February 22, 2019

My Husband, the Shabbat King

Screenshot from Facebook.

I’ve never fancied myself a balabusta. For the past eight years, I’ve assumed this role, however, in my relationship with my husband, Danny Lobell.

Because I was a freelance writer for most of our relationship, I would dutifully care for our two dogs, six chickens and tortoise, clean the house religiously and cook every meal. I’d make elaborate Shabbat dinners, invite over tons of people, and make the house look perfect, all the while writing for many clients and building my portfolio. On the side, I was also managing Danny’s comedy career.

Some Thursday nights, I would have two pots full of rice going on the stove and be panfrying 14 pieces of schnitzel while baking six loaves of challah and washing and drying loads upon loads of laundry. Often, I was up until 3 a.m. setting the table, then getting up around 10 a.m. and working all day on the finishing touches. I usually never left the kitchen on Fridays. Our home doesn’t have central air conditioning, so there were some fun (read: terrible) summer days I spent indoors preparing for Friday night dinner.

Danny played his own part by grocery shopping, entertaining the guests, cleaning up after dinner, and serving tea and whiskey. He did his part to help.

I decided I’d had enough of this working woman/housewife role. I applied for a full-time job, and a month later, I got it. Immediately, I felt that huge housewife burden vanish.

And although it wasn’t all bad on my end — I love cooking for Danny and Shabbat guests, caring for our adorable pets and having a clean home — I knew I was stretching myself too thin. I was getting crabby with Danny. I was anxious, tired and overweight. I didn’t have enough time for self-care. My brain was constantly in “go, go, go” mode.

Then, one day last year, I decided I’d had enough of this working woman/housewife role. I applied for a full-time job, and a month later, I got it. Immediately, I felt that huge housewife burden vanish.

As soon as I started going to work, I felt better. I knew it was the healthiest move I could have made.

Immediately, I felt closer to Danny, because I was able to focus on my work work, which I had always enjoyed much more than housework. I had money to hire a housekeeper, who made our home look sparkling clean before Shabbat. The only thing I worried about was if Danny would be able to put Shabbat together for us.

I should have learned after all these years that worrying is counterproductive. There was no need to be apprehensive.

At the end of the first exhausting week of work, I came home on Friday afternoon to a clean house, a delicious-smelling stew in the slow cooker, all the appropriate lights duct-taped for Shabbat and a table set for the two of us. A beautiful bouquet of flowers sat in the middle. As soon as I saw Danny, who was adjusting his tie in the mirror, getting ready to watch me light the candles, I hugged him and nearly cried. “You did it,” I whispered.

The next week, Danny made an even more elaborate meal, invited some of our wonderful friends, got another bouquet, and bought me a cute top from my favorite shop, Karen Michelle.

The following week, Danny’s parents came to visit, and he went all out, running to Got Kosher to buy the best challah and baba ghanoush in town, to Bibi’s to get some amazing rugelach and Yankee’s dips, to Glatt Mart to procure the juiciest brisket it had and smoked it for 12 straight hours.

One day, I hope that I have more time to cook again (cleaning, eh, not so much) and to get back to a few of the housewife duties I actually enjoyed. But right now, I know I’m in good hands with my husband, Danny, the Shabbat King, who continues to impress me.

OneTable helps millennials find a Shabbat dinner

OneTable is a website and app that helps millennials find a Shabbat dinner. Photo courtesy of OneTable.

“A New Way to Friday” is the slogan of OneTable, a website and app designed to help millennials find a Shabbat dinner in major cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.

“We wanted to make sure our users could utilize our services to get Shabbat dinners happening around the country, so we started developing this app to make that easier,” said Al Rosenberg, a OneTable spokeswoman.

OneTable was launched as a nonprofit in 2014 by a group of foundations and philanthropic groups. So far this year, its members have hosted 2,700 Shabbat dinners for 33,000 guests.

“We open hubs in major cities by finding local funders,” Rosenberg said. “Each city has its own flavor and interests because of the different funders. The hub we are opening in Los Angeles soon will be funded by a couple of different people to work with the community.”

Founders of OneTable are The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and The Paul E. Singer Foundation. The organization’s website also lists several other national and regional supporters.

Analucia Lopezrevoredo, OneTable’s senior manager of the West Coast, said she hopes to expand OneTable into all regions of Los Angeles County.

“We are reaching as far as Pasadena and Santa Monica, and up to the north to Malibu, and are hoping to expand in the [San Fernando] Valley,” Lopezrevoredo said.

So far in the L.A. region, 150 hosts are combining efforts to hold about four dinners every Friday.

OneTable primarily targets millennials who find themselves lacking affiliation with a Jewish institution. The organization provides coaching for hosts to address any questions or challenges that might arise during a Shabbat dinner.

“Our coaches are freelance employees who we hire when our hosts need some extra support, either learning a Jewish ritual or how to cook,” Rosenberg said. “We have 150 coaches across the country and get engaged when we have a new host.”

Coaching and OneTable’s “nosh:pitality” events bring together people in their 20s and 30s to learn traditions such as how to bake challah and how to create a community. The nosh:pitality events are run by hub managers.

“We invite anywhere from 10 to 30 people to come do fun events,” Rosenberg said. “Oftentimes, it is pasta-making or learning to roll your own sushi or Jewish learning components. They [the attendees] will learn skills there and go on to host their own Shabbats.”

Prospective hosts are required to apply through the OneTable website at OneTable.org, where they are asked questions about why they want to host Shabbat dinners. Then they are matched with the local hub managers to have a conversation about what a host wants to bring to their Shabbat and where they may need help. If people are not in a OneTable hub, they are connected with national hub managers.

“I have hosted two dinners and it was an incredibly special experience,” said Izzy Pollak of Los Angeles. “I was raised mildly Jewish [Reform]…. I didn’t have it [Shabbat] every Friday, and it wasn’t beaten into my head, and I didn’t always value it growing up, but these last two experiences after Birthright … and coming back from Israel and the ‘Shabbat of a Lifetime’ book contextualized the prayers. When I was bringing our group through the prayers of the evening it was really nice.”

A OneTable member can hold three types of Shabbat dinners: by invitation only, through the approval of the host, or a dinner open to the public. The idea is to accommodate the preferences of the host. OneTable provides the host with grants of $15 for each person attending the Shabbat dinner, up to 10 guests. Additional money is available if the cost of the dinner is higher.

Dinner options include kosher and vegetarian choices and whether alcohol will be part of the meal. Dinners are not denomination specific, but ultimately, it is the host’s choice to decide the kind of Shabbat dinner to organize.

While dinners tend to draw mostly locals, OneTable has seen a recent increase in people using the service when they happen to be passing through a city looking for a Shabbat dinner.

“In the beginning, we had imagined that the people who would be the most interested would be the middle-of-the-road people who sometimes attend temple but not all the time,” Rosenberg said. “But it has been a huge spectrum. We have some Orthodox dinners and we have some dinners from people who have not done anything Jewish since they were a child.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly cited the website and app’s founders. They are the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and the Paul E. Singer Foundation.

For Jewish campaign staffers, a welcome respite at Iowa Shabbat dinner

Some 50 presidential campaign staffers and volunteers, journalists and local movers and shakers from this capital city’s Jewish community munched on house salads inside a stately ballroom at the downtown World Food Prize building last Friday night as Aliza Kline welcomed them to Shabbat dinner.

