February 21, 2020

Rabbi’s Advice: How to Heal Your Heart in Today’s Politics

Sometimes, everything feels broken. Our country is rocking with political chaos. There is so much to be worried about, from deadly flu strains to economic instability. On top of this chaos, everyone is dealing with personal challenges and crises.

How and when will the divisions be healed? Will we ever feel safe? Do we dare to hope for a world that is less angry, more kind and more generous?

It’s not “nice” to do but “necessary” to find ways to be grounded and, dare I say, hopeful. Becoming bitter and angry may feel good and justified for a while, but then you figure out these emotions can eat you alive.

Here are a few ways to keep yourself centered:

In spite of everything:

Think about Anne Frank. The Frank family hid in an attic before she and her family were discovered and deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Anne and her sister, Margot, died there in 1945. Anne was 15.

I think about Anne a lot. I wonder how she could have written these words in her diary:

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Anne never saw the end of the war. She never saw Germany defeated or justice done at the Nuremberg trials. Yet, somehow, this young woman clung to hope and optimism: “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”

Remember Anne, and think about what you can do today to find a bit of beauty. 

The arc that bends toward justice:

Another perspective that helps broaden our perspective is this one from Unitarian minister Theodore Parker. He wrote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Justice and change take time, but there is an ever-increasing march toward the truth, albeit sometimes as slow as molasses.

Becoming bitter and angry may feel good and justified for a while, but then you figure out these emotions can eat you alive.

Claudette Colvin was a brave 15-year-old African American schoolgirl who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on the bus she rode in Alabama in 1955. This was before Rosa Parks’ refusal to change seats on a bus. Fifty-three years later, the first black president was elected, opening the doors of possibility forever.

Think of Claudette. What can you do to stand up or speak out, even if you don’t know the outcome?

On that day …: 

In dark times, affirm your deepest hopes. The Kaddish prayer, recited at funerals and in memory of those we have lost, is a waterfall of praise to God. The prayer reminds us, compels us, to not give in to despair.

Our Aleinu prayer, chanted at the conclusion of daily prayer services ends with: “Bayom hahu yiheyeh adonai echad u’shemo echad.” (“On that day, God will be One and the world will be one.”)

On a day to come, we will be united, we will come together and the world will be one. This vision is worth fighting for, even when it feels very far away.

Singer Matisyahu echoes this sentiment in his song “One Day”:

Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know some day it’ll all turn around
Because
All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
They’ll be no more wars
And our children will play
One day (one day), One day (one day)

Stay connected to hope. What can you do this week to stay inspired, to keep your faith and to gather with others?


Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman is a rabbi-at-large. Her website can be found here. She works with individuals in spiritual guidance and teaches widely. For weekly inspiration, sign up for her newsletter.

I Want A Friday Kind of Love

Shabbat Flowers Club logo

This is a Valentine’s Day column about love, flowers and scorn.

I’m not usually one to pry into the private lives of 17th-century English playwrights, but I was shocked to learn William Congreve, the man who wrote the famous line now quoted as “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” never married. 

With such powerful insights into a woman’s mind, I half expected Congreve to have had not one, but two or three wives.

What constitutes a “woman scorned”? Popular culture often portrays women who express discontent — from ex-girlfriends to female leaders who call for change — as angry banshees whose emotionality is as ridiculous as it is erratic. But that describes very few women.

I’ve been blessed with a peaceful marriage, but I’ve also seen countless instances in which a wife’s love turned to hate because her husband eroded her affection. It’s one thing to hate a stranger, but it’s much more jarring to resent someone you once loved.

I thought a lot about the concept of a scorned woman the first time I received flowers from a local family-owned company called Shabbat Flowers Club. The simple act of receiving flowers was a reminder of the little things that can make one’s partner feel uplifted and, above all, seen.

To know a woman’s hard work is to see her. And for many Jewish families, to recognize how hard some wives (and husbands) work to prepare for Shabbat is a powerful antidote to marital resentment. The lush weekly bouquets send a message of recognition not only for all the meals I prepare for Shabbat, but for the hundreds of things, many of them unseen, I do as a wife and mother.

Rabbi Dov Heller warned that one of the worst things a man can do is to take a woman for granted.

It’s the best $25 our family spends all week, because it uplifts the woman of the house — who often sets the emotional tone for the entire family.

The best part of receiving the flowers is an accompanying card that reads, “Every woman is a woman of valor,” referencing King Solomon’s song, Eshet Chayil.

Owners Stephan and Rebecca Oliel founded ShabbatFlowersClub.com in 2017 after moving to Los Angeles from France. Stephan was disappointed to find few neighborhood flower shops that offered the beauty, variety and personal touch of florists in Paris, where for 15 years, he owned a large advertising company.

If Shabbat Flowers Club had a second motto, it would be “A woman’s place is on the pedestal.” Stephan even prefers to use the term “eshet chayil” instead of “customer.”

“I love when our kids are delivering the flowers to the eshet chayil,” he said. “We don’t see ourselves as a flower delivery business, but a family service business, because there’s something about receiving flowers that helps build peace in the home.”

The couple’s children, ages 11, 15 and 17, play a role, too. They often deliver bouquets Friday afternoons before Shabbat, and Stephan and Rebecca love that their children can see “a look of joy and gratitude” on recipients’ faces, many of whom receive weekly bouquets from friends. To see a heart soften is a true gift.

Several years ago during Yom Kippur remarks at Aish HaTorah, Rabbi Dov Heller delivered one of the most powerful observations I’ve ever heard about repairing male-female relationships: He warned that one of the worst things a man can do is to take a woman for granted.

I know fresh flowers don’t solve all marital problems, and in many cases, buying flowers is the least a man can do for his wife, but frankly, who cares? There’s something special about receiving flowers, and every loving gesture, including the kind with stems and petals, is like making a deposit in an emotional bank account.

In Rebecca’s words, “When you honor women, everyone blooms.”


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker. 

True Unity, True Love

With just a few Facebook messages and some phone calls, tens of thousands of Jews marched together in New York City on Jan. 5 to combat anti-Semitism. Yet, could we even imagine a similar rally in support of Shabbat observance? How much of the power of our unity as a Jewish nation has been given over to those who hate us?

How did it come to be that our ability to bond with one another has become contingent on negative forces from without, as opposed to positive forces from within? Is too much attention being paid to the suffering of Jews as the primary driver of our continuity and unity as opposed to the gifts of the Jews?

Although shared oppression is a sort of unifier, the “unity” it creates seems to be far less powerful than the proactive aspects of our tradition — namely, our unbroken chain of mitzvot observances such as Shabbat, kashrut and Torah study. When we give our unity over to oppressors, we make several mistakes: We inadvertently make our bonds with one another contingent on the animus of our enemies, and we neglect to teach our children about the wisdom and beauty of Judaism. As a consequence, we become a weaker people motivated by fear as opposed to a strong people of faith. 

Rabbi Simon Jacobson wrote the book “Toward a Meaningful Life” to share the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a wide audience. The Jerusalem Post strongly criticized the book when it was first published in 1995 for excluding two subjects the paper considered essential to understanding Judaism: the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. 

But in his pursuit to write a book that strove to share only the most relevant themes of the Rebbe’s thinking, Jacobson was correct in omitting the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Perhaps surprising to some, those subjects were not crucial to the Rebbe, who rarely spoke or wrote about them. They were important issues, but compared with uplifting ideas such as instilling hope, love and unity in the Jewish people (and beyond), the Holocaust and anti-Semitism were more like tragic footnotes. Today, for many Jews, aanti-Semitism and the Holocaust have become central to their Judaism.

How did it come to be that our ability to bond with one another has become contingent on negative forces from without, as opposed to positive forces from within?

Although I strongly believe in discussing and examining the Holocaust, successfully passing Jewish values on to the next generation requires that our children receive a message that soars well beyond mere victimhood. Yes, we must take measures to protect ourselves. Yes, we must discuss ways to keep one another safe and to safeguard our security by every effective means. But we never should make the source of our unity contingent on the dark motives of our enemies.

My views on anti-Semitism have undergone an evolution over the years. 

I grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Saint Louis Park, a place often referred to as Saint “Jewish” Park, for the 7% Jewish population that made their homes there. In 1974, I was in eighth grade. One day, I saw Nelson, Stuey and Craig. They were hip-checking kids into the tall metal lockers that line the halls, and although none of the three was on the school’s hockey team, they seemed genetically predisposed to playing the sport — and playing it well.

They were the three kings of the Westwood Junior High’s dirtball dynasty, young hoodlums who regularly and without fear skipped school, smoked filter-less Marlboros and shouted “(insert invective here)” to students and staff members alike, except perhaps for the Jew-hating shop teacher with whom they forged an abiding friendship.

To the left and right of me, hapless students flew, body slammed into the lockers with alarming speed. It didn’t escape my notice that these unfortunates had not been chosen randomly. There went Brian. Next, it was Shelly and then Alvin. As I rounded the corner, Stuey grabbed my second cousin Elaine by the shoulders and slammed her face-first into her locker. All these kids were Jews. They were selected for no other reason than their Jewishness.

I envisioned grabbing Stuey by his neck with both hands and clawing at him until my fingernails pierced his skin and blood spurted from his jugular. I wanted to take the clear plastic aquarium algae scraper I made in shop class that very morning and use it gouge out one of Nelson’s eyeballs. In my daydream, Craig would try to run, but I’d catch him by his mullet and shove his head into Elaine’s locker. I’d slam her locker door on him again and again.

My daydream came to an abrupt halt when Stuey said, “Himmelman, it’s your turn to meet the lockers, you (insert invective) kike.” Without a word of warning, he clouted me with a stinging jab right to my nose. It was the first time I’d ever been hit in the face, and while it was agonizing, the blow also somehow was euphoric. I was super-charged with adrenaline. I felt as if I was on fire. But, of course, I didn’t hit Stuey back. God, no. I simply stood there, glowering at the three of them, blood dripping from my Jewish nose. And for the first time in my life, I felt downright heroic. I looked around me and I saw that for now, at least, our bitterest enemies had stopped hip-checking what felt like the entire Jewish nation.

Six months after that incident, it was summer vacation. We Himmelmans flew from Minneapolis to New York and from there, nonstop to Lod Airport, just beyond Tel Aviv. In less than two days, I was on a towel on the beach in Netanya, looking out at the cerulean blue of the Mediterranean.

As I lay on the hot sand, Mirage fighter jets with blue Jewish stars emblazoned under their wings suddenly streaked so low across the water that I could smell jet fuel. As they screamed overhead, the whole beach seemed to shake. With a strange sense of clannish satisfaction, I stared up at the planes as they roared and finally rocketed out of range.

My youthful experiences gave me a sort of primitive, limited, almost tribal relation to my Judaism. It was almost as if I’d seized upon a pride and love for being Jewish, not out of love for our traditions and culture, but out of hatred for our enemies. In other words, I’d bonded with my fellow Jews, not over the beauty and positivity of Shabbat, but over my fear and animus to those who hate us.

I’ll leave you with a recent vignette. You could say it depicts where my “evolution” has taken me.

I was in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a few weeks ago. I had just come up out of the subway when a strong wind whipped up and blew the black hat off a young Chassidic man. Who went into the middle of a busy street to return the hat? A young African American man. 

If you’re looking for hate, you’ll find it. A lot of it. 

If you’re looking for love, you’ll find even more. Love always has been, and always will be the greatest source of strength and unity.


Peter Himmelman is a Grammy- and Emmy-nominated singer-songwriter and rock ‘n’ roll performer. He is also the founder of Big Muse, a company that helps organizations leverage the power of their employees’ creativity. 

Warts and All

Funny how the things that bothered
are the things I miss
jumbled pj’s in the closet
toothpaste landscape in the sink
feather tickle that raised goosebumps
honed to quills that poke the heart
plastic album pages
give off body heat
you and me with mahi-mahi
line-caught on a Kona sail,
kimono costumed on a Halloween
two swordless smiling Samurai

I want another chance
to whisper stand up straight
another opportunity to grin
when balled up paper misses trash
habits suffered with a sigh
come streaming back on eyelid screens
light blue sweater with the hole
how you called a drawer a draw
courtesy of Boston twang
recollections piled like leaves
fill my throat with loam
each time I swallow

I want you back, the warts and all
warts so I’ll be sure it’s your eyes draping at the edges
your skin brined in summer waves
your lips hot with bedsheet kisses
your freckled constellation across dimpled cheeks
your cowlick, no one’s hair can grow the same


Paula Rudnick is a former television writer and producer who has worked the past 30 years as a volunteer for nonprofit organizations.

Who Will Hug Me When I’m Old?

Photo by Pexels

This Yom Kippur, I relied on three pastimes to help me through synagogue services: connecting with God as a loving redeemer, imagining what glorious food I would eat to break the fast, and people watching.

There’s a lot to be said for watching people during prayer, if you know what to look at:  faces.

This year, I studied the faces of a lot of older congregants. Some faces looked tired, others grateful. All were beautiful.

When the Day of Judgment ended, younger congregants hugged one another tightly, while older ones sat and watched them, and I was again reminded of my greatest fear about growing old.

I don’t fear idleness in my dotage because I know how to use a smartphone, and sadly, that’s all one needs to keep busy, however unfulfilling.

I don’t fear loneliness because I plan to unleash an extraordinary combination of charm and guilt to ensure that my children and future grandchildren call me often.

My greatest fear is that I won’t be touched enough when I am in my sunset years.

Is there any more powerful, universal language of love and comfort than being touched? It’s the greatest, easiest equalizer.

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and author of “Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life,” refers to touch as “the first language we learn.” He asserts that momentary physical contact, done often, constitutes “our richest means of emotional expression.”

“Is there any more powerful, universal language of love and comfort than being touched?”

At any age, humans need physical contact. For infants, the neurological impact of being touched is crucial and well-documented: Lack of touch can result in infant death. Touch is that important.

What comes to mind when we think about senior citizens? Perhaps a bespectacled grandparent in a rocking chair or an old woman using a walker. Seldom do we think older people are frequent recipients of long hugs.

That’s not to say that all senior citizens are devoid of physical contact. There are some who receive touches and hugs from spouses, grandchildren and caretakers.

Ask my mother and father about the greatest blessing of their lives, and they’ll talk about their children and grandchildren. But while their children — my sister and I — give them rushed kisses on the cheek every now and then when they enter or leave our homes, our children run excitedly toward their grandparents and envelope them in the kind of touch and cuddles that bring them to life. I’ve never seen my mother and father as alive as when they’re hugging their grandchildren.

When it comes to seeing the most basic physical needs that would uplift senior citizens, we can be oblivious.

Sometimes, when I’m in the presence of someone much older, especially during Shabbat or at a Jewish-related event, I put my hand on theirs and ask them to give me a small blessing in any language. Even if they’re secular and haven’t uttered a blessing in seven decades, the result is always the same: They’re bewildered that anyone would think they could give a blessing. But it is precisely their wisdom, resilience and, yes, a certain loneliness that is common in old age that renders them precious purveyors of blessings upon younger generations. I ask them to put their hands on my head because the combination of a blessing and touch is extraordinary.

I often worry about the future. Will I become isolated and irrelevant? Will I have more birds than friends? (I love birds.) Mostly, I want to know that when I grow old, I’ll still have opportunities to bask in holding hands and giving hugs.

“You’re radiant,” I said recently to an older, distant relative as she visited our home and held our toddler on her lap.

“He’s the first person I’ve hugged in months,” she replied. “At my age, I’ve lost almost everyone.”

I shouldn’t even take for granted that I would live to an old age but if I do, all things considered, physical contact would be welcomed with open arms.


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker.

Sting Like a Butterfly

My mother laid it out for me:
even changed into a butterfly
I’d still have a caterpillar’s face.

