February 22, 2019

Happy Birthday to Me: Oct News 2018

Oct News 2018 with We Said Go Travel:

Thank you to everyone for the birthday wishes! I am so proud of all I have accomplished this year. Thank you for watching my videos, reading my stories, following along on social media and asking me about booking your travels! I was LIVE on the 1pm KTLA NEWS!

Did you see me? Click here to see it AGAIN! 

Happy Birthday Lisa Niver 2018

Lisa Niver on an Arctic Safari with Churchill Wild finding polar bears!

Thank you to Ms. Magazine for publishing my story: “Reverse Mentoring with GenMaverick: The Five Best Lessons I Learned From Teen Feminists.” I was honored to be asked to be a mentor/catalyst for Maverick. This story is from the Maverick Live Summit in April 2018.

“At the inaugural Maverick Live Summit in Los Angeles, teens took the stage to celebrate the new app’s intent to empower young girls to use their voices—and shared honest stories about their paths to incredible accomplishments. From being on “Grown-ish” to being the first African-American woman ever to qualify for a U.S. Olympic speed skating team, the passionate young women who gathered in Los Angeles for the summit showed the crowd of teens that anything is possible and encouraged them to be creative and empowered.

Collectively and individually they told each other and the crowd: “Take risks! Dream big. Let your voice be heard!”

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE ON MS. MAGAZINE

Lisa Niver's article for Ms. Magazine

My Travel Photo Award is open until November 1, 2018. Thank you to everyone who participated in all of my writing competitions and the first photo award. Submit your photo for our current Photo Award THIS MONTH!

We Said Go Travel Photo Award 2018

Did you see all of my Africa stories and videos from my trip to Tanzania and Kenya with Abercrombie and Kent?

Part 1: Where Did I Travel on My First African Safari?

Part 2: Are You Ready? Today We Are Going to the Serengeti!

Part 3: What is the Best Way to Travel from Tanzania to Kenya?

Part 4: How can you see Black Rhino, Maasai Warriors and Hula Hoops?

Part 5: Do You Love The Animals of Africa?

Thank you to Abercrombie and Kent for sharing so many of my photos from our East African safari on their Facebook page:

Travel expert and writer, Lisa Ellen Niver, recently returned from a safari in East Africa with A&K. Here she shares some of the highlights from her recent adventure.We Said Go Travel

Posted by Abercrombie & Kent USA on Thursday, October 11, 2018

 

WHERE CAN YOU FIND MY TRAVEL VIDEOS?

Here is the link to my video channel on YouTube where I have over 826,000 views on YouTube! Thank you for your support! Are you a subscriber? I hope you will join me and subscribe!

Recent videos from walking with Polar Bears in Canada with Churchill Wild:

I am now planning and booking travel! Where do you want to wander? Find more information about me and my luxury travel advising as an independent affiliate of CRUISE and RESORT, Inc with Virtuoso Luxury Travel Network on my new microsite!

My fortune cookies said:  “Don’t be discouraged because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward,” and “Courtesy costs nothing.”

I hope your birthday and entire year will be filled with celebrations!
Thank you for your all of your support. Lisa

Discover more on my social media accounts:  InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestYouTube, and at LisaNiver.com. My social media following is now over 135,000 and I am verified on both Twitter and Facebook.

Lisa Niver is BRAVE

Lisa Niver at the opening summit for Maverick Live, April 2018

From Terrified to Blessed: Skydiving for my Birthday

As the Winter Olympics begin, I think about the athletes and their great feats of physical strength and commitment to daily preparation to achieve their goals.  For my 50th birthday, I overcame 50 challenges that were new or adventurous and I was scared the whole time. The most amazing thing to me is that I kept saying yes. I never gave up. If I could call myself one year ago and explain everything that was going to happen, I would never have believed it. I was much more courageous than I imagined was possible.

Watch Lisa Niver on KTLA TVFor my birthday, I did something I have always said I would never attempt. I went sky diving. While I was very nervous and excited, I was also prepared for the challenge by my choices all year.

The day before my jump, I read Rabbi Naomi Levy’s book, “Einstein and the Rabbi,” while sitting on the balcony of my perfect room at The Pantai Inn in La Jolla. I strolled on the beach, watched the seals and sea lions playing in the water and then would return and read more.

Video: Sky Diving with GoJump Oceanside

Once in Oceanside at GoJump, it was necessary to patiently wait for  two hours until the clouds cleared. I nearly had too much time to contemplate Levy’s book, my life and if I really wanted to take part in this birthday gift to myself.

When Levy wrote, “Your soul wants to teach you about your strength. It wants you to believe in your abilities and your gifts. It wants you to lift up your head with pride and claim your birthright: the life that is yours to experience. Your soul wants you to follow it through times of darkness, through the fog and confusion.

I was not sure she meant jumping out of a plane but that was where my path had brought me and it was what was going to happen next.

In the plane, I sang to myself: Kol Haolam Kulo

The song means: “All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the thing is not to be afraid.” I knew in my heart that this is the life I want to live. I do not want to be fearful of so many things. I want to risk and make my dreams come true.

Levy writes:

Your soul will lead you to heights and to loves and to kindness.”

and “Everything has led you to where you are right at this very moment.”

I chose to believe I would live through this scary experience and I imagined I might even love it. If I let fear win and I never try, my life will be smaller. I want to grow and learn to approach new experiences with excitement instead of terror.

Levy says that “The soul wants you to be uncomfortable enough to strive for more, to grow and to learn and to see what needs fixing in this beautiful and broken world. Living with soul can keep you up at night. You suddenly start seeing the humanity in the eyes of strangers you were ignoring.”

Happy Birthday Sky Diving! I DID IT

I wonder where my journey will lead. Sometimes I am not sure that it is the right path but I feel better after reading about following the path of my soul.

The soul’s journey is never linear. It requires patience and perseverance. Just when you’re ready to give up, a door opens and you are granted the opportunity to step inside if you wish. You are invited to explore new realms that were previously locked to you. Were those turns you took back there wrong turns? Were those dead ends you reached worthless? Or were they all part of the “whole”?

I said the Shehecheyanu in the plane. It is a Jewish blessing for the first time we encounter something new or arrive in a new place or for me a new state of being. I was strapped to another human being with five points of connection and I am trusting him to guide us with his parachute safely back to earth.

Levy says we must learn to take soulfie’s instead of selfies! 

If we can learn to take a soulfie, it may very well transform our lives. By making a decision to access and follow our souls, we begin a journey. It is a winding journey full of bumps and pits, stops and starts. Sometimes the road becomes flat and we can cover great distances. Sometimes we will get stuck in one place for what may seem like an eternity before we are ready to continue forward. Yes, there are times when we will get lost, when we won’t know what to do or which way to turn and it’s frightening and frustrating and we wish it could all just be easier. With soul it can get easier.

For a year, I have been following this path of fear and with each challenge I accomplish, my ability to handle fear is better. The hardest thing I did was take a mountain biking lesson at Northstar California Resort. I went down the mountain on a blue intermediate run on my first day and while at one point, I did cry, I never gave up and it was a great feeling of accomplishment. I thought about mountain biking a lot while waiting for my turn in the plane. I kept telling myself I can do it. I did that and I can do this. I want to do it.

Levy continues: “Life’s paths are anything but straight. And yet those winding paths, as frustrating as they may be, can lead us to a life of meaning and blessings. I pray you will choose to follow your soul on its journey.

I am following this path and I wonder what will happen next. I worry about parachutes not opening, bad landings and other horror stories but mainly I sing to myself and say the Sh’ma. “Hear O’Israel the Lord is our God, Our God is One.”

Sky Diving is amazing!I believe that I am being lead. I have made it here and my job for this day for sky diving is to remain as calm as possible and enjoy this incredible opportunity.

As Levy says: “It isn’t easy to make the journey from narrowness to a vast expanse. But we all want to wake up from our sleepwalking. We all want to topple the barriers that are standing in the way of a full life.” I do know I want a full life and by testing my limits and not letting fear win that is what I am getting. I am sure there will be more tests, challenges and scary ideas to conquer. I did jump out of a plane and fly like a bird and I will be able to overcome what comes next.

Within you are powers that you haven’t even begun to tap into. There’s a purpose to your life. A high purpose…You can lift yourself up. And as you lift yourself up, you will lift others up too. May you live to turn your curses into blessings, your fear into strength, your greatest block into your greatest opening. Amen

VideoDo you Love Strolling by the Sea With Seals?

Lisa Niver thanks GoJump Oceanside and the Pantai Inn for hosting her for her 50th birthday.

What will you do to celebrate for your next birthday?

Rapper Drake Throws a Re-Bar Mitzvah Party on His 31st Birthday

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 26: Host Drake speaks on stage during the 2017 NBA Awards Live On TNT on June 26, 2017 in New York City. 27111_001 (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for TNT )

Could the world’s hottest  rapper be any more of a nice Jewish boy?

According to the New York Post, Drake’s 31st birthday party on Oct. 23 was themed “Aubrey’s re-bar mitzvah.” The Jewish rapper’s real name is Aubrey Drake Graham — and 31, in case you didn’t realize, is the reverse of 13, the age at which Jewish law says boys become men.

Drake did have a bar mitzvah at the age of a 13, telling Digital Spy in 2012, “We kinda just did it in the basement of an Italian restaurant, which I guess is kinda like a faux pas.”

“I told myself that if I ever got rich, I’d throw myself a re-bar mitzvah,” Drake continued.

After an intimate rooftop dinner with friends and family at Catch LA, Drake relocated to the nightclub Poppy in West Hollywood, which was re-named as Papi for the night as a reference to Drake’s “Champagne Papi” moniker. There he was feted by a who’s who of celebrity friends, including actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx and Tobey Maguire, as well as football star Odell Beckham Jr.

“I told myself that if I ever got rich, I’d throw myself a re-bar mitzvah.” — Drake

The party was thoroughly bar mitzvah-themed, from the photo booth to the Dippin’ Dots ice cream pellets for guests to enjoy. Pizza also was served in boxes that read “Papi’s Pizzeria.”

To underscore the theme, Drake posted an image of his “bar mitzvah board” — seemingly original from 1999 —  to Instagram. It featured a collage of Drake baby pictures.

Drake’s bar mitzvah board on Instagram

Adding to the glitz and glamour of the party were a marching band, sparklers and fine wine, according to “Entertainment Tonight.” Attendees, dressed in semi-formal attire, toasted Drake with red Solo cups with his name on them and sang “Happy Birthday.” Drake’s father, Dennis Graham, gave a speech on how proud he was of his son and performed numerous songs for him, according to eonline.com.

Throughout the party, Drake acted as a bartender, disc jockey and master of ceremonies.

Drake has an African-American father and Jewish mother. He attended a Jewish day school in Toronto and parodied his bar mitzvah while hosting “Saturday Night Live” in 2014.

The rapper has a song titled “Bar Mitzvah in 1999,” which has lyrics that include “I’m Black and Jewish / Don’t be so foolish / I’m Black and Jewish / It’s a mitzvah.”

The rapper’s 2016 album “Views” and his 2017 follow-up “More Life” both broke Spotify streaming records and sold millions of copies around the world.

Theodore Bikel’s 90th birthday celebration

How do you celebrate the 90th birthday of a man who has had a major impact on American film, television, theater, music and social activism?

By putting on a concert and inviting legends of folk music to perform, of course.

Theodore Bikel has turned 90, and as actor and the night’s master of ceremonies Ed Asner quipped, “Theo has done more in this past decade than most people do in a lifetime.”

Hundreds of fans poured into the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on June 16 to pay tribute to the great performer.

The night began with a screening of clips from some of Bikel’s most memorable film and television roles: an officer in “The African Queen”; the Russian submarine captain in “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming”; Zoltan Karpathy, the dialect expert, in “My Fair Lady”; and a hilarious scene from “All in the Family,” in which he plays a German butcher infatuated with Edith Bunker.

