November 18, 2018

Israel’s Intermarriage Paradox

Lucy Aharish and Tzachi Halevi pose for a photo at their wedding party in Hadera, Israel, on Oct. 11. Photo by Meggie Vilensky/Reuters

Two Israelis get married. An everyday occurrence but in this case, both Israelis are celebrities; one a TV journalist and personality, the other, an actor. So the wedding is national news. Also, one, Lucy Aharish, is a Muslim — the other, Tzachi Halevi of TV’s “Fauda” fame, is Jewish. 

Intermarriage in Israel: The fewer you have them, the more noise you have. A Jew and a Muslim cannot legally marry each other in Israel. But Israelis long ago found ways to circumvent laws they dislike, especially laws that attempt to impose rabbinic dictates on them. A Jew and a Muslim rarely marry each other in Israel. 

After the celebrated wedding, a Member of Knesset from the Likud Party released an ugly comment, denigrating the couple. A pushback was quick and harsh. Aharish is a charming and beloved public figure. She is sharp-tongued, patriotic, pretty and honest. It is easy to understand how an Israeli-Jewish actor fell in love with her. Still, a debate ensued about the issue of intermarriage, revealing a wide array of views. And at the heart of this issue, a paradox.

Here is it: 

The sector that most opposes intermarriage — the religious right — is also the sector that most opposes separation from the Palestinians in the West Bank. In fact, the sector opposes intermarriage but also opposes creating the conditions that reduce the incidence of intermarriage. 

On the other end of the political spectrum, the people least concerned about intermarriage are those most inclined to separate from the Palestinians, hence reducing the interaction of Jews and non-Jews between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean.

Interesting, isn’t it? If you are concerned about intermarriage — or better understand that although marriage is a complicated, personal decision, but that for Jews, a high number of intermarriages is a problem — wouldn’t you strive to have a clear Jewish majority in a well-defined territory? The inconsistency of the religious-right position is noteworthy. And even more noteworthy is the reason for it.

In fact, there are two reasons. The first is that the religious right doesn’t understand the society in which they live. The second is that objection to “intermarriage” in Israel is more about nationality than it is about religion. 

“Objection to ‘intermarriage’ in Israel is more about nationality than it is about religion.

Beginning with the first undercurrent that creates the paradox, members of the religious right do not understand that for many centrist, leftist and mostly secular Israelis, intermarriage is hardly a demon. Consider this: Self-defined “totally secular” Jewish Israelis prefer that their relative will marry a non-Jew over him or her marrying a Charedi Jew. 

Consider this: A clear majority of Israelis support the idea of establishing civil marriage in Israel knowing full well (at least, most know) that this creates a legal path to intermarriage. In other words, one of the reasons why the religious right doesn’t see the contradiction between greater Israel and objection to intermarriage is its assumption that most Israelis will behave like a member of the religious right, that is, refrain from intermarriage even in a highly diverse society. This is a false assumption. Jewish Israelis, given the opportunity, will intermarry in high numbers.    

The second undercurrent makes the religious right’s assumption seem somewhat more rational. Consider this: According to a recent survey by Jewish People Policy Institute, Jews in Israel have a much higher objection to a “close relative” marrying an Arab than to a “close relative” marrying a non-Jew that is not Arab. The difference is stark — not merely a few percentage points. The percentage of Jewish Israelis who would be “shocked” if a relative married an Arab is double the percentage of Israeli Jews who would be “shocked” if their relative marries a non-Arab gentile. In other words, objection to intermarriage — common among most sectors of Jewish Israelis — is much more about national identity that it is about religious norms. 

With these numbers in mind, the religious right’s position seems less contradictory. It is not worried about intermarriage in a greater Israel — in which many Muslim Palestinians reside — because it knows that Jewish Israelis object to marriage with Arabs, not for religious reasons, but for national reasons. Alas, such objection depends on specific circumstances. It depends on circumstances of ongoing national conflict. In other words: for the religious-right position to have merit, the conflict with the Palestinians must never be resolved. 

Or else. 

Intermarriage in inevitable. Some leftist-secular Israelis might not care to have such an outcome, but religious-right Israelis do care. Hence, an unresolved paradox. 

The Rug Seller From Iran

Shuki Shlomi. Photo by Deborah Danon.

Even if you happen to live in a trailer, Shuki Shlomi will convince you that you need a Persian rug. Rugs of all shapes and sizes fill every inch of the 70-year-old’s 100-square-yard store, located in the heart of Jaffa’s flea market and sandwiched between similar Persian rug stores on either side. He pulls out his phone and proudly shows a photo of himself posing with Israeli celebrity Chana Laslow, to whom he has sold a number of rugs.

His go-to tactic is convincing would-be customers that he’s dropping the price just to make a “siftah” — Hebrew slang for first sale of the day — even if it’s almost closing time. But his smooth talk, laced with a thick Persian accent, isn’t without reason. The Afghani rug I was eyeing cost three times the price in the posh design store around the corner.

By the end of our meeting, I walk away with two new rugs and a possible shidduch — suitable match — between my brother and Shlomi’s daughter, who is, by his account, a beautiful angel with two degrees and a high-flying career in finance.

Shlomi comes from Isfahan, Iran’s third-largest city, which is famous for producing fine carpets and textiles. Aside from the odd squabble with the Muslim children in his neighborhood, his childhood memories are generally positive and life was good for the Jews of Isfahan under the shah.

At the age of 16, Shlomi, who described himself as a staunch Zionist back then, persuaded his parents to immigrate to Israel so he could avoid the Iranian draft. So together with his parents and four younger siblings, he settled in the Negev city of Dimona.

In 1967, he was drafted into the Israeli air force and was stationed near the Egyptian border during the Six-Day War. He recalls a lot of praying and listening to the tiny transistor radio he brought with him from Iran.

“I asked God for all the Egyptian planes to fall from the sky.” — Shuki Shlomi

“I asked God for all the Egyptian planes to fall from the sky,” he said. “And then, I promise you, I turned on my radio to hear that we had bombed all their planes right out of the sky.”

After the war, Israel was hit with a recession. Nevertheless, the ever-resourceful Shlomi managed to set aside enough of his meager salary as a handyman to buy a Fiat. He became a traveling merchant, selling linens and rugs and, within a short amount of time, bought a house in Beersheba.

Shlomi married and divorced, and in his mid-30s, was seeking another wife.

“I was handsome, I had a lot of offers,” he said.

But, he said, he was extreme, and insisted on a virgin bride. “That was my No. 1 requirement.”

He went to meet a girl at her parent’s house in Tel Aviv but she turned him down for being a divorcee. It was to be another six years before their paths crossed again.

“In those years, I travelled a lot,” he said, “but I was fed up with the world.”

One day, at the suggestion of a friend, he called the home of a potential wife. The woman’s mother answered the phone, and he realized from her accent that she was also from Isfahan. He arranged to meet the woman’s daughter by the clock tower in Jaffa.

As it turned out, she was the same girl who had rejected him years earlier.

“But now she was 30 and that was very bad for her,” he said. “In Persia, they marry daughters off at 17.”

But Yael had not sat waiting for her Persian prince to rescue her from perpetual spinsterhood. Working 12 hours a day as a button and buttonhole maker, Yael had saved enough money to buy a house. A month and a half later, Shlomi asked her parents for permission to marry her.

“In the end I got what I wanted,” he said. “She is the best woman in the world.”

[WATCH] A Very Special Love Story: Danielle and Shlomo

It’s been nearly four years since Danielle, 26, and Shlomo Meyers, 32, tied the knot. The couple, who have Down syndrome, met via a matchmaker in 2012. After two years of dating, Shlomo finally popped the question. Eight months later, they were married at the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills, surrounded by hundreds of friends and family members. It was a hot June day, but they both agreed it was the best day of their lives.

Today, Danielle and Shlomo are your typical Orthodox couple living in the Pico-Robertson area. She wears a head covering, and he wears a yarmulke.

Both have jobs in the Jewish community, Shlomo as a physical education assistant at Maimonides Academy and Danielle as a preschool aide at Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu Academy. Danielle volunteers regularly at ETTA (a nonprofit that provides a wide spectrum of services for Jewish adults with special needs) – “because I grew up with them” – where she gets to teach Zumba at ETTA’s summer camp.  For Shlomo, who moved to Los Angeles to be with Danielle (his family lives in Chicago), he’s still adapting to life in the city. “I have to live far, far away from my own family,” Shlomo said. “It is hard to move away from your family. It’s bittersweet.” Shlomo hopes to pursue a career in public speaking and become even more connected with the local Jewish community this year, and Danielle hopes to teach more Zumba classes at ETTA’s summer camp this year.

As they steer through life, they serve as support for one another. “My favorite thing in life is to see her smile,” Shlomo said about Danielle, who was sitting beside him, beaming.

 

Letters to the Editor: Trump, Marriage, Partisan Divide on Israel and Women’s March

Trump and the Cycle of Violence in Israel

In the Jan. 19 cover story, “The Trump Gap,” Shmuel Rosner asserts that a “Trump-friendly” Israel “becomes an outlier” in the view of Israel and the Europeans — as evidenced in the U.N. actions of late. Is Rosner not aware that Israel’s existence has been as an outlier in the U.N. and Europe since long before the Oslo Accord? Or the U.N. Security Council’s continuous focus on destroying Israel? All of this predates the latest U.S. election by far.

Worse, in “Jerusalem, What Comes Next?” (Jan. 19), Joel Braunold argues that asserting Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem has surrendered the United States’ ability to broker peace, and that building grass-roots peace movements is the answer. What deluded bubble must one occupy to think that building communities “of collective humanity” will magically create an atmosphere of peace while our purported peace partners teach their children to become martyrs for the “holy” cause of killing Jewish women and children, and Arab supporters of peace are executed as collaborators?

David Zuckerman, Phoenix


Alternative Secrets to a Happy Marriage

Rabbi Benjamin Blech’s story was great, but I have my own three secrets to a happy and long-lasting relationship/marriage (“Three Secrets to a Long and Happy Marriage,” Jan. 19).

They are: 1) Always hold hands when walking; 2) Sit next to each other in a restaurant, not across; 3) Never watch TV after a date or after an evening out.

Robert Geminder, Palos Verdes


Nature and God

I read with interest “Why I Don’t Worship Trees” by David Suissa (Jan. 26).

He says that there is a difference between loving nature and worshipping God. This is interesting to me because, according to Spinoza, God and Nature are one and the same.

So, it depends on which philosopher you are reading, as to what is “true and correct” — or rather, “an adequate idea” in the words of Spinoza. I love and worship Nature, which to me is synonymous with God.

Debora Gillman, Los Angeles

I have great respect for, though not agreement with, David Suissa’s argument that Jewish tradition calls for transcending Nature and aiming for a higher place. It was such an argument that propelled the Amsterdam Jewish community to excommunicate Spinoza, who saw divinity in all of Nature, thereby incurring the anathema of being a “polytheist.”

The relevancy in our world today is that such a separation must now become anathema in order to preserve the only place in the universe we have to live. We must see nature and divinity as indivisible or risk continuing on the path that in an accelerating manner threatens to leave us as the “masters of nothing.”

Sheldon H. Kardener via email


Republicans, Too, Must Widen Their Views

Ben Shapiro, in his column “Partisan Divide Over Israel” (Jan. 26), only exacerbates that divide by insisting that only the Democratic Party has to “re-evaluate its moral worldview in the Middle East.” In fact, there are many Democrats, myself included, who strive to enhance the long-term security and prosperity of Israel by desperately working (sometimes it’s more like “hoping”) to leave the door open for a workable two-state solution. Additionally, we struggle to encourage Israel’s democratic institutions and pluralism, to reverse the increasing rejection felt by liberal Jews. Conservatives talk a good game when it comes to supporting Israel, but in reality their strategies have done more harm than good — none more so than President George W. Bush’s removal of Saddam Hussein’s counterbalance to Iranian expansion followed by his encouragement of an independent entity and “free” elections in Gaza, which led to the ascendancy of Hamas and the ensuing conflicts. It’s time for the Republicans to take off their blinders and widen their views of what will and won’t work in the Middle East.

John F. Beckmann, Sherman Oaks


The Women’s March

Thanks to Karen Lehrman Bloch for her brave piece “Why I Didn’t March” (Jan. 26). I hope her writing will open the eyes of many women who do not recognize the manipulative, anti-Zionist agenda behind the progressive movement. We can fight for human rights without allowing ourselves to become robotic pawns in a crowd led by the likes of the hateful Linda Sarsour. Let’s march for acceptance of thought and speech and let’s celebrate individual choice.

Alice Greenfield via email

I think mostly everyone can agree that our country is extremely polarized on issues concerning Israel, immigration, education, taxes, trade policies, health care, the environment, women’s rights and abortion. Very often, it’s only one issue that is paramount to the individual and it is so powerful that they will overlook positions on all the other important issues facing us. That’s why the Women’s March is so important. To assert that women were following the leaders of this march and were told what to think is absurd and demeaning. I never heard of Linda Sarsour before reading Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column and learned that she is anti-Israel and an anti-Semite. I marched with the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in Los Angeles who are concerned about a multiplicity of issues and, like me, have no knowledge of Linda Sarsour’s political views.

Frima Telerant, Westwood


Parties Split Over Support of Israel

Danielle Berrin, who appears to be left-leaning, and Ben Shapiro, who is right-leaning, seem to agree on something: There is a lot of partisan division in politics in the United States and in Israel which affects support for Israel. According to recent Pew research data, 79 percent of Republicans say they sympathize with Israel and just 27 percent of Democrats say they identify with Israel. That should not be surprising given the fact that at the 2012 Democratic National Convention there was booing when the platform was amended to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Now the No. 2 person in the DNC, Keith Ellison, is an avowed Israel-hating Jew hater.

Marshall Lerner via email


Tablets Belong in Our Schools

It was sad to read the uninformed opinion of Abigail Shrier on getting iPads out of our schools (“Smash the Tablets: Get iPads Out of Our Schools,” Jan 19). Hardly any student goes to college without a laptop or iPad these days. Not too long ago, the Yale School of Medicine gave each of its students an Apple iPad 2 for use in the classroom and their clinical responsibilities.

Litigators create their deposition outlines on iPads, and during depositions they typically have a separate iPad that’s linked to the court reporter. The use of this technology simply makes sense unless Shrier also thinks that attorneys’ brains are being compromised because of these technology tools.

The correlations she cites are just that — correlations — unproven statistical comparisons that may turn out to be false. The explicit intention of using iPads in the schools was to reach a rainbow of learners, which it accomplished, with or without the agreement of Shrier.

Joel Greenman, Woodland Hills


CORRECTIONS

The founder of Netiya was misidentified in a Jan. 26 story (“A Tu B’Shevat Question”). Rabbi Noah Farkas founded Netiya, a Los Angeles-based food justice organization; Devorah Brous was hired as its founding executive director in 2011.

The former name of de Toledo High School was misreported in the Jan. 26 edition (“De Toledo Goes Green”). It formerly was called New Community Jewish High School.

