Initiative Conference. But what makes this high-powered global conference different from all others is the audience: not mainly policy wonks and NGO do-gooders, not politicos and journos (though plenty of all of the above), but investors, corporate types, men and women who collect and distribute private and public capital.

“We run the number one high-yield bond fund in the country!” I heard a conference-goer bark into his cell phone. Many people I met told me they ran hedge funds, though I never did quite figure out what a hedge fund is.

It’s a three-day return to university, if your university hired mostly Nobel laureates and your fellow students were all much richer than you. At about $1,000 per day, it’s just a bit pricier than an Ivy League college.

On Wednesday I attended one of the general sessions in the hotel’s ballroom, at which most of the conference’s 3,000 participants heard the conference’s founder, Michael Milken, in discussion first with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, then with a panel of Nobel laureates. The subject was global warming and energy independence.

The governor laid out how California would lead the way in reducing the gases that cause global warming and developing green technologies. He threatened to sue the federal government if it prevents California from implementing a law reducing greenhouse gases from vehicles within six months. Then, under Milken’s questioning, he switched gears and spoke of “great economic opportunities for green technology.”

Schwarzenegger challenged his audience to invest in California and in alternative energy technologies.

“Everyone needs to look at this as a huge opportunity,” he said.

In Milken’s conversation with the Nobel laureates in science and physics, he prodded them on where future energy investment opportunities lie.

“People are not sitting still on the assumption that we’ll have an energy system based on carbon-based energy,” he said.

But the panelists and Milken seemed to agree that opportunities need government to help out by passing stronger regulations on fuel emissions.

That’s what consistently surprised me at a gathering birthed by a man who has, despite a lifetime in groundbreaking philanthropy, been interred in popular imagination as a poster boy for avarice. For one thing, you end up hearing a lot about alternative energy, the end of oil, the most effective means of Third World development, curing the world’s worst diseases, universal health care, and environmental rescue. And every other chance he gets, Mike Milken himself goes on about healthier eating through soy.

Strip away the power suits and you’re back in a freshman dorm, circa 1978, hearing the campus lefties talk about saving the world.

In fact, idealism infuses this conference. It is at root about doing well and doing good; and often, in the case of investment in energy alternatives and emerging markets, in doing well while doing good. “I’d like to think [government] can tilt the playing field so the private sector is rewarded for doing the right thing rather than the wrong thing,” the Nobel laureate Burton Richter of Stanford University, told Milken. But it was Milken who provided the graph that showed that in the past stronger government regulation has improved energy efficiency while allowing the economy to grow at unprecedented levels.

Clearly, this is not your grandfather’s capitalism.

As I wandered in and out of conference sessions, I discovered not the slash-and-burn mentality of go-go capitalism at work, but something actually closer to the earliest form of capitalism in the Middle Ages. Back then, private capital was a kind of new technology that enabled a nascent middle-class to use its funds to attain wealth previously accessible only to aristocrats. Back then, money in the hands of merchants and guilds challenged the feudal autocracy and funded invention, discovery and social development.

At the Milken Conference, investment was presented as just that kind of engine of human ingenuity, and human capital as a foundation of wealth. The ultimate smart money, Milken and his conference presenters seemed to be saying, is on health and education: there’s no limit as to how much wealth a nation of smart healthy people can generate. At one luncheon, Milken flashed a chart — the man likes his statistics — showing the cost of early deaths caused by heart attacks and cancer.

Invest millions of dollars into finding cures, said Milken — founder of FasterCures, a nonprofit that does just that — and free up trillions in lost wealth.

Nowhere was this noble capital more apparent than in the Conference’s treatment of Israel.

At a time when much of the world makes a special point of singling Israel out for disparagement — just witness the British National Union of Journalists, which last week called for a boycott of Israel after one of their own members was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists — the Milken Global Conference holds Israel up as an exemplar of how a developing country can combine smart economic policies with investments in education and innovation to unleash enormous economic potential. Milken economist Glenn Yago hosted a nearly two-hour session titled, “Israel: Confessions of an Economic Growth Engine,” which dissected the country’s progress and problems.

Sandy Koufax on the mound. Click the BIG ARROWKoufax chosen in Israel Baseball League’s (IBL) first-ever draft

Power-hitting California outfielder Aaron Levin was the first player selected in the Israel Baseball League’s inaugural draft.The Modi’in Miracles made Levin, 22, from Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo, the first pick in the draft, held Thursday night in New York City.