Of his many roles, Bikel said in an interview, he has many positive memories — and some less-than-positive ones, including one scene from 1958’s “The Defiant Ones,” in which he played a Southern sheriff in pursuit of two escaped prisoners, a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.

“We were traipsing around in a swamp, up to our knees in mud and slime, waiting for two Dobermans to sniff right. I thought, ‘What am I doing here? I’m a classically trained actor.’ It took two days and some of the night. But by and large, it was a wonderful experience of filmmaking and creation.”

But the Saban Theatre show focused largely on his musical contributions. Bikel co-founded the Newport Folk Festival and recorded more than 20 albums, including one called “Theodore Bikel Sings More Jewish Folk Songs.” As he took to the stage, Bikel launched into one of those songs, but first joked, “A friend of mine said it was a misnomer. It should’ve been called ‘Theodore Bikel Sings More Jewish Folk Songs Than Anybody.’”

For many Jews, beginning in the 1950s and ’60s and through to today, the Vienna-born Bikel has been the definitive voice of Jewish song and of the rebirth of Yiddish culture. Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino remembers his parents playing Bikel’s Yiddish albums at night. “For my socialist Zionist parents, this was a bedtime prayer,” Feinstein said.

The folk duo Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer strummed their banjos, covering a Woody Guthrie song as well as a Yiddish song about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which killed 146 garment workers — a nod to Bikel’s long history of labor activism.

During a break in the music, speakers from The Actors Fund, Actors’ Equity and SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) praised Bikel’s leadership over the years in bringing fair pay to actors and performers. 

Musician Mike Stein remembered Bikel’s efforts to push the National Theater in Washington, D.C., to become racially integrated. 

“If there’s something we love about Theo, it’s that no amount of fame and achievement ever changes his fundamental mensch-ness. He remains one of us, devoted to making the world better for all of us,” Asner said.

A parade of fellow folk luminaries also took turns on stage: The venerable Tom Paxton led the audience in a sing-along of “How Beautiful Upon the Mountain,” taken from Isaiah 52:7, and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary delighted fans with “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Light One Candle.” Arlo Guthrie brought Bikel and the rest of the musicians on stage for a rousing rendition of “This Land Is Your Land.”

“Everybody up here, many of you, we sing for a living, we act, we do things that are important,” Guthrie said. “The most important thing for me is what it’s like to have an act of kindness done to you by somebody who’s well-known. It doesn’t happen all that often. Theo was one of those people you could count on. He is a kind man, and to me that is more important than all the other stuff.”

Composer and arranger Artie Butler took a seat at the piano to perform a couple of romantic songs, gently singing, “Here’s to life, here’s to love, and here’s to you.” Craig Taubman, well-known to synagogue audiences in Los Angeles, sang “Take your shoes off, you’re on holy ground.”

But the greatest crowd response was to Bikel himself, who received a number of standing ovations. He wore all black, including suspenders and a peasant cap reminiscent of the clothing worn by Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” a role he played more than 2,000 times on stage from 1967 to 2010, more than any other actor.

Despite his age, Bikel belted out song after song, pumping his fist in the air to punctuate the lyrics. The night neared a close with Bikel and the Greek-born tenor Alberto Mizrahi dramatically swapping lines in a Hebrew song about the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. And then, Bikel picked up an acoustic guitar and softly sang the Phil Ochs song “When I’m Gone,” a nod to his own mortality: 

“There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone 

And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone 

And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone 

So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.”

Even after Bikel is gone, his music will reach new ears. At one point in the evening, Rhino Records executive Mark Pinkus announced that the label would be releasing 12 classic Bikel albums on iTunes. “Theodore’s music was loved throughout the 20th century. We’re going to make sure people love it throughout the 21st century,” Pinkus said.

In the meantime, Bikel has no plans to slow down. He’s just released a new edition of his autobiography, “Theo,” with a chapter in which he reflects on turning 90. “It’s a fairly voluminous chapter. There’s a lot to reflect on,” he said. “A friend asked me, ‘Now that you’re 90, what do you have to look forward to?’ I said, ‘91.’ ”

He’s also taken to translating Yiddish literature, in an effort to connect a younger generation to the ideas of great writers that inspired him. And a documentary he produced and stars in, “Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem,” based on his long-running one-man show, will premiere at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in July.

“I’m not the retired type,” he joked. But, there may be a moment of relaxation awaiting him. He said he and his wife, journalist Aimee Ginsburg, are heading to Europe for a river cruise next month. “That’ll be fun and restful. I can sit on a boat and contemplate the world as it passes me by.” 

Katy Perry, bar mitzvah DJ?

Katy Perry has released a new promo video for her new single, “Birthday,” that features the singer as a mistress of disguise.

Among other birthday-related professionals — an aged dancer named Goldie (for her “golden nuggets”) and a Craigslist birthday clown — Perry dresses as “Yosef Shulem,” a bar mitzvah DJ who has a penchant for telling offensive rabbi jokes.

Pop culture mavens who caught wind of the ire Perry drew after dressing as a geisha at the American Music Awards might have expected the pop star to learn a little about cultural (in)appropriation. But there she is, wearing a kippah, a Jew-fro, and some hastily applied facial hair.

Maybe Perry is just riding the wave of other famous bar mitzvah videos.  But the kippah-slapping, gravel-voiced Yosef Shulem character is enough to give us pause — or maybe refrain from downloading her new single.

“Did you hear about the rabbi who gave out free circumcisions?” Perry-as-Shulem asks. “He worked for tips!”

Watch the video here:

Rabbi Jacob Pressman turns 94: A community treasure

For decades now, as Rabbi Jacob (Jack) Pressman celebrated a milestone birthday, there was a gala show and dinner starring Rabbi Jack and his myriad show-biz friends to manifest and celebrate the many talents and achievements of this extraordinary man. Five years ago, Temple Beth Am celebrated his 90th birthday when he turned 89, just in case.

“At my age you don’t buy green bananas,” the rabbi said, quoting his mentor, the late Rabbi Simon Greenberg. But the celebration week will be a quiet one, as Rabbi Jack and Marjorie Pressman’s son, Joel, is gravely ill, as all who read the Jewish Journal this past month learned — gravely, but bravely, ill, still celebrating the glories of life, family and friendship, students and colleagues, the majesty of nature, the joy of song, the gift of love. 

But even at this most trying of times, Rabbi Jack’s 94th birthday warrants celebration.

In the circles I frequent as a university professor and a scholar, I know many men and women who are smart; far fewer who are wise. And Rabbi Jack is a wise man.

His role in the Los Angeles community is historic. 

Born in Philadelphia in 1919, Jack was raised at Temple Beth Am in Philadelphia, where the rabbi took a great interest in the boy and brought him in to teach Hebrew school and to run youth services. Jack was paid very modestly for his services, but in the Depression era, every dime was worth its weight in gold, and thus his interest in the rabbinate was born. So, too, his interest in a certain woman two years his junior, Marjorie Steinberg, who later became his wife and his lifelong partner of by now more than 70 years. 

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Pressman came to the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) just as the war began, and his rabbinic training was accelerated as the U.S. military needed chaplains, and the American rabbinate needed rabbis desperately, as young rabbis were going off to fight alongside their congregants. While still a student, Pressman served as acting rabbi of Forest Hills Jewish Center, whose own Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser was in the Army. He was instrumental in the design of the synagogue’s building, a massive structure on Queens Boulevard. Of particular interest is its ark, designed by noted artist and political satirist Arthur Szyk. Later, as Pressman was offered prestigious positions on the East Coast, JTS Chancellor Louis Finkelstein advised him to go West. Los Angeles, he said, would soon join New York and Palestine as the three great centers of Jewish life. Pressman never regretted heeding Finkelstein’s sagacious advice.

He went on to serve as assistant to Rabbi Jacob Cohen at Sinai Temple, and then, in 1950, he took over a small congregation then known as the Olympic Jewish Center, which he turned into Temple Beth Am, making it a prominent Conservative congregation of more than 1,300 families in his time. Together with his wife — and they were then, as now, a team — Rabbi Pressman served his community as an institution builder. From Camp Ramah to the then-University of Judaism (now American Jewish University), from the Brandeis campus — now Brandeis-Bardin — to Israel Bonds, if it needed to be built or to be launched, Jack and Margie Pressman built it. He was the first registrar of the University of Judaism; he was a founder of Camp Ramah; he helped recruit Shlomo Bardin to come out to the institution that now bears his name; and for years Temple Beth Am, certainly not the wealthiest of all congregations in the United States, had the largest annual campaign for Israel Bonds in the country. 

Pressman helped found Los Angeles Hebrew High, Akivah Academy and the Temple Beth Am Day School that now bears his name. With foresight, he founded a non-Orthodox Jewish high school on Los Angeles’ Westside, known as the Herzl School, which could not be sustained, but the need he saw then still remains.

The late Walter Ackerman, longtime director of Camp Ramah, remembered how not only would Pressman always become personally involved, but he engaged his ba’alabatim (lay leaders), expanded their horizons, extended their reach. And along the way, he never neglected his congregation. At a time when rabbis were taught to keep their distance from congregants, his closest friends were his own congregants — he traveled with them, enjoyed their company, went through the travails and joys of life with them, and could still remain their rabbi.

Rabbi Perry Netter recalled that when he interviewed for an internship at Temple Beth Am, he was wary of Pressman’s reputation as a showman rabbi, palling around with Hollywood stars. So he asked Rabbi Pressman how he spent his average day. Pressman took out his calendar and went through every appointment, recited by heart the circumstances of each of the congregants with whom he had met, remembered each bar mitzvah boy and bat mitzvah girl, every bride and groom. Young Rabbi Netter was wowed and went away feeling that it would be an honor to intern with this man. Rabbi Pressman may have known the rich and famous, but he also always took pride in the men and women within his own congregation.

A national communal leader in the 1960s, Pressman helped to create the Save Soviet Jewry movement that brought the plight of Soviet Jewry to the attention of the American public and helped create the program that eventually enabled tens of thousands of Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel. 

In 1965, he joined a group of 293 Southern Californians who walked with Martin Luther King Jr., who was joined by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, then head of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Together they crossed the Pettis Bridge to the state Capitol building in Montgomery, Ala., — with so many whites in the march and so much national attention that Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor, Birmingham’s commissioner of public safety during the American civil rights movement, could not fully unleash his troops.

Although Pressman is an institution builder, two of his major contributions to L.A. Jewish life may have been an institution he did not build and an institution he empowered to come into being without him.

After the L.A. riots, when synagogues were moving westward, Pressman committed to his congregation that they would remain in place at the intersection of Olympic and La Cienega boulevards, provided a substantial number of families would stay in the neighborhood. He went from door to door, speaking individually to families and getting them to sign up. As a result, Temple Beth Am is that rare Conservative congregation in California with a walking community, and it remains the anchor of the historic Carthay neighborhood. Three out of four of its members live within two miles of the synagogue.

In 1973, Pressman realized that in the future the “one-size-fits-all service” would not meet the needs of his congregation. Young Jews, educated at Camp Ramah and in Jewish day schools, graduates of the JTS and of Judaic studies programs, were coming to Los Angeles, many to serve its expanding Jewish community, and they wanted a self-led participatory service rather than a professionally led formal service. Pressman encouraged this group to form the Library Minyan, a family-friendly, informal lay-led minyan, which over the years was integrated into the congregation and provided its leadership. By now, Beth Am has thrived for some 43 years, and on any given Shabbat, as many as five different services are taking place within the synagogue’s walls; Beth Am became the precursor to the “synaplex.”

For many years, Pressman would say, wistfully, that he served the Beth Am community for more than 60 years, and what did he get?  “A bunch of kids running around town wearing my name on their dirty shirts.” 

