November 18, 2018

Oh Canada!

I went home to Canada to surprise my niece for her birthday. I took the redeye last Thursday night, and came back to LA on Sunday. It was a wonderful, albeit far too short visit. Here’s the thing about going home though, even 5 minutes can feed your soul. I was surrounded by family, friends, nature, Canadian accents, and animals. I was in cottage country on Lake Simcoe, which is a glorious place.

I woke my niece up when I went in her room, and she simply stared at me, unsure what was happening. She then jumped up and hugged me like her life depended on it. She is a wonderful human being and I would love her even if she wasn’t family. I am very happy I went for the weekend. The truth is I would fly home every weekend if I could. There is no place like home, and home is Canada.

I played board games, read while relaxing in a hammock, watched the sun rise with a cup of tea sitting by the lake, and watched the sun set at a dinner table covered with delicious food and enveloped in good conversation and laughter. I tuned out the noise of life for a couple of days and slowed everything down. It was a terrific weekend and I was happy, which is a blessing often overlooked in the chaos of life.

Canadians are good people. There is inherent kindness and generosity. Not only that, but there is a genuine desire to talk to people. Whether you are at the grocery store, or sitting and waiting for your flight to be called, a Canadian will smile and engage in a way that is classically Canadian. I have lived in America longer than I lived in Canada, but Canada will always be what feeds my soul.

I cried when my brother dropped me off at the airport. Not a pretty tear down the cheek situation, but rather a bawling and gasping for breath type of thing. I flew home comforted by a bag of ketchup potato chips and a Coffee Crisp. When I miss my brother I will pull out my emergency stash of Aero, remember the weekend, and keep the faith.




Quebec official: Rosh Hashanah election date not discriminatory

A Canadian government minister who said the Jewish community receives “privileged treatment” denied that a 2016 election scheduled for Rosh Hashanah discriminates against Jews.

“Give me a break,” said Bernard Drainville, the Parti Québécois minister of democratic institutions and active citizenship, in response to a reporter’s question about his refusal to change the proposed date for Quebec’s first fixed-date election in 2016, which coincides with the Jewish New Year.

Drainville said it will be possible to vote before the election on Oct. 3, 2016, the Montreal Gazette reported.

Last week, one of Quebec’s opposition parties, the Coalition Avenir Québec, joined Parti Québécois in voting down a Liberal Party amendment that would have allowed flexibility in setting the election date if it coincided with a religious holiday or for other reasons.

Lawrence Bergman, a veteran member of the provincial Legislature for a largely Jewish Montreal-area district, said an election on Rosh Hashanah would mean “some people will not have a chance to vote.”

But Drainville insisted that “the main issue here is not a Jewish holiday.”

“The issue here is the principle of not setting the election date according to the different religious holidays,” he said, according to the Gazette. “There are more than 100 religious holidays in the calendar. You cannot say we’re going to allow for the postponement of the vote according to one religion because other religious communities will also demand the same.”

Last month, Drainville opposed the relaxation of parking restrictions in Montreal on Jewish holidays, saying the Jewish community receives “privileged treatment.”

Lebanese Canadian accused of planning attack on Israel

A Canadian citizen who once lived in Michigan is accused of planning to travel to Israel to detonate a bomb on behalf of Hezbollah.

Faouzi Ayoub, 44, formerly of Dearborn, Mich., was added to the FBI’s most wanted list of terrorists on Wednesday after a 2-year-old indictment against him for passport fraud was unsealed. His whereabouts are unknown.

Ayoub, a native of Lebanon, is accused of trying to enter Israel in 2000 on a false passport issued to Frank Mariano Boschi in order to carry out a bombing attack for Hezbollah, a terrorist group based in Lebanon.

He reportedly was part of an exchange of 436 prisoners released by Israel for businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers.

‘Who is a Jew’ crisis moves into aliyah sphere

Thomas Dohlan, who converted to Judaism in an Orthodox Canadian beit din, never anticipated that Israel’s Interior Ministry might question his Jewishness and block his bid to make aliyah.