Geisha-fluttering in summer gardens
or blossom-shopping on a pastel breeze
I’d always be a worm at core,
essence stamped into my being
inescapable as Rorschach wings.

Leaves I crunched on pebbled sidewalks
would turn to bile in my gut until
I lost my appetite for tender things.

I’d find a mate but shouldn’t hold
my breath expecting romance —
reproduction fastened back-to-back
no reason to mourn lack of love.

Love short-lived as a butterfly —
I wouldn’t be alone for long.


Paula Rudnick is a former television writer and producer who has worked the past 30 years as a volunteer for nonprofit organizations.

Lessons I’ve Learned From My Teacup Yorkie Terrier Glendi

Glendi, Mark Schiff's teacup yorkie terrier.

“When God created the world, He invested in man the power to elevate the divine sparks or souls that are found throughout creation. It is for this reason that in general, the way an animal’s soul is elevated and returned after its death to its divine source is through its positive and spiritual interactions with man.” — Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin

It’s our responsibility to elevate our pets, although sometimes I think they elevate us. Like when I’m upset and my dog looks at me with that face that says, “Easy does it, pal. Go chase a ball. You’ll feel better.” 

My wife and I have a dog named Glendi. She’s about 12 or 13 years old. Glendi was a gift straight from God. My wife had been talking to me about getting a Teacup Yorkshire Terrier. She had two as a child and always wanted another. 

So, one evening 10 years ago, we were dropping off something on our friend’s doorstep on Glenville Drive. Running around was a filthy, ratty, cold and wet animal (our friends weren’t home). Our gift from God had been delivered. When I first saw this thing, I really wasn’t sure what it was. Whatever it was, it was a real mess.

My wife was in the car. I said, “Come quick.” She ran over and saw I was holding what turned out to be a 2 1/2-pound Teacup Yorkie that we eventually named Glendi, after the street we found her on. 

The next day we took Glendi to our vet. She wasn’t microchipped. We advertised and looked in newspapers and online. Nothing. The vet said she was in good health except for a slightly messed up back left leg and some bad teeth. I wish I got a report that good from my doctor. 

“Glendi turned out to be the sweetest, most loving and dumbest dog on the planet.” 

Glendi turned out to be the sweetest, most loving and dumbest dog on the planet. After 10 years, she still doesn’t understand the command “sit.” Now that I think about it, my boys also took about 10 years to learn to sit. So I guess it runs in the family. 

We once hired a dog trainer and, to quote him, “Glendi is not the brightest star in the sky.” Most dogs enjoy playing ball or running around. Not Glendi. She lies in bed and stares at us. She’s also a painfully slow walker. In fact, we don’t walk her; we take her out for a drag. She can sleep 18 hours a day and still be game for another nap. Adult Yorkies have 42 teeth. Glendi has six scattered about her mouth. We love her and she loves us. 

After 10 years of pretty robust health, Glendi got sick. Her kidneys might be failing. She was hospitalized for four days, and we visited her every day. It was like visiting any relative; we brought her brisket and chicken. The only thing we didn’t bring her was the daily newspaper. Her doctor said, “It’s wait and see.” We prayed she’d bounce back but if not, we vowed to  make sure she never has to suffer. 

I’ve learned a lot from her. I’ve learned it’s important to give a hearty hello when someone you love returns home; to snuggle next to someone you love; to eat your meals with gusto; to enjoy what you have and not to complain about what you don’t have. 

Years ago when we had to put down our first dog, Star, the vet asked me if I wanted to come into the room when he gave Star the injection. I didn’t go in. It seemed too painful to me. To this day, I regret not going in. I wish mine was the last face Star saw when she closed her eyes for the last time. 

If the day comes that we have to put Glendi to rest, I’m going in. I’ll be standing right there, petting her head, holding her paw, telling her not to be afraid, and that I love her until she draws her last breath. Then I’ll kiss her goodbye.

But the good news is that she’s OK today. So, until that day comes, as Moses said, “We choose life.”


Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.

Israel On the Road: What I Learned from Israeli Taxi Drivers

Umbrella season on Yoel Solomon Street in Jerusalem. Photos by Sarah Tuttle-Singer

I love to take taxis in Israel.

I love to move from city to city, through the hills, across the plains, stuck in snarling traffic or flying down the highway. I love the winding roads through emerald green forests, and the long, flat stretches through the vast, white deserts.

And mostly, I love to take taxis because I love to talk to the drivers — like Gila, who wears turquoise rings, smells like coconuts and brays when she laughs; or Yossi, who knows all the words to every song by Tina Turner; or Ahmed, who prays five times a day facing Mecca and speaks fluent Yiddish.

I love that in an Israel that is often divided between religious and political differences, we get to share space.

I love how all the taxis smell the same — like cherry air freshener and cigarettes. I love how all the drivers complain about the cost of living, love their families and can’t wait for their next cup of coffee. And mostly I love how each person on the road has such different stories about who they are and what they’ve seen and where they want to go.

Above all, I love that I get to share some of these stories with you.

From Tel Aviv Central Bus Station to Jaffa Port 

“Taxi?” the man with the gold teeth asks.
“Yes. Jaffa Port, please.”
“Seventy shekels.”
“Nu. B’emet. Oh, come on. We’re 10 minutes away.”
“Fine. I’ll do it for 60.”
I roll my eyes and start to walk away.
“I’ll take you for 40,” another driver says. “I can see you aren’t a sucker.”
“Sagur. Deal.”
I get in the taxi.
“Where are you from? You look Swedish but you are too short to be Swedish,” he says.
“I’m from L.A.”

“I could fall for you,” he says. “Women bring down the world. Samson from your Bible, right? And the president of Israel, too. And Bill Clinton.” He sighs. “You look a little like the Swedish girl I saw in the Sinai many years ago when I was still too young to not know better. She was sitting there — without a shirt, without a bra, just … wow, wow, wow. I was staring and walking and staring and walking, and boom, I fell down the stairs and broke my leg. My friend laughed and said, ‘Well, you got something special, and now you pay for it.’ ”

I laugh.
We are close to the water now.
“Do you see that place?” he says. “That’s where the Dolphinarium was. Do you know it?”

I know it. I know about the kids blown to bits inside the nightclub in a horrific terror attack in June 2001.

“Those kids should have kids by now,” he yells out the window, shaking his fist. “They should have three kids each and be living in Ramat Gan. My God. Kids. They should be doctors and teachers and lawyers and maybe some would be getting divorced, but my God, they should be alive.”

“Yes, they should.”

“And now they’re tearing it down. Right. Left. It’s all bull—-. The government is bull—-.” He lights another cigarette. “Jew, Arab. It’s all bull—-.”

He takes a call and yells at someone.
“I’m sorry,” he says, hanging up. “It’s all bull—-.”
We curve around a hill. The old houses of Jaffa hug the terrain, the sky a deep blue.
“Look at this place,” he says. “It’s all bull—, but it’s my home.”
We get to the port and I hand him 50 shekels.
“Keep the change,” I say.
“Why? We said 40.”
I smile. “You gave me something special and I paid for it.” 

He laughs with all his teeth showing, and gives me a high-five. “Everything comes from above,” he says. “Even the bull—-. But especially mornings like this.”

A small road in central Israel.

From Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem to Kibbutz Gezer in central Israel

In the taxi with Raed, he says to me all the things I want to hear about peace and coexistence. “We all have to live together,” he says.

“You’re right,” I answer. 

“It isn’t easy in Jerusalem,” he says. “We don’t meet each other. Even if we are sitting at tables next to each other at the same restaurant.”

“Why is that?”
“Because the Jews are afraid to mix with us.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“Because they’re afraid we’ll sleep with their women and marry them and have babies with them.”
I start to interrupt.

“Wait,” he says and holds up his hand. “I had a girlfriend — a beautiful Jewish Israeli girl. She was even in the army. I had no problem with this. I brought her home on some weekends and she would stay with me. My parents took it fine, even though she was working at a checkpoint near my cousin’s village. They didn’t care. She was nice. So it was OK. In our culture, it’s fine for me to marry someone who isn’t Muslim. OK, my sister can’t. She has to marry a Muslim, but men can marry Jews, Christians. It’s fine.”

“Because Islam is passed through the father, right?”
“Yeah. It isn’t that way for Jews, though.”
“I know. My dad isn’t Jewish. My mom is. So I’m Jewish.”

“Right. OK. So I go out with this girl and it’s fine with my family, but her family? Wow. They were so angry. We weren’t going to get married or anything. I liked her. She liked me. But they hated the idea that she went to sleep with me at night and woke up with me in the morning. And her family weren’t even those crazy extremists who beat up Arabs. They vote for the left: Avoda B.S. Meretz, Shmeretz. They’re all happy to be left wing and eat our hummus and talk about coexistence until their kids are playing with our kids or their daughter is dating one of us.”

“I guess they’re afraid.” 

“Yes. But why? I’m a nice guy. I met her father. I tried to shake his hand. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. Do you know how that feels?”

I do know. I’m Jewish and I’ve traveled in countries where it isn’t always comfortable to be a Jew, and I tell him that.

“It hurts,” Raed says. “It makes me not want to even try to talk to people from your side because you’ve drawn lines and you’ve made sides. OK. Not you, but most Israelis, when they look at me, they see a dirty Arab. I’m sorry but I have to say the truth. Don’t they remember what it was like to be a ‘dirty Jew’? ”

I don’t know what to say, except, “I’m sorry this is happening. I want it to be different.”

“Me, too. I saw something I’ll never forget. There was an attack by the Damascus Gate. A cop was stabbed and the guy who did it was shot. There was blood everywhere. Red blood. All over. And I couldn’t tell where the Jewish blood stopped and the Arab blood began. We all bleed the same color. So why does it matter so much where we come from? We all are born the same way and we die the same way, too.” 

David Street in the Old City of Jerusalem.

From Latrun Junction in  the Ayalon Valley to Jerusalem 

The driver is really, really happy. The radio is on. “Infected Mushroom.” He’s bopping along. “What’s today?” he asks me. “Sunday? Monday?”

“Sunday.”
“OK. So I still have to wait two days for my weed.”
I laugh.
“Do you smoke, kapara?”
“Not really.”
“Too bad. It’s great for parties, you know?”

He tells me about the desert, about dancing all night at raves, about this girl he loves with pink hair and tattoos all up and down her arms. He’s wearing a yarmulke, and there’s a sticker on the dashboard with a picture of the Rebbe.

I check the news. My stomach drops when I read the headline: 1 Israeli killed, 2 critically injured in a terror attack. 

“Oh, my God.”
“What?”
“There was a terror attack.”
“When?”
“This morning.”

He sighs. “This is why I don’t listen to the news. I don’t smoke weed because it’s fun. I mean, OK, it’s fun. But I smoke because I have to, I swear. I even have a doctor’s note. After what I went through in Gaza, I have to smoke.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“When I hear the news, I can’t function. I get so thin because I won’t eat. You wouldn’t believe it. I mean, I look good, but I feel like hell. I just stay in my house and turn off all the lights and I don’t watch TV and I just check the windows. No one can get near me. The only thing that helps is smoking.”

“That sounds so awful and I’m so sorry.”

“What a mess,” he says. “You know, when I was a kid, before Gaza became what it is, my dad used to take me there for shopping and for hummus and we would go to the beach. He would carry me on his shoulders and then he would put me down and sometimes I played with the Arab kids while he smoked cigarettes.”

“It was different, wasn’t it?”

I love to move from city to city, through the hills, across the plains, stuck in snarling traffic or flying down the highway. 

“Yeah, it was. It’s a mess now,” he says again in English. “And then when I was a soldier, I was a commando on the beach and we had to shoot and I remembered that I used to be there playing, and maybe I shot one of the kids I played with.”

He lights a cigarette. “What a mess. Now I smoke weed and I put on tefillin and I pray just to get by. I can’t listen to the news. It’s too much.”

“I understand.”

“But this is my country and I need to know what’s happening to my country.”

He fiddles with the dial and switches the station.

A dirt road on a moshav in central Israel.

From Herzl Boulevard in Rehovot to my home on the moshav in central Israel

The taxi driver calls me Saraleh because he can see my name is Sarah from the Get Taxi app. He also can see I used a profile picture where my hair is blown out all shiny, and he says, “It still looks like you in the picture but I can see you had a busy day today and didn’t do your hair. But thank God you’re busy. Being not busy is the worst. I retired 10 years ago and I almost lost my mind until I became a taxi driver, HaShem Yishmor — God protect you.”

My 9-year-old son coughs.
“Here, have a candy,” the driver says. “It’s a candy for coughs.”
“We don’t take candy from strangers,” my son replies.
“It isn’t really candy. It’s medicine for your cough.”
“We don’t take drugs from strangers, either,” my 11-year-old daughter says.
“I’m not a stranger. Right, Saraleh? Tell your kids. We are all Israeli. We are all family.”
We all take a candy. They’re sealed. I make a mental note to talk about this with my kids at home.

“Stay busy, Saraleh,” he says. “Remember, being busy is better than good hair.” He rubs his bald spot and laughs. “And don’t forget to give Uncle Pinchas 5 stars and a tip.”

From Ramle in central Israel to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

The taxi driver has a tattoo on his right bicep of St. George slaying the dragon. His name is also George. And he also has an Israeli flag decal stuck on the dashboard.

I’m leaving the shuk in Ramle with my groceries, and the whole backseat of the taxi smells like mangos and fresh mint.

“I like your tattoo,” I say, and I show him the Coptic mermaid on my arm.
He asks if I’m Christian.
“No, I’m Jewish.”
“I’m a Christian. You’re lucky you’re Jewish.”
“How so?”
“This is your country. OK, I know outside of Israel it’s different but you can come here. This place will take you in no matter what.”
“That’s true,” I say. “This place is home.”

“You’re lucky,” he says again. “I wanted this place to be my home but it isn’t. I have no home. I was born here in Ramle and I am an Israeli but because I am not Jewish, Israelis look at me like I am an Arab and not a real Israeli. But most of the Arabs don’t accept me as a real Arab because they are Muslim and I am a Christian, so they call me a Zionist. Do you see? I want this place to be my home but it isn’t.”

“I’m sorry.” 

“You wouldn’t believe how hard I’ve tried to make it home. When I was in high school, I even begged the army to let me join. I sent letters. I even went to the offices in Tel Aviv. They said they have no record of me even applying. I wanted to join so badly to fight for this country and defend it but they don’t want me. Why? Because even though I am an Israeli, all they see is an Arab.” He sighs. “And now? I’ll tell you the truth. The first chance I get to leave this place, I am gone. Why should I stay where I’m not wanted? I would rather wander in the desert.”

We stop at a traffic light. He reaches over and peels the Israeli flag decal from his dashboard, crumples it, rolls down the window and throws it out.

A hot wind blows through the car. 

From Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv back home 

I think this must be the last taxi out of Tel Aviv on erev Yom Kippur. The streets have mostly emptied and already a few bicyclists are on the Ayalon freeway speeding toward the sunset.

That’s the thing about Israel. The whole country grinds to a halt on Yom Kippur. A stillness falls. Shops shutter, the radio goes silent. There’s nothing on TV unless you pay extra for satellite television. But the other thing about Israel is this place isn’t monolithic. There are people who fast. And people who don’t. There are people who pray. And people who won’t. Sometimes, people can’t.

And while the cars hold their parking spaces for 25 hours, in places like Tel Aviv, out come the bicycles. It’s amazing to see. From old men in neon orange short-shorts to little girls in pink helmets, to fathers and mothers chasing their kids who are riding three-wheelers, to teenage boys in Maccabi Tel Aviv jerseys trying to keep up with their pretty girlfriends, the highway becomes the Tour de France.