The reference is to the fact that when he retired, Temple Beth Am named its award-winning day school in his honor: “The Rabbi Jacob Pressman Day School.” 

He’s talking about my kids, I thought, my kids and grandkids. This has got to stop. Don’t get mad, get even, I thought. 

I waited. And then one day I struck. 

Fresh out of the hospital, Rabbi Pressman did us the honor of attending our son’s bar mitzvah. When I rose to speak, I said, “I know your complaints, rabbi, but last week I attended a basketball game — Maimonides versus Pressman. Not bad company, Maimonides/Pressman in the same breath. My kids and the students who attend the school call Maimonides Maimo, but Pressman, they call Pressman. My daughter played Hillel the next night, Hillel/Pressman, also not bad company. I asked the students who was Maimonides, few knew that Maimonides and the Rambam were the same, but our kids all know Rabbi Pressman.” 

When my wife, Melissa, and I first came to Los Angeles, Margie and Rabbi Jack took an interest in us. When I took a new job, he admonished me on what I should do. He took an interest in my speaking style and even in the manner of my dress.

My wife and I have become close to the Pressmans over the past 16 years; we share Passover together and holiday dinners. We seek their advice; we enjoy their company, and we attend many events where Rabbi Jack gets up to speak. He is increasingly frail and walks with difficulty, but put him in front of a microphone, and 20 years come off his age. He becomes robust again, his voice strong, his wit and his wisdom intact. 

Each Rosh Hashanah, we attend the service on the first night to hear his poetic blessing, and each graduation and gala dinner of the Pressman Academy, his words are inspiring, his talent manifest. 

Rabbi Pressman’s life and his calling were one and the same. Rabbi emeritus for some 27 years, he and Margie have continued to serve the community in retirement as they did when it was their paid vocation. And we, the Jewish community — and most especially the community of Beth Am — are graced by their service and their presence.

Simply put. Rabbi Jack Pressman is to be treasured.

Happy birthday Mr. Mandela: World pays tribute as ‘improving’ former S. African president turns 95

South Africa and the world showered tributes on Nelson Mandela on Thursday as the anti-apartheid leader turned 95 in hospital and his doctors reported he was “steadily improving” from a six-week lung infection.

The country has been on edge since the former president and father of the multi-racial 'Rainbow Nation' established at the end of apartheid in 1994 was admitted to hospital on June 8 with recurring lung problems that kept him in a critical condition.

It was his fourth stay in hospital in six months and has reminded South Africans that the man who is globally admired as a moral beacon against injustice and a symbol of racial reconciliation will not be with them forever.

But the mood was of celebration on Thursday as thousands of South Africans sang “Happy Birthday” and took part in charitable initiatives in a global outpouring of support for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on U.N.-designated 'Nelson Mandela Day'.

At a United Nations event in New York marking the day, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed Mandela as “a giant of our times”.

Throughout the day, crowds of well-wishers outside the Pretoria hospital where the retired statesman is being treated sang “Happy Birthday, Madiba” – using Mandela's traditional clan name – brought cakes and birthday cards and danced.

“Thank you for all that you have done for this country,” said one well-wisher, Margaret Chechie.

Many South Africans also commemorated the birthday with 67 minutes of public service to honour the 67 years Mandela served humanity by first fighting against white-minority rule and then consolidating racial harmony when he was president.

As part of the public service initiative, office workers, students, soldiers and ordinary citizens spruced up orphanages, painted walls at schools and delivered food to the poor.

President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela at the hospital and said he was making steady progress. “I was able to say 'Happy Birthday' to him and he was able to smile,” he told reporters.

Hours earlier, his office had cited Mandela's doctors saying “his health is steadily improving.”

Mandela's victory in the first multiracial elections in 1994 put an end to the apartheid system. Four years earlier, he was released from 27 years spent in prison under white minority rule, 18 of them at the notorious Robben Island penal colony.

His former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela called the 95th birthday “a gift to the nation”.

Family members had lunch together at the hospital where the revered patriarch is being treated and his daughter Zindzi said they gave him a collage of family photographs for a present.

“Tata (our father) is making this remarkable progress and we look forward to having him back home soon,” Zindzi said.

Grandson Ndaba Mandela was more cautious about Mandela's condition. “He's still critical … he's just a lot more alert now, a lot more aware of his surroundings,” he told CBS News.

“FIRST CITIZEN”

Mandela Day celebrations in the United States included a special event at U.N. headquarters in New York, where figures such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton and the Reverend Jesse Jackson added their voices to the global tributes.

Clinton, a personal friend of Mandela, recalled the nearly three decades the nonagenarian spent in apartheid jails.

“Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years a greater man than he went in,” Clinton said. “Though he is old and frail and fighting for his life … what is in his heart still glows in his smile and lights up the room through his eyes.”

Volunteers in New York handed out South African oranges.

In South Africa, Ethiopian and Nigerian asylum seekers who had settled there fleeing persecution and conflict in their own countries cleaned streets in Johannesburg expressed their praise for the personality considered “a father of Africa”.

“In this country, Mandela is the reason all of us blacks are free, so that's why we love him as the first citizen,” said Kennedy Uzondu, 30, a Nigerian trader in South Africa.

Despite the adulation on his birthday, Mandela's post-apartheid 'Rainbow Nation' has not fulfilled all expectations.

Enormous gaps still persist in income, employment and access to education and these inequalities largely follow racial lines, according to the government's own data. White households in 2012 earn on average about six times more than black households.

Nevertheless, quality education and employment opportunities have also been opened up to tens of thousands of blacks.

Additional reporting by Reuters TV, Benon Okula and Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, Michelle Nichols and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay at the United Nations; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Michael Roddy

Shimon Peres’ top 10 life lessons [VIDEO]

Shimon Peres celebrated his 90th birthday last week (his actual birthday is in August). Here he is on Israeli television sharing ten lessons he’s learned over the last nine decades.

In Israel, Sharon Stone meets her biggest fan, visits Hadassah Hospital

It’s unclear whether this guy is a fan of Sharon Stone or a fan of campy t-shirts. Either way, he had what was surely a surreal moment yesterday when, dressed in a “Basic Instinct” shirt, he bumped into Stone on the streets of Tel Aviv.

The photo went viral — so far it has close to 375,000 views. The irony factor is definitely bringing on the clicks, but we think it’s also got to have something to do with Stone’s sweet, gracious demeanor.

The actress is doing more in Israel than just posing with random admirers.  She was also photographed hanging out with Israeli and Palestinian kids at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, and tonight Stone will join Dr. Barbra Streisand and Bill Clinton at  President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday party.

Hollywood star Sharon Stone, a long-time activist to find a cure for AIDS, visited Hadassah University Hospital Ein Kerem today to meet with Professor Dan Engelhard, head of Hadassah’s pediatric AIDS unit which  has developed an integrative method of treating children who are HIV positive in Israel and around the world. She was greeted by representatives of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and said “I believe in the work you do, one person at a time, building this wonderful place. I urge everyone to do whatever they can do to help Hadassah. Photo courtesy of Hadassah

Happy 90th, Shimon Peres!

Dignitaries from around the world gathered in Jerusalem today to celebrate the 90th birthday of Israeli President Shimon Peres. Bill Clinton, Sharon Stone, Tony Blair, Dr. Ruth, Robert DeNiro and Barbra Streisand (who sung the traditional song “Avinu Malkeinu”) joined thousands of well-wishers at the capital’s International Convention Center.

As expected, Peres was showered with compliments, like this one, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Shimon, you prove that it is possible to be curious at any age and young at any age.” Clinton referred to Peres as the “world’s social Einstein.”

The centerpiece of the event was Peres’ deeply moving, honest and beautiful speech, in which he weaved his own personal history with the history of Israel:

On this occasion, I feel grateful, because the chapters of my life are entwined with the story of the birth and the development of the State of Israel. Because I have been given the wonderful privilege to serve my country. To take part in the building of its strength. To pursue peace, our heart’s truest desire.

Peres spoke considerably more about Israel than himself — and interestingly, about his relationship with David Ben Gurion:

He taught me the importance of vision in the shaping of a desired reality. And that the moral call is the wisest of human judgments. He taught me that there is nothing more responsible than to take risks today for the sake of tomorrow’s chance. His political wisdom, his bold determination, his ability to make difficult decisions and stand by them, strong as a rock; I believe it is these traits which enabled a seemingly impossible dream to become reality, and changed forever the destiny of our people’s history.

Ever the leader, Peres was not content to rehash what his country had accomplished, but looked to the future:

Our work is not yet complete. We came to the promised land and now we must make it a land of promise. Into an exemplary country, Israel is small in territory but can be great in justice…I believe that Israel can go higher and higher, if we make the necessary decisions. We genuinely and truly strive to be a nation among nations, a nation that gives. We long for peace with our neighbors. The yesterday between us and the Palestinians is full of sadness. I believe that the Israel of tomorrow and the Palestine of tomorrow can offer our children a ray of hope.

Happy birthday, Mr. President!

Bands enter b’nai mitzvah music mix

While b’nai mitzvah parties have long featured DJs to mix tunes and rouse the crowd, some celebrants are choosing something else: teen bands.

Make all the One Direction or — for those of a certain age — New Kids on the Block jokes that you want, but this option for musical entertainment has big advantages; it’s competitive from a price perspective, according to Oscar Urrutia, founder of GEC Events and the main event organizer for June 15 Teen Party Expo in Long Beach at the Dome at the Queen Mary.

“A bar mitzvah DJ would charge roughly $1,000, and teen bands charge just the same or a little bit less. It’s something that people are trying and it’s different,” he said.  

Urrutia said several teen bands were introduced for entertainment at last year’s expo, and he found that many attendees were booking them for events.  

Jcity, a Los Alamitos-based teen pop band formed by Justice and Jazmine Lucero (facebook.com/Jcityofficial), is one band that will be performing at this year’s expo with the hope of booking more events. The brother/sister duo perform mostly at charity events or stage events with other bands, but also do carnivals and birthdays and recently performed at their first bat mitzvah.

“We would like to do more of them — bat mitzvahs are big,” Jazmine Lucero said.  

She said for parties they usually perform a mix of the top songs on iTunes mixed with a couple originals — “just energetic songs that kids can dance and sing with us; it gets the crowd more involved.”

Thousands of teens and parents are expected to descend upon the Teen Party Expo (teenpartyexpo.com) in search of the latest party trends and a swarm of vendors offering steep discounts on entertainment, music, décor and more.  Last year’s expo drew 3,000 parents and their teens from all over SoCal despite inclement weather; this year organizers are hoping for 5,000. 

The event runs from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10.

In addition to the exhibition with 60-plus vendors, popular DJs (including DJ Drew and Manny On The Streets from “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest,” and DJ Eddie One from LA 96.3 FM) will be mixing and hosting on the main stage alongside five teen bands performing live, who are also vying to book future celebrations.  

Hiring a DJ for a bar or bat mitzvah remains a popular option. Urrutia, whose affiliated company GEC Street Team produces all the musical entertainment for Knott’s Berry Farm as well as private events, said that a new trend at b’nai mitzvah parties is that the DJs have to entertain the adults, too. 

“We’re finding now that people want to entertain the adults as well, so we try to do games and activities that bring the adults and the kids together,” he said.  

Besides classic games like “Name That Tune,” they often do a musical quiz show and their own invention of a game called “Saturday Morning Cartoons,” in which the DJ plays music from back in the day and today and asks quiz questions from both new and old cartoon series.  

“It brings memories back to the adults and gives them a chance to connect with their kids,” he said.   

Other aspects of celebrating the coming-of-age ritual will be addressed at the expo as well. Sam Robinson, owner of Flowers by Sam and a feature designer on WE’s “My Fair Wedding,” does flower arrangements for about 20 b’nai mitzvah each year, primarily at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood.