With the final pick of the draft the Miracles chose Sandy Koufax, the former Los Angeles Dodger left-hander and Hall of Famer, who famously refused to pitch in a World Series game that fell on Yom Kippur.It’s unclear whether Koufax would actually suit up for the Miracles.

“His selection is a tribute to the esteem with which he is held by everyone associated with this league,” the team’s manager, former big leaguer Art Shamsky, told The Associated Press. “It’s been 41 years between starts for him. If he’s rested and ready to take the mound again, we want him on our team.”

The IBL will play a 42-game schedule starting June 24. Players from around the world were drafted, but roughly half the league will be made up of Jews, league founders said.

Iran ‘Most Active’ Terror Sponsor

Iran is the “most active” state sponsor of terrorism, and its proxy, Hezbollah, is the “most technically capable terrorist group,” a U.S. report says. Syria also was named as a state sponsor of terrorism in the U.S. State Department’s country reports on terrorism released Monday, although the report implied that Damascus was more responsive to pressure than Iran.

“[Iran’s] Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] and Ministry of Intelligence and Security [MOIS] were directly involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts and continued to exhort a variety of groups, especially Palestinian groups with leadership cadres in Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah, to use terrorism in pursuit of their goals.”

Syria, it said, had ties to the same groups, but added, “Syria’s public support for the Palestinian groups varied, depending on its national interests and international pressure.”
The report praised Sudan as a “strong partner in the War on Terror” and said it “aggressively pursued terrorist operations directly involving threats to U.S. interests and personnel in Sudan.”

It noted that the Sudanese government welcomed officials of Hamas, the terrorist group that heads the Palestinian Authority government, but added that it “limited their activities to fundraising.”

Assessing terrorist groups, the report described Lebanon’s Hezbollah as “the most technically capable terrorist group in the world,” based in part on its performance against Israel in last summer’s war. It noted past Hezbollah attacks on Americans and compared them to Hamas, which “has not directly targeted U.S. interests, although the group makes little or no effort to avoid targets frequented by foreigners,” the report said. In its summary, the report said that “the Israeli/Palestinian conflict remains a source of terrorist motivation.”

Rabbinical Assembly Opens Convention

Arnold Eisen twice brought a room of Conservative rabbis to their feet in his inaugural address to the movement’s rabbinical association Monday. Speaking at the annual Rabbinical Assembly convention in Boston, the chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary called for a wide discussion of the idea of mitzvah, a contentious subject for a movement dedicated to a careful balance of tradition and modernity.

“I think we’ve largely dropped the ball when it comes to message,” said Eisen, who urged the movement to build tight communities and fill them with enriching content.

The R.A. convention comes at a time of unease in the Conservative movement, whose legal authorities recently voted to permit gay and lesbian clergy, in a move that some feared would cause an irrevocable split. Along with resolutions on the Iraq war and Darfur, there’s an effort to have the convention discuss a resolution calling on all the movement’s rabbinical schools to accept gay and lesbian students.

Vatican Polls on Anti-Semitism

The Vatican is conducting a survey among Roman Catholic bishops on anti-Semitism and interfaith dialogue. The questions, published last week in advance of an international bishops conference in Rome in October 2008, ask the clergy if they think biblical texts are being used to foment anti-Semitism and whether they are working to foster dialogue with Jews.

The questionnaire expresses concern that too few Catholics know enough about the Old Testament.

Hebrew U. Co-Sponsors Learning at Einstein Home

An Israeli university and a German forum are teaming to use Albert Einstein’s former summer home as an educational site. Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which inherited the home in Caputh, near Berlin, signed an agreement April 25 with the Potsdam-based Einstein Forum launching joint educational programs at the site. A fellowship at its guest house is to begin May 1.

Einstein was on Hebrew University’s first board of governors. He used Caputh as a retreat from 1929 to 1933, then immigrated to the United States when the Nazis took power. The Einstein Forum raised funds to renovate the site from the Cornelsen Culture Foundation and the federal commissioner for culture and media. In 2005 it was reopened, 50 years after Einstein’s death.

Reform Divests From Sudan

The Reform movement became the latest Jewish group to divest from Sudan over the genocide in Darfur.