But that means we have to get off the road before sunset, before the holy day begins.

“Are you fasting?” the driver asks. “Eh,” he says, before I can answer. “Fast if you want. Don’t fast if you don’t want. Let me tell you a story. Every year on Yom Kippur, me and my army buddies would barbecue on the beach. Every single year. I brought the steaks. Sometimes chorizos after Yossi got back from Argentina. We drank beer and listened to music and smoked cigarettes from noon until three stars. Except one year, Yossi got a little religious on us and he said, ‘Halas, let’s go to synagogue this year.’ So we did. We all went.”

“How was it?” I ask.
“Ahh … first, ask me what year it was?”
“What year?”
“1973, kapara. 1973. Do you know what happened on Yom Kippur in 1973?”
Do I know what happened on Yom Kippur in 1973? 

While most of Jewish Israel — including these army buddies — were in synagogue on the holiest day of the year, Egypt and Syria launched a strike against Israel. 

Do I know what happened on Yom Kippur in 1973? 

There are men who held their friends in trenches and watched them die. There are women who never saw their husbands after their last kiss. There are babies who were born just a few months later with no fathers. 

Do I know what happened on Yom Kippur in 1973? 

We were almost brought to our knees. We almost lost that war. We almost lost everything. Even the right to fast on Yom Kippur. Or not fast. The right to stay in  synagogue or ride bikes down the Ayalon.

“Wow,” I say.

“So. You see? We never fasted again. We never went to synagogue on Yom Kippur. And every year since, we meet on the beach and barbecue like we did every year before that one terrible Yom Kippur when we went to synagogue like everybody else.” 

“Wow,” I say again.

“Eh,” the driver says as he slows for the exit. “That’s just how it is. Israel depends on our diversity. It’s why we keep surviving.”

Agripas Street outside Shuk Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem.

From Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station 

“I went to high school in the Old City,” Mahmoud tells me in Hebrew when we pull out of the taxi stand by Damascus Gate. “It was the school just inside the gate, near Al Wad by the mosque.”

“What was the school like?” I ask.
“Just a school. It was closed half the week, though.”
“Why?”
“The army would come in and shut it down.”
“Why?” I ask again.
“Do the years 2000-2004 mean anything to you?”

“Oh.” The bloody, terrible years here when every siren was followed by another and another, when Jerusalem smelled like smoke and burning flesh. 

“Yeah,” he says. “It was the [Second] Intifada and the army would come in and just shut us down, and so, instead of sitting in the classroom and learning math and history, we would all go up on the roof and chuck stones off the sides; not little pebbles but real stones.” He shakes his head.

I feel my stomach twist. Stones thrown from that distance could pulverize your skull and turn you into pink and grey and red, sinew, bone and blood if you were underneath. They were children and the stones were the heaviest weapons they could find.

“It was messed up,” he says. “Stupid kids all of us, and we did stupid stuff. But I was angry. My big brother was shot in the back by soldiers and he couldn’t walk or eat and had to pee through a tube.”

I think of my kids and their childhood spent with no real uncertainty, no barbed wire, no forced closures, no anger, no reasons to climb a roof and throw things.

And then I also think of how we spent a summer sleeping in bomb shelters and running over parched earth, and how, like every Israeli, we all know someone who was killed or injured in a terror attack or war.

“It was hard,” he says. “The soldiers would also come into the classroom and just look at all our faces and, if they didn’t like one face, they’d pull the kid out even if he didn’t throw stones. Even if all he did was just sit there without blinking. That made them mad, when we would stare back at them with no fear.

“But I don’t blame the soldiers. They had their job and we had our job and I really just blame the school for letting them in and letting them shut us down, and letting us have all that free time to do stupid and terrible things. Someone should have been the grown-up and made us stop. But no one did.”

He takes a sip of coffee.

“How’s your brother now?” I ask.

“He’s still alive, but not really. He’s just a ghost in a dried-out husk with a tube for peeing.”

We sit in silence for a while and he offers me a sip of his coffee. I take it. It smells like earth.

“Those kids should have kids by now,” he yells out the window, shaking his fist. “They should have three kids each and be living in Ramat Gan. My God. Kids. They should be doctors and teachers and lawyers and maybe some would be getting divorced, but my God, they should be alive.”

From King George Street in Jerusalem back home 

I am sharing a taxi with this woman on a frigid, moonless night in Jerusalem.

She is on her way back from working late in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. I am heading out of the city, exhausted. The last bus had come and gone, belching down King George Street, probably an hour before. We are stranded but I have enough for a taxi, and I ask if we can drop her off.

“No, it’s OK. I’ll walk,” she says.
“No way. It’s freezing and it’s late.”
A taxi pulls over and we get in. She gives him directions and I shut my eyes.

I had never met her before but we are both American, which means we’re landsmen, which is as close as family some days, and we talk about her work and about the friends we have in common and about the things she cares about.

“I just read a horrible article about the Yemenite kids who disappeared,” she says. “I want to believe it isn’t true, but …”

All those Yemenite babies who vanished when they were born. Their parents were told they were born blue, but there were no bodies and no graves, and a mother never forgets the cry her child makes when he is born pink and healthy.

This was years ago and Israel had a terrible track record of treating non-European Jews as less than human in the 1950s. Evidence is inconclusive. Maybe these babies really died. But many people believe these kids were taken away and adopted out to Ashkenazi families that couldn’t have children and would do anything to be parents. Some speculate that the babies went to grieving and childless Holocaust survivors. That’s the best-case scenario, and it’s still the worst.

“It’s awful. The worst,” I say. “I don’t even want to imagine.”

We drop her off.

The taxi driver doesn’t charge her for the ride. “And don’t worry,” he says. “I won’t charge extra for you. It was nice of you to make sure she got home.”

“Thanks.”
“It’s Israel. We take care of one another.”
I smile and close my eyes. The taxi driver clears his throat. “Pardon?” I ask.
“The girl we just took home. What she said about the babies. It’s true,” he says.
He looks at me in the rearview mirror.

“I’m a Yemenite,” he says. “And my aunt had two babies. Two beautiful little girl babies. And the doctors told her one of them died when she was born. She grieved for her dead child and she threw her whole heart into raising her living one. That girl — my cousin — got older and got her draft notice for the army and she went to the army and she saw a girl who had her exact same face. And they had the same birthday, too. But her name was Weiss or Gold or something Ashkenazi, not Yemenite like her name should have been.”

“What happened?”

“My cousin tried to talk to her but the girl pushed her away and told one of the officers that she was harassing her, and so they moved her to a different unit and we never knew what happened to her. Her twin sister.”

“That’s heartbreaking. I’m so sorry.”

“Sometimes the truth is too horrible to face. She couldn’t face it. My aunt never got over it. Neither will I. Please tell people so they know, too.”

I shiver. 

And it’s Israel, and we take care of one another. So I’m telling you, just like he asked.

From home to the Terem emergency clinic in Modi’in

It’s 6:30 a.m. and my son’s arm is red and swollen and tingly from a bug bite he got yesterday at a friend’s house. I call Uncle Pinchas the taxi driver, and as soon as he answers, he says, “What’s wrong?” because it’s 6:30 a.m.

I tell him I need to get to Terem Urgent Medical Care with my son, so he says, “I’m already on the way.” 

He rolls up 10 minutes later in his pajamas with his flag from Independence Day still waving from the window, and he drives us 15 minutes to Terem, and while my son and I wait for the doctor, he goes to get us coffee because everyone needs coffee, especially when your kid is in Terem, HaShem Yishmor — God protect you.

By the time we are finished with the doctor and everything is OK (except my son has That Kind of Jewish Mother who freaks out about bug bites), Uncle Pinchas the taxi driver is sitting in the waiting room still in his pajamas reading Israel Hayom and muttering to himself. 

He hands me the coffee and tells me to drink it in the waiting room because I shouldn’t spill on myself in the taxi — HaShem Yishmor.

My son wanders over to the vending machine and stares at it longingly.
Uncle Pinchas folds his newspaper, gets up and says, “What do you want me to buy you?”
“No, it’s cool,” my son says.
“But you are like a son to me,” Uncle Pinchas says, and he buys him a Snickers bar, the breakfast of champions.
“But don’t eat in the taxi because you could choke — HaShem Yishmor,” Uncle Pinchas says.

He drives 15 minutes back to the moshav through the sweet morning.
“Thank you for taking such good care of us,” I say when we arrive.
“Of course, you are like family to me,” Uncle Pinchas the taxi driver says.
“That’ll be 480 shekels.”

From Jerusalem back home 

It’s evening and the driver is laughing.

“What?” I ask, my one earbud still in an ear while I listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
“That guy. Menachem.” He points to the driver in the taxi next to us. “He makes me laugh.”
He rolls down the window.
“Shalom! Ma koreh? How are you?” he shouts in Hebrew, his “k” hard and his “o” guttural.
Menachem in the other taxi, waves. “Kif Halak?” he replies in Arabic as he adjusts his black yarmulke.

We drive off.
“Do all the taxi drivers know each other?” I ask.
“Of course. We are family. We all look out for each other. When Menachem’s wife died, I came for shivah, and we break the fast together at least once every Ramadan.”

“Wow, that’s great.”

“La. It’s just reality. We have to be gentle with each other. At the end of the day, everyone just wants to get home.”


Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the new media editor at The Times of Israel and the author of “Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered: One Woman’s Year in the Heart of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters of Old Jerusalem.” She also speaks with audiences left, right and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau. Sarah is a work in progress.

Finding Love in the Era of Hate

I have a friend who hates President Donald Trump. But when he looks at the policies of some Democratic candidates — like open borders, abolishing ICE, Medicare for all, etc. — he says, “I think I hate this even more.”

In other words, he may hate Trump, but he hates leftist policies a little more.

I have another friend who loves Israel, and who would have celebrated the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem had President Barack Obama ordered it. But he hates Trump so much that he came up with reasons to dislike the move.

He loves Israel, but he hates Trump a little more.

I knew people who hated Obama so much they could never give him any credit for anything good he did, even if they knew it was good. The examples go on.

We’re living at a time when we’re being defined not by what we love, but by what we hate. I hear of families and friendships breaking up over someone’s politics. Hey, I love you, but I hate your politics even more. So please stay away.

What has happened to us? How did we allow our hates to trump our loves? And what is it about hate that is so intoxicating? Isn’t love supposed to be humanity’s aphrodisiac? Didn’t the Beatles tell us that “All You Need is Love”?

I suppose we’re wired to fear things we hate more than to seek things we love. That tiger that ran toward our cavemen ancestors took priority over those juicy berries waiting to be picked.

We’re living at a time when we’re being defined not by what we love, but by what we hate.

Today, it’s as if we’re all seeing tigers ready to devour us. And when something wants to devour us, how can we not fear it and hate it? Our love for berries can wait.

This is the condition of modern-day America: We’ve put love on hold. With perceived threats coming at us from all sides, fear and hate have won the day.

“It would not be much of a stretch to say that ‘hate’ is almost always the lead story on the evening news, and the demonization of others who do not share our view of the world is the driving force behind most of the human suffering that we visit upon each other on a daily basis,” wrote professor Frank T. McAndrew in the July 2016 issue of Psychology Today.

A key factor behind this hatefest, according to McAndrew, is “the ease with which we put people into categories.” In this line of thinking, “We see our own group’s moral values as more desirable and as superior to those of others. This proclivity can be amplified and magnified by religious ideologies that convince us that God is on our side.” 

But isn’t God supposed to be on the side of love? That has become a quaint notion. Religious values today are easily interchanged with political values and are used to cut out anyone with whom we disagree. If you don’t share my deeply held values, I want nothing to do with you. I love you, but I hate your values a little more.

We can fight hate pollution by putting more love in the air — not just love for our cherished causes but love for our families, our neighbors, our community, our cranky uncles and, yes, our imperfect country.

The media’s bias for a good fight and the explosion of social media outlets like Twitter have magnified our worst instincts. Because we don’t have to face one another anymore, we can hide in our cozy bunkers as we unleash our digital darts on those we cannot stand.

I get that most of our community abhors Trump, and that we all have a tendency to dislike anyone who doesn’t vote like us. And I get that we are living through uniquely divisive, corrosive and alarming times when emotions like anger and hate are often inevitable. 

But isn’t it still a sad development for society when hate and rage have conquered love? Even when it is justified, hate has no business being more powerful than love. We can’t allow our fear of tigers — imaginary or real — to paralyze us with dread while our hearts burn with rage.

Love needs to make a comeback, even in these crazy times, especially in these crazy times. Our rabbis and leaders can show us the way. We don’t have to love everybody, but we can act more lovingly. We can fight hate pollution by putting more love in the air — not just love for our cherished causes but love for our families, our neighbors, our community, our cranky uncles and, yes, our imperfect country.

Love is more than a feeling, it’s also an attitude, a way of approaching life’s conflicts. A resentful attitude makes everything worse; a loving attitude makes a complicated life worth living.

Regardless of which political side you’re on, let’s put animosity back in its place and a little love back in our hearts.

A Time to Mourn, a Time to Love

With its important historical and customary markers, the Jewish calendar helps us touch our past while in the present, taps into a spectrum of emotions: guilt, grief, anger, liberation, rebirth, gratitude, rededication, joy and love.

After a celebration of the gift of Torah on Shavuot comes a particularly sad period: the Three Weeks, culminating with Tisha b’Av, the ninth of Av (eve of Saturday, Aug. 10), which is the day we mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples. We also mourn other historical calamities in the Jewish community: the defeat of the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome; the declaration by Pope Urban II of the First Crusade; expulsion from England: the Inquisition and expulsion from Spain and Portugal; and Britain and Russia’s declaration of war on Germany, beginning World War I, which leads to World War II and the Holocaust.

Using midrashic commentary, the sages connect the destruction of the Temples to one of our most egregious acts in the Torah. Arriving at the land God had promised, 12 tribal leaders scout it out. Two return with a positive report while 10, because of their fear, report it is impossible to conquer, a land populated by giants and therefore, everyone should return to Egypt. God, incensed at their cowardice, lack of faith and outpouring of tears, condemns the people to wander 40 years in the desert until that generation dies. God decries, “You have wept without cause; therefore, I will set this day aside for a weeping throughout the generations to come.” God’s prophetic words align all these events, becoming an annual cathartic outpouring of grief.

“With the fires consuming Jerusalem and Israelites exiled to other lands, the sages, with Torah in hand, faced a challenging choice: mourn the end of Judaism or re-create its future.”

Although much of this destruction was an expression of anti-Semitism, the Talmud teaches it was our own sinful behavior that brought down God’s house and opened the door to our punishment and suffering. “HaShem has afflicted Zion for her abundant transgressions. … Adonai has delivered me into the hands of those I cannot withstand. … .” The sages say it is sinat chinam, “baseless hatred” toward one another, that was the foundational cause. As we grieve, we contemplate such destructive behavior and whether it exists in the corners of our community today or in our own hearts. It becomes an opportunity not only for communal grief but deep self-evaluation.

You might ask, “Why remember the Temple and the sacrificial cult anyway? It is so primitive, and killing animals is disgusting” (a sentiment many of my students express).  

As with all things ancient, our ancestors lived in a certain reality. As farmers and shepherds, their most precious possessions were the animals that brought sustenance and parnasah (income). In a world where sacrifices were common rituals and understood to be gifts to the gods, Judaism set limits on our cult. Unlike other religions that sacrificed children and virgins, Torah commands only animals can be offered, whose sweet smell would rise from the altar to the heavens. The word in Hebrew for sacrifice is “korbon,” which means to draw near, so this was the ancient Israelites’ way to be close to God. The Temple was believed to be the only place for this activity, so once the Second Temple was destroyed, this ancient cult could no longer continue.