Around the room, local prosecutors sat next to Planned Parenthood activists in Iowa to support Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Organizers for Clinton’s main challenger, Bernie Sanders, mingled with board members of the local federation.

It was an indubitably Democratic gathering, although at least one Republican – a 19-year-old Vassar College sophomore named Pieter Block who has been volunteering for the Jeb Bush campaign over winter break – braved attendance.

And yet there was a common denominator in the ballroom that Kline, the executive director of OneTable, a New York-based organization that helps Jews in their 20s and 30s organize Friday night meals, picked up on.

“I’m in a room with people who give a shit,” Kline exclaimed, “and that makes me happy.”

Founded in 2014 with support from a trio of Jewish nonprofits – the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, the Paul E. Singer Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation – OneTable has facilitated 880 Shabbat dinners. Most have been in New York, but also in Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Boulder, Colorado.

On the same day OneTable landed in Des Moines, dinners took place at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and in Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival.

The initiative exhorts busy professionals to organize dinners not only to foster Jewish community but, more simply, for a much-needed change of pace – a manifesto that has particular resonance in Des Moines this time of year. With 10 days left before Iowans officially launch the presidential nomination process, statewide politicking, already clamorous in the lead-up to the Feb. 1 caucuses, only stands to intensify as campaigning draws to a close.

In a cheeky nod to campaign fatigue, OneTable organizers left gold-and-black sleep masks, inscribed “Sssshhhhabbat,” at each place setting.

Lisa Gerlach, 21, a scheduling and advance assistant for the Sanders campaign, acknowledged that her job is not conducive to drawn-out meals, let alone ones with three courses. So the dinner, she said afterward, was “definitely a good part of my week.”

After Kline finished her address and guests finished their appetizers, they tucked into plates of maple-glazed salmon and sautéed asparagus followed by an assortment of desserts – rugelach, halvah and cookies – supplied by the city’s lone kosher restaurant, Maccabee’s.

Next to the eye masks were cue cards with nonpolitical conversation starters (“French fries or tater tots?”), though discussions inevitably shifted to news of the day: Clinton’s planned address at the Jewish federation here, the merits of a national clean energy strategy, and so on.

The dinner was a success, Gerlach said, because during an election, “you never really get to interact with people on the other side of the aisle in a very human way.” And moreover, it is rare that people from across the political spectrum have the opportunity to sit down for dinner in a non-hostile environment.

On Friday, the discourse was notably civil, which is characteristic of Iowa in general, said Will Rogers, 46, the chairman of the Republican Party of Polk County and vice president of Tifereth Israel, the Conservative synagogue here.

“We don’t attack one another and we don’t beat each other up,” Rogers said. “It’s kind of like a big family rooting for different teams during the Super Bowl.”

Building off momentum from Friday’s dinner, OneTable’s hope is that similar affairs will pop up around the country over the course of election season. A dinner has been scheduled for Feb. 5 in Manchester, New Hampshire, four days before the primary there.

“I’d love to see lots of primary Shabbats,” said Kline, 44. “It’s one more opportunity for people to get involved and to get together on a Friday night. So that feels very win-win for us.”

With Sanders polling well beyond expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire, and reports that billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is mulling a late bid as an independent, the field of candidates could take on an unusually Jewish patina in the months ahead.

Would OneTable try to involve the campaigns in future dinners? Probably not, said one of the organizers, Seth Cohen, a senior director at the Schusterman Family Foundation. Better to stay above the fray.

“These dinners,” Cohen added, “are about the people in the politics, not the politics themselves – or the politicians.”

 

How to save the Conservative movement

In recent months, there have been several op-eds in Jewish newspapers nationwide about what should be done to reverse the decline of the Conservative movement.

Before relaying my contribution to the discussion, here are some of the statistics that have insiders panicking.  Since the 1990s, the percentage of American Jews who identify as a Conservative Jew has declined from 43 percent to just 18 percent; the number of Conservative synagogues has declined from 850 to 580; and the number of Solomon Schechter Day Schools has declined from 63 to 40. Additionally, in a movement that posits the observance of halachah, or Jewish Law, only 31 percent of Conservative Jews say they keep kosher at home, 34 percent say they usually light Shabbat candles, and the average weekly attendance rate at Shabbat services among those who are a member of a Conservative synagogue is just 13 percent.  

Apparently, permitting one to drive to synagogue on Shabbat, ruling that cheese does not need kosher certification, full egalitarianism, the reduction of Hebrew school hours, playing musical instruments at Shabbat services, and the ordaining of LGBTQ rabbis has not been enough to fill synagogue pews when one isn’t invited to a bar or bat mitzvah.   

The Conservative movement’s leadership has tried to put a spin on its decline by boasting that its intermarriage rate is only 39 percent — then quickly pointing out that it is the only non-Orthodox movement on the better side of the national intermarriage rate of 58 percent (or 71 percent among non-Orthodox Jews).  

To reverse the movement’s shrinkage, many Conservative rabbis have proposed adopting patrilineal descent and allowing rabbis to perform intermarriages. There also is talk about merging with the Reform movement. The movement has even hired a branding specialist.   

In my opinion, what the leadership of the Conservative movement has always failed to recognize is that people are thirsty for spirituality and authenticity. Leadership is about envisioning what the future should look like, crafting a plan and getting the masses to buy into it. Leaders do not cater to the masses in hope that the masses keep paying their membership dues.  

To get an idea of what will result if the Conservative movement adopts patrilineal descent and the performing of intermarriages, one only needs to look at the Reform movement. A third-generation Reform Jew is almost an oxymoron. Good luck finding one in a synagogue on a random Shabbat. 

Instead of focusing on keeping up with the latest vogues of political correctness and making the practices of Judaism easier, the Conservative movement should do the opposite by focusing on promoting the learning of Torah and observing commandments, or mitzvot.  At first this may seem counterintuitive, but it actually makes sense for two reasons: 

1. Theologically, because the movement posits that God desires Jews to do mitzvot, no matter which theory on how the mitzvot came to be, then doing mitzvot should be promoted.   

2. Pragmatically, learning Torah and doing mitzvot is contagious.  When a person learns Torah or does a mitzvah, his or her soul feels the pleasure of the connection with God that the mitzvah facilitated. The soul then desires to learn more Torah and to do another mitzvah, despite some dissonance in one’s mind.  

To promote mitzvah observance and Torah learning, I propose the following strategies:   

1. Conservative rabbis host three families for a Shabbat meal experience at their home three times a month       

In Jewish outreach circles, it is said, albeit half-jokingly, the most important time in Jewish education is between the soup and the chicken. Every Jew who has become Orthodox began their journey, unknowingly to them at the time, by accepting a dinner invitation by an Orthodox rabbi. This strategy works because there is a transformative beauty to Shabbat, and a dinner setting allows one to build a more intimate relationship with their rabbi. Such a relationship is essential because few people decide to start growing in their Jewish knowledge without first engaging in Jewish experiences and having encouragement and support.  

Because intensity is key, hosting 25 families four times each per year is best. Of course, synagogue boards should provide a budget line to compensate the rabbi for the additional food costs.