Three Secrets to a Long and Happy Marriage

Can anyone today really be happily married for more than 50 years?

I don’t mean the way a Hollywood producer bragged about how easily he had done it — he needed six wives to reach that longevity.

Nor do I mean the way George Burns qualified it by claiming that the only people who could possibly enjoy 50 years of wedded bliss are those who are married for at least 100.

I mean, is it really possible in today’s world that needs a different and better model every year for cars, iPads and smartphones, that has brainwashed us to accept the concept of constantly discarding what we no longer like and replacing it with a more desirable substitute — is there the possibility of a long-lasting and happy commitment to just one other person?

The question becomes all the more relevant as we live longer lives and death doesn’t impose an early ending to the bond that we entered during our youth. After decades together, husbands and wives have a choice: They can try to keep alive the romance, passion and friendship that first brought them together or they can give up on the hope of finding fulfillment with their first love and get on the “marry-go-round” until they find the elusive golden ring of contentment.

Marriage is a challenge. We can’t just take for granted that we will somehow intuitively figure out how to make a relationship between two people survive in perfect harmony. After 54 years of marriage (and counting!), I want to share with you three major insights I’ve gleaned from Jewish wisdom and tradition.

1. Happiness and hardship

The first I heard from the lips of my mother, of blessed memory. She was 95 years old at the time. Having witnessed many other marriages falter and seen how strong her relationship was with my father, I wondered about her “secret.” My parents’ lives were filled with many difficult times. On several occasions, they had to flee their residences for fear of their lives — Poland to Germany to Hungary to Switzerland. Ultimately, they came to the United States, where for many years, they faced difficult financial struggles. “How is it,” I asked my mother, “that in spite of everything you faced, you never gave in to despair and there was clearly great love between you and Dad?”

My mother reflected for a few moments. Then she said quite simply, “To tell you the truth, I never knew that we were supposed to be so happy.”

What she intuitively realized was that marriage represented far more than a mandate to have a good time and be merry. The Hollywood version advertises happiness as the goal; the Jewish view sees happiness as the added dividend of a good life with a chosen partner, a life that includes the hardships of commitment, duty and responsibility.

Helen Keller expressed a profound truth when she wrote, “Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.”

The root of the Hebrew word for love, ohav, also means “I will give.” To truly love means to be concerned even more with the needs of the other than one’s self. “I love you” is to put emphasis not on what you must do to make me happy, but what I can have the opportunity to do for you — which then will make me rejoice.

Happiness is the added dividend of a good life with a chosen partner that includes the hardships of commitment, duty and responsibility.

Compare that to the kinds of contracts we are seeing people preparing today as they contemplate marriage. He’ll take out the garbage provided she’ll do the dishes. They’ll take turns making dinner. God forbid one person should do more than the other. That wouldn’t be fair. And then, of course, neither of them will ever be happy because they will always feel they’re not getting the best of the bargain.

Enter marriage with the idea that it will guarantee a perpetual smile on your face and you’re doomed to failure. Begin it with the knowledge that what marriage offers is to allow you the opportunity to share life’s challenges with the one you love, no matter how difficult and how much it will ask of you, and you will gain the gift of greatest happiness that comes from the act of giving.

So the first step to ensuring that you have a happy marriage is to remind yourself that you’re not meant to always be happy. The initial message given to a Jewish bride and groom at the completion of the ceremony is the breaking of a glass. Life must have its shattering moments. It cannot be filled with perpetual laughter. But selfless love enables us to overcome hardships together — and find the kind of joy we could never have experienced alone in a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.

2. The blessing of forgetfulness

The second secret, surprisingly enough, is to discover the blessing of forgetfulness.

“Every time we have a fight,” a man confided to his friend, “my wife becomes historical.”

“Don’t you mean hysterical?” the friend questioned.

“No, I mean historical — she remembers everything I ever did wrong in the past 20 years since we’re married.”

The rabbis of the Midrash asked why God created us with the seeming flaw of forgetfulness. Couldn’t He just as well have made our minds competent enough to recall the events of our lives? No, they respond, it was not a celestial error but rather the fulfillment of a divine purpose. People aren’t perfect. We all make mistakes; that is the price we pay for our humanity. And if we blow it, we have the opportunity to repent; if we hurt another person, we can apologize and then move forward.

Forgetting is the gift from God that enables us to move on from the mistakes of the past. “I’ll never forget” is the proper response only to an act of kindness from another. “I choose not to remember” is the wise reaction to a wrong committed by someone we love in a momentary lapse of good judgment or temporary anger.

“Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory,” wrote Albert Schweitzer — and he might just as well have said it as recipe for a successful marriage. Unfortunately, we’re limited in how much we can do to ensure our good health. But it surely can’t be that hard to remember to forget.

Concentrate on your partner’s failings and the list will keep getting longer and longer. Learn to use the eraser on top of the pencil for your mate’s mistakes and the lead on the bottom to keep track of his or her virtues and you will always recall why you married them in the first place.

3. Compromise

And one last piece of advice to complete my suggestions.

I’ll never forget the way one woman put it when she shared with me the greatest problem she had in her marriage. “I always wanted to marry Mr. Right. I thought I found him until I realized that my husband thinks his first name is Always.”

You know what you call someone who believes they’re always right? Divorced is the most appropriate answer. Nobody is always right. And nobody is always wrong. And if you think you’re always right — you’re wrong.

Two people living together are bound to have disagreements. If they take their argument to a vote between themselves, it will always end in a tie. The solution is obvious. Right or wrong, a married couple has to learn how to compromise.

There is an amazing law about the religious symbol at the door every Jewish home. At the entrance way, we place a mezuzah to affirm the presence of God. The legal commentators have a famous dispute about the way this mezuzah should be positioned. Some say it should be vertical, others claim it needs to be horizontal.

What do we do? This is the only case in all of Jewish law in which we don’t come to a decision favoring one over the other. Instead, the final law is to place the mezuzah on a slant — neither like one opinion or the other, but rather a compromise. There’s no source for the view of a mezuzah on a slant. But it fulfills a higher truth. The truth on which a Jewish home must be built if marriages are to survive and prosper. Compromise is the key. When husband and wife can learn, even when each one of them is sure they are right, to bend a little bit and choose concession over unconditional victory, they’ll be rewarded with a prize even more valuable — a home graced with shalom, the greatest blessing of all.

It’s not easy to follow these three suggestions. Happy marriages don’t just happen. I agree with Mae West that “the most difficult years of marriage are those following the wedding.” But having celebrated our golden wedding anniversary, I think I’ve earned the right to recommend the three truths that helped get me to this point — and to reassure you that they can help you reach that milestone as well.

This piece was originally published on Aish.com.


Rabbi Benjamin Blech is an author, lecturer and professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University.

Celeb Marriages Twice as Likely to Fail: Couples Calling It Quits in 2017

To the young and foolish, celebrity romances are the stuff that fairytales are made of. This may be true in some small part, but as we all know, not all fairytales have fairytale endings. According to a recent article in the Daily Mail, a leading UK publication, celebrity marriages are almost twice as likely to end in divorce as those of the everyday couple. Unfortunately for some celeb couples, 2017 will be remembered as the year that saw an end to their marriages.

Hollywood Divorce Lawyers Kept Busy

 

Fairytale romances keep the tabloids in business, plain and simple. However, bad news travels faster than good and as a result, Hollywood splits sell more papers. It’s really that simple. In fact, it could just be that the very stardom that brought those romances to the attention of adoring fans could be the very same limelight that was the beginning of the end. Few relationships can stand up to this kind of public scrutiny. Divorces can get messy, especially those making headlines, but the right divorce lawyer can help keep things smooth during the transition.

Famous Celeb Couples Calling It Quits in 2017

 

While the list could go on and on, here are a few of the most publicized marriages that hit the rocks in 2017, causing a major split. Some are still making headlines!

Harvey Weinstein & Georgina Chapman

 

This split is making the headlines daily due to the underlying cause of the split. Harvey Weinstein is being accused of sexual misconduct by several women, and while it appeared that Georgina would stand by her man, she later filed for divorce. Weinstein hasn’t admitted to indiscretions but is in counseling and hopes to ‘get better’ to be reunified with his family. Is that an admission of guilt? Perhaps, but the jury is still out on that one!

Fergie & Josh Duhamel

 

In September of 2017, Fergie and Josh revealed to the world that it was finally time to call it quits. After eight years as a married couple, Josh and Fergie admitted that they had actually made the split earlier in the year. They cited wanting to keep a low profile for the welfare of the kids as a reason why they hadn’t announced the breakup earlier. Divorce lawyer Hossein Berenji says that much of the time a divorce is harder on the kids than on the parents and so decisions like this are wise. He would have advised the couple to do this very thing had he been representing them.

Ewan McGregor and Eva Mavrakis

 

Here is one couple that many thoughts had made it over the hurdle. After more than two decades of marriage, Ewan and Eva are calling it quits. This news was released in October, but the split actually happened in late spring. Were the tabloids somehow to blame? It could be since the split only happened after it had been reported that McGregor had been seen kissing Mary Elizabeth Winstead, his current co-star of Kavanagh QC.

Perhaps celebrity marriages are, at some point, the stuff fairytales are made of, but if history has anything to say about it, at least 51 percent of them will fail. With the national average being only (only?) 26 percent ending in divorce, it’s safe to say that you should read all about celebrity marriages while you can. Here today – gone tomorrow. And so the story goes…

Einstein and the Rabbi is a Must Read

I am a woman of faith and one of my favorite things about the religion I practice, is that my opinion is always okay. I am allowed to be Jewish at whatever level of observance I want. I do not feel judged by God or my faith, and can embrace Judaism in a way that makes me comfortable. I am Jewish, and that is enough. I don’t think about being more Jewish, or less Jewish, I am simply happy to be Jewish. It is good to be a Jew and I have found my true Jewish self, the part of me I love most, through the teachings of Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva Temple in Los Angeles.

When I went through a traumatic time a few years ago, I reached out to Rabbi Levy for help. I didn’t know her well, and had only been going to her temple for a short time, but I was seeking help and turned to her with a desperate need to manage fear so I could sleep. Rabbi Levy taught me how to breathe and I found my soul through her teachings. I pray with her, meditate with her, am quiet with her, am happy with her, am sad with her, and most importantly I am never frightened with her. She is my safe place, teacher, and hero.

Rabbi Levy’s latest book, Einstein and the Rabbi, is a must read for anyone who is searching. Regardless of what you are searching for, you will find a path of understanding through this book. It is about finding your soul, which I don’t think we are even aware we are out of touch with. You don’t need to be Jewish to understand or appreciate this book. What you need is to be is open and searching for clarity. Listen to your heart, trust your gut, be quiet, speak up, know everything is going to be okay, and see that life is grand.

I have purchased 6 copies and given it to friends and family. I will also give it out for Hanukkah because it is a profound gift to anyone who reads it. You will learn something through reading everything Rabbi Levy is bravely sharing. You will laugh, cry, think, and feel her words. Read this book. I have read it twice and am excited to share it with you. It is a book I will turn to for the rest of my life to lift me up and light my way. I learn something new each and every time I pick it up. I love this Rabbi and cannot wait to hear from you when you read it. Let me know what touched you.

We all have things going on in our lives, and everyone has their own relationships with faith and God, but I cannot imagine there is anyone, of any faith, that will not benefit from the wisdom and stories Rabbi Levy has shared in this book. Be kind to yourself and read this book. It will change your life. I am certain of it. Thank you to the inspiring and remarkable Rabbi Naomi Levy for teaching me to see my soul and giving me the strength and desire to always keep the faith.

Even a bomb threat couldn’t stop this Jewish couple from getting married

An illustrative photo of a Jewish couple getting married. Photo from Justin Oberman/Creative Commons

Gaby and Dan Rosehill wouldn’t let anything get in the way of their wedding day. Even if that thing was a bomb threat that forced all 218 guests to evacuate the hotel where the wedding was taking place

“I was just about to be named husband and wife when the alarm went off. We had to evacuate,” Gaby Rosehill told The Jewish Chronicle about the incident on Sunday in Brighton, England.

“I had to ask the rabbi ‘Is this divine intervention? Does God not want me to get married?’” she recounted. “But he told me it was ‘just a test’ and we would get through it.”

As the bridal party gathered in a nearby hotel, the couple’s wedding planners managed to put together an on-spot wedding, chuppah and all. That turned out to be a good decision, since it took five hours for the police to clear the original venue.

The couple got married in the new location, though the bomb threat changed the order of events a bit, including police questioning the couple about anyone who may have been angry at them — in the yichud room where couples retreat for a little privacy. But the pair managed to keep up their spirits.

“Dan managed to laugh off the situation the whole way through,” Rosehill told The Chronicle.

After police deemed the incident a hoax, the couple and guests were able to return to the original venue — just in time for dessert.

“It just goes to show all you really need is love,” Rosehill said of her special day.

Dating 101: Soulmates

According to Wikipedia: a soulmate is somebody with whom one has a feeling of deep and natural affinity, love, intimacy, sexuality, spirituality, and  compatibility. A related concept is that of the twin flame or twin soul – which is thought to be the ultimate soulmate, the one and only other half of one’s soul, for which all souls are driven to find. Another theory of soulmates, presented by Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium, is that humans originally consisted of four arms, four legs, and a single head made of two faces, but Zeus feared their power and split them all in half, condemning them to spend their lives searching for the other half to complete them.

Some people believe souls are literally made and/or fated to be the mates of each other, or to play certain other important roles in each other’s lives and according to theories popularized by Theosophy and in a modified form by Edgar Cayce, God created androgynous souls, equally male and female. Later theories postulate souls split into separate genders, perhaps because they incurred karma while playing around on the Earth, or “separation from God”. Over countless reincarnations, each half seeks the other. When all karmic debt is purged, the two will fuse back together and return to the ultimate. If that is true, then we each get only one.

There is just one person out there who is destined to be our soulmate. When you think about how many people there are in the world, how are we ever expected to find that one person out of billions? Are there different levels of soulmate? My son’s father is not the person I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with, but we have a remarkable son who completes my life, so could it be my son is my soulmate and that is the great love of my life? Can you go through life constantly searching for a person you will never find? Could it be they got tired of searching for you and are with someone else who is perhaps good enough? What if you panic and don’t realize you actually found the right one?

Is finding an almost perfect match a more realistic look at love? If you do find an almost match, do you shut off all parts of you that look? Do you keep one eye open just in case? I always believed in the theory of a soulmate, but to be honest I never took the time to look up what the true meaning of it was. Now that I have, I’m thinking it may be near impossible to find. I will keep looking of course, but I must say it is a little discouraging. Searching for love is draining, and waiting for it to find you, is exhausting. When you add in the desire for a soulmate, where do you draw the line between a perfect match and a good enough one? What is

At the end of the day I put faith in God there will be guidance on the path to my Beshert. I pray that not only will I have the strength to keep looking for him, but that he won’t stop looking for me. Just as important, when I do find him, I pray I am not too scared to actually see him. May I please be brave enough to not sabotage things because I am spooked, and not spook him so badly he becomes uncertain. Through good dates and bad, a broken heart and a heart that sings, I remain hopeful that each day brings me closer to what I want and deserve. My fingers are crossed, my heart is hopeful, and I am keeping the faith.