Robinson said that flower requests for b’nai mitzvah celebrations tend to be traditional: pink for bat mitzvahs and blue-and-white arrangements — in which Robinson mixes white roses with blue roses that have dye injected into the plant — for bar mitzvahs.

Sunflowers are also popular for parties with both genders, and he’s found that glitter and rhinestones are very popular for bat mitzvahs. He either mixes them with the bouquet or applies crystal ribbons to the vases.

“I need some bling,” he said.  

It’s no secret that planning b’nai mitzvah parties, along with other coming-out parties, like quinceañera and Sweet 16, can get complicated — and expenses. These events have been known to average $15,000 to $25,000 on the high end, according to expo organizers.

Gilad Shalit marks first birthday since being freed

Gilad Shalit marked his first birthday since being freed from Hamas captivity.

Shalit turned 26 on Tuesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Shalit to wish him a happy birthday.

“This is a particularly happy birthday,” Netanyahu reportedly told Shalit. “It is a birthday of freedom. The entire Israeli nation wishes you mazal tov.”

The Shalit family plans a private birthday celebration over the weekend, Shalit’s grandfather Zvi Shalit told Army Radio.

Shalit was released last October by Hamas after more than five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell celebrates birthday in Bethlehem

Supermodel Naomi Campbell visited Bethlehem in honor of her birthday.

Campbell lit candles in the Church of the Nativity Tuesday, the day she turned 42, according to reports. She ate lamb and rice at a nearby restaurant accompanied by friends, Palestinian guards and her own security guards.

“I’m happy to be here. Weapons and war, greed and oil … I hope it all stops,” she told the Palestinian Authority’s official television station, The Associated Press reported. “I care about health, about good vibrations, not destruction.”

Other reporters in Bethlehem were not allowed to interview or photograph Campbell, the Palestinian Maan news service reported.

She reportedly also visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

The double Bar Mitzvah — partners in time

Forty-five years after his bar mitzvah, Edward L. Moskowitz could not find the photos. They were lost in his garage, in a box, among shelves of such boxes, and were his only remaining evidence of a Shabbat he had shared in the mid-1960s with Marty November, his bar mitzvah partner.

“Any luck finding that photo of you and Marty?” I asked.

I had met Edward and Marty while studying for my own bar mitzvah (we remain friends), and after all these years, I wondered how sharing such a personal event had affected them.

“I know it’s there, I just have to find it,” Moskowitz said, responding to my photo request without a hint of uncertainty.

His search would take him back to more than the boxes of personal memorabilia and mementos stored in his Valley garage. Eventually, his search would return him to 1966, to Anaheim, where, at Temple Beth Emet, a Conservative synagogue a few blocks from Disneyland, he and Marty shared much more than the “top billing” and haftarah blessings.

For many of us who came of age in the 1960s, double b’nai mitzvah were unavoidable; the Jewish demography of the times dictated them. There are just so many Shabbats in a year, and suburban synagogues, whose stuccoed sanctuaries dotted the Southern California landscape like sesame seeds on a challah, did not have enough dates for the oncoming wave of baby boomer b’nai mitzvah.

Moskowitz and his parents originally wanted his bar mitzvah to be alone. “But someone else had a lot more pull with the temple office and got the date,” he recalled. So, with his birthday falling on March 5, and his prospective partner’s on March 1, the two were joined through calendaring, bonded by the portion Terumah.

November remembered it differently. “I liked the idea of having a partner — I only had to do half as much,” November said. “I wanted to do it with Ed.”

What they both shared a memory of was that the bar mitzvah class, held on Saturday mornings, was especially large.

“Everything was divided equally,” remembered Moskowitz, who, after seeing how the haftarah and blessings were shared, thought that a partner might have its advantages after all.

“Everything was divided but the speeches,” November remembered. “That, we couldn’t share.”

To this day, how to match b’nai mitzvah partners remains a tricky task. Rabbi Steven L. Silver of Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach, who also had his bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Emet with a partner in 1966, has found that, generations later, “I have some of the same issues at my synagogue,” he said.

Marty on his bar mitzvah day.

“You want both children to be equal in abilities. You don’t want a situation where one child outshines the other. You need to match up Hebrew, singing and their speaking abilities,” he said.

“For my bar mitzvah, I didn’t know the kid at all,” he remembered. The cantor [Philip Moddel] tried to pair me with someone who could sing better than I could, except my partner couldn’t,” he recalled. “I accepted it because that’s what everybody did,” he added.

“It was the baby boomer generation and there weren’t enough Saturdays,” he said.

Scheduling b’nai mitzvah, he noted, is “particularly challenging at a synagogue where there is only one rabbi and one cantor. It’s customary that clergy take four weeks vacation, and the congregation doesn’t want them both to be gone at the same time. So that means each year there are eight Saturdays that are not available, even more when you add in holidays,” he continued.

Rabbi Silver also has observed the sudden interdependence that the pairing can create. “If one kid falls behind it’s not just [his or her] problem; it’s the problem of the other family, too,” he said.

Beyond “half the work,” Rabbi Silver feels there are other advantages to dual b’nai mitzvah.

“Partners feel safer and less anxious. In the best situations, the partners work with each other and keep each other on track,” he said.

According to Rabbi Silver, at his synagogue, where there are 20 to 30 b’nai mitzvahs — two to three doubles — each year, the division of labor for b’nai mitzvah families can also extend to shared expenses for receptions, jointly creating bar mitzvah booklets and decorating the social hall.

“Sharing is particularly advantageous for single-parent families,” he added.

Silver, cautions, however, that double b’nai mitzvahs are not for everyone.

“I had one parent tell me, ‘I do not want my child paired up. This is my child’s [Mount] Everest,’ ” he said.

As to Everest, Moskowitz and November have good memories of their joint climb and have remained in contact through the years. November attended both of Moskowitz’s weddings, and, just this year, Moskowitz attended November’s daughter’s bat mitzvah.

“Marty also comes to my annual Chanukah parties,” Moskowitz said.

As adults, both have had careers in show business, though they have never worked together.

“We’re both very technical,” November said. “We both had darkrooms.”

Edward on his bar mitzvah day.

Moskowitz is a production sound mixer and has worked on such shows as “Golden Girls,” “The West Wing,” “Will & Grace” and “Pushing Daisies. November is a film editor whose credits include “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” “Stuart Little,” “The Mist” and “Aliens in the Attic.”

Moskowitz remembered receiving an Aiwa reel-to-reel portable audio recorder as a bar mitzvah gift. “Who would have thought then that I would make my living in recording sound?” he said.

November also recalled that it was right around the time of his bar mitzvah that his interest in photography began.

Each has three children, all of whom have had an individual bar or bat mitzvah. But both feel that had more to do with their synagogue’s settings and demographics than with any negative feelings about a double b’nai mitzvah.

“When I introduced Ed at my daughter’s bat mitzvah, I introduced him as my bar mitzvah partner,” November said.

“It amazed people,” said Moskowitz, who recalled that people asked incredulously, “ ‘You still know people from your bar mitzvah?’

“There’s something quietly comforting that there are a handful of us who have known each other since childhood,” he said of his bar mitzvah and teenage years.

November sees the bar mitzvah as the beginning of a “significant relationship. I feel like it has bonded us for life,” he added.

Finally, Moskowitz, after searching through stacks of boxes for a week, found not only his bar mitzvah photo (he couldn’t find one of them together) but also his marked-up haftarah booklet, his bar mitzvah record (a recording made by Cantor Modell for him to practice from) and his actual bar mitzvah speech — one page, double-spaced. The shot he found of himself, wearing his new tallit, brought him back to that day and to an almost-overlooked aspect of their pairing.

“My grandparents bought me that tallit in New York, thinking it was the latest style and no one on the West Coast would have it,” Moskowitz remembered.

But then, on the bimah, “While both sets of parents were putting the tallisim around us, I saw that Marty had the same one.”

Shalit spends 25th birthday in captivity

Captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit spent his 25th birthday in captivity.

Sunday was the sixth birthday that Shalit has marked in captivity since he was captured by Hamas terrorists in a cross-border raid in June 2006.

Shalit’s parents led a protest in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem on Sunday, with banners reading “We won’t let Gilad celebrate alone.” Another banner called on Netanyahu to give Shalit “his life back” for his birthday.

In a letter to their son to mark his birthday, Noam and Aviva Shalit wrote:

“With the burning sun beating on our heads, on the sidewalk adjacent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home, we are trying to digest the fact that 1,890 days have passed and you still are not with us. …

“We’re here. We haven’t given up, we haven’t surrendered, and we have not been broken. And we are not alone. Our dearest Gilad, many many people who are strangers to you, who you have never met, think as we do, that it is inconceivable to speak of social solidarity, of national fortitude and of having faith in the State while abandoning you to your fate. Day after day, lonely and abandoned in Hamas dungeons for over half a decade.”

Peres marks 88th birthday

Israeli President Shimon Peres marked his 88th birthday with a full working schedule.

During a meeting Tuesday with the Chinese military chief, Gen. Chen Bingde, the general offered his birthday wishes to Peres.

“Your health is not only a blessing for Israel, but also for world peace and peace and stability in the Middle East.” Bingde said.

Bouquets of flowers and birthday cards have been arriving at the President’s Residence, Israel Hayom reported, and birthday wishes are expected to be delivered from world leaders.

On Tuesday evening, Peres will be the guest of honor at a festive ceremony celebrating 110 years since the founding of the Galilee village of Kfar Tavor. The ceremony will start with a birthday celebration, including 100 children from the village who will sing Happy Birthday and present him with a birthday cake.

Peres was born in Poland on Aug. 2, 1923, according to biographical data provided on the Knesset Web site. But he marks Aug. 16, or his Hebrew birthday of Av 20, as his birth date.

Peres was elected in 2007 to serve as the president of Israel. If Peres completes his full seven-year term, he will become the world’s oldest ever head of state.

Israel at 62: The Limits of Debate

As Israel prepares to celebrate its 62nd birthday, the weather outside is chilly. The climate at home is not wonderful either.

Politicians, pundits and bloggers in faraway cafes deliver solemn verdicts on the future of Israeli-American relations. Pollsters conduct beauty contests, as if Obama and Netanyahu were rivals on “American Idol.”

A wide constellation of individuals and groups seek to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state, while an enemy country, run by Islamic fundamentalists, is on the verge of nuclear power. As Jews stake their claims in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, Muslim rabble-rousers accuse Israel of plotting to destroy Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque.

Jewish patriots excoriate human rights organizations and their donors. Provincial lawmakers propose loyalty oaths for Israeli citizens and question the Jewish identity of Jews-by-choice. No less worrisome, on the eve of Israel’s birthday, is that many Jews, in Israel and abroad, are losing the capacity for self-reflection.

Without the willingness to understand how we look to outsiders, we risk relegating ourselves to an ever-narrowing worldview. Seeking to sharpen our definition of moral clarity, we grow astigmatic around the edges, where other people live and love, dream and hallucinate, just as we do.

It’s a happy accident that Yom HaAtzmaut falls so close to Pesach — or maybe this is no accident at all. Perhaps the founders of Israel put the final touches on our Declaration of Independence, which ensures “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants,” while under the influence of the strong moral lesson of the Exodus: never to inflict upon others the suffering we endured in Egyptian bondage. “You shall not oppress the stranger,” says the Torah (Exodus 23:9), “for you know the soul of the stranger” — nefesh hager — “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

There are Jews who would claim that “all its inhabitants” applies only to Israeli citizens, and not to the residents of Nablus or Gaza City, or to Arabs in East Jerusalem. Technically, some Jews will argue, the ger or “stranger” of Exodus 23:9 means “convert” (ger tzedek) or else a halachic category of non-Jew called ger toshav, a resident alien who plays by Jewish rules, but in any case not a hostile Palestinian.