2. Conservative rabbis teach Torah to the same three individuals one on one every week

It almost goes without saying that Jewish education is the key to Jewish survival.  Although taking a class is great for acquiring knowledge, it’s the side discussions in a one-on-one learning situation that promotes the integration of knowledge that then leads to religious growth. These sessions can take place in a person’s office, in their home, or at a Starbucks.  

I call my plan the “3-3-3 Plan” — three Shabbats per month, the rabbi hosts three families for a Shabbat meal experience, and teaches Torah to the same three individuals one on one every week.    

Given the choice of Option A — the Conservative movement allowing its rabbis to perform intermarriages and adopting patrilineal descent, or Option B — 600 Conservative rabbis implementing the 3-3-3 Plan, which results in 15,000 families engaging in 60,000 Shabbat meal experiences, and 1,800 Jews learning one on one with a rabbi every week, Option B seems like a better plan for reinvigorating the Conservative movement and American Jewry. 

Joel E. Hoffman is an ordained rabbi, but works as a special education teacher at a public high school in Massachusetts.

Shabbat dinner sets Guinness record

More than 2,000 people in Tel Aviv set the Guinness World Record for largest Shabbat dinner.

At a June 13 evening event hosted by White City Shabbat, a Tel Aviv organization that hosts and coordinates Shabbat meals, and co-sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch, 2,226 people gathered for what was billed as the largest Shabbat dinner ever. An official representative of Guinness World Records present at the event certified that the dinner had set the mark.

The organizers for the dinner — held in a large atrium at the Tel Aviv Port — purchased 800 bottles of wine, 80 bottles of vodka, 50 bottles of whiskey, 2,000 challah rolls, 1,800 pieces of chicken, 1,000 pieces of beef and 250 vegetarian meals. 

Chabad representatives led Orthodox services before the dinner, which was dedicated to the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher rebbe who died in 1994.

Among those on hand were Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren and former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.

“The jubilation in the room when Guinness World Records announced the official results was palpable,” White City Shabbat co-director Deborah Danan said in a statement. “We are witnessing the transition of Tel Aviv as being the new capital for Jews — not just for those with professional impetuses but also for those who want to see the revival in Jewish life continue.”

Shmuley Boteach invites congressional foe to Shabbat dinner

Rabbi Shumley Boteach invited his opponent in a New Jersey congressional race to Shabbat dinner.

Boteach, the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in northern New Jersey’s 9th District, made an open invitation to Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat, asking the veteran lawmaker to join in “the weekly Jewish tradition of a Shabbat meal.”

“Every Friday night at our Sabbath table my wife and I host all kinds of people,” Boteach said in his letter, which was published in The Jewish Press. “We love having guests and it would be my honor for us to host you and your family either this coming Friday night or whenever it may suit you, although sooner would be better than later.”

Pascrell’s chief of staff, Ben Rich, told The Hill congressional newspaper that his boss “would gladly accept an invitation to Shabbat dinner.”

The campaign leading to the November election is expected to include a focus on Israel in the predominantly Jewish district.

Pascrell easily defeated Rep. Steve Rothman in a Democratic primary this month pitting two pro-Israel candidates. Rothman, who had changed districts, was seen as an important pro-Israel player because of his position on the armed services subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.

Federation centennial spawns 100 home Shabbats

As part of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ yearlong centennial anniversary, 100 community members were asked to host a Shabbat dinner for a Night of 100 Shabbat Celebrations. To date, 550 hosts have registered with Federation to participate in the Sept. 9 event; they can follow any customs for their celebration and invite anyone they choose. Dinners can be intimate gatherings or large parties; hosts are responsible for providing the food and the location. 

The concept is part of Federation’s goal of engaging Jews of all ages within the community, Federation President Jay Sanderson said. All hosts who register will receive a toolbox, including a customized Shabbat book of prayers and readings, a tzedakah box, a specially designed challah cover and candles.

“I’m a host and I’ve decided to open my house to any community member who wants a place to go,” Sanderson said. “I believe the biggest challenge facing the Jewish community right now is that younger Jews are opting out of Jewish life. So we’re trying to reach out and help everyone celebrate in their own way.” Also in the toolbox will be a card asking participants to write feedback about their experience. Sanderson said he hopes to make the event annual, if not more frequent.

“Most Jews in this community want to engage in Jewish life. We’re hoping that this provides an opportunity for anyone interested to become involved while celebrating in a way that is meaningful for them,” Sanderson said.

For more information, or to host or attend a Shabbat celebration, visit

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Singles – Guilt Trip for Two

My parents have given me so much; it’s now time to start giving back to them. I’m referring to guilt in this case. Specifically, guilt about not living up to one’s potential, about not keeping up with the Joneses’ children, about not providing ammunition for bragging rights over Shabbat dinner with friends.

To be fair, my mother is pretty much innocent of the charges. And even my father, the guilty party, would never think of it as such. He merely believes there’s always room for improvement, and always time to mention it. This isn’t just about bringing home an A and being asked why it wasn’t an A+, although that happened often enough. From about junior high onward, there was always another kid who was doing just a little bit more, and a little bit better, that he could throw at me — for my own good, of course.

If poor, sweet Diane S. knew how many times her name was used (in vain) against me, she’d be surprised we were ever friends at all. Diane was taking more AP classes. She could sing her bat mitzvah haftorah portion like an angel. She went to Hebrew High School long after I opted out. She attended shul with her family regularly, without force or bribery.

Then the coup de grace: After college Diane married a nice Jewish lawyer, bought a house, brought forth three perfect children and they all have full dental.

I, meanwhile, moved clear across the country, got work in the film industry without benefits, dated outside the tribe and failed to propagate the species. In sum, I accomplished nothing that dad could talk about over herring at the men’s club on Sundays.

For the first five or 10 years of my L.A. Diaspora, he would send me clippings from The New York Times wedding section of every Jew in the tri-state area who was around my age and had married another Jew. When I asked him what he was doing, he would say oh so innocently that he thought maybe I knew the people in question, and would want to hear about their nachas.

After much pleading, those mailings finally stopped, but the occasional phone calls continued. Oh, not from him — from sons of friends of friends who had been given my number without my prior knowledge. At first I tried a couple of dates, to be polite to my father’s friends’ friends. They were so abysmal that I finally told my father that if he gave my digits out one more time, I would get an unlisted number and not give it to him.

My marital bliss has not been his sole preoccupation. He also suggested any number of professions to dissuade me from my creative pursuits. Not because they would make me happier, but because they were more secure. If I made a good point in an argument with him, he would encourage me to become a lawyer. If I was insightful about an emotional situation, he would recommend psychology (I recommended psychology to him, too, but he didn’t get my drift); something, anything, that would translate to an advanced degree. And if I also happened to meet some nice Jewish boys in my classes, so much the better.

At this point he’s given up, almost. In the last few years, working as a writer, I get to be the one to send clippings. He is wonderfully supportive, and tells me often how proud he is to see my name in print. He then goes on to ask why the publication in question won’t put me on staff already.

I know he’s not trying to be hurtful, but every time he asks why I don’t have a real job, or bemoans my husbandless state, I feel like a failure for not living up to his expectations. We love each other very much, but his idea of success just isn’t the same as mine.