New book reveals a lifetime of love letters between Kirk Douglas and wife

Taking a break in 1966 on the set of “Cast a Giant Shadow” in Israel are (from left) Kirk Douglas, son Eric, 8, sitting on the lap of mother Anne Douglas, and actor Yul Brynner. Photo courtesy of the Douglas Collection

“If I live to be one hundred, there will still be so many things unsaid,” Kirk Douglas wrote his wife, Anne, in 1958, four years after their marriage in Las Vegas.

Decades later, after marking his 100th birthday on Dec. 9, 2016, the movie star wrote, “As I have now reached that milestone, I can attest that it is still true.”

Both declarations are included in the couple’s newly published book, written with Marcia Newberger, “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood.”

The book, Kirk’s 12th and Anne’s first, chronicles the ardent, if sometimes stormy, relationship between two strong personalities — he the son of a hard-drinking Jewish immigrant ragman and junk collector, she the daughter of a prosperous German family.

During his 60-year film career, when Kirk was frequently away for long periods on location shoots, he and Anne wrote to each other consistently. They started writing on paper stationery, even after the era of email set in. And Anne kept every letter, preserving a stack in the couple’s temperature-controlled wine cellar in Beverly Hills.

From the letters collected for the new book, the reader learns not only about the couple’s love life — including Kirk’s infidelities with various movie queens — but also about the affairs of fellow Hollywood stars, sparing few graphic details.

But that’s only part of the book. The couple befriended U.S. presidents and their wives, from John and Jackie Kennedy and Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson through to Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Barack and Michelle Obama.

The Douglases also played and worked with Los Angeles’ rich and famous and cast a frequently jaundiced eye on the predominantly Jewish — and often imperious — magnates who dominated Hollywood, before the studios transformed into bland corporations.

In the book, Kirk writes, “Sometimes it was easy in Hollywood to forget that anti-Semitism, polite or overt, was still mainstream. Jews ran the major studios. With Anglicized names and beautiful blonde shiksas replacing their starter wives, they lived like the wealthy WASPS of their movies: entertaining lavishly at their grand estates; presiding over screenings in projection rooms hung with museum-quality art; voting Republican.”

The pair also take particular pride in their Douglas Foundation, which has contributed some $120 million for charitable projects, among them numerous playgrounds for poorer communities in the United States and Israel.

Anne addressed her love letters to “Isidore” or “Izzy,” and Kirk wrote back to “Stolz.” Thereby, like almost every other entry in the book, hangs a story.

Back in Russia, Kirk’s father’s name was Herschel Danielovitch, but after settling in New York, he “Americanized” his name, sort of, to Harry Demsky. When his son (born Issur Danielovitch) entered St. Lawrence University in northern New York State — on a wrestling scholarship — he enrolled as Isidore Demsky. He was usually called Izzy, a salutation adopted later by his wife.

Anne’s family left Germany shortly after the Nazis came to power, and she was living in Brussels when the German army invaded Belgium. With the help of a friend, Albert Buydens, she escaped by car to France. The two wed, in a marriage of convenience, to enable Anne to gain Belgian citizenship.

As a multilinguist, she quickly found work in the French movie industry in public relations and as a writer of movie subtitles. When Kirk, who had divorced his first wife, actress Diane Dill, came to Paris in 1953 to star in “Act of Love,” he met the pretty and brainy Anne Buydens, now also divorced.

Kirk already had established an impressive reputation for his outsized ego and appetite for bedding an endless parade of women, and at the moment was engaged to marry Italian-American actress Pier Angeli. Nevertheless, he made a play for Anne and immediately asked her out for dinner. He was stunned when she declined this and subsequent invitations. That’s when Kirk started to label her “Stolz,” a German word usually translated as “proud,” but, Anne said, also meaning “stubborn.”

Kirk, now 100, and Anne, 98, recently opened their spacious, but not ostentatious, Beverly Hills home for an interview with the Journal.

To compress a lively courtship, the couple married in 1954 in Las Vegas, and when the justice of the peace asked her if she would take Kirk as her lawful husband, she replied, in yet-imperfect English, “I take thee, Kirk, as my AWFUL husband.” After the laughter died down, the flustered Anne explained that she thought the word meant “full of awe.”

Despite this rocky start, after 49 years of marriage, Anne decided in 2003 to convert to Judaism under the tutorship of Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood. She described her mikveh experience to the Journal.

“After removing all nail polish, I entered the swimming pool and put my head under the water,” she recalled. “I came out looking like a wet dog. But I was Jewish.”

She announced her new status at a full-scale religious celebration marking the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary. “Kirk has been married to two shiksas,” she said. “It is time he got a nice Jewish girl.”

One immediate impact was that Kirk, who had lighted the Friday evening candles at their home throughout the marriage, now transferred the honor to his wife.

Kirk has developed his own definition of Judaism. “I grew up praying in the morning and laying tefillin, but I gave up much of the formal aspect of religion,” he said. “I believe in God and I’m happy to be a Jew. But I think too much religion has not helped civilization. Caring for other people is my religion.”

The sons and grandchildren from Kirk’s two marriages follow the elective-choice pattern of many interfaith families. Of Kirk’s children, Oscar-winner Michael Douglas, born of his first marriage, identifies most strongly as Jewish, and two years ago used a $1 million prize to launch an outreach program to connect children of mixed marriages with their Jewish heritage. None of Kirk’s four sons had a bar mitzvah, but four of his seven grandchildren insisted on celebrating their b’nai mitzvah.

Kirk, who changed his name to Douglas before entering the Navy during World War II, learned about anti-Semitism early on. His father could not get a job at the local mills in New York because they didn’t hire Jews, and young Issur was turned down for a newspaper delivery route for the same reason. When Kirk was elected class president at St. Lawrence College, a major donor threatened to withhold donations unless the election result was nullified. 

Even as a bona fide movie star, Kirk and the likes of Walter Matthau, Peter Lorre and Billy Wilder couldn’t escape prejudice in the 1950s and ’60s.

In the mid-1950s, Douglas formed his own independent production company, naming it Bryna, in honor of his mother, who also gave birth to six daughters. Among the first productions of the company — of which Anne became president — were “Paths of Glory,” followed by “Spartacus,” arguably Kirk’s most famous movie.

Kirk took his mother to one of his film premieres, with the words “Bryna Productions Present” high up on the marquee. When his mother saw this, she turned to her son and whispered in Yiddish, “Isn’t America a wonderful country?”

As time goes by, centenarians savor life together

Morrie and Betty Markoff, 103 and 100, respectively, in their downtown Los Angeles condo. Photo by Olga Grigoryants

When Morrie and Betty Markoff talk about their marriage, they hold hands, laugh and finish each other’s sentences. They behave as affectionately as newlyweds.

Which clearly they are not. Morrie is 103; Betty is 100. They have been married for 78 years.

Many factors contributed to their long marriage, they said, but one of them played the biggest role.

“We’re just lucky,” Morrie said.

They met in 1938 at a mutual friend’s wedding party in the Bronx, N.Y. Morrie was seated between Betty and Rose, a pretty girl with long nails.

“Next to her, I thought I had no hope,” Betty said. “The competition was rough.”

Morrie, who at the time worked as a machinist in Philadelphia, was “adorable, tall, with dark,  curly hair.” 

After the party, he drove Betty home to College Point in Queens. Along the way, his car broke down, and he repaired it effortlessly, leaving a deep impression on his date.

“He fixed it quickly, with no complaints,” she said.

Her girlfriends didn’t believe the machinist was “marriage material” and a good match for Betty.

“They were wrong,” Morrie said, laughing.

Their courtship didn’t last long. Morrie moved to Los Angeles, where he had been offered a better-paying job. When he arrived in L.A., he purchased bus fare from New York to Los Angeles for $35 and asked Betty if she wanted to join him.

“I guess that was his marriage proposal,” she said.

About 10 months after their first date, Morrie went “shopping for a rabbi” in Los Angeles and found someone who charged only $25 to perform a wedding ceremony. At Woolworth’s, the couple purchased wedding bands made of fake gold for 10 cents.

When the rabbi wished for their marriage to be as pure as the gold in their rings, they glanced at each other and smiled. The next day, they headed to Tijuana for a two-day honeymoon.

Despite his training as a machinist, Morrie found a job selling vacuum cleaners. He later opened his own air conditioner and appliance company; Betty was a stay-at-home mom, raising their two children.

Throughout their long life together, the Markoffs said they never felt bored, always finding a new book to read or a new place to visit.

The couple’s passion for traveling took them to many places, including Europe and Latin America, with each trip well-documented, by Betty in her journals and by Morrie with his camera.

In the early 1950s, they traveled to Moscow and Leningrad (now called by its original name, St. Petersburg). As a member of the Communist Party USA, Morrie was curious to visit the Soviet Union. But after spending a month in Russia, he grew disillusioned with Soviet-style socialism.

“Someone told me that even a rabbi in our synagogue was a KGB agent,” he said.

Betty grew up in a middle-class family in Queens, where she moved with her family from Toronto when she was 10. Morrie grew up in East Harlem, where he became a shoeshine boy at the age of 8 to help his family.

Later, he discovered a passion for sculpting scrap metal. Many of his creations were inspired by people and places he had encountered decades earlier.

One of them was a sculpture of a shoeshine boy who polished the shoes of a man who had given him two nickels —  one for service, the other as tip. Another sculpture depicted chess players in Griffith Park, a scene he encountered many times during hiking trips.   

Those artworks were on display a few years ago, among Morrie’s paintings and photographs, at the Red Pipe Gallery in Chinatown at an exhibition commemorating his 100th birthday.

Today, the couple live in a one-bedroom condo with a panoramic view of the downtown Los Angeles skyline, as well as The Broad museum and Walt Disney Concert Hall. Besides photos of the couple’s two children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, Morrie’s metal sculptures and photographs decorate the shelves, and Betty’s travel journals line up along the wall in their bedroom.

For their longevity, Betty credits good nutrition. Since her youth, she has cooked balanced meals that included protein, vegetables and salads. But Morrie believes there is more to it.

“Many people had a good diet and passed away,” he said. “We are just lucky.”

After nearly eight decades together, the Markoffs said their marriage wasn’t always a smooth ride.

“Don’t get deceived; we had our battles,” Betty said.

Relationships require work, she said, and the two always have strived to maintain patience and appreciation for each other.

“We always respected each other, no matter what,” Morrie said.

It’s important to agree to disagree, he said, and move on when facing a major quarrel.

Still, despite his deep feelings for Betty and a long life together, he prefers to avoid the word “love” because it’s possessive and not lasting.

“I prefer to use the term ‘caring,’ ” he said, “I would care about her even if we were divorced.”

Meant2Be: After a lifetime together, a reluctant farewell

Lynne Goldklang with her husband, Don, at their 1963 wedding (left) and in 1996. Photos courtesy of Lynne Goldklang

My husband lived with me for decades in our little house in the Hollywood Hills. It was supposed to be our “starter” home, but it was so cozy and full of life that we never left, as our two children were born, thrived and moved on to adulthood, and made us thrilled grandparents five times over.

At that point, it was just the two of us in that house — same as it was when we were a young couple filled with dreams for our budding life together.

Everything was fine until a few years ago, when cancer and Alzheimer’s came calling. We kept going together until the day Don fell and suffered a serious injury that required hospitalization and, eventually, the need for a place that wasn’t the home he knew and loved.

He hated that we no longer lived together.

Time passed and adjustments were made as the two of us spent hours together every day and said goodbye every evening. I missed the man I used to know, but fell deeply in love with this new, vulnerable guy who never gave up in his efforts to return to normal everyday living.

The staff at his excellent facility looked to us as an example of a loving couple with more than 50 years of a good marriage under their belt. They witnessed the devotion we felt for each other and our pain when parting each day. These caregivers were young and saw in us what they wanted in their relationships.

I tried to tell them that, in 53 years of any marriage, there are many peaks and valleys — that I could be the partner from hell when my frustrations were running the show. They didn’t believe me and fussed over the photos in his room showing a happy young couple with their smiling family. They saw our children and grandchildren visit and show so much affection to Don and me. The kids often would leave handwritten notes, drawings and even stuffed bears. 

I have been living alone in our house for more than a year now. There are so many little things I took for granted before illness took Don away from me. I didn’t realize how those little everyday things were the fabric that held us together so securely. 

He was everything around that house, including the gardener who made beautiful roses bloom for more than 50 years. Those roses faded as his days were running out. 

He was my handyman, ready to fix anything that broke with his golden hands and keen mind. He was my exterminator — if a bug appeared in the house, all it took was one scream from me and he came running.

He took care of the difficult financial matters, leaving me feeling free from worry. He was an entertainer, making our grandchildren giggle with his crazy humor.

He was the family sage, as our grown children turned to him for strength and wisdom. And he made sure I got my quota of hugs every day and told me he loved me each night.

Most of all, when I came home, he was always there. I didn’t have to experience the loneliness of an empty house. He was always waiting for me.

I wish I had fully appreciated all those little big things every moment we had together.

A few weeks ago, when my husband was put in hospice, I went to the mortuary without him to purchase our “home” for eternity — something we always planned to do together. It is about a mile away from our little house where we lived for so many years.

It gives me comfort to know that Don — dearest grandfather, father and husband — has come back home to his beloved Hollywood Hills. He died on March 27.

I don’t know what happens next, but I would like to think of him at peace, waiting for me.

Do you have a story about dating, marriage, singlehood or any important relationship in your life? Email us at meant2be@jewishjournal.com.


LYNNE GOLDKLANG is a psychotherapist, author, mother, grandmother and recent widow.

Meant2Be: A joyful Jewish love story

Gerard and Teri Sulc. Photo courtesy of Teri Sulc

I’m so in love with my husband. What a magical, mystical journey it was to find each other. We each wandered through our metaphorical desert for more than 40 years, finally meeting a decade ago. Now, we’re about to celebrate our third wedding anniversary.

My husband, Gerard, is from Jewish, French immigrant, Holocaust survivor parents. His father and mother, Joseph and Lydia, arrived in the United States after World War II. Gerard was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the ’60s in the Fairfax District among the Orthodox rabbis at Poinsettia Park, where he worked out as a gymnast.

Gerard remembers how the rabbis would lift him to reach the high bar. One day, a rabbi showed up at Gerard’s house with a radio, which the rabbi had promised him if he mastered a trick. “This is for Gerard,” he said. It became a big part of his Jewish education, learning that the rabbis cared about him.

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in an American-Jewish family. My parents, Richard and Lee, were born here. My Russian-Polish grandparents came to the U.S. before the Holocaust. My mother emphasized Jewish philosophy more than ritual, although lighting Shabbat candles and singing the blessing remains a favorite childhood memory.