To many other Jews, it seems obvious that when the Torah says “you were gerim in the land of Egypt,” it doesn’t mean Egyptians-by-choice or resident non-Egyptians — it means a persecuted minority. And of course there are those who agree with this reading but would rationalize with a heavy heart that, nowadays, with Israel’s very existence at stake, sympathy for the Palestinian cause is a luxury we cannot afford. We are reluctant players, they would say, in a zero-sum game.

Herein lies a serious pitfall. Our justifiable indignation — over anti-Semitism, delegitimization, terrorism, the hypocrisy of the United Nations, the smugness of leftist boycotters and preachers of divestment, and a plethora of other justifiable and righteous indignations — too often blunts our sensitivity to the suffering of others. It also drives us to confuse what is right and what is smart.

Does Israel have a legal right to build anywhere it wants in Jerusalem? Sure we do, say many reputable lawyers (though not all reputable lawyers would agree.) But is it smart to exercise this right at this historical moment? Is it good, for Israel and the Jewish people, given the costs and perils entailed? Making concessions to the Palestinians is something that the Palestinians (and the Americans and pretty much everyone else) want. But is this a reason not to do it?

If even the United States of America, Israel’s greatest friend, is sending signals that Israeli policies are harmful to U.S. interests in the region, what might this mean? Is it further proof (as some Jews believe) that the whole world is against us, that we can rely on no one but ourselves, and that “they” — the nations of the world — are going to hate us no matter what we do, so we may as well do whatever we want? In which case, what exactly do we want? What kind of Jewish country? A democracy for “all its inhabitants” or only some of them?

Israel advocacy is an urgent challenge, a great moral imperative for the Jewish people. It is too complex an agenda to be dominated by lawyers or professional explainers. There are many ways to be pro-Israel, not one or two. Israel, in a physical and spiritual sense, is both an ancient and postmodern text, to be argued over like a page of Talmud in the Beit Midrash. The study hall should be big enough to accommodate a wide range of arguers: students and teachers, poets and psychologists, rabbis and generals.

There are also proud Jews out there, educated and ethical people, including many who in their gut want to love Israel, who have come to believe that the Zionist enterprise, a moral necessity at its inception, has veered so drastically off course that it is now counter-productive for the Jewish people. Are such folks treif, per se? Or do these voices — angry, sad, anguished, confused — deserve a place at the table, too? Just as not every anti-Zionist is by definition an anti-Semite, nor every West Bank settler a xenophobe, neither is a Jew who is fixated on the suffering of Palestinians a self-hating Jew. If such critics are barred at the establishment door, what does that augur for the Jewish future?

There are even good Jews who believe that a single, bi-national Arab-Jewish democracy, quixotic or absurd though it may seem, is a goal worth striving for (pesky details to be worked out later.) Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem and Henrietta Szold supported such an outcome long ago, at the time of the British Mandate. Is naïve hope tantamount to heresy?

And what of committed non-Zionists, in Los Angeles or London, who believe that a vibrant and innovative Diaspora Judaism can thrive without Israel, and can prove it by their own example? Are we Zionists prepared to listen and learn, to be energized by honest dissent? Where and how one draws the lines of legitimate debate is itself a subject for our Zionist Beit Midrash. A good place to start the conversation is a passage from page 94b of Tractate Pesachim, the Talmudic volume that discusses the laws of Passover (with sundry digressions):

“The Sages of Israel maintain: The sun travels beneath the sky by day and above the sky at night; while the Sages of the nations of the world maintain: It travels beneath the sky by day and below the earth at night. Said ‘Rabbi’: And their view is preferable to ours, for the wells are cold by day but warm at night.”

In the Talmud, simply “Rabbi” means Rabbi Judah HaNasi, the towering sage who edited the Mishnah in Palestine around 200 C.E. What on earth is he saying? Both of these astronomical theories, we know today, are poppycock, but this is not the point. By favoring the position of the “nations of the world” over the Jewish claim, Rabbi is a role model for own time, a radical advocate of the wide-open Jewish mind. It is our duty, 18 centuries later, to keep it as wide as we can — but this, too, is open to debate.

Stuart Schoffman, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and editor of Havruta: A Journal of Jewish Conversation, also writes and lectures widely on politics, religion and culture.

A minyan grows up (sort of)

If I wanted to start a minyan, I think the last thing I’d call it would be a “happy minyan.” Seriously, how can you live up to that ideal every week? How can you not get exhausted by the constant pressure to deliver “happy”?

And yet, every time I’ve popped into the Happy Minyan, I’ve rarely seen an unhappy face. They take their davening seriously, yes, but mostly, they take it joyfully.

Go early on any Shabbat to their home inside the Karate Academy on Pico and check out their rhythm. Over several hours, you’ll be continuously interrupted by spontaneous eruptions of joy: intense chanting of Carlebach melodies, often accompanied by some form of un-choreographed dancing.

So how do they do it? How do you explain that after 14 years, the Happy Minyan hasn’t burnt out — in fact, that they’re as hot and as happy as ever?

It’s with this question in mind that I attended their first annual gala last week, dubbed “Evening Under the Stars.”

The mere notion that the Happy Minyan would have a fundraiser is, well, weird. Since their inception, their fundraising has followed a pattern similar to their davening: spontaneous eruptions of asking.

Can’t pay the rent this month? Let’s get up and sing and dance and say a few words of Torah and then will somebody please stand up and ask for a few bucks?

A few months ago, though, they started uttering words no one thought they’d ever hear at the Happy Minyan — words like “Event Co-Chairs” and “Dinner Committee.” Obviously, someone had decided it was time to grow up and raise money the old fashioned way: normally.

But rest assured, they haven’t gone all mainstream on us, as I can attest from their Evening Under the Stars. For one thing, I’ve been to a thousand fundraisers, but I’ve never felt like I was in the middle of a forest (the venue was the Gilmore Adobe, right next to Farmers Market).

The first person I met was comedian Avi Lieberman, who was asked to emcee the event a full day before the big night.

There were more than 200 guests at the event (among them many fans from B’nai David-Judea), and it seemed as if every guest got up at some point to speak or perform.

The organizers began by expressing their gratitude to the people who sheltered them in the early years: Rabbi Abner Weiss, who was chief rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation when he offered them a home, in 1995, and Rabbi Gabriel Elias of Congregation Mogen David, who did the same thing several years later.

Other than that, nothing about the evening felt too normal. To give you an idea: Normally, the entertainment slows down when the dinner’s main course is served. Not here. Troubadour Peter Himmelman got up on stage while we were all chomping on chicken and barbequed brisket, and asked if we could “please continue chewing, preferably in tune with the music.”

Himmelman brought down the house with a furious jam session infused with existential and hysterical ramblings.

Meanwhile, their star chazzan, Yehuda Solomon, of the band Moshav, rocked the place with his own numbers and backed up other musicians like Sam Glaser, Shmuel Levy and Jewish rapper Etan G, who revealed a rap song he had written years ago for the Happy Minyan.

Although the women didn’t play music, it was clear that they play an inspirational and leadership role at the Happy Minyan, and throughout the evening, many of them got up to speak.

Two of the original founders — Jeff Rohatiner and Jonathan Boyer — also got up; Rohatiner to sing a niggun and Boyer to tell a few stories and introduce fellow co-founder and Torah teacher David Sacks.

Sacks, an Emmy-winning writer and producer, has this inimitable way of speaking that blends wide-eyed innocence, deep love of Torah and sardonic humor. The essence of the Happy Minyan, he said, was “to dare to suggest that being joyful is normal.”

I saw plenty of that joy, but as the evening wound down I still didn’t have a clear answer to my question: How do you keep such intensity going for 14 years?

The answer, for me, came from the honorees of the evening, Stuie and Enny Wax. It hit me when I heard this number: six years.

You see, as a film about the honorees explained, for six years before the Happy Minyan ever started, Stuie Wax would host a crowd of Shabbat revelers every Friday night in his Pico-Robertson apartment.

In other words, for six years before they even thought of creating a Happy Minyan, they practiced being a happy minyan.

Then, on the seventh year, when Stuie married his soul mate, Enny, they arranged a little Shabbat minyan with friends to celebrate their union.

And guess what? It turns out the new bride really loved this little minyan, and with her blessings and support, the minyan just kept going and going and hasn’t looked back since.

So maybe that’s the holy formula behind the longevity of the Happy Minyan: practice happy for six years, and marry happy on the seventh.

Who would ever want to give that up?

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine, Meals4Israel.com and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at {encode=”dsuissa@olam.org” title=”dsuissa@olam.org”}.

Decorated Vet Celebrates 85th Birthday at Jewish Home

Jewish Home for the Aging resident Al Silver celebrated his 85th birthday with 40 family members and friends on July 19.

Silver’s four children presented their father with the medals of valor Silver had earned but never received during his Word War II service in the United States Navy. Among them were the Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, a bronze star, several ribbons and a special Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon for his “extraordinary heroism” while under enemy fire in Japan.

Silver joined the Navy at age 17. He was a chief machinist mate for five years in charge of operating the minesweeper’s engines and generators. While stationed off the coast of Borneo, Silver’s unit guarded a beach so that Marines could deploy there. “We had a job to do, and we did it,” Silver said. “We didn’t think about the risks or the danger.” l

Shalit’s mother: Gazans also want Gilad freed

Hundreds rallied in Mitzpe Hila on Thursday, to demand the government do more to secure the release of captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

Shalit, originally from Mitzpe Hila, will turn 23 on Friday. Shalit was captured during a cross-border raid by Hamas militants in 2006 that left three IDF soldiers dead.

Read the full story at Haaretz.com.

Jewish Agency events mark Shalit birthday

Events marking the 23rd birthday of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will be held around the United States on Friday.

The Jewish Agency for Israel is organizing about a dozen ceremonies to honor the soldier, who was taken captive in a cross-border raid at the Gaza-Israel border more than three years ago. He is believed to be alive and in captivity in Gaza. Shalit’s birthday is Aug. 28.

In Columbus, Ohio organizers will grant Shalit honorary citizenship. In San Francisco, a documentary on Shalit will be screened at the Jewish film festival. In Miami, children will release 1,000 balloons symbolizing the hope that he will be released soon.

“Participants at the events will be asked to sign post cards to the Red Cross asking that Shalit receive the full rights of an abducted soldier under international law and that the Red Cross work for the soldier’s release,” the Jewish Agency said in a news release on Monday.

In Israel, activists on behalf of Shalit marked his upcoming birthday by demonstrating Tuesday in front of two prisons in which Palestinians are incarcerated, disrupting family visits. Demonstrators have called on the Israeli government to withhold visitors to Hamas prisoners until Hamas allows the Red Cross to meet with Shalit.

Judea Pearl: A Poem for Israel’s 61st

(Free Translation from Yaron London’s MIRDAF)

Generous land, her veins full of honey
and blood in her rivers like water still flows.
Land whose tall mountains are carved out of copper
But her nerves out of iron, she knows.

A land whose long history is but chase after chase,
Two thousand pages plus one,
The air in her lungs half consumed, she is tired,
But will chase back her foes in the run.

She, who can see her thin life from the sideline
Shaken like a leaf, clinging to her place,
Yes, she is fearful, but as if not concerned,
Will wait for the end of the chase,

The end of the chase is in hiding, she knows,
but will come, like the sun that ascends eastern slopes.
And till then; our feet shall not stop, shall not tire
from chasing the heels of those hopes.

Dedication:
From the thousands of songs written in Israel since her birth, I find London’s MIRDAF (The Chase) to be the most poetic expression of Israel’s struggle for survival and peace. In the wake of the war of this past year, I thought it would be appropriate to translate this song into English and share with readers of The Jewish Journal this poetic mixture of our concern for Israel’s precarious position and our confidence in her eventual endurance. It is a free, non-literal translation, which attempts to capture the rhythm of the Hebrew lyrics and the spirit of the unending Chase.