With the fires consuming Jerusalem and Israelites exiled to other lands, the sages, with Torah in hand, faced a challenging choice: mourn the end of Judaism or re-create its future. With love and hope, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, our sages resurrected a religion based on study, prayer and spiritual practice. Yet, they made sure we remembered our horrific past and hopefully not repeat our mistakes.

During the Three Weeks, our readings are focused on the destruction. No joyous celebrations using music — particularly weddings — are permitted. Tisha b’Av in particular is meant to be a “weighty” day. Customs include wearing black garments; a 24-hour fast; deprivation of luxuriating in baths and oils; no wearing of leather shoes; abstaining from sex; and reading Eicha (poetic literature about the Destruction) and tractate Gittin. The synagogue service, like in a house of mourning, is dimly lit with everyone seated on the floor, our rituals magnifying the intensity of our loss and grief.

Yet, as in all dark moments, light does emerge. It often is in our pain that we discover possibilities for healing. I call this Jewish gravity: What goes down must come up; when we fall low, ultimately, we will rise. The brilliance of our cycle of holy days is the constant reminder that it is never too late — change always is possible. Love can heal sorrow and grief. During today’s time of such great divide in our nation, when even friends and families are pitted against one another because of political leanings, compassion and love can go a long way.

Life is a paradox, filled with challenge and pain, but Judaism teaches hope always prevails. Six days after intense mourning, we celebrate an unexpected and most joyful day: Tu b’Av (15th of Av), whose focus is “love,” kindling a moment to reach out to another. The custom used to be that young women dressed in white would dance in the vineyards and young men would seek prospective mates. During the darkest days in our calendar, bright light (literally during the full moon) shines and hope is rebirthed. This day is an opportunity to rediscover deep connections to those we cherish, or even connect with our own soul’s passion.

Going from black to white, we transition to renewal and the month of Elul (“Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li”), whose acronym means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” With God as the focus, we reestablish our relationship. The period of shivah, mourning, ends and the following Seven Weeks of Comfort begin. Reading the words of the prophet Isaiah consoles us: “Take comfort, for our iniquity has been forgiven.” During this period of teshuvah (return), we begin to assess and repair our relationships with family, friends and God, culminating in the High Holy Days. We journey from brokenness to wholeness.


Eva Robbins is a rabbi, cantor, artist and the author of “Spiritual Surgery, Journey of Healing Mind, Body and Spirit.” Learn more here.

Later

We put the elevator in for later,
when pills queued up on nightstands
and rubber soles squeaked through halls.

It was an item on the master plan,
like the generator to keep things
frozen when the big one hit. 

It came in handy packing for vacations,
easier than dragging luggage down the stairs,
a good place to store the vacuum.

My husband and I touched when we slept then,
two big dogs guarded the landing,
we liked sex better than television
and we never went to bed mad —
before my father lost his mind
and my sister lost her breast
and our broker lost the money
we’d saved so carefully
for later.  

Seinfeld, Bradley Cooper and My Wife

Photo courtesy of Mark Schiff

My wife and I were recently in New York City for Jerry Seinfeld’s 65th birthday party. What a great night. I’d love to show you a photo from it, but no one was allowed to take pictures except for professional photographers hired to shoot the event, which, when I look back on it, was a wonderful idea. Nobody was bothering Steve Martin or Howard Stern for a selfie. No one was asking David Letterman or Martin Short to line up for a group shot, or bothering Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Amy Schumer to say happy birthday to their Uncle Milt on their iPhone video. 

But I will mention that Bradley Cooper was there. Wow, is he good-looking. They say that a woman likes a man with a good sense of humor. If I weren’t funnier than Cooper, I’d be very worried. But being the good husband that I am, I dragged my wife over by the tippy tip of her left pinky and introduced her to the Oscar-nominated actor and director. He couldn’t have been nicer.

Amazingly, two weeks after meeting my wife, Cooper broke up with his girlfriend. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. Cooper has yet to phone my house. I guess he fears being rejected by my sweetie even though I’m sure she’d let him down easy. 

There was one other striking moment that stood out for me. It was when Seinfeld’s wife, Jessica, got up to toast all the comedians’ wives in the room. There also were many female comedians present but Jessica Seinfeld’s gesture reflected the special bond she has with the comics’ wives. She gave a shout out to all of them by name, and got every one right.

Comedians’ wives have to endure an awful lot. One requirement to be a comedian is that you have to have the skin of an alligator and so do their wives, which ends up costing a fortune in plastic surgery. 

Married male comedians have to travel to perform shows, and the wives remain home to hold down the fort. There is prolonged time alone, which some wives like and some hate.

You might say, “Hey, Mark. Many men travel as part of their jobs these days and leave their wives at home. What’s so different here?” Here’s where it differs: When most men go to work, they do whatever they do, maybe have a business lunch and maybe go out with friends. But when a comedian goes on stage night after night in town after town, he makes jokes about his wife in front of total strangers. No other job allows a guy to get huge laughs about his wife for half an hour every day. 

When my wife is in the audience and people know she’s there, it’s not uncommon for them to ask her if the jokes bother her. She always says no and I believe her. 

Male comics always have joked about their wives, and female comics about their husbands. It’s always been a big part of a stand-up’s act. 

Not all women can take it, though. Some of the comedians even mention their wives by name, and the range of jokes about these relationships vary. Some of the jokes are light and good-natured and some are brutal. Richard Pryor talked about how he tried to shoot his wife when she was in his car. Don Rickles said his wife almost drowned when she fell into the pool with all her jewelry on. 

When my wife is in the audience and people know she’s there, it’s not uncommon for them to ask her if the jokes bother her. She always says no and I believe her. 

Sometimes, if the comic is too rough on his wife or too revealing about their relationship, it can endanger the marriage. A comedian has to understand where to draw the line between funny and hurtful. Most comics have to learn that lesson by trial and error. Many jokes are born out of truth but exactly how truthful should a comedian be onstage? The stage isn’t a therapy session for the comic to work out his problems. It’s a place to make people laugh and leave them feeling better than when they came in. 

So, if you don’t mind, here’s the comedian’s version of marriage advice for guys: If you’re not a professional comedian but you think you are, then go easy on the wife jokes. When I’m done talking about my wife while I’m onstage, I get a check handed to me. If you try it, you might get your head handed to you.

Thank you very much. Good night. I’ll be here all week.


Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.

Learning Chutzpah From My Husband

Nine years ago, my husband, Daniel, and I were broke and trying to survive in New York City. On our first date in 2010, I fell in love with him over frozen yogurt.

After seeing a free puppet show, Daniel took us to a nearby frozen yogurt shop. He told me he didn’t have any money but he’d get me dessert anyway. I watched him request 12 free samples. It was enough to make me full … full of sugary goodness and, yes — love.

I’d never met anyone like Daniel. During my WASP-y upbringing, I never learned about chutzpah. I was afraid to honk my horn at someone, and wouldn’t dare start a meal without putting a napkin on my lap. I was so wound up and scared of doing anything out of the ordinary in case I got into trouble.

Daniel didn’t care. He was a rule bender. He was fearless.

He lived in Brooklyn, but that didn’t stop him from having a rooster in his backyard. He was best friends with his gangster neighbor, who lived in the apartment next door and had a tattoo parlor in his kitchen. Daniel talked to strangers on the subway and knew all the hacks for finding a bathroom in Manhattan. (Daniel’s insider tip: Either pretend to look at a menu for a few minutes, then bolt for the bathroom, or tell the host or hostess you’re there to meet a friend.) 

I needed Daniel to push me out of my comfort zone. When we met, I was only 21 and a recent college graduate. I wasn’t going to survive in the real world without someone pushing me to go my own way and block out my inner criticisms and fears.

“I believe that HaShem sets up opposites for a reason.”

Over the past nine years, Daniel has done just that.

Back then, I’d come home from a job, crying every day because my boss was mean to me. Daniel taught me how to stand up for myself. I eventually quit and moved on to better opportunities.

After our wedding, Daniel, a comedian, got a gig in Holland and arranged for me to go with him. He insisted we travel the world then, because who knew how long we’d have to do something like that? We were away for six weeks and traveled to 10 countries, including Israel, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Scotland and England. In the past, I could not have imagined ever doing something like that. Looking back, I don’t know how we managed it. I guess it was our collective chutzpah.

When I recently wanted to go back to school for coding bootcamp, Daniel encouraged me. He knew it would be tough on us financially for a few months and that I might become overwhelmed, but it would be worth it.

Throughout our relationship, Daniel has also become more like me. He’s learned how to tone it down when he needs to, become focused and be more practical.

I believe HaShem sets up opposites for a reason. Of all the successful couples I know, they are opposites. One is a little more daring, adventurous, open-minded and creative; the other is more organized, straight-laced, introverted and logical.

These two personality types complement each other perfectly.  Daniel and I certainly had our growing pains, but it allowed us to mature in many different ways and become the best versions of ourselves.

And isn’t that what marriage is all about? Now, please excuse me. Some free frozen yogurt is calling my name. 


Kylie Ora Lobel is a Journal contributing writer.

It’s a Mitzvah

All my life I have wanted to be loved. I was demeaned and diminished by my parents for as long as I could remember. 

Although my parents weren’t religious, they knew a few Hebrew words and used them to underscore a point. In response to someone’s good fortune, but especially if a friend’s daughter were getting married, they’d exclaim, “It’s a mitzvah! They’re going to give Beatrice and Ralph grandchildren.” I heard this often and wondered if I would ever hear the words, “It’s a mitzvah” for an accomplishment of mine, particularly if it meant I was going to marry (and marry a Jewish man).

But I had a problem (or two) standing in my way when it came to the opposite sex. I was attracted only to non-Jews, but way down deep, I knew I had to marry a Jew. That’s what my parents wanted, and no matter how hard I fought to free my thinking about what they wanted and think about what I wanted, I knew my fate.

Nevertheless, I fell in love. With Steve. Steve was sexy and fun, and the weekends we spent together were never long enough.  But Steve was Catholic … or Protestant — but he definitely wasn’t Jewish.

Why did I always fall for a gentile? I realize now it was an unconscious intention to avoid marriage altogether. My parents’ suffocating relationship terrified me. It may have worked for them, but it would never work for me. And I seemed determined not to do what my parents wanted me to do. Their words, messages and judgments were crippling me. And although I didn’t see it then, part of me was angry as hell at everything they had put me through. Would I really give them the satisfaction of marrying a Jew?

By the time I was 36, I started to wonder if I would ever get married. Almost all of my girlfriends had said their “I do’s.” Like many young women of my generation, I dreamed of a beautiful wedding, a dazzling gown, and me, glowing and radiant like never before. Was I going to be alone for the rest of my life?

One night I went to the restaurant at the Marina City Club in Marina del Rey to meet some friends. I had to make my way around a crowded bar to reach them. An attractive man caught my eye. Tall, dark hair, chiseled cheekbones. I made some memorable remark like, “Hi,” and we started talking. Within the first few minutes, I found out his last name was Rosenberg.

I could have run. But he had a beautiful smile, a great personality and seemed to like me. I went over to my friends and tipped them off that my evening was booked. I returned to Mr. Rosenberg and we chatted and flirted and, after a while, decided it was time to leave. I knew my friends wouldn’t miss me; after all, they’d invited me for the purpose of meeting someone. When we got to my car, he asked if he could stay on my sofa that night because it was too far to drive back to his place. What?

What a lame pass. I would have liked him better if he’d said he’d wanted to have sex with me. Not that I would necessarily have agreed to it but I figured at least it would have been honest.

Then he asked for my number. I gave it to him but hoped he wouldn’t call. And he didn’t.

I told my parents I had met a real jerk.

And that was that.

A week passed and a close girlfriend flying back from New York asked me to pick her up at the airport. 

Would I really give my parents the satisfaction of marrying a Jew?

I decided to stop at Donkin’s for a drink before picking her up. Donkin’s had been a popular singles hangout in its day. In fact, two of my girlfriends had met their future husbands there. I figured, what the heck. Maybe it’ll work for me, too.

I entered the bar and found the place empty except for two men at a high table. Not wanting to sit alone, I walked over and asked if I could join them. They were very gracious, and invited me to sit down, and we all started chatting right away. One of them looked vaguely familiar. He was good looking and very nicely dressed. I wondered if I had met him before and, if so, where. Then it dawned on me. The Marina City Club. It couldn’t be. That guy I remembered as a creep was now a perfect gentleman. Only a week before, I couldn’t wait to get away from him. Now I was really enjoying talking with this man.

They said they were going in to have dinner and invited me along. I didn’t have dinner but stayed for a drink. 

Jerry Rosenberg called me the next morning asking to take me to breakfast. I found him charming and funny and he liked that I laughed at his jokes. And I loved that he came from a large family because I was an only child. Rosenberg. A Jew.

We dated for about six months, fell in love, then he moved in with me. He bought me a pair of roller skates. My father complained, “I’d rather it was a diamond ring.” Rosenberg and I skated on the Venice Boardwalk and got to know each other better. It was clear to me that he loved me. I had become deeply attached to him, his light spirit and his lovable, affectionate ways.

A few months passed. And then one night at home, while snuggling on the sofa, he asked me to marry him. I made him repeat it.

I had the wedding I had dreamed of, and married a man who adored me. I found my home with Jerry Rosenberg, in no small part because he was Jewish. We had that bond. That history. That innate understanding. 

And although I had waited decades for it, and my relationship with my mother and father was still rocky at best, I finally heard the words I had so longed to hear from my parents. But I already knew it. It was a mitzvah.


Lynn Brown Rosenberg’s memoir is “My Sexual Awakening at 70,” and is available on Amazon.

The Jewish Stars and Stories of Summer Cinema

“Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles” Photo courtsey of Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films

Documentaries, foreign films, superhero flicks and animated favorites for kids are on the summer movie menu.

‘Fiddler’ on Film
Fifty-five years after it first opened on Broadway, “Fiddler on the Roof” is more popular than ever, with a U.S. national tour, a hit Yiddish production in New York, and international incarnations playing all over the world. Now the iconic musical about shtetl life in czarist Russia is the subject of “Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles,” a documentary that tells its origin story but also connects it to relevant themes that resonate in 2019. 

“Yes, it’s about something so specific, Jews in the Pale of Settlement in 1904,” Valerie Thomas, who co-wrote and produced the film with director Max Lewkowicz, told the Journal. “But it’s also about families and traditions, female empowerment, displaced people and refugees, and that resonates particularly today.”  

Tracing its roots to Sholem Aleichem’s stories and its origins with songwriters Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, director Jerome Robbins, producer Hal Prince and many former cast members, the film features new and archival interviews, animation and scenes from productions around the world and the 1971 film version to analyze the “Fiddler” phenomenon. 