Like Gerard’s, my formal Jewish education was spotty. We weren’t regular temple-goers, but Judaism was a defining part of my parents’ values. I have a vivid memory of my mother teaching me all the Yiddish words to “Tumbalalaika.” My father, a professional musician, gave me piano lessons.

As I grew, I yearned for the perfect someone to share my love of Judaism and a full life of Jewish celebration. After years alone, in walked Gerard. The magnetism between us was overwhelming.

We met, at John Pisano’s Guitar Night in Sherman Oaks, brought together by a friend, Larry Stensvold, and music. He heard the vibration between Gerard and me, but it was the Jewish connection that was deeper than the musical one. Meeting Gerard was like coming home to my ancient soul mate.

Early in our relationship, Gerard began asking me questions about Judaism. As an adult, I studied and learned more about Torah, Jewish practices and synagogue music. One day, Gerard asked me, “I remember there was one holiday when my Grandpa Jacques took me to shul and the Jews were dancing around with an apple on a stick. What holiday is that?”

It must have been Simchat Torah.

Gerard learned about God from his Grandpa Jacques, who told him the story of his “God of Abraham.” The Nazis were going door to door in the building where the family lived in Paris, looking for Jews. Grandpa stood in front of his family’s front door, spread his arms wide and prayed: “God of my father, God of Abraham, they won’t come in.” The Gestapo skipped their door.

With all that Gerard’s family endured in escaping the Nazis — Gerard’s mother hid in a Catholic camp; Gerard’s father, in a forest —  in the U.S. they weren’t eager to focus on their Jewishness. They were struggling to raise a family in a foreign land and learn English. There were Passover seders and Chanukah candles but not a formal education or regular shul attendance.

Despite our music connection — Gerard and I both play guitar, and we teach music and play and sing together on the first Saturday of each month at sing-along night at Henri’s in Canoga Park — Gerard wanted to connect more with his Judaism. My way of relating to the traditions fit for him. I continue to teach him about home rituals. We don’t do all the prayers, but we tie a little bow around each week together with Friday night Shabbat candles, “A Woman of Valor” and the Kiddush.

When we were visiting his mother’s grave early last year, I read “A Woman of Valor.” Then, I told him that traditional Jewish husbands recite it for their wives every Friday night. “Why don’t you let me read it to you?” he asked, and he’s read it to me every week since then.

He makes me feel so loved. My girlfriends are jealous. I’ve given their husbands copies of this poem from Proverbs and suggested they honor their wives with it.

Traditions keep our Jewish marriage strong. We passed the ultimate test last year when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Gerard embraced me through treatment. He helped me become stronger and healthier than ever.

I am blessed with the most devoted, caring, loving husband. Our sharing of prayers and stories in the Torah every week connects us closer each day. My heart is bursting with the peace and joy of a Jewish woman, completely fulfilled and in love.

Episode 27 – Unholy Matrimony in the Holy Land with Jessica Fishman

The right of return for the Jewish people states that anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent may become a citizen of the State of Israel. The reasoning: this was the criteria by which the Jews were persecuted under the Third Reich.

On the other hand, if you want to have an ordained marriage in the State of Israel, the par is set a little higher: your mother must be Jewish.

This dissonance leads to an inevitable rift in Israeli society: people who live here as lawful citizens, but are unable to legally marry their partner.

Jessica Fishman, author of the new book “Chutzpah and High Heels”, joins Two Nice Jewish Boys to share her story of Aliyah and talk about her devastation at the hands of this little known discrepancy in Israeli law.

Listen here:

Jessica’s book tour dates.

My unwanted adventure

Based on our ages, her long-lived parents and the fact that women tend to live longer than men, my wife should have outlived me by 20 years. Sadly, fate had different plans, and I found myself, suddenly and unexpectedly, a widower. Looking back to the days and weeks following Liz’s passing, I don’t know how I survived my shock and overwhelming depression.

With the passage of time, the shock dissipated and, with the help of many friends, especially compassionate female friends, the depression became more manageable. It was time to embark on something I thought I would never again experience — a re-entry into the dating scene, which I christened “My Unwanted Adventure.”

Finding intellectual, emotional and physical compatibility in a new mate after so many years appeared to be an incredibly daunting task. Even though I’ve worked for what seems like forever to stay in good shape, what would it be like to take off my clothes for the first time with another 60- to 70-year-old? Yikes!

Although I prefer the old-fashioned ways to meet other singles, most of my dates during My Unwanted Adventure have been via the internet, which begs for answers to the following: How do I construct an appealing profile? How do I send out appealing messages to desirable women? For the former, I asked some women friends with lots of common sense to vet my profile. For the latter, I tried to devise catchy openings to my messages. I’m not above employing puns: “When I first read your profile, it was love at first site.” 

The internet social scene is full of surprises. The women I’ve encountered included one who asked me for thousands of dollars on our third meeting; another who told me how her daughter and son-in-law, acting as sleuths, discovered that two men she dated had criminal records they hadn’t divulged; and another who, at the age of 61, was contacted and dated by men in their 30s.

Adding to the continuing adventure, many untruths find their way into online profiles. Lying about one’s age is probably the most common. But I have encountered other quite frequent but unanticipated untruths. One example is a woman’s marital status. The possibilities include widowed, divorced or never married. Surprisingly, some senior-age women who fall into that last category write “divorced” instead, because they fear — probably correctly — that being “never married” in one’s 60s will scare off many men.   

As a longtime college professor, it is in my DNA to try to help people become smarter, or at least better educated. I have thoughts I hope will be helpful to women seeking dates online.

Arguably the single most important items in a woman’s profile are her pictures — we men are visual beings. Simply transferring 20-25 pictures from Facebook to a dating site is not the way to go. I can guarantee that men are not interested in seeing your dogs, cats, children, other relatives and friends, or your flower arrangements. All that we are interested in is you, preferably both a facial close-up and a full body shot. If you fail to provide the latter, then many men will wonder what you are trying to hide. Also, it is well worth your time, and perhaps money, to have professional-looking photos. Casual, sloppy “selfies” do no good and may well do harm. When I see such photos, I wonder if the person taking them is really serious about finding a partner or is just playing (narcissistic) games.

Many profiles begin with a list of meaningless adjectives (e.g., “My friends tell me I’m attractive, kind, trustworthy, happy …”). It makes no difference what your friends may think of you; all that matters is what your prospective date thinks. Rather than mere adjectives, better that the words in your profile focus on a variety of activities you like to engage in, along with some qualities you are looking for in a mate. Should a physical (sexual) component of a relationship be important to you, words along the lines of “I am affectionate and enjoy physical as well as emotional intimacy, and am looking for a like-minded partner” should get your point across.

Reputedly, there are many more widows than widowers in the U.S., with a similar gender imbalance among divorcees. However, women are typically more skilled at building a support and friendship network then are men, who seem to have more need for traditional, exclusive partnering (count me as one). Although some women bemoan the number imbalance, I think the fact that many more senior women than men prefer to remain single goes a long way toward balancing the playing field. This field is one big game and I do not know where My Unwanted Adventure will take me.

Ben Zuckerman is a UCLA astronomer.

Do women need men?

If you ask a healthy man, “Does a man need a woman to lead a fulfilling life?” he most likely will answer in the affirmative. Most men know how much they grow in terms of maturity and happiness, as well as ethically, psychologically and even professionally after they marry.

But since the beginning of the feminist movement, it has become less and less common for well-educated women to acknowledge that a woman needs a man. The famous feminist slogan “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” encapsulated the dominant feminist view.

Women used to need men for their incomes, the feminist argument goes, but with women now capable of earning a living on their own, men are just not that necessary. 

Not even as fathers. A few years ago, The Atlantic published an article by Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, titled “Are Fathers Necessary?” She summarized academic studies that purport to show that lesbians do a better job at raising children than a woman married to a man, and that single mothers are superior parents to single fathers: “Two women parent better on average than a woman and a man. … The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there’s nothing objectively essential about his contribution.”

Two generations of women have been told over and over at college — as well as by their feminist mothers (and, increasingly, their feminist fathers) — that a successful career should be their goal. Marriage to a man is secondary. If a woman really wants children one day, it is very easy to have them without having a man in her life, let alone being married to one.

I regularly ask young women (usually 18 to 25 years of age): “If you could be guaranteed a great career or a great marriage, which guarantee would you take?” I explain that neither guarantee means that the other choice cannot be attained, but only one of them is guaranteed. The responses are evenly divided. What is particularly instructive is that the more educated the woman — that is, the more time she has spent (being indoctrinated) at a university, the more likely she is to choose the guarantee of a great career.

For two generations of educated women, it has been deemed a sign of weakness to admit to preferring marriage over career. (Just imagine a young woman at college announcing in a women’s studies class that her greatest hope is to marry a man and make a family.) More than anything else, feminism has taught young women that their goal should be “independence”; dependence on anyone, especially a man, is weakness.

As one female psychotherapist put it in Time magazine: “The message is clear: It’s O.K. to feel a void if you don’t have a job you love, but it’s not O.K. to feel a void if you don’t have a man you love — because healthy, successful women shouldn’t need men.”

While some women are happy never to have married, this feminist thinking has produced a lot of unhappy women. Many never-married women acknowledge in midlife that they were sold a bill of goods: returning to their apartment with no man in it isn’t quite as satisfying as they were told it would be. And more than a few other women without men are simply angry. You can see their anger in the disproportionate number of women leading and participating in protests for every imaginable cause. It would seem that they have channeled their unhappiness into anger at society. It is probably not a coincidence that Black Lives Matter, as angry a group as exists in America today, was founded by three single women.

The happiest women are women in happy marriages. Just ask happily married women to compare their happiness now with their happiness when they were happy and single. More importantly for society, they also are the most mature women, just as married men are widely, if not universally, regarded as likely to be more mature than single men. So, too, men who have never married also are likely to be particularly angry. 

Let me offer an example. In 2016, Prager University had more than 200 million views on YouTube and Facebook. Every week, it releases a video on the most disparate subjects, most of them controversial — the Middle East, abortion, God’s existence, the minimum wage, marriage, race, Islam, etc. Guess which subject garners the most angry and even hate-filled comments, by far? They are the videos advocating that men marry. Many single men literally curse us for releasing such videos.

At least with regard to the 97 percent of the population that is heterosexual, it is simply a truism that men need a woman and women need a man. That feminism has told generations of women that the latter statement is nonsense is one of the saddest, and most harmful, developments of the modern era.

A final note: Given the number of Jews who have attended college and graduate school, and the high esteem in which they therefore hold feminism, many Jewish readers will dismiss the thesis of this column. 

I have a question for these individuals: From time immemorial, Jews have wished parents of newborns that their child grow up to “Torah,” “chuppah” and “ma’asim tovim” — Torah, the wedding canopy and good deeds. Should we drop the second?


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com)

Meant2Be: Why we both cried over his first love

When I first met my husband, we were both in our 40s and full of stories of the lost and found loves that preceded finding each other. I was mostly the one with the found loves; his were mostly the lost. When he told me the woeful tales of the women who hadn’t noticed him, who didn’t want him, who ditched or disappointed him, I told him he needed a new PR department. From my perspective, he was wickedly smart, handsome, had a gap-toothed smile that telegraphed how incredibly genuine and sweet he was. And come on, he was a successful doctor.  

Eventually, the sad stories stopped. Only one remained, the one about Peggy Buckley, the Irish Catholic girl he met in college who was the single exception to his roll call of disastrous romantic life. Theirs was a mighty attraction and they would have married but the pope said ‘no.’ So did the rabbi, Peggy’s parents and my husband’s parents. 

I, too, had my share of romantic woes. I’d loved and lost, loved and won, loved and checkmated but the good news was he and I … oh, never mind!

Eleven years ago, we’d been married for a decade, and my husband popped into the kitchen and said brightly (a little too brightly), ‘Today is Peggy’s birthday!’ ”

 “Why don’t you find her?” I said, thinking that talking to Peggy again might give him some closure. Thus he dutifully contacted her college alumna association and placed a call to her in Boston. 

“So, did talking to Peggy help?” I asked after the hour they spoke. 

“Yes!” He was jazzed. 

I didn’t say, “Maybe now you can concentrate on how much you love me?”

A few weeks later, he was asked to fly to Boston on a business trip. He made a reservation for two at the best restaurant in Boston. 

He called later and told me he sat at the bar and spotted a beautiful young woman with short, dark hair who looked exactly like Peggy. It was only after awhile in this dreamy state that a middle-aged woman tapped him briskly on the shoulder and said, “Hey! Didn’t you see me walking back and forth?” 

He finally got to talk to Peggy about those days of confusion and longing. He asked if she ever came to enjoy sex. If she thought about him, and all the questions we’d like to ask our old flames who’ve left skid marks on our souls. 

After dinner, they took a walk. Peggy had married a Jewish man, after all. Apparently, she was over my husband and also over the pope.

At last, mystery had a face and the face had wrinkles, 30 extra pounds and unbecoming shoes. Five more years passed. Cut to Thanksgiving 2012. 

We were hanging around the house. My husband had never learned to use Facebook, so I showed him how to search for friends. Naturally, he looked up Peggy Buckley. 

A screen appeared with a year-old article about her from The Boston Globe. My husband stared ahead in stony silence. It took me a minute to understand why: We were reading Peggy’s obituary. It spoke of her extraordinarily loving heart and her service to her community. She clearly was a terrific woman. Now, that beautiful, if unwilling girl, was gone. 

But in an instant, she became newly alive to my husband. The mourning began. He was crying. He talked to a therapist. He emailed old friends. He retold the Peggy stories and included some I’d never heard. When he said, ‘This is ridiculous, she wasn’t in my life. Why am I so upset?” I told him the truth: She’d always be in his life; she was an important figure to him. It moved me to see the depth of heart he was capable of. 

But then, I realized I wasn’t doing very well myself. What could the loss possibly be to me? I couldn’t concentrate, became withdrawn, then I, too, began to weep. That really made no sense. Peggy was his youth, his frustration, his football games. Peggy was his story.

I realized that in a life littered with despicable prom dates, disinterested coeds and haughty nurses, Peggy was the first person who truly got him, got his humor, his shyness, his slightly offbeat ways. I was grateful to her for loving him.

Meanwhile, he was walking around the house singing, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain” … specifically the line that goes: “But I always thought that I’d see you, baby, one more time again … ”

Finally, it came to me; on a soul level, Peggy was a kind of sister to me. She made a lonely college kid happy; she centered him, helped make him real in his skin. I was bereft because I’d lost a “sister wife” who I’d never have the chance to meet. This was my loss, my Peggy Buckley story. We two were the women who saw the magic in this person who needed our love and who loved us both. 

Thank you, dear Peggy. Rest in peace. 


Barbara Bottner is the author of more than 45 books for children (some she illustrated), has had short stories published in national magazines and articles appear in the LA Weekly and Miami Herald, and has written for television.

This column is part of our new series, Meant2Be, stories of love and relationships. Do you have a story about dating, marriage, singlehood or any important relationship in your life? Email us at meant2be@jewishjournal.com.