But that’s what is happening because of what appears to be a new policy that gives Israel’s Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate, and not the Interior Ministry, the ultimate authority to decide which Orthodox converts are kosher enough for immigration purposes.

The new policy is another sign of the Rabbinate’s strengthening power over Diaspora Jewish affairs, according to Rabbi Seth Farber, the director of ITIM, an organization that helps people deal with citizenship and religious issues in Israel.

“We’d heard that the Interior Ministry has been handing over some converts’ paperwork to the Rabbinate on an ad-hoc basis, but until last week this wasn’t a written policy,” Farber told The New York Jewish Week. “Now we have proof.”


Canadian exam question creates anti-Israel feel, group alleges

A question on a provincial exam for 12th-graders in Manitoba will promote anti-Israel sentiment, B’nai Brith Canada says. 

The question—“Explain whether or not you think people in the entertainment industry have a responsibility for making the world a better place?”—was in response to an article written by Canadian singer Chantal Kreviazuk in which she deplored the suffering of children in several armed conflicts, including those killed and maimed in the Gaza Strip by an artillery shell.

B’nai Brith Canada alleged that the question will promote anti-Israel feelings, the Winnipeg Free Press reported, and wants the Department of Education to check every student’s paper and count the anti-Israel comments..

Winnipeg-based B’nai Brith Midwest region director Alan Yusim told the newspaper that most students would not have the knowledge to conclude anything other than that Israel victimized children.

“I don’t see which other conclusion you could reach,” Yusim said.

Manitoba Education Minister Nancy Allan said she shares the Jewish organization’s concern, and has told department officials to find out how the question got on the exam and how “to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We’re taking this very seriously.”

Some entertainers have canceled shows in Israel in response to the Gaza flotilla incident. The alternative rock band the Pixies was the latest act to pull out, joining the likes of Elvis Costello, Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System.

Other acts, including Elton John and Rod Stewart, are still planning to play Israel this summer.

The heavy metal band that could

In April 1982, Steve “Lips” Kudlow, front man of the heavy metal band Anvil, appeared on the cover of a British music tabloid wearing studded leather and wielding a chainsaw with a dildo between his teeth.

The image (and the accompanying story) stunned a British teenager, Sacha Gervasi, who attended Anvil’s concert at London’s legendary Marquee club and was “riveted by this lunatic front man jumping about in a bondage harness, playing slide guitar with a marital aide.” Over the next few years, Gervasi worked as a roadie for the band, which Kudlow and his best friend, drummer Robb Reiner, had founded while growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Toronto.

Two decades later, Gervasi revisited the bandmates to shoot the documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” which has been selected as the centerpiece film among some 230 features, shorts and music videos to screen at the Los Angeles Film Festival, June 19-29. The movie describes the years the band inspired future metal royalty, such as Metallica and Slayer, whose members appear on camera; it recounts Anvil’s descent into obscurity in the mid-1980s and the founders’ struggle to keep rocking, even while holding down day jobs, into middle age.

Along the way, Kudlow and Reiner embark upon a grossly mismanaged Eastern European tour (a fight breaks out when one club manager attempts to pay them in goulash), they reunite with a top metal producer for their 13th album and finally perform a triumphant “return” concert in Japan.

Critics have lauded the documentary as “a real-life ‘This is Spinal Tap,'” (although drummer Reiner is not to be confused with that mockumentary’s director, Rob Reiner). A Rolling Stone headline asked whether “Anvil!” is the year’s “great rock movie,” and Variety called it “an underdog saga even nonmetalheads will root for.”

“On one level, the film is about these funny metal guys playing music into their 50s, but on another, it’s about best friends with a vision they’ve never given up,” Gervasi said.

Kudlow and Reiner — who alternatively appear close or at one another’s throats — are a study in opposites. The likeable but high-strung Kudlow is the son of a Polish immigrant tailor who frowned on his rock ‘n’ roll fantasies. Kudlow told The Journal he went through with his bar mitzvah just so he could buy a guitar with the gift money, but his dad barred him from playing music at home. The taciturn Reiner, meanwhile, is the son of a Hungarian-born Auschwitz survivor — a jeweler who not only encouraged his son’s music, but paid $25,000 to finance Anvil’s first album.