“It has this enduring quality that never seems to stop,” Thomas said. “It continues to give meaning and joy and resonance to generations. I think we get to the heart of it in our film.” (Aug 9)

Barbara Rubin: A Woman Ahead of Her Time
Unlike her friends Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol and other male figures of the New York underground art scene in the 1960s, experimental filmmaker Barbara Rubin isn’t nearly as well known. Chuck Smith’s documentary “Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground” seeks to amend that, using archival footage, home movies, interviews and Rubin’s radical, often shocking avant-garde films to celebrate a woman who was ahead of her time. The story takes a surprising turn in the end, when the teenage rebel, in her quest for meaning and spiritual connection, turns to kabbalah and then ultra-Orthodox Judaism in the years before her death. (June 14)

“Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love” Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Leonard Cohen’s Muse
The lifelong love story between writer/poet/singer/composer Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen, the woman who became his muse, plays out in Nick Broomfield’s documentary “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love.” Soul mates since they met on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960, they remained connected even when personal upheavals and relationships with others separated them. They died less than four months apart in 2016. (July 5)

Remembering Anton Yelchin
Best known as Chekov in the “Star Trek” movies, prolific actor Anton Yelchin made 69 film and TV appearances before he died in a freak accident in 2016 at the age of 27. Few people knew that the Leningrad-born son of Russian-Jewish ice skaters suffered from cystic fibrosis, but it didn’t stop him from carving out a lauded career that was cut short far too early. Through scenes from his films; his writing, music and photography; and interviews with his family, friends and co-stars, “Love, Antosha” paints a loving portrait of a unique young talent. (Aug. 2)

“Leona”; Photo courtsey of Hola Mexico Film Festival

Hola Mexico
Taking place May 31-June 8, the
Hola Mexico Film Festival will showcase films by three Jewish directors. Isaac Cherem’s “Leona” is a coming-of-age story about a young woman (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) who is torn between her desire for independence and honoring the wishes of her religious Jewish
family that disapproves of her non-Jewish boyfriend (June 3, 4). “If I Were You” is a comedy-fantasy from Alejandro Lubezki about a husband and wife who switch bodies and learn what it’s like to walk in the opposite sex’s shoes (June 6). In Sergio Umansky Brener’s drama “Eight Out of Ten,” a man whose son was murdered and a woman fighting for custody of her daughter forge a dangerous alliance as they seek justice and revenge. (June 2)

“Spider-Man: Far From Home”; Photo courtsey of Sony Pictures

Gyllenhaal Meets Spider-Man
Jake Gyllenhaal joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” playing Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio, a magician who becomes the young web-slinger’s (Tom Holland) ally in a story set in Europe. (July 2)

Animated Actors
This summer’s animated offerings feature familiar voices that you, if not your kids, will recognize. Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate and Lake Bell supply the voices in the “The Secret Life of Pets 2” (June 7); Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner team up as Pumbaa and Timon in “The Lion King” (July 19); Josh Gad and Rachel Bloom take wing in “The Angry Birds Movie 2” (Aug. 16); and Daniel Radcliffe and Adam Lambert take on the toy-inspired “Playmobil: The Movie” (Aug 3).

What’s Happening: Yom HaShoah Events, Film Fest, Sephardic Shabbat

“The Passengers”

FRI APRIL 26

T’Marim Sephardic Shabbat 
Enjoy Mediterranean melodies and sunset breezes when Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Musician-In-Residence Asher Levy and Cantor Phil Baron lead a T’marim Sephardic Shabbat service at VBS. T’marim means “dates,” signifying the fruity sweetness of the praying and singing. Levy, 23, plays an oud, which resembles a lute, and sings traditional chants of his Syrian ancestors’ Aleppo Halabi community. Congregants typically sway and clap when they hear traditional Jewish music from Yemen, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Morocco and Greece. 6 p.m. mezze. 6:30 p.m. Sephardic Shabbat service. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, Sher-Lopaty Chapel, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

Rabbi Zoe Klein Miles

Green New Deal
After Jazz Shabbat services at Temple Isaiah, three veteran climate activists sit down with Rabbi Zoe Klein Miles and examine the Green New Deal, a proposed stimulus program that theorizes humans must take drastic measures in the next dozen years to reduce carbon emissions to counteract the effects of global warming. The speakers are Joe Galliani, organizer of the South Bay Los Angeles Climate Action Group; Russell Greene, who serves on the advisory board of Climate Mobilization; and Kathy Seal, chair of the West L.A. chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby. 6:15 p.m. Jazz Shabbat services. 8-9:30 p.m. program. Free. Temple Isaiah, 10345 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772.

SUN APRIL 28

Holocaust Survivors
In observance of Yom HaShoah, a family community service at Valley Beth Shalom, co-organized by the Mati Center, commemorates the last living survivors of the Treblinka death camp. 3:30 p.m. doors. 4 p.m. family community service. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

Yom Hashoah Commemoration
Six decades after the inaugural Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) took place in Israel, the Los Angeles community gathers in Pan Pacific Park to honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in partnership with more than 50 organizations and synagogues, the public event features survivor testimonies, music and fellowship. 2-3:30 p.m. Free. Pan Pacific Park, 7600 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. Street parking available on Beverly Boulevard near the park and at CBS Studios, located at Fairfax and La Brea Ave. (323) 761-8000. For information, contact rzaiden@jewishla.org or visit the website. 

5K Walk For Families
The San Fernando Valley branch of Na’amat USA, which serves poor and vulnerable women and children in Israel, holds a five-kilometer walk. Adults are encouraged to attend along with their children and pets. 9 a.m. $25 per walker. Lake Balboa Park, 6300 Balboa Blvd., Encino. (818) 995-4035.

“Forgotten Communities”
“Forgotten Communities: The Holocaust of the Greek Jews,” Sinai Temple’s Holocaust community memorial program for families with children ages 9 and older, recalls the lost and the rescued. The program is co-organized by the Mati Center. After the memorial ceremony, guests are invited to the “Legacy Café” to meet with survivors and hear their stories. 11-11:45 a.m., memorial ceremony. 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Holocaust survivors. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 351-7021. For more information, email maticenter@gmail.com. sinaitemple.org.

“Homeward LA”
“Homeward LA,” a 10-day, citywide event continuing through May 5, features monologues based on stories of homeless people. At Temple Adat Elohim, 18 community members share stories, with Leasa Shukiar directing the readers, who are backed by a six-person musical ensemble. Denise Cortes, executive director of Harbor House, opens the evening with an introduction about Conejo Valley homelessness. 6:45 p.m. $20. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101.

“The Wall”
To commemorate Yom HaShoah, a staged reading of “The Wall” will take place at the Pasadena Playhouse. The play recalls the heroic resistance and fighting by desperate Jews in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Nazis entered the ghetto on April 19 to deport surviving Jews, and for 25 days Jews fought back until being overcome and sent to death camps. The play is read by the JFed Players of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys. 8-10 p.m. $22. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena.  (626) 356-7529.  

TUE APRIL 30

“The Dig”

“The Dig”
Written and performed by Stacie Chaiken and featuring original music written and performed by Yuval Ron, the one-woman play, “The Dig: Death, Genesis and the Double Helix,” follows an American archeologist seeking to discover the truth about an artifact in Israel, one that could have transforming effects not only on Israel and the Middle East but on the entire world. 7 p.m. Free. UCLA Glorya Kaufman Dance Theater, 10367 Bunche Hall, Los Angeles. (310) 825-9646.  

Trump Aide At Sinai
Jason Greenblatt, assistant to President Donald Trump and special representative for international negotiations, sits down for a discussion with Sinai Temple Senior Rabbi David Wolpe. Although there is plenty about Trump to analyze, including the recent release of the Mueller report, the two likely will discuss Greenblatt’s work crafting the highly anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The son of Hungarian-Jewish refugees, Greenblatt, the father of six children, worked as Trump’s real estate lawyer before Trump’s presidential victory in 2016 resulted in him joining the president’s administration. 7:30-9:30 p.m. $18 general. Free, Sinai members. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3228.

WED MAY 1

Past Meets Present 
On an evening when the worst tragedy in Jewish history is remembered, Matthew Friedman, senior associate regional director at the Anti-Defamation League, discusses how anti-Semitism has become ubiquitous again. The program is a joint effort of Shomrei Torah Synagogue and Temple Aliyah. 7:15 p.m. minyan. 7:30 p.m. Friedman speaks. 8:30 p.m. memorial service. Free. Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 346-3545.

“The Strength to Tell”
The Yom HaShoah community-wide program at Beth Jacob Congregation features the screening of a film about the trial in Israel of Nazi commander Adolf Eichmann, a major organizer of the Holocaust, who was hanged in 1962. “The Strength to Tell” is about at-risk Jerusalem teenagers who interview the final surviving witnesses of the Eichmann trial. The teens create a play built around the stories they were told. 7:30-9 p.m. 
Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911.

THU MAY 2

“Love, Life and Paint!”
The latest “With Daniella” event, featuring psychotherapist and relationship coach Daniella Bloom and leading networker Avital Khazanov, is an adult paint night — without brushes and without fingers. Curious? Join single-and-ready-to-mingle Jewish professionals from ages 30 to 50 for “Love, Life and Paint!” Bloom talks about the heart of creativity with the goal of helping guests visualize the kind of life and love they desire. Wine, cheese and painting aprons provided. Kosher options available. 8 p.m. $39-$59. San Fernando Valley Art Center, 18312 Oxnard St., Tarzana. (818) 697-5525., daniellabloom.com.

“Menashe”

“Menashe”
A screening of “Menashe” — a 2017 drama that tells the story of a recently widowed Chasidic grocer in Brooklyn who struggles against tradition to gain custody of his son — concludes Kehillat Ma’arav’s Jewish Film Series. The Yiddish-language film was shot in secret within the Chasidic community. 7 p.m. doors open. 7:30 p.m. film. $10. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

“The Passengers”

L.A. Jewish Film Festival
The 14th annual Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, a weeklong celebration of Jewish film, features 27 screenings at 11 theaters and venues from Beverly Hills to Santa Clarita. The opening night celebrates the pioneering Hollywood filmmaker Carl Laemmle, who, affectionately known as “Uncle Carl,” founded Universal Studios and helped rescue 300 families from his native Germany. The 2018 documentary “Carl Laemmle” screens tonight and Hollywood director Peter Bogdanovich receives the Marvin Paige Hollywood Legacy Award. Additional films playing through May 9 include “Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog,” the personal story springing from when Nazis barred Jewish ownership of pets; culinary comedy “Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal,” and “The Passengers,” about the history of Ethiopia’s Jewish community. The Jewish Journal co-sponsors the festival. Opening night: 7:15 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. program begins. $40 opening night. For other films: $15 general admission, $13 students and seniors. For more information, call (800) 838-3006 or visit the website.


Have an event coming up? Send your information two weeks prior to the event to ryant@jewishjournal.com for consideration. For groups staging an event that requires an RSVP, please submit details about the event the week before the RSVP deadline.

Here Comes the Judge

Everyone hates to be judged, yet most of us do it. 

Hillel wrote in “Ethics of Our Fathers”: “Do not judge your fellow, until you have reached his or her place.”  

My cousin Sarah recently died five days short of her 34th birthday. She left behind a 12-year-old son, the father of the boy, and her divorced mother and father. She had a brother who killed himself a few years earlier, another brother with heart issues and a close family member who is a pill addict. Sarah’s life was not an easy one.

When Sarah (technically, my first cousin once removed) was around 9 years old, my wife and I offered to have her mother — my first cousin —  and Sarah fly out from Long Island all expenses paid to sunny California and stay with us for a week. Just come and have a good time. The plan was Sarah would go to Disneyland and see a taping of a TV show. The works. When Sarah and her mom exited the plane, I noticed that Sarah was holding a small bag over her face — an airsick bag. Her mother said Sarah had been sick during the entire flight.  

Heading to our house, she just sat with the bag over her face in the back of the car. When we got home, I showed Sarah to a guest room, where she immediately went to sleep. A few hours later, we woke her for dinner. Still carrying her airsick bag and a little doll, Sarah said she wanted to go home. The rest of the night she sat watching TV and holding the bag and the doll. 

The next morning, Sarah’s mom told me Sarah didn’t want to do anything except go back to the airport and go home. After trying to talk Sarah into staying, we all agreed it would be best if they headed home. A part of me was glad to be rid of them. And as soon as Sarah heard I booked them a return flight for that evening, she perked up and had her first meal. She seemed like a completely different person. That’s when my judgments of Sarah really began.  

After sending them home, all I could think was how ungrateful she was. And what a little brat she was. I made those judgments without knowing anything about what her life was like. I was convinced she was just a spoiled, ungrateful kid. 

Over the next few years, except for sending her a birthday card with $15 in it, I don’t remember much communication. When Sarah got older and Facebook became ubiquitous, I read some of her very dark and depressing posts. She seemed like a very sad person. Once again, I judged and I decided to stop following her on Facebook.  

A few years later, her brother came out to Los Angeles and stayed with us for a few days. I helped get him into rehab at the Salvation Army. A few months later, he blew his brains out with a shotgun in a motel room. I phoned Sarah to express my condolences and didn’t talk with her much after that.

Then I found out that she, my Jewish cousin, had found Jesus and was attending church regularly. Her Facebook posts were filled with crosses and Jesus quotes. More judgments on my part. I thought this girl must be so lost even though, admittedly, I knew very little about her. I thought if only she had stayed Jewish blah blah blah blah blah. More judgments. 

Then about two years ago, I heard Sarah had cancer. At this point, I had almost zero communication with her, but I did have a trunkful of judgments and stories I had conjured up about her and her life. I thought I knew everything. 

I happened to be heading to New York, so I thought, “Why not call Sarah and ask to visit?” Isn’t it a mitzvah to visit sick people? So I phoned and told her that I wanted to visit. She was thrilled. She said, “I’d love to see you.” It had been at least 20 years since I’d last seen Sarah. And so, I rented a car and drove out to Long Island. 

“About two years ago, I heard Sarah had cancer. At this point, I had almost zero communication with her, but I did have a trunkful of judgments and stories I had conjured up about her and her life.”

Sarah was living in a tough neighborhood known for its MS-13 gang members. After my first visit, something happened to me. Most of my judgments seem to fall away completely. After visiting with her, I realized how sweet and wonderful this young woman was. She was a beautiful young person with a great smile and a heart of gold. Her friends loved her. Her religion was giving her strength. She had a huge poetic heart. She even had a motto, “Save the world.”  

I realized how wrong I had been about her. How so much of what I thought about her was based on misinformation. I made it all up. We visited with each other many more times and spoke on the phone and exchanged email and Facebook messages. She was always so kind and so loving and so fragile. Never ever did she guilt me with, “Where have you been for the past 20 years?” or “Sure, now that I’m sick, you drop by.” Zero. She was just happy to see her cousin, and I felt the same. 

As her cancer progressed, she never complained. It just made her sad that she would soon have to leave her son, her friends and family. She said she knew she was in God’s arms and would be protected. Although she told me she didn’t exactly know what that meant, it still gave her great comfort. 

Little by little, as her pain increased, communication became less frequent. When she could talk, she apologized for not calling back sooner. I can honestly say that I felt nothing but love for Sarah since reconnecting with her. Without knowing it, she taught me that I needed to be much less judgmental, and that what you think you know about someone is not the whole picture. Sarah was deep.  

Then one day I got a call from Sarah’s mom. She told me that according to Sarah’s doctor, Sarah had six weeks to live. I immediately made a plane reservation to go to New York the following week. I figured I’d see Sarah one more time. I figured wrong. Sarah died a few days later.

After her death, I asked one of my cousins about the funeral. He said there would be a wake and then a funeral the next day. I asked if she would be buried. Then I decided to shut my mouth before I started judging all over again because her burial wasn’t what I would choose or how Jews would do it. 

Sarah was buried on her 34th birthday. I love you, Sarah. Please forgive me for judging you.


Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.

Actress Rafaëlle Cohen Explores Israelis’ Love of Berlin

The “Cities of Love” film franchise showcases great metropolises around the world. “Berlin, I Love You” features 10 vignettes set in the German capital, introduced by the Israeli character, Sara, played by Los Angeles-based French-Jewish actress Rafaëlle Cohen. However, it’s easy to miss Cohen’s name in the marketing materials, especially alongside some of her famous co-stars, including Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Luke Wilson and Mickey Rourke. 

The film was released in the United States in February to lackluster reviews, many of which blasted the vignettes for barely scratching the surface of what makes Berlin so lovable. It only received a two-star rating on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb) and a one-star rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film can be streamed now on Amazon Prime.