The defense of (converting for) marriage act

Last July, I converted to Judaism after five years of studying and undergoing major lifestyle changes: I moved to a Jewish neighborhood, started keeping kosher, took off for Shabbat and the holidays, joined an Orthodox synagogue and learned with a chavrusa

Today, my observance has grown, and I keep taking on more and more mitzvot. I feel closer to Hashem than ever. 

None of that has stopped the outside world, however, from questioning just how legitimate my conversion actually was. At times throughout the process, and even after, I’ve been asked, “Did you convert for your husband?” and then was told — yes, told — that I only converted because I was in love. 

As if that’s a bad thing. 

As a writer, I’ve covered conversion a lot, profiling the spiritual journeys of others and offering my own personal essays. I know how tough it can be to go through the process, and I want to show support to my fellow gerim. When I’ve told my own story, though, I’ve gotten my fair share of negative feedback, which ranged from passive-aggressive to downright venomous. 

On a recent piece I published, one of the comments posted online read, “So you fell in love with some guy and decided to start living your life by his club’s rules and regs. Not exactly a shocker. Lots of women do this.” Another lovely commenter stated, “I would’ve appreciated this more if she had just admitted that she was doing it pretty much entirely for her husband.”

Internet trolling aside, there is a huge stigma in Jewish culture and society at large surrounding the concept of converting for love. But, given the right circumstances and right person, I think it’s entirely OK.

With Shavuot approaching, I found myself thinking about the story of Ruth, perhaps the Torah’s most famous Jew by choice. She converted to Judaism after following her widowed, impoverished mother-in-law, Naomi, to a strange new land — Bethlehem. 

According to Dina Coopersmith, a writer for

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One-of-a-kind weddings in Israel

Israelis love come-as-you-are weddings, where guests are welcome to bring along a friend, there’s no color scheme and the groom wears an open-necked shirt. But whether it’s a jeans or black-tie affair, in many cases the venue itself provides the Israeli wedding’s wow factor because of its great religious or historical import or its stunning natural backdrop.

“I find most people who do an event in Israel want it to be more meaningful and significant, as opposed to focusing on décor and other extraneous values,” said Judy Krasna, co-partner in Celebrate Israel.

In addition to copious wedding halls, wedding gardens and hotel ballrooms across the country, Israel offers many one-of-a-kind places to get married. For engaged couples abroad, wedding planners who speak their language can take care of all the arrangements.

“We have an insane amount of gorgeous ideas for parties in Israel,” said Adena Mark of A to Z Events Israel.

Mark has hung chandeliers in Zedekiah’s Cave under the Old City walls of Jerusalem, creating a fancy, festive wedding inside this legendary 2,000-year-old limestone quarry. She has staged weddings among the ancient Roman ruins in Caesarea, and decorated forest clearings with twinkling lights in the trees and straw mats on the bare ground.

Mark even has schlepped flowers and portable air-conditioners or heaters to marriage ceremonies on the cliffs of the Judean Desert. “At night it’s magical, with a view of the Dead Sea and the rolling hills,” she said.

Krasna especially loves weddings at wheelchair-accessible Genesis Land (Eretz Bereshit) in the Judean Desert.

“The view from the chuppah over the desert at sunset is the most spectacular backdrop for a wedding ceremony I’ve ever seen,” she said.

“You can choose to do an upscale wedding or a funky one with camel rides for the guests and waiters in biblical garb. For guests coming from outside Israel, it’s a really Israeli experience.”

It’s possible to arrange a wedding on just about any Israeli beach or national park, Krasna said. She recommends a beachfront with a hotel or restaurant in which the reception can be sheltered from the strong sea winds — such as Herzliya’s Daniel Hotel, Al Hayam in Caesarea or the Rimonim Palm Beach Hotel in Acre.

For nuptials in nature away from the waterfront, Krasna likes the historic Hulda Forest in central Israel, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens or Ein Gedi Botanical Garden near the Dead Sea.

What about a wedding in a winery? Several Israeli wineries can accommodate parties of various sizes, including the Tishbi and Binyamina wineries in the Zichron Ya’akov area and the Psagot Winery overlooking the mountains of Jordan.

Krasna’s favorite spot for a dream wedding in Israel is the Bell Cave at Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park.

“It’s so incredibly different! The guests always rave that they’ve never been to such a cool wedding,” said Krasna, though she warns that the venue does present limitations. “Because it’s a national park, you can only have acoustic music, and the terrain is uneven so if you have elderly guests they might have trouble walking,” she said.

For those who prefer to be above ground, Alon Rosenberg of Danny Marx Productions recommends the Ottoman-period Tower of David citadel in Jerusalem and the historic Masada cliff on the road to the Dead Sea.

Rosenberg said a wedding at the Tower of David is “very, very expensive, and you need to bring everything in,” but for those who can splurge, “it’s like you’re entering a castle surrounded by the Old City walls. It’s a historical site that enables you to have an amazing event in an enclosed structure.”

Danny Marx, who often arranges celebrity affairs, including actress Gal Gadot’s nuptials five years ago at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, added that venues combining an atmosphere of history with modern elegance make Israeli weddings unique.

Jerusalem resident Reuven Prager aims to put some history back into the ceremony itself. His Biblical Weddings re-creates the ancient custom where every bride in the land of Israel wore a Jerusalem of Gold crown and was carried to the ceremony on a royal litter called an aperion.

Prager built a replica of the crown and the aperion as described in the biblical Song of Songs and Talmudic sources. Ten strong men carry it to the accompaniment of shofar-blowers and harpists. (Prager charges $1,500 but says he never turns anyone away for lack of funds.)

“We dedicated the aperion in a ceremony at the Bible Lands Museum during Chanukah 1992, and the next day we used it for the first wedding,” Prager said.

About 100 Israeli and foreign Jewish couples have used Prager’s aperion for their weddings, while Christian couples from abroad have made Biblical Weddings the highlight of their honeymoon or anniversary trip.

Prager hopes to work with the Tourism Ministry to launch a national competition encouraging the creation of hundreds of aperions and golden bridal crowns across Israel to broaden the availability of this unusual package. The Jerusalem municipality and the Israel Museum stand ready to host the competition. If Prager’s dream comes true, the aperion could usher in a unique wedding startup industry that could happen only in Israel.

Power plays

I want to share a story about a couple who’ve been married for 19 years.

Their relationship is a series of power plays in which they subtly and sometimes not so subtly try to control one another.

They're’ from the Boston area. 
They have 2 kids
. Both have special needs – one learning, one emotional. She used to work outside of the home, has a PhD in science, but stopped working when her children’s needs became a full time job.

He makes a good living in law.

Here’s where their control issues come to play: She wants to move from the big city, to be in a house surrounded by trees, have a less-stressful life, downsize their financial pressures and be able to reconnect with her professional passion.

He says she’s not realistic, he needs to work long hours in his big-city practice to support their family’s needs. How could she insist that they move away from his parents just because she’s unhappy with the big city? How could she uproot their family right at the time their kids are finally enrolled in suitable schools that address their learning and emotional challenges?

She says he doesn’t consider her feelings, wants and needs. Though she loves him, she’s lonely and disconnected from her husband.

He says he doesn’t want to leave his city of birth and won’t move just because she’s unhappy.

They’re literally stuck, frozen in their apartment and their marriage – because neither one is willing to compromise. Like two people in a boxing ring they stand in position waiting to see who will fall first.

Their power play deeply upsets me – as hear about how they manipulate each other in order to control their family’s future. Rather than work together as a unit, their marriage is game of who will win and who will lose.

Listen, marriage can be difficult –anyone who tells you otherwise – is lying. But frankly, ALL relationships have the capacity to lure us into power plays – in which we try to gain control over another person or a situation.

These dynamics play out at work and school, between genders, in social media, over the environment, among nations, and between religions.
Exerting one’s control over another is pervasive. And as a result it can rip apart our homes, our character and our world.

Now it’s true that sometimes it’s necessary to control and dominate another person if we’re bullied or if a nation feels its safety is endangered. But today I’d like to look at the many power plays we partake in that destroy our souls, and offer 3 some ways we can avoid the allure of trying to dominate and control others.

Let’s start with Torah.
Unfortunately Torah’s very familiar with power and control. In Deuteronomy, Moses blesses the Israelites:
“Be the head and not the tail.” (Deut. 28:13)

It’s as if to be blessed we need to be both in control of our subordinates, and be controlling of them.
The head looks forward, not back.
The head advances onward, without negotiating with its tail. Yet effective leaders are often those who use their positions of power to empower others.

What about taking the back seat sometimes or listening to the opinion of those we lead?
How about the value of being a follower or collaborator?

It’s a tough tension, because even God teaches us to relish power. Torah describes how God encourages Adam to name all the animals of the earth – an ancient tactic of acquiring control over living beings.

And frankly the power to name, can be a very positive tool of control even today.
As of this February, Facebook gives everyone the option of choosing to name oneself from 51 gender categories.

A person can be: Agender, bigender, cis, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, gender variant, intersex, pan gender or transgender (to list a few) – & if you don’t know what some of these gender categories are – you’re not alone.
 The point is – I imagine that those of us who are one of these genders feel validated when we can actively name ourselves. (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/15/the-complete-glossary-of-facebook-s-51-gender-options.html).

Yet naming others in a demeaning or controlling way can be used as a way of exerting power over someone else. Perhaps you’ve heard of how ISIS “educates” their soldiers to name their captured women ibadah – meaning “worship,” and then instructs their soldiers to pray before they rape them, and then pray after they rape them –
justifying their violation as a “prayer to God,”
telling the women that they are their ibadah – their tools of worship. I find this obscene … (NYT, Enslaving Young Girls, Aug 14, 2015)

The Torah also gives many examples of power plays between brothers and sisters.
Remember when the siblings Miriam and Aaron criticize Moses for having a close relationship with God? (Numbers 11)

It’s as if they’re vying for “Big-daddy-in-the-sky’s” attention. Sounds like the dinner fight my brothers and I would have around our table –
who got to sit at the head, how much extra food were we served, who was mom and dad’s favorite & who had to wash the dishes.

And the competition and one-upmanship sadly continues when we become “grown up” siblings:
•Like the tension when a father dies and leaves his children unequal inheritance without an explanation. • or a sister- in-law who’s controlling and pushes her spouse into a family feud…..

These power plays are usually about attention and love ….. and often they leak into our bedrooms.

Think of the power and manipulation our patriarch Jacob held over his two wives -who were sisters – Rachel and Leah.
I imagine they wondered who he’d go home to each night and if he favored one over the other.

Today there are many spouses who wonder whether their partner is out late at a business meeting -
or finding intimacy with someone he met on-line
or through work.

How about the manipulative power in the business world? Think of Korach, in the Torah, who wanted even more control than he already had as a Levite (Numbers 16:1+).
He criticized Moses for being power hungry
even though it’s clear that Korach was really interested in promoting his own ego needs.

This type of power-play in the office is all too common today. Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook and author of Lean In, cited a recent study that found that when women executives speak more than their peers,

They’re punished with 14% lower ratings,
but when male executives speak more than their peers, they’re rewarded with 10% higher ratings of competence. Sexual hypocrisy has not disappeared from our conference rooms.
(NYT “Speaking While Female”, Jan 12, 2015).

And how about domination over women in many parts of the world today?
 Should we take literally, the Torah’s teaching that when a man goes to war he can take any woman he wants by power after 30 days of bringing her into his house… or should we follow other biblical injunctions that teach that all human beings are created in the image of God? (Genesis 1 and Deut. 21:10-14)

The 14.2 million women and girls who are sold into slavery each year are told they are a man’s booty, while I assume most of us understand this as an outdated justification of holy texts to manipulate and control the vulnerable.

(UNFPA, 2012, Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage. New York: United Nations Population Fund).

Then there’s the power we humans have wielded over our environment.

Remember what the Torah teaches: after humanity was created God told us “to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and watch over it.” (Gen 1:28)
But what’s going on today?!
We’re not protecting our environment.
Instead of watching over our earth
we’re watching as we level our forests,
strip the earth of its resources
and create a global warming disaster.

Let’s not ignore our children –
how about the power-plays in our schools?
It’s no wonder many public & private schools have instituted uniforms to try to level the playing field –
and even then it becomes about what shoes you wear,
your haircut or jewelry –
anything to show your status.

Or consider how social media has become a tool to manipulate and influence one’s “friends.”
Now with a swipe of a finger 25% of teenagers report that they’ve experienced repeated bullying via their cell phone or on the internet, and of the teens who reported cyber bullying incidents, 33% of them said that their bullies issued online threats. (http://nobullying.com/cyber-bullying-statistics-2014/

Power in marriages, among friends, between family members, in the work place, between men and women, over the environment and on social media – are constant tightropes we all traverse. How much we dominate, pull, push back, speak out, submit, or resign ourselves to the allure of participating in these power dynamics- constantly changes.
At work we may be submissive, while at home very dominant – Or vice versa….

This year in America, we can’t ignore the light that’s exposed the power-plays between white and black people.
The Midrash teaches that the reason one “Adam”, one person, was created first, and not two people – not Adam and Eve – was so no person could say “My ancestors are greater than yours.”(Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

In other words, no matter our color, race, culture or gender – we all come from the same place and we’re all equal.
Yet – that’s not the world we live in.
Just look at the streets of Ferguson, Mo where Michael Brown was killed, or Staten Island where Eric Garner was choked to death.

As a white women reading Ta-Nehisi Coats’ book Between The World and Me I felt embarrassed.
He shares that “To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology.
The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.”

His words upset me.

I wondered as a white, relatively privileged American – what I do, subconsciously, to promote and accept racism around me?

Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress, taught: “racism is so universal in this country,
so widespread and deep seated, that it’s invisible because it is so normal.”

And I wonder: how have I actively or passively participated in the invisible nature of racism?
Am I engaged in my own power-plays and not even aware of them?

Talking about race in America – and how it’s connected to power is very uncomfortable.
I confess with shame that when I worked in Central Park for 3 summers during high school, I resented and felt deep dislike toward the Puerto Rican community.
You see every year, in early June, there was a Puerto Rican parade down 5th Avenue – right next to the park – and the whole surrounding area would get trashed.
After the parade, the community would go into the park and BBQ (which was illegal),
leave their garbage everywhere (also illegal)
and drink alcohol in public (illegal).
I deeply resented the Puerto Ricans.
And then…. And then a close relative, who I love dearly, married a Puerto Rican. And she’s wonderful.
And her sister and parents are good, kind, caring people.

I had to confront my racism and rework how I viewed the Puerto Rican community.
I was forced to see them as individuals, rather than as one group of people.

And of course I have to make note of some radical Jewish extremists whose warped power-play deeply embarrassed me this year.
Though as Jews we don’t promote racism as part of our ideology, as say ISIS does, I was horrified when a Jewish extremist at this summer’s LGBT parade in Jerusalem stabbed Shira Banki to death, a 16 year old girl.
And then on that same weekend in July, a group of Jewish radicals threw two firebombs into 2 Palestinian homes, in the West Bank, in the middle of the night, killing an 18-month-old boy and his parents.
That’s a sick corruption of Jewish power!