But now, oh sweet vengeance, now it’s my turn, if I want to take it. Because you see, I have not one, but two friends whose fathers have written books. Eve Saltman’s dad wrote “The History and Politics of Voting Technology: In Quest of Integrity and Public Confidence,” which will be published by Palgrave McMillan in a few months. Jenny Frankfurt’s dad wrote “On Bull—-,” a New York Times best seller. He even got to go on “The Daily Show” and trade quips with Jon Stewart.

My dad, who knows a lot about both bull– — and integrity, has written bubkes, a couple of illegible notes at the top of those clippings he sent. Sure, he’s had an honorable career in the diplomatic corps, provided for a family and put four kids through college. He’s funny, affectionate and smart (he will correct the grammar in this piece without prompting). But has he made The New York Times best-seller list? I think not, and it’s my duty as his daughter to make note of it.

Of course, as an alternative, we could both try to appreciate each other just as we are.

On the other hand, what could make a papa more proud than knowing his child takes after him?

Lisa Rosen is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles who writes mostly about pop culture, including movies and television. Her work has also appeared in the magazines L.A. Architect and Better Homes and Gardens.

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Un-Orthodox Date

What nice Jewish girl hasn’t heard this from her mother: “You should meet a nice Jewish boy!”

My mom was no different.

She would constantly urge me, “Go to synagogue. A Jewish mixer. Or a Shabbat dinner. That’s where you’ll meet lots of nice Jewish men.”

But I never cared for organized events. I prefer to meet my men through more everyday-casual-maybe-it-will-happen situations, which is how I met Carl.

I had been hearing about Carl Cohen for years. He was sort of a mystery man that women always seemed to talk about. Frequently, at parties or events his name would pop up in conversation. I had never seen or met Carl, but I was totally jealous whenever I would hear that someone else was going out with him, even though he was just a name.

Then, one night at an art reception, I saw this good-looking man across the room. As he walked toward me, my eyes zoomed in on his name tag — Carl Cohen.

Our eyes met — sparks flew. Sure, he had a date clinging to his arm, but I could see they had no chemistry. We had chemistry.

I think his date noticed. As Carl and I began to discuss the nuances of art — abstract vs. representational, modernism vs. surrealism; Dadaism vs. pointillism and how the paintings in this particular collection would look better hung upside down — the overzealous blonde glued to his side whined that they had a dinner reservation. (“We should have been at Spago 15 minutes ago.”)

She dragged him away and out the door. But I knew he wanted me. I simply had to find him again.

During the next week, I asked around. Some of my friends knew who he was, but no one had his phone number.

Then fate intervened. I ran into an old girlfriend of mine who had taken a Jewish studies class with Carl. She told me that Carl was active in the synagogue, and to get his number, I should call his rabbi, so I did.

The rabbi gave me his number, and I called Carl. He instantly knew who I was. And he was thrilled to hear from me. He asked me out immediately,

“Dinner Tuesday night?” I was excited. This was it.

Now, I am not a religious woman. But the signs were clear. A rabbi had put us together.

Such a beginning. Carl was it. No doubt. The match was blessed. (It would be a Jewish wedding. His rabbi would preside.)

Wrong! The ominous signs came even before our first date.

“Honey. Sweetie.” Yes, that’s how Carl referred to me during our second phone conversation. I hardly knew this man. But I was already honey and sweetie. I let it pass.

On our dinner date, there were no great bolts of electricity. Still, he was smart and cute — and a doctor! I’d give it time.

Back at my house, Carl started telling me about his Jewish studies class. It was an Orthodox singles group. Predominantly women.

“Of course,” I said. “They all go there to meet a nice single Jewish man like you.”

“Oh, no,” he replied. “They’re very serious about Jewish culture and tradition. They’re there to learn, not to date.”

“Oh? So you haven’t gone out with any of them?” I asked.

“Well, yeah — uh, maybe a few.” He thought for a moment, silently counting. “Actually, five, no 10. But I would never even hold hands with someone I met in the class. You have to respect these women. A man can’t touch a woman until they’re married. It’s Orthodox custom — you must have respect.”

At which point, Carl leaned over and pounced on me. I emphasize pounce. He started kissing me — open mouth — with lots of tongue. (I felt like a war-torn Middle Eastern country — attacked and invaded!)

To be perfectly honest, Carl wasn’t a bad kisser. It’s just I wasn’t ready for a night of tongue sandwiches — especially not after he’d told me about all those women he respected and wouldn’t even hold hands with.

I pushed him away.

“C’mon honey,” he urged. “We’ll have a good time. I like you, sweetie.”

He lunged for my body. I lunged for his coat — and pointed him to the door!

After he left, I thought back to my mother again, and what she’d taught me when I first started dating — the man and the cow and the free milk, etc.

Did Carl consider the girls in his Jewish studies class the cows, and was I the milkmaid? That didn’t seem kosher to me. And I should know. Even if my last name is Anderson, I’m a nice Jewish girl, too.

But what if Carl was just using me for “practice?” Well, no thanks, “sweetie” “honey” “sugarpie Carl.” Because, guess what? I don’t want to be the rehearsal, I want to be the main event.

So much for divine intervention. Maybe my mother had been right all along. The next week, I joined a synagogue. I went to a Jewish mixer. And even a Shabbat dinner. Which is where I met lots of nice single Jewish women — who all had gone out with Carl Cohen!

Marilyn Anderson is a screenwriter, TV
writer and author of “Never Kiss a Frog: A Girl’s Guide to Creatures from the
Dating Swamp” (Red Rock Press, 2003). Her Web site is Frogerella@neverkissafrog.com

Rosh Hashanah Made Easy With Chicken

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins this year at sundown on Friday, Sept. 26. It is a time to gather with family and friends and enjoy special holiday foods.

Traditionally, foods sweetened with honey are eaten to symbolize a sweet and happy year ahead. Apples and honey, eaten with a freshly baked round challah are served at the beginning of the Rosh Hashanah dinner. The round shape of the bread symbolizes unending happiness.

When I was growing up, Shabbat dinner meant roast chicken — always baked in tomato sauce — with onions, carrots, celery and potatoes. The recipe never changed.

And this year, since Rosh Hashanah eve falls on a Friday, I have included several chicken dishes that I prepared at a recent cooking class. They are perfect for the main course, since they can be prepared in advance and served warm or cold.

The rolled chicken breasts are a creation of Chef Michel Richard, formerly of Citrus Restaurant and now in Washington, D.C., Richard rolled the chicken breasts and wrapped them in plastic wrap so that they looked like a sausage and roasted them.

The herb marinade for the whole roast chickens recipe was inspired by Chef Bruce Marder. He includes this marinade on many of his dishes at Capo Restaurant in Santa Monica.

The Salsa Verde is a recipe from Papa Giovanni Santini, the owner of Ristorante Dal Pescatore in Italy. Santini serves it with the chicken he grills for the family on the day the restaurant is closed.

The B’stilla (Chicken Pie) is my adaptation of the traditional Moroccan dish that normally uses pigeon. Garnish the three chicken dishes with pomegranate seeds, one of the fruits that is traditional to serve during Rosh Hashanah.