Sascha Gervasi, the director of “Anvil! The story of Anvil” joins Jian Ghomeshi in Studio Q

“My dad saw his own father die three days before the camp was liberated,” Reiner said from his Toronto home. “After what he had been through, he only wanted to see his children happy.”

Kudlow introduced himself to Robb after hearing drum riffs blasting from Reiner’s home, and the teenagers began rehearsing daily in Robb’s basement. “Steve dropped out of school as soon as he met Robb,” Kudlow’s mother complains in the film.

Gervasi angered his own parents — especially his father, an Oxford economics professor — by declining a history fellowship to Harvard University to pursue a career as a heavy metal drummer. Eventually he gave that up to attend King’s College in London, UCLA’s film school and to pursue a career in screenwriting, penning 2004’s “The Terminal” for Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in 2000.

The following year, Gervasi was surfing the net late at night when he suddenly wondered what had happened to his friends from Anvil. “I assumed that they had either broken up or killed each other,” he said. Instead, he discovered through the band’s Web site that “Anvil had released nine more albums since I had last spoken to them, and I hadn’t ever heard of a single one.” He promptly e-mailed Kudlow, who flew out to Los Angeles for a social visit.

The idea for the film hit Gervasi during that visit — specifically, on the day he took Kudlow to meet his mentor, Steven Zaillian, the screenwriter of “Schindler’s List.”

“Lips [Kudlow] was talking in a very animated way about his latest album or tour, and I told Steven, ‘He never gave up, and his passion is exactly as I remember from when I was a kid. He still believes Anvil can make it.’ I found that remarkable and said, ‘There might be a film here.'”

Gervasi mortgaged his home to shoot 320 hours of film from 2005 to 2007 — much of it following Anvil’s miserable Eastern European tour. On that trip, the frustrated Kudlow sometimes vented his anger at Reiner, who quit the band several times in response.

Yet they stayed best friends: “I think that Robb and Lips are both outsiders in a way,” Gervasi said of their camaraderie. “Steve has always been the black sheep of his family; his siblings include a doctor and an accountant. And Robb, I think, was quite damaged by his father’s Holocaust experience, even though [the elder Reiner] was supportive and rarely talked about the camps.”

Their interactions at times are so reminiscent of “Spinal Tap” that Gervasi’s cinematographer pulled him aside — during the goulash incident — to ask whether the bandmates were actually actors. “Once Lips ran offstage and was kneeling in pain with his hands down his trousers,” Gervasi said. “He’d sung so hard that his hemorrhoids had popped out. Then he ran back onstage and sang a song.”

“We decided not to put that incident in the film — although I must say it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen — because we didn’t want to ridicule these middle-aged guys who were still trying to rock like 20-year-olds,” he added.

“Through everything, they continued following their dream. And that’s what makes their story so compelling.”

“Anvil” will screen June 26 at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, after which the band will perform in person.

VIDEO: Canadian PM Stephen Harper speaks at a celebration marking the 60th Anniversary of Israel

Singles – Soulmate Surfing

Dating can be scary. Dating in a foreign country can be petrifying.

When I arrived in Los Angeles in 2003, going on dates was the farthest thing from my mind. I came here for love — my love of the entertainment biz, but more importantly (and naively), my love for a guy.

Unfortunately, my dreams of a fairy-tale ending with my long distance-turned-local beau were dashed when our relationship went sour a few months after my arrival.

Fortuitously for me, although my life — with the same boyfriend for three years –was drastically altered, I was offered a job in show business (my career of choice at the time). I conveniently threw myself into my work but soon found that there was a void: I had no man to call my own.

My entire dating life, I had been what some relationship cynics call a serial monogamist. By the time I was 24, I had been in a relationship for nine years. Not with the same person. Actually, four different ones — with gaps between of just a day, a week, or a month.

When the oozing wound of the latest breakup began healing, I decided it was time to find someone new. But my desire to start dating again overwhelmed me with fear because I did not have the faintest idea how to meet someone.