In all these examples of control, dominance and power – whether it’s in a relationship, in the office, between genders, of the environment, among races, religions and nations – what’s gained?

Why is the allure of control so seductive?
And why do we continually fall into the trap of participating in power plays?

Well, first – Clarity.
Being right is so satisfying.

But sometimes our ability to distinguish right from wrong becomes blurry:
whether it’s a spouse gone astray,
a boss who favors men,

a white cop who strangles a black guy,
an ISIS solider before he rapes his “wife”…
we believe we are right because we justify our actions with human desire, history, culture, society or religion on our side.

What else is gained? –
the self-indulgent notion that the most important person is me, my wants, my desires, my point of view.
When we put “me” at the center –
we misled ourselves into thinking that everything that goes my way, is the best way.
And when we only look at one side,
our side,
we strip away any hope for sympathy, empathy and respect – ingredients for a balanced relationship.

And with these false gains of power plays, what’s lost? So much more.

As Yehudah Amichai, Israel’s poet laureate once wrote: From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right is hard and trampled Like a yard.

God made the world with different people, holding several points of views and various dispositions to teach us that one way isn’t the only way.
And ironically – when we focus on dominating or manipulating others, our relationships feel disconnected, stuck and stagnant.

The author Shannon L. Adler describes the effects of yielding our power in relationships:

“When you think yours is the only true path you forever chain yourself to judging others and narrow the vision of God. (You see) The road to righteousness and arrogance is a parallel road…. but what makes them different is the road to righteousness is paved with the love of humanity — while the road to arrogance is paved with the love of self.”

I’d like to offer some ways we can walk the road of righteousness and escape the allure of the road of power- plays- to improve our relationships and the world we live.

First — I’ve found that the less I take the bait of a power-play, step back, take a pause, and recalibrate my goal of connecting rather than dominating, the more I deepen my relationships to those I love.

It’s really about walking the road of Teshuvah. And I don’t mean Teshuvah as a noun – it’s not “say you’re sorry.”
Instead it’s Teshuvah as a verb:
●It’s the act of taking a deep, honest, hard look at oneself.
●It’s the proactive review of one’s strengths and weaknesses. ●It’s the courageous act of sharing those insights with someone you trust or with God.

●And it’s the counter cultural choice to change what’s not working in your life, rather than blaming others.

If we really do this, it’s no longer about whose on top,
who’s right, or who’s winning the competition-
instead it’s about uniting, joining & coming together with those we love, those with whom we work, or those who have a different skin color, gender, culture or religion than we do.

It’s no wonder the NYT Modern Love column “Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” generated more than 5.2 million visits since its publication in January.
In case you missed it, Mandy Len Catron described a Cupid— like technique she developed of 36 questions,

which get increasingly intimate in nature,
that 2 people can answer while facing each other.
Apparently, if you follow her list of questions, any two people, even strangers, can fall in love! (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love- to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html)

The reason this technique is so powerful is because it’s really an act of Teshuvah. Teshuvah as an honest self-assessment
and Teshuvah as a turning toward the person you want to become – which has temporarily been covered with layers of arrogance or inflexibility…..

Take out your mirrors for a moment. (Note: mirrors with questions on the back were put on everyone’s seat)
The ones on your seats.
This is my gift to each of us: Our Teshuvah mirrors.

On it you’ll find 5 questions – like the 5 books of Moses. Each one focuses on a different aspect of our lives that may have succumbed to the allure of power.

The first is about an interpersonal relationship:

1. Think of one person you have hurt this year. How can you address this wound?

The second asks us to focus on our character:

2. What is one realistic change you can do to make yourself a better person this year?

The third challenges us to look at our professional life:

3. What can you do this year to become a better student, professional, parent or retiree?

The fourth expands our hearts to the greater world:

4. What is your prayer for the world this year?

And the last one invites us to open our souls toward a force or power beyond ourselves:

5. What is one thing you can do to strengthen your relationship with God this year?
(based on Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe by Erica Brown, page 126)

Let’s spend the next 10 days between RH & YK contemplating our answers to these questions with humility—
as we walk the road of righteousness.

Our challenge is to remember to not take the bait when it comes to power-plays, control and dominance.
It’s so alluring,
So easy to succumb to its self-satisfying pull, but it leaves us lonely, disconnected, and keeps us from looking at ourselves.

Instead, look into your Teshuvah Mirror, Carry it with you the next 10 days.

I wish each of us the strength to be honest on our journey. Shannah Tova.

Ladies: It’s not you. It’s the ratio.

When journalist Jon Birger worked in the newsrooms at Fortune and Money, he noticed that most of the guys either had wives or long-term girlfriends, whereas most of the women were single and “had dating histories that made so little sense to me,” as he put it in a recent interview in Los Angeles.

His new book, “Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game,” attempts to address the question of why it seems so hard for women in their 20s and 30s to find a life partner. The answer? There are significantly fewer men on the market. 

Specifically, Birger found, significantly fewer college-educated men than college-educated women. He cites U.S. Census data and other publicly available sources indicating that among college graduates between 22 and 29, there are about four women for every three men. And between 30 and 39, there are five college-educated women for every four college-educated men. 

As Birger points out, this wouldn’t be a problem “if we were all more open-minded about who we were willing to date and marry.” But in a world where college-educated men and women are more likely to live in the same neighborhood and congregate at the same bars, the imbalance Birger explains in “Date-onomics” has significant implications. Particularly in big cities where the imbalance strongly favors men (such as Manhattan and Los Angeles, where there are 39 percent and 24 percent more women than men with college degrees, respectively), guys tend to play their market advantage by keeping their options open, he argues.

In an interview with the Journal while in town from New York to promote his book, Birger suggested some solutions to the gender imbalance, offered some practical advice for women and discussed how demographics have even influenced the dating markets of Orthodox Jews:

Jewish Journal: For a female college grad in her 20s who wants to find a husband in today’s dating market, what’s one suggestion you have based on your research?

Jon Birger: If marriage is a big priority for you, I guess I might suggest getting serious about dating younger instead of putting it off until you’re in your mid- 30s. And the reason I say that is, every year the dating math is going to get more challenging. In the book, I liken it to musical chairs. In the first round of musical chairs, only the kid who’s not paying attention doesn’t get a chair, but by the last round of musical chairs, you have a 50 percent chance of losing, and something similar happens in dating. If you start out with a dating pool of 14 women and 10 men, once six women and six men pair off together, the ratio among the remaining singles becomes 2-to-1. Every time two people pair off and pull themselves out of that lopsided singles market, the math gets more challenging for the women and better for the men. 

JJ: Is there a point where physically relocating can improve a woman’s odds? 

JB: Clearly, a woman who doesn’t put a maximum priority on marriage is probably not going to pick up her whole life and give up her job and her friends and family just to move someplace where the odds might be better. But if it’s a situation where maybe she was thinking about moving anyway and, as your question kind of assumes, marriage is kind of a really high priority for her, yes, I can see moving to Denver, Seattle, Silicon Valley — because the dating math is more appealing there. One smaller move they can make, it’s not even a move … in general, suburbs tend to have less imbalanced sex ratios among college grad singles than urban centers do. So if you’re online dating, even just expanding your geographic search to include outlying areas, that’s an easy way to take advantage of more favorable sex ratios. 

JJ: Are there any macro solutions to this imbalance?

JB: No. 1 is a long-term solution. It’s getting more young men, more boys to go to college. That won’t solve the dating problem for people who are single in their 20s and 30s now, but it’s not a good thing either for the dating world or for the economy, frankly, that boys aren’t going to college in the same numbers as girls. There’s a lot of research, neuroscience, showing that boys’ brains mature at a slower rate than girls’. Both intellectually and socially, they lag about a year behind girls, and there are some countries where both boys and girls start first grade later than they do here in the U.S. Interestingly, in those countries, the college gender gap is more narrow, and that tells me that if you give the boys a little more time to catch up, they will. So, one idea here would be to basically “red shirt” boys. This is something that would have to come from the parents because under Title IX, public schools could not say boys are starting at 7 and girls are starting at 6. 

JJ: Can you explain the so-called “shidduch crisis” in the Orthodox community?

JB: Each one-year age cohort in the Orthodox community has about 4 percent more people than the one that preceded it. That only matters because within one part of the Orthodox community, what I call the “yeshivish” community, some people call it Lithuanian … there’s a traditional age gap at marriage, so you’ll have 21- or 22-year-old men marrying 18- or 19-year-old women. … As a result, there’s about 10 to 15 percent more women who are entering the matchmaking process than there are men who are entering the matchmaking process. And the “shidduch crisis” basically refers to these excess women who are unable to find marriage matches, and within the community it’s become a source of great angst, particularly for the young women and their parents. 

JJ: But this “crisis” doesn’t exist in the Chasidic Jewish community, right?

JB: Their tradition is, while everybody marries young, they marry people their own age. Eighteen-year-olds marry other 18-year-olds, so even though they have a very high birthrate, too, you don’t have this demographic mismatch of lots of 18-year -olds trying to find matches with too few 21- or 22- or 23-year-olds.

JJ: You suggest in the book that the “marriage ultimatum” can be a useful tool for women, particularly in this imbalanced market. Can you explain that?

Birger: It’s kind of mean for a guy to be dating a woman in her late 30s for two full years without actually marrying her. I interview a really smart young matchmaker in the book … she has a line, she calls guys like these “time thieves,” and she’s right. For a woman in her late 30s or early 40s who really wants to have kids, and she hears her biological clock ticking, letting these relationships drag on without getting a ring, it feels counterproductive. 

From the guy’s perspective, in business and politics, you hear all the time, “You should never make a decision sooner than you have to.” And that’s actually good life advice, but when you apply it to dating from the perspective of a man, a man might conclude, “Well, I’m going to keep my girlfriend as an option while continuing to survey the market, because I don’t have to make a decision.” What an ultimatum does is force him to make a decision and it creates artificial scarcity in an otherwise abundant marketplace. Essentially, it makes you want more of what you fear you may lose. So, I think ultimatums work in business, they work in all kinds of life contexts. It does seem as if the women who are firm are more likely to be successful in getting the guy to settle down. 

Don’t make me shlep my heart: Breaking down the Jewish dating scene

Dating. It’s like going out for ice cream. That’s right, ice cream, the official food of heaven (idk probably). Sometimes you’re craving a certain flavor, sometimes it makes you sick, other times it’s too much like “Whoa these are the size of your scoops, how does anyone ever finish that?” That last one wasn’t even a metaphor, it’s just something that is said every time my family gets ice cream.

Similar to dating, you, naturally, want to try the flavors before you commit, you want to know that the “ice cream” is right for you, but instead of the end result being mint-chocolate chip, it’s a human being spending the rest of your life with you – same thing though, right?

As a twenty-something, “going out for ice cream” has been something that has crept into my mind more than once. Maybe it’s all the rom-coms (that I don’t watch), perhaps it’s all the engagement pictures flooding my timeline (congrats, btw, entire world) or, at the end of the day, maybe it’s hearing my grandma’s voice at every family gathering, “Jon, excuse me, Jon, how are the women? When are you going to bring a girlfriend home? Can you pass the potato salad?” And then I start messing with her out of frustration, “What do you mean grandma? This is my girlfriend, do you not like her? Is something wrong with her?!” (Pointing to a plate of cheese and crackers). IK I’m embarrassed for me, too.

The point is, I’m not worried about dating or relationships or eventually getting married, and you shouldn’t be either. The way I look at it is if I find the right person, great, and if not, I’ll be able to catch up on A LOT of TV shows. Win/win I’d say.

No, the thing that is more frightening to me is something I came across the other day. 

A statistic that read, “There’s an 84% chance that if you’re 21 & older, you’ve already met the person you’ll marry.”

Now, I saw this on Twitter, which in all fairness is the same place where you can find endorsements for Donald Trump, so keep that in mind. But naturally I started freaking out.

I started recounting all of the people I’ve met up to this point in my life. There was that girl from the grocery store…my prom dates…Robin Roberts from Good Morning America. Wow am I going to marry Robin Roberts? Should I tell my parents? I mean there’s an age difference but idk. Could I handle the spotlight? I already have enough stress in my life between watching people’s Snapchat stories and finding what songs to listen to on the way to work, and that’s when it hit me.

I have to date Jewish.

I just have to. You have to. We all have to.

And it has nothing to do with religion. I like to consider myself a pretty open and tolerant person. In fact, I’ve dated Non-Jews in the past, and it was great. I went hunting, I introduced someone to bagels & lox (changing their life forever), I was on time for things, and I didn’t have to constantly Wiki what Larry David was up to. No, it’s not a religious thing. It’s a laziness thing.

Falling in love takes a lot of work – and who has time for that these days with Netflix and those electronic soda machines at restaurants (they’re tricky). These days we have to be careful as far as what we use our cognitive resources for.

Meeting new people, no offense new people, sucks sometimes. You have to do things like introduce yourself, and say where you went to college, and pretend to laugh at bad jokes. No thanks. It’s like the longest, worst icebreaker ever…and you know what they say about icebreakers. They should be illegal and whoever initiates them should go to jail for longer-than-eternity without access to the new Full House spinoff if it happens. 

So, how does this all tie back to dating Jewish? Great question, the three people who are still reading. It’s quite simple, actually. It’s just easier, and isn’t that what life is about? Isn’t that the reason why Google exists? 

Now, I’m not a scientist or God so I’m not sure why, but this is the way it is.

If you’re Jewish…chances are you already know 85% of the other Jews in your community (but as high as 100% if you leave the house. ever). You probably have a similar sense of humor and an understanding of the various Judaic holidays  – or you at least know that Yom Kippur means, “I better eat a lot the night before.” Regardless of who you go on a date with, you most likely awkwardly danced with them during the bar/bat mitzvah circuit days, and you probably remember, yet never talk about it. You’ll know all the same lingo, like, “Stop kvetching!” or “Oy vey!” or “Jon Savitt is so funny!” Your parents definitely somehow know each other. Literally, I don’t know how, but they will know each other – which is great because it will save a lot of stress in the future. And, finally, you either went to summer camp with one another or have mutual friends who did, so yeah, they’ll know your level of color war competitiveness. 

The Jewish dating scene can be both a blessing and a curse. But with increasingly busy lifestyles for college grads and beyond, you can’t deny the clear benefits: History, brisket, and a much less awkward intro to the family.

But I’ll never join JDate. 

Women want to be chosen

What women would give to be lusted after today.

Women are not looking just for love in a marriage. They are primarily looking for lust. A woman wants to be wanted, needs to be needed, desires to be desired. A woman does not go into marriage principally to be loved. She goes into marriage to be lusted after, to feel that there’s a man who has a magnetic attraction for her. It’s an easy point to prove. 

If a woman wanted primarily to be loved why would she ever leave the comfort of the parental home? No one’s ever going to love her more than her parents. Her parents are never going to divorce her. Her parents aren’t going to cheat on her. Her parents are going to love her unconditionally. She doesn’t have to dress up for them; she doesn’t have to impress them. If you want to be loved, you stay at home. 