For dessert, make this delicious Honey Glazed Apple Tart which completes the meal, and continues the theme of serving apples and honey that began our holiday dinner.

B’stilla (Chicken Pie)

For the chickens:

2 chickens, 3 pounds each, with giblets

1/4 cup olive oil

4 tablespoons unsalted margarine or oil

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup chopped onion

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For the Fillings:

1 pound unsalted margarine

1 1/2 cups sliced almonds

1/2 cup minced onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

9 eggs, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

6 tablespoons sugar

Cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

For the assembly:

1 package (16) filo sheets

Powdered sugar

Place the whole chickens, breast bone down, in a Dutch oven. Add the giblets, oil, margarine, ginger, onion, garlic, parsley, cilantro, salt, pepper and 2 cups of water, or enough to reach one-third up the sides of the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

Bring to a boil, turn chickens breastside up, and stir to mix spices. Place in the oven for one hour. Baste the chickens with the sauce. If chickens are a little pink, they will cook again inside the B’stilla. When chickens are cooked, cool, reserving the broth. Bone, separating meat into bite-size pieces and set aside.

For the fillings, melt 3 tablespoons of the margarine in a skillet and sauté the almonds until golden brown. Set aside. In another skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of the margarine and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Beat the eggs in a bowl with the parsley, cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Add to onion mixture and cook until set. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and set aside.

Melt the remaining margarine and use it to brush a large ovenproof pie pan. Place one sheet of filo on the bottom. Brush with margarine and continue in this manner using eight sheets of filo. Spread the chicken in an even layer over the pastry and top with the egg mixture, spreading evenly. Combine almonds and sugar mixture and sprinkle over the eggs.

Place a sheet of filo over the filling and brush with margarine. Continue in this manner until remaining filo leaves are used. Fold top layers of filo under the bottom ones. Brush under seam and top with margarine. Can hold at this point for at least two hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Just before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar. For an attractive pattern, cover the top of the B’stilla with a paper stencil for crisscross, so the cinnamon can be sprinkled on in a heavy crisscross. Transfer to a large serving platter.

Rolled Chicken Breasts with Vegetable Stuffing

Vegetable Stuffing (recipe follows)

8 chicken breasts (4 whole, boned and cut in half)

1/4 cup oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

3 carrots, thinly sliced

1 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup dry white wine

Prepare the stuffing and cool.

Place a chicken breast, skin side down, on a sheet of wax paper, cover with another sheet of wax paper and using a mallet or tenderizer, gently pound the breast until desired thickness.

Spoon stuffing in the center and roll up the chicken breast, encasing the stuffing and tie with string. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Line a baking pan with foil, brush with oil and arrange onions and carrots on top. Place stuffed chicken breasts on top, brush with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Add stock and wine and bake at 375 F for 20 minutes, then increase the heat to 425 F. Bake about five minutes more, or until chicken is tender and crisp. Transfer to a cutting board and slice on the bias.

To serve, arrange sliced chicken breasts on plates and spoon any juices from pan that remain.

Serves 8.

Vegetable Stuffing

1/4 cup safflower, vegetable or peanut oil

3 onions, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

4 ribs celery, finely chopped

1 bunch carrots, peeled and grated

1 parsnip, peeled and grated

2 large zucchini, unpeeled and grated

1/2 cup minced parsley

1/2 cup plumped raisins

2 tablespoons matzah meal

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons oatmeal

1/4 cup red wine

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

In a large heavy skillet, heat oil and sauté onions and garlic until transparent. Add celery, carrots, parsnip, zucchini, toss and sauté for five minutes until vegetables soften. Add parsley, raisins, and mix thoroughly. Simmer five minutes. Blend in matzah meal, flour, oatmeal, add wine and mix well. Add additional dry ingredients, one tablespoon at a time, until stuffing is a soft texture and not dry. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Butterflied Roast Chicken with Fresh Herb Infusion and Salsa Verde

Fresh Herb Infusion (recipe follows)

Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

1 (4-pound) or 2 (2-pound) whole chickens

Mirepoix (small cubes or slices of vegetables):

1 onion, sliced and diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

1 parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons minced parsley

1 bottle dry white wine

1 head garlic, unpeeled, cloves separated

Prepare the herb infusion and Salsa Verde.

Split the chicken along the entire length of the back, removing backbone from tail to neck. Open it out, skin side up. With a mallet, (for big chickens) or heel of hand, flatten with a firm whack, fracturing the breastbone and ribcage. (Optional: Turn the chicken over and take out the ribcage and cartilage with a very sharp boning knife, taking care not to break the skin.)

Sprinkle the mirepoix mixture on a foil-lined large roasting pan, and place the chicken on top, skin-side up.

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

Working with your fingertips, separate the skin from the meat of the chicken, beginning at the neck end, being careful not to tear the skin. Place herb infusion under the skin, all the way to the thigh. Smooth skin to disperse the mixture evenly; molding the skin with your hands to resemble the natural contours of the chicken. Rub the top of the chicken with herb infusion.

Pour the white wine around the chickens and arrange unpeeled garlic cloves under the chickens. Bake for 10 minutes and reduce the oven temperature to 375 F and bake for 45 minutes to one hour longer, depending on the size of the chicken. Baste every 20 minutes. If chicken browns too quickly, cover it loosely with foil. If the wine cooks away too quickly, add more. Remove the foil during the last 10 minutes, allowing the chicken to brown.

Fresh Herb Infusion:

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Olive oil, to moisten stuffing

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, combine garlic, rosemary, thyme, basil, chives, and parsley. Pour in enough olive oil to cover. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap until needed.

Makes about 2/3 cup.

Salsa Verde:

1 cup tightly packed fresh parsley sprigs, minced

3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

Juice of 1 or 2 lemon

1 cup olive oil

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large bowl, using a wire whisk, beat parsley, garlic, and lemon juice. Continue beating, adding olive oil in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a smaller bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill. Beat with a wire whisk just before serving.

Makes about 3 cups.

Apple Tart with Sweet Pastry

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup unsalted margarine (or butter)

3 tablespoons water or nondairy liquid creamer (or milk)

Glazed Apple Slices (see recipe)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Cut in the margarine until the mixture is crumbly. Blend in the water until the dough begins to come together. Do not overmix. Knead the dough into a ball, wrap it in waxed paper and chill it for at least 10 minutes in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Roll pastry out, on two large sheets of floured waxed paper, rounded large enough to cover and overlap an 11-inch flan pan with a removable bottom. For easier handling, cover the pastry with another sheet of waxed paper and fold pastry in half. (The waxed paper protects the center of pastry from sticking together.)

Lift the pastry from the bottom waxed paper and place on half of the flan pan (or cut rounds and arrange on tartlett pans). Unfold the pastry and remove the waxed paper which covers it. (At this point the pastry can be covered with plastic wrap and foil and stored in the refrigerator or freeze for several days.)

Bring the pastry to room temperature. Spread a light coating of margarine on a sheet of waxed paper and place it, coated side down, inside of the pastry, overlapping around the outside. Cover with another piece of waxed paper with the cut ends in the opposite direction. Fill the center of the waxed paper lined pie shell with uncooked rice or bakers jewels. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the sides of the pastry begin to brown. Carefully remove the waxed paper with the rice and continue baking until the bottom of the pastry is lightly brown. Remove from the oven and cool.