“Divestment is a tactic to use in specific and appropriate situations,” Reform’s Religious Action Center said in a statement Thursday. “It is now time we apply this additional economic tool, along with our other strategies, to seek an end to this tragic violence in Darfur.”

Government-allied terrorist groups have massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians in the region of western Sudan. President Bush has introduced sanctions and pledged to expand them, and said he would consider imposing a no-fly zone unless Sudan allows in more peacekeepers and observes a truce. Other Jewish groups divesting from companies that deal with Sudan include the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the National Council of Jewish Women.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

MUSIC VIDEO: HaDag Nachash (Snake Fish)—‘The Sticker Song’ (‘Shirat Ha-sticker’)sums up the political climate of Israel in bumper stickers.  Brilliant.

Denmark’s red hot Jewish momma Channe Nussbaum and Klezmofobia: ‘Vi ahin zol ikh geyn? Where can I go?’

Click BIG ARROW for a soldier’s video about his comrades in the Nahal Haredi
In Israel, where service in the armed forces is every man’s — and most women’s — duty, the majority of Israelis, from secular to Modern Orthodox, have long scorned the ultra-Orthodox “black hats” for avoiding military service by studying in yeshivas.

Now, a battalion of ultra-religious young men, known as Nahal Haredi, is seeking to change this image by combining Torah study with the bearing of arms.

Between 10 percent and 12 percent of the 800 to 1,000 men in the battalion are mahalniks, or volunteers from abroad, with the largest contingents from the United States and France, followed by Russia and South Africa.

Currently, in an unorthodox outreach campaign, the Orthodox rabbis, who worked with the army to establish Nahal Haredi, are planning an advertisement campaign in major Jewish newspapers in the United States and Britain to encourage foreign volunteers who can meet specific standards to come to Israel and join the battalion.

The ad drive is due to begin in July or August and, if effective, will be extended to other Diaspora countries with sizable Orthodox communities, said Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow, director of Nahal Haredi-Netzah Yehuda, an auxiliary that serves as the link between the IDF and the ultra-Orthodox Charedi community. He hopes that Orthodox lay and spiritual leaders in the United States will support the drive.

Nahal Haredi was established in 1999 and was met initially with considerable skepticism by both Charedim and army generals. The beginnings were quite rocky, but now the project seems to be hitting its stride.

What kind of men is Nahal Haredi looking for? According to the organization’s Web site the basic requirements are “Shabbat observance, wearing a kippah and a refined speech.”

Theoretically, any man (no women, of course) who meets these basic criteria can join the battalion, but in practice, some 70 percent come from ultra-Orthodox homes in B’nai-B’rak and other Charedi enclaves.

Time is set aside for daily Talmud study, and the food is glatt kosher. No women are allowed on the base, but on Shabbat, married soldiers can meet their wives outside the base.

“Nahal Haredi has the highest proportion of Diaspora volunteers of any Israeli unit; they come to us with high motivation, and many subsequently make aliyah,” Klebanow said. “Sometimes, they are more Zionistic than native-born Israelis.”

Klebanow cited other advantages: “The Orthodox population is going up because of its high birthrate, while the secular population is going down, so if Israel is to have an army in 20 years, it must have more Orthodox soldiers.”

To further integrate Charedim into mainstream Israeli society, Klebanow’s organization supports one year of college studies for discharged soldiers, while last month American telecommunications tycoon Howard Jonas promised a job in one of his Israeli companies to every soldier in the battalion who completes his service.

This video shows training excercises for the medical team

Click the BIG ARROW for Matzav Shelanu –a video about “our situation” —
from American solider “Daniel” of the IDF.
Warning: Strong language in soundtrack.

Zach TaylorThe Israel Defense Forces (IDF) want a few good men like Zach Taylor (photo).

Actually, the IDF wants a lot of them.

Taylor is a 20-year-old volunteer from North Hollywood serving in an Israeli infantry battalion of Torah-observant and predominantly ultra-Orthodox soldiers.

The unit, Nahal Haredi, plans to launch an advertising campaign during the summer in major Jewish newspapers in the United States and Britain to augment its ranks with more foreign recruits.

Taylor is among the surprisingly large number of Americans, of all denominational and secular persuasions, serving in the army, navy and air force of the Jewish state. According to official government statistics, their number totals 14,250, of whom 4,419 serve on active duty and 9,831 in the reserves.