So why is it that by the time she’s a teenager her parents have to threaten her to be at home? Whey does she trade in the unconditional love of her parents for the very conditional love of a man?

When her parents tell her she’s the prettiest girl in her class she just rolls her eyes. They’re just saying that because they’re her parents. They have a genetic AK-47 to their heads making them love her. There is no choice in the matter and therefore her parents’ love for her can’t make her feel special.

But when a man says that to a woman it must mean that she’s special, she’s unique. Her parents can give her love but they can’t give her what she really wants, which is to be chosen. 

Every woman wants to be chosen. Our parents can give us the gift of love but not the gift of chosenness.

In the Hebrew language there is a specific word for “husband” (baal), but no specific word for “wife.” The word used to identify “wife” (ishah) is the exact same as the word “woman.” A “wife” is in essence a “woman.” A woman is always a woman, no matter who she is and what role she plays in life. She can never be fully possessed, even in marriage, which, ironically, is a good thing. It means that no husband can ever take his wife for granted. Even after you marry her she never fully becomes your wife. She remains a woman who can only be won over not by the commitment of the marital institution but through the daily solicitation of emotional devotion and affection. Women are drawn to men who desire them. 

The point is best illustrated by the story of Bruriah, wife of the Hebrew sage Rabbi Meir. A daughter of the respected martyred sage Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradion, Bruriah is one of the few women singled out in the Talmud as being herself a sage. She was an intellectual and a paragon of faith who proved her mettle in soothing her husband’s grief with complete acceptance of the will of the Almighty when their two sons suddenly died in tragic circumstances.

A curious story referred to in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 18b) only as “the Bruriah incident” has much to teach us about the traditional Jewish attitude toward women’s sexuality. The eleventh-century canonic Jewish scholar Rashi comments on this cryptic reference as follows:

One time [Bruriah] mocked the Sages’ saying “Women are suggestible” (Kiddushin 80b, Shabbat 33b). [Rabbi Meir] said to her: “In your lifetime, you will eventually affirm their words.” He instructed one of his disciples to seduce her. [The student] urged her for many days, until she consented. When the matter became known to her she strangled herself, and Rabbi Meir fled out of disgrace.

Much ink has flowed over this unusual and heartrending account throughout the centuries. I’ll give you my take on it. Bruriah heard her husband teaching his students the passage from the Talmud (Kiddushin 80b) that says “Nashim da’atan kalot aleihen.” It literally means that women are “suggestible” or “lightheaded,” but Rashi explains this to mean that they are sexually uninhibited and receptive, and indeed this appears to have been Rabbi Meir’s intention.

Women are easily much more sexual than men. I imagine Rabbi Meir telling his students that husbands must not take for granted that their wives are permanently faithful. RatherRabbi Meir taught, women are profoundly romantically impressionable. A woman find its challenging to resist when a man focuses his starry-eyed attention on her, and therefore a husband must ensure that he himself is his wife’s seducer.

Bruriah took issue with the Talmud’s assertion that women are readily seduced. You’re insulting women, she told her husband, by insinuating that we’re not innately moral and some Don Juan can come along and sway us; it’s not true. I am not primarily an emotional person, she said; I’m an intellectual like you. When I know something is wrong, it’s an iron-clad conviction.

Now, all this is obvious. Women are as intelligent, driven, and ambitious as men. But they are also in love with love, which make them more humanly responsive. 

B’chayecha,” in your lifetime, Rabbi Meir replied; in your lifetime you will bear witness to the truth of this aphorism.

Rabbi Meir set out to prove to his wife the Talmud’s wisdom, tragically recruiting one of his students to seduce her to demonstrate the point. Bruriah resisted the young man, just as she had said she would. But the student was persistent. We don’t know whether the student had feelings for her or whether he acted only out of a sense of duty to his teacher. We also do not know whether she actually succumbed to the seduction. 

Either way, the resulting shock apparently caused her to take drastic action. Why was she so irretrievably humiliated? One explanation is that she had compromised her moral core and couldn't live with herself. Another explanation is that she was afraid people would find out. I don’t accept either of those answers, because this is the same Bruriah who buried two of her sons and saw her father burned alive for teaching Torah, yet she persevered in her faith. 

I think the reason she was so crestfallen to the point of wanting to end her life was that her husband had been proven right. For all her pretensions to being someone who could overcome emotions and passions and choose her own path, someone who was a master of her own destiny, guided only by the cold, hard facts of logical principles, she discovered that human passion in fact trumps intellect.

And that is true for both men and women.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, winner of The London Times Preacher of the Year Competition, and recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He has just published “Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer”. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley

Israel moves to ease path to conversion for those not considered Jewish

The Israeli government has adopted a major reform expected to ease the path to conversion for hundreds of thousands of Israelis now prohibited from marrying in the Jewish state.

In the most significant response in decades to the estimated 400,000 Israelis who are not considered Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate, the Cabinet expanded authority for conversion beyond a small group of approved haredi Orthodox courts.

Since only Orthodox Jewish marriage is permitted in Israel, such Israelis — the majority of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union — must convert if they wish to be married in Israel.

Under the new law, which was passed Sunday and became effective immediately, the conversion process is expected to get significantly easier.

The measure, which allows any city rabbi in Israel to perform conversions, is expected to pave the way for the elimination of some provisions seen as overly stringent, such as the Chief Rabbinate’s requirement that converts send their children to Orthodox schools.

Currently, only four rabbinic courts appointed by the haredi-dominated Rabbinate are authorized to perform conversions.

“Every rabbi in every city will be able to set up his own tribunal according to Jewish law,” said Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who brought the bill to a Cabinet vote along with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. “It also gives a choice. People will be able to choose the tribunal they want to go to, and warm, friendly tribunals will be used more than others.”

Conversion policy has dogged Israel since the 1990s, when about 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union entered the country. The immigrants qualified for citizenship under the Law of Return, which requires immigrants to have just one Jewish grandparent. But hundreds of thousands did not meet the Chief Rabbinate’s stricter standard for Jewishness — either having a Jewish mother or undergoing an Orthodox conversion — and thus could not marry in Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate’s stringencies led many to balk at the process entirely, in many cases choosing instead to marry abroad. Israel recognizes non-Orthodox conversions performed overseas.

The Cabinet vote on Sunday is the latest attempt at a compromise to make the conversion process friendlier.

In 1999, the government established the Joint Institute for Jewish Studies, a body intended to teach potential converts about Judaism from a range of non-Orthodox perspectives in preparation for an eventual Orthodox conversion, but the effort foundered.

In 2010, the issue heated up again after Yisrael Beiteinu became the Knesset’s third-largest party. The party, focused on Russian immigrant interests, proposed a measure similar to the one that just passed, but a provision would have given full control over conversions to the Chief Rabbinate. That provoked the ire of non-Orthodox groups and the law was shelved.

“This government resolution doesn’t give more power to the Chief Rabbinate,” said Seth Farber, the founder of Itim, an organization that aids Israelis with personal status issues. “The hope is that this bill will enable a much more understanding and friendly set of rabbinical courts to emerge without the Chief Rabbinate imposing their monolithic view on every conversion.”

The reform chips away at longstanding haredi Orthodox dominance of conversion policy. Both of Israel’s chief rabbis, who are haredi, oppose the new law. Should the chief rabbis attempt to block the conversions, Farber has pledged to petition the Supreme Court.

The passage of the law marks the end of a lengthy legislative process. Though it passed an initial Knesset vote last year, a ministerial committee vote required to move the measure along was postponed continuously until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu removed it from the legislative agenda entirely two weeks ago, reportedly to appease haredi parties.

A group of ministers led by Bennett and Livni responded by pushing the law through the committee anyway, and a modified version passed in the Cabinet.

While the reform doesn’t go as far as recognizing non-Orthodox conversions — a step many non-Orthodox and Diaspora groups would liked to have seen — those groups nevertheless heralded its arrival. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, CEO of the Israeli Reform movement, said he supports any reform that eases conversion as long as it doesn’t hurt non-Orthodox streams.

“Now there are no more excuses for [Religious] Zionist rabbis,” he said. “Now is the time for them to deliver.”

 

On a Birthright trip, love is born

Sagi Alkobi almost didn’t go on the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip.

It was August 2008, and the then-20-year-old student at The City University of New York had applied months in advance to participate in the educational tour of Israel for young Jewish adults. But a problem with his paperwork kept the application on hold, and, five days before the trip was about to begin, he assumed he wouldn’t be on it. Then he got a call.

“It was from Birthright,” recounted Alkobi, “They said, ‘We have an open spot for you. If you’d like, you can get on our Birthright trip. It’s on Monday.’ ” 

Perhaps it was destiny. Alkobi didn’t know it yet, but his life was about to change forever.

That change had a name: Daniella Elghanayan, a 21-year-old recent UC Santa Barbara graduate. They fell in love on the Birthright tour, and Sagi and Daniella, now 26 and 27 respectively, married last month at the Spanish Hills Country Club in Camarillo. 

It’s not the first time a Birthright experience has led to a wedding, said Pamela Fertel Weinstein, acting director of communications for Taglit-Birthright Israel. A recent request on the organization’s Facebook page for love stories from Birthright participants who met on the trip yielded more than 50 replies. 

Fertel Weinstein said studies of the program also show that Birthright participants are 46 percent more likely than non-participants to marry a Jewish spouse, and 25 percent of alumni are married to other Birthright alumni, although not necessarily from the same trip.

“People often look for similarities and common interests in their partners and Birthright Israel is becoming a more common experience,” she told the Journal in an email.

For Alkobi and Elghanayan, their love story began on the second night of their 10-day trip to the Holy Land. Their group of about 40 young people from the United States was camping with Israeli soldiers near the banks of the Jordan River. It was hot, people were snoring, and Alkobi and Elghanayan couldn’t sleep. As they sat with a small group of fellow sleepless campers, the two began to talk, and their conversation lasted all night.

“It just felt so natural and easy to talk to each other,” said Elghanayan, who is Persian. “There was definitely a spark.”

In the days that followed, Alkobi and Elghanayan grew closer. At first, Elghanayan felt a little shy, but slowly she let her guard down, and the pair became inseparable. 

“I would always look for her, I was always trying to see where she was. … It was like I was drawn to her,” Alkobi said. “I wasn’t really thinking straight, because I knew she lived in California, but I didn’t really care about that at all. I was like, whatever is going to happen, it’s going to happen. I just have to get to know her.”

When the time came to return home, it didn’t seem right that things should end there. 

“After we got back, it was like, wait, but, we’re not finished yet,” Elghanayan said. “I just couldn’t wait to talk to him again.”

Back home in the United States — but on opposite sides of the country — the couple stayed in touch with regular phone calls. Within a month, Alkobi had booked a flight to California, but he was still nervous. Getting to know Elghanayan amid the wonders of Israel had been magical; would that same spark still be there when he saw her again on her home turf?

He needn’t have worried.

After about 2 1/2 years of long-distance dating, Elghanayan moved to New York City to be closer to Alkobi, who had opened his own jewelry store, while also working for his family’s real estate and property management business. Then, around the fifth anniversary of their Birthright trip, the couple decided to take another trip together, back to Israel and also to Italy. 

They returned to their old haunts in the Jewish state, where their love had blossomed on Birthright, and visited Alkobi’s relatives. All the while, Alkobi carried a ring with him, waiting for the just the right moment. 

The young man’s original plan was to pop the question at the top of Masada, but with the August weather unbearably hot, he decided to wait until they reached Italy. After dinner on their first day in Rome, the couple headed to the famous Trevi Fountain. As they stood there admiring its majesty, a man came up and offered to take their picture. 

“Is this your wife?” he asked, causally.

“Not yet,” Alkobi said.

“I just kind of laughed and brushed it off. I didn’t think anything of it,” Elghanayan said. “Then as soon as he took the picture, [Alkobi] went down one knee. … I just stared at him with my mouth open.”

When Elghanayan finally said yes, it seemed the whole crowd of tourists surrounding them had been listening in. People began to clap. Somebody threw them a rose.

“It was really romantic,” Elghanayan said.

The couple were married Aug. 17 in a traditional Jewish wedding officiated by Rabbi David Zargari of Torat Hayim in Los Angeles. Prior to the big day, they held a celebration in Israel with Alkobi’s family, a Moroccan henna party, to honor his relatives’ cultural traditions.

The couple now lives in Santa Barbara, where she is a public relations consultant for several companies; one of her clients is Tel Aviv University. He works in real estate development and property management. They said they’re grateful to the Birthright trip for bringing them together.

“I really had no expectation at all. I was just going to see this country that obviously we had a connection to, and to see a new place that I’d never seen before,” Elghanayan said.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Alkobi agreed. “I just thought it would be a cool trip, and I happened to meet my future wife.”

Ensuring the spirit of halachic marriage

Each time we hear of yet another heart-wrenching and infuriating agunah story, we tend to point an accusing finger at the Jewish legal system that has created these circumstances, in which spiteful, angry husbands can cynically abuse the divorce laws to extort and torment their wives. And this is not an unreasonable reaction. It is true that within halachah, the husband alone possesses the legal authority to issue the Jewish writ of divorce, a get. A wife cannot issue a get, nor can a rabbinical court. Yes, the category of annulment exists in the Talmud, but centuries of legal precedent agree that annulment does not apply to such cases. So it can be stated fairly and accurately that the law itself, without intention to do so, has created the circumstances that enable these abuses to occur. 

In the minds of some, this leads to the ineluctable conclusion that we ought to simply abandon the religious law. This, however, is a tautological nonstarter for Orthodox Jews.  For us, the halachah is “our life and the length of our days.” A much more subtle and plausible version of the idea though, has begun to circulate within our community, namely, that if we are to remain committed to halachah as a system, then we have no choice today but to avoid creating halachically valid marriages. There are indeed any number of ways that a couple and a rabbi can purposefully subvert the halachic validity of a marriage ceremony, and any one of these ways would be sufficient to obviate the need for a get, should the couple separate later on. The justification for this proposal is simple and straightforward. If we have no way of ensuring a halachic off-ramp, then we simply have to avoid getting onto the halachic on-ramp. 

On a visceral level, I understand why this proposal is appealing. There is even a sense of justice about it. Yet, I shudder to think about its possible unintended consequences. For as much as we are stymied by halachah in these awful agunah situations, we are thankful to halachah for having created the marriages and the families that so many of us enjoy. 

While the Torah itself spoke of marriage in only a legalistic way, the talmudic literature reinvented marriage as a deeply committed, truly covenanted relationship. The rabbis of the Talmud utilized the verse “Love your friend as yourself” as the legal framework regulating the marital relationship, and they described the marital bed itself as a place where the presence of God should hover. And these were no mere homiletics. The Talmud legally mandates that spouses cherish and respect one another, and take responsibility for the other’s material and emotional welfare. In addition, the Talmud imposed the institution of the ketubah with an alimony payment at its heart, to prevent husbands from seeing their marriages as being easily disposable. In this way, it protected wives and protected the institution of marriage from being undertaken — and from being regarded — casually. Long-term commitment was bred into the system so that marriage would have the strength to endure the crises and conflicts that invariably affect every marriage at some point or another. And this is the legal and ethical nature of halachic marriage.