Arrange glazed apple slices in concentric circles on the baked pastry. Brush with a thin layer of glaze.

Serve immediately.

Makes 1 (11-inch) tart shell or 6 to 8 tartletts.

Variation:

For meringue topping: In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites with salt, until soft peaks form. Add the white sugar, a little at a time, beating well until stiff peaks form. Fill a pastry tube fitted with decorative tip with the meringue. Cover the glazed apple slices with meringue rosettes, including the edge of the crust. Bake for 10-15 minutes or place under the broiler until meringue is lightly toasted.

Glazed Apple Slices

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup orange marmalade

1/2 cup orange juice

Juice and grated zest of one lemon

6 large golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

In a large, heavy skillet, combine the sugar, honey, marmalade and orange juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar and marmalade have dissolved. Bring this syrup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer three to four minutes, just until it begins to thicken.

Place the apple slices in a large bowl and toss with lemon juice to prevent them from discoloring. Add the apples and lemon juice to the syrup in the skillet and toss to coat the apples. Simmer, covered for 10-15 minutes until the apples are soft. Transfer them to a glass bowl and cool to room temperature.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator. Serve with chicken or use for Apple Tart.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” and “The 30-Minute
Kosher Cook.” Her Web site is http://members.aol.com/jzkitchen

Comfort Food for Rosh Hashana

For Rosh Hashana this year, I am sharing three chicken dishes that you can prepare for your family holiday meal. Every family has their own recipe for roast chicken, but if you’re looking for something new and different to serve on Rosh Hashana, try one of these.

Two of the recipes I have selected came from unexpected sources — one via chef Jonathan Waxman, who recently opened Washington Park Restaurant in New York, and the second from Neela Paniz, who owns The Bombay Cafe in Los Angeles.

But, let’s start with one of my favorites. I remember when I was growing up, I looked forward to my mother’s Shabbat dinner. It always consisted of chicken, roasted in a tomato sauce with potatoes and lots of vegetables. The potatoes are cooked in the sauce with the chicken — a very old technique in Eastern European kitchens, and it gives them a wonderful flavor. On special occasions, she would stuff the whole chicken with her famous vegetable stuffing, and fill the neck of the chicken with the same mixture, to be served separately.

So when we started our family, on Friday night and special Jewish holidays, the highlight was roasted chicken. I began experimenting with ways to update my mother’s recipe, and one of our family favorite dishes became roast chicken breasts flattened, then stuffed in the center with finely chopped sautéed vegetables, rolled up like a sausage and tied with string. Any leftover stuffing (that didn’t fit in the chicken breasts) is baked in an oiled loaf pan. This is an easy dish to serve, since no carving is necessary, and the cooking technique allows the breasts to stay very juicy.

When Waxman worked in Los Angeles, he demonstrated his version of Chicken in the Pot as a guest chef on my television program, "Judy’s Kitchen." I had never tasted chicken prepared like this before; it practically bursts with flavor.

His recipe combines chicken and vegetables; it is a spinoff of his grilled chicken and vegetable dish that became one of Waxman’s signature dishes. The chicken and vegetables are served in a shallow bowl with a mustard sauce.

If your family enjoys curry, you will love Paniz’s Authentic Chicken Curry recipe. Don’t let the number of ingredients in this dish frighten you. It’s really easy to prepare and well worth the effort. If you like it spicy, just add more cayenne. Since Rosh Hashana begins at sundown on Friday, this dish could be your answer to the traditional Shabbat cholent, which is prepared before the Sabbath and kept warm for the Saturday meal.

These three dishes are perfect for Rosh Hashana; the only decision you must make is which of them to serve. Whatever recipe you choose, make enough so your family can have a cold chicken lunch on Saturday when they come home from the synagogue, or serve the leftovers in the evening as an interesting chicken salad.

Dessert should be simple and refreshing. Serve a fruit salad topped with a scoop of fruit sorbet and your favorite honey cake.

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Molly’s Vegetable Stuffing

Chicken Breasts

  • 8 chicken breasts (4 whole, boned and
  • cut in half)
  • 1¼4 cup oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1¼4 cup dry white wine

Place a chicken breast, skin side down, on a sheet of wax paper. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and using a mallet or tenderizer, gently pound the breast until desired thickness.

Spoon prepared stuffing in the center and roll up the chicken breast, encasing the stuffing and tie with string. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Line a baking pan with foil, brush with oil and arrange onions and carrots on top. Place stuffed chicken breasts on top, brush with oil and season with salt and pepper. Add stock and wine and bake at 375 F for 20 minutes, then increase the heat to 425 F and bake about five minutes more, or until chicken breasts are tender and crisp. Transfer to a cutting board and slice on the bias. To serve, arrange sliced chicken breasts on plates and spoon any juices from pan that remain. Serves 8.

Molly’s Vegetable Stuffing

  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in 1 cup
  • Concord grape wine
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 6 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and grated
  • 2 medium zucchini, unpeeled and grated
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 2-3 tablespoons flour
  • 2-3 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 2-3 tablespoons oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions and garlic until soft, about three minutes. Add the celery, carrots, parsnip and zucchini, and toss well. Cook for five minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Drain the raisins and add them to the vegetables with the parsley. Stir in 1 tablespoon each of the matzah meal, matzah cake meal and potato starch. Add the red wine and mix well. Stir in the remaining dry ingredients, a little at a time, until the stuffing is moist and soft but firm in texture. Season with salt and pepper. Cool. Makes about 12 cups.

Authentic Chicken Curry

  • 1 piece (1 1¼2 inches) of ginger, peeled
  • 5-6 garlic cloves
  • 2 serranos
  • 1¼3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 small Spanish yellow onions,
  • finely chopped
  • Hot water
  • 2 black cardamom pods (see note)
  • or 2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2-3 pieces cassia or cinnamon sticks
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 4-5 cloves
  • 5-6 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1¼4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1¼4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small chicken, skin removed and
  • cut into 8 pieces (1 1¼2 pounds)
  • 1 1¼2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, for garnish

Mince the ginger, garlic and serranos in a food processor and set aside. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and brown until they turn a deep red-brown color, about five minutes. Add the ginger mixture and sauté for one minute. Add 1-2 tablespoons hot water to stop the browning of the onions and mix into a paste. Add the cardamom, cassia, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons hot water. Brown for two to three minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook over high heat until the oil is separated from the paste, about two minutes. (May be prepared one or two days in advance.)

Add the chicken and cook over medium heat until golden brown. Add the salt and 1¼2 cup hot water.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and almost falls off the bone when pierced with a fork. To serve, garnish with chopped cilantro. Serves 4.