But the story of an Israeli singer (Cohen) and her German love interest, a street performer named Damiel (Robert Stadlober), frames and anchors the film. A review in Variety said, “But at least these two characters offer a semblance of continuity, against which the shorts serve as variably amusing digressions.” 

Brushing off critics, Cohen told the Journal at a restaurant in West Hollywood that she would rather focus on the film’s beauty as well as her good fortune in being cast in a tale that resonated with her as a Jew who periodically visits friends and family in Israel. 

Having spent several weeks living in Berlin in the summer and fall of 2017 to film the movie, Cohen said she sees Israelis’ attraction to Germany among third-generation Holocaust descendants as a unique, postwar act of German-Jewish reconciliation. 

While the Israeli Embassy in Germany has no official statistics on how many Israelis currently live in the German capital, NPR’s Daniel Estrin reported that according to Tal Alon, the Berlin-based editor of the Hebrew-language magazine Spitz, at least 10,000 of them are estimated to have moved to Berlin in the past decade.

“I know there was a movement of Israelis for many years to Berlin, and it fascinated me to see that the flower that blossomed out of the crack of the war was coming back to meet its root.” — Rafaëlle Cohen

Of her time in the European hot spot, Cohen said, “First of all, I felt the presence of Israelis in Berlin who had true open minds. And I know there was a movement of Israelis for many years to Berlin, and it fascinated me to see that the flower that blossomed out of the crack of the war was coming back to meet its root. I found that so beautiful.”

Berlin, Cohen added, is “the only place in Europe that I felt was really willing to seek forgiveness and ask for forgiveness, and realize the harm that has been done.”

Cohen was born in Paris. Her mother is from Tunisia and her father is from Morocco. The family moved to London when she was 3. Cohen originally became an engineer in London but abandoned the profession in 2011 to follow a career in the performing arts. She landed the role in “Berlin, I Love You” just two months after moving to Los Angeles from London in 2017. 

“I believe in divine alignment and divine timing,” Cohen said. “I believe I create my own reality and I came [to Los Angeles] to create what I was here to create, and I see the magic every day.”

She also described meeting the director of “Berlin, I Love You,” Josef Rusnak, as one of those magical moments. “I was told he met many celebrities, but he really wanted to find someone who could sing and have this Israeli feel,” Cohen said. 

With her long curly hair and olive skin tone, Cohen certainly looked the part. But more importantly, Cohen found the Israeli character intriguing. In the film, Sara takes her German beau on a mini-journey from the home her Holocaust survivor grandmother was forced to flee, to the steamy dance floor of the famous Berghain nightclub and the beloved public outdoor karaoke extravaganza at the Mauerpark Sunday flea market.  

“It was a dream to be able to interpret so many different aspects within one character,” Cohen said. “There’s this angelic kind of innocent being who wants to enjoy life. There’s the peaceful being. There’s the raw woman who has sensuality who wants to eat [Damiel] up and to give him so much pleasure. There’s the singer, with the ability to sing in front of 2,000 people and share music.” 

These days, some Jews look askance at Jews who make their lives — and loves — in a capital stained by its attempt at Jewish genocide. Sara, Cohen said, captures that third generation who find healing in returning to Germany. It’s part of the process of forgiveness, she said. 

“There is no resentment to be had. There is only now,” Cohen said. “Sara’s grandmother is proof of that. If there is one thing that the Shoah survivors teach us, it’s let’s be grateful for the life that we have. And let’s not darken our days with resentment.”

Cohen notes the contrast between Berlin and Paris, where today, bubbling anti-Semitism is making headlines in the French capital. She said she believes these expressions of Jew-hatred come in part from a lack of honest confrontation over the past among descendants of French Nazi collaborators, and she would rather they express their frustrations, however negative, and begin to heal.

“Anti-Semitism is mostly unspoken, precisely because it is so shamed, so people don’t even want to go near their thoughts on the matter, let alone express [them],” Cohen said. “They use the conflict in Israel, which is talked about on the news, to express their hidden frustrations against Judaism; hence the many amalgamations between French Jews and Israelis or French Muslims and Palestinians.”

Cohen still regards Paris as one of the most beautiful cities in the world but said she is now falling for Los Angles. And since shooting the film, Berlin has given L.A. some competition. 

“I sensed the same sense of freedom that I feel [in Los Angeles in Berlin],” she said. “The freedom [to become] who you want to be. And it’s the only place I felt that way in Europe. I think it’s totally linked to the fact that Berlin is the only city that really faces its darkness. I fell in love there.”  


Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. Her second novel, “Underskin,” is a German-Israeli love story. 

Poem: Love, Technically

Now that life’s all 1’s and 0’s,
our separate snowflake selves
reduced to helixed A, T, G and C,
where’s the romance
that once sweltered under lifeguard towers,
salty kisses doo-wopped sweet by gulls?

Where’s the Motown lilt
now Tinder’s tasked with tenderness
and smartphones flick emojis
with impatient thumbs?

Where’s the fire
that warmed dark basements with its crackle pop
now chats are frozen
into cool blue YouTube light?

Where’s Coppertone-stiff towels,
long hot summers sealed with a kiss?

What happened to forever-after
on a bended knee?

Where’s love?


Paula Rudnick is a former television writer and producer who has spent the past 30 years as a volunteer for nonprofit organizations.

Five Ways Social Anxiety Sufferers Can Succeed In Finding Their Bashert  

Photo provided by Pixabay

You know that inner critical voice that spews out a slew of negative thoughts? It’s that Cruella de Vil voice that tells you “You’re not good enough. You’re not skinny enough. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not smart enough.”

It’s that nagging voice that beats us down, scolds us and talks us out of doing the things we need or deep down want to do. It’s a voice my grandmother begged me to turn off. The voice was loud enough for her to take notice. It’s a voice that for many of us overpowers our daily lives and spirals us into developing social anxiety.

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, social anxiety is the paralyzing perception that there is something embarrassing or severely deficient with you. In her book “How To Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic And Rise Above Social Anxiety,” Hendriksen explains that those struggling with social anxiety believe they have to work extremely hard to hide their perceived deficiencies or else they WILL be revealed and then they will be negatively judged or rejected.

It’s, therefore, no surprise that finding a soulmate seems especially unattainable to the socially anxious.

But, no need to worry social anxiety patriots! Here are some pieces of advice from five experts on how to succeed at finding a soulmate while overcoming social anxiety. 

Accept Your Authentic Self
Think about who you are when you’re in your most relaxed state of mind. Perhaps that’s when you’re sitting on the couch eating ice cream with your bestie while casually chatting about the new episode of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Love that YOU. Nurture that YOU and channel that YOU when you’re off into the realm of dating.

 

According to Spiritual Intimacy expert Londin Angel Winters, ditch the presumption that you need to hide your social anxiety or the feeling that you need to pretend to be someone you are not. “Own every part of you instead,” the co-author of “The Awakened Women’s Guide to Everlasting Love” says.

“You don’t have to do this in an awkward way where you give low self-esteem disclaimers such as ‘Hey, warning… I’m really messed up.’” Instead, Winters recommends allowing yourself to be seen for who you are and to state what you need without shame. By following through with this, you allow your vulnerability to shine through. For instance, Winters suggests that you can say something like, “I tend to be more on the shy side of the spectrum and appreciate when someone can make me feel safe and protected in social situations.”

This is a great way for your potential match to help step in and contribute as the appeasing force in areas of your life you may need support in. It also opens the doors for your date to match your level of vulnerability by sharing his/her wants and needs.

“Own who you are and you just might find someone who cannot wait to make your social life a much more pleasurable situation for you,” Winters concludes.

Take Baby Steps When Exposing Yourself To Social Situations
When you’re working on managing and ultimately overcoming your social anxiety, it’s important to start exposing yourself to small social activities and to slowly build up to difficult social scenarios, says Dr. Ashley Hampton, licensed psychologist and entrepreneurial coach.

Specifically, Hampton recommends to start off by practicing to chat with people you see in regular, everyday conditions. “For example, at the coffee shop, ask the person helping you how he is doing. If you go to the gym, talk to the person at the front desk when you are checking in. Practicing small talk with people that you see regularly helps build communication skills in a non-threatening environment, which convinces your brain and nervous system that talking with others in small doses is not threatening or harmful and should not activate a nervous response,” Dr. Hampton explains.

Once you feel comfortable in these social situations, it’s time to kick it up a notch.

Hampton recommends kicking off small steps that lead toward dating by first starting to go out to dinner by yourself. The next step could be sitting at a bar having dinner, and engaging in small talk with the person sitting next to you. “It doesn’t matter initially if the person is someone you’re attracted to. Becoming more comfortable engaging in conversation about something like the food, the beer on tap, or even the sports game on television is important in making improvement in social anxiety symptoms,” Hampton emphasizes. Once you are comfortable with these steps, then Dr. Hampton recommends trying engaging in similar conversations with people you find attractive.

“After you can have conversations with people you find attractive and you are not anxious, then move into pursuing dating, whether it be through an app, blind dates set up by friends, or meeting people through work.”

Although Hampton does mention that these steps may take months to work through depending on your specific social anxiety triggers, she indicates that “The key is to start and try not to be upset with yourself if you have a bad encounter or don’t feel great about your performance. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about trying and making progress as you move forward.”

Tame Your Inner Critical Voice To Overcome The Power of Anticipatory Fear
“Often times, people with social anxiety experience a lot of anticipatory fear about social situations, says Matt Hiller, a licensed clinical social worker at Wellington Counseling Group.

People with social anxiety worry about being awkward, seeming stupid, or not having anything to say, explains Hiller. However, “A person doesn’t have to be perfectly charming or a master conversationalist to find love,” Hiller stresses.

This anticipatory fear stems from an overpowering inner critical voice that spews out negative thoughts like “you’re dumb,” “people won’t like you,” or “you’re not lovable” etc.

It’s important to remember that these are simply thoughts not facts. Instead of shutting out your inner critic, make friends with it. Thank each thought for its intention and for trying to protect you in some way, and encourage it (the voice) to find a new uplifting way to help you.

Once you’ve mastered this new way of approaching your inner critical voice, it becomes

helpful to commit to doing at least one small social activity that causes anxiety each week, with the goal of overcoming the power of anticipatory fear in order to gain control over your life and to ultimately find love. 

In particular, Hiller states: “I advise going to structured activities you enjoy that provide things to talk about and help facilitate introductions. For example, classes, book clubs, volunteering events, or religious/spiritual groups are all great options.” These structured situations offer easier opportunities to strike up conversations with a potential suitor who shares a mutual common interest.

Embrace The Positive Attributes That Come From Social Anxiety
There are a plethora of characteristics associated with having social anxiety that really help propel you forward in dating and instantly make you the perfect CATCH.

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen writes in her book “How To Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic And Rise Above Social Anxiety,” that social anxiety comes bundled with strengths like having high standards, being helpful, empathetic, and altruistic.  

Having coped with social anxiety herself, Dr. Hendriksen notes, “We’re often good listeners, we’re conscientious, and we work very hard to get along with our fellow humans.” These positive attributes don’t go away even after working on your social anxiety and your social fears begin to fade.

It is these strengths that will help ignite your dating life. For example, you can leverage your good listening skills while on a date. Hampton suggests that “When talking with people that you may be interested in learning more about to date, start asking the other person questions. Most people are interested in talking about themselves. Asking questions of the other person gives you time to ease into the conversation.” You show you’re interested in getting to know the person, while your date gets to talk about his/herself. It’s a win-win situations right?! So, sit back, relax, and use your extraordinary listening skills while your date chatters away.

Talk To Yourself As You Would A Best Friend When Prepping For A Date
Once you understand that your social anxiety does not detract from your ability to be a great partner, it’s helpful to talk to yourself as you would to your best friend to help change the way you think and behave in social situations, says Dr. Jess O’Reilly, Astroglide’s resident sexologist.  

“If your best friend was experiencing cognitive distortions that was holding him/her back from dating, such as they keep telling themselves they’re not good enough, they insist that the date will be a failure, they’re fearful that no one will be interested, what would you say to them? How would you reassure them? Speak to yourself in a similar fashion. We’re much kinder to others than we are to ourselves” O’Reilly advises.

When you start communicating to yourself with the love and compassion you use to speak to your bestie, you’ll free yourself from negative self-talk and enter dating situations in an uplifted state of mind.

How many times have you told your bestie “You’re a catch and you need to know it?” Apply this motto to yourself. Repeat it to yourself until you feel every inch of you believes you’re a CATCH.

And, so, dear social anxiety warriors, the next time that inner critical voice tells you you’re not good enough to find your soulmate, encourage that voice to speak to you in a way that leads you toward cultivating self-worth, acceptance, and the love you deserve.


Berenice Famli is the CEO and founder of the Jewish emoji app Shalomoji and a Los Angeles based writer who covers lifestyle, health, and entrepreneurship. 

Orthodox Union’s ‘Torah LA’ Spotlights Strengthening Family Ties

Attendees at the Orthodox Union’s second annual Torah LA project

At a Dec. 14 Friday night tisch at Young Israel of Century City, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, N.Y., emphasized the need for people to devote more time to face-to-face encounters: between spouses, between parents and children and between individuals and God. 

Weinberger made his comments as part of the Orthodox Union’s second annual Torah LA project, held over the Dec. 14-16 weekend at synagogues throughout the city. The event culminated with a series of classes on Dec. 16 at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Boys High School (YULA). 

This year’s theme was “Strengthening Our Families.” Steering Committee member Yaakov Siegel said of the theme, “We are all very focused on improving our family relationships and our best resource is guidance from Torah leaders.” 

Highlights of the day included Stern College for Women professor Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff, who spoke about achieving peace within marriage. The author of  “Will Jew Marry Me? A Guide to Dating, Relationships, Love, and Marriage,” Hajioff said the mindset of our disposable culture contributes to unhappy marriages.

“The three things that keep a marriage strong are healthy self-love, commitment and trust,” he said. “Strongly connected couples show ‘intentionality,’ so that instead of hugging for only two seconds, they hug for 10. Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.”

In a session titled “Save a Family — Save a Dynasty,” Geraldine Weiner taught a section from the Book of Samuel, focusing on Avigayil, the wife of the cruel Naval, who refused to give the secretly anointed David and his army provisions as they ran for their lives from Shaul. When David vows to kill Naval, it is Avigayil who stops him. Avigayil also goes on to marry David. 

“[Avigayil] successfully used her many talents to negotiate a balance between the two conflicting sides of loyalty to her husband and family,” Weiner said. “She helped David succeed in his kingship and preserved his dynasty.” 

Addressing the subject of “Raising honorable menschen,” Dr. David Pelcovitz, the Gwendolyn & Joseph Straus Chair in Psychology & Jewish Education at Yeshiva University, listed three keys to success in parenting: letting children learn from their mistakes, keeping expectations high for moral and ethical behavior and conveying our values through our emotional reactions to things.  

“We are all very focused on improving our family relationships and our best resource is guidance from Torah leaders.” — Yaakov Siegel

“Everyone makes mistakes,” Pelcovitz said. “We rob our children of the ability to grow unless we let them fail and learn from their errors. Our children’s moral development depends on it. Saying, ‘You’re better than this,’ with calm and gentle disappointment but not anger, helps them develop morally.”

Parents should also convey confidence that their children can succeed, he said, noting, “If you believe in somebody and believe they have the ability to act a certain way, it can become self-fulfilling.” 

Pelcovitz also discussed helping children “build their ethical decision-making muscle” by talking with them about halachic and ethical dilemmas they have faced. He said doing so with his children and grandchildren has brought him closer to them.

Pelcovitz was also one of the presenters at a special session for rabbis’ wives on combatting spiritual apathy. He suggested rebbetizins could act as mentors by standing by a person, not over the person. “True connections grow between people when we allow them to be imperfect … and allow ourselves to be imperfect too,” he said. They do not grow if we seem to be trying to “force” spirituality on them.