As a Canadian living in Los Angeles, I didn’t have a network of friends to introduce me to eligible bachelors. The only people I knew were friends of my ex. And so, I reluctantly resorted to online dating.

The first challenge was to build an online profile. The Web site asked me to create a personal essay — the first tidbit that a prospective suitor would ever learn about me. But what could I possibly say that wouldn’t turn someone off?

After pondering the content of this paragraph for a couple of days and filling out the rest of the information in my personal Web page, I chose to write a short but to-the-point introduction that simply stated that I was Canadian and looking to meet someone new.

Once my photo was uploaded, my journey of online dating officially commenced. I immediately began to worry that no one would contact me.

All my concerns about online dating were for naught. After about a week, I was a pro. I realized how scrolling down the pages, looking at photos of available Jewish men, was similar to online shopping. This “shopping” experience became one of my favorite pastimes.

Online dating even gave my bruised ego a boost. I began receiving compliments about my looks and my accomplishments from potential suitors almost daily. I began to feel hopeful that I would find my Prince Charming within this brand new group of available bachelors.

I was soon going on dates three to five times a week. I met all kinds of men: short, tall, hirsute, skinny, gorgeous and not-so-hot; lawyers, doctors, students, businessmen and, of course, actors. It is Los Angeles after all.

Dating was no longer frightening. It actually became enjoyable, and I eagerly anticipated meeting cute, single, Jewish men, in the hopes that one special guy would win the coveted title of Melanie’s Boyfriend.

Cut to: Two Years Later.

I created my third “new” profile on the same online dating site.

Dating many different guys had lost its luster, and I was ready for something serious. Yet, at the same time, I was on the verge of throwing in the towel on dating altogether. I was certain I’d exhausted the pool of single men that I had once been so anxious to dive into.

One lonely evening, I was looking for a beacon, or at least a glimmer of hope that my perfect match was out there. I began perusing all the dating success stories listed on the dating Web site. I started reading at “A” and only made it through “D” before I became slightly more optimistic about my dating future. I vowed that evening that one day, I, too, would have my own story posted there.

Nevertheless, two weeks and three first dates later, I was fed up again, and declared myself too busy to date. Just one day later, I found him.

Ironically, he was an acquaintance of the long-distance ex. Someone I’d even had a small crush on for years. He had just joined my online dating service and thought he’d say hello to a familiar face. I was the first person he contacted.

Eight months later, we’re going strong. I don’t know if I can impute our connection to my proclamation of having no time to date, or if my taking the success stories to heart ignited a cosmic force that ushered him into my life.

But how and why don’t matter. The point is: I met him. And now that I’ve found happiness, I advocate online dating to anyone who will listen and play matchmaker as a hobby. I’m just trying to spread the wealth.

Shlub to Hero: Film Sketches Gehry Life

“He starts out with that,” says Barry Diller, alluding to a squiggle-like drawing in the new documentary, “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” and “he ends up with this,” pointing to a model of the InterActive Corp. (IAC) Building, currently under construction in Manhattan. Although made completely of glass, a material that likes to be flat, Gehry has molded the glass walls to resemble a row of sailboats billowing in the wind.

Even to the architect’s detractors — and there are many — buildings like the IAC offer something new and unexpected, even if a lot of looking is needed sometimes to wrap one’s mind around these edifices. In short, the IAC Building aspires to be a work of architecture that is simultaneously and unapologetically a work of art.

There’s an implicit question in the comments of Diller, the chairman of Expedia and Gehry’s client for the IAC Building: How did that blankety-blank squiggle turn into a really good building?

The film, a rare departure into documentary by Sidney Pollack, director of “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa,” assays the mystery of Gehry, an outwardly aw-shucks guy, who regularly produces some of the world’s most aggressive and attention-getting buildings.

While it is interesting to hear Gehry, 77, describe his formative influences — building blocks during childhood, the images of fish, the architecture of Finnish master Alvar Aalto — this kind of museum-docent talk does not bring us close to the core of Gehry’s creativity. Pollack’s film is strongest when filling in the human, rather than theoretical, background.