Chicken in the Pot

  • 1 jalapeño chili, roasted and seeded
  • 1 Anaheim chili, roasted and seeded
  • 1 roasting chicken (4-5 pounds),
  • trussed with string
  • 2 medium onions
  • 3 shallots
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 6 small red or white new potatoes, unpeeled
  • 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 4 small turnips, peeled
  • 2 parsnips, peeled
  • 4 small carrots, peeled
  • 2 stalks fennel or celery, cut into chunks
  • 8 radishes, stems removed
  • 1 large leek (white and green parts),
  • cut in half and soaked in warm water
  • 1 small bunch fresh parsley,
  • tied with a string
  • 1 small bunch fresh tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium roasted red bell pepper
  • 1¼2 cup whole-grain mustard
  • 1 French baguette, thinly sliced and toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Peel onions, place them in a baking pan lined with aluminum foil, and roast until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, place chicken, roasted onions, shallots, garlic cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves and roasted chilies. Add enough water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, partially covered. Add potatoes and continue cooking 15 minutes. Add mushrooms, turnips, parsnips, carrots, fennel, radishes, leek, parsley, tarragon and 1¼2 teaspoon of the salt. Continue cooking until chicken is tender when pierced with fork, about 30 minutes.

Remove cooked chicken to a platter and keep hot. Transfer vegetables to a large bowl and keep warm in 2 cups of the broth. Strain the remaining broth into a saucepan, reserving garlic cloves. Bring both to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes, partially covered.

In a blender or food processor, blend the roasted red pepper, mustard, eight of the garlic cloves from the soup, 1¼2 cup of the broth, and the remaining 1¼2 teaspoon salt. Pour into a bowl.

Cut chicken into serving pieces; arrange in large individual heated soup bowls, surrounded by broth and vegetables. Serve with the toasted baguette slices and the mustard sauce. Serves 8.

Power of the Past

My son Zack, 17, is celebrating Shabbat dinner tonight at the Bohema Restaurant in Krakow, Poland.

In fact, not only is he celebrating Shabbat, but he and his group — 15 students from Milken Community High School in Los Angeles and 140 students from Tichon Chadash High School in Tel Aviv, plus teachers and parent chaperones (including my husband, Larry) — are practically doubling Krakow’s Jewish population, estimated at 200. It is a population that, at its height in the late 1930s, numbered more than 60,000.

"If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past," the Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza once said.

In Poland, the past stretches possibly to the 11th century and, certainly, back to the 13th century, when a huge influx of Jews, fleeing persecution in Britain, France, Spain and Portugal, settled there, and, ironically, were afforded greater freedom. A past that boasts the Baal Shem Tov, Shalom Aleichem and Arthur Rubinstein. A past that now epitomizes evil in the form of the Majdanek, Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps.

And so this group of American and Israeli teenagers from sister schools paired by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership 2000, has come to study the past. In a program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, sister schools have exchanged students, ideas and ideologies for more than three years.

"This trip, while powerful and sobering, is also, perhaps surprisingly, uplifting," Yoav Ben-Horin, director of Special Projects at Milken, who is organizing and accompanying the American group, told me.

Indeed, the thought of busloads of exuberant American and Israeli teenagers touring Poland, giving Hitler’s Final Solution another kick in the teeth, is certainly cause for rejoicing. The Americans, with their strong connection to ritual and religious tradition, and the Israelis, with their primarily secular but visceral attachment to the land, represent the two strongholds of Judaism in today’s world.

Additionally, changes are slowly occurring within Poland. Five years ago, for example, the Polish government officially apologized for the Kielce Pogrom of 1946, in which 42 Jews, who had survived World War II, were killed and another 50 wounded.

And there are signs of a burgeoning Jewish community — synagogues and schools, clubs and kosher restaurants — for the estimated 8,000 or more Jews currently living in Poland. And while I have doubts about the wisdom and practicality of rebuilding Jewish life in Eastern Europe, I’m heartened that it’s possible.

Zack has been in Poland four days now. He has visited the Lodz ghetto and synagogue, the Warsaw ghetto and the Majdanek camp. He has walked in the footsteps of 3 million dead Polish Jewish souls.

I wonder if he’s feeling, as he susrmised he would before his trip, "intense sadness during the day and intense joy, being with his friends, at night."

This night, at the Bohema Restaurant, he and his friends will be reading letters from home, letters parents were asked to write, unbeknownst to our teenagers.

In our letter, Larry and I remind Zack that he, like every living Jew, is responsible for preserving and honoring the memory of those who perished. That he has an obligation not only, as "Deuteronomy" 30:19 tells us, to "choose life" but also to improve life, to perform tikkun olam, to repair the world.

We remind Zack to thank his great-grandparents, who left shtetls and families in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s to make difficult voyages to the United States, Canada and South America. Who struggled with new languages, new cultures and menial jobs. Who wanted a better life for themselves, their children and their descendants.

And we warn Zack that this trip to Poland will elicit big questions, existential questions about life and death, good and evil and the existence of God. And ethical questions about subjects such as racism and eugenics.

But these are not questions that pertain merely to the past. The United Nations World Conference Against Racism, scheduled to begin Aug. 31, is dealing with anti-Zionist pre-conference resolutions that accuse Israel of being "an apartheid, racist and fascist state." Clearly, and this is only one example, anti-Semitism is alive and dangerous.

And in the worldwide debates about cloning and stem-cell research, there are fears that parents might want to create genetically engineered designer children, eerily reminiscent of the Nazis’ desire to breed a master race.

These American and Israeli teenagers, about to begin a rigorous last year of high school, about to make serious decisions about their futures, will have much to ponder. I hope that this journey to their past, this "sober and powerful and uplifting" visit, will continue to disturb, enlighten and motivate them for the rest of their lives.

I hope that this journey will make them realize that, in the words of Israel’s former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who left Poland in 1906: "Our past is not only behind us, it is in our very being."

Piscatorial Compassion

"Fish is meat," announces Danny, my 9-year-old vegetarian son.

"Fish is fish," responds Larry, my 50-something pescetarian husband.

Judaism backs up Larry, classifying fish as pareve, neither dairy nor meat, and telling us that fish first appeared almost 6,000 years ago, on the fifth day of creation, when God commanded, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures" (Genesis 1:20). God later elaborated, "anything in water, whether in the seas or in the streams, that has fins and scales — these you may eat" (Leviticus 11:9).

But the National Audubon Society supports Danny, categorizing fish as wildlife, and, along with other ecological and animal rights groups, raising questions that transcend the mere availability and codification of fish and directly challenge our ethical obligations as both fish-eaters and fish-catchers.

Indeed, with the yearly haul for all sea food estimated at 100 million metric tons, according to Britain’s Marine Conservation Society, and with 30 percent of the world’s fishes listed on the World Conservation Union’s "2000 Red List of Threatened Species," can we, in light of various Jewish moral precepts, continue to serve salmon at Shabbat dinner or take our kids fishing off the Santa Monica pier?

The Jewish mitzvah of bal tashit, do not destroy, can be traced back to Deuteronomy 20:19-20: "When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them."

Thus, the rabbis have interpreted, if we are prohibited from destroying fruit-bearing trees even during the extreme conditions of wartime, imagine our responsibility to earth’s living plants and creatures under normal circumstances.

And so, we must pay heed when National Audubon Society, through its Living Oceans marine conservation program, alerts us that certain fish are abused, endangered or nearly depleted.

Wild salmon, for example, except in Alaska, are in serious trouble. Orange roughy, which became very popular in the 1980s, are fished out, as are Chilean sea bass, which may, according to some sources, face extinction by 2005. Additionally, the shark population is decreasing, especially in the Atlantic where they are overfished and depleted, and groupers, flounders, red snapper and swordfish are in serious trouble.