Rabbis’ wives, who perform double and often triple duty with their own jobs, as mothers, and as unpaid counselors for their congregations, also need to carve out time for themselves. Said Pelcovitz, “Stillness and tranquility lead to spirituality.”

In summing up the theme of  “Strengthening Families,” Pelcovitz perhaps said it best when he spoke about fostering strong relationships with your children from an early age.

As a kid, Pelcovitz said he always was embarrassed when he won the “good middos” (character) award at camp, when most of the other kids valued the awards for sports.

“When my parents saw my reaction, they held up the award with tears in their eyes and told me, ‘This is everything to us.’ If parents show more emotion over material prizes than spiritual ones, they are sending the wrong message.” 

To watch videos of the presentations, visit ou.org/torahla.


Judy Gruen is the author of “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love With Faith.”

Sharsheret Gala, Multifaith Celebration of Israel

From left: Sari Abrams, Stephanie Bressler, Abbi Hertz, Lisa Hofheimer, Shuli Steinlauf, Alexandra Avnet, Courtney Mizel and Jenna Fields celebrate “Love, Light and Life Under the Stars” with Sharsheret California. Photo courtesy of Sharsheret

About 160 people gathered at the Hancock Park home of Lisa and Josh Hofheimer on Dec. 1 for “Love, Light and Life Under the Stars,” Sharsheret California’s second annual celebration. The event drew supporters and friends of the national nonprofit, which provides assistance to young Jewish women and their families after a diagnosis of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. 

The program spotlighted the stories of survivors who had been supported by Sharsheret after diagnosis. One survivor, Laura Osman, had found out through a genetic test that she was positive with the BRCA1 gene, which has been shown to increase the risk of cancer. 

“I knew that fear and feeling sorry for myself was not an option,” Osman said, noting that during her treatment and recovery she was “surrounded by an army of friends, family and Sharsheret.”

Jenna Fields, regional director of Sharsheret’s Los Angeles office, shared Sharsheret’s origin story, noting that its late founder, Rochelle Shoretz, started the organization so that Jewish women would not have to face breast or ovarian cancer alone. This year, 100 educational programs across California were held with Sharsheret’s help. 

Courtney Mizel, a member of the Sharsheret board of directors, who was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago, said the L.A. office had fielded 303 callers this year, up from 60 in its first year, 2017. 

“Think of how much we’ve done and how much more there is to do,” Mizel said. “The evening not only celebrated the achievements of the California regional office, but allowed people to experience what the organization’s founder intended when she chose the name Sharsheret” — which translates to “chain.” “We are inextricably linked as a community that is directly affected by breast and ovarian cancer.” 

“I like to take something positive from every experience,” said Lisa Hofheimer, who received vital support services from the organization after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. “Sharsheret is definitely one of those things.” 

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


Members of the Iglesia Evangélica Latina church in downtown L.A. proudly blow shofars during their celebration of a “Night To Honor Israel.” Photo by Karmel Melamed

Blasting shofars, waving flags and joyfully singing Israeli songs, close to 400 local Latino evangelical Christians and Jews gathered at a downtown L.A. church on Nov. 29 to celebrate a bilingual “Night to Honor Israel.” 

The event, held at the Iglesia Evangélica Latina church was organized by the Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a national pro-Israel nonprofit. The gathering was CUFI’s inaugural Southern California event rallying support for Israel among their Latino members.

“Without a doubt, this event will go down in history as one that lifted up Israel and the Jewish community for years and decades to come,” CUFI National Hispanic Outreach Coordinator Peter De Jesus said.

In addition to CUFI leaders addressing the crowd, local Jewish community speakers included Daniel Gold, vice president of Israel education and advocacy at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe; and Eitan Weiss, deputy chief of mission at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, who praised CUFI members for their support for Israel.

“Tonight is also special because it is the 71st anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly voting for a resolution to create the modern state of Israel,” Weiss said. “We know that a large part of our survival all of these years would not have been possible without the help of you in the Christian community. And on behalf of the State of Israel, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support.”

Those in attendance not only prayed for Israel but also vocally pledged support for L.A.’s Jewish community, which in recent weeks has encountered various anti-Semitic attacks.

“It was essential for us as Christians to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters here in Los Angeles at a time now when they are facing an increase in anti-Semitic attacks and let them know they are not alone,” said CUFI National Diversity Coordinator and Pastor Dumisani Washington.

The event’s organizers said they were planning additional pro-Israel events in the coming year in an effort to bring together Jews and Christians.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer


From left: ShareWell Gala honorees Barry and Andrea Cayton, Sandra Stern and Craig Erwich. Photo by Rich Polk, Getty/Wire Images

The nonprofit organization ShareWell celebrated a significant upcoming event at its 18th annual Discovery Award Dinner at the Skirball Cultural Center in November. The organization’s Zimmer Children Museum will relocate in early 2019 from its current home at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles building on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Grove to a 21,000-square-foot space atop the Santa Monica Place shopping mall in Santa Monica. The new facility will be renamed The Cayton Children’s Museum in honor of a gift from Barry and Andrea Cayton.

“The Caytons have a long, philanthropic history of giving back to the community, and we are thrilled they have chosen to champion our transformation,” ShareWell founder and CEO Esther Netter said in a statement. 

Barry Cayton is founder and president of Audio Command Systems. Andrea Cayton, his wife, is vice president of the board of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and is active in Jewish philanthropy.

The Nov. 7 event’s approximately 600 guests included Netter and Courtney Mizel, vice chair of the ShareWell board of directors. Comedian Demetri Martin emceed the evening, which raised $750,000 for the organization’s mission of providing programs and experiences for youth. 

Along with the Caytons, the event honored Craig Erwich and Sandra Stern for their contributions to ShareWell. 

In addition to the Zimmer Museum, ShareWell operates youTHink, which empowers middle school and high school students to embrace social responsibility.

— Debra Eckerling, Contributing Writer


Supporters of the Ovarian Cancer Circle gathered for the group’s seventh annual luncheon on Nov. 15 at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Courtesy of Ovarian Cancer Circle

The Ovarian Cancer Circle, inspired by the late Robin Babbini, held its seventh annual fundraising luncheon on Nov. 15 at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Woodland Hills. 

Ovarian Cancer Circle founder and President Paulinda Babbini, Robin’s mother, welcomed a sold-out room of more than 200 guests, including L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz.
The guest of honor was Sanaz Memarzadeh, a gynecologic oncologist and the director of the Gynecologic Oncology Discovery Laboratory at UCLA. 

The Ovarian Cancer Circle dedicated all of its fundraising to support Memarzadeh’s research lab. As of 2018, the group had raised approximately $500,000 in donations benefiting the laboratory, Babbini said.

In her remarks, Babbini spoke about her daughter, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 17 and died three years later, in 2006.


Harriet Rossetto, founder and clinical director of Beit T’Shuvah and Annette Shapiro, president of Beit T’Shuvah’s board of directors, prepare for the catwalk at the organization’s Haute Couture High Tea and Fall Fashion Show.

Rehabilitation organization Beit T’Shuvah held its Haute Couture High Tea and Fall Fashion Show on Nov. 11 at its Culver City campus.

The event showcased the talents of Beit T’Shuvah’s residents, alumni, community members and volunteers and featured designer clothing from the organization’s thrift store.

 Among those in attendance were Harriet Rossetto, Beit T’Shuvah’s founder and clinical director; and Annette Shapiro, its board president.

Pat Train Gage and Heidi Bendetson co-chaired the event; and Shapiro, Cookie Miller, Sharon Polansky, Virginia Maas, Tiffany Calig and Barbara Tell served on the event committee. 


Paul Koretz speaking at IsraAID’s event. Photo courtesy of IsraAID

IsraAID held an event on climate change Dec. 11 discussing what’s next for California at a private residence in Holmby Hills.

Seth Davis, IsraAID CEO, shared the organization’s current work in Paradise and Chico, as well as other disaster areas. Los Angeles councilmember Paul Koretz was in attendance and said that “IsraAID is more critical than ever, in California, U.S. and around the world.”

Tel Aviv University atmospheric physicist Colin Price also spoke,  previewing the disaster-response training series that IsraAID will launch in Los Angeles and the Bay Area in January. IsraAID Humanitarian Professionals Network (IHPN), will equip professionals with the skills and knowledge to deploy on relief missions or respond to local disasters.

For more information about IsraAID visit their website.

— Erin Ben-Moche, Contributing Writer

The Nearness of You

The author and his father.

“It isn’t your sweet conversation
That brings this sensation, oh no
It’s just the nearness of you”  — Hoagy Carmichael

A few weeks ago I was at the  funeral of a good friend. His wife and three children got up and spoke about their husband and father. It was a truly beautiful and moving event. They spoke of how much he meant to them and how he was a friend to all who met him. They spoke of his unwavering support for them and their dreams in life. They spoke of how they would not be who they are today without him. They spoke about how much they loved him and how much they missed him just one day after he was gone. They already missed not being near him. Almost everyone was crying.

My father died when I was 36 years old. He died before he met my future wife. He died before I got married. He died before he got to see his grandchildren. He died before he got to really see the type of husband and father I was to become. He died not really knowing who I was or what I was capable of.

Did I really get to know him? No. I had only a few facts about his childhood and adolescence. My father was a quiet man with a quiet soul. He didn’t say much and he didn’t get involved in any big events. He worked, came home, ate dinner, watched a little TV and then went to sleep. He did that five days a week, 50 weeks a year until he died.

“The main reason I go to the cemetery to visit my parents is to try one more time to be near them. Try all you want, it’s not the same. Do it now while you can.”

When I was a kid, I saw him only for about 1 1/2 hours a day. Sometimes we’d both sit in bed in our boxers and polish off a pint of ice cream while watching some TV. I felt so protected. Any time spent with him was very valuable to me. We really didn’t need to talk. He was Dad and I was Mark. That’s it. We just needed to be together. We needed to be near each other. My leg over his leg watching the tube.

And that’s what my friend’s wife and kids were saying at the funeral. That’s what I’m saying. The bottom line is sometimes you just need to be near the people you love. When one of my kids calls and asks me to go for a ride with him to get a haircut, I go. When the other kid asks me to go to a ballgame, I go. When my wife asks if I want to go to Ralphs with her, I go. Not because I think any huge event is going to happen or I’m going to get an answer to one of life’s problems that’s been plaguing me for years. Not because I need to find out anything new or different about them. I go for one reason and one reason only: I go just so I can be near them. I go so I can be the first to see the new haircut. I go to share a bag of peanuts at the ballgame. I go so I can hear a question like, “Do we need pickles?” I go because one day I won’t be able to go anymore. I know it and they know it. We don’t talk about it, but we know it.

The main reason I go to the cemetery to visit my parents is to try one more time to be near them. Try all you want, it’s not the same. Do it now while you can.


Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.

Response to Pittsburgh? Let’s Go to Shul This Shabbat

A view of the KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue in 2013. Photo by Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

What is the proper response to Pittsburgh? Grief, yes. Sorrow, yes. Anger, yes. Resolve, yes. Unity, yes.  Surprise, no. Fear, no. My dear rabbi, Rabbi David Wolpe, likes to say that we in America live in a golden age of Judaism after 2,000 years of persecution, fear, torture, murder, hiding and being on the run from land to land.  Now we are living in a country where we are generally treated with warmth and respect by our Christian, Muslim and other non-Jewish neighbors, friends and strangers. We need to be grateful for this.

During the martyrology service this year on Yom Kippur I reflected on how our forebears dared to worship in public, despite Roman orders not to, and paid the ultimate price for it, sometimes in unbelievably cruel ways. Yet the synagogue I attended was nearly empty. It’s a funny thing about freedom — some things we just take for granted. I do. We all do.

Two other prayers stood out for me during the same service. One prayer was for our fellow Jews in other places who are being persecuted. Miraculously, I could not think of one country where this is systematically occurring on a daily basis. Anti-Semitism, yes. But active persecution –even in countries that don’t particularly like us — no, partly because we have been driven out of many countries and are choosing to leave others, because finally after 2 millennia we have a choice. Perhaps it is because we have the United States on our side and countries would face sanctions and far worse. Perhaps because we ourselves have the will and means with which to fight back.

The other prayer is that we should be in Israel next year. But how many Jews have never been to Israel, actively criticize it, don’t support it or don’t stand up to the insidious anti-Semitism that is the BDS movement or to the bullying of our children on their college campuses? As I said, some things we just take for granted.

“By going to synagogue this Shabbat, we can show our resolve and we can thank God for living in such a wonderful country.”

I do not mean to imply that I am saying I am “religious.” I am not, by standard measures, but I am proudly a Jew. I was reading the Wall Street Journal Saturday morning when I happened to see a friend’s text about “what happened in Pittsburgh.”  So the first thought I had, after I had the chance to digest the news, is that I should have been in synagogue that day and I vowed that I would next Shabbat. I texted my kids and told them they should go, too. My brother asked me if we had armed security at our synagogue. The answer happens to be yes, but I go to a high-profile temple (I do not wish to get into the politics of that whole issue except to say that I think we could all agree that no one needs a personal arsenal of military assault weapons). Not every synagogue might make this choice, and law enforcement has vowed to increase its presence. The good news is that 99.99% of Americans are not sociopathic anti-Semitic killers with personal arsenals. So our response shouldn’t be fear.

My suggested response to Pittsburgh? Let’s go to shul this Shabbat.  Let’s fill up ALL the synagogues this Shabbat. Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, LGBT, it doesn’t matter. If you normally go to synagogue, bring your children. If they usually go, have them bring their friends. Bring your friends. Bring your neighbors. By going to synagogue this Shabbat, we can show our resolve and we can thank G-d for living in such a wonderful country. By doing so, we can exercise our precious First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly all at the same time.

G-d bless America and the Jewish people.


Dr. Joel Geiderman is the former vice-chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and is the California chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Staring Rage in the Face When Tensions Rise

Photo by Thomas Jahn

I am not proud of this, but last week I lost my temper at a stranger.

I very rarely lose my temper at anyone. I have to be pushed hard to explode but when I do, it’s not pretty.

I had just put down my yoga mat at the outdoor fitness area by the beach in Santa Monica. Next to me was a personal trainer, a big, muscled guy in a tank top and baseball cap who was chatting with his client. The two were animated.

“… I mean 35 years later and we’re supposed to believe her? Gimme a freaking break … Ruining that guy’s life.”

I didn’t have time to think. I turned around, my eyes blazing and said:

“You don’t know about how trauma works. Why don’t you educate yourself about how trauma works before spouting off?”

My voice shook. I wanted to roar but did not come close. Instead, I trembled like a leaf.

But I still said it.

The trainer and his sweaty client looked at me, as astonished as if a cat had just spoken Hebrew. Neither said a word.

“Have a nice day.” I told them.

They stared at me, still silent as I picked up my mat and moved away.

I was still shaky when I ordered a coffee at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf an hour later.

“How is your day going so far?” said the professionally upbeat barista, who wore a polo shirt with a nametag that read “Zooey.”

I looked at her for a second longer than was comfortable for either one of us. I would have liked to have sobbed on Zooey’s shoulder, or asked her if she felt as betrayed, as sick to her stomach and in her heart this past week as I had. I would have liked to have asked if she felt her own dark memories bubble up like sewage this week as I did, looking on helplessly and amazedly as a shrill and shrieking prince of privilege essentially lied his way onto the Supreme Court.