What might the consequences be if we began to advise our daughters to avoid entering halachically binding marriages? Even though it might seem a sensible and practical idea for any given woman, what would the impact be if it became the practice of the entire community? The same halachic system that frustrates us when we rally against a recalcitrant husband also produces the kinds of marriages that we desire to have for ourselves, for our children and for our community. This is part of the reason, after all, that we are committed to halachah to begin with. 

The existence of agunot is the ugliest moral scar on the face of Orthodox Judaism, bar none. And each one of us who upholds halachah bears personal responsibility for mitigating the unintended yet devastating damage that it allows to occur. A couple of centuries ago, in a different time and place, this was easier to do. When a husband was tormenting his wife, or leaving her chained to a dead marriage, the local rabbinical court utilized various kinds of social, economic and even physical pressure to induce him to give his wife a get. But in our time and place, in which religious courts do not wield legal enforcement powers, and recalcitrant husbands can simply leave the social and economic orbit of the Jewish community, the old ways do not serve us nearly as well.

Today, in our time and in our place, the responsibility falls squarely upon the shoulders of each one of us. The first thing we each need to do is insist that every single couple that marries signs the halachic prenuptial agreement (go to rabbis.org). The halachic prenup is not a panacea, but it has the civil legal capacity to profoundly discourage husbands from withholding a get.  Years ago, our synagogue board at Congregation B’nai David-Judea modified our bylaws to prohibit any rabbi ever employed by the synagogue from performing a wedding without a halachic prenup. Please check to see that your synagogue has a similar policy. And if you are already married and don’t have a halachic prenup, circle Sept. 7, 2014, on your calendars. This is the day on which the Pico-Robertson Orthodox community will be hosting a mass halachic postnuptial signing. 

No less important, each and every one of us must also commit — fully and without any exceptions — to the watertight policy that there is never, ever an excuse or justification for extortion. No one, not our brother, nor our son, nor our rabbi, can ever attach conditions of any kind to the delivery of a get. Not a financial condition, not a child custody condition, not any condition of any sort. And we have to possess the moral vision and religious courage to loudly and publicly label any effort to impose such conditions for what they are — extortion — plain and simple. We can’t let ourselves be fooled or hoodwinked. 

Extortion can hide even in the folds of piety or behind the mask of rabbinical ordination. We cannot fall for it. We have to call it out when we see it, for it may be up to you and you alone to save a woman from becoming an agunah.

We cannot have it both ways. If we choose to live according to halachah, we must take responsibility for halachah.


Yosef Kanefsky is senior rabbi at B’nai David-Judea (bnaidavid.com), a Modern Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Cartoon: 12 or whatever Years a Slave

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Israeli couples say ‘I don’t’ to Orthodox Jewish weddings

For most Israelis in the Jewish state, there is one legal way to get married – God's way.

Israeli law empowers only Orthodox rabbis to officiate at Jewish weddings, but popular opposition is growing to this restriction and to what some Israelis see as an Orthodox stranglehold on the most precious moments of their lives.

Some of Israel's most popular TV stars and models have come out this week in an advertisement supporting a new bill allowing civil marriage. A political storm is likely when it eventually comes up for a vote in parliament.

The Rabbinate, the Orthodox religious authority that issues marriage licences in Israel, says it is charged with a task vital for the survival of the Jewish people, and a recent poll showed more Israelis oppose civil unions than support them.

Nevertheless, many Israelis want either a secular wedding or a religious marriage conducted by a non-Orthodox rabbi. Facebook pages have been popping up, with defiant couples calling on others to boycott the Rabbinate.

In September, Stav Sharon, a 30-year-old Pilates instructor, married her husband in an alternative ceremony performed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi.

“We wanted a Jewish wedding despite being secular. We feel connected to our Judaism, even if we are not religious. It is our people, our tradition,” Sharon said.

Weddings such as Sharon's fall into a legal no man's land. They are not against the law, but neither are they recognised as valid by the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for registering marital status on the national identity card every Israeli is required to carry.

In a twist in the law, the ministry will register as married any Israeli couple that weds abroad – even in a non-religious ceremony – outside the purview of the Israeli rabbinate.

Some couples hop on the short flight to Cyprus to marry. The Czech Republic is another popular destination for Israelis wanting a civil wedding.

Sharon and her husband decided against that option. “Marrying abroad means giving in. We wanted to marry in our own country,” she said.

No formal records are kept on the officially invalid alternative ceremonies held in Israel. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, nearly 39,000 Jewish couples married via the Rabbinate in 2011. About 9,000 couples registered that year as having married overseas.

Muslims, Druze and Christians in Israel are also required to marry through their own state-recognised religious authorities, making interfaith weddings possible only overseas.

WHO IS A JEW?

Secular-religious tensions have simmered in Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state, since its establishment in 1948.

About 20 percent of Israeli Jews describe themselves as Orthodox while the majority of citizens are only occasional synagogue-goers. There are also non-Orthodox communities such as Reform and Conservative, but these are proportionately smaller than in Jewish populations abroad.

Ultra-Orthodox zealots have drawn anger in recent years for separating men and women on some public buses and harassing women and girls for what they see as immodest dress. Orthodox rabbis insist that brides take ritual baths to purify themselves before marriage, a practice to which some Israeli women object.

Immigrants to Israel, which since its inception has appealed to Jews around the world to live in the Jewish state, can find marriage through its Rabbinate a gruelling process.

Anyone wed by the Rabbinate is required to provide evidence of being Jewish, usually a simple and quick process.

But when it comes to new immigrants, the Rabbinate requires an affidavit, usually from an Orthodox rabbi in their home country, attesting they were born to a Jewish mother – the Orthodox criterion for determining if someone is a Jew.

And, Orthodox authorities in Israel can pile on more problems by digging even deeper into Jewish roots by requiring additional documentation proving that a bride or bridegroom's grandmother was Jewish.

“It took a year,” said a 34-year-old Argentinian immigrant to Israel, who asked not to be identified.

“They said the papers I had were not sufficient. They kept asking for more and more crazy documents. At one point they wanted me to provide a witness, from Argentina, who knew my grandparents and who had seen them, inside their home, celebrating a Jewish holiday,” he said.

His case was ultimately brought before the Chief Rabbi who ruled the man was Jewish and could marry his bride-to-be.

Israel's government is less strict in determining “who is a Jew” and therefore eligible to immigrate to Israel. Under its Law of Return, proof that someone has at least one Jewish grandparent is enough to receive automatic citizenship.

The Rabbinate says it is charged with preventing intermarriage and assimilation with non-Jewish communities which would endanger their people's survival.

Ziv Maor, the Rabbinate's spokesman, said strict adherence to Orthodox ritual law and practices had bonded Jews across the globe and set common rules for all.

“A Moroccan Jew knew he could marry a Jewish woman from Lithuania,” he said. “Rabbinical law guides us in a very clear way on who is Jewish and who is not … and we do not have permission from past or future generations to stray even a hair's breadth from those criteria,” Maor said.

According to the Rabbinate, only two percent of the men and women who apply to it for a marriage licence are turned down because they are found not to be Jewish.

GAY MARRIAGE

There are other groups to whom marriage is forbidden by rabbinical law.

Same-sex marriage, as in other religions, is out of the question as far as the Rabbinate is concerned. Israel's Interior Ministry recognises gay marriage – but only if it is conducted in a foreign country where it is legal.

Margot Madeson-Stern, a business consultant, was wed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi at a celebration attended by more than 300 guests. The ceremony had no legal foundation in Israel.

“The (Rabbinate) would not marry me. The person I fell in love with was a woman,” said Madeson-Stern, 30. “I'm Jewish. I wanted a Jewish wedding. It's my family, my tradition, it's how I grew up.”

She later travelled with her wife to New York for another wedding ceremony. New York recognises gay marriages, so Israel's Interior Ministry did the same, registering them as a couple.

At least two parties in the coalition government are promoting a bill to allow civil marriage in Israel, including for same-sex couples. One of them is Yesh Atid, which tapped into anti-religious sentiment in last January's national election and finished in second place.

“It cannot be that people who do not believe or whose lifestyle does not suit the Rabbinate will be forced to get married by people whose way is not their own,” Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid told Israel Radio this month.

But tradition could die hard in Israel. A poll published in November in the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, showed that while 41 percent of Jewish Israelis supported Yesh Atid's Civil Union bill, 47 percent objected.

Such bills have been floated at Israel's parliament before. But for the first time in years, ultra-Orthodox parties, which oppose civil marriage, are not in the government.

Yesh Atid believes it has enough votes from lawmakers across the board to pass the law in the next few months. The Rabbinate says it will oppose the measure strongly.

“Matters of marriage, divorce and conversion are our most important fortress. It must not be touched and we will defend it fiercely,” said Maor.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Stamp

Hearts remarried

Marriage means so much, to all of us. Including to unmarried people. We all want to live paired up, don’t we? To die not alone? What’s sadder than a grave all by its lonesome? Two side by side, we feel we can protect each other through all eternity. 

Marriage is also the inner pillar of our psyche. We think of it all the time, even more than of sex. Why we have marriage, why we don’t, why and when did it become better, at last? Look around. Marriage is our life’s top ingredient, as guaranteed as the sun on a bright day.

I could go on. You see my wife and I just rededicated our vows. I’m still bubbling.

Rededication, by the way, is an American invention we should applaud. Even if one remarries not 50, just five years in, those would be some important five years! In the case of Iris and I, we clocked 30 and then decided: We’re redoing it, in Europe where I’m from — where she stems from, too, one generation past. 

I do remember the times when she, or I, doubted that we would last. A counselor told us to beware when you stop fighting, when you have “peace.” Peace means the end of being unique to each other. Better unique and bleeding. So we rededicated — bleeding and all. We have littler fights these days, and better friendship in between. 

Thirty years. And we’re hoping for another 20.

Wow. 

In honor of our roots, we flew to Eastern Europe. Iris comes from Holocaust survivors. I’m from the other survivors, the runaways from communism. 

The logistics were complex. We’re an interfaith marriage, although we don’t live interfaith; the blood that lost the most is the blood whose traditions we follow. So we were looking for a Jewish environment to remarry. 

For our first vows all those years ago, we eloped to Utah, of all places, because I’d been invited to Robert Redford’s Sundance writer’s workshop. We were married by Brother Johnson, a colorful Mormon judge, and enjoyed a Hopi dance and a bridal suite, both arranged by Mr. Redford, on our first night. 

This second time, we wanted something more traditional. But who would marry two Americans — one a Jew, one not — in Hungary or the Czech Republic, lands where my wife’s folks survived? 

Answer: Uh, apparently not anyone mainstream.

We were thrust from something we expected to be so intimate and personal into hectic East European, post-communist politics, with a very bitter-before-sweet feel of déjà vu. 

Europe is not America; its Judaism, like its Christianity, is barely beginning to become flexible. Liturgical adjustments, so familiar in California, are unheard of. My wife researched a comprehensive number of congregations, which would not deal with interfaith couples, period. Discouraging. But at last, a congregation that called itself Reform agreed to revow us. Its leader, guide and navigator came to talk to us at the apartment we had rented in a street behind Budapest’s Belle Epoque parliament building.

“Hi, I’m Ferenc,” the rabbi said to us, walking in.

He was a robust 60-year-old with a light Hungarian accent, friendly, hands-on, beaming American nonconformity. Rabbi Ferenc Raj, whose stature in today’s Judaism I’ll not detail — Google him if you want; he’s far from being obscure — was the only congregation leader who agreed to remarry us despite the interfaith kink. 

We’ll make the service quintessential, he told us. When the groom (me) is told to say, “According to the law of Moses and Israel,” we shall say, “According to the law of God.” For God — he smiled at both of us — is God for all, not for the chosen alone. At last, the groom crushes the glass. (I’d always wanted to do that!)

Surely, this felt so momentous because Iris’ family memories drifted so richly above this city by the Danube — where her mother and uncles hid with fake papers in 1944, helped by the occasional well-meaning Catholic. Iris and I visited the Dohany Street Synagogue, one of the largest in the world, where footsteps from the past resounded in our minds. Compared to the tests and trials of 1944, this year of 2013 should be like a breeze of reconciliation. Well …  

On this mild September afternoon, up in the Buda Hills, in a family’s backyard, standing inside a sukkah — the model of all sacred Jewish spaces, even the wedding canopy, Rabbi Raj explained — Iris and I were rejoined. In attendance, including our son and daughter, were some 30 people only. Careful they were, almost like refugees. Because they were Reform, a sect still fighting to be officially recognized in today’s Hungary. 

I felt so many things on that afternoon. 

I felt the presence of my own tragically departed ones, starting with my deceased twin brother, whom communism killed. I felt reconnected with my wife, and with my deepest lone self. The ritual was too primal not to touch hidden-most memories, which unlocked and flowed in abundance. We drank blessed wine, my woman and I, surrounded by unprepossessing Reform worshippers who deserve to be accepted even if there were just a handful of them. 

To my readers: Take note that such exclusions still exist. Help leaders like Rabbi Raj — through inclusiveness of them and others, the past might have been different. Help people like Rabbi Raj, even if you’re not Reform or not even religious. 

I could write more about the passive-aggressive relationship of Europe’s Eastern lands to their Jews. Hungary’s erraticism is up there, and then some. When you pass the plaques on this and that building, you’re reminded that Budapest birthed Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb — on the plaque, his name is duly Hungarized, Teller Ede. Equally honored, Herzl Tivadar. Huh, who? THEODORE HERZL? Hey, you’re ours again, Tivadar! I felt like moaning: Would the real Europe ever stand up and say, “I regret that I oppressed my Jewish sons and daughters who so often carried my name to the heights. I repent, I do. Deeply and sincerely, I weep over my cruelty and vow not to restart it!” 

Oh well. Evil didn’t stop in 1945, and doesn’t target Jews only.  See what’s happening right now to the ancient minority Christians, burned in their churches, routinely killed, in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, while the world is in busy conference talking about anything else but that. 

Let’s all do the little that we can do. Like, let’s all remarry. 

You know what I mean.


Petru Popescu is a Romanian-born, best-selling novelist. He lives with his family in Beverly Hills.

Knesset approves marriage registration reform law

The Knesset approved the so-called Tzohar Law, which would allow couples to choose the city in which to register their marriage.

The law passed its second and third readings Monday evening, over the objections of the country’s two chief rabbis, by a vote of 57 to 14, with one abstention. All of the no votes were from haredi Orthodox lawmakers.

Couples previously had to register their marriage in one of the communities in which they live. The new law allows them to choose a marriage registrar with whom they are more comfortable or who may be more lenient in cases that involve converts or immigrants.

There are 60 offices for the registration of marriages and conversions throughout the country.

The new law will also create a computerized database for the registrations, making the records accessible to all of the registrars.

“The revolution in religious services is underway,” Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on his Facebook page following the vote.

The bill is named for the Tzohar organization, a group of rabbis that works to make rabbinic services more user friendly for all Israelis.