Plus, commercial fishing for many of these species results in the accidental catching and killing of other aquatic life as well as damage to the ocean habitats and ecosystems. For example, for every pound of shrimp caught, never mind that it’s halachically off-limits to us anyway, another four to ten pounds of sea life is killed or destroyed.

The National Audubon Society encourages us to select fish from a well-managed fishery. Among the kosher ones are tilapia, pacific cod, striped bass, pacific halibut, dolphinfish (aka mahi mahi or dorado) and wild Alaska salmon.

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), founded in 1993 to bring a Jewish perspective and response to the environmental crisis, reiterates the need to safeguard the diversity of all life. According to Executive Director Mark K. Jacobs, "Based in the very beginning of Jewish tradition, in the story of Noah, we believe we have an obligation to preserve all the species we find on this planet."

And so my pescetarian husband has sworn off swordfish and orange roughy. He eats wild salmon only from Alaska.

But my vegetarian son, who has already sworn off eating fish, has a more difficult task in store for him; he must swear off fishing, which his older brother Gabe says, not entirely ironically, is the leading cause of death among fishes.

The Jewish concept of tzaar baalei hayyim (showing kindness to animals) puts fishing as a sport in the same category as hunting. In fact, when 18th century Rabbi Ezekiel Landau was questioned about hunting, he replied, "In the Torah the sport of hunting is imputed only to fierce characters like Nimrod and Esau, never to any of the patriarchs and their descendants… When the act of killing is prompted by that of sport, it is downright cruelty."

"But I throw the fish back," is the defensive response of anglers.

"But the fish are not even aware of their own existence," they protest. "They can’t feel pain."

Wrong. According to various scientific studies, including The Medway Report, sponsored by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, published in 1980 and updated in 1994, fish do suffer. They have a brain, a central nervous system and pain receptors throughout their bodies.

Thus, hooking a fish on a line and subsequently releasing it hardly qualifies as compassionate behavior. A fish’s mouth is covered with nerve endings, causing it to experience pain — as well as fear — as soon as it is snagged. Also, once out of water, a fish begins to suffocate, often causing its gills to collapse. And even returned to the water, a fish can die of trauma, infection or serve as a vulnerable target for a predator, including another "catch and release" fisherman.

The challenge for us Jews, based on what our tradition teaches us, lies not in reeling in the "big one" and mounting it conspicuously on our den wall. Nor does it lie in elevating animal rights over human rights. Rather, the challenge lies in finding a balance that respects and preserves all life.

As COEJL’s Jacobs says, "Fishing in and of itself is a good way for humankind to harvest the food that it needs. But it must be done in a way that is going to sustain the fish population."

For more information about the National Audubon Society’s Living Oceans program, please visitwww.audubon.org/campaign/lo

.

My Dinner at the Rabbi’s House

When an important local rabbi invited me to his house for Shabbat dinner to discuss my column — which he doesn’t like — I was appalled. How patronizing, I thought, to summon me to his home so that he can tell me, with home-court advantage, to change what I do.

For days, I stewed. Aren’t there more important problems in the world than my little column? After all, Rabbi Yitzhak Adlerstein is director of the Jewish Studies Institute at Yeshiva of Los Angeles.

My resentment slowly gave way to curiosity. The rabbi is not the only Orthodox Jew who has had a problem with my column. Several months ago, a young Orthodox man, recognizing me from my picture in the paper, confronted me and informed me that he was starting a petition to have me fired.

“Why?” I asked this man, who had approached me in a synagogue just after services.

“Because you’re not Jewish enough,” he replied.

While the vast majority of the feedback I get is positive, that’s easy enough to ignore when you’re me. I like to focus on the negative, which isn’t a way of life I recommend, nor would it be a good title for a motivational speech. Still, it’s kind of a habit of mine.

I called Adlerstein to accept his invitation.

“You’ve heard I’m Orthodox?” asked the rabbi.

“Yes. And you’ve heard I’m…not?”

“Yes,” he answered, chuckling. “Don’t worry, this will be harder for me than for you. After all, you’re a good writer, and writers are always jealous of each other.”

With the compliment, and an incredibly avuncular voice and tone, the rabbi had changed everything. He might still be a sexist who would prefer I cook and mate and not have opinions, but he had a voice like a soothing old story. How bad could he be?

When I arrived on Friday night, the house was lovely and the table crowded with four of the rabbi’s seven children, his wife and his daughter-in-law, a Yale student in a perfectly coifed auburn wig. Over potato kugel, gefilte fish and the best challah I’ve ever tasted, the rabbi and I talked about everything from Woody Allen to the meaning of life. By the time the dishes were cleared and the single malt Scotch brought out, I was really starting to like the guy.

And then the criticisms began. The rabbi doesn’t like The Jewish Journal. He also doesn’t like the Orthodox newspaper. And he isn’t fond of the so-called “Modern Orthodox,” who make too many compromises and sometimes let their children watch television.

“Rabbi,” I said, gingerly, “allow me to submit that the Jews are a critical people, and you are a critical guy who probably wouldn’t be happy with anything.”

“Yes,” he answered. “That’s true. I am critical.”

After five hours of talking, I finally got to the heart of what’s bothering the rabbi about me. Not only have I eluded to having premarital sex in my columns, but I’m also not married, a disease my columns might spread.

“Do you think God cares if I’m married?”

At this question, the rabbi winced, as if in pain. His fingers tensed and his head fell backward. “Of course. God cares about everything,” he said.

It bothers him to see me searching, he told me, because Judaism has all the answers. If you follow the guidelines and live according to God’s wishes, you will have a happy and fulfilled life. It’s that simple.

“That sounds great,” I said. “But isn’t that what they would tell me over at the Church of Scientology, or at a cult?”

The difference, he said, is that Judaism is time-tested. It works. Not only that, but the guidelines aren’t as strict as they seem, allowing for interpretation and questioning.

Looking around the table, it was hard to argue with Adlerstein’s logic. His family is loving, his children sweet, patient and intelligent. His life, at least from the outside, seems complete.

Studies show that religious people, on the whole, tend to be happier. Their marriages are more durable, their sense of community stronger. But that’s not me, I told him. Judaism is important to me, but I wasn’t raised Orthodox, and I have other priorities right now. Marriage just isn’t something I’m rushing to do.

And I didn’t tell the rabbi this, but the only guy I’ve ever seen myself with for life saw himself with a tall blonde named Carolyn. The premarital sex thing I can hardly do anything about now, nor would I take it back if I could. Where does that leave me with the big guy upstairs? Not exactly on his A-list, apparently.

To the rabbi, I am like a person on fire, and he has a bucket of water called Orthodox Judaism, which he thinks can extinguish the flames. If I, and others like me, would just settle down and follow God’s wishes, we wouldn’t be struggling with the meaning of life and with our relationships.

Before I left, I asked what would make the rabbi happy, other than my becoming Orthodox and getting married. Three things, he said: study Judaism in a class or with a tutor, speak at a youth convention and come back for Purim.

The class? Learning is always good; I agree to that. The speaking? I hate public speaking. Purim?

“Only if you’re breaking out the good Scotch,” I joked.

“Of course,” he said.


Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.