I wanted to ask her if she, too, had watched as an admitted binge drinker deliberately misled the Senate about the nature of his drinking, and then screamed and jeered at a female senator who questioned him about his drinking habits. Did Zooey watch as a quiet, intelligent, thoughtful woman was disrespected and patronized by the Senate, then mocked by the president of the United States and thousands of his supporters? Had Zooey seen red from rage on the day the sham of an FBI report came in?

“I want to believe that my government has not drowned in the blackest kind of evil and corruption.”

I looked at Zooey and thought all of this and remembered that, in Los Angeles, “How are you?” is more of a greeting than a question. In Berlin, the equivalent “Wie geht es dir?” is not something that strangers ask each other, and if you do utter it, they might laugh awkwardly and say “Warum — why do you ask?” From there, they’ll launch into their recent problems with indigestion or divorce or cystic acne or finding gnats in their kitchen.

“I’m actually really not doing so good.” And as soon as I said it, I realized I had breached the protocol. 

Maybe because this was Los Angeles and not Berlin, or maybe just because Zooey was busy juggling other coffee orders and had a long line behind me, she just nodded and smiled, exactly the same as if I had said “I’m doing great, thanks!”

I want to believe my country gives a damn about my physical autonomy. I want to believe that my government has not drowned in the blackest kind of evil and corruption. I want to believe that it’s all going to be OK. I want to believe the adults will get here soon and fix this. But I cannot now.

In the meantime, I will have a bowl of chicken soup with challah and pet my sweet miniature schnauzer’s soft head and try to focus on what a pretty day it is outside. And I will vote like my life depends on it, because it does.


Sara Hershkowitz is an opera singer, writer, activist and teacher. Born in Los Angeles, she currently divides her time between Berlin and L.A.

Love at First Seder

Photo from Wikipedia.

The attraction was instant and made me very, very anxious.

Her father’s courtship of me was a month in progress when he invited me to a seder that she — his daughter — and other relatives would attend.

It felt too soon. In meeting a man’s family in the first trimester of a relationship, an attachment could form with folks I might not see again. Unmarried all my life, I’d had many starter relationships. Children I’d known for a few holidays left my sad lap as I disconnected from the guy who had put them in it. But my fun new friend and I already felt familial. I took the risk.

As we entered his favorite Aunt Sandy’s home, there she was: Ariana — sweet-faced like her father, wise for her years. She hugged me firmly, fully to her heart. I was instantly smitten. She introduced me to her fiance, Marc. My promising Passover escort left us and engaged with his cousins.

Marc was Ariana’s first love. He’d recently asked her father for her hand in marriage, then put a big diamond on it. I’d never had one and, awed at the many facets of her and hers, wondered what it was like to be betrothed and so secure at 23.

“What could I offer her beyond old show tunes?” was one of the Four Questions I asked myself that night.

These two had their heads firmly on their shoulders, unlike other young heads that tended to roll right off. She was getting her master’s in social work, he in engineering. They were smart, acculturated and, like me, musical theater lovers. She could sing in sweet soprano every lyric to every score of every contemporary musical. I sang back lyrics of musicals I’d learned at her age. Marc hummed along on them all. We three had so much to harmonize about that her father receded in my attentions … a little.

The rest of my date’s family was more reserved. Apparently, I was not the first nice Jewish “date” her father had brought to Passover for observation. They seated me across from Ariana, next to her dad. As we noshed on parsley, his uncle politely gave me a small portion of the haggadah to read, which I reworded to include the female perspective. Ariana liked that, and I liked that she liked it. Well-versed in gender politics, as we sipped kosher wine, she whispered of her wish to work with cisgender and transgender clients alike. Her knowledge of all the pronouns and proclivities amazed me. My focus on the bitter herbs faded as I took stock.

“Why is this seder different from all other seders?” I thought as I masticated the matzo. Because I now had a big maternal crush on my date’s daughter. My enchantment with her was now neck-and-neck with my held-in-check enchantment with her dad. I began thinking too far ahead. She certainly didn’t need my mothering. Her parents had done a fine job on all the heavy lifting. Ariana was loving, smart and as tall as I was; pulling her into my lap would be unwieldy. She wouldn’t need my relationship counseling, my long dating life littered with frogs and other plagues. “What could I offer her beyond old show tunes?” was one of the Four Questions I asked myself that night.

We harmonized a hearty “Go Down Moses,” and as we parted I felt a pang. I hoped to see her again but would have to hold myself back and hope her dad and I grew closer over time.

We did, and I soon also fell for his younger son, Sam, a manly 19. I got enthusiastically included in all the next big moments in Ariana’s life — her graduation, her receiving of awards, her next Passover, at which everyone now knew my name and gave me more haggadah to read and portions to eat.

It would have been enough, I thought, to meet this wonderful man, but I got to sing at Ariana’s wedding to Marc a year later. Dayenu.

When her father proposed to me the following Thanksgiving, I asked if his daughter would feel OK about it. “Are you kidding?” he said. “After the first Passover, she asked, ‘Please, Daddy? Can we keep this one?’ and I said ‘Yes!’ ”

So, I said “Yes” too. And as a seasoned bride, Ariana helped me plan for — and harmonized with me to show tunes at — my wedding to her dad two years later.


Melanie Chartoff has acted on Broadway and on TV series, and is the author of ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Crazy Family.”

A Love That Never Dies

Photo from Pixabay.

I’m one of those people who feel guilty reading a book twice. So it was with great surprise when my father told me, as we prepared to pack up his belongings, that he’d be taking many of his dust-covered favorites with him.

“But there’s so much out there still to be read,” I argued. “True,” he answered, “but I’ve reached a point in my life where I’d just like to spend the time I have left with some old friends.”

My father is 83 and getting ready to move into the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda. His words struck me for their lucidity — he’s been in failing health for years. And so I wondered: What other “old friends” would he be keeping now that he’d chosen to remove mortality’s rose-colored glasses?

A few weeks later, I again found myself at his house winnowing down a wardrobe accumulated over years, holding up various articles of clothing one at a time. Almost as if playing out some macabre Roman tableau, they’d either be given a thumbs up or thumbs down. My father was merciless in the application of his “old friends” rule toward whatever it was I happened to have in hand.

This went on for hours. I’d pull something off the shelf; he’d yea or nay it. The nays were tossed into a pile on the floor that, as the afternoon wore on, rose to the height of my chest. I’m 6 feet 1. The yeas either were returned to the shelf or hung back up and allowed to live another day.

When our days are numbered, I’ve learned that it’s love, above all, that shines the brightest.

For a while it was even fun. Who doesn’t feel the need to clear out their closet? Who hasn’t accumulated clothes they rarely wear? For my father, a retired Conservative rabbi, every item seemed to have a story, whether it was a T-shirt from a visit to the Great Wall of China, a galabeya picked up in Amman, or a sweat jacket given to him by The City of Hope hospital for his volunteer work. Heck, I even scored some stuff that was old enough to be hip (black corduroy jacket, anyone?).

Then we came to his uniform. My father served as a United States Air Force chaplain for four years in active duty and 28 in the reserves. I’m also, in military parlance, an Air Force brat, having been born on a base. We Kollin kids grew up climbing in and out of old bombers, going to air shows and watching space shuttles land. But that’s not what I remember most. The best part was always, always, watching the MPs salute my dad as we drove onto base (he retired as a lieutenant colonel). To this day, my respect and awe for our military personnel is entirely because of him.

I lifted his dress blues, carefully protected in a clear plastic garment bag, sure of which way Emperor Kollin’s thumb was going to point. But I was wrong.

“Dad, they’re your dress blues. You can’t.”

“And when,” he asked, “will I ever wear them again?”

We both knew the answer was never. This was not a book he could re-read and enjoy. This was the memento of a distinguished past he could never recapture. Experience was more powerful than memory.

By putting his dress blues in the “nay” pile, there was no denying the painful truth that my days with my father were numbered — that we were easing past the time of symbols and into the ineluctability of life.

There’s a beautiful song by Tim McGraw called “Live Like You Were Dying,” in which a man who finds out he has months to live, suddenly sees the world in a way he never had before. He loves, he laughs, he forgives and he accepts. And his ode to the world is that all people should learn to live like that, too. This, I believe, is my father’s song.

There’s another song, one by Patty Loveless, called “I Already Miss You Like You’re Already Gone.” That’s mine. Both songs take a hard look at taking nothing for granted like, say, the love between a father and a son.

When our days are numbered — which is true for all of us — I’ve learned that it’s love, above all, that shines the brightest. Love for old books, love for old friends, and love for all those we crave to spend more time with.


Dani Kollin is the award-winning co-author of the “Unincorporated” books and an advertising creative director in Los Angeles.

Love Is All

In this wondrous world
of wedded opposites,
of paradox after paradox
I wonder what it is
that pardons so much polarity?
If all is One how can there be so many Twos —
inhale, exhale, in, out, my body, yours?

What holds these twos together?
Is it not the same force which pulls
lover to lover, one to one to make two,
ultimately to make one once more?
Did the unity of nothingness not promise
the timely return from somethingness?
The singular to the many back to the singular?
Is this not our destiny? Set in the stars,
in big bangs and big crunches.

Love is all. It is this unshakable urge,
this urge which makes saints lie with sinners
and city dwellers with rambling fields of gold;
It is this Love of Loves which pulls together
apparently disparate parts —
helping to re-member forgotten limbs;
it is this Love of Loves which has made joy
so very taken by tears that it will do all it can
to return into one’s heart space for even a mere glimpse
of that enchanting, silvery goddess,
as honest and true as the sky is blue;
that lonely goddess, ever calling out for her beloved,
that lovely goddess known as sadness, ever worthy,
ever bound by Love of Love.
It is true, joy itself is a love song to sadness,
as sadness is the same for joy.

Even our decision to turn from our nature,
to refuse to accept that opposites were meant to dance
in harmony and not in anarchy,
(even now, I, too, am refusing in my own preference for harmony over anarchy)
even our bewildered dissent from the truth
that we are all just crazy in Love with Love;
that our inhales and exhales, keeper of all dualities,
from birth to death, are inextricably bound to one another —
one another as one as one as one;
even this apparent turn from truth,
is the wedding dance of the fool and the sage.

Words Which Come to Mind At The Thought of Love

Olive branches somehow turned to a bronze oil,
dripped over white petals which float atop a
ship of leaves in the fountain of a secret garden
known only to a sheep dog and a woman who
loves nothing more than to paint olive trees.

Forests growing on a distant planet,
whose trees have a deep red bark
and send their vanilla scent with the breeze,
along with the smell of burning wood from
a fire set upon the ocean’s shore, which on
this planet has deep blue sand speckled with gold,
so that when you walk on it, assuming you’re
used to Earthly skies, it’s as though you’re
walking over the midnight sky as seen from
Death Valley. Your toes kissing the stars. And
the fire you lazily kindle is nothing less than the sun.

Something relevant to physics and chemistry
which explains the improbability of everything
and some other equation which explains attraction.

Barefeet and a world which is comfortably walkable by them.
Everywhere. A world furnished by flowers and fields.

Sewing seeds and sweaters, done in different
weather of course, but done with equal amounts
of love; an amount equal to water falling over
once sharp rocks, now turned to smooth stones,
which hawks like to perch atop when the snow
flow from the mountain tops is rather slow.

Tiny ballerinas dancing atop piano keys.

A fog hovering over a lake whose only ripple
traces back to a shoreline where two deer stand
lapping at their own reflections.

Tree sap boiling in a small log cabin so that the air
is thick with sugary steam; a syrup sauna.
And there’s snow outside whiter than a child’s eyes.

Lighting entire castles by fire. Chandeliers of 1,000 candles.

Rambling hills of green which match the clouds roundness —
Heaven and Earth folding into each other’s grooves.

A redwood and a willow tree’s love child.

From an alley to a chuppah

Joan Harrison and Michael Janofsky. Photo courtesy of Michael Janofsky

suppose it all began on a trip to Los Angeles with Vice President Al Gore in the summer of 1998. I was a New York Times correspondent based in the Washington bureau, and these were the days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Just in case Gore said something about President Bill Clinton’s involvement, we wanted to be there; I was assigned to be his shadow until he did.

After landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), we piled into the motorcade and headed for a home in Beverly Hills, where Gore was the guest speaker at a fundraiser for Gov. Gray Davis. Police on motorcycles cleared the way during rush hour, making the 15-mile trip a breeze. Upon arrival, Gore and his staff were ushered toward the back lawn; my journalist comrades and I were ushered to the back alley, where we could watch the event and listen to the speech but not mingle.

Now, flash forward two years.

I was in Los Angeles again, this time as part of our team covering the 2000 Democratic National Convention. At this point I had been divorced for several years, and on one particular morning my cellphone rang. It was my ex-wife, now remarried, calling from Washington.

“We have someone you should meet,” she said, the “we” being my ex and her best friend, who lived in L.A. “A really nice woman.”

Hmm, I thought. Was this a peace offering? An olive branch of some sort? Why would an ex-wife recommend someone who could become my next wife?

“I’m in L.A.,” I said.

“That’s great,” my ex-wife said. “She lives in L.A.”

“OK,” I said. “What’s her name and number? I’ll try to call. But we’re so busy. I doubt I’ll have time to meet her.”

I didn’t. But I had taken her phone number and email address, and over the next few weeks Joan Harrison and I exchanged calls and notes, each of us expressing optimism that we might have a chance to meet sometime.

By this time, I had become the Denver bureau chief, which meant I covered the interior Western states but not those along the coast. In September, I got an email from Joan, saying she and some of her friends were planning to spend part of the High Holy Days in Aspen, Colo.; maybe we could meet at the Denver airport for a coffee when they changed planes.

I had a better idea: “I haven’t done a story in Aspen in a while; I’m sure I can find one,” I told her. “But one caveat: I’d like to attend a service if I can find one, and maybe you’ll come with me.”

We made a plan.

I stayed at the home of an old friend in Aspen, but Joan and I spent almost all of the next few days together — dinners (our first date at Nobu Matsuhisa’s restaurant), hikes and a High Holy Day service officiated by a real estate lawyer in a local church.

By Sunday, our fourth day together, we were sitting in a park, collaborating on the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. We both knew this had been no ordinary few days.

“Something’s here,” I said, meaning us, not the puzzle. “I’m willing to pursue it if you are.”

“I agree,” she said.

We pulled out the calendars in our Filofaxes.

I never looked hard for that story in Aspen, but over the next year I managed to find one every Friday in either Salt Lake City or Phoenix, knowing those cities in my coverage area had the quickest flights into L.A. It became our weekend routine — in on Friday, out on Monday. This was before 9/11, when airports were easy to negotiate. Upon landing, I sat on a bench outside the United terminal at LAX, Joan picked me up and the weekend began.

One Friday, I climbed into the car and she said, “We have a really fun thing to do tonight.” She had good friends in Beverly Hills who had invited us for dinner and the screening of a film. “Sounds great,” I said, and we headed over.

After parking the car, we approached the home, and I had deja vu. “Wait a minute,” I said. “I think I’ve been here. Does this house have a big pool in the back with rocks behind it and an adjacent tennis court?”

“Yes,” she said.

“I was here, in 1998.”

I told her the story, of Gore, of the fundraiser, of being kept at bay in the alley beyond the event.

“I was at that fundraiser,” Joan said.

Cue “The Twilight Zone” music.

A few months later, we became engaged, and in September 2001, three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, we were married at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, where Joan was a member. The late Rabbi Harvey Fields, who was very dear to both of us, officiated.

The party that followed was held at the same home in Beverly Hills where Gore spoke. In my little speech before the dancing started, I told the story of how Joan and I had not met at this very spot a year and a half before.

And I told our family and friends that on this, the happiest day of my life, I was grateful not to spend it in the alley.


MICHAEL JANOFSKY is assistant editor of the Journal and a lifelong journalist, who spent most of his career at The New York Times.