Background:
The song was written for Micha Shagrir’s documentary film “Mirdaf”, during the War of Attrition (1968-1970). It describes the military situation along the Jordan border when PLO raids against Israel, followed by IDF chases after the perpetrators, became a daily routine.  The song was first performed by Chava Alberstein, to music by Nahum Haiman and can be heard on you-tube (search for Mirdaf). Some years later, Haiman tried to make it in Europe and gave “Mirdaf” to a beautiful singer named Marie Lafore who used the music and ignored the lyrics. In French the song became a romantic ballad called “Un bouquet du fleurs.”  Yaron London is one of the Israel’s top TV anchors, and hosts the popular “London and Kirshenbaum” talk show.

 

A clash of two birthdays

Last month, in my column titled, “Al-Jazeera and the Glorification of Barbarity“, I described Al-Jazeera’s royal celebration of the birthday of Samir

Kuntar, the unrepentant child-killer psychopath and called on the network to “publicly apologize to its viewers in the Arab world for attempting to turn their children into the likes of Kuntar; to the journalism community, for robbing the profession of its nobleness, and, most urgently, to us, citizens of this planet, for re-legitimizing barbarity in the public square.”

Those who expected Al-Jazeera to apologize should recall that apology in Al-Jazeera’s worldview is tantamount to humiliating surrender. Surprising, a letter signed by Al-Jazeera’s general director, Khanfar Wadah, was received by the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, a copy of which I have obtained, saying: “Elements of the programme violated Al-Jazeera’s code of ethics” (Ha’aretz, Aug. 6).

This letter prompted Ha’aretz editors to issue a cheerful headline: “Al-Jazeera apologizes for ‘unethical’ coverage of Kuntar release.” Two days after the letter was sent, however, Ahmad Jaballah, the station’s deputy editor-in-chief, denied that the channel had ever apologized or sent any letter to Israel.

On Aug. 8, in an interview with the Lebanese daily, Al-Akhbar, Jaballah called the report on the letter “utter nonsense and totally groundless” (MEMRI translation). It is, indeed, utterly impossible for Al-Jazeera to apologize for echoing its viewers’ deepest passions.

The most frequent question I received from readers of my column was: “Did you get any response from Arab or Western readers?”

I will summarize these responses below, together with responses to another, totally different birthday commemoration, one that contrasts the surrealism of Kuntar’s carnival with the spirit of our local community and illuminates what many characterize as a “clash of civilizations.”

The responses to my August column fell into four major categories, as encapsulated in the following quotes:

  • “They apologized, didn’t they? So, why rub it in?”
  • “I am ashamed of being an Arab; Al-Jazeera does not speak for me.”
  • “What do you expect of those Arabs, they are fed this hatred with their mother’s milk.”
  • “What about the millions of Iraqi children killed by Americans and the crimes of Israel against the Palestinians?”

I expected these four types of responses, but what struck me as odd was that the fourth group came not only from anti-American fanatics and jihadi Web sites but also from well-meaning American intellectuals, among them respected journalists and political analysts. It seems that two very simple ideas, so obvious to ordinary folks, have not been able to penetrate the skulls of some of our intellectuals.

The first is that, irrespective of body counts and political agendas, those who take pride in targeting the innocent or who aim at maximizing civilian casualties are not on the same side of heaven as those who struggle to prevent such acts and minimize civilian casualties.

Most people are under the impression that U.N. diplomats, coerced by a certain block of terror-sympathetic countries, are the only thinking humanoids who are incapable of formulating a commonsensical definition of the evil of terror. This is no longer true; evidently, the body-count argument now blinds the best of us.

The second idea concerns the fundamental distinction between individual behavior and societal norms. When an American or Israeli soldier targets civilians, he/she is court-martialed, not glorified as a hero for youngsters to emulate.

Al-Jazeera’s celebration of Kuntar’s birthday party was unmistakably designed and choreographed to position child-killer Kuntar as a role model for Arab society, and it undoubtedly succeeded, given the admiration that Kuntar commands these days in the Middle East, including his recent meeting with Mahmoud Abbas. Some Western intellectuals are not willing to sit down and calculate the number of years it would take for human civilization to clean up the moral warpage that Al-Jazeera is spouting in the young minds of its 50 million viewers.

In sharp contrast to the birthday of Kuntar, next month will witness another birthday celebration closer to my heart: the birthday of our late son, Daniel Pearl, who would have turned 45 on Oct. 10. Unlike the former, this birthday will not be celebrated on satellite TV with butcher knives, Hezbollah fatigues and “Heil Hitler” salutes. Instead, it will be celebrated by grass-root communities, including Danny’s musician friends, to commemorate and perpetuate his passionate use of music to connect people of diverse background.

Danny’s birthday represents the soul of a different society, one whose role models are truth-seeking journalists and bridge-building musicians not child killers; a society that celebrates life not death; one that commemorates birthdays with music and interfaith gatherings not butcher knives, assassination threats and vows to “meet the enemy very soon.”

As some readers probably know, every year since 2002, the Daniel Pearl World Music Days have taken place worldwide during the month of October. Music Days involve hundreds of musical happenings and concerts that include dedications to the ideals for which Danny stood, as well as declarations against the culture of terror and hate that took his life. In 2007, more than 500 concerts were dedicated in 42 countries, uniting and empowering many thousands of people in a stand for a more humane world.

Here in Los Angeles, this year’s World Music Days will prelude in Royce Hall on Sept. 21 with the American Youth Symphony dedication of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, joining the Angeles Chorale with “Alle Menchen Verden Bruder” (All men will be brothers). This will be followed by the Yuval Ron Ensemble on Sept. 25; the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Oct. 4-5; the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Oct. 12; Kadima String Quartet, Oct. 22; the Victory Orchestra, Oct. 26; and many more concerts, festivals and performances dedicated to the ideal of a hate-free world.

The Los Angeles Jewish community has played a special role in World Music Days in the past seven years. Synagogues, Jewish schools and community centers have turned their October gatherings into a powerful opportunity to inspire members with unity and purpose, as well as reach out to neighboring, non-Jewish communities and catalyze lasting alliances through the shared values that World Music Days symbolize.

The Weizmann Day School in Pasadena, for example, has for the past seven years invited the children of both a Muslim school and an Episcopalian school to come to their campus and sing songs of peace in tribute to Daniel’s memory. These concerts have developed into lasting relationships and joint programming throughout the year.

Major synagogues, such as Valley Beth Shalom, Sinai Temple, Temple Israel of Hollywood and University Synagogue in Irvine have dedicated musical portions of the High Holy Days or Kabbalat Shabbat services to Daniel’s last words — “I am Jewish” — and thus transformed routine liturgical texts into a powerful poetry of pride and resilience, cogently relevant to our troubled century.

Two clashing birthdays, two cultures and two outlooks for the 21st century.

Our rabbis, cantors, school principals and community leaders understand that a birthday celebration is a profound statement of identity, not a propaganda gimmick. It is a mirror of society, its principles, norms and aspirations, not an impulsive vent of one’s hatred.

They understand that those who celebrate Kuntar’s birthday with butcher knives and Hezbollah’s fatigues are committing their children to another century of helplessness, while those who celebrate the birthday of a friendship-building journalist-musician-humanist elevate their children to a balcony of hope.

The former are nourishing a generation of Kuntars, the latter rear a generation that reveres life and can look itself in the mirror without shame.

For a full and growing list of World Music Days events visit ” target=”_blank”>www.danielpearl.org) named after his son. With his wife, Ruth, he co-edited the anthology, “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Light, 2004).



Shooting Stars
(To Daniel Pearl)

It seems unfair, a waste,
To journey like a shooting star,
One thousand cosmic years through space.
To smile one time, just once,
Emit your brightest ever light and swing
In daring curvature to nowhere,
Like that actor on the stage
Who ends the play to no applause,
And bows to empty seats, yet glows.

Unfair! a waste!

But a child may chance to stare
And see that daring curvature, remember?
Which may bewitch this child to motion,
Remind him of those cosmic years, of freedom,
Jolt his mind to point up north
Yond the curtain of prediction,
Dare to shed the bonds of earth
And bend the course of expectation.

Unfair? A waste?

My eyes to shooting stars, to motion.
My heart to one that just passed by,
Softly traveled, bright, secured,
Like a wandering minstrel,
Measuring the path of your world, oh God,
With kisses.



Happy birthday to me

Not long ago, a guy I know, a good guy who to all outward appearances seems happy and successful, replied to a birthday e-mail I sent him at work — “go
home and blow out some candles” — with this:

“I’m 40-f—ing-8, give me a break. They tell me that’s close to 50, but I refuse to believe it.” (Only he didn’t leave any letters out of “f—ing.”)

I wrote back: “you’ve got your hair, a flat stomach, and a wife. I’d say life is good.”

To which he replied: “At 20 you won’t settle for less than several million, two best-sellers and a house in Majorca. At 48, what you said sounds really good.”

Expectations are strange things. When we’re kids, and when we’re parents of kids, we have no compunction about shooting for the stars. Every child is encouraged to believe that becoming a Michael Phelps or a Golda Meir, or however your tribe fills in the blank, is within the realm of possibility. B’nai mitzvah speeches and commencement addresses are universally about holding fast to your dreams.

But nevertheless, somewhere along the line we’re supposed to learn that the secret to happiness is adjusting our expectations to reality. Maturity means accepting that failing to get the gold or the Golda isn’t the same thing as failure. The good life is to be found in wanting what you have.

To be sure, the self-help sections of bookstores are filled with inspirational messages and 10-point-plans to the contrary. If only we visualize what we want, if only we believe in ourselves, if only we buy this book, then love and riches, fame and health, six-packs and serenity will be ours, no matter how far along in the life cycle we are.

But by and large, despite those enticing pitches, adulthood turns out to mean acceptance — of how you played the hand you were dealt, of mortality, of beshert — even if it sometimes includes flashes of 40-f—ing-8-like fury at the way the world turns out to work.

I wonder whether that rage would be mitigated if, instead of everyone being brought up to think we could be president, we were raised to believe, as Buddhists are, that desire is the source of suffering. I wonder if the gross domestic product would really shrivel, or the upward mobility of classes would stall, or the amount of art and justice in the world would decline, if we grew up already knowing how things more often than not turn out to be — if we understood early on the unreliability of the meritocracy, and the odds against our dreams, and the huge role in life of dumb luck — if the rough passage signaled in the cry of “40-f—ing-8” were not something kept hidden from children, like the true identity of the tooth fairy, the mutability of beauty, the lifelong wrestling with the meaning of existence that lies ahead of them.

In “The Uses of Enchantment,” child psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim explains that the purpose of fairy tales is to give children an arena — a proxy world — in which to come to grips with evil, to come to terms with loss, to train their emotions for the inevitable struggles and disappointments of life. Anyone who has read the cruel original fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm will recognize the sense of this. But anyone who knows these stories only from their Disney versions will recognize how diligently we now go out of our way to insulate kids from the disturbing stuff that Bettelheim says is good for them.

Yes, I know that Bambi’s mother is killed, and plenty of other modern classics include scary separations from parents. The murder of Harry Potter’s parents by Lord Voldemort is of course the setup for the series. But (spoiler alert) no one in those seven volumes is forced to reconcile with the whole panoply of less lethal but no-less-soul-crushing disappointments — being downsized, pink-slipped, passed over, left — of which many, maybe most, lives are constructed. We are all broken vessels.

Recently I found myself reading the ” target=”_blank”>jewishjournal.com/sowhatsnew. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Turning 60

Whenever Israel has a watershed anniversary, I’m a sucker for commemorative albums and coins. Like Israel, I was born in 1948. Our lives are intertwined.