Cpl. Zachary Rowen Taylor, Hebrew name Zacharia Ben Abraham, comes from a nonobservant home but attended Shalhevet and Valley Torah, both Orthodox high schools. He grew up in a very pro-Israel home, and his mother, Allyson Rowen Taylor, is the associate director of the American Jewish Congress regional chapter and one of the founding members of StandWithUs.com.

Immediately after graduation, he enrolled in a Jerusalem yeshiva for one year and then decided to join the Israeli army for a two-year hitch, to be followed by one of subsidized college studies. His unit has been stationed mainly in the Jordan Valley and the West Bank, including Hebron, the site of frequent clashes between Arabs and Jewish settlers.

Taylor spoke from his parents’ home during a one-month leave the IDF grants to soldiers from abroad and said that he plans to move permanently to Israel and hopes to become a career officer in the IDF. Taylor’s army service has reinforced his belief that Israel can survive only through armed force, and in a recent letter home he wrote in part:

“Our Jewish naivete is that everyone is nice and perfect and can be dealt with through diplomacy. This is not true. Our enemies learn one way, and the one and only way is through the language of war and the language of the sword. We did not set it up that way, they have.”

Jeff, a 27-year-old lieutenant in the army, was born and raised in Northridge as the son of Israeli parents and enlisted in the IDF shortly after graduating from San Jose State. Because of the sensitivity of his work, Jeff asked that his last name and photo not be used, and he declined to discuss his army experiences, except to say that he had seen combat. However, he was willing to talk about some of his personal background and motivations.

“I was raised to take pride in my Jewish heritage and Israeli roots,” he said. “To me, Israeli soldiers were heroes, and from a young age, I knew that’s what I wanted to be.”

“The biggest parts of my motivation were Zionism and Judaism,” he added. “I can’t really separate one from the other.”

Jeff described his religious outlook as Conservative and said he has never had a second thought about his career choice: “I had very good job offers from brokerage firms and high-tech companies after my graduation, but it didn’t matter.

“What I’ve gotten out of my service in Israel is a deep sense of responsibility and developing my leadership skills,” he added. “As an officer, I am entrusted with the lives of 40 soldiers or more. I’m responsible that they get food, sleep and come home safely. That’s a big deal.”

While their sons and daughters serve in Israel, the parents in America watch from afar with a mixture of pride and constant anxiety. Every news bulletin about a Hezbollah raid or a soldier’s death hits them personally.

Baltimore resident Devorah, whose last name cannot be used, has two sons, ages 21 and 19, serving in the IDF, while her 16-year-old son at home can’t wait to join his brothers.

“I don’t forget for one hour that they are in danger,” said Devorah, a psychodramatist who lived in the San Fernando Valley for seven years. “I fully support what they are doing, but I don’t sleep well.”

Her worst moment came last August, when she received a phone call that the oldest son, Yehuda, a paratrooper, had been wounded during the Lebanon fighting.

“He was in a house surrounded by Hezbollah and was shot in the arm,” she recalled. “But he refused to be evacuated for four days. He didn’t want to leave his buddies.”

Her 19-year-old son, who always wanted to become a foreign correspondent, is serving in a covert unit and can be identified only by the initial E.

In IDF parlance, the two volunteers from Baltimore are “lone soldiers,” with no family in Israel to visit on Shabbat or furlough.

“The boys get invited out, they have girlfriends and they share an apartment in Tel Aviv, but they work so many hours, and when they get a day off, they have to do their own laundry, shopping and cooking,” lamented their mother.

Besides, their Israeli comrades think that the two volunteers “are nuts to leave the fleshpots of America to come to Israel,” she reported.

Devorah and her husband, a San Francisco-born kindergarten teacher, are “kind of Modern Orthodox,” she said, but their sons are not religious.

At home, Devorah has transformed herself into a one-woman fundraising organization to buy the extras, and even some essentials, for her sons’ units, including combat boots, hydration bags, flashlights and super-Swiss army knives that can cut through barbed wire.

She took a load of such goodies with her in late February, when she visited Israel under a unique program to lift the morale of soldiers from abroad and their families, called Regulim Eem Eema (Time Off With Mom) in Hebrew and Parents of Lone Soldiers in English.

” target = “_blank”>Hebrew Songs.com

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