The real question here is: How did this lower-middle-class Jew from Toronto become the most celebrated architect in the world, and one of the rare people in the profession, outside of Frank Lloyd Wright, to become a household name? (What other architect is well-known enough to be spoofed on “The Simpsons”?)

Pollack, with his skill in developing character, locates the Freudian threads in Gehry’s life story. A Canadian in Southern California, the young Gehry, then known as Goldberg, struggled in architecture school, believing himself victimized by anti-Semitism in a largely all-WASP profession.

He has the outsider’s simultaneous rejection of, and reverence for, authority, here symbolized by the architectural profession, with its weighty baggage of uptight, exclusionary, backward-looking rules. The young Gehry wonders why architecture must be so authoritarian and rule-bound, as opposed to something akin to the delight he experienced as a child, building imaginary cities on the floor of his aunt’s apartment.

Gehry’s creative solution — his psychoanalytic victory — was to embrace the delight of free-form design, while making sure that his buildings met the needs of his clients. His freedom in designing what appear to be purely sculptural objects that subsequently win rapturous praise must make him the envy of all architects who secretly wish they could find such willing clients. Gehry seems to embody the myth of the artist-hero, a symbol of personal attainment and untrammeled freedom of expression.

Yet self-doubt remains. On the eve of his greatest popular triumph, the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, five years ago, the architect recalls walking around the spectacular complex, shortly to become the most photographed and discussed building of the past 50 years, asking himself, “What have I done?” It is the most touching moment in the film.

That kind of vulnerability and introspection makes “Sketches of Frank Gehry” at times resemble a Woody Allen movie. The plotline certainly sounds a lot like Allen: A sad sack, Jewish shlub who feels excluded from the country club set of architects, turns out to be the designer of amazing buildings that turn the world of architecture on its ear. Meanwhile, the hero, in all innocence, says things like, “Gee, did I really do that?”

Adding to the Allen-like texture of the film is a series of celebrity talking heads — Diller, ex-Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, actor Dennis Hopper, rock musician Bob Geldof, ex-talent agency director Michael Ovitz, artist Julian Schnabel, the late architect Philip Johnson — each expressing his admiration for cher maitre.

And in the archetypally Allen moment, we meet Gehry’s psychoanalyst of 35 years, who acknowledges with a coy smile that “Frank has made me famous,” while adding that he refuses services to other architects seeking to emulate Gehry’s inner transformation. (Question for Gideon Kanner: Is there a statute of limitations on physician confidentiality?)

This enjoyable, undemanding film from the hand of a master director holds no terrors for nonarchitects and others who feel flummoxed by the mystique and technical complexity of the profession. This very much reflects the attitude of Gehry, who seems intent on puncturing a certain kind of architectural snobbery.

What the film does not do is help us understand the process through which a scribbled drawing turns into a finished building. For all the accessibility of Gehry the man, Gehry the creative personality remains a mystery.

Native Son

A few months ago, I wrote a story in these pages about my experiences as a Jewish Big Brother. As Paul Harvey says, here’s “The Rest of the Story.”

My Little Brother, Josh, invited me to his graduation from Northwestern Law School last month. “No, thanks,” I said. “I can do better. Let’s go back to Montreal.” He hadn’t been there in 18 years, since he was 9 years old, leaving the only home he’d ever known in a taxi, with tears running down his face. He still identifies himself as Canadian and an Expos fan. (Believe me, I tried to divorce him of the latter notion, but to no avail.) And so we set out to go home, to Montreal, over the Memorial Day weekend.

Josh came back to Los Angeles after graduation and we had lunch with Bobbi Feinberg, the wonderful woman who made our match 16 years ago. We hadn’t seen her in at least 10 years. Big and Little Brothers are brought together though a thorough screening and interview process, but chance also plays its part. On another day, or if I lived a few miles farther away, perhaps we’d both have made different matches with other people. Who knows how those might have turned out?

At my request, Josh’s mother sent me a three-page, single-spaced e-mail list of personal sights to see while in Montreal, including the hospital where Josh was born and the name of his pediatrician. I figured if I never saw the hospital where I was born, neither should he. For that matter, what was he going to talk about with the pediatrician? Get out the file and discuss a 20-year-old runny nose? That wasn’t making the cut on our itinerary.

Our first day in town we headed out to the old neighborhood, Notre Dame de Grace, and saw his house, which had fallen into some disrepair. He remembered the banister he used to slide down, and the same floral wallpaper was in the entry hall. Presumably, the plastic green army men Josh buried in the garden before he left were still there, under a lawn overgrown with dandelions.

We walked a few yards to a pocket park where he used to play ball, with stones unevenly marking imaginary bases … pretty much as he remembered it, except that it seemed so much smaller now. Hard to believe it was once big enough to play baseball in. The huge hill he remembered leading up to his house is now a gentle slope, a rise of perhaps 15 feet. It, too, seems to have shrunk with age.

We rang the doorbell of his neighbors, a wonderful couple named Pearl and Robert Adams who’d lived on the block for 29 years. Robert played chess with David Burt, Josh’s father, every day when David was ill. Toward the end, when David was too weak to move the pieces, too weak to even speak, Robert would touch each of the pieces until David raised his eyebrows, indicating which one to move. Pearl couldn’t quite get over Josh’s resemblance to his father, but also had to wrestle with the idea that the 9-year-old boy she knew was now a 6-feet-tall law school graduate.

Then we drove out to the cemetery, and read the “Kaddish” at his father’s gravesite.

That night we went to the Expos game. I’d contacted their front office, told them our story and asked for a tour of the stadium. “Whatever you’ve got,” I said. “Do you think he’d like to throw out the first pitch?” Goosebumps. “Yes, I think he’d like that,” I said.

This was the kind of secret I like — the kind I can tell everyone I know except two people, without fear of getting caught. I didn’t tell him until we got to the ballpark.

An hour later, as he stood on the field at Olympic Stadium, an interesting thing happened. He got on his cell phone to call his pals in Chicago and Los Angeles. I wasn’t listening, but I couldn’t help hearing that he told one of his friends, “My brother set it up” — dropping the prefix “Big.” After 16 years together, we are family.

He showed me how you hold a split-finger fastball, suggesting this was the pitch he’d use when the time came. I suggested he try to get the ball somewhere in the vicinity of home plate.

Josh was never the most demonstrative kid, something that used to frustrate me to no end, but this was a pretty emotional trip, and I knew it meant a lot to him. When we were about to go our separate ways at the airport, he thanked me for an “amazing” trip, something he’d never forget.

I said, “Now there’s something you can do for me,” and I gave him a little note with three words on it: Pay It Forward. “Go make a difference in someone else’s life now.”

Jewish Big Brothers is on the Web @


J. D. Smith, pictured above right with his Little Brother, can be found at

Connections: Israelis and Americans

About two weeks ago, I attended a three-day conference in Jerusalem along with more than 3,400 Americans and Canadians and 2,000 Israelis. We North Americans had all made the journey despite State Department warnings that travel in the area was unsafe, in part because of an expected confrontation with Iraq. But when we looked to see how Jerusalemites were reacting to our presence, we discovered that, in general, the Israeli world outside our convention center all but ignored us.

In the Israeli press, for example, there were few stories, most of them buried. When I talked with a taxi driver, a hotel clerk, a group of students at a cafe, even assistants in the mayor’s office, I found little knowledge about us and even less interest in what we were about. It was the classic example of Israeli disinterest in the comings and goings of Diaspora Jews.

Perhaps this disinterest was justified. The occasion, after all, was a bureaucratic gathering of American and Canadian Jews for the 67th General Assembly of UJA Federations of North America. The UJA Federation conferences, which, among other things, are concerned with raising money for Israel, are not known for their sex appeal or for the news headlines they generate.

But this occasion was to be different — more than just a change of venue from an American city to Jerusalem. Its focus was presumably linked to Israel and Israelis: Namely, this was an attempt to look at issues of Jewish identity both in Israel and the Diaspora. What we had forgotten was that Israelis, for the most part, were indifferent to the world of the Diaspora, except when Jews were literally in danger.

Actually, this was not news to me. The conventional wisdom among my Israeli journalist counterparts is that the Diaspora holds little interest for most of their countrymen. The reason being that many think of themselves primarily as Israelis, not as Jews. Their conflicts seethe with passion over matters of nationhood, not religion. Even the struggle today between the haredi and the secular Jews in Jerusalem is a political dispute, not a religious one. For those of us in the Diaspora, the message is clear: You want to be heard, to be taken seriously by us, then make aliyah.

A glimpse of this was highlighted in a film shown at the GA: “I’m an Israeli who happens to be Jewish,” said a likable young man on camera. His identity, he indicated, was vested in nation, not religion. After all, that was the dynamic he shared, the central value that linked him to everyone else. They all served in the army, faced a common enemy, responded politically to differences in goals and interests, but, nevertheless, were still bound together by a common language and a national history. It was an Israeli culture that defined their lives, and being Jewish, which they took for granted, was only a part of it. We as American Jews were apparently locked out, not because of rejection, but because we were inconsequential.

Israel’s political leaders, I know, are not quite so insular. They recognize their own special need for connections to the American Jewish world. But it is precisely our role as influential Americans that they find so crucial, not the presence or absence of Jewish heritage or knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish culture. Our strength in Washington is what’s essential: for military support, for economic aid and for backing within the United Nations. In short, what they want is national, not Jewish, assistance, and that we Jews can provide it is a boon to Israel and to us.

Why to us? We want, I believe, the myth of the Jewish homeland and the sense of pride and accomplishment that accompanies it…even though we are only marginally a part of the story.

In the end, what we seek to retain is a connection with Israel. Until now, we have simply gained that connection through philanthropy, coupled with the use of political leverage in Washington. Today, philanthropy will no longer serve us. Israel is economically on a par with much of Western Europe, and the amount of private money we raise is relatively modest.

At the GA meetings, several Israeli leaders proposed that our local Federations hold back a sizable share of the contributions for Israel. Utilize it to help your own communities, primarily to further Jewish education, they urged. But the Americans protested. This was shortsighted on Israel’s part; moreover, it did not take into account our need to make a contribution, to have a presence in Israel.

What should that presence be? I am bothered that much of the present talk tends to jump to a grand scale. Israelis may seem indifferent to us, but we increasingly see in them an answer to our greatest problems. How do we stem the rise in intermarriage, improve Jewish education, master Hebrew? It sounds like an exaggeration, but many of the panaceas imply that strong ties with Israel will do the trick. As a solution, it has the virtue of shifting the focus from our own door, and of creating a different (but simpler) dilemma: Namely, how can we improve our ties with Israel?

What’s required, I believe, are local, specific exchanges complete with content and interaction. For example, there is already in place a lovely program that originated in Los Angeles through the efforts of many players. Essentially, three schools in Los Angeles have been linked with three in Tel Aviv: Tichon Hadash with the Milken Community High School; Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles with the Magen Elementary School; and, on the middle school level, the Abraham Joshua Heschel Community Day School in Northridge with Tel Aviv’s A.D. Gordon School.

The planners and benefactors of these programs reach across many layers of the society within the two cities: Parents and teachers and school administrators function as essential partners in the endeavor; the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles helped initiate the partnerships and provides some support for them; so, too, do the municipalities of Tel Aviv and Los Angeles; and there’s aid from the Jewish Agency and resource people as diverse as Beverly Hills resident Herb Glaser, who serves as co-chair and who sits on the Board of Israel’s Jewish Agency, all the way across to the University of Judaism’s education professor Hanan Alexander.

The curriculum is planned jointly by teachers and administrators in Israel and here; there is daily e-mail correspondence between the students, especially on issues of Jewish identity; and built into the center of the program is the concept of student exchanges.

All of this represents a start that can only be looked upon with great enthusiasm. Will it lead to Jewish unity? To a sense of shared values and Jewish peoplehood? Perhaps — at least in some instances with some particular individuals.

The point is programs such as this reinforce strong ties between individuals and families, not nations. And, if nothing else, they are likely to lead to rich education experiences and long-term friendships that extend to the years that lie ahead. — Gene Lichtenstein