Israel is my Rorschach. I see myself refracted in our shared growth and maturity. I believe that the existence of Israel makes possible the incredible blossoming of American Jewish culture. The existence of a tiny, faraway country with a Jewish name blooming in the desert upon ancient stones gives us the confidence to create the vibrant American Jewish world in which we are blessed to live. Israel gives us the courage to labor for justice — for ourselves and for others. Without Israel we would be afraid to find our voice and would not feel secure enough to raise it to advocate for others.

How many remember what it was like to be a Jew before there was an Israel? How many remember the sea change in self-image that Jews everywhere experienced after the Six-Day War?

I experienced that change firsthand. My first trip to Israel, as a college junior, landed me at Lod Airport on July 4, 1967. A soldier ran to greet us on the tarmac. Giddy with pride, he asked, “Did you see what we did?” “What are they saying about us in America?” Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, the prophetic song about the yearning for Jerusalem, played on the radio every 15 minutes.

I remember the first Tisha B’Av at the Western Wall in an independent Jewish state in 2,000 years (a Western Wall with no mechitzah) and combing the newly annexed territories with guides as awestruck as we, one of whom was Yoni Netanyahu — the hero of Entebbe.

I remember afternoons in the Old City, drinking coffee with Arab residents, sensing no one could ever own Jerusalem, but that Jerusalem surely owned me.

I remember feeling blessed to be part of Jewish history.

History. It is easy to forget history in the United States, where we assume it stands still. I’ve just come back from Europe where history is not so easily forgotten. I visited Venice’s original ghetto, where people were crammed into such a small place that buildings with six rather than the usual four stories had 6-foot ceilings. Not many Jews live in Venice today.

In Claude Monet’s Giverny, there is the medieval Rue de Juifs — Jews Street, but no Jews. I visited Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House as well as Berlin’s Jewish Museum. These emblems of Jewish history’s ebb and flow recalled Israel’s Beit Hatfutzoth (Diaspora Museum), which traces the Jewish journey from burning Jerusalem in 70 C.E. to today, underscoring that we pass through time and space and should not make assumptions.

At a time when the permanence of pax Americana can no longer be taken for granted, what are the consequences of our assumption of the permanence of the United States as a haven for Jewish safety? The sense of Israel as the homeland for stateless Jews has vanished with the image of the hairy sabra with the rounded hat — carrying a hoe — now replaced by the sabra with a shaved head — carrying a cellphone. But Israel provides us an anchor in history that we didn’t have 60 years ago. Every Jewish psyche, consciously or not, is steadier because of that anchor.

We are 60. What have we learned in progressing from that exuberance on the tarmac at 19, to the more nuanced issues faced at 60?

I have learned the proximity of joy and loss and the ability to embrace paradox holding two seemingly contradictory facts or narratives as one — such as the back-to-back observances of Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzma’ut.

I have learned to fight the corrosive effect of multiple losses on my character and to struggle not to have my vision sullied by assaults to my safe place in the world.

I have learned that finding peace is more important than being right, but that I can’t make peace with someone who doesn’t see me, nor they with me if I don’t see them.

So even when we list our accomplishments at age 60: mother, author, rabbi, psychotherapist … number of Intel chips produced, per-capita books published, patents held, technological and medical super-achievements — these are the questions I ask:

Have we loved enough?

Have we forgiven enough?

Have we learned the lessons of our losses enough?

Have we walked in the shoes of those we have judged?

Do the boundaries that we create keep us safe?

When I was ordained as a rabbi in May, “haRav” was added to my Hebrew name. Rav means “great,” referring to the amount of knowledge a rabbi is supposed to have. But all who study Judaism know that the body of Jewish knowledge is infinite, and Jewish learning is an unending process. So perhaps the most important thing one can learn is humility.

Humility is an opportunity not for despair but for hope. When we admit that there is much we don’t know, we remain open to the unknown. It is the anniversary of the miracle from the unknown that we celebrate when we celebrate a birthday.

Like birth, peace comes from a place we don’t yet know. Humility keeps us open, searching the unknown with curiosity and hope. HaTikvah.

Rabbi Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist and spiritual director. She is author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001. She teaches at the Academy for Jewish Religion and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and is on the board of the L.A. Community Mikveh and Education Center. She can be reached at mekamot@aol.com.

Happy Birthday, USA! Sweet dreams with the Shema

Happy Birthday U.S.A.!

We celebrate the 232nd birthday of the United States of America on July 4. Between noshing on barbecue and watching fireworks, test how well you know early American history. Circle the right answer for the following questions but read carefully — some might be a bit tricky.

  1. Jamestown, the first English colony in America, was located here: Virginia or New York
  2. The stripes on the American Flag represent the signers of the Declaration of Independence: True or False
  3. The national anthem of the United States: “America the Beautiful” or “The Star-Spangled Banner”
  4. The first president of the United States is the man on: the $1 bill or the $5 bill
  5. The war fought for American Independence from Britain was the: Civil War or Revolutionary War

Scroll down to the bottom of the page for answers

Sweet Dreams

“You shall say these words … when you lie down and when you rise.” “The Bedtime Sh’ma: A Goodnight Book,” adapted by Sarah Gershman, combines illustrations with a sweet, gender-neutral translation of the bedtime “Shema” (excerpts from the full text are in Hebrew and English in the back of the book). The prayer teaches children to give thanks for all the blessings in their lives.
The CD version includes musical selections from the “Shema” and gives children a chance to hear the prayers as they drift off to dreamland. Goodnight dreamers everywhere! $17.95 (hardcover), $10.95 (paperback), $10.95 (CD). Available in stores and at online retailers.

In Harmony

Ever wonder what music they listen to around the world? If you head over to the

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Generations of comics salute Mort Sahl on his 80th

“Mort Sahl changed the face of comedy. Before his, that face was Marty Allen’s.”
— Jack Riley

And if you get that reference, you would have loved the Mort Sahl 80th birthday celebration at the Wadsworth Theatre on June 28. What’s not to like? Shelley Berman in a seersucker suit and saddle shoes doing his famous rotary phone call bit. Jonathan Winters playing slugger Leland Buckhorn: “Had four wives … one liked hockey, another liked tennis, one woman just strayed in bars….”

“We are lucky to live in a time when Jonathan Winters was around,” emcee Jack Riley says.

No kidding. That goes for the rest of this cockeyed caravan, too: George Carlin, Woody Allen, Drew Carey, Norm Crosby, Jay Leno, Bill Maher and other standout stand-ups offering “Sahl-utationals” to the pioneer in political satire. Sahl was the first with an LP, first on the cover of Time, and first to understand the Hollywood-D.C. axis as a comedy act.

Once called “the fourth branch of government,” “Sahl was the revolution,” wrote Gerald Nachman in his book, “Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s.” “The mere idea of a stand-up talking about the real world was in itself revolutionary.”

I remember my father putting on Sahl’s “1960, or Look Forward in Anger” LP and how I didn’t understand a single thing. References to Bobby Baker and Estes Kefauver? I was too young to get how great this guy was.

But now I’m here among all kinds of comedic all-stars who appreciate him. The Wadsworth event is a benefit for Sahl’s Heartland Foundation, and what Harry Shearer calls, with his finest satirical twang: “Aside from Jay and Drew and Jonathan … a tribute to a time when Jews did run comedy.”

It’s like a comedy theme park, with Tommy Chong on the red carpet with Kevin Nealon, Hugh Hefner, Dick Van Patten and Rob Reiner, and Paula Poundstone stands schmoozing the founder of the first Mort Sahl Fan Club (1956). Septuagenarian Jack Riley, who played Mr. Carlin, the depressed hypochondriac on “The Bob Newhart Show” says he’s here “because I need a credit from this century.”

Waiting for a urinal in the packed men’s room, you can tell which comics have prostate problems.

Richard Lewis turns 60 today and George Carlin made 70 a day before Mort’s birthday. Lewis kvetches brilliantly about the billing tonight: “I thought it would be Jay, then Christ, then me.”

In his black Nehru shirt, Lewis says he looks “like Capt. Kirk’s cantor.”

His tribute?

“If not for Mort and Lenny [Bruce], I wouldn’t have had 25 years of drug abuse and whoring.”

Carlin tells us Sahl saw him in 1960 doing a Mort Sahl impression in a Hollywood coffeehouse between Cosmo Street and Ivar Avenue. Sahl recommended him to the “hungry i” (for “intellectual”) in San Francisco, and “onward!”(a Sahl catchword) climbed Carlin.

“I was 21 when I first saw him,” says Allen in a taped greeting. “And the minute I saw him, I just thought that there was nothing else that could be done in comedy, and he was just the best thing that I had ever seen.”

But one comedian, Albert Brooks, takes the stage somberly. “I’m embarrassed tonight,” he says. “And angry. I was told that Mort Sahl passed away.”

So Brooks reads a eulogy.

“I remember the last time I saw Mort alive,” he says, the laughter building now like something on a classic comedy LP: helpless, extended, tear-filled. “It was at a Starbucks near where I live. And now I wish I’d said the things that I really felt — how much he influenced all of us here, while he was here. But I didn’t. All that I think I said that day was: ‘Are you gonna finish that latte?’ This should be a lesson to all of us…. And I say, rest in peace my funny man. Rest in peace.”

All around the Jerry’s Deli spread afterward, are wonderful comedians who can’t get smiles off their faces: Fred Willard, Mark Schiff, Rick Overton, Darryl Henriques, Wendy Kamenoff, Paul Krassner, Edie McClurg, Larry Hankin and Barry Diamond.

It was Bart Simpson, quoting the Talmud, who asked: “Who shall bring redemption if not the jesters?” I think of Jan Murray’s and Morey Amsterdam’s funerals and how fine it is that friends did this while Sahl — who once said, “You haven’t lived until you’ve died in California” — is still alive.

“I’ve been very moved by everybody tonight,” Mort told us finally. “I want you to know it really did knock me out. I also want you to know that I’ll do it as long as they let me…. When I started this act, although I was just lonesome and looking for a family, in a larger sense I saw it as a rescue mission for America…. But I believe it more than ever, in spite of the odds, that the good guys’ll win.”

Onward!

Mort Sahl will teach a course in critical thinking at Claremont McKenna College in September.

Hank Rosenfeld assistant teaches at Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Monica and has written a book with Irving Brecher — who wrote for Milton Berle, Jack Benny, and the Marx Brothers — coming from Ben Yehuda Press in 2008.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::



Mort Sahl fan tribute

Happy Birthday, Unsung Heroes, Heroes of Sherwood, Rock for Research

Happy Birthday

Topping-smothered mashed potatoes in martini glasses don’t make appearances at typical synagogue shindigs, but Betty’s Birthday Bash was no standard function.

Thrown by the atypical Westwood Village Synagogue, the evening Bash took place Dec. 24 at the Luxe Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. The purpose of the evening was twofold: to celebrate the 100th birthday and lifelong philanthropy of synagogue member Rebecca “Betty” Matoff; and to raise funds for the Modern Orthodox synagogue’s building fund, which Matoff established.

The event included a celebratory dinner, dancing and a video presentation chronicling Matoff’s dedication to charitable causes.

“I’ve been so blessed to have the chance to help others,” Matoff said. “It’s a great honor to serve, in essence as ‘Hashem’s Treasurer,’ being able to give to those individuals in need and the organizations doing God’s work.”

— Ali Austerlitz, Contributing Writer

Unsung Heroes

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles joined the Council of Israeli Community (cicisrael.org) at a reception Feb. 2, highlighting a wartime joint effort in the local Jewish community.

Following the outbreak of the second Lebanon war, local Israeli organization leaders formed the Giyus Hul-Oversees Draft committee, which raises funds for Ziv Hospital in Tsfat and Kiryat Shmona Fire and Rescue Services Station.More than $178,200 was raised through community events, with The Federation matching the funds to total $356,542.

The funds will be used to equip the first of five new operating rooms in Ziv Hospital and to upgrade the command and control communication center at the Kiryat Shmona fire station.

The effort brought together various organizations that would ordinarily compete for the same dollars. Giyus Hul also worked with the Lions Club, an international nonprofit organization with chapters in Israel, to ensure that 100 percent of the funds raised were used for the intended purposes, with no overhead expenses.

Following the first katyusha rocket on Zefat in July 2006, the emergency room and trauma center at Ziv Hospital treated 687 civilian victims and 820 Israel Defense Forces soldiers. The 1,507 casualties were more than those treated at any two hospitals in the north of Israel combined.

Kiryat Shmona Fire Station is headquarters for the Upper Galilee; during the war 1,780 katyusha rockets hit Upper Galilee and 1,072 katyusha rockets hit Kiryat Shmona and surrounding area. As a result, 2,500 acres of forest and 5,000 acres of fields and parkland were burned.

In a letter read at the event, Israel’s Fire and Rescue Commissioner Shimon Romach expressed his appreciation for the generous donation, which will “significantly improve Israel’s ability to respond promptly to any emergency situation.”

Actor-comedian and Israel advocate Larry Miller emceed the event.

Hereos of Sherwood

California Attorney General Jerry Brown was the guest speaker when the Anti-Defamation League Pacific Southwest Region awarded the Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate at an awards ceremony Feb. 15 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The Sherwood Prize recognizes committed law enforcement personnel who make a significant difference in their communities and serve as role models for their departments. Individual honorees were: Lt. Fred Booker, Los Angeles Police Department; Commander Lynda Castro, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department; Deputy Sheriff Rafer Owens, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department; and Corporal Alexandro Peinado, Pasadena Police Department.

Also honored with the unit award were the Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Attorney’s Office and United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division for the investigation and prosecution of the Avenues Street gang — the first conviction of a street gang for violating federal hate crime laws.Sherwood award founder Joseph Sherwood told the group, “With this award, we are able to achieve the well-deserved recognition for individuals who have dedicated their lives to making our community safer by fighting bigotry and combating hate, wherever it rears its ugly head.”

Rocking for Research

It was a night for music lovers to celebrate love and rock and roll while supporting Cedars Sinai Women’s Cancer Research Insitute (WCRI) at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute. Almost $300,000 was raised as music legends Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne and John Trudell presented the Give Love, Give Life benefit concert.

One-hundred percent of the net proceeds from the show benefit the Cedars-Sinai WCRI, a multidisciplinary program working to eradicate women’s cancers through research, education, early detection and prevention and advocacy.

WCRI’s Dr. Beth Karlan and a coalition of women’s health groups recently secured passage of federal legislation called Johanna’s Law, which will fund education and outreach about the symptoms of gynecologic cancer.

Under the leadership of Dr. Karlan, WCRI works side-by-side with Cedars-Sinai’s patient care programs to integrate innovative research into programs devoted to preventing, diagnosing and treating women’s cancers.

The choice of all male artists for the Give Love, Give Life concert was intentional. Each of the artists has long advocated peace, environmental and social justice issues, but this is the first time they have collaborated on behalf of women’s health and women’s cancers.

Hitting the century mark doesn’t stop this translator

Most afternoons, you can find Eva Zeitlin Dobkin working. Undaunted by the 100-year marker she passed last month, she pulls her wheelchair up to the hospital bed in the room she shares at the Jewish Home for the Aging — her side is separated by a curtain — and spreads her work out over the lavender bedspread. While her roommate rests or watches television with the volume turned high, Dobkin spends a couple of hours editing “Burning Earth” (“Brenendike Erd” ), a historical novel she has translated from Yiddish to English.

She began working on the book in 1984, then had to put it aside to complete other translation projects.

Now, despite limits to her endurance, she is reviewing her final version for the fifth or sixth time, making corrections in longhand — she gave up the computer two years ago — and occasionally referring to a Yiddish-English dictionary to verify her word choice. The book, by Aaron Zeitlin, who may be a cousin, was written in 1934 and centers on a group of Zionists who spied for the British, prior to the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

This is the fourth or fifth book Dobkin has translated, in addition to innumerable articles, letters and personal memorabilia. Her best-known book is “Profiles of a Lost World: Memoirs of East European Jewish Life before World War II” by Hirsz Abramowicz, published in 1999.

Recently, Dobkin did take one afternoon off to celebrate her birthday — she was born on Nov. 20, 1906. Dressed in black slacks and a black sweater trimmed in white, her gray hair pulled neatly back, she sat in one of the home’s conference rooms at the head of a large table. Her son, Jack Forem, flanked her on one side, her youngest sister, Hannah Doberne, on the other. A cake, frosted in chocolate with brightly colored flowers, was set before her, as well as two balloon bouquets.

Friends joined her at the table. A second group, in chairs and wheelchairs, formed an outer circle. They clapped and occasionally sang along to “Bei Mir Bist Du Shein” (“To Me You Are Beautiful”), “Di Grine Kuzine” (“The Greenhorn Cousin”) and other Yiddish songs played by a pianist and violist. Staff members, most in red uniform smocks, clapped along.

“I regret that when you’re 100, I probably won’t be able to come to your simcha,” Dobkin, told her guests, including about 25 fellow residents at the Eisenberg campus, where she’s lived two years and is known as Eva Forem.

It was her day to shine, though, with 19 residents currently ranging in age from 100 to 108, centenarians are surprisingly common at the Jewish Home. Dobkin, however, is among the lucky ones, in that she is well and alert enough to be able to keep working.

Dobkin doesn’t play bingo, and she doesn’t own a television. She occasionally attends a lecture or musical event, but generally, when she isn’t working, she is reading, usually The Forward in Yiddish or English or The Jewish Journal. She reads without glasses, except for very small print.

She also spends about 45 minutes each afternoon discussing her work by telephone with her son, 62, who is a writer and lives in Yucca Valley, and who has been collaborating with her on the book’s final stages. Dobkin is hoping to find a publisher for it.

She has been translating Yiddish since 1932, when she was hired by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at $15 a week to work as a Yiddish and English typist. By the end of the first week, however, she was writing stories in Yiddish and English off the cable transmissions, eventually working her way up to $35. However, she left after two or three years to study for her teaching credential.

In 1936, she married Leon Forem, and in 1946 her son was born. She separated from her husband five months afterward and moved to Los Angeles in 1957, supporting herself by teaching public school from 1957 to 1972, mostly at Pacoima’s Telfair Avenue Elementary School.

Born in Waterbury, Conn., to parents who had just emigrated from Russia’s Mohilev Province, now Belarus, she was the oldest of seven children, and her youngest sister, 85, is her only surviving sibling. She grew up bilingual in Yiddish and English, and at age 3 she was taught by her father to write her name in Yiddish.

“There were Jewish periodicals coming into the house, and I would look at them whether I understood them or not,” she said.

Dobkin attended public school in Waterbury and later, after moving at age 16, in the Bronx. She also received a Jewish secular education, taught primarily in Yiddish, and considers herself not religious but “very Jewish.”

She often had to care for her younger siblings while her parents worked but nevertheless managed to acquire an A.B. in German, with a minor in English and education from Hunter College, as well as a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. The family was poor.

“We had nothing. Sometimes we didn’t have a quarter to put in the gas meter,” she said.

She attributes her success, and that of her siblings, to her parents’ emphasis on education and the availability of free schooling. Her longevity, she believes, is due to genetics.

“Pick the right parents and grandparents,” she advised, wryly. She won’t commit to a future translating project but is considering writing a family history.

“Have a few more birthdays,” her son said as the party wound down.

“I wouldn’t mind,” Dobkin retorted, “if they’re not any worse than this one.”

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When Birthday Party Blowouts Blowup

The wedding invitation convinced me that modern moms and dads have officially lost their gumballs regarding children’s birthday parties. “Master Jacob Estroff” read the ivory parchment envelope; it took a moment to register that the addressee was in fact Jakey, my 5-year-old. The bride-to-be (Miss Sophia Rosenthal) was Sophie, his toothless classmate.

The party lived up to its invitation. There were bridesmaids, groomsmen and, of course, a mini groom and a mini chuppah. There was even a wedding cake taller than the birthday bride herself.

In all fairness, Jewish parents come by it honestly. We’ve barely cleared labor and delivery before we’re expected to be on the phone with the caterer ordering bagels and lox for 200 for the bris or baby naming.

It seems a natural progression to plan a three-ring circus in the cul-de-sac when that bundle of joy turns 6. It’s just that somewhere between the petting zoo, the pony rides and the moonwalk we end up with an empty wallet, a giant headache and a kid who is so overwhelmed by the hoopla, he can barely enjoy his big day.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we bail on our kids’ birthday parties altogether. On the contrary, these annual rites of passage are much-anticipated events in our children’s lives. But going to the opposite extreme isn’t the answer either.

Fortunately, it’s perfectly possible to plan a kid-friendly birthday bash without compromising our values, sanity and pocketbook. All it takes is a little panning for gold.

You know when you take a big clump of mud and swoosh it around in a pan until a few glistening specks of gold are all that remain. Well, we’re going to do the same thing here. Only instead of mud, we’re going to swoosh a big, mushy mess of modern birthday party madness.

Are you swooshing yet? Do you see those overpriced invitations and goody bags spilling over the sides into a bucket by your feet? Great, keep swooshing. But don’t go peeking at those golden nuggets yet. Not until we’ve spent some time looking at the slush in the bucket, and have a clear grasp on what exactly our child’s birthday party does not need to be (regardless of what parenting magazines, party planners or other parents might think):

  • It does not need to be a reflection of our parental prowess. We accomplish lots of amazing feats as parents. Getting our children out the door and into school every morning; keeping them safe, healthy and happy. Our child’s birthday party is but one little parenting accomplishment in a year of millions; it’s hardly a manifestation of our maternal savvy.
  • It does not need to be a Martha Stewart masterpiece. Have you ever bought a magazine based on the teaser “foolproof birthday party ideas” only to realize a page and a half in that you are a fool for buying the magazine in the first place? Not only is making tulip-shaped cupcakes not foolproof, but it takes a degree from the World Culinary Institute. Besides, our kids couldn’t care less if their cupcakes are shaped like tulips or toilets, as long as they’re yummy, icing-soaked and flanked with the right amount of candles.
  • It does not have to be an unprecedented concept. Do you know that sinking feeling we get when we learn another kid is having a birthday gala at the same secret site we’ve booked for our own child’s party — only a week earlier. “The nerve!” we think to ourselves. “I’ve had that inflatable jumpy place booked for a year and that parent stole the idea right out from under me.” But the reality is our kids love playing on inflatable jumpy stuff. They would do it day in and day out if we’d let them. I must ask you this: Would you turn up your nose at an opportunity to go to a spa just because you did the same thing last weekend? I think not.
  • It does not need to go off without a hitch. For my niece’s sixth birthday, my sister-in-law booked a highly acclaimed magician, months — if not years — in advance. You could taste the excitement as the guests counted down the seconds until he arrived. And then they counted some more. And some more. Until it became painfully evident that the magician had taken his vanishing act to the next level.

That’s when they started building Oreo towers. Those kids went through package after package of double stuffs until they’d constructed a bona fide chocolate cookie Camelot. And then it was time to go home. “Thanks, that was fun,” the children told my catatonic sister-in-law as they exited.

Lesson learned? Despite a catastrophic birthday party disaster, my niece turned 6, the guests were happy and we had a family memory that would last years beyond the applause after a perfectly executed magic show.

OK then. I think we’re finally ready to peek at the golden nuggets. At those few precious, glimmering things our child’s birthday party should be. They look something like this:

  • A fun, memorable day spent with family and friends.
  • A means of making them feel happy, proud and loved.

  • A celebration of their development, uniqueness and existence.

Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning Jewish educator and mother of four. Her first book, “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? The Essential 411 on Raising Modern Jewish Kids” will be published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House